What a week.
I don't say that flippantly, but rather, on the exhale of an enormous sigh, as the weight and fullness of it remains in my body.
A week ago yesterday, a 20 year old gunman, little more than a kid himself, shot and killed twenty kindergartners and six adults in Newtown, CT. The world, it seems, has been in mourning ever since, and a palpable solemnity has tempered our typical holiday frenzy.
Yesterday was the Solstice, the pinnacle of darkness, the time of introspection, hibernation, prayer and reflection. Despite misguided reports of the impending "end of the world", this Solstice also marked what some of us believe to be our entry into the Fifth World, an epoch in which we may see a global shift in consciousness that facilitates a return to unity and peace among all beings, a return to our love and respect for the Earth.
Between the bookends of these events was a particularly challenging week, heavy with the suffering of loved ones and fraught with personal frustrations and near-exhaustion. Yet while the week as a whole seemed awash in charcoal gray (if I had to choose a color), I experienced instances of deep gratitude, connection and hope.
Several weeks ago, a friend and I talked about whether it is possible for a person - a heart - to simultaneously hold grief and beauty, or despair and hope, terror and faith. We talked about how in some moments, one emotion may move the fore and seem to darken everything in its radius, only to be edged out minutes or hours later by something joyous or hopeful that suddenly splinters the darkness like the sun breaking through clouds. Neither feeling goes away entirely, and neither remains predominant indefinitely. These are not the exact words we used, but the essence of what we were discussing. And we agreed that yes, it is possible to hold both; that even the brightest, most colorful, exuberant painting will have in it, somewhere, an allusion to the "darkness" - for if we do not know the dark and descent, we cannot fully appreciate the beauty and brilliance of the light. And right now, at this very minute, our capacity for this depth and diversity of feeling strikes me as nothing short of miraculous.
Celebrating Solstice on Thursday night, I sat with maybe forty or fifty other individuals, our faces lit only by candlelight. Each of us offered our prayers to the circle - for loved ones and lost ones, for the Earth, for the Future. These prayers reflected hearts filled both with grief and hope, despair and love - another affirmation of what we are capable of carrying. Then the flames were extinguished and we entered into darkness for a period of silence. What blessed respite and refuge, those moments. There were no electronic devices, no phones or books or conversations. There was only my breath and the breath of those on either side of me as I inwardly offered my prayers to Spirit and tried to listen to my heart, and for what might be offered in return.
When we emerged from the silence, it was to the sound of pipe song. A woman rekindled the candles in the center of the circle. Then, beginning with a single lit candle, we went around the circle passing the light. Each person's candle was lit by the person before them, and they in turn lit the candle of the person next to them while offering a quiet blessing. This went on until every candle was lit and we stood in a ring of light. Light and dark, day and night, joy and sorrow, life and death. The cycle cannot be complete without both. As we illuminated the darkness for each other, the woman who facilitated the ceremony reminded us that despite what most of us are taught, we are all born with the capacity to bless one another and in fact, we must, as we make our way through our days. Isn't that beautiful? Each of us is born with the capacity to bless every other, and we must.
This year, 2012, has been a year of descent for me. During these twelve months, I have slowly, slowly made my way down an interior stairway of awareness, emotion, memory and experience toward the deepest recesses of my heart. In March, I wrote here of the sense that my heart would soon break ("Mourning What's Broken") but at the time, had not yet allowed myself to "go there." For many years, I was terrified of how ugly, messy and out of control it might be, how it might humble me. But this year, I could feel deep things shifting in ways that felt vitally important, and understood that unless I was willing to become intimate with Grief on its own terms, whenever and in whatever forms it arrived, I could not begin to approach living a life of authenticity and wholeness.
In the months since then, my heart has been broken several times by different forms of both grief and beauty. I have given myself over to sorrow and despair, and also, have wept with profound gratitude and fierce hope. If I have some years ahead of me, I hope this is a journey that will continue in multiple directions - sometimes ascending, sometimes descending, sometimes circling one or more levels of the Spiral.
There was a time when I hoped or believed that coming to know my own heart more fully would somehow make me happier. However, having begun to make my way toward this knowing, the word 'happy', does not feel true. I do feel more centered in who I am, clearer about my convictions and what it is that I want to guide me through my days. I feel older, if not wiser, and perhaps better at naming the sorrows and joys that I carry with and in me. I have named and (re)claimed them, and every day, I am working at making room for all of them without judging, diminishing or exalting any one over the others. I am trying to create enough space in my heart that each has room to step forward to rail or keen or dance as the situation requires. And I understand now that though the forms these emotions take may be in some ways particular to me, they do not belong only to me, they are collective and a piece of a much bigger whole.
And so, this holiday season, my typical cheer is tempered by and shares space in my heart with a sense of solemnity and reverence for all that is, all that has been lost, all that may and could yet be. In our hearts is a profound capacity for listening, feeling, knowing and acting in ways that can be of benefit to all beings. My prayer is that whatever is required to remind us of this, and to enable us to live from our hearts, may come to pass so that all of us, every living thing, may be restored to wholeness.
Blessings upon the Earth and All Our Relations.