If this journey into the December darkness is a labyrinth, today we have come to the second to last turning, the final passage before we turn inward to the center circle. Today is the approach, the last moment in the labyrinth walk, when I am usually asking myself, “Have I missed anything that I need to lay down, to let go of, to relinquish?”
Inanna gave up–willingly–all her symbols of personal power in her underground search for her sister, until at last she came to the deep central chamber naked and unadorned. No pretense, no mask, no tool, could hide or protect her when she entered the chamber to greet her sister, who was all moving shadow, all hidden secret.
What are the last unexamined scraps of our deep selves that we have left unexamined? What personal power have we yet failed to turn over to the guards at the gates?
Yesterday while I was folding clothes, I listened to LeVar Burton read the short story “Navigators,” by Mike Meginnis, about a boy and his father who play a video game whose heroine, instead of gathering powers as the game progresses, slowly gives up her powers. Each item they find in their hero’s journey disables something of the video character’s power. As she lost strength and speed, they began to notice other hidden aspects of the game, places they could hide, and ways their hero could escape rather than fight. It struck me how much this is like the Inanna tale.
So much there is that I want to fight for. I don’t want to enter this next doorway defenseless. If I am going to keep participating in this battle for justice for the children, for those who seek asylum and justice, for the planet herself, don’t I need to keep my fighting powers intact? Don’t I need to gain strength and power instead of letting it all fall away?
And there, I think, I am beginning to come toward the kernel that I might be trying to learn in this year’s labyrinth. In November, I experienced a significant hit to my ego, a sideways blow that made me question myself and my sense of belonging. Trying to respond with vulnerability and yet maintain my sense of safety took a great deal of inner energy. I raged a little bit that fate would keep bringing me this particular lesson–Didn’t I do the chapter on ego back in 2003? Haven’t I been through all the review sessions? Haven’t I already passed all the levels of this test?
There’s always one more test. You’re never really done. I stand here and hold my fragile ego in my hands, my own words from past lessons and tests ringing in my ears: Begin the lesson again. Lay it down. Break it open. One. Final. Thing.
Gratitude List: 1. Punctuation. I put a couple little punctuation jokes on the the board yesterday. Most of my classes smiled politely, but one class suddenly broke into an intense discussion of how we use punctuation in texting and social media these days, how it’s changing, how punctuation has suddenly become necessary to help create the emotional context for digital communication. It took twenty minutes of the class period, but it was such delightful intellectual analysis that I was happy to set aside the plan. 2. Those bright and shiny student brains and hearts. In three classes, we concluded Julius Caesar yesterday. At the end, I asked them to consider their own ideals for their countries. What is the purpose of a government? What should be the relationship of government to people? In two of the classes, more than five countries were represented, and in all of them were students from both sides of the US political spectrum, but in all three classes, the ideals brought forth were the same. 3. Examining the last shreds of ego to relinquish to December darkness. Today is the last leg of the inward journey. Tomorrow is the dark and quiet inner chamber. And then we begin walking toward the light. 4. Breaks from the routine. 5. Pops of color in the grey.
In the story of Inanna descending the labyrinth to see her sister Ereshkigal, she had to leave some outward emblem of her power at the gates at each turning. The symbols that represented her identity as the Queen of Heaven were stripped away from her, one by one.
What are the images of your identity that you cling to? What “clothing” hides the true and essential you?
In the daytime summer worlds, certain aspects of my self serve me and help me to do the work I am meant to do. But here in the darkness, on the way to meet with my shadow-twin, all the trappings of my personal power and identity only get in the way of the deep recognition of self, shadow and all.
Right now, I am trying hard to live with the picture that I have everything under control. While there’s a certain truth and effectiveness to faking it until I manage to get back in control of things, I think that holding on to this image of myself is actually hindering the work. I am desperately behind on the grading, more than is comfortable for me or for my students. Every day, every evening, there’s something that pulls me away, takes energy and time that I need to get my work done. Still, I pretend to myself that I’ve got this under control. I think it’s time to relinquish that emblem of my sense of personal power, admit that I don’t have everything under control, and make a plan that will help me to catch up. Here, in the dark of the eleventh day, I lay down that piece of myself.
I cannot meet my shadow self and understand her, truly, until I can look honestly at my daytime self. I have no stone to lay at this turning, as I do when I walk a labyrinth in real time. Here is a long, sighing outward breath to symbolize my relinquishing of this inner belief that I am in control of things.
Envisioning: (At the beginning of Advent, my pastor asked us to hold the swords-into-ploughshares vision in our heads, to look for stories of people choosing that vision. For the next little while, I am going to look for such stories as my daily morning meditation.
Today, I think of the people of Le Chambon, France, who resisted the Vichy attempts arrest Jewish people by hiding people in their homes. As a village, a town, a region, they did what was right, not because they wanted to be heroes, but simply because it was right. They held a vision of what is the right thing to do–quiet, dedicated harboring of people in danger for their lives–and in doing so, actively resisted the violence of the political machine in which they lived.
On Saturday, I began a poem as I was sitting in the last of the author presentations at the Millersville Literary Festival. I wrote, “I didn’t even know I was drowning.” It’s true. I knew I was searching for something, trying to break out of ruts, to focus my scattershot writing process, to find others like me. I’ve been resisting settling into my identity of Teacher because there has been this other powerful identity pushing up like a long-dormant wisdom tooth, painfully shoving everything else to the side. I call myself Poet, but I don’t seem to know what that means. I secretly call myself Writer, but I don’t know how to create a picture of that in my life, one that means Me. Here’s the blog, there’s a stack of 200-some poems that are essentially unpublishable because I have already published them on the blog and on Facebook, over there is the half-plotted novel with a couple of messy chapters hanging out of its drawers, and over there another half-formed, half-written book on magic and spirituality and the Wheel of the Year.
I’m not sure entirely what that life preserver consists of, but I felt it within my grasp at the exact moment that I realized I have been sinking. Community of writers, perhaps–the theme of the festival. There are others like me, teaching and writing and parenting, feeling the pressures of all the pieces, and still forging forward. I’ve spent the last six years feeling like I was putting the real Writer in the backseat so I could focus on being the Teacher, and the ten years before that squelching the Writer so I could be Mother and Farmer.
It’s time to begin swimming with both arms, and to kick with my feet. Stop pretending that I am just a pretender. Live into the Writer’s identity, so that I can stop fighting being the Teacher, and let them dance together. Let them both hold me up.
sI didn’t realize I was drowning until I was no longer drowning. Take a deep gulp of air, slip into the circle of that glorious floaty ring, whatever its name is, swim with both arms and kick with my feet. Here we go.
And here are some poets and writers you need to research: Ewa Chrusciel, Julie Doxsee, Maria James Thiaw, Meghan Kenny, Le Hinton, Barbara Strasko, Shawna Stoltzfoos, Tyler Barton.
Gratitude List: 1. Writers. Storytellers. Poets. Visionaries. Thinkers. 2. The life preserver 3. That particular red of certain oak leaves in early November 4. Considering the stories of the goddesses who descend–Ishtar/Inanna, Persephone–and Mother Holle, who mentors the young women who seek themselves within their depths 5. Giving myself permission
Gratitude List: 1. I am sinking so deeply into the story of Inanna as I write these mornings. 2. How stories of descent help me to live into the growing darkness of the season 3. How a walk can bring clarity 4. Anticipation, though today and tomorrow will end it: I am going to the Literary Festival at Millersville tonight and tomorrow. With the intensity of excitement this has brought me, I wonder why I have not done more festivals and conferences and workshops for writers. 5. The trees are still orange and golden.
This morning, I decided to just dive into the myth that has been calling me, and I spent my writing time working on the story of Inanna/Ishtar, pondering the way her descent into the Underworld mirrors my own inward travels as the year turns cold and dark. I think this one will keep me busy for the rest of the week and beyond.
What symbols of your personal power and wisdom and authority are you prepared to relinquish as you circle downward into the deepest realm of your own inner knowing?
Gratitude List: 1. Myths and stories that frame and guide our own daily journeys 2. Small breaks 3. Seeking the fire within 4. Anticipation 5. Layers and layers of warm clothes