A Stranger Haven Podcast
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Writing

The Dark Woods

In the middle of the journey of our life I found myself within a dark woods where the straight way was lost.
— Dante

I entered the dark woods in April of this year when my marriage dissolved.  I lost my soulmate, my beautiful old farmhouse—Haven, my old cat Sarah, and my young wolf Maxwell.  The job that I thought would be my career until I retired crumbled into total disillusionment.  All these losses happened in about a month’s time, like a crack in the Earth opened up and all my bullshit fell through. By May I knew that the seismic shifts underway weren’t going to let up.  I might as well lay back, grab the lube, and think of England, ‘cause I was definitely getting fucked.

As soon as the school year ended, Daphne and I made our way to the lonelier, drier parts of Oregon.  We lived out of the KIA for a week, ate fried eggs four days in a roll for dinner, and sat by a lonesome crackling fire as the sun went down.  Brandon had always been the cook, but he wasn’t there anymore.  This was one of my many lessons in being alone.   

In July I lost $100 at an Indian Casino, drove my dog Daphne to Ashland/Medford to stay with friends, and drove back to Portland for the night to board a plane for Peru.  That day, Haven sold.  

In Peru I drank fresh coconut handed-delivered by the upbeat, handsome retreat host while swinging in a hammock and listening to tropical birds sing.  The monkeys would come around if we had bananas, and there was never a shortage of deep conversation.

At night we retreated to the uncomfortable ease of the Malokah, where the healers of the Shipbo tribe watched over us and sang icarros in the dark as we all departed on sacred journeys to other worlds—to places each private, each universal.  The shamans and the facilitators watched over us as Mother Ayahuasca, a sacred plant medicine used in Amazonia for more than 5,000 years, walked us through the pain and suffering of our lives, healed our hearts and bodies.  For nine days, I shat and puked, feasted and fasted, meditated, did yoga, talked and shared and healed. It was an immersive, soulful experience and I came to fully embrace myself for maybe the first time in my 36 years.  I met friends I felt I had always known and we shared an intensity in those nine days that is rare, precious. It was the reboot I had been seeking. 

One tattoo, thirty-four hours of travel, and two necklaces gifted to me later, I was back in Portland—a city that now felt oppressive and heavy.  My house had become someone else’s even though my things were still there.  For the first time in years, there was no dog home.  In the dog’s absence, I met a man I called brother who gave me a stone that helps me dream.  Otherwise, the city was a trap—one I had created for myself—and the walls were closing in on me.  For those two days that I was home, I hid in Haven with the blinds drawn.  Something wasn’t right.  Portland and I had severed our connection, and I needed to get back to Southern Oregon and to Daphne as quickly as possible. 

Southern Oregon was all dirty hippies and tea houses, old and new friends, horses, a bookstore named after the magick of the middle ages, a series of synchronicities and chance encounters, the feeling of being awa(k/r)e. 

After a week in Southern Oregon, I found a new highway into my sacred corner of the desert and dipped into Nevada at sunset.  Few sights compare.   I spent some quality time with my non-biological family in the desert, walked the playa barefoot, communed with the memory of the lake that the desert once was, soaked in a hot spring river, and chased jackrabbits through the greasewood shrub. It was the first time in a long time that I had been my own person. 

The reality that I couldn’t just go back to my old life was dawning on me. I had gone to Peru to find answers, and Mother Ayahuasca had sent me on a different path than the one I expected.  I don’t know where I will end up, but I know the next few steps (and really, isn’t that all that any of us ever really know?).  It begins here:

Effective today, I resign my position as a faculty member at Portland Community College. Teaching college was the dream I set for myself when I was probably 16—long before I actually knew what it takes to have a career in higher education today.  Teaching has been a great love for me, and at my best I experienced a connection to my students that is sacred.  It has been an honor to stand in-front of a couple thousand students during these past eight years to talk about life, current events, philosophy, what it means to be human, and to try to share my love of knowledge with students who are drowning in a culture of noise pollution.  Teaching has consumed me.  It has given me hope, it has broken my heart.  It has led me see more completely all the cracks that exist in our society, all the places where good people fall through, but it has also shown me the beauty and the resilience of those who seek their own answers and want to understand their own lives.  The seekers are too few in this world, but I still believe that every person has the capacity to wake up if they choose to.  I have seen it happen many times.  I’m honored to have witnessed so much growth and yearning, so much willingness to challenge and be challenged.  I’ve met so many great students that I will never forget.  For those students who are my friends here—Remember guys, we are the people.   

But much of what it means to be a teacher in a large institution today has so little to do with teaching and so much to do with the toxic, bitter politics of working in a corporate bureaucracy that pretends to be something else.  The final straw came for me last Spring when I witnessed the institution I had given so much to treat my peers and I with profound, cruel disrespect.  It was so brutal and so shocking that I knew I had to walk away.  

I am relocating to the Ashland/Medford area of Southern Oregon at the end of this month.  I’ll probably have to curtail travel plans and visits until I get on my feet again, but I’m very-much looking forward to this new life in an incredible part of the state where I already feel at home.  

To borrow a line from someone I met in Peru who told us every night before we set out into the unknown—Many blessings on your journey.

John Wright