Hello you, welcome to my dear forest. I´m Tess Vonck and this is my story.
"There is a place in soul and psyche, the underground forest, a shelter where the exhausted spirit can safely rest"- Clarissa Pinkola Estés
Big dreams and simple beginnings
I was born in a small city in Flanders, the Dutch speaking Northern region of Belgium. Both my parents were regularly abroad for business, so it is my grandmother who took upon her the arduous task of raising this stubborn Taurus girl to become a good person.
My oma lived in a small village at the edge of a forest. Her whole life was spent in devotion to others: her only child - my mother, her narcissistic husband, God and later on my sister and I.
Despite her relentless patience and dedication to share with us her knowledge of tending to your land and loved ones with infinite tenderness, ancient secrets that were passed on to her by previous generations of women, I grew up looking down on everything she stood for. I decided to avoid at all cost becoming as set in time and place, uncultured and submissive as I perceived her to be. Unfortunately I realize the value of her lessons and how much we have in common only in hindsight. Some of those oma-traits in me - now that I have started to understand and peel back to the deeper layers of being they protect at their core such as aliveness, balance, deep caring, vulnerability and grit - are essential aspects of my soul I came to cherish the most today, even though I have spent years running away from them in an attempt to prove I was someone else.
I understood stories before I could read...
Although my grandmother had a library full of books, she never had any time to read. There was always something more pressing that demanded her immediate attention; never ending supplies of fresh baskets containing the latest harvest or forest-foraged goodies waiting to be transformed into jars and plates bursting with scent and color. Amidst all this food-related business where little helping hands were always needed, my mind was always drawn to the dusty and mysterious things tucked away behind locked doors in places far beyond my reach. Their golden ribbons and imaginary, irregular shapes and stained paper on top of the fact that they were forbidden yet purposely displayed in full sight so you could see them from every corner of the house added to my belief that books contained some kind of magic.
In oblivion to their content and long before I could read, I had unknowingly already discovered their magic as a young toddler....trough listening to stories. I could sit for hours next to the old radio listening to tapes of narrated fairytales while my grandparents were busy arguing as they had done every single day even before I was born. I understood that stories could transport me to a world where injustice always had a deeper meaning and every single character had their place in it. The story universe was not necessarily a safer world but a more predictable place I could escape to whenever I needed to disappear. Listening how stories unfolded and characters transformed along with them made me a witness to their struggle and an accomplice to their achievements. And through them, my absence started making sense.
An accidental life of Adventure
Apart from winning a regional writing contest with a stolen poem when I was fifteen to impress my best friend, I didn't have much talent for nor interest in writing, until I discovered literature studying Chinese and Philosophy at university. I had to catch up on a lot of reading to keep up with the topics my artsy inner circle was talking about.
After graduation and a sabbath year in China and Taiwan, I fell into a big black hole trying to figure out what to do for a living which lasted for several years.
To make ends meet, I did all sorts of tedious and nerve racking jobs and sucked at every single one of them, either getting myself fired or quitting abruptly. Frustrated with my career developments and disappointed in the value of my diploma on the job market, I returned to student life and enrolled for another Master: Journalism, copying a friend I secretly admired for her ambitions to change the world. We ended up doing our internship together for an obscure Belgian magazine specialized in globalization issues.
I never finished my thesis and cried my eyes out when the Editor-in-chief submissed my first article as 'too much poetry', yet miraculously I was the one he hired instead of my ambitious, hardworking friend who graduated as a Master of Journalism Cum Laude. All of a sudden I was a promising freelance journalist, spending the next decade traveling the world covering issues from global warming and geopolitical conflict to human rights. I developed a taste for traveling solo off-the-beaten track. In between assignments I embarked on long pilgrimages in fascinating places like Korea, the Silk road, Mauretania, Uzbekistan, Iran, South-East Turkey, the Arctic circle and Ethiopia, with a camera and notebook as my only companions.
I could root anywhere in the world...
...and moved hearts with stories about global injustice featuring in newspapers, magazines, cinema's and living rooms across Europe. One thing kept haunting me: I did not find the space in my heart to confront my own demons.
Stories were always my way of cheating injustice, magical tools that could transform suffering into meaning. My childish infatuation with fairytales and books grew into a thick armoring during my adult life, a narrative shield against feelings of shame, fear and sadness as a result of the addiction and domestic abuse that disrupted my family. Even more so since my father's sudden suicide. I just turned fifteen, a young woman in full spring at the most fragile time of her life in terms of self-confidence. You can imagine it shattered my heart. Almost two decades later I am still looking for lost pieces.
Breakdown leads to breakthrough
My father never left a suicide note. I filled the absence of an explanation for my pain with stories, both imagined and real, of other people's lives and twists in my own plot. With each battle against injustice towards others with my writing, there was less energy left to deal with my own trauma's. Until they screamed for all my attention and everything else became blurry. A personal trauma while I was on a long-term humanitarian assignment in Greek refugee camps added oil to the fire. I got so lost I couldn't see the difference anymore between reality and fiction.
I hit rock bottom. Stripped of all armoring and stories about myself, there was no ground left to stand on.
During the vortex that followed my pen and body became both my worst enemies and partners in crime. For four years, I was unable to write or speak in coherent sentences and could only read the news with a black marker in hand, manically crossing out sequences of words I couldn't deal with as if I was under some kind of dark spell. The remaining words revealed soul messages that where trying to court my attention.
Meanwhile posttraumatic stress transformed my body into breathing prison. I had terrible nightmares and paranoia, was hypersensitive to noise, light and social demands which are part of life in a big city, locked myself up for days in my house while I forgot to eat or take care of my hygiene, and at the rare times I recovered some courage I found myself often suddenly overwhelmed by paralysis or panic attacks often in the most inconvenient situations.
At my best, I couldn't shake off a roaring desire for violence; to destroy and hurt everything and everyone that crossed my path including myself. The sadness that followed wasn't the worst, but the emptiness that lurked underneath it all.
I slowly started healing through deep transformational work that involved hours and hours of dynamic meditation sessions, emotional bodywork and guidance from both somatic therapists and shamanic healers in combination with the unconditional patience and tenderness of my family and friends and long periods of alone time in nature. Tending to new and old trauma's was only the beginning. Then the real journey began: an adventure of discovering and accepting that Tess wasn't who she pretended to be, of progress and regress, the most exciting and at the same time frightening blank page I had ever encountered.
Sitting in silence is the most difficult journey I ever undertook
Coming home through bone-deep writing
My crisis, or awakening, has ironically been my greatest gift. In fact, I am so in the clouds about it that I decided not to keep it to myself. I am not fully healed yet, there is still a long way to go and the book is never finished, but I believe every story of transformation is worth sharing and contains seeds that provide guidance to others. That's why we tell stories in the first place and that's also why I feel confident about sharing my path with you and all the epiphanies and techniques I encountered along the way that worked for me.
It might not give you the same AHA-moments and I don't hold the truth, that is something unique to each of us. But we don't need to discover it alone. It's much more fun to learn from other people's mistakes and get hints and tricks that help you rediscover your own story. It is just easier to find the way back to the infinite resources that are already within your grasp if somebody shares their secrets. At least that is how I found out too.
For me, healing was a combination of many things and a lot of searching and molding the things I learned from others to a shape and rhythm of transformation that really fit for me. To something that hit home with my soul and intuition. This took me a lot of trial and error. Making sense of it all was important for me, not only logically as I am a very mind-oriented person, but also physically and creatively as those parts of me where equally important and had been overlooked for too long. I found the way home through a combination of working with natur, body and writing. This holy trinity was my doorway to reconnect with myself and my surrounding in a way I could really decompartmentalize the chaos around me without completely disappearing into the void.
Writing was the secret sauce that helped me connect all the dots. In my attempt to overcome a writer's block caused by trauma I discovered the real power of writing. First as a tool to reconnect with and enhance my senses which helped me overcome paralysis and hypersensitivity. This slowly made me more sensitive to the fluidity and delicate movements of aliveness in and around me. It improved my abilities to stay in the present and fight panic attacks, deepened my conscious awareness, recovered my sensuality and joy for life and helped me see the thread that connected me to all things around me. Words poured from authentic movement and rhythms like a tremble in my voice or muscles to the flickering of stars or ripples in the water and onto the ants in the grass.
This deep experiences of oneness, of moving with the rhythm of all that is alive in and around me changed completely how I experience the world, myself and writing. In this movement I found my true story: who I am and what my purpose is in life. It is such a tremendously powerful gift that I wish as many people as possible can experience it.
This is what I dedicated my life to. I hope you join me for the ride.
I’m so lucky to be alive, to be able to live in a forest and do the things I love. I’ve worked really hard to make it happen, and some guardian angels might have been looking out for me. But I believe your life story is your greatest master and your courage to go through all the difficulties and pain of healing to find the truth is the secret arrow that will always lead the way. Especially when you least expect it, luck is on your side. When you care about your life—the sort of life that gives you and your surroundings purpose and joy and warmth—it seeps into you, leaks out into the world and the way you express yourself, and starts to attract all the good things. Beautiful people, intuitive choices and a good ride as long as it lasts.
Total surrender to vulnerability and (our true) nature are the main ingredients of everything I do, both in my personal life as in my work as a coach. My methods draw from my own healing journey and a wide range of teachings met in over 40 countries, from psychotherapeutic disciplines such as Inner Child work, Jungian archetypes, Reich and Alexander Lowen's somatic therapy, bonding therapy and Authentic Movement, as well as spritual traditions from Zen meditation to Shinrin yoku (forest therapy) and Vedic art onto Shamanic rituals and storytelling traditions from around the world.
All the methods I use during coaching, retreats and workshops as well as the philosophy behind the home and artist residency I am building here in Portugal are meant to help you completely realign with your true story, from enhanced senses and conscious embodied awareness to effortless creative flow and a deep transformation of your personal life and the way you root in the world.
Have a question? Can't wait to hear from you! I love working with folks who have a similar passion for the conservation of forests, conscious creating, living in truth and stories with impact. Please get in touch if you think we’d be a good fit, I look forward to hearing from you!