My breath came in short, labored bursts, reflecting the intensity of the circuit workout my friend and I were making our way through. I told her I’d begun “hiking” on the treadmill set at a steep incline, practicing for the mountain hikes on the itinerary for an upcoming trip as couples to celebrate our friends’ 25th wedding anniversary. We’d both been lamenting different things about our bodies—lack of strength, lack of flexibility, softness and size. Internally, I feared my body was a bigger problem than my friend’s, likely to be a source of failure and disappointment on what was supposed to be a fun vacation.
Thankfully, my wise friend listens well, beyond words. She looked at me and said, “Janet, I don’t know how much any of us will be able to do, I just want to do things together—whatever that looks like. I just want to be with you.” The familiar tightness inside of me, the part that fears there is nothing compelling enough about me to offset all my deficits, that space inside of me expanded a bit, allowing room for deep breaths.
On the trip, I finally began reading Women Who Run with the Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estés, which has been patiently waiting on my bookshelf for me to be ready. Estés says of our initial response to the idea of the Wild Woman:
“When women hear those words, an old, old memory is stirred and brought back to life. The memory is of our absolute, undeniable, and irrevocable kinship with the wild feminine…in our bones we know her, we yearn toward her; we know she belongs to us and we to her.”
Did you feel that stirring?
I sure did! Estés’ storytelling utilizes the Wild Woman archetype to construct a doorway into a forgotten land—the place of our origin, of the deeply knowing, instinctual nature we were created with and birthed into. Investigating what lies beyond the door is part of our necessary initiation into womanhood.
I believe the evangelical culture many of us grew up in locked the door and painted over it with flowers and elegant script, admonishing us to tend instead to our growth as “godly women”: sweet, accommodating, responsible, beautiful, and oriented to the approval and enjoyment of men. The image of the ideal woman held up in many circles today is a far cry from our wild woman origins.
Estés observes that moral judgments about women’s bodies, and expectations that we all conform to a universal standard of beauty and appropriate behavior is compelling evidence of our captivity. This captivity will require all of our wildish instincts to break free. I plan to nurture that expansive, wild, space in me, to attend to the fear that I appear large to others. I knew this wildness in my body and witnessed it in my friend’s body, at 14,466 feet of elevation last week, and it was liberating. May we stay curious about what lies beyond.
Janet Stark is a deeply feeling introvert who has learned the value of creating nurturing, restful space in a loud world. She loves the connection that is possible when we slow down and listen to each other with intention. A few of her favorite things include the smell of freshly baked bread, soft blankets, good books, and the warmth of her puppy, Oliver snuggled up close. Janet and her husband Chris love traveling, especially to spend time with their three adult children.