Archive for the ‘Student Stories’ Category

Letter From A Helper

Monday, March 12th, 2012

Letter From A Helper

Intro: Today we welcomed the arrival of our newest on-site helpers, Hannah and Fritz, costume maker and circus master, students of self sufficiency, interesting and darn nice folks.  And last night, we sadly said our farewells to helper Avraham.  No one coming to assist has yet been more diligent or dependable, focused or grateful, and it was emotional to bid him adieu… as goes on to gather new skills as an EMT, following his heart and calling, taking responsibility for making the choices that will define his destiny.  Below is the text of one of two hand-written letters he left with us upon departure, a blessing shared in the hopes you will find it as moving and hopeful as we did.  We are thankful not just for his assistance on important projects, but for the opportunity to help clarify and affirm – even in smallest measure – what will be his insights into, and gifts to the world.

Dear Wolf

Your home and the people here are some of the greatest things I’ve experienced.  Being here has given me nourishment, contentment, insight and fulfillment.  Coming from a society where a true purpose is hard to find – and opportunities to be appreciated for who you really are, are hard to come by – I feel the greatest love and honor working here doing my daily tasks and knowing that I am a part of something, something great.

Hearing yours and Loba’s stories, seeing Dan’l and Don’s devotion to this place despite their own responsibilities, and listening to Kiva speak for hour to the most minute details of the herbal world, have all been inspiration to me and my calling.

And the land… As dry, rocky, and strange as it may seem to someone who has lived near lush, green wetlands and woodlands his whole life, it has taught me something too. A deeper lesson in who I am for sure, but the experience to go along with it is fortunately unforgettable.

Walking the trails, river-banks and mountainsides has left me feeling the most content, natural and “in place” I’ve ever felt. The law of impermanence has never seemed so real and my attitude towards change has never been so accepting.

There have always been ups and downs for me here as moods tend to sway, especially in circumstances of solitude and introspection. But throughout these moments, whether I was aware of it or not, there has always been harmony for me. Harmony with Anima, harmony with love, harmony with the land, and harmony with you.

And even though we saw very little of each other during my time here, I feel extremely bonded by all that has happened, and have felt deeply the joy of working with you.

When I leave here, I will walk strongly on my path and always remember my brother Wolf.

And to the future I look forward, working with you, and all the others out there trying to make a difference.

May our strength prevail through the darkest of days.  May our work continue to nourish us, and may our gifts and treasures spread like wildfire.

Blessings to you,


(Post and Forward Freely)

Student Stories: Emptying My Burden Basket – by Jenna

Friday, February 5th, 2010

Introduction: The following is a recounting of the work being done by an Animá lifeways student, enrolled in what is admittedly a grueling Mentorship process. Before progressing with who she wants to be and become, it felt crucial that she first re-explore herself, plumb her needs and vision fully, and let go of whatever no longer serves. The Animá Burden Basket Ceremony is intended for exactly that, not a mere ritual but an actual emptying of even the most vital things in our lives, positive and negative, followed by a conscious re-collection and reintegration of what best serves our authentic selves, feeds our passions and furthers our purpose. If you are interested, we can post a Burden Basket essay here… and in the next couple month an entire 8 week Burden Basket course will be available. Jenna is brave in her changes, and in sharing them here… and I feel certain would appreciate your support and comments here. -JWH

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My Burden Basket Ceremony
by Jenna
Animá Shaman Path Student

With my husband recently deceased and my four children grown, married and looking for their own life adventures that bring them happiness, it is my time too to engage in a search — for a way to live my life that expresses my natural rhythms and talents and brings me joy! This quest has led me, in part, to the Animá Center and its Shaman Path, drawn to the Center by the important work being done there and the beauty of the magnificent Gila.

I began my first Burden Basket ceremony at the request of my mentor, Wolf Hardin, who gave me some ceremony materials to read. “Sure!” I thought. “I can do that.” The emptying of a burden basket sounded like fun and I enjoy ritual, so I set aside one whole week-end from Friday night to Monday morning to complete it. But, I discovered the ceremony to be far from fun for the first 48 hours! I kept very still in the beginning, ate little, drank tea, slept, and dreamed a lot. I waited quietly for stuff to come up, and up it came! More than I expected.

I cried a lot during my Burden Basket ceremony and eventually laughed some, too, and emerged more fully aware of the direction I want my life to go as well as what I want to take with me on the journey and what I want to leave behind.

Things I took out, and am leaving out of my basket:

Owning my house – Represents comfort, safety, privacy, peace…but, the payment is so high that I have to work 40 hours per week to pay for it, and really can’t enjoy it that much. Also, it is not in the area where I want to live…I want to step off the grid of suburban life. Plan to rent upstairs – mother-in-law – apartment from my kids if they move here, and sub-let it when I want to travel. This will also cut my payment in half, so I might be able to quit job and live on my husband’s Social Security (higher than mine).
Job – Definitely not what I want to be doing in this last half of my life…done with 9/5 life and doing work that does not tap into my passion and deepest creative urges. I do appreciate this job and the time it afforded me to help my husband die. It also gives me time to move into the next phase of my life without too much stress now that I know the processes of proposal writing. But, I am making plans now to leave this job through writing and alternative living arrangements besides home ownership.
Having to live close to my family – I will take this out and look at it with an objective eye. Other than a few people, I really don’t see that much of my other family except at birthday parties…which I am giving up completely. So, the idea that I have to live here is erroneous. I don’t see that much of the others due to our schedules, so I could visit them or they could visit me wherever I live.
Birthday parties – I spend way too much money on these (seems like we have two birthday parties every week-end), and am quitting the practice of giving everyone something monetary this year (I don’t even believe in that kind of consumerism!). I will try to make something of beauty for people, but if I can’t or don’t get the time, I will not feel guilty about it.
My negative feelings about my body – My body will respond to love greater than self-criticism. I do have a lovely body that has supported me through much in these 62 years, and for that I am grateful
Undervaluing Myself– This does not serve me in the least
Being the Selfless Mother – This does not serve either me or my kids. Being a loving mother who listens and offers helpful advice and help when possible and for the highest good for all concerned is acceptable, but I can not direct the course of my kids lives. I need to let them to work through their problems, using their own skills (which they do for the most part quite well…it is just my guilt that makes me think that I should always be jumping in there and trying to make things right for them).
Guilt – Ill serving 100 percent!
Time wasting – This must go…I have too much to accomplish in the next twenty years
Procrastinating – Goes along with time wasting. I am going to work diligently to do the things that I know must be done without waiting until the last minute…that causes undue stress in my life, and it is not good for my health.
Safety in the suburbs – This idea has to go…it is bullshit
Negative Head Talk
Victim Thinking
Eating out a lot
– and the guilt, sinfulness, patriarchal spirituality, Big Cheese in the sky stuff that goes along with it
Being a “People Pleaser”
Aging fears – I’m getting older and into my elder years; that is a given…live it joyfully and gracefully as a Medicine Woman. It is living and loving fully each moment that matters…what lasts in the minds and hearts of others.
Staying indoors too much – Vow to get outside more in the coming years for my happiness and health
Living in my head too much – This has got to go!
Abandonment Issues – Working to shift direction of thinking from external to internal, self-love
D – Oh my…can’t believe D showed up. Let him go!
Resentments/Soap Opera View of Life

Jenna-smThings I put back into and choose to bear in my basket:

Maintain loving relationships – commitment to my children, family, close friends (some establish better boundaries with some), develop a wider circle of relations through volunteer work in the community and with the earth, water, air, animals
Caretaking of an elder friend– Help her granddaughters see through her aging and illness and help her transition into death
Healthy Lifestyle – This is something I want to commit to…exercise, fresh air, eating healthy foods, giving up coffee except one cup in the morning…Yoga and
Embracing Healthy Solitude in my life – I’m a relational person and do need people, but I need a level of solitude as well.
Honoring my natural rhythms – That means creating a certain amount of solitude, creative and relationship time – writing in the mornings, meditation, prayer, exercise, outside time, play and fun, volunteer work.
Moving through grief – I have been grieving the death of my husband and other losses in my life, and not enjoying my life as I normally do
Dream work
Need to find satisfying volunteer work
– Satisfying, people centered work that I enjoy and can share with others – and hospital work at All Children’s Hospital…reading to the young children would be nice and something I’ve enjoyed in the past
Books/Reading – Yes and no. Always will keep books in my life, but will let go of using them to fill time.
Movies – Only a few (of the most meaningful and helpful)
Finish Culminating Project/Thesis – And turn it into a book!
Animá Path Mentoring – Love it so far.
Active in the “WomenBecoming” group – Yes, I’ve learned a lot from this group of women over the past six years, and have grown to love them.
The Synchronicity Forum – Still hosting for awhile, but I need to inform the group that I’ve turned it into a Creative Project, so they are off the hook for follow-up questionnaires and exit interviews
Sexuality – I hope to always express my sexuality healthily and with appropriate partners
Another relationship with a man – We’ll see…leaving it in the basket, but it will have to be the absolutely RIGHT relationship for me, and I’m not sure what that looks like at this time…no rush.
Need for Beauty – Yes. But it doesn’t have to be in the form of baubles…it can be the wild, something I’ve created, my lovely children and grandchildren, and acts of inner beauty.
Writing – That is one my joys and part of what I am committed to do
Stewardship of the land – I would like to learn this and take part in it with the folks at the Gila Canyon
Taking care of Casey (my dog) – It’s a contract to the end
Practicing Mindfulness – Have made a commitment to this in all areas of my life
Savoring life – Yes… and living on purpose with passion
Expressing my beliefs about US and Corporate Policies – Continue to send emails and letters to congress and companies like Monsanto to oppose war and other policies that are destroying the earth and peace on this planet
Charitable donations
Volunteering at Pet Pal Rescue
Grandmother Wisdom Sharing – with my own granddaughters and other young and adult women…dream sharing, synchronicity journaling, quilting, initiation and rituals around menses/motherhood/menopause and other transitional times in life
Self-love and Empowered Choice – Yes!
Telling the truth – even when it makes myself and others uncomfortable
Maintaining inner harmony – living with a feeling of well-being
Protecting my sacred space – maintaining healthy boundaries with family and friends
Nurture pleasures in life – swimming, dancing, music, art, quilting, playing
Sharing stories with others – for fun and healing
Forgiveness of self and others for mistakes of the past
Learn to trust my inner instincts and intuitions
Acknowledge my own and others feelings

I understand more fully since my Burden Basket ceremony how parts of my current lifestyle are in direct opposition to the harmonic lifestyle I alluded to in the beginning of this post, so those things had to be taken out of the basket… for instance, continuing to work merely for the cash.

I completed the ceremony as thoroughly as the time span would allow, but I now know that I could have devoted a much longer period of time to the process. I was just getting into the swing of it after two and a half days. Besides, I had waited so long to even look inside my basket that it had become laden with many things that no longer served my life. Now that I’ve experienced the Burden Basket ceremony, I know that it will never be done “once and for all.” It is a living part of me that is changing as I change and choose what I want to keep and what I want to discard in my life.

I have been thinking a lot about the process and trying to stay with the integrity of what I decided. The funny thing is that the birthday parties are currently the main issue…I really didn’t know how to tell my close, extended family that enough is enough. I’m not a “shopper” by nature, and we all have enough junk to last us a lifetime. So, I came up with a plan (right before the next b-day was to come up that week-end – as you can see, I have a LARGE extended family) to let everyone know that I will donate money to the birthday person’s favorite charity in their name (when and if that is feasible for me). That way, I get to make charitable donations to the organizations that need it and honor the person whose birthday it is. Luckily, my niece, whose birthday was the first birthday that came up after my decision, deferred to my judgment about where to donate. I got to choose Partners in Health – one of my Burden Basket choices to donate to for relief in Haiti – and give her something for her birthday in way that is in line with my own beliefs. I call that a win/win situation!

Thanks for sharing with me.


(To enroll in an Animá Lifeways or Herbal Correspondence Course, go to the Courses page of the website at

The Lesson of the Bees – From Fear to Awareness, Respect & Wonder – by Resolute Michaels

Saturday, October 17th, 2009

Intro: The following is the latest contribution by our astute student and sole Apprentice, a beautifully written tale of her continuing empowerment, with the sharing itself an act of courage for this long secretive owl woman.

The Lesson of the Bees
From Fear to Awareness, Respect & Wonder

By Resolute Michaels

“Fear can excite new ways of dealing with danger.  In addition, it can be the means for exposing imaginary threats, casting light on their true roots, and thereby on their solution.  In these ways fear can be both our teacher, and an agent of our healing.”
-Jesse Wolf Hardin

When did it start?  Was it when I stepped on an unfortunate bee who was blissfully gathering nectar as I bounded in my three year old exuberance toward our kiddie pool?  Or on the rare foray our family took into the groomed parks?  Perhaps while studying about the Africanized bees, my fear growing with each report of their aggressive behavior and expanding territory?  And who knows why my growing terror of all of life centered on the bees, yet by adulthood, my phobia had taken on mythic proportions.  Family and friends alike knew the pain of my clutching hands as well as my shrill shriek whenever any unlucky bee or wasp ventured into my vicinity, these others rushing to rescue me from the imagined danger into which I had locked myself.  As the years went by, I was more and more bound to screened-in areas, even though those did not even feel safe.

“The empowered feel fear – the disempowered, terror.” -JWH

Fear.  The one emotion I thought I understood, during the time I fled my body in an effort to cope, only to later learn that it was terror that I felt.  By the time I reached the Canyon for the first time, I had made an uneasy truce with the bees, pushing away my terror and forcing myself to move through my life by sheer grit.  Rather, what I needed, I would learn, was to become deeply sensate and sensitive to the world around me.

The Canyon provided just such an opportunity.  I was necessarily walking out into the world.  And it was in the Canyon that I was stung for the first time since childhood, surprised that the anticipated death did not follow.  Curiously exploring the sensation and learning to accept gentle care in the healing process.

“When we deny our fear, it owns us.  When we embrace our fear, we own it.  When we own our fear, is when it becomes a tool for transformation.” -JWH

On a subsequent visit to the Canyon, I was downriver, practicing embracing my fear.  I was keeping distance from the fields of bee flower, standing tall on their stalks, alive with the incredibly sweet hum of honeybees and the kaleidoscope of butterfly color, when I felt inexorably drawn to the scene, and soon found myself in the midst of the shoulder high purple, the butterflies, the bees, the song!  To my delight, the bees, intent on their gathering, didn’t seem to mind my presence.  In fact, they judiciously ignored me! During my slow amble between the flowers, accompanying the bees and the butterflies who were also honoring the vibrant life of the flowers, a magical transformation took place, that of terror shifting into respect, and a new understanding of fear.

“There are things to be afraid of.  But we should fear our trepidation most of all.” – JWH

I have carried the magic of that experience with me as I have allowed the Anima to fully encircle and then fill me.  So, when this past summer, I was floating down the river, again supported in some of the deepest caring I have ever known, how delightful to hear the bee song so close!  I opened my eyes to the glory of Yellow BeeSweet and in that moment, learned the lesson that the bees had been singing to me.  There is danger and pain in life, and that is enhanced when I am unaware and hapless, yet when I open my awareness to the world, there is incredible sweetness – the yellow of the honeybees as warming as the honey they make and of which I partake.  And as I walked back to the lodge along the shimmering cliffs, it was as if I was seeing the Canyon for the first time, as it seemed to whisper its secrets to me.


I have blossomed as a flower, calling the bees into my heart and center, and I have developed an affinity with them, the lessons they share and the connection to the greater Earth and Anima.  I look back over the summer, and recall wildcrafting BeeSweet, moving from bush to bush with the bees traveling with me.  I sought them out in my yard for conversation and for thanksgiving.  I shared a salmon meal with the yellow jackets, providing them their own portion beside me that they truly politely consumed as we sat together in the grass.

“Courage is born of willingness to feel, and matures to the degree that we learn to act on those feelings.” -JWH

It is Fall as I write this, and the cold nights have sent the bees in search of their winter shelter.  I feel in myself a harvest of deep feelings and a world of wonder. Rather than being released as from an indoor prison, yet still imprisoned in all my fears, I am instead outside, wistfully noting the absence of my little teachers, and discerning subtle changes in the seasons I have missed for so long.   Now I have a life rich in experience throughout the Fall and Winter, and I will welcome the promise of Spring, hearing again the bees sing, and embracing the lesson of the bees always.

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