A woman named Rachel came to retreat and learn with us in the spring of her twentieth year. In her capacity to feel deeply the pain and wonder of the earth she was way ahead of her peers, and yet her lack of confidence made it hard for her to share her beautiful heart with others. She wrote to us before her arrival, expressing a desire for us to help her “find my voice”. “How can I ever begin to find my purpose and place in this world, if I can’t share what’s inside me? I feel so much every day that I don’t know how to release, I feel like I’m being smothered.”
Soon after her arrival, we spoke about how hard it is to express our truest selves when we’ve been hurt or rejected in the past for showing vulnerability or depth. How essential it still is to continue to seek out ways to express ourselves wholly. And ideally, to find the means to share our undiluted expressions with others. We spoke about keeping journals and writing poetry, using paint and clay, dancing… and when we spoke about singing, tears flooded her golden brown eyes. She’d always wanted to learn how to sing “well”, but was told that she was “tone deaf” by a teacher in school. “There’s just some people that can sing, and some who’ll never be able to”. More tears.
We sat at the base of the medicine cliffs, on a large flat rock at the edge of the Healing Pool. We were at least a half a mile away from any other humans. I asked her if she wanted to try something that might help, and when she agreed, I told her to come sit cross-legged across from me, with her knees touching mine. First I encouraged her to take some slow deep breaths. “Now open yourself to all the feeling in your heart, and see if you can sing it out, in one note. It can be as loud as you want”.
She sat for a while, quietly breathing, hugging herself, and rocking back and forth with her eyes closed, making small sounds. Finally she found a note that expressed herself, her pain and bliss and hunger. It was like a baby’s cry, and a victim’s cry of rage, but also as pure and ecstatic as an eagle’s screech or the calls of the elk on the river where I live. I matched the note and volume for a moment, and then I shifted down in the scale, leaning forward so that our foreheads were nearly touching. All of a sudden our tones were different but in synch and harmony. It was like a vibration that just suddenly got ten times more powerful than what either one of us had been able to create alone, and we could feel it clear down to our toes, and in our bones. We were each expressing our truest selves without fudging or hiding anything, but the way we fit together is what made us something more.
Harmony is the opposite of the army where the drill sergeant chants one line, and then the troops all follow. And it’s more like African polyrhythms than it is like African call and response. All the world is singing at once, the mountains and rivers, the birds and bees, wind and waves, and the spirit of every person. Each of these songs, and every note and detail in them, are overlapping with others. No sound or expression or spirit ever really stands alone, and so it’s a matter of how they go together. If we don’t care about or pay attention to the expressions of the other singers, the forests or our friends, we’ll very likely end up with a disharmonious song, and a discordant world. But if we really care, and we pay close enough attention, we can find ways to express our personal songs that resonate with the songs and needs of the rest of the singing world.
A large part of my life is now consciously dedicated to bringing all the parts together in a way that contributes to the harmony and wholeness of all. Sometimes that means one part has to shift and be just a tad bit higher, another may need to drop down lower than usual. I help stretch the women I work with emotionally and in their lives, assisting them past what they are used to or comfortable with, just like I help someone stretch a note until it resonates with all the notes around them.
I have to really work at bringing my many diverse parts together harmoniously. Like most everyone, I suppose I’m a complex stew of energies, kind of a little girl/wise woman, introverted extrovert, wounded healer, wild woman-fairy princess! No small wonder that I spend too much time sorting things out, trying to figure out priorities and what my realest deepest feelings really are. Feeling things out with my heart and body, and not so much with my easily confused head. Bringing myself out of fairy princess land and back to Earth is a constant effort as well. It really helps to let go of the harsh judgments my wounded self has about many of the different parts, and to allow for their expression in healthy ways. Chopping wood, harvesting and cooking wild foods, playing in the river, letting myself cry when I need to, leading sweat lodge ceremonies, allowing myself to imagine that I really can make miracles happen, are all ways that I give these parts of me expression… and live the song of all I am meant to be!
I feel so incredibly blessed to have so much support in living this life that is such a strange and wondrous expression of harmony– something of a hermitage that still reaches out to the world every day with its song of wildness. That I wake each morning miles away from any power lines, television and phones, and rest my eyes on sun-streaked cliffs, listening to the undiluted harmonics of wildest nature, the bugling elks and cawing ravens, whistling hawks and singing frogs. And yet there is the little satellite dish on our cabin roof that connects us to the internet. It seems a bit incongruous, but it helps so much in our efforts to share the blessings and teachings of this place with the many students and guests that make their pilgrimages here, as well as the wonderful women that read this amazing publication. As much as I cherish the times of quiet between the busy spells, it wouldn’t feel very harmonious or right if we neglected to share the power of the energy here in whatever ways possible.
It seems to me that all of nature, even the smallest dandelion thrusting itself sunward from between the cracks of the sidewalks, is trying to teach us how to achieve truest harmony, how to be all we are, with no apologies, insistently and joyfully. How to sing out with every cell of our beings the miracle of life, and the wonder of getting to live each day. Instead of trying to teach everyone who comes here how to live in the wilderness, our goal is more about empowering each person to discover for themselves what harmony with nature, including their own nature, feels like. To give them the opportunity to know themselves as one with Earth and Spirit, to open to her song, and to let the song of Gaia sing them back into wholeness. To know and feel themselves as a part of the song of the natural universe, so that when they leave here, they may commit to being truer to their selves than they may have ever been before, no matter how difficult or disharmonious things may have to be for a while until the necessary changes are made. And giving them whatever guidance they can make use of, to achieve that feeling of resonance in their daily lives.
I feel in harmony bringing tea to those I love when they’re busy writing, picking up pieces of kindling from the ground, knowing that I’m reducing fire danger near our structures. I feel in harmony harvesting the tops of the nettle plants, knowing that they’ll grow back, and wandering the river to harvest watercress, so I don’t take too much from any one of the small patches that are still growing back from the last flood. I feel in harmony every time I coerce a bee that’s trapped in the kitchen to sit on my finger, and watching it fly away once I take it outside. I feel in harmony giving prayers, time and energy to honoring the wild animals whose lives we take and eat occasionally. I feel in harmony baking extra muffins to give to the man who sells us eggs from his chickens, to the postmistress who spends extra energy dealing with our mountains of mail, and to the town grocer who gives us credit at the store when our finances are low. I feel in harmony whenever I remember to sing while I’m hauling water, or notice the light dribbling through the grape leaves by the mulberry tree. Whenever I remember to see all the beauty of the earth as a reflection of myself in the mirror of creation. When I look to the cliffs above me to recall who I am, and why I am here. To be a part of this place, to feel the changing sun and seasons and moons upon my face, and from the joy of that, to sing.
Rachel and I continue singing together for a what seems like a very long time, our voices weaving and cascading, dancing through the canyon. Every time the song pauses, we hear our voices ringing back to us, many times over, bouncing off the canyon walls like a pair of far away flutes. Finally there is a long note that feels like the end, and we stop and look at each other. Her face is streaked with tears, and she beams at me with the most joyous smile. “Wow,” she says, “that was really something. I’ll never forget this moment. I sure needed that.”
Looking up at the cliffs, feeling Gaia herself vibrating with the pleasure of the gift of her daughter’s long suppressed song, I add, “And the Earth needs you, and your song too.”