As the days grow shorter and the weather colder up here in the Northeast King/Queendom of Vermont, the archetypal energies of Winter descend, bringing with them the hallowed space for reflecting on our lives. Some relationships feel absolutely right, some in flux, and some in need of Triage. Our dominant culture, what Clarissa Pinkola-Estes calls the Over-Culture, often encourages the pumped up “just do it” standard of change. Pushing through, sucking it up, and soldiering on manifest in news stories, documentaries, TV sitcoms, and real-life dramas. And yet, our wiser selves know the bullying approach to personal and social change seldom brings about the harmonious energies we long for in every aspect of our lives.
November and December energies in the Northern Hemisphere are perfect for effecting change with gentleness. There is an inexorable slowness at the heart of late fall and winter. “Just try to rush, to push through,” these overlapping seasons whisper, “and we’ll send you a storm the likes of which you’ve never seen, one that locks you down in your own heart and at your own hearth and creates the space for you to be present to what is.” As we age, we learn to feel gratitude for this edict to slow, to still, to reflect. Our eventual gratitude for and ease with slowness is one of the great gifts of aging.
When I was a young woman in my late twenties and early thirties, I became enchanted by characters whose sudden startling presence at my elbow made me look at life, not as an adult woman in her prime, but as an aging, invisible, and largely forgotten woman whose life was undocumented on billboards, trolley signs, street benches, or any of the other cityscapes offered for sale to companies to generate advertising dollars for the City of Toronto. These characters, Edna and Elizabeth, who became the main characters in my novel, Under the Moon, prompted me to live through their eyes and hearts and sensibilities to discover what it is like to feel hesitant at a curb, to be wary of a sudden explosive noise, or to look with suspicion on unfamiliar foods – in short, to feel tentative and insubstantial in a culture that disappeared them. I had had my own experiences of tentativeness before meeting Edna and Elizabeth, but only as a robust woman. Around the time of their initial visitation my back went out and for the time that my muscles were in spasm I too felt vulnerable and insubstantial. Compared to what I felt through Edna and Elizabeth, this was a short-lived experience. After a day or two of rest I became my usual insensitive and absurdly arrogant self. My sense of precariousness was short lived because time, as embodied by my comparatively youthful physical self, was on my side.
Edna and Elizabeth were at a very different stage of life. They taught me to stop and stare, to wonder at seemingly ordinary things like boys’ Kiss-painted faces on buses and raucous groups of youths playing sonically loud music from a porch stoop. “We wouldn’t dream of making such a display,” they whispered to each other and to me. And then they invited me into their own absurdly arrogant young-adult years when they too believed that the life flowing in their veins was theirs forever, that unlike others, they would resist the precariousness that claims us as we grow old and older still. Their experiences helped me to find my own place under the moon, that cauldron of reflection, of slow and steady cycles, of deep connection to the self in all its phases.
I don’t know if others travel to this stillness via similar or different routes when they are young women of twenty-eight or thirty-three. My predisposition to loving Edna and Elizabeth and the power of their perspective came from my relationship with my grandmother, forty-seven when I was born and physically vital – an ice skating hockey player, a rider of motorcycles, a free thinker and neighbourhood wise woman. She was all these things and, at the same time, she was a psychologically oppressed woman living beneath the crush of actual and metaphoric bricks and mortar fixed into place by the British class system her devout parents transplanted to Canada when she was a child of eleven and their small family, along with their staunch Church of England beliefs and practices, emigrated to Stratford, Ontario.
Life is wonderfully kind and horrifically cruel and those of us who age into our fifties and sixties and seventies and eighties know why Death is often personified as a friend in our life stories. Because of the sensitivity that marks us as we age, the glorious nature of human life often has a hard time standing up to its inglorious counterpart. It is easy to see more evil than good, more selfishness than loving kindness, especially if we are not firmly rooted in the spiritual bedrock of life that supports a larger perspective.
Like my grandmother, Edna rediscovered quite late in life a practice that brought her into spiritual relationship with Her Self and others. My grandmother’s practice was connecting authentically with people. Edna’s practice was water colours. Painting, because it taught her to see and to trust the creative process, helped Edna to move beyond the dross of anger and self interest and into the spiritual beauty of connection with all that is. Picking up her brushes and inviting the washes to flow into the miraculous shapes of others’ Wise Selves, she was able to show herself and subjects a different reality, and so manifest it. My grandmother cultivated a similar kind of power once she allowed the stillness of aging to take her to that place where even the Church of England couldn’t limit her, her own place of authority as a reflecting woman, her own ground under the moon.
Art is often devalued in our culture as frivolous or unnecessary. We’re big on investment art, but we’ve lost our connection to art as a form of meditation, a form of shamanism, a form of wisdom. Edna, and Elizabeth too in her way, allow the fragility, the slowness, the precariousness of old age to work them into a tapestry whose patterns they can only sense with their inner knowing. They embrace stillness and the connections it brings to them, and when they visited me in my arrogant youth, they taught me a little about what was coming should I manage to live through the next few decades. Their long-ago visits brought me hope, humour, perspective, and joy, gifts I take pleasure in sharing each time someone reads the story they inspired me to tell. They also brought me a deepening awareness of my connection to the Divine Feminine, that animating power present in all women since the beginning of time, a power never more potent than when – young or old – we find our sacred place of deep stillness under the moon.
To find Edna and Elizabeth in their new Under the Moon Thirtieth Anniversary clothes, please visit www.amazon.com or www.barnesandnoble.com and invite them home with you, whatever your age. They carry joy, stillness, wisdom, and surprise, qualities that help us feel more firmly connected to the spiritual bedrock of life. This connection continues to be the very best antidote to the unsettling emotions we feel as we age in these wildly unpredictable times.
Until next week