Grief, Love, and the Prayer Arrow

I ripped my life apart last year. Then I put it together so it looked very very different. Then I ripped it apart again. What does that feel like? Picture a surgical incision that goes from your breastbone to your pubic bone, and through every inch of muscle you’ve got. Now imagine that it heals… partly. And that’s when you rip it open again, and this time you tear it a little past the original scar. That line—stapled and trying to heal—becomes a line of demarcation between one hopeful sorrow and the next.

But as with any deeply felt pain, sometimes things go numb around the edges. The pain is deep and resonant below the surface. The edges of the wound, the patches where the staples clamp the surface closed over the ugly mess—loses something. A scab ripped open one too many times forms a tingly scar that can feel detached from the reality of actual flesh.

What is that? Nature’s way of letting us dissociate from trauma, anguish, sorrow, hurt? Survival instinct meets biology. When it comes to heart pain, survival instinct meets psychology. The result is similar.

Somewhere along the way, I stopped being okay with the numbness. Don’t get me wrong, I am anything but a detached person. I let everything in. But maybe that’s why so many scabs have formed making little places of forgetting. Little places of denial. Little gaps in the skin of me.

To be whole, I need to attend to myself. I need to rub arnica on the dark places, vitamin E on the scars. Breathe the repressed darkness up to the surface where it can float away. Get me some loving—from me and the world.

I recently participated in a wonderful exercise in which everyone created a prayer arrow. To do this, we each had to decide on something that we wanted to manifest. Something we wanted to bring about, move into, recognize, accept, be, create… you get the drift.

How to decide? What, I wondered, is holding me back the most? In light of recent events, I knew instinctively that what I had to move toward was this: believing that I am loved and worthy of love.

I suspect far too many of us have a belief that we are not loved, not loveable. Well—that is a limiting belief and it sure does hold us back. So Cat, the shaman working with all of us that evening, had us write all the beliefs that were keeping us from realizing whatever it is we had decided to bring into our lives. The thing is, we had to write them on an arrow. An arrow about 2 feet long with the circumference of a pencil. She handed out the “sacred Sharpies” and with them we managed to write, using very small letters, a shit ton of limiting beliefs. We all wrote on those darned arrows for a long time. I glanced around the room to see the group of 7, men and women, balancing their blue or yellow or green arrows across their knees and earnestly confiding to those symbolic, primitive weapons the darkest of self-obliterating, self-denying, self-limiting, self-effacing beliefs.

One at a time, when we were finished, Cat had us stand inside our circle and take turns facing her. We were to break our arrow. Breaking it, as we moved toward what we wanted to bring into being, we would symbolically and literally shatter the limiting beliefs written on our arrow.

The catch: we had to break the arrows with our throats. That little hollow where the skin seems delicately draped over space. Underneath that hollow is our life blood pulsing visibly and vulnerably beneath the surface.

Cat put the feathered end of the arrow against a wooden board. When it was my turn, I did what had been done by the woman before me. I placed the tip of the arrow in that hollow. Using deep breaths and great conviction, being chanted into power by my group-mates, and looking into Cat’s warm, somewhat bemused, smiling eyes, on the count of three, I walked forward against the resistance of the arrow.

I felt it dig, briefly, into my flesh, pushing against me. But then, I pushed against it. It met with the resistance of my breath-tautened throat, and the board held by Cat. The arrow shattered and I did not.

There is such power in ceremony. Doing ceremony in community with beloved friends is transforming. But doing it in a room of (mostly) strangers is liberating and transforming. The energy grew in that space until all the arrows were broken. Some tears brimmed, many hearts pounded.

What does this have to do with the wounds and scabs of pain, grief and denial? Something about the fact that I put an arrow to my throat and did not receive a wound. Something about being fully conscious of the dark pathetic part of me that could not ever manage to believe in myself enough to see the love right in front of my face. And admitting it to the arrow and the people with me in that room. Something about making a conscious decision to heal, instead of waiting for years to notice that, wow, I wasn’t healing. Healing from whatever crap I allowed into my dark places 40, 30, 20, 10 years ago or yesterday.

I wrapped the pieces of my arrow with yarn; white and purple were the colors I chose. Under a waxing, gibbous moon, I planted the arrow, along with my prayers, into the earth.

My prayer arrow.
My prayer arrow.

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