Interview with Anima Rising

Photo by Jared McQueen

Photo by Jared McQueen

I've grown up with the concepts of anima and animus in my sphere, my mother having studied Jungian psychology (where the terms come from), which is a school of thought, often also referred to as analytical psychology, originated by Carl Jung. The anima refers to the feminine part of Jung's collective unconscious, and animus, the masculine. So, naturally, I was immediately intrigued when I learned of Anima Rising. Anima Rising, aka two best friends, Harper and Jesse, who work collaboratively to create content that nurtures consciousness of those elements of life and earth that many of us can forget to actively acknowledge in our busy everyday lives. These two women work to deliver content that makes people stop, reflect, and connect back to the energy and nature we all share. Their most recent project is a documentary film, currently still in production, called "Ways of Living" that took them from their jobs, friends, and apartments in New York City out onto the great expanse of roads across the U.S. Having just done a cross-country road trip of the country this past winter myself, the magic of the adventure was fresh in my mind, and I was thrilled to get to ask these two questions about their journey and their film. Here's what they had to share!

What is Anima Rising all about? What types of creative content do you all put out into the world?

JESSE: Anima Rising is a lovechild born of the wide open roads of the USA. Harper and I, multi-continental and spiritual best friends, spent half of last year driving the back roads and highways of the east coast of the US with some lo-fi filming equipment and our adventurous selves. We stayed at around twenty communes (a.k.a eco villages, intentional communities, and off-grid farms) interviewing spiritual, environmental, alternative pioneers, and creating our debut film, "Ways of Living".

So, "Ways of Living" is the film, and Anima Rising is the platform to launch consciousness-raising art into the world. This includes all our own projects - film, music, lectures, books - and also that of other awakening artists.

What was a day in the life like at these communes?

HARPER: A day in the life at the communes usually involved some kind of work - helping with a building project, or in an office, or on the farm/in the garden. And it always involved a lot of nice communal meals. Responsibilities are well shared - some people cook, some people clean. The details vary at the different communities, but always a lot of gratitude involved in the day - gratitude to nature, to each other, to the lovely locally grown food, the effort that went into the day. And then we'd find time in the day to do some interviews with people that we wanted to talk to or that wanted to talk to us. There was lots of music playing, lots of early mornings and late nights. It was such a privilege to be able to experience these places as filmmakers because we had this easy way of just diving into really true conversations with near strangers. We'd find ourselves tucked away for hours getting to hear peoples' beautiful thoughts on vulnerability, loneliness, and the role of community.

Where does the name "Anima Rising" come from? I read that it was inspired by a Joni Mitchell song, can you tell us more about that and about your love for Joni? I love Joni. Everyone should love Joni. I also know anima is a Jungian term for feminine energy, are you familiar with this? 

JESSE: Oh my god, I love this question. When I was a teenager I listened to reams and reams of Bob Dylan in my bedroom, on warped tapes that my dad had copied in the seventies. I thought "Blonde on Blonde" was everything and still worship his genius. As I wended into my twenties though, I began opening the Joni closet and found I could relate to her journey as a strong wild woman with a very raw emotional spectrum in a closer way. Her lyrics are so aligned with her heart because she is so deeply in touch with herself - similar to Anais Nin and her journals. Harper and I love looking to our friend Joni for inspiration, trying to learn to live as openly and consciously as we can.

HARPER: The anima is the Jungian concept of the feminine part of the male psyche. To us, Anima Rising means an increase in feminine energy, which will hopefully be a key factor for men and women helping to heal our planet and our society. By heal I mean to recover from our un-well state. As a society, as a people, there's a lot of sickness - greed, disconnection from nature, isolation, selfishness. 

In one of your videos, I remember you describing that you're really interested in consciousness and "waking up"...can you elaborate?

HARPER: I think by wake up we mean deciding to live intentionally. To really start to be mindful, pay attention, to notice what we’re doing, the choices we’re making, the way we’re behaving. And to be active participants in our lives and worlds, not passive consumers.

The first official trailer for Anima Rising Productions Presents: Ways Of Living. A documentary by Harper Cowan & Jessica Eve Watkins. Filmed in 2014 - an exploration of alternative, sustainable, and communal ways of living.

Back to your film, when can we expect "Ways of Living" to be completed and ready for viewing? Are there plans for distribution or exhibition? Also, what is your process for filming, editing, etc. while on the road?

JESSE: "Ways of Living" is currently being edited (by us!), so it's a work in progress, due for release later in 2015. We’ve already begun to show excerpts of the film at screenings around London, but we aim to screen the whole complete piece as part of a consciousness-raising tour, hopefully around both the UK and America. It will also be available through, so keep checking back there. 

HARPER: Neither of us were filmmakers before we started this project really, so we’ve had to learn and/or make up everything as we go. We got the video camera, had a friend come over and show us on, off, stuff like that, then we immediately forgot to bring the tripod along (ha!), another friend lent us an external microphone, and we just hit the road. We just tried and experimented and got a bit more comfortable with the filming process. Same with editing - got final cut, started playing around making music videos for different friends’ bands and just teaching ourselves how to do it. It’s been really empowering to realize that there’s nothing you can’t do, it’s always just a case of figuring out how to do it, which includes trying and failing and learning and trying again. In terms of distribution – that’s something we don’t know much about yet, and anyone with any great ideas can feel free to email us!!

So the two of you have been traveling extensively to make this documentary - what has your route been like? What will the rest of the journey entail? And having asked all that, what or where or who is home to each of you?

JESSE: Another very apt question! Home is on the highway for the foreseeable future. And that's where we love it best. I have woken up to a sleeping Harper underneath the steering wheel many times, but not enough times yet. In August we are planning a music tour around the southeast USA with musicians we met on the "Ways of Living" trip. Think banjo-picking and throaty folk mountain melodies. In the Last Waltz, when Robbie Robertson says The Band have been touring for seventeen years or however long it is, I always get goosebumps and think what a perfect way to live life. I’m actually from the Welsh borders, but America is where my heart wants to explore right now.

HARPER: I’ve lived in New York since I was ten years old, so that feels like home, but I‘ve been travelling for the past year (April 8th was our anima-versary), so home isn’t really a geographical location anymore, it’s a state of mind, and I’m lucky enough to feel at home in lots of places. Our route took us from the top of New York State – Redwood, on the Cape Vincent border of Canada, all the way down to New Orleans. We spent a lot of time in North Carolina, which is a very magical state.  And now I’m based in London, because Jesse is doing some painting in Bristol at the moment, and we’re recording her EP, and it’s easier to edit and make music together when we’re in the same country!

Obviously you both work with video as an art form, and I've seen from some of the clips on your youtube channel that you both sing and play guitar, what other art forms do you all work with? What's your favorite medium and why? 

HARPER: Jess is an amazingly talented and creative person – she’s amazingly good at so many things – singing, songwriting, guitar playing, painting, drawing, sewing, quilt-making! She’s just innately very creative - it’s inspiring to be around. She’s always making beautiful things. I went to school for drawing and wound up getting to explore a bunch of different mediums – printmaking, photography, painting. I also love singing, making music, writing. I love making videos because I think it’s a really approachable medium, it’s easy for people to watch them and get exposed to the messages that we’re trying to share.

What kind of background/training do each of you have in video and production, or has it been a self-taught sort of learning experience along the way? 

JESSE: Self-taught all the way. People often call us filmmakers and we say, "No, no, we're making a film, there's a difference." But I think when the edit is complete, we might allow ourselves to sit a little easier with the title. In some ways it's a real advantage to work with beginner's mind because we just do what we want to do, no rules. Occasionally it's been a pain when we forget to shoot enough b-roll or check the sound quality, but it's a learning curve!

You both talk about community a lot in your videos and projects, what does community look like to each of you exactly? You described living in NYC, one of the most populated cities in the world, but still feeling isolated and devoid of that "community"...can you explain?

JESSE: We're still working on it, but I think community is a sense of lessening the loneliness. We all get so lonely in this disconnected culture of ours. We eat meals alone staring at white walls. We work in cubicles talking with our fingers at computers. We eat terribly. I get creeped out when I step outside the house into iPhone-ville, but then I notice I'm doing it too! All the while, mental illness and depression eat up the world. 

How can we learn to trust each other as pillars to lean on? How can we regain a sense of purpose and a connection to nature, both of which enrich our souls so vitally? How can we reconnect with the whole thing, and re-learn that we are part of a fully sustaining collective consciousness? Pagans lived with spirituality at the core, and Anima Rising is about moving back to that state, but also bringing the positive changes of modern society with us, because some wonderful things have been born in the 21st century such as the connection of technology. For the first time ever, the whole world is in a conversation. That's pretty exciting! And as a musician, the internet is a wonderful space for being able to share songs, and has socialized the whole industry.

HARPER: Before I left New York I just grappled with a sense of purposelessness, when I wasn’t working I didn’t quite know what to do. I loved my friends and my job and my apartment, but it didn’t really feel purposeful or fulfilling enough. That’s where community comes in for me, when you’re living with a community, you’re a member of a team, and you are all working for the benefit of the group, and that does include yourself too. That’s how I like to live as a human, as a part of a group where everyone helps each other, everyone has something to offer and support to be given and received. I think we become so isolated in our culture, it makes us shy, neurotic, scared. This trip taught me a lot about intimacy and openness and vulnerability. Living that way feels more fulfilling to me, it makes me better, happier, kinder, stronger, and more loving.

What advice would you give to individuals wanting to move forward with a bold idea and make a change in their lives like you two did? Can you explain what that change looked like for you exactly? I'm sure it took some courage, planning, energy, etc. to make the transition from living in NYC/London to going on a road trip, living nomadically, and I assume, quitting stable jobs, leaving friends, family, etc. behind?

JESSE: In Shambhala Buddhism there's a lot of talk about "leaving the cocoon." Cocoon is our comfort zone, our safe space. Chogyam Trungpa wrote, "When we are constantly recreating our basic patterns of behavior and thought, we never have to leap into fresh air or onto fresh grass. Instead, we wrap ourselves in our own dark environment, where our only companion is the smell of our own sweat. In the cocoon, there is no dance, no walking or breathing. It is comfortable and sleepy, an intense and very familiar home." Change is the scary moment after a butterfly is born, letting yourself taste this sticky state brings rewards that the easier route wouldn't gift you.

Trungpa goes on to say, "In the cocoon, there is no idea of light at all, until we experience some longing for openness, some longing for something other than the smell of our own sweat. When we examine that comfortable darkness - look at it, smell it, feel it - we find it is claustrophobic." I think in the end change isn't a choice. Change comes because the idea has been born in your heart or mind, and listening to that voice becomes more soulful than the one that tells you to stay safe.

HARPER: It was hard heading in to the unknown, but without a doubt the best thing we could have done. It shook us up and moved us up to some next-level shit. It’s been even more rewarding than it has been challenging, and it has very much been both of those things!

Who are some of each of your female role models?

JESSE: The aforementioned Joni Mitchell and Anais Nin, for showing the world a glimmer of just how complex and extraordinary it is to be a woman. My mamma and best friends for teaching me how to love, and demonstratively showing me again and again that I deserve love. 

HARPER: I have so many! Different people inspire different sides of me, for example Pema Chodron is a real role model, and so is Jane Goodall, Senator Elizabeth Warren, Brit Marling, Sofia Coppola, and Patti Smith. I admire any person that is confident and kind. I admire my mom too – she’s very, very kind and strong and smart. And loads of my friends, which is why I consistently choose to surround myself with them. They’re so cool and inspiring. I’m really lucky to know a lot of amazing people.

What are some book/music recommendations you can share with our readers that have inspired each of you? 

JESSE: This world is saturated with expression and talent right now, all so accessible through the internet. It's wonderful. I have seen two amazing live musicians this week alone in Bristol. The first was Black Ya Ya (of Herman Dune brothership), and the second, was a guy from South Dakota called Tom Brosseau. He was like a big-hearted 1950's denim clad heartthrob up on the stage, an absolutely lovely man. But that's just this week! There is so so much more too – we are very lucky right now.

HARPER: My favorite next level books are Be Here Now by Ram Dass and 2012: The Return of Quetzalcoatl by Daniel Pinchbeck. Also topical are Revolution by Russell Brand and This Changes Everything by Naomi Klein, which are both really good reads. I just read Wild by Cheryl Strayed, which really reminded me of our own trips, of testing your limits and being surprised to find out just how strong you can be. Music is my favorite thing in the world, there is so so much music that I love. Recently I’ve been listening to loads of Leonard Cohen and the Patti Smith album Trampin’- it’s a good one.

You have a section on your website called Wild Women, can you tell us a bit about this?

HARPER: Wild Women is a digital gallery of interviews with people – artists, authors, activists (and other things that DON’T start with the letter A), men and women who use feminine energy in their work and are trying to make the world a better, kinder place. We’ve gotten to interview some real personal heroes – Diane Cluck, an amazing singer/songwriter/musician, Daniel Pinchbeck, a revolutionary American thinker. I'd like to think that Wild Women spotlights people that are helping to make society a healthier place by creating more love, more collaboration, more creativity, empathy, nurturing, etc. 

What else would you like to leave our readers with? Any tidbits of inspiration, advice, road stories?

HARPER: In terms of environmentalism, I’d like to get people up out of their seats. The time is NOW NOW NOW for implementing change. Huge changes need to happen, and it's up to us to make them, and there is zero time to waste.

JESSE: So many road stories! I loved a day we spent in the Outer Banks in North Carolina, quite near the beginning of the trip. It was one of the first hot days of spring, and we drove a couple of hours out of our way to be there, after a very intense experience at a small community. We wanted to re-ground ourselves. We stayed in a weird and wonderful campsite with a peacock, and spent the evening reading Sheila Heti's incredible novel, How Should a Person Be aloud, whilst attempting to cook on a fire. We were also knee-deep in Marianne Williamson's book, A Woman's Worth. There was this amazing feeling in the air, about what was about to happen, what was coming our way, what Anima Rising might mean to us. It was a glorious snapshot of time for me. So much rising positivity, and a strong shedding of layers that needed to go.

Lastly, do you both consider yourselves feminists? What does feminism mean to you?

JESSE: Yes, of course. Proud to be. Feminism to me is many things; today, it feels like realization that freedom of expression, and the chance to live one's life as desired, should be basic rights for all women. We have been boxed in by patriarchal society for millennia, and although these are dark times globally, I do feel exceptionally lucky to be reincarnated as a woman in 2015. This is a strong moment for finding our feet and using our voices. 

HARPER: Absolutely a feminist, I believe in equality for all – all life is sacred, I think every living thing on this planet deserves respect; men and women are both equally spectacular life forms. Most of the communities we spent time at for "Ways Of Living" were founded on the principles of egalitarianism, which means that everybody is equal and deserves equal access to rights and opportunities. I think the specifics of identity – gender, religion, etc. – sometimes do more harm than good by distracting us from recognizing that we’re all the same.