Always, when I am gone too long, I come back dried out and wounded.
I am relieved (as is the world about me) that I have learned not to stay so long there are deep injuries, but still, I think the wounds could be prevented and drying out is never comfortable.
There is a story my Clarissa tells, about a seal-woman who comes to live on dry land, is married to a man, and has a child, but begins to whither away when she is gone too long from her pelt… Or rather, when her pelt is too long out of the water.
Her seal skin is our soul skin, and we need water. We need its nourishment and refreshment and healing. We need the rest it gives as we are lifted and carried by it, after so many seasons of carting ourselves around on land. We need the silkiness of the water on our skin after so many seasons of being jostled about in the world.
And it is dangerous, you see, to be gone from the water for too long.
In our culture we see water-hunger when women care too much for everyone but themselves. We see it when the demands of life overshadow the nourishment our creature-selves need to creatively tackle life’s challenges and endure one thing after another. We see it when we interact too much with those who are not our spouse, whether online or otherwise. We see it when we forget it is our spouse we love more than anything. We see it when friends are apart too long, when the clouds hide the sun, or when grief weighs down our heart until we think it’s harming us instead of keeping us alive.
In LDS culture, we talk of this principle in the context of the temple. Our power comes from the temple, and so we cannot be away too long. We go “regularly and often” because it holds us together, keeps us focused, and shifts our heavy burdens back to what the Savior has already done for us. We take the temple light with us when we leave, so as to create a temple space in our own homes because we cannot be away too long.
When we are away too long, we starve. We dry out. We begin to disappear, if we manage to resist the impulse to run away. We stop moving, stop cleaning, stop caring, stop creating. Inertia stops working in our favor, and we begin to fight against those we know are meant to help us.
Our kids belt out the Let It Go lyrics constantly, changing the lyrics to meet their needs for the day. But the Frozen movie song resonates with so many because we all hunger to unite ourselves with who we know we are, to align our spirit and body in harmony, to integrate our selves into one Soul.
We all yearn for “freedom” from our “kingdom of isolation”. The confusion comes when we confuse oppression from others with agreeing to limits that keep us safe and healthy. It is hard work to embrace our whole selves and the mess that we are, but we do it because we are divine, and in process, and not yet finished. We do it because we are still trying.
But if we are only trying, by denying ourselves or oppressing ourselves, then we will eventually suffocate.
Trying brings us strength only when instead of freezing our selves, we choose what is good for us.
It is the diet of the soul.
Diet used to simply mean the foods we consumed. Now it means the foods we don’t eat. It should mean the ways by which we are nourished.
If instead of restricting ourselves from this or that, whether it be food or covenant or both, and instead choose what is nourishing, our focus becomes the blessings we are receiving rather than the restrictions of what we are not getting.
I was thinking of these things as I jumped into the pool yesterday. It is early in the summer, so the water still bit me with its cold. But it swallowed me whole, and lifted the weight of pain away, and let me glide under unencumbered. I felt free, and refreshed, and awakened to life again in a way I haven’t been for months and months. I love swimming, and have missed it, and have always known that something in me needs the water.
The Let It Go song is really dangerous. I think that’s what I like it, and why so many love it. When sung consciously, aware of what it is you are letting go, it is a powerful and empowering song about setting yourself free from oppression and enmeshed constraints that suffocate. But when sung by sleeping zombie people who are not really living, who are just willing to throw it all away, who have no accountability and deny all responsibility, then the song gets real creepy real fast.
The only difference is how awake we are. Singing it one way puts you more to sleep and gets more dangerous, while singing it another way is what helps awaken you and is only dangerous to those around you who want you to stay asleep. It’s the same them from The Giver, one of Nathan’s musicals (this one based on a Lois Lowry novel), where the society literally gives everyone a pill to keep them from feeling – and it’s so strong they can’t even see color.
I want to see color.
I want to know.
I want to be awake.
I want to live life full on, experience all that I can, and feel all there is to feel. I want to try things, fail at things, play hard, and give my best work. I want to relish every moment, and I don’t want to miss a second of it. I want to explore this planet like a playground. I want to enjoy all of it, love the people around me, and soak in every bit of it.
But I want to do it in such a way that sews my spirit and body together into a soul, in a way that knits me into the being I was created to be, in a way that causes stars to burst into song.
The goal is creation, not destruction.
That’s the difference before I got baptized and since: the boundaries and limits are there not to oppress me, but to free me up to create. I am learning how to love without damaging. I am learning how to live without destroying. I am learning how to laugh without harming.
That’s my happiness. That’s how I set myself free. I had the right idea before, I just didn’t know why. Understanding the purpose changed everything. Creation nourishes me, too, not just the world around me.
And that’s way better than putting out fires.
Or starting them.
I’m not always good at it yet. Yesterday I swam until my sun-hungry skin burned. But I am getting better at it.
And one of the biggest improvements in my life is learning what really nourishes me, so that I am not reaching out on impulse or from deprivation, so that I am not sacrificing who I am because someone else wants some part of me, so that I am not I am not causing destruction when I so want to help or do something good.
I really am happy, even though I am still on dry land where life is hard. My parents have died, and my brother lived a state away with his own family, so I am very much alone. Nathan and I have 80 billion foster children, so I am never enough alone. I love my work more than anything, but not as much as I love my family. My body has lost its children, and is exhausted from caring for other people’s children. I know our fostering time is only for a season, so cherish every experience today. I know Nathan’s season of writing is unfolding, and see my grey hairs coming, and understand life is never the same as it was yesterday.
But still, life is really, really good.
And I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
And certainly refuse to sleepwalk through.
That’s where the enduring comes in, because to give up would be to miss out on so much.
Life isn’t supposed to be about being comfortable. It’s the discomfort that means we are growing, or learning, or fighting for freedom. It’s the discomfort that says I want more, for me and for my children.
And by more, I mean more awake-ness. More alive-ness. More experiences.
That always comes with more storms.
Days and days of rain, they say.
But I know it’s the rain that makes the grass turn green.
Today my rain is this unending Hebrew chapter that has been such hard work because there is no extra time when you are really trying to be a good mom.
But even moms need to return to their seal skins, and even moms need to return to the water.
And today, the water for my soul skin is Hebrew, and so I sit – in the rain – and write.
Dr. Estés’ “Sealskin, Soulskin” story can be read in its totality on pages 255-261 in Women Who Run With the Wolves, Ballantine/ Random House. Commentary on the meaning of the story for us, carrying the idea that, “We can live on land, but not forever, not without trips to the water and to home…” is on pages 262-296 (trade edition). All Rights, including electronic, print, performance, theatrical, musical, film, audio, derivative and other rights reserved. Copyright © 1992, 1996 Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estés.