What Tent Caterpillars can teach us
Years ago, I was fascinated to learn that when a caterpillar colony becomes too crowded, some intrepid adults will leave the safety of the nest and venture out onto the branch. Their voluntary exodus expands the borders of the tent, creating space for the whole community to thrive.
As one who has left a variety of comfortable nests and repeatedly stepped into unfamiliar territory, I appreciated this living metaphor. What initially appeared a selfish act sometimes was a creative impulse, not just for me but for my community as well.
The otherworld ways of the wilderness are what Nordic and Celtic cultures (my ancestors) called Wyrd. Our modern ‘weird’ comes from this word. The way of Wyrd honors the ever-changing interconnectedness of all things and the timeless forces intersecting the present moment. In the Oracle Runes, the blank stone is named Wyrd, signifying what is not yet fated. The outcome rests in the hands of those willing to take intelligent risks and make lasting changes.
We are at a pause point. A critical threshold. A blank rune, fate-in-our-hands time. How we know, not just what we know, is the critical question. Without dismissing the very real hardships of what is happening around the globe, this time of isolation can actually serve as a creative womb.
Nigerian poet and psychologist Bayo Akomolafe says, “Maybe there are no solutions but new ways of seeing. Maybe the earth is calling us to a different response.” I know this to be true. We are being called to find a different way to respond, a way that is natural, or dare I say, indigenous, to each of us.
Earth-Body Wisdom via Intuition
When consciousness prematurely separates from the body…intuition becomes an unreliable, ephemeral sort of experience instead of the grounded, solid body-wisdom it was meant to be. Even when we recognize this as truth, we are still hard pressed to get back to our bodies, because we’ve forgotten how. – Belleruth Naparstek
Through the softly focused lens of my intuition, imagination and the sensations in my body, I’ve gone out on many limbs to listen to and gather wisdom from Nature. With only the slimmest of scientific validation, I’ve slowly learned to trust my instincts. Though I realize this way of listening has informed indigenous for millenia, our western culture has abandoned and forgotten these wisdom-ways, partly because they are subtle, complex, and non-linear. Our fast-paced and achievement-oriented lifestyle tends to dismiss them as fanciful and even childish. In one sense, this is true, for these ways of being with the earth are highly responsive to unseen forces which makes them less easily controlled.
The Russian poet Osip Mandalstram wrote, “What’s driving her on is holding her back.” To access earth-wisdom, we must first recognize what’s driving us. Our next step is to let go our fevered agendas, and to deliberately open and become porous to Life. Conscious vulnerability is not a collapse into emotional catharsis or a floating off into fantasy. Merging with earth-energy requires very focused and grounded engagement with all our physical senses, as well as our imagination and intuition.
Through sensual engagement with our bodies’ wisdom and our immediate environment, we have access to a wealth of information that cannot be learned through a purely mental approach. When our hearts are touched and opened by a numinous encounter with some element in the natural world, we feel its significance, even if we can’t immediately make logical sense of what we know in our bones.
Part of the work of embodying our intuitive abilities involves a deepening acquaintance with our bodies’ sensations, and in particular, the sensation of pleasure. This is not as easy as we might expect. Locked in our heads, we often ignore or actively avoid the slow, rhythmic waves of pleasure. We’re addicted to the rush of accomplishment, whether this is simply getting a task done on time or endlessly overbooking ourselves. All too often, pleasure gets postponed or scheduled, months away, for a holiday, rather than being sensuously enjoyed in the moment when it is most needed.
Intuition is not enough
Intuition thrives in a well-grounded body; being highly receptive and ungrounded can a dangerous combination. When we fly into intuition’s fascinating realms without an earth anchor, the information we receive becomes unreliable, even nonsensical. In our eagerness to receive intuitive information, it’s easy to become overwhelmed, even by the most inspired insights. Information is power, but when we value spiritual information more than our own earthiness, we sacrifice ourselves to an old, and very imbalanced, power-dynamic. When I soar too long in this rarified air, I try to recognize when it’s time to take a break and return to some simple tasks. These days, the word that gently yet firmly reminds me when it’s time to shift gears is ‘Enough!’
Being intuitive does not preclude the essential work of developing all aspects of our being. In fact, without a healthy skepticism and well-honed emotional intelligence, an over-active intuitive ability can make us imbalanced and ungrounded. Intuitive visions and messages often occur swiftly, with a feeling of exciting, empowering possibilities. They also come with a great responsibility; we need to integrate and apply the insights we’ve been given.
Several years ago, I vowed to stop tuning in for a time. With dozens of journals full of wonderful insights, I needed to pause and digest what I’d already received instead of always seeking the reassuring ‘hit’ of a new insight. Not only that, the messages were beginning to repeat themselves: “You know what to do… just DO IT!”
Communing with Plants
Over a period of twenty years, I received a uniquely personal training in how to listen to Nature’s wisdom. While intuitively communing with flowers in my garden, I was initiated into the art of deep listening, an approach that gave me access to the rhythmic life-force pulsing far below our petty human dramas.
There are many creative ways to commune with nature. Some people develop profound relationships with the earth through painting, sketching or photographing what they love. All ways involve attraction and intimacy. Every relationship requires time to get to know the ‘other’ and willingness to be moved and altered by who or what we love. Communion begins with attraction, the start of a deeper intimacy.
Creating flower essences gave me a ‘legitimate’ excuse for developing an intimate relationship with plants. Listening intuitively for the essence of each flower involves a poised, meditative resonance with the spirit of the plant as well as a close observation of its form — roots, stem, leaves and blossoms. I also considered its role in the environment and the way it grew over time. Unlike aromatherapy or herbal remedies, flower essences come with a definition that describes the essence of the plant. This definition is discerned through close observation and empathic, intuitive resonance with its energetic properties. For example, in my system, a Morning Glory is a quick-change artist, encouraging us to finish, detach and move on, while an Oriental Poppy gives us the confidence to boldly be ourselves without pompous arrogance. *
Plants don’t speak our language. When I was near a plant I wanted to commune with, I found myself dropping into a very slow and softened state of being. Letting my familiar personality recede, the humming presence of the plant became more distinct as it reached out to me. I listened gently, being careful not to snatch the phrases as their unspoken language softly imprinted on my psyche. As precisely as possible, I recorded what I ‘heard’ and thanked the flower for sharing.
This wyrd ability to listen and commune with Nature in my garden expanded to include other elements reaching out to be heard — the ancient stones of Georgian Bay, creatures in my dreams, the river near my home and recently, the invasive dog-strangling vine in my neighbourhood.
Conversing with People
Little did I realize while my focus was intensely engaged with plants that this process would influence my communication with people. Communing in my garden, I was intensely present and receptive, yet when I spoke with people, these qualities seemed to vanish. It was as if I was two different people — one who loved listening to the soul of the plants, the other who felt very awkward and self-conscious in casual conversation.
Marrying these different parts of myself wasn’t easy. For many years, I kept my ‘plant-listening ears’ hidden, except with colleagues or in my professional work. Struggling with how to speak about the wyrdness of my inner life, I often failed to be sensitive to people who were genuinely interested in getting to know me. Meanwhile, my intuitive skills continued maturing with clients. When I tuned in, over the telephone, at the beginning of a session with a new client, I was able to perceive and articulate their essence with remarkable accuracy. One woman said “You must have googled me!” after I described my sensations and visualizations.
I am still careful to make a distinction between the focused attentiveness I do with clients and the more relaxed communion I share with friends. Not everybody wants to be witnessed with such precise intensity, nor is it appropriate outside a consultation! That said, many friends, colleagues and even family members welcome me and appreciate my wyrd presence.
The lessons I learned through deep listening to Nature are invaluable in all my relationships now. Instead of simply refining my listening skills to be sensitive to another person, in Nature, I’ve learned to become aware of entire ecosystems, including the ecosystems of relationships, what Lynn McTaggart calls ‘the field.’ This field needs as much attention, and sometimes more, than the actual conversation. The quality of atmosphere in the field shapes the communication, the rhythm and tone of speech, as well as where we each source our ideas before speaking.
Accessing Understanding through Gesture, Movement and Sound
Sometimes, when a person is struggling to articulate something important, I notice the gesture they are making with their hands is actually ‘speaking’ more articulately than their words. If the situation allows, I may ask them to stop talking and simply repeat the gesture that caught my attention. As they shift their focus from the right words to the accompanying gesture, they often get clear about what they were trying to express. I do this by myself when I’m not sure what I’m feeling. By focusing on my breath, dropping into my body and letting a gesture spontaneously emerge, I keep repeating it and letting it evolve until awareness surfaces.
As a writer, I need to move frequently throughout the day to keep my ideas fresh and flowing. The Romantic poets knew the importance of movement; walking on the moors for hours stimulated their cerebral spinal fluid and lubricated their lyrical writing. Whenever I host women’s gatherings, I always include spontaneous movement. Without some form of physical engagement, our best intentions to connect with ourselves and each other tend to remain somewhat guarded and superficial. After we engage our bodies through dance — stretching, stomping, flowing, bending and wriggling, our conversations are always more honest and authentic.
Spontaneous sounding can be another entry-point for deeper understanding and connection. I’ve asked women to stand in a circle and briefly express their sounds of joy, grief, pain, fear, excitement and yearning. Exploring one emotion at a time, we are often surprised by the variety of sounds we make together. In these gatherings, the women can readily talk about their feelings, but stripping away language to express pure, uncensored sounds is both challenging and liberating. The difference between our mental concepts and our bodies’ expressed reality can be very humbling. What we thought we knew and felt is often very different than what our bodies ‘speak’ through sound, movement, and gesture, yet it is through these less civilized expressions that our resonating body-souls begin to serve as a conscious bridge to Gaia’s body.
Automatic Writing – Listening as We Journal
Some of the most powerful advice I’ve ever received has come through automatic writing with a spiritual guide. When I first felt Iliadne’s presence in a meditation in 2004, I asked what her role was in my life. “To help you with the rest of your life!” was her frank reply. At pivotal times when I am at the tenuous edge of a new phase, I will sit with my journal and open to Iliadne with a specific question. Her wise guidance is often very pointed. Here are a few excerpts:
From my first session in November 2004: You are fritzing because you are not using your brain in the way it was designed to operate. You are forcing it, jamming too much into a small space then expecting it to sort and work efficiently. As a metaphor, your thinking has been all air and very little love. What does your brain need? Rest – from worry, lists, ideas, and overly-excited mental stimulation. You have gone as far as you can with one level of operating system; learn a new one!
March 2014: Kindness does not have to involve over-giving. Wisdom does not have to be an avalanche of information. Your simple presence is often effective in ways it would be helpful to discern. Meanwhile, some aspects of your character need more employment, including playfulness!
To help others access wise inner guidance through automatic writing, I sometimes ask women at the end of a day-long circle to write a love letter to themselves. Opening to the wisdom of ‘the Beloved’ (their higher self) I suggest they start the letter with “Dear One, I want you to know…” After hours of movement, meditation and soulful sharing, the words flow easily onto the paper, a direct balm to and from their soul. After putting the love-letter into an envelope, they address it to themselves and I mail it to them a month later. When they receive the letter in the mail, they are often astonished. ‘Where did this loving wisdom come from?’
Coaxing Images from the Subconscious
I created this life-size body-map in Ireland over a week-long Body-Soul intensive in 2004 with Paula Reeves, Jungian-based analyst, author and colleague of Marion Woodman. After several hours of movement and sound-work, we spontaneously poured our soulfully aroused energies onto the floor-cloth. I had no idea how prophetic my colourful map would be. Images of whale, snake, stone, plants and song forecast what I would be drawn to in the years ahead.
While some images captured the essence of my essence giving me visual clues about my destiny, others provided specific caution about problematic issues. For example, two years after this event, my right shoulder become painfully frozen, exactly where the radiating lines indicated! On the map, my left arm appears fluid, while there is considerable constriction in my right elbow and wrist. Sure enough, I developed tennis elbow in this arm and, twelve years later, several large ganglions manifested in my wrist. I keep this body-map, along with a second one created in 2007, pinned on a wall in my closet to periodically review. Both images, born from the depths of my soul, still speak to me.
Another way of coaxing images out of the unconscious is through gesture-drawing. I love ‘doodling’ and one day I intuitively stumbled into sketching blind. With a specific focus, I close my eyes, put my pen on the blank page and follow the impulse, not lifting the pen until the doodling feels complete. When I open my eyes, I often see what I had not understood when the energy lived inside me as unprocessed emotion or fuzzy thought. With the image now alive on the page, I have more understanding about and compassion for what was swirling inside. This simple process quickly shifts my inner landscape, creating greater ease and spaciousness. The first image illustrates my fear in that moment; the second is my heart energy.
Heart Resonance with our Non-Human Community
How do we know who or what is calling us? There are many ways. One time-honored approach is to pay close attention to our dreams. Courting silence through a consistent meditative practice provides the ground for many ways to connect with Nature. In meditative stillness, I have encouraged people to drop into their hearts and welcome whatever creature comes to be with them. Once the animal — owl, butterfly, deer or tiger— approaches them, I encourage them to somatically merge with the creature, to feel the feathers, fur, talons or paws as if they were becoming that animal. This form of imaginal entrainment cuts through our projected assumptions. Once embodied resonance is established, it is time to ask for a message from the animal’s soul. Transmitted heart-to-heart, these wise and personal messages from the animal kingdom offer one of the most intimate ways to commune with the Earth.
For a more active approach, when you go out for a leisurely walk, let your feet lead you. I often pause at a street corner and ask my feet, “Now, which way?” Pausing to consult my body keeps me open and available rather than caught up in my head. As I continue walking, I’m alert and curious about what might greet me.
My friend Elisha MacMillan committed to being with and studying water for one hundred days, a process that shaped new movements in her dancing and opened a new field of artistic/creative activism around the plight of wild salmon. Nancy Windheart, a highly-skilled animal communicator, honors the calls of the whales around the world, travelling to be with them and receive their messages. In a similar fashion, Deena Metzger’s community includes African elephants. They cry out to her in her dreams and meditations; when she travels from the U.S. to Africa, they turn up to greet her.
When I was a child, I had a recurring nightmare of snakes hanging over my bed. This powerful dream seeded a life-long relationship with this remarkable, paradoxical creature. Snake appeared again on my first body-map, weaving up the center of my torso. A series of seventy shamanic meditations in 2015 with him as guide was the fruit of our strange kinship; those meditations will be published as The Book of Snake this spring.
Time and time again, I’ve witnessed how the Earth responds when we open ourselves to commune with Her. As we cultivate our connection to our larger community by responding to the specific places, plants, and creatures that call us, we commit to Earth through our loving attention and deep listening. Through our soulful presence and our willingness to be met, we are kin to all, be they gorillas, whales, trees, waters, soil or seeds.
Earth Messages for these Times
While I have spent thirty years consciously communing with Nature and supporting others in cultivating their own deep listening skills, I recognize we are now in a critical time where communing with the Great Mystery of Life is no longer a luxury but a necessity.
In a recent meditative conversation with Gaia, she said, “Any small step taken to engage with the hidden, withdrawn parts of my soul are tender comfort. Know that in your bones. I am listening. Your actions are not perfunctory. They go directly into the magnificent multitude of entry points into my soul, my body. Every rivulet is welcomed.”
A Conversation with Covid 19
Nudged by an intuitive sensation to listen deeply, in spring of 2020 I spent some time in meditation and received this image.
I see people rappelling on the edge of a cliff. A fine web connected the different people — up, down and across. The web was made of friendship and it provided safety for everyone. I also realized there was no judgment about whether the ‘right’ journey for each person was up the rock-face or down into the depths.
As I wondered which guide would help me understand this vision, I knew it was the spirit of the Corona virus that wanted to speak. Later, I looked up the word ‘rappelling’ and learned the word’s origin is ‘to recall’ or to ‘pull through.’
Covid 19’s Message: I am holding you gently on the rock-face, with barely a foothold for each of you, a place of uncertainty and even terror for many of you, but it has come to this. Your body knew that progress as you aspire and dedicate yourself to was an impossible commission. It had a short shelf-life, yet mesmerized, you continued at break-neck speed.
Now you are suspended in a prolonged moment of precise attentiveness on the sheer cliffside. Will you squirm and lose your footing? Will you try to scramble to some unseen ledge? Will you let go in despair? Will you assume that climbing up is the one true way?
This precise moment of indecision is specifically designed to challenge you — individually and collectively. Everything in your life, if you could accurately read that history-book, would reveal your preparedness for this time. You cannot look around you for pathways or footholds that others have taken in the past. What you need to know now is immediate, precise, and finely etched in this moment. And the next. And the next…
As a contagion, I work with each of you in very specific ways, whether I touch you physically or not. I am working with the entire fabric of humanity right now, having risen up through the vomiting outrage of the earth, through the violated animal kingdom (your closest and thoroughly abused ‘family’ members) into and through your sophisticated defenses. I have total freedom in your human condition. You ignore my will and fight against my kindly, specific presence at your peril.
If you were actually stranded on a cliff-side, your underutilized instincts, visions, inner strengths and intuition would swiftly arise. In reality, this is where we are now, yet your response is to reach for reassurance from the very things that have driven you to this impasse.
I am part of a kindly wave of warning to the heart of humanity. I said “Stop.” You barely did, and not without an immense amount of reaction. I said, “Take Care!” Again, you resisted, wanting to go back to safe and normal. Those days are gone. Finished.
Now I say, “Get engaged.” Not in resistance. Not in reaction to me, but within yourself. That is my deepest, most urgent call to you. Get engaged with what has grown numb, atrophied, buried and forgotten. Quicken the skills that the urgency of the moment call into action within you. Pay attention to the precision of instructions in the moment. Trust what your body speaks – soft or loud — and take that next foothold firmly.
Reach out across the airwaves through the heart-threads of friendship. Beyond your own wise instincts, these are the most sturdy and reliable safety measures needed during these times. Do not trust those who say they ‘know’ because they have been here before. Collectively, you have not known the nature of these times. This is a gateway time with no reassurance from the past. What is being written now is of the future. Everything of the past is being eaten and absorbed during this poised entry into an unknowable future.
You do not have an indefinite time to hover in suspense. Take up what is yours to do, now. Honor the specific acts that come from the deepest regions of your body-soul, beneath the resistance, fear and distracting pleasures.
Listening with every fiber of your being, feel where you hand should go, where your foot must find its next step. Keep your heart open to the web of love and friendship that keeps you safely held as you move. The entire cliffside is conspiring with you, if you can go deep enough to feel and hear its slow wisdom.
Covid time is sacred time. Remember, I came as an act of Love to activate what you have forgotten and to reclaim what is truly indigenous, within and around you. The paradox is that you cannot do this alone, yet you must do it on your own!
Conversation with the Water of Lake Ontario
Port Hope, 2019
I began my conversation by asking the waters of Lake Ontario, “What can you teach me about being with the wounds in us and in the world?”
Lake Ontario’s Message: I bring life, I take it away. I cleanse and I nourish. I resist your concrete riverbanks and dams; I need to meet and mingle freely with the land, the creatures… I meet you today in my role as cleanser. You fear destruction, a sense of loss at your shorelines, but your boundaries were, at best, artificially constructed to accommodate your will and desires separate from my full and necessary aliveness.
Listen. Hear the underbelly of my roar. Feel the force of my waves rearranging the shore. You cannot even begin to see what is being cleansed by my rising tides. A new bargain is being struck, not all in your human favour. But I am essentially the same – life-giver, nourisher and cleanser. I am taking back my own vitality – through storms, through melting ice (which holds ancient memories, fresh salt and minerals.) I need to feed myself; my organs (bodies of water) are exhausted, depleted, toxic, stagnant. I am taking back what is mine. You must reclaim what is yours and no longer rob what is not gifted freely and generously.
As these rising tides alter the plants and weather, even re-arrange the stones, you can listen and bow to the forces in deep humility and respect for what is being cleansed and carved anew, or you can waste precious breath fighting the inevitable. It is your choice, but none of our concern. The cleansing is going on and must continue. The question is: Will you be present to the immense power of change or will you shrink in separate fear and self-protection? From this perspective, where are the wounds?
A Conversation with Snake:
In one of my shamanic meditations with Snake in 2015 he said, ‘I have seen the holy and the hell.’ At the time, I felt the depth of his loneliness and how deeply misunderstood he has been, yet I was also aware of the potent, essential medicine he offers for this critical moment. At one point I asked him about why he wanted to come forth now. What was his essential message to humanity?
Snake’s Message: I am the animal of resurrection. I am ready to come out of the cave into the dim light of your world again. In this liminal time, where everything is becoming, yet again, I am your wisest ally. I embody the art of shedding without dying, as well as shedding in and through death. You need to befriend my nature, persisting past the fear and revulsion… to let me use your brain, your imagination, your buried feelings.
I was banished and reviled because of my power and what I am in touch with — the deeper, darker mysteries that humanity has both ignored and been addicted to in perverse and distorted ways. Facing and welcoming me back in my full presence is essential for the reunion of spirit and matter. Twisted forms of power are evidence of theft of my nature. I yearn to be seen and witnessed so that I may contribute my essential role as shape-shifter, earth-singer, spine-tingler, medicine-giver, awakener and death-guide in these times. I have many names and infinite ways of revealing my nature. You have opened the door to some of these. The rest is up to others to discover in their own kindled flesh.
Raven Essences: A Love Affair with Nature. Andrea Mathieson
Women’s Wisdom, Unlocking the Wisdom of Your Body. Paula M. Reeves.
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