After I was initiatied, I initiated myself.” -Eji Ogbe, Sacred Ifa Oracle of the Yoruba
Tell me about your love of nature. Tell me about how you long to connect with the beautiful, the wild, the pure, the unleashed forces that shape the earth. Tell me about the seemingly crazy things that this longing has urged you to do. Tell me about the journeys you have taken, the fences and trees and rocks you have climbed, the rules and maybe bones you have broken, the waters you have crossed, both inwardly and outwardly. Tell me about the journeys that you have only taken in your mind, where your body and your identity have not yet wanted to follow. Tell me about the weird, the extreme and the unhinged, the non-sensical and the soulful. Plant yourself solidly in that longing, with both feet, toes in the soil. Feel it with your heart, with your tears and your spit. Mark this territory with your urine seeping into the dirt, paint it with your blood and the ashes of your fires.
Tell me about yours, and I will tell you about mine… This morning I was reflecting on my peak spiritual experience of 2019, which was my personal sadhana in the forest. It was in our second month of last year’s ashram season, after weeks of daily prayer, practice and communal life. In the afternoons, hot moisture rose off the sweaty lawns of the campground, swirling around my calves and forcing itself into my lungs. Each night, we would gather round our ceremonial fire and chant the sun down past the horizon, with the soothing drone of mantras, silent prayers and the holy feel of togetherness. What remained was a balmy blanket that felt like the clothes of the earth on my skin.
Ever since I read Daniel Odier’s book “Tantric Quest”, I have longed to spend a night overnight in the woods, naked and alone, without the usual protection and comforts of camping equipment. I have been trying to figure out the logistics of this for many years, such as, where do I leave my clothes (it seemed important to not bring them with me), how do I get to a remote enough place for this to happen and feel safe enough to relax into the experience, where do I leave my car if I have to drive somewhere to do this, etc. I knew I’d need to do this in the summer months, when I wouldn’t possibly need to worry about cold exposure. For such a minimalistic experience, creating the conditions for this dream of mine would actually take quite a bit of intention. As the weeks of ashram progressed, I saw a window in the schedule where my leadership presence would not be “needed” as much, and where instead of holding space for others, I could request that space be held for me. The previous year, my dear spiritual brother, Yogi Amitram, had visited us at ashram and he had completed his own personal sadhana, a full day of mantra chanting, and we had brought him plates of food and left them at the door of his tent. And earlier this season, my spiritual sister, Leila, had also completed her own sadhana of mantra chanting. Furthermore, we had discovered a rarely visited, little known waterfall, on the campground property which seemed to be asking me to engage with its presence. So the precedent had been set, the vibes created, and it felt like the universe was beckoning me towards the realization of this dream.
I set off on the trail to the waterfall, having said goodbye to Leila and Trish, my ashram sisters, and made some agreements with them to have them bring me a dinner plate that evening, left on a rock near the stream, like food for a wild animal. I wore only a colorful coverup robe (which Leila had lovingly made out of two large scarves) and my trusty pink crocs (because style is so important), carrying a small bag with my journal, pen, water bottle, mala beads, lighter, palo santo stick, a candle, a wool blanket the size of a yoga mat and bandana. I am feeling a resistance to writing about how the experience progressed, because I don’t remember or even want to remember, in a linear storytelling way, what happened when or next. There was not a linear deepening, there was simply an experience of presence like I have never known before.
As soon as I neared the waterfall, I took off my robe-of-many-colors and hung my bag in a nearby tree, and began to listen. I began to indulge, to welcome, my deepest spiritual longings for myself, for Gaia, for the world. I listened to every nudge that came from my innermost self. I climbed down the waterfall barefoot, I laid in the flow of the water, moss against my skin. Knowing that I had a container of 24 hours, and all of the supporting conditions that contributed to the sacred container for this experience, allowed me to go deeper into my longing than I ever had before. I built the biggest fairy temple I have ever constructed, I self-pleasured, I dreamt, and I offered my blood to the bite of the mosquito, as she brought me her sweet, irresistible medicine. I felt her love make its presence known with its warm tingling, no urge to scratch. I willingly, consciously donated my life force energy to that creature, so that she could feed her family and in turn, become life for a fish, a bird, a frog or another animal. With this exchange, her medicine for my blood, I entered the web of life in a new way, at a new level of wholeness and awareness. That blood was unlike any other blood that animal had ever consumed or would ever consume, a precious molecular offering.
Inspired by my sacred exchange with this mosquito, I made a list of six additional layers of tiny gatekeepers that often keep us from deep embodied connection with the natural world. I traced my journey of making friends with ants and flies, then bees and wasps, then spiders. And even the invisible ones, the micro-organisms. We construct a world where the arbitrary line between “dirty” and “clean” keeps us separate and hygenic. Then there’s the tougher ones: ticks and chiggers, horseflies and deer flies. Our vigilance against all of these keeps us in our houses and cars, in our shoes and in our clothes. On this day, I felt eternally grateful for my erratic steps of willingness to expose my soft skin, my vulnerable parts, to these gatekeepers, over more than four decades, and for having found a level of peace and harmony with each of them.
As the day progressed, and the sun’s rays no longer filtered through the trees, I was waiting to meet the dark side of myself, my shadows. I was ready for them. I was ready to entangle our limbs, to let them have their ways with me, to go as deep together as I had gone with the light, to let them bring me home into Gaia herself if they wanted. I found a body-shaped dip in the earth and made my nest for the evening, ready to welcome whatever came in the long dark hours. I gathered dry leaves by the armload, piling them deep and topping them with my small wool blanket. Nearby, I made a small fire ring and gathered materials for a fire ceremony, and chanted the whole litany of mantras by heart, hearing the sound of my own voice as I never had before. My favorite part of the day arrived, the time when there are no shadows, when the day is perfectly balanced with night. I could feel my pupils widening as the light disappeared; there was no switch to flip to stop their softening.
As I waited for the darkness to settle, I cuddled into my nest, testing it out to see how comfortable it would be in the wee hours. I felt the pull of gravity as the earth’s embrace, holding my head, hips and shoulders. As I began to drift towards sleep, instead of my shadows arriving, what came was unexpected raindrops. They started gently, and I prepared to get wet, wondering how that would change the experience. I felt like I could hang in; what’s wrong with spending the night wet in the woods? But then I realized that if the rain didn’t let up, once it was pitch dark, I had no way to get back to camp or shelter, since the rain would surely extinguish my single candle that I had for light.
As I continued laying there, the rain got more and more intense. Any amount of relaxation or ease that I found with my breath and my thoughts were jarred out of me by rain pelting my face. This sensation brought me out of the zone of learning and discovery and into the zone of panic and fear. So without much thought or judgement, I walked the half mile back to my tent, curled up on my bed and slept there, grateful for a layer of protection as the rain droned on for hours. I woke up before dawn the next morning and walked right back to my nest. I couldn’t wait to sit in meditation next to the waterfall and listen to what else she had to share with me.
I closed my sadhana with another fire ceremony. This time, smearing the ashes from the fire on my face and hands, at which point, I felt my consciousness alter yet again, entering a trancelike state. As I methodically dismantled my fire ring and nest, erasing as many traces of my presence there as possible, my brain waves moved at about half their normal speed and twice the usual depth. I offered gratitude and love, and said goodbye to the waterfall, and the spirit named Oriyeye who had presented herself. I walked back to the ashram campsite, in broad daylight, hoping that I would not encounter the groundskeeper or one of the campground owners before I had a chance to wash the ashes off my face.
Before I started my sadhana, my romantic partner, “M” and I had been having conversations about our relationship agreements. I wanted to have a traditional, monogamous relationship. M wanted to have “no relationship agreements”, where we would both be free to be with other people if we so chose, although hopefully we would feel comfortable sharing about that with each other. Before my sadhana, the idea of this kind of “open” relationship felt way too scary and expansive to me; I didn’t want to deal with feelings of jealousy.
As the hours after my sadhana passed, and I lived into this incredible feeling of a new somatic connection to the abundance of Gaia herself unlike any I had felt before, it felt effortless for me to release M to experience abundant connections with others. I wanted him to love and be loved, by me and by others, just as I also wanted that for myself. I felt that there was no human connection that could compare to the depth and meaning of what I had experienced during those 24 hours in the forest. As it turns out, the following months were some of the most abundant and joyful times I have experienced, and I have been living even more deeply in the flow of my own soul than ever before. Releasing myself and M from our agreements was a key part of that flow.
It is a joy and a pleasure to write out this narrative, and to feel hopeful that my journey, my experiment with a sample size of one will serve the purpose of inviting you to delve even more courageously into your own inner realms and to create and live the sadhana of your dreams.