Memories, Dreams and Reflections on my 49th Birthday

by | Nov 1, 2020 | Anxiety, Empty Nest, Holidays/Holy Days/Seasons, Transitions - General | 27 comments

I’ve shared a birthday post almost every year that I’ve run this blog (this is the first one I wrote ten years ago). I typically write a few days before my birthday both to mark time and also to share with you, my highly sensitive audience prone to anxiety, what it looks like to transition consciously through a birthday. As I frequently teach, transitions, as death and rebirth experiences where we’re invited to leave behind an old identity, lifestyle, or age and step into something new, are potent opportunities to shed aspects of ourselves that are no longer serving and align with what is ready to be born. They’re opportunities to allow the loss of the transition to stir up old losses and, as such, grieve through to another layer of healing.

The more we clear out before the actual transitional day arrives (the wedding, the birth of a child, a holiday, a birthday), the more space we open up for joy. We cannot, as our culture teaches, skip ahead to joy without acknowledging the shadow and grief of what we’re leaving behind. In other words, a birthday isn’t automatically a “happy birthday” just because it’s the day you were born, and it’s this very expectation of unilateral happiness that throws water on the fires of our celebrations. First we must tend to the fire and toss into it what is ready to be released. Then we watch as the fire dances and alights in celebration of this new beginning.

So here I sit a few days before my birthday at the fireside of soul: reflecting, tending and listening for what is ready to arise. As is often the case, the wisdom I need at this stage of my life, where I stand at a crossroads pondering the various roads that spread out before me, rises up from my dreams, from the contemplation of memories, and from reflection. And so, Jung’s seminal work, Memories, Dreams, Reflections, which was the first book assigned when I began my graduate studies at Pacifica all those years ago, became the title of this post. We need not wait until we’re in our eighties, as Jung was when he wrote the book, to reflect on our lives. We can do so regularly, and particularly at these junctures when we’re asked to slow into the birth canal of a transition and curl into inward places.

As I write that last line, a recent dreams percolates up from psyche’s underlayers:

I’m talking to Lisa R. on the phone. I’m in a noisy, crowded room and she’s also distracted because her sister is visiting and they don’t have much time together. But she wants to tell me about her conversation with the women at Kohenet and I very much want to hear about it. It’s hard to hear each other. She says the focus of the program is on grief. “It’s grief, grief, grief – that’s what they focus on every day, in every ritual.”

Grief. It’s the question we must ask during every transition: What am I grieving? What am I leaving behind? What is ready to be tossed into the fire or the water? The dream reminds me to take time to write on what I’m grieving so that I can transpose it onto leaves and toss it into the creek as I engage in the ritual we’ve done as a family for many years. What we can ritualize, we can transform.

I will do this on Wednesday, the day before my birthday. For now, I reflect on the miracle of having several hours without anyone in the house. This hasn’t happened in a very long time. I write in my journal:

Nobody needs me. I have nothing to do. There is nowhere I have to be. No deadlines. No interviews. No course creation. It’s just me.

I feel into this like a warm misty rain on my parched soul.

Nothing to do.

Nowhere to go.

Nobody needs me.

I’ve spent sixteen years creating, giving, tending, working, homeschooling… and I’ve loved it. I wouldn’t have done it any other way. But now it’s Wednesday and I’m the only one home. Me and Tashi. She sleeps on her sun-drenched chair in the living room as I awaken from a nap. We live in a culture that tells us that naps are indulgent, lazy, unproductive. We live in a culture that devalues the feminine at every turn and only values what we deem as “productive.”

This nap was productive (they all are), for as I awoke and dwelled in the preconscious liminal space between sleep and consciousness I heard a very clear directive speak from my soul, “Don’t rush.” The words came from deep in my being. I could see them as if they were written in my mind like a billboard. Our unconscious is our own advertising director delivering messages. But unlike real-life ads, these messages are rooted in wisdom – the wisdom of our own selves that we all have access to.

Don’t rush.

This is the feminine energy: slow, still, quiet. It’s why I sat in the yard under the Sukkah two weeks ago and watched a black beetle climb aboard my toe to eat a seed that had fallen there from my breakfast bowl. It’s the dragonfly who landed on my hand when I was sitting at the creek and ate its lunch there. It’s the bee who crawled onto my palm and walked back and forth for several minutes. I had to breathe into my fear and allow my love for her to overpower the urge to shoo her away.

When I shared these incidences with my rabbi she said, “You’re vibrating at the frequency of the Shechinah (feminine face of God) and the natural world recognizes it.”

Don’t rush. 

I eat slowly, face turned toward sunlight as I listen to the sound of snow melting.

I listen to my body and realize how often I don’t exhale completely, as I’m still waiting for a young child to break my reverie with, “Mommy! I’m hungry!”

I put my screens away (I wrote this by hand and am transcribing this now) and watch a beetle walk across our driveway, stopping to sip up some melted snow. My cat joins me. We sit and watch and sniff and listen… as cats do.

In this space of no distraction, as time spreads out in one seamless cloth, a memory from my early days as a mother floats up. Then, too, I was on cat-time, when day and night merged into seamlessness.

Don’t rush. 

This will be my guiding principle for my 49th year.

I have rushed for many years. It started when I gave birth to Everest and entered the mindset of motherhood where every moment was dedicated to attending to other. I rushed to finish my lunch before he woke up from a nap. I was rushed out of sleep when he would awaken me to nurse in the morning (and all night long). I rushed to shower before he grew too restless in the baby chair. I rushed to meet his needs because that’s what we do as mothers, and it didn’t end when babyhood ended.

I rushed because in the absence of community this is the only way to attend to a child’s needs. I rushed because there were no other hands to hold him while I showered or bathe him while I slept. I rushed because when you share a nervous system with someone who is dependent on you for their well-being you gladly surrender your rhythm to theirs. But in the process my natural rhythm was lost. I am reclaiming that now.

I return to the fireside of my soul. I sit and reflect and gather sparks of insight about what will be next, what path or paths I will take as I enter more deeply into my second half of life. An image from a dream I had last weekend rises up:

I’m in our yard at dusk with a younger sister/ally – a version of me in my 20s. She’s pure love and radiance and she’s come to support me after emerging from her own dark night of the soul. We walk into the yard together, down a slope, and in a bush near the creek we see hundreds of fireflies. We’re delighted – pure, childlike delight – and we say we’ll come back later when it’s dark so we can see them more clearly. 

Fireflies: Sparks of the divine feminine that are lit from within. In-light. In-sight. Allowing myself to be led by my own inner light, to carve my own way, to be a guide for others as they cross the liminal zones of their own dusks and discover their fireflies – those lanterns of light that guide us from within. To join with my younger parts as I walk into the darkness, promise to come back when it’s fully dark and enter into the great womb of the feminine. I think of the Zoom ritual I participated in last weekend for a sister-friend who was turning forty and how we landed on the Hebrew word for compassion, which shared a root with the word for womb. We decided that womb is a verb and that we were all wombing together in the cave of her transition.

Fireflies. Beetles. Bees. Dusk. Grief. Darkness. Cats. Sisters. Womb. It’s the feminine who calls me, as I believe she’s calling to all of us right now.

It’s the feminine who says: Forge your own path. Follow your inner light. Gather in sisterhood. Move slowly. Be in nature. Listen deeply. Trust.

It’s the feminine who has been violated and squelched, defiled and sequestered for thousands of years rising up now through dreams and action to say, “Listen! It’s time to do this another way.”

Together, in non-gendered sisterhood, we will rise. Together, we will forge a new way, Together, we will cross over the magnificent and earth-shattering transition we’re in as we reclaim what is ours and listen to the wisdom of the beings who call to us day and night, imparting their time-honored wisdom. Together, we will revive the old ways while also creating something new. Together, we will grieve and womb and dance and sing across this threshold.

I am listening. Thank you, dear readers, for listening, too.

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27 Comments

  1. 🦋 so beautiful and happy early birthday.

    I’d like to share something I’d love to shed as another outlet on letting it go on here. It’s something you’ve shared too as far as community being absent in your life at times and being in a rush to meet needs of your children and others.

    I often find myself doing the same but to an unhealthy extent at times where I put everything and everyone’s needs on myself.

    I’d like to lean more into trust. Trust in God, community and others to help me and other loved ones of mine through our life journeys rather than putting it all on myself. It feels so much better when I do and I’d love to fill my well and spend more time there. ❤️

    Thanks for another lovely post!

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    • That’s a beautiful intention, Jessica, and definitely one that is in great need of attention for so many.

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    • …at the fireside of my soul…so beautiful, from one therapist to another

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  2. Beautiful post, Sheryl. I’m also a November baby. I love your tradition of honoring the transition of your birthday and whatever arises. I think I will do the same this year. Too often we fill these days with celebration and ignore anything “negative”, but you can’t feel the joy until you tend to the grief first. 🙏

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  3. Beautiful, beautiful words! (Happy tears!) ‘Together, in non-gendered sisterhood, we will rise.’ I adore the opportunity to rediscover the feminine, and I hear the call, ‘Fireflies. Beetles. Bees. Dusk. Grief. Darkness. Cats. Sisters. Womb. It’s the feminine who calls me, as I believe she’s calling to all of us right now.’

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    • We’re all in it together :). x

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  4. Oh Sheryl, this spoke to me so very deeply. Don’t rush. I am in that phase of life when rushing to attend to the needs of my three young children is inevitable and, as you write, gladly done – but I can feel my connection to my own rhythms and inner world slipping away from me. I don’t begrudge any of this – it is as it must be for now – but I miss myself. Reading your words, slowly – letting myself take the time to do that, rather than rushing back to my work – has given me a felt sense of the Divine Feminine in myself again, and it feels wonderful. Thank you, thank you. And happy birthday, my dear guide and ‘sister-friend’. Cxx

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    • Thank you, beautiful Clara. Your words of reflection fill me with so much love and a big smile that reaches from my hemisphere to yours. Thank you for being on this planet. xoxoxo

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  5. Wishing you a peaceful, slow, mindful birthday. I count myself lucky to exist on this earth at the same time as you. Celebrating you today, this week and always!

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  6. Happy birthday Sheryl <3
    Appreciate your blog post a lot. Thank you.

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  7. Happy Birthday, Sheryl! I love hearing that you’re in touch with your feminine spirit, that you have been able to be still and with nature. It resonates at such a deep level, and I’m so grateful that you shared this with us.

    ‘Don’t rush’ is such an important reminder too. We don’t need to rush our process or ourselves because we’re always where we need to be. When we slow down we can actually recognize the symbols and signs, and we can better listen. And we can just BE. Which is what this about!

    I am wishing you so much light and love and sisterhood. I am so grateful to have found your work, which has been such a incredible and life-changing support in my healing/dark night of the soul journey. Thank you and happy happy birthday <3

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    • Thank you so much for this beautiful, thoughtful comment, Mayi. I’m so glad you’re here. xo

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  8. Blessed Birthday, Sheryl! Thank you for sharing yourself, once more! I have always loved birthdays but as I’ve gotten older, have found them to come with more complicated feelings than in my youth. It’s nice to reframe it as another transition and opportunity to reflect and shed.

    I also wanted to share this with you and your readers – it touched me so much and reminded me of your work… https://youtu.be/Cs-ju_L9pEQ

    Reply
    • I just watched the Keep Going Song and it brought me to the best kind of tears. Thank you for sending it and for your birthday blessings! xo

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  9. Thank you Sheryl. I just love the metaphor you used for grief of throwing things into the fire and then watching it burn brighter. Often I get so focused on what I am losing or letting go of that I become afraid of loss, hold on too tight. The idea of bravely and passionately turning the gifts of the past into fuel for an even brighter, wilder future inspires me. That is the work that is worth doing. Thank you for that reminder.

    May the candles on your birthday burn bright and big and wild for you 🙂

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  10. Deeply grateful for your birth, and all you birth in your work and teachings! You are a most loving, brave, and guiding firefly to so many of us. Thank you! 💛 Much love and blessings for the unrushed moments ahead. Happy birthday!

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  11. Happy (soon to be) Birthday Sheryl. You deserve all those bees, beetles and fireflies moments 🙂 As a busy mum of little ones myself with the need to be on output mode most of the time, it’s so wonderful to hear about the time opening up for you now – even just reading about it quenches a thirst to a degree. I’m wishing for you a special birthday, and thanks as always for sharing your reflections and wisdom. x

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  12. Happy birthday in advance, Sheryl 😊 My birthday is also in November 😊 Have a lovely day xx

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  13. Happy birthday! Would love to hear more about Tashi – our one-year old cat has really enhanced me and my wife’s life during lockdown

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    • Tashi is my cat-daughter and my boys’ cat-sister and she brings immeasurable joy to all of our lives (except when she brings in mice and leaves some parts around the house ;)). I think the role of pets in our lives in underestimated, especially for those on the anxious-sensitive-creative spectrum for whom they can be lifesavers.

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  14. Thank you, Sheryl. I often feel ashamed for spending so much time in the feminine while I am in the space between corporate career and motherhood. I feel I pressured to rush toward motherhood in a sprint, though I know this in-between time is crucial for my learning a more patient way of being. Though I know motherhood isn’t too far off, you have reminded me that there is another option: ‘don’t rush.’ This is such a foreign concept in our culture. I am slowly learning how to be appreciative of this time where I have the option to take all the time I need to be with the feminine.

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  15. Happy Birthday Sheryl. Mine will be in a couple of weeks and I find November a challenging month as days are shorter and I have to go through the autumn winter transition and my own birthday transition. This post is a beautiful example on how to move through, shed, learn and rebirth. Always grateful.

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  16. Happy Birthday Sheryl! 🙂 I loved this beautiful post. Especially everything you said about being in our feminine. I too, feel that our culture is not seeing feminine as beautiful or worthy as it once was. That we are only valued for what we “do and achieve” versus “who we are and how we are.” I really appreciated your words of “don’t rush”, as right now during this time at home with my husband and children, I also try to find peace in life being a little slower pace and everyone under the same roof for a long period of time, for the first time in years. Husband isn’t a road warrior right now, kids are doing eSchool at home, and it feels strange but good to be all together and not having the rush-rush-rush of every day needing to get a million things done. Grateful, as always for your beautiful words. Much Love.

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  17. Happy Birthday Sheryl!! May you have a wonderful year ahead! Beautifully and powerfully written blog post as always. Oh my reading this for me was so timely since this morning rushing and the need to rush, and this sense of urgency was totally on my mind! I was having anxious thoughts and insecurity about it. Thank you for the reminder that itʻs absolutely okay to move slowly.

    Reply

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