Editor’s Note: The following is an excerpt from Wild Yoga by Rebecca Wildbear. It pushes us to connect with the land. The Earth is suffering due to us. The excerpt encourages us to feel her suffering, which is intricately connected to our suffering. Finally, it inspires us to make amends by showing up, by our actions in defense of her.
Nature is an unrelenting symphony. Everywhere there is life, there is song. Flowers bloom. Mountains stand. The moon glows. The planet is always singing. Each note is a unique contribution that tends to the well-being of the whole. Humans are meant to live in sync. For decades, I have asked trees and birds, ocean and sky, canyons and creeks to help me be as authentic and soulful as they are. The world needs the bitter and resonant cry of every creature, even humans, attuning with the song of the world.
We can connect to our bodies, hearts, and souls and bring our presence to the unfolding moment. And remember how to play in the improvisational spontaneity of the universe. Lying under an oak, I am mesmerized by the long, wavy branches that stretch parallel a few feet above the ground. The shape of the oak’s branches reminds me of a song. Music is a human instinct found everywhere. It is a social glue that brings people together and creatively expresses what can’t be put into words. What if we could engage with each other and the world the way jazz musicians make music?
Playing our notes is not only a sound we make with our voices or instruments. It is our soul taking form through the shapes we make with our lives when we embody the truth of our nature, live our purpose, and offer ourselves in relational flow with other humans and the Earth. Those who live their souls are playing their notes, being their melody.
The Earth needs us to become who we are. Perhaps she longs for humans to honor and contribute to her magnificence. Our souls can only be lived in union, playing our notes while attuning to the symphony that connects us to ourselves, others, the land, and those who came before and will go after.
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 cannot find other honey-eaters to teach them. As we witness species dying and the murder of eco-systems, what difference can our notes make amid this dissonant nightmare?
I have rarely asked mind-altering plant medicines for help. This is because I have 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 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 would 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 okay?” 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 is not a trip; it is life, the state of the world. We are 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 center 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 are suffering with you. Thank you for all you give, for nourishing everything. We don’t deserve your help, but please help us.”
Earlier, I had seen the white-haired man chain-smoking and had judged him. I had not realized that he was so eloquent, more than I could be. I felt ashamed I had not 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 was not 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 is not a matter of healing first, then acting. It is 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 we are 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.
Wild Yoga Practices for Playing Your Part in the Symphony
Attune to the world and explore ways to play your part. 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 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.
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Rebecca Wildbear is the author of Wild Yoga: A Practice of Initiation, Veneration & Advocacy for the Earth. She is 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 http://www.rebeccawildbear.com.
Excerpted from the book Wild Yoga: A Practice of Initiation, Veneration & Advocacy for the Earth Copyright ©2023 by Rebecca Wildbear. Printed with permission from New World Library — www.newworldlibrary.com.
Rebecca is also one of our speakers for our upcoming event.
Featured image: Brilliant fall colors on fall lane after rainfall by Kristine Carter via Kristine Carter Photography