As many of you know I have a pet pigeon named Pearl. She's a fascinating creature. When I first met her she was a ridiculous ball of puff, confused and suspicious about her new surroundings. Since then, I've had the treat and privilege of learning other shapes she takes: the elongated posture of curiosity, her contented scrunch, and a splay-winged flop when she sunbathes. As we spend more and more time together she reveals new facets of herself.
The latest has been in turns messy, hilarious, and fascinating. It's molting season!
One thing I love about animals is that they're unapologetically themselves. In late summer I noticed Pearl getting grumpier and grumpier. Although she's no shrinking daisy (this pigeon has good boundaries!) she was being particularly salty. Wing-slaps, angry cooing, and hissing pecks came my way whenever I approached. And then the next day when I looked into her cage I saw what looked like a whole bird's worth of feathers.
Since then Pearl has gone through three bouts of moulting. Each has the same pattern: grumpiness, an insatiable appetite for birdseed, and a cascade of feathers. Next, tender new feathers start emerging and Pearl gets sleepy, conserving her energy as she grows.
The whole process has been beautiful to observe and it has had me thinking a lot about the painful, prickly, and transformative nature of change. I think sometimes we look at the proces as levelling-up, complete with its video-game simplicity. Looking at Pearl, however, I saw how change is gradual and comes in phases. Most importantly, it's a challenging process. Our new feathers feel prickly and itchy, we feel vulnerable, and as we shed what's old there's a time in between when we're left exposed and unsure. We have to trust the process.
Because I'm a tarot reader, I just had to ask myself which tarot cards represent this type of change. Not the cataclysmic type, brought on by outside forces, as shown in The Tarot. As I shuffled through my deck, it dawned on me - the Eight of Cups.
Oh, how I love this card. It's poetic, mysterious, and a bit unnerving, a cloaked figure moving away from eight upturned cups heading along the start of a rocky mountain pass. Why are they undertaking this journey? The cups behind them are upright and plentiful, surely enough to satisfy their needs, and the road ahead looks bumpy and uncertain. Yet there's a sense of peace there as well, an idea that the natural time has come to move on and that the journey will be worth it.
Here the idea of moulting, of change, shows up as a natural impulse - an inner call we must heed as we shed what once worked and now is not enough. Who wants to be burdened with old, ratty feathers that are good enough, sure, but far from ideal. Should we abandon change simply because it will be difficult and, at times, painful?
I see this as the moments we all know so well, times when we're called to move on and we're not sure why, only that it feels deeply necessary. Like moulting, it's a primal and natural process. It's part of who we are.
Looking over at my grumpy pigeon I realize that not questioning these impulses frees us to experience them for what they are and to care for ourselves the best we know how. Pearl certainly doesn't apologize for the fact that she needs extra alone time and much more birdseed when she's shedding her feathers. She certainly doesn't apologize for needing her space as I've learned from several decisive pecks.
While we don't have to go around wing slapping our friends and family when we're in the process of shedding old ideas, beliefs, or relationships, I think it's important to make room for our own moulting process. Getting to know our needs a we embark on the brave process of change is tender and beautiful. We can give ourself the gift of what we need, making room for time to heal, reflect, and grow. Our reward? A majestic new set of feathers and a greater understanding of who we truly are.