This past week I went on retreat in the mountains. During my time away, I had the joy of reading some of Ursula K. Le Guin’s Earthsea series, a wonderful collage of fantasy stories about magic and sorcery. I followed an intuitive nudge to take these books with me, and they gave me quite an unexpected gift.
In the book The Tombs of Atuan we learn the story of Tenar, a young girl stolen from her family and placed as the high priestess over ancient Powers of the Earth. She loses everything, even her name, to become the hands of the darkness she serves. When Tenar is given a chance to escape, she discovers that to receive freedom she must lose all she knows yet again. It strikes her that it would be easier to die than to go forward, forgive herself, and build a new life.
Tenar’s story touched me deeply, and the book revealed a great truth: freedom is chosen, it is not given to us by something outside of ourselves, and the choice to be free can be a hard one and the journey arduous.
I’ve been sitting in a similar boat as Tenar, floating somewhere between my past and my future, wondering if I deserve the freedom I’ve chosen and if I can actually let myself fully have it. I’ve made great leaps forward and have released much, but the memories of old power games still haunt my mind and body. My past is not yet fully forgiven, so I went on retreat to sit with this and allow closure. The Earthsea books provided me with a surprising mirror so I could see my pattern more clearly.
In reflection, I realize freedom requires self-trust, the gritty kind that is displayed one brave choice at a time, one uncertain step after another. My steps are leading me beyond all I’ve known. Where I’m going there are no markers, for I’ve never walked this way before. The rules are different, because energy now responds uniquely to me each and every moment. There are no maps that can guide me and no guarantees. It is a brave adventurer that lets go of the safety of limitations to go beyond.
As fearless as my choices have been to date, and I have made grand leaps, I am now pressed up against a new choice point, perhaps the biggest one of all. I can sit on the edge of the cage door I’ve opened and dream about what it would be like to fly free into my mastery, or I can jump out into the experience and actually do it. Of course there is no net, and I know by now your wings show up only after you are in the air.
I’ve distracted myself from fully leaping by looking backwards, focusing on my physical limitations, and grabbing on to what is leaving. What I focus on naturally persists, so I’ve been weak and in pain and have not trusted my body to carry me into the new life I desire. This old form (which, let me tell you, has felt older by the minute) is the result of yesterday’s choices. I know my new form is in there too. I can feel it. The energy surges up in joy whenever I give it my attention. It is patiently waiting for me to embody it.
So why have I been hedging? Well, the old is pretty familiar! I know my old body and all its foibles like a dear friend, and I’m scared to lose it. But the reason I keep balking is actually bigger than that. Here the Earthsea books gave me another spot-on reflection (thank you Ms. Le Guin).
In A Wizard of Earthsea, we meet the sorcerer, Ged, who as a young child was full of pride and power and wanted more of them. In anger, he cast a spell that unleashed his own shadow, and it was determined to destroy him. At first Ged runs from his shadow, but he can’t escape it. His only hope is to turn and face what he created and integrate it as part of himself.
I know what this is like, for I once broke myself in two out of fear and self-loathing, and for many lifetimes I ran from the madness I had created. I realize now I split myself apart so I could experience the reunion, and this has been the lifetime of my integration. On my retreat, I heard to let the spells of the past go. They are the only things holding me back, and it is time now to realize my wholeness, trust myself, and receive the freedom I’ve chosen.
Old beliefs are the most potent form of spell casting. They bind us in a cage of “truth” that we built with our own words. To name something as “true” infuses it with energy. To unweave a spell is to pull the power out of a belief and live differently, regardless of past experience, regardless of current forms. So, to be free, I must act free now, and then my forms will follow.
Looking about me I see the vast space of an empty sky, one I have cleared by my own choice. The emptiness is unfamiliar and a bit intimidating. It is a blank slate where I can create completely new experiences. Can I trust myself enough to fly out into the void and birth new forms in my wake? I’ve been sitting on the edge of freedom, holding onto my memory of the past, but the spell is now unwoven and the sky awaits me. It is time to fly.
At the end of my retreat, I took a six mile hike back to an alpine lake. This lake and the valley it sits in are very special to me, but I have not been there in 15 years. I held it apart from me, afraid I couldn’t get there because of my physical limitations. Or, it dawns on me now, perhaps I was waiting to go there to celebrate a special rite of passage.
On my walk the sky was blue and the aspens a brilliant gold. My body felt strong and my mind amazingly free. I wept in joy when I arrived at the lake.
Sitting on the shore by my favorite rock and tree, I was held in the beauty of this place that is so special to my heart, and I realized new beginnings are available every moment, no matter the past, if we can but turn forward and embrace them.