Survivorship to Thrivorship in Sedna’s Ocean by Carolyn Lee Boyd


carolyn portrait

 These past three months I have learned the wonderful, important word “survivorship.” At the cancer center where I receive care, “survivorship” means life’s physical, emotional, mental, spiritual, economic, social, and political aspects affecting the quality and quantity of life after treatment.

“Survivorship” also perfectly describes what I have seen over and over working with older women, especially those who have made their lives masterpieces of this art. The deaths of loved ones, the loss of home and country, devastating illness and lifelong disability, violence from family and discrimination and hate from strangers – through it all they have found a strength and power that they have used to make their lives and that of others more meaningful and impactful. In fact, almost all older, and many younger, women I know have been transformed by their own kind of survivorship into someone beyond who she imagined she would ever be.

Survivorship also describes the courage, persistence, strength, wits, guts, intelligence, and wisdom of the global community of women necessary to overcome the trauma, violence, violation and repression of at least the past several thousand years. It is what has brought women through to where we are now.  Women’s spirituality as a force and a movement is also a heroine of survivorship. Through millennia of being repressed and dressed up in the garments of patriarchal practices to suit their needs, the traditions and spirit of the Female Divine have survived and we now see Her reclaiming Her place in our spiritual lives, theology, and world history.

Illustration by Nanri Tenney

Illustration by Nanri Tenney

Often in troubled moments I seek guidance in a Goddess’s story that has resonated with me. One such is Sedna, the Arctic Goddess of the ocean. Since I am not of Her tradition, I can only express what the universal elements of Her story have meant to me.

This is Her story as I have heard it, most recently in Patricia Monoghan’s Goddesses and Heroines: Sedna was a young woman who married a seabird after he promised her a happy, easy life. When she instead found her home to be squalid, her father came to fetch her home in a kayak. Her husband’s flock attacked the kayak and, fearing all would die, her father threw Sedna overboard. When she held onto the sides of the boat, he chopped off her fingers, then her arms.  At the ocean’s bottom, she transformed into a goddess, always dragging one leg behind her,  and her mutilated arms and fingers became the fish and sea mammals that fed the people. She gave the people laws they must obey if the sea creatures were to sacrifice themselves to the hunters and she received the dead into her realm.

What happened to Sedna on her way down from the boat to the ocean floor to turn the abused young woman into the Goddess of life and death? She survived. To me, her journey is that of survivorship with the message that I must find my way through it with the knowledge and hope that transformation is not just possible, but inevitable. Where am I in the progress of the story?

Perhaps still holding onto the boat of who I was before diagnosis in some ways, perhaps watching my fingers and arms being flung over the side as surgery, radiation and chemotherapy make me feel as if I have lost the sense of wholeness I once took for granted. But, I am also looking down to the ocean floor, beginning to envision how this experience might make me into someone beyond previous imagining. I vow to not only survive, but also to thrive. Perhaps we should find a new name for this time of life when are not just survivors, but thrivors.

It seems as if this liminal falling-to-the-bottom-of-the-ocean moment is not just happening for individuals, but is also a historical time for the global community of women as we continue our awakening and movement towards equal rights, peace, and safety and for the spirit of the Female Divine as She arises and emerges.

We are profoundly conscious of the traumas and tragedies, of the losses and betrayals that have woven through our lives as individuals, as the global community of women, and as the human component of the Female Divine. Yet, we can see the bottom of the ocean, knowing that we can bring what we have learned there, even when it seems a bit dim and unfocused.

The prehistoric Egyptian Goddess shows her graceful strength, as she encompasses the world in her aura and shows her ability sustain and survive the difficulties of life and the beauty of joy. ~ Artist’s statement by Nanri Tenney

Much of what will be needed for our transformation is already underway here at FAR and elsewhere. First, we need to expand our vision of who we are, what we can be, and what we can achieve. We must ask ourselves, who would we be if we had never heard any of the “shouldn’ts” and “couldn’ts” that all women are subjected to from the moment of birth? What if we had always understand our essential being to be sacred and divine?

We have to acknowledge that what we have survived is hard. Maybe future generations will wonder how we came through it all in order to bring them the world in which they live. Like Sedna, we have wounds, but it can be the wounded pieces of ourselves that can be turned into food for the people, whether physical, emotional, or spiritual nourishment and nurturance. I suspect that many, maybe all, of us, don’t truly comprehend how wounded we are because so much of what wounds us is taken for granted as a part of life, but in recognizing our wounds, they can be transformed.

We need to envision what our ocean floor, the place where we express our transformed power and wisdom, looks like and who we will be in it. This is a task for the artist in each one of us to free our imaginations and dream as big as we can. Then we can put our visioning together and know where we are going.

Finally, we must take action, whatever that must be, to bring our vision to fruition. We must honor each woman’s contribution, knowing that everyone’s talents are essential and unique.

May we all, someday, stand shoulder to shoulder and heart to heart, in thrivorship in the ocean realm we have made together.

Reference
Monaghan, Patricia. (2000). Goddesses and Heroines. St. Paul, Minnesota: Llewellyn Publications,  pp. 275-276.

Carolyn Lee Boyd is a human services administrator, herb gardener, and writer whose work focuses on the sacred in the everyday lives of women. Her essays, short stories, memoirs, reviews and more have been published in numerous print and online publications. You can read more of her work at her blog, www.goddessinateapot.com.

Nanri Tenney an artist, designer, yoga and meditation teacher. She has lived & studied in many parts of the globe and is an advocate for peace through her creative work. She is the owner of Nanri Studio, in Maynard, MA. Her first career is graphic design. She has a BFA from the Rhode Island School of Design, and has been a practicing designer for 30 years, mostly in Concord, MA. Her meditation and yoga training was at The Center for Mindfulness at U Mass Medical School, Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health, and Babaji’s Kriya Yoga Ashram, in Quebec Province, Canada. She has taught yoga and meditation classes in Concord, MA, Maynard, MA, Cape Cod, Jamaica W.I. and has assisted teachers at Kripalu in Lenox MA.

Illustration: Digital Collage. Female figure, terra cotta, painted from Ma’mariya 3500 BCE, Egypt. Brooklyn Museum, NY. NASA photo of earth from space.



Categories: Activism, Sisterhood, Women's Spirituality

Tags: , , , , ,

23 replies

  1. Thanks for a lovely post. A friend who has just finished chemo and radiation is with me now and gradually coming back to her strength. Another is in the throes of it this summer. Good luck for your recovery.

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  2. On survivorship and the NASA photo of Earth: first the miracle that we happen to live in a time when we are able to step back and witness Earth from space. The ceramic artwork suggests an awakening beyond all our difficulties, filled with a joyful spirit and enduring grace.

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  3. Lovely post. Good luck with your healing and surviving. I’m glad you identified the illustration as an Egyptian goddess so readers don’t think it’s a drawing of Sedna. Are there any pictures of her?

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  4. Thank you for this. You have given us an excellent story to inspire us through difficult times.

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  5. May the Goddess be with you.

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  6. Thank you for your beautiful post. I am a survivor of breast cancer. I had a bi-lateral mastectomy two years ago. I read recently that “Life is falling down. Living is getting back up.” It has taken two years to begin to get back up again. But until your post it never occurred to me that the pieces I’d left behind had any value. It is a profoundly important new way of thinking about what I have lost, and what I can do with what remains. Thank you so much. I hope you continue to heal and to thrive. Perhaps we need a new ribbon. What colour will we thrives wear?

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  7. Profoundly beautiful and something I needed to hear. Thank you so much for sharing.

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  8. Thanks, Carolyn, for this beautiful post. Although I was well-aware of Sedna’s myth, I was never attracted to it until you framed it as a story of survival. You write in your post that “transformation is not just possible, but inevitable.” Feminist Wicca as I practice it is all about this statement. Yet in my own healing from breast cancer (now in my 5th month), it’s been hard to figure out what that means. I know it’s hard for me to be in the confusing, reconfiguring time of the ocean as you described it in Sedna’s myth. But knowing that this time will also end is helpful when I’m down.

    Until this week I was also “looking down to the ocean floor, beginning to envision how this experience might make me into someone beyond previous imagining.” But then I realized I was rushing the process, because I was uncomfortable with it. And that I was giving myself a pretty tall order to come out of this in a better place than before: my image was of an acquaintance who was literally glowing with life 5 months after surgery. Maybe, maybe not. As a recovering perfectionist, I think I just need to let the process play itself out. And the process involves grief, that’s the other thing I realized recently. Actually, I believe that any transformation — even positive ones — begin with a loss that needs to be grieved. Maybe that’s the ocean, an ocean of tears.

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    • Nancy, thanks so much for this response. What you say about rushing the process and how transformations start with grief are such important messages for me to hear at this time! The ocean of tears image is very, very powerful.

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  9. Carolyn, your post and the comments from readers are deeply moving. I have not encountered a life threatening illness, but have experienced both physical illness and life events that have required me to profoundly transform my sense of self and how I live my life. Sedna’s story is a powerful metaphor for the paradox of many women’s lives. On the one hand, Sedna is treated as someone of value. She is sought as a wife by her suitor, and is worthy of rescue by her father. On the other hand, the men closest to her betray her and harm her. Her husband is a bird, not a human, and he lies when he promises her a happy and easy life. Only once married does Sedna learn the truth when she discovers that the home her husband is providing for them to live in is squalid. And while her father at first comes to rescue her, when her husband and his flock attack the kayak, Sedna’s father turns on Sedna, fearing for his own survival. First he throws her into the sea, then he chops off her fingers so she can’t even hold on to the kayak! Yet here is the key insight of the myth. It is only once Sedna is forced by circumstances to let go – let go of the kayak, let go of the belief that the men closest to her would cherish and protect her, let go of the roles of wife and daughter, let go even of life itself – that she sinks down, down to the very bottom of the ocean and does not die. Instead she is transformed into a powerful goddess. How can this be? As you describe in your post, it’s not holding on, whether to a boat, or to one’s concept of how life should be, that is the route to survival and transformation, but instead, letting go and allowing. And this has been my experience. Thank you for sharing your story, and Sedna’s story. And thank you to Nanri, for her beautiful imagining of Sedna.

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