Nuggets From Fabiana Fondevila’s Call
Last Saturday, we had the privilege of hosting Awakin Call with Fabiana Fondevila.
Fabiana Fondevila is an Argentinian writer, speaker, teacher, and all-around wonder activist. She began her career as a journalist and war correspondent, working for the main outlets in her native country. Returning to spiritual questions, she then spent years interviewing some of the world’s top thinkers, mystics, scientists and philosophers in search of a map. And then, life transpired: her older sister took her own life after a lifetime of mental illness, and Fabiana’s parents died shortly before and after, undone by the pain. This led Fabiana deeper into the path. But this time, no books or schools or lineages seemed potent enough to shine a light in the darkness. By chance, she stumbled upon weeds in her garden that steered her to a treasure trove of ancient plant wisdom. Weeds led to trees, trees to birds, birds to clouds, and through this muddy, verdant trail she found her way back to herself.
Below are some of the nuggets from the call that stood out for me …
“It’s been a slow homecoming [to wonder]. Awe and wonder are an ongoing experience, a daily experience. … It’s actualized everyday, it’s not something I need to look for. It happens; it’s just there. Last night, I was sitting in my backyard … under the stars in silence, it opens up a world of meaning and vitality that’s so readily available.”
Nature as an Early Teacher of Wonder: “The earliest instances of wonder came via my contact with nature. My parents bought a piece of land when I was about eight years old. It was a piece of land in the middle of nowhere, and they never actually got around to building a house — we never had the money to build a house — on it. But we went there, every weekend, just to imagine that we could live and have a house there. It was a very wild place… the grass was sometimes up to our noses when we got there, because we had no one caring for it. And running around, the Eucalyptus, the smell of the earth, the wild plants — all of that combined opened up a door, to me, of the sacred. Of course, I didn’t call it the sacred then, but to me, it was a transformative feeling. A feeling of being alive that I hadn’t had before when I was going to school or watching television. That is in the background of my path and journey with nature and these explorations. When I had my children, and they were young, and when you have children, you recover that [awe and wonder] part of yourself in a way.”
A Different Kind of Daily News: Towards the end of her time working in journalism, Fabiana describes, “I began to move away from the everyday news, and the politics and the economics and the daily matters of the world, into another kind of daily experience, which is echoed by John Young, who’s a bird watcher, and bird “knower” (more than watcher — he talks about the bird language). He says every morning he goes out to his “sit spot,” (he calls it) to listen to the “daily news”. So that’s the kind of daily news that I am most moved by these days. I do try to not stray too far from them, and it’s not difficult because whatever is going on in my life, or even in the world in this very strange year, which we’re all concerned with, the sky is always there for us. The trees are always there for us. The wild plants are doing their thing, and so are the birds. And the rest of nature is beckoning us to come out of our small understanding of reality. That’s been such a rich and fertile path for me.”
From Journalism to Naïveté to Innocence to Wonder: After stepping away from news journalism, Fabiana wrote an article called, Dare to be Naive! “Today, I might not even use the word, ‘naive’. It’s funny how we change the way we think about these things. At that time, I was sort of giving myself permission to wonder into these territories that included such things as looking at a pigeon making her nest on my windowsill — and considering that the most important thing I could do that day — and just finding out which one was the male, which one was the female, and what was going to happen to those eggs. … I suppose I felt a little guilty about leaving behind more worldly affairs, so I was giving myself permission and encouragement to explore these areas of life. But today, I say I would perhaps not even use the word “naive,” because I think there is a little bit of a critical element to the word, “naive”. I think I would say “dare to be innocent”. Innocence is not a denial of reality, or a looking away, but simply a looking at life with fresh eyes and an open heart, and with wonder. That’s now the lens that I mostly use to look at everything, and I don’t consider it naive, I just consider it a different vantage point.”
On Wonder: “Wonder is only connected to positive emotion. Awe is the same emotion but with “scarier” thoughts associated with it. Wonder, awe, and astonishment are the emotion that arises in one in the face of something so vast and so powerful, and so transcendent and so unexpected, that it makes one rethink what you’re looking at, because you can’t comprehend it; you can’t quite take it in on one side. The first reaction is what happens to our breath. To me that seems very telling. You know when you see a very majestic night sky … or a piece of music or art, or a supremely kind act — anything you feel that is so huge and encompassing that you can’t take it in. What you do, instinctively, is you sort of hold your breath for a moment. Right? We go, “Ahh!” [gasp] … That gives us a bit of a clue as to what’s happening. Here, I’m quoting researchers who I respect a lot and whose work I’ve been reading for years — Dacher Kelter … and other awe researchers — they found that what awe does is it submerges you in the present for that time, however long it lasts. There’s no past, there’s no future, you’re not worried about anything… You’re there, completely at one with what’s happening. So this suspension of breath seems to me like — and maybe this is a symbolic or intuition of mine — it’s as if you want to make room for it and there’s no room in your chest, so you take in this big gulp of air. And then you sort of hold it for a moment, as everything stands still. At the same time, the other important thing that happens in moments of awe, is that not only are you completely present, but you’re also in the presence of something incredibly vast. That gives you a sense of humility and of being smaller and insignificant, but at the same time, you don’t feel disconnected from what you’re seeing — you feel part of it. So what you’re really feeling is: you are part of this unending, infinite marvel that is the world — that is life. And that causes an expansion, and a subversion, of our normal ways of thinking that, actually, leaves us transformed. … It’s not something that you just feel — it really does happen that after a moment of awe — if they ask you questions, for instance, if you’re looking at a large tree and other people looking at buildings. Those, after looking at trees, they answer questions that they had answered before, and in the second time, they say things like: they are more satisfied with their lives, they feel like they have more time (which is interesting, because time is a factor in awe), and they are willing to donate their time (because they feel more connected to humanity and the world). So this is all subconscious; we’re not thinking about this when it happens, but this just happens. Because what really happens when we are in the presence of awe, is that we are in the presence of mystery. And mystery becomes undeniable. It’s something that — when you’re seeing and feeling it, you can’t un-see it. So what I think this emotion is about — which I consider one of the most spiritual emotions — is it’s a window into the mystery. And when we allow ourselves to live it fully, and to become it, in a way, for as long as we can — to embody it — then we become what Joseph Campbell called, “transparent transcendence,” which I think is one of the pathways into the sacred that at least I am more in love with. You become transparent because you are sort of erased for that moment, and all you are is your connection to everything. So the heart is not the same after you experience a moment like that. And we all have experienced moments like this — we all look up to the sky, we see sunsets, we all see flowers, we all see children — but we’re not always open to the experience in such a way that we allow us to transform it. If, after that moment, you go back to your life and you completely let go of that experience, and you don’t hold it in your heart and you don’t let it do something to you — then it’s not such a transformative experience; it’s just a nice ‘high’ that you had in that moment, and it doesn’t leave anything changed. So my purpose with this book is to invite us all — myself included (because I want to remind myself of that everyday) — to dwell in the presence of the sacred, of the everyday sacred. And I think wonder is one of the doorways into that presence.
Rituals and Myths “Make Visible The Invisisble”: “The mystical insight that gave birth to different religions had to be translated into actions — actions that would usher forth these feelings, and place them in the world and give them a language. So ritual is a natural way of connecting — I would say it’s a symbolic way of connecting the sacred — the visible world to the invisible world. We need ritual to make visible the invisible. … It’s always talking about something that is not of the visible nature, but, rather, is speaking of deep and profound insights that we need to bring out into the world. Joseph Campbell said ritual was the enactment of myth. If myth is a way of looking at the world … Myths are these stories that we tell ourselves to understand what life is about — to guide ourselves through life — to give us a path and direction, so to speak, to have a good life, to have meaningful relationships, to face difficulties, to face death — if all of that is encrypted in these ancient stories called myths, then ritual is the way these stories were brought out into the world … We don’t have overarching myths today, because we’re living in a myth-less time — or at least the myths we have are not universal anymore, and some of them are not very nutritious or fertile or illuminating. But we do have personal myths; we all have stories that we tell ourselves about what is important. And I think ritual is a way to bring that into our lives in a more concrete way, and to share that with our communities. … The most important and effective rituals usually involve community.
On Loss, Grief, and Resilience: For my sensitivities, nature has always been the best company for my rituals. Mayn times, I’ve gone to a certain tree to speak to my sister and leave offerings for her. I’ve written to her and to my parents, and I’ve taken time to honor certain dates with certain actions. I’ve tended towards the simple and heartfelt, and not towards the elaborate. I’ve often involved my twin brothers … we’ve done some things together, the three of us … When my father died, I remember specifically, he died at home because thankfully we were able to take him home from the hospital. The day he died, we just sat around him and meditated together and bade him farewell in the way that each of us knew how. I think that was very important for us to do together — to take it into our own hands, and not let it be some institutionalized form (though sometimes you can’t choose ) … ritual is beyond time and space because the heart is beyond time and space. Maybe it’s all space. 🙂 Maybe that’s a way of saying it’s infinite space. Of course, we’d like to be with our loved ones and we would like to go through the rituals that each tradition and religion specifies for each moment, I think we can find some solace and comfort in knowing that we don’t need to be in a specific place to do a specific ritual in order to grieve or to say goodbye to your loved ones. You can do it from the place you’re sitting. You can do it talking to a tree, or to a bird, or make an offering to the land. Or cooking something for anybody else, and giving it out to a homeless person, or a person you love, in that person’s name. And that’s all that person needs to receive your message, or for your heart to feel it has honored that passing. Let’s be free in our ways of approaching this, because new times call for new measures and new ways of approaching ritual, but we can rest assured that the deep roots of ritual are wide enough and deep enough, to encompass any situation. People held rituals in concentration camps: they sang their songs, they had no props, no candles, only the verses in their minds. There’s an old story — it’s an old Jewish tale — there’s a village somewhere where there’s a Jewish community. They would always go out to a forest — to a certain tree — and perform a certain ritual when they had hard times. And then there are many deaths in the community — I think there was some kind of a natural disaster and many people died. So the next generation goes out into the woods, but they can’t find the tree — they can’t remember which tree it was. They just remember there was a certain tree where the elders used to go. So they find any tree and they sing the songs and they perform the ritual as best they could remember. And then there’s another catastrophe and another generation is gone. The youngsters go out into the woods, and all they remember — all that they know — is that the elders used to go out into the woods and do something. So they go out into the woods and they do something. And that is enough. And that is enough. When the heart is there, when there’s an intention to honor, then the body finds the way. The community finds the way. We really don’t need scripts for this — it’s beyond scripts. And the scripts were created by people living the same emotions, and the same losses and experiences.”
Rituals to Bridge Divides: “From an archetypal point of view … archetypes are these constellations of energies and images and impulses that live in us and through us. (For example, the nurturing instinct — the mother instinct — the lover, the seeker, the sage, the hero — these are different archetypes that form part of our myths. I was thinking recently that there are two archetypes that perhaps need to meet halfway in us, in all of us. These two archetypes are: there are two basic energies that most of us share. One is: the energy of being, and just embracing what is, and enjoying what you are and accepting what your life is. That’s the archetypal energy of the Lover. The Lover is not trying to change the person they love — they’re there to love that person and the nature and to be with what is. Then there’s this other energy, which we could call the Seeker, but also the Hero. It is all about creating what is new — going after something that’s not here already. What is a better way to do this? What is the new frontier to conquer? We need to bring those two energies together, because we need to be, and we need to do, and we need to do that almost daily. So an archetype that comes to my mind, or my heart, maybe just because I love to dance, 🙂 is the Dancer. I was thinking the Dancer is the idea of fusing — through the power of music and movement — the different aspects of ourselves that are also reflected in our relations to others. Because this other person who is speaking something so completely opposite to me, might see something that I haven’t seen. That doesn’t mean I have to leave my thoughts behind and embrace theirs, but maybe, if I can ask myself: “What can I learn from this person who is least like me? Who is most triggering to me?” That question makes room. It opens up some room so that I can maybe perhaps listen to something that I am resistant to. And that would be the role of the dancer — to bring me there and back — I come back to myself — I come back to what I cherish and know and want to put forth into the world — and then I sort of saunter or dance my way to other shores. And find what is there — and how can I incorporate some of their wisdom into mine, and bring some of my wisdom into theirs? I think there is a lot of integration we need to do between light and dark — between such heavy and difficult and painful times (such as we are living), and the capacity to manifest joy even in such times.”
A Jewish Ritual — Green Apples and Honey: “The Jews have this wonderful ritual in New Years — Rosh Hashanah. They dip green apples which are kind of sour, in honey. And they eat that. That is to remind themselves of the two polarities always being together: life is always sweet and it’s always sour. And when it’s being sweet, it’s good to remember that there will be times of sourness or bitterness ahead. And when things are bitter and sour and dark, it’s important to remember there are times of joy. … So to understand that all opposites are, in many different ways, complementary to each other. And we need the dark to be able to see the light in the first place.”
Lots of gratitude to all the behind-the-scenes volunteers that made this call happen!