I write this from Boone, North Carolina; I moved here yesterday to begin a master’s degree in expressive arts therapy. The air here is cool, with that slight edge that whispers of coming autumn, lightly scented with apples and woodsmoke. The mountain roads are lined with echinacea and blackberry.
Walking on the street this morning I came across two women bent over the carcass of a goldfinch that had flown into a window. They invited me to help them with a ceremony, and together we placed the tiny body in the grasses and wished its spirit well. From my medicine bag I took some acorns harvested from the tree we camped beneath at the elements gathering and placed them by its side. I thought of how the things we see reflect our inner questions. I listened for this tiny bird’s message: pay attention. move slowly. don’t fly full-bore into walls.
I remembered when I was eighteen, studying permaculture and ecopsychology at the Findhorn community in Scotland. Each morning I walked the gorse-lined dunes to the soft shoreline of the Firth. One stormy day I came upon the carcass of a bird washed up among the driftwood. That afternoon I sat down and wrote this song.
The next summer two friends and I hitchhiked and walked through British Columbia and the Queen Charlotte islands. We ended up deep in the beautiful wilds of Kunghit Island, staying with wonderful Susan, Heron, and Reuben at Rose Harbor. We played and sang the song to all who came through. One of those people, Peter, was a kayak guide; several years later I ran into him up in Oregon while I was getting my permaculture certification. He remembered me by this song. Life works like that, long invisible lines that connect seemingly separate events and people. When I pay attention it both overwhelms and enchants me.
While I was in California a few weeks ago, the friend I was staying with invited me to participate in a fire vigil. In order to partake in the ritual I would be required to go without food or water from sunrise to sunrise. I would stay awake unspeaking by the fire until two in the morning, then sleep beside it until sunrise without allowing it to go out. I happened to be attending Kyle Cease’s weekend event at the same time, and the prospect of going without food, water, and sleep worried me. I know my body: lack of sleep is my Achilles’ heel. Often I can compensate for lack of sleep with extra food or vice versa, but to go without both was daunting. And I had never attempted to go without water. My body is a water-metabolizing-beast. How would I sustain myself?
But I have been cultivating a discipline lately of saying yes. So many wonderful things have come about through this simple discipline (many posts to come on this!) so I checked in—when I thought of the fire vigil did I feel heavy or light? Was it in my pleasure to do this vigil? The answer was a clear yes.
So I fasted all that hot Friday, unwisely taking a sweaty yoga class and inadvertently missing my bus to the seminar and walking seven miles in the sun. By sunset I was desperate for water, obsessed with the thought of it, unable to sustain any other thought or sensation than that of my thirst. We gathered around the fire as the sun went down, offering copal and tobacco and wood and cacao, circling the fire, listening. Those of us who had fasted sat in vigil until two. I listened.
What came to me from the fire was constant motion, motion and joy. I could not stop moving. Sitting there, first my ribs and then my head and then my hips circled, drawing the motion of the fire in and through my body. I stretched and bent and danced and balanced, some part of me dimly hoping I wasn’t flaunting custom, the rest of me vibrant and full. Joy, joy, joy, joy, joy. I no longer felt thirsty or sleepy.
In the morning I offered one more stick of wood and circled the fire, thanking it. I had learned something: there are so many forms of nourishment. They exist in overlapping constancy, ready to sustain us. Food, yes, and water, and sleep. But also spirit. Also love. And also, joy.
It nourishes me to be here, in the cool air, learning exactly the things I want to be learning. I am nourished by the life of that tiny goldfinch, by the women that stopped to honor it, by the adventures and friendships that have sustained me in the past. I am nourished by writing. I am nourished by these patterns in my life, these invisible connecting lines of experience.
I know this one: I will move slowly, and pay attention, and not fly headfirst into walls. I will allow joy to nourish me, and I will nourish others with my joy.