(Feel free to copy and share the following new interview with Wolf by Karin Casey, conducted in March 2008)
Casey: Over the years your books and articles have inspired readers with pieces on everything from sense of place to the power of the feminine, and from shamanism for the 21st Century to alternative healing. I notice that your words all seem to evoke something more real and intimately experienced, and the concepts you teach seem to all call to be experienced, manifest and acted on. When you describe something as common as water, it is in a way that inspires us to make it more real in our lives.
Hardin (smiling): Ahhhhh… to really taste it next time we have a cup as it passes the tongue and cools the throat, to intensely notice the heat and patter of the next shower rather than thinking only about the day ahead, to tune in to the patterns of local weather as the air thickens with moisture or thins and leaves the ground and plants wishing for more, and thus to act to conserve it out of a personal knowing and whole-body connection. Language can distract, numb and beguile, such as in the case of a despot’s rewriting of history, a television pundit’s spin, superficial conversation, shallow entertainment, and even the often self critical thoughts and monotonous prattle of our minds. But language can just as well be honest and meaning-full, relevant and timely, not only educating and evoking but eliciting and compelling.
Casey: I like your concept of words and ideas as “opportunities to powerfully change our lives, and to deliberately affect the world in our own personal and unique ways.”
Hardin: I love the literal “play” of words, but not as a substitute or stand-in for whole-being engagement and purposeful action. Ideally an article I write on food results in readers paying more attention to the integrity of the ingredients and the integrative and revealing process of cooking as well as of our meals’ oft neglected pleasures. The so-called silence between words is so alive with information-packed sounds, soul stirring music and telltale smells, visual and signals and satisfying smells, that language may best be reserved for conveying what matters most. This could be a lengthy conversation about how to remedy a problem, a well crafted poem that awakens us to pain or beauty… or a simple “Yum!” expertly expressing our delight in the food we’re eating, the inexplicably sweet scent of a baby’s head, or the sensation of a lover’s fingers on our neck.
Casey: You’re certainly someone who has “made it real,” starting with selling the engine out of your only vehicle and school-bus home in order to make the down payment on the Animá Center property some three decades ago. I’m fascinated by the restoring of a river canyon ecosystem in the mountainous Southwest, as well as your time turning it into a real wilderness learning center, but I’m even more excited that you’ve organized your insights and tools into online correspondence courses that seem to be affecting people around the world.
Hardin: It became clear shortly after arrival here that the insights arising through my work – and through this revealing place in particular – were meant to be shared with others… especially those of mixed ancestry, facing the complex challenges of current times. I did my best to serve that intention through articles and books, until finally compiling the understandings, stories, and practical and perceptual tools into a cohesive and accessible practice.
Casey: Your teachings are known as Animá (pronounced ani-mah). Were you thinking of Jung’s definition of the word, as the feminine aspect, or Freud’s associating it with the subconscious?
Hardin: The lower case “anima” comes from the Latin, and meant mind and soul inseparable. It speaks to both the condition of wholeness, and the vital force animating all things. You might think of it as life’s will to live… and the collective knowings of all life throughout time, housed in a system of interactions and interspecies, intergenerational relationships… much like human memories, which are recorded not in any one static place, but in the endlessly repeated firing codes of innumerable signaling synapses.
Casey: The practice of Animá, then, is being a conscious participant in all that.
Hardin: It’s being ever more conscious and courageous participants in the processes of sensitive being and responsive doing, willing and responsible co-creators of our realities and our world. Animá is the practice of awakening and enlivening, of healing and creating, of giving to others and giving back to the earth, of passionately applying ourselves to a meaningful purpose or cause while savoring and celebrating every detail and flavor, implication and lesson, reward and blessing. The “what” and “how” will be different for each person. Instead of telling people what to do, Animá provides tools for deep self exploration and broad interconnection, leaving it to each person to grow and actualize their most authentic selves, leaving them with the burden of choice, the instructive consequence, the benefits and the credit.
Casey: Your Correspondence Courses are divided into Path of Heart, Medicine Woman and Shaman paths.
Hardin: The Path Of Heart is built with self exploration, self-nourishment/self-love and finding one’s purpose at its core. The Shaman Path is for anyone wanting to intensely develop their awareness and other abilities, vision and wisdom, purpose and power. The Medicine Woman Paths are similar in intensity and goal to the Shaman Path, only with an emphasis on healing and medicinal herbs.
Casey: You and your partners also host a number of small wilderness based events there in New Mexico, including Medicine Woman gatherings in June and August, and a Shaman Path intensive over the July 4th weekend. Much of what you teach, in fact, draws from the lessons in nature. How important is it that in today’s world?
Hardin: Everyone could benefit from more time outside, apart from human construction and clatter, stimulated and informed, soothed by its wild balm. It places us in the context of those elements and forces that formed and birthed us, and that plead and prompt us in our dreams. It’s not just a more peaceful setting, but a glimpse of our larger corporal as well as energetic selves, the evolving whole of which we are each an inseparable extension, agent and part. We can contact that larger being and knowing through trips to wilderness sanctuaries and ancient “places of power” like the Animá Center, through time in nearby state lands and parks, but also by close attention to and interaction with a backyard garden, a personable house plant or visiting songbird on the sill.
Casey: So how does the practice of Animá help those of us who spend most of every month working and tending to families in the city?
Hardin: Animá principles and qualities like self knowledge, heightened awareness, discernment, intuition, empowerment and commitment are as important to an urban lifestyle, as to any other. Maybe more so. Whether in a city or out in the country, the quest for each aware being is to be a student to experience and instinct. To plumb the depths of our authentic selves with all the attendant abilities, challenges, needs and desires. To utilize our gifts in service to self, others, and earth… to justice, truth and beauty. To make every moment a decisive moment, and act accordingly. To trust our visions and live our dreams. To find and fulfill our most meaningful purpose. To taste every bite of food, cry and laugh freely, run barefoot through the wet grass, and let no butterfly go by unnoticed.
Casey: And we thank you for that!
Jesse Wolf Hardin is the author of over 500 published articles and 5 books including Gaia Eros (‘04), with multiple entries in The Encyclopedia Of Nature & Religion (‘05). His work has been praised for its artful blending of ecological awareness, personalized spirituality and self-growth, by luminaries as diverse as Gary Snyder, Edward Abbey, the Buddhist Joanna Macy, and the renowned musician Paul Winter. According to the author Terry Tempest Williams it is “only through the power, strength, integrity, and courage of people such as Hardin that our society will be able to change its direction.” His vision is luminous, an intimate yet comprehensive view of life in all its forms and interactions. The Animá practices that he and his partners teach, invites ecstasy and contentment as much as it encourages responsibility, meaningful purpose and action. For information on their courses, go to www.animacenter.org. A complete history of the Animá Center has been posted at www.animacenter.org/blog
-Karin Casey, March 2008