Denise Casey lives in Vermont where she writes, hikes, sings, studies and practices mind-body healing and just “keeps on showin up.” She is also one of the young leaders with Women of Spirit and Faith
There wasn’t an important moment in time when all of the stars aligned, kicked me in the rear and sent me on my way. When I think of what guides me the first word that comes to mind is hunger. It’s not always strong and present, but it’s there. A hunger for something I know, at some level, already exists. That when I wash away all of the layers, all of the noise and thoughts, there is a voice inside me that knows how to navigate. This hunger is my guide.
I often find this hunger in books. They sit on my shelf and something inside of me stirs, like there’s already a relationship between us. There are dozens of other books on the shelf, why is it that this one keeps calling me? Or why is it that this one moves me in a way that no other book does and I haven’t even read a page yet?
For over two years I lived and worked in Nepal with a volunteer organization. The house library was unbelievable. It was compiled from over fifteen years of volunteers bringing, buying and leaving books. The books were old and worn. Most of them were still styling the original covers. I picked up Longing for Darkness by China Galland. It’s a book about the author’s spiritual journey, unraveling the stories of Tara Buddha and the Black Madonna. I must have picked up this book fifteen times before reading it (devouring it is really more accurate). I’d pick it up, stare at it, read a page or two, read the back, feel it in my hands, stand and look out the window and then put it back. The fruit wasn’t ripe yet. After reading this book I returned to the shelf, thinking there couldn’t possibly be anything to accompany what I’d just discovered. But low and behold I found her second book on the shelf, The Bond Between Women. These two books laid the groundwork for my own journey with the sacred feminine. And for that, there is no amount of words to show the gratitude I have for such a meeting. It was a quiet hunger.
While in Nepal, I lived in community with other volunteers, in a village at the southernmost point of the Kathmandu Valley. Life slowed down dramatically. I became more intimately woven into the natural rhythms of life around me. We watched the slow rise of the moon and the early sunset behind the mountain. I watched heavy monsoon clouds play with treetops like old friends reminiscing. I watched the earth erupt into a million new shades of green. I watched leaves dance on their branches like tiny children’s hands waving goodbye. All of these elements became alive in a very real, multi-dimensional way. They embodied a depth that was as alive as the people walking around me.
I started speaking to the leaves, the trees and the mountains. On a clear day, the mountains would regularly move me to stillness. There has been little in my life that with such consistency causes me to be still, in awe and reverence, at the drop of a dime. For one of our retreats I led a tree-hugging meditation. I encouraged the group to move aside any previous concepts of what hugging a tree might look like and just be with the tree. “Tell your story to the tree and listen to theirs”, I said. As we wrapped our arms around the trees, a heavy fog moved up the hill and embraced us all.
It was these very forms of life that ripped me open in Nepal, that I called on to bring me back when I got lost here in the US. The years after Nepal were very difficult, dark night of the soulish. I couldn’t bring myself to listen to the leaves or the dancing branches. I didn’t know how to be. And slowly the hunger returned.
There was one spring when I absolutely, absolutely had to be barefoot. I’d lost my way and needed the earth under my feet like I needed oxygen to breathe. The feeling was so strong and completely unexplainable to those around me. There were days when I would drive to a park, leave my car, and barely make it into the woods before tears started streaming down my face. Step by step my breathe would slow down, my heartbeat would calm and I’d start listening to the trickle of the creek, the wind, the sound of my feet moving across wet rocks. It was a mother’s soft hand guiding me back.
And sometimes, from what seems like nowhere, the hunger just appears. I follow it with the shaky confidence of a person seeking treasure on hunch. It’s led me to new relationships, meetings, workshops, trainings and conferences all over the US. I usually get there, look around and think, “What the hell am I doing here? Who am I to be here?” And of course what unfolds is usually nothing I could have ever created in my imagination. It’s like the people and places were always there waiting for me and I them. Through these experiences I’ve developed relationships with women I’ve never even met and yet, still, we talk on the phone or email. One time I up and quit my job working at a Natural food store and declared that at the ripe old age of 28 I was going on a sabbatical. The hunger was so fierce inside of me, it just about shoved the words out of my mouth. My parents very calmly and nervously asked, “A sabbatical to do what?” To write of course!
I started writing again and took a job at a nature camp for the summer. At the nature camp I was clearly 8-10 years older than the other employees there, but I had to be there. I needed to be surrounded by the one thing I knew to be true, the earth. Have you ever made a decision that you knew 100% was the right one? You have no idea where the decision is going to take you or how it’s going to change you, but you know there is no other way. This is hunger.
In Nepal, the natural world taught me to listen. It started out as the sound of wind, crickets, rustling leaves, heavy rainfall on our tin roof. Then it became the sound of marigolds in fall, our neighbor’s laughter, women dressed in bright red saris, morning puja, bright yellow tika powder, the smell of warm dal bhat and early morning chhiya. And I realized I wasn’t listening with my ears anymore. It was my heart that opened to the sounds of life around me. The Earth taught me to listen in this way; to listen beyond sound.
When I’m not open to listen, this hunger becomes pain. Eventually that pain becomes a guide. Sometimes life gets quick and I can’t keep up. I stop turning inward to listen and I’m back craving wet, fertile soil under my bare feet. I can always return to the earth. It calls me to be still and move in closer to examine the invitation of fresh morning dew. There are invitations surrounding me everywhere. When I get unbalanced and lost, I can count on the crickets. They are constant and steady reminders of a larger rhythm that I am already in sync with. What guides me? Life…in every form.