3 Lessons from The Way
By Kristen Wolf,
Author of The Way
We are all connected to the natural world. All of us made from it. Whatever your beliefs, one must acknowledge that our bones and blood and skin are made of the same stuff as rocks and trees and rain. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, sums it up best.
Women are particularly connected to the natural world. People usually support this conclusion by noting that our cycles, such as menstruation, are linked to the moon and the tides. But it goes even beyond that, I think. Another correlation between women and the natural world is that our bodies possess a pattern of seasons — a continual turning through the cycles of life. To be a woman is, like the earth itself, to be physically circling through times of birth, expansion, dormancy, and death.
Given the deep and tangible quality of the connection between women’s bodies and the natural world, it’s logical that we can draw a deep sense of strength and purpose from tending that relationship. And why we often suffer when it is lost.
THE WAY takes place during a time when a woman’s relationship to the natural world was being intentionally severed. It was a time when those intent on power told bizarre stories to reduce female significance and muddy reality. Such stories included a man birthing a woman from his ribs, a lone father producing all of creation, and a woman’s status felled by a fruit tree!
This is the harsh and irrational world into which young Anna steps.
Despite a longing to find a place for herself, Anna gains no support from the social or religious structures of her time. Faced with this hardship, and perhaps because of it, destiny challenges the unusual young woman to make her own way.
And what does Anna’s choose as her main source of guidance and inspiration for her transformative journey? You guessed it: the wonders, seen and unseen, of the natural world.
In sharing Anna’s quest for self-empowerment, and the remarkable mysteries and adventures, joys and sorrows she encounters along the way, I hoped to have readers feel for themselves the purpose and power that arise when a woman aligns herself — directly — with the natural world.
And while most of us will never have the opportunity to live in disguise, nor wander the wilderness for months on end, nor apprentice under a secret society of wise women, there are still lessons from Anna’s tale of triumph that we can integrate into our own lives to help us gain deeper personal roots and purpose.
1. Contemplate the eternal every day. In our increasingly fast and harried lives, more of our attention is going toward man-made devices such as cell phones, computers, tvs — things that are impermanent. To help restore a sense of connectedness, try to spend a little time contemplating something that is part of the eternal world. The thing itself doesn’t have to be grand or exotic. What matters is not the object, but the depth of your attention. Anna drew incredible inspiration from a single blade of grass. You might do the same from a houseplant. Maybe a bird outside. Or how about opening your fridge? Any fruit or vegetable will do! Contemplate how its life began. Where it draws its energy from. How it is vulnerable or strong. While the practice may seem odd at first, over time, you will come to crave these moments spent reflecting on the aspects of life that endure.
2. Remember who you are, no matter who you must become. All of us lead double lives. In one life, we are powerful beings, imbued with the ability to create and nurture life. In the other, we are bank tellers, teachers, high-powered business executives, on-the-go moms, devoted partners, etc. The demands of our second (and third and fourth and fifth) identities often overshadow the intrinsic magic of the first. As Anna grew older, she trained herself to pause at moments throughout her day to remember her inherent self, to honor her abilities as a woman, and to draw a sense of strength from these reminders. Given all we do in a day, it’s easy to be forgetful of our true selves. Sometimes we even have to remember to remember who we truly are!
3. Question any story or ideology that runs counter to natural reality. Whether it’s a woman being formed from a man’s rib, or a college dean’s suggestion that female students are born without their male colleagues’ “intrinsic aptitude,” all stories influence our society. Anna came into a world that devalued her through its stories. Many of these stories have changed. But many still linger in the ideologies that shape our families, religions, and politics. Anna never shied away from asking difficult questions, nor did she retreat from challenging the status quo. Only by doing so can we free ourselves of the outdated and unconscious thinking that keeps us down. (By the way, I’d love to see that college dean’s aptitude for handling two kids while working as a full-time scientist!)