Several years ago, as I was leaving my corporate job and dismantling my former life in ways both sweeping and subtle, I felt drawn to look through the many, many journals I had filled over the years, that were lined up in neat rows on my bookcase.
Some were coiled note books, others were bound in pretty covers with ribbon place markers. There were dozens of them.
As I leafed through them, I was shocked at the level of anger, vitriol, desperation and sadness that I found on the pages. In many cases, I couldn’t even remember what it was that I had been so upset about, what situation or person or personal belief had inspired so many pages of furious writing. Now forgotten.
And then the light came on.
These journals were full of pain, full of self-doubt, self-loathing and anger, full of the story of me trying to control the uncontrollable, railing against the way things were, wanting my life to be different, wanting me or my boss or my husband to be different. I didn’t want to hold this pain anymore, or to make room for it on my bookshelves or in my home or in my life.
Why, I asked myself, are these journals still on my shelf?
And so, one October afternoon, following a spontaneous urge, I gathered all these notebooks up. I had several boxes of them. I lugged them to the car. I took a lighter with me. Without being absolutely certain where I was going to go, I drove them to a nearby conservation area and found a picnic spot with a fire pit. Needless to say, there wasn’t another soul around on this cold, dreary October day, I had the park to myself.
I admit that I was half expecting the Journal Police to stop me, to say “Hey, we know what you’re up to, you can’t burn those journals, who do you think you are? Everyone knows journaling is so important, you’re going to have to keep them, forever. No one can escape their past, lady.”
So with this voice in my head, I felt like I was being furtive somehow, sneaking away, or (quite literally) breaking out of the jail of my past. I was determined that I was not bringing this past into my future, I would claw my way to freedom if I had to.
I piled a bunch of the notebooks into the fire pit and taking a deep breath, I lit them on fire. They ignited quickly, and I felt an intense rush of emotion while they burned, something like grief, and at the same time also like joy, like liberation, and absolutely like a great weight was being lifted from me.
I felt that maybe I should pray, or dance around the fire pit singing, but I felt exposed, vulnerable and somehow lonely, so I did neither. I knew this was an offering, a sacred offering – and I cried.
In the moment when my grief abated and I could feel something like gratitude for the urge to burn these books rising up in me, as I stood there, feeding the fire with more and more notebooks, watching them burn and smoke, a single crow flew overhead.
It felt as though she was looking right at me. She saw the fire, she saw the notebooks burning.
This black crow was the only witness to my old life, my former way of being, going up in flames.
The only one who saw what it meant for me to sacrifice the old so I could claim the future. I realized then that I wasn’t alone, that by her presence she implied that my offering was seen and received with love.
And because I saw the moment when the crow saw me, it was as though my higher self was acknowledging this liminal moment, when out of love and compassion for myself I burned away the old and chose to be reborn, to start anew and follow with hope the new life I saw glimmering on the horizon.
I sat for a while next to the smoldering ashes of my journals, poking at the charred metal coils of the notebooks with a stick…it was all gone, all gloriously gone; all record of the pain, the outmoded habits, the old stories about who I was supposed to be and how my life was supposed to look, had all been transmuted to ash, a sacred offering to the future.
Burned. Cleansed. Free.
I can see now, looking back, that that was a turning point in my life. I started a new journey then, I started walking my way back home, and in many ways writing my way back home.
I vowed then that I would never keep another journal like that and I never have. Instead, because the urge to write is in my bones, I try to write my way towards the light and not into the spiraling darkness, that having walked through the flames I would offer my humble stories to you, who may also be arising new like a phoenix from the ashes of your old life.
May you know you are not alone.
May we all be reborn in the fire, and may there be a winged one to witness it with love.