Things had been shifting for a while – I sold and gave away most of my clothes, I begun craving simplicity, a life away from the city. But it wasn’t until I started to have nightmares about red plastic cups that I knew my life was changing irreversibly.
It all began after a series of events following the Spirit Weavers gathering. The event itself was beautiful and challenging, like all medicine. Sometimes its sweet and gentle and other times its bitter but you swallow it because you know its good for you. There was definitely a healthy portion of both. I learned how to make pottery from clay that had been harvested from the side of the road. I sang under the stars with my sisters and witnessed many hearts transformed by 6am tea sessions. I got to see so many beautiful friends, some of whom had attended the very first gathering 2 years ago on Amy’s parents property and seeing it grow to 500 women left us all collectively moved and inspired.
But with so many women there were also increased expectations and in some cases an unfamiliarity with the spirit of the gathering. It is first and foremost a skill-share gathering, with an emphasis on sharing teachings and ways that have been lost and forgotten in modern times. The team had put in a lot of effort to compliment the beauty of the redwoods with beautiful decorations, ojos de dios, communal tents, mandalas etc. It was hard to not want to document every beautiful moment, but we had been specifically asked to leave our phones for the duration of the gathering in order to fully drop in. I was happy to leave it to professional photographers so that i could make pottery and baskets in peace, but I observed in myself feelings of frustration and sadness when I heard of women complaining that it was not ‘retreat-like’ enough, or taking selfies during sacred cacao ceremonies! Sometimes it was hard for me to drop in myself because of these vigilante like thoughts! The irony is I had also placed a huge emphasis on aesthetic and comfort, just in a different way. I had only packed 2 outfits so that I could fit all my rugs and textiles and queen size blow up mattress in my car. I even had a bedside table in my tent with a vase and flowers! And as for photos, I’m sure it would seem very ironic if I had followed my urges to berate ladies for selfie-taking during ceremony. “Coming from YOU?” they would probably reply. It was obvious that these triggers were only reflecting back to me the things I needed to work on in my own life.
But it wasn’t until all of us were packed into my little Prius and headed south from the gathering that I could fully process al the things I was thinking and feeling. 4 ladies, 1 tent, 1 queen size blowup, textiles, sheepskins, baskets and countless delicious smelling oils and potions that we had bought from Living Libations – we could not fit one more rainbow tassle into my car it was so full. Apart from me, (the captain and only legal driver) there was Renata, our Brazilian sister, brilliant photographer and documentary maker. Genevieve a talented writer and linguist, Big Sur born and raised. And Quincy, my luminous little sister from Orcas Island. Little sister only in years because despite her youth (she is only 20) she far surpasses me in all kinds of valuable earth knowledge. She grows her own food, makes her own bread, raises yaks, spins the wool, felts the wool. etc etc etc. Basically a car full of bad ass babes, traveling to LA via Big Sur and Santa Barbara. We began to discuss the gathering and all the downloads we had received. We had all been hugely inspired by the knowledge that was shared. One sister Miriam can make fire without matches! I was also impressed by my sister Ayana and her mushroom knowledge and eco activism. What was I doing with my life? What am I capable of physically creating, harvesting, protecting, nourishing? Hmm. In our hypothetical armageddon community I was defintely the least valuable member. Quincy was first draft pick for sure. Not sure if having a good eye for textiles, and artistic nude photography were going to be in huge demand when oil runs out and the world economic system collapses and we all have to live off the land.
Which brings me to my nightmares of red plastic cups. The question of what had I produced in the last 30 years suddenly had me taking inventory of my life in a way I had never done before. Waste. That’s what I came up with. Probably tons and tons of waste. I haven’t made anything of physical value. I’ve never grown a carrot, I’ve never planted a tree. ButI have consumed tons of plastic bottles, gas, plastic wrappers, boarding passes… oh god. My mind went to all the blunt wrappers and plastic red cups I used to throw out as part of ‘my old life’. Garbage bags full of the leftovers of parties. Those cups symbolized the life of waste that I used to live. At the house I used to live in in Atlanta we didn’t even have recycling! Why hadn’t I protested? I took inventory of my current life. There were no more red plastic cups but there was still a lot of unnecessary packaging (Amazon prime) and waste. I remembered the scene in Sex, Lies and Video tape where Andy Mcdowell says she can’t sleep at night because she can’t stop thinking about where all the trash goes!! Images of landfills made bigger by my carelessness and shitty lifestyle haunted me.
On the drive down to Big Sur we could see the effects of the drought on California. ‘Do you know it takes 100 000 gallons of water to feed one cow?” Quincy told me. “Oh God,” I thought “now I am contributing to the drought as well?” It didn’t matter that I turned the water off while brushing my teeth, my grass-fed beef consumption was killing the earth.
Our time in Big Sur and at Esalen provided a brief respite from all my thoughts. Esalen is Genevieve’s home and we were lucky enough to soak in the tubs at sunset and witness a family of whales swim by. It occurred to me that the discomfort I had felt at SW was part of a broader conversation I had been having with myself about ‘appearing’ vs ‘being’. I was triggered by the over saturation of IG pictures being taken because the event was meant to be a space where you could really drop in and learn and experience. Taking a picture meant you wanted to give the world the ‘appearance’ of being spiritual but if you were really tuning into a ceremony you would never think of taking out your phone. And the only reason it triggered me in other people was because I recognize that same unattractive quality in myself. I post pictures naked, embracing trees – conveying the idea that I love the earth. But the tons of red plastic cups I have contributed to landfills in my life would say otherwise.
The next day as we approached Santa Barbara a disgusting toxic smell burned our noses. I thought my car was about to explode and almost pulled over. Later that night I learned that we had smelt the Santa Barbara oil spill. 100 000 gallons of crude oil spilling into our ocean. My heart broke when I thought of the family of whales swimming though that filth. We had been listening to Alan Watts on the way down. His words were still in my head. “There is no separation” I could not say that that disgusting crude oil and me were not one. After all, I rely on that oil to go on road trips and live my life. I can’t point my finger at anyone but myself when I look for someone to blame. I thought of all the beautiful places I had posted pictures of and encouraged people to visit on my IG. How many road trips had I inspired? How much consumption of crude oil had I prompted? What was I doing on this earth that was of any value, and not destroying the planet? The list was not very long.
And so I came to the decision to abstain from social media in order to be fully present with these shifts. I needed to time to integrate them into my modern life. To meditate on ways in which I can positively engage the different worlds that I live in. I craved space and silence in which to touch every aspect of my life with mindfulness. How I eat, how I travel, how I take pictures… I don’t have anything figured out, and if you have a solution to our earth’s problems then please let me know! But in the meantime, here are some wonderful people and resources that have helped me on my journey. Thank you so much for all your sweetness and support. xx