It’s A Good Day To Die: The Transition From Mother To Soul Guide
In a few weeks I will step into my 49th year. For the past many months, perhaps even a few years, something has been stalking me. In the beginning it was subtle, faint. I would catch something out of the corner of my eye, then if I turned to look, it would be gone. I was filled with the sense of imminence. In the last two months I have felt the speed of this process increasing. It's not like these things happen without plenty of warning. Two months ago the Earthquake Man looked outside our window to see a sharp-shinned hawk happily feasting on one of the mourning doves which frequent our backyard. Then a month ago as we drove back from New Mexico, I spotted something on the side of the road. Turning around and going back we discovered it was the body of a recently killed sharp-shinned. Two weeks ago, while driving to The Center I spotted something on the side of the road, only to turn around and discover it was the still-warm body of a great horned owl. Something was coming.......
I am the honored mother of two incredible young men: a 16 year old and a 19 year old. In the way of all things, it’s time for the 19 year old, Henry, to go. Everything in his programming necessitates that he must go. It’s part of the deal, the contract. If he doesn’t sever his ties to this family and head out on his own, leaving behind everything of his old ways, including his identity as my son, he will not truly discover his own way. He will not hear his true name. He will not find his fullest capacity. It is such a paradox that in order to find ourselves we have to lose ourselves. In order to live we must know how to die.
It’s such a symmetrical process, the one he is going through and the one I am going through; the energy that fills him is perhaps the same that is stalking me, though our tasks here are quite different. For Henry to emerge as his own man, as one who has come into contact with his true nature apart from his family and his old identity as ‘the son of...’ a part of him must die. As we sit and talk about the process of him moving out I can see this working in him. He is filled with the chemistry of adventure, of ‘no-doubt’, of ‘you can’t teach me anything’. And, beneath all that is a very understandable terror and heartbreak. Fleeting and not the strongest aspect of his experience, but nonetheless there.
My parallel process with him is that in order to allow this necessary nothing-personal process to take place (and to continue my own path as a woman in this world, moving from Mother to Queen/Elder) I, too, must give up a very formidable identity. I must let the ‘Mother’ of me go. Her skill set is no longer needed. Her job was to conceive, gestate, birth and raise this young one into his fledging years. Get him ready, to the best of her capabilities, for his true engagement with The World. Her prime directive is to keep him alive at all costs. The Mother is a paradoxical creature endowed with the capacity to be fierce, cunning and endlessly nurturing. She can sever the jugular of an approaching predator then pull her babe to her chest with blood still dripping from her fangs. She is not to be messed with. And she doesn’t give up easily. I feel this one so deeply in my DNA.
The Mother of me was wildly alive for a period this last summer when Henry came to us and told us he was addicted to heroin. As his mother, I sat up with him throughout the night while the heroin demon swirled around him in his detoxing process, witnessing him in his roar of rage, fear and a deep wish to just die already because the pain was so unbearable. “Am I going to die Mom!?” “No Henry, you just feel like you are dying. You won’t die.” in as soothing and wise a voice as I could find. I emptied wastebaskets of vomit, got hot cloths, stood in his rage as he screamed at me, telling me to leave him alone and go away, assuring him that I wasn’t going anywhere, trying to take nothing personally, feeling that unconditionally loving function of The Mother so alive in me, feeling my fierce protector rage at the opiate, like it was a hungry panther in the room, speaking out loud to it, “You cannot have my son anymore!! You are not welcome here!” That night I wished this heroin demon were corporeal so I could taste its blood and crush its bones.
We thought we were through the worst of it after that night but though the opiates were out of his system, Henry fell prey to other drugs, to alcohol and to shame. One particularly impossible day while I sat with Henry, The Mother attempting to convince Henry that he should give up substances, she diligently and dutifully caring more about Henry’s life than Henry cared about it himself, someone else arrived in me. I felt her presence palpably. She pushed The Mother aside and leaned in toward Henry. I could hear, in my mind, what she was about to say and it was horrifying. But I couldn’t stop her. Unlike The Mother this one was clearly not concerned with whether Henry lived or died. She was concerned that he step onto his true path, which didn’t assume that he would survive. Not everyone makes it. It’s not how the contract goes. In that moment, with Henry slumped on the couch filled with Xanax, coke and booze a shell of his former vitality, she leaned in and said, “If it’s your time to go then tell me, and I will help you make it quick. If you're really not supposed to be here, if you know that, then own it. Choose. We cannot stay in this place of nowhere any longer. If you want to live, then live. But if you need to go - if that’s what needs to happen here - then let’s make it fast.” I watched Henry in that moment. His back straightened and his breath caught. I watched something get through to him. I saw how being given a choice about his next steps, being asked to choose for himself, was critical. Offering him this choice went against every ounce of millennia-old determination living in The Mother of me - whose job is simply to keep him alive, no choices necessary, no matter what. Yet within seconds I saw that this new one was exactly who was needed at this time. The Mother kept him sheltered. It was time for Henry to choose. It was time for him to engage with his life on his own.
With the unending guidance of the most glorious crone I know, named Naomi Khan, I’ve come to know this new one as The Soul Guide. Rather than keeping her offspring safe, her prime directive is to offer them up to The World, to their journey, even if that means death. She does not believe she knows what is best for them. She trusts that if The Mother has done her job, The World will take over now and her offspring will find their way, whatever that way entails. It’s The Soul Guide’s job to assist in this offering, to serve her grown children up to The World. Heroin was definitely a necessary part of Henry’s engagement with The World. He is clear. During one of my visits out with him while he was in rehab he was describing a particularly horrific experience he had while in the worst throws of his addiction. It was an impossible image to have lodged in my brain (The Mother’s brain) - Henry pulled over on the side of the road shaking and convulsing because he had miscalculated and was withdrawing, waiting for a friend to bring Xanax so he was safe enough to drive. I began to weep, (The Mother of me began to weep), and I said, “I wish I were a surgeon and I would remove all these memories from your body. I don’t want them living in you.” and he replied strongly, urgently, “No! No mom. They are mine. These memories are mine and I need them. They are a part of me. I knew by the time I was 14 that I was going to do every drug out there.” Drugs, and the rite of passage they created for Henry, are an integral part of his path and, terrifying as this is to imagine, the Soul Guide can easily make peace with this. The Mother will always imagine her own failure here.
A few days ago I realized I was awash in this struggle between The Mother’s wants and The Soul Guide’s gaining strength. I felt compelled to do something to help The Mother on her way. I took the braid of Henry’s hair that I’d had since he was little, and I took a small straw effigy of Henry I’d created while in the back country on an Animas program five years ago - a thing I made after having a particularly vivid (and prophetic) nightmare about him. I went to The Center and retrieved the skull of the sharp shinned who had come to us on the side of the road. I took all these things and went out to the back of the woods at the Saw Hill Ponds and I dug a hole. Kneeling on the earth in front of the hole I spoke my promise and my expectation. I agreed that The Mother of me had done her job, fulfilled her contract with Henry and The World. She’d gotten him this far and was letting him go into the hands and heart of The World. I placed the braid in the hole and put some earth on it. “I’m turning Henry over to you now.” I placed the effigy of Henry on top of that and placed some earth on it. “I trust you will now keep him safe when he needs to be safe and allow him to find his way into danger when it’s necessary.” I placed the skull of the sharp-shinned on top of that, “Please...our young men need to have discernment in the world. They need to know their enemies and they need to know their friends. They need to move with stealth and cunning in this dayworld of demons.” In my bag I happened to have two identical silver rings that I used to wear on each index finger. I placed one ring in the hole and put the other on my finger, because though Henry no longer needs me as his mother, the world will always need mothers. And of course, at just 16, Simon still needs his mother.
I covered the hole with earth and built a stone spiral on it to keep these agreements moving, keep the contracts alive. I could feel it was time for me to stand up and walk away and I’ll tell you I could find almost no will in me to move from that place. My strong legs had become boneless. I remembered the stories I’ve heard of indigenous culture rites of passage for boys transitioning to men. How the mothers are held back, physically, as they wail and fight to hold on to their boys while the men of the village take them away into the wild, where they will find the young men of themselves under the night sky, with nothing but themselves to shelter them from their greatness and the possibility of death. I felt the heart-breaking grief of this process of conceiving, gestating and nursing life into being in order to turn it over to the larger process, trusting that it will all unfold as it should. I wanted to dissolve into the earth, into that place.
As if he knew what was happening, our elkhound Coda came bounding over to me and put his nose in my ear and his paw on my thigh as if to say, ‘it’s time to go now.’ We walked away, me crying and walking and celebrating and walking, him bounding with the energy and awe that is his constant state. And slowly, as I made my way to the trailhead, I felt the Soul Guide’s spine and breadth. I felt my breath and my gratitude for this process, for the fact that we are so utterly built for all of this: the heartbreak, the ecstasy, the uncertainty, the rage and the continued return to faith that the prime directive of Life will have its way with each of us exactly as it must.