Molly Halpern

Mar 23, 2021

4 min read

Gonna lay down my sword and shield

This weekend I attended an online class on the power of storytelling by the wonderful yin yoga teacher, Biff Mithoefer.

One of the things he spoke about is how stories can become ingrained in us… how they can turn into patterns… and how, over time, we may notice that certain stories stop working for us.

And how even thenthe stories themselves can become the teachers. The story becomes a tool for transformation.

We’re called to wonder. Is there a better way?

He reminded us of a concept attributed to Joseph Campbell — of reaching the top of the ladder, only to realize we’ve placed it against the wrong wall.

Biff invited us to ask ourselves:

Which stories do we want to let go of?

What new stories do we want to write?

The next day, I woke with this song in mind.

I’m gonna lay down my sword and shield,

Down by the riverside.

Down by the riverside.

Down by the riverside.

I’m gonna lay down my sword and shield,

Down by the riverside.

I ain’t gonna study war no more.

(There’s a link to a heartwarming version at the end.)

Here we find ourselves… all of us on this one mysterious planet… at this equinox. At this time of transformation… when days and nights are of equal length…. yin and yang are in equilibrium… when dark equals light, night equals day. Equinox.

The pendulum slows, almost to a stop, but moves… slowly… And I realize it’s a moment to catch this wave… to feel the pull and ride it towards change.

On Friday, I walked past the community garden. And just like every week, a dozen cars were parked and 30 people stood around eating, talking, and picking vegetables. As I turned and gave my customary wave, I saw the typical mate being passed around between sips, people arriving and embracing in the customary kiss and hug. Unmasked all.

This scene greets me every week, so I usually skip my walk that day. After almost a year, I’ve discovered I feel better not going, not seeing it. My true feelings make me want to give them the finger, but manners always win. I turn, I wave, I smile.

I pass them again on the way home, and the pattern repeats. And so, too, does the loneliness, the sadness, the ache that follows. In my throat, in my heart. I hold it together until I’m out of view, and then I cry. I return home angry, my body tense.

But the time has come. Time to write a new story. Time to lay down my sword and shield.

I decided this after the weekend, thanks to Biff’s powerful class. This song, Down by the Riverside, is one I loved to sing with my parents as a kid. Now I’ve cued it up permanently in my mind — ready to go, as the mantra I sing to myself each time I have an angry thought about the community.

And then, right away, I got a chance to practice… to use my old story as a teacher. To start to write a new one.

As I headed out on my walk yesterday, I realized there were about 20 people there in the community garden. It was strange, for there isn’t usually anyone there except on Fridays. But it’s fall when all gardens offer their bounty.

Passing by, I felt the familiar nervous energy pulse through my body. The question of what to do. The deep desire to curse… the knowing that I’d turn, smile, and wave. And then I’d hurt.

Yesterday I began to write a new story. I turned up the music in my headphones, stood tall, and looked up at the bright blue sky.

I walked past the garden as if no one were there. And like magic, in my mind, they were gone. It didn’t exist. Without sadness or anger, I had no need for weapons. With no need to act or to pretend, I had no need for armor. I let down my shield. For those moments, I felt free.

Of course, at first, it felt rude not to wave. But I desperately need to write a new story. A story in which I am kind to myself, first and foremost. No matter what.

For the truth is — my everyday physical reality consists of no living beings but my partner and our animals. On my computer, I feel the love of wonderful friends and colleagues, family and teachers.

This is the true community I live in.

This feels like the “town in my heart.”

These words were used by my friend’s young daughter, to describe the home we can always go to, the one that’s inside of us.

Remembering how to get there, she adds:

“That’s the most important part. You find the town by singing your song.

I feel blessed because I am starting to remember.

That this town in my heart is always there. That I can get there by singing my song.

A place where I am seen. Welcomed. Loved.

There I can go. Always.

There can I lay down my sword and shield.

I ain’t gonna study war no more.