So the moment that changed everything arrived. On a sunny day I was standing at the beach in the Netherlands, waves ahead of me, wind, people walking their dogs in the dunes, boats afar. And suddenly everything I had thought of to be myself had vanished. What was there instead, what filled me to the throat was complete and utter emptiness. Over a sleepless night, with a blink of an eye all the strength I had come to mistake for myself had gone, all the inspiration and vibrancy that had surrounded me for years had disappeared. What was there instead was a feeling of being overwhelmed, alone and surrounded by the shells of what I had once been.
I learned a lot that day. Something especially stuck with me. I had forgotten that there is a tremor that doesn't make your hands tremble but your bones. It's the tremble that shakes you at your very foundation and takes your heart right out of its place. It leaves you isolated from yourself, empty. Just wanting to curl up in that warm, far away place that was safe and dark and depriving of all responsibilities. Standing in the sand of the dunes I got to know this type of trembling. It almost crushed me.
How I got there I really don't know? Isn't this the strange thing with many changes in our lives? They just happen. We think we are out for a walk in the park and there we meet the dragon. We think we are crossing the street and suddenly it turns into our moment of crossing the Abyss. It's a tough lesson. But we don't get to chose which challenges are right for us. They just come at us. They throw us into places, experiences, encounters and we just get to deal with them - and grow.
It's been more than a month since this day now. I have arrived at a much better place since then. Calmness has helped, my wife has helped, my dog, my friends, good food, going slow - and just not being afraid. Actually that was my biggest learning: Even in the face of the Abyss there is no need to be afraid. There are good reasons to have respect, to be humble and smart and consider each next step along that cliff-line carefully. But fear doesn't help at all. I would describe 'fear' as the force that withdraws us from experience, that prefers blindness to vision because of the horrors it imagines. And that's the problem: fear makes us imagine rather than experience. It replaces experience with assumptions. Suddenly we are caught in a vicious circle: Because one imagination cannot be proven wrong by another. All things imagined are of equal truth and being. A nightmare cannot be proven wrong. It can only be lived through - and overcome by the naked fact that it is us who wake up in the morning, not the monster that followed. Fears are passages. Yet they can seem so dark they look like dead ends.
Unfortunately some of these passages can also be so narrow they strip off any clothes or masks we chose to wear. Sometimes they even strip of our skins. And we think we are dying, right in that black passages, without a skin, without anything to contain us and the dead end seems to have finally arrived. But then there is just enough breath for another step, just enough space for another foot... And we realise we don't even need a skin to walk. In fact we need very, very little to move on, to keep going in-spite of all the losses and pass through darkness.
A few years back I performed a solid four week rite of Saturn initiation. It was one of the most challenging experiences in my life, yet also one of the most enriching. Funny enough, during this long ritual experience I felt much more in control than during that bright day at the beach north of Amsterdam? I guess to me the difference was twofold: Firstly, during the Saturn rite I had deliberately and consciously set out to explore the painful aspects of this planet and secondly I had done so on purpose. I knew why I did it. Standing at the beach, tears in my throat, I couldn't even say where I was going nor what was happening and certainly not for what reason...
Before embarking on the four week Saturn rite I wrote a letter of intent. I gave written permission to Saturn to enter into my life and make his forces work on myself. I wrote this letter in the voice of Saturn addressing me. You can find a copy at the end of this post. The day at the beach reminded me that even though Saturn's rite had been finished, the permission I had given to him was still there. It continued to accompany me, like a quiet river underneath the earth. A bound once struck with a spirit cannot be unbound easily - and clearly not just by moving on. If the spirit wants to, it will always move with us like that river underneath. So when Saturn had the impression that my life, my whole personality needed some severe changes, he didn't check in to ask for permission again. He just approached - like the sting of an insect - and did what he had to do...
So what has changed since then? Well, I said the day at the beach changed everything. I guess that is as true as it is wrong. What did shift on that day was the basis of my self-perception. I found a new place from which to look at myself and others. I think in recent years I had become increasingly focussed on helping others as well as myself to advance on a magical or any chosen life path. Thus curiosity, strength and perseverance were skills that I had explored in depth and tried others to build up where necessary. The day at the beach and the following weeks painfully re-adjusted this focus and helped me find a new balance. It reminded me of how dark darkness can be and how powerless weakness can feel. Having intimately reconnected with these states helped me to appreciate them better. While intensely painful, the place I had visited wasn't hostile. Just like any place it simply did what it was meant to do. In this case stripping off strength, weakening, loosening up and sending a tremble through my bones.
I guess I know now how weak and powerless a manic-depressive must feel? It's only now I know what having empathy with them truly means. In just one moment you lose yourself. And instead of another person, another experience, another something in front of you, there is just emptiness. And it's long and hard and ardurous to endure this emptiness - as it seems to expand into all directions like a boundless, black void. And we don't know what will come or if it will ever change again. I guess these are the moments when we can hang on to nothing but our believes? It's letting go and trust what we need. It is what Saturn reveals to us when he has taken off all of our masks.
The raw skin beneath the mask has grown tougher already. A lot of strength and joy and calmness have returned since that day. I know the tides might shift again; they most likely will at some point in the future. Yet I also know I got some wonderful resources which protect and nourish me even under most severe conditions. Want to get to know a few of them? Well, they are truly beautiful friends. Almost invisible in plain daylight - as they come clothed in everyday action...
- Eat good food. Well, maybe that's just me? But treating myself to good food, especially when cooked by myself has the purest therapeutic effect on both my body and mind.
- Hold on to your rhythm. Don't let go of the rhythm you were happy with before - unless it was imbalanced. In my case holding on to my regular routines, bed and sleep times was a big help.
- Avoid drugs. If your mind and body are out of balance the last thing they need are substances that amplify inner dynamics. What they need is time and patience. So try to reduce or avoid coffee, alcohol, sleeping pills, etc.. For me it's herbal teas instead.
- Acknowledge your fears. Spend time in a safe place trying to find out what you are afraid of. What really is the worst thing that could happen? As magicians we are relatively familiar with sudden life changes. So what triggers me? Often we will find our emotions don't stem from logical concerns or conclusion. That alone is a huge relief for our rational mind.
- Accept your emotions. When I am afraid, I am afraid. And until I acknowledge this fear and give it some space, it will grow on me. In my case I found my fear in my stomach, a nervous bone-chilling tremble. I cupped it into my hands at night and pulled it into my chest. That's where I stroked it until it turned into a purring cat.
- Remind yourself that you are many. While I was stroking and sheltering the fear-cat on my chest, I also was that cat. At the same time we can give shelter and demand shelter. That is because we are many, not one. Irrespective how loud one part kicks and screams on stage; always remember there is a whole ensemble waiting behind the curtains to support.
- Share control. When dealing with sudden life changes or significant threats to our way of being, we have to acknowledge that we are not in control. Trying to increase our level of control just makes things worse - and ourselves more tight and helpless in the end. Rather than trying to dominate the process, we have to become good co-drivers.
- Find new questions. If we are a co-drivers and we hate where we are going we need to understand who is the driver? If this situation could speak, what would it say to us? I once took a wooden mask in the desert and set it in front of me and had that conversation for several days. It's very much like talking to a spirit in ritual. It actually might be the very same thing.
Here is to the first sunrise after the storm. Here is to the calm in the morning. Here is to this strange planet that never stops turning, completely irrespective of how we feel or do. Isn't it most pleasurable, most satisfying and liberating to know: we simply don't matter. And that's why we are so wonderfully free.