Florida Grief + Inner Worlds
Last week I arrived home from Florida with a heart blown wide open, swamp-leveled and exposed. I have, of course, been down south to this land of tangelo sunshine before, but sometimes places wait until we are truly ready before their inner souls unfold. After a long weekend of sand pines and spring water and the sky boughs of Spanish moss I felt as if I had been initiated into another world. And in many ways, I had.
Every time I travel I seem to step out of the heavy patterns of expectations and inertia that settle into the crevices of my day-to-day life. I discard the constriction of outside expectations, and release myself to roam, once more, the hills of my innermost worlds.
At some point in my life I conditioned myself to believe that to be in one’s own world was to be unforgivably self-absorbed. To be completely in one’s experience was to be at a distance from the “real” world. I adopted the belief that, to get lost in your own wave of thoughts, was to be considered out to sea. As an empath who has always been as sensitive as a spider with all eight legs on an ever-branching whorl, I have spent much of my adult life training myself to be so delicately in tune with the experiences of others that I have sometimes forgotten the soil-deep feeling of what it is like to truly just inhabit my own inner terrain. Being in Florida, soaking in a land of such wildness and such decimation as well, the ways in which I have not been allowing myself to sit at the center of my own being hit me like the bright blue of high tide.
To be in one’s own world is to acknowledge oneself as a creator. Letting yourself be fully immersed in the weather-whims of your own organic way of seeing and knowing and growing is more than just a luxury of individuality, it is a radical act of reclamation, the first step in the process of re-wilding our world.
Florida, wild Florida, is a place that belongs solely to its own imagination. The evergreen oaks and hidden rivers, sub-tropical flowers and life-soaked everglades. Each ecology in Florida is a rich tableau, a watercolor of wild citrus groves and dolphin-filled coves and mirror-clear springs that sing upwards from underwater caves. There are abalone-colored beaches and ancient shell middens the size of white columned estates. The sheer uniqueness within the diversity of Florida’s ecology sets the heart a’spinning. As the study of the relationship between living beings and the living land, ecology is not just a branch of scientific inquiry, it is the actual observation of a collective consciousness creating itself.
Once upon a time, every niche of our earth was a land dreaming itself into being, living in its own world. The desert and loom-patterned sand and stars. The high mountains with its icy howl. The swamplands with its long-legged egrets, and cypress knees and warm-centered storms. Then, one day, humans beings appeared and, as our indigenous ancestors would will tell it, we too became a part of the dreaming of this world.
As dreamers, we are the creators of our existence, we are the progenerative seeds of our world, and all worlds. We live on a planet of such diversity, dreams that are as variant (and symbiotic) as feathers in a flock of southern-tipped parrots, as the songs they sing, as every seed of every fruit they eat…and every fruit, also, that is left to ripen. The sheer multitude of this multiverse of worlds we live in is staggering…and yet so many human beings have forgotten so fully what it feels like to honor the agency and diversity of such worlds because we have forgotten to honor our own. We have ignored, or devalued, that vital ecological relationship between our deepest passions and most uniquely creative soul, between our wildest selves and our unbelievably compassionate hearts. We have dimmed our own inner dreamer, and so we have forgotten how to nurture the dream of this world.
For every heartsong in Florida there is a heartache, a grief that is so heavy as to be unbearable. There are two faces to Florida. The wild, the unbelievably beautiful, the un-civilized— the land that owns itself and dreams as fiercely as it always has. And then there is the Florida that comes to most people’s minds: the paved roads through the Everglades and Disney worlds and Miami lights.
We all feel such loss, whether we bury it like a shell at the bottom of a midden or let it wake us up in the middle of the night. There were times during this trip— watching the manatees drift with motorboat scars or picking trash from the arms of a pristine shore— that I felt heavy enough to sink like a stone off-shore. To see a wild place drained, paved, forced into someone else’s vision of productivity, engagement, entertainment or even normalcy, is to literally see a world destroyed.
So many of us look back with a similar ache to our own childhood. As children we spent the vast majority of our time as wild creators in such inner terrains. We look back with such nostalgia on the joyous times of childhood namely because of how supremely natural it feels to live and inhabit your own particular way of seeing, being, appreciating and creating.
To live in your own world, that innate place of individuality and colorful soul, is to recognize subjectivity everywhere. As a child we make no distinction between a tree and our experience of a tree, the two were one in the same. By being in our own subjective world we literally empower, and allow, for the possibility that everything we interact with its own subject as well. We can acknowledge that every being on earth has their own personal reality, their own consciousness, their own truth, and their own world. It is only as we age that we begin to be asked to draw a distinction, gradually distrusting our own experience as somehow less correct than some objective reality. By exiting our own worlds, we literally leave behind a universe of subjects (conscious beings at the center of their own creation) and enter into a world of objects, unalive entities that we (as the dictionary defines it) can direct our efforts and goals upon.
Is it any wonder that we have drained and paved and built over so many worlds?
I hear, in my friend’s voices, so much grief over the collective damage done to this world. But I truly believe that one way to begin to heal what has been done is by reconnecting to the regenerative truth of our own inner worlds. To be in one’s own world is to be closer to the very heart of this world itself. Do you think the cypress trees are constantly fretting about the experience of the crane? Or does the gopher tortoise impress its own view of reality upon the roots in the earth? The manatees, no matter how wounded, continue to swim in their own underwater universe. They are so deeply enmeshed in their own experience that they can ignore the throng of onlookers who come to snap a quick Polaroid, and remain a vital part of the dreaming fabric of this world.
It has taken me years, this many years in fact, to realize that being in my own world doesn’t mean I won’t feel the feelings of others, or experience heartbreak over the plight of this earth. In fact, it is the opposite. It means I can feel it like the everglades can feel a storm. I can embrace it fully because I have the resources to bear it. I have not drained my swamps or turned my inner terrain into a plantation of sugarcane— all sweetness, and flatness and one-dimensionality for sake of societal demands or the expectations of others. When I allow myself to exist within my own dream of my world, I am complex and internal and whole. I have so many roots and windbreaks and hollows and sheltering coves I can bear any storm. I can be constantly creating, recreating, constantingly giving, grieving, and continually regenerating new worlds.