Do you remember that old book and then movie, “The Stepford Wives?” It told the story of a town where every wife became a robot, making them the perfect wife, mother, and homemaker. Like most horror stories, it is frightening because it edges on the real world – it touches on the emphasis on conformity that seems embedded in all human communities. In many ways we all live as Stepford Wives. Our lives take on a pattern that can be nearly identical to our peers.
We are born into a family and a community, but we are also born into that pattern. We go to school. We graduate. We go to college. We form families of choice, rather than families we inherit at birth. Our children, if they are in that mix, move out and form their own families of choice. We embrace grandchildren or furry grandchildren. We work. We retire. We die.
Now, of course we know that there are many variations and choices in each of those times and spaces, and no two lives are lived in the exact same way, but it is noticeable when someone deviates too far off the path – like the 90 year old woman finishing a college degree and graduating with a seventy year gap in between the beginning and the end, or the 10 year old who graduates college and heads to medical school when her peers are heading to middle school. Both of those people exist and have been in the news because of their deviation away from that norm.
In her book, Women Who Run with the Wolves, Clarissa Pinkola Estes says that “It is worse to stay where one does not belong at all than to wander about lost for a while and looking for the psychic and soulful kinship one requires.” I believe that to be a truth. We sometimes stay too long in a space or in a season of life, when like a sudden June snowstorm in the mountains, we become trapped by the routines of the familiar.
But this overreliance on familiar and routine can disrupt the natural rhythm of human life. As creatures descended from this planet, the cycle of seasons formed as the earth rotates around the sun provides a roadmap to follow in our own lives.
Estes speaks of how we have lost the connection to this most intimate of cycles in life. “Once,” she says, we lived by these cycles and seasons year after year, and they lived in us. They calmed us, danced us, shook us, reassured us, made us learn creaturally. They were part of our soul-skins – a pelt that enveloped us as part of the wild and natural world.”
The seasons are still here. We are still here. But we have learned to stop listening to the murmurs of the world as they move through this cycle of life.
We are currently in the earthly season of autumn for a few more days.
It is now autumn, the season when the energy we have put into the spring planting and the summer harvest is harvested and stored to sustain us through the following year. Let your body feel the energy of the earth and the distant sun, let it flow into your bones and your center, the core of who you are. Let that energy to motivate you to complete projects so you can move untethered into the coming season of winter. This is the time of year when our intuition is the strongest. By watching the animals and the plants, you can sense how to plan for the coming year. That includes emotional and mental completion. Let go of things that no longer can sustain your needs. Set clear boundaries. This is autumn.
Now consider the coming seasons. Winter is the time when the moon pulls on the earth and all of earth’s children. Nature is covered with a warming blanket of snow in places away from the Equator. Winter is the time of rest and family. It is the time to replenish and rebuild. We have been conditioned to see dark and darkness in a negative way, but it doesn’t need to be. Darkness holds a beauty all its own. Take a moonlit walk. Go for a drive out to listen to the coyotes sing to one another. This is the time to prepare you for the spring and the summer when time and attention will be focused on rebirth and growth.
Commit that, at least once in this coming year, you will not stay – but will wander. And remember, there are many ways to wander – and not all places have to be seen in person. In fact, there is growing evidence that it would be wise for us to learn tourism conservation to protect the many wonders of the world. Try a new food. Watch a movie. Follow David Attenborough. Read a book of a grand adventure. Or wander and wonder as the little girl did in the story, asking questions and seeking more knowledge and more stories closer to home. However you do it, disrupt the pattern at least once.
Clarissa Pinkola Estes reminds us, “There is something waiting for us at the edge of the woods, and it is our fate to meet it.”
When we re-learn how to live with the seasons, we also reclaim the awe and wonder of wandering into a world where nothing is familiar – of walking into an unfamiliar wood. I hope that magic of wandering for each of you in the coming years – whether it is through travel, song, or story.
Credit: Women Who Run With the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype by Clarissa Pinkola Estes
delivered as a homily, UU Santa Fe; 18 December 2022