Exploring animism, embodiment, deep ecology, vulnerability, and imagination . . .
The moment it happened, I was with a group of students doing a deep time walk along the Devon Coast—expanses of fields, old stone walls, scrabbly grass. The guide, a scientist, told us that the duration of each step we took was 500 thousand years. We were still traversing the vast, amniotic part of our past in alternating freezes and warmings when, all of a sudden, we walked up the rising path and the ocean appeared.
My breath opens outward, my eyes relax, my heart latches on to this vastness—it feels like a string is attaching me to this vast being, matching the rhythm of my own aliveness to its peaceful undulations.
Behind me, the storyteller kept talking about events that occured billions of years ago—clustered round him in a small group, the class listened acquisitively to his description of the first single cell organisms.
We’d spent the whole week talking about the wider aliveness in which we belong—the sentient wisdoms and reciprocal sensations of trees and animals. We’d learned how to listen deeply to the sensations around us, the different ways in which all things speak, we’d learned to see the more-than-human world as filled with beings instead of objects, to respect the wisdom of this self-regulating biosphere of Gaia that surrounds us and sustains us.
I try to join the group, to shut off my right hemisphere of sensation and join the others in the left hemisphere of detail, but the ocean keeps calling me. As we walk onward, we find ourselves following a small dancing stream that runs parallel to the path before it trickles down the side of the cliff to join with the ocean. I find myself tuning out the speaker and tuning in to the insistent burble of water running lightly over rocks, narrowing in places to the merest of flows bouncing and navigating between stones, the grasses and wild flowers on each side, yellow bursts of color and drier sounds—crrsshhh shhhhhtthhh teeee crrrr—repetitive vibrations against other, while the tenacious stream clear and confident drove its way on.
Yet here is the group standing above an expanse of ocean, this unutterably vast presence spreading out in one element to the horizon. Here we are, tiny and even tinier as we retreat into our intellects. The human group-sized bubble descended, disassociating the group from the sky, from the surrounding fields, the wild flowers, the ocean that opened my breath and tingled my cells.
I start to cry, staring into the tiny stream running out to the sea, trying to hide my face, no longer listening to much of the explanation of planet temperatures. We arrive again at a vast view of the sea and I walk away from the group to stand and stare out, tears and great sobs wracking my body as if the ocean was being called up in my eyes. Something has touched a wound deep within me, a wild grief far deeper than the circumstances of this afternoon—a visceral understanding of our disconnection from the wild earth presences around us.
Here we were spending a week learning to reconnect and, with this landscape before us filled with life, we were choosing to act as if we were in a lecture hall. And this was reminding me of a more profound alienation. I know I was trying to hide it from them. I remember shaking and holding my arms tight around me as I looked out to the sea. But a friend noticed me and came over to ask what was wrong. Lagging behind the group, I communicated to her in truncated gasps—"ignoring the ocean, so in our heads, like a classroom, not walking the talk." My frantic words were shushed by someone walking further ahead.
When the group next stops, the friend interrupts the speaker to ask if we could interpret this moment differently—through movement…they make a circle around us and my friend holds her palms to me, inviting me in. I can’t stand it anymore. I collapse forward, into myself, into her—my weight against her hands heavy and exhausted, I collapse crying into the earth, only vaguely noticing the blossoming of other arms and hands above me, embracing me as I fall awkwardly into the soil.
The whole group was holding me, all twenty people. I felt us breathe. I allowed myself to fully cry, angry hot tears falling into the soil of the cliff, contained within so many larger beings—through the tears I stammered something about feeling hypocritical that we weren’t fully witnessing the ocean, but instead were staying in our own human bubble wrapped in our own words, when the ocean could teach us so much more if only we could listen… “could we just be with the ocean in silence for a few minutes?” The group concurred. We sat and looked out over the expanse of water.
Later during the walk, we are brought to a place where you can climb down a rocky slope to sit on huge rocks overlooking the ocean. Again, we sit in silence watching the waves crash against the rocks. "This is an image of my emotions," I realize. My insides are as vast as the ocean. But often only the conscious parts crashing against the rocks close to the edge of myself betray the hint of these unknowable depths. Only when a storm comes can I catch a glimmer of how vast I really am.
The walk ended an hour later on the cobblestones of an old boat launch at a coastal town. The guide explained that humans had existed for about half a full step, he pointed out Mesopotamia about two fingers away from us and showed us the industrial revolution in the final centimeters of his fingernail.
My curiousities entwine around the concept of “mythopoiesis" — literally "myth-making" — the creation of mythologies that nourish our interbeing with the earth.
My writing explores the betweenesses of different fields—deep ecology, indigenous wisdom, trauma resilience, living process, cultural transformation, sacred activism, grief rituals, play . . .
I am learning how to become a connoisseur of the felt sense, a savorer of the moments that create meaning and nourishment in the world.
I am apprenticing to traditions that practice compassionate witnessing, creating containers in which it is safe to release into the depths of emotion, to traverse the grief and holdings that must necessarily be released before healing can begin to take place.