I was fifty years old and I was exhausted. I had become too entangled in the lives of my family and friends and I was overwhelmed with the vicissitudes of their problems. Feeling un-needed was not my issue – I was needed too much. I was the center of everyone else’s life, yet I was missing in my own…
For years I had been on energetic over-ride – always pushing myself to do more. If I had been willing to be honest with myself I would have had to acknowledge I was almost always in pain. My own needs were on the back burner; I didn’t have enough energy to go around. Slowing down didn’t seem an option.
After several years of living in an urban high rise, my husband and I moved to Sonoma and rented an art studio in the country. We arrived in mid November. I hadn’t realized how starved I was for the earth. I began to walk each day. The time of flowering was over but I began to notice the bare, stark seedpods that adorned many of the bushes and grasses. It was as though this part of the plant that I had never noticed before all at once reached out and grabbed my attention and then would not let me go.
I took photographs of papery gray-brown casings filled with scarlet berries. I drew the dark, hard husks protectively covering nut-like interiors. I painted circles filled with translucent dots. I collected poems about pods and wrote some of my own.
Something in me, like the pod, felt dried up, withered, dead. Yet the pod, seemingly without life, holds the life that is to come. I too needed a dark, quiet holding space to rest, to go underground and wait for something new within myself to be born.
Only later did I link the image of the seedpod to my dying ovaries. Only in the slowing down was I able to see that I too, am part of the natural world and that death is inseparable from the very essence of life itself.
The natural world teaches us that nothing exists independently. Though we perceive multiple phases of the moon – waxing, full, waning and alas, a moonless sky, the moon does not fragment into multiple pieces. Nor does it cease to be in the dark sky. It remains itself, complete and whole, regardless of what phase we might be experiencing.
Placing myself within this larger perspective helped relieve some of my anxiety. Growing older no longer felt like disappearing, like falling off the edge of the world, but rather like moving gently and seamlessly into another phase of this great natural cycle.
As I transitioned out of my reproductive years, I slowed down and recalibrated to a rhythm that was more aligned with my own nervous system. I became less susceptible to the frenetic pulse of the outer world. More in tune with myself and with nature, I came face to face with the reality of my aging and ultimately with the reality of my own death.
The deep feminine part of us, as reflected in nature’s cycles, becomes a safe and sacred holding where a woman can undergo this kind of symbolic death. Finding our way to this forgotten place within is crucial to the life task we are negotiating.
In this process we must, as Carol Flinders describes, become like broth. When the larva of a silkworm enters the pupa stage, it actually dissolves completely, turning into a kind of broth…That one’s very identity should dissolve into an undifferentiated “broth” is all but unimaginable and, if imaginable, terrifying. And yet to become what we would be, we must let go of everything we have been. The willingness to accept our losses can bring us to the threshold of another possibility.
The woods, the unconscious, is a place of life, creativity and regeneration. It is a place of spontaneous life – a safe and fertile sanctuary where our bodies and our souls can reorganize and heal. In the forest, things begin to turn and grow again. The woman has first to reach the zero point and then in complete loneliness find her own spiritual experience. -MLVonFranz
Each of us must create our own forest refuge, a nurturing, compassionate holding to navigate the important life passage we are in.