Feeling It All
by Michelle Katz
In interactions with both dear friends as well as complete strangers, I often hear two particular comments with frequency. The first is of concern-- frequent blog readers and some friends, have expressed to me that sometimes they worry about me, noticing that I often go into the dark places, knowing how to speak about depression and grief. These comments tend to center around my ability to feel deeply, expressed through crying or laying of the earth. On the opposite side of the emotional spectrum, another question I often receive is: “Why are you so happy?” or “Your laughter/smile is so great!” or “You seems to radiate joy, what’s your secret?” I love this question, though I never quite know how to respond to it, other than to acknowledge to myself and them that this is my way of being. I am a genuinely happy person! It seems that some sit in judgement of my joy, and at times people will ask me to stop laughing or skeptically tell me: “your laughter must be a defense mechanism.” My response is to look inward and ask myself the purpose of my laughter as well as if I feel I am being projected on. More often than not I wonder what about laughter makes particular people uncomfortable. But mostly, I celebrate my true capacity to hold both the dark and the light, deep sorrow and abundant laughter, and all the ways these live in me.
The dramatic differences in the response to who I am and how I am perceived interests me. I choose to meet these responses with curiosity.
I found myself on a walk of deep curiosity. This time I walked with a fellow wilderness guide. The walk began with a good rain, a constant downpour with a rainbow in the distance. I was ill prepared for this walk, with a skirt and high boots that I wore to my day job-- because getting outside sooner rather than later felt more important than taking the time to run home to change. As we began the walk, growing more damp from the rain, we set our intention to name how our hearts were and what is calling our attention. I named my heart in struggle with the question of how lovers can become strangers in an instant.
It seemed almost immediately after naming this, my fellow guide, pointed out some tracks in the damp sand, saying, “I am interested in these tracks here.” My eyes and excitement grew! His experience is with nature skills where mine is more nature psychology-- an acknowledgement of how much to learn from each other during our time together. We began to follow the tracks of a mule deer, around the base of the hill, through ravines, up, up, up. As we read the tracks, we learned of the animals pace and course by actually kneeling down, placing our hands and feet into the tracks. We checked for freshness and the direction of movement by the way the sand was lifted or flattened.
In this tracking experience, I felt myself become the deer, my body embodying their movement, on all fours in a way, leaping as it leaped, turning as it turned, meeting other tracks but still carving out its own path. My body felt the connection to the earth in each movement. I fell in love with the deer, strangers become lovers. I looked at my own tracks in the damp sand as I played with my weight shifting and my dance on the land. I thought of how my body gets so involved in this action.
My fellow guide then spoke to me about the practice of hunting and the quiet walking of the land, fox walking. We fell into silence and became mindful of each footstep. Our quiet movement up the hill offered a challenge, a purpose to my path, a connection to my core with every step, it required balance and thought. As we reached the top, the wind blew in strong, the rain had stopped only right above us and we could see the stars with clarity, while in the distance to the west, northwest to southwest-- the Jemez mountain range, a great black cloud consumed the mountains and city lights. We watched lightning strike within that cloud-- nature called our attention and we respected and admired its influence.
We stood at the hilltop, watching tentatively the earth and atmosphere that surrounded us. We watched the great ominous storm roll in with the night while talking of ways to bring people to this experience of nature in this way. The wind and cold grew with the darkness and the encroaching clouds now came from all directions as the sky right above us remained miraculously clear. I felt the cold wind blow and the clouds and lightning influence the space powerfully. We laughed at our human needs, the nonsense, tricks and secrets our minds often create. We laughed at the other who missed the awe of a lightning strike due to facing the other direction at the wrong time, we laughed at foot warmers used as hand warmers in his pocket while I feel Scottish with the wind blowing up my skirt, we laughed at how lovers are never strangers despite any attempt to be. My body felt the chill, my eyes took in the shadows, my heart vibrated and ignited with roar of thunder and the strike of lighting, and I called out into the valley: “Come on, give me all you got! I want to feel ALL of you!” As my voice echoed through the mountains, I recalled all the times nature has me call out this desire, too many to count. I know this is what has me feeling most alive! There is no hiding self here, nature comes to meet us with all of herself.
Reflecting on this experience reveals to me the utter truth of who I am: Yes, I can go into the dark space-- Yes, I can laugh with utter joy! And in both, I bring ALL of myself to the very human expression of feeling: despair, doubt, grief, excitement, elation, delight. This, and much more, are all human nature! We must let go of the binary ideas of being happy or sad, needing people or being solitary, working or playing, being in the head or in the body. We can experience ALL of us-- dark clouds thundering and open starry sky; sun and rainbow while the cold yet nourishing rain drenches us and pools mud around our feet! This is the practice of a balanced human life, this the practice of living the full capacity of our human nature. This is what speaks to my ability to go into the dark places and the jubilant places, both wonder-full in their own ways. All of this I learn from watching nature’s truthful way. I wish to meet the world, as it meets all of us, with all of me (stormy and shining)!
Soon we found our way stumbling down the hill, off trail, in the darkness, finding our way with well-adjusted eyes that can see the light and dark of the scene. We made it down in the dark with the thrill of the storm in the distance, the chill of the air and rain-- cold, wet, tired, exhilarated-- and more happy and enlightened than when we began.
How do you meet the light and dark in your life? Join Oaks Counsel for one of our various programs to explore and play with your way through this landscape!