The Horizontal Juniper's Teaching on Obedience

The Horizontal Juniper's Teaching on Obedience 
by Michelle Katz

I recently met a juniper that seemed to not follow the rules of typical growth. It was coming out of the earth horizontally then growing toward the sky at an angle.  Clearly, this juniper found its own way to sun and earth, not out of command, but intuition, I was touched by its knowing of what to do to be in the world.

Last week, I heard a woman stand up and speak about the values she has for her children.  At the top of her list was obedience.  I noticed that throughout her talk and many hours after that this word lingered, unable to settle anywhere in my being.  Then on my morning walk, my dog and I bumped into a runner with her dog, and my dog approached her dog ignoring my call for her; to which the runner said, “your dog doesn’t obey you!”  And there again, I heard this word like a blow to the chest.

I sat with the word “obey”.  I thought about all the ways it had shown up in the last week.  From hearing stories about authority figures at work, doctors telling us what to do, people/gurus we give our power over to. All the ways we obey without a second thought. I then began to think about the subtle and unspoken obedience of our society-- from a 17-year-old client who shared his feelings about not being able to make the most out of college - yet he is going none-the-less because our culture—and his parents—demand a Bachelor’s degree?  I think about ways we have been trained as children to follow the rules—our almost unconscious responses to the changing colors of traffic signals or even more concerning, follow laws that we know are unjust

I think about where we would be if we all blindly followed the rules and commands of our society or government-- what if we all simply obeyed all the time?  What if no one broke the law of authority during Nazi Germany or the Civil Rights Movement?  What do we make of those great leaders that saw certain authority to be unjust and stepped up to change our world because of it? They chose to NOT “just obey” but instead knew themselves and their truths in this world-- and the call to do so was much bigger than the call for obedience. These are the individuals that guide us as a society through a rite of passage.  Their calling, their knowing, their integration of what they learned and heard from others. They combined this deeper wisdom with what they knew and heard in themselves, and changed everything! Think MLK and Schindler. Think about all the advocates, right now, at our border and across the country, protesting the zero tolerance policy and demanding the re-unification of parents and children, that had been torn apart in attempts seek a better life. A decree our government expected all to “obey.”

I thought about how obedience feels related to childhood, about children being told what to do and following those commands. I began to get curious about each individual’s journey toward maturation, their passage to knowing themselves to the point of not simply following commands anymore. The process of maturation has us question obedience or at least interact with it differently. I recalled my parents’ wish to keep me safe and learn how to be in the world through their guidance, and young as I was and a female, even more so, I did my best to obey them.  However, at a certain age, I found that their guidance did not fit well for me and my path. What once was well intentioned suggestion for my obedience, changed as I matured into adulthood. I began to understand that what I knew, what I had learned about myself through navigating my own life challenges, was more essential to follow than their words and suggestions (no matter how well intentioned).

This is when it hit me, obedience is not good or bad in and of itself. In many cases, it does keep us safe and serves a purpose for learning.  However, it is our attitude toward authority that is truly what is calling our attention. So often, if we obey an authority, it can hold us back from maturing and questioning our own values. I wonder if obedience hinders us from trusting ourselves?  From following what we intuitively know?

At a certain age, I began to laugh at my parents’ attempts to guide me, recognizing it as a hope to control when we clearly live in a world that cannot be controlled. (They often laughed too, for the absurdity of it all). Before I met them with laughter, I would get wildly frustrated with them, but now as an adult, it seems that my intuition and knowing will guide me in the direction I need and anything else would just be giving myself away, would be reverting back to some stage of childhood.

Clearly the commands of my parents, my boss, the doctors, and the gurus will not stop. But my attitude toward them has changed.  If I meet the commands with obedience, I lose myself. If I rebel against all commands and authority, then I am engaging the obstinate part of me. But if I integrate commands and authority with my knowing, then I am participating in a practice of maturity. If we meet commands with rigidity, one way or the other, we are not seeing ourselves in the story of our own lives.

If I stop, feel my feet firmly on the earth, know the place in which I sit, and trust that I will turn into the sun and soil and water for what I need in my own way, as I can fully hear what others have to say but not take it in a rigid way, then I know that I am meeting authority with my authority and maturity. I cannot imagine being a tree that grows straight up and down. I am forever the tree coming out of the earth horizontally and then growing at a diagonal and then wide at the top in every single direction imaginable!  (All while still aware of the directive of the sun and soil and water).

In the theme of all these experiences, I recalled reading Abraham Hershel’s thoughts on obedience in relation to the Jewish religion: “To be is to obey the commandment of creation…there is a cosmic piety in sheer being. What is endures as a response to a command.”  This speaks to me about how important it is for us to live into our full being. Hershel is referring to the statement of the creation of humanity, as higher being commanded it. By living fully and knowing ourselves we are offering the greatest sense of obedience to the life we have been gifted.  This is obeying not only the commandment to BE but also obeying our deep inner Self, regardless of a religious or spiritual practice.

Step into obeying your truth and being with Oaks Counsel, check out our programs and offerings.

Navigating the Dark

Photograph by Sarah Treanor

Photograph by Sarah Treanor

Navigating the Dark by Michelle Katz

There are always moments of deep uncertainty in life.  These moments hit me suddenly –doubt sneaks in like a quiet creature in the dark. Out of nowhere I find myself in shame, feeling intensely vulnerable, then shameful about being vulnerable. An infinite spiral into confusion and pain. With no energy to fight, the urge to flee becomes overwhelming. 

Doubt is a powerful being.  It can have us spinning in our heads, or falling down to our knees in tears, crying out, “What have I done?”

This happens acutely in moments of passage: relationship and role changes, moving to a new place, or on a more daily basis, it happens when making decisions that are unpopular or speaking out against norms.

Navigating these situations is challenging. How do I make the transition without abandoning myself or my knowing?  Do I want to conform to what is popular to keep the peace and create ease?  Do I stay in a relationship when I know it’s not right for me, because the unknown is more terrifying?  In a new relationship, how do I merge well?  Do I move to a new place where I am challenged in new ways, or where I know I will feel more supported or do I stay with what I know simply because it’s familiar? 

How do I change my relationship with doubt?  Can we come to be comfortable with our uncertainty? Can we turn the “enemy” in to an ally?

This is the territory of the West Shield in the Four Shields Model.  Growth requires change, change requires stepping into the unknown.  When we sever from what is known, we enter the strange world of liminal space.  This is new territory – disorienting and frightening.  Though fear is natural in new territory, it also has the ability to block us from becoming who we are meant to be.  We must turn our fear into an ally, for very little can be accomplished if we do not leave the easy road and turn our psyche toward the dark forest.  Our fear and doubt is actually an opportunity to meet our capacity for great courage. 

On a night walk, once known spaces quickly become unfamiliar terrain, and what we relied on once is hard to rely on again. What is familiar in the light of day becomes strange, frightening figures in the dark. We must find a new way to navigate in order to meet the ordeal of uncertainty and doubt. 

When I step into the darkness of the woods, alone, my pace quickens. I watch myself walking as if to run through the unknown and fear, hoping to make it pass quickly. But I try to pause and remember that what is required is slowness, to embrace the uncertainty.  Taking my shoes off ensures my pace slows.  I do not trust my mind – at night the trickster is out.  Every sound is a snake in the bush, a pack of coyotes circling, or a mountain lion ready to pounce.  Trepidation accompanies every step for fear of what may puncture the skin. 

Boundaries are lost in the night.  Safety is left behind. Here there are no wall and no light. We must find a way through to something a little harder to hold on to.  We must trust our footing, our ability to find balance and stability in uncertainty. Be value neutral and let friends be friends and enemies be enemies. Not make the world our adversary. I must surrender to the world around me as it is, not as our fears dictate.

Most importantly, I am part of it. Good and bad. I help create and shape this world. This is the most courageous act – radical acceptance and responsibility.  In the face of doubt, I feel asked to step into the world with all its unknowns and know I belong here, as I am. I am it, and it is me. 

This the mystery of life, and the answer is only found in the journey itself. We must rest in that unknowing to find a space of knowing. No one can do the work for you or give you your answers. That would be too easy.  It is a daily adventure into the unknown, with all the terrors, joys, and opportunities to grow.

If we refuse to step into the dark woods of unknowing, we can never find ourselves, know who we truly are, and who we are called to be.

Join Oaks Counsel in navigated to your knowing during time of doubt.  Check out our programs and offerings.

Living What We Know

Living What We Know by Michelle Katz

One of my favorite myths comes from Japan.  It is called Tsukina Waguma or the Crescent Moon Bear.

I have been thinking about this story lately, as so much in life is constantly changing, and sometimes I deeply wish for a cure to the troubles I hold, myself, for the people I love, and for the world.

The story is set in a pine forest, where a woman and her husband live.  The husband is sent off to fight in a war for many years, and when he returns, he is a different man, as war would do to any of us.  He would not enter the house.  He slept outside on stones, and stayed in the forest all day, but most of all, he was mean, angry, and hard to live with.  The woman, on the other hand, was so happy to see her husband and tried to do anything to make his return home wonderful: cooking, cleaning, creating, being of service.  Yet, everything she did, was met with anger and harshness. The woman then traveled to a healer for answers, asking for a potion to return things back to the way they were before the war.  The healer agreed to give her a potion, however, she would just need to get one particular ingredient for it to be done.  The healer then instructed her to climb the mountain, find the black bear and bring back a single hair from the crescent moon at its throat.  Then, the healer could give her what she needed and life would be good again.

She went out on her journey, singing to the mountain and the nature that surrounded her as she climbed.  The journey was effortful, with thorns and rock boulders to ascend, there were moments of darkness and moving alongside dark creatures.  The snowy mountain peak made her feet wet and cold, a storm came and blew winds in every direction, into her eyes and blinding her at times. She met them all with grace as she was motivated by love. 

She did not eat the food she brought, she slept in caves covered by leaves, and she prepared herself for the task at hand.  The next morning, searching for the Crescent Moon Bear, she found its trail and followed it to its den.  She watched the bear roar and enter its den, and thought to give it a bowl of food, which she set outside the den and returned to her shelter to hide.  The bear came out and roared loudly, circled the food, and finally came to eat it, returning to its den shortly after.  She repeated this practice for many nights, but every time she stayed a little closer to the bear’s den. 

One night, as the bear smelled the food, he also smelled her.  He roared so loudly the whole world shook, including the woman, down to her bones.  The bear howled, smacked its jaws, hauled itself onto its hind legs, and showed the woman the entirety of its mouth.  The woman, she did not run away.  The bear roared more and more, wailing its arms to grab her, claws coming close.  She was terrified, but she stayed put.  She spoke to the bear, explaining the reason for her journey and what she needed.  The bear, looked into the woman’s frightened face, and the woman, for a moment, felt she could see the whole world in the bear’s eyes.  Peace met them both.

She then requested the hair from the bear’s throat.  The bear thought of the woman feeding him daily and all the ways she had been good to the bear.  The bear gave her permission to one of its hairs, which she plucked quickly, leaving the bear crying out in pain then settling into huffs.  She expressed her gratitude. The bear roared, and she felt a greater understanding of its expression.  She then hurried down the mountain, returning ragged, soil faced, disheveled.  She came to the healer with the single ingredient and he instructed her to get, exclaiming, “I have it, a hair of the crescent moon bear!”

The healer smiled, took the hair, looked at it carefully, acknowledged its authenticity, and suddenly threw the hair into the fire.  It popped, crackled and was consumed by the flame.  The woman cried out in despair, “what have you done?”  The healer then reminded her of every step she took to climb the mountain, all she did to gain the trust of the bear, all she saw and heard and felt in her time up there, then told her to go home, for she already has everything she needs.

This week, I have seen, felt and heard all the ways that doubt strikes us. Personally, I came to meet doubt and fear, particularly in relating to others.  I realize that relationships are always changing, I am always changing, and thus my expectations and the way I meet circumstances also needs to change.  My bear lives in feelings of shame and betrayal.  Anger grows inside me and howls when I feel the depths of hurt I have felt from this. I have no other choice but to listen to these places inside me as a they roar and grab at me fervently.  I then know, I must find my way with this intense experience of Self.  This week, my way to meet betrayal and shame was much like the woman’s in this story, to stay with it and create connection, and to be intentional and honest.  It’s daunting to be so utterly vulnerable and real in this way.  This is a task that asks for every part of us to truly show up.

I went to the mountain as well.  My body feeling sore and achy, I was still determined to climb this mountain. Beginning on a dirt road with many divots and bumps, and then to a narrow path dividing a wild meadow covered in white and yellow spring flowers and surrounded by tall pines, and then into the woods, the darker forest which offered switch backs across a creek over and over again, along logs or rocks, and ascending upward, endless and steep to the peak and mountain lake.  Each section had a threshold crossing, a gate where road met meadow, another gate where meadow met forest, a boulder crossing where forest met alpine lake.  I could not help but think of all the way this mimics relationship.  Each threshold an opportunity to go deeper. As the terrain changes, we must walk differently in each landscape; different pace, cadence, step/level of surefootedness, awareness.  Each part offering its beauty and hardship.  Each part offering us an opportunity to trust ourselves, to cross the creek on rocky terrain and make it safely through again and again, to know that any moment of saying “I can’t” is meant by something deeper inside of us that screams out with so much heart and knowing about our ability to meet any ordeal with courage.

As I learn from this myth, there is no other choice but to meet challenges, especially when we are guided by love or something greater than us. When meeting something so wild and out of control, we come to find our path. Each new territory unveils new meaning, new purpose.  We feed the bear, we watch patiently, we talk compassionately, we see the multitude in all things.  Most of all, may we come to know that there is no magical potion, there is only the hair from the Crescent Moon Bear’s neck, a symbol of our journey and what we come to know about ourselves and the world around us.  We have everything inside of us already, we simply need to go out and practice our knowing. 

Come to your knowing with Oaks Counsel.  Check out our many programs and offerings!


The Tumbleweed, the Flower and the Grief Wheel

Screen Shot 2018-05-25 at 6.11.47 PM.png
The Tumbleweed and the Flower by Michelle Katz

This week, I met a tumbleweed caught on a low laying branch.  Not normally a striking image here in the southwest, except that I found myself getting curious about this particular tumbleweed’s journey.  I thought of how it once lived on the landscape above the arroyo, I thought of how it was once deeply rooted into the ground, how it once bore leaves or flowers.  When suddenly, a wind came, strong, determined, powerful.  It unrooted this small scrub and carried it across the landscape, rolling it haphazardly into the cut in the earth, and now it stuck, immovable, being weathered by the elements.

On the mornings after the rains, on my daily walk, I also came to meet a single white, fully bloomed flower on the path.  It’s petals soft and pure, it’s stance and heart delicate, yet dominant.  It was beautiful and caused me to stop and be for as long as I could.  Though this in itself is enough to create awe, it was not what struck me the most about this interaction.  It was the return to meet it again, later in the day that struck me.  For when I returned, the flower was gone.  I did not know if it was picked, eaten, or simply shriveled up in the day’s heat.  The next morning, however, the flower revealed itself again, and the next evening, vanished without a trace.  I thought of this brave flower, able to open again and again, though the difficulties of the heat of the day clearly had it go underground again. 

I wondered if I could be so brave to open up again and again, or I was more like the tumbleweed, stuck and weathered.  Both meet the changes of their lives so differently, both teach a lesson in grief.

It occurs to me that moving through the stages of grief, is a journey around the medicine wheel. I walk the grief wheel.  Kubler-Ross spoke of the 5 stages of grief.  Some believe these stages happen in a sequence and build on each other to help us through these times of deep sorrow.  I, however, believe that these stages happen in a cycle.  Round and round we go, many times until we can feel acceptance, at the center of the wheel. 

Screen Shot 2018-05-25 at 6.09.51 PM.png

I walked barefoot in the sand.  It felt soft, cool; I felt connected. My skin met the cool air, I smelled the changing of the season, I saw budding trees, heard chirping birds.  I moved slow and consciously, looking at earth and sky, feet and dog ahead of me. The earth met me in each step.  Denial is easy to know, as it is the place of being in the body and in hope.  I could convince myself that all was right in the world.  I would believe in magical thinking, ideas that I could dream up and wanted to will into truth. There is no better way to know denial as a stage of grief than to be in the practice of the body and pleasure seeking.  As there are many sides to all things, this can be a lovely place of naiveté and staying innocent, believing that somehow all things will tend to work out.  Yet, this place of naiveté also has a darker side, one that keeps us from maturing and living truths.  I felt that sweet innocence with my feet on the earth and sand between my toes.  I felt aware of all the ways people distract in order to not meet reality: eating, drinking, drugs, sex, jumping into things without deeper soul. 

Suddenly, I remember the reality of the situation. I remembered the presence of my sorrow.  I felt alone and in the knowing of the depths of grief.  I recalled, and again became awake to endings, to wild betrayals and overwhelming heartbreaks, to the state of the world, to the increasing temperatures, the ongoing natural and human disasters.  I felt deeply into the hurt of humanity, how cruel we can all be to one another and to the planet we live with. It’s the turn in the arroyo, where the shadow hits the land I walk on, when I must wake up to a truth, personal, cultural and universal.  I fell to the earth.  Wanting nothing more than to be close to the ground, to be held and loved by the earth. We cannot stay naïve to the world. We hurt each other and this planet and there is no going back from that hurt. This strips us of hope, this brings us down to the ground in the depths of depression.  When our heart breaks and it echoes in every fiber of our being.  This is a place of utter stand-still, of weeping, of withdrawal from life, of feeling numb, living in a fog.  This is also a place of consciousness growth as we come to know reality, though the depths are often hard to bare.  It is in this stage that we began to learn about ourselves. From the places of darkness and depression we find our way to what our gifts, the crack that allows for the light to shine through.

In the quiet of solitude, the soul is known, and then the mind begins to have the loudest voice, ask questions about what could have been done differently.  “If only I had shown more affection, if only I said more about how I feel, if only I listened more, if only I made more time, if only we had stepped in fully, if only I were an outgoing activists, if only I was older, or younger!” I find this part of the circle the most distressing, as I bargain with my journey, as though there was some way to change it.  The stage of bargaining feels, to me, most wounding for the soul.  As I question myself and actions so intensely.  (Unable to recognize that I am not the sole guide of this journey.) This deep and utterly exhausting but unrelenting place of doubt has us second guessing our choices and Self.  Leaving us in a place that feels so detrimental to our well-being.  Could we have saved the life, or made it better, could we have taken different actions that would have led to a different result?  This can feel anxiety provoking, injurious to the soul as it evokes guilt and shame and a wild uncertainty of Self. This is the place that also has us in dialogue with the power of who we are.  A worthy conversation to engage in, for we can create change!  As we call in serenity for the things we cannot change, the courage for the things we can, and indeed, the wisdom to know the difference. 

Then the winds blow fiercely, and we may not be able to hold ourselves to the ground, this is the nature of things.  We must experience a wild part of ourselves. Grief is about a departure from a source that once fed us so richly, that we were once connected with so dearly.  The rupture can evoke a force which is untamable.  This is where anger lives.  There is action in anger, it is fiery, wild, and so incredibly out of control and entirely transformational.  It is the place of burning old matter into a different form, disconnecting from what was. Something takes over that has a life of its own, and it keeps us alive and going.  Anger helps us move, more often than not. Though it can often be a way to stay connected when connection is lost. Anger can be the footing when there is no ground, can be a way to engage in relationship when relationship is lost, can be a way to find our path to change.

We meet denial again, depression, bargaining, and anger, and cycle around getting closer to the center of the wheel each time, until we may meet acceptance.  Each round informing us.

Joanna Macy, speaks about the two sides of emotional states in the practice of the Truth Mandala.  She states that grief and sorrow are just one side of the coin, the other side is love. We do not grieve what we do not love. Great grief is a sign of great love – and great love is a gift beyond compare. If we love with all our being, the grief will be sharp and deep. The price of love is steep.  If we choose to not grieve, or hold ourselves or get stuck in distraction and denial and not move around the wheel for however many times we need, then we are not stepping fully into our knowing of what it is to love.

As I think of the tumbleweed stuck in the branches, and the flower that chooses to bloom daily, I deeply honor both paths.  As I, personally, hope to find the courage and strength to keep going in and coming out, to know that the heat of grief has be recoil inward, and the cool welcoming air has ready to feel seen again.  I wish to know the dark places and keep blooming whenever I am able.

Love and Grieve around the wheel with Oaks Counsel.  Join us this weekend for the Healing Ground Grief Ceremony, a rich process of honor what was, yourself, and what is to come. (Sign up to receive details.)

Heart in Hand

Heart in Hand by Michelle Katz

I sat down in the arroyo sand. Before I knew what I was doing, I brushed the sand flat to make a canvas, on which I drew a heart in the sand, just to the right of where I sat.  When I realized what I had done, I began to wonder about the symbolism of the heart, so often related to love, emotions, connection, the human heart functions as an organ that moves blood and is a necessary function for life. I began to perfect the image in the sand when I hit something hard, a rock lay at the center of my heart, I picked it up, examined its gray and white color un-patterned, its abstract shape, and its smooth, jagged texture.  Then, I looked down at the heart and saw that the removal of this rock left quiet a hole in the shape of the heart. 

It occurred me, long ago, that every moment in nature is a medicine walk.  I took myself to the mountains last weekend, to explore a new trail.  I walked the path up, at my own pace, observing myself and my surroundings.  Noticing the burden of the steep climbs and the leisure of the flater terrain.  The trail I had picked, included some bushwhacking, some getting off trail and navigating with a different marking of the land.  Once off the trail, the way was steep and unclear.  I began to question everything: Was this the path?  Could this be right?  Should I go back to familiar territory?  Should I climb up these large rocky outstretches of boulders?  What if I get hurt?  What if there was a bear or cougar?  I was reminded of solo nights in the high alpine desert terrains.  There is something about being uncertain, on a life and death level, that can help us tap into our humanness.  Something that helps us know that, at the essence, we are just small living creatures in a world so wild and unknown to us, and that so much can change in just an instant. 

I was lost, I admit.  The trail was unclear, the terrain was rough and I did not know where I was going.  I sought high ground.  My dog alongside me every step of the way, her loyalty and love a constant ally. We came across beautiful meadows, stunning vista views of surrounding mountains, we crawled through boulder fields and trampled through fields of dead slumbering trees, trying not to disturb them. Some spots had a false familiarity, and other spots were strange to me. Without a path, we continued on, in hopes that we would meet our planned destination. At high ground, I knew this would not be the case.  I saw a memorable trail below, which I knew to be far from the intended spot.  But the day was growing long, and my body grew weary.  I knew the best way would be to meet that trail.  The trouble was that the way down was treacherous.  A steep cliff.  I stood on the edge, as without, so within. I evaluated some potential routes and they all felt daunting.

I took my bets on one and began to descend.  I noticed my shakiness, no footing felt sure, I scrambled and grabbed for rocks that instantly fell loose.  I was a creator of much erosion that day.  I looked to my dog, also noticeably frightened as rocks fell with every movement, many in her direction. She spoke to me of instinct, of love, and constant connection through witnessing.  She and I moved down the cliff as best we could.  Step by step every thoughtful foot placement crumbling and falling.  Much of the descent was my body rolling down.  We reached the familiar trail and began to walk with ease again.  We even made a couple friends along the way.  They had no idea what our day was like, but it was sweet to share in stories and community after such an ordeal. 

In the midst of my grief process, this medicine walk was one of importance.  One of great knowing about letting go of anything certain, about paths that take us away and toward people, and that risk and feeling the edge of our existence is part of love and life.  Life has us often feeling we have nothing to hold on to at times. Feeling we are off our path and scrambling down the cliff that we so crazily and exhaustedly climbed just moments before. Feeling absolutely lost in grief, breathless and somehow tirelessly navigating any way we can, back to something familiar and sweet to land on.  It was important to know that grief is the part of the journey that has us utterly uncertain and questioning life and choices.  Somehow, we live through this, be on our own accord or through some form of search and rescue.  Though no one can know with any certainty about what we have been through, we still need people to see us and join us back on the trail in order to understanding what the grief has offered us.

As I looked at my heart drawing in the sand, I realized I could have easily covered the hole and perfected the heart shape again without a second thought, but something had me pause this instinct.  Something about this heart with a hole in it, truly mirrored me and my experience at the moment, there was a resonance, a feeling known.  I looked to the left of me and there was my handprint in the sand, which must have helped me land on the earth, just moments ago. I placed this rock, once in center of the heart, into the center of this palm print. Giving myself the permission to hold the pain in my heart for as long as needed.  I let the hole, from what once was present and now is absent, remain a hole.  This way the heart felt more real and beautiful to me.

Get lost in the woods, draw in the sand, explore your life, yourself, and your world with Oaks Counsel.  Check out our upcoming Healing Ground Day Quest coming up May 27th.

What Are You Made of?: Stone House Story

What Are You Made of?: Stone House Story by Michelle Katz

I had a strange dream this week, an Alice in Wonderland, sense-of-Self dream.  When I woke, I couldn’t remember all of it as I sat up in the dark room and scribbled in my journal, in a half sleep state.  Something about it stuck and felt overwhelming in a way that screams, “pay attention!”

Here is what I remember:

I was coming up to a stone house, it was beautiful and huge, like the castles you see in Europe.  It was surrounded by a large field in the middle of nowhere.  There were rolling hills in the background.  I do not recall who I was with, but I do know that we were there to look into buying this house.

The stones were intricately placed, it felt unusual to see a house like this in the U.S. Each stone a different size and shape, mostly gray in color, mortared together. We entered the house, first walking through what seemed like a garage space and I immediately felt concerned that this house would be too cold to live in. However, as we entered into the main structure, it was warm and comfortable.  We walked around the house.  The layout was wildly complex, and incredibly modern.  The interior and exterior did not seem to match.  It was already furnished and very well kept.  It didn’t take me long to find what I knew and declared to be my room. It wasn’t the master bedroom, but something particular about it made me know it was right for me.  It was in the front right corner of the second floor of the house.  I liked looking out the window. It had everything I needed.  In the room, there was a stairway that led down to a living room space that I could easily see making my own, it was private but inviting to others.  I found myself running up and down the stairs from the bedroom to the living room.

Along my way I would see an alternate route down on the side of the stairway, but every time I took it, I ended up back on the main stairway.  I was so confused and kept trying to understand the structure of this. I had deep curiosity for the purpose and path of this alternative route.  Feeling that I was missing something, I deeply wanted to figure out what this passageway was about. Up and down I went trying different ways to uncover this alternative path, until I woke up.

When I woke, I found myself reflecting on this dream. Dreams are incredible experiences of connecting to psyche.  Dreams hold meaning, it is important to be with symbols and settings of our dream world as they may reveal something significant about our life process.

In dreams, a house can be seen as a symbol of the Self. Stone houses speak to me of something old, ancient, outdated. Also, wildly artistic and intricate, unique, and picturesque.  This house would be time consuming to construct, more time than our modern day structures. It would entail a great deal of attention and detail. I also anticipated it to be cold, dark, quiet and unusual to navigate; but, it was warm, modern inside, well-lit and comfortable, still unusual to navigate, but beautiful.  I found myself wondering how I embody the old, intricate, yet contemporary and light.

The knowing of my room and the stairwell also seemed important. The location of the room within the house is notable, the right side of the house is a symbol of the tiger in feng shui, and the tiger is a symbol of the yin, the feminine, grounded and earthy.  I don’t know how I knew this space to be right for me in this house but I knew it was my room. Stairways in dreams tend to symbolize the movement from conscious and subconscious or unconscious realms.  In the dream, I seemed to be engaged in the process of moving between these levels of consciousness and looking for different routes to them. The dream also seems to have an Alice in Wonderland quantity, with alternative mysterious stairways that lead to the same place repeatedly.  Alice in Wonderland is a tale of increasing consciousness and individuation.  It is also a story about what happens if we let the ego or if we let our instinct guide us.  Alice enters Wonderland through a fall down the rabbit hole, not unlike the hole/alternative passageway in the stairway of my dream that I continually chose to navigate through. We must fall in order to move through the gateway into another world, sometimes, it seems we must fall repeatedly.  As I fall deeper into my grief this week, this dream arouse; where houses don’t seem to be what they are/ I do not seem to be what I am, paths have different ways but bring you back to the same place/ when trying something different we are brought back to do our constant and important work again and again, where different levels of consciousness can be opened when we recognize we are suddenly in a changed world/when we know our selves differently in the face of grief and loss.

I still sit curious about that alternative stairway and the stone walls. Perhaps a part of me refuses to trust in the alternative route, and feels I need hard walls to hold and protect me.  This is my work now, to find trust and fully fall into the rabbit hole and integrate all levels of consciousness. 

Integrate all parts of yourself and learn what you are made up of with Oaks Counsel.


Grief: Lessons from the Juniper

Grief: Lessons from the Juniper by Michelle Katz

On a walk, I picked up a small pine cone, the size of dime.  I held it in my hand, its jagged edges and roundness meeting me. I began to look at it deeply, with all its complexity, its wild texture and pattern, its wounds and holes, its ups and downs.

These past few weeks I have found myself in a deep state of grief.  I approached this through the gate of personal sorrow.  The depth and duration speak to me of a grief, not only of one life-changing event, but many: all relationships that ended, grief of the earth, the grief of shame, neglect, not being enough, the grief of the many people who are not able to grieve, and the story that grief is always with us in every waking moment but we hardly ever acknowledge it walking around with us day in and day out.  Grief comes to me personally, but when it comes, it’s so great I know what I am feeling is bigger than me.  What I feel is universal. 

In a world full of so many distractions: cellphones, computers, tv and movies, people to call, things to do, emails to write, silly things to buy, so on and so on, each one beckoning us to stay away from diving into the grief. I choose to continually challenge myself to not distract, but to be with. It’s not always easy, and sometimes I slip, checking Netflix or Amazon, but again and again I take myself to a place of consciously choosing to sit in this wildly uncomfortable place.

There is a reason for our apprehension to sit with grief; it is dreadful, sorrowful, it is heartbreaking, heart-rendering and vulnerable and it is just as much rich. There is a reason to sit with grief: the world needs us to, it grounds us in our humanity, it brings us to a greater knowing of self and the world around us.  Poet Kahlil Gibran said, “The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.”

In the moments of not distracting, I find myself in a very particular state.  Most notably, it is a state of being slow, like the whole world and I stay completely still for hours at a time. If I move, I move in a lingering manner, in a 5-10 below the speed-limit manner, in the way that a walk that takes me 20 minutes suddenly takes 40.  In a way that the rocking chair feels fast paced at times. Though its movement doesn’t take me anywhere but to myself. It is comforting and offers a great steady view of the mountains. Time feels lost.  It is hard to meet the day from this place. There is this feeling of being estranged from the world.  Some other presence seems to take over, a presence that leaves me feeling humbled and brings me down to my knees.  This is also the essence of the experience of grief for me.  It brings me down to the ground.  I can spend forever laying on the earth, watering planet generously with tears.  Francis Weller points out that the word grief comes from gravity and being on the ground. 

This past weekend, I spent much of my time laying on the large patch of fake grass (after all, we are in the desert) on the front patio that I had intended for my dog.  But there is something that called me to the ground and something about the grass felt comforting in this time, perhaps for the nostalgia of my upbringing in Ohio. I would lay on the earth for hours, knowing grief’s depth.  The sun would come and go, my Fitbit would call for me to move every hour, the wind would blow in its wild way, the birds would swoosh busily in the morning, chirp at dusk, and quiet as it grew too hot. I stayed, the earth knew me well there, and I, it. Together we’d watch the day, me following the earth’s pace.

I went for one of those 20 minutes walks that took about an hour. That is when I picked up that small pine cone.  I found myself needing to stop and sit on the earth again, a shady spot along the arroyo wall.  I drew in the sand with my dog sitting beside me and occasionally stepping into my art. There it was, the pine cone, speaking to me of complexity and its relationship to life: patterns of chaos, broken bits, prickly and smooth, up and down.  Then, I looked up to its place of origin.  The Juniper tree above me does not produce such cones. I admired this Juniper nonetheless, as I always do, because there is something striking about it.  I looked across from where one of its branches touches the ground, and I saw all this plant matter that was piled up and wrapped around it.  I knew which way the water flowed in this arroyo by the way the old natural debris stuck to the branch, but it’s been far too long since we have seen water here.  I wondered if it’s because humanity had stopped spending time to grieve.  I wonder if the earth needs us to grieve to bring the waters back, because without that, we all end up stuck in motion on the branch that stops us. We all dry out and seem stiff and easy to break when touched. 

Then, I looked at the whole of the Juniper.  This was not the only branch that touched the earth, nearly half of them did.  I saw the wound of what must have been a lightning strike that split this tree, bringing these branches to the earth, creating a cave like structure that I found myself sitting under for shade and comfort.  I saw its roots along the arroyo wall twisting and turning and spreading wide across and deep into the earth.  I felt the fibers of its bark and roots, and felt the truth of the axiom “as below, so above, as within, so without.”

 My gaze then moved to the Pinon beside it, where the pine cone came from.  I took time to observe their relationship. The roots intertwined but were clearly different, one going more deep, the other spreading more wide. I took note of the different pine needles, the berries vs. cones.  The Pinon was clearly more vibrant, stood more tall, produced more green.  The thing that struck me the most though, was the way they touched.  You see, one of the Juniper branches that came to kiss the ground took a Pinon branch down there with it.

I began to think of the wisdom of the Juniper, and the courage of its action.  For all things, at some point or another, must come to meet the earth, and it is always best if they do not do so alone.  Grief needs community.  This, as I realized, is why this Juniper strikes me as so beautiful. Though the Pinon seems to be healthier and vibrant, the Juniper seems to embody a soulfulness, that the Pinon does not, for the Juniper’s knowing of grief is different, intimate, vulnerable.  Thus, in this time of deep grief, I take my lesson from the Juniper, to go slow and to be close to the ground and this will contribute to my radiance.

Let’s bring the waters back together, let’s make time away from distraction to get low to the ground and grieve together.  Join Oaks Counsel for this month’s Day Quest experience: Healing Ground Greif Ceremony.


8 Reasons to Participate in Nature Based Healing Experiences

8 Reasons to Participate in Nature Based Healing Experiences
by Michelle Katz

1.     Nature as Mirror: There is something magical that happens in nature.  I see it time and time again, no matter what may be happening in your life, nature has a way of showing you something that reflects you or shows you exactly what you need.  It simply need you to take the time to be with it.  It can be a tree fallen over a creek that appears to speak to you of a crossing, or a hill to climb in order to gain perspective, or perhaps a cloudy sky just happens to open up right above you when you feel clear, or clouds roll in and snow begins to fall just as you connect to your grief. Or perhaps, a deer or coyote suddenly greet you on the path.  Or you begin to think about your choices and wondering about different paths when a tree with a divided trunk reveals itself, one-part dead, the other alive, and the dead still has something beautiful growing off it.  I don’t know how this happens, but nature meets you exactly where you are.  Wilderness Rites of Passage guides have a saying for this remarkable yet trustworthy occurrence, we say, “This shit is real!”  It is just so real!  It is a testament to how deeply interconnected we are with the place we call home and the way it meets us every day.

2.     Not about Navel Gazing: There are times in our lives that have us look inward, this capacity to ask questions like “who am I?” as we hope to make sense of ourselves is a very important part of being human.  The challenge is when this process becomes exaggerated and we lose sight of what is important and even the very self we are seeking to know. It is essential that we look inwardly to know our gifts so that we can share these knowing with the world.  More often than not these days, we look inward to the point of not seeing the outward.  We get lost in the inward gazing and this can lead to depression, isolation, fear and victimhood.  Nature-based healing experiences help us navigate a way to find balance with the inner process as it is informed by the world around us and how it can continually inform how we give to our people.  After all, it is unlikely that when sitting outside we would fail to notice the sun on our skin, the sounds of birds and wind as they respond to each of our thoughts, the smell of the ponderosa pine in the air that has us remembering we are not alone.  When we are with the trees, we hear something about the world, we are reminded of our grandmothers cookies and the family we know and belong to, and we wonder what we can eventually give.

3.     Connection and Awe:  Considering what has already been stated, it is clear that we are connected to something much greater than we knowingly acknowledge on a regular basis.  Nature-based practices help us see the world outside of ourselves more fully and regularly. Nature helps us recognize that we are never truly alone.  And even more, nature gives us the opportunity to be in awe! We are not nearly in awe enough these days!  “We are a collective species and awe shifts us out of self-species and coming into being interested in other species. As Dacher Keltner explains in his very powerful talk.  “Awe is the feeling of being in the presence of something vast that transcends your understanding of the world…. Brief experiences of awe redefine the self in terms of the collective and orient our actions toward the interests of others…Momentary experiences of awe stimulate wonder and curiosity about the world.”  says Keltner in his article “Why do we Feel Awe?” and how important it is for connection in for our species in the world today.  Awe helps us feel more connected to the environment, enhances our well-being and connection to self, and integrates us into a community.  All of this stimulates reflection about personal purpose. From this place we can come to know our responsibilities to ourselves and the world in a bigger way.

4.     Opportunity to Play:  Nature-based practices helped me being a child again.  If we look at Alice Miller’s understanding of Trauma, all human beings have somehow got cut off from their ability to truly be a child. It is important to connect with this child-like nature for balance.  Nature-based practices takes us outside, where being in our bodies and playful beckons.  When we get in the river, it is hard to not splash or feel our bodies float down stream or our toes squish in the mud.  When we see a climbable tree something in us brings to life the little child, even if we choose not to actually climb it.  When in the sand, isn’t it hard to not draw in it with our fingers or feet.  Or a big field of flowers may excite us to run for not reason and then put flowers in our hair. Or a pond that has us catching frogs just to let them go and catch them again.  Nature invites us to play, and play is so healing!

5.     Spontaneity:  We can never predict the hooting of the owl, the shooting star that passing across the sky just as we look up, the moment a drizzle becomes a storm, the eagle swooshing down to catch its prey, or the drop of a leaf dancing its way to and through the curves of the creek with its’ own beat.  Spontaneity helps us connect to our aliveness. The unpredictability of nature helps us recognize the spontaneity in ourselves, helps us connect to the heartbeat that guides our actions in the world and the trusting that when the timing is right, something unbelievable and unexpected can happen and it can be beautiful.  We get to experience the truly creative human spirit in nature.

6.     Breaking the rules:  While our culture loves rules, nature does not abide by rules in such a rigid way.  The law outlines rules to keep us safe and accountable to each other.  The government, places of work, schools, and home have rules (some conscious, some unconscious) to keep us organized.  We have our own personal rules that allow for us to believe what we want to believe about ourselves.  In nature, we get to break the rules a bit, and experience the edge of ourselves in order to learn more about who we are from those edgy places.  Maybe we get naked more easily, maybe we jump up and down and sing and dance more readily, maybe we scream and cry without restraint.  Nature invites us to be fully ourselves with our restriction.  And it’s such a valuable invitation to embrace as it can lead to our greatest moments of transformation.

7.     Nature teaches us about our own Nature:  Nature, in all its’ splendor, is in no way absolutely flawless nor is it controlled; it is wild, day in and day out. This is what contributes to its perfection. It is always changing, season to season, moon cycle to moon cycle, day to day, moment to moment. This is the greatest lesson nature offers us.  In being with nature, we remember we are no different, for we are always changing, and meant to be changing from each season of our lives, and each experience we have; each moment that we take in new information about the world and ourselves. During some times in our lives, we may feel utterly sad. We may think there is no way this will ever change, but somehow, in time, we move, we come to find how the sadness feds what brings us to do our work in the world, and that will bring us to our creativity and spirit and starting a new, until we fall into our sadness again and round and round we go. Always changing, with all that came before tilling the soil and cultivating the nutrients we need to grow stronger and more fully ourselves.  Nature teaches us that we live through all these changes, we grow though all these changes, we find new ways of being purposeful in all these changes. We come to know ourselves differently in the quiet reflection of the nature within each of us, as reflected by the nature that surrounds us in quiet moments of being.

8. The stories will change you.

Are you ready to embrace the power of this nature-based healing experience? Join Oaks Counsel for our various offerings and programs.

Losing Teeth and the Seeds of Change

Losing Teeth and the Seeds of Change
by Michelle Katz

I had an interesting, though common, dream this week:

I was driving in my car, on the highway, not unlike any other day, when suddenly, I felt my back left molar crack and crumble into little pieces.  In an overall panic, and concerned about swallowing them, I sought out a place to stop to manage the situation.  I pulled into a gas station, or wait station (as I called it in my dream), aptly named Love’s.  I walked through the store and out the door to the desolate area behind of the station.  Where, there on the black tar-top, I saw a shiny new basket drain, like the kind you buy for your kitchen sink, only bigger, stainless steel, clean as can be, and entirely out of place. I thought this would be a good place to spit. My two friends came beside me as I spit out the crumbled teeth from my mouth, one handing me water to rinse and spit. And as I did so, more and more teeth came out broken and crumbled, coupled with blood and tears. I cried and cried, down on my knees, watching my teeth leave me. I was asking and pleading, between my cries and spits, that there be a way to bring these to the doctor to surgically put my teeth together and back in. One friend, then mentioned the possibility of dentures.  In the moment that I immediately resisted the idea of dentures, it occurred to me how different I must look now, that half my face would be caved in slightly. I began to envision how much this has surely aged me.

Dreaming that our teeth are falling out is familiar and memorable to many. There is much meaning and interpretation that can be taken from such imagery of the psyche. When an we dream this, it is incredibly individual as much as it is collective.  Without a doubt, a dream like this is important!

Many people have ideas about interpreting teeth falling out dreams, there are few I can bare the interpretation of, but I found that did reveal some good points to consider.  Teeth are the beginning of the digestive process, the breaking down of nutrients, thus this dream may have some relevance to the beginning of a process of psychic digestion. If teeth are falling out perhaps there is a struggle in trying to integrate something.  Teeth also fall out or are absent during certain periods of life: new born babies, childhood, and elderhood. In the first and last stages, our physical abilities are limited as is our autonomy.  But in childhood, this is a stage of recognizing the end of baby teeth and the adult part of us coming into being.

Ultimately, the meaning of the dream can be found in the soul of the dreamer:

Life is busy and more often than not, I move fast.  I am the driver of my own car on the highway, moving from one place to another.  But, something seemingly out of control forces me stop. It is not coincidence that I stop at a “wait station”/gas station (a place on the road, where we have to stop moving in order to refuel to ensure we have what we need to keep moving) called Love’s.  For love is the greatest of red lights, calling out for our attention. Where I lose my teeth.  I certainly see this as statement of letting go of some youthfulness and stepping more deeply into growing up and older.  For goodness sakes, the conversation of dentures entered the scene!

It seemed like the crumbling and spitting out of teeth into the earth was endless, along with the blood and tears of my grief and loss, which can only be felt when love is also present.  My plea to be youthful again, to have the teeth put back in was unrealistic and sweetly naïve.  A plea to be taken care of, shielded from some necessary truth.  Something essential is changing in me at this time and the grief and loss is immensely heartbreaking.

To spit the teeth into a drain in the ground is a bit unusual. It was clear they were not easily being discarded, like the blood and tears that went through the drain and into the earth. I recall the story of Cadmus, who sowed the seeds of a dragon he slayed, and the sprung into soldiers that would eventually help him build a city. This is the collective myth that informed the individual journey.  As I lose something essential, I can plant it into the earth, and from that earth, something greater will grow, and that is what I wish to hold onto in this great time of change.  I am sad, for I have lost something important and grand in the Love station.  I weep and weep and bleed great distress. When the tears have stopped, I saw those teeth in the earth, well held, all as a testament of my growing up and older. May the lessons, once a part of me, never be discarded completely.  May the letting go help me grow into who I am meant to be and may the remains be sown and cultivate the beginnings of building whatever I am meant to build in this life.  This is the story, dream and gift of a rite-of-passage.

Dreaming into your Rite-of-Passage lately?  Oaks Counsel support you in letting go and living into what grows you.  Check out our programs and offerings!

Meeting Yourself in the Dark 


Meeting Yourself in the Dark
by Michelle Katz

It’s late winter or early spring around 9pm, the sun had set, the moon was dark, and I head to the trail, no dog, no headlamp, no other person.  I remember, that at this time, stories of mountain lions in the area were prevalent and in my consciousness.  I was 25 or so, and I was holding some big questions about my life.  My impaired vision was frustrating, my eyes adjusted slightly in time, but I was still acutely aware of not being a nocturnal creature.   I walked with the intention to meet the darkness openly and with courage, and I held the intention like a shield protecting me from what I feared out there.

My heart would race, every shrub, tree, and trail post looked like a man with a weapon or a potential vicious animal ready to defend it’s territory and I was surely intruding on their space.  I remember walking fast, hoping to get it over with.  I remember fearing the figures that looked more like men than those that looked like animal.  I felt that every step I took was uncertain. 

This was my first night walk.  Being with my fear in this way was incredibly potent.  I had an opportunity to connect to it, to say to myself, “I will take precautions but still go out there, alone and in the dark.”  I found courage and power on this edge.  I felt into how my mind created images and stories while my body had a very different experience. I noticed where I could find lightness while in this place, the stars or the sounds of birds changing my fears to expansion.  The light helping me feel less lost in the darkness.

Many years later, during the darkest time of life, I found myself stepping into the darkness even deeper on a series of night walks.  This time with the intention of calling in my ancestors, meeting shadows and the gifts, and to find the wound in me and the land.  Still I found it amazing what my mind could make of the landscape in shadow. I found light in the moon among the moving clouds, and lightning strikes in the far distance. On a trail I traveled daily, I would find myself lost and inadvertently loud.  The trail in the darkness seemed to be different and the contrast of the silence and my footsteps was stark.  What I thought I knew so well, was lost, as I tripped in holes and hit branches.  I aimed to find the tree I visited frequently for comfort in this dark time of my life, but old comforts could not be found, so I resorting to sitting wherever I sat.

I asked the big questions and rested in the discomfort of them, having profound dialogues with ancestors and earth, without knowing any answers.  Expect that I knew, everything I thought important and true, was not relevant anymore.  And on these walks, I would mysteriously begin to bleed. I had cut my index finger (the one that speaks most about direction), a scape on my navel opened up (something deep inside me wanting to come out) and my cycle started (a symbol for a new life from the dark and deep cut of my body).  And each were painful, and wild, and left me feeling incredible vulnerable and utterly present.

After these walks, I shared my stories with others and stood in deep declaration of myself.  The words burst out of me with such confidence: “I went into the darkness and realized my mind is not in charge of anything, my core is bleeding, light shines around and behind darkness, and people can fear, wonder or judge me, but I will walk on making my sounds!”

Every time I step deeply to meet the darkness, I reemerge feeling a sense of Self I had not previously known.  It is one of the most powerful ceremonies I know.  Come Step Into the Darkness with Oaks Counsel on April 21st, to experience how you meet this part of you.

What is this all about?

What is this all about? by Michelle Katz

A few weeks ago, someone asked me why I do this work?  “It’s the stories”, I said, without skipping a beat.  There is something magical about hearing someone’s story when they get back from solo time on the land.  I love listening and knowing it is a story that belongs to the collective as much as it belongs to the individual, and that it is a story that is timeless, familiar to the long lineage of humanity and mythology and it is a story that will continue to live long after all of us who hear it in that moment.  The stories are what strike me as the most powerful and meaningful element of this practice.

Just weeks ago, with the landscape called Tsankawi,“village between two canyons at the clump of sharp, round cacti” where pueblo ruins tell the story of a people long ago, and narrow foot-made paths speak of their livelihood, caves whisper of ceremony, mesa tops and mountains provide perspective in all directions, and where juniper and pinon and raven live with full presence and powerful statement, a small group met to practice council, intentional solo time on the land and storytelling. 

Oaks Counsel offered this Day Quest experience for participants who felt the call to the land, to the journey, to themselves.  The Day Quest was focused on the Hero’s Journey and the Heroine’s Journey. Each individual shared what brought them that day with the practice of listening from the heart, speaking from the heart and holding what is said with confidence.  Thus, I cannot share their journey but would like to offer my own story of that day.

I began the day in my own mythology, holding the ways the Hero and Heroine’s Journey live in me as I packed up my notebook, books of poems and sacred rocks and objects.  I had already walked with each stage of these journeys in the weeks leading up to this day and now I was ready to hold their experience.  We gathered in circle at the site, each one of us introducing ourselves and sharing the essence of what called us to this Day Quest. Within the circle, tears shed, confusion named, curiosity abound, and struggles validated. As the stages of the journeys were called into the circle, I saw the connection of present lives and mythology weave into each other. 

Still quiet in reflection, the group was thoughtful of intention and soon crossed the threshold onto the land and with uncertainty; with the loss of sense of time and no company, and some without food, it was just them and the land.

I spent this time holding basecamp.  The purpose of this task can be simplified into being present in case any need arises for the passagers.  But I found myself doing much more than that.  I found myself in deep rest and knowing they have all they need, I found myself with great purpose holding their intentions and calling on whatever it is that will serve them best, I found myself collecting gifts from the land, each item spoke to their story.  I found myself fully sitting in the seat of mentor and guide for those on the journey.

Time past, slowly and swiftly all at once, and the time came, the moment I stuck the drum to echo through the landscape for their return.  I beat that drum louder and louder, calling back each of them, hoping that the heartbeat of who they are will resonate with the drum that as it guided them back into the circle again.

When we all returned, and sat in circle, the magic happened.  Stories.  Each one spoke of a journey uniquely their own yet heads shook with agreement and the tales echoed with resonance across to all living beings. I become aware of how with each story I felt forever changed, I noticed the storyteller seemed forever changed in each word being a claim to the Self, I observed the others in circle pulsating with change, and I heard the world whispered of its long waiting for just that story to be told. Suddenly, these once strangers became community, and this once unknown landscape became holy ground.

Experience the magic of story with Oaks Counsel. Join us for our upcoming 6-week series of Exploring the Four Elements of Your Nature or our next Day Quest: Stepping into the Darkness: A Night Walk

Community and the Wilderness Guide Council Gathering

Community and the Wilderness Guide Council Gathering by Michelle Katz

At the beginning of March, 55 wilderness guides, families and friends gathering in the desert of southern Arizona, for the Wilderness Guides Council Gathering.

Arriving close to dusk, as a member of the council who planned the gathering this year and a member of the organization’s board, I found myself hugging the individuals I had seen only via online zoom calls for the last 18 months.  I was so happy to feel the difference between floating heads and physical presence.  I looked out onto the landscape of this wild desert, in it’s turning into darkness, the mountains surrounding met the shadow in a way that brought them to life, full of dimension, depth and grounding.  The sky that met the mountains held on to those last minutes of day-light like the last drops of water from a canteen, drinking them in slowly and mindfully.  The birds, bats and bugs were out for their last meal or flight, all as one by one we humans also arrived with from our last flight or leg of the drive to share a meal with each other, trying to catch up fully, feasting on the sharing of our stories before the business of the gathering began. 

The small group then found ourselves around the fireplace, bellies full and hearts even fuller, checking in on where we are in the moment and what we are carrying with us into the gathering. 

A day and a half later, after thoughtful preparations, the larger group arrived.  The pleasure of meeting every face was such a gift, many familiar, many brand new.  And as we sat in circle for the first time, I remembered again, how important it is, this thing we do.  This thing of hearing every voice, this thing of calling in the whole world into our circle, this thing of celebrating all we are, of having the freedom to be childlike and wild and elder, to be defiant, to be vulnerable, disagreeable, to be outspoken, shy, introverted, to be harsh, loving, questioning and utterly trusting. All things welcome, all things speaking to our human nature in a world where that is open silenced.

The theme of this gathering was about Living and Guiding in Uncertain Times.  And as we spoke about this, I heard individuals’ journeys weave into one, generations become braided, dreams and old stories shared for everyone to hold in personal and collective interpretation.  Fires were lite both to invoke and burn off.  The time on the land was a precious treasure valued by all, as we moved with wind, blazing sun and yes, even the rains, which came both gentle and strong.  The time in ceremony offered us an honoring of ancestors, a play with space and time, a deeper connection with the world and each other.  And our times in council had us listening deeply, speaking truthfully, celebrating and muddling through the difficulty of collective decision making.  Yes, this is all a very important thing we do.

In our first council, I spoke of a dream I had the night before. In the dream, I had jumped off a cliff into a rapidly moving river.  The foam of the rapids covered my eyes, leaving me nearly blind to my surroundings, having no sense of where I was swimming and how to get to safety. The terrain was surely dangerous and from the cliff tops I heard friends trying to direct me with their watchful eye and hollering guidance. I am not that strong a swimmer, but a former partner of mine was, and he jump in to rescue me, but I would not take his offer! I struggled through, blind and uncertain, eventually finding myself on the shores downstream, where two elders in this community lifted me up and told me of how much there is to live for in this world.

In the most difficult or uncertain of times in my life, this community has seen me. This is why I come back every year and even more so, this is why I do this work.  When times are hard, our culture has taught us to hide, in shame or fear or judgement; but this community continues to ask me to show up and live through it.  When we feel like we are drowning, we are experiencing the very thing that informs who we are meant to be in the world will soon reveal itself as our gift to others.  There are a few very important elements to this work; the ordeal and the community are two of them, and every year, through this gathering, I find myself so grateful for both!

Come know how your ordeal has meaning for the community that can hold it.  Join Oaks Counsel for our various upcoming programs, including our 6-week series, Exploring the Four Elements of Your Nature starting Wednesday, April 18th and our next Day Quest, Stepping into the Darkness, a night walk experience at Diablo Canyon on April 21st.  Also come join us for our new monthly, open and free to all, Community Council and Potlucks in Santa Fe!

The Reward and The Return on the Hero’s Journey

The Reward and The Return on the Hero’s Journey by Michelle Katz

From the incredibly courageous place of facing the ordeal, the survival of a death, and the overcoming of great fears, comes Reward. The Reward may come in many forms; object, symbol, characteristic, personal insight, or relationship. Overall, it is usually something that will help make the world a better place. Regardless of how it presents itself in the world, obtaining the reward offers a reason to celebrate, for the hardships that came and went, for the survival through them, and for the gift that is earned and will be cherished. The reward offers some understanding, purpose and perspective to the journey thus far. We come to see that our struggles have made the world a better place.

With reward in hand, we begin the Return home. There is a something inside us that knowns we need to return to the ordinary world. The road back is not easily taken, as we are so evidently changed.  Those we return to may not see us for who we are now, but rather may only be seeing us for who we were before we left. The greatest purpose of the return is in what the hero brings back, what was learned, the reward, and shares it with the people. This part of the journey, though it may sound nice and easy, is incredibly challenging.  Often as the hero tries to apply what was learned, the community may not be ready to see or even acknowledge the hero’s journey. This stage presents new and different obstacles to overcome and meet. Hopeful, with the reflection of our journey, we can handle new obstacles with new confidence and reveal our true selves to those who we belong to, our people, or we may come to realize who are people are now, as they may have changed. The Hero is truly transformed by the lessons and insights of the journey, and now the reward must be shared with the world.  The Hero’s awareness and gift, once shared, brings balance to the community. The hero’s life is new, forever influence by the journey traveled.

I currently sit in this stage of the Journey.  After the ordeal, surviving a ruined reputation, exposed vulnerability and shame, the loss of a man I loved, the loss of my career, the decline of my health, the loss of my community, and an overall loss of self-identity, I found something utterly new and incredible to me. I didn’t die.  I have astonishing resilience. I found a Self that is way more capable, mature, and confident than the Self I was before.  I found what I value most and what I know my role is in this world.

I had just fully experienced a rite-of-passage, and having lived it, I arrived in the place of becoming the mentor.  I had discovered that my life had guided me toward becoming something so much bigger and much more needed than being a therapist of the office, I became a Rite-of-Passage Facilitator of the world.  I knew it was my gift to be an ally for those going through what I had just experienced, to become a mid-wife for the process of severance, threshold and incorporation.  I know this is my work, my gift, and it is much needed in this world. Though this is a practice long forgotten, it is certainly needing to be remember and practiced again, more than ever. 

My The Return, was my returned to Santa Fe, in December 2016, after 7 years away on this journey of mine. Something inside me knew it was time.  I felt the landscape call me and I felt the call of community.  Though, I also certainly resisted, knowing it would not be what it was for me all those years ago.  I worried that I would feel lost, unable to make it work for me, that the relationships I’d return to would not be what I hoped for, that I would struggle to find work and I would be heartbroken by not being well received in what I brought back as my gift as a rite-of-passage guide, that I would be misunderstood and not find what I was hoping for in my return.  But as it came down to it, I truly had no other choice but to return.  It was the only thing I could do. It was not easy, I felt and continue to feel challenged. To this day, I continue to navigate this familiar world in a new way, because I am new. I humble myself often and fall deeply to the earth, for nature to hold me up again and again. Obstacles came and continue to come and I meet them with my values and lessons in hand, in a greater knowing of myself than ever before. 

Join Oaks Counsel THIS WEEKEND, March 25th, for the Hero’s Journey Day Quest for the exploration of your Journey.

The Ordeal into Integrity

Photo: HBO Game of Thrones 

Photo: HBO Game of Thrones 

The Ordeal into Integrity 
by Michelle Katz

We have now arrived at the part of the Hero’s Journey that is call the Ordeal.  This is the life-or-death crisis, the moment of facing our great fear, the most difficult challenge and experience, that has us fall to our knees and meet ourselves in the face of failure.  It brings us the question of survival: will we survive; do we even want to? If we do, how?  What is life, after such a huge experience of death?  This is a central and essential part of the Journey.  It is the death-rebirth place that mirrors the fundamental experience of a rite-of-passage.  Just as in a rite-of-passage, the ordeal has us approaching our greatest fear, or surrendering everything we know for wild and troublesome ambiguity, or doing the unthinkable (like living alone in the woods without food or shelter for 4 days and nights), it is the experience of dying.  This can be a time of great doubt and questioning, reflection on the past and grief.  It is in this time in our journey that we may wish to give up, as we feel we are unable to take on one more thing.

Though the ordeal may be one big happening, (a divorce, loss of career, the death of a loved one, depression, etc.…) and the struggle may be external or internal, the experience is one that ebbs and flows.  We come to dance with defeat, know failure intimately, move between feeling our strength and our weakness, and somehow find a way to the ultimate victory, the way to ourselves.

The most vital aspect that gets revealed, in the whole arch of the journey and particularly in the time of ordeal, is that the greatest tool that we have is ourselves!  In the abyss we come to know ourselves and will never be the same afterward.  The Abyss is the place of initiation. The place of death in order to be reborn with a greater sense of purpose, insight and power.

As I write this, I recall the Great Ordeal of my most recent passage through this journey.  I had just come out of hiding, a long 7 months in the inner most cave, reflecting on the past, anticipating my greatest fear come true.  I had emerged, trying my best to be in the world and find some new normal, while waiting for the moment the ordeal would begin.  And then it came, a letter from a lawyer that had me questioning everything I am.  And though I thought I had lost everything already, I discovered how much more I had to lose.  My career, the man I loved, my good name, so much money, my truth, friends, the ideas I had about the good in people and the world, and most of all, my own integrity.  Letters kept coming, and more and more I felt the call to die.  The harder I fought or resisted, the stronger the call to let go became.  Being in this existence was too difficult and hardly felt worth it.  Huge powerful monsters seemed to circle around me everywhere I turned, and all I wanted to do is surrender to them, lie down and have them do their work of taking me away. 

Remarkably, much to my surprise, again and again, I would hear the whisper of those who came before me, the mentors and allys that encouraged me on. In those words, bit by bit, I began to uncover and discover what they were seeing in me.  A spark that became a flame, a flame that became a fire, and a fire that lite up the world for me.

When facing those monsters that felt far more powerful than me (at least in societal terms, of money, recognition, and prestige), I meet failure and defeat over and over again.  I let die so many parts of me, one after another, and though I wished life would be over many times, I lived on into the uncovering of the greatest gifts within me, and they were hungry for life!

In the aftermath of the ordeal, I did, without a doubt, give birth to a new me.  I found that I had just experienced the greatest initiation of life.  I discovered a mature purpose, what I am meant to do in this life, how to meet conflict, ways to define what I need in relationship, how to speak and know my truth.  I came to navigate a more realistic world that demands all of me to show up.  It asks me to release shame, and accurately define my values. 

When I was young, I always hated when adults would ask me what my values were.  I could easily rattle off words, but I struggled with connecting to what those words as values meant to me.  It felt like a meaningless activity.  But after the ordeal, I know my values as they live in the marrow of my bones, in the blood vessels of my veins, and deep in the gut of my soul. 

The most significant of all value for me is Integrity. The quality of having strength in who I am and what I know, and feeling whole in this as it guides my actions in the world, not be swayed by others or situations. I am who I am, intentionally, purposefully, resolutely.  And the Ordeal, alongside rites-of-passage practices have brought me here.

Come join Oaks Counsel, to know the Ordeal in your story, or to meet it fully.  Check out our various programs and offerings, and particularly the Day Quest on March 25th, with a focus on the Hero’s Journey.

The Adolescents and Goliath

The Adolescents and Goliath by Michelle Katz

I am reminded of the story of David and Goliath this week as I watch young teens do what adults have not been able to do for the many years we have been fighting this battle.

The legend is inspiring and heartwarming. 

The scene is set during a time of war and turmoil between two opposing sides.  They are at a standstill on the frontlines, a valley between them, and the Giant named Goliath, stimulating fear of movement.  The giant calls for a one-on-one battle, though the conditions are clearly in his favor, being the giant he is, and armed well with rich armor and weapons.  Young David, on the other hand, was simply a youth who came to the frontlines to bring his father and brothers food and assurances.  Otherwise, he mostly did as he was told back on his father’s land, tending to sheep.  But in a certain moment, this young man, felt something bigger than himself rise up, something that moved him toward actions that are beyond what the world saw of him.  And though scolded and ridiculed by his family and neighbors for his beliefs and thoughts, David fought for his need to speak out and stand up to this giant. Once he was heard by the King, though he continued to be questioned for his youthfulness, the King decided to arm him with fine armor to prepare him for the battle of purpose that was clearly in his heart.  David, however, refused the armor, knowing what he was capable of in himself, holding his story of his own small but significant battles of the past, all to prepare him for this greater ordeal in order to serve his people.

And so the young boy, went to meet the great giant on the battlefield.   And with stone and slingshot, shot the giant right between the eyes, causing him to fall face down on the ground.  The giant had been defeated, by the most unlikely of characters, in the most unlikely of ways.  And a hero was made, in himself, for his people and in the eternally lasting legend. 

This is the story of our time.  I continue to be in awe of the adolescents in the story of the recent Florida school shooting.  I see these young, knowing, and strong individuals, in their own right (not with money or political status or arms), take on the giant that left so many of us just standing on the frontline and not moving forward. 

The NRA and those in favor of gun-control have been facing each other in battle for a long time now.  The NRA, has been a giant in this standstill, with it’s big funding capabilities, particularly of politicians, plus it’s organizational skills and support from various huge stakeholders.  This is truly a giant to take on! Meanwhile, the adolescents have emerged from the crowd calling out for gun-control, no longer willing to stay in the place the adults have them tending.  Rising up to meet the call, knowing what they know, makes them larger than their exterior or their expected role in our society.  Being ridiculed and criticized, won’t stop them, they face that on a daily basis.  They know that the disapproval of others means they are offering something substantial and essential toward the changing of the way of things.  And they will refuse to be anything other than themselves in the face of the giant. Their being is all they need to be armed with, no guns or fine armor needed, just slinging their messenger bags, carrying the words that land as rocks on Giant’s sweet spot of vulnerability.   

This is the wisdom of the age of teens, this is the calling for change, this is the rite of passage of youth into adulthood, but also the passage of our nation into civilization led by these youth. These young individuals have been stripped of so much, friends once cherished are now gone from this earth, a life and place of safety is now unsafe. These adolescents know that life can and will never be the same.  A severance has occurred, and they are being ask to step into their lives more fully than ever before. We have seen many students, teachers and parents fall into grief after the vast number of shootings in our country, the grief has looked many ways, but never like this! This story of grief has led to a story of purpose, in service of the greater whole.  These young individuals have found what their gifts are and they know they have to bring it forward to the world in order for our world to grow and change.  They are the Davids fighting the Goliath of our time, while we watch in awe.  It is an inspiring story indeed.

What is your inspiring story?  Step into your rite of passage, and learn the gifts you bring to this world with Oaks Counsel.  Join us for our next Day Quest on March 25th or check out various other programs.

Hero’s Journey and Learning to Trust: Tests, Allies, Enemies and to the Inner Most Cave

Hero’s Journey and Learning to Trust:
Tests, Allies, Enemies and to the Inner Most Cave
by Michelle Katz

When I was a teenager and young adult, my parents often told me, “You trust too easily and too much.”  This has always been something I was proud of, I believed it to be a strength of mine to see the best in people.  My parents’ fear, of course, is that, though this is a beautiful quality, it could also contribute to some difficulties.  This trusting shifted significantly when I crossed the first threshold on my Hero’s Journey.

In the initial entering of this special world, I learned about the new rules soon after crossing the Threshold.  On my journey, I found Enemies and Allies and faced the Tests to discover who falls in which category, including the enemy and ally parts of myself. This is certainly a different place.  I knew that I could not be and act as I did before that threshold crossing. I had to let go of all the ways I knew to be in the world and find the Allies that I trusted to help me reach my goal.  And more than ever, the rivals showed up, seemingly larger than life, and fighting me against my dreams and helping me define how much the dream wished to become a reality.

In this place, I learned that I cannot automatically trust everyone I meet.  Life requires us to find people we can truly trust, not shallow easy trust, but deep substantial trust, which is necessary for survival through such a journey.  Most shockingly, is losing trust with those I had once trusted wholeheartedly, be it with the long-term partner who does something heartbreakingly unexpected or the best friend that shared your deepest secret with another, or a family member that changes his mind on something you were depending on, it is a change that is hard to jump back from.  This was a very difficult learning for me, situations left me feeling betrayed frequently.  My easy trusting nature died in this process of passage.  A big learning and growing experience.  Trust is earned, relationships are tested, and true friends are formed as much as foes are exposed.

As I entered the Special World, everything was new!  It was as equally exciting as it was challenging and all together eye opening.  My heart was open and while I felt mostly alone.  I was hungry for connection. It was easy to find it with nature and my dog, though everyone else around me felt like strangers.  Strangers I felt I had to connect with in order to survive. After all we are social beings, but I also heard stories of those who came before, one who took his life when not being accepted.  It was the first time in my life I tried to “fit in”.  This was not my way, and I found myself hurt again and again.  I was too new in this world and the tests were painful to my being. Once thought of Allies, quickly became scary dragons that questioned my ability and life goals.

It was the first time I ever got sick enough to be hospitalized and needed help from others.  It was the first time, I left a job on bad terms, going into quit but feeling like I was getting fired.  The first time I felt I failed, the first I found myself feeling pessimistic and doubtful about myself and the world around me.  The first time I felt I abandoned myself in order to survive.  I got smaller and smaller when I was actually being tested to get bigger and bigger.  It was the first time I felt racism and historical trauma to the core of my being.  The first time in my life my dreams become more informative than my waking life.  The first time that my best friends were the hills rather than the people I saw on a regular basis. The first time my strength was questioned by a continual meeting of limitations, to reveal my genuine strength is in my vulnerability.  Mostly, this was a rich time in asking “Who am I?” and “what is my gift to this world?”

I am, to this day, amazed at the ability I had to find hope in these desperate and heartbreaking moments.  I turned to friends from far away, I recalled the words of mentors, and I traveled far for the wisdom I needed from Allies.  Things continued to spiral, and more and more I was tested.  Sometimes, I really failed those tests.  And the only way I found comfort was in acceptance of the land and the mountains.  Every time I faced a test, I sought more training from my mentors, more support from my allies, more clarity around my enemies. In every test, I kicked and screamed, I tried to make sense of it all, sometimes I felt utterly defeated, other times, I discovered the hero qualities inside of me.  And then, I arrived at the Inner Most Cave. 

In the retreat of my cave, my quiet alone time, I created plans, reviewed the tests, thought of who I am and what I am capable of by simply being me.  I felt the anticipation of my greatest fear.  And I sat alone in the dark cave for as long as it took.  I felt humbled in this staying still.  There is great learning in this being, rather than doing, state.  I survived the initial hardship, and I needed time to reflect, to feel into my human nature and feel myself in this new world as a new being. My commitment to life was strengthened in this time.  I was rallying, gathering, and readying myself for the Ordeal to come.

What tests have you faced or are you facing today? What was your journey toward understanding and knowing your Allies and Enemies? What did you learn or how did you feel during the time in cave?  Did you resist it or find joy in it?  How did you come to discover answers and strengths?  Join Oaks Counsel for our next Day Quest on March 25th focused on the Hero's Journey, to explore these questions.

A Hero’s Journey: Meeting the Mentor and Crossing the Threshold

A Hero’s Journey: Meeting the Mentor and Crossing the Threshold by Michelle Katz

It’s dawn, and I am awoken by the soft quiet stirring of living beings and the crack of light on my face.  This is a morning of no dawdling, I wiggle out of my sleeping back, and collect my limited belongings of the night to stuff them into my pack.  I hoist my pack on, with the few belonging I need, knowing everything else I really need, I will meet out there. And with haste, I walk toward the line.

It is in this moment when the speed of the moments before falls away, and everything seems to stop, the world seems to simultaneous standstill and change into the unrecognizable. It is the moment of knowing that nothing will ever be the same.  And yet, there is a desire to stay in the make-believe that it just might if I lingering for just a moment longer.  But something makes me take the step forward across the threshold and I am not able to turn back. 

There are many moment of change when we realize the world we knew no longer exists and we must learn to live in a new way: the moment we recognize our own power or efficacy, the moment we fall in love, the moment of becoming a parent, the moment we get the job we really wanted and the moment we lose it somehow, the moment of betrayal or loss of innocence, the moment we lose trust in someone we once trusted dearly, or the moment we realize our body will not allow us to live as we previously did and we need to manage it for the rest of our lives.  These are big pivotal moments that invite us to grow or step into our experience of living soulfully.

The Threshold Crossing of a Hero’s Journey, is about this pivotal moment. And it is coupled with the Meeting of a Mentor.  This Mentor is a guide, protector or magical helper, a seasoned traveler to the other world on the other side of the crossing. A being that offers knowledge, confidence and advice to aid the journeyer. 

I reflect on my Hero’s Journey, of meeting my mentors and guides, and crossing the threshold myself.  I recall the wisdom of those that revealed themselves to me:  The wilderness guide that taught me what to do out on the land by myself for 4 days and nights to mark the end of the life I once led, and when I came back from the fast, she warned me that my incorporation would not be what I expected.  (She could not have been more right.) The coyote that told me that the world is not as it seems to you in this moment as it lured me to a certain type of death. The woodpecker that kept/and still keeps showing up at the most opportune times to let me know it’s time to move to the beat of my own drum in order to find my sustenance.  The Jungian therapist that helped me see into my own psyche/soul in my dreams and writings.  The clinical supervisor that stood by me through thick and thin when I felt I was not worthy of her kindness.  The lawyer with long tales that teach lessons of perspective.  The dog that asked me to keep going when I wanted to give up.  The family that saw me, when I had fallen to my knees and could not see myself in the darkness, who nourished me back into confidence.  The Rites-of-Passage Facilitator who's words I can hear always, that I am living the work I am truly meant to do in the world. These incredible mentors helped move me toward the Threshold Crossing of my journey, and their words have echoed in me across the duration of the journey. 

If I take one more step, it will be the farthest away from home I’ve ever been.
— Samwise Gamgee, Lord of the Rings

When the moment of my departure from the Ordinary World came, though I may have gathered all I may need, the other side is wild and unknown, and it is seemingly impossible to feel ready.  The pause, before the crossing, is one of the most potent moments in life.  The innocence of wanting to stay in the known is sweet and endearing, and the dangers and uncertainty ahead is daunting but impossible to avoid and there is something enticing in it all.  For me, the most incredibly element of this significant crossing, is that we cannot truly cross unless we are ready, unless we have somehow proven ourselves worthy of that passage.  A life has been lived and knowledge has been gained in ways that can lead us through the challenges to come.  I was ready, the time came, and I was never the same after I took that essential step.

Who are your mentors?  What is your threshold crossing story?  What knowledge have you gained and how did you prove it to the guardians of the Unknown World?  Whether you have or have not ventured there yet, share in the journey, or the story of it, with Oaks Counsel.  Join us for our Hero's Journey Day Quest on March 25th to cross the threshold.

A Hero’s Journey: The Call to Adventure

A Hero’s Journey: The Call to Adventure
by Michelle Katz

It has been a little over one year since I returned to Santa Fe after nearly 6 years of being on what I refer to as my epic Hero’s Journey.  As with all good journeys, my journey began far before the journey itself.  And as I currently sit in the place of the Return Home phase of my journey, I find myself often reflecting on that wild, uncertain, and overwhelmingly difficult time.  (Not that the Return Home seat is less challenging.)

Being back in Santa Fe, I am reminded of moments of a past life, the person I once was who feels like such a stranger to me now.  Many corners, streets, and mountain tops have memories lurking in the shadows and crevices of adobe, brick, and rock.  I morn, long for and laugh at the beautiful innocence and naiveté of that youthful woman I once was and how she lives in me now in such a different way.  I often conjure her up for a good conversation, hoping to mentor her as others have mentored me.

Often, I find myself in reflection of that ripe time right before the journey.  I recall the mission I felt I had in the education and work I was doing, getting my Masters in Counseling and running an education program for teens.  I recalled my ambitions, working with at-risk teens and different cultures and really making a difference in this world, only to one day have my own private practice.  I recalled believing I was taking all the right steps toward creating the life I wanted, I had a partner I was sure I was going to marry and have kids with, and we were both working toward our dream career.

Then, I recall moments of great knowing that I often ignored in order to continue on in this Ordinary World.  I remembered driving home from class one night, 9:30pm, and stopping at a stop sign close to my house, when an initiative wave hit me, something telling me, this relationship was not going to work out and it will not end well.  But I came home, greeted my partner and carried on as if it was nothing to trust, as there were no real issues in the relationship.  Then I recall my first wilderness quest, and my intention: freedom.  And I remember returning back from the quest, feeling freedom through the experience and work I did on the quest, but the only concrete action I took to feel this in my ordinary world was leaving my job in order to finish my education.  (Laughing at the word “finish” in terms of education.)  I declined the call to also experience the freedom of trauma, past and present, or the freedom of by personhood, of being, the freedom of the wilderness inside of me, or the freedom of the feminine, or the freedom of all ideas of what life is and could be. Nope, I simply left my job, and pressed forward in all other ways, business as usual. 

However, the most astonishing thing about a Wilderness Quest rites-of-passage is that if you carry on in the business-as-usual sort of way, the incorporation process ensures that you truly live into what you marked out on the land.  There is no way to escape your Hero’s Journey, once you have faced yourself in the wilderness.  After my first rite-of-passage quest, I saw that all the previous ways I would avoid the Call to Adventure, would no longer suffice.  I had to go. I had to meet the call. Once I acknowledged the end and beginning of something with time on the land and in council with my community, I could no longer hide from what was needed to grow me.

The call to adventure is the point in a person’s life when they are first given notice that everything is going to change, whether they know it or not.
— Joseph Campbell

It was in this time, that everything I wanted to avoid, I began to approach.  With so many questions and feelings of confusion, I moved forward and away to find truths.  I came to a big realization that the things that happened along the way, the things that had me falling to my knees day in and day out on this journey, was all about what I was really calling in, it just looked different than I had hoped.  And this is the process of initiation, the meeting of one’s self fully, in play, depth, gifts and spirit.  My Call to Adventure meant leaving Santa Fe and the life and friends I cherished, it meant ending a long-term relationship, it meant finding a way to meet my family as equals rather than the perpetual child they would believe me to be, it meant trying many different careers and being uncertain of what the dream life was.  It meant not being lied to by myself or others and how truths can define us, revealing our courage and our purpose.

So in summer of 2011, I believed that I was Returning Home, by moving back to Ohio, the place I grew up, returning for the first time in my adult life.  But truly, that move was finally accepting my Call to Adventure.  I left home, my true home, Santa Fe, and began my journey to realize the world and my life is not what I thought it would be.  Every step along the way, the journey revealed some big, heavy and important truth of this life and the world.  I crossed the threshold into the unknown and I am forever changed for it.

Over the next few weeks, I will continue to explore and share my Hero’s Journey over the last 7 years, from this initial Threshold Crossing, to the Great Abyss and The Ordeal, all the way to the Return Home this past year, being back in Santa Fe. 

Are you being called?  Do you refuse the call?  What has or will bring you to the threshold? Come explore your Hero’s Journey with Oaks Counsel for our next Day Quest, on March 25th, learn more about this journey and how it lives in you.

Letting go of Anxiety, Stepping into Integrity

monks and a woman.jpg
Letting go of Anxiety, Stepping into Integrity
by Michelle Katz

The Zen story of the Heavy Load was incredibly relevant to me this week. This is the story of two traveling monks reaching a town where there was a young woman waiting to cross the deep puddles she couldn’t step across. She was very cross, impatient and scolded her attendants. The younger monk said nothing and walked by. The older monk picked up the woman and transported her across the water and put her down on the other side.  She then shoved the monk away and departed.  The two monks traveled on.  The young monk, brooding and preoccupied, couldn’t contain himself any long and asked about the older monk’s actions to pick up and carry the rude woman.  The older monk replied, “I set the woman down hours ago, why are you still carrying her?”

This week, I found myself in this story, wondering how my counterpart continues to carry a load that I thought was let go of several times. 

The holding on to thoughts and ideas, is deeply related to our human tendency toward anxiety, including perseverating thoughts, excessive doing, compulsive behaviors, general unease and mental distress.  However, anxiety has many healthy elements to it as well, including preparedness, motivation, thinking ahead, responding well in difficult situations, careful decision making, and empathy.  Anxiety is certainly an epidemic in this culture.  But it is also part of our human nature.  The question is, how do we be with anxiety?  Do we carrying it endlessly or use it to inform more of who we are in this world?

When anxious we can lose our sense of connection to ourselves and the greater whole.  Think about times of stress in your life and how difficult relating to others can be during these times.  Kira Newman, write about how stress can leave us feeling isolated and ignored, in her article on the study of stress in couples.  She writes how empathy decreases, and more and more we can find ourselves alone.  

This week, as my counterpart carried a past minor situation with tenacity, I eventually found myself anxious.  For me, it first manifested in protective doing, putting things in order, harvesting and preparing for the winter storm: I called on my allies, I got paperwork together, I collected my information and presented my hard proof.  The verdict was in my favor and I was able to let it go, but my counterpart kept carrying the heavy load.  I, then, called on more allies and pulled out from my anxiety toolkit, things that help me connect: exercise, nature walks, yoga and Metta meditation (wishing the woman happiness, health, peace, love, and freedom from suffering.)  And again the verdict was in my favor, I released the load.  But she kept carrying it.  When I thought it was done, my counterpart took even greater action, and I noticed my lack of sleep and eating making their way on the scene, revealing my anxiety in full force, coupled with the perseverating thoughts and the desire to be alone to cope, then I remembered one of my favorite David Whyte Poems:

Everything is Waiting for You
Your great mistake is to act the drama 
as if you were alone. As if life 
were a progressive and cunning crime 
with no witness to the tiny hidden 
transgressions. To feel abandoned is to deny 
the intimacy of your surroundings. Surely, 
even you, at times, have felt the grand array;
the swelling presence, and the chorus, crowding 
out your solo voice. You must note 
the way the soap dish enables you, 
or the window latch grants you freedom. 
Alertness is the hidden discipline of familiarity. 
The stairs are your mentor of things 
to come, the doors have always been there 
to frighten you and invite you, 
and the tiny speaker in the phone 
is your dream-ladder to divinity.
Put down the weight of your aloneness and ease into the 
conversation. The kettle is singing 
even as it pours you a drink, the cooking pots 
have left their arrogant aloofness and 
seen the good in you at last. All the birds 
and creatures of the world are unutterably 
themselves. Everything is waiting for you.

My practice of rites of passage and nature-based healing became my greatest ally in the face of all this.  Rites of passage teaches me the practice of letting go and stepping in fully.  This is not something I only do on the mountain top in times of great transition, this is a daily practice. I will not carry the woman across the river forever, because daily I find ways to let go of what no longer serves me and step into purposeful being and action.  As an initiated woman, I can respond to difficult moments (moments that stimulate anxiety) with integrity, with honest knowing of all parts of my nature. I found myself taking great leadership, making sound decisions and having purposeful foresight.

The nature-based healing practice guided me in my process as well, for in this practice, I have a knowing of being related to all living beings.  In our manic culture, I see humanity easily loose the ability to see how the tree and we are related, the spider and us share a similarity, our life and a dog’s life are the same.  This is empathy in it's greatest form, as it translates to all living beings and helps us see how all living things are related.  We are not distant or separate from the nature in all beings.  It is in this practice that I can drop the idea of seeing humans as different or more superior than any other living being, it is here where I know great connection and that I am never alone.  And in times of anxiety (the exaggerated North Shield) I can find my gifts, continually revealed to me in a life giving way and in a way that nurtures community and connects me to the world.

Do you feel anxious and alone?  Are you caring a heavy load you want to let go of?  Do you know your connection to the nature of all things?  Join Oaks Counsel to connect to your world and your purpose, so you can respond with your integrity in challenging times.  Check out our programs and nature-based healing offerings.

Fear, Shame and the Two Wolves

Fear, Shame and the Two Wolves
by Michelle Katz

This week I have been sitting with questions about acting from fear.  On the microcosm, this has been part of a personal experience this week, but as within so without, I find fear is clearly a theme in the macrocosm of the world in this time. 

I am sitting in the asking of what makes us act from fear, rather than love? And what are the repercussion of acting from this place? What is a way to experience something differently? Is our experience of fear a truthful and honest reflection of ourselves?  And if not, what is?

As with all questions, I took this out on a walk. And wanting so much for my daily route to be just slightly different, I took the higher ground rather than finding myself in the arroyo on my usually trail.  Something new, different and a little more exposing, all which can stimulate fear.  Then, I saw two birds, a Blue Jay and a Woodpecker.  I watched for many minutes as they did this dance of taking turns on the tree, in awe of their synchronicity with each other and their movement for getting the food they wished to obtain.  And then in a wildly primal natural moment the Blue Jay came into the Woodpecker’s space and they had in a quick moment, full of fear and aggression. The tension and reaction was felt in all us living beings. Both birds then flew away and did not return.    

Fear is a very natural experience.  And it comes hand in hand with aggression.  When fear is felt, aggression follows and vis-versa.  I think about a very human experience of being in a car and almost getting in an accident; the passenger, in fear, may scream out, and the driver in turn may get angry (mostly, at the sense of shame/inadequacy, that that individual is not providing safety for the passenger).  Dr. Steven Stosny speaks to the fear-shame dynamic particularly in heterosexual couples (if that doesn’t apply to you, read this article holding the concept of the masculine and feminine relationship in each of us.) He speaks of how fear is connected to shame and inadequacy, continuing the cycle of fear, aggression, shame, blame.  I also think of this in relation to mothers and children of all social-emotional species, when their child is in fear, a mother can respond in aggression, sometimes at the child, and certainly at the object of the fear.  This is all a primal dynamic in social animals, this is part of the human nature experience.

The greatest possible response in these moments, is to be with the fear, authentically. Come to understand that it is bringing up our fallibility and vulnerability, bringing up our utter humanity. And our utter humanity brings up shame, because we are not falling into the cultural, religious or perfectionist ideas of self.  I wonder what it would be like if we accessed our capacity to have mature impulses of projective behavior?  This would be an indication of an initiated individual.  By not stepping into aggression but by surrendering to our vulnerable humanity.

This week, I experienced lots of fear, and I feel it’s ties to shame and feelings of inadequacy.  Both tangled up like roots inside me.  And I see others around me responding aggressively and unforgivingly.  (Even though, at my core, I knew I had and was acting in complete integrity.) This experience, led me to recall a moment in my past, where fear and shame took me, and in the practice of a wilderness quest, I was called to my next initiation. I was in need of a breakthrough experience, a contained encounter with death, something needed to change, and I needed to severe from my old identity, rediscover a new senses of Self, and be held in it all.  After sharing my story with utter honesty, my guide, lovingly said to me, “I know you feel shame, but what is your truth in this story, if you take away all the people and their ideas, all the aggressive legalities and systems and institutions, what is your truth in this?”  My reply came out of me without hesitation but to my own shock, “Love and connection.”  This is when I realized something essential about who I am, especially when experiencing fear.  I tend to go toward it, tend to want to explore what scares me most, tend to want to face it, rather than move away or create distance from it.  My value is connection.

In the macrocosm, we see so much fear happening in our political, environmental and social systems. Most notably, the fear of “other” and the fear of death.  The response is aggression and shaming.  Violence can be seen in every corner in the fight of changing fear-based religious discrimination, racism, sexism, and all the other –isms.  Additionally, environmental impacts and actions from both humans and earth are also proving aggressive, from more drilling to massive mudslides.  And the call is for a truthful and honest consciousness, an authentic understanding that: I am that, and that is me, be it another person, animal or tree.  With this, maybe we can find our way to knowing our true human nature?

The Cherokee Story of The Two Wolves, comes to mind. In this story, the grandfather explains to his grandson who came to him in anger at a friend.  And the grandfather explains that there are 2 wolves inside us, one that lives in harmony with all things, and one that is full of anger. He explains these wolfs in detail and how they both try to dominate. The boy asks his grandfather, “who wins?”  And the grandfather replies: “The one I feed.”

The greatest healing in moments of fear and shame is to find a way to relate to it, and to find love and compassion, to find our deep humanity and vulnerability, and connection to community and the world that hold us.  These truly are moments of initiation into a more mature Self, toward living more fully into who we are.

What do you in moments of fear and shame?  Which wolf do you feed?  Discover yourself and heal Shame in the practice of Council and Nature Based Healing with Oaks Counsel.