• Eric "Aspen" Marley

Wounds in the Woods: Why Evolution Is Our Only Hope

For those who read this essay and don’t know me, I recently decided to move out to the wilderness in the mountains of California. There is no house, no septic and no running water except for a small spring, and an adjacent creek on a neighbor’s property to which we have access. I live in a few tents, for the time being. Our small group is working to create a wilderness-based retreat center that will give people a place to come to reconnect to the Earth and to their Souls in a wilderness setting. It’s been an education; not only about what has to be done but about the nature of Self. Because out here, with far fewer distractions than I used to experience in a more standard existence, the Self is naturally more visible. We want to build an earth-haven, where people are as free as they ever will be to create what they want in their lives. However, because of my experience here, I am reminded that it’s not only about the location, it’s about what is brought with us to the various “sacred sites” in our lives.


I just moved to an ideal location for myself: 160 acres in some mountains in California.

Since I was moving alone, I packed my pickup carefully to determine what to bring. I didn’t have room for everything, metaphorically or physically. I threw a lot of things away - also metaphorically and physically. Taking only what I thought I would need, I believed I had the power to re-attain what I lacked once I arrived. In short, part of my decision to move was an attempt to align my life with a less-consumptive version of what it was before. I believe it’s wise and ethical to consume less than what my culture says I “should” be consuming. So, this move aligns with my deepest values, and that feels right.

But… I brought myself along, too, you see. I mean, to the property; to this sacred land upon which we have done many years of ceremony (four years of the Lakota Sun Dance, and many “Vision Quests,” both culturally authentic in an indigenous sense, and more accessible).

So, here I am, living in an ideal place, right? Yet, because I came here not only in spirit but in my human body which includes emotions, psychic wounds, desires, egos, etc., the aspects of my humanity came as well. And because that’s true, the conditions that those things always bring – regardless of geographical location – are also present. And any time ego comes to the party, you know a few “undesirables” are coming along, too, just to spice things up.

Ego: the biker gang bartender of our human selves. Oh, so cute. So, here’s what has happened over the past couple of weeks.

Simply put, when it came to a certain project, I bit off more than I could chew. I always did this when I was living in a more culturally acceptable way i.e., when I had a standard professional career(s), a home to live in, etc. Biting off massive chunks manifested before I got here in days that were overly-planned out and devoid of enough time to wander or wonder. These days were designed to fail in terms of getting everything on the “list” accomplished. Yet, it was what was and is expected. You’re all familiar with all this kind of condition, I’m sure. In the temporarily dominant culture that we’re in, it’s common to be too busy to enjoy our lives, or to evolve in significant ways; we’re just too busy. But this tired old egoic action manifested differently in this time and place. How it happened out here is that I committed to build a portion of several different structures to make way for more talented carpenters to come finish the work. This took superhuman effort for me, far more than I thought it would, including nights that went until close to midnight and started before the sun rose.

Again, this kind of effort is nothing new to me. I’ve started businesses from scratch, and worked 24-hour days and 100-hour weeks. But this kind of overbooked condition hadn’t shown up out here, before this particular project. The issue is that it created suffering for myself. That’s on me because I brought it here where it did not exist before. I was seriously burnt out even before my helpers arrived. When they were here, we worked well together, but I was not at my best. The day they left, last Monday, I was in bed and asleep by 430 in the afternoon. I didn’t arise until 430 am the next day. I was spent in every way imaginable. Even the 12 hours of sleep did next to nothing to replenish my exhaustion, let alone revive my spirit that was depressed because of it.

The question is, why do I bite off more than I can chew? What was that about, really? Why did I bring that part of myself to this perfect place and create difficulty that didn’t have to be present?

Answer: ancient wounds. Let me illustrate.

From the time I was an infant, my Dad often felt threatening to me. As an adult, he even told me that he was jealous of the time that my mom dedicated to her newborn son, their first born, when I was an infant. To him, as soon as I was born, he barely existed. At the time, he resented me for that. He actually told me this. And for this, I honor his vulnerability.

Now, in his defense, he was a young man in his early 20’s when these feelings arose in him. Moreover, he had no idea how to deal with feelings like these, nor would they have been expected. I doubt he even had the emotional capacity to call his emotions by the names, “resentment” or “jealousy” at that age. They would have simply manifested as a story with which we are all familiar: the egoic best-seller, “I Am Not Appreciated.” He would have used this story in passive and not-so-passive aggressive words and actions against my mom and myself. No doubt, empathic soul as I am, I felt that aggression coming from him before I could even speak. And also without a doubt, I felt protection coming from my mom.

So, who do you think I naturally want to please? My mom, at all costs. Why? Simple. The story my wound tells me is that She protects me from Aggression.

As my life has progressed and I have moved away from the idea of Mother as Protector, I have taken refuge in friendships from many of the women that have come into my life. Many of my closest friends, maybe most, are women. Why? Is it because I’m effeminate? No one who knows me thinks this about me. Is it because I can’t relate to men? Also, no. It’s because “Woman” represents a kind of safety that I have almost always been able to count on.

What does this have to do with biting off more than I can chew out here in the woods? It has to do with the fact that the early wound created a receptacle for a “fix” that was found in adulthood, in a comment made by my Mom, this woman who I want to please more than almost any other. That “receptacle” looks like this.

As a young adult, freshly graduated from Seattle University with a new daughter, a marriage less than five years old, and a new business, I was visiting with my mom one day. I was talking about my busy life, and was telling her how I still have time to go surf occasionally and work out at the gym almost daily.

“You get more done in one day than anyone I know,” she said.

I have to tell you that her compliment felt very, very good to me. Besides this (or maybe partially because of it), I gotta please my Mom, right? After all, she represents my safety, even sometimes in adulthood. At least that’s what the wound says. I remember that compliment seeming to say, “you’re on the right road, Eric.” It meant so much to me that it became a habit of mine to collapse as many wavelengths as possible during my waking hours. In other words, my habit of habitually planning my days meticulously, with plenty of tasks, was strengthened. Apparently, this happens no matter where I am - in the “world,” or in the woods. By the way, actions that tend to show up in force no matter the situation are typical of actions inspired by ego or, specifically, by ancient wounds. (The dude with the road rage isn’t ever merely reacting to being cut off. With an overreaction like wanting to damage the person in front of him, he was already stewing in some kind of egoic stew before that happened.)

In other words, my modus operandi is to bite off more than I can chew because the name of one of my egos is, “I Get More Done Than Anyone Mom Knows.” And this pleases mom. And pleasing mom means safety for Eric.

Since I brought Eric out here into the woods alongside my spirit, and since Eric is sometimes unconscious, some of the things that made me suffer out there “in the world” before I moved still bother me now.

Now, let’s talk about evolution. Specifically, the kind of evolution we are going through now. No, let’s wait a second. I want to talk about the Second Coming of Jesus, first.

I’m going to point out that this doctrine held by standard Christians, that of Jesus coming back to burn up all the wicked and allow the righteous Christians to remain, is flawed for precisely the same reason I cannot create a flawless haven on earth here in the wilderness without a few hiccups: the question is one of evolution. The culture has not fully evolved any more than I have.

If Jesus were to come back now, torching all the bad and leaving all the good to inhabit a new Garden - a veritable paradise on earth as the Bible describes it – those remaining would before long have the same problems as we do now. Why? Because humanity has not evolved enough to keep a paradisical condition alive, indefinitely. This is true with or without a clean slate and the presence of Deity: Jesus at the head of a theocracy. The people would still bring their wounds, unprocessed, to the paradise party just as I have, here. In other words, the price, were Jesus to come back today, has not been paid by the People in terms of seeing their own patterns, owning them, releasing the wound(s), discovering the gift inherent within it/them, and choosing more conscious, consistent actions. These are the price of personal evolution.

My work out here in the paradise where I live is to see my “stuff,” my egoic baggage, as it presents. It’s to acknowledge and release it while mining those wounds for both the stories they tell and the wisdom they bestow as I fearlessly process them.

Another way of putting this work uses a shamanic term to describe the process. The term is, “dying to the past.” A version of myself that is dead to the past doesn’t have a wound from a temporarily jealous father. It’s been seen, heard, and understood. It’s been forgiven and released. Therefore, I don’t have the corresponding “receptacle” of pleasing my mom, which manifests in days that are too full for me. The gift from the ancient wound would have been received, and the wisdom from choosing more conscious actions would be in evidence in habits that protect me. In short, people who die to the past are not bound by time; after all, the past requires time to exist. People who have done this work live almost entirely within the present.

It's worth noting that I also don’t know anyone who has done *all* their work. Maybe Gandhi had, or the Dali Lama. Either way, it ain’t common.

Along these lines, a woman in a FB group I’m in (Mainly Meditation) recently asked me in a private conversation where her Prince was. I’ve been asked this, many times, by my good female friends over the years. Good women are looking for their masculine match, and she’s a good woman. My answer in this instance is that she holds the key to this door, in part. Continue to evolve in love and consciousness and, all things being equal, what is needed will show up. It may not be the Prince she imagines. But it will be something princely, whether a man is involved in the transaction or not. Either way, she can make sure that particular door is well labeled and cared-for by continuing to evolve, by doing her work and healing her wounds. Knowing what she wants in a partner will help, too. If a man does show up, he will be exactly what she needs. Either he will show her a mirror, or walk alongside her in a desirable way, or both. But either way, since she’s doing her work, she’ll have to tools to stand in her own evolving feminine power regardless of either his Princely presence or his sometimes unconscious, egoic actions.

The same is, of course, true for men looking for a Princess.

And it’s true for Christians who are waiting for Jesus.

And it’s true for Idealists like myself who are trying to create something beautiful, who want nothing more than to create a way for humanity to evolve, to die to its own past, but that are still caught up trying to please their mothers so they can feel safe in a world that seems so dark, so oppressive and aggressive: natures foreign to souls that wish only for Unity.

In the end, it’s about evolution. It’s about processing and understanding that a change in scenery does not equal a change of heart any more than attendance at a weekend retreat does. It’s all about the work of becoming human, performing the work of Soul. The good news is that opportunities to do so arise as often as instants do.

We are as a nation, and as a world that has bought into our nation’s idea of "value," starting to see that what we have been doing is not working. Greed-centric capitalism, non-representative government, a scientific community that is largely bought-off, inherent racism and sexism: these are a few of the big problems that have been created by our collective ego as we've come to the place we are now. I submit that dying to the past individually and as a culture is the key to creating the "heaven on earth" that the Bible says that Jesus will bring to a few. Turns out it’s not Jesus but the Christ-consciousness in all of us that will allow the Paradise to return – and stay. I submit that the Bible was meant to illustrate this and that it has been misunderstood.

A culture that is dead to the past has made peace with the demons named Slavery and Genocidal Oppression by Colonials. It’s come to understand that oppressing the Feminine is not the path of wisdom and that an economic system without virtue will consume itself to death while generally enslaving 99% of the population. Those scary stories can be released when we’ve fully faced the consequences of such behaviors and institutions and moved to more conscious ways of being.

By doing the work of soul; by dying to the past and relinquishing the chains of time by which we are currently bound, we evolve as a species. Period. There is no other way. At the same time, by doing this we create soulful flowerbeds that are worthy of the seeds of peace that we seem so wont to sow in the midst of all this trauma we’ve been experiencing during this eventful year of (in)sight, 2020. Can we do this work? Can we work this work, together?

It would make my mom so happy if we could.

(Just kidding. Mostly.)

(artwork by Suzanne D. Williams)

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