Articles and Media

What Is Mine To Do?

by Ana L. Palles

Cleansing “You’re about to get more real in your relationships, more black and white. You’re going to decide just whom you want in your life. You’re not going to lose anyone, but they certainly will lose you.”

I’d heard those words from my astrologer on my most recent annual update. When I first received the compact disc with the reading, I wasn’t really sure what to make of this. But six months later while driving home late in the afternoon, the words replayed in my head with a suddenness that took me by surprise. Having just spent the last five hours buffeted around by a friend’s anger and frustration that felt suspiciously like a personal attack, I felt exhausted and bruised and resolved that this would need to change.

With equal surprise, I discovered that I had set this pattern in motion myself.

In my attempt to be more self less and outwardly focused, I was actually spending all my time evaluating and reevaluating my actions. I made continual adjustments to dials that I imagined covered my head and heart. Another tweak here, a slight turn there, and maybe I’d actually get it right.

I read these episodes as areas for self examination and improvement. And this was good. It helped me discover places where I’d hidden away things I didn’t really want to look at. They were there alright. Years of avoidance had camouflaged them well, but they were there, tucked neatly into corners that were rarely dusted. It was a hard piece of housecleaning to do. A part of me brought out a magnum flashlight and got to work clearing out old wounds and debris. Another part of me clutched in terror at what might be left once the sterilization and cleansing of the area was complete.

After two days of turning myself inside out – one day experiencing grief and the next anger – I finally woke up on the third day to a deep realization and peace that you only experience after a great storm. With a fundamental certainty that my body was the first to recognize it, I finally understood. The root cause of all that frustration and upset my friend and I had roiled in had nothing whatsoever to do with me. The battle that waged inside him was simply not mine to fight, nor would it help him for me to take up arms and step into the fray. It was his task of valor to find his own way out.

And it was then that I understood with crystal clarity how it is that love can be a burden.

We take the imperative to love quite seriously. I’ve always admired the selflessness with which so many religious figures have acted. Their generous hearts and faces turned towards God have always inspired me to be a better person.

What is hard to realize and truly understand is that love is not a gift that we bestow like a thoughtful present. Love is not like a deep gold, hand-knit cardigan affectionately knitted by a caring aunt for her nephew, whose job is sending him to the north country in winter. Every bit of wool is woven with thoughts of love for her beloved nephew, and she makes a true gift from the heart. But her nephew gets itchy when he wears wool and has an intense dislike for that particular shade of mustardy yellow.

Love is simply there. No actions or expectations required. It fills space with warmth, comfort, acceptance and knowledge of one another. And in that space is where we live in two realities. One is where we are our individual selves and the other is where we discover a state of union and connectedness.

There is a palpable ease in understanding that whatever is needed can simply be asked for. It does not have to be imposed. Nor is there a tally sheet being kept in someone’s inside coat pocket. There is no debt incurred, just a letting go. It is taking a deep breath and resting a cheek into a tweed covered shoulder, placing a gentle hand over a steady, thumping heart, and noticing that all is perfect right in this moment.

How strange it seemed to me that I was on this spiritual journey where I focused on examining myself, my actions and my effects on others. Yet the problem I was facing was spending too much time fixated on myself and my actions, rather than in living and celebrating life. No, this had gone all wrong.

I had forgotten a fundamental shamanic practitioner teaching: “What is mine to do here?” Just because we know a person is in pain doesn’t mean that they want us to help with that pain, or that we should. This has been one of the hardest lessons for me to learn, but one of the most important. In doing so, we may inadvertently steal a person’s opportunity to face their challenge and feel good about themselves.

Instead, we end up giving ourselves quite an egotistical boost even if our intent was honorable and good. We may even experience fear that we aren’t being as loving as we want to be, using ourselves as a shield to protect those we love most.

Life tests us in many ways and these challenges bring us to the depths of despair and the height of joy and satisfaction when we finally make it through. It’s an opportunity to be proud of ourselves and our accomplishments. It brings us to the realization that we are more than we thought we were, something no one can show us but we ourselves.

I once read a discussion on challenging astrological transits, the square and the opposition. They represent the symbolic energies of two planets facing each other down in a battle for supremacy. I remember the author pointing out that while you would think that having a birth chart without squares or oppositions would be a good thing, but actually challenge-free charts can sometimes indicate a criminal bent because things are too easy. The observation stopped me in my tracks. We spend so much time lamenting our trials and tribulations or making sure that our kids never have to work as hard as we did, when these are the very things that make us better, more appreciative people.

Anyone who has trained for sports or has attended religious schools knows that challenge builds character. While it is in our heart’s nature to help, we can setup a situation of anger and resentment that is unhealthy for everybody. I had to stop trying to fix everything all the time. Some things really were not mine to fix.

Standing in the shower later that evening, using scrubby gloves and a nice big handful of lavender and honey salt scrub, I rubbed my skin with vigor. I’ve always liked salt scrubs. Salt is an old time sanitizer and preservative. It cleanses and purifies.

In the old days, it was used in some homes as a protective agent against evil spirits and vampires. Traditions carry over generation to generation and it is still not unusual for some folks to sprinkle salt across doorways, or throw some over their shoulders to protect the home from things that you want to keep out and to bring luck. Salt has a very effective way of smoothing away impurities and leaving clean and smooth surfaces in its wake.

I always turn the shower as hot as I can stand it, enjoying the warmth of the water against my skin and breathing in the steamy air, my pores opening and skin turning pink. The exfoliation felt good. I could see the water cascading over me, rinsing away dead skin cells and ideas that no longer served me. Closing my eyes, it felt good to let the water caress me, rivulets streaming down my face while I held my breath a few moments and stepped deeper into the stream. I felt the drops tapping on my face as I pouched my lips out in an exaggerated kiss. The water tasted sweet and warm and I savored the sensations for a few minutes as I finished rinsing off.

Stepping out of the shower, I pulled the towel I had set aside and sank my face into the soft thick cotton of the mint green terry cloth. It smelled fresh from the wash and had that softness resulting from years of washing. It could only have felt better if it had been warmed. I had had a long shower and the mirrors were sweating with moisture that was just beginning to slide down in tiny drops. I wrapped the towel around myself and let my wet hair hang down my back. I looked in the mirror and through the mist saw a figure that could have just stepped out of a mythological ocean.

I used to live in Florida, and the ocean was one of the things I still missed about living there. But long, meditative showers and sensuous baths still opened briefly glimpsed doorways to playful fantasy worlds. Merging with the water with my hair resembling seaweed let me fantasize about a mystical life in the seas with nymphs and starfish and swaying sea grasses. It was easy to go there.

The salt and water had cleansed not only my body but my spirit. The old had been sloughed off and cast down the drain. Tomorrow I would scrub the shower with a stiff brush and the crisp scent of pine. I would remove any lingering traces of today’s cleansing and pull out the shower drain to make sure I cleared the trap of hair. My goal was to change directions and I felt ready and at peace with my decision. It would be a new day, an opportunity for a new beginning.

With the equanimity my astrologer had described in my reading, I immediately decided to take a different turn in the path. I accepted that if this meant losing the relationship, so be it. The relationship that I needed to make sure I kept at all costs was the one with myself. This meant stepping back and letting go.

Metaphorically shrugging my shoulders, I took a deep breath and consciously dropped the burden of responsibility and pain that I had been carrying. My breath had been so deep that the towel I was wearing fell to the floor. Heavy now from all the water it had absorbed, I was glad to be rid of it.

Some Native Americans refer to a death transition as a dropping of the robes, leaving behind the body to enter into a new spiritual dimension in the afterlife. I suddenly realized that I got it! I understood what that expression meant. I had just dropped my own robes around the relationship and thrilled at the fresh air. I carried no baggage. I felt clean.

I smiled and thought that the universe really does have a great sense of humor bringing metaphors to life in ordinary moments. Standing there, feeling good about myself and chuckling in deep amusement, I luxuriated in the warmth of the steamy room. I felt a joyous sense of freedom from releasing all that turbulence.

I pulled out my jar of vanilla body butter. The one I always saved for special occasions because it was so rich and silky. I raised my foot onto the tub surround and began applying the cream to the top of my foot, up my ankle, legs, thighs, and torso. Instead of my usual get the job done hyper speed, I slowed down. I decided to massage the cream with the same love and intent I used on my loved ones.

Instead of noticing the cellulite and spider veins, I looked at my skin as if it belonged to my own beloved. The feeling of strength and satisfaction that my massage ritual created took me aback. This is what it felt like to receive love freely without any burden of expectation. Love comes our way, each day in many small and tender moments we sometimes don’t see and often fail to acknowledge.

Sometimes we’re just afraid that there are hidden hooks that will sink into our skin and exhaust us with demands. Or maybe it’s simply a case of self sabotage. Sometimes we aren’t sure we like ourselves enough to accept love. Whatever our story has been, there are always gems to be found as we sift through our sands.

The next foot went up and I followed a similar course, massaging the butter yellow cream into my leg. This time, my attention was caught by the sensitive skin just behind my ankle bone. I felt a sense of warmth flood my body as I rubbed my ankle firmly with the pad of my thumb. Briefly I wondered what healing point that might be connected to. I spent a few more minutes rubbing my skin and simply focusing my attention on what it felt like. With a little bubble of laughter I said out loud to my bathroom fixtures, “It feels good!”

I poured jojoba and rosemary essential oil into my palms, rubbed them together, and placed my hands in front of my face taking a slow, deep breath. Rosemary stimulates circulation and helps to clear congestion or infection. Breathing in the rosemary oil fragrance made my air passages feel refreshed and alive. Threading my fingers through my hair, I made sure to rub the oil into my scalp and through the ends of my hair. The bathroom air was returning to normal and my skin reacted to the slight chilling of the air with tiny little goose bumps across my arms.

I was feeling so much lighter and refreshed it was as if I was starting a brand new life. I was not going to continue on that road I had been on when I first entered the shower. Instead I was backing up and making a sharp turn down a different track waiting to be explored. Already I liked the sights!