On Sourdough, Attachment Theory and Existential Dread

On Sourdough, Attachment Theory and Existential Dread

How are you? A friend texted this morning. 

Can’t shake the low lying existential dread in the back of my mind, but able to make GF sourdough crepes despite it. I reply

I’d made the batter up the night before, so the batter could bubble, expand and take on that irresistible sour flavor over night. This morning, as the dull awareness of yet another day in social isolation broke over me, the thought of it sitting there on my counter, buoyed me. 

I ladled it on to a hot pan, watching as the bubbles formed lacy edges to the crepes, evoking memories of my childhood, Sunday morning crepes, while my father played the classical radio station and no one was in a rush to go anywhere. It’s not Sunday, maybe it’s Tuesday? 

Sourdough mania seems to be one of the more delightful outcomes of this pandemic. Like the TP shortages, this one doesn’t make any rational sense. There is nothing about sourdough that would seem to relate to a global pandemic. 

Why then are we all turning to this simple practice?

Maybe it was originally inspired by a shortage in bread yeast, but I think it goes deeper than that. Is it that we remember and take comfort from one of our oldest ancestors? The humble lactobacillus? 

Long long ago, our single celled ancestors formed an alliance with bacteria that made multi-cellular organization possible. Made us possible. Some biologist believe that the origin of our mitochondria was bacterial in nature. Biologist estimate that of all the cells in a human body, at least half, and maybe 2/3rds of them belong to bacteria. 

Before they knew what cells were, our human ancestors were fermenting bread doughs, vegetables, meat and anything else they could get their hands on. I’m sure it wasn’t lost on them that food kept longer when it was intentionally fermented. Did they also realize it make the nutrients more bio-available? 

It is possible that our current obsession with sourdough is ancestor. But it is also something deeper. 

In attachment theory we talk about shared rhythm as being one of the foundations for co-regulation. Rhythm is a basic signal to our nervous system that all is well. Threat has no rhythm, no predictability, it is chaos. 

In rhythm we re-establish safety. We see this in the many singing and dancing traditions that accompany religion and celebration, but we also see it in smaller ways: games, meals, greetings, walks. 

My daily feeding and checking the sourdough has become such a rhythm, and I find I’m relying on it more than usual right now. 

Attachment theory places emphasis on human-to-human co-regulation, but many, myself included, have been calling to broaden that discussion. We co-regulate with the more-than-human-world all the time. A call and response to the universe that tells us all is well. This is one of the foundations of animism. 

These macro-rhythms exist in the seasonal rituals of planting and harvesting, honoring the waxing and waning of the moon, but also in daily micro-rhythms. 

I boil the water, pour it over my tea, wait, the tea responds by saturating that water with tannins, caffeine, theobromine and a myriad of other small chemical miracles that scientists are still only discovering. 

I weigh and measure the flour and water, mix it into my sourdough, and the culture responds by consuming it and producing carbon dioxide, lactic acid and a myriad of other small chemical miracles that scientists are still only discovering. 

Rhythm can be a form of prayer, if you want to think of it that way. “Brew” I whisper to my tea, “Eat, grow” I whisper to my sourdough. “Eat, be well” I whisper to my family. A call and response with the universe that tells you all is well. 

Or even if all is not completely well, can we still make the sourdough in spite of it?

The Earth as a Living Being

The Earth as a Living Being

2919e13bI’ve been thinking a lot lately on my relationship to the Earth. By now we’ve all heard the concept to treating the Earth as a living being. James Lovelock put forth his Gaia Theory in the 1970s, Bolivia has enacted the Law of the Rights of Mother Earth in 2010, and most recently the nation has seen the efforts of this belief in action in the peace camps at Standing Rock. But I’ve been thinking lately about what that concept REALLY means. Because even though I’m in love with that theory, I’ve been noticing how is does or doesn’t show up in my life as practice.

For me it started with the simple idea of asking permission, and giving thanks for what I take from the Earth. For many years this only came into play for me when I was harvesting herbal medicines. Something about the sacredness of making medicines was enough to remind me to practice good manners in my harvesting.

Other times like finding a patch of wild huckleberries or fishing for Salmon in British Columbia, my response was more like that of an excited kid. “OMG! Look at all this!” and I would find myself caught up in the present moment, wrapped up in the pure joy of the abundance Mother Nature was throwing my way. I used to feel guilty for those moments, but now I think of my own son, and how at age 3 his child-like enthusiasm often gets the best of him, and he just can’t help diving in to what ever delicious treasure he finds. I think of how as a mother I take joy in his enthusiasm and love for whatever I have provided, and I hope that is a little bit how the Earth must feel about me. Surely the Earth must have some motherly grace saved up for her overly-enthusiastic children marveling at her bounty from time to time? Especially when the bounty is given as freely as a patch of Huckleberries.

In Braiding Sweetgrass, Robin Wall Kimmerer lays out what she calls the 3 rules of an Ethical harvest; 1. Ask permission, 2. Take only what is given, 3. Give thanks for what you have taken.

I’ve noticed that when I’m in direct relationship to the Earth it is easy to be in right relationship to her, even if I’m acting like a 3 year old and forget to ask please, the pure joy I feel at discovering that patch of huckleberries lets me know that yes, this gift is freely given. In those instances She makes it easy: Her beauty and majesty make it hard to do anything but feel grateful.

Where it gets hard is when the relationship between what I’m consuming and the Earth is so far removed, that I cannot find her in the thread.

As Kimmerer asks in her book: Where is the Earth in the aisles and aisles of plastic goods at Walmart? She is there, all of those polymers were once microscopic sea creatures that lived millions of years ago, but they are so far removed from the place they started out as, that it is hard to remember. And think of the line of people who touched those products to get them on your store shelves, it is almost dizzying. It is so much easier NOT to give thanks, not to think about it: To consume and get on with your day.

For those of us conscious of the idea of right relationship with the Earth we are forced to walk in two worlds. On one side the world where we recognize her presence, we directly interact with her, harvest, hike, hunt, and revere her. And the other world where we are forced to interact with some of the technologies that are harming her. Where I currently live, oil is the main fuel used to heat homes. And I need my home heated. So I walk the walk that many of you probably do: trying to reduce my footprint as best I can by turning the heat down, and installing a wood stove.

Doing all these things make sense in their own right, but there is something else I have noticed: When I move closer on the scale of right relationship with the earth, I feel better. I feel better about everything.

Here are a few examples of when I have noticed it is easiest for me to be in right relationship with the Earth:

  • Being outside, this may seem like a given, but how many of us go whole days without really spending some conscious time in nature? When I’m outside my whole pattern of thinking changes.
  • Getting as close to the harvest as possible. I feel really different about the food I prepare from the farmer’s market and the food I buy at the grocery store. It’s all food, but meeting the farmer, knowing that the food was grown on the same land I wake up to every morning makes a difference. That difference carries over to the way I cook and how I feel about eating. Since I believe that intention is the core foundation of magic, the way I feel about my food carries over as a healing intention that affects the way I prepare it, and touches everyone who eats it.
  • Harvesting myself, nothing beats harvesting by hand. The reverence that I slip into while cooking is doubled or tripled if I’ve harvested the food myself. It is true what people say about a web of life. You can feel yourself a part of it when you enter into the dance of the harvest. Whether I am casting my fishing pole into a crystal clear river, or gathering stinging nettles in the spring, the feeling is the same. “I am part of this place.” Of course harvesting from the wild brings great responsibility, and we are seeing a huge impact on nature from over harvesting certain species. But harvesting gets us invested in the land we live in. When we see the wilderness as another source of our livelihood, we are more invested in saving it.

Like I said above, it isn’t a perfect balance, but there are things I notice that bring me into greater relationship with the Earth. Making a conscious choice to do those things makes all the difference in my life.

Now I’m curious about you. What are the things you do that make you feel closer to the Earth as a living being? Where are the places you tend to stray? To forget? And most importantly, how do you find the balance? Leave me comment below.

Shadow work: Undoing White Privilege

Shadow work: Undoing White Privilege

Photo by Candace Allen

Photo by Candace Allen

When I was in my 20s I worked in a collectively-owned grocery store in San Francisco. During the time I worked there, one of my jobs was to train a new hire, and older African American woman, who was a single mom to 5 kids. I will admit, I felt a bit foolish, ‘training’ this woman who could probably organize circles around me, having raised 5 kids on her own. But I showed her our procedures, and my floor stocking routine, trying to be helpful and respectful. During one of our training sessions, as we were chatting about our lives, I told her about a movie I’d seen recently. I can’t even recall the film any more, but I referred to it as a ‘black comedy,’ meaning it was sarcastic and dark in it’s humor. She immediately questioned me about what I meant by black comedy, I think I defined it just like I did for you in the sentence above. “Why do you have to call it that?” She asked. I didn’t understand. “To me”, she continued, “black is beautiful, it is mysterious, like the night, why do you call a movie like that a black comedy?”

Immediately a million and one defenses rushed to my tongue. It was just a figure of speech, I meant no offense, she was just being too sensitive. Weren’t we allowed to have other connotations of the word black, that didn’t center around race? But something stopped me that day before a single one of them made it out of my mouth. “Oh” I said, “I never thought of it like that. Thanks for pointing that out.” She softened, the moment passed, but later she confided that she appreciated the fact that I didn’t get defensive and thanked me for actually listening to her.

The moment cost me absolutely nothing. Turns out she wasn’t even asking me to change my language, she was just sharing her perspective. But what I gained from that moment was invaluable. I learned about another perspective. My world view broadened. I gained a friend. All for a moment that didn’t even cost me a thing.

I’m not telling you this story to prove to you what a good person I am. Because there are a million other stories I could tell you about how I’ve failed when it really mattered. How I failed speak up for this same woman in a meeting with my department members. How I’ve said the totally wrong thing to someone and made a total ass of myself. About all the times when I DID get defensive. So believe me when I say, this isn’t about me being ‘good’.

I’m telling you about this moment because it was a moment when I learned that the cost of defending white privilege is always greater than it is worth.

I had the pleasure recently of inviting my good friend, a fellow witch and an activist Stevie Ann DePaola to speak to my students about her work combining activism with magic. The work she is currently doing centers around community organizing against evictions and police brutality in San Francisco.

She explained to us that the bulk of the magical part of the work she does as an activist is her own personal work. It’s shadow work she explained to us: sitting with the parts of yourself you haven’t examined before; your assumptions, your privilege, what you take for granted; the choices your ancestors made before you were even born.

It is hard work, and it is deeply rewarding work. It is work that makes us whole again. And it is the work that will ultimately be needed for us to heal white supremacy.

As Emma Lindsay writes in her recent article:

If you are a white ally, but are not aware of the pain of whiteness, when push comes to shove you will crumble. Because racial equality isn’t going to look like having a statistically acceptable number of black CEOs. Racial equality isn’t your life now, except with more POC friends. Racial equality will require a deep restructuring of a society that is founded on slavery. Gender equality will require a deep restructuring of a society that is founded on patriarchy. Society is currently set up to grant privilege to those who are able to do the tasks white men are good at; a more equitable society will value different tasks. (emphasis her’s)

When I recently posted the above article on my FB feed, along with a discussion of how white supremacy actually hurts white people, I got into a long and protracted discussion with a friend who ‘refused to feel guilty or apologize for being white’. Which is sadly how many white people feel when they hear someone mention white privilege.

I want to be really clear here: shadow work is not about guilt or having to apologize for how you were born. Shadow work is about knowing your full self, about looking at your blind spots, your wounds, your arrogances and gently but unflinchingly healing them in the light of your own inner gaze.

What does it mean to be born into the body that you inhabit? What does it mean to have ancestors that may have participated in the slave trade, or segregation, or race riots? What does it mean that many of the opportunities you have been given in life were made possible by the oppression of other people? How do those facts about you, facts that you had no part in creating, but that are still true, affect how others, particularly people of color, may view you?

Are you willing to give up that false power for wholeness? Are you willing to trade it in for the true power of knowing yourself?

When you can look at your shadow and see all that it holds, and still love yourself, you are finally whole. Which is what got me remembering that moment with my co-worker. I gained so much from what I didn’t say. I gained so much from shutting my mouth, taking a deep breath, and admitting that maybe for once, I didn’t know what I was talking about. In this case the moment cost me absolutely nothing, but sometimes shadow work does ask us to change things about ourselves. Sometimes there is a cost to it, but if we only focus on the cost, we are missing much of the value.

Clearly just doing the shadow work isn’t enough. That one moment didn’t magically make me a better ally to people of color. There is real work to do, and we have to blend our inner realizations with outer action, but it is a start, a doorway.

So why? I ask my fellow white friends and readers. Why are we holding on so dearly to something that costs many of

us nothing to give up, and when there is so much to gain once we do?

Why I Use the Word Witch

Why I Use the Word Witch

1This has been a sticky and difficult thing for me to be public about, but it finally feels like time to have the discussion.

I am a witch. I was trained by witches. I was in an initiation process for 6 years, guided by witches. All my family knows I’m a witch, yet I was afraid to say it publicly and online.

I am a witch.

Everyone has a reaction to the word witch. It is a powerful word. Many people feel negatively about it, some people feel intrigued and drawn to it. But most people make completely wrong assumptions about me when I tell them I am a witch.

For example: I don’t hex people, I don’t worship the devil, I don’t sacrifice animals, I’m not in a coven, and I don’t engage in ritual orgies (sadly). Are there witches that do all these things? Absolutely! (Except most witches I know don’t believe in the devil, we are a pre-christian religion.)

So why would I use a word that gives people the wrong idea about me?

The answer, for me, lies in history. In their groundbreaking text Witches, Midwives and Nurses, Barbara Erhenrich and Dierdra English outline how the witch-hunts of the middle ages served to divest women of their traditional areas of influence as village healers, and placed men as the authority over women’s health and women’s issues. Witches were demonized charged with all manner of things. So much so, that the word witch is now still means ‘evil woman’ in many parts of the world.

This divorced all people, women especially, from their innate sources of power: the earth.

For me the story goes back way further than the middle ages. To the time before the patriarchy. Back when women ruled the temples, presided over religious rights and were most likely the holders of political power in their communities.

Archeologist Marija Gimbutas who’s pioneering work in the goddess worship of ancient Europe, found no evidence of war in the early cultures she studied. No weapons, and no depictions of battle scenes. Not a single one.

I’m not naive enough to assume that these cultures were utopian, but they certainly seem to have figured out something we have not.

As religions dominated by male gods began to proliferate, so did war. Goddess religions slowly lost influence and importance until the only areas left as ‘purely’ women’s business were the common tasks of birth, death and healing. Until the witch burnings, that is.

With the subjugation of women’s bodies came the regulation of their sexuality. We are still seeing that tired story played out in our national politics.

For me the reclaiming of the word feel like the reclaiming of something fundamental. The right to know my body and it’s rhythms, the right to know the medicines that grown around me, and to know the simple remedies that can help my family. The right to birth my child at home. The right to bless him without needing a priest.

We are in the midst of what many have called the Great Remembering. We are waking up collectively to the knowledge and power that we all lost when we burned those women and men. When we shut down the goddess temples and when we stopped worshipping the rhythms of nature. For me, the word witch holds that, but it also holds something else.

It holds the scrappy anarchistic notion that we all have access to this power. It means something more that the word priestess, which I also use. As one of my teacher used to say: all you need to do to become a witch is clap your hands three times and say “I am a witch, I am a witch, I am witch!”  Accessing and honoring the power innate with in each one of us, is our birthright.

In reclaiming this maligned word, I seek to honor all those women, those who were of the craft, and those who where simply deemed guilty because of they were bright or unmarried, or simply didn’t fit the mold.

That is why I call myself a witch.


5 Myths About Living a Magical Life

real magic is not about escaping the mundane, it's about finding joy in it

real magic is not about escaping the mundane, it’s about finding joy in it

When I first took a vow to live my life as a magical act I felt so excited and giddy about the ways my life was going to change.  I was walking on cloud nine for weeks.  If you read my last post you’ll know that it did change in many amazing ways, some more amazing than I ever could have dreamed.  But I also realized some very profound and real things that taking this vow didn’t mean.  There are some very real misconceptions about the Law of Attraction, and walking a spiritual path.  I found that once I debunked these five myths for myself, I was much less prone to resistance about following my path, and I enjoyed my spiritual practice a lot more.  Read on to see if any of these myths might be preventing you from having a satisfying spiritual practice.

1. When Bad Things Happen It’s My Fault

Recognizing your own power to shape your life, and refusing to be a victim, does not mean that you are at fault when life goes awry.  Let me explain. I believe the universe is a vast complex ball of chaos that doesn’t fit neatly into our human brain sized boxes of cause and effect.  When we start to realize our own power, we often mistake that power for being omnipotent.  I believe that everything that happens in our lives is an opportunity to learn a grow, but its happening may have nothing to do with us.  Sometimes yes, the message is loud and clear.  You keep getting in the same fights with all your friend, you keep choosing the same crappy partner, you keep finding mates that are just like your mom or dad.  But life isn’t laid out and planned out from the beginning to end, there are the lessons we have to learn, and then there is Random Shit That Happens.

But doesn’t everything happen for a reason?  Yes, but the reason isn’t always ours to know.  What if that shitty thing that just happened is WAY better than what could have happened?  What if missing opportunity you really wanted just saved your life?  Not to mention that we live in a big world full of people all living their own lives, and learning their own lessons.  Sometimes we just get caught in someone elses life lesson.

2. A Setback Means I’m Going the Wrong Direction

I see this one all the time.  I tripped and fell on my way to class, maybe I should re-think the class.  I didn’t get that job, maybe I should re-think my direction in life.  Yes, when something is continuously hard to manifest, and we alway seem to be running into road-blocks, maybe its time to re-evaluate.  But if we quit every time we encountered one set back, we would get no where.  Chances are if one setback has you running for the hills, its has more to do with fear and resistance than divine intervention.

3.  If everyone got what they wanted, wouldn’t the world turn into Chaos?

Yes and no.  The flip side of learning that you are powerful and can draw what you want into your life is that you have to really decide what you want and why you want it.  This is learning about Heart’s Desire.  True soul-desire differs from greed because it serves a purpose.  It helps you do your work here on earth, and that helps everyone.  Greed is when we just want more, because we don’t know what truly nourishes us, so we keep needing more and more to fill the void that never get satisfied. And yes, there are those that use the powers of manifestation to get whatever they ask for, not realizing that they don’t really want any of it.  But that’s not what I’m talking about when I talk about waking up to magic.  I’m talking getting what really fulfills you, what makes your heart sing, so that you can give back.  And a world where everyone knew what that was, and had it?  That would be a beautiful world!

4. If I have the power to shape my world, what if I think a bad thought, won’t something bad happen?

We can’t control our thoughts. We can’t control our emotions.  Yes learning to lean more towards positive thought and healthy emotional expression is a good thing.  But magic doesn’t happen by accident.  Its not like the movie Carrie, where we wreak havoc with our anger.  Magic takes a specific conscious intention, it takes a ritual act to focus that intention.  Intentionally hurting someone with our words or actions has bad consequences, but not in the form of knives spontaneously flying across the room.  Yes if you are always thinking negatively, chances are you are surrounded by negativity, but only because you can’t see anything else.  You aren’t going hurt someone just by thinking badly of them, unless you are really trying hard to curse them.  And if you are, then we need to sit down and have a little talk about magical ethics.

5. But I’m totally on board with this magical life thing already, why do I still have dirty dishes to wash and debt to pay?

You know how in the books little faeries come and clean your house and do your dishes, or a handsome stranger saves the day?  Yeah, that’s never gonna happen!  The mundane tasks we may love or hate still exist whether you live magically or not.  The difference is how we look at them.  I still have to mop my floors, clean my room, feed my family and pay the bills.  But if I choose, mopping my floor can become a blessing or space clearing on my whole house.  Feeding my family: a spell of abundance.  Paying bills, well this is still a hard one for me to wrap my brain around, but what if every time you gave someone money, it came with a silent blessing: “may you have everything you need.”  It seems silly and small, but imagine how different things would be if every time money changed hands, it came with a blessing?  Its not in the avoiding of these mundane tasks that we find the sublime, but in the embracing of them as potentials for acts of magic.

And now I would like to hear from you.  What other myths about spirituality can you think of that have proved to be untrue?  Leave a comment below.  And if you like what you read, pass it along by sharing on Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest (easy social share buttons below)!




Want to make a difference? Three ways to start right now.


We all want to make a difference, feel like we are here on earth for a reason.  Truth is most of us feel totally unimportant when it comes to actually changing  the world.  We often think of grand external gestures that make the most difference to the world, but there are three simple things we can all start doing right now, that would radically change the world as we know it.  Now before you read them and get all indignant at me, let me clarify, I said they are simple, I didn’t say they were easy.  In fact, you could easily spend your whole life trying to master just one of these things.  But I do believe they are all connected to each other, and as you read them, I want you to imagine how different the world would be if we all did these things regularly.

Let yourself be vulnerable.

Author, researcher and speaker Brene Brown has written a lot about vulnerability.  She has identified shame as being the primary emotion that drives us to do bad things.  What she has found is that in letting ourselves be vulnerable, we find the courage to quit all the behaviors that we use to numb ourselves to pain.  We also separate from the shame cycle that keeps so many of us locked in misery.  In her book Daring Greatly she writes:

We all have shame. We all have good and bad, dark and light, inside of us.  But if we don’t come to terms with our shame, our struggles, we start believing that there’s something wrong with us — that we’re bad, flawed, not good enough — and even worse, we start acting on those beliefs.  If we want to be fully engaged, to be connected, we have to be vulnerable.  In order to be vulnerable, we need to develop resilience to shame.

She goes on to illustrate how shame correlates highly to violent crime, bullying, addiction and aggression, but that over-coming shame leads to innovation and daring: that in order to take risks we need to feel worthy and resilient to shame.  Notice how I said resilient, not immune.  In what ways does shame come up for you?  How has shame made you do things that hurt others?  Shame is a necessary part of humanity, but it shouldn’t be what shapes our every move.  For more great stuff by Brene Brown check out her TED talk.

Follow your heart’s desire.

In a previous article I discussed how our heart is the part of us that is most connected to our highest calling.  If each one of us had the courage to fully embrace what our highest calling was, we would live in a world where each person inherently knew, and felt, their own value.   When we aren’t in touch with our heart’s desire, in its truest form, we also find that we are drawn to material things, as a means to satisfy ourselves.  But we all know that money alone can’t buy you love, or fulfillment, or even happiness.  By truly tapping into what really fulfills us, what really inspires us, we find that we don’t need to consume as much, we don’t need to spend as much, and that alone would make a huge difference in the world.  Have you thought you really wanted something only to get it, and realize it isn’t enough?  Do you harbor desires that you don’t talk about because you are afraid they are selfish or trivial? For more on this, check out a talk I did this past May.

Realize your connection to everything.

It’s a myth and a falsehood that we are separate individuals with out connection to everything around us.  When we come from a place of feeling like we a separated from everything, we don’t consider how our choices affect our family, our friends, and our environment.  We also feel isolated, alone and cut off from that which truly feeds us.  One of the greatest lies of this era is that the earth is merely a collection of resources to be exploited by man, rather than a living breathing entity with a life all of its own. Read more about the  Big Lie and how it affects us.   The world around us is rich with things we cannot see or name, we are all connected to each other in ways we could never imagine.  Did you know that your heart has a magnetic field that affects people you come into close proximity with?  Or that most of us can sense what others are feeling even when they never say anything about it?  What if you lived your life knowing that you were part of an immense web of interconnectedness instead of feeling like an isolated being?

How do you incorporate or struggle with these three concepts?  Leave a comment below, and be sure to share this article if you find it useful.

Allison Carr LAc believes that healing yourself makes the world a better place.  Learn more about her work and classes at http://allisoncarr.net/
photo credit: nutmeg66 via photopin cc