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.
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.”
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.
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.