Archive for February, 2010

Changing Horses: The Power to Make Major Shifts – by Jesse Wolf Hardin

Monday, February 22nd, 2010

Written for general and rural audiences, the following piece by Wolf nonetheless communicates some fundamental Anima principles, such as taking responsibility for our part in co-creating our reality and our world!  It serves as a reminder of the price we will pay if we cling to the norms and rules of a society running headlong towards “distraction and destruction,” but it also applies to every unhealthful thing that we individually stick with, when we know that to honor ourselves and our needs means to make a scary and radical change.  Consider sharing this piece with others, especially with folks you might sometimes have a harder time communicating your ideas to.       -Kiva

Changing Horses:
The Power to Make Major Shifts

Horse swim3
by Jesse Wolf Hardin

There’s an expression popular in the Old West and elsewhere, about not “changing horses in midstream,” and that may be good advice when riding across a river with a herd of overexcited mustangs.  Then again, if that same otherwise well-loved horse is determined to paddle headlong towards the perilous edge of a 300 feet tall waterfall, it might not be such a bad idea to hop off and crawl aboard a mount with more savvy and sense.  And in a way, we’re always “midstream” in both life and history, but that’s no reason at all not to try and make a needed change.

“But I’ve put so much time and money in already,” some might say, “I’d be wasting my investment, my hours, my vote, or the years I’ve spent with so-and-so.”  I’ve heard this excuse used to explain pouring more money into fixing a lemon of a car that’s had one expensive part break after another, used to rationalize continuing to support an elected official when they’re obviously blowing it, to justify continuing to stay in an unhappy marriage after decades of mutually administered misery, and to rationalize remaining at a job that kills one’s spirit and prevents them from ever trying to do the kinds of things they would really love to be doing.  This is akin to a frustrated cook repeatedly adding valuable ingredients or spices to a hopelessly botched recipe in vain hopes of salvaging it, when it might be cheaper and more effective to start over from scratch!

The direction of our society and even our species may very well be towards some undelineated yet very real precipice.  But like that cowboy in the old saying, we too have an option – even a calling – to get the heck off and find the best means for getting back to the solid shore.  In this effort, it is crucial that we not stick with what we’ve known if any aspect of what we’ve known proves wrong, that we seek a direction quite possible different from that of both the madly panicking and the too-well behaved herds.

HorseSwim2I don’t want you’ve been told, but we can’t let little things like fear, relative powerlessness, busy schedules, depressed moods, massive federal laws and ponderous regulations, world court decisions or politicians machinations, family disapproval or habitual hesitancy, slick-bottomed lawyers or invasive agencies get in the way of our work to stop the unbearable, right clear wrongs, heal what needs healing and redirect a culture going ever further astray.  If there is anything we don’t like about the way things are going, then we have a responsibility to do what we can to alter it.

If we don’t each make a shift, before long we will still be celebrating the 4th of July, but patriotism will have come to stand for obedience rather than great efforts in behalf of human liberty.  We may have reached the point of relative safety from certain kinds of terrorism, but only at the cost of subjecting ourselves to a terrifyingly omnipotent and manipulative system, with our every act monitored, evaluated and either rewarded or penalized.  Citizen owned firearms will most likely be tightly regulated or completely banned, while agencies of oppression, street criminals and outright thugs will carry more advanced weaponry than ever.  The government might make us somewhat safer from outside threats, but at the same time there will be little of the Constitution left to protect us from that government.  We’ll be able to vote electronically from home, but big money and slanted media will still decide elections. All races will be able to be elected to high positions in the government, but they will be just as subject to the established power brokers, funders and lobbyists.  A majority of the jobs in this country could be federally created, funded or subsidized and directed from the top.  Women will have an easier time breaking into careers, but most won’t enjoy their soulless jobs anymore than men do.  Well paying positions will be lost to overseas labor pools, and an ever greater percentage of our food will be imported.  More of that food may make its way into stores, but who knows what chemicals will be in it, and what American farmers can grow will be controlled by official departments and corporations owning the patents to not only seeds but genes.  Zoos will develop ever more realistic enclosures for their captive animals, but outside their walls there’s likely to be darn little wildlife and habitat left.

Unless we do something about it, in the near future there may still be natural, undeveloped places to test our mettle and strengthen our skills, but it’s likely that visitors will be required to show I.D., buy permits, avoid any hunting or gathering of wild foods, stay on the designated trails and promise to not stay past dark.  Salmon could fill a few currently empty rivers and streams again, but if so it’s likely they will be the tasteless, heartless, farmed variety.  Cosmetic surgery could reach new extremes, and scientists may be able to easily manufacture replaceable body parts, but people probably still won’t like their bodies.  Herbs and other forms of self and community healing will be over regulated or made illegal, while the multinational pharmaceutical companies make ever more money on our misfortune and suffering.

What’s more, the video screen will surely feature thousands of stations, yet with still very few programs worth watching.  Every tale ever written will be available on the internet, but hardly anyone will voluntarily choose to read a book when they can be playing video games instead.  Rural cultures will be starved or gentrified, with urban areas increasingly becoming hectic and unlivable.  Even if we can afford to fly to exotic countries for vacations, destination countries will increasingly look all the same.  There may be new technologies developed so we don’t have to depend on expensive oil and gas anymore, but it will be the same profiteering international oil and gas companies that own them, and the average person will still have a heck of a hard time paying for the needed energy.
A major disempowering misconception is that the President, legislature, global corporate heads, think tank weenies, media pundits and so called experts really put our interests first, that they have any clue as to what’s best for us, that even know where they are going or will take us the way we need to go.  Another is the claim that jumping off into unknown, unplumbed and admittedly fast moving waters is somehow more treacherous or dangerous than keeping our feet in familiar stirrups, closing our eyes and holding on!  The biggest lie of all may be that we are supposedly unable or unequipped to decide for ourselves, or that we need anyone’s permission to make the necessary radical switch.  Not only is it our right and responsibility to pick the horse we ride at any given moment, but we also have feet and hands of our own.  From the time we are little, we can walk, and we can swim… and we can all make out the roar of the falls, the nearer we get to the rim.

(A future Anima Correspondence Course will be on the topic of change and choice. Please copy, forward and post this piece freely)

Emptying The Burden Basket Ceremony – A How-To Primer – by Jesse Wolf Hardin

Thursday, February 11th, 2010

Introduction: Last week we ran an inspiring post by committed Anima mentorship student Jenna.  The many reader responses were touching as well as inspiring, and if you haven’t seen them yet we suggest you scroll down and click on the post header in order to view it with the thoughtful comments.  Tonya and others have requested a look at one of my essays describing more of the process of the Burden Basket ceremony.  There will be an entire 8 week course on this process available by the end of March, complete with detailed instruction, exploratory questions, assigned practices and our personal response and counsel.  But with the help of this piece, you should also be able to accomplish much of this on your own with enough commitment.  It is terrifically difficult to truly empty, but only then can we be sure that all we carry and devote to is what we have consciously chosen to do.  We welcome any reports on your own earnest efforts, and on the results of honest and courageous follow-through.  With blessings, -Wolf

Kokopelli River

Emptying Our Burden Baskets
A Most Intense but Necessary Ceremony

by Jesse Wolf Hardin

More than a rite of passage, a complete stripping down and remaking of our ways and beings, relationships and promises.

Kokopelli!  Kokopelli!   His is a most melodic name.  It rolls off the tip of the tongue like a child exiting a slide, its consonants forming notes that rise and fall as the laughter of rivers.  Go ahead–  say it aloud:  Ko-ko-pel-lee.  He comes from the South, the direction of intimacy and trust, and among the many gifts he brings is a particular lesson…  especially for us.  Yes, his is the figure of the “hunch-backed flute player” carved on the pink and purple cliffs of  southwestern mesa and canyonland, from Casa Grandes in Mexico to the San Juan basin, from the California desert to the pueblos of the Rio Grande.  Petroglyphs of Kokopelli (carved into the dark surface patina to expose the lighter rock below) and pictographs (daubed on with a brush of pounded plant fiber soaked in earthen pigment) date back to 200 A.D. and earlier, recording his influence on far-flung cultures over a long period of time.the hump on Kokopelli is obviously no hunched back, no deformity.   It is, rather, his burden basket.

The Burden Basket is a metaphor for the load we carry on our shoulders, including obligations, schedules and plans.  The worries and fears we’re attached to.  The weight of what we think we know, of the categories in which we file everything, the preconceptions that limit our understanding, the dogma and certainty, comfort and assurance.  The career we are bound to.  The family and other people we are promised to, and the ways in which we are expected to be with them.

Most of the time we may choose to just keep adding to our Basket, without taking time to do a comprehensive inventory, to see what has grown or otherwise changed since we first put it in there, to assess what is still real and relevant to us, to determine what is still worthy of being carried through the mountains and valleys of our lives.  On occasion, we may reach reach around our back and blindly shuffle things around.  Or perhaps pull one particularly bothersome thing out, without dealing with the rest.

At the bottom of the Basket is likely to have settled those things that are most taken for granted and thus either treated uncritically or totally forgotten.  These can include culturally or religiously determined assumptions about good and evil, what is considered attractive or unattractive, what kind of sexuality or other behavior is moral or acceptable, or what our obligations to family or country are.  They lie so deep that they never see the light of day, and we never see them clearly enough to question them even if we don’t consider them unquestionable.

Near the top of the basket are those burdens we have most recently taken on, and those that seem most pressing or urgent, as well as those that we are most aware of for whatever other reasons.  But even these we cannot assess proportionally, from where they hang on our backs.  It is for this reason that we need to take the Basket off at key times in our lives, not just because we find the load tiring or formidable.

That is, after all, the difference between even the heaviest Basket and a prisoner’s load or chains.  It is not welded to our frame with unbreakable links, and no authority figure stands over us to make sure we don’t put it down.  As free, conscious, response-able beings, we have at every moment the opportunity to toss off our pack and run, to ease it off our shoulders, rest and have a look… or to dump absolutely every assumed thing out in this proposed ceremony, facing the combined terror of complete freedom and painful deprivation, facing having nothing and being all alone at least long enough to determine what is real, what has changed, and what still matters.

Those who never lay their burdens down – who never eject anything from the Basket, or who keep endlessly adding more to it – are sometimes those running fastest as though to get to the end of their difficult course, or acting as if they can outrun the things they have strapped to their backs.  They are also likely to be those that you see collapsing as if under a great unseen weight, energetically, emotionally and spiritually exhausted and unreplenished, unable to meet any goal due to the combined weight of static or forced obligations, accepted limitations, and an increasing amount of preconceptions.  The depressed are sometimes seen slumped against the wall or moving very slow, yet clinging tightly to the Basket’s straps, attached to not letting any of it go.  The anxious are often not as spooked about the impending future, as they are afraid that they would be nothing without their Basket’s pressing contents.  The diagnosed “nervous breakdown” is in some cases simply the moment of not being able to carry any more, of falling under the load, and of not being able to get back up or see which way to go.

The option to any the above scenarios is the timely ceremonial emptying of our personal Baskets, not constant housekeeping or rearranging, but a potentially traumatic bottoms-up dumping of even the most treasured and sacred burdens that need only happen at a couple of special points in one’s path and life.  We can know when those times are, by how directed or confused, panicked or paced, restricted or empowered, drained or fed, fulfilled or unfulfilled, frozen or furthered that we feel.  It may be when we think we can’t move, or when we can’t stop running.  In all cases it will a period of ultimate and unrelenting intensity, combined with either a forced collapse or courageous self questioning.  The rage and wonder that attends the transition from child to adult would be one good time, when one needs to get past trying to be who their parents think they are and start manifesting their true nature and needs, break the rules and discover personal values.  So would be times of whirling disorientation or sense of defeat, of rootlessness or rejection, when losing a long held job or ending a powerful marriage, after a near-death experience or period of debilitating illness, when losing legs to a car accident or being betrayed by the institutions you gave your all to.  Or when from wherever you sit, nowhere looks like a clear direction, and you have this strong feeling inside that you need to go.

The Basket Emptying Ceremony is not something you can successfully do piecemeal, by working on it one day a week or a little each year.  While it is never a bad idea to cast light on and reconsider our burdens and contracts, the process we are talking about must be complete and at once.  When the time is right (or ripe!) for this, it is best to go on sabbatical from school or a leave from work, to take a vacation away from family and friends even if it is simply a sequestering into a private room or a tent in the yard free of the distraction of visits, movies and books.  Two weeks would not seem like too much, for this complete look at, reassessing and remaking of our beings and ways, relationships and promises, purpose and priorities.  And it would seem impossible to do it in a meaningful way in less than two days. There is a tremendous investment of emotion, as we honestly evaluate what we may have been more comfortable viewing as indecipherable, inescapable or inalterable.

The first step is a commitment to the process, followed by explaining the importance of and reason for this effort to one’s spouse or friends, getting their support in guarding your privacy and giving you the needed space.  They need to know to leave you alone, even if you need to sob or cry out.  Arrangements may also need to be made for child care or days off away from the job, calls need to be routed to an answering machine, and food or at least water made available.  Consider sitting next to a fireplace or campfire for the ceremony, or stay up in the pitch black of night.

When you have sat down to your purpose, grounded in place and calmed and quieted your mind, begin by trying to identify all the burdens in your life, all the heavy things, everything you feel you bear.  Call forth and optionally write down each of them, the enjoyable as well as unpleasant, those burdens you are attached to carrying as well as those you have resisted or resented.  This includes your contracts, agreements, debts, obligations, schedules and plans.  But also your habits, so be sure to name every one of them.  Your hopes and fears.  Preconceptions and illusions.  Your normal ways of believing and seeing.  Your coping mechanisms and support systems.  Even your parents, children, husband, wife and very best friends… as if you could never have any of those people or things again.  I mean to suggest feeling the terror that comes with the possibility of becoming lost or unrecognizable by those people and systems you have been a part of, knowing that even if we turn to them again they will appear different because they have been changing, and so will have you.

The Emptying of the Basket is analogous to the ritual “death” of the shaman at the onset of his or her rising to the calling, in the totality as well as the deliberateness of the loss, the Shaman’s dark ride through the subconscious, shredded and stripped to the bone, rearranged into something ancient and familiar and yet somehow wholly new. Only when the basket is completely empty and we are down to our true natures, to our uninfluenced and unencumbered elemental beings, are we ready to begin the slow and totally intentional taking back up of what needs our attention, attention to be given in an ever more conscious way.  Out with the easy stuff first, the debts to society that you wonder how you earned, the habits you are tired of, the university you know longer know why you are attending, the holidays you are supposed to gather for with people you no longer enjoy.  Then out with the harder stuff, the comparisons that have made you look too skinny or fat in the mirror, or that seemed to make being repressed and unsated seem somehow okay.  The sense of being a victim, that has at least spared you from taking difficult responsibility or facing any blame.  A relationship that may not be serving you or your path, but that has seemed too comfortable or practical to leave.  Pull out the “death do us part” so that you can measure what you want to give to in life.  Cry, to chance the disappearance of old foundations, holding up structures that no longer reflect or serve who you are or how you feel.  Shed a tear when you visualize beloved homes, neighborhoods, associations, parents, sweethearts, old friends or dependent children, set aside at least the length of this ritual transition, turned away from, knowing they could look different when you return with your eyes wider open.

When you can think of nothing else that weighs on you, nothing else to which you promised to serve or care for, nothing that limits, obstructs, distracts, tries, taxes or strains, the basket is empty.  It helps to picture it such, and hold that image for the hours that it takes, to experience what we feel like unburdened and for the truth and value of that to really sink in.  Imagine the inside of the basket scraped clean, and for as many hours or days as you can spare focus intently on the freedom and possibility you have opened yourself to, sense and luxuriate in what it means to owe nothing to past moves or mistakes, to be beholding to no larger authority or culturally sanctioned way of being, to have no one but yourself to tend and feed, no work for now besides embodying, understanding and coming to manifest all we really are.  It is only here in this exciting frightening place, in this liberating moment, that we can see clearly what matters most.  And it’s only then, that we are able to make the best conscious choices as to what to reincorporate and recommit to, as to which people to bring back into our promissory fold and also in what ways we will relate to them or be treated by them from now on.  And as to which weighty ways of being, means of income, behavioral habits and systems of perception, long term efforts and worthy pledges to willingly and happily put back into our basket.

Visualize putting the re-prioritized Burdens back in, one at time, slowly and methodically.  Speak out loud or to yourself, your commitment to bear them and your reasons why.  Be sure you are seeing them in their true current form, and that you not only accept but promise not to let them down.  You have every right and reason to make it conditional, such as “I take this belief back into my life, not because it was taught to me but because it has proven subjectively true and beneficial,” or “I commit again to this marriage, but on the condition of my spouse truly seeing, hearing and supporting the whole me.”  Done well, there will not be nearly as many items in the Basket, with the unreal, illusory, outdated, unhealthy or no longer relevant left lying on the floor or ground.  And even if perchance the total weighs as much, you will then be able to shoulder it again with satisfaction as well as determination on your face.  You will no longer do anything out of unconscious habit or unhealthy custom.  And you will no longer feel like a victim of commitment and circumstance, but will proudly and purposefully be able to re-enter the larger world you will help create, bearing responsibility but not obligation, carrying forward in your treasured Basket what will then be your glad, glad Burdens.

(To learn about the various Anima correspondence courses, or to read more of Wolf’s work, please go to the Website at

The Forager’s Basket: An Introduction by Kiva Rose

Tuesday, February 9th, 2010

The Forager’s Basket: An Introduction

by Kiva Rose

Basket of NettlesIn the pages of childhood storybooks, the primal forests of human memory and the landscapes of every traditional culture are the images of mothers and children digging fat tubers from the woodland floor, travelers picking wild greens along their path, solitary monks selecting the choicest fruits from mountain grown mulberry trees and medicine women choosing the roots most likely to bring healing and wholeness to those in need. Nomadic peoples, tribal communities and even the earliest of our agrarian ancestors, all immersed in the ancient task of gathering the nourishment they need to survive and thrive from the land they live with.

Since I was a small child, I have loved the joyful ceremony of berry picking in the summer, the sweet slow rhythm of nut gathering come Autumn and even the quiet collection of evergreen tips in the snow. My enthusiasm for the rich taste of all things wild has only grown as I have moved into adulthood, and even now the Spring’s first red Wax Currant berry elicits a distinctly undignified squeal of joy. Living as I do among the exceptionally diverse flora of the Gila bioregion of southwestern New Mexico I am ever more excited by the poetry and practice of being immersed in intimate relationship with the fertile soil and cool springs, meadows and woodlands of my home.

Here at the Anima School, we prefer to depend as much as possible on the wild seasonal fare we gather ourselves from the rocky arroyos and lush riverside we live among. Our Canyon calendar often revolves around what will be ready for harvest at any given time, and it is with excitement and anticipation that we await each shifting season and every arrival of fresh abundance. From the first spicy Mustard greens of late Winter to the tart purple Gooseberries of July to the fat brown Acorns of September, we are wealthy indeed in delicious, incredibly nourishing food.

Having direct contact with our sustenance not only grants us a special connection to the land, but also allows us to have a deeper understanding of the vitality, nutritive value and overall goodness of what we are eating on a daily basis. This is especially true when we are eating plants gathered from untamed, undeveloped ground. The complex and deeply nourishing nature of wild foods is unmatched by even the finest cultivated produce. The wildness of the plants connects us to the wildness in ourselves and assists in bringing us back into relationship with our own original natures. Foraging is an ancient way of engaging our primal natures, of stepping back into intimate relationship with the earth and our own bodies.

With this in mind, I’m beginning a new series of posts here on the Anima Lifeways & Herbal School blog entitled The Forager’s Basket which will encompass the identification, harvesting, processing, preparation, preserving, utilizing and eating of wild plants. I intend for this series to introduce the beginning wild foods enthusiast to the concepts and the exploration as well as provide further insights, recipes and inspiration for the seasoned forager. We will begin with White Fir, a favorite Winter tea and spice that can be utilized year round. I hope you all enjoy and benefit from this new series!



The Forager’s Notebook: Rocky Mountain White Fir
Abies concolor

a_concolorWhite fir is a native of the American Southwest, but is grown as an ornamental throughout much of the northern United States. Here in New Mexico, it grows in middle to upper elevation mixed conifer forests, often on north facing slopes. It can often be found in association with Douglas Fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii var. glauca) and Southwestern White Pine (Pinus strobiformis) here in the Gila National Forest.

Like all firs (Abies), White Fir has flat leaves arrange singularly in a somewhat spiral like formation along the branch. These flat, two-sided leaves (as opposed to several sided or round-feeling needles) help to differentiate firs from other conifers, especially those in the Pine family (Pinaceae). White Fir is unique in our bioregion in that it has unusually long leaves (sometimes over two inches long) that are the same color on both the upper and lower side side of the branch.

abies_concolorWhite Fir is tender and juicy, and when you cut a leaf in half and press down with your fingernail you can often see the aromatic and sticky liquid dripping out of the resin canals. It is also significantly less bitter than Douglas Fir tends to be, making it far preferable for most edible uses. It has a sweet, orange-like flavor that lends itself very nicely to both savory and sweet dishes, and to a wide variety of beverages.

Here is a distribution map of where Abies concolor can be found. Additionally, you can find further information and images of the plant here (photographs). If White Fir doesn’t grow in your bioregion, I suggest searching out your local Abies (or even other Pinaceae members) and exploring their taste and general character as a substitute.


I usually just clip the last several inches of any branch. These fresh fir tips especially tasty when they have new growth. Be sure not to take too much from any one tree, your impact should not be visible to any but the most observant eye.

Additionally, if White Fir is plentiful in your area, you may also want to collect the sap for edible and medicinal uses.


For edible uses, you will want to strip the leaves from the branches as needed. The tips tend to remain fresh for at least 2-3 weeks, especially in cooler weather, so I often prefer to simply gather as much as I need for that time period and use them fresh. However, the dried plant it also useful, especially for teas and infusions.

For medicinal purposes, both bark and leaves are desirable, and I prefer the fresh plant for all preparations when possible. Exceptions may be made again for infusions or decoctions if needed. Again, store in as whole a form as possible after harvesting to prolong freshness and viability. The sticky pitch may also be gathered when available.

Food Preparation:

General Spice: White Fir leaves can be finely chopped and added to almost any dish in need of a little zing, and makes a great local substitute for lemon zest or orange zest in many recipes. It’s certainly not identical to either citrus fruit, but provides a similar note, especially in wild food and game recipes. It is excellent in frittatas, omelets, quiches, venison stew and even on pizza.

Pestos & Sauces: It can also be ground finely and used in a variety of pestos. Because of its resinous character, and somewhat tough (compared to most herbaceous plants) texture, I recommend blending it with other plants for pesto. I especially like it combined with Basil as well as the less traditional but equally amazing Beebalm (Monarda).

Chocolate: The fresh leaves, especially the younger leaves, chopped finely and added to dark chocolate concoctions of all kind makes a very nice treat indeed. It adds slightly spicy, aromatic and citrusy flavor to the chocolate and is especially favored by those who have a fondness for orange peel or zest with the chocolate.

Teas: White fir adds a wonderful sweet citrus note to nourishing infusions and long-steeped teas. When used on its own as a beverage, it seems best prepared as a short decoction, lightly simmered for about 15-20 minutes. It’s flavor greatly compliments the rich, nutty flavor of roasted Southwestern acorns in teas.

Medicinal Notes

Abies spp. have a great number of medicinal applications which I will only touch on here. A more in-depth monograph will follow on my herbal blog, The Medicine Woman’s Roots.

Like Pinus spp. the pitch is very useful (but somewhat milder) as a drawing agent to pull out splinters, and as an anti-bacterial wound covering. It can also be taken internally in small doses (a single pinch at a time) as an effective expectorant in chronic or cold, boggy, non-productive coughs. White Fir leaf and bark syrup is generally considered a more palatable preparation for the same affliction, and also useful for sore, achy throats.

An infused oil can be made of the leaves and is useful in the treatment of sore or stiff muscles. The same oil can be made into a general salve, and will be stronger if combined with melted Fir pitch. I especially like this salve when the White Fir needles are combined with Cottonwood buds, Piñon Pine pitch and Artemisia leaves. Not only is it very effective in healing wounds and abrasions, it smells amazing!

The bark and leaf decoction is a stimulating diaphoretic and has long been used to assist in relieving unproductive fevers. The same decoction is anti-inflammatory and very soothing to eczema, hives and many rashes, especially those of a chronic nature.

White Fir photos (c) 2010 Russ Kleinman, Vascular Plants of the Gila

Student Stories: Emptying My Burden Basket – by Jenna

Friday, February 5th, 2010

Introduction: The following is a recounting of the work being done by an Animá lifeways student, enrolled in what is admittedly a grueling Mentorship process. Before progressing with who she wants to be and become, it felt crucial that she first re-explore herself, plumb her needs and vision fully, and let go of whatever no longer serves. The Animá Burden Basket Ceremony is intended for exactly that, not a mere ritual but an actual emptying of even the most vital things in our lives, positive and negative, followed by a conscious re-collection and reintegration of what best serves our authentic selves, feeds our passions and furthers our purpose. If you are interested, we can post a Burden Basket essay here… and in the next couple month an entire 8 week Burden Basket course will be available. Jenna is brave in her changes, and in sharing them here… and I feel certain would appreciate your support and comments here. -JWH

Animá Logo+NatureAwareness-cliffs-6"-72dpi

My Burden Basket Ceremony
by Jenna
Animá Shaman Path Student

With my husband recently deceased and my four children grown, married and looking for their own life adventures that bring them happiness, it is my time too to engage in a search — for a way to live my life that expresses my natural rhythms and talents and brings me joy! This quest has led me, in part, to the Animá Center and its Shaman Path, drawn to the Center by the important work being done there and the beauty of the magnificent Gila.

I began my first Burden Basket ceremony at the request of my mentor, Wolf Hardin, who gave me some ceremony materials to read. “Sure!” I thought. “I can do that.” The emptying of a burden basket sounded like fun and I enjoy ritual, so I set aside one whole week-end from Friday night to Monday morning to complete it. But, I discovered the ceremony to be far from fun for the first 48 hours! I kept very still in the beginning, ate little, drank tea, slept, and dreamed a lot. I waited quietly for stuff to come up, and up it came! More than I expected.

I cried a lot during my Burden Basket ceremony and eventually laughed some, too, and emerged more fully aware of the direction I want my life to go as well as what I want to take with me on the journey and what I want to leave behind.

Things I took out, and am leaving out of my basket:

Owning my house – Represents comfort, safety, privacy, peace…but, the payment is so high that I have to work 40 hours per week to pay for it, and really can’t enjoy it that much. Also, it is not in the area where I want to live…I want to step off the grid of suburban life. Plan to rent upstairs – mother-in-law – apartment from my kids if they move here, and sub-let it when I want to travel. This will also cut my payment in half, so I might be able to quit job and live on my husband’s Social Security (higher than mine).
Job – Definitely not what I want to be doing in this last half of my life…done with 9/5 life and doing work that does not tap into my passion and deepest creative urges. I do appreciate this job and the time it afforded me to help my husband die. It also gives me time to move into the next phase of my life without too much stress now that I know the processes of proposal writing. But, I am making plans now to leave this job through writing and alternative living arrangements besides home ownership.
Having to live close to my family – I will take this out and look at it with an objective eye. Other than a few people, I really don’t see that much of my other family except at birthday parties…which I am giving up completely. So, the idea that I have to live here is erroneous. I don’t see that much of the others due to our schedules, so I could visit them or they could visit me wherever I live.
Birthday parties – I spend way too much money on these (seems like we have two birthday parties every week-end), and am quitting the practice of giving everyone something monetary this year (I don’t even believe in that kind of consumerism!). I will try to make something of beauty for people, but if I can’t or don’t get the time, I will not feel guilty about it.
My negative feelings about my body – My body will respond to love greater than self-criticism. I do have a lovely body that has supported me through much in these 62 years, and for that I am grateful
Undervaluing Myself– This does not serve me in the least
Being the Selfless Mother – This does not serve either me or my kids. Being a loving mother who listens and offers helpful advice and help when possible and for the highest good for all concerned is acceptable, but I can not direct the course of my kids lives. I need to let them to work through their problems, using their own skills (which they do for the most part quite well…it is just my guilt that makes me think that I should always be jumping in there and trying to make things right for them).
Guilt – Ill serving 100 percent!
Time wasting – This must go…I have too much to accomplish in the next twenty years
Procrastinating – Goes along with time wasting. I am going to work diligently to do the things that I know must be done without waiting until the last minute…that causes undue stress in my life, and it is not good for my health.
Safety in the suburbs – This idea has to go…it is bullshit
Negative Head Talk
Victim Thinking
Eating out a lot
– and the guilt, sinfulness, patriarchal spirituality, Big Cheese in the sky stuff that goes along with it
Being a “People Pleaser”
Aging fears – I’m getting older and into my elder years; that is a given…live it joyfully and gracefully as a Medicine Woman. It is living and loving fully each moment that matters…what lasts in the minds and hearts of others.
Staying indoors too much – Vow to get outside more in the coming years for my happiness and health
Living in my head too much – This has got to go!
Abandonment Issues – Working to shift direction of thinking from external to internal, self-love
D – Oh my…can’t believe D showed up. Let him go!
Resentments/Soap Opera View of Life

Jenna-smThings I put back into and choose to bear in my basket:

Maintain loving relationships – commitment to my children, family, close friends (some establish better boundaries with some), develop a wider circle of relations through volunteer work in the community and with the earth, water, air, animals
Caretaking of an elder friend– Help her granddaughters see through her aging and illness and help her transition into death
Healthy Lifestyle – This is something I want to commit to…exercise, fresh air, eating healthy foods, giving up coffee except one cup in the morning…Yoga and
Embracing Healthy Solitude in my life – I’m a relational person and do need people, but I need a level of solitude as well.
Honoring my natural rhythms – That means creating a certain amount of solitude, creative and relationship time – writing in the mornings, meditation, prayer, exercise, outside time, play and fun, volunteer work.
Moving through grief – I have been grieving the death of my husband and other losses in my life, and not enjoying my life as I normally do
Dream work
Need to find satisfying volunteer work
– Satisfying, people centered work that I enjoy and can share with others – and hospital work at All Children’s Hospital…reading to the young children would be nice and something I’ve enjoyed in the past
Books/Reading – Yes and no. Always will keep books in my life, but will let go of using them to fill time.
Movies – Only a few (of the most meaningful and helpful)
Finish Culminating Project/Thesis – And turn it into a book!
Animá Path Mentoring – Love it so far.
Active in the “WomenBecoming” group – Yes, I’ve learned a lot from this group of women over the past six years, and have grown to love them.
The Synchronicity Forum – Still hosting for awhile, but I need to inform the group that I’ve turned it into a Creative Project, so they are off the hook for follow-up questionnaires and exit interviews
Sexuality – I hope to always express my sexuality healthily and with appropriate partners
Another relationship with a man – We’ll see…leaving it in the basket, but it will have to be the absolutely RIGHT relationship for me, and I’m not sure what that looks like at this time…no rush.
Need for Beauty – Yes. But it doesn’t have to be in the form of baubles…it can be the wild, something I’ve created, my lovely children and grandchildren, and acts of inner beauty.
Writing – That is one my joys and part of what I am committed to do
Stewardship of the land – I would like to learn this and take part in it with the folks at the Gila Canyon
Taking care of Casey (my dog) – It’s a contract to the end
Practicing Mindfulness – Have made a commitment to this in all areas of my life
Savoring life – Yes… and living on purpose with passion
Expressing my beliefs about US and Corporate Policies – Continue to send emails and letters to congress and companies like Monsanto to oppose war and other policies that are destroying the earth and peace on this planet
Charitable donations
Volunteering at Pet Pal Rescue
Grandmother Wisdom Sharing – with my own granddaughters and other young and adult women…dream sharing, synchronicity journaling, quilting, initiation and rituals around menses/motherhood/menopause and other transitional times in life
Self-love and Empowered Choice – Yes!
Telling the truth – even when it makes myself and others uncomfortable
Maintaining inner harmony – living with a feeling of well-being
Protecting my sacred space – maintaining healthy boundaries with family and friends
Nurture pleasures in life – swimming, dancing, music, art, quilting, playing
Sharing stories with others – for fun and healing
Forgiveness of self and others for mistakes of the past
Learn to trust my inner instincts and intuitions
Acknowledge my own and others feelings

I understand more fully since my Burden Basket ceremony how parts of my current lifestyle are in direct opposition to the harmonic lifestyle I alluded to in the beginning of this post, so those things had to be taken out of the basket… for instance, continuing to work merely for the cash.

I completed the ceremony as thoroughly as the time span would allow, but I now know that I could have devoted a much longer period of time to the process. I was just getting into the swing of it after two and a half days. Besides, I had waited so long to even look inside my basket that it had become laden with many things that no longer served my life. Now that I’ve experienced the Burden Basket ceremony, I know that it will never be done “once and for all.” It is a living part of me that is changing as I change and choose what I want to keep and what I want to discard in my life.

I have been thinking a lot about the process and trying to stay with the integrity of what I decided. The funny thing is that the birthday parties are currently the main issue…I really didn’t know how to tell my close, extended family that enough is enough. I’m not a “shopper” by nature, and we all have enough junk to last us a lifetime. So, I came up with a plan (right before the next b-day was to come up that week-end – as you can see, I have a LARGE extended family) to let everyone know that I will donate money to the birthday person’s favorite charity in their name (when and if that is feasible for me). That way, I get to make charitable donations to the organizations that need it and honor the person whose birthday it is. Luckily, my niece, whose birthday was the first birthday that came up after my decision, deferred to my judgment about where to donate. I got to choose Partners in Health – one of my Burden Basket choices to donate to for relief in Haiti – and give her something for her birthday in way that is in line with my own beliefs. I call that a win/win situation!

Thanks for sharing with me.


(To enroll in an Animá Lifeways or Herbal Correspondence Course, go to the Courses page of the website at