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Traveling the Wheel and Bonding with Nature

Talking to trees, cycles of death and rebirth, and what we can learn from the natural world: This is part one of my heart to heart with fellow artist and writer, Gabrielle Rabinowitz.

Gabrielle walking through the woods in the wintertime

Traveling the Wheel is a newsletter by Gabrielle Rabinowitz that weaves together herbalism, legends, folklore, environmental science, astrology, and her own experiences to reflect on changing seasons, astrological shifts, and other natural cycles. The newsletter also combines Gabrielle’s writing and artwork.

I reached out to Gabrielle to be the first interview in my new series of conversations on art-making, creative projects, healing, existence, and traveling the depths (basically, the themes that keep resurfacing here in Chicken Doodle Soup!). I wanted to connect with other people who prioritize reflecting on being alive as well as have felt and followed the urge to share what they’re learning with others.

Something that comes up a lot in my art, writing, and music is that the cheesy is often the truth. Believe me, I have plenty of moments when I feel all cynical and it’s hard to believe in anything. And still, I keep coming back to the fact that there are no answers, but if there somehow is an answer, that answer is love and connection.

Have you ever seen the TV show, The Good Place? Well, I’m a bit obsessed with it. I’ve watched it over and over again, way more times than I’d probably like to admit! In case you haven’t seen it (by the way, you definitely should and if you plan on watching it, you should skip over this part because I’m about to give you some major spoilers), four humans die and end up in the Bad Place, which isn’t a stereotypical religious hell but still it’s run by demons and it’s where you go to be tortured for eternity. Well, except that one 6,000-foot-tall fire squid demon in a human suit named Michael becomes a Bad Place architect and had an idea for how torture could be more fun. Instead of spiders, penis flattening, and more obvious methods of torture, Michael wanted to devise a system where the humans would torture each other.

So, back to those four humans! They were in the Bad Place, but were told they were in the Good Place. And sure, they ended up driving each other a little crazy, but they also helped each other. The four humans bonded and made each other better. Two of them who were supposed to make each other miserable in Michael’s plan actually fell in love. That would be Eleanor (“an Arizona trashbag” who had a bad habit of selfishness and lashing out when she felt threatened) and Chidi (a moral philosophy professor plagued by indecision and overthinking EVERYTHING). Chidi used to think that if he thought hard enough and read enough books, he could find the answer to any problem. However, toward the end of the series, Chidi writes down a message to himself, “There is no answer, but Eleanor is the answer.”

The point is we can think our way into oblivion and still won’t understand oblivion. Every question raises infinite more questions. Yet, connecting with another human, having a deep conversation or simply existing together … It reminds me that at the end of the day, the whole point is to exist together, right? To be for a little while and make magic from the chaos of existence, from the pain, from the uncertainty, from noticing the world around us, from holding another’s hand.

Enough preamble! Gabrielle and I ended up talking for almost two hours so I am splitting up this edition into two parts. This series of conversations is called Heart to Hearts …introducing Gabrielle Rabinowitz, part one!

Nicole: What prompted you to start your newsletter, Traveling the Wheel?

Gabrielle: A few things came together to motivate me with Traveling the Wheel. Partially, it was just my own enthusiasm for the insights I've been receiving from the shifts I had made in my life. Last year, I decided to refocus my attention on the natural world, and the rhythms and cycles present both in the outer world and within us, individually and collectively. I was enjoying exploring that in so many different ways, from herbalism to astrology to myths, and just being present to what I was receiving from the world around me. 

I was feeling like I wanted to start sharing that with the people in my life, and with possibly people I didn't even know. To connect with a larger community. So it wasn't just me, and the people I happen to talk to on a given day, but that I was reaching out further to see who would resonate with what I was experiencing. That was the main motivation, and also to give myself an opportunity and an excuse to really concentrate what I had been pulling in into more concrete, monthly or bimonthly reflections, to do that synthesis work.

N: Was there something in particular that prompted that shift towards the natural world? Or is it something that maybe has been inside you from when you were younger that was put to the side?

G: It's a little bit of both. I've always loved being in nature. Even though I was raised in the suburbs, my dad was from rural Connecticut. We would always spend time up there in the woods and in his parents’ house that had all this nature around it. 

Even when I was living in Brooklyn, I lived by Prospect Park. Especially during the pandemic, I really bonded with that park. Even when there were restrictions on all sorts of aspects of my life, there was no restriction on just walking around in the park and that was beautiful. 

And then about two years ago, I had an inner shift. It's hard to say exactly what precipitated it, but it just kind of happened. I found myself reorienting, reprioritizing things in my life. One of those priorities was being connected with nature. That's partially what motivated my move out of the city. I now live in the Hudson Valley, where I'm more explicitly immersed in the natural world.

N: That makes a lot of sense. It's funny you saying you bonded with a park because I've definitely had that experience multiple times of bonding with a park. Every time you go, there's something new, a different pathway to travel or something you notice. Can you talk more about that bond you formed with Prospect Park?

G: I had always loved it, but I really needed it during the pandemic, when I felt so constrained to just being in one place while processing the intensity of what was happening, the uncertainty of that time, and the loss of the other kind of social connections I normally had. Walking those paths, and just like you said, taking a different path, going whichever way, and just being present with the trees and the water there, the animals — it really just was healing. It was healing and it felt so necessary. 

Normally, I'd have to go to work from nine to five, right? By the time I get back, I have to clean and make dinner or whatever. But when I was released from some of that structure during the pandemic, I would be like, “Oh, it's two o'clock, I don't have any meetings, why don’t I walk over to the park and go sit, lie down in the grass for 30 minutes or an hour or whatever?” Having the flexibility to do that was so powerful, and so meaningful.

This is something that I've always loved doing, but having the flexibility to go and develop that relationship whenever I wanted … 

What does it really mean to bond with a park or a place? I feel like it’s attention. I was giving that place my attention and I was really emotionally present with it. With the intensity of the emotions I was processing as well, I've heard this way of talking about it as co-regulation, this idea of co-regulating with nature, I find that to be really resonant. If you're in a place of high activation, of high energy, of anxiety, of stress, of worry, and then you go out in nature, you kind of breathe with the rhythms of the wind and the trees, and lie down in the grass. I find that’s such a calming, regulating experience. 

N: I can definitely relate to that. It's kind of amazing how much just spending some time and not needing to be anywhere, just paying attention to where you are, being with a bunch of trees with leaves gently swaying, how much it gives you a different state of mind, you know?

G: Exactly! It slows you down, which is something I really benefit from.

N: So going from bonding with Prospect Park to feeling like you need to be around even more nature … Can you talk about why you moved to the Hudson Valley? And what's been different or similar?

G: In order for me to live in New York City, I had shut down a lot of my senses. You can't breathe in too deeply because it smells kind of bad on the subway or whatever. You can't get to listen so closely because it's so loud. You have to energetically kind of protect yourself because you're surrounded by so many people. Once I started paying more attention and wanted to be able to open those senses up, I found New York City really overwhelming all of the sudden. 

And I realized it had always been overwhelming. I had just been numbing myself. And I didn't want to numb myself anymore. I also had the wonderful opportunity to visit my aunt who lives in Hawaii. When I visited her, I saw how people were living out there, like one of the rooms of their house was a garden. The elements were so present all of the time in everyone's life. When I came back to Brooklyn after that I actually got very depressed. I'm usually not a depressed person and it was the only time I got COVID too. I really do believe feeling depressed and getting sick was connected to the culture shock of returning home after being in a place that was so interconnected with nature. It was like sort of the last straw and I was like, “I can't live here anymore. I won't be able to grow in the direction I want to grow if I stay here, even as much as I love Prospect Park.” I think I said to someone, “I could stay in New York, if I could live inside Prospect Park, if I could build a little hut in Prospect Park, I could probably stay here. But that's not allowed.” 

I knew I had to leave. I started looking for places upstate. I had visited Hudson Valley with family and friends for a few years. I knew I really liked it up here. I knew a lot of people move up from Brooklyn, and I wasn't going to be the first or the last person to make the move. I knew I would still have access to the city and my family. 

So I found a little cottage to rent, where the backyard is the woods. It’s exactly what I was craving from the Hawaii trip where one of the rooms of your house is literally the trees. I've been here since October. Now that it’s the summer, I’m getting to have the joy that I was hoping I would have up here with “It's the afternoon, let me go for a dip in the swimming hole, take a swim in the lake, let me go walk through the woods.” I'm surrounded by these trails, which is just what I was seeking. 

I’m also freelancing. Like many people, I was exposed to a new way of living during the pandemic because I was lucky enough to have a job that allowed me to work from home. Because of that, I realized this is what I need. I was lucky enough to be able to arrange my life so that I could work remotely and freelance, set my own hours, be more flexible, so that I could really appreciate this place that I'm living in now.

N: I've met lots of other artists at this point and formed friendships, but doing this sort of work can be lonely. It’s the nature of going inward a lot of the time, right? Even if you find people doing art or doing something similar to what you're doing, they're not necessarily doing it in the same way. And even if they are going really deep with their work, it could be taking them to completely different places, which sometimes you can bond over. But sometimes it feels like you're worlds apart, right? What has it been like for you? How have your relationships changed or not since you've made this shift? What new sources of community have you found? What's happened with the old sources of community?

G: I've definitely been all over the spectrum in terms of feeling lonely versus connected, as I've done this inner work. There are definitely times where you surface from something and you're like, “Is anybody ever gonna understand this?” But on the other hand, I have met people who I really can connect with and in some profound ways. I feel like you have always been one of those people, even though you and I are exploring different themes in our art and we're unique people with our own unique life experiences. It's more a matter of recognizing when another person is doing that deep dive, which is why I love that you’re starting this series. I just feel like It's such a wonderful thing to be able to support each other and network — to say, “I see you doing the work, you see me doing the work.” Just being seen in that way, and being understood, and even just knowing people who value that.

I feel like our society doesn't necessarily have a lot of expectation or space for people to prioritize this kind of freeform creative exploration, that isn't necessarily monetized. It doesn't necessarily fit into any of the frameworks that our society has. But I think it's one of the most important things people can do. And so it's just nice to be recognized, to have that be recognized. So I love that you do that, Nicole. It's really beautiful. 

And it requires being vulnerable, because you're putting yourself out there, not just that you're doing it, but being able to hold the space for other people to do it. That's really powerful. So I really appreciate that. And I hope that I also do that for others. 

I have met other people up here who are in the Hudson Valley, and near the Woodstock area where I am. But also in other parts of this area, there's a lot of people using creativity to explore their inner worlds and to connect with the outer world, whether that's through dance, or visual art, or other things. It's partially why I moved up here. And so I have other people who get it. You don't have to justify or explain to them that you're doing this kind of work.

In terms of older relationships, there have definitely been relationships that needed to shift to make space for this new orientation I'm taking on, for sure. And that's been challenging, right? Relationships that were based on your old patterns and your old priorities that need to shift to accommodate your new priorities. And that hasn't always been easy. But it's been really rewarding to work through that.

N: Have you felt like your relationships have survived that change?

G: Yes, but it took work. I mean, not all of them. It's really case by case. Some relationships have become easier, like my relationship with my parents. Doing this work releases you from old patterns and old tensions or little loops you've been stuck in. So some relationships have gotten easier. Others have had to go through some work because new tensions can get triggered by shifts in your priorities. I ended up going through a breakup as well. 

N: How did it feel losing someone in this process?

G: I think I'm probably still processing it to be honest so it's kind of hard for me to answer that. I don't think I've really fully crystallized or articulated that for myself. I'm a person who tends to be focused on the future and that sometimes can become too much of a future focus. That means that I move on from things without fully processing the loss. So that's probably a question for myself to reflect on.

N: That makes a lot of sense. I've talked about this a bit in Chicken Doodle Soup, but a lot of times, my coping mechanism for dealing with things has been to try to turn it into something good, always trying to turn things into something good. But sometimes, you need space to let things be what they are, which I've had to learn over and over and over again. And it's funny, because — I don't mean this in a negative way whatsoever — but I'm a little jealous hearing that so many of your relationships have survived this shift in your life. 

G: I should acknowledge that I found some of my relationships naturally falling away in the couple of years leading up to my move. If you think of community as also having their seasons of abundance and their seasons of retraction, it wasn't like I had so many friendships that I would be leaving behind. It was more of an opening and a natural opportunity for me to move somewhere else and start to develop community in a new phase of my life. 

N: Right, it might have been a less dramatic falling away, or a natural process already underway.

G: Yeah, things had already been running their course. 

N: I think that this is where it can sometimes be different depending on the trauma involved, right? It’s not to say that this work isn’t hard, either way. It is hard work. But in my case, essentially, aside from a couple rare people, so many of my relationships had been based on just surviving abuse.

G: When you say your relationships were based on that, do you mean having connected over what you mutually experienced?

N: No, I mean that people were used to me just putting up with things. My relationships weren't on that level of mutual respect. I was so used to seeing the good in others, but I was abused in childhood. Whether it was my parents, family members, or childhood friends, so many are kind of stuck in that old way of thinking, “There's no reason you could ever sever a relationship with your parents, right? It doesn't matter what they did.” 

I started to be able to see more clearly and I was like, “Oh, you can't treat me like that.” I think in some cases, the situation escalated because I was finally standing up for myself. I have one friend who I've been friends with since the beginning of college and she was the one person who it clearly wasn't based on that because our relationship has only gotten stronger. 

My husband is someone I met after this shift that’s been happening for a long time, but it kind of peaked at certain points in my life. Funnily enough, it peaked right before the pandemic started. Unrelated, but it definitely coincided with all the chaos happening. But anyway, I just think that it's interesting to talk about how sometimes with ourselves changing, not everyone is changing at the same pace or growing or really able to truly love each other. 

G: Wow, yes. It’s so funny that you mentioned that, because I've really been reflecting on that a lot recently. What would it feel like to really feel love for everybody? It's an intention that I've set for myself this year, to remember that we're all connected, and that we're all part of this lived experience together. And that each person is fulfilling their role or, has the opportunity to fulfill their role in this life just as much as I do. 

But that love doesn't necessarily mean—and this is about unlearning— unhealthy dynamics. Love doesn't necessarily mean I have to sacrifice myself for that person. Love doesn't necessarily mean I have to put up with experiences that are harmful to me. Love doesn't necessarily mean stopping my own growth. 

That's been huge for me to learn that. It’s perhaps one of the biggest breakthroughs that I'm having is, what does it really mean to feel love?

Robin Wall Kimmerer writes about this in her book Braiding Sweetgrass, that one thing that's been lost from this modern Western culture is this sense of love. Giving and receiving love to nature. Feeling held by and loved by the Earth. That we can give that love back. To be part of that cycle of love with nature.

N: And, nature doesn't ask anything of you. I mean, other than just that you treat it with care and don’t kill me!

G: Yeah, the most basic thing! It’s such a teacher, in terms of what I can also bring to my human relationships. I want to be able to have relationships with everything in the world, people and non-human too, based on mutual respect and mutual love. And figuring out what that really looks like in practice for sure.

collage of woman in nature by Gabrielle Rabinowitz
Art by Gabrielle Rabinowitz

N: When I was going through that peak I was telling you where I was realizing, “This is not okay. People should not be treating me like this. I should not be putting up with this”—at the time, I was spending a lot of time talking to nature. I was getting really involved in music, singing about nature, singing to nature. It was so spiritual to me. It was kind of this concept of God to me where God is kind of everything and nothing, not truly defined but this tree is part of that force in the universe or whatever. I just asked my questions and a lot of why and how? I don't know? I felt like I finally got to be myself. Trees don't get offended by you being you. They're just kind of like, “Okay, we'll have some breeze go through the leaves? Isn't this pretty? Just lay on the grass. And just look up at the tree.” I didn't really have too much support for the trauma work among friends and family at that time. But the trees were there. They were always there. 

G: It’s sad to me that we feel embarrassed about this in our culture, instead of this being just a natural part of life. It’s funny thinking about the ways in which these concepts can emerge in our culture, but in a watered down form. How many fantasy movies have talking trees, like the old wise tree, right? We can't ever truly forget some of these things. But they get diluted in our culture, which doesn't center them and celebrate them and integrate them. 

But those of us who are finding our ways back to it, we find that there's this deep wisdom, this deep medicine for us in the natural world, at all times. It’s so accessible, and all you have to do is slow down and pay attention and, and be receptive. You don’t need to force anything, but just be present. There's so many gifts there for us.

N: A while back, we were chatting about Women Who Run With the Wolves by Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estés. She writes about the concept of the wild, wild soul, the wild woman. There's a lot of discomfort with wildness because it's not able to be controlled the same way. And it's not really integrated into a lot of like visions of the future or progress for society. 

Progress is often talked about in terms of getting rid of certain diseases, conquering struggle, conquering pain, which if your sibling has some illness of course, you're like, “I want the cure to this.” That's part of human nature. But at a certain point, pain is a part of being alive. 

G: You are hitting on something so real. The fear of pain, fear of death, a fear of darkness is a real limitation on the overculture right now. You can see it in so many ways, even down to the literal lighting of the darkness with light pollution. The eliminating of darkness on every level. The constant numbing of pain.

I'm not saying there's never an application for pharmaceuticals, but I’m talking about the overuse of them, whether it's drugs, or numbing out on social media, doom scrolling, whatever it is that we do to avoid pain and fear.

And I am not faulting people for that because our society doesn't offer that guided support into that pain and darkness that is necessary. I have been very drawn to the myth of Innana’s descent. She had to descend into the underworld to rescue her sister who had been trapped there. In order to do so, she had to remove all of her protective gear and adornment: her jewelry, her armor. She had to remove her robes until she was completely naked and vulnerable. She actually burned up completely consumed by the fire of the underworld, but she was not destroyed. She returns to the surface. This myth is seen across cultures. The goddess who needs to go down to the underworld, and then return. We're being told this story over and over again. 

There's the story of the hero's journey, but I like the story of the goddess of descent and return. I've been using that as a personal metaphor for this work of going down into what is painful, what is dark, what we're afraid of, what feels like it's going to destroy us. And discovering that it doesn't, in fact, destroy us. We burn away everything that isn't serving us, and reemerge, ready to do it all over again, because it's not a one-and-done. As those of us who are doing this work know. It never feels comfortable. But that’s why we need to surround ourselves with other people who understand and are supporting this, because it's hard to do this alone. And I think other cultures have understood that, with whole rituals devoted to this, understanding that this is what it is to be alive, to go through death and rebirth cycles. But a society that is afraid of death can never grow, because it can never go through those cycles. It's just stuck accumulating things that need to be burned away, but it's too afraid to do so.

N: Being afraid of death, being afraid of looking at yourself, truly looking at yourself, being afraid of stopping, pausing. I think part of this is we need a wider acknowledgement of what's beyond what we can know or measure. It’s the overuse of pharmaceuticals, like you were saying, that everything can be solved with logic, everything can be mapped out, everything can have a 50 point plan to address it! Yes, at a certain point, we need some practical ways of dealing with things. Sure, I understand that. But this way of thinking relegates some very healthy and helpful strategies to a taboo. Things that you can't explain at the moment, but will make sense later. Like following your intuition. 

Before, you used the term “watered down.” On the flip side of relying on what we can measure, there’s the whole manifestation horoscope thing, which can be its own escape. Because it's simplifying something, saying that you can read these things every day, then it will make you feel a sense of security when in reality, you can't know that and really you need to listen to your own voice.

G: Yes, there's so much that comes up for me with what you just said. The first is I'd like to share this Rumi quote, which I keep returning to. He says, “In a field of logic, my words are horses with no room to run. Without reason, the voice of my soul soars.” In a field of logic, my words are horses with no room to run. Without reason, the voice of my soul soars.

collage art of birds and light versus darkness by Gabrielle Rabinowitz
Art by Gabrielle Rabinowitz

N: I don't know if you think about duality a lot, but that's a thing for me. How opposites kind of go together. There's so much denial of science and logic in our society—that's a thing. But then alongside it, there's so much overreliance on logic. I used to be a full-time journalist on environmental issues. Reporting on climate change, what really struck me is that people keep being unmoved by statistics, right? And then we keep spitting statistics at them. I noticed what made the biggest difference is when someone felt emotionally connected. Someone in their orbit or themselves had some health issue, places and people they loved experiencing the results of industrial pollution. There was always some connection to their lives. A lot of people are struggling just to get by. Yet I kept finding these cases of people really fighting back and banding together on a local level. I thought we should learn from them in terms of how this issue is approached overall, because if people can feel emotionally connected to nature, then I believe that they will be more inclined to do whatever it is in their daily life to take better care of our planet.

G: Yes, and it’s not just “I care about nature,” but I am nature. This artificial separation between ourselves and the rest of the natural world— it’s like cutting off one of your fingers and forgetting that that finger is part of your body, and then expecting that to survive on its own. We've gotten so far away from that understanding. Now, we're looking at that finger, and we're like, Gee, I wish that finger appreciated the body. And it's like, “Hello, we are a finger on the body!"

We are nature. We are made out of the same carbon atoms that a tree is made out of. We breathe in the same air that the plants breathe out. We are part of this ecosystem and this natural world. I believe so much will be healed by just remembering that every day our own psychological distress to the global distress are symptoms of the same thing, which is that trauma of cutting ourselves off from the body of nature.

Part two of this conversation in my new Heart to Hearts series will be coming out soon :) In the meantime, please read Traveling the Wheel and sign up to receive the newsletter at Also, make sure to follow Gabrielle on Instagram @gabriellerab!


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