Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Soliphilia (or, Finding the Light-Green Heart): A Workshop

My sweet brother
Recently, there have been days when the only solace is to be near the edge of myself, reaching out to touch the ceanothus with more than just my hands. When the only way to be a sane human being in this world is to remember that my identity rests not in my mind alone, but in the place where I end and the world begins. In that interface, that frontier, that edge-country where the astonishing blue and pollen and the buzzing of a thousand dizzy bees is enough to quench any sadness that had been stalking my soul. David Whyte says something to this effect. So, I think, does anyone who loves, and is loved by, a place in this world. Who doesn't want to be alone any more. Who knows what it means to come home. 

Blooming ceanothus, Johnstone Trail Tomales Bay
Because coming home—even just for a moment—to the smell of ceanothus arching over a path through the pines, the sound of bees shaking loose every thought for just long enough to finally breathe, is the only hope that I believe we have left in this world. Coming home to the land that nourishes us. Coming home to the people who love and support us. Coming home to the people in our communities who have been forgotten and forsaken by us and the world. Coming home—god, and isn't it the hardest thing?—to the places inside of ourselves that scare us so badly we would run for a thousand miles across deserts instead of letting them wash over us, for fear they'd pull us under. When in fact this is the only remedy— to turn and face the wind, the wave, the undertow. To trust that, as Rilke writes, that wave, that wind, will part for you, and close again behind you, and will carry on its way, leaving you in peace.

O you tender ones, walk now and then
into the breath that blows coldly past. 
Upon your cheeks let it tremble and part;
behind you it will tremble together again. 

Part I, Sonnet IV, from The Sonnets to Orpheus*

Ground lupine, sheep sorrel, Tomales Point
It's the way any planet or humble seed is made; each layer whole in itself, from core to skin, and also together in union more than the sum of parts. This is coming home—to the darkest center; to our families and loved ones; to the communities of humans and plants and animals and stones right where we are, who have missed us.

Yes, the springtime needed you, writes Rilke in his first of the Duino Elegies. Often a star 
was waiting for you to notice it. The line between self and world is very thin. Perhaps it is almost non-existent. And yet we are taught to stay far from that edge—for isn't it insanity to believe yourself fluid with columbine flowers? We are taught to bury ourselves in ourselves instead. When in fact in here, and not out there, is where madness prowls. And all along the stars and the columbine flowers have been reaching out to catch our eyes, to receive our praise, to give us the almost unsayable gift of their Presence. The reminder that we are walking always a hair's-breadth from what is numinous, from what will heal us.

Trust me, this is not something I've mastered. I've only gotten so far as to know how much I need to be engaged in such conversations with the world around me. Harder for me are the inner places. Bringing the same attention and care and curiosity and spirit of homecoming to the places in myself that are afraid to settle, to land, to home. That have, since I was a small girl, been skittish horses running from their own tails. (I wrote tales first by accident, and maybe the slip was telling. There is always a dark side to the coin of being a tale-teller.)

On the last new moon, I set out for the moor-hills of Tomales Point where the tule elk and granite outcrops live, a place very special to my heart. I knew I needed to kneel down with the quail tracks. To pay attention to small things. To delight in the discovery of a trail of snail shells, robbed of their snails all among the quail tracks-- proof of the quail's meals!

Many quail tracks among the yellow bush lupine, coyote brush, and other human, elk and coyote tracks
To notice and note the state of bloom or seed among the plants. The cowparsnip, making seeds. 

The salmonberries, ripe. The song of a returned Swainson's thrush in a wet canyon bringing them, and summer, into ripeness. Letting myself go for a time in favor of Other selves. Giving attention to them for their own sake, not just mine. 

What I mean is, instead of going up to a salmonberry and saying, in my head, hello, how can you heal me?—which would make for a rather awkward introduction between human beings—going up to a salmonberry and saying, oh my, look at you, look at your berries and your flowers, how is it here today, you are just lovely, has the gray fox whose scat full of seeds I saw on the trail been visiting you? Invariably, going out of yourself in order to attend to the lives of other beings feels so much better than seeing them always through the lens of one's own need.

A hill of wild radish, invasive but beautiful
There is a wonderful word for all of this— Soliphilia— which I discovered while in collaboration with the ecopsychologist and naturalist, Mary Good. It means the love of and responsibility for a place, bioregion, planet and the unity of interrelated interests within it, as defined by the Australian professor of sustainability Glenn Albrecht, in contrast to another term he coined, Solastalgia, used to describe the feelings of grief, dislocation and loss we experience when the environment where we live is damaged, changed or taken from us. Soliphilia is about coming home to the wholeness of a place and all the pieces that make it so. About finding belonging. About finding belonging together; a community of homecoming; a sense of solidarity in the face of great change and sorrow. About loving all of those pieces in their own right.  About finding that homecoming in a shifting world, a world beset by climate change, by unknowns. Even so, we can come home to it. We must.

Mary and I went for a walk back in January at Abbott's Lagoon to talk about all of these things, and about the vision of a workshop taught together that was brewing between us. A threading together of animal tracking and inner somatic exploration and homecoming. If you don't know Mary's work already, drop everything and go have a look.  It's really a joy to be in collaboration with her, and through that work get to know her as a friend too. She is a compassionate, devoted, skillful naturalist, grounded in observation and fact and her own senses; and at the same time she has an incredible understanding of the unseen, of our inner worlds, of how the inner and the outer meet. Not to mention the fact that she has a wonderful, warm sense of humor and is just a joy to be around. I feel very lucky to get to offer something with her to all of you.

That day in January, we knelt over otter and bobcat tracks; we watched white-crowned sparrows in the brush; we drank reishi hot-chocolate provided by the wonderful Mary; we talked about the human history of Abbott's Lagoon; we ate a picnic on a sand dune as mist turned to rain and we found we were eating raindrops along with our cheese-toasts and lettuce. We rejoiced in that rain. We talked about the feelings of anxiety that arose around the current drought in California; I expressed my own sense of fear and panic around the rain ending this year. Around not knowing if it will return. Wanting to hold the new green, the winter, forever, like a little girl resisting being left alone at preschool.

Now, after a spring full of wildflowers I hadn't seen in such numbers in years, wildflowers so abundant and beautiful that being in their presence made me at once ecstatic and anxious-- that they, too, would go so quickly—the hills are just beginning to tinge with brown. The buckeyes are blooming, full-spire, full intoxication. The antlers on the elk and deer are starting to branch, nubbed with velvet. The days are long. Summer is near, and with it the memory of drought, the sorrow of changing lands.

And, as if in perfect time and perfect grace, the date that we at last settled upon for our workshop comes just at the right moment. We are offering Soliphilia: Tracking the Wildscapes of Land and Soul in Uncertain Times just at the cusp of summer, on Sunday June 12th, a full day affair at Abbott's Lagoon in Point Reyes. This is the point of the year at which I begin to get uneasy again-- at least for the past three years, with the increasing changes in climate. Talking on the phone with Mary recently about our lesson plan, I had to laugh, saying, I think I need to take this workshop. Oh wait, I get to go for free! This is the joy of collaboration. That as teachers, Mary and I get to learn from each other as well as share with all of you.

We will spend the morning getting deep into the details of animal tracking— honing our senses, our curiosity, our empathy. After broadening these capacities in the morning on the sanddunes, and finding the expansiveness and quiet kindle of joy that comes from just looking with an open mind and heart, Mary will lead us in several afternoon exercises and wanders that will bring these new skills home to our inner ecologies.

Throughout the day, we will be exploring what it means to come home to a place, and to ourselves. What stands in the way of such returns, and how we might begin to transform, or surrender, or arrive, or all three, or nothing at all except bask in the flight of a heron and the shape of skunk tracks. Discovering that our hearts, as Rilke writes in his Third Elegy, are light-green.

All at once now, trembling, how he was caught up
and entangled in the spreading tendrils of inner event
already twined into patterns, into strangling undergrowth, prowling
bestial shapes. How he submitted—. Loved.
Loved his interior world, his interior wilderness,
that primal forest inside him, where among decayed treetrunks
his heart stood, light-green. 

That despite the chaos, the decay, the struggle, the tangles, our hearts are light-green by nature, without our effort, and always have been. We only have to look, and remember.

If you'd like to join us—and we would love to have you!— you can read more details, and sign up, here! Note that at the bottom of the page, where the sign-up button resides, there are three payment options, based on financial need.

* All Rilke translations are from the Stephen Mitchell edition  of Duino Elegies & The Sonnets to Orpheus