Moonshadow

DSCN7190[1]

Photo credit – Dennis Shaak

Several years ago – the year that I turned 50, my husband retired, and we sold the place that had been, for seven years, a transitional home for our hearts (as we moved from our individual single-parent dwellings to a blended family abode and through to our now empty nest) —  the word ‘moonshadow’ came into my life. I don’t recall exactly from whence it sprung, perhaps a super moon that I’d chased with my camera one evening inspired it, but it has been with me since, much the same as the phrase ‘all is well’ had come to dwell with and within me during the previous decade of my life. Truthfully, ‘all is well’ came to reside with me during a much more turbulent transition, those grief-saturated years surrounding my divorce when a lifetime of previously suppressed griefs and abandonments, losses and despairs, personal failures and shames, and betrayals and abuses (of body and trust) came roiling up and out of the ripped open container of my life. As ‘all is well’ had then become my expressed signature, Moonshadow now became my secret password, granting me access to personal spaces. Never having given it conscious analysis of any great length, the word simply chose me and latched on for the ride like a mantra.

Last week, while winding my way to the Adirondacks for a paddling symposium, I listened to an audio recording of a retreat led by poet/author/philosopher, David Whyte, to whom I am drawn and with whom I have been resonating recently. The 2 Cd set is entitled “Solace”, a word to which I was also drawn for unnamed specifics, simply a felt need for such. I’ve been crying inexplicably of late. And so, as I drove along, uncertain about where and why I was going to join this ragtag assortment of folks, with whom I’d felt a strange sense of belonging when I’d met them earlier this spring, I let myself be both soothed and stirred by the voice of the poet with beautiful questions.

I wonder what draws me to this unlikely sport/art/science? of freestyle canoeing, also sometimes referred to as quiet water paddling. As I seek words to describe it, what comes for me are phrases such as ‘beauty and grace’, ‘stillness in motion’, ‘fluidity’ , ‘peaceful, present, and poised’ and ‘fearless competence’. When I first stuck my toes into the edges of this community, I discovered kindred spirits who were drawn to the water like me, not for adrenaline/adventure rushes filling the body, but for the opposite, perhaps — anxiety exiting the body through the paddle, weariness dissolved by the welcoming water of wilderness. So is this pursuit a search for identity or belonging? For competence or acceptance? Is there perhaps some part of me that seeks expression, release, independence, freedom, peace or solace? I do know there is a strong yearning in me for wild solitude, and being confident in my abilities to go out there alone is part of the draw. While I don’t understand completely the call to this odd pursuit, can’t see where it’s leading, I am trusting the nudges, the yeses, the longing, the subtle shift in the angle of my paddle blade that drew me in this direction, toward some horizon unseen, which, as the poet suggests also, ‘longs for my presence’.

The poet is speaking of horizon lines as I drive along scenic rivers and through quaint mountain villages tucked between evergreen spired peaks – no horizon here beyond the few feet of country road just ahead. He is explaining how it is that the right beautiful question will put you back into relationship with the far beckoning horizon of your own life again, orient your feet on the ground where you stand, pointing you in the direction that your longing beseeches you go. The right question will help you to ‘find yourself’ again — perhaps those parts of yourself long overshadowed or given away .

In my mind’s eye, I see on the horizon a narrow notch backlit by the setting sun, where sloping banks of hemlock pinch the opposite shore of the lake like an envelope sealing an invitation. What lays beyond that opening is a brief glimpse of that distant beckoning horizon, there where the sun now dips her own setting blade, sending the earth spinning on its path across the milky way, along with me on it, small and alone, carried in her wake until morning. Then quite suddenly, there is no destination at all that I can see but a resting place for the night, where I will wait for the morning to set off again toward that distant point, the water welcoming and softening my journey with grace.

The poet is speaking now of my longing as being my north star. He says that my longing (as felt so achingly powerfully in my body, seeking release and relief through my tears, these days?) is ‘magnifying and bringing the horizon close, as if the horizon were both a lifetime’s journey away and living deep inside me at some unknown core at the same time.’ He states that my hunger for the right kind of nourishment is the thing that will lead me to sustenance, encourages me to say ‘no’ to all that will not fulfill until I hear the big ‘YES, this is what I need’. I think to myself that so far in my life either I haven’t had the courage to hear and to follow my deep yeses or I’ve been too free with that other kind of yes, perhaps taking cheap nourishment in distractions, responsibilities, busyness..

It is then that he begins to tell the story of the woman who finally came to the end of a long journey, to the end of a road at the edge of the world where the earth meets the ocean. The setting sun on the horizon stretches out before her, the rising moon is at her back. She knows not the way forward from here, for her old means of travel (walking) will no longer serve her to reach that which beckons to her across the water. The poet goes on to describe how it is that for a few fleeting moments, the full moon itself, shining at the woman’s back, still reflecting strongly the light of the just-set sun, casts her shadow out before her over the water, creating a moonshadow. So THAT’s what a moonshadow is?

The last fading vestige of the self that has carried me here, a glimpse of the one who has served me well, standing upright, but ready to lie down, to let go at the end of the long weary road, to die as all things must in order for new ways to emerge and grow strong. Yes. Yes, this has been the hidden secret these last 4 years of my life, the password during this passage to new places in me, private, as yet unrevealed places. What parts of me, overshadowed by the bright glare of the sun, by the needs and responsibilities of the journey behind me, are waiting to emerge in the dawn of tomorrow if I finally let go? And are those parts of me the source of this deep ache, this ‘invisible sense of being wanted’ … by myself … which pulls at me through my tears, this evocative body of water (that is both inside and outside of me) that is inviting me to that inarticulate, unknown horizon across the moonlit path.

This morning, the word ‘frayed’ came to my lips. The one with whom I’d shared it asked me to clarify, as he’d heard the word ‘a-fraid’. Perhaps there is some fear in letting oneself come undone, but the ‘frayed-ness’ I feel is as if the very fabric of my being is being pulled apart, as I am ‘torn’, pulled and tugged by oppositional forces. I cannot hold it all, let alone hold it all together. Sometimes I find it to be a divine comedy, this exponential nature of reality that finally must break — open. Stretched thin, I cannot do enough, love enough, be enough, hold enough, until paradoxically the franticness my not-enoughness shuts me down completely and I am capable of ‘only this’ seemingly counterproductive state of being. This morning, stillness is the solution for my not-enoughness. This morning, I surrender –  ‘giving up’ this time at last despite my resistance to that particular understanding of the word for all these years. . I cannot continue to move through life this way, in this shape. Sometimes it is healing to say ‘I can’t’ — do anymore, be anymore, hold anymore, save anymore, protect anymore, defend anymore, fear anymore.

Standing on the edge, where the earth meets water, my shadow self grows more and more dim, more diffuse around the edges. She has come with me this far, even carried me at times, but the sun has long since set and it is time. I thank her before she dissolves into this dark night. Then, at last, I let myself come undone, slide down over the edge, losing purchase as I go.  The breeze soothes and smooths the anxious creases from my countenance. The sound of the water washes me, smoothing my frayed edges, rounding them out, changing my shape.  And suddenly I know why I am here, learning to paddle this boat, for here is a canoe at the edge of the water, waiting for me to arrive.

PS.

Some things I learned at a canoe class.

1. I can heel to the edge and not lose my center if I keep my heart aligned with my gut.
2. I can carve through twists and turns with grace, not by overpowering, but by feeling responses to my movements.
3. Sometimes less is more.
4. Even subtle shifts– a degree of my paddle’s face, the set of my shoulders, the openness of my heart. the dropping of my guard– can ease resistance and open to flow.
5. I can always draw something toward me to slip into a quieter pool.

1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Kaye Byerly
    Jul 17, 2015 @ 13:13:21

    Beautifully written!! Right to the point with no apologies for sharing “too much information”. Journeys are especially poignant and mysterious for me too. I was grateful to feel your slide into the water, the resistance on your paddle, the understanding that turning, retreating, allowing the tide to pull you are all part of it; all ok. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

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