In his book on fate and destiny, storyteller and mythologist Michael Meade writes about the ways in which a crisis can open up the possibility for the kind of change that aligns us to our true north. In these times, he says, our fate, both the limitations we are born with and into, and the gifts we bear rise to our awareness. It’s as if the deepest piece of life that is ours to carry forward and live into the world, aligns with the fate of the cosmos, and that alignment asks us to meet this moment with all that we have and all that we are.
The Fates, those weavers of destiny, that exist in some way as the Triple Goddess in most world mythologies, might say it to us in this way, ‘Ground yourself in the grit of who you truly are, fasten yourself to the stars, to the mystery and the possibility for who you must become in order to serve these deeper forces of life.’ Depth psychologists, or nature-based soul guides might frame this time and this call as ‘a descent to soul’. In my own way, I have begun to understand this fate and destiny thing, this descent to soul, this need for a cultural re-alignment as a reorientation to longing.
Longing as in heart throb ache, that dream and pull, that thing inside of each one of us that is always calling us forward. I say it this way: Let your longing lead you. Let it feed you. Surrender to its ways and join with the deepest forces of love.
The first time I let my longing lead me was the summer I turned six. Back then, summers were filled with day camp and neighborhood swimming pools, and most especially family road trips. My mother and aunt took my sister, brother, and me, to Mesa Verde National Park to explore the cliff dwellings of the Pueblo people. My father stayed home to work but planned to join us later. My grandmothers, both widows of different kinds, another aunt, uncle, three cousins, and one future uncle, did not come with us, but they were with us, and they were all we understood to be at the core of our small family web.
Mesa Verde is located in the southwestern corner of Colorado, otherwise known as the Four Corners area, where it meets Utah, New Mexico, and Arizona. It is a gateway to the canyon lands of the Southwest, a place weighted with history, memory, warm summer days, red rocks, green pines, willows, cottonwoods, and an unforgettable blue bowl of sky that shines bright with golden yellow.
The cliff dwellings of Mesa Verde are ancient and haunting. Carved into the alcoves of canyon walls, these multi-level homes composed a small community, and had within them kivas, storage bins, fire pits, and ladders for climbing in and out of each family’s home. Our tour guide spoke about the Anasazi people and their struggle for water, the droughts that came and went over the years, the ingenious irrigation systems they created to both get and conserve water, and the safety from intruders that was provided by canyon living. But what my six year-old self remembers most, are the stories he told about other families, other grandmothers, mothers, and aunts, sisters and brothers, other fathers who were off working somewhere else.
Sometime before the tour guide finished, I left my family and ran onto a trail that rimmed the dwellings. I felt the wind. It touched my skin and whispered, ‘sweet child come sing.’ Like a tiny piece of iron pulled by some larger invisible magnet, I followed the breeze to a field of blowing grass where I discovered a rock wall, a remnant of some larger structure, some larger past that was now disappearing but very much rooted to the earth.
Out there, in that field alongside the ruins of Mesa Verde, in that world where everything is understood to be alive and in relationship, in my favorite white sundress, with row after row of yellow flowers, I balanced on the rock wall and began to tell my story. ‘Once upon a time’ I said and stepped forward. ‘A long time ago’ I said and stepped back. ‘My sister, my brother,’ I opened my arms wide, stepped forward, balanced backward, and forward again into a swarm of wasps that wafted towards my skin. They hovered at my sundress flowers.
For as long as I can remember, I wanted to be a storyteller. I whispered stories at night to my older sister. I traded tales with my father, big fat luminous lies, all inside the glue of make believe. Story was the doorway into connection with my father. It was the tightrope thread I pledged to walk as long as it led to his heart. He was a tall, slender wall of unapproachability whose silences and distance were hard for my siblings and me to scale. But if you could conjure a story, if you could turn words into a beginning or find the middle somewhere in the midst of pretend, he’d open himself to the moment. He’d turn a recontour of the silly, spinning the nonsensical into family myth, threading his stories with goofiness, and bequeathing us the immeasurable gift of wordplay.
In a world where stories live and are always pulling us in, it’s no wonder the wind called all those years ago at Mesa Verde, and like every other child across the millennium who lived or visited there, I answered, ‘yes.’
When the wasps began to sniff my sundress flowers, I froze, and everything turned soft and quiet. Time slowed, extended itself to me, took my outstretched hands, squeezed them, and said, ‘Come, pay attention.’ I don’t remember if I could, but even if I couldn’t, the rock held me close while some deeper heart and vaster mind took over. Then, the veil between the world we live in and the world we belong to was lifted.
In his writing about the deeply mystical nature of our world and what occurs in the crossroads between ‘village and forest,’ between ‘ego and soul,’ storyteller Martin Shaw writes of these kinds of moments as ‘initiatory events – an event that happens in all our lives and fundamentally shapes us.’ Rather than claiming the event and making it ‘mean’ something about who we are, he says, our task is to make it mean something about the kind of world we live in, to make relationship with it, and find our ‘mythic ground.’
Wasps are predators. Little beings that sniff for pollen, hunt for arthropods and flies. Not concerned with garden making, they live in colonies ruled by Queens, make their homes in hidden out of the way grassy places, control pests, and sting, using their venom when necessary. They also sing, in their own idiosyncratic way, want to be seen, communicate with the flap of their wings, the direction of their movement, and their longing song-story is an oozing reverie on fierceness.
The juxtaposition of stepping onto the rock with my longing, of being wide open and speaking my freedom place inside, while also feeling so afraid and alone, is one of the things that imprinted most on that summer afternoon swelling with wasps. Two steps forward, and backward, and forward again, and I was in new territory where the language was different. I thought I was saying ‘once upon a time’ but because wasp lightning struck like that I realize it was my ‘yes’ to the wind that started it all, that I was forever changed by the rattle, and the rust, and the call of life drawing me into one of its oldest and fiercest stories which begins:
‘See me. Hear me. Meet me.’
That unnamable something that exists inside of each one of us – this ache that stirs me, that calls my trusting heart to run unwittingly into a field of grass and step out upon the rock and into a larger story — never leaves me. It’s lived inside of me for eons and now I spin it back into words about the ways in which my longing has led me. This is a story about the kind of longing that is deep and intelligent, that is both mine and ours and belongs completely to this world. Listening to and following this ache inside has taken me a lifetime. It’s not been easy. It’s been full of roundabouts, long lonely stretches where I’ve lost faith, and winding roads that have confused my sense of direction. But finally committing to it has truly grounded me in the grit of who I am.
The wasps didn’t sting me. They sniffed and danced and stayed long enough for me to be able to see them. And when I did, they shared themselves then flew off deeper into the world. All these years later, I’m slowly beginning to understand what my mythic ground might be and the revelation the wasps offered keeps unfolding. Their way of meeting showed me what can happen when – even in the midst of my fear or aloneness – I stay present, bear witness, listen and wait for the world, its wasps, wind, rock, my father, to reveal themselves and invite me into another level of relationship.
All our longing songs come in a million different forms, in millions of different ways. It’s one way we’re woven together into the web of life, into relationship with our ancestors, human and other than human, blood and other than blood. I think it might be that longing is even rooted in the Earth, enfolded in the Cosmos, that every living thing has the urge to blossom, to become in an ongoing process, who or what it and we were meant to be, to be seen and heard and regarded. My small family web is much larger than I ever could imagine. It’s full of mystery, wildness, and, all those beings that inhabit a field where our ancestors used to live.