Under a spiky juniper bush, between rocks and a little sand a tiny skin recently shed was discovered as I pottered in the garden, tidying up after an escapee hen who had taken the idea of free-range to the next level. Probably the first time the creature, clearly a snake, had shed its skin and while not visible to me, I was fairly confident if something as small and slim as this moult, a larger adult version was likely to also be about. The residue left behind of something now invisible perhaps a warning, perhaps an invitation to caution, perhaps a crumb to a trail of more curiosity? I collected the gossamer phantom remains and reserved them to show a younger member of the family, who when presented with this information wanted to know where its owner was likely to be living. That is an excellent question.
When we leave something behind, we no longer need and shed the skin that we have grown out of where exactly are we now living? Moving to a new frontier to continue to transform away from public view is a kind of retreat many of us find useful as we disappear into our own landscape to test out new skin. The great resignation that seems to be a worldwide phenomenon is making visible what has been in many hearts, meaningless work, a lack of purpose and what David Graeber coined in 2018 “bullshit jobs” where he argued the existence of meaningless employment and the psychological destruction that inevitably follows.
The veil has dropped for many and not just in employment, in relationships, in cultural institutions, bringing a more potent energy to the signs of climate justice, health justice, racial justice. The retreats being taken to ‘down tools’, go on sabbatical, take an early retirement, embrace a shorter week are showing up all around me and like the skin shed by the invisible snake in the rocks in my garden, something bigger is brewing and growing out of sight. We shed our skin because it doesn’t fit any more, we have outgrown what has been holding us in, and in shedding the old, like a snake, the very act takes the parasites en route. The fragile, translucent quality of the experience means many will miss the transformation taking place, and then, what has been emerging invisibly becomes visible, sometimes to others, before you can see it yourself.
Shedding what is no longer alive in us, the dead cells cast away to enable new life to come forth, shiny, immature, now visible, is quite an overture. It doesn’t come as easily to me as it does to the snake who routinely has the process built into its biology. This process is both an act of dying and rebirth with the precious liminal space between these two movements. It happens when we are fully aware of a new role like parenthood, widowhood, new job, or loss of a job. It happens when we don’t notice our thoughts, feelings and experiences evolving, gaining depth, and meaning and we realise old friends no longer share the same values. It happens when we journey through a season in tact, but not quite the same as we were when the season started. It happens invisibly and becomes visible in an empty, turned outside sock, no longer able to contain what is emerging new and asking ourselves: Where are we living? What cells are alive in us, what ones are dead? What is longing to be shed?