Last week I took down my Day of the Dead altar. All the novena candles went into in a box, one with my father’s picture on it face to face with the likes of George Carlin, Abbie Hoffman and Isaac Hayes. I still challenge the old guy, even in death. The mini-altar of my old friend Raven Moonshadow, as well as all the other Samhain tchotchkes and pictures of my beloved dead, are stored safely for next fall. My mantle is swept clean of all but a few votives, waiting to be draped soon with the brilliant colors of Solstice.
The beautifully decorated sugar skulls from Oak went onto a plate near the front door, and there they sat while I waited for the right moment to come around. Two days ago it happened: I suddenly felt it was time to release the skulls, and it had to be into the ocean. It was a hazy afternoon, the warm sun filtered through high thin clouds, with a slight breeze. I drove out to the cliffs and found a private spot, then sat there and took my time sending them on their way.
The ocean was subdued, silver-blue like the back of a broad fish, and the sun painted a wide and bright track across it heading west. I had a lot to let go of into that shining water, and when I finally finished my heart felt lighter than it had in weeks. I had successfully made it through the first Samhain since my dad died. I went into the season wholeheartedly and came out of it at the right place and the right time, and the feeling was sublime. With a clear head and a sure step, I headed back home.
That is the beauty of following those intuitive signs that cue us into ritual time. All the while we are working, planning, stressing and strategizing about a million things, there is this whole other clock at work in our lives. Ideally, we are able to respond to both the rhythm of the outside world and our internal rhythm. Ideally, we grow strong and wise by learning to balance the two, giving each its due while keeping an ear to the other.
We do not live in ideal times. Many of us are hanging on by a thread to what we have; for others, that thread has long since frayed and snapped. Some people feel secure one day, only to find the next day that their world has fallen apart. All of us are scrambling, marshalling our resources, trying to get into the best position to weather the coming storms.
I often get caught up in what I call my “To-Do List” brain, staying awake at night trying to figure out things that are simply beyond my capacity to figure out. Sometimes I can convince myself that sleeping is more important than worrying, but not always. Still, there are moments when I am able to rise out of the incessant rhythm of the working world, and listen again to the pulse of that subtle clock.
In moments like that, I know beyond explanation that all will be well. Everything will be resolved in time, and each day, if I am listening, I will be able to hear those soft chimes above the din.
As we go about being thankful this weekend for all that we have, may we feel that sense of being held. No matter how much our bank accounts beg to differ, may we feel how we are even now being carried gently through time by an intelligence, a rhythm, greater than our own. If only for a second. And may we hold that feeling close like an ember through the dark of the year.