Jesse Wolf Hardin's Earth Magic
The Nature Retreat
Going to a wild and beautiful place on a nature retreat has
nothing to do with disengagement or escape.
It’s an opportunity to be restored to balance, and inspired to act.
It may take an hour or two to get there, or it could require
a day long plane ride. A car rental, a
burro ride into the Sierras, a boat trip to a remote island, a rugged jeep
ride, or a walk in that requires wading the same shallow river seven
times. Inevitably it will be somewhere
selected for its dramatic grip on the imagination and the senses, its powerful
natural setting or longtime association with ceremony and magic. Crashing ocean waves. A secluded forest grove. The stunning view from a mountain top
stupa. The embrace of an enchanted
canyon. The cherished holy places of
exotic traditions, or the colorful mesas where generation after generation of
Mogollon Indians held their ceremonies and prayed. Upon arrival a gong might ring, and a set of
bamboo gates swing open. Or perhaps it
is only the touch of the river water on one’s bared feet, and the call of the
eagle or raven that announce one has left behind the expected, the known, the
busy and rote, and entered into enchanted place and time.
A woman arrived here at this mountain sanctuary, just as I
started writing this. As she described
it, she started feeling a change even before her trip. The canyon she was coming to seemed strangely
familiar and stuck in her mind long before she wrote us. Her normal impeccable sense of linear time
dissolved on the trip, with a day seeming to fit into an hour, and an hour seemed
ever so long. Every step from the parking
area brought her more into her physical being and caring heart, self
consciousness and body issues receded, and she started to relax in ways that
allowed in the sweet sights, sounds and smells.
For thousands of years our kind has made conscious and deliberate
sojourns, and for far more than rest, no matter how restful such experiences
can be. The Buddhist goes on retreat to
deepen his or her practice, in a special place conducive to such aims. The Franciscan Friar retreats to a wilderness
abbey, to get further away from the distractions of the parish and power
struggles of the church, and closer to the experience and reality of god. The shaman leaves the comforts of the village
in order to contact the truths and forces that can help him in his work when he
gets back. The tribal Medicine Woman, or
the modern herbalist and healer, will take time out in the forest or desert
where she can herself be healed, fed and affirmed... and in this way, be better
able to heal and give to others. And
likewise, businesswomen, community activists and urban merchants often realize
that they can accomplish more of their goals in the long run, if they first
take some time out of their busy schedules to give to themselves.
It turns out that the woman visiting is struggling against
depression and burnout, after years as a grass roots conservation
activist. It had been hard for her to
always project a positive attitude, in the face of so many environmental
setbacks on projects she had spent years on.
This is her way of intimately touching in with the earth she’s so
selflessly served, and to receive its acknowledgment and gifts. But there is nobody who can’t benefit from a
temporary halt in the usual flow of obligations and events, a weekend or even
an entire month away from the day planner, the instant messenger, the nagging
phone. Away from personal habit and
rigid schedule, and into a dramatically different environment and pace. Away from the usual comforts that insulate us
from ecstatic connection, from exciting adventure and the sometimes challenging
elements, and in that way further into vibrant, spirit filled, sensate
experience. A nature retreat brings one
closer to the natural world that calms and heals, challenges and stirs,
empowers and instructs... and thus closer to one’s own inner nature, their
authentic feelings, needs, abilities, potentials, hopes and dreams.
Retreats need not be uncomfortable, but they are never about
convenience... anymore than love is, or art, children, fun and play, or one’s
valuable project or mission. The
retreats we host here at this mountain sanctuary are billed as primitive, which
is certainly true compared to the neighborhood spa or resort. They are nonetheless far from uncomfortable,
with visitors’ gear being four-wheeled in so that they can enjoy the short
riverside walk. Cabins feature a
riverside view overlooking beaver dams and a cottonwood forest, a wood stove
and antique gas range, solar powered lights and a big comfortable bed. Hot homemade feasts treat the belly, while
the volcanic cliffs and nearby ancient rock art lend a special feel. But there is still the inconvenience of no
television, thermostat or telephone. And
those who come have still gone to the trouble of adjusting their work
schedules, arranging for child care and transportation, telling friends they
will be unavailable, and temporarily suspending the million and one things that
they would normally be doing. Such
intention, effort and follow-through makes the retreat all the more powerful,
and its effects longer lasting.
Whatever the cost in getting there, or in projects delayed,
we pay a much higher price when we neglect to treat, tend and recharge
ourselves. Hypertension. Heart attacks. Premature aging. Disrupted sleep. Feelings of unease and dissatisfaction that
lead to ambivalence or despair. It can
help to take a single hour of the day, every day, and make it a set time for
focused, ritual engagement, for turning off the mental loops and consciously reinhabiting
our bodies, emotions, and spirit. For
sensing ourselves in connection to all that is, and drawing vision and energy
from the earth beneath our floors. The
key is how deliberate we make that hour.
How dedicated to the purpose of our personal, enlivened wholeness. And how focused on our enjoining, and
hopefully bettering in some small way, the whole world that we are a part of.
Going on retreat was never meant to be a substitute for the
living of life, but rather, a place and a way in which to be nurtured,
instructed, energized and empowered to live deeper and more purposefully. We still need to act on our priorities, after
a retreat helps us sort out what really matters most in our lives. And it remains up to us, to utilize the
energy and manifest the visions that retreats provide. We see in the balanced energies of the
natural world, in wild ecosystems, models for reciprocity and balance. Models for community. Examples of authenticity, courage, empathy,
compassion and right action. The power
of not only cooperation, but of sometimes necessary resistance and
defense. Social activists can access a
truth and strength away from their constituents, that they can take back to
them. Conservationists and restorationists
can learn from the land what it most requires, and in that way meet some of
their own deepest and most ignored needs.
The environmental advocates who came here will not only find the truth
of what they seek to protect, but also tap an elemental reservoir that can
inform their thinking and embolden their efforts. Those who consider themselves practitioners
of Paganism or Nature Spirituality, may deeper connect to the actual embodied
earthen source of their beliefs, thereby making their circles, their rituals
and all their efforts more experiential, more grounded, more potent, more real.
The advantage is that in retreat, the natural, inspirited world offers up its insights, allows us to tap with some inner root the accumulative planetary wisdom of 4.5 billion years of evolving consciousness and life. And it is also in retreat, that even those of us with the busiest minds can quiet the chatter long enough to hear our own inner pleadings and promptings, warnings and assurance, contented purring and sagely advice.
Jesse Wolf Hardin is an acclaimed teacher of Animá earth-centered
practice, the author of five books including Gaia Eros (New Page 2004),
and performs on the GaiaTribe CD “Enchantment” <www.cdbaby.com/gaiatribe>. He and
his partners Loba and Kiva offer online Animá correspondence courses, as well as
host students and guests at their enchanted canyon and true ancient place of
power. Opportunities include weekend retreats, personal counsel, shamanic
vision quests, resident internships, and special Apprenticeships for the most
dedicated. Annual events include the Wild Womens Gathering, and the Medicine
Woman and Shaman Path intensives. Contact: The Animá Wilderness Learning Center
& Women’s Sanctuary, Box 688, Reserve, NM 87830 <www.animacenter.org> <firstname.lastname@example.org>.
©Jesse Wolf Hardin 2005-2007 Reproduction in any form is prohibited without express written permission from the author.