After reading the last article I posted (Art & Soul), a friend remarked, “This is very different from the things you’ve written before.” I was a bit taken aback. To me, the development of my thoughts and insights proceeds in a very logical, understandable way. But maybe not for everyone. So this post tracks the thread I’ve been following for the past few years.
A couple of years ago, I returned from my wilderness solo in the Arizona desert with clear eyes and a clear sense of purpose. This was my Hero’s Journey. Everything I had done in my life had led me to this moment in Aravaipa Canyon. There, I faced my fears and put all the pain in my past to rest. I returned, ready to give heed to my soul’s calling and share my gifts with the world. (You can read more about this in my book, Passage of the Stork.)
I assumed, at the time, that this would form the inspiration to continue with my counseling practice and incorporate what I had learned about the ways that our deep connection with Nature can help us heal.
I had also become aware that our healing is not a goal in itself. It is a first step towards living in a way that contributes to the healing and well-being of all living creatures, even the tough job of healing the Earth of the wounds we’ve inflicted upon it.
As I explored new ways of putting this into practice, I became increasingly aware of people’s tendency to become dependent on spiritual healing practices. I wrote an article (A Peevish Post) on gurus, inspirational memes, and other spiritual bypasses, calling out for authenticity and the willingness to do the (often difficult and painful) work. And then move on towards a more meaningful life.
Gradually, I distanced myself from practices that seemed to keep people endlessly focused on their personal needs and development. With each step I took, I asked myself, Is this situation authentic? Am I acting authentically in this situation? Is this a means to an end or an end in itself?
At the same time, I found myself more and more drawn towards photography, writing, and art, and less involved with my counseling practice. A very wise, elderly man commented, “It sounds as though you’re being called to elderhood” It surprised and shocked me. My image of elderhood has always been that of a fading away. The loss of any meaningful contribution to the world. Images of the Grandmother, sharing her wisdom with the tribe, didn’t help. The modern counterparts I’ve witnessed invariably seem stuck in their own identity. Elderhood?? I’m just getting started!
One thing was clear: I needed to come to terms with my age, stage in life, and mortality. After doing a lot of reading, which helps water the garden but doesn’t really bring things to fruition, I finally started “letting the soft animal of your body love what it loves” (Mary Oliver). Which meant going out into nature, giving heed to the call to be creative, and not worrying about my counseling practice.
Of course, the voices in my head clamored for attention: How does this contribute to the world? Is this a means to an end or an end in itself? And so, last month, I spent a week with the ancient rocks and endless sea waves of the Hebrides, in dialogue with both the voices and the land. Once again, I returned with clear eyes and a sense of purpose. Soul-infused art is my path and my contribution at this stage of my life. And so I continue to write, narrating the truth as it comes to me. And I continue to take my camera out into nature, reflecting all the beauty I see back to the world.