Wednesday, May 27, 2009

SharedBliss: Eco-Therapist Carla Royal of Beyond Therapy

A tabletop that Marcy painted for our
locally owned organic grocery store.

I do not remember how I came across the work of Carla Royal of Beyond Therapy, but I do remember the moment that I knew she had to be one of these interviews: as soon as I saw that she was working in the (relatively) new area of Eco-Therapy.

Years back, I read this amazing collection of essays called Ecopsychology: Restoring the Earth, Healing the Mind.

It blew my mind that there were psychologists out there moving past the common therapy models and understanding that we are organisms that cannot be separated from their larger context. A sick planet makes for sick people; sick people make a sick planet. Basic stuff.

The vision statement for Blisschick that I wrote when I first started this site includes this sentence: Through informative essays, exercises and challenges, and interviews with artists, yogis, writers, and others, blisschick demonstrates how happy people create a happy planet.

See what I mean? Carla Royal is exactly the interview I have unknowingly been looking for for many, many months.

You can find her website here. You can find her facebook page here. And on twitter, you can find her here.

Describe the PrimaryBliss of your life. How did you come to know that this was your PrimaryBliss?

I think I could say that Life is my PrimaryBliss. Cliché as it sounds, I love life. More specifically, my PrimaryBliss is witnessing: Witnessing the earth; its life and destruction and rebirth; witnessing other people and their life journeys; their pain and joy, their struggles and triumphs; witnessing the song birds, turkey, owls, red squirrels, chipmunks, moose, deer, raccoon, bear, towering birch and all of Nature. Another way of saying this is presence. My bliss is in being present with whomever, whatever is before me. When I’m not present I suffer and I have nothing to offer. When I am present I feel connected and alive.

Coming to know PrimaryBliss has been a precarious journey at times, walking along in what often felt like complete darkness. It hasn’t happened all at once, rather it has been a lifetime of work; work that continues daily.

What types of choices and sacrifices did you make to be able to craft this bliss-filled life?

The sacrifices I have made have been primarily ego related: pride, status, money, understanding by others, some connection with others, etc. And I have made some difficult choices along the way. Often times the pain and fear have been overwhelming, but once through the overwhelm, things have opened up for me. They always do.

Over a decade ago, my world turned upside down causing much turmoil in my life. Theodore Roethke said, “In a dark time, the eye begins to see.” This has been true for me and so much has opened up for me as a result of that crisis which lasted for a few years. During part of that crisis I wasn’t working full time, and it was then that I realized that I no longer wanted to work full time because it took too much of my soul. This has been a difficult choice because our culture revolves around money and consumption. But this is what I’ve needed in order to be able to go deep, get still and witness life: my PrimaryBliss.

The other big choice I have made is in simplifying my life, which has been necessary as a result of not working full time, but also as a result of reevaluating my lifestyle and seeing how it impacts the planet. So I have gradually scaled down realizing that living simply is better for me and the planet (and far more fun and interesting!).

I suppose the biggest choice I have had to make to be able to craft a bliss-filled life is in learning to hear and trust my inner wisdom. Many don’t understand the choices I’ve made and some would have me make different choices, so I’ve had to go against the mainstream current (including family and friends at times) and learn to follow my own rhythm. This has been extremely difficult at times and immensely rewarding.

How does your PrimaryBliss radiate out into the rest of your life?

When I am present my life becomes more centered and grounded. I find that I am not as reactive and that I have more compassion. Life feels expansive. When I’m in PrimaryBliss there is a flow to life and I resonate with Julian of Norwich: “All shall be well and all manner of things shall be well.”

My friends and clients might tell you that when I am present I offer a quiet support and acceptance that is encouraging to them. And I help them open to what is around them; a hawk whistling above, a hummingbird defending its territory, the creaking of an old tree, wind blowing as if in stereo, a protected sadness in the heart, a repressed memory or uncelebrated joy. These things are around us all the time but so often we don’t take the time to notice them. Noticing slows us down and opens us in ways we can’t imagine.

There is so much joy in noticing, in being present, in witnessing the life all around, and in helping others open to this. Of course sometimes what we see is sad and painful. When we open to the pain and sadness rather than run from it we often find healing there. We find an opening and a softening. However, we don’t have much support for that in this culture. We repeatedly get the message to avoid pain at all cost. And we’ve become experts in avoidance, shutting down, acting out, etc. It takes courage to step out of that place of aversion or grasping into acceptance of what is. In so doing the heart begins to find strength it did not know it had. Being in this process and watching this process in others is truly healing.

What are some other activities that also give you this sense of bliss? Things that make you lose track of time?

Watching the birds and being so close to them that I can hear the flutter of their wings. Sitting at a pond with a hundred wood frogs croaking out their laughter. Photographing a chipmunk, cheeks full of bird seed. Snowshoeing up the mountainside on a cold, crisp day. Basking in the sun on the bank of a rocky river. Shoveling snow after a big storm. Standing at a hummingbird feeder with hummingbirds inches from my face. Listening to my dog snore. Being truly present with someone in need. Cooking a gourmet dinner. Good jazz music, a sensual classical piece, Earth, Wind and Fire, Annie Lennox, Over the Rhine or Ella Fitzgerald. Wandering in the woods. Reading poetry aloud with a friend. Watching my dog laugh and dance!

What is your daily or weekly spiritual practice?

Over time I have developed a daily practice that I have come to love. It has evolved organically rather than from something someone or some religion has imposed on me.

Upon awakening, I lie in bed for awhile and reflect on my dreams. When I’m ready I arise to immediately jot down whatever I can remember of my dream. I then do a formal sitting meditation for about 15 minutes. After this I write my morning pages; three pages of anything that comes up for me (as recommended by Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way). Then I press some fair trade, shade grown coffee (which makes me, the farmers, and the song birds happy!) and I drink that with my partner, Karen, as we share our dreams and any insights we may have. Following dreams, we read aloud to one another from several books; poetry, spirituality, peace, meditation, etc. I have come to treasure this time.

Another important piece for me is being in nature daily. In fact, the practice of being in nature has opened up my spirit tremendously and led to these other practices. It took years of being in nature before I was able to sit in meditation. Nature always brings me back to myself and back to Spirit.

What music is your bliss?

I love the music of the bird songs and wings, the rustling wind, creaking trees and my snoring dog! I love all kinds of music especially jazz, funk, big band, and classical. I also enjoy playing my guitar and singing. Currently, I’m looking for a Native American Flute teacher. I love the magical/mystical sound of the flute.

Name books or authors/poets or people who are your bliss, who influenced your bliss.

So many! Where do I begin?

I love Pema Chodron. I love how real she is and how she encourages me to keep coming back to unconditional friendliness towards myself and others. She reminds me to drop my story line which helps my spinning mind to slow down. Karen and I read a couple of pages from her most every day. Eckhart Tolle is great in helping me learn to be present with whatever arises in any given moment.

I have a book called Earth Prayers from around the World that I love and read from daily. And The Earth Speaks is another along those lines. Mary Oliver, Rumi, Gary Synder, and Thoreau are a few of the poets I enjoy. I often refer to Animal Speak by Ted Andrews and Medicine Cards by Jamie Sams when I have an encounter with a bird or animal that feels especially synchronistic or important. Robert Moss, Connie Cockrell Kaplan, and Jeremy Taylor have taught me much about delving into my dreams in meaningful ways.

Derrick Jensen, Thom Hartman, Daniel Quinn, and others have helped me look at our planetary predicament. Chellis Glenndinning, James Hillman, Joanna Macy, and others have helped me to connect the planetary with the psychological. Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, David Edwards and others have helped me connect the political piece.

Alice Walker, Henri Nouwen, David Abram, Madeleine L’Engle, Starhawk, Barbara Kingsolver, Chogyam Trungpa, Kabat-Zinn and many more! There really are so many that I could mention and I am deeply grateful for all the wonderful resources available to us.

Mostly, I have been incredibly fortunate throughout my life to have people who love me, support me and believe in me. Not all have understood the path I’ve chosen but I have been well loved.

What advice would you give to someone who feels they have not yet discovered their PrimaryBliss?

Spend time outside. Nature is a wonderful and gentle guide to reconnecting with yourself and spirit. As Mary Oliver says, “You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.” Pema might recommend practicing unconditional friendliness towards yourself. You are on your path. Things will unfold. And it will be uniquely yours. Support from a friend, teacher, mentor, or therapist is often helpful as long as you remember that you are the authority on matters of your heart and spirit. Watch the birds!

Do you have a favorite quote you would like to share?

There are so many quotes that I love but since I mentioned it above, and I return to it often, I’ll quote Mary Oliver:

"You do not have to be good. You do not have to walk on your knees for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting. You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves. Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine. Meanwhile the world goes on. Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of rain are moving across the landscapes, over the prairies and the deep trees, the mountains and the rivers. Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air, are heading home again. Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, the world offers itself to your imagination, calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting- over and over announcing your place in the family of things." Wild Geese, by Mary Oliver

I think that Carla mentioned about five hundred of my favorite things in this interview. And I think that Marcy and I need to read to each other even more than we already do!

Was there anything, in particular, that Carla talked about that made you think about your life in a new way?

Make sure to go outside today and commune with a bird or beast. I agree with Carla: they will have much to tell you.


Emma said...

I LOVE this interview. This is definitely one of my favorite ones, ever.

Like you, Carla mentioned at least 500 of my favorite things!

Plus, I really relate to what she says about dark times and allowing yourself to experience pain/sadness. This is a lot of what I've been doing for maybe almost a year now. That softening...and the "cracking open" that people sometimes talk's real. It's painful, it may involve feeling embarrassed many times and it definitely involves making yourself more vulnerable to others. But it's really true that in that darkness you begin to see and in the pain you begin to feel more love. Well, I don't want to ramble on too much about this.

Thank you both for this interview!

Now, I have to say I am kind of flipping out about this table Marcy painted. I LOVE IT TOO MUCH. =O!!!!

Ketzirah Carly said...

Thanks for bringing this amazing woman to my attention! I love that her bliss is witnessing. The role of sacred witness is so undervalued in our society. I think it's really powerful.

positively present said...

Wonderful interview. It's absolutely delightful! I particularly love these lines: "When I’m not present I suffer and I have nothing to offer. When I am present I feel connected and alive." I completely agree with that!

Marie said...

I really like how you are finding the upbeat people, thoughts, art, etc. and bringing it to us. This interview made a lot of great points -- especially about being your own authority.

Thanks for sharing!
- Marie (Coming Out of the Trees)

AnalieseMarie said...

Thank you so much for sharing this interview. I absolutely love Mary Oliver, and that is one of my favorite quotes by her. This is exactly what I needed to read inspiring and uplifting. Thank you!

Eco Yogini said...

this was an awesome interview!! :) Thank you very much for sharing

Doe said...

I loved this interview too, and it came at such a good time. I too have chosen to work part-time because it feels much more sane to me. Most of the time I'm okay with my choice b/c I know how much happier I am now than I used to be, now that I have so much time for my spirit and creativity and just being much more still....but sometimes my conditioning comes up and bites me in the ass (and really has been lately!)...thoughts like "What are you crazy? Living in some sort of fantasy world? You're 40 years old, have a college education, and you make $10,000 a year...what the hell are you thinking? You'll be a 70 year old bag lady, on the streets if you keep insisting on this lifestyle!"....

So my point being that I found it so validating to hear about her choice to work part-time, that she also struggled with it, and her reasons for doing so...what balm to read that this morning.

Luckily, me and my partner share this view. He works part-time too. We have 9 acres and a farmhouse out in the country. We are surrounded by nature. Working around and in nature, on the yard, garden has been tremendously healing.

Our sacrifices have been mostly the ego-oriented ones she talks about: money (we don't have much!), status (not much of that either!), lack of understanding from others...but I also feel that while people don't understand our choices, they can't help to notice when they visit us, a certain vibe of stillness and creativity around our house that makes them feel a little wistful and nostalgic.

Thanks so much for sharing the interview. It came to me at the perfect time.