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Mother can be such a beautiful word.  For many it conjures up memories of a welcoming shoulder to lean on, a warm hug to fall into and a batch of fresh baked cookies to ease the pain of a bad day. But it’s also a complicated word – a word loaded with difficult memories and yes, sometimes a lot of hurt, abandonment and pain.

Every woman experienced a unique relationship with her mother but not every woman blossomed in that relationship. Many women, despite their mother’s good intentions and well-meaning hearts, endured relationships with their mothers that caused issues that affect them to this day – and this isn’t usually the mother’s fault. The problems we face are bigger than that. I believe being negatively impacted by the mother-daughter relationship is as common as it is because women, as a gender, have endured centuries of abuse, neglect, dismissal and oppression.

The arguments we keep repeating with our spouses, the areas we feel disconnected from our children, the unhealthy patterns we keep repeating, the insecurity that plagues us, the mistrust we have of our own intuition and gut feelings, the areas in our lives where we can’t speak up, the competitive or inauthentic relationships we share with other women, the challenge we have with setting healthy boundaries and the way we feel removed from our passion and purpose can all be traced to the legacy of how women were treated that runs in our family.

If we don’t know what that legacy is, how can we hope to heal it?

I work with women who have experienced complicated relationships with their mothers and the one thing I’ve come to understand is women are a brave and beautiful bunch. We are emotional warriors who, despite the pain and tears, face the scariest and most grueling emotional battles with courage and determination – and we do it for our families, our marriages and because we want to take care of our communities and the world. We heal because we care. We heal ourselves and our own emotional wounds because we want to prevent our children from experiencing the suffering we endured. We talk about our feelings and dig up our past because we want to offer unconditional love to our spouses. We look at our issues and take responsibility for our emotional wounds because we want to heal the planet and make it a more peaceful place. We aren’t perfect but try and we care a lot.

We put other people’s needs ahead of our own. We empathize and carry the emotional burdens so others won’t have to. But the mother wound exists because women have been expected to do this. They have been forced to shoulder more than their share of the emotional labor in the family, in their communities and in the world and it has left them depleted, spent and empty.

And, in their emotionally depleted state, they’ve often been responsible for raising children – who had, of course, no choice but to become emotionally depleted also.

It’s not just that mothers have been raising children from an emotionally depleted state. It’s also that their wisdom has been devalued and mistrusted. For instance, in the culture I was raised, emotions, intuition and creativity are regarded as frivolous, unnecessary and ineffective more often than they are acknowledged as powerful and important. These ideas about emotions, intuition and creativity affected my grandmothers and they affected my mother and they have most certainly also affected me. You can’t take that which is inherent within me, put it down, devalue it, dismiss it and expect these actions not to affect my self-esteem, my choices, my relationships and the way I parent.

The Mother Wound is real and it is most likely affecting your life in one way or another. But healing the Mother Wound doesn’t have to be hard. It can be as beautiful as women coming together and supporting each other in healing circles. Women coming together to mother each other – spiritually and emotionally – heals the Mother Wound for every heart in the room who is witness to the healing. Sisterhood is medicine. And it is such an important medicine for mothers of daughters to take regularly. It will heal the past and usher women into a new relationship with each other and ultimately reunite each woman with her innate wisdom.

And from her center she will navigate her life with her unique internal compass and her life will become her own.

She will no longer apologize for having an opinion.  She will no longer feel content with playing small to make someone else feel comfortable. She will no longer swallow her feelings, sweep the issues under the rug, cry herself to sleep without asking for help, expect herself to be a super woman, ignore her dreams, feel ugly in her body, settle for inequality, keep her mouth shut or feel like a bitch, value being nice to the point of sacrificing herself and take care of every single other person while putting herself and her needs high up on some abandoned shelf.

Through the Mother Wound, we learned to abandon our intuition, our passions, our opinions, our needs, our magic, our creativity and our emotions. We sacrificed ourselves. Meeting with other conscious women in an authentic and sacred commitment to unconditional sisterhood, we can find ourselves again. And when we heal, our relationships heal, our children heal, our communities heal and our daughters are freed. Our daughters can lay down the Mother Wound and follow their hearts.

But first it’s up to us. Let’s nourish and free our own hearts and show them how it’s done.

If you’re interested in exploring your own Mother Wound, I host a free of charge online Mother Wound Wisdom Circle most Mondays at 10 am MST. We meet in my private online meeting space and use intuition, sisterhood and simple soulful art activities to mend the Mother Wound and return to our personal power. You can register here or read more about it here.

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Recently, I launched a new Moon Sisters Art and Ceremony Circle.  Sometimes I like to center my women’s circles around a certain theme. This spring the theme I chose for my year-long circle is Weight Loss. As soon as I decided this, my tummy felt nervous. Weight loss? Are you kidding me? If there is anything I have struggled with the last 18 years, it is weight loss. And besides, isn’t everyone tired of thinking women need to be thin to be pretty? I know I am.

I believe women of all shapes and sizes are beautiful. I also believe a woman’s relationship with her body is sacred and if she feels like she wants to lose weight that’s her business and no one else’s. As a woman who used to be active and thin until her late twenties and is now considered obese but who still feels beautiful and worthy, I encourage women who feel shame around their body to consider learning to love themselves before they try to lose weight. Losing weight because you hate yourself is believing you need to be different before you are lovable and I’m sorry but there’s enough of that ridiculous attitude out there in the world for us to be flogging ourselves with it too. Losing weight isn’t going to make you love yourself or your body. I didn’t always believe this. In the past, I was deeply convinced that losing weight is exactly what would solve all my problems but it’s just not true. Being happy and loving myself is a job for my heart and mind, not my calorie counter.

Of course, knowing this took time (and prayer but I’m getting to that). I struggled with terrible self-hate and destructive body shame for years. But today, despite the fact I haven’t lost any weight and am actually the heaviest I’ve ever been, to myself, I am the kindest I’ve ever been. The path that taught me to treat myself with love didn’t come from self-help books or therapy sessions. My path to treating myself with love began with a prayer.

Over 16 years ago, while standing in front of my washer and dryer, I had a fall-to-your-knees in desperation kind of moment. I was so tired of hating myself and trying to lose weight and failing. I was so tired of living in a mind that felt like a war zone where all weapons were pointed right at me. I stared up at the ceiling – it sounds cliché but that’s exactly what I did – and I asked God for help. I said, “Please God. Help me to stop feeling this way. Help me get rid of this struggle with weight and my body and help me heal this problem FOREVER.” I didn’t ever want to struggle with this issue again.  I was mad and desperate. I felt hopeless and spent.

Surprisingly enough, I heard an answer. Much like Elizabeth Gilbert describes in her book Eat, Pray, Love; I heard a strong, confident voice in my mind with clear but random seeming instructions. The voice said, “Buy a swimsuit and go to the beach.” Just like that. I was taken aback. What? You want me to buy a swimsuit? What kind of answer is that?

Then I bawled like a baby. A swimsuit? That was like asking me to be in middle of a circle of people laughing and pointing at me. I hadn’t been in a swimsuit in years. Are you sure you know what you’re doing God? But of course the answer to my prayer was perfect.

When I was a kid, we lived by the lake and I spent as much time in the water as I could. Anytime I was near water, I was the first one in and the last one out. I was so happy in water. I felt alive and free when I was playing in the water. But I hadn’t been swimming in years. My son was one at the time I heard these instructions and my destructive body image issues had prevented me from doing a lot of things with him I would have otherwise enjoyed. The instructions to purchase a swimsuit were perfect because being in water made my heart shine yet I had denied myself that joy because of the shame I felt about my body. The realization I had been denying myself and my son something I loved so much all because of how much I hated myself and my body hit me like a heavy weight to the chest and I walked to my bedroom, plopped myself down on my bed and cried and cried. Then I called my sister in law.

Through my tears, I told her what had happened and I asked her to please come with me to buy a swimsuit.  My sister-in-law agreed to help me and I bought a swimsuit and went to the beach. Nothing earth shattering happened. The sky didn’t open up and send down a light to shine on me and fix all my problems. I didn’t instantly fall in love with myself but I was in a swimsuit and I was on the beach having fun with my one year old baby playing in the water. It wasn’t a miracle but it felt a little like one to me.

Life went on and I forgot about my prayer until months later when I heard another clear command; “Be happy getting your picture taken.” It was a random instruction that came out of the blue but once again, I listened. I stopped avoiding the camera. I looked at myself in pictures and refused to look away or feel bad about what I saw.  Later, I heard another command. I can’t remember exactly what it said but it was something along the lines of “Feel sexy again.” So I worked on letting go and having fun during sex without thinking about my body or how terrible it might look. Instead, I focused on how much fun I was having.

Over time, the commands worked. The shame I felt around my weight and my body eventually disappeared. It still pops up every now and again but never loud enough to disrupt me or make me feel bad about myself. I can be around other people without feeling like a blob. I can have my picture taken and not feel like my presence is ruining an otherwise great shot. I can eat whatever I want in public without feeling judged. I can live my life without a constant barrage of negative thoughts ruining my fun.

But apparently my journey isn’t over because I continue to receive random instructions. Every once in a blue moon, the clear confident voice makes a short but decisive command. “Go see this person in Sedona.” “Feel passion in your marriage now.” “Stop channeling and focus on yourself.” These random instructions seem to have nothing to do with my weight loss journey but as I follow their instructions and time goes on, I see how they actually have everything to do with my weight loss journey.

Recently, I heard another clear command except the voice was different. It was softer and, to me, more feminine feeling. I heard this voice before. It was a voice I had come to describe as Divine Mother and she said very clearly, “Eat mostly smoothies until I tell you to stop and your body will be healed.”

I had been sick for 4 years with a mystery illness that landed me in the emergency room time and time again. Each time no one could explain why I was experiencing the symptoms that were plaguing me. For years I visited doctors and naturopaths and everything in between trying to figure out what was wrong. I couldn’t eat bread or wheat or potatoes or too much sugar without becoming terribly ill physically and mentally. I was eating a very strict diet of vegetables and meat because they were the only things I could tolerate. Everything was organic, made from scratch at home and ultra clean because anything else made me feel sick. Despite my ultra clean eating my body did not lose weight. Although truthfully, I had come to love myself and my body so this fact rarely mattered to me but my chronic illness was disheartening, confusing and sometimes more than I felt like I could handle.

When I heard Divine Mother’s voice, I was in my room waking from a nap. I listened to her instructions and proceeded to eat mostly smoothies. On the third day, I was sitting at my computer working on my taxes when Divine Mother’s voice interrupted me again. This time she said something along the lines of, “It’s done. You are well. You will always be sensitive but you will never be sick like you were.” And that was that. I haven’t been sick since. I still don’t know how to process that. I’ve eaten bread and sugar and take out and I’ve only felt mild symptoms. I feel like I understand what she meant when she said I will always be sensitive but I won’t feel as sick as I was. My body still doesn’t like bread or potatoes but the reaction is so very mild – like a hiccup compared to the wrenching pain and debilitating depression and anxiety I experienced for four years.

Now that my body feels healthy and well, I feel inspired to try and lose weight but I haven’t tried to lose weight in so many years and I definitely don’t want to go about it by counting calories or shaming myself into changing my habits. I want a much softer, more creative and definitely more spiritual approach. And I don’t want to go it alone.

I couldn’t find the kind of weight loss experience I’m looking for so I decided to create it myself and see if there were any women out there who might want to join me.

For many of us, the shame and failure we experienced in the past make approaching the idea of weight loss scary or overwhelming. I’m hoping we can get together once a week and use prayer, art and ritual to support ourselves as we dip our toes in these complicated waters again.

I don’t promise results on the scale because I don’t believe anyone should force their body to change before it’s ready but I can promise deep and meaningful conversations, creative quests that lead to life-changing healing, thoughtful rituals that help you connect with your heart and spirit, laughter with women who understand what it’s like to struggle with weight and a small, intimate sisterhood that is dedicated to supporting you as you try to reach your goals.

This is a private, safe circle for sensitive hearts that want help navigating their relationship with their bodies and food. There won’t be a prescribed weight loss or exercise plan. We’ll start out nice and slow and use the first couple months to get to know each other while I support you in defining your own unique goals and finding the best path to help you reach them. This isn’t a one size fits all weight-loss program. This is a unique custom tailored approach that is limited to 10 women. We’ll meet online (or you can join my local circle that meets in my home studio if you live near Bragg Creek, Alberta). Every week all the details of your journey will be taken care of for you. You just have to show up and enjoy yourself and day by day, week by week, together we’ll get closer to reaching our goals than we could if we were trying to do it on our own.

If you’re interested but would love to learn more about what the year will look like, you can read more about it here or email me at support@danadaponte.com and we can schedule a chat in my private online meeting room. I’d love to answer any questions you may have.

 

with love,

 

Dana da Ponte

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I’m behind…like way behind.

I haven’t done what I said I would do in the first week of my quest – which was to find out more about my ancestors. But something keeps coming up to veer me on a different track. This week it was my illness which led to thoughts on culture appropriation.

So…to make a long histamine induced story short, I have an allergic reaction to sugar and all kinds of carbs (not just gluten), that causes swelling and inflammation all over my body but also in my brain. This leads to ridiculously uncontrollable moments of irrational thought and intense emotion. These extreme experiences are short but they have become so much more severe than in the past. It’s gotten to the point where I’m scared of myself while I’m in ‘an episode’. That’s what I call them – my episodes.

I had an episode this week that was the strongest and scariest of any I’ve had in the past. I had to call a neighbor over. Which, let me just say, I have grown to love neighbors. I’ve never had relationships with neighbors in the past. But ever since I moved away from family and friends, I’ve had to rely on neighbors in some very critical emergencies. This neighbor and her family have been there for me unconditionally and we’re not even close friends or anything. But I know if I need them, they will be there. That’s such a comforting feeling when your support system has been reduced to the dog and a handful of friends.

Anyway, back to the point.

This angel of a neighbor came over during my embarrassing crisis and comforted me, calmed me, worked to ground me and waited with me until the episode passed. I told you she was an angel. The next day, as I was researching for people who might help calm these episodes, I came across the website of what appears to be a white middle aged woman who used a lot of indigenous imagery in her marketing. There were First Nation women on her book cover, dream catchers, drums with feathers etc. Although I felt intrigued by her services, her imagery and borrowing of First Nation terminology gave me reason to pause.

I’ve been in the New Age industry a long time. There are so many inappropriate things that happen in this industry. One of which is culture appropriation, a term I wasn’t familiar with until a couple years ago but one I try my best to remember and respect (I’m not perfect. I screw up and I want to know when I screw up.) If you’re not familiar with what culture appropriation is, here is a link to an article that discusses it. Simply stated, it’s when a dominant cultural group (like white people of European descent) borrow cultural elements from historically marginalized cultures (like First Nation people). The white woman’s website I was visiting seemed to be a classic example of culture appropriation but you can’t judge a book by its cover. For instance, just because her skin tone makes it seem like she is a white woman strictly from European descent, that doesn’t mean she is so I spent more time on each page of her site becoming more familiar with who she really is.

This only led to more questions to which I don’t yet have the answers.

It appears this spiritual healer is of white European descent but she’s been taught in a First Nation tradition by a First Nation elder. This left me confused. I’m trying my best to make conscious choices with my money because in this consumer based society, I think where I choose to spend my money makes a statement and I believe it’s my responsibility to thoughtfully consider who and what I want to support.

My money is saying YES or NO all the time.

The question I’m now left with is should I give my money to a white woman who was taught in a First Nation healing tradition? Wouldn’t it be better to support someone from that tradition instead? What are your thoughts? Is there anything you think I should consider while making my choice?

 

Photo by Micheal Kahl

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Last week I embarked on a quest.

I want to understand how to become a white ally.

I plan to do this by exploring my family’s history here in Canada and by learning about racism and colonized thinking and how I personally contribute to the problem. I also think, when all is said and done, my journey will lead me to a deeper understanding of my own spirituality.

This is my first week in…

The week began with my many gremlins. Thoughts like, “I don’t know what I’m doing”, “Why did I choose to start this quest”, “This is a stupid idea”, “I have absolutely no idea what I’m doing”, “Why open this can of worms”, etc. But as Elizabeth Gilbert writes about creativity and fear, these are all very boring thoughts. We all have them when we face something new so I won’t bore you with more details about my attempts to quit before I even started.

Next I did something I’m not proud of.

Cree artist Kent Monkman has partnered with the Art Museum at the University of Toronto for “a large-scale show of new works exploring the 150 years before and after Confederation, narrating a story of Canada through the lens of First Nations’ resilience”. I first learned about this show on Facebook. (Here’s a link to a video where Kent speaks about the show, which is called “Shame and Prejudice: A Story of Resilience”.) The first time I saw these paintings, my initial thought was, “Look, its English soldiers taking the First Nation kids away and putting them in residential schools – not French soldiers.”

This thought is ridiculous on so many levels and I’m ashamed I even thought it but after looking past the shame I noticed something really interesting. The painting I’m referring to depicts men dressed in red coats and black pants – basically the uniform of the RCMP. When first looking at the painting my eyes didn’t even see what is actually there!  My eyes saw a story that has been carried on in my French Canadian culture for generations. As a child, I heard discussions around kitchen tables and community events that blamed the English for a lot of things. Without even realizing it, my first instinct was to try and dilute the difficult feelings the painting was evoking by finding someone to blame. I instantly became defensive and it was such a programmed, unconscious reaction.

Kent’s paintings evoke a lot of feelings. I think he did an absolutely amazing job of this. It’s really hard to look at and be really present with the pieces in his show.

The last thing that happened this week was I lost my sense of patriotism. (Don’t worry. I suspect I’ll find it again at some point. At least, that’s what I’m hoping.)

While reading about Kent’s show, I read it is Canada’s 150th birthday this year. I knew this of course but it hit me differently this week. As I mentioned last week, my family has lived on this soil for over 400 years. We were here long before Canada even became a country. Canada is so very young and its story of colonialism is so much closer than I was imagining it to be. Heck, my grandma is 91 years old. She was almost there at the birth!

But what is the birth of Canada exactly?

From what I’ve gathered, it was conceived because English and French explorers and traders became increasingly interested in the rich resources North American land contained. They brought their armies and their treaties and tried to acquire land that was not theirs. At first they were amicable but eventually they wanted more.  If they couldn’t acquire what they wanted peacefully, they did so with force and manipulation. Basically, they did whatever they had to do to get what they wanted.

That is the birth of my country.

That is the history lesson I wasn’t made privy to during all my morning Oh Canadas in school.

I know that’s a very diluted and simple summary of a very long and complex history but still…how am I supposed to celebrate Canada Day? How am I supposed to feel national pride?

One of my ancestors came here as a poor French soldier. He settled in Quebec near the late 1500s, married into a wealthy family, built a lucrative business trading furs. His quality of life improved by moving here. Can the First Nation people whom he traded with claim the same thing? Was their life improved by our settling here?

Until next week,

(photo by Antii Paakkonen)

Dana da Ponte

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About Dana da Ponte - Art and spiritual coaching for moms,and moms-to-be, to heal unhealthychildhood mother/daughter relationships with Dana da Ponte - http://danadaponte.com

I’m going on a quest.

I don’t know exactly what I’m looking for but I know it’s going to matter a lot – to my identity as a Canadian and a white girl and to my spirituality.

I’m looking for the story of how I got here. And not the existential explanation of why God put me here – more like the stories of what countries I come from, what my ancestors did to get here and what is and was my role in colonization.

I know nothing about these stories. Which seems odd. I’m 42 years old and the little I know about colonization is what I learned in grade school and the only ancestors I know anything about are my grandparents. (Are grandparents considered ancestors?) And even then, I don’t really know anything substantial about them or their parents or their grandparents or why we came to Canada, how we acquired land or what part we had in the writing of Canada’s history.

I do know one thing. When my son had to research his ancestors for a school paper, we learned my ancestors on both sides are from France and Belgium and have been here since the late 1500s. That information blew my mind. Why hadn’t I known this? Why didn’t the older generations keep the stories of our heritage alive? Why don’t I know how we came here, what choices led us to settle in Alberta and why we left our native countries? And where exactly did we live in our native countries?  And if my family roots itself in the very beginning moments of Canadian history, what role did we play in the treaties made with the people that are native to this land?

As a side quest, I’m hoping this search also sheds light on my spirituality. I want to understand what spiritual practices my native country practiced before Catholicism took over. I don’t resonate with the religion I grew up with but from the very little research I’ve done so far, I know I resonate a lot more with the Celtic traditions that were rooted in France before the Romans took over. But what exactly were those Celtic traditions? How did they disappear from my country and are there people in my ancestors’ native countries still practising them now?

These are big questions and I am both excited and worried about what I’m going to find out.  Will I like what I discover or will I hate that I opened this can of worms?

I guess only time will tell.

My first step is to pick up a couple books to help me understand white privilege (any suggestions?) and to talk to my mom and dad. These seem like the best places to start.

I’ll keep you posted

with anticipation,

Dana d.

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