“The world rests in the night. Trees, mountains, fields, and faces are released from the prison of shape and the burden of exposure. Each thing creeps back into its own nature within the shelter of the dark. Darkness is the ancient womb. Nighttime is womb- time. Our souls come out to play. The darkness absolves everything; the struggle falls away. We rest in the night.”
― John O'Donohue, Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom
Isn’t it always best to focus on helping in real tangible ways like the valiant health and support workers all across our globe? Like those searching for cures - mass producing masks & ventilators - growing food & farming and endless other absolutely vital tasks?
Yesterday I was full of these questions - full of doubt. I doubted myself and even the relevance of the mythic and fairy - tale adventures of those fictional characters that have so absorbed my attention my entire life - but especially over the last 16 days of writing Hold the Light.
I didn’t post yesterday. I was exhausted. Somehow I had lost my way - nothing came from my pen - nothing worth publishing that’s for sure.
"I don’t think a I can do it today," I told my husband.
"There’s nothing there."
Turns out I needed to rest - like Dante and Virgil on their way up the Mountain of Purgatorio, where travelling at night was forbidden. Rest was deemed crucial to whoever made the rules there - as it was for Tolkien’s Questers and numerous others.
And I needed to rest too. So we went for a long bicycle ride in the country - side; I wrote Easter cards to my mum and daughter, both far away - my husband then lit a lovely fire - and we settled down - not so much to watch the constant stream of harrowing news - but a good film - a story.
Then I knew or rather remembered that yes - of course - stories do have meaning - great meaning infact - for all of us and maybe even more so when times are uncertain. And so it has always been, since people first used language. They give us time out too, relaxation - but and crucially, they help us reflect - and of course myths, legends and fairy-tales help us particulary in this way. It is their job.
"Stories are medicine. I have been taken with stories since I heard my first. They have such power; they do not require that we do, be, act, anything -- we need only listen."
- Clarissa Pinkola Estés
With rest there is time to dream again, to renew our tired limbs and tired minds. I remember as a child learning about medieval crop rotation - about how there always had to be a fallow field. Even nature has to rest - to stop putting out - in order to re-generate & not become depleted in her goodness.
There’s a lovely story that came to mind this morning told by Clarissa Pinkola Estes in her seminal book, Women Who Run with the Wolves. I recommend it for any one in times of exhaustion. Copyright prevents me re-printing it here of course. So here' s a little impromptu summary and adaptation
It begins long ago and far away, although closer than you might first think - the night was dark and an old man, a very, very old man, with long, yellow teeth as I remember - and a long beard, white as snow, stood peering into the darkness, straining to see ahead - for his eyes were old and worn out. In his hand he carried a lantern with the stub of a candle flickering within it. And in the far, far dstance - another light could just about be seem - in a distant cottage window- and it was this light - toward which the old man stagggered - step by slow step - and with each step he took, he grew more and more weary and the little light in his lamp grew dimmer and dimmer. Yet still he trudged on even though his poor limbs ached and seemed to grow heavier with each slow step.
Well the hours passed by and very, very gradually the old man drew close to the little cottage from which the light shone forth. And not long after that he arrived there - and the door opened wide and a plump, jovial woman with rosy cheeks and a white apron gathered him up in her arms, carried him close to fire side, set him on her lap and warmed him through.
"There, there," she said softly, "There, there."
And throughout the night she rocked him in this way and every now again repeated her comforting words,
"There, there. There, there."
And the strangest thing happened - for with every hour that passed - the old man grew younder and younger. And by the time the birds began to sing, just before dawn next day - he was transformed into the young lad he had once been - with bright blue eyes and curly golden hair.
she whispered, one last time - and she plucked three goldren hairs from his head and threw them in the fire - where they made the most mysterious pinging noise. She then put him down from her lap. He looked up at her with a playful smile and laughing, he ran off to become the rising sun.
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