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Donna Henes

Life Lessons Found in Birthdays
by Donna Henes

A year, no matter how it is determined, is simply the marker of a complete cycle. The transition, the precise turning point, between the end of one cyclical period and the start of another designates a New Year. Our birthday is our own personal New Year.

I was born on my mother’s birthday. As a child, I was absolutely enchanted by this bit of information. “Did I come all wrapped in ribbons,” I would ask? “Were there balloons? A cake? Did the nurses sing ‘Happy Birthday To You’ to you?” And my mother, being of the-glass-is-half-empty-school, would reply that, although I was certainly a lovely present, she could think of several things that she’d rather have been doing on her (pre-Lamaze) birthday.

Queen of My Self by Donna Henes

Sulpicia, the famed First Century Roman poet, was also piqued by the circumstances of her would-be party day. She cursed her “hateful birthday to be spent in the boring old country.” Most of us cherish a certain notion of entitlement on our birthdays, and often, a stylized celebration fantasy as well. A mythically idealized celebratory expectation based on popular practice, historic precedent and personal memory. As Elizabeth Goudge wrote in Green Dolphin Street,

Her birthdays were always important to her;
for being a born lover of life, she would always
keep the day of her entrance into it as a very great
festival indeed.

Who doesn't awaken on their birthday with a tingle, a heart-skip of excitement? A trill of a thrill, a nascent throb of specialness? The date jumps out at us from newspapers, calendars, mail and memos, and we start the day with a stimulated sense of anticipation, or, for some, perhaps, trepidation. In any case, a heightened awareness of personal significance. Our birthday is the anniversary of our self, the blessing of the fact of our being.

But somehow, especially as we grow older, cake and low-fat frozen yogurt are no longer the fulfilling richness we seek in our birthday celebrations. A party doesn’t feed us. The festivity doesn't quite seem to satisfy us the way it used to. The promise implicit in the pomp is gone. We have seen what we have seen. We know what we know. We are left, more and more, with a subtle sense of disappointment and an unsettling reminder of the ever-swifter passage of time. Another day older and deeper in debt.

The return of my birthday, if I remember it,
fills me with thoughts which it seems to be
the general care of humanity to escape.
--James Boswell, The Life of Samuel Johnson

Our birthday is the annual reunion that we have with ourselves, and attendance is required. As such, it serves as an ideal opportunity to take serious personal stock. “How am I doing?” as Ed Koch, the feisty former mayor of New York City, would always ask. A birthday, then, becomes a timeline, a lifeline, a party line, a deadline. An assessment of our annual bottom line. Our birthday consciousness calls for an accounting of our days on Earth and the lessons that we have or have not learned.

Like any new beginning, our birthday is an ideal time to sharpen our priorities, realign our perspective and rededicate ourselves to living the very best life that we can. On her eighteenth birthday, Princess Victoria of Great Britain wrote in her journal, “How old! And yet how far I am from being what I should be...I shall from this day take the firm resolution to study...to keep my attention always well fixed on whatever I am about, and strive everyday to become less trifling and more fit for what, if Heaven wils (sic) it, I’m someday to become!”

The Moon Watcher's Companion by Donna Henes

Every Autumn I take time out of time during the two-week period surrounding my birthday. I usually retreat to some extent and fast to some degree. This experience is intended to center me and slow me down. It is my birthday gift to myself. During my fast/retreat I devote myself completely to cleansing and centering myself: body, mind and spirit, in readiness for the future. I rinse my system with fresh water and teas, I clean my house and altars and I use yoga, meditation and t’ai chi to flush my mind clear of the mental detritus that I have accumulated.

I use this time to ruminate upon the year just past and plan for the one to come. For this purpose, I have kept a birthday book since the early 1980’s. Once a year in this most cherished ritual, I focus myself completely on the recording and evaluation of my recent experiences and actions. How have I grown? What have I learned? And what is it that I just can’t seem to get through my thick skull?

My Birthday Book is my personal performance review. In it, I process my impressions and my lessons, plot my progress, polish my perspective, ponder my problems and obstacles, plan my goals, and prepare my Self mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually to move forward in a positive manner.

New Year is the birthday of time. So this is a perfect time to turn the page in the book of our lives and begin a new chapter. Who are we? Where did we come from? Where are we going? Why? How? When, if not now?

We are going to put words on them ourselves.
The book is called Opportunity and its first
chapter is New Year's Day.
--Edith Lovejoy Pierce

© Copyright 2006 Donna Henes.  All Rights Reserved. 

Donna Henes
Donna Henes, Urban Shaman, is the editor and publisher of the highly acclaimed quarterly, Always In Season: Living In Sync with the Cycles. She is also the author of "THE QUEEN OF MY SELF: Stepping Into Sovereignty in Midlife
," "Moon Watcher's Companion," "Celestially Auspicious Occasions: Seasons, Cycles and Celebrations" and "Dressing Our Wounds In Warm Clothes," as well as the CD, "Reverence To Her: Mythology, The Matriarchy & Me." In 1982, she composed the first (and to this date, the only) satellite peace message in space: "chants for peace * chance for peace."

Mama Donna, as she is affectionately known, has offered lectures, workshops, circles, and celebrations worldwide for 30 years. She is the director of Mama Donna's Tea Garden & Healing Haven, a ceremonial center, ritual consultancy and spirit shop in Exotic Brooklyn, New York.

For further information, a list of services and publications, a calendar of upcoming events and a complimentary issue of Always in Season: Living in Sync with the Cycles. contact:

PO Box 380403
Exotic Brooklyn, NY 11238-0403 
Phone/Fax 718-857-2247
Email: CityShaman@aol.com



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