Famed sociologist, Ashley Montagu called women “the carriers of culture”. Indeed, when I ponder the instincts and intuitions of the women I know they have a sensibility that encompasses mind, body and spirit.
It seems to me that women would…
Pray rather than fight
Speak out rather than hold on
Protect rather than object
Be proactive rather than passive
Gather together rather than scatter
Touch rather than remain aloof
Love rather than hate
Give rather than take
Reclaim rather than toss away
Be mindful rather than mindless
Why not all of us begin to carry the culture to a new and more peaceful place by using our innate gifts in quiet and gentle ways.
While trekking through a nature preserve called the Earth Sanctuary, a place of spiritual diversity filled with shrines, small temples, and altars, I happened upon a labyrinth which beckoned me to enter. Having been carrying the weight of yet another family crisis, I was once again searching for solutions and have always found that walking such ancient circles offers wisdom. Besides, when I finally slow down and stay deliberately present, insights come.
So I begin, carefully navigating my rather large feet to remain within the narrow confines of the path. Eventually at the center I stand erect, eyes closed, and begin to breathe with the gentle wind that accompanies me this spring day. In a matter of minutes the words LET GO come. Easier said than done my sardonic brain thinks, having failed miserable at numerous attempts to control my life–such things as debilitating hypochondria, lost friendships, failing at solving my grown children’s problems, and myriad faux pas committed that I continue to regret.
Take hypochondria, for instance. For the most part I deny physical ailments because what I don’t know won’t worry me, and yet they do! Similarly, giving up friendships that had become hurtful and even toxic while knowing that anyone who treats you as an option when you treat them as a priority needs to go. And yet, I hold on! As for grown children and their issues, they actually don’t have their focus on us so why do I keep them front and center in my consciousness? And as for faux pas, once the words are out of my mouth or a misguided action happens it can’t be erased, save making amends on paper or face to face.
So I am left in a quandary as I head out of the labyrinth confused as to how to even begin to LET GO. With tears running down my cheeks I repeat the phrase...let go..let go.. let go. Once outside the protective circle I am completely disoriented. What’s more I am supposed to meet up with a group of women and surely now will be a no show. In my haste and panic I take one long turn after another going deep into an unknown forest and yes indeed, instead of letting go, I tighten up. Haven’t I learned after all these years of practice that when stopped in my tracks I need to turn fixation away from fear and simply surrender? This is a nature walk, for God’s sake, not a marathon!
I plop down on a nearby boulder and breathe, all the while listening to a cacophony of birds singing like a choir in an ancient cathedral. A little prayer to St. Anthony gets me up and going a few minutes later and without noticing it, I feel soothed by the magic of this place and begin to let its beauty take over. Wandering now and free of panic, I see my group in the distance and meander toward them.
Our destination is a Native American Medicine Wheel–a shrine dedicated to the elders whose spirits and energy are always available to us. As I step over the threshold I am overcome with feelings of grit, courage, risk taking and faith, all characteristics of my mother, grandmothers and great grandmothers. It occurred to me that they have always stood ready, from their lives and the grave, to buoy me. Indeed, their very DNA lives within and is always there. When next I think I must do it all, perhaps I will remember to turn my eyes to the hills and my thoughts to my ancestors and LET GO. None of us is alone.
It is one of those bleak mid-winter mornings when dawn is about to break. I sip coffee while watching the first snowfall blow gently across the lawn. All seems calm and bright for the first time in a long while.
It’s been two years since my very tall husband tumbled in the middle of the night breaking his neck and part of his back. During the six-hour emergency surgery, while pacing the hospital halls, I made a promise that if he came out of it without paralysis; I would do all within my power to bring us through. So began a time of aimless wandering through my days and months with little or no direction, moving through circumstances that owned me, although I had no role in creating them.
For a control freak to be relegated to bystander is a most dreadful punishment, and playing nurse has never been my forte. I was powerless from stopping his future falls and soothing his pain, save offering him painkillers. It fell squarely in his court to muster courage, will, strength, and a positive attitude.
The more I tried to move things along, the deeper we sunk into the muck. With compassion I cajoled and force-fed him protein shakes, and in desperation turned to humor which occasionally brought us both a chuckle.
Looking back these two years were tough and bitter, but armored with a modicum of hope and friends, a sparkle began returning to my very being. This morning I see it all as an exercise in patience.
An Amaryllis plant which sits before me affirms my morning musings. I realize that I’ve been overanxious for its flower to appear. Each day I water it a bit, coaxing it to life, and each day it does what it’s meant to do–its bold pod staunch as if to say…in time…in time…I’m reminded of something Mark Nepo wrote: Whatever our path, the secret of life somehow always has to do with the awakening and freeing of what has been asleep.
Just as I evolved through this year contained and restrained by life’s will, so it is with my mysterious plant as I watch it emerge from the soil, growing taller and bolder. It is true of me as well.
It is the winter solstice–a time to give birth (or let bloom) to that which I have worked through this past year and then begin to plant new seeds for the future.
Can you celebrate the old and the new this solstice? That is what this season of meditation is all about…to stay grounded and to grow through one life to another.
It’s never too late to reclaim your life. It just takes a bit of risk and determination. This past November 53 women journeyed to Chatham, Massachusetts to repair their spirits and rediscover the raw material person they had papered over while playing myriad roles that our culture expects from them. The women came from 20 states and Canada, and their ages ranged from mid-thirties to seventies. Out of their busy lives they carved a weekend to remove themselves from the clutter and the clamor of human doingness and allowed themselves to be still and listen to what their heart has been trying to tell them.
Through out the weekend each woman begins to understand the innate strengths she possess from living through adversity, experiencing the various phases of a woman’s life, and overcoming the pitfalls of both counterfeit and second journeys.
They arrived on Friday afternoon as strangers and left on Sunday as a circle of fellow seekers willing to climb the ladder of knowing. Every woman possesses what she needs to navigate her future and the weekend provides the structure to accomplish that goal.
It was on this magical peninsula that my year by the sea began. This is where I realized that I could defer no longer, and that I was as unfinished as the shoreline along the beach and intended to transcend myself again and again.
In a recent morning devotional I read a line that hit me between the eyes. It said: Be free in your spirit always…do not waste your time attaching yourself to hurt and pain.
Having been raised in a fear based household which no doubt accounts for my hypochondria and other phobias, I am more frequently attaching myself to the negative rather than to the positive. Even though I know full well that negative thinking causes depression and worse still, all manner of disease, breaking the habit of worry is easier said than done.
But still, I was struck by the word attach…something that denotes clinging and holding onto rather than simple letting go of that which is simply not serving me.
So on a recent road trip with my husband for a much needed get-a-way, I made a secret pact with myself not to bring up one negative thought or on-going family situation that might contribute to my neurosis. Traveling south for an eleven hour journey and out of cell phone contact it would be possible to work this experiment. We would be disconnected from family, work, and pending issues that tend to distract us from life’s joys. I would attempt to be focused on fun and celebration, both easy to achieve being away from the mundane and heading into the adventure of the unknown.
Although my mind occasionally slipped into thoughts of doom and gloom I reminded myself that I wasn’t going to get this “free” time back again nor would I get this very day and place back again. I could attach to my fears as they crept into my head or not. Reminding myself that fear is nothing more than FALSE EVIDENCE APPEARING REAL I would cancel the thought for the time being and give my spirit a chance to be free.
Breaking habits of attachment is particularly hard for women who have spent so much of their life being involved with others. Time can be better spent enjoying the moment or the process of what we are doing instead of attaching to the hope for destination or peace which, in the end, is almost always unattainable.
Last weekend I had the pleasure of conducting a workshop at Wellesley College. I had applied to both Wellesley and Smith Colleges some forty five years ago, but alas, was not accepted to either. Thus getting in the “back door” as it were, and being able to share what I know to some thirty five women was my pleasure.
There were three mother and daughter couples in attendance as well as an entire book club. We met in a very Zen like room under the Chapel and had break out sessions and meditation time in smaller rooms, each dedicated to one or another of the world’s religions.
The morning session was dedicated to getting to know ourselves again—that is answering the question: Who am I beyond the roles that I play?
Dividing up into groups of eight for lunch each table was responsible for answering one of the following question:
What is outlived in my life? What is unlived?
Which emotional conflicts have given me the most strength?
How has my own fortitude given me unique characteristics I hadn’t recognized before?
How can I nurture my spirit and redefine the meaning of high maintenance?
What needs to be healed in my physical, emotional and psychic being?
With a plethora of answer coming forth we tackled the question: How to launch our second journeys.
The day culminated with a closing circle standing around a magnificent labyrinth which allowed each of us to release that which was outlived and receive intentions for our future.
I look forward to more workshops on other campuses to keep the unfinished women crusade alive.
Send an email requesting information about holding a workshop on your campus.
This letter came from a past retreater. She said:
“I now live on a barrier island in Florida where, in the past, I could connect to nature as you taught us. My husband has now retired and I no longer find the joy in the sea. Any suggestions? How do I reconnect?”
After pondering her question this was my answer.
Just as we have to change up our exercise and dietary regimens, so we have to change up our routes to meditation. I suspect “the husband” being in your space has altered your freedom to seek whenever you please. I suggest a weekend alone every once in awhile…away from the home front or at least declaring the first day of each month to be just yours. During that day have an adventure…do something that is out of the ordinary…with art, music, working with your hands, visiting sacred places, sitting in a chapel, and of course walking on a beach you’ve never walked on before…then taking pictures of found newness…like soaring birds or unusual vegetation. One moment will lead to another and awaken within you something that is longing to be brought forward.
A friend of mine just emailed me from The Camino, a 500 mile stretch of road that goes from France to Spain. It is considered one of the great pilgrimages in the world and her various messages telling of her adventures have been entrancing. Today she writes:
I am wearing the turtle necklace that you gave me, feeling gratitude and appreciation for this journey because honestly, I feel like a turtle with all my worldly belongings on my back. I pack and repack my things each morning throwing away all unnecessary things without a second thought as each ounce counts, especially at the end of the day.
What a message! How important it is to lighten our load, not to carry around stuff that we don’t need to be holding on to. For me that would be worries, unfounded fears, and lingering grudges to name a few.
In Iona, when the women set out on various treks I encourage them to fill their back pack with rocks, each of which represent “baggage” that is no longer useful. They are to carry their “burdens” until they decide it is time to release them. Seeing women, standing on a shore, tossing such feelings into the water is always a triumphant scene.
What unnecessary things should you consider getting rid of?
In going through old papers and saved momentoes from my kids, I became nostalgic. In the pile of paper on my lap were greeting cards complete with tender notes, faxes sent from afar when they were each travelling the world, airmail envelopes with actual letters inside, and in the past few years emails that were so dear I copied them and tucked them away as well. These pieces of mail had made the SAVE pile because they possessed sentiments that were rarely said and as such, cherished gems.
But alas, as their individual lives have become chaotic and their families, work, and vocations keep them more than busy, the above mentioned communications have dwindled as have my connection to them. I recall my Mom walking out to her mailbox each day in hopes of finding the written word in one of the envelopes amidst all the junk mail and bills. “People don’t write letters like they used to,” she would say. “I love getting notes from the children. You can read their thoughts over and over again.” Now years later, I find myself as wistful as my mother. It seems letters were replaced by phone calls which have now been replaced by emails and even those are few and far between.
The next best thing to hearing from one of my sons is catching his runner’s blog. It’s not how I imagined to communicate, but I’m grateful for his heartfelt point of view which is more complete than a text. Ah, modern technology.