The change of the year has a weight for me because the new calendar year corresponds to my biological birth-date. I flip the calendar and add a year to my life-count in the same week. So this always get’s me reflecting and feeling a bit archaeological. Luckily, I write a lot, so I’ve left myself a pretty decent digital pile to sift through when I’m feeling this way. I’m sure this writing is a missive to my future self, and I look forward to being able to look back on this and see what turned out to be persistently true, and what turned out to be only true for this moment. It’s fairly complex and wandery, because, welcome to Rayellen. Thanks for following along.
What I’m noticing today is how words can have so many meanings. Sometimes, words become invocations or spells, sometimes intention and premonition, sometimes a plea or a prayer. The poet David Whyte encourages us to not name a new love too soon, because if it is a true love, it will change us in ways that create a whole new vocabulary. Naming from the starting point, he explains, will box this new love into the limited vocabulary of the current self. So I’m reflecting today on ways I’ve named things in the past, and what types of words those were.
In 2010 (at the start of my 40s), I began a private journal and I named it “Myddle”*. At that time, I thought I was in the middle – middle aged, middle income, middle on the spectrum from failure to success, mid-way through raising kids from 0 to 20ish. There was something about being in the middle that felt comforting – it’s a safe place to hide out, the middle is. Everyone thinks you are at least a little bit like them when you are in the middle.
Here was my first entry in Myddle, 2010:
How do you know when you are half way there? It seems the first half of the thing is all anticipation and discovery – laying down immutable decisions before you have any clue what walls they will erect for yourself. So, then what is the second half? Regret? Reminiscence? That’s not the goal. Maybe it should be refinement. I’d expect the optimistic risk taker I was in the beginning would expect my forty something self to still be charging forward, creating, emerging until its over.
So here I am in the middle. Like Vonnegut’s Breakfast of Champions, I feel like I need to contemplate and shed to lighten the load for the next steps in the journey.
As I reflect on these words, I recognize that the middle is also a dangerous place, where one can get lost or be unseen. What I knew at 39 was that I didn’t want to keep having the same years I’d been having over and over again, and I had no idea what would come next. So I knew it was time to shed, but I desperately didn’t want to lose the things that had meaning to me. It was like Anais Nin said:
“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” – Anais Nin
And the middle can also be a place for connection and perspective. His Holiness, the Dalai Lama has a meditation he suggests where you picture yourself sitting in the middle — of an infinite line of people, with everyone to one side more fortunate and everyone to the other, less fortunate, than you. I wonder now whether I learned that idea before or after I named my journal “Myddle?”
At any rate, what I was in the middle of then, on reflection 8 years later, was dismantling my life and “starting over.” What I know about transformation is that it includes break down, chaos, and then growth, fruition, and harvesting the “rewards.” I also know now that I can stall and get stuck in any of those stages, but I can’t really speed them up or avoid them. So in 2010, I welcomed the shedding part, and apparently the mystery.
In 2014, I started a Facebook photo album which I called “Letting the Dreams Begin, again and again.” Somehow I’d gone from the middle to the beginning! I remember feeling sacredly called then, and that somehow this nascent beginning would be something WE would look back on together after this gift to the world we were creating had matured. I didn’t know who all the “we” would be, but I felt sure they would come, and it felt hopeful, innocent, and audacious to be venturing this way. I didn’t feel ready, but I expected I’d become ready as we grew into the opportunity.
Now, I wonder instead about the premonition of the “again and again” part. I think I meant for that to indicate discovery and an opening to newness and surprise. Having dismantled my life, I thought I was ready to begin the building of a new one, and I expected it to be iterative. And I wanted it to be a totality – family, work, home, spirit, lovers, poetry, art, beauty, nature — all wrapped in Tenderness with a fairy-light agile-ness that would be balanced by pragmatism and competence (or at least an ability to ask for help). It was such a hopeful dream, and even with fear, it was something I committed myself to without naming it too soon.
That “again and again” thing didn’t turn out to serve me as much as I’d wanted it to. What it turned out to be was a stubbornness/tenacity of trying over and over again, even though the obstacles were clear from before the venture started, even though the mismatch between the dream and the capacity were so in-congruent, even though parts of me became less and less expressed inside of that dream.
Even though it stopped being tender. Again and again, we weren’t tender.
So after trying to begin so many agains and agains, after I clung to re-engineering and rebooting more times than is worth counting, it ended in 2017. It had begun, again and again, and then it stopped. Full stop. That change is not far enough back in the rear view mirror for me to fully articulate, but it felt quite different than the 2010 middle, and I’m needing some words to hold it. It didn’t devastate me, but it was a totality. I stopped a family, a home, a work, a lot of dreams, a connection to a land that had loved me so tenderly, and a heart-life with a human I had intended to be with until my final walk home.
Some of the teachings I called in to support me with this change included understanding shadow and ego, being with what is, and allowing myself to show up in my brokenness. One afternoon before the stop, I was pruning hedges and listening to Pema Chodron talk about helping a trauma victim who had been unable to experience the emotions related to that trauma. Pema described that she guided this woman through — by simply being with her gently in her meditation and feelings with the simple word “Stay.” Pema invited her to finally let the feelings come, and to just stay… stay… stay… until they passed through. Pema talked about the 90 seconds it takes for an intense emotion to pass, and the way we meditate on the sound of the chime to both witness the fade, but also to see if we can discern the instant it ends. I am coming to understand that connecting with impermanence, rather than being indifference or loss, is an invitation to freedom.
After “the end”, I painted the word “Stay” on a rock and brought it to several ceremonial spaces with me. In the middle of an end, I didn’t intend for that word to prevent me from leaving, or plant me in the place I was moving from, rather in trusting that my goodness and wisdom would go with me and that spirit was always here. “Stay” helped me be more present during ego storms and to do something different than clinging. It was an invitation to stay still, listen, not stir the muddy water, to be present while clarity slowly returned on its own. In order to leave, I needed to Stay — more committed to my own knowing than to my breaking heart or my clinging to a faulty dream.
This refinement of the ability to STAY also helped me as I walked my dear aunt Peach through to the moment when her breathing, and then her heartbeat stopped. I don’t have the words to describe that, but I do know that it was an experience of being with what is — which is the point of why we are here, even if we are only good at it during certain times in this all too brief life. The experience of being with Peach and her people during her transition puts the futility of clinging and the imperative of presence into a perspective worth practicing.
Right in the Middle of the Beginning
So, now I find myself right in the middle of the beginning (I stole that line from a film I cannot remember the name of, but it is such an important mantra for me, I’m keeping it without attribution). Right in the middle of a new beginning. And the mystery doesn’t scare me like it did (or should?). Right in the middle of the beginning. That is where we always are, if we are paying attention.
The themes that insinuated themselves into my life to help me name this were circles and roots. Sometime in the last year, I began to re-imagine that meditation of being in the middle of that line of suffering people as being in a circle instead. I think that’s more true, and harder even to grasp. I am both more and less fortunate than everyone else in the circle; each of them suffers both more and less than me. And it circles around until I am no longer able to measure it and that may be the point. There is no front or back of the room in a circle. We are all in the middle of that continuous line when we circle.
Another time this year, when the invitation was to speak from the CENTER of a room, I chose instead to “stand up for myself” by speaking powerfully from my place seated IN the circle. It felt different than hiding out in the middle. It also felt different than making it all about me. It felt like becoming with. It is belonging. It is one of the places I feel most like me.
So that’s unexpected. As I turn 49 and enter the final year of the decade of my forties, it seems I’ve gone from the middle to beginning to stop, to something not even on a line. I’ve come to something more foundational. To circles and to roots. The circle piece is about belonging, and the roots piece is about source, connection, support, communication. Both are feminine. They are about being. This is a true love I won’t name too soon, and that probably will remain un-name-able for the rest of this lifetime. It is a knowing that creates an entirely new vocabulary, but one that is mostly experiential. And I’d like to be understood, so I will continue to invite people to join me in these experiences, so we can each have our individual knowings, together.
At this moment
From this place in the circle, growing and witnessing the connection to roots that has always been here, I welcome the moments that will be happening soon, and my robust participation in as many of those moments as my practice teaches me to be. Pragmatically, I have everything I need and considerable abundance for sharing. Including the gifts that I have of disappointment, loss, broken-heartedness. These are gifts that help me see with much sharper clarity the deeper truth of wholeness, connection, and that there will always be enough love.