Voice and Power

The Word by Meghan Oona Clifford

During our adoption triad healing process with the Alive program last year, our Beloved Friend, who was facilitating, reflected to me the potency of my voice. I have a naturally powerful and loud voice, which can be used as a tool or a weapon (the same is true of my writing).

I used the power of my voice when I played Rizzo in Grease in high school and I could project my voice to back of the theatre to draw all of the audience into my songs. I used it for good when I spoke to and about the Pride and sex positive organizations I co-led and other sorts of speaking engagements I participated in over the years. And I used it for good when I taught people how to create a sense of belonging through radical inclusion. My voice is a strength when I use it consciously.

My voice is a weapon when I use my power and loudness to take up space and be heard in conflict with others. It is a weapon when I yell at my partners. I am aware that I get louder when I believe I am not being heard and/or when I am trauma triggered, but those are not excuses for causing harm. When my loudness is used to try to overpower another it causes hurt and fear. Healthy relating can’t occur if someone is in fear. This is why the Alive program is based on creating safety in ourselves and in our relationships. Some people have triggers around being yelled at because their parents or other authorities used their voices as weapons in emotional and verbal abuse (as my own mother did). Some people immediately shrink when a person gets loud. The last thing I want is diminish or overpower others or contribute to their feeling unsafe.

My Beloved Friend also reflected back to me that when I am in an open and curious space I have a softness that invites people to be intimate with me. And I can see that. I draw people into vulnerability and intimacy with my openness and lack of judgment. I can be incredibly accepting of our humanness and all the complex emotional realities we live with.

And I have a tendency to speak in absolute truths when in conflict (as most people do). When paired with my loud voice I can sound like a know-it-all and put people off. This is feedback I received from several loved ones over the years and it finally sunk in due to my work with the program. When I lose my openness and curiosity, when I put up hard walls and raise my voice, when I become self righteous and contemptuous, I can be intimidating and scary. Again, that is the last thing I want. My heart is wired for connection, not superiority or dominance.

The reality is that no one holds the ultimate truth when two or more people are relating, especially in conflict when our old traumas may cloud our vision. We all have pieces of the truth mixed up with our projections and assumptions. When we are in conflict we need to be able to speak our truths safely so that we can find the kernel of truth between us, which includes using our voice as a tool of connection rather than a weapon. We need openness and curiosity rather than hard edges and insurmountable walls if we have any desire to resolve and repair what is broken between us.

I’ve not spent much time in my life thinking about power, especially my own. But I think it is important to be aware of how we use (or give away) our power, including the power of our voice, in all of our relationships. We each have the power to choose who we are and how we relate to others. We have power in our gifts and our voice that can we can choose to use in the light or be used by in the shadow. We have the power of sovereignty that we direct or allow to be directed by others. Our deepest liberation lies in our own hands, no matter our outer circumstances. This is what Nelson Mandela and Elie Wiesel teach us. When we live from that place of liberation, we are using our power and our voice to ignite and nurture the flame of liberation in others.

44th Story of Transgression: I Allowed a Narcissist-Sadist to Control My Mind

The relationship before I committed to Eros was dangerous and deeply damaging. I struggle to call it abusive because it was a different kind of harm, the kind that plays out between layers of consent in a BDSM relationship. It was also the kind that plays out between a narcissist and an empath, a dynamic duo in emotional destruction. This relationship was the trauma that immediately preceded my Fibro explosion in 2011 and I don’t think that’s coincidental. Fibro is typically triggered by trauma and I think this relationship was the last straw after 3 years of constant emotional uproar, beginning with my mother’s death (also a narcissist) and simultaneous end of my first marriage (to a narcissist…notice the pattern?).

He was a predator rather than someone who hit me. He admitted to hunting me online before making contact to learn how to pull my strings. He flattered me and courted me to gain my trust, then he preyed on my emotional vulnerabilities, using deeply personal things shared outside of our play in our scenes, even though I explicitly and repeatedly drew lines between real life and play. He violated emotional consent in ways I hadn’t considered possible, like using my rape in a humiliation scene. He asked for monogamy, then told me I was never more than a summer fling. He spun fantasies of owning me every day, then gaslit me for having expectations.

I don’t talk about this relationship because most people don’t understand the complex dance between masochist and sadist, and why I would let him do many of the things he did in the first place.   I feel culpable and ashamed because I ignored all of the many red flags to experience the intense arousal and pleasure he elicited in me.

I don’t know how to explain mind control and what it meant to start every day on my knees in surrender to his voice. How it was both comforting and disturbing for this strong, independent woman to let someone direct me to do things far outside my comfort zone and push through my ethical boundaries in fantasy. I became addicted to our interactions so that when he withdrew I went into a fit. I found myself on my knees in despair rather than desire. It was then I knew I reached my bottom as an unhealthy masochist.  

I can’t explain why I am a masochist in the first place, why my sexual desire involves pain, objectification, and humiliation inflicted by people I love. I can’t explain why I love sadists and how they torment me, or the altered state that arises when they play me like an instrument. I just know I am happier in life when I am in a healthy kinky relationship where these dynamics can be played out safely and with great love. I am fortunate now to have a partner who can be caring when I need and enjoys tormenting me when I need. Our light and dark sides are a perfect match.

I don’t believe my history of trauma has anything to do with my kinky nature, other than physical masochism providing a way for me to process big feelings. I believe I was born this way, just as I was born queer. I think instead that my trauma patterns played out in all of my relationships until I changed the narrative with Eros and our adoption triad. The abusive kinky relationship was the last in a long series of unhealthy relationships that began when I was a teenager, most of them not involving kink. I think the exaggeration of the pattern through BDSM helped me to see that my concept of myself as worthy of care was broken In fact, at that time I also had a misguided idea that I was a masochist for God, experiencing transformation through triggers, as if suffering was the only way to heal. I blame Christianity for that, teaching me love was pain and sacrifice. I intentionally put myself in harm’s way in several relationships in order to evolve out of my trauma. It worked, but it was hell getting from there to here.

43rd Story of Transgression: I Oppose Commodification of Community in Witchcraft and Other Traditions

I Oppose the Commodification of Spiritual Community in Witchcraft and Other Traditions

My Instagram feed is filling with ads for Witch classes and groups. Traditionally Witches don’t sell classes, nor do they sell tickets to collective rituals. Witches work on their own as solitary practitioners or form covens to do ritual  together. When they provide ritual for the community, it is a gift, a service, not a commodity. There was not a ticket vendor at the edge of the field when the community danced around the Beltane or Samhain Fire in the days of old.

The tradition of Witchcraft is in direct conflict with capitalism and the commodification of all things sacred. Witches are transgressive, subversive, and anti establishment by claiming their power, magic, and divinity. Witches don’t need intermediaries to meet God because we know God is everywhere.

Witches serve their communities in spite of and in opposition to the systems that oppress, from the medical industrial complex to the Catholic church. It’s awesome we are not burned at the stake anymore, but turning our tradition into a mainstream commodity is disrespectful. Similar to the disrespect white people show other cultures’ spiritual traditions through appropriation. I could be writing this about shamanism, meditation, yoga, etc. Capitalism has it’s greedy hands in everything and (mostly white) spiritual teachers/leaders are deliberately oblivious or apathetic to their classist and appropriative practices in the name of making a living from what they love, as opposed to living their spiritual values no matter how they make money. The spiritual-development-industrial-complex normalizes self-interest, white supremacy, and classism while it exalts money (codenamed abundance).

These paid programs are not honoring Witchcraft as a tradition, they are exploiting the need for spiritual community and capitalizing on the reduction of the Craft to a cultural fad.

Making a just living through exchange for ritual tools, divinatory/intuitive guidance, healing modalities, and plant magic/medicine is how Witches are traditionally supported by their communities. I am not aware of a historical precedent that required payment for the experience of spiritual community, collective ritual, or growing in practice together. At least no one taught me that when I studied 25 years ago. In fact, in all Indigenous and religious traditions I am aware of, the community sustains it’s spiritual and magical practitioners through offering (gift). Generosity and gift economy are woven into spiritual practice. But now spiritual entrepreneurs brainstorm every possible way they can turn their gifts or expertise into a commodity, as the business coaches instruct, including group facilitation under the guise of spiritual community. (It’s not community if it’s transactional, hierarchical, and/or limited by one person’s work/rules/framing.*)

Outside of the phenomena of mega churches and the hoarding of stolen wealth by the Vatican, the Christians have it right by providing shared sacred space (church), spiritual learning, and spiritual mentorship (clergy) free of transaction. The other major religions do this, too. Sanctuary and ritual/ceremony is accessible every day to the homeless as well as the 1%. But those of us who no longer resonate with organized religion have nowhere to turn for non-transactional spiritual community. Nearly every offering I see is paid, as if people can’t imagine another way.

The bottom line is that we in America have lost respect for the Sacred, and for spiritual community as a vital need, as vital as having a family. We wouldn’t imagine charging for family relationship, why are we ok with charging for community relationship, spiritual or otherwise?

Capitalism is in direct conflict with spiritual values. It is a system based on unlimited growth, stolen resources, and a mechanistic view of the universe. If we are to be true to the spiritual values of Witchcraft, which includes reverence for nature, we need to work outside the system. Our ancestors were burned for subverting the Catholic/Protestant churches and defying medical/scientific fundamentalism, as well as for for their land/resources. To now claim the ancestry of the burned while simultaneously championing capitalism by charging for mentorship and collective ritual is hypocrisy in my eyes.

We need to let go of the idea that we should be paid cash for everything we do. Community is sustained by the generosity that occurs when we support each other through life, like in our friendships. Our friendships do not thrive without a generosity of labor, neither can our communities exist/grow/thrive without a generosity of labor.

We are out of touch with our hearts (emotions), our souls (selves), and our spirits (our relationship with the Sacred, however we perceive it). We are spiritually bereft in a culture that claims the physical is supreme and so we work for the physical – the body, the brain, and the money – while our neglected hearts, souls, and spirits sink into the unconscious depths to act out our needs in unhealthy ways. Americans are dying of loneliness and taking more anti-depressant/anti-anxiety meds than ever because of this suffering.

Our hearts, souls, and spirits are starving and the best we can come up with is selling each other classes/courses/groups. Some I see claim to be anti capitalist, but don’t give time to creating something outside the system here and now. They don’t *give* much time at all – they want money for their time and then they contribute money to others serving the marginalized. It’s all based on cash. Earn cash to give cash and let someone else be responsible for the act of caring because they are all too busy with their hustle. They outsource the acts of caring to the private sector (corporations who prioritize profit over people) and the nonprofit-industrial-complex (a mess of transactional relationship, white saviorism, poor money management, etc.), and then call themselves compassionate and community minded.

The spiritual-development-industrial-complex prioritizes an individual’s intellectual (book/class) and/or somatic (i.e. yoga) development by way of a teacher/student hierarchy based on transaction rather than traditional spiritual practices like mentorship, hospitality, or ministry. It does not concern itself with relationship and community. A short-term, transactional, and limited access experience with a teacher or coach is not building a relationship. Paid online groups, email lists, and Instagram followings are not communities.

Culture is trying to convince us that relationship is part of the money machine. We don’t just pay to meet our physical needs, we now pay to meet our emotional and spiritual needs. Even cuddling – being touched – is a commodity today because people are suffering from touch deprivation.

Capitalism separates us from ourselves, from each other, and from the spiritual instinct. The nuclear family, insulated in their pretty houses with their pretty cars, suits capitalism’s needs. Because the more separate we are the more resources we use. The more isolated we are the more we use “retail therapy” and media bingeing to self medicate. And if success is based on material wealth, then there is no time for developing heart/soul/spirit. All of our time must go to the hustle or the corporate machine and then to maintaining our debt and all of the things we buy.

We’ve lost ourselves because we’ve lost our connection to all that is sacred. We don’t believe in our own sacredness, or that of our fellow humans. We are blind to the sacredness of the natural world and all that it gives – without transaction – to sustain us.

We need to balance mind/body self-development with heart/soul/spirit we-development that occurs when we are in conscious/awake relationship to ourselves, one another, nonhuman beings, and the Mystery of Life. We need to hold relationship as sacred. We need to nurture intimacy. We need to learn and grow together outside of oppressive systems. We need to learn how to relate equitably, with no notion of superiority. We need to learn to relate with privilege, oppression, and intersectional awareness between us. We need to learn to relate in ways that modern culture lost the capacity to imagine and would try to convince us are impossible.

If one desires to learn or practice Witchcraft with other people, then I propose they model themselves on both nature and tradition. Co-create covens to learn and grow collaboratively. Use the wealth of resources at your fingertips to research the traditional and new ways of Witchcraft, build direct relationships with plants and tools of the craft, and work together to establish a practice..

You don’t need an expert for spirituality, especially experts that seeks to exploit your hunger for spiritual learning and community. You don’t need an intermediary to teach you how to connect with the Sacred. You simply need to open your heart to the sacredness of yourself as part of All of Life. What Witches know is that the God Between Us** is much closer than our culture would have you believe. It’s right here, right now, in your breath, in your blood, in the spaces between you and those you love. The God Between Us is everywhere and always giving.

*See my original essay – I am on a Mission to Decommodify Community
**See previous Story of Transgression – I am a Mystic Devoted to the God Between Us

42nd Story of Transgression: I am a Mystic Devoted to the God Between Us

“Why is spirituality such a powerful and universal force? Why do so many people believe in things they cannot see, smell, taste, hear, or touch? Why do people from all walks of life, around the globe, regardless of their religious backgrounds or the particular god they worship, value spirituality as much as, or more than, pleasure, power or wealth? I argue that the answer is, at least in part, hardwired into our genes. Spirituality is one of our most basic human inheritances. It is, in fact, an instinct.” Dean Hamer

Yet we’ve reduced this beautiful human instinct to the term “woo” in America, and/or exploited and commodified this spiritual hunger in the pseudo-spiritual and highly lucrative self development industrial complex, and/or used fundamentalist religion as a weapon (i.e. prolife legislation and gay conversion camps). Because of the harm caused by all of these things, as well as the darkest night of my soul descending 6 years ago, like many Gen X’ers I gave up spirituality. After losing all sense of safety and belonging, I consequently lost faith in everything. And that was a problem because my spirituality and my faith in something bigger than me (no matter its perceived shape) has been my saving grace since birth. I am wired to be in a conscious relationship with something beyond this being human.

Fortunately, this past summer I experienced a remembering. A reawakening. My spiritual self came back to life. Working with the plants resurrected mysticism as my spiritual path, which makes sense because witches are often nature mystics, seeking ecstatic states and direct communion with the divine through nature and sex. I committed to following the song of my soul on the first of the year and this is where it ultimately led me – to my spirit. I think because we need to be in active relationship with both soul and spirit to be whole.

“…mysticism speaks of the eye of love which is looking at, gazing at, aware of divine realities.” William Johnson

What does mysticism mean to me? Direct and ecstatic relationship with the force behind All of Life. Experiencing a “rapture of aliveness” (Joseph Campbell). Knowing my connection to Source is direct and I don’t need gurus or priests or spiritual teachers to be intimate with it. Experiencing ecstatic states, whether through sex, substance, body rite, ritual, or simply being present to the miracle of life. And intentfully allowing my intimate relationship with the sacredness of all things to inform my choices about how I live, including how my understanding of the God-Between-Us informs my relationships and my work.

I’ve experienced ecstasy in many ways. I was regularly “slain in the holy spirit” at the front of my Pentacostal church in my teens. I danced in magically charged circles with the goddess. I danced till my legs buckled at the queer club. I intentfully took ecstasy, peyote, and LSD. I practiced sex magic. I was bound to a cross and single-tailed by a mystical lover in the dungeon. I was topped by a lover who played with my energy field rather than my skin (I wish I knew how to write a story about that, but it’s beyond words). I worship(ped) my Master as a manifestation of the divine. And now, when I allow myself to drop into full presence in any situation, from picking flowers in the garden to sitting in a room full of humans, I am able to experience a subtle ecstasy that does not carry me away, but rather infuses me to be more present. Ecstasy is far more accessible than we’ve been taught to believe.

Mysticism is trangressive. Mystics have always lived on the edge of their tradition’s experience because mysticism is ecstatic, emotional, and nurtures a passionate relationship with the Sacred, something traditional religion finds threatening to its power. We may now venerate mystics like St. John of the Cross (Catholicism), Rumi (Sufism), and Hafiz (Islam), but mystics are often rebels or outsiders of their time. Patriarchal religious experience is calm and intellectual, sitting and listening to someone speak or quietly praying. Churches and spiritual teachers don’t generally invite passionate ecstatic experiences in the aisles, unless it fits within the dogma like with Pentacostal Christianity, which allows speaking in tongues and dancing in the aisles. In that case the the ecstasy is bestowed by those in power and is limited to particular expressions. The patriarchal religions do not permit unruly ecstasy through body rites, sex, or substance as ways to directly connect with All of Life. They proclaim rules against those things. They would rather have us rely on human intermediaries for our relationship with god. The patriarchal religions (as well as most modern spiritual teachers) are also top down hierarchies, just like the rest of patriarchy. One person – generally a man –  is supreme in their ability to communicate with god (or develop a philosophical “theory of everything” or a practice of “constant and neverending improvement”) and translate the laws of god or the universe for the rest of humans. Those laws are interpreted in a way that gives the superior person(s) power. Did gods have laws before men 10,000 years ago imagined they did?

I no longer participate in hierarchies.
I no longer allow anyone to claim superiority over me.
I no longer believe in saviors or gurus.
I refuse to believe intellectual understanding is superior to emotional or ecstatic experience.
I will resist patriarchy and any of the ways it tells me to behave, especially as a woman.
I will not believe material reality is more real than what is unseen.

The Universe is made up of far more space than matter, at both the atomic and material levels. It is made of all kinds of forces and energies between those spaces, from gravity to empathy. I believe that’s where magic (which is based on relationship and synergy) and the Spirit of Life resides. Not in any supreme being(s). I think that’s why a lot of physicists believe in the Mystery, because they meet something unnameable at the edges of what we can quantify.  

I am a mystic, but I don’t buy into any religion or existing spiritual system, so I am writing my own theology of the God-Between-Us. It’s the only god I can believe in these days. I find considerably more comfort in playing with the quarks dancing in our breath than I do submitting to a supreme being based in human imagination. And the God-Between-Us is the only god I’ve believed in that can actually save us. Because the only devotion it asks for is that we treat ourselves and each other as sacred expressions of Life. If we did that, we would not destroy ourselves and our natural ecosystems.

One definition of sacred is “entitled to reverence and respect.” Isn’t that everything from crawdads to supernovas? I can’t imagine any better way to direct my own instinct for the spiritual than to commit to a practice of treating All of Life as worthy of reverence and respect through my devotion to the God-Between-Us.


41st Story of Transgression: I am My Own Savior

I grew up with the idea that Jesus was my only savior and that I would suffer in this life and burn forever in the next if I didn’t put all my belief in him. I was indoctrinated in the Baptist and Pentecostal versions of Christianity before I was capable of critically thinking for myself. For 20 years I absolutely believed Jesus died for us so that we would be saved and could live in heaven instead of hell. Forget heaven for a moment, the whole thing is predicated on the idea that we need saving from a mythical being called Satan and his burning lakes of fire. Without the bad guy we wouldn’t need a savior at all. Life would just be life rather than some epic story of good winning over evil. When I was in the church what I really needed saving from wasn’t Satan, but rather a highly dysfunctional family, poverty, and my own broken mind. Jesus never showed up for that.

My mother never stopped believing her pain, physical and emotional, could be healed through forces outside herself. She looked for a savior in Jesus, men, crank, alcohol, therapy, and Jesus again more fervently. None of them came through for her in the end. Jesus, years of prayer, and countless hands-on-healings never alleviated her physical pain. Neither did the weight loss surgery the doctors told her would fix it all. Ultimately she died because no one in the medical profession would take her pain seriously. They aren’t our saviors either, despite what countless emotional medical dramas on TV would have us believe.

After I gave up on Jesus in my early 20s I had the idea love would save me, that the right (any) relationship would pull me from the depths of my broken mind (undiagnosed C PTSD) and would give me enough love to make up for my mother’s narcissism, my stepfather’s alcoholism, my biological father’s abandonment, and my adopted father’s emotional neglect. I made things more complicated by being an unbounded empath who tried to save the wounded young men I fell in love with. How naively arrogant I was about that.

It took a crisis of faith that began 6 years ago for me to realize the only one who ever saved me from anything is me. I single-handedly worked myself and two children out of poverty. I lifted myself out of the deepest darkness of depression. I treated my own mental health problems and learned emotional regulation by studying psychology, writing my way to sanity, and using art and masochism to work through my pain. I worked on myself until I was capable of healthy and nonviolent relationships (violence defined as trying to coerce or control).

If anything else has saved me it is community. The mama writers group that made me feel like an artist in the midst of full time mothering. The tiny church of mystics where we did a sort of peer counseling. The Impropriety Society giving me the beginnings of belonging. The work our adoption triad did together. Community always plays a key role in my healing and transformations.

However, even in the midst of people who love and hold us, we are still responsible for the choices that lead us toward or away from healing, change, and growth. I made every single choice that led me to this moment when all of my relationships are healthy, when I have a support network to hold me as needed, and when I can say it doesn’t matter what exists beyond this life because I lived fully and well. I am my own savior and I believe you are yours, too.

I also believe we are our own saviors by collective effort. Every revolutionary moment in history has been a collective effort, not an individual one, no matter how prone we are to glorify one person (usually a man) above all. We like to believe one leader will come along to lead us to our version of utopia (like Obama), or that a guru will lead us to enlightenment. but that’s not how it works. The guru gig has become astonishingly lucrative, so that even a Silicon Valley techbro can call himself enlightened and become wealthy. We’ve allowed Western mythology to brainwash us into believing the savior and guru stories are the only stories.  It’s a lie to disempower us. No one is coming to save us. We all have to take responsibility for ourselves, both in our personal lives and in our collective relationship. Either we work together to save ourselves or we continue to allow the violence of patriarchy, white supremacy, and imperialist capitalism to harm us right up until we make the planet uninhabitable for all humans.

The savior mythology isn’t working for us. We avoid taking responsibility for ourselves because we believe someone or something outside of us can save us. It emphasizes individualism, which despite appearances does not serve our true needs as social animals. It also emphasizes punitive justice and exclusion rather than the transformative justice needed to heal harm so that our community relationships experience longevity.

What if we started believing in ourselves as saviors? What would happen if we became self aware and took responsibility for ourselves,  personally and collectively? What if we learned how to relate to each other and communicate our needs in nonviolent ways, especially through difference and conflict? And what if we worked together to keep this planet habitable for our species? Are we as afraid of extinction as Hollywood would have us believe?