Dearest monks, artists, and pilgrims,
I have been in a long season of release. Ongoing health issues can bring clarity over what is most important in a given season of life. My word for the year is distillation and it is providing a compass for how I discern what to take on and what to let go of.
While there has been some clearing out of closets and donations to the charity shop, most of what I am releasing are the old patterns and ways of being that deplete me and obstruct my full access to the divine image carved into my heart.
A few weeks ago, I found a piece of paper with three things written on it. It must have been part of a ritual I participated in, but I can not remember the details. But the three things were all things in my life I felt called to surrender, to no longer carry the weight of. Things like a sense of over responsibility that developed early in childhood from growing up in an alcoholic home, the weight of burdens I carry some of which are my own and some feel ancestral, and my fears of scarcity that sometimes re-emerge especially when my health is challenged.
I smiled because I had been reading through some old journals from the last two years in preparation for a burning ritual I have been doing regularly. It invites me to spend time and really pay attention to the wisdom gleaned from those rambling reflections and to notice my patterns. I had seen those patterns named above repeating themselves in the pages of my journal as well.
Then as I was cleaning out the closet in my office, I found three large stones. Each was about double the size of my palm and I had gathered them over time. I knew these were arriving to me as gift, as symbols of the weight I carry, and I knew I had to release them.
There is a beautiful poem from Rainer Maria Rilke in which he writes: “Fear not the sorrow you feel, give your weight back to the earth, for heavy are the mountains, heavy the seas.” It is a quote I have carried with me for years. In those moments when grief and longing and overwhelm feel like too much to carry, it reminds me to return to wild places and offer whatever burden I am carrying back to the land and sea. Earth and ocean can bear the weight of our grief, our compulsions, our life-denying habits.
On January 27th, the feast of St. Muirgen (Ireland’s very own mermaid saint) I went out to Rusheen Bay in Galway with my three large stones. I found a quiet place by the water and sat on a stone for a long while. I started by praying for loved ones, my friend whose husband died recently, my sweet dog who was having surgery that day to remove a tumor, for my aunt whose death last year continues to grieve me, for my own health, and then for the happenings in the world that continue to break my heart.
Finally when I was ready I took each stone in my hand one by one. I held it, I felt its textures and weight. I named the burden I had been carrying which it symbolized. And then I heaved it into the bay, asking Spirit, the angels, saints, and ancestors, and the land and sea to hold it, to transmute and transform it. I did this three times, each time watching the splash of the stone into water and seeing the circles rippling outward. I know when we keep working to heal ourselves, the healing impacts others in ways we cannot see. This is the work of a lifetime.
I sat for a long time in the silence that followed, feeling lighter in my being.
A few days later I had a dream. My father who died almost 27 years ago came to me. I was in Vienna, the city he loved so much, and I found him there wandering the streets. He was joyful at seeing me and when I asked him where he had been, he said he had much healing work of his own to do and he was grateful to me for all I had done to reach across the veil and call on the ancestors. It was a heart opening dream and felt like a further unfolding of my ritual.
What are the things you are holding onto? What are the patterns and ways of being, the habits and compulsions which are life-depleting? Which divert your attention again and again from the radiant creation that you are? Are there resentments? Overwork? Grief denied?
Lent begins on Wednesday and we are going to be exploring different kinds of fasting. There is, of course, the physical fasting we often associate with the season as a way of simplifying our lives and being in solidarity with those who hunger for food and shelter.
We will be journeying this Lent through a series of non-physical fasts where we explore what it means to fast from multi-tasking, anxiety, rushing, holding it all together, planning, and certainty and embrace presence, abundance, slowness, tenderness, unfolding, and mystery.
Our Lent retreat on a Different Kind of Fast begins on Wednesday! Please join us to let go of what no longer serves, embrace what is nourishing, and discover your true hunger.
With great and growing love,
Christine Valters Paintner, PhD, REACE
Image credit © Christine Valters Paintner