A Conversation With My Mother
ART, RESEARCH, THEORY: On Sunday the 15th of October, 2017, the last day of 'The Mothernists II: Who Cares for the 21st Century?' a forest walk was organised to visit 'Big Mama', one of the largest groove stones in the forest of Lille Hareskov, just outside of Copenhagen. Most people today would probably understand the name ‘Hareskov’ as 'the woods of the hares', but when spelled as ‘Harreskov’ it means something quite different as it now becomes ‘the woods of the stones’. It is here that the unusual stones with grooves cut across them can be found. Very little information exists on the origins of these stones, but interpretations are many including the following: altars of fertility where the groove symbolizes the life-giving female sex; astronomical bearing rocks used as calendars; directional stones pointing to cultic places and sunken roads; music scores for playing lute, offering stones for blood-letting and simply stone workshops.
On this particular Sunday in October, a group of us was guided to the site by Ada Coming Wind Corsi, a local shaman, healer and author of ‘Homes of The Holy; What To Do?’, who has her very own relationship and history with 'Big Mama', a name which was told to Ada by the stone itself.
In the past I have myself visited 'Big Mama' three times. The first time was over 29 years ago and then again two different times in 2013. When I last visited 'Big Mama', she was still surrounded by tall trees, a mixed woodland of oak and beech and silver birk. And despite the fact that the stone was on a field like opening in the woods, it somehow had always remained invisible until you happened to stand right next to it; a large smooth rock in the form of the lips of a round vulva, slightly parted by a deep groove running across its smooth surface. This time, however, things had changed. In the surrounding forest, trees had been cut down and multiple paths for cross-country bikers had been laid down. Groups of bikers whizzed past sending lumps of the forest floor flying through the air, and through the thinned forest walls new roads were suddenly visible as cars drove by. The hardest thing was seeing 'Big Mama'. Exposed, shrunken, damaged. Exposed to all this traffic of people, bikes and cars that were now moving through the woods; Damaged as a piece of the rock surface had been cut off. She seemed smaller... shrunken. And I felt shaken, barely recognising her. What had before been a beautiful, magnificent stone, raising and resting like a gigantic vagina on a secluded forest ground was now so small, so fragile, so exposed, so broken. The symbolism was not lost on any of us. After following Ada's gentle suggestions and instructions on how to connect with and how to support 'Big Mama', the final presentation of the intergenerational, collective endeavour of 'The Mothernists II: Who Cares for The 21st Century?' took place as a conversation between my mother and myself. You can read the exchange below. For all other conference presentations, please SEE HERE. Warmly and with love! -Deirdre
A CONVERSATION WITH MY MOTHER
Deirdre: (Addressing everybody)The last days have been just amazing. I am so deeply grateful for the opportunity to be a part of all of this. And I love these woods and the fact that somehow all of you sort of manifest here with me. I mean what is the likelihood?!! It is Crazy and Fun and very very special... Myself and my mother did not yet present anything over the last few days, instead I thought it would be appropriate to use a part of this moment in the woods for interviewing my mother on how feminism has manifested in her life. We have somewhat touched on this a few times over the phone after we decided together that our contribution to the Mothernists II, would be a conversation about feminism and how here in the woods, but we haven’t really had the chance talk properly in person. Mom, could you tell us about your relationship with feminism and how it has manifested in your life?
Pirkko: I made a quick visit to the attic to search for the box with feminist memories, but its is not easily found... I was over 40 when feminism came into my life. It was in the beginning of the 80's. Funny thing is that I don't even remember how it happened, it just stormed into my life and I suddenly found myself in the middle of it with new friends, new awareness, new activities.
We made theatre productions – and they were successes- and put up an exhibition. Our longest play – we wrote it ourselves of course- told the whole history of women starting with the creation of the earth according to the Finnish myth where Ilmatar, the female spirit of air causes the world to come into existence. My generation was full of enthusiasm and optimism and anger. And energy. We believed things will never ever go backwards. But they do. So on my small personal level feminism is still very important. And solidarity between women, sisterhood.
Deirdre: I remember when that happened. Suddenly there was a group of women gathering in our livingroom for feminist awareness raising meetings. There were also many other new people suddenly in our lives, and by extention also in the lives of me and my sister. I must have been around 9 or 10 at the time..? I remember the incredible energy and excitement you and your new activist friends had, but I didn’t at the time -from my perspective- experience it as something totally new, it was just more like you - the mom I already knew- amplified.
Pirkko: Of course feminism didnt come into my life out of the blue. I've always been a feminist. I remember when I was 6 or 7 years old, I told I will be doctor when I grow up, and the neighbour's little brat said "Women cant be doctors." I refused to believe him.
In my family there was my mother and my three sisters. Because the war was going on there were no men around, they were all fighting at the front. We children learned that mothers, women, are not incapable. My mother ran a farm, then after the war – my father died in the war - got a job teaching at school. She had been a teacher before getting married. She raised four daughters on her own. Even against the pressure from the community she made sure we all had a good education. Actually, the only advice I remember her ever giving me was "first get an education and qualify for a job, only after that get married". She was a grassroot feminist although she never defined herself as such, but she gave a great example.
My mother was not the first feminist in her family. She had an aunt, a feminist who taught languages in a girl's school. And then there was her mother, my grandmother.
Her dream was to go to the university and study and study to become a doctor, which was not possible for women at that time. In a picture taken after she finished school, she looks determined and defiant. She is wearing her hair short, which was very radical at the time. (All the leaders of the women's movement had their hair cut short.) Then she married my grandfather, a priest, and they both became very religious and joined a Lutheran religious movement. Very Biblical. In a picture taken about ten years afterwards my grandmother has her hair long, combed into a tight knot in the neck. It's a bit sad. But she remained active in many ways, e.g. encouraging women to vote in the elections of 1906 when universal suffrage became law in Finland.
So you and your sister are parts of a long chain of feminists, a chain that continues to your daughters.
Deirdre: Growing up in Finland, being surrounded by you and my aunts, one of whom had four of children alongside an academic career as a professor of sociology, another with an exciting, international career as a theatre director, although no children, I took it simply as the norm that women have exciting careers and that these can exist right alongside with exciting adventures with ones children.
Growing up as your daughter I grew up with an understanding that being a mother was really cool, really out there, totally avant garde. I hope that somehow I too, in my very small ways am able to transfer and continue this feminist legacy, not just to my daugfter but to my son.
Actually, I want to tell you something mom..
Two years ago Sami -(my son who at the time was 18) – and myself were making breakfast in the kitchen before rushing off to work and to school, when he suddenly, and out of the blue said: ”When I grow up I want to be a Mom!”
For me that sentence, a declaration, really captured all the love, care, energy, work that has taken place in the generations before. We have come a long way, but like you said earlier ”things also move backwards” and so we need to stay alert and pay attention.
Pirkko: Yes, paying attention is really important and feminism also helped me with this. Feminism gave my life a new direction. It started a journey towards what I am at the moment, how I look at the world today. First came environmentalism. I began to understand that nature and man are not opposites, that we are part of nature and dependent on it, and nature, unfortunately, is dependent on us. That if we dont take care of Mother Earth, we cannot survive. Then came shamanism. For me shamanism became a bridge to buddhism, because it shattered the very fixed and rigid concept of reality I had, and also because shamanism means caring in a deeper emotional level, respecting all life. Love and compassion are central ideas in buddhism. For my grandmother's generation caring meant more or less doing charity work. For buddhists it means caring for all sentient beings and not placing mankind ( yes, mankind, what a handicap language) in the center as the ruler over God's creation. Buddhism is not really a humanistic way of looking at the world.
Actually, I had my birthday a couple of days ago. I am now 80. At this point of life process I would like to ask you to do something for me. It has to do with what you can do for me when I die. As a buddhist I am asking you to do for me some special things that are based on buddhist beliefs and which I have learned from my Tibetan teachers.
If you sit at my deathbed, sit by my shoulder or head and avoid touching the lower parts of my body. This is to draw my attention upward. It would be good if you let me listen to mantras and some familiar buddhist practices. We could make recordings of them.
I have this box. (takes out a small wooden box) It is my dharmabox. I'll show you what's inside it. (Takes items out one at a time) This is a picture of my teacher, Chimed Rigdzin Rinpoche. Place it behind my head, and near the moment of death put it on my chest.
When my body has been washed, put this t-shirt on me, it has the picture of my teacher.
This Tibetan kata is for me very special, put it round my neck.
Here are also some things e.g my mala, put them all in my hands.
But it can also happen that I die suddenly, without warning. Even so there are many things you can do for me to help me towards a happy rebirth when I am in the bardo.
First of all, when feelings of sadness and sorrow come, let them come, but don't see them as something negative, see them as expression of you love, and let me go. Remember, truly there is no separation. The Tibetans believe that if the survivors cry and grief, their loved one in the bardo can experience it as hails and frightening sounds. I have also put this text in my dharmabox. (shows a folded piece of paper). It has instructions for the bardo. I have taken it from Tulku Thondup's book ”Peaceful Death, Joyful Rebirh”. Read it aloud, or in your mind. You can do that where ever you are.
The idea of karma, the idea that all our actions have consequences works here (at this moment) too. Whatever good actions you do (such as) recite mantras or prayers, donate money to some charity, help people, whatever. All these good consequences you can dedicate to the happy rebirth and enlightenment of your loved one who has died, and -this is important - for all sentient beings.
Deirdre, I feel happy and priviledged to have talked with you about these things. I never had this conversation with my grandmother or my mother, and I am sorry for it. I am a grandmother now, and I dont think anymore that those differences in religion and whatever between their generations and mine were so important. We are connected on a much more deeper level.
Deirdre: Thank You Mom.
For recordings of all the Mothernists II presentations, please go here.