Archive for August, 2008

Anima Definitions: Health & Healing

Sunday, August 31st, 2008

Health & Healing

blueriverswimhole2sm.jpgThe Sweet Medicine Sanctuary is a restored riparian wilderness, a river ecosystem made healthy again through the reintroduction of cottonwoods and willows, cattail and clump grass.  Ringtail cats cavort next to splashing muskrats, and fish make love under an expanse of heron wings.  It’s been nearly 3 decades since I first started excluding cattle from the land and replanting native plants.  With each new season, an increasing variety of plant life have made their way back home here, and every Spring comes the sound of yet another bird species I’ve never heard.  With every reintroduction the land becomes more of what it once was, and in this way, more itself.

Like this land, I too have sacrificed parts of myself, only to regain them through practice and prayer, personal insistence and the passage of time.  Things such as the willingness to laugh, and the ability to cry.  The honest depths of agony, and far extremes of joy.  My inner animal, and the reason for being.  The inclination to play, and the patience to stay.  It’s a good thing, because the longer I’m here, the better able I am to hear the will and whisperings of the Earth…. and more myself I am.

Of course, the walk downriver hasn’t always been easy.  Although some seasons I’ve leapt about, moving rocks for soil berms as if work had no weight, when I’ve been ill it hasn’t been so easy.  But in either case, I’ve never been truly healthier since coming here to home and purpose: knowing who I really am, what I most need to be doing, and where I most certainly belong.  Indeed, what is to be healthy, but to be whole: a balanced unity of gifts and needs, heart and mind, vision and action.  Gaia teaches that good health isn’t the absence of trauma or pain, but rather, the most complete embodiment of our authentic selves.  The depth of sensation, emotion and experience.  The fullness of expression and response.  The fulfillment of our passions and our purpose, our destiny and our dreams.   It’s how  we live, more than how long.  “Wellness” means living well: consciously and compassionately, artfully and purposefully.

The Anima Medicine Woman is adept at treating disease.  People come from all over for the healing effects of this place as well as Kiva’s insightful prescriptions and adept ministrations.  At the same time, it isn’t disease that makes us unwhole, for pain makes us more aware of our bodies and feelings, and the way both our lifestyles and our immediate environments are affecting us.  Suffering tempers our skills, tests our resolve, and strengthens our will.  Debility teaches us humility, and infirmity counsels patience.  The loss of one sensory organ leads to a heightening of the others.  At its worst, a deadly virus does nothing but return us to the earth we arose from, extend from, and belong to.  We are made unwhole not by death, but the failure to fully live.  By that which dilutes our focus, weakens our intention, or dishonors our spirit. That which makes us doubt our instincts and intuition, significance or value.  We are made unwhole by the suppression of our feelings, and the repression of our needs.  By the subjugation of our animal beings.  We have to give up certain aspects and components of our selves, in order to fit into society’s mold.  It is the loss or neglect of these parts that contributes to our greatest dis-ease: our imagined separation from the rest of the living world.  And with their re-membering and reclamation, we take the first of many steps towards the necessary cure.

Likewise, the Earth isn’t made any less — or any less healthy — by the eroding of mountain rock into fertile valley soil, or the death of a cottontail in the jaws of a fox.  Or even the shredding of forests by an erupting volcano, which relatively quickly grow back.  Even the natural extinction of species is only a recycling of the parts into the whole, each pruning back resulting in a new burst of growth, an opportunity for new color and form.  To the degree that it is sickened it is not because of the annihilation of individual life forms, so much as the overall reduction of biological, cultural and topographical diversity.  The extincting of species for no reasons other than obliviousness and greed.  The appropriation of habitat, so there’s little place left for the wildlife to spring back.  The monocultures of agribusiness, and the genetic manipulation of life.  And it’s not just the killing off of native songbirds, but the hundreds of indigenous languages being lost to neglect.  The defacing of the planet with asphalt, and the defaming with plastics.  By our failing to notice Gaia’s every miracle and gift, every hint of wind, the opening of a sidewalk blossom, the dance of a floating leaf.  And by our forgetting to give thanks.  We make the world sick with our neglect of self and planet, the dishonoring of Spirit, and the conceptual and physical dismembering of the which was one.

We say the “integrity” of a structure is compromised, and perhaps made unsafe, if any portion is degraded or removed.  It is the same with a person or an ecosystem. The health of people or places increases with the diversity and magnitude of their expression.  Thus any reduction in diversity impinges on the integrity of the whole— and the role of the activist becomes one not only of resistance but restoration and reimmersion.

oldbottles1tweaked-sm.jpgIt all starts with us literally “coming to our senses.”  Our creature senses are organs of reintegration, and when opened and heightened they bring the world we’re integral to even closer.  It is taste that can stir our gratitude, sight that can awaken awe, touch that can mend the imagined separation between body and soul, self and place.  Touch, through which we feel.  Touch that heals.   Our sensory and emotional contact inspires the protection, nourishment and celebration of that which we’ve engaged.  Our future personal, social and ecological health may hinge on our personal integrity, and the surviving integrity of the natural world that we love.  For us, to be reintegrated is to be accepted back within the identity of the earthen whole, to exist and act in harmony with tribal human community and the community of nature.

We commit ourselves to learning how to make medicines and heal with herbs, good food and real magic in our quest to stay physically well and able… but we understand that real health is a state of being at one with the needs, expression and spirit of not only our physical and energetic beings, but with the living breathing Earth as well – engaged in the endless adventure and fulfillment of our awakened lives.  By learning to wholly be aware, wholly serve, we intentionally rejoin the Whole.  And it is through this bringing back together of disparate and damaged parts – of self and planet — that we never have to feel apart again.

-By Jesse Wolf Hardin

(To learn more about whole-istic healing, consider applying for an Anima studentship at www.animacenter.org)

Feel free to copy and share this essay as you like. 

Diving Into The Deep: Swimming, Water, & Some Lessons They Teach

Friday, August 22nd, 2008

rhiannonswimming3-sm.jpgRhiannon has learned to swim!  After three Summers of trying, she is now cavorting about in the deep water like her totem the playful otter.  What a great joy to watch her leap in with no apprehension, anxious to show me her latest tricks like paddling in place, floating on her back, diving for the bottom, and swimming in tight little circles with the appropriate grin on her face.  I feel both the pride of a father and the satisfaction of a teacher, knowing not only that she will be safer when the river is high from the rains or have more fun in the water, but that she is gaining confidence and power from this that will serve her all her days.

When she feels submerged in work that leaves her struggling for breath, holding her head high and continuing forward will already be her habit.  When things seem to rush by to fast, she will know to strike out for the land where she can be still,  nourished and grounded. The tickle and rush of water will have been excellent preparation for focused sensual engagement and sensuous celebration as an adult in the shower, at the dining table, in relationship, or biking with the wind in her face.  The depths of emotion and experience will not intimidate her, after she has plumbed the dark unknown in her exploration of the river’s mysterious bottom.  She will not run to refuge in the shallow or superficial.  She will not doubt her ability to cross what others might consider barriers, to make them her allies, and to always maker her way to the other side.

rhiannonswimeyesopensm.jpgHow fortunate she is to have learned to swim in a wild place, in flowing, clear wild water, compared to my own earliest experience of pushing off from the safety of the side into a pile of kicking and screaming strangers with a cloud of chlorine fumes in my face.  My first memories include a hunger for streams and rivers, lakes and oceans that never went away, while the highlights of my teen years often involved hitch hiking or motorcycling to any water I could find other than treated pools.  Ahh, the steaming hot springs of New Mexico, Oregon and Wyoming.  The leaps from 60′ high bridges in the mountains of N. California.  The diving into Pacific breakers, and floating like a lily pad in the bass and frog ponds of the South.  In the classic movie Easy Rider, the characters were on their way to a fixed destination.  I was on a search for home and purpose that could be traced like a spiral on a map of the Western United States, with every stop marked by the presence of a beach, spring, creek or lake.  The place I was looking for – and the amazing place I’ve found – was home.  And home, too, has proven defined as well as nourished by the Sweet Medicine River flowing through its canyon embrace.

Rhiannon has not become fearless since learning to stay afloat.  But as the Anima teaches, she has used her fear as fuel to do what had once seemed impossible.

-Jesse Wolf Hardin (www.animacenter.org)

 Feel free to copy and share.

(Photos (C) 2008 by Jesse Wolf Hardin)

Eating Wild: Gathering And Savoring Native Foods

Monday, August 18th, 2008

salad1d-72dpism.jpgWherever we live we’re likely never far from quality whole-foods market as well as some fine restaurants. What we may not have noticed are the diverse native foods often found growing at the base of their walls, or concealed among the exotic grasses that border their parking lots. Re-wilding our flower beds and bursting up through the cracks in the sidewalks are delicious salad fixin’s like dandelion and dock. And on the way to buy our organic produce we probably walk or drive past examples of those diverse indigenous grains and greens upon which the original indigenous peoples once fed. Collecting a portion of our dinner from nearby meadows or neighborhood yards, we gather not only sustenance but taste and tradition… gather up our thoughts and spirits, memories and moments!

Looking out the window as I write this, I can see patches of wild celery greens which I know to be delicious steamed with onion, plantain leaves for frying, and the prolific lamb’s quarters which can be dried in the Summer and reconstituted in soups and sauces come Winter. Watercress is a tasty plant popular with health-minded buyers, high in vitamin B and iron, found in many of the less impacted creeks and rivers. Our partner Loba is one of those sensualists who revels in endless new combinations of ingredients, and of these she may well love her feral feasts the best. Each year she cooks or preserves the bounty of our isolated river canyon including red and sweet clover, high protein amaranth and dandy dock, beeplant and magic mint, yucca flowers for stir fries and prickly pear fruits for syrup and jam. Puffballs, boletus and shaggy mane mushrooms. Tomatillos, mustard seeds. Black walnuts and juniper berries. Imagine pesto with wild oregano, clover or mint leaves. Suckerfish sushi and hearty crawdad stew. Hand decorated jars of pickled purslane. Wild grape jelly crepes. Prickly pear buttermilk pie and yucca fruit crisp. Browned Pinon cookies. Garlicky Beeplant ravioli with local goat cheese in the early Autumn. Stir fried stinging nettles, crisp salads of you local wild greens and maybe a wild mulberry pie!

An indigenous person would likely tell us that eating wild is taking into ourselves the energy and power of the land itself the tendencies and sensitivities, capacities and qualities of wildness. Bending over to snip leaves or gather nuts, we sense not only our connection to the land but to a lineage of gatherers and procurers that can be traced back to the very beginnings of our kind. Know it or not, in this simple act we enjoin a sisterhood and brotherhood of wild-food lovers that has over the generations included loin-clouted Africans with earrings that swayed as they cut and lifted their favored plants, Asiatic villagers shouldering their special harvest packs, and Native American mothers carrying their babies in slings while they pulled or hacked.

I’ve seen how every little bit that we’re able to subsist off the land increases our confidence in ourselves and our ability to survive. Even in the best of times we can eat not only cheaper but better, by adding some foods we’ve gathered to those ingredients we buy. And on day trips to the neighboring hills one is not only fed but informed. We soon figure out which months to harvest which foods, and when to collect their seeds to help disperse or plant. We learn to recognize the soil and moisture requirements of the various species, and how much sun and shade each needs. We also notice when certain human activities have degraded those conditions, and may feel moved to do our part to protect, tend or restore the remaining habitat.

The wonderful flavors of the wild call out to us, invite our participation in their native dance of delight. We might consider this as we’re driving past what appear to be indiscernible patches of roadside greenery, or while walking by those curly-leafed plants lining the local ditch. Coming to know the healthy native foods of any region is to become more intimate and familiar with the land, its seasons, its song… and with our own bodies natural needs and desires. There is perhaps no tastier way for us to come to know ourselves… or to know that we belong.

-Jesse Wolf Hardin

To register for a S.W. Wild Foods workshop, fill out an event Registration: wild-foods-weekend-reg.doc

(Photos (c) 2008 by Jesse Wolf Hardin)