Life as I’ve known it has come to an end more than once during my lifetime. The end of my life as I’ve known it, until this point, has not meant the end of my life. What I’m learning about endings seems relevant in a larger context. Things as they have been in our world don’t seem so solid these days.
My experience of grief at times of ending has revealed “a taker” in me. I’ve been slow to acknowledge the “taker” and unwilling to include her. I know “the taker” is present when I try to avoid grief or get through it quickly. In my resistance to feeling grief, I notice subtle ways in which I am aligned with the dominant Western culture I am part of, and am “on the take”. It’s very uncomfortable to sit with this.
My ability to feel grief at endings is made more challenging because my Western upbringing did not place value in the richness of endings and “the dark” times. In fear of loss and darkness, my upbringing fed me lies about what “progress” means; sustainable growth, endless light and that everything always gets “better”. But this isn’t true, even if many people believe it. The truth is richer, complex and messy.
Every seed I have lovingly (greedily?) planted in my life has had within it a beginning I wanted. But in that same seed has also been the end of whatever it is I wanted to begin. What does this say about me that I wanted the budding and blooming but not the eventual fading and death of whatever I started? I think it says that if I won’t lovingly include, tend and value endings, I am “on the take”. Paying attention now to being “in the give” of life during endings not just “on the take” in beginnings, I find in endings a release and return. This awareness of release and return at ending times is what I’m calling Labyrinth Consciousness.
There is an ancient myth that tells the story of Theseus, Ariadne, Ariadne’s Thread and a fearsome Minotaur living at the centre of a Labyrinth. The Minotaur didn’t belong in the Labyrinth and how he got there is another story. But the devouring monster was slain by Theseus using a plan hatched by Ariadne. The success of her plan depended on both of them staying connected to and following Ariadne’s Thread.
Once upon a time, a Labyrinth may have been more than a symbol. It could have been a physical place where people envisioned themselves walking on their journeys, threading their ways through cycles of life, death and rebirth at times of transition in their lives. In this fertile darkness of the Labyrinth lived a Goddess. Her role was to guide mortals and help them through the dark, frightening and difficult times. The “thread” of connection to her got lost along the way and the Minotaur took her place until Ariadne and Theseus hatched their plan. Years later, we are restoring the space.
The myth doesn’t reference the mess I imagine was left in the Labyrinth once the Minotaur was slain, or the aftermath of years of destruction and violence in what had been a sacred space. During the time the Minotaur occupied the Labyrinth, nothing was able to return safely to the tomb from which new life could emerge. And after the Minotaur was slain, his rotting carcass was part of what remained to clean up.
Clearing the remains of the Minotaur involves many things and includes debunking cultural lies about the dark. In my own experience, restoring Labyrinth Consciousness supports my ability to sit in the dark. In the dark, my eyes adjust and seeing becomes a felt sense, a knowing. I rediscover the creative power of endings and fertile darkness in daily life. Without fertile darkness nothing new can grow and death is experienced as failure and something to be “saved” from. When darkness and death are reviled, and there’s no fertile darkness, the creative process is absent. And then, we can only extract what’s already present until it all runs out. This is the result of a results driven greedy life, “on the take”, with no understanding of the restorative role endings play in a return of what has been given.
Today we face into our endings and losses, grieving as best we can in a culture that places no value on this part of any creative process. Inevitable endings are many; children leave home, marriages end, jobs get cut and loved ones die. In my own life, I haven’t personally had any role models who exemplify trust and an ability to sit with the reality of any of these endings. But I am learning to return to and be in the dark for it is part of a return to my own Feminine nature. And these days it seems, there’s a cresting wave, an incoming tide of returning fertile darkness; a restoration of Labyrinth Consciousness.
With respect to death and endings, it is terrifying to both the spirit and the matter we are composed of when we have no connection to the role of fertile darkness in being human. Separation from it renders us lonely and bereft of comfort in times of endings. The stuff we are made of, humus, is not simply decomposing organic matter. For all our advances, science can’t yet explain what humus is precisely. We know it’s a highly complex substance and without it, there is no life. But science still can’t fully explain the magical substance we’re made of. It’s dismissed as dirt, soil, or earth. But the ground and earth we walk are not separate from us. We belong. We are made of the same matter and the sacred spirit in each of us is in the humus we run through our fingers in the gardens we tend and the woods we walk.
In times of loss, our culture pressures us to give our attention to the next thing so quickly. We end up moribund, wrapped around with new experiences while the remnants of what has not ended in us lies unattended and decaying in an inner space that is a sacred place; Labyrinth consciousness. Those moribund wrappings around treasures we haven’t let go of hold us out of a returning cycle that would otherwise be renewing and restorative. The personal work of clearing and cleaning is ongoing inner work as we deal with the remains of the Minotaur. This is the loving commitment to restoring Labyrinth consciousness.
When we try to avoid grief and only want to experience getting more, getting better and getting fixed, we are “on the take”. This is the end result of having stripped out the Feminine and Labyrinth consciousness; the dark is empty and sterile. To restore life giving powers to the dark we need simply reengage with endings, loss and death in active, inclusive and honourable ways.
Most people have heard of the five stages of grief developed by Elisabeth Kubler Ross some 30 years ago. These five stages (denial, anger, bargaining, depression and finally acceptance) were a start, an attempt to understand the process of dying and grieving. But it doesn’t end there or address the necessary and creative role of loss and dying. The five stages have become another strategy, a way to take control, to map and to claim essentially Feminine territory by “experts”.
Loss, endings and death have value. They are as precious as life and giving. They are inseparable and this territory belongs in the Labyrinth where the path through is guided by other eyes, gentle eyes, and the journey is one of return and belonging. In the Labyrinth, grief is held in a context large enough to welcome the seed of death that is planted when we seed a birth. While that doesn’t make the ending less painful, it is unifying rather than isolating. It is an experience of being in flow rather than being senselessly ripped out of it, and it is an awareness that nothing and no one lives forever. Life does go on, but not necessarily my life, and certainly not as I’ve known it.
If I welcome, celebrate and value only the birth, growth and full bloom of my seeds and recoil from and reject fading, shedding and death, I am on the take. When I am on the take, I am complicit in the violence and occupation of the territory of the deep Feminine by devouring forces. My own way through this complicity includes the clean-up and restoration of Labyrinth Consciousness by including and valuing endings, loss and death in my daily life. In this way, “the taker” in me is learning to submit and give back what cannot be held on to anyway.
From where I sit, it looks like life as we’ve known it is coming to an end on this planet. What happens next depends in part on what kind of darkness we move into; the stripped out darkness of “the taker” or the full fertile darkness of the Labyrinth. We can each only reclaim the ground we stand on. But it’s all we’re asked to do. And this individual work, no more and no less, reclaims and restores Labyrinth consciousness, step by gently guided step.