Nathalie Kelley

Biting Through

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

http://www.trashisfortossers.com/

http://www.zerowastehome.com/

http://www.unlearnandrewild.org/

http://www.danielvitalis.com/rewild-yourself-podcast/

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  • Diana

    Hey you ,my deep love
    I live on the Earth like all do.
    I am from Israel..
    I am walking with bags and collecting garbage from the forests ,parks,streets and beaches…and each time when people telling me that it’s not our job to clean -I am getting so upset….I want to screen and cry and The scary and difficult dreams come to me…and each time I understand more and more than human nature change dramatically not in a good way.they are doing everything by fashion and by their own needs.nthing more-pure egoistic..
    I really want to believe in people.i believe that if one man will take one bag and collect garbage(and not paying for somebody to do it),the planet Will breath! One plus on plus one.we can’t wait.Gaia can’t speak,she can’t tell us how much we hurting her each second.
    We have to change our being here.on this beautiful place in this beautiful time.
    I am with you beautiful Nat
    With love
    _Diana

  • Cortney

    You are such an incredible writer. And your heart is in the right place. I too struggle with many of the same things. Libra problems :)

  • Ninn

    Hello Nat, i discovered you throught IG, and wanted to check your blog. I think your honesty is great and rare. It’s never too late. I am leaving a life where everything is about taking care of Mother nature.I also have a brand and i try my best to get the smallest footprint as possible on this earth.There is so many people that needs to be aware of what’s happening and they don’t, as many says to me “i prefer not to know”…Taking care of our planet, being aware, and acting in that way makes us feel really good and it actually influence people around slowly but surely. I became vegetarian 2 years ago, not because i don’t like the taste of meat, but because it is so wrong for our planet, and for the beautiful creatures living here with us, no matter how they look, how small they are etc.. respecting life in general makes us feel good and is inspiring for others.I struggle sometimes with people abouthaving made those choices etc.. But i know that i make them face the fact that they are wrong, and they know it, and observing ourself in a mirror can be sometimes painful and difficult.
    I think you are on the good path, and it ‘s beautiful and reassuring to read those words.
    Bye bye Nat
    Ninn From France !

  • Hallee Hirsh-Martin

    Natalie. This is Hallee, from that little project we worked on together in Dallas a few years back. I am so struck by this post. Over the past few years I have been going through the same shift. This past Spring I sold my house in LA, moved to a small town with a growing permaculture community outside of Asheville, NC. I just bought 28 acres to grow a food forest on, for my son (one year old now!) to grow up learning to regenerate life, and for his children and their children to continue this path of belonging to the Earth. I’ve recently attended an Earth skills gathering called Firefly, and it was truly awe-inspiring to witness this shift in so many others. We are growing a movement that will foster the resilient ones when the oil runs out. Our soil will deepen and stand the test of time when the commercial crops fail. We are all students relearning what has been lost. And we are all teachers.

    Now. Time for me to confess something huge. My heart is pounding. You introduced me to IG back on set in Dallas. Your images blew me away. I got my own account and became apart of that world. All the while I have followed you, and like 111k others I have been obsessed. But why? I constantly asked myself. What the fuck? This gorgeous, globe-trotting girl. I don’t buy fashion magazines, but I follow you, and all my petty feminine insecurities would rise to the surface of my skin when I would come upon one of those naked photos. And I would get angry. Angry that I cared. its this strange fascination that I often talk about with friends trying to figure it out. I don’t even feel like I give a shit about that kind of stuff. I unfollowed you. But then I kept going back to your feed to see what you were up to. What the fuck. Since my shift has taken place my insecurities have fallen away. I’m living completely off the grid and literally building my life from the ground up and I feel like a pretty bad ass chick if I say so myself. But I still follow you. And I’ve come to really love what you’re putting out there to so many people. Ever since you’ve been with that lovely woodworker, you’re well has become deeper. Your messages less about surface beauty, but about mindfulness and intention at its core. And then this beautifully honest blog post. I am so happy. You have so much magnitude and so much power to transform others. Now you’re doing it. I’m happy my strange obsession happened. I’m so happy to witness this journey, as I set off on mine. So much love to you, sister.

    My IG: halleeonearth
    My blog: highonearth.com

  • Anon

    If there is one place you must visit before the end of your story, It would be here. May it lead your footsteps above the clouds, as it once did mine.

    http://www.ishafoundation.org/Dhyanalinga-Energy-Center/introduction.isa

  • Chris Watters

    This gave me chills Nat…You are right we all have contributed to the unnecessary waste that fills the earth with trash and plastic man created. The Island of trash floating in the Pacific ocean. Its all very sad and on some level we are all guilty of the plastic cup nightmare.

    I am going through the same shift and have been reading and educating myself every chance I get. After my father passed my brother, sister and I inherited a large piece of property in the Hocking Hills region in southern Ohio. We collectively are working to make it a conservation property with Glamping sites. My family are all in the transition of going (Back to Basics). Actually is one of my books published by Readers Digest many moons ago. :)

    I have so many that I reach for when thinking about learning to live a more simple way.

    I could sit here all day discussing how we all need to live in harmony with mother earth.

    Sending blessings and Love your way.

    Chris xoxo

  • http://www.shannonontheroad.com Shannon

    Great piece. I understand your desire to simplify from becoming aware of the environmental impacts that are becoming more and more apparent from our modern Western way of life. This year I got rid of almost all my stuff, packed a couple bags, and am trying a new life in Costa Rica. The difference in lifestyle is astounding – there is no “stuff” or materialism here. Life is more about enjoying nature, being with family, and living simply. Trust that you will find a more harmonious way of living on this beautiful earth. PS I think you are little too hard on yourself about what you contribute, everyone contributes something special even if we think we don’t.

  • Katja

    Thank you so much for sharing your beautiful pictures, emotions and perpective! I can relate to what you say. I had the same relasation some years ago. After that I decluttered my home, my closet, began to only eat organic food. Recycled every thing. Stord using plastic in every way can. Switched to organic soaps Ect Ect the list can go on forever. My point is that I learned that many of the things and clothes I got ridd of I miss today because they had a special place in my heart. Now I understand that many of the clothes I gave away I could have used later instead of buying new clothes when the ones I had was worn out. Its easy to see all the things we dont do when we begin to wake up. I think its important to remember that everything has a value and as long we try to be mindful in our consumption we can gradually create a lifstyle that is in harmony with Mother Earth. A roadtrip can be an adventure of a lifetime, be spiritually uplifting and have as much value as waving a carpet, its just two different ways to be explore life. I am happy that I have changed my lifstyle in a way that is good for enviroment. But I wish I could have done it in less drastic way. everytime i put on high heels and makeup i feel like im doing something wrong, because of all my knowlegde about the industries Ect. My point is that what you do is important. You inspire people in many ways and that is a way of spredning light and good vibrations! It can also be nice to know some earthy skills. But if we lived in a utopic society and every person was growing vegetables there would be to much vegetables. It would be better that the people that loved gardening was working in the garden, blessing the food and doing what they loved, so we all could eat high vibrational food. We all have different skills that we love to do. Thats our gift. The gift we can give to the Earth and to each other, just by being our unice self ♡

  • Kylie

    This peice brought tears to my eyes, I connect with it so much. So many thoughts are shared and I can’t help but think about my own impact, what I strongly oppose and yet contribute to (road trips etc.) I needed to read this to remember how everything comes full circle. Looking forward to more words of inspiration.

  • Healy Shem-tov

    Dear Nat,

    this post was the realest. I felt your words, and I feel the same way. It gets hard to live in these two seemingly separate universes. The one we intend, and feel on the inside, as a part of us and wish we could save, and the one where we must function as human beings, still to some degree consuming. But it is the mindfulness that you take time to acknowledge and the awareness that you bring to these issues, and the time you spend thinking about them and how to make your value greater that makes you a wonderful human being. If only half the people in the world could take time out of their day to write a similar piece this world would already be a more wonderful place. We are fortunate to share our time on mother earth, and your photos (even the over saturated ones) which I find to be absolutely delectable mean a lot to me, from an artistic stand point, but also because the message that you convey, (even the one you criticize) by saying that you only “convey” being one with nature is not how I see it. Even though you are capturing a moment of you hugging a tree does not mean you are not mindful. Mindfullness can come in an abundence of ways, and that is just one of the many ways you inspire us all. I have been absolutely admiring you every step of your journey and seeing you grow and transform gives me the hope that I can do the same. So long as we are breathing, waking up in the morning, and rising to our best selves, we are doing the best we can. I appreciate this post, your honesty and deeply penetrating beauty. You are stunning and you mustn’t ever forget that. You will find your path, but I feel that you should give yourself so much more credit in how you contribute to this world because even through photography and videos, you have managed to share intimate stories (such as this one) but also the one about your body when you stripped each pair of clothing off your body and told your story to other women who may have been victims or abuse or rape when they were younger. You are an inspirer and with out you, none of the inspiration would be possible. Be proud of the inspiring that you cause and create on this earth, because it is through your eyes and open heart that we continue to grow closer to one another, and to our mother earth. Thank you as always, for sharing your space with us. Vulnerable, or not. We love you.

  • Andrea

    Dear Nat,

    this post was truly inspiring for me. I’m not the kind of a person who often writes comments and shares thoughts on the internet, but I felt that I should write how I feel about you and your blog. I read all of your posts and looked photos on your instagram and I’m very happy because I’ve discovered you. I think you’re truly beautiful soul and your transformation from “frivolous and sometimes wasteful city girl with a love of luxury and the instant gratification of Amazon Prime” to the person whom you are today gives me chills! I fell deeply connected to you and your words because I am experiencing the same and I understand your decision to abstain from social media, but I believe you should be aware of something much more important. I believe that power to influence and inspire a person is something that you should be proud of! You should not feel guilty thinking that you haven’t done anything because we all have our own path to follow. Never forget that. Those women may have made something of physical value, grown a carrot or planted a tree, but you were meant to do some other things in that time. Being awere and feeling bad for you actions/non actions is just one step forward and you should be happy because of your awereness.

    Thank you for being your and never stop inspiring people! I hope to hear from you soon.

    Love,

    Andrea

  • BUNNYHAWK.co

    Beautifully written, honest – all sorts of humbled over here – please write more!!!!! The collective conscious evolution we are seeing and living here all together thru the webs of our digital lenses and physical space will continue to flourish and grow and we are ONE we are HERE despite any of the negativity elsewhere x

  • Amy Raupach

    Beautiful piece sister. The gathering is an absolutely wonderful place to take part in and come out of it and view your own life. The possibilities of how we may live our lives by way of communing with nature in a more symbiotic way as well as deepen our relationships with earth, self and others is a task worth taking up. It needs to be examined by ourselves over and over and often, (I speak for myself) we need help in moving forth. Doing so bit by bit. In whatever way makes us pause and consider what we say and do, how we present ourselves in the technological world or vis a vis, we can look at that and be grateful (as it reads, you are). I enjoyed our conversation on the grass while at spirit weavers in which even this conversation lightly touched on that. Much love to you!