In Native American cultures, The Great Spirit is a deity intertwined with the fabric of the Universe itself on the large scale and yet personally engaged with the web of living things and the world on an earthly scale. I am creating a spiritual practice by borrowing a little from the Buddhists and the practice of mindfulness, but mostly from the strong connection I feel for the worship of Earth as taught us by our first nations. For those who hunger for the connection of a spiritual practice from someone who is learning to braid her own.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Braiding a practice in winter

Back from holiday vacation at the coast I am ruminating about how little I was outside during the 9-day stay, focusing more on stoking the home fires from the kitchen than on connecting with the Earth. Some of the reticence was warranted by the harshness of the wind and rain. And in my own defense when I did venture out I immersed myself totally in the sights/smells of the deserted stretch of Oregon coast line. But my wool sox/lined boot/down vested body likes to be warm. And the weather was punishing. 

I am a product of my generation and upbringing and likely to push for comfort and security rather than push for growth like my ancestors did. That worries me a bit. How can I balance the gravity that pulls me toward comfort with the learning and growth that can come from a reciprocal relationship with Pachamama, especially in winter? Indigenous wisdom is developed through direct experience. Only regular connection and ritual demonstrate my gratitude and respect. 

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Connecting with the Thanksgiving Reader

I attended an herbalist conference because of my interest in original wisdom and our ancestors' close communication with plants. Pretty much across the world. More about that in a future post.

Two weeks later I find the words of the keynote speaker rattlin' 'round in my head. There were a couple things about him that were notable. He began by pausing, calling in the former inhabitants of the space, those whose lives were affected by deeds of the past in the locale. Next he offered a visualization where he connected each of us to the center of the earth through our sex and to the Universe through our crowns (his narrative was riveting). Not going to lie, this scholar's main message was lost on me. However, one thing stuck. 

A young man from the audience who identified himself with ADHD, explaining the difficulties, especially employment because of his inability to adhere to office protocols, asked the speaker, "How do you live with the dissonance between where we are (this society and its expectations) and what we believe?" The speaker advised, "Carve out temporary autonomous zones where you have the space, and time, to practice what you believe, and talk about what you believe to relieve the stress." Simultaneous personal benefit and spreading the practice of making a better world.

It was easier to raise a gaggle of kids who were quiet about such things, so speaking up about anything political wasn't encouraged by the elders. But this isn't the legacy I want to leave my family. We didn't pray or sing with gratitude when we were growing up, though we worshiped party and food ritual of holiday celebrations. I have been looking for a way introduce some piece of what I have been doing in developing my own spiritual practice, likely song or flute to help connect my family to each other and the earth. I even had a charm made at the conference that embodies a reuniting and nurturing of our family. But I want to meet them where they are, and heaven forbid not chase off this year's guest. So low and behold . . .

. . . the most recent happening is my newly ignited relationship with Zappos. I am a fan of this culture-rich company and its CEO Tony Hseih. I am now a customer and as a result I get linked to all of the crazy, lovely, heartfelt things they do. Tonight in my inbox is an email from Zappos that contains a link to Seth Grodin's Thanksgiving Reader. It is intended as a worldwide, somewhat simultaneous reading of words that reinforce our connectedness. I cannot wait.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Theory and practice

"We can talk about intensity, or we can experience intensity," reasoned our Shaman. We must've looked lost. He went on to explain, but when we persisted in puzzlement he asked us to stand in a circle. He began a series of easy foot moves, accompanied by his wooden whistle. We followed his lead.You could feel the energy rise from our post-lunch malaise. He played and we danced, movements that included a stomping of sorts on the dirt ground. When we finished he asked, "what is more valuable, talking about intensity or experiencing intensity?" The question was rhetorical.

Worshiping Great Spirit and Pachamama requires us to become part of the Earth and Sky, measured by how closely we are in touch with the sacred soil under our feet beneath a canopy of stars. Worshiping our natural world requires us to get up close and personal, dirt under our nails, inhaling the dank smells of life. And death. We are more effective as agents on behalf of the Earth if we are soldiers whose muddy hands work the land. "Knowing" I need to act on her behalf is like me talking about intensity without feeling it. 

It's no accident upon return from our week inhaling the New Mexico desert we found ourselves in mud, digging out blackberry root octopus with a pitchfork and making sure to cover exposed skin before diving for nettles. We are restoring habitat. To return some of the care Pachamama has given us in a lifetime. To support a beaver family with habitat and year-round water supply. To provide a viewpoint for beaver watchers from our deck (including the neighborhood kids who have learned a bunch). To connect myself closely with my source of life, and every other gardener who's worked the ground and breathed the air I breathe.

Spiritual connection is not an arm chair sport. Connection was meant to be made outside, in the arms of our mother, as one of many living creatures large and small, close and far. I know that in a way I haven't in the past. Though I learned about being in the moment from Thomas Moore in Care of the Soul and I knew how to use my senses in the dirt. I just didn't understand or truly feel the connection when I was digging. Maybe it's because I've added song and prayer I can feel the pulse of the Earth when my hands are in the dirt, especially when it's wet.

You might hear me from the street, deep in the green way below, "Pachamama, Pachamama, Pachamama, Madre Tiera" or "Ancient Mother I hear you calling, Ancient Mother I hear your song. Ancient Mother I hear your laughter. Ancient Mother I taste your tears." It feels respectful to sing the melancholy. Being the die hard optimist, though, I can't help follow with songs of joy. Either way, I feel part of the Earth when I dig now. And when I feel part of the Earth, I am connecting to Great Spirit like those before me.

Friday, October 16, 2015

The choice between personal and natural intelligence

A piece of cultivating spiritual practice is learning to exhibit natural intelligence over personal intelligence. Personal intelligence comes from a single source (our truth), a single point of view that at its best carries a limited amount of knowledge and experience. Natural intelligence, on the other hand, is the amalgamation of personal/earth/sky/plant/ancestor wisdom. Our practice can aspire to act in every moment with the right state of mind--representing the wider natural intelligence.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Tapping into the bright light inside

"I invite you to come to your mat," calls teacher Jo from the front of the studio over her garage.The five of us settle in cross-legged on yoga mats facing her. 

"Now find that bright light down deep inside that is loving and forgiving, the place where you are your best self. This is the place we begin our practice," It makes me tear up every time she calls me to sit in this way-- three years or so. This yoga matches my style, relaxed, taught alternately by Jo and Steve. We do yoga to music here, a unique practice in itself.

"Breathe to recognize your connection to all things around you," and set an intention focused on your joy or well-being." Coming back to my mat--after an injury and an odd schedule that made regular attendance exhausting--exceeds my expectations. 

Because my body is out of practice, each move is a welcome scratch to its itch for exercise. Each muscle I release reconstructs my well-being, a small patch at a time. Today yoga is spiritual practice.  In my internal monologue I say thanks for being able to bend and stretch my now perspiring body. I take off my sweatshirt. As the chatter continues I think "this is double coupons--exercise for body to mind and body to spirit!"


On my way home my mind wanders to herbalist Kevin when he told me of his past where he was an admirable yogi, meditator, mindfulness practitioner in his back-to-back classes and study groups. One day he realized that none of it made a difference unless he was able to apply the skills in every action, in every moment.


After lunch, right before the rain, I take my bright spot with me outdoors to work on behalf of Pachamama and Great Spirit. It is part of my reciprocity agreement (give as much as I take, take only as much as I need). With a group of neighbors we are restoring a wetland area behind our house to sustain a family of beavers, and the astounding results of their industriousness--including a resident hummingbird, and visits by such stars as a golden eagle and a flitting band of cedar waxwing. Here I free a small patch of native ferns from a tousle of acrid smelling nettles with gangling roots easily peeled from the dank topsoil. I reconstruct universal well-being, a small patch at a time. Today recreation is spiritual practice. I sing, "I listen to the birds, I hear them sing. I hear them sing. The birds are my sisters, the birds are my brothers. We sing together and we sing to each other . . . " A quiet sky returns song in a myriad of voices, first the clacks of a raven, then a robin and a flicker call back-to-back, followed by a chickadee, then a nervous bunch of bush tits.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

To be open

As I lay in the tent, my husband ready to sleep in the mummy bag alongside, I ran the tapes of our first day back on the desert. Our shaman led us in a bit of review, and nostalgia. We came this time hoping to connect more deeply with Pachamama and Original Wisdom. For me an intention to be open. When I chuckled my sweetie asked why. "I want to be open," I said . . .  "if I only knew what that means," I laughed out loud. He chuckled at first and then joined me in the belly laugh that encircled our rain fly and evaporated upward into the starry desert sky.

Trying to Open
beyond the reach of the brain

Finger’s taste of Woolly Bear
without insistence on a name . . .
more than fuzz, less than bristle,
delicate costumed ball.

Nostrils filled with basil or sage,
annexed as if by magic
to a distant time and place.

Taste buds depolarized by dusty rock, 
as if saliva is the only remedy 
for such indulgence.

Ears lulled in the moment
where soundlessness 
meets the crashing chorus of crows.

Eyes struck by the glowing edge of a
v-shaped gaggle of geese
synchronized with the appearance of the sun.

A knowing the compost is tired of onions,

longs for peaches and pears.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

A Pachamama state of mind

"The most important thing is state of mind," said the Shaman to open our week long study. "Concepts are second to right state of mind. People are capable of thinking up lots of exciting concepts. But nothing you accomplish should be at the expense of the people who go after you or the land, air or water they need to survive."

State of mind includes the collaboration of mind, heart, body and spirit, input from the ancients, spiked with the perspective of our great-grandchildren. Sometimes it's what we do that is most important, sometimes it's what we don't do that has the most effect. 

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Opening to mystery and possibility

Wade Davis speaks about the magic in diversity of thought and practice in this Ted Talk video. What he says speaks to my heart, like a kindred spirit, willing to step outside of a Western practice to explore possibilities more connected to the sacredness of the Earth than its conquest.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Prayer connects Earth and Sky

Original wisdom teaches prayer and ritual connect Earth and Sky, and doing so keeps us in contact with the great intelligence offered by a physical Earth backed by a universe filled with spirits and ancestors, visions and dreams. Our unique role as humans is to relay messages to and from Earth. Original wisdom assumes gratitude for the gifts from the Earth as part of ritual. I view this as prayer, but I have heard Native Americans insist that gratitude is gratitude and not prayer. Original wisdom assumes consulting with ancestors and spirit guides for help with decision making. Original wisdom waits a patient 4 days.

I woke up the first morning in the New Mexico desert with these words:

See what is unseen
Hear what is unheard
Feel what is unfelt
Smell what is unsmelled (sic)
Taste what is untasted.

In hindsight these words speak of my hunger for connection and understanding, my version of consulting with ancestors and spirit guides. I hadn't yet learned about beginning with gratitude. But i
t gave me a place to start. I practiced them every time a situation called for prayer. I still do. They feel comforting now, and remind me to tune in to what is in front of me, not the random and often busy thoughts in my brain. 

It was very soon after that a Raven started doing low flyovers while I attended my altar, often pausing with a squawk above my head--one time with a cracker in its mouth.

I gave thanks and promised to be open to messages, no matter who delivered them.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Song as prayer

There were signs.

I should have known that waking up most mornings for an entire lifetime with a song in my head was some sort of sign. I should have known that when I attended my first earth-centered spirituality information course in the fall two years ago that the most impactful exercise in the half-day workshop I attended in Portland's Hoyt Arboreteum was when I sang in a round ("beauty up above you, beauty down below you, beauty all around you, beauty from within you"). I walked next to a strong baritone and every note spoke to me like a distant native language resurrected. But then I saw an example in front of me that led the way.

While attending a spiritual group one Friday evening, a slender young woman with China skin, enlivened Robin-egg-blue eyes and dreds sang a song on the agenda. It was a call to action song, "People of the earth tribe rise up, people of the earth tribe rise up now . . . " I knew in that instant I must sing. Rather than stand up against what I loathe I must speak up for what I love. I must sing.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Selecting your arrows

There was an Indian brave who, when warned to take his family and leave because of the danger of an impending storm, says no. Instead he takes up his arrows and shoots them at the big black cloud looming over his home while his family is tucked safely inside. The brave uses the arrows not to stop the storm, but to raise his vibration in order to communicate with The Great Spirit. Of course, using his arrows, he and his family are spared.

Our Shaman insists we all must know our arrows; those tools that, in our hands, raise the vibration it takes to contact Great Spirit and Pacha Mama. His are tobacco, sage and his rattle. Through the days that followed I watched this man beckon spirit using each and every one. I suspected right away that one of mine is sage. I love the smell, even the ritual of burning it while spreading the smoke to all parts of the group and each body, even over meals.

Our assignment--"go to your altar, raise the vibration so you can be heard, and figure out how you will save yourself first"--before you act on behalf of Pacha Mama.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Presence on the prairie

How long
since you tasted 
the sweet smell of prairie grass
at sunrise?
How long
since you dodged swallows protecting broods
sequestered under gables 
in mud feathered nests?
How long
since you paused to spy on a grasshopper 
sunbathing on a blade of smooth brom?
How long
since you slept on the ground,
laid still enough
to feel the beating of your Mother's heart?