My good friend Holly is a therapist and astrologer. We meet for lunch every other Saturday to catch up on news, kvetch, share each other’s sorrows and joys. Last week I asked if she’d bring her ephemeris, the baffling book with small print that tracks the transits of the planets. Something’s weird, I had said to her on the phone. It feels like I’ve fallen into a damp, dark cellar, no ladder, no light.
Here’s what’s happening, she said when the lunch dishes had been cleared. Neptune is squaring the exact spot between Pallas Athena, your warrior woman, and Pluto, dredging up your shadow from the cellar. It’s the cosmic ripping away of your armor so that you can access all your denied feelings.
She smiled her most therapy-ish smug smile. It wasn’t her cellar. It’s an FGO she said. A Fucking Growth Opportunity. A chance to get in touch with everything you’d rather not feel so you can shine your light even brighter.
Wait. Is this good news? I’m not in a particularly clean-out-the-cellar kind of mood, I said. I was thinking more plant a garden, make some gluten-free flax crackers. And besides, I just did my nails.
I’d been in therapy for many of my young adult years, and thought I had a pretty good handle on my shadow material. I’d dealt with the rage terror and grief over the loss of my father as a twelve year old girl, the end of my first marriage, multiple miscarriages. I’ve led Embracing the Shadow writing workshops for women. We write about reclaiming our disowned selves, giving them new names, new wardrobes, a lifestyle change and the chutzpah to hang with the bad boy or girl lovers we’d never bring home to mom.
I declared her ephemeris was out of date, and my discomfort was maybe the chocolate mousse, or the hot sake with dinner last night, or, or, or. But it didn’t go away, and after a few day, I got curious. What the hell was down there that I was resisting?
I began watching my thoughts more closely. Listening to everything that was slipping through the filter unnoticed, my monkey mind chattering on about my shortcomings and the shortcomings of others. I was frankly horrified. THIS is my mind? Petty resentments and old grudges? THIS is the story I’m telling myself about my worth?
No. This is the story my mother told herself abut her worth that she passed on to me in breast milk, in sad lullabies, in the way she savagely criticized her friends behind their backs to make herself feel better, more worthy of love. This is the crazy-making stuff she fed me meal after meal: You’re fabulous. Everyone else is better. This is the water I have been swimming in, as ignorant of my surroundings as any fish.
Listen. Time is off its leash, slipping around corners, catching us by surprise. My younger cousin died last week in a freak backhoe accident. He was clearing a road on his land to build a new home for his son and his son’s girlfriend. Sudden. Throwing us off balance. We want to say…Wait. Slow down. But time has slipped its leash and the pace has quickened.
If you are being pulled into depths you would not willingly choose, go there. Feel everything you think you can’t survive feeling….overwhelmed, frightened, helpless and sad. Imagine whispering sweet words of solace to these neglected parts. Know that learning to tolerate these feelings, breathing though the discomfort and shame of not being the perfect self we try to project, makes us better friends and lovers. This is the fertile darkness where compassion and our willingness and capacity to bear witness to the pain of others is born.
So this is what I know: There’s no time left for me not to love myself fully, deeply, truly. To offer myself in small acts of kindness, to connect with strangers, build coalitions between us when connection matters most of all. There’s no time left for me to hang on to old grudges and resentments. No time left not to offer my open heart. To be whole and ready to answer the phone when Spirit calls.
I miss my cousin. We shared a passion for basketball. He was a Celtics fan and I want to call him up and crow about the Golden State Warriors. When I reach for the phone, I am stabbed by the ache of the loss. So my mind and heart turn towards the living. How to stay present. How to stop making assumptions about how much time we have left together. How to say I love you in a thousand flowering ways.