How can you create somatic experiences in nature to help heal deep trauma?
In a world that continues to become crazier and more challenging, the number of people suffering from trauma and depression is escalating. Healing trauma and depression CAN be done, but it often takes deep work that goes way beyond “talk therapy”.
Not surprisingly, nature provides an ideal environment for healing old wounds. And my guest Sarah Jeffreys specializes in this. In this wide-ranging interview she talks about her work, the sacred Utah landscape in which she does it, and the journey that’s led her to do what she does. She also talks about her beautiful photography and insightful writing.
Website & Social Media
- Her website: https://www.sarahjeffreys.com/
- Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/sarah.jeffreys.395
- Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/sarah.jeffreys.395/
Using Nature & Eco-Somatic Work to Heal Trauma
Interview with Sarah Jeffreys
Doug: Hi, this is Doug Greene with What Really ~Matters Interviews. And today I’m really excited to be interviewing Sarah Jeffries who does, among other things, what she calls “eco-somatic” work. And this combines nature with somatic work and also some other modalities she works with.
And a few things about Sarah ..
She lives in what I think is the most incredible landscape in the world, which is that red rock country around Moab – Canyonlands and Escalante Staircase. And the landscape there, if you’ve ever experienced it, is “beyond beyond”. And what first drew me to contacting Sarah was her photography and writing from that landscape. Her photography is just unbelievable.
She has a, she has a definite style, which I really like, and which I think reveals the essence of that landscape in ways. I don’t see too often. And then her writing that goes with it just goes right to the heart. So I’m really excited to be interviewing her today and we’ll see where this goes, but eco somatic healing, that’s sort of the north star on this, but we’ll see.
We’ll see, Sarah, thank you so much for joining us. And anything you want to say right off the start?
Sarah: I was just going to say, thank you for having me, Doug.
Doug: All right. So I think just for starters can you talk about an eco somatic experience? I understand you’ve had one, or probably more than one, but maybe pick a powerful one that especially the might’ve been something that transformed you and talk about.
Sarah: Yeah. So the term eco somatics is it’s kind of a new term. People might’ve heard of the term eco psychology, which is that our personal health, psychological health, is tied into the earth’s health. So eco-somatics is more connecting the earth, the ecology, with our body – that the, the earth and the lived experience of our body are intertwined.
And so a lot of my somatic practices like movement, especially dance, is done outside. And it’s a practice of really listening to the earth with my whole body. So all my senses open and alive, and oftentimes I’ll, I’ll dance to the elements, to the wind. I’ll be connecting perhaps to a certain mountain or a certain animal.
And it’s my way of really just having a fully embodied experience with the earth and with the more-than-human world.
Doug: So can you take us on a specific experience you’ve had with this, like. .. what was going on in your life? What did you do? How did it change you? I mean, really like take us into a moment when this happened for you.
What did you feel, see, do .. all of that.
Sarah: The eco-somatic part. I’m just, I’m trying to figure out how to answer that question from just eco somatics, because the eco somatic part has been not necessarily like the biggest pull in my healing journey. It’s more been let’s see. I’m just trying to figure out how to answer that from an eco somatic based perspective.
Because my, my healing journey has involved a lot of different things, not just eco somatics. That makes sense.
Doug: It does. Can you pull together, though .. .what I’m really wanting to do here is to take it specific experience, like as if you were writing well, this is what happened. And even if the eco part’s just a part of it.
Yeah. So I think my, and I think I mentioned this last time, my healing journey began with insomnia. That was the big, like dark year of my life. So my healing journey began about a decade ago when I started experiencing a really horrific, prolonged insomnia. And it coincided with the birth of my daughter.
And she, wasn’t a great sleeper at night and I was waking up frequently in the night. And it came to the point where my body stopped actually going to sleep at night. And I had about a year where I was only sleeping two hours a night. It was quite hellacious. And that’s when I really started to dive into contemplative practices.
So I started really studying meditation, yoga. I started going on meditation retreats – often in wilderness. I would go on 10 day backpacking meditation retreats and started really deepening into various healing practices to help actually heal my insomnia. And from there I started studying somatic therapy as part of my own healing work and as part of a modality that I wanted to help other people with.
Doug: So how did meditation and the somatic piece and nature all help? Did it like calm your nervous system?
Sarah: Yeah, I really needed to help reregulate my nervous system. And so I did a lot of trauma healing work around the birth of my daughter, around a lot of, you know, just the trauma of not being able to sleep and really working on releasing all that stored up energy that was really making it difficult for me to sleep.
Doug: And it was impacting your life. I mean, obviously when you can’t sleep, it sucks,
everything just goes to, you know, you’re just not operating anywhere near a fully. what’s the right word? Optimal level. So in doing all of that, what happened? How did things change? You got more sleep, did you
Sarah: It actually took a couple of years for my sleep to return. It was a couple of years of just horrendous insomnia. And it was so powerful in some ways, because often it’s those most horrific experiences that is the doorway to a deeper, more meaningful life.
And that’s when I started my healing journey, started healing my trauma, my nervous system, really getting it back into a more regulated place. Now having a new career path where I’m leading people into doing their own trauma work. And healing work.
Doug: So talk about that doorway that opened up.
When you open up that door, what was that experience like? Did you have sort of an aha moment where you got a sense of purpose that came out of that? And if so, what was that like? You have a feeling, if you did have a feeling and sign, like, this is what I meant to, what was that? Describe that experience
Sarah: well, it took me quite a number of years to just do really basic healing work.
And when I was actually ready, when I had done enough of my healing work, that’s when I really started to do soul work, nature-based soul work, and really going into “what is my sacred life calling? What is my. purpose in life?” And that led me to doing vision quest in wilderness and the vast Utah canyon.
And I would say my vision quest was one of the single most profound transformational experiences of my entire life. I always see my life as, “before” my vision quest and “after” my vision quest, because it was so profound and I actually had a vision on my last night in wilderness after I had been fasting for four days alone in a remote canyon.
And I had a full vision of exactly my work in the world. And it completely transformed me.
Doug: So you talk about the vision quest. I find that intriguing. I’ve I don’t know that I’ve actually gone on a vision quest. I, I know that it’s spending time in nature. It’s something, I believe it comes with a native Americans, right.
Sarah: It’s actually a cross cultural tradition, seen in pretty much all human groups across the world, going out into nature and kind of seeking depth experiences with nature and with mystery and with kind of what is your heart’s deepest, longing, and the service that kind of you’re here to do in the world.
Doug: Where did you find this vision quest? How did this come into sphere?
Sarah: So I started doing work with the Animus Valley Institute, which is based out of Durango, Colorado. And their work is all about connecting people to wilderness, soul work, dream work really for cultural regeneration, connecting people back into reciprocal relationship with the earth.. That kind of thing.
And I started doing some trainings with the Animus Valley Institute. And then after about a year of trainings, I decided it was time to do a vision quest with the Animus Valley Institute. So there was actually about 10 of us on my vision quest.
Doug: So what was the structure like? How long was it? What did you do for preparation? What is it?
Sarah: Yeah, I had been preparing about six months prior to my vision quest. So doing a lot of solo day wanders in wilderness. I tried fasting a couple of times beforehand. I tried really connecting to the more-than-human world and doing some more of my own personal healing work. It’s really important to do a lot of your healing work before you go on a vision quest.
Otherwise when you’re on your vision quest, if you haven’t done a lot of healing work, you probably won’t go as deep into the mystery, into what they call “animus”- the descent to your soul. So I did a lot of my own healing work, wilderness connection. And then the vision quest itself started as a five days at a retreat center where we were just kind of doing nature-based practices.
And then we moved after five days from the retreat center to a very wild canyon in Utah, where we then spent the next six days. And four of those days were solo days alone, fasting. It can be anything from working with wounds that we might have, like a wounded inner child. So some of the practices might be take your wounded child out on a walk in the wilderness, or go find a being on the land that looks like a loving parent. Maybe if somebody didn’t have a loving parent and connect to this being on the land. Or tell your story of longing to a being on the land. So a lot of it’s talking across the species line, so really talking to the wild animate world and connecting to nature, and also listening to what the wild animal world wants to say to you so that it’s not always about us asking for support, but also really listening to how we can support and be stewards of the land.
Doug: So did you have to do an internal shift of sorts? And if so, describe it to kind of get into that space where you could … let’s say we’re in our egoic world, right? And we kind of got these barriers or like citified or whatever.
I’m not sure that everybody can just step right up and start talking with nature. So I’m wondering if there, if there was some sort of process .. You may have already had the capacity, but others might like, what, how do I even get …?
Sarah: Yeah. And I work with people who they’ve never done that, and it’s weird. And it’s kind of awkward at first, but I find that people, once they start doing it, once it’s an invitation, they get right into it after, you know, the first time that they try it. And maybe it’s a little awkward that actually people start to really love it and get into it. And that indigenous kind of nature is in all of us. Right?
We were hunter gatherers for hundreds of thousands of years. We were all earth-based people. And so it’s in there. It’s in all of us. And it might take a little while, but people can usually tap right back into that kind of animus consciousness.
Doug: My guess, would be that it’s about dropping in, right? We live in this society, where we spend so much time in our head. And all the somatic work we’re talking about is about dropping into the body, listening to the body, connecting with our heart and, you know, basically getting out of our head, getting out of our ego and into that something bigger.
And it sounds like a really cool way to do it. So you may have had a headstart on some people because I kind of sense you already do that anyway. It’s sort of innate to you where somebody like me who’s more mental might have a harder challenge and, knock over a few brick walls before we finally are able to go, oh, that’s what they’re talking about and feel it.
Sarah: It really involves tending to other ways of knowing things. So using our imagination and our body. Really opening, consciously opening up our senses and our animal senses. Right? So a lot of this work is tapping into our animal nature. I mean, we are after all primates and we’ve so often lost our instincts.
So a lot of the times I give people invitations to really sink back into their animal nature with these nature-based practices.
Doug: Okay. So let’s go back to vision quest. You’re at this 10 day retreat, you spent four or five days learning to talk to the trees or
Sarah: And part of the quest is a, longing. It’s sitting in a circle and it’s a kind of a prayer of saying “I long to know what my sacred work is in the world. I long to know what it is I’m here to do.”
Doug: When you ask that, where do you feel that question within you?
Sarah: Mm. I feel it in my heart and my belly.
I feel like my soul, when I want to connect to my soul, I go right into my deep belly and then it really radiates out my heart. My heart is the area where I do the actual service. But the visions and the sense of it is in my deep belly.
Doug: If you were describing where you’re pointing and you’re feeling that, where would you be pointing on your body right now?
Sarah: You mean in terms of like my deep belly?
Doug: In somatic work. I know that often it’s to find exactly where the sensations are. Describe the sensations, not just describe the sensations, but where do exactly do they lie? And the more specific you can make it often the more powerful work can be.
Sarah: It’s true. Yeah. So I, feel this in the center.
Absolute center of my belly, right?
Doug: Like kinda by your navel, behind your navel?
Sarah: Yeah. Just behind my navel.
Doug: Okay. So you go through this initiation four or five days, sort of ramping up, learning some techniques and finding what works best for you. And then off you go into the wilderness for four or five days, yeah?
Doug: So a little bit of shock there. Have you ..
Sarah: It was a scary. I have gone backpacking by myself, so it wasn’t maybe as scary for me as maybe somebody that hasn’t gone camping by themselves before., But it was a little scary for me because there were bears and I saw mountain lions and fresh bear tracks, and I was sleeping without a tent.
And, you know, at night, every little sound seems amplified. But I was okay. The little bit of fear was not unbearable
Doug: Was the first night the worst?
Sarah: It was, I think fasting itself was a little bit challenging for me. I tend to get very weak when I fast. And at the time I didn’t weigh very much to begin with. And so I didn’t have a lot of fat storage, so yeah. Fasting was challenging.
Doug: So you fasted for five days?
Sarah: Yeah. actually four and a half days.
Doug: Does that mean no food?
Sarah: No food at all. I did have water. And midway between I ate a few nuts just to, I just needed a little something.
Doug: As each day progressed, what did you experience? Describe the day by day ..
Sarah: So I started my VisionQuest ceremony with the what’s called the death lodge. So I actually created a ceremony where I wrote my own eulogy as if, you know, I was describing the life I had lived and I wrote my own eulogy. I read it out loud. And I also wrote letters to all the people in my life saying all the things that I have never said to them that I would want to say before I died.
And after I wrote those letters, I actually buried myself in a bunch of leaves. I was actually in an oak grove. And I just really, truly imagined myself dying, and really metaphorically dying to all the old ways of being. It can really make your vision quest more powerful to do the death ceremony before you go into the next stage, which is that longing for what are my unique gifts? What is my unique service in the world?
So that, was the first day. And then I started doing more nature-based practices during my vision quest, which really helps someone get into more of a altered state of consciousness.
Doug: So nature-based practices specifically … like what?
Sarah: Yeah. So I did some, dancing, some trans dancing at my vision quest spot. So moving the body. I had a drum with me, so really connecting to the animals, to the land, to the unseen beings on the land and started doing these really mind and body shifting practices. So drumming and dancing primarily, and also shaking a rattle and singing and chanting as well.
Doug: Did you wander much from your campsite?
Sarah: No, it was usually the, the quest ceremony, the fasting ceremony, you’re encouraged to stay just in a small area. So I had a vision quest circle, a stone circle with the four directions stone. And I mostly stayed in my circle.
Doug: What are the four directions represent?
Sarah: North, south, east, and west and different faculties of each direction.
So Bill Plotkin, the director and founder of the Animus Valley Institute, he developed a nature based map of the human psyche, where we have different kinds of resources that he lined up with the four directions. With each four direction circle, I tapped into the resources that I could find within myself in the four directions.
In his map, the north is your nurturing generative adult. So really that compassionate side, that compassionate, loving, unconditional love, that heart-centered side is your north. And your south is your wild sensuous embodied ..That one that has the intuitive instinctual faculties alive and open.
And then your east is your … it’s that sense of oneness, consciousness. So that sense that we’re all interconnected. That might be some practices to elicit. That would be more yoga, meditation, these practices of oneness and coming into those, that sense of how, yeah, we’re all connected.
And then the west is our,wild .. . Bill Plotkin, calls it the “muse beloved”. It’s the underworld, it’s the shadow world. It’s where our soul lives in our west side. And so it’s where our uniqueness is. So if the east is how we’re all the same, the west is how we’re all actually very different and tapping into that uniqueness of our own personal gifts.
Doug: What’s your favorite direction?
Sarah: So I love the west, actually.
Doug: I’m not surprised.
Sarah: I am most connected to the west, which is all about dream work and shadow work and soul work. And although, you know, it’s really good to be resourced in all four of the directions.
Doug: Sure. Knowing that you’re likely an Enneagram Four, the artist, romantic – just looking at your imagery and your words, your poetry, your writings I was thinking west, as soon as you started describing it. In fact, you can’t see her, but she was getting pretty animated when she started describing .. Her energy level picked up.
All right. So you go on this vision quest, you have a number of different experiences. You’ve been doing yoga and trance and beating your drum. Yeah. Singing
Sarah: Talking to the animals and the trees.
Doug: Talking to the animals, and the trees. Was there sort of an epiphany towards the end of it? And what was that?
Sarah: So surprisingly. I didn’t have my big vision when I was alone in wilderness, which is more common.
After our solo period, we came back into the group and had two days of really having councils where we were all sharing what had happened to us. Well, the actual last night of the 10 days, the whole 10 day experience, me and another woman decided to do some somatic bodywork at 11 o’clock at night in this canyon.
And that is when my vision came … while this woman was doing somatic body work on me. And it was the most profound vision of my entire life. She started touching my body. I started shaking traumatic energy out of my body. She was just barely touching me. I started having a lot of imaginal images moving through my body … all kinds of body sensations.
At one point I felt like I was giving birth quite literally. My body started to going into a birthing position. I literally felt like I was giving birth to something. And then the vision of my soul’s work – what Bill would call a “soul encounter” – I had a complete soul encounter and saw exactly what my work is in the world.
Sarah: Would you like to hear … would you like to hear the vision?
Doug: Obviously it’s the next question! I think you’re leading me on to it.
Sarah: So my vision, I had this image of me walking with an owl. So an owl was my ally. And as we were doing the bodywork, there was an owl right next to us in the tree hooing the whole time we were working.
And that owl came with me and my image, my vision. And we started walking down a dark corridor, a dark chamber. And I was a little scared, but I kept walking and walking. And all of a sudden it turned into a large cave. And inside the cave I heard mystery say that it was called the “cave of forgotten dreams” and that my work in the world was to shine the light onto people’s lost … the lost art of their souls.
And so in the cave I could shine, light out of my fingertips and it lit up all the rock art that had been hiding in the dark and the cave. And so my work in the world is to help shine the light into their lost souls, the lost art of their souls.
Afterwards, it was like, “Oh, of course, yes.” It all made sense once I saw that whole vision of me as a shadow worker, essentially.
Doug: When was this?
Sarah: This was about three years ago.
Doug: And so take us on a journey since then. Did you stick by this vision? You’ve, been unwavering in what it showed you, and this is my life’s work?
Sarah: What I’ve been doing with that image is I’ve been actually going into actual caves for the last three years. So I’ve been apprenticing, in a sense, to my vision. Really go, okay. Actually going into literal caves and deepening into who I really am into my soul. And now I am actively helping people doing shadow work, doing dream work and helping them discover the lost art of their souls.
Doug: I love how you used the words. “I’m apprenticing to that. What did he call apprenticing to my vision?” And you’re becoming that person. And it’s a tool. It’s not a push. It’s not coming from, “I’m going to do this.” It’s an invitation that you’re fully accepting ..
Sarah: It’s saying “yes” to the soul’s calling
Doug: And surrendering.
Sarah: And I’ve had subsequent cave dreams, which have been very significant. So the soul keeps calling me back into that same image from my vision quest.
Doug: Wow. I don’t have experiences like that.
There’s a certain amount of envy in hearing, the way you describe it. It’s like, so unquestioning, you know? It’s like being the mental type. I am, we question everything, especially if we’re in an unhealthy place. Having faith like that in something would just be .. and there are moments when I’ve had that, but not to the consistency and the depth of what you’re describing. And, it sounds just awesome.
Sarah: Yeah, there’s a beautiful sense of belonging, that I belong to my soul, that I belong in the world that this vision did not come from me, that it came from some mysterious place that was beyond me. After I had that vision, it was like, I belonged, for the first time in my life, that I belonged to my soul and that I belonged to the earth.
Doug: There’s a beautiful book written by a guy named Michael Moore called Fate and Destiny. And what you described sounds very much like that. The premise of his book is, and I saw him speak several times cause I liked him so much. Our fate is that we come into this world with a gift, but we know not what it is. And it is our destiny to find out what that is. If we want to live a full life.
And I asked him, so if you could take all that and put it down into one sentence, what would it be? And he said, “Sing your note”, We each have an individual expression that we have, an individual note that’s part of the bigger picture.
Sarah: Beautiful. I like that.
Doug: You’re doing this work. I think people are naturally going to be drawn to you .. I’m guessing a lot through your photography and your words, because .. It really it’s a note within them that it’s like … I felt it. I, you know, speaking from my own experience, I keep coming back to your photography and your words, and I get pulled in. And there’s something that’s touching on a deeper level that I can’t quite put my finger on, but I know it’s there and it’s, it’s mystical. It’s magical. Do people come to you like that, you’ve touched them in some way and …
Sarah: Yeah. A lot of people find me through my photography and they see something in that that elicits something deep within themselves.
And can I just say I hadn’t taken a photograph in years and until my vision quest. Right after my vision quest, I knew I had to start photographing again. So it was, rediscovering that lost art of my soul was also part of my vision quest and picking my camera back up. And now I’m out photographing almost every single day.
Doug: Let’s talk about photography for a second. I do want to come back into your interaction with somebody coming to you that is on a quest of their own quest and they see you as somebody that can help them along that journey. But the photography itself, so my background is photo journalism, and I’ve worked as a photographer for, you know, off and on over what, four or five decades, I guess four, anyway, five.
And I love landscape photography. You have a very distinct style that to me, and as I mentioned earlier, I love that landscape you’re in. So when I saw the way that you capture that landscape, which means so much to me, it pulled me even more deeply.in .When you are behind the lens of the camera and you are in that creation process, describe what’s going on.
Sarah: Yeah. So first of all, I do not plan out where I’m going to go. So I will pick up my camera and right when I walk out my door, I’ll say, “Okay soul mystery, where should we go?” I keep it really intuitive, really just following my senses. And then before I actually make an image. I ask the land, you know, “Is it okay if I photograph this?”
And I just kind of wait for a felt sense of “okay”. I really like to connect to my body. I like to really connect to the place that I’m photographing in a really sacred reciprocal way so that it’s not just that old mentality of extracting images to make money, that it really feels like it’s done in a really sacred way.
And oftentimes after I make an image, I’ll say, thank you. Or I’ll just kind of do a little gesture of some kind.
Doug: So, so what informs you that you’ve got that “yes” coming from the land to take this particular, what do you feel? What do you sense?
Sarah: Yeah. Sometimes. I don’t know. I just don’t feel like it’s right. it “just comes from within. It’s a felt sense of, no, it’s not okay to take a photograph here.”,But when I get the “yes”, yeah. It feels exciting. The land is like, “yes, take my image!” And the land. I feel like the land feels my love for it.
I have such a deep love and appreciation for the land and I’m constantly telling the land how much I love it. And I feel this like, yes, that okay to create in that moment.
Doug: Okay, I’m going to describe my own process. And it’d be interesting to feel how this is different. I come from the film world back when journalism, black and white photography, just quick like process, there was that big delay between the time you shoot and you see the pictures.
And, the single best thing I did for my own photography was study graphics. It gave me sort of the language of the visual world. And so I now have incorporated what I saw, like looking for patterns or shadow or form or symmetry or, you know, cold versus warm or reflections.
And, at this point, now, when I look at something, I can, feel an image wanting to come up to me. I can look at something and say, okay, with a 200 millimeter or 300 millimeter lens, that’s going to be a really cool vignette of this thing. Or I might pull out a 20 because I’ve got something in the foreground that I want to combine with the background in a way that 20’s do a certain way.
At this point it’s a feeling, probably a gut feeling more than a heart feeling. And I think the brain is probably in there too, working with that language that I sort of learned. It becomes innate at some point. But yours feels different the way you described what you do, you know, looking for a yes or a feeling, you know. I think you come more from the heart area I don’t know. I just find it really intriguing because I love your work and it, it resonates. So whatever you’re doing is like freaking awesome.
Sarah: Thank you so much for that. I think it’s also just you know, I’ve lived near national parks for the last 20 years and it really made me sad how I saw photography. It actually turned me away from photography for many years, because I would see mostly men, I have to say, lined up with all their big lenses, just piled in, not connected to their body, not connected in any kind of sacred way. Just really trying to take – a lot of that “take” energy – which to me feels like it would be like a colonial kind of energy where they just want to take and make money from this image.
when I came back to photography after my vision quest, I thought, you know, I want to do it in a different way. I want to do it in kind of a holy way, a reciprocal way, where there’s actually a sacred conversation happening … where I’m not just extracting, where we’re having a two way conversation.
So that’s kind of how I approach my image making process.
Doug: It sort of sounds like a retake on something we talked about before we started recording, instead of asking, “what am I trying to make happen here?” …What is trying to happen here?”
Doug: And the symbiotic relationship between you and the landscape.
Sarah: Exactly. Yeah. And I think you can feel that in the images.
Doug: Yeah, definitely.
Sarah: I was just going to say I’m often when I’m in a landscape, if I can’t connect to the soul of a place, connect to the soul of the earth, it is so to speak, connect to the center of that place .. . And so I feel like the images translate that soul of land.
Doug: Okay, let’s go back to where we were before we took the side conversation on photography, which I think is really cool.
Somebody comes to you, they’ve seen your photography, something’s resonating. They’ve got a sense that something’s missing in them. They’re not connected with their soul. I mean, you talk about soul connection. So what is the process like? how do you work with somebody that wants to connect with their soul?
They come to you and … ?
Sarah: Great question. Oftentimes we’ll do a lot of somatic work with our soul work. So oftentimes people still have some healing work that they need to do, whether that’s working with a wounded inner child, working with some of their protector parts, releasing some traumatic energy.
So often do some of the somatic work. And then the soul work – it’s really non therapy. Okay. The soul work is there’s no defined goals, there’s no rules. It might be painful. You know, in fact often it is because you’re actuall … you’re dying to the old ways of being, and you’re tapping into possibly the sorrow of the world.
You’re tapping into the destruction of the planet. You know, when you’re tapping into soul, you’re tapping into the depths. So basically I’ll start people that come to me …. we’ll start talking about what their longings are. We’ll start doing dream work or start doing shadow work exercises.
I’ll give them invitations every week to start deepening with wilderness, deepening with the more-than-human world and doing some of these soul work practices out on the land.
Doug: Do you see a common theme in the people that are coming to you, like one specific overriding ache or pain or.
Sarah: They’re feeling lost, stuck, and they want to contribute. They want to serve the world in a meaningful way. They don’t really know where to begin. They don’t know how to do that because we’ve, lost these old practices, right? These earth-based practices of doing these kinds of rites of passage ceremonies.
And so usually those are the kinds of people that come to me.
Doug: Describe some of the specific processes you might do. Like maybe just pick one or two or maybe three that are among the more common and powerful techniques you might use to help someone out. We’ve talked about vision quests a little bit.
Sarah: Yeah. The, the vision quest is the big one, right? When people are really ready to go deep.
Doug: So what might you do with them to lead them up to that?
Sarah: So really would be the dreamwork, invitations to start connecting to wilderness, right? Invitations to maybe even start doing some day fasting to start really seeing what that feels like in their body. And maybe even camping for a night by themselves, maybe even connecting to their wild indigenous sensuous side would be an invitation I would give them. Connecting to their nurturing adult side. So these kinds of practices of connecting to those four facets that I talked about, those four directions, I would give invitations to people to connect to those parts of them.
Doug: Maybe pick a couple of those.
I’ll pick some that I’m sort of drawn to. One is dream work.
Doug: So how would you work with somebody on dreamwork? And you’re welcome to use me as an example if you want.
Sarah: Yeah, that would be wonderful. So my approach to dreamwork is I don’t interpret, I don’t analyze anybody’s dreams for them.
I take a very somatic approach where we start off by going back into the dream body. So I have people close their eyes, really take a few breaths, connect into their body. So if you want to start that after you have a dream in mind that you’d like to work …
Doug: it’s interesting. I don’t have a specific dream at the moment, but what I do have is a consistent experience in all of my dreams of running away from something, trying to escape. And the more I try to escape, the worse it gets.
And I do have lucid dreams. There are times when I know I’m in a dream or I’m pretty sure I’m in a dream. Well, there’s one. I can remember I’m running through like a Mediterranean town. Something’s chasing me. And I went through sort of a tunnel and it, opened up on the side of a cliff.
You know, it was like a tunnel that came out of a cliff. Not too high up, maybe 10, 15 feet. And the ocean was lapping up against the bottom. Something was chasing me and I hesitated. Am I going to jump or not? And as I hesitated the height above the ground kept growing. So what was 20 feet became 30 feet became 50 feet, became 200 feet.
And I remember this visceral feeling of just like,”God, if I jump, I’m going to die.” But if I stay, I might die too. So what do I do? And then I had this recognition that like, I might be in a dream here And the only way I can find out for sure is to jump off this cliff. And it was, I mean, it was real.
I am standing on this cliff looking down 250 feet at this point. It’s like, I’m going to die if I jump this and I’m not right about this being a dream. But if I stay here, well, I just can’t stay here. So I finally picked up the courage and I lept off the cliff. And I remember specifically the sound of the wind and the feeling of falling and the ground coming closer and closer.
And just about the moment I hit the ground, I woke up. Sort of, you know, not like big, like woke up all at once, but I came out of the dream and then came through those layers of coming from asleep to awake, from dream to quote unquote the real world or this world. And it really shook me up for awhile.
That’s a recurring theme. is it a dream or not? I have to do something big to come out of it. Sometimes I can just leave it. And I find that in my dreams, things are very, very, very clear and visual. And because I have such big vision loss from glaucoma, there are times when I savor being in my dreams because I can see.
Sarah: Oh yeah. This would be fun to work with. Well what I would do is if we were going to actually work this theme, I think this is a theme because it’s something big that your psyche keeps trying to get your attention.
I think it would be so powerful for you to work with this dream. It’s kind of a long dream to do now on this podcast, it would take probably a half an hour to do a dream work.
Doug: So if you’re just going to take me on a few steps on this …
Sarah: So I’d have you close your eyes. I’d have you go back, really using your deep embodied imagination to go back into the dream where you’re noticing colors, shapes, sounds – really the feeling. And I would have you describe every moment of the dream as if seconds are dripping with time. I want to know every single thing. And especially any. Emotion, it’s the emotions that are the most important part about a dream. And then this one, I’m really curious about this, this one that’s chasing you – this being who keeps chasing you.
Doug: I never see it. It’s like a force field or a energetic blob coming at me and it’s dark …
Sarah: So what I would do is see if you could access the center of that blob. I would have you imaginally … if it’s not too terrible, sometimes these things can be terrifying, but oftentimes dream figures are, us – different parts of us.
And we can actually go into the psyches of different dream characters and have them speak. So we could play around with asking this blob, what does it want, or going into the psyche of the blob and seeing what it’s longing for?
Doug: Give it voice,
Sarah: Give it voice. Yeah.
Doug: Wow. Okay. It’s interesting. I don’t know that I have an emotion. What I feel is fear, and I don’t know that fear is so much an emotion as it is a you know, it’s more that reptilian level and at an emotional level is what I associate with heart. It kind of shook me up. Yeah. I’m not sure where to go here.
Sarah: Yeah. I think I would excavate fear more. If we were doing this, I would go into where it lands in your body. And if there’s a sense of needing to get away quickly, what surrounds the fear,
Doug: You know, that feeling of you’re in such fear, you have a shortness of breath.
Sarah: It’s like a panic.
Doug: Yeah, yeah. Panic down. Exactly.
Sarah: And so a panic that the darkness is coming towards you.
Doug: Yeah. Actually another experience is really direct. I hadn’t thought about merging these two before. Some I’m in a men’s group in Marin, and as part of the initiation process. Part of my fear, and I was in a deep depression at the time about going blind from glaucoma. And they came up with this exercise. like “we want you to be blind for a day.”
So I wore a blindfold for an entire day, and I had a friend of mine who’s a coach accompany me. And it reaffirmed my deepest fears. It didn’t help. And I didn’t come to peace. And I remember after this full day of going to coffee shops, getting around town and being blind and going down to the beach and walking, being fearful of dogs jumping on me and all this stuff.
I lie down on the couch and I dropped down like I landed in a room that was like kind of a cross between a morgue you know, intensive care room. And there was a little machine beeping, you know, with my heartbeat on the outside or, you know, in the room, but near me. And the room was kind of gray and nondescript almost a n industrial hospital.
And outside I could feel this energy. This blob is about two meters long, maybe two and a half meters. It was honest. So if I wasn’t sitting, cause it was just a blob. But it was this dark energy and it was scary, scary, scary. I tried to resist it like “no, go away, go away, go away.” And it wouldn’t. It was almost like it was getting fed by fear.
And I I finally surrendered to it and it entered me. And what I felt was peace with death. And I associated peace and death. I crossed what I’m I know almost like to talk about this, but it was like the somatic suicide line. It was in that moment that I more or less decided I was going to check out here. “I’m out of here.”
I equated peace with death because I didn’t want to be more. And I made my plans. I I, you know, I started a Gmail account and wrote all my goodbye emails and I assigned somebody to take a read. I threw away my life’s work of photography and everything I owned, and gave it away. And I mean, I was on the path.
So for me, that blob represented a somatic piece, which I now realize I misinterpreted. The piece is pretty amazing. And sometimes I can find that place of peace. And I know that we all have to, you know, often in big growth, go through a certain kind of death – the death of the ego. I don’t like to say “death” of the ego. But we get out of our own way and we get in touch with, I think this is the part you call soul connection. So it’s the first time I’ve actually equated that blob with this thing I’m running from in the dreams.
Sarah: That’s interesting because I just wanted to say I never interpret people’s dreams ever. And if we were working this stream, I wouldn’t actually even tell you this, but what I felt in my belly with that blob was it was death. It was death. And so it was interesting that you, equated it with death as well.
Doug: So I would love to hear your interpretation of that death.
Sarah: Well, I would, I, again, wouldn’t want to interpret it for you. But it was just a sense that I had that, that, black force that was coming for you, that you’re running from could have been death.
Doug: So how would you advise me to work with that death?
Sarah: Well, if, you had come up with that on your own, that, that experience with that death and that blob was the same blob as your dream, and you had made that connection, then we could work with imaginally going back. We would be back in the dream. And what if instead of jumping, you went, towards it and had a conversation?
Doug: Hmm. Is there a way that somebody in lucid dreaming can actually kind of go into the dream without intention? Carry that intention?
Sarah: Yeah. That’s what I would also have you do.
Doug: Any specific practices like to write that out beforehand?
Sarah: I would write that out before going to bed, I would absolutely say, “Dream maker, I want to know more about this dream that I keep having over and over again. I know that something in my psyche is telling me I need to be aware of this, that this is a constant fear in my life. That’s in my shadow, that I’m not aware of.”
And I would say, “I want to know what this blob is, and I want to have a conversation with this dark force that’s coming after me. Instead of running, I want to actually talk to it.” And then go to bed and see what happens.
How does that feel to you? Because you use, you had a breath, like, it seemed like that, seemed like a good thing to do.
Doug: Yeah, no, it, it scares the shit out of me, which is a, probably a really good thing.
That’s a good indicator that like, yeah, I know that on some of the somatic work I’ve been doing, right. It’s about resourcing ourselves to turn towards that which we naturally try to flee from.
Doug: Because in the darkest places, our greatest gifts, right.
Sarah: There we go.
Doug: Some others come to you .. what would the process be like, say an ideal client comes to you, what are they wanting to do or work through or where are they in life?
Sarah: All kinds of different people come to me. Some people that have a lot of trauma, I mean, we’re all kind of traumatized to certain degrees. And oftentimes people, their nervous system is just, it’s kind of stuck in a fight, flight or freeze. And they’re just, looking to release some traumatic energy.
And other people are just lost, stuck. They want to feel belonging. You know, so many of us want to feel belonging. We want to have meaning in our lives. We want to discover the lost art of our souls. So all of those things, people will come to me for those reasons.
Doug: So specifically the nature work, where can it be especially powerful in all of this? And how? What does that look like for their experience?
Sarah: For me, nature has always been my ally since I was a young kid.
I, myself was neglected as a kid. My parents were very busy and so nature was always my biggest resource for connection and nourishment. You know, I had the trees where my grandmothers and grandfathers and my family. And so using nature as an ally has always come really naturally to me. And I think this depth work in this healing work is so supported to be done out in nature versus in a therapy office, because we can really access our grief when we’re alone in wilderness. We can cry, we can scream, we can really contact our anger.
We can contact our wildness. And so there’s just that sense of freedom as well in nature.
Doug: So maybe you could give us three tips, three things to do for people that want to do some work in nature. What would you pick as three really cool things they could do on their own?
Sarah: Well, my first thought was dance – go dance in nature. So my background is in anthropology. And I lived with the bushmen in the Kalahari and the bushmen are our oldest ancestors, the oldest culture in the world, and they’re a dancing culture. So we have a long legacy of being dancers and dancing in wilderness.
And so I think we’ve all lost that long, beautiful legacy of dancing. And oftentimes they are moving, they’re moving energy, they’re moving trauma out of the body. They shake, they will shake their body. The shamans will do hands-on bodywork. So all of these somatic practices are not new. These have been around for hundreds of thousands of years.
And so I would just encourage everybody to go out, to go dance somewhere wild, to tap into. the animist. So animism like that, everything is a intelligent force. We know now the trees really do speak to each other through root systems, and you know, that I would go and really connect to a tree. Have a conversation. Go listen to the waterways, listen to the mountains. Really let yourself be moved by the wild world.
Doug: And maybe journaling in nature?
Sarah: Journaling, playing an instrument. Absolutely. If you’re working with some wounded parts of yourself, you know, go for a wound, walk, take your little wounded child out for a walk in wilderness and see, what kind of beautiful healing can emerge from that.
Doug: Where else can we go with this? Describe when you’re “on purpose” and working with others. What are you feeling yourself as the, as the one, helping them, as the guide as the not necessarily mentor, but the facilitator … what’s going on for you? And how do you take care of yourself?
Sarah: It feels really good for me because I’m doing the work of my soul, my soul work.
My soul is a healer and is here to facilitate this work for others. And so it lights me up. It gives me my juice and my vitality. Of course I always make sure to not overwork and to replenish myself daily and tend to my own personal needs as well. Is that kind of the question you are getting at?
Doug: Yeah. You know, when you facilitate, when you give, when you’re helping others, it can be demanding work psychologically, physically, in a number of different ways. And that it’s really important for the healer for a healer like yourself, to take care of themselves so that they can be fully on when they’re doing their work.
And ‘I’m wondering what you might do for self-care, you know, that you could pass on to other healers.
Sarah: Well, I, have to spend time in nature every single day which is not too hard for me personally, because I live in a wild place. So it’s a matter of going out my back door and I’m so lucky to be able to live here.
So yeah, I make sure to connect to the land every single day. Go somewhere wild. I go connect to the caves. I go connect to the creeks and the animals every day. And I move my body – yoga, dancing all those kinds of beautiful somatic things every day as well. And if I can, I try to make art every day as well.
Yeah. Photography. And they also do painting sculpture dancing. I dabble in all, artistic, medium.
Doug: Are there some resources you can recommend? Well, get to your website and some of that in a second, but are there some people that have been big influencers on your life and the way you practice?
Sarah: I would say my biggest teachers are the land itself.
Absolutely hands down. I learn most of what I need to know from being out in the wilderness, trusting my own body intelligence. So my body’s my next big teacher. My own personal experience is such a profound gift and teacher – and that’s my truth. And other resources … the great poets are my teachers.
I really love David White. John O’Donohue, Mary Oliver of course has such a beautiful eco poet. The Animus Valley Institute has a lot of great nature-based programs. I really appreciate the work of Francis Weller. He’s a Yungian psychotherapist in California. He does a lot of grief work. He leads courses. I really appreciate his approach.
Doug: Cool. Here’s a question I’ve heard. one of my favorite podcasters use: if you could have one message to put on a billboard or on the computer screen, desktop, every morning when people fired it up, what would it be? What would you, put on that billboard
Sarah: Oh gosh. What a question. I would say live your curiosity.
I find every day when I walk out the door, I am so full of just a curiosity, wanting to know, wanting to know what’s happening to the earth, the sky, the plants, wanting to know more. And I find that I’m never bored if I always am alive with my curiosity and my wonderment. So my billboard would have something along those lines.
Doug: Be curious,
Sarah: Be curious, Live into your wonderment.
Doug: Hmm. I love that “Live into your wonderment.”
Okay. So if people want to learn more about you, your website, is it SarahJeffries.com. And that’s S A R A H J E F F R E Y S.com. Where else can they learn more about you?
Sarah: I am on social media, Instagram and Facebook.
Yeah. Those are the best resources to find me.
Doug: And I really encourage people to go there to see your photography and your writing. It’s just exquisite. it captures that landscape so well. It brings forth the very things that I sense, feel – I don’t know – at some innate level, just know about that landscape.
Sarah: So beautiful. Thank you so much for those kind words.
Doug: It’s coming from the heart. Thank you, sir. I really appreciate your time
Sarah: today. Thank you, Doug, for having me.
Doug: This is Doug Greene and thanks for listening. I hope you enjoyed this podcast. You can see and listen to other interviews I’ve at WhatReallyMattersInterviews.com.