Women Who Run with Wolves

I recently completed my second reading of Clarissa Pinkola Estés book, “Women Who Run with Wolves.” My first read through was quick and for myself. It spoke to me so deeply, that when a friend suggested she wanted to read it as well, we decided to do it “book club” style — reading a chapter for each discussion. It’s taken over a year and a half to read the whole book again, but it has been worth it.

My heroine’s journey—this quest to discover my own self, my divine feminine, my Wild Woman—has been fully supported along the way by this book.

“Wildlife and the Wild Woman are both endangered species.”

Best first sentence of a book, ever.

My heart sang when I read this because it is resonates deeply with my belief that what we do to ourselves is reflected in how we treat the environment. We are de-valuing the wild in nature, just as we are in ourselves.

She goes on to say:
“It’s not by accident that the pristine wilderness of our planet disappears as the understanding of our own inner wild natures fades. It is not so difficult to understand why old forests and old women are viewed as not very important resources. it is not such a mystery. it is not so coincidental that wolves and coyotes, bears and wildest women have similar reputations. They all share related instinctual archetypes, and as such, both are erroneously reputed to be ungracious, wholly and innately dangerous, and ravenous.”

To know myself is to know the earth. To revere and honor my own wildness is to extend the same protection to nature. To redeem my own impressions about my wild self being dangerous and ravenous, is to redefine the story we believe about the environment.

She talks about the Wild Woman, not in terms of “Girls Gone Wild,” but wild as in our instinctual nature, our ancestry, our feral-ness. I like to think of it as the soul, the life force, the shakti—the parts of us who keep us telling the truth, asking for what we want, following our passions, dreaming, imagining, creating, loving, and celebrating. As I found in my life, intense school work, familial expectations, demanding jobs, and committing to intense parental responsibilities can tamp down the wild, making it quiet, forcing it into hiding, or even making me afraid of it when it finds a fissure in my world and then explodes out of control.

Over the last few years of my life, I feel like I’ve slowly been meeting the Wild Woman who lives inside me. There’s part of me that is afraid of her — she’s messy, selfish, emotional, crazy. What will she ask for if I fully give her a voice? But when I do tap into her, even for brief moments, I feel free, alive, awake, real, raw, sensual, creative, and passionate. I’ve had enough tastes of my Wild Woman to know I want more access to her. Clarissa describes the direction my life feels like its going:

“And when we pick up [the Wild Woman’s] trail, it is typical of women to ride hard to catch up, to clear off the desk, clear off the relationship, clear out one’s mind, turn to a new page, insist on a break, break the rules, stop the world, for we are not going on without her any longer.”

I cleared off my desk (quit my job), insisted on a break (I have time to myself during the day), and am turning a new page (this pleasure project for example). Have I uncovered my Wild Woman fully? Not even close! But every passing day, month, year, I feel like I’m able to access her in my “deep life” more easily…to incorporate her more fully…to utilize her wisdom. And I feel more balanced when I do. For as Clarissa says, “…a woman’s deep life funds her mundane life.”

I am taking Clarissa’s advice:

“Psychically, it is good to make a halfway place, a way station, a considered place in which to rest and mend after one escapes a famine. It is not too much to take one year, two years, to assess one’s wounds, seek guidance, apply the medicines, consider the future. A year or two is scant time. The feral woman is a woman making her way back. She is learning to wake up, pay attention, stop being naive, uniformed. She takes her life in her own hands. To re-learn the deep feminine instincts, it is vital to see how they were decommissioned to begin with.”

Last Halloween, I spent a long weekend with a group of women in Ghost Ranch, New Mexico. Out alone on the land, I listened to what the place had to say to me. I had quit my job 6 months before and was starting to feel antsy not knowing what I was “supposed” to be doing with my life. I got a really clear message that I needed to spend fall and winter tending the fire under my cauldron. I was to only say yes to things that would be ingredients for my brew. I was to surround myself with wise women and men who could help me stir the pot. The only requirement was that I kept the fire burning underneath — to sit still, feed the fire, and wait to see what would be created through the cooking process.

Clarissa talks about this in terms of feeding the Wild Goddess. She says, “Firstly, to cook for the [Wild Goddess], one lays a fire—a woman must be willing to burn hot, burn with passion, burn with words, with ideas, with desire for whatever it is that she truly loves. It is actually this passion which causes the cooking, and a woman’s original ideas of substance are what is cooked. To cook for the [Wild Goddess], one must arrange that one’s creative life has a consistent fire under it.” So I have spent the last 12 months tending my fire, adding fuel, and being vigilant so that the fire stays lit.

So, what is cooking in this cauldron of mine? Clarissa might describe it as my “medial woman”: “The medial woman stands between the worlds of consensual reality and the mystical unconscious and mediates between them. The medial woman is the transmitter and receiver between two or more values or ideas. She is the one who brings new ideas to life, exchanges old ideas for innovative ones, translates between the world of the rational and the world of the imaginal. She ‘hears’ things, ‘knows’ things, and ‘senses’ what should come next.” I like the idea that to become a medial woman (or a shapeshifter as I like to call it), you must transform yourself under the long, hot burn of your passion’s fire.

Much of the work I’ve been studying and practicing keeps pointing back to the body as a source of wisdom, intelligence, and understanding. Clarissa talks about this too. “…women are said to carry la luz de la vida, the light of life. This light is located, not in a woman’s heart, not behind her eyes, but en los ovarios, in her ovaries, where all the seed stock is laid down before she is even born.”

I’m learning to use my body to help understand and move through my emotions. I’m letting it guide me in figuring out what I want (and don’t want) sexually as well as using it as a creative writing partner for the eco-erotica stories. I believe that a woman’s creative center, and where the shape-shifter lives, is her pelvic bowl. I can imagine our little ovaries shining a warm light down in the bowl, illuminating the ideas and desires that we’re gestating.

And I love how Clarissa articulates what this journey feels and looks like:

“One of the most amazing things about this long initiation is that the woman undergoing this process continues to do all the regular living of topside life: loving lovers; birthing babies; chasing children; chasing art; chasing words; carrying food, paints, skeins; fighting for this and the other; burying the dead; doing all the workaday tasks as well as this deep, faraway journey.

A woman, at this time, is often torn in two directions, for there comes over her an urge to wade into the forest as though it is a river and to swim in the green, to climb to the top of the crag and sit face into the wind. It is a time when an inner clock strikes and our that forces a woman to have a sudden need of a sky to call her own, a tree to throw her arms about, a rock to press for cheek against. Yet she must live her topside life as well.

It is to her extreme credit that even though she many times wishes to, she does not drive her car into the sunset. At least not permanently. For it is this outer life that exerts the right amount of pressure to take on the underworld tasking. It is better to stay in the world during this time rather than leave it, for the tension is better and tension makes a precious and deeply turned life that can be made no other way.”

Clarissa offers the seven year stages of a woman’s life to “provide both tasks to accomplish and attitudes in which to root herself.” I found that these are highly applicable to my journey (so far).

0-7 age of the body and dreaming/socialization, yet retaining imagination
7-14 age of separating yet weaving together reason and the imaginal
14-21 age of new body/young maidenhood/unfurling yet protecting sensuality
21-28 age of new world/new life/exploring the worlds
28-35 age of the mother/learning to mother others and self
35-42 age of the seeker/learning to mother self/seeking the self
42-49 age of early crone/find the far encampment/giving courage to others
49-56 age of the underworld/learning the words and rites
56-63 age of choice/choosing one’s world and the work yet to be done
63-70 age of becoming watchwoman/recasting all one has learned
70-77 age of re-youthanization/more cronedom
77-84 age of the mist beings/finding more big in the small
84-91 age of weaving with the scarlet thread/understanding the weaving of life
91-98 age of the etherial/less to saying, more to being
98-105 age of pneuma, the breath
105+ age of timelessness

At the end of the book she offers the simple and perfect wolf’s rules for life:

1. Eat
2. Rest
3. Rove in between
4. Render loyalty
5. Love the children
6. Cavil in moonlight
7. Tune your ears
8. Attend to the bones
9. Make love
10. Howl often

As I continue to know and dance with my Wild Woman, I resist the urge to drive off into the sunset, or disappear forever into the forest permanently. I live my everyday life, appreciating the role of tension in this catalyzing process. I’m slowing down and living fully in the stage of life where I find myself. I listen to the wisdom of my body, make love often, and remember to howl at the moon.

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Quote of the day

“How much of the ugly does it take to substitute for a lack of the beautiful? How many adventure films does it take to compensate for a lack of adventure? How many superhero movies must one watch, to compensate for the atrophied expression of one’s greatness? How much pornography to meet the need for intimacy? How much entertainment to substitute for missing play? It takes an infinite amount.

… We have maximized our production of the measurable—the square feet, the productivity per labor unit—at the expense of everything qualitative: sacredness, intimacy, love, beauty and play.”

-Charles Eisenstein, The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know is Possible

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Get happy, get well

A dear friend of mine passed along a lecture by Dr. Vincent Medici that discussed the chemical and biological benefits of pleasure. The full lecture can be found here, but I’ll summarize the key points.

The central focus of the lecture is on endorphins. Endorphins is the combination of the word endogenous (things that originate from the organism) and morphine (an opiate).

Endorphins are chemicals that interact with receptors in the brain to reduce our perception of pain or to create feelings of euphoria. (source)

In his lecture, Medici talks about the new age-y mantra of “get happy, get well.” These endorphins, are what he believes makes this statement more than just a saying.

Scientists are discovering that many organs in the body have endorphin receptors, and that endorphins “talk” to our cells… he says, “they initiate sequences in the cell that regenerate tissue.”

He talks about the example of when someone gets sick, and then they start doing yoga, getting massages, eating healthy and they start to feel better. He argues that the good feelings (and resulting endorphins) that come from those activities are what heals the body, not the activities themselves.

From a healing perspective, he asks us to “master the endorphin experience.” Those who are not healthy, are “missing the physical experience of [endorphins] at the level required to cure the disease.”

Doing a quick google search, I found more studies supporting his claims. This one found that by stimulating the opiate receptors on immune cells, they were more efficient at getting rid of tumor cells.

So, choosing pleasure not only feels good, it helps keep my body healthy too? I’ll take another serving!

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In service to the dance…

Charles Eisenstein turns me on… again. In this essay on misogyny and the healing of the masculine, he offers this beautiful description of his fantasy about how the sacred masculine shows up in the world:

“I would like to see… a circle of men that offer a story of the sacred masculine in a post-patriarchal world. In that world, a man does not dominate and abuse the feminine, but seeks to protect her, treasure her, pleasure her, be unshakable for her, make her laugh, bring gifts to her, and, as in a ballroom dance, sense where she wants to go and invite her there with clarity and confidence. He places his qualities of linearity, decisiveness, humor, calmness, solidity, directness, strength, persistence, generosity, mobility, and assertiveness in service to the dance.”

I feel my body tingle and get juicy as I read this description. My body responds similarly when I am in the presence of men standing in their sacredness…. and I so appreciate Charles for putting words to how they do it.

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Uses of the Erotic: Erotic as Power

I discovered this amazing essay by Audre Lorde entitled “Uses of the Erotic: Erotic as Power.” She identifies as a black, lesbian feminist, and she wrote this essay in 1978. Below are some of the quotes that deeply resonated with me.

“As women, we need to examine the ways in which our world can be truly different. I am speaking here of the necessity for reassessing the quality of all the aspects of our lives and of our work, and of how we move toward and through them.”

“The very word erotic comes from the Greek word eros, the personification of love in all its aspects – born of Chaos, and personifying creative power and harmony. When I speak of the erotic, then, I speak of it as an assertion of the lifeforce of women; of that creative energy empowered, the knowledge and use of which we are now reclaiming in our language, our history, our dancing, our loving, our work, our lives. ”

“Our erotic knowledge empowers us, becomes a lens through which we scrutinize all aspects of our existence, forcing us to evaluate those aspects honestly in terms of their relative meaning within our lives. And this is a grave responsibility, projected from within each of us, not to settle for the convenient, the shoddy, the conventionally expected, nor the merely safe.”

“The erotic is a measure between the beginnings of our sense of self and the chaos of our strongest feelings. It is an internal sense of satisfaction to which, once we have experienced it, we know we can aspire. For having experienced the fullness of this depth of feeling and recognizing its power, in honor and self-respect we can require no less of ourselves.”

“But when we begin to live from within outward, in touch with the power of the erotic within ourselves, and allowing that power to inform and illuminate our actions upon the world around us, then we begin to be responsible to ourselves in the deepest sense.”

“Recognizing the power of the erotic within our lives can give us the energy to pursue genuine change within our world, rather than merely settling for a shift of characters in the same weary drama.”

“The aim of each thing which we do is to make our lives and the lives of our children richer and more possible. Within the celebration of the erotic in all our endeavors, my work becomes a conscious decision a longed-for bed which I enter gratefully and from which I rise up empowered.”

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I was introduced to a new concept/ movement/ idea this summer, called Ecosexuality. I received an invitation to participate in the Ecosex Convergence event and I was intrigued to learn more. The event promised to be a combination of permaculture, large group rituals, earth-based spirituality, and ecosomatics within a sex-positive container.

My hubby and I attended the last 3 days of the 5 day event. The land on which the event was being held was spectacularly beautiful and clearly very sacred land. We pitched our tent with plenty of spaciousness, enjoyed really good vegetarian food at each meal, and took full advantage of the forest sanctuary they named after Lilith to commune with the divine and to connect sexually with each other.

The trainings and workshops were informative and thoughtfully conducted. The large rituals were interesting to observe. While I didn’t feel significantly called to them, I appreciated the thought, intention, and creativity with which they were conducted.

What I took away most from the event (other than savoring the delicious connection in the woods with my beloved and a spark of inspiration to explore my pleasure) was a new found curiosity around the Ecosexual movement.

The concept behind the Ecosexual movement is that we shift from a relationship with Mother Earth to one with Lover Earth.

I purchased and read the new anthology “Ecosexuality: When Nature Inspires the Arts of Love” as well as many of the foundational texts that are supporting this movement.

The Ecosexual Pioneers are a small, but visionary group who are utilizing their artistic talents and deep personal connection to the Earth to articulate a new vision about ways to relate and interact with the Earth and all of its inhabitants. They suggest that the mindset of how we treat a mother and how we treat a lover, are significantly different enough to adjust the very way humans view, interact, and make decisions about our relationship with the non-human world. Charles Eisenstein talks about this shift in the anthology:

“Eco-sexual awakening is a direct response to hitting these limits [of what the earth can give], the weaning age of abundance and the ending of our civilizations childlike relationship to the earth. We face the necessity of treating earth not as a mother – a boundless provider of all we need and want – but as a lover, with whom we give and receive in equal measure.”

I am appreciating this movement’s effort to make the “green” movement more holistic — to include human sexuality as a key factor in the world’s ability to have a more sustainable relationship with the Earth. In my experience of the environmental movement, human sexuality is never discussed, let alone valued or leveraged. That is no surprise given that in most cultures, human sexuality is forbidden, hidden, and demonized. And in more “progressive” cultures, human sexuality is at best marginalized, called offensive, and subjected to shame, control, and fear.

In the Ecosexuality anthology, author Gabriella Cordova asks the fundamental question: “… how can a species at war with its own nature be able to love nature?” If we can’t embrace, redeem, utilize, cherish, and find peace with our own wild, sexual natures, how can we expect societies to protect, support, and have a symbiotic relationship with the wild plants, animals, and land that comprise the rest of the inhabitants on planet Earth?

Anthology author Robert Silver says, “Many have heard the saying that a chain is only as strong as the weakest link. For many people, that link is sensuality and sexuality.” I’m intrigued by the idea of looking at my relationship to human sexuality as a mirror for my culture’s relationship to nature.

This relationship is at the very heart of my pleasure project. What lessons do I learn when I explore my own pleasure that apply to my relationship with Earth as well?

I may not go so far as to have an eco-wedding to marry my new Lover Earth, but recent events (including a conversation with a snake, story coming soon) have led me to believe that pleasure, sensuality, sexuality have an integral role both in my own personal development as well as my understanding of how I fit into the larger ecosystem on our planet.

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Why pleasure?

I was telling a dear friend about my new project, and she asked me a very thoughtful question: Why pleasure? Why not joy, or gratitude or love?

My immediate answer to her was bumbling and incoherent, so I wanted to spend some more time articulating my answer and sharing it here.

Why pleasure?

Who doesn’t want to be assigned to focus on their pleasure? I guess some people wouldn’t, but it sounded awesome to me. However, there was more than just surface-level enjoyment motivating my decision.

I denied my pleasure from an early age: I was raised in a religion that taught the physical body and sensations were “illusions.” I was told as a teenager that abstinence was the only option and was sheltered from movies and media that portrayed sexual situations. As a corporate employee, I spent 8+ hours a day sitting, often in windowless rooms, working on a computer. When I became a mom, I found it hard to prioritize my own exercise, rest, and relaxation over the needs of the children, the family, and my marriage.

Only within the last few years, with the help of dance, tantra, yoga and the 15 commitments, have I become more in touch with my body to understand its needs and wants. Since quitting my job, I have drastically reduced my sitting and typing and being disconnected to the natural world outside. I am lucky to have a partner who supports my ability to take time to myself to be with friends, to go dancing, or to sleep in on the weekends. And while I’ve made tremendous shifts, I know there is still a lot of pleasure left to discover.

I’m also intrigued by the notion of pleasure being a revolutionary tactic and one that can address the environmental crisis we are facing.

Charles Eisenstein talks about how the current story of the world, the one that is creating such environmental and social destruction fundamentally requires us to deny or postpone our pleasure. He says it is “because most of the tasks that we must do to keep the world-devouring machine operating do not feel very good at all.”

The world-devouring tasks that come to mind are strip mining our mountains, burning fossil fuels that pollute our air, pillaging rainforests and lands of other cultures to gather materials needed to make our disposable products. And there are personal-level examples of world-devouring tasks as well: throwing away a giant plastic box that was only used once to transport some lettuce, sitting in rush hour traffic, or having the alarm go off early every morning because school and work have regimented start times. Charles believes that for the individual and the world to keep doing all these things, “we must be trained to deny pleasure.”

So if I pay attention to where I am denying my pleasure, and make different choices (buying lettuce from the farmer’s market, sans box; riding my bike more; dedicating more time in my week to having sensual connections with others), then I am not only walking-the-talk for the world I want to live in, but I am also undermining a foundational requirement that keeps the machine devouring.

I’m also very interested in exploring the philosophies of the ecosexual movement (which looks at the intersection of the state of the environment and human sexuality). I’ll do an entire blog post on what I’ve learned about ecosexuality soon, but in the meantime, there’s a quote from Sam Keen’s book “The Passionate Life” that describes the potential I see in looking at pleasure as a way to address environmental challenges: “It is only when we deal with the dis-eased character of modern sexuality and ecological crisis as a single problem that is rooted in an erotic disorder that we can begin to discover ways to heal ourselves of our alienation from our bodies and from nature.”

At the end of the day, I don’t know what I’m going to learn from this pleasure project. But I know that my intent of this project is to benefit all. To help the world know more pleasure, I’m starting by fully knowing my own.

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