her wounds came from the same source as her power


I loved the movie version of Wild, a book I adored.  I came straight home and went to my heavily underlined- and written-in copy of Adrienne Rich’s The Dream of a Common Language.  I read the first page, the first poem, which Reese Witherspoon specifically reads and thinks about in the movie.

She died a famous woman denying
her wounds
her wounds came from the same source as her power

I’ve always loved these lines, and often think about them.  Leonard Cohen rose to my mind, then, singing about how “there’s a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.”

For a long time I’ve wanted to believe this.  I’m often told it’s true.  I think it is.  I want it to be.  I know what my personal wound is.  It is my sensitivity, my awareness of time’s swift passage.  I wrote the paragraph below in 2010 (when I was 36):

It’s all connected, the way I observe the world in sometimes-excruciating detail, the untrammeled rushes of joy I can feel at the most unexpected times, the heart-wrenching pain my life delivers at others.  This is all a part of being an exceptionally porous person.  Is it any wonder that I’ve had to develop coping mechanisms, be they an aversion to true vulnerability or a tendency towards distraction, in order to mitigate the power of constantly living in such an exposed way?  I’m easily overwhelmed by the grandeur and terror of this life, and I have over 36 years built up a variety of ways of managing the pain that that inundation can bring with it.  It’s a package deal, the wound and the wonder.  I don’t know how to have one without the other.  Even the most swollen, shiny rapture is striated with sadness.

Four years later I read this and my first reaction is: I don’t instinctively think about my coping mechanisms anymore.  I wonder what that means.  Have I come to terms with the painful ramifications of my own wound?  I’m still easily overwhelmed by this life, there’s no question about that.  These days that overwhelm, and the observations that flood in its wake, form the bulk of what I write about.  Does that mean I am learning to access the power that comes from the same source as the wound?

I don’t think of myself as a powerful person.  At all.  So maybe that’s not the right word.  Perhaps inspiration works better.  My wounds and my inspiration have the same source.  That makes a lot of sense to me.  It’s also clear to me that the crack in me – the porousness, the sensitivity, the awareness – is absolutely where the light gets in.  It’s also where the shadow lives

And if there’s one thing I know, it’s that I can’t see the light without the shadow.  That much is abundantly clear to me now.  I take pictures of shadows – like the one above – all the time, and am drawn to the intersection of light and dark.  I guess that – the interplay of light and shadow – is one way of describing my wound, and also, I understand at last, my inspiration.

What do you think about Adrienne Rich’s assertion that our wounds come from the same source as our power?

33 thoughts on “her wounds came from the same source as her power”

  1. Avery was reading to me last night and she read a line about how in good things that come, the bad lives within the good. It makes my head spin and yet it makes a kind of sense.

    As I consider power and hurt, it makes sense that they are plaited together.

  2. I think it may have to do with the connotation we give to the word power, right? I know when I hear it, it’s a bit negative but should it be? Perhaps your power is your ability to feel these feelings, to be inspired, to know who you are. Those are powerful things to do! Thanks for getting my brain going early in the morning !

  3. This is a great post, thank you. When I read Rich’s lines I think of resilience and the power that comes from surviving traumas and refusing to let them define oneself. Also, now I’m curious to read more about Marie Curie.

  4. To quote another famous author’s work (Isaac Asimov), “It’s a poor atom blast that doesn’t point both ways.”

    We love to be Manichaean about our lives, dividing things into “good” and “bad”. Life is seldom so simple. Every “power” I have comes with a corresponding weakness (perhaps Superman was wiser than he knew).

  5. Loved this Lindsey. I also love the beauty of the lines of this poem ‘her wounds came from the same source as her power’. For me the beauty in that lies in having an open heart, and feeling my way through the world. <3 Thank you for this post 🙂

  6. I adore that Leonard Cohen quote. I always love reading your words and love the spot you’ve hit upon with this one. All of the passion, all of the goodness and darkness comes from that same spot, doesn’t it? Thank you so much for spurring my thinking here.

  7. My interpretation of Rich’s line is that our wounds (something that happened to us, which hurt us) provide the deepest opportunity for learning and growth in life, and when we rise to the challenge of facing what has hurt us (and the stories we tell ourselves and about ourselves because of those wounds), we heal the past, and we access our most powerful selves… a self not limited by the old wound, or the view we had of ourselves because of that wound. An empowered self is one which has grown through a painful experience.

    I also think, on a deeper level, that the “source” is God (or higher power or whatever your name for it is) and that what we experience in life, whether it hurts us or whether we express our best selves through it, it is all there for our highest good… and there is only one source, and when we go into it, there is no wound, just limitless power.

  8. Hmmm…I’m not sure if wounds and power come from the same source or if it’s more that our wounds have the potential to become our source of power. My wounds come from sources that are not the root of any power I have (addiction, to name one source). The power comes from understanding the wounds–what they are, where they came from, how they’ve shaped me. True, I would not have the power without the wound. But the wound is the intermediary. I think.

    Thank you for the rich question.

  9. I think that quote is spot on and I loved reading your reaction to it. I think it’s very true that our strength is also our weakness, is a related concept. I consider myself stoic, for example, which is a strength is some cases and that very quality is a big weakness in other situations. It would take me pages to describe!

  10. I find that quote so fascinating, and I think it rings true in many ways.

    It’s a funny thing about the word “powerful.” So many women that I’ve known over the years don’t feel a claim to it, and I wonder if it’s because the connotation is negative, that people in power have the – well, power, to hurt others.

    For years I taught self-defense classes to women, a wide range of women from many different walks of life, and I saw some beautiful breakthroughs of women acknowledging their power – some while fighting, some crying, some doing both simultaneously. I guess what I’m getting at is powerful is a complicated and multifaceted word.

  11. I always love reading your take on the world, Lindsey, as it seems familiar, but also far more thought-out than what I see. In my art and photography, as well as in my writing, my fascination has always been the light in contrast to the dark. That is where my eye naturally is drawn, and where I see the most beauty. Writers and poets write best because of their sensitivity to the world, and it shows in your work. Thank you for writing the way you see the world. It is a window into truth, and beauty.

  12. I think I understand this in my own personal context as my self-discipline. More than one person has pointed out to me that the same drive that got me good grades, competitive work, and motivates me to take on new fitness challenges is the same discipline that has been terribly self-destructive – a decade-long battle with anorexia and compulsive exercise.

  13. For years, I outsourced the shadow, but after a personal crisis, I understand that the goodness and sadness come from the same place. I don’t curse the darkness, though, because it helps me understand and evolve. You said it perfectly, “I can’t see the light without the shadow.” Thank you, as always, for your words. xo

  14. Yes. “there’s a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.”

    When I get knocked off my feet by joy, it’s usually because that moment has reached a shadow inside–anxiety, self-dobut, worry. I’ve always loved the edge of shadows, the lines of light that outline them. (I have quite a few shadow photos, too.) This is one of the reasons I love the Winter Solstice so much. We can not fully appreciate the light without the darkness.

  15. The Winter Solstice is an intensely holy day for me and I think this is why. So grateful that you can relate. xox

  16. it’s taken me a long time to realize they are two sides of the same thing. I can’t have one without the other. xox

  17. That makes a lot of sense to me. So all strengths are also weaknesses, right? Nothing is as simple or binary as just good or bad. I wish the world could be categorized like that … but for me it’s always been more complicated. xox

  18. I think you’re right that the word itself has some weight that women in particular have trouble with. I love in Rich’s poem thinking about power as electrical current – the ability to make things go, or to create light. And then I think always of that quote about how those who want to give off light have to endure burning. Power is multifaceted indeed. xox

  19. I love the line that “an empowered self is one which has grown through a painful experience.” I told a dear friend this fall that I’ve realized the people I love the most and am the most drawn to are ones who have been through something difficult or challenging. It took me a while to realize this was something that all those with whom I felt a deep bond had in common. What you say helps me understand that better. Thank you. xox

  20. I didn’t know that Asimov quote, but it’s the same thing, isn’t it? And yes, I think Superman is iconic for many, many deep reasons! xox

  21. I’ve just come from the movie Wild. In fact in a roundabout way, that’s what led me to your site! I’d never heard Rich’s poem before but it was that quote ‘Denying her wounds came from the same source as her power’, that had me reaching for a notebook to scribble down the words during the movie. Those words have really resonated with me and I know there’s lots of reflecting and questioning for me to continue with. But right now the question that’s arising for me is “What if we focused on the power within our pain rather than the hurt of our pain?”

  22. I love that question, too. Provocative to even consider that there’s power, as well as hurt, in our pain, isn’t it? xox

  23. The wounds are many and they leave many scars. From when I was a boy and saw my father beat my mother in a drunken rage, beat my sister until her ears bled and urinate down the cellar stairs in a gesture of hatred for his family, to the death of my brother followed swiftly by the deaths of my two sisters, people I dearly loved, I wondered when the wounds would finally send me to a ward for men who had lost their souls. I tried to cope: allowed work to swallow me whole, ardently fell in love and raised a child in a world I thought would one day devour him, immersed myself in self-analysis but still was unable to see who I was and how I was going to deal with the following day…after day after day. The wounds became a universe of stars cut into my mind, but as they turned into scars, I realized that the scars were tough ridges, tougher than my normal skin, and these scars were the source of my power to continue my journey through this life. Hemmingway said somewhere that a branch that heals is stronger than a branch that keeps on bending to the ground. My wounds are the shields that became my power.

  24. You are an inspiration to me and write a reflection of my personal thoughts (only more clearly written). I stumbled upon this when looking up “denying her wounds came from the same source as her power…” I’m so glad I did, as you’ve inspired me as much as that quote did.

  25. Kara,
    I’m so glad to hear this! Really touched to hear that what I share resonates, and grateful to know you are out there. xo

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