The Hanged Man: Part 7: Beltane
Post #61: In which wisdom and skill are passed on from one generation to the next ...
When she’d made friends with the fibers and wool spun in the workshop, Minerva sent Jenny to the dyeing room. This was a large, hot room on street level filled with steamy eye-watering smells. Each student was required to learn every aspect of weaving from spinning to finish work.
Jenny found new faces in the dyeing room among familiar ones. She quickly appreciated the enormous amount of information and traditional lore involved in dyeing. One could spend a lifetime learning the subtleties of the craft. Not only did every material take dye differently, the combinations of agents to achieve a desired color were numerous, and a good dyer was always experimenting with new possibilities.
As she worked among the vats, grinding plants and insects and learning to achieve subtle gradations of intensity and shade, she began to imagine herself as part of a complex web spun in every direction. Achieving the right color required her presence as much as the cloth or any agent. Creating gold out of straw required her hands, her skill, herself. She’d always known herself strengthened and enriched by Rumpelstiltskin. Now she glimpsed the possibility that he was strengthened and enriched by her. Interdependence appeared to worked in every direction, connecting each to each equally.
Maybe she was essential in the pattern of life. Maybe her simple presence was her unique contribution. What would it feel like to please herself instead of everyone else? What would it feel like to simply be pleased with herself without trying? Did Rumpelstiltskin try to please her? She didn’t think so. Minerva didn’t try to please, and she admired Minerva more than she’d ever admired another woman.
But how could she be pleased with herself when she’d done such stupid things, like marrying Hans? She didn’t know how to use spinning straw into gold to help herself, and she was scared nearly all the time. You don’t even have a family, she told herself. What kind of a person has no family to love her? And you made that terrible net.
I’ve always done my best, though, she argued silently with herself. I’m kind. I want to learn. I think I could be a good spinner. I can make things.
Why did Rumpelstiltskin love her? She’d never wondered about that before.
Why weren’t other people trying to please her? Why was it always the other way around?
“Let’s talk about trying to please and being good,” said Minerva.
It was evening. They sat in Minerva’s room in front of an open window looking down onto the harbor. The smell of sea and fish was strong and raucous gulls flowed up and down between sky and water as fishermen gutted the day’s catch.
Jenny sighed. “Let’s not.”
Minerva laughed. “It’s worked out that well for you?”
“It never works but I go on trying to do it.”
“You’re not alone. Why do we do that?”
“I suppose we’re trying to find healthy connection. But if we need to constantly strive to please someone, isn’t the connection already unhealthy? If we can’t be loved for our true selves, why do we go on trying so hard?”
“Good question. Do you find being good and trying to please hard work?”
“It’s exhausting work. It’s never finished and I never feel like I succeed. It’s day after day of failure.”
“Now we’re back to power management. That feeling of exhaustion and futility usually means we’re giving away our power. If you know you’re a spinner — that’s who you truly are and what your work in the world is — can you do that effectively and try to please others, too?”
“I can’t. Maybe someone else could do both, but I can’t. I think I should be able to, though.”
“You think you should be able to or others think you should be able to?”
“Both, I suppose. Look at the king I spun gold for that first night when I learned to do it. I was trying to save my own life, but it turned out I couldn’t spin gold to permanently enrich him even in order to save my life. It doesn’t work that way. I think everybody has to figure out how to spin their own straw into gold, if that makes any sense. Not literally spin straw into gold, but make something valuable and beautiful out of one’s experience. What I do can’t be bought or stolen or coerced.”
“It makes perfect sense. So, since you can’t make gold for them, is it your job to make up for it by making others happy and comfortable in other ways?”
Jenny hesitated. “When you put it like that it sounds stupid. Of course not. Nobody’s happy and comfortable all the time. I don’t have the power to do that. Happiness is something we choose ourselves — or not.”
Minerva regarded her steadily.
Jenny thought of Baba Yaga. “Being happy and comfortable — I haven’t learned the most when I’ve been happy and comfortable.”
“Yes. It’s not a very motivating state of being!”
“I wonder, do you think Hans learned as much from me as I did from him?” Jenny asked suddenly.
Minerva smiled. “Probably not. What do you think?”
“Well…probably not,” Jenny agreed. She shook her head and laughed, though grimly.
“So,” said Minerva, summarizing. “Being good and trying to please aren’t effective. You can’t do that and be fully in your power as a spinner. Also, you conclude a relationship in which you work hard to please isn’t worth having in the first place. Is that right?”
Minerva arched an eyebrow.
“I guess I’m afraid I’m not lovable unless I try to please and follow the rules,” said Jenny.
“Think about the people who you felt loved by,” said Minerva. “Do you try to please any of those people? Do they need you to be good — whatever that means? Must you earn their love?”
“No. They just…like me.”
“Like you or love you?”
“Good. Now let’s turn it inside out. Do you like you when you’re trying to please others?”
“No. I feel exhausted and like a failure.”
“It’s not within your integrity.”
“No. I hate myself because I feel so false.”
“Now contrast that with your worst day at the spinning wheel, when nothing’s working.”
“Oh…” Jenny smiled. “That’s all beautiful. It’s learning. It’s going deeper into what I am. Nothing else matters when I’m spinning.”
“Do you like that young woman who spins, no matter how clumsily?”
“I love her.”
“I love her, too.”
Jenny looked up in surprise. Minerva never made personal remarks.
“So, at least two people love Jenny for who and what she truly is,” Minerva continued. “Jenny herself, and her teacher.”
“I love the girl who spins,” said Jenny, “but I’ve found out I don’t love everything I am. Not like Rumpelstiltskin does. Not like I imagine my mother would.”
“Interesting,” said Minerva. “Tell me more.”
“You asked me to think about my relationship with myself when we talked about safety, remember?”
“It turns out I’m not loving with myself. Not like Rumpelstiltskin. He would never say the words to me that I say to myself. I love myself when I’m spinning, but otherwise…“ She shook her head.
Minerva laughed, and Jenny looked at her in surprise.
“You remind me of myself. The joke’s on us, Jenny. All the things we most need, like safety and respect, trust and love, are internal wellsprings, not something external. If you’re safe with yourself, nobody can take your safety away. We only need to claim our own power. When others love you, it will be a precious gift, but you won’t need to depend on such a gift, or earn it, or search for it. All you need to do is turn toward pleasing yourself and following your path.”
“I want to spin,” said Jenny stubbornly.
“Then do. No one can stop you except yourself.”
“My name is Jenny. I’m a spinner. I can spin straw into gold. I’m good at embroidery and using the gold thread I spin to decorate cloth. I can weave.”
“I like the way that’s changing,” remarked Minerva. “Have you thought about what you want after your time here?”
Jenny frowned down at her hands in her lap. “I think I belong here — for now,” she said. “But I can’t see a place to belong in the world for always — a home. Someplace where I can be myself and be part of healthy relationships and be able to take care of myself. I want to explore interdependence, but I feel more confident about finding healthy connections if I don’t need to depend on anyone for food and a place to live. I want to learn to take better care of myself, not only to live externally, but internally, too. I didn’t say that well. Do you know what I mean?”
“I think what you’re trying to say is you want to find the right balance of independence and interdependence for yourself, and you see value in being able to support yourself, physically and emotionally.”
“That’s right,” said Jenny, sitting back and relaxing.
“Very good,” said Minerva. “That’s what I wish for myself and every woman. It brings me to a subject we’ve talked around but not directly about yet. Is it fair to say you want to make a contribution to your own needs and well-being?”
“Oh, yes. Contribution is a good word. More than that, though, I want to be worth something in the world and to other people. I want to be valuable in some way, in some real way that’s not trying to please but just being who I am.”
“You’re a spinner.”
“Then I think you can assume that’s what the world needs from you. When we discover what we’re born to do, the activity that gives us the greatest joy, that’s what we’re for. Engaging with that activity will bring us into the life waiting for us, where we’re most needed. What you’re seeking is also seeking you.”
“Oh…” for some reason this last idea made Jenny tearful. She swallowed.
They sat in front of the windows in Jenny’s work room. It was another grey, misty day and fire popped and snapped in the grate behind them.
“Today I want you to begin working on the loom with Amanda,” said Minerva.
“While you’re learning to string the loom and weave, think about what home means to you. We’ll talk about your ideas next time.”
“It’s odd,” said Jenny, “but it seems to me home is not so much a place in the world, like a house, as it is an internal sort of place. I always thought of home as four walls and a roof. I want a place to work, but when I look at what feels like belonging, it’s more about the kind of life I want than the kind of house I want.”
She and Minerva sat outside in the sunny garden in cushioned wicker chairs. Minerva had been looking over Jenny’s notebook, crossed ankles propped on a stool with a bright cushion. Jenny held a sprig of bruised rosemary between her fingers. The indigo staining from her dyeing classes was nearly gone from her hands. The scent of rosemary was sharp and aromatic in her nose.
“A useful observation,” said Minerva. She handed the notebook back to Jenny and laid her head back, tilting her face to catch the sun and closing her eyes.
“Some people never understand that. They spend their energy and resource building a beautiful home and call it a life. A home is a great comfort but it’s not enough. That’s why learning to nurture an internal life is so important. That’s home too, and one more lasting and powerful.”
“I’ve told you about my friend, Vasilisa?”
“Yes.” Minerva smiled, eyes still closed. “The doll in her pocket.”
“She and her doll and the fiery skull made a home. If she possesses her own house, I never heard her speak of it. She’s always on the move. Everywhere she goes she has the doll, which is like having her mother with her, and she has the fiery skull.”
“The fiery skull is like having Baba Yaga with her.”
“Oogh,” said Jenny.
Minerva laughed. “But, you must admit, a wise guide.”
“Yes. But the doll is an internal guide. The kind of guide who lets you learn from your experience and makes you look at what’s hard. Not like unacknowledged rules.”
“Ah,” Minerva opened her eyes and looked at Jenny. “Are you thinking about the strands of the net that have to do with ‘them?’”
“Go back and find that list and read it to me, will you?”
Jenny paged back in her notebook and read aloud, “’What they say. What they expect. What they teach. Their rules.’”
“Who are ‘they?’ asked Minerva.
“I’ve no idea,” said Jenny with exasperation.
Minerva laughed. “They wield a lot of power for anonymous folk,” she said.
“It’s ridiculous,” said Jenny hotly. “What is this thing we do — follow these rules without ever seeing what we’re doing?”
“This also takes us back to power management. The only power ‘they’ possess is what we give them. As soon as we choose to retain our power ‘they’ shrivel up and disappear. Don’t forget, every one of us is trying to get loved, and most of us are secretly afraid we’re not worthy of it. The hunger for love and connection and the fear we won’t find it are powerful motivators. As long as we believe ‘they’ are in charge of whether or not we’re loved, we’ll do anything ‘they’ say.”
“Like giving away our power?”
“Exactly. Letting someone else make choices for you. What is power? What does it mean to you? What creates it and what diminishes it? These are important questions. Go back to Vasilisa. Her mother left her a precious gift — a bridge to her own power. The doll doesn’t make rules based on external expectations. It’s an internal navigator. It’s intuition and instinct. You said Vasilisa feeds the doll?”
“Yes, she feeds it little bits whenever she eats herself, but I think that’s just — I don’t know, for show. What she truly feeds it with is belief in its guidance. She trusts it. Maybe that’s the same as saying she trusts herself?”
“Exactly, Jenny. She’s confident. She stays in integrity with her own instinct, not arbitrary external rules and expectations.”
“’Injured instinct’ is another strand in the net,” said Jenny.
“Another way of saying ineffective power management,” said Minerva. “Staying in power with yourself repairs and nurtures your instinctive wisdom and clarity.”
“Wisdom. I don’t aspire to that.”
Minerva chuckled. “My dear, wisdom is the simplest concept in the world. People worship it like a God, seek it, long for it, philosophize, meditate, study and pontificate about it. Yet wisdom is so easy its symbol is an owl, an instinctive wild creature.”
“What is wisdom, then?” asked Jenny.
“Wisdom is what works. Nothing more and nothing less. It might be different for every person in every situation, but it’s always the choice that works the best.”
“How do we know what’s best?”
“Excellent question! What’s best is what your integrity demands.”
“Well, I want connection to be healthy. I want everyone to be able to be authentic. I want compassion and kindness.”
“Then you make choices with the intention to foster healthy connection, authenticity, compassion and kindness, having the wisdom to understand others may be making choices out of different intentions.”
“I can’t control what other people do, though.”
“That’s right. Stay with your own power and do the best you can. Make friends with your own integrity. Make choices that support your power and help others do the same.”
Minerva stretched her arms up over her head and swung her feet off the stool. “Lunch, I think, and then the weaving room.”
“I’ll be in shortly,” said Jenny, not moving. “I want to think for a few minutes.”
Minerva dropped an affectionate hand on her shoulder as she passed by. “As long as you like. I’ll see you in a bit.”
(This post was published with Edition #61 of Weaving Webs and Turning Over Stones.)