Saturday, December 22, 2012

Of Darkness and Light

What a week.

I don't say that flippantly, but rather, on the exhale of an enormous sigh, as the weight and fullness of it remains in my body.

A week ago yesterday, a 20 year old gunman, little more than a kid himself, shot and killed twenty kindergartners and six adults in Newtown, CT. The world, it seems, has been in mourning ever since, and a palpable solemnity has tempered our typical holiday frenzy.

Yesterday was the Solstice, the pinnacle of darkness, the time of introspection, hibernation, prayer and reflection. Despite misguided reports of the impending "end of the world", this Solstice also marked what some of us believe to be our entry into the Fifth World, an epoch in which we may see a global shift in consciousness that facilitates a return to unity and peace among all beings, a return to our love and respect for the Earth.

Between the bookends of these events was a particularly challenging week, heavy with the suffering of loved ones and fraught with personal frustrations and near-exhaustion. Yet while the week as a whole seemed awash in charcoal gray (if I had to choose a color), I experienced instances of deep gratitude, connection and hope.

Several weeks ago, a friend and I talked about whether it is possible for a person - a heart - to simultaneously hold grief and beauty, or despair and hope, terror and faith. We talked about how in some moments, one emotion may move the fore and seem to darken everything in its radius, only to be edged out minutes or hours later by something joyous or hopeful that suddenly splinters the darkness like the sun breaking through clouds. Neither feeling goes away entirely, and neither remains predominant indefinitely. These are not the exact words we used, but the essence of what we were discussing. And we agreed that yes, it is possible to hold both; that even the brightest, most colorful, exuberant painting will have in it, somewhere, an allusion to the "darkness" - for if we do not know the dark and descent, we cannot fully appreciate the beauty and brilliance of the light. And right now, at this very minute, our capacity for this depth and diversity of feeling strikes me as nothing short of miraculous.

Celebrating Solstice on Thursday night, I sat with maybe forty or fifty other individuals, our faces lit only by candlelight. Each of us offered our prayers to the circle - for loved ones and lost ones, for the Earth, for the Future. These prayers reflected hearts filled both with grief and hope, despair and love - another affirmation of what we are capable of carrying. Then the flames were extinguished and we entered into darkness for a period of silence. What blessed respite and refuge, those moments. There were no electronic devices, no phones or books or conversations. There was only my breath and the breath of those on either side of me as I inwardly offered my prayers to Spirit and tried to listen to my heart, and for what might be offered in return. 

When we emerged from the silence, it was to the sound of pipe song. A woman rekindled the candles in the center of the circle. Then, beginning with a single lit candle, we went around the circle passing the light. Each person's candle was lit by the person before them, and they in turn lit the candle of the person next to them while offering a quiet blessing. This went on until every candle was lit and we stood in a ring of light. Light and dark, day and night, joy and sorrow, life and death. The cycle cannot be complete without both. As we illuminated the darkness for each other, the woman who facilitated the ceremony reminded us that despite what most of us are taught, we are all born with the capacity to bless one another and in fact, we must, as we make our way through our days. Isn't that beautiful? Each of us is born with the capacity to bless every other, and we must. 

This year, 2012, has been a year of descent for me. During these twelve months, I have slowly, slowly made my way down an interior stairway of awareness, emotion, memory and experience toward the deepest recesses of my heart. In March, I wrote here of the sense that my heart would soon break ("Mourning What's Broken") but at the time, had not yet allowed myself to "go there." For many years, I was terrified of how ugly, messy and out of control it might be, how it might humble me. But this year, I could feel deep things shifting in ways that felt vitally important, and understood that unless I was willing to become intimate with Grief on its own terms, whenever and in whatever forms it arrived, I could not begin to approach living a life of authenticity and wholeness. 

In the months since then, my heart has been broken several times by different forms of both grief and beauty. I have given myself over to sorrow and despair, and also, have wept with profound gratitude and fierce hope. If I have some years ahead of me, I hope this is a journey that will continue in multiple directions - sometimes ascending, sometimes descending, sometimes circling one or more levels of the Spiral. 

There was a time when I hoped or believed that coming to know my own heart more fully would somehow make me happier. However, having begun to make my way toward this knowing, the word 'happy', does not feel true. I do feel more centered in who I am, clearer about my convictions and what it is that I want to guide me through my days. I feel older, if not wiser, and perhaps better at naming the sorrows and joys that I carry with and in me. I have named and (re)claimed them, and every day, I am working at making room for all of them without judging, diminishing or exalting any one over the others. I am trying to create enough space in my heart that each has room to step forward to rail or keen or dance as the situation requires. And I understand now that though the forms these emotions take may be in some ways particular to me, they do not belong only to me, they are collective and a piece of a much bigger whole.

And so, this holiday season, my typical cheer is tempered by and shares space in my heart with a sense of solemnity and reverence for all that is, all that has been lost, all that may and could yet be. In our hearts is a profound capacity for listening, feeling, knowing and acting in ways that can be of benefit to all beings. My prayer is that whatever is required to remind us of this, and to enable us to live from our hearts, may come to pass so that all of us, every living thing, may be restored to wholeness. 

Blessings upon the Earth and All Our Relations.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

All I Want for Christmas is... a Story

They are already playing Christmas music.

It began yesterday, on what has come to be known as "Black Friday", the biggest shopping day of the year in the U.S. Not 24 hours had passed since we sat at the table and gave thanks for our abundance, before we pushed back our chairs, and raced out to add to it. It is almost impossible to avoid the onslaught of advertising, unless one swears off all forms of media and avoids most any public place between now and the holiday. It seems to me a kind of madness, one from which I am not entirely immune. 

And so I find myself asking, "How will I be?" in relation to all of these messages that compel me to "buy more, save more!", "spend less, get more!". It seems implicit - both in the advertising and in our culture - that not giving material gifts during the holiday season is not a viable option. In fact, just yesterday on public radio, I heard someone say that what we spend/buy during the holidays is a signal to ourselves of how well we are doing. On one level, I get that, I understand how it could be so. And yet, I can't help but wonder how we have allowed our minds to be hijacked by this one-dimensional evaluation of our well-being. And it makes me want to resist.

As I contemplate ways in which to protest rampant consumerism, I think to myself, "I will only make charitable contributions on behalf of my loved ones." Or, "I will only give gifts that are handmade by myself or ecologically conscious artisans." Or, "I will give gifts that are service-oriented, whether the service is provided by me or someone else." And just as I begin to give myself over to these ideas, up rises another set of voices: "What will they think? Will you really deprive everyone of having something to open? How impersonal, handing a loved one an envelope with a message inside that says you spent your money on some organization instead of on them." 

As I said, this is a madness to which I am not entirely immune.

What I would love to do is start a new tradition entirely, one that honors abundance and generosity in ways that do not manifest in the form of concrete objects or material goods. 

Before proceeding, I must first say that I am truly fortunate, and deeply grateful, that in my family, our being together has always been paramount to the gift giving. And that our gift giving has always been very thoughtful, generous but not ostentatious, a source of pleasure for the givers and the receivers. At least, it has always seemed that way to me. 

Yet I find that increasingly, as the gap between the Haves and Have Nots widens across our country and the globe, as the basic unmet needs of so many becomes more apparent, I am yearning for something different, something perhaps less tangible but more sustaining than the traditional presents under the tree.  I find that it is increasingly difficult for me to buy things without questioning where they originated, under what conditions, and at what cost to the planet and its inhabitants. I am increasingly called to discern between "want" and "need", and still too often, indulge my wants because I can. I am working on this, one day at a time. 

At Christmas, however, I am truly uncomfortable with receiving gifts that I do not need. I am incredibly fortunate right now to be able to provide for myself when it comes to basic and other needs. I recognize my good fortune and feel it deeply. So what I really want is to see our abundance shared with those who are not so fortunate. Yet I also know that others genuinely derive happiness from being able to give something to me, and to deprive them of that stirs up some guilt in me. 

So I feel a bit caught, but not so caught that I don't have a vision of what I would love to see and experience on Christmas day:

I imagine my family gathered in my parents' living room, their fat little tree glowing with simple white lights and cranberry-colored velvet bows my mom has tied to its branches. And instead of a floor strewn with gifts - and the cards, ribbons, paper and bows that are the "necessary" accompaniments to those gifts - the air is filled with stories. 

I would love for us to gift each other with stories that illustrate why and how much we love each other, that tell the ways in which our lives have been enriched and enlivened because of the other people in the room. Some stories might be of non-family members who have touched us, and to whom we have made an offering of reciprocity this holiday season. I imagine stories of gratitude and celebration, stories that shine a light on the power of love and others to sustain, heal and transform our lives. 

Instead of searching madly in stores or online for "just the right thing", I would like to spend the next several weeks reflecting on what might be "just the right story" to share about my sisters, my husband, each of my parents. How did she or he open my heart, encourage me to think differently, show compassion, encourage or inspire a passion within me? Perhaps it is a funny story, or a poignant one, or a seemingly mundane story with a surpise ending. Maybe someone tells a story about how they are hurting, and we are gifted with the opportunity to help hold their suffering. Or maybe a story is told about one or more of our dead, and in sharing it, we invite the departed loved one(s) into our midst. 

In my imagination, all of this story telling ends with each of us having a renewed and perhaps deeper appreciation for every other in the circle. Instead of the ritual unwrapping of the presents, the ritual becomes the unfolding of stories, and the gifts are in their telling. There is no wrapping paper to recycle, there are no boxes to break down, batteries to insert, mechanical parts to collect and re-pack. There is just us, a unit, a family, a community - sharing good food, enjoying the blessings of our good health and the ability to be together. The only "new stuff" between us is stuff of the heart.

So, "how will I be" in relation to this dream for a new tradition? Will I tuck it away in an imaginary box until next year, to be taken off the shelf earlier in the season, before the mad rush has begun? Will I brush it aside as something silly and trite, not worthy of its own imaginary box, let alone a mention to anyone else? Or will I gather the courage to offer an idea for a new way to consider celebrating the holiday, come what may? 

Maybe my idea will spark other, better ideas from my family members. Perhaps this year, we will have a combination of things - traditional gifts, stories and charitable contributions.  Maybe I will bring stories and a few envelopes, and let everyone else decide for themselves how they want to express and experience the holiday. 

Whatever the outcome, I do not want to succumb to the cultural messages that tell me how to show my appreciation for others in my life. And I don't want to stay silent just because it seems like too much trouble to offer a new way of thinking or celebrating. 

Despite the temptations that assail my eyes and ears everywhere I go, I do not want my offerings to be mass-produced and for the benefit of some large corporation's quarterly earnings report. I want them to be personal, to have meaning that extends beyond the here and now, beyond my ego-need to feel that I met my cultural obligation to help stimulate the economy. I want my offerings to reflect an awareness of how my choices have ripple effects that extend beyond me and the all-too-simple swiping of my credit card. 

I want to engage consciously, deliberately, in an exchange of the heart. 

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Sandy's Wake

A week ago today, many of us on the East Coast were already in line at the gas station, fueling up in anticipation of what eventually would become Superstorm Sandy. Memories of last year's October storm and its devastion loomed large in our minds, and we shuddered at the thought of many days and nights without power, property damage and environmental wreckage.

Sandy arrived on Monday, October 29, and I am deeply grateful to have been spared her wrath. Others in my state, particularly along the coastline, were not nearly as fortunate. The news has provided continuous coverage all week of the utter destruction Sandy left in her wake, particularly along the eastern seaboard.

An old friend of mine lost her home, out of which she runs her healing practice. She took only three items with her, aside from some clothes, when she evacuated her apartment that looked out at the sea. The items were neither large nor costly, but were dear to her heart. She is still reeling with grief and shock from what greeted her when she returned to her home on Tuesday and found it uninhabitable. Yet in the long days and nights since, as she has done the physically and emotionally grueling work of cleaning out the skeletal remains of her residence, her grace and gratitude have been unwavering. She has kept us updated with periodic posts to Facebook, and in each, she speaks with sincere gratitude for the years during which she lived happily and humbly by her beloved ocean, for her health and safety and that of her neighbors, for the power and mystery of Nature, and for the Home that lives in her heart, not in the material possessions she lost.

More than once, her messages and the stories on the news have brought me to tears. The pictures leave me agog, unable to fully process what it might feel like to stand in front of or amid the rubble that was once one's sanctuary. I think of what we build our lives upon, our attachments and dependencies, and it boggles my mind that in an instant, it can all be washed or blown or burned away. My heart aches for the people who are suffering, who have been wounded or died, and those who are faced with the task of beginning again, from the ground up.

It can be so frightening, both the idea and the reality of impermanance. How quickly our fragility and vulnerabilities can be laid bare. How quickly any one of us, despite whatever trappings we do or do not have, can find ourselves small and shivering in a great big world that suddenly makes no sense.

I think, too, of the satellite images of Sandy that filled our TV screens in the days leading up to and through the storm. I imagine that the Earth's grief is so immense that it filled a cloud nearly a thousand miles wide. I think of Sandy as an anguished mother, betrayed by children who have become lost to her, and whose heartbreak rained and howled with abandon in hopes of maybe, finally, getting our attention.

And it seems to me that our grief and her grief are still largely separate. My sense is that for the most part, we do not see what we have lost, are losing and have yet to lose, as intimately and intrinsically bound to her. Her wailing is becoming louder and more frequent, her tears more voluminous, and yet, we have not paused to listen, to hear, to heed the fullness of what is being conveyed to us. The weather is still "out there." "Mother Nature" is a colloquialism for some external set of circumstances that we have not yet fully figured out how to defend against, control, master. We have forgotten how to live in alliance with her.

I am in no way trying to diminish the loss and grief that is being borne and suffered by hundreds of thousands of people. I am suggesting that our grief is incomplete if we view it as belonging solely to us, as something that happened solely to us, without considering that this storm (and Alfred, Irene, Katrina and others before it) is indicative of a larger, systemic breakdown -- and that our losses are collective, impacting not just humans, but the system - the entirety of the planet - itself.

We can devise innovations or enhancements to the nation's infrastructure; we can build bigger levees and storm-resistant cell towers and continue to evolve our early storm detection systems. These things may be necessary, as it seems that the occurance of "unprecedented" storms continues to grow with frightening speed. And we can begin, perhaps, to ask ourselves the bigger questions about what might really be going on here, and what we are willing to give back or go without, to help mitigate the escalation -- if there is still time to do so.

If we experienced in our individual bodies wave after wave of increasingly virulent infection, most of us would want to understand the root cause. What in the system might be lacking, or occuring in excess, to tip the scales toward such aberrations? We might employ technology to help diagnose, and medicine to treat the symptoms, but without understanding the root cause, it would be difficult to restore our mind/body/spirit system to its natural state of balance. Or it might be too late. In that case, we might be forced to muddle through with a variety of band-aids that ease our suffering, but which allow the illness or disease to percolate beneath the surface, laying dormant or in wait to strike again. We might be forced to live lives diminished of their full potential and vibrancy because we have failed to attend to something unseen, but vital.

As I type this, sun is streaming into the living room through the bay window. It is a cold, crisp November day in New England. Sandy has blown almost all the remaining leaves off the trees and the hills in the distance stand out in bold relief against the clear blue sky. Everything looks normal.

It is not normal, of course, for the thousands on the Connecticut shoreline, or in lower Manhattan or New Jersey, who are sifting through what remains of their lives before Sandy, who wait for help, or for power to be restored.

And it is not normal, of course, for the Earth, whose bounty we continue to plunder without giving back anything but waste, pollution and the remains of our greed.

In the run up to the election that will take place three days from now, we have seen and heard the views of the candidates regarding the environment, and what they will or will not do to help ensure that it remains viable long after we are gone. We have seen and heard what the environment is saying about our choices up to this point. I will continue to pray that we make choices in favor of a sustainable life for all beings for generations to come; that we can be selfless and aware enough to recognize the bigger agenda that is before us - not just as we cast our votes or determine how to move forward in the aftermath of Sandy, but as we move through our days and nights as beneficiaries and stewards of this planet and all it has to offer.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Following the Salmon and the Story

On September 1, I blogged about a dream in which the word "apayo" came to me. It led me directly to the artwork of an Alaskan woman who introduced me to the Pebble Mine Prospect, one of the most controversial development prospects in Alaska's history (see blog: Where Does it Hurt?). Salmon figure prominently in her work, and were on my mind, fleetingly, the night I had the dream. The title of the first painting I saw on her site: "Our Agreement: I Will Nourish Your Future Generations as Long as You Protect Mine." 

In that same dream, I was at a retreat. While I was there, a powerful storm blew through and knocked out the power. After it passed, we went outside to gather plants and flowers for the retreat leader's "Bridge of Flowers" project.

As it turns out, on Aug. 28, 2011, the Deerfield River was flooded by Hurricane Irene and engulfed the famous Bridge of Flowers in Shelburne Falls, Mass. The bridge was declared safe on September 1, a year to the day of the dream.

When I found this info on Google, a "related topic" that came up was the Salmon River, in Idaho. Thinking it an odd association, I clicked on the link and learned that the Salmon River, also known as The River of No Return, has been home to people for more than 8,000 years, including the indigenous Nez Perce tribe, which relied heavily upon the river for its abundance of salmon and other wildlife. According to Wikipedia, "The Salmon River historically produced 45% of all the steelhead (salmon) and 45% of all the spring and summer chinook salmon in the entire Columbia River Basin. The Salmon River Basin contains most (up to 70%) of the remaining salmon and steelhead habitat in the Columbia River Basin. Despite the abundant salmon habitat in the river, these fish have been declining, in large part because of the effects of four federal reservoirs and dams on the lower Snake and Columbia rivers."

The Salmon River was the site of one of the gold rushes in the 1860's, which caused a great clash between the gold prospectors and the native people who lived in the area. This is not unlike the current Pebble Mine prospect in Alaska, where wealthy corporations want to develop a gold and copper mine that could have dire environmental repercussions, and is being fought by the native and non-native Alaskans who want to preserve the Bristol Bay area from the mine.

For me, the weaving of this story through dream, research and synchronicity, is an illustration of how everything is connected across space and time. 

It reminds me of the law of action and reaction, and of the myriad ways, places and species in which our actions are negatively impacting our world today and for the future. 

Perhaps it is instructive, asking us to look to the mistakes of the past for solutions to the future, and to avoid making the same mistakes again and again, while expecting different outcomes; the time is near when it may be too late to undo much of the damage we've already done (The River of No Return). 

Perhaps it is a foretelling of our fate if we fail to care for and respect the tremendous gifts and resources that have been given to us to pass on into the future (Our Agreement: I Will Nourish Your Future Generations as Long as You Protect Mine).

And it reminds me to pay attention to the dreams, to look beyond what appears on the surface, to follow their threads and wisdom to untold places (including Alaska, Idaho, Massachusetts!) and information.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Ghost Cat

It is estimated that there are somewhere between 3,000 to 6,000 snow leopards left on earth. Prized and poached for their beautiful coats, they survive in some of the planet's most challenging terrain. Due to deforestation and dam projects, they have suffered a signficant loss of their natural habitat and food sources. In countries where they live, such as Pakistan and India-administered Jammu and Kashmir, armed conflicts have further imperiled the cats, with a disregard for species preservation among the fighters and the flourishing of an illegal fur trade.

Snow leopards, also called "Ghost Cats", can hiss, growl, wail and chuff, but unlike other large cats, they cannot roar. I met this shy creature in a dream, and the poem below is in honor of its arduous and endangered existence, and its historical associations with the gods. 

For Snow Leopard/Honoring a Dream                                                     

From the crest of the god’s head,
you traverse the craggy ancient spines
of the Rock People.
Vertebrae by vertebrae
you carry down the sky.
Its frigid white breath tears through the air
like rapacious fangs
and howls at the impassive, stony faces
that bear the brunt of its fury,
with you,
the sole and silent witness
to its brutality.

Your green eyes blaze
with inner light but offer no warmth.
There is none to be found
in this timeless, unyielding

Here, survival is a story
of wits and of will,
of stealth and of strength,
where hunger and beauty can kill you
as readily as any man.
Dreamy crystalline blankets
yield to one-way trap doors beneath
the novice foot,
and the lies we tell ourselves
to carry on
are sheer as the ice that freezes closed
our frightened eyes.

The spirits of this land
seem cruel
and harsher than they need be.
Or perhaps safe passage
before their steely gaze
requires each soul to speak its truth
deep into their brittle bones:
How much do you want your life?

Ghost Cat,
you alone know the razor’s edge
where land meets sky
amid the blinding haze,
where antlers mark the graves
of those who offered or renounced themselves
to you.

Down from the mountains you came,
the hunter and the hunted,
survivor and survivalist,
earth-bound immortal,
nearly extinguished by our greed.
You met me in the East
in a humid summer dream, 
with a dare
to journey North,
to follow into unknown terrain
your mysteries cloaked by snow,
made treacherous by ice
and marauders
that might drive me from the trail.

My fierce and exacting guide,
your patience is as thin
as the arctic air,
your mercy as scarce
as easy prey.

I struggle to gain purchase
in your sure-footed wake,
to trust that I am held
when I cannot see the path,
or hear the approach
of what will feed me next,
when I cannot smell the fire
that draws me
toward an indecipherable horizon.

Met only with your stoic silence,
I stifle the tormented cries
I yearn to hurl
against the shrieking wind.
Your coveted coat
reminds me
how to walk with shadow
when daylight deceives,
when reason fails and I have no use
for words.

I am imperfect and I am afraid,
but I am willing.

Ghost Cat,
teach me perseverance and courage,
to ascend to the heights you know by heart,
unbound from illusion,
to converse with the gods
by way of the earth.


Saturday, September 1, 2012

Where Does It Hurt?

Apayo translates to, "where does it hurt?" in Korean. It can also be used to ask someone if they are sick.

I did not know this until this morning. The word came to me in a dream, the Cliffnotes version of which is that I am at a retreat, led by an outdoor adventure guide who leads spiritual retreats based in nature. I see that among his many program brochures is one on white water rafting; another involves a trek through the Nepalese mountains, or something on that order. His wife offers me a sip of her drink, called "apayo". It's an odd looking concoction: A straw is plunged into something like a bump-less pickle or small gourd-like food that is immersed in liquid, and contained within a clear glass bottle.

The night before, I realized I'd left my current dream journal downstairs. Too tired to get out of bed and fetch it, I grabbed an older one. I found an empty page, and on the page opposite, scribbled in the upper left corner, was a note from July 12 of this year: "Salmon = determination. Know where you are going and you will get there."  

Upon waking, at around 4:30 a.m., I scrawl key notes from the dream, including the word "apayo." Unable to go back to sleep, I get up little before 5:00, to record as many details of the dream as I can remember. This odd word, apayo, means nothing to me, so, as any good dream sleuth would do, I consult Google.

Up comes a website: Hmm. Never heard of it. I click.

The site belongs to a Yupik artist, Apayo, who lives in Alaska. The first image to greet me is her beautiful painting of a bare, pregnant woman in water. Her unborn child is visible and sleeping in her womb. Rising up from the water to meet her is a...
salmon. It is titled: "Our Agreement: I Will Nourish Your Future Generations as Long as You Protect Mine."

Beneath this image is a slide show of other paintings. The next one is a reindeer. I've detailed in earlier blog posts how reindeer and deer have been featuring prominently in my dreams of late. I know immediately that this is not a coincidence; I have been led to this site. 

Many other of her paintings are of salmon, including salmon in the rapids (white water rafting, anyone?) and a jazz-singing salmon in a red dress (red dresses are another prominent dream theme). She states on her site that she's trying to raise awareness of the Pebble Mine Prospect. Wait, PEBBLE mine? My dream imagery has been rife with rocks and stone of all sizes for months. I click for more information. As it turns out, the Pebble Mine Prospect may be the most controversial development prospect in Alaska's history. If it proceeds, nearly 87 miles of rivers, creeks and wetlands that support king salmon, red salmon and other fish, wildlife and people, could be damaged or destroyed.

In a blog for the
Huffington Post, Jeanne Devon writes of the Pebble Mine Prospect, "Anglo American Mining (whose track record is less than stellar) wants to put one of the world's largest open pit gold and copper mines at the headwaters of the largest remaining wild salmon fishery on earth -- a fishery that feeds the nation, employs more than 14,000 people, and has sustained human beings in the Bristol Bay area for thousands of years. If you're anyone except a gigantic mining conglomerate, it's a no-brainer. But the mineral wealth at the proposed site is vast, and The Pebble Partnership will do whatever it takes to get it.... Cyanide and pools of other toxic mining waste will have to be held back from leaching into the rivers that feed Bristol Bay by a series of earthen dams 700 feet tall -- that's 100 feet taller than the Space Needle. And they would sit smack atop the most seismically active region on the planet."

I read with dismay and heartbreak.

Researching further, I learn that in Korean, apayo means, "where does it hurt?"

It seems clear that there are important stories that want and need to be told. And they are coming to us in dreams. 

Through my dreams, I have learned about the Reindeer peoples of Mongolia and Siberia. They are at risk of losing their cultures, and the reindeer they herd are in perilous decline. I have come to know the snow leopard, who is also in grave danger of eventual extinction, with only 3,000-6,000 remaining on earth, due to poaching and over development of their territory. I have learned that one third of Britain's dragonfly species are endangered, or nearly so. I have dreamt of the buffalo, whose haunted fate here in America remains tenuous, and of a breed of sheep with a reddish, deer-like coat that is on the "watch" list for endangerment.  

Where does it hurt? It hurts everywhere. Everywhere that we ignorantly, callously, carelessly and selfishly plunder the Earth and her resources. These are significant stories that we don't hear on the news and that generally don't spur us to action, because they are happening somewhere other than in our own back yards. But we've forgotten that our back yards don't really belong to us, regardless of what the bank note says. We all share one back yard, and it is only ours to borrow, to share, and to pass on to future generations. And the ripple effects of years of greed and erosion, pollution and over-development will end up at our doorsteps eventually, wherever we live.

Something bigger than my imagination connected me to Apayo's art and its message today. Something that knows there is vital spiritual nourishment and life in the white water rapids, the cool mountain air, the salmon and the reindeer that give themselves to us for sustenance. Something that wants us to know that our future generations will be preserved and cared for only if we protect and care for that legacy today. And tomorrow. And every day thereafter. 


The earth. The water. The air. The animals. My heart. 

Friday, August 10, 2012

I Ride My Buffalo to Remember

One recent night in the dream world, I rode a buffalo bareback to get a bit of ice cream. We traveled down a busy, tree-lined street, and not a single car or truck so much as slowed down as we passed. I caught sight of my reflection in a glass-walled building: sitting astride my four-legged chariot, my hair streamed down my back, unbound and untamed as her mane; but instead of buckskin, I wore a sky blue Talbot's tee shirt. 

Talk about straddling two worlds. Our entire journey was rich with contradiction and metaphor for the tension that exists, that we've created, between the natural and industrialized worlds. In my waking life, I inhabit primarly the latter. Traveling with buffalo, I can remember that which came before, and that to which I can return - both in and outside of my dreams. 

This poem attempts to explore the messages and spirit of Buffalo, and to honor the dream in which we traveled together, unseen by the waking world.

I Ride My Buffalo to Remember

I ride my buffalo to partake of the feast,
to indulge, until sated,
in the pleasures and treasures
before and beyond us.
The perfumed relief of open air,
the languid summer breeze on our faces,
the brief, sweet respite
of a lone shade tree,
the company of a kindred soul.

I ride my buffalo to remember,
to feel remembering in my bones;
the dissolution of boundaries
between beings and being,
the solid support of her broad bare back,
sinew and blood,
muscle and bone.
The smell of sun-warmed fur
fragrant with sweat, grass and loam
returns me to myself
in an instant, 
for real and for good.

I ride my buffalo to inspirit my prayers,
to give thanks for the abundance
that both carries and is carried 
within me.
My path has been blessed,
each breath,
every step,
and I have never traveled alone.

I ride my buffalo between the worlds,
the one on the surface
and the Real one beneath.
Skimming the skin of the outside world
from this perch atop my ancient kin,
I peer over her brow at the horizon
scrawled with the horrors
and hopes
of my fellows.
They do not see us 
though we pass within the distance 
of a breath,
do not hear us 
though we call out 
in a single, resonant voice,
Return! Return! Return!

I feel myself grow heavy upon her back
and my cheeks, my chin,
her neck
are baptized in a salty torrent.

With thundering hooves and heaving breath
we pierce this flimsy membrane,
plummenting through and descending 
down to the heartbeat
of the world,
where beneath perpetual sky
and upon boundless land
we eat, sleep, dance and dream
with one heart, one mind
around one circle of stones,
one eternal fire.

Ringed by the ancestors,
enjoined by the spirits,
buffalo dances with wolf,
bird and fish unite,
black embraces white to form
a silver plume 
that ascends beyond sight 
to tickle the stars, 
an invitation to the dance.

I ride my buffalo to remember,
to feel remembering in my bones.

8.10.12/Honoring a dream

Tuesday, August 7, 2012


Shortly after hearing about the shootings in a Sikh temple earlier this week, I had a dream in which a stranger came upon our property and shot two deer, a mother and her daughter. For me, the deer represents many things, among them peace, gentility, grace and benevolence. 

As I listened to radio reports about the shooting, including interviews with members of the Sikh community, it seems their world view also embraces these tenets. 

It is shocking and horrifying to think that swift, sudden and violent death could be visited upon a community gathered in peaceful prayer and yet, it happened. Happens. The sacred is violated, both in the breach of holy space and the willful, thoughtless destruction of life. 

And the deer comes through in the dream world, a messenger, perhaps a guide. How can I take her message into my heart and honor it, live it, learn from it? I begin to explore these questions in the following piece, and know that if I continue to carry them and the images from which they spring, more will be revealed in time.

For The Deer/Honoring a Dream

They stand, heads bowed
side by side, as if in prayer,
then lift in unison
to partake of this morning’s communion,
young green leaves from the weeping cherry
still moist with dew.
They eat hungrily, happily.
The daughter’s movements
follow her mother’s by a breath
like a shadow,
or an echo,
like this, like this.
Learning by watching.
Learning by doing.
So much to learn,
to see, to taste.
The bumblebees hum in the honeysuckle,
birdsong rings out across
the yard.
Squirrels chatter and give chase
up and down the oaks,
and each life lends its voice
to the hymn.

A clap of thunder from the pristine sky.
It must be lost,
wandered too far from its own
meandered over many mountains,
now crying, trying 
to find its way home.


Death arrives at my door
on the shoulder of a man,
his white shirt
criss-crossed in the color of blood
and partially obscured
by the dark figure slung over him
like a sandbag.
He does not know he carries the weight
of The World.
He acts as though it is nothing,
mere baggage to be dropped and left
until he finds a simpler, easier
way to manage the load
that weighs him down like lead,
like the very lead
with which he filled his cargo,
precious cargo,
though he could not see it
through his dark eyes and prescription glasses.

A sprig of green leaves
hangs at the side of her mouth
and her still-open eyes are empty in their frames
of long black lashes.
Beside her, the future lays still
and growing cold.

The daughter’s movements
followed her mother’s by a breath
like a shadow,
or an echo,
like this, like this.
The fur at her new and narrow throat is mussed and red
where the blood on his hands
tried to return to its
when he handled her so roughly. 

He took them both
because he could. 
the number of kindness and balance,
of duality and

Without warning
the false thunder arrived and
struck like lightning.
No time to run.
No time to hide.
No time to teach the little one what 
or how to fear.
There was only time enough
to teach her peace,
and how to live in harmony
with her surroundings,
how to love the earth alive beneath
her feet
and in the rocks and trees,
sky and water,
flowers and
Every Living Thing.

But I am still here,
still learning.