This is our first Easter since the unfolding, relentless Saturn/Pluto cycle which began on 12th January 2020. The archetypal story of suffering, crucifixion, death – and rebirth, let us not forget! – which is at the core of the Easter message, feels profoundly appropriate now as our human community travels the dark night of the current corona virus crisis. At present we have no idea of when, or how, we will emerge. So we wait, and hope…
Here are my thoughts, which I first wrote at Easter Eve some years ago. They seem even more apt now:
photo: Anne Whitaker
“…There is a stillness about Easter Eve. Whether you are Christian, hold another faith, or none, the underlying archetypes of the Easter journey are common to all human experience.
We have all, unless we have led a supremely charmed life, been cast out into the wilderness at one time or another. Life has crucified us all, to a greater or lesser extent. We have been in the Underworld, have known what it is like to go through experiences so severe that we die to our old selves. Then there is the wait, the wait in darkness, fear, and not knowing.
Will we ever emerge, reborn? And when we do emerge, who are we now? Who recognises us, acknowledges and honours where we have been?
And the most profound question of all: what should we do with the life which has been given back to us?
As ever, in times of waiting, the great poets have been there before us, giving a context, bringing collective dignity to our individual struggles. Here are some magnificent lines from T.S.Eliot to see you through this dark night, before the Easter light returns:
“I said to my soul, be still and wait without hope, for hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love, for love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith, but the faith and the love are all in the waiting. Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought: So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.” …” (i)
(i) from T.S.Eliot ‘s “East Coker” No 2 of The Four Quartets
As followers of this site will know, I went through a profoundly testing – though ultimately enriching – descent into the Underworld and slow return during the period 2001-8. During this time of retreat I had to give up a busy and successful freelance career, and simply rest, grateful to be nurtured by my loved ones, until my life force returned. Reading and writing were major sustaining gifts – as was a deepening spirituality. I had the time to draft a memoir of my emerging spiritual life up until the age of thirty; not as a continuous narrative, but as a series of key episodes.
It is my intention from time to time to publish some extracts from the memoir, provisionally titled “Swimmer in a secret sea” on this site.
In the meantime, here are some of my musings from the Introduction to that memoir, as I reflect on the great significance of those first thirty formative years in all our lives.
(Although this post is intended for the general reader, those of you who are astrologers will recognise this archetypal thirty-year point as the first Saturn Return.)
If you are approaching turning thirty and finding it hard going, take heart! I have come across many people amongst my counselling clients, students and astrology clients for whom the period of 28-30 was very, very tough. They were certainly hard years for me. But most of us can look back and say “well, that was when I really began to grow up – life is much better now!”
‘ We truly are unique, each one of us. Only one person can live out your or my particular story. But there are certain archetypal experiences which most of us go through in the vital thirty years where we lay the building blocks for our future development as useful adults.
Inspiring people – if we are lucky, members of our own family as well as those met along the road – appear. Experiences which wake us up to new realities come our way. There are challenges or tests which we cope with as best we can. There are questions which are seemingly unanswerable, but will not go away. The longing to feel part of something greater than ourselves tugs at many of us. Deaths of loved ones in early life mark us deeply.
Intense love affairs can turn out well or badly. Friendships are forged which can deeply sustain and comfort us, in which we can show the best as well as the worst facets of who we are. Relationships with parents are revealed in varying contexts, leading us to a more realistic perspective on both sides.
We begin to realise that our most valuable educational experiences probably take place outwith academic institutions. We develop ambitions and set about trying to fulfil them. We deal with the raw joy of being alive, as well as the depths of its pain. We encounter the love that nurtures us, and the wounds that may make us wise in time.
From this long, testing and often painful process of submerging our dreams, questions and ideals in the acid bath of life as it actually is, hopefully we emerge with a good enough balance of optimism, resilience and mature realism to enable us slowly to begin to separate out from what we are never going to become. In this way, we begin to grow more fully into who it is we actually are, having taken a step further towards what the Buddhists call ‘forging the diamond soul‘ …”
USA’s bi-monthly The Mountain Astrologer magazine is recognised as being one of the world’s best quality astrology publications. They will shortly be producing and selling a CD featuring the Editor’s Choice of the best articles which The Mountain Astrologer published during the 1990s. I am pleased to say that the article I wrote in 1998, which features an astrological perspective on life’s thirty-year cycles: “The Cycles of Saturn: forging the Diamond Soul”, will be appearing in that collection. Those of you readers who are astrologers or astrology students, keep checking the site for details! As far as I know, the CD should be available from March 2010.
UPDATE: the CD came out on 13 October 2010. For details, click on link below!
At Christmas time 2004, having read about a dozen round robins arriving with their respective cards, all eulogising each family’s travels and achievements in the year just ending, I became seriously fed up.
The“Not the Xmas round robin” concept was born in that moment.
Life is not all sunshine and achievement as depicted in the standard end of the year card insert, I thought to myself. So why not produce something a bit different – a piece of reflection conveying some shadow as well as light, something more honest, something offering a bit of inspiration from our common experiences of being human ?
Since then I have written a “not the Xmas round robin” piece of end-of-year reflection for inclusion in my Xmas cards every year. People like it. So this year I thought I’d share it with you – my increasing band of loyal readers here at “Writing from the Twelfth House”.
“ Gloom we have always with us, a rank and sturdy weed, but joy requires tending.” Barbara Holland
As you legions of devoted fans of Anne Whitaker’s Annual Thought for the Day will be well aware by now, Ian and I have had a pretty hefty allocation of family and health difficulties in recent years although our overriding feeling continues to be one of gratitude for my full recovery from what I now think of(with a characteristic tinge of melodrama, but not that much!) as my Descent and Return from the Underworld, 2001-08.
There have been many consequences flowing from this experience, and I am very slowly beginning to appreciate what riches one can bring back from the Underworld – provided that the experience of Descent and Return is understood as part of “the stormy journey of the soul” and accepted in that spirit. (not easy, by the way!!)
One of the gifts for both Ian and myself – and probably the most important development of 2009 – has been a growing understanding of how vulnerable we all are behind our carefully crafted defences, how ephemeral this life is, and how quickly and brutally all that we thought we had can be taken from us.
Thus we have been learning to live as fully as we can in each day, never being too busy to stop and appreciate the many small but pleasurable moments in life therein.
The still watchfulness of the herons on the nearby River Kelvin. The delightful smile on nine month old neighbour wee Lauchie’s face, as he leans over to rub noses, his latest favourite trick. A peaceful cup of coffee whilst listening to children rehearsing carols in Princes Square, Glasgow’s elegant city centre shopping precinct, magically decorated at this time of year, during a pause in Xmas shopping on a wet and dreary Glasgow day. Having a good laugh, either at our own or the world’s stupidities (have you done your risk assessment before digging out the Xmas tree lights yet?!)
So the quotation above means a lot to me. It is easy to moan and buckle under life’s many pains great and small. But cultivating joy (if you can – I appreciate that life is simply too hard for many people in this world to be able to manage to do so) and living in the moment as much as possible has recently been confirmed by research as being the route to happiness.
So – let me and Ian confirm this truth for you for free. It works!
In conclusion, lest you are beginning by now to think I am losing my sardonic edge in the declining years, I leave you all, especially the over-50s, with this observation recently made to me by a rather cynical but witty person I know:
“Anyone over fifty who is not in pain for one reason or another, is dead!”
650 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2009
Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page
As regular visitors to this site will know, a long family crisis triggered my collapse with severe burnout at the end of 2001. I had to let go of a busy, creative life and rest for years. It took me until 2008 to recover my natural vitality, once more able to re-connect with the world from which I had had of necessity to retreat.
However, some of you may have come across the Chinese ideogram for crisis which contains the two concepts of threat and opportunity. Energy collapse deprived me of the one constant which I had always relied on to get me through whatever life threw at me – my strong will. I discovered – and this was a brutal, frightening discovery – that my will had collapsed along with my energy.
Thus I had to learn, very slowly, the value of letting life shape mewhilst lying on a couch much of the day, reading avidly and tapping my laptop. I discovered the virtues of passivity, and the creative space that opens up within when of necessity you do very little. I had to rely on the loving support of those closest – my husband, my brother and a small group of close friends, and remain full of gratitude for that constancy and care.
Fortunate to have a strong and rich inner life to draw on, a significant part of what sustained me was knowing that although this long ordeal was mine, it was also archetypal. As Stanislav Grof so vividly puts it, “the stormy journey of the soul” has been a central part of all human experience throughout the ages. I was not alone in my descent into the Underworld. It is a well-worn path. I also knew that through the tests encountered in the Underworld, your soul grows into a shape which more closely fits the essence of who you are meant to be. So I hung on, called upon Spirit to guide me, survived, and grew.
Now I am beginning to reap the rewards of that long crisis which was so threatening yet so full of opportunity. Offering out some of the fruits of retreat, I hope that these offerings may inspire others. All my life I have loved and been inspired by quotes. Here are two which I pinned up in our kitchen, absorbing their energy and wisdom when my own energy was perilously low.
I do hope you find them of value!
“It is far more creative to work with the idea of mindfulness rather than with the idea of will.Too often people try to change their lives by using the will as a kind of hammer to beat their lives into shape. If you work with a different rhythm, you will come easily and naturally home to yourself. Your soul knows the geography of your destiny. Your soul alone has the map of your future, therefore you can trust this indirect, oblique side of yourself. If you do, it will take you where you need to go.”
(John O’Donohue 1956-2008 was an Irish poet turned priest, whose writing merged Celtic spirit and love of the natural world )
“In the midst of winter
I finally learned
That there was in me An invincible summer”
This is a popular quote whose original source I have as yet not traced, but have come across a slight variation ie ‘within me there lay an invincible summer’ – different sites have different versions. Come on, detectives out there! Where in Camus’ writings does this quote appear? Let me know!