It was the trees that called me from the house into freezing darkness. Moments earlier, I had opened the back door to let our two English Whippets out for a final time before bed, and in that brief aperture an icy wind spoke through swaying branches of the tall Ponderosa pines just beyond the deck. Something unlocked softly in my belly, like the comforting voice of a trusted friend, and I stepped forth from the warm shelter. Listening. Casting senses wide.
As ‘the boys’ roamed the snow-clad lower garden, sniffing here and there whilst attending to business, I glanced up at the sky, nothing a few twinkling diamonds cast beyond the spun wool of low grey clouds. Then I reached with my heart’s energetic field towards the two nearby conifers, as if to lay outstretched hands upon them as I often do during daylight hours when outdoors… feeling. The sub-freezing temperature nipped my ears with small sharp teeth, and my cheeks felt needled with tiny pin-pricks of invisible ice, yet I stood upon the porch as if rooted—drawn into a wordless communion with the noble trees and silvery shadows. The winter night was a lively realm of spirits, dancing Elementals of Air, and possibly even some ancestors of place. Sensing into the darkness, almost as if reaching for a lover’s hand beside me in a cold, dark place and, upon finding it there, just as wished for, detecting a subtle expansion and comfort in my being, the impression of being somehow more because of it.
Though two full moons have passed since the winter solstice, darkness in these northern latitudes still reigns over the land. This is a time of deep Earth dreaming and dormancy, rich with imagination and poesis; a few stirrings and tremors of possibility, perhaps, but not yet ready to wake.
Even in such a brief exchange as having emerged from familiar walls that contain and standing on the rear porch, senses and heart ajar to a larger story, I feel the connection—almost like peering into a moonlit pond of water and seeing my own pale reflection there—that I too am held in this time of inmost Earth dreaming. Gestation, even.
It seems almost a paradox that the past months of December and January, typically marking the depths of winter hibernation, were the busiest moon-cycle passages I’ve transited in more than ten years: releasing a new book, along with all the requisite promotion, marketing, and publicity involved; followed hotly by launching the Embodied Soul Podcast, with its own technological and work-time requirements (yet another new website, hosting platform, RSS feed, recording the first ten shows, submission to iTunes/Apple Podcasts, uploading to SoundCloud, etc.). Surely given all the outpouring of effort and busy-bee diligence, it should be spring rather than winter’s quietude.
At some moments during the ongoing flow of creative energy, I felt slightly out of sync or disconnected from Earth’s seasonal rhythms—a typical ailment for our electrified and wired society. To the extent I was able, I tended to this imbalance by shutting down the computer at five or six o’clock each evening, whether or not work tasks remain (they always do), and turned my attention once more to making a nourishing supper for my beloved and I. Somehow, in the darkness of winter, disengaging from illuminated screens and devices for the remainder of the evening feels especially important for well-being… primal, even.
The Great Wheel turns. Amid all the generating and busy-ness of work, the underlying energy I feel is that a phase of my life is completing and a new one beginning—perfectly in alignment with a deep-held conviction and knowing that all things are becoming. Yes, even in the dark depths of February in the Northern Hemisphere, something germinates like a seed buried in soil.
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For more than a decade, I have understood and conceptualized my work in all its various formats (books, blogs, clients, and even cooking when I did that professionally) as delivering nourishment. Indeed, the central query during those years of posting the weekly Soul Artist Journal was, how do we nourish the soul? Even in my somewhat recent turning away from a primary identity of “author” and back towards “healer”—closing the cover on the SAJ and launching TendingSacred coinciding with that shift—still my underlying focus or emphasis has been that ongoing theme. And repeatedly I’ve written and spoken about how we might we draw deeper into communion with the ‘more-than-human’ world and descend deeper into embodiment—itself a rich and soulful form of nourishment and aliveness.
Embodiment, fully inhabiting our relationship with place, and engaging with the Soul of the World, are glimmering, golden threads woven throughout my work. I still hold this kinesthetic awareness to be vital—especially if we hope for any sense of magic or enchantment in life. Such connection is needed by something in the heart, I think, and surely it is partly why the best-selling American poet, Mary Oliver, winner of the Pulitzer prize, has touched thousands of readers. Her simple, unabashed love of the natural world, along with the practice of slowing down and opening our senses to an ordinary moment of wonder, gently stitches us into a quilt of warm belonging which most people have lost… and yearn for.
In the invitation to a retreat I led at Ghost Ranch in New Mexico last summer, I employed some of Oliver’s words that always ring true for me: “My work is loving the world… which is mostly standing still and learning to be astonished.”
In January, I found myself tender and sad when I learned that she had passed, for her words have so truly enriched my existence and I know several of her poems by heart. Mary Oliver was a woman who clearly understood the gentle magic of simple things, the humble magic of loving the world.
The opening stanza of her classic poem “Wild Geese” I think is something of a gentle hymn to ’embodied soul’ and nourishment:
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles though the desert, repenting.
You have only to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.”
I like to imagine she would agree that acts of beauty and kindness are necessary in life.
Taking a break from all this work that recently calls and because the computer doesn’t feed my soul, stepping out for a walk alongside an icy river beneath a dull grey sky, bundled up against a cutting wind, as a “V” of wild Canadian geese flies low overhead, honking loudly, I cannot help but smile and call Oliver’s words up from my heart.
Meanwhile, the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting—
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.”(Mary Oliver)
The Soul of the World IS imagination, I say. Yet how do we wake from the modern trance? And to what will we give the gift of our attention as a means of nourishing the soul…?
Alongside such creativity, mindfulness or awareness, how many words have I penned about the power of simple ritual—of making room for the everyday sacred in our lives—along with gratitude for this “one wild and precious life” (again quoting Oliver). Even if that is merely pausing for a pot of tea in the afternoon, brewed in a favourite Wedgwood pot adorned with a colourful cuckoo, simply for a bit of whimsical elegance, and because, as another paradox, sometimes my earthy and rustic soul wishes to sip from a delicate, bone china cup with saucer, a few homemade “keto” (sugar-free, grain-free, low carb) gingersnaps alongside, all while gazing out the window at a dreamscape of shifting clouds. Imagination, awhirl.
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Yet through these days of winter dreaming, I feel the course shifting; a deeper aspect of the current taking my vessel by the hull and prow. I’m heading further out to sea, perhaps. Or maybe what I sense, as with a tree, is that another branch has emerged higher on the trunk, upon which new fruit ripens.
Last autumn, during my monthlong stay in the Peruvian Amazon, apprenticing with Shipibo shamans, curanderos and vegetalistas, working with their sacred plant medicines, this first crystallized: my work as a healer is not simply about conscious embodiment but also to help others become “clear” in their bodysoul.
All I have undergone these past three years of radical change and transformation—including my own healing crisis and subsequent shamanic initiation—was to become clear, as unobstructed as I may be from limiting patterns, projections, Shadow, unhealthy habits and/or diet; anything that does not support my largest work and soul mission in the world. The powerful dieta and cleanse in the Amazon jungle simply supported that conviction… and further widened my heart.
For one of things I have come to understand on a core level is that we cannot truly transform—or even attain a significantly expanded consciousness—if we’re filling our bodies with junk: whether sugar and industrial foods, or mainstream mass-media, or otherwise living a lifestyle out of alignment with nature’s rhythms and the bodysoul’s highest good. Ayurveda and yoga have long understood and embraced this viewpoint, and now it rests at the heart of what my work is evolving into, a body-soul approach that I call Full Spectrum Healing. [Read “Soul, Biochemistry, and the Soul of the World” TendingSacred, 2017]
Perhaps this is just a subtle, natural progression of my work, from nourishment to helping others disentangle from restricting patterns and trauma, as well as clearing the physicality of bodysoul—including factors of diet (especially the gut–brain connection and restoring the microbiome), lifestyle, along with embodied soul and wellness practices.
Or maybe this shift is a significant turning-point and leap, and I am now moving into entirely new territory—working as a medicine man with powerful plant allies to clear the bad spirits many people are carrying.
Besides myself, many others have put forward that each of us is the Universe/Multiverse embodied—experiencing and celebrating itself. In that, everything is evolving and becoming; moving towards greater expression, greater connectivity, greater consciousness. And we’re connected to ALL of it: microbes to 100 billion galaxies. Moreover, every individual has a unique role to play in this ongoing emergence, a soulful purpose on the planet during a crucial period of transforming our very broken culture and ignorant human existence. Amid the chaos of climate change, in a time of institutional collapse, societal and structural breakdown, collectivism and widespread nihilism—of widespread soul sickness and “soul loss” as shamans would call it—it is actually this creative self, a reconnection to soul and the essential gift that each has to bring, that heals and reconnects while simultaneously propelling our individual and collective evolution.
All things are becoming.
Really, it is only humans who resist transformation. To a certain extent, it happens regardless, yet unlike other beings, due to our free will and creative agency, we may choose to facilitate and empower our evolution. We can deliberately decide to move into uncreated territory with greater awareness and greater love (towards ourselves, as well), and embrace the Deep Imagination as it emerges through us. In a seven-stage, soul-centric model I use, ‘downloaded’ to me one stormy night in England several years ago, we grow and evolve through a series of concentric, expanding phases; in the more advanced stages of development, we actually collaborate with bodysoul and Nature in support of our Life Task, Soul Task, and sacred giveaway in the world.
To be consciously embodied (breath, somatic awareness, depth-based soul work, etc.) is to evolve willingly. Not that we ever see clearly or exactly where we are going, what we’re growing into or becoming; much remains with the Mystery and our soul’s mission in this lifetime. Yet we don’t have to strive, force, or make it happen; our becoming is as organic as a rose or any other being in nature, putting forth its intricate beauty with precise timing. Still, we can facilitate this evolution, mostly by learning to let go of what we’re clinging to: expectations, control, agenda, will, and the rational intellect’s need to understand and direct a process. Our dreams, even. Relinquishing our attachments, as it were, by saying ‘yes’ to what life brings us, even when that feels as if it’s breaking us open—especially then.
All of this is part of becoming clear. Unobstructed and unstuck. Free. And most certainly it is an ongoing practice—the work of a lifetime as an evolutionary soul.
Even here, now, in the depths of a frigid winter, Earth is dreaming us awake; not unlike the “imaginal buds” within the body of a caterpillar that, once inside its cocoon, begin to link up and form an entirely new organism as the old structure dissolves in a matrix of sticky goo (quite possibly Nature’s ultimate metaphor for transformation).
Through these long dark nights, what are your dreams telling you? Who where you before you awoke to this day world we call “reality”?
Simplistic as it may seem, we facilitate our awakening/evolution by reconnecting via our senses and heart to the living web that surrounds and enfolds—even in a city, but especially with what we term “nature”—for even brief moments at at time. Like standing on the freezing porch at night while the dogs are outside, listening to the wind and spirits move amid tall pines.
In such exchanges, we are drawn subtly outwards and engage—commune, if we will—with something much larger. Like an inhale, it’s an unspoken means of saying ‘yes’ to life and its mysterious processes… and imagination.
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Here in Central Oregon, winter long ago claimed our garden, and the Green Man on the gate wears a frosty cap of fluffy white. Beneath the repeated layers of snowfall, under the frozen soil, or woven in night’s darkness during this time of Earth dreaming, what stirs in my soul?
This morning I shoveled deep snow after the latest storm, pausing every so often in the physical effort, not only to rest my groaning muscles but also to savour the crystalline scene and hush of quietude. A weighty silence pressing down. Smiling at the guttural croaking of a raven, the only voice to be heard, as he winged high above the heavy, watchful trees.
Soulful nourishment is everywhere if we pay attention and welcome it, seducing us into an intimate relationship with life.
Friend, here’s hoping you understand that all the Cosmos, you included, is becoming and evolving. Trust that. Let go the rudder and determinedly steering your vessel toward a fixed destination, letting the current take you instead. Say yes to those subterranean currents of Mystery even when it means relinquishing your grip on whatever you’re clinging to: the identity of work, a familiar role, relationship, place, or notions of security. Yes, especially then—because all of those are almost certainly too small for you.
Open your senses and heart. Heed your soul and its whispers, those beguiling, perplexing allurements beckoning you down an unexplored path… even into shadows.
In the words of Mary Oliver, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”
What will you dare to become and emerge to…? And what will you bring bravely to others?
Gentle reader, here’s to the seasons, cycles, and passages of an embodied soul’s journey; spiraling ever onward, all things becoming, even while they dissolve and change. Earth is dreaming us awake, with a very precise (if inexplicable) timing that we cannot begin to fathom; the best we can do is say yes to it, while consciously celebrating the mysterious and priceless gift of being alive.
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