Lessons From Paris, Part 1: The Divine Feminine in All of Us
In May 2018, I took my first of two trans-Atlantic voyages in as many months: Paris, with my mom.
Paris is probably my favorite city thus far. Its magic and romance are hard to pinpoint, yet are unrivaled. It’s the art and the architecture, yes, but it’s more than that.
It’s the beautiful language lilting on the breeze. The sexy confidence of the cityfolk with their bold, bright colors and patterns, proudly displaying outfits we uncultured Americans might consider mismatched. It’s the perfumed air as you pass the flower shops spilling magentas and pinks onto the street corner. It’s the decadent bounty of the patisseries and chocolatiers around every corner. The sweet stench of the fromageries with their cream-stocked counters.
It’s getting up every morning to go to your local boulangerie, delicately sip an espresso and peel apart the flaky, pillowy layers of buttery heaven that is a real French croissant. It’s the supple, chewy, old-world garnet goodness that can be had for five or six euro a glass at any corner cafe. It’s ripping open a fresh tradicion and experiencing the simple delight that a well-baked bread can bring.
And it’s just a feeling. The sense of the infinite: that every combination of events and cast of characters that could ever be assembled have already gathered, at some point, under the wise old Parisian sky—and yet, that untold potential abounds, and anything is still possible.
Thus, it was a perfect destination for a truth-driven, spiritually seeking, generational-norm-breaking, ancestral-pattern-shifting couple of gals like my mom and I. It was a trip I had been longing to take together; a place she had been dreaming of going since she was a little girl. It was also a life-changing experience neither of us will ever forget.
My last visit there was on the honeymoon of my ill-fated marriage: a trip tinged with the sadness of things already lost, and charged with the urgency of desperately trying to hold on to what remained as it slowly sifted through our fingers. Throughout the trip, I comforted myself by imagining a return to Paris with my mom, and promised to bring her with me one day. A few years and a divorce later, I kept my promise, reserving some of the funds from said disunion to support our journey. My mom was my best friend and fearless warrior on the front lines of the battle to set myself free, and this was the most fitting way I could think of to say thank you.
From that great heartbreak and loss came a gift that was priceless to both of us. I knew it would be incredible to be there with her, but I didn’t know how much the trip would change me, too.
It was the beginning of a new chapter.
While I’ve always gained valuable experiences from my adventures abroad, I realized that many of my trips have involved running from something; hoping some answer that should have come from within would be revealed to me overseas; hoping that getting out would fix something that was broken inside.
Shocking revelation: Your problems follow you wherever you go.
On some journeys, I ran from the ghost of my first love lost. On others, from the heart-rending trauma of my time within my marriage and while getting out. On more than one occasion, I found reasonable facsimiles of those I was escaping in others I met along the way—people who saw me for one brief moment, only to leave me feeling emptier than ever before. They were escapes, and fleeting by their very nature.
This time was different. I went to Paris with my mother to listen and receive; to let pain and feelings come and go like clouds passing across the sky; to look for the divine feminine in the great works of creative expression and the beauty of the city itself, rather than seeking refuge in the unhealed masculine. I was struck by feminine beauty in art and landscape and nature, from the halls of the Louvre to Monet’s gardens in Giverny.
I saw my guides and gods in the ancient relics of civilizations past as we made the rounds of the city's great museums. The artwork and artifacts we saw on the trip covered an expansive range of times and places, but everywhere the strong female archetype persisted. From Egypt, we saw Isis: commanding yet comforting, guiding spirits into the afterlife and blessing the believers of Earth with her lily-white, purifying moon energy. The falcons, which had a dainty and feminine quality, adorning the lids of sarcophagi and temple walls; always perched or hovering above, ready to carry away those who needed protection on their wings. Lion-headed goddesses, maternal and powerful: soft, furry creatures who could tear you in two with one snap of their jaws.
We several depictions of Artemis/Diana, the archer and goddess of the hunt, strong and supple in gleaming Greek and Roman marble. She was often depicted with deer, another shared spirit animal of ours; creatures that have four legs and hooves and fur like so many familiar barnyard beasts, yet have an ethereal quality, almost alien the way their spindly legs pick through a dewy lawn; so delicate, quick and quiet, with eyes that can stare into your soul. We channeled Winged Victory: powerful and unflinching, charging into the future with courage and confidence. We gazed upon Venus de Milo, soft yet muscular, commanding in her stoic beauty.
At the Musee d'Orsay, we saw less-recognized but no less remarkable female warrior spirits of all nationalities, from Africa to the Mediterranean to Latin America and Asia. We saw them cast in bronze, literally bearing the weight of the world on their shoulders, but holding steadfast. It was a stark reminder of the advantage we have as white women, but how nonetheless we all carry such a heavy load, and are expected to do so without letting our mascara run. But that's the thing—we've been doing this all along, so who's the joke really on? Birth the babies, then get back to business.
We also saw a challenging comparison between these honorable depictions of ancient female glory and later renderings of women who were clearly seen as by the artists as mere objects. You could instantly discern from the character of the subject whether the artist perceived a mere muse or a full-fleshed human being, with feelings and emotions and a backstory of her own, commanding honor and respect from the person on the other end of the brush.
Renoir’s women were one of the best examples among the impressionists: They are always the center of attention, both for us outside observers and within the world of the work. They are always full- and rosy-cheeked, soft and glowing, with warm and loving eyes that yet bear a feisty spark. They are adored and admired by the men in the frame, who are often obscured, merely taking up space, gazing at their companions lovingly. Pissarro's soft dotted brushstrokes also feature women in their actual, real-world roles: not just sitting bare-bodied and passive, but out in the fields, in the gardens and the streams, talking to one another, working, laughing and living life. Monet had the love of his life in every human-oriented scene, sometimes more than once, unclear until you look closer. Women as the subjects, but not subjugated.
Who run the world?
And so, on this trip, side by side with the strongest woman I know, I found example after example of the divine feminine that lives in all of us, regardless of our gender, but that beats strongest in the heart of all who know themselves as women. From this power, from feeling the connection between us all, the strength we can all give to each other without even speaking or touching or ever meeting, I began to feel real wholeness and healing, and the beginning of real change.
My mother, who gave me life, showed me on this trip that I would always have that animating force within me and between us, but that if I were to be truly free, I also needed to let something die; to put my past to rest once and for all. But that's another story.
Paris taught us many lessons, and over the next few posts, I will share more of what we learned. I came away with so much. This trip involved getting away from the grind, but it wasn’t an escape. It was a re-integration. It was a reconnection with beauty and wonder and inner light. And I discovered what it really meant to look for love and find it everywhere.