Archive for March, 2008

The History Of Anima Center – Part 7 – by J. Wolf Hardin

Sunday, March 30th, 2008

cliffroots1sm.jpgHealth issues are just one thing that brings to mind the value of prevention and the preciousness of life, as well as the fact of our mortal spans… and the vital importance of preparing for the Center’s land, its ecological well being and archaeological integrity, the legacy of the ancient ones and the lessons that have come to be known as Animá – insights and tools that will be ever more important in the coming decades of overpopulation, personal desensitizing and dumbing down, political repression, and a culture that is in dire danger of devolving into tasteless diversion and superficial pabulum. Never will the tools – of self knowledge and awareness, compassion and passionate response, self confidence and sense of interconnection, natural being and the natural world – be more essential or timely for our kind… and never will what human kind does have more definitively impacted the rest of creation. And those who follow will be able to say, that never was it so vital that there still be wild healthful places like the Canyon for the plants and animals that remain, or that there be places of power such as the Animá Center where they can go to rediscover, restore and redirect their selves.

To this end, it is our intention to find a pro-bono lawyer to assist us with setting up a nonprofit land trust, to preserve the teaching center as well as the biota. Any and all suggestions are welcomed in this regard, as we need a defense against what will surely be future pressures from developers, road builders, litigation, and intrusive legislation. Secondly, there is need for successive generations of folks as inspired by this place and purpose as we, including an expanding circle of allies, supporters and teachers who carry the effort forward in their own states, countries, and time. Our Animá Guide apprenticeships are for just that, preparing students to effectively teach in their own voice and own ways, from their own experience and moral center. And we will also have to make room in the Canyon for additional lifetime Canyon residents of all ages including the very young. This work was not meant to done alone, though we have to do it as though and even if were were to do it by ourselves always. It is meant that each caring resident or guardian help monitor the intentions, methods and results, each person doing their best to ensure that the crucial founding principals are honored through any of the Center’s inevitable changes in form. Each would ensure that the others can see beyond their own fears and needs, and do not neglect or dilute the integrity of this mission and land. Each would have varying personal gifts, that would make their contribution unique, and work in concert with others to advance and deepen. And one or more could abandon or betray this, or unexpectedly sicken or die, with their still being others “holding place,” and keeping things going. It would be a terrible mistake for anyone here to ever imagine we don’t need help, or to fail to not only tend the present but prepare for the future.

cliffsfromsouth-sm.jpgAny future residents of the Canyon will likely be drawn from our student and apprenticeship programs, with one of the most important qualifications being that no place else can satisfy or fulfill them, that they feel most their selves when here, and carry the Canyon in their hearts when away… that when they do go for however long and for whatever reasons, they ache to return. The second most important qualification will be their ability to devote. The myriad other requirements can mostly be learned, including awareness, discernment, teaching techniques and homesteading skills. The deep ways they feel, their insistence on bettering themselves and their world, the things they have suffered as well as learned, even their sense of loneliness or frustrations with aspects of society will prove to have been significant preparation for the huge role they assume here.

So it was with me, I can see as I look back. What had once seemed like wrong-headed choices or unnecessary diversions, appear essential in hindsight. I thought my childhood years in military school were wasted, though the teachers allowed me to advance as fast as I wanted and basically showed me that I didn’t need school (only desire, intuition and books) in order to learn; the conformism showed me the absurdity and artlessness of uniformity; the inequality inherent in militarism convinced me that all real authority derives from our selves and the permission we give ourselves to determine and act on what’s right; the tears of the children shamed by their parents for losing to me in spelling bees and shooting matches, helped turn me off to glory at the expense of others. Running away from home and school at 14 long seemed like a mistake, but being on the streets showed me the underside of our economy and the social unfairness, prejudice and police brutality that I would never have known in my suburban cocoon. I could not communicate with so many kinds of people, if not for the time spent traveling, nor could I have kept my commitment to stay here even without friends or a lover, if I had not already won and lost many loves, and realized that others can and should never be the sole source of our satisfaction or our sole reason for being. Even being beat on by druggie biker thugs resulted in my developing an attitude and skills that I needed twenty years later when defending the canyon from threats of violence. The disturbing dreams and arresting visions that once made me feel a little crazy, were indeed the signs and omens that led me home.

clouds1bsm.jpgSome guests talk about complex challenges and situations in their life that they are ready to change, others can express only a general desire to reconnect with the canyon that nonetheless speaks of something primary, sincere and deep, and it is partly for them that both I, my associates and this place itself exist. And in truth, there is nothing else I want to be doing, besides what I already am – only more so – reaching, stirring, awakening, informing, helping heal and empower ever more people… while necessarily establishing a lasting lineage of Canyon caretakership, continued learning, deep feeling, radical envisioning and insistent doing equal to the greatest individual efforts and shared missions in all of history. Animá was never just an idea, nor only a piece of land. All the magic around it would seem to indicate that what I knew in my heart upon first putting my name on the contract to buy it… that it is meant to be an evolving tradition that lasts so long as there is even a fractional minority seeking out a more real and realized existence, and a place honored and protected not just for a lifetime, but forever. Such is the future we plant our seeds for, grown in the rich ground of our histories, fed in the now by our ceaseless helpful efforts, watered with tears and laughter, rivers of love.

—–finis—–

Your involvement is appreciated, your comments always welcomed.

The Animá Center Website: www.animacenter.org

The History Of Anima Center – Part 6 – by J. Wolf Hardin

Sunday, March 23rd, 2008

Even before Kiva and Loba, the Center depended on more than myself for its survival – as a wild place, and a place of teaching. Names pop to mind like John, Gena, Redtail and Ron, who each in their own way and time contributed to paying for the land. And then there were those others who gave in order to help further our message and programs, once I got over my pride and started accepting financial help towards this work. The director of the Kingsley School for troubled youth near Washington D.C., Jim O’Connor, brought some of his charges out to the Center for counsel after watching my presentations, performances and workshops for several years. It was he who made the first donation, after insisting it was hard-headed of me to refuse help when my life was dedicated to helping others. And it was Jim who introduced us to our second ever – and now longest lasting – supporters, our dear friends the Nick Morgan family. There have been numerous people since, some of whom gave regularly for a matter of months or years, others who gifted us only once but at a special time when we really needed it to cover some unexpected expense. There was a long period where we would likely have had to do without internet, the composting latrine, even a running vehicle, without Glenn Henderson. Now Shay’s fervent support is proving invaluable, moving us forward with self publishing as well as trying to assist with every other of the Center’s needs. It’s is only because others give, that we have been able to restore this land and offer these services without ever insisting on payment for anything that we do. rockborders2sm.jpg(This photo shows some of the rock borders I first put up near the cabins, which immediately began to collect new soil and seed… a first step in the greening of the Canyon.)

The intuitive explorations, clarifications, perceptual tools and counsel for action that arose during hundreds of teaching and counsel sessions, were organized in the late 1990’s into the book we now call The Way Of Animá. For any of you who don’t know, these short sections and aphorisms were arranged by topic, so that one could turn to a particular subject relating to their personal quandary or inquiry, such as Trust & Discernment, Love & Self Love, Honor & Integrity, Illness & Death, and Finding Purpose. By 2000, a lifetime of understandings had begun to coalesce into a cohesive holistic way of thinking, being and living. Then in the Winter of 2005, with the excited encouragement and awesome assistance of Kiva Rose, Animá was launched as an effective organized system, school and tradition. The accent over the “A,” by the way, was meant to help with pronunciation, but also to distinguish the teaching from the general term, the archaic or even Freudian lower-case anima. For any who might be unfamiliar with it, you can read detailed definitions in the materials and essays on the Animá site.

With the change in name, came an increase and shift in events, with each more focused and filling a different need, as well as a new expanded website with far more resources, and eventually our blogs. Most important of all may be the developing of comprehensive Animá Correspondence Courses, for the first time making it possible for people anywhere to work closely with us without having to necessarily ever come here. The Path Of Heart is built around self exploration, self-nourishment/self-love and finding one’s purpose in life, for both men or women. The Shaman Path is also for anyone, regardless of gender, who wants to intensely develop their awareness and other abilities, vision and wisdom, purpose and power. The Medicine Woman Core Path is similar to the Shaman Path, only with healing intent and practice as its foundation, and the Medicine Woman Herbal Path puts additional emphasis on healing with plants. We expect it to take at least another two years before all the curricula, readings, questions and assignments/practices are complete, with the most advanced students now driving the pace of their development.

The Medicine Woman Tradition has become an integral element of and vehicle for sharing the broader implications and benefits of Animá, and is mostly thanks to Kiva Rose’s passionate studies, experience and effort. As of 2006 we have included the Tradition in our name, and feature it on the opening page of our website, reflecting its increasing relevance and importance. No other healing system or modality so clearly bridges personal physical healing with taking responsibility for helping heal and even co-create our world. The first complete Medicine Woman book is hoped to be finished by 2009, and its early chapters have already been praised by the healers and visionaries we respect the most.

In 2007 Kiva prepared a grant with Denise Smith of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Partners In Wildlife program, the same program that had funded the building of a cattle-exclusion fence all around the property several years before. The grant reimburses us for any plants, seeds, tools and so forth needed for the further improvement of Animá Center property as wildlife habitat. Plant species have been selected that provide fodder for the local wild animals, but also for their ability to stabilize the river banks, or because simply because they are native types that were once here and should be here again to restore the overall balance. She has also taken it upon herself to reintroduce native plant medicines, species that besides serving the ecosystem, also have known medicinal uses. We’ve since joined the important United Plant Savers organization (www.unitedplantsavers.org) in support of their efforts to halt the plant extinctions and promote ecologically sustainable harvesting.

Two things have made it harder, rather than easier for us to outreach. One is that a large number of nature/ecology, self help and spirituality print publications have shut their doors in the past few years, reducing the number of venues for our articles and event promo. The other, is that the increase in spam resulted in many people installing spam filters that filtered out any announcements from “mail@” addresses. It was this fact that drove us to stop sending out group emails, and to establish our two blogs for notices instead. The result is a greater dependence on you forwarding our announcements and posting our flyers, and encouraging your friends to check out our opportunities. It seems entirely appropriate, however, that our effectiveness hinge on the active participation of what is a growing and diversifying Animá community.

Fascinating to us, are the ways in which Animá students and alumni are also staying directly in touch with each other, forming alliances, working groups and discussion circles, and thus re-creating a tribal (intimate, devoted, with shared values, purpose and work) community of folks living as far away as New Zealand. More and more they are finding others to do activism and healing with, to go on nature walks and enjoy the many simple, fine things in life.

One thing that donations don’t cover – and perhaps never will – is medical and dental expenses for the Center’s residents. We each committed to this place and mission with full knowledge that we would be without health insurance, and that we would be relying on natural forms of healing to survive to a natural old age. My liver condition has appeared as one of the most serious challenges so far, affecting my sleep, with anything that is stressful (from urban shopping center crowds to worry over not doing all we can to alleviate some personal or global ailment) making the symptoms worse. I, who have defined myself my doing the seemingly impossible for so long, have learned from the condition how to calm and pace myself, to expect a little less and rest a little more… things I could well have benefited by when I first came here nearly three decades ago.

(To be continued)

Finding Our Path – Essay By Kiva Rose

Thursday, March 20th, 2008

kiva-sagesm.jpgWe are all born with a capacity and propensity for joy, and except when being actively traumatized, a small child is generally delighted and amazed by the complex and beautiful world that she inhabits. In later years we experience the full range and complexity of the emotional scale, and yet we usually crave a return to a state of contentment or at least happiness whenever we start straying too far away. An infant might be pleased by someone cooing to them, or by a flashy plastic toy. But as adults, our joy depends not on entertainment or accolade, or even on getting the things that we desire… but rather, a deep and residing sense of satisfaction in who we really are, in the why and how of our living. It comes from embodying and understanding our authentic selves, our purpose in life and finding or creating a form, a means, a tradition or practice through which we can best manifest that.It is only once we become capable of seeing, feeling and accepting ourselves, that we can then recognize which ideas, systems, patterns and forms that best help us understand, express and manifest our most gifted beings. That is the conscious human’s first essential quest.

What we ultimately search for is not just community, a sense of belonging, affirmation, validation or love. At the core of the personal life quest lies the deep need to know what truths, ways and alliances that will contribute to our finding and manifesting our true selves, what serves our spirits, and what helps us to best serve the world. An integral part of this process of discernment comes not just from selecting between forms and systems, but also from being able to see what aspects of the traditions or practices we select fail to further our path and purpose… noticing which hold us back by making things too easy, or worse, point us in the wrong direction. We can adopt and adapt those parts of a tradition that work, discarding what clearly doesn’t. The most challenging part of this journey may be when we realize that there is no existing tradition or system for us. When this happens, we need to find the courage to walk our path alone if necessary, and find the practices most integral to our personal growth and fulfillment, instead of compromising our self, needs, knowings or vision.

While the teenaged daughter of a Evangelical Missionary, I sampled every imaginable way of thinking, moved with my family from one state to the next, and never settled into one place or way of being long enough to commit to any one way of being. Then finally, at age twenty-three, I found myself staring up into the wide blue summer skies of New Mexico and into the heart of what would become my path and purpose.

Before me lay seven river crossings into the wilderness Sanctuary that called to me as home. My first steps towards the river were tentative, there were no instructions, no sets of rituals to tell me how to respond or feel. Deep inside, I knew that these steps were definitive. I could feel all the fear and doubt of my past welling up inside me, threatening to send me running back to the familiar comforts of transiency. Instead, I held my breath and ran the distance to the water, slowing just enough not to slip on the wet stones underneath my feet. The mountain water was shockingly cold, bringing me out of the worries and troubles of my head and back into my body. All around me, the rocks of the canyon glittered reds, oranges and blue. I stood with my head back and my mouth open, trying hard to take it all in and knowing at the same time that it was impossible to see, hear, touch and feel all that this place was reaching out to me with.

Stepping for the first time into that water was the initiation I’d hoped for so many years before, a washing away and also a deep filling. By the second crossing, my tears mingled with the river’s water. At the third, where the canyon walls narrowed and the rose colored cliffs rose into view, I knelt on the sand among wildflowers blooming in profuse abandon all around me, the rich burgundy of coneflowers next to the papery white of prickly poppies. What brought me to my knees was not the sense of safety, security or companionship that I’d been seeking in my previous incarnations, but of something deep inside waking up and searching for its voice and expression, and the power and spirit of a purpose and place that called to me so strongly I could feel my body shaking with the intensity of it. The wind sung in high chords across the mountain rock faces above me, a haunting flute-like sound blending with the cool rush of the river and the eagle that suddenly screamed above my head.
Animá: Finding Or Creating Our Own Path

I was being called not just to listen, participate or agree, but to heal enough to understand and accept my role as a teacher, as a protector of this special place and a guide to the women who come come here for refuge, clarity and empowerment. They make the long flight or drive desiring a concise and straightforward way of finding their true selves… and in course, their greatest powers and deepest calling. The desire not acceptance so much as a challenging of their imagined limitations and negative self perceptions, the fulfilling of their purpose and potential as women, and as sensory extensions of the the living world.

My partners, Wolf and Loba, had already been working for decades to record the lessons of this ancient place of power and to refine the ancient truths that lie at the center of every usable faith and philosophy. These understandings have come through the hearts of many different peoples, places and times, but they remain essentially unchanged. When I arrived, we began the long work of distilling these teachings into a nature and heart informed, practice and, in reality, a way of life. We began with the goal of giving students and seekers solid ways of increasing awareness, sentience, self-knowledge, response-ability, sense of purpose and wholeness.

From the fertile soil of this place of power and the wisdom of both indigenous and modern peoples, Animá was born. The Latin word for Breath, Spirit, Courage, Animá is the vital force enlivening, animating and connecting all things, and now a set of practical, relevant contemporary tools and practices serving each person’s individual strengths and visions. Animá is a way of creating an enchanted and empowered life. And as a calling to heightened awareness, it teaches us to live life to its fullest. We give each student the knowledge and experience for their personal wholeness and health so that they can best serve the integrity of the whole.

After so many years of hiding my self-doubt and confusion behind a tough and intelligent exterior, it is this celebratory and intense way of life that has allowed me to open up and expose my vulnerable child-like self. And to express myself joyfully even in ways that I think I’m not great at, by singing my love to the canyon or my partner even when I’m embarrassed by the way my voice cracks and breaks and insists upon diving off key. As a perfectionist determined to excel at anything I ever put my mind to, it’s still painfully difficult for me to expose myself as imperfect in any way, but I’ve learned the importance of being fully myself.

I’ve come to take satisfaction in pushing myself beyond what I believe are my limits, excelling outside the comforts of my already known and tested strengths. When I first arrived in the canyon, I was so attached to my identity as a counterculture poet that it was almost impossible for me to let go of my image long enough to learn how to write and express myself in new ways. By applying the assignments of Animá, I learned to stretch my boundaries, and to love myself even when I’m not yet as great as I’d like at what I’m doing. Trailed relentlessly by depression and anxiety, through a practice of honesty and openness I’m now able to express my authentic self without the crutches of alcohol or other addictions. I’ve let the baggage and habits that aren’t me fall away, no longer attached to them. I am able to discern now when and where I typically sabotage myself with my own doubts and insecurities, and actively choose to not fall into my own traps, allowing myself instead to really grow.

One of the hardest but best lessons I’ve learned is how to be fully present and in my body at all times. And to create simple rituals to bring myself back into my body through contact with the earth when I’m feeling ungrounded. My challenge to remain in my body has its origins in a lifetime of struggling with eating disorders and negative body image, but now I’ve learned to love food without deprivation or bingeing. I’ve also found the self-love necessary to be gentle and patient with myself, rather then always pushing to the point of exhaustion and injury. I know now that our bodies are not earthly vessels to transcend, but an integral part of our spirit and self, a sacred temple for expression and enjoyment. And through these understandings I’ve come to truly believe that I am worthy of the love, respect, honor and protection I now receive.

I’ve discovered the power of acting out of my magical nature and greatest purpose rather than out of self-indulgence or some momentary whim. But also, how to indulge myself in a positive way, through intentional pleasure and nurturing, by taking the time to create daily rituals out of walks, yoga and self-care. And most of all, to take joy in each moment as the only now, to live each day as if it my last, and every moment a decisive one.

Finally I have found form and tradition that maximizes my abilities, that challengers, empowers and satisfies me. and I have accepted the job of helping to inspire that in others… inspiring the women I work with to set aside their preconceptions and fears, to explore who they are and what system or tradition, ideas or practices will be the perfect ones for them.

In a riverside grove of dark ridged walnut trees, twining grape vines and pale leaved maples we gather to celebrate in what is a simultaneously fresh and new, and ever so ancient way. For the first time since I was a little girl I am overflowing with real and unflagging joy. It’s the joy of fulfilling a purpose and calling, of cocreating a path that can inform and assist other peoples and practices. Of accepting myself as a beautiful and empowered being, ever more comfortable in my body and needs, a celebrant and guardian of the ways of Animá… serving both the wholeness of self and the integrity of the greater whole, through that form which fits me best.

http://www.bearmedicineherbals.com

http://www.animacenter.org

The History Of Anima Center – Part 5 – by J. Wolf Hardin

Sunday, March 16th, 2008

Starting in 1985, my time away from the Canyon involved not only raising land payment money, but also passing on to others what it so generously and adamantly taught. From California to Vermont, I put on over 250 shows, combining spoken word presentation with live music. Most often we would begin with a blessing by a local indigenous elder, then move through pieces that evoked moods as well as presented ideas, and into heavy rhythm numbers where my hand drums set the crowds to dancing. Bands that backed me up ranged from high dollar professionals to busking street musicians, and I adapted my message and tone to work with diverse styles. One night I might perform with a country western band, followed by several shows with a blues-rock band, and then a weekend of cool reggae. At certain conferences or campuses I would give a non-musical presentation, alongside firebrands like Terry Tempest Williams, Gary Snyder, David Brower and Winona LaDuke , other times with the musical accompaniment of the likes of African drummer Baba Olatungi, all male rockers Little Women, the women’s band Joyful Noise, California’s Joanne Rand, folky heart-throb Dana Lyons and the baritone mountain man Walkin’ Jim Stoltz. Always we donated much of the proceeds to whatever local cause we supported, from habitat preservation groups to those organizing for local community autonomy… and my remaining share went to paying Emil, the seller of our Sanctuary. The greatest reward, nonetheless, came not in dollars but smiles and tears, hugs and applause, the gratitude of people who felt moved to re-embrace the vitality of their lives, to join in common cause with others of shared values, to honor instead of conceal their love for natural places and more natural ways of being. The Canyon was speaking, inspiring and healing, far from its river’s shores.

The problem was that the more I was in demand, the more I found myself away from the place that informed, nourished and sustained me, from the place where every insight and tool I taught seemed to arise. Given how much I talked on stage about relationship with the land, I began to feel hypocritical – almost like a speaker on the topic of marital bliss, who is seldom home to tend to his marriage. Realistically, I was not being disingenuous by traveling to teach, but life was certainly getting out of balance, with there being more days where I was out giving than days in the Canyon taking it in.

As a result, in 1993 I pulled in the reins, refocusing on restoring and “growing” myself, with the restoration project here, and reaching out to the world not through guest appearances but through still more articles and books. Whereas I had previously written only for the so called alternative audience, I now began to weave the same values and insights into works written for widely divergent audiences: into sensory-awakening essays on cooking, idea-challenging history pieces, sense of place and the importance of purpose into articles on Old West firearms, pieces on stewardship in the back-to-the-landers’ Mother Earth News as well as the cowboy’s Range Magazine. The first of the books written here were released, and I began to respond to the influx of seekers and students by developing a form for that.

That form was The Earthen Spirituality Project, so named to recognize the inspiritedness of everything in creation, as well to honor the deep and revelatory connection between certain individuals of seemingly every persuasion – from Atheist to Christian, Pagan to Buddhist, and from urban to rural – and the rest of the natural world of which even the most civilized of us is still a part. It was with some naivety that I underplayed the ways in which the word “spiritual” could be hot button and a liability, making it easy for the uninformed to confuse our utterly nonreligious teachings with everything from “Nature Worship” to the often escapist “New Age.” No doubt there were people who never contacted us because of that, who could otherwise have benefitted. The Project nevertheless afforded an increasing number of folks specific opportunities they took advantage of. At first these were counsel sessions with me (personalized insights and provocations), retreats (unstructured time here, to replenish the self), and primitive vision quests (periods of ritual exposure and privation, such as Native Americans and even Anglo-Saxons underwent). All such opportunities, then as now, were offered free, on a donations basis, ensuring our intention as well as making it possible to exclude no one for lack of funds.

anima-homestead-3-small.jpgBecause of this policy, and my not touring anymore, finances became more difficult again. At one low point I had sold 10 acres to a gal whose well intended but often reckless activism dearly cost the work here and jeopardized the Canyon. A subsequent buyer built the cabin that has since been called the “Gifting Lodge,” then “flaked out” as we say, and if Canyon acolyte Ron Sutcliffe had not come forward and paid the fellow off, the portion where the Lodge sits could have ended up on the open market instead of being given back to the Sanctuary. With no money for building materials, I didn’t get our Anima den – a humble 12’ X 20’ one-room office, internet, counsel area and art studio – built until 1990. In the accompanying photo, you can see the den as well as the now-covered school-bus kitchen to its left, taken from the other side of the river (about 230 yards away), at approximately the same height.

Loba had arrived in 1993, the first person besides myself to ever come to stay. Before that, no girlfriend, friend and student had demonstrated a need to remain, or the necessary level of devotion to both place and cause. It wasn’t me but vision of New Mexico that had spurred her to leave trendy San Francisco and search out a fated lifetime home. From the start her effect on people was significant, and even when she couldn’t put a lesson into words she was somehow able to impart much of what a visitor needed. While I looked into the secret chambers of their hearts, imparted sometimes hard truths, asked them to take responsibility and watched if they lived their truths or neglected their hopes and dreams, Loba emanated acceptance and caring, and modeled engagement, compassion and delight. Some who tried to block out the counsel they most needed to hear, still found in her meals and the way she serves them, inspiration that would slowly reshape and revitalize their lives.

Loba made it easier for me to be home writing and teaching, but she also made possible and timely the creation here of a women’s center. Long before she got here, there was a higher percentage of female questers and students than male, and those who came often spoke of how important safe woman-space proved in their emotional healing. From 1996 on, we have scheduled specific times for Summer coed events, while reserving for women the time and space between. It was in 2000 that Loba facilitated the first ever group event in the Canyon, The Wild Women’s Gathering, and since then we have hosted up to 6 events per season (May through September), with from 6 to 16 participants average from all over the world. It would be four more years until the coming of Kiva Rose, and an increase in Supporter involvement that would mean our being able to do more for the land – and help more people – than ever.

(To be continued– 7 parts total)

Anima Center Website: http://www.animacenter.org

Medicine Woman Herbal Book Excerpt #3 – By Kiva Rose

Thursday, March 13th, 2008

The Medicine Woman’s Herbal
By Kiva Rose Hardin
Excerpt #3

“Finding a space to belong in, an actual place that I could touch and feel and bring myself to, really made me a person, an entity. It gave me an identity. My surroundings became the path and the path became me.”
-Katie Hennessey

It was as a child that the plants first called to me, crawling through the grasses, stopping to sniff the smallest flowers, then sitting back on my heels in awe at the fragrant, white blossoms of the yarrow growing wild at the edges of our yard. Running through the woods, I learned how to weave through the weeds so as to avoid the sharp sting of the prolific nettles. I gathered wild mulberries from up the hill with my mother, delighting in the sweet burst of juice eaten from purple stained fingers. Even then, I knew that the plants’ language of both sweetness and sting was significant and important, telling of some secret healing power or painful call to pay attention. And though the grownups continually cautioned me to not put plants in my mouth for fear I’d poison myself, I couldn’t help but take a taste of the bitter leaves of the dandelion or the nectar rich sage blossoms. I plucked shepherd’s purse seeds, intrigued by their peculiar shape and peered at them from every angle, carefully breaking them apart and then tasting their peppery goodness, proclaiming them to be wild pepper hearts, and adding another defamed weed to my list of favorite wild nibbles.

I knew I was hooked on herbs, the day an old Mexican woman down the road taught me how to use those pepper hearts and yarrow to stop my knees from bleeding, following a particularly bad bike wreck. I’d already searched out and marked any reference to medicinal plants in my favorite fairy tales and stories, but now I poured through field guides and herbal encyclopedias from the local library, looking for familiar plants and their uses. In my small bedroom, I created strange elixirs with vinegar, kitchen spices and garden weeds, delighting just to open the bottles and smell the mysterious scents within. I drank peppermint tea with a new fascination, turning inwards to observe any noticeable effects upon my body. Pulled by the ancient memories of meaning and need the plants stirred in me, I couldn’t have known the profound part they would play in my life’s calling and work. Through my teen years on the streets and my subsequent journey into the wilderness, the plants remained my closest companions, providing nutriment for my spirit and body when nourishment of any kind was hard to come by, and companionship when I had no where else to go for understanding.

Though initially my focus was trained primarily on the plants, Wolf taught me that medicine is any article or agent that contributes to the greater whole. Medicine can the pungent, peppery roots of Osha, or it can be a caring hand on our shoulder, it can be the car wreck that wakes us up to the beauty and importance of life, or it can be the much needed rest that gives us back our energy and vibrance. I recognized medicine in the loneliness during the time I’d spent on the streets, and how it taught me to choose my friends carefully and to value my solitude, found deep healing in my early struggle to free myself of my family’s destructive cycles, and a cure for nearly every sadness in the embrace of our rushing river. Medicine will be different for each person, and will change for each of us in time. The fast-paced lifestyle that invigorates one person may not serve the slower, more deliberate nature of another. The Medicine Woman Tradition teaches that there is no set dogma, no single way of being… only the bedrock of the earth’s underlying principles, the twisting, flowing current of our deepest needs and the clarion call of our most meaningful purpose, all urging us deeper, further and fuller into our selves, and ever further along the winding path we walk.

As that wonder-filled little girl, I was afraid that the role of healer had been relegated by modern dictates to apply only to medical school graduates. It was with great excitement that I learned of contemporary practicing herbalists and healers, yet I knew even then that I would never be happy just dispensing medicines, knew that working from the illusion of separative body, spirit and mind would be less than satisfying. Back then, I imagined myself the fairy-tale witch at the edge of the woods, with a bubbling soup pot and a pantry filled with the scent of dried, twisty roots and green, fragrant leaves. In my mind, I would treat neighbor children from my woodland cottage and deliver medicinal brews and wise words to the townspeople. The Medicine Woman of my youthful daydreams was, as I sensed on some instinctual level, a vital archetype and role model for our species, providing insight, counsel, and both magical and common sense healing to those she cares for and her surrounding tribe. While she may sometimes seem lost or invisible in our culture’s adoration of ephemeral beauty and tragic tales, she is still very present in our stories and thoughts, helping us re-create our lives.

Leading my students into the wild forests of my southwestern homeland, I find myself still glowing with the sense of enchantment and mystery that the plants first spoke of so many years ago. In my teaching and writing, I strive to pass on my continual wonder and love of the green world and its healing power. When I work with local village people, I remember my healing roots and the wise ways of my ancestral mothers, and at the same time I am excited at the potential for new discoveries and understandings. Practicing my art as teacher, wife, mother, herbalist and writer – as Medicine Woman – my childhood dreams are superimposed over my day to day life, seamless as skin, and more fulfilled with each passing moment.

And now it is time to turn from this solar powered laptop, and to the gorgeous sun as it slips over the red and violet cliffs. As I close, Loba is lighting the oil lamp and candles while Rhiannon sets the table for a dinner of wild meat and greens, glowing acorn bread and mulled cider. A simple prayer speaks our gratitude for the medicine of our abundance and the hands that fashioned it. In the growing dark, we take in the profound healing of stillness and nourishment, of love and fulfillment… and the unique, powerful journey we are each called to as Medicine Women. We applaud your responding to your calling, welcome your embrace of the Tradition, and will do all we can to assist your unique individual expression of the purposeful Medicine Woman Herbal path.

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For more information on our online Medicine Woman Herbal course, go to: http://animacenter.org/correspondenceco.html#MWTherbal

And you haven’t yet you can check out my Medicine Woman’s Roots blog, at: www.bearmedicineherbals.com

The History Of Anima Center – Part 4 – by J. Wolf Hardin

Sunday, March 9th, 2008

anima-bus-sm.jpgShown in the photo is the original Anima school bus, sporting a Viking ship medallion to commemorate the act of selling the engine and wheels to raise the earnest money. You see it covered by a sheath of well weathered wood insulating it as well as helping it blend into the landscape, but for over a decade it served as the only structure on the property without cover or siding. It was there at the table I sat, looking over the freshly signed sales contract, thinking hard on what I would do next. Coming up with the down payment for what became the Anima Sanctuary put me through unbelievable stress, as did every single semi-annual payment over the course of the fifteen year obligation. A child of the 60’s (60 B.C.!), I had always chosen free time over dependable income and illusory security, and even my art and music were geared towards awakening personal and global change rather than taking those forms that could actually make me some money. My role models were not the shallow cultural icons of the day, but those who did much with nothing, from cantankerous mountain men to visionary holy men, and I had always quit every job as soon as assured income began to take the edge off my risk taking, or slow my learning, experiencing and growth. I focused on music and art not only because of my natural talents, and their potential beauty or ability to touch hearts and open minds, but because I knew neither would ever make me so secure as to become less motivated and alert. Now I took dangerous and unpleasant jobs that paid well, as well as menial work like pouring adobe bricks that paid almost nothing. Instead of insisting on meaning and enjoyment from my employment as before, I now accepted every opportunity that could help nudge me a little closer to sealing the deal. What I might otherwise have thought of as an unpalatable compromise, I now looked at as simply the necessary trials on the way to what I was meant to do, and where I was meant to be.

It was less than one week from the deadline spelled out in the offer, before the final dollars were raised, in a celebration that included counting several years worth of change and stuffing it into paper rolls. Still another hurdle seemed to arise, when I heard in town that the conservative owner had previously refused to sell a different parcel after hearing that the would-be buyer had long hair. Needless to say, I was as attached to my flowing locks as Samson, and hadn’t been to a barber since I was a teenager. It was a flag, a symbol of my attraction to previous centuries and backwoods lifestyles, and one that I had more than once defended from scissors-wielding drunks. I loved the feel of a fast horse or sleek motorcycle with my hair in the wind, and took comfort in fingering a braid when there were reasons to be sad. But with the first hint that it could jeopardize the signing of the contract, I took a quick swipe with my custom Ruana knife, and the braid hit the floor.

Emil and I put our respective signatures on the contract in the Winter of ‘80/’81, by which time I had already bonded to the property to the point that it would have felt like death to give it up. When not working, I spent every minute exploring the canyon and its surrounding mountains, acquainting myself with the flora and fauna, quieting my busy mind enough to start hearing the subtle chords of river canyon life and the beckoning of the spirits of place. Already I felt as if I were leaving a part of myself when I left its caress, and like I was coming home as soon as I was pointed back. The Native American saying about “you can’t own the land, it owns us” was always something I accepted, but never had it felt so real and personal. No matter how much money I paid year after year, the canyon could never really belong to me. I, however, increasingly belonged to it. The twist was that the closer I got to the land, the harder it was for me to go out year after year to earn the latest payment. Allowing other people to buy a portion from me helped, but also ended up endangering the property in one way or other, and ownership would have reverted to Emil on two separate occasions if not for old friend John Drake interceding and committing.

With nearly everything going towards the cost of the land, it was over five years before I could afford another vehicle. For the first twelve months of that I walked not only the two mile trail to the road but also the eight additional miles of pavement to town, carrying a backpack for groceries, and sometimes packing a car battery out for a fast charge just so I could hear a little recorded music. There were other prices for being here as well, beginning with loss of my artist identity and the conscious community I’d known in Taos. The loss of my wife, who never could understand what was so special about the canyon, followed by the loss of the daughter that begged her mom to let her stay. A decade of girlfriends saying they wanted to live in the wilderness, but always going away. Knowing I’d never be able to afford health insurance, and that I’d be lucky to cover gas and food.

There was never a seconds doubt however, in all that time, that it was worth it… and never a morning at home that I did not wake up filled with a depth of gratitude for being here greater than I had ever known. It’s possible for someone arriving here to act as if they had hustled it, and claim the land as a prize of their cleverness. Even given all the hoops I had to jump through and all the struggles and dramas I suffered in order to pay for it, I still sensed that I was not the facilitator so much as an agent of some larger plan or process… that I was the recipient of a great and wondrous gift. And with every blessing seemed to come an assignment, a clear and impelling means for giving back.

Initially it seemed no more complex than a special opportunity to get grounded, nourished, stretched and strengthened, a chance for true wholeness and home. This stretching deserved at least my openness in return. In gratitude for wholeness, I gave my pledge to utilize every part and facility. And for the gift of home, I gave attentive devotion and unshakable loyalty. Secondly, I recognized the rarity and power of the canyon’s wildness, the way the river crossings helped prevent development as well as casual intrusions, how special it was to have multiple ecosystems in a single property involving from desert communities to high elevation pines, and what a dream come true it was for a young man who had spent too much hard time on the streets. In exchange, I would give care and protection, helping by planting native shoots and seeds, removing the cattle that graze the surrounding National Forest, encouraging the repatriation of the countless creatures meant like me to be here. It was not long before the full significance of the third gift sunk in, the legacy of the ancient Sweet Medicine (Mogollon) people who first settled this watershed. Not only was the entire property an archaeological site, but first my intuition and then the explorations of visiting archaeologists pointed to it being the hallowed ceremonial center for an entire region. That element, too, would receive my protection in turn, as well as my promise to honor that legacy by living out my purpose as full and honorably as the most committed of those who came before.

It was several years before I acknowledged the fourth level or gift, the life changing experiences and enriching insights that this section of the canyon in particular seems to excite. Stories and lessons started pouring through faster than I could write them down, interconnected truths needing a voice, an avenue, an outlet. Among my infrequent guests, even the most resistant or disenchanted found that submerged feelings and issues would come up, prompting self evaluation and sometimes important change. What’s more, an eclectic assortment of characters started stumbling onto this long-held place of power, while on a search for something they usually couldn’t name. Folks who had once purchased artwork, somehow rooted me out, asking not for more paintings but for advice and counsel. The gift of the land, I saw, included a deep knowing vital not just to myself but to human kind and all that we as humans affect. And the appropriate if problematic way to give back, would be to pass on what I learned here. At times that would mean staying home and spending impossible amounts of hours on a laptop computer, while other times it would require that I hit the road to give presentations, perform and inspire.

(to be continued)

Anima Canyon Geology by Jesse Wolf Hardin

Sunday, March 2nd, 2008

Note: It was some time after writing Home – the as yet unpublished book on the canyon, reinhabitation and sense of place – that Wolf realized something was missing: the story of the very ground we claim to be “grounded” on. This piece will now be included in Home once its published, or we self publish. You can contact me for copies. Enjoy. -Kiva Rose

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Grounding: A Geology Of Place

By Jesse Wolf Hardin

shapedlava1sm.jpgAs airy, disembodied or detached as we might ever feel, we are nonetheless in many ways creatures of rock…. bound to a mineral laden universe. Take a walk outside and we can feel what we call “gravity” in every single step. Sitting down on the grass, we sense it most acutely where our weight presses against the ground and down into what is both our mortal resting place and our unique inspirited source. No matter where we are there is this power pulling us to the earth like a magnet and holding us fast, exerting its influence even through layers of pavement and flooring or the full depth of a multistory structure. Scientists credit this to the physics of a spinning globe, but we might also look at it as a force of attachment or the condition of being “wanted,” as the Earth pulling us closer, drawing her children to her bosom, drawing her extremities close-in to her rolling planet body. We notice the way it gives weight to our every purposeful movement, all the day long. We take comfort in the way its arms reach out when each day is finally done, holding us tightly to our padded beds as we careen madly around a flaming sun.

This is as true in the mountains of New Mexico as it is anywhere, each step seeming to stake us to the ground as overhead the sky rushes by, the clouds leaping from the top of one cliffside to the other. My partners and I spend a lot of time with our eyes cast up upwards towards the arc of a spiraling eagle, a fluorescent dawn or a sparkling canopy of countless stars…. but today it is the rocks that have our attention instead. Our gaze falls on the horizontal orange and gray striations in embankment soils, and on the smooth or frothy features of nearby cliff and stone. Here are glassy golden rocks, both translucent and opalescent. Fractured rocks, as jagged and dangerous as a broken and embittered heart. Hard and seamless rocks with rounded contours. Soft rocks with abstract blocks of green set in a matrix of beige. Gray rock sporting a forest of yellow lichen. White rock fragments left over from the construction of arrowheads by the first Native American residents of this special place, as well as purple rock revealing itself to human inspection for the very first time. Masses of rocks the color of dried blood, and black rocks featuring their own stellar constellations of speckled crystal quartz. Young Rhiannon hands Loba the tiny blue pebbles she fished from the river’s waters, and I find the cliff hues so mesmerizing that I’m at first unable to look away. Our project partner Kiva bends over to pick up a particularly interesting specimen, then wets it with her tongue to better make out the muted colors and delicate filigree. She rolls it lovingly between her finger and thumb, joining us in holding even the most common rocks as though they were singular and precious with a personality all their own…. and it is for this reason that they so willingly surrender to us their secrets.

We call this canyon ancient, and compared to the brief life span of the human observer it is certainly so, but in geologic time it is a relative newcomer to this continent, only recently born. It formed during the latter part of the Cenozoic, the most recent geologic age dating from sixty-five million years ago to the present. Long after the mountains of the Eastern Seaboard had risen and then eroded, and long after tectonic forces shoved the earth to the north of us skyward creating what we now call the Rocky Mountains. This birthing of the Tularosa, Frisco, Gila and Black Range occurred at the onset of the Quaternary period, while our earliest hominid ancestors in Africa were learning how to walk upright…. and they literally exploded into being some five hundred thousand years ago in what was the most most recent region wide volcanic event on this continent.

rock2sm.jpgThe Canyon cliffs, like cliffs and mountains everywhere, radiate with a comforting sense of longevity if not true permanence and our hearts cling to the sweetness of their day in, day out familiarity. They’re the most prominent landmarks providing us with a sense of direction, and thus of home. But these too are temporal, subject to the winds and whims of time. As still and secure as they seem, all landforms are forever changing, developing, shifting, dissolving and upthrusting at their own speed and yet right before our eyes. The forces of weather continually erode into even the most solid rock while transport agents like wind, water, ocean waves, glacial ice or erupting volcanoes reposition the resulting sediments into alluvial deposits. The intermittent water flow of Southwestern storms and its perennial rivers slowly move the rock detritus down towards the canyon floor and in the direction of broad Arizona valleys. Close to the rivers are what they call alluvial fans, where the materials spread out wide and pile deep. In some places of the country the fans are rich with peat, but here they are mostly made up of sand. The Southwest has never been as thick with vegetation as other parts of the country, and a century of livestock grazing has cut that in half. No wonder then, that our soils have a lower percentage of organic content and take longer to be replenished. Soil creation is never a rapid process, and somewhere like the Northeast it can take up to five hundred years to create a single inch of this life-filled and life-giving matter. In a place like New Mexico, it can take thousands.

The mixed blessing and curse that is civilization was made possible by intensive agriculture, and quite literally grew out of the fertile and irrigable soils deposited alongside Asian riverbeds. There is no surer measure of a community’s sustainability than the condition of its earth, and many civilizations from Mesopotamia to the Inca of Peru collapsed largely due to the depletion of topsoil and leaching of nutrients inherent in their agricultural and land development practices. Native American cultures are known for a religiosity that regards nature as something sacred, and for taboos against any behaviors likely to lead to environmental degradation or destruction. It is nonetheless true that the Mogollon peoples living in near balance in this canyon for millennia contributed to their own extirpation, moving in mass to the Rio Grande Valley and elsewhere when available firewood had been stripped for miles around, and as less and less corn could be grown from the increasingly impoverished ground.

These days the world’s remaining topsoil is in greater danger than ever before. In the tropics the once verdant rainforests are being burned for agriculture and livestock grazing at an alarming rate, and the ground over planted with a single most profitable species. Africa no longer has enough fertile farmlands to feed its burgeoning population in spite of the introduction of modern pesticides and genetically engineered crops. Clear cut logging has joined industrial, road and housing construction practices in this country in triggering unprecedented and irreparable erosion of precious surface material.

It’s all too easy to think of the living, giving ground as nothing but the “terra forma” stage for the human centered drama, or worse yet, naught but dirt…. dirt to be avoided, cleansed from our houses and our hands. In reality it is if nothing else an essential resource for the for the plants that grow from it and the animals that make their homes in its depths or on its surface, and for the people and the livestock who depend on its produce. And rather than being something strictly dirty, soil functions as a purifier working to cleanse surface water on its journey to the underground aquifer. How sad that the richest soils are so often built on, paved over, or stripped of its protective forest or the top few inches of ground and then left to erode.

The millennial long process of soil replacement begins with the erosion chemically altering of parent materials such as bedrock. The type of soil that forms depends upon the rock types, the combination of minerals found in them, and how these minerals react to temperature, pressure, and erosive forces. As a result the experts list over fifty-five thousand different definable soil types in this country alone. Then the ground is further influenced by all the dead and living plants on and in it– human beings, fungus and bacteria, composting greenery and decomposing carcasses, the worms that mix and aerate the ground as well as the small burrowing animals that help by moving the soil materials around. Living plants that shade soil from the sun, trees whose roots hold the ground fast against the savage tearing of Summer storms. Animal droppings, and then the animals themselves after they fall dead. Strip malls and sealed caskets, wilderness restorationists and organic farmers.

Just as our bones are the rock framework that our skin and muscle adhere to, so too are the canyon sides the skeleton from which arms hangs the flesh and bark of life. We not only anchor to this mineral world but also, at our best, we learn from its example. To be wholly at home in our selves and on this earth it helps to be as solid in our selves and our convictions as rock itself…. and when it comes to our dreams, our loved ones and our place, to stick like clay. To be truly empathic and compassionate we need to be as receptive and nutritive as soil. Like a sedimentary deposit we need to settle back into place, living a full life in reciprocal relationship to all that surrounds us, and someday serving as food for that which grows out of this sacred marriage of person and place. And like some lava-tinted formation, we are meant to both embody and express the passionate desires of this molton-hearted planet.
It’s a certain wondrous canyon that inspired me to record these insights, but the truth of the earth are close at hand no matter where we are. Right there below us all lies the land that we both cleave to and rise from, pulsing underneath the pavement, breathing deeply through the cracks in the sidewalks, through playground heath and flowery suburban yards. It is a magical amalgam of plant and animal and stone, of ancient forms and extincted species reconstituted into the compost of gardens and the ruddy tinge on hard working hands. It is the fertile loam that bears us food, the foundation that supports our dwellings, the geologic extension of our own planetary beings. It is the most natural and unpretentious people that we call “down to earth,” and it’s they who seem to speak from some inner fertile field the interconnection, wisdom and love. On the other hand when someone makes an unsubstantiated claim we say that it is “groundless,” bereft without the truth of place. It’s tragic enough when we go about oblivious of our natural and physical environs, totally lost in our thoughts. Without this earth to manifest through and on we’d find ourselves quite literally “lost in space.” I can’t envision any greater “common ground” than the land itself and its essential conservation, dependent as we are on its mineral integrity and organic richness for the foods our burgeoning population eats, and with all of life hinging on the fate of the microbial and fungal communities housed in its fragile top few inches.

It would be fair to say that all rocks are in their own way “rocks of ages,” time keepers and place keepers lending the perspective of eras and eons. In their vibrations are echoes of the tragedies and celebrations that make up millions of years of evolutionary history, and they align like Easter Island monoliths to point towards the always unfolding future. The largest boulders give us a feel for our true, expansive size. The tiny pebbles and fractured shards lying at our feet are some of our own precious bones, waiting once more for a fresh cloaking of flesh. From beach sand to canyon cliffs we’re blessed with an aggregate of teachers and place keepers, patiently instructing us on the means and ways home. Any number of threats could challenge our commitment to our canyon and work, but my partners and I pledge not turn away…. and instead, to hold onto this this rock, this earth, this way.

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