I find this time of year to be about reflections and remembering...
When we look back at important stepping stones in our time line, whether it be a year or a decade, we honor the people, places and moments that have shaped our path.
It is really only after seeing this bigger picture that the next stepping stones show up for us.
This past year has been nothing but challenging. I have been angrier than ever before, I have felt heartbreak over and over again and allowed a deep well of grief to overcome me- for my marriage falling apart, for loosing a best friend, for betraying myself, for the ways my family structure hurt my inner child, for the raging forest fires, for the depleted ecosystems in my backyard, for the times when I thought there was no hope.
And yet, I am learning to love again. From a place of resource.
And love does not look the same as it used to. Love is becoming a sanctuary that lives in my womb, love is a split second urge to hold out my hand and to be received, love is holding my child's heart as he grieves the loss of his parent's union, love is the blue jay alarming loudly letting the basket of trees know a barred owl has overstepped a boundary, love is giving and receiving boundaries, love is believing in myself.
Ten years ago, I embarked on my first weekend retreat in a yurt. A few weeks later, I was in Peru undergoing a brand new shamanic activation. I was in love with the man I share a child with and life was kind and abundant. And, I didn't know that I would be facing the darkest and most tender parts of my childhood down the line. I didn't know that I would see shame in most of my actions and words, I didn't know that I was so resistant to joy, I didn't know that my deepest longing is to have connection, big connection.
As I move into a new home- again- I am reminded that all life must deconstruct and decompose before it can be turned into rich soil, fertile for new life. If there is one thing I know for myself now, is that I am not alone in this and I cannot stand alone in it. I know that life is even more kind and abundant today for the depth with which I am capable of experiencing all of lifespan's turmoils and joys is ten-fold what it was when I attended that retreat in the yurt.
The stones that I have picked up and let go in streams and lakes, the fires I have started and extinguished, the songs I have learned and forgotten, the people I have touched and hurt- they are all in love and in service of my soul's purpose.
I am most grateful to the angels of support who have guided me through this past year. In moments of panic, not knowing where to go, and in submerging myself in the grace of night time songs and sharing, the right people showed up exactly when I needed. Most of all, this has been a year of learning to trust, to trust that my ancestors and spirit are supporting me, to trust that humans are well meaning, and to trust that I can stand on my own two feet and lead from my heart.
The divine feminine is gracing us with her presence here in the Northeast.
The yoni is the place of origin of all things.
Spring reveals the gift of what deep rest gives birth too.
Forever we must be grateful for those who have come before us to pass down the knowledge of what is good to eat.
Above is a cattail shoot, a delicious wild edible, can be eaten raw, better even cooked to avoid contamination from the water it sits in.
Below is a wild greens salad with about a dozen plants considered to be 'weeds': chickweed, plantain, wild leeks, chives, violet, ground ivy, sheep head sorrel, yarrow, dandelion, garlic mustard, cinquefoil, fiddleheads.
All of these plants have medicinal properties. Food is medicine.
The plants, and the different parts of plants, also have specific energetic constitutions and vibrations. Food is healing.
Almost a decade ago, while I began my journey in early childhood education, I watched a youtube video of a forest kindergarten somewhere in Sweden. As I witnessed the children no older than 5 or 6 using using knives, climbing trees, cooking over open flames and playing with sticks, I knew that I had to do this work, that I had to bring this freedom of childhood to our children. So many of my fondest memories as a child are set in the forest or meadows, building forts and floating leaf boats down streams. However, what I was witnessing in the indoor preschool classrooms, however good the intentions, was stifled joy and the suffocation of play- a child's most important avenue of learning. Right then I knew that being in connection to nature was the key and essential to wholesome living.
It took me many years to take the leap and move out of the city, but the seed had been planted in my heart that one day I would start my own forest kindergarten. Since then, the nature movement has grown exponentially in the United States. Science is backing up what native cultures have known for centuries- that being in nature (especially in the early years) creates neural pathways in the brain that help children problem solve,self-regulate, become more creative and also boosts immunity (among many other things!). Not only that, but learning the ways of our Earth builds up a sense of place and belonging which in turn fosters a deep, loving connection to all living things. This, I think, is essential in a world of instant gratification and disconnection to the materials we use and food we eat. For example, when a child observes and works in building a shelter with a group of peers and guiding adults, that child is learning what materials work or do not work, the sequencing in the placement of the different parts, how to ask questions, strengthens muscle tone, how to plan ahead and that the resources we need are all around us all the time. It also takes time for it to manifest, and when it does, the feeling of accomplishment is priceless.
When I planted the seed for the forest kindergarten, I had no idea that the seed would grow into what my life looks like now. I had a vision of learning wilderness and primitive skills for myself and so I signed up for an adult class at the Flying Deer Nature Center when my son was about 1 and still nursing. My human glasses turned rainbow colored and my heart was full in ways I had never witnessed. Maybe in part because I had stepped into motherhood, but also because the connection with the people around me was so touching- people saw me as a valued member of the group with all my strengths and passions in the spotlight. I saw that I was worthy of so much more than the standard I had set up for myself up until that point. In the end, we all crave authentic connection and that is what I had been lucky enough to find.
Over the past 2 years I have mentored children and youth of all ages and have been mentored by some of the most incredible people - Devin Franklin, Michelle Apland, Josh and Theresa Wood, Kevin Bose, Dan Corral and more. Today, these same people performed a simple ceremony for me as I launch a new Forest Kindergarten program in Fall. I was asked to lead myself and the group in part of it- a symbol of my capacity to be leader. To be handed over this pot of soil, with a sprout growing strong, full of trust and support is more than anything I could have dreamed of.
As I grow into this role, I shed a lack of self-respect, I shed shame of feeling inadequate and I shed unexpressed joy and playfulness!
I thank all of you from the bottom of my heart. I thank my intuition for guiding me to this point in my career. I thank all of creation for my life on this Earth.
This is a post about the time I slept in a debris in the Fall of 2016!
Home. What is home? It’s a place we go to when we are not at work, a place we store things, a place to decorate, a place to create culture and share. It is a place that protects you from getting wet and cold, or shields you from the hot sun and other weather.
However, in the larger sense of the word, a home is a place of comfort and support. Home is also a feeling- a deep longing to an original sense of being, a sense of place.
Our physical homes may be among concrete if you live in a city or among trees if you live in the woods. No matter what a home looks like, it resides within a larger context. This larger context – the Earth itself – provides all of the necessary materials needed to create a home. With a little knowledge and strength, humans can build incredible things using all the resources at hand.
Upon building the structure of the debris hut (a survival shelter), I started getting excited at the prospect of sleeping in it. It was fun as there was a community of people around me helping to build it, and the structure looked sound and sturdy. The hard work it took to find the perfect branches to create the skeleton of the hut was subdued by the fact that I was not alone. It also because very clear to me that I would have to work very diligently and fast if I were to sleep in a hut like this in a survival situation – and that I may have to settle for a less well insulated one given time and energy constraints.
After thousands and thousands of leaves had been placed on top of the skeleton to create enough insulation, I began to have a deeper understanding of what challenges might lay ahead of me that night. Not only was it the smallest space I have ever slept in, but also, the complete darkness, claustrophobia and the tremendous weight of the debris over me was on my mind.
That night, the hot stones we heated up on the wood stove were my saving grace. Combined with my body heat, it was eventually somewhat comfortable in temperature inside there! It took my body and mind a while to settle into the narrow space. My body shivered in waves, sometimes relaxing against the warmth of the rocks, sometimes realizing the top half of me was cold due to the fact I had a gap of about four inches between my body and the attic of the hut. The other place I could feel a cold draft entering was at my head where the door of the hut was. I put one stone on either side of me and one under my head and covered them up with a small clump of leaves so they weren’t so hard against my body. They stayed warm until the early morning.
Then my mind geared up for the ride. What if this thing implodes on top of me? What time is it? What if I only last an hour in here? How is my son doing tonight sleeping at his grandparent’s house for the first time? What if a bear comes around a finds this thing interesting? Don’t worry, the door is right there… you can always go back to the tent if you want to… there is nothing here to harm you…you are being taken care of… you are safe…you can breathe.
The hut dampens noises, and so my normal sense of movements out in the forest didn’t exist. I could only hear a few of the leaves blowing off the hut and my own breath. I desperately wanted to look at my watch every time I woke up slightly, but decided that would make things worse. It was also completely dark, my only frame of reference being my own body and the door opening at my head. There I was; I only had my breath, the forest floor and most likely a bunch of ticks to cradle me through a 25-degree night. Eventually, exhaustion from a long day building the hut took over me and I was able to sleep a good chunk of the night.
At 4 am, I awoke thinking that either I must have only slept for an hour or its almost dawn. And I had a strong urge to urinate. Decision: go out and pee and find out what time it is? Or stay inside and sleep more and save all the heat? Curiosity won over me, and I went out, peed and looked at my watch. 2 more hours I told myself. Back inside I went and slept soundly until 6am, even though the stones were no longer warm.
As I lay engulfed in this pile of leaves and sticks, it dawned on me that I could trust the Earth and my community of people who helped create a safe and somewhat comfortable shelter. The experience made me extremely grateful for the spacious home that I live in everyday, as well as curious about how to make my home simpler and less taxing on natural resources.
It also birthed a deeper gratitude for the trees and their wisdom of the seasons (i.e. Dropping leaves in the fall) and for all of the elders who have passed on this information so that we can re-learn these types of skills which shed light on how to continue living connected to the Earth. Most of all, I was once again reminded that I can trust myself to know what to do and when to do it and that I am my best ally. Sleeping in the debris hut has given me the confidence and reassurance that the forest can also be my home.
The wound is the place where the Light enters you. -Jalaluddin Rumi
Most of life, I have felt unworthy of taking up space on this Earth, of being heard, of being loved and being who I am. Part of me always felt like others were better than I, that something was wrong with me and that I was not perfect enough. Last year, I made a commitment to practice self-love and to observe the parts of myself that are most hurt and wounded. Through this painful process, depression, anxiety and anger have surfaced many times but I have also sensed a profound re-arrangment of my being, a much more gentle and compassionate attitude towards myself.
Becoming a leader in different capacities has certainly been a large part of this healing. The thing is, I am not naturally inclined to lead, I find it so much easier to follow in the footsteps of others because I think that I could not possibly do it the same or better. Diving deep into the courage to step out of that shell of low self-esteem and finding the places that hurt the most inside have been key to unleashing a very strong core sense of autonomy and inner strength.
With the help of others and certain tools such as breathwork, writing, different types of bodywork , ritual gatherings, working with friction fire and more, I am uncovering the layers of dynamic patterns I engage in with myself and the people I love. This is scary, as life can appear to fall apart at the seams. But after the destruction, a renewed sense of peace and calm can be built. And it is this longing to connect to myself, to really know and accept all parts of ME that has brought me into leadership roles.
This cannot be done without vulnerability. The root of the word "vulnerare" means to hurt, to wound or injure. Becoming aware and radically accepting yourself for who you are sometimes requires you to treat these wounds with forgiveness and compassion. I believe we can do so by becoming our own leaders of our own hearts. By being willing to love all the ugly, nasty and scary aspects of who we are (as well as the beautiful, fun and shining), we acknowledge that we are multi faceted and ever changing beings and that its okay to fall and fail, just as much as its okay to shine bright. And so its our responsibility to alchemize those wounds and turn them into light.
May we lead ourselves into love and let our lives play out as one great ceremony.
About five years ago, I had a panic attack in Grand Central Station in New York City. I had never experienced one in my life and have not had one since. I had missed my train and was running around trying to find Jack, my husband, but couldn't move. I was paralyzed by the fear that something terrible was going to happen to me and the thousands of other people traveling in and out at top speed of this quintessential transportation hub. I thought the world was going to implode on top of me and that I would never make it out.
That was the moment we decided to move out of the city. First to upstate NY and now to the Berkshires, Massachusetts. Many aspects of my life changed when we moved. My brain and body literally had to detox from the constant stimulation and noise that we expertly trained ourselves to tune out. Another thing was feeling like I was starting to belong to a community. I connected to women in my area through a monthly new moon circle, I stopped to talk to people and look them in the eye, and I kept finding that friendship circles overlapped.
Not only did I realize that I could truly connect with my human allies, but the Earth and all its living beings started to become a part of my daily life and community too. I began to get to know individual animals and plants, the red squirrel that lives in the cedar tree, the jewelweed glimmering defense against poison ivy. I think that all these things are possible in a city too, its just of matter of speaking the language.
This weekend I was in NYC and walked over the Brooklyn Bridge and realized how much my literacy of the world has changed after 5 years of marriage to my husband, almost 3 years since becoming a mom and 2 years of focused and structured immersion in learning the language of nature. I had a base understanding of what it meant to be in nature during my summers as a child in Switzerland and frequent trips to the country my parents forced on me. However, as I walked the planks of the bridge, the East River below, flowing in parallel unison with the road traffic, I was suddenly aware of the nature that is always all around us, but really within us all. And its really about listening to our hearts and our bodies, especially when a panic attack calls you in!
I no longer speak the same language,
As I traverse this rambling bridge.
I cannot understand the discordant pace,
My heart listens to another space.
In that place, my ears tune to the source,
But I have written this already of course.
For my birth into this dream,
Is one and the same unconscious stream.
Beaming rays of light I am now able to catch,
Thunder and flowers rolling along each scratch.
A cure to the city which brought me to panic,
And into my soul the wind flies manic.
I can no longer hear the same song,
My feet on this earth, they belong.
And yet no matter where I walk or what I say,
It's the sun I carry inside that makes me stay.
At the Wild Woman Fest last year, I had a profound experience during a ritual ceremony that a dear friend, Pooja Ru created. It was a deep dive into a wound that I knew was there, but didn't realize how tremendous it was. During the ceremony, not only was I witnessed by all of the women around me, I was literally held up in the arms of another dear friend, Amy Witmyer. I saw all of us, together, weeping for our mothers before us, and I truly let myself be carried away by the grief. However, as this wound has opened and closed on several occasions since, I know that it is part of what makes me who I am...and in that I rejoice. This video is the joint, creative outcome of this shared experience of sisterhood. Enjoy!
How often do we allow ourselves to play? laugh? indulge in simple pleasures?
Even though I have been surrounded by play through my work in preschool classrooms, I find that playfulness and humor are not always present in how I view the world. My tendencies are to follow rules, to have strict expectations and when others fiddle with those set ideals resistance sets in.
Humor and play are essential for effective learning and teaching. I notice how children's eyes light up and their inner happiness shines so bright when the adults around them are in a space of fun! And by playing games as an adult through my training in nature connection, I have witnessed a spark light up within me. My son (2.5 years old) is my favorite teacher for this right now. Finding a balance between setting healthy boundaries with him and allowing the flow of play to come in and out of our days requires constant tweaking. Between waking up in the morning and getting dressed to go out he can find so many ways to interact with his environment in new ways: pretending his toast is a train, putting small cars in a dump truck and making a pile of them on the sofa etc. It's a never ending game with life, and it's rarely linear. Slowing down is the key to the enjoyment of it all.
Play is how children (and adults) are meant to interact with the world. When we are born we slowly come to understand what is around us by manipulating objects, mimicking facial expressions and trying to move our muscles in ways we didn't know existed. Our culture has taught us that it is through hard work and deadlines that we are to create what we want. But how can we truly listen to our hearts desire if we constantly have places to be and times to meet? In essence, play lets creation, of our ideals and dreams, flow through us. Play is an innate characteristic that allows us to manifest divine love.
When I am present, senses awakened and allow myself to experiment with curiosity, I learn to smile at myself, others and the world.
I'm not one to crack jokes, but that doesn't mean I can't be playful!
A couple weeks ago, the music of the bark revealed itself to us:
With every step I breathe, I thank you.
Feet touching the soil
Delicately honoring my ancestors
The moss, the fungi, the decay
Moist dew between my toes
I thank the beings invisible to my eyes.
Wind whooshes through a lock of hair
Peepers, crickets, the symphony
Birds, messengers of the heavens
chirping to the rhythm of my heartbeat
I thank the beings that bring songs to my ears.
Lips pursed to my next meal
Tastes of sour, sweet and bitter
Dandelion, burdock, the diversity
Fire, fuel, fulfillment and pleasure
I thank the beings who nourish me.
To my sisters and brothers
Together we are whole
Fathers, mothers, one community
The stories and memories we create
I thank the beings who love and are beloved.
Sun, brightness to our souls
Moon, reflection of our cycles
Stars, forever reaching beyond
Waters, rivers and oceans
I thank the beings who guide us to ourselves.
One, all encompassing
Soft, tender, compassionate
Greater than life itself
Force driving love's creation
Birth and death within.
With devotion I call to you, thank you.