November 27, 2013
The world is in chaos. Deena Metzger in California has called me to do work on behalf of the Earth. A very small circle of us is trying to share sacred songs and ritual that must be done correctly if we are to save the world. But there aren’t enough copies of the songs and the words are written in a very small typeface, hard to read. And there isn’t enough time. Still, we do it.
Then I return home all the way across the country. But almost immediately Deena calls us back to Topanga, this time in a larger group, including my husband Jeff Chanton, an oceanographer. Deena has several circles going. We have to do the work without knowing where or if we will sleep, or what we will eat. Time is short.
We try to figure out in leaderless circles what to do, how to proceed. My sharing in the circle seems too long for the group, but important to me. I do too much writing (or is it too much?). It pours out of me. I can hardly write the words, they come so fast.
In one of the circles, after all that talk, all those words, I suddenly EXPERIENCE how to connect with the energy of Earth, the core of the Earth, the real thing. I connect with the sky and the fleecy clouds. I get very emotional about the beauty of it.
I assume a standing position, knees bent, head bowed, back rounded. My arms encircle the empty space in front of me, fingertips touching. The space inside my arms is palpably energetic, and it’s Earth-shaped, round. In that position I can pull in, absorb, and also perhaps help protect the life energy of the Earth. I weep with gratitude.
As a child, I was shaken from sleep from time to time with a dream or a nightmare that seemed as real to me as my daytime activities. But no one suggested that the reveries arose to guide me, and so I let them fade as quickly as they came.
In my early 30s, I was invited to join a group led by Tallahassee therapist and yoga teacher Loretta Armer that met every Monday night for several years. Two decades later, that circle still holds ten of us, and we still serve and honor the wisdom of the unconscious as we were taught by Loretta. This circle helps me see how my dreams were urging me into a kind of listening to the natural world, and a reflective writing style that as a trained biologist, I had never before imagined. The dreams asked me to advocate for wild birds and the Earth by communicating to a human audience what I learn directly from wilderness, wild birds and waters.
Writing and dream workshops with Deena Metzger have further carved my commitment to dream wisdom into my being. As each circle begins, Deena opens the day by inviting the wisdom of Spirit to inform us all through the sharing of our dreams. Often, there isn’t enough time for all the dreams that people bring to the circle, and we can’t always interpret their sacred text/instructions. Clear-cut direction from Spirit isn’t always available. But we show up for the work, and there is a seamless quality to my writing with Deena that I cannot always access at home.
For the last five years, I have shared dreams in a “leaderless” circle of six women who gather once a month. Our purpose is to draw out from each person the inherent wisdom coming through her own psyche, to allow what is transmitted to our unconscious dreaming to inform us. No one is in charge, and no one’s opinion matters more than that of the dreamer herself.
The dream above illustrates how dream and waking lives can intersect and instruct one another. I’m especially intrigued by the specific instruction at the end. In the dream posture, the focus is inward, into the essence of what is being held or encircled by the woman’s arms. Her eyes are downcast and contemplative, neither self-absorbed nor submissive. Absorbed, yes, with what is being held—clearly so precious—and submissive to the Earth’s intention, but not to the old cultural paradigms, in which women are forced to submit to the patriarchy.
The woman is attending to what she holds. She is listening. She has been given, and holds, a gift of inestimable value. In this posture, she is midwife, husband, and laboring mother.
What do the woman’s bent knees suggest? A stance that can absorb shock, a soft stance, a posture from which she can move and respond quickly. It is a posture that proposes reverence. And there is action in the firing of triceps and biceps as they encircle the roundness, action in the standing squat, the readiness to spring forward when summoned. And there is the throbbing response of what is held, that which is encircled by the body. In the dream, there appears to be empty space, but an empty space could not push back against the physical body like this does.
I have seen this very dream posture held by a rare unborn turtle, and I have seen the egg shell that clasped the embryo, and the sandy beach that sheltered the egg.
Some years ago I helped a friend who was tracking the nesting of loggerhead sea turtles on a north Florida island. Our job was to excavate any unsuccessful nests from deep under the sandy surface of the beach. As we hauled unhatched, golf ball-sized eggs from a failed nest, my friend happened to pierce one. A liquid aerosol of rot emerged from the shell, followed by an ooze of lemon-yellow curd.
“Look here,” said my friend, extracting something solid from the mess. I moved in close. It was a very small sea turtle embryo, tiny enough to nestle in a teaspoon. It had died early in its gestation.
The miniature animal had all the parts of the turtle, including a pink and black carapace curved to fit the arc of its egg. Tiny ebony flippers wrapped around a beach ball of yoke, as if the animal hugged its own private Earth. At the time it died, this was true. Yolk and the enforced crescent of its leathery shell were everything the turtle that was not to be would ever experience of the living world.
The sacred posture that I was given in the dream is identical to the tiny sea turtle in its egg, embracing with all its unborn strength, a round, earthy yoke.
Shortly after I recorded this dream, I met with two friends for a weekend retreat. With their support, I thought I might go deeper into the dream and its message by spending time in the posture it had offered. The two women sat close to me, keeping vigil. I sank into a high squat, lowered my eyes, and lifted my arms into a ballerina’s first position. Elbows soft, fingers gentle, arms easy and oval. I focused on the space my arms encircled, on what seemed like the sacred directive I had dreamed. Almost immediately my thighs began to shake. My triceps quivered and my spine ached. It wasn’t an easy posture to hold, as beautiful as it was. My physical suffering intensified—muscular, digestive, emotional, even my breath couldn’t hold the posture for long. I straightened briefly to give myself some relief, and then resumed the stance. I found my tears flowing because it seemed like I could not do the work assigned by the dream for a longer period of time. Interestingly, in the dream I also wept, but it was in gratitude, not self-judgment.
There is paradox in the posture: the woman is visible, but what she is holding is not. Yet the intensity required in this holding is just as powerful as if her belly were swollen with a physical child. The woman is holding what is to be born; it grows inside her body and will literally come through her physical form when it is ready. But she cannot see the face of what is to be born. She is in training, and she bows to this practice with lowered eyes. Even though her thighs and her arms burn with the effort of holding, she cannot know what will be asked of her as she contains and supports what is being born—up to, during and after its birth. Perhaps what she holds will not even be born alive, as the turtle embryo was not. Yet fiercely and softly, she maintains the posture she has been given by Spirit.
Pregnancy is perhaps the most powerful teacher, and women therefore the most essential message bearers for a planet in peril. Still, men must learn to hold this posture, as well, to assume this enveloping protectiveness, if we are to hold onto life on this beautiful Earth. And thus in the dream, my husband, a prominent climate change scientist, is invited to Deena’s second circle. The dream clearly states that there’s very little time, that instruction is insufficient or inscrutable, and that both men and women, science and spirit are needed to quell the turmoil in the world.
Many of my experiences of Earth’s energy come in postures different from the one in this dream. Sometimes I blend with Earth through my feet when I walk on wild mountain trails or the beach. Sometimes I can fall into the feeling of vast connection while floating in my kayak, or snorkeling in the sea. I connect best with wild shorebirds if I’m huddled in a sandy hollow, still as a seed, watching and loving them at their eye level.
But this dream posture proposes something else to consider, a more active stance, even in its apparent immobility. It suggests the way I must be in the world is akin to the sprawl of the mother alligator over the enormous midden-like nest of her unborn young. It instructs that I mimic how the snowy plover opens her wing to shield a just-hatched chick.
I cannot see the face of what is to be born. I cannot know what will be asked of me as I contain and support it. Yet the dream posture suggests that I do my work—writing, attending and listening—as rigorously as a high mountain range contains its lakes, and as the shore embraces the sea. And that as I do it, I allow confidence and gratitude to flow through me.
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About the Author
Susan Cerulean is a writer, naturalist, and activist based in Tallahassee, Florida. Her second nature memoir—Coming to Pass: Florida’s Coastal Islands in a Gulf of Change—will be published in early spring 2015 by the University of Georgia Press. Previous books include Tracking Desire: A Journey after Swallow-tailed Kites, UnspOILed: Writers Speak for Florida’s Coast, and Between Two Rivers: Stories from the Red Hills to the Gulf. She is a founding member of Heart of the Earth and the Red Hills Writers Project.