Each August my husband Danny and I spend two weeks in Napa Valley, California—wine country. Damn straight, it’s about the wine. Where else can you start drinking guilt-free at ten o’clock in the morning?
But there’s much more to it than that. Some fifteen years ago, after spending several days of our honeymoon in San Francisco, we drove into the valley. Before a drop of wine had crossed my lips I felt mellow, the way an end of the workweek drink takes the edge off, before the second one takes you over the edge.
Stress whooshed out of my body and my mind downshifted. A warm surge of energy filled my heart and solar plexus, the unmistakable feeling I’ve come to recognize as “home.” I’ve felt it every time I’ve entered a house that I’ve bought or rented, unlike the cold and hollow sensation in my gut that’s repelled me from dozens of perfectly nice houses.
Danny felt it too. So every year thereafter we return “home” to friends and a way of life we love. There’s an added plus to Napa. We are Danny and Jill, not Rabbi and Rebbetzin. If I want to flip the bird to a driver who cuts me off, I don’t have to worry about pissing off some member of the congregation.
Early mornings in St. Helena, a five-mile walking meditation amidst the lush countryside intoxicates me. All year long, I hunger for the rolling hills, the olive and fig trees, the perfect rows of grapevines, old vines with trunks gnarled with age, and skinny, young erect ones not yet weighed down with fruit. Excitedly, I await the Friday Farmer’s Market, and the stalls filled with sweet fresh figs, raisins of all kinds, bunches of magenta and deep eggplant dahlias, all impossible to find in Detroit.
Jackrabbits and coyotes cross my path. Huge ravens screech. Minus the distractions and responsibilities of our non-vacation life, the dueling voices in my head recede.
Napa Valley is the place where the voice of my Divine Feminine is clear and our relationship flourishes. I’m a captive audience there. I relax and enjoy myself elsewhere, yet in Napa Valley alone am I able to hear Her Inspiration, epiphanies, and guidance so readily. Two years ago, while on my morning walk, She told me it was time to open a practice. Last year, I signed up for a February writing retreat without checking my calendar, knowing that attending it was my highest priority. Not once in the fourteen years Danny and I had been married had I put my personal needs above my temple responsibilities.
This year She upped the ante, hurling shock waves into what I thought were relatively healthy relationships with my masculine and my feminine. I didn’t think much of my slightly elevated temperature that first evening. On top of travel exhaustion, I still had the remnants of an upper respiratory infection.
After a fitful sleep, I excitedly took off for my initial walk. The first one cleared out the cobwebs and left me feeling as clean as freshly dried sheets off a clothesline.
Not long into it, I reflected on my practice, at a virtual standstill since I opened it last October. “What are you waiting for, God?” I asked. “I thought if I opened it, a la ’Field of Dreams,’ they would come.”
“What more do I need to do?” I plead.
As soon as I finished the sentence, I was seized with the realization that I was asking the wrong entity. No wonder nothing had happened.
I reframed my entreaty. “Now what, Goddess?” (At this point I am probably a third of the way through Beak’s book, “Red, Hot, and Holy”).
“You’ve been trying to make this happen. I told you to open the office. I didn’t tell you it would take off in a flash,” She began. “This is about trust, about receiving, about listening. You took my guidance and then as soon as your practice didn’t take off, you let your Inner Critic/Patriarch bully and shame you. The second you bought into their story, your trust in me evaporated. It hurled you into doubt and drained your resources. You withheld from yourself. You’ve done that most of your life.”
An inner light bulb goes off. I have an incredibly dysfunctional relationship with my inner masculine. I let it run roughshod over my feminine, perpetually reining her in. An image flashes in my mind of the Hermit Tarot card.
“I’m tired of being confined to a fucking cave. I want OUT,” it rants. The image of a Neanderthal man with a club replaces the image of the Hermit. The blatant symbolism isn’t lost on me.
Several days later, I awake at midnight with a 103-degree fever. Three Aleve later, I manage to fall back asleep. Wiped out the next morning, I don’t walk, the first time in memory.
Saturday, after another bout with a 103-degree fever, I agree to go to the local ER. An elevated white count signals an infection, but without obvious pain or inflammation, where and what kind remains a mystery. I refuse antibiotics until Tuesday when one of the cultures exposes a massive urinary tract Infection.
Monday I resume my walks. I reflect on the last eighteen months. I consider myself healthy. So does my doctor. At sixty-seven, the only prescription med I take is thyroid. But for the last eighteen months, I’ve been plagued with a host of debilitating health issues stemming from two dental abscesses that drained into my gut and led to leaky gut syndrome. The antibiotics I needed for the abscesses caused candida overgrowth and more intestinal problems.
The first abscess went undetected for so long, it ate away at the bone, necessitating a bone graft. On top of the abscessed teeth, I needed two additional dental implants, with two more yet to come.
And now an asymptomatic urinary tract infection! What the hell was going on? Then I began to laugh. I had unwittingly been in the thrall of the archetypal patriarchal father, and She was pissed off.
“It’s about time, Jill. What the fuck do I have to do to get your attention?” She bellowed. “The minute you get back from Napa, you tune me out. You censor me. You’re right, I’m pissed off. My anger’s at ‘fever’ pitch.
“I’m sorry to butt into your vacation, but you gave me no choice. Napa is the only place you really HEAR me.”
“Okay, you’ve got my attention,” I said, appropriately chagrined.
“Sink your teeth into this, Babycakes. How many teeth do you have to lose before you get to the root of your dis-ease?””
“You’ve spent the last eighteen months trying to get to the root cause that ties your ailments together. Not ONCE did you consider that it might be ME. HELLO,” she screeched, and continued, eyes flaming, veins popping out in her neck.
“I’ve been trying to nurture you, but as soon as you land in Detroit, you begin to let my Feminine resources leak out. You’ve held on to a decayed way of being for so long that it abscessed and contaminated your gut.
“Do you get candida? It’s fungus, moldy old indigestible values your gut, your heart and soul refuse to assimilate anymore!”
I can’t believe how dense I’ve been. Years of work on recognizing and integrating my Feminine and I was still unconsciously kowtowing to the hidebound, insidious masculine establishment values.
Clashing voices tightened my gut. I felt myself slipping back into my early years, a small child admonished by her parents to contain her feistiness, her non-conforming free spirit. Be pretty, but quiet. It’s a man’s world. Accept it.
Another voice announced, ““Wake up, Sleeping Beauty! Its break out time!”
After the blindsiding litany from my Feminine, I realized I hadn’t been embodying the feminine, only rebelling against the inner patriarch much the same way I had rebelled against my father. I had strived to define and achieve success his way, making myself sick in the process, and then, when I failed, I felt like a loser. I was a living example of Einstein’s definition of insanity, doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different outcome.
I had become my own frenemy.
In his book, “Inner Work,” the late Jungian analyst Robert Johnson writes,
“If you repress a part of yourself and keep it out of your conscious life, it turns into a robber and starts stealing your time and energy by creating a neurosis. This is its way of trying to force its way into your life. It sabotages you and prevents you from functioning the way you want to. It can take the form of physical symptoms, illness, neurosis, or even bad luck that seems to gang up on you.”
I think I got it this time.
On my last morning walk in Napa, no coyotes or jackrabbits. Two huge ravens landed on a tree branch not five feet from me, cawing loudly, echoing Poe’s “Nevermore.”
Nevermore will I rein in my Feminine.
Nevermore will I silence Her voice.
Nevermore will Her needs come second.