In her book Every Last Kiss, Courtney Cole tells this story of the mythical Phoenix:
“But the Phoenix is not remarkable for its feathers or flames. It is most revered for its ability to climb from its own funeral pyre, from the very ashes of its old charred body, as a brand new life ready to live again once more. Life after life, it goes through this cycle. It absorbs human sorrow, only to rise from death to do it all again. It never wearies, it never tires. It never questions its fate. Some say that the Phoenix is real, that it exists somewhere out there in the mountains of Arabia, elusive and mysterious. Others say that the Phoenix is only a wish made by desperate humans to believe in the continuance of life.
But I know a secret. We are the Phoenix.”
How many times have you gone through a time of transition feeling stuck in the darkness of unknowing? If you’re anything like me, that number is probably very close or equal to the number of times you’ve gone through a transition. There are several terms I use to describe this psychological place of in-between: the messy middle, liminal space, and the phoenix cauldron. These terms help me name the feeling of being uncertain about where my next step lies, especially when I’m in the midst of moving from one life stage or situation to another, and I’m not yet sure of what the new space will look like.
Right now I’m sitting right in the phoenix cauldron. I have some ideas about what is coming next, but the path is pretty murky as far as “what to do”, and I have gone through enough of these kinds of transitions to remember that trying to push something that isn’t ready to happen not only makes me feel anxious and cranky, it also doesn’t work out well. It is these times that ask me to rest in faith that the unfolding will happen over time and that my work is to stay centered so that I can say “yes” and “no” from my authentic self…not the ego-place that wants to look good by telling someone how much I’ve accomplished.
Eight months ago, I moved from the place I’d been living for 17 years. I’d raised my daughters there, and the youngest was moving on to college. The oldest had been in college for 2 years. I was engaged to be married and had been planning my move for about 18 months. It was time to go. My heart was ready to live with my partner, and my sense of adventure was fully activated. I was ready!
And, even with all the preparation, with all the excitement of the new calling to me, with all my careful planning and conscious choice about ending my time in my former city with care and love, with all my self-talk of “I know I will have to rebuild my business over time.” and “I know I’ll have some days of feeling a bit lost.”…even with ALL that I am still experiencing times of frustration, confusion, anxiety, and discontent that things aren’t moving faster. I still don’t know how my work will unfold. I have bits and pieces of what I used to do, and I truly enjoy those parts.
Yet, I also have a very strong feeling that as I emerge from this time of rest and rebirthing (whenever that is), I will find that my work looks different from what it has been and different from what I imagined. This space of not-knowing is a gift. Time to reflect and review what I like, what I want, how I choose to show up in the world is vital to the process of becoming more authentic and bringing my full Self into the light. Even when I feel cranky and frustrated with the swirling of smoke in this phoenix cauldron, I know deep within that until I burn away all that I am not and release the parts that weighed me down..the absorption of “human sorrow” that Courtney Cole talks about in the passage above…I need to stay right where I am, be still, and listen to my inner voice for guidance.
Soon enough it will be time to rise again, to take on the mantle of service, and show the world my vibrant phoenix feathers as I step into the world to do the work I’m meant to do in this time. I’m excited to see this new version of me! For now, I’m going to practice yoga, clean the house, ask for help when I need it, listen to my heart, take a walk outside with my dog, pet my cat sitting on my lap, turn on some music and dance in the living room, write in my journal, talk to friends, kiss my wife and tell her how much I appreciate her, and wait as patiently as possible for the smoke to clear.