“The Cloak” 18X18″ Mixed Media Collage. Image courtesy of the artist, Brandi Strickland. Used with permission and gratitude. All rights reserved. Please visit Ms. Strickland’s website here to view more of her work.
Today is the thirtieth day of the season of non-violence–a sixty-four day block of time between Jan. 30 and Apirl 4 (the anniversaries of the assassinations of Mahatma Ghandi and Martin Luther King, respectively) which is set aside annually & was originated by Ghandi’s grandson.
Why designate a season of non-violence? Of course, it is a celebration of the contribution these and other modern day public figures who have lived out their lives passionately, teaching the way of non-violence. But most importantly, it is one way to engage ourselves in a conversation about the power of gentleness.
I have never heard nor have I ever spoken these words: Happy season of non-violence! And though I think, Happy season of gentleness! evokes more of the resonance I personally want to create in the world, these are not words that have ever occurred to me to say. Hmmmmmm….
There is a season in which everyone walks the streets wishing everyone else everywhere merriness and joy and P.E.A.C.E! Culturally, however, we only give ourselves permission to show this much good will publicly for the thirty days between Thanksgiving and Christmas. The rest of the time, we might say, “Have a nice day,” or “Be well,” but these phrases don’t carry quite the same message. They don’t really speak to the practice of non-violence the way, say, May you know gentleness today, or I wish you every gentleness might.
I write about gentleness, confessing my own need for it, my own need to practice, practice, practice, confessing that I lapse into violent thought and sometimes (still) words and actions that come from habits deeply imbedded in my neuron-pathways from pre-birth.
I write to watch myself. I write to know myself. I write to change myself. I write, hoping that what I have experienced will move others into their own way of being present to themselves and their own needs to watch, to know, to change.
What follows are excerpts from a talk I gave to women gathered for the Diocese of South Texas Episcopal Women’s Spring Gathering at Camp Capers in Waring, Texas, April 4, 2014. I share it with you today, celebrating my own season of non-violence, celebrating how far I have come, celebrating my own willingness to carry on.
image: meme by Brett Jordan. Use with permission via Creative Commons. Rights reserved.
Part I: Why Am I Here?
I started writing Making Room for George because I needed to tell the story of what was happening in my life.
But as I wrote, the writing morphed from a simple account of the events in my life into a journey itself–through my life’s history and choices– and as I wrote, it was much like taking an inventory, bearing witness, explaining, and grappling with the transformational journey I have been making from the person I used to be into the person I am.
After I finished the book, I realized that I would be speaking to people about the book. I had to decide what it was I really wanted to say besides, “Buy my book.” And as I asked for guidance and began to receive it, I had great resistance to the clear message that surfaced. But it was so clear and so profound and it scared me so much that I knew this was what I was being called to do.
So this is what I have come here today to say:
The woman sitting next to you in church every Sunday, well-dressed, intelligent, raising a straight-up child, holding a good job could be the very woman whose husband sitting beside her threatened her life and the life of her child the night before.
Statistics show that as many as one in every three of us has experienced some form of abuse by an intimate partner.
We must realize this is happening, maybe even to the woman sitting next to you right now.
We must talk about it openly. We must hold the door of our hearts wide open so that disclosure can happen. We must proactively educate ourselves and our children as to what constitutes a healthy relationship. We must teach each other how to practice respect and gentleness.
image: “Peace is Every Step” (Book cover) by Thich Naht Hanh. From my suggested reading list & a favorite of mine.
We must tell the truth. We must heal this abuse. We must stand together, become formidable, and thrive toward a culture of gentleness.
Part II: Why Doesn’t She Just Leave?
As an adult, I asked my mother why she didn’t just leave my father. After all, she had a job. This was her answer: “Because he said he’d kill both of us if I did.” So my mother risked her life and sacrificed her happiness to save our lives.
As it turns out, this threat is a common one made by many perpetrators. Sometimes, in spite of such a threat, women summon the courage to leave and succeed, finding new lives in other cities or carrying on where they are, but with restraining orders in place, finding that their spouse’s bullying behaviors subside once they realize she has finally, really left and isn’t coming back. Sometimes, the perpetrator hunts them down and carries out the threat.
A woman who lived across the street from one of my friends in an affluent San Antonio neighborhood was being held hostage by her husband, locked inside and not allowed out alone. None of the neighbors suspected anything was wrong until her sister called one of them to say there was going to be an intervention
Sometimes a woman has children and no job and no idea how she would survive and care for her children, so she tells herself after every beating or insult that he didn’t really mean it and that he won’t do it again. In fact, that’s what most perpetrators do say. They experience and express real remorse, but somehow cannot keep their aggression from surfacing again and again.
Sometimes, the woman is well-educated and has an excellent job and could easily care for herself and her children financially, but she has been brainwashed into thinking that the whole mess is her fault and if she would only do this or that differently, he wouldn’t lose his temper the way he does. So the woman jumps through hoops: taking cooking classes; losing weight; changing her hair; never going out; clinging; not-clinging; and so on and on and on…
The other reason women stay is because they love this man and because they would rather stay and risk a broken arm than endure a broken life with a broken heart. My mother loved my father until the day she died and I love my husband despite all of our difficulties.
image: “Good Question” by Bob Jagendorf. Used with permission via Creative Commons. Rights reserved.
Part III: You Can’t Get There From Here
Have I experienced violence at the hands of someone I love? Yes. I am one in three. But why did I choose a man who slapped me to the ground and treated me with such disrespect and why didn’t I just leave him?
Einstein is quoted to have said: “a problem cannot be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.”
I can speak most authentically to this point by telling my own story.
I cannot leave the place I inhabit unless I leave it consciously, by first identifying the energetic pattern-cause and then by practicing the vigilant work of choosing again and again a new way of inhabiting my world.
D. Ellis Phelps
In order to move on, I must embody a new energetic pattern. Otherwise, I will simply find myself back in the same circumstance or with the same kind of partner who may be slightly more or less abusive because that’s the kind of energetic space my consciousness inhabits, because that’s what’s familiar, because that’s what I’m attracted to subconsciously.
So when I found my husband, what kind of energetic-pattern did I embody? What were my deepest systems of belief?
From as early as I can remember, I learned that violence is a way of life. That it is part of loving someone. That it is the way to handle anger, disappointment, and frustration.
I watched my father become enraged with my mother, hit her, knock her down and bruise her. I watched her cry and mourn and grieve and then I watched them reconcile and stay together for twenty-eight years. I heard my mother say repeatedly that she loved my father, so I learned that this is how you behave when you love someone.
I learned that violence is funny. I watched the Wylie Coyote and the Roadrunner do territorial battle on Saturday morning cartoons. I watched the Roadrunner drop the big rock or anvil on the Coyote’s head and squash him. And then I watched the Coyote spring back and do it all again and I watched this week after week along with many other cartoon characters who did the same things, smacking each other in the face with skillets and brooms and the like.
Implanted in those cartoons was the notion that these kinds of violent actions do not hurt, after all the Coyote never died.
And the same idea was implanted in my experience because though my mother was sad and I was frightened, no one died. So I became accustomed to living in tension and because I didn’t know better; I couldn’t know better.
image: “Love and Hate” by Mai Le. Used with permission via Creative Commons.
I agreed subconsciously with the idea that violent action, tension, and pain are all just part of the landscape of love.
My psyche studied the roles: the aggressor rules; the victim submits; and the belief system: when there’s been an attack, pass judgment, figure out who’s to blame, and punish them by attack. This belief system implanted itself into every cell of my being, into my psyche, into my emotional blueprint, and therefore into every future relationship I would have, especially into the relationship I have with my own self.
I decided early on that to survive, I would be perfect. And I vowed that no matter what, when I grew up, none of this would ever affect me.
I graduated high school, President of the Drama Club, Student Council Officer, in the top ten percent of my class, an outspoken, upstanding, virgin, non-drinking Christian who attended church beside my parents every Sunday morning, Sunday afternoon and Wednesday Prayer Meeting. I looked like a young woman who was just fine.
When I got to college, I started drinking, having fun, and enjoying freedom–until I wasn’t having fun anymore. Within four years, alcohol had released the rage within me to the degree that I had already blown through two serious relationships and I had become spiritually bankrupt, anorexic and suicidal.
So, I had left home, but I had failed to leave what I learned there behind.
Do you live in an emotional landscape, longing to be in a different place? What ideas, patterns or habits might you need to relinquish in order to move on?
Are you one of the one in three? If so, call for help: 1-800-799-SAFE (7233)
I’ll be posting more of this story over the next few days. Click the follow button to the right to get my updates in your email inbox.
d. ellis phelps is the author of Making Room for George, a love story. Balboa Press, 2013.