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A Nature Based-Map of this Human Psyche

[I wrote this piece in April 2022 for Westwords, a publication of the Animas Valley Institute. If you don't know some of the vocabulary and are interested, reach out, or check out any and all of Bill Plotkin's wonderful books. This is a bit of the story of me slowly welcoming home my inner critic, with the help of a wild place.]


I write this as a love letter to the beloved park across the street from my new home, that has saved my life, or at least my sanity, that has met me and held me and coaxed me, that billows with beauty and birdsong. And I write it as a love letter to myself. These last six months have been the most psychospiritually demanding of my life. Through it all, I’ve taken myself out to the land and cried and listened.

The evening was cold and very windy, the electricity in the air ripening eerily as the sky darkened. I did not have a particular intention for my wander, and it was not long at all until a loyal soldier came up to chide me on the matter. Ironically, she judged me for being so in my head, and not more present. Every move I made in an attempt to ground, to orient, to call up wholeness, was prosecuted. Every shimmy of every leaf in the bluster, every step in front of the other, every feeling, every thought, every sound, my loyal soldier swallowed, gathered into a ball of fire in her belly, and breathed out as a storm of shoulds.

As I turned down a path, I spotted a tree pussy and ran to it, desperately. It had the energy of a grandmother somehow, and I was ready for anything that seemed like it could hold me. I put my face in that cavern and wept. I growled. I prayed for mercy. I pleaded with my ancestors, with mythos, with Earth. I asked for help. My voice resonated in that damp hollow and washed back over me. Somehow, I began to feel grateful. I started to speak softly with my loyal soldier, really all my protectors, now that I wasn’t running from the fire breathing, scorched though I was.

I spoke openly and honestly. “I know I am supposed to be weeping in gratitude for you, but the truth is I usually feel so deeply hounded by you that curiosity and love are far far away. I want that though. I want to honor you for your hard work. I want to love and heal the wounded ones you protect. I want to be on your side. I don’t know how yet and probably I’m going to feel tyrannized by you again, and curse your name, and I’m sorry.” As I spoke, I wandered into a stand of trees and walked among them, touching them one by one in recognition and commitment and apology. I know this place now as the forest of my protectors. I come there often. Several times, quite surprisingly, I have found myself weeping in gratitude.

It is truly remarkable to have a psyche "out there” to wander within. In my emergent becomings, my intentional wanderings, my ceremonial offerings, I’ve found myself in particular places in this precious wild city park in West Seattle. Those places and beings have become anchors for facets of my psyche, for what passed between us, and I can return there to invoke them, and even get hit with resonance if I happen upon the place by happy accident. As I meet the nooks and crannies of this park, and of my own psyche, I am falling in love with both.

When we go out for a wander or soulcraft practice we do not explore the abstract terrain of nature, but the geography of particular places and the landscapes of our own unique minds. As capacity grows for full presence sensing, for full-bodied feeling, for heart-centered thinking, for deep imagining, the barrier between the inner realm and the outer world weathers and crumbles. Maybe a door forms, a portal.

“When places are actively sensed, the physical landscape becomes wedded to the landscape of the mind, to the roving imagination, and where the latter may lead is anybody’s guess.”

—Kieth Basso, from Wisdom Sits in Places



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