Was listening to a webinar yesterday led by Fabienne Frederickson on the breakthrough mindset of successful people, and she said something about “those times we’d rather not re-live.” I was struck by her very careful word choice… We all know the times she’s talking about: those times that squeeze and even pinch us. The ones where we’re struggling to get a breath. Where our sources of comfort turn brittle.
The places that show us that we’re still not over those abandonment issues. Where the sense of betrayal is so intense it becomes physically palpable. I remember one such time, I literally heard my heart breaking. It made a sound- like cloth being ripped down the middle.
I noticed that she didn’t say “those times we all wished had never happened” or “those times we’d rather forget”. She said “those times we’d rather not re-live.”
There is an acknowledgment here. A nodding to the difficulty, of course, but an awareness of the role that difficulty played in making us who we are today. Like bones that need the muscles to pull on them and create resistance to keep them strong, so too do we need those difficult times to lengthen our souls so we can reach to the sky.
Remaining in that awareness keeps our heart and mind open so that we can effectively navigate the rocks and choppy waters when we’re in them. In the tale of Vasilissa, the little doll in her pocket often replies “Say your prayers. Get your rest. The morning is wiser than the evening.”
When we find ourselves in the middle of a crisis, stepping back to surrender to the moment brings us peace. That peace enables us to see solutions we would be blind to if we let anxiety and fear take over. When anxiety reaches a certain level, it literally severs dendrite connections in the brain. When the anxiety levels reduce, the dendrites will reconnect- like a game of Red Rover. Its easy to understand how rising fear and anxiety levels diminishes our ability to find the solutions right in front of us. We need to find our rest.
Once rested, it all seems to fall in to place. Things don’t seem as terrible as we’d thought. We’re on the other side; we got past the trolls under the bridge. We’ve made it through the night and find ourselves in the light of morning.
So was all that really necessary? Did we have to go through all that to get here? As Joseph Campbell would ask, what is the gift in that dark place? (I love how this post handles that question! I mean, what do you do when your hood pops up and smashes your windshield while driving down the road?? I got all kinds of messages from my closet collapsing, I can only imagine how much she was able to mine from that experience).
Returning to the story of Vasilissa, at first glance, it’d be easy to say that the work she’s forced to do for her step mother and step sisters and the work she does for Baba Yaga are equally soul-crushing, yet both are freeing her in different ways. Both are teaching her vital lessons about who she is, who others are, and how the world works. Both are teaching her about power- though in different ways.
It is because of this work, because of this hardship–not in spite of it– that Vasilissa is able to return home with the light of Wisdom gone before. Because of having worked through the difficulties that this light- scary though it is- is her helpmate rather than an adversary.
For Christians, today is a yearly reminder of the power of those hard places and dark times. Easter morning is a celebration of the triumph of the light, the return of spring after a hard and long winter–a theme in religions and cultures round the world and throughout recorded time… yet there would be no celebration had there not been the cave. No heart-expanding world-shifting forgiveness had there not been such deep betrayal. This is where the Christ figure paves the way and shows the example– release of bitterness when faced with persecution from those he’d helped. Forgiveness at the hands of betrayal. Reaching for connection in times of abandonment.
The tendency to close down and harden in such times is fierce. To choose instead to open up and soften –after a period of solitude– unlocks a deeply transformative power into our lives and in those around us.
How do we do that? Release our grip on resentment and bitterness. See how we contributed to our relationship with the metaphorical step-families in our lives. Look past our fear of the Baba Yagas to see what they gave us. Choose openness and dialogue instead of walls and defenses. Practice looking past what makes us afraid to the Love it has to offer.