Sometimes The Way Forward Is To Go Back

Return to Roots, Part 2


Sankofa is a word from the Twi language of the Akan people of Ghana, which translates to "Go back and get it."  It is often symbolized by a bird with its head turned backward taking an egg off it's back and represents the idea of taking from the past what is good and bringing it into the present to make positive progress through the benevolent use of knowledge.

It has become a guiding symbol for me in this next chapter of my life.

My past begins in the backcountry of Tennessee.  Not far from the birthplace of the KKK, I was born on a bus surrounded by midwives and my bearded, long-haired father. A bona fide Flower Child.

I grew up in a community called The Farm, where we lived in communal houses, pieced together in resourceful, if not haphazard, ways, with as many as 30 other people.  At its height our community reached a population of nearly 2000 people, making it the largest intentional community in the U.S.  

Founded in 1971 by a group of about 320 San Francisco hippies who were following their guru, Stephen Gaskin, The Farm was based on the principles of non-violence, sustainable living, unity, and spirituality.  Stephen was an ex-marine who taught English, creative writing, and general semantics at San Francisco State College.  His writing class evolved into an open discussion group known as Monday Night Class, where topics such as the psychedelic experience, spirituality, and ecological and social awareness were discussed.

In 1970 he was invited to speak at various college campuses around the country and was followed by a caravan of about 80 vehicles (many of which were buses, carrying large groups of young hippies).  During their tour, they found some land in southwestern Tennessee and decided to settle down and live their collective dream.

Our parents' generation took on a “vow of poverty” and lived initially without running water or electricity.  And though now there are such luxuries as flush toilets and A/C, when I was growing up we had outhouses and fans (if we were lucky).  I roamed the land with large groups of other children, called kidherds, and had a fairly whimsical childhood despite our humble ways.

Though hippies often get a bad rap for being lazy, we were hardworking people who grew our own food, built our own houses, started a soy dairy, opened a school, founded a book publishing company, a midwifery center, and an international non-profit organization called Plenty, which supports economic self-sufficiency, cultural integrity and environmental responsibility in partnership with community groups and organizations in Central America, the U.S., the Caribbean, and Africa.

Last December, back before the world shifted into this chaotic and complex unfolding, I returned with my best friend Ramona, a fellow Farmie, and our collective 5 kids.  In the last hour of our grueling 20-hour drive, the kids finally all fell asleep and we had a chance to talk.  I had fallen into another wave of depression a couple of weeks earlier and Ramona was suggesting,

“Why don’t you go back to Guatemala and build that eco-dome you’ve always dreamed of or…move back to The Farm for a while.”  

And so the seed was planted…

A short while later, after getting lost in the backcountry of Tennessee, and finding our way again under the dark night sky, we arrived at Drakes Lane, the entrance road to The Farm. 

This point always comes with a flurry of feelings—excitement, relief, joy, and... sometimes, anxiety. 

The air smells different, and crickets hum their nighttime incantations to the stars.

As soon as my feet hit the soil I felt an immediate transformation in my mood, which had been heavy and grim the whole trip.  


In fact, I might have canceled the entire trip had it not been for the fact that I had left littles in Atlanta with their dad after doing a birth in Virginia, with the plan to pick them up in two weeks on our way to the Farm.  Plus the kids had been looking forward to this for months, having missed the last two annual Ragweed festivals that happen in July due to my being on call.  

They were dreaming of seeing snow!


I woke up to the forest, a bubbling creek, and a freshness of spirit that I hadn’t felt for a long time. The more I thought of the possibility of doing a year sabbatical on the Farm the more right it felt.  Over the days that followed I reconnected with the land, old friends, midwives, and a dream that I always held, which was that when I had my own children I would return to the land to raise them in community.

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Now, don’t get me wrong.  The Farm is NOT a utopia.  It has its own sets of politics and problems just like anywhere else.  One of the biggest reasons I haven’t returned there is due to the lack of racial diversity.  There have been a handful of BIPOC people over the years who have been a part of the community, one of whom was very influential for me as my third-grade teacher.  He had a reputation for being strict so a lot of kids were afraid of being assigned to his class.  

But I loved him.  He didn’t just teach us whatever we were “supposed" to be learning in third grade, he also taught us conflict resolution, respect, and…civil rights protest songs.  Later our class would record ourselves singing those songs in the music studio as a surprise gift for our beloved teacher.

Still, it continues to be a predominantly white community and that’s the biggest loss for us leaving Miami (and the beach of course!).  I will miss the rich cultural and racial diversity of the community that I have cultivated over the years here in Miami.


But living urbanly has always felt like a compromise for me—the hectic pace, concrete jungle, and constant hustle, especially as a single mom and business owner.  


The Farm offers me and my girls a rich environment of connection to the natural world, a lifestyle focused more on being than doing, a long slow exhale and a reawakening of Spirit.  While I realize connecting to Spirit is something that can be accomplished anywhere, I find that for me urban living requires much greater effort and these last several years of my life have been full of efforting.  I’m ready to embrace ease —financially, emotionally, spiritually.  

My breathing is deeper in the woods and my sleep more sound. 

As our December days there passed I felt more and more called to return to the land of my birth.  The land and the memories from my youth beckoned me to explore my roots.  Since Amaya’s birth, I have been deeply submerged in shadow work, in the excavation of lost, scattered pieces of myself, and in their examination and my discernment around whether they still fit, need to be explored further, or simply discarded.  


Returning to The Farm represents more of this excavation, an opportunity to understand more deeply the culture in which I was raised with as well as my relationship to the Farm tribe.  

For me, The Farm feels a chrysalis during this midlife re-evaluation, a place where I can gestate new passions that have been emerging within my work and prepare for their birth.  It’s a place to explore the questions I am holding about my purpose, my daughters, and our personal and collective healing.  

It’s a womb of sorts, within which I can transition from Bellymama to MotherFly without the financial pressure and dizzying speed of Miami living.

What’s amazing to me is that despite the fact that my girls have only spent small pockets of time there, it has remained a special place in their hearts.  A place that symbolizes freedom for them as much as it does for me.  Freedom to roam the woods, play in the creeks, and wander from home to home visiting friends.  A place where foot and bike travel, home birth, and sustainable living is the norm, where houses and cars are left unlocked without question. 

A place where the collective noise of our world is dimmed by the quiet woods.

  
To be able to offer my girls a taste of this kind of freedom brings me great joy and at the same time, I worry about their safety outside of the bubble, in the heart of the deep south, only miles away from where the KKK was born.  

At a breakfast picnic last week I wanted to check in with the girls about how they were feeling about our big move.  Somehow the idea that we were stepping through a portal emerged and so I asked each of them what portal they were stepping through.


Jade replied,  “Mine is a beautiful path in the woods with flowers and butterflies.”


"What about you?”, I asked, turning to Amaya.  She paused and smiled and then said,

“Mine is the woods with flowers and bu-a-flies”

“Nehama?”

What she said blew me away.

“I feel like it’s the portal from my old self into who I am meant to become.”

Wow, that’s deep and it's exactly how I feel.

Despite the flurry of "what if’s" that have been bubbling up in the wee hours of the morning, disrupting my sleep as we approach the time of our departure and prepare to step into even more unknowns, what I do know is that what I felt last December in the dead of winter, was a sense of aliveness from the top of my head to the soles of my feet.


A full-body knowing that it was time to return.

 
And so I do so humbly, with an open heart, a curious mind, and an adventurous spirit.  At a time when the world seems to be falling apart around us, it feels good to be going home.
 

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