We had the good fortune of connecting with Mandy Bishop and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Mandy, how has your background shaped the person you are today?
I love this question which, for me, goes back farther than my parents or household and deeper than the town I was born in–though those are absolutely a part. I was born the second and youngest daughter to my parents on the lands of the Ute, Sioux, Cheyenne and Arapaho in what is now called Denver, Colorado. I am born out of probably an average lower middle class household in America. Born out of weekend fishing trips, swim meets, dance recitals and football Sunday. Born out of birthday parties and prom and weekend barbecues. I am born out of a culture that recognizes graduations, weddings and retirement parties as our rites of passage. I am the granddaughter of immigrants; a wild stew of Italian, Irish, Scottish, English, Scandinavian, Germanic and Romaní peoples of old Europe. Many of whose bones rest in the region of present day New York. I am also the granddaughter of a Mohican chief whose son changed his name to VanGelder in order to try to fit in with white settlers. I’m the daughter of a complicated and messy lineage of mixed descent, finding myself born to a “new” land that is old to me. And within a culture that values looking forward, getting ahead, a fresh new start on fertile promising land, having left behind and forgotten about the stories of the peoples and the places from which we came—a culture within which many have been hurt, memory has been lost, and I’ve struggled to find where I belong. I am many lives rolled into one; the call of my ancestors strong. Always gently, mysteriously guiding me back to the original seeds I carry—the ones that only I can sow. They’ve called me from long before I even had the faintest notion I should be listening to them. They brought me to pursue Flamenco with the Gitanos in southern Spain, they brought me to delight in the food and customs of Italy. They called me through music and poetry, through making medicine, and through my deep connection with the land. They called me to kneel down and pray at the feet of the Native ways of these lands which ultimately began the path I walk today, continually finding my way home to myself and my roots, and gently guiding others to the wisdom of their own wild and indigenous soul.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
I tend to view my life and my work as art. I offer Nature-Based Soul Work through my organization, Old Ways Wisdom. We offer nature-based coaching in conjunction with ancestral arts, grief ritual and traditional earth skills. I think one of the things that sets my work apart is that I believe that the way forward is intimately connected to the ways of our ancestors and our relationship with the land. It’s like, we look back in order to move forward in an intact way. My work is about connecting with the land to integrate our traumas, transform our stories, and bring our medicine to the world. I believe our own personal stories are some of the most powerful and healing gifts we can share. The story of how I got to where I am today in this body of work is a long woven braid with many strands. One of the biggest moments at the beginning of this story is surviving a high level spinal cord injury and mild head injury that left me paralyzed from the neck down. What arose out of the long, difficult and miraculous recovery from this traumatic accident was that something woke up deep inside of me that had a sort of urgency about it. I learned how fragile this life really is and that I could not squander any more of my time NOT living out my purpose. I didn’t yet know what that purpose was, but I began a quest to understand what this event meant for me and what it all had to do with my unique purpose here. The recovery, the healing, and the ensuing path has been a journey, a fight, a triumph, a struggle, a love song, a wake up call, an ongoing challenge, a sweet embrace, and the greatest blessing I could ever imagine. It has been a trauma that has allowed me to recognize my strength and my resilience, and to quest with the greater purpose of it all. A story of survival and recovery that has cracked open my heart to the shared traumas and difficulties we all experience in our own unique ways. Our tears are our healers and our challenges are our greatest blessings. It is a knowing in my bones that each of us comes to this life carrying a specific gift—a medicine. There is purpose in what we go through, and it is in the breaking apart that we are able to let the light shine on the true purpose and meaning of our lives. I created Old Ways Wisdom as a way to weave together my passions and my purpose. It is a living prayer—continually informed by my own journey of healing from trauma, the stories and needs of the people I work with, and always listening for where Nature is guiding us. The heart of my intention at Old Ways Wisdom is to revive the wild and indigenous soul in each one of us: to re-establish the relationship we have with the land and our own bodies; to remember the old ways; and to heal what holds us back and separate so that we can bring our true gifts—our unique medicine—to each other and the planet.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
Gotta clean out the cobwebs with this question after a year of staying at home due to covid! I’ve spent many years working as a barista and have a huge fondness for coffee shops. I would likely take my friend to Boxcar. This would be followed by probably a geeky trip to the whatever museum had an interesting exhibit going on. We’d have to then head up to the trails for a hike, followed by dinner at Pho 95 on Federal.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
What an impossible question! There are SO many beautiful people that deserve a shoutout in my story. One of my greatest teachers has been my Uncle Tom. He is such an inspiration and an amazing teacher in my life. He is an artist and is relentlessly, fearlessly devoted to the act of creativity. It is how he walks, how he speaks, how he sees the world. He has helped me to see that our lives are a work of art. That each an every day is a day to create. And that our creativity is our greatest offering. It is a dance with the spirits and an offering of gratitude for this life that we get. And this has profoundly impacted my courage to live my life as a work of art–being in the unknown and being willing to take the risks of being guided by intuition and expressing the soul.