Patty Nagle – Director of Programs
Patty Nagle, director of programs, manages the operation of Academy programs to ensure their alignment with the organization’s mission and pedagogy. Patty completed two Leading by Being trainings, and now oversees the Academy’s leadership initiatives and the many community programs offered as a part of the core curriculum. These include Evenings of Exploration and intensive workshops such as the Holotropic Breathwork Retreat.
Patty holds a BS in exercise physiology from Penn State, and is a licensed massage therapist and certified wilderness first responder. Her life work has been dedicated to moving people out of their comfort zones, stepping into the unknown, discovering something new, and accomplishing something they didn’t think was possible.
She completed an 8-month outdoor leadership training in Colorado before moving to Santa Fe. In addition to building outdoor skills such as rafting, rock climbing and backcountry skiing, she developed her capacity for facilitating group dynamics and transformation. For eight years, she served as operations manager at Bioneers, an innovative, educational nonprofit that highlights breakthrough solutions for restoring people and planet. In her early adulthood, she was an accomplished triathlete, completing 6 endurance triathlons—including 2 IRONMAN races—and 8 marathons. She also designed and led triathlon workshops and women’s retreats on Cape Cod, MA.
Academy for the Love of Learning
Interview with Patty Nagle
We’re sitting with Patty Nagle, Director of Programs at the Academy, and we’re going to have a conversation about her upcoming participation in an expedition to the Arctic, retracing the journey that Ernest Thompson Seton made in 1907.
Patty, why are you going on this journey?
Patty Nagle: [Phone ringing.] There’s Ernest calling now. (Laughter.)
Initially when this opportunity presented itself, I thought one important thing was for a woman to go on this journey, because at least in what I’ve been reading in The Arctic Prairies, which is Seton’s account of his journey, none of what he documented includes or represents a woman’s point of view. Given where we are in human time, it’s important to have the feminine voice come forward, as well as the masculine voice. I don’t know what that looks like, but it felt important to me.
What are some of the qualities of that feminine voice or that feminine way of seeing that you feel you bring to this expedition?
Patty Nagle: I’m generalizing, but based on how Seton brings his story forward—and I know it was over 100 years ago—he was coming from a very masculine viewpoint. It was about science, what he was observing, the “resources” he was seeing. He wanted to find the musk ox. He wanted to find caribou. It was a kind of “seeking after” as an observer, a scientist.
I think I’ll be coming with more of a relational or holistic viewpoint. Not just the scientist, or not just the artist, or not just the “dot-dot-dot,” but incorporating all of those parts of myself. I’m finding myself looking at this as an opportunity to move through this journey from the point of view of how is it impacting me spiritually, how is it impacting me psychologically, how is it impacting me somatically on all these different levels, and not necessarily coming from one part of myself.
I really want to maximize this opportunity. I think it’s a gift. I don’t want to go into it thinking it’s just a canoe trip through a beautiful landscape. I think the opportunity would be lost if I went only looking from one vantage point. I think the feminine way tends to be more receptive and open versus very focused and concentrated. That’s a generalization, but my intention is to go and see it through all of myself.
Do you hold other intentions?
Patty Nagle: Yes. Seton had quite an extraordinary relationship with the natural world. It’s present in all of his artwork, his drawings, all of his books. I admire that. In order to write like he wrote and to draw like he drew, he had to be very present to what he’s in relationship with in the natural world. I want to go into this experience trying to tap that part of my self. To not be someone moving through the landscape, but to be in the landscape and take it all in in a way that I think he really had a capacity to do. I want to see if I can invoke that capacity in myself.
In our day and age it’s easy to move quickly from one experience to the other without sitting and being with it. I think that’s a product of our time and what we’re exposed to and what the culture expects of us. I want to cultivate the “Seton in me,” and look at it as a practice of being present.
Do you have ideas in advance about specific practices that might help you access the Seton in you?
Patty Nagle: I don’t have a lot of control on this expedition over how we get to places or how long we stay. I would imagine that there’s huge safety issues in, for instance, deciding to trek off on my own for the day. This is as remote as you can be, and that’s going to force me to be still in a way that I might not choose to be. I do feel some tension around not having space on my own. Will there be the possibility to create some space for contemplation or whatever? That’s a tension.
I plan on journaling a lot and paying attention to everything. I think it’s important as humans to stretch our selves and on an intentional, frequent basis. That’s what vision quests are for indigenous peoples. It is putting themselves in a situation that really stretches them. I’m going into this inviting that and wanting to see what arises out of stretching.
This particular environment is completely new and different for me. I’ve spent a lot of time outdoors, but I haven’t really been this remote—an hour’s plane ride from anything in civilization. I’ve had this fantasy that in any of the wild places I’ve been, I could always get myself out of there. I could run my way to civilization. That is not even possible here. Vulnerability and disorientation is coming up for me. I don’t know about anybody else, but it’s like ‘Wow, I really have to depend on the people around me to actually make this work.” I can’t take that pioneer-like stance and think I can get out of here alone. It’s a metaphor, I think, for something else.
Say more about disorientation. What else are you finding disorienting as you think about the expedition?
Patty Nagle: As I share what I’m doing with people, they’re coming forward with all these grizzly bear stories. (Laughter.) I’m finding it’s a little disorienting to think about what to do if I come face-to-face with a grizzly.
It’s kind of like a reality show. We’re being thrown in together and we’re going to observe how we respond to each other and the environment. I don’t know if I’ve ever been put in a situation like that, or chosen to step into a situation like that. Who can I depend on? Who can I trust? It’s disorienting to be so reliant on things that I can’t control—or people.
It’s a lot of not-knowing. Culturally, I don’t think we’re as used to being in as much not-knowing as Seton was in 1907, or as anybody was in 1907. I think they were so much closer to what it takes to survive than we are.
I want to go back and pull on a thread. Is there any other intention that you’re holding for this journey?
Patty Nagle: I’ve been sitting with this hypothesis: I feel like everything we’re witnessing and experiencing around our external environment—whether it’s climate change or the exploitation of Mother Earth or how we relate to the natural world— is inversely related to our own internal climate change. The lack of work we do internally is manifesting externally. I’m still trying to figure out how to say that, but it’s something about the relationship between external climate change and internal climate change.
We can minimize our impact on the environment. We can recycle. We can do all these things on the external, but unless there’s an internal transformation at the source of where our behavior comes from, it’s like being a dry drunk. They can stop drinking, but the behavior that they brought forth as an alcoholic doesn’t go away. That’s what I’m sitting with right now; there’s a split, and I think we need to heal the split in ourselves.
For instance, as I read Seton’s story of his expedition, I see he doesn’t treat or view the Native people in Canada in a very empathetic, compassionate way. He’s pretty derogatory towards them, to the point where it’s shocking. It’s taken my breath away, some of the ways in which he’s described Indian people, and yet he’s extremely compassionate to animals. There’s a split in how he’s viewing his fellow humans and how he views the animal kingdom or the natural world. All of us have a split in ourselves, so one of the questions I’m going with is what polarities are inside of me that might be not contributing to a better world?
We link Seton to the work of the Academy because of his transformative experience with Lobo the wolf. After he killed Lobo, he swore never to kill another animal. I think we all have the potential to go through that type of transformation—to take responsibility and maximize the opportunities we have to transform, whatever that looks like.
These are all the things that are running through my head or are coming up as a result of the opportunity to go on this adventure. It’s forcing me to attend to my internal climate change.
Tell us about your relationship with the natural world.
Patty Nagle: One of the intentions of this trip is to really assess my relationship to the natural world. My house is very much in a natural setting, and I can get away with saying I have a relationship with the natural world, but do I really? When it comes to the environmental situation we’re in now, we all have to invest in our relationship in the natural world or else I don’t have a lot of hope that the crisis can shift much.
I am anticipating that the expedition is going to reignite this longing that sits in me all the time. When I did my first vision quest, I did not want to come back after four days…even for food. I anticipate—unless the mosquitoes are really bad—that I’m going to find myself in a similar place. During the vision quest, I felt in my body what it was like to be part of the natural world. Not just moving through it. Not just looking at it. But really being in it.
That would be my hope for every human being. That somehow we all experience that in our own way. Simple ways like sitting out in our gardens.
What is Seton’s legacy, in your view?
Patty Nagle: He was a prolific writer and an amazing artist. We can just look around this room. But there’s a whole internal process that Seton represents, and it’s got to do with his experience with Lobo, the wolf that changed America. Seton’s a poster child for transformation in that one instance.
He had his blind spots though. There were ways in which he didn’t transform. You see the potential, but you also see the consequence of him not transforming. I think we can all apply that to ourselves.
What is the opportunity here?
Patty Nagle: I think it’s our job in this generation to not repeat the past, to look at how we can transform, make the commitment to do it, and try to eliminate as many blind spots as possible.
When I think about my parents’ generation and my grandparents’ generation, you didn’t talk about things. You didn’t talk about anything uncomfortable; you avoided it. There’s no hope for transformation then. If a pattern or a trauma isn’t even acknowledged, there’s no hope. It’s just passed on to the next generation. I think we have an opportunity to look at our past, reconcile with our past, whatever that might look like, and then move forward in a different way than I think we’ve done in generations past.
With all that’s happening currently in the US around racism, I go “Oh, god, have we not learned anything?” Again, the external climate is reflecting back to us something that we need to change internally. If it were only about changing things on the outside—the Women’s Movement and the Civil Rights movement—we wouldn’t be facing the same issues we faced in the 1960s. That points to how we can say all the right things and think we’re doing the right things, but if we don’t really change something internally, then the cycle is going to continue.
The Academy holds a view of transformation that’s related to the “I,” the “We,” and the “It.” The “I” is an inquiry into who we each are at our core—our signature, if you will; the “We” being an exploration of who are we when we’re all together; and the “It” being our sense of purpose or the work that we’re called to do in the world.
I’m hearing that you’re holding a real awareness about the “We” and the tension between the “I” and the “We.” What other parts of the “I/We/It” are you chewing on at the moment?
Patty Nagle: It’s kind of a microcosm of the macrocosm. We’re going to be this small combination of people literally plopped down in the middle of nowhere. There’s no getting around the “We” for these ten days. What’s going to come up and how are we going to navigate it? Do I have the capacity to actually sit in these tensions, some of which I can identify and some of which I won’t even know until they come up? You can look at Seton and see the tensions he sits in and how he dealt with them or didn’t deal with them. We have an opportunity now to go into it very consciously and explore how we can build our capacity to honor, navigate and facilitate difference.
I’m committed to making the bridge between the “I/We/It.” I feel it’s essential that we attend to each simultaneously. It’s not linear. It’s not like “I’m going to get my “I” figured out and then I’ll move to the “We” and then I’ll move to the “It.’” It’s holding those three things at the same time and, exploring what is my commitment and my relationship to all three. Attending to a balance between them.
Seton obviously didn’t have this language, but he was very much in this paradigm of “I am the scientist; I’m not going to look at how anything is impacting me.” At least this is how it felt reading The Arctic Prairies. “I’m observing, I’m not going to attend to how it’s impacting me internally. That’s not my job.” That’s not the way anymore. Even science is saying now that there’s a relationship between science and the mystery and the not-knowing.
It feels like we’ve circled back to the beginning and to one of the first things that you noted, in that you’re going on this journey as a woman. I’m struck by the curiosity that you’re holding about the “We,” Who actually is the “We?” Is it the five humans on this journey or is it the five humans plus the more-than-human world, and the relationships between all? I’m noticing how that might point to a feminine way or a quality of feminine leadership.
Patty Nagle: As you said that—“we’re cycling back around”—and as you pointed to the fact that I’m going as a woman, I could feel this emotion come up.
Wow. Part of me is like “You better do it right—you’re representing a whole oppressed part of our world.” It’s the heaviness of this. I could easily get caught up in not representing the feminine. I could move easily into this masculine, protective way. I’m just now realizing this is going to be an edge for me—to remain open and receptive and keep my intention clear…and not to “overcome.” To remember, I’m not there to overcome other people or the environment or to prove myself. Anyway, I felt this wave of emotion. Wow.
What is it? What’s the grief?
Patty Nagle: Because I think whether we’re male or female, we’ve gotten caught up in honoring and embodying and believing in the masculine way. For many of us women, we’ve gotten caught up in buying that and contributing to the imbalance that we’re sitting in right now. Whether it’s about how we treat the environment, Mother Earth, marginalized people, patriarchy has impacted us all. I think the grief is around the opportunity I have in these ten days to see it, do it, be it or feel it differently than what I might’ve been acculturated to do.
I remember when I went on my first vision quest, the people guiding it said, “Patty, this is not an opportunity to overcome something. This isn’t about proving anything. It’s not about enduring anything. This is actually about opening yourself up and being receptive.” At the time that was a whole new concept because I had moved through my life thinking I had to overcome and endure. This type of experience could easily invoke that, whether it’s getting into the tensions between each other or the environment. Now I’m feeling how important it is to be conscientious of going into this opportunity in a different way than my default way. Otherwise, I’m perpetuating what got us here…in the global sense.
My grief goes back to the split. If we don’t touch into the grief, there’s not a lot of hope, because there’s a lot to grieve. If you look at everything that’s happened between the time that Seton went on his trip in 1907 and right now, it’s mindboggling. What commitment are we going to make to make the next 107 years to discontinue the ways that are not serving us as humans and the larger web of life?
We’ve covered a lot of ground. Is there anything surprising you at the moment?
Patty Nagle: I think what surprises me is how I initially questioned, “Why go on this trip?” What’s surprising me is all that has come up and how rich this opportunity is if I choose to really engage with it. How many opportunities like this are we passing by every single day?
Sounds like the Academy’s mission around learning.
Patty Nagle: Yes. What can we learn from this and what can we bring back to our community? How do we bring Seton into the whole philosophy of the Academy in a more clear way? Hopefully this experience might be able to articulate that a little bit better, because I do think he represents something beyond being a great artist and a great writer and someone who shot a wolf and then decided not to kill after that. That’s a big piece, but there’s so much more to Seton that I think we could learn from. That’s one of the bigger surprises.