I wake to a cardinal singing at my window after a semi-existential crisis dream #cardinal #parenting #midlife

Image by Chris Chow from Pixabay

I had been dreaming about being at school. That is not unusual for me. Last night I was back at Bowdoin College, but it really wasn’t anything like the Bowdoin I attended nearly 25 yrs ago. Instead, it felt foreign and strange. I was enrolled in four classes, yet hardly even attended the lectures. I couldn’t seem to remember where my classrooms were, let alone the room number of my dorm room. The dream was filled with angst, reflecting the, well, let’s just call it a semi-existential crisis I’ve been battling these days: What the heck am I doing here and where the heck am I going with my life?

Yep, I know that sounds extreme and dramatic. And, quite frankly it’s something I circle back to from time-to-time. I’m now at the stage of life when my kids are nearly ready to head off to college. As they get ready to embark upon life outside of their childhood home, I can’t help but think about what that means for me.

Once again, I’ve found myself circling back to the idea of returning to school, myself. It doesn’t matter that I’ll be 50 in less than three years, I seem to have a passion for life-long learning. The only thing that tends to hold me back is the money. Which is an underlying block in my current semi-existential crisis.

School seems a foolish thing to think about for myself when my own two kids will be heading out the door in just a few short years. Even though our household income is higher than most, it’s not enough to pay for 4 yrs x 2 kids’ college tuition costs. When my husband recently announced our current rate of college savings and how he had hoped that I would have been able to contribute more through my meager income, I felt a wave of panic and guilt set in. Every dream and hope I had for my life, and our shared life as a family of four, began to dance in spectral forms around me.

I don’t mean to be dramatic here, but I wonder how many other stay-at-home-parents feel the same way and are haunted by similar ghosts of a future that could have been, but never was…

Even though I wouldn’t trade back my time at home with my kids, if I could do it over again I would have a plan in place for this time in my life. I would have thought long and hard about a career that could be picked up again after a long absence, or one that could be nurtured part-time as I nurtured my children full-time from home.

I don’t life in a society that makes it easy for mother (or fathers) to return to the workforce after long leaves of absence, at least not in careers that honor higher degrees of education beyond the high school level. Nor does it assign monetary value to the work that is done by a stay-at-home-caregiver. It is, for the most part, an unpaid and thankless job.

Yet, despite this, I would not trade in my time with my children. I also know they are grateful for my presence in their lives. As the saying goes, it’s nearly impossible to have it all. So we must instead as ask what is enough?

In my present state I have come to realize that I tend to define my own worth too much by monetary values without allowing myself to accept how much value there is to the unpaid work that I do. That’s where my friend the cardinal comes in.

After a night of struggling with my inner-demons, I woke to birdsong. Mind you, it’s the middle of February and temperatures are below freezing when I wake most mornings, including this morning. I am not used to hearing birdsong in the middle of winter outside my window.

At first I was a little annoyed. I rather liked the idea of a few more minutes of sleep on a day when an early rise was not needed. But there was no further sleep to be had. The bird was insistent, and soon after I pulled the plugs from my ears I had a good idea of what type of bird it was. I wasn’t, though, quite expecting it to be so bold.

The cardinal was the first thing I saw as I pulled aside the curtains. Its crimson coat, a bold contrast to the snow-brushed hemlocks as it peered back at me and sang. It was eye-level. The only bird in sight. The only bird singing. Fine, I told it, I’ll look you up in Ted’s book later.

I should not have been surprised by what I read, but somehow I had not recalled that particular bit about the cardinal as a messenger. In the last sentence of Ted Andrew’s description of cardinal in Animal Speak, you will find these words, “…remember that everything you do is of importance.”

I am sharing them here, because if I needed the reminder, perhaps you do too.

The Cardinal: Singing Fear into Light

The cardinal is one of my favorite birds to watch. I often see them in pairs, the male bold and showy, the female more modestly camouflaged with the Earth. They are birds who bring the Earth’s blood into song and light.

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Singing Fear into Light

Look at me

I am red aflame
in feathers

Orange-beaked
I speak the Song
of Self

Sing light through
a collar of night

I am fear
transformed

This blood of Earth
moves through you

Listen

A Pine’s Lesson

Spring Green on Pine
Spring Green on Pine

Today I am feeling the burden of a release waiting. The tension is in my neck and left shoulder, where the weight of an energy that I need not bear is ready to be freed. It is an old, stubborn weight; a habit carried over from childhood. These cords that bind us can be hard to cut. They are stubborn, they chafe and rub at our comfort, reminding us that their energy is still there.

I have learned that a verbal cutting of the ties that hold us is quite different than an energetic release. We can say we’ve had enough, we can even shut the door on welcoming more, but until we let go of the history, the accumulated burden we bear inside our cells, we have not truly let go.

The release can be layered, in fact it often is, as our bodies are not designed to deal well with a rapid, sudden change. I peel away my layers as though I am molting outgrown skin. I am a snake, uncoiling into spring, leaving behind the lacy ghost of my former self, but I am also a bear, shedding an old coat of energy in patches that leave me temporarily unbalanced. What remains, holds on the tightest.

I passed the pine tree before I turned to go home this morning. The creak and whine of the burden it bore called to me as the dogs stopped to sniff and pee. There were two pines, to be precise, one dead, one living. The living pine bore the weight of the dead, which had fallen into its arms. With each breath of wind, a moan was released at the place of union between the two trees, as the weight they shared shifted but never fully let go.

As I studied the two trees, joined by a death, I saw how the burden from the dead pine was creating a wound in the live pine. At the crease of its limb, the bark had rubbed raw, the orange skin below exposed. I imagined it felt like my left shoulder. There was a parallel between us, the pine was my mirror.

On Easter I had shut a door verbally, but it was something I had tried to do before. I’m still waiting to see if I will allow the door to be opened again, in some form, while my shoulder and neck remind me that my body and soul is waiting for a true death and resurrection. And, I cannot deny my dreams. Last night I dreamed I was trying to find what I had intended to let go. Before I got there, I had been delayed by the purchase of an over-large ice ream that was supposed to be the color of a rainbow. The total of the dripping expanse of sweetness was $12. I scoffed, I angered. It was all too much.

Joanne Scribes writes on her site, Angel Numbers, that the number 12 represents the combined energies of 1 and 2. One, is the number of beginnings, 2, of unions. Combined into 12, the energy of the number calls for the release of old habits and burdens so that the soul can begin anew, fresh, unencumbered. Resurrected in truth. When this occurs we are free to live out our soul’s purpose without the trappings of old attachments.

The male cardinal
The male cardinal

A pair of cardinals appeared later, nestled together in the azalea beside my driveway, at the conclusion of my morning walk. Here again was the number 12, in different form. Ted Andrews writes in his book Animal Speak that the cardinal’s cycle of power is year-round, reflecting the rhythm of the number 12 (symbolic of 12 months, hours, days, etc.). These birds, Andrew writes, “remind us that regardless of the time of day or year, we always have the opportunity to renew our own vitality and recognize the importance of our own life roles.” (pg 124).

When we let go of the dead weight, the burdens of the past we need not carry, we set free the energy of our true self. We allow ourselves to live in a free, unencumbered form, to shine bold and bright in the light of our truth. This is what we all strive for, whether we know it or not. This is the yearning of each soul, and it is a gift to self when we let go of the ties that bind.

Animal Messengers: The Cardinal

cardinalI am sitting here on my porch, listening to and watching birds. It’s what I would call a perfect May day, although we could use some rain. The sky is robin egg blue, the temperature hovering around 70 degrees, and a gentle breeze is keeping the black flies at bay. The air is infused with the song of birds.

Lately I have been marveling at the capacity of the songbird to produce such a full-bodied, melodious sound. Did you know that the voice of the songbird enables plants to achieve more optimum growth and produce more food? One only has to sit outside on a spring day to believe that this can only be true. There is something truly magical and peaceful about the song of birds.

The purpose of this post, though, is not to laude the lyrical gifts of the class of birds we call “songbirds,” but to explore their gifts as messengers from the spirit world. As I have written in previous posts, when we pay attention, spirit often speaks to us through nature.

Today, while I took the dogs for their early morning walk, a male cardinal flew across my path and stopped in a hemlock on the side of the road, waiting to be noticed. Yesterday, while I drove my daughter to a sporting event, first a male, and then a female cardinal flew in front of the windshield, bisecting my path in a dangerously close encounter that I could not fail to notice.

When we encounter animals and birds in such a manner, it behooves us pay attention, as it is likely that spirit is trying hard to get a message across to us. Cardinal certainly seemed to be trying to tell me something, so I took careful note. First, I took inventory of my thoughts – the ones that were passing through my head at the moment the male cardinal decided to fly across my path.

I had, I quickly realized, been thinking, or rather, fretting over my desire to manifest more clients and grow my healing business – a subject that has been consuming me of late. As my daughter told me the other day, “Well, you told the universe you didn’t want a lot of clients before you have the space for them.” Yes, she was right, and I have been trying to “correct” that intent over the past several weeks, as I realize I am ready and able to handle more clients while I wait for my new healing space to be created.

Those were my thoughts when the cardinal passed over, which led me to my dreams. Last night, while I slept, I was telling a woman who was in emotional distress that I could help her, but as I searched through my wallet for my business cards I realized they were missing. The previous night, I dreamt of sitting on the top of a very tall and long slide. It was red, rimmed in orange (symbolic of the first and second chakras, where we house our grounding energies, basic needs, and also our creative energies). The slide was steep, and had at least one “bump.” In the dream I was holding onto the hand rails at the side, very reluctant and fearful of descending. A woman at the bottom was urging me to let go and slide to my destination. The first chakra, I might also note, houses a lot of our most primal, deeply rooted fears. The second chakra is also our sexual chakra. The slide, I realized the next morning, was like a birth canal, and I was being asked to let go and “rebirth” a new, fearless self.

Back to the cardinals I’ve encountered of late. Today, when the male cardinal flew into the hemlock, I stopped briefly to ask its message for me. Do try this for yourself, if you don’t already. You’ll likely get a response inside your mind. The words that entered my own mind spoke of insecurities and self-confidence. They spoke of the symbolism of the colors red and orange, and of that beautiful, fearless, full-bodied song housed inside that small bird.

Being a natural “doubter,” I like to check my sources. So, I went home and read though the section on cardinals in Ted Andrew’s book Animal Speak, my personal, go-to-guide for animal symbolism. And there it was, right at the top of the page, “Renewed Vitality though Recognizing Self-Importance.” In other-words, don’t give up on your dreams and keep walking your path, leaving fear behind. As Andrews also notes, cardinals with their loud, clear song, urge us to listen and heed the messages around us. Their colors remind us to breath new life into our ambitions, and assert our creative selves.

Pay attention to the birds who cross your path, drink in the healing energy of their songs, and ask them what messages they hold for you.