Letting Die

No, no, the Life/Death/Life forces are a part of our own nature, an inner authority that knows the steps, knows the dance of Life and Death. It is composed of the parts of ourselves who know when something can, should, and must be born and when it must die. –Clarissa Pinkola Estés, Women Who Run With the Wolves

I woke up in the pale hours of Thursday morning and could not move. A pain in my shoulders and neck that I’d been trying to ignore for more than a week had completely taken hold in a fierce pinch. Shifting my head or body even a fraction of an inch in any direction shot zings all the way into my fingers and feet.

Later that day, despite my protests that it was too much trouble and I could just wait it out, my mother delivered me to a massage therapist (who, incidentally, turned out to also be a polarity [energy] therapist).

“I have this persistent knot in my back behind my heart,” I told her once I was face-down on the table. “It feels like it’s the source of this problem.”

“‘A persistent knot,'” she said.

“It’s been there for years.” Six years. I’ve felt it every time I try to take a deep breath.

“Did something happen? Were you in a car accident?”

“No, but I remember the moment I got it. I was coming away from a stressful time in my life, and I was in a yoga class and went into a camel pose (a back-bend intended to open the heart) and I felt it clench. And it’s never really let go…I know how symbolic that sounds.”

“It’s funny,” she said, smoothing the tissues beneath my shoulder blades and choosing her words carefully, “I get a lot of people who come in here hanging onto things. They say things like, ‘Oh I know I would feel better if I could let it go. If I could resolve things with this person or that person.’ But really, at the end of the day, the only person we really need to get right with is ourself. A lot of times there’s a reason we’re hanging onto something, and once we figure out what that is–there’s usually some kind of lesson in it, something we were supposed to learn.”

At the end of the session, I could still feel some of the pain in my shoulder, but I could walk and turn my head again. I felt like I was starting to let go of something.

That night, I was physically able look at the play I’ve been working on. It had been a while. I read back a few pages and wrote a few more. I was close to the end of yet another draft, but it didn’t feel right. I tried to talk about it with a member of my writing/creative support group the next day, but only felt more uneasy about it. Then, yesterday, I read a good portion of it out loud to my partner and trusted editor. For me, the read-aloud is less about getting verbal feedback, although often that is helpful, but it’s more about testing how the story feels as it lands on a listener. My partner was encouraging, of course, but when I stopped reading, I flopped over on the ground and let out a few indulgent tears.

There are things that are working very well in the play, but they’re not the right parts to hold the piece up. I’m not afraid of putting in the work to fix a play’s broken backbone–I love that part of the process–but something felt really lost.

Two things you should know about me before I continue with this story:

1. It really grinds my gears to not do something I said I would do.

I don’t want to be someone who gives up. I don’t want to let people down. And I definitely don’t want to be someone who’s incapable of something.

And maybe that’s all well and good, but this drive creates problems for me. In my personal life, if my partner and I said we were going to go dancing, but then Friday night rolls around and we’re tired so we stay in, I might spend Saturday fretting that our relationship is doomed. In my working life, if I say I’ll do one project, but it takes me longer than I expected, and then another need comes up, I’ll try to quietly take care of both even if it completely exhausts me. In my creative life, if I don’t finish something it feels like I’m admitting I’m incapable of finishing anything.

Maybe this is a relevant time to disclose that this play I’ve been working on is like the 6th incarnation of a piece trying to make something of themes and characters and concepts I’ve been wrangling since the aforementioned heart-knotting life era. It was a cycle of poems, it was a memoir, it was a cycle of poems again, it was an essay, it was a play, it was another play. I kept picking it back up because I felt ashamed of not finishing the one before after putting in so many years on it. I kept putting it down for some reason, though, too.

2. Also, in case you haven’t already put this together, I’m basically a functioning, full-blown woo-woo woman.

Coming out about this now will make all future blog posts easier for me to write. I have heart to hearts with my cats, I collect crystals, I get vedic astrology birth chart readings, and I regularly consult tarot cards, okay? (See future post about allowing oneself intuition.) Roll your eyes and read someone else’s blog if you must, but I think searching and meaning-making are important components of a healthy life. I can’t consider a physical healing process without considering the corresponding emotional/spiritual/environmental healing needed. I’ll listen to my gut feelings as much as logical advice, I believe in soul purposes and lessons, and if I’m feeling lost I look for signs. So…

So faced with a dark feeling about putting in the work needed to fix this play, but with a deep dread of “giving up” on anything, I wallowed around for the better part of the afternoon.

I reread Julia Cameron’s Artists Way chapter about “creative U-turns.” Is this just a fear-based reaction?

Dragonfly with black wings

I hauled myself out the door and went on a long walk through the woods asking for wisdom. Hundreds of shiny blue dragonflies batted their black wings all along the path. I remembered commenting on a large photograph of a dragonfly on the massage therapist’s wall. She told me they can spend years as larval nymphs in the water and only a few short weeks in their beautiful adult forms. Did I just need to allow ugly long years of gestation?

I returned to my living room floor and shuffled my tarot cards. (See future post about tarot cards as a reflection tool.) I wanted to know, “What does my creative work need right now?” First card pulled: Death. Well okay, then. I had to smile.

Every tarot card has a lesson in it. The death card is about transformation. It tells us that when big, necessary changes are at hand, it’s time to loosen our grip and let it happen. It’s the hanging on and fighting what’s already changing that will cause suffering.

In her amazing book, Women Who Run with the Wolves, Clarissa Pinkola Estés writes,

It is good to make a meditative and daily practice of untangling the Life/Death/Life nature over and over again…When we are untangling this nature, it would be good for us to sing something like this, What must I give more death to today, in order to generate more life? What do I know should die, but am hesitant to allow to do so? What must die in me in order for me to love?

I’ve always had trouble letting go when I know I’m right. I’ve always had trouble knowing whether it’s time to move on or to push harder. I think it’s worth noting, though, that most of us probably err on the side of pushing because we are so afraid to die and let die.

I spent the rest of the evening drinking boxed wine, eating potato chips, journaling about the skills gained and lessons learned from the 6 years of working on the various incarnations of this project, and looking at pictures of how dragonflies leave the lifeless shells of their nymph bodies behind.

What will you give more death to today, dear reader, in order to generate more life?