In Bill Plotkin’s book, Soulcraft, he talks about the struggle of our society to mature.
Indigenous peoples go through the initiation of a vision quest—the process of getting lost, then found again.
We’ve lost that in many cultures. We’ve lost the rite of passage as a part of our personal maturation. And with that, we feel quite lost.
We’ve lost what it feels like to accept ourselves, be at home within ourselves, be at home within our world, and to be in deep relationship, respectfulness, and appreciation with the home that Mother Earth herself offers. To many, home is the bed you sleep in, not the foundation of earth and soil that your humble abode rests on. I am by no means denying the needs of food and shelter, I’m just saying that the earth underneath us supports our walk on this planet.
We have our vices and addictions that get us by and get us through when we don’t want to be in relationship with the world around us because it is too painful, or it pushes our buttons, or we have to step out of our comfort zone and do something that feels vulnerable and uncomfortable. Our vices help us deal. They help us cope when the world doesn’t feel like home. We have our vices that numb us out, rather than resourcing us to the gifts of our natural world that support us. These gifts, when we’re resourced, remind us that we’re not as alone in this whole “life thing” as it sometimes feels like.
As a sensitive, stress-prone, anxiety-prone, young working professional, this feeling is no secret to me. It’s a feeling of associating home with the material sense, rather than the support of the planet. It’s a feeling of focusing on home as the physical structure rather than the right to walk on the terrain of Mother Earth.
Yoga is one key way I manage my stress and my relationship to being on this planet. The Earth Ways Yoga practice has been a pivotal practice in my own world for the last three years in coping with depression, anxiety, deep grief, and feelings of uprootedness. I go to yoga to soothe myself and be in sacred space with my own emotions, working on my relationship to myself so I can better relate to the world. I go to yoga to work with and through the insecurities and feelings that I experience. The teachings are something that at this point can’t not be a part of my life. It means everything to me—it’s a huge part of how I identify with myself and the world.
My yoga practice brings me back a little bit of ground and balance in my world through the process of clearing emotion. Earth Ways Yoga works with three layers of wisdoms: Yoga, Nature Ways, and 5 Element Acupuncture. Earth Ways Yoga is a process of relating to Mother Nature in support, relationship, and balance with our own walk in the world, and interweaving this relationship to the natural world into the meditation of yoga asana.
In February 2017, I enrolled in the first ever Earth Ways Yoga Teacher Training with the blaring billboard sign only visible to me reading, “Do this and progress your healing, your relationship to yourself, and your ability to be a better, kinder human in the world.”
I am probably as busy as anyone out there, and when the notion that we had to complete a service project as part of the teacher’s training was presented, all I could think about was how in the heck was I ever going to find 24 hours to be outside. All that was on my mind was I’m simply too busy and couldn’t be hassled to carve out the time for service.
Reality Check: Who am I to say I’m too busy for Mother Nature?
It’s because of my time on this planet, walking this Earth, that I can do the healing work I get to do, practice yoga as a meditative art, rock climb, eat, drink water, be a part of my community, and simply breathe.
So with my great humbled awakening, I went to my first component of the service project back in March, eager and open-minded to something (I wasn’t sure what to be honest). I went in with the idea of turning off my phone, listening for the what and the why, and being with the land.
Truly, when we listen, it’s amazing. We see that we are not unlike Mother Nature and that there’s a reason why we strive for a relationship of equitable exchange with the land we walk on. In being more attentive to listening to the land, we can be more attentive in listening to our own needs and how we relate to asking and receiving support from humans and non-humans alike, and to supporting others in their time of need when we are able to give.
I was lucky enough to explore different projects to fulfill the service component of my training. For the first part of my project, I spent time volunteering at the Willow Farm Contemplative Center. Willow Farm is the land that has supported my six-month teacher’s training journey in community with my classmates. The farm offers the support of a vast and majestic willow tree and a menagerie of farm animals. I spent a springtime afternoon tending to the soil, raking, and weeding noxious weeds. It was a day spent unfurling the layers of winter that had settled on the farm.
I completed a chunk of my hours volunteering on the property of my friend and rock climbing partner. My rock climbing partner lives down the road from me and has a plot of land that overlooks the plains of Boulder. Her zoning restrictions ask for compliance with mitigating fire risk in an area that knows fire’s devastation too well. These days volunteering on my friend’s property were something I looked forward to. Working on her grounds became meditative—truly. Some days, the best medicine is to have the sun shining on your face. What I didn’t expect to walk away with was a deeper understand of weeds and working with them in relationship to fire mitigation. Humans have named weeds as invaders. Dandelions aren’t so bad. Not all invaders are as bad as we make them out to be. In this experience, I learned how vital it is to avoid natural disaster (fire) by working in relationship with the land to maintain the equilibrium of the ecosystem we live in, and to not be over-zealous in working with the land for the sake of a tender, balanced equilibrium.
On Earth Day, I volunteered for Pangea Organics’ Earth Day Tree Planting. I spent the day up in Boulder’s Sunshine Canyon planting tender Juniper, Pine, Spruce, and Evergreen seedlings on land that had been devastated by a wildfire several years back. I learned about the value of the seedlings I was planting to avoid future fire danger through reforestation.
In May, I helped build a labyrinth at Willow Farm. A labyrinth follows a meditative path that allows us the opportunity to deepen into the twists and turns of our life. The metaphor of the labyrinth is there is a always a solution at the end of the path. There’s always a light at the end of the tunnel. I participated in collecting the mulch to lay the foundation and dispersing the mulch over the surface, tending to the mulch, laying the rock circuits, and blessing the completion of the labyrinth in sacred ceremony. The mulch used for the project was free from the City of Longmont. As such, we received a “mixed bag”. I found a McDonald’s toy, an old windshield wiper, and too many cigarettes to count in our mulch. We are the guardians of our planet. We all have to give a care, because this trash found amongst the mulch is the evidence of the potential of human destruction.
I finished the final component of my project back at Willow Farm just after the Summer Solstice (exactly three months after my first volunteer day on the farm). It was an honor to witness the transformation that three-months’ time brought to the land—the plant life was more vibrant, the farm animals were older, there were new baby animals, and the farm’s vegetable garden was flourishing. I focused my efforts that afternoon on maintaining the labyrinth I helped to create.
A bird’s eye view into the Earth Ways Yoga Service Project:
Part of the Earth Ways Yoga Teacher Training is an environmental service project. Today these lovely ladies finished off a composting toilet for the Willlow Farm Contemplative Center, the beautiful land where we’ve been lucky to be supported by for this experience together. We also worked on maintaining the labyrinth built in May in part by EWY teacher trainings.
A post shared by Earth Ways Yoga (@earthwaysyoga) on
My yoga teacher training ends at the conclusion of July. The emotions associated with this ending are high for me as this six-month journey has been life-changing (and I’m not exaggerating). It’s helped me in my own healing, as well as in the development of my authentic voice as a leader in this world. I know it’s incumbent upon me to advocate for the change the world needs. I am well aware of how dire it is that we work together to nurture the earth warriors and the guardians of our planet.
The service component of the training taught me a deeper appreciation and humbleness toward the ground I tread on. I’ve realized I get immense joy out of digging my hands in the soil, working outside in the elements, and gaining a deeper understanding of the role that humans play in the wider schema of our ecosystem. I know too much to not give a care. It’s incumbent on me to fulfill my responsibility to the land that supports me.
There’s a respectfulness with which we can make our commitments to Mother Earth. But scale it down—seriously. The woes of the world could knock us out and barrel us over tenfold if we carry it all on our shoulders. Think about what you can commit to on a daily or weekly basis that is doable, is feasible, and is fuel for your soul to be a better citizen on this planet. For me, doing my part on many days means that I can no longer walk by a piece of trash I see on a hiking trail. I know I need to pick it up. I want to pick it up. I understand too much now to let it go because it’s too dirty or too inconvenient.
During my time as a formal student of the Earth Ways Yoga practice, I’ve developed my own curiosity about the relationship of humans to nature, and nature to humans. Completing the service project deepened my curiosity. About one year ago I stumbled upon Bill Plotkin’s books. Plotkin wrote Soulcraft and Nature and the Human Soul. Both books touch on how the evolution of society has gotten us farther, and farther, and farther away from a deeper, reciprocal relationship with the planet that supports our existence. We’ve become so dependent on our manmade things that allow us to get to work and to eat. What would happen without our cars and our appliances? Without our computers and our phones? Without AC and heaters? We would be reliant on the resources of the land. Many of us might not know how to negotiate using these resources. Plotkin makes the point that our ancestors developed this resourcefulness through vision quest. They spent time on the land. They developed relationship with the natural world out of the necessity of their own survival. It was a rite of passage.
I humbly acknowledge that I am that Millennial who has a beginner’s mind about what it means to feel at home on the planet, in the natural world. I acknowledge how wildly distracted I’ve gotten along the way. It is my goal to be in support of and feel supported by the land I walk on because I acknowledge that I can’t help but have a duty to Earth Guardianship to support my own path in this body. And as I look toward the support of the planet, I’ve come to build a deeper relationship and the beginnings of trustfulness in the support of the planet as home. This is a lesson which working in relationship with the land offered to me—and I’m grateful for that!
Here More from Bill Plotkin (if you’re curious!):
Author: Caitlin Oriel
Copy Editor: Lieselle Davidson
Social Editor: Emily Bartran