I took a pot gummy and went to the new star wars movie. This was before the pandemic, before mentors began speaking matter of factly about end times.
As the lights dimmed I was bombarded with trailer after trailer of apocalypse. Is this our collective unconscious feeling into an inevitable future? Is it on its way with certitude and tracking number, like an Amazon Prime delivery?
Or can we tell, believe, and enact a different story?
Do you feel a niggling deep down in your bones? A wake-you-up-with-the-crows come hither finger from spirit that scampers when the alarm goes off, a knowing that you have bigger gifts to share but fear and habit and to-do lists might keep you from sharing them this lifetime?
Are you aligned with your purpose? Does your life have deep meaning
When the endtime story is told, will you be proud of the role you played in it?
And what’s in your way? If you listed external things, dig deeper, find the root where you’re in your own way. The soil may be full of bullshit–formidable, systemic, oppressive shit–but there’s always a root you’re responsible for, a place where you can make deep real change.
And now this: If you did your healing work–and it is work–what might be possible for you?
What if you deeply loved yourself? What might unfold in your life from there? Pause here to think about this, and ideally write it down.
Now take it a step further: what if everything you just wrote down unfolded, what might then shift and unfold from there?
P.S. And consider taking the longer journey, Wild Women Rising, which starts in June. There are still a few taster workshops left, but this cohort is filling fast. This program will get you out of your way and on a mission. Maybe 2022 is your year.
Facebook keeps rejecting my ad for the sensuality workshop, basically saying it’s lewd and inappropriate. Everything else in my world is ok, but I was running around in a tight ball all yesterday and JUST realized what is happening. It’s bringing up all the times I have been too much or inappropriate with my sexuality.
Can you relate?
There’s the times I was caught having sex, in a coat closet at a wedding, the bottom room of a boat on a whale watching tour: the stern shamey faces still stare down at me.
Being polyamorous before I knew about it, and getting ostracized by a whole community.Writing a letter to a beloved old friend from college about many things, activism and parenthood, and also my polyamory, and getting a Facebook message back requesting that I never contact him again, and how did I think his wife would feel?
All the times I didn’t have sex, was up in my head, didn’t lose myself in pleasure, because I didn’t want to be a slut or a ho.
A past primary partner flipping me off with both hands after I imperfectly honored the rules and boundaries he set for me on a date with a new lover, out in the street, spit flying and neighbors eavesdropping, “You’re out of control, Florie!”
How his accusation found good company with my own internal voice, “See! That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you. You’re out of control Florie! You’re fucking out of control.”
Add to that my rapist telling me he’d been planning on raping me ever since he saw me skinny dipping in a creek.
When you surrender to pleasure, flirt too much, or dress too slutty, or even talk about sex too much, you hurt people, lose people, and sometimes make them scary and even dangerous.
And I anticipate some reactive responses from writing this.
But you know what? Fuck it. For the rest of my life, I want to be as sexy and sexual as I want. I want to say yes to everything that feels good, within my integrity, without shame.I don’t want to apologize, or tone it down. Do flowers to that? No! Flowers be like, “Hello hummingbirds and bees! Come pollinate me!”
For the rest of my life I want my sexuality to be completely my own, with no one entitled to or placing rules or restrictions on it. It is completely my own to give or not give.And I want to allow myself all the pleasures, of lying in bed listening to the rain, eating mangoes naked, making out for hours in soft clean sheets, smoking my bong under moonlight in my outdoor bath. Enjoying the sexy swing of my hips, hoping its giving others pleasure. Watching the daffodil each day as it makes its way out of its sheath. Checking on the strawberries. What is more important than this? And why is it so hard to allow?
Why is it so hard to allow?
And how would things shift in you and the world at large if we, especially women, allowed more of it? What if all the women allowed themselves to be, as one of the wild women says, “well pleasured and well fucked?”
Let’s find out, and let’s talk about all of this together this Saturday…..
Gather in a safe circle of women to explore our relationships to sex, pleasure, and our bodies to:
Get back into your body to feel more free, creative, and alive.
Collectively heal personal and cultural wounds around sex and sexuality.
Expand your horizons, so you can experience more pleasure and sensual self-expression.
There will be a blend of movement, experiential, deep questioning, and sharing. You will not be pushed beyond your stretch zone.
One of my most intimate recent dates involved mutual….
sobbing. Bundled up in his outdoor kitchen beneath three story buildings, a distant brass band on the streets of Oakland, our salmon and kale going cold, just sobbing out our encroaching acceptance and deep grief that the earth as we’ve known her is dying.
Chopping garlic he told me about the tide pools in he grew up with in Laguna Beach, full of starfish and sea slugs, abundant abalone, hermit crabs, and occasional octopuses, and returning with his kids in recent years to the same spot at low tide, to only a few kinds of seaweed and snails, virtually lifeless.
Part of me still believes humans can awaken in time, I have to keep that hope skin in the game, imagine my kids’ future without water wars, believe my work matters, but too many clients and friends have shared their conviction in recent days: it’s too late, it’s over. The fires, tornados, hurricanes, pandemics, floods, and tsunamis will escalate, until the earth has scourged the virus that is humanity off her back.
And what a fucking beautiful planet. I grieve giving my children a more impoverished childhood than my own. I grew up with crawdads in creeks, cats eaten by coyotes, my third grade teacher like Gandolf, hiking us right out the classroom and up the redwood studded hill to find spring’s first wild iris. My girl can catch chickens and my boy races bikes under streetlights at dusk, but there is nowhere wild they can freely go.
I remember a moment when my daughter was one, a warm Central Valley night. She stuck her head out the window, warm freeway wind hitting her face. It felt like a scene in a movie, a mother/daughter teaching and sharing about the world, a first, first head out the window, and the phrase, “I give you….” bubbled up in me, but we were passing car dealerships and the backs of strip malls somewhere between Vacaville and Davis on I-80, fluorescent lights and……it’s not the world I want to give her.
I’m sobbing as I write this.
If you feel it too, and have any grief you would like to feel together in community, join us when the veil between worlds is thin, Saturday November 6th, 10am-1pm. All kinds of grief are welcome. The earth wants our tears, it’s good manners to cry.
Saturday, November 6th
$50* suggested donation
*$25 Students, activists, etc.
Those who need to come for free please come.
No one turned away for lack of funds.
I’ve started drumming on my hot tub deck. It started the night my neighbor put black duct tape through my pro choice sign and broken-record-shouted, “Florie is a baby killer” for HOURS, deep into the night. First discovering punk music on my ukulele, I suddenly felt an urge, like lightening, sweep through me and I ran into the house, wiped the cobwebs off my snake drum, and rushed up onto the deck.
Crazy sounds came out of me, ancient sounds, high pitched wild woman “ay yi yi yi yi yiyiyiiyiyyiiii” that could be heard from blocks. It must have been quite the scene for the suburban dog walker, this middle aged white lady, dead lawn strewn with scooters and bikes, street light illuminating her pacing in circles, call and response with my neighbor sing-song shouting, “Kill some babies Florie.”
Something has grown and snapped open in me that I don’t want to go away. There’s a welcome fed upness. All my life I’ve seen the best in people, believed excuses, stood smiling at monologuing men while my feet hurt, given all my apples and branches and breastmilk away. But I’m done now with excuses. I’m done with men who don’t handle their shit, so that we have to, whether that’s wiping their pee off the toilet seat, calling the police to get my drunk neighbor off my lawn because he never went to therapy when his wife died, or trying to explain why it’s not ok for the leader of our country to gloat about grabbing women in the pussy.
Watch out motherfuckers.
I’m also fighting fatigue because I’m iron deficient due to these Texas Chainsaw massacre perimenopausal periods. I’m talking crazy Pele lava gushes in the middle of the night, changing saturated tampons hourly, days and days of blood. When I stood up after my appointment at the bank the other day, I was like, “Oh shit.”
“I’ll walk you over to the teller so you can make the required deposit to set up your new account.”
Fuck. I’m pretty sure you can’t use a bank bathroom, especially during COVID, so I take these tiny steps, thighs clenched, through the roped line to the teller. If there is a Guinness record for longest kegel, I am challenging it. Finally at the counter, I search my bag and find a white cotton mask the co-op gave me when I forgot mine the other day, reach up under my short dress, and jam it in my underwear. Whoever’s behind the security cameras must have been like, “Whoa, can I get some help please? What is that lady at Teller #4 doing?!!! Does she have a gun in her underwear?!”
This could all be solved with hormone therapy, probably even just birth control, but I am afraid of losing this ferocity. I feel like the quintessential crazy perimenopause lady but I don’t feel crazy, I feel sane.
For Halloween wouldn’t it be rad to have a huge mass of women dressed up in charred dresses, carrying signs saying, “We are the witches you burned.” We could smear ourselves with menstrual blood and make just the right the people who need to, quake in their boots. It’s time for witches to make their comeback. It’s time to rematriate the land. Patriarchy needs to be over. Colonialism needs to be over. Relentless extraction needs to be over.
We need bitchy crones. We need fierce brujas. We need women crazy enough, and privileged enough, to shout and drum on their suburban hot tub decks and get those motherfuckers off of our lawns, out of our forests, out of our rivers.
Covid was a break in the spell. Do not go back to sleep.
I have a crooked troll tooth. Not my cute crooked upper tooth I’ve had always. This one’s from aging. You know those old person crazy fucked-up crooked teeth? Well that’s happening to me.
I’ve thought about Invisalign, as in “I’m a woman of independent means, I’m going to treat myself,” but I don’t think it’s going to bring me five thousand dollars worth of joy, and isn’t it just stemming the tide on the inevitable?
One of my witchy healers started our session recently with, “Notice if there is a part of your body with a message for you” and you know what? My tooth told me, “Get used to being ugly.” Ugly. Wow. Ugly? Six years ago II thought, “There will always be some people who think you are beautiful, and that group of people is shrinking.” I’ve gone in and out of clutching the Conventional Beauty VIP pass, and it’s weird. In 9th grade, after years being overweight, I returned from a sabbatical to the Kingdom of Tonga tan, blond and skinny: the same person, but suddenly popular. A decade later I shaved my head and wore only bulky overalls after getting raped, and the same thing happened in reverse.
It’s a little like the skit where Eddie Murphy goes undercover as a white guy and everyone gives him free stuff. Telling a person outside of conventional beauty standards that “looks don’t matter” is a tiny bit like telling a person of color you’re colorblind. In addition to my white privilege, I wonder what role my looks had in my admission to grad school, in success in certain classes, in all the doors that have been opened and all the free stuff, to my enjoyment of dating and meeting new people: I walk up calm and comfortable in my skin, assured they will like me, that I won’t have to work to improve or impress.
And all of that has been slowly disappearing. An invisibility starts to set in. Faces don’t light up as much. I get chosen less, swiped left. I receive less attention, interest and curiosity. In short, I have a lower status. There’s also a reckoning; much of the love and respect I’ve received has had barely anything to do with me.
Yet I feel smoking hot, and more worthy of my own love and respect than ever. I swim or do yoga every day, and give my body what it delights in and needs. I can heal deep wounds in people in a matter of hours, and increasingly, I realize when I’m being an asshole in the very moment I am being an asshole, and I can stop, laugh, and apologize. On warm days, I water the garden naked and the sun can’t keep her hands off my skin. I skinny dip with salmon and seals, and every kind of wind is constantly caressing my cheeks, whispering sacred messages straight from the gods, reminding me to pay attention and wake up. I feel powerful, loved, sexy, and alive.
So much so that I don’t care much about my expiring VIP pass. [Well, that’s not true, wrestling with this attachment is what has me writing this.] And even… even… it’s kind of nice being invisible. I can turn my freak factor up waaay high before anyone starts to notice. Instead of presenting my pass to the guards, I can sometimes slip past the checkpoints unnoticed and get away with more and better shenanigans. When I was young and conventionally hot it was a pain in the ass! I couldn’t even dance freely in public without some dude coming up close uninvited and energetically invading me.
I don’t want to pump what precious juice I have left into laminating that pass (although I am going to enjoy the hell out of it, like a sunset, as it fades). I’ve decided instead to invest in a different power. A “protect this heart-breakingly beautiful planet over my dead body” kind of power, a “bring shame into the light, and make people uncomfortable in a good way, risking my status to bigger the boxes for everyone” kind of power. I want to love big and wide, knowing my heart is resilient.
The amount of admirers shrinks, but the amount of pleasure doesn’t, nor does the love. Are potato bugs and possums any less awe-inspiring than hummingbirds and butterflies? Aren’t fading and dying things, death, and decay also quite beautiful?
Now, when I stare at my growing shock of grey hair, my saggy chicken neck and fucked up teeth, I practice my troll faces. I’ve always wanted to be funny, but as a pretty girl I found it hard. Approval was granted before I spoke, so it was mine to lose. Now I bulge one eye ball and snarl my lips to reveal the wild, crooked troll tooth, and my children run screaming with peals of laughter. If I straightened my teeth I’d lose this new freedom and expanded comic repertoire. Why would I want to change that?
Come gather in a safe circle of women to talk about our bodies, sex, and pleasure.
Get back into your body to feel more free, creative, and alive.
Collectively heal personal and cultural wounds around sex and sexuality.
Expand your horizons, so you can experience more pleasure and sensual self-expression.
Saturday, November 21st 10:00am-1:00pm PST Online Free
As we hunker down awaiting the eye of the storm this seems like the wrong time for these musings. The top COVID19 response coordinator says we shouldn’t even go to the store or pharmacy for the next two weeks.
Yet at Putah Creek with my kids, I keep having the feeling that there will be iterations of this, that instead of longing for things to return to the way they were, it’s worth creating a rich way of being in this new reality.
I write to you in bed with the window open to the rain, my four-year-old sharing toast with our housemate in the living room. Last night, like most nights since Shelter in Place, all six of us held hands around dinner on the little table in front of the fire, our grace sincere and simple: each other’s company, the birds, sun, and rain, the meal, the brave shopper, always our health.
Over breakfast we linger and tell stories of youthful arrests, hallucinogenic epiphanies, and heartbreak. Last week we played improv for three hours on the front porch in the sun, in costumes, waving at the neighbors. I haven’t been this still, imaginative, and present since the Peace Corps.
So it’s a good time for housemates, and…
Just after Shelter in Place took effect, we called a house meeting because one of our housemates was still dating, seeing clients in person, and running around town like a COVID slut, touching who knows what doorknobs and spittle splattered surfaces. Did we have the right to ask him to stop doing these things? And our other housemate wants to take a job at a grocery store…
So the idea I want to propose (and it’s just an idea. I am not a medical health expert and I don’t think now is the time to implement this), is that if this goes on for a long time, or if it goes and comes back, or goes and a different one comes back–for those of you who don’t have housemates or a family you enjoy, ESPECIALLY for any lone folks or single parents….maybe it would be ok to form a COVID tribe.
This would be a very serious thing. I floated this idea to my friend the other day, suggesting it would be like being fluid-bonded, a term from polyamory when lovers choose to have sex without barriers, and she said, “Ya but way more serious than that. You can live the rest of your life with Chlamydia.” So there would be a great deal of communication around this, as anyone you choose for your COVID tribe you would be trusting with your life. Anything they touched, any person they stood near, you and the rest of your tribe would be exposed to.
We would need to be extremely responsible with this. I’m not proposing this as much for folks like us, with six together already, or nuclear families who mostly get along, or even couples. I’m suggesting someone who is alone could approach someone else who is alone, or a family, and ask if they could be a COVID tribe together. This lone person could play board games with the family, share meals, and there would be a high level of communication around what boundaries everyone needs to feel safe.
A single parent might form a COVID tribe with another single parent, taking turns to shop, letting the kids play together. And again, there would be a level of communication akin to what polyamorous or coop housing folks are used to, even greater, as you would be trusting each other with each other’s lives.
And some folks won’t be compatible. We wouldn’t be ok with our housemate working at a grocery store if my 73 year old father lived with us. A healthcare worker wouldn’t be compatible with someone with asthma. Folks with similar levels of risk tolerance might choose each other, forming tighter or looser boundaries accordingly.
To be clear: I am not saying to run out and do this now, before the peak of this, before we understand entirely what we are up against. More that it’s a way of being to dream into, if this is to be our new normal. It’s a better alternative to suppressing crucial human needs, only to rush out the minute controls are relaxed to reinfect ourselves.
I’d love to hear your comments below.
Be safe and gentle with yourself. Get outside (at a safe distance), move your body, turn inward, feel your feelings. For most of us now is not a time to do anything particularly well or produce. We are in a crisis. Just be. More thoughts to come.
What wild times we are in. New York is renting ice rinks for dead bodies. My client just layed off six good employees. A wise Wild Woman is planning to camp in the woods for the next however many months so she can afford to live. And so and so’s cousin/friend/brother-in-law just died from COVID. And this has happened, is happening, will happen, everywhere. This virus will likely touch everyone, disrupt every corner of our planet, every way of life.
So much change and so much unknown.
I am so afraid to say all the things I feel compelled to say, because I can only say them from privilege. Right now everyone I love is healthy and safe. We have organic kale and avocados and big bags of pinto beans and rice. We have a front porch full of sun where we can wave and talk with neighbors, and a car to take us to wild places with wide paths and space to be wild and alone. We will pay the mortgage this month. (That we even have a mortgage.)
But I promised whatever it is that’s coming into me–the mugwort that kept me up until 3am, the birds and frogs and golden poppies, (I don’t want to be that person who says “download,” but that’s how it feels)–that I would say it. When I was at Putah Creek yesterday with my kids, teaching them about wild radishes, Juniper naked in the creek, Japhie making a seesaw out of an old log on an exposed root, me swimming laps against the current, I felt joy in a way I haven’t in a long time. This is the school I want to give them. This is the simplicity I’ve longed to have.
Business as usual has come to a halt. Change is almost always unwanted and painful. No one, aside form the wisest of witches, is thrilled to pull the Tower in the tarot. And yet, look….the skies above China are clear. Some argue more lives will be saved by the clean air than lost to the virus. And all the flights we’d be taking, all the things in the shut down factories we’d be buying, do we really need them? I’m an overscheduler, overachiever, constantly planning, doing, going, getting, doing. It’s a sick old western world spell that’s needed to be broken, and for now it has been.
For me, it’s as if a wise parent forced me to do what’s really best: slow down, stop your business, pare down, BE with your loved ones, your feelings, be aware this abundance could vanish, these beloveds could die. Be awake and alive. GO OUTSIDE! Don’t go to restaurants, to bars, to work for 40-50 hours, to stores. Strengthen your closest bonds. Write, garden, read, play ukulele. Woman, Sit Still!
And you, wild warrior who is not in the thick of it (those of you in the thick of it, please forgive me. I don’t want to be the friend who tells you while you’re in the thick of it about the wonderful growth in your pain), don’t you feel it too? It’s going to take something this big to break the spell, to let things slow down enough and possibly fall apart enough, for all of us to pause and reflect, “Why am I running around like a crazy person with all this working, doing, buying, while I long for things like presence, creativity, and joy that I can actually have?”
When I was a kid, I loved it when a big storm hit and the electricity went out. We’d light candles, play board games and cook on the wood-burning stove. We’d call everyone we love and shout, “Are your lights out too?!” I was always so sad when all the devices turned back on and things went back to usual.
I don’t want the folks on furlough to remain so, as their savings drain away, or for the virus to stay with us until it’s our own cousin/friend/brother-in-law who’s died, yet I do hope the machinery isn’t back up and running too soon. When I pull away from our personal losses I see the opportunity for a break in the Way Things Are. I see the Tower on fire, burning all that no longer serves us, and I hope the spell is broken long enough for a collective awakening.
My beloved wild human, I pray you are healthy and safe, that you have food to eat, that your loved ones are health and safe, that you can get out into the local wild spaces that are GLORIOUS right now, and I pray that your spell, our spell, is broken, and stays broken. Knowing human nature and history, I imagine we’ll be asked–as we did after 9/11–to go back to business as usual, and we will. I pray we don’t.
For further reading I highly recommend Charles Eisenstein’s recent article The Coronation.
I’m currently getting deep, intimate, and magical with online sessions on Zoom. If you or someone you know needs support, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to set up a free 15-20 minute free initial consult.
They said it was extracurricular and that I should focus only on work and family.
Maybe yoga and lunch with friends. But definitely NOT a sex party.
But here’s the thing, I am on to them. They said the same thing about dating apps , and I have fallen in love with people I met there who forever changed my life. So I didn’t listen to them. It helps to track your gremlins.
A pause here for reader participation:
If you were considering going to a sex party, what would your gremlins say?
Take your time.
Now, about that party. My favorite moment was when we all turned into cats, into this writhing mass of bodies, meowing and sliding against each other. It felt so good! It’s so easy to communicate about touch when you’re a cat! Rubbing against someone means, “Touch me!” and someone closing their eyes, meowing, and tilting their neck means, “Yes! more!” And leaning back or raising your paws means “not now.” We could all get so much more touch if we behaved like cats.
But let me back up.
Before the cat mob there were two hours of facilitated exploration, including an hour on ground rules, culture setting, boundaries and consent. I learned about group sex etiquitte, i.e. consent should be gained from every member before joining. I learned that your boundaries, the spoken rules for others to follow, should be placed before limits, the place where you risk harm, so the limits never get crossed. And I learned that arousal works like a drug, so the boundaries set before that drug kicks in are the ones that should be honored.
A stunning woman, whose breasts kept popping out of her robe, led us in a guided meditation to connect us to ourselves. Then a psychologist taught us about the origins of fantasies, and guided us to imagine one. She listed adjectives that might appeal to us and I was surprised by the ones that stood out. Words like “degraded” and “worshipped” going together, for example. Then we whispered our fantasy into the ear of someone nearby. That was edgy.
Next we broke into groups of four and each received five minutes of massage from everyone in the group. We were told to ask for what we wanted, what kind of touch and where, and to practice stating our boundaries. This exact activity is something I’ve been experimenting with in the Grief Group (definitely a keeper)! Once you do this you’ll wonder why we’re not all doing it all the time.
Then we turned into cats.
And the cats turned into puddles of people making out.
I didn’t know how to ask to be included, so I just danced.
Alone. Crazily. Over these puddles of charged sexual energy.
And here is my biggest takeaway: my freaky planter box just got bigger. Before this party, the roots had been poking out of the bottom of the flower pot, like the unruly pubic hairs that kink their way out of my swimsuit. This experience repotted me in a bigger planter. Because if strangers, including men in garter belts and women with strap-ons, can give loving pleasure to each other, I can dance as crazily as I want.
So I am thankful to the freak pioneers, and I want to keep being one. Because the world was made to be free in, and eccentricity is a playground, and pleasure is important.
So I hope you start tracking your gremlins too. Their job is to keep you in your comfort zone, but the magic happens at the edges.
And I wish for you a life full of magic.
So dance crazy, brother. Dance crazy, sister. Dance while riding your bicycle, or at a stoplight, or during yoga. And ask for what you want.
Keep finding and pushing the edges, and let your freak flag fly.
And P.S. If you want nine months of guidance and community while pushing your edges, Wild Women Rising might be right for you. We’ve started accepting applicants for the 2020 journey, which includes Sensuality, Sexuality and Embodiment this year (but no sex parties!)
Recently a beloved mentor confessed on facebook that he was “sexually irresponsible” with current and former students. He states that although they were “consenting,” many later regretted the experience, sharing they felt pressured or confused by his power as the leader of their counseling and coach training program. In his confession he sounds genuinely confused that the consent was not actual consent. Those of us in power positions with ethics codes may be dubious as there are clear restrictions for us around sex with students and clients because of the extreme vulnerability involved and the high potential for confusion and power abuse. And he himself had rules around this for his assistant leaders, rules which he decided he didn’t need to follow.
There is Safety in boxes….
And yet I believe he somehow hid all of this from his consciousness. What would cause this conscientious man, one of the wisest, most loving healers I know to have such a gigantic blind spot? He successfully helped us–his students–break free from so many limiting boxes and beliefs. Perhaps he busted through a few boxes too many, beyond the edge of where one should go? Perhaps there are some boxes (i.e. not mixing counseling, sex, and psychedelics) that should always be left intact. Or perhaps he mixed these things successfully and powerfully with some, and this mix went horribly wrong with others. As psychologists our first responsibility is to Do No Harm but to what extreme do we go to in the cautious direction to avoid this, and what important healing is missed when we do? Do we never text our clients heart emojis or hold them when they weep?
Breaking free from many boxes has allowed me to become a powerful healer, yet his fall has me questioning where to draw the line. Many of the facebook comments below his admission are folks who feel vindicated in abiding their fear: “I knew there was something wrong with this program when I saw all of the inappropriate cuddling,” or “That’s what happens with polyamory…when you trust people with your secrets….when you get vulnerable…etc.” Does the harm that transpired from freer boundaries supercede the intimacy and transformation we gained from all of that wildish counseling?
The brighter the light, the darker the shadow…
Certainly some deep wounds and unexamined shadow played a role in my mentor’s transgressions. And certainly some arrogance as well. He was put on a pedestal by the better half of 150+ students annually for six years, with no one in any equal power positions within his created institute to challenge him. I know he was warned and thought he was beyond his own rules.
Yet calling him a sexual predator preempts us from having to look too deeply at our own shadows. My unique wound constellation may lead to different transgressions, but given the amount of power my mentor had–if unchecked and unexamined–I would almost certainly be the author of some particular fallout. It’s terrifying getting bigger, everything unfolds bigger, on a bigger stage, including the unveiling of one’s darkest, slimiest, most destructive shadow. What will it be for me and how can I avoid it?
And will there be room for my shadow in the community at large? Not only did my mentor teach me ferocity, boundaries, and the ability to tune into myself and say no, he also created a healing space where there was love available for all the nooks and crannies of shadow. We took turns pulling out the gunk from deeper and deeper pits of shame, asking, “How about this? Do you love me still?” and the answer was always yes. We literally got naked together and one by one stood in front of the group, and every terrible secret was compassionately held.
Because of my mentor’s transgressions this community is shattered. But I can’t help imagining–beyond many months and likely years of healing–being in that room again, hot with sweaty anxiety and salty air from the sea. We are many months in. The tribe has been formed and the circle is strong. One by one the women who were harmed tell their stories and we understand; almost all of us, women anyways, have been there. There is much weeping. The women have had plenty of time to let the magma of their anger flow in safe places far away from here and my mentor. Their anger was validated, harnessed to good use, and well held. They’ve had time to understand the nuances of what transpired, including their roles, and my mentor has been sufficiently ostracized, squeezed of all hubris, and chosen the brave path of scrutinizing, healing, and dismantling the mechanisms that led to harm.
This time it’s my mentor who is the counselee. With open hearts and humility we look him in the eyes with love and prepare to hear his story.
There should be a name for the emotion when you return to civilization from the wilderness, when you descend from snow melt alpine meadows to central valley strip malls, from giant ferns and old growth redwoods, to tiny garden plots between fences and driveways.
My son melts down almost every time. The first time we noticed, he was inconsolable on the drive home from Santa Cruz about losing a clump of hair from the squirrel tail he found. That morning we had woken up on redwood duff in the woods above campus, after hiking in late night in the pitch dark, acutely attuned to every sound: the creaking redwoods, the conversing owls. We realized it wasn’t about the squirrel tail, it was leaving the woods. Since then, he will predictably melt down with deep grief over the loss of a toy, or something breaking while we are packing to leave a wild space.
We took him backpacking when he was two and I have a recording of a talk I had with him, soon after we got back, in the Target parking lot. I saw him crouching in the bushes and asked what he was up to, and he replied, “Pooping in the jungle [his word for woods].” I explained to him that we only poop in the jungle when we’re backpacking, that the rest of time we need to poop in the toilet.
There is a long pause before he responds, a pause which captures his comprehension that backpacking is the anomaly and THIS, the Target parkinglot and all in connotes, is how he/we will spend the bulk of our lives. After this long pause, with deep existential sadness and rejection he says, “Noooooooo!”
I feel this.
My eyes are watering as I type this. This wilder way of life is fading. Because we too are wild animals, it is our habitat, not just endangered species habitat, that is disappearing. Wild spaces are starting to feel like a museum. Our global population increases by 200,000 each day. This is real folks, I don’t see this changing. Just as our parents (and some of the luckier of us) tell with sadness how they used to build forts in the wild space behind their homes that became subdivisions, it’s not a stretch that we will tell our grandkids about camping before there were long waitlists and lotteries due to high demand on limited preserved land, or our grandkids will tell their grandkids about how whales used to be real and it was common to see bees and suburban butterflies.
What are the effects of this loss of wildness? Francis Weller says, “The wild within and the wild without are kin, the one enlivening the other in a beautiful tango.” Wilderness reminds us that “we, too, are meant to embody a vivid and animated life, to live close to our wild souls, our wild bodies and minds. We are meant to dance and sing, play and laugh unselfconsciously, tell stories, make love, and take delight in this brief but privileged adventure of incarnation.” You belong here. You are wild. In wild spaces all the stories of separation fade away. We can howl, dance, weep, and splash. The deer don’t care about your cellulite or retirement account. You can remember who you are and why you’re here.
Nature heals. Surgery patients with trees outside their window recover faster than those with views of brick walls, and prison inmates whose cells face farmland have fewer illnesses than those with cells facing a prison courtyard. Crime rates and mental health issues are higher among those isolated from wildlife. How often have you taken your grieving, confused, stress-addled self to nature, to return grounded, connected, and clear? The truth and what matters emerges, and the rest falls away. As wild spaces become fewer, farther, and forgotten, we become increasingly impoverished: mentally, physically, and most of all soulfully.
This has been happening and will continue. The current rate of extinction is estimated to be 10,000 times the average historical extinction rates. 69,000 species have already gone extinct this year. It’s estimated we lose about one species every five minutes. This includes entire cultures and ways of being: every few weeks a human language is lost, “and along with it a nuanced imagination of a people who were rooted to a place for perhaps thousands of years… It is our spiritual responsibility to acknowledge these losses…We know and feel in our bones that something primal is amiss. Our extended home is being eroded, as is the experience of our wilder self. It is essential that we stop and recognize these losses. It is good manners to respond with sorrow, outrage, and apology at these places touched by so much loss.” (Francis Weller).
All of this would be captured in that emotion I described, when you’re taking that last swim in the river before climbing in the hot car, knowing it will all feel surreal when you’re ordering food hours later surrounded by hot asphalt, and it’s not just the temporary leaving, it’s the forever disappearing. For now that river still exists, but in this moment, as you read this, other rivers are ceasing to exist. Wilderness is going the way of unicorns and fairies. If we forget about the magic and wall off our grief, it will further fade into the realm of myths.
So please, go to the wild spaces that remain while you can. Rewild your heart. Get naked and weep. Take your children and swim and sing with them, dance with them around the fire. Inoculate them with the wilderness without and within. Gary Snyder says we will protect what we love, so remembering and teaching may slow the demise.
But even more importantly, let your love crack open your grief. It’s all there underneath it all, always. “Grief is itself a medicine” (John Cowper), and “The deeper the sorrow, the greater the joy” (William Blake). Join me. Let’s be mad and sad and wild together.
Louv, Richard (2005) “Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder”
Weller, Francis (2015) “The Wild Edge of Sorrow: Rituals of Renewal and the Sacred Work of Grief”