I was born not far from the ocean and have lived most of my life within an hour of one of the two huge bodies of water that give our planet its distinctive color from space. Anyone who has spent any length of time along a coastline knows that drowning is not something that happens only in stories. Water is essential to life. We emerge from the nurturing, sustaining birth waters into time and space and light; and some of us are taken from time and space and light by the unleashed power of storms or riptides or tsunamis…by death waters.
It has felt to me this December into January that I am drowning not in water, but in darkness. The unleashed power of the dark has pulled me down deeper and deeper into silence, into a space of no-thing. For someone who has been described more than once as a control freak, this is not a particularly familiar (or comfortable) experience. Being in the darkness this year does not feel like rest to me; it doesn’t feel like sleep; it doesn’t feel like refreshment. It feels like dis-integrating. If seeds feel, I wonder if this is what a seed feels like in the earth just before it begins to expand into roots and stem.
I truly don’t know what is happening, but it seems to be happening to a lot of folks. Samhain feels like something more, something different to me as we start into 2015, something I have not experienced more than once or twice before in the six decades of my life, something like dying and — maybe — being reborn. And so I offer this meditation, taken from a book I wrote during my Jubilee year. It seems to speak again of hope and vision in this moment in my life. Perhaps it will speak to you, too.
Close your eyes if you are comfortable doing that, or you may prefer to use the flame of a candle as a focal point to help your mind be still. Become aware of your breathing and allow it to be slow and deep, until you feel centered and calm.
It is night and you are standing in a forest glade with three companions. The first is a young girl, before the age of puberty. The second is a woman, large with child. The third is an old woman, long past the age of bearing. This is the night of the new moon and so you stand in the glade with only the faint light of the stars to guide you.
Ahead of you is the entrance to a cave. You have come here, on this night, to enter the cave. You will spend the night in prayer while your companions guard the entrance to the cave. Pause a moment to name what you are feeling.
Now you cross the threshold of the cave. There is no light here, but you move forward surely and confidently. The path begins to slope downward and you walk for some time deeper and deeper into the earth until you come out of the tunnel into a large cavern.
You cannot see the cavern, but you can feel the space arching high above you and extending all around you. In the middle of the cavern is a rough-hewn stone bench, long enough for you to lie down on. It is very cold and it is absolutely dark and still. Take a moment to name what you are feeling.
Now allow yourself to slide into deep prayer or meditation.
Feel yourself sinking like a stone through water, deeper and deeper into connection with the divine within and without.
You have a choice. If you allow yourself to continue to drift downward, deeper and deeper, you will be entering death. Whenever you wish to stop, you can simply call the stone that is your spirit and it will drift upward in the water until you return to full awareness. You can then leave the cave and return to your companions. Take a moment to decide what you wish you do.
If you decide to return to consciousness, simply retrace your steps and return to the glade.
If you decide to continue, remember: you are experiencing death.
As you drop deeper and deeper into the water, your consciousness of your human identity slips away from you like bubbles rising to the surface. At some ultimately deep place, the stone comes to rest. For some unmeasured time, it lies at rest. Then, with a flash of light, it cracks apart.
Within the stone is a glorious jewel. Call to it. Name it and call it to you. It will rise, gently and steadily, up through the dark water until it “clicks” into place within your meditating body.
When you are ready to bring this new and glorious life into the world, you rise from the stone bench and leave the cavern. You feel different. Take a moment to name what you are feeling.
When you are ready, step across the threshold of the cave into the glade and into the presence of your companions.
Then, return gently to this time and place. When you have returned fully, open your eyes gently and be welcome.
Then receive this poem-pondering:
Why, once upon a time,
did I think that baptismal waters would cradle me in safety?
I have stood too many hours on the edge of ocean
where even the surface destroys those who dare too much.
How did I imagine that all-the-way-under would keep me safe?
Even my mother’s womb (warm and barely sloshing) wasn’t safe;
it threw me out on the shore of life
like Jonah gasping for breath
clawing for a handhold
until one day the backward ebb will finally win
will carry me down deep,
leaving behind the bubble of a final breath to stir the surface like Siloam
as my time-born body breaks slowly open,
spirit pouring out,
free again to risk everything becoming…
Text © 2015, Andrea La Sonde Anastos
Photos © 2009, 2012 Immram Chara, LLC