Archive for March, 2009

The Search For Home: Part 6: The Land’s Human History – by Jesse Wolf Hardin

Friday, March 27th, 2009

The Search For Home
Part 6: The Land’s Human History

by Jesse Wolf Hardin

(www.animacenter.org)

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In this quest for home we promise ourselves to the present and the future, apprentice ourselves to place and to past.  While our relationship with place is by necessity contemporary and immediate, it is further enriched by an understanding of and appreciation for what came before, the succession of events that transformed land and creature, and that bonded humanity to the land.  Where your house sits, what changes were made to be able to put it there?  Was it graded, a hill leveled, an arroyo or wetland filled to support it?  What plants grew there, and are there any of them in the yard today?  How many trees were felled to make room?  What kind were they, and what kinds of trees were planted instead?  What animals lived there before your place was first built, which of these are extirpated from the area or driven into extinction, and which still survive beneath its foundations or nested on its high-power lines?  What were the earliest creatures ever to live there, and what kind of fossil record did they leave?  Pick up a handful of the native soil.  What is it like, and where did it get its color and texture?  What mountains succumbed to create it, which rocks crumbled, or what period of volcanic activity spewed forth its porous tufa and brilliant crimson clays?

One can try descending into a nearby canyon or arroyo, or finding a spot where a road has been cut through a rise and read what is as much her-story as history.  Instead of from left to right, read from the surface down, beginning with the scant few inches of humus, a hundred years of composting leaf and bug and bone.  Read the lives of ground squirrels and moles, whose complex burrows are halved and exposed like the passageways of a child’s ant farm.  Belts of ancient clay above the bedrock of an ancient sea studded with the shells or Precambrian mollusks.  Seams of primeval coal.  Every foot down may represent centuries, of eroding mountains and upthrusting continental plates, of species birthed and extincted, of cultures flourishing and collapsing, populations rising and falling like the slow inhaling and exhaling of the great earthen body.

It is more than a matter of natural history.  Some might imagine themselves as originating from extraterrestrial forces, but we remain terrestrial nonetheless.  The same atoms that make up our bodies once vibrated in the breath of prehistoric creatures, and fueled the fires of creation.  In addition, we are each a  product of, a direct descendant of the original organic molecules.  And we harbor a molecular memory, of an ancient blood-red sky and its rainbow bands of unmixed gases, recall in the tides of our own blood the salten seas repeatedly pierced and stirred by amorous lightning thrusts.  We come from our mother, from a certain house or hospital, but still our essence arises from that same great cauldron that gave birth to the first living cell.  We remain part and extension of that unicellular ancestor.  We share with the rest of life, from dragonfly to towering pine, this common progenitor— and those spiritually and scientifically defined energies that have, since the very beginnings of time, animated us all.  We are coparticipants in the miracle called “life,” sharing the thrills and pitfalls of a three and a half billion year joyride.  What we call “sense of place” must include sensing our position within the sequencing of evolution, the unraveling chain of time, and the regional histories of our own kind.  For not even the wilderness is free of a history of human association, all the more powerful that it was never written down, passed instead mouth to mouth in myth and song and the resounding petroglyphs of desert canyon walls.  It is a story told in the shadows of its forests, the trails winding above its rivers, and its powerfully painted caves.

I’ve always thought of old houses as special in a similarly wordless way.  The run-down ones stand out stark and skeletonized, yet still meaningful and inspirited like the collected rocks of Stonehenge and the exposed walls of  Indian ruins.  The well kept-up ones feel like little monasteries, places of refuge, the destination of heaven-minded pilgrims.  Once inside some hallowed old home it seems like I can feel the various moods, the emotions of the individuals of past generations.  Whether an East Coast townhouse with its basement and attic, or a moss covered log cabin in Oregon, I experience a “take off your hat and lower your voice” humility upon entering one.  The sense is of the the hand work in each board and brick, and the investment of so many human hours into living within its fastened frame.  Polished oak floors glisten with the tears of joy and anguish as much as polish, brought to a deep luster by sliding stockinged feet, tongue-and-groove boards reflecting the busy shifting images of families growing, dying, changing.  The stairway rails absorb more than the sweat of hands tender and strong, teasing and anxious— little hands reaching up, crippled hands working for a grip.  They soak up and then exude the overlapping emotions of resistance and resignation, engagement and denial, loss and gain, love and anger, desire and satisfaction.  Take out the heavy wooden furniture and the dark floral drapes, the heavy woolen rug and the leaded glass light fixtures hanging from the center of the ceiling, bring in bright acrylic pile and trendy aluminum-edged lithographs, but an old house will still reverberate with the echoes of the past.  One can repaint, but something deep and old continues to shine through.  Some walls give the impression they’re imprinted with intricate shadows cast by yesteryear’s window lace.  Another holds a stranger’s attention the way it had when it hosted that oval-framed tintype, featuring the roving eyes of the scowling family patriarch.

Ask yourself, what sort of people lived in the house you’re in right now, before you ever did?  Were children born in its back rooms, were there proud matriarchs who breathed their last where the sun still comes in the east window?  The house may be new, or you may be the apartment’s first tenant, but were there structures tore down to make room for one you moved into?  Perhaps a row of old uninsulated brick houses scraped aside for a new development, or a flat-roofed adobe casita given way to ranch houses with large windows and Kentucky bluegrass lawns?  The ethnography of one neighborhood may have changed several times over the course of the last two hundred years, from Indian to Spanish and French, French to English, an Italian quarter now considered part of the Cuban enclave, extended Irish families supplanted by Afro Americans, in turn replaced by buyers of diverse racial backgrounds who by chance or fortune can afford the rising cost of its real estate.

Look outside.  What people tended gardens in the bottoms, on the constant lookout for raiders, and were these “raiders” the peoples they were encroaching on?  What indigenous tribe once gathered shellfish from the edge of the bay and walked the narrow trail where the interstate now lies?  And who preceded them?  I live in a river canyon uninhabited for a thousand years before I got here.  But a few miles away the river winds through a valley where the trailers of retirees sit amongst baked mud haciendas, the  residents of the latter keeping alive much of the traditional Hispanic, frontier lifestyle.  I love watching a family roast their chilies, the oldest son off to hunt for the winter’s meat, the little girls braided with bows for the many fiestas.  From where I park our truck to walk into our place, I can see the land that belonged to Senovio, our deceased patron, or protector.  The little casita is as empty as a torn pocket, and the status-earning direct-TV dish he never even used is now nearly hidden by a curtain of beautiful, uncut weeds.  But I remember that land as an extension of the little man with the big straw hat.  When I look over that way I imagine the way he looked at the sharp crack of dawn, leaning on a pitchfork, pointing with pursed lips at the horses filling up on their breakfast hay.  His beloved animals were fed, and the sun was up in its usual show of morning color.  I see the silhouette of this Spanish American with the baggy pants, rooted to his place, contemptuous of any cities more than a three hour drive from his needy animals, doubtful of or indifferent to any claims of distant wonders.  Everything he ever wanted, everything that mattered was closer than that.  Close enough to see, maybe close enough to smell, certainly close enough to nod at slowly with a dusty Stetson.

But there is more.  Behind him, camped beneath the cottonwoods or sneaking up on him from behind the barn, I sense the intrepid Apache.  And behind them, the pit-house and cliff dwellers they preyed on, the ancestors of the Pueblo Indians, the people they call “the Old Ones” pushing corn seed into the riverside soil with a willow stick.  They are the earliest known human inhabitants of this bioregion, and their presence can still be felt over a thousand years after their migration away from this river drainage.  In countless ruins, in the remnant stone-age irrigation ditches, in the cliff art and pottery sherds scattered about the desert floor, in the multihued vistas they themselves fancied— here we find the legacy of the Sweet Medicine People.  To archaeologists they are known as the San Francisco Culture or the Basket Makers, and are commonly but mistakenly referred to as the Anasazi.  And before– yes– before a single human foot edged across this rain-licked rimrock there were those other intrinsically wild beings, plants and animals characterizing and being characterized by the interplay of elements and energies that is land, in the unique combinations that define place.  Behind the patron’s silhouette, the shadows of the Apache and the echoes of the Old Ones— I see, I feel, I delight in the dancing ghost images of leaf and tendril, tail and paw, fin and feather fluttering in the dawn breeze, sensuously rubbing up against an arching New Mexico skyline.

As surely as we alter and impact the places we live, we are ourselves shaped by the land.  Nature seems like a foreign and even frightening place to many of us these days, but it is nonetheless our original, formative context, the very set of forces and qualities that first conceived and equipped us.  What we now call “wilderness” once meant everywhere.  It is the unmanaged Nature that stressed our developing beings to make us strong, that provided not only physical sustenance but the avenues for both love and loss:  the genesis of human compassion.  In experiencing a place’s natural and human history, we honor first our immediate ancestors, then those peoples whose relationship with the land predates our own, and finally those lifeforms that gave way for our emergence, or sustain and enrich us still.  Finally we honor the evolutionary cauldron, creation itself, the ultimate terrestrial source, the swirling matrix that was and is our unique home.

 

(feel encouraged to share this with others…)

Talking With Plants – by Kiva Rose – Part 2 (of 2): Plant Revelations & Miscommunications

Thursday, March 19th, 2009

Talking With Plants
   
by Kiva Rose

Part 2 (of 2): Plant Revelations & Miscommunications

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That we take plant words in through our nose or our skin or our eyes or our tongue instead of our ears does not make their language less subtle. or sophisticated, or less filled with meaning.
-Stephen Buhner

The truth is that if we’re only listening for words – for language in human terms – then we’re barely listening at all! The world speaks to us in the ancient tongue of touch and color, texture and fragrance, through taste and breath and every part of our senses. Listening through our whole body teaches to be open to the world and each other in a whole new way and with a depth and subtlety that even the best words cannot begin to approach. All of nature communicates on this level, eternally engaged and intensely aware. We humans have pursued the allure of the linear mind and categorizable information and in the process, often abandoned the instinctual (and primary) intelligence of the body. Certainly both forms of learning are useful, but to underestimate the value of physical, tactile understanding is to undermine our relationship to the greater whole. The mind works best when integrated as a co-operative part of the body rather than designated the dictator of an artificial hierarchy of organs. Remembering and awakening the often submerged senses of the body requires patience and dedication for many of us, but the rewards are great. Knowing ourselves as living, vital parts of the natural world provides a visceral, bone-deep sense of self-knowledge and belonging in a larger family.

For those of us whose work is to facilitate healing with the help of the plants, speaking with them takes on a whole new level of significance and challenge. In the wordless language of the plants is also encoded the particular medicine that herb holds for human being. To discover and understand that language in a practical and thorough way is the work of a lifetime. Still, the common sense basics can be learned by any child. Most of know that bitter greens stimulate the release of gastric juices and encourage efficient action by the liver. In the same manner, many people are familiar with the use of common kitchen spices in food to increase circulation and digestion, or that just the scent of a flowering rose is enough to lift the spirits and invoke a sense of sensuality and relaxation. While these are simplistic examples, they are very much in keeping with the basis of how healers from many cultures speak with the plants every day.

The properties and personality of each herb is discernible through its taste, scent, appearance, fragrance, and even its habitat and relationship with surrounding flora and fauna. Dreams and intuition often play an important part the plant-healer relationship, but the foundation is built on a profoundly physical awareness of self and medicine. Learning when to use what herb for what person and when isn’t simply a process of memorizing information or hit and miss experimentation, but rather a complex and lyrical language revealed to those who cultivate a lifelong intimacy with the green world.

Besides what they may seem to impart about us or itself personally, on another level all plants – and indeed all elements of the natural world – are to one degree or another active transmitters of and conduits to the Anima… to the memories and intentions, knowings and implorings of the inspirited living earth.

-Jesse Wolf Hardin

Plants also speak to us through our intuitive and emotional senses. While we may be expecting or waiting for instruction in English, the plants impart to us through impressions and feelings. Depending on the species, its native ecology and our receptivity, the intensity and complexity of the communications may vary a great deal. Most often, they are subtle in nature and require our focus and attentiveness to be discernible. Understanding the real meaning of these impressions requires practice and discernment as well as an understanding of the contextual whole. We may think that we hear that a plant is good to eat and then find out different from a field guide or another person more familiar with the local flora. It’s imperative then, that we use all our senses and understandings to perceive what we’re really being told rather than risking the possibility of misinterpreting through narrow vision. The stronger our affinity and the more intensely we cultivate intimacy with the plant world, the more clearly we will recognize and make use of their gifts.

Plants tend to relate to each other and the world as tribes of species, and through the plant world as a whole rather than on the highly individuated basis humans are more familiar (and comfortable) with. The great benefit of this is that all plants are integrally connected to the ancient wisdom of their type, and of all flora and of the earth as a whole in an immediate and accessible way. When we’re able to reinstate our own natural connection to them, we also have greater access to the collective consciousness, with its vast store of information and ways of knowing.

Cherokee herbalist David Winston aptly illustrates both the dangers and benefits of listening to the plants on this intuitive level through the teaching stories he uses in his Talking Leaves class. In one case, a man who had just attended a workshop on communicating with plants was convinced that the plant he was sitting with was telling him that it was safe to eat as much of it as he wanted, and he was in the process of eating several leaves when David happened by. He recognized the plant as a strong neurotoxin and attempted to warn the enthusiastic forager, but the man insisted the plant had told him to go ahead, and paramedics had to be called later that night to save the man’s life from severe poisoning. In a contrasting case, David was working with a woman suffering from immanent kidney failure, he had tried many remedies with limited success and the woman continued to decline. One day he felt distinctly called to treat her with Stinging Nettle, not the leaves as he had tried before but a tincture made from the seeds. Remarkably, it appeared to have restored full kidney function to the woman as well as many other similar cases that followed. It is now a primary remedy for renal failure by a growing percentage of herbalists and has also been affirmed by certain scientific studies. What made the difference from one instance to the other was the level of discernment, and it can sometimes require years of practice and measuring the results before we trust our intuition as the primary or sole means of evaluation. What I recommend is listening with all of the senses from touch to instinct and intuition while also weighing in research and the advice of those most experienced with a particular plant.

And whether we are confident about this less tangible level of communication or not, it is important to remember that the plants speak to us from every direction, through the air we breathe, in the taste of the food we eat, on the scent of a spring breeze, through the feel of cotton or linen cloth and from all around us. From forest and desert, garden and field, meadow and river, the flowers and trees sing the song they have known since long before the first human stepped upon the earth and will likely continue long after we have been taken back into the dirt we sprang from. In their wild melody is the wisdom and healing of every age and place. In the soft mutter of seeds and the deep hum of trees is the language we were each born to understand. Run your fingers across the furrows of bark and root, and begin to listen.

————-finis——————-

This essay by Kiva Rose will be appearing along with an Interview with herbalist Susun Weed, in the upcoming issue of Susan Meeker Lowry’s wonderful home-published magazine Gaian Voices.  As a gift to our blog readers, she has offered to send a free copy to anyone requesting.  Please include $2.00 to cover postage.  If you know of a group or church where they could be distributed or sold, please contact Susan for quantities:
Susan Meeker-Lowry
132 Fish Street
Fryeburg, Maine 04037
or e-mail: info@gaianvoices.com

Talking With Plants – by Kiva Rose – Part 1 (of 2): Cultivating Intimacy with the More Than Human World

Sunday, March 15th, 2009

Talking With Plants
   
by Kiva Rose

Part 1 (of 2): Cultivating Intimacy with the More Than Human World

willow-bloom-branch.jpg“In the stillness I looked inside and saw the wound laid down within all of us… The wound that comes from believing we are alone amid dead uncaring nature. And then I took a breath and began to share stories of a time when the world was young, when everyone knew that plants were intelligent and could speak to human beings…  A time when it was different.”
-Stephen Buhner

Down on our bellies on the grass, we take a flower’s view of the world. The huge blue sky, the ancient sheltering trees, the dance of the wind with every being and the rain drizzling down – iridescent drops spilling onto skin and petals and fingers and roots. From this perspective we’re children again, speaking in the primal wordless hum of ancestors and plants, animals and delighted babies. We’re here, in the truest sense of the word, in this moment and place, immersed in the fragrance and feeling, engaged in the timeless exchange of human being and earth.

Perhaps the simplest and most effective way to begin the process of communicating with the plants is simply to spend time with the individuals we feel called to. Seek them out in as natural a setting for them as possible. For a Wild Rose this may mean a green riverbank and for a Dandelion it may mean a sidewalk crack outside a gas station. Meeting it in its chosen habitat helps to provide a context for our experience and the building of the relationship. Remaining in a wordless, completely present state honors allows us to listen intently and to fully experience the gifts of the plant.

Many exercises, suggestions and books have addressed the subject of how best to spend focused time with the plants. What I practice and recommend is that we each find a meaningful way to consistently spend time with the living plant. This could be simply sitting with the plant for some, performing some kind of personally significant ceremony with the plant for others, or even sleeping outdoors with it for a few nights for some. Whatever we find that works for each of us, do it on a consistent basis. Just as with human relationships – while love may spark at first sight, the relationship depends on time invested and commitments made.

“It is only when we are aware of the earth and of the earth as poetry that we truly live.”
-Henry Beston

Close your eyes, and imagine this is your first day alive on earth. You’ve never before seen the brilliant green of the Summer field that rolls across the hills behind your house. Never tasted a flower petal in all its sweet complexity, or leaned so close to smell a blossom that you lifted your face away brushed with a fine dusting of brilliant yellow pollen.

Or, remember that every sensual act of touching, tasting, smelling, listening and feeling can be as intense, overwhelming and remarkable as sex, as life-changing as psychedelics and as heart opening as prayer.

Humans are masters at adaptation, taking in a change, switching gears and going with it. And yet, a pitfall of this valuable evolutionary tool is that we sometimes allow ourselves to take the everyday for granted, we assume that Sunflower will be there tomorrow and that next year the same pretty Sage plant will bloom in our gardens. We tell ourselves that any day – any day at all – we can stop and take a closer look at that tangle of tree roots by the front gate. If not today, tomorrow, or next month, or surely before the first snow obscures it from view.

Or maybe not. Maybe we come home from work and the city has removed the tree, or we die in a car wreck, or we suddenly have to move. Perhaps we just get busy, and forget for a while and suddenly it’s all different. The roots have died and broken off and that amazing tangle of tree, moss and earth is gone. This same ability to defer important things, from children to health to basic happiness, is what allows us to daily walk by profound beauty and integral miracle and say, “oh yeah, I’ve seen that before, I’ll take a closer look tomorrow.”

When we allow ourselves the eyes of children – the newness of the taste of sweet, sun-warmed Clover nectar in our mouthes for the very first time – then we are at last present enough to talk with the plants. A couple of Summers ago we visited a little canyon where Blackberries cover miles of creek bank our then seven year old daughter. Their dark green vines twisted down into every earthen crevice and fat black-purple jewels hung next to just opened white flowers. Rhiannon was so intensely excited that she was instantly on her knees, her hands clasped together and actually shivering with excitement. “Oh Mama, oh my goodness, I never ever thought I’d really get to see a real, amazingly alive Blackberry on the plant.” She gasped for a bit of breath, “Wow!  I can’t believe I’m really here, it’s better than a dream, and I never thought they’d be that FAT and that BIG and that beautiful dear dark color! Mama, I think they sing!” And then, in her bare feet and pink sun-dress, she proceeded to crawl in and out of the maze of canes, carefully picking pints of berries with nary a scratch on her bare little legs.

I try to approach every plant, every day with a similar awe-struck attitude. It reminds me of the feeling I had when I gave birth to Rhiannon, this shock and amazement and throat-tightening gratitude of holding this brilliant, precious being in my arms every day and being allowed to be in her presence every minute, every hour, every day. And no light eating, green growing being is any less a miracle than a human child.

meadowrue.jpg“Plants are exemplary communicants, warning us away from taking parts that might be unduly harmful to either them or us, and sometimes suggesting a specific medicinal use to the sensitized listener.  Still, what it communicates first and foremost is the essence of itself and its immediate kind, its expressive ‘plantness.‘  While we may truly be able to hear what a plant has to offer us, only the fruit says ‘take me, I am yours’.  And it can be enough to hear its song that says ‘I’m here, look at me. Quiet your words and still your fantasies long enough to truly and fully experience me’.”
-Jesse Wolf Hardin

Insulated as we often are within human-centric communities, it can be easy to forget that there is a way of seeing and feeling bigger than our own. This is never more evident than when we attempt to interpret the language of the natural world. Too often we hear exactly what we want to hear, or sometimes, just what we are most afraid to hear. In these cases, our perception is so heavily colored by our own expectations, emotional hangups and personal history that more often than not results in us mostly talking to ourselves rather than with the plants.

Plants are not humans, but they are no less sentient and complex beings for their differences from us. While not human or even animals, they are people in the sense that they are intelligent, adaptable, vibrantly living and deeply feeling. In our attempts to relate to them, we would be wise to acknowledge and respect their profound otherness. Our natural tendency in nature is to attempt to understand through the similarities between them and us, and indeed, we are all connected and related through an amazing variety of traits. And yet, each species has its own special gifts to contribute to the whole. We honor those gifts by noticing and appreciating the ways in which we are different as well as the similarities.

In the knowing of vine and tree, earth and stone we come closer to our selves, our own innate and authentic beings. And the better we know ourselves the less likely we are to project or anthropomorphize upon our fellow beings, and the more we appreciate the uniqueness of the plant as well as the threads that weave us all together. Time spent in communion with our allies allows us to nurture our understandings of both self and plant, teaching us the balance that is so integral and yet so fragile. From the plants and the earth, we remember how to be human beings in relationship with the world that is our larger and more comprehensive self.

(to be continued in part 2)

————————

This essay by Kiva Rose will be appearing along with an Interview with herbalist Susun Weed, in the upcoming issue of Susan Meeker Lowry’s wonderful home-published magazine Gaian Voices.  As a gift to our blog readers, she has offered to send a free copy to anyone requesting.  Please include $2.00 to cover postage.  If you know of a group or church where they could be distributed or sold, please contact Susan for quantities:
Susan Meeker-Lowry
132 Fish Street
Fryeburg, Maine 04037
or e-mail: info@gaianvoices.com

Reindigenation: Matters of Respect & Belonging – By Jesse Wolf Hardin

Sunday, March 8th, 2009

 Preface: In the past few years there has been an increase in pop shamanism as well as “white” people insisting on the right to market “Indian” ceremonies.  This has provoked a militant reaction among some Native American traditionalists and even their strident Anglo followers to expose, discredit, disrupt and in some cases maliciously destroy the lives of what they consider to be New Age Wannabes appropriating their sacred ways.  In the ensuing conflict many truths have been ignored, complex relationships and inevitable twists overlooked, and people on both sides have been distracted from the real and urgent work of personal growth and realization.  Cultural rewilding.  The awakening of compassion and response.  Opposition to global institutional injustice and the rape of the planet.  The work of reducing population while raising empowered children.  Creating alternative schools and community organizations.  Planting trees, gardens, and the seeds of noble resistance. Coming together to heal and repair.  Remembering to celebrate, and to savor…

 In the interest of of getting on with this shared responsibility, we offer this revised version of the classic 1986 Animá text:

 

Reindigenation:
Matters of Respect & Belonging

By Jesse Wolf Hardin

IN-DIG-E-NOUS: adj. 1) Occurring or living naturally in an area; native
2) Intrinsic, innate

“We see in the present best efforts of groups of non-Indians an honest desire to become indigenous in the sense of living properly with the land…Sacred places in North America may yet see a series of transformations in which new peoples using new languages rely on them for spiritual sustenance.”
-Vine Deloria. Jr. (Sioux historian)

garden1-sm.jpgNot so long ago unassimilated Native Americans marked five centuries of opposition to the European incursion… preceded, we should note, by over three millenniums of struggle waged in behalf of cultural sovereignty and human dignity by land-based tribes, each courageously facing the encroaching civilized paradigm as it crept over Asia, Europe and Africa before the Americas.

The strength to resist destruction or assimilation, to resist the denigration and transformation of the physical landscape, comes from the depth of one’s relationship to it.  Strength is one of the gifts we’re given in return for our devotion and loyalty, for acting like responsible natives.  The power lies in belonging not owning, from hearing and serving, stretching and risking for a larger purpose… and it is the unimpeachable connectedness of all indigenous people that gives them the strength to face seemingly insurmountable odds.   Such connection comes from our species slowing down and staying put for a change, on our loving tending and intense paying of attention.

To commemorate, to celebrate, to pray or just to make their lives and their spirituality more real, contemporary land-based and spiritual communities have begun to fashion rituals relevant to current times, the planet’s dire straits, the mixed-lineage of the clans, and their terrestrial sites: their place.  They may be fourth and fifth generation inhabitants of Turtle Island, as the North American continent has sometimes been called, and yet they are unlikely to have elders to turn to for instruction or rites to call their own.  In camps next to threatened forests, in gardens and on mountain walks, during rites of passage for their children and attending the births and the deaths of their loved ones, they piece together fragments of prayers, symbols and ideas.  They draw from the universal to tap the power of the sacred circle, of sweat lodges and burning smudge.  They gather bagpipes, drums, rattles, sometimes even a saxophone– and open themselves to giving voice to Spirit, to Gaia, to Mother Earth, to God.

It turns out to be a fine line between the creation and adulteration of tradition, between honoring Indian spiritual traditions and what some AmerIndian activists have labeled “cultural genocide.”  After a history of their homelands being appropriated and sold, the extraction of their Native American rituals and symbols is experienced as the final affront, the ultimate theft.  The one thing usually left to a defeated and dispossessed peoples was their unique cosmology, the songs and rituals through which any culture knows and defines itself.  The new Indian traditionalists grew up with their artifacts sold to museums, their implements bastardized as rubber tomahawks and pueblo ashtrays, their people stereotyped thanks to non-Indians playing their part in a deluge of western movies.  Many have struggled to eschew the materialist ways of the invader culture, and applied themselves to learning the old ways of their various tribes.  Now they find other Native Americans sharing, and sometimes charging for lessons in their spiritual ways.  They find Europeans and EuroAmericans marketing “Lakota” Inipi ceremonies (sweats), and making money writing “Indian” books.

It’s important, however, not to invalidate someone else’s personal connection when protecting the exclusivity and privacy of cultural knowledge and ritual.  Many questions remain unanswered, even by the most vocal of activists waging their campaign to bring grief to what they call “New Age Wannabees” and “Twinkies.”  What of non-Indians who have grown up on the reservation, and call a particular tribal world-view their own?  What should a non-Indian do if invited by a Native American to join in a ceremony?  What of the appropriateness of the spread of the plains’ Sun Dance the Pueblo tribes of the Southwest?  The line is further blurred when one considers the ritual use of sweat lodges, drums and vision quests which are common to the primal peoples of numerous races and cultures, regardless of place of origin.   No one can reasonably make any proprietary claim to that which can’t be owned: the spirit of place, right here in North America, and the search for relationship with all its resident beings.  Nor are those of Celtic descent the only peoples capable or worthy of accessing the energies of Ireland.  Indeed, it is not only possible but crucial to that country’s spiritual and environmental realities that any AmerIndian, Asian, Australian Aborigine or multi-racial New Yorker visiting or settling there learn to connect to its Spirit and honor its timeless character.

In Animá we’ve not only avoided muddled eclecticism, but also honored the concerns of our American Indian friends, by employing only practices that both our feeling hearts and our deep experience of our home place provide – regardless of how useful certain practices from other cultures might be.  And in addition, we discourage any ceremony or practice that doesn’t naturally arise from present needs and context, the land we are a part of and our individual experience.  Our Shaman Path correspondence course doesn’t offer easy feel-good shortcuts to weekend enlightenment, but nature-provided insights and tools for the few to answer an insistent calling, painfully readjusting perceptions and remaking their daily lives, preparing them to serve the larger whole.  The quests we facilitate are in no way meant to be traditional Native American ceremonies, they’re processes and tests that the land and spirit call to us of every race and culture to undertake.  We do not do “Indian Sweats” or teach an “Indian Medicine Wheel”… we strive to understand the life wheel as it is revealed now and here.  And we just sweat, as part of the effort of doing our best.

“It is essential that people reconnect with Earth-based religions, but many times people are trying to practice Lakota vision questing or other practices out of context.  You can’t practice Lakota without being in the context of a Lakota community.”
-Winona LaDuke

I’ve given talks at several conferences where fellow presenter LaDuke admonishes our mostly Caucasian audiences to search out earth-honoring practices within our own cultural and religious framework, meaning to look to the Kabbhalic roots of pre-patriarchal Judaism, the Gnostic traditions of early Christianity and the example of St. Francis, and by implication the religiosity and rites of the Druids of Western Europe, the Yoruba of Africa and the Jains of India.  The problem is that not everyone claims a single country of origin, a single (or any) existing religious practice.  They couldn’t “go back where they came from” even if they wanted, when so many migrants from so many different countries may have crossed to create the persons they are.

Should someone of mixed lineage return to their Pict roots, search through the sprawling cities of Great Britain for the vibrations of their history, or take off to find the birthplaces of ancestors on their mother’s Russian side, where the oldest surviving tradition is patriarchal Orthodoxy?  Or might they belong in France, the place of origin for at least one branch of the spreading family tree?  Or is the only real geographical return one to Mother Africa, the playground of “Lucy,” according to genealogists the original home of the common ancestor of every human on Earth?  Nor can one carve up their body, send a foot to walk two separate shores, an arm to be raised to the Gods of the Pyreenes, guts to the Caucasus, one’s head staked to the destiny of the Emerald Isles…forever looking west.  And even if, our heart must surely remain in the place we love most, the place of allegiance, the place where we finally take on the responsibilities of home.

manometate2-sm.jpgBeing Indigenous doesn’t necessarily require one be a member of an established culture, religion and community history previously associated with that piece of land, although it certainly helps strengthen and codify the relationship.  More crucial, perhaps, is that the person (or other lifeform) be open to the directives of the ecosystem, ready and able to symbiotically interact with every element of that ecosystem.

At the same time, the primal perception of remaining land-based and tribal peoples becomes increasingly important as our modern society reels out of control, out of balance both ecologically and spiritually.  In their land-specific stories we can help recover our lost the awareness of place, the feeling of being home.  The knowledge of how to live in balance, sustainably, already exists – in the ways of the ancient ones of every continent.  The information is being lost along with the unraveling of tribal customs, with time tested skills and gifted insights disappearing as fast as their lands are being seized for development.  The young often feel they have no choice but to embrace foreign values and lifestyles, seeking  a livelihood in the major urban centers of the colonizers.  As our existences and enterprises become increasingly commercial and controlled, our pleasures ever more vicarious, our sense of both culture and place perverted or absent, as both our schedules and our thoughts race ever faster, we can still turn to they who have lived here, and loved here the longest.  Turn to the Native American elders, placed peasants, Hispanic dirt farmers with their knowledge of weather and wild foods, nomads still following the reindeer and the seasons, the Kayapo and their jungle pharmacy.  Not to emulate or simulate mind you, but in a respectful search for the evidence of truths we might then apply in our own lives, families and societies.

The primal mind isn’t just for the seekers of a few tribes, a state of mind accessible to the tranced-out Ladakh, the Kogi or the Shuar.  It is a region or capacity of the human brain, accessible by the most predisposed of us.  It surfaces during love making, while crossing the slick head of a waterfall, in the presence of enraptured children, whenever circumstance and surprise have delivered us most fully into our sentient bodies.  At these times the the Earth reveals itself as unquestioningly sacred, imbued with the numinous.  Even the most mundane expressions of inanimate nature appear alive, and one can sense movement in patterns of fiber and the grain of  mineral and wood.  We find ourselves in the timeless now, the eternal bodily and psychic engagement with the present, a part of an interconnected universe that unfolds and contracts in cycles.  Even if only for the shortest period of time, we jettison words for reality, symbol for touch, and know the world through our primal minds.  We feel more alive,   complete, tested and worthy.  And we are.  Worthy to be.  Worthy to be here now.

We become more and more indigenous to the degree that we reside in our primal minds, in place, in the moment.  To become: coming to be, leaning how to really be, coming into one’s self.  In re-becoming native, we re-create a contemporary culture, community, vocabulary, spiritual sensibility and finally a history true to our mixed-blood ancestry and the urgent and trying times at hand.  Along with our grounding comes an almost forgotten humility.  We can look to the the first “two legged” peoples to inhabit this continent for guidance, but we must each establish our credibility directly with the land, own our deepening connection.  We must stand up for the fact that we too belong, while respecting the ways of those peoples who showed respect to these places so long before us.

In time we may come to recognize being native as a condition of relationship, sensitivity, engagement, reciprocity and allegiance.  Reindigenation is, in fact, an evolutionary imperative.  Just to survive, those people facing the challenges of the next hundred years will have had to learn to feel and act placed again… settling in not as the managers of creation but as humble co-creators of our world and our reality.  Such survivors will likely be of ever more mixed blood, the descendants of Shona and Aborigine, Mongol and Semite, Hispanic and Cree, and they will of necessity have learned respect.  They will be the proud inheritors of the affections of Aphrodite, the temperance of Chuang-Tzu, the resolve of Odin and Ogun, the determination of the Berserkers and the spirit of Crazy Horse. No matter where they’re situate, they’ll have survived because they came to know and manifest themselves – completely and unapologetically – as indigenous.

And this alone will have brought them great satisfaction and peace.

Sun-Warmed & Sweet: A Wild Richness by Kiva

Thursday, March 5th, 2009

The riverside is green with a profusion of Stinging Nettle, Wild Mustard and Moonwort and every day there are new seedlings and blooms. The Chokecherries and Wax Currants are leafing out, and the previously amber hued buds of the Cottonwoods are slowly turning a bright green. The stems of the Wild Roses are flushed a scarlet red, and they’re branch tips are swelling with the promise of leaves. Things change so fast this time of year, that I could write a new description of the land just outside the cabin every single day, and every day it would change with the many additions that would be necessary. I revel in it, and wish I could spend every single second outdoors, just watching the world surge and proliferate with the fertility that Spring inevitably heralds. And as each day dawns earlier and fades into twilight a little bit later, I feel more fully immersed in the beauty and bounty of the season.

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There’s a storm blowing in tonight that brings with it the uncertain promise of rain and flowers and a lush spring for this forested stretch of the Southwest. There’s no way to know whether or not the dark clouds lingering among the mountain tops will actually result in any moisture, but you can be sure we’re praying they will! The desert regions below us are already awash in Anemones, California Poppy, Vervain and other native wildflowers thanks to good Winter rains. The river grows warmer every day, and we’ve all been taking advantage of the sunny afternoons and wonderful water temperatures to swim and splash.

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A few days ago I found the first tiny leaves of Beebalm nestled in a patch of Nettles and Moss, so early in the year they’re variegated lime green and dusky purple, soft to the touch and huddled among bigger plants as if seeking warmth or company. They taste spicy and sweet on the tongue, already bursting with the fragrant oils that so distinguish this remarkable plant as a medicine, food and wildflower. Later in the year, they’ll explode into bloom, their purple, lavender and pink flowers a euphoric fireworks display that lights up the whole canyon. Locally called Oregano de la Sierra (Oregano of the Mountain), its distinctive taste make it an excellent spice that we dry to add to stews and sauces and grind fresh with olive oil to make a tongue tingling pesto. As a remedy, it’s medicine is so broad that it deserves a whole book of its own and I have written much about it on The Medicine Woman Tradition website as well as on the Medicine Woman’s Roots blog. From digestive disorders to fever to antibiotic resistant bacterial infections to severe burns, this gorgeous flower can provide remarkable healing.

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We’ve been eating fresh Nettle greens of some sort nearly every day, from Nettle Venison Stew to Nettle Cream Cheese Dip to simple steamed Nettle greens with butter and preserved lemon. Wild Mustard greens and Mountain Candytuft flowers are chopped and added to each dish as well, adding welcome color and a pungently bitter bite to the meal.  A sweet group of women who stayed at Anima Center for a week gifted us with a basket full of just ripened oranges from Arizona so I made up a Vanilla-Orange Sour Cream Pie with a nutmeg cookie crust topped with whipped cream to take advantage of their strong flavor and abundant juice. Tomorrow Loba and I have plans to put together some Dark Chocolate-Orange Ganache and Wolf has been enjoying small cups of hand squeezed orange juice nearly every day. While wild greens are fairly abundant here, high quality fresh fruit is a fairly rare occurrence and we love to savor the sweetness in as many ways as possible.

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Although we all succumbed to the recent cold that swept through the county, I’m happy to say that we’re nearly completely recovered, and even Rhiannon’s persistent cough has quieted and healed with the help of some Marshmallow root and Chokecherry bark and flowers. While I’m always deeply appreciative of the gifts of the plants, I find myself extra grateful when the herbs help soothe the discomfort or distress of my little girl. And it’s amazing to watch as Rhiannon learns more about treating herself herbally, and understands on a bodily level when the warming stimulation of Ginger is needed or when the cool slipperiness of Mallow is more appropriate. My own relationship with the green world has served me so well throughout my life, it makes it all that much more satisfying to pass on any measure of it to our daughter.

Every Spring I’m reminded what a rich place this planet is, how the diversity of life species support each other and nourish the whole, and how we as humans have an amazing, and integral place within this intelligent, flowering organism called Earth. Every uniquely veined leaf, singing coyote and nesting bird infuses me with the medicine, the healing vitality of life itself. As I pass knowledge from myself to my students and my daughter, I feel even more a part of the cycles and spirals of awareness and wholeness. With my toes dug down in the dirt and my fingers tangled up in the silky strands of Usnea lichen, I find my own sense of self in my connection to the whole.

~Kiva Rose

~~~

All Photos (c) 2009 Kiva Rose & Jesse Wolf Hardin

Recommended Films For Deeply Feeling People

Thursday, March 5th, 2009

Recommended Films For Deeply Feeling People

I have found myself counseling students to be adamant about getting TVs out of their lives.  As my friend Gerry Mander pointed out in his book “In the Absence of The Sacred,“ television programming is some of the most mind numbing of all activities, and decreases the quality of existence for even those not sitting directly in front of one.  Good films, however, can either awaken an Animá sensitivity or at least move us with their honest portrayal of the complex human experience.  Below you’ll find a selection of some of our most recommended movies and documentaries,   This is for you, Amy, and everyone seeking to replace commercial programming with artful and informative efforts worthy of some of our precious mortal time.

 

 

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Heartful & Uplifting Animá Essentials:

 

Off The Map
Amelie
King of California

 

 

 

 

nausicaa.jpgAmazing Animá-Resonant Animation/Fantasy:

 

Origin
The Golden Compass
Brother Bear
Miyazaki: Princess Mononoke
Miyazaki: Pom Poko
Miyazaki: Naussica
Miyazaki: Tales From EarthSea
Miyazaki: Howl’s Moving Castle

 

 

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Wonderfully Twisted & Vitally Insightful (not for the squeamish):

 

V For Vendetta
Fight Club
Chumscrubber
Brazil
Renegade (originally called Blueberry)

 

 

 

 

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Fascinating Culture/History & Crucial Political Awareness:

 

The Power Of Nightmares
A People’s History
Unconstitutional
The Corporation
Why We Fight
BBC: Connections Series

 

baraka.jpgMost Incredible Nature Films:

 

 

 

BBC Private Life Of Plants series
BBC Blue Planet series
Winged Migration
Amazing Journeys
BBC Planet Earth aweiwa
Life In The Undergrowth
Life After People
Jewels Of The Jungle (search for medicinal plants)
The Unknown World
Koyaanisquatsi
Naqoyqatsi
Powaqqatsi
Baraka
Microcosmos

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 Powerful & Touching Dramas:

Frida
Memoirs Of A Geisha
A River Runs Through It
Legends Of The Fall
Girl With A Pearl Earring
The Constant Gardener
The Green Mile
The Shawshank Redemption
Goodnight & Good Luck
Cold Mountain
The Cuckoo
Serpent’s Kiss

Never Cry Wolf
Mountain Patrol
The Grizzly Man
The Last Of His Tribe
The Man Who Cried
House Of Fools
Rabbit Proof Fence
Disappearances
Snow Falling On Cedars
Walkabout
Into The Wild
Goya’s Ghosts
Battle Of The Brave
The Red Violin
Songcatcher
The Last Emperor
Love in the Time of Cholera
The Emerald Forest
Snow Walker

The Search For Home – Part 5: Creating a Native Calendar

Sunday, March 1st, 2009

spiraltime.jpgThe Search For Home
Part 5: Creating a Native Calendar

by Jesse Wolf Hardin

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We may live forever in the timeless present, but we are also positioned at any given moment at a shifting point in the cycles of day and night, earth and life.  This schedule and record of events is marked neither by the clock nor the normal 12 month calendar with its state approved holidays and customary periods of work and vacation.  It is, rather, a native calendar, marked by shifts in climate and vegetation, familiar to most land based indigenous peoples… as well as to many of those street-people we call “homeless.”

They should perhaps be called “houseless” instead, since they know better than most residents of the suburbs just what it means to be intimate with the largely predictible changes that help define “home.”  They may know the names of the nearby boulevards, but more as places to avoid because of the traffic or the police, dangerous corridors they must cross to get from one neighborhood to the next.  Ask them where they live, and instead of rattling off a numbered address they’re more likely to respond with a litany of landmarks: next to the river past the ruins of the old brick factory, under the old fir tree behind St. Martin’s, a five minute walk from the tracks.  They know what hour each bakery throws out its unsold bread, what days the supermarkets rotate their milk, how often the police patrol a particular street, what air ducts supply heat in the winter, and where the overhangs provide the most relief during the hottest months.  With no lawn of their own, they become familiar with the flowers and layout of everyone else’s, and can often recite the names of the local children they come into contact with.  They can, and often do, find their way home to their camp in the dark.  They usually have a deeply realized sense of where they “belong,” and exhibit a profound intimacy with their local environs.  Often frequenting the same neighborhood for decades on end, some can recount the succession of families moving in and out of any particular house, identifying each by the way they took care of their yards, the style of their cars, the attitude of their dog, or a habit such as what time a renter would always come out to pick up his newspaper.  They navigate their world without maps, and likewise traverse the seasons without the benefit or constraints of a Julian calendar.

Like other natives, their calendar is internalized, remembered, and round.  Each new turning of the Earth into the light, each new day is distinguished by its sensory record rather than some assigned number.  A native calendar is an articulation of significant events, rather than dates.  Some, such as the longest day of the year, are experienced similarly by divergent cultures and will be duplicated on their regional almanacs, while others are events specific to a certain group of people, situated in a particular place.  We notice that while the seasons, the successions of wildflowers, and the hibernation of the bears are things that occur dependably every year, the exact time of their arrival is likely to differ:  The day of first snow, which has come for us as early as November and as late as the new year.  The show of heaviest rains.  The first Fall frost.  But others clock in year after year, almost to the day:  The arrival of the dock my partners gather for our salads.  The ducks faithfully returning, from either direction.  The insatiable whistling of the mating elk.  In time the more significant or memorable of these recurring themes define the character of each portion of the native’s circular calendar.

Try creating your own.  The most predictable events become as the cardinal points on a compass, in which the Solstices and Equinox mark the four directions.  Of course the North is midwinter, the hottest days of the year situated at the southern extreme of your rounded calendar.  We can break it down further:  Between the longest and shortest days of the year, the days of the longest and shortest shadows, the new and full moons.  Mark the points of natural and social transitions:  When school starts and ends, the onset of each vacation, the time for planting bulbs by the side of the house, the bug season, swimming season, traditional holidays, and the day regularly given to Spring cleaning.

Here in the mountains of New Mexico we’d make the Roman August “the month when the snakes come out.” We’d mark down the first appearances of foodstuffs like ripened acorns, pine nuts and sorrel, the ideal time for root and tuber harvests, and the month for drying fruit.  Then there’s the period of antler shedding, and the months they’re in velvet.  The blossoming of so many blue flowers in the Spring, a dozen different species of white-flowered plants in June, and the splash of brilliant yellow ones come every late September.

There is nothing in your busy schedules and wordy workshops, high tech entertainment systems or feel-good fantasies that can replace physical engagement with the very real planet, itself spiriling through nonlinear time.  Step outside your gated yards and walled minds.  Then look around you, go for long sauntering walks, take note of the colors and processes of your world and then position yourself within it.

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