by Amina Knowlan | February 2008
RECENTLY I LEARNED THAT JOHN O'DONAHUE passed away unexpectedly and peacefully in his sleep on January 3, 2008. He is the author of Anam Cara, Eternal Echoes and Beauty: The Invisible Embrace. He was an Irish philosopher and poet whose native language was Gaelic. His writing has always been a source of inspiration and remembrance for me.
In honor of his life, I offer the quote that follows (from his website, johnodonahue.com.) His prophetic words, his unexpected passage and transition out of this life on earth, along with the season of candlemas and a conversation in a coffee shop, are the inspiration for this month's ezine.
"...the most subversive invitation you could ever accept is the invitation to awaken to who you are and where you have landed. Plato said in The Symposium that one of the greatest privileges of a human life is to become midwife to the birth of the soul in another. When your soul awakens, you begin to truly inherit your life. You leave the kingdom of fake surfaces, repetitive talk and weary roles and slip deeper into the true adventure of who you are and who you are called to become. The greatest friend of the soul is the unknown. Yet we are afraid of the unknown because it lies outside our vision and our control. We avoid it or quell it by filtering it through our protective barriers of domestication and control. The normal way never leads home.
"Once you start to awaken, no one can ever claim you again for the old patterns. Now you realize how precious your time here is. You are no longer willing to squander your essence on undertakings that do not nourish your true self; your patience grows thin with tired talk and dead language. You see through the rosters of expectation which promise you safety and the confirmation of your outer identity. Now you are impatient for growth, willing to put yourself in the way of change. You want your work to become an expression of your gift. You want your relationship to voyage beyond the pallid frontiers to where the danger of transformation dwells. You want your God to be wild and to call you to where your destiny awaits."
IN THE SEASONS of the year, February 2nd is the festival Imbolc or Candlemas, commonly known as Groundhog Day. It marks the cross quarter between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox-the depth of winter that holds the promise of spring. The seeds of new life still lie fallow in the dark and cold winter soils. Those same seeds will now begin their turn toward the new life that will emerge in the spring.
In the early 80's I participated in a ceremonial Candlemas journey with Elizabeth Cogburn.(i) Symbolically, it was a time to contact the part of our psyche or soul that resides in the depths of the underworld, in the Void, in the womb of the Great Mystery. There was a Call to stay present even as we surrender into the depths of letting go of that which no longer is, or that which no longer serves. It was also marked as a time when some part of our gaze and intention must turn toward the unknown and formless new life. In this shamanic experience of Candlemas, there were two essential requirements for making the ascent toward new life.
In the first, each individual was required to "give the shaman a bone." You had to take a "bone" from the skeleton of whatever had died-whatever old skin or old story was being shed in the transformation occurring in the womb. You had to be willing to choose life while still in the "dark,"-still in the Mystery of not knowing what new life would emerge or how it would unfold. The initiation involved surrendering into the dark and choosing to emerge into the unknown new life.
The second thing that enabled this turn toward life was to know that you had allies who could guide your journey home. You had to know that you were not alone. In the times of the deepest descent-the times that strip us of our familiar identities and ordinary ways of knowing-we cannot know or control the outcome of our emergence. In the deepest initiations, we may not even have our familiar landmarks to trust. What can we trust?
In Matrix language, I would say that it is not "what" but "who" can we trust? We must come to trust that we are profoundly held in the womb or Matrix of connections that will midwife us into the new life we cannot yet see.
In our Matrix trainings, with a sufficiently developed Matrix of connection that has developed a capacity to differentiate in the open (i.e., give feedback and work with differences between people in the open), we have the privilege of participating in groups that emerge into a stage of openness. Will Shutz, in his emotional climate model of group development, called this a stage of affection or intimacy. The primary emotional territory centers in issues of navigating how close we can become.
One definition of the concept of "intimacy" is, "to change in ways that I cannot predict."(ii) Be forewarned. If you travel a Matrix path of courting connection with others in the open, you will be "putting yourself in the way of change." Once in the fourth phase of a training, I spontaneously wrote on a flip chart, "When enough love is present as the ground, we can see anything about ourselves, even that which we don't want to see, reflected in the eyes of our beloveds."
When we truly come into connection, we surrender into a destiny that we cannot possibly know from the perspective of our familiar character or identity. We cannot know what travails and ecstasies await us. What we can know-if we keep our hearts open even in the face of the old stories and protective mechanisms-is that we are on the way home. When we come to trust the connections as bigger than any stories or forms or identities, we are being held in the wild embrace of the Great Mystery of our own becoming. Individually and collectively we are on the way home.
During this time of profound trans-formation on the planet, may "your work...become an expression of your gift. ...Your relationship[s]...voyage beyond the pallid frontiers to where the danger of transformation dwells. ... [And may] your God...be wild and...call you to where your destiny awaits," with each other.
(i) Cogburn, Elizabeth, New Song Ceremonials, resides in Taos, New
(ii) Patterson, David, teaching in Group Leadership Trainings (precursor of Matrix Leadership), 1990 - 1998.
(1) (c) Knowlan, Amina. February 2008
Profound and inspirational It transforms in all the ways we live, learn, and work. My partner and I have been compelled to weave the learnings into the work we do in the world. With the Relational Matrix, we help organizations improve their collective relationship to change, and empower people to arrive wholly present in their work.
— Frank B.