I’m re-reading one of my favorite books, Women Who Run with the Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estés. I read it in the early nineties when it was first published, but with 23 years under my belt since then, I have a lens of wisdom through which to reread each remarkable, inspired word. This is not a book for women, it's a clan-call to the feminine in all of us, that which has been diminished, silenced, shamed and domesticated.
Using storytelling as a teaching medium, Estés masterfully grasps the very taproot of archetypal instruction that directly speaks to our ancient and untamed psyches.
One of the stories, the Romanian tale Vasalisa, describes the soul-journey of the retrieval of intuition. In the story, Vasalisa is sent into the forest by her wicked stepfamily. There she meets the dark magic crone Baba Yaga, who threatens to eat her unless she finishes certain tasks—tasks that are designed to grow Vasalisa from a naive too-nice innocent, to a wise warrior. One of the tasks was to separate a bazillion poppy seeds from the dirt, and mildewed corn from a huge pile of whole corn—a brutal lesson in discrimination.
Part of growing into our intuitive wise-warrior selves, is accepting the harsh lessons of discrimination, to determine the difference between things of like kind. Things like real love from false love, nourishing life from spoiled life, friend from foe, and the useful from the not useful.
Many of us were not taught self-determination. We were not taught to trust our intrinsic natures, our own personal sense of knowing, our internally directed discrimination. Instead, life presents itself externally as a banquet, from which we choose. If the item is not in the banquet, then we go without, or bend ourselves to choose something ‘sort of like’ the thing we really want.
Being externally referencing is a way we tame our feral native landscape. And when we do that, we deny ourselves the capacity for real power, meaning and purpose in our lives.
But when we are governed by our undomesticated instinctual selves, we begin to ask ourselves, ‘What do I crave? What do I desire? For what do I yearn?’ Such questions are the first step towards a sacred fidelity to oneself.
In service to that fidelity, it is useful to have a list of non-negotiables. With the same no nonsense approach that one commits to brushing one’s teeth twice a day, non-negotiables are practical yet non-yielding building blocks that create a life of substance and strength. The key is that you cannot give them up. That’s why they are called non-negotiables. In other words, you can’t cheat on you.
Here are some examples from friends, clients and from my own list to get you going:
- An hour each day, first thing, to tend to your soul-self through meditation, reading poetry, journaling, or whatever it is that feeds you. During this hour, you do not allow any interruptions.
- Only surround yourself with life-giving people. See my previous blog Keep Good Company
- Regular, specific, time off.
- Stay true to your values (what are they?).
- Don’t let your credit cards incur debt.
- Time with family and friends — who, when, how much?
- Respect your time — yours and others. Put each minute to good use. Be on time (preferably a few minutes early), communicate when you are more than 5 minutes late, and never inconvenience the other person with your tardiness.
- Be accountable — when you say you are going to do something, do it.
- Never text while driving, or during meetings.
- Have at least three sit-down dinners with the kids each week.
- Save money each month.
- You’ll only work with certain kinds of clients (what are the guidelines?).
- You’ll only commute ‘x’ amount to work.
- No emails after 6 pm.
- Only ‘x’ amount of TV each week.
- Live within your means.
- What are your non-negotiables, in life, in work, in your relationships? Take some time and write them down. To discriminate what you want in your life, and what you do not want—to separate the poppy seed from the dirt—takes discipline, mindfulness, will and spirit. And it often means holding out for what one wants, in the face of enormous pressure.
As Estés writes, “Refuse to let anyone, or anything, repress your vivid energies…that means your opinions, your thoughts, your ideas, your values, your morals, your ideals. Let your own innate cycles dictate the upsurges and the downward cycles of your life, not other forces or persons outside yourself, nor negative complexes from within.”
As we honor our own and each other’s authentic selves, and their skillful expression, we co-create a world with new possibilities and freedom.