mandala-2Tonight I sat at a fire with 20 teenagers, ritually drinking shots of maple syrup and wondering about the power of snake charmers. Which if you’re wondering, these items turn out to be the proper alchemical ingredients for an “ah-ha” mind-altering moment (sans marijuana) that can immediately shift the way you can approach your life’s purpose.

Follow me for a second…

Sitting around a fire with teenagers is a privilege that I’ve been engaged in weekly for almost a decade. In 2013, I even won a prestigious educator’s award for doing this very valuable thing. The fire we sit around isn’t just any fire. It’s a sacred fire; also known as a council fire whose purpose is to provide a well wrought container for us to look deeply into the flame and see how it reflects the dance of our lives. Is our life’s fire bright, attractive and warm, too big and dangerous or too small and in danger of going out?

The subject of tonight’s fire was the Jewish holiday of Tu B’shvat, or more joyfully translated into English as the “New Year” of the trees. Traditionally, this is the day in the Jewish calendar that marks when the earliest-blooming trees in Israel awaken from their deep wintery sleep and begin a new fruit-bearing cycle. But what this holiday is really pointing toward is the very thing that is rising unseen: the sap.

Tonight each teenager raised a glass of this amber nectar to acknowledge the sap rising in our own lives – the sweet, life giving thing that is not visible yet but is journeying from the depths of our rooted psyche and traveling into the trunk of our awareness. Glasses were raised to honor coming out of the bowels of loneliness and into lasting friendships; out of dependence on parents and into greater independence and interdependence; out of laziness and apathy and into curiosity and commitment. These syrupy toasts weren’t just an acknowledgement of what was happening, they were also a way to help ensure that these things DO happen. In a life where nothing is guaranteed, the raising-up of ourselves follows the same logic: You have to help the sap rise.

When it was my turn to speak, I decided to get as vulnerable and exposed as the teen’s already modeled. I raised my glass to the grief soaked places I have walked this winter. To the doubt, the insecurities and specifically, to the heartbrokenness that is so well practiced that it has now become a skill rather than an affliction. But as I saw the fire dancing in the reflection of the maple syrup, I offered a hallelujah to the mother-skill that I’ve learned. The skill that has helped me wake up every morning in gratitude even when I was convinced I had nothing to be grateful for; the skill that directed me to get off the couch while despairing and back to my desk with purpose; The skill that has truly brought me out of my smallness and into something greater. This skill I’ve been taught is called, “courting.” And, this winter has been become a disciplined practice of me courting my purpose.

Courting is the beautiful and noble art of wooing the very thing you want to possess. This skill asks you to compose yourself in a way that gently and directly attracts overtime, while being very attentive to what/who you attract. This active dance requires no forced demands, expectations or grasping, but rather, asks one to step into their own beauty and power as the only true way to enchant the other.

Elder and author, Martin Prechtel speaks of courting like this: “Courting is when you try and see what the other person is seeing and in love with and then you try and fall in love with that thing too so you can actually see that person for what they are.”

After months of being in the slippery and forgetful currents of sadness, I’ve come to recognize that my life’s purpose and direction wanted to be courted. Another way of saying it is, I started to explore how to be in service to my purpose rather than demand that it reveal itself and serve me. I began looking at what my purpose loves – how it loves to be spoken of, how it likes to be “fed”, what inspires it and when does it like to rest – and I began to learn its language, its mannerisms and become more intimate with its spirit. The more I learn to honor and love my purpose as something not inherent but gifted to me, the more in love and unified we become.

“Is courting like a snake charmer!?” asked one of the teens around the fire. Exactly. The word charm comes from the same root as chant or enchanté: to sing. As my teacher, Stephen Jenkinson (of the Orphan Wisdom School) taught me: We have the capacity to sing each other into existence but in order to do that – we have to slow down to really see and listen to what we are enchanted by and enchanting.

Suddenly, the wind came and playfully whipped the fire. Enchanté.

Enchanting, courting and wooing has become a lost art in this digital age. Nowadays, when we tend to value efficiency over courtliness and courtesy, we haphazardly insert ourselves and our needs in order to get something, be it knowledge or just a place at the front of the line. We put ourselves first and often show up in situations with the mindset of ‘how can I benefit and benefit quickly, which is a consequence of entitlement, self-driven motivation and a self-obsessed culture.

But with the art of eloquent courting, you are actively, patiently and generously giving yourself to sing forth the other, be it a person or a quality, and you open to the enormous possibility that you can receive what is given back to you. But there’s no expectation in that – rather, you court because of the courting, not because of the getting. The practice is enough, actually more than enough. It is a slower, sensitive and elegant endeavor that acknowledges and feeds the life in both courter, the courtee and beyond. As Stephen says, “When we court well, we affirm to the ones we love that they are are alive (which for some of us feels up for grabs some days) but we also feed the holy with our eloquence and generosity.”

One last thing. Etymologically speaking, the words “court” and “courtesy” and “courage” are all linguistically rooted in the heart; meaning that the language of courtship and enchantment are not a rational or logical language. This is not a surgical operation to figure something out or get to the essence of something or someone. The language of the heart is not isolated into separation and identification, nor is it something you can do efficiently. Within the spirt of courting or courtesy, your identity and purpose is derived by everything but you: The courage is found in opening yourself up to everything that is singing you into being and the commitment to call forth that beauty in another.

As we settled in to watch the final embers glow, we all wished the fire could go all night, or at least to somehow remember that we are not alone. I poured the remaining maple syrup onto the fire and watched the sap rise and bubble and caramelize, sending an earthy sweetness into the air, and leaving us more generously alive than when we came. Halleluyah.

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  • Adam Greenberg

    Thank you for helping the sap rise, Day.


  • Laura

    Really inspired by: “I started to explore how to be in service to my purpose rather than demand that it reveal itself and serve me.” ! Thank you, Day.

  • Grace

    to court, to be of courtesy, and to reclaim courage ~ all have in common their root ~ to BE IN HEART ! Beautiful. Thank you, Day

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