I wrote this essay for the book “The Order of the Sacred Earth,” about building nature based spiritual community,
A squirrel chatters at me from the live oak’s branches behind me. A mourning dove coos from across Shoal Creek, gurgling through a hand-built rock dam. A cardinal calls “pretty, pretty, pretty, pretty.” Other tweets and twitters, recognizable, but unnamed, join the chorus, as the rising sun’s beams glide down the rocky limestone ledge opposite me. My spot is noisier in the morning. All these beings have opinions for this essay. Normally, I come sit by this ribbon of water in the evening or afternoon, but I woke earlier than usual this morning. I knew I needed this place’s help to write about our relationship.
Reading through others’ essays I felt lost in the flow of words and abstractions, like we’re all saying the same thing over and over again, and why add to the din? But even through the gurgle of words flowing over letter’s humps, curves, and corners between the straight banks of margins, images reach out and touch my heart. I hear my experiences spoken back to me from other mouths and other lives.
This magic of mirroring is that of communion, both with people and with wild places. After all, our deepest selves, the selves we crave to know, do not live within the boundaries of our own skin, but rather are scattered in secret corners of the world, waiting for us to recognize them.
A mayfly just teetered onto the surface of the creek from a rocky ledge. It reached for the rock bank, but the current carried it away. Does it need help? Is the creek too forceful? And then, wings. Oh yes, wings, of course. I smiled at my lack of trust and self-importance, and at nature’s capability for surprise. Sometimes I teeter on the verge of overwhelm and forget I have wings too.
I’ve been sitting with this land daily over the past week working a ritual to reset my patterns in intimate relationship, asking Mother Earth to remind me what excites me, and then pursuing her as I want to be pursued. One of the surprises this time was the visceral experience of how it might feel to be pursued by Earth.
A gaping chasm in the earth rose to devour me, dark walls of a deep grave, the heaviness of earth, and a more palpable fear of death than I had ever experienced before. Is this what men’s fear of women feels like–their own death, the return to the womb as annihilation? Our need of them is so great. Our fear of losing them becomes the devouring they fear, and we both lose.
Lessons from other rituals now reemerge, acquiring new layers of meaning. Squeeze too tight and what you sought to hold slips away–projectile love. Charged particles shoot through the curve of magnetic fields–physics’ right hand rule. My lesson here was how not to be devouring, how to cultivate patience, Earth-like patience–content in my abundance, flourishing resilience, whether anyone notices or not.
Three years ago, my vision quest death lodge gave me the mantra, “Like Mother Earth, I will always stay centered.” Patience is my own death-fear to face. I received the name, Owl Earth Centering. Now Earth reminds me again to center.
Earth centers by spinning. So I spun inside the tight embrace of a circle of women under the redwoods six months ago. I spun to come back to myself, to magnetize and draw in right relationship. Like the two downy feathers that just now alighted on the surface of the creek in front of me, twirling down stream, with whirling dervish hands–one facing up, one facing down. Owl Earth Centering, full circle, weaving many rituals into one.
And as I stepped outside this evening, a screech owl, the first I had seen in several years, flew toward the east and landed in a live oak tree.
“Owl Earth Centering, remember.”
And again, weeks later, taking a break from another round of edits for an evening walk, another whooshed silently by, inches from my nose.
“Owl Earth Centering, remember.”
So much of our time in the modern world is spent in the deadness of the indoors, facing a screen, worrying and fantasizing. This is the mind’s power–to travel in time and space–and its peril–to lose sensuous engaged experience with the body and the immediacy of the world. People and nature both draw us into the aliveness of the present moment. I need these to remember my centeredness.
I feel high right now, recognizing all the ways my rituals connect reinforce and build on one another. My body is buzzing, my senses alive, and my mind marveling at the flow of interweaving alive in this moment. I am giddy with the perfection of it all. I wouldn’t be surprised if people I love just started arriving out of the woods. In a sense they are–arriving in this essay as I recall the ways they have held me in ritual, and in their own writings for this collection of essays.
My relationship with places: West coast redwoods, central Texas woodlands and waterways, and the piney woods of La Terre, Mississippi, are all contoured by the people who loved them before me. The indigenous peoples, my biological and intellectual ancestors all deepened grooves of relationship, into which I slip. The land carries these memories, as do the traditions that meander over it, sculpting human experience with story, song, and ritual. Together we guide one another.
My rituals have roots in West Africa, the American plains, and the Amazon, as carried for centuries by the Dagara, Lakota, and Shuar. They came to me through people I am proud to call friends: Zayin Cabot, Elizabeth Husserl, James Inabinet, and Pluma Blanco, with other pieces carried by Kathy Anne Woodruff, Kelly McMenimen, and Jackie Richards. We came together through the gravitational pull of California Institute of Integral Studies, and the Elmwood house community that coalesced within it.
Another Elmwoodian and dear friend, Skylar Wilson, is now collecting these essays to seed a wider earth-centered spiritual community, the Order of the Sacred Earth. While my spiritual community centers around the San Francisco Bay Area, I now live in Austin, TX. So I am now patiently coaxing tendrils of spiritual community here in my ancestral home.
During my first shot at this ritual, several months ago, I forgot I to ask what excites me. Instead, I got inspired to gather people in nature, to observe and learn from nature together, to share music, stories, and teachings—I called it Earth Church. It hasn’t happened under that guise yet, but what has been happening for several years now, here in Austin, is Moon Language Story Circle as spearheaded by Olivia Pepper and others. Every full moon we gather around a backyard campfire to share food, stories, poetry, and songs–both old and new–along the theme of that season’s particular moon and astrological movements, seeking to honor natural cycles, social justice and indigenous traditions.
These people and places are the wings that I sometimes forget I have. Whether human, mayfly, or owl, they remind me to return to center.
Like the mayfly’s winged surprise, and like Skylar’s essay’s flying dream, I received a dream on the night of my vision quest where I rose into the air seeking wider perspectives for something I had lost. The feeling of rising through the air was so exquisite, I forgot what I looking for and just kept rising until I burst into an orgasmic, blinding light. May all the goals we seek be sidetracked by the blissful surprise of the present.
By all the names we call it, earth ritual community is happening. May the Order of the Sacred Earth spread and strengthen us.
Aho. Ashe. Amen. May it be so.
March 15, 2017