I have been tumbling backwards in my dreams. Returning to homes of childhood and their keepers. It is funny how the mind moves through the body and the body through the mind. There is a cycling through time that is nonlinear. We are spirals like the galaxy that holds us together. We are each tiny universes filled with cells and memories. The past woven into the present, threading into the future, spiraling inward and outward. We are each an ocean, contained and endless. Our waters swallowed into the membranes of our cells in one moment, and expiring in waves back to the stars. We are heaven and earth in one body walking the planes of existence.
Three nights ago, my bare feet found the sands on the edge of the sea. They walked endless shorelines, treading the line between solid ground and the sharp drop back into the vast womb of Mother Earth. My heart a tremble of fear and courage, yet I dared not step into the water. The drop too steep I knew the swallow would be whole. It’s no surprise that the Mother returned in other forms in subsequent nights as the ocean found containment inside the throat. Words still searching for air. How frustrating the spiral can be.
As the year turns into a new calendar, there is the calling to shed the worn, tired skins we wear. There is the calling to strip bare and return to the womb to rebirth the self new and fresh. Yet birth is rarely painless, nor is it usually easy. It takes concerted effort, a fair bit of strength, and a willing letting go.
I have been thinking of the excuses I hold tight inside the spiral. This false feeling of security in the futile hope that no more pain will ensue. No one really desires pain, yet the heart builds a fortress that splinters in the tearing down. Birth is always easiest when there is no resistance to battle through.
I think, perhaps, I should have dove headfirst into those dream waters, or let the feet follow the suck of the sand into the liquid abyss. Only then would I have known if the drowning would have swallowed my breath, or gave it back. Complete surrendering of our fears comes with trust, and the acceptance that death, in some form, will occur.
It is always, though, a love story. The question is, do we make it conditional, or unconditional?
When my children began approaching the dreaded years of adolescence, aptly marked by the death card in Tarot, I began to count my blessings. Look what I avoided, I thought. And, look what I saved myself from…
Like my own children, I wanted to be popular. I wanted to be liked and admired, and I was, until I wasn’t. One dance changed my life forever, and like many teenagers who plunge from the peak of popularity into the grimy sludge at the bottom of the social ladder, I thought my life was ruined forever.
Who doesn’t want to be popular? Who doesn’t want to be liked? Even as adults, we can struggle against the ideal of the outer, while neglecting the inner. Forgetting that to be liked for some superficial ideal does not fill the fountain of unconditional love.
Last night I found myself struggling for words to show my sixteen-year-old daughter that there is a freedom that can be found when you shed the desire to be admired for some outer ideal that someone else has defined for you. That when you strip away the layers of makeup and pretense, you allow your true self to shine through. I struggled, in part, because when I looked into her eyes, I saw a part of myself I still recognized.
In the reflection of my daughter’s tears, I saw the familiar face of fear. How could I show her, I wondered, that beneath fear there is strength, when I had not wholly found it within myself? As I sat opposite her on the couch, I began to call into question my own beliefs. Suddenly, I was not so sure that I had been fortunate to have found and walked, early in my adolescence, the path of the straight and narrow. I wasn’t sure I was lucky, because instead of following my own inner compass, I had followed the road-signs of rules defined through fear.
Sure, it was true I had, in the process of walking this path, avoided the clutches of promiscuity, drugs, and alcohol. I had avoided STDs, teenage pregnancy, and the wild loss of control of being drunk. Yet, as I looked into my daughter’s eyes, I realized that in that process of avoidance of the forbidden, I had held on tighter to fear than my truth.
I feared so greatly my world falling apart while growing up, that the only thing I could do was follow rules set by someone else in order to feel a tenuous steady state of security. Every time I started to veer off the course defined for me, I feared the rage of my stepfather and the loss of love of my mother.
My childhood was not conventional. I grew up in homes where marijuana was secretly grown, smoked, and shared under the radar of the law. I lived in a constant fear of the discovery of my parents’ many secrets to such a degree that I had no desire to break the law myself. Or most rules for that matter. I never really and truly played the role of the rebellious teenager because of fear.
Conditional love comes with great costs. My daughter has already discovered this. When I began speaking up to my parents when my children were young, she learned the rules of conditional love. She has lost a step-grandfather and a grandmother, not through death, but through conditions. I finally broke the rules and began speaking and living in alignment with my truth, and she, along with others, suffered the consequences. Many who read this will recognize how this pattern works. Truth often comes at the cost of great loss. As I looked into my daughter’s eyes, I understood the pain that she struggled with. How much she wanted to avoid losing the social foundation she had built under her feet. And, I also understood, in that moment, that although I was disappointed with my daughter’s behavior, I needed to set that aside and remind her that I loved her. Now, and always.
As I try to navigate the role of mother to teenagers, I call into question whether my “straight and narrow path” saved me from anything aside from danger to my physical body. I now walk on quicksand, unsure. How can I truly understand the need or desire to test the limits of freedom when I chose, early on, to hold myself in constraints?
I find myself in the role of parent, but also child. My daughter, seeking guidance from me, while I learn through her. She is living the role that I never did. Bold and defiant. Daring to break rules and stretch limits as she seeks to find out who she really is. How can I tell her not to break the rules if I don’t wholly understand the feeling of freedom?
At 46 years old I am feeling more limitless than I ever have before. Even as a young child. You see, I never had the freedom of a child unbounded by constraints. And, that is okay. One cannot change the past, and nor does one have to. The freedom to allow the self to break through the barriers of restrictions is not conditional to time, place, or age. It is, simply, you allowing yourself to be you. To really get to know the you that resides inside the outer representation of the self, and come home to that realization with joy.
“Whatever you’re doing. Keep doing it. You look good. I can tell you feel good,” were the words of a friend of mine as she left my morning yoga class. She also heard my words filled with fear one month ago.
“Do you fly a lot in your dreams?” another friend asked me a few days ago after she heard about my latest flying dream. There was a wistful note to her words, and I could see the look of longing in her eyes when I told her, “Yes.”
Many adults can remember flying in their dreams at night when they were children. I don’t. My flying dreams came later, in a steady regularity, after my own children were born. Their births, you could say, birthed my own inner child. But, it’s a been a slow birthing. It has not been smooth and effortless, and it certainly has not happened over night.
I chose the picture I did to introduce this post because to me it is symbolic of the myriad boxes we can choose to carry around in our lives and try to fit ourselves into. There’s not just one, but for most of us there are many. The box of the perfect child. The perfect spouse. The perfect mother, father, sister, brother, grandparent, student, athlete, coworker, employer…you get the picture. So many boxes to contain the essence that is you. Shaped not by your own will, but the will you have given away to another.
Yet, we are not meant to live inside the confines of a box, nor are we meant to jump from one box into another depending upon circumstances. Although we reside in a physical body for a limited amount of time, we are limitless beings here to experience the essence of our truths. We are here to grow and evolve into being. To love and to move, ever more freely into the breath of joy.
The boxed self might conform to a specific ideal, but it is never your truth. When we close in the sides and seal the edges, the light inside is trapped. In an effort to constantly please and conform to a false ideal that is not our own, you not only suffer, the world suffers. Herein lies the irony of the “perfect” self. Although we may believe otherwise, no one is served by the confines of limitations. The free soul living in truth shines with a brightness that ripples through time, space, and age. It is never too late to become it. It is never too late to step out of the box and fly.
Go ahead, give it a try. Imagine your self as a limitless being. Feel it, see it, know it. Joy is yours to find. Reach inside and grab ahold of it. Then, let it go. Feel the expansion that is you. Wholly and completely. Let self limiting believes slip away with the breath. Let old restrictions free their tangle until only you remain. Breathe into that light that is you and know it as truth. Take a good look at you and remember who you are, so when you forget, you can bring it back.
I was a little apprehensive when I agreed to teach a fall yoga series outdoors, continuing the summer mornings in the field into the chilly lazy dawn of autumn. Cold is not something I relish, and thoughts of ice-tipped blades of grass pulled me inward to the comfort of the hearth fire. Yet, I have found that agreeing to walk the path of potential discomfort often yields the greatest and most unexpected rewards. As the heart opens to trust, magic unfolds. And so, after a brief interlude of transition, Tuesday morning yoga in the field continued at 8:30am.
The sun crests the canopy of pines ever more slowly as the days shorten in length. Unlike during our summer classes when we nestled into the far corner to avoid the boiling sun, on the first day of our fall session we laid our mats near the parking lot in the hopes of catching the first rays whenever they chose to stretched their languid arms over the tree line. There were just three of us, a trinity of yogis. Where were the others on the list? I wondered until I let worry give way to the flow of the elements and the dance of the body that is yoga took over.
Midway through class, we straightened our spines into balanced as the sun broke the cold of the morning to bring its golden face above our crowning bodies. It was not planned, yet perfectly timed. In these moments, time stills as we open to the embrace that is life. It is beautiful to bear witness, and even more beautiful to take part. One cannot help but breathe more deeply into the space of joy and the knowing that the self has been brought out of the shadows into unity. Separation slips way and division dissolves. In the imperfection of the individual dance, once finds the perfection of Life.
We are now three weeks into our fall session, and each Tuesday I wake to meet the habit of reluctance as I check the weather through the gray light of the waking dawn. Donning the increase of layers on all but my feet, I sink into the knowing that my soles will soon meet the bracing grass. I don’t know what will await me, but so far I have been lucky. Frost has not yet spread ice over the land.
I like to arrive at the field down the road from my house early, allowing for the quiet stillness of solitude as I drink in the morning air. Realizing, as I stand amid a frame of pines and listen to the soft pulse of nature around me, that I would likely not be outside at this hour practicing yoga if I had not said yes to another class in the field. Realizing, that instead I would probably be sitting with my computer on my lap, occasionally looking out at, but not a part of, the natural world surrounding me.
Our yoga classes are full now, after the first week of transitions and coming back to the fall of routine. We form a semicircle of unity, each bringing our individual light to the breaking dawn and finding warmth in companionship as we stretch our bodies into heat. Inevitably, the sun rises over the treetops at the moment when our faces lift to feel its warmth. Nothing is preplanned as destiny takes over. Yesterday, in our moment of raising our eyes toward the blue beyond, a flock of two dozen geese or more flew overhead. They were flying low, having just come from the pond below, bringing the element of water to the sky as we stood upon the earth and and warmed our skins to the sun’s fiery rays. You don’t get moments like this indoors inside four walls with windows and a floor that separates the individual from the pulse of the living planet.
There was lingering yesterday, as we rolled mats and folded blankets. There was reluctance to put on shoes and hoist our belongings back to our cars to resume our separate lives. Pairs formed to talk while the cells on the surface of skin drank in the sun’s warmth. No one was in a hurry to return to the daily actions of the mundane. For a few more moments the living, breathing present was embraced as the gift it is, always open to be received.
The air is thick with the dying breath of summer. It is holding on before its final surrender. For several weeks, it seemed as though fall had arrived early. Heralding its victory over the fiery season by banishing the heat in mid August. Today, though, it has made a retreat. Or has it asked summer for one final chance to play the game, knowing that it will soon be declared the victor, once again?
This inevitable dance of the elements cycles with the ever-turning wheel of life. Our bodies spin with the seasons, and we can resist or we can give way to the spiral journey. I am not sure I could live comfortably without the outer world mirroring the inner. My body is used to the seasons. I was birthed in the element of earth, but water is where I find home. Winter always calls me back to the inner, but before it does, I must heed the gifts of the seasons that come before it.
Summer’s abundance can overwhelm those that are comfortable in stillness, yet it can also spur us into action. The embers of stagnation are stirred back to life as new growth moves its tendrils into the light. The kinetic energy is fired up and things get done. This summer, I passed the days carting teenagers around, teaching a couple of yoga classes, and working on our home and gardens. I made eleven photo albums. Memories of every family trip we’ve taken outside of New Hampshire are now nestled into the shelves in our living room. I also painted. And sanded. Ten doorframes and six doors that were once stained a deep brown are now brightly donning one layer of primer and two of paint. There is a palpable shift in the energy of our home. And in me. Darkness has moved out of the comfort of shadows.
My birthday arrives in the final weeks of summer, at the time when school starts up again and there is the return of routine. I don’t actually like my birthday. It’s not the getting older that draws reluctance and melancholy, but rather the memory of rejection. Each year, at this time, I am reminded of my yearning to be beloved.
I felt the pull of fall early this year, around the same time its breath of victory filled the air outside. Before my birthday, I dreamt of levitation. The weightless freedom of no gravity. I lifted my body with ease off the ground, and brought others up with me. One by one, I felt their weight before I urged its release. “See,” I told them, “how easy it is to let go.” Earths, by nature, care for others more than their selves.
When my birthday came and went, I realized I had not let go fully of the weight that would be free. I recalled the frog from the same dream, and how it had clung to my skirt like a parasite. Transformation is often sticky. We must remove the glue from the habits that hold us down before we can lift those wings into a new realm of living. We must understand that only we can choose the release. That we must die to the old to give way to freedom.
The pictures I have from my birthday don’t reflect the day after. The mourning that came after the heavy weight had settled back in. They don’t reflect the struggle with rage and grief as the old pattern tore free in a messy release.
We like to see the beauty of fall, forgetting it is also ugly. Summer’s flames burn the leaves into brilliance before they curl into brittle shades of brown. The last of the ripened fruit that is not consumed for nourishment and more growth, turns mottled and moldy as it slowly decays back into the ground.
The return to Earth to be re-birthed requires a decay. The transformation of what once was must give way to what will be. The seed that comes forth from the decayed body of the fruit does not see the light that it reaches for. It simply trusts that it is there. It knows that one day, as it is feeding and growing, it will break through the darkness to feel it.
Yesterday, I had a woman I barely know over for tea. During our conversation, she told me that when she looked at me she could see the beauty of the work I have done to heal. So I told her about my birthday. Not to refute her, but to show her that I am not done yet. That perhaps I never will be, at least in this life. This is, after all, why each of us are here. To walk the wheel in the spiral inward, back to the light that we are. We might walk it in spurts. We might linger long in the shadows, but the wheel, like the seasons, will keep urging us to turn into the return.
My new friend also told me she could tell that I loved myself, a reflection of this inner work. It is not easy, always, to be our own beloved. To truly love the dark and the light. It is, though, necessary. We can search endlessly for our ideal of the beloved outside of us, and to hope to be beloved by another, but the one true, complete beloved, must always come from within.
“So, when do you think she’ll no longer be a teenager?” my daughter asks me after her 13-month-old cat, Millie, nips her for the tenth time while she tries to pet her.
“Oh, I don’t know, maybe another year, until she’s two,” I tell her, thinking how fortunate it is for her that cat years pass by much more quickly than human years.
Not that I would trade my years with my daughter for anything, but even she is aware that her fire personality combined with her teenage-hood makes parenting a challenge. I find it rather amusing that her cat is now a mirror for her.
Millie spent her first 10 months with us as a lovable, albeit curious, kitten. She adored my daughter’s adoration and returned her doting affections with smiles, purrs and frequent snuggles. If my daughter wanted to cuddle her, she’d pick Millie up and nestle her into her shoulders. Not any more.
These days, Millie-the-teenage-cat, starts the day by positioning herself strategically in front of the fridge. If she was tall enough, the door would knock her over. Instead, she looks up at the first human to draw near and stares him or her down until bits of turkey or chicken are laid at her feet. Her two dog sisters stand back aghast, waiting for their bits to fly through the air.
After Millie has finished her breakfast (the bits of turkey are usually followed by a trip into the basement to gorge on actual cat food), Millie follows the dogs and my husband out the front door for their morning walk. Two houses down, she leaves the pack and settles in for a day at her second home the neighbor’s to chase bees and dragonflies. Some days we don’t see her until dusk, after I meander down the road and call her home. I say some days, because on other days that are not rainy, Millie will completely ignore my calling and stretch the time of her curfew into minutes, or even an hour past. Choosing to return home on her own time.
I like to remind my daughter how alike they are as she bemoans the loss of her loving kitten who has suddenly transformed into a moody, unpredictable, and sometimes down-right mean little cat. “She’s a teenager,” I tell her. “This is what it’s like.”
Sometimes I want to also tell her to cherish the rare moments. Those times when Millie suddenly remembers that she loves her and allows my daughter to scoop her into her arms for a hug and a kiss…the nights when she curls into the covers beside her…but then I stop, because, in truth, no moment with Millie is more precious than another. Just as no moment with my daughter is. Sure, there are days, more than I can count, when I catch myself wondering when this stage in life will be over, but they are fleeting. Eventually I replace them with the knowing that my daughter, like her cat, is living her life as she should be, and teaching her parents, in the process, many things along the way as we each learn to hold on and to let go at the same time. She knows, just as Millie does, that the doorway will always open for her and there will always be arms to enfold, but those same arms and that door will not shut to confine.
It’s not always easy, as my daughter is also learning through Millie, for a parent to embrace the adolescent journey toward the independent self, but through the struggles the love that always remains makes it worth it.
If you choose to, you can see an outer world filled with terrible things. A world on the brink of, or perhaps even over-flowing, with chaos. A world where fear, and all its ugly faces, rules each action and reaction.
Or, you can see a world whose essence is love. A world that, despite pockets of darkness dominated by fear, has at its core only light. If you breathe into the core of Earth, the mother of your body and your home for this life, deep through the multilayers of soil, stone, and water, you will reach a core of light. If you breathe into the layers of your own body, through the skin that sheaths your essence, through the tissue and the bone, you will reach your core of light. A light that is a seed of the very same light in the core of Earth, and of the very same light that exists in the core of each being. Its essence is love. The energetic vibration of creation.
Yet, the mind and body that would encompass this essence easily traps fear. Fear that nestles into tissues and creates the density of disease, distrust, hatred, and paranoia. Along with the false belief that the “me” is separate from the “all.” A fear that breaks apart the light so that its vast web looks as though it is filled with darkness.
We are each so much more powerful than this fear we like to hold onto. This fear that creates separation in a struggle for self-survival. It is but a mere shadow of our true self. And, like all shadows, it is a mere illusion of the truth. Fear looks for separation, love is defined by union.
Instead of holding onto fear, and losing oneself in the shadow of its darkness, why do we not reach inside to find the light of truth? That pure essence of love that threads through each and every one of our beings? Why do we fear who we are? Why do we fear love itself? Why do we fear the true, vast, and limitless expanse of our being that continues on past the death of the layers that would contain it?
Why do we fear the free, unfettered soul?
Perhaps the why is not as important as the habit it has created. Overtime we develop a pattern of holding onto traits and behaviors whose origins we cannot always fully recover. Instead, we simply adopt without consideration of why we are continuing in a pattern that is destructive of the self and the whole. It becomes comfortable, like a tattered and worn blanket we refuse to give up from our childhood. Or, an old coat we’ve worn for so long, we cannot imagine stepping outside the comfort of our home without it. Even though the coat, like the blanket, is no longer of service to us.
Do you ever dream of being naked? Or of lifting your feet into weightless flight? Do you fear one and not the other? It’s a funny thing, this holding onto what our soul calls us to let go of. This returning to the unfettered essence of love that we are is so simple, yet complex in the unraveling it requires and all the letting go of habitual patterns and behaviors. False beliefs dying to the one truth that is you.
Why am I writing these words, calling for love? For the simple turning inward instead of outward as we try to navigate our way through the layers that appear to trap us in density? Because we are in the midst of an age of upheaval. The repetition of the old patterns of fear have repeated to a level of accumulated density in this world that we choose to share, causing a hold of fear that is seemingly tighter than the love that binds.
The Earth and each one of her children is crying out for reunion. For the return to love and unity. It is not my intention to talk of the ephemeral. Of some ideal that will never be achieved. My words are simple, their truth not complex. Nothing is ever gained by fear and hatred, but more fear and hatred. We can cower and ring our hands in dismay, or we can start turning inward to the truth and allowing that reflection to mirror back to us each time we turn our eyes outward. We can simply be, each day, ever more present to the truth of our essence, or we can move that truth into action, rippling the energy of love through our words and movements. Righteous indignation is still fed by fear, even if the outward display of it is for a greater good. Fear feeds fear. Anger feeds anger. Love feeds love. It’s simple math and physics.
Years ago, I found myself lying on a couch for three hours halfway in another realm as I listened to the words of my essence. We all have this voice within us, and it behooves us to listen to it, at least now and then. The words that stayed with me, that haunt me each day are these: “You can always find the light behind the story. Find the light behind each story.”
As I looked through my lives and the greater life around us and ahead of us, I realized these words were not intended for my survival, but for the survival of each and every one of us. If we choose to hold onto our collective fears and all the trappings that have bound us and harmed us, we will get more of the same. There is always light behind the shadow. There is always that core of essence that is love, waiting to be seen, grown and illuminated.