River of Soul

River of Soul: Water and Our Beloved Animas River

By Rebecca Wildbear

Gently release your weight to water, and feel your buoyancy.  Let your body surrender to the flow.  Look underwater for shafts of sunlight or signs of aquatic life.  Listen as waves reverberate on the shore, licking rock, log, sand, or grass.  Let your mind shift to the consciousness of water.

Water nurtures us; we first emerged into the world from our mother’s watery womb. Seventy percent of both the planet and ourselves is water.  The blood of our arteries and veins flows like the rivers and streams of Earth.

In The Hidden Messages of Water, Japanese scientist Masaru Emoto claims that human consciousness effects the molecular structure of water.  Thoughts, words and feelings can positively impact molecules of water, and polluted water can be cleaned through prayer and positive visualization.  “Words, intentions have a unique vibrational frequency that influences the Universe” he writes.  They have “the power to influence all of existence and change the world almost immediately.”

Perhaps a similar sentiment inspired the ceremonial gatherings that emerged after the Gold King Mine waste water spill on August 5th, 2015 to honor and celebrate the Animas River?  For most of the time humans have been on the planet, they’ve been in regular conversation with nature.  In Reclaiming the Wild Soul, Mary Reynolds Thompson writes:  In venturing “into the waters of our longing”, we experience “our belonging.”  May we always remember the river as our relative and guide.

Yet, our culture has inherited a way of life that stems from mining the Earth.  In the late 1800’s when Durango was called “Smelter City”; nearly everyone was employed smelting the metals that came down on the train from Silverton.  Now our town is called “Durango”, which actually originates from the Basque word, “Urango” meaning “water town”.  I’d like to see this as a hopeful sign that our core values are shifting.  

Since the Gold King Mine Spill, I’ve become more educated on the true state of our rivers.  At an Animas River Stakeholder’s meeting, www.animasriverstakeholdersgroup.org, it was reported that there are 44 abandoned mines at the headwaters of the Animas.  Although the Mountain Studies Institute, www.mountainstudies.org has been tracking water quality and insect and aquatic life for many years, draining mines are still dumping toxic pollutants into our river, each at a different rate and mineral content, and most have not been mapped.  Kristen Brown of the Colorado Division of Mining and Safety is an advocate of “bulkheads” as a mitigation strategy.  She’s quick to clarify that Gold King Mine did NOT have a bulkhead.  She says, these 10-20 foot concrete slabs placed inside the mouth of the mine are the “singular solution to control acid mine drainage”, and they prevent blowouts too.  It was reported at the Stakeholder’s meeting that the Animas has been polluted by “4 other blow-outs in the last 20 years”, and it has also been the recipient of consistent metal-loading from leaching, as well.  Brown says the bulkheads can potentially keep the “hydrologic balance of the mountain stable”, while still having an accessible valve to treat water as needed.

Ty Churchwell of Trout Unlimited (TU), www.tu.org reports that there’s an estimated “22,000 abandoned mines in Colorado and an estimated 500,000 in the United States that people walked away from 100 years ago and never cleaned up.”  Some abandoned mines are waste rock piles that hurt water quality, and other mines are draining mines.  All have the legal ability to clean up non-draining mines.  However, EPA has the legal liability relief to address draining mines.  Churchwell encourages everyone to join the San Juan Clean Water Coalition, http://www.sanjuancleanwater.org.  Log on and click the “take action” link to join the coalition and demonstrate your support for “Good Samaritan legislation” as a tool to cleaning up draining mines.   This will make it legal for certain qualified "Good Samaritans", such as watershed groups, non-profits and state agencies to make improvements and clean the mines.  Ty expressed a hope that the recent environmental disaster on the Animas would alert people to the pollution that has always been here: “the amount of mine waste dumped into the Animas River in 12 hours during the spill has been discharging into the Animas every 10 days or so unnoticed.  The draining mines in the upper Animas contribute about 300 million gallons of bad water to the Animas every year.  That’s 300 spills of the same size every year.”  TU is America’s largest and oldest river conservation organization; it has been involved in supporting and monitoring the health of the Animas River since long before the spill.

The Animas River was originally named the Rio de las Animas, the “River of Souls,” by explorer Juan Rivera in 1765.  However, there’s legend that it was once named “El Rio de Las Animas Perdidas” (River of Lost Souls), but some say that river is actually the Purgatory River in southeastern Colorado.  These are interesting metaphors.  Perhaps “river of lost souls” mirrors our own struggle to honor our soul and the soul of the rivers?  And “river of souls” could reflect our longing to honor the soul of rivers?

There are many practices you can undertake to honor water, soul, and our beloved Animas, River of Soul.  

Here’s a nature practice:  Develop or deepen your relationship with water, and/or the Animas River, in particular.  Spend time, witness, offer tears, and share your biggest questions and deepest secrets.  Yes, talk to the river. Feel the river and imagine yourself as the river.  Offer words and/or intentions of love and gratitude.  Without expecting anything, stay open to the possibility that the river may have something to say or offer back that could show up in words, images, a memory, a synchronicity, a communication in nature, or a dream.

Here’s a soul practice:  Before you sleep, ask the dream-maker for a dream vision to open your heart to what is beckoning from your soul or what Thomas Berry calls the “Dream of the Earth”.  Ask about your most unique gifts or how you might respond creatively to the challenges of cleaning up our rivers.  Write whatever dreams come.  Surrender to the images of the dream or seek a guide to support you.

Here’s a social practice:  Find out how you might best support the health of the Animas River and all rivers in your community.  Read articles, such as the ones on the Mountain Studies Institute website; here you will find detailed information on the research and monitoring of the Animas River.  Ask questions and support legislation that supports rivers.

In conclusion, we live at a pivotal moment in Earth’s history, a time of extraordinary uncertainty.  It’s essential that we consciously cultivate a relationship with water and all the beings of nature.  The amount of pollution from abandoned mines in Colorado, the U.S. (and beyond) is tremendous.  Yet, there are still actions we can take to support the clean up of rivers.  “Future generations will look back at the time we are living in now…the story they tell…will be shaped by choices we make in our lifetimes,”  Joanna Macy says. “Future generations, if there is a livable world for them, will look back at the epochal transition we are making to a life-sustaining society.  And they may well call this the time of the Great Turning."


Here's a letter I wrote to the Animas River written after the spill in 2015, also my first summer working as a river guide ~

Dear Beloved Animas River,

I’m so sad that 3 million gallons of toxic waste was dumped into you on Wednesday, August 5. I apologize to you on behalf of the humans who made this mistake. Our culture seems addicted to consuming materials that come from mining the Earth, and we’re mostly too preoccupied with our own lives to notice the harm we cause in the way we go about it.  

I wish that I had asked more questions about the mines in Silverton that posed such a high risk to your wellbeing. I wish that I, and others, had protested the toxicity stored there and demanded its safe removal before this tragedy could occur. I wish that all of us humans were more aware of our careless and unconscious ways in regards to your wellbeing. I wish we could work together to create a radical plan to change our life styles and live in a way that honors the precious and beautiful being and resource that you are.

Now that you’re “off limits”, and we’re not sure when or if we’ll have you back, we are feeling the hurt. We can’t help but be aware of how much we rely on you for our life and livelihood. Some now are without drinking and bathing water. Others have no water for their livestock or farms.  Sadly, you are now empty of boats and duckies.  

As a kayaker and raft guide, I so miss being with you everyday. Flowing in you through the rocks and currents, in what I affectionately call “river consciousness”, has brought tremendous joy and has also taught me many lessons; including to be more present and trust life. I love watching everyone playing in your waters, and I love viewing the town from the perspective I have while I’m flowing on you. Your life-blood keeps our town wildly alive, relaxed and playful.

To consider what is happening to the wildlife living in your river valley ecosystem during this tragedy utterly breaks my heart. No one has warned the duck families, geese, osprey, beavers, and red-winged black birds to stay out of the water. How could we humans do this to what we most cherish in this life? To the most beautiful treasure that we have here!

Will this loss teach us to clean up all of our toxic mine leftovers? To change the way we are living? A 2012 report by Earthworks and MiningWatch Canada, called Troubled Waters, says: “Mining companies are dumping more than 180 million tons of hazardous mine waste each year into rivers, lakes, and oceans worldwide, threatening vital bodies of water with toxic heavy metals and other chemicals poisonous to humans and wildlife. The amount of mine waste dumped annually is 1.5 times as much as all the municipal waste dumped in U.S. landfills in 2009.”  

Clearly and unequivocally, we can no longer contaminate one of our planet’s most precious resources:  WATER.  May this tremendous wound we’ve inflicted raise our consciousness to see this.

I miss you tremendously. My heart is breaking and I cry for your suffering and all those who live in and with you. I’ll be praying for your healing and return to health.

With the deepest love and respect,

Rebecca Wildbear

A Wild Romance

A Wild Romance: Courting the Mystery of Your Soul
By Rebecca Wildbear

The natural world mates and creates through an alluring love dance, and it wants you to feel and remember your part.  Many male bird species create an exquisite show to attract females.  Frogs, spiders, ravens, eagles, and a variety of other animals each have their own unique courting rituals.  Furthermore, wind dances with trees, and the first snow flakes of winter kiss the grasses.  A thunderstorm roars, and lightning brightens the sky.

Have you ever sensed anything stalking you…..Mystery, Earth, your soul?  Or perhaps it is the heartbeat of your own longing cry to love and live, fully alive?

A grand romance is calling you, if you’ll surrender to the mysterious fascinations that can devastate, enchant, or carry you into magic and rapture.  By imaginatively romancing the world, you may open to the wildly diverse world of sunsets, rattlesnakes, poetry, or art.  Take a moment to wonder:  What stirs and touches you deeply?  What evokes your terror, tears, or tenderness?  Saying “yes” to these allurements grows you more alive, and you’ll forever be evolving; yet it also necessitates a periodic reshaping of your life that can be deeply challenging.  As Bill Plotkin writes in Wild Mind:  “By opening our hearts and imaginations to the daily mysteries, a romance with the world upsets our routines, making us vulnerable to the great changes destined in our Souls and in the Soul of the world, the anima mundi.”  You can fall in love with anything - an idea, the ocean, a man, a woman or a tree.  As you do, you may find yourself striving to understand what each thing is at it’s core, and to assist it and yourself in unfolding uniquely.  This often requires a dying, a sacrifice to our old ways while giving birth to the never-before-seen.

A love affair with a human is one sweet romantic possibility, although our culture often suggests that it’s the only romance.  Music and movies promote the myth of the “Other” with whom we’ll be made whole and life will become perfect.  In We, Robert Johnson writes: “Romantic love is the single greatest energy system in the Western psyche. In our culture it has supplanted religion as the arena in which men and women seek meaning, transcendence, wholeness, and ecstasy.”  In human relationships, we often become disappointed upon discovering that the “Other” is human rather than the embodiment of our fantasy.  Yet, perhaps our innate human longing for romance suggests the significance it plays in our psyche?  A deeper outer romance becomes possible once we’ve embarked on the journey of soul and our inner romance. 

Romance with humans feels both attractive and dangerous.  There is a yearning to merge and yet the fear that if we do surrender to this magnetic draw, our identity may be shattered, and the familiar home of our present way of being will end.  As Rumi says:  “The price of kissing is your life.”  

The inner romance feels equally as alluring and devastating as the outer romance.  Each person has an archetypal Inner Beloved, which we project onto our outer lovers.  Usually, we fall in love with people who possess qualities similar to our Inner Beloved.  These are also the qualities that our ego does not possess, but most needs to experience it’s full aliveness.  The Inner Beloved, a guide to soul, wants us to abandon the story we’ve been living, as it has glimpsed a greater story.  
You can discover your Inner Beloved (often called the Anima/Animas in Jungian psychology), by attending to your impulses or surprising capacities, or you may encounter your Inner Beloved in dreams, visions, and the attractive/repulsive qualities you project onto others.  

Having a romance with your Inner Beloved does not imply that a human/outer romance is second best.  Rather, inner and outer romances may complement each other, while being distinctly different.  In an outer romance, we learn to love and be loved by someone who is truly “Other” (not our other half).  As we see the “Other”-ness of the other, we must develop the capacity to both love ourselves and the “Other” in their “Other”-ness.  In the process, we discover our wounds and have the opportunity to deal with unfinished emotional business.  

Your Muse, deeply connected to the Inner Beloved, is the wellspring of your creativity, inspiration and deep imagination.  Your Muse partners with your soul and inspires how your soul’s gifts manifest in the world.  It can usher you toward what’s most worth doing in life.   Whether or not you fancy yourself an artist, there is some unique song, poem, dance, or other soul-infused form of expression wanting to be birthed through you.  

Through the eyes of mainstream contemporary America, courting our mysterious souls is dangerous.  The Western world needs its citizens to continue to be consumers and worker bees.  In order for people to live in this dull flatland, the human imagination must be crushed. Contemporary poet, Diana di Prima rants:  “The only war that matters is the war against/ the imagination/ all other wars are subsumed in it.”  You can reconnect with your mysterious soul and deep imagination by engaging in practices to court your Inner Beloved and Muse.

Here are two practices to court your Inner Beloved:  1) Feel your longing for the beloved, and imagine into it’s longing for you.  Be patient, willing to wait.  Ask yourself:  What’s my best way of courting - poetry, writing, singing, dancing, or another art form?  Whatever artistic expression you chose, let yourself embody your longing for the Beloved through this, as that’s the most powerful means of inviting the Beloved’s presence and gifts.  Don’t expect a particular response.  Journal or draw whatever comes.  2) Imagine yourself and walk as your Inner Beloved.  Move and experience your body and emotions as it would.  Move toward what it would finds alluring.  

Here are two practices to connect with your Muse:  1) Slow down, close your eyes, breathe, and remember/envision a bundle of resources awaiting within you.  Don’t try to force the Muse to appear.  Instead, remember that he/she has existed and come to you before (in dreams and waking life).  Welcome these memories and offer gratitude.  Invite the presence of your Muse to show up in an image (human, animal, tree, or wild place) and/or as a presence in your body.  As soon as you make contact, ask for support.  You may present a particular question or decision about which you are seeking input, as a gift to the Muse.  Your muse may respond with an image, feeling, insight, body sensation or movement, memory, dream, or something you see or hear in the world around you.  The Muse may not respond immediately.  Whatever happens, offer gratitude, and act on what your receive.  2) Embody your Muse.  Let him/her direct your paintbrush, crayons, or clay.  Don’t try to create anything particular; instead, let yourself be surprised by what arises.

In conclusion, the natural world lives in an alluring love dance, and you are invited to feel and remember your part.  You may sense what is stalking you through dreams, allurements, deep emotions, body sensations, or projections.  True romance always feels attractive and dangerous.   Deepen your inner romance by cultivating a relationship with your Inner Beloved and Muse.  This can usher you toward what’s most worth doing in life.  There is some unique song, poem, dance, or other soul-infused form of expression wanting to be birthed through you.   



A soul guide and creator of Wild Yoga, Rebecca Wildbear, MS guides with Animas Valley Institute, offers individual sessions, and leads Wild Yoga Journeys in Costa Rica. This fall, she’s offering a program in Utah, Courting the Muse: Embodying Your Soul-Infused Artistry.  For more information, visit www.rebeccawildbear.com.

Re-Rooting Ourselves

Re-rooting Ourselves:
Cultivate A Relationship with the Natural World and Your Own Wild Depths

By Rebecca Wildbear

Young children allow themselves to be enchanted by the flutter of a butterfly, the colors of a rainbow, or the sounds of thunder after the morning birdsong.  Does the beauty and power of nature still captivate your attention?

In our modern culture, we are taught to grow away from nature.  Walls separate us from the sounds and images of leaves blowing in the wind and the smell of rain falling across the landscape.  Work schedules keep out minds locked in lists of things to do; we must respond to our phones, our emails.  Yet, the cost is high.  We loose connection with both the natural world and our own wild depths.

D. H. Lawrence suggests:  “Oh what a catastrophe, what a maiming of love when it was made personal, merely personal feeling.  This is what is the matter with us: we are bleeding at the roots because we are cut off from the earth and sun and stars.  Love has become a grinning mockery because, poor blossom, we plucked it from it’s stem on the Tree of Life and expected it to keep blooming in our civilized vase on the table.” 

Indigenous peoples, from whom we all originate, did not experience themselves as separate from nature.  They lived in a way that honored the sacred relationship between humans and the Earth.  Without this relationship, humans feel lost in the modern world and may not even be conscious of why.  In his poem Lost, David Wagoner, advises“Stand still. The forest knows where you are. You must let it find you.” 

A tree knows it is a tree.  A flower, a bush, a bird also knows themselves.  Humans, we get lost in thought, old stories, fears, or wounds, and forget our deeper purpose.  Being in nature offers us the chance to remember.  In attuning to the Earth’s green murmur—in bringing our hearts, bodies, and deep imagination into the company of wild beings—the veil of separation between us and wild nature vanishes, and we re-embrace our child-like sense of wonder in the presence of it’s magic and allurements.

It may feel impossible to pull your mind out of the pace and rhythm of modern culture, but it is essential.  Together, we are in a moment of great peril and possibility in our world.  Shifting our consciousness to be present with the natural world is necessary for the evolution of our culture.  Might the natural world also long for our attention?

Here’s one practice to begin with:  simply approach the world as if everything is alive.  This practice alone may have a cumulative, rearranging affect on one’s consciousness.   Engage with the wild Earth from your deep imagination.  In Cry of the Earth, Geneen Marie Haughen asks, “Who would we become if we honored the other-than-human world as if it matters to them and to us?” and “What might the world become?”  When we approach all beings as if they are alive, with soul, imagination, and purpose, we rejuvenate our relationship with Earth and the soul of the world.

In deep communion with nature, we also reconnect with our own wild depths.  The natural world and our dreams mysteriously conspire to reveal the mysteries of our souls (our truest selves).  To change the world, we must be willing to embark upon our own personal initiatory journey, dive into into the mysterious unknown, which may be as dark and difficult as it is enchanting and wonder-filled, revealing shadowy aspects of previously denied, unconscious selves, fears, and sacred wounds.  It is here we can discover, hidden, our most unique and treasured gifts. 

As we say “yes” to what comes, we re-member aspects of our wholeness and gather up the mysterious symbols, metaphors, images, dreams and numinous encounters that weave together our particular mytho-poetic identity, personal myth or mission, “the truth at the center of the image you were born with,”  or “the largest conversation you are capable of having with the world”.  Gleaning clues to one's unique soul identity can guide you to fulfill your purpose and potential at this time of great personal and planetary crisis.

Here’s a second practice to begin re-rooting:  Re-connect with your own sense of the wild animal within you, or what Bill Plotkin calls your “Wild Indigenous One” in his new book Wild Mind.  He explains it as “our most instinctual dimension. every bit as natural and at home on Earth as any elk, elm or alp.”  This one dances with river and rock, shape-shifts into tree and bird, and fully inhabits one’s sensuous animal body.  Let yourself wander in a wild place, away from humans, with the perspective and embodiment of this Wild Indigenous One.  Wander until something draws your attention, because it strongly attracts, repels, or scares you.  Don’t let your strategic mind choose.  Let yourself be called.  Introduce yourself out loud.  Tell your deepest, most intimate, vulnerable truths or questions.  Tell it what called you to it, and what you interests you about it.  In addition to human language, you may also communicate with song, dance, silence, poetry, a kiss or other offering.  Keep talking until/unless interrupted.  Then, listen with all your senses, intuition, feeling, and imagination.  Avoid the thinking mind and fabricated metaphors.  Let yourself me surprised.

Here’s a third practice to support your deepening (if you have not done it already):  Gather together the threads of your mysterious symbols, dream images, and numinous encounters in the natural world.  You can remember or call in these important aspects of your mythic story utilizing art and your imagination.  You can make a collage, painting, or sculpture.  You may also want to invite the images and symbols into your body and let them move you, or invite them to travel within your body.  Notice what wants to happen when you let them have their way with you.  If you are unsure of what symbols and images are important from your past, start listening simply to what is arising right now in your dreams and your body, sensations, images, emotions, memories, colors, urgings, longings, allurements.  And write whatever comes in your journal.

In conclusion, humans need relationship with the natural world, and perhaps the beings of nature long to connect with us too?  This communion allows us to sink into the undercurrents of our mysterious wild depths and feel at home in our animal bodies on the planet.  Shifting our consciousness to the natural world is necessary for our individual transformation, as well as the evolution of the culture.  Begin now by making time to attune your presence to nature and approach the world as if everything is alive.  Wander on the land as your Wild Indigenous One.  Gather the numinous threads of your soul story and be present to the emotions, images, dreams, and symbols arising each day.  Cultivating a deeper relationship with nature and soul moves us toward life-altering transformations, deeply matures our everyday personality and allows us to live rooted in ourselves and the natural world.  We become a vessel in service to our most creative and soul-rooted gifts.