This winter, the emotional landscape of my life perfectly aligns with the season. As darkness increases and foliage dies off, I’m being asked to let go, to empty, to shed that which no longer fits. Late summer and fall were a time of massive upheaval and transformation. My relationship with my live-in partner ended, I unexpectedly lost a job, and subsequently moved out of the city I had called home for four years. Destabilizing would be an understatement. As winter rolls in, I’m finding myself in a period of prolonged emptiness and uncertainty. As it turns out, this is not my favorite phase to be in, and I’m battling some heavy resistance. Yes, I have a compelling vision for what I desire in my “new life” but alas, I haven’t stepped into this reality yet. The grieving and releasing phase is taking much longer than I’m comfortable with.
During this time, I’m comforted by the brilliant Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes’ concept of life/death/life universal cycles. Dr. Estes posits that our lives (creative, relational, healing) operate in life/death/life patterns where we incubate, build up energy/ideas, birth, and then slow down, release, and empty. In the open space, new life eventually arises. In the midst of a particularly pronounced “death and release” cycle, I’m struck by how much I prefer the life/accumulation end of the spectrum. I feel addicted to it even. This appears to be common, as we are not taught to value the death phase of the cycle. As such, we often undervalue and resist the letting go, the emptying out, the metaphorical and seasonal winter...
The preference for the life part of the cycle manifests as imbalances at multiple levels. I feel it deeply in myself and witness it pervading our culture. Ecologically, we see the perils of overly focusing on the life/accumulation part of the cycle in the overconsumption of stuff and the pillaging of natural resources. Accumulation of stuff makes us feel impervious to death---as if by solidifying our identities with enough material goods, perhaps we’ll transcend death.
Biologically, we resist the full cycle by living out of sync with the rhythms of nature and our bodies. We ignore our biological rhythms by resisting relaxation and sleep. We become addicted to constant production and accomplishment and its accompanying stress hormones. We may even find ourselves overdoing until sickness arises.
In our intuitive, emotional lives, we resist a necessary death cycle when we ignore the deeper whispers of our soul. The small voice within gently alerting us that it’s time to let go of something that is no longer working. Fearing and avoiding the release/death part of the cycle, we overstay in jobs that don’t serve us, cling to relationships that don’t speak to our soul, or hoard clothes in our closet that no longer bring us joy.
It’s clear that living an authentic, soul-aligned life requires honoring these inevitable cycles of death and rebirth. There is deep wisdom in learning from the cycles of nature and embracing the season we find ourselves in. You may find a death cycle hits all areas of life at once (like where I’m at) or you may notice you are in different phases of the cycle in certain areas. Bringing awareness to where you’re at allows an honoring of each phase without judging any part of it as “good” or “bad”. Different skills and rituals are useful for different phases. For example, lots of rest, time in nature, and radical self-compassion are all deeply supporting me right now.
If we can get truly comfortable allowing death, releasing at the necessary moments, the appropriate rebirth will always emerge. I’ll admit, I’m eager for a time when my life regains a sense of stability and solidity. For now, I’m training myself to honor the emptiness as I know there is deep wisdom here. I’ll tend to this darkness as I prepare for new life to inevitably arise. And whether I like it or not, in order to live an authentic life, I’ll find myself circling through life/death/life cycles again and again.
Has anyone else found useful tools for honoring the “death” phase? How do you release with grace? What rituals or attitudes help?