Can you remember your favourite childhood toy? I’m carrying a doll in nearly every photo during my early years. Even at age 12 (cringe), I pushed a pram around the neighbourhood with my treasured Cabbage Patch Kid. I spent my pocket money buying her frilly clothes and happily changed her nappy whenever I imagined it was wet.
My daughter is similar. She carries her handmade Waldorf doll everywhere and can’t sleep without her. I sewed ‘Josie’ out of cotton, wool, and soft purple velour when my daughter was 2 years old. I wondered how my gift would ever compete with fancy toys, but miraculously this simple doll remains her favourite 4 years later. Josie’s hair has fallen out in patches; it looks more like dreadlocks than bouclé curls these days. Her wool stuffing is bunched up and out of shape after being thrown in the wash when my daughter got sick on her. Josie badly needs a makeover this summer!
During times of illness, it’s especially important to seek comfort in our treasured friends, whether real or imagined. My 8 year old son has been very sick the last couple of weeks. A few nights ago he was up late after sleeping all day. I was worn out when he asked if I’d read him a story, but compassion (or guilt) kicked in. I’ve been busy, distracted, and unavailable to my children lately. In that moment I knew he deserved my attention. His lap days are numbered, but I managed to pull him up on my knee. I dug deep to find the last bit of energy I had as we snuggled close in our comfy chair.
He chose The Velveteen Rabbit. All week this classic tale has echoed in my mind. I’ve been reflecting on what it means to be “Real.” How would you define it?
In the story the Skin Horse tells us, “It doesn’t happen all at once. You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t often happen to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”
One of my close friends had a nervous breakdown before we met. The Velveteen Rabbit played a significant role in her recovery. I bought the book after she expressed how it had changed her life. It was the "breaking," or dying, of her old self which lead to a more authentic existence.
The story emphasizes how important Love is, but I’d go a step further. For me, becoming Real demands a ruthless commitment to Truth… as well as safeguarding one’s Fire (or creative life). It’s not an easy path. Sometimes it requires sharpening one’s teeth and being willing to bite into life!
I often refer to my favourite book, Women Who Run With the Wolves, by Clarissa Pinkola Estés. It’s become my personal Bible, and I often reread passages. Each time I understand something new. The book is composed of many myths and fairy tales which have the power to guide women to richer, deeper lives. The story of Vasalisa and Baba Yaga is particularly captivating. It speaks of how to retrieve intuition and become initiated in the ways of the "wild feminine." The essence of this tale reveals that most things are not as they seem.
I have found this concept very hard to accept! When I first read the story, I was still clinging to my naiveté and was happy to play pretend. I suffered from what Estés calls the ‘Nice-Nice’ complex, something many women can relate to. I was afraid to rock any boats and preferred to smile sweetly instead. When are women ever encouraged to express outright anger in our society? In my experience, such displays are almost always a sure-fire way of being dismissed.
During that period, I kept dreaming about eating sweet things: cakes, chocolates of every assortment, and various candies. I spent half a year in Confectionery Wonderland. I willingly swallowed (and accepted) whatever I was given. In the beginning, I ate the sugar coating without much thought, though I suspected it wasn’t good for me… or my teeth. When I wizened up and resisted, shadowy figures tried to force the sweet things down my throat. Eventually I learned to say no with conviction to the candy-pushers in my psyche, and they disappeared from my dream life. Consciously I made a connection with events in my waking life. I had been accepting ‘sweet’ (though false) words from someone I cared for, while ignoring the harmful actions behind meaningless talk.
Had I listened to my intuition, I could have avoided much pain. Often women’s instincts are injured or underdeveloped for one reason or another, but all is not lost. The beauty of Estés’ work is that she teaches us how recover and strengthen what is naturally ours. In time, like Vasalisa, we can journey into the dark wood and regain our birthright: clear sightedness.
Estés writes, “To see into or through something requires intuition and also the strength to stand upon what one sees. Like Vasalisa we may try to be nice when we ought to be knowing. We may have been taught to set aside acute insight in order to get along. However, the reward for simply being nice in oppressive circumstances is to be mistreated all the more.”
There are many invaluable elements in this tale, but I’d like to focus on the significance of the doll (representing intuition), which has been passed on as a blessing from Vasalisa’s dying mother. The young woman must feed her doll and listen to her, suggesting that our intuition grows stronger as we care for it. Perhaps you wonder… Why is this important?
“What does this wildish intuition do for women? Like the wolf, intuition has claws that pry things open and pin things down, it has eyes that can see through the shields of persona, it has ears that hear beyond the range of mundane human hearing. With these formidable psychic tools a woman takes on a shrewd and even precognitive animal consciousness, one that deepens her femininity and sharpens her ability to move confidently in the outer world.” –Clarrisa Pinkola Estés
I invite you to join me on the quest for wild, passionate authenticity. Whatever Real means to you, I hope you embrace it wholeheartedly, and that the rewards are far reaching.