I walk a lot on empty beaches. It helps me breathe from muscly places in my belly that otherwise I can’t feel because they’re so deep. So last Monday I guess it was, walking along the roiled and wilen coast, beholding the brown and black and steel greys of Hurricane Maria’s deeps, there came this fleeting thought. You could go camping Thursday, if so and so falls into place…there’s a window you could squeeze it in and camp until work Friday at noon.
I went camping because I could and because it meant forcing myself, because it’s lofty camping on your own, the reality of it, and takes work to follow it through.
I set my tent on the bayside of one of our barrier islands that is also a national park. Basic. Satisfied. There was a natural arbor of wild grape vines behind my little dome that opened into a wooded purple stained path leading to the water. I cruised to the beach. It was a gorgeous day, windy still from the passing of Maria, a storm whose effect was surged and shuddered oceans, thankfully no impact on our lil mid-Atlantic spits of swampy forest and farm lands. It was 17 mph that day and the sea stacked her sets, breaking two and even three peaks one on top the other, crossing and cursing currents also ripped by longshore tides. I got to the beach and no one was in and barely anyone was there. Far out were two surfers catching nothing. I used my fins to swim and the lifeguard watched from a truck for 10 minutes before leaving me to my whim.
By the end of the swim I was restless. I went camping because care for my soul life and nurturing it is, at the end of the day, up to only me. It is not a pill I can take, it comes down to how I choose to feed the parts I feel but cannot see. I went back to camp, then walked out to the Bay. I wrote just to write, the other sure fire practice that personally illumines my life, helps me feel like I’m living my hours in a way that’s more filled in.
Now, it is harvest week, the last full moon of the growing season. Growth: concept of momentum, of stored energy completing its cycles of motion, of sugared sun translating from storage to fruit. The moon peaks full Thursday. From there on the cycles wheel us deeper and deeper underground.
I spent yesterday’s quiet practice reflecting on all the experiences of the year. It’s been a hard one. A flippen lot of pain, death and illnesses and other loss. It has also been rich with celebration and good relations: women’s medicine, and being close to the earth, to family joy, to art, to nurtured time with dear friends.
And in all, deep-tilling the ground from which I’ll grow my dreams.
Back at camp, over the bay the sun dropped. For a half hour or so I beheld the experience, did nothing other than witness just to see how that would go.
Walking back to my tent was twinkly twilight glee, an energy pouring into and out of me like a child. The fire I built was from kindling I hatcheted myself!! I ate fish cooked over the grate and these two experiences alone fulfilled me like nothing else I can really say…
Then the stars, how every one that appeared signaled some new part of myself that showed up and I want it to be clear, how the glee passed and how uncomfortable that was, sitting still with the funked out shit of my personal experiences this year. I sat and sat, unplugged 100% and decompressing from that, because I know unquestionably that while it isn’t always immediate: Nature heals the soul.
Eventually, many hours into the night, came peace, and the sweetness of being inwardly still, a being among beingness, with the burnt down embers of my fire and the marvel of all those specs of sparkle stars.
Nature restores my inward settings, it has yet again helped me process which is how I keep moving. Of that knowing, and the reality for me this year that writing and creative downtime are not only non-negotiables but that this has zero to do with production for commodity value, I am proud to say my Harvest this year is part of my day to day.
I emerge this Harvest week sure of the same ol medicine. The soul life is up to only me to tend for me, and its absence manifests in all ways physical and mental, of that it’s a guarantee.
That’s a lot of bounty I’d say, and so it was that Poetry came through to reflect it for me the next morning at camp over hot coffee and stunning late September blue, as Poetry expressing the Wild Nature does oh yes, oh yes it does!!
There is a deeper fact in the soul than compensation, to wit, its own nature. The soul is not a compensation, but a life. The soul is. Under all this running sea of circumstance, whose waters ebb and flow with perfect balance, lies the aboriginal abyss of real Being. Essence, or God, is not a relation or a part, but the whole.
From “Compensation”, in Essays and Poems, Ralph Waldo Emerson
Most of this article appeared on Wild Women Wisdom originally on March 4, 2013
Now, it’s important to clarify some ideas.
This work, the women’s work or depth development, lets call it soul work. Soul work can edge up next to concepts that are self-helpy and lots of people, including myself, get eye rolls when it comes to that subject. Yea, it seems to surprise people when they learn that I shrink at New Agey I’m-okay-you’re-okay movements. How can I bulk at New Age stuff and keep a column that educates on the symbolism and influence of cycles in our life!?
Specifically, it’s any philosophy that says it alone is the right way or the only, singular answer that makes me grind my teeth. Finger-wagging judginess immediately shuts me down. This is LIFE! Multiplicitious, infinite, totally quantam. There are sooo many options, so many solutions. A person says spirituality should be this or should look that way and I am the first to counter: the most spiritual thing I’ve done all week was dance sweaty til 3 am then eat a cheese steak dripping full with grease…!!
Soul work, to me, resonates because it is personal. It starts with the premise that the answers are within you. A person like me just affirms the existence of what Carl Jung calls the anima function–the receptive, the dark or normally unseen, the soul. It is my goal to grow an appreciation of how our society has suppressed this aspect, to help see how our thoughts have programmed “tapes” that run in support of this suppression in your own life, and finally to help translate how the soul might be speaking to you. I am, after all, a language teacher! Your connection to your own deep sense of aliveness has nothing to do with how I define mine, likewise I have no business telling you how to experience or define yours. I just help you tap into and follow the communication going on in your interior life.
Soul-work IS NOT self-esteem. Laura San Nicolas, a soul-focused psychotherapist in Laguna Beach, emphasizes this. It’s not about feeling better about ourselves. In the Western world, the generation in which I was raised, as well as the ones beneath mine, have come of age with this stigma: brought-up with unspoken entitlement resulting from having all our security needs easily provided for. Think Maslow here. We live an inherent belief system that life should be easy, and if indeed we are confronted to actually develop and challenge ourselves, we bemoan that life isn’t meant to feel this way because it feels hard or we think we shouldn’t struggle. As Laura says, “Who ever said that life wasn’t meant to scare us? To be difficult or challenging?”
We have on our hands generations of twenty-and thirty-somethings, (I count myself among these numbers here!!) having “quarter-life crisises” or “thrisis-es” because the concept of self-esteem is uniquely tied in to the same soul-suppressing, societal brainwash that equates self-worth to consumer success. I have+so I feel good=I am worth it! So when the soul-life, which is the life that regenerates us from within, that helps us acquire meaningful understanding of our own experience and therefor gives us reason to engage from day to day because it imbues our unique experience with personal meaning, starts to emerge, it almost always starts because we feel bad. Soul work is about transformation. It has no arrival point. It is a way of experiencing the world, one that keeps a steady awareness of the relationship between interior life, and the life going on outside us in the rest of the world.
Soul-work therefor is about feeling alive. Thomas Moore, in his book “Care for the Soul,” says “the soul can be deceptively simple. You take back what has been disowned. You work with what is, rather than what you wish were there.” I understand this to mean what it took twelve steps to teach me (I need things laid out good and simple!): Responsibility, or taking daily action towards what is going on in my life here, how, today, just for today! What is directly in front of me.
Living a life of soul means engaging in the work of my own real life. The relationships, the duties, and the fun parts of what I am expected to show up to in my own life, today. It is my own real life that is the teacher, do I show up today or do I check out? Checking out is what Moore speaks of by disowning.
And if I am disowning, that’s where I start. Not with why, just with a simple, present yes, this is happening. Which takes me back to self-honesty as the way to hear the message, sometimes the siren, that the soul is signaling. We learn to be gentle with this work, tender, yes. Because really being connected in a meaningful, soulful way is a challenge. It’s not the artificiality of well-combed hair and a perfected, smiling sheen. Soul work is not the same as look-good, feel-good self-esteem.
It’s about real life. Which get’s us dirty and at times, is going to knock us to our knees.
Two Thursday’s ago, in the low, monastic candle-lit room here in the hobbit house in the canyon wall, I prepared wordlessly for an important initiation. Not that of an ancient rite or mysterious sect. To all appearances, in fact, it was little more than a scholastic necessity. I prepared to drive to Santa Barbara, to take and pass my clinical oral exams as a counseling depth psychologist.
I made my rounds about my sweet space, in and out in measured scurry. Returning to my front door from my compost out under the deck, I stopped in an almost trip, fell into immediate silence, and pause. Beetle was at my entry. Sacred Scarab.
What a harbinger this was, and my body knew it, the way it responded deep in my blood. A subtle entrancement, the kind that comes from awareness–in a daily, cultivated way, of reverence for a deeper appreciation of life and its meaningful ways.
Should we choose this deeper awareness, this open and ongoing relationship with all things, it is always there to engage us.
Perhaps this alone is the women’s work. A reverent, open-hearted awareness, cultivated, of the multitude of depths and meaning to behold in this mysterious place. With the passing of the exams, a knitting together came for me. All those life moments that have led me here, to California where I’ve surrendered to my calling. Of studies of the women’s psyche and soul, of the meanings and passings of this being human thing, of the nature of Nature. All the things I said goodbye too, an accounting of each and every loss, and simultaneous blessing that resulted, on the journey that led me to the Rite of passing those exams.
Sacred Scarab, who represents the end of an old way of being.
She showed up last night, again. I’ve had no previous experiences with her until these last two weeks. Buzzing around my head as soon as I turned the light off in my bed. I am touched by what the significance of her timing today means. In deep and worshipful awe, arms open heart wide, I am willing to say YES. And to also embrace the necessary, accompanying goodbyes.
And here it is, moonlight again; we’ve bathed in the river
and are sweet and wholesome once more.
We kneel side-by-side in the sand;
we worship each other in whispers.
But the inner parts remember the fermenting hay,
the comfortable odor of dung, the animal incense,
and passion, its bloody labor
its birth and rebirth and decay.
from Semele Recycled, Carolyn Kizer
Which is the 15th of every month, and created and celebrated by me as a means of practicing deep, unconditional self-love for 24 hours, no matter what. It means I have to be really aware of self-talk and behavior. It means I get to relish in love and good feelings. It means I get a mid-month reminder that my approach to life starts within. Here is my most recent post at Dandelion Moms speaking a bit more about this.