WARNING THE HUICHOL+RETIRING TIRED REEFS+PROTESTING GRIEF
Sacred Fire THE MODERN VOICE OF ANCIENT TRADITION
IS THE UNIVERSE TURNING AGAINST US? WHY THE MAJORITY SHOULDN’T RULE LIGHT BEYOND THE BLACK HOLE
‘‘LOVE ’’ A soul can
$7.95 U.S. / $9.75 CANADA
everybody, but an ego can’t. Issue 7 / S A C R E D F I R E / 1
S T E WA R T W O O D/ D R E A M S T I M E . C O M .
‘‘ O ’’ It is the land that ultimately wns the man. An African Proverb
On the Cover Ram Dass photographed by
Kathleen Murphy in Hawaii
DEPARTMENTS 5 | FROM THE EDITOR All Spiritual Traditions Arise From The Land
44 | GETTING RIGHT WITH MONEY Financial Gratitude & Humility MARK BLESSINGTON
POETRY & FICTION 28 | THE WOLVES LOUISE ERDRICH
36 | IN HER ANIMAL SKIN KIVA ROSE
19 | THERE WILL BE NO STORY JONATHAN MERRITT
11 | THE BASIC ARGUMENT 37 | GAS 49 | CLOUDS AND COAL 57 | THE FLIES
6 | UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES Deep Trouble / Cleaning Ourselves Sick / We’re So Special 8 | REVIVING RIGHT RELATIONSHIP A Walk For the Wild Side / Blessing the Salmon / A Gift of Mink
COLUMNS 38 | LOGS FOR THE FIRE Hanging On and Being Held
46 | BOOK REVIEWS 1. Beyond the Black Hole of Collapse
Bill Pfeiffer reviews The Ascent of Humanity By Charles Eisenstein
40 | OUT OF THE FRYING PAN Beyond the Culture of Fear A Community of Fire
2. The Springs of Silence Peter Brown reviews In the Absence of the Sacred By Jerry Mander
50 | ADVERTISING MARKETPLACE
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42 | DIVINE NOURISHMENT
Finding My Path MARY LANE
O P P O S I T E F R O M L E F T T O R I G H T: K A R E N R A E F E R R E I R A , J I A N C H U N Z H A N G , H E AT H E R J O N E S / D R E A M S T I M E . C O M . T H I S PA G E : K A R M A T H U P T E N .
FEATURES 12 | THE GREAT POWERS OF THE UNIVERSE ARE TURNING AGAINST US AUDREY SHENANDOAH
Eighteen years later, this keynote address from the first Global Forum on Environment and Development for Survival rings more urgently than ever. 14 | A LETTER TO THE HUICHOLS OF SAN ANDRES EXPRESSING THE VALUES OF THE TATEWARÍ GROUP ELIOT COWAN AND DAVID WILEY
Two Americanos deliver a passionate plea to the elders of their adoptive homeland, a village high in the mountains of Mexico’s Sierra Madres. 16 | FINDING SUSTAINABILITY IN THE 21ST CENTURY BILL PLOTKIN
As we face the sweeping transformations of the 21st century, nature and soul stand as our wisest and most trustworthy guides.
18 | BLOOD MOON CATHI DAVIS
It’s an ancient practice little remembered in the Western world—keening, the practice of ritualized grieving—and some women are recognizing its power. 20 | THE WHEEL OF SHARP WEAPONS ROBERT SACHS
The weapons used against us are made by our own hands. How do we transform them into tools for peace?
30 | MY BODY IS THE LAND An Okanagan Worldview JEANETTE ARMSTRONG
America’s dominant culture is founded upon “the majority rules,” but perhaps minority voices are the most important to consider because they speak what others may be afraid to hear. 35 | BONDING FIRES WAYNONAHA TWO WORLDS
In the high desert of the
Eastern Nevada, Spring’s ritual fires clear away Winter debris and reveal which families have survived. 58 | LOVE CRACKED MY HEART: A Conversation with Ram Dass MARY LANE
The irrepressible leader of the psychedelic movement remembers how a guru’s unconditional love changed his life forever.
62 | MY LAST WISHES
ANDRES A. BUENFIL FRIEDMAN
Andres is gone, but his words live on as he asks us to consider what is really important about living. 64 | WHERE IS THE HOLY LAND? LESLIE GRAY
Not just in the Middle East, but with every step we walk on the sacred bones of our ancestors.
Issue 7 / S A C R E D F I R E / 3
Sacred Fire Magazine
The Modern Voice of Ancient Tradition
Volume 2, Number Seven PUBLISHER Sharon Brown EDITOR-IN-CHIEF Jonathan Merritt CONTRIBUTING EDITORS Mark Blessington, Mary Lane SUBMISSIONS MANAGER Stephen Michael Scott PROOFREADER Louise Berliner ART DIRECTION Mace Fleeger ASSOCIATE ART DIRECTOR Alyson Freddie LeBlanc MARKETPLACE DESIGN Caroline Ijben BUSINESS OPERATIONS Phen Canner SUBSCRIPTION SALES Jill Jacobs SUBSCRIPTION MANAGER Andye Murphy GRASSROOTS TEAM Theresa Arico, Amy Canfield, Nathalie Worthington I.T. AND WEB MASTER Dan Cernese ADVISORY BOARD Karen Aberle, Jeff Baker, Tucker Farley, Lisa Goren THANK YOU! Mark Blessington, Eric Noyes and the American Indian Institute,
Tim Simon, Mace Fleeger, and Grandfather Fire. LETTERS firstname.lastname@example.org
or 10720 NW Lost Park Dr., Portland, OR 97229 SUBMISSIONS See sacredfiremagazine.com for guidelines. Email inquiries to email@example.com (for editorial) or firstname.lastname@example.org (for illustrations). ADVERTISING INQUIRIES email@example.com. For an ad sales media kit, visit sacredfiremagazine.com CHANGE OF ADDRESS firstname.lastname@example.org. Please allow 6 weeks for address change to take effect and include your old address. POSTMASTER Please send address changes to: P.O. Box 30645, Albuquerque, NM 87190-0645. SUBSCRIPTIONS Four issues: $28 (USD), single issue $7.95 (USD); Back issues $10 (USD) includes shipping within the U.S. Subscribe online at sacredfiremagazine.com REPRODUCTION No part of this periodical may be reproduced without the written consent of the publisher. Any requests to reprint material appearing in Sacred Fire magazine must be made in writing and sent to: email@example.com. Sacred Fire is published by the Sacred Fire Foundation. The purpose of the Sacred Fire Foundation is to facilitate exchange between the peoples of the world for the benefit of all beings. In many traditional communities, there are wisdom holders who remember how to be in right relationship with the world. These elders, teachers and medicine people offer something both precious and practical to the global community: a worldview grounded in sustainability and co-existence. These wisdom holders offer this worldview to those who are hungry for personal, environmental and cultural healing. Sacred Fire Foundation facilitates the delivery of this wisdom through our magazine, website and public events. When the hungry people become full, they recognize the importance of exchange to the cycle of balance and health. They feel their need to give back. Sacred Fire Foundation facilitates the delivery of financial support, in-kind services, gratitude and respect to the elders, indigenous communities and wisdom holders who share their gifts for the welfare of all beings living in this world. SACRED FIRE FOUNDATION
sacredfirefoundation.org 3 Elmwood Road Hancock, NH 03449 BOARD OF TRUSTEES David Wiley, CHAIRMAN
Alan Kerner Artemia Fabre Sherry Morgan, EXEC. DIRECTOR DEVELOPMENT Sharon Brown, EXEC. DIRECTOR COMMUNICATION AND EDUCATION The opinions expressed by Sacred Fire contributors are not necessarily those of Sacred Fire magazine, the Sacred Fire Foundation, the Sacred Fire Community, or their respective staffs.
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SANG LEI/DRE AMSTIME .COM. OPP OSITE: JENNIFER ME ANS.
ALL SPIRITUAL TRADITIONS ARISE FROM THE LAND FOR WEEKS, THIS LINE plagues me. Final-
ly, I go outside on an unseasonably warm February day. I sit beside a small fire and I ask the land, “What does this mean?” I hear the birds—crows, robins, wrens, chickadees, sparrows, Stellar’s jays— each singing in its own language. I hear the wind whispering through the cedars and pines, ringing the chimes that hang by my door. I hear squirrels chittering in the high branches and the quiet buzz of box elder beetles. I hear the low roar of the freeway two miles away and the explosive passing of a jet. I hear a neighbor’s door open and human voices, distant, indecipherable. I dream a little, gazing at the small flame, and in my dreaming I hear the land. The land says, “All this arises from me and belongs to me. Every-
BY JONATHAN MERRITT
thing is born and spun from me, grows and lives on me and will return to me to be reformed and reborn. With Wind and Fire and Rain I call everything into Life. Listen, Life is speaking to you in ten thousand ways.” I make an offering of tobacco in a circle around me and breathe tobacco into the wind. I drink the sweet water the land provides and feel the sun warm on my back. My thought flies to the original peoples, how they inhabited every land from the Siberian tundra to the Amazon rainforests, the Pacific islands to the American plains, the African deserts to the Himalayans. How could they survive and thrive, lacking fur and fang, claw and wing, except by listening to and living in intimate connection with the land? All indigenous ancestral traditions are filled with stories of how the gods came and taught them how to make shelter and clothing, how to make the proper offerings to maintain their relationships with the plants and animals, with the weather beings, with the land itself. The people knew that the gods inhabited certain sacred sites—mountains, forests, streams, caves, stones, certain inlets of the sea, canyons and deserts. The stories of these gods, the wisdom and gifts that they offered, were the stories of the land. In telling the stories the people knew who they were and where they were and how they were connected to each other, to the plants and animals and to the earth. And, in order to maintain those connections, to continue receiving the wisdom and gifts of the gods, the people made pilgrimages to those sacred places. They held the seasonal festivals, made offerings and maintained their daily prayers. These spiritual practices are matters of practicality. That is, they are vital to maintaining the connection between the people and the gods of the land and ocean and air. These practices are the exchange people make with the land for the life it gives them. In sum, the prac-
tices become the traditions that hold people, which identify them as belonging to certain lands. In this country, the United States of America, most of us are immigrants to this land—invaders, really. Our spiritual practices and beliefs, also mostly imported, have little to do with the landscapes in which we live. We are primarily concerned with personal salvation, or transcendence or maximizing our human potentials. We have a limited sense of our connection and dependence on each other in community. And, as we’ve moved further away from agrarian society, we have almost no sense of our dependence on the land. “Dead as dirt,” we sometimes say. We think of the land as dead. Yet, if we look closely, the dirt is utterly alive with insects and worms, fungi and bacteria. Even the dirt and stones are alive with whirling electrons. Everything is alive, and that livingness, that intricate connectivity, manifests the spirit of a place. And it includes us, and the plants and animals as well, whether native or not. As soon as we inhabit a place, the spirit of the land envelops us. It receives our footsteps, assimilates our voices and provides the minerals, fluids and air that sustain us. In this time of crisis, as we face multiple ecological catastrophes, the land calls us to pay attention again to the voices of the plants and animals and dirt, of the waters and weather—not just as chemical and biological phenomena, but as living beings with whom we are in constant relationship. It’s time for us to slow down, to walk in the forests, by the streams and along the beaches, even on our sidewalks among our people, listening. It’s time to sit together outside beside our fires, to listen to each other and to the land. The world is singing to us, calling us back to connection. If we open ourselves to that wisdom and let the ancient traditions arise again, we may yet survive.
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Unintended Consequences OR, WHY I DON’T TRUST SCIENCE OR SOCIAL POLICY TO SOLVE THE WORLD’S PROBLEMS IF HISTORY REPEATS ITSELF (and it
does), these stories of “good ideas gone wrong” should be a lesson to us. Will the world ultimately be a better place because of new ideas like “Carbon Offsets” and “Conscious Capitalism”? Or is something more fundamental at play here?
1 Deep Trouble
IN 1972, THIS SEEMED like a good, “earth-friendly” idea—take two million old tires, bundle them with nylon and steel, and dump them into the ocean a mile offshore, thus creating an artificial reef that would attract a rich variety of marine life and free up space in clogged landfills. Approved by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, sponsored by Goodyear, supported by the diligent efforts of hundreds of ocean-loving volunteers, the project launched with great fanfare off the coast of Florida, and modeled similar artificial reef projects along the coasts of Virginia, New Jersey, California, New Zealand, Australia, Indonesia and Malaysia. Thirty years later, tire reefs are an ecological disaster. No amount of concrete can keep the lightweight tires down. Storms break clusters free to scour the ocean floor. Tires wash up on shore, or wedge up against natural reefs and block natural coral growth. Some scientists believe the rubber leeches toxins; all agree that little marine life ever forms on the tires. Last June, Ft. Lauderdale began a $2 million clean-up effort to remove the mess. A team of 40 divers from the U.S. Army, Navy and Coast Guard spent three weeks pulling up 10,373 sandfilled and slime-coated tires from the ocean floor. The tires were trucked to a disposal plant in Georgia, where they
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Good idea gone wrong off the coast of Ft. Lauderdale, FL.
were chipped into fuel for a waste recycling plant. “If we can keep the project going we think they can get all the tires and then the (natural) reef can recover,” said Ken Banks of Broward County’s Environmental Protection Department. “But the reef recovery will probably take decades.”
2 Cleaning Ourselves Sick
IN 1928, WHEN ALEXANDER FLEMING
realized that the penicillium notatum fungus could inhibit bacterial growth, the promise of anti-bacterial “wonder drugs” was born. Pharmaceutical R&D took off and new drugs came to market, revolutionizing infectious disease
O P P O S I T E : S O U T H F L O R I D A S U N - S E N T I N E L . T H I S PA G E : S C O T T G R I E S S E L / D R E A M S T I M E . C O M .
health care. These drugs saved lots and lots of human lives. So why stop there? In our culture, where “more is better” and “new and improved” always sells, savvy marketers took the “medicine” out of the hospital and put it into the home. They tapped Western Civilization’s fear of pathogens and dirt and developed a host of anti-bacterial products—soaps, sprays, wipes, even medicinally embedded plastic toys. Before the advent of antibiotics, humans had been living and dying with germs for hundreds of thousands of years. We had our own “anti-bacterial agents,” our immune systems. But with our overly protective push to become germ-free, we have crippled our natural immune systems, which never get exercise anymore. Remember “use it or lose it”? The upshot? Today, 60 years into our fantasy of being super healthy by staying super clean, studies find that rates of asthma, allergies and autoimmune diseases like Type I diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis are soaring as our immune systems turn on our own bodies (out of boredom, perhaps). Of course, the “bad bacteria” has gotten such a work out from the cleaning attack that it is stronger than ever. Strains of salmonella and staph and other bacterial beasties grow increasingly resistant to medicinal cures. As Westerners continue to leave the heavy lifting to science, we can hear the superbad staph strain, MRSA, quoting Nietzche: “That which does not kill me makes me stronger.”
3 We’re So Special
HELPING LITTLE JOHNNY FEEL GOOD
about himself seemed like a nice enough idea. After all, who would want Little Johnny to feel bad, or different, or (heaven forbid) average? So, twenty years ago, parents and educators alike joined the developmental pundits’ “You’re so special” positive self-esteem movement. Kindergarteners sang, to the tune of Frere Jacques, “I am special. I am special. Look at me! Look at me!” and refrains of “You can be anything you want!” rever-
(COLLEGE STUDENTS) ARE AT HIGHER RISK FOR INFIDELITY AND ARE MORE LIKELY TO EXHIBIT GAME-PLAYING, OVER-CONTROLLING AND DISHONEST BEHAVIORS. berated in elementary school halls. To get a sports league trophy, all kids had to do was show up (and pay the participation fees, of course). The unintended consequence? Today’s college students are more likely to have short-lived relationships, lack emotional warmth and suffer breakdowns in relating to others then their counterparts in the 1980s. They are at higher risk for infidelity and are more likely to exhibit game-playing, over-controlling and dishonest behaviors. Why? Because they are too narcissistic. According to a San Diego State University study of a standardized test called the NPI (Narcissistic Person-
ality Inventory), over two-thirds of study participants have above-average scores when responding to statements such as “If I ruled the world it would be a better place” and “I can live my life any way I want to.” Between 1982 and 2006, narcissism among college students increased by 30%, and researchers now assert that the effort to build self-confidence has gone too far. Or has it? Certainly the producers of reality TV series don’t mind the trend. Personalities that demand to be the center of attention, seeking self-styled celebrity without concern for unethical behavior or fractured relationships, make for great TV.
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Reviving Right Relationship The Longest Walk 2: From S.F. to D.C. THEY BEGAN THEIR JOURNEY on Feb. 11th,
2008 on Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay, and will end it on July 11th in Washington D.C. Along two routes, the Northern and the Southern, walkers will carry a message “mile-by-mile, village-to-village, city-to-city, state-to-state and shore-toshore: All Life is Sacred.” Thirty years after the original Longest Walk—1978’s cross-country vigil that fueled the defeat of legislation restricting Indian sovereign rights— many of the original walkers have returned, to organize a spiritual movement for a new generation. At a kick-off event for Longest Walk 2, Jimbo Simmons addressed the crowd: “We’re going to start this walk with prayer and ceremony, and we’re going to end this walk with prayer and ceremony. This walk is about honoring and remembering our sacred sites and to honor and remember our MIAs, our Missing Indian Ancestors.” “No organization can survive without a foundation—a spiritual foundation,” continued Henry Domingo, a walker in 1978 who then introduced American Indian Movement (AIM) co-founder Dennis Banks to the gathering. “Thirty years ago, Dennis Banks was speaking to an elder about AIM and its programs. Dennis spoke for over an hour. But the elder said, ‘Until you know why certain tipis have their opening to the right, and others open to the left, until you know what a Sun Dance is about, we have nothing to talk about.’ Dennis took that elder to heart. He went to the Sun Dance, and was moved to bring its spiritual foundation to others, what he calls “‘the consciousness of indigenism.’” When Dennis took the stage, his heart and message were infectious. Now 75, he has spent three decades organizing and leading sacred walks and runs around the world. He organized the Southern
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Route of the Longest Walk 2, and had this to say about its purpose: “Throughout history, we Indians have been forced on marches where thousands died. And now, we are being forced again to walk. The pollution of the Mississippi, the mistreatment of Mother Earth, Ohio’s Cayuga River which caught fire and burned, smog alerts, acid rain, the draining of lakes, global warming, the killing of the medicine plants... I’m from the Minnesota Reservation where the rice and plants—the essence of who we are—is dying. “Indigenous people of this hemisphere are like the canaries in the mineshaft— we can’t drink the water anymore and the Seventh Generation is in jeopardy of not being born. What can we do? If we harm Mother Earth, Mother Earth is going to harm us. In politics, we see ethnic cleansing, the killing of tribes; Mother Earth can do her own cleansing and will cleanse the earth of humans. “We are children of this earth. Many people look upon the earth and see real estate. But my family sees Mother Earth, and we have a relationship with every blade of grass and every flower. “We who are children of this earth must demand a change of life on this earth, a change of values. To do this, we have chosen to walk across this country, a combined walk of over 8,000 miles. We’ll cross 18 mountain ranges, seeing Dennis Banks on the ferry from Alcatraz to San Francisco Feb. 11, 2008
snow storms, thunderstorms, maybe tornados and hurricanes. We’ll walk the Trail of Tears. “This is a campaign to save this earth and to save ourselves. This is our legacy, so in the future when they say, ‘What did they do?’ we’ll have an answer. Join this walk. Grassroots efforts are what’s going to make a change in this country. This walk is the grassroots change. We’re going to compile stories into an action list for Congress, to do something about the environment. “The last 15 years, everyone is so complacent. This generation, no, I don’t see them. We don’t see any grassroots demonstrations. But this walk is for the young people. I want them to step up to the plate. I’m going to carry two staffs across the country, one for a young lady and one for a young man—it’s your turn now. Do something with your life, step up to the plate soon. I haven’t decided if I’m going to give the staff to a native, an indigenous person, a white person. We’re going to have 30 walkers from Japan. I might have to hand it over to an Asian. “Because this is the last walk I’m going to organize. Next time, I want to just walk. And enjoy room service, and my grandchildren.” For more information about The Longest Walk 2 and the Clean Up Mother Earth Campaign, visit sacredrun.org
B R I TA B R O O K E S . O P P O S I T E : K A R E N R A E F E R R E I R A .
A WALK FOR THE WILD SIDE
Grandma Aggie with Nadine Martin
BLESSING THE SALMON
THE HEADLINES ARE DRAMATIC. After three
years of steep declines, the salmon population is so low that salmon fishing has been banned across coastal Oregon and California. Scientific explanations and political finger-pointing blame the “species collapse” on everything from oceanic global warming, to genetic weakening from the decades of hatcheryfish inbreeding, to the diversion of scarce river flows to California’s arid farmlands. Some people would trace the decline back 100 years, when the beavers were trapped out and new roads spawned grazing, logging, hydroelectric dams, urbanization and herbicides. And in the Rogue River Valley near modern-day Gold Hill, Oregon, Agnes Baker Pilgrim, 83, can point to an even earlier beginning of the imbalance: 1856, when her Takelma tribal ancestors were forced from their lands and their cycles of ceremony. Each Spring for thousands of years, people had gathered at Southern Oregon’s sacred rapids, a place called “Ti’lomikh,” to cook, eat, tell stories, and—most importantly—give back by bringing offerings for the Salmon People. In those times, a trained watcher would first purify in a sweat lodge, then sit by the river in a special stone chair, waiting for the Salmon People to arrive from their ocean home. The First Salmon would be caught in a dip net woven from wild iris leaves and ceremonially prepared. During the three to four days it took the flesh to dry in the sun, no other salmon would be caught. “Thousands of salmon would continue their journeys to swim far upriver to spawn and die, leaving the eggs of their children in nests in the gravel, leaving their bodies to be eaten by eagles, bears and otters,” says a local writer who works closely with Agnes, called Grandma Aggie by the many who know her. June 2008 marks the second year that a sacred salmon ceremony will take place at Ti’lomikh, after 150 years of silent Springs. “I call it the Blessing of the Salmon Ceremony and I started it up in ’94 on the
Applegate River,” says Grandma Aggie. “I wanted to restore that ritualistic way so people would understand and be respectful and be careful of what they’re doing to the earth.” Last year, Grandma Aggie moved the Blessing of the Salmon Ceremony from Applegate to Powerhouse Falls, the name given to Ti’lomikh by the city of Gold Hill when they built a small dam there. This ceremony of renewal and reciprocity will be held again in Spring 2008 when the time is right. To publicly honor this ceremony, on Saturday, June 14, people will come together at sunrise to celebrate, feast and dance to the powwow drum. These will include descendants of area’s original peoples: the Takelma, Shasta, Dakubetede and Taltushtuntede people from the Confederated Tribes of Siletz; the Confeder-
ated Tribes of Grand Ronde; and the Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Indians, as well as local Indians descended from other tribes (Blackfeet, Cherokee, Chumash, Klamath, Paiute, Lakota, O’odham, Ojibwe), and many European-Americans. In the afternoon, the Gold Hill city council will publicly change the rapids’ name from Powerhouse back to Ti’lomikh Falls. And on Monday the 16th, in an amazingly synchronous bit of timing, the US Bureau of Reclamation will begin a $1.2 million project, approved years ago, to dismantle the 900-foot concrete diversion dam that spans the river there. If you go: Ti’lomikh (Powerhouse Falls), 1275 Upper River Road, Gold Hill, OR. For more information, see agnesbakerpilgrim.org, contact firstname.lastname@example.org, and Lisa Widner, 541-973-5150.
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by Julie Bete
I REMEMBER A TIME over fifteen years ago
when I was in college studying biology. The lab section of my Anatomy and Physiology course was a semester long study and dissection of the muscle layers of a mink. The mink had been raised on a fur farm, killed and stripped of its pelt for, I suppose, a women’s coat or hat, and then its body frozen and sold to university science programs. In a modern way, every part of the animal was being used. Once a week my lab partner and I flirted, addressed each other as “Doctor,” retrieved our mink (whom we had named) from the freezer, and began stripping away another layer of muscle from the mink’s frozen body. Every week I sometimes silently, sometimes audibly, thanked the mink for its life. I felt a sense of reverence and gratitude for this beautiful animal. The laughter and joking between my lab partner and me felt like a vehicle for this reverence. One day after lab, I walked out of the big, brick science building and stood on the steps in the sun. A deep
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gratefulness for the mink opened my heart to the knowing that the life that once coursed through its body was the same life that coursed through mine. I looked down at the spring grass. The grass was alive—a living being—just as I am a living being. There is no almost alive or a little bit alive. A being has life or it doesn’t. The grass, the bacteria, the mink, the human are all equally alive—or not. There is no hierarchy of life. The grass is not less alive than I am
sense of awe and reverence. I felt a connection to all life that I had never before experienced in such a deep way. I looked up to see a hawk flying low across the campus. I barely remember any of the names of the muscles in a mink, however I have never forgotten that sense of connection with all life forms. Earlier this month a barred owl visited my house four times in one week. The last evening, after the owl flew off, a mink ran across the field
MY LAB PARTNER AND I FLIRTED, ADDRESSED EACH OTHER AS “DOCTOR,” AND BEGAN STRIPPING AWAY ANOTHER LAYER OF MUSCLE FROM THE MINK’S FROZEN BODY. just because it has a different kingdom, order, phylum, genus, species. I am not more alive than the grass because my mind asks questions and searches for answers by thinking and reading and experimenting. All of this flowed through me as a
down to the streambed. This was the first I have seen a mink in over fifteen years, and the first time that I have ever seen a live one. And while the beautiful barred owl brought tears to my eyes, you can bet that I was rooting for the mink.
C H A R L E S B E N N E T T/ D R E A M S T I M E . C O M . O P P O S I T E : H E AT H E R J O N E S / D R E A M S T I M E . C O M .
A GIFT OF MINK
THE BA SIC A RGUMENT
Two white women were visiting an
Ojibway elder. The three adults sat talking in the grandmother’s cabin while the of one of the visitors played outside with the elder’s granddaughter.
Suddenly, their conversation was interrupted by a between the children. loud argument
“You’re stupid!” You’re stupid!” shouted the girl.
shouted the boy.
The adults hurried out.
“Hey, little ones,
why are you fighting?” the Grandmother asked.
the girl cried, raising her tear-streaked face, “says the stones are dead.
Tell him, Grandmother, tell this stupid boy, the stones are alive!”
a major international meeting, The Global Forum on Environment and Development for Survival, was held in Moscow, Russia (then USSR). The Traditional Circle of Indian Elders organized and led a worldwide delegation of traditional indigenous spiritual leaders to the Forum. Most significantly for indigenous people around the world, one of the keynote speakers was Iroquois Clan Mother Audrey Shenandoah from the Onondaga Nation. Her address, which is excerpted below, offers observations, warnings and prescriptions for restoring balance that come from the wisdom of her people. Although eighteen years have passed since these words were spoken, they have never been more urgent than they are today. The question is whether we have yet opened our ears and hearts so that these words can be heard. IN JANUARY 1990,
THE TR ADITIONAL CIRCLE OF INDIAN ELDERS AND YOUTH endors-
es the concepts of the Indigenous Delegation presented at the Moscow Forum: that we are all children of the Earth, that the Earth is governed by the great laws of the universe, and that we human beings are responsible for the neglect and violation of these laws. We have agreed that there is now a crisis of life upon this planet because we, the human beings, have upset the balance of life-giving forces of the natural world, and have interfered with the structures and cycles of air, land, and water. These great powers of the universe are now turning against us. Rain, the gift of life that waters the Earth, is now contaminating and killing gardens and trees of life that sustain us. Our eldest brother the sun, whom we celebrate and cherish as he brings the dawn of each new day, now begins to throw
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rays of cancerous light, and new diseases stalk the earth. We tremble as we realize what we have done and are doing to our Mother Earth. We have jeopardized the future of coming generations with our greed and lust for power. The warnings are clear, and time is now a factor. We have challenged the laws of the universe that govern the natural world. We delight in our new technologies which reap harvests without regard to the life cycles of the natural world. We speak of our children, yet we savage the spawning beds of the salmon and herring, and kill the whale in his home. We advance through the forests of the earth felling our rooted brothers indiscriminately, leaving no seeds for the future. We exploit the land and resources of the poor and the indigenous peoples of the world. We have become giants of destruction, and now we have gathered here to acknowledge this and to see what we must do to change. Indigenous peoples possess many different cultures and lifestyles, but all recognize they are children of Mother Earth, and that we receive from her our life, our health, the air we breathe, the water we drink, our food and our energy. Earth suffers ill treatment because of lack of respect. All of us can understand the importance of the health of Mother Earth, and all have a potential to enjoy our lives in greater harmony with the forces that create life. Brothers and sisters, we must return to the spiritual values that are the foundation of life. We must love and respect all living things. We must have compassion for the poor and the sick. We must have respect and understanding for women and all female life on this Earth which bears the sacred gift of life. We must return to the prayers, ceremonies, meditations, rituals, and celebrations of thanksgiving which link us with the spiritual powers which sustain us, and, by example, teach our children this respect. We must begin in earnest to educate those vast legions of hu-
M AT T T R O M M E R / D R E A M S T I M E . C O M . O P P O S I T E : B R I A N N O L A N / D R E A M S T I M E . C O M .
THE GREAT POWERS OF THE UNIVERSE ARE TURNING AGAINST US BY AUDREY SHENANDOAH
man beings who are poor and oppressed. We must salvage their lands and resources for them, and support their self-sufficiency. Research for safe, appropriate technology, which can enhance rural and small village life, should begin immediately. We must relearn the great lessons of tolerance, generosity, and love that will bring us peace and future for the seventh generation to come. The path to human survival requires that we embrace a new age characterized by a global cultural pluralism which celebrates all the races, ethnicities, and religions of humankind. Indigenous cultures can help provide inspiration for a future in which love is extended beyond the confines of human society to embrace the natural world. Indigenous languages, the eyes of the culture, are those closest to nature. Those languages and the stories of the people constitute a rich tradition steeped in delight at the wonders of the works of Creation, and an appreciation of our relatives, the animals, which can enrich all our lives and generate an environment of respect and love. Indigenous cultures developed unique and environmentally appropriate knowledge, often specific to their circumstances, which can be used to help reverse dangerous trends. Children are the group most adversely affected by land and resource degradation. Special attentions should be paid to the needs of children. Every religious tradition has a view of the sacredness of life and of the relationship of nature to life. All traditions must be encouraged to advance and build upon that aspect through intensified education and renewed emphasis. We are accountable, and shall be held accountable if we fail. Our responsibility is to protect Mother Earth. Nature is a seamless web of life in which all forms of life are related to all others—the birds, the fish, the trees, the rocks—we are all connected to that web. Indigenous peoples are nature’s representatives to the modern human community, a community that is destroying indigenous life. Current development ideology maintains that the application of technology to generate large-scale production is a universal benefit. The practice of development often invites financial investment in projects that displace large numbers of people from their lands in order to produce a product for the marketplace. This process too often results in a debt burden which falls on the world’s poorest peoples. The destructiveness of many of these kinds of projects is the real universal destruction of peoples, water, air, land, plants, animals, and future potential. A sustainable development would do exactly the opposite, and therefore the ideology of the development must be brought into line with these realities. Indigenous peoples, and only indigenous peoples, have demonstrated efficiency in taking care of the Earth. Indigenous cultures have provided the only historical models of sustainable development. A benevolent development must be defined as a process which benefits
all, indigenous peoples included. We, the indigenous peoples of the Earth, have a long experience of living on agreeable terms with the Earth. Is it possible that we can share our ancient knowledge with other peoples? Yes, surely. We shall go together in trust, in confidence, in belief, and we shall save our souls. This is the key to salvation. We are peoples of the Earth. Earth is our place. Let us believe in it; let us take care of it as we take care of our children, our parents, and grandparents. We are peoples of the Earth. We must remember that we receive the benefits of Mother Earth from the Creator, and that we have a great responsibility to care for her and heal her. We have this duty and privilege to carry out in respect for our ancestors and for the coming generations. Dahnato (Now I am finished) The Traditional Circle of Indian Elders and Youth Onondaga Nation August 21, 1990 This article is adapted from Communiqué #13 from The American Indian Institute, Traditional Circle of Indian Elders and Youth. We reprint it with their generous permission. For more information and to read other communiqués, please visit their website at twocircles.org
Issue 7 / S A C R E D F I R E / 13
ELIOT COWAN AND DAVID WILEY are Americans
by birth, but each has been called to follow their soul connections to the way of the Huichol Indians of Mexico’s Sierra Madre Mountains. Eliot Cowan has completed the traditional Huichol shamanic apprenticeship and has been initiated as a Tsaurirrikame, “A Singer of the Divine Song.” David Wiley will soon complete his apprenticeship and, if all goes well, he will also receive full initiation in the Huichol tradition of healing. As such, their paths honor and serve the gods of the Huichol, particularly Tatewarí, the elemental god of fire, and Kauyumari, the Blue Deer, the dreamer of the world. Over the past six years, Eliot and David have been the attending shamans for a group of about 50 other American men and women who are also called to the Huichol path. During this time, this group has traveled frequently to a remote village, San Andrés, to spend time in the Huichol homeland. They have supported the village by purchasing the work of their artists and by funding initiatives to build a water system and to make other village improvements. They have made many trusted friends and the community has become dear to their hearts. As they have come to know the villagers
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of San Andrés, they have also come to know their challenges. The village has gone through numerous changes. In a sense it has become more prosperous, largely due to money being sent by people who have left the village to work in cities and in the USA. The Mexican government has also invested in an “eco-tourism” center in San Andrés. And, to a certain extent, the group’s patronage of the artists of San Andrés and the surrounding hamlets, and funding of certain construction projects has brought money into their hands. This prosperity is a mixed blessing. While it has brought running water into the village and electricity that allows for refrigeration, illumination and easier cooking, it has also brought radios and television and, with them, the culture of materialism. At the same time, Protestant Evangelical Christianity has been making in-roads into the village, separating people from their traditional paths and disrupting the flow of an ancient way of being. Having witnessed the rapid influx of Western influences and ideals that currently threaten the Huichols’ traditional way of life, a tradition unbroken and unconquered for thousands and thousands of years, Eliot and David felt called by Tatewarí, Grandfather Fire, to send a public letter to the community.
Don Jose Sandoval de la Cruz leads a Fiesta of Initiation in Santa Maria del Oro, Nayarit, Mexico.
ESTEEMED GOVERNOR, Council of Elders,
Traditional Authorities and Other Members of the Community of San Andrés Cohamiata: First, we wish to thank you for your welcome and support. It gives us great satisfaction to feel how friendship has grown between us over the years. We send you this letter to express our support for your community. We want you to be aware of the purpose of our presence in San Andrés, and, also to know how much we value Huichol culture. Years ago we were asked what was the name of our group, and we said, “We are ‘The Invaded Ones.’” “And why do you call yourselves that?” you asked. We replied, “A long time ago you were invaded by the Christians, Spaniards or mestizos. Now your gods have invaded us. Unexpectedly Tatewarí showed up and placed his spiritual demand upon us. So it is that we are the Invaded Ones.” Later you gave us the name “Tatewarí Group,” which is very appropriate. We don’t ask you to give us your knowledge, your traditions, your peyote; we don’t ask to be admitted
K AT E B A L D W I N
LETTER TO THE HUICHOLS OF SAN ANDRÉS EXPRESSING THE VALUES OF THE TATEWARÍ GROUP BY ELIOT COWAN AND DAVID WILEY
to your rituals. We don’t want anything that you wouldn’t wish to share, because the gods grant us what they see is important for us. The only thing we could ask of you would be permission to continue coming from time to time to walk the earth, to feel the wind and rain, to see the stars at night, to hear the gods and the ancestors; and to offer our prayers. We are pleased to continue supporting your community as much as we can because we believe it to be of the highest importance that your culture flourishes. We say that it is of the highest importance because we see that by maintaining your traditions, by making pilgrimage to the sacred places, by your offerings, by your rituals, and by the shamans’ chants, healing and counsel you continue listening to the gods. In this way you give your children and grandchildren a dignified and joyous life, for they know who they are, where they are, what is to be done, and to what they owe their being in this world. The people in our group are well acquainted with the gringo way of life. We are not like the young mestizos or young people from other countries who come looking for adventure. Those adventurers don’t have responsibilities; they lack community; and they don’t know what their own lives are about, so they want to get into other peoples business or look for peyote or drugs to escape from their own lives. But we are serious people.We are older and many of us have good families and communities. Most of us are highly educated; most were formerly Christians or from other religions. We have jobs and are considered trustworthy members of our communities. We know well the outside world, the world on the other side of the border. As a support to your community, we want to share what we know of that world, because our culture can be difficult to understand. Long ago, our ancestors had traditions just as your community does now. Our forebears left their traditions to become Christians or to stop believing in the gods—as academic people often do to chase after diplomas, money, and material things like cars, expensive clothes,
and bigger houses. We implore you not to make this mistake. We know what we are talking about. Our culture is dying because it has lost its connection with the gods, and our people are afraid of realizing this. The Christians don’t know anything that the gods don’t already know. Christians are only interested in stealing the souls of people of other traditions, or buying their souls, like the person who buys or steals someone else’s corn to fill their own storehouse. Those people are not going to find salvation that way. They will only become enslaved to a foreign god who is not yours and can never be yours. Although they may have money and education, Christians don’t have anything better than your direct relationship with the gods. In addition to alcohol, another problem introduced by our culture is a new modern drug that is often even worse. It is television. When you watch TV, it can seem interesting and exciting—something different from your daily life. But, you have to beware. Those who control the TV are invisibly changing you so you will abandon your ways and become like the people on TV and need the false things they need to fill their empty lives, since they have no connection with the importance of the gods and community. The people on TV are not real. They are invented to lead you astray and their stories are made up to make you dissatisfied with your own life, so you will abandon your tradition and become like the lost people. That way you can be controlled by the government and the companies who invent these false stories in order to sell you new things with the false promise that you will attain a better life. Please be aware that TV is a terrible demon of foreign culture, sucking the life and will of your people as it has done to ours. In exchange, it offers only a false sense of well-being. There are also problems with food. Mestizo culture brings in foods that may taste good, but the methods of cooking and the addition of chemicals can cause illness. Another problem is debt. You observe many mestizos and gringos who appear to have many possessions, but you have
to understand that they owe a lot of money to the bank and they never get free of this problem. In speaking of these problems we want to say that although our culture may appear attractive, it produces a lot of sickness. The people are not happy. Of what we have, nothing, not Christianity, education, money, material things... nothing is worth trading for the priceless gift you already have. We repeat: our culture is dying. Even though it may seem strong and invincible, it is dying. The day will come when the only peoples left on this earth are those that have stayed faithful to the traditions granted them by the gods. We wish to support this vision in hopes that you will not heed the voices of deception. To give you an example, in our country there are many indigenous peoples who lost their traditions. Some of them no longer exist. The ones who remain live in tremendous suffering. Family members beat and kill each other. Young people commit suicide. They endure much illness, hunger, and cold. Drugs, alcohol, desperation and insanity are everywhere. On the other hand, your example shows us that to survive and live well one must follow in the footsteps of the Blue Deer. We are convinced that the future of humanity is to return to the past. Otherwise, there will be no future for humanity. For this reason we want to help your culture to stay alive. Miraculously our Patron, Tatewarí, has granted us a tiny bit of vision, a little protection against the illness that surrounds us. We have experienced the supposed advantages of having been born in a country as wealthy as the United States. Our money, cars, airplanes, telephones, refrigerators, computers, television, atomic bombs, diplomas, record players—it is all worthless compared to what you have. Modernity will soon come to an end. But you will endure as long as the world exists. Or rather, you will endure as long as you stay faithful to your traditions. With nothing further to add at this time, we take our leave, with gratitude to you for having listened to us. Sincerely, Eliot Cowan and David Wiley For the Tatewarí Group
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IN OUR MOMENT OF HISTORY, perhaps the most sweeping and
radical transformation ever to occur on Earth is under way. This “moment” is the twenty-first century, a lifetime from a human perspective, yet a mere dust mote of duration within our planet’s 4.5 billion years of exuberant evolution. As is so often the case, the opportunity at the heart of this moment arises from a great crisis. Over the past two hundred years, industrial civilization has been relentlessly undermining Earth’s chemistry, water cycles, atmosphere, soils, oceans, and thermal balance. Plainly said, we have been shutting down the major life systems of our planet. Compounding the ecological crisis are decaying economies, ethnic and class conflict, and worldwide warfare. But entwined with and at the root of all these environmental and social devastations are epidemic failures in individual hu-
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man development. True adulthood, or psychological maturity, has become an uncommon achievement in Western and Westernized societies, and genuine elderhood, nearly nonexistent. Interwoven with arrested personal development, and perhaps inseparable from it, our everyday lives have drifted vast distances from our species’ original intimacy with the natural world and from our own uniquely individual natures, our souls. But if we know where to look, we uncover great opportunities spawned by these crises. All over the world, we are witnessing a collective human response to exigency, an immensely creative renewal, addressing all dimensions of human activity on Earth—from the ecological, political, and economic to the educational and spiritual. I believe that human maturation is our essential key to creating a viable human-Earth partnership. A more mature human society requires more mature human individuals. And nature (including our own deeper nature, soul) has always provided and still provides our best template for human maturation. By embracing nature and soul as our wisest and most trustworthy guides, we can raise children, support teenagers, and ripen ourselves in ways that enable us to grow whole and engender a sustainable human culture. We can progress from our current egocentric societies (materialistic, anthropocentric, competition-based, class-stratified, violence-prone, and unsus-
SNEHITDESIGN/DRE AMSTIME .COM. OPP OSITE: TK TK .
SUSTAINING HUMAN SOCIETIES IN THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY BY BILL PLOTKIN
tainable) to soulcentric ones (imaginative, ecocentric, cooperation-based, just, compassionate, and sustainable).
EVERY HUMAN BEING has a unique and mystical relationship to
the wild world. The conscious discovery and cultivation of that relationship is at the core of true adulthood. In contemporary society, we think of maturity simply in terms of hard work and practical responsibilities. I believe, in contrast, that true adulthood is rooted in transpersonal experience—in a mystic affiliation with nature, experienced as a sacred calling—that is then embodied in soul-infused work and mature responsibilities. This mystical affiliation is the very core of maturity, and it is precisely what mainstream Western society has overlooked—or actively suppressed and expelled. Although Western civilization has buried most traces of the mystical roots of maturity, this knowledge has been at the heart of every indigenous tradition known to us, past and present, including those from which our own societies have emerged. Our way into the future requires new cultural forms more than older ones, but there is at least one thread of the human story that I’m confident will continue, and this is the numinous or visionary calling at the core of the mature human heart. As humans, we are designed to take root in a childhood of innocence and wonder; sprout into an adolescence of creative fire and mystery-probing adventures; blossom into an authentic adulthood of cultural artistry and visionary leadership; and finally ripen into a seed-scattering elderhood of wisdom, grace, and the holistic tending of the more-than-human world.
been demoted to a new-age spiritual fantasy or a missionary’s booty, and nature has been treated, at best, as a postcard or a vacation backdrop or, more commonly, as a hardware store or refuse heap. Too many of us lack intimacy with the natural world and with our souls, and consequently we are doing untold damage to both. But it is not too late to change. By embracing the nature task
Soul has been demoted to a fantasy or a missionary’s booty and nature has been treated as a postcard or refuse heap. in each stage of human development, and addressing the culture task much more thoroughly and fruitfully than we do in Industrial Growth Society, we can reclaim our full membership in this flowering planet and animated universe. We can become more fully human, both as individuals and as societies. We can grow unimpeded into adulthood and, eventually, elderhood, and create twenty-first century life-sustaining societies. Excerpted with permission from the book Nature & the Human Soul: Cultivating Wholeness and Community in a Fragmented World. © 2008 by Bill Plotkin. Printed with permission of New World Library, Novato, CA. newworldlibrary.com
THE DEVELOPMENTAL TASKS that characterize the stages of
human life each have a nature-oriented dimension as well as a more familiar (to Westerners) culture-oriented dimension. Healthy human development requires a constant balancing of the influences and demands of both nature and culture. For example, in middle childhood, the nature task is learning the enchantment of the natural world through experiential outdoor immersion, while the culture task is learning the social practices, values, knowledge, history, mythology, and cosmology of our family and culture. In Industrial Growth Society, however, we have for centuries minimized, suppressed, or entirely ignored the nature task in the first three stages of human development, infancy through early adolescence. This results in an adolescence so out of sync with nature that most people never mature further. Arrested personal growth serves industrial “growth.” By suppressing the nature dimension of human development (through educational systems, social values, advertising, nature-eclipsing vocations and pastimes, city and suburb design, denatured medical and psychological practices, and other means), Industrial Growth Society engenders an immature citizenry unable to imagine a life beyond consumerism and soul-suppressing jobs. This neglect of our human nature has led to the tragedy we face today: most people are alienated from their vital individuality—their souls—and humanity as a whole is largely alienated from the natural world that evolved us and sustains us. Soul has
Bill Plotkin will discuss his most recent book, “Nature and the Human Soul” in the next issue of Sacred Fire.
Bill Plotkin, Ph.D., is the author of Soulcraft: Crossing into the Mysteries of Nature and Psyche. In his work at his nonprofit Animas Valley Institute—and around the world—Bill draws on dreams, the natural world, poetry, depth psychology, and many cross-cultural soul-encounter practices such as vision fasting, council, trance rhythms, and conversations across the species boundaries. Visit him online at animas.org
Issue 7 / S A C R E D F I R E / 17
ONCE UPON A BLOOD MOON BY CATHI DAVIS
FOR SOME TIME NOW, I have been meeting with other women at
places like power stations, landfill sites—sore, damaged places. We go there to “keen,” to ritually lament the violence done to our land and ancestors by our own people. Having spent time in the Middle East among families who experienced daily death and the loss of their lands, I had stood in awe of the women of those families, and the bodily expression of their grief—they lost themselves entirely to it. I realized, watching them, that this outpouring was not only healing them, but also their communities. Returning home, I felt raw from what I had seen, and despite my work in the world for the people with whom I had lived, a dull ache remained. I felt I needed to break the membrane of that pain I felt for the world, to let the disturbance out, to give voice to it. Talking to others, I realised that many other women shared that ache. So Blood Moon was born. We have wailed with up to thirty women, and sometimes just two or three, at sites of desolation where we feel the dishonouring of both land and community. We release our own personal grief, too, for the two are interconnected—our personal
losses and tragedies show us how to release our grief for the wider world. That uninhibited expression of despair, wailing and choking, shaking and swaying, is an ancient part of our heritage. The process invokes not only the presence of our grandmothers, but the gods of nature and of our tribe. In that way, it becomes an expression of our spiritual duty—sometimes an offering, sometimes a sacrifice. In 2003, despite the “million” march against it, the war on Iraq raged. I felt tired of writing letters, debating and “marching.” I also felt full of grief about what was being done to the people of Iraq. Three of us decided to go and keen at a big anti-war protest in London. Veiled and dressed in black, we stood on a wall opposite Number Ten, Downing Street. Feeling my connection to the land beneath my feet and the sky above, I reached out in my heart to those who were dying and hurt because of the decisions taken in this place. As my sense of relationship to them deepened, a hum rose from my belly. It grew to a wail, a sob and then a choked scream. It was not a pretty sound, and to begin with, I found it hard to make this piercing noise in such a public place. When I wavered or became self-conscious, I thought of people I knew, those dear to me, and I extended that feeling of love to those in Iraq. I didn’t know their faces, but I knew them. Their lives and loves were like mine, and I felt grief for their losses. From this place arose the lament—not a fury, for there has been enough of that here, but deep grief born of a bodily connection to loss. Breathing in deeply, and calling on my ancestors, who had loved and lost many times over, I gave voice to that grief and sent it washing over the black iron gates where the policemen stood impassively. It was an unvocal sound, shaking my bones, resounding in my belly and given fire by my breath. I hoped we were disturbing some peace. The deepest irony, this day, was that the only ones who complained were the protestors. There were some lying in the middle of the road, daubed in red paint, pretending to be Iraqi dead while policemen tried to move them on. A soundtrack of gunfire and warplanes played, and hearing it we sobbed and wailed in response. We were told we were disturbing the “Iraqi dead!” For centuries, the men and women in corridors of power have fought with words and minds and laid waste to countries, to our own country. Meanwhile, we silently, politely process at funerals. Once we honoured this grief in the custom of wild women’s keening. Now we reclaim this ancient voice of our hearts and bellies. We join this song with our many grandmothers and the women of Iraq, whom we watch on our TVs, wailing and beating their breasts as the warplanes drop bombs on their loved ones.
Druid and activist Cathi Davis lives in the Midlands of England
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D I E G O B A R U C C O/ D R E A M S T I M E . C O M .
That uninhibited expression of despair and wailing, shaking and swaying, is an ancient part of our heritage.
There Will Be No Story
There will be no story tonight. The Mountain is too sad. Listen, even the Wind moves gingerly through the trees. The Deer hesitates, then steps. The Raccoon has lost his curiosity. And though it is the season of mating, the Owl sings only mournful tones.
The Salmon were given to the Bear, to the Eagle, to all the hungry animals. The Salmon were given to the People and the People honored the Salmon, as they honored the River, the Mountains, the endlessly abundant Land. But now the spirit of Salmon is broken, so tonight there will be no story. There will be no story tonight. The Mountain is in council with his brothers to the south and east and north. They mutter together, without the usual hilarity, wondering what can be done, calling out to the Great Mother, asking that the Salmon may return so the beautiful River will smile.
There will be no story tonight. The Mountain, who stands guardian to the River that flows from the north is too sad for laughter and remembering because the River, his sister, is desolate. She weeps for her children, the Salmon, whose bright shining bodies have not returned to her sweet waters.
The Mountain has endured so much alreadyâ€” the desecration of his forests, his sacred waters stolen, asphalt ribbons strung on his flanks, heavy structures dug into his soil, his people driven away, destroyed. But it breaks his heart, this weeping. So there will be no story tonight.
And the River has endured so muchâ€” her broad flow diked and dammed, her diversity of marsh plants given over to rice fields, orchards of almond and peach planted where the tall grass grew. Now her children have not returned. So tonight there will be no story.
The Salmon were given to the river by the Great Mother, the Sea, so that the river could be filled with their red and silver flashing. And the River took that flashing to her brothers, the Mountains, to remind them of the Sun, who is lost each night to the Sea, and to turn their grief to joy.
There will be no story tonight. The Mountain is too sad. The beautiful River grieves, Even the Wind pleads with the Sea. The spirit of Salmon is broken. This fire is a fire of mourning. Nothing more can be said until the Great Mother has spoken. Jonathan Merritt Mt. Tamalpais April, 2008
Bernagchen, also known as â€œBlack Coat,â€? a two-armed protector, is the wrathful aspect of Chenrezig in the Tibetan Buddhist Tradition
SharpWEAPONS BY ROBERT SACHS
PAINTINGS BY KARMA THUPTEN
t is an absurd assumption that religion and morality have no place in politics.
H.H. THE 14TH DALAI LAMA
IN THE LATTER PART of the tenth century, a notable book, Dhar-
marakshita’s The Wheel of Sharp Weapons, was written to address how to conduct our lives so that more and more positive qualities will naturally arise. A great work in the Mahayana Buddhist tradition by a great meditator and scholar, this a verse text about behavior—what happens when we act in the world on the basis of our own misconceptions, greed, ambition, and other expressions of the Three Poisons, ignorance, attachment and aggression—and how we can reset our way of thinking to commit to a path that is uplifting for all, including ourselves. Rather than taking the high, idealistic road, Dharmarakshita looks at where most of us find ourselves. Understanding with compassion that the suffering we are experiencing is something we would like to escape from, he
offers antidotes to our dilemma. What I find most fascinating about its message is that the lessons it offers can be applied to individuals, groups, and even nations, depending on where we want to focus. As such, I consider it a vital text to ponder for anyone who wants to become a conscious, engaged activist.
PEACOCKS IN THE POISON JUNGLE
FROM THE START, Dharmarakshita makes it clear that not to
consider changing our motivation and action in the direction suggested is, to a greater or lesser degree, courting disaster. He explains this by using similes that distinguish the actions of bodhisattvas—those Buddhas-to-be among us who have committed themselves to a life and activity based on compassion and ending the suffering of others—and the rest of us, who are more or less caught up in our own world of wants and desires. In the following extract, the world that most of us live in is considered like a jungle infested with
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poisonous plants that breed suffering and pain. Rather than blissfully living in the serene and healing places where there are medicinal plants that free one from suffering, the bodhisattvas chose to dwell in the jungle in order to help other beings. Here they work to transform whatever is poisonous into opportunities and situations for our awakening.
the jungle of poisonous plants strut the peacocks 1TheInThough medicine gardens of beauty lie near, masses of peacocks do not find gardens pleasant, But thrive on the essence of poisonous plants.
In similar fashion, the brave bodhisattvas 2 Remain in the jungle of worldly concern. No matter how joyful this world’s pleasure gardens, These Brave Ones are never attracted to pleasures, But thrive in the jungle of suffering and pain.
Now, desire is the jungle of poisonous plants here. 4 Only Brave Ones, like peacocks, can thrive on such fare. If cowardly beings, like crows, were to try it, Because they are greedy they might lose their lives.
And thus Bodhisattvas are likened to peacocks; 6 They live on delusions—those poisonous plants. Transforming them into the essence of practice, They thrive in the jungle of everyday life. Whatever is presented they always accept, While destroying the poison of clinging desire.
ONE OF THE CHALLENGES we all face, as individuals, in collec-
tives of societies, or as nations, is to look at our own behaviors and be able to identify clearly and admit to ourselves when we are acting for everyone’s benefit or just for ourselves and our friends or allies. For along with our plans and actions often come rationalizations, which over time we may forget are just rationalizations, justifying what we have done. And the further we get from events, these rationalizations can become hardened or reified into doctrines with an internally consistent logic, or into religious beliefs perhaps supported by a divinity that we claim holds us dear and above all others. But the true fruits of our actions are not that difficult to observe. In the Buddhist view, karma is infallible. The world we live in, and what befalls us individually and collectively, is the direct result of all our previous intentions, actions, and attitudes. If we live in a Dark Age, then we have feathered our own nest to be that way. If we do not transform our own Three Poisons, they will not only govern our emotions and actions from within, but they can also be used like weapons by others from without. In truth, the weapons that are used against us are made of our own hands, then given to those around us to deliver their blows. For example, if we habitually display aggression in order to get our way, why should we consider it odd or an affront to our sensibilities that resentment may one day, in turn, be expressed as aggression toward us?
Looking beyond our own personal conundrum, history is replete with leaders and nations who have thought of themselves as peacocks in the Western metaphorical sense, proud and superior to the fray, strutting through the world, seeing it as a garden whose treasures they have been manifestly destined to pluck, plunder, control, or destroy. But such would-be peacocks often pay a price in the frustration, anger, bitterness, and vengefulness felt by those who feel victimized by them. Sooner or later, the “treasures” they have gained from their behavior and treatment of others become like a poison. The victor either drowns in his own obsession or is swallowed up by the obsession of another who takes his place. Such was the fate of Romania’s tyrannical leader, Ceausescu, who in 1989 was toppled and killed almost before anyone had time to think about it or reconsider. Such was the vehemence and overwhelming force of the pent-up resentment that he had provoked through his actions. This cycle of events is, according to the teaching of the Dharma, inevitable in a world where ignorance, attachment, and aggression still inform the choices made by most people. As there are four variable aspects in any complete action—intention, thought, the manifestation of intention and thought in the action itself, and the resulting emotional response—what we do can have any number of possible outcomes. The Wheel of Sharp Weapons spells out more specifically what the logical outcomes are when the Three Poisons influence any of these variables. The Wheel proves useful in enlightening us on many world issues and situations of our time, pointing directly to the logical, inevitable responses and consequences of how we are facing up to global problems, including one phenomenon that many Western governments are currently contending with: terrorism. The examples I will use relate to the current situation that the United States in particular finds itself in. I use
IN TRUTH, THE WEAPONS THAT ARE USED AGAINST US ARE MADE OF OUR OWN HANDS
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these as examples because I am most familiar with them. I have no doubt that anyone looking at their own country and society will find similar examples. No country has a monopoly on the Three Poisons. To begin with, let us take another verse from The Wheel:
When we hear only language that is foul 14 and abusive, This is the wheel of sharp weapons returning
Full circle upon us from wrongs we have done. Till now we have said many things without thinking; We have slandered and caused many friendships to end. Hereafter let’s censure all thoughtless remarks. Chenrezig, the Bodhisattva of Compassion
Vajrapani (Tibetan is Chana Dorje) is the protector against would-be corrupters of the tantric teachings.
CONSIDER THE HARSH WORDS in foreign media and the street
protests around the world in response to US foreign policy, especially with respect to the war in Iraq. We hear Americans expressing dismay and confusion when they hear and see such protests, and when foreign governments do not stand side by side with the American way of seeing the world. Less than a year after 9/11, with much of the goodwill toward the US which that atrocity had generated ebbing away as America pursued its new aggressive policy in Afghanistan and the Middle East, some Americans innocently asked: “Why do people hate us?” Newspapers ran articles and editorials examining this question. Children were shown on TV discussing this issue in their schools. But rather than engaging in considered debate, the Bush administration just tried to rationalize the issue away with the answer: “They are just jealous of our American way of life.” If we follow the wisdom of The Wheel and look at a broader picture that includes the perspective of those who are perceived to “hate us,” we will come closer to a less simplistic, but more accurate, answer to the question of why the US has generated so much hostility around the world. To start with, there is a long-standing history of grassroots hostility in the Middle East, especially in the Muslim community, toward the US because of its foreign policy in the region. For years, the US government and the corporate interests that they support, and are supported by, have masterminded resource (especially oil) exploitation as well as actions to ensure the continuation and expansion of American influence in the region. US involvement has entailed years of covert interference in the affairs of sovereign Arab nations; the propping up of undemocratic or tyrannical regimes (including that of Saddam Hussein); and a refusal to do more than benignly pressure the Israelis for their policies toward the Palestinians, much to the dismay of the entire Muslim world. Rationalizations, rhetoric, and the skewing of history have whitewashed and sanitized a bloody history—something that may blind those who benefit from cheap oil and petroleum-based products, but enrage those who have been suppressed and disadvantaged as a result. With such a history, it does not take a stretch of the imagination to foresee such hostility manifest as it did on September 11th, 2001. To make matters worse, there is the recent US invasion in Iraq and the lies, rhetoric, and denial that went into that decision. Consider the US administration’s refusal to listen to UN weapons inspectors; its belittlement of those European leaders urging caution in the Middle East; its viewing as irrelevant the cooperation of many of our most important allies of the last fifty years. The US has seriously strained relationships and alliances forged over generations. At the same time, we should not ignore the fact that the war of words across the Atlantic has gone both ways. In recent years US administrations have sometimes been sharply critical of America’s traditional friends, and the allegiances and alliances that have looked so seemingly stable in the decades after the end of World War II, particularly in Europe, have
shifted over the years since America’s inception. They have been rocked by scandal, and military and trade conflicts, and so on. Such incidences over time have also spawned—or reinforced—stereotypes that set people against each other at the most basic of levels; Yank, Limey, Mick, Spic, Frog, Kraut, Wop, Loud-Mouthed American—our bigotry, who’s in, who’s out. The Three Poisons make it impossible to think beyond self-interest and partisan alliances. With such history to live with, and live down, the only remedy for developing international friendships that can be of lasting value into the future is to curb negative speech, to “censure all thoughtless remarks,” be it at the personal or political level. The Wheel points to a truth that every diplomat probably knows: It is important to be mindful of one’s own tongue. For now, let us look at another verse of The Wheel:
When we lack any freedom, but must 13 obey others, This is the wheel of sharp weapons returning
Full circle upon us from wrongs we have done. Till now we have looked down upon those who were lowly And used them as servants for our own selfish needs; Hereafter let’s offer our services to others With humble devotion of body and life.” IF WE LOOK AT AMERICAN HISTORY, we see the subjugation of
individuals, races, or foreign groups as a part either of culture or official policy. Witch-hunts, slavery, the conscription of immigrants right off the boats, Chinese labor gangs, the internment of ethnic Japanese citizens. Of course, nations around the world have done similar things or worse. No doubt, if we were to examine what these cultures are going through today, we would see the laws of The Wheel applying in just the same way. But focusing on my own culture, when we in the US begin to see a growing bureaucratic stranglehold on our way of life with more repressive and restrictive laws and law enforcement agencies; ever more suspicion of citizens in general; growing invasion of privacy and loss of freedoms as so aptly demonstrated in the nebulously written Patriot Act—can we glibly point the finger and simply blame what Michael Moore calls an elite of “Stupid White Men?” The domination of humans over other species, however undesirable, is a fact. Because of our craving to have what we want, whatever gets in our way has to be either used or removed. This Darwinian reality only speaks to the animal, instinctual side of our nature. Because of our ignorance, domination fueled by craving seems a better bet for getting what we want than cooperation. This view is shortsighted because if we place others below us on the food chain, the chances are that whenever our power weakens we, too, will become food for those of greater hunger. Great philosophers have mused over “man’s inhumanity to man.” During the creation of the United States, no problem vexed the Founding Fathers more than the issue of slavery. Men
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of great vision, they saw that a democracy could not survive if the principle of equal rights was not treated as paramount and the importance of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” not acknowledged as the wish of all human beings, regardless of race, creed, or color. But they also saw the strength of habitual tendencies and feared that to try to break the culture of slavery in a newly formed, uncertain nation would meet such hostility that it would more than likely see the dissolution of the union before it had even begun to establish itself. Not only that, because the new country was in debt to Europe, it seemed only pragmatic to let the slave trade continue as a way of paying off the debt. So slavery was allowed to remain in those states where it already existed. It was a compromise. Though it would seem that in not confronting the injustice of slavery the Founding Fathers left the US a mess that led to the Civil War and is still being worked out today politically and socially, the awareness of the injustice was there, together with the altruistic intention to overcome it, one day. This awareness was built into the US Constitution and is what keeps alive in people’s mind the idea that America is “the land of the free.” Embedded in the very fabric of the Constitution was the knowledge that such dilemmas were not just for lawmakers and leaders to decide upon, but for an informed and conscious electorate to participate in solving. In reading about the lives of such men as Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, John Adams, and James Madison, what strikes me is that many of their qualities and ideals are in keeping with Dharmarakshita’s antidote to the dilemma set up in the above verse. These men had a strong sense of serving others in the cause of freedom. Several of them exhibited a humility that allowed them to identify with the people they served. Each of them knew that they were seen by their people as special, but wanted to avoid seeing the establishment of an American aristocracy to replace the British one they had just gotten rid of.
We are less automatically deferential to our leaders and we do know, or suspect, more of what goes on. And because we now have a multitude of instant-access media sources, word does get out, censorship or no censorship. “The truth will out” and nowadays the consequences of unbridled ignorance, attachment, and aggression are plainer to see. Even if we do not know how to get ourselves out of the messes we find ourselves in, and although so much of what we witness becomes sensationalized and exaggerated through the tabloid media filter, a consciousness raising is taking place. This has two thrusts. One is where people try to turn away from the suffering. And so through such distractions as drugs and simplistic belief systems we seek to dull the impact
VIOLENCE BEGETS VIOLENCE. EVEN SCHOOLCHILDREN KNOW IT AS A PLAYGROUND TRUTH.
THE WORLD SHOWS US WHAT WE ARE UP TO. Dharmarakshita is
not inventing what isn’t there anyway. The value of his verses is that they sober us up, make us aware what we have been doing. Drunk from intoxication by the Three Poisons, it’s useful to be pulled over and given a breathalyzer. In “sobering up,” learning to cut loose from our “evil ways,” it only stands to reason that we would have to go through an emotional and behavioral “hangover” and the painful memory of what it was we did in our drunken stupor. It is important to remember, reflect upon, and understand what we have done and what resulted—and how to not go there again. Dharmarakshita demonstrates his compassion for us in The Wheel. Although our modern civilization appears to be a good distance from being enlightened, it seems to me that as more people become literate and information is more widely available, the wisdom inherent in our enlightenment potential is being awakened. In the not-too-distant past, we may not have known what one Tibetan monk friend said to me was the “evil that men in suits do behind closed doors.” This is true everywhere, be it Washington D.C., London, Paris, Delhi, Moscow, or Beijing.
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of the fear, anxiety, depression, and despair that we feel at the constant bombardment of suffering witnessed night after night on the evening news. In this approach, the lengths we are prepared to go in active denial, betrays the awareness, somewhere inside us, of what is really going on. For those who choose the alternative path, and can use the energy that is manifest in the fear, anxiety, depression, and despair to rise above them and challenge them, one of the first tasks is to have compassion for and work skillfully with those who are in denial. Denial and defensiveness are defenseless in the face of love.
LAWLESSNESS, CORRUPTION, TERRORISM, and warfare will not go
away by making them illegal or seeking to destroy them by equally insidious means. Violence begets violence. The Wheel of Sharp Weapons would attest to this, and even schoolchildren know it as a playground truth. Thomas Jefferson once made the comment that governments become corrupt when people are corrupt. In one form or another, each of us is responsible for what we are witnessing around us. How could it be any other way? And, if we understand this, we must also accept the truth that we are our brothers’—and sisters’— keepers. We are intimately associated with all life. If we see corruption in those around us, we have a relationship to it for which we must take responsibility. That responsibility begins with an honest examination of ourselves. It is a futile and wasted effort if we solely busy ourselves with trying to monitor the attitudes and behaviors of others. We may effect some apparent change in this way, but may also create a lot of resentment in the process and it may be that when we are not looking, things will revert to what they were before. Using a political example, consider what happened after the ending of communism in Romania and Yugoslavia, when various clans or cultural groups resumed old hostilities and vendettas that had merely been ignored and suppressed for decades by the communist regime that had claimed all its citizens were equals.
IMAGE COURTESY OF THE ARTIST
In the end what other people do is their own responsibility, even if we may endeavor to assist them. Similarly, it is of primary importance for us to monitor our own attitudes and behaviors, employing with the highest standards of scrutiny to which we can hold ourselves. In this way, if we are successful, we will rid ourselves of corruption and create a backbone of integrity. Because we all share the reality of this Dark Age, each of us has a connection to its cause, its continuation, and possibly its diminishing. What we are experiencing in these troubled times is a culmination of both positive and negative causes, and therefore most of us in affluent societies need to accept that we are the beneficiaries of blood money; that each of us has blood on our hands. Many of the appliances and conveniences we enjoy come to us as the result of the pillaging and depletion of the world’s natural resources and the sweatshop labor of the less fortunate. Perhaps our good karma has allowed us to enjoy a comfortable life. But being born into a position of material privilege where what we enjoy comes to us through the blood, sweat, and tears of others, we have an obligation to understand, minimize, and possibly even transform whatever has come to us from corrupted intentions and actions. This is hard work and goes a long way toward explaining why individuals, groups, even nations go through purification, a cleansing as it were, in the process of turning harmful or aggressive tendencies into positive benefits for all to share. Buddhist history is replete with stories of corrupt individuals whose fortunes were ill gotten, but were eventually put to good use. Still, the karmic “wheel of sharp weapons” came down hard upon them and they could not escape the karma of mishaps, crises, and problems in their lives as a result of their nefarious ways. But, in the end, they triumphed in helping others. Such was the life of the great Tibetan saint, Milarepa, who, misguided by his naïve love for and obedience to his embittered mother, committed mass murder, and had to work through the karma of that before becoming a great spiritual master. Then there was the powerful Indian emperor, Ashoka, who took up Buddhism and became one of India’s greatest and most benevolent rulers after he had begun to question what he was doing as a leader and had been further shocked into conscious awareness and compassion after witnessing the carnage that his own armies had inflicted. Anyone looking at noted people of wealth and influence anywhere in the world could find similar, more mundane stories. In that regard, I am reminded of an influential southern US family whose fortune was gained through prostitution and bootlegging. Today they are great contributors to many worthy humanitarian causes. And yet many in the family suffer health problems and difficulties arise in many of their undertakings. Sheer luck of the draw? Mere coincidence? Or The Wheel of Sharp Weapons returning full circle? For the most part we have explored geopolitical examples of the presence of the Three Poisons and what they can be seen to have laid at our door. But before we act too cockily about what should be changed in the world, who should lead this or that nation, we need to see ourselves as both part of the problem and as a possible conduit for a solution. Before we step outside our doors, we have to begin with ourselves and our own responsibility for those situations in the world where we are— in truth—never only a spectator.
To become as bold as bodhisattvas in the jungle of poisonous plants, we are called upon to uproot and transform the poisons within, so that whatever we do in the world, our intentions, thoughts, acts, and emotions will successfully digest and transform the poisons of ignorance, attachment, and aggression that we see manifest as sickness, poverty, and warfare in the world around us and convey a brighter vision of what is possible. All verses are taken from The Wheel of Sharp Weapons, Dharmarakshita. Translated from the Tibetan by Geshe Ngawang Dhargyey, Sharpa Tulku, Khamlung Tulku, Alexander Berzin, and Jonathan Landaw. The Library of Tibetan Works and Archives, Dharmasala, India, 1981. This article was adapted from The Buddha at War, by Robert Sachs, Watkins Publishing, London, England, 2006. Reprinted with the kind permission of the author and the publisher. Robert Sachs has studied Eastern spiritual and healing traditions with some of the greatest living Tibetan and Indian masters for over thirty years. He co-directs Diamond Way Ayurveda with his wife, Melanie, working with doctors and hospitals to integrate contemporary medical treatment with ancient wisdom. He is the author of seven books, including the forthcoming The Wisdom of Buddhist Elders: Common and Uncommon Sense for Today and Tomorrow (Watkins).
About the Artist K ARMA THUPTEN was born around
1954 in the high mountains of eastern Tibet. His family fled the Chinese Communist invasion in 1959 and, in the mid-seventies, finally settled in Kathmandu, Nepal. There he took a Nepali wife, Tashi Angmo. They have six children, one who is a recognized high Tibetan reincarnate lama, one monk son, two sons and daughter who currently live in the US, and a youngest daughter still at home. Karma Thupten began to study thanka painting (sacred scroll art) in the mid-seventies and apprenticed under two Khampa painters, Rinchen Norbu and Tsetin Tashi. Karma paints in the Karma Gadri tradition of Tibetan thanka painting, started in the 15th century by the 7th Gyalwa Karmapa, H.H. Chodrak Gyatso. He has been commissioned to paint for monasteries, schools, and individuals who appreciate fine Tibetan sacred art. Students have come from around the world to study with him. Due to the serious political problems in Nepal that dramatically affect the Tibetan refugees there, Karma is raising funds to bring his wife, youngest daughter, and himself to the US. The originals of these paintings and many other works are available through Diamond Way Ayurveda, diamondwayayurveda.com. or by calling Robert Sachs at 866-303-3321.
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BY LOUISE ERDRICH
THERE WAS AN OLD MAN once who wanted to be with the
wolves and know their thoughts. He went out into the ice and sang to them and asked them to sink their teeth into his heart. I guess the singing kept him warm enough so he lived out there for three days and nights. On the fourth day, the wolves finally came to him, or rather, he realized that all along he had been looking straight at them and only when they were ready had they let themselves be seen. I know about this man because I sat with him in the hospital just a few years ago and I talked to him while I was on night duty. I pulled a chair up next to his bed. “Those wolves were curious,” he said, “just like anyone would be. What in the heck’s this young man—I was young then—sitting out here on the ice for? They came to find out if I was dangerous or crazy or good to eat. Even then I was tough and stringy, so I guess they decided crazy. They sat and watched me for several hours to see if I would do anything and after a while they went away.” I asked the old man if he’d learned what he needed to learn from them. If he’d found anything out at all. “Oh sure,” he said. “I found out they think like us. They were watching me, but I was watching them, too. I was hungrier than they were. They had just eaten. They were full. One yawned. Another started playing hockey with a piece of ice.” I couldn’t believe that. “It’s true,” he insisted. “They play with things. They like to play with those big black birds, those ravens. Sometimes the ravens get the wolves to hunt for them. I’ve seen it where the ravens come back and tell the wolves where there is something to kill and eat. I thought if the raven and the wolf can get along, perhaps the man and the wolf can get along, too. But I couldn’t stay out there long enough to test that out.” “Their thoughts. Did you know their thoughts,” I asked. “Did you find what you were looking for?” The old man knew I was trying to pin him down and I could tell he wasn’t sure if he wanted to tell me something. He was silent, turning things over in his mind, but at last
he must have decided to take a chance and tell me. There was one wolf in particular, a gray wolf, he said, who came back several times and sat before him. Suddenly that wolf was staring at him with a human’s eyes in the face of a wolf. The old man did not know when it was he looked at the wolf and found he was staring back at it, but at some point he was aware that he and this particular wolf were holding each other’s gazes and had been doing so for some time. The wolf was asking him a question, he realized, and he knew after some more staring what the question was. The old man stopped. “Well, what was it?” I was impatient to know. “Oh.” His thoughts came back to me. “A standard question. He was asking me, ‘Do you want to die?’ But that is just wolf practice, asking that. I wanted to get past that and into something else. So I formed a question of my own in my mind and without ceasing my direct stare I spoke to the wolf asking my own question: ‘Wolf,’ I said, ‘your people are hunted from the air and poisoned from the earth and killed on sight and you are outbred and stuffed in cages and almost wiped out. How is it that you go on living with such sorrow? How do you go on without turning around and destroying yourselves, as so many of us Anishinaabeg have done under similar circumstances?’ “And the wolf answered, not in words, but with a continuation of that stare. ‘We live because we live.’ He did not ask questions. He did not give reasons. And I understood him then. The wolves accept the life they are given. They do not look around them and wish for a different life or shorten their lives resenting the humans, or even fear them any more than is appropriate. They are efficient. They deal with what they encounter and then go on. Minute by minute. One day to the next. And so, my friend, I did learn what I had come there to find out. I’ll tell you now: I wanted to know how not to kill myself. For that very thing was my intention and had been so for weeks. I could see no way around it. I knew what chaos and everlasting questions such a death brings down upon the living. But I was past caring about that. Since I was resigned to killing myself, you could say my life was nothing,
my life was cheap. So before I went through with it, I decided I would sit with the wolves.” “You never killed yourself, obviously,” I said, “but did you perhaps try?” The old man didn’t answer directly. He sat up. “Open the tie on this bare-ass dress,” he said, “and look.” When I opened his shirt I saw across his back and shoulders the regular, deep, violet-brown scars of a sundancer who pulled buffalo skulls. “That’s what I did instead.” This piece is excerpted from The Painted Veil by Louise Erdrich. HarperCollins, New York, 2006. Reprinted with permission of the publisher.
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MY BODY IS THE LAND AN OKANAGAN WORLDVIEW OF SOCIETY
By Jeannette Armstrong
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I M A G E B - 01572 C O U R T E S Y O F R OYA L B C M U S E U M , B C A R C H I V E S
Photograph by the late DR. JOHN C. GOODFELLOW
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IOKANAGAN GREW UP IN A REMOTE PART OF THE ON THE PENTICTON INDIAN RESERVA-
TION IN BRITISH COLUMBIA, CANADA. I WAS BORN ON THE RESERVATION, AT HOME, AND I WAS FORTUNATE TO BE BORN INTO A FAMILY THAT WAS CONSIDERED BY MANY PEOPLE IN OUR AREA TO BE a traditional Okanagan family. Our first language was Okanaof my community on my land to bring health back to .gan and we practiced hunting/gathering traditions on the bers the land. I cannot do that responsibly if I cannot create that land. I’m still immersed in that family today. And while I’ve lived that life and I continue that practice with my family, my community was one that had been fractionalized by colonization, fractionalized in many ways in terms of the community itself. This gave me some valuable insights and observations. Thus, I have these two perspectives in terms of looking at society: the perspective of the small, extended, traditional family support system that I grew up in, and that of the larger community fractionalized by colonization. One of the observations I have in regard to human relationships has to do with the relationships we have with each other and how these relationships impact what we do to the land. In other words, what we do to each other and how we look at each other—how we interact with each other—is one of the reasons that some things then happen to the land. In the extended-family community that I grew up in, our people organized themselves in a very different way than what I see happening outside of that. I want to describe some of my perspective, from that point of view, to you now. The land that I come from is very dry and semiarid. It’s considered the northern tip of the Great Basin Desert and the ecosystem there is very, very fragile. At this time, the Okanagan is one of the most damaged areas and ecosystems in Canada because of its fragility. In our area many conservationists and environmentalists are very concerned about the species that are endangered and disappearing there. We live in an area where extirpations have been happening over the last one hundred years; I’ve seen some of those extirpations myself. This has been difficult because we grew up loving the land. We grew up loving each other on the land and loving each plant and each species the way we love our brothers and sisters and that’s the point I want to get across. That doesn’t just happen as an intellectual process. That doesn’t just happen as a process of needing to gather food and needing to sustain our bodies for health. It happens as a result of how we interact with each other in our families, in our family units, in our extended family units, and in our communities; the networks that we make outward to other people who surround us on the land. Those networks are extremely important insofar as what happens to the land and how we interact with the land. Part of the educational work that I do is to find a way to interpret some of that and to bring reconciliation to mem-
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kind of understanding. In the Okanagan, our understanding of the land is that it’s not just that we’re part of the land, it’s not just that we’re part of the vast system that operates on the land, but that the land is us. In our language, the word for our bodies contains the word for land, so when I say that word, it means that not only is my ability to think and to dream present in that word but the last part of that word also means “the land.” Thus, in my mind, every time I say that word and I refer to myself, I realize that I am from the land. I’m saying that I’m from the land and that my body is the land. We love to go out to the land to gather food. I have done this every year of my life and continue to do so; I look forward to it every year. I go out to the land to gather the foods that have given me life, and given my grandmothers life, and given my greatgreat-grandmothers life for many, many generations. When we go out to the land, our people have perfected a way of interacting with each other that is respectful to the land and respectful to each other but also fulfills some needs that we have that are human in terms of interaction and relationship to one another. What our grandparents have said is that the land feeds us but we feed the land as well. What they meant by that was that we give our bodies back to the land in a very physical way but we also do other things to the land. We live on the land and we use the land and, in so doing, we impact the land: we can destroy it, or we can love the land and it can love us back. So one of the things that I was looking at in the development of our educational program was to find a way to teach about how we, as a society, interact. I wanted to explore how members of our community interact with each other and to find a way to distill that, describe that, and to teach and reconstruct that in our communities. In the most basic sense, our use of the land relates to our need for food, for shelter, for clothing, and beyond. When we look at society, we need to look at how society is constructed. There are things that we need to live and breathe every day. But beside that we need pleasure. We need to be loved and we need to have the support of our community and the love that people surrounding us can give us. If we think about how those two things are combined together and work together, if those two ideas and ideals can work
together, then we can see how we can either impact the land in a negative way or in a positive way. If I look around at how the land has been impacted by what I call the Western culture, one of the things I see is an overuse of resources by some people and a lack of access to those same resources for others. In other words, there are some people with a right to have more and some people with no right. There are some people who cannot access even the most basic things that they need. When you look at the idea of democracy from that perspective, you can see there’s something profoundly wrong with a hierarchical system in which people sitting next to you or next door to you don’t have access to the same things you do. That seems to me to be a profoundly basic communal principle: Everyone in a community needs to have the same access to the basics and the same access to the joys and pleasures of life. One of the things I was looking at with regard to this was the idea of the construct of how we make decisions. I looked at the Okanagan decision-making process in its traditional sense. I’m not saying that it’s there today, that it works today, but elements of it are still present and have been carried forward because we are only two generations since colonization began. One of the things that I came to understand is that in our decision-making we have a word, en’owkinwiwx, that demands a number of things from us. Specifically, there are four things that it demands from us; we use that process continuously in an informal way in our community. We can also engage it in a formal way and it’s something like a framework or construct. Robert’s Rules of Order,* for instance, is thought of as a democratic construct or an understanding of democracy wherein the decision-making power rests with the majority, as opposed to the minority. From my perspective, embedded in that construct is an adversarial approach. It sets up the oppression of the minority, it sets up a dissention. It sets up a construct in which there is always going to be conflict. There are always going to be people who are in the minority and people who are in the majority. I do understand that this is probably the easiest way for decisions to be made, however, in terms of looking at what the outcome is, in terms of a decision-making process in this country and on the land and globally—systemically we might have to rethink how this works. From our point of view, the minority voice is the most important voice to consider. The minority voice expresses the things that are going wrong, the things that we’re not looking after, the things that we’re not doing, the things that we’re not being responsible toward, the things that we’re being aggressive about or trying to overlook and sweep under the carpet or shove out the door. One of the things our leaders said is that if you ignore this minority voice it will create conflict in your community and this conflict is going to create a breakdown that’s going to endanger everyone. This conflict will endanger how we cooperate, how we use community as a process, how we think of ourselves as a cooperative unit, a harmonious unit, a unit that knows how to work together and enjoys working together and enjoys being together and loves one another. If that happens, then the things that we need to do on an everyday basis for meeting all of our needs starts to break
apart. I can see how that’s working today. I understand that if we think about looking at the minority, if we use the process to think about why there is a minority, why there is poverty, then we should be able to find creative ways to meet the needs of the minorities. Is it about economics? Is it about societal access? What are those minorities about? If we think of ourselves as human beings with minds, with the creativity that we have, we should be able to take into consideration how we can meet the needs of those minorities. We should be able to find every possible mechanism that we can to bring that minority group into balance with the majority. The process that we call en’owkinwiwx asks us to do that and tells us that if we can’t do that in our community then our humanity is at stake, and our intelligence is at stake. We can’t call ourselves Okanagan if we can’t provide for the weak and the sick and the hungry and the old and the people who do not have skills. In the same way, when we approach the decision-making process, one component is reserved for the land. We have one component in which we have people who are called “land speakers.” We have a word for it in our language. I was fortunate in that I was trained and brought up as a land speaker in my community. We are different than other communities in that we have different people, trained as part of the family system, to be speakers for the children, for the mothers, for the Elders, for the medicine people, for the land, for the water—for all of these different components that make up our existence. My part has been to be trained by my Elders to think about the land and to speak about the land. What that means is that I don’t represent the people’s view and I don’t think of myself as an expert; I think of myself as one person who must continuously be responsible to my community. Each time a decision is made, even the smallest decision, my responsibility is to stand up and ask, How will it impact the land? How is it going to impact our food? How is it going to impact our water? How is it going to impact my children, my grandchildren, my greatgrandchildren, what’s the land going to look like in their time? So in that process of en’owkinwiwx, there’s a built-in principle in terms of how we interact. Another part of the process requires people to look at relationships. There are people who represent how a decision is going to impact people. How is it going to impact the children, what are the children’s needs? What are the Elders’ needs? What are the mothers’ needs? What are the working peoples’ needs? Someone has to ask those questions. That’s their responsibility. When they stand up to ask those questions they also give their views in the same way part of our community is asked to think about the actions that need to be taken. Part of our community stands up and says, “What are the things that need to be built? What are the things that need to be implemented and how much is it going to cost?” All of those important details need to be examined and discussed. Those people who are doers are given the responsibility of continuously reminding our people that there are actions that are going to have an impact. There are actions that are going to cause a number of different effects later on down the road. If we overuse something or if we take too much of a resource
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there are those people who are continuously asked to stand up ily and part of my extended community. People like Fritjof to let us know that. Capra and people like Zenobia Barlow and other people who There is another group of people in our community who we are friends, who are part of this movement.” call the visionaries, the creative people. They are the artists, the For me, inside of me, they feel the same as my aunt to me, writers, and the performers, whose responsibility is to bring and I think that’s how we all need to relate to each other. I think their perspective into the community; a perspective that tells that’s how we need to be with each other for us to be the way everyone that there are innovations, there are creative soluwe need to be on the land, so that those things that are material tions, and there are new ways we can look at things. We should lose their power over us. The voice that says, “You need a new always make room for newness because we need to be creative car, you need lots of money, you need to do this and you need when we come up against something that we can’t resolve and to do that.” All of that starts to dissipate when we understand that we haven’t come up against before. So those people are that the power is us, that we are our security on the land; that’s always brought forward to look for new ways to bring creative what’s going to sustain us. ideas forth and discuss them. The last thing that I want to share with you is something that All four of these components within a community can parmakes a lot of sense to me and that is my father’s words for inticipate in a decision-making process. The process then besanity. For us it means that too many people are talking about comes, in terms of a democratic process, a different one than different things rather than people talking about the same that of Robert’s Rules. The process becomes something that is thing. There does seem to be insanity in the world because of participatory, that is inclusive, and that gives people a deeper what’s missing inside in terms of our humanity with each other. understanding of the variety of components that are required When we start to take care of that, everything else will natuto create harmony within community. When we include the rally follow. perspective of land and we include the perspective of human In the work that we do, one of the things I’ve learned is the relationship, one of the things that happens is that community power of taking our young people out to the land to gather changes. People in the community change. Something happens seeds or to gather our Indigenous foods. We started a program inside where the material things don’t have a lot of meaning, to replant Indigenous plants to renew the imperiled habitat where material wealth and the securing of it or being fearful that we share with some endangered animal species; we’ve got and being frightened about not having “things” to sustain you, about ten thousand plants going now. disappears. They start to lose their power. They start to lose What we have found is that when we take the young people their impact. out to restore the land, all kinds of community members from The realization that people and community are there to susthe nonnative community come out to participate, from multitain you creates the most secure feeling in the world. When cultural societies or from the senior people’s communities, for you feel that and you’re immersed in that, then the fear starts instance. They just love going out there, to gather seeds and to leave. When that happens, you’re imbued with the hope that pot them and replant the habitat. others surrounding you in your community can provide. One offshoot of this is that for the young people who are This is the kind of work that I’m involved in at the En’owkin having such a difficult time (all young people are having a difCentre. I’m talking about all of the community. I’m talking about ficult time) it heals them. The process of being with people, out all of the people who live in the Okanagan and people who we there on the land, has a healing impact. It’s not just the work of reach outside of that. Not just the Indigenous People, because collecting the seeds. People who are in farming know this: It’s at this time in our lives, our Elders have said that unless we not just the work of collecting but it’s being with people, the can “Okanaganize” those people in their thinking, we’re all in community, and communing with each other. It is how the land danger in the Okanagan. It sounds very simple and yet it seems communes its spirit to you: it heals people and it does this in an to be an overwhelming task—a huge task—and some days it incredibly profound way. feels like that. We need to think about how we can do more of that. Some days it seems to be something that one person has * Robert’s Rules is a set of meeting rules and refers to the proper way to no power over. But I think about my aunt who was talking conduct a meeting. to me the other day. She said, “Where are you headed off to now?” And I said, “Oh, I’m going to this conference, the Bioneers conference.” Jeanette Armstrong is a highly honored Okanagan Canadian author, educator, artist and acAnd she said, “Oh, what is that about?” tivist who has lived most of her life on the Penticton Indian Reserve. Her 1985 novel, Slash, is So I did my best to explain it to her. And considered to be the first novel written by a Native Canadian woman. she said, “That’s a really good thing. This article was originally presented at the Bioneers Conference in San Rafael, California in How did you manage to do that?” And 2002 and is excerpted from Original Instructions, Indigenous Teachings for a Sustainable I said, “I’m not really sure, but I think Future, edited by Melissa K. Nelson, Inner Traditions/Bear and Company, Rochester Vermont, I managed to do that by talking about 2008. InnerTraditions.com some of the things that seem so simple Original Instructions evokes the rich indigenous storytelling tradition in a collection that and everyday to us. Things that seem depicts how the world’s native leaders and scholars are safeguarding the original instructions, to make sense to us, that seem to make the wisdom from the earliest times. Included are more than 20 contemporary indigenous leadcomplete strangers into loved ones of ers—such as Chief Oren Lyons, John Mohawk, Winona LaDuke and John Trudell—who remind ours, ones that we’ve brought into our us about gratitude, kinship and a reverence for community and creation. community who are now part of my famLook for our interview with Melissa K. Nelson in the next issue of Sacred Fire
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BONDING FIRES BY WAYNONAHA TWO WORLDS Born of Lakota (Bear Clan) and Cherokee (Southern Band) heritage, wise woman and healer Waynonaha Two Worlds writes stories from both traditions, as well as from her own life, so that the stories will not be lost. An ordained minister, Waynonaha has offered prayers of peace in all corners of the earth. Grandmother Two Worlds is known as a Peace Elder in many countries.
CHEE- ONN LEONG/DRE AMSTIME.COM.
THE UPPER NORTHERN AREA of Nevada, where I spent many
years, is known as the high dry desert. 6000 feet above sea level the air is clear and clean where you can see for miles and miles. This vast open desert holds the beauty of deep purple haze that shrouds the mountains and valleys in mystery. Lava flow has produced ridges of round stones falling from the mountains into the valleys. Oases of tulle-filled marshes are reminders of the vast lakes that once covered this land. Hot springs still bubble in hidden coves near the mountain range where it cuts across the skyline. From this high area you drop off into the floor of the Great Salt Lakes of Utah and the basin where prehistoric animals and reptiles once roamed among the bubbling hot springs and lakes. Winters were very hard. We did not stay in large groups because of the wood and game it would take to feed a larger camp. We went into the mountains and stayed in smaller camps so we did not over hunt or run out of wood for our fires. With the winter snow we had no way to communicate except by seeing the smoke from the nearby families. Each spring we would clean out all of our old things and pile
them in a heap on the rim of the canyon wall. This included our winter trash, the old clothes and blankets and bare hides along with tumbleweeds from sagebrush that had gathered in the arroyos. It was our spring work to gather blown down trees and branches. We would tie them into bunches and drag them behind our horses to the huge pile. This work prevented the hazard of a summer range fire. Also, if the brush was left in the arroyos, it could trap cattle and made good hiding places for rattlesnakes. On the eve of Easter Sunday we would pack into our old Ford truck with blankets and pots of food and head out for the canyon. This was the time of the renewal of life, the grass once again being green and the winter leaving. At exactly nine in the evening my father would say a prayer and offer some food to the heap of brush and trees and then with a flint striker, he would light the bonding fire. All along the canyon you could see the bonding fires from other families starting to flare up. Then we would know that the people had managed to survive the harsh winter months. The fires were very big but seemed so small that they looked like fire flies flickering in the dark night. The fires connected us once again, as in the old days into a single family under the hoop of the star-filled sky. Sometimes Mom would make a huge pot of deer and root vegetables stew. We would also have fried jackrabbit and wild prairie hens that we ate from the pan with our fingers and wiped the grease on our skin to ward off mosquitoes. Pan fried potatoes were cooked on the open fire and served with steam-
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ing cups of boiled coffee. Traditional fry bread was served with wild berry jam to finish the wonderful meal. We would stay at the fire all night singing and dancing. When we were tired we rolled up in blankets and fell asleep listening to the coyotes howling. These bonding fires go far back in time. When the spring moon rose, it was a signal for my people to start their journeys to the place where the tribe gathered. All the old winter fires were silenced and cleaned from the fire pits. Whole camps would be packed up and my people would travel for days to a central gathering place for ceremony and the first Inipi (sweat lodges). During this time of travel we lit no fires and ate only precooked corn cakes, sometimes called journey cakes, along with water and honey. When we reached the gathering place, we would set up camp and once again reunite with our relations. At the end of three days of fasting and ceremony, the central council fire was rekindled. After prayers and offerings a new bonding fire was started. There were great dances and feasting during this time. There were many ceremonies and rites of passage for the young people. The men would go to the purification ceremony and then go and hunt for fresh meat. They would pray for the Buffalo to return. From this new bonding fire we took embers home to relight the fires in our own villages. A prayer and offering was made to the central village fire. It was then ignited with the council fire ember. Each family carried an ember from the central fire to their personal lodges to kindle their family
hearth fire. From this one fire we all gained our connection as one people. This one ember and one light kept us united through out the year. Families still gather around the bonding fires in the springtime along the canyon and renew, even at a distance, their connection.
WHEN THE SPRING MOON ROSE, IT WAS A SIGNAL FOR MY PEOPLE TO START THEIR JOURNEYS TO THE PLACE WHERE THE TRIBE GATHERED. This Easter eve I will place a small fire here, so far away from my family in this distant land. I know all I have to do is close my eyes to see the fires of our people burning across the high dry desert plains. Once again I will connect with the old ones from a long time back who now rest in the sky world. These old ones have returned to the stars from which we all came. They send us the new ones who are carrying the embers that will feed the bonding fires for the future. Mitakuye Oyasin All My Relations Copyright©2007 Waynonaha Two Worlds. All publication rights reserved.
In Her Animal Skin BY K I VA ROSE
the bear turns back her tracks lead up into red volcanic rock where I lose her the path of crushed leaves torn bark and still wet roots lingers behind me where I will follow it back into the dusk finding the trail that leads to home
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that leads to the origins of both woman and bear woman—my hands small and quick as they gather medicine from the ground bear—I race through the open sky one claw opening up the skin of the world that I take and I eat
mantled by moon silver tipped as I sing an old song to the rust red bark of alder trees as they are born from the earth in mountain meadows dressed in the gold of mahonia and grass growing cold sometimes I lose myself in this animal skin Kiva Rose is codirector of the Animá Center and Sanctuary in New Mexico’s Gila National Forest. Her poems and articles have appeared in numerous publications.
Whenever I turn on the gas to heat water or cook food, I can’t help thinking about the gas itself, the lingering essence of living beings drilled out of the earth, shipped thousands of miles and piped into my home. The stove sparks as that essence hisses into the burner and flames blue under my pan. After many million years, the essence of those lives is consumed and gone. What were the beings that gave their essence so that I could have hot coffee and boiled eggs—fern forests, vast colonies of plankton, societies of insects, herds of dinosaurs? I imagine their lives in the soil, drifting with the ocean currents, massing in their hives, eating the tender leaves of trees. It’s not that I feel guilty as my water boils. Rather, I’m simply paying attention to what feeds me, what keeps me warm. I acknowledge those beings as their essence dances through the flame. I feel their heat as the coffee touches my tongue.
HANGING ON & BEING HELD I AM SITTING OUT ON MY DECK. It’s got to
be over 80 degrees. It’s mid-December, and the grass is green. A young hawk calls nearby, shakily. No, it’s a jay putting on his act. A white butterfly bubbles by. A silvery strand of spider web bends in the breeze as it catches the sunlight. The wind blows steadily, from the northeast. A gaggle of crows flaps up to the treetop on the edge of our property. They flush out the young hawk—a hawk after all. The crows laugh. Oh, there goes the pileated woodpecker, having a go at one of the standing dead trees. The day is throbbing with beauty. The two large, guardian cedars gracing the edge of the driveway sway a little. The mockingbird that lives there goes back and forth from tree to withered pokeweed plant, eating berries. The heat is real. I’m actually sweating. Global climate change is real. The beauty of this day shows me, and I believe, that the land still loves us. But can we, her troubled children, find our way back on course? Can I? Of late, my attention has been on the waters. The Ocean, in particular—I’m dreaming water, oceans, submersion all the time. But the continuing drought here in the South has water on lots of people’s minds. We live in an intentional community. My family of three is pretty new here—two years now. Some members have been here for 17 years, working and growing together. Even so, as a community, we’ve still managed so far to be relatively independent, with some work parties, potlucks, years and tears and joys in common. Now my neighbor Jim’s well is dry, and Marge said last week that her water is starting to look murky. I wonder how this community, as stewards of the land, will be called to work with this, if the trend continues. So far, I’ve been acting like my water
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isn’t in jeopardy. I’m feeling the press and the urgency that this is denial and must change right away. Meanwhile, when Jim is out of town, I carry water down from Cecil and Vonda’s well to the goats at Jim’s place. LOTS OF FOLKS I KNOW have been watch-
ing the documentary film, Yakoana. I have watched it numerous times. Briefly, it’s about the first indigenous world summit (1992 in Rio de Janeiro) on the state of the planet and the creation of a plan of action to preserve the planet using indigenous “technologies.” It’s an acknowledgment that ancestral traditions are real and, moreover, necessary for our continued survival. It is a chronicle of indigenous people standing together, empowered by the strength of their relationships with their deities, the Earth, the Elements, and each other. For lots of folks living in the modern world, it’s a reality check. I watch it and, I admit, I feel angry. We humans have really done a number on ourselves, our planet, our human brothers and sisters, our plant and animal friends. The film shows us this so clearly. Was the Roman Empire, Europe, Christianity to blame for the mess we find ourselves in? I don’t even care. Is it really true that I need to understand where this predicament came from? All I know is that I’m part of it. And, so are you. We are part of a big problem, wounded by it, and wounding others
BY BETH SAVINO
because they see the predicament (not all mad people, just select mad people). I gravitate toward punk music. Hearing Iggy Pop croon: I’m building a house where I can think And have some balance and dignity I’m building a house where no one can hurt me I’m building a house where the weak are strong I’m building a house with a real song I’m using faith that is immortal I’m building it with simplicity and the way that we feel, you and me I’m building it with what I believe in So get off my dick I’m building it brick by brick Brick by brick. Iggy Pop, “Brick by Brick” Brick by Brick, Atlantic Records (1990)
On a bad day, I totally get it. IN THE MIDST OF ALL THE PROBLEMS of this
world, people are still having children. I look at my son, and I marvel. For one thing, he’s absolutely beautiful. Everyone would agree. He’s strong and fit and flexible. He loves the woods, climbing, learning primitive skills. I send him to the woods with teachers. I send him to flute class. I take him to concerts. We beat on drums here, and sing. I trust his loves will lead him in the right direction.
THE BEAUTY OF THIS DAY SHOWS ME, AND I BELIEVE, THAT THE LAND STILL LOVES US. BUT CAN WE, HER TROUBLED CHILDREN, FIND OUR WAY BACK ON COURSE? CAN I? as members of it. On a bad day, I think to myself, “Humans suck. All of us.” I can make a good case for that. Well, so far, being mad at humanity hasn’t done much for me. It does, however, seem to be a necessary part of my journey. I’ve always loved people who are mad
For now, this seems like the best service I can give him. How many of us know our true loves? Lately I’ve seen I do too much for him. Time to learn to cook! Time to take a turn on the dishes! Time to do your part! These seem like worthy pursuits in
V I C T O R Z A S T O L`S K I Y/ D R E A M S T I M E . C O M .
Logs For the Fire
life—do your part, find that which you love and follow it. A FRIEND AND I WERE DISCUSSING this hu-
man dilemma. We were sharing about times we had felt betrayed by others, those we trusted most, and how deeply disappointing humans can be. I was feeling very low, and wondering how I could manage to put my trust in humans again. Then, she told me about a recent event involving mentors she had trusted, who had deeply disappointed her. She described what happened next. “I went outside and I lay down on the ground. I just poured out my disappointment and my sadness. Then, I felt the Earth reach up and hug me.” The message that she took away from that was that the Earth was comforting her. The Earth loved her. The Earth loves people. She offered to me, “If the Earth can love people, maybe we can show our love for the Earth by loving people too.” Even when they disappoint us, and when we don’t understand them. This was a powerful insight. It left me thinking.... OUR CONVERSATION ALSO LED me to re-
member a time the Earth reached out to me. When I was early in my relationship with my husband, Michael, I was seized with fear. I knew that if I kept walking forward into the relationship that it would change me forever, that I would be called on to love and to grow and to change in ways I could not predict, and I was afraid. I remember lying alone in bed in an agony of anxiety, wondering if I should run and how fast. I took a breath, and suddenly it was as if my bed were on an elevator. It sank through the floor and into the earth. The earth surrounded me, and held me, and urged me to move forward into the relationship, it showed me that I was not alone. It’s good to remember that story. When the going gets rocky, we’re being held. Beth Maness Savino lives in rural NC with her husband and son. She offers this Log to the Fire as contribution and fuel for creative change.
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Out of the Frying Pan
BY LARRY MESSERMAN
BEYOND THE CULTURE OF FEAR A COMMUNITY OF FIRE good days, greets the world with trepidation. Although I cannot recall being given an explicit pre-natal orientation (“Welcome to Earth. Please watch your step! The inhabitants here are prone to wanton acts of violence. Your body is a biological time bomb, which is waiting to be ravaged by viruses, bacteria, and/ or a host of different cancers. The most basic law of terrestrial physics is: ‘There is always something very bad waiting to happen to you!”), I seemed to have picked up the message nonetheless. For us, life is an all-too-brief dash through the great cosmic minefield. To varying degrees, I suspect this is the kind of upbringing that many of us have had. And to judge from the news these days, this kind of wariness does look like very good preparation for the world we live in. For, as we careen through the first decade of the 21st Century, there is a lot to keep us up at nights. Ever since the events of September 11, 2001, it seems like our worst fears have been confirmed—we are in a constant state of alertness for new terrorist attacks. The price of gasoline has more than doubled. The war in Iraq has become a quagmire for a new generation. The dollar has sunk to historic lows, and America is viewed with a great wariness—if not outright hostility—by much of the world. But the problems go beyond America and its PTSPD (PostTraumatic Stress Policy Disorder) orientation to the rest of the world. If you factor in global warming, new and more virulent diseases and dwindling natural resources, it begins to look as though my initial socialization to the world was naively optimistic. This is certainly not the bright future that we Americans were told to imagine for ourselves only a few decades ago. The immediate post-war years—and I mean
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World War II here, since it is getting hard to keep track of all the wars lately—was a time when technology promised answers to every problem. We dreamed of living in mega-cities, flying our GM aerocar home after a few hours of work, stopping in our climate-controlled highrise to throw some dirty clothes in a GE laundromatic (which would clean, iron, and fold each item), popping a gourmet Swanson freeze-dried dinner in the microwave and eating before heading off for a quick jaunt to visit friends on the other side of the continent. For a vacation, we saw ourselves traveling to a Sheraton resort on the moon or Mars to try our hand at low-gravity golf. Nuclear
power would give us access to unlimited energy, and the world, indeed the whole solar system, would cater to the trend-setting tastes of American consumerism. The only thing to fear in this corporate-sponsored techno-topia was to be out of style—i.e. not consuming fast enough. But something happened along the way, perhaps starting with the Vietnam War and the social upheaval of the 1960’s, followed by Watergate, and the hard-nosed real-politik that began in the 1980’s. Corporations still hawk technology as the solution to all of our problems (“new and improved!”), but no longer have the temerity to look too far into
I WAS R AISED IN A FAMILY that, even on
the future. If Disneyland was to build a “Tomorrowland” which reflected our current weltanschauung, it would appear more like a scene from Bladerunner or The Matrix, than something from The Jetsons. Even as we gobble down Prozac and Viagra to keep ourselves “up,” even as we dream wildly about the promise of building better humans through genetic engineering and nano-technology, there is a pervasive sense that the future may not be so cheery; not to mention the sinking feeling that we may not be able to patent drugs fast enough to make it seem otherwise. Now I have to be careful here, because of course not all of the world’s people have come anywhere close to realizing the modern western dream of high technology and consumerism. On a given day, the vast majority of the world’s peoples are still struggling to meet the most basic of needs. But here in the industrialized west, our way of life has become THE WAY, and despite signs to the contrary, the major economic and political institutions continue to promote this vision with an evangelical furor. Whatever doubts we harbor about the future, we seem unable to conceive of anything beyond technology and unlimited consumption to get us there. If anything, newly developed nations like
of the great spiritual traditions. Then, not so very long ago, a profound turning point came with the so-called “Age of Enlightenment.” Descartes coined its motto: “I think, therefore I am.” From then on, Mind dominated the scene in western culture. Science and rationality became the new dominant religions. Life was no longer about finding one’s place in the Great Mystery. Rather, it was about being comfortable and entertained. Instead of a Stonehenge or a Chartres Cathedral, we came to revel in the Mall of the Americas and Las Vegas. The mind confronts the vicissitudes of life by trying to plan for a path of comfort. Will it rain today? Will I have enough to eat? How can I avoid traffic on the commute to work? Will I earn enough this year? What if I get Ebola? The mind craves ease and predictability. This is not to say that mind is the enemy. In proper balance with the heart, it serves a very important function. It keeps us out of danger. Without the mind, we would not bother to look both ways before crossing the road. We are indeed somewhat vulnerable, and with due deference to my upbringing, any parent must use mind and fear to teach their children to avoid situations that are truly harmful. And yet, without the counter-balanc-
WILL IT RAIN TODAY? WILL I HAVE ENOUGH TO EAT? HOW CAN I AVOID TRAFFIC ON THE COMMUTE TO WORK? WILL I EARN ENOUGH THIS YEAR? WHAT IF I GET EBOLA? India and China have the enthusiasm of recent converts—they too are beginning to shop until they drop. For many eons, the heart wisdom of ancient traditions kept this tendency in check. Through the wisdom and practice of our spiritual traditions, we felt our connection to all things—to other people, to nature, and to Divine. From that place of deep wisdom, we recognized that there was nothing to run away from. Everything was to be embraced—even the inevitable encounters with pain which are part of our mortality. Quieting the fear-driven chatter of the mind and getting us to this place of heart and acceptance was the path of all
ing wisdom of the heart, we are driven by fear. Descartes could have just as easily said, “I think therefore I fear.” Or, “I think and therefore I feel alone.” A perpetual War on Terror, gated communities and virtual reality are all natural artifacts of a culture of mind and fear. Many of us have been forced to begin groping for the path of heart by an unexpected turn of events: a loss of our employment or the end of a long-standing relationship, a health crisis or even a brush with death. Some major disturbance in the otherwise well-planned trajectory of our lives can create a kind of opening for heart wisdom to break through. Whether we are facing a dra-
matic crisis or not, there are practical steps that we can take to help nurture our connection to this heart wisdom. We can slow down, begin to spend more time in nature, and perhaps adopt practices like meditation or yoga to help quiet the mind. But an important aspect of beginning to build a healthy, more viable life is finding authentic community. This is not just a “virtual connection” whereby a lot of people are linked up via MySpace so that they can chat about their likes and dislikes. Rather, this is the kind of connection wherein people meet face to face. They share important aspects of their lives with one another; their hopes and triumphs, their failures and fears, and the joyful expression of their creativity through music, dance, stories and poetry. Electronics can be useful, but the real heart of community comes through direct interaction— breaking bread together, working on common projects, even gossiping or telling jokes. A real community, like a significant relationship, shares the most sacred and mundane experiences in order to build trust and strengthen the bonds of connection. This is the kind of community where people can depend upon one another in times of need. This is also the kind of community that comes together to celebrate the important transitions in life: birth, initiation into adulthood, partnership, parenting, elderhood, and death. Over the years, many of us have been drawn into something called the Sacred Fire Community (SFC). It spawned this magazine, and it continues to give birth to a range or programs and projects. But the core of the Sacred Fire Community is helping our people to once again have the deep experience of Fire and heart. And the most concrete example of this effort is an ever-growing number of community fire gatherings around the world. This is an opportunity for people to meet in a safe heart-space, where they can share deeply about their lives, as they also enjoy the laughter and warmth that comes from connecting in a good way. The community fires use the offerings of a particular ancestral tradition— the Huichol people of the Mexican Sierras—to create this safe heart space.
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These fire gatherings are emblematic of everything that the Sacred Fire Community does. There are rites of passage for young men and young women, retreats for adult women and men, groups to support birthing and dying, and affiliated projects like the Blue Deer Center and of course this magazine. All are attempts to create space for the heart to be heard. All are part of our mission to foster a global community that rekindles our relationship to each other and the world through the universal and sacred spirit of fire. Fire and heart have been supporting humans since the very beginning. And so there is nothing essentially new about the Sacred Fire Community. It is something very old, something primal. Often people experience a kind of deep remembering when they first come to a consecrated fire. Despite all of the fear-
ful conditioning, despite the eons of history dominated by mind, those who come to the fire experience something primal and familiar. They sense the whisperings of the ancestors. For those of us who have been “brain-washed” by modernism and mind, a fire gathering offers a neutral space to begin hearing the voice of heart, tradition, and Fire. The Culture of Fear is really the Culture of the Mind, and after thousands of years, it is quite pervasive and powerful. But it is also an increasingly rigid system which is straining to maintain itself. And like anything rigid, it is susceptible to cracking and ultimately crumbling apart. Even as social, political, and environmental problems seem more intractable, the cracks are allowing something new to come through— something so delicate and mysterious that it fails to get noticed by the talking
Divine Nourishment FINDING MY PATH WHEN I WAS IN MY EARLY TWENTIES, I
decided I wanted to cook professionally. At the San Francisco Culinary Academy, I walked past the demonstration window with all the student chefs in their black and whites and tall chefs’ hats and my heart beat faster than a snare drum in a percussion band. I was instantly hooked. I lived and breathed food. When I wasn’t studying food in class, I was mapping out a multi-restaurant multi-course evening with my fellow students. We spent many nights sweeping the restaurants of San Francisco, indulging in and dissecting dishes that would inspire us long after our graduation. This practice of gastronomical excess forced me into the necessary study of nutrition. Eventually, I settled into catering for health and spiritual retreats. I served and observed teachers of all faiths and practices, and I provided, upon request, every diet imaginable for the participants. Through the years I noticed that there
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was a general attitude about cooks, especially among those leaders who felt they had found “the way” and had transcended their bodies. Don’t get me wrong; people were generally grateful for being nourished. However, they had the same attitude toward cooks as they had for people who chose to stay home and raise their children. I felt less than respected
heads or the Powers That Be. To borrow from Dickens, it is the best of times and the worst of times. Each one of us can play a very important role towards bringing harmony, sustainability to the world. And yet it is truly a time of great imbalance and suffering. We must acknowledge our individual and collective fears. And yet if we turn away from the hysterical warnings from all sides of the political spectrum and we begin to access the wisdom of Fire and heart, we will find that whatever lays ahead, we will thrive. Lawrence Messerman is a marakame, or initiated shaman, in the Huichol tradition. He is also a Firekeeper, and one of the Executive Directors of the Sacred Fire Community. He dodges the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune in Sebastopol, CA where he lives with his wife Jessica.
BY MARY LANE
Cooking became something I did to make my living while I searched for my real path. I couldn’t shake my feeling of being disrespected, no matter if it was actually being projected towards me or not. It became my own disrespect. The years kept rolling by. Between cooking meals for the participants, I tried every offering that came along at the re-
I MUST BE THE SHALLOWEST PERSON ALIVE. I’M TRYING TO FIND A RESPECTED PATH AND HERE I AM THINKING, WRITING AND PRACTICING THE WEAVING OF FOOD AND SEX. in this dynamic world of movers and shakers. My great passion for food grew duller and duller. As time passed, I began believing that projection that cooking was only something that someone would do if they couldn’t do anything else. I remember asking a teacher of a wellknown private high school if they taught students how to nourish themselves. He replied, rather haughtily, that they didn’t teach blue-collar jobs at this school.
treat centers, but I couldn’t find anything that would replace cooking for a living. Just when I thought I couldn’t do this food thing any longer, a doorway would open and deepen my relationship with the art of nourishment. For a period of time, I found a great passion for cooking with Chinese herbs. Then I discovered the fun of gathering wild food and herbs. It was much better, I learned, to eat food and use medicine from my own environment.
I would get enthused for a period of time and then, before long, I would want to find some other career that would provide more respect. Nothing seemed to fit and my resistance to cooking all the time made my body very tired. I began to explore different food-related topics. I studied 5 Element Nutrition in San Francisco. I became very excited to understand that the ancient Taoists had learned their nutritional system from nature. They had simply articulated her wisdom. This wisdom taught me as much about sex as it did food. I did my thesis on nourishing the Vital Treasures to build sexual energy. I must be the shallowest person alive, I thought. I’m trying to find a respected path and here I am thinking, writing and practicing the weaving of food and sex. I felt like hiding in the shadows so no one would know how shallow I was. I left San Francisco and ended up living in a remote area on top of a mountain near Asheville, North Carolina. Because I
had few distractions, I was able to witness what was going on in my surroundings and compare it to what I had learned. One day, as I was gathering food on the mountain, I was overwhelmed by how I was surrounded by food. I didn’t know where to begin gathering. I sat down and wept with the realization that this great Mother was holding me. She was providing more food and medicine than I could possibly gather. And as a cook I was a co-
creator with her. That was the moment that I realized I had been on my spiritual path all along. I was just too blind to recognize or respect it. The acceptance of my path led me to explore ancient cultures and lineages to see what their relationship with food was. I discovered that, no matter what the culture, tradition or lineage, a common thread ran through them all. That thread was their deep respect for the sacredness of their food. They all recognized the sacrifices made to nourish them, the interconnection of everything through the offering of one life to feed another, which fed another, which fed another. They were aware that they were woven into this vast fabric of love. That fabric looks like “just food” to our society. How did we come to this place where we fail to respect the most significant sacrifice there is, that gift that weaves together life and death as one? Without this there would be no life at all. I finally realized that this relationship is universal and deserves the utmost respect. It took many years for my initially shallow pursuit of food to ripen into a spiritual connection. My relationship opened up one door at a time until finally I was able to unhook myself from the beliefs and judgments of modern society. Finally, I found my own respect and honor for the gift of Divine Nourishment. That is when I could embrace it as my path and that is when I could embrace myself. This journey has shown me how deeply our conditioning affects us even as we try to find our way down a path of authenticity. I have to admit that I am a little embarrassed that it took me so long to see the obvious.
MARY’S SPRING CLEANING TONIC
1. Go out into nature and gather by hand, as much of these fresh, spring greens as possible. 2. Thoroughly rinse and clean in fresh spring water two handfuls of mixed herbs: parsley, dandelion leaves, mint, chickweed, miner’s lettuce, nettles, and/or plantain. 3. Add 4 cups of pineapple juice or freshly squeezed orange juice and 1 tsp of fresh lemon juice. 4. Place all ingredients in a blender and blend on high speed until leaves are liquefied. Allow to stand for a few minutes, strain, and serve in tall glasses. Enjoy!
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Getting Right With Money
BY MARK BLESSINGTON
FINANCIAL GRATITUDE & HUMILITY were constantly connected to the land on which they lived, that the gods brought prosperity and abundance. They did not view the earth as a place of human dominion, ripe for the taking. They hunted, gathered or farmed in accordance with the traditions given to them by their gods. Each tradition had its own way of ensuring a healthy balance among all aspects of the world and these ways were always grounded in gratitude. The modern financial perspective asserts that humans are in charge of their own prosperity and abundance despite the fact that many “non-human” factors drive the overall economy as well as our personal finances. One hurricane (Katrina) can bring a state’s economy to its knees. One corporate scandal (Enron) can wipe out retirement savings for thousands of employees. An early freeze (the Southeast’s 2007 Easter freeze) can wipe out millions of dollars of farm crops. To claim that humans run the economy is arrogant. It creates the misperception that humans are more important than Divine when it comes to money. This type of thinking makes it impossible for us to be deeply grateful for the blessings of prosperity and abundance. It disconnects us from the Divine source of everything. It allows us to say things like, “Don’t take it personally, it is just business.” It also leads us into numerous “blame quandaries.” For example, if I am in charge of my own financial condition and I am having financial trouble, then it is my own fault. Likewise, if others experience financial trouble, it is their own fault. We all just need to work harder or smarter. But here’s the quandary: many people work as hard and as smart as they can, yet they still have serious financial troubles.
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Another version of the blame quandary goes like this: If humans are in charge of the economy and I am having financial trouble, then it is the fault of those humans who are in charge. So, “they” need to do a better job of managing the economy. But “they” just can’t seem to keep the economy on an even keel. Given the unpredictable fluctuations of life, even the best minds can’t keep the economy from getting into serious financial trouble from time to time. Financial blame quandaries are an infinite spiral of frustration, stress and despair. When one part of the blame formula breaks down, we create “new and better” explanations for why our financial matters are amiss and what we need to do to fix them. For some people, the financial breakdowns pile
up, blame accumulates and they finally end up in despair. For many others— perhaps we could refer to this group as the “diligent majority”—the constant effort required to answer financial challenges with more and more effort often leads to breakdowns in health or interpersonal arenas. Either way, despair always looms somewhere in the spiral of disconnection from Divine. The way out of this despair is straightforward and involves humility and gratitude. Humbly accept that Divine brings financial prosperity and abundance into our lives and regularly show gratitude for our financial gifts. This formula has nothing to do with faith. It must be based on our own experience of the world and how things work. Accepting the primacy of Divine in fi-
SAR AH BLESSINGTON
IT WAS OBVIOUS TO OUR ANCESTORS, WHO
nancial matters was not intuitive for me. My training at business school, combined with all of the financial messages sent by my family of origin and society in general, ignored Divine’s role in financial matters. My later financial success was another trap: I liked taking the credit for it; it made my ego feel good. But the ego never feels satisfied for long, so I sought more and more financial success in a spiral of frustration. Something was missing. Actually, a lot was missing. I sensed it, but couldn’t put my finger on it. I studied Christianity and was led to writers who took me beyond dogma into spirituality. Then things accelerated. I went to a shaman. I moved from Chicago to Asheville. My interest in a fancy job waned. I retired from the corporate world. In 2003, I was initiated into the Nahuatl tradition of Weatherworking. In this ancient tradition, Weatherworkers develop a deep relationship with the Goddess of the Sky. We start by learning to show gratitude for the prosperity and abundance She brings through favorable weather. From my experience as a Weatherworker, I have come to see that all prosperity and abundance is a blessing
if you’ve never had it financially easy? “Mary” is 71 years old. Her husband died 21 years ago and she never remarried. For the last nine years of his life he was disabled after being hit by a car. Before that, her husband was the primary provider. They owned a home, but lost it when they could not make the mortgage payments. Mary gave birth to nine children. About 15 years ago, Mary had a dream that she would have a baby. This confused her because she did not have a husband or a boyfriend and already had a hysterectomy. Then her youngest daughter had a baby that she could not take care of. Mary took her in. Then Mary had another dream about another child and sure enough, another grandchild was born that needed care. Now Mary is the primary caregiver for five grandchildren plus a sixth on the weekends. The oldest grandchild is 17 and the youngest is seven. Mary lives on social security and receives public aid for the five grandchildren. She never knows if she will be able to pay the rent. As her grandchildren grow older, so do their expenses but not her income. Mary brags about her grandkids. The
SHE DID NOT TELL HERSELF THAT SHE KNEW BETTER THAN GOD. SHE WENT EVEN FURTHER—SHE WAS GRATEFUL FOR THE GIFT OF RAISING HER GRANDCHILDREN. from Divine. Now I practice gratitude and humility for my financial blessings when I pray. I express gratitude for the wealth Divine has given me, and for the many blessings it brings to my family and community. I acknowledge that these financial resources belong to Divine. I accept the responsibility for managing these funds for Divine’s purposes. I remind myself of how I can move into financial arrogance and ask for help so that I notice when I act in these ways. I ask for guidance on any specific financial issues that I might have at the time and I listen for any hints that may come my way while praying, in my dreams or through the course of my day. What if your story is a whole lot more about financial loss and suffering? What
oldest is taking honors classes and the next oldest has been on the honor roll all through school. She can talk for hours about each one. Mary still remembers the birthdays of my two kids. She has not seen them for over eight years, but she can tell stories about them as if they were her own. I asked Mary where she looks for help. She said, “Whatever comes, I accept. I take care of it, but I don’t know how. I say, ‘God, you gave me these kids, and somehow we get what we need. Social Security gives me a certain amount and then there is public aid for the kids. God does take care of us. Sometimes I get stressed out. Sometimes I do worry. As the kids grow older they need more. But God has blessed us. He has! I pray a lot. Sometimes it overflows;
sometimes it’s tough. We’ve never been hungry. The rent is always tough, though. Where will it come from? It’s not always there. I have to depend on God and that is what I pray for.” I’ve known Mary for over 20 years. She has always amazed me with her constant joyfulness. I asked her where her joy comes from. “It’s not about money or things. It’s about being close to God and having your family and people you care about. I get help from my church and Grandparents Raising Children. They help. They give me money for school supplies and Christmas presents. But everything is closing down now. It is down to $20 per child. But that’s OK. It helps. It helps a lot. I talk to people at church. It is uplifting.” Mary feels held. She perseveres despite relentless financial stress. Her relationship with Divine and community is what sustains her. You can’t be around Mary without experiencing her relationship with Divine. It’s as if she is constantly talking to God, whether others are around or not. It feeds her to be around her church community; they also live in constant relationship with God and that helps her remain strong and joyful. Where others would have said, “No, I don’t want to start raising children all over again,” Mary gave in to her dreams and went with what God had in store for her. This took tremendous humility. She did not tell herself that she knew better than God about who should raise her grandchildren. She humbly accepted His plan. She went even further—she was grateful for the gift of raising her grandchildren. What a model of gratitude and humility in the face of relentless financial stress! Based on Mary’s and similar stories, all I can say is that gratitude and humility pave the path to financial peace and joy. So, the next time you encounter financial stress, rather than working harder or smarter, try practicing financial gratitude and humility and see what happens! This will be the last installment of the “Getting Right With Money” column series. We offer our thanks to Mark Blessington and look forward to his future contributions—The Editors
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Book Review BEYOND THE BLACK HOLE OF COLLAPSE Bill Pfeiffer reviews The Ascent of Humanity By Charles Eisenstein Panenthea Productions, 2007
The great Voice said: “Behold the circle of the nation’s hoop, for it is holy, being endless, and thus all powers shall be one power in the people without end.” —Black Elk IN THE LATE 90’S I WAS FORTUNATE TO
attend many indigenous gatherings both in North America and Siberia. There was a compelling theme that was repeated often. Humanity is at the beginning of tremendous, almost unimaginable changes, changes that will be traumatic but ultimately redemptive. Later, I would read about other prophecies the world over; Tibetan, Andean, Buddhist, Christian, all pointing to the same theme of collective death and rebirth. To my surprise, at the end of my vision quest in the deserts of Utah in 1998, I was”told” by the spirits the same thing. Balance between humans and Nature is right around the corner and getting there will blow our minds. Prophecies are usually vague and allegorical. They are not predictions but guideposts. Charles Eisenstein’s remarkable book “makes sense” of these endof-the-world-as-we-know-it prophecies without actually mentioning them. Eisenstein goes to the root of the dysfunction: most of us are walking around with a false sense of self; where we perceive on the deepest level that we are separate from the Earth, other humans, and the Universe that birthed us. The subsequent fear and sense of scarcity lead to war and ecological disaster. Of course, many spiritually-oriented writers have pointed this out before, but, unlike others, Eisenstein provides an unflinching, realistic look at the current social and ecological realities (i.e. “the
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gathering crises of our age demonstrate that this way of being is on the verge of collapse”), combined with an extremely positive vision for what comes next (i.e. “and this collapse is setting the stage for a revolution in human beingness whose stirrings we already begin to feel”). He spends the first two thirds of the book providing a vast yet lucid critique of the worldview of Empire (my words). What are the psychological and per-
ceptual blinders we have been looking through, he asks, to create the kind of suffering so apparent in the history of civilization? He investigates the crucial area of economics but he does not stop there. Eisenstein acknowledges Marx for his fundamental critique of capitalism but then goes on to say: “The Socialist solution to the crisis [of capitalism] fails because it doesn’t get at the root of the problem, which is not the private owner-
ship of property but rather the concept of property to begin with. And the concept of property, as we have seen, itself depends on our definition of ourselves and the way we understand the world.” (p. 278) (italics mine) This is the key concept that he returns to repeatedly and looks at from many angles. He illustrates how over the course of thousands of years the notion of the separate self has birthed a “Technological Program” that now attempts to control the whole world. This has largely come about because in the past 500 years the “Scientific Program” has both literally and figuratively provided rocket fuel to the “Technological Program.” Science, far from being neutral, has huge built-in biases that pull us further and further from Nature and ourselves. Although, he points out, current physics and biology acknowledge our much deeper connection to and dependence on Nature, this understanding has not yet permeated the “common sense” of the majority of humans. Currently, most members of civilization (as differentiated from the few remaining indigenous societies) aid and abet the “Technological Program” whether we like it or not. This Program seeks ultimate control. Nothing can be
Many authors have come to the conclusion that civilization is reaching a kind of apex where its collapse, due to internal contradictions—i.e., the dominant belief that Nature is outside us, and of inferior status, so we can ignore our relationship to it—is inevitable. This is almost in vogue. In their writing, it as if there is no afterward, only the black hole of collapse, and a kind of hell realm that the few remaining humans will inhabit (see James H. Kunstler, Derrick Jensen and many of the Peak Oil authors). Eisenstein, in a recent email to me, commented on the despair and cynicism of this view: “On the deepest level, it is that they unconsciously buy into the very assumptions about the nature of reality that have powered our depredations in the first place. A cold hard world of force and mass.” Unlike other writers, Eisenstein looks unflinchlingly at the unstoppable destructive momentum that is underway, but then he points to our collective liberation, at a new level of consciousness, as an eventual result of the collapse (and as a result of all the works of love and beauty that were done leading up the collapse). This is a simplistic summary of a very sophisticated point that
OPP OSITE: DOUGL AS STE V ENS/DRE AMSTIME .COM .
ON THE DEEPEST LEVEL, THEY BUY INTO THE VERY ASSUMPTIONS ABOUT THE NATURE OF REALITY THAT HAVE POWERED OUR DEPREDATIONS IN THE FIRST PLACE. left to uncertainty and mystery. Like Sauron in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, all must come under its spell. Correspondingly, the Technological Program is the handmaiden to the “monetization of life” where the value of everything on the planet—plants, animals, rocks, cultures, languages, music, art, etc—is converted into money. Even time finds itself under the umbrella of commerce in the oft spoken phrase, “time is money.” Much more could be said about his critical analysis of civilization, and how we arrived at the converging crises, yet his conclusions, clarified in the final third of the book, are both very similar and very different from many of his contempory writers.
moments come to us alone in nature, or with a baby, making love, playing with children, caring for a dying person, making music for the sake of music or beauty for the sake of beauty. At such times, a simple and easy joy shows us the futility of the vast, life-consuming program of management and control.” [p. 342] IN THE CHAPTER “The Crumbling of Cer-
tainty” he states: “Perhaps the import of the gathering paradigm shift is now becoming clear. It marks the end of the Age of Separation and the beginning of a new age that I call the Age of Reunion. It marks the end of civilization as we know it, and the birth of a new kind of civilization. The civilization we have known has always been built upon the escalating domestication of nature. The ascent of humanity has always been a project of imposing human purpose and human design onto the raw materials of an inert reality. That has been the grand project of civilization, to bring order to chaos. And now we are discovering that order arises naturally from chaos anyway, and chaos from order, and from that chaos new order of ever-higher degree—an ascending spiral of Yin and Yang. The age of the frontiersman conquering nature and bringing it to order is over, as we turn toward seeking the right role for human consciousness in the continued unfolding of order in the universe. The new human relationship to the world will be that of a lover to his or her beloved.” [p. 395-396]
he spends 200 pages backing up. And I’m so glad he does, because his conclusion that the Age of Separation will give way to the Age of Reunion bolsters my own deepest personal intuition and is in alignment with indigenous prophecies the world over.
AND FINALLY AND ELEGANTLY:
AT THIS POINT in the review, it is bet-
graphs with this kind of passion and inspiration. Please buy this book. Support the author. Does he say this will be easy? No. Painless? No. Ask any mother about birth pangs. But, still, Eisenstein will calm your deepest fears of where we are headed and at the same time cheer you on for your unique role in the Great Turning, the epochal journey from an industrial civilization to a new life-sustaining society.
ter to let Eisenstein’s words speak for themselves: “Yet no matter how complete the despair, no matter how bitter the cynicism, a possibility beckons of a world more beautiful and a life more magnificent than what we know today. Though we may rationalize it, it is not rational. We become aware of it in moments, gaps in the rush and press of modern life. These
“We can see this collapse, then, as a birthing process. The old world dissolves, and a series of intense contractions births us into a new world. We are being pushed into the light.” [p.417] THERE ARE LITER ALLY hundreds of para-
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BOOK REVIEW THE SPRINGS OF SILENCE Peter Brown reviews In the Absence of the Sacred By Jerry Mander (Sierra Clubs Books 1991)
THE AUTHOR IS BEST KNOWN FOR HIS
book, Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television, and his work as a Senior Fellow at the Public Media Center and as a Program Director of the Foundation for Deep Ecology in the San Francisco Bay area. Though this book has passed the decade and a half mark, it is a book worth reading and having on the bookshelf even if one only picks and chooses through it’s more than 400 pages and 21 Chapters. Mr. Mander takes us back to a time of his youth in the 40’s and early 50’s. He presents a childhood when life was smaller, closer, less frenetic. “When I was born... there were no jet airplanes... no computers, no space satellites, no microwave ovens, no electric typewriters, no Xerox machines, no tape recorders... no television.” Suffice it to say that many of the components that we rely on in our modern technological world did not exist in the very recent past. With his worldview, Mr. Mander re-
west Territories: “Legends are tools that help people grow in certain ways. A lot of what matters is the power and the feeling of the experience. It’s like when you’re tanning hides, it’s not only important to learn how to do the scraping and the cutting. In the old way, their process was also a kind of meditation, a prayer to put power into it. There used to be prayers for how to grind the corn. It wasn’t just grinding corn; it was also the feeling in it. But when you put something in a museum, or even on TV, you can see it all right, but you’re really looking only at the shell.” Another is from the wildlife resource management system of the James Bay Cree of northern Ontario. In describing the proper rituals used in killing and cooking an animal, it is very clear that most of the rituals are designed to demonstrate the “reciprocity between man and animal... which includes respect for the needs of the animals to survive as a population, and which is complemented by animals respecting the needs of humans to subsist and survive as well.” Mr. Mander recounts many stories of Indian tribes and their recent introduction or submersion into various western/developed nations’ approaches to
LEGENDS ARE TOOLS THAT HELP PEOPLE GROW. THERE USED TO BE PRAYERS FOR HOW TO GRIND CORN. IT WASN’T JUST GRINDING; IT WAS ALSO THE FEELING IN IT. turns to the territory of his previous book to look at technology as a pervasive, benevolent ruler that shapes and separates our being. He cites numerous firsthand experiences within numerous technologies whether they are social, religious or economic knowhows of modern western life. He brings a message that is similar to the Marshall McLuhan’s line, “The medium is the message.” But Mr. Mander goes a bit further to have us try to step outside the current of our technological medium by helping us to see how the Indians are in this world and with nature. There are many examples in the book covering all aspects of existence. Below are but two. Barbara Smith, a Dene from the North-
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life and the reshaping that impacts the Indian communities. “In 1984, I was invited to see firsthand how satellite television’s arrival into a remote place can make sudden, serious impacts on a culture and economy of the area.... The Dene Indian and the Inuit said that Yellowknife, the capital... was the first community to get TV. Cindy Gilday, a Dene, said, ‘We can already see that it’s had a devastating effect on the people here. Out in the Indian communities in the bush, where it only came a year or two ago, it’s even worse. People are sitting in their log houses, alongside frozen lakes with dog teams tied up outside, watching a bunch of white people in Dallas standing around a swimming pool drinking martinis and plotting to destroy
each other, or to get their friend’s wives into bed. Then after that they see a show that is about a man turning into a machine (The Six Million Dollar Man). “‘The effect has been to glamorize behavior and values that are poisonous to life up here. Our traditions have a lot to do with survival. Cooperation, sharing, and nonmaterialsim are the only ways that people can survive up here...TV always seems to present values opposite to those. “‘I used to be school teacher and when TV came to the village I saw an immediate change. People lost interest in native stories, legends, and languages, which are real important, because they teach people how to live.... TV makes it seem like young people are all that is important and the old have nothing to say.... TV has been confusing the Indian people who’ve never seen anything like it before.... I heard of one old woman who prays every night for the people in the soap operas. She thinks they’re real.... Most people live in extended families here. Ten people may live in a one or two room house. The TV is going all the time and the little kids and the old people and everyone all sitting around them watching it together... seeing men beating up naked women.’” Mr. Mander’s own childhood experiences, his direct work with Indian Nations, and firsthand accounts by Indians allows us to see how we have been separated from the Sacred. Also for some of us, gives us a look at what the heck Sacred is! The book is an informative and, at times, an engrossing read. But unless you have a great interest in the trials of the many Indian Nations highlighted, it gets a bit long. Mr. Mander does present a picture of how we are engulfed in a world separated from our physical place, and offers us a glimpse of how we may get back sacredness in life and take concrete actions to support the Indian Nations who are under pressure to become holders of the technological torch. For these reasons, it is well worth the time and work to find and read this book. Also with a name like Jerry Mander, how could his advice about redistricting our being be wrong?
DAN LUC I AN/DRE AMSTIME .COM .
Modern Technology: makes things happen in this world. Indigenous Technology: makes things happen in this world. Modern Technology does not require faith. It does not require understanding. When you flip a light switch, you needn’t “believe” the switch will work. You simply trust the electrical engineers and assume there is coal burning in the power plant today. Indigenous Technology also does not require faith or understanding. When you make offerings to the Weather Beings to call for their presence, you needn’t “believe” that the offerings will work. You simply trust the ceremonial leaders and assume that the reciprocity of exchange that created the world is still burning today. Someday, we will run out of coal. We will never run out of Weather Beings.
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Flies P I O T R KO Z I KO W S K I / D R E A M S T I M E . C O M .
I used to spend a lot of time watching flies as they flew their lazy loops around the living rooms of the houses I inhabited. It was clear to me that they weren’t looking for food or mates. They were simply buzzing around, checking things out. Checking me out. I liked to imagine they were the spirits of my ancestors, especially certain odious ones, who had been sentenced to an untold number of insect lives. Their punishment was to be swatted out of the air, smashed by their descendents. I was the instrument of divine justice. My job was to release them from their little buzzing lives. To tell the truth, I was hell on them. I would say, as I clapped one out of the air, “Auf wiedersehen, Uncle Fred, you old bastard.” Now, as I get a little closer to “divine justice,” I don’t kill flies anymore. I open the doors and ask them to leave. I ask their forgiveness. I beg for mercy. I’m hoping that, if I end up flying around in some grandchild’s living room, she might be gentle and hesitant, that she might allow me at least another hour of buzzing in the light.
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cracked my heart Ram Dass Remembers BY MARY LANE
Photographs by Kathleen Murphy
ecently, on a visit to Maui, I was blessed with the opportunity to interview Ram Dass. Ram Dass and I actually have a little history together. In 2005, when I lived on Maui, I was hired to be his private chef while his regular chef went on vacation. We sat together at his dining room table, where I had served him so many meals, and began our journey. “What is it that your magazine wants with this interview?” he asked. “We want to honor you,” I told him. He smiled and began sharing his story. He spoke slowly, softly and told his story as if it were the first time he had ever shared it and his voice became stronger and stronger. I felt something potent happening that I couldn’t put my finger on. Later, I realized that it was the exchange that takes place when we listen to our elders’ stories. We acknowledge the value of their lives and they honor us with their stories. —Mary Lane RAM DASS HAS BEEN a charismatic gate-opener for many people over
the years. His book, Be Here Now, published in 1971, brought the radical idea that “Being Present” was a spiritual practice. This book
still stands as a highly readable centerpiece of Western articulation of Eastern philosophy, with its lessons about living joyously 100% of the time whether our present experience is luminous or mundane. Over the years, Ram Dass has pursued an array of spiritual practices from potent ancient wisdom traditions, including bhakti or devotional yoga focused on the Hindu deity Hanuman; Buddhist meditation in the Theravadin, Mahayana Tibetan and Zen Buddhist schools, and Sufi and Jewish mystical studies. Perhaps most significantly, his practice of karma yoga (spiritual service) has opened up millions of other souls to their deep, yet individuated spiritual practices and paths. For more information, visit ramdass.org We offer excerpts from the conversation between Ram Dass and Mary Lane, beginning with the story of Ram Dass’s first psychedelic experience. He was then known as Richard Alpert, an eminent Harvard psychologist. This experience, undertaken with Dr. Timothy Leary, opened his “doors of perception” and led Alpert to India in 1967. There, he discovered Eastern thought and met his guru, Neem Karoli Baba, whom he affectionately refers to as Maharaji. Maharaji gave him the name Ram Dass—The Editors
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OPENING THE DOOR
MY FIRST TRIP WAS IN TIM’S KITCHEN with him and Alan Gins-
berg. It was a beautiful life and death trip. I wanted quiet and the kitchen wasn’t my cup of tea, so I went into the living room. It was dark in the living room and there was somebody over in the corner. That person turned out to be me. As I looked, the person over there kept changing into different social roles like pilot, lover, professor, in a humorous way. Like the professor and pilot had different hats. I’d say, “Well, if that role is there and I’m here, I guess this drug is going to rid me of that role.” I said to myself, “Boy, this drug is going to give me amnesia.” Then I said, “Well, I still have my body.” Then I looked down— the couch was there, but no body. “My god, this drug has now taken my body!” I was about to scream for help and just as I was about to scream, I thought, “Who is about to scream? Who’s left? Who is free of all these things?” Freedom. And I went out. There was a tremendous snowstorm. I rolled down the hill. I was so elated that I was free of all of that. My folks’ home was two streets away from Tim’s house. I said, “I’ll go over to my folks’ home,” plowing through the snow. Their walk was not shoveled. I thought to myself, “I’m the young buck—I’ll shovel for the old folks.” I took the shovel, feeling intuitively that this was right. It’s right that the young one should do this. It was a dharma act. I was starting to shovel and they appeared at the window with peeved expressions. I had always been checking my behavior by the reaction of others. First my parents and teachers, then my bosses—I was always a good boy. That’s how you get to be a professor at Harvard. Their peevedness was so at odds with my intuitive feeling, that I was conflicted and looked up at them and took the shovel and did a jig around the shovel and waved. That was the first time I sided with my intuitiveness. They thought, “He’s drunk,” but it was a much deeper thing than that. It was the break.
FINDING A GURU
THE PSYCHEDELICS HAD MADE ME SENSITIVE to poetry, philoso-
companion for me in India because of the way he was dressed. He came over to the table and talked. He ended up staying with us for a while in Katmandu. We started a walking trip through India to visit Buddhist temples. The Buddhists were anal-retentive, and that made me secure, because India was wild. Then Bhagwan Dass got a letter from the Indian government because he had been there for seven years. They wanted him to quit India. So he wanted to see his guru in the mountains. He wanted to use my friend’s Land Rover. He wanted me to borrow the car to get him to his guru— a Hindu guru. I didn’t like the Hindus—I was a Buddhist—but what the hell? I meant to go to Buddhist temples and here I was going off to see a Hindu guru. On top of that, I was responsible for the Land Rover. It wasn’t good. In the middle of the night we stopped about fifty miles from his guru. I had to go to the bathroom. It was beautiful outside with lots of stars. I began to think of my mother who had just died. I was going to the outhouse and thinking of my mother. I had been a Freudian, so that was significant to me. The next day we came before this guru. I was in the Land Rover and Bhagwan Dass was crying because he was going to see his guru. There were a lot of people crowded around the Land Rover yelling. He understood Hindi, I didn’t. He said, “Up there is my guru. I’m going up, you stay here.” He went up the hill. The crowd was very friendly before Bhagwan Dass left and now they were very belligerent towards me. See, they were thinking that I didn’t want to see the guru and I was thinking that they wanted to get rid of me so they could steal the Land Rover. And they pushed me and pushed me—plus I was also curious—so I ran up the hill looking back at the Land Rover thinking it was the last I was going to see it. Oi vay! I saw a man on an old tucket with about twenty people sitting around him in the grass. Bhagwan Dass did the pranam, touching his feet. I wasn’t about to do that. I stood there with my hands in my pocket. I was about twenty feet away, keeping my distance, and the guru yelled out something in Hindi. It was translated to me. He said, “Maharaji wants to know if you came in a big car?” Yes. “Maharaji wants to know whether you will give it to him.” Give it to him! Oh my god! Then Bhagwan Dass stood up and said, ”Maharaji, it’s yours.” So I’m shocked. What’s going on here! Then Maharaji gets me to sit in front of him and says, “You were out under the stars last night.” Most people are under the
phy, eastern practices, and mysticism, which hadn’t had a stand in my world prior to that. So I had gone from psychology to psychedelics to... what next? I watched my friends who were psychedelicized. They didn’t act as if they were wise people. I thought I was in the wrong place. Then Aldous Huxley came to me with The Tibetan Book of the Dead. I had a psychedelic experience Saturday night and Aldous gave me the book on Tuesday. I saw that the book was exactly my experience with the psychedelics. We hadn’t been able to put words to our experiI WAS ABOUT TO SCREAM ence, but here it was. Somebody in the East had FOR HELP & JUST AS I knowledge about this consciousness. WAS ABOUT TO , A friend asked me if I wanted to go to India. I THOUGHT, WHO IS ABOUT TO SCREAM? WHO’S LEFT? Sure, why not? I was Buddhist. So it was fun. We had a Land Rover he bought. It had beds in it. It had Mozart, canned tuna. The inside of it was Western and we looked through the windows at the East. We stars. He said, “You were thinking of your mother.” started in Teheran, went through Afghanistan, Pakistan and arMy mind cracked because there was nobody I had told. I was rived in India. sitting there, dealing with that and looking at the ground. And We went to Nepal and one night we ended up in a little Tibetan I started to think, “Oh my god, if he knows that, then he knows restaurant. At another table was a westerner in Indian clothes. this and this. Oh my god!” And I went through the people who It was Bhagwan Dass (a 23-year old American). He saw me and would love me less for these things. I’m going through this diasaw that I probably had drugs. I saw that he would be a good log with myself and I look up and he is looking at me with uncon-
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ditional love. That love cracked me open. His knowing about my mother cracked my mind, but that love cracked my heart. Nobody in my whole life had loved me unconditionally. They all wanted something. Wanted me to be a good boy, etc. My being shifted in that moment,. All I wanted was to be near him. The feeling was—“I’m home inside me. It’s okay, I’m home.“ All my life I had not been home. I had been on my way to Buddhist temples and I was on my way back to the US, and I didn’t even care. I stayed in India for, I don’t know, six months, maybe a year. The day I was to leave India he said, “Do you have some mind medicine?” I said, “I don’t. I don’t have any medicine, not even an aspirin.” “Some of that yogi medicine?” he asked. I had three of some of Owsley’s best. Each one was enough for a young person with my weight and he took one and he took two and he took three. I didn’t know whether he threw it over his shoulder. I was confused. I kept wondering, did he take them? He said, “You come back after two years.” I went to America and told the psychedelic crowd, “This guy took three. And nothing happened. I mean nothing happened. I watched. I was a scientist and watched. Nothing happened.” Owsley said, “I will have to improve my formula.” So after two years I went back. I walked into the temple and he said, “Did you give me some medicine last time?” I said, “Yes.” He said, “Did I take it? Do you have more of that?” He took four pills. He took them slowly so there was no mistaking, and nothing happened. That made me feel that our big deal with the psychedelics was insignificant to him. It’s like, if you’re in Chicago, you don’t take a bus to Chicago. Maharaji was already there.
THE DISCOVERY OF FAITH
THE PSYCHEDELICS WERE THE TR ANSITION because that led me to
planes of my consciousness that I had never considered in social science. Inner planes of awareness came out that made my interaction with Maharaji credible because science had never opened up these planes of awareness. It was only with these planes of awareness that I could understand Maharaji. Before psychedelics I would pass over an ancient book of wisdom, of philosophy, in the library. In psychology I was a behaviorist, which means I studied behavior. Afterward I studied consciousness. The experience of Maharaji’s unconditional love led me directly into faith. I had no faith whatsoever before Maharaji. No faith that my senses weren’t everything in knowing. No faith in wisdom as opposed to knowledge. No faith that my intuitive heart was true. When I went back to India and I was looking for Maharaji, I went to rest at a Buddhist retreat. A girl at the retreat said, “I want to meet your guru, too. I know a guy who has a bus. Maybe we can take the bus and go looking for him.” The rumor went through the meditation that Ram Dass was
going to look for his guru. There were twenty-five of us. We wanted soft beds and ice cream cones after this strict meditation. We were going directly to Delhi. So Danny Goldman was in the back of the bus and said, “Ram Dass, if we turn off up ahead, we go by this field in Allahabad that is very holy. It is where the holy people gathered.” “Kumbh Mela* was held a few months ago. No one’s there now,” I told him. “Yeah, but this place is holy!” Danny said. Ice cream cone—empty holy field. We go straight; we get ice cream cones. We turn right; we go to an empty holy field. Finally, the bus driver says, “Should we go straight or turn?” I said, “We’ll go right because we should go to a holy place.” I decided that—or so I thought. That was about ten a.m. We went to this big field and there were two people walking, Maharaji and K.K. Sah, his devotee. Someone says, “That’s Maharaji!” and I’m overtaken. We get off and touch his feet. He said, “Follow us.” They were in a rickshaw and we were in a big bus. So the big bus follows the rickshaw. We go to K.K. Sah’s house. His wife comes to the door and she says, ”We’ve been waiting for you. Maharaji awakened us about 6:30 and said, ‘Come on. Get up. There will be about twenty-six people for lunch.’ That’s the bus driver, too.” From then on, I realized that when I’m deciding something, that it is ridiculous. I’ve learned to surrender, surrender, surrender. Maharaji rules my life. I communicate with him. He died, but I communicate with him from that time onward. When he died it made no difference to me. He dropped his body, but he stayed with me. Someone once said to me, “I understand you talk to your good dead guru. That’s your imagination.” I said, “Yeah, Maharaji permeates my imagination.” And I wait for the feeling of presence—that’s when he’s here. Then I imagine the conversation. It’s usually in my imagination. The feeling of his presence and that he is in my imagination is like having a friend walking along with me through my life. In India, Ramana Maharshi said, “God, Guru and Self are the same thing.” And I realized that talking to Maharaji is my ego talking to my soul. Slowly I am identifying more and more with my soul. He has always given me instructions like, “Ram Dass tell the truth.” “Ram Dass love everybody.” Maharaji, can you love everybody? You love everybody. A soul can love everybody, but an ego can’t. And I’ve practiced becoming my soul. My soul as an individual soul is melding into the Atman, the One. Maharaji is the one. When I say I surrender to Maharaji, I don’t surrender to another fellow man—I surrender to God. And he has that god in him. He is mirroring my god within me. That’s the path of the guru. *Kumbh Mela is a Hindu pilgrimage to Allahabad that takes place every twelve years and is attended by millions of people.
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My Last Wishes
Andres A. Buenfil Friedman Dear family and friends,
1) Death is the most natural thing in life; it’s not our end, only the closing of a cycle. 2) Life cannot exist without death (just contemplate the food we eat). 3) The only sure thing in life is death (all forms sooner or later disintegrate). 4) However the time of death is unknown. It could happen today, next month, or in fifty years. But one day, whether you are prepared or not, you’ll have to let go of your body, your loved ones and friends, all your money and possessions, all titles and achievements, all theories and concepts, all expectations and desires. 5) Have you lived the life that your heart wants? 6) Are you satisfied with the way your life is so that if you were to die tomorrow you could welcome death without regrets or remorse? 7) What things would you change, what would you do to be able to die tomorrow and feel satisfied and at peace? 8) What would you do to feel fulfilled and joyful with your life? Would you get married or divorced? Have a baby or adopt one? Spend more time with your family and less at the office? Heal the wounds from childhood or from past relationships? Reconcile yourself with your parents or other loved ones? Move to the city or the countryside?
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G A R Y W O O D A R D/ D R E A M S T I M E . C O M .
The inevitable has occurred: I died. Please don’t be alarmed since I’ve been wishing and expecting this most precious and important event for many months. Although my ALS “disease” was an amazing blessing and the best teacher I ever had, it was an extremely arduous and difficult process. So, I’m really happy to finally be able to rest and most joyful to go home to my true nature. Therefore, this is in fact a very happy time for me and, since you were an important part in my life and touched my heart, I hope you can join me with a little celebration and prayer from wherever you are. Please go to a silent place where you can feel calm and relaxed and sit comfortably. Light a candle and breath deeply a few times. Try not to think too much, just look at the flame, notice your breath and feel your body. Now think of some meaningful or happy time we spent together and do whatever feels right: pray, sing, cry, laugh, curse, or just stare at the candle. Please don’t suppress any emotion, just allow your heart to do what it needs. When you feel more released, please consider this:
Go back to school or change careers? Ask for forgiveness or for an apology? Quit your job and go traveling? Buy a house or start your own business? Learn a new language or to play the piano? Learn to cook or to dance? Write a book or that important letter? Quit smoking or drinking? Begin to exercise or start eating healthier food? What is it that you’ve wanted to do but never have the time, courage or money to materialize it? Are you waiting for retirement, a raise or more time? Please don’t waste more time wishing or complaining. Take action! Just do it. In a nutshell, this is my “discovery” of what life is all about: We are here, in this amazing planet, to learn from our experiences in order to open our hearts and minds so that we can grow in love and consciousness. To flow in the grace of God and become a conscious channel of Her/His divine love. The best way to do this is to try to live each moment as plentiful and aware as we can, to accept what IS and learn from what life -the NOW- is teaching us. To recognize that we, and all beings, are part of the ONE SACRED LIFE, part of God. Our true nature is perfect and eternal, is love, is divine. When our body disintegrates and gets recycled back to Mother Earth, the only thing we keep is the consciousness we gained and the love we gave and received while alive. So please don’t wait until you’re diagnosed with a fatal disease to start living. Live your life to the fullest and enjoy it. We are all involved in the most incredible and miraculous cosmic game; don’t take things too seriously! You might wonder how can I know that only the body dies but our formless nature, our spirit, is immortal if I wrote this before dying? Well, as I experienced the degradation of my body and despite loosing my capacity to use my hands, legs and mouth, I always felt that I was the same. The sense of I AM was the same as when I was 3 years old; the same when I was 8, 13, 19, 25, 30, 34. Regardless of my age, health, physical strength, looks, titles, wealth, or experiences, my spirit (consciousness, awareness, or whatever it is) remained pretty much the same. Maybe, as I grew older, this consciousness only got a bit more aware of itself and its interconnectedness with the rest of the creation and mesmerized by this awesome divine dance of forms and energies. However, this presence was unaffected by the sickness and disintegration of my body. So I just know that my real self, the silent watcher, is timeless. My job is over as Andres A. Buenfil Friedman. I don’t know what my next job will be or what form my spirit will take to continue its growth and unification with God. I leave this beautiful body that was loaned to me with a feeling of completion, peace and satisfaction. I am very grateful for the extraordinary life that was given to me and for the privilege of knowing and interacting with all of you. Thank you very much for touching my life and walking next to me along my path. I feel especially grateful to the marvelous Shambhalacalli community, The Garuda community and The Sacred Fire Community, to my dear brothers, David and Jacinto, to my wonderful dad, Alberto, and to my beloved and amazing wife, Citlalli, for all their help, support and love during the most difficult, yet enlightening years of my life. My last three wishes are these: FIRST, that you can do the candle contemplation/meditation I described above in order to help us
both with this transition with acceptance. To let go with peace and gratitude, to say aDios (to-God). SECOND, that my death can remind you—deep inside—that one day you too will die and motivate
you to take the necessary actions to live a more meaningful and fulfilling life.
AND THIRD, and most important, that you may find yourself, that you may find the peace and love
of God. This is actually much easier than you think since it is already inside you wherever you go, whatever you do. THANK YOU VERY MUCH! With all my love and blessings,
Andres Antonio Buenfil Friedman (10/23/1971 - 10/04/2007)
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basic question I invite students in my ecopsychology classes to ask themselves is, “Where is the Holy Land?” I invite you now to ask yourself the same question. It is illustrative to note that it can sound a bit peculiar to a Native American Indian to hear non-Indians refer to a specified area of the Middle East as the Holy Land. This land is the Holy Land. Right here on this North American continent. This is where Onondaga is. The sacred council fire burns at Onondaga still. This is where the Black Hills—the traditional vision-questing place of Black Elk, Lame Deer, and other great teachers—are. This is where the spiritual city of Chaco Canyon was constructed with every point in alignment with the heavens. This is where pilgrims crawl on their knees to be healed at Chimayo. This is where Blue Lake is. This is where Big Mountain is. This is the Holy Land. In fact, aboriginal peoples of the Americas have always wisely acknowledged that the earth itself is everywhere and in all parts sacred. Indeed, all over the planet you will find sacred sites that were honored and preserved by the Indigenous People of that bioregion. Everywhere you step you step on the sacred bones of ancestors. So this is the Holy Land—right here—the very soil upon which I am standing. And, of course, it lies beneath your feet as well, wherever you may be standing. Why is it important to acknowledge the sacredness of the land you are on? Because at the dawn of the twenty-first century, people are still going to war over the idea that one spot
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in the Middle East is the Sacred Place. Or another way to say it is that it is still easy for a few people motivated by power and greed to bamboozle those populations who see only one place (and one religion based upon the spiritual story of that place) as sacred. Here in the United States for example, where the prevailing culture still clings to a narrow conception of a distant holy land, the public is easily duped into righteous wars that are, in fact, ultimately aimed at control of distant natural resources. Correspondingly, we see heinous crimes against humanity enthusiastically committed by individuals and groups who have been persuaded that their particular spiritual story, from their particular part of the Middle East, must prevail throughout the world. Seeing only one place as holy, and by inference others as not holy, is a great source of problems. There is a very high cost indeed for failing to acknowledge the whole earth as sacred. A clinical psychologist and teacher, Leslie Gray founded the Woodfish Institute to promote ecological education grounded in indigenous wisdom. This article was originally presented at the Bioneers Conference in San Rafael, California in 2002 and is excerpted from Original Instructions, Indigenous Teachings for a Sustainable Future, edited by Melissa K. Nelson, Inner Traditions/Bear and Company, Rochester Vermont, 2008. InnerTraditions.com
WHERE IS THE HOLY LAND? BY LESLIE GRAY
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