“After enlightenment, the laundry.”

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I had the good fortune to spend the last week of August teaching at the British Columbia Witchcamp (BCWC). For those of you unfamiliar with Witchcamps, they are intensives in the Reclaiming tradition that can range in length from 4–7 days. There are several camps in North America, Australia, and Europe. Camp allows participants to immerse themselves in a story, take a morning “path” that can either focus on specific skills or personal/spiritual growth, and connect with a vibrant community of incredible people from all over the world. It was a Witchcamp in 1998 that completely changed my life, and I have been going back ever since.

Every camp I go to has inspired my work, and this one was no exception. We worked with a story about Artemis, a deity already near and dear to my heart, and I got a real sense of some of the qualities that Artemis represents to me — autonomy, responsibility, presence, and courage, to name just a few. Artemis is the protector and embodiment of the Wild, so remembering our connection to that earthy, sensual, untamed part of the soul was another powerful touchstone for the week. Like Expanding Inward, Reclaiming works within an ecstatic ritual context — so those qualities weren’t just intellectual concepts — but tangible, in-the-body kind of experiences for me. There were moments where I felt my heart was blown wide open, and I distinctly remember thinking to myself at one key moment during ritual where everything seemed absolutely clear: This. This is what I want to always remember. This.

And then I went home.

I’m writing this post while sitting in my office in a nondescript suburb of Chicago. There is no “wild” here – at least not in the traditional sense. The trees outside my window are strategically placed. The lawns are manicured. Cars and trucks rumble by on the busy street that parallels the parking lot. It’s a far cry from the spongy floor of that British Columbia rainforest, covered in moss and ferns and primeval trees, lit by a full moon and a cascade of stars.

Coming back to the “mundane” world can be challenge enough in and of itself — retaining the magic and I connected to so deeply during that time of intense vulnerability can be even harder. This is a lifelong pattern for me. I can still remember promising to keep in touch with other kids I met at summer camp in my pre-teen years after the Best Experience Ever — and I might have sent one or two letters, but then the routine of home just got in the way. I can barely even remember the names of the kids I promised to be friends with for life.

And that’s what happens, right? An intensive or other meaningful experience or connection is often too large for me to hold in its entirety. When I come back to my everyday life, suddenly I have to cook for myself again, I have to pay bills, I have to do the laundry … it’s back to the mundane barriers that (necessarily) weigh down that feeling of sheer, unbridled openness.

So is it worth it? If we’re going to allow ourselves touch that hot, molten core of transformation or the deep wells of vulnerability, make a promise to remember and then… what? Forget it? Feel shame because we haven’t fulfilled the promise? Ignore it? Is it worth it? For me … absolutely. I find that the key is looking for a way to distill the essence of the magic that I was able to create and experience into practices that will fit within my mundane world. One of the traditional refrains after casting a circle is, “What happens between the worlds, changes all the worlds.” In order to keep the change flowing, then I need to allow it to seep into all of my worlds – no matter how small the action. For instance, part of my dedication to Aphrodite involves creating beauty around me. One way I do that is by making my bed every morning. It may seem insignificant, but it absolutely has an impact on my outlook on life.

In honor of the magic I did at this last Witchcamp, one of the things I am committing to doing is finding a way to bring the Wild into my urban life as much as possible. I’m still working out what that looks like – but I imagine it involves making time to get to forest preserves on a regular basis, exploring the untamed parts of my region, studying wildcrafting – or even just tending more intentionally to my houseplants. My body and my soul both crave it, and I believe those small acts will serve as a connection to the larger ones I experienced at Camp last month. Those smaller acts may lead to larger ones — doing more work to preserve the wild, for instance, likely through political and social means, participating in conservation efforts, etc. But it has to start somewhere, and for me — part of that looks like falling in love with the Wild all over again… starting by just taking a walk in the woods.

I’m curious to hear how the rest of you bring the Work home after an intense experience. This goes for any intensive, or any pattern-breaking activity. Writing retreats, family visits, sports competitions, vacations, work conferences … anything that takes you beyond everyday routine applies here. How do you retain those moments of clarity, inspiration, and presence? How do you remember the capital-W Work when faced with plain old everyday work? Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments. I truly believe these pattern-breaking experiences are essential, and the things they inspire can be utterly transformative if we allow them to be.

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Another part of retaining the magic for me is remembering the chants that we used in ritual. There are a handful of new ones up on the Chants page that we sang at BCWC this year. Check out the following: “We Are the Wild Ones”, “Opening to Love”, “Will You Lay Your Stories Down?” and “I am the Spell.” And while you’re on the Chants page, listen to “You Are the Light”, a gorgeous arrangement by Lucinda and her partner, Corirose. More chants coming soon!

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4 thoughts on ““After enlightenment, the laundry.”

  1. Becca September 9, 2015

    Thank you, River. BCWC has been transformative for me too. I used to do this sort of thing quite frequently, sometimes spending over half my summer living outside and doing growth work of some sort. BCWC was a reminder of all the best parts of doing that. Though I was ready to return to husband and cats, it was hard to go back to mundane life, especially work.

    The way I’m dealing with it is to choose not to numb out, as much as possible. I’m continuing the alcohol-fast required by camp, and that has been super helpful. I’m making time for journaling and meditation. Camp also drove home how much my now sedentary lifestyle is affecting my ability to feel at home in the wild, and so I’m taking steps (some in place before camp) to be active more regularly. I’ve also decided to move up my timeline for changing careers, applying to online MSW programs that let me start in January (I’ll continue to work full time at my current job for a while, then go to part time after the field practice starts.) I’m also getting more connected with local Reclaiming folks.

    I believe that in so many ways, the life that happens at places like BCWC is the real world. It’s a taste of how humans were meant to live and be together, in connection with the spirits and nature and ritual and song. We need these reminders to help us remember who we are and what is possible.

    Thank you for this timely piece!

    Reply
    • River Roberts September 9, 2015

      Those are all excellent practices, Becca. I’m thrilled to hear that you’ve identified some tangible ways to continue the energy and magic of camp. (I might steal a couple of those ideas!)

      I also believe that level of connection is a possible world. I know that I can’t live in that state of heightened openness all the time, but I do believe I can open to it more frequently than I currently do — and those small practices that lead to larger ones are just one way to access that connection.

      Thanks so much for your thoughts!

      Reply
  2. Hestia September 9, 2015

    River, I am still singing the songs you helped to create and therefore you are not far from my heart. For me, the music was especially powerful this Camp and I have so much gratitude to you and the all of the priestesses and teachers for helping open MY heart. I seek to keep the Wild in my life too. I am fortunate to live in Vancouver where this actual “wild” close by. I will go and sing the songs to the trees…..

    Reply
    • River Roberts September 9, 2015

      My jaw was pretty much permanently dropped open at all the beauty you BC’ers have surrounding you. I’m very jealous that your “wild” is that kind of wild. 🙂

      I’m glad the music resonated with you so strongly. It was a true joy and pleasure to sing with that community all week. It was very powerful for me, as well. Thanks so much for being a part of it!

      Reply

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