Sometimes words flow from me like a bubbling stream. Other times, like now, it seems as though each word is like pulling an impacted wisdom tooth that will not budge. Feeling ‘stuck’ is called an ‘Impasse’ by Gestalt psychotherapists – a recognised developmental stage of awareness which can last from a few minutes to many years. No matter how hard we try to move on, every exit seems blocked or closed to us.
For someone who has always been an activist, the impasse is about the most frustrating place to be especially when everything else seems to be in flux around me. Within the last fortnight, I’ve witnessed women and people of colour (PoC) in the UK social media respond to events from the rape and death threats directed at women successful at ensuring our visibility to the unspeakable targeting of PoC by officers from the UK Border Agency. Whilst I’ve been able to share what I’ve witnessed, my ability to contribute personally has been hogtied by my personal impasse of being unable to string a sentence together I feel happy with. Regardless of how much I rail or storm against it nothing seems to change, so I’m going to describe this place instead. Like it or not, it’s where I am and real change can only occur from our true reality rather than what we would like our reality to be.
In searching for a symbolic woman’s story to describe where I am, the one that seems to speak most eloquently is that of ‘Sleeping Beauty’. The modern versions of the tale have been sanitised to suit the Western system I dwell within – with all its privileges and shackles. More ancient versions tell the story slightly differently.
It begins with the birth of a royal baby – a girl. In Jungian terms, the issue of royalty points to potential – we all have the possibility of becoming ‘royal’ but, in psychological terms, we have to earn it. The story tells of the celebrations surrounding the birth and the gifts brought by magical folk to bless this baby girl. Nevertheless, the community – wanting only the best – fail to respect the shadow aspect of the psyche which, in the form of an ‘evil’ fairy, turns up uninvited to curse her for the communities rejection. She will only live until her majority where she will prick her finger on a spindle and die. The curse is mitigated by a final gift of ‘light’ – the girl won’t die but fall asleep instead.
Children have no control over the environment we are born into. If we are born into the privilege of ‘safety’, it is a rare individual who actively chooses to face the shadow aspect of the self. Where healthy parents can, they make efforts to protect their children from the darker aspects of human nature – banning spindles, or pornography, or violence, or whatever else we deem to be threatening to their ‘innocence’. Much like the tale of Buddha’s youth (where he was ‘protected’ from knowing poverty), some children are protected from knowing the true reality that surrounds them (bearing in mind that other children encounter the dark from day one). These are both the benefits and costs of living a life of privilege. Nevertheless, the dark truths of life appear, no matter how hard parents or community try to prevent it. Spindles or the poor arrive at the ‘palace of privilege’ which, by their very novelty, sabotages the best efforts of those trying to prevent the prince or princess from awakening to the truth. The prince leaves in search of his own destiny whilst the princess pricks her finger and falls into the prophesied sleep.
In Sleeping Beauty, this ‘unconsciousness’ lasts for over a century. The sleeping palace becomes surrounded by an impenetrable thicket. Modern tales resolve the dilemma by producing a handsome prince who overcomes this problem and ‘wakes’ our dreamer with a kiss. Older tales, however, carry a darker resolution. In these stories, there is a prince but he is not quite so handsome. He does make it through the thicket to find our sleeper but his kiss does not wake her. So he rapes her – a sleeping woman cannot give her consent to sex, remember. The rape also fails to wake our sleeper and the ‘handsome prince’ departs both scene and consequence. Nine months later, she gives birth to twins who, in seeking the comfort of the nipple, suck on the pricked finger thus removing the poison, finally awakening their mother. Whilst the faery tale itself may end there, the story of human psychology has only just begun.
Not everyone gets to live out this particular theme. There are many different paths to awakening which are reflected in legends and folk tales. Nevertheless, it is this tale that seems to hold the key to my own experience of this present impasse. The collective sense of long-term slumbering to our greater reality around us seems somehow apposite, especially when we consider what we are awakening to. If we draw on the older versions of the tale, our ‘princess’ is waking up to an environment that has remained unchanged for a long period of time. She awakens to being a raped woman now responsible for two children, surrounded by an impenetrable thorn thicket. Her ‘handsome prince’ has scarpered. Her ‘palace’ neglected and her existence forgotten. If the rest of the palace remains asleep, she is on her own – with two babies – and no education or experience in how to cope with her new situation. If the palace awakens with her, then they are all faced with trying to establish a place in the world that has long moved on to other things. She has been forgotten and remembering is going to upset all that has been established since her encounter with the spindle. If ever there was an example of my own impasse, this is as good as any so far.
‘Sleeping Beauty’ is a woman’s tale of initiation. It tells of the illusions that surround women. What can appear to be privileges are actually false realities because they focus only on the ‘good’. Life just isn’t that way. People are made up of both light and dark. We might try to construct a life that excludes our shadow but it cannot ever be humanly true because people are simply not made that way. If we fail to respect and accommodate our dark selves, these will – at some point – prick us into awareness. There will be that moment of pain before the curse of sleep overtakes us.
Using the current explosion of woman power in the UK as an example, we can see how each stage of the tale is playing out. Within the collective unconsciousness of UK women – particularly white women – we can see the ‘palace of privilege’ some of us continue to dwell within. Nevertheless, the Curse of the Dark Fairy is still active and, for many women, it has not been ameliorated by the promise of sleep. Women are dying as a result of encountering the dark spindle, especially those who are old, poor, sick or disabled, the wrong colour, or because they start making their own choices. Others – like those who simply sought to have non-royal women depicted on our banknotes – are experiencing a reality that has always been present but which has been slowly disguised with illusions since the last ‘outbreak’ of feminism in the 1970’s. The rape, death and bomb threats sent to those who had successfully campaigned over banknotes (albeit in a limited way – Jane Austen is surely a woman of white privilege) has torn through the veils of illusion that claim women occupy positions of equality in my society. We don’t. That is the reality. With each and every ‘movement’ of women the pattern is the same: illusion; encounters with true realit;, followed, for many, by falling into a ‘cursed’ sleep until the next cycle of awakening. I know because I, too, fell asleep. Now I seem to find myself in a profoundly neglected environment, having been violated and with ‘babies’ swallowing poison to stir me into wakefulness. I swear I thought I was awake all this time yet the evidence clearly points how unaware I have been. The thorn thicket that has grown around me seems so dense and deep that it becomes impossible to speak, let alone act. Here is my impasse. We can forget about handsome princes – they came, raped and departed whist I was dreaming. Now all that remains are consequences.
This is being written on the day when women have divided themselves. Some have chosen to take a ‘trolliday’ from Twitter; they choose silence. Others refuse to and continue to ‘shout back’ whilst I find myself caught in my impasse. I’ve chosen not to be silent but I’ve also not been certain of what it was I want to say. Having explored where I am, this becomes clearer.
From today’s Twitter timeline, there seems to be an explosion of views about women’s issues from all sides, both positive and negative. This worries me because it feeds divisions and invites the formation of ‘gangs’, all vying for being ‘right’. Perhaps my own impasse is the result of my deep unwillingness to go down this route again. To choose one side or the other would mean I must ‘put to sleep’ personal aspects of myself or experience being attacked by one side or the other for failing to choose them. Fuck that.
I am a WHOLE woman. This means I’m a mess trying to work my way through to clarity. For everything that might be ‘developed’ within my psyche, there is a great deal more that remains ‘potential’ only. In the past, when I’ve made the kind of choices being offered between #TwitterSilence and #ShoutingBack, I have had to sever aspects of self in order to ‘belong’. No more!!! I’m sick to the back teeth of re-membering myself.
This is the problem with splitting – what parts of ourselves do we dismember in order to ‘belong’ to whatever group attracts us the most? If we split ourselves, then it’s inevitable that this continues into the group itself which, for anyone who has studied the history of human relations, is the road to war and destruction. Again! Well, I refuse to walk it! If it means I stand alone, then so be it. I refuse to knowingly dismember myself again because I’ve worked too hard for what wholeness I have been able to attain.
No, I don’t have answers to our problems because no one person does. Anyone who makes such a claim is profoundly and dangerously deluded. We all dwell in a highly complex living organism of immense size which we are only just beginning to get a true glimpse of. What I do know is that each and every one of us – regardless of anything of human origin we might believe divides us – has the potential to contribute towards greater understanding and awareness of just how vast and intricate our living planet is. I believe each and every one of us – whoever we are and wherever we are – possesses a fragment of unique and precious wisdom that could enable humanity to live in harmony with the planet. If we are dismembering the truth of ourselves for the sake of a temporary human ‘belonging’, we are causing immense harm to that wisdom. Do we honestly believe that the planet judges skin colour, or sexuality, or gender, or any other individual difference the way we humans do? She created us as we are, not as we think we or anyone else ought to be!!!
So to those who are silent because the group leaders told you to be, how about you make up your own minds instead of passing on your personal responsibility to become who you really are? And to those who are shouting, how about you turn down the volume so we can actually hear what the softer voices are saying. When we celebrate our triumphs, let’s also remember our failings, inadequacies and terrible mistakes because no-one is perfect.
And to those of you who, in my perception, are clinging to the worn out old paths that have failed us all so many times, understand that I block because I’m doing my best to stay awake. I don’t want another ‘go’ on this Sleeping Beauty merry-go-round. I may not like the circumstances I find myself in but at least I’m attempting to take this faery tale beyond the illusory realms of ‘happy ever after’. I may be only one woman, but I want out of this thorn-encrusted history that does so much harm. As best I can, with all my failings and talents, I’m aiming my intent towards a living, sustainable and cooperative reality with our Future, who has just woken me, yet again, by sucking the poison of illusion from my finger.