REWILDING in the Woods, Our First Global Retreat
For as seemingly long as history has recorded, creatives have sought refuge in the woods. Whether they’ve been in need of a spiritual awakening, a surge of inspiration, or simply peace from city noise to reconnect with themselves, there seems to be some profundity in the clarity of the night’s sky and all its stars, something about the wisdom of centuries-old trees that has made the concept of holing up in a cabin such an appealing one to musicians, painters, writers, and anyone in need of respite.
We imagine the same could be said of the 50+ attendees of the first-ever Of The Wolves REWILDING retreat, which took place January 26-28 at Santa Barbara’s scenic El Capitan Canyon. But despite the fact that these women and men decidedly came with their own ideas and goals of what they hoped to take away from a weekend filled with informative panel discussions, workshops, and even just the concept of being removed from their typical day-to-day life, one main thing separated us all from that quintessential notion of an isolated artist in the woods: we were not alone. In fact, over the three-day period there was much discussion around the concept of “lone wolves,” as anthropologist and teams builder Philip Folsom admitted had largely been romanticized — particularly by men — and then quickly debunked. We learned through his talk, as well as so many other frank discussions about sustainability, sex, shame, and superpowers (among others) how like the wolves we are as humans, particularly in the sense that we operate best as a pack.
The weekend kicked off with a chat lead by Obi Kaufmann, artist, Of The Wolves contributor and author of California Field Atlas, a beautifully illustrated manual of his beloved state (he’d make love to it if he could, he let us know in no uncertain terms) that outlines the history, topography, and ecology through his own experiential research. Kaufmann, better known as Coyote Thunder, set the tone of the weekend as he launched into a poem he’d created for the occasion which spoke to his notion of the term “rewilding,” specifically that it was an opportunity for us to look to one another to create the change we want to see in the world. He wrote, “[…] if we were able to break the fruit of language wide open, cut out the sweetest pit from what I mean to you, and you mean to me — what magic of mind might we unleash?” This statement, and the whole message behind the poem, became an ongoing theme for what we would come to understand best over the weekend.
After connecting over Kaufman’s discussion, we settled in to get a lesson in sustainability from Alyssa Seibert from Imperfect produce, Lauren Tucker of Kiss the Ground, and Bryce Ehrecke of Dreamweavers Collective. Whether or not we came into this panel already knowledgeable about the options available to us, there was so much more to be gleaned here. The importance of creating healthy soil for our overall ecosystem (via carbon farming, for example), natural building (vs living in a toxic “plastic bag” that has become the norm in housing), and not just treading lightly but integrating with the wild, all being some truly enlightening ideas that were brought up.
The aforementioned Philip Folsom, who also happens to be an Army vet and PTSD survivor, sneakily entertained us with an epic game of “Rock Paper Scissors” as a means to combat our tendencies to fear others. He expanded on the importance of community to societal health and explained that hate comes from fear and sadness. “What were you afraid of?” he asked after another team-building exercise that left us all frustrated and feeling helpless. Why don’t we ask questions? Why don’t we ask for help? What is the fear? We don’t have to have all the solutions, he explained, and there is no “romance” in being that lone wolf. We are so much more powerful in a pack.
We then were inspired by the work of COMMON’s Mark Eckhard. A former rock drummer, Eckhard was compelled one day to — quite literally — put down his drumsticks, become a Zen priest, and then parlay what he learned into capitalism as a means to make a living, and in turn, help others make a living. Considering the fact that we were largely a group of progressive-thinking men and women from a creative community, the concept of “radical collaboration” and “doing shit that matters” many of us needed to hear, especially thinking of ways we can actually make a living doing so.
After those discussions, we were all ready to dig into some dirt, quite literally. Kiss the Ground led us through an incredibly informative workshop about composting, highlighting the fact that it’s easier to do than many of us may have previously thought. Besides getting schooled on the different types of compost, our group got answers to some commonly asked questions regarding reasons we may not have previously given composting a try, including the smell (when done properly, it shouldn’t smell), having no soil to make a compost pile (take your compost to a local community garden), and having a lack of space in your home (it really doesn’t take much). We even learned — more than we probably ever intended to — about the joys of worm composting, mostly through some hilarious worm puns and jokes. Our biggest takeaway: you’ve got no excuses not to start composting now.
As the sun set, we sunk into the beautifully moving story of New Zealander Jazz Thornton, an activist for abuse, depression, mental illness, and suicide — having experienced them all herself before her 22 years on this planet. After attempting suicide over a dozen times, one phrase clicked with Jazz enough to turn her method of thinking around: “stop surviving and start fighting.” She had considered her previous struggles a “fight” and had become exhausted, but learned that the true battle was to save her own life, not just feel drowned by it. Her openness led many of us to tears, and shifted the group further into a state of acceptance and emotional frankness.
Before our first dinner together, the group learned about the mental and physical health benefits of Transcendental Meditation via Mark Hersey, and was treated to some heartfelt original songs by musician and author Jonah Mantraga. Through his guttural cries, we all were reminded how therapeutic music can be. And through his decades of major label and DIY navigation to ultimately “make it” in the music industry and raise a now adult-aged daughter on an artist’s salary was a great cap to the day.
After an early morning yoga session led by Krystina Holbrook (who came representing Venice-based athleisure line Electric & Rose) and a little breakfast, day two discussions were appropriately started off with an Ethiopian coffee ceremony, led by Brittany and Ian Bentley of Santa Barbara-based, ethical leather goods brand Parker Clay. Their business began after the couple traveled to the country to adopt a child (they eventually adopted two!) and not only fell in love with the area, but were moved to do more to help the community. Rather than giving a “hand out” or simply sympathy, they wanted to give work to the many talented women there, many of whom had fallen into prostitution for lack of other opportunities. We soaked in their truly inspiring business and personal journey as we sampled some of the best coffee we’d ever had.
Afterward, Wolf Connection’s Amanda Beer, PhD, educated the group on how we are more like wolves than we may have ever thought. Beer, who offers therapy mostly to at-risk youth via interaction with wolf pups, pointed out that like us, these animals take on family roles. We also addressed our own fears and how to move past them and learn from these creatures. Mostly, if we are afraid of the wild in them, how do we feel about the wild in ourselves? As we sat still listening to audio of an actual pack of howling wolves, we found the sound of their cries much more soothing than terrifying, perhaps in the understanding that they too understand the importance of community and the fear of being alone.
Following Beer’s discussion, photographer Stephen Smith explained how he had “rewilded” from life in Los Angeles by creating his own minimal, sustainable existence on a plot of 100+ acres of land he bought in mostly remote Joseph, Oregon. For those of us who often fantasize about living off the grid, his chat made it seem a lot more possible — exciting even.
The next panel discussion revolved around the topic of addition and recovery. Actress and filmmaker Troian Bellisario, eating disorder blogger Gina Susanna, co-founder of Voices of Hope Genevieve Mora, and model and addiction recovery speaker Ruby Corley recounted their own battles with OCD, eating disorders, alcoholism, other mental and emotional afflictions as well as what recovery means to each of them. The women explained the effects of shame and how becoming an activist or a voice has helped keep them accountable. As Mora explained, “The reason why I didn’t want to share my story was the reason to share my story.” We also learned how these women continued the daily battle with their own disordered thoughts and addictive voices. The highly emotional discussion hit home for many of us, whether we struggle with these issues ourselves or are connected to someone who does.
For another emotionally charged chat, filmmaker, author and artist Liz Goldwyn and journalist Tierney Finster focused on the topic of sex health and consciousness. After a chakra mediation (complete with Kegel exercises), we launched into a discussion that included issues of consent, communication in sexual relationships, nurturing your own sexuality (in light of abuse or trauma) before focusing on others, and sexual stereotypes and myths. Our group opened up deeply and shamelessly regarding their own issues and questions, leading to another level of openness among us.
Nitsa Citrine of Sun Potion continued the theme of understanding your power as a woman, also shifting the topic to health, wellness, and the importance of self-care. As the founder of Women With Superpowers, Citrine encouraged us all to think of our own “superpower” and consider out individual non-negotiables for wellbeing.
Modern mystic and clairvoyant Aja Daashuur took us through a deeply grounding meditation, encouraging us to harness our own innate “magic” as women and tap into our own intuition, which we all have. We also learned about her personal practice as a medium and her career trajectory as well as how to practice self care and know your boundaries when you work as a medium — something we can all apply regardless of whether or not we have her particular gifts.
We then took in a lesson on therapy and emotional communications from Dr. Lena Dicken, debunking many standard notions of therapy and informing us of the research she’d done on the connections between mindfulness, green therapy and breaking through addictions via surfing, something she’s channeled into her integrated, Santa Monica-based program Saltwater Sessions. Dicken gave us the analogy of “tripping over your shoelaces” to learn how to open up and communicate what you need — even though it seems scary, or you’re afraid it might not come out right. To begin the process of communicating openly about emotional needs, we all have to get past our own fears and awkwardness.
After a day of deep reflections, we were happy to learn about the sustainable practice of distilling gin via Gray Whale’s Marsh Mokharti. A TV host of shows like Perilous Journeys, on National Geographic Channel and Extreme Chef on the Food Network as well as a Medical Physics graduate. Besides learning how alcohol is made and how his family business creates sustainable spirits (they’ve partnered with Oceana and 1% For the Planet), we all got a chance to infuse create our own botanical infusions to take home. Gray Whale gin’s incredible flavor comes from the botanicals they’ve sustainably foraged along the gray whale’s migratory movements along the West Coast.
Sunday morning, tired and yet electrified by the weekend, we closed out the retreat with some breakfast and a hike led by Micha and Lulu towards a scenic view of the ocean and a field of llamas and baby goats we were all able to play with. It was the perfect closure to an incredibly stimulating weekend – sunshine on our faces, soil beneath our feet, new life in our hands and new friendships all around us.
***We’ll soon be announcing our upcoming REWILDING dates, so stay tuned***