By certified Life-Cycle Celebrant® Brooke Arnold-Rochette
She dons a black cloak that both allures and terrifies. Dark wings push through the hard crust of her shoulder blades. The shadow cast by her cloak is too thick to reveal her facial features, though I can sense her starlit eyes, swirling through impossible galaxies. Her breath, a biting wind, shivers me into presence and claims every cell of my being. As life would have it, here I am once again, held captive by her call.
Change happens in the dark…
Along the serpentine paths of our human journey, there are times we feel pulled towards the deeper undercurrents that stir below the surface. These are threshold times, brought about by some significant transition – a loss, a life passage, a crisis, a change in role – something, that shifts not only our outer world but also our inner constellation.
Held captive by the call for change – at once alluring and terrifying – we take comfort in the old adage that opportunity lies hidden in crisis. Deep in our bones we know that dormant seeds lie underground throughout winter only to burst forth as new life in spring; we know that caterpillars dissolve in their cocoons only to emerge as butterflies. Yet where do we find guidance during this “change time” – this place betwixt and between – where old identities unravel at the seams, no longer serving us as they use to, and the deep search begins to tease out the golden threads of our lives? How do we feel about throwing our old ways into the cocoon cauldron where caterpillars dissolve? How do we feel about entering the uncertain cold darkness of winter soil? Do we feel alone here, lost, blind? Is there some sparkle in the night, a guiding star, that can help us get a sense of the new impulse that wants to emerge? Which part of us can say “yes” to being guided by the mysterious forces at work that want us to live our lives more fully and inhabit the greatest conversation we can have with this world? And what are these mysterious forces if not the workings of our own pulsing heart, our insatiable creativity, our deep imagination, and the Earth’s whispers in our blood and bones?
Just as seeds of new life ripen and swell in the black embrace of earth, the process of inwardly tuning to our heart’s call takes place in the dark: our ego is dethroned temporarily and we enter the reign of the Unknown, the Uncertain, the Undoing. Our former identity no longer serves us and is decomposing into leaf mold, but the new impulse has not yet sprouted above ground. Our old skin feels too small, uncomfortable, inadequate, sometimes even distasteful, but a new skin has not yet formed. Something feels askew and unfulfilled about the way we are inhabiting our lives. We are being asked to step into the change phase of waiting, wondering and wandering… If even a small part of us is willing to feel unrooted and unmoored, Mystery is there, awaiting us as mistress and muse. To take her hand is at once a terrifying and enlivening invitation. To accept, is to invite transformation into one’s life and lift our anchor from the harbour of “before” to sail across uncharted waters to the shore of “after”, knowing the only way to get from one to the other is through.
The mythical dimensions of the change-time…
These are momentous times, when the ground swells and fissures underfoot, and we slip into that dark place of both remarkable quiet and mounting emotions, the ferment of tectonic plates shifting our foundations. We embark on a journey of mythic proportions where the world around us is steeped in omens, where the changing weather patterns speak out like oracles, infusing our consciousness with its seriousness. In these critical times of crisis and transition, our need for meaning and belonging, for spiritual sustenance and soul connections, intensifies. Here is the opportunity hidden at the heart of the crisis – this opening up to the enactment of our personal myth, our gratitude, our love, our faith in this world; and, this embracing of our deepest fears, yearnings, grievances and regrets. This is the perilous and fertile field in which we will sow seeds for new beginnings.
I have sat with her for some time now under the moonless sky, facing the dark forms and rustles in the bushes around me, scared for my life and watching how my fear of the unknown pulls me under, into the crippled hands of hysteria. To not run away from it all… but instead, to learn to pull away the fingers that drown me, and then continue to sit with the darkness, to decipher the shapes from the shadowy formlessness.
From under her twilight mantle, she pulls out a silver pouch filled with what? Drawing open the string, she hands me a palm-full of seeds: seeds birthed from this breathing Earth, from the heavenly constellations, from my dormant dreams, from the nectar of my wildest yearnings which I woo, sometimes solemnly, sometimes recklessly, in an unshakable thirst for meaning. I need fertile soil in which to plant these seeds, plenty of compost: I compost letters of my past – those journal scribbles and personal scriptures. Opening the plastic lid of the stinky green bin, I offer-up for transformation the unfulfilled poems of my life. Walking through the garden in my gumboots, I sow within the finished compost the seeds of my longings, entrusting them to the dark earth and its mysterious processes.
Ritual & ceremony: Handmaidens of transformation…
Ritual and ceremony speak in the language of myth, symbolism, intentional gestures, and metaphor. When we enter the mythical dimensions of change, ritual and ceremony offer us a language to converse with the elements and the invisible realms that embrace us. They can also act as necessary markers through periods of change and crisis, acknowledging the meaningfulness of our experience and providing some of the much-needed psychological and spiritual support. As we step into archetypal realms, the unbearable somehow becomes possible: we slip under the timeless cloak of universal archetypes and symbolic gestures, we are strengthened and supported, we are transported into sacred time and space. Here our grief is more easily embraced, our vulnerability gently unveiled, our love and gratitude enacted, our intentions carried forth with words that leave imprints on the fabric of life. We give mundane objects a magical significance as we carry them into the safe sanctuary of ritual space. A compost bin is made into a cauldron for transformation, the ordinary becomes extraordinary, the trivial shifts to the eternal. We have entered the kingdom where Mystery reigns and we ceremonially affirm – “yes!” – our readiness for potential transformation. Transformation to what…? This we don’t yet know, but we keep planting seeds as we tune inwardly to our hearts and harvest the honey of who we are and what we are here for. When we find ourselves in the dark, what is superfluous falls away, and in the flickering candlelight we behold only what is essential. We keep planting seeds as we feel into what might be vital to our unique expression on this precious Earth, in this remarkable time.
Our life as Poem…
To tune into our unique heartfelt expression in this lifetime, is to creatively turn towards our life as Poem. This process of beholding our essence is both artistic and healing, as we invite our creative muse, our soulful stirrings, to dialogue with us daily. Imagination is the gift of the muse, it is the cornerstone of creativity, and it is deeply rooted in the Wild Earth as well as in the Mystery that courts us in our dreams. Through imagination we meet the muse, that wellspring from our hearts. And what is healing, if it isn’t to become more fully and consciously the artist of our lives and courageously follow the muse’s calling? As Jean Shinoda Bolen (M.D., psychiatrist, Jungian analyst and author) beautifully puts it, when there is crisis, disease, upheaval, “the heart needs to be consulted”.
Giving shape to our inner stirrings…
I like to imagine the mysterious muse as a figure to be reckoned with, that takes our hand to walk with us through unknown territories. This is why I picture her donning a dark cloak as she wells up from my depths in moments of inner stillness or sudden insight. This conjuring of metaphor and image gives form to the numinous stirrings within: “Now I feel like we can talk, let’s do this.” There is a constant dance and dialogue between what I hear her whispering on the moonlit rays and what I do with my life. Joseph Campbell, best known for his work in comparative mythology, expressed: “People say that what we’re all seeking is a meaning to life… I think that what we’re really seeking is an experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane will have resonance within our innermost being and reality, so that we can actually feel the rapture of being alive.” In Mystery’s presence, engaging with our muse, courting the mistress of our deepest longings, we feel the rapture. We participate in the undoing – even if oftentimes reluctantly, squirming or screaming our way through it. We settle in the dining room of this “change place” and see who comes to sit with us at the table, growing a felt understanding of this expression: “life is change.”
When our inner world finds expression…
It is deeply healing to experience this resonance that Joseph Campbell speaks of, between our inner stirrings and the outwardly expressions of our lives. It is what I understand David Whyte to be referring to as our “true inheritance”, as we walk with one foot in the day world and the other in the creative dream realms of Mystery’s embrace:
To be human is to become visible
while carrying what is hidden as a gift to others.
To remember the other world in this world
is to live in your true inheritance.
You are not a troubled guest on this earth,What to Remember When Waking, by David Whyte
you are not an accident amidst other accidents
you were invited from another and greater night
than the one from which you have just emerged.
Stretching ourselves into a wider conversation with the world…
As we embrace the art of weaving our soulful stirrings with the essential gifts we carry forth in this life, we form a new skin. This greater place of indwelling can gradually encompass our place not only amid our family, friends and culture, but also in the greater “family of things” – global, ecological, cosmological – which I feel Mary Oliver refers to in her poem “Wild Geese”:
“Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.”
In this place of healing and artistry, we unearth the gems in the darkness of the Undoing and let them change us, humble us, soften us, grow us – not through some particular efforting but by allowing life’s wild imagination to work us open.
Courageously sitting with change….
To really “be with” our healing crisis and transitions, or that of others, requires the courage to sit with this Undoing and resist filling the space with something else; to trust that within this spaciousness, and through the emotional storms and entanglements, something will emerge. In this sense, ritual and ceremony are not so much prescribed gestures and words, but the opening of sacred space and safe sanctuary for this “being with”. Sometimes prescribed gestures and words can take us there. Sometimes emergent new forms and spontaneous words or silence will be more appropriate. Either way, the ritual space created will allow us to yield to the terrible heartbreak and boundless beauty of this life. It will take us away, even if very momentarily, from the busy schedules and planned agendas, to that place in which the mistress muse shares with us a reverent candle come sundown. This might take the form of a daily or weekly meeting with our own creative spirit in the early hours of the morning before the kids awaken, with only blank paper and black ink as companions. Or it might take the form of ceremony to welcome our little ones into this world, celebrating the cosmos we see in their eyes, trembling at the utter vulnerability of life, affirming “[their] place in the family of things”. Or perhaps, we might be accompanying the dying, calling upon the beautiful courage to simply “be with” as we sit with the essence of that person, as we sit with the gaping mouth of grief, the tangle of sorrows from things left undone, and the rejoicing for all that was meaningful in a life well-lived.
As our pulsing heart opens…
Whatever threshold holds us in its grasp, rituals and ceremony can help us tap into the archetypal strength and support to help us turn towards life’s utter beauty, messiness, grit, and greatness.
To embrace it all, crisis and change, with Mystery as mistress and muse to guide us along the way.
To simply be with it all, and turn over and over again, to the sheer wonder of our pulsing, vulnerable hearts opening up to the starry skies within.
With Love and Wild Blessings,