Alanis Morissette – Creative Intimacy and the Merging of Yin and Yang

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In this episode the amazing powerhouse Alanis Morissette and I talk about:

  • Vulnerability
  • Strength with Femininity and balancing the Yin/Yang or Masculine and Feminine essence
  • The effect of success on the creative process
  • How anger can actually build intimacy in relationship

And finally, Alanis gives her one piece of advice for women who are on the precipice of their own Emergence. Alanis will be a keynote speaker at the 2013 Emerging Women Live Conference, October 10th-13th in Boulder, CO.

Tune in to listen to my conversation “Creative Intimacy and the Merging of Yin and Yang” with Alanis Morissette.

Subscribe to Grace & Fire on iTunes.

Transcript:

Chantal Pierrat: You’re listening to Grace and Fire, brought to you by Emerging Women. In today’s episode, Alanis and I spoke about vulnerability, strength, and femininity; and balancing the yin yang or masculine and feminine essence; the effect of success on the creative process; how anger can actually build intimacy in relationship; and finally, Alanis gives her one piece of advice for women who are on the precipice of their own emergence. Here is my conversation, “Creative Intimacy and the Merging of Yin and Yang” with the amazing and talented Alanis Morissette.

OK, welcome, Alanis.

Alanis Morissette: Thank you for having me.

CP: This is such an honor. I just want to lay all my cards out on the table here. [Laughs] I’m feeling a little star struck, and I’m usually a pretty cool cat, I can hold my own, but at this point I’m feeling incredibly vulnerable.

AM: Oh!

CP: You’ve just had such an impact on my life, especially as a young woman, and I just want to get it out there and let you know that. I think I’m speaking for every one of our listeners that were born in this time that were influenced by Jagged Little Pill and your other albums—and I want to get into that a little bit, your new album. So there it is. It’s out on the table. So if I fumble—

AM: [Laughs] And you’re still alive and you’re still safe and everything’s still OK.

CP: I’m still OK! That’s right!

AM: That’s so sweet, thank you.

CP: Well, I thought I’d try and level the playing field a little bit and go in super deep on our first question, and hopefully that will the OK.

AM: Yeah, go for the jugular, I live for that. [Laughs]

CP: [Laughs] Great! So, with regards to vulnerability, when do you feel the most vulnerable? When do you feel the most naked?

AM: I feel the most vulnerable with my husband, probably. I’m a big Harville Hendrix, Helen LaKelly Hunt, Imago therapy model fan, so I just really see that the degree of commitment and intimacy is commensurate to the degree of healing available. So for me, there’s no bigger commitment than marriage. Definitely motherhood, too, is a near second for obvious reasons.

But the commitment of marriage is really vulnerable and really intentional, so there’s the great vulnerability of coming together in that three-phase process, in theory. There’s the infatuation that brings us together, all the chemistry and the animal stuff, and then there’s that disillusionment that turns into that power struggle and conflict. And in the theory, we could segue into this third phase where we actually help heal each other’s wounds and pull each other out of this survival strategy that helped us survive as kids into this wholeness. That’s the theory of it, and now I’m actually experiencing it in practice, which is incredibly vulnerable.

And then there’s also a whole other chapter about deepening my vulnerability with my girlfriends, and just letting intimacy be the terrorizing thing that it can be, but also the beautifully healing thing that it can be. And there’s a great quote—the other day, my friend said, “The soul is shy.” [Laughs] That’s such a sweet way of putting it. So those two worlds are the most vulnerable for me: friendship and marriage.

CP: Right. There’s so much there. So I want to start digging into that relationship piece. As emerging women and as this whole emerging women movement, there’s a lot of strong feminine energy. The whole feminine is—I don’t know if it’s being reinvented, or I like to think it’s actually just actualizing itself in the biggest way possible right now during this time.

AM: I think the word “resurrect” is a resonant one for me. It’s sort of resurrecting the divine feminine in both genders—males and females alike. I know in talking with people, sometimes people are a little off-put by the whole idea of masculine and feminine. My twin brother and I have been using the terms yin and yang. So the yin is really re-emerging, in a way, because certainly there are a lot of us women that have masculinized in a disempowered way, according to what the standard was for us. We sort of adopted that approach in order to “succeed” in the Western world, which has now become the planet, right?

CP: Right. Yes. I’m raising my hand.

AM: We adopted this, and maybe it created some sort of pseudo version of empowerment, I suppose, on some level, or some proof of competence, maybe. But it didn’t afford connection and love and intimacy and healing, really, at all. It was incomplete, to say the least.

CP: Right, yes. And this is the opportunity, I think, especially with—well, we’re all strong women, but you in particular, holding a very distinctive balance of power and strength but incredibly feminine energy. That’s what I see in your music and you as a person. My question of that is—especially since you are super strong and powerful and you have that balance of masculine and feminine—how does that play out in your relationship? Is it yin/yang or whatever you want to use—do you feel like it’s manifesting in a certain way that you have to negotiate, or is your husband hip to the whole thing and it’s not a conflict?

AM: Yes, this is a big conversation, right, because it’s 2013. There was the old way of things, which [was that] men would provide and protect, and it was the continuation of the proprietary continuation of the name on an ego level—the last name, the family name. And then women were to tend the hearth while the hunters and gatherers, the males, went out and got the animals and brought them back. We took care of the children and it was very clear and clean for us.

And then in segued into men going to war and women having to step up and prove that we were competent, which is a bit of a no-brainer. Of course we can “do everything a man can do,” and the whole impetus was to prove that we can do it better, which I didn’t totally understand. And then it segued into this great competence-proving and this autonomy.

But like I said, it forwent the whole idea of deep connection and healing, because there is this idea that post-patriarchy pain—that we would segue into this matriarchy rising. But ultimately I think it’s the union that all of us are looking for, right? That would be the most healing within the genders while leaving room for our physiology and our biology and our neurobiology. We are born a certain gender, and that predisposes us to hormones and all of the testosterone coming from different places in our body.

So to take into account all of these aspects, to take into account where we’ve evolved to in the gender conversation, I think what’s happening now is this invitation into androgyny, but also the allowance of the continuum to be what it is. So some of us err on the side, temperamentally or otherwise, [of the] more feminine yin side, and some of us err on the side of a more masculine alpha side.

In my particular marriage, I think my husband Souleye and I both have the capacity to do both. I think we’re also very intentional. My husband was brought up in a slightly unconventional way where his father participated in more of way than that generation typically used to. So there was no conflict for him around a male participating and contributing with a different form of currency in terms of their provision. So that was really helpful for me.

I hate to be the categorizing woman because it can be violent at times, but in some ways it actually helps. I think there’s three kinds of interactions I’ve had with men: One where men, in general, had a great ambivalence—to put it lightly—toward the feminine and, really, were angry and there was some hostility around their relationship around the feminine, whether it was born from their mom or otherwise. Then there’s the second category where there’s some great healing that’s been done, whether it’s through therapy or through their sisters or friends or partnerships. And then the third category is actually this new divine masculine, in my mind, who doesn’t really have an ambivalence around the feminine. In fact, quite the opposite, where they actually want to embrace and support and catapult the feminine.

So I hovered around the first and second version for many years, and it was really painful for me, as you can imagine. And I really don’t feel alone in that. I feel like that was where our culture was moving. And then now it’s segueing into this place, for me, where I’m seeing what’s possible when the feminine is supported in both my husband and myself. And what that might look like is embracing feelings—our whole vernacular is around feelings and empowerment and expressiveness and our essential selves being made evident through our career choices and our vocational following and all of that.

So it’s really an exciting time to be alive, in my opinion [laughs]. It’s a very gentle, nurturing time to be alive, and a very healing time.

CP: I feel like the whole world has been over-masculinized, and it’s not to mean that it wasn’t a good thing when it was happening in certain parts of the world. But it’s definitely time, and I like the fact that you’re calling it a resurrection, because it wasn’t always like this.

AM: Yes. And I think it’s an important distinction to be made around empowered masculine and disempowered masculine and empowered feminine and disempowered feminine. Because masculine in and of itself [has] gorgeous qualities, and my life would not be what it is without my having really embraced the masculine qualities, or the yang qualities. But I think the disempowered masculine is a sad state of affairs, as is the disempowered feminine. They’re both not, in reality, about the highest version of what both those qualities can embody.

CP: Exactly. What do you feel—and we’re just going to take a little bit of a turn here, but it will weave in—as this applies to creativity, your first album Jagged Little Pill was so huge. I still cannot believe that it’s the highest selling debut album ever by a woman. That statistic is still valid. It’s just mind-blowing, it just blows me away. And not that surprising, because it’s unbelievably rocking.

AM: [Laughs]

CP: How does that affect your creative process, to have such a big success so early on, and how has that relationship—I know you started with such fire, coming out of the gates with such fire and such power. I’m just curious, as you’ve gone on in your career, you still have the same depth but you’ve become a mom, you’re in this deep, deep relationship with your husband. Have you “mellowed out” since then, or has there been an effect by having such a big fire so early on in your life?

AM: Well, I think the fire is still there. It changes forms, in a positive way, I think. If I was still reactively singing and responding to things that I was reacting to when I was 19, that would be a little scary in terms of non-evolution on my part. So if I can be proud at all, it would be that the fire is still there but that it takes a different form.

I think it takes the form of passion, certainly. And the reactivity was more the raw nerve of my having sublimated it culturally. On a cultural level, I had the “aw, shucks” humility Canadian background. All due respect, but there’s an aspect of passive aggressive-ness that I definitely embodied, which, you know, it’s a rite of passage. I look back on that I think, “Great, if I were to be blessed to have a daughter at some point, I would be happy to see her being really feisty in her teens and twenties.”

And [now] it takes a different form, it takes the form of intentionality and service and standing up on behalf of what I believe in, whether it’s food or whether it’s politics or otherwise. So in terms of how it’s shifted over the years, I think there’s definitely a softness and a resolution on some level. There’s more of a pointedness. I’m able to articulate things a lot more easily now. Rather than just physicalizing it and dramatizing it, I’m able to articulate it and distill some of the more complicated subjects in a way that has been very helpful for my personal life.

But the fire is still there. It shows up in different ways. It shows up in how I cook and how I dress and how I play sports. It just shows up in different forms.

CP: Damn, girl, the fire is so still there. We just need to hear the latest album, and so I just want to jump on that as well, because there’s a song on that album—and I don’t think it’s the bestseller as a single, but to me, it’s like an arrow through the heart. It’s “Receive,” and I’m just so curious to hear the story of that for you, and how that showed up for you and why you wrote that song.

AM: Yes, I feel like we’re sort of set up [as] nurture versus nature. Temperamentally we have certain ways. I’m a huge fan of any tool of divination or any inquiry tool that can help the self-definition process, whether it’s the Enneagram, whether it’s doing Inner Bonding per Margaret Paul, or whether it’s doing any of these inquiry journeys, as I consider them to be. It allows for this self-definition, and some would say that the more self-defined we are, certainly the more empowered we are, and some would even go as far to say the more enlightened we are. So I’ve been obsessed with not only my own process of self-definition and healing, but also supporting others in that same journey.

So that having been what it was, I think “Receive” was sort of the last frontier for me. It was like this last vestige of what, on some level, I needed to nail in order to be in a functional, reciprocal interaction, whether it’s with girlfriends or on a professional level or in my marriage. Because my whole orientation was to serve and to give, and I’m a recovering co-dependent and a caretaker and a people pleaser. [Laughs] I’m in recovery, you know, [it’s] ongoing.

So my whole orientation was to give, and I think women are also built to do that. It’s way of procreating and surviving the species, in a way. My challenge, in a lot of ways, was to receive and to stand still and to really embody that yin, receptive quality, and it’s still a challenge. But my husband’s helping with that, my friendships are helping with that. My spiritual practice is helping with that, too.

CP: Right. I just felt [that] you were speaking for so many women in that song, and for me in particular it just really struck a chord. Are you a Two on the Enneagram?

AM: I’m a Two-Three-Four. [Laughs]

CP: I had a feeling! Two with a Three wing!

AM: There’s definitely the overachieve-y achieve Three thing, and then there’s the Two—

CP: Then the Two and the Four, yes.

AM: Yes, the Four is the art dramatizing [part]. What are you?

CP: I’m a Seven with an Eight wing.

AM: OK.

CP: You know, if you are into the split wing theory—

AM: Yes, yes, definitely.

CP: OK, I’m on the edge with that, I have to say.

AM: You know, my heart is always open to anything that helps the self-definition process. And anything that you resonate with is a powerful contribution to having a general sense of what our whole egoic story is about so that we can make this lifetime work. That’s really all I’m obsessed with. I’m not obsessed with us getting it perfectly or getting it right as much as I’m obsessed with us having it be appropriate with who we were born to be.

CP: Exactly. And to actualize that with awareness and consciousness.

AM: Yes, and then to also to be gentle with ourselves when we’re super checked out and super unconscious. Because I’m not always conscious, trust me. I’m sure it’s obvious. [Laughs]

CP: [Laughs] Well, you know, I just know you through your lyrics, so it’s so easy to project that you’re just sitting around living all of this consciousness day in and day out.

AM: If you ask my husband, he can attest to the fact that there are other versions that show up.

CP: [Laughs]

AM: But I sing about those, too, right?

CP: Well, what’s interesting about the Three is when it integrates, it goes to the Six, which is all about community, and you mentioned that that was a little bit of an edge for you, especially with women. And I do think that you’re not alone in speaking that, that women—we have an easy time and a hard time opening up to each other, and I would just love to hear a little bit more about how that edge exists for you.

AM: I’m a big fan of Alison Armstrong and her whole [take on] the gender divide/healing opportunity that’s going on in the world. She just articulates it so gorgeously. So what was your question again? I just want to speak to it directly.

CP: Well, just the concept really digging into intimacy with each other—not just keeping the intimacy for our husbands, but actually bringing that out into community with women, and how that is a little bit of an edge. Why is that?

AM: Well, on an animal level—the way, way basic primordial stuff—is that we, on some level, have always felt that we have to compete in order to keep the man protecting and providing for us. Alison would, I think, be high-fiving me for articulating it in that way. And then for us to let our consciousness segue and evolve this conversation into what marriage has slowly become an opportunity for, which is this slow healing and this journal toward wholeness where we alchemically transmute each other into this wholeness evolution journey through committed partnership.

So we take into account, on some level, in this theory, that we’re animals and that women want to compete against each other to see who we will be best protected by and who will stick around for us. Inherently, it’s set up that we’d want to kill each other and compete with each other and win, right? So to take that, with our consciousness, [and] evolve that and smooth that out and to say this hostility and this envy—which is basically hate—and this competitive drive to be the most desirable, to be the most protected, to be the most coveted, to be the most provided for, that we don’t actually have to live that way now.

Because on a certain level, of course, we can provide for ourselves, but ultimately if we are seeking union in the heterosexual sense, we would be able to connect with women and be safe among our sisters in a way that maybe on a procreative level wouldn’t make sense. We’d ultimately, on a procreative level, want to compete with each other so that we’d be protected.

But then on an actual conscious 2013 level, there is healing and there connection and there is tactile touch and nurturing and mothering and sistering and older sistering—there are so many dynamics within the girl friendship context that is available to us that could be really healing for us and very empowering. I mean, you’re embodying it by being part of this whole October situation, as I call it. This whole October situation that you’re creating is an amazing opportunity to sort of fall and surrender into this safety, and step away from this old version of women having to compete.

I wrote a song called “Sister Blister” about women feeling the need to compete with each other, and that we weren’t safe together. So over the last couple years in particular, the more empowered women that I’ve been surrounded by, the more I feel this softening, like I can lay my head on my girlfriends’ laps and they would pet my head, and then 10 minutes later we’d be helping each other finish a script or direct something or birth something into the world on a huge level. And then we’d snack and just be women together. So for me, another amazing part of being alive in this era is that women are softening with each other because we’re getting beyond that animal survival mode.

CP: Exactly. I’m so on fire with what you’re saying. OK, let’s take a different direction here. Your music is powerful. It’s fierce. And I’m curious to see where anger falls in your comfort zone. What do you feel when anger comes up for you? How do you feel about anger when it shows up in communication with your intimate relationships? And just in general, how do you feel about anger?

AM: I think anger sometimes gets this bad rep because a lot of people equate anger as an emotion with the acting out of anger, which can be really destructive and really scary. But the actual life force of anger can move worlds, it can set boundaries, it can birth movements.

So I think anger in and of itself is this gorgeous, powerful, sort of neutral idea, but sometimes when we’re at odds with it, it can be really destructive and it can have us act out in a really scary way. If there’s another aspect that I feel more passionate about, it’s to soften the whole idea that anger is this terrible thing.

CP: Well, I think that’s what you did with Jagged Little Pill. It just made it OK to express that. It was sexy. It was like anger was sexy and empowering.

AM: And it is, right? [Laughs]

CP: It is, isn’t it!

AM:  And I also feel like if you withhold your anger—if someone withholds their anger from me, they don’t want to be intimate with me. So I agree with what you just said. I think that anger is deeply sexy and it’s very intimate, because when someone can express that they’re pissed off at me about something, then the rubber really hits the road for me. I just think, “OK, so we’re really in the authentic exchange right now. We’re not playing it safe.” It’s really exciting. In my most intimate relationships, I always get excited and kind of giddy when anger’s expressed. Which might sound odd, but it’s true.

CP: Well, I like it because it’s fresh. There’s this whole movement that was happening at some point, and I really do love Nonviolent Communication and Marshall Rosenberg’s work, but there’s this feeling that it has to be so controlled and it would drive me crazy. I think that the fresh perspective that anger has a place at the table. It can actually—especially in relationship—bring a certain polarity back that is healthy.

AM: I think that the way that Marshall Rosenberg articulated it around nonviolence is precious and really helpful. I don’t actually think anger is violent. I think that sometimes the acting out of anger can be violent, and that’s where it gets dangerous. But the actual anger, the impetus in that core angry feeling, is so beautiful. It’s authentic and it’s got a lot power behind it. It may have been Gangaji or somebody who said that anger and love are the two hugest life forces that can move everything.

CP: I love that.

AM: I was just like, “Yes, thank you!” [Laughs]

CP: It’s just interesting, to bring it back into Marshall’s work—I do think anger is an attempt to express a very deep need.

AM: Yes, there is a need there.

CP: Yes. And if we treat it that way and let it express itself, I’m sure that need’s going to come out. [Laughs]

AM: Yes! I mean, that’s what so fun in my marriage, too. Whenever we’re feisty with each other—and certainly we are—it’s just about, “OK, can we just get directly to what the request is in here? Because there’s a request in here and pretty much anything you want from me I want to give you, and that’s just the truth. So what’s the request? Just tell me my marching orders and you got it!”

CP: [Laughs]

AM: “Even if it’s really odd and out of my wheelhouse, I just want to give it to you,” [to] my husband.

CP: Well, OK, I think this was super full, and I have one more question for you to rap, and this is a question we’re asking all the people participating in our podcast. If you had one piece of advice for women who are on the precipice or in the beginning early stages of their emergence, what would it be?

AM: Oh, it’s tough to give one to everybody.

CP: OK, Alanis, for you, you can give two.

AM: What I mean is for one woman, their particular growth challenge would be to say “no,” and for another woman, it would be to cry. For another woman, it would be to actually let someone actually put their hand on [her] shoulder. And another woman, it would be, “It’s OK to hate your mother,” or “It’s OK to forgive your mother.” So, unfortunately, I don’t even think I have an answer. It’s such a case by case thing.

CP: Well, let’s take it beyond that. Let’s say the healing, the personal healing has been done, and that’s usually—

AM: Wow, that’s—have you met anyone who’s done that? [Laughs]

CP: Well, what I’m saying is—OK, the personal healing is never totally done, but there’s an energy in emerging where you’ve had a series of “holy shit” moments, and you’re starting to piece together a connection and an intimacy with yourself that creates a fire like no other. You can’t hold yourself back, you’re so completely aligned. You’re still discovering, but you’re launching, in a way, from very deep place of connectedness. That’s what I mean by emerging.

AM: Are you surrounded by women who are doing this? I’m so excited! This is exciting!

CP: Yes, I feel like [for] a lot of women this is happening, and I feel that’s the result of the feminine in general, on a cosmic level, rising. There’s more self-intimacy and more self-alignment. A lot of women are stopping the compromising, for instance, and making courageous choices to make decisions, whether it be, “I’m getting divorced,” or “I’m getting married” or “Now I’m going to be developing relationships with women where I never have.” Whatever it is, “I’m changing careers.”

So there is a phenomenon, there is a movement happening, but it takes a lot of courage, and I feel that we have many emergences in our lives. It’s not just one time. But that point at which you’ve made that decision not to compromise and you feel so aligned with who you are, even though you don’t have the total picture just yet, that’s what I mean by emerging.

AM: OK, great, thank you for defining it so stunningly.

CP: [Laughs]

AM: No, really! Because sometimes I feel like that’s what helps, too, is for people to articulate what this means. What does empowerment mean? What does emerging mean? What does the divine feminine resurrecting even mean? So thank you for doing that. I think the more we all do that with each other, the more exciting it can be to articulate what’s possible.

So I think, if anything, [my advice] would be to trust your essential self. What has been born from this self-definition process is to trust the messages. Trust what you hear in those silences. Trust the nudges of where to go next. That’s definitely what my invitation is every day, to trust that if I don’t feel like I want to live there or move there or sign this contract or commit to that person, then I’m just going to trust that with my whole soul.

CP: Awesome. This was lovely, and I think now—well, thank you very much.

AM: Thank you so much! [Laughs]

CP: I don’t know what to say, I’m so grateful.