Belonging as an Ecosystem

Belonging as an Ecosystem

I believe a huge part of our collective feeling of emptiness comes from living in a self-centred phase of our evolution as a species, where everything begins with I. I want this object, I want to succeed. I want to improve myself. Even: I want to belong. Artwork by Max Reed But true belonging depends upon our reciprocity with the environment in which we are embedded, and unto which we are indebted. In the same way that mitochondria work to break down nutrients and turn it into energy for our bodies, we too are but a single component of a greater biosphere that sees no hierarchy between ferns and redwoods, worms and eagles. If we imagine an invisible mycelial network under the visible surface of things, of which we are but fruiting bodies, then we see how our lives should be in service to feeding the whole forest together. Our negligence of that reciprocity is, more than any other factor, what fosters unbelonging. It is at the root of loneliness, because without the greater intelligence of the mission coursing through our veins, making our purpose meaningful, we are but isolated bodies going through empty motions. This is why people who experience tremendous success can still feel...
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Your Vibratory Signature

Your Vibratory Signature

Artwork by Emily Howard There is an energetic stamp or vibratory signature behind every act of creation. Though difficult to perceive, it is like the wind blowing through a valley, touching everything we do. Although we create in a multitude of ways, it is what’s felt first by others. My partner Craig is a master flute maker, and though his creations are incredibly beautiful to listen to and behold, people often receive one of his flutes and are struck by the instrument’s kindness. Because of the man he is, committed to a life of heart, every simple thing he creates and attends to carries this signature of warmth. Inasmuch as we are searching for our purpose and occupation in the world, the more salient pursuit is in the who we are becoming. It is the vibratory signature behind our enterprise that has the most impact. So the real art form is a kind of open question to the needs of the larger Self: How can I serve you? Do you feel understood? Where is your rapture? What are the conditions necessary for your expression and well-being? Though we may think of questions like this as self-absorbed, they are actually what lead us to our greater nature that is in service to the broader...
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The Knower in You

The Knower in You

Artwork from Aurora Consurgens, Thomas Aquinas In times of confusion and ambiguity, it’s helpful to remember that there is a numinous power that emerges from a coherent, divine source, and it knows which way to go. We can call this the “power from below,” because it is elemental, and quite physical. It is that organising intelligence that animates all life. It is the pattern-maker that stitches together our dreams, manifests in synchronicity, and arises in our longing or desire in the body. And if we can learn to follow and embody that power, it will lead the way out of the patriarchy. This “power from below” is Sophia, an ancient Greek word which loosely translates into wisdom. You can find it in the root of the word philosophy, which is the “love of wisdom,” but perhaps more accurately described as Knowing. Sophia is the inner knowing that gets clearer and stronger as we dismantle the old power structures, but she is also the outer knowing that appears in the waking dream, in synchronicity and symbolic events in our lives. Sophia is that which knows about fate and time, and the life/death/life cycle. As my friend and Jungian analyst J....
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Beauty-making as Medicine

Beauty-making as Medicine

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. To become a fully fledged member of the ecosphere, each of us must find a way to make a contribution of beauty medicine to the world. Most of us don’t think of our gifts as contributions, though they are clearly called ‘gifts’ for a reason, but this may be because they’ve never been properly received. I’ve heard it said that home is the place where your gifts are received. Indeed, for those who have never...
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Winter Solstice Rituals

Winter Solstice Rituals

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; where we store our grief, where we brace and hold, and where we may be unforgiving too. When we speak of the ‘returning of the light’ it isn’t just the physical grace that this season provides, but a call to our own revealing. The Winter Solstice is a time to acknowledge our untruths, to surrender our silences, to dethrone our inner tyrants and bare our stories in the open. These are the acts which connect the fabric of our lives to each other, and to the whole of truthfulness. If you’re new to celebrating the Solstice, know that any time is a good time to birth new traditions. Here are a few simple ideas to get you started. Creating a Solstice Altar: Just the act of foraging and creating an altar which you can elaborate over the holy days is a potent act, helping to both acknowledge the dark, as well as call forward illumination. 1. Using any surface – from a mantlepiece to a small table – begin by laying a pretty scarf or fabric. 2. Then collect and arrange some...
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2017 Women’s Retreat in Photos

2017 Women’s Retreat in Photos

“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 brought me into dark spaces through the wilderness that surround me, but I was held and protected by the council of women I joined there. About 20 of us gathered at a 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 throughout the weekend, 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. My time away sung my soul back to life, and I was amazed with my changing reflection in the mirror each night. Stress, anxiety, and the need for constant doing melted away, leaving nothing but beauty in its place. As I continue to integrate what was discovered on that island into my city life, I’m graced with the imprint that remains. Burning...
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Rewilding the Psyche

Rewilding the Psyche

We took a wonderful walk yesterday, around a conservancy project here on our island. It’s very quiet there, off the beaten track, a haven to a growing number of diverse species of animals and plants. Previously a golf course, this gorgeous land is now regrowing its wild self. It’s the result of a complete transformation that began five years ago. It wasn’t as simple as leaving it alone. Pipes have been removed from deep in the earth, hundreds of native species have been replanted, nurselogs have been introduced. And, most importantly, a fence is surrounding it so it will be protected, left to become the thriving wetland it once once. Rewilding the psyche is like this. We must look at the ways in which our unconscious has been harnessed, and narrowly directed, removing those limitations so it can flow freely. Dreamwork is a powerful way to do this, because we are shown in every dream what unconscious patterns we might be stuck in, but we’re also given wildly creative solutions to our questions. Then we must plant new seeds of inspiration, from books and other mentors who reflect our native self back to us, and introduce any other good habits which return us...
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This is Not a Time for Modesty

This is Not a Time for Modesty

“The Summer Solstice is not a time for modesty. The wild world is not shy about its beauty and gifts. Plants and creatures are engaged in a no-holds-barred life-fest of blossoming and flourishing, each according to its unique essence, place, and purpose in this glorious weaving of Mother Earth.” – The Path of She, by Karen Clark There is a wildness in each of us. A way of walking, a set of spots, an inclination, a blinking impulse towards which we are silently drawn. Like an elephant finding water in a desert it’s never traveled, or a bird coming to fly with brand new wings, we all have this instinctual capacity. It is the animal in us, which knows what it knows, and is the origin from which all creativity is expressed. But in my practice I work with many medicine people who have sent their gifts for dreaming, seeing, and creativity into exile. These gifts, often forged in the belly of trauma, are sent into hiding because the world feels too hostile to use them in the open. Many take the path well-worn instead, because it guarantees safety. The way has been mapped and we know were it leads. But the price we pay is the life half-lived. To those willing to...
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New Year’s Invocations

New Year’s Invocations

I’ve heard it said that when your heroes die, it is a call to step into their empty shoes and walk in such a way which demonstrates what you’ve inherited from them. The heroes we lost this year were living examples of unabashedness. They expressed themselves without filters, accentuated their differences and flaunted their eccentricities. I certainly aspire to this kind of expression in art, but also in life. For me, this year has been about stepping into personal power. We are in this pivotal time in history when many of us find ourselves standing on opposing sides of a dangerous disagreement. We are learning about taking a stand for what we believe, even when it makes us unpopular. While there is always wisdom in listening to different viewpoints, some moments call for us to be unequivocal. Joseph Campbell once said that the thing all heroes have in common is their willingness to die for what they believe. I would just add that in that willingness, we become truly alive. My 2017 invocation for you, dear Dreamer, is that you recognise with increasing vividness that you know what you know. May this year find you less and less inclined to self-doubt, meekness and...
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Emergence: A Wisconsin Weekend Dreaming Retreat

Emergence: A Wisconsin Weekend Dreaming Retreat

EMERGENCE A Weekend Retreat with Toko-pa Date: March 24-26th, 2017 Place: Osceola, Wisconsin Emergence never happens all at once. It is a slow stepping into the expanded capacity of your next self. You may need practice at releasing in those places you’ve grown accustomed to bracing which, like a tight swaddle, was comforting in its limits. But when the time to remain hidden comes to its natural end, you must begin to inhabit your new dimensionality, breathe into the fullness of your gaining altitude and consider that what presents itself as fear may actually be exhilaration. As your future approaches you, worry less how it may receive you and say a prayer instead for your becoming approachable. In this luscious 3-day retreat, Toko-pa will be offering a deeper look at and demonstration of some of the core practices in her approach to dreamwork especially as it relates to emergence into the life of our longing. This retreat offers a blend of instruction, practice and ritual. Participants are encouraged to bring a dream or two they’d like to work on.   LOCATION: Nestled among the forests and prairie lands of the beautiful St. Croix River Valley, this workshop will be...
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2016 Women’s Dreaming Retreat in PHOTOS 

2016 Women’s Dreaming Retreat in PHOTOS 

We had an incredible week at the 2nd Annual Dreaming Retreat with a phenomenal group of gorgeous women! It was full of ritual, beauty and catharsis and as soon as it was over, we began to speak of next year’s gathering. We began our circle of togetherness over a delectable organic feast, followed by an evening of ceremony in which we put words to our deepest longing, inaugurating our Dream Altar with sacred adornments and song. Our mornings were shared in silence to tend to our dream journals, making the transition between worlds almost seamless. Then we would gather under the arched roof of Stowel Lake Farm’s ‘Gatehouse’ to be in circle again, where we would share our dreams and partake in each other’s wisdom. Our evenings were spent around the sacred fire in the orchard, singing, storytelling or otherwise making things sacred under a starry sky. We deeply enjoyed the island and went on a beautiful excursion through the forest to a peninsula on the ocean. There was an enormous amount of wisdom and creativity in this group! The more time we spent together the more treasures emerged! There is something about the quality of women who are attracted to...
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Cultivating Creative Originality

Cultivating Creative Originality

There is an often terrifying emptiness which precedes creativity. This is the stage, in the creative process, when people are frozen by the invalidation which says, “What you are working on is not original. Others have done it sooner, done it better, so why embarrass yourself with trying.” And with the weight of that thought, so many projects sink back into hiding, the divine longing to sing into the great song silenced. But what if originality is not something we invent, so much as an utterance through us by our origins. By origins I mean that inexhaustible well from which every human being drinks; and which is dreaming us. You might call it god, nature, source, divinity, but whatever word you use, it is this great unfolding of which our lives are but a single thread. Originality then becomes about tracking your own becoming. Instead of clambering for growth and productivity, it is the practice of respecting idleness. To hear our original voice, we must gestate in the dark, whose source is vast and terrifying and requires us to suspend our ambitions. Originality comes when you stay close to that emptiness, making it hospitable, adorning it with your longing, refining...
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The Bravery of Being Seen

The Bravery of Being Seen

I wanted to share a meaningful experience with you that I had recently, when I was invited to teach in a small community of like-hearted women, who not only live on a remote island, off-the-grid, but for whom sharing dreams is a way of life. Imagine if you can a small village of people who depend on each other for fresh food, emotional and physical support, a shared economy, and all the ordeals between birth and death. But then who also meet every week, to share their dreams! I was moved by how really brave it is to live with such transparency. When the most intimate material of your inner life is allowed into a trusted circle, you become able to live inclusively of your shadows and weaknesses, your aches and longings. And by extension, how inclusive you learn to be with others. So often I experience the quiet terror most people feel in being seen, being heard. And yet, to be seen, to be heard is the thing we want more than anything in the world. But because so many experience criticism, dismissal or invalidation the moment we brave our voice, our art, our vulnerability into the open, we learn instead to be silent, to be covered, to be small. It’s a matter of survival....
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Commitment: The Container of Creativity

Commitment: The Container of Creativity

When we hear the word commitment, most of us think of obligation and restriction. After all, modern life is already so heavily structured,  we’d much rather ‘see what happens’ and ‘go with the flow.’ So we may avoid making commitments. Or if we do make them, we keep them ‘soft,’ in the event that something shinier comes along. We change careers an average of 7 times in adulthood, half of all marriages end in divorce, we communicate in the undemanding ways of text messages and emoticons, infinitely scrolling, rarely giving the fullness of our presence to anything. And by extension, we are growing to expect that life should be immediate and convenient. But what if convenience is really a sham? It proposes to make your life easier, and there are obvious benefits, but there are often hidden tolls being taken elsewhere. Easy puts work into robotic hands, undermining our own necessity. Easy destroys the mentoring relationship. Easy robs us of the privilege of courtship, the very thing which bonds us to a place and its resources, or a craft and the people who’ve made a slow mastery of their lives.  Consider the ancient alchemists who, despite...
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A video invitation from Toko-pa

A video invitation from Toko-pa

Every year, women come from all over the world to this magical island with the shared intention of dreaming together in council. ‘Embodying the Dream’ is a place of reunion for those of us who crave community with other women dreamers. Whether meeting for the first time or weaving in deeper, we practice at belonging together through embodied dreamwork. To learn more and to  register, click here.  
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The World is your Altar

The World is your Altar

There is always this tension between the lengths we wish to travel in life and the depths we long to penetrate in dreaming. By dreaming, I mean not only the sacred transmissions we receive in the night, but the dreaming we also do in the day: Listening to the wiseness of a moment, an encounter, a humble patch of land. Engaging with magic in an ongoing conversation. There is so much in eternity that is trying to reach us, if only we can suspend our wranglings long enough to be touched. What is wild in us are the ways in which we meet something freshly and not by rote. Wild is to be full-body alive in response to the conversation life is having with us. The caress of the wind which cools your skin after the sun has penetrated it with warmth. The shadow cast by a soaring bird above. The spider, intent on making a home of nothing. The unmediated glance, surprised by beauty. Dreaming. When this conversation goes quiet from inattention, as it does for us all, know that it takes little to encourage it again. It is simply to remember that life isn’t only happening to us, but we are happening to life! Instead of burying the longing we have for our lives, we honour it with our...
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Tending the Well

Tending the Well

In Celtic Mythology, the holy well is considered the source of all life. Certainly because it is the concealed origin from which water springs, but also because it is a gateway between the worlds; seen and unseen. Originally regarded as the domain of the Earth Mother, holy wells were places to which one would make a pilgrimage to offer gratitude for the riches of village life, petition the well priestesses and fairies for healing, and if you slept near one, you might even receive dreams foretelling the future. It was understood that if one of these wells would fall into disrepair, the village was at risk of losing not only their literal life-source, but their connection to the Otherworld. Each of us faces a time when when the holy well within needs tending. When we’re no longer able to bestow blessings on others because we’ve overgiven, or when something precious has been taken from us, or life’s demands are too great on our fragile system. But when the moisture goes out of our lives, and we’re no longer able to see beauty or converse with magic, we must ask ourselves how we can replenish our well-ness. Too often, we fall into the misguided belief that the...
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Lostness & The Call of Momentum

Lostness & The Call of Momentum

We all lose our bearing from time to time. Whether precipitated by a major event, or a gradual becoming lost, this is when the horizon you had been following disappears – and in its place, a persistent anxiety searches for the new direction of our lives. But from what have we become lost, or dis-located, and how can come into location again? The first thing lostness makes obvious is that whatever we’d been following, though it may have provided a seasonal purpose, has now fallen away. It has completed its resonance with our lives, taken what it needs of our service, and we must now come into relationship with our next becoming. But we can’t know where we’re going if we don’t know where we stand. In our lostness we have a chance at coming to know our enduring values, and learning to stand behind them unequivocally. This way, when something inferior comes calling for your sponsorship, you’ll know it instantly and turn it away. Because to settle for halfway love is to drift further into dislocation. We also can’t know where we’re going if we don’t know from what we originate. The loss of purpose that so many of us feel is greater...
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Practicing Ordinary Magic

Practicing Ordinary Magic

We tend to think of magic as something that, in times of doubt or lostness, might intervene upon us. We listen for its clarion call, an oracular declaration, the prophetic dream, the jungle medicine that, like a tsunami, sweeps us out of the stuckness of our lives. But if we take a more rigorous look, we find at the core of this yearning is the belief that something knows better than we do what our vocation is, what our direction should be, where our people live, and so on. Certainly there are times in everyone’s life when something greater pushes you in the direction of your destiny, but these things can’t exactly be sought out. They must be invited to reach us in their own time. If we want magic to come alive in our lives, we must tend to our everyday relationship with it. One of my favourite lines in a David Whyte poem is, “Alertness is the hidden discipline of familiarity.” In other words, there is a practice we can engage in which brings us down in the subtle world where magic waits and dwells. For me, this practice is dreamwork. Dreams provide a wellspring of normiracles in the form of symbolic guidance which strengthens our instinctual response; the...
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The Invisible Temple

The Invisible Temple

Because dreams take us right into the heart of the question for our lives, being in a Dream Lodge is the first time many of us experience true intimacy in community. For this reason, it can be terrifying. We are so used to keeping our inner life a secret that we become distant even from ourselves, suspicious of the images that appear in our dreams. We may believe that we have some particular darkness that, if shared with others, might alienate us for good. Ironically, it is this fear itself which so often keeps us outside of belonging. We are more alike than different, yet we rarely touch this awareness because we practice at excluding ourselves. To varying degrees, we all split our soul-life off from the face we share in public. But perhaps more insidious is how we distance ourselves from those aspects of the Self which are devalued in our families and culture-at-large. The moment we step into the sacred container of a Dream Lodge, it is understood that our purpose is to welcome these refugee aspects of the Self back into belonging. And in the act of sharing this process in community, we instantly create a healing field for others’ lost life to come into inclusion. One by...
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