On going underground

January is always a hard month. And somehow this always surprises me. Somehow I think I’ve braced myself against it, I’m ready, and then it hits me, and I feel myself going under. There are little things that help. I am learning to reach out in those moment to a few dear friends, to say “This is a hard day, can you sit beside me and hold my hand?” even if this holding sometimes happens over a distance. I am learning to write it out, to move, to give myself space to witness. I am learning to always let myself cry when I need to.

Someone once said to one of my children, “Why are you crying? Crying never helps.”

“Don’t listen to that,” I tell them and you and myself, “crying always helps.“

When I feel myself going under, there’s no way to rush through it. It takes patience, and compassion, and repeating each day the practice of things that normally bring me joy, until something catches me up again – something beautiful, something moving, something that makes me laugh out loud. I know I am coming back when I remember my sense of humour.

And I believe that sometimes we need to fall apart. We can hold ourselves together for only so long, and then it becomes too much work and we need to crumble, and then crumbling is a relief. Disintegrating is a relief. Because then the effort required to keep ourselves together, to present ourselves as intact and well-protected, can be dedicated to other things. Crumbling, in itself, becomes less something to fear.

And yet, sometimes it is hard to be around people in this crumbled state. Everything is exposed, and while the wounds may need to be aired, there is still the need to keep all the grit from getting in, the need to keep the wounds clean, if possible. The awareness that everything is sore and sensitive and needs to heal, even if healing is sometimes a lonely thing. Perhaps tears also help us clean the wounds, so that they don’t fester, so that they are simpler to tend to in the end.

I don’t think it’s possible to get through life without times of darkness, and what brings these on is not always obvious. I can love my husband and children, I can count my blessings, I can see that the world is beautiful, and I can still sometimes find it hard to get through the day. It is not always possible, or helpful, or necessary, to find a label for this, but sometimes it is. There is a deep descent, sometimes in stages; there is the knowledge of inner terrain that needs to be navigated and passed through; there is a period of separation. Sometimes we need help to come back out into the light, sometimes we reach it in our own time, with patience and awareness and presence.

A few weeks ago I woke up and I questioned why I was in this dark place. I felt like I was underwater. I was trying to hold my head above, but seeing that maybe it was time to dive deeper instead, that maybe I was wrong about what element I belonged to. I remembered something a friend had said the previous weekend, when I had sat in a circle with a group of women who I love, each of whom had in turn shared their own stories of transition, uncertainty and loss:

“We need to keep going back down into the underworld, and looking at what we find there, then coming back up again. The hero’s/heroine’s journey doesn’t happen once, it happens over and over again, in a circle. It never really ends.”

And when I woke up that morning, I felt the story she sketched out, the narrative arc of that journey, slowly pulling me up again. It took me out of the eternal present. It made me see that the darkness is one step on the journey, that it is part of the cycle, that there is a time of return to the light. It made me feel the possibilities of deep mining, the hope that there is some magic or some medicine to be found there, that there are always gifts to be found underground.

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Be Ground

Be crumpled, so wildflowers

will come up where you are.

You’ve been stony for too many years.

Try something different.

Surrender.

 – Rumi –

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