When I was living at the Omega Institute in upstate New York, I used to go on these four mile walks around the lake each day. I had just been though a really hard time in my life, and was still recovering. The walks started as a hangover from my deranged fitness routine – when I had lived in Berlin the year before, I wouldn’t allow myself to eat dinner unless I had swum at least 20 laps in the cold pool at the outdoor Schwimmenbad. It’s so incredible, how many young women faced, like me, such weird ideas about body image that we literally starve ourselves and put ourselves through dreadful rituals of self-diminishment. I was convinced that if I didn’t at least walk everyday, that I would gain weight, and utterly lose control.
And control was what it was all about for me – my world had shrunk down to teeny tiny thimble size. All I thought about was my career prospects – which I imagined were few. I needed a life plan! I needed to know what was coming next! I was a failure! My body was disgusting! I hadn’t read a book in ages. My imagination was defunct.
It was on one of these walks that, one day, my heart started to open up again. I started to imagine myself sailing through the air, swinging on the branches of the great luscious trees. It was this amazing moment where all of a sudden – I remembered – I am free – I still have my imagination. I can… have fun – on my own, in the woods, with nothing but my feet on the Earth for company.
This might sound crazy, but I had become totally disassociated from the rich inner life that had fed me as a child. And this was a great loss, even though I didn’t know that it was a big part of my feeling of stuck-ness.
And, around then, I started encountering feathers. Crow feathers, pheasant feathers, bluebird feathers – under foot and everywhere. I started gathering strange clippings from the wild scrub around the lake on my walks. I collected the feathers that some generous airborne creature had left me. I built a wild installation at the foot of my bed, with the woodsy clippings and feathers stuck in old vases that I found on my thrift expeditions in town. It took up most of my wood-cabin room!
One day, someone on staff at Omega said – feathers are signals that you are with Spirit.
And I felt that it was true. These feathers underfoot were gifts from Spirit in the form of these sweet birdies. I started a habit of uttering a blessing every time I see one.
I almost always have feathers on my home altars. I sometimes buy them, and often find them (or they find me). In the desert, they were jumping out at me everywhere! Indeed, I have noticed that in those lyrical moments of open spaciousness – when I have a wide-open mind… there comes a feather!
My dear colleague Sarah Thompson has started an amazing, ethically inspiring clothing line called five feathers clothingFive Feathers – which she named for the five elements, reconnecting to our environment and natural rhythms. She reminded me that feathers are symbols of transformation – and I can recall that when I receive many feathers – when I was in California, on the walks in upstate New York, and other times – I was in an accelerated period of transformation.
What does it mean to live with Spirit? I used to think it was like being super souped-up all the time. Like that ‘being the life of the party’ feeling, but constantly. Like lighting bolts ray out of your eyes and your fingertips kind of vibe.
Sometimes I feel like that.
But if I contemplate the gifts of the feathers, I have a sense that being with Spirit, in the deepest way, is being wide-open and spacious. No thought no purpose no needs. No nothing. Wide open.
Indeed, that is how I often feel when I am in tune with the elements, connected to my environment – and wholeheartedly engaging in my transformation process of living.
I was holding my beloved goddaughter Adelaide and wading into the Pacific Ocean last week. As I felt her soft baby skin in my arms, and witnessed her fascination with all things beach-y (the roiling waves, the boys on boogie-boards, her Daddy swimming, the ocean-tendrils of seaweed..), I had one of those moments, wide-open and fine. Into my line of sight, set out on the horizon – there came a soft little white downy feather, floating upwards into the sky.
Blessed be the Spirit that abides. Blessed be, blessed be.