Two weeks ago I spent 6 days in the coveted presence of Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes. There were probably about 100 of us there. If my count is right, 97 women and 3 men. She sat in a high-backed easy chair situated on a slightly raised platform at the front of the room. There was a small end table to her right and a sound-technician to her left. She spoke into a hand-held microphone. I kept wondering why she didn’t have a lapel or ear-mic, thinking how great it would feel to have both hands free. Ironic, given that she was teaching on the story of the Handless Maiden – its archetypes, its symbolism, its relevance, its endless application. She told us of how to interpret dreams and how to facilitate groups and ways she hoped we’d work with her book for years and years to come. She told jokes and articulated comic strips recalled from decades ago. She sometimes responded promptly to the 10-minute cue cards that were raised so that the schedule for breaks and meals was honored. And sometimes she didn’t. She offered her own perspective and wisdom. She wore flowers in her hair every day and at one point, a crown. She held court. She reigned in the most benevolent of ways.
I sat in straight-back chairs and sometimes on the floor while leaning against a Back-Jack. I listened. I took notes. I wrestled with the heat. I drank lots of water infused with oranges and basil. I watched others’ experiences and responses compared to my own. I leaned over and whispered to the women/friends on my left and right. I sometimes passed notes. I giggled. I snuck in potato chips and stayed up past curfew and joined funds for smuggled-in wine and listened to Prince. I laughed so hard I thought I would pee my pants. And I was aware that in spite of (or inspired by) all that she spoke and offered, I was, most of the time, having a far different conversation in my head and heart. I was wrestling with my own expectations.
The week itself was nothing like what I expected, which, I realize upon much reflection, is completely and perfectly fine.
My expectations get me into trouble: my idea of how things should go – whether an event or parenting or a relationship or even the writing of a blog post.
The calling and challenge is to let go of every one of these, to acknowledge where I am right-here-right-now, and to then express and allow that. Anything other, anything different, anything less renders me handless. Ouch!
It’s excruciating to be handless!
It’s excruciating to walk through life living up to (or not) the expectations of others and expecting that our own expectations will be met.
And I’m wondering if these are one in the same. I’m pretty certain of it, actually.
Whether aware of such or not, we are all Handless Maidens with protective chalk-circles drawn ’round us in the belief that somehow they will keep us safe and intact. We stay within them, meeting the expectations of others, attempting to live up to our own, and hoping our own aren’t dashed. Our expectations create the definition and demand that our story will go as it should, that surely we will be protected and honored, seen and heard. And we forget that it is only chalk!
What if we erased it? Better yet, what if we just stepped over and out of it completely? What if we let go of the tyranny of how things “should” be and instead just expressed what is? What if we ran businesses and loved who and how we wish and wrote blog posts that were free of what others think, what we think others want to hear from or experience through us? What if we sat in high-back or straight-back or Back Jack chairs and just spoke/wrote/lived what and how we want without apology or concern for how we might be received, or not; understood, or not; welcomed, or not; applied, or not? What if we took any story ever told and interpreted it the way we want, no matter who tells us we can’t or shouldn’t or don’t have permission or enough education or the right credentials or the proper perspective? What if we charged what we wanted – even if it’s less? What if we stayed off of social media because it makes us crazy? Or what if we engaged with it from a place of freedom and delight instead of burden and demand? What if we recognized the father/overculture (in the story of the Handless Maiden and our own) doesn’t have the power over us we think it does? What if we no longer lived under the “protection” of the father/overculture? What if we defied it’s every expectation? What if we headed into the woods, handless-but-hopeful with no expectations to which we must rise or supersede?
[“All over the map” would be the proper response to this paragraph. I understand. And…my list of what-if’s is far, far longer. I’m sparing you – for now.]
Like the Handless Maiden herself, let’s head into the forest with no sense of what’s next. Let’s enter into life in ways that feel free and expansive, individuated and distinct, ours-no-matter-what (albeit slightly scary). Let’s believe our hands will grow back – this time untied, unbound, and completely free to touch and feel and love and work (and even write blog posts) on our own terms and as we wish.
[I’ll admit it: this post is probably far, far removed from what Dr. Estes herself expected I would take away from 6 days in her presence. Me too. And that’s OK. I’m practicing what I preach.]
Let go of others’ expectations. Let go of those you have of and for yourself. Step outside the chalk circle. Grow back your hands. Save your life. [And write a blog post about it – or don’t.] You get to decide.