Tell us more about yourself?
I have a BS in zoology and animal behavior. I then received my MHS in International Health from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and currently direct a study looking at HIV and people who have a history of drug addiction. I am also a Certified Life Coach as well as a trained hospice volunteer. My life’s focus has been to learn about nature as well as people and their cultures. This inspired me to travel many places: Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Algeria, Morocco, Thailand, Peru, Mexico, Panama, Europe, the US to name a few. As I traveled, I also focused on learning about my own identity. This led to doing three vision quests, two of which were in the Sahara Desert. I published a novel based on my experiences in the Sahara called, The Rhythm of the Soul.
How did you come to your passion/profession?
I have always been an observer. I was not only introverted growing up, but much younger than my three siblings. As I grew up, my observations fed my love of nature. I love to learn, so I read a lot and wanted to increase my knowledge about the world around me. Part of pursuing this passion was going to college to learn about animals (zoology and animal behavior) and graduate school to learn about people and health (international health). The other part of following my passion was when I made the decision that I had to travel to places in which I had keen interests. All of these external passions were fed by my yearning to not only understand the world around me, but to also understand myself. That is when I went back to nature through the practice of vision questing and other nature-based soul journeys.
Tell us about your childhood and what led you to this thought process?
My love of animals began very young with our family cat who, when I was a toddler, would follow me around like a dog and always want to sit on my lap. I have always felt a connection with animals, both domestic and wild. I loved helping my father feed the squirrels and birds in our backyard. Along with my love of observing animals was my curiosity to observe people. These fed my interests to pursue my studies and travels.
How many places have you lived? How has that affected your worldview?
I have only lived in two places – Baltimore, MD and when in my 20’s San Diego, California for two years. I have been back in Baltimore ever since. However, the travel bug bit me in my 20’s and it propelled me out into explorations far and wide, which I mostly did on my own. I travelled as a single woman from Europe, to Mexico, to Thailand, and more. I decided that if I waited until I found traveling companions, I would never get to see all the places that called to me. Going to different countries very different from my own gave me a deeper understanding of how we are all subject to the same human conditions, even though we have an amazing variety of ways we express ourselves culturally. I started to realize that, as rich and different as we may seem on the surface, we are more alike than not. The religious stories, myths, fairytales, etc. that we learn from the cultures we grow up in all have the same themes because really we are only human after all.
What do you think are three biggest struggles most people experience traveling?
As exhilarating as travel can be, it can also be exhausting. I can say that is true when one travels solo. But the upside of traveling alone is how you connect with people to share experiences and stories. Another struggle may be language barriers. However I have found that even when I have no understanding of a language, there are ways to communicate and what can help is to listen deeply and be very expressive with gestures. Figuring out directions in an unfamiliar landscape is also challenging. When you first arrive in a place, there are no bearings to know where you are and how to navigate to where you need to go. But traveling alone gave me a great sense of direction for the times I got lost and all the practice I got learning how to get back on track.
What were your unique impressions of the Tuareg nomads in the Sahara Desert?
I traveled with a Swiss organization that had already forged a deep connection with the Tuareg. Our group had the advantage of being with men who were used to guiding Westerners into their land. This allowed for all of us to share our stories and learn from each other over the weeks we were on our quest. I realized the deep wisdom the nomads have about a land that seems to offer so little sustenance. They are very intuitive and in tune with what is going on around them and with their camels. The connection they have with the earth and nature is still very strong. Their traditions have been passed down for generations, but modern times have placed many restrictions on nomadic living. They are feeling the harsh consequences and much unrest has been happening in the countries where they live – Algeria, Niger, Mali, Chad, and Libya. They are different in the ways that their environment, culture, history, and society shaped them, but when we shared stories about those differences, it gave us a chance to find laughter and empathy for how we all must deal with the conditions of life.
What is a vision quest? How does it help people?
Vision questing is choosing to take time away from your familiar, every day life to completely unplug from all the tasks and technology that weigh you down and go into a nature setting in order to seek greater depth and clarity about your life purpose. It is based on indigenous rites of passage that mark significant life transitions. There are a variety of organizations that lead vision questing, so it is important to find seasoned guides to ensure you have a meaningful and safe experience. Your work with the guides and the gathering of other seekers who go into the wilderness or place of nature involves a lot of introspection and sharing through journalism, dream work, medicine walks, drumming, etc., all preparing you to sit solo – alone for up to four days and nights while fasting. Sitting solo in nature is the hallmark of a vision quest.
What are three pieces of advice you would like to share with parents?
While I have never been a parent, I have been close with my sister and other single parents who were raising children. I can only provide advice from a vicarious perspective. First, as much as you don’t want to, inherent in raising children is wounding, which is necessary to help them grow and learn. Wounding may be as simple as taking your child to his first day of school and seeing him cry because it brings up fears of being abandoned. It is important to consistently reassure a child that you will always be there to provide love and guidance through the scary aspects of growing up. Second, there is no such thing as a “perfect” anything – parent, child, family, etc. There may be times when you feel proud and grateful and there will still be those times when parenting is hard and messy. Third, listen deeply to children because they have amazing wisdom. It may be hard to let go of being the knowledgeable voice of reason, but it’s important to allow children’s insights to be seen and heard.
How, in your opinion should one be open with other cultures when conversing?
One way that can bring openness is to be curious about another person’s culture. Show interest by asking questions to find out more, rather than make assumptions. People love to talk about themselves, so give someone a chance to tell their stories. Another way to let a person know I am open is to share my travel experiences of being in their culture.
Do you have anything to share with our readers?
My book, The Rhythm of the Soul, is a wonderful tale of a very brave young woman. One of my reviewers is a father of a daughter who writes, “There are so many gems of wisdom and moving quotes that cut to the core of what life is about… Being a father of an only daughter, I found it personally meaningful to have a story of a brave female protagonist finding herself in a world that too often teaches women to play small and deny their own hearts and truth. I highly recommend this book as a journey of self-discovery and a regaining of the dark, feminine wisdom that lies within our own hearts and helps us discover our full belonging in the great mystery of just being!” – Michael Brant DeMaria , PhD psychologist and author.