Arise, Year Three

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Morning after my third year at Arise music festival. Wake up congested from a damp three days, run hot water over my head, my hair, my body, twisting and shaking to move the phlegm. Notice some sadness, loneliness, feel words, music, and encounters slipping away and yet conjure up Nandhiji calling us divine beings, the plaintive singing of Doug Good Feather, the sonorous dreamlike music of We Dream Dawn inviting me to dance. Impressions of people expressing themselves freely in a kindly space, men wearing sarongs and women going topless, young bodies making music and art, expressing soft, strong, nurturing or challenging energy at will.   People of all colors mingling, dancing, singing, listening.

Each year I find parts of myself in this event in the foothills of Loveland, Colorado. The nature-loving girl who loves to dance beneath the sky, the childlike woman who loves to listen to others and discover spiritual kinship. The adventurer who longs to share her passion for life in community, the amateur philosopher asking questions about who we are, the injured woman looking to uncover her buried feminine instinct, the lover seeking to express gratitude and joy.   I don light prana t-shirt, nylon pants that dry quickly after rain, merino wool socks and minimal shoes. Pack some snacks, raincoat, and folding chair, and dive in.

Older than most at Arise, I nevertheless feel at home. The hippy in me, the embodied, outdoor loving young woman has never changed: My hair may be graying, but I can yoga and dance with most, can traipse the landscape, explore, engage, celebrate, and discover.

I learn about yogic energetics, herbal medicine, making podcasts. I pull out of the crowd, enter Sunrise Dome and watch a movie about Standing Rock. I listen to director Josh Fox and producer Doug Good Feather talk about a movement encompassing the pipeline, Black Lives Matter, and others, a people’s movement, a stand for nature, clean air and water, justice. Fox speaks directly and forcefully about his travels throughout the country learning about the devastation of fracking, being a Bernie surrogate, making documentaries. We, the people, he says, are not as divided as we might think or as we might glean from the media. We would have voted for Bernie, a plain-speaking politician who supports people and the earth. Most of us, says Fox, reject the neoliberal-corporate way. I believe him.

Indeed. I believe that if we listen to Trump supporters, the alienated, especially the ones that voted for Obama, that longed for a shakeup in Washington, we hear people talking about good jobs, people who want decent healthcare, food, water, and community. Listen to the ranchers affected by fracking, the people of Flint Michigan deprived of clean water, the disaffected coal miners and other blue-collar workers. Listen to what the Democratic party said versus what we wanted, and remember Bernie’s words about the rich hoarding the wealth, about providing universal healthcare and ending fracking. Talk about a shakedown in Washington.

What I hear in Arise, from the name to the values expressed there (kindness, care for one another, treading lightly and cleaning up after ourselves), the clarity in the song lyrics about our situation and our need, the opportunity to connect with Native peoples, to practice yoga and qigong and other energy practices, the chance to learn about herbs and permaculture and about activism—is about supporting awakening and connection. Three days of meeting, supporting, celebrating, and learning. You can go simply to party, but most of us go for community, Spirit, and fuel for both daily living in insane times as well as for our activism.

I go to awaken my body and spirit, to find a launching pad. Arise as a whole provides that base: Revisit our natural joy, it says, our love for life, for each other, and for the earth. Glean wisdom for the journey from Nature and other teachers such as indigenous people, yogis, and activists who help us remember who we are and why we are here.

Nandhiji tells us we are divine beings capable of higher consciousness. Each day, he says, honor your mothers and fathers and the divine energies within you. Be your powerful, loving self. Josh Fox presents our work: Know that it is up to us, the people, to speak up for life. Connect with the spirit of Standing Rock, he says. Become a protector.

The Trickster

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Last weekend my partner pulled me away from work, activism, writing, and my busy worried mind for a weekend in the Wyoming mountains. It took some energy to prepare, to put on a heavy backpack, and walk up into the hills, but that effort led to a profound shift for both of us, a shift on every level of our being—physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual.

Rain was forecast for all three days, and yet we didn’t see more than a ten-minute sprinkle. Instead the sun shone upon brilliant green vegetation and an abundance of yellow, lavender, and white wildflowers. Patches of snow hung on mountain faces while rivulets of water streamed down trails, and clear clean water flowed strong in the creeks. Sweating, sleeping on the earth, breathing mountain air and drinking mountain water for three days while attending to simple chores, our minds calmed and focused. We had conversations and reconnected. We watched sunrise and sunset, the changing light throughout the day as sun and earth shifted, feeling the cool air and hot sun on our skin.

More than any other trip I’ve taken, this one reminded me of my passion, my strength, and my love for life. Perhaps it was that it came six months into a destructive reign in our government, in the midst of wondering how to respond, how to act, in forgetting who I am and the beauty and power in our life here on earth. Mother Nature restored me, reminded me, invigorated my body and spirit.   Remembering her, I remember myself, God, and the power of Love.

The trip also came as I was becoming acquainted with a mythologist and storyteller named Caroline Casey, the founder of KFKA’s “The Visionary Activist Radio Show.” I found this description on the website: “Her show provides the Mythological News, the Themes of Now, and has as guests anyone with a piece of the puzzle for Dreaming Conjuring and Implementing a more lovingly ingenious world.” Casey weaves stories around what is happening our world, naming the forces arising in this time of great change. She speaks often of the trickster, the archetypal force that shakes up our perspective, upends institutions, and she speaks of the conman who may appear to be a trickster but is not.

From my time in the mountains and listening to Casey, I see differently. I know we humans have power, creativity, and love to bring to these times. We can join together when forces seek to set us apart, we can create community and new approaches to our work and daily lives. We can dance, tell stories, sing, celebrate, share. Conversations in mosques, urban gardening, introducing children to farmers, creating unity among races, we can tell our own story while the “powers that be” wreak their destruction. Those of us who attended women’s marches experienced a loving, devoted, powerful spirit—the very spirit that stands, that spreads, that plays its own trickster role in this wild, crazy, upside down time.

In fact, it is the midst of great change and in suffering that the best in us arises. The light shows bright against the dark, and we know they are one and the same, yin and yang.  We know that we humans are one with all, a truth that it takes a trickster, a crisis, a breakdown to remind us of.  May we indeed awaken to our power as sons and daughters of Mother Earth and Father Sun. May we rise and shine like those flowers filling the meadows, spreading as far as we can see.

Our original medicine

IMG_1026Years ago I met a cultural anthropologist and “new age” teacher named Angeles Arrien. Small, earthy, and whimsical, Arrien felt familiar to me like a beloved aunt, and I found the combination in her of scholar, Basque heritage, creativity and open heartedness captivating as well as confidence inducing.   This delightful woman introduced me in a real way to the idea that we might access guidance from indigenous cultures, from ancestral and spirit realms. My encounter with her led to some new ways of thinking, ways of listening and noticing.

Recently I read Arrien’s book The Four Fold Way, a deceptively simple manual drawing from indigenous wisdom and the concept of four archetypes including teacher, healer, warrior, and visionary. Her aim in the book is to provide a guide to accessing our deeper wisdom and power and reclaiming our connection to the earth.

An idea from the book that struck me particularly strongly was that of “original medicine:” Indigenous cultures say that each of us is born with a unique nature, or power, characterized by our individual gifts, talents, and attributes.

Arrien writes, “. . . it is important to bring one’s creative spirit, life dream, or purpose to earth. Not to do so precludes healing from coming into our family and our professional lives. Our work is to come fully forward with our gifts, talents, and resources, and to meet our tests and challenges.” She adds, “Not to be ‘in our medicine’ or bring our power into the world precludes healing from coming to Mother Nature and all her creatures.”

I find this a beautiful idea, one that provides a helpful way through which to view my life, that inspires me to listen for my medicine and bring it into the world. The awareness of my power instills energy and desire to listen and to learn how to be myself and to bring my gifts forward. Following a desire to spend time in nature, learning to be more mindful and present with my own emotions and thoughts and in my daily encounters, practicing yoga and qigong, I become more attuned to my power. I encounter others earnestly seeking to do their work, and life is rich with meaning and daily discovery of the divine dance we humans participate in. These practices, as well as sitting with woundedness, in therapy, have shown me how I how I muted, buried, or lost my own power. I find myself growing more natural, more able to feel and express what I know. More open to community, I find myself a good listener and communicator who helps others reach deeper wisdom. And as I become freer to be myself I feel great joy and gratitude, a desire to dance, to connect more deeply with others and with nature.

In exploring my own particular medicine I started with noticing my natural way of being:  I felt a deep love for life and Mother Nature in the midst of environmental devastation. I realized I have always had a way of observing and fostering process or transformation, a way of being that demanded simplicity and ongoing connection to nature as well as my inner world. I noticed I have an ability to respectfully listen to others and to help them discover what is natural and heartfelt for them, an ability to foster exploration and experimentation in groups that brings forth knowing and inspiration for new action that leads to physical and emotional healing. I recovered a love for song and dance, and a fierce protective instinct for life in others and in the world.

While once I felt like a misfit and failure within this driven, materialistic society, today I see that I am a teacher and change agent, an artist and a lover. I accept and embrace my deep sensitivity and gentleness, my unique way of being in uncertainty as something new emerges, and I realize that I help others to listen for their own medicine. This power in me manifests in the world as I teach yoga, write, and facilitate groups for people with chronic illnesses or in restorative justice.

My hope is that I may bring a little more freedom, love, and care into the world. That more and more of us will bring forth our medicine for each other and the earth, that we may together engage in rediscovery, recognition, and rebirth.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Robin Wall Kimmerer and intimacy with nature

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I like to imagine what it would be like if the Honorable Harvest were the law of the land today, as it was in our past. Imagine if a developer, eyeing open land for a shopping mall, had to ask the golden rod, the meadowlarks, and the monarch butterflies for permission to take their homeland. What if he had to abide by the answer?   Robin Wall Kimmerer

I have read many books in my life, a plethora of novels as well as treatises on psychology, religion, culture, and our relationship with nature. I love to explore various worldviews and ways of living. But there is one author whose work stands out to me in its beauty and in its revelatory power: a woman deeply acquainted with ways of living aligned with nature, a mother, scientist, university professor and member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation. Robin Wall Kimmerer. A talented writer as well as thinker, she brings alive the science of botany, the ways of her people, and the art of teaching the young while simultaneously educating her readers in a manner that reaches mind, heart, and body.

Kimmerer believes that plants and animals are our oldest teachers and that we live with them in a reciprocal relationship. She is skilled at illustrating nature’s teachings and in helping us understand the generosity of the earth and how to give our own gifts in return. Her book Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants revealed to me a dimension of life I had little knowledge of, and it brought that dimension alive in a way that stirred my heart and at times made me weep.

Braiding Sweetgrass tells stories of the basketmakers and the sweetgrass they tend and harvest, of the history of the Potawatomi people, the Thanksgiving Address of the Onondaga, of her adventures studying botany in college, raising her girls and taking her students out into the woods and instructing them in biology as well as intimacy with nature.   Within this rich tapestry, I found the chapter “The Honorable Harvest” to remain with me most palpably, perhaps because I am so keenly aware at the moment of all-out assaults on our natural areas by corporations and their government enablers. At the same time I am wondering about how I live and what role I play in this culture of material profit and plunder.

I bow to Kimmerer as a truly wise teacher. She tells us that there is an “indigenous canon of principles and practices that govern the exchange of life for life” which is known as the “Honorable Harvest.” “They are rules of sorts that govern our taking, shape our relationships with the natural world, and rein in our tendency to consume—that the world might be as rich for the seventh generation as it is for our own.”

Inspired botanist and professor as well as inheritor of Potawatomi tradition, Kimmerer has immersed herself in observing the interaction of people and plants, and she uses examples of basketmakers to show us a relationship and way of living long forgotten by most. Basketmakers gathering sweetgrass ask permission of the plant, take only what they need. They return a gift to the earth and tend to the well-being of the sweetgrass.   Kimmerer tells us that the old stories say that of all the plants, sweetgrass was the first to grow on the earth, and the Potawatomi use sweetgrass as a ceremonial plant as well as material with which to make beautiful baskets.

“Both medicine and a relative,” notes Kimmerer “its value is both material and spiritual.”  In fact, all of nature is material and spiritual, and humans once knew how to honor that truth. Braiding Sweetgrass, in its illustrations of living, celebrating, honoring, and giving, is a radical treatise. I find the message of the honorable harvest to be central if not the theme of every other chapter introduced and brought to life in this beautiful literary work. And its message of what it means to be human on the earth is crucial: “The Honorable Harvest asks us to give back, in reciprocity, for what we have been given. Reciprocity helps resolve the moral tension of taking a life by giving in return something of value that sustains the ones who sustain us. One of our responsibilities as human people is to find ways to enter into reciprocity with the more-than-human world. We can do it through gratitude, through ceremony, through land stewardship, science, art, and in everyday acts of practical reverence.”

This is a book that will turn you inside out and upside down. It will stimulate your brain and change your perceptions. Read it only if you are prepared to have your heart broken and nourished in mysterious and startling ways.