By Donna Sherman
I first noticed it back in the 1990s when I felt a yearning to avoid all the noise and action around me. It was early December, my then-husband and I had separated, my daughter was young and I felt wholly at odds with the festivities of the season.
I wanted quiet. I wanted to watch the sky as it transformed from light, to the color bursts of dusk and then dark. I wanted to simply be with all that was brewing inside despite that much of it was painful and sad. I wanted to allow it all because some part of me that was much wiser then my personality, knew that deep growth and significant nourishment was taking place in my heart, mind, soul and body and that I needed to pay attention to it. So I did as best I could.
Walks became my ally and in one of my walks I came upon a tree along the edge of Carnegie Lake in Princeton, NJ where I lived at the time. The solid base of trunk split into three strong trunks which then branched out so I named the tree “Triple Goddess”. She was a welcoming refuge and when I was able to take a little time out from parenting and working, I would walk to the lake and sit in “my” tree. My perch in the tree was only about two feet off the ground so while I had the sense of being firmly nestled and hidden in the tree I was not posing much risk to my bones. I’m not a big risk taker when it comes to potential bodily harm.
During that winter I felt the distinction between feelings of loneliness and the quiet acceptance of solitude. I came to understand, not just in words but deep in my bones, how we are cyclic beings and how all of our world thrives on, and because of, the cycles that propel all life. I came to feel how the darkest days of the year have much to offer and can, paradoxically, illuminate wisdom and how this wisdom could reveal itself in the quiet, the dark and the seemingly fallow phases.
One afternoon I was in my tree perch as a stunning sunset was unfolding and once the dark set in I did not want to leave. My daughter was at a friends so I had about an hour in the dark before had to leave. I sat, unafraid of the dark, the cold and of being alone out there in the early evening. A state of something I did not recognize began to fill me; it was a state that didn’t lend itself to words but if I had to name it I would name it I would call it Soft Bliss. There was no lightning strike of enlightenment and there was certainly no “Now I Understand Everything” moment. This state was soft, it was accepting, it was rooted and expansive at the same time. It was kind of no big deal yet felt revelatory.
As I walked home to get into my car, pick up my girl and return to my daily life I felt the extraordinary beauty of the ordinary. I looked at lights in houses and where a few weeks back I might have felt some wistfulness and longing, on that day I felt a quiet awe from the beauty of houses lit from within.
That day, those moments seemed singular at the time and I remember later that evening thinking that I had experienced a turning point which was, in fact a kind of turning in. Yes, that was it, the turning in.
Every year when Thanksgiving passes and the sky, light and overall energy of the Northeast in North America tilts into the dark I experience two things: First, an impulse to turn away and turn towards the noise, the activity and the company of others but then something else arises and it redirects me. It doesn’t implore or push, it simply directs me to find a perch of any kind and dive into the quiet where it whispers: “Now is the time to turn in. Take it.”