In this episode, I dive deeply into one of my life’s most potent stories, The Woman of the Sea. I share my explorations from my book Love Lies Beneath: How reclaiming my Soul through Story became the secret to healing my Heart. I highly recommend listening to Episode 22 Woman of the Sea to refresh your own connections to this tale.
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My book, Love Lies Beneath: How Reclaiming My Soul Through Story Became The Secret To Healing My Heart is available in paperback and as a Kindle at Amazon.
Woman of the Sea As A Mirror
Living in a home steeped in trauma, one survival skill I developed was to dampen my instincts. They were the alarms that would go off telling me whenever I was in danger. At a certain point, the danger was chronic, and having alarm bells constantly firing was putting my physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual health at too great a risk.
I see that process of shutting myself down reflected in the story of the woman of the sea. Like her, I also had something wondrous which I could turn to in moments of pain and despair. Something crimson with the warmth of promise lay at the center of my inner hearth. Even when I had no words for it, I could spend hours transfixed by it as a way of helping me forget where I was. It turns out that Story was a part of that, even then.
I would escape into books, taking comfort in the trials and triumphs of the characters’ lives. I saw that not all families were as broken as mine, and, on occasion, I saw that some were worse. Books carried me away, and I learned how to be hopeful from the heroines and heroes I read about. They felt like those fairy places deep down in the sea, and like the Selkie, I visited them in my mind.
This story also speaks to me of my own continued suppression as I became an adult. I accepted the dutiful roles that appeared in my life and never spoke of my sealskin, not ever. I had grown comfortable with my own discomfort and found ways, mostly unhealthy, of managing it. I looked around me and could easily find others to blame for the pain and emptiness I felt. This kept me looking ‘out there’ for the source of the hurt. It meant that my story about myself did not have to change.
The story I had constructed about myself was carefully designed to maintain my separation from my wild nature, my true identity. In fact, I would only actually be able to see, hear, and feel those things that supported it. If anything or anyone did show up to contradict my chosen narrative, I could deny, ignore, or attack. Denial worked the best.
The children in the story represent my creativity and intuition. However, undeveloped and small, every time I allowed space for them in my life was a step toward my awakening. Being creative and intuitive strengthened my instincts and my ability to listen to what they were telling me.
When they pulled back the hay and revealed my sealskin, they were reminding me of who I had always known I was. It really was not so much that I had forgotten. It was that I had had to set it aside for so long and so thoroughly to survive; I almost did not believe it was real. You see, something happened as a result of being a captive for a really long time.
It did not matter whether it was another person or me, myself, who took away my freedom. I had adapted and buried the instincts that told me how happy I was when I was free. The longer I did this, the deeper the pit became. Because of this, diving back into the sea where I could return to my wild self felt risky and even a bit alien.
It has been the sound of the waves over much of the past thirty years that has helped me to recover my sealskin. Hearing the truth of where I came from, where I belong, and how to return has come in the form of therapy, lots of books, teachers, vision boards, meditation, mindfulness practices, time in Nature, workshops, trainings, and most importantly, Story.
Writing this book is me running along the track to the shore with all of my strength. I look forward to leaping into the sea once more. And from there, I will look back at my inner farmer and tell him that, ‘yes, my Heart has always been in the sea.’ And I will turn and with that great gray seal beside me, dive back down into the fairy places where neither rain, nor cold, nor darkness ever come.
There is such a complexity of relationships in this very simple story. The Selkie is one of the fairy people known to come to the shore on the full moon in midsummer. This is their time to remove their seal skins and dance for joy. I revel in that delight and celebration every time I spend time with this tale. I can feel the strangeness of those fairies, furless, with legs and arms, joyfully moving in a circle and singing. This is unlike anything they do in the fairy places deep in the sea.
On a deeper level, this reminds me of my own Soul shifting into form to experience human existence’s sensations and delights. It comes with risks, as it did for the Selkie woman on this night. I might be caught by that industrious, dutiful, well-meaning farmer who keeps my true nature from me.
While my Soul is held captive in human form, I, like the woman of the sea, find ways to experience love and connection even while managing the ordinary bits of life. I care for the sheep from which clothing and food come. I bake the bread to nourish us all. I bring children into the world and show them a wonder that I hold dear while living as a stranger in a strange land.
All the while, I never forget my true nature and my true home.
This is a tale of feeling blocked by ordinary human life requirements from diving deep into my own fairy places. It tells my own story of being trapped by a part of me that only sees what it desires. There is mundane work to be done. There are children to be raised, and it loves my Soul very much for being a part of it.
My captor-self’s only true gift can give my Selkie-self is to allow my return to my true identity. But, in doing that, my inner farmer loses the very thing he holds dear. I am in love with the tension of that particular space. I know that within me is a farmer. He wants an ordinary life but seeks partnership with an extraordinary being. My inner Selkie loves her children and knows the man loves her. However, her only true happiness lies in her return to the sea with her skin.
My Soul wants me to spend time in the depths, finding rich emotions and wisdom. My absence heightens my desire to return to my true nature. The time I spend on land taking part in the common moments of life has shaped me. I understand the desires of my inner farmer; I simply can not surrender my entire life to them. I must take possession of myself, as I truly am.
Once my Soul is returned to its rightful home, the Selkie to the sea, I am able to visit the shore without losing my identity. When I do, I bestow the treasures and nourishing gifts of the sea onto my children. This is where I merge the mundane with the mythical. As a result, I experience a soulful life in which there is the freedom to bring my most authentic self to my entire world.
Look Into The Woman Of The Sea Mirror
Even though this story appears to be about being female, it can offer both men’s and women’s reflections. Everyone has a sealskin that lays hidden, waiting to be rediscovered. It is natural to suppress or hide your wild nature to fulfill the demands of mundane life. Take some time with these questions to discover what lies in the ‘fairy places, deep, deep in the sea where the water is warm as a river in summer, where neither snow nor darkness ever come.’
- When you read this story, what part of your own life does it reflect?
- Have you lived a domesticated life?
- How would it be different if you were free to join with your wild nature?
You may feel more like the farmer, reliable, and unsurprising. Perhaps you also have discovered a ring of fairy people dancing for joy beneath the full midsummer moon and wanted to carry one of them home with you. This part of you truly believes that this is how to bring that wild beauty and mystery into your life.
- Do you see some of the farmer in your story of yourself?
- How have you tried to harness the beauty of the untamed in the service of your ordinary life?
- Is there something calling you to dive deep down into your own fairy places?
As you look into this story, you may feel strongly about one or more of the characters and the choices they make. Notice what those feelings are and describe them in writing. Like a mirror, it shows you the image you have about yourself and what is behind you that makes it possible.
- Who do you see when you look into this story as a mirror?
- How do you feel about diving deep into your own fairy places?
If the adults responsible for your well-being and safety as a child were limited and even dangerous, your instincts would have let you know. When the threat to your physical, emotional, mental, or spiritual well-being is chronic or unavoidable, you will need to find a way to manage them.
- How have you hidden your natural instincts from your conscious self to navigate an unsafe situation?
- What does it look like to pick up your own sealskin and return to the sea?