Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Seeding the New Moon Heart (And Introducing Two New Story Projects!)

A small revolution has been recently taking place in my heart. A humble upheaval of an old order. Perhaps it is better to say that the revolution has taken place in my mind; my heart (all of our hearts) always knows, always has known, and has been doing its work despite certain aspects of my mind for many years. The revelation is really quite simple, but its effects on me have been rather profound.

Over the past few months it came to light in me that for a very long time--since I was a little girl, in fact--I've been using urgency and high stress to motivate myself to get things done. This is hardly news to any of us I'm sure, because this is the story of our culture. This IS the story of Western Capitalism, no doubt about it. A story of urgency, fight or flight panic, even competition over who is the most stressed out, the most burnt out, who gets the least sleep and never takes a weekend, etc. For some people, this model may work well enough; for others, like myself, it's actually quietly devastating. I'm a very stress-sensitive person; I've struggled with anxiety and panic since I was small. For a long time I've seen them as the other side of the coin of devoted creativity; two sides of one whole. As richly as I can spin a story onto paper, I can also spin off into obsessive panic about any number of worst case scenarios.

But recently, I've come to see that by following the story of the over-culture, I am helping to create conditions in which this kind of mindset can thrive. By using urgent stress to motivate, I create a landscape in which anxiousness and fear thrive. (Sound familiar? Sound like the world we see on the news?) It is not an inevitable state, nor is it even native to me. I don't have to claim stress as a birthright. I can see it as a product of the power of storytelling. It's funny, because I make my living, and feed my own spirit, by writing stories that grow taproots through the cement, that offer wild windows, old valleys and firesides full of hope, that attempt to give voice to the more-than-human world, to offer another set of narratives in which to view this place, this life, the problems at hand.

My heart is well versed in this way, devoted to it, and fiercely loving. When I am writing a story, I am deep in the heart of the pulse of things. Everything else falls away, and there is only this, the flow of words which is a flow of blood and wildwater and light through me. And yet crowding in around the work, when I step away from notebook and writing desk, are the tensions and conflicts of the overculture. I run my own business and make my own days and yet I find that the stories I am trying to subvert in my writing are still there in the narrative I tell myself as I work—a narrative of urgency, of stress, of strain. I've bought into the scarcity mentality our economic system feeds us, despite my every effort! This is rather funny, all of it, when I step back and look at it. Quite hilarious, and humbling too.

I know I am sharing more personal details than I normally do here, but I am doing so because I have a feeling that a lot of you out there know exactly what I mean; because I hope that sharing something of this struggle and the ways in which I am moving through it may be helpful, or galvanizing, to others, in addition to the hope that some of you may have wisdom or stories in this regard to share in the comments with all of us!

So, back to my revelation. It came while I was on my moon cycle last week. I think this is an important detail to share here in part because I will admit that it makes me slightly uncomfortable to do so, despite the passion I have around the deep feminine power of menstruation, the rage I feel at all the subtle and not so subtle stories we're told from a young age that make us feel shame and shyness and embarrassment around this most sacred of cycles. My slight discomfort is another example of an over-culture story that has deep roots in me, in so many of us.

Anyway, the revelation was really a synthesis of thoughts that had been stirring in me for a while, and amounts to this—let the heart, not the mind, be in charge. The heart is its own mind; let the brain-mind bow down before the way of the heart. Let beauty motivate you. Let the absolute astounding beauty of this life motivate everything you do. 

None of this, I daresay, sounds like news. In fact when I look at it, it sounds very obvious, like I've heard it five million times. But sometimes something shifts subtly in the way of the telling, and everything becomes clearer. In part this shift in perspective came from an interview I'd listened to earlier in the week, on Unlearn and Rewild, with Charles Eisenstein. In it, he discussed the "sickness" our culture has around time and efficiency. That it's an obsession with being efficient that makes us get things done (aka urgent stress). He suggested this alternative, to ask yourself--how can I create something in the most beautiful possible way? And this just astounded me. When the hostess, Ayana Young, asked him--well what about those environmental concerns which are really quite urgent, shouldn't we be efficient there?—his reply was: and how well has that been working for you so far?

And I just had to laugh, and laugh! Not well at all, of course! Not well at all on the cultural, global scale, nor on the individual level either! The mind balks at the idea of doing things with beauty alone as a motivation, fearing that nothing will get done. The mind balks at the idea of letting the heart really and truly lead the way. But perhaps what's really balking is an old story, hearing its death-knell. For there is a great, deep relief in the body at this idea too—what if I let beauty and heart lead me, truly? What if I trusted this wholly, every step of the way, not just with pen in hand? What if we all did? What would this world look like? Oh my.

The radio program Unlearn and Rewild describes the revelation occurring inside my mind rather well. Commitment to really unlearning the stories we are fed, not just the stories I see outside myself, but also the stories hiding within me despite my best efforts. Commitment to rewilding the body and the mind by letting the heart lead. Herbal healer and writer Stephen Harrod Buhner has written extensively on the neural networks that exist within the heart, and between the heart and brain; I think we all instinctively know that the heart "thinks," the heart knows things, before even the mind. It is the heart the speaks with the plants, animals and stones. Indigenous and pre-modern peoples the world over located the self not in the head but in the heart. If you think about it, the heart is a far, far more ancient organ than the human brain. The human brain, beautiful thing, is a troubled brain. The heart is the wilder of the two in the sense that it isn't very different from the heart of a rabbit or a doe or a fox. So by letting it have full rein—well, who knows what might come?

I would add that it's all well and good to come up with this kind of decision, to say oh yes of course, my heart is in charge, Let the Beauty You Love Be What You Do, etc. I've come to this decision many times before. What has changed this time is the realization that in order to change a story you have to tell yourself the new one all the time. Just as obsessively as you told yourself the old one. You have to practice telling it. You have to bow down to the heart, take the leap, putting your hand over your chest every time you forget, starting again each moment.

All of this leads me, in a very wordy fashion, to two new projects which I'm very excited to share with all of you. Both of them are as much medicine for me as I hope they will be for you—for in the end isn't this how the cycles of nature work? The berries are as much fed by being picked as they are food for the eater? And the creation of them as necessary to the plant as their consumption?

The first is called Morningstory. Here is its description from Wild Talewort.

For twenty-eight days, the number of days in a moon cycle, receive an illustrated story-vignette (500 words) in your email box, a cup of story to wake you into the wildness of your own body, to help re-story your morning, your afternoon, your night, your month, with the voices of the wildly human and more-than-human worlds.

In the face of the social, ecological and spiritual starvations and destructions of our time, we cannot hope for true transformation without also transforming the stories we tell ourselves and each other about our own hearts and our relationship with the more-than-human world—our belonging (t)here, and also our necessary humility in the face of so much robust, miraculous, diverse life and all the ways that it cradles us, from birth to death. We become the stories we tell, for good or for ill. May Morningstory be a cup of embers to fill your morning with, to warm you through the day, to help your soles stay wild, stay on the path of dust and elk-hoof and beauty, despite all attempts to sway you.

Every day, the culture we live in will try to steal you from yourself, says the inimitable Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estés. Every night, she says, you must steal yourself back. Every morning, come sunrise, full of a skein of star-thick dreams, you are your own once more. The night has made you wild. Your heart has moved the rivers of your blood through every bit of you as you dreamed quietly under a changing moon. The earth has turned on her axis in the great black ember-bed of the galaxy and the sun has climbed up over her rim to feed every last thing the warmth and light it needs.

May Morningstory help to keep you stolen back every morning, back inside the great, feral cup of your own heart.

I've written a full sample Morningstory vignette, and it's available for you to read over in my shop! The first cycle will begin on the new moon of July, the 16th.

The second is a long awaited and deeply treasured collaboration, called Kith & Kin Medicine, with the wondrous medicine maker, writer and dreamer, Asia Suler, of One Willow Apothecaries. Back around the solstice, a dream fell into my mind—Asia's medicine is always so full of story, so full of her own potent dreaming (truly, this woman is amazing), so full of threads and lands that resonate deeply in me. A vision came to me of a project in which Asia, in her wildwood witch way, would brew up a special medicine whose ingredients she kept secret from me. I would then take the medicine and write a story based on the visions, paths and beings that arose in my imagination through it.

We decided to call it Kith & Kin in honor of our own storied connection, in honor of the kinship between stories and plant medicine (stories, after all, are one of the oldest medicines we have), in honor of the lands and all their inhabitants which we both love and are devoted to, me in northern California, Asia in the mountains of North Carolina. Originally, the term Kith referred to the living land, the countryside upon which one lived, and so the phrase "kith and kin" meant family, friends, and all the wider relations in the more-than-human world. Asia puts it beautifully: "Named Kith & Kin Medicine for the wild lands that gave it life and the kinship (between medicine and makers and dreamers alike) that it arose from." This is a deeply co-created project that blurs the lines between story, stone, root, petal and word.

Today the collaboration officially began, under the dark moon of June. I sat down at my desk, cleared my heart and mind, took several drops upon my tongue, and let the sensations and images begin to flow in. For several days, I will make no attempts to grab at stories; I will simply sit with the medicine, and see what tidbits, seeds and feathers come in. I will get to know it. More than that I will not yet share, for it is a secret place, the early stirrings in the creative heart. As the project evolves and matures, we will be sharing little peaks into the journey, here, for you to follow and see. In the spirit of intuition and wild-heartedness, we have no set release date yet, though rest assured it will be within the summer season.

The end result will be a story in the mail and this vial of Asia's extraordinary, earth-moving medicine, for you to follow into your own heart of hearts.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Off the Train, into the Gooseberry Patch

Well, I had meant to share with you my long, slow train journey down through the heart of California to visit a dear friend in Santa Barbara--photographs of burnished gold hills and lone oaks, thick riparian corridors full of cottonwoods, strawberry fields green contrasting dust dry ridges, oil rigs off the coast, oil being pumped on the coast, old train shacks and herons in drainage canals amid the subdivisions, accompanied by my train scribbled musings from my notebook, my rambling thoughts about the stories of an older California to be glimpsed between drought-gold grasses and leaning oaks, sloughs and fog banks and ranch houses out in the open without cover for miles. About the soothing pace of trains, as compared to planes or cars. But alas, I've just lost everything off my computer since last December, due to a mysterious software failure and my own carelessness at having not looked into why my external hard-drive wasn't backing things up properly... So my photographs out train windows of blue sea and kelp beds, graffiti at the train stops and the sudden hills of San Luis Obispo--well, they are all gone, poof! Which is all a very good reminder of the strange unreality of all the things that exist here, on the internet, inside our computers, and how we relate to them. How we can get sucked very deeply into this odd dream-machine, which does the dreaming for us; how things lost here don't feel like things lost in physical reality--a photo album, say, or a collection of vinyls. It reminds me of the general attitude of disposability we have in our world, which informs how we relate to so many things. 

The blue kelp filled sea, the drought-dead cliffs of Santa Barbara (photograph courtesy of Elsinore Smidth Carabetta)
Luckily, of course, all of my stories and the three novels I've written to date were safely stored in emails. Those lost would have been devastating; but it reminds me that much of what I do on this computer is somewhat disposable, and shouldn't that be a lesson? I know I can take dozens of photographs, hundreds, and so each individual image becomes less precious. When we can read snippets of ten wonderfully written articles or stories at once, and a hundred more just beyond the click of a mouse, their value shifts. I don't know what to do about all of this; I'm only noticing, and pondering, and sulkily wishing I could share that photo of the train snaking around a long curve through the mountains with you, or the hellish beauty of an oil field north of San Luis Obispo as the sun set, illuminating the pumpjacks ceaselessly hauling oil from their wells like terrible chained creatures desperately doing their duty, and desperately hating it. What it is that oil means in our culture and world (speaking of disposability) and how that one field knew the whole story. 

I've been listening voraciously to a series of podcasts called Unlearn and Rewild, and in one interview, the eloquent Zen Master Dr. Susan Murphy Roshi says something to the effect of—"we are addicted to the absolutely extraordinary energy of oil, all the many, many things that oil can produce for us." This struck me very deeply; how powerful, how seductive, oil is, this ancient, deep-buried, condensed energy straight from sun in the dead bodies of primordial plants and animals--how much its power thrills us, even as it destroys us, like staring too long at that great sun. How can we treat such a thing as disposable? My god, it's the blood of time, and yet look how we treat it! Perhaps this is because, like many of the things stored on our computers or found on the internet, we don't interact with any of it directly, with our bodily senses; all of it is somehow abstracted. Even when I pump gas into my car, and a little spills, that toxic smell; still I can't feel in my body what oil really is—dug up refined primordial sunshine. It's too far gone for me to know it, and my lungs reject the scent.

Well. Instead of these things, what I am left with is a handful of photographs my dear old friend Elsinore took. How we scrambled down a dry creekbed and found a patch of wild mint, growing with more vigor and health than the mint in my garden has ever managed. How we gathered pocket-loads of black sage, which smells of sun and peace. 

How in that creekbed we found the most beautiful, robust wild gooseberries I've ever seen, striped like hard candies from another time. How we popped one, just one, out of its spiny skin and sucked the flesh and seeds like the squirrels. How tart-sweet, how utterly delightful.

Ribes amarum (bitter gooseberry)
How the ocean was warmer down south, and calmer, and when the sun came out, a dark lapis blue, heady with kelp beds, so different from the paler green-gray-blue of the ocean up here.

Perhaps all of this is to say that it is the small, sweet and slow things that keep us sane. Feet in the tide, hands full of sage and mint, tongue tart with gooseberries from the creekbed. How we value and love the things we can take in directly with our bodies and hearts. These, we will not toss aside. In the end, it is the things we make roots for that we will stand to save. We cannot save the world, but we can each strive to save home, and after all, together a hundred hundred million homes (of human, of seal, of fox, of spider) make a world.