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threshold Tag

Between The Shadows

In real life lipstick comes off when we kiss our lover. In real life our noses run and our mascara meanders darkly down our flaming cheeks. In real life the people we love with all our hearts die too soon.

In real life we reach cyclical turning points, each one of us on our very personal journey, which will lead us inevitably across the threshold into the shadowy unknown. So often we stray from the path, lose sight of our Life Purpose. Dante Alighieri wrote “when I had journeyed half of our life’s way, I found myself within a shadowed forest, for I had lost the path that does not stray.” We stand at the threshold, not sure of who we are or who we are about to become.  For many of us threshold times can be disorientating, painful, even terrifying. To our ancestors, thresholds were holy places. The Latin word for threshold is limen. It was a sacred space guarded by the gods and goddess: Janus, Hermes and Hecate.  As we traverse the space in-between we may have lost our faith in the primal gods or goddesses. We have only our Faith and the tenacity of our spirit as we follow the elusive lantern light of our becoming, to meet the shadowy dark night of the soul. We may not know that they are still there to guard us as we take the perilous journey across liminal spaces, and that the  supernatural elementals, the  faery folk surround us as we wander alone through the dark woods.  

In medias res, in the middle of things, is a fecund state of birthing. A profoundly sacred crossing where we are required, at every age juncture, to ask ourselves “Who is the I that stands at this point of no return?”

There are no right ways or wrong ways of crossing a threshold. We may eagerly seize new opportunities to pioneer a new path, to live our “unlived lives”. We may garner those scattered or buried parts of ourselves and become more conscious, more whole, more of Who we truly are. Or we may crouch in rigid status quo, or regress to old ways of being.

Transition times are holy times. Marriage, divorce, the birthing of our babies, the end of a career, the beginning of a new one. The inevitable ageing of our bodies. The ultimate transformation of our dying. Transition times are accompanied by conflicting emotions. Joy, trepidation. Fear and unspeakable sorrow as we leave the  old behind and step into the new. The transition from youth to old age is a threshold we must all traverse.  There is no elixir for eternal youth. Each one of us will exhale for the very last time.

The Pluto in Leo generation in the Western world (those born between August 1938 and October 1956) have capitalised on transition times associated with ageing in a plethora of therapies, books, blogs and workshops.  Pluto in Virgo, Libra, Scorpio, Sagittarius and Capricorn generations will deal with the process of age and death very differently, I suspect.

Baby Boomers living the affluent west mostly do live longer than our grandparents did. Midlife has become a moveable smorgasbord, celebrated in cinema and song and glamorised in specialist magazines aimed at the over 40s. In a feature entitled Fifty Shades of 50, journalist Lisa Depaulo writes with breathless ebullience about a brand-new breed of 50-plus women – stronger, smarter, sexier than ever, dubbed the new Alpha Goddess who has a penchant for fast cars and luxury holidays, travelling solo and saying “it’s my turn”.  The article bubbles on cheerfully, “almost every woman I know over 50 seems to be doing things that none of us were expecting to be doing at our age. We’re making choices, in both little and big ways, just for ourselves.”

Demographics and photo-shopped aspirational women’s magazines aside, shrewd Pallas Athenas were rare – there just was no room for a brand- new breed of Alpha Goddesses on Mount Olympus. Despite the sacrifices of The Suffragettes of the 19th and early 20th century and the courage of the  Feminists of the ’60s, between the shadows of our politically correct social constructs there exists today the very same polarisation in gender and power that has existed for eons. In affluent societies, many women in midlife and in their elder years live in straightened circumstances after divorce or the death of their spouses. Women still do not, in the main, earn as much as their male counterparts. Women still bear, birth, and nurture the children.  

Each one of us will have thresholds to cross. Yet not all of us will have the luxury of time or sufficient financial security to say “it’s my turn” as we support our children through their college years, nurse our dying parents, care for once-virile partners, now stricken with depression or facing terminal illness. We find we don’t have the physical strength, the financial clout, the confidence or even the inclination to be an Ageing Alpha Goddess. We find we have never wanted to travel solo to Peru, buy a sports car or learn to play the piano. In real life, we accept that we have lived more years in the past than we have allotted to us in our future. In real life, we do not all die peacefully in our sleep.

So, in real life, we distil the essence, the magic from the simple things in life – a hug from the one we love. Watching a bumble bee in the languid embrace of a still summer afternoon. The intoxicating scent of white jasmine.

In real life, it is time that becomes the most precious commodity. Many men and women enter the second and third acts of their lives with less attachment to fast cars or yet another pair of shoes, less clinging on to the bricks and the mundane mortar of life. More reverence for the here and now.

 “Opposites throw light upon each other”, said the philosopher Schopenhauer. Our lives are animated by the dappled shades of light and darkness, chaos and meaning, the cacophony of sound and long stretches of silence… And in the silence we begin to notice the brilliance of the rainbow as it arcs over the rain-washed sky. And how quite suddenly, the swallows have returned for the summer.

In our life’s transitions we may find our purpose, our passion. In our ageing and in our dying we may discover the meaning of Love, and in the shadows of our inevitable parting, our redemption.

Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life? –
Mary Oliver.

Art by Casey Baugh. Between The Shadows Loreena McKennitt

 

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Set Fire to the Rain

There comes a time when we know for sure that we cannot go back to where we were. We pass the point of no return. Make a choice to watch the wild fire burn away all that is  irrelevant in our lives.

And with that first unsupported step across the threshold into the charred landscape,  the unthinkable becomes thinkable.  What we believed was true detonates in the heat haze of our new resolution. We finally realise that the one we adored was not the god or goddess we thought they were. That the job we strove for does not feel as exciting or expansive as we’d imagined. That we have to face the finality of a relationship that is over, a friendship that will never be the same again.

There comes a time when we stand soul-naked in the first light of the morning and watch as our dream  dissolves on the gossamer shawl of the dew-spangled new day. The mirror on our wall finally reveals who we really are. There comes a time when we  surrender, battle-weary, to take ownership of those parts of ourselves that are encased in fear.  We witness  the distrust that writhes like a worm on the cruel hook of our unworthiness and shame. We observe the ways we place trip wires across the landscape of our relationships, setting ourselves up for the inevitable fall… It takes an act of great courage to stand soul-naked in what we feel is our truth.  To uproot  the mandrake of blame that grows from our belief that it is our crazy mother, absent father, our belligerent teenager, the buffoons in government, or the lover who did not choose us, fight for us, beg us to stay…

In the landscape of self-responsibility we grow up fast. No soft blue blankets, no bottles filled with sweet creamy milk.  No one to clean up the mess of our lives as we rant and wail. Our pain becomes our choice. To choose to stop the pain, to wearily dismount from the Ferris wheel of our own suffering, we need to do excruciatingly laborious work on the lies we tell ourselves. We must change our need to be right, to be in control, to dominate, or to play the Victim trump card. We  must to stand on our own two feet. Straighten our spines. Not fold like a soufflé when we don’t get the approval we crave. Not petulantly push away the gentle hand of friendship when we know it is the only hand there is to help us across the crocodile-infested river of our self-undoing. Not sigh as the world around us burns, when it is we that participate in and perpetuate violence by proxy in our very own homes with our flaming arrows of spite and sulphurous silences.

It is excruciatingly difficult to abandon the ship of self-righteousness. To forgo the familiar thrill of pleasing others so they will love us, need us, never let us go. We grow comfortable in our rusty armour of judgement that pinches and chafes. We feel familiar in its painful tug of constraint. Only when we make the choice to see with clarity and compassion the violent parts of ourselves, the parts that judge, and condemn, the parts that execute others with sharp-shooting precision, can we nurture those parts that stretch our capacity for endurance, forgiveness, generosity in Love, bravery in Loss.

Gary Zukav tells the story about the man, blind from birth whose only experience of this world was darkness. Well, new technology offered him a chance of sight, a miracle beyond his imagining. He asked his family, his friends, and his surgeon what it would be like to see, and of course, nobody could really explain to him what it was to see the turquoise sea, the tangerine colours of the sun set, the silvery moon and the diamond stars, the colour of his own blue eyes. The more he talked to his friends, the more fearful he became. He called his doctor and asked, “Doctor, will I still be able to use my cane to see? I don’t want to see if I can’t use my cane.”

In the terror of losing the comfort of our white canes, we clutch what we know, even though it limits our movement forward and darkens the light of our souls: the terror of being vulnerable, of being used, of being loved, of loving and losing, of having more than our parents, of being ridiculed, humiliated, of asking for what we want, of being “needy”, of losing our identity, of being judged… so  we stay small and quiet, stuck in the darkness of our blindness and our fear, afraid to set fire to the rain, afraid to turn towards a future, without  the cane, and say, I AM.

Set fire to the rain today… and celebrate Love and Life in all it’s wonder.

Adele … Set Fire to the Rain.

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And I love her

After spending three weeks in Mountjoy women’s prison Teresa Treacy, of Clonmore, is home. Her crime, her refusal to comply with High Court orders to allow power lines on her property which would, and did, ruin the beauty of the landscape, destroying tall trees. This act of courage and defiance has made this 65 year old woman a cause celebre in Ireland.

For me, Teresa symbolises the uncompromising Crone energy we must draw from our bellies if we are to live authentic lives in challenging times. I believe that in order to cross the threshold into the realm of the Crone, we as women, (and those men who have integrated the Feminine energy,) must experience a rite of passage, so that we may enter the sacred centre of the web of our lives, to learn what real Love is. Illness, divorce, death of a child or a partner, retrenchment, prison – tsunami times of intense physical or emotional suffering when the loss of our old identity becomes a psychic death. Times when we feel like utterly alone, floating in a fathomless ocean… no direction home.

How does it feel ?
Aw, how does it feel ?
To be on your own ?
With no direction home ?
Like a complete unknown ?
Like a rolling stone ? sang Dylan.

I saw an interview with 74 year old activist and feminist Jane Fonda. Breasts like Barbie’s, face taut, impossibly white, perfect teeth. She seemed brittle, very fragile, unmothered. Still hungry, unable to embrace the energy and quiet assurance of the mature feminine or the fierce wisdom of The Crone. The initiation into the wise woman archetype or Crone (which means “corona” meaning “crown”,)   lacks ritual and celebration in a world where we worship at the altar of  youth. Change is never easy. Most of us lack the support of community, or the mentorship of mature women to guide us over the crossroads through the dark forests and dangerous pathways. Mature Women to shake us firmly from our torpor, when we prick our fingers on the spindles and fall “asleep”. Our conversations are a timorous lament of our loss of youth. We sprinkle conversations with self-depreciating remarks – saggy breasts, stretch marks, flabby arms. We self-harm in our desperate attempts to stay sweet sixteen foolishly falling for the folly of Botox, HRT, face lifts.

Hollow-eyed beggars, starving for the crumbs of love. We’ve been fighting our bodies all our lives.  Marion Woodman describes the Crone cycle as a time of Crossroad, where we come eventually, to a place of deep surrender. “After a lifetime of trying to improve herself in order to become a “perfect” daughter, wife and mother, a woman’s “surrender” to herself just as she is, becomes like bathing in the refreshing water in the pool of her soul. Grounded in her connection with her inner wisdom, she now lives from her own authority.”

And so, through illness, loss, the inevitability of our own death, we stumble or are pulled with ferocity into the liminal landscape of the Crone. She is uncompromising. The giver and taker of life. She demands as payment for crossing the threshold, precious gifts hidden in the challenges that crucify. These are times when we may also glimpse the white butterfly of new possibility. As we integrate our aloneness and despair into new learning, we plant it back into a world that looks the same outwardly, though we have changed irrevocably. Says Marion Woodman, “periods of renunciation are the initiations in life when we realise God is not running a day care centre.”

Goddess is a word that has lost its currency. This powerful archetype has been prostituted to sell perfume, bath oil, and deodorant. It’s bandied about as a term of endearment.  Goddess, like Woman, has been made infantile, pretty-in-pink, static, always smiling, naively youthful.  But, there is not only one goddess. She has, for eons, appeared in three: Maiden, Mother, and Crone; and she takes many forms. In a civilization as flatlined as ours, she lives still as the Fairy Godmother, the Woman of the Mist, Baba Yaga, the Cailleach. She is the dark moon, the cruel winter, the fierce, wise Mother of All. The Crone courageously embraces her values, her truth, and her beauty. She caresses the silver riverbeds that lattice her belly and her thighs, sees the eyes that stare back at her in the mirror, and says, yes!  She works through those who have not pricked their fingers on the spindle and fallen asleep.

There is an old story, told by Lame Deer, a Lakota Elder. It speaks of the importance of injury. When we die, we meet an old hag in the Underworld. She will eat our scars, and then allow us to continue on our journey. If you have none, she will eat your eyes instead. This suggests to me, the value of inner sight, as we die in various ways on our journeys. It is in our scars, the fractures in our hearts, our wrinkles, our stretch marks, as Leonard Cohen says, There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.”

So there will come a time when we must stand in the fire, like Teresa Treacy of Clonmore. We must speak our truth quietly, with assurance. We must persistently mine the metaphors in our lives. Dig deep, chew the cud of our dreams and savour the delicious sweetness. Stir the cauldron of our darkest emotions. And when we have prepared, and are ready, the Crone will appear. She will take our hand, and lead us back to the Garden.

Well, then can I roam beside you? I have come to lose the smog.
And I feel myself a cog in something turning.
And maybe it’s the time of year, yes, said maybe it’s the time of man.
And I don’t know who I am but life is for learning.
We are stardust, we are golden, we are billion year old carbon,
And we got to get ourselves back to the garden.
Joni Mitchell, Woodstock.

Love the Crone, and listen to the original sounds of the Beatles:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JaJIQmIei14  And I love her, the Beatles http://www.offalyexpress.ie/news/local/teresa_treacy_to_meet_with_esb_1_3143058

 

 

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