Reclaiming the natural cycles of ebb and flow, coming together and coming apart, expansiveness and withdrawal in our everyday lives.
All life moves in cycles…
What has been must often come apart before what is to be can come together.
Remember to honor your courage in the midst of the coming apart times!
After a year of leavings and reconciliations, I finally let go of my last relationship in September of 1984. I found a lovely cottage on a wild, somewhat neglected piece of property in Ojai's East End. An artistically converted two-car garage, it was a spacious studio with skylights, cathedral ceiling, wood bat-and-board walls, hardwood floors and a huge barrel of a Vermont Ironworks wood stove. I moved in with a cozy jumble of secondhand furniture I'd collected during that back and forth year. And, I began, in earnest, the journey of re-parenting my Little One inside.
I saw clients two long days each week. Then, I'd spend a day transitioning: buying vats of flowers to arrange, doing errands, getting a two-hour massage, cleansing, sage-smudging and preparing my space for the Little One and me to enter our solitary timeless world. The first year, I spent most of my timeless time wandering along the mountains, canyons and streams of Ojai's backcountry. Once home, I drew and wrote with colored pens in my journals. I painted, played with clay and with an expanding collection of percussion instruments.
The second year I began to spend part of the timeless time creating a real home for my Little One. I repainted, reupholstered and then sewed all kinds of big soft pillows in bright colors. I made special nooks for her and altars for all the bits of rocks, feathers and wood she'd gather in the backcountry. I bought music and good stereo equipment for playing it so that she could dance or dream (nestled in the big, soft pillows) to wonderful sounds whenever she wanted to. I collected drums, gongs, bells and ethnic percussion instruments so that she could make big noises or her own sort of rhythm band music (without having to practice first).
As she and I began to explore her rage and anger, big noises in the house weren't always the thing we needed to do. So, we moved outdoors to the piles of rocks, small boulders and construction debris that littered the neglected back and side yards around our house. Shoving and pitching those rocks over the hill into the wild place was exciting. Getting knee and elbow deep in the dirt, pushing boulders out of the way with our back and our feet felt delicious.
One day we stopped flinging the rocks and started using them to build rock walls and pathways and a platform for a hot tub. Then, rock gardens felt exciting so we got lots of flowers and green things to plant (something we had never done before in our life). Later on, we even put down a tiny patch of sod-grass so she could roll naked in the sun in our own, now very beautiful, backyard.
We made a fire circle and poured rings of black and then white lava stones around it. After that, we discovered a neglected vegetable patch on the far side of the property and started planting things to eat. Everything grew and flourished. For quite a while it was delightful for my Little One and me to tend the temple we had built together.
One day, late in the fourth year, we woke up feeling it had become too much like work to take care of all that we had so lovingly built. The flowers that used to be fun to arrange sat in the vats for days while we avoided them. Hiring people to help made for less physical work but, then, we had people around when we wanted to be alone. It was a very cranky time. We wished for a big vacuum cleaner to come and empty everything away so we could again simply be little with more open time for doing nothing or more of what felt like play.
Not too long after I made that wish, my car – filled with instruments, cassette tapes, both ordinary and ceremonial clothes and jewelry, art materials and camping gear from a trip to sit in circle with my women's lodge – was stolen from in front of a friend's house in San Francisco. It was found two days later, intact but literally vacuumed clean of all my possessions. It turned out, in the aftermath, to be an easy matter to let go of it all, as long as my beloved little two-year-old car was back with me.
It was much harder to continue the letting go process with the rest of the life I had built at home. Giving up doing twelve vases of flowers every week was just what I needed. But, the disappearance of those flower-filled vases felt like failure. As I struggled with cutting back on what had become too much to do, my outside (critical) eyes would see the enterprise as a falling apart, going backwards or letting things go (in the negative sense of the phrase). It was hard to dismantle my once again too-big-for-me life without getting caught in seeing this movement toward a simpler life as a shameful, defeated thing. I would get caught even though, in my bones, I desperately hungered for a simpler life.
It was a difficult course to acknowledge, much less encourage or celebrate in my self. Daily I wrestled with the ingrained cultural definition of progress/growth/success as linear, constantly expanding. Over and over again I looked to the natural world for support for this different progression I was living: this coming apart of what had been that, once again, was happening in my life. In the natural world, the growing cycle includes both expansion and decay. Blossoming/ripening is always followed by the dying away that makes compost for germinating the next cycle of growth. The roses in the garden unfold and expand only so far before the petals fall and die. The leaves on the peach tree last only so long before falling. We don't see these as signs that the rosebush or the peach tree is failing.
It takes lots of courage to honor, to not resist this cyclic process in our own lives. We have to break away from the cultural programming, the messages that daily bombard us. We have to risk trusting what comes from within our being. Life lived in harmony our inner self opens out in naturally repeating cycles.
In the coming apart/unraveling times we, like the snake, are shedding a skin that has become constraining, a way of living our life that no longer has room in it for newness and growth. When the familiar shape of our life comes apart, the pieces of it become available to reassemble in fresh ways. We get to see which elements are enduring and which were part of our journey for only a season. During the unraveling time we feel agitated, disoriented by the upheaval. We feel grief for what is passing away. Skinless, we feel vulnerable and touchy. We fear that all is lost, that nothing will ever feel solid again.
As we start to move through these times supported by the consciousness that they are healthy, important and inevitable, we recognize their arrival as signs that we are beginning a time of significant growth. We can comfort our fears in the coming apart seasons by warmly reminding our selves of all the coming together times that (sooner or later) followed all the past coming apart cycles. We can gently remind our selves how courageous we are for moving in ways that are so unsupported by our culture. We can try to move as slowly as possible. We can practice being kind and protective with our skinless selves. And we can, in calmer moments, gather a circle of friends who will, together, honor the sacredness of cyclical processes in each other's lives.
Consider being tenderly patient with and embracing of your vulnerable self in the coming apart times.