Last week I once again decided to unravel a large part of a sweater that I have been knitting for the past two months. I made stone spirals on a beach and watched them wash away. I tried again and again to light fires with damp wood, patiently, sometimes blowing on coals until they finally burst into flame and I could imagine that the flames had come out of my lungs, from the inner fire of my spirit, lurking deep inside me like a dragon ready to spring forth. And sometimes the fire went out, and I did it all over again.
I was caught by jealousy one day and wrote my way out of it, pen on paper, until it withered and dissolved, and I found myself instead gently tending a seed of compassion. I made a beautiful pair of snowshoe moccasins at a workshop, and daydreamed of travelling over the snow for days at a time, of camping in the winter, of the infinite possibilities of adventure. I considered making a pair of wooden snowshoes to go with the moccasins. But not now: next year, next November, when the time is again right.
In Sue Monk Kidd’s amazing book Dance of the Dissident Daughter, I read a story about Ariadne and the labyrinth, about life, death, and rebirth; about the gradual and patient threading and rethreading of the inner labyrinth that we need to undertake over and over again, to peel away at the layers of ourselves, to slowly and carefully slough off the things we no longer need, to die and be reborn over and over again.
There are things that wind around my life like spirals. I have lived with circles, medicine wheels, compasses central to my life for a number of years now. I’ve worked and discussed and shared in circles; I’ve observed my own cycles of learning and creativity; I’ve tracked the waxing and waning of the moon; I’ve followed the cyclical rhythms of the day; I’ve honoured the seasons.
But part of my mind has always been trapped in linearity. A linear world view superimposed by a cyclical world view is doubly exhausting. There is the deep ancient knowledge that there should be periods of rest, but modern life seems unceasing, like a rushing river: moving fast, moving forward. There is momentum, always momentum. There are goals – there is progress. There is the fear that once something is past, it is past; that there is only forward or back. Or nothing.
I layer on new things in my life. And I let go of other things. But sometimes, I am learning, it is not an ending, just a rest, just a turn in the wheel to a place where there is more space to breathe. Sometimes years go by before I return to the same place. Sometimes years go by before a passion is reignited. Sometimes years go by before I return to a friendship that I thought I had lost. But I am learning, truly, that life goes around in circles.
A few weeks ago I was feeling discouraged at how I let my garden go wild by the end of each summer. I wondered if I should keep planting things. I felt guilt that I hadn’t planted garlic yet, the one thing that takes no effort at all to grow in my backyard. I thought, “Here are all of these things I was recently passionate about. Am I letting them go? Is that the end?”
But then, as I was talking to a friend, I said, “But what if I don’t plant anything this year? What if I don’t plant the garlic? That doesn’t mean I’ll never plant anything again. Sometimes it’s time for the ground to lie fallow. Sometimes that’s what the soil needs.”
As I said this, I felt a deep spacious breath in my lungs. There are seasons; there are cycles. There is usually another chance, when the time is right.
Sometimes my mind judges that I should let go of things, let go of strong feelings, but I don’t. Nothing in life is that linear. Instead my thoughts move in a circle; I thread and rethread the labyrinth in my heart. I find my way in and out, back in and back out, until each time the journey is smoother, less painful, less arduous. Until the letting go comes, in its own time, when I am ready, when I have wrung out everything I can learn, when the jagged edges are smooth and gentle.
Sometimes a fire goes out, and I relight it. Sometimes I unravel a bit, and then create something better. I forgive myself. I forgive other people.
This is how balance comes: not through sameness, not through remaining always in a neutral state, but through seasons of wild abundance and seasons of quiet sparseness.
I want my children to learn this: that it’s possible to put things aside and come back to them when the time is right; that sometimes the only way through is by trial and error; that what seems like an ending usually makes space for something new; that so often we need darkness and quiet for the seeds to grow.