A racing, anxious mind kept me up last night, elevating my heart rate, making it difficult to be calm enough to sleep. When I did sleep, my dreams were lucid, and I woke earlier in the morning that I intended; now I’m on the couch, cool wind blowing in through the window and the sound of cars on wet roads punctuating the quiet birdsong morning. A candle with a label that says ‘energizing and uplifting’ flickers, a warm contrast to the cool blue of the morning, rainy light.
I made golden chai tea. Shuffled my cards with hands, deep breath, and a prayer as one of the cats leapt onto the windowsill. A couple cards leapt out — a sign or my clumsy shuffling? Either way, I consider them significant, and lay them down along with a couple of others. They tell me that I treat others with so much compassion and strength. That abundance shines down on me. They tell me I have a hard time handling money. And, opposing each other, one card shows that worry hangs over my head, while another says that rest and healing is near after a time of difficulty and exhaustion, all I have to do is heed the call of sanctuary.
All seem to be true. Even the time of rest and healing, I can feel hanging at the edges of my life: a call to withdraw, to eat more nourishing foods, to meditate and write and direct at myself all of the love and compassion I give to so many others. If the labyrinth of life has lead me outwards, it is now leading me back inwards, back to my soul, back to the Self that lies beneath the fears, the insecurities, the anger, the judgement of myself and others. Back to the Self that breathes in the scent of rain and Spring flowers. Back to the Self that longs to bury hands in soil. Back to the Self that finds joy and peace in aloneness. That loses herself in dance and song.
Exactly two months from now, I will be ascending part of the Eastern Cascades in Washington with a group of others who are called to return to the land to reconnect with their deepest Selves. For several days, we will hold space with each other and go for walks on the land. Then, we will send each other off for 72 hours with camping gear and water to fast and, alone, rediscover who we are; we will welcome each other’s return with open arms and open hearts.
I did a similar fast and retreat two years ago, in the mountains east of Ashland. It ended up being a catalyst for many different changes in myself and in my life that I did not consciously predict, but which nonetheless needed to happen. I don’t know what this fast will be a catalyst for in my life; what I do know is that I go to the mountains to Remember who I am and to find a way to stay connected to my Wild Self, to the magic and power and wisdom that lives in my bones, even in the middle of the city. I go to the mountains “to lose my mind and find my soul,” as Muir so eloquently and accurately wrote.
And so it seems that my life is, already, leading me to the mountains. In truth, my retreat does not begin in two months; it began the day I signed up for it, and I have been slowly turning back to the inward spiral of the labyrinth of my life. Already I prepare, not just physically (the gathering of supplies and the giving up of addictions that will make it harder for me up there, like coffee), but also emotionally: I begin to draw inward, and crave the silence and peace of the early morning, before anyone else awakes. I am craving dancing, and singing, and painting, but I am craving the aloneness that lends inhibition and authenticity to those things.
My journey has begun. And it will only grow deeper, more and more lush and complex, as Spring blooms into Summer.
My Shadow comes closer when I take long breaks from social media.
Without the distraction of putting on and maintaining a mask for an audience of mainly people who don’t know the true daily details of my life and my heart, I am confronted by the parts of myself I’m not comfortable with: the parts that are vain, that are avoidant, that are manipulative, that are resentful and judgmental; in the end, it is these things that have often driven me back to social media and the promise that lies there of crafting a gilded front for people to look at and for me to convince myself there is no Shadow.
I deleted my Facebook profile (completely deleted, not just deactivated) months ago, back in July. When one of my best friends died at the beginning of December, all social media seemed suddenly pointless and a waste of time; here was my beautiful lifelong friend, who on Instagram seemed so content and grateful for her life, for her family, for her homestead with its horses and dogs and house-in-progress. Yet, beneath the facade, her heart was breaking to the point of no return.
After her Celebration of Life, I deleted the Instagram app off my phone, which really only has the memory space for one app at a time anyway; I replaced it with Spotify and a steady stream of music to drown out the grief in my brain. Thus, for the past three months, I haven’t posted on social media (other than here on WordPress, which I don’t completely count because it doesn’t encourage users to present a facade of the lives in order to get and keep followers, like Instagram does).
The longer I am off social media, the more I am forced to be present with my life. Seeing, acknowledging, and learning about my Shadow has become a non-negotiable part of that social-media-less existence. Getting to know my Shadow, via my grieving process, has been difficult and heart-wrenching; there has been a lot of anger, a lot of resentment, a lot of grief, and a lot of tears arising at various moments, in between desperate bouts of sexual heat (another coping mechanism).
But I’ve discovered something else: the Shadow isn’t all nastiness and unhealthy patterns and bad coping mechanisms. The Shadow is also parts of me I discarded as a child and as an adolescent because they didn’t fit what I felt the world wanted from me.
The Shadow is also my child-self. The Shadow is me at five years old, ascending my favorite climbing tree to sit on the topmost branch and feel my spirit soar with the wind against my face. The Shadow is my young feet exploring the forest and talking to the plants and trees. The Shadow is my stubborn belief in magic and wonder and the spirit(s) of Nature that, even as a teenager, I snuck out of my bedroom window to commune with. The Shadow is my 13-year-old self that elected to stay home when my family went to a concert, claiming disinterest, just so that I could stand in the snow and sing to the milky full moon.
My Shadow is my heartbreak at eight years old, sitting in a bathroom stall and hearing my classmates talk nastily about me, how dumb and immature I was for still believing in faeries. My Shadow is my desperation to fit in, the hiding away of my wild nature, and my grief when my attempts to be like everyone else just didn’t work. My Shadow is my hopelessness when my adolescent attempts at activism were looked down on and ignored because I just wasn’t cool enough, just wasn’t popular enough, just wasn’t intelligent enough. My Shadow is my fear of never, ever being good enough to be loved.
My Shadow is the parts of myself that were never bad, really, but are wounded by my and society’s rejection of them. And my Shadow is asking to be integrated again. My Shadow has been asking me to heal its wounds.
Healing the Shadow, of course, isn’t easy work; there’s no 1-2-3 method for it, and the more I get to know my Shadow and think about my experiences since I turned 18, the more I think that the process of healing the Shadow requires both intention and natural progression: I don’t think I could have healed my Shadow at 18, because I simply didn’t have a deep understanding of what a Shadow even was, not to mention I was lacking in the deep self-awareness that sort of introspection requires. It’s because of my experiences the past almost seven years that I am now able to look at these parts of myself and say: This is my Shadow. She is part of me, and she is hurting.
But my best friend’s death was, in its way, a catalyst for forcing myself to really look at my Shadow; not just for myself, but for her. Healing my Shadow is for her, in a way, because in the end she didn’t have the strength to heal hers: in the end, she was happiest when she returned again to Spirit. But I knew my friend, and I know she’d want me to heal in the way she wasn’t able to in this life.
I’ve been starting small — small steps that already seem to be accumulating in big ways. Daily, or nearly daily, poetry has been a low-energy form of introspection and acknowledgement of my emotions (rather than my usual avoidant tendencies). Finally talking about what lies in my heart, even when I’m not sure how the person I’m speaking to is going to react.
I’m also trying to heal my Shadow by taking the steps to return to those feelings of connection and peace I found before I let society scare them into hiding. While reading Material Girl, Mystical world by Ruby Warrington (founder of The Numinous), in a section about “doing your dharma” (your life’s purpose), I tried a suggestion of hers for figuring out, or beginning to figure out, what your dharma is (other than diving into your astrological natal chart): thinking of what brought you joy, ecstasy, and peace as a child, before the world told you it was a bad thing.
I closed my eyes and instantly I was there, in the forests surrounding my childhood home, communing with the land, sensing and talking to, in my child way, its spirit(s). Think about why that thing brought you joy, Warrington advises, and the answer came to me almost instantly.
After giving birth, while I was still living in Alaska, I fell headfirst into herbalism, not just as a way to create medicines and live a healthy life (although that was certainly part of it), but also as a way to commune again in a deep way with the land and with its spirit(s). In some traditions of herbalism — most notably the Wise Woman Tradition taught by Susun Weed — encourages the creation of a connection to herbal allies, often through focusing on one wild plant at a time, not only learning all you can about that plant, but also communing with it in deeply spiritual ways.
How I felt during that period, when I was focused on wild herbalism and the spiritual process of wildcrafting, reflected how I felt as a child, when every plant and tree had a spirit that spoke to me. In fact, it was one and the same: a piece of my Shadow, beginning to be healed.
Unfortunately, some months after moving to Oregon, that passion fell once again into hiding as I dealt with deep emotional turmoil; I forgot about it and never picked it up again. Yesterday, as I envisioned that period of my childhood and remembered my lost joy in active communion with nature, I felt my Shadow stirring, saying yes yes yes.
I don’t know how long it will take to heal my Shadow. From all I’ve read — and I’ve read quite a bit — it’s a lifelong process; perhaps it’s something I’ll never be finished doing. But if I let myself become overwhelmed by the enormity of the task, then I won’t do it; I’ll freeze up and the work will be left in stagnation, just as it did when I gave up herbalism and froze my growth in the face of my separation from my daughter’s father and resulting existential fear that came to take the place of that relationship.
So I’ll focus on the present.
I started with poetry, and now that it’s a habit, the poetry will continue to flow.
And now I’ll return to the land. I’ll return to talking to the trees and the plants. I’ll return to the nettle infusions and chickweed salads and dandelion tea. I’ll descend from my head into my heart.
I’ll remember where lush lives: in the soil beneath my feet, and in the fertile darkness of my own Shadow.
want to make your life more luscious? These are some ideas I wrote down that I can turn to when I need help embodying my 2019 focus word “lush,” which helps me connect more deeply with my life on a daily basis, and helps me go from my head (overthinking mode) to connecting with my senses and my heart as an avenue to deeper spiritual connection.
Get up an hour before anyone else. Make tea. Practice gratitude. Stretch. Breathe and watch the change of the morning light.
Give thanks before eating.
Ask my spiritual guides for help in the midst of challenge.
Guided meditation. (I love Boho Beautiful’s guided meditations on YouTube)
Write and draw a bit every day.
Practice ukulele every day.
Meditate, draw, and play music WITH my daughter. Do yoga WITH my daughter. Include her in my interests.
Learn one new hoop trick a week.
Bring my art supplies and my oracle cards to work and use them between calls.
Go for a walk in the park more days than not.
Collect sticks and rocks to decorate with my daughter.
Read inspiring books.
Invite friends to hang out with my daughter and I (don’t assume people don’t want to hang out with a four year old).
Hang out with inspiring and active people.
Drink herbal infusions.
Eat mostly whole foods.
Read to Luna before bed.
Sing before bed (before Luna and with my self)
Go on a hike with Luna once a month.,
Say no to that which drains my energy in destructive ways.
Say yes to that which feeds my soul.
Ask thought-provoking questions of myself and others; things like: “What’s the strangest thing that’s ever happened to you?” “What mundane act feels like a spiritual experience?” “What inspires you?” “What’s the hardest thing you’ve experienced, that ended up leading to something beautiful?”
Log out of social media. Stay logged out for at least a month at a time. Continue being logged out for as long as it feels freeing.
Get a window shelf. Learn how to grow plants. Start with easy-to-care herbs, houseplants, and simple greens like lettuce.
Fast periodically (in healthy, well-researched ways).
Take candlelit baths weekly, with bubble bath or bath bombs.
Wear beautiful clothes that are also comfy and practical.
Take a dance class.
Take an art class.
Go to poetry slams.
Go to pools, and open gym days at gymnastics centers for kids.
Speak the truth around the children (don’t assume they won’t understand)
Go see live music, with or without Luna.
Do low-key guerrilla art.
Pick wildly growing “weeds” and herbs, use as bouquets.
Buy flowers just because.
Use beautiful notebooks.
Use beautiful pens.
Hold potluck inspiration evenings, where everyone brings a favorite dish and something that inspires them.
Call my siblings just to say hi.
Once a day, stand with arms wide open.
Listen to music that enlivens the body, heart, and soul.
Every year, I choose a focus word to set my intention for the year. That focus word ends up becoming a theme for the following twelve months; it shapes my experiences and acts as an arrow in the bountiful light, and as a lantern when my path plunges into darkness, into the valley of my own shadow.
Last year, my word was “goddess,” which helped me to learn that connecting with divinity isn’t simply about ecstasy; it is about connecting with even the rage and the madness and the grief that goddesses go through in their own stories. It is about knowing oneself as one knows the night and the day: not hating some traits and preferring others, but rather accepting, loving, and embracing both as vital parts of life, and moving through them with ease, as Persephone does between earth and the underworld.
In 2017, my word was “self-love.” It was a word that led to me going on a three day, three night vision fast in the mountains, it led to my relationship with my daughter’s father transforming from domestic partnership to a co-parenting friendship, it led to me cleaning up my diet, and it put me on the path to greater self-awareness. It also gave me a deeper understanding of what self-love truly means: it’s not all bubble baths and lazy Sundays. It’s also looking critically at the parts of our lives (inner and outer) that are no longer serving our growth or the growth of the other people involved, and replacing those parts with things that do serve us and all involved.
Normally, I choose a focus word for my year before the new year even starts. But, deep in grief, my word for 2019 could not find me; I wasn’t listening to anything but the earthquakes in my chest.
Finally, nearly two months after the beginning of the new year (and three months after one of my best friends died) and a night before snow began to fall on this Oregon city, my word came to me: lush.
Lush as in beneficial growth.
Lush as in slowness that is not stasis but is, rather, rich with meaning, mindfulness, and possibility.
Lush as in vivid sensory moments. As in not a moment wasted. Every moment noticed and appreciated for the lusciousness it holds.
Lush as in the mundane becoming magical.
Lush as in living my life like I’m in a Hayao Miyasaki film:
Lush as in a focus on beauty regardless, or because of, circumstance.
As with my past focus words, this word will be both a question and an answer given to myself on a regular basis:
What can I do to make this situation more lush, more meaningful, more beautiful, more in service to my growth?
Embody lusciousness. Engage the senses in vivid and sacred ways. Let the material lead to the spiritual, by appreciating the world as it is, not as my mind thinks it should be — yet, not being too attached to it. Lush, not as an end goal, but rather — as an avenue to Spirit.
This year, the year I descend from my head into my body.
Into my heart. My gut. My womb.
The year I am not wishing: the year I am doing. The year I am loving. The year I am passion, peace, grounding, and creation all at the same time: the year I am like a deeply rooted, steadily growing plant. Every day worthwhile. Every day making a life.
Because nature does not hurry. Nature doesn’t overthink or over-analyze.
Nature grows. Lets go of what no longer serves. Rests. Then grows some more.