Composting the Past for a Stronger Future: A Dandelion Effect Reflection - Marissa Ward

Composting the Past for a Stronger Future: A Dandelion Effect Reflection – Marissa Ward

Sometimes life throws a lot of shit at you which, at the time, can feel like it’s never going to end. I am currently writing this post feeling the exact same way since I got locked out of my apartment and had to go to work in my pjs. But, sometimes it’s moments like these that I have to sit with anger, frustration, and hurt to see the bigger picture of life as it truly is. This is a story of how I learned to compost the “shit” in my life and see that every moment in time plays out for a reason, leading to The Dandelion Effect we all live in whether we know it consciously or not.

I was born and raised in the small town of Glendive in Eastern Montana. I remind you that not all of Montana is mountainous and conventionally beautiful like the pictures you see of Glacier National Park or the Feathered Pipe Ranch. Now that I’ve grown older, I’ve learned to see the beauty in the area I grew up in. But growing up it often felt like an isolated wasteland that was suffocating despite how vast the land is. I never felt like I belonged there. To put it bluntly, a liberal yogi doesn’t exactly fit into a conservative farming/ranching culture. This isolation on top of many other things like my first heartbreak led me to not coping in the healthiest of ways. I spiraled into a severe eating disorder that remains present to this day and that I still fight to work through. This isn’t the most desirable of ways we want people to come to yoga but I genuinely wouldn’t have stepped on a mat if it wasn’t for my eating disorder back in 2020. I got hooked on Vinyasa from that point on. It was then that the Dandelion Effect took full bloom.

In my senior year of high school, college came into question. I had originally planned to go to Central Washington University (CWU), until one day when I got a weird feeling in my gut and chest. University of Montana was always a choice for me since I grew up in a Griz household but I wanted to get as far away as I could. On 4 December 2021 I had a total change of heart, out of nowhere, and pulled my application from CWU and submitted my application to the UM Honors College. I was accepted and from there I hopped in the childhood minivan to get dumped off in Missoula to launch the biggest adventure of my life.

Now I was in an area where I felt like I could find myself and explore all the parts of my identity that I felt like I had to hide for so long. I began going to yoga classes, hiking, partying, and making more friends than I ever had in my life. Ella, one particular friend I made in the first week of school would change my life forever. She’s the reason I found my way to the Ranch. Ella’s parents worked at the ranch back in the ‘90s and she came to school in Montana from Vermont partly because of this history. She told me all about the Ranch. And as we grew closer, something in me knew that’s where I needed to be. I had been going through a lot in my life at the time, with a lot of trauma in my past resurfacing and I was eager to do anything to get through it and find some form of healing. Ella gave my information to Feathered Pipe’s Executive Director, Crystal, and I applied to work at the Ranch. I was hired for the 2023 retreat season. And that’s when and is where another huge chapter in my life began.

Coming to the Ranch was like finding my way home. I spent 12 hours driving that day sitting in the excitement, nervousness, and fear of not knowing where this decision would lead. The sun was setting when I drove under the gate, and the Ranch shimmered with an energy that pulled me in immediately. It was here I began to discover the kind of life I wanted to make for myself outside of all the societal expectations and beliefs I held. I had been struggling with having passion for what I was studying in school. I changed my majors during the summer solstice, swapping political science in favor of nonprofit work.

I began exploring presence and connection with the Earth and a community where I felt I belonged. New practices like meditation, yoga, energy work, and mindfulness blessed my life in ways that continue to help me get through the struggle and stress of college life. I even met my partner of almost a year there during the Mindful Unplug retreat and found that I have the power to create my own family while being away from my own. However, I can’t only put rose colored glasses on the experience. A lot of darkness from within me also came forward during this time.

The energy of the ranch has a way of bringing stuff to the surface that needs to be addressed. I think that’s a big part of what makes it such a healing center. The eating disorder trauma resurfaced, worse than ever before, and for the first time I had to actually sit with it and begin to look at the real roots that held a grip on me for all these years. This made me step back and examine the core beliefs and patterns that enslaved me to my own thoughts. Between this and the process of being groomed when I was in high school persuaded me to leave the retreat season early to get some professional help.

If it wasn’t for the Ranch, I wouldn’t have been able to address and open myself up to processing these traumas as early as I did. I am so grateful for the safety, love, and support every person gave me at that time. The healing process has been a long and winding one but I can sit here and confidently write that I am getting closer and closer to composting the greater piles of shit from my past. And taking the lessons/nutrients from those experiences to grow for a stronger future.

Now? I am sitting here almost a year after my first season and I literally finished my last final of the semester right before writing this paragraph. I mentioned I switched my course of study to include nonprofit. Not long after, I had the best opportunity I could have asked for to intern with Crystal and the Feathered Pipe Foundation. I began to learn the ropes of what it takes for a nonprofit to grow and flourish. This experience allowed me to see just how we are able to continue to share the magic and beauty of the Ranch to everyone around the world while working to help make an impact all at the same time. I have to emphasize how admirable the hard work everyone does behind the scenes is and thank them for every second of dedication they put into making what we know continue to be. Crystal, Eric, and everyone on the board have inspired me to continue this journey of work. I am returning to the Ranch this summer to work and continue learning, hands on, about the work the Foundation does.

I am only 20 and in college and still quite fresh in life with so many more adventures to come. My time at the Ranch has created life as I know it now and if it wasn’t for The Dandelion Effect, I wouldn’t be here now to share my story. Every event that I’ve shared up to this moment has had its place to get me where I am now no matter how shitty, dirty, and dark it may have been. In reflecting on these experiences, I have been able to create meaning, find a sense of self worth, and create my own value for life and we all have the power to do this. In sharing my story, I want people to reflect on the Dandelion Effect in their own lives and keep that knowledge in mind when making decisions. Because you never know where just one small choice could lead you. I want everyone to give themselves the permission to heal and compost their own life shit to grow a garden of abundance and inner peace that time will forever hold. Thank you everyone for holding space for me by reading this and I hope to see many of you at this season’s retreats!

With much love and gratitude, Marissa Ward.


About Marissa Ward

Composting the Past for a Stronger Future: A Dandelion Effect Reflection - Marissa WardMarissa was born and raised in the small town of Glendive in Eastern Montana. She is majoring in non-profit studies at the University of Montana and has been working with Feathered Pipe Foundation since summer of 2023. During that summer she met Sudhanshu Kar (“Sudz”) at the Ranch and inspired him to help the Feathered Pipe Foundation launch the FPF Marissa-Kanduri Helping Hands Initiative (“FPF Helping Hands”) to support the personal growth of our phenomenal seasonal staff.

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