Archive for January, 2010

Depths: Affirmation, River and Mountain Style – by Jesse Wolf Hardin

Friday, January 29th, 2010

Affirmation River, & Mountain-Style

by Jesse Wolf Hardin

After a series of eastward-blowing storms, it’s been brilliantly sunny again.  Besides the pleasant warming ambiance, it has meant the ritual snowmelt, with the quickly saturated ground giving up its overflow in a convulsion of water.  Migrating in sheets off the steep cliffs and mountains, it breaks up into liquid fingers gurgling down parallel gullies, then plummets from the ledges in 2 feet, 6 feet, or 100 feet drops.  No matter their individual mini-headwaters, their destination is the same, gravity combining with earth’s ecosophic purpose to feed a quickly swelling river.

Quickly, I say, sometimes rising from a foot deep to over 20 feet deep, and from gently moving at a relaxed pace to madly rushing like a herd of bison stampeded by lightning.  Today the Sweet Medicine River varied from 3 to 5 feet depending on its width, as well as on the holes scooped out by the swirling force of eddies.  At such times it would be reasonable and perhaps even wise to stay at home here, in wood heated cabins perched far above all but the most biblical flood heights.  Reasonable, however, does not determine my actions when there is a cause to be championed, an innocent to be defended, a mission to be furthered… mail to be mailed, or cream, butter and treats for the gals to be got.

The adventure begins with taking off my pants and shirt and rolling them up, then holding the bundle of boots, clothes and outgoing mail above my head while stepping off into cloudy swirling waters where I can’t see the bottom.  From the second I touch bottom on sucking sand or bruising rock, the current pushes me hard down the canyon and to the southwest and Arizona and Mexico when I need to remain determinedly pointed to the east.  To compensate I set off 30 yards upriver from my preferred landing spot on the opposite bank, then bounce across in leaps that give in equal proportions to the diverging directions of man and river.

I’m very warm blooded, but snowmelt anywhere above the thighs is stunning to say the least, a jolt that arrests all thought even as it so loudly reminds me through every sense that I am alive.  Getting out onto largely muddy ground with clean feet is a trick best accomplished by holding onto railings of exposed Alder roots, and then squatting and dressing in atop its foundation of shore-clutching arms.  The climb to the waiting vehicle starts out at a 30 SunStreakedSnow-smdegree incline, and any thought of being cold is gone within the first third of the ascent.  Sitting for hours writing articles, books and emails is poor exercise and preparation, and my legs begin to complain.  When I was in my 20’s, I made it a practice to run as fast as I could without stopping for the entire 2 mile climb, carrying a pebble in my mouth because I had read the Apache ensured breathing through their noses that way, causing greater stamina.  Now I considered a satisfactory feat just to be able to scramble up its sides on deer trails that for a deer would be a relaxed pace.  And while the snow lay only in patches at the bottom of the canyon, with the first 500 feet of elevation increase the snow had thickened to a 18 inches or more, obliterating any sign of the winding way up.  With familiar landmarks draped or obscured and the ground appearing but a single precipitous angle, I was likely seldom if ever actually a trail, making headway by thrusting the sides of my boots into the snow for each step, and proceeding more sideways than forward myself.

Increasingly aching legs and ever more slippery and indecipherable terrain inspired even greater attention to each committed step.  A slip could mean plummeting at breakneck speeds checked only by collisions of flesh against bark, careening pinball style off one ponderosa tree after another.  The Winter is found no less lovely by the trekker, knowing that growing stiff and weary, or stopping and taking too long of a rest could mean never getting back up again.  There is only continuing as an option for life, as it is with all life forms empowered by this force and will to live, the anima.  And less dramatically, there is never any stopping and giving up for me.  Older and less exercised limbs showed no sign of giving out, but only signs of continuing to give their all.  In fact, the aching actually eased for the most part at the point when the climb was most difficult, and in that I found great encouragement.

The microclimate shifted with each few hundred feet of ascent, such that near the 7000 feet level I found myself walking into a cloud, a strata of airborne strata so pronounced that for a moment I could see my boot clearly while everything at head height was covered by mist.  Like the entrance to Avalon, all magic seems to be veiled for protection by a cloud of unknowing.  But for me then, it was a knowing instead, the knowledge that once in the cloud I was essentially at the mountain’s top and a waiting snow-tucked vehicle.  As always, the cream in our coffee will be made all the more enjoyable by the means through which it was obtained.  The books sent out will have an extra story to go with them, recounting their untypical journey.  And the where and why of our lives is yet again reaffirmed, not by the ease of our admitted paradise but by what we are willing to do for and because of it.  Affirmed mountain and river-style, instead of through its vista and sparkle we come to know its measure by its depth.

(Post and share freely.  Photos (c)2010 by Jesse Wolf Hardin)


The Town That Waves – by Jesse Hardin

Wednesday, January 27th, 2010

Intro: Our Animá school is situated in isolated Catron County, New Mexico, only 2 percent private land and a populous nationally famous for their their anti-government, libertarian, and sadly but understandably anti-environmentalist views.  Even as they have embraced a tree hugging ex-biker philosopher named “Wolf” as their own, they are terrified of the real wolf introduction program and angry over the ways the program has been operated.  For all its twists and complexities, we are very fortunate to live in a place where individual liberty is a paramount value, wide open spaces treasured, wild food eaten, medicinal herbs appreciated, gardens grown and human bonds strengthened.  Folks jump to help us and each other, and are disappointed if we don’t stop to visit.  If you ever make the trip here you will expect to see the disparaging sign about spotted owls in our landmark Uncle Bill’s Bar, but you may be surprised at the friendly greetings of folks walking or driving your way.  There is a reason why I may be calling my upcoming “straight shot” book of rural humor and land based insights “The Town That Waves.”  This will likely be its opening chapter.  -JWH

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The Town That Waves

by Jesse Hardin

I will never forget rolling into my home country for the very first time, awestruck by the sheer physical beauty, giddy with excitement as Sonoran desert gave way to vast stretches of piñon-juniper, then into thick stands of ponderosa pine bearded with dangling usnea.  The continental divide.  The exposed cliffs near the village of Aragon, with that inviting cave within sight of the road.  The bright green meadows fed by generous springs, the twist of the Tularosa river, the view to the north of the Frisco box.  Elk feeding at the edge of the pavement.  Bald eagles circling.  A fox dashing for cover at the sound of my engine.  The vast distances seemed to cast a spell on me, soothing my beastly youthful impatience.  And the land… the land felt animate with the ghosts of the past, its human and natural history somehow still alive for us to sense, learn from, and give thanks for.  Call it the presence of God if you will – or call it the power of the Great Spirit as previous generations of awestruck natives did – but the land seemed to me then and still seems to reflect, embody and vibrate with a divine force, appearing magical even to a hardened modern mind.  The closer I got to what would become my lifetime home, the closer I felt to heaven.  Blooming wildflowers and a buoyant northeastern wind worked in consort together, easing me into a timeless state of mind steeped in reverie on that long, long drive.

I was amazed on that fortuitous initial visit, however, not just by the landscape but also the people.  First, that there were so very few of them, with me seeing only a handful of trucks in the final one hundred and thirty miles.  And second, amazed that the drivers waved as they passed by!

I don’t think that a roadside iguana race hosted by hula dancers would have have been any greater a surprise to the 23 year old me.  Having been a teen runaway in the harder neighborhoods of several cities, I’d grown to expect a “dirty finger” flipped in my direction, or an occasional beer bottle being tossed at me by someone with an aversion for “long-hairs” or chopped motorcycles.  And even in the nicer parts of town, I could expect stiff indifference, pedestrians as well as drivers understandably going by without making eye contact, with me largely anonymous and irrelevant to them.  But waving?  I was dumbfounded.  Nonplussed.  Flabbergasted.  And I might add, deeply touched.

For the first few weeks here I felt guilty, like an impostor, worried that they were confusing my vehicle for someone else’s they knew.  Surely if those folks realized I wasn’t a local, they’d resent the effort.  And up until then I still preferred being ignored to being resented.  But that’s all changed in the decades since, and it’s gotten to where I’d rather be actively disliked than ingloriously ignored.  At this stage, I only feel guilty if I get so distracted with changing the music on the stereo that I fail to wave back.

For all those who wave, needless to say, I’ve noticed there are a few who never do.  These include the occasional stockman, too John Wayne-like stoic to do anything so ostentatious and undignified.  The nearly blind, who drive ten miles an hour and can barely see the yellow lines, let alone make out a raised hand behind the glare of an opposing windshield.  The teens scarcely old enough for a license, who are characteristically way too cool for such things.  And those who are both extremely old and stubbornly willful, working with white-knuckled determination to keep their thirty year old pickups on the road, justifiably afraid to take either hand off the wheel even for a second.

The above are the exceptions, while the majority of my community faithfully continue with this valued practice, going through the motions because we care.  Being a county of individualists, however, no two of these waves are exactly alike.  The personal variations demonstrate both the degree of emotional investment and the current mood of the waver, such as:  A single pointer finger lifted.  The same finger lifted, but wagged.  Two fingers doing the same.  The whole palm lifted, with the heel still on the wheel.  An entire hand raised and held still in the air, like pinto pony-riding Plains Indians meeting up in a flat stretch of buffalo grass.  The whole hand raised and waved back and forth, like a bobbing dashboard hula-dancer.  And there is both hands momentarily off the wheel, flapping wildly in the air because the driver happens to be truly excited to see you.

Such waves are about bonding, affirmation and membership in a way, about being genuinely pleased the other fellow is out on such a good day to be alive!  About fellow county residents sharing a common place and history, and a number of values and hopes.  But the wave is also about recognizing each other as fellow human critters only temporarily boxed up in ironclad machines on wheels, no matter our fellow driver’s place of origin… as sister and brethren sharecroppers working in a fractured economic system, breathing the same air, struggling with the same issues of growing up or parenting, of aging and health.  The same prostituted politicians and freedom-robbing legislation.  And similar purpose and belief, hardship and hope.

That said, my rural neighbors and I aren’t any too bothered if some tourist or house hunter motors by without giving us the courtesy of waving back.  We understand.  He or she just doesn’t know any better yet.

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Because It’s Good For You: On Authority, Certification & Law – by Jesse Wolf Hardin

Monday, January 25th, 2010

Preface: Thank you for the dozen requests for my recent piece on the topic of authority.  I hesitated to run it here only because it was written in the intemperate tone I relax into when writing from a rural or general audience, rather than the less expletive ridden and hopefully more professional tone and language of our Animá articles and books.  I would like it if you not only learned and were inspired by the following, but if you were to enjoy it as well.  -JWH

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Because It’s Good For You:
Insurgent Thoughts On Authority, Certification & Law

by Jesse Wolf Hardin

My advice is not to trust all authority, but to find the authority in ourselves
to know who and what to trust!

“Because I told you so!” was the answer I often got as a youngster, when – from parents and teachers alike – I’d routinely ask the reasons for what it was I was being told to do.  If the adults in charge had simply explained the reasoning behind the order, custom, protocol,  tradition or rule, there’s a chance I would have a considered it the beneficial and honorable thing to do.  But telling me “because I told you so” is like saying “because I’m bigger than you,” “older than you,” “better connected than you,” or “better armed than you.”  This is the limited reasoning and self justification of bullies, whether it be an expansionist empire or playground antagonists.  Having such advantages might mean that they can make us do something, but that doesn’t mean it’s right to force us to bend or conform, nor does it mean that the ways they want us to behave are necessarily good or just for us, the human spirit, the things we cherish or the larger world.  I wouldn’t buy it back then, I’m not buying it now.  I would have much preferred the exhortations of the wise and caring mother, the caretaker, the healer: “Because it’s good for you!”  And even then, I would have wanted to know exactly why, how, and under what circumstances and amounts any medicine or course of action might be best for me.

I was willing to heed, but not heel.  And what I most readily heeded was counsel and direction from people who clearly knew more than me, who were more experienced and appeared to have grown or learned something from their experiences, who acted out of a deep sense of caring and strong set of principles, with allegiance to truth and to justice.  As a teen runaway, I took advice from old bikers on which year Harley-Davidsons had the coolest ride, and I had no objection to coming to a stop when ordered to by a life-saving traffic cop.  I kept the counsel of well meaning hobos who had “been around the block,” trading normalcy and security for a life of minor privation and immense freedom.  I took to heart the lecture of a drawling rural Sheriff who kindly counseled me not to do stupid illegal things I didn’t even believe in, and from a confirmed outlaw who talked about it being just as important to break those laws that we know to be “wrong-headed” or unconstitutional.

That I could respect and listen to individuals on both sides of the law, is an indication of how little significance I placed on costume and insignia.  Then as now, I couldn’t understand the military expression “salute the uniform, not the man.”  A person who was worthy of being respected, listened to and followed seems just as worthy to me whether out of uniform, off duty, retired or fired!   Conversely, those unwise or unworthy in character remain ignorant and unworthy regardless of what official clothing they might don, or what agency or administration finances and directs them.  And just because something is either mandated or banned in one of the hundreds of thousands of laws that govern every aspect of our civilized lives, doesn’t make it right… nor make it honorable for us to obey.

Authority is simply not something that a government or agency can give someone.  Genuine authority cannot be “vested” as they say, it can only be earned.  And because it has to be earned, it can also be undermined through unfair application, squandered away on superfluous regulation, and overturned if based on or upheld by false premise and manipulative lies.  It’s not authority without the weight of truth, it is only base imposition and oppression.  And the problem with exercising power over someone or something, is that it only works so long as enough pressure can be put on.  Somewhere, sooner or later there is a break, a lapse or loophole through which not only truth and liberty but all kinds of trouble can arise.  The wife-abuser is only really in control until he falls asleep, as a number of angry men have found out to their horror.  The schoolyard bully can hold you down with a head-lock for only just so long, the second he stops to rest there’s nothing except possibly fear or self doubt to prevent you from retaliating or remedying.

If there is authority in a truth, standard or directive, it retains its influence without mandates, manipulation and control.  It rings true when we are alone and our acts unwitnessed, as surely as when we are being closely monitored or working under the gun.  When such is the case, we do not need the force of law to rein in our actions nor compel us to act.  As herbalists, it isn’t certification that determines how effective we are, it’s our actions, means and results, and government inspection of plant medicines will never be the reason why we seek to use the finest quality and teach the safest methods and amounts.

We’re unlikely to ravage and steal even though no one is watching and there may be no price to be paid, if we feel deeply that rape or theft are wrong.  And hopefully, we don’t obediently toe the line, surrender our rights and liberties, compromise our beliefs and march to the orders of the established powers… just because they happen to control the military and the most awesome weapons ever developed, will soon have video surveillance cameras on every street corner, have planted informants among every activist group and provocateurs in every citizen militia, wield a court system that functions to protect the elite and punish the independent, can count on the connivance of “new world order” strategists and the support of multinational financiers, and have made the building of new jails and penitentiaries the fasting growing industry in America.  I agree with the prickly ex-Colonel in the movie Legends of the Fall, and his feelings regarding this nation’s ruling administration and its morally compromised minions: “Screw ‘em,” he said in a voice slurred by a powerful but obviously not debilitating stroke. “Screw ’em!”

The origin of the word “authority” is from the Latin auctoritas, from the word auctor which means both “originator” and “promoter.”  Our authority is our ability to affect and influence, as parents and teachers, craftspeople and gardeners, artists and healers.  It is a result of what we put forward and promote, and as such, it can only originate with us.


(Share and post liberally.  To learn more, go to the Writings and Correspondence Course pages of the Animá School website at:

Pitfalls On the Path – Part 6 of 7 – by Jesse Wolf Hardin

Wednesday, January 13th, 2010

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

by Jesse Wolf Hardin
Part 6 of 7

The following is the sixth in a series describing dangerous or limiting pitfalls on the path of personal growth and purpose, misconceptions and maladies that can hinder our understanding, development and manifestation.  Please feel to share these with friends:

•  The Goal Of No Suffering
Religions have long promised an end to suffering in the “life after death,” while some New Age and Eastern dogma promises techniques to rid us of suffering right now.  Avoidance of all suffering in this life, however, can be counterproductive.  The expression “no pain no gain” is true in matters of personal growth as well as bodybuilding.  Pain is not punishment, but a call to attend.  It is not our duty or karma, but rather, the balance to exquisite pleasure.  It is the counterweight against which we pull, and it is that pulling which provides the strength of our joy.  Pain is not how we pay the fine for past crimes, but how we pay the dues of our membership in the rolls of the aware.  It is, in one form or another, one of the prices of heightened sensation, and part of the reward of being a heartful feeler.  And beware the draw of drama: The trick is to be awakened and deepened by it, not addicted.

•  Misconstruing Illness & Vilifying Death
It is wrong and harmful to imagine that good health and long life is proof of one’s spiritual level or personal powers.  At its worst, such thinking can cause the ill to feel at blame for their maladies, and make death seem like a defeat instead of a teacher and unifier.  Additionally, while healing oneself physically is important, it’s not as essential as learning from our every illness or disability.  It is the practitioner’s sometimes painful lessons and trauma-instigated transformation that affords her the power and wisdom to assist others.

•  The Cult Of Happiness

In the pursuit of happiness, some spiritual approaches recommend we avoid negative influences.  However, it is exposure to the so called “negative” that tests and fortifies the positive.  Systems, habits and regulations are potentially more dangerous to one’s spiritual path than chaos or disruption could ever be.  Besides, nature teaches that happiness is too easy a goal for our fleeting finite lives, too low a mark for our aims, too little to ask for one’s primary prayer.  Better we covet childish exhilaration and sensual ecstasy, strive for quiet contentment and raucous excitement, pray for the realization of our truest, responsive, sensate selves!  Better we seek the fullest expression of that being, suffer the price of our increased awareness, and bear the utter joy that is then our reward!  After all, joy and suffering are polar twins, pointing to the same capacity and willingness to feel.  Together they widen the scale, expand the measure of how alive we truly are!  Happiness is the mind freed of immediate worries, the basket of our lives emptied of all disruptive input.  Joy, on the other hand, is an ecstatic disruption – that together with longing and sorrow – fills that basket to the brim.  Happiness is comparatively shallow and inevitably conditional, whereas joy is so deep it remains undefeated, even with our honest embrace of the saddest of events.  Animá teaches us to embrace both, and to give thanks.  For to really enjoy, one must fully enjoin… and fully rejoice!

•  Transmutation Of Desire & The Distrust Of Instinct
At times bosses, husbands, priests, politicians and gurus alike have taught that we can’t trust our intuition, because it’s what tells us that “something’s wrong with this picture.”  All vested authorities should fear the power of our inherent, native intuition, for it’s what warns us when we’re being disempowered, and what begs us to strike out against what binds us.  It’s a red light designed to warn us about the hours of our lives burned up without engaging in truly meaningful activity, the days spent stuck in artificially lit boxes, our earth damaging or soul deadening careers, and any partners we might live with who don’t love and honor us like they should.  Intuition is simply “body smarts,” ancient corporeal knowledge directing us to what best serves our real needs and authentic selves — and away from anything failing to serve us in this way.  It’s fulfilled by mindful food gathering whether in a store or a field, but it recoils at standing in line.  It’s attracted to learning, but suspicious of schools.  Our deepest instincts are the still-valid messages echoing the cumulative experience of our evolutionary past, and the forward looking intentions of the Whole.  While ideas can be independent of and even contrary to the direction of earth and Spirit, instincts are inseparable aspects of anima inclination and will.  Teachers can pass on all the best ideas and processes in the world, but we still need to develop intuition, instinct and discernment in order to personally know how, where and when to apply them.

…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” and the new course on “Awareness”)

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We’re Not Here to Accept Reality – by Jesse Wolf Hardin

Thursday, January 7th, 2010

We’re Not Here to Accept Reality

by Jesse Wolf Hardin

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Since I was a little kid, people have been telling me to get more practical, tone down my expectations and accept reality.  There is something to be said for such advice, given my impractical and expectant history.

Practical?  It’s true that I repeatedly chose the adventure of life over school, and barely-paying work like art and writing over basically anything that might actually have made me a decent living.  Like the scene in the great “Legends of the Fall” movie, I would sit for hours in front of the gelled oatmeal or waxy canned carrots rather than get it over and eat them like a good boy.  I still can’t fix our Jeeps when they are frequently in need of repair, and sabotage at least one potentially profitable arrangement per month by insisting on putting honesty and honor ahead of civility and income.  I am admittedly far better suited for shooting recalcitrant old appliances than for fixing them, and can’t leave this desk for any outside chore without ending up on a long unplanned walk or spending hours sitting gazing at critters and flowers.

Too high of expectations?  I suppose, though I don’t really “expect” so much as require what some might consider to be too much:  That people be real with me, whether sweet or obnoxious.  That the conversations that take up part of my finite life be either relevant, meaningful or both.  That the fruit in my bowl be bite-able and not literally tasteless plastic decoration.  That my child be protected from all threats, and that I effectively guide her past her own corridors of darkness or doubt more ably than I have ever helped anyone.  That I live up to my ever greater standards for authenticity and responsibility, no matter how high the price.  That the government, if it cannot truly represent me, at least back off enough to give us room to do the right thing.  That I can and will spend the rest of my days in this place that I so love and so deeply learn from, and that with all my unpalatable orneriness and outlaw zeal, I will be loved enough to have my bones interred among the roots growing down into this special land.  Even more than expecting, I ridiculously insist upon freedom, liberty and both nature-given and constitutionally-given rights.  I insist on the existence of undeveloped and ungovernable places that show us what we are made of, and on my taking every opportunity to naturally discern, choose, manifest, improve, heal or create…

But learn to accept the way things are, in a time with so much we think and are told is a lie?  When so much that is beloved is endangered?  When so much that is irreplaceable is vanishing, from crucial fertile soil to quality regionally-produced products, from personal liberties to essential wisdom and values?  When legislation is continuously enacted by both governing parties of this country, increasingly micro managing every aspect of human existence and experience?  When somewhere, every day of the year, little girls are being abused and scarred for life?  When our taxes are used to prop up mismanaged banks, fund bizarre studies, and bankroll wars that are questionable in necessity and inevitably poorly managed?  No way!  In this case, I am unquestionably guilty as charged, guilty of seeing reality as a shifting field that we are each and every one of us responsible for the constant co-creation of.  It’s vital that that we as individuals, Americans and humans, learn to set aside our comforting illusions and state foisted untruths,  be honest with ourselves and deal with what is.  On the other hand, honestly recognizing and dealing with isn’t the same as “accepting” reality as it is.  It is for us as conscious, caring and thinking beings, to make choices and act with the intent of changing what needs changing, resisting what needs resisting, and personally contributing to the goodness and wholeness around us through whatever great or minor means.

When I was a partying-too-hearty youth, an “altered reality” was something brought on by too many hours at the wheel of a car, or from drinking hallucinatory Tequila or even less socially respectable attitude adjusters, and anthropologists still use the term to describe their Native American subjects after a hot sweat lodge or days of dancing skewered to a Sun Dance pole.  To my current way of seeing things, however, all reality is actually “altered reality,” in that it’s affected by both what we do and what we fail to do, as well as by how we perceive and the ways that we’ve been trained to think.  Our lives, our future and our world need not be only a result of fate, outside forces and circumstance, but also a product of our wisdom, intention, will and action.  By whatever divine or otherwise amazing force you think we are here, we are blessed with the awareness of choices and are thereby made responsible for them.  We all help to alter unfolding reality whether we’re conscious of it or not, and whether we like it or not.  The option is for us to make our effects deliberate and informed, purposeful and will-full.

If much we hear on the news shows sound like somebody’s nightmare made real, it’s because it is!  And just as our fears, hatreds and illusions are recreated in day to day events, so can our best intentions, hopes and dreams help in part to create a present and future reality that we all can fully live with.  We’re not here to accept reality, but to each do our individual and collective part to help change it.

I close, unapologetically accepting nothing at face value, filled with the (okay, impractical!) expectation of helping to make things better.

-Best always, JWH

(Above will appear in Jesse’s upcoming book for the general public “The Town that Waves”)

(Freely Post and forward)