By: Mj Pettengill
At one time or another, we have been told that change is good. I believe that to be over-simplified. Yes, change is good. It can also be terrible and frightening if we let it get away from us. One wrong turn in the decision-making process, and you may find yourself in a heap of trouble. It happens. After all, we’re human.
The Sacred River
We may get hopelessly lost at various points along the way, repeatedly heading in the wrong direction until we pause and check our compass. If we are wise, we stop fretting over what was and what could be and appreciate and embrace the path that we are on. Who determines what is right and wrong?
When you find yourself asking that question, it is time to dispose of the map that we thought was right—maybe it was, once—and trust the unlikely passageway, the one that winds through ancient forests and sparkling streams. The wood carries its own stories. Unplanned treasure awaits
One fair summer day, that seemed like all the others, I ventured into the forest. I often do this because it is the part of my pilgrimage that leads to belonging, sense, and purpose.
It takes a moment to adapt to the ancient light—golden sun merging with shades of green and brown, quivering against a distant blue sky. Stories swirl into various roots and moist earth before rushing up into an endless green carpet that sprawls beyond one’s comprehension.
Intoxicated bees share hard-earned secrets while buzzing atop quiet ferns in a sea of wildflowers, greeting the pond, leaving sweet fragments in unopened water lilies.
Amongst the long-buried stumps and rich green moss, ghosts linger, waiting and whispering loud enough to be known but not heard. They chant an almost song that the birds quickly grasp, casting it down from a fluttering canopy to imprint on the souls of those who hear.
At last, I find the river and follow along the bank until a clear, bottomless pool of wild water comes into view. I hesitate before releasing anything that prevents me from jumping in. What could that be? Although the water is icy, perhaps it is deeper than anything I had ever jumped into before. What if there were no bottom, no end? Would I find my way back?
It’s not the experience that matters. It’s what we do with it. The opportunity for transformation is where to focus. Instead of paddling around in a puddle of victimhood and sorrow, I ask myself what I’m meant to learn. Where is the lesson? Sometimes there are many, while at other times, there is just one. It may be evident from the beginning or take months or even years to comprehend. Sacred River. Sacred River.
Here and now, we witness the great unknown, blazing new trails, and discovering that it is not we, as individuals, who are lost, but the world itself is adrift. As we stumble along unfamiliar terrain, we begin to understand that we are not searching for a pot of gold. We are here for the rainbow. There is no map, only the journey itself. It is ours to define and call our own. Sacred River. Sacred River.
You will know that you have found your way when you dare to walk along the moving rocks and uneven ground with your eyes closed, knowing that it is what’s inside that guides you. If you fall down, you know how to pick yourself up and maintain your awareness. Guard it as if your life depends on it because it does. Sacred River.
I walk along the well-worn path, meandering in and out of the woods. I trust my footing, even when the earth beneath me feels as if it may give out. I yearn for the comfort of my children being nearby, following each tributary of a wild river that rushes through the heavily-wooded terrain. Sacred River.
When the sun is hot, I find shade beneath broad-leafed trees or swim in a clear river or lake. When a chilling rain reaches down to my bones, I welcome the sun’s warmth on my bare shoulders. It wasn’t until a creature, smaller than an ant, embedded itself in my side, carrying a disease that tried to make its way throughout my body that I discovered yet another level of trust, healing, and survival. Sacred River.
It was early summer when I began the challenge of reclaiming myself—purging the poison that forged its way through me. The way to rise up is to continue walking—one foot in front of the other. This part of the journey requires focus, endurance, faith, and stamina.
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I continue to hold tight to the healing gifts that grow in the open field and the wood’s edge. When darkness threatened to engulf me and shadow my dreams, I remembered that asking for help along the way is allowed. Family, tribe, and community are essential. Succeeding alone is not the point. Once again, bathing in the forest—earthing—is a way home. I did not believe that I possessed the strength to go far, but any steps are better than none. It was all of my surroundings, the wildlife lending its secrets, that showed me how to cross this perceived threshold and summon the fullness of my power.
At first, I doubted my strength to see it through. However, this expedition was a turning point, and I was committed to it. It helped that my son led the way. So many times, as his mother and teacher, I guided him. He came through, giving the push that I needed to go beyond the edge, into uncharted territory.
Knowing that a sanctuary exists in him and, therefore, in me, awakened my senses. It resides in us all if we choose to accept it. I did not dwell on the outcome: success or failure. There are always reasons not to go, but we must not fall for them. To recover and heal, we must respond to the call. You may not know precisely where you are going, not at first. But you must go. The victory is in each small step.
Those who have been affected by Lyme Disease or any other life-altering illness, there may be no map or fixed path. Yes, there are treatments, but not limitations. What others have put in place for you may help, but remember that you are more powerful than you know. Never give up hope of healing and becoming whole. Recovery is possible if you remember to honor and learn from your rough edges and retreat to your inner-sanctuary.
She is that woman in the woods, one who carries nuts and seeds in her pocket, hand feeding birds, chipmunks, and other critters. She creates in her woodland studio on a farm in New Hampshire, where she also practices the art of medicinal plants and wildcraft.
Mj is a cellist and has a background in Civil War Musicology and trumpet performance.
In addition to her undergraduate work, she has an MFA in creative writing.
For more information, visit her website: https://www.mjpettengill.com
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