I Am, We Are, This Is Me: The Wounded Healer in Nature and Sacred Community
In my personal life beyond my work as a professor and a psychologist, I am blessed to be a member of two loving and healing spiritual communities that feel like a family and tribe, in a deeper sense than I could once have ever imagined. At the time of this writing, I reflect in a liminal space between events connected to both groups.
I have just returned from a five-day spiritual retreat at The Crows Nest Center for Shamanic Studies, where I was immersed in sacred breathwork sessions, sweatlodge ceremonies, shamanic and earth-honoring rituals, deeply spiritual conversations, tepid breezy nights under stars, and morning awakenings to forest birdsong.
I am now preparing in a few days to be with my Earth Traditions community at our six-day Oasis retreat where I will lead ecstatic rituals of spiritual transformation, participate in advanced workshops for personal and spiritual growth, play with and teach the astonishing children who are the future of our tradition, and honor ancient Pagan ways of living in harmony with the cycles and seasons of earth and sharing community in deeply healing ways. At this fulcrum time between two huge personal boons and blessings, how easy and joyful it is to reflect about the marvelous benefits that spiritual communities bring to my life and how much more efficacious they have been to me than individual psychotherapy or even group therapy alone.
Please do not think that I am completely discounting the benefits of psychotherapy. Experiencing in therapy the validation of the fact that I could be a good father even as I have never had children of my own has ultimately helped me to encounter and begin healing the little wounds and traumas of a little boy who lives yet within me. That boy experienced feeling very different and isolated from his peers as a very young child, and now I can simply welcome and nurture HIM rather than pine for children I will never have.
However, entering into community experience and sharing of non-ordinary consciousness through breathwork, ritual, dance, and chanting has allowed the wounded parts of me to encounter in many I-Thou moments those of others as well—building relationships with them over time that are free of pretense and that feel, for all intents and purposes, exactly like home. We all unexpectedly fill empty places in each other, helping each other to release in safety and security lifetimes of pain locked in bodies that carry all of our traumas with us. In sacred community, we live out each other’s stories fully in a manner that grants us insight into our own stories. We enact with each other (intentionally or not) dramas that reveal how our wounds are thematically connected in time over the course of our lives, and we hold space for each other as we relinquish in a sacred manner the continuing need for those dramas. We then know ourselves as much bigger than our physical bodies.
I know now, unequivocally, that I am a part of a greater whole that has deeply desired Me to return for a long, long time. I am, We are, This is me (part of a lovely chant we sing at Crows Nest).
Secondly, by having these experiences outdoors, in natural settings, we learn that the earth and its denizens still yearn to speak to us and dance with us as they once did with our ancestors. We can enter into healing relationships with plants, animals, and stones, and the stories and dramas that unfold before us in field and forest can heal us too. Once awake to these, we encounter them everywhere. For instance, on our way to the North Woods of Wisconsin recently, my wife and I encountered a bald eagle that swooped down in front of our car and snagged a strip of meat from a dead coyote, perhaps to feed its young in a distant nest. Laughing, she quipped that she appreciated the eagle cleaning up the chaotic coyote trickster energy from our lives for that space of time. We then entered into a conversation about how to eliminate the chaos and mischief others sometimes bring, perhaps even without fully intending to do harm.
Honestly, I am personally at a loss to identify any therapy or solitary activity that brings about such deep healing benefits as quickly. Group therapy can certainly cohere a sense of community over a period of time, but it simply does not compare to intentionally living with each other in a trusting, open vulnerable manner in an ongoing way, whether for the space of a few days or years at a time. I am increasingly an advocate for immersive community experiences in nature, where we may once again learn to hear the strains of the Great Song of Life and rejoin our kindred tribes in singing along.
-- Drake Spaeth