Playful Teachings from
The Wild Women’s Gathering
“The root of the word “recreation” is to “re-create.” In play we do not
imitate life, so much as recreate it every moment anew.”
— Jesse Wolf Hardin
My sisters look on as I climb up the steep bank and grab the primitive tree swing, which is just one thick rope tied to the middle of a strong stick “seat.” I show them how to climb on it and then jump off the bank in a single fluid motion.... and then I’m “flying”! Keeping lots of height without running into the bank is a little tricky, requiring subtle shifts of weight on the swing and an occasional twirl — the challenge of it, equal to the thrill!
Each woman has at least one turn climbing up the bank and making that brave leap as the rest of us play in the warm sand and cheer her from below. No matter how graceful or clumsy our efforts, the act of leaping makes us all feel incredibly energized, alive! The pure delight of swinging shines in all our faces, and we feel like a tribe of not only women of power, but of little girls!
One full moon each Summer a small group comes together from all over the country to explore and celebrate their real selves, the living Earth and each other in an enchanted canyon in southwest New Mexico. The base of the orange and purple cliffs where we make our camp is an ancient place of power that clearly asks for our deep presence, encouraging us to feel the protection of the energetic circle that surrounds us for over a mile in every direction.
It never fails to amaze me how quickly the power of the land affects each and every woman. In a matter of hours, even in the sim-ple process of setting up camp, we feel the boundaries that usually separate us beginning to fall away. The singing river, the flying clouds, the multitude of little birds flittering around seem to be beckoning us to play “follow the leader” — leading us to a more magical way of being!
When one of us jumps into the river, the rest of us are not far behind! It feels so great to be naked in the river together, laughing and splashing. Even before we have a chance to share our stories, we already know there is much we have in common.
Wild Women, not meaning “wild” in the negative way society too often defines it — as loose, undisciplined, irresponsible, crazy, self-destructive — but wild as in “willed” and “willful,” looking not to our minds but to our hearts for truth and guidance, learning to trust and follow our animal intuition and ancient embodied instincts! We are the ones willing to most fully feel: the pain of the Earth being dishonored, children starving in distant countries. And it is our capacity to feel this pain as our own that opens us to the bliss, to the embodied rapture of the Earth herself, to the magic of sacred play!
So when is play sacred? When it connects us to the sacred Earth, and inclusive Spirit. It is total engagement with our sacred sentient bodies, with the natural world. It’s the uninhibited celebration of being, the gaiety that balances our empathy and suffering, the liberation of our spirits in pure mirth. It is freedom from the authoritarian dictates of the mind. And it is engaged in mindfully, consciously, and at its best, wordlessly.... as a wholehearted gift to self and All!
Whether or not we acknowledge it, our beings crave meaningful play, sacred play, and it is “essential to our emotional and spiritual well being that we indulge ourselves regularly in what could otherwise be seen as nonessential activity.”
As we engage in sacred play, we immerse ourselves in connection to the All through the sensuous experiencing of the physical world. There is an investment of time, of focus, of our vital energy. And at its most powerful, we embrace challenge.... heartfully, courageously, playfully!
I’ll never forget jumping off a rock over 100 feet above the water, at a mountain lake when I was 15. How incredible it felt falling so far through the air, anticipating the “smack!” of the water. Nothing I had done in my life before that moment seemed nearly as important. I had never cherished my life the way I did in those sweet moments after the painful impact when I found myself still breathing, still swimming, more alive than ever before!
Sacred play can be a rite of passage, a leap of faith that takes us to a new level of trust and engagement with the power and intensity of the All.
Sometimes this “leap” is made in our consciousness, rather than from a cliff. Giving up our control and surrendering to all the potential power can transform a frustrating experience into one of sacred play. A vivid example in my recent memory is from the last women’s gathering, the day brilliantly sunny as we frolicked in the river. I decided it would be a perfect day to start a fire and bake some bread.
Needless to say, as soon as we got the flames going, huge dramatic thunderheads quickly began to move into the canyon’s heretofore big blue sky.... and a sweet sprinkle soon turned into a downpour! Two of the women ran and got ponchos, and happily committed themselves to keeping the fire burning no matter what! Another ran and got an old shovel to shield the fire from the rain, while the rest of us gathered under our huge tarp.
I took the opportunity to demonstrate how to make simple bread dough in carved wooden troughs. We squatted in the sand, kneading dough and singing, greeting heartily every gust that blew into our little shelter! Some of us ran back and forth to the fire decked out in garbage bags, checking in on the fire tenders, and bringing back tea.
And when it came time to bake, most of us squatted around the fire in the rain, thunder rolling, and lightning cracking so loud it made us jump! We had so much fun trying out all the various techniques: burying dutch ovens in the ground and surrounding them with coals, baking dough in skillets with lids, on long sticks, and even on the backside of our shovel!
It continued to rain well past dark, as we merrily baked the heart-shaped dough. We gathered under the tarp in our driest clothes, sat on pillows, flour buckets, and coolers, lighting a dozen ritual candles. We enjoyed a beautiful late-night feast of fresh bread with garlicky olive oil, wild greens, sliced homegrown tomatoes, wild olives, and all kinds of yummy cheeses — heaven! We could hear the water actually singing louder and louder, as the river rose higher!
It amazed me how much our playful, cheerful attitude made the whole day a transformative, incredibly fun, and prayerful experience. Not one person had complained, totally engaged with the elements, in tune with each other, huddling close for extra warmth.
We entered into what many refer to as “magic time —” a result of our collective, in-body, in-time beingness. Only when totally present does all imagined separateness disappear, our beings opening to the magical dancing prayer of creation.... inviting us to come out and play!
Residing fully in our animal bodies, the whole natural world appears as a giant playground full of invitations and challenges, opportunities to immerse ourselves completely in the sensory world. The softness of the grass asks us to take off our shoes and run with abandon, to turn cartwheels, to roll our bodies down sweet-smelling hillsides!
The sturdiness of a rock invites us to try and climb, testing our strength and agility. If we imagine ourselves “conquering” the rock we separate ourselves from its substance, from the All, and thus from the experience of the sacred. Instead, a reunion of skin and stone can be the means through which we come to realize our oneness with the earth, and the oneness of all creation!
Engaged in deep play, we lose all self-consciousness. All worries of how we look or if we are “doing it right” disappear, and in this letting go something precious is “found:” the rapturous truth of our interpenetration, our unity, our need to belong! Grounded in the intimacy of our connection with the rock, the tree, the ocean, the wind, the rain, we discover a centeredness we never knew existed — a center that extends way beyond our own small body, into the center of all beings, and into the very core of the Earth.
In these vital moments we experience the humbling awareness of our limitations, and the thrilling rush of expanding capacities. We feel our heart as the vulnerable miracle of muscle and blood it truly is, beating with gratitude and grace, passion and purpose.... giving thanks for another chance to play, on this sacred Earth, in this sacred way.
Loba is a priestess of sacrament and delight, presenting at Pagan and women’s events, and writing for various magazines. Loba tends an enchanted wilderness sanctuary and ancient place of power, where she hosts wilderness quests, wildfoods weekends, resident apprenticeships, and the annual Wild Women’s Gathering (June 17-21). Please contact: The Sweet Medicine Women’s Center & Earthen Spirituality Project, Box 820, Reserve, NM 87830. Or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org and see www.earthenspirituality.org
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