About - Michelle's Story
Early Years, Early Struggles
I have been blessed to live an exploratory life. I want to share part of my story, to give you an idea of the things that have shaped my life and practices. I was born in Southern California in a time of rapid development and “progress.” When I was young, I watched all of the fields and farmland covered over with asphalt and concrete, and the stars stolen by the city lights. My innate earth-based self and my emotions were stifled by the artificial and rigid structures of modern society. My experience in the education system was particularly traumatizing, because I had difficulty with formal classroom education and was segregated as a slow learner. I only discovered long afterwards that the educational system of the 1960s and 70’s was lacking in the traditional life skills and mentorships that could have helped me thrive as a child.
The Natural World as my Teacher
In college, I was inspired by a professor who showed me that my career path could align with my passion for being in nature. I chose a degree in zoology, because I believed it would allow me to find work in an environment that I could thrive in. During that time a grant allowed me to assist graduate students doing their fieldwork. One trip in the desert was especially transformative for me. Up to that point, I struggled with grammar and was told I had learning disabilities; however, when I wrote about my experience of watching the full moon rise in the Anza Borrego Desert, my writing was lauded. I realized then that I learned best through experience and that the natural world was my real teacher.
Finding Belonging & My Place in the World
After I got my degree, I decided I wanted to do something to be of service, so I joined the Peace Corps and became a freshwater fisheries volunteer in the Philippines. Living in an earth-based culture for the first time, I began to understand how integral food was to life, health, and a relationship to place. Food was not something you bought in a grocery store, it was something that you put time into daily, and growing it was an essential life skill. As a result of my experience in the Philippines, I decided that I wanted to learn how to grow food in a way that would be transferable anywhere in the world.
I initially thought I would return to school to study integrated food production systems; however, when I was traveling in Nepal, I heard about the possibility of doing apprenticeships on farms. It was then in 1986, that I visited the Farallones Institute in Sonoma County, CA - now the Occidental Arts & Ecology Center (OAEC) –where I began an apprenticeship. It was just what I needed to learn to build living soil, be introduced to cultivated crops, seed saving, and nourishing food - all without the reliance of mechanization. Since then I have taught the art of hand-tilled organic agriculture in Mexico, Nepal, I ran my own Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) in North Fork, CA for eight years, and returned to my Mother Garden at the OAEC from 2004-2016.
Working in gardens led me to the study of health and healing. I became fascinated by Western herbalism and began studying the healing properties of plants. My studies of work of Dr. Weston A. Price DDS. helped me understand the deep relationship between nutrition and physical health. I also learned about the detrimental effects of processed foods and indigenous people’s innate wisdom of eating whole foods seasonally and the practice of passing on their traditional food ways to maintain health
Transforming My Inner Landscape
I had found my place outwardly in the world as a gardener, but I continued to struggle internally. I realized that I had never healed from my childhood struggles and inherited trauma from my family history in Eastern Europe. I began to see the importance of taking the time to cultivate my inner world and had the opportunity to work with an extraordinary hypnotherapist, Beth Stauffer, who I came to see as my spiritual mother. In the eight years I worked with Beth, she shared many tools that helped me create a loving relationship with myself and ultimately I began experiencing more ease and joy in the world around me.
At the end of 2003, I decided to take a year self-prescribed sabbatical to study herbs. At the end of that time I went to a women’s retreat at Spirit Rock Meditation Center to integrate what I learned about the plants and myself. At the retreat I was introduced to Tibetan Buddhism by Lama Tsultrim Allione. This experience opened my mind to a spiritual practice that brought me to an even deeper relationship with myself and the elemental world. I have been blessed to receive many extraordinary practices from Lama Tsultrim and other Tibetan teachers.
Not long after the retreat at Spirit Rock, I participated in my first Naka-Ima retreat, which is a practice of deep honesty with yourself and others based on Buddhist philosophy. Naka-Ima gave me a dynamic felt experience of releasing obstacles that had been with me most of my life. It was from this experience that I moved through my fear of public speaking. As a next step from the workshop I began the process of creating a three-day course sharing the Earth wisdom I was passionate about. In addition to the many teaching opportunities that opened up for me that year, I was also asked to officiate two weddings! Naka-Ima had such a profound impact on me and my relationship with my husband Barry, that I decided I wanted this practice to be an integral part of my life, so I began producing Naka-Ima in 2006. I have since become a spiritual counselor drawing on what I have learned from Naka-Ima and my Tibetan practice. I also offer soul retrieval, journey work, and examining inherited family trauma in my work with individuals.
Offering My Passion to the World
My life continues to be a great exploration into the sacred in all things. In this time of upheaval and change in our world, I am stepping away from full time farming/gardening in order to be of service with my broader skills. I know each of us has unique gifts to bring forward and that we are all needed right now. Whatever may be in your way, I invite you to bring curiosity and a willingness to move beyond any obstacles. In many cases this requires support and new tools. I offer what I have learned from my years of experience to support you in reconnecting to yourself, your partner, your community and the earth. Whether you want to grow your own food, take better care of your health or relationships, or find new spiritual tools for personal growth, it would be an honor to be a part of your journey.