Guest blog Post by allie Chisholm-Smith
We are spinning
Like Sandra Bullock in Gravity, we seem to be floating away from the Mother Ship without any sense of how to get back.
As I write this, my throat is scratchy, my lungs are a little off and I am carrying a sense of fatigue and lethargy all based on a solid week of forest fire smoke blanketing the sky. There are out of control fires in every province and territory of my country and it is feeling pretty overwhelming. As my Mum and I drove to our cottage in Algonquin (toward at least 6 fires), we became more and more scrambled. Mum forgot how to turn on the fridge. I forgot where the key was hidden (it has been in the same place for all of my 53.5 years). We were officially spun.
For the past decade or so, my eco-anxiety has been climbing higher and I am not an anxious person by definition. I have had sleepless nights and knots-in-stomach days as I have wondered about the future of our planet and therefore our lives. At alarming rates, I forget why I walked into a room or where I have hidden keys more and more frequently.
The problem with anxiety is that it breeds isolation. We recoil, we rage or we bury our heads, all of which leads to this silo in which no one can heal. Joanna Macy, Queen of the Ecopsychology movement and one of my personal heroes, always stressed that the only way to feel hope was to acknowledge and share our felt despair. We need to talk, she would say. We need to face our inner fires, our inner dark places and we must do this in community for it is in community and shared stories that we create solutions.
In isolation we fall into overwhelm. In community, we share the load and we unite with varied skills, minds and strategies. Our issues are complex and so we must meet them with diversity and our own creative complexity.
Having taught yoga and facilitated individuals and groups over the past 30 years, I often dance around the act of personal disclosure. I don’t want to turn the light on me, creating a sense that I need rescuing, but I want to share enough that people might wonder “well if she thinks that, then maybe it is okay that I do too.” I am a hopeful person, for example, but I will share my despair. What my clients see then is a fairly relaxed and grounded person (yes, sometimes this is a facade) who is also reeling in these fraught times. When I talk about it, it weighs less. When we all share the burden, we each carry less weight.
When I awoke this morning, I was spinning. Aside from the fears around the raging fires, I have a lot of projects on the go, debts to pay and deadlines to meet and I was feeling the burden of it all. I was feeling an obligation to work as opposed to a sacred calling. Nonetheless, as I do every day, I went to my mat and listened while I stretched and breathed deeply.
Every day in my practice, I listen for my soul’s voice to come forward. Each morning, I listen for my wisest Self to show me to myself. What I heard this morning was this: “What if this is all perfect? What if this is all right timing? Instead of seeing it as burdensome, scary and something to be checked off a list, could you be curious? What is this time illuminating for you? What is it driving you toward?”
Okay, deep breath. If this is all in right order, why am I currently in a crisis? What is the gift of this crisis? What truth is being blazed into clarity? What is the work that I am being bulldozed into doing through repayment of debts and completion of projects? What will my rage about the fires ignite in me and my dharma?
Approaching the issues with curiosity meant that I then had the space to breathe, ponder and understand. Maybe it is really important that I do this work right now. I might have set this whole debt crisis up for myself just to ensure that I would show up and use my personal superpowers. The lack pushed me through the desire to recoil and sidestepped me past my rage.
My work as a yoga teacher, teacher trainer and facilitator is to bring people together in community to support individual and collective belonging. When we feel as though we belong, a few magical things happen. Number one we feel safer and number two, we tend to care more. When we feel these things, we tend to seek right action for the greater good. One of my favourite places to really sink into this work is at Northern Edge Algonquin. It is here that I lead retreats of 2 days and even 5 days of transformation and rebirth into belonging.
There is a bridge outside of South River that I cross going to and coming from the Edge. It signals a boundary for me. For one, all mobile service is gone on one side of that bridge. All notifications either end or begin on that bridge, depending on whether I am going to or coming from that blissful retreat centre. When I cross the bridge at the beginning of retreat time, my shoulders drop. I feel the same way when I take my seat on the airplane. Whatever I might have forgotten is now out of my control. I am on my way.
When I step onto the grounds at the Edge, I can feel the medicine of belonging, as though the ground itself welcomes me. There is quiet. There are sweet messages written on signs everywhere welcoming people home to their hearts. This is a place where heart medicine is practiced. There is no wifi, no cell service, there is only soft wind in the pines, the sound of ripples landing on sand, the hum of hummingbirds and open hearts awaiting connection. This is one of the safest docking stations to the Mother Ship that I have found.
My retreats always include yoga, conversations about ayurveda, saunas, swims, hikes, paddles, great food, art adventures and time with a supportive community of like minded people, seeking a fulfilling path forward in their lives. We laugh a lot. We talk a lot. Everyone shares their strengths and their vulnerabilities. There are healthy tears and powerful ceremonies created around the simplest of moments. We approach the complex with simple mindful awareness, acknowledging each other and the land around us with reverence and grace. When one isn’t distracted by a device, it is truly magical how connections can return!
When I leave the Edge after being amid a community of such magnificent people, I am changed. I am more aware of my power. When I cross that bridge again, I know my dharma/purpose in my bone marrow. I am ready to walk my path with renewed commitment and clarity because a powerful circle of people mirrored to me that I can and will do this. I am no longer spinning, but am plugged in again to my source of life energy inside of my heart.
This time in retreat will not put out the forest fires. It won’t reverse the tides of climate change. What it will do is fill all of the participants, including myself, with the energy needed to deal with the fires in our lives. We will be more able to show up for others in need with compassion and grace. We will feel a greater sense of trust instead of fear. We might even sleep good sleeps.
Through these retreats, we are led back home to our individual and communal truth and purpose. We emerge knowing that we are right on time and on purpose.
If you resonate with what Allie is creating, you might love to join her for one of her retreats this summer. Check out the link here for more information.