The Wilderness of You {or} What I’m Doing This Summer

celtic spirituality dance dream family story

You are holding yourself back from the forests.

It came to me after I’d just experienced a movement journey, working with a new spirit at the Slough. Walking back through the woods it became obvious, fell on me like the proverbial tree. It was me standing in the way, of course it had always been me. After having pledged to the Sidhe my support for their work with the forests, here I am balking at the most available work: just showing up to be with what’s there.

Its inevitable that I would have to engage the wilderness of me, that undefined, resistant part that was never on board – with anything – or anyone – ever.  Its there, without teachers or guides where the real work lies. Sometimes just feeling the unhewen-ness of that place, day after day, is whats required.

Since that realization I’ve found myself returning to the myriad of welcome mats life has laid out for me over the years, dusting them off, digging them out, wondering why I didn’t step forward when they first appeared. Some still lead somewhere, others not. I’ve been thinking about Aikido, and performance, and grad school, and poetry, and myth, and of course the many gifts of childhood.

Rediscovering matrilineage.

I found myself being pulled back to when that expanse first began to open for me, sitting with my feet dangling over the edge of the back seat of Grandpa’s old Buick, feeling so small, like a leaf waiting to be blown out to sea.

I’d ridden with Grandpa in that same car during better times. I remember staring just beyond my feet at the worn plywood board beneath them that I wasn’t supposed to move but always did. When we were at a stop light I’d slide down and push it aside with the tip of my sneaker, revealing the sharp edged rusted hole, about the size of a cantaloupe, giving me a great view of the pavement. I was so amazed I knew a grown-up who drove around with gaping holes in his car. How cool was that.

I didn’t have a lot of summer vacations with Eddie-Boy, just enough to make him my only real Grandpa. My Dads father was far away on the East coast, and even more distant when we went to visit. Eddie-Boy had edges, five o’clock shadows, cursing moods, hangovers, and a community that looked to him for a pro-level tennis partner, a vacuum repairman, and the best cook around. He was a Grandpa you could sink your imagination into, someone my young heart easily wove epic stories around. Our family would drive out to the west coast every couple of years and, if he and Hildegard weren’t drinking too heavily, I’d get to hang out with him, maybe learn how to fix the wiring on a really beautiful Kirby standup chrome model.

This trip was different.

We took a last minute flight, Mom and I, to help Eddie move from the hospital after his heart surgery to a half-way house for alcoholics. It wasn’t that she needed me, but as the youngest she knew I’d get under foot at home without her. Grandma Hildegard was gone a few years by then, her body made frail by decades of relentless drinking. She shattered her hip when she fell one day, never to recover. If there was one thing that Eddie loved more than cooking, tennis, his kids or even drinking, it was Hildegard – no contest.

There are few things a boy can call his own in life when he’s very young. A real, bonafide Grandpa is one of those things. I wanted Eddie-boy to love me more than he did, pay more attention to me than he did, but even then I knew it wasn’t because of me. Things were just complicated for him. That was clearly apparent from the gargantuan dressing down he was getting from my Mom, his eldest as we sat in the car outside the halfway house.

“The doctors said if you drink any more, even a drop, even a beer, your enlarged heart is going to give out!” She was not saying these things to him, she was screaming them at him. She was slapping him with words, hoping they were as heavy as a cast iron pan. He sat there, head down, the final humiliation.

I was of course trying to imagine what an enlarged heart looked like. Did Grandpa have a giant heart because he was such a giant? Did he love too much? Surely he must love drinking and Hildegard so much he was willing to die for both. To this day I can’t remember how that conversation ended, and Mom just segways to something else when I try to talk to her about it now. She likes to pretend I wasn’t there, thats just how it felt back then too. Two weeks after flying home Eddie-Boy died, nobody was surprised. A small part of my heart went with him.

That was the moment the ache began.

Something opens up in you when you’re young and part of an experience like that. You feel the loss but your unbound spirit is trying to understand it all. You know there is another way things could have gone, you can feel it. If its strong enough it becomes a seed in your heart that sticks, grows over time. The yearning to heal is born in that moment. The moment you want to give to others, to help them, more than anything in life.

Why are giant hearts such a problem in this world?

Alcoholism sometimes seems to carry with it a soul deep loneliness, one that for some can perhaps come from being disconnected from their ancestral traditions, or perhaps any living, tangible sense of spirit. They yearn for the Otherworld, to be touched by all that is alive, vibrant, transcendent. Digging deeper into this branch of my family (Irish, Danish & Austrian) I’ve discovered a similar connection to the Sidhe in the form of the “Huldufolk” (Hidden People) commonly known as Elves. Beings deeply associated with nature, living side by side with humans.

These beings are the immanent emissaries of the Otherworld as expressed through nature. Often seen as integral to the balance of nature they lead directly to the more numinous, god-like Tuatha De Danann or the more commonly recognized Norse pantheon. Though often dangerous they are the companions of those who spend their time caring for our relationship to the Otherworld. These are the familial lineages of the Seers who help us all find balance with the spiritedness of life.

When we have lost our familial bond with the natural world, lost the companionship (albeit complicated) of those who make up its most personable aspects, we wander, finding loneliness instead of connection. Debauchary that might otherwise lend itself to ecstatic, transformative healing instead leads us farther and farther away from a daily felt experience of our souls.

“You must go into the forest and marry yourself.”

Following my ancestral threads eventually lead me back to the Tuatha De Danann in the story of Caer Ibormeith, a woman who lives in a cycle of one year as a Swan and the next as human. Eventually she marries a man who joins her in her cyclical rebirth, culminating every Samhain. Its thought by many to be a story of the necessary renewal and rebirth of the soul, potentially an extraordinary healing for we living humans, not just ancient Gods and Goddesses.

Caer’s dreamy power came through my journeywork and led to this message, which made sense … sort of. I responded with a typical interpretation:  the masculine and feminine in me were to marry. Hmmm, I’ll check it out. After spending time in the forest, visiting a spirit I know there, I was no closer to understanding anything. I only came to clarity weeks later after a restless nights of strong dreams gifted by a pregnant moon.

“Which forest, where?” I asked my own spirit, letting myself drift between waking and dreaming, teetering outside the bedroom door minutes before my family would waken.

“The forest where you did all your ritual work…”

Ah, that forest, OK. “I need to meet myself there?”

“You’re already there…your soul is. Its left you and doesn’t want to return.”

Ooof – teetering turned into tipping over. I’ve known I needed to work on my soul connection lately, but wow – this was bad.

I found him there, the brightest soul of me I’ve seen, the poet me.

“I write, I write poetry, and you’ve not been supporting me. Why should I hang out with you?”

Truth again. In addition to writing more I’d promised myself I’d build that writing studio years ago, still not done. I hadn’t really claimed this aspect of my own soul. He was part of the Swan story, the poetic soul abandoned. Caer Ibormeith had led me where I needed to go, I was Angus her suitor, searching for my dream soul mate. To reunite I’d have to make a serious commitment. My offering would be to build a new studio where the poet, dancer and journeyer could all work together.

And there was more.

I was given the distinct impression that I had separated out poetry from working with the spirits, caring for the Otherworld. The division in my mind was between the “ordinary” of my life (which contained poetry), and the extraordinary which did not. The spirits had been encouraging me to use poetry as an offering, to bring it more to my spiritual work.

There was even more to it though. Why was poetry so important to the spirits, to my own spirit?

The answer came when hashing that question out with my soul sister (fellow writer and shamanic practitioner) Lora Jansson: poetry can heal our relationship with the Otherworld. In fact poetry as healing brings our spirits back into their place in the cosmos, restores our sovereignty, brings us to life in our fullness. Poetry leads us to our wholeness by bringing us into true relationship with the Otherworld.

Surrender. Time to start building the studio. Amidst summer with Terry and the kids, all of our many projects, I’ve cleared lavenders and sapling Eucalyptus trees, and purchased the first materials. It will be a recycled pallet studio, big enough for movement but small enough to still be a writing studio. Up on the land, pressing into the woods. Where I belong.

Level and Square True North

The other day the kids and I went up there to move away some of the trees I’d brought down. Tadg and True both took turns using the saws and (yes – with lots of supervision) the ax. It felt right, this is what I should be doing right now – teaching them to use their hands, be in this quiet together, growing this space.

When they’d gone back down to the house for lunch, I stayed to work for a bit more, I could hear them, the Huldufolk, laughing in the woods, whispers drifting by me. This is starting to get really interesting.

Not done yet.

There is a cauldron I made years ago, a container for me to birth creative work but also to bring spirits out into this world, in the form of a padded eight foot wide circle.  During one journey I was told to look back to my graduate school years, to the circle I created to do my movement-journey work in. I needed to reclaim that power, continue the work with the spirits I began so many years ago. More building!

New Circle
How Did I Get Back Here?

Its always strange when you start to make something that has a sacred purpose, there is a potency to everything, picking up the pencil, plugging in the saw, picking out the wood, choosing the time to work on it – everything. It’s a different kind of making. I knew exactly what it was going to look like, I remember the other circle I built (retired long ago when I was living out of a suitcase after grad school.) It arose spontaneously, out of a need to combine my dance practice and journeying and take it deeper. I needed a container that would hold me tight here, while I journeyed out everywhere.

This one took almost no time to build, its as if it made itself. Some recycled materials, some bought. The kids of course loved it – hysterical laughter overwhelmed them as soon as they stepped onto the white padded surface. I always love seeing my kids work with my sacred tools, its a meeting of my worlds, like colliding particles that become something greater than they were, radiating light.

When I step into that circle my body relaxes in a new way. I move, blindfolded with confidence in both worlds. There’s something about the size of this circle, the give of the padding the lets me go all the places I need to go. Its there I can feel quickly how my spirit wants to move, where it needs to go. My first few journeys felt as if no time had passed since my last work in this circle. I was immediately brought back to a place of birthing spirits into this world from the lower world.

I’ve also been instructed to simply spend time dancing in both worlds. This is an especially powerful use of the circle, it feels both empowering and sweetly joyful. I can smell the tall sweetgrass there, my helping spirits grazing nearby, and hear my own kids playing just outside the door. I carry back power from that world, integrated into my deepest self, with almost no effort on my part. It puts me in a place of readily receiving what’s being given.

I’m starting to wonder if this kind of work, dancing in both worlds, isn’t what the spirits meant by True Prayer. I know it involves dance, maybe poetry. Perhaps prayer, like poetry, is an act of uniting the worlds. We invoke both worlds through us, embodying a connection to both.

I’m going to resist using the phrase “full circle”to wind this post up. Stepping out into the barren expanses of me, that arid part of me, always brings forth the ripest fruit, if I can just sustain being there. I have more journeys to take there this summer, but I feel a great confluence, pulling threads together.

I had a dream, over four years ago, that my late father lead me to a bridge, one that I had to cross alone. I later named that bridge Trust. A mentor recently mentioned trust as the wisdom I needed to follow now. Dipping into the waters of the past with my Grandfather Eddie-Boy, required a lot of  trust. I wonder how far across that bridge I am now, how much further did I get by willing to go there? I surely haven’t touched the other side yet, but I feel the journey is well met by me now.

Blessings to you and yours this summer, I hope you’ll stay tuned.




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