The process of fitting in and learning what is required to participate in society teaches us many useful skills such as math and language. All too often, this happens at the expense of developing expressive and intuitive abilities and trust in our unique contributions and points of view, or what I call the ‘Wild Soul’. This represents our original blueprint or essential spark that makes us into who we are.
Drawing on the well-known metaphor of the acorn that already carries the majestic fullness of the oak tree inside it, I distinguish three characteristics in the process of acorn becoming oak:
- Its unstoppable life force and creative drive that empowers it to grow roots and reach for the sun. In Traditional Chinese Medicine this force is called ‘qi’, and exists in humans, animals, and even inanimate beings. Where the tree’s sap stream transports nutrients and maintains biological processes such as growing branches, blossoms and leaves, our life force energy pumps the heart to circulate blood, grows our fingernails and hair, and takes care of myriad other essential processes to support our physical survival.
- The external circumstances that influence its shape and form. Factors such as temperature, moist, fertile soil, light, space to grow its roots and branches, sudden environmental disasters, or animal damage to root, trunk, or leaf all contribute to the overall structure and expression of the tree. I liken this to our personality; we are equally molded by external circumstances such as prevailing winds that bend our branches in a certain direction, the depth of our roots that affect our sense of stability and so on.
- The unique identity or blueprint that distinguishes oak from birch or hawthorn. No matter its circumstances, the tree always remains its ‘oakness’. On that level of being, there is just no way that the oak could be anything different than what it was always meant to be, even if it is restricted by a wall or would receive less light in a dense forest than in an open field. This is the original nature or wild soul that I am alluding to.
For most westerners, this quality lies buried deep within. Perhaps we hear its whispers at times, but most of our upbringing, education and society do not seem to care very much for this original wildness. Instead, human beings are grown to conform to a specific (industrial, technological) system, like genetically engineered trees to produce paper more easily, or square tomatoes to meet transport requirements.
Being Yourself Through and Through
If we apply the tree metaphor to human beings, we could ask the following questions:
- What does it mean to be yourself through and through? Are you the same self when you are working, taking tea with your parents, creating art, or having solo time? Or are there areas of life that you feel more yourself in than others? This is different to the ‘roles’ you play in specific situations; I’m asking whether your original essence, your ‘youness’, is coming through to color your unique expression of that specific role.
- What external long-term conditions or sudden traumatic events effect the way you are, your beliefs about yourself, the world, and your place in it? How nourishing was the soil you grew up in? Were there external circumstances that stunted your growth? Did you have freedom to expand your ‘branches’ in all directions, or could only extend your limbs in the direction your family wanted?
- How does long term stress at home or at work affect you? Stress is an insidious but often unacknowledged factor that most of us deal with on a regular basis, and which severely hampers all levels of our health and wellbeing. Trees get stressed too, when they have too much or too little water, are exposed to pollution, or suffer damage to the roots. Yes, the tree will remain alive for a time, but if stress factors continue to add up, it will eventually threaten its survival.
In my view, the power of fulling being yourself, and the right to create situations where you are safe and welcome and cherished exactly as you are, are hugely undervalued.
Dancing in the Muddy Temple
This re-awakening of the core of our being, in vibrant connection with the living earth all around us, is at the heart of my new book Dancing in the Muddy Temple: a Moving Spirituality of Land and Body. It is my invocation to return to the Wild Soul within and without, with a deliberate contrast in the title – we generally don’t think of temples or holy places as muddy, messy, blurred, obscure and potentially full of holes and gaps…
“Whereas a transcendent spirituality in a clean and polished space requires or expects us to leave the mud, a body- and nature-based spirituality recognizes that the sublime is right here, in our moving, changing flesh and the land around us. That, to me, is what spirituality is about and which might, in addition, whisper some alternative approaches to systemic collective issues that we are facing at this time.” (Kieft, 2022)
In this light, I’m delighted to share that my long-held dream to dance with others across the globe is finally coming to life in my 30-Day Dare to Dance in Nature Every Day. I offer this as a playful and encouraging contribution to a growing movement of returning to the body, earth and the sacred, to resource ourselves and our magnificent planet in these challenging times.
It starts at the Summer Solstice, but you can join any time after, and in many years to come. You don’t need any prior dance experience to participate, and you can practice wherever you are. Connecting to the natural world through the aliveness of your moving body is an incredible experience, and I would love to share that journey with you!
- Join the Wild Soul Tribe, an online community away from social media
- Read more about the book Dancing in the Muddy Temple
- Sign up for the free Book Launch with some amazing speakers (21 June 2022, 19-20.30 CEST + replay if you can’t make it)
- Join the free 30-Day Dare to Dance in Nature Every Day (also starting 21 June, but can be joined any time)
- Pre-register for a journey into Embodied Spirituality, a series of 10 transformative online sessions starting October 2022.
Kieft, Eline. 2022. Dancing in the Muddy Temple: A Moving Spirituality of Land and Body. Studies in Body and Religion. Series Editors: Richard M. Carp. Lanham, Maryland: Lexington Books
BIO: Eline Kieft danced from a young age, including rigorous classical and contemporary training to become a professional dancer. She then studied anthropology, deepening her fascination with worldwide similarities between indigenous traditions regarding intangible aspects of reality and other ways of knowing, including embodied epistemologies and shamanic techniques.
She pursued her PhD in dance anthropology at Roehampton University with the late Prof. Andrée Grau. She also gained more practical understanding and hands-on experience with shamanism while studying with Jonathan Horwitz from the Scandinavian Centre for Shamanic Studies.
Eline worked at the Centre for Dance Research (C-DaRE) at Coventry University for five years, where she created a Somatics Toolkit for Ethnographers.
She left academia in 2020 to become a full-time change-maker and facilitate deep transformation in individuals and organizations through coaching and courses both online and in person. Her approach The Way of the Wild Soul offers a set of embodied, creative, and spiritual tools to re-connect with inner strength and navigate life’s challenges with confidence.
4 thoughts on “Oakness as a Metaphor for the Wild Soul: the Dance Between Life Force, Personality and Original Nature by Eline Kieft”
I wish you well in your new venture! Any way we can reclaim the wild soul in us matters…I look to the trees for they embody wild soul that has survived 5 extinctions and still lives on, or would is humans stopped killing masses of them. As you say the acorn becomes a tree – around here I actually plants acorns to watch them grow! – we are celebrating the waxing of the trees at the summer solstice – so much of their work is done – budding blooming, leafing new growth and now the setting of seed and pollen… trees work so hard in the fierce spring light…
A beautiful essay and photographs! Refinding our wild soul is a lifelong practice and dancing is such a wonderful way to express it. Due to some early health issues, I didn’t learn to walk until three years old, and my extremely intuitive and healing mother enrolled me in a dance class very soon after that, so I really learned to walk and dance at the same time. I’ve always thought this was one reason I’ve always had a perspective that was a little bit different, a little wilder, from most people I have known in my life. I hope you write more for FAR and keep us up to date on your initiatives!
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Hi Carolyn, apologies to you too for my tardiness – I think I wrote you back 4 or 5 times, each time not being able to log onto wordpress to submit the comment… Perseverance :-)
I’m so glad you liked the essay and the images! I totally agree that it is an ongoing journey, much weaving and winding, retracing steps, finding ourselves at new places on a familiar track…
That’s an amazing story that you learned to walk and dance at the same time, I am SURE that established different pathways in your brain than how most of us grow up!
Yes, I’m working on a new post at the moment, which will be released 1 or 2nd of July, thanks so much for your interest! I hope you’ll like that too!
Thank you so much Sara for your kind words. Apologies for my late reply – it’s been really difficult to get the comment posted and I had to try for several days!
Yes, in Qi Gong we speak of the energy being at its full Yang expression at this time of year: all energy at the extremes, the leaves, fruits and so on… towards winter it makes its way to deep yin…