April Clark by Zoe Helene

April Clark's Moons of Autumn Ceremony
Cosmic Sister | Love Warrior
by Zoe Helene

“We are in a time of death and reformation on the planet, any way you slice it. There has been such immense—and largely unprocessed—grief, on all levels.” – April Clark

April Clark (@aprilclarkembodiment, AprilClarkYoga.com) is a longtime yoga teacher and writer in the Pacific Northwest who offers rites of passage and guided ritual work, primarily for women. For years she has led women's monthly Moon Circles, group workshops and ceremonies. She’s trained in yoga, Pilates, barre, yoga nidra, Maiden to Mother mentorship, and more. April connects intentionally with her own ancestry and physical lineages in Ireland and the Azores and channels ancestors, plant spirits, and other guides for her work. As a journalist, she focuses on plant medicines and healing and social justice movements.

A native of California’s Central Coast, April graduated from the University of California-Santa Cruz with a BA in English Literature and minor in history in 2011. She was an editor at the university’s award-winning student-run newspaper, City on a Hill Press, then began her professional career at the local weekly paper, Good Times Santa Cruz, while still a student. She was a managing editor for AlterNet’s “Drugs” section for over five years and is a writing fellow for the Independent Media Institute’s Local Peace Economy section. Many of her articles explore consciousness, social justice, health, and environmental issues pertaining to the global, U.S.-led war on drugs and the cultural and medical renaissance in psychedelics and cannabis research. They are published in a variety of national and international publications, including San Francisco Chronicle, Salon, CounterPunch, and many more. She has also worked as a documentary assistant editor and line producer for nature conservation-focused films. April received a Cosmic Sisters of Cannabis grant in 2016 to write “Why Women Are Leading the Charge to (Re)unite Cannabis and Yoga,” the first article about cannabis and yoga ever published in LA Yoga.

APRIL'S MOONS OF AUTUMN 12-WEEK CIRCLE BEGINS OCTOBER 5th. Register through RoseHips Movement (rosehipsmovement.com).

10% of all sign-ups donated directly to Water Protectors leading the effort to StopLine3

What led you to focus your work on grief?

At a societal level, through this last year and a half, with the pandemic, the perilous state of our planet’s ecosystems, and enormous social uprisings, I believe we have all been thrust into a collective death/rebirth process. With death, naturally, comes grief. Our grief reminds us how deep our capacity is to feel and love. But our society is severely lacking in grieving spaces and likes to sweep us right past this process, which keeps us from the depths of life. Our deaths (our metaphorical deaths in life, as well as the fact of our ultimate physical death) remind us to cherish—and fully live—this impermanent experience that is life. This is what my Moons of Autumn ceremony (weekly on Tuesday nights, beginning October 5) will be oriented towards—reframing our death and grief as a portal into deeper living, love, and joy. They are part of nature and the key to living.

While our culture would have us apologizing for our tears, swallowing down our grief (even physically, with pills), and rushing through the uncomfortable parts of life, my experiences (especially experiences with sacred plants) have shown me that doing so is a disservice to life itself. We’re meant to be with all that comes, and when we tend our grief spaces, incredible gifts of the soul emerge. Throughout my life, plant medicines—ranging from deep existential experiences with cannabis and psilocybin mushrooms to more gentle interactions with lavender, cacao, chamomile, and rose—have shown me powerful glimpses into the importance of honoring the duality of this earthly experience and honoring the process of grief.

Do you have personal reasons for moving in this direction?

I am called to offer a circle for grief, sorrow, and the death part of the life cycle right now, in particular, because I am just rising up from a deep, dark death initiation. I got sick with a virus last year (likely Covid, though there were not good tests at the time), and then I developed a severe case of heart muscle inflammation, or myocarditis. I was bedridden and weak for a whole year, and I faced the very real prospect of my own physical death (as well as many little ego deaths) in a way that was visceral and terrifying. It was also deeply transforming and revealing of what matters most. Going through a life-shattering experience like this changed my relationship with my life and myself in beautiful ways. I’ve stepped fully into my work as a channeler and healer. I’ve released old identities and stories. I’m emerging from this experience with a much deeper sense of who I am, what healing is, and the power and potency of grieving and surrender. And I’m lighter, brighter, fuller—because that is what grief does for us—it allows us to release our heaviness and density.

As I’ve come out of this process, I’ve had to let go of old identities to reform myself more whole. While I’ve always sought to live authentically, I realized I have spent most of my adult life subconsciously hiding some of the most key aspects of myself; these are the more intuitive, spiritual, wild-artist parts of me, which I’d previously only shown to my dear ones, while projecting an outward identity that fit a more “professional” mold—so hyper scientific, academic, and credentialed. One of the biggest parts of me that I’ve outgrown and am releasing is a successful and rich career I’ve spent more than 15 years with (journalism). That path belonged to an old version of me, and I’ve realized through many tears that she no longer exists. In her place is emerging a wildly unapologetic creative writer who is rededicating her energy into the service of sacred art.

As we enter into autumn (the season when nature displays the beauty of change, letting go, dying), I am just waking back up to the world after this death initiation, and I’m called to hold a circle dedicated to the healing and transmutative power of grief and the part of the cycle that celebrates death (before rebirth). Nature shows us death is what makes the soil fertile for rebirth. It’s a wild and natural, feminine process—to grieve, change, surrender, and then create new life and fertility from that decay. This is why I am holding a circle for grief, tied to the natural feminine cycle of the moon.

Is this grief for those who have lost their lives, their health, and/or loved ones (also beloved businesses, jobs, livelihoods, etc.) during the global pandemic?

Yes, all of the above, and more. We are in a time of death and reformation on the planet, any way you slice it. There has been such immense—and largely unprocessed—grief, on all levels. I know that humanity is in a now-or-never moment that will determine whether we remain as a species on Earth (by completely restructuring our lives) or not. While I know ultimately the Earth will heal and life will go on, I deeply grieve the collateral damage of our human toddlerhood. The innocents—the plants and animals and cultures and individuals—who we’re losing. So much sacredness has already been lost, and there is unimaginable grief and sorrow to living at this time. And, I believe, those of us who are here and feeling it chose to be here at this time, knowing at the soul-level what we were getting into.

Can you talk a bit more about what this illness was like for you?

When my heart symptoms started, it took two terrifying months to diagnose myocarditis. In the meantime, my heart was beating extremely fast and palpitations were coming every few seconds, day and night. In addition, I developed other long-Covid symptoms, including severe brain fog, and worst of all by far, insomnia to the point of zero winks of sleep for entire weeks on end. Not sleeping became so torturous that I reached moments of nearly wanting to let go of life, because being in my body was a nightmarish thing (sleep deprivation has actually been used as a torture device). I was bedridden for an entire year, so weak I couldn't stand up long enough to do a single dish or get the mail. I could barely sit up. Having always been a very healthy, physically strong, relatively young (32-year-old) person, this was a new and jarring experience for me.

Throughout the process, I did not know whether I'd ever again be able to cook food, have sex with my husband, walk my dog, swim in the ocean, paint, write, dream, garden...all the things I love most about living were not accessible. I used to tell yoga students to turn to the sound of their heartbeat for comfort, and now even my heartbeat was unreliable and ominous. I honestly did not know whether I would make it out alive. I still don’t know when I’ll run or cycle like I used to.

That’s terrifying. How did you handle it?

When this happened, at first, I was panicked and terrified. Then, over the months, I began to experience an extensive grief process that would change the fabric of my being. In those long, torturous waking hours in my bed, I replayed my entire life. I grieved all the time I’d spent afraid to be completely who I am. I grieved staying small, playing safe, pleasing others at the expense of my own expression. I grieved all of the time wasted picking away at—even hating—my healthy, strong body (something most women in our society do, tragically). I grieved the dreams on hold, the experiences unlived. I grieved the idea of not having more time to love my family, this world, myself.

I began to pray all day and night to my ancestors, to Goddess, to angels, to anyone listening. Eventually, after months of tension with this process, I reached a point of complete surrender. I remember one night around 4 a.m., not having slept in four days, I cried out loud to the Goddess in the empty bedroom (because my husband was sleeping separately to avoid waking me in case I did catch some precious sleep). “I give up! I surrender! Take me if it’s my time, but I want to live. I choose my life, I LOVE this life, but I SURRENDER.”

And from that place of letting go, deep within, I began to heal. It’s hard to put into words, but through grief and surrender, a state of joy began to emerge. It was a subtle but profound kind of joy. Joy just for being. Despite my circumstances, despite not sleeping, despite my changed heartbeat, despite all the uncertainties, I was here now and I had so much powerful love for myself, my family, my life and this Earth. That alone was joyful. I began to bask in the sensation of sunlight or wind on my skin, the colors and shapes of the sunflowers and roses in my backyard, the bees doing their work... I just started celebrating every little moment in a new way. And then that joy/love energy seemed to create a space for exponential healing to occur. When we move all the way through it, grief brings us, always, to joy and love.

Do you know your (genetic) ancestry?

I did not take a genetic test but I know my ancestry, for the most part, because my family has kept stories alive on both sides. I am primarily Irish and Portuguese (Azorean). I’m an Irish dual citizen, actually, and my grandmother on my father’s side came to the US from Ireland in her 20s. My dad tells me her father (his grandpa) could recite the names of our ancestors in Ireland, going back many generations. On my maternal grandmother’s side, our ancestors lived in the Azores and came to the US to farm strawberries, then cranberries, just a few generations before my mother was born. I choose to identify through the matrilineal lines because they are what speak to me and they are also the histories I was raised with.

Do spiritual traditions from your heritage factor into an autumn equinox/sacred death and rebirth theme?

Yes, my ancestry has played an important role in the formation of my spiritual understandings of nature and cycle. I’ve worked most deeply with my Irish ancestry and Irish female shamanic practices, both Celtic and pre-Celtic. These have come to me both intuitively and through study. In Irish mythology (as with much indigenous/earth-based spirituality), the cycle of the year is a wheel and the holidays all coincide with the movement of the sun and moon, solstices and equinoxes. The autumnal high holiday is Samhain (pronounced “saa-wn”), the holiday from which Halloween was adapted. It is also called All Souls Day in Ireland. It is the time of the thinning of the veil between life and death, our world and the world of the spirits and ancestors. It is a deeply sacred time in the annual cycle, and it may be my personal favorite.

Only more recently I’ve begun researching my Azorean/Portuguese ancestry as far as spiritual lineages go, and I have come to find some beautiful overlaps with ancient Irish spirituality. They, too, celebrated a version of the pagan holiday Samhain, and ancient Portuguese magical practices were very aligned to the moon and rhythms of the Earth.

Have psychedelic medicines helped you through the important sacred death-and-rebirth phases/experiences in your life?

I have had psychedelic experiences that have given me glimpses into death-rebirth processes and opened up my creative channels profoundly. I believe these prior experiences helped me through this last year of losing my health and physical abilities—which was by far the most intense death-and-rebirth experience I’ve had in this life. While I navigated this brutal experience, I often turned to the teachings I’ve received from the spirits of psilocybin and cannabis around death and life. Because I had to be on a heart medication, I was unable to commune physically with many plant spirits I love—including cannabis and cocoa— for some of the hardest months during my healing process, but I still felt an energetic connection with these plants. I know that my connection with plant spirits played a key role in getting me through this most difficult time of my life. Sacred plant medicines, especially psychedelics, have deepened my connection to the Earth and source (which I usually connect with as “Goddess”). Plant medicines have instilled in me a wild sense of faith in the greater cycle of things, so I was able to find an inner peace amidst the worst storm thus far in my life.

Have other plants helped you?

While not a psychedelic, hawthorn tree extract has been a key plant ally along the healing way for me, thanks to a wonderful naturopath who has been working with me through this time. It bolsters the heart physically and strengthens love and joy energetically. I’ve been communing with hawthorn trees, and their energy has been grounding and unconditionally loving. Another ally has been rose tea, which is anti-inflammatory, both physically and mentally. Roses are sacred protectors, healers, lovers.

What does coven/witch mean to you?

Terms like “coven” or “witch,” in the past, throughout the history of oppression and patriarchy's rise to societal dominance (which has happened at different times around the world), the term “witch” was applied as a slur against all women who were intuitive, connected with nature/self, worked as healers, and/or journeyed with psychedelic plants to deepen their connections and understandings of life. In recent years, many women around the world have been reclaiming both terms, as well as these identities. I think all self-empowered women are "witches" by these standards (though it's not a term I personally use very often because it’s become so trendy that I think it’s lost a lot of its oomph). The term “coven” is something that was similarly applied to villainize groups of women coming together because women gathering in sisterhood, for a common cause, are extremely powerful. This threatened those who were pushing a patriarchal agenda, which aimed to keep women oppressed and disconnected.

Throughout history, the patriarchy has tried to control women because women are the keepers of life-force. We have the capacity for birth, so men striving for “ultimate power” felt they needed to control women so they could control birthing and lineage. This is just my personal theory, though I have studied various histories that deal with the rise of patriarchy over more equilateral and/or matriarchal social systems (I studied history and literature at UC-Santa Cruz). I do not know the dates/historical details of when these terms “witch” and “coven” first arose, but I know they have been applied to women throughout various periods in history as a means to control, scapegoat, and frighten women out of connection with themselves and each other. I think the reclamation of these terms over the last decade is lovely—though, again, they're not my go-to terms.

Is human's relationship with earth important to you? Are you a "green" witch?

I don't think we are separate from nature or Earth. We are literally earth—our bodies are minerals and water. Humanity cannot and does not exist separately from Earth though some obtuse, megalomaniac billionaire men who are racing towards the dead, oxygen-free, freezing cold rock that is Mars have convinced themselves otherwise based on a mixture of self-absorption and generalized panic about the state of human self-destruction. I think it's a stupid pipe dream and a massive waste of resources to be in a space race when what we need to be doing is recalibrating and innovating ways of living here on Earth—the only place we'll ever sustain life. It's incredible how quickly Earth heals when we just get out of the way.

The patriarchalization of our systems of thought and ways of life is largely to blame for the (relatively new) conceptualization that we are separate from the earth—or even more intelligent than the other animals. In reality, animals, plants—even water—have deeper wisdom and truer understandings of reality than most people in modern societies imagine. Indigenous people never lost this understanding. Indigenous wisdom is where we should be looking for innovations in science and understanding of our purpose/place in this world. And if you go far enough back, we all had Indigenous ancestors somewhere.

Those ways of understanding ourselves as nature and as earth are accessible. They're in our genetic memories, and our bodies know. In fact, I believe our imagined disconnection from the earth and the self-destructive ways we are living are behind most of the mental health crises we see today—anxiety, depression, suicidality, personality disorders, etc. I think it all, largely, stems from an insidious, widespread cultural disconnect from who and what we really are and the deeper connection to self, life and soul.

How do you see Psychedelic Feminism playing into this?

Psychedelic Feminism is key to unraveling many of these issues, because it is a means of empowering not just women but the feminine energy on our planet. The over-patriarchalization/male dominance of our human world has caused our unhealthy imbalance. Our social operations revolve around more, more, more, build, build, build, blind and endless “progress.” And what are we progressing towards? At this point, our own collapse. Physically and energetically, humanity has lost its balance, and we are teetering on the brink of our own demise as a species because of it.

To survive, we need women who are deeply connected to the earth and divine feminine energy—and their own souls—to rise into power. Psychedelic Feminism helps women, and all people, make those connections to self, nature, and soul purpose. Psychoactive plants and other substances are a powerful means of helping illuminate the interconnectedness of all things, the power of our souls in connection with nature, and our place in the greater scheme of the universe. It's essential to the future of life that feminine rises to balance the masculine. Psychedelic Feminism can play an important role in that.

Will there be any sacred plants and/or fungi as part of the Moons of Autumn ceremony? Your work in general?

Sacred fungi have brought me reminders throughout my life of the relationship between life, death, and rebirth. Mycelium is the pinnacle expression of nature’s cycle—they are the great web that connects death and life, as they exist everywhere on the planet and literally recycle decay into new life. I am sure in a subconscious way my relationship to sacred mushrooms played a role in my formation of the Moons of Autumn ceremony. I keep some sacred mushrooms in a little glass jar on my altar, so their energy is always with me for all ceremonies.

Cannabis has also played a key role in some of my more yoga-oriented ceremonies in the past. I used to host cannabis-friendly yoga circles in-person at my home-base yoga studio, RoseHips Movement, pre-pandemic. I hope to hold similar circles again in the not-so-distant future, with cannabis and possibly other sacred plants.

During this upcoming ceremony, there is not an overt sacred plant element, though people are always welcome to bring cannabis and/or sacred fungi energies with them into the ceremony if this calls to them (especially since everyone will be joining from home).

Where can people find your work?

I offer all my ceremonies, classes, and workshops through RoseHips Movement, which is owned by my dear friend and co-creator Ingrid Scott. RoseHips used to be located just blocks from me in the Roseway neighborhood when I lived in Portland. Ingrid is one of my dearest friends and a badass single mama who I met when she hired me to teach yoga about five years ago at her studio, called Roseway Yoga back then.

Since then, Ingrid and I have co-created many events, from moon circles to cannabis-infused arts and crafts nights to workshops and celebratory parties. We once co-hosted Dee Dussault of Ganja Yoga for her cannabis-infused yoga event when she was touring to promote her book, and we also helped to support a lovely event thrown by Lizzy Jeff, the rap priestess, when she came to Portland. Among many beautiful gifts, Ingrid leads a somatic dance aerobics celebration called Dance Pod.

While I created this current offering on my own, Ingrid has been—and always is—deeply supportive and inspiring when I bring my ideas and visions to her. In the heart of the pandemic last year, we began to co-create a little ritual boxes business we dubbed Way of the Rose, with curated items and rituals we channeled that we could send to people (we are including a Way of the Rose ritual box for all who sign up for the Moons of Autumn ceremony).

Opinions expressed by interviewees are their own.

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September 2021