The Unfolding: A Return to the Wild Mind, Part 3

imgresI have a wound deep inside of me that hasn’t fully healed.  It’s tender, soft, and warm.  It has an electric sensitivity to emotions, mine and others.  When it witnesses beauty in all its many splendid forms, it fills up my soul and almost crushes it at the same time.  It is a special, sacred place tucked away inside the cave of my heart.  I can access it at any time, in a variety of creative ways.  It sometimes reveals itself to me as a fountain of tears falling into a crystalline bright pink lotus flower with green petals surrounding it.  Other times, it appears to me in the form of a small girl child that can only communicate through images and dance-like movements.

In Colorado, I came to know my wound and found some of the lessons it has been trying to teach me all my life.

I was on another one of my solo hikes, searching for a place off trail that was beckoning me to sit and tell my story.  As I climbed up the trail, the creek was to my right, slowly gliding down the foothill of the mountain.  Dappled sunlight streamed through the pines and aspen trees.  A short distance away, I saw a clearing where the light broke through the underbrush.  I approached this space and immediately felt the magical call of faeries, woodland sprites and all the other tiny creatures that once inhabited my childhood imagination.

I stepped off the trail into this spot, and saw a boulder in the center of the stream.  I carefully waded out into the creek bed, choosing stable, large stones that looked like they would support me and my backpack.  Each step became more precarious as a few of the stones rolled slightly left to right.  The boulder was almost within arm’s length and so I became brave and stepped boldly towards it.  I did not gage the depth of the river well enough, and for all the money I spent on waterproof boots they weren’t enough to keep the water from rushing in over my ankles, past my shins, and soaking my socks and shoes.  But, I was committed, so I tossed my pack onto the boulder and dragged my waterlogged feet behind me as I crawled up the flat-faced, sun-baked boulder.

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After a few minutes of ringing out my socks and dumping water out of my boots, I got cozy and realized I was blessed to be in such a quiet, untouched part of the woods with a rushing creek on both sides of me.

Gently and lovingly, I called out the wounded child in me who has been afraid of living, creating, and loving too passionately and too grandly.  Afraid of being seen as weak, or different, or too emotional.  I told her story to the creek and the stones.  I shared with them how she remembers playing a game in kindergarten where everyone was in a circle, holding the edge of a red parachute and moving it up and down while kids were called to run underneath it and escape to the other side before it touched down on them.  Her name was called.  She remembers being underneath the parachute and looking up to see the sunlight diffused in a glow of translucent red, like the inside of a womb or a beating heart.  She stayed under there longer than most children, mesmerized at the beauty of the moment. She had to crawl on the cool green grass to make it to the other side and was teased by another kid for being “too slow” to play this game.

I told the creek and the stones how she remembers her heart breaking as natural light flooded through the windows of the darkened second grade classroom during a “lights out, heads down” moment.  She saw the tiny beans planted in the plastic cup, their stems reaching up to the light.  Tears came to her eyes at the sheer beauty of beanstalks and dirt and sunlight.  She pretended to pay attention when the halogen lights came back on, but her head kept turning towards the sunlight and the beanstalks on the bookshelves instead of towards the chalkboard.

I told the creek and the stones how she would walk her dog down the neighborhood street and stare up at the moon and stars, hoping that if she stared long enough she would be filled with starlight and stardust and float away on the breeze.

Her world as it was then wasn’t ready for her romantic gifts of light, tenderness, beauty and expression.  She would write poetry, but then throw them away because she feared they were not good enough.  She would criticize her mistakes on her drawings or get frustrated when kids didn’t see her vision of how their games could be made more special by adding in song or dance. She would keep ideas, dreams and imagination tucked inside of her, storing it all within the dark recesses of her sacred cave and instead encourage friends to feel like they were the ones more creative and entitled to attention and recognition.  Over the years as she shed some of her fears, her gifts trickled out in forms of tears, of poems, of drawings, or of dance. But they were quickly put away when they became too much to handle, either for her or for others around her.

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Here in the middle of the creek bed I let her be seen by the butterflies, the chipmunks, the creek, and the stones.  I asked her what she wanted to do with all of these gifts she had stored away or doled out in small doses over the years.  I audibly heard myself tell my pent up dreams to the creek, the same dreams of the small, wounded girl who is a steward to the sacred wound in the cave of my heart.  If money, status, career do not really matter on this earth, then my dream is to fall in love and be loved and seen in return.  To be creative and write, draw, dance and express myself in every way that I know how at any given moment when beauty abounds, whether inside or outside of me.

I told the creek that I would pledge my stewardship to my creative talents that come out in various forms that can only be expressed by me.  Creative nonfiction writing and poetry are part of this plan to express and share my heart with others.  I also know by sharing my writing others they will have moments to access their own emotions more freely and willingly and connect to their own hearts more authentically as well.
I even told the creek and the stones that I knew this meant letting go of my job as a high school English teacher and I would follow the path whenever it appears and to wherever it takes me, no matter how uncertain it may seem at times.  Creative ideas of becoming a freelance writer, a yoga and body-centered instructor, a nature lover/guide, and a creative arts program director all danced in my heart and mind.   New ideas are revealing themselves as the days and weeks go by.

My inner child thanked me for being so honest with myself.  I felt a lightness, a lifting, form around my heart and fill up my body with peace and contentment.  The sunlight danced brighter on the ripples of the creek, and the birds and insect chirps became louder, almost as if they were cheering me on.  Tears of relief flowed down my face.  I let out a sigh and wiped away the remaining droplets that were streaming now down my neck.  I took a long inhale, and as I exhaled any residual worries or fears, an osprey silently glided over me and swooped down near the creek as it continued flying south.  I took this as a sign that the unfolding of my desires, talents, and gifts are beginning to flow more freely from my fountain of tears that were once locked inside the cave of my heart.images

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Birds of a Feather: A Return to the Wild Mind, Part 2

The first morning after arriving at Shadowcliff Lodge near Grand Lake, Colorado, I decided to get up early and do yoga on the rocks that faced the looming mountains in the east.  I dressed in layers, zipped myself up in my black jacket, and pulled on sparkly red, fingerless gloves.  When I walked outside, the cold mountain air was a shock to my system and I was a bit confused that I could see my breath in mid-August.

I climbed up on an outcropping not too far from the lodge.  I started breathing in while reaching my arms overhead and breathing out while lowering my hands to my side.  I noticed one of my group members, Sarah, on another outcropping not too far from me.  She was doing tai chi with grace and ease.  Meanwhile, I was fumbling to hold myself upright with my left hand pressed up against the boulder behind me while my right ankle was over my knee as I was squatting so as to get a good hip stretch.

The sun slowly began inching its way over the top of the mountain as frustration and tension began rising up my spine, lodging into my tense neck and facial muscles.  “Why am I not doing my yoga right?” I thought to myself.  “Why doesn’t this feel as organic and beautiful as it should?  I’m in the Rocky Mountains as the sun is coming up, damn’t.  This should feel like a profound and heart-opening moment right now.”  I chalked it up to the chill in the air and the fact that I had just spent the night on a bunk bed in which I could feel every spring and wooden slat in the mattress.

I knew those weren’t the real reasons why I felt a resistance inside of me, however.  It was because I was trying to force my mind and body into a meditative and serene state of being by doing linear poses that were in alignment with my inhale and exhale.  My breath was forced.  My poses were forced.  My beliefs that this specific moment would bring me instant inner peace and knowing were forced.  The whole experience was forced.  So, I forced myself to stop moving and to watch the woman in front of me instead.  She is in her early 50s, tall, athletic, with her brown hair cut in a youthful and pretty bob.  That morning, her down-filled vest looked like the color of the morning’s sky.  In my mind’s eye, she seemed to be surrounded by a soft mountain mist that artfully blurred the edges of her and her surroundings.  She was so fluid and smooth in her movements:  leaning and pushing with her arms, swooping down and around with her hips and knees, holding and steadying herself before her body took on another fluid, organic shape.

About this time, I heard a solitary wind flute as if a Native American ceremony was happening somewhere in the valley below us.  The sun’s angle transformed her into a silhouette.  Every rise and fall of the notes from the flute moved her more gracefully into herself then out into the air, the trees, the boulders, the creek below, and the mountains in the distance and back again.  I took all of this to be a sign and closed my eyes and forgot about the fact that I could tumble down a rocky outcropping.  (I reassured myself if I did fall, I would survive by landing somewhat ungracefully on the gravel trail not too far below).  I grounded my legs and feet and started moving with the flute sounds.  This grounding and slow movement turned into my breath, which then in turn circled around inside of my body and breathed out into the crisp morning air and back again.  My hips circled and swayed.  I moved my fingers and arms as I opened my chest and pulled back my shoulders.  I felt as graceful as the osprey and the eagles that glided on the wind in the valley below me.  I was as alert as the two chipmunk that scurried around my feet and the shrubs around me.

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The flute music came to an end and I opened my eyes.  Sarah was walking towards my area and we greeted each other.  The breeze, the chill, and the brightness of the morning sun had brought water to my eyes and I had already the beginnings of post-nasal drip.  I laughed and wiped away the tears that probably looked like they belonged to an emotional basket case.  I asked her if she had heard the flute player as we were practicing our morning movements.  She grinned and told me that was the music she had on her cellphone and uses every morning for her tai chi exercises.  Albeit, the revelation of this fact was less glamourous that my romantic notion of a rustic, magical mountain man stepping out of his log cabin below to greet us and the morning sun; yet I couldn’t help to think how lovely everything synced up this morning to pull me out of my stuck thoughts and back into my body and my heart center.

We chatted a few more minutes and then she went inside to eat breakfast.  I stayed a little longer in hopes to capture the sun’s rays on my face, and to also hold on to the brief moment of fluidity and sensuality that arose in my body not more than five minutes ago.

I stood there, facing east, waiting again to feel a sense of enlightenment or rapture at being out in the wild.  A breeze blew over me and I filled my lungs deeply, cursing slightly at the slight headache and dryness in my nose, both lingering effects of yesterday’s altitude sickness.  I turned and began walking back to the big lodge.  Just when I thought the magic had faded from my morning, two hummingbirds swooped up over my head.  Hoping for a drop of nectar, they dove down, hovered over my hands, and brushed up against my red sequenced, fingerless gloves.  I stopped in the middle of climbing the stairs and held out my hands, palms up.  I heard the motorized fluttering of their wings and tiny chirps of communication between the two of them.  As fast as they had arrived, they left and landed in a pine tree a few feet away.

I got to the top of the stairs and leaned up against the banister of the deck that wrapped around the dining lodge.  Sage, one of our guides, came out with her cup of coffee and stood next to me silently, like a patient teacher waiting for the curious yet guarded student to ask a question or spark a conversation.  I took the bait and told her about my two hummingbirds.  I laughed off the encounter as a fluke due to the fact that I was wearing bright red.  She took a sip of coffee and leaned up against the banister as well.  She simply nodded her head and said, “Mmmm. . .”  I smiled, recognizing that as both acknowledgment of my statement and a prompt to really dig deeper and trust my intuition that the encounter was also a sign or a communication from the larger world that houses both the outer and inner wilderness of ourselves.  These hummingbirds were reintroducing me back to my natural, beautiful, sweet, sensual self that I had lost along the way as a full-fledged adult caught up in the railroad track of life (to paraphrase Henry David Thoreau).  At least these were my thoughts I finally uncovered as Sage stood there listening to me babbling on and on.  She gazed off into the valley below us and paraphrased what I had just said, adding on, “That sounds like a lovely way to start this journey.  I wouldn’t be surprised if your hummingbirds came back to check in on you.”

Later that day, I went farther down the trail by the lodge and spotted two huge boulders.  I started to climb up one, and heard some rustling right below it.  It was Bernard, one of the older men in our group, and a great lover of the Earth.  He had nestled himself next to the boulder that was balanced on and supported by another smaller boulder below it.  He told me it was solid but that it wasn’t the best idea to climb on top of it.  I asked him if he was Ok if I sat on the boulder next to his for the afternoon’s contemplation exercise.  He welcomed me and I climbed a little ways up the hill and scampered up the boulder.  I shrugged off my backpack and unzipped my black jacket to use as a seat cover.  I pushed up the red sleeves of my thin shirt and faced east again.  I could see and hear the running creek below.  I got very quiet, settling in to simply watch the full afternoon sunlight dance off the rippling waves.  That’s when I heard the beautiful, light drumming coming from Bernard’s direction.

He was humming with a lovely sing-song voice in sync with the constant drumming of his handheld Native American drum.  He was there to offer prayers and blessings to the four boulders in that area that he called “Grandfather Rocks”.  My thoughts and worries dropped away from me and I was lulled by the sound of the creek, the beat of the drum, and Bernard’s shamanistic humming that was soothing and rhythmic at the same time.  Tears swelled up to my eyes, real ones this time.  The modern world faded away and I no longer saw the town of Grand Lake with its telephone wires, speed boats, early afternoon traffic below.  Instead, the creek came alive even more and I watched as a hawk swooped down and skimmed the surface of the water.  Chipmunks came out of their hiding places and danced around in the brush below me.  Grasshoppers with snapping-sounding wings jumped and danced around me.  A butterfly flitted by and was carried on the breeze.  Still I heard the rushing of the creek, the constant beat of the drum, and the rhythmic pulses of Bernard’s humming, which all now sounded ancient yet alive at the same time.

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My heart swelled and I felt so alive in not only my body but in the moment.  Nothing else mattered.  No one desire welled up inside of me yet everything I’ve ever wanted seemed possible and tangible.  Just then, two hummingbirds danced around my head.  One dive-bombed my shirt and I felt the ripple of its wings caressing my back left shoulder as I heard their motor-like hum purring in my ear.  A slight wind from the fast motion of its wings lifted wisps of my hair and tickled my neck.  I sat as still as I possibly could.  It kept flying away into the air and back again, this time moving to the center of my spine, right between both shoulder blades at the back of my heart.  Back and forth, keeping time with the drumbeat.  And I could swear that I felt my heart pounding more strongly than I have in my life.  The sound of the creek became more distinct.  The hummingbird’s wings created a tattoo of small pulses on my back.  The drumbeat stayed constant and strong.  The ancient voice issued forth from this modern man connected to the land.   If this was being alive, truly alive, then I was experiencing it, not thinking it.  My heartbeat, the drumbeat.  My heart’s desires, the hummingbird’s wings.  My tears, my heart’s song flowing like the voices of the ancient ones.  All gathered here on this rock:  unwavering, feeling, and living in sync with the wilderness both outside and inside of myself.

Into the Woods: A Return to the Wild Mind, Part 1

photo 2The guides take us into a small clearing under pine trees and next to a small, rushing stream.  We plop our backpacks down, our breath heaving a bit as we try to recover from the rocky, uphill walk to the trail head.  Some have portable camping chairs while others of us brush away the pine needles, tiny pine cones, spiders and ants before sitting.

“I can’t believe I’m finally here,” I think to myself as the group settles in and the guides begin explaining the first exercise of the 5 day retreat.

For the past few months, I’ve felt the urge to somehow mark my 40th birthday in a big way.  I feel, for whatever reason, that this is a year of transition and manifestation.  A year for me to finally take root and fill out the shape of who I am as a woman.  Since the time I was 5, a tenderness and artistic sensitivity were present in my heart and mind.  When I was 8, 9, and 10, I would walk to the edge of the woods behind my house, breathe in the scent of the earthy ground mixed with the sweet decaying smell of oak leaves, and get excited because inside those woods mystery abounded.  I would take the longer, darker path and wait to hear some whispering of imagination or my spirit speak to me or reveal something important or meaningful to me.   In those woods, I felt large, alive, and magical, like a woodland spirit or sprite, or when I was feeling particularly powerful and imaginative, like Artemis, the goddess of the hunt and the moon.  In my room, I would write poetry, draw my ideas, and dream of the wild things that lived not too far from my backyard.

Flash forward some 30 years later and I found myself quite removed from those childhood fantasies, dreams, and other-worldy connections.  My heart was tucked away for safe keeping, and I became dominated by my mind.  I was a functioning neurotic with an oddball sense of humor, a high sensitivity to other’s words and emotions, and a thirst for knowledge and wisdom.  I was wracked with guilt, fear, shame, loathing, contempt, and anger at myself and my life.  I secretly longed for love, passion, connection, and expression.  I was having an “existential crisis” without labeling it that.  Somewhere along this path, some part of my guard around my heart cracked open and I began to question if 40 would finally mark the time in my life where I stopped fearing not only my impending death but also fearing my existence.  I decided to get brave and took it upon myself to find out.  That’s how I found myself in the forest of the Colorado Rockies with 9 other like-minded individuals and 2 guides willing to lead us not only back into the woods but also back to our true selves.photo 1

I can not recall what the group talked about a few moments ago.  On the break, I pick up a small black pebble near the creek bed and turn it over and over in my hand.  It feels warm to the touch and I press it up to my face and let the sun’s baked-in warmth soak into my cheek.  My head and ears are still muffled from this afternoon’s earlier altitude sickness.  I hear one of the guides calling us back from break and impulsively I dip the small rock into the stream and press it again to my cheek, this time noticing the drastic difference of the cool water that surges and prickles my nerve endings.

I carry this rounded pebble with me, hold it, and use it almost like a worry stone when I hear the instructions for our first solo hike.  “You probably won’t encounter a bear,” they say.  “Or a mountain lion.  But if you do, get really large and yell.  Hold your pack over your head and show no fear.  Do not run.  If you see deer or elk or moose. . .give them plenty of space. . .Carry your whistles and blow really hard if you find yourself in need.  Don’t stop blowing the whistle until someone finds you.”

We are instructed to find a place, preferably off-trail, that calls to us and to walk into that space and sit with that feeling of being welcomed back into the wild world.  As silly as it sounds, our guides tell us that it may be beneficial to even have a conversation with the place and introduce ourselves.  “Silently, right?” someone asks.  One of the guides laughs and gently says, “You can.  But why not speak your heart out loud?  Let yourself be known.  You’re being watched as it is.”

We all walk out of the clearing and like birds searching the ground for food, we begin cocking our heads, turning in circles, looking at the ground, and then looking up and down the trail to find our place.  We slowly break from the flock and go our separate ways.

I begin walking up the trail, wondering when I will know where to go.  I’m mindful that the creek is to my right.  It’s comforting to hear the rushing waters at all times.    I walk, searching for the place.  My mind begins to wander with each step I take.  My old patterns of worry and fear start playing their one-track song inside my head.  I notice that I am no longer in the present and this noticing actually helps bring me back to the moment.  Just then, I look to my left and see the sun streaming softly through the trees.  This place welcomes me and invites me in.

“It’s like being in Sherwood forest or in King Arthur’s Camelot,” I muse to myself.  I creep to the edge of the trail and peer through the underbrush and the overgrowth and see, at the top of the hill, a log, perfect for sitting and contemplating my life. Without any hesitation, I venture into the woods.  Twigs snap under my hiking boots, tiny limbs catch on my sweatshirt, pants, and backpack.  I walk on and gingerly cross over small, rotted pine trees and push aside brambles and weeds.  The birds become quiet and the scramblings of squirrels and other ground animals stop as well.  I have arrived at the log and I look up and see a clearing of sky between an aspen to my left and two beautiful pines to my right.  There, in the blue sky and the muted sunshine is the quarter moon on its slow journey to becoming its full, luminous self.

It’s breathtaking to be able to experience sunshine, the moon, the whispers of pine and the rustle of wild grass in the breeze.

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I sit down on the log and look up at the moon.  The trees in front of me slightly sway, left to right, back and forth.  Nature’s way of saying, “Hello.”  I smile and without even thinking I wave back to the trees.  I take a few deep breaths of the fresh mountain air and settle into myself.  Suddenly, it doesn’t matter that I’m alone, in the forest, with mountain lions, elk, moose, deer and whatever slithered away behind me.  I’m supposed to be here, in this moment, with all the other living, breathing creatures of this planet.  I’m supposed to sway slightly like the trees as the wind from the mountaintop breezes through this space.

I continue to gaze at the moon and just breathe.  The slight chirping of birds turn into their full songs.  A little squirrel begins cracking a nut at the other end of the log.  We look at each other and he decides I’m not to be trusted with his bounty, so he scampers away.  I laugh and I hear some creature behind me make a noise that sounds eerily like a grunt.  I speak out loud to him, saying, “I hear you.  I promise you I’m not here to hurt you.  You’re safe. It’s Ok.”  I hear him retreat and let out a sigh of relief and giggle in amusement at my bold 10 year old self talking to the woodland creatures like a loving Artemis or Snow White.

“Why have I come here?” I ask out loud to the trees that are framing the moon.  “What desire lured me out West to sit on a log away from a well-worn path?”  I get no response except for their gentle swaying and the glorious views around me.  Suddenly, I have my answer:  I am here to simply be myself.  All of me.  All of those parts of me that I have hidden away for whatever reason, for whatever necessity, for whatever excuse or fear or desire or need or longing that I have denied.  I am to be like both the sun and the moon.  The light and the shadow.  The wind and the trees.  The scurrying squirrel.  The hidden beast.  The chirping birds.  The clinging vines.  The broken twigs.  The resting log.  And I don’t have to choose; for it all has been chosen for me simply because I am a living, breathing creature of this earth.  And all of me has been waiting for this part of me all along.  I have been welcomed back to my wild, beautiful, natural self.