fire in the eyes

stock footage - roses on fire

credit unknown

The skull-light is not forgiving . . . it sees what it sees. Yet when one sees and senses thusly, then one has to work to do something about what one sees. – Clarissa Pinkola Estes,“Vasalisa and the Doll,” in Women Who Run with the Wolves

This week we finished the fourth part of the story Vasalisa and the Doll, retold and interpreted by Clarissa Pinkola Estes in Women Who Run with the Wolves, a collection of tales that speak to different aspects of women’s psyches. Writers inside Vermont’s Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility have read, worked with, discussed and written to prompts pulled from this story in the course of four sessions over the summer.  To a writer, abundant insights have emerged.

In particular, when asked at the end of this week’s group ‘what do you see in a new light or what have you let burn away’ each participant had a striking insight to share. Perhaps the most startling was a gray-haired woman whose writing — until this week — was often permeated with a kind of victim-identification. But suddenly out of the story line quoted, above, came a fierce story of empowerment and reclamation that surprised even herself. And at the end of the group, she responded: “I saw my life in a new light. I realize I have the power, like Vasalisa’s doll. No doll, thought; just what’s in me.”

These are moments we live for, whether in jail or out. Moments of self-insight that we can name, hold on to and remember. Even her posture and tone of voice changed with her revelation. It was worth every hurdle getting inside to witness this moment with her. The writing that revealed this new-found truth follows:


The Fire is burning,
glowing hot and glowing bright.
All you who are evil,
all you who are unworthy of life
turn to embers, ash, and dust.
For you with your devil powers
placing your ugly spells
on the worthy and tired and the poor,
I cast all your deceit
all your desire to destroy
your every fiber
into the glowing, hot beauty of my Fire.

Be gone; nothing can save you.
I have consumed your evil,
for the Fire in my skull
is more powerful than you could ever imagine.
The Fire in my skull is everlasting,
can not be touched by you.

Be gone, incinerate. You are nothing.
I cast this almighty spell, I have power over you.
I am now your master.
But wait! Master of what?
You are no more, you are nothing,
just embers, ashes and dust.

left to our own devices

summer day under a tree

“The doors to the world of the wild Self are few but precious. If you have a deep scar, that is a door, if you have an old, old story, that is a door. If you love the sky and the water so much you almost cannot bear it, that is a door. If you yearn for a deeper life, a full life, a sane life, that is a door.” Clarissa Pinkola Estés, Women Who Run With the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype

“Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world at once, but of stretching out to mend the part of the world that is within our reach.” Clarissa Pinkola Estés

As the doors closed behind us last week, we had no idea when we’d be let back in. We were left to our own devices, left the writers to theirs with the arts supplies, paper, and promise to come back when they let us. We sat in the lobby and waited, chatted about the state of the world and how official the CO’s looked. They were doing a fire drill at CRCF and all the volunteers had to be evacuated.

As we sat on the other side of the wall, waiting to be let back in, I thought about what I’d wanted to do with the group that night, what I had expected, and how strange it felt for the small world of the group to go on without us. We’d gotten a letter that evening from a former inmate. She wished us well and thanked us for the safe space. That was the space I wanted to be in. We were doing an art project that night, making paper doll representations of the intuitive voices that guide us. My voice called both from the inside of my chest and the prison, back to the circle of writers while the CO’s mimed fire and the women wrote and crafted.

Clarissa Pinkola Estes would call this wanting a door, my own device to be tinkered with until it revealed a lesson, a lack of presence, the cogs turning in my experience. It is a privilege to want to go in the prison knowing I would be let out, a privilege to be witness to another person’s words and process of struggle and growth. I’ve grown accustomed to the mechanisms of hope in their writing and conversation. I bring paper, pens, a handful words and receive their stories. By the time we were let back in, I was hungry for them, hoping to see what they’d made. We share something as nourishing as a meal in this emergent creative space. We can only make it together and, this time, I was barred from it.

Continue reading

a better way

saying about strength

credit – kennetwaale

“What does one feed intuition so that it is consistently nourished and responsive? One feeds it life by listening to it. We, like Vasalisa, strengthen our bond with our intuitive nature by listening inwardly at every turn in the road.

To be strong does not mean to sprout muscles and flex. It means meeting one’s [inner spirit] without fleeing, actively living with the wild nature in one’s own way. It means to be able to learn, to be able to stand what we know. It means to stand and live.

  Clarissa Pinkola Estés, Women Who Run With the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype

As Meg recently posted, we are trying an experiment this summer reading the story of Vasalisa from Women Who Run with the Wolves, by Clarissa Pinkola Estes. This story holds similarities with many other familiar fairytales and myths – notaby Cinderella, Hansel and Gretel, The Mirror of Matsuyama and Demeter/Persephone.

Each week of our summer meeting, we read a section of the story; then spend a half hour writing to a prompt which might be an epigraph (like those at the top of this post); a line from the story; or some related concept. Last week pens scratched busily away for the full time. The subsequent sharing was as varied as the number of stories written. If we had hoped to empower women to realize trust in their inner voice and experience its sharing, we have already succeeded. The writing was so powerful that I decided, this week, to share the poem ‘found’ from lines written by the gathered writers rather than highlighting a single writer. One thing I note with this group of writers: not one is using cliche’s but rather, finding original ways to describe or explain complex experiences and emotions.


Things don’t become unsaid.
Questioning my credibility in the universe,
minimizing, betrayal, brutal silencing,
worrying for days while mistaking me for a threat –
all leave me at square one with nothing to show for it. Continue reading

trying to be what I am not…

Credit: Inner Voice Designs

It is the challenge of a lifetime to access and honor one’s own inner voice.

Hopefully, we become aware of the need to identify the messages perpetuated by our internal chatter, the static that keeps us from accessing our own well-spring of knowing.

This week’s ‘inside’ women writers delved into some of the internal voices that claim their attention on a regular basis.

We utilized a line from Clarissa Pinkola Estes’ well-known book, Women Who Run With the Wolves, about how wolves in packs do not try to be what they are not…

I deeply appreciated LS’s piece in which she breaks out her myriad voices of admonishment competing for attention:


Pushing, pulling, like children fighting over a rag doll.
Do this, do that.
Why did you do it this way?
Why did you choose that way?
Where did you get that idea?
I didn’t tell you that!
Did I give you permission to think,
to step in that direction,
to step at all?
Why do you possibly think that would work?
Well, it didn’t the way I thought it should.
I think…I think, I think too much,
or not enough, or maybe just too much for you,
and not enough for me.
OK then!  Think for yourself.