It often doesn’t take much of any one thing. Its more like a perfect storm of a series of small moments: a dust up with a friend that leaves me feeling wounded, a summer cold or a restless night, a parenting challenge. These wee heart aches can create a sort of cocktail that can leave me feeling weary and it can kick up the deep dark loneliness of single parenting.

For the record, I want to be clear that on most days I wouldn’t trade the loneliness of single parenting for the loneliness of a stale and miserable marriage. I know too many unhappily married parents who are so much more alone than I–who cannot avoid it, who feel trapped. I know that my designation as a single mom forces me to weave connections my married to loneliness sisters may not feel permission to create.

But its on these days, the days when I am not feeling well, when I need someone to cherish me. When I feel so alone, afraid or unsure that I just wish for someone to wrap their arms around me, soothe my tired mama’s body, brainstorm what on earth to do with that amazing, beautiful, perfectly normal but challenging child. Its on these days that I don’t feel whole all by myself.

When those days hit, I can find myself, weeping like a little girl. It happens almost spontaneously. Like a child who has experienced too much birthday party, too much first day of school, too much bright lights, big city, loud noise I can find myself involuntarily withering because it feels like its just. too. much.

I have long ago found that if I let the weariness and loneliness wash over me–if I don’t try and dam it or fight it but just let it roll it will settle back again and I will feel grounded again. And if I let all that happen and I listen to my grief I might even just learn something.

So today, when I felt it well up I took its appearance as a kind of sign that maybe its time for a walk–to wander out for 40 minutes and drink some tea and sit on a park bench near my labyrinth and be.

Sitting on this bench, I wondered “What will it take until I can feel whole–when I don’t need another pair of arms to soothe me, when I can feel the ground beneath my feet and know that it is enough. What will it take to know the solidity of my own soul not on most days but even on days like this. When I can feel secure and whole even when the bottom seems to drop out and I am left as the last grown up in the room? ”

Breathing in deeply the green summer air, my face moist with humidity and silent tears it came to me.

Forty days. In the desert. Forty days. On a mountaintop. Forty days. In the sacred company of your sisters. Forty days of a rest.

It was as if the wisdom of all those ancient ancestors came whispered in one breath. Take a break and simply go to the space where you can be. Take 40 days if you need to.

A ha! Thats why the mystics of the past left to flee to the desert. Not as some sort of punishment or banishment. Not as some sort of self imposed suffering. No–it was 40 days of luxuriating in the stillness and quiet that is found in the presence of the God-spark within. They went to listen to the quiet of their own hearts. To escape the messiness of community and the hurt that we can experience as part of human day to day life.

Forty days of Lent is not some sort of punishing self ritual–but a rest in simplicity to prepare for the great transformation of springs rebirth. Its not a ritual of denial, but a ritual of return to simplicity–to the few good things which sustain us. A release of the extraneous.

In Mexico new mothers are cared for like new babes themselves for 40 days after their birth. Those forty days after the birth of a babe provide a woman a sacred space to transition into motherhood.

Those 40 day rituals…I had always thought of it as an isolation, a hiding, a contraction…

But what if it is 40 days of protection, of sheltering? What if it not a practice of cutting oneself off not from life’s richness but rather from the hurtful distracting bits of life? What if the isolation is not an exile but a retreat so that the soul work can be done, so the blossoming can begin, so the opening can happen in a space of complete safety? What if that is what Lent is really about–retreating into the simplest, quietest, most essential place to prepare to bloom in the spring time? Its not 40 days of hiding, but 40 days of practicing opening up in the safest of space.

Maybe, sometimes that is all we need to keep growing…40 days in a safe space.
Maybe that is all we need to find the earth beneath our feet.
Maybe that is all we need to find the security we crave.
Maybe it is as simple as 40 days.

Perhaps its is the wilds of a desert. Maybe it is the top of a mountain. Or maybe it is the stillness of a daily meditation practice that had long been forgotten, the luxury of healthy food prepared with love, and the careful choice of company.

I am wondering what my 40 days could be if I could carefully choose? What harmful things would I cut myself off from–not as punishment or ritualized suffering but to enable a return to myself? What habits would I abandon? What inner dialogues, worries? What people might I leave–just for a short time–because the flow of my love to them (or their love to me) has been uneven? What burdens could I let go of to give me space to bloom?

I don’t know just yet, though I am beginning to imagine. More than imagine because I am going to find out.

I am off on an adventure.

6 Responses to “Forty Days”

  1. Imelda / GreenishLady Says:

    I wish you everything you need for your journey. Your capacity for inner reflection and then expression of that reflection is wonderful.

  2. Diane DeArmond Says:

    I love how you made the transition from despair and loneliness to seeing community and retreat. Forty days sounds like a good number for protection and nurturance from the demons of our insides and the demons outside.

  3. Soaring - Meg Casey Says:

    […] and hug. I am ebbing a bit now. But its not a contraction. More like a centering, a stillness, a 40 day rest and coming home and being yin. I am moved, but not sad. I am grieving but am not lost. I know deep […]

  4. pixiemama Says:

    Wow, Meg. The more I read, the more I want to read. You are inspired, empowered, thoughtful, beautiful.

    I am SO glad to meet you.


  5. Complete - Meg Casey Says:

    […] was the year, that I learned to embrace stillness and to sit, however uncomfortably in the quiet. This was the year that I learned to retreat. And to trust that it would all be OK in the […]

  6. Francis Seppa Says:

    I was looking for this the other day. i dont usually post in forums but i wanted to say thank you!