The Wisdom of the Fertile Void

When the pandemic hit a year ago, I…like everyone else, didn’t know what was going to happen. As we’ve all been reflecting upon this past year (whenever your own personal world-stopping-anniversary occurred — Mine, was March 12th, the day I canceled all my massage clients with the famous last-words “let’s just see what happens.”) I too would like to commemorate my own year-in-review. And, especially share some of the deep wisdoms I’ve personally uncovered. As promised in my last post, there has been so much about surrender + being in the wonder that has emerged for me during this time. And, as I am preparing to head back to work in April, I am coming to appreciate how much my work will be influenced by these gems. While, I had a deep sense my work was about to change, I had no idea exactly “how.” That question — not the answer has turned out to be the golden ticket.

How often are we all focused on the result, not the process? It truly is a practice to even contemplate being in the watery space of divine mystery — especially in a culture like ours, that puts so much more value on what we produce than who we are.

In journeying through my past year, I feel like it was a year of recovery in more than one way. Yes, I do work a recovery program, which this potent time allowed me the ability to sink into deeply. And, amidst the wildly chaotic atmosphere we were all swimming in, it really turned up the heat. Though, similarly to everyone else, in the beginning stages of the pandemic I felt mixed with anger, despair, and confusion. As time progressed however, I felt a rising intuition that my only power in the situation was in focusing my energy on better self-care + surrendering everything else.

Before my program work, the concept of surrender first came to me through my studies in yoga. While I longed to understand, I also felt myself dancing with one foot in and one foot out — hesitant to, well…surrender. In general, I think Americans are pretty uncomfortable with the idea of surrender. Can you blame us? There’s a part of me that still hears the words “surrender Dorothy,” in a cackle when I hear the notion. Those words etched in broom smoke in The Wizard of Oz, (which I definitely grew up watching) conjure fear, loss, submission, and weakness for our culture.

I don’t think any of us wants, to surrender. Like my first yoga teacher Sharron Dawson shared with me several years back amidst of my own attempt to “hang on,” to what I knew deep within I needed to release, “I think surrender is kind of like shit, It just happens.” Her words became eternal in my mind. I didn’t totally get it then, but what I came to realize she offered me was the idea that surrender didn’t require me to do anything. There was no noble act required of me — all I had to do was become willing. Time would provide me the opportunity. And, often it happened when I least expected. (So un-American —  surrender refused to be controlled, manipulated, rushed or coerced). As I pondered the concept through dandavat pranam, which had become a vital part of my yoga practice with my teacher Janet Stone, I was planting seeds.

As Krishna Das says, planting seeds is what we do in our practice. Sharing my trip to India deserves a post I have yet been able to write. Though for the purpose of this blog, I think there are a couple of nuggets worthy of sharing. One, a conversation with a dear client who spent much time in India during the 70’s. Before I left, he gave me this advice: “if you approach the airplane to return home,” pausing for a good 10 seconds, as his eyes followed his gesturing hand lifting up into the air symbolic of a take off, “And, you get the feeling you shouldn’t get on it… Don’t,” he said rotating his head to look me squarely in the eyes with a mystic twinkle. He was completely serious and I was admittedly curious. Though, my heart I knew there would be no way I could even entertain the intriguing possibility. It’s hard to know how tied down anyone is at any given time in this life. Some commitments are real and some are simply beliefs we’re not ready to release. I had both.

Unlike most of my colleagues in the alternative wellness field (Most bodyworkers and yogis are notorious for moving through life like a leaf being blown wherever “the universe,” wants them to be — whether it was showing up for work or getting tickets last minute for Burning Man and canceling everything) I was staunchly loyal + dependable. It was a huge part of the reason I was successful with my business ventures. Someone’s gotta drive the ship. And, I also longed to let go…to be that free.

Though without the grand aforementioned gesture, the experience of “being moved,” through India in my travels, still showed me an inkling of what it meant to “let go.” Amidst the beautiful tapestry I was bamboozled for in Hampi, and the sweet murtis, from Varanasi, I also brought home an understanding that the amount of energy wasted in clinging to things that have already happened (the buss ticket me and my traveling partners bought for a buss that probably never existed) or for things that may never happen — our plan of traveling to the Ajanta caves after bragging that we could “handle,” the rough travel, but ultimately balked — is vital life force best used in being present to navigate the twists + turns of each unraveling moment. The adage, “the past is but a memory and the future is but an idea,” really comes alive when you only have so many rupees in your pocket, don’t speak the language, are exhausted, and need to find a place to sleep before impending nightfall.

A year ago this March, I was hardly thinking about India. I had just completed a sold-out Acroyoga + combined massage workshop for Valentine’s Day in Santa Cruz, had several international yoga retreats in the works for the coming year, and was splitting my time between Santa Cruz + Napa where I had two small massage practices. As all was beginning to take shape again after taking time to re-invent my career after Zen Lot, everything came to a screeching halt: Covid. Do not pass “go,” do not collect $200.

Viscerally being in such a huge place of not knowing — not knowing what was happening with the virus in the US…Future travel. Not knowing what was happening with our president…our democracy. Not knowing if the Black Lives Matter movement was going to create the justice I knew in my heart was needed in the face of the growing racism I was watching gain momentum under a “leader,” who embodied all the aspects of the patriarchy that I knew were wrong with this country. Not knowing if I would actually receive unemployment benefits after waiting for many months. And, so much more — falling in love with someone deeper than I had ever experienced, and then realizing that it was entirely possible I didn’t actually know how to truly love at all. It felt like every time I even thought there might be solid ground under my feet, the rug was pulled out. So, what’s left to do at that point? When you’re loosing nearly everything you think you need, including your idea of who you are…and the only thing you have left is uncertainty — embrace it. Embrace uncertainty with your entire being.

Leaning into that, is the wisdom of the fertile void. It’s so much easier to “figure it out.” Get a plan, go through the steps of the plan and be done with it. Busy work — even when we piss and moan about it — is still saving us from the discomfort of not knowing. Because in not knowing, we truly have to let go of all control of outcomes. Things can work out, or not work out — or sometimes work out in a way we never considered. But, in releasing ourselves from the responsibility of how it turns out, we free ourselves to be more present to each passing moment. It’s truly a practice.

Respect for that process, is accepting that true power comes from being willing not know. Like you, am a product of a patriarchal culture. While that is a very big topic, in this moment what’s relevant is that our patriarchal + capitalist system only celebrates the bounty, with no appreciation for the time it takes to germinate. That time of gestation is where the maturation, the ripening, and the evolution happens. In some ways, we all subconsciously have adopted this value in the way our competitive culture functions, only highlighting and celebrating our achievements, not the time it takes for them to happen. We collectively have become both sensation chasers + people who turn away from pain and suffering — both in others and in ourselves.

Noticing what’s wrong is only part of the way to heal things. Remembering what’s right is vitally important too. Just like my trip to India, the question became potent last year — do I want to spend my energy fighting what I don’t want (bureaucratic systems that require me to spend literally *days* on hold with no recourse or answers)? Or, pouring my energy into what I want to save and protect (finding out who my allies are in growing plant medicines)? That became the question as I was sitting in my then Vallejo apartment trying to figure out my next steps. When the opportunity to leap into a live-work exchange in Mendocino arrived, I took it. No work, no relationship, a pet that traveled well — life was different from the time I wasn’t so foot-loose + fancy free.

Just before my move to Mendocino, I had enrolled in an online Gestalt coaching program (ironically, procuring an internet connection would be a challenge I had not anticipated, but that’s apart of the story — I ended up disconnected, ultimately to get connected –ha!). Taught by two of my long-time favorite massage instructors at Esalen, the arrival of the concept of “inquiry,” couldn’t’ have arrived at a better time. With a new herbal medicine garden project underway with a yoga friend in Sonoma, I planned to continue our venture as I packed up my little apartment into storage + let myself be transported to a place both new and familiar…Little River. While the place was new, I spent a lot of time in the surrounding area as a child. The sweetness of familiar helped me soften into all the discomfort of unknown — both around me and within me, as I ventured into learning new skills outwardly and inwardly. I allowed myself to be held in the sweetness of the plants. The steadiness of the earth. She made no promises…but one: That of reciprocity.

While my intention was learning all aspects of making medicine, with the focus on growing my own plants, what can next was unexpected. I thought deepening my understanding of herbalism would be about the medicines the plants produced. Instead, I found the medicine was in being with the plants themselves. And, beyond that, the land too.

There’s a learning that happens while tending to plants, the earth, the creatures. It’s an intimacy I can’t quite explain. You begin to learn what they like and don’t like. Slowly, you begin to notice the conditions they thrive in, which ones they don’t. You begin to hear her whisperings even…as she tells you how to tend to her she simultaneously teaches you her medicine. Soon you find yourself going to outrageous lengths to care for her — which is when you realize it’s true love. She reminded me of all I had forgotten…Filled in my cracks and wounds, through my loving of her. And, when I allowed myself to open my heart to her — resting my bare feet into the dust of the earth’s flesh, allowing myself to receive her bounty. I came to understand, her promise of reciprocity came only the way Mother Nature could love — in the rhythms and cycles ruled by mystery and wonder. It didn’t even matter where exactly I was anymore, because I learned caring for any of earth’s majesty she feels it all the same. It ripples. I tended the cypress along the coast and the trees of the high dessert felt my caress. Like true love, it doesn’t return your love exactly as you offer it. It returns it to with authenticity, often in the way that both celebrates your wholeness + encompasses your blind spots…offering you the love you didn’t know you needed.

Rather than enjoy a season of bounty in Mendocino “as planned,” I was literally redirected to Mt. Shasta. It happened rather abruptly, but we had developed trust at this point — Mama Gaia and I -and dare I say God. I knew my time in Little River had come to a close. I knew there was something for me to learn, something for me to offer…in this other place. And of course, my Gestalt training became easier with internet again, so that was a relief. Finding myself nestled amongst the wisdom of the junipers and Artimesia tridendata, I practice keeping my heart open in a new and yet familiar place once again. With a new understanding of presence, this place helped me dive even deeper. If you read my last blog post, then you know what I spent my time doing. This fills in the “spirit of it” beyond reading of books and playing the harmonium.

Emerging from this experience, I now feel a sense of protection of the void itself. It has been presented to me recently that the void is representative of feminine wisdom, feminine ways…ancient ways. It’s all the same and I couldn’t agree more. Within that void, I’ve found a place of deep honesty that will not be manipulated, dominated or controlled. It has nothing to prove. Allowing myself to be incubated there was the medicine. Helping me to heal my own wound to the feminine, I emerging from that place with new understandings, values, and wisdoms. And, perfectly apropos the process of inquiry I’ve learned in Integrative Gestalt Coaching is a sister to this concept.

Can we just be in a space without the need to wrap it up differently than it is…to allow a deeper truth, understanding, and maybe wisdom to emerge? Again…that is the golden ticket question. So, while I plan for yoga classes to begin in April…. For Inquiry sessions, medicines, and classes on the medicines to follow…I’ve got to admit, I’m not in a hurry to leave the fertile void. It’s been such a gift to me I’m lapping up every rich moment of juicy intimacy with myself…with nature. I’m gleaning a deeper understanding of exactly what it is that is most true + honest in my heart that I yearn to share most with you. So, stay tuned….more coming from the fertile void…to a town near you… soon.

Published by Jennifer Heminger

With over a decade working professionally in the alternative wellness field, I hold space to continually ask the question, "what does it mean to come home to ourselves?" Sharing practices in inquiry, meditation, energy work, chanting, + yoga, I invite other curious souls to join me on on their path.

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