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Into a Dark Wood
My candle flickered orange last night as the desert sun sank below the horizon line and the sky burned an orange trail following her down out my window. My sound bath still played as I stirred out of my inner territory meditation, the place I needed to wander a bit more through a moment from earlier this week. An origin point I named. A place where a piece of me begins, where a long thread is tethered, one I keep pulling, one that keeps piling at my feet. I opened my eyes to the darkened room and reached for my laptop knowing our paths here have a way of winding toward one another, overlapping and intersecting and running alongside each other, as we find our way. Candlewax pooled in the amber jar throwing shadows on all my bedroom walls, and I wondered if maybe your paths run through a dark wood like mine do.
“Go out in the woods, go out. If you don't go out in the woods nothing will ever happen and your life will never begin.” -Clarissa Pinkola Estes, WWRWTW
There is a line on my map, carved deep into the topography of me. I’ve walked this road so many times. Again and again I have found myself cloaked and hooded out along this way. When the other shoe drops. When survival mode hits. When the sucker punch lands. When a disappointment settles in deep into the cracks between my dreams. When I haven’t even caught my breath from the last time I set foot in this haunting. Sometimes this part of my map resembles the frown line that drops from the left side corner of my mouth. Barely visible, I can trace the crease with my fingertip, that line that showed up five years ago when fear had me by the throat peeking out between window blinds to make sure my house wasn’t being watched and grief had me shaking in the shower unable to envision a way to rebuild what had been lost. Sometimes this part of my map looks like the peaks and valleys on EKG’s and MRI’s. The lines that gave me language for the toll I already knew had been taken beneath the surface of my skin and the images on scans reinforcing how my body always tells the truth. And sometimes this part of my map looks like the entrance to a dark wood. Maplines leading straight toward a tangle of dead branches curved overhead, long-since bare from the chill in the air, the temperature that seems to drop right at the blackened treeline.
I’ve been here before.
Enough times to recognize the way the light changes,
how the bird song is exchanged for the crow’s caw,
how yellow eyes blink from the shadows.
Enough times to think I no longer scare so easily,
until I jump with the snap of a twig underfoot.
I know the way through by now.
I know how to let my eyes adjust to the dark and mark the trees to find my way back.
I know to wrap my cloak around me tight to keep out the cold and keep my hood up to go unnoticed.
Deep grooves along this dark wood path remind me of exactly where I’ve been.
Well-worn routes I have trudged through knee-deep and dug out with my bare hands.
How my fingernails bled. How my tears kept this ground soft.
This is where I first encountered my dark wolf. In a clearing under the moon.
This is my own territory. A part of my terrain I no longer fear.
And yet this time the dark wood feels different.
SLOW BURN is in her final legal review stage and this week we met with our publisher and our agent on behalf of the heaviest parts of her content and the pieces of her that require the most precision and support. The weight of the meeting matched the gravity she bears and yet felt so deeply good in the spoken words of belief and unwavering support we continue to receive from our team as we let her stand. In all her vulnerability and with all her own maplines drawn in the softest scar tissue where deep cuts once left a trail of blood, our beautiful book stands on her own.
And yet, she has never stood alone.
Neither have we.
Last night’s meditation was the first time I’d entered the dark wood of my inner territory and not been alone. The first time I’d entered the dark wood and not felt dread deep in my belly or a twinge of pain in my chest. Instead, a rooted sense of interconnectedness spread in every direction. As if the dark wood is finally not just an ashen marker on my map, but the shrouded forest is of me, within me, belongs to me, roots spreading from me. The wood was no less dark. There were no fewer shadows, no less danger. The air still carried a biting chill, and no less barren trees still loomed overhead. But this time so many little flickers of flame lit the way. Sarah walked along the path too, cloaked with her own hood pulled up around her face and her own flame casting shadows under her eyes. We sensed trusted hands at our back and the heat from so many little torches lighting the forest on either side of this path all the way to a bonfire with enough wood piled high to last until the sun rises.
This gathering is already underway.
The work that has already been done has gone up ahead and prepared a clearing beneath the canopy.
This space that had once housed my fear and trembling, isolation and the shiver that ran up my spine each time the wind changed now hosts a collective storytelling. So many beautifully haunting tales, stories from so many other shadowlands passed hand to hand, threaded through and woven together, unafraid of the dark.
I lay low and press my cheek to the dirt to listen
For the earth of me to breathe
For the roots connected underneath me to hum
For the pulse below me to keep time for this deep hymn
I once thought of the dark wood as a place merely to survive. To get in and get out with your life. A place that happens to us. I know better now. I know when we are safe in ourselves and with each other, the dark wood becomes a really great place to set up camp. A place where constellations can be seen most clearly and our stories told most honestly. Where the world around us is quiet and the only sound is the blood coursing through our veins.
The dark wood becomes a place we can enter into and stay awhile because it is not happening to us, it is of us.
I sensed the ground shifting under my body. A new line scratched its way along my map into the dark wood making loops around the best spots for bonfires. Markers for the next time the night grows dark and the shadows grow long and a smoke swirl rises up through the ragged braches as a beacon. Maybe the embers will still be glowing from this gathering. Maybe the ash will still be hot from the last time we needed to convene. Maybe I will make my home in this forest where we tell our truths by firelight
Where we pressed our cheeks to the soft soil and listened
For the earth of us to breathe
For the roots of us to reach toward one another and hum
For the pulse below us to keep time for this deep hymn
and maybe I will forget to ever leave.
I blew out my candle on the coffee table last night and watched the smoke swirl up into the dark of the room. Nothing but the glow of my laptop screen to see by, my fingertips tapped away on the keyboard to tell you all about it. To tell you how we see your flickering flames in the distance. How the way you have already embraced our beautiful book bolsters her all the more. And how there is a bonfire gathering underway where your stories belong. The wood may be dark, but so are we. And our shadows belong just as much as our light. We know every time the sun rises, as it always does, the light pouring down through the trees will steal our breath once again and leave us in awe of our inner territories that have always been ours and the maplines where we overlap remind us we’ve never been alone.
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