I feel like I am coming into being. The barn, where I will create a new workspace, is almost finished. Spring has finally taken hold and the flowers are popping—bluebells, lilies of the valley, wisteria, and lilac—all my favorites. The warm breezy afternoons are a glorious backdrop for gardening and walking in the woods. A long time of hibernation is coming to an end.
I think it’s strange how when you are transitioning, you sometimes don’t even realize it. You just feel stuck and not quite yourself, but not quite new or different either. You may experience a kind of grief, although it is unclear what it is you are grieving. You may feel longing, but don’t yet know what you long for. That’s the way I have been feeling for the last couple of months.
John O'Donohue says it this way in his poem for times of transition: May we have the courage to take the step into the unknown that beckons us; trust that a richer life awaits us there, that we will lose nothing but what has already died; feel the deeper knowing in us, sure of all that is about to be born beyond the pale frames where we stay confined, not realizing how such vacant endurance was bleaching our soul's desire.
Like the shamans of olden times, I look to the spirit of nature in order to understand the circumstances in which I find myself. Shamans did not view the spirit world as a different world so much as the invisible aspect of this one. To gain clarity, they simply looked deeper into the world around them. Looking at and experiencing nature from the aspect of the unseen dimension brought wisdom and knowing to the shaman and her community. And one of the ways she accessed the wisdom of nature was through shapeshifting.
Shapeshifting can be a valuable exercise during a time of confusion, stress or sadness. There is really nothing that you experience in your own individual life that is not reflected in some way within the wider context of nature. You are the microcosm—nature, the macrocosm. You are nature, so why would that not be the case?
There are many shamanic boasts or poems that enumerate the shapeshifting experiences of the speaker. The boasts were a kind of yesteryear “trash-talk,” recited to demonstrate the agility of the shaman’s imagination, but also the extent of his wisdom. Just as Mohammed Ali once boasted of his ability to “fly like a butterfly and sting like a bee,” Celtic shamans or bards would brag about their adeptness and skill something like this: “I have been the shape of many things. I have been the narrow blade of the sword. I have been a shining star. I have been a word in a book. I have been an eagle. I have been a boat on the sea. I have been a string on a harp. I have been a full, enchanted year in the foam of the water. There is nothing in which I have not been. (Taliesin, Welsh bard.)
When I ask my helping spirits what aspect of the natural world will share its wisdom about times of transition, I am told: go to the eclipse. Eclipses were uncomfortable events for the ancients, a dark time. The word itself comes from the Greek word for abandonment and downfall, a ceasing to exist. When you are in transition, some phase of your life has ended, yet nothing new has stepped in to take its place. Transition is a void, and it is natural to feel only the loss and what has ceased to exist.
For me, last winter marked the first time in twenty-four years that both of my children were gone. I was in a new house and the initial flurry from the move had settled down until only the quiet of an unfamiliar place remained. The weather was gray and cold. Like all northeasterners, I was buried inside high walls of snow. The renovation of the barn edged forward ever so slowly. Where was I going, I wondered sometimes. What was I becoming?
Journeying into the eclipse, I feel the tension of what is coming and what is passing away. I hang in the space between sun and moon and watch them observe one another. They tell me it is the only time they get to focus on each other, before drifting apart once more.
The sun tells me that eclipse energy is about self-effacement, and it can be a harsh time—a time for taking stock of what has been done and not done, a time when you need to hold the shadow and the light in both hands.
The moon tells me I am moving away from a long period when I needed to be a nurturer, and that I must accept the finishing of this work by creating a bundle to represent all these former responsibilities. I am to then burn or bury the bundle, asking for the energy I once used in nurturance to be redirected toward expansion into the outer world. It is a moving away from a moon-directed life into a sun-directed life.
I plan to perform this ritual at the next full moon, a time considered to be one of release by the ancients. I will call on the elementals present to help me mark the end of one life phase and the beginning of another. This ritual will create an ending, a line of demarcation that will finally break the long, uncomfortable suspense of this transition.