I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, the eldest child and first grandchild in a predominantly Irish Catholic family. My father had studied for the priesthood, bringing ‘shame’ to the family when he left the seminary. Even though there were far darker family secrets, Gramma saw Dad’s marriage to Mom – with her hard drinking family as a major thorn in her side.
When I came along, the family was desperate for children – male children. I recognized from early on that I was a disappointment to them. I grew up desperately wanting their approval. It wasn’t going to happen.
Then, on Christmas Day when I was 4 years old, I was sent a spiritual lifeline. We were all gathered at my grandmother’s house. As was common on holidays, there was a festive mood, made more so with Irish whiskey flowing. Amid all the laughter, the ice tinkling in the highball glasses, I had my first spiritual experience.
I’d opened a gift – a little red overnight bag. But that little bag opened a new world for me! On the front flap was an image of a girl with a little red overnight bag and on her bag, a girl with a little overnight bag. The same image…neverending, reaching into eternity! It felt like I was being transported to another world.
Everything else vanished and I felt like I was in the presence of the ‘all that is’; I was part of the oneness. Although I didn’t have words to explain it, I knew it was one of those kinds of magical moments – one that all these years later is still vivid. I believe it gave me a unique connection with the Divine that has influenced me deeply and gave me something to hold on to.
I needed that lifeline! My father was narcissitic and overbearing, with an obvious disdain for women. My mother, due to heredity – or perhaps her circumstances, became an alcoholic. Parenting wasn’t a strong suit for either of them. In a home where I was mostly ignored, I had an easy time ‘escaping’ into my own inner worlds – whether daydreaming, devouring books, or watching television for hours on end.
My Catholic upbringing introduced me to stories of great saints who, based on their faith, were able to perform miracles. Their devotion to God stirred my soul. At the time, most Catholics children were given saints names. My middle name was Therese – after St. Therese, a very reserved, quiet, holy woman, nicknamed The Little Flower. Here was an example of someone I could relate to – one I wanted to emulate. Through the years, the devotion of the saints – Therese in particular – has inspired me and connected me with a deep, abiding faith – through personal rebellions and falling away from religion.
In the late 60s and 70s I did rebel as much as a timid, “good” girl does and realized that, like my mom, I had some addictive habits. I wanted desperately to escape the pain of ‘no-one sees me, no-one cares, I don’t matter’. I drank and smoked pot. I used sex to feel like someone wanted me. Despite my minor rebellions, I was still very dependent on my father. At his insistence, I married young – to a really decent guy who was nearly as immature as I. We played house for several years and had a son, but our immaturity and cluelessness about marriage took its toll. We divorced fairly amicably after seven years of marriage. My ex and his new girlfriend wound up with primary custody of our son.
I spent another two years drinking too much and trying to find my way through the mess I felt my life was, pretending it wasn’t THAT bad. If I didn’t let anyone too close, no one would know, since, like my mother, I could keep most everything looking good from the outside. Eventually, I lost my taste for alcohol – God’s intervention, I’m sure – but my addictions to approval-seeking and people pleasing were in full force.
I was afraid – and refused – to challenge myself to do anything I couldn’t do well. I took jobs that were way below my educational and skill level, so I wouldn’t be as likely to fail. Again, I looked good on the outside, but inside, I was miserable.
When my son was about 14, he wanted to see a counselor to talk some things out. I was absolutely shocked to hear this counselor tell me that my son felt that as long as everything looked good on the outside nothing else mattered. And it was the push that got me to look deeper and start working with my own counselor and a coach. When I all of a sudden saw my child behaving like I did, it was a wakeup call. I would never want him to go through the hell that I had. I wanted him to have a better life than I had had. And recognizing that pattern of looking good on the outside, but being miserable on the inside being passed down to my son was not what I wanted. I didn’t want my baby to suffer like that.
I know now that in addition to our addictions, most of my family has suffered from depression. I’ve contemplated suicide more than occasionally over the years, fantasizing about how I might pull it off. My current husband and many of my friends don’t understand that very dark place. They don’t believe that I can go there, but they only see the outside! I have this great smile and I have an aura of calm. And in fact people have said; I’d never know you’ve had any problems at all, you look fine! We thought you lived this charmed life!
As I’ve mentioned, despite all my strayings, I’ve almost always felt a strong connection to God, to a sense of love that moves through me. Several years ago, a coach I was working with introduced me to poet Rumi and the practices of Sufism. There was something that struck me so deeply and I felt that the spark from when I was a child lit up again and I was able to go more and more deeply into this relationship with the Divine.
Following and listening to the guidance; I could open my heart and recognize the part of me that wants to bring such love and light into the world. Deeply rekindling my faith and love of God through spiritual practice, other transformational programs and 12-step work has helped me become aware of this deep connection and being able to really trust it.
I realized that I had to stop listening to the gurus, smart people, and business experts and trust that the guidance I was getting about working with tender-hearted women who’ve been shackled by shame, fear, and self doubt to bring their own gifts to the world was what I had to follow.
Although many people told me no one would be interested, my guidance told me differently. As I began to follow that guidance wholeheartedly, everything began to change. People were paying more attention to what I was writing and speaking about. They were much more receptive because I was starting to be more honest about who I am and not try to fit to someone else’s cookie cutter mold.
The response I’ve got to my Gentle Women’s Uprising has been ‘you’re speaking my language’, when no one has heard me before.
I have been so touched by some of these emails I’ve gotten from women pouring out their hearts and saying that they are so grateful. I didn’t know for sure that they were out there, but I knew I had to trust – if my heart and my intuition were this adamant about this guidance, there had to be a reason – if I was receiving the call, there must be a bunch of women like me making that call!
It seems that tender-hearted, gentle, sensitive people are often dismissed or ignored – seemingly invisible. We have these misguided ideas that gentleness is weakness. Truthfully, I’m angry and frustrated that these gifted women are not being seen or heard; they are needed now, the world is hurting and gentleness is needed.
There’s a saying, “You can’t blast a heart open you have to open it with gentleness like the sun does a rose.” (like St. Therese again!) Love. Gentleness. Patience. Taking life as it is, not necessarily as I would have it.
I still have some challenges with depression but it has eased up tremendously. My husband laughs at me – at 6 in the morning, he often finds me dancing around the kitchen. I have my ups and downs but I’ve let go of the suffering. I allow the joy back in to my life.
– Kamala Murphey can be found at www.kamalamurphey.com