I’ve been trying to write this post for three weeks. I thought I was getting stuck with not knowing the objective of the writing, but it turns out I am just annoyed with the subject. However, as I sat in the park tonight eating a sandwich, serenading everything as evening dawned, the trees told me that I should just get on with it already. I’ve learned to stop fighting the trees.
The subject is leaving, letting go, or any other words you’d like to put to the experience, better or worse, of separating. I’ve never been good with leaving, whether for my own health or that of another. I know this is a struggle that many share, and since the last three years have been filled with almost constant opportunities for me to let go, there’s been a lot of struggle. For all the awkward freedom and delicious uncertainty it keeps bringing, I am SUPER READY to be done with this topic.
Unfortunately, I’ve only swam to about the middle of Leaving Lake, and it is not quite done with me yet.
I felt moved to build this Winter’s altar around the subject. It displays a weird and precious assortment of things I’ve recently let go, things I am in the process of letting go, and even things that are leaving me with very little conscious work. It’s messy, it somehow doesn’t seem complete or logical, and yet I’m mesmerized by it. Back in my Jesus days, there was a whole family of sermons around the story of Jesus telling disciples they had to “count the cost” of following him. Years later, I find myself doing the same thing, but with me: studying what I’m giving up in order to really follow myself. Some of the things bring me sadness to leave behind, and some of them I am beyond ready to do away with.
It occurred to me early into this altar building process that I spend way more attention on inhaling than exhaling. Every time a mindfulness practitioner tries to get me to take a breath, my attention rarely follows the information offered by the exhale. So, like any fixating nerd, I started to pay attention, and I mean REALLY pay attention. Turns out, exhaling is fucking awesome! It actually lasts for longer than the inhale if you count the cascade of untensing muscles that is still happening when the last breath leaves your lungs. I could feel it go down the back of my neck vertebrae and out all of the roundy parts of me: knuckles, elbows, hips, knees, heels. I could even feel the bottom of my rib cage on both sides. If you’ve never registered awareness of your rib cage before, or lingered with the feeling of it, it is something I highly suggest. I started to wonder why the word exhale itself had so many straight lined letters, there was suddenly not enough curviness, not enough oomph, to the physical appearance of the word.
I began sitting in front of this altar many nights, studying it while I paid attention to my exhales. I rang my singing bowl. And wonderfully, going back to my feeling of being annoyed by this topic, I didn’t think too much.
Some weeks later, I was sitting in a car trying to unspool the complexity of all this to a friend. She looks at me after a typically verbose explanation and says, “So you’re shedding.” Ding, ding, ding! Yes, that. And before you know it, I had moved on to reading and nerd fixating about shedding in various animals, but mostly snakes. My brain felt beautifully blown up by the simplicity of all I found. Maybe the reason some learning takes so long is because we are trying to reinvent the fucking wheel when the mirror of Creation is right in front of us.
Things Snakes Taught Me About Letting Go:
- The shed skin can be up to twice the length of the actual snake because of how densely the skin cells are wrapped. Oh. Okay, so, it’s not just me that this is taking so long for? It’s supposed to take this long. Awesome, I’m right on time.
- Lack of moisture can lead to incomplete shedding. I hear a whole room of junior high kids laughing as I ask this next question, but here goes anyways: what makes you moist? What hydrates my soul, your soul, the soul of our society if we still have one, in order that it can outgrow the things that hold it back? Reading this simple snake fact brings me deep quiet. Moving water has always enthralled me, pulled me back from the brink after too long days. The reverence I felt at Niagara Falls this summer…my soul was doing what it needed to do without me having the exact playbook or why of it all.
- Incomplete shedding around the eyes can lead to blindness if not corrected. And as one website went on to say, in nature a blind snake is a dead snake. Yes, I want to feel like I have shed old limitations, roles, habits, etc., but from blindness back to more integrated degrees of health, takes time. A few years back I told a therapist, “I feel like I have ten years worth of ignored transitions to deal with.” At a certain point we know the effect of incomplete shedding, and have to dive in and start to work where we can. The websites all agreed that an owner might have to assist a snake with incomplete shedding by soaking it in a tub or misting it while it sheds. And although I have not bought a spray bottle (yet?) to spray myself with, the visual amuses me.
- Besides growth, shedding is necessary to help rid the snake of parasites that have clamped on to its skin. Do I need to say more about this one? Well I’m not going to–let the part of your brain where metaphor tromps around have a field day with this!
- After shedding a snake often takes a big ol’ poop (note: no website actually used the phrase ‘big ol’ poop’ in a scientific fashion, but I find the word ‘defecate’ entirely too fancy for the act of pooping). So after you let go, you let go again? I’ll admit, this one has me stumped and intrigued. It is definitely stuck in my brain in the last week that I’ve known it.
Getting back to my original worry, I don’t really know the purpose for writing this, or what it will shift in my/your daily practice of release. At the very least, I can keep swimming with these lessons a few miles further thanks to these new goggles.