“A turkey vulture!” I gushed, the bird surfing in the wind above the trees. “Uhh…that’s totally a seagull,” my friend said. “No way, it has that v-shape and a huge wingspan,” I mused in reverence with its majestic confidence. “Seagull, Kim.” said my friend, giving me the side-eye. “I love that we interrupt each other for nature.” she added with joyful grin. “Me too,” turning my attention back to her. “Anyway,” she continued, “my therapist has been discussing with me how in the dark night of the soul…”
My friend and I have been walking and talking together at least once a week for the past 6 months of the COVID-19 pandemic and it’s one of my most meaningful connections I’ve had with another person. We live about 500 meters apart and we fell into a routine of calling each other up, meeting at the bridge, and walking along a path by the river.
What started out as me dragging her to the oldest and most intricate trails around has evolved, such that lately we walk a paved path, people-watch, and admire our local neighbourhoods. We started this ritual in winter months, with me reminding her to put on wool socks, to pull her hood on when she was cold, and to take her boots off in the car if her feet were wet. I would opt to hike the large wooded areas, just outside the city, with no sounds from traffic, and only the tracks of living beings and the chance to encounter a deer. These days though, it’s different. She has prompted me to tune in to urban nature. I now notice our various local bird species, the bloom of the magnolias that line our sidewalks, and when the dew sparkles in the light.
Our walks are also different because what started out as us discussing our individual journeys has become an intertwined adventure, inseparable in our shared decisions and knowledge. Together, our wisdom and experience reveals many answers to larger life questions than our mere individual perplexing puzzles. It’s a kind of intimacy that I cherish.
When she was discussing her dark night of the soul conversation with her therapist I was struck by how similar it sounded to the elements of The Hero’s Journey. This is a concept I am loosely familiar with from my time in a high school outdoor education program. I feel connected to honouring the processes of transformation, evolution, and regrowth. So I mentioned it to her in that moment. “This reminds me of the threshold to the ‘special world’ in the hero’s journey” I said. “Have you heard of if?” I wasn’t sure if this idea would land with her. It’s a bit mythical and not exactly something I imagine is aligned with a therapists’ scope of practice. I did my best to briefly explain. And then went back to listening to her describe her embrace and enter this dark and twisty part of herself. I followed along, closely, as much of what she said resonated with my experience seeing a psychiatrist 5 years ago. I knew some dark and twisty places, and felt I had returned home from them.
Today I woke up to a text from her saying that her favourite book, Sacred Contracts, discusses the hero’s journey. Ha! Of course it does. It makes perfect sense since she’s told me that it is about 7 archetypes. This was one of of the most powerful texts I’ve received from a friend. Not only had my comment landed, but how serendipitous that it was inherently tied to her own intimate reading journey.
Serendipity, I believe, is the result of deep listening: to our friends, to our mentors, and to ourselves. It’s a response that arises from listening to and following an instinct, or many instincts, that lead us to the same multi-dimensional space (theoretical or literal). I often describe how my “worlds collided” when I worked in a child care program that valued nature-based and arts-based pedagogy. Yes, a collision, in some ways, but also a decision, or rather many decisions, that brought the universe into alignment for me. The collision was within my mind/body when I realized that the world doesn’t operate in disciplines, industries, or silos in the way that we typical come to know it. Instead, I experienced a tiny explosion, a light bulb moment, a realization that all things in life are so very deeply connected. The symbiotic, interconnectedness that is the universe, ecosystems, and reciprocal relationships are all still such a mystery. But one to be trusted instead of scrutinized. What tender support comes from participating in, relying on, and contributing to this vast and expansive web of life, past, present, and future.
That text message shifted something in me this morning. I realized that for my friend and I, our inner worlds have collided too: my passion for embarking on journeys, spending time in nature, and being curious interlocked with her commitment to making authentic agreements, honouring her embodied knowledge, and avoiding poisons. Only together have we create our shared sacred journeys.
Lately I’ve been wondering if thriving in this life has to be complex as it is marketed to be. The constant self-help messaging from psychologists, mental health practitioners, education experts, neuroscientists, dieticians, economists, epidemiologists etc., make us into growth junkies. And while I spent years studying psychology, learning neuroscience and being baffled by biomedical science only to move on to social sciences, cultural studies, and humanities, I’m still not convinced the colonial structures of scientific rigour and research can capture the intersectional realities of our lives. I’ve both lost faith and moved beyond science, if that is possible, only to return to a simplified understanding, one of story and art. At the end of the day, I feel like our experiences have already been reflected back to us through stories and art (of all types), and that these modes of creation are far more complex and sophisticated than any science. Conversation, intuition, and faith in sacred journeys, are the things that move us and heal our soul wounds within our human experience.
More likely, and yet again, maybe it’s a both/and (of medical intervention and relational connection).