I’m on the road to Burning Man, and according to tradition I’m sharing my intentions to amplify them. This year I’m doing something I’ve never done before: I’m taking an art installation! The project, Varanasi Sage, has consumed much of my waking life over the past few months, and I’ve gladly given that time. It has been a true challenge and learning experience, but it has also given my life more meaning and purpose. Plus, it helped me finish my first booklet! It’s already been a rewarding experience to create this art, and I’m looking forward to showing it off! I’ll also be giving away a limited number of my booklets as part of the installation.
Without further ado, my Burning Intentions:
Put my art into the hands of hearts who will love it
Face challenges with grace and ease, trusting my experiences
Connect with other artists in a meaningful way
Deepen into a gratitude practice
If you’re on the playa this year, I’m teaching my workshop Meditation & Writing MWF 10-11am at my camp Namaste & Chill located at 6:15 & D. I would love to see you there!
I recently purchased Hank Meal’s, The River, a local’s guide to hiking trails surrounding the Yuba River. On a rainy afternoon, my friend, Kitten, and I got cabin fever; we opened Hank’s book and chose the Rock Creek Nature Trail (located in the Tahoe National Forest) as our tonic. Once the site of a lumber mill, Hank described this one-mile loop as an easy and accessible trail that meanders beneath 11 varieties of trees and alongside Rock Creek.
“Looks like we have the place to ourselves,” I beamed when we pulled into the empty parking lot.
The ground was completely saturated — water pooled around our every footstep. Light rain floated to earth, accompanied by large, sporadic drops falling from tree branches, tapping an intricate percussion on land and water. The creek rushed past us, beckoning us onwards.
“Look at all this debris,” Kitten said. “These recent storms have been brutal!”
“The other day, I saw a group prayer going around Facebook asking for the storms to be gentle on the forests, and I don’t know how I feel about that.”
“California needs water. I’m not eager to pray the rain stops.”
A stream carved its way down the hillside and onto the path, turning the path into a waterway and making us walk along its edge. Branches, leaves, and pine needles littered the area, and the Rock Creek Trail felt less like a nature walk and more like a rugged adventure, like we were the first explorers. At one point, we had to climb over a large, fallen tree.
“All this damage is from the drought,” Kitten said. “Tree roots retract closer to the trunk and become less dense. And the branches die. So when a big storm hits, it uproots trees and branches fall.”
“Now I bet this will be a tinderbox in summer — this and every other forest in California.”
“Let’s hope not! If we get enough rain, the dead stuff will get mushy and become fertile. With fewer trees and branches blocking out the sun, new life will grow. Regeneration is one of the most incredible aspects of nature, in my opinion. Didn’t the guidebook say this land was harvested for timber not long ago? I wonder what that looked like!”
“I hope we get the rain, too, of course. Shame if it burns. I’d rather see the land heal.”
“Did you know illegal campfires start a lot, if not most, of California’s forest fires? The drought makes everything dry, but it’s singular humans messing up on top of that.”
“Hitting Nature from both sides: the macro and the micro.”
We passed what Hank described as a relaxing welcome bench, knocked out of the ground and thrown on its back.
“I’m ready for all humans to live in harmony with Nature.”
“Now that’s a good prayer.”
We stopped to inspect a fallen tree. It made a sturdy bridge over the creek and it’s roots were exposed in an unchanged unit, still holding rocks they had grown around.
“This makes me think of my inner work,” I said, ducking beneath a branch.
“What do you mean?” Kitten asked.
“Self-reflection can sometimes hurt. After a long period of unconsciousness or trauma, like a drought, the medicine of awareness can feel destructive — it’s painful to look on all aspects of myself — lessons can be hard, truth can hurt. Guilt, disappointment, shame, and anger surface. And when that happens, it feels like I’m being destroyed. Like my guts are being ripped out or my heart torn apart.”
Water cascaded down the creek bed over rocks and debris, navigating curves, eddies and pools.
“I think the commitment,” I continued, “is to give myself sustained compassion, like rain, so that which has been knocked over can become the fertile grounds for new life — or a bridge to enlightenment. To continually give myself compassionate attention and embrace myself instead of pushing myself away — that is the way.”
“I see. If you have the painful, seemingly-destructive insight and you don’t follow it up with compassion, it’ll catch on fire and consume you when someone starts an illegal fire,” Kitten said.
We crossed a wooden bridge before we completed the loop. Birds sang from the moss-covered trees, while a soft and steady drizzle, almost a mist, enveloped the forest.
Nostalgia washed over me as I drove into Los Osos at sunset. I pulled into my friend Nikki’s driveway; it was my first visit to her new home.
“I can’t believe I haven’t seen you since the Burn,” she said, giving me a hug.
“It’s been too long!” I agreed.
She hopped with excitement. “Come see my new place,” she walked me down a stone path. Succulents, feathers, and skulls decorated her entryway.
“This is my room,” she said as she walked through the door.
I looked around, first at a three-paneled stained glass window and then at the plants and ornaments on her windowsill beneath it. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a stained glass this large in someone’s room. It makes your space feel holy.”
“I love sleeping here. It’s peaceful.”
Nikki showed me the rest of her house — pointing out the craft-style ceilings — and then walked to the large backyard with a view of the Pacific.
“I’m so glad you landed here,” I said. “This is exactly what you wanted to manifest months ago: privacy and a backyard.”
She smiled at me, “it’s perfect. I’m blown away by what I called into my life. And at an affordable price!”
We made tea and walked back into her room.
“I love this quirky town,” I said.
“It’s got it’s own thing going from the rest of the Central Coast. A lot of artists live here. You get things like this stained glass that you might not find elsewhere.”
“When I lived here I felt like I was in a vortex. I wouldn’t want to leave for days on end. I don’t know if it’s all the natural beauty or the dead-end streets or what –”
“Los Osos definitely has me in its vortex. I love it here,” Nikki said, making herself comfortable on a cushion. “I can’t picture myself living anywhere else right now.”
“That’s a wonderful feeling,” I said. “It shows you’re exactly where you’re meant to be.”
She sipped her tea. “Have you heard of the I Ching?”
“Yes, but I don’t know much about it.”
“I’ve been getting into it lately,” she said. “It started in ancient China and can be used as an oracle. I’ve been listening to a weekly interpretation by Bobby Klein and I’m finding his wisdom helpful for my daily life.”
“What is the latest?”
“He said we might be feeling unmotivated, lazy, and unproductive –”
I sighed. “I can relate! I want to write, I have ideas, but I can’t seem to sit and get them out. And when I do sit, I can’t seem to get them out in a way that pleases me.”
“See? It’s uncanny. I feel that way in a lot of areas in my life.”
“What’s the wisdom?”
“According to the reading, we can use ritual and ceremony to move past these kinds of blocks. And the energy we spend in that endeavor will translate into a bountiful harvest.”
“Have you tried it?” I asked.
“I have. In one way, for ritual, I’ve been waking up early and moving my body to put me in a positive, active mindset. And this window and the windowsill helps me create ceremony; I’m using it like an altar.”
I looked again at the colorful stained glass, reminiscent of religious art. “Is it working?”
“I think so. I’m definitely more positive and motivated, but I’ll know for sure when it’s time to harvest.”
Sweet Springs Nature Preserve
We woke up early the next morning to a sunny and warm fall day. After Nikki and I practiced yoga in her backyard, she went to school and I headed straight to Sweet Springs Nature Preserve, a 24 acre parcel of land neighboring the Morro Bay estuary.
Wind rustled through Eucalyptus leaves, producing an airy music and a pungent, menthol scent. Dirt paths and wooden bridges guided my feet to views of Morro Rock, the enormous volcanic plug considered sacred by the Chumash tribespeople. Crossing one bridge, I came upon a flock of mallard ducks quacking and bathing. Several benches dotted the one mile trail, but I sat on a fallen tree at the edge of the marshlands.
Listening to the Eucalyptus leaves and singing birds, I wondered how I could bring ceremony and ritual into my life to move past my creative blocks.
I saw a Blue Heron gliding on the air. A few moments later, a Snowy Egret came into view, stepping carefully through the estuary, catching its breakfast with quick stabs of its long beak.
To the west, a large, waning moon hung over the ocean. I walked towards it along a boardwalk. Soft waves coming in from the harbor joined the trees and birds in Nature’s song. A sandpiper walked along the water’s edge, poking its beak in the sand; in the distance, a Blue Heron stood in tall grasses and a Snowy Egret perched on a docking post.
Los Osos Oaks State Natural Reserve
As the day grew warmer, I drove east on Los Osos Valley Road to an 85 acre reserve, which is home to Chumash middens, ancient sand dunes, and three varieties of Oaks up to 800 years old. At the trailhead, I found a map and I planned my route — a loop that would encompass all three sections of the gentle trail.
At the first trail marker I became confused. It pointed in three directions (right, left and straight), but it was placed much further than the left-hand trail. I walked to the left, but questioned if I had chosen the trail I wanted.
Hesitation faded while I examined Beard lichen drooping from oak branches, but this section of the trail moved directly next to the road and the traffic distracted me from immersing in the forest; the noise was jarring compared to the otherworldly beauty of the oaks.
The path began splitting into what I assumed were local trails and deer paths. Which one was the “right” trail?
Turning a corner, I saw an enormous oak with wide-spread branches, twisting and turning, defying all patterns and rules. I approached the grand oak in awe of its divine, ancient presence, and when I moved under the furthest reach of her branches, the road suddenly went silent. For just a moment, it was only me and the oak.
As trails took me further from the road, noise faded into the peace of nature. Oak branches created natural benches for me to sit on and listen to the crows call and birds sing. Gazing into the forest, it seemed the branches formed a wild tapestry, building intensity by intertwining and crossing each other.
If only I could harness the vitality of the oaks in my writing. What could I possibly do to draw that force into my craft?
I continued on my way, guessing which path to take each time it splintered. Trails twisted and turned like the oak branches above them; I had to surrender to the randomness and chaos. I guessed my direction more than I was certain — I thought I was on a new trail until I came across a landmark and then I thought I was on a familiar trail until I saw something unusual. I felt like Alice in Wonderland, not knowing if I was here or there or lost or found, popping in and out of the forest onto the dunes.
Stepping onto the shrub-covered sand dunes, I had an areal view of the oak canopy. Butterflies fluttered before me in graceful arcs. I came across middens, which spoke of the site’s Chumash heritage, the indigenous people who lived in the area for millennia — from Prehistoric times until the 1700s when the Spanish settled.
By the end of the hike I felt grateful for the road because the sound gave me a sense of direction. Walking out of the reserve, I felt like the Los Osos vortex had sucked me in and swirled me beneath its oaks in a meandering dance.
Finishing my strange wanderings in the Oaks Reserve, Nikki and I met again for a walk in the El Moro Elfin Forest Natural Area. One of the most protected areas of Los Osos, the path is a complete, unified boardwalk and there are strict guidelines to keep visitors off the vegetation. This nature walk is great for strollers and people with disabilities — one entrance even has wheelchair access from the road.
Consisting of 90 acres with views of Morro Rock, the Elfin Forest is aptly named for the pygmy oaks, which are a variety of California Live Oak dwarfed by soft soil, mineral depletion, salt spray and constant wind. Despite their small stature, these pygmy oaks are 200-400 years old.
“I love being surrounded by oaks,” Nikki said. “I love feeling them and seeing them. They’re like dinosaurs.”
“There’s something majestic about oak trees,” I agreed. “It’s hard for me to say. It’s not just the moss or lichen or the wild branches. There’s an essence –”
“They’re the most energetically dense wood. That’s why people burn it. I imagine when they’re alive, there’s a strong field around them like they pulse with life.”
“We might not be able to see it, but we can feel it. Maybe that’s the Osos vortex. All the oaks together in clusters.”
“I love having oak forests a quick walk from my house.”
“That was my favorite part of living here, too. I miss it.”
We came to small clearing. Nikki set her bag down and began twirling her hoop.
“Hooping is another way I create ceremony and ritual in my life,” she said as the hoop orbed around her.
“I’ve been thinking about how to add ritual and ceremony into my life all day, actually.”
“When I’m hooping, I let myself drop into the flow of life. I focus on letting go of my thinking brain and it’s like I’m connecting with a divine energy. It’s hard to explain, but I think that’s how I’m able to manifest my desires. Letting go and creating a moving meditation.”
“I’ve heard meditation helps with manifestation because it’s a great way to be more positive and receptive to the divine. It puts us into our original, or natural state of being.”
“It allows us to just be with the divine. Something opens, something releases. And the divine rushes in. It’s nothing short of a miracle.”
While Nikki spun her hoop, I invited my mind to empty and become present.
We had to complete our walk because Nikki needed to do homework. I, on the other hand, got to finish my day with the crown jewel of Los Osos.
Montana de Oro State Park
Named after the glory of springtime wildflowers, Montana de Oro (Mountain of Gold) is at the end of the last road in Los Osos and is gorgeous every time of year. Stretching 8,000 acres, most of the land is completely wild.
I got out of my car at Spooner’s Cove to eat a picnic dinner with the sunset. Instead of watching it from the beach, I took a quick hike on the north bluff of the cove.
As I ate, gulls flew towards Morro Bay and waves crashed on the tide pools and rock formations below me.
I thought about my artistic vow and the bouts of resistance I encounter towards it. I want to be more productive, I want to write with more inspiration. So why am I standing in my own way? And what ceremony and ritual could I use to destroy these blocks?
I thought back to what Nikki said about getting into the flow with meditation.
I looked out at the ocean — powerful, deep, vast, mysterious. I timed my breath with her waves and set my focus there, clearing my mind. We moved together and suddenly I knew.
I touched the turquoise necklace I was wearing and had bought because turquoise is a symbol of clear mindedness, creativity, communication, and releasing blocks around self-expression.
When the sun dipped behind the fog bank at the horizon, I walked back to Spooner’s Cove. I approached the ocean with my hands on my heart. Everyone was leaving the beach since the sun had set, but I walked to the water with sincere reverence and intention. Pebbles crunched beneath my feet.
I walked to the water and she approached me as well, reflecting the colors of the sunset. Wispy clouds turned pink in the distance, but the sky above me was clear. Little bugs with large wings flew through the air like tiny angels.
I walked to the far right of the beach, which was entirely secluded. To the right, seaweed grew down the cliff and to the left, rock formations created a wall. Behind me, Islay Creek came from the depths of the Montana de Oro wilderness to meet the ocean. It was the perfect place for my ceremony.
“Dear Ocean — powerful and deep, beautiful, mysterious, a force unlike any other — people come from every corner of the earth to see You, to know You. You’re ever present, ever moving; You’re expansive, You stretch further than I could ever see; You inspire; You bring us peace; Your power creates awe in the most cynical and hardened hearts. You, Ocean, were my constant companion when I was a child, I grew up playing in Your waves; You are my home; now, even though I don’t live near Your shores, You still feel like home, close to my heart.
“Dear Ocean, bless my communication, bless this turquoise rock that I will dip into your waters; open my voice with Your power, Your strength, Your mystery, Your expanse, Your inspiration. You, dear Ocean, are considered a symbol of consciousness, the soul, and truth — imbue my voice with Your ineffable qualities that must be felt, heard, and experienced; fortify my voice with Your quality that sets deep into the soul and speaks to our ancient roots, as one of the first creations of life, the first creator of life. When I dip this turquoise into your water, bless my voice with Your power, Your strength, Your thundering waves, Your calm, Your peace, Your everlasting Spirit. Bless my voice, Ocean, deep, powerful Ocean, bless my voice.”
I took off my necklace and bowed to the water. I dipped the stone in her waves as they approached and put my hand in, too. I placed my hand on my throat and felt my pulse as the water dripped down to my chest and belly. I changed hands, prayed again, dipped the stone, touched my hand to the water and again to my throat. I clasped the pendant and felt it throb with power and vitality.
The little bugs flew around me and gulls passed silently in the distance.
I put my necklace back on and bowed to the ocean, waiting for her to come to me. She returned, so sweetly. With my hands in prayer, I placed them both in the water and put them back on my throat feeling the wave drip down my arms and chest.
“Amen,” I said, moving my hands to my heart.
The sky had turned to violet. I struggled to pull myself away from the ocean even though night descended upon us.
I step outside. The sun peeks around clouds to caress the world and welcome me. Unseen doves proclaim the beauty around us.
Dew rests on the earth; oaks stretch in wild formations. Brown leaves blanket the ground and young grasses grow amongst those that had died in summer. Moisture adorns foliage with drops that sparkle and glitter in the sun. Deer tracks tell me I am not the only one who walks this trail.
I take a deep breath; crisp, clean air fills my lungs. The distant scent of Linney’s wood-burning stove reminds me that only a few months ago a wildfire raged in these mountains.
I come to a clearing and see a flock of quail, each dressed with its own fancy spots, stripes and bobbling headpiece. They whistle as they run away on speedy legs.
I hear a crinkling sound and see California Towhee kicking up leaves to forage beneath them. As soon as I’m close, they fly away in perfect unison, their wings purring through the air.
Acorn Woodpeckers squawk and chuckle while they perch on tree trunks, wearing tuxedos and red caps, drilling holes and stuffing them with acorns. Their happy, gleeful chucking brings a smile to my face. They must be telling jokes to make work more fun.
Off the trail, a thick oak branch grows horizontally from its trunk. Seeing that it’s dry and free of insects, I hoist myself onto it, stretch out my legs and recline back. The tree holds me like I am lying in its arm.
Gazing into the canopy and up to the sky, I hear birds all around me. They rustle in leaves, they fly with fluttering wings. They sing, chirp, laugh, and coo. Each voice joins in one abundant song: the song of the forest.
I could lounge for hours on the tree branch listening, yet I know the forest does not sing for me. The forest needs no outside audience for its symphonies. It is a true and great artist: creating for creation’s sake, creating for itself.
If the forest is the ultimate artist, how do I compare? What happens when I am the only one who reads my writing?
I know the answer; I have felt it often. When I am my only audience, I get discouraged. I blame my voice — I call it awkward and uninteresting. My dream appears hopeless. My feelings keep me from putting words on the page.
The oak holds me like a mother.
“Show me the way,” I whisper. “How can I create like you?”
“Close your eyes,” she says.
Minutes pass and I begin noticing subtle layers of the song. A hawk calls from high. A frog croaks in the distance. A crow caws.
The forest tells me there’s room for every voice and contributors are never ashamed of their sound — it is the one they received at birth. They need not be melodic, gentle or harmonic to join the orchestra; they need only to be themselves. The song’s beauty is in its rich and vibrant variety. Each day it creates a new score without one thought of who will listen. The forest creates by design — without doubt or self-consciousness.
Opening my eyes, I look into the tree with new understanding and say, “I will add my voice to the forest’s song.”
At this very moment, I’m on the road heading northeast to Black Rock City, Nevada for the art and music festival Burning Man. Far more than just a party, last year (my first time), I learned the truth of the saying “the playa delivers.” I got everything I wanted and even more of what I needed for my transformative path. Now, sitting in the front seat of a cargo van — packed full with supplies and costumes — I know the most important part of my preparation has been setting my intentions.
Putting intentions into words and sharing them with others seems to strengthen and solidify them. And so, I would like to share my Burning Man 2016 intentions with you:
To have deep, meaningful interactions with friends and strangers; to speak into peoples’ lives with wisdom and love.
To see the divine Light shining from the eyes of those around me; to feel divine peace and love; to feel the oneness of my divine nature.
To see beyond and let go of my self-limiting beliefs; to access new levels of consciousness; to step into my authentic truth.
When I emerge from the dust, I will have stories to share and I will let you know what became of my intentions.
Below is a video shot by Evan Halleck capturing a group hug from last year. I appear at about 50 seconds, wearing a white jacket and holding the hand of a very dear friend of mine.
The past couple weeks were hard. I was in a major funk — my heart felt closed to myself and the world around me and I haven’t been writing because of it. When I feel shut down, I usually don’t force myself to write, it’s an easy excuse. (“I don’t feel like it,” I say to myself.) And then it gets worse because I’m not living my soul’s purpose; I’m not doing what brings me joy. Resistance and bad moods compound each other, they love each other.
It’s a vicious cycle.
When the funk began, I started writing a post on the practice of staying with unpleasant emotions in order to ease them with presence. I’ve been practicing this lately and it seemed fitting for me to write about it when I had so much hardness heaviness in my own emotional body and had to practice it constantly. But the writing came out clumsy and uninspired. And when I read it over — I knew it stunk! It read like a lame high school essay; no real depth of understanding, nothing truly compelling or engaging.
I kept at it. I had to post something! I wasn’t going to just quit this blog, so I revised it a couple times, but ultimately, I had to put it away. It repulsed me. And I didn’t have the drive to look at it for well over a week. It was like my resistance to writing was snowballing — adding weight and size each day I refused to write. My self-imposed deadline came and went. Then the next week’s deadline came and went. Finally, I sat down and opened the document, but I sat with my body turned away from the screen. I wanted nothing to do with it! I read the first couple of sentences and got up for a glass of water. Not one cell in my body wanted me to do my work that morning.
I was in the throws of creative resistance.
Recently, I read in The War of Art the only way out is through and decided I would test the theory. I took some time to free write — to write whatever came to mind even if it was petty or nonsensical. Soon enough, the words flowed. And I was rewarded for my effort to overcome resistance when Inspiration brought me this post.
When resistance comes — and it comes to me often — I now have the knowledge to push through and not let it phase me. Whether it comes in the form of a sour mood, doubt, a list of errands, or any other excuse, I have succumbed to resistance more than I would like to admit. Yet now I know the nature of this illusion: it’s simply a thin veil, deceptively impenetrable, but easy to drop.
As for the funk — that, too, disappeared once I started writing.
Keeping my vow, the day I left work, I headed straight to Pinnacles National Park. Luckily for me, a glamsient friend had the day off and agreed to join me. We started at the visitor center on the east entrance where I saw a sign announcing the arrival of a California Condor.”A new baby! How exciting,” I said to the ranger behind the counter.
“Yes, a girl. We are thrilled,” she said. “It’s from the only nest in the park!”
“Do you have any camping available for tonight?” I asked. Knowing that many California parks fill up months in advance during summer, I braced myself for her answer.
“Oh yes, there’s plenty.” She handed me a map of the campground. “Pick out an empty space, come back and let us know which one you want.”
We drove towards the back of the campground — it was virtually empty! With so much availability, we found exactly what we wanted: a site surrounded by trees and bushes to give us privacy and shade. High Peaks Trail via Bear Gulch Cave
For our first hike, we chose the High Peaks Trail by way of Bear Gulch Cave. My glamsient friend informed me this is the most popular trail in the park.
The first section guided us to Bear Gulch Cave, a rare talus cave thought to be formed in the ice age. The canopy of trees made this hike gentle and pleasant even in the middle of the afternoon. Created by large boulders that had fallen and wedged into narrow canyons, the cave was easy to navigate — sunlight made its way into the cave through open spaces to illuminate the path. We walked over bridges and up stairs created in the 1930s; part of the way, we had to crouch to pass underneath boulders.
“Wouldn’t want to be here during an earthquake,” my friend remarked. “The San Andreas fault is pretty close.”
For a popular destination at the park, the cave was by no means crowded; we saw only a few groups of people.
Leaving the cave, the trail led us to a small reservoir; that’s where the strenuous climb began to the High Peaks. Without the tree cover, under the blazing sun, every step moved me further uphill and every step told me that I am out of shape! I quickly realized this section of the trail would be much more enjoyable in cooler weather — either early morning in summer or a cooler time of year altogether!
(That being said, we saw many groups with children. They seemed fine. Hot, but fine.)
Ultimately, our effort paid off — the trail took us to an incredible peak revealing far reaching vistas of valleys, rock formations and mountain ranges to the east and west. The High Peaks trail showcases prehistoric rock formations; volcanic activity created these rocks 23 million years ago and erosion formed them into what we see today. It surprised me to learn seismic activity moved the solid, massive boulders over 195 miles northwest from the time of their creation.
At the crux, we walked up and over boulders that created a long ridge — in many places, the trail was carved by dynamite into footholds and steps. We stopped to catch our breath, but lost it when a Condor flew overhead! One of only 36 wild in the park, we knew we were in the right place at the right time.
Shortly after we made our descent, we saw a couple on the trail.
“Is the peak much farther?” The young man asked. He sat in shade created by chaparral, his face was red and dripping with sweat. “We are thinking of going back.”
“You’re so close,” I told him. “Keep going.”
“It’s worth it,” my friend said. “The views and everything — you don’t want to turn back.”
“And there’s a cave on the other side,” I said.
Halfway down, we found a spot to rest and wait for the full moon. Despite my aching feet and jelly knees, seeing the moon — large and pink — rise over the mountains at sunset was a glory to behold.
It was dark when we returned to camp for dinner. Eating that night, I noticed a sense of vitality within me. My blood pumped through my veins, fresh air emboldened my lungs and my muscles felt active and alive! Balconies Trail
The next morning, my fellow glamsient left early for work. Part of me wanted to head home, but I quickly recognized that desire as my old habit of rushing to the destination. The Balconies Cave enticed me and, remembering to slow down and savor the journey, I chose to stay in the park.
Driving to the trailhead I saw quail, turkeys, and a doe with her fawn. The parking lot was empty apart from my car, and only the sound of birds accompanied me onto the path.
Meandering through trees, the Balconies trail is mostly flat — a perfect companion to yesterday’s strenuous hike. Yellow swallowtail butterflies greeted me as if to say I had made the right choice. I breathed deeply, enjoying the time to myself.
When I came to the entrance of the talus cave, I saw a large, metal gate. “Flashlights Required,” a sign read. Having seen a similar warning at the trailhead I had my headlamp — and thank goodness for that! The cave was pitch black; only little white painted arrows marked the trail.
Cool and dark, the deep quietude of the cave penetrated my being. I was completely alone, and instead of steadily moving through to the other side, I sat and turned off my headlamp. Surrounded by rock, my small, vulnerable body felt soft and humble, but I was not afraid. I felt held and supported. I seemed to dissolve, as if I were part of the rock, the air, the empty space. In perfect stillness, I tuned to the deepest part of me — connected and endless.
When I was ready, I moved forward through the cave. As soon as the first rays of sun beckoned me out I wanted to go back into the dark, cool, quiet chamber. It had given me a thrill unlike any other.
Hiking the next section of the trail — a moderate stretch with views of rock formations jutting out of the earth like balconies — my mind returned to my experience in the cave. Wholly grounding, yet also uplifting, I longed to return to the cave and the feeling of oneness.
Earlier this week, while in Nevada City, I decided to visit my friends in a recording studio while they were working on an album. Located just outside of town on a large wooded property, I breathed in the mountain air as gravel crunched under my feet and I smiled to the manzanita trees. As I walked towards the studio, I noticed I felt buoyantly happy and I was eager to see my friends. I held a bag of madeleine cookies I brought to share with them.
The moment I stepped through the door, I felt a drastic shift in energy from the healing abundance of nature just outside.
The leader of the project, a singer-songwriter, sat on a stool near the monitors and microphones. Her eyes, usually sparkling and vibrant, drooped with sadness. She greeted me with a small, meek smile and a lifeless hug. She was not herself.
My two other friends seemed equally drained. Deep, dark circles around the producer’s eyes made him look ill; the other musician’s demeanor, though friendly, had an edge of frustration. Everyone smiled with me, but they lacked joy and enthusiasm. A faint flash of happiness crossed their faces when I showed them the cookies. They thanked me for the madeleines and played me a track.
I listened attentively, silently noting my reactions and responses. As soon as it finished they began making excuses. “It’s not complete,” they said. “It’s a different style than any other song on the album.”
To my ears, the song lacked the depth and emotion that I was accustomed to hearing from each musician individually. I paused to find delicate words before I spoke. Not only could I sense their frayed emotions, in this early stage of development, I did not want to destroy the makings of what could become an incredible song with harsh criticism. “I love the vocals and the lyrics. I love the way you’re creating a round towards the end. It’s beautiful. As your listener, I think I’m expecting some lower tones; it seems like it’s mostly in a higher range. Lower sounds might create balance.”
They all began pitching ideas of what they could add or make louder to create deeper tones. It seemed I had only pointed to what they already knew.
I felt it had to be a quick visit. “I’ll let you folks get back to work,” I said. “I have a lot of writing I’d like to get done today as well.”
They thanked me for stopping by and each of them gave me a quick hug.
Leaving their space, driving back to my aunt and uncle’s property, I couldn’t shake an uneasy feeling. I expected to find my friends excited and having fun. I thought they would be riding the high of creative expression and collaboration. Instead of leaving feeling inspired by them, I couldn’t stop thinking of the producer’s puffy eyes; the sad look on the singer’s face; and the low, heavy energy of the musician. Ultimately, I was sad and upset to see my friends struggling. How could they produce their highest work in that state? I had heard they were working 12-14 hour days, but I did not realize they were pushing way beyond their limits, not taking care of themselves as artists, and becoming artistically malnourished. Seeing them — and more importantly — feeling them completely depleted shocked me. I had to work against taking their moods personally. I wondered if giving them constructive criticism was out-of-line. They said they appreciated my feedback, but maybe the timing was wrong. I had an unpleasant feeling from the visit, I wondered if they felt that way about me, too. I reminded myself that I walked into that situation, I didn’t cause it. Even though I could talk myself off the ledge of insecurity, I still felt drained.
Having just read Julia Cameron’s concept of filling the artistic well, I wanted to do something for myself to refill my reserves before I sat down to write. I first took myself to a bead and craft store that interested me and I had passed many times, but never visited. While perusing, I found raw pieces of amethyst (my birthstone) and I bought myself a $5 chunk. I liked it because it reminded me to turn towards the rock within that is always available. I then took myself to a burger joint and got a chocolate milkshake because I rarely indulge in such a rich treat, but they’ve been a favorite of mine since childhood. I sat on the patio of the diner enjoying my shake, soaking in the late afternoon sun, and gazing at the amethyst’s brilliance. I reveled in the love and care I had shown myself — I was back to feeling buoyantly happy and I was ready to write! I took out my notebook and pen. Words on the importance of artistic care flowed onto the page; it felt effortless.
Closing my notebook, I knew what I had to do for my friends.
I arrived at the studio door with two large pizza boxes in my hands and opened the door. The songwriter, sitting on the couch across the room, touched her hand to her heart. I saw her eyes glisten with tears. I looked down at the musician sitting on the floor, his eyes watered, too. And immediately, I knew the feeling; I had been there. It’s that feeling when you’re running on empty and someone shows the smallest kindness and love — like a soft rain on parched ground, soothing the hardened surface, needed and appreciated.
They sat motionless.
“Hungry?” I asked.
“Wow, yes” the producer proclaimed.
“Let’s eat outside. It’s so stuffy in here.”
The three of them followed me into the open air. They began to brighten. Especially when they opened the pizza boxes and found gourmet toppings.
“We haven’t come outside and spent time as a group together,” the songwriter said, in between bites. “This is really nice. Thank you.”
“You’re welcome,” I said.
“And thank you for stopping by this morning. You’re like an angel appearing at the doorway.”
“I appreciate you saying that. I wasn’t sure if I had imposed.”
“No, not at all,” the producer said.
“There’s something on my heart to express. It’s so strong that I can’t ignore it,” I said. “We have to view creativity and inspiration as a reservoir or a well. If we constantly drain the water, it will run dry. We need to consciously fill the reserves — we must practice self-care, nourish our souls and nurture ourselves. It’s just as important as showing up to create.”
“We have been going full-on,” the musician said.
The songwriter admitted, “that’s absolutely my tendency. I don’t take breaks. I look at recording as something just to get through and I want to get it done as quickly as I can.”
“Honestly,” I continued, “it’s clear that you’re not taking care of yourselves. You’re draining your creativity and not taking the time and effort to replenish. You have to feed yourselves emotionally, mentally and physically. You have to set aside time to clear your mind. Your music is healing and nourishing — it is soul food. And you have to consider the energy and intention you’re putting into it. Let me emphasize this truth: you create from within — you can only give what you have to give. Your work will not be healing and nourishing if you are inwardly drained and malnourished. You have to be in touch with your natural rhythm and balance. In order to produce your best work, in order for your creativity and inspiration flow, you have to nourish and care for your Self — that’s where our creativity originates.”
“Gosh,” said the songwriter. “What would artistic nourishment even look like for me?”
I paused and considered the gravity of her words. Then I said, “I’d be willing to bet that in asking and answering that question you will find invaluable keys for your journey.”