Making Things Real: Intention Setting and Storytelling

Making Things Real: Intention Setting and Storytelling 
by Michelle Katz

This week I returned from my annual Wilderness Quest.  It was the most difficult fast I have had yet, and hope to ever have.  The physical pain of this fast was immense and led me to actually to come down from the mountain a day earlier than anticipated.  It was a humbling and new experience for me.  And of course, despite it’s ordeal, I am awaken to it’s alignment with my intent.

I arrived on the land, a land I did not previously know, to find my spot for this initiation.  A rock that called to me was a 20-minute hike up from the basecamp and situated me close to my co-guide and co-quester’s spot in case anything happened.  The land was truly magical.  The mix of pine forest and desert related showed a juxtaposition that was awe-inspiring.  The mica dusted and quarts embedded granite rocks invited a looking in, through and at myself.  The view of the surrounding mountains offered a perspective of all directions and expansiveness of seeing.  The scent of Ponderosa was faint in the wind and told stories of those that do know this land well, the bears, mountain lion, coyote, elk and deer, finches, eagles, hawks.  And the bones and feathers left behind on the earth were the writings of these stories.

At the threshold crossing, I stepped in, speaking of an intention I was reluctant to declare.  “I need honest and conscious connection to myself and others.”  Admitting to myself that I need people and I need myself to show up fully with them.  And in the moving up the mountain slowly with my gear, my body already felt weak, just stepping into this.  I knew I was about to embark on something big.  And so the ceremony began and guided me to whatever I needed.  The ordeal was real, the message was loud and clear and heard immediately.  I began feeling more and more ill, and on the third morning, I woke and truly needed someone.  I blew my rescue whistle, in the honest and conscious connection to myself and in it’s true lesson of surrendering to my need and the need I have for other, I was assisted down the mountain.

After eating and some good company, I felt much better.  In that time we both held our own intention and stories personally and in deep reflection and integration of the experience.  And as the next morning came, it was time to do what always seems so hard: share the experience. 

No matter what, every time I return from questing, I think, “I have nothing to share” only then to ask, “how do I have much to tell about nothing at all?” 

I recall, after one Quest, speaking to Meredith Little, co-founder of the School of Lost Borders, where I did my training to be a Rite of Passage Guide, and telling her “that the most powerful element of this practice for me, is in the storytelling.   I often feel my life is nothing much, until I share the story with someone, then I come to realize just how Big my life is and can be.”  

After this Quest, I am again shown this profound yet simple and beautiful truth of the practice.  I marked the needing of others, regardless of how hard it can be to relate at times, as well as an authentic and trusting connection to myself.  And with the time on the land, I was shown the realness of my intent in a clear and firm way; from the truthful cries of the hawk circling above to the knowing of the woodpecker in it’s drumbeat and the showing up of the hummingbird and chipmunk as I needed them most, and, of course, to the showing up of the human being when I sent out my call for help.  And none of it felt real until I sat in circle to share that story and be seen for it through the acknowledgement of my community, for the lessons learned and the maturity met.  Now, I get to see how I live it in the world, carrying with me the knowledge that I am supported both by the land and the people.

Come share in this important practicewith Oaks Counsel.  Our initiation intensives for teens and adults starts in October, sign up for an experience that will mark a new you.  

Why do we do this?: Starving Ourselves to Live.

Why do we do this?: Starving Ourselves to Live. 
By Michelle Katz

As this posts, I will be into the first night of my annual Quest.  I write this in my preparation, which often brings up various questions, from what to pack and what is my intent, to why do I do this again?

I’ll be spending time on the land, having intentionally severed from an old way of being and in the liminal space before beginning a new.  I sit with no company, no food, and no shelter, being midwifed by the earth.  Uncomfortable, waiting, hungry, scared, and amazed, peaceful, accepting and open.  Trusting in the process.

As I pack and anticipate what’s coming, I wonder why the hell I do this and why would I ask others to do it too?  Why would I ever want this to be such a significant part of my life?

The short answer is to become better at dying and living.

When I taught The Psychology of Death and Dying, I spoke to my students about all the little “D” deaths in their lives and how they can live those in preparation for the big “D” Death to come.  In doing this, we can deeply know our human nature as we live our lives.  The little “D” deaths are present throughout our lives and reveal to us who we are in an ordeal, in the transition places, in the struggle out of the cocoon or through the vaginal canal, or into and through the tunnel, out to the unknown other side, so that we can fully step into our one precious life.  What if breaking up with someone was easier each time?  What if losing a loved one was met with acceptance?  What if changing careers created excitement rather than anxiety? 

This ceremony is big.  Marking a transition is not a new year’s resolution, which we live and break. This marking of the end of one way into another way of life, requires all of us to show up, required that we experience the ordeal and find a way through, requires that we grow, we listen, we respond, we learn about the unknown and know within each of us.  And it challenges us to live into what we mark, for years to come, this is no stopping the way this ceremony reverberates into our souls.

Another reason why, is the daily headlines.  I look at the rates of suicide and suicidal ideation, the use of drugs and alcohol and other additions, the alarming number of depression and anxiety diagnosis.  We are more anxious because we have lost the ability to connect to our playfulness and spirit.  We are more depressed because we cannot see we have gifts to offer this world or we do not know how to offer these gifts.  We use drugs and alcohol because we are deeply seeking spiritual and higher spirit experiences but don’t know how to know this place inside of us (it is no coincidence that these things are often referred to as “spirits” and getting “high”).  We use other addictions because we fear going deeper into dark uncomfortable places, so we turn to distractions.  And we want to kill ourselves and actually do so because something in us needs to die, there is wisdom in this process of letting go, the trouble is that we do this literally because yet we have forgotten that what is truly needed is a metaphoric death, not an actual one. I shudder at the knowing of how many lives we lose because this practice of dying into life, because rites-of-passage, is lost.

I also do this because I want to know what moves me. I can best know this, by dropping into where I currently am and by looking out into the natural world in order to see what is inside of me.  Then I can notice how I move around the wheel: Is it the rock digging into my back that has me shift my perspective? Is it the rain that has me seek shelter? Is it the sun that burns my skin begging me to find a tree for shade? Is it the wind that blows my tarp in ways that make me wrestle with it and myself?  Is it all those things?  And can I live into the metaphor of nature mirroring my experience of life?  Can I sit with myself as I am ushered into the world anew, in all the discomfort and with a greater knowing of my human nature, humbly, respectfully and with strength and understanding?  The answer when I return to base camp, withmy first deep breath and warm greetings of joy and hugs from my community, is always, “Yes, now I am ready to live again.”  And that is why I do this, starving myself to grow hungry to live!

Join Oaks Counsel in the experience of dying into life.  Check out our upcoming Day Quests, and some of out Intensive programs (which includes Quest experiences).

The Eclipse as a Mirror of Conflict: Internal, Interpersonal and Global

Photography by Jeremy Knotts

Photography by Jeremy Knotts

The Eclipse as a Mirror of Conflict: 
Internal, Interpersonal and Global 
by Michelle Katz

There is nothing like an eclipse season to bring up a reflection of contrast and conflict.  The energetic, experiential and visual dramatic meeting of two seemingly opposites sides in drastic juxtaposition with each other. 

It is in this that I cannot help but think about the ways conflict can be approached.  Can it be a battle or create more intimacy?  Be it inner conflict, interpersonal conflict or global conflict, what is the process one chooses to approach this particularly natural happening in our lives?

As I watched the eclipse this week, I could not help but be in awe of its way of meeting.  Dark and light, day and night coming together.  I almost felt as if I was seeing something far too intimate and otherworldly for me to witness as a human being. 

So, I began to feel the eclipse inside of me and bring it back to the human experience, as I sit in the reflection of how nature mirrors us and how we mirror nature.

Let us look at inner conflict first.  It can take so many forms: shame, doubt, judgment, the battle of the ego not wishing to be humbled.  We live in a culture that is focused on “be happy” which leaves us in utter conflict when these inner experiences arise and we are simply and irrevocably not happy.  There are many ways to face this inner turmoil.  Some may want to step away from this painful experience, focus more of the pleasure and positive elements of life.  Asking, what can I do for relief from this inner experience.  We may find ourselves focusing on outward tasks: cooking, work, relying on relationships to regulate us.  Another option may be to sit with it, stay, feel it fully though, emotional expression, writing or art, or long internal dialogues on nature walks.  Perhaps asking ourselves, what is so uncomfortable about this, what are the triggers that led me here, how can I experience this in a way that provides some nurturing growth for my future.  This way truly requires a willingness to be uncomfortable, terribly, terribly, uncomfortable without knowing when it may end or how it could possibly be resolved within ourselves.

Then let us look at how we do conflict on an interpersonal level.  It is easy to see dichotomy in interpersonal conflict dynamics.  Each person will like vehemently defend their way of seeing things.  It is in interpersonal relationship that we truly come to see our patterns with conflict.  We can have the experience of wishing that our interpersonal relationship is all light and loving, but the fact is that we are drawn to people who, at one point or another, trigger us.  Leaving us to question our ability to be loved and show us how we each hold a different way of being in the world, and the one we love holds it in a way we are not able to own and honor in ourselves.  When in conflict interpersonally, a stubbornness can easily arise.  And how we want to move into this is key to our way with conflict.  We can ignore and push though, again focusing on distractions or pleasure seeking.  Or we can choose to move in.  If we choose to move in, we choose to get really messy with each other.  We are then choosing to ask big questions: is this worth it, am I willing to experience myself differently, am I willing to be really terribly uncomfortable in order to find my/our way through and out of this toward some greater growth and understanding?  Am I willing to do what’s easy or what’s challenging?  Am I willing to get ugly and wild and awful and still find a way or a willingness to be loved in it, through it, for it.  Am I willing to choose connection and learning toward a compassionate end?  Or do I want to walk away because it is no longer fulfilling?  Is it about who win or losses or is it about discovering an alternative that’s not easily seen or revealed?  Mostly, am I willing to be transformed by this conflict?  Find the intimacy, when shadow overlaps the bright sunlight?

Now, let us look at the global conflict.  Todays news, the headlines: Conflict between countries, or world leaders, conflict within countries, conflict between peoples of different beliefs or cultures or race, conflict of climate, the conflict does not seem to cease on this global level.  And so, it reveals how each of us meets contracting energies.  Do we look the other way?  Do offer a blanket statement “we see the world differently” or “it’s both sides that are wrong”?  Do we fight with words of constant protest or loaded threats without true outcome?  Do we take drastic actions, running people over with violent intent?  Or we sit with each other, and look at values and needs, as Marshal Rosenberg so graciously advises in his study and practice of non-violent communication.  Do we rage and stay in opposition or find a way through?  Do we choose to rely on ego and stubbornness or understanding and growth?  Do we stumble through incredible discomfort, owing the ugly way we can be and the blindness we can practice? Only to eventually begin to turn toward each other in conscious ways of communication and seeing, toward creating a once unforeseen resolution?  What need is being met? Or not met?  What values do we have in common?  How can everyone be seen and heard and felt and compassionately open up? How is the sun and the moon more similar than different?

This reveals to me the ways we practice our human nature.  We naturally go around and around the medicine wheel.  We feel the depths of emotion, we tantrum and argue or we aim to distract and see what we want to see in pleasure seeing proclivity.  We then move into an introspective place with the conflict, asking: who am I in this?  Reviewing the conflict and taking it into the depths of our soul, requiring us to sit in the darkness with it for the duration until something bright reveals itself.  Then we can move forward and bring perspective and truly come to see ourselves and the other with what we mutually have to give in the way of growing and relating.  And then, only then, can we find the transformation place in all this conflict, that bright light that comes to contact with that dark place we sat in for so long.  Only then, do we know a new way of being.

In our western culture, we often stuck in the first two stages of the wheel, vacillating between pleasure seeking or drastic emotional reactions and the deep introspective meeting the dark places and then back to pleasure seeking and drastic emotions.  We rarely choose to navigate our way though the dark toward a greater seeing of one another and a transformation that can alter us, our relationships and the world we live in.  The navigating through is where initiation happens.  It is the invitation to not remain in a sole state but rather move into a soul state.

How do you do conflict?  Step into a world of courageous movement around the wheel, get unstuck, with Oaks Counsel.  Learn more about this simple and profoundly intimate way of navigation in our world.

Grief Needs Witness, Grief Needs Nature

Photography by Guu

Photography by Guu

Grief Needs Witness, Grief Needs Nature by Michelle Katz

The last two weeks I held such deep sorrow and grief.

The first few days, I found the desire to remain stoic in my enduring of it, knowing it as a familiar companion that can take a hold of me.  In my alone moments, I wouldn’t quiet let it in, and I found work to distract me from it.

But it was in the witnessing that I could no longer hide what was so truly inside me.  Once I sat in place to be seen and heard by others, my stoicism released.  It was what was needed, as it led me beyond my ego and it instantly became ceremony.  The grief was wild, it came alive, in the witnessing: in class, at the yoga studio, in the arms of my friend, in the company of a friend on the other side of the phone waves.  No words exchanged.  None needed.  I just wailed with tears of grief, and cries of anger.  And it did not stop, it continued on in waves. In feeling the presence of a person who was truly with me, I released all of who I think I am, and allowed what I keep in the shadow to arise.  Seen in my mess, in my rolling on the floor, in my curling up in ball, in the running nose and puffy eyes, in the yelling, screaming, throwing of things, in the scrunched up red face that could not contain the depths of this, despite it’s feeble attempts, in the primal eruptions that echoed on earth and was an echo of earth within me.

Francis Weller speaks on the need for communally honoring of the living in the ritual of grief, with grief as a way of deepening into relationship with soul. He speaks of gathering together, to hear each other mourn, weep, wail and cry our in pain, all in order for healing to begin.  In the recognizing of grief in ourselves and other, we see all of humanity and the earth.  For in grief, comes parts of ourselves we often believe cannot be loved: our anger, our sensitivity, our power, our depression, anxiety or addition, in grief it all arise to be seen and loved.  We call to attention something big and important within us that needs awareness, that needs witness so that we find healing, into our humanity.  We live into the unlived life. 

Grief drops us down to the earth, to the dark soil, reminding us of our inevitable return to the earth.  It shakes the foundations we stand on, leaving us no choice but to fall, fall to the earth, be close to the thing that knows dying well, that know of the coming and going of all living beings.

After my community witnessed me, the earth held me.  First on my back, wind taken out of me, clouds passing, change forms, evaporating.  Birds flying passed.  Insects landing and absorbing what they have taken from my flesh.  Then on my side, curled up, drawing circles and boxes in the sand. Each spec of sand, seen clearly, as a microcosm, of each human in grief on this earth.   Feeling particles fall off my skin in their time.  Then on my belly, with heart and womb to the earth.  I am beating into earth, earth beating into me.  Grief brings one back to the pace of the earth.  We can slow way down, in time, body, thoughts.

We so often loose connection to nature and our own human nature when we move through our day-to-day lives.  Grief gives us no choice but to return to nature.  And once we do, we come to not only grief the loss that brought us here, but the loss of this connection we have been missing and too easily forget.   There is no greater witness than the earth in these times of sorrow.  She accepts without any expectation, she acknowledges and offers needed reflection.

In grief we know what matters, we know of deep loving, our own worthiness of being on this earth and our authentic humanity.  In grief we are welcomed into the depth of living by learning of dying.  Grief teachers us  how to meet death, each one shows us how to die and with each turn of this meeting, how to die better than the last time.  How we meet these ends reveal our meeting of passages, our rite to what is next (in all it's unknowns), our rite to this human experience.  We cannot do this without grieving.

People use to ask me or comment about my big smile , how am I always happy?  I replied: my sorrow is equally as big.  For those of you who know these two sides of me well, thank you for baring witness to all of me.  And for those of you who do not yet know these sides of me and these side of yourself, I invite you to take a seat at the table, and let’s get real together.  For our grief, in experiencing all the deaths we experience in our lives, will move us, if we choose to meet it in our fullness.  I'll witness you, if you witness me in our human nature.

Be witnessed and with earth in all the deaths of life with Oaks Counsel.

Dead Bird

Dead Bird by Michelle Katz

I have seen you a couple time before,
Thinking, I need not do a thing,
nature knows it's way.

Yet, having just emerged from my own laying on the land,
in an experience of a death,
This time, I stop, in resonance.

And I see you now.
Your weightless bone foundation,
your fresh flesh,
your fine feathers.
Beautifully exposed to sun and eye.
I wonder, what has left you?

I take a white rock,
dig into earth,
not deep, just below the surface,
to the wet sand,
after the long rain.

I lift and carry and lower you down.
Feet down,
no longer meeting this end on your back.

I cover you with prayer, 
stone setting, 
and flower.

The eulogy is left to me.

I do not know what led to your death.
I can imagine the life you led,
and I honor the gifts I am sure you brought.

It seems unusual, your death,
in this time at this place.
With no tree to have fallen from,
no signs of being caught and dragged.
Much like my own loss, 
I cannot find the reason for this end.

The earth seems to beat and breath
where you once lay,
faceless creatures wishing for more of you,
communities disperse, wandering in all directions.
Grabbing for and wanting something that is no longer there.
So many, so much lost without your presence.

All death, beckons a ceremony
as the grief takes us underground.




Morning Monsoon Medicine Walk

Morning Monsoon Medicine Walk by Michelle Katz

Entering the canyon,
Seeing all that’s changed in a place I have not visited for awhile.
Recalling places of deep connection yet long departures.

Marking the end of disassociation.
The beginning of reconnecting to myself.
Severing from, a world of distractions,
Inviting in, a slowing down.

Intentional relationship,
A yellow butterfly and I
Taking turns on guiding.
The sound of an owl or coyote or dove mimicking the call of the flute,
I miss playing.

Rock and juniper play here together well.
An avalanche occurred
and while all adjust, I marvel
at the way the canyon wall seemed to just let go of this mass.

The ceremony is in me.

Rain meets the desert in a sweet way.
I step into earth’s clay, play.
Feeling the connection
in-between my toes
and fingers, lathering water and sand in.
Making handprints that won’t last.

The clay drops off but the earth remains.
Clay shoes I put on and lose again and again.
Geckos, centipede, butterflies,
We all want to be in the remnants of  
Water ways
That lead to the Great River.

What happens when I avoid the shadow?
Even as I sit in it.
Has it hit me so hard in the past?
Am I no longer willing to relate?
The ants bite my clay-covered toes.

I feel the generations.
Every one learning from the last.
Every one criticizing the next.
Everyone wanting better for those they love.

What place do we have
to place our understanding of happiness on another?
Can we all be right and wrong simultaneously?

Happily chasing lizards we never catch
Returning to rest.
The primal instinctual beauty of love and loyalty.

The juniper roots are twisted,
And the branches offer much needed shade.
And the Canyon that holds them is vast, alive, brightly warm and complex.

The rock pillars at the top are not my aim;
It’s the getting through with clay shoes
I lose and make,
again and again.

Living the Wheel

Photograph by Laurie Zuckerman

Photograph by Laurie Zuckerman

Living the Wheel written by Michelle Katz

“If there were a measure of ‘mental health,’ it would involve the ability of individuals to grow into the fullness of each season—this is, the ability to fully become, or enact, the contents of each shield.”-Steven Foster and Meredith Little

As I go through my day, month, year, life, I ask myself where am I? Not in physical space, not even in mental space, but in the space of human nature. 

How many of us have felt unbalanced? 

Think of times when all you did was play, the semester of high school or college that you were focused more on socializing and parties than meeting responsibilities. Recall a time in your life where work took over all priorities, “I just need to finish this project and then I will be okay, only then will I be able to pay more attention to my family or friends or personal health.”  Was there a stage of life when it was hard to see who you are through the struggles you were experiencing, times of shame or regret or not knowing, times when all you can do is wait?  And can you think of a time that was almost too good to be true, as if you were living on a different worldly plane, a time of such ecstasy it was hard to see who you really are in all the mystical bliss.

Living in one of these places over a longer duration of time may mean there is some imbalance in your life.  These are signs of experiencing an exaggerated shield.

We are all vulnerable to this. In fact, most of us have our proclivity to a shield. I tend to live in the west and north shields, I tend toward asking big questions of introspection that lead me to dark places and I can be overly focused on my work that can leave me feeling more alone than I really am. American Culture generally lives in the south and west shield, involved in our distractions and pleasures and ever questioning our changing or unknown identity. Those who we know that have devoted their lives to work, live in the north shield, and those who are committed to spiritual practices would have an inclination for the east shield.

The practice of the Four Shields Model, invites us to look at where we are and how we are experiencing our human nature while offering us the significant truth of what we naturally do: move.  We are never stuck, it our nature to change as the seasons do.  And even more, in any given time, we are having one experience of a shield, on top of another experience of a shield, on top of another and another.  I can be the west shield phase of my life, while living a very north shield day, and experiencing a very east shield hour.  And we keep going around the circle.  That is the balance. This is living our human nature. This is growing into the fullness of each season. This is mental health.

Learn more about the experience of living the medicine wheel with Oaks Counsel at our first 2017 Day Quest experience introducing the Four Shields Model.


Recent Travels Around the Medicine Wheel


Travel has a way of stretching, teaching and taking us out of our comfort zones.  Of course, staying home and doing our practices offer us a certain opportunity to grow; yet travel propels us in this process exponentially.  My recent travels have revealed a number of important elements that I will never forget.

Here is the story of how I moved through the medicine wheel in my travels.

I begin with the knowing that at this stage in my life, it is difficult to leave behind the life I have created: my house, my dog, my job, my community.  It is even difficult to find the time to plan a trip: flights, accommodations, activities. 

Before I departed, I watched as I grew anxious about my responsibilities, how would I get everything done before I left, let alone plan for my travels and what I would do when away.  It was a great threshold to cross, offering a rites of passage practice of leaving behind and starting a new.  Two weeks prior to the trip I focused on completing unfinished business, and sensing that the trip itself was some abyss of unknown.  It certainly felt like a practice in dying.  And in it, the lesson that I must rely on others to complete things I could not, to let go of some self-importance and allow others to care for me in some ways.  Thus, I was propelled into the medicine wheel.

I had to rely on co-workers to hold projects that I was in the middle of, and I had to trust that they would take it on.  I had to trust my dog sitter to watch over the being I care for dearly and manage all her little peccadillos .  I had to trust my travel companion to manage much of the planning, as I could not. The south shield of the wheel is about this attachment and connection to others as they aid in my existence.

And around the wheel I went.  Landing in a strange country, learning how to be and talk in this new experience of the world.  Learning by watching, practicing ways to listen and speak differently, move through the world differently, feeling my body scream with discomfort at times. When finally establishing some grounding, I created my itinerary, looked into what I wanted to do and made a plan.  And into the west shield of the wheel I went, as plans did not work out, propelling me into learning more about my inner landscape in moments of disappointment and struggle.

It is here, in these dark spaces, that I also found great allies in the natural world.  My connection to animals: birds, dogs, elephants, monkeys, showing up when I needed them to. Each telling me stories of abandonment, of living in community, of being of service and patience and moving toward what was needed.  Offering wisdom that allowed me to move forward and take on the next step: apologizing, getting back on the bike, stepping into the next unknown, waiting for the answer to come, being rather than doing.  The north shield offers me this perspective.

This story feels pertinent to share: I was experiencing sea sickness on a boat.  It began with a growing nausea but then someone opened the lid of a nearby trashcan and I heard myself yell “No!” with a strength I didn’t know was in me, at least not in any public realms.  I began to place things on the trash lid prepared to seriously injure or scream at whoever would open the lid again.  Then, despite any efforts to remain well, I proceeded to shake, get clammy, and vomit into my small plastic bag.  It's been a long while since I have done this, and in it all, I felt wildly conscious of the power of this experience of myself.  I was incredibly present and my sound could only be related to that of a lioness protecting her pride, it echoed across the boat.  I was heard and seen and felt, though my usual would be to be quiet and hidden in such a situation. The niceties of who I was dropped and a part of me I usually keep private revealed itself.  With it came this gift of knowing my strength and power to be in the world. What was dark and shadowy moved into the north shield, bringing what is learned in struggle into the light as a gift and what is needed for me to show up.

Daily, I walked into the transformation place of the east shield.  All along the way, I saw the practice of alters.  Incense and candles lit, figures of Buddha or Shiva adorned with scented elaborate flower arrangements.  Every day, these alters were visited and attended to.  And every day, I found the practice beautiful and significant.  Everywhere I turned I saw the spiritual present.  Every greeting was a blessing and prayer of seeing and inviting in the place within.  It is so simple yet incredibly transformational.  Most of all, this practice is what I will take home with me.  Living ceremony every day, honoring that the spiritual is essential and present in all areas of life.

I return home now, forever changed by this turning of the wheel inside me.  I cross the threshold back to my life I once feared leaving, grateful that I did, bringing back the gifts that are now a part of me.  And now, the next experience of the cycle comes: I am different and the world does not yet know it.

How do you travel through the wheel?  Explore your medicine wheel journeys with Oaks Counsel!

Ceremony with Shadow

The solstice came and went.  And with it we welcome the days beginning to turn dark again, thus I find myself contemplating darkness and curious of the shadow.  The summers so often show us the light of things, though one thing is certain; there is an equal amount of shadow as there is light in all things. 

When it comes to the darkness in us, we generally don’t own it, yet it comes out eventually calling our attention.  Often we hate when it rears its head; and equally as often, it takes us by surprise, especially when in the form of utter admiration.  I’d like to posit a new relationship to shadow, one of seeing.  Because, in actuality, the shadow is great!  It’s a very integral part of our human nature. 

Here is why.  If we consciously called out the shadow in us, I imagine it would be like this:  People would know themselves!  We would experience the metaphoric death of who we think we are and step into more and more truth in each new encounter with this darker side of ourselves.  And in this place of meeting this hidden friend, we can uncover our gift to the world!  What we can and are meant to offer our community comes with this deeper knowing of our shadow.  Thus, in owning our shadow we are more connected to ourselves and the world around us. Peter Pan teachers us this, as when he finally catches his shadow, we see he is able to fully engage with the world outside of Neverland and he is able to see very real parts of himself that are forgotten in his other world, namely his boyhood and what makes him magical.

So, How the heck can we do this?

It begins with growing awareness about what we are projecting on to others: what do you find yourself hating or loving in friends, partners, co-workers, even pets?  What qualities create these high emotional states of aversion and attraction?    Then, we take the time to know this part in ourselves, courageously and consciously.  This could be through art, creativity, suspended disbelief, and ceremony. 

Draw, tell a story, dance, burn, bury.  The psyche responds to symbolic emotional experiences just a much, or even more, than actual events.

Just the other week, I have noticed how I project my shadow, because I do not wish to own these things in me, and then I watch the ways I hide these qualities from the world.  This is a great disservice.  Can we really afford to this to each other? To ourselves?

My task now is to own these parts of myself, so no one else needs to.  I recognize it is no small challenge.  This includes deeply knowing qualities that are heroic and appalling.  It can be vulnerable, revealing, uncomfortable, regretful and shameful. Regardless if the projections are glowing or adverse, we must ask ourselves what right do we have to project our shadow onto anyone? 

Shadow offers an opportunity for a greater knowing and realization of who we are, so that all parts of us can show up.  Parts of self that have long been cut off and kept in quiet dark caverns believed to be not acceptable. 

Shadow catches up to us, as it always does. Behind seemingly bad life events, lies a gift of what is so precious about who we essentially are and can possibly do.

This is an initiation experience.  As we know our shadows, we know ourselves, as we know ourselves we step into our maturity, and our shadow introduces us to a part that is essential to the whole of who we are.  The most beautiful parts of ourselves lie these dark places.  Think of gold in dark caverns of earth. 

Nature teaches us this most admirably, as all nature lives in polarity of light and dark, creation and destruction, up and down, male and female.  This is the same in our psychological structure.  With time in nature, we can begin to see and find the mirrors of our polarities, remembering who we were before we learned to divide ourselves for cultural acceptance.  Nature accepts us unconditionally, we can own the shadow within and share it with the world in truth, we can become more balanced in the knowing of polarities.

Check out Oaks Counsel programs and offerings that invite you to create ceremony with your shadow! 

More Than You Think You Know

Photograph by Danny Thompson

Photograph by Danny Thompson

Do you ever feel like you were meant for more than what you are currently doing in life?  Did you ever notice how people have a hard time with change and life transition?  Do you ever wonder what could possibly make these experiences more approachable?

The unsettling feeling that something more is calling you can be strange and is often ignored.  Is there a sense of purpose and enjoyment in your daily tasks?  Many of us find our routines monotonous, from the way we get coffee and brush our teeth each morning to the way we interact with co-workers, family and friends, all the way to how we get ready for bed.  We have our reasons for these routines, making money to support ourselves and others, staying awake, finding comfort.  But do these routines provide you with something more, something special, something that reveals a hint of your unique purpose in our world? 

Often times I can recall a youthful moment in which I dreamed, or even knew, I’d change the world somehow.  It was hard to hold this knowing as I continued to grow.  Life lessons, lessen the knowing and enthusiasm of being a change agent.  Attempts and letdowns have us finding ways of making life work rather than moving with purpose in our lives.  But, where does this go?  And can it return to us, be of value to us, reveal our truth to us?  We may not know what is calling us now, because we change and what calls us changes.  And I believe that that youthful moment still lives in all of us if we are willing to discover and connect to the call.

As for change, I think we can all relate to feelings of resisting change, experiencing clenching in our bodies, or creating the reasons not to make big moves. Changes can disrupt our lives and leave us feeling un-easy in unpredictability.  Ambiguity is uncomfortable. However, discomfort, more often than not, invites us to grow.  Think of the big life phases that stimulate discomfort in the unknown: moving away from home for the first time, getting married, becoming a parent, changing your career and risking it all do so, stepping into separation or divorce, no longer identifying as a parent, leaving the working world, leaving the world (terminal illness or facing death).  Having lived through any of these, would you ever wish you hadn’t? All these experiences ask us to sever from all we know, from ways we have come to define ourselves, and invites us to step into something really different.

How well do you do this?  Do you find yourself spiraling into dark places, shame or doubt or guilt?  Do you find yourself moving through it quickly, ripping off a band-aid and walking on, not taking time to notice the mark of the former experience? Do you seek ways for someone else to give you the answers? Do you drink too much, eat a lot or too little, grow angry easily, feel too distracted to manage day-to-day tasks?  What if we all had the ability to move through transitions in a way that reflects our maturity?

Though, everyone is different and approaches situations differently, there a number of components that I believe can help almost everyone:  Nature, Community, and Ceremony.  Nature, because it offers us acceptance no matter what, the lesson of learning and adapting to constant change (among many other lessons), and the pace of returning to our nature/truth.  Community, because it allows us to be seen, heard, valued in our experiences and it holds us to growing into who we are.  And Ceremony, because the psyche needs markers, needs time to recognize the end of one way, hold sacred the time of the in-between and of emerging, and the celebration and acknowledgement of beginning a new way.

Some people may think Oaks Counsel is a program that connects people with nature, maybe putting it in a category of “shamanism” or alternative healing, but it’s more than you may think; just as you are more than you think you know.

Oaks Counsel is about you! It’s about you grounding yourself in the discovery who you are and what you offer this world.   Check out what you are capable off through our programs and offerings.

Feedback Amiably (Not Failing Miserably)

This week, I have felt particularly aware of shortcomings.  I noticed the ways in which what I expected of myself and what I believe others expected of me was not being met.  I then acknowledged that I have had many changes occurring all at once.  While facing them I notice this belief that “I should be able to hold my many transitions and everything I usually do, and I should be able to hold it all well,”  as if the transitions aren’t even happening!  This is the expectation of business as usual.  I notice this as a theme:  Climate change, the expectation is keep paying for gas and go to work: business as usual.  Loss of a loved one, the expectation is to return to work quickly, business as usual.  Relationship struggles or Questioning who we are, expectation is to carry on being responsible regardless, business as usual.  As a society, we tend to focus on prosperity, economic growth, success.  These are not bad things in and of themselves, though they do narrow us and thus contribute to neglecting our wider human nature.

Joanna Macy, author and environmental activist and Buddhist, speaks of Business as Usual in a way that assumes there is little we need to change about the way we live.  And this contributes to what she terms the Great Unraveling.  Meanwhile, holding both business as usual and the great unraveling, allows a new and creative response to emerge, what she calls The Great Turning. The Great Turning is seen as humans sit in transition, for example the transition of an industrial and economically focused society toward a life sustaining one, committed to healing and recovery of Self and the world we are a part of. 

If we practice business as usual or great unraveling thinking, we will know if it’s working for us based on how we feel in the doing of it, and if it isn’t feeling right, this is feedback for what could potentially emerge as a new way of being.

This week I watched my business as usual practice, my unraveling practice and despite how miserable I felt and the sense of failure that crept in, the feedback is rich and helpful. 

There are 5 major stressors that contribute to changes in life: Death, Divorce, Job Change, Moving, Illness.  Most recently, I have had experienced half of these things happening simultaneously.  And I have felt the call of Business as Usual.  And it didn’t work.  I felt awful. It seemed like there was nothing I can do to stop the unraveling that came.  It was out of my hands.  I didn’t have the capacity to hold it all.  Who I thought I was, and how I wished to portray myself, quickly revealed itself to be inaccurate. The truth is: I goofed this week, silly goofs, like sending out the wrong new address to friends, thus sending them to travel all over the city; I showed up tired, frantic, and careless at times; sometimes I had difficulty moving or being unable to articulate myself well; I kept finding myself late to meetings, and my usual self-care practices just weren’t cutting it. The Feedback: when I try to do business as usual in the face of big transitions, it doesn’t feel good.  I need to slow down and acknowledge the changes in my life.

Transitions need reflection time. Time to build an understanding and grow.  Transitions invite us to find a new balance in times when the old way of being are teetering. Self-generated ceremony, community, nature, story-telling, help us create space in these times of change and show us a new way.  Create time for reflection in times of transition, to change the business as usual thinking into something life-sustaining and healing, check out Oaks Counsel’s programs and offerings!

Mental Health and the Medicine Wheel

I feel anxious.  The last two weeks have been overwhelming and busy for me and I notice that my head goes wild when there is a lot on my plate. I feel incredibly stuck in my thoughts.  But everyday, I walk out onto the land.  I watch the sunset over the vast mountainous landscape.  I put my feet in sand.  And I say some prayers.  In this experience, I recall times of great anxiety in my life: sleepless nights, the desire to do and the discomfort of waiting, the unsettled gut feeling, my appetite being altered, etc.  It became part of an internal conversation, asking, what could possible help me not feel this way?  Therapy?  Medication?  How can I seize this discomfort?  And this is not the only type of incident stimulating this inner dialogue.  I think of life phase experiences that stimulated feelings and actions of depression, avoidance, drug/alcohol use or pleasure seeking and even moments of being immersed in spirituality that can feel ungrounded.

When I was therapist, and even now as a Guide, I have had many clients/participants with stories of diagnosis.  Declaring these labels as part of their identity.  “I’m depressed.”  “It’s because of my ADHD.”  “I’m too anxious do that.”  Are diagnoses made into excuses for behaviors?

This breaks my heart.

The mental health system seems to be limiting people!  Don’t get me wrong, I am a firm believer in therapy and the benefits of this important work, and I know of the benefits of medication (used well) as a tool to support people in experiencing their best self when struggling with these big feelings.

I think we can all agree that the medical model, adapted by the mental health world, is one that is a straight line.  Problem/symptom to diagnosis/treatment.  I acknowledge the benefits of this model while also wanting to offer a big YES, AND…(it’s not a no/but/or) there is another model too!

The medicine wheel offers a different view, a circle.  Within the wheel, you can find pleasure seeking, addiction, depression, anxiety, ungrounded thinking, noting that these are all part of the larger human experience! And these are deeply connected and coupled with playfulness, body-connection, deep introspection, insight, self-discovery of core gifts, planning and giving to the community, and connection to something bigger than ourselves.  In this understanding of experience, we are never stuck; we go around and around constantly, in an hour, a day, week, month, year and life: a cycle, on a cycle, on a cycle simultaneously moving in you.  And if you feel stuck there are things you can do to move you.  If you don’t want to do these things, it is in your nature to move around the wheel whether you initiate it or not.  It’s all okay.  It invites you to be you, in your natural pace, in connection to your nature. 

It may be wild to think this, but these experiences are human nature!  And an important part of balancing all parts of Self.  Most of all, this model suggest these are not labels you wear as your identity but rather elements of being human that you integrate into who you are and how you can live your purpose.

I invited you to learn, play, dance, live, and experience the wheel in your life, feel your human nature with Oaks Counsel!


A Cry Out for Play

Photograph by Roger Ahlbrand

Photograph by Roger Ahlbrand

Remember a time when you would run home from school, with excitement and anticipation, you’d drop your bag at the front door, without caring for contents or walkways, maybe scream a “hello” to a parent, and run out to get on your bike, grab your jump rope, sidewalk chalk, basketball, football, or mitt.  Or, jump into puddles or pools or sprinklers, running out to a field to climb a tree, making mud pies, playing dress up, or constructing elaborate routes for your train tracks or empires of legos. Do you remember immersing yourself in a world with elaborate stories of your imagination?  You are the star athlete, the artist that travels into the pictures you create, the race you are about to win, the delving into the world of bugs, the playing of house or magically becoming a wizard or fireman or animal.  It's the  becoming a creator of a world that takes you on a ride, suddenly and completely forgetting everything else.

When is the last time you experienced this?  Remember how incredible it felt to be in that suspended disbelief?  Or how it felt to emerge out of this place, knowing that there are two places in which you can live, the day-to-day “reality” and the world you create, powerfully real in itself.

As we grow older, in adulthood or even starting as early as the teenage years, our ability to move in and out of these magical and captivating spaces has been lost.  Instead, we immersed ourselves into the world of work ethic, getting things done that need to/should be done.  Which, of course, is an important and necessary part of adulthood.  Yet, I cannot help but wonder if this is healthy or helpful to us.  Does the loss of play leave us ill-equipped to deal with the modern world?  Does it leave us more vulnerable to mental and physical illness?  Does it leave us less socialized and unable to creatively problem-solve?

Play is not something just children do.  With and without rules, play invites us to learn about ourselves, about who we want to be and how we come to see ourselves in the world.

Through play we also engage in a process of discovery.  We can come to AH-HA! moments that reveal what we are capable of!  From tumbling about on the grass and realizing our ability to do a headstand or pin our brother to the ground to playing with a kite and key and discover electricity!   Play can reveal our strength, courage, and what we are meant to do in this world.  It can help lead us to our purpose.

Additionally, play helps us cope with the reality of the world, balance challenges with joy.  Even more, play can help us connect. Think of what could happen if we find ways of playing that creates inter-generational, cross gender and cross-cultural collaboration?

I recall a medicine walk I went on, stepping into ceremony and met with incredible hardships and unpredictability.  I did not know my intention until I walked onto the land, I wished to mark my adulthood, to step into my growing up and my maturity.  It seemed that nothing was working out: from difficulty finding the planned trail to bumping into car trouble.  The medicine walk ended on a well populated lake.  I found my little nook on the lake, when two children came to play along the shoreline where I sat.  Both with sticks in hand and one was dressed in costume.  I listened in on them creating their game as they played.  Each child declaring new rules and the other quickly and easily complying, collecting branches twice their height. 

My intention seemed laughable at that moment.  Marking adulthood, my anger growing when things did not go as expected, and trying to adjust to the new rules of the game.  Marking adulthood is important and necessary but can also invite in a rigidity that is not necessary and can lead us to get stuck in one aspect of our human nature, not recognizing the balance and cycles of who we are, not able to go with the flow of newly introduced rules and ways.  To play is to participate in life, to adapt to new and always changing creative ways.  Letting go of knowing and getting creative with what is.

This is nature and human nature.  Think of the hard workers we know: birds, otters, beavers, ants, dolphins and think of the ways they wrestle, splash, chase, climb, swing, create and build! We are the same, this is how we are meant to experience life.

This can be a challenging task for adults, and still I invite you to step into your childhood and Play!  Step into the landscape of your imagination, immerse yourself in something that takes a hold of you, that allows you to forget the rules and what is needed of you in your life and focus on getting fed by experience.

The greatest healing for adulthood is childhood, for rigidity and anxiety is play and tapping into the senses of the body.  This is a cry out for Play!  Play, it is equally as important as asking yourself questions about who you are, as contributing to the community, and as stepping into the spiritual parts of self. Without play we struggle to find balance.  

Remember to Play with Oaks Counsel’s nature-based healing and programs.


Trusting Nature


I think we can all agree that something is off these days.  We trust less and less, we lock our doors, we struggle to enter into relationships with open hearts, and we don’t know what will happen tomorrow.  Will I or someone I love fall ill or die?  Will our partners or best friends betray us? Will there be a shooting or bombing? Will there be an earthquake or a war?  We are so vulnerable to disasters that can shatter our knowing of the world.

More and more we don’t know about our lives, both personally and globally.  And thus we are thrust into fear and the unknown, seeking to find hope.  Most of us, in finding fear and uncertainty troublesome, turn to distractions in order to avoid these feelings, and rightfully so, it can all be too much to hold.  Others fall into despair, and others find activism.   And when all is done and we have nothing left to do but wait and see, turning to hope is worthwhile.

Hope, someone pointed out to me, seems like something elusive to put thought and energy into, it puts the power in the hands of something potentially unreliable.  To rely on hope is to rely on something you cannot really grab a hold of.  Fear, on the other hand, that’s something we all have put energy into.  It is easier to go to places of fear and worry.  How is that fear can feel a bit more tangible when it is just as elusive and we have equally no control of it?  Yet, we invest in fear all the time.  In fact, in a lot of ways fear is what keeps us moving in some direction, it almost gives us some purpose. We get up and go to work every day for fear we may not be able to pay for our basic needs to be met, we stay in relationships for fear of being alone, we avoid places for fear of violence/crime, we vote for fear of the alternative candidate.  Our actions based on fear, however, do not truly reflect our inner knowing.  If we can invest so much in fear, I believe, we need to focus on an equal investment into hope.

This past week, I was asked what I do in uncertain times.  I recalled some of the most tumultuous times I have faced in recent years.  The truth is, I go into dark places, I check-out, I get anxious and do everything I can at times and then I repeat this cycle because what I do doesn’t seem like enough, so I go into dark places, check out and do again and again. Most importantly, in times like this I have come to know my greatest allies were/are hope and nature and both teach me lessons of trust.

Hope and Nature both hold a beautiful truth: all things are impermanent.   Everything is always changing.  Knowing that there is a possibility for a different way of being and a different experience is the greatest truth in having hope.  And every day, Nature reveals the impermanence of all things through her cycles, lessons of adaptation and deep understanding.  Trust is a key element to all of this. We can only wait and see what will happen and trust it will serves us and reveal purpose.

When I go out on a 4 day solo fast, or take people out on their solo fast, with nothing but limited gear and some water; all I can do is trust.  Trust in nature, trust in myself and others, trust in the world to bring us all exactly what we need in order to grow and that we will all return from the wilderness alive and well.  Nature watches over us as we live through the sadness and worry, all the ways we hold our past and the future. Nature reminds us to be in the now, in the liminal and numinous space. When I leave nature, I often have no idea how that time on the land will impact in my life.  I must do the only thing I can do. Trust.  Trust that the sun rises each day, trust that when I surrender to the flow of the river it takes me down stream to a beautiful beach, trust that if I lean on tree it will have my back. There is not much we can trust these days, and still, Nature has been my greatest ally in trusting.

No doubt we are in uncertain times, so many of us feel this in all levels of our lives.  I urge you to step outside, connect to the natural world, stop doing and Be, listen to the lessons that emerge in the whispers of hope, cycles, acceptance and trust.

Connect to trusting nature with Oaks Counsel.   Check out our Nature-based healing and program offerings.



Meaning of Life

Photography by Erica Simone and Jaci Berkopec

Photography by Erica Simone and Jaci Berkopec

The other week I read an article that has haunted me ever since.  It was an article in The Guardian titled:  The Meaning of Life in a World Without Work.  The author, Yuval Noah Harari, spoke of the movement of technology to take over many jobs, creating what he calls “the useless class”.  My heart broke at the thought of it.  (No wonder the high rates of suicide and depression.)

The article goes on to say that, “the same technology that renders humans useless might also make it feasible to feed and support the unemployable masses…the real problem will then be to keep the masses occupied and content.”

The article took an interesting turn, it stated that the “useless class” will turn to virtual reality to feel content.  In the past we have seen this by those who turn to religion in times of seeking meaning, and religion is a form of virtual reality.  Living by created formulas to win a game, rules to abide by in order to experience a happy afterlife.  No part of this is related to natural law.

Living in virtual reality can keep us stuck in a childhood state, a state of make-believe, though not in the fun playful way, because it will become something we take seriously.  The game becomes a statement of our who we are. We fight over religion, we fight over technology/video games; we will fight over our sense of “reality” and what we will continue to fail to realize is that it is made up, it’s not natural.

I am reminded of a community I have worked with.  Where a large number of people experiencing intergenerational welfare.  Families whose income comes from welfare and it’s been that way for their parents and grandparents and on through the generations of their lineage. In working with the teens in this community, asking what they want to do as an adult in the world, I too often heard something along the lines of, “Nothing, I’ll collect welfare like my parents do.” 

When and how does one loose passion and purpose for life?

Something essential can be stripped away from the human experience in the situation of technology taking over our jobs and in welfare being a crutch.  Meaning.  What gives a human life meaning?

If all our needs can be met without us having to do anything, how are we contributing to life and this world?  If you didn’t have to worry about getting your needs met, what would you do?  (The Million-dollar Question.)

I am sure we could all easily answer this question.  I’d fill my time with nature, travel, self-exploration, exercise, my loved ones.  It seems like a no brainer.  But as I move more deeply into this question, I sensed I would fall into a depression. I would feel useless because I would be contributing little to the world.  For the most part, my reality, would be self-involved.  I’d stay in a state of being in which I depend on someone/something else to essential take care of me, I’d never meet my maturity.

If we never meet our full selves and know what we are capable of or how we contribute to this world, we would feel empty; constantly seeking purpose and meaning or distracting ourselves endlessly from our emptiness.

The human psyche needs meaning and understanding of life.  It helps guide us forward, giving us a sense of purpose, allows us to live into our miraculous human nature and our uniquely singular experience of it.  If we stay in a state of immaturity, in the childhood state we become solely about what we want, our bodily whims will be feed, we will engage in play often, indulgence can easily become the aim of our experience. Unfortunately, however, we would lack depth and understanding of human struggle and the ways that life challenges and ordeals reveal to us what we could offer the world.  We would miss out on the experiences that lead us to questions about our purpose, integrity, responsibility, spirituality, caring and citizenship.  We’d miss out on the living that lead us into the answers of these important questions.

This is not to say that the meaning of life if struggle.  Though it isn’t meeting creature comforts and desires either.  It’s about nature!  The teaching of the medicine wheel has informed me about holding all things that seem opposite, it’s taught me about human nature.  We can enjoy our playfulness but also knowing our depth and responsibility and learn to die and be reborn again and again in our life transformations.  This doesn’t gain us any points toward winning or some happy ending, but it allows us to connect with ourselves and the world around us.   And to me, nothing seems more real than that!

Every tree has purpose and contributes to the world, every tree moves through cycles of joy, comfort, discomfort, death and rebirth.  Every tree has grown more informed, stronger and knowledgeable of its way of being in the world as each year’s cycle passes.  Every tree does its’ work, sharing its’ purpose, every day.  Humans have this same nature. 

Experience your human nature, grow into all parts of the living experience, with Oaks Counsel’s Nature-based healing and Rites of Passage programs.

Addiction as a Way Out

Depression and anxiety and drinking and drug use play together often.  Suicidal ideation, attempts or completion sit in the shadows till they arise suddenly and quickly into the foreground.  These stories are becoming more and more frequent.  And the trail of grief, trauma and loss left behind is a tender experience for those inheriting our world.

In hearing these stories, I keep thinking, what is happening for individuals who turn to these actions for some answers or relief?  What is missing for them?  What are they communicating in their actions?  What have we failed to do as a community acknowledging the human experience and the meaning of a life? What if these individuals had a Community-based Rites of Passage experience?

Sometimes there is great confusion about these actions, as individuals who seem to have it all, the good jobs, relationships, supportive families have these experiences.  Sometimes we find excuses for these actions: it’s because of dead-end or dispassionate careers, difficult relationships, or traumas in family systems. 

There is no real rhyme or reason to point to, this epidemic speaks to more than circumstance, it speaks to the human experience.  Depression and anxiety is a human experience.  And it may be a hint to these individuals that they are being called for something BIG.  These are individuals who may feel something deep within them about who they are and what their purpose is, known or unknown and likely not met by the world yet.

When life gets difficult, unbearable at times, we can easily feel the need to check out in everything being too much to manage.   Addictions (drug, alcohol, technology, TV) and suicide are excellent ways to meet this need to not been the burden of life!  There is wisdom in the desire to no longer hold this heaviness.  Our human nature, much like nature, moves, offering seasonal and expressive changes.  If we stay in one state over a long period of time, we are stuck is one season, this is not a natural state.  Addiction and suicide give an individual initiative to create the needed change.

What if we lived in autumn year round, what would happen after all crops are harvested?  When all leaves have fallen but the snow and long dark nights won’t come? When the spring doesn’t come to bring water from the snow melt for the growing of next year’s fruit?  And the summer warmth is absent, and we miss the blooming of all things?  We'd grow hungry, cold, uncertain. Cycles are necessary not only for the land and earth but for the human experience. 

Thus, when we seek relief from our inner darkness, in any way we can, we are trying to move ourselves toward some healing.  The options we have may not be the best, but there is wisdom in the need to do so, in the need to move ourselves out of the stuck feeling. 

It is important to acknowledge that even though we so badly want to move out of this stuck place, there is wisdom in this stuck space as well.  In doing nothing, you will eventually move naturally and somehow.  We cannot stay depressed forever, though it may feel like forever, it is not in our human nature.  The experience, however, can inform us about our part of our unconscious/disowned self, about the depths of who we are, revealing our unique gift or offering to the world.  So despite how uncomfortable our depresses state can be, how much we want relief from it, how much the world tells us “you should be happy” or “what’s wrong” when we are sad---this is an important, informative, and natural human state not to be judged or wished away.

We cannot always be happy, as we turn to addictions, we may be seeking this state of consistent happiness, ignoring the depths of who we are.  Our human nature is one that invites us to move from happy to sad to anxious to inspired and happy and sad and anxious and inspired again and again and around and around we go, each stage transforming us.

When I hear the story of addiction or suicide, I hear the story of screaming out in need for a death and rebirth.  I hear the story of screaming out for a rite of passage; for the marking of a significant, needed and important shift in a life.  Calling for a symbolic death and rebirth experience, the time and space to remember our human nature and the cycle of all things in and outside of ourselves.  The time to remember who we are.

We can come to discover healthy ways to heal and meet these needs continually growing and discovering ourselves, no longer needing the addiction or the finality of the big “D” death. Connecting each other and our connection to the world around us can steer us into this discovery.

Step into your Rite of Passage or Remembering your human nature with Oaks Counsel Programs and Nature-based healing.

Taking on Transitions

Photograph by John McSporran

Photograph by John McSporran

What happens when we decide to make a change?  When we decide to give up the familiar and known and move into something different and new?  When we switch jobs, or let go of relationships, take on a new life role, or move to a different place, what happens to us in these big shifts?

It’s painful, unsettling, overwhelming, disorienting, and wildly uncomfortable and uncertain.

We step in or avoid.  And we have our reasons for both.  Fear or calling.  Fear for stepping in and avoiding; fear that if we don’t shift we’ll never know what could have been, fear that if we do we may be making a huge mistake we’ll regret for the rest of our lives.  Perhaps we hold the desire for comfort.  Or The Call to Adventure.  Perhaps we are beholden to a sense of responsibility. Or we are drawn by a sense of purpose.  We may choose to engage or avoid an Ego Death, feeling it’s stubborn determination and convincing influence.

Like it or not, transitions are part of our very human-nature experience.  We may not seek them out but they will eventually find us and introduce us to a different sense of Self.

The pain of transitions can vary.  Moving from one way to another asks us to recalibrate the mind and move into mystery, invites us to shift the way our blood flows, and activates our feeling states.  May we learn in our watching of day moving to night and night to day.  The darkness invites a reliance on difference senses, new ways of knowing the world.  Some living beings thrive here, others take this time to rest.  The trees and plants change the way they breathe, consuming oxygen at night but not releasing any until the sun rises again.  The morning light brings out the high-spirited birds, while dusk brings the soaring bats.  And we all hear the sounds of nature during these transition times, screaming out in joy or resistance to the change.  Changes change us all, waking us up and allowing us to fall unconscious again and again. 

This week, I have experienced a number of changes.  I watched as I fell into an unconscious ego pattern of “I know” or “Yes, I can do that” or resisting and longing for the old I gave up, all without really knowing or honoring a new and different me in this process.   While at the same time, I find that I surprise myself with how capable and resilient to change I can be; how I can shine in spaces I have never stepped into.  All of this brings up vulnerabilities.  Wild doubts, worries, insecurities.  And the Big question of “who am I?”

Even in talking to friends, I wondered if I was acting like “myself”.  When challenged, I found myself shutting down, feeling wrong or bad on some level.  Thinking, if I stayed in the status quo, I would be feeling self-assured and confident to respond.  I found myself in states of shame and self-judgment, struggling to be in compassion with myself as a piece of my ego dies. Changes really rattle our ways of being in the world.

New roles shatter the way we once thought of ourselves and knew ourselves to be, we can begin to question who we are, sitting in uncertainty, asking: is this how I normally respond to situations?  Will I be this way from now on? Or will I return to my sense of self once I am oriented to this new state?

The call for me, is to go to the land.  To bring my questions with me intentionally as I walk and meet tree and wind and rock.  To listen, see, feel the lessons of transition around every corner of the path I walk on this vast earth.  And to acknowledge and mark the transition happening for me, in this microcosm of my life, by marking my threshold, by burying a rock, by sitting in timeless space and allowing the answers to come in their mysterious ways.

The true gift in the death of the ego and the old, which we most experience in states of mystery and transition, is in the taking on of becoming more of who we are meant to be.  Through the wild discomfort, a great knowing can arise, if we consciously meet our new self, with kindness and courage, in times when day becomes night and night becomes day again and again.

Meet yourself in life's transitions with Oaks Counsel.  Check out our many programs and offerings.



A Medicine Walk

Holding the question in mind and heart,
I cross the threshold.

The wind seemed to push me, as if to say,
This walk has been waiting a long time
for you.

At first, everything seemed to contrast. 
The smooth blue and soft-clouded sky
Against the jagged edged canyon wall,
The immovable boulders
Between dancing flexible desert brush.

Even, the dog scared me
In the thinking she was something other than her.

I took a different path,
Not sure how,
The sand was softer, the view was higher
Though I had to move through tall shrubs and jump off small cliffs.

Eventually, the path became familiar
Leaving the enclosure of the steep canyon
Into a more open valley.

A Sphinx moth,
White and red, like a hummingbird,
On the land, trying fly.
Unsure of it’s struggle,
Amazed by it’s size and beauty
And caught by the expression in its’ eyes,
I stayed to be with it.

Moving it to safer ground,
removing the ants gripping its wings,
The more I hoped to help, the more I couldn’t help
but feel I was preventing what needed to be done.

I walked away.

I felt the calling of my journal. 
Wanting so much to return to this comfortable friend.
Reminding myself,
I will remember what I am meant to receive from this journey.
Struggle, comfort, discomfort, seeking ease.

The distractions become as easy to catch as the wind. 
My work in this world, my purpose, those that I care for, my community…
What rock to sit on to write?…
That one! 
Conglomerate, by the curved eroded red canyon wall.

Distraction, distraction…
and returning to the question I am holding in me,
Returning to the land.

The whole medicine wheel is flying at me,
in it’s complimentary colors of healing.
A black and gold moth beacons me.
Bright red Indian paintbrush growing beside white dying branches
A bee drinking from the flower.
Remembering that Poplar Sphinx moth.

Along the mesa cliffs,
A green tree is brighter than all the rest
Exclaiming, “I am different and I want to be seen as such!...”
“…Though, clearly, I am intertwined with you for the betterment of our existence,” whispering to the tree it hugs.

The ceremony smells of sage and clearing,
The prayers familiar and deeper.
How long can I watch an eagle fly
Close by and far off.
Knowing my dog had to silently, with her gaze,
point it out to me in the first place.


The moth is gone.

It is so much scarier to cross the threshold out---
To being in the human world,
To being in the living of this medicine.

The Magic of Living in Mystery

This week someone said to me, “I can have self reflection and I don’t need nature for that!”  I laughed and replied, “That’s excellent!  But nature offers something a lot more than offers mystery.”

A couple weeks ago, I found myself distressed, my perfectionist self challenged and my expectations beat down.  I understood these feelings as related to an experience of lacking control and authority over my life.  Being told who I am and what I have to do, my outside circumstance was not reflecting what I knew within myself.  I found myself stuck in thought loops.  Outside the walls of my home, the weather seemed to lack control of itself, moving from warm sun to spring winds to swirling snow storm (nature as mirror).  What I felt I needed most in that moment was to put my back on a tree.   I stepped into the mystery of nature, into what I knew I had no control over, the unexpected world that would bring whatever it would bring.

I headed to the large cottonwood down the street, I sat upon its’ roots, deeply penetrating and embedded in the earth; I put my back on its’ trunk, the contours of the bark meeting my back.  A being that knows its’ truth regardless of what comes to it.  I bundled up as the snow and winds came and peaked out in the sunny moments of warmth.  I felt the patience of the tree.  The surrender to the mystery yet holding strength of self; flexibility of branches in the winds with steady roots and core.  I thought of the seasons and situations it’s seen, the moments of mystery, from beautiful visiting birds to wild crashing hail, and it remained to see it through.  I thought of when it might have been young and it’s branches froze and cracked off, and the knowing that the loss was part of growing.  A humbling of Self to surrender to what is.

And then again, this week, on my daily walk, I decided to stop.  Not my usually 5-10 minutes stop, but a full stop, a sink-into-it-timeless stop.  As an adult, juggling so many life things, stopping in such a way feels impossible or irresponsible on some level.  I began to feel the anxiety.  I began to think of everything I know I need to do, growing uncomfortable in my body.  I desired so dearly to move, to walk it out, to walk this feeling away.  But I stayed.  The wind blew strongly in intervals I could not predict.  And when it came, I watched the juniper move in unchoreographed ways. Sounds came from the distance that stimulated curiosity.  Living beings emerging from nowhere and were gone just as quickly as they came.   At one point, I thought, “I’m bored”.  Laughing at the thought, how could I be bored here?  Mysterious things keep happening!  I stayed. Eventually I heard the intriguing ringing pines, saw the moving picture clouds, felt the sand shifting earth.  Anxiety came again and again. And I remembered that the movement toward healing anxiety begins with being in mystery.  What an invitation!

Both these experiences happened in a brief period of time after a long day of work, reminding me of why I am here on earth.

Nature teaches and invites us to let go of control, to live with the unknown and learn the beauty and surrender in this practice, to learn the cycles of living, to learn about how to move with mystery in all parts of our lives.  The mystery offered by nature helps us come alive to ourselves; it helps us remember our connection to the greater world and our own human nature.

From shooting stars to the moment a flower opens, experience the mystery of nature as healing with Oaks Counsel’s Programs and Nature-Based offerings.

Partnership Passages

How do we do relationship?  It seems like humans love love.  There is a desire to be coupled or  connected to another person deeply on some level.  And though we love love and being coupled, we seem to struggle with the difficulty of maintaining connection, intimacy, sexual connection, meaningful conversations, the spark that once brought them together, but somehow feeling it’s different now, our partner just doesn’t seem like the person we fell for and we just want them to do what we expect them to do.  But things change, couples grow close and far apart, lives become too busy with the needs of other things, new interests are developed that their partner cannot related to, taking each other for granted happens unconsciously.  Relationship is organic.  It breathes, contracting and expanding, like all things alive.  The question we must ask is if the living changes of the relationship help us grow, like the leaves that fall from the tree create the soil for the buds that come next year.

Things that are alive, change.  We grow older, maybe we become parents, we become over worked, we become stressed, tired, retired, sad, ill, happy, crazy excited, too much, not enough, we are always shifting and the changes can be hard to bare, personally, as well as for our partner.

So how do we do this relationship thing?  Well, many of us charge through, as we do with most changes in life.  Not acknowledging it and in anticipation of when/if this one thing (you name it) happens that will bring some relief.   Others hightail it out of there, hence our high separation and divorce rates.  Some practice cohabitation or dating to keep things light and not get too attached.  Others spend time in therapy or counseling, working hard to make the connection and understanding that will move them forward.

For those of us who have experienced long-term relationship, we know that it can be utterly crazy making.  It invites us to experience all the ups and downs of emotional states in one tight container.  Relationship brings up all our shadows and wounds while offer excitement and support a person to share our loving with (rather than being in love).

The high rate of separation and divorce and the quickness in which we are able to enter into relationship when that spark of love ignites, all have me thinking, what is going on here?  We are doing it all to quickly now.  And we charge through, we ignore areas of discomfort, unable to deal with them and we trudge on hoping to manage.  In the changes have we become so quick to say “I am in love” or “I am done”? Not realizing that relationships fall and spark often and the aftereffect can be wild in all sorts of ways.   

It is important is to acknowledge each change.  Many rites of passage ceremonies occur alone, and I believe couples need rites of passage too.  A process that allows each person in the couple to discover themselves, their interrelatedness to each other, their connection to the world around them, their human nature, to grow an understanding of our connection to the greater whole.   Partnership rite of passages have the elements of most passages: noting the end of something that is no longer serving the relationship and movement into something new, solo and intentional time in nature, and the deep acknowledgement of gifts.

Without a doubt, humans have a need for love.  This, and change, are a huge and vital part of our human nature.  We are somehow significantly marked by the relationships we share with our intimate partners.  So, weather you’re talking about divorce or marriage with your partner, it is always worth acknowledging the severance of one way of being with each other into the birth of a new way.  Oaks Counsel offers a 10 session Partnership Passage for partners who want to acknowledge these ongoing shifts.  And check out all the Adult Passage offerings on our website.