Archive for November, 2008

Living The Dream Now: Making a Do-It-Now List – by Tracy Carlton

Sunday, November 30th, 2008

We’ve decided to occasionally post inspiring writings by our students, apprentices and allies, beginning with the following piece by Tracy Carlton.  Note that her “to do” list at the end, can also be downloaded with as a PDF in color for printing off and saving.  In Animá, we teach that we’re all lifelong students, but also that we have a responsibility to teach with every knowing and tool we’re given.  Tracy is a good example of taking care of oneself and not waiting to make real improvements in life.  And with this piece, she begins trying on the mantle of teacher as well.

 

tracydreamhome72dpi55.jpgLiving the Dream Now

Since becoming an Animá student in May of this year, I have started taking a deeper look at each of my actions, thoughts, and motivations in life.  Everything I once valued is now up for re-examination:  Is it really me?  Does it still fit who I am now, who I have become, or who I would like to be?  Even my long-held visions and life-dreams have not been spared this process!  One of these visions has been to be part of an intentional community ~ living on shared land and co-creating a more conscious life together.  Once this was in place, I then had a long list of things I would like to add to my life within in this community: growing and harvesting food, living off the grid, building a cob oven, creating a sacred dance studio… and it went on and on!

However, one day last summer I and a dear friend/sister and fellow Animá student were having lunch together and realized that even though the vision of an intentional community still rang true for each of us, we were putting life on hold until this community was formed.  Why were we waiting for a future community to do all the things that spoke so dearly to us both?  So we decided it was time to start living our dream now!  We each wrote up our vision of what we wanted from life, and then made a list of actions we could take to make this vision come true ~ and come true in the here and now, not put on hold for someday.

My vision statement described everything from the kind of home I would have and the food I would eat, to how I would dress and how I could serve others.  My list included growing herbs, sewing my own clothes, walking the Shamanic Path, and even getting a new tattoo.  It held for me all the dreams and desires of a fulfilled, nurturing, engaged life.

We decided that each week we would choose one or two things from our list, and actively incorporate them into our lives.  We also agreed to check in with each other to see how we were doing on this quest ~ were there unexpected hurdles? Was there fear to overcome? How did it feel to have accomplished something from our list?

It was easy at first, going down the list, picking the easy things first: buying local eggs ~ check!  picking wild berries ~ done!  creating rituals out of mundane ordinary tasks ~ incense lit, yep!  I noticed myself avoiding or struggling with the bigger items on my list: being a stronger and more present mother, earning a living doing something I loved; putting time aside for myself during my moon-time… but despite these challenges, I have noticed that I am filling my days, my week, each moment with all the things I love.  I no longer wait for someday to live a fulfilled life.  And surprisingly, I have also become more present in not only my actions, but also my thoughts ~ is worrying about the future on my list?  No.  Am I going to try and change something that happened 12 years ago?  No.  Instead, I reel my thoughts back to what I’m doing that moment, even if it is simply doing nothing!

It has been a gift to have someone to share this process with, but ultimately, I know it is my responsibility to make sure I’m following through on my intentions.  Some weeks I list out the same thing as the week before ~ sometimes because it turned out to be a bigger venture than I had imagined, but other times it’s because I just didn’t make it a priority and either forgot or chose to neglect it.

I am also quite aware that this list is not ever complete.  It is a living document, that must reflect who I am at each moment.  Something that seemed a priority this week may be irrelevant to who I am two months from now.  Or, conversely, something I never ever imagined myself doing today may appear on my list in the future.  This list is alive and organic and will grow and change with me, as I grow and change through all of life’s experiences.

The final piece of this adventure has been tying my list into each lesson from Animá.  During the very first lesson, in describing my fears, my struggles, my goals ~ I found I had laid out the foundation of the very list itself.  Another lesson, focusing on a Sense of Place, was where I gratefully realized that I could be doing all the things on my list right where I was.  That these very acts would lead me to the place I am supposed to be, whether here where I live now, or to some other magical, powerful spot that fits who I am, who I am becoming.

In the lesson I’ve just started, Presence & Grounding, I already feel the incredible connection between my list and the lesson ~ what better exercise than to be focused, present and aware of each and every act and thought?  I am focusing on fulfilling my life here and now, using my list as the bones of this adventure, not waiting until some obscure day in the future.  But also how beautiful that I can create this list of mine, and at the same time let it go, not rigidly adhering to it nor worrying about accomplishing each and every thing on it.   Being present means engaging in whatever I’m doing at the moment, on my list or otherwise.

So even though the dream of living in intentional community is still alive and strong and part of my vision for the future, waiting for that community to manifest before I live a fulfilled and engaged life is no longer an option.  I am actively choosing each day, each moment, to be doing something that speaks to my soul, makes me feel alive, and truly represents who I am, and all that I dream of being.  For it is the very creation of each of the acts on my list that builds and creates my life, my vision for the future right now.
—————

My “Live My Dream Now!” List

My Life Vision:
My life includes, but is by no means limited to, ENCHANTED experiences of family, friends, cats, local, organic, wild foods and meals, sewing, embroidery, drawing, painting, belly dancing classes, belly dance troupe, sacred dance, a shamanic path, living outside integrated and connected to the spirits of nature (sleeping, walking, sitting, eating, cooking, gardening, harvesting, praying, giving thanks, ceremony, ritual, being), celebrations, gatherings, ceremonies, rituals, my moontime lodge and nurturing rituals, gardening, reading, conscious choices, being ALIVE, present and engaged!

What I Have Started Integrating Into My Life So Far:
~tattoo on upper back
~create an interactive equinox altar for my birthday gathering
~create an outdoor living space on the deck (table, chairs, rug, extension cord for laptop)
~using a solar dehydrator
~support local growers
~eat less meat or at least with intention and make it local
~make seasonal jams (buy fruit at farmers market or locally, or wild craft)
~buy local eggs
~grow herbs in pots in kitchen
~connect with spirit/nature where I’m at
~dance/have classes where I’m at
~shamanic path online course
~apprenticeship with Anima
~dance troupe
~dressing a little more like a shaman
~harvest blackberries
~created decorations for belly dance tent (sewing)
~engaged with Hawk & created ritual and connection with Hawk
~drink herbal teas when I’m not well
~light incense to honor a moment or ritual or act
~make tomato paste
~at peace and am a calmer, stronger Mama
~find used/antique bread making equipment and start making bread
~using cloth bags for all shopping trips
~make/sleep with a mugwort dream pillow
~creativity:  new web site for Kundalini

My Acts of Conscious Living:
Newly Added:
~set up a compost pile/bin
~set up a clothes line
~plants along/underneath cloths line that smell divine!
~make homemade soaps, shampoos, conditioners
~make homemade cleaning products
~make more food and buy less: tortillas, butter, yogurt
~find grains and mill for flour
~indoor altars

Original List:
Me:
~buying and sewing pattern/blouse & ghawazee coat
~dress like a Shaman: no boring clothes!
~tattoo on upper left arm; and tattoo of symbol of consciousness
~sew my own clothes or buy recycled/used or homemade clothes
~have fun hair! colors or whatever that may mean
~private time for myself during moontime

How I Live:
~rain barrels on downspouts
~create gray water system and use kitchen water for this
~solar cooker
~cob oven
~collecting rainwater intensively for gardens
~full-on garden & orchard & food forest
~eat only local meat for special celebrations
~buy seasonal flowers at the farmers market and grow more here
~have free-range chickens
~natural/spiritual medicines and healings
~create outdoor labyrinth
~outdoor altars
~sleep outside
~have a home that’s “seasonally outside”
~solar panels
~mosaic stuff (solar dehydrator, my cob studio/home)
~de-clutter my home/space of stuff
~recycle, reduce, reuse
~no inputs for resources, all reuse, recycle, create from what we have where we have it (ie: compost, natural building, growing/making food/medicine/cleaning products/etc)

My Service:
~cob studio/temple for sacred dance/creative space
~shamanic services for community
~belly dance classes for women

My Community:
~sacred dance troupe with sisters
~gather my friends for spiritual celebrations
~lead spiritual ceremonies as a shaman
~keep house on market in faith!
~live on communal land in an intentional community which includes children and elders

To download this list in color PDF form: living-the-dream-now-list.pdf

To apply for an Animá Correspondence Course, download and send to the Center the following application: student-application-form.doc

 

(Editor Note: Tracy has a new website for her N. Calif. sacred belly dance troupe: http://www.kundalinidance.com/)

The Rewilding: Part 5 (of 6): Wild Self, Wild Land

Monday, November 24th, 2008

“Rewilding,” a term coined by Animá Center’s Jesse Wolf Hardin in 1976,  first saw print in in 1986 in the following serialized essay.  As a result, Wolf was assigned to write the Rewilding entry on page 1383, Vol. 2 of The Encyclopedia of Religion & Nature (Thoemmes Continuum, 2005).  Given the current economic and social conditions, this way of being and living is more crucial and urgent than ever.  I encourage you to forward this 5 part series to others, by clicking on the “Share This Post” button below.  Blessings.             -Kiva Rose

kiva-cave-1.jpg

The Rewilding

Part 5: Wild Self, Wild Land

by Jesse Wolf Hardin (www.animacenter.org)

“The important thing is that the mythic vision lead to a sustainable context for the survival and continued evolution of the earth and its living forms.”
-Thomas Berry

The vast majority of troubles vexing humanity today – including health problems and economic failure, ecological and social disruption, personal and psychological travail – are either caused by or made possible by our distancing from the natural world and our natural self, instincts and needs.  This is true whether we are speaking about remaining at a job that crushes our spirits, or suffering an illness triggered by imagined separation and accompanying stress… the intense disassociation of psychosis, or the willful or neglectful dismemberment of entire ecosystems.  The most effective treatments and remedies to any of these conditions – from herbal medicine to career and lifestyle changes, radical social transformation and environmental restoration – inevitably include acquiring a greater understanding and embodying of our true, sentient wild selves, along with more conscious and heartful connection to the living wild land that naturally supports, feeds, and can again inform and inspire us.

It would not be an exaggeration, to say that the long term survival of human kind on this planet, as well as the very depth and enjoyment of our individual life experience, will be dependent on healthily living on and within the community of other life forms and the land.  Even if we only act out of the most narrowly defined self interest, it would be utterly self defeating to continue acting outside of and to the detriment of the very systems that we ourselves depend upon to exist.   Air, becoming fast polluted even in many rural and isolated regions of the world.  Water without which we could not possibly exist, being rapidly drained from its underground aquifers, and our rivers largely dammed and poisoned.  The oceans, depleted of fish stocks.  Forests, that provide not only shade and oxygen but building materials and millions of tons of paper annually, shown using satellite photography to be quickly disappearing.   Soils from which all the food we consume derives, thinning, degrading, and still being laced with pesticides, herbicides and chemical fertilizers.   The most essential crops needed to feed the swelling masses, rendered unable to produce viable seed in order to guarantee the exclusive use of genetically altered, commercially proprietary strains.

Just as the costs of running the United States have been deferred to future generations in the form of an astronomically high national debt, so too have the inevitable dire consequences of our way of doing business been largely passed off from one generation to the next until now.  It isn’t so much that we’ve been oblivious to possible effects of our individual lifestyle, consumer and voter choices, but that it was so much easier to assume somebody down the line could, with some unforeseen technology or means, repair the damage that we have helped bring about.  Now, at least in regards to our contract with nature, the debt has been called in.

As I write this, couples in the U.S. are exempting themselves from any responsibility for overpopulation, to the tune of a new American citizen being born every 11 seconds.  This issue, which even the most shrill environmentalists usually won’t talk about, has combined with the growing worldwide desire not just for modern refrigeration and useful lighting but also for the latest electronic gadgets and polyester fashions promoted through manipulative advertising and trend setting television programs.  So called “resources” (exploitable components of the natural world) are in many cases running out, and often exist only in places unfriendly to American interests such as the last large oil reserves being in the Middle East where anti-Americanism is on the rise, within the sphere of strident Russia and in leftist South American countries, including the raw materials needed for many of the “alternative energy” products promoted as the answer to all that ails us.  One example of this is the lithium necessary for the most touted form of high-efficiency battery, primarily being extracted from the war torn Congo where the U.S. is generally not held in the highest regard.  But in case after case, we will find there is simply no possible way to make the current pace of population growth, real estate development and manufacturing sustainable.

It’s tempting to place our faith in scientists, political leaders and the momentum of “progress” itself, and to the degree possible go on living as always.  But we would do well to avoid thinking we can always “manage” nature, manipulate genetics and “engineer” solutions.  Indeed, the cure in many cases may be to step back and largely leave the living earth to its own restorative processes.  One of the most difficult things for our civilized kind to do is just to leave something alone.  Recent results of insisting we know how to improve nature include disease susceptible cloned tree farms, hormone filled meat and sterile seed, hairless dogs that once were wolves and chickens unable to fly.  National parks that look and operate like Disneyland, and characterless suburbs spreading out across the land like a stucco plague.

The answer is to decrease our numbers, and decrease our consumption.  It lies not in increasing our impact but in minimizing it.  Of course, modern consumer society has all the “bells and whistles” and there’s a lot to attract us like moths to its flame.  But a result is that we have precipitated an impoverished landscape and a common inglorious fate.  If humanity were to slowly and even slightly recede, giving space to each other and room for continuing reparation and evolution, we humans would not be depleted but enriched.  One thing we can be sure of, is that when the planet and we go through this pivotal epoch, we – and any other species that survive – will be by nature wild, aware, responsive and likely grateful extensions of an earth made wild again.

The transition from living in in huge unsustainable urban centers to regional communities, from an endless stream of disposable commodities to an ethic of quality products well maintained, from living on credit to a primarily cash and barter economy, import dependence to regional autonomy, numbing virtual entertainment to experiential life and skill building, and from residing mainly in our minds to engaging and learning from the natural world, should in fact come naturally to us… no pun or cliché intended.
After all, it is the original and true context for humanity, the tests that tried our species and the factors and pleasures that made possible how we feel and who we are.  It is our native place, pantry and school, providing the ways that we can best come to know ourselves and our personal most meaningful purpose.

For most of our upright existence, humankind has lived with/in the flesh and flux of wilderness.  Our species was shaped by the nourishment and challenges of a wild life, responding to the constantly changing situations of a natural world.  The way that adrenalin speeds our heart and fuels our muscles when we sense danger, and how love jerks us around whether we’re ready for it or not, are both dynamics developed in our wild past.  Intuition, through which we can navigate our world.  Even the ability to use tools, developed not holding the levers of machines but rocks selected for their efficiency at breaking the shells of recalcitrant nuts, and plant stalks with which to probe a mound or log for edible insects.  It is the same for the senses, with which we savor the taste of food, the touch of a lover, the smells of the flower blessed meadow.  And with our species’ intent listening for the sounds of both predator and prey, came notice of the songs of the river and our ability and inclination to make music with the hollow reeds growing along its way.

For several hundred thousand years we were integral elements in the wilderness concerto, often blissful, generally well functioning elements of an incredible evolving composition, participating in the reciprocal cycles of being gifted and then giving back.  The entire world was wilderness, not uninhabited by humans or unmarked by their shelters, but functioning as the wild context for its wild human inhabitants.  And a wild earth remains today a necessary condition, essential inspiration and aid for the finest manifestations of human and other-than-human potential.

Unfortunately, our civilized kind have in general gotten so out of touch with natural self and land that the language of wild life has become in many cases incomprehensible, its suggestions and seductions, imploring and informing, rhythms and songs largely lost to us.  For those born to deeply and stubbornly hear and see, and those who teach themselves to really look and listen again, the entire world proves a set of signals and values, a communication network with a geologic/hydrologic/biologic language that we can not only comprehend but respond to, entering what was once an ongoing conversation.  Human language developed and exists as a communications subset, a dialect of this “mother tongue.”  Isolated from the signals of the natural world, the language turns in on itself, and begins to reflect only the constructs and abstract symbols of the man-made environment.  In my home state, the Hispanic population is so far removed from the Castilian Spanish of southern Mexico that it is nearly unintelligible to them.  Similarly, people removed from their larger natural context have to work to relearn the language of nature, to be able to read its beautiful stories, decipher its timely warnings, and dance and rest to its dynamic earthen rhythms.

Through all the denial and looking away, the wild world still calls out to us, prompting something in our blood and bowels to rise and howl back.  And everywhere we look, we can see a revival of wildness in the battered land:  Bears in danger of dying out, nonetheless making appearances in suburban Fairbanks.  Jet aircraft grounded by the subversive activities of wire-chewing field mice.  Traffic quieted by the fluctuations in gas prices and overall depletion of oil.  Golden outlaw dandelions proudly blooming in the cracks of sidewalks, even as landscapers with herbicides do their work of holding the line against nature close by.  Highways poorly maintained due to economic recession, succumbing to the combined proclivities of sun and root.  Groups of neighbors, banding together to tend a crucial community garden, fighting with local government officials over the paving of the last spaces suitable to plant.  College kids with a passion for the self sufficiency and awareness skills of the hunter gatherer, stalking the sometimes good food pitched wastefully into alley dumpsters, adventuring out on breaks to heed the wild call.  Solar home builders and vacant house squatters.  Wonderfully uppity women, uncompromised men and curious, risk taking, awe-struck, nature graced children.

And too, we see it in us – willing to deeply feel and care, seizing the freedom and the opportunity to purposefully rejoin the dance… to dedicate our beings to the reawakening and rewilding of ourselves, our society, and this ever more hallowed land.

Shutting Down & Coming Back to Life – Lessons of Hummingbird Torpor

Monday, November 17th, 2008

rainbow-sky-sm.jpgShutting Down, Numbing Out, Coming Back to Life

“…glorious as a rainbow, a rainbow sorely missed.”
-Anon.

It’s unlikely I’ll ever forget the day that the very essence of beauty breezed into my life, when I thought myself the agent of its demise.

It was a warm Spring day, with all the doors to my heart and two of the windows to my house as open as innocence itself.  It had only been a matter of weeks since we last found a layer of ice in the rain barrels upon getting up in the morning.  The nearness of Winter past meant that there were few flying insects to contend with yet, and I chose to leave the screens off in order to enjoy a wholly unobstructed view.   Only after the rush and buzz of tiny, rapidly moving wings past my head, did I consider there might be a pitfall to my designs.  An emerald bellied hummingbird had flown into the room and become alarmed, then in its rush to escape had begun to throw itself repeatedly against another window’s still closed glass.  Quickly as I could, I cupped my hands around its tiny form and carefully carried it back outside, but instead of celebrating its regained liberty it now lay like death in the sweating bowl of my palm.

Lightly probing beneath the feathers of its iridescent breast, I could feel a pulse barely perceptible compared to its species’ normally speeding heart rhythm.  Eyes that had moments before taken in every detail of color in my room, in a compulsive search for nectar laden flowers, now appeared dull and unblinking.  Seemingly absent was the will to prevail that had in previous days fueled its jousts with other hummer contenders.  What had appeared luminous and multi dimensional on the wing, seemed made fragile if not defeated there on its back.  I recognized it as torpor, as much as I feared it could lead to its death – a kind of suspended animation that these and certain other species revert to when they are terrified and can’t deal.  It seems their hope is to appear lifeless and insignificant, on the chance that they will either be overlooked or spit back out by whatever predator threatens them.  Or at least, that if and when the jaws of some beasty finally closes around them, they might feel the bite less.

Curiously, it is this incident that comes to mind and heart, as I pause to rue the degree to which modern humanity increasingly sleepwalks through the finite blessing of inherently sentient existence, numbed out, zoned out, dumbed down or opted out.  While it can hardly be called torpor in humans, there is a disturbing similarity in the way so many of civilized kind choose to shut down when faced with a stressful situation, in many ways “playing dead” in the hopes of either being spared or reducing any inevitable pain.  Unfortunately, by going out of our way to avoid danger, we consequently lose out on opportunities for challenge and growth.  By persistently looking away from bodily suffering and death, we miss out on the depth and breadth of experiential reality.  By so thoroughly, continuously – and voluntarily if unconsciously – choosing to notice less, feel less and therefore care and do less, many of us sidestep not only the fullest experiencing of any moments that might include pain but also the vital, vibrant pleasures of relational life consciously attended and wholly experienced.

Insulating ourselves from hurt, our padding limits the amount that we can experience true bliss.  By learning to block out the unpleasant noise of sirens and traffic, we become less likely to notice the subtle twitters of birds, savor the music of the rain, or be alarmed in time by the sounds of impending nature.  By training ourselves to ignore the ill odor of asphalt and the rotting garbage of alleyways, we progressively sacrifice the ability to discern the scent of the diverse wildflowers growing next to the sidewalk or to recognize the distinctive aroma of one’s lover from afar.  Eyes averted from the fight down the street, the wino in the gutter, the blackened smokestacks, the glaring chrome of commerce or the eyes of passing strangers, are all too likely to miss the graceful swoop of the city pigeon, the details of an important encounter and the delight-evoking, wind drawn patterns on the surface of a child’s swimming pool.  Shoes that shield the feet from stickers and heat, steal from us the sensation of feeling our way with sensitized feet, from the sensation of grass on our soles and mud tickling its way up between our toes.  Physical and perceptual barriers erected for our emotional and bodily protection serve neither in the long run, easily blocking sight of the interactive and message filled world, and of our unfulfilled animal as well as human potentials.  Through the processes of padding, diluting, averting, avoiding, ignoring and denying, we may longer survive… but with a result being that we’re less alive.

That which deadens pain, more often than not also deadens life.  You’ve likely noticed how the chemicals used to spare us much of the sensation of a dentist’s probes and drills also temporarily robs us of our sense of taste, making every food from ice cream to soup seem much the same, and leaving the mouth so numb that we are in danger of biting our tongues.  So do the mechanisms for feeling less mean a reduction in not only suffering but the literal as well as metaphorical flavors of our lives.  And just as the numb might bite their tongue, we are most likely to make choices and act in ways that harm us when we are oblivious to the consequences or immune to the sensation.  While it would be unhealthy to seek out or become attached to discomfort and pain, it is equally unhealthy to choose only those ways and paths most likely to keep us pain free, comfortable and safe.  Risking less, doing less, being less adventurous and sensuous is a terrible price to pay, leaving us possibly out of pain but also dangerously out of body and thoroughly out of touch.  Any reduction in sentience is in fact a sad departure – a process of gradual distancing from our true natures and knowing selves, from direct experience as well as from the rest of the contiguous living world we’re each an integral component of.

To better understand awareness, picture it as something that can both broaden and constrict.  At its high water mark, our awareness reaches out not just into nearby or personally significant people but also into the being and experience of the natural world surrounding us, affording us the perspective of earth and others.  In this expansive state, we are afforded information that feels strangely more familiar or remembered than new or imported.  Those who do this naturally, often and well are true empathics, with empathy being the fact of feeling through (not for) the sentient vessels of other people and lifeforms… not simply a personal emotional reaction to what we imagine to be the feelings of others.   At the low mark, we have for whatever reasons drawn our awareness up out of our bodies and the body of the world, until sequestered in the illusory safety of the objectifying left hemisphere of our brains.  Trauma, insecurity, fear and rejection are just some of the triggers that can cause us to retract our probing channels of awareness like an octopus withdrawing its arms at the approach of a predator… but then it can become a habit to loiter in that separative place, circling the confines of the narrowly defined mind in an endless tape loop of disembodied reflection.  It is a strange kind of inward turning that provides neither self knowledge, self realization or self love, this isolation of our awareness in a hall of mirrors within mirrors, within mirrors.

One need not “astral project” in order to have an “out of body” experience, merely a typical civilized human with the habit of only marginally experiencing what could be the intense sensations of life wholly lived.  We are out of body whenever chewing a delicious bit of food without fully noticing and engaging its texture, temperature, flavor and smell.  When driving down a road thinking about either diversions or one’s destination, and not taking in the reality of where we are right now.  When thinking about other lovers or acts during sex, to the exclusion of the person you are bodily with.  When relating to someone through previous judgments instead of our immediate sense of their intention, integrity and vibe.  When suppressing our feelings, instincts or sense of right and wrong in order to conform, appease others, avoid making waves, obey orders or get paid.  When it takes a ton of sugar in a cookie, a sudden loud noise or terrible stench to get your attention, and when you are able to ignore or become oblivious already to the third bite of cookie, continuous clamor or ill smells.  When your trained reaction to something unpleasant, evil or inappropriate is to ignore or deny it instead of seeking remedy, wholeness or change.  When I – like the world – can approach you without hiding and “catch you unawares” every time.

That so many modern folk identify ourselves as victims – of our spouses and bosses, society and politics, life or death, our destiny or devils – explains in some ways how we, like that hummingbird, could ever choose to turn off the sensors and turn out the lights… how we could possibly suppress our inner wild will in order to await the hopefully benevolent but potentially dangerous whims of forces outside ourselves, self-anesthetizing to lessen the piercing ache of what we fear will be the pointy teeth of fate.

The cure for our shutting down is a courageous opening to sensation, awakening the physical sensate, emotional, instinctual and intuitive capacities we were each born gifted with.  The perfect symbol for such a coming-back-to-life, may be that unfortunate hummingbird bursting into an explosion of light and sky once taken outside.  Like that precious hummer, we need only shake ourselves out of our fear-induced torpor in order to wholly feel, risking and learning from any pain, embracing the overwhelming joy… all our lovely senses alerted, our wings spread, our eyes again opened wide.

-Jesse Wolf Hardin

(For further exploration and personal application, consider enrolling in the Shaman Path course – dedicated to our awakening and empowerment… described on the Correspondence Courses page at www.animacenter.org) 

Spiraling Out: The Power of the Microcosm by Kiva

Friday, November 14th, 2008

As large as the universe outside, even so large is the universe within the lotus of the heart.  Within it are heaven and earth, the sun, the moon, the lightening, and all the stars.  What is in the macrocosm is in this microcosm.
-Chandogya Upanishad

A grain of dust contains the whole universe.
When a flower opens, the whole world appears.

-Zen

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The weather sways back and forth between balmy and frozen, and changes with every new wind that sweeps through the canyon. The plants love the cooler temperatures though and underneath last season’s dead grasses, new greens are flourishing. Up here on the mesa, magenta bloomed verbena. wild mustards, pink flowered filaree and the tiny silver starts of new mugworts are coming up everywhere. Down by the river, the watercress is spreading and the mountain nettles are a vibrant shade of green.

Even as the cottonwoods shed their last golden leaves, new life unfurls. I love this spiral of seasons that is so obvious here in the mountains of the Southwest. The cycles of nature close together, overlapping and interlocked through the language and lives of the plants and animals of this place. The mating of the Elk has come and gone, but the coyotes still sing like its a midsummer party every morning. Yesterday, a tiny red feathered canyon wren hung from the outside of my den window frame, peering through the glass at me as I gazed back. She stayed there for several minutes, turning her head from side to side in some unspoken question before flying off to glory in the afternoon warmth.

Roused by the little bird’s call to the outdoors, I wandered out to sit in the sun and watch the last butterflies migrating south on a gentle breeze. Down in the dirt, new green leaves were uncurling towards the light and a few bugs rushed this way and that, in a seeming rush to their haul food home. When I laid my head on the ground, I could hear the river in the rocks, vibrating and singing through the rough the timbre of volcanic stone.  It struck me as nothing short of shocking how very easy it is to miss what’s going on around all the time — and what a terrible loss it is to not participate as much as possible in these precious, ever changing moments. Sometimes participation simply means listening, noticing, and being aware of how we are a part of all these tiny, amazing happenings, and sometimes it means becoming an expression of the same source. Of letting the music rush through us until it becomes song, or doing whatever work is required to keep the land healthy and whole.

I’ve always found relief and familiarity in the mandala like perspective of the microcosm. As much as I love and value the view from a high tree or mountaintop, I love the experience of the up close flash of bird wings or the endless worlds within flowers even more. The many shades and textures of dirt and sand delight me, as does every crevice and ravine within the rough ridges of cottonwood bark. I spend an inordinate amount of my time in the forest down on my belly watching the insects and smallest plants, fully immersed in the magical world so often found at our feet. It’s a universe easily forgotten when inundated by a culture fixated on the larger than life, on billboards, breast implants, supersized meals and “20% more for free” beverages. In the unquenchable quest for more, better and bigger we often neglect the perfect grace and depth of the present moment and the details and necessity of of the small.

In nature, small (so much as to be invisible to our limited human vision) equals the importance of all things large. Bacteria, bugs and fungi create the foundation for our existence and slippery skinned amphibians both illustrate and impact the health of our ecosystems. Whole ecologies may collapse or be forever altered by the loss of a single strain of bacteria or pollinator species. Truly, the health of ourselves and our planet depends mightily on the tiny critters we often find so easy to dismiss, medicate away or sterilize into annihilation.

In the same way, it’s too easy to think that we as individuals are too small, too isolated to make any difference in the bigger picture. That our trivial decisions and one person choices can’t really matter. In reality, all things are not equal and the force and intensity of our feelings and actions DO have the ability to shift the very balance of the world. Just as our planet’s health is intimately connected to minute bacteria, frogs and plants, our society and environment is deeply impacted by every small change we make and every voice that stands out from the rest and takes the chance to redirect the flow of energy, and history. The microcosm and the macrocosm are reflections of each other, and a change in one inevitably results in a change to the other. In a world populated by nearly 7 billion people, the individual is a microcosm. And like flowers, we have a universe within us, and the power to ripple out into the rest of humanity, the natural world, the all…

~Kiva

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Sacred Datura bloom ready to open.

Falling in Love with Flowers: Redefining Healing Through Relationship

Sunday, November 2nd, 2008

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Whenever I meet a flower for the first time, I let the world around me disappear, let my vision and experience narrow to just this one incredible expression of life I’m confronted by. My focus tightens to the texture and temperature of leaf, the smell and color of the flower, the sound of the wind singing through it, and the feeling of just being near the plant. Next, I’ll re-broaden my sight so that I can also experience the context of the plant and get to know through its habitat and relationship to other plants and animals. Later will I page through my books or google its name on the internet. The information I learn through research are incredibly valuable but still secondary to my personal relationship to the plant. Aquainting myself  with the plants in this manner allows me experience and understand the plant on many levels, from impression to intuition to bodily experience to the head knowledge of facts and figures.

Many of us have been taught herbalism (and just about everything else) through rote memorization, through long lists of diseases, body parts, plant names and constituents. The unfortunate result of this kind of learning is that it tends to stunt our capacity to truly listen, experience and adapt. Just as we cannot expect to play beautiful music simply because we have learned to read music or memorized the progression of notes that makes up a tune, neither should we expect to understand an herb just because we know their botanical name and “active ingredients”. Yes, knowing what plant family an herb belongs to is very useful, just as knowing what key a song is being played in, but it’s just one tool in the bigger picture of cultivating a relationship with a living plant or playing a personal expression of the song.

I’ve lost track of how often I’m asked how I manage to memorize all the herbs and problems, and how they match up, as if the secret to being an effective herbalist lies in having a computer-like brain. Truth is, beyond those pesky (but very useful) botanical plant names there’s very little I purposely memorize. Over time I have certainly committed certain things to mind through practice and hard learned experience, like not to put oil or salve on burns or to not sedate pain until I know what the pain is trying to communicate.

When it gets right down to it, everything in the healing process is about relationships – to the plants, the land, our food, our bodies and every other integral part of the living whole. Nothing is separate, and everything impacts everything else, just as every musical note exists in relationship with the other notes. It’s the contrast, harmony and resonance that makes it all work, that transforms abstract concepts into a complex and interdependant organism made up of each of us humans, as well as all the critters, bacteria, mushrooms, flowers and other living beings in the world.

For me, the work of getting intimate with the plants, of getting to know each one I work with as a unique expression of medicine, vitality and wholeness has been and continues to be the work of a lifetime. One reason why I choose to primarily work with local herbs, is because it seems difficult to me to really fall in love with one without knowing it as a living being in the context of the larger plant community and the dirt and water it grows from. I also find that experiencing a plant in its habitat teaches me more about its medicine, and often reveals subtleties I might have otherwise missed. I love the simple sweetness of incorporating an herbal ally into my life on every level: from greeting them by the river each day, to reveling in their taste as a food or tea to being amazed by the power of their healing effects. I’ve written extensively on this very subject in my Talking With Plants series over on the Medicine Woman’s Roots blog, with a special emphasis on recognizing the unique, non-human nature of the plant world.

This same principle applies to our relationship with our bodies, and to the bacteria, viruses and other creatures that live with and in us. The more we can understand and get to know the individual nature of each being and how it connects to the rest of life – the more whole, and therefore, the more healthy we will be. Animá and the Medicine Woman Tradition teaches all of life as an unending progression of concentric rings, linked into an eternal spiral that show us how our individual selves connect to each other and the whole planet that is our larger self. Our attempt to sterilize our environment by wiping out microorganisms with anti-bacterial soaps and more and more powerful antibiotics and the impact it has had on our health is a vivid illustration of the incredibly deep relationship that exists between us and even the minute members of the family of life.

In a culture of deconstruction and fragmentation, it can be hard to re-vision the world through eyes that are able to see the essential wholeness of life and the dance that each participant contributes to that whole. It can be difficult indeed to see what connects us in addition to what separates us. And yet, it is the infinitely satisfying purpose of each of one of us to recognize our innate kinship to our larger self and to nourish it, one intimate relationship at a time. The better we know the food we eat, the trees we rest beneath, the birds that sing to us and the land that sustains us the better we will know ourselves. Likewise, the more attention and nourishment we give our bodies and our whole, authentic selves, the deeper we will be able to know the world around us. The impact ripples in every direction, showing us how very important every decision and action really is, how every note and every pause between notes changes and fills the song. Proving once again, how we really do have the power to effect and change, to heal the whole wide world through every flower we fall in love with and each conscious step we take.

~Kiva Rose