The symphony of the Earth is life-giving. But how can we harmonize with our dominant culture rapidly removing so many wild voices from the orchestra? Some birds—like the once abundant regent honeyeater—are forgetting their song. With hardly any adult birds left, young birds can’t find other honeyeaters to teach them. As we witness species dying and the murder of ecosystems, what difference can our notes make amid this dissonant nightmare?
I’ve rarely asked mind-altering plant medicines for help. This is because I’ve already received so much guidance from nature and my dreams. But in my late thirties, I was wrestling with the horrors of ecological devastation and wanted more help. So I asked for Ayahuasca, an Amazonian brew made from the stalks of the Banisteriopsis caapi vine and leaves of the Psychotria viridis shrub, and I participated in six ceremonies with a curandera who sang sacred prayer songs while playing her guitar.
The first two rituals steeped me in the love of my tree mythos. The third forced me to wrestle with the horrors of the world.
After drinking the tea from these plants, the intensity hit me in the belly. I felt panic like I was about to disappear and would no longer feel my arms and legs; I feared I’d eventually lose my mind. Trying to remain in my body, I stomped my feet and hit my hands against each other. Everyone else must be fine, I thought, blaming myself for feeling crazy. I went outside and wrapped my body around a juniper. One of the helpers came out.
“Are you OK?” she asked.
“I’m having a hard time,” I admitted.
“Surrender,” she said. “It’s our egos that are the problem.”
I went back inside, lay on the ground and let myself disintegrate. It was peaceful, like going to sleep. But when I got up, waves of horror consumed me. I felt like I was drowning in raw sewage with no way out. After one wave passed, I thought it was over, but there were more. They seemed endless. Some waves were a sludge of overwhelming emotions—confusion, dread, disappointment, devastation. I looked around the room. Everyone was suffering. I realized, this isn’t a trip; it’s life, the state of the world. We’re suffering. The Earth is suffering.
The music had stopped. Some people were throwing up. An older man with white hair and blue jeans got up. He held a couple of large hawk feathers and gently waved them over a bowl of water in the centre of the room.
“Water,” he said softly, “we’re so sorry.” Gently, he walked around the bowl, humbly speaking to the water. “It’s our fault you suffer. We’re suffering with you. Thank you for all you give, for nourishing everything. We don’t deserve your help, but please help us.”
Earlier, I’d seen the white-haired man chain-smoking and had judged him. I hadn’t realized that he was so eloquent, more than I could be. I felt ashamed that I hadn’t seen his wisdom. He moved around the circle and prayed over each of us, one by one.
The waves of horror were hard to tolerate. My chest was tight. I could barely breathe. My lungs worked hard to expand as I fought for air. I had the visceral sense that this was what forests, oceans and mountains experience all the time. The impact the Earth feels from our dominant culture. It wasn’t a thought but an overwhelming, full-bodied experience.
“Offer something,” the Ayahuasca seemed to say.
“I have nothing valuable to give,” I said.
“All the world is suffering, and you’re just going to sit here!” She seemed incredulous.
“I don’t sing well,” I said.
“You could pray … or something.”
“I can’t come up with anything.”
“You’re a guide,” she pointed out.
“The suffering is too intense,” I responded.
“The world needs you to show up,” she reminded me.
I realized that sometimes I get consumed by suffering and discount what I might have to give. She was imploring me to show up and be available to the song that wanted to come through me. Everyone is suffering, she was showing me, and the symphony is dissonant. Yet the Earth suffers and gives. We can, too. It’s not a matter of healing first, then acting. It’s a matter of connecting with yourself and the Earth and singing.
No one knows what will happen next. Injustice and genocide have been going on for a long while. Land and people have been exploited and destroyed for thousands of years. We need to be with the horror and the beauty. Psychic numbing removes us from the symphony. Compassion means “to suffer with.” Feeling pain may be a sign that we’re present with what is happening and aware of our connection to it.
Nature and our souls can give us visions so we can face the challenges of our times and engage. I guide others in their deep imagination to see back in time and remember. To return to places on the land where they have a deep connection. To listen to what the land needs. To call forth an image of the myth they were born to live. To move and dance the mysteries of what they came to embody in the world.
Horror is part of the symphony. The world needs our ensouled presence. Listen. Feel. Be present. Offer your note. Our engagement is our love.
6 Wild Yoga practices for playing your part
Attune to the world and explore ways to play your part in the symphony. Trusting what you have to offer or hearing those around you may take time.
- Listen to the songs of ancient cultures or your ancestors. What do they evoke in your heart, body and imagination? Journal about it or move to embody what you discover.
- Wander in the wilderness. Listen to the sounds you hear from trees, water, wind, insects and birds, and the sounds you experience visually and through your other senses. Notice what or who allures you. Engage by offering sounds or movement in response.
- Go out on the land and play. Offer your melody. If you don’t know what that is, explore different sounds or movements. Perhaps create a song for the land and sing it aloud. Notice where you feel drawn to offer your song. Listen for anything you hear back.
- Track your dreams. Do any of them carry the theme of ancestral music, playing your note or hearing the world’s symphony? Speak one of your dreams aloud in nature, using the present tense, and then enact it. Play your part by embodying what the dream asks.
- Go to a wild place and witness how the land plays. Notice how each being engages with all the others in an improvisational movement. Try joining in. Let go of expectations and see what co-arises mutually.
- Do you feel conflicted about playing your note in a broken world? Or about how to harmonize with the natural world when our dominant culture is killing the other voices? Wander on the land and share your questions and feelings. Ask for help.
Cat and Dog: A Wild Yoga pose for you to try
Cat and Dog Pose is a Self-Awakening Yoga pose similar to Cat-Cow Pose (Marjaryasana). [The concept for this pose came from Stapleton, Self-Awakening Yoga, 190–91. I’ve added my own ideas to the original concept.] It keeps your spine flexible, helps you develop and maintain stability and balance, conditions and strengthens your back muscles, and tones and firms your tummy muscles. Through flexion and extension of your pelvis, you improve circulation and ease lower back strain.
6 steps to getting in the pose
- Place your hands and knees in Table Pose, with your hands flat on the floor and your fingers spread wide. Ensure your hands are directly underneath your shoulders and your knees are underneath your hips. Your arms are strong and straight, with your inner elbows facing each other.
- Keep your knees on the floor, inhale and lengthen the front side of your body. Bring the back of your head towards your sacrum and lift your tailbone upward in dog tilt, as if you have a tail that moves towards the sky. Look towards the ceiling, imagining that you can see your tail.
- Exhale, round your spine and tuck your hips under in cat tilt, lightly squeezing your lower buttocks together. Look towards your navel and imagine making the fur on your back stand up as a cat would. Feel how this movement completes the forward flexion of your spine.
- Inhale fully into dog tilt and exhale into cat tilt. Initiate the movement of your spine from your pelvis. Let the movement ripple up your spine. At the end of each exhale, squeeze your breath out and slightly suck in your lower abdomen. Arch and flex your spine until your movements become effortless.
- Keep repeating the full movement, looking up and then lowering your eyes each time. Move back and forth while remaining steady, without shifting forward or backward.
- Finish by folding over into Child’s Pose, sliding your arms alongside your body.
Notice what it feels like to flex and extend your spine as you move back and forth. In dog tilt, feel the expansion of your chest. Become aware of your heart and throat chakras opening to engage with the world. Chakra means “wheel” in Sanskrit and refers to energy points in the body that, when open and aligned, improve our emotional and physical well-being. In cat tilt, feel the constriction, like a scared cat, and see what it is like to draw inward. Slow the movement and observe the transition.
Moving through states of both expansion and contraction is natural and valuable. As you move back and forth, connect to your body and voice. Imagine Cat and Dog Pose priming you to play your part.
Move effortlessly. Ride the breath of your inhale and exhale. Feel your spine becoming more flexible as you strengthen your stability and mobility. Play. Let the physical stretch help you stretch your imagination. What would it be like to be a bird? Notice how dog tilt opens your throat chakra and the movement between cat and dog tilt stretches your neck and throat. Connect to your voice in dog tilt by making toning sounds or whistling. Don’t worry about how it sounds. Have fun. Listen to birds or other natural beings and see if you can sing like them.
Some yogis claim there are more than 180,000 poses. What makes a movement Yoga is the quality of your awareness. All the phases of Cat and Dog Pose are part of Yoga. Slow down and notice what is happening. Feel the life force within you. Tuck into cat tilt and notice how it brings you inward and closer to the Earth. Listen and notice what images, memories, sensations or emotions arise. Perhaps you can hear the symphony of nature.
As you move back and forth, switch between listening to the symphony and offering your melody or part. The next time you’re in dog tilt, explore singing your song. See if you can find a tone that resonates with who you are and what you feel called to contribute. As you move back into cat tilt, practice attuning to the world while making sounds or offering yourself. Explore how your sound blends with the symphony.
Build your capacity by playing with variations similar to cat and dog tilt. For example, begin in Table Pose and move your rib cage around in a circle. Imagine that you’re playing a singing bowl with your chest. Move your torso, like a mallet, in a circular motion against the imaginary bowl’s outer edge. Go slowly enough to make a bright, clear tone.
Hear the sound your body makes in your imagination. Allow sounds to come out of your mouth. Move gently enough to experience every bit of the stretch. Relax your face, jaw and eyes. Let the movement move you. Then reverse the direction of the circle.
Try Thread the Needle Pose (Parsva Balasana). Starting in Table Pose, open your chest to the right as you extend your right arm towards the sky and direct your gaze up. Then, lower the back side of your right arm onto the floor underneath your chest. With your palm facing up, slide your arm through to the left until your right shoulder is on the ground. Rest the right side of your head and shoulder on your mat.
Breathe. Each time you exhale, invite your body to relax more fully into the ground. Wag your tail. Change anything you like. Make this pose feel yummy. Then come back to Table Pose and try Thread the Needle on the other side.
Each moment is a chance to listen and offer
Congratulations on attuning to the world and playing your part. Each moment is a chance to listen and offer anew. Love for the world calls us to show up, sing, share all we have gathered and engage. We can begin again from within our bodies, living with our senses turned on. We can trust our instincts and feel the life force energy of wild eros flowing through us, invisible to the naked eye but central to our bodies.
Rebecca Wildbear is the author ofWild Yoga: A Practice of Initiation, Veneration & Advocacy for the
Earth. She’s also the creator of a Yoga practice called Wild Yoga, which empowers individuals to tune in to the mysteries that live within the earth community, dreams and their own wild nature so they may live a life of creative service. She has been leading Wild Yoga programs since 2007 and also guides other nature and soul programs through Animas Valley Institute. Visit her online at www.rebeccawildbear.com.
Excerpted from the book Wild Yoga: A Practice of Initiation, Veneration & Advocacy for the
Earth Copyright. Copyright ©2023 by Rebecca Wildbear. Printed with permission from New World Library—www.newworldlibrary.com.
image 1: Pixabay; image 2: Pixabay; image 3: Sarah E. Brooks
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