An Interview with Mary Reynolds Thompson, author of Reclaiming the Wild Soul
My introduction to Mary Reynolds Thompson came via Journalverse, a site devoted to journal writers and teachers, conceived and facilitated by my longtime friend and colleague, Kathleen Adams. Mary participated in an online seminar I did with Kay, and later we met in person at a Wild Women, Wild Voices writing workshop at Book Passage in Corte Madera. I love how these circles go around and around. (Thank you, Kay!)
I first used Mary’s book as a morning meditation guide, reading and working through some of the explorations, inspired by her beautiful language and imagery. But this won’t be the only time I read and use this guide. I’m looking forward to attending one of Mary’s Reclaiming the Wild Soul workshops somewhere in the wild, soulful world.
Following is a series of questions and answers Mary and I exchanged.
What was the inspiration for this book; where did it have its origins?
Ever since I was a little girl and rode a pig called Romana over the dusty trails of a mountainside in southern Italy, I’ve been seeking my own wild soul. As an adult, I trekked the Himalayas, rafted rapids on the Klamath, backpacked the Grand Tetons, searching for a deeper connection with the sacred Earth. But it wasn’t until my late forties, as I studied to become a facilitator of poetry therapy that I began to consciously explore the connection between the wildness without and the wildness within. Drawn to the nature poets––Joy Harjo, Gary Snyder, Linda Hogan, Mary Oliver, Wendell Berry, and others–– I saw how their focus on the natural world always invited us back into our inner nature. The desire to learn more about the connection between outer and inner nature began to take root.
As an entry to your book, you present a prose poem: “In Praise of the Wild Soul.” What is Wild Soul?
The Wild Soul is that part of us that gets its sense of identity, power, and imagination from the natural world. When we humans began to perceive ourselves as superior and separate from the rest of the Earth community, the wild soul suffered. Like a wounded animal, it went into hiding, leaving us feeling off balance and incomplete. When we consider that for most of human history, humans’ primary relationship was with the land, it’s not surprising that modernity, which holds no place for deep nature connection, should leave us feeling alienated and adrift.
For a woman born and raised in one of the great cities of the world — London — how did you get from there to here: a self-described wild soul with such a deep connection to the natural world?
Well, there was that pig called Romana! And it’s true that southern Italy, where my parents took my brother and me on vacation, taught me early on that Earth is an enchanted and numinous place. But even before that, I sought to be part of the world about me.
My earliest memory is of being just two years old, still in nappies, in my crib. The afternoon sun beat on my shoulder blades through the window, the leaves danced outside, the birds sang, and down the corridor my mother moved about in the kitchen. I hated the bars of the crib that stood between me, and all that I loved. I tried to wriggle free. But my head got stuck between the bars. I screamed with all the power of my young lungs. My mother called the handyman, a big guy in overalls. I saw him approaching with a large saw in hand and received the message, “He’s going to cut my head off.” Of course, he cut the bars to release me. But this set up the central dilemma of my life: the deep desire to be a part of this world, nothing between me and trees, other people, you name it–and terror that in trying to be free I would literally die. In time, I began to realize that the natural world provided a pathway to connect with that wild and free part of myself. You could say the Earth mentored me in realizing my deepest desire: to break free of the cage.
Your book isn’t just about appreciating and connecting with the natural world; you use the Earth’s landscapes — deserts, forests, oceans and rivers, mountains, and grasslands — as metaphors for discovering our wholeness as individuals. How did you come upon these metaphors as aspects of our deeper selves?
In my early days as a poetry facilitator, I learned how one good metaphor can change a life. As I deepened into my work, I begin to view the primary text of the world, as the world itself. As this realization was growing in me, I was introduced to an earth-based coaching model that introduced me to a new way of working with earth consciousness and planted the seeds for what would become the five archetypal landscapes, or “soulscapes” that make up the journey of the Wild Soul.
Your book isn’t just for reading and then setting aside either. How do you imagine readers using your book?
Taken together, the book forms the classic arc of a heroic journey in which you set off on your quest by leaving behind community to enter the great silence of the deserts, discover ancient wisdom in the forests, plunge into the depths of your longings in the oceans and river, confront personal challenges in the mountains, and return to community in the grasslands. One way, is to read the book straight through with this in mind. Once you become oriented to the different landscapes, you can enter the book at any place you choose. You might ask, “Which soulscape am I in right now?” Or even, “Which soulscape would serve me most in this moment?” The chapters are short, accessible, and all titled with qualities like Silence, Rootedness, Flow, Influence.
How did writing this book change you?
I think more than anything it forced me into my mountain self—the willingness to take a stand, be strong, be visible. For years, I struggled to make clear the connection between the inner and outer wild. At first, I was told, you should write two books: one about the environment and another about the soul—they don’t belong together. It took me almost a decade to hit the right balance, and during that time I cried a lot and descended into some dark places. But I never lost the sense that this book was needed. I knew I was a channel for something that needed to be expressed. In the process, I got a lot stronger––as a writer, certainly, but also as a woman.
Thank you, Mary, for taking the time to respond so thoughtfully to my questions, and thank you again for writing this beautiful book.
Mary Reynolds Thompson helps people bridge the false divide between outer and inner nature, Earth and Self, in order to become more fully creative, connected, and alive. A certified life coach and facilitator of poetry and journal therapy, Mary is core faculty for the Therapeutic Writing Institute and founder of Live Your Wild Soul Story and Write the Damn Book. She is author of Embrace Your Inner Wild: 52 Reflections for an Eco-Centric World (White Cloud Press, 2011), and Reclaiming the Wild Soul: How Earth’s Landscapes Restore Us to Wholeness. www.maryreynoldsthompson.com and www.writethedamnbook.com
PS: One of the ways Mary shares the wild soul world with others is through a series of “Wild Soul Stories,” that she posts on her website. I was honored to be invited to share mine. Here’s a link: Judy Reeves’s Wild Soul Story