In this piece of writing Rebecca shares her deep connection with nature, her journey in love, courting and listening for responses. She illuminates how a culture of resistance sown from fierce love can empower us to stop oppression and injustice.
Romance, Revolution, Dark Waters
Do you remember the first time you fell in love? What did it bring alive? I was fifteen. His wavy, dark hair shook when he spoke, accentuating his expressions. His brown eyes flickered from behind his round spectacles on the few occasions I glanced at him. It was the 80s. He was an oddball in a jean jacket with a smiley face on the back. He spoke things I thought, but never said. Perhaps they were truths I didn’t even know I held. I was quiet. I hadn’t lived in a world where people were allowed to be so honest, but he didn’t seem to need permission.
We were in the same classes and the school play. His presence pierced the shallow high school drudgery. I’d spent many days near him, but one day awoke to the horror of discovering something had shifted inside me. I wanted to be nearer to him, yet I felt terrified to get any closer. A new angst grew within me—nothing would ever be the same.
I imagined that if we spoke, he’d understand what I wanted to say. I was too shy to approach him. I wrote to him in my journal, his name spelled backwards for secrecy, “Dear Ydna.” I missed being around him in summertime. In a flash of boldness, I looked up his number in the phone book and called. I asked if he’d like to meet in the park and go swinging. He agreed. I felt like myself on the swings—with my body in motion, my words could flow easier.
In the years that followed, we were in the same circle of friends. Without knowing I was doing it, I apprenticed to what I loved about him: the courage to speak out, inhabit my depths, and be odd (authentic). We wrote for the school newspaper in our senior year. I wrote editorials seeking a more meaningful life and critiquing high school—hairspray to cliques to prom to our classes.
My love for this boy altered me, and it never required we even hold hands. It awoke a longing that stirred my feelings, incited my imagination, catalyzed my actions. I grew to understand the yearnings of my heart and began to find my voice and engage with those around me. I grew into someone beyond whom I thought I could be.
Romance is more than a pleasurable feeling. It’s more than finding your other half in another human. It isn’t acquisition, and it’s not sex either. Real romance opens us to the mystery and depth of our longing and unveils the secrets of our heart. Suddenly, what is truly meaningful is alive and close enough to move toward, but far enough away that we ache for it. This may impel us to act courageously. As we serve what we love, we honor it. Perhaps we become closer somehow. This guides whom we become.
Romance can mature us into becoming someone who has the capacity to serve the world—someone willing to offer their life to what matters most. Our longing is a guidepost, offering the first scent on the path. My affection for my high school love called me out of my inner world and had me risk sharing myself. As the qualities I admired in him—authenticity, articulation, and courage—developed in me, I became more myself.
Just as romance may open our hearts and inspire our creativity, it may also initiate us into the transpersonal. We may experience the Divine, Goddess, or Mystery through the other. Many nature-based and indigenous cultures, such as the Tz’utujil Mayan culture, didn’t allow their young to touch one another until after they’d been initiated. Their readiness wasn’t determined by age, but by their infatuation, a “precious brush” with seeing and wanting “the devastating, delicious, ecstatic, and painful presence of the Divine.”
Men and women were separated from each other and the village for a year. They grieved and courted the Divine—that which they could love, but never possess—with love poems, and in so doing became capable of loving another human who could be forgiven for small thoughts and deeds.
The Inner Beloved
Romantic love can carry us to the transcendent or sink us into the depths of our truest nature. The attractive qualities we project onto another when we fall in love exist in us, too. While we may not fully embody these qualities, we can cultivate them. Through romantic love, we may encounter our inner beloved, the true other half of our psyche, who may appear in dreams, fantasies, or in the attractive qualities we project. The anima is the intuitive, feminine, heart-based side of ourselves, while the animus is the masculine, intellectual, action-oriented side of ourselves.
Romance with an outer partner can bring joy and meaning, too—if we withdraw our idealizations—but a relationship with our inner beloved is vital. Following its call can inspire and guide us toward the deepest purpose of our soul. Soul is the unique place we were born to inhabit within the Earth community. It’s the myth or image that underlies the way we’re called to serve the world. We may encounter soul through the whispers and hints of our inner beloved, as well as in dreams and conversations with the natural world.
We can fall in love with anything, a concept, a forest, a work of art or a dying planet. Stepping toward the inner beloved may feel alluring and terrifying. The possibility of death may remind us of the vulnerability of life and the preciousness of every moment. Relating with our inner beloved aligns us with our imagination and deepens our relationship with our muse, who restores our visionary capacity and inspires our unique way of seeing the world.
Sourced in our deep imagination, we can live a muse-directed life where never-before-seen forms emerge through us, and we receive visions for how we might tend the world. The qualities of my high school love still live in me, alongside those of past and present loves. My inner beloved invites me to perceive the world in the way that only I can, informing how I listen, guide, and write.
The Natural World
Nature lives the most exquisite romance of all. Wind dances with trees, thunderstorms roar, and lightning brightens the sky. The cycles of the moon dance with the ocean’s tides. The sunrise bathes the mountains, rivers, and prairies in warmth and light. Bees pollinate flowers. The breeze makes music with the leaves. The crickets make a concert for the night. Rain offers itself to the grasses. Rivers carry their waters to the sea. Coyotes howl. Owls hoot. Frogs croak. The red-tailed hawk perches on a rock and spreads her wings to dry in the sun. A mourning dove’s call echoes on canyon walls.
Nature is our guide.
Romance is essential for it and imperative for us, too. And romance can happen between humans and non-humans. I’ve had extraordinary romances with tree and ocean, river and rainforest. We can tend our inner beloved and our outer relationships. Each may deepen the other. I remember the first night I spent on a river. I was in my mid-twenties on a multi-day raft trip down the Colorado River through Cataract Canyon. I stared up at the stars, planets, and galaxies twinkling in the night sky framed by the dark silhouettes of red rock walls. I couldn’t close my eyes, because I didn’t want to miss anything. The river glowed dark in the moon’s light while lapping at my toes in the sand.
Every river is uniquely magnificent—also dangerous, reminding us that the possibility of death is always near. Sometimes I awaken in the night with a knot in my stomach before guiding on a river. Sitting in meditation, I pray for my life. “Why go?” my fear voices interject. “Just stay home.” But the river calls.
When I’m in its flow, I feel alive. The ducks, beavers, and geese seem more alive too. Listening to the sound of ever-changing currents, I wonder what’s around the next bend. Sometimes the river asks me to surrender, and other times it challenges me to find my strength. My body loves this wordless conversation with waves. When the boat flips, I find myself underwater, immersed in the silence that lives there. Then my instinct emerges and propels my fight to the river’s turbulent surface.
Our romance with the world brings us joy. We may smell the scent of honeysuckle, hear the song of crashing waves, or sense the moisture in the air after it rains. It also breaks our hearts, especially if we love the natural world, which is under assault.
My heart broke when three million gallons of toxic waste were dumped into the Animas River in the Gold King Mine spill of August 2015. I was a river guide, and it was then I began to learn about the waste that has always been there. With forty-four abandoned mines at its headwaters, toxins are always draining into it. The mine waste dumped into the river during the spill discharges every ten days, unnoticed. These draining mines dump three hundred million gallons of waste into the Animas every year.
It is not just the Animas. There are an estimated twenty-two thousand abandoned mines in Colorado and an estimated five hundred thousand in the United States that people never cleaned up, in addition to poisons dumped from ongoing mining. More than 180 million tons of hazardous mine waste is dumped into rivers, lakes, and oceans worldwide each year. Agriculture, which accounts for eighty to ninety percent of freshwater use, is a leading cause of water pollution in the U.S., creating algal blooms, dead zones, acidification, heavy metal contamination, elevated nitrate levels, and pathogen contamination.
Dams harm rivers too. There are about seventy-five thousand dams over six feet tall, including sixty-five thousand over twenty feet tall, and an estimated two million small dams in the United States alone. Dams kill fish, strangle streams, and harm entire ecosystems. Many dams no longer work or were illegal in the first place. When we imprison rivers, we clog the Earth’s blood, locking up everything downstream.
The harm is happening everywhere. Hundreds of species go extinct each day, as industrial civilization steals resources from the land and the poor. Personal lifestyle changes won’t stop the harm. The majority of consumption is commercial, industrial, and corporate, by agribusiness and government. Global industrial empire is built on conquest and the use of nonrenewable resources. It is inherently unsustainable. Much green technology requires mining, consuming, and ecosystem destruction. We will never be intact as long as the Earth is our captive.
Fear constricts our hearts. We may even be consumed by it, if we are not in denial. There is no safe place. Some nights I lie awake feeling dread. There’s no security in our government leaders or the structures of our industrial lifestyle. The coronavirus scare has offered us a frightening glimpse of things many people face every day: food shortages, deaths, loss of civil freedoms, and totalitarian leadership. COVID-19 has unveiled just how fragile our dominant system really is, and we may face a more extreme version of this in the future as seas rise, droughts increase, soil depletion and climate change continue, and clean water becomes even more scarce and precious.
I pray our fear gives rise to courage.
Industrial civilization is making the Earth uninhabitable for humans and most species. Collapse seems inevitable. Waiting for things to unravel could make the crash worse for both humans and non-humans who live through it, and those who come afterwards. Instead, we could love the wild world by championing the collapse of global empire. The sooner we stop this way of life, the more animals, fish, trees, and rivers will be left alive. The more likely there will be sustainable food sources for future generations. The natural world, developing nations, indigenous cultures, and rural people will immediately be better off post-collapse.
Government’s inability to respond to the covid-19 pandemic that threatens society reflects the incapacity to engage with the broader issues of environmental crisis. While the living world may appreciate the temporary slowing of the industrial machine, coronavirus highlights our dependence on a system that’s failing us. Our governments use the pandemic to further destroy the planet. Recently, the Environmental Protection Agency suspended environmental rules indefinitely, the secretary of the interior ordered the Mashpee Wampanoag Reservation “Disestablished”. It’s land taken out of trust. Several states have quietly passed laws criminalizing protests against fossil fuel infrastructure. Effectively addressing both the virus and our collapsing ecosystems would require recognizing our inherent connection: individual health is dependent on the overall health of everyone, rich and poor, marginalized and elite, human and nonhuman.
Grief is a way of loving that breaks our hearts open to the world. A nightmare jolts me awake. I’m swimming in dark water at night, and a crowd of people are swimming there, too. I’m afraid they’ll run me over. As I try to swim around them, someone swims underneath me and grabs my leg. I’m pulled down fast. I feel like I’m free falling. I can’t breathe.
I’m in love with water. Rivers and oceans are often in my dreams, but this time I’m terrified. As I re-enter the dream in my imagination, I feel lost in blackness. I don’t know which way is up. The pressure is crushing. I can’t move my lungs against the heaviness. I feel the visceral nightmare inflicted on nature every day.
Undigested grief lived in the cancer I had when I was twenty-one. A nine-centimeter tumor grew in the two lymph nodes in front of my heart, awakening me to the dam within myself, like a concrete slab forced into a river, obstructing its flow. When we don’t grieve, we become as dangerous as a dammed river. Tears free our inner river and show us that we care. Elder Joanna Macy reminds us that from climate chaos to nuclear war, “there’s no danger so great as the deadening of our response.”
Grief longs for the impossible.
I wish my words could restore rivers, ecosystems, and justice. I wish writing about the problems meant they could be overcome. Instead, I feel uncertainty and doom which usher me into despair. I wonder if I can hold this. I struggle to make a difference. I sense myself in the dark waters, and I feel them asking me to let go. As my tears flow, I remember that allowing love’s waters to flow teaches me what I love.
Being in love makes me want to live, and to serve, even if it breaks my heart. We can love what we love, and this can guide us. As my tears flow, mysteries arise from my now exposed heart. I feel powerless to protect those I love, rivers, trees, animals, all wild places. Suddenly I hear Kahlil Gibran’s words about bleeding “willingly and joyfully” for what we love. I feel like I’m bleeding. I imagine that somehow the dark waters of my tears and heartbreak are feeding life.
Loving what we love may feel vulnerable and painful, if we risk opening to it. We court by offering, by humbly and eloquently approaching and giving ourselves to what we love. We create the beauty for which we long by becoming what we love. I court through writing, but I’m not sure if it’ll make a difference. Perhaps it’s foolish. When we court what we love, we’re willing to fail. We may not fully understand what it is we seek. It’s always somewhat of a mystery, and we can be surprised, overjoyed, or terrified when “the incomprehensible” shows its divine face.
I’m deeply in love with the wild soul and mystery, as well as with nature. While apprenticing to be a soul guide at age thirty-three, I spoke of my longing to serve them, and my willingness to do whatever it takes to develop the capacity. I was married then, and soon my marriage began to unravel. I hiked into a red rock canyon to enact a ceremony, offering the red-tailed hawk feathers my partner had given me. The grief that followed nearly undid me. Is there anywhere I belong?
Six months later, I found myself on a river. A wave pulled me out of my boat, and I was swept underneath a major rapid without a life jacket. Being deep underwater felt much like my recent nightmare. I fought harder than I knew I could, made my way to the surface, and then to shore. I’d lost a shoe, but there was another in the sand. I put it on, shaking. I didn’t get on a river again for nine years. It took that long to understand what the river was trying to show me: I belong to the dark waters. Mythically, they are a place I am here to inhabit.
In courtship, we make an offering and listen for a response. We may be asked to step away or move toward something. It may challenge us, whether we relate with someone in particular or with everything. We turn toward the world full-hearted, in an ongoing relationship with the mystery of our love. As it reveals itself through dreams, nature, and our hearts, we act on behalf of what we most cherish, believe, or grieve. When we embody what it asks, it offers more, guiding us toward what is next in a life of creative service.
Our love calls us to serve the world. If we love nature, our activism can be a way of courting. Briony Penn, Ph.D., stopped a forest with old-growth Douglas fir and Garry oak from being logged on Salt Spring Island. They didn’t listen to her scientific arguments. “I was desperate,” she explained. So she rode a horse through town in a Lady Godiva-style protest, alongside five other bare-breasted women and thirty more demonstrators. The media were there. That forest still lives.
True love engenders the courage to stand up for what we love. The boy I loved in high school emboldened me to find my words and show myself. The river taught me that love is not only surrender, it is struggle. My love for the natural world demands an even greater strength, while activism protects particular places or species, revolution challenges the whole of global empire. Fueled by a fierce dedication to justice, ecological revolution asks us to stand in our power and ally ourselves to the physical living planet.
While romance invites us to surrender to love and receive the visions of our muse, revolution strengthens our capacity to stand in our power. Romance arises from our feminine side, an intuitive, heartfelt dreaming that mirrors the cave-womb in a woman’s body. Revolution is birthed externally from our masculine side, with its rational impulse to act and protect. Our feminine dreaming inspires action. As we bring together our visionary and revolutionary natures, romance ignites revolution. Within our psyches and the larger world.
In a red rock canyon last May, my grief-love-longing ache stirred me to ask the Earth what she needs.
“Do you want me to stand up for you more somehow?” I asked.
“Yes, I would like that,” I felt the words arise from my belly and sit in my mind’s eye. “We need help.” My dreams echoed a similar response in the months that followed.
Guiding is a way I love mystery, soul, and Earth. I usher a kind of inner revolution in the human psyche, whereby nature and soul overthrow the current regime that directs a person’s life. I guide others to resource themselves in wholeness and allow their dreams, the natural world, and soul to lead them rather than less healthy aspects of their ego. This work is vital—it teaches self-healing, provides purpose, and brings alive what is most extraordinary in humans. Individual change can seed cultural transformation but the Earth remains imperilled and more is needed.
To belong to the Earth is to stand up for her. Joanna Macy named three dimensions of Ecological Revolution ~ 1) holding actions to stop the harm, 2) life sustaining practices, and 3) shifting consciousness. To be effective, these perspectives must work together. Tending the world begins with imagining the rivers running clear and the oceans full of fish, and envisioning what actions will make this happen.
Global industrial empire is destroying the living planet.
As revolutionaries, we stand with Earth, bear witness to the harm being done, express the reality of what’s happening, and defend what we love. We recognize injustice by observing how power operates and acknowledging the everyday cruelty of our society. Millions of people participate, either directly or as bystanders with benefits. It’s painful to experience our own complicity, but ecological revolution requires socio-political consciousness.
Engaging politically is an act of love that attunes us to the challenges of the world and urges us to change things. I used to hate politics, because it seemed like a never-ending parade of lies and corruption I couldn’t stop. Perhaps I wasn’t able to stand in my power, or perhaps I’d grown up in a culture that taught me I had no power.
When I was young, my mom had my brother and I campaign for President Carter and then Mondale. They lost. My actions didn’t change anything. I joined my college boyfriend, a political science major and leader of the environmental action coalition, in debates and protests. His aim was to be president. I did not want to be the first lady. Engaging politically threatened to embed me in its web of injustice.
I am in love with rivers, trees, oceans, and animals, and love often calls us forth to reckon with what we’ve avoided. Change is difficult, because our dominant culture, based on multiple systems of power—industrialization, capitalism, and patriarchy—is rooted in violence, ecocide, and domination. It exploits the natural world and oppresses some people while privileging others.
Everyday violence is overlooked, because it’s considered normal.
The indigenous, the poor, women, people of color, and most especially the natural world are subordinate. They are objectified as commodities. Even though it may seem like those who are marginalized consent to this hierarchy, it is not voluntary. It is expected that they will submit. They (most) do so to survive. Our global industrial-agro-corporate-military complex is powerful. It will use force. Activists who defend wild places are often imprisoned or killed. Pipelines are built. Oceans fill with plastic. Ice melts. Those with power have armies, courts, prisons, taxes, and the media.
Resistance is power.
A culture of resistance sown from fierce love can empower us to stop oppression and injustice. The institutions that control society can be dismantled, and we can remember another way to live. The Underground Railroad was controversial at the time Harriet Tubman was guided by God to free slaves. We need a similar kind of boldness now. Reasoned requests will not stop systems of power. Our legal system is designed to support them. A voluntary transformation is unlikely. Our withdrawal allows the planet to go on being harmed.
Organized political resistance is crucial. All strategies must be considered, from “revolutionary law-making to strategic non-violence to coordinated sabotage of industrial infrastructure.” The Earth and future humans need us to come together in a co-creative partnership with the natural world. We need to stand in our love and power, to abolish the violence against our planet. To stop industrialization, patriarchy, and capitalism, which place the privilege of a few over the welfare of all humans, nonhumans and Mother Earth. We must not overlook the urgency of this moment.
I have always been in love with dark waters. As a teen, I often sat at the edge of the sea near my home at night. I preferred it there, imaging myself submerged under water. I felt the presence of another world with its potent unseen possibilities. When I emerged from the river missing a shoe at thirty-three, it was a call to live with one foot in the dark waters. Similar to the myth of Persephone, who lives half her life in the underworld.
The dark waters are a mythic place I inhabit that gives me soul power. These waters are pure mystery and the womb from which all things are born. They invite dissolution and steep us in uncertainty. Most of our universe is darkness, confirming the existence of mystery, more is unknown than is known. Sixty-eight percent of the universe is dark energy and twenty-seven percent is dark matter. Less than five percent of our world is real matter, everything else understood by science. When we’re in darkness, our eyes cannot see, so our imagination , a powerful and intuitive strategy to listen, grows stronger. Visions and unique phenomena emerge from darkness which can source our romance and our revolution.
Primordial waters are a mythological motif found across cultures, a cosmic ocean or a celestial river enveloping the universe and symbolizing chaos and the source of creation. The womb of dark waters is a feminine place from which visions arise and all actions are best sourced. We are born of the womb and return to the dream stream every night. When our day world finds us overly focused on the masculine tendency to act, our psyches become as out of balance as our culture. We restore the feminine when we listen to our dreams, our muse, and the dark mystery. It is as radical and necessary to let these visionary womb waters guide us as it is to confront patriarchy.
I offered vows to the dark waters several years ago, while guiding on an island near the Irish lands of my ancestors. A seal’s head surfaced only a few feet away. Peering into its soft, dark eyes carried me into the depths of the ocean. I return to those depths in my imagination often. When I perceive the world from these dark waters, I feel a heaviness against my chest which grounds me in the Earth and is fraught with grief. My eyes well with tears as I feel love for the world. I stare into the blackness, longing for a vision, awaiting the mystery of things. Living here feels powerful and vulnerable.
I invite others into the dark waters—you, too, may close your eyes and be there now, in your imagination. Sensing the world from here is a unique and valuable vantage. I have witnessed the dark waters usher inner revolution in the human psyche time and again. How I long to bring these revolutionary powers to the planetary!
The dark waters are wiser than us. Returning to these mystical depths allies us with the greater forces of unseen worlds and infuses our romance and revolution with a fierce creativity that allows the Earth to dream through us so that we may act both mythically and directly.
Rebecca Wildbear is a river and soul guide who helps people 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 a guide with Animas Valley Institute since 2006 and is author of the forthcoming book, Playing & Praying: Soul Stories to Inspire Personal & Planetary Transformation.