LIFE LOVING ITSELF: Cathy Shap on Wander Inside
I’m so very excited to begin a series of Weekly Wonder posts featuring six lovely women who have been terrific encouragers for me and strong supporters of Women of Wonder. These are women who believe in the transformative power of the WONDER Compass.
This week, we deepen our awareness to Wander Inside with my friend and mentor Cathy Shap, pictured above. Cathy is not only the co-founder of The Coloring Well and also a lead consultant at Tracking Wonder, but she has also been the content development editor of this website. Cathy has a gentle, but urgent, spirit which are both reflected in her words below. To fully benefit from her thoughts, I encourage you to sculpt some quiet time just for you. Maybe brew a cup of coffee or tea, settle into a favorite chair, and savor her words, ponder them, and then maybe go for a walk where you can Wander Inside. ~~ xoxo Ginny
I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in order. –J. Burroughs.
I want to introduce you to an awareness practice that I believe is the best possible practice for building self-esteem, for enhancing your sense of self-worth. It isn’t commonly taught and you won’t find a how-to article on it in the virtual pages of the Huffington Post.
Why a practice to enhance your sense of self-worth? Because low self-esteem is epidemic- of course it is, because our culture of consumerism and ownership depends on it. And it’s an inevitable effect of abuse as well as a cause.
Without at least a moderate sense of self-worth, any other practice you engage in, such as yoga and meditation, especially if you are a survivor of abuse (and I will argue that we’re all survivors of abuse), will be compromised.
I’ve called this practice that I do “wandering” as well as “drifting and letting out the line”-we drift on the ocean of being, let out the line, and the lure (attention) goes deeper. To do this, there is a requirement: you let go of agendas and anticipated outcomes. I could write an entire blog post on why I use the words ocean and drifting, but maybe you’ll sense it for yourself. This practice can also be called “connecting with nature,” which is less poetic but much more practical. Maybe I will name it Drift, Drop, and Connect.
It’s more than taking a walk outside, though it will look like that’s what you’re doing. What you’ll actually be doing is coming home to yourself, re-membering yourself, and healing yourself out of despair, shame, fear, pain and all the rest of the byproducts of abuse preventing you from recognizing yourself as worthy.
Before I offer the exercise, I’d like to say a little something about abuse, because I really do believe that many of us, if not most of us, experience it daily. The problem is we’re used to it so don’t recognize it as a problem.
Whenever you choose to or are forced to ignore your feelings and your body’s needs, rhythms and sanctity for the benefit, convenience, agenda or profit of another, you are suffering from abuse.
Here’s a small-seeming example that has happened to many of us. Imagine a young boy sitting in an elementary classroom. He raises his hand and asks to go get a drink of water. The teacher is in the middle of a lesson so tells the boy to wait till the bell rings.
I say this is abuse. He’s being taught to ignore and disconnect from the truth of his experience- he feels thirst. His thirst is a sense, and we have more than 5 senses. There is also the feeling sense (not emotion and not touching) that some call our 6th sense, and then there are at least 50 more including thirst.
Our senses are the windows to the world through which we relate to it. They can also be called attractions, and attractions are what hold the world and all of life together. The boy’s sense of thirst is an attraction to water, to rivers and clouds and rain. This attraction is expressing a love for life. Attraction is the non-verbal language of the natural world, it’s the language of life loving itself, and he is being forced to ignore and forget it.
Imagine these seemingly trivial forced disconnections happening multiple times daily, every day of his young life, and it isn’t far fetched to imagine him eventually completely disembodied, a thinking machine who sees nothing wrong with filling in wet lands to build another shopping mall or slipping a little pill into a girl’s drink or doing work that he despises and that causes him and the environment pain day after day for the rest of his life.
As so memorably taught me years ago by the founder of Project Nature-Connect, Dr. Michael Cohen, “Nothing in nature produces abuse,” and I say this is why wounded women, and everyone else, must become intimate with it.
We must become intimate with it because nature is in us, and nature is the source of all of our truly good feelings. Nature is not the source of our bad feelings (anxiety, stress, depression) which come from our disconnection from it.
We participate in the language of attraction through our senses, and only through our senses can we truly know anything. Knowing is a whole body affair. Knowing is deep and unshakeable. Thinking (and information) is abstract and not trustable until whatever is being thought becomes an actual experience. Getting information from other people, no matter how much experience they have had, is not the same as experiencing something for yourself, and wounded women, and everyone else, need to learn to trust their own experiences.
You need to experience the knowing of the body, and moving your body by wandering or drifting, dropping, and connecting is how to begin.
As you wander you will feel the attractions at work within you and sense them all around you connecting all of life and keeping us all alive. I hope you will experience yourself and your attractions and the natural world as life loving itself. I believe this is the answer to the problem of low-self esteem. Love is always the answer.
A Simple Practice adapted from the work of Dr. Michael Cohen:
Observe the wonders as they occur around you. Don’t claim them. Feel the artistry moving through and be silent ~ Rumi
Choose a natural area to go to. It can be your backyard, an open field, a park, a garden, a pond, a trail through the woods. (It can even be a potted plant, or a pet, if weather or illness or circumstances prevent you from getting outside.)
Before you enter this area, close your eyes and silently ask its permission to be there. This is the most important part of this experience so don’t skip it. I’ve had students laugh when I tell them that this is the most important part. Getting consent before touching or entering a body, and the natural world is a body, is not laughable. Let any awkwardness be okay, and just ask.
When you open your eyes, if the area continues to look inviting to you, enter. If for any reason it doesn’t, perhaps a cloud covers the sun at the moment you open your eyes, or a wasp begins to approach you, then the area is not giving you permission at this moment, and you should find another place.
Give yourself some time to wander around. Walk slowly, look around. Feel your way to an area or object or form that is attractive to you. You are following attraction, allowing yourself to be attracted to something, anything.
Perhaps it will be the way the light falls on a tree, or the sounds of birds, or the sweet scent coming from that patch just over there, or the mood of a space. When you arrive at place that is attractive to you, close your eyes and again ask permission to stay a while.
If possible, sit down, or lie down. Experience the area through as many senses as possible. This is wandering too. Sensitively experiencing an area without agenda or force. Let go of trying to name anything. Remember nature is non-verbal. The names tell us nothing real. Simply experience. Tune in to the sense that the area and the life there is also sensing you.
Stay until you sense it’s time to go.
Wander back slowly.
Later, back at home, spend a little time recounting this experience in your journal. Simply describe what you saw, what you sensed, what you experienced. Write down any good feelings that came to you through this experience. What effect did this experience have on your sense of self-worth?
An Excerpt from my own journal from a winter wandering-in experience in Northern Michigan during a particularly difficult time in my life. Notice if anything in the recounting of this experience is attractive to you and share an attraction response in the comment area below.
The morning was very cold, but the air was still, and the sun was almost blinding; it’s typically so grey in Michigan in the winter. The sunshine itself was the first thing to attract me and I tilted my face to it and closed my eyes. I then followed a long narrow road lined on either side by extraordinary White Pines several miles through state park land, making my way to the shore of Lake Michigan. I walked briskly for half an hour or so appreciating the warmth that was generated by movement. I felt pulled all the way to the shore. An attraction perhaps. I had assumed the bay where I was headed would be completely frozen over. I imagined myself walking out onto it, the sounds of the ice shifting and moaning below my boots. I was almost looking forward to that. As I got closer to the shore, I could not see the water because the dunes there were so large; they were snow covered, of course, but I found a way over. The beach itself was a mosaic of snow, ice, and sand where the wind had struck, and the big surprise was that the bay was not the least bit frozen. There were gentle waves rolling in, and twenty feet out, a group of small white birds floated quietly. I walked to the water and took off my gloves, and reached down for a shell and surprised myself with a laugh when a wave rolled in and soaked my hand and boots. I stood up and looked around–there was not another soul anywhere. There were resort-type cottages nestled into the high hills behind me, but no other sign of humans. I heard a cry, turned and watched as a lone seagull came in over the smaller birds, then flew past me, disappearing behind the dunes. I followed the shore line, slipping on the ice that was forming, hypnotized by the sound of the waves as they made contact with it. A hiss, gulp and plunk. Eventually the beach just disappeared and I was carefully walking along the side of the dunes, tuning in to my sense of balance, the incline dropping straight down into the water. I came to a spot that looked as if someone had taken a pie knife and cut a slice out of one of the dunes. It seemed a good spot to rest, so I asked permission, felt welcome and climbed down in there and lay back and closed my eyes. The sun was warm on my face, and the sound of the waves was soothing. It sounded like summer; on my face it felt like summer. But beneath me I could feel the frozen ground penetrating the backs of my thighs. I opened my eyes and watched a few white clouds each with a heavy grey belly drift by. I closed my eyes again. I felt tucked away. Protected. In communion. Each wave as it rolled in matched the rhythm of my breath with that slight pause between the inhale and exhale. Each pause became a space, a temple to step into just as it began to disassemble itself. And then the cry of a gull. And then another wave. The cold penetrating my back, the bright sun warming my front. The white birds drifting.