The Wild Alchemy of a River Gypsy
An Interview with Lakin Easterling
by Hillary Rain
Meet Lakin, also known as Elle. She is a poet who alchemises starlight and earthdust with what she calls a mystic's delight. For the record, she's also my personal secret life-support through her incandescent and deeply intuitive Wild Field Coaching. She's walked with me for some time now and I wouldn't trade her luminous witness and mirroring shamanic self for anyone in the world. I'm honored to call her a friend.
Here we talk about our otherworldly love for words, our passion for the mystic life, and our shared affinity for the music of Matthew Perryman Jones. Spread your velvet quilt in the wheat field, love. Let us pour the wine. Nestle in. Here is a sacred conversation between us.
Hillary Rain: Sweet wild gypsy poet, you are otherworldly and magical. We’ve shared luscious conversation and loved on each other’s spilled souls. Wrap me up in a story about you. Where did you come from? What brought you to earth?
Lakin Easterling: First of all, thank you for this. I have been honored to soul-spill beauty and possibility into the wild cycles we move through. One of the most basic parts of who I am is a poet. It’s hard for me to NOT write things with a lilt or hum to them. I love words. They are my skin, blood, and bone. I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t making up stories or finding new words to weave through the constellations. As I’ve gotten older, people have circled through my words and connected. Which is always surprising and delightful for me! I think it's the surprise that keeps me trying new things and crafting out of curiosity. If I can be called anything, it would definitely be Curious.
HR: You mesmerize me with your mystical dance between worlds. Your gift for intertwining language with bone is not something that can be taught but it rises within you like a mist watering the earth. I’d love to hear about your fresh beginnings. When did you first begin writing? Do you remember what you wrote? Who inspired your love for words?
LE: I've always been an avid collector of diaries and notebooks, and frequently have about ten blank ones waiting on the shelf for me. My earliest memories of writing start around six years old. At first, I started with a line a day. Simple things, but true statements that helped me connect spirit to the page. As I grew in age and vocabulary, I began to make up stories for my dolls and horses, adventures I would take them on, places we would visit together, races we would win. Fiction has been the trowel of uncovering my truth. Sometime in middle school, I really began connecting to the poetry of musical lyrics, and tried writing my own songs. That was miserable. But the spark was lit. Most of my earliest poetry I kept to myself, but I posted a few to a public blog I had in high school. I let the poetry grow as it wanted—like a mist, as you so beautifully stated. Which means my writing is very cyclical and in sync with emotions, circumstances, lessons, and moon phases. Very nonlinear; I’ve tried to be linear and it doesn’t work for me. To this day, I cannot force a poem if it's not ready. It has to roll around, be irritating and get irritated, draw strength and life until it is full and ready to slip out on it's own. I just sit with them and “bleed,” as Ernest Hemingway says.
HR: You’ve told me that you used to read a dictionary for fun. I love that, because I was the same way with my little Roget’s Thesaurus which was so tantalizing, thick, and juicy, ripe with words. What are some of your favorite words? What do you love about them?
LE: Oh, the thesaurus! I love that you love words in this way. Those books ... they're a playground, aren't they? I just love so many words, it’s hard to pick! Some of the longest-held ones I’ve gathered are curious, topography, constellation, because, spirit, travel, billowy, elf. I’ve got a dictionary app on my phone that picks a word of the day, and I frequently squeal over them. The other day I learned the word indagate, an archaic word that means to investigate or research. Which is pretty much my life. I also really love phrases in foreign languages that hold sway over the spiritual. Matthew Perryman Jones has a song called Cancion de la Noche, which means song of the night. I love the imagery of that.
HR: I don't know if I knew that about you, that you love the music of Matthew Perryman Jones, but I am so thrilled because both this song and Stones from the Riverbed are among my top favorites. When Mandy and I led our first Wild Mystics Into the Dark Night eCourse, one of our dear wild nomadic wanderers, Josie, introduced me to his lyrics of mystery and loss. I listened to those two songs on repeat for days. Music has a way of expressing what I haven't yet found words for and I'm constantly gathering playlists for inspiration. Jones' music provides a portal to invite these words through, and I need this, sometimes desperately. As a writer, one thing that frustrates me deeply are the times language eludes me. As a mystic, this tends to happen more often than not because I feel as though I have no words to communicate what I see, discover, feel, and understand in the wild dark or radiant light of my life and spirituality. Do you have barren seasons when words are few, when stories come thinned and threadbare? When you are overwhelmed with the joy or ache of living, and there are no words ready to express this? If so, how do you move through this time?
LE: Finding the language for things is often more of a floodgate for me. Anyone that has known me for a significant amount of time knows that I’m full speed or fuller speed; I don’t have a stop (or pause) button. So when I’m going through a period of low output, it’s has less to do with having nothing to say, but having too much. There is so much language and beauty and presence that hits me all at once, I feel flooded and overflowing, caught in currents and riptides. I often get completely overwhelmed with all the emotions and words tumbling over me. It’s just as maddening as feeling barren and dry for sure. Most of the time, I feel too heavy and full with words to move. It’s paralyzing. The lack of movement resembles a dry spell. The most helpful thing to remember is that the overwhelm is a season; it cycles out, just as the words will eventually settle and cycle into the harmony they’re shuffling to get to.
HR: Recently I hired you to craft a fresh River Gypsy bio for me. Under normal circumstances I wouldn’t share this because a bio-writer is like a phantom who dances in the dark waters beneath the surface of a river, a shadow in the forest of a writer’s life. But I am so incredibly moved by your words and the entire experience because you do exactly what I hope to do for others: you held a healing mirror before me and gently directed me to gaze at my truth. I wept over your words. I am transformed. I cannot share enough how moved I am through your creative alchemy. I believe everyone should have this experience with you, whether they need a bio or not. So can you share what goes into this holy work? I want the world to know the intuitive, shamanic-style process of your sacred reflection of others and what goes into the poetic mirror you hand over to them.
LE: It delights me to no end that you allowed me the opportunity to write a bio for you! It’s taken me some time to get to the point where I am able to even say this is something I do. It feels very vulnerable—scary vulnerable—because what I offer is extremely intuitive and spirit-led. When you invite to see you, to hold a mirror to your soul, I start by sending you a fabulous list of questions, each one a little beacon that, when put together, lights up your silhouette. From that point, I do a lot of my own little shaman-style diving. I sit in my “cave” (my bedroom), put on some healing and clarifying music ((ranges from Matthew Perryman Jones to alt-J and Sigur Ros)), burn some incense and sage, and begin to write. I take all the little pieces of light that have been entrusted to me, and shape them into a mirror that reflects truth, beauty, hope, and possibility. I pray and meditate over the words as they shift around until I feel a “click” in my spirit that signals I’ve unlocked a treasure chest of words, and then I hand the open chest back to you. It’s a very satisfying feeling before the bio is ever handed out; the process is very sacred and holy for me, and it’s always such a blessing to be able to do this for others. When I do hand the bio back, there’s a significant amount of pride, like that of a midwife successfully assisting and catching a newborn baby. There’s also a healthy amount of fear, and a pinch of self-doubt, because I’m just starting this as a physical, real offering. I’ve always been able to “see” people, to understand underlying motivations and pick out their struggles and gifts. Being asked to intentionally do so is a bit intimidating, especially if the person asking doesn’t really know what she’s asking for. My hope and intention is that upon receiving this gift, the woman (or man!) who sees herself for perhaps the first time is overcome with the grace of divine love and self contentment.
HR: Besides writing, what other means of self-expression do you adore? Can you share about your creative process and what brings you the deepest joy in your work?
LE: I’m a painter and sketch artist, more for myself than anyone else. I love moving colors around, chiseling images into being with graphite and charcoal, and combining surprising elements on a canvas to make something I resonate with. It’s a release valve for me, and an equalizer. I also love walking, walking anywhere and everywhere. If we had mountains in Florida, I would hike them. I’m satisfied with walking in the forest behind my house, and taking walks around the beach and waterfront parks scattered around our zip code. Being so revived saturates me with the allowance and space for crafting bios, writing poetry, and standing witness to the wildness of the soul.
HR: What are your dreams for your own personal growth and creative future? I’d love to hear you vision-cast for your own heart.
LE: The answer to this question is ever-changing. Right now, I’d love to be able to write, read books, talk with others who enjoy books, hand out my little bios and soul sessions, and reclaim the way the American university is structured. Working from home is always in the back of my mind, but being an alpha female (meaning that I enjoy keeping track of many things and like a bird’s eye view of my life), I feel like I would also need to spread my wings out a bit farther. I have dreams of being a Rhodes scholar, librarian, going for my doctorate, being a professor, owning my own bookshop and publishing house, and building my own university.
HR: You are a wife and mother of two dreamy little wee fae children. How do you intertwine mothering with living your dreams as an artist? How has motherhood shaped you as a creative?
LE: Motherhood has been the biggest blessing and the hardest hat for me to wear. My limits and strengths are tested on the daily, and I fail quite often. But failing is part of the alchemic process, you know? I’m okay with figuring out what not to do in order to understand the processes that do work. And with kids, it’s a constant collaboration. Their experiments are just as important as mine, and I’m always trying to create room for them to play in freedom and strength as I’m doing for myself. Providing them with independence and full joy are my main intentions with motherhood. And they are the two best kids to give those things to!
HR: You’ve penned so many lush poems that leave me breathless. I’d love to know if you have any personal favorites, or other works that are especially dear to you? Can you share them and why they hold such meaning to you?
LE: Oh, favorites?! I suppose I have some, even though maybe as the author, I shouldn’t. But I love Story Stones, Nomadic Faith, Clocktower, and many of my National Poetry Writing Month poems. Ishmael is one of my more favorites from that set. Jezreel in the Valley of Achor is another one close to my heart. I have a tendency to write a bunch about dragons … my favorite of which was actually a prophetic dream I had over a year ago. My favorite dragon poem is Just Last the Year, where I expound a bit on the antagonistic side of things, per my 5w4 nature. I think all of the poems are each very indicative of the spiritual place of learning I walked through at the time they were penned. It’s really wonderful to go back and read them, even the dark things, because they are, in their own ways, little shards of the mirror I am making for myself.
HR: Like me, you identify as a mystic. Can you explain what being a mystic, or mysticism, means to you?
LE: Mysticism is something I have a hard time naming. It seems to shapeshift and change as soon as I come up with a name or description. My first encounter with grace happened to be through the form of mysticism. Learning about mysticism has given me many squeals of delight, late nights wrapped in the warmth of allowance, and a fresh feeling in my spirit, like I’ve emerged from a cold creek for my first breath after a long swim. Mysticism is an open gate and a constellation guide. It is my grand experiment and the tools through which I measure, heat, and pour the mixtures. They don’t always turn out, but I’m allowed to try. I’m allowed to learn. I’m allowed to get my hands dirty, wear my favorite sweater, spill paint on the carpet, decide I hate the creation story, decide I want to learn about angels, tell everyone about my newest hairbrained idea in a rush of excitement and school-girl giddiness, or keep everything hidden in a messy journal until long after I’m dead. Mysticism is freedom of self, of divinity, and of exploration.
HR: What shaped this spiritual path? How does it influence your work as a writer, an artist, a wife, friend, and mother? Meaning, how does it manifest in your everyday life?
LE: Around five years ago, I was newly married, barely into my twenties, and feeling very stifled. I’m the type of person who needs a lot of space, both figuratively and in actuality. I was floundering in an unfamiliar town, trying to build a new life out of the rubble and carefully packed mementos of the life I had sprung from, and I was feeling very vulnerable. The old systems of formality and canned descriptions of faith were creaking; I tried oiling them, to no avail. The machine did not work for me anymore. It was time to retire it. I thanked it for what it had been, for the things I had learned, and then began the necessary work of disassembling it. This was hard for me, seeing the underbelly of faith and humanity, but I also wouldn’t be who I am if I hadn’t taken the time to examine every part. Some of them I kept as souvenirs, and some other ones I set aside because I might be able to use them again some day. I am still in the process of collecting new data, writing my new language, a process that is dear to all mystics. I feel like an inventor, crazy and shut up in my solitude, tinkering away at my work late into the night. I’ve got quite the collection so far!
HR: As an artist I resonate with the concept of rio abajo rio, spoken of often by author Clarissa Pinkola Estes which means ‘the river beneath the river.’ I see life so clearly this way, river layered on river, life flowing on life, dark pressed against dark … mysterious and deep, the watery currents of a rich, embodied life. It could also be expressed as the dark root-studded earth, the shadowy depth of all holy things. For many, this teeming underworld is layered with the fertile nutrients of pain or joy, stories of unbearable grief or speechless delight. What is pressed into your own depths? What roots there, bursting into daylight with lavish love, vibrant curiosity, and the wild alchemy of a poet-healer?
LE: The rio abajo rio is also a strong inspiration for me. I love the idea of something so steady, but that changes with the landscape. A river is always a river whether it’s dried out or flooded, regardless of the terrain or who is there to partake in its waters, and it always flows towards its source. My faith is the source I always come back to, and it is a constant source of strength to know that it is wider and deeper than I can ever know. Even in that, I’m still invited to question and wander and wonder. I have been a loyal skeptic my whole life—quite a paradox. When I come to trust someone or an idea, I give myself to it wholeheartedly. And yet, I’m always revising my initial impression, wondering if I have found the truth of the thing, and refining my understanding to be as close to that truth as possible. The curiosity itself is my rio abajo rio, the dark beneath dark, the light above light, and the root of both my greatest joys and deepest griefs. I refuse to do anything but cultivate that curiosity and let it turn into what it will. I love that you term that the wild alchemy of a poet-healer. Today, this is precisely where I am.
HR: You describe your virtual shop as the Desiderium Apothecary, which delights me to no end. Can you share the meaning and inspiration behind that name?
LE: As you know, alchemy is a strong invocation in my spiritual and human process. I love the idea of one thing changing into another, being split apart, or shifting between multiple forms. The image of a wild apothecary, stocked with magical vials of pixie dust, dark matter, red earth, sea water, all for the implementation of experiments and prescriptions to the searching ... this is where I imagine my work to take place. The word desiderium happened to be one of my dictionary app’s Word of the Day, and it sparked a hint of curiosity. So I followed that trail to the origin and definition of the word, which I share on my page. In short, it is a longing for something, a wild call for the soul to return home. The essence of the Desiderium Apothecary is an abundant whimsy of the spirit, a place where the slightest twinkle or touch of wind against the skin can evoke the longing of returning to oneself. Everything I write about and place on the shelf as an offering is meant to guide you towards that longing, cheering your first steps, and reinventing the lenses through which you take in the world.
HR: In the sweetest world, what do you hope that each and every one who samples from your wares comes away with?
LE: I want those who enter the Desiderium, whether it is to read my poetry, prose, or connect through field sessions to be given a mirror in which they see themselves fully. I want them to see the light and dark, to fully embrace their divinity and humanity, and to be thankful in the core of their being that they are a tangible waypoint of sacredness. One of the greatest joys in my life is to watch someone learn to love their whole self. The organic process of Becoming is infinitely fascinating to me, and I treasure each spirit who invites me along the journey with them.
HR: When you are curled up in the indigo hours of night, with a smile on your lips and a happy tear on your cheek, in that moment, what is bringing you the most joy?
LE: Mmmmm, I love this question! Usually, I’m chasing after a very hairbrained or half-formed idea, or brainstorming some new way to go about a task. I could be firing across a blank page under a fit of artistic possession. Or, most likely, I’m snuggled deep in blankets with candles burning by my bedside, resting in the quiet of my sleeping family, and devouring a book. I have a pretty big stack by my bed, and the indigo hours are one of the only times I get to flip pages and fall in love with an entirely different world.
HR: And for a few little happy jewels to trail like stars along the dancing waters of you ... What are some of your favorite books and why?
LE: My longest-standing favorites are many of the classics: The Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Chronicles of Narnia series, Alice in Wonderland, The Phantom of the Opera, Dracula, The Count of Monte Cristo, and The Secret Garden. I’ve always wanted to find a secret garden of my own, or another world in my closet, or discover a secret identity. Most of the contemporary literature I read are poetry and essays, W.S. Merwin’s The Shadow of Sirius and Rebecca Solnit’s Wanderlust: A History of Walking. I lovelovelove The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern; it is so ethereal and mysterious and I read it every winter. I am a cult follower of Bradbury and Kerouac (whose Book of Sketches inspired me to begin cataloging my daily encounters in a tiny green Moleskine). I’m also in love with Jonathan Safran Foer, who is one of the most heart-wrenchingly beautiful writers. The Harry Potter series is a staple in our house, as are many titles from various British authors: Evelyn Waugh, Shakespeare, Virginia Woolf, the Bronte sisters, e.e. cummings, Wilkie Collins (a preferable contemporary of Dickens; his The Woman in White is considered the one of the first mystery novels, a favorite genre of mine), T.S. Elliot, W.H. Auden … how much more time do you have?
HR: If you could create a dreamy playlist to reflect your soul right now, what would be the top five songs in it?
LE: Be still my heart! Stones from the Riverbed by Matthew Perryman Jones, Tessellate and Bloodflood pt. II by alt-J, You Know Where to Find Me by Imogen Heap, To Be Alone by Hozier, and Clair de Lune by Claude Debussy.
HR: If you owned an in-the-flesh gypsy apothecary made of stone and clay, like I want to one day, and could fill a sacred treasure box with five or six of your most favorite things, what would they be?
LE: My river stone, a citrus and sage scented candle, lavender oil, The Desire Map by Danielle LaPorte, my calendar, a pinecone, my gypsy journal, and some purple, orange, green, and black pens. Also, for the record, an in-the-flesh gypsy apothecary would be fabulous...
HR: What is your favorite lipstick?
LE: Mystic’s Kiss by l’Oreal and Say Yes to Coconut lip balm.
HR: If we were snuggled up in a cozy booth at a cafe, what yummy drink would you order?
LE: It would depend on the time of day and season. Most of the time, an iced chai or hot macchiato will do the trick.
HR: If you were a gemstone, what would you be? (and why?)
LE: I love anything blue. Sapphire, turquoise, tanzanite, lapis lazuli, moonstone, and London blue topaz. I also love emerald. All of these gems are so rich, I feel like when I touch them they could just drip ocean into my lap.
HR: What is your favorite cuisine? What do you love to make?
LE: I’m not a huge cook, but when I do, I love to make soup. It’s a comfort food for me, and there is a large variety I enjoy, from good old chicken noodle to pad Thai. I’m really more of a baker, my family has a secret recipe for cookies that is a staple in my house, and I make a really mean loaf of pumpkin bread.
HR: What is your idea of a lush and nourishing afternoon?
LE: Quiet house, thunderstorms, open windows, a fresh pot of coffee, clean countertops, fresh socks, piles of blankets, some tunes on Spotify, and a long novel. Either that or a couple of hours on a cold day perusing one of my favorite bookshops (Oxford Exchange, Mojo’s, Inkwood).
HR: And finally … what does Home mean to you?
LE: Home is holding my son while he sleeps. Home is reading stories with my daughter. Home is my husband’s hand in mine. Home is the woods behind my apartment. Home is the mountains. Home is the sea. Home is the smell of old books, a coffee shop, and rain on the pavement. Home is learning something new. Home is color. Home is the night sky. Home is what I take everywhere.