Thursday, April 28, 2016

Update after Earth Skills April

Leaving my grandmother and family in California in February was hard - I had no particular obligation to return to, nor a particular deadline! My lovely family asked me to stay another day, and then another, and a few more. I protested thusly: I don't know all the people I'm going back east to see, but I know I'll love them when I meet them! I don't know what I'll be doing, but I expect to grow more than I can imagine. I don't know where I'll live, but it'll be a beautiful space in or near the wilderness where I want to learn to live. Eventually, I left and returned to western North Carolina to start figuring out more concretely what the heck I'm doing this year.

And my predictions have pretty much come true! I have a gajillion partially-drafted posts, but after a super-rich April mostly away from electricity, much less the internet, I don't have any ready to share.

Here's a quick update though:

Piedmont Earth Skills
I attended in 2 earth-skills gatherings, one called Piedmont Earth Skills in central North Carolina and one called Rivercane Rendezvous in northwest Georgia.

Both were great experiences in very different ways. At Piedmont I continued a practice I've been developing for a few months which deserves its own blog post: as it got colder, I took off layers of clothes rather than put them on. Then, to warm me, I moved and played. This involved lots of running and sprinting around the land that hosted the gathering and lots of pullups and cartwheels and such.  At the morning or evening campfires, when others swayed gently as the wind came through, I dropped and did push-ups.

And this felt great! I love it for a few reasons:
  • 'Exercise' isn't a separate event or activity, but something integrated throughout the day
  • I stay stretched and limber throughout the day
  • I play rather than exercise - it's fun and I learn about me as I do it; it's not a chore
  • Sometimes I inspire others to play with me in the same way
  • Intensive physical activity helps me breath deeply more easily both during the motion and throughout the day. 
This last point is perhaps my favorite. When I feel lethargic, I have the sensation that I must work hard to force the air into me; when I feel energized and very active, I have the sensation that life energy forces itself into me - the air demands to be breathed with no extra effort on my conscious behalf. This relation to air and breathing alone seems very energizing to me, beyond all the other benefits. My vision gets much sharper, I think and feel more clearly, I become more present and playful and calm.

I also tanned my first deer hide, organized a highly-modified (and way more fun than usual) game of capture-the-flag, and help a friend in a health emergency.

Herbal Medicines in an Emergency
I don't have time to share much about the health emergency, but one interesting point she had a pretty sudden trouble breathing and it got really bad. I ended up calling 911 while others sat with her. The first aid person on hand gave my friend a few drops of an herbal tincture, and it made a big difference for her, opening her throat and helping her breath more easily. It was the first time I'd ever seen an herbal remedy help in an emergency. I spent the evening with my friend and 3 others at the hospital, making a few new friends in the process.

Rivercane Rendezvous
I did a full work-trade at this gathering just as I did at Piedmont, so I arrived early and stayed late setting up and tearing down various structures and generally helping out. Thus I paid very little to attend, but even better I got a lot of really quality time with other people deeply involved in the earth-skills community here and made some new friends to boot. Doing shared work to create the space for a gathering was way more valuable than just showing up and paying money.

Experiments in Intimacy
After arriving at Earthaven, I first learned of polyamory. In theory, it just means being open to having more than one sexual or intimate relationship at a time or being open to your partner having more than one such relationship. To me, it means that in my relationships to my partners (and friends in general), I welcome and help them to find happiness and fulfillment wherever and with whomever they feel most able to do that, not putting restrictions or boundaries on them just because we're intimate with each other - and expecting the partner to have the same attitude towards me. Thus, while being careful about STDs and pregnancy, I'm exploring all manner of relationships in the gray areas between acquaintance, friend, boyfriend/girlfriend, and spouse. I've never just had a lover before, and certainly not more than one at a time, but that is happily changing.

I tell ya, I'm getting some good experience at navigating the poly-waters! I've talked to lots of women and men about it, and instincts around jealousy and partner-control seem very common and deeply ingrained. A few women have described how they're open to polyamory in theory, but in practice demand exclusivity because they have such a strong fear of abandonment. Men have voiced similar concerns to me too.

I pay special attention to communication and awareness, both of my own feelings and needs and my partner's (especially the feelings/needs they don't express verbally). With that awareness and communication, and a deep desire to care for each other and have fun together, I feel excited to see how these various relationships work out. I still feel open to making various sorts of commitments as they make sense, but not just because I feel like being in partnership to someone.

For most of my teens and 20s, I entered into one short sexual relationship every 1.5-2 years. I felt strongly I'd rather be single than in an unhappy relationship, and that meant being alone a lot, at least in terms of sexual and emotional intimacy with a close female partner. That was really hard for me. I really value the attitude I described above of unrestrictive loving support, and I want to maintain that in my life regardless of other experiments in loving relationships I try. It feels so freeing knowing that I'm not 'cheating on' or betraying the trust of someone I care about just because I also feel attracted to someone else too.

Besides the polyamory angle, I've really clicked with a lot of people in these alternative communities I've found. I already feel very at home and good friends with a lot of different people I didn't know 3 months ago.

Explorations in Nudity and Gender Norms
Two years ago I'd never been nude outside, at least that I recall. 2 months ago I met my first new friends while nude, and at one earth skills gathering I decided to help set up tents before the event while nude. I already knew several fellow workers and knew that this group, in general, had a positive attitude towards the body and free self-expression. I didn't ask anyone for permission, just slipped out of my shorts while getting a drink and returned to the tarps setup team to continue setting up!

This had lots of consequences, all of them positive.

First of all, I felt way more comfortable, since it was pretty hot out. The wind felt great, especially in the genitals which really don't get much wind. And I didn't feel any anxiety or body shame, and didn't receive any shaming from anyone else.

I only went nude during setup, but over the course of the gathering, four women approached me unprompted and told me they felt really happy that I'd gone without clothing with the attitude I had - that is, the attitude that it was no big deal, and nothing to be ashamed or anxious of. One woman had decided to work topless during the setup period after seeing me nude. Other women kept their clothes on, but felt happy that I'd defined the space as one safe for that sort of self-expression, as body-image safe.

I struggle to put what I did into words, since I didn't do anything except not wear clothes - I didn't make any statement, or act differently, or anything. I just worked, ate, and sat by the campfire naked. Then when the full event started, I kept my shorts on.

No men joined me in being nude or commented on it to me in private, though everyone seemed comfortable with me without clothes on.

I also ended up in one conversation with 4 women about how to start conversations about changing the culture to welcome women to go topless or nude when they wish. Maybe I'll write more about this another time.

Anyhoo, at my friends' places and where I live, we're way more comfortable going nude and unlearning any feelings of negative body image or shame we've learned, so I'm spending more and more of my time nude in the garden, woods, kitchen, library, or stream. And it feels great!

Living at Wild Roots
Now I live at a place called Wild Roots, a space north east of Asheville, NC purchased a few years ago by someone who chooses not to live there - instead, they want to make it available to anyone who wishes to come and learn to live with other humans and the land. There's no electricity or plumbing; we fill jugs of water from a stream and drink without any further processing, which feels awesome. It borders a national forest, so I'll spend much of the year taking extended trips into the woods and learning about the plants, animals, fungi and other life and how to live with them comfortably, among other big plans for this year. 

This essay is long enough; I'm going back in the woods. Chao!