Hello Wild One,
Kelly, Julie-Roxane and I made a pact to each other that we would each write you one email about why we’re hosting our May retreat in the rain forest on the Molalla watershed in Oregon for a second year. Our own personal story of why each of us, cared enough to say yes to this project.
I’ve been thinking about that a lot this year.
As many of you know, last year was a challenging one for Wild Within as an organization and for Kelly, Julie-Roxane and I personally. We’ve hinted at it (sometimes more than that and thank you all of you who have supported us through this time), but honestly I still find it difficult to share just how hard things got last year.
For the first time since Wild Within began in 2019, we came under significant financial pressure as the economy slowed down. Our retreats stopped filing up, something we had counted on up until the summer of 2022. Our natural response, which had worked for previous challenges we had faced, was to double down. Do more. We hired a consultant. We revamped our sales page. We spent countless hours marketing. We lost ourselves in the work.
At the same time, all three of us, in different ways, were confronted with some of the most significant healing crises of our lives.
I developed an aggressive, full-body rash that lit my entire body on fire and made even simple things almost unbearable: sleep, being warm, touching and being touched or wearing clothes. A few months later, guiding a retreat in Guatemala I dislocated two vertebrae and two ribs in my middle back which left me bed ridden for days.
My early response to all this was to lean in, push forward and tough it out. Conquer! The type of adolescent heroism our over-culture is so fond of celebrating and idolizing. You know the story: the hero ventures out, defeats the monster and returns virtually unchanged.
This only made things worse.
Finally, after last summer, I hit my limit. I felt so humiliated. So worn down. So wounded. So desperate for the suffering, the striving, the hoping—all of it—to just stop. I broke down. I gave up. I felt sorry for myself. I dropped to my knees. I prayed. I grieved (I’m still grieving). I slept for hours on end. I cut my schedule. I started to acknowledge my limits (so hard!!) I was humbled. I slowed down. I asked for help. I stayed in the unknowing. I was more honest with myself and others than I’ve ever been. I began unearthing and tending to underlying emotional wounds and core beliefs —cornerstones of my life of which I had constructed everything upon, that I had built Wild Within upon. I asked again and again for help. I waited.
In its deep intelligence and wisdom, my body created a situation I could no longer ignore. When I pushed harder it spoke louder, fiercely asserting its needs.
It took me a year to realize this dis-ease I was struggling to overcome was actually designed to overcome me. My body was speaking to me. I wasn’t supposed to beat this, I was supposed to listen.
It’s not been an easy journey and it’s taken all of me. A year and a half later and I’m still healing. It’s a slow, circuitous, complex and tender process. I’ve shed more than just skin. I feel it.
Recently I’ve been working with a series of three dreams I’ve received. In each a golden, venomous serpent bites me. In the dream I am terrified by this One Who Sheds his Skin, this Venomous One. I try to wrestle with the serpent or find a cure before it’s too late —waking up to my own labored breathing.
Recently I began to work the dream from a different direction: what does this serpent know that I don’t? How might it be preparing me? What might this transmission from this numinous being be? And venomous to what exactly? Am I really supposed to survive this encounter?
That last one still gives me shivers. It feels on the mark.
This all reminds me of a poem by Ranier Maria Rilke, translated by Robert Bly, titled The Man Watching:
I can tell by the way the trees beat, after
The storm, the shifter of shapes, drives on
What we choose to fight is so tiny!
When we win it’s with small things,
Whoever was beaten by this Angel
Has the serpent come to teach me how to be defeated? Is there a jewel of great price, hiding in the cold, hard rock of all of this?
Through my serpentine journey, this underworld journey, this dark night of the soul, this spiral path of healing, this wrestling match if you will, I’ve simultaneously found myself letting go of Wild Within and recommitting to the why behind it. Letting go of outcomes and inherited ideas of success and recommitting myself to this incredible, exhilarating, unpredictable and wild journey. Recommitting myself to this beautiful dream that sparked to life in my heart 9 years ago that also lies at the heart of everything we do at Wild Within. A dream of a different way to be in the world.
Wild Within is based on four foundational pillars: community, wilderness, embodiment, and ritual. These are not new (our ancestors surely were well-versed in all of them) but don’t be fooled, they are radical. They are powerful medicines that heal, restore and connect us in ways we deeply long for. They are also four of the most direct pathways I’ve found for speaking with Mystery or participating in the Sacred.
What an adventure that is! The Adventure, I’d say.
These four medicines are essential human nutrients—our birthrights—but we’ve lost them or our impoverished, consumer-industrial society has paved over them to it’s own peril—and to the peril of all life. Malnourished, we’ve slowly forgotten what it means to truly thrive. To truly be alive.
But this memory still lies deep in our cells, dormant like cedar seeds in the dark, moist, winter soil. All it takes is the right conditions: sun, water and the arrival of spring, for these seeds to wake up and remember their original instructions. Then they will take root, shoot skyward and inhabit their rightful place in the community of beings.
A mentor of mine suggested that it may be worthwhile to view my illness as an acute symptom of the planet’s illness that was manifesting in my body. That perhaps I was being called to listen and care for my own body the way we as a society are also being called to listen and care for the body of Gaia. That perhaps these were one and the same.
I’m returning to this ancient, old growth rain forest on the river this year not only because this place is my home and I want to share its magic with you, but because this is my medicine too. This is how I heal. This is how I connect. This is how I grow.
I need these medicines as much as the air I breathe and the water I drink. I’ve been doing this long enough to know that. And I’m tired of living in a culture which pretends otherwise.
I long for authentic community where all of me is truly accepted and embraced. I long for regenerative spaces of revelation. A sangha to walk side by side with on this mysterious and magical adventure we are all a part of.
I long to be immersed in the deep, wild imagination of the Earth. I long to be in rapturous communion with the more than human world. I long to know my true name and belong fully to this beautiful emerald sapphire jewel that’s hurtling through the diamond-speckled cosmos.
I long to be profoundly at home in the sanctuary of my body and to honor it as the sacred vessel it is. I long to feel the sharp edge of this ever unfurling world through all of my senses, to savor the richness and depth of every emotion, to soar on the wings of my most inspired ideas and to be guided by my intuition into ever more generative expressions of living.
I long to participate in sacred ceremony that honors and revitalizes the land, the animals, the sun and the moon. I long to make offerings to Spirit and plunge into the depths of Mystery. I long to dream new possibilities into existence. I long to remember so deeply in my bones the sacred truth of it all that I never forget.
If you find yourself longing for these things like I do (or perhaps you are just curious—that’s welcome too!), come find your medicine with us in the forest.
This is your invitation.
The Forest is calling and I shall know my name.