“Push off into the middle of the river,” intones a line from a poem featured in Hopi Elder Speaks. A friend sent it to me. She is a powerful force whom I’ve met through my work with women and transition. An octogenarian, she leads a global not-for-profit, participates in several wisdom networks and is in a constant state of organizational prep for events, issues and causes that are important to her. I met with her to gain some knowledge about how to architect what today looks like an impossible task. My quest? I’d like to educate women everywhere about the importance of transitioning. My new friend gave me volumes of contacts and helpful specifics. But she also gave me something more important. The courage to keep going.
I have to applaud her. She read me very well. Yes, I needed the tactics. But I also desperately needed something else. A boost. It wasn’t until after our meeting that she sent me this Hopi piece:
“It is time to speak your truth, create your community, be good to each other. And do not look outside yourself for the leader. There are those who will be afraid. They will hold onto the shore. They will feel they are being torn apart and will suffer greatly. Know the river has its destination. The elders say we must let go of the shore – push-off into the middle of the river, keep our eyes open, and our heads above water. See who is in there with you and celebrate.”
I love this piece for what is says about transition and what it said to me about my friend’s kind act.
I think this piece holds sway for those of us in or contemplating a transition. Very often in transition our biggest hurdle is to summon the courage to follow our own voice. I’ve learned that transitions occur when there is a shift in what holds value or meaning to us. This shift typically requires us to begin to explore a self-defined identity, one governed by our own voice. We often come up against powerful forces as we make our way. These forces can come in the form of expectations, like those of our families, our friends, our communities, and society at large.
I remember a woman from my research who shared, “it is very hard to define your own path. It is so much easier to do what everyone else does.” She had pursued a PhD and an academic career. Her description of her transition has always stayed with me:
- “I was surprised at how personal it was. It was harder than I thought it would be. I never saw myself out of an academic context. My identity was wound up in being a scholar. The shift made me sad, grieving the loss of that identity. I was also excited about the new. I didn’t pay attention to the signals I was sending myself. I ignored feelings that I wasn’t happy on that (academic) path for a very long time.”
It took her three jobs until she ultimately found a new one that she believes is the gift of her transitioning.
“It connects me!” she beamed as she gave me the update recently. Her transition wasn’t instantaneous. It required her to keep moving forward amidst uncertainty and doubt.
Did she let go of the shore and wade into the middle of the river? Yes, she realized that there were fewer predetermined paths but also one irreplaceable one.
About My Friend’s Gift of a Poem:
My new friend made an astute observation. You see I didn’t talk with her about my concerns. I avoided reference to how worried I’ve been about making the right choices or that I won’t be successful in amplifying this important message for women.
Was she smart enough to hear all that I wasn’t saying?
Transition challenges us to constantly move forward. To engage with others and with ourselves as we learn about the gifts that we alone can contribute to this life. For me there has been a shift – an incredible, enlivening, unbelievably exciting shift. It requires courage every day. I still cannot see the destination but I trust the process enough to let go of the shore.
This week – take a moment to sit with the Hopi image of the river. Will you stay at the shoreline or wade out a bit?
What celebration awaits you there?
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This is a great post, Lin. Lots to think about. I love that excerpt from the poem. Thanks you.
Valerie, Thank you for taking the time to share your perspective! I too love the image that the Hopi poem introduces.