I can't tell you how many times I've found solace in the embrace of the natural world. I share three short stories below:
'As an angst-filled teenager, I flee the house and make my way on horseback or foot to the river that winds its way through crown land at the back of our property. There is a particular section of wide brown water where three tall eucalypts lean out over the water. I feel myself in resonance with these trees, hovering over the swirling depths, barely gripping the earthy edge.'
'When I arrive at the Wild Mind Gathering site on Friday afternoon, I find myself scattered, busy, thoughts racing and body tense. Tears and hugs begin to melt tension into softness as I meet and connect with myself and others. On the Saturday morning, I am still feeling a little out of sorts, and so I leave my shoes and walk alone and barefoot into the bush, careful footfalls following animal trails through the low, dense brush until I come to a huge tree.
I see the fire-blackened trunk of this tree, which nurtures a living heart, and I recognise this tree as a survivor. I sit at the base of the tree, rest my back against its broad trunk and come into stillness. Tiny birds twitter and dart in the brush nearby, opening my heart to joy. I am suddenly transported to my solo vision fast, undertaken a few months earlier.
Every part of me thought I would die out there. Yet, I survived my quest. I made it. I sense the tree and birds bearing witness to my release, and to the larger story that is held in that release. I am awash with feelings of profound gratitude, deep sobs rising from within me and sounding amongst the trees.
Eventually, the sobs recede and I thank the tree and birds. I make my way to the cleansing waters of the stream, and then back to the welcoming arms of community, where I tell two trusted friends about my experience. I carry a sense of integration, openness, blessing and renewed knowing of the power of connecting with wild places.'
'I am raging following a series of frustrating events. I take myself to Birrarung. I walk up the hill away from the river, raising a sweat. I speak my frustrations to the surrounding bush. Then, descending close to the river once more, I come to a tree. I ask its permission for a hug. It says yes, so I stretch my arms across its width, feeling its warm embrace envelop me. The tree says, "Hey, little sister". Tears flow. Rivers of tears. I cry out my pain and the tree offers warm and supportive words. I am held. I am held. More tears flow from depths I can't understand. I thank the tree for its warm and generous support. Eventually, I make my way along the path, lighter for this interaction.'
I notice as I write that I have become accustomed to going to nature to release or self-soothe. I feel a sense of guilt and shame that I have received so much, and feel that I haven't yet offered enough back. I'm curious to explore this imbalance. How can I engage a deeper relationship with the world? What can I offer back? How can I cultivate a meaningful relationship of mutuality?
I'm looking forward to engaging more deeply in this inquiry during the upcoming 5-day immersion with Bill Plotkin (Author of Soulcraft, Wild Mind), Deep Imagination: Soulcraft and the Reanimation of the World.
The Wild Mind gathering was held as a meeting place to explore themes of environment, embodiment and empowerment. It was a profound weekend facilitated by Sean O'Carroll. My gratitude.
As an arts therapist, I regularly invite art makers to engage with their artworks in a new way. Rather than following the old familiar route of judgement, I ask them to describe what they see, notice what stands out for them, and tend to what happens in their body in response to the artwork. Sometimes I invite them to have a dialogue with the artwork. This may seem strange at first, but awakens new possibilities through alternate perspectives. All this cultivates a deeper relationship with the artwork, and sometimes offers insight into ways of being that may or may not serve.
This process, or way of being in relationship, is not limited to artworks.
I have a personal practice of using the shamanic drum as a vehicle to shift my state of awareness and go within. Sometimes I connect with beings in the inner worlds. Sometimes I set an intention to connect with my womb wisdom. As I journey in the inner worlds, I describe what I notice, listening deeply and tracking my process. I usually journal what I have experienced afterwards.
On a vision fast last year, I decided to do a womb journey to gain some insight into a pain I was experiencing in my ovary. I settled myself on a mound of compacted dirt that a long-departed wombat had created in digging its hole, closed my eyes, and went within. To my surprise, the wise being in my womb said "No. This is not the time. The world is your womb right now".
So, I journeyed back to the surface, opened my eyes and brought my awareness to my surrounds with a soft and wide focus. I let my eyes cast across the landscape lightly, taking it all in. I noticed what stood out for me and what drew my curiosity. There were shapes in the tress and bush: A woman with a line across her heart, and shading over her genitals and belly; A person bowing in prayer. A tree trunk drew my attention more closely. I sharpened my focus, noting that the branches looked like Fallopian tubes reaching out from a uterus. Then I saw that another part of the tree looked like a frog. I wondered about the frog and what it might mean. As I sat with the frog-tree, a possibility opened up and I found the pain in my ovary was gone. I wonder what I might have learned if I had opened a deeper conversation with the frog-tree?
The landscape is alive. Artworks are alive. We are already always in relationship with all things. We can simply open our awareness and choose to cultivate that relationship.
I have a sense that I have barely dipped my toe into this way of relating with the world, and am deeply inspired by Bill Plotkin's stories in'Soulcraft.' I am feeling blessed to have the opportunity to dive into a five-day immersion in these Soulcraft practices of deepening relationship with the world through deep imagery, dreamwork, writing and conversations with the sacred other.
If you'd like to learn more, please visit Soulcraft Australia.
Plotkin, Bill (2003). 'Soulcraft: Crossing into the mysteries of nature and psyche'. California: New World Library
Chelle is a practicing art therapist, researcher, and multi-modal creative. She regularly dives into the unknown to discover what is ready to be born, deepening her trust in the abundantly creative source. For Chelle, art is a means to inquire, express, and transform. If offers the capacity to soothe, making space for new perspectives and ways of being.