There can be no rebirth without a dark night of the soul, a total annihilation of all that you believed in and thought that you were.

– Hazrat Inayat Khan

When I was first married, my husband and I were having a discussion on churches. I belonged to one church and he had attended several different denominations and refused to join the church I belonged to. We argued for quite a while and eventually he said to me, “If I had known what would be asked of me, what kind of commitment Christianity actually is, I wouldn’t have done it.” I’ve never forgotten that, because it stunned me so deeply. I also didn’t understand it. I didn’t have the struggles he had. I had temptations and sins, sure, but I didn’t feel weighed down by a burden to comply the way he did.

But, I was not fully aware then of what was being asked of me. It’s funny how awareness can be like waking up, hazy and confusing and fuzzy around the edges and then all of a sudden, you are conscious, coordinated, communicative. I sometimes still feel as though I am rubbing the sleep of those constructs and rules out of my eyes.

And likewise, I am still waking up to where I am, of who and what I am. I hope that awakening does not stop as I keep changing and growing. It seems that just when I get used to “the way I are” something happens that forces me to reevaluate and adjust something in order to move forward. It is hard for me to do this lightly, gracefully, or serenely. I fight against it every time. I struggle. But, that’s life, isn’t it? The dukkha.

If you let go a little

You will have a little happiness.

If you let go a lot

You will have a lot of happiness.

If you let go completely

You will be free.

-Ajahn Chah

I remember the first summer after I told my husband I wanted a divorce, I went to see a friend in New York. At this point, he was just a friend, nothing more, and I was visiting to get away for a long holiday weekend to see the city and catch up with my mentor in Philadelphia, and “live a little” after quitting my full time job and before starting teaching. The first morning I was in NYC, I was washing my hair in the shower and I was thunderstruck by the realization of what I’d done. I was spending the weekend with a friend, a male friend, in New York, and I didn’t have to be afraid of my husband finding out where I was or who I was with. I was on my own. I was FREE. Whatever I decided to do with my time was entirely my own. There was nothing to fear except the consequences of my own actions. There was nothing to be afraid of from him. I called that summer The Summer of YES because I finally realized that I could say yes to anything I wanted. I could say yes to myself instead of always telling myself no. I could say yes without being afraid of what he would say or do in response to my happiness.

“I love you and I want to know, I NEED to know, if it’s even possible. If this could happen?”

“Ok. I care about you. I do. I want the best for you. But, what do you want to happen? Us? Together?”

“Yeah. Us. We were made for each other.”

“No. No, that can never happen. It will not happen.”

There are many folktales across cultures that speak to the denial of self, the subjugation of identity in exchange for love, the Japanese ‘Crane Wife’ who plucks all her feathers out so that her husband will not see her true self each night, the German ‘Swanhilde’ lets her feathers be made into a cape for her lover, even though it prevents her from flying away from a fire that kills her, and the Chinese Fish Wife who only wants to please her husband and even leaves him gold and silver after he discovers her true identity. I was a Crane Wife. I shaped and plucked and pulled myself apart in the hope that my needs would stop existing and my deepest need, to be seen and loved for who I am, would go away with the parts I changed. But, it never did. I was asked to be a Crane Wife again, and this time, I had the strength to say no and to say, you don’t know me, you don’t see me, and you never really did.

I spoke with my mentor yesterday. Every time we speak, he mentions my “wings”, how strong they are and how unique. He remembers when they were invisible to me and how proud he was when I realized my own ability for the first time. My wings are my agency. I stripped myself of agency and identity to beg for love and attention and affection from someone, lots of someones actually, who would never give it. It’s funny, in a perverse way, to look back now at all the twisting and contorting I’ve done for love and what has it gotten me? Nothing. None of the men I’ve begged for love actually loved me at all. In fact, I can almost guarantee that if I’m attracted to someone, they are at least emotionally unavailable and at worst sociopathic. I’m broken that way that attracts them. But, despite that, I’m happy now. I can be myself all the time. I don’t have to pluck out my feathers and deny who I am. I love me enough to let myself be. I thought I had to be someone else to find love, but when I awoke from the dark night of my soul, I found that I loved myself just right, just as I am.