Artwork of Aleks Besan of Purpleksed
A year and a half ago I moved away from the place where I was born. The place I grew up. The first place I ever fell in love. The place where almost everyone I’d ever known still lives. I moved away from the ocean and the busy hustle of the city to a quiet mountain valley with no cell phone reception.
I fell in love with a river and discovered what it really means to bathe in the light of a full moon.
Leaving showed me quite clearly which relationships would persist and which would fade away. The process was in some ways instant and in some ways lingering. It came in waves. Some were obvious, like brutal emotionally tumultuous break-ups. Some were slow and, for a time, easy to deny. But as I transformed, so did my ties and connections with those I had actively loved before I left.
image from Break-up Affirmations by Shaunga Tagore
Through all of this, I have done a lot of magic around grief. I have held grief’s hand and walked through the murky waters of my loneliness, my insecurities, my desires to see and be seen.
I am not an expert, but rather someone who is walking a path. A path of transformation. A path of letting go. I come to you today to share some of the tools I have picked up and practiced along my path. I offer them to you, in the hopes that you might find them helpful.
In the hopes that we both might heal.
Water absorbs. Water holds. And then water drains away. I have found it helpful to fill the bath with the hottest water I can tolerate, and then sit in the water and feel whatever I am letting go of soak out my body. I feel the water, close my eyes and see it radiating, full of what I’ve given over to it – and then I lay in the bath and let the water drain. I notice what it feels like to offer the water to the pipes, to experience this physical and energetic manifestation of letting go. I burn plants to cleanse myself before and after. And I fill the bath with plants – allies who will help my magic resonate. I whisper and pray and breathe deep. I let myself cry. I let the water wash me clean of that which doesn’t serve me anymore.
image from Break-up Affirmations by Shaunga Tagore with art work by Heidi Cho
Rivers/bodies of water:
The river that runs through the valley where I live, in un-ceded Sinixt territory, is a tough task master. She’s got no time for bullshit. She will suck you under and spit you back out, if she feels like it. She is always moving, always flowing, and never under the thumb of someone else’s agenda. She has the capacity to hold, go deep, and sink you into the flow. Within a few weeks of when I first arrived here I brought tobacco to the river to pray under the Aries full moon.
I sat on the bank of the river and asked for her to take the tobacco with my prayers to let someone go. It took time, but she helped those ties wash away. I swimmed in her every day in the summer. I held onto a moss covered dock and let her flow wistfully across my body. I trust that she is able to hold things for me that I can’t hold myself. And she does. As long as I am willing to let them go in the process.
Writing and creative practice:
There are many ways to lean into creative practice. To let the river of ideas and passion and clarity run through you. To open yourself up to the wisdom behind the veil. I find it helpful to walk into the forest with a journal and to sit and listen and write. I use my dreams as prompts. They are rich with metaphors that I can delve into almost endlessly. But really, it doesn’t matter where you start. It just matters that you show up, do your work, and not judge the flow as it arrives.
We are energetic beings. We become tied to each other. Through time. Through space. Through love and wounds and trauma. Through destiny.
Even though I moved nine hours away from where I used to live, I was and am still connected to those who I used to love. I adore bell hook’s definition of love. She sees love as extending yourself for the spiritual growth of another. She sees loves as an action, and not just a feeling that traps us into irrational patterns and behaviors we can never be liberated from.
After leaving my hometown for a tiny white house in the forest, I found myself no longer doing the act of loving, but still being drained by the ties that bind. And so I sat in the forest and felt into the ties. Noticed how they moved and breathed and dwindled out like the endless legs of an octopus made of moss and twine. And I physically popped free each cord and laid them to rest on the forest floor.
image from Break-up Affirmations by Shaungna Tagore with artwork by Heidi Cho
There is powerful magic in our blood. If you are a creature who bleeds with the moon, you are at the whims of a celestial gravity that cleanses us and sets us free. Dance with the process, give yourself over to it and it can set you free. Our blood is seeking refuge in the earth as it dribbles down our legs. Our blood takes away that which does not serve. You can dedicate your blood to letting go. To liberation through loss. You can take your blood and give it to the forest. You can paint with it, on paper or across skin. You can dilute it and feed it to your plants. You can feed your letting go back to yourself, to nourish yourself renewed.
Fire is the energy that makes digestion possible. In order to let go we must digest, we must process. And sometimes through this we come to understanding, we come to clarity, but not always. Sometimes we must simply offer something to be burned. Watch the flames lick and unfurl, trusting that that is the process – complete and whole in and of itself. What matters is that we place our pain in the fire and we watch it steam and wilt and turn to ash and smoke.
Fire will burn away whatever you place at its feet. It will tell stories in the flames. It will send signals in the smoke. And then it will fade away. It will take your pain and lay the ashes to rest across and through the forest canopy. And when you’re done you can take the ashes left behind inside the stones and spread them through the air, blow them free across your hands, watch your missing turn to dust.
We are surrounded by allies who wish to nourish us, cleanse us, lay us to rest and set us free. Allies who wish to hold our hearts and soften our grief. You can burn them and breathe their smoke in deep. You can drink them in tea, or concentrate them in tinctures. You can soak them in fats and run them across your skin. You can fill a bath with them and let them take away your loneliness. You can even sit with them in the forest and absorb their lessons and their poetry.
Some of the plant allies I have found immensely helpful in my magic for grief and letting go are roses, nettles, yarrow, sage, mugwort, elder and cottonwood. But these are just the plants that call to me. Go out into the forest, what plants are calling to you?
image from Break-up Affirmations by Shaunga Tagore
When I am caught in my head – when i am spinning the same story over and over and over again, into a tangled knotted ball – I turn to the tarot to unravel the ties that bind. For me, tarot is a story telling tool. It allows me to relate to what is happening in my life through narrative and archetype and timeless, impersonal, universal lessons.
Often for me the hardest part of letting go is wondering what I will lose. Wondering if it is the right time to take a step back. The tarot often appears as reassurance. It helps me see clearly what my intuition already knows is true. And from that place of greater knowing, with a little bit of reassurance, I am able to take the steps that are calling to me, with more grace and clarity and trust.
The process of letting go, I have found, is often not linear. It is rarely clean-cut or simple. I have had many people and creatures and spirits support me through my many layers of letting go..
To your healing and mine.
The hand-drawn feature image for this piece comes from Aleks Besan, Purpleksed.
The majority of the artwork for this article comes from a breathtaking project by Shaunga Tagore, a performance artist, community organizer, and astrologer. Artwork from Heidi Cho is included in some of the pieces. Break-up Affirmations is a mini-book of mini-poems inspired by Tagore’s full-length book currently in progress, Medicine for Survivors: a year of heartbreak and magic.