Archive for December, 2009

Celebrating Solstice: Listening to the Shadows – by Kiva Rose

Monday, December 21st, 2009


Celebrating Solstice: Listening to the Shadows
by Kiva Rose

Darkness is your candle, your boundaries are your quest… You must have shadow and light source both. Listen, and lay your head under the tree of awe.


Today the sun begins its return to our hemisphere, and though it will be many weeks before most of us notice the subtle lengthening of days, we celebrate this turning point with a festival of candles symbolic of the growing light. Each day forward from here, the nights will grow slightly shorter, and gift us with a little more illumination through the many cold moons left to come. Especially in the holiday rush and cultural obsession with bright lights and shiny things to keep the dark out, it’s very easy to forget the unique opportunity that winter presents us with. Understandably, most of us feel an urge to rush the seasonal shift, and to focus on the arrival of the greener, warmer days rather than stopping to dwell in the moment and appreciating what this time has to teach us.

In this crux of dark and light, we reside in a world rich in shadow and many shaded colors. For shadows aren’t just some indeterminate grey area between two polarities, but rather the complex subtleties of a wide spectrum. We tend to prefer the light and to cling to the familiar and seeable world – and yet, depth and detail are often best noticed by twilight or the shadows passing storm-clouds. Just as the contrast of light created by shadow often makes for the most striking of images, so does the darkness of these days present us with the ability to see deeper into our own lives.

Winter is the story telling time, a period in which to remember and to ponder. A place in which to dream. It’s in this space that we often begin to understand what the intense experiences we had in warmer months have to tell us. It’s no accident that in folklore, the faery and all things magical are most likely to appear by dusk or at the cusp between seasons. These times of transition hold the secrets and potential of what can be seen or experienced.

In the dark of this season, the weight of memories and past grief can seem heavier without the reassuring guidance of light just ahead. As the sun has waned to a brief  glimmer and the nights grown long and still, it can be difficult to remain sure of our footing and certain that we’re heading in the right direction. In this way, the dark season teaches us to be still, to listen and to practice awareness with each step we take, to feel our way through the sometimes labyrinthian paths of our lives and emotions. By recognizing this, we can experience the time as the gift is.  Instead of fleeing from the onslaught of sensation or trying to take control of the situation by incessantly moving, we would do best to give ourselves to the earthen rest we’re offered.

In half-light and shadows are the reminder of mystery, and the inherent magic of our world. In the cold moons are the opportunity to nourish ourselves and rest, to remember and replenish, knowing that the light will soon be returning and now is the time to give ourselves the space to go within, until the light calls us forward into the next turning.

With that in mind, I offer you my own celebration of the Solstice, a lullaby for the dreaming time.

The Story Telling Moon
by Kiva

tell me a story, love
in the dark down
in this leaf lined log
where we lay together
and dream
root tendrils
into blooming

dressed in fur
your hair wild
and twisted with braids
and dried flowers
you touch my cheek
we curl together
stalking lunar circles
tracing sun spirals
on each other’s skin

the clacking
of small bones
between us
the stories we tell
of green buds
adorning brown sticks
of warm sweet honey
sticky on our lips

in the dark our tree
buried by
a thousand sparkles
by so many feet
of snow we speak
of swimming
to the cold surface
just to taste sunlight

but I breathe your scent
curl against your chest
arrange our blanket of moss
and brown leaves
turn with the moon
drink stars
and go deeper into darkness


(as always, please post and forward freely… photo of the Animá Sanctuary (c) 2009 by Jesse Wolf Hardin)

“It’s Good to Be Me!” – by Amy Wardlow

Monday, December 14th, 2009

For the past year we have been receiving monthly donations from a huge hearted woman named Amy, who makes handcrafted body care products in Texas.  She continued making small contributions even after we canceled the Animá membership program and set the Supporter minimum at $50 a month, another person like Philip Dahl (see earlier profile) who insists on giving even though they have little to give.  I determined to profile her generosity here, and asked for a photo of her even though I’d noticed she didn’t have any pictures of herself on her Harley’s Delight website and used her daughter as the public face of their enterprise.  Sensing the degree to which this indicated longstanding self-doubt and self-criticism more than simple shyness, I persisted and got the following very inspiring letter back.  We share it here with her courageous permission, as the start of what we hope will be a continuous opening up and coming out… complete with the photo she was afraid to send, doctored by myself to emphasize this woman’s magic and wonderThis is her tale, and for many of you it is your story too.  -JWH

Amy Wardlow- Good to be Me

“You did not make me self-conscious, I was already there.  Truthfully, I started hiding from cameras quite some time ago.   You see, I lost myself.  I know the day it all began and how it happened.  I spent years hiding locked inside myself, protecting myself from the eyes and criticisms of the people who now called themselves my family.  I did it mainly to keep the peace.  It was easier to go along to get along, but what a price I’ve paid.  It made me very unhappy, self-conscious, and closed off.   It is a long story and I’ve tried to put it to paper several times and it just doesn’t come out with any coherence.  Maybe someday I will be able to articulate clearly.  But the simple fact is that when I saw a picture of me the eyes were filled with regret and resentment and I didn’t like it.  So I simply didn’t allow anyone to take pictures of me.

“I found the Animá website while searching through links on another website.  I’m not really sure what made me click on the link, but I did.  I read EVERYTHING, every word, on the website and then went to the blog and read everything on there.   The words from you, Loba and Kiva really spoke to me. It was as though you were talking directly to me.  As though you knew who I really was and that I was hiding.  I could see the truths that I already knew but had been denying for so long.  Those writings told me it was okay to be me and that I didn’t have to go along to get along.  That I didn’t have to pretend to be happy living life by someone else’s rules and values or let someone else tear me down just to build themselves up.  They told me that I was worthy, that it was okay to take care of me and my happiness.  That I didn’t have to pretend that all those things that I was being told I wanted were important to me, because they weren’t, and that while caring for and helping others is definitely part of who I am, I don’t have to sacrifice my happiness and my self-worth in the process.

“I admit I’m a bit scared.  I’ve lived this charade for so long that I’m afraid I’ve forgotten how to be free, to be happy, to be me.  Change is never easy, but I suspect it isn’t supposed to be.  I am a work in progress.  I still have people around me who try to throw obstacles in my way, fill my home with angry energy, try to guilt me into living the life that they want me to live.  I do my best to be gentle but firm in letting them know that I now answer to know one but myself and that I would not be being true to myself if I let them control me.  They are free to live as they see fit, but I cannot live in a situation that requires that I be someone or something that I am not just to please others.

“I have no idea if any of that made any sense, but it is a start.  I have attached a photo of me.  Not one that I am particularly pleased with, but again, it is a start.  I will be finding myself in front of the camera more often from now on.  You see, I look at pictures of Loba and her eyes are filled with the most unadulterated love, happiness, confidence and peace.  When I can once again look at a picture of me and see those same things, I will know that have truly shaken off the facade that I have been living behind and am truly letting my light shine again.”
-Blessings, Amy

(Amy doesn’t know it yet, but we are sending her the gift of an Animá self exploration and empowerment course, to use if and as she likes.  Please leave your supportive comments for her here… and share this post freely.  And to check out Amy’s soaps and other products, go to the Harley’s Delight Herbal Products Website)

The Grieving Cairns: A Story of Loss & Gratitude – by Jesse Wolf Hardin

Friday, December 11th, 2009

I want to thank the literally hundreds of people who have written with their support and love, in emails and FaceBook comments, in what has been a grievous time for me.  I have been touched to the point of grateful tears.  Appropriately, the following is an excerpt from my novel currently being revised, “The Kokopelli Seed.”  Appropriate, because it tells in fictionalized form the story of so called “troubled youth” first laying rocks to acknowledge their long unacknowledged losses and pain… and then ends with them ready to build a second cairn representing all the things they had to be thankful for.  From personal grief to a larger grieving for the world, followed by the sweet savoring and giving that is sorrow’s balance.  So-called novel or not, it happened pretty much as it is written here.  I know, I was there.         -Love, JWH

The Grieving Cairns

By Jesse Wolf Hardin

“ You will find something more in woods than in books. Trees and stones will teach you that which you can never learn from a master.” (St. Bernard of Clairvaux)

cairn3 The last kid put his personal rock with the others’, fitting it carefully into its place in the pile they called a “cairn.”  Then he stepped back to wipe the sweat off his brow.  It was important that they had each selected their own stone, and then carried it themselves the long distance uphill.  The kids’ long-haired counselor smiled at the feat, knowing how tempted they were to think him a kook and drop out of the two week program, to head back down to Taos and party until the next time they got in trouble.  And frankly, there was plenty of reason for them to bail out, from the difficult hikes to the kinds of truths they were made to face.  But then there was something cool about the crazy things their counselor had them do, about being listened to for the first time in their lives, that caused most of them to stick it out.

The counselor understood what his kids felt.  The youngsters weren’t “apathetic” – as so often portrayed by the media and officialdom — they were simply pissed-off, and paralyzed.  There was no excuse for some of the rotten things they’d been busted for, but any major changes in their lives would first require an understanding why they did what they did.  The bad drugs and wild lifestyles, all the cheap and dangerous highs were just their way of pushing to make their lives seem more real and significant, just a push to experience more, and feel more.  They saw life as a flexible membrane, and were determined to stretch it as far as it would go.

He had finally got what he wanted so bad: his own “Disenfranchised-Youth Franchise”.  He would go back to his treasured mountain cabin after each session, wondering how the kid’s were doing since he saw them last, and practicing the new dances they always insisted he learn (even if it meant breaking his glasses from doing break-dance spins on his head).  He didn’t care what the kid’s interests were, so long as they applied themselves at something, anything.   What he’d say he hoped for them was to distinguish themselves at whatever “tripped their trigger.”  He loved these unhappy crews, felt the need to protect them from their addiction to being victims.  Children and flies are some of the few creatures that will rush back to the exact spot where the swatter struck.  In a sense, these young men and women had each packed their own weighty “rock” long before working their way through the confusion of broken homes, boring schools, and finally detention.  They’d packed it all the way to the start of this oddball wilderness program, to this, their best chance to come to know and respect their selves.  And first-ever permission to grieve.  Only by opening to their pain, he knew, could they trust their bliss.  And only by honoring what had been lost, could they appreciate the advantages blessings that remained or the blessings still to come.

For the cairn exercise, the kids were instructed to focus on some wondrous element of their past: some special person, place or living thing that made their childhood meaningful —  something that had since been disgraced, defiled, stolen or destroyed.  For some this meant the family they never had.  Or some “Enchanted Forest” that may have been no bigger than a single undeveloped lot, that they watched covered over with asphalt for a new highway.  For another, it meant the tiny run-off creek with the polliwogs in it, that nonetheless appeared to the boy as big and mysterious, as complete as an entire wild river ecosystem — later channeled into culverts and sewers.  A special old  apple tree in the backyard that held not only fruit in its branching grasp, but fruitful wisdom — cut down while the children were at school because some idiot gardener told dad it had “bugs.”  One stone was placed for the crazy old lady with the twenty-seven Siamese cats, found frozen to death when the city turned off her gas over an unpaid bill.  Another stone represented a failed teen romance, and true to form, insisted on rolling to the bottom time and again.


The cairn had grown over the course of the years, and in time featured a rock for nearly every threatened paradise, every nearby rural community turned into another Aspen for the rich.  Not a few had ached for what they thought of as the “Wild West,” a place where eccentrics where valued and promises kept, a place more free than the imagination itself.  Wild mustangs and thundering bison, chased by eagle-feathered braves, cowboy’s and outlaws who stood up for what they believed in even it was wrong.  And it seemed like everybody’s kids hurt over the loss of freedom and privacy, the absence of opportunities for adventure and purpose.  The bigger the pile got, the more vanished loves and dreams, critters and playgrounds it came to stand up for.  Here was a monument to that which was no more.

The boy they called “Frog” left one for the amphibians no longer heard singing from ponds poisoned by acid rain. “Charity” came forward with a rock alarmingly shaped like the body of a baby, placing it in the conical pile for “the child I’ll never be again,”  They all looked at each other, the toughest playground bully or cafeteria arsonist swinging around to take the trail back, hurrying on rather than let their buddies see the tears welling up in their eyes.

Soon every kid but one had added his grieving stone to the rest.  Finally “Punky,” the smallest of the bunch, came huffing out of the thick brush.  In his arms, covering much of his face, was a boulder at least half his own weight.  They watched as a tiny hero, the champion of some unknown cause, completed what appeared to be the impossible.  Dropping the monster stone high upon the cairn berm, Punky fell to one knee, gasping for air.


“So whatcha’ grievin’?,” Dag asked.  But the sage counselor already knew.  He could sense the little fellow’s grief over the mother that passed away, the father who didn’t try hard enough to understand him.  And more than that, he could feel the way the kid suffered over the uniformity of shopping malls, the disappearance of cowboys and the urbanization of Indians.  Gone, the likes of Chief Joseph and Billy The Kid.  Gone, the grizzly bears and grizzly fighters, the code of the West… and all the rest.

“Everything,” Punky answered, trailing off to a whisper.  “Every-darn-thing.”

The shaggy headed counselor smiled to himself, thinking how tomorrow was as good a time as any to start up the equally important “Gratitude Cairn,” in a secret glen he knew about next to a sacred spring.  There were, after all, no shortage of rocks, as well as no shortage of hills still to climb.  And no shortage of blessings to notice and gifts to savor… people and places to thank, and awakened lives to wholly celebrate.

Cairn&Spring(post and forward freely…)

From the Lion’s Mouth: Dancing a Weedy Revolution

Thursday, December 10th, 2009

From the Lion’s Mouth: Dancing A Weedy Revolution

by Kiva Rose Hardin

Common Name: Dandelion

Botanical Name: Taraxacum spp.

Taste: Bitter, sweet

Energetics: Cool, dry

“It gives one a sudden start in going down a barren, stony street, to see upon a narrow strip of grass, just within the iron fence, the radiant dandelion, shining in the grass, like a spark dropped from the sun”

– Henry Ward Beeche

“Weeds are flowers too, once you get to know them”

–   A. A. Milne,  Eeyore from Winnie the Pooh

dandelionIf there’s a single personal symbol of hope for me, it’s that golden-faced flower that peeks out from under trash-strewn vacant lots, takes over carefully controlled lawns, bursts from sidewalk cracks and blooms even on land damaged by nuclear radiation and other environmental degradation. Yeah, you know, that weed people are always pulling up and cursing and dumping poison on. Yep, Dandelion. This much maligned wildflower when looked at honestly embodies profound possibility for change and incredible capacity for the regeneration of life in the most hostile of situations.

In many ways, Dandelion is the very definition of insistent wildness, of life that survives and thrives anywhere, anytime, anyhow. Perpetually persecuted, it still adapts to nearly any climate, seeds itself in concrete, rock crevices, chemical-laden yards, vacant lots, and even in a sprinkle of earth and rock tossed atop a slab of metal. Dandelion is persistence, joy in the face of adversity and bliss even while broken-hearted. Dandelion is also sunshine with teeth, for her very name is from the French Dent de lion, meaning teeth of the lion. The name refers to the typically jagged leaves as well as the  tenacious nature of the plant itself. This once revered medicine and food is now looked upon as a trouble-making misfit, a smiling badge of resistance that defies all attempts to shut down insistent life and nature’s bountiful diversity.

Not one to be swept aside by convention, Dandelion is a cheerful outlaw as she slowly but surely busts down walls and breaks up sidewalks. She reminds us of the wildness of the earth beneath our feet wherever she goes. Regardless of zoning laws, landscaping plans and subdivision “weed-free” regulations, this vibrant plant is likely to dance in on wish-blown seeds and settle right down, enriching the soil and offering you medicine, whether you asked for any or not. Dandelion is the activists’ emblem, a brilliant spokesperson for necessary action and groundbreaking revolution, no matter the consequences or cost. And like the best revolutionaries, she also shows us how to live fully and encourages us to indulge in a tango or two. The happiness inherent in her nature is imparted by her very presence as well as through nutritional and medicinal means.

The freshly picked flowers of Dandelion infused in olive oil, make a very effective rub for all sorts of aches and pains, from knotted muscles to injured joints. It’s especially helpful for those who feel saddened or depressed by the pain and need a little extra sunshine in their lives. The flowers also make a fabulous wine, and every Spring I’m sure to gather enough to make at least a few quarts of the wine and mead. I specially reserve one of those quarts for my special Southwest Sunset Melomel made with Dandelion flowers, Prickly Pear fruit juice and desert wildflower honey. The wine and mead are a wonderful cheering tonic for the long Winter days and the blues that often accompany them. Small doses of the flower tincture can also serve the same purpose.

A nomad with deep roots, this plant travels far on the white wings of her seeds but also sends her taproot down far wherever she settles, fully engaging with the land wherever she is and provides us with an excellent example of presence, focus and a life fully lived. The bittersweet roots are grounding in nature, restoring the proper circulation of fluids in the body and nourishing the kidneys and heart in the process. Dandelion leaves and roots are very effective diuretics and especially helpful for those with a constitutional tendency towards high blood pressure, gout, bloating, feelings of excessive heat, a sense of too-tight skin, water retention and scanty urination.

The roots tend to be more bitter and diuretic in the spring and more sweet and starchy come autumn frost, teaching us the value of living by the seasons and that a plant’s medicine changes through the year. The bitter taste of both root and leaf  can initially turn many people off, but this same unpleasant experience is part of Dandelion’s most important medicine. It increases the release of gastric juices throughout the digestive tract and improve digestion, especially if there’s symptoms of heat and acidic imbalances. The leaves make an excellent food-based digestive bitter and can be added to all manner of salads and cooked greens for their bitter bite and their high mineral content. They’re a great addition to pestos (as are the flowers), soups, pickled greens and even kraut! The roasted roots make a bittersweet but pleasant and hearty brew, well accompanied by cinnamon, nutmeg and a splash of cream.

Dandelion is also a primary medicine for almost anyone with hepatitis. The cooling, heat-draining nature of the herb is wonderful for relaxing and cooling an overworked, irritated and liver and accompanying hepatic functions. For the same reason, it can be very helpful in clearing up red, itchy rashes as well as many chronic skin issues such as eczema and acne that are rooted in an inflamed or stuck liver function. The bitter taste promotes the movement bile and prevents sludge and stones from from forming. However, care should be taken if there are already existent stones, as moving the bile in such a case could actually lodge a stone in a duct and cause further problems as well as pain.

The medicine of this wild and rampant weed is pervasive and wide-ranging, and lifetimes could be spent delving into her generosity. Children are naturally drawn to the bright spark of her flower and share the blossoming exuberance that accompanies her presence.  Every time I see a Dandelion, I smile, and am filled with the reminder of what a powerful teacher this plant is. Her courageous insistence to not only survive, but thrive in the face of hurt and hostility, has repeatedly given me renewed hope. I take her fierceness and fervent joy to heart, and close my eyes and make a wish every time I spread her seeds with my breath. We healers and earth people are all dandelions shattering concrete with delicate, yet infinitely strong roots. Every wild food, plant medicine & healing choice that takes us closer to wholeness is a revolutionary act and a step towards radical wellness on a planetary level.

Cautions & Contradictions: A generally very safe and food-like herb, Dandelion is still a strong diuretic and those with low blood pressure or already excessive urination should avoid its use. Additionally, avoid if you have active gallstones.


Pic (c) 2009 Kiva Rose Hardin

Being the Heroine of Your Own Story – by Rhiannon

Tuesday, December 8th, 2009


by Rhiannon (age 9)

5 Happy Weeks-sm

I have had many characters in books I’ve felt drawn to.  For example, in my Redwall books I was in envy of the great mouse warriors that fought to save their homes, and the bravery of Wise Child and the powerful magic in the Dark Materials trilogy. Then I realized you do not have to brood over the annoyance of not being able to be one of those heroines with all of their special powers. You can become one, you can learn, and you have gifts and powers of your own. Over the years I have learned to be a complex character of my own story.


Being caring, sweet, and feminine doesn’t mean you can’t be strong and forceful. It is very important to be a warrior as well as nourisher, not only protecting your home and yourself but the ones that you love. To know and believe in what you love, and to act and not panic when the time comes to defend it. If you have fairy tales and heroes you want to be like, or you believe in, find that in yourself! You can make your life that! Adventures, heroic, risk taking, happy, peaceful, and beautiful. For instance if you get inspired by Artemis the powerful huntress you could make you life as wild as hers or as considerate to animals and especially bears as she was. Or as mischeifous and fun as Pan. I certainly encourage this to both children and adults.


My story is a canyon story, and it is as filled with magic and miracles as any of my many books!!  And there are dangers to the canyon just like a great novel too, that I need to be prepared to defend. There are seeds to plant, but also sneaky developers to be stopped, people and kids to teach, and honor and love to be protected. I already have to speak up for what I love. When I am told something thats not true I don’t just agree, as truth is my vow and creed.


It is also important to learn to take good care of yourself that is the first step to being a warrior. To love and protect and tend and care for yourself is also a very important thing. In my Redwall books the warriors sometimes didn’t take care of themselfes enough and had to learn to protect the ones they loved as well as themselfes. It is very important to know what you believe and love, and then give yourself completely.  You can only do that when you learn all the time, take risks, make yourself stronger not weaker, have a heroine’s code of honor, and specially take care of yourself so you are ready for all the important deeds needing doing.

-Love always,

Rhiannon Cadhla Hardin

You can share this if you want to.

Pitfalls On the Path – Part 5 of 7 – by Jesse Wolf Hardin

Tuesday, December 8th, 2009

Anima Logo & Words-Green5.2"72dpi

On the Animá Path of Self Growth, Self Realization, Service & Purpose

by Jesse Wolf Hardin
Part 5

The following is the fifth in a series describing some of the dangerous or self-limiting Pitfalls on the path of trut and getting real, personal growth and purpose… including misconceptions and maladies that can hinder our understanding, development and manifestation.  We’ve noticed that this Pitfalls series has gotten fewer comments than almost any other recent posts.  We can only hope that you find these to be effective tools of perception, as contrary or challenging to hear as some of these redefinitions may be.

•  The Myth Of Light Versus Dark
An all white piece of paper is blank.  It’s the relationship of dark and light that defines form and makes movement visible to the human eye.  Our lives are defined not only by moonless nights and sun drenched days, but also by what artists call “chiaroscuro:” the delicate interplay of dark and light brought about by subtly shifting shadows.  To make sense of what is illuminated, one must explore the dark depths of its meaning and its being.  Darkness serves us in the form of insightful pain, comforting silence, the stillness between periods of tiring activity, the death that begets life and the blackness that gives birth to light.  There is really nothing intrinsically good or evil about either.

•  The Dichotomy Of Good & Evil
It is problematic to label things exclusively good or bad, or to gravitate towards the perceived “light” and away from the messier and more mysterious “dark.”  The Animá practitioner recognizes that there is a subjective positive and negative to be found in all things.  She or he personally contributes to the integrity of the whole, heals when possible, and opposes when appropriate.

•  The Problem With Higher & Lower

The practitioner seeks “broader” consciousness not “higher,” acts out of “deeper” rather than “higher” purpose.  Using a scale of “higher” and “lower” denotes hierarchy in the mold of kings and peons, Popes and vassals — a tradition of judging, exalting and condemning.  In reality, the Earth is spinning in space with no fixed up or down.  All things have a unique range of gifts and abilities, and are better at some things in certain situations.  It is for the heartful practitioner to plumb her abilities as well as weaknesses, in order to contribute to personal and global wholeness, and to maximize potential.  He or she seeks not to ascend a ladder of accomplishment and honor, but to penetrate the depths of self and meaning, only thereby reaching out to and consciously linking up with the anima, the magical all.

•  Misreading Difficulties
One harmful way of thinking assumes that the more difficult something is, the better indication that one is doing what they are “supposed to,” while another holds that if something is inordinately hard, it “wasn’t meant to be.”  While life provides both difficulty and ease, neither is a clear indication that we are doing either right or wrong.  Even while acting impeccably, we’ll find ourselves equipped with advantages as well as disadvantages, blessed with both struggle and opportunity.

…to be continued

(To further deepen your study and practice we recommend enrolling in the various Animá 8 Week Courses described on the website, especially the introductory “Orientation, Principles & Pitfalls”)

(Forward, copy and post freely)

What Makes Us Stronger… and Wiser – by Jesse Wolf Hardin

Thursday, December 3rd, 2009

What Makes Us Stronger… and Wiser
Empowerment, Intercession – and Learning from Pain, Hardships and Mistakes

by Jesse Wolf Hardin
Animá Center:

Broken heart-sm
There is an old saying, that “whatever doesn’t kill you will make you stronger.”  That would be true whether a blow to the heart, a swift kick to the head, or endless restrictive legislation that seems to hold us by the throat.  Trying to make a home herbal business successful or to further a worthy cause.  Going broke with bills to pay and kids to feed, or being stymied at every turn as we do our best to get our art out to the world.  Whether we are up against spouses leaving us or folks gossiping about us.  Losing our job because of a downward turn in the economy, or for whatever reasons ending up with more and harder work than we ever imagined ourselves capable of.  Having a hard time helping to heal someone else’s physical or emotional wounds, or being stricken by lingering illness or abrupt trauma ourselves.  Bearing the pain of a lengthy labor in the course of bearing a child, or suffering the death of a dear family member that we were with all our efforts still unable to bind to life.  In all cases, if we are still alive with the presence of mind to either write or read this piece, it could be said that we made it through.  And more likely than not, a result of any difficulties and contests has been an increase in not only our strength, but our capacity and tenacity, endurance and resilience as well.
Rosie The Riveter-sm
The expression could just as well be amended to say “and whatever doesn’t kill us, can make us wiser.”  I deliberately employ the word “can” here, because this particular benefit requires that we pay close attention to our struggles, mistakes and hardships, in order to learn what it is that they have to teach us.  We so called “civilized” people, caught up in abstraction and thought, spending more time in future projection and worry than the immediate actual moment, tend to miss out on a lot of life’s lessons unless they are underlined and earmarked for remembering by an attendant incidence of physical hardship, difficulties requiring unusual and extreme efforts on our part, emotional duress or pronounced pain.  Unfortunately, a stubbed toe is often the best – and sometimes the only – way to get us to notice where we are walking.  It is the “ouch factor” in this case, that makes it more likely we’ll notice other upcoming obstacles, rather than simply stumbling, cussing, and then continuing on our oblivious way.  Its message is to pick up our feet, sure, but also to more carefully pick and then proceed down our various paths in life!  The throbbing toe can get us out of our thinking heads long enough to really notice not only our bodily appendages and where we put them, but also the environments that we walk through, work and play in.  Indeed, we tend to feel stronger after surviving a broken heart, but by being attentive to the implications, heartbreaking experiences can also help us to understand the ways that we relate to others and what it is that we really want and need in a relationship, thereby making it possible to give more effectively, deeply and dearly to those people and things, places and causes that we love.
As co-director of the Animá Herbal & Lifeways School, I have taken healing as an integral part of my mission.  Yet as a teacher and as a parent, there are many times when I have to stop myself from taking on the responsibility of a cure, explaining everything, assisting at every step, padding every difficulty, warning of every danger ahead, knowing as I do that I would not only be denying my students, children and even associates a strengthening and informative experience… but also, that I would be making it harder for them to claim the credit for surviving and growing, harder for them to claim the resulting realizations as their own, to not only remember but to embody them.  Don’t get me wrong, many is the time I’ve imagined wielding a wizard’s magic wand, curing every disease, mending everybody’s broken heart, preventing my friends’, students’ and family’s every impending stumble and fall.  I know, however, that if I were to somehow fashion such a wand, that I could not disempower those I care about by removing every obstruction from their personal path, eliminating all difficulty and causes for pain, determining every outcome… that I would – at great cost, but with great hope – choose to continue equipping them with perspective and tools each consequential day, while wistfully storing my wand away.
Of all the billions of people who suffer hard circumstances, great burdens or tragic events, the most fortunate may be those of us who either get through our difficulties – or else continue to bear them – in ways that make us not only stouter but smarter, greater informed as well as more responsive.  Fortunate are we who treat our every hardship and struggle – whether the result of natural difficulties, personal mistakes or formidable opposition  – as chances to feel deeper or try harder, as opportunities to exert, exceed and excel… to find sometimes bittersweet satisfaction in our brave engagement with life, in the fullest measure of honest hurt and counterbalancing bliss, in the intense effort we put into even failed ventures and attempts as well as in missions accomplished, wounds healed and tasks done well.

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