Threshold

tree_threshold

You will go with your guide to a wilderness place.  All you have will be the pack on your back.  A base camp will be established on the perimeter of the threshold area.  Now you are at the border of a land without borders.  You are about to enter the hallowed cathedral of the Great Mother.

The last night, by the firelight, the faces of people in the group have never seemed more honest.  Defenses are down.  Conversation is real and full of truth.  Like the others, you have come to the end of a trail littered with old spoor.  Soon you will walk away from it.  You are one sleepless night away from liberation…

For the next three or four days and nights you will see no one.  In the silence of your separateness you will seek a vision… This is the time to forget time, to remember what it is you are seeking, and to take it into your heart.

Stephen Foster and Meredith Little, The Book of the Vision Quest

It is almost a year to the day that I came down from a mountain in North Wales, having spent four days and four nights up there, alone, fasting, praying for a vision.  And, as I make my preparations to return to that same mountain, to ‘complete’ the ceremony, if you like, the memories of that time come flooding back to me in wild and unbidden ways.

The fear, the doubts, the hunger, the dreams, the seemingly endless passage of the sun through the sky overhead.  Then the clarity, the knowing, the feeling that my heart would burst open with the love and connection that I felt for everyone and everything around me.  An openness that I have not felt anywhere before or since.  A deep, earth-reverberating, soul-aching belonging to the world that made me want to laugh and cry in equal measure.

In any rite of passage ceremony, there are three identifiable phases which must be gone through by the initiate: Severence (where we separate literally from our former worlds), Threshold (where we enter the ‘sacred world’ and so begins the time of testing), and Reincorporation (where we return to our ‘village’, our people, carrying our vision before us).  Each stage is as elemental to the whole as each other.  Each one is unique, intense, and full of medicine that keeps showing itself in wild and mysterious ways.  Each one takes an enormous amount of courage that at times can feel insurmountable.

One definition in the Oxford English Dictionary describes threshold as “a point of entry or beginning”.  Indeed, threshold marks a place between here and there, now and then.  It allows us a point in space and time to step through, shedding all that we have been carrying up to then – the point at which “(We) may face deep truths, extreme weakness and strength that (we) never knew (we) had; in order to stand in (our) naked truth and surrender into (our) uniqueness” (Pip Bondy, http://www.ancienthealingways.co.uk/vision-quest/).  We can, indeed we MUST, ask ourselves: What are we leaving behind in order to step through, past and beyond ourselves at this juncture?

Marking threshold is potent.  It can be a physical location in space, or it can be a point in our lives when we know we have reached the end of one thing, one way of being, and now we need to step into something else.  Another, different part of ourselves that we know is in there, buried deep beneath years of sorrow or pain perhaps, or simply a lack of recognition of seeing something for what it is.

sea_threshold

Now you stand alone at the gates of sacred time.  Before you lie the features of eternity.  By your own efforts you have become a worthy candidate.  Now the cord binding you to your former life must be severed.  You will cut the cord by actually entering the passage.  This is an auspicious and powerful moment.

Stephen Foster and Meredith Little, The Book of the Vision Quest

As I stand at that edge and ask myself “What am I willing to leave behind so that I can fully step through, in and beyond?” I feel fear, anticipation, excitement AND a deep knowing that this is where I have been coming to since I walked down that mountain a year ago yesterday, my bag heavy on my back, my vision light in my heart.

I have laughed, cried, worried, questioned,  stumbled and walked gracefully through reincorporation. I unconsciously re-entered severance during this time, and once again I find myself standing at the doorway that leads from here to there.

And I laugh too, because after two years of doing some intense self work, I promised myself that I would have a ‘year off’ this year.  Little did I know that by choosing to step up to this journey all those many months ago, all I really did was open a door.  One of many doors.

And, of course, with each new door comes a new threshold…

“An ounce of hope is worth more than a tonne of despair”

“Denial is everywhere. I have come to believe that it’s an intrinsic component of our humanity, an essential survival strategy. Unlike other species, we know that we will die. This knowledge could destroy us, were we unable to blot it out. But, unlike other species, we also know how not to know. We employ this unique ability to suppress our knowledge not just of mortality, but of everything we find uncomfortable, until our survival strategy becomes a threat to our survival.”

George Monbiot

This morning, whilst lounging in bed in the small cottage we’re staying in in Aberdyfi for the week, I finished reading Feral, the latest book by journalist and environmentalist, George Monbiot.  In a nutshell, it’s a book about rewilding; rewilding the land, rewilding the sea, rewilding ourselves.

While there seem to be numerous definitions of ‘rewilding’ out there, I agree with GM that two of those definitions are most fascinating.  The first relates to allowing ecological processes to resume within natural ecosystems.  So, rather than attempting to freeze nature in the name of ‘preservation’ or ‘conservation’, recognising actually that the natural world is not made up of  simple, static systems, but rather richly complex processes that go way beyond our initial understanding or imaginings; processes that must be allowed to return and evolve naturally.  The other definition relates to our own place within this ecosystem – the rewilding of human life.  GM describes this perfectly as “an enhanced opportunity for people to engage with and delight in the natural world”.

After reading Feral, I went on to GM’s website and came across the above quote about denial.  And I absolutely, wholeheartedly agree: we live in a world of denial.  I have questioned the status quo, the ‘boxes’ that we are all meant to fit neatly inside of, for almost as long as I can remember.  This, I have learnt, is not the easy route through life.  I’ve fallen out with a lot of people along the way.  I ask awkward questions, start uncomfortable conversations, bring things up that others would prefer just quietly swept under the carpet.  I’m fully aware of this, yet to not take this position feels, to me, insincere and disingenuous.  I made a promise a long time ago that I would NEVER give my daughters the answer “Because that’s just how things are, ok” because that response has ALWAYS frustrated me.  Quite simply, it is not good enough.

There is always more going on than I can see on the surface of things, so as far as I’m concerned there is always something else to question.  Yet another thing that I can not take for granted, whether it’s the clothes I wear, the food I eat, where I shop, how I travel, how I educate my children, how I earn my money, where and how I holiday… The list feels, at times, endless and exhausting.  But to not ask these questions would be to live in denial.  Denial that this fragile world we’re living in is not actually teetering on the edge of massive collapse.

GM is a writer and activist who seems fairly controversial.  I don’t have an opinion on him myself (yet), but I do know that Feral has got me thinking and looking deeply, for it has radically altered the way I now see this landscape around me here in mid/north Wales.  From the ‘white plague’ of sheep that roam the hillsides and mountaintops, stripping bare ground again and again which could, and indeed should, sustain so much more wild life than it does now, to the unseen depths of the sea that have been devastated by commercial fishing on a scale that I find difficult, and yes deeply uncomfortable, to get my head around.  These are all things that are so easy to overlook – to see superficially what seems beautiful and benign and, yes, even ‘wild’.  But when you look closer, and you question what’s really going on, when you ask those awkward questions and you refuse to take “Well, that’s just how things are” as an answer, the truth becomes clear.  And shocking.  And frightening.  What kind of world exactly ARE we cultivating for all our inquisitive children?

So where’s the “ounce of hope” in all this despair?  As GM and many other environmentalists, activists and climate scientists explain, the answers are actually really quite simple.  The small changes that we can make to the natural world around us can have huge and far reaching effects (take the re-introduction of wolves into Yellowstone Park as one example).  Effects that we CAN realise within our own lifetimes. Many of these will need to be made on a government level, yes, but it is the individual decisions we each choose to make on a daily basis that determine the course of things really.  We have to believe this.  I have to believe this.  It is where hope lies.  And without hope, well we really are well and truly screwed.

Here’s the TED talk GM did last year about rewilding.  And if you can get hold of a copy, I’d highly recommend reading Feral as well.  But be warned: the world around you might not quite look the same again…

Welsh wanderings…

Tom and I spent last week travelling around Wales, starting in the Brecon Beacons and making our way slowly northwards.  After our recent decision to move to Wales, we knew we needed to start THE SEARCH to find our new home.  And so it begins…  These are just a few of the places we stopped at, places that make my heart sing, places that make me slightly giddy with happiness and remind me of the power of nature in bringing everything back to the simple.

Llangrannog

Llangrannog cliffs… third time I’ve visited here, third time it’s taken my breath away

breakfast

Breakfast on Llangrannog beach.  Waking up doesn’t get much better than this…

Sandcircle

Incredible beach art to marvel at on our way back after a cliff top walk.  Check out more of Marc Treanor’s work at http://www.sandcircles.co.uk – nothing less than awesome

llynview

Looking East over Llynnau Cregennen on our way to Cadair Idris and…

otherway

…looking West from the very same spot.

Cadr

The beautiful and magnetic Cadair Idris itself, from the bottom…

Cadr2

…from the middle…

Cadrtop

…and yep, from the top.

topoftheworld

A view from the very VERY top, looking North and, as far as I’m concerned, over the whole wide world.

CaeDu

And lastly, one of my most favourite campsites in the whole world – Cae Du.  Here’s a wildling selkie Tom, emerging from the water after a sunset swim amongst dolphins and seals (not that he noticed, mind you – everyone back at the campsite did though thank you very much)

So if you’ve ever wondered what the small but incredibly beautiful land of Wales has to offer, here are just a few tiny things to tickle your taste buds.  And if you’ve never even visited, well shame on you quite frankly.

The mountains of Snowdonia are truly alive, no not with the sound of music, but with a power, majesty, and deep, earth-resounding wildness I have not experienced elsewhere.  I lost a big part of my heart to these mountains this year.  AND I know it is waiting for me there still, because whenever I return, I feel whole again, alive, inspired to create and surrender to what I know now in the depths of my soul, that this is a place where I can truly, madly, deeply BE.

As for THE SEARCH, well we saw plenty to inspire us, and at least one place that we both fell in love with, but… and… well… for now THE SEARCH goes on…