It was almost my turn to speak. In our close and huddled circle, each person had already spoken in hushed voices and long pauses -- each taking time to go within, to listen and to wait -- bringing forward only what they had found to be true about their experience, sometimes with the look of astonishment as though they had just discovered something they didn't even know they knew. To sit with someone as they tell the truth is to witness something holy, one of the greatest gifts of our shared human experience.
Our teacher knew this and encouraged us to give the exercise the reverence it deserved. These circles are sacred and each time I entered one, I knew I could do one of two things: stay reasonably collected and share something familiar, something rehearsed even, or go to the edge of the ice, where the black water holds secrets and dip my cup in and see what is held in that inky depth.
I'm quite comfortable with the role of teacher. I lead exercises like this. Workshops like this. I travel places and watch strangers become soul friends. It's one of the things I most love about my work -- watching innocence unpeel its armor so it can stand in the world more raw, more powerful, more beautiful.
But there, in that circle, I was the student -- a less familiar position for me these days -- and I could feel the temptation to pull back, to filter and to stay away from the deep end.
I know my old habitual strategy by heart and I came to the workshop to burn what was left of me to ashes so I could see what might rise out of the remains. So when my turn came, I went to the place that I didn't want to go. I talked about feeling powerless in this world, I talked about my struggle with feeling worthy and how difficult it is for me to take up space -- always wanting to be an asset and never a liability. I talked about my secret Post-It notes that decorate the inside of my bedside drawers and medicine cabinet. The ones that say, "You're allowed to be here," and "You're allowed to take up space." I talked about how little I believe those notes and how envious I am of those who do.
Tears fell from my eyes as I shared and met the gaze of my witnesses, holding love and kindness. Each of them stayed with me as I shared what I found, none recoiling from the black water in my cup.
And then it was over. And lunch. I found a spot with a view of the sea and closed my eyes to the harsh autumn glare. Eyes still closed, I felt a woman's body next to mine. Touching shoulder to shoulder. A deliberate invasion into my personal space. My first instinct in moments like these is to pull away, scoot myself to a safe distance -- physically and emotionally. To hold myself away from unexpected intimacy. But I went with my second instinct, to allow it and to see what gift might be there for me.
When I opened my eyes, it was Tara, one of the witnesses from the previous circle. I do not remember what she said or how she said it. I just know that she sat with me there, shoulder against shoulder, looking out at the sea with me, letting me know that I had been heard, seen. Recognized. Her hand was on my back and she was not afraid to be this close to me. She was not afraid of showing this love. She was not afraid of me, of who she saw, or the depths of my inadequacies.
And then came Diane, the embodiment of mature wisdom and strength, who took a seat across from me. Both meeting me right there in that moment. One had my back and one held my gaze as we talked about life and love and how difficult it is for us to learn how to show up in this world.
If I blinked I would have missed it completely. This moment in time where two women swooped in to sit vigil with me. It is common to miss the angels that land beside us, in front of us.
But in that space, heart wide open, I recognized the moment for what it was: the thing I deeply long for. The thing I lost twenty years ago. And how profoundly, from the depths of my body, I miss my mother.
For those who are motherless, please know this: you are not alone in this world.
If you are awake, you will see the mothers that come to your aid when you need them. You will notice the ones who land beside you and in front of you. You will allow yourself to be held, seen and loved. You will marvel in how these mothers instinctively know who is hurting and who needs to be held. You will allow yourself, as you once did, to surrender to the overwhelming love trying to make contact with the dormant infant inside you. You will hold out your cup of black secret suffering and they will gladly take a drink along with you because they are not afraid of it. Or of you.
And you will allow yourself to revel in the privilege of taking up space, of being seen and of knowing that you have a rightful place in this world.