(Sun in Virgo, Moon in Aquarius, Scorpio Rising)
In 1964, Jenny got a degree in Astronomy, went to Stonehenge for the first time, and read “The White Goddess” by Robert Graves (about the Celtic tree alphabet and calendar). In the very last hours of 1964, she was dancing Greek folk dances in Paris with some Greek friends. These four threads: Astronomy, Stonehenge, Sacred Calendar, and Folk Dance continued, sometimes hidden, sometimes obvious, until they all reconnected in Sacred Circle Dance.
Jenny received a degree in Astronomy from Wellesley College in 1964. She has lectured and taught classes in Planetaria (the correct Latin plural of Planetarium, that machine that projects the stars on a dome) in Cincinnati, San Francisco, and Portland, Maine. During a trip to the British Isles in 1964, she was lucky enough to visit Stonehenge before it became popular, and this inspired a continuing interest in archeoastronomy. While in England she also read a book by Robert Graves, The White Goddess, which sparked a quest for the astronomical basis of the dates of the “Fire Festivals” or Cross-Quarter Days. (Little did she know that the answer was at Stonehenge.) For seven years, at the College for Lifelong Learning in New Hampshire, she taught a course for adults in “Observational Astronomy” which was based on keeping an observing notebook. Her focus was, and continues to be, how much we can learn about the amazing universe in which we live from our own observations with the naked eye. She continues to offer occasional evenings of star-watching through The Rocks and other local organizations in Littleton NH.
Jenny has always loved dance, but relegated it to a low priority in a life devoted to teaching and writing about science. When she lived in Brunswick Maine, she began dancing with a local International Folkdance Group. She was aware that the dances were feeding her soul in some way, even though the other people who came seemed to be unaware of this possibility. While dancing a simple Breton dance to the music of bagpipes, her Celtic heritage (one Scots grandmother, one Irish grandmother) emerged and demanded a larger share of her life energy. While at Maine Folk Dance Camp, she heard a woman from India, trained in classical temple dancing, say: “Dance is my spiritual practice.” Jenny had been doing Buddhist sitting meditation for many years with more or less success, but these words opened a door: dance could be a spiritual practice, and it was hers. And finally, on the green in Danville, Vermont, as part of the Dowsers Conference, she found people doing “Sacred Circle Dance” to celebrate the fall equinox. They were doing dances she already knew around a simple altar/centerpiece of a scarf, a candle, and tokens of earth and water. “Well, of course, I always knew the dances were sacred.” She had already been teaching Folk Dance to a small group in Franconia NH, where she moved in 1980. Now she went to the first circle dance workshops in New England, given by teachers from the British Isles, who were introducing this new/old way of understanding traditional dances. She did a teacher training workshop with Peter Vallance from Findhorn in 1987. Continuing to teach Sacred Circle Dance became the most important thing in a life increasingly darkened by clinical depression.
At the age of 17, inspired by the diary of Anne Frank, Jenny started writing a journal and has been doing so ever since. In Brunswick, she took a dream class from a Jungian teacher, Charles Ponce. This made her aware of the major archetypes of the Sun and the Moon, with the Sun representing all that is linear, logical, rational, masculine, and yang, and the Moon representing all that is patterned, associative, intuitive, feminine and yin. These major archetypes are also represented in the two halves of the body: no matter WHICH hemisphere of the brain is involved, our EXPERIENCE is that the right side of the body is more straightforward and active, the left side is more inclusive and receptive. At the same time, Jenny had become interested in dowsing, ley-lines and other aspects of “earth energies”, the idea that the planet earth has an energy body with meridians and energy flows, similar to the Chinese understanding of the human body. Putting these ideas together resulted in the inspiration for a book to be written with “right-hand” and “left-hand” pages: the Righthand pages contain a linear narrative, complete with footnotes and bibliography, the Lefthand pages contain dreams, visions, entries from a trip journal, “channeled” writings (“I made those up”), celebrations, poetry, etc. As part of the research for the book, Jenny made two trips to the British Isles in 1977 and ‘78, to visit the megalithic sites and other holy places. The book, entitled “The Feminine of History is Mystery”, was printed in 1985 by a local press because of the the difficulty of coordinating the righthand and lefthand pages.
While living in Brunswick, Maine, Jenny joined a women’s group which ran a small counseling and referral service. As a new member, she did one of her typically innocent things, following the path of the Fool in the Tarot, who steps blithely off the cliff… The meeting was the night of February 2, there was a big gibbous moon in the sky, and she took candle and goblet with her. When the business meeting was over, Jenny said “It’s Candlemas, and I want to do a ritual.” She lit the candle, filled the goblet with water and passed it around the circle, reciting the words of the Prophet Odo (from Ursula LeGuin’s The Dispossessed): “You cannot make the Revolution, you cannot buy the Revolution, you can only BE the Revolution.” When it was over, one woman sighed deeply and said “This is what was missing.” Another said “Blessed Be.” Jenny had never heard those words before, and only much later understood that she had just come out as a witch. Her training followed a similar serendipitous path: the inspiration and writing of a book, which with hindsight turned out to be both justification and process for shifting her life path from that of Western scientist to sacred artist, a class in “how to create your life” which gave practice in the principles of manifestation, a series of “shamanic journeys” from various disciplines (active imagination, imaginative writing, therapy, guided meditations, etc.) Even before she was found by Sacred Circle Dance, she had been leading more or less informal seasonal celebrations, and learning to put together a ritual with whatever comes to hand in the moment. From a journal entry: “The power is not in the candles, crystals, etc, the power is in me!” She continues to be hesitant to call herself a priestess, or shaman, or witch, because she has not been trained in any recognized lineage, nor does she follow any one teacher or teaching. Whenever she asked Higher Self for a teacher, she was told “You must be your own teacher.” Probably her most important teacher was clinical depression. She struggled with depression and anxiety most of her life without knowing what was causing it. Again with hindsight it is possible to see that in a culture that does not acknowledge the shamanic world and has no place for shamanic teachers, one of the ways to be initiated into a shamanic path is through an abusive childhood, and some such confrontation with Fear, Death, and Despair as is provided by childhood trauma. Her priestess name, Tarashtri, came to her directly in a workshop given by Jalaja Bonheim. She continues to make pilgrimages to sacred sites, to conduct the seasonal ceremonies, and to function as the Keeper of Neskaya.
VETERAN OF DOMESTIC WARS
Jenny was the oldest child in a family where both parents were alcoholics. As a typical “hero”, she was an overachiever in school. After graduation from college, she moved to California, was swept up in the whirlpool of the counterculture, protested the War in Vietnam, refused to pay taxes, dropped out of graduate school, but was too suspicious of drugs to complete the transition to a hippie lifestyle. She had a “nervous breakdown”, and was hospitalized for a few weeks. Her on-going struggle with anxiety and depression began at this time, age 28 (the year of the first Saturn return). She spent years in and out of therapy, trying to figure out what was wrong with her so she could fix it, but nothing really worked until 1984, a watershed year when she was submerged by a second major depression, diagnosed with systemic yeast, and found out about Children of Alcoholics.
Children who grow up in alcoholic families have been damaged by early years spent in a chaotic and unpredictable environment. “For the first time, I saw that the problem was not who I was, but what I had learned.” A very restricted diet (no wheat, no sugar, no yeast or yeast byproducts, etc.) and continued work on COA (Children of Alcoholics) issues both in therapy and at workshops, helped her manage the depression & anxiety without addressing the root cause. By this time, she was married and living in Franconia NH.
JOURNEY INTO COURAGE
In 1990, a friend told her there was a “drama class for victims of domestic violence” in nearby St. Johnsbury VT. Being interested in theater, and needing to speak out about her childhood, Jenny joined the group which was mostly women who had left battering husbands. Eventually, their work became a theater piece, “Journey into Courage”, written and performed by women survivors of domestic violence. Jenny saw her role as helping to break the cultural denial of the enormous damage caused by alcoholism, and especially to point out that alcoholism of a parent is automatically abuse of the child. Journey into Courage was performed in different venues, mostly in Vermont, and different incarnations: a total of eleven women performed over the years from 91 to 94, in groups as small as 3 and as large as 8. There was a short segment made for Vermont ETV, and a video of how Journey was put together and how the women’s lives were changed by it. The video is still used in the state of Vermont for training of police and other service professionals who deal with domestic violence. For Jenny, Journey into Courage represented “the artist in me coming out of the closet.”
NORMAL BRAIN CHEMISTRY
After the last performance of Journey, Jenny slid down into the worst depression yet. A series of “coincidences” led to finding the right therapist, and the right medication, and finally in the summer of 1997, a whole new life, or perhaps it would be truer to say “Life at last.” “What I had before medication was NOT a life, but I didn’t know the difference because I couldn’t remember being normal. Normal brain chemistry is a gift of God for which I am grateful every day.” When her brain chemistry was balanced, and she was able to actually begin building a real life for herself, her husband of 18 years left her for another woman. Although this has been a source of a lot of pain, she also found the freedom to allow her creative life to grow into its full depth and power, and realized she had been holding back to keep the marriage together.
As a creative child growing up in an alcoholic family, Jenny was not given guidance or support for developing her talents and giving expression to her creativity. She was either exploited (“Why don’t you make decorations for Mrs. Jones’ party”) or invalidated (“You’d better clean up that mess before your father gets home.”) Many dried out sets of oil and acrylic paints and half finished blank books testify both to the power of her creative spirit, and the power of the negative messages in her psyche.
Normal brain chemistry helped a lot. Workshops in creative process such as Contemplative Dance/Authentic Movement, Shawn McNif’s “Art as Medicine”, and Aviva Gold’s “Painting from the Source” enabled Jenny to learn skills and get more grounded in her own creativity. Neskaya, built by Jenny and her ex-husband, was a venue and an inspiration. She created Spirits for the four directions, and an ever-changing display on the East wall. Bursts of creativity alternated with bouts of depression.
HEALING FROM TRAUMA
Having grown up with addicted parents made Jenny very resistant to the idea of being dependent on medication. She tried more than once to get off medication. In August 2000 she reduced her medication to 30 mg of Imipramine, after a maximum of 120 mg which she had taken for nearly two years. The attempt to lower her medication was a disaster. Skills for keeping depression at bay had become denial of depression, and the condition was so familiar it was hard to recognize what was happening. Terror again became a daily companion. On the advice of a friend, who was being helped by his work, she read Peter Levine’s book “Waking the Tiger”. He describes his studies of trauma in animals and his development of “Somatic Experiencing”, a method for healing trauma. In the next four years, she worked with 4 different practitioners. Each came to the work with a different slant, all were helpful. In the fall of 2005, she began to feel like a whole person, with a real life, and that she was beginning to see things with a clarity of perception that she had never known. It was clear that some kind of trauma, probably in infancy, had been at the root of her depression and anxiety.
At this point, events conspired to push her back into a depression as bad as any she had ever had. At the same time she was afflicted by severe lethargy. Raising medication did not immediately affect how she felt, but she could tell it was working because she was able to haul wood, shovel snow, walk the dog, and cook food for herself. Meanwhile, the severity of depression and terror forced her to do a piece of work involving a part of herself that might be called the “Inner traumatized baby.” She had to recognize that this part of herself needed gentleness, comfort, and patience, not pressure to “shape up”. Taking this issue seriously and committing to changing her attitude toward herself changed everything. At first, she didn’t feel any better, still felt “sad & scared” most of the time. But now she came to her fear and sadness with compassion. She was also strengthened by a deep commitment to the practice of lovingkindness.
In February 2006 she went to Dr. Vreeland, a chiropractor in Norwich VT who had been able to help people who hadn’t been healed by standard medical practice. She was astonished when he said her thyroid gland had been underfunctioning for years. He started her on supplements to address the problem and after a couple of months she felt better than she had ever felt in her life.
The thyroid boost helped a lot, but I foolishly thought it meant I could get off medication. So I tried once again and once again it was a disaster. I went through some of the worst times in my life in ‘08 and ‘09. Journal entries from those bad times have been posted in this blog along with the Guidance and the Somatic Experiencing work. There’s also a more detailed description of what those years were like in the post for August 8, 2010.
I have arrived at the place where I’m pretty much able to go on with my life, and I’m not either depressed or terrified. Occasionally I’m happy, like yesterday, today (January 6, 2011) I’ve been lonely and sad. I don’t have a lot of control over whether I’m happy or sad, full of energy or so tired I can barely heat up something that’s already been cooked. It’s important not to be alone too much, so I keep working at calling people to see if we can get together. My mantra these days is “completely accept,” and I do my best to completely accept what ever I’m feeling, whatever is happening in the moment.
One big change since 2006 was that then, when I was feeling good about myself, it was my functional self, my talented, outrageous, creative, energetic self that I felt good about. I thought that was the “real me” and the depressed one was not the “real me.” I’ve learned to accept ALL of myself, both the energetic and creative part of me, and the terrified baby part of me. I always felt some sort of push to prove that I deserved to live — that’s part of what pushed me to do too much when I was “feeling good.” Now, at last, the old push push push is gone. I can feel good doing “nothing”, I can enjoy ordinary life doing ordinary things with ordinary people.