“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion.” ~ Henry David Thoreau
I’m a pretty ordinary human being. I’m not particularly brave or smart, courageous, disciplined or committed. In fact, I like comfort and I’m pretty lazy when left to my own choosing.
But one thing I remember staying with me since I was born: my love for nature and my sense of justice. Even when I didn’t have words to express my awe, I was following our house dog everywhere and eating dirt (only the universe knows what else I ate those days, unsupervised and wild a baby as I was!)…when something unfair happened to me or someone I loved, I became truly outrageous and those incidents sent me to the Principal’s office and the child psychiatrist more often than I can remember. I was labeled and “treated”, but never “cured”.
I didn’t have a “normal” childhood, jumping from place to place and being fostered by different people (some really abusive) while my mom tried to make a living. I even was kidnapped and kept away for months from all I knew, until mom rescued me and traveled with only the diapers I was wearing to a new, challenging city in the South.
It’s not surprise I was always socially awkward and preferred solitude: you could easily find me in the woods, under a tree, playing with worms or hunting small fish in a creek, barefoot and without a top, like a tomboy. I was not well “educated” and never learned to chit-chat or have “manners” (I learned those the hard way when I was already a grown-up, and most of the time, I “act” to make things easier for everyone). I spent my days reading or immersed in the forests that surrounded my mom’s workplace: a magical land full of forests, pseudo-farms and botanical gardens used to study ecosystems and botany by the Argentinean government. My best place in the world, far from the abuse and neglect, the rejection and craziness that otherwise surrounded all my childhood, was a pine forest: I didn’t know at that time, I just loved the canopy and the spongy grounds, full of pine needles and other mulchy elements that made the ground soft and warm, easy to lay there, sleep and dream of other worlds and other type of human beings.
Fast forward and after being a refugee’s daughter myself, I became lost in a mostly human world. I never understood it and it was difficult for me to develop compassion and understanding for people who were and still are basically mean, ignorant, arrogant, entitled and/or abusive with each other and the natural world.
In the now five years since I woke up from this nightmare of mainstream life and understood the complexity and urgency of the predicaments (where climate change is only one of them and probably not even the worst) I tried many things: I studied permaculture, became part of the local Food Action Coalition and the Transition Initiative and explored other groups. I started sharing the skills I learned through workshops, blogging and social media. Most of the time I charged nothing, because I believed in the importance of re-skilling and learning self-reliance…I used my scarce income, savings and credit as well as all my time off from work to invest in these endeavours, attending or presenting workshops, meetings, supporting events and offering myself as volunteer. I spread myself too thin and became chronically ill, there was never time for my own self-care and only minimum time to spend with my own family. Worse of all: I was still away from what I love most, Nature…
And what did I learn?
I learn a lot about things I wasn’t aware of before: I learned about privilege, the huge privilege of (mostly) white and well-off people who play with abstract concepts that haven’t yet impacted them (they have no clue of what real hunger, persecution, torture, discomfort and poverty are, much less being impacted by real climate change, being displaced, crowded and ignored)…they say “we are in this together” but we are not: people are being kidnapped, killed and tortured, their homes and lands taken by force where my mom lives (Argentina) by corporations that grow the soy that vegans and the cows of the well-off eat here in the North. While I write this, people are being displaced from their land by wildfires, floods, crop collapse…For them, most of what we do here is a bad joke of mea-culpa bourgeois who are suddenly waking up to how their lifestyles were possible thank to the destruction of other peoples and ecosystems’ livelihoods…
I became tired, sad and deeply frustrated by the narrow-minded and small-scale impact of many of the things put in place by otherwise smart and caring individual and groups…I didn’t see how those actions (which were robbing from my time with family and caring for my own health) were impacting my own family back in Argentina, or my friends in Venezuela (where I lived for 25 years) or my own family and resilience here in Canada. I was asked to show up but my needs or challenges were never heard or worked out as I’m sure happened to many others who eventually left. I also saw with deep sadness, how we were always “preaching to the choir” or working with people who may not be the most in need, and how communities would many times become stubbornly conservative and reluctant to change or just being closed to listen…I became more indebted, sicker and much less resilient than I was before…I was looking for a supporting group of not only caring but courageous people who would have the balls to discuss the real issues, face reality and allow to be challenged (and challenge me) beyond our own comfort and perceptions of reality. I didn’t find that: everyone was too nice (with probably one or two exception of real friends I kept)…but beyond those too nice faces there was an ongoing attitude of either self-righteousness, when not plain privilege. The worst privilege (the one that leaves other people behind or out, the one that becomes even oppressive) is the one that is not fully acknowledged.
I became disillusioned: the only way to change this paradigm is to include all: you can’t ask people to make sacrifices when you have your own life all figured out and a nice mattress to fall down when the worst comes. You can’t create resilience with groups and initiatives of all-white, all-middle-class or all-well-intentioned New Age people who can’t understand why there are no more refugees, blacks, indigenous, immigrants or people with disabilities doing yoga, meditating or being nice and vegan as they are. Why? Because the first thing you heard is how they will be (or just did) buy land and create a homestead, or how they will travel to Katmandu to dance with the monks, or just came back from Indonesia where they were hugging orangutans…and you know right there that you don’t belong, because for you there’s no land in the horizon, no homestead, no meditation in the mountains. For you is this deep sorrow of people pushed to drug addiction, living in the streets, forced to accept shitty jobs, living in basements or with mental or physical health issues, completely segregated from nature and any “healthy” choices, pushed away from their cultures and lands, digging into depression and anxiety, and you know you and your family are part of them, that the line is so thin and close to be crossed at any time, that you know you indeed have crossed it many a time now…
This year, I started a journey of self-discovery and away from “community”. I wanted to discover why community is so difficult for me and what is “wrong” about my own approach to it: why what seemed to work so well for others didn’t work at all for me? Was there a “tribe” out there I still needed to meet? Or was all a lost cause? I wanted to face my own privilege, assumptions and perceptions, be challenged to the core, learn about my role (if any) in all this…
Earlier in May, I offered myself as teacher assistant for Starhawk and Williams PDC and Earth Activist training. I was hit by the humbleness of each one of the participants and their authentic eagerness to help. Their caring enveloped me with pure love, and yet, I felt lost and unable to reach them…I made a daily pilgrimage to the pond where I talked to the trees and the water. I shared my pain: I was no longer human, or maybe I never was. I wanted an end to this “form”, tired of trying and never fitting in. I was only at home when lying on the grass, close to this magic pond and these trees…
Two weeks ago, I participated on a soulcraft workshop called “Coming Home to an animated world”, run by Bill Plotkin and Geenen Marie Haugen from Animas Valley Institute. Together with a group of ~30 others, we explored our relationships with the other-than-human world, the mystery and our many selves. We were sent to the woods for hours on our own with only a water bottle and a whistle, sometimes during the night. I experienced many things but the main one was this: I was already home, I have always been…for some reason, I developed fear and discomfort from being in the wilderness, most probably culturally-induced by those who see nature as different, separated, “other”. For them to continue using, abusing and destroying nature as if we humans had some special entitlement, it is convenient to sow this fear and feeling of discomfort.
I went into the woods by myself and fund a magical place, a clear made of stones at a grove facing a lake.
I woke up at 2 am, the perfect time to experience the awe of the Milky Way above me.
Every morning, I would sit and read at a human-designed pond and food forest, full of dozens of dragonflies and hummingbirds, more than I’ve seen in one single place ever. I met two dragonflies who were my companions everyday from day one: one was red, the other was blue, I couldn’t but chuckle by the meaning of this: I had to choose, would I choose blue (comfort, mainstream life?) or red (wild, discomfort, raw reality, engagement)? The last day when I went to the pond to say bye, they both appeared in front of me in a déjà vu, both standing exactly in the same plants they were the first time I saw them…
I found a dead red-naped sapsucker on the fields and I cried my heart out for him…I found him after an exercise where we were to recall all our patterns: the people and characters we admired, the stories that touched us when children, the repetitive or special dreams that stayed with us for years, the stuff we were passionate or obsessive about while nobody else in our family was, the events and attitudes that wounded us the most, the books and movies we would re-read and re-watch…I left the room in distress, asking myself how all this would help me to find my place, my role, my tribe, how deepening into the patterns of loneliness, longing, anxiety, fear, rejection, being an outcast and a rebel, seeing the world through magic and fantasy would help in the bigger picture…I took this little and fragile being and carried him into the woods; I told him my story, my patterns, my questions, I made a small cradle: he didn’t deserve to be buried, long time ago I learned that death gives way to life, death is beautiful and bountiful…and I stayed there for hours until I had no other choice but coming back to the human world.
When I was back, I found a hummingbird trapped into the high ceiling and skylight leading to my cabin: a powerful metaphor for my own life, this hummingbird could have flown by itself down and under the ceiling to its freedom, but he kept crashing into the bright glass of the skylight (we finally saved it using a net)…who would “save me” and what’s the meaning of the net? Where is my tribe or “net-work”?
I came back to the human world knowing that I belong more to the woods than to the city. What passes for “community” is a bunch of insane rules where each one hides the killing and destruction they are responsible for (me included). I came back knowing more than I did when I went in: that nature is in deep pain, the trees and the land talk about it every single day, as do the birds and the dragonflies. I came back knowing there are many who care and suffer the same or even more than I do, than each does what they can, but it is never enough…I came back to see the indulgence and entitlement and the horrible insanity of this world we have created, where is “normal” to “own land” and fly away whenever they choose to wherever they want to…a culture where own comfort and “safety” are guaranteed over the shoulders of other humans (that seem to be “less deserving” or “less humans” because of where or how they were born) or on the killing and destruction of entire ecosystems and their many inhabitants, who have exactly the same birthright to life than we each do, but seem as if they don’t…
I came back to the blue pill Matrix, doomed to continue trapped in this place and crashing into this skylight through which I can see the sky and the stars…I came back to die alone in the fields, just to be found my soulmate too late.
People were talking about spirits and fairies, I had nothing to share except for real red cedars, hummingbirds, dragonflies and dead sapsuckers. I don’t need fantasy to see the magic of nature: for me its language is so obvious that I don’t need translation or metaphors.
The last day, we closed with a poem and a group hug:
“The breezes at dawn have secrets to tell you
Don’t go back to sleep!
You must ask for what you really want.
Don’t go back to sleep!
People are going back and forth
across the doorsill where the two worlds touch,
The door is round and open
Don’t go back to sleep!”
~ Jalaluddin Rumi
I have been awake for 5+ years now, occasionally closing my eyes when reality hits too much. If I go to sleep, I want it to be inside that grove, at the root of that sacred tree, along with my red-naped sapsucker friend.