I don’t talk about this much in public spaces.
It’s a bit like showing my underwear to a person I’ve just met—it doesn’t matter whether I’m wearing something lacy and lovely or simple utilitarian cotton, it’s an intimate moment that opens me to ridicule.
But as a teacher, I’ve found the real gold is in stories and sharing.
Creating a life based on goals and intentions (what I think of as pushing the river) has become a national pastime. And as it has, this story keeps circling ‘round, tugging at my pant leg, asking to be shared.
Don’t get me wrong—I’ve pushed the river, pulled the river, and made it do loopty-loops. All of which has helped my business survive and thrive for ten years (okay, survive for 10 and thrive for 7). But the goal-setting, the intending, and the striving is only part of the story.
Here’s my secret:
There was no master plan.
I didn’t set out to become a healer, nor did I visualize shops in two states and a vibrant online community (online??! says ten-years-ago me, that’s crazy-pants!).
The year destiny wrapped me ‘round her little finger and tugged my life into a new shape, I was happily renovating my 1870’s Sears and Roebuck kit house, spending evenings rocking on the wrap-around porch and making gluten-free mulberry-peach pies with fresh berries from the trees along the back fence-line. I loved my house somethin’ fierce and swore I’d be carried out in a coffin.
I was 33. A magical year that I call the “Jesus Year,” not because I’m religious, but because Jesus died and was reborn at the age of 33.
Thirty-three is three 11s, the number of visionaries and dreamers, ideologues and spiritual seekers. Think about your own thirty-third year (and if you’re not yet there, pay attention when it comes!).
So I hit my thirty-third birthday and life got officially weird.
Unlike Jesus my old life took almost a year to die. It began slowly—a roommate moving in with her boyfriend, another deciding to return to New York City—then the dissolution began accelerating toward the unexpected denouement of selling my home and driving cross country, heading first to Whidby Island off the coast of Washington State and ultimately to Ireland.
And all of this in a plan-less state of wonder.
I think about it like this: if the energy of your life is a river, you can flow with the current and go where the river takes you. Your life may be odd or extraordinary, mundane or magical… but whatever it is, you’re in the flow of your river.
That river, that energy, becomes the guiding force. And when you’re being guided, it’s no longer about thinking or choosing, it’s about feeling into the energies around you and following whichever is yours.
On the other hand, you can always choose to hoof it. You can walk along the banks or hike far into the hills, circling around, coming back, stepping in and out of the flow. Or head off entirely and blaze a new trail.
We all do a bit of blazing and a bit of flowing in our lives. And we each find happiness in different parts of the journey.
In my 33rd year I stepped wholly into the river. Heck, I bought a boat and asked the river where it wanted to take me… and life as I knew it was turned on its head.
Each morning when I awoke, I’d examine my dreams.
One morning I grabbed my journal to record a dream so intense and clear and compelling that it had as much in common with my usual nightly perambles as a Hyundai does with a Bugatti.
In the dream an androgynous-looking woman with long black hair flew me to an island I knew was Ireland.
That’s how my adventure began. I was literally following dreams. No grand plan or mission, I simply grabbed the thread life presented and playfully stepped into the flow (what will happen if…? I wondered).
So what the heck am I telling you?
Life can be magical.
Sometimes the flow hooks you in the gut and offers you the ride of a lifetime.
But if you say yes, you don’t get to dictate where you’ll end up.
And that’s key. When you put your boat on the river, you go where the river goes. You surrender.
Here’s the other thing to note: the river is like The Force in Star Wars, it’s like gravity, or a chainsaw. It’s an energy and tool, neither good nor evil. It has no morality whatsoever.
Stepping into the river should be done with the same care with which you’d cross a street. Look left, right, and left again.
Trace the concentric circles of affect. In Witch Camp we use the image of Spider sitting on her web. You are Spider. Every relationship you have, not just to people but to animals, your work, the earth itself, all of these are affected by your decisions.
Stepping into the river is a choice which does not confer permission to abdicate responsibility for your life.
A Cherokee teacher once told me in his tribe the extreme individuality of Americans would be seen as a disease. When I watch someone step into the river leaving others to unwillingly tend the life they’ve left behind, I’m reminded of the balances we need to strike between flowing toward our dreams and tending to our web.
And yet… there are times when you look right, left, then right again and you get the all clear. You climb into the boat, grasp the sides, and let out a wild yawp as you shoot the rapids and enter the unknown.
That’s how this chapter of my life began: no plan, no intention, no visualization, only the willingness and the space to leap.
If you’re wanting the “right way” of going about this thing called life, you won’t find it here. You can ride the river or give it a push, chill on the dock or pull out a pole and do a little fishing. Whatever you choose do it consciously, aware of how your actions ripple outward and knowing you can find joy and fulfillment riding the flow or rooting deep into the earth.
Your turn to share a story! Tell me about your thirty-third year or a time you let destiny have her way with you.
P.S. All this begs the question: how did I learn to feel the flow?
I got a little witchy. I learned about plant medicine and the cycle of the seasons, I surveyed the night sky and followed the moons, I studied my breath and the feel of my body.
P.P.S. Need a little help connecting with your dreams? Intentionality is the key!
- pause before bed, put your feet flat on the floor, and intend to remember your dreams
- you can breathe a little mugwort smoke or inhale some frankincense or palo santo essential oil before you go to sleep
- be sure to have a notebook in reach and opened to a fresh page by your bed. I prefer something big and not precious (don’t use the beautiful journal you got for your birthday with your favorite sparkly gel pen).
- when you’ve dreamt, start writing in that subliminal space. Don’t turn on the lights. Just scrawl it out (which is why you’re using a big notebook), don’t worry about your handwriting or how it looks.
- when you wake up in the morning, before you are fully alert, go back to your notebook and flesh out what you wrote in the night.
On my last morning in Carmel, I stood on the balcony outside my room, watching the moon set over the Pacific.
The air was thick with jasmine and pine. I pulled it deep into my lungs, trying to taste scent, to store the sensuality of this place in my mouth like a squirrel hoarding nuts for winter.
I kept thinking of a scene from Elizabeth Gilbert’s The Signature of All Things (which for the herby amongst us is what we call The Doctrine of Signatures). In the book there is a cave, high in the mountains on an island somewhere in the Pacific. In this cave the characters have a moment that I see in my mind as a jewel.
For those that haven’t read it, it’s a pivotal scene that I don’t want to divulge, but I’ll say it’s one of those moments where two unlikely characters end up together in a sensual, lush paradise and… go read the book.
But it’s a moment of transcendence and even as I read those paragraphs strung like lights in the darkness, I was holding my breath, wondering how these fictional people would recover, would hike down the mountain, and become mere mortals again.
As I stare at the Pacific, my mind roams ahead: 3 flights home, my half-built kitchen, the dog hair balling under the couch.
On a pad next to my computer, I keep a list of possible blog topics. A year and a half ago, when I read that passage and imagined Liz Gilbert having to write herself down from the cave, I jotted recovery from transcendence. I knew deep in my core that the success of her book hinged, not on the cave scene but on everything that came after.
The challenge is in returning from a rarified experience of grace and not getting mired in the distractions of daily life.
Home at my desk, I know that my book’s success will hinge on everything that comes after. The Carmel writing retreat was a moment of transcendence that I now need to recover from, and fast.
This process is one we all go through after every retreat, vacation, and weekend at the ashram. We have to figure out how to take what we discovered and bring it home. This bit of the journey is just as important as the more exciting moments when, for just a second, we see the spark of our own divinity.
I root through my essential oils: night-blooming jasmine and pinion pine. I breathe the scents, opening my mouth, tasting the magic.
Then I crack open Liz Gilbert’s latest book:
The fun part is when you’re actually creating something wonderful, and everything’s going great, and everyone loves it, and you’re flying high. But such instances are rare. You don’t just get to leap from bright moment to bright moment. How you manage yourself between those bright moments… is a measure of how devoted you are to your vocation, and how equipped you are for the weird demands of creative living. Holding yourself together through all the phases of creation is where the real work lies.
— Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic
It’s time for the real work, and I have jasmine and pine to remind me of transcendence.
Your turn. How do you recover from transcendence? Share with me!
P.S. If you are a writer and this Carmel thing is singing to you, you can follow that thread here. Be prepared for magic!
I shivered deep in my womb.
A premonition, a creeping sense of dread.
Jess, our student coordinator, had just shared with me the details of her morning in the hospital. She had been made to feel, like so many pregnant women, that she wasn’t functioning efficiently (as if her body were a machine!) because her baby had not arrived with the precision that modern medicine demands.
I felt this rift in my bones, in my blood.
And then my brain got in on the action. Sirens began wailing in the deep recesses of my mind:
That shiver was intuition! Something’s wrong! Jess and the baby are not okay!
Panic began to set in as I looked for someone to corroborate my story, to reinforce my brain’s interpretation of what my body experienced. I reached for my iPhone and started typing.
As I read the text back to myself– quickly, mind you, because I needed to hit send and get the reply that would let me know that I was right and we should be very, very worried– I accidentally took a deep breath…
… And the breath created space. And in that space I realized just what I was doing.
Not only was I in a panic, I was trying to rope a friend into my worst-case-scenario thinking. And it hit me: this is thinking, not feeling (I call this Bully Brain and you can read more about it here).
So I breathed some more.
And turned inward, gently focusing on my core, on my womb.
What was that tremor?
What I suddenly knew, not in my brain but in my being, was that my body had been poked and prodded medically in ways that hurt. And those hurts resonated with the hurts Jess was going through.
Two bodies tuned to the same frequency.
Another deep breath, this time filled with sage smoke to clear the vibration from my mind and body…
…Some rose essential oil on my belly…
…And a love note sent to Jess.
My mind quieted. The feeling passed.
The hardest part of working with your intuition is untangling feeling from thought.
Here’s a hint:
If you are hearing words– language– that’s directing you toward an action, you are probably operating from your brain.
Your intuition speaks in images and sensations, it is more about knowing than thinking.
Pause. Breathe. Smudge. Tune back in.
Jess gave birth to a healthy baby girl. No pictures yet but I’m sure she’s beautiful, just like her mamma.
Soul speak… wisdom whispers… spirit song…
Here’s my experience (let me know in the comments if it matches with yours!):
My soul speaks in short phrases and brief hints during my everyday life. It appears as an intuition or a brief flash of knowing: I get hints from the animals and plants that cross my path or a card I pull from my tarot deck.
But when I take some time out, go on a retreat, disconnect from the daily, and step firmly into mythic time, my soul blazes forth… and she hangs out, fully present, for days and weeks, basking in the after-glow of intense connection.
For me, those are my happiest moments to be alive.
I was sorting through some papers this week and found a letter that I had written to a woman whom I met on a retreat back in 2011. The lush language, the deep sense of connection, reminded me of the importance of retreat time for soul nourishment.
The letter is a little intimate, but I wanted to share it with you as an invitation and a portal to your own soul’s speak:
Dearest Sister-Spirit, Keeper of the Rose Gate,
You have been in my thoughts these past weeks and it is in my heart to send you a gift, a shaman’s gift, to support your soul as you have supported mine. I made a choice a few weeks back… but something still didn’t feel right. I have had the sense that there is something I must do to bring balance to our relationship and sending the gift I had chosen wasn’t it!
So I have waited and pondered. I’m on turtle-time and since our weeks have been rain-filled, I’m wallowing in the mud. 🙂 And then today, I found the thread (quite literally!) of what I needed. Fabric. Weaving. Woman’s work. I thought perhaps I was to make you a medicine bag and tried that thought on for size. Hmmmm… maybe. But out of what would I make this bag?
My thoughts alighted on a beautiful piece of indigo hand-dyed silk that I had stashed away years ago. It was made during a fabric workshop I took in Maine. Most of the women were working with chemical dyes, as this was the teacher’s inclination. But a few of us, who were invariably seen as rebel souls, started exploring plant dyes. We worked together to make vats of indigo and played with plants we found in the woods and along the shoreline. At the end of the class we gifted each other with bits of this and that. This piece was one such gift.
As I unfurled the fabric that had been folded away for so long (seven years this summer) my gut did the dance that told me that this was the right choice. I began to fold it so I could wrap it for you. But something was still feeling not quite right. So I unfolded the fabric and studied its designs.
This piece was made by knotting and twisting and sewing different areas. The patterns created were unplanned. I noticed a human form with what looked like rays of energy radiating from it, repeating along the top edge of the fabric. Then I noticed that the cloth mirrored itself along the center line, that it was actually a piece and its sister; similar but different, the indigo dye moving in each half differently. It all clicked into place: I would send you half and use its twin as an alter cloth and memory keeper.
And so, my sister, I gift you this beautiful cloth, dyed by loving hands in sisterhood with Mother Earth. Her twin will stay with me.
I wanted to share a story with your inner shaman:
On the last morning of the retreat, when we slipped into meditation, I heard a voice calling “Inoura, Inoura!”. There’s a character from a movie I like (“Serenity,” do you know it?) named Inara, so I thought I was having movie flashbacks. But the voice came closer and closer, calling, until he was leaning over me. He picked up my hand and wrote in my palm with his finger, then blew it in with his breath. He repeated this in the other palm, then on my forehead (upon which bloomed a flower of golden crystals), my heart, my sacral, and root chakras. I tried to see him, but when I looked at him directly he shifted to Bear.
Later in the day I wondered what Inoura meant. Dawn immediately came to me.
At home in PA in the bath tub, a bite that I got while wrapped in the Buffalo hide pulled up on my skin. It formed a red ring with a dot in the center like the astrological symbol for the sun. I came downstairs and looked up Inoura to see if it was actually a name. I found that Noura is Arabic for light.
It seems I was given a gift of light, and you were part of that. I thank you from my heart.
Back in Mundania, magic has been afoot! I keep being gifted with gardens! First was the empty lot near my store that was given to me to garden, then a friend’s mother called to have me save the plants in her garden before she sold her house, and then a student had me come walk her family’s land so that we can start to put in gardens there. It makes my mind buzz with words like grow and verdant and fecundity.
I walked the woods last week with the Chief of the Lenape Nation and learned that many of the things I do and the ways that I teach are similar to the Lenape. It made me feel like the land has a voice and even if I don’t hear it clearly it still insinuates itself into my thoughts. Chief Red Hawk asked me, jokingly, if I listen to the same Elders that he does. I’m starting to feel that maybe the answer is yes.
But all that doesn’t keep the regular parts of life from happening the way life does. There have been classes to teach, clients to meet with, a wedding to attend. I’ve been on a crazy crystal buying spree and want to scatter small stones throughout all these gardens. Today is my day off and I am focusing on cooking (for real). I’m started a soup stock this morning and it’s coming along nicely. Another few hours and I’ll start throwing in the veggies. Right now, I think I’ll pack up your gifts then read for a while.
I can’t quite convince myself to go work in the garden… it’s been so muddy and I’m kind of enjoying being clean for a change….
Tell me: how does your soul speak to you? Tell me about the voice you find deep in yourself when you are away from the distractions of the daily.
We launched the new Witch Camp out into the world yesterday…
. . . and I’ve already made a change in the pricing.
I know, I know, it seems like I may not have my act together.
(And goodness knows we are not supposed to let anyone see us not having everything completely perfect, right?)
But my life is about being in alignment with my soul’s speak; and at 4 AM this morning my soul was telling me something was still not quite right.
When I set the price for this year’s Witch Camp, I had taken a long look at what was on offer:
- 50 mini-lessons
- near daily support
- a warm and supportive and cradling community
- personal transformation for those who did the work
I had crunched the numbers, added the expenses, and figured in the person power that it takes to pull off a daily program like this.
… And set the prices for 2015: $290 per quarter or $997 for the year.
And I was up at 4 AM, staring at the silhouette of the oak tree in the backyard, feeling like something was off.
What came to me is that Witch Camp is the portal through which people join our community. This is the place where everyone is welcome to hang out, try on their witchy, and get more deeply in touch with themselves.
Witch Camp is unique on the interwebs. For those who do the work, and dive into the cycling of the seasons, a seed change is possible.
And these little soul seeds need the support of community to take root.
Tending these seedlings is what Witch Camp is all about and keeping the price in a place where new folks can step up and into our community is… priceless.
So this is my little song in praise of sleepless nights of soul speak. As uncomfortable as it may be, it is a voice I always want to hear.