“No woman is old”—Vincent Van Gough
We appear to live our lives in linear time, watching the inevitable biological changes that accompany the aging human form. Much attention is given to preserving physical health, curing diseases, holding on to our connection to what poet Mary Oliver calls, “your one wild and precious life.”
What if we peer behind the illusion of linear time, beyond the wrinkles and stiff joints, the deep fear of losing what we look like, how we function, indeed our very identity? The aging process of the body is an event on the surface. What of the aging of the soul? If we are much more than the person on the surface, what phases of our being accompany us on this journey?
What if our physical body is cradled in a timeless sheath that contains all the identities we have passed through, and the aspects of our development that have lived often a secret existence, in our unconscious? As we age, our memory for details begins to fade, but, if we look deeply and listen to the voices of our inner world, we can become initiated into the unconscious reality present in our life lived as a child, an adolescent, a young adult…
For example, I have a memory of my 7 year old self, lying in front of an open window on a hot summer day. I had come in from playing in the hot East Texas sun. My fox terrier, Foxy, lay up against me. We were both sweating. A sheer white summer curtain hung in the window. The breeze was blessedly cooler than our toasty bodies. I remember a feeling of deep contentment, just being there: the movement of the curtain above us, our sweat, our breath, the gentle breeze flowing over us. I had no words for this at the time, but I believe that early experience was my first clue that there was a part of me, watching the rest of me move through my days. Another part of me that lived, quite literally, in a different world.
What if our human life is like the moon? Certain phases of it are illuminated at any given time, but the whole moon is always there. The dark side of the moon supports and observes, tends and records the life lived in the brilliance of the outer world. Without an awareness of the part of our consciousness that lives in shadow, we can go through our days waiting only for the next brilliant phase. This can lead to a life style that is ultimately incomplete, reactive, grasping, believing in the illusion of the temporary.
If, like the moon, we are all there from the beginning, this means that as we age, our younger selves are still with us. If we are fortunate, they come to us in dreams or waking images, unfolding stories from the secret wisdom.
Do you ever dream of yourself as a person younger than your current age? Or dream of “a girl” or “a boy” who is also “you?” Why has your younger self come forward? What is he or she teaching you? An ambassador from your unconscious mind, she or he has been living in a world of archetypes, eternal knowings, poetic and symbolic languages for years, while you were earning a living, raising a family, paying your taxes…
There are many paths to communicating your younger selves. You can use reflective meditation. Close your eyes, get in touch with your breath. Slow down your breath. Ask for a wise younger self to come forth. You could imaginatively place yourself in a setting. For example, I could put myself on the floor beneath the open window – feel the soft fur of my fox terrier, the hot sweat cooling on my small, sticky legs… ask my 7 year old self to describe what she is thinking and feeling. She will tell me.
Another possibility is to watch the cycles of the moon. Some nights ago, I was awakened by the brilliance of the moon coming through the closed blinds of my bedroom. A moon so bright I had to go out into the back yard for a full look. Not quite a half moon, but fuller than a crescent. Just beyond adolescence, the time in my early twenties when on the surface I felt very lost. Rather than fall into the temporal story that so often comes with self recrimination, regret, shame, anxiety, it seemed much more interesting to look at the rest of the moon – the 3/4ths of it in darkness, and wonder what was happening in that part of me while the rest of me was “lost”….What part of me was dormant, but alive, and what can that part of me reveal to me now?
I will conclude with a dream of someone in her 60’s, and a dialog she wrote with a younger version of herself that appeared in the dream. Jung called this Active Imagination.
I dream I am in a canyon with a rugged, outdoors-type man who is no one I know from waking life. There is also a plump young woman in her 20’s who has long dark hair and dark clothing covering her whole body. It seems odd she would wear such clothing in the desert. She is accompanied by a man who is slender and also well clothed. She goes with him down a steep path and disappears. I join the rugged outdoors-type man and we proceed to crawl onto the ledge of craggy rocks. I follow his lead, not questioning the danger or why we need to keep climbing. We only come down to seek out another stony outcrop. At one point he speaks very analytically: how is it that our bodies seem to know how to find a stable position in each of these rock formations, all of them on the precipice? He continues all this intellectual talk. I can see the blue sky and the river far below, but they seem very far away….Then I am at a way station with another group of rough men, and the plump young woman appears. She is the same age, early 20’s, with long black hair and black clothing covering her whole body. We are so very happy to see each other. We embrace.
Dialog with the Young Woman in Black, and the dreamer, who I will call the Crone:
Crone: It is so good to see you.
YWB: You as well. The years have been good to you.
Crone: I have the feeling it has been a long time since we saw each other.
YWB: Oh yes, over 40 years.
Crone: (silence, she reflects) Why did you wear so many cloths in the desert?
YWB: You were so ashamed of me. I was very hungry in those days, and I did not want you to see me so fat.
Crone: I’m sorry. I hated you.
YWB: I knew I could not be close to you, to feel so much hatred. I knew to survive, I had to find another place to live.
Crone: Who was the young man who went with you?
YWB: My soulmate. He never hated me. Not for one second.
Crone: I know someone he reminds me of now, but when we were together 40 years ago, I had no idea such a man existed. (silence) I am so glad you knew it, and that he was with you.
YWB: I would have been lost without him.
Crone: Why have you returned to me now?
YWB: I can feel that you don’t hate me any longer.
Crone: I don’t. I think you have much to teach me. Please, I am listening now.
YWB: (sighs) I do have much to tell you. (reaches out her hand) I cannot put into words what it feels like, to be with you.
(weeping with love and gratitude, the Crone takes Young Woman’s hand)
I invite you to explore the parts of yourself that live in this timeless reality.