Mortal Love

Photograph by Michelle Engberg With my significant other at Kiwanis Park in Tempe, Arizona

Photograph by Michelle Engberg

With my significant other at Kiwanis Park in Tempe, Arizona

I once felt that the women who perpetuated the belief that men could revive, sustain, and destroy them were like those I found splattered over the tabloids. Women who our culture shames as junkies, narcissists, mentally ill, whores… These were women who plummeted through their time on earth, hopeful as they revolved around one man after the next, one brief and tragic illusion of salvation after the next.

These women, I once believed, had nothing to do with me.

Yet, I discovered that the modern tabloid princess was really an incarnation of the generations of women most of us still carry within, whose loss of a man’s money, resources, and communication, confronted them with shame and mortality. From desperately withdrawing from the gaze, concern, and loving kindness of others, to physical disease, to depression, to rage, to suicide, we reveal our shame and mortality in numerous ways-- as have the women before us.

It’s when we've faced real or perceived rejection from men, that many of us have confronted these women in us. In the dark recesses of our hearts, their stories have woven the cultural narrative we've actually felt destined to live at times as unattached women. Living out this narrative of shame and mortality has been what we've believed to be our punishment for risking to be intimate with men, without being saved by them.

We've striven to believe that if we could heal, nourish, and love ourselves without men, we would own our paths to self-realization. And within the boundaries of that path, we would protect ourselves from the shame and mortality women have faced for centuries in their state of rejection or abandonment. Then our lives and deaths would not lie in the territory of men’s arms, homes, and lives—but in our own. 

In struggling to realize this path to self-ownership myself, I internalized yet another model of who I was destined to become. While cloaked in a woman’s form, the character I strove to embody was somewhere between a peaceful warrior and a deity, unwavering on the path towards a clean and orderly life, defined by service and disciplined personal growth. This character was sympathetic to the suffering in human intimacy. Yet, she was detached from both suffering and intimacy, like a calm parent from the fits of her unhappy baby.

In this character, I would spend my time in fulfilling solitude or with platonic friends, until I’d embodied my chosen path fully enough to share it with a man. I would, with this man, destroy the struggle with shame and mortality I had endured for years.

Enter the person with whom I believed I’d spend the rest of my life.

We shared the path to becoming something between peaceful warriors and deities. Spending hours over drinks and meals, we discussed how we each had evolved through the chaos of our own lives-- he, through martial arts, Eastern wisdom, and a powerful community of friends, and I, through my own community, writing, sexuality, and yoga. And as we believed so soon and so intensely that we were at the threshold of eternity with each other-- my sense of shame and mortality overcame me. Beneath his adoration for me was an urge to expose the tabloid princess who tumbled beneath the surface of my happy life. I endured hours of his questioning about how she still lived in me. Through our heated conversations, the legacy of the women I had desperately rejected flooded every nerve and tear!

I endeavored for months, after our relationship faltered and failed, to realize that the tabloid princess would not define me. The struggle illuminated some critical questions:  

How could we, with or without men, become intimate with the shame and mortality within us?

How could we define and accept our suffering with intimacy?

How could we realize that on the path to self-ownership, real intimacy is not a threat, but a vehicle?

As I explore the paradox of intimacy and self-ownership, I've been learning to embrace the legacy I rejected—and have realized more of myself in doing so. I can now gaze compassionately into my past, and also look into the lives of women still embroiled in the war between self and intimate relationships. I can balance tenderly in the residues of our pain—of shame, of mortality, of self-loss, while walking with dignity through the vastness of the human heart. In this balance, I’m learning both to surrender to love, and also to stand firm in its wake. While protecting and cultivating my own value and values, I can love abundantly.

I invite you to explore the paradox of intimacy and self-ownership as it has played out in your life, using the questions above to guide you.

I look forward to learning where this exploration takes you!

#Transformation  #healing #psychology #spirituality #personal growth #self-realization #self-expression  #love #community #family #Women's Issues #empowerment #creativity #writing #art