By Danna Schmidt, Certified Master Life-cycle Celebrant®.
Two cups of water, it turns out, is the magic measurement needed to puree four years of healing. Two cups, mixed with the torn bits of emails and a litany of epistolary fragments that together, represent a realm of relational trespasses and toxic clutter I’ve allowed to take up residence in my heart and soul. In this moment, I value that there is a precise measurement for something as immeasurable as disappointment and hurt.
The blender makes quick work of turning this handful of loose paper scraps into a greyish, milky mush. I pour the gooey remnants of these now-indiscernible words into my papermaking mold with the attached screen, slowly dip it into a basin of water and swish it around, allowing the gentle motion of the water to further recycle these unpleasant memories of shame and blame into something purposeful. As one hand guides the soaking pulp mold back and forth, I reach with my other hand to sprinkle and stir tiny flecks of copper mica, wildflower seeds, and dried botanical crumbles into the mix, as a way to add the promise of glitter, growth and beauty to what were previously ugly or stuck moments in recent history for me.
And then with one final sift and swirl, I pull the mold up and out of the water, shake it to drain the last of the dripping water, place it upon a cookie sheet, and begin the three-step process of sponging the excess water from the newly-formed botanical paper piece. After completing this series of paper-drying movements, I hot iron the last of the moisture from my lovely new paper creation and then I slip the paper beneath the weight of two heavy books to set overnight.
It is my own torn-up list of all that I wish to let go of. As I move through the creative gestures of this transformative healing ritual, I quietly reflect upon what I’m prepared to transfigure on this Summer Solstice day that is symbolic of a whole new season in my life with empty-nesthood looming large in a few short weeks. Each new mulch mix contains hints of withering friendships and unrealistic expectations, meshed with damaging family communications, mingled with unboundaried professional dealings, glued with a countless array of the usual life regrets, remorse, and longings. With each memory, incident and resentment I release, I make room in my heart for forgiveness of self and others, I find space for more love, and I allow for a more authentic form of me to bloom anew. These sheets now become the fresh pages for me to write my promissory notes to self, and “want-ads” – namely the specific forms of things I wish to attract personally, professionally and creatively. Armed with a handful of fancy handmade papers, I choose to set aside a few of the sheets and make quick work of heart-shape punching them so that all that remains are dozens of little plantable and botantical hearts. Many of these I will plant in my backyard memorial garden space. The rest will go into the welcome bags of Red Tent gatherers in the seasons to follow.
My Summer Solstice intention this year was about cloistering myself temporarily. For the hands-on ritual piece, I chose papermaking in the kitchen while listening to a playlist of empowering songs. For the pre and post writing process, I (correction: hubby) set-up my new red tent, designed for precisely such healing work, and with red journal in hand, I set about consecrating the space via my own extended time spent in personal reflection ~ bringing new meaning for me to the similarities between the words ‘in tents’ and the word ‘intense.’
Spending time engaged in the intensity of this writing process as a way to bookend my papermaking and enliven my healing journey at this season of my life was exactly what this summer solstice was asking of me. Just as paper can be thought to contain a constellation of things, as the prose excerpt below beautifully articulates, so too, do we humans carry a cargo-load and intermeshing of worries, losses, transgressions, challenges, and hopes.
Crafting a means by which to make sense of precarious life thresholds, such as this midlife mamahood moment I find myself in, often proves to be the best way I know to navigate this co-mingling of grief and joy, and/or emptiness and opportunity.
Ritual is such a vehicle, perhaps the only salient one that helps nudge us to step through these life doorways we might otherwise be reluctant to open. And so it is, in the environs of my freshly-minted ceremonial space, and with newly-crafted botanical paper in hand, that I open myself up to the promise of what this summer and next season of my life shall offer.
To be continued. And blessed inter-be.
“If you are a poet, you will see clearly that there is a cloud floating in this sheet of paper. Without a cloud, there will be no rain; without rain, the trees cannot grow, and without trees we cannot make paper. The cloud is essential for the paper to exist. If the cloud is not here, the sheet of paper cannot be here either…
If we look into this sheet of paper even more deeply, we can see the sunshine in it. If the sunshine is not there, the tree cannot grow. In fact, nothing can grow. Even we cannot grow without sunshine. And so, we know that the sunshine is also in this sheet of paper. The paper and the sunshine inter-are.
And if we continue to look, we can see the logger who cut the tree and brought it to the mill to be transformed into paper. And we see the wheat. We know that the logger cannot exist without his daily bread, and therefore the wheat that became his bread is also in this sheet of paper. And the logger’s father and mother are in it too…
You cannot point out one thing that is not here — time, space, the earth, the rain, the minerals in the soil, the sunshine, the cloud, the river, the heat.
Everything co-exists with this sheet of paper…As thin as this sheet of paper is, it contains everything in the universe in it.”
~ Thich Nhat Hanh, The Heart of Understanding, Parallax Press, 1988, pp 24-26.
* shout-out to Kim with Arnold Grummer’s Papermaking who kindly walked me through the fine and fun art of papermaking at my local Artist & Craftsman Supply store last month!