EARTH DAY POST -They Took My Place
EARTH DAY POST -They Took My Place
Retreat work digs to the heart of the matter of being human – who am I, what is my deepest longing, and how do I offer myself back to this world? Always as a retreat leader I learn most when stopping and listening – inside and out – to all that is around me. Very, very, often I am shocked back to the reality that I am not alone, that I am part of a living, breathing planetary community we call Earth.
One afternoon, as a participant in a 5-day intensive outdoors retreat, I joyfully marched down a woodland trail, then hiked off-trail into the backside of a wilderness property in NY State. I was more than excited to have several hours of solitude pondering my place in modern life; it was especially wonderful to ha already chosen the perfect spot beside a stream and a hollowed-out tree that I would revisit each day. When I had come across it the day before, it reminded me of my childhood drawing of a perfect fantasy-escape-hide-away so I knew it was ‘mine’. Imagine my shock that afternoon, to come upon another member of our group quietly meditating and settled into ‘my’ place! With 40 acres of pristine woodland and only a dozen people – what on earth was she doing here? Now I can recognize, after the fact, that many of earth’s profound synchronicities happen in most unusual ways.
She never saw me, but as I wheeled around and stumbled back into the undergrowth, these words were wrenched from my heart: “They took my place.” Never had I spoken this before, or even thought it, but they precisely summed up ancient personal pain, and released a river of petulance streaming from a buried memory bank. Lost from wandering and emotionally distraught, I finally put my head down on a felled-log. Then with awe, I recognized my personal grief was only the beginning—my broken-open heart became a portal through which a much larger experience was being offered.
“They took my place.” I was given the gift of bearing witness to both the grief and the sustainability of that eco-circle of land. The physical spot became ‘my new place.’ For that afternoon and the days to follow, the grief of the forest in ancient old growth stumps and limbs rotting around me, the mating calls of barred owls at sunset and the thunderous drumming of pileated wood-peckers resounded through me and opened up an intense sensory world, connecting me inside and out in ways that I had never known before. As awareness clarified, both outrage and insight amalgamated and for a time I was able to hold and be held by both sides of the tragic gap of my humanity. I recognized that I am not only joined to this body called Earth, but I am earth. “Why is it so hard to offer the tender, ‘wild love’ of being nature-beings to our own human bodies and to each other? These are my relations, my dearest neighbors, bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh. How outrageous that we as humans have marched in and possessed this sentient community and called it ‘mine.’”
In addition, later in the day, I was most grateful for the gift of a reflective and loving human community: to speak from the heart into the center of the circle, to be witnessed and honored by an awesome silence, and also to be surprised by the fire-storm of anxiety that my story provoked from several members who guiltily were sure that they were the offending person (that became part of their story to tell.) It is curious how reflexive guilt and shame or any other shadow emotion can be door-openers to depths of soul in community – if each person is given time and space to sort out their inner story which is always chock-full of painful and humorous illusion! Circles of trust offer so many tender and often hidden portals like this for each individual’s soul work—if we take the time to stop, look, and listen.
This Earth Day I am grateful to continue the journey alongside so many individuals within safe communities, who each provide ‘my place’ to continue exploring down well-trod and wild paths, both as leader and as follower. And, today I write with a longing to speak more clearly on behalf of ‘our place’ – especially our dear plant and animal friends who suffer and yet offer such wisdom in their companionship. As the sun and moon cycles move us together into an uncertain future, I pray for the gift of cleansing grief to enter our circles, for loving communities to come back to enlivened senses, and discover the holy and sacred Oneness of which we are all a part. There is enough room and a joyous welcome for each of us in this Circle of Life – let’s find and relish it together!