you & me

The Labyrinth: A Series of Art. {Part Twenty One: Descansos}

{Photo credit: Kristi Stout}

“Women have died a thousand deaths before they are twenty years old. They’ve gone in this or that, and have been cut off. They have hopes and dreams that have been cut off also. Anyone who says otherwise is still asleep. All that is grist for the mill of the descansos.

While all these things deepen individuation, differentiation, growing up and growing out, blossoming, becoming awake and aware and conscious, they are also profound tragedies and have to be grieved as such.” ~ Clarissa Pinkola Estés, Women Who Run With the Wolves

In the above excerpt, making descansos means delving back into your past and taking a long hard look at where your deaths happened. Where were roads not taken? Where did something abruptly end?

Deaths. Deaths of dreams. Where were you shoved off your trajectory in life? Who slighted you? Betrayed you? Who died? What died? This is what descansos are about: laying to rest that which haunts us, or that which has caused the death of prior versions of our Self.

In the literal sense, descansos are crosses or markers one might see along the sides of highways where sudden and unexpected deaths have occurred, often beautifully decorated with colorful, shimmery things and surrounded by flowers.

What makes descansos different from tombstones is that unlike in a cemetery, where a body is ceremoniously returned back to the earth from whence it came, descansos are markers at a point where someone’s journey in life suddenly ended, the very place where they exited Stage Left and their spirit soared.

There is something sacred and hallowed about that point, that very spot where it all ended and something else began.

You can feel it when you see those markers on the roadside, and all in all, they mark a transitional point.

Those of us on a quest to embody our souls will likely experience many kinds of deaths in our lifetimes. Not always literal ones, but death of dreams, ideals, innocence, hope, and yes, pets or loved ones. It’s all quite a heavy topic, but in the wise words of Gandalf the Wizard from J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, “To some, death is but the next great adventure.”

{Photo credit: Kristi Stout}

Descansos mark the death sites, the dark times, but they are also love notes to your suffering. They are transformative. There is a lot to be said for pinning things to the earth so they don’t follow us around. There is a lot to be said for laying them to rest.” ~ Clarissa Pinkola Estés, Women Who Run With the Wolves

I like to try and think of death in this light, and that’s the idea of descansos. Things such as these are beyond our control. And some might call marking a place on your path to wherever you were heading but never arrived, and where another version of you began, with love and honor, as reclaiming your soul or Soul Retrieval.

I am proud to say that I truly live my life. In spite of circumstances that are beyond my control, I’ve had to learn to overcome a seemingly insurmountable amount of fear.

Truly living means you have to show up for life at 100%, to all of the good, the bad, and the ugly. You also have to take full responsibility for yourself as you come face to face with your full potential and innumerable capabilities — capabilities which can no longer be dismissed or excused based on a spouse, a belief, or a religion.

Showing up fully for life means welcoming in the fullness of the entire spectrum of color, even the infrareds and ultraviolets — which is the stuff you can’t see coming. And sometimes what comes at you isn’t always what was expected or wanted, but let me tell you, it almost always serves a higher purpose.

There isn’t one point in my life I look back at and think, “Oh, that awful experience was arbitrary.” Everything led me to the next important thing and bequeathed with me with yet one more necessary and sacred skill. I started to feel more filled (full-filled).

This is both terrifying and awe-inspiring as it has a powerful payoff. When it’s good, it’s otherworldly, stuff-of-movies, amazing! But when it’s tough, it’s really, really tough, and you really have to learn to trust that toughness, knowing it isn’t against you, it’s actually for you.

I’ve learned that when you truly show up for life, which definitely involves looking demons in the eyes when they come at you, and grabbing proverbial bulls by their horns, or finding yourself six feet under, buried in hard work, trial, failure and fuck-up-ery, you will also get the other end of that spectrum: the grand and powerfully moving experiences that make all of that hardship worth it.

Now and again, in the nature of descansos, I  find myself mourning those parts of myself that left due to hardships beyond my control. How much compassion I hold for that me who was naive and over-confident! How sure she was, only to come to a crashing obliteration, again and again!

Silently weeping for the innocence and courage of that young girl I used to be — who didn’t know any better — I wrap her in my arms and thank her sometimes for laying the foundation that has become Me today. She sacrificed herself so that I could be here now, and I love her for that. But it was painful.

What are we, though, if we’re not growing, transforming, shedding skins, shaking and grooving?

We are stunted. Small. Thwarted and half-formed. My worst nightmare is to be stunted in my growth of consciousness. Or worse yet, what if I eventually reach the limit in my wiring which might inhibit me from going any further? Like a modern-day operating system on a computer hard drive that’s two decades too old, or something like that. Perhaps I’m also afraid of the fact that I might not have a limit!

How much deconstructing and reconstructing can we truly endure in one lifetime? I will definitely be one of those who continues to find out.

I say all of this because all this growth involves enduring the death of many things. And learning how to endure and thrive in spite of these deaths is the toughest life challenge. You will lose things that at one point in time meant everything to you, like losing a warm blanket you used to toss over yourself on a cold winter night, then not finding it within easy reach at times when you are freezing.

But as you shed skins, you realize how much you never knew you never knew, and what you gain from it is priceless: true freedom and true full-fillment! You begin to learn about the limitations of Self, and likely learn that you were stronger and wiser than you ever could have thought possible.

You own your life in this regard, and are entirely, solely (punctuated, of course, by the love and support of your core people/family) responsible for where you are right now.

And yes, there are circumstances beyond our control that we are certainly not responsible for, but you are absolutely responsible for how you choose to move through them. There might be traumas that we don’t ask for and certainly did not create for ourselves, but when we work through them, rather than letting them control us, we gain wisdom and depth of character, and that’s priceless.

Hence descansos, the place where we left. The place where you lay to rest and bless what no longer serves you, and all that has oppressed you in your life, while perhaps ruminating on how things could have gone differently, or how you could have done them differently, or how you could you have avoided what happened, or that perhaps it was truly just blatant injustice.

Maybe it was somebody else’s oppressive and unconscious demon that you weren’t strong enough to defend yourself against? Forgive. Forgive what happened. forgive yourself, it wasn’t your fault, and of course forgive and say goodbye in your own right time. As there is always, always a process.

After we go through this cleansing process, the energies can move forward into the silent prophecies of our souls that now have space and the room to be heard.

{Photo credit: Kristi Stout}

This is an ongoing series by Kristi Stout. Tune in monthly for the next chapter in ‘The Labyrinth’. If her art resonates with you, and you’d like prints, contact her through her website or Facebook.


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Kristi Stout

Kristi Stout

Kristi L. Stout is an artist, mother, and lover. She considers herself a Renaissance woman, in service of Love in its many forms. It is her belief that inside each of us is our own sacred, Wild nature -- a hidden instinct that is not forgotten as much as it is dormant, like leafless trees in winter. It is the part of us that is connected to all things. A knowing without knowing. The part deep inside that understands darkness is necessary for the moon to simmer silver, and recognizes that even if you’re lost in the middle of nowhere you can always find a sacred somewhere -- like an internal compass pointing true north to your heart center. Her passion project, work in progress, is She Is Wild. You can find more of Kristi’s work here or connect with her on Facebook.
Kristi Stout