The darkness holds me
As I dive into the landscape of the dream
The forest calls
Voices carried in the wind
Do you know us?
Have you loved us?
Will you try before we die?
Most of my life I have heard the whispers of the earth call in some way. To know me, to know my story is to understand that my journey of healing to the divine love has also been a path to the soul of the earth.
I have lived a life yearning for the intimate and visceral feeling of the earth’s love. My ancestors held a deep reverence for the earth and handed this down from generation to generation. As a young child I spend part of my summers with my grandparents who lived in the heart of the Adirondacks of NY, wilderness country, God’s country. I remember their backyard as a gateway to a mysterious land that I wanted to explore. My meme taught me to fish and be safe in the wild. My father taught me to shoot a rifle. But it was the time in the natural world that meant the most to me. Small trails along the forest became the path to a magical kingdom, butterflies taught me their language while the deep forest in the distance became an adventure to seek out treasures and meet beings from other lands. I felt safe, at home in this wilderness of place. There were no boundaries of self and the wild. This was my true nature and a glimpse into my soul.
And then at some point in those early years the veil was pulled over my eyes and the darkness yanked me into a world of trauma, a place where the memories of the wild were forgotten. During the coming years trauma created feelings that would replaced any sense of self that might have existed and fear became the motivating factor in all the decisions I made. And it was very clear that I was afraid to go in the woods and this fear carried into my adulthood.
It wasn’t until I found the courage to face my fear that the path to my soul and to her was revealed.
Morning comes too soon as she prepares her backpack for the coming journey. Rain has found its way to canyon country in October, a rare event. There is no escape from the wetness that soaked her to the bone adding a challenge she had not expected. But determination demanded that she step into the stone circle, the threshold of her commitment. Tears held back from embarrassment still find a way to release as the terror she has denied makes its way to the surface. Fear has been her guide and protector keeping her hidden from the world, from the earth and herself. And the grief that holds the knowing that she is separate from her true self and from the earth sits in the belly of the body stirring.
Here in this wet desert canyon she fights the call to retreat as the vision quest guide smudges her and sings a prayer of release. The sky opens up again with tears that drench her in the pain that has been her life. There is no healing in denial. She has spent a lifetime preparing for this moment as her nightly dreams beckon her to walk this path. She knows nothing can prepare you for leaving everything behind and going out into the wild to face your demons. The only comfort she carries is the knowledge that beyond this circle death calls to her old life and hope nourishes a new one. A feeling held true in her dreams that holds a promise in her waking life. She bows with gratitude to her guide and steps out of the circle and into the darkness that has been her life.
Fifteen years ago my dreams and the nudging of a therapist convinced me to go on my first vision fast, a time out in the wild fasting alone. This decision was born out of my struggle for relief from a shatter life of hopelessness and despair. But more realistically I suffered from the pain of a struggling relationship and a job that was unfulfilling. My dreams at the time had been nightmares of turmoil painted in the faces of the natural world. I didn’t understand them but I knew I needed to step out of my waking struggle and into an environment that was unfamiliar in the hope that my bardo state would be shaken free.
But what I didn’t realize at the time was that I needed more then a vision quest to touch the fear that had driven my life. I needed an on-going conversation with the soul of the earth, and the true me. It would take another 12 years of searching before my dreams would open the door to this place.
I recently had this dream
I go into the woods to check on something and come to a large brook that becomes a river. Across the river the woods move into darkness. I decide to cross the river and put wading boots on. The water comes up to my knees but I get across, the wading boots didn’t keep the water out. Then someone tells me (I don't see anyone) that they want to make a submarine for hunters to cross the river. I realize this would not be needed. The darkness of night starts to fill the landscape and I decide it is time to get home. In the distance I can hear a grizzly bear coming from across the river. I am afraid and don’t want the grizzly to attack me. Then I remember there are people are out in the woods and they can’t get back. They need someone to help them navigate the darkness. I have to help but that means I need to turn around and confront the bear. I am scared.
In the dream I go into the woods, which, is the landscape of my life. The story asks me to step into the water but I don’t want to get wet and yet I do. I find out the water will not harm me so I speak this truth to others. The dream challenges me to face my fear of the unknown by facing the grizzly bear. I don’t need to find the people I must dive into the darkness of the woods the next path in finding my true self. The dream knows I have this thing about helping people so it tricks me into facing my own unknown. This dream holds the layers of the story that can guide me to feeling into the fear that has kept me from my path to self. What if the dream was also talking to me about who I am in relation to the earth?
For 25 years my dreams have held a sacred place in my life. I have always known that they offered guidance. Yet I was never able to gain the insight that I now experience through Archetypal Dreamwork. Within the framework of Archetypal Dreamwork I have journey through the maze that is the battleground of my life to uncover the hidden beauty of who I am. The dreams have taken me to the deepest aspects of what has kept me from my true self. I have felt into the fear that has been a corner stone to my paralyzed life and have gained insight into the shadows that have ruled my behaviors. I am waking up not having realized I was asleep.
Yet an unexpected gift was discovered in this process. Hidden within the layers of the dream was what had been lost as a child and feared as an adult. It was the story of my relationship with the earth. She was also calling me to re-awaken to her, to my true nature.
As I have wandered the landscape of my dreams I have begun to ponder whether our dreams can show us the path to our true nature. Do our dreams hold the story of our ecological self and if they do can we work the dreams in a way that would open us to this self? Could we heal our grief that is so deeply connected to what is happening to the earth, thus opening our willingness to change our relationship with her? If we felt this love would we acknowledge and act on the responsibility we have to fight for her? For me I believe the answer is yes.
Ecopsychology an emerging field of study that bridges psychology and ecology believes that as a human species especially in western civilization we have lost our ecological connection that is directly weaved into our oneness with everything. We have become radically alienated from the natural world and at the same time blind to the value that it holds. Our desires and fears have driven us to take from the natural world at a rate that is now impacting our survival as a species. If you believe that our inner and outer worlds are connected this current ecological crisis also has a deep impact on our emotional, physical and spiritual well-being.
Yet in all of this there is hope. Ecopsychology offers us the tools to re-awaken that ecological self through engaging the earth again. And when we remember the love of the earth’s soul we change how we interact with her. There are many paths to this remembering and I believe working with my dreams can be one of those paths. And I am not talking about just seeing that the bear has come to visit me in the dreams. I am suggesting that as we are working the dreams in Archetypal Dreamwork as the way to the true self we are also working to open to the soul of nature that we have also forgotten.
How would that look you ask?
As I mentioned at the beginning of this piece I believe I lost my connection to the natural world at a very young age due to trauma, which caused fear to become my companion. As I have grown older this fear has intensified. In that fear is distrust, which has isolated me from people and the natural world. I am afraid of getting hurt everywhere. Examples of this fear as it relates to the natural world is being alone in the woods at night, certain species of animals such as snakes, just laying out on the grass outside or taking a walk in the woods alone. Increasingly I found it difficult to even sit on the porch for fear a spider would crawl up my leg. I have also experienced the grief inherent in the realization of what we have done to the earth.
You might ask the question, but you are a Druid how could you be afraid of the wild. I am a Druid because I don’t want to be afraid of the wild, because I have felt into that deep yearning to reconnect with what I had as a young child. I have spent the last half of my adulthood trying to remember the feeling of love from the earth. I have done everything from vision quests, to outdoor recreation and just spending time out side. In every case the fear embraced me with even my vigor. Then when I started Druid training I notice something about my dreams I hadn’t before. They were talking to me and then when I began Archetypal Dreamwork I got it.
There is a shifting dance that occurs in the dreams and it tells a story of who we are in the world. The dreams provide profound encounters that challenge me to see into my trauma, my shadow and where I can step in to discover who I am. When I look closely at those stories my relationship to the natural world becomes visible. I often experience the landscape of my dreams as the natural world. The actors are snakes, frogs, bears and trees, the stage the forest, oceans, and sky. The interplay could be set in a snowstorm, tornado, or landslide. The associations I have with these aspects of the dream reflect the intimacy of my life and how I interact with the wild.
I am sleeping a bed and wake up to find a snake wrapped around my leg. I reach down to slap it away but it bites me. I grab it, pull it off and throw it to the ground. I run out of the room.
For me the dreams become a mirror showing me my relationship to the fear I experience in the natural world. Through Archetypal Dreamwork the story’s interaction suggests that I feel into this fear to see what is associated with it. The snake is a true and real terror for me. So of course the snake comes in my dreams persistently trying to bite me. From a mystical perspective the snake is about the alchemy of self and in my life the alchemy of my relationship with snake. I have worked the snake in my Dreamwork through homework that asks me to feel into the bite, to welcome the bite, to welcome the snake in my life. As I have done this I have noticed a change in my waking relationship with snake. About 6 months ago I was walking along a path with my sister and we looked down to see a small garter snake. My sister knew my fear and asked me to pick up the snake. Usually I would say no and walk away, this time I leaned down and lightly caress the snake feeling its rough skin, my rough skin. This was a big for me. I believe the dreams and my work started healing my relationship to snake.
As I reflect on other places that I am afraid to be with the natural world I notices difference. I can go out in the darkness of the woods, I am lying on the grass and a few years ago I went for a hike by myself. The most profound of these changes that has been healed is my fear of dying. In each instance I can observe where the dreams have offered the path to see where the healing can lead.
What is most remarkable is that the dreams are now showing me the gifts the earth has to offer. I had this dream a few weeks ago and it continues to stay with me daily.
I am with my sister Theresa and she needs her medicine, which is part of a birch tree. We need to find the biggest birch tree around. She starts to feel sick so I hurry and drive down the road looking for a tree. We come to a house owned by some wealthy people and I see a huge birch tree. I mean the biggest ancient birch tree I have ever seen. We get out and Theresa goes up to the houses owner to ask permission to take some of the tree. I hang out with the tree, talking to it, connecting and I then realize I need to make a tree essence from this birch. Theresa comes out with the owner and starts to take a piece of the tree for her medicine. I whisper to the women I am a druid. She is interested. She is drinking a tan liquid. There is something important about what she is drinking to me. I want to taste it. I don't know what it is. I tell her that I know this tree and that it was involved in a great battle. I tell her the history of the tree. I tell her she is now connected to all of us and that this tree builds community.
In working the dreams I am healing my fear of the natural world enough so that something new has arisen. The earth along with the support of the archetypes show me the gift of knowing her more deeply, knowing the earths love. In the above dream I am shown the birch, the tree of new beginnings with the scars of all the battles she has survived, I have survived. The dream through my soul and the earths’ offer the tree of life and I can taste from her essence whenever I need healing.
I believe the dreams close the circle between awakening to my soul and to the soul of the earth. There is a braid that interlaces here weaving an opening to all the love the universe has to give. No matter who we are if we are receptive to stepping into the dream, to risk the pain of our lost ecological self, we can awaken to and heal that self. If we let ourselves feel the grief and pain of our impact on the earth as Joanna Macy speaks to, our relationship with the earth will heal and evolved. We will once again feel her love and take a path to reclaiming our role in acting on her behalf.
The dreams have guided me to understand my life and death, love and pain.
Maybe if I am lucky enough some day the dreams will teach me the language of the butterflies.