Still Not Dead

Though you might not know it from how seldom I post here. I’m still spending more time in the outdoors than anything else as far as my spirituality goes–that and still working with the skins and bones.

The thing is, for the past six months I’ve been going through that tear-down and rebuild process yet again, except it’s even more drastic and bare-bones than when I did it a little over three years ago when I started this blog. I had thought I had stripped my spiritual self naked back then. How little I suspected how much I had left to tear away.

I’m not entirely sure what things will look like for me in another six months, or another twelve. I don’t know how much my practice will resemble what I left off in the spring when this need to tear apart and rebuild came upon me so strongly that I had to act on it. My worldview has shifted so immensely, and yet I’m just nowhere near ready to talk about it yet. Not much, anyway. This is sort of my first attempt, maybe a pre-attempt.

So. I’ve still been hiking a lot, and going out to the coast, and taking my lover out into the Gorge. I’m still running a few times a week, which gets me out under the sky even when I’m too busy to do so otherwise. While ecopsychology isn’t as much of a part of my practice in my practicum as I thought it might be, it still has its own burner. I’m painting a bit more, too. Especially plants. For some reason, the flora of the Pacific Northwest have captured my imagination in my art, particularly my personal, private art. “I am a creature of conifers, ferns, and thick, green moss” indeed.

I’m almost afraid to write this, for fear it will become crystallized and stagnant by being placed into words. But the first thing that really seems to have coalesced into a statement of meaning is the phrase “In relation to”. On Halloween/Samhain, the day before my birthday, I went out to hike Drift Creek Falls. It’s my third year, but my first year going solo. Along with being an opportunity for a rite of passage leaving behind the last vestiges of what used to be married life, and back into a stronger singledom, it also ended up providing a valuable experience in getting to the core of meaning for me.

One of the problems I have–well, sometimes it’s a problem–is that it’s hard to get my mind to shut up. I’ve never been good with “sit down and be quiet” forms of meditation. I can do them, but I don’t like them, and I normally don’t get a lot out of them. However, I was getting frustrated on my hike because I so often found myself spacing out and missing the place I was in while my mind was floating off in a dozen different directions. “How often did I get to come to this place?” I thought. “I shouldn’t waste my time here thinking about things that concern me back in Portland!”

So I decided to just shut the thoughts off. It took a little effort, but it wasn’t more than a few moments before I was able to clear my mind. The result was both startling and telling. My physical spatial awareness snapped into sharp focus. I became very aware of where I was with respect to every tree, stone and animal I could perceive within my vision, and I had a sudden sense of space that put me firmly within my environment. Things that I normally screened out, such as the subtle movement of my visual field as I walked, became more apparent. I became present in a way I very rarely get to experience.

I realized that this feeling I was having through conscious effort of clearing my mind in this specific environment was the same feeling I got when struck with wonder by a particularly beautiful wild place. Only instead of having to be smacked over the head by the experience to actually pay attention, I was allowing it in. And I felt that sense of connection with everything else that is at the core of so much that I think and do. I don’t go throughout my day with a constant sense of that connection, but I remember enough of the times that I have experienced it that the memory is enough to motivate my actions and decisions. My choice to buy recycled paper products, for example, is directly a result of feeling connected to trees that could be cut down for pulp, even if I am not feeling that connection at the very moment I am purchasing toilet paper made from 100% recycled office paper content.

And that sense of connection has always been at the heart of meaning and wonder for me. I don’t believe I’ve ever felt it so purely, though, without the trappings of religion and paganism and shamanism and spirituality. All those things? All those are abstractions of that feeling. This is not a bad thing. There is nothing wrong with emanations and symbols.

But one thing I have had many conversations with my lover about is how often people mistake the map for the territory. Therioshamanism, my forays into chaos magic, my extensive explorations with animal totemism–all of these are maps. The maps are meant to help describe the territory of the experience with the world around me, particularly but certainly not exclusively those wild places that are such pure wellsprings of meaning for me.

And I think that’s perhaps where I…well, I won’t say I went wrong, because I don’t believe there are wrong things in spiritual exploration, only meandering and detours and “this is where you happen to be right now”. But I think three years ago I was also searching for the territory without having the map in the way, and I just didn’t quite get as much of the map out of my perception. And now I’m much closer to experiencing the territory for itself.

Hiking in the forest, with my awareness of that place and my place within that place–that is the purest spiritual experience I have had. More than Otherworld journeying that takes me out of an important layer of myself. More than rituals that are supposedly in “a world between worlds”. More than gods of the forest, spirits of the forest, I connected with the forest.

“In relation to.” That is the key phrase. I am just rediscovering where I am in relation to everything else. I am going without my expectations that there are fairies in the bottom of the garden, and without anything other than my own perceptions. Let me see what I perceive there, without what I’ve been told by years of pagan books and festivals and rituals and networkings what should be there.

Let me make my own map in relation to the territory, and let me not mistake the map for the territory.

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11 thoughts on “Still Not Dead

  1. There at the end, you hit it: “Let me see what I perceive there, without what I’ve been told … should be there.” That’s huge! And it’s similar to the place where I am now, too.

    Blessed journeys.

  2. What you are doing, the Let me see what I perceive there, without what I’ve been told by years of pagan books and festivals and rituals and networkings what should be there, that’s sort of what I am doing. I like the traditional sabbats and all. But alot of what I find written in Pagan books is very broad. As in, “Lammas/Lughnasadh is the first harvest”. That’s incredibly broad and tells me pretty much nothing about the world immediately around me (ie Indianapolis). So while I’m still observing those sabbats, I’m doing so in relation to what’s going on around me. Just because a book says that the fruit should be ripe at a certain time doesn’t mean it is. And if it’s not, I can’t harvest it and obviously then can’t celebrate that harvest. So I’m trying to be more aware of my surroundings and such.

    (PS I linked to my wordpress blog where it requests the website but I’m also Willowmoon3 on LJ~)

  3. The last line is a great prayer, or reminder, as you will. In my own role, when I took on the label of Shaman I knew there were things my Gods and spirits wanted of me. I think that in developing your own labels, you’re figuring out what you want for yourself; just as needed, just as powerful, and just as deep. One could argue given you’re doing this for yourself, by yourself, it is even moreso than if the spirits had said “here, figure this out”.

    I’ve been having more moments like what you have been describing of ‘in relation to’ and connecting with rather than reaching beyond myself or ‘out there’. I think that your ways of connecting to the world around you are great; I’ve experienced things that seem analogous to them, and I find them incredible, deeply powerful experiences.

    The fact that you are living mindfully, whether you’re walking through a forest or buying toilet paper, remarks to the power and beauty of your path. You may not think you have labels for it yet (or maybe you do), or maybe you just don’t want to use labels. The fact that you’re open to the world as it is, not as it is described from others, is a hard path to walk when you have x, y, z people writing/saying ‘it is like this’ from our own lenses. Good luck on your journey; I hope you keep writing on it!

  4. This reminds me a lot of a few of the things I learned from “The Druidry Handbook” by John Michael Greer, especially the ‘meditation’ that you learned–the sharp awareness you’ve achieved.

    Good luck with figuring out the territory further. 🙂

  5. I totally just stole the text of your copyright notice.

    I know you’re not very active here right now, but I want you to know that I consider you one of the purest practitioners I know, because you follow your own heart and gut, and are not turned aside from your path by the influence of others. For that reason, I’m giving you this award (again, but it’s a new year). Not that awards from other bloggers are anything to crow about, but I don’t give them often, fwiw.

    Happy new year!

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