Archive for 28 October 2015

Reclaiming the Wild Self


You can find out more about Clarissa Pinkola Estés here.

In part, the doors Estés refers to are a matter of human time. Live long enough and you’ll very likely wear such scars, carry such stories, cherish such loves. One way to find common ground with others is to focus on these doors. And one of the best ways to access them is by careful listening to ourselves and to each other.

Often enough, we may fear such a world and such a self as much as we yearn for it. A doorway means change. Even if it just opens onto another room, it’s not the room we were in a moment ago. Fears can outline such a door, too — including fear of a door itself. If you’re anything like me, you know or have been someone who at one time or another has walked into a cage and exulted as it clanged shut behind you, reassured that at least you wouldn’t have to walk through yet another damned door.

How to recapture the sense of the preciousness of these doors, as Estes calls it? For in the end our own longing compels us to find them and walk through. Ritual is one way, though by no means the only. By defining boundaries in ritual we can make a door easier to see and peek through. If the past is difficult country for me, I can approach it with safeguards in place. Ritual can help with its prescribed beginnings and endings, its containers of energy and wisdom we can safely draw on at need for balance and perspective and protection. A holiday like the upcoming Samhain, like Hallowe’en, a holy evening for remembering who and what has passed from our lives, offers a safe space to honor and to say farewell to what is gone. Sometimes all that is needed is for us to agree that we can finally let go.

One of the most moving Samhain celebrations I’ve ever experienced was organized by a high-school student — I’ll call her C. — who during her senior year led the Alternative Spiritualities group I advised while teaching at my former school. C. was an atheist who deeply understood the power of ritual theater. Under her leadership, our meetings often were focused discussions about perception and consciousness. Ritual, however, happened just once.


Interior of a Protestant church, looking from the altar toward the rear entrance.

Halloween fell on a Saturday that fall, as it does this weekend. Just after sundown a group of perhaps a dozen students and I gathered in our school chapel with its old, austere New England style, opened the windows — it was a mild October evening — and lit incense and candles. You take, and make, doors where you find them.

C. briefly explained what we’d be doing, then gathered us in a circle, led us in a simple chant and circle dance, and at length asked us to recall someone or something we wanted to say goodbye to. Any script C. had was entirely in her head. The ritual flowed smoothly because everyone knew its purpose and no one was worried about making mistakes. After all, you couldn’t go off-script. Both tears and laughter fit any moment of that evening.

We each wrote the name of this person or thing on a slip of paper and folded it tightly. One person collected them, and then ceremonially burnt them in a large bucket of sand in the center of our circle on the chapel floor. We chanted as the smoke rose, and I saw several students crying quietly. We cleaned up and sat on the altar steps for candy and snacks and soda, sugaring ourselves into a lighter mood. Many students said at our next meeting the following week how meaningful the experience was for them.

Reclaiming the wild self is work we’re all doing. Much of what I try to write about here is an attempt to document my journey to do just that, along with my sidesteps, mishaps, meanderings and insights along the way. We may call this spiritual objective by different names, but the deep yearning in us is the same, if we stop and talk with and listen to each other. We can if we wish walk part of the way in each other’s company.

May you find such doorways on your own journey, and may they be blessings.

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Images: Estes quotationChurch interior.

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