In early September, Dunrovin Ranch hosted a Fire Medicine retreat in collaboration with Spirit Dance Equine Assisted Coaching to acknowledge the emotions, fears, and disruptions that Montana’s horrific fire season has brought to all who live here. Something of a skeptic with respect to ceremonies and group sessions, I found myself reaping benefits I did not anticipate.
It is difficult for me to be in situations where the focus is on feelings. I don’t really mind sharing my feelings in a spontaneous way, and I love it when others share theirs with me. It is less the act of sharing that scares me than the expectations that ceremonies and group sessions create. I have a hard time being dishonest. I cannot control when my feelings do, and do not, emerge. I get nervous during ceremonies that my own feelings are not the right ones, that I am not in sync with the group, and that I must push myself to feel something that isn’t really there. I also know that I can be a very dominant person. My voice is strong and assertive, sometimes conveying way more confidence than I actually have. Friends love to kid me about my lack of opinions—yeah, sure! All of this makes me reticent to participate in group sessions. My overbearing personality, my commanding voice, and my inability to conjure what I think might be the right feelings fill me with fear that I will dominate and divert the conversation away from what is meaningful to others.
This is where the skills of an experienced group facilitator and coach are essential. It takes reading the group, and each person in it, to shape a conversation space that pulls everyone in, acknowledges differences, prevents anyone from dominating, and not force feelings but allow an atmosphere of trust and openness to form organically, and then silently convey that any feeling is the right feeling.
Luckily, Lynn Baskfield of Spirit Dance Equine Assisted Coaching embodies all that one would want in a group guide. She is grounded and deliberate and calm. She listens and questions, rather than answers. Her body and voice radiate acceptance and kindness. She is truly gifted.
But I am not an easy nut to crack. I hold in when I sense anything that seems in the least bit inauthentic or contrived. So I was standing back. In spite of my good intentions, I found myself ready to find fault when Lynn had the group come together in the lovely cottonwood forest in the riparian area of Dunrovin and asked us to create a medicine wheel. Part of me dislikes appropriating ceremonies from Native American cultures. Why this is, I am not sure. I have no trouble participating in an Irish jig or a German Octoberfest. Perhaps it is because my relationship with Native Americans as a group is an uneasy one. I regret my country’s history with Native Americans, and once again, I am not sure how to feel about it. That translates into uncertainty about engaging in something that I know is sacred to them. How would they feel about it?
Nonetheless, I followed the group down to the clearing in the forest where we were to build our medicine wheel. Once I was able cleanse myself of negative thoughts and drop my insecurities, I began to focus on where I was emotionally with respect to the summer’s events, the fires, the diagnosis of moon blindness for Chinook, and the implications of my business losses. Lynn asked that we quietly walk down to the river to collect some stones to form the circle, pause, and reflect on the circle that is our life.
Along the river, my eyes immediately fell on a stone that reminded me of a bird’s egg. My heart skipped a little beat and my mind jumped to the ospreys from whom I have gained so much. They inspire me with their indestructible commitment to life, regardless of the challenges. At times I envy them. Self doubts, insecurity about feelings, living in the past or the future, too much introspection, are not part of their world. They take it in the here and now. I know they experience pain and fear, and I have little doubt that at some level they also experience comfort, joy, and sadness. But most of all they dwell on the task at hand, not its “cosmic” meaning, not its challenges nor the time it takes to complete, and certainly not how much or how little their mates participate. They just get it done. We humans go to special classes, learn meditation techniques, and turn to all kinds of addictive substances and behaviors to escape the relentless harping of our minds. Oh, to be a bird!
The more I searched for stone bird eggs, the more relaxed and in the moment I became. The more I let my mind fixate on the search, the less I cared about the finding. It was the looking, the quiet water flowing, the easy breaths, and the thoughts of birds flying in my heart that finally brought me out of myself and into the moment.
When I returned to participate with the others to offer my stone eggs to the circle, I had done exactly what Lynn had wanted us to do, to open a space in our hearts and minds to process the summer’s events. I found myself seeing myself from a bird’s eye, from a detached point of view. It helped me understand that while these events have been stressful and, for some, life-changing, it really is all just part of each of our rivers of life that flows over or around each stone in its path to reach its conclusion at some yet unknown destination.