The past month has been a blur of reacting, creating, learning, reacting again. And those words don’t even begin to describe the chaotic, warm loving mess of the Holidays. A quick glance back at the circumstances helps me give myself kindness and credit. About two weeks before the holiday, my daughter was hit by someone making an illegal left turn. Her safe car and its airbags saved her, but she’s been spending time with us to heal, with the help of the amazing body workers I call my friends. Just before that, one of my best friends died of a brain tumor that had haunted her (and her loving family) for years. On New Year’s I flew to LA to be inspired by Byron Katie’s World Summit. Then back to daughter and client support. Lots of intensity on both counts.
And then last night, a dream. I’ll spare you the details, but in summary I was lost and searching for my dorm room, at a writing conference, of all things. Once I got that figured out, I discovered some lost earrings on the floor of the hallway: very specific earrings I that I had treasured fifteen years ago, with a rose-colored flower and a crystal. I had found the Place of Lost Special Tiny Things that I Love.
Seldom has a dream seemed more obvious, and so I sit myself down and write it this morning. And what comes up for me is how deeply powerful it is to Remember when I’ve been caught in the trance of life’s circumstances. And then I remember that the very act of Remembrance is the source of many rituals from the world’s religions, from Christian Eucharist to Sufi Zikar. And that the contemplatives in most traditions, Eastern and Western, excel in preparing the mind so that the voice of Remembering can be heard. So that what’s truly important CAN be remembered.
Every year but this year, I’ve reserved a day in the first week of January, as close to January 6th as possible, to celebrate my private version of Epiphany. It’s a time after the holiday hubbub when I choose to focus on this process of clearing. And remembering. And deep listening.
This year I gave myself a Sabbath to return to Winter’s quiet, and the magical right-brain work of dreaming showed me the way. Instead of moving headlong into my day, I grope my way from the dreaming to the lighting of candles and the writing of it. I get very quiet.
And here I am again, where I was a year ago, and a year before that, in an Epiphany of the mind, and I remember what I had forgotten for a while. I collect the tiny jewels I sometimes forget and spread them in the light of Remembering. And there it is, my hidden jewel of a soul is revealed.
And I remember. I can allow. Let go of the strain of trying to control the uncontrollable. Trust the beauty of the process that seems to come without pressure. Come to be. I breathe a deep sigh and my mind settles in. I write these words as a part of the sacred and time-honored process of Remembering. Life can be trusted. Gentle. Kind. It shows the way. And my own private ritual of listening, of writing this right now, helps me remember .
She was brought up in a Southern Baptist church, where Catholics were widely believed to be a bigger danger than Communists. So she’d never heard of advent until someone gave her kids a cardboard calendar with chocolates. This seemed vaguely suspicious and sophisticated in a European way. It intrigued her.
So on the first Sunday of that December she woke up curious. She looked up Advent on a couple of Google Sites. The words left her with a couple of impressions which seemed vaguely mysterious and therefore attractive:
Ritual Time for Patient Waiting.
The Beginning of a Deepening Relationship with the Divine.
Longing for Union with the Possible.
She’d never liked the idea of waiting, and when the virtue of patience was handed out, she’d come up short. She had no interest in longing either, but apparently she had no choice. Even with all the gratitude journals, the positive rewiring and the inner work at Letting Go, she wanted. There. She’d said it. Even though she hadn’t wanted to admit it before.
In truth, there really was something she truly wanted to come true, something she longed for, as long as she was giving herself permission to long for anything. She needed a solution. Now that turkey soup was running out, and she could see it coming. The holidays. They were looming near, like a tornado about to pick her up and to drop her off who knows where? What she did know, if the past had anything to do with the future, was that it would likely be a disorienting month.
Then she saw it. There was the longing. She wanted it all. The jingle bells and authentic holiday joys of family and friends, the making merry, the too-muchness. And she also wanted to find and hold the peace. Now that she thought about it, she wanted more yet. Even while she was in it, there was a longing to be on the other side of this holly and mistletoe storm.
A pull of hope stirred from some mysterious inner source. A longing for a deeper connection with something deep and wide inside, a wanting to know herself as more than she had ever believed she was, as something she didn’t even have words for. She could feel confusion stirring. And then there was a slight hint of a trust she had never known before. She listened closely. And it was at that moment that her body whispered a memory of another time in her life. And then she remembered.
There was a birth she was waiting for. This was the longing. Her mind relaxed as if it had figured out the answer to some complicated puzzle. And then a breath. A new hint of confidence from some deep pilot light. It was as if a new faith in possibility was born. There it was. An answer key had showed up from some unknown source. She simply knew that she could trust her inner directions as she listened. That this was the way to discover what she could do for all of those who suffered around her. She could almost see it coming, this new faith in healing, in forgiveness, in the future, in the possibilities hidden inside and beyond herself.
And she lit a single candle for advent.
It’s been an unsettling time. A time when unpredictable acts of violence make it hard to make any sense of things. The mind can’t comprehend, and I notice myself caught up in the detailed accounts, trying to figure it all out. Trying to find the kindness in the Universe that I have come to trust. There are times that Grace seems like a highly abstract concept. I turn to words of wisdom and poetry during times like this.
Today I came across one of my favorites, a poem by Wendell Berry that has always given me deep comfort when I was ready to settle into it, like a warm bath. And then these words emerged, like very irritating instructions: “Rest in the Grace of the World.” What? Impossible. Where’s this so-called Grace right now? My mind raged.
And then. Then. The day-blind stars reveal what I’ve been missing all along. Peace has once again become possible. From within, from that place where all wild things reside: inside. From the place that holds this poem.
The Peace of Wild Things
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
In my determination to crack open the safe that holds my Real Self hostage, I keep noticing I still have beliefs about what could be different “if only…” This usually implies an argument with my current life because of something in the past: If only…I hadn’t been hit by that car, hadn’t broken my ankle and then proceeded to ignore it and push on for years. If only I’d lost that extra 20 pounds I’ve been carrying around for too long.
It’s often subtle, but at the root, it’s always there: a dissatisfaction with life as it is. A belief that there’s a Big Problem in the Universe. A problem that (usually) I created, through some shameful personal inadequacy. My resulting reaction runs the gamut from depression to a general malaise and discouragement. When I try to act, to get momentum for a change I truly want to make, there are these weights around the ankles. Why try, with my track record? Then I either give up or cut myself off from the Source of vitality. The last option is infinitely the most painful, but this can go by unnoticed.
Another “if only,” trap also robs me of life energy. It goes like this: I could do this, (or that or the other) If Only I had more time, more money, or some other limited resource, like energy. How do I react when I’m under this spell? Discouraged. Stuck. The exact opposite of motivated. Lacking a vision or hope. The resulting lethargy blocks the creativity necessary for the change process.
One of the great things about being Of a Certain Age is the perspective it offers. I’ve long known that I don’t want to let the “if only” machine rule my life. I’ve done many things, taken many risks because I’ve been aware of its power and foug
ht the good fight against all the limitations it imposes. But, as it is with most universal truths, I now see in bold relief what I only glimpsed before. I had thought of the If Only of limited resources as something that could be understood intellectually, which would mean that I had it licked. It turns out this was just the first step.
As I’ve live longer, with the reality of life (and death) breathing down my neck, I simply don’t have time to get caught in the old self-sabotaging traps. The freedom of each moment seems more and more delicious. And when I see myself limiting me, I want to bust free from the whole trance imposed by the belief. Immediately, if not sooner.
If only I could, chants the part of me who resists change.
But when I hear this, in the nanosecond that I catch it, I have a choice to disbelieve the Resister. I can ask it (sometimes known as the ego) to move over, to take a back seat. Something else is driving now. Something intent on living into each possibility. It’s kind and willing to share the vehicle, but not the steering wheel. Because the If Only’s are too small, too insecure for that job. There’s a certain aliveness, a vitality, an immensity of life force that knows the way. And it is this that I trust.