Sacred Life Sunday: Life In the Woods and Attendant Epiphanies

Blanton Forest, October 2008

Blanton Forest, October 2008

“In the middle of the journey of our life
“I found myself within a dark woods
“Where the straight way was lost.”  — Dante Alighieri

I’ve been stumbling blindly through a forest filled with trees.  Sometimes it feels like that has been my state for my whole life, but not moreso than the past few months.

I’ve been running blindly, looking for a way out of the woods.  I tell myself that, maybe, if I just keep my head down and bide my time I’ll find a compass in the bracken and then just walk on out when I can stop running in directionless circles.

The thing is, I do have direction: Move out of my parents’ house, somewhere to which my intuitive heart calls me.  Get an apartment and a job there.  Build a life of my own.  Be my authentic self.

That’s on the other side of the dark woods, though.  I have obstacles in the woods to attend to before I can walk out of them:  Save up several thousand dollars for a nest egg in case I am jobless for many months.  (I’m almost to my goal in savings.)  Ready my parents for my departure.  (They’re not taking it well, so far.)   Ready my current employer for my departure.  (He is avoiding any and all such conversations.)  Ready myself for being on my own again, and for being myself, whoever that is at any given time.  Plan and take an exploratory trip to what I hope is my new home, to lay the groundwork for the move.  (This requires talking to my boss about my departure later this year since his retirement is imminent and I need to be able to make concrete plans, which, as I said, he is avoiding discussing.)  Try to find and hold onto some idea of what I want to do with my life.  (This is a whole other blog entry/forest of its own.)  Of course, there is lots in the way of minutiae, as well, like getting rid of clutter so I don’t have to pack it across the country.  (The minutiae is easier.)

I told myself that I was just going to take today to rest under the trees, and try to see the light coming through the branches.  There are small patches of sunlight that make it to the forest floor and to me.  After all, I love to be in the literal forest.  I love sitting under trees like those in the picture.

Naturally, for me, any day of rest involves reading.  I’m in the section on Children in Broken Open: How Difficult Times Can Help Us Grow.  I thought that was going to be a pretty dead section for me, since I’m not a parent, but I’m happy to say it isn’t.

One of the most difficult things I’m dealing with right now is trying to acclimate my parents to the idea that I’m soon not going to be living here anymore.  Not just like it was during university–which I graduated penniless and had to come “home”–but something more enduring.  That’s not going well, and it bothers me.

Then I ran across this in the chapter titled “Letting Them Go”:

“Poor first children!  Always a few steps ahead of their parents, they must suffer through being learned on, while their younger siblings bear the fruit of the first child’s involuntary martyrdom.” — Elizabeth Lesser, Broken Open, p. 165

Like it or not, I’m the one who is going to have to teach my parents to let go.  Really let go, not just let go for four academic years while wielding the weapon of Guilt to keep the youngster in line.  (Most of us firstborns have a pathological urge to please people.)  To do that, I’m going to have to stop seeking approval, because I’m not going to get it.  My parents are not going to welcome letting go, and they are not going to approve of my moving out of their easy reach.  They want to keep me safe, but safety on their terms means immobility, and I can’t bear that.

Further in my reading, in the chapter titled “Iron John”, Lesser says:

“…I began to understand that a child of twelve or fourteen or sixteen needs to leave the nest.  Older boys and girls alike strain under the heavy wing of a mother.  Their very self is trapped under that wing.  To borrow the words of the Iron John story, one of the most crucial keys to a  child’s individuality is to be found ‘under the mother’s pillow.’ “–Broken Open, p. 173

And, later in the same chapter:

“I don’t really think there is any way around it:  A significant change in the relationship between a parent and child usually requires some sort of painful Phoenix Process.  Fortunately, if we can relax just a little, our children will lead us to the flames.  They know the way.  And that way usually involves a period of distancing themselves from us through experimentation with behaviors that are meant to frighten parents.  There is no polite or gentle way for a child to ‘steal the key.’ ” — Broken Open, p. 174 (emphasis my own)

That’s when I had one of those famed “A-Ha! Moments”.   I’ve been trying to politely steal the key out from under my mother’s pillow.  I’ve been trying to avoid alarming her, playing my cards close to my vest and all the while feeling like I’m going to burst, like I should just snatch it and run away.  I’ve been hinting, and cajoling and trying to lay out logical arguments, all to no avail.  (I also wish my Mom would read this section of the book, but she would rather choke than read even a short passage of any book remotely considered in the same neighborhood as “self-help”.)  There really isn’t a polite or gentle way for me to make my exit, and, as I said, they’re not going to approve of what I’ve known since childhood that I need to do: move out of the town in which I was born and raised.  Seriously, I first came to that conclusion when I was barely 8 years old, that I didn’t fit here and that I wouldn’t find my truest self until I left.

So now, I can add another obstacle to my time in the forest: stop seeking approval from anyone but myself.  As Lesser discusses in the first section of the book, my soul knows the lessons it needs to learn, where it wants to go and what it wants to do.  I just have to listen for direction and find the necessary courage to follow through.

Things may not make sense now.  Everything may not be crystal clear.  But that’s okay.   I keep forgetting that, at the dawn of 2009, I decided my guide words for this year would be Trust and Courage. These are to be my guides through the forest, and they may, at times, demand that I push myself in uncomfortable ways, but that’s what growth requires…That’s what it takes, sometimes, to get to the other side of the forest.

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One thought on “Sacred Life Sunday: Life In the Woods and Attendant Epiphanies

  1. Oh, what a wonderfully insightful and brave post!

    You’ve got it right, my dear.

    You are only in charge of yourself. Seeking approval from others is a huge trap that I was stuck in for YEARS and probably still am to some extent.

    I will tell you this: YOU ARE NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR YOUR PARENTS’ EMOTIONS REGARDING YOUR LIFE CHOICES. You only need to own yourself, your freedom, your future…

    Their reaction to your choices is not your responsibility. And, yes, while you have no intention of hurting them…sometimes that must happen in order for THEM to grow and learn. It is likely not something you can teach them ahead of time…they will just have to learn as the experience unfolds. And, even then, you are not responsible for the outcome. That is THEIR journey!

    Here’s to companionship in the midst of our forests 🙂

    P.S. Your writing never ceases to amaze me! I’m pretty sure I’ve never used the words attendant or bracken. Thanks for gracing us with your beautiful wordsmith abilities.

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