"... shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town."
Matthew 10:14 (NRSV)
Matthew 10:14 (NRSV)
So lately this particular phrase from the Gospel of Matthew has been ringing through me. I have been actively working with this image as I seek to move on to what's next in my life. In the passage, Jesus speaks the phrase to his disciples as he sends them forth into the world and it refers to those who do not welcome them or want to hear their message. For me, however, the phrase has taken on a broader meaning.
Too often in life we end up stuck in a place, even a very good place, because we can't let go. We have a hard time moving on even when either circumstances have required it or we actively worked to move on from a particular place or person. Even when the experience has been positive, the lingering "dust" can hold us back from embracing where we are now or moving forward to a new place.
When leaving is painful or to some degree or another, not what we choose, the anger and bitterness can eat away like dust at our soul. Dust can eat away things, obscure them and cover them up so we can no longer see what is underneath. It reminds me of seeing the Sistine Chapel while they were cleaning "The Last Judgement" - the grime and dust of the years had muted the colors, obscured the picture.
When it was cleared away the results were dramatic and stunning. In our lives as well if we don't shake off the dust, the memories become grimy and obscured but when we shake the dust off, we can see things more clearly, being more forgiving of ourselves and others, and we can move on with clarity.
It takes time to reach the place where we are ready to shake the dust from our feet. We need to be ready to see events clearly - letting go of pain, anger, self-righteousness. We need to be willing to own our part in both the success and failure, the pain and the joy. We need to be willing to forgive both others and ourselves and move on. It is a helpful and can even be cathartic for the body. Lately when I have found myself brooding over past events, I have both said to myself "shake off the dust" and shaken my foot - making it an embodied ritual.
But, what about those places we leave joyfully without bad feeling? When we know it is right and our leaving is a moment of both celebration and sadness. I think it can still be hard when someone replaces us and they do it differently or if an event or project that you worked or were really vested in doesn't continue or transforms. It is so easy in this circumstance to somehow believe then that our efforts were not valued or that somehow it is a reflection on us and our our work. The hardest lesson is that when we leave a place or a relationship, that place moves on without us. On the one hand, we want that, we know that is what is good and healthy and yet our ego wants to believe we are irreplaceable and that the person or place just can't function without us. It can be hard to hear that things have changed. So we have to shake off the dust, acknowledge our contribution (or failing if need be) and wish them the best. We need to move on and we have to let other places and people move on as well.
What people and events in your life continue to be "dust on your feet?" What would you have to be willing to face to "shake the dust off?" What are you fearful of losing if you shake the dust off? What might manifest if you did so even though you are resistant?