The Dhamma of a Kleenex Box - on reconciling womanhood

Many thanks to Jackie Kanyuk from http://applausetrack.weebly.com for allowing me to share her recent blog on her road to owning her own womanhood.  In Jackie's own words: "As part of 'claiming authorship over the fucks I do give', I'm sharing my journey in a lengthy blog post. Women, I am reflecting on and honouring your journeys and what it has meant for you to go through this life as a woman."

 

It’s been a long road to owning my womanhood.  Starting out with messages that mental illness stems from ‘woman problems’, I grew up a fighter, sometimes literally, for the women in my life who were treated unfairly. I also grew up to discover that women didn’t always have my back, or each other’s. I experienced a harsh paradox that when I worked hard to excel, I was alienated from women in my life who thought I was trying to be better than them or make them look bad. A lot of this hurt led me to deem sensitive ‘womanly’ traits as weak. Meanwhile, being a deeply empathic person, sensitive to the struggles of others, was tearing me apart, hating myself for my own weakness and wearing my thin mask of toughness.
 
Have a seat. For ten days. In silence. 
Luckily, my fighter spirit refused to continue a cycle of abuse of being treated roughly or poorly by romantic partners. So when I found an equally rebellious partner in my 20's who had done a lot of personal seeking, I learned about Vipassana meditation from him and set off on a silent 10-day retreat. When I asked for his advice, he said, “Work hard; don’t quit.” And so I brought my steely resolve to a snowy meditation centre, with my meditation mat and  fears.

To apply to the meditation retreat, you must first sign a waiver confirming you are not suffering from mental illness. Coming from a family with mental illness on both sides, I had my doubts that I could confirm whether or not I had 'woman problems' that resided in me as mental illness but as far as I knew, I was good. 
 
A very advanced student...
On the third day of the retreat, I did what I later learned was called a ‘sit of strong determination’ before knowing what it was or how to do it properly. I sat in the same position for over an hour, despite the searing pain in my body, refusing to adjust my posture, because I was there to 'work hard'. As soon as the gong rang for lunch, my hard work broke me. The release of the position also broke a levee of emotions. I sobbed. I was beyond distraught now silently convinced I had somehow broken myself and was now going to be ‘mentally ill’ and unable to complete the rest of the retreat.
 
When I went to the teachers, my shoulders bobbing between sobs, I was met with a soft, loving smiling response: “You are strong. You just did too much too fast.”
 
I was released to my room where I laid on the floor and continued to cry with such intensity that I wondered if I was ever going to be able to stop.
 
What I was about to see would begin healing the deep effect of my experience of life as a woman.
 
There on the floor, I opened my eyes. A Kleenex box was sitting over the edge of the nightstand and directly over my face. The message right in front of me?
Ultra Soft. Ultra Strong.
 
That did it. I wiped my eyes. The abdominal trembling and tears stopped right there. I stifled a laugh because really, who is ever ready for the beautiful absurdity of receiving a deeply healing message from a Kleenex box?

How could anyone tell me that the paradoxes of being a woman, self-loathing and self-masking in a masculine dominated culture, could be wholly integrated with four little words on a piece of consumer packaging coincidentally projecting simple wisdom right in front of my weeping eyes?
 
I finished the retreat. I had to wait seven more days before I could even utter to anyone my Kleenex box miracle and waited another 12 years to write this. This was my first step to healing as a woman: a pure realization that there is strength in softness.
 
I'm here for the women's team 
As for being seen and affirmed by other women, it wasn’t until I was dating someone who was part of The Mankind Project that I found out about communities of women helping each other heal and trust in themselves.
 
When I asked B what he did with his ‘men’s team’, he said, “We get together, play a bit of sports and then talk about how to be better men.” “Really," I said, "You do that?!  Wow! Where are the women’s teams?!” 
 
I learned about Woman Within, the affiliated women’s group and wasted no time contacting them. There wasn’t anything happening in my region yet,  they said, but a woman from San Diego had moved to Victoria if I wanted to get in touch.
 
I met Page soon thereafter and found out about the Woman Within weekend retreat. I was able to sublet my apartment for a month while cat-sitting for a friend so that I could come up with the money to fly to California to attend the weekend.
 
I was still a tough-mask wearing woman at the time. While I was very friendly with women, indeed I had many women friends, as well as feeling definite attraction to women, I mostly mistrusted them, feeling like deep down I could never quite reveal all of who I was for fear of judgment, rejection or worse, being angry or threatened by my ambition or intelligence.
 
Attending a Woman Within weekend felt like the first place I had ever really been seen and celebrated as a strong, ambitious, caring woman. All my paradoxes were seen: broken and whole, masculine and feminine, strong and soft. I was neither weak nor intimidating to these other women. I learned a very emotionally exhausting lesson about empathy and boundaries, which to this day helps me to listen to people share their suffering in a way that helps me to not lose my shit entirely. 
 
I journeyed into a community which became a birthplace for my trust in women and for the transformative relationships I could have with them.

A woman's journey
I now see the way that each woman must take her own journey towards loving and accepting herself in a world that wishes to discount, discredit, disbelieve and detest a woman and her experience. Some women are challenged early in life, as many girls are in their preteen years. Some will have strong allies and role models, some will have to work on healing through the hurt of betrayal of other girls and women in their life. Some will get rocked later on when the expectations of society bristle against her aspirations, or statistically, it is likely some fucker will inflict sexual harm or shame on her. 
 
All of our journeys back to becoming a whole woman, powerful, deserving, and equal, are what I’m celebrating today. In reflecting on my own journey, I am thinking of and honouring your journeys today too. May we all keep coming back to our whole woman selves.