Let It Burn

A few weeks ago during my break, I took a walk in the woods behind the school I teach at.  I was feeling a bit disconnected and despondent.  Questions filled my heart and mind:  What is my purpose?  What are my real hopes and dreams?  Will I ever receive my heart’s desire?  What really is my heart’s desire?  Heavy stuff to contemplate on a cold, dreary Thursday afternoon.

I bent down near the stream to listen to the trickling water.  Tears welled up in my eyes.  Out of nowhere, I heard what sounded like thunder and rain moving my way.  I looked up to the sky and above I saw a gaggle of geese flying low.  It was their wings and the wind making that noise.  As they flew towards and over me, I could hear the wind shift and their wings adjust.  The geese were silent, but the rushing air and the flapping wings filled up the sky and jarred me out of self-pity.  My heart swelled and wildness rushed through me and took my breath away.  Before I could name what happened to me, a passing cloud, in the shape of a heart rolled over my head.

A few days later, as I sat in meditation in the early morning before the sun was awake, I heard a voice deep inside of me echo:  “Let your dreams die.”  My hips and low back had been aching for about a week and I was suppressing all those questions that had been gnawing at me that day in the woods.  I told the voice to get silent so I could meditate and find peace and comfort.  But still I kept hearing it tell me to “Let your dreams die.”

I then visualized my vision board that I kept in my closet.  Written in precise words and on small, colorful notecards were all the things I have been wanting to manifest in my life such as career and writing options and nice things for my house.  I had even gone so far with my vision board to write down, in detail, the type of man I wanted for my romantic partner.  To add to this dream of the “perfect mate,” I had taken friends’ advice and cleaned out my closet and arranged my house and garage so he could one day “move in” because I had prepared room for him.  As I have spent the past few years watching friends either date, get married, and have children, I kept telling myself that one day, if I worked hard enough at manifesting and creating specific ideals on my vision board, this all too would happen for me.  True Love would come to me if I just paved the way for it.

Returning back to my meditation, my hips ached more and my jaw clenched as I kept hearing the phrase “Let your dreams die.”  Finally, I got brave and asked my body, “What is it you are trying to tell me?  I will listen.  I am tired of this sadness, grief, and pain.  What do you really want me to do?”  Again, the voice repeated, “Let your dreams die.”  I opened up to the words and felt a melting in my hips and a release in my back.  I knew that was the truth.  I peeked into the cave of my heart and saw that these dreams were constricting me.  I may never have a life that looks like what my friends and family and other women around me have.  I may never fit in and conform to what I think is a woman’s role:  to get married and be a mother.  Not that there is anything wrong with that.  There’s not.  It’s a very beautiful way to live.  I totally admire it so much to the point that I long for it.  But, it hasn’t happened for me, and in that moment of my meditation I realized that it may never happen for me.  I had to let my dreams die to find out what else is inside of me and being attracted to me.  Grief poured over me.  Some way, some how, I would have to admit that maybe, just maybe, I will never have the love and support of a strong man or the tenderness and beauty of a small child to hold in my arms.

I folded over in supplication.  I begged God to help me understand this grief.  I also felt a sense of relief wash over me.  A sense of wildness and freedom burst through my heart similar to that moment the geese flew over me a few days before.  Love welled up inside of me and then it passed.  I came out of meditation bewildered and in awe.

Later that afternoon, I met a good friend, Robyn, for coffee.  I shared with her my story and she smiled.  She has been telling me for awhile now how creative, romantic, and spiritual I really am and she said that she senses I’ve only shown about 20% of that to others.  I agreed whole-heartedly with her on that.  I’ve been holding a lot of what is inside of me back in fear that I would look like a hippie, fruitcake to others and be rejected.  Going against the grain is something I have always been called towards, but for whatever reasons (too many to list here), I alone have held myself back.  I’ve made society’s dreams for me my dreams and have had comparative financial and social success in my life because of that.  I think part of my grief is that I’m realizing the life I’ve built is beautiful and comfortable, but it’s not enough.  It’s containing and restraining me.

Robyn put a different spin on my “Let your dreams die” experience.  She told me to release my beautiful weirdness into the world.  To turn on the light in my heart bright enough for everyone to see.  She said, “Burn that damn list.  Burn it.  Take back your closet.  Your garage.  Your house.  Fill up your life with you.  You’re enough.”  She suggested that maybe the dreams I’ve written for myself are too small as well.  She counseled that once I let my “freak flag fly” and become vulnerable, love, in all its many forms, will find me.  Not the other way around.

The next morning, after meditation, my intuition told me to “Let it burn.”  Without questioning my actions, I built a fire in my fireplace, and placed a few leaves of sage in there as well.  I placed my vision board in front of the fire screen.  I played Dave Stringer’s kirtan song of “Shiva Namah Om.”  As the rhythmic, tribal chant began, I started to dance like lord Shiva (the destroyer) himself.  I moved sensually, rhythmically, and twirled and shook.  I let out my grief, anger, and confusion and transformed into a Gypsy woman filled with sensuality and passion.  I danced to the fire’s embers.  My hips undulated with the drums.  My arms snaked with the percussive shakers and flutes.  My feet began to stamp out all of the things in my life that weren’t serving me.  Without thinking I got down to my knees and began to metaphorically pull on the fire’s power of destruction and purification.  My body told the fire:  Burn me like the phoenix.  Burn my dreams and take my pain away.  Burn everything that is not serving me.  Let it all burn.

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As the song faded away, I began to weep.  Calm and exhausted, I felt a great sense of openness in my heart and release in my body.  I moved the fire screen away, and slowly began to take off each notecard on the vision board and toss it into the fire, watching my dreams burn.  When I got to my detailed list of my true love, I cried.   This was the moment.  The crossing of the threshold.  Once I let it burn, I would be admitting to the Universe that I realized no longer did I have imaginary control over who or what is to come my way.

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The paper curled and changed to an ash gray in the fire.  It was over.  I was free.

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The rest of the day I cleaned out my closet, took up my space, took back my house.  I found a treasure I had bought a long time ago when I lived in Mexico for a summer.  It is a hand-crafted terra cotta clay sun painted with bright colors.  At the top of the sun’s forehead, is the sun and moon in an embrace.  I smiled, knowing that my sun, my radiant heart, my desires, and my emotions all were in balance.

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This story is my beautiful weirdness.  My heart light is on.  I am open.  I am shining as brightly as I know how.  I am enough.

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Where Do They Go?

A colleague and I talked this afternoon at lunch about recycling, composting, gardening, walking barefoot at work on our breaks, and our love for avocados and that sweet, short time they are ripe enough to eat.  As she was deliberating what in our office could get recycled, she shared with me the fact that maybe 30% of plastics get recycled, although we who recycle believe it all goes to the magical recycling factory nearby and gets put to good use as someone’s new water bottle, birdhouse, or even fancy, light-weight tennis shoes.  That bummed me out, but she said there’s hope.  There are scientists and inventors out there thinking outside of the box trying to figure out our waste and consumption problem and what to create out of recycled materials such as hard plastics.

After seeing the documentary, Dirt, about our use and abuse of this green earth, I have been trying hard to become a little more conscientious of my daily treatment of mother Gaia.  I started a compost pile (that is now too hard for me to turn and I better invest in a pitchfork or a fancy rolling bin), kept up my recycling, and started picking up trash in my neighborhood as I walk my dog.  And there’s always stuff to pick up and recycle, throw away, or compost:  milk jugs, McDonald’s containers, rubber bands, soda cans, cereal boxes, cardboard egg cartons, rotting apples, peach pits, plastic bags, and tampons with dispensers (I admit, I left that one in the street for about 3 days before I finally got brave and picked it up with paper towels and a leftover sandwich bag I found on the ground).

It’s very easy, and quite understandable, to ignore the little things we see around us because we’re so focused on running here and there and doing this and that.  And I put myself in the category of doing the ecologically sound thing out of convenience and cost for me.  We say to ourselves:  My life seems fairly clean and orderly enough.  How can the world be in such a mess and in pain when my home, my car, my job, my neighborhood are functioning fairly decently, minus a few bits of trash, bills, annoyances and mini-dramas along the way?  The problems are out there in other parts of the world.  Nothing has changed too much here, and though that either comforts me, frustrates me, or confuses me, at least my life has some consistency and order.  But, I can no longer fully go back into that hazy state of thinking.  And here’s why:  I have been feeling disconnected to others and my surroundings lately.  That worries me because there’s nothing more that I long for than a sense of feeling connected, grounded, and a part of this world.

I walk my dog in the evening and I try to listen to the breeze blowing through the whispering pines and instead I hear the sirens of police cars, fire trucks or ambulances.  I look up into the sky to admire the moon and stars and get fixated on the numerous planes that fly over my neighborhood to and from the airport or the Air Force base nearby.  I try to look at the wild geese that have gathered on the frozen lake and my view is blocked by 2 story houses with three car garages that have wooden fences surrounding them.  I tear up when I see the carcasses of raccoons, squirrels, and the occasional deer scattered and smashed on the busy streets as we drive over or around them.  My heart gets heavy when I see deer foraging in the muddied farmer’s field that is soon to be stripped away by yet another QuikTrip or Circle K gas station to compete with the BP or MotoMart gas station across the street.  Where do all the wild things go as we quickly and aggressively encroach on their land to build more Walgreens, Targets, Ikeas, bike shops, hiking shops, restaurants, bars and wine stores and more new stuff to divert us from simply being?

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Where do the birds go when the oaks, the maples, the pines, the hickories, the sycamores, the walnuts, and all the brushes and vines are torn down to make way for the new chiropractic office, the Center for Fecal Incontinence or the Kidney Dialysis of Southern Illinois take their place?  We think we are ill because there’s more stress in this world, but we are stressing ourselves out because there is less of the natural world out there to help us connect to the natural world inside ourselves.

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Where do the worms, the daddy-long legs, the garden spiders, the fish, the frogs, the butterflies, and the bees go when we rip up the ground and dig up native grasses and plants to put in field upon field of annual wheats and corns that strip the land of nutrients, are sprayed with chemicals that get into our water system, and lead to soil erosion?  We eat our processed food from a package and forget that food actually comes from the land.  We stop tasting and keep consuming in hopes that we will one day be full enough and happy enough and unstressed enough to enjoy a moment of sunshine on our faces or a bite of a juicy peach.

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In the meantime, our very guides and teachers of the natural world who can lead us to that mysterious and elusive point of soul within us are leaving us as quickly as we are leaving them.

What, then, can we do to help ourselves reconnect to our very essence that is natural and soulful?  I think the answer lies in going outside to get inside ourselves.  Be in nature and really start listening, seeing, feeling, tasting, touching all that is around us.  Go past the strip malls and search for a beautiful clearing of the meadow and woodlands that are still there and are lit up by the setting sun.  Listen deeper to the whispering pine and the playful breeze as they have a conversation above the competing sirens and mufflers.  Buy a piece of fruit or vegetable from the farmer’s stand or grocery store and eat it with great attention and reverence.  While you’re at the stoplight, watch as a hawk swiftly and gracefully dives from a telephone pole and circles the nearby field in search of prey.

And if we’re really bold and brave, we will wake up from our dream (or is it a nightmare?) and stay awake long enough to do the small things that can help the world.  Build the community garden you’ve been talking about.  Enroll in a local gardening club or nature course.  Save your money and buy that big churning compost bin off of Amazon.  Continue to pick up trash around your neighborhood.  Feed the birds in your backyard and keep the native trees and shrubs and perennials around your perimeter instead of opting for a fancy fence.  Buy more food that is locally sourced.  Contact your local government and find out information on city ordinances on using prairie grass in your yard’s landscape.  For if we all do small things to take care of our wild nature (both within and without ourselves), we will start building up enough consciousness, mindfulness, self-healing and love to build a less disconnected community of bored and emotionally unfulfilled people to a more heart-centered, unique and creative collective of individuals who feel more like a family that is willing to take care of our ailing Mother Earth.