Courage and Calling

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Recently I’ve discovered this community of women online who are pursuing their passion of working with women outdoors. Some are writing about adventurous women, some are leading educational backpacking trips, some are leading transformative retreats. Seeing these ladies stepping out into their dreams and taking risks and trusting their gifts inspires me to do the same. I want to reach out to them and ask how they did it. I want to be part of that community, helping our fellow women re-connect to nature and themselves.

This weekend I helped guide four women on a 3 day quest with 24 hours of fasting solo time. It felt hard, and good, and so right. It felt like my Soul Work. It felt ancient and archetypal and, as one participant shared, “like you’ve been doing it for a thousand years”. During my own solo time on Saturday, I had this vision of myself leading women on a pilgrimage through the Santa Ynez Mountains. I know this work is what I am for.

Having the courage to step into that vision is the challenge for me. Here’s to embarking on that journey – building my website, calling in clients.

Pilgrimage

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As things fall into place for the next steps in my journey I find myself thinking about the idea of pilgrimage. The stories that resonate with me most are stories of women who undertake journeys that require bravery and courage and strength- ones that seem impossible at first. Ones that their friends and family say “Are you crazy?” to, but that their souls are calling them toward. A couple of favorite examples – Cheryl Strayed’s PCT hike in Wild, or Elizabeth Gilbert’s soul-searching travels in Eat, Pray, Love.

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Today I was listening to this Podcast – She Explores – in which Gale Straub interviews women about courage and creativity in the outdoors. In listening to the first episode, I had a thought. What is this magic about women in particular and transformation in the wilderness? What inspires them to undertake these journeys – trekking the Australian outback on foot, biking from California to Minnesota and then backpacking from there to the Pacific Ocean, hiking from Mexico to Canada, or completing the Appalachian trail, or the Continental Divide trail, or the Camino de Santiago…what is it that inspired these women to separate from their daily lives to enter the wilderness for long periods of time, to seek something bigger than themselves, something healing and hard and life changing?

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I want to talk to these women and hear their stories. What inspired you to go? How did you grow? What was hard? What did you heal? Who left? Who came back? My time in graduate school is going to be focused on women and pilgrimage in the wilderness. How have these pilgrimages been portrayed in mythology? What happens in the psyche during pilgrimage? How does it heal? What is the internal vs. external journey? I have so much excitement and clarity about pursuing these ideas. More than just wilderness questing or rites of passage work – there is something special about pilgrimage. Here’s to a new adventure in learning…

 

Dreaming Again

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I’ve been practicing self care. Rowing, swimming, hiking, painting, going to therapy. And putting boundaries around what I can and can’t do at work. It still ebbs and flows, but I feel my self returning. I’m filling up again little by little. I am so provided for.

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And in really seeing how provided for I am- the abundance of love and comfort in my lift, the gift to see each step laid out before me, if only I have the courage to take it- I have found a sense of trust. And a feeling like I can breathe again and dream again.

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Last night I re-applied to the PhD program I was accepted to last year and deferred. I knew from the moment I first applied a year ago that my soul was called to that program- me having the faith and courage to embark on the journey was another process. But here I am, ready.

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Last night my boyfriend and I found that we could both transfer our jobs to be near school. And we looked at apartments. And we asked ourselves- are we ready to be ocean people? Yes. But as a mountain girl, I feel a little grief around not being a quick drive to my Sierras.

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We are going to visit the school on July 8th. And we are going to ask our employers today about transferring to Ventura county. The steps are forming in front of us- here’s to the courage to follow them. Here’s to my courage in taking this step into realizing my dreams for myself as a wilderness quest guide and somatic eco therapist. Aho!

 

Humbling

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It’s been a while since I’ve written here. I think it’s because even though I know the healing power of nature, it’s hard for me to get myself out there for a hike or even just to sit. Lately I’ve been busy and overwhelmed and so fragile and I think what I am realizing is that I need some time. Time to heal myself, because how can I ever help others heal if I myself am in shambles?

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Maybe this place will keep transforming. Maybe this will be the place where I honestly and vulnerably explore my healing in service of helping others and the earth heal. This is the place where I come home to myself again and remember my strength and my wisdom and my feminine power.

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It starts with the healing. And only that. And trusting that the rest will come from that.

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Discovery of the Work

Two years ago, I participated in a women’s wilderness retreat. That experience was a stepping stone onto my true path, and I feel the need to describe my experience there in order to give you a sense of why this work is so powerful and important to me.

When I arrived at my retreat, I was nervous. It was my first time camping in years, and my first time camping “alone”. I was also nervous about the format of the retreat. The first day was for setting intention and holding council, followed by a fire ceremony. The next morning, we would wake up and cross over the threshold into solo time on the land, fasting from food in silence. On the third day, we would be brought back over the threshold, and hold council in honor of each other’s stories and experiences before processing how to integrate our experience and take it back into the world with us.

Immediately, I was struck by the synchronicities among the women in the group. Our intentions all resonated so closely, and we had had such similar experiences. With those women, I felt more seen than I ever had before. I was able to open myself up and be raw and honest with them just after a few hours together. I met two fellow budding therapists, and it felt so good to be around people who spoke my language. That night during the fire ceremony, the mood shifted to a primal one as we sacrificed our old ways of being to Grandmother Fire. I had never felt myself go so deep within before. It felt like pure feminine energy inside of me, something I had always previously struggled with expressing and was now luxuriating in. Our guide recited a poem, The Journey by Mary Oliver. This is the poem with which one of my teachers had opened our first class ever. That night, I had a dream that Native American elders were preparing supplies for me and my fellow questers for our solo time the next day.

The next morning, we stepped into a circle of stones one-by-one as the guides saged us and prayed to the spirits for us. We each embarked on our solo journeys on the land, heading in different directions. I knew I wanted to find the redwoods, as they were the trees I had felt the strongest connection to throughout my life. As I walked down into a canyon I noticed that the trees seemed to be reaching out to me, guiding me. “This way! You are on the right path.” they said. I saw seven redwoods in a circle and recalled what my dad had told me once: redwoods grow close together because they hold each other up with their roots. I touched each of the seven trees and the word “sisters” came into my mind. I thought about the seven women I was on the retreat with, and sent them love. As I continued walking, I saw a deer in the trail.

She stopped and looked at me, and I looked at her. We held each other’s eyes for a while before she finally walked away, and once again I heard the word “sister” in my mind. I heard water and found a waterfall not too far ahead. It was barely flowing due to the drought, but I was able to find a large flat rock in the middle of the shallow water and lay down on it. As I lay there, I noticed the huge trees swaying above, and the image of them peering down at me as I lay in a cradle came into my mind. “We love you so much,” they said. I felt overwhelmed suddenly by the magic of it all, by the feeling of sisterhood I had felt with the trees and the animals, by the sense of being cradled by the rock and lulled by the river and watched by the trees. I fell asleep on the rock, full of gratitude, joy, and wonder.

My solo time on the land was full of moments of connection like the one described above. I was fully open to receiving the messages from nature and I felt fully loved and part of something like I had never experienced before in my life. As an adoptee, I had very much felt like I was always on the outside of things- family, friendships, even myself. The joy and love and peace I felt filled me such intense gratitude. I felt rooted and grounded in myself in a new way. I felt like I had found a home in my body and a family in nature and like I was finally connected in the way that I had wanted to be my entire life. I felt that by embracing my wild woman, I had been able to connect to mother earth and for once, fully feel the love that she held for me. I knew that I wanted to share this love with others.

Healing

Today I went out for a hike and I was reminded of why I fell in love with nature as therapy in the first place. I had gone out despite the cold and the rain because I couldn’t stand being inside for one minute more. I’ve been struggling with intense and difficult episode of depression and anxiety for about a month straight now, and this morning I was near my breaking point. I felt that I literally would not be able to contain my emotional experience in my body if I didn’t release them today – I would surely completely break. I felt lonely, isolated, misunderstood, overwhelmed, and afraid. I didn’t have a plan, but I trusted that once I was out there I would know what to do.

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I began my hike and soon enough the rain began. I had my rain coat on, so I wasn’t too worried. Even if I got soaking wet I wouldn’t mind- it would cleanse me. I went off trail almost immediately because I knew of a spot I wanted to sit at down by the river. As I made my way down, slipping in mud, I began to feel the burden on my heart lifting. I found a rock to sit on, pulled my rain coat in close around me, and hunkered down. I felt like I was waiting for something, some sign of what to do next. I closed my eyes and asked for help as the rain poured over me and the river rushed by.

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Soon I very clearly heard a voice inside say “throw rocks into the river.” I made my way over to a tree and sat under it, gathering rocks. I picked up a stone, and without pausing to think I said, “I release my feelings of unworthiness.” and threw it forcefully into the river. I did this about ten times, each time saying more and more to describe what I was letting go of and why. By the end of this exercise, I felt so light, clean, and empty. No longer weighed down by the emotions that had been heavily on my heart. I also felt so safe, warm, and held by nature. I felt my nervous system calm for the first time in a month. I turned to walk back to the trail and saw that the sun was coming out.

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Half of the sky was blue and half was grey. I stood in the sunshine and basked in the warmth, expecting to see a rainbow.

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That’s the story of how a quick hike this morning brought me out of a month long slump, one that medication and therapy couldn’t fix. How magical is that? Nature is free. It’s something we all have access to. This is why I want to share the gift of mother earth as a healing force with everyone I can. I know I’m going to have to work to keep my mental health, and this walk didn’t cure me. But it reminded me what my baseline feels like, and gave me a leg up as I continue my journey.

Why Wilderness?

There’s something magical about the shifts that can happen when we go out in nature with intention. Crossing a threshold and consciously altering our awareness to tune into nature’s wisdom opens us up to an entirely different world- one where we move and speak in ways that we might not in our day to day lives. This re-patterning lends itself to seeing ourselves and our relationship to the greater whole in new and different ways. We might feel a deep sense of belonging rather than than awkwardness, or a feeling of groundedness and calm where before there was anxiety.

The Earth and her beings are a living, breathing system that we are a part of. It’s so easy to forget that fact, in our age of social media, technology, and rushing from point A to point B. By slowing down and remembering where we come from in a somatic way, we are able to return to our every day lives with fresh eyes, and a motivation to shed what no longer serves. The wilderness reminds us that we are animals too, and that once we lived in harmony with it’s rhythms and processes. If we can return to that state, even for an hour or so, that remembering can be a healing force.

There is something powerful about untamed wilderness and stripping ourselves bare in the face of it- inviting it to teach us what it knows.  John Muir said, “I only went out for a walk, and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in. ” Nature leads us to ourselves, if we take the time to listen.