Marilyn Hagar, Author of Finding the Wild Inside: Exploring Our Inner Landscape Through the Arts, Dreams and Intuition.

1. Why did you write “Finding the Wild Inside” and what does the “wild inside” mean to you? 

I started writing because I wanted to reflect on some important experiences I’ve had in my life, moments that impacted me greatly.  I had a sense of how they were related to one another, but I wanted to look more deeply. It soon became apparent that in my writing, I was following the underground river of my inner life from early childhood to my elder years. That beautiful river flows just beneath the surface in all of our lives. I realized that sharing my story might inspire others to explore that part of themselves more deeply and my writing became my book, Finding the Wild Inside.

I wanted to write about the non-rational part of being human.  This part of us is easily overlooked in our society because we are completely enamored with our rational minds. We want to shine a light on everything and examine things to the nth detail and just look at all the knowledge we have attained relying on this part of ourselves. But there is a whole other part of us, what I am calling our “wild inside.” This part of us thrives in the shadows, the twilight, the darkness. It likes to see things in their wholeness rather than all their tiny parts. It loves to wander in mystery and speaks to us in feelings, image, and metaphor. 

Our rational minds would just soon pretend that this other part of us doesn’t exist, but like the stars that are still shining, though we are blind to them in the day time, our non-rational selves are there and affecting us in every way. When we walk in the world relying on the knowledge attained from only one part of ourselves, we are not walking with our full potential. 

The reason I find it so compelling to explore this wild, undomesticated part of ourselves is that in this place, we humans have far more in common than we have differences. Imagine what it might be like if we truly understood that as we try to solve all the problems we face in our lives and in the world at large.

2. What is expressive arts therapy and who can benefit from it?

Others may describe it differently, but for me expressive arts therapy accesses this part I’m calling our “wild inside” through using art, music, movement, writing and drama for self-exploration. Our rational mind tells a certain story about our lives and our challenges. It has its own slant and is full of many judgements about who we are and who we should be. 

The arts are an open door to our non-rational self. If you are saying, “But I’m not creative,” let me reassure you. We don’t have to be one of the talented few in any of the arts to access the wisdom that can come to us in this way. We are all artists, musicians, writers, poets, dancers, actors, because it comes with being human. We all have a deep wellspring of inner wisdom. We just need to learn ways of accessing it and understanding the language it uses when it speaks to us. 

Expressive arts therapy dwells in the mystery of feelings, images, symbols, metaphors, dreams, intuition and synchronicity. We are creative beings. We are creating our lives in each and every moment whether we acknowledge that or not. When we make a move to align ourselves with our innate creativity we bring a sparkle, a freshness, and revitalization into our lives. Instead of falling into old patterns, spontaneity returns and from there, many new possibilities for our lives begin to reveal themselves. Everyone can benefit from exploring their lives in this way. In my work, though we address problems along the way, I have tended to work with clients who want to expand their horizon of what it means to be human. 

3. Can you talk about your creative retreat “For the Joy of It!”? What have you learned from leading creative sessions and workshops for over 40 years? 

I have been seeing clients in my expressive arts therapy practice here at For the Joy of It!” since 1987 and offering personal creative retreats on my property since 2010.

My work itself is a creative project, a living thing that comes from my own creative center. In my practice, I have had the privilege of witnessing the inner lives of so many. I feel my studio bursts with the energy of life lived, our light sides, our dark sides, the community of characters we all carry inside of us, all peeking out into the light of day asking to be seen, asking for our love and acceptance. 

In the end, I’ve come to believe that a full and creative life asks that we find a compassionate place inside where everything, the best and the worst of us gets a place at the table. As we find that love and acceptance inside, I know we will be more loving and accepting of those around us. 

My idea to have out of town guests come to For the Joy of It! on retreat is more recent. I live in the forest on a seven-acre property outside of the town of Mendocino, CA. Guests step away from their busy lives and slow way down. Here they can move for a time at nature’s pace. They stay in a room on the second floor of my house and have expressive arts sessions with me over the time of their stay. They have access to my art yurt while they are here as well. The yurt is full of all kinds of art supplies, a piano, drums and other instruments. It is a creative play space designed for everyone to enjoy. My creative retreats are uniquely designed for each guest and do not require talent, training or experience in any of the arts.

I know for myself and I see in my retreatants, that when we step away from “life as usual,” we are open to change in a way that our work-a-day world doesn’t allow. Supported by mother nature, and relaxing into ourselves, can help us direct our lives from a deeper place inside of us. This is what I most hope for, for guests who come on creative retreat. 

4. Have you experienced any serendipity or synchronicity in your work? If so, what is a good example?

The way I have experienced synchronicity in my life is when events in my outer world align in a meaningful way with what is happening in my inner process.  In Finding the Wild Inside, I tell several stories of synchronous experiences with wild animals around the time of my divorce after 25 years of marriage. For instance, I had to bury a little fawn who died in my meadow, just as I was awakening from the immature innocence of my childhood dreams about marriage and family. Soon after, as we were splitting up our worldly goods, disrupting my home as I had known it, an elk tore my tent apart on a camping trip. More recently, when the advance reader copy of my book arrived, I was surprised when within an hour of holding my book in my hands for the first time, a bear visited my meadow. My adventures with bears play big in my book. I had not seen a bear here in a couple of years. A friend suggested that my co-author had arrived!

Memorable synchronicities with the natural world often occur during my sessions with clients. A raven in the forest will call out, putting an exclamation point to something important being spoken in our session. Once a huge clap of thunder boomed, just as my client came to a profound insight about her life. It often happens that it starts raining just when a session turns to sadness and tears and the sun appears just as clarity is settling in. And, I was once talking with a couple about their sex life, when a buck deer, chasing a doe, circled my art yurt three times before disappearing into the woods. We were speechless and then couldn’t stop laughing. The conversation changed dramatically afterwards, with each seeing the other’s position much more compassionately. 

When synchronous events happen, I always feel like magic is afoot.  I feel blessed by the sparkle of what just happened and I am left wondering if maybe there is more to being human than I ever imagined. Maybe our inner worlds and our outer worlds are not as separate as we think. In those moments, it seems possible that we belong in our world in a way we have yet to fully imagine. If we open our eyes to that reality, then we must see that we are an integral part of the web of life that connects everything and everyone. Imagine who we might be in the world if that was our orientation?

5. Why should we embrace aging? And, what does elderhood mean to you?

It is important to embrace aging because it is a part of living.  Turning our backs on this natural process robs us of accepting our belonging to this wild universe of which we are a part. 

Ancient cultures understood much more about the circle of life than we do. The Divine Feminine archetype presents herself, the world over, in three phases, the Maiden, the Mother, and the Crone. In our culture, we are enamored by the Maiden, pay homage to the Mother but denigrate and deny the death bringing Crone. She is the one who is in charge of endings, disintegration, dissolution and the inevitability of our dying. Our inability to deal with this part of our human experience leaves us ill prepared to deal with all the losses we experience in life, the loss of a loved one, divorce, losing a job, children leaving home, illness. These are endings that we, most often, move through finding new life emerging. Change is central to our human experience, and throughout our lives we come to know the life, death, life cycle again and again. Holding the energy of the Crone at bay takes an enormous amount of energy, energy we could be dedicating to living more fully while we are still alive. 

Embracing aging doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try to remain as healthy as we can for as long as we can. We can cherish our vitality and honor the power of Mother Nature to determine whether we live or die. Underneath all of our rationality, we have animal bodies. Throughout our lives, we in this culture use our brilliant minds to run away from our animal selves, like Goldilocks ran from the Three Bears. I cared for my elderly parents in the last years of their lives. My mom lived to be almost 102 years old. What I saw was that in old, old age, our animal body comes back to claim us as its own. There is a harsh kind of beauty in allowing ourselves to be part of the circle of life. If we can’t allow ourselves to be held in that circle, we wander endlessly without ever knowing our true home.

For me, elderhood means being willing to stand in the circle of life, embracing life’s beginnings and being able to remain present for life’s endings. It means knowing that we are just a tiny grain of sand in the big picture of things and yet willing to dedicate ourselves to bringing our own unique expression in the world into full bloom. Elderhood isn’t about bucket lists, though it is important to ask what yet wants to be lived.  For me, it is more about asking what yet wants to deepen in me. It is about listening inside, ignoring the chatter and asking, “What is yet mine to do?” Elderhood is about holding my place in society but listening to the younger generations and trusting into their knowledge and good energy.  It is easy in old age to fall into bitterness and cynicism about the future but I want to be the one holding a beacon of light, trusting into the power of life longing for itself and offering my grandchildren hope for their future.

6. What are your thoughts on feminine spirituality and connecting to Mother Nature? 

We do not exist without the blessings of Mother Nature, yet we find it easy to take her for granted. The feminine is denigrated in our culture on every level. It was important for me to explore earth based spirituality and the matriarchal world view that existed before the patriarchy came into being. In her book, The Dream of the Cosmos, Anne Baring suggests that in our human consciousness, the Great Mother energy “was” everything (earth, sea, sky, everything), before a transcendent God became the “maker” of everything. When that happened nature and spirit were torn apart and we live with that split to this day. I never imagined replacing my childhood God with the Goddess, rather I am longing to heal that split, and bring Mother Earth and Father Sky back together. Our lives aren’t one or the other, day or night, light or darkness, sun or moon, masculine or feminine but rather about healing all of those splits inside of us and making our world whole.

7. Is there anything else you’d like to share?

I was one of so many who travelled to the path of totality for the solar eclipse in August of 2017. Watching as the moon and the sun became perfectly aligned was a moment of awe that will be with me forever. I felt like I was part of a timeless universe, where so many had experienced this kind of cosmic event over eons of time. At one point, I looked around at all those who were sharing this experience in that Idaho cow pasture with me and the thought passed through me that in the face of this cosmic experience, the political differences between us were so small as to be inconsequential. 

I believe that images guide us toward an unknown and not yet speech ripe future. That image of the masculine energy of the sun and the feminine energy of the moon marrying there in the sky with such astonishing beauty, can serve as a guiding image to help us heal the split between the rational and non-rational parts of our human experience. To my mind, hope for our world rests on manifesting our human potential in this way.