This essay, published in Sagewoman, 2005, for the issue called “Simplicity,” focuses instead, mostly, on Freedom — except towards the end, as you shall see. The relationship I mention that I was in during the time this was written soon ended. See this.
Freedom remains the overriding requirement for someone of my fiery, mutable Sagittarian temperament. And yet what I was groping towards, back in my early 60s, a sort of effacement of, not just ego, but individuality itself, also remains as a theme during this third cycle of Saturn (ages 60-90).
In 2005, I had no idea that by 2018 I would be deeply ensconced in the beating heart of a “retrofit intentional community,” Green Acres Permaculture Village. Though I founded this experiment in community back in 2009 as, originally, a community garden, our village life flourishes to the extent that I, personally, take a back seat as much as possible. I aim to focus on continuous attunement to the atmosphere within which this community abides rather than on specific actions to be taken within it. Though of course I still do “take action” at times, I also know that to the extent that I can simply sit back, notice what’s happening on multiple levels, and remain present to it all, then the ever-arising knots, difficulties, predicaments of daily life do tend to iron themselves out. This is a welcome blessing! And, in fact, simplifies life.
For me, “Simplicity” is the backdrop for Freedom, the understanding of which itself, continues to evolve
by Ann Kreilkamp
I value simplicity, not for its own sake, but because simplicity supports another value — my “freedom.” Moreover, as my understanding of freedom evolves, so does my focus on simplicity. I identify three stages so far.
Stage One — High School on
In high school I realized something basic — that I am essentially not geared for 9-to-5 “work” as society defines it. This recognition scared me — I could see no alternatives and it left me feeling both desperate and lonely. In most other ways I grew up an obedient product of conformist ‘50s culture.
My future looked especially bleak because, as the first of eight children and mother’s little helper, I also knew that I didn’t want children. So both obvious “productive” avenues open to adult females — “going to work” and/or “becoming a mother”— felt like traps, deadly curbs on personal freedom.
Once I started to study astrology I realized that the early recognition of my innate need for freedom from the typical career path was no surprise, given that I am a “double Sagittarian” — Sun and the Ascendant (as well as Mars) in that don’t-fence-me-in sign.
In my 20s I avoided “work” by hiding out in graduate school. However, I did get pregnant, and as a “good” Catholic, did not consider abortion. And though I loved my children, true to early foreboding I also felt horribly trapped. However, that first marriage gifted me with a new version of freedom, via projection, onto my husband. Patrick did exactly as he pleased. Nothing was more important than time and space to explore his own imagination. He would and did sacrifice everything else — including us.
I learned from him how to truly follow one’s own call, no matter what the cost. From “freedom from” I graduated to “freedom to….”
Stage Two — Late 20s and on
In the late ‘60s, upon reading the journals of Anais Nin, I began to call my new version of freedom “finding my own voice,” and in my journals I focused on accurately describing the flow of feeling within me. My journal was my solace, my friend, where I dialogued with the “real me.”
In the ‘70s, I began to talk about “following my nature,” and would fervently counsel my astrological clients, “Follow your nature and nature will take care of you.” Others say it better (I paraphrase): the mythologist Joseph Campbell — “Follow your bliss and doors open to you and only you. No one else can open these doors;” the transpersonal astrologer Dane Rudyhar — “If you don’t follow your nature there is a hole in the universe where you were supposed to be;”and the depth psychologist C.J. Jung — “If you find what is in you it will save you, if you don’t find what is in you it will kill you.”
In Stage One, I identified freedom with refusal to play the game. I avoided or felt trapped in the usual cultural roles. In Stage Two, I realized that even though I refused, I was still in the game, that my conditioning defined me. I had been molded into a “good girl.” Freedom now meant that I must strip off the masks of my own social conditioning to reveal my original self, no matter how wild or weird, how many people I left behind, how many bridges burned. I even abandoned my children to their father to pursue this “real me.” (I do not advocate or excuse this avoidance of responsibility. My sons and I have since reunited.)
Nor was I alone. “Freedom” to express the self became a clarion call for my generation. We wanted to “do my own thing,” with no curbs on behavior except to “love one another.” Our view of love was idealistic, romantic, short-sighted and ultimately unsustainable. For many of us, a series of difficult relationship experiences sobered us up, the stars in our eyes fading as our so-called “love” decayed into cynicism.
Now, at age 62, and throughout the decades since that early emotional reaction to the two usual paths then open to women, I still find myself witness to conversations with women who identify themselves solely as “mothers” (and now, grandmothers), and/or who have “worked” all their lives. For many of them, after decades of not following their own unique natures, their spirits are deeply buried and extremely difficult to access. I rarely enter these conversations, as I wouldn’t know where to start. My life set me on an alternative path to their more conventional one, and by now a cultural gulf divides us.
But how, you might ask, did I manage to survive, even thrive, and not “sell out” in this competitive, materialistic society?
The key, for me, was to prioritize. What was most important? To “follow my nature” — that became the mandate. I would sacrifice everything else to preserve my essential freedom. Freedom meant time and space to pursue what fascinated — the study of my own inner life especially, with help from astrology and related esoteric arts. I gained time and space through paring life down to essentials — for many years I lived in a 20-foot diameter yurt, shopped in thrift stores, drove an old car, walked and biked most places, maintained health through careful attention to exercise and nutrition, and traded astrological charts for “luxuries” — restaurant meals, jewelry, handmade clothes, hair cuts, massage and acupuncture.
Over the years I got “simple-living” down to an art and required very little money to get by. As a result, I had plenty of time for what interested me most. I worked part-time as an astrology consultant to pay bills while I preserved large swatches of my life for the freedom — and the privilege — of following my own nature into the study, more than the practice, of astrology.
Stage Three — now, early 60s.
In the past few years, since my second Saturn Return (Saturn returns to the degree it occupied at birth about every thirty years and each cycle of Saturn represents a new phase of life) I have noticed that I am no longer so interested in “self-expression.” Rather than the thrill of discovery as I encourage more and more aspects of myself to emerge into the world, the whole business now feels self-indulgent, even boring. And to call something “boring,” for me, signals that something is about to change. (I left Patrick the day I finally blurted to a female friend, “He bores me.”)
If Stage Two was about the freedom to express myself, and if to get there I had to strip off layers of conditioning to reveal the “essential me,” then In Stage Three I sense myself wanting to strip off the mask of my personality, my “self” altogether. If during Stage Two I broke through the masks to reveal the authentic me, then now, in some incipient, inchoate way, I find myself wanting to dive down beneath even that, to let go of identification with my own “uniqueness.”
But what’s left? You might argue. As a friend joked when I tried, in a halting manner, to tell of my new preoccupation, “But if I let go of my neuroses, what would I do all day?”
Once, as a young child, while walking to a friend’s house to play dolls, it was as if I suddenly stepped through a doorway into another dimension. Everything from my old world was still there — the blue sky above, the grass under my feet, the birds’ springtime twittering — all were exactly as before, and yet transformed. My thoughts, my hopes and fears, plans and projects — all this inner stuff had disappeared. I was no longer a preoccupied little girl walking through her familiar environment; I was no longer “me” at all. “I” had disappeared into a mysterious spaciousness that held the sky, the grass, the birds, and all of that moment’s reality into a single, silent, vibrant and seamless fabric, a unity, a Presence.
The Presence — this mysterious spaciousness that I have, from an early age, caught brief glimpses of and find extremely difficult to describe — flickers in and out as a calm and abiding state of awareness, a fullness of being, where all things flow as One.
So I do kind of have an idea of where I want to go. Once again, I want to go down this time below, into, through and ultimately out the other side of the murky underworld of mind and emotions to this Otherness that is both utterly familiar and wholly strange, a full-on Presence that I sense we all, without knowing it, do rest within.
As 30 years ago I dived down beneath the masks of my conditioning, now I want to descend deeper, beneath the unique concatenation of forces that makes me “me,” this person, with this name, “Ann.” I seek the unnameable, the Void, the calm abiding sea that holds all possibilities as seeds, and spouts them into form and back again.
If one can characterize the astrological chart as a depiction of this unique configuration of planetary energies, then I want to dive below that, to wipe off my own face, to become faceless, nameless, united with the One. When I look back, I realize that this desire to let go of desire has strengthened since my husband Jeff died, two years ago. That first year as a widow I lived alone, and spent my days and nights secluded in this new town to which we had moved just prior to his death. When I tell people this now, they are aghast, to think that I went through my primary grief process alone, with no one to lean on or to help distract me from my pain. Yet, in fact, the opposite is the case.
That entire year I felt surrendered to Love, held inside Jeff’s incorporeal being that felt vast and utterly compassionate. Though of course I cycled through many phases during that year; more often than not I felt mildly ecstatic, as if I was participating in his joy in as he experienced the immense freedom offered by life without a body.
Like other widows, during that first year there was a part of me that just wanted to follow him out. It felt to me as if the line between this dimension and that one was gossamer-thin and easily breached. The part of me that knew I wanted to live was, of course, somewhat alarmed by this desire, and I vowed to stay aware lest I “do myself in” via a moment of inattention.
Amazingly enough, this desire to let go of desire survived that first year. Indeed, it followed me into the second year when I surprised myself by meeting a new partner with whom I have now lived for nearly a year.
Oh, I know this is ridiculous, this mystic goal, that as long as I inhabit physical form I will inescapably feel my own self-interest at least as the body’s instinct for survival.
But let’s talk about what this project and this process might mean in relative terms. Here is an example from my current life.
I am in bed with my partner, Zack, with whom I have been living for nearly one year. We are quietly engaged in middle-of-the-night pillow talk. All of a sudden he turns on his side away from me and says, clear as day: “You still planning on Italy in April?” Surprised at the question, I answered, “Wow, I hadn’t even thought of it.” “Well, I have,” he says, “and I don’t think you should go. We don’t need space from each other right now, we need to create space within the relationship.”
As I lay there listening to his strongly-voiced remarks, I could feel myself of two minds, conflicted. On the one hand, his request stirred a deep, ancient, and largely unfamiliar part of me. His remark, as the man, saying what he needed me to do to nourish our relationship made me feel like a woman — and I was glad! So glad! On the other hand, the more familiar Sagittarian part of me was pissed. How dare he tell me what to do! Especially how dare he ask me to let go of my usual, at least once-a-month travel. But as I told a female friend later, I could feel myself weighted more towards the woman.
Yes, this may come as a surprise to especially SageWoman readers, but I have never felt much like a woman. As a child, the sex-roles that men and women played out in the ‘50s were abhorrent to me, and then, of course, I enlisted as a foot solder in feminism. To my mind, feminism and freedom went together. And for me, as a Sagittarian, freedom meant, among other things, travel, lots of it.
Now, strangely enough, freedom seems to have to do with a kind of surrender. Surrender to the man as a woman. Surrender to the most basic archetype as determined by my biology. Freedom to let go of my particularity and participate in the mythic quality of being woman, the receptive, the deep and abiding well from which the man draws and strides out into the world to create. Amazing.
So there is this need to surrender, first to the man, yes, and that will be hard enough, given the feisty, egocentric part of me that still gets triggered, over and over again, by any hint of loss of power. And even beyond that. Somehow, over the next 30 years, to learn to live as if I have already died so that not even the body’s primal needs take precedence. To efface the self into the great plenum of being. I know this sounds crazy. Crazy enough to be real.
For many many years, I was ambitious, hungry to be recognized for my learning, my mental prowess, my way of doing astrology, the magazines and other experimental projects I put forth into the world. (I founded and ran Crone Chronicles: A Journal of Conscious Aging for 12 years, 1989-2001.) I wanted to “do good” in the world, not anonymously, but very much front and center. And it wasn’t hard for me. I could stand out quite easily, when I geared my personality for battle.
I wouldn’t have called it a battle then. I would have called it natural. And it was natural for me then, this spirited thrusting of my self into the world. Only now does it look exhausting, and ultimately foolish, self-deceptive and self-indulgent. What, really, did I accomplish? Well, actually, I know I did accomplish many things, and perhaps had I not accomplished many things, I would not be feeling the need to let it all go now. Indeed, a few years ago, during the month of my second Saturn Return, I remember saying to myself, “I could die now” and feeling good about it. In other words, to me then, I was looking back on the second 30 years of my life in which I had set out to make my mark on the world, and I was feeling a sense of satisfaction for a job well done.
So yes, perhaps it’s because of that sense of completion that I can now look in an entirely different direction, or, I should say, seek to descend even deeper in the same direction, to strip off yet another mask, this one of the creaturely self driven by self-interest.
What would it mean to live with a wider awareness? How does the Dalai Lama live? Or other, wiser beings? I set out, with Crone Chronicles, to re-introduce “wisdom” in the world in the honoring of older women as its repository, and I was anything but the crone that I promoted. We teach what we need to learn.
Perhaps, this feeling inside me, this longing to let go of desire, to move beyond attachment, is the Crone speaking — finally. Perhaps I now do begin to chronicle myself as a crone. If so, I apologize to all the crones out there whose essential being I did not recognize when, in my upstart 40s, I thought I was qualified to start a magazine “to activate the archetype of the Crone.”I wasn’t qualified then, and I’m not now. And the irony is, once I fully let go, I won’t care to speak. Presumably.
“What can be said is not worth saying, and what cannot be said must be shown.” — Ludwig Wittgenstein