Whistling a Wind
Featured Guest: Renee Baribeau
Healthcare depends on science – and rightfully so. But if treatment doesn’t offer opportunities for spiritual growth, are we missing a chance to help people connect with something bigger than themselves? We’ll answer that with Renee Baribeau on this episode of Recovery Unscripted.
David: I’m here with Renee Baribeau. Thank you so much for being with us.
Renee: Thank you, David, for having me here today. I’m really excited about visiting here, overlooking the ocean and the windy going to the trees.
David: Yes. You got the wind coming off the Pacific right here in San Diego. Beautiful place to be. Let’s start off by having you tell us a little bit about your personal story and how you got into this whole world.
Renee: All right. When I was 30 years old, I opened a restaurant and I was a gourmet chef, and the very next day after my grand opening, my father who was a really heavy drinker and abuser of life went home and had a massive stroke. It made me realize right then that, “Wow. I’m doing a lot of drugs, doing a lot of alcohol. This is a way that I could end up too if I don’t change a couple of things.” I quit drinking within that year and then next thing I know, I was doing a firewalk with a nun in the woods.
David: Describe that for me.
Renee: This friend of mine said, “Hey, you got to come to this firewalk with me.” I was like, “Well, okay.” All of a sudden, we’re two hours out of the city, and they’re creating this big bonfire out in the woods and we’re there like, “Wow. I’m really going to walk on this fire of these coals?” There’s something about the group energy that holds the process so that the biggest question you ask after you get into the groove is, “Should I walk?” When you ask that question, you are given an answer.
There was one man who burnt his feet because when he asked, “Should I walk,” the answer was, “No, you’re not ready.” He walked anyway and he burnt his feet. When I walked, asked, “Should I walk,” all of a sudden, I saw myself dancing over the coal, so I was running back and forth. It’s a really intense, exciting experience. Almost like jumping out of the plane, gives you that adrenaline.
David: Or you’re standing on the edge of something and then you step in.
Renee: Right. As an addict, you have to really play with those moments like, this just shows you how far the mind can go without the drugs and the alcohol, but as an addict, “Do I want more of that? Do I want to live in that place?” The very next day, I went on a catering and all of a sudden, I left the roast piece sitting on the counter at the restaurant because I was still in that euphoria. That was eye-opening in itself.
David: How did that play into you finding your own recovery?
Renee: From there, it was a matter of– when I took the drugs and alcohol out of my life, I went down. I went way down and I got really severely depressed. My father died a couple years later after that massive stroke. By that time, I was not drinking. I think I was still smoking pot. I’m not sure how the succession. We didn’t have dual diagnosis treatment centers then so you had a choice, either mental institution or a drug/alcohol treatment place where there is no medical intervention.
I wanted to understand the brain. I thought, “Well if I could just figure this out, I’ll be on the road.” I ended up going to a lockdown institution in Queens, New York, but there was a spiritual experience that happened on the way because when I went to the airport, I was the only person on the plane. This big jet and there was me, and I’m there like, “Wow.”
David: Where were you flying then?
Renee: From Syracuse to New York City. I thought that in itself was a real transformational moment for me. Just like, “Wow, why is this flying? Was it flying to get me to make the shift?” That was really great. I mean, that’s why I love what we have now that people can go and look at both components, but I also learned how the brain worked. The doctors knew that I wasn’t just a regular type of, “Give me a pill and I’m going to be worked with this.”
My doctor would actually take me out from the lockdown morgue and walk me around the neighborhood and have conversations with me. This walk towards the wind or walk towards nature was the way that I always processed meditation and things like that. I just wasn’t so clear on it in that time because I was just so depressed and struggling.
David: Like you said, you were a chef. How did that journey play out where you left that world and trained to eventually become a shaman, right?
Renee: Yes. I don’t know that I’ve ever really left the cooking world. I wrote a book called The Shaman Chef: How Cooking Saved My Life, and people, they go, “Would you change your diet?” “No.” I have to show up every single day at my restaurant because people are going to get there at six o’clock to eat and so the very act of cooking, it was really clear very early on in. The very act of cooking changed whatever else was going on for me because when you get present and spirit flows through you, something happens.
Something magically happens that you could be depressed in two hours but right in that moment, they are clear. People used to say that they felt healed when they ate my food and I thought, “That’s curious.” As I explored that more, I understood that there was a certain flow that you get into that. Somebody once told me in a supermarket that, “You love food. You love to cook and that comes through you when you prepare food.” The restaurant, after my father died, he was my sole support. It was fledgling.
I was here struggling to pay the bills and trying to stay sober. I knew that I was not going to be long from the treatment place when I was on the phone fighting with the vendor about getting food into the restaurant, so the doctor said, “Couple more days. We’ll send you back.” I gotten more into AA at that point and really got myself more on a spiritual path.
David: How did you train to do more of what you’re doing today?
Renee: At the time, there was a curiousness after that firewalk that opened up a whole new road. There was a soul retrieval workshop, and I went down to Omega which I’m teaching at the summer, kind of like a full circle.
David: Oh, nice.
Renee: Yes, and I took [unintelligible 00:07:01] class. After that weekend, within weeks, my life started to change. I rented out the restaurant. I packed up and I was moving west. Once I got those fragmented parts of my soul back, my life started to open up in a whole different way. When I got to New Mexico, I thought I was having this great spiritual adventure and I had my first real vision where I saw this Indian character with a concha, which I didn’t even know what a concha was, was staged.
I probably didn’t even know what that was then, glowing west. The whole experience, it worked out in New Mexico. The Hyatt offered me a job in California and the next thing I know, my spiritual experience turned into California and I’ve been there ever since.
David: You got into a little bit of the wind element there. I know that’s a big part of what you do now, wind whistling, the wind work system. To start of this part of the conversation, could you kindly introduce us to all that and how it works?
Renee: Sure. It’s funny. Years ago in Chile, the shaman said, “Your name means the sound between passing things so she’d given me this name, [unintelligible 00:08:17]. She said, “It’s going to take you years to grow into it.” Well, the wind experience came about when I wrote The Shaman Chef: How Cooking Saved My Life and my mother read it and absolutely didn’t talk to me for a year after I put all the family dirt out on the laundry on a clothesline.
I thought, “Well, I better write a book that my mother would read.” I thought I was writing a book that my coaching clients could use and all of a sudden, this wind started to seek me. That’s the best way because I thought, “Okay. Is your compass pointing to north?” I had to learn what a compass was. I was in 1350 BC looking at the Feng Shui compass and I started to understand that our bodies as they are, are water attached to this earth with a magnetic field that we really are a compass.
I started to see, “Wow. That was interesting in a 1,500.” All of the compass points were wind points. Then I started to look for wind and then I found 150 wind gods and goddesses. It was just curious. I just kept going to find these similarities and then the more I researched, I saw, “Wow. Holy Spirit is a wind, blue rock is a wind, Nirvana is a wind or no wind.” That there was this correlation between when spirituality became religious.
Before then, people are wind believers and they navigated their life pace to nature. I thought, “We’re having a real spiritual crisis in this country.” It’s like an epidemic of a loss of faith with our young people maybe they could believe that there was something in this wind that’s greater than themselves, that’s invincible and can guide them.
David: Yes and so what is wind whistling, how would you describe that?
Renee: Wind whistling is– Back throughout history people whistled up a wind when they needed a wind for something. There’s this wind Marie and if you call to her three times, she’ll come and support you if you’re lost. The winds we’re talking about, the lap wind, the big oh my. That this wind was actually seen as a character that was digging into the earth to let the wind out of the caves. Winds were stored in caves, in bags but you think wind is wind, right?
David: Wouldn’t you?
Renee: Well, they all had different jobs descriptions, fears of influence. The big oh my, the somic wind was about signs and Marie was about having support when you’re lost and to go to the Polish wind was about compassion. What became clear to me was these winds had qualities that taught us how to live in harmony with the land.
David: Yes. I guess, how does that incorporate with the wind work system?
Renee: The wind work system is if you’re a 12-step base, you understand that there’s 12 steps. If you put them on to a compass overlay, they create a cycle. In our lives, we go through a cycle every single day, every single week, seasons. The wind work system is based on a navigational system where everything has a beginning, a middle, some kind of an ending and then a holding resting period.
Which is very very similar to the 12 steps where the first part is you believe in something bigger than yourself, you do a whole thorough inventory and then you let things go and then you become a service. If you put that in a seasonal overlay, it’s the same type of thing, but instead of an outside– Someone teaching you, the wind will teach you.
David: Yes. You touched on the idea of magnetic north a little bit earlier. What are some tools that you might use to help people find that and the purpose?
Renee: One of the greatest things that the wind showed me was this idea called the wind walk. It’s really a mindfulness-based activity where you walk outside your house, you ask a question and we all have plenty of questions, and you wait for the wind to come up and just give you a sign like a strong wind, a mild wind, even a no wind can give you a sign.
Then you start to walk. You take this walk, get you out in nature and by the end of your walk your usually be directed someway for an answer.
There’s another practice that the lap sailors used to use which are wind knots. They would go to these wind which is wind shamans and they would tie in a strand of rope knots and they’d get the energy of the wind to feed into these knots so when you needed a little extra energy in your life you undo the first knot. Back in the sailing day, they would do that to get home a little quicker when they were going around the world and I’ve used them in process scripts where people untie a knot when they–
Say you’re struggling getting sober, you need a little extra oomph, you untie that first knot. The second knot is when you need a little more strength and the third knot is when you really need to turn your life upside down on a tide. For example, I unfold a third knot this summer and everything shifted immediately.
David: Wow, yes. You serve at Michael’s house, you community arrange coordinator there, right?
Renee: I am.
David: How did you get connected with that program?
Renee: Well, I was really interested. When I realized that I was in a deep dive to a research project, I said, “Well, I need a job.” They were looking for somebody who was an event planner, who was a marketer, who was a healer because Michael’s house is always built on the idea of compassion.
I thought, “Well, I’ve never seen those three things in an ad.” Because when your launch your magnetic north, you put it out there and the wind takes care of the job that you’re going to need. We got hard in that have times to write or I needed a change, my boss was there like, “Well, let’s just put that into the vision.”
She was awesome. That way I was like, “Okay, well just a vision.” Then it would just open up that opportunity to work other places and work at home just came about through setting a strong intention and believing that the wind had my back.
David: Yes. There at Michael’s house, how would you say that you incorporate your shaman work and your wind work into what you did there?
Renee: Michael’s house is really evidence-based, unfortunately, we’re collecting evidence on nature-based traditions and how this ways are working. Once you recover or moving to that place where you’re awake which I talk about in the book, there’s no separation anymore. You just show up.
I just show up as a wind worker, I just show up and bring energy. A few weeks ago, one of our co-workers passed away unexpectedly. I said out of the blue, I said, “We need to do a ceremony here because I was working with an alumni and all of a sudden she’s not here.”
I collected all of the outpatients and I blew my wind whistle, I called in a wind and afterwards, young people, young adults, children are so moved by this work that all of these patients came up to me afterwards and said thank you. Because it moved the energy from that grief to a place of yes, this just happened, we acknowledge it and now we can go on.
David: Yes. I’m holding your book here, Winds and spirit and there’s a picture of you with the cans, right? That’s when you say you whistle up a wind, that’s how that works or?
Renee: Yes, I brought my wind whistle over for this interview. I’ll have to come back and show it to you. What it is is I was in Mexico city, I was at the Pyramids and I heard this whistle and I’m there like, “What is that?” I went over– you bow down. I get this whistle. Then again the winds arranged that all of a sudden there’s a sound scientist who showed up in my life and he introduced me to this man that I would have never met in Mexico who was now making these whistles for me and doesn’t speak a lick of English but he understands that and he designed them for this work.
Right after that he started shipping them to me– This is how the wind works, in Mexico city they raised a supermarket and underneath it they uncovered Ehecatl’s wind temple which had been buried for hundreds of years.
David: What is Ehecatl?
Renee: Ehecatl is the Aztec wind god and it’s the many faces of Quetzalcoatl. They’re all mythology-type characters that have been around for thousands of years, all have to do with creativity and creation. His mythology is that Ehecatl went to the underworld to reclaim himself. Think about drug addicts and we have to go to that darkness to become servants of the light and so the fact that after we introduce wind whistles which are like flying out the door all the time that literally somebody just ordered one from Malaysia today. Round the world the wind temple was reopened in Mexico city, that’s very–
David: That was around the same time that you were discovering this in Mexico?
Renee: It was like the last week before the book went back to Hay House for press. It was like too cool.
David: Cool. I know you touched on this a little bit earlier comparing or incorporating the other steps, we’re talking about with this 12 step ideas, could you talk a little bit about some of the similarities and differences between the more traditional 12-step models and the– Am I saying this right? Shamanic perfect initiation?
Renee: Yes. Well, all initiations really in all spiritual person when you break them down, have the same components. Bill Wilson when he discovered that the power of positive thinking that came out in the early 1900s, it was based on those models and it’s a brilliant system. We’ve taken that and grown it into something that it may or may not have been but it’s not working for every on anymore. We’re at a time where we need alternative approaches to reach the 68,000 people who might have saved last year.
There’s 25 million addicts out there that need help and they’re not getting their butts into their seats in AA. Spiritual traditions have the same components of understanding that you’re part of a bigger web. There’s something bigger than all of us here because that’s just how it is and that the way you stay through this is that you really have to do a thorough house cleaning because resentments are the feel to relapse and death. Anger can take you all the way, but if you look at the [unintelligible 00:20:26] traditions and the mindfulness based things, they all have those components.
Then there’s a part where you have to really clean house. For me, I did the 12 steps really thoroughly. I had a sponsor who made me fly back to this coast and pay off debts, do great sentiments. I flew to three different cities when I was on the east coast. It’s where I found God. I did a great sentiment and the very next day, three towns over I ran into the kid’s mother in a store.
She looked in– No one should have been there that day. My mouth was dropped open. I said, “I did a great sentiment with your son yesterday.” She goes, “I’m here because he forgives you.” There was just like no– right then you knew that there was something bigger than you and you were in it. That’s a component of shamanism, they’ve always had reverence but we’ve become disconnected from it.
Even in some of those other communities, they have to go back to those same routes. When I first started AA, I didn’t want to be of service to anyone, I wanted to get out of pain. By the time that I really thoroughly worked those steps, my next step was to take a group of overeaters through the steps for two years, because what Shamans know and what AA knows, but not in the same language, is that you can step outside.
Something greater happens when you step outside of the self and connecting into the group energy that there can be a dynamic shift. Shamans will do it with Trance dancing and all these other ways, where they step outside of ordinary time and to make a shift that then can be brought into their self now. Downstairs she is talking about it as, calling it brain-spotting, right? It’s a different kind of a brain-spotting, but Shamans have been doing it here for centuries and thousands years.
David: Yes. You’ve touched on this a couple times kind of the exodus or the disconnect with spirituality or religion that we were experiencing, increasingly in our country. In your view, why does that hurt the world of recovery? Why is this spiritual foundation so important for making recovery effective?
Renee: Two generations ago people left the church, and you heard the old theme, throwing the baby out with the bathwater. What was lost was, in the first generation, my parents were like, “Okay, we’re dropping you off at Sunday school every week, but we’re going home, going back to bed while you’re at church.” There was this idea that you should go to church, but we’re not supporting it from a family system anymore.
David: Not by example.
Renee: Not by example. Then the next generation said, “We’re spiritual but we’re not religious” So you get this whole group of 20 years old now who have no ritual. They have– One of the things that I’m going to talk about in my workshop tomorrow is that maybe what we need to be doing in treatment is some rite of passage. That they’ve lost the rites of passage, and they’ve lost the ritual of every Sunday the family dinner and every Sunday you went to church.
When I work with clients one on one. I had one young man and he started to do the [unintelligible 00:23:59] every day, and another one went back to some other– I don’t care if you’re Jehovah witness or you’re a Christian or you’re a Shaman, but we need something to make sense of this world, because without it you look around and say, “Well, look what is going on.” There’s hurricanes, tornadoes, shootings. Without a solid faith, there’s no way to make sense of what’s going on right now in the world.
David: Yes, and like how you were saying with some of those rhythms, its something that also connects us, as people.
Renee: In the wind, if you think about, the wind is what connects us around the world. The wind we’re breathing out here in Sandiego today is going to reach that person who’s getting the wind whistle in Malaysia in a couple of days. It’s the wind that connects us and the ancient ones knew that. If you want to become a wind believer and really do practices like wind walks and wind dust, wind dust are great, you stand in the wind and clear all your negative energy. The deeper you go, the deeper you go but–
David: What’s a wind-walk?
Renee: The wind-walk is when you go outside your house, and ask the wind a question.
David: Yes. You described that already, sorry.
Renee: Yes. Don’t worry. The Wind Bath is like a really– I know when I first got sober, I was grouchy. You go outside, you stand in the wind and you let the wind move through you and take all the energy that’s not yours because a lot of energy– Think about the winds moving around the world. You’re picking up all of the stimulus from everywhere. We need to clear ourselves. This earth is designed to [unintelligible 00:25:37] these heavy energies. We just have to connect to it.
Unfortunate, that’s one of the things we’ve gotten away from. We’re so on our computers and so into our technology that our idea of going to the zoo is probably looking it up on google.
David: [laughs] Yes. Definitely losing connection with nature as well. One last question, wrap up with this. You’ve devoted obviously a lot of time and effort to this cause over the past several years. Could you wrap us up by summing up why helping people find recovery and find a purpose is so important to you?
Renee: Last week I celebrated 30 years without drinking and I know that my life started– my life started before that, but my real work of helping in connecting other people started at that point when– because I looked up one day when I was driving and I saw a blue sky. I realized that that the fog that was all over me was, not all of my stuff. It was my father’s drinking, and his father’s suicide before that, and all of this other stuff that is important because it makes us who we are.
When it’s not most, when it’s not transformed by healing, it doesn’t serve us as well as when we heal that brokenness inside of us that we can then become more useful and that’s our goal is how we can be brighter light. In my book, Winds of Spirit, you can open up easily because it doesn’t have to be hard, it’s really simple. You can open up and get some wind advice that would reconnect you to nature on a daily basis, so you can remember why you’re here.
David: Yes. Alright, Renee, thank you so much for your time. Thank you for being with us.
Renee: Thank you, David, for having us and being a new path the way you are.