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Meet Trinity Wilbourn of Arkitekt in Fort Collins

Today we’d like to introduce you to Trinity Wilbourn.

Trinity, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
The way I see it, it’s only a matter of time before our ideas about life and who we are come crashing down.

When this happens, when events align like falling dominoes to bring us to our knees, we have two options:

1. Get up off our knees.  Frantically reassemble the life.  Keep on doing the thing.

2. Let the falling apart happen.  Choose to sit in the rubble of what was your life. Keep your eyes open. Breathe.

Historically, I’ve done a great job choosing Option 1.

But ten years ago, my idea of my marriage fell apart, along with my ideas about everything else: God, self, community, womanhood, motherhood, purpose.

I was 29 years old. I had a 3 year old, a 2 year old, and I was 6 weeks pregnant with my 3rd child.

Four years earlier, I had released my dream of becoming an actor/singer and movement-based theatre director so that I could pursue making a life with the man I loved. I went back to school to become a licensed educator, got a teaching job in a local high school, got married, and got pregnant.

It was like waking up one day on the adult side of the bed and wondering how the hell I got there.

I felt like I was supposed to be happy in this new life, but I wasn’t. I didn’t know how to be domestic and I’d never seen myself as a homemaker or, for that matter, a mother. I felt lost and scared. And then I felt ungrateful and ashamed and stupid for feeling lost and scared. So I did what I’d always done when the feelings got too much to handle- I stuffed all of it and pretended things were fine.

I quit teaching, decided to stay home with my firstborn, and quickly cobbled together five part-time jobs, partly because we needed the money but mostly in an effort to prove to myself that I wasn’t just a mom who sat at home eating bonbons and nursing. Five months after I birthed my son, I got pregnant again with my second.

When I look back on that season, what I remember is trying so hard to be good.

I was trying to be a good mom, a good wife, a good Christian, a good businesswoman, a good friend, a good person. Set a good example, be a good leader, do it right, keep a smile on your face and if you start to get scared, distract yourself by adding in another activity.

I decided this must be what life was supposed to look like. This was upward mobility, this was domestic security. This was my own little corner of the American Dream and I should feel nothing but lucky and blessed. The niggling sense that there had to be more, that something at the core was missing, was a mark of my ingratitude and I should be ashamed of myself.

And then my partner started pursuing a relationship with someone at his work. It was short-lasting, did not culminate in what is classically called (and ill-named) a full-blown affair, and once it came out into the open, he was willing to do whatever it took to make repair.

But I was devastated.

I’d given up my dreams for this partnership. I’d let go of everything that used to define me because I believed so much in what we were going to create together. And this is what I get in return?

It wasn’t just the betrayal, although that brought me face to face with all the fear and insecurity I’d been running from. What I really had to stare down was my privilege and my comfort.

I’d lived with an equation that had never before been proven wrong: be good and life will be good to you.

The only reason this equation worked up to this point was that I’d been able to purchase or charm or earn my way into the things I wanted. I’d been able to insulate myself from pain and because of this, I’d maintained the illusion of control and capability.

Without my permission, some cosmic hand had reached down and ripped the veil that stood between the life I’d made and my actual life, the self I’d created and my actual self, and I was faced with the bald truth. I did not know anything about anything.

None of my activity had protected me from pain. My capability had not earned me unconditional love. My striving had not made me safe. My hustle had not proved my worth.

Whatever I was trying to get by being good was bullshit.

The whole thing was a house of cards.

I knew I could never go back to how things used to be but neither could I see the way forward.

I couldn’t pretend things were going to be ok. I couldn’t mobilize into action. And because I was pregnant, I also could not self-destruct.

I couldn’t do anything.

I had to let myself feel what I was feeling which was the thing I’d been managing to avoid for twenty-nine years.

It was the most terrible relief of my life.

Everything I’d defined myself by had fallen away and I was stripped bare, sitting in the rubble with nothing but my heartbeat and my breath and somehow, it was enough. I was enough.

And then this miraculous thing happened.

A few good women sat down with me, right in the middle of it.

One friend found me a therapist, made the appointment, and made sure I showed up.  An older woman in my spiritual community offered me free weekly life coaching.  Another woman invited me into a yearlong once-a-month mentoring program.  Another woman met with my partner and I for a year of inner healing work and counseling.

One of my mom’s best friends (who would become a guide for me) gave me the book The Human Condition by Thomas Keating and another friend sent me a TED talk by Brene Brown on vulnerability.

I was not alone.

And what I was experiencing did not mean I had done something wrong or bad or lost my way.

In fact, it was starting to seem like this falling apart was the way.

After a year of painstakingly picking through the rubble of what was my life, it became clear there was a deep disconnection between who I was becoming and how I was living. If my partner and I wanted to make a new kind of life together that reflected our insides, everything on the outside had to change.

We moved out of our suburban townhouse in June 2010 and became nomads for the next year and a half, making home in such varied places as a double wide trailer on a tiny island off the coast of North Carolina; housesitting and living out of boxes in a British friend’s split-level in the woods of Virginia; 450 square feet on the 2nd floor of my Dad’s office building with air mattresses stuffed under desks and a pack n play in a closet; and our vanagon and tent while on the road between destinations. My partner applied for jobs in all kinds of places, convinced a door would eventually open.

But nothing happened.

January 2011 rolled around, a new year, a new beginning, and I needed reassurance that I wasn’t crazy for leaving behind everything I’d known and going down this little traveled path, dragging my kids along with me.

I needed people who would help me keep feeling my feelings and I needed a place to tell the truth.

So my mother and my mentor and I decided to invite twelve women to join us for a day where we would declare an intention for the year by picking one WORD and sharing the significance and context for that WORD in a small communal circle.

We gathered on a Saturday morning in early January and stayed till late in the afternoon, speaking our hopes and fears out loud while we ate soup and listened to each other.  Woman after woman cried as deep soul truths rose to the surface and found voice.

This holy, beautiful thing took shape right in front of us- this remembering, this ancient way of being.

We called it V-Day, for vulnerability, vision, and vagina; it was the precursor to Arkitekt.

We met two more times during 2011 and we were all changed by bearing witness to each other’s honesty and courage.

I picked Harvest for my WORD, believing for beauty out of ashes, a season of joy after so much difficulty.

But on November 6th of that same year, while my family was at church listening to a sermon on how to live a good story instead of a safe and successful story, our house caught on fire.

I was 39 weeks pregnant with my 4th child.

We lost many of our belongings- nursery up in flames, clothes ruined by smoke and water, pantry gone, furniture gone, books burned, art burned, plants burned.

Buddy, our twelve year old red lab, died trying to suck in air from under the front door.

I went into labor a week and a half later, having an unplanned home birth on the bedroom floor of our temporary housing situation because we couldn’t get to the hospital in time.

My partner delivered our baby with the same hands he’d used to bury our dog and dig through the rubble of what had been our life.

We named our son Phoenix.

The outpouring of support we received in the aftermath of our fire was like nothing I’ve ever experienced. We were surrounded by community, many of them strangers who gave of themselves with wasteful, wild generosity. Nobody asked us to prove whether we were worthy of receiving support or what our game plan was for rebuilding. Nobody vetted us to make sure we would be good stewards of their donations.

They just gave.

We moved four more times within the next eight months, making a total of nine moves from June 2010 (when we’d first moved out of our home) to July 2012 when we moved across the country to Fort Collins, Colorado. The door we’d been looking for finally opened but we knew no one on the other side of it.

Not surprisingly, I got deeply depressed.

There I was in the rubble again, only this time I didn’t have any women to help me and no community to hold me together. Nobody knew me. Nobody cared.

There was no safety net woven by years of living somewhere to keep me from falling down a deep, dark hole.

So this time it was my partner who got me out of bed and found a spiritual community for us to join even though meeting people was the very last thing I wanted to do.

I met a woman in that community who introduced me to a few other women so when January 2013 came around, six months after I moved to Fort Collins, I decided to invite those four women (since they were the only women I knew) to a Colorado V-Day.

It was what I knew to do: show up, even if it was the last thing I felt like doing. Try to tell the truth even though I didn’t have the energy to put words into sentences. Try to feel my feelings, even though my feelings felt like torture.

It was the turning point.

We laughed and ugly cried and saw and held each other, and once again, I knew I was not alone.

V-Day continued every month through the rest of 2013.

It became a place where I experienced the truth that I was loved without having to do anything to earn it. It became my life line, my safety net, the touchstone reminder of what matters and who I am and how I don’t have to do this life alone. It became a practice of radical presence, compassionate listening, and spiritual awakening.

In September 2014, we changed the name to Arkitekt and met for a year with twenty women. At the end of that year, seven new gatherings birthed and served around seventy women, and we’ve continued to grow since then.

Arkitekt started because I tried to create the thing I longed to find in the world.

I needed a place where I could be seen and heard and held without apology, judgment or agenda, without anyone trying to fix me or make it better or convince me out of my feelings. I needed a place where I could practice being myself, my real self, the me inside of me I sent out into the world.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
Smooth roads don’t make for good stories.

In my life, nothing of any lasting value has come from a stroll down a smooth road.
I would go so far as to say the whole idea of a smooth road is a fallacy. Smooth roads do not serve us. They don’t help us grow, they don’t challenge us, they only perpetuate the illusion of capability and control.

People who try to pave the roads are not doing anybody any favors.

The playwright Tennessee Williams has this incredible quotation where he says that “the heart of man, his body and his brain, are forged in a white-hot furnace for the purpose of conflict (the struggle of creation) and that with the conflict removed, man is a sword cutting daisies…”

We are not meant to be swords cutting daisies while we skip along a smooth, paved road humming to ourselves.

We are meant to be machete-wielding trailblazers hacking through the undergrowth, making a way where there seems to be no way because we are compelled by the hot beat of the drum that lives inside our souls.

Which is not to say that I don’t sometimes long to abandon my wilderness pilgrimage for the comfort of a neighborhood parade kind of feeling. It feels GOOD to look around and see tons of other people walking in the same direction eating snacks and wearing balloon hats. It feels GOOD to assume we must be going someplace or all these people wouldn’t be doing it right along with us. It feels GOOD to not have to think about why we’re having a parade or if the parade means anything.

But it’s a parade of sleepwalkers.

It’s the kind of parade where the Pied Piper plays us right to the edge of the cliff and we all fall off like little lemmings.

We are made for the narrow way.

It’s the less-traveled path, the one where you can only focus on the next right step because you can’t see further than your toes. The one where you have to listen to your own intuition because there aren’t a thousand voices making the decisions for you. The kind where you have to keep walking even in the middle of the pitch-black night when all the hungry ghosts rise out of the bushes and you have no choice to but stare your worst fears in the face and become companion familiar with the shape of your pain.

It’s not much of a sales pitch but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

The whole thing has been a struggle.
I daily want to stop feeling my feelings and telling the truth.
I daily wrestle with the lovely lie that “it was better before.”
I daily feel sorry for myself because everyone else seems to be so happy and why have I made life so hard?

But I also look back and see so much evolution.
I see myself becoming more of who I am.
I see myself awakening more and more to the source of my pain, which is also the source of my joy, which is the seedbed of all that is fully alive and fully able to love.
I see myself more able to be with people in the midst of suffering without trying to make it better for them.
I can honor the depth and breadth of the human experience, both in myself and in all things.

I wake up each day and I try to love and be present and I don’t think either of those things has anything to do with smooth roads.

The writer Krista Tippett says is this way, “I am emboldened by the puzzling, redemptive truth to which each and every one of my conversations has added nuance; that we are made by what would break us. Birth itself is a triumph through a bloody, treacherous process…”

So let’s switch gears a bit and go into the Arkitekt story. Tell us more about the business.
Arkitekt started because we all need places where we can practice becoming more human.

Arkitekt is more than a self-help program or a woman’s empowerment circle. We are a spirit-based women’s program for embodiment, transformation, and activism. Our community and curriculum are designed to help women come home to themselves.

What we do is deceptively simple.

We gather once a month for 3-4 hours in someone’s home with no more than seven women and two trained facilitators and we practice compassionate listening and radical presence while people share whatever they need to share.

We begin the gathering with some kind of embodiment practice (meditation, Qigong, contemplative prayer…whatever reflects the needs and knowledge of the group) and then we move into what we call Roundtable Sharing where each woman gives context to her WORD of the year and how it reflects her longings and intentions.

We have Rules of Engagement for our Roundtable Sharing to keep us from trying to fix or manage or offer advice. and we have an Anthem we state at the start of each gathering to remind us that we are creating a space of acceptance and non-judgment, space where women can receive whatever it is they need to receive.

We have a three-semester long Curriculum and Coursework that maps out the journey back to the True Self through Deconstruction, Reconstruction and Integration, drawing from many wisdom and spiritual traditions and reflecting awareness and respect for diversity in ethnicity, race, gender, and sexuality. Participants can choose to engage the Curriculum and Coursework as much or as little as they need to based on their season of life and capacity.

In its essence, we practice being ourselves, feeling our feelings, telling the truth, and believing we are not alone.

We welcome and honor all spiritual backgrounds and encourage women to speak in the language of their integrity rather than try to conform to some kind of group norms.

In my experience, this is what sets us apart from a lot of other groups and programs- we don’t have an agenda. We intentionally deconstruct the thing we are doing over and over again so that it does not become an institution. We don’t charge money because we want all people to have access to space for communal healing.
We are grassroots volunteers and as we keep showing up for our lives and for each other, this living organism called Arkitekt teaches us what it needs to become. Our job is to keep showing up and to pay attention, to keep the channel clear so that we might discern the next right step.

We aren’t group therapy, we don’t promise results and we don’t put people or ideas on platforms. We are practitioners, sojourners, companions along the journey.

I suppose this is what we are known for: creating a safe space for self-exploration…and then this self-exploration cannot help but lead to more communal and spiritual connection. Whether we are trying to or not, activism is inherent in the work.

I am most proud of the women who say yes to doing this kind of deep and difficult soul work. It would be easier not to. But I have the privilege of bearing witness to transformation at the most primal levels as women work through their pain, their privilege, their trauma, their fears. I’ve never been part of anything like it. It is holy and humble work and it is the honor of my life to help open up more points of access to these kinds of healing spaces.

Has luck played a meaningful role in your life and business?
I don’t believe in luck and I try not to think of anything in terms of good and bad (although it’s the language I was brought up on and old habits die hard).

I think of my life as a practice of paying attention. What I seek is inside of me and all around me. My job is to be curious and to listen for the resonance and then have the courage to act when it is needed.

There is a Native American prayer given to me by one of my mentors and I would say it’s my guiding mantra for life: May I be a hollow bone that the Divine might sing through me.

This is my job. Hollow my bone. Keep the channel open.

If I can drop into this position of trust that the Universe is on my side, that all of life conspires towards my aliveness, then the journey is joy. It’s delight and childlike wonder and a willingness to just take the next right step without needing to know where it’s going or even why.

When I get graspy and clingy and try to figure the whole thing out inside my head, I inevitably freak out that I’m missing the boat, I’m not doing enough, I need to hustle harder…cue the massive anxiety.

I don’t want to live this way. I want to live in participation with the Divine. I’ve heard it called a long, slow obedience in the same direction. It’s a long game. It’s not sexy. And it’s not up to me.

It’s taking the next right step and then the next right step and every time the clamp starts clamping and I start freaking out again, I release and breathe and surrender back into the flow. This is how I want to live. With joy and laughter and gratitude that I GET to participate in bringing more love and more light and more truth upon the earth.

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Image Credit:
Audrey Hannah Photography
Briana Arlene Photography
Sarah Neubert Photography

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