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if there is no struggle, there is no progress[1]

April 30, 2011

Before I got married and moved away from Illinois, I tended to give up too soon when things didn’t go my way. There were few struggles where I committed enough (emotional) energy to see me through obstacles and disappointments. So I failed, often, but these failures were ineffective because they did not introduce new possibilities into my environment. Instead of getting inspired to persevere no matter what, I felt helpless and defeated. I was angry and resentful of others who didn’t work hard enough to make my dreams come true. But why should they, anybody, care more for my dreams than me? I didn’t care enough about my dreams to make plans, however flawed and incomplete. Making plans, in and of itself, sets you on a path to making things happen. Everything will not go your way, adjustments will have to be made, often revisions or reinterpretations of your goals and how to get there in an optimal way. But the plan, not merely setting a goal, is the key.[2]

I realized this morning that I have had far too many goals in my life for which I never formulated plans, never committed myself to ensuring their achievement. And lo, they have not come to pass.

For some time now, I’ve been searching for an archetype or metaphor that embodies where I am now. It’s fortunate that I didn’t settle on one prematurely, which I easily could have, and then found myself on the wrong path, going in a dead-end direction.

I have instinctively and viscerally rejected the archetype of warrior, despite the advantages it offers, because I feel strongly that adopting it would in some sense endorse war and violence as legitimate solutions. As a lifelong pacifist, that’s unacceptable to me, but then I’ve been at kind of a loss about what I could use instead – what could still call forth strength and power and mastery and skill and transformation? Suddenly I saw it: Fire Mage. What is magery or magic but strength and power and mastery focused through one’s will? Then I imagined a cauldron with fire burning merrily underneath, and potions bubbling within — and I realized I am the cauldron. Alchemy transforms me, manifesting inwardly and outwardly. I direct my will, through action or magic (or the former becoming the latter), I focus change and transformation, but I am also changed and transformed in the process. I evolve.

I was on the cusp of accepting that I’m an elder, a crone, largely because I had surrendered my power, and unconsciously decided to coast until decline and death. “I’m tired of struggling”, I thought, “I’m ready to rest on my laurels, and dispense wisdom”. How ludicrous that looks to me now! When I actually arrive at cronehood, sometime down the road, I expect it will look nothing like what I was imagining even a week ago. I’ve never “settled down” in my life; why did I think I would start now? I’m no longer young, but I’m still vigorous and strong and adept. I am lively and bold and innovative. I have a lot to offer the world, and I see I need to make many plans.

I need to fail, early and often. I need to feast on failure and struggles and life. Fire surges through my veins — what can I spark?

Happy Beltane to all who celebrate it!

***

Edited on 5.3.2011 to add attributions.

[1] quote attributed to Frederick Douglass

[2] Dwight D. Eisenhower on warfare: “In preparing for battle, I have found that planning is essential but plans are useless.” I knew I had read something like this, somewhere, and providentially ran across mention of it again this afternoon in the book, Your Inner Fish, by Neil Shubin.

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. May 1, 2011 07:40

    Oh, I like the sound of this! Happy Beltane indeed!

    For what it’s worth, I don’t see the fire and will as inconsistent with the role of the Elder. To me, an Elder can be more powerful, and can be more involved or active with fire, will, and magic because zie is an Elder, someone focused on making the most of hirself (rather than nurturing others as a Matron, which, admittedly, is not all that Matrons do, but you see where I’m going with this, I hope).

    • May 5, 2011 10:58

      My ideas about phases of a woman’s life are in upheaval right now, largely because of these conversations we’ve been having. Your ideas about elders are interesting and deserved further thought. But right now I’m caught up in realizing that I’m not quite ready to be an Elder (in a good way), but I’m certainly not a Matron anymore. The Queen metaphor, as proposed in SageWoman, did not actually appeal to me very much, which I will elaborate on in a later blog post. So now I’m wondering if I even *need* phases. Everything’s in flux, which I (now) know means anything is possible…

  2. May 5, 2011 09:02

    I love that Eisenhower quotation! I may have to use that somewhere.

    On failing – it’s come up in a number of fora recently. In an online discussion by adjuncts, there has been a (semi-serious) proposal that college students should be required to attend a class called “Failure 101” before starting classes, to prepare them for failing with grace; something they have not learned previously, it seems. And I caught a teaser for a book somewhere, called Failing Up, I think – it was by a Rabbi, I believe, about how to harness the power of failure to do better in life.

    Watching your self-realization is exciting and revealing – thanks for sharing it!

    • May 5, 2011 10:52

      I sometimes wonder if I could have learned that failure is actually a good thing sooner if my parents were creative or scientific people. But they are neither. Since I failed far more than I prevailed, I was pegged as a loser. My foundation for self-respect, though, was thinking of myself as a scientist, and how do scientists learn, but through trial and error, experimenting. And you often learn more from your experiments when they fail — I know I certainly did!

      I’m glad you’re finding my trials and travails interesting and useful!

      • May 6, 2011 15:55

        I hope you are finding writing about your travails helpful – indeed, I think that is far more important than whether I find them interesting or useful.

      • May 6, 2011 16:06

        The short answer is yes. Writing about these sorts of issues has become part of my regular spiritual practice, and it’s also helping me reconceptualize experiences from my past, both so I can see how long-standing some of themes are, but also how I’ve been changing, substantially in some cases, and therefore my stories about myself need to also change to reflect my new understandings.

        So all that comes first. But I’m always pleased to strike a chord with someone else. 🙂

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