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Like a living bridge, dreamwork is a practice in which we coax, weave, and tend to the roots of our separation—and in so doing, restore our membership in belonging.
Encounters is a free 6-week series of intimate conversations with remarkable women devoted to deep inquiry on the topic of belonging.
A Course on Dreams
Using a blend of art, theory and practice, Dreamwalking helps you understand the language of your dreams & develop the tools necessary to begin bridging their wisdom back to waking life.
“An exquisitely crafted journey that explores the deep longings of the soul,
the mysterious workings of our dreams, the bittersweet wisdom of the orphaned self and the losses of our lineage that we would rather ignore. Toko-pa Turner speaks with poetry and practicality, pure compassion and profound integrity to the heart of what it means to belong to ourselves, to our people, to our communities and to the earth. Belonging is the book I have been longing to read all my life.”
-Lucy H. Pearce, Amazon bestselling author, Burning Woman, Moon Time, The Rainbow Way
excerpts from belonging
Human beings have a natural urge to worship that “something greater” which coheres us, but we, in modernity, are living in a kind of spiritual cul-de-sac where our gifts only serve the human community. Unlike the many shamanic cultures that practice dreamwork, ritual, and thanksgiving, Westerners have forgotten what indigenous people understand to be cardinal: that this world owes its life to the unseen. Every hunt and every harvest, every death, and every birth is distinguished by ceremony for that which we cannot see, feeding back that which feeds us. I believe our epidemic alienation is, in good part, the felt negligence of that reciprocity.
The pathologizing of rebellion in teenagers is one of the great harms we inflict upon our children. As the future shapers of our culture, there is a reason why so many cultures perform ritual initiations into adulthood. Rebellion, if given proper reverence, is the necessary confrontation with society that ensures our sustainability. This is the threshold in a young person’s life when the dynamic between elders and youngers reverses. It is here that the ache and rage of unbelonging is most needed. In the young person’s disagreements and willingness to talk back to injustice, a wild storehouse of creative energy lives and thrives. We should be inviting the new adult into a seat of authority in our circle, asking them to galvanize our outdated structures.
The Death Mother is that paralytic energy that dismisses your creativity and demands your smallness, and your silence. No longer able to withstand the pain of rejection, the child stops offering her creative spark. She hides it away where it can’t be criticized, believing, as she’s been taught, that it’s worthless. As the child gets older, she internalises the Death Mother and projects this being not wanted onto others, anticipating rejection from friends, authority figures, even life itself. But rather than outcasting the aspects of ourselves that were once rejected, we must work to reclaim those parts. We must affirm and allow them, moment by moment, strengthening our capacity for inclusion, for belonging. It is the practice of bringing the fullness of our presence to a moment, whether it’s filled with rage or an upwelling of sadness, to say, “This too belongs.”
Our longing for community and purpose is so powerful that it can drive us to join groups, relationships, or systems of belief that, to our diminished or divided self, give the false impression of belonging. But places of false belonging grant us conditional membership, requiring us to cut parts of ourselves off in order to fit in. While false belonging can be useful and instructive for a time, the soul becomes restless when it reaches a glass ceiling, a restriction that prevents us from advancing. We may shrink back from this limitation for a time, but as we grow into our truth, the invisible boundary closes in on us and our devotion to the groupmind weakens. Your rebellion is a sign of health. It is the way of nature to shatter and reconstitute. Anything or anyone who denies your impulse to grow must either be revolutionised or relinquished.
There is an ancient heartbreak living in the centre of each of us, between two unrequited lovers we’ll call Eros and Logos. These divine counterparts have been separated so long that they barely remember they belong to one another. The whole world is waiting for their sacred reunion. If only we could introduce them, they might finally fall in love, as destiny intended, in a holy union of opposites within. Meanwhile, so many of us are suffering to meet the demands of a Logos-centric culture, while Eros has been denigrated, disgraced and cast into hiding. This may be felt as a secret longing for a way of life, a feeling of inclusion, or a set of practices which are treated in our culture as insipid, insubstantial, or even dangerous. As you salvage all that’s been shunned in your heart, embodying it back into its rightful belonging, you are one of the gentle multitude who are restoring Eros to our world.
When the individual’s needs are at odds with the group or relationship, they must break into new ground, either by choice or by divine intervention. These are what I call Initiations by Exile because, as we discover in myths and fairy tales, every hero or heroine must endure a period of their own exile if they are to be initiated into the true medicine of their calling. If we haven’t been listening to the early warning signs of restlessness, doubt, and longing, one day a strong gust of fate will blow through our lives and knock us right out of that soil. Whether by way of an accident, a physical illness, or a sudden loss or crisis, life will have its way with us. Though we think of belonging as static, the healthiest forms of togetherness allow for, and even require, periods of exile or separation in order to mature.
There is a world behind this world. The old cultures used to be in constant conversation with it through the sacred practices of storytelling, dreaming, ceremony, and song. They invited the Otherworld to visit them, to transmit its wisdom to them, so that they might be guided by an ancient momentum. But as we succumbed to the spell of rationalism, the living bridge between the worlds fell into disrepair. As fewer made the journey back and forth across the doorsill where the two worlds touch, we forgot how to find the Otherworld. At any given moment, we are either turning away from or coming into congruence with our kinship with mystery.
Creativity isn’t something we do so much as a continual flowing through us. Whether through dreams or ‘gap time’ in our schedules, creativity is something that natures through us when we give it the room it needs. From this perspective, originality is not something you invent so much as an utterance through you by your origins. By origins I mean that Grandmother Well from which every human being drinks. Originality then becomes the practice of unhindering what’s already there. This work is essential to belonging because your creative offering is like a holy signal to those who carry a similar vibratory signature. In hearing or seeing what you’ve created, they will find a sense of belonging with you and, by being found, so will you.
While the New Age movement has awakened many to the power of creative intention, it has simultaneously pathologized the so-called ‘negative emotions’ and stricken them from our social palette of acceptability. We live under a kind of hegemony of positivity which emphasizes happiness over sadness, pleasure over pain, gain over loss, and the creative over the destructive. But what if the ‘negative’ emotions have something essential to communicate, and the real problem is the misguided attitude that they make us less evolved, and need fixing? Just as fire can transform food from its raw form into something digestible, our darknesses are radical transformers. Instead of airbrushing our personalities, we should practice at exaggerating our blemishes, leaning into our stagnancy, wounding, and discomforts. If we really want to evolve, we have to learn how to be more expressly where we are.
Many will counsel you that there is a reason for your pain and that if you could only heal your underlying emotional wounds, pain would leave you alone. But the body is not an abstraction, and pain laughs at the over-simplicity of this way of thinking. This isn’t to say that pain won’t put you on a path of psychological growth, but the ripping, destructive agony of an illness doesn’t have inherent value. And this can, as it did for Job in the bible, bring the entirety of your relationship with god into question. But I believe this meaninglessness is, in and of itself, a confirmation of our duty to create meaning from adversity.
Mostly in vain, we try to fill the ache of our longing with pleasure, busyness and distraction. But it always returns. Like the tidal wave in a dream which races for your windows, longing can be fierce and unapologetic, threatening to dismantle everything we’ve built. But what if our attempts to subdue it are actually growing its size? What if we are depriving ourselves of what could be a cathartic encounter? In the Sufi way of seeing it, longing is a divine inclination, drawing us towards the Beloved. Just as lover and beloved long to be in each other’s arms, so too is it between us and the life which is meant for us. Like a plant growing towards the sun, longing is nature inclining us towards the light we need in order to be fruitful. But as Rumi writes, “that which you seek is seeking you.” So longing is not only the quality of seeking reunion, but the sound of something in search of us: the calling homeward.
Most of us think of belonging as a mythical place, that if we keep diligently searching for, we might eventually find. But what if belonging isn’t a place at all, but a skill: a set of competencies that we, in modern life, have lost or forgotten? Like the living bridge, these competencies are the ways in which we can coax, weave, and tend to the roots of our separation—and in so doing, restore our membership in belonging. Like any practice worth undertaking, belonging cannot be mastered overnight. Because it is a disappearing art, we might find ourselves going it alone for a while and the temptation to lose hope will be strong. But we must keep a vision of how we want our lives and the world to look, and work towards weaving those first threads together. Even when the garment of belonging seems flimsy and inadequate, we must keep to the task until it substantiates.
There is really only one way to restore a world that is dying and in disrepair: to make beauty where ugliness has set in. By beauty, I don’t mean a superficial attractiveness, though the word is commonly used in this way. Beauty is a loveliness admired in its entirety, not just at face value. The beauty I’m referring to is metabolized grief. It includes brokenness and fallibility, and in so doing, conveys for us something deliciously real. Like kintsukuroi, the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with powdered gold, what is normally seen as a fatal flaw is distinguished with value. When we come into contact with this kind of beauty, it serves as a medicine for the brokenness in ourselves, which then gives us the courage to live in greater intimacy with the world’s wounds.
If you were someone who survived on scraps of affection, you may have a lifelong habit of contraction that is only obvious when you are showered in love. A learned sense of unworthiness can act as a barrier against our well-being, keeping us from opening to the beauty that’s all around us. We may be distrustful of goodness even when it stands on our doorstep. But this doesn’t have to be a permanent condition. As the poet Nikki Giovanni says, “We must learn to bear the pleasures as we have borne the pains.” Instead of dismissing or armouring our vulnerability, we must begin allowing life into those areas which have been cordoned off in self-preservation. We must acclimate, often through grief, to the life-giving nature of love.
We spend so much time worrying about how to approach our future that we rarely consider how approachable we might be. We armour ourselves with savvy, strength, and certification so that when our moment arrives we feel sufficiently prepared. But with our shoulder always to the wheel of life, we can miss the very encounter we’ve been preparing for. To be approachable to life, to each other, and to mystery, we have to cultivate an inner hospitality. Like the host who prepares an extra helping of food, a fire in the hearth, and a seat at the table even when guests aren’t expected, belonging always begins with an invitation.
We are literally made of story. Every night, something in our biology compulsively spins out dream-stories in order to keep us healthy. As essential as breathing, these stories have layers of usefulness that are part self-regulatory, part transmission of wisdom, and part connective tissue to a networked intelligence unconstrained by time and space. Myths, fairy tales, and dreams give us a sense of cohesion because we recognize the patterns, even unconsciously, as bone-deeply familiar. Stories serve to remind us that whatever difficulties we might be experiencing have been encountered many times before. We are not alone; we are connected to an ancestral storehouse of experience, and embedded within those tales are the solutions and instructions for how to navigate difficulty with grace and wisdom.
Witnessing transition is one of the extraordinary powers of community. When we leave behind an old identity for a new form of belonging, there are always moments when we are tempted to slip back into our old skin. Whether it is a grief that is too big to grieve alone, recovery from an illness that threatens to return, or stepping up to a new altitude of Self that’s tough to acclimate to, community behaves like a broader leverage to bear the weight of transition. Friends remind us, simply by bearing witness, that we have become something new and, with the corroborative power of gathering in ceremony, we can never wholly unbecome it.
Instead of being swept up in the urgency to attend to the world “before it’s too late,” let the way that we walk be slow. Let us listen to the pleas of our surrounding thirst; acknowledge the forgetting that drifted us onto this terrifying precipice. Let the grief of it all make its encounter with us through our remembering. And may beauty come alive then, under our feet. As we learn to listen to our bodies and honour the intelligence of our feelings and dreams, we are contributing to the awakening of what some call Gaia Consciousness. The cues we are taking from our inner nature are the cues of our greater dreambody, calling us to make choices that result in collective harmony and sustainability.
Annual Women’s Retreat with Toko-pa
Oct 4th-7th, 2018. Salt Spring Island, B.C.
“Tucked inside the hills and valleys of that wooded fairytale island was a different way of life, and at night, the trees whispered words from the fairy godmothers, enticing me to stay…I was held and protected by the council of women who gathered at this beautiful farm, sharing food and dreams and the desire for connecting to something more meaningful than what most of us found at home in our busy lives. As powerful dream symbols reverberated among us, I was reminded that our humanity is found in community, in reciprocity, and in remembering that we are not alone. The grief of our separateness was healed through our mutual witnessing, and in our willingness to receive as much as we tend to give”
Leadership is essential to community, but in the reciprocal model, this role can rotate between members, depending on the needs of the group. Unlike the way we normally think of leadership, as one...read more
Painting by Aleksander Lindeberg I wanted to share this glorious teaching I came across recently from professor Patricia Arah Ann Taylor, in "Seeing in the Dark." In her essay, she traces back the...read more
The initiated adult is one who learns to withstand uncertainty, embody ambiguity, and straddle paradox. In dreamwork, the ability to hold the tension of the opposites is essential. We let...read more
I am thrilled to announce that Belonging: Remembering Ourselves Home, my first book on exile and the search for belonging, just won the prestigious 2017 Gold Nautilus Award!read more
If you’re doing it right, presence, rather than detaching you, sensitises you to your environment. It puts you smack-dab in the discomfort, the disagreeability, the pain, the awkwardness, and the contradiction — this is where you can grow more skilled at meeting life where it’s at, rather than how you’d prefer it to be.read more
Belonging is now for sale on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk. I am humbled and amazed to announce that "Belonging" has become a #1 Bestseller in both Canada and the United States! Watch this lovely...read more
As we approach the longest night of the year here in the Northern Hemisphere, it is helpful to remember that we too are being called into our deepest dark. Down into the places we hide from view;...read more
Our longing for community and purpose is so powerful that it can drive us to join groups, relationships, or systems of belief that give the false impression of belonging. But places of false belonging grant us conditional membership…read more
"Tucked inside the hills and valleys of that wooded fairytale island was a different way of life, and at night, the trees whispered words from the fairy godmothers, enticing me to stay. Our journey...read more