I give you permission: Feel what you feel.

Even when no one else around you appears to be feeling the same thing.

(Appearances can be deceiving.)

I just returned from the whirlwind of the New England Women’s Herbal Conference, where I led two workshops.

What I’m supposed to tell you—if I were following the unwritten rules of these things—is “it was wonderful, best time ever, wish you were there! Mwah!”

If that’s all you wish to hear, stop reading now.

My truth: sometimes it was wonderful—women from all walks coming together to celebrate life, a clear lake surrounded by mountains, knowledge being passed teacher-to-student and woman-to-woman.

Sometimes it was joy and laughter and sharing.

But sometimes it was sadness and loneliness. It was “I don’t fit in” and “I’m not good/smart/earthy/friendly/wise enough.”

Back when I went to a School-Which-Shall-Not-Be-Named, I ranged through emotions as I tried to fit in with the ever-smiling, all-happy student body, who were actively discouraged from having anything other than a bright and sunny opinion about the school, the lessons, and the program.


Sunlight brings shadow and lessons often live in the shadowed place. Click To Tweet


We all have hungry ghosts. Our shadows may wear different faces and rear their smokey heads at different times. But what we share is a feeling that we shouldn’t be sad or angry or jealous or isolated amidst the dancing and celebration. That our envy or anger is not only a character flaw, but a let-down to the whole hierarchy of happiness.

I know you’re nodding along with me, remembering a time when you felt lost or weepy and stuffed it down. You pasted on a grin and pretended to be happy.

Which isn’t so terrible, really. Sometimes we fake it ’til we make it.

Sometimes we need a brave face until we feel brave… or until we’re in a safe space to work through our sorrows and fears.

The emotional suicide isn’t in the fakery (though some will tell you it is). The emotional suicide comes later. It comes when you berate yourself for not feeling the joy, when you tell your psyche it’s wrong or bad or flawed for seeing shadows. When you alter the truth of your experience to match the expectations of the people around you.

Because here’s the truth:

There is no light without shadow,
no day without night,
no true joy without acknowledging the reality of what it took to get you there.

Any newborn baby will concur; the birth canal is painful. It mashes your face and leaves you with a pointy head.

You survive.

And then…

… you whoosh into the world, take a deep breath, scream your lungs out, and begin again.


You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
                                     – Mary Oliver, Wild Geese


How do you feel now?