Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Undoing the Knots by Trista Hendren


Painting by Arna Bartz / from 'New Love'


If you feel stuck in your life as a female, this is not an accident. There is nothing “wrong with you” and nothing that needs to be fixed. Rather, there are systematic and overlapping oppressions that hamper women and girls worldwide.

Arna Baartz and I recently created a reprogramming toolbox as a means to help you break free of those oppressions individually, facilitating the release of the collective female consciousness from the indoctrination of inferiority most of us were raised with. In doing so, we hope to rattle the cage that women have been locked up in for thousands of years.

Mary Daly wrote:

“Clearly, there is no simple ‘one-shot’ cure for a lifetime of conditioning to dependence. Women can raise each other’s consciousness of it, and encourage each other to take the risks necessary to become free.”

We believe woman-affirming art and literature are key components in breaking through this paradigm.

I began my own reprogramming journey with a wise old crone named Pat Graves when I became pregnant with my son in 2002. Pat was an unschooled, recovering alcoholic and non-traditional therapist of sorts.

When I realized I was pregnant, I knew needed to  radically change my dysfunctional default behaviors. Several co-workers were making enormous progress in their lives and they all shared one thing in common: Pat Graves.

Pat was prickly. She was not an easy person and I rarely looked forward to meeting her, although I loved her tremendously. She was a no-nonsense sort of woman who didn’t have time or patience to be conned. She called you on your crap and she would tell you in no uncertain terms when you were wrong.

She was just the thing I needed. After years of on-and-off therapy, she would often tell me, “You’ve come a long way kiddo, but you still have a l-o-n-g way to go.”

I continued moving forward on my self-recovery individually after my sessions with Pat were over. She provided the tools and the foundation that enabled me to change my life long after her time on Earth was up.

This toolbox is partially dedicated to the memory of Pat. I think she would be pleased with my progress - and, more than anything - that I am still working on it. She would be proud that I did not give up on myself.

The next “Pat” on my journey was Patricia Lynn Reilly. Although I had purchased A God Who Looks Like Me nearly a decade before, and it traveled with me through several different homes, it wasn’t until my second divorce that I opened the book.

I was immediately transfixed. I quickly read all of Patricia’s books and completed her Imagine a Woman International coaching program. Patricia’s work changed the course of my life. We are honored to include many of her words in our toolbox.

So now it’s confession time. When we began this project, I ordered some of Arna’s coloring sheets. I have wanted to order coloring sheets for several years now but I never have. I was usually short on money as a long-time single mom. I always put my own desires off in favor of taking care of something for the kids. I also worried that I would never find time to color them. But after debating it with myself for 3-4 weeks, I decided to order them!

I was thrilled to receive Arna’s package in the mail from Australia. I looked at the beautiful folder at least 10 times before I pulled the sheets out to color. But when I did, I had this anxious, sinking feeling that I ought to be doing something else. Surely the kids needed something, the laundry needed to be done or I ought to work on a “more important” feminist project that benefited many women instead of just sitting around coloring.


In talking to other women, particularly mothers, I know I am not alone in this.

“In analyzing women’s thinking about what constitutes care and what connection means, I noted women’s difficulty in including themselves among the people for whom they considered it moral to care. The inclusion of self is genuinely problematic not only for women but also for society in general. Self-inclusion on the part of women challenges the conventional understanding of feminine goodness by severing the link between care and self-sacrifice; in addition, the inclusion of women challenges the interpretive categories of the Western tradition, calling into question the description of human/nature and holding up to scrutiny the meaning of “relationship,” “love,” “morality,” and “self.” -Carol Gilligan

So, while you may be wondering why we included coloring pages in this toolbox, it is for this very reason. We must learn as females that it is right, moral and good to care for ourselves, too. We only get one life. How many of us use it up in ways that are fulfilling?

“Your life is the one place you have to spend yourself full – wild, generous, drastic – in an unrationed profligacy of self... And in that split second when you understand that you finally are about to die – to uncreate the world – no time to do it over, no more chances – that instant when you realize your conscious existence is truly flaring nova, won’t you want to have used up all the splendor that you are?” -Robin Morgan

Too many women are bogged down by expectations that someone else created for us. It is extraordinarily important that we prioritize our own needs and desires. Audre Lorde wrote: “If our history has taught us anything, it is that action for change directed against the external conditions of our oppressions is not enough.” We must begin to listen to our inner voices as well—and honor them.


Recently, I had a period of sleepless nights where my head was spinning and my heart was racing. Finally, I began to recite Surah Al-Fatihah from the Quran in my head. I learned that if I did this a few times, I could change my thought patterns and finally fall back into sleep. I wondered if I could go further back into my Christian heritage and try this with passages of the Bible. I was curious if reciting Bible verses in English instead of the Quran in Arabic (which is not my native tongue or even a language I know well) would be equally effective. It was. My mind stopped spinning and I fell asleep.

But then I became irritated with myself. Why, after decades of feminism and five years working extensively with the Divine Feminine, was I still coming back to these patriarchal scriptures? Why didn’t I come back to “Our Mother, Who Art Within Us” or “The Charge of the Goddess”?

My only answer is that our socialization as girls was deep and thorough. Many of us spent hours a day for a decade or more pouring over these scriptures. Nawal El Saadawi stated that “you cannot exploit people without controlling their brains.”

There are people who have memorized the entire Quran. I never went nearly that far, but growing up as a Christian I could recite hundreds of verses, many of which I can still remember without having picked up a Bible in more than twenty years.

We must be equally diligent about absorbing new texts that empower us as women. As Carol Christ wrote:

“Even people who no longer ‘believe in God’ or participate in the institutional structure of patriarchal religion still may not be free of the power of the symbolism of God the Father. A symbol’s effect does not depend on rational assent, for a symbol also functions on levels of the psyche other than the rational. Symbol systems cannot simply be rejected; they must be replaced. Where there is no replacement, the mind will revert to familiar structures at times of crisis, bafflement, or defeat.”

That said, I am not anti-religion. Both Christianity and Islam shaped who I am today. While neither religion suits me personally anymore, I deeply believe women have the power to transform themselves where they are right now, whether they are still practicing a patriarchal religion or not.

Mary Daly wrote that “Patriarchy is itself the prevailing religion of the entire planet.” It is my belief that patriarchy is the problem and not necessarily religion. I see religion as primarily cultural. We usually identify with the prevailing faith of where we are born. Religion can be good or bad. Unfortunately, it is often used as a tool of patriarchy to reinforce (male) dominance and (female) submission.

I believe that memorization, affirmations, new stories and any other means of changing brain patterns are critically important for women if we are to reboot ourselves from our subordinate status. As Glenys Livingstone wrote, “It is not female biology that has betrayed the female…it is the stories and myths we have come to believe about ourselves.” 


This toolbox and my work on The Girl God series have become intensely important to me. As Rosemary Radford Ruether reminded us decades ago:

“We do not have thousands of years to unlearn the wrong patterns that were established over thousands of years. The exponential speed-up of these cumulative patterns of destruction means we have to both learn new patterns and put them into practice on a global scale within the next generation.”

The time to change ourselves—and the world—is now.


Order New Love: a reprogramming toolbox for undoing the knots here.



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