Tami Simon: Welcome to Insights at the Edge, produced by Sounds True. My name’s Tami Simon. I’m the founder of Sounds True. I’d love to take a moment to introduce you to the new Sounds True Foundation. The Sounds True Foundation is dedicated to creating a wiser and kinder world by making transformational education widely available. We want everyone to have access to transformational tools, such as mindfulness, emotional awareness, and self-compassion, regardless of financial, social, or physical challenges. The Sounds True Foundation is a nonprofit dedicated to providing these transformational tools to communities in need, including at-risk youth, prisoners, veterans, and those in developing countries. If you’d like to learn more or feel inspired to become a supporter, please visit SoundsTrueFoundation.org.
You’re listening to Insights at the Edge. Today my guest is Ashley River Brant. Ashley is a multi-dimensional artist and healer bringing her medicine through as the creator of Soul Tattoo, a ceremonial intuitive tattooing modality, as well as with film, photography, illustration, writing, and as the host of Weaving Your Web podcast. Her focus is to assist your clients and anyone drawn to her work in awakening to a new wave of feminine power and honoring the creative and intuitive power within us all. With Sounds True, Ashley River Brant is releasing her first book. And get this—she’s just 30 years old. It’s called Tending to the Sacred: Rituals to Connect with Earth, Spirit, and Self. As well, she’s releasing her first oracle deck later this year called Messages from the Heart of the Divine Oracle. I am so impressed by Ashley River Brant, by her clarity, and, most of all, by her love and generosity. Take a listen.
Ashley, by way of you introducing yourself to the Sounds True audience, I wonder if we can start out. You’re just 30 years old and I was reading that you had quite a tumultuous early life, tumultuous childhood, and yet here you are the author of a new book Tending to the Sacred about deepening our connection with the earth, spirit, and self. Tell us if you will, it’s a big open question in 10 minutes or less how you went from the difficult origin of your life to writing this book.
Ashley River Brant: Well, that is a pretty big question. I think when we experience trauma growing up as so many of us do. We often spend a good chunk of our lives searching, searching for something to make us feel better, to feel healed, to find purpose, to find belonging. This sense of unbelonging really fills us when we don’t have that natural sense of belonging within our family units. That was really strong for me, feeling like I don’t belong and then searching for belonging, searching for home on the earth and within my body and within some sense of family. I really found that through creativity, and I really found that through my creation with the earth, and my connection to the earth. It led me down this path of healing and it led me down this path of ritual, really using ritual as a bridge home, as a bridge to find belonging, as a bridge to find my purpose, as a bridge to find more meaning in life.
I knew my life wasn’t meant to just be painful and traumatizing and tense. I think when we’re born, we are already born wise, we’re born whole, and we are born knowing our purpose. That’s one thing that I felt was never lost within me, even through trauma and a not-so-easy upbringing; I still had a sense of some kind of purpose. I still had a knowing that I had something that I was here to do. That gift of remembering that really kept me focused on this path and kept me—it was just my North Star of knowing that I had to find home within myself. I had to connect back to myself, connect to spirit, connect to the earth, and create the life that I desired. And I knew that I was here to create, and thus the book was born.
TS: How would you language your purpose?
ARB: That’s an even bigger question. I don’t think purpose is defined by like, “I’m here to be an author.” It’s not really your occupation. But I would say my purpose here is to create and to help other people create, and to create from a space of desire, and a space of purpose, and a space of longing for something greater than maybe the circumstances that you were handed, because we all have this ability to create, even if you’re not a working artist like I am. You were born a creator, and I feel passionate about connecting people back to that creative purpose.
TS: You write how the book came through you. You describe it like lightning, that Tending to the Sacred—which is a 270-page book (and, granted, there are some images in the book, but not that many)—a 270-page book, came through you in a week. You wrote the book in a week. Can you describe—
ARB: Two weeks.
TS: —two weeks. OK. Let’s not exaggerate. No need to exaggerate—two weeks! What was that process like for you and how do you understand the process you went through?
ARB: Part of it I think was coming to the lands that I live on now. I wrote the book probably two or three weeks after I moved to the Redwoods, Northern California just outside Mendocino. There was something about the land here that was like, “OK, you’re ready. Start writing.” As soon as I opened up my laptop to started writing, it just poured through me. I’ve never experienced that before with another creative project. This is definitely my biggest creative project, so I was definitely really surprised by that. But I think every creation that we set forth to create is an entity. It has its own vibration. It has its own story and frequency, and your job as the vessel for the creation is just to align with that frequency. And I think by moving here, it helped me aligned with that.
It just came through me so quickly and there was also this sense that I had already written the book before. Like the words were coming through me faster than I could even type. It was already in my head. I have my oracle deck coming out in October, and that was a completely different story writing that and creating that. I’d say the book is very unique and really special, the way that it feels like an honor how I got to hold space for that.
TS: OK. I’m not going to hold back in this conversation.
ARB: Yes. Don’t.
TS: Yes. I won’t, and some of that I also think is the gift of your writing; in tending to the sacred, you inspire readers to bring forward their truth and to bring forward their self-expression. Towards the end of the book, you share about a past life memory that came up for you right before you met your publisher—Sounds True, that is. When you just said, “It’s like I’d written the book before,” it reminded me of this past life memory. I wonder if you can share that, and then I have some questions about that as well. But why don’t you go ahead and share the experience of this memory coming forward?
ARB: Yes. I was in Australia in March 2019. (The last few years are just all rolled into one.) I think it was 2019. I had met this woman from a friend, who was this elder woman in the rainforest, and I had a past life progression with her. I had done past life progressions before, but this one was very unique, in that every memory that came through was so directly related to writing this book and to making my oracle deck, to basically aligning with what wanted to come through me. I had this past life memory where I was a man, probably around the same age as I am now, not very old. I was a writer and I lived in this little, cute cottage, a one-room cottage. And around me were all elves and the little people of the earth, fairies and gnomes.
They were sitting on the windowsill and on the desk and they were telling me what to write. I was channeling their stories, their message, and it was all about how to live a creative life with nature, with spirit, everything that I share in the book basically. I was writing this book; it was written on a scroll. I wrote the scroll up and they were like, “OK, now we have to get it published.” I took it to the town. (I was in like medieval Europe, but I don’t know if I said that.) I took it to the town, and I met with some publishers, and they all just laughed at me. They all were like, “What are you thinking, talking to elves?” It just had that very patriarchal paradigm perspective on spirit.
I felt really defeated and I took my scroll and I left. I was walking back to my home, and I found this child who I was connected to somehow—maybe he was like a nephew or something. I was like, “You have to protect this scroll, this information, these stories. When the earth is ready, when the people are ready, then you have to share with them.” I gave it to this child, because I knew that the sacred was safe with children and that magic was safe with children, because they weren’t disillusioned by this world that we live in. That was it.
TS: I think my question has to do with how when we tap into past life memories. Whether they’re factually true or they’re metaphorically true, let’s leave that alone for a moment. But how we move through the healing process such that we’re empowered in this life, and that we don’t just engage in some repetition compulsion where we’re held back in the same way as we were previously. That’s what I’d like to really understand more about that from your own experience.
ARB: Yes. Well, in this particular life, the wound was not believing in myself and the world not believing in me. Which came first doesn’t really matter, but I knew that that is what I had to look at in this life. Could I trust myself to share these teachings that I know are channeled from deep within me, channeled from lifetimes of communion with the natural world, with the little people of the natural world, with the plants, the animals? Could I trust that? Could I believe in myself enough too, despite where the state of our world is? Could I put this work out there? Could I put this work out there, where I’m talking about past lives and spirit and not have that like witch wound come up? That fear of my life or fear of being publicly humiliated; that was the energy in that past life, is public humiliation.
The healing process for me looked at tending to that wound: What did I need in order to trust myself? What did I need? What part of me? It’s usually an inner child part needs some nourishment, needs love and encouragement, and where do I need to be my own cheerleader? Where do I need to be my own guide and mentor, to say, “I’m not going to repeat that. I’m going to put this work out there. I’m going to trust myself. I’m going to believe in the story, the medicine.” It took a while. I would say I actually wrote the book in the fall end of summer, 2019. From that time of writing the book until now that has been a lot of my healing process of deepening trust in myself, deepening trust in my voice and the medicine that I carry and not needing to be understood by everyone, not needing to be believed, not needing to be anything. Just trusting in the medicine.
TS: I want to go into this just a little bit more, and I’m glad you use this language of “the witch wound.” I want to talk to that person who’s listeninG who says, “I have a witch wound and I’m right in the middle of it. I’m in the middle of it. And yes, there’s a lot of stuff that I need to feel supported, and I don’t feel safe, and I actually feel afraid. And Ashley is really cool. I really like her. But what about me? I’m right here in the middle. What can Ashley say specifically to me the listener to help me further along? Maybe there’s even a ritual I could do that would be helpful.”
ARB: There’s definitely a ritual you can do. With the witch wound, I think the more and more we share our voice because that which wound lives in our throat, it lives in our voice. The more and more we share our voice, maybe it’s just one sentence a day, or just saying your truth to one new friend. It can be a small baby step, but the more we share our voice, the more we free our voice. It actually is that simple yet that hard at the same time. It takes a lot of courage. I think rituals for courage are the best place to anchor when conquering this wound. I know for me, with courage, there are certain symbols that I work with that represent courage to me. With ritual, there’s not like “you work with this one thing and this plant,” and the symbols are whatever the symbols need to be for you.
For me, when I’m working with the energy of courage, I like to really work with the lion, the medicine of the lion. Even when I was going through this really heavily, I made a flower essence blend of all of the medicines that represent courage to me. I took that every day before meditation. I used my breath and I used the element of fire, which I associate with courage, to basically breathe myself into a new level of courage in order to be able to share the way that I do. I do think just on a really practical level, having a support team is really, really helpful. I could not do this on my own [based on] how I grew up, where I came from, if I didn’t have support, if I didn’t have other witches around me. I have a whole group, coven, of witches, my friends, my sisters, my colleagues, who are all walking this path alongside me, and we share and support one another and amplify courage in one another. I think that is truly the most powerful thing.
TS: Now, you mentioned that in the writing of Tending to the Sacred, there was an element—and I think you use this word of “channeling.” Some people might have stopped listening to our conversation right then when they heard that word (so they won’t be hearing my question now, which is fine). You write that some people call you a medium, but you prefer to refer to your abilities as sacred listening. I wanted to understand more this act of sacred listening?
ARB: Yes. Well, just to start, I think that every human being, everything is a channel. Every plant is a channel. Everything is a vessel for the sacred to flow. Yes, there are a lot of stigma attached to the word “channeling” or to “medium.” Which is why I like to ground it down and say “sacred listening,” because in the simplest of terms, that’s all it is. It’s creating the space to truly listen. To listen to what wants to come through your being. It’s not necessarily something that’s outside of you. It’s something that is invoked, but it takes listening. It takes getting quiet. It takes creating the space, being still. We live in a culture that doesn’t prioritize any of those things. We’re never still, we’re never quiet. We’re really focused on producing and not receiving. Sacred listening requires us to be in a really soft, receptive state. And that takes a little bit of time to cultivate.
TS: Another thing you write in the book is that you believe that each one of us has a divine team of support. I wanted to know, specifically, if you could introduce us to your divine team of support. I’m putting you on the spot here, Ashley, but we talked about it, and I’m not going to hold back and you’re not either. So here we go.
ARB: Yes, I respect that. I would say the head of my divine team is my grandmother. She’s definitely the spirit that I feel the most safe and at home with, because she has always been my guide, living and now deceased. The biggest team of support are the plants for me, the plants and the flowers. I commune with the flowers and the plants just as one would commune with their ancestors. I’ve always had this really strong connection, and they speak to me the most frequently, and I would say the loudest as well. A lot of what I share is really informed by the messages that I’ve received from the plants.
Then there are other ancestors, other guides, guides that come and go, depending on what I am working through. Lately I’ve been really guided by the stars, different star beams, and also starfish, just really connecting to the element, that just sacred geometrical element of the star. I don’t necessarily feel that our guides are set. I think we come in with certain guides that stay with us throughout our life, and then we have guides that shift as we shift. We’re constantly evolving and we’re constantly going to have different team members who are going to guide us on the next step.
TS: Ok. I’m imagining different kinds of listeners at this point. Some listeners who are like, “Oh, I’m just so happy this is all being spoken on the Sounds True podcast.” Other listeners are going, “Say what? I’d like to have more of my own experience of what Ashley is describing. I’d like to have more of a sense of who my divine support team is. Is there a ritual, and a way I can open up my own sacred listening for that? What would Ashley suggest?”
ARB: Yes. Two things. One, I think the—I don’t know if I would say the easiest—but a good way to start is just to start with your ancestors. We all have ancestors. We don’t have to make ourselves believe that the spirits of the plants exist. We all have ancestors. We have trillions of them. I think the best place to start is just to look into maybe your most deceased relative on whichever family line that you are feeling more connected to. You can start by just really simple [things], getting to know their name, what they did, where they’re from. Maybe you eat foods that they like to eat or listen to music that they like to eat. Really simple embodied stuff, and then begin to communicate with them, just begin to ask.
Maybe you start to realize your dreams change. You start to receive different types of dreams, or maybe you see signs and synchronicities out in the world in relation to your question, or in relation to that ancestor. Maybe one of your parents starts talking about that ancestor. You’ll begin to pick up on those little trails that spirit is leading you. That’s one way.
Another way is just to be really general in meditation. Close your eyes. This is a ritual in itself, just to set the intention to connect to a guide. Maybe you have an intention of “I want to connect to a guide that’s going to teach me peace,” or, “I want to connect to a guide that’s going to help me with my purpose,” or whatever it is for you. Then tapping into sacred listening, tapping into that receptive, still, quiet space, making the time to receive and just being open.
TS: I have the feeling Ashley that no matter what question I ask you, if I include in the question, “Could you suggest a ritual for that?” you would say, “Yes,” which is really cool. OK. In the book, Tending to the Sacred, you describe how there are four pillars to ritual. I think it would be helpful to go over that. And I’m joking that “there’s a ritual for whatever,” because there probably is when you understand the pillars and how you can use them in your life. So go ahead and share with us these four pillars in your understanding.
ARB: Yes. These four pillars were not something that I really understood before writing the book. They came through me in a way that I was like, “Huh, wow, that makes a lot of sense,” but I had never thought about that before. But when you think of ritual from these four pillars—and the four pillars are belief, love, space, and intention—then everything becomes a ritual when you have those pillars. You can take making your cup of coffee in the morning and you set your intention. You’re creating the space to slow down and really make this cup of coffee; you’re making it with love, and you believe in the power of this coffee that’s going to give you energy today. You just made a routine into a ritual. That’s the whole point of ritual, is to change the routines and the habits and the things that we’re doing mindlessly into a more creative mindful act, and act of tending to the sacred.
So, the four pillars. We have intention. Your intention is like the oar of your ship. It’s pointing your boat into the right direction. Without your intention, you’re just aimlessly floating out at sea. There has to be an intention to anchor what it is that you’re trying to create. Maybe our intention is, “I really want to feel more peace today.” Then you move into the next phase, which is space: “Let’s create space for peace.” Maybe this is carving out five minutes to dedicate to peace or creating an altar in your home dedicated to peace. Just creating space in some way, and then love. Love just means your heart is in it. Don’t do anything if your heart is not in. It is number one rule of ritual, number one rule of creativity. Your heart has to be in it.
If you see all these people posting about the power of this one specific medication, or the power of this one specific ritual, if you’re not feeling connected to it in your heart, just don’t even pay attention. Make sure that your heart is in what you’re doing. Then belief—and belief is really just trust. Can you trust in yourself? Can you trust spirit? Can you trust creation? Can you trust life? Because that is what ritual is all about. It’s trusting that we can be the creators of our lives when we believe that there’s a power within us. There’s a power within the earth. There’s a power within spirit and that we don’t have to be the victims of our lives. We can step into that role of creator.
TS: OK. Let’s talk to that person who has that trust question mark: “I don’t know. I mean, I can’t make it up. I can’t pretend to trust when I don’t trust. I have to be truthful, and I kinda sorta trust, kinda don’t, sorta. That’s where I’m at.”
ARB: Well, trust is a muscle that grows. It’s something you have to work out. […] Your trust will grow the more that you do with intention, and then you see the results and then you’re like, “Oh hey, that worked.” So, you do it again and you’re like, “Whoa, that really works.” That’s how it is. It’s a slow process. Building trust, it’s a constant workout.
TS: OK. As I said, I’m not going to hold back. So here you are, and as part of your divine support team, you have a close relationship with star beings, with spirits of flowers, and also of trees, if I heard you correctly. I’m curious if each of these beings, these forces, want to make sure that we humans here are listening to them right now to the most important messages they have for us right now. What in your own art of sacred listening you would deliver to us from the flower? I know that’s big; there’s lots of different flowers. It’s huge. It’s huge, but you just get to give a headline.
ARB: Well, the biggest thing that I have been receiving from the spirits of nature over the past year is—there’s been so much—but the biggest one has been about creativity, how we as a species have blocked creativity, blocked the full cycle of creativity, because we are afraid to face death and we are afraid to grieve, and we’re afraid to look at what is not pretty or not comfortable, or maybe is painful. That resistance to death has created this resistance to life, and that resistance to life disconnects us from our own creative process. What I’ve been really receiving from nature over the past year is—well, nature has really been helping me finetune my own creative process, getting me really on board with the full process of my creation—but also, teaching that, and teaching how can we reclaim the role of sacred creator. There’s a lot of grief that we need to be working through as a collective right now. We can see that grief really mirrored in the earth. We can see that grief really mirrored in the state of humanity at this time with the global pandemic, and a global pandemic that has been affecting our lungs, which is where we store grief. Maybe that’s all I’ll say about that.
TS: Well, I think I’m personally tracking with you in terms of the fact that we have to be able to face and process grief in order to be fluid as creators. Tell me though about the part about denying death and how that blocks our creativity?
ARB: Well, death is creation. Death is birth. Death is not separate from birth. But we live in this current culture where we’re so consumed with producing, birthing, putting out more, looking towards just more and more and more, produce, produce, produce. We don’t really, as a culture, any longer allow process for that. I mean, we can even see in just how our current culture handles funerals. Once upon a time, death was like a two-month celebration. Someone would die in the village and there would be rituals and ceremonies for days and days and days and days. Now we want to rush through it and move forward and move on with the work that we have to do. There’s this disconnect. That’s a reflection of how we’re handling death as a culture—death as in actual people dying, but also in letting go, letting old parts of ourselves die.
We’re always going to be dying and shedding and rebirthing ourselves. This is the nature of being alive, of being human. And we are so afraid to change. We’re so afraid to let go and allow ourselves to become someone new. That’s really holding us back. That’s holding people back from standing in their purpose, or starting the careers that they’ve dreamt of their entire life, or going after what they really want, because they’re afraid. They’re afraid of death. They’re afraid of letting go. I feel really passionate about teaching people that death is powerful. When we allow ourselves to grieve, we are allowing space for new life. I know from just myself and moving through grief—I’ve moved through a lot of losses in my life. Every single time that I allow the power and the energy of grief to move through me, massive transformation comes through my life. Huge. It always blows my mind that the amount of creative energy that comes after death is so powerful. It’s like a miracle.
TS: In the mid 1950s in Bangkok, a group of monks discovered that a clay statue of the Buddha was more than it seemed. Underneath the outer of layer of clay, they found the statue was pure gold. The clay had been added centuries earlier to hide the statue’s value from those who might steal it. Tara Brach says that this story illustrates a human experience that we all share, that in order to protect ourselves from suffering, we conceal the beauty of our true nature until even we forget what’s inside. Our work, she says, is to recover our loving creative heart that we’ve hidden from ourselves. That’s the subject of Tara’s new book, Trusting the Gold. You can learn more at trustingthegold.com.
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Let’s give some good ritual medicine to that person who doesn’t feel that confident moving through grief. Sensitive person, feels a lot, knows that grief is something that they get stuck in. What would you suggest from a ritual nature?
ARB: There are two elements that I feel are really powerful when working with grief and wanting to move through the waters of grief, and one is air. So, really connecting to your breath. As I said before, we store grief in our lungs. So, using the breath to create space, create more capacity to hold your grief, is really powerful. Breath is also highly transformative, and then water—using water to soften, using water to let down your guard, to let go and allow the waters of your being to flow. A really simple ritual could be going to a body of water, like the ocean or a creek. If you don’t have a body of water, going to your bathtub or a shower and just connecting to the water. Using your breath to create space, maybe you’re doing some deep breathing, long deep breathing for a certain amount of time. Maybe five minutes, however you feel, and then setting your intention.
Maybe your intention is, “I want to be able to hold my grief. I want to be able to allow grief to pass through me without resistance,” then really imprinting your intention into the water. Water is the most receptive element. Whatever you’re projecting into the water, it’s going to carry that code, that intention. Then using the water to—if you’re in your shower, dunking under the water, pouring the water, if you’re with the ocean or river, putting the water over your head. Just using the water to do a sacred cleanse. Really taking your time and creating space for this ritual and trusting the elements. Trusting that the earth is here to support you and you don’t have to move through your grief alone. You don’t have to carry it all alone, the earth can help carry it with you.
TS: Now, I just want to go ahead and be upfront here that I find you a really remarkable human, Ashley.
ARB: Oh, well, thank you.
TS: Really remarkable human.
ARB: Coming from you, that’s such an honor.
TS: Well, and I mean it. At age 30, that you have processed and transformed so much and are so helpful and generous in your work. I’m awestruck to be honest. What I want to understand more about is really how you grew through your trauma as a person? How did that actually happen?
ARB: Well, there are more esoteric answers, and then there are some really practical tools that I highly recommend. I’ll share a little bit of both.
TS: Let’s go both.
ARB: Yes. First of all, somatic therapy is so powerful for releasing trauma from the body. Just to give some context, in the last three years, I’ve had two miscarriages, which are highly traumatic experiences. In recent years I’ve had a lot of trauma that I’ve had to process, not including the childhood trauma that I’ve been processing for much longer. But I don’t think I would have been able to move through those experiences without somatic therapy, being able to come home to my body, being able to release the trauma response from my body. Somatically, some of my other favorite practices are dance. I have an intuitive dance practice I do basically whenever I’m getting stressed. Or a few times a week at least, I am dancing to release any tension in my body, because stored stress, chronic stress is a trauma.
We’ve got to work on that too. And allowing myself to receive support. I think for a long time on my path, I felt very alone. I felt connected to spirit, but also felt very alone because I didn’t have a lot of people around me who were connected to spirit, and I was really young. My grandma died when I was 18, and that propelled me onto this path. I was like, “Oh my God, I’m a medium. I’m talking to my grandmother.” I inherited all these tools from her. So, having the somatic practices and then support, yes. Support, having people around me to help me, not being afraid to ask for help even though I know I’m very capable of self-healing and I teach self-healing. But healers need healers too. That was always hard for me, to allow myself to receive help.
I think that’s very normal for traumatized children, who assume the role of parent, or grew up really quickly or have to be really independent in order to survive, which was really my path, of having to be very independent. Meeting my partner was a big, big support, allowing myself to really heal my trauma at the root, because I was able to let love into my life in a really deep way that I had never felt before, maybe ever, besides with my grandmother. I think when it comes to trauma, it’s really important for us to be informed about trauma. To understand what trauma is, how it’s stored in the body, how we actually process trauma. Trauma isn’t something we process with our minds. It’s not in the memory of what happened to us. It’s in the response in our body.
It’s stored in our body, wherever it is, in your unique body system. We can’t really heal trauma with talk therapy, which I think is the old paradigm way of “Oh, you went through this; you should talk to someone.” Talking to people obviously helps. We need to express ourselves to feel heard, to feel validated, but that’s not necessarily going to heal you. I don’t really think there is a one size fits all method for healing trauma. I just think moving the trauma through your body in some way, and having some support is really going to be helpful.
TS: Was that all on the practical dimension? Did we get to the cosmic dimension?
ARB: Yes. I guess that was more practical. The cosmic—I would say that having such a close connection to spirit saved my life. I mean, being able to talk and communicate and receive and feel supported by the other worlds really kept me on track and kept me focused. I mean, I was guided. A spirit team member would say, “You should do this,” or, “How do you feel about doing this?” or, “You should talk to this person,” or, “Have you tried somatic therapy?” Very clear downloads would come through me, and the plants would speak really loudly like, “You should work with this flower and this flower at this time for the specific trauma.” Just [by] listening and coming back to that listening, I really believe that we have within us everything that we need to heal whatever. Whatever has happened to you, whatever trauma you carry, you have all the capabilities, you have all the tools, you have all the wisdom within you. But can you listen to yourself? Can you trust yourself? Can you trust your intuition and how you’re being guided? If you trust that, I guarantee your life will change.
TS: OK. I’ve never had a specific plant talk to me, let alone talk to me loudly. Can you tell me about what that’s like? What’s going on? I mean, you’re hearing something inside your head. What makes it loud? Maybe give me an example of a plant talking to you and what it said.
ARB: Well, all spirit used to talk to me very, very loudly. It was like being in a room with a million people talking at once. I had to, over the years, learn very strong boundaries with spirit. That doesn’t really happen to me as much anymore, but if I’m not listening, then that’s when they get really loud. But I’ll give you an example of my latest conversation. This morning I was talking to oat straw. I’ve been feeling pretty stressed out this week. I mean, I don’t know if “stress” is really the right word. I’m about to launch my first book. It’s a really big time in my life. So much change is coming through. I also have been having a pretty intense reaction to pollen. I’ve never really had allergies before.
Anyways, my system has been feeling a little bit inflamed and just fatigued. Last night I was like, “OK, I need a plant ally that’s going to support me right now. This week, I need it immediately. I need to bring my nervous system back into balance. I need to boost my immunity. I need to just feel back in my center.” I heard, “oat straw.” So this morning I made oat straw. I sat in meditation with oat straw, and I just went into that sacred listening space. I typically receive messages from spirit through seeing and hearing. I will hear messages and see messages. This morning—I don’t know if you want me to go into—
TS: No, no, no. I definitely want to know what you and oat straw talked about.
ARB: OK. Oat straw was telling me—well, first telling me I needed some rest. Sometimes the plants just really tell you straightforward, like, “OK, if you just rested, we would be avoiding all of us right now.” But they also reminded me to see from a higher perspective right now. I was, I think, a little bit in tunnel vision, of all of the things that I needed to do […] and stepping away from that higher vision of like, “I am creating this stuff to prepare for my first book launch,” kind of expanding out to almost observing myself right now, of observing me in this time of my life. Instead of being in there like, “Oh my God, all this stuff was happening.” They reminded me to zoom out and to come back into my grace. To come back into that state of being able to float in between all of the things with a really steady pace. Those were the big messages, and they gave me a bunch of downloads of more things I need to create.
TS: Well, let me ask you a question about that, Ashley—and I’ll bring myself forward here in asking this question, which is, when I first met my wife 20 years ago, she would tell me stories of conversations with different helping spirits. And I would say, “Isn’t that just part of your own unconscious that you’re projecting out in this voice because you don’t really want to own it as your own inner wisdom talking to you, so you say it’s the wisdom of blah, blah, blah.” And she just said, “Look, Tami, I’m reporting to you how I’m experiencing it. I don’t really actually know 100 percent that it’s inside me or outside me or what’s going on, but it feels outside me.” And that was enough, and I just stopped grilling her and went on having a harmonious relationship. But I’m curious what your response is to that question of isn’t that just some projection of your own inner wisdom.
ARB: Well, I’ve had this same question so many times. Not to me, but coming from myself. I don’t really know if I see the difference. I think when I’m communing with a plant, I’m bringing that plant into me. I’m drinking the plant or I’m taking an essence. I’m bringing that consciousness into me. It’s not outside of me. But still that plant has its own consciousness as well, so we’re just merging. There’s no separation.
TS: OK. You mentioned in your own biography—and I was grateful to hear more of the dots getting connected in your own journey, about how meeting your husband gave another level of love and support and grounding. And I suddenly felt the listener who says, “I want to meet my partner. I don’t have that. That would sure give me a lot of support. And I could open up more to if someone like that was living with me and loving me.” Is there a ritualistic approach that you think, “Huh, that will actually deliver results.” Or is that more just like, “Look, the universe brings you a partner like that when the universe and you are ready. There’s not a ritual for this, come on.”
ARB: Yes and no. For me—Andrew is my partner’s name; he came into my life the same exact week that I declared to the universe that I was ready to quit working for another person and to be my own boss and to make a living with my art. Andrew walked into my life the same week. I heard his name whispered to me in this really wild moment in meditation. I was like, “Who is this Andrew?” And then I met him. It was all pretty wild, but I knew that it was because I decided to step into role as creator. That’s what ritual is all about. It’s when you’re ready to be the creator of your life, then everything that you want will just come in there. It doesn’t need to be a ritual to attract love. There can be, if you want to set that intention and set that space to really call them in, but it’s not.
When we do a ritual, it’s not like, “OK, I’m setting this intention. I’m ready to call in the love of my life. I’m trusting myself. My heart is in it. I have the space.” It’s not going to happen tomorrow. It’s not like, “Boom. They arrive.” You’re setting the intention to basically spark creation. There’s death that you have to face—always coming back to that death energy—and there’s, “Are you willing to actually create new life?” There’s going to be tests. There’s going to be tasks that you have to do. For me, I really knew that everything comes back to me being in alignment with my creative energy and my creative power when it comes to my purpose and why I’m here. When I’m really stepping into that role of, “I’m here to share my gifts. I’m here to teach. I’m here to create. I’m here to share beauty, create beauty.” Then everything that I need comes in.
This specific month and time, Andrew came into my life, but also my best friends came into my life, at the same time, all of these things; everything I needed to support me with my mission just came into me like I was a magnet. I think when we want to attract love and partnership, we really have to start with ourselves. We have to make sure that we are in alignment. When we are in alignment, everything else that we need just will align with that.
TS: Yes. It seems very powerful what you’re saying, this shift into being a creator, being a creator. And in many ways, that seems like a through line of our entire conversation, talking about your own creativity as your personal way of being in the world. I want to hear a little bit more for that person who’s like, “I think get what Ashley’s saying, but I’m a creator, but I’m at effect with all these other things. Yes, help me a little bit more, Ashley.”
ARB: Sure. I think the seed of creation, how to really tap into that energy is to first figure out what we desire. […] We’re living in this culture right now where we are very disconnected from desire. We don’t know what we want. We don’t really have dreams anymore, big dreams or big desires. We’re just going through the motions trying to survive. But when we connect to desire, we can really shift from surviving to thriving. Desire lives at the seat of our being. We all come into this life with a very unique set of dreams and desires. That’s why when you meet a little kid, they know exactly what they want to be when they grow up. They’re like, “I’m here. I want to be a scientist,” and they’re correct.
Then maybe they get conditioned and their parents say like, “No, you got to do this to make money.” Or maybe they have a teacher that’s like really hard on them. We get shoved in these little boxes that are void of desire. Coming back to our creative nature is really coming back to desire. And what do we want? What are we passionate about? What would make us feel so fulfilled in life? What feels thriving? What’s the vision? What vision do you have for your life? And there’s no vision that is too big. If you can envision it, then it can happen. So I would start there. Casting your vision, figuring out what you want, what do you desire. If you feel like, “Oh, I just don’t have desire. I don’t even feel connected to pleasure.” Then step one, before that, is to get back into your body, because if we’re not connected to our body, then we’re going to feel disconnected from that pleasure center, from desire, from what our heart really wants. Coming back to the body.
TS: Very good. Now in Tending to the Sacred: Rituals to Connect with Earth, Spirit, and Self, you offer more than 50 ritual suggestions for people. One of the ones that I thought was particularly unusual, I’d never heard of before, was this notion of creating a self-portraiture as part of a ritual. Tell me about that and how you came to that and what its power is?
ARB: Yes. I’m an artist first and foremost, and my main mediums of expression other than ritual are illustration and film photography. I’ve been shooting in film since I was 18. That’s always been a big part of my path. And maybe in 2014 or ‘15, I was in a really rock bottom place in my life where I was like, “I don’t know what I want to do with my life.” I was in a not great relationship. I feel like I had no support or good friends around me. I was just stuck. So, I started to create a self-portraiture ritual practice with my camera. I didn’t really have so much intention in the beginning. I just was like, “Oh, I just need something to bring me back to myself. I guess that was the intention in itself. But I just started to create.
When I got the photos back, maybe a few weeks later, I really saw myself. It brought me back to my body. I got to see the beauty that is in this vessel that I was totally abusing at the time. Not taking great care of. I got to see the power of my intention really come into form. Since then, it’s been something that I do maybe once a season. I’ll go out with my camera when I’m going through some transformation, and I want to capture that and throw my intention out into the image. Actually, there’s this quote that I love by Meister Eckhart that says, “When a soul wants to experience something, she throws out an image and she steps into it.” That’s really what I think about ritual, and especially this virtual practice of self-portraiture.
You don’t have to use film camera like I do. You can use any medium of expression that calls to you, but it’s just an act of seeing yourself, of coming home to yourself, and seeing maybe there’s flaws, and maybe you witness all your beauty at the same time. It’s seeing yourself in wholeness. When we’re in our heads, we’re not really seeing ourselves, we’re seeing a projection that we’re creating in our minds. But there’s something about materializing the image, and to art, that changes your perspective.
TS: OK. I just have two final questions for you. Here we are, we’re celebrating the release of Tending to the Sacred: Rituals to Connect with Earth, Spirit, and Self, the creation of 30-year-old Ashley River Brant. I predict you’ve got lots of books in you.
ARB: I think so.
TS: Lots of creative work in you. What a gift for Sounds True to be in relationship with you. What’s your hope for people who pick up this book and find rituals and start exploring them? What’s your hope for them?
ARB: My hope is that people come home to their creative nature, that they remember that they are naturally creative. You don’t have to be a good painter; you are a paintbrush. Your body is a paintbrush. Your soul is an array of colors. You are a masterpiece. All it takes is a little belief, love, space, and intention, and you can create anything.
TS: And then finally—and this is a bit of an unusual question. Would you be willing to give all of us listening a blessing of some kind, that perhaps flows through you to all of us for this moment in time that we’re in together?
TS: Thank you.
ARB: OK. May we all listening to this recording at this time remember the elements within us. Remember the sacred waters that flow from our hearts. Remember the breath of life, the air that flows through our lungs. May we remember the passion, flames, the desires that burn in our bellies. May we remember that we are rooted here on this earth for a purpose, all connected to one another, all here in relation to the creative nature. May we find our way back to this creative nature that lives within each of us.
TS: I’ve been speaking with Ashley River Brant. The author of the new book Tending to the Sacred: Rituals to Connect with Earth, Spirit, and Self, as well as an oracle deck to come. And I’m so excited to be part of and to watch the next few decades of your life. What a gift you are.
ARB: Thank you so, so much. It’s an honor to be here.
TS: Thank you for listening to Insights at the Edge. You can read a full transcript of today’s interview at SoundsTrue.com/podcast. If you’re interested, hit the Subscribe button in your podcast app. Also, if you feel inspired, head to iTunes and leave Insights at the Edge a review. I love getting your feedback, being in connection with you, and learning how we can continue to evolve and improve our program. Working together, I believe we can create a kinder and wiser world. SoundsTrue.com: waking up the world.