You can listen to the full essay here, on Spotify.
Feminine Forgotten, Found
It was the summer of 2020. The zeitgeist, or spirit of the times, reeled from the first-ever global lockdown, while the never-tended-to admixture of our human system’s profound vulnerability, interdependence, death-anxiety, and wailing cries for a more sustainable life pushed up from the spirit of the depths in the form of an unprecedented pandemic. And while our hopes were ascending as the number of Covid-19 cases descended, the looming sense of uncertainty and the surety that nothing would ever be the same again lapped at the corners of consciousness and imbued everything with a pervasive sense of disquiet. We were in the midst of a historic moment, the gravitas of which we still cannot fathom.
It was during this moment of massive collective chaos and meaning-making that I chose to undergo a psychedelic journey with the intention of engaging some chaos and meaning-making of a far more individual sort. I never imagined that what I would discover in my personal underworld might have collective significance, nor am I in the habit of broadcasting my psychedelic insights on the world stage. However, more than two years after the fact, the truths revealed to me during this personal apocalypse continue to press upward through me, urging me to offer my craft in service of their veracity. It is with deference to their power and the grace with which they came to me, reverence for my spiritual discipline, and gangly humility that I offer the following essay; part auto-ethnography, part-trip report, and part theoretical synthesis.
May the stories, images, and ideas depicted herein serve to illuminate a path forward to all who can see the light in them.
As an experienced psychonaut, I knew the ins and outs of preparing myself for an underworld journey. Thanks to the lockdown, I was already living life quite cleanly, with very little stimulation or distraction which would have served to dysregulate my nervous system. No need for a detox, I prepared myself simply by abstaining from coffee and alcohol for three days, speaking my questions and intentions aloud to a trusted friend, and alerting my analyst of my plans. The day before my trip, I spent the whole day in silence on my local mountain. On the morning of, I awoke early and dosed myself with 350 micrograms of LSD. I had the same friend on standby to take my call several hours later, in case I needed someone to help me catch the juggling pins the cosmos threw at me, or else assist me to navigate out of the woods, were I to have gotten lost.
I chose to embark on this solo journey—for me, the first of its kind with this particular substance at that point in time—because I found myself looping around the same psychological eddies in analysis, all of which pertained to my Father Complex, and was ready to find my flow again. The work my analyst and I had been doing at that point readied me to address the shadowy kernel at the core of my fractured relationship to my father; I was ready to see what was underneath the symptoms I’d been living out as a result of the wound his life inflicted on mine. Thanks to my therapeutic work, I felt open and curious about my contorted relationships to sexuality, law and order, creativity, and spirituality; contortions which I have come to understand as psychological kinks folded into my psyche in the wake of my father’s less-than-conscious life choices.
To put it in Jungian terms, I felt ready to engage my parental imago, that is, the imaginal shape of my inner parent (which can be very removed from the actual parent), and through said engagement begin to author a more sovereign story of self. In other words, I was ready to stop blaming my dad and take responsibility for the human I’ve become in response to him. I mention the fact that my therapeutic work made me ready for this confrontation because I think often psychedelic-psychotherapy is offered as a substitute for traditional therapy, and I wholeheartedly do not endorse this assertion. Psychedelics serve to enhance and magnify any preexisting self-awareness, not create it where there is none. I would not have been able to access my psyche at the depth and with the scalpel-like precision that I did during this journey if it weren’t for the work I’d done in analysis leading up to this experience.
They say that “if you don’t heal what hurt you, you’ll bleed on people who didn’t cut you.” We could say that at the time of this journey, I felt ready to heal the hurt that I’d internalized in the wake of my father’s choices (or at least understand my pain more deeply), and thus stop bleeding on everyone in my life, including myself, in his name. As I’ve already mentioned, I would not have intended to dive so deep had I not had heaps of psychological and spiritual support, inner and outer, well-established in my life. The father wound, if there is one, is insidious and painful. It is not to be taken lightly—even after years of self-study and surrender to mine, the depth of its darkness still chills me sometimes. Knowing this, I proceeded into this terrain with an abundance of caution.
Scanning my memory, I register very few files labeled “dad’s mom.” Who the woman who was my father’s mother was to me as a young girl I can hardly recall. I never met her. But even still, I imagined I knew her. In part, this was thanks to the picture painted by my father as I came of age. As all cognition is subject to revisionist history, with blanks in the story filled in by outsider reports and confirmation bias, my knowing of my grandmother Sylvia fell victim to an unquestioned assumption of truth in my father’s portrayal of this mystery woman.
My father is a wounded man–I dare even say a broken man. When I was five years old, he was arrested—and not for the first time—for sex crimes. He was charged with felony lewd and lascivious acts with a child, public indecency, and a few other misdemeanors as a result of his compulsive need to masturbate in front of teenage girls. (I share all of this with you with my father’s express consent.) He was sentenced to three years in a California State prison. After flashing a female prison guard, his sentence was extended to five.
An addict is a person so plagued by the longing for freedom they are willing to cause permanent harm. Despite the most grim punishment that can come to an addict—imprisonment and the total prohibition of freedom—my father couldn’t help but get his fix. In full knowing of the fact that acting on his compulsion would only lead to further revocation of privileges and life-force, he still chose to act. This is the true nexus of the addict’s plight: we know our efforts to experience a moment’s release will only compound the sense of crushing limitation that cascades down onto us in the avalanche of aftermath, but we still choose to shirk our chains for that one glorious moment of freedom. We do this because liberty, no matter how ill-gotten, quenches the deepest of all human thirsts—that of the longing for ecstatic surrender into gnosis, the spiritual dimension of being. This I have come to understand now, as an adult with her own deep thirsts; as a small child, all I knew was that my father loved something bad, and he loved it more than he loved me.
My father was released from prison more than 20 years ago, and save the occasional psychedelic trip, he has managed to live a crime-free life since then. More than that, he has managed to find that very gnosis whose absence so drives the hungry ghost that is the addict’s heart. His spiritual path turned him around, delivering him into a cherished place of devoted, abiding awareness. His was a rehabilitation in the arms of god, just as they write about in A.A. literature; just as Jung writes that ultimately, the only thing which cures is an encounter with the numinous. And I feel grateful that my father chose this path instead of continuing to live in a way that caused such harm. Which is not to say that he has been a great father to me since his release. But now, when he fucks up, it’s in a human way, a natural way.
Since his release, his mistakes no longer reek of fire and brimstone, nor do they leave gaping holes in children’s hearts. Now, when he behaves badly, it’s as any standard, half-asleep, traumatized human might–which I tell you because I do not want to give the false impression that finding god Fully Healed™ him. No. For starters, there is no such place as Fully Healed™. And more importantly, the spiritual path is not without its fair share of astonishing danger, with disciples losing themselves in the sociopathy of spiritual bypassing and the narcissism of guru-dreaming-grandiosity as easily as any criminal or addict will lose themself in their compulsive quest for freedom. In fact, the pursuit of transcendence may just be the most fraught quest of them all. What’s more, knowing the truth of what’s behind the veil does nothing to save us from our humanity–something which I had to learn the hard way through my own painstaking adventures in self-realization. So, while I am grateful my father has redeemed his outlawing ways, I am also attuned to the fact that salvation from wrongdoing does not a good-doer make.
I also do not want to suggest that my father’s redemption in the last two decades erases his villainy in the previous. Redemption shows us the true capacity of the human spirit to bring the gods down from on high and be transformed by their divine longing to enter our lives, but it does not remove scar tissue from the fractures and fissures caused by the pre-redeemed human who lived life utterly disconnected from his or her true self. Those wounds—the ones inflicted on us by the people who love us but have lost contact with their true nature, their godly nature—are indelible. We wear the scars forever, cursed to spend lonely nights scrubbing someone else’s blood from psyche’s garments.
But, like a scar on flesh, psychic wounds can shine brilliantly under the right circumstances. For me, watching my father evolve and mature—often right alongside my own processes of growth and decay—has been a rare honor, one which has supported the shine of my scar tissue. But I also bear the scar as a direct result of the man he used to be and the blood he shed before he found himself. My task as a human is to hold both the wound and the healing of the wound without rancor. This is something I can do now—although, admittedly, it still chafes and I wobble awkwardly in the holding some days—because of the awareness that I and I alone was gifted this journey. No one else gets to walk my path or face the pain I face. It has been cherry-picked from an infinite number of possibilities just for me. Just as yours is for you. That is special.
Our pain is a contract with life which we write in our souls before we’re born. When we answer the call to incarnate, when we choose to inhabit a body, we do it fully knowing that having one will lead to enormous pain—and we make the choice anyway, not in spite of the pain, but specifically because of it. That is, something in our life-rooted selves, our ensouled selves, knows the way that pain pulls us into the greatest contact with what this whole life thing is all about—the way pain allows us to touch the true meaning of surrender, vulnerability, death, and rebirth. In his wonderful book, Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life, Jungian analyst James Hollis writes, “The ego wishes comfort, security, satiety; the soul demands meaning, struggle, becoming.” Without these touchstones, life loses substance and hearts harden—neither joy nor grief can penetrate the armor of those who feel no pain, for pain is the cost of entry to the enchanted forest that contains all other human experiences. And without the meaning which blooms in the wake of suffering, one remains woefully disengaged from the participatory universe.
In his tremendous book LSD & the Mind of the Universe—part trip report, part philosophical treatise—Christopher Bache shares how he was initiated into the psychedelic universe through pain. He writes of pain as “cleansing,” in that it overwhelms the system so totally that, when we surrender fully to it, the system is changed. This is nothing less than alchemy. In my own experience, pain is the shovel God (Source, the Universe, Brahman, Kosmos, the Ineffable Wiggle… whatever you want to call it) uses to dig a channel through our instrument, our bodymind—the wider and broader the channel, the more of the divine can eventually flow through. This, I believe, is what Bache means when he refers to the cleansing power of suffering.
This does not mean one should go looking for painful experiences, nor that one should intentionally go about causing harm in the hopes of speeding up the spiritual evolution of others. It means that when pain emerges as a response to life, we need to accept it as part of our contract with said life. I will suffer this for you, that you—God—may enter the space cleansed by the pain. Or, in Jung’s pithy and oft-quoted bit, “there is no coming to consciousness without pain.” Pain is like a wildfire or lava flow which catalyzes enormous ecological processes of new growth and germination—without these processes, the earth’s fertility would cease after a few dozen (hundred, million) cycles. In the same way, our individual experiences of pain, when we choose to allow them to happen inside our being without resistance, cleanse and fertilize. They clear space. Invariably, that space is filled by more spirit.
In being my father’s daughter, I was destined to live through deep pain; namely, the heartbreak of loving someone whose addiction so ravaged him as to leave no capacity to reciprocate my love. To be my father’s daughter was to know the pain of disappearing in the blinding light of his own suffering. Such is the plight of many—too many—children, who grow up believing themselves to be unlovable because their bearers are woefully unable to love them in the way they need. This is the generational curse of trauma—what was done is done again unto another, the blood of another’s wounds forever staining those who aren’t bleeding, unless that other goes through the cleansing process of dying into their own pain.
It was inside this contemplation that I chose to embark on this particular journey of psychedelic introspection in the summer of 2020. As mentioned, my inner work had brought me to a precipice and I felt I needed the penetrating insight of a psychedelic experience to kick me over the edge. As with all psychedelic journeys, I knew I could not predict the outcome, but could only state my intentions and surrender to the process. And my intentions were thus: to come to understand the confusing imago, or inner image, of my father, the one I was holding onto in my deep psyche, borne of his wily addiction and prolonged absence during my formative years. I needed to do this for myself because I had come to the nasty realization that most of my academic accomplishments had been utterly void of personal autonomy—they were almost exclusively to please daddy, or else some other man in my life who I’d saddled with my father projection. If I didn’t course correct, I would undoubtedly lose myself completely, drowned in the murky water of the role he’d unconsciously cast me in, the role I’d unconsciously accepted.
This is the most dangerous possibility in the world: to lose connection to one’s authentic self as a result of becoming what everyone else needs you to be. The authentic self is the part of oneself in contact with heartfire, soul images, and barbaric yawps—these things which are not of us, but in us, not proprietary, but belonging to the cosmos like the sun, like starlight. The authentic self is the crack through which the light enters us. From this contact alone arises the courage to choose to let go of niceties performed for the comfort of others. At that moment in my life, I knew I was fast approaching a terminal diagnosis in my relationship to my authenticity. I knew this was a fight for my very life.
At the time of this journey, I was also staring down the barrel of a grueling, emotionally volatile, and tedious five-year commitment to yet another academic credential, having nearly killed myself in the process of completing my master’s degree. For the first time, I realized that I had been making myself suffer through the creativity-robbing pasteurization which is academia all to please the mythic Daddy-creature invented by my own contorted psyche whom I mistakenly believed to be my father. I had no idea what would happen if I poked this beastly father projection, but I knew I needed to. I entered the underworld to see if I could salvage the spontaneous spark of selfhood which inspired me to academic pursuits in the first place, or else sacrifice the pursuit all-together, because living my life waiting for the sustenance I needed to thrive to miraculously burst forth from my father’s tragedy was no longer a viable option.
Depth psychology teaches that we all have not two parents, but six. There are the actual mother and father, however known or unknown they are—all beings born have these parents. But there are also the father imago and mother imago, or the psychic entities that parent one from within. Outside of that, there are the archetypal mother and father—best known in their guises as Nature and Time, however their facades are myriad—which rear each of us on the spiritual plane with their unique brand of cosmic love and indifferent wisdom. In setting my intention to engage with the story of my actual father with the support of psychedelics, I knew that in actuality, what I was intending to contact was my father imago, that psychic entity within myself responsible for fathering me as I moved through the world.
In his book, Care of the Soul, author Thomas Moore speaks of becoming a father to one’s own life “by becoming intimately acquainted with it and by daring to traverse its waters.” He writes of “a deep father figure” that “settles into the soul to provide a sense of authority, the feeling that you are the author of your own life, that you are the head of the household in your own affairs.” It was this inner father that I hoped to meet in my psychonautical travels.
As happens with all children of absent, addicted, severe, or otherwise incapable fathers, I suffered greatly under the rulership of my father imago, as evidenced by how I related to my own masculine energies. The masculine is the pole of the psyche which orients us to the external, to the doings of place and time, and to will power. Without a healthy masculine, itself borne of a positive father imago, a person suffers from a sense of being unable to activate sufficient will to bring their heart’s desire into the world, or else having such an overwrought sense of will as to never rest. In this latter case, however, perhaps because of the complete disconnect from one’s heart, the will is always will for the wrong thing. For those of us with too-deep father wounds, even the sense of knowing what one truly desires becomes so buried as to seem nonexistent.
Father wounds also appear as an addiction to rationality and order which borders on madness, constant striving with zero ability to feel satisfaction, and a crippling inner critic which inhibits aligned action—in essence, the father wound affects all things that relate to the doing of life (as opposed to the experiencing of it, or the being within it). In daughters, there can be an additional layer of woundedness: she never gets to know her own femininity. The soft, intuitive, vulnerable receptivity which comprises the feminine pole of the psyche requires the careful protection and witnessing of the masculine in order to develop—daughters of absent fathers do not receive this heartfelt presence, and so struggle to learn their own feminine nature.
About Sylvia, my father told me only a handful of details: she was beautiful, she was emotionally volatile, indulging in depressions like an alcoholic indulges in booze, she wore her lingerie around the house the whole day and made a point of flirting with the adolescent boys my father and his brother would bring over, and she probably molested him when he was a small child. And while these are indeed the stories he told me, they are also the stories he told himself in an effort to make sense of his own sexual deviance and substance use. In my naivety, I never questioned these stories. It is late in the maturation cycle that we learn the reality that the stories people tell us about others are only ever always about themselves, the person telling the story—the trick is to figure out what truth the speaker is revealing about themself.
In the case of Sylvia, my father was not able to make sense of all the ways she was not a mother to him, and so built up a story about the woman she was instead. His story of her reveals the depth of his isolation and loss at not having been given safe, nourishing attention and affection from his own mother. He felt betrayed, confused, abandoned, and cast out—and so painted the picture of a confusing, manipulative vixen who had the audacity to cast out her own son. He presented this story of his mother to me as if it were the only version of reality, because for him, it was. Such is the nature of our psychological projections. It is a high skill indeed to perceive another unclouded by oneself.
In a sense, my father’s negative experience of his mother was exactly as it needs to be. In his book, The Fear of the Feminine, Jungian analyst Erich Neumann explores how male Self-discovery is dependent on the young boy’s rejection of the feminine—he cannot know himself as male without first experiencing himself as not-female. Psychologically, it is imperative that he separate from his maternal relationship by any means necessary, lest he “remains entrapped and castrated in uroboric and matriarchal incest,” as Neumann puts it. Were he to remain thus entrapped and castrated, he would be doomed to a life of non-contact with his authentic self; thus, rejection of the feminine is a necessary first step in the process of entering genuine selfhood for the young boy. In my father’s story, my grandmother’s nature so totally overwhelmed him that unless he cast dispersions on her character, he would never have been able to separate from her all-consuming thrall. The character assassination was necessary for his own becoming. This phase is only meant to be the beginning of a much longer journey, but the sad reality is that most men who successfully differentiate from the mother remain locked in that boyhood phase of rejecting the feminine, so afraid are they of letting a new, more archetypal form of the mother back into their hearts.
In giving me a hand-me-down version of my grandmother, my father unwittingly gave me a faulty access point to my own feminine self. For him, it was his mother’s womanhood that caused so much suffering—her embodied power, her wildness, her effusive sensuality—and so, when it came to rearing me, femininity was strictly off-limits. As with most unconsciousness, this limit was never stated outright, but communicated through emotional undertones, passive aggression, and demonstrations of approval or disappointment. Instead of providing the space for me to develop an authentic connection to the parts of me that were deeply woman, my father’s fear of the feminine subtly influenced my development on an unconscious level, forcing me into a narrow, limited, and ultimately completely dissociated version of myself.
In lieu of learning to inhabit my body and respect my emotional knowing, I cultivated what was strictly un-feminine within me. That is, I cultivated a hyper-rationality that preferred logic and reason to feeling and sensing. I cultivated debate, eviscerating intelligence, and sharp, prodding assertions of fact that could level whole paradigms. I learned to strive, to attain academic excellence at any cost—most especially at the cost of my physical wellbeing—and to feel suspect of any kind of phenomenology. In my psyche, Apollo ruled. In this way, I became entirely unthreatening to my father, able to meet him intellectually without overburdening him with those dreaded feminine traits he so reviled. I did this unwittingly, as all children do for their parents, for they are the people we love and need on the most basic, unchosen level. Philosopher Allain de Botton writes that “as adults, we try to develop the character traits that would have rescued our parents.” In the unconscious collusion with the parental imago within me, I became the version of “woman” who might have saved my father from his own deep fear of the feminine.
I must stress that these unconscious contracts are far from deliberate. My father did not choose his projection of his mother, nor did he choose to cut me off from my own femininity by beaming it out onto the world. I did not choose to buy into his story, become so dangerously driven to success, or fly so far away from my earthly body. All of this happened under the surface, amongst that vast and mysterious root system called the unconscious. I can blame neither him nor myself for our ignorance. The process of making these dynamics conscious, however, shifts the needle—everything after becoming conscious is chosen. Were I to continue along this path of hyper-rationality, suicidal spirituality, and dissociation after realizing the choreography that shaped me, I would have no one to blame but myself. Coming to consciousness is indeed a terrible burden.
It also needs to be said that where my father failed in my early life, he emerged victorious in later years. That is to say, as I became conscious of the sucking undertow which had me continually engaged in a tug-of-war between my sanity and my striving, my father chose to take on the burden of consciousness with me. To his great credit, he heard my version of reality and eventually took it to heart, doing the inner work necessary to grow and change.
When lack of awareness causes us to err, the only recourse we have is to become conscious and take responsibility for our blindness. This allows growth and transforms error into evolution. I know fortune smiled upon me when my father ultimately chose to “die, and so to grow” as Goethe writes—dying unto his idea of who he was and thus growing into a more honest version of who he is. I know that he could have just as easily—probably more easily—dug in his heels, resisted my consciousness, and denied my truth with the continued assertion of “I don’t know what you’re talking about, I was a great father.” It breaks my heart into a million pieces that this is the fate of so many parent-child relationships as the children grow and become conscious adults—that depth, intimacy, revelation, and growth fall to the wayside because a parent cannot fathom the reality that they might have caused their child harm. Sadly, so much more harm is caused in the denial of harm than the original harm, and for this reason, many grown children never fathom bringing their wounds to light for the benefit of their parents. This only serves to perpetuate the unnecessary bloodletting—the cycle continues—for it is only by bringing our wounds to the light that they heal.
After I’d ingested my substance and gone through the standard death throes of coming up on a psychedelic, I oriented myself to the realm of the immateria, that imaginal realm also known as the underworld. It was then I encountered visions of two women. The first female I met was my grandmother, the mother of my father, Sylvia. Having never met her in waking life, I reveled in getting a sense of this woman for myself. Immediately, I was struck by her enormous capacity. Far from the dutiful housewife and seductive lush I had heard stories about, this woman whose being graced my presence was… alive. I mean, truly, wildly, wonderfully alive. She had the power of a tempest coursing through her every movement.
Immediately I understood that what was “wrong” with her was not that she was a bad mother, nor a woman prone to overt sexuality or over indulgence, but that she had far more wild power than 1940s American society knew what to do with; indeed, even than she knew what to do with. She seemed to me a wildfire, scorching and loud and in touch with an intensity most unbecoming of the role she was forced to live inside of. Instantly I grokked that all her missteps and abuses stemmed from being expected to contain her raw vivacity inside a costume made to fit much smaller women. In Women Who Run with the Wolves, Clarissa Pinkola Estes tells us that “sneaking a life because the real one is not given room enough to thrive is hard on women’s vitality.” And this was precisely the fate of my grandmother: she was forced to sneak her life, and her vitality suffered gravely as a result.
The sad truth of the shadow of patriarchal culture is that individuals who do not fit have to cut off limbs and longings for the sake of survival. This was my grandmother. Such severing led her to the depression of forced inauthenticity, and the emotional turmoil led her to behave indecently. The wildness in her heart, so genuine and necessary, became the source of her downfall, just as her denial of it—a denial encouraged by extreme societal pressure to be “good”—forced it underground, where it took on a life of its own. In the darkness of negation, what was wildly creative and naturally powerful within her became maddeningly destructive. This is the plight of far too many women, even still. What we cannot bring forth for the sake of our salvation becomes our most surefire shattering.
The second female form which came to me in my visions came to me not as one woman, but two. Her twoness was but a disguise, however, a trick of the light, for in reality she was the two opposing faces of one immanent being. Hermeticism teaches us that one of the fundamental laws of the universe is the Law of Polarity. This law states that seemingly opposite things are actually one and the same, only expressed at extremely varying degrees. As an example, we can look at temperature—hot and cold are only opposites on the surface, but in truth, they are the extreme poles of one scale which is connected by degrees. Hot and cold are but two manifestations of the same thing: temperature. James Hillman exposed a similar truth from the archetypal perspective in naming that every archetype constellates its opposite, as with the Senex and Puer, or Madonna and Whore. This is because, as Jung so keenly discovered, every conscious aspect of oneself necessarily calls into being its opposite in the unconscious—such is psyche’s dynamic of equilibrium. The second woman I met in my visionary space appeared to be two seemingly separate embodiments of the feminine, but like the spectrum of temperature which separates hot and cold, or the dynamic tension of opposites which composes the archetypal experience of conscious and unconscious, the opposing visages of this female form were but the illusion of opposition. In truth, they were one woman separated by a chasm of degrees.
The first part of this feminine form appeared voluptuous, round as the earth. She was a Venus of Willendorf, a Baubo with her huge laughing belly, an African queen full of vibrant stories and song. Her round bosom and massive belly danced and jiggled as she flitted about effortlessly, totally unburdened by the heaviness of others’ judgements. She wanted for nothing, generously accepted everything, and appeared impossibly weightless on account of the intractable joy in her heart. She showed me instantly that infinite lightness of being into which all life is born and so rarely lived through. The second part of the feminine spectrum, which appeared simultaneously, could scarcely even be called a woman, so shriveled and misshapen was her shape. This was a woman who was too wrapped up in her people-pleasing even to die. Her joints protruded grotesquely from beneath papery skin and she wore the weary expression of one from whom everything has been taken without even so much as a thank you in return. The frame of her nigh-visible skeleton told the story of someone who had spent her life bending to the demands of others. She showed me instantly how a life lived for others withers on the vine.
Immediately, as if by telepathy, I knew precisely the lesson being bequeathed to me from gorgeous Mama Africa. She wanted me to know—deeply, roaringly, without a shadow of a doubt—that a woman does not need permission from anyone to claim the joy which is her birthright and legacy. And this she communicated to me not as the masculine would, through words, teachings, and ideas, but through effusive demonstration, like the sun shows plants how to grow upward from the earth. In an instant which lasted an eternity, I understood how my wounded feminine was unconsciously seeking the permission and approval of others before she felt safe to play. I understood that if I were to heal, I and I alone would need to take responsibility for the discovery, embodiment, and expression of my joy. It was time, she wordlessly communicated, to stop waiting for permission to shine, time to refuse anyone the power to claim my light for themselves. She stressed anyone, as if to say that even my loved ones would cease to be given access to my hard-won joy, unless they learned to come correct. All at once, I gathered that I am both protector and sustainer of the life within me, and no one is coming to save or approve of it on my behalf.
Equally as immediately, in the same instant as my download about blooming unapologetically into illuminated joy, I felt compelled to drop to my knees beside the Hollowed Out Woman in my vision. I instinctively began to massage her gnarled finger joints. It was a mere gesture, unlikely to do much to take away her lifetime of suffering or the intensity of her ever-present arthritic ache, but necessary nonetheless. She needed to know the depth of my solidarity. To be there by her side, holding her bones brittle as tinder, ripped a tear into the fabric of my being which, to this day, I cannot suture.
Here she was, the embodiment of every woman who sacrifices her pleasure, ease, and vitality for the sake of those who cannot see her luminosity. No light left, she whispered to me a chilling warning, foretelling I would know a similar fate if I didn’t take steps to erect those terrifying but necessary psychic structures known as boundaries. Her tragic form showed me how dark the depravity of submission can grow, if left unchecked. She barely growled the grave words, “there is only one thing you can do to help me: do not become as I have. Do not break yourself for the sake of others.” She made me vow my body would not grow to look like hers, made me promise to take up my rightful space. And I knew in an instant that every woman’s liberation is bound up in my own; that to reclaim my lost feminine essence is a reclamation on behalf of every single woman who wasn’t able to in her lifetime. Including my grandmother.
For weeks after I was granted these visions, I found it odd that I had set out to confront my father imago, but instead was shown my grandmother’s true essence and the two polar faces—exalted and forgotten—of the feminine. What did this mean? Was I to ignore my impulse to learn more about self-fathering? Was I to take another spin around the well-worn track of making my own feminine projections conscious? It didn’t feel right to put down my inquiry into my inner father, but at the same time, I didn’t want to disrespect my visions by focusing my efforts on making conscious my masculine pole. It was almost two years before I connected the dots between my inquiry and my answer. As is often the case with visionary experiences, chronos time—that is, linear, calendar time—holds no bearing, for when we enter the underworld of psychedelia, we are enveloped in kairos time. In kairos time, everything exists in its verb form; that is, it exists in process. Chronos time allows tasks to get done by specified dates, events to be planned in such a way so that guests arrive on the right day, and egos to feel accomplished for making progress. Kairos time, on the other hand, knows nothing about progress—process is the sole currency.
Speaking in terms of linearity, much time passed between this LSD vision and its integration into my being; however, in terms of cyclicality, the only thing which passed was the season of not-knowing. And, as all seasons of not-knowing, it bloomed into the fullness of knowing at exactly the moment it was meant to. Such is the way of process—it is only the fullness of time, that mysterious mythic clock of Kairos, which dictates when a process comes to fruition.
Said simply—at the risk of redundancy—in order to begin to heal my father wound and level-up my father imago, I had to first disillusion the false image of the feminine I’d inherited from him. I could not “masculine” my way into a better relationship with my inner fathering energy, but instead had to discover all the missing parts of my feminine. I could not will my inner state to change, but had to learn the subtle surrender of accepting my inner state as the perfect expression of my being which it is, for “we cannot change anything unless we accept it. Condemnation does not liberate, it oppresses,” as Jung writes. In this, I learned that it would need to be love, not power, which ultimately healed me in my broken places.
True insight births more questions than answers. What is a woman like me to do with her love of a problematic man? Likewise, his love for her? What are we, all of us, to do with their legacies? What do I do with the cherished memories of loving moments with people who have hurt me, and how do we make sense of the paradoxes baked right into being human? The fact that we are all possessed of angels and demons, capable of abusing our power just as much as our love? How are we to consciously step forward as a collective, eyes open to the very real truth that our individual unconsciousness causes others pain, and that simply by existing, we can unwittingly do more harm than good?
At this point in my journey, having seen the truth of the human woman behind the storied projection of “feminine” my father saddled upon me, having met these two faces of the feminine which live within me, what was I to do? What’s called “toxic masculinity” would have us trod along through sheer force of will, incessantly crucifying ourselves in the name of an idealized image of perfection, but that path only leads to disintegration. I knew I could not go back to the disintegration which had me chasing phantoms of flawlessness, for that was the same disintegration that forced Sylvia’s vivacity into a hermetically sealed suburban life, the same disintegration that burdened my father with the rejection of the beast within him.
Neither she nor he ever learned to take charge of the forces inside of them, and so they bled on those who didn’t cut them. At this point in my journey, I knew I could no longer endorse life choices which caused me to keep bleeding, nor could I continue the futile attempt to eradicate bloodstains from the wounds of others’ life choices. I knew that the two-bodied woman who had visited me in the underworld was not mine, but ours; she moves through each of us, whether we be male or female. It is an unspoken truth of visionary experiences that anything we make conscious becomes our responsibility. At this point in my journey, I became responsible for the hidden faces of the feminine we all carry. And if I’m honest, I still don’t know how I feel about bearing that. I still don’t know what it means to redeem and awaken the banished feminine.
In a letter to Victor White, Jung cautioned against the desire to learn more of the collective unconscious than is readily offered through dreams and intuition—that is, the desire to use psychedelics—for, he writes, “the more you know of it [the collective unconscious], the greater and heavier becomes your moral burden, because the unconscious contents transform themselves into your individual tasks and duties as soon as they become conscious.” What I saw of the feminine—both my ancestral lineage and the lineage we all share through the collective storehouse of archetypes—is now my personal duty. I cannot unsee the ease which is my birthright, nor unhear the warning of what grave fate will befall me if I do not take up my space. I cannot pretend that this is not deadly serious.
I suppose it is from that place of moral burden that I have penned this essay, although in its writing I am painfully aware of what a small offering it is compared to the depth of the problem. I suppose I must again defer to Jung, who says in his memoires, “the meaning of my existence is that life has addressed a question to me.” In the contract my soul made with life before I was born, I must have agreed to grapple with these questions. I must have committed to lessons hard-won on the subjects of becoming, embodiment, and remembering the mysterious feminine pulse of life, for these are the places in which I have been cut most deeply, most repeatedly, along my path. I urge you to consider your life through a similar lens and ask yourself: what is the question life has asked me to live into? I can tell you that it will be a question born of suffering deep within that enclosed, fertile, and illuminated darkness inside your very own heart. I cannot claim to know anything at all outside of my experience on these subjects, but I also know that if not for my experience here, there would be no subjects. I suppose it is from this place that I have penned this essay, which I will now conclude, aware that I am leaving my reader dissatisfied, as I am still living into unanswered questions; aware that my living into it brings me deeper and deeper into the world, to you, thus permitting you, the world, to respond in kind.
About the Author: By trade Mackenzie is a writer, researcher, psychedelic facilitator, & 5Rhythms® teacher. By vocation she is a Jungian analyst-in-training & psychology doctoral student. By design she is a collection of fractal, holographic cells dancing around some strange attractor for the sake of who knows what to live an insignificant, mythic life reflective of the mysterious vital spark within her. She identifies as a series of memories & unverifiable subjective experiences of self-hood to which she is rather fondly attached. She has a penchant for scholarship, the occult, pedantic erudition, morbid humor, grandiosity, nihilism, & semi-responsible hedonism. Born in the shadow of New Age culture into a fractured family system & the subjective experiencer of (arguably) extreme early childhood trauma, her life’s work is to heal psychic wounds—her’s & other’s—that she & others become strong enough to contend with the unconscious quicksands & transpersonal abysses which lap at the periphery of developing consciousness. She is an emergent property of Being playing at becoming sovereign. She really, really loves butter.