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The Way of the Phoenix: Finding Life in the Ashes

  • Posted by: sheena

“And the time came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful that the risk it took to blossom.” -Anais Nin

There is something completely unsettling about coming undone. There is no way to understand the breakdown, only that it is terrifying, painful, and usually unexpected. It is easy, in these moments, to doubt your capacity and your worth. “If I had done that differently, this wouldn’t have happened,” or “This only happens to me. Why can’t I get it right for once?” The tendency is always to berate and belittle ourselves: our passions, our efforts, our actions, even our integrity. It’s almost as if we are embarrassed by our most human traits.

What if I told you that you are not alone? Most choose to return to their comfort zone, back where there is no fear of failure (or success). They become a big fish in a small pond. The brave few choose to rise. They accept the fall and, rather than cripple themselves with insecurity, honor their process and realize that we all go through it. What’s more: there is great wealth on the other side of this great undoing. To turn back is one kind of death; to go forward is another. Betrayal, sickness, divorce, the unravelling of a dream, the loss of a job, the death of a loved one–all of these can serve as a catalyst into deeper life.

Whether you are in the midst of a big upheaval or riding the smaller rapids of everyday life, you are not alone. Not now, or at any stage of the journey.

 Joseph Campbell, the great writer and philosopher of the twentieth century, wrote, “We have not even to risk the adventure alone, for the heroes of all time have gone before us. The labyrinth is thoroughly known. We have only to follow the thread of the hero’s path, and where we had thought to find an abomination, we shall find a god. And where we had thought to slay another, we shall slay ourselves. Where we had thought to travel outward, we will come to the center of our own existence. And where we had thought to be alone, we will be with all the world.”

The experience of change and transformation is never complete. We are continually challenged to change and grow, to break down and break through. The first big change made in the name of growth and awakening can be traumatic and destructive. In the midst of my incarceration, I agonized over the changes that were transpiring, and wondered if so much pain could ever lead to anything good. Looking back on the fires that made me who I am today, I now know that the person who rose from the ashes of my most difficult experiences is far more joyful, interesting, courageous, and honorable than the young woman who thought she knew what the world needed.

Years down the road, I’ve come to trust in the twists and turns that Campbell refers to as the “hero’s path.” Some of us need a monumental event in order to find our way toward “the center of our existence,” some of us do not. Whatever your Phoenix Path looks like, it always guides us to find our way home.

Author: sheena

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