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.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Listening to healing sirens from Mother Earth

I was the only aging suburbanite in the group of six urban dwellers, sitting on a pillow on the floor of the 2nd story, the woody smell of coffee infusing the space from the shop below. The rest were 20-somethings, engaged in banter with our teacher like they were old friends. I was the rookie in a collective who had come to study song and singing, how to lead others in song, and how to connect song to the Earth.

Our instructor was a forty-something man who smelled of patchouli and sweat, his frizzy hair pulled back in a short ponytail. His clothes were baggy, from the mountains of Peru. He was a delightful combination of mellow and enthusiastic, and quite inspiring leading his passion work. His talents were singing and mandalas and theater. Leading singing requires an ability to interact with the audience he reminded us. One of my favorite visitors in this year-long “certification” (which disbanded after 5 months) was a caucasian singer of Indian music with her odd notes and inspiring practice—a day I learned more about my voice and what it can do than in all the rest of my life. During our 3rd weekend together one of the women asked the group, “Do you have plant? Like, are there plants that connect with you in a way other plants don’t?” She looked around the room at us.

I listened to answers from others, hoping to discover the reason she'd asked. Others mentioned basil, lavender and rose. “I might have a thing for frankincense," I hesitated. "But I’ve never seen a plant. Is that the same thing?” 

“Yes, frankincense is a plant, I think in botanicals it is considered magical,” said another student.

“Hmm,” I responded, then ventured off in my mind to the Episcopal church on 13th and Pearl in Eugene, where I was baptized and confirmed to support my husband at the time who decided he wanted to seek a career in the priesthood. The pastor and his assistant were adored. I learned the lessons, passed the test and in the meantime fell in love with the “high” church I found there. My favorite services were Sunday evening gatherings, most often filled with a plainsong choir and what we called “smells and bells.” The priest, wearing a white satin cape and skull cap, would stride the center aisle around the narthex shaking a brass thurible filled with burning frankincense, leaving a stream of smoke that dispersed and hung in the air long after the pass. I scrambled to attend smells and bells as often as I could.

On the other hand I never really liked nor burned incense at home because most of it made me sneeze, or nauseous. When I moved and left the church I left behind my craving for frankincense.

Fast forward to the past year when I was introduced to botanicals by a student-turned-friend who sells oils and other health care products by doTerra. Of course the first time I looked through the catalog and saw I could order frankincense to slather on me any time, I was ecstatic. It is not cheap, but opening the small brown bottle for the first time made me know I will never be without it again. Since then I have learned a lot about oils. I read about and practice with them, and attend informational gatherings when I can. Most of what I have learned thus far have been remedies, for allergies and for preventing seasonal flu.

Last month, however, I ordered a botanical oils book that to my surprise arrived with a CD. Luckily the CD had exercises that forced my more systematic route through the material, rather than my normal pick-and-choose-method. The narrative spoke an unwavering belief in the connection between mind and body and the healing power of nature’s own medicine—plants. On the CD the narrator talks about the oils we are attracted to, their properties and an inevitability that healing properties of our favorite oils match our long-seated emotional needs. The first activity asked me to pick 3 favorite oils, read about them (in the accompanying book) make a plan to use them for 30 days, and journal about the experience.

I couldn’t wait to test the theory so I searched and found the page on frankincense that summarized its uses. What I read sealed my belief about the healing power of plants. As it turns out frankincense supports a body to create a healthy attachment with one’s father (his death when I was 5 left behind unresolved grief). It helps an individual feel the fatherly love of the Divine (curious my draw to the church and God and the fragrance all wrapped in one experience). When one has felt abandoned or forgotten, frankincense reminds us that we are loved and protected. While this oil is incredibly powerful, it is also gentle, like a loving father who nurtures, guides, and protects (a healing tonic for a kid who often ran home from school crying after school mates taunted me for not having a dad). 

Heal thyself, with the therapeutic sirens calling from Mother Earth. Do you have a plant?

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Following the call

I cannot resist a call on the wind from Camp Creek Canyon, urging me to bring my gear.

I squish along on curious boots, tripod balanced on my right shoulder, Nikon and extra lenses strapped in a pack on my back. The hot dusty smell I remember from my visit a year earlier is replaced with a damp perfume of penstemon and lupine, lush with unseasonable rain on this sacred ground once home to the Nez Pearce. Out here on the Zumwalt Prairie, where scientists count and plant and monitor, there are mysteries that cannot be explained.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Why coyote sings

We are created by the song of the Universe, we are created by sound--
words to a lovely Singing Alive song, and an alternative way to consider why coyote sings to the moon.

If coyote was born to sing to the Universe, 
a message about Prairie's reach
It's easy to value each yip and yap 
all background howls,
each bark and witchy screech.

Each voice of course tells the story beyond 
what constrains a science lens.
A canine-perfect cacophony of sorts 
so the Universe understands.

First verse over, it's time to pause
so coyote keeps quite still.
Dialogue with one's maker requires
a polite reciprocal trill.

It takes time to receive the messages, 
found in purposeful songs without words . . .
more time to receive spirit wisdom 
on frequencies meant to be heard.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

A language for all

Instead of expecting others to speak their difficult languages tribes like the Paiute, Pawnee and Iroquois--our ancestors--created "rock art" using universal symbols to communicate with each other; the road signs or computer icons of today. These symbols expressed meaning but were not meant to be spoken. Using a few simple figures they were able to convey complicated concepts like the past and spiritual connection. 

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Find out more about visitors that cross your path

The name “Nighthawk” is a bit of a misnomer because the bird is neither strictly nocturnal--it's active at both dawn and dusk—nor closely related to hawks. While this picture of a docile Nighthawk contrasts with the behavior it's known for, the image of this insect-eating, owl-like bird resting on the deck railing at dawn was easier to catch than its characteristic whooshing and booming at dark near the prairie floor. 


Last summer I had the privilege of joining an amazing writing community--17 including kitchen staff, biologist and writing guru and followers--for an annual conference event called Fishtrap. Our distinction as a group was in being the ones courageous enough to travel outside of Joseph, Oregon to the Outpost on Nature Conservancy property called the Zumwalt Prairie. Others camp and write in the state park in town.  We came together daily to be challenged and encouraged, t
o experience the prairie and to write about it, hear others' work and read aloud our own. It is on the prairie I saw my first Nighthawk--a small owl-like bird known for its twice-daily feeding ritual of flight and sound and astounding aerodynamics.

I was a couple of years into my own exploration of native wisdom and had just returned from my second year at an intentional community in New Mexico where I spent a week with a Peruvian-born, Lakota-trained shaman who taught us about the meaning of animals intersecting our lives--in dreams and real life. There is the science of how and why Nighthawks fly--mating, protecting the nest, warding off intruders, and there's a more spiritual message. 

It took a few days on the prairie for one of the writers-in-residence to admit that since arriving her nights were spent lingering in the swooshing and diving of the Nighthawks around her tent. As a city dweller all she had were the bats rhythmic hunt to mimic what she experienced on the prairie. Nighthawks are often mistaken for bats; they fly at tree level but then they dive making a whooshing sound, gobbling insects in their large mouths on their descent, able to pull out of a dive at the last minute causing an unexpected, unexplainable boom.

The Nighthawk conversation took place with most of the residents at the picnic table after dinner on an evening late in the week. I listened to the group debate the nature of the bird's motives, but no one ever wondered if on the Zumwalt, where the stars are bright, the frequency might be just right to receive messages from Spirit through the appearance of the Nighthawk. If you doubt such a thing, check out what one spiritual writer says about the connection between creatives and the message of the Nighthawk. I was flabbergasted a group of creatives hadn't even considered something more than science to explain the phenomenon. 

In retrospect, it is likely the poor bird was trying to keep our tents and wanderings from destroying its home, which was likely on the ground nearby. However I am not opposed to taking other signs, especially when I pray for guidance in how I deal with predictable rough spots in my life. My ancestors would have made a prayerful request for guidance, and then waited patiently to hear the answers (through dreams and encounters with other relations that crossed their path). I'm not opposed to taking in the message a Nighthawk might bring as a sign my prayers are being heard, and confirmation that I am fine.

Fun factoids about Nighthawks:

  • Fossils of Nighthawks, up to about 400,000 years old, have been unearthed between Virginia and California and from Wyoming to Texas.
  • Migrating Nighthawks have been recorded as far away as Iceland, Greenland, the Azores, the Faroe Islands, and multiple times on the British Isles, thousands of miles from their nesting sites.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Man vs. Earth

Prince Ea's work on behalf of Pacha Mama and Father Sky is hip, smart and worth passing on-- Man vs. Earth. I think I'll go out and sing to the birds, and make a place for some creatures.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Music from my spiritual perch

It started one dusk-saturated evening last summer, after the dinner dishes had been washed and put away. We were rocking gently in metal chairs on the cantilever deck 30+ feet above the dense, echoey greenway behind our house. The same greenway we are restoring to support the beaver family that spends its springs and summers here. It's been a labor of love for some time now.

Thirty-two goats had been munching their way through an acre or so of wetland invasives, mostly blackberries, grass and nettles, across four neighbors' backyards. The goats were there to clear the land before we could plant the three dozen willows gifted us by a local nursery. They marched single file down our driveway and through our yard because it has the easiest access, and because we are up on stilts there is a large open space perfect for night time shelter. By this time the peaceful little darlings had been working long enough to eat their way south into Terry's and Becky's property, returning under our house to bed down.

One night I got inspired to grab my wooden flute (the G seemed good accompaniment to the shrill sounds of crickets and deep sound of frogs). While I worked my way through my beginner song list the goats returned. Some went to bed, some stood watching me play until I was done and then they too went to bed. We all seemed to love the ritual for their entire 2-week stay. I missed them for weeks afterward.

Since then I play the flute and sing when the urge strikes while I am gardening in the newly established flower beds (mostly keeping up with returning invasives). I know part of learning how to interact with Mother Earth is to be quite and listen. I also figure part of learning how to interact with Mother Earth is to learn how to express appreciation for all my blessings (there are so many). I sing and play my gratitude. Gratitude is at the center of native wisdom. It feels good to practice like my ancestors. It makes me feel connected to something greater.

The days and nights are getting warmer, not quite warm enough to dine on the deck yet, but my urge to sing has grown like the intense green spilling out of the greenway. I can feel it "call me." I'm compelled to go out on the deck, so I do. On the way out I'm compelled to grab my flute, so I do. I'm compelled to play my short song list, and often sing a song or two. I've memorized a couple dozen earth-connected songs I sing as they pop in my head. The urge usually lasts less than 10 minutes and when I'm finished singing and playing I feel light and nourished. Like skunk cabbage and horsetails thrive in the wetland muck below.

Perhaps the best part of the story is that because the beavers have changed the ecology we now host an annual duck pair in the creek. They fly in and out of the area while raising their young, but began about a week ago showing up in time to hear me play and sing, a ritual I have adjusted to precede dinner. It sets me up to eat in a more grateful and thoughtful way, and it seems to make the ducks happy.

So here's one of the songs I was inspired to sing last night:

Wonder of it All

Singing offers double coupons (double coupons means getting double or triple benefit out of one activity):

The health benefits of singing

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Inviting Mother to dinner

Mother’s fecund perfume arrives on cool air 
through screened windows above the sink.
The open latch invites intimacy with source and destiny, 
arrives with grace and, somehow hope,
under dusk’s blanket.

The kitchen fills with syncopated croaking,
as if agreed to the night before;
one, then two, then a dozen rasping versions,
and then silence because the neighbor’s black cat 
skulks through the greenway,
up to no good as far as the frogs can tell.

Robin neighbors chirp in starts and stops 
hopping through the duff, poking for the day’s final catch
while I chop celery, rinse mushrooms
prepare Mother’s bounty for our grateful table.

I pause a moment and wonder 
if I listen well enough will I be able to hear 
nesting crows pull moss from branches on the maple tree.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Gifting as spiritual practice

First wisdom (and the reciprocity it assumes) includes gifting, especially gifting things you love. It's not enough to gift things you have no use for. In native culture the gifts received  aren't regarded as having come from individuals but rather from the Creator of all things. It is to the Creator, the Great Mystery that thanks should be given, not to any human being. We say “Please” to each other and “Thank You” to whatever name we have in our many languages for the Great Mystery, the Creator. This may help ensure that those who give do so with humility, with an awareness of the sacred nature of all gifts. The giver does not call attention to himself or herself, but to the spiritual power behind it all. Thus both giving and receiving remain sacred.

Late in the fall I rescued crowded deck pots by transplanting overgrown violets inside to the path along stacked basalt that leads down into the greenway we are restoring for our beaver neighbors. The violets were a gift from Margie, my mom. She died two years ago at the age of 92, eight years unto Alzheimers. Until the last 3 years or so Margie couldn't help herself but bring gifts, every time she visited. Gifts often came from her prized outdoor possessions, mossy rocks, ferns, her coveted bulbs and cuttings. I dutifully found a home for most things (although many did not thrive on my shaded property), many found their way into decks pots that were more accessible than the acreage below our hillside home on stilts. The fern- dotted igneous rock she insisted on leaving lines the path to our front porch, and continues to multiply each year until now and the house is surrounded by Margie's deciduous ferns.

My trek out into the Sunday morning rain revealed that not only did the violets survive in their new home, but there are thriving, with tiny buds and all. Margie's gift outlives her. A woman who spent her non-working hours planting and tending to a corner lot, knowingly or not, gave the things she loved and they now surround my home each year. They are here to remind me of Margie and the gift of life, and add to the family lore. They are gifts to soothe our souls because they become a piece of our own story . Each spring in this small wildlife sanctuary I will watch and listen to the new sprouts tell Margie's story once again. 

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Grateful for all my brothers and sisters

I listen to the slugs, I hear them sing, I hear them sing.
I listen to the slugs, I hear them sing, I hear them sing.
The slugs are my sisters, the slugs are my brothers.
We sing together and we sing to each other.
I listen to the slugs, I hear them sing, I hear them sing.

Slugs break down organic matter, which is important for recycling nutrients like nitrogen through the food chain. They are a good source of protein for snakes, salamanders, toads, frogs, badgers, hedgehogs, moles, shrews, porcupines, foxes, raccoons, beetles and various birds, such as owls, robins, blackbirds, thrushes, starlings, seagulls, jays, ducks, geese, chickens and crows. 

Friday, January 8, 2016

Mitakuye Oyasin

Mitakuye Oyasin (Mutawkwey Ahsun) is a Lakota term that reflects a world view of interconnectedness. The phrase translates in English as "we are all related," or "all my relations." It is an expression of oneness and harmony with all forms of life: other people, animals, birds, insects, trees and plants, and even rocks, rivers, mountains and valleys. Beginnings, endings and all exclamation points in native rituals and ceremonies get a just-audible "Mitakuye Oyasin" from ceremony leaders and close followers. 

I understood this sentiment almost instantly . . . from an intellectual perspective it makes sense based on how life evolved on Earth. I get that we all breathe the same air over and over. But I did not really connect to Mitakuye Oyasin until I faced it straight up.

One Saturday night I was enjoying the house to myself, delighted by the thought of retiring early with a cup of tea and a good book ,when I failed to unplug my electric pot after pouring it almost dry, and hustled back to the kitchen under the duress of the beeping pot. In the dim-lit walk back down the hall and a quick left turn into the kitchen to douse the annoying beep I did not notice the opened dishwasher door a little more than a step to my left. My right shin banged into that open door sending me up, over and directly down on the strand-woven, steel-strong bamboo floor, mouth first. Bam. No time to use my hands. 

I lay there frozen, face down, unable to take back my carelessness.

All I could do was worry what I had broken or dislodged in my mouth. I could taste blood. I fished around with my tongue as best I could with lips smashed to the floor. I immediately knew I would have a fat lip, Other body contusions were a blur until later. The kitchen was dark and so was the floor in front of me. And I was alone. My husband was out of town. I didn't know if I was hurt bad enough that I needed to go to the ER. If so who I would call on a Saturday night? I felt violated. I tried to collect myself. And then I worried for a moment it was the beginning of a trend. 

“Just breathe.” The voice was clear.

I found a towel within reach from the bottom drawer and put it over my mouth, then another I wrapped around a cold pack I retrieved from the freezer. I carefully found my way back to my bed where I crumbled, ice pack resting gently on my burning mouth. I tried to find my breath again. By now I was pretty sure nothing was broken. My teeth were intact. The question about whether or not I should figure out how to get to the hospital cropped up again. I wondered what others do in situations like this. 

At once I was overwhelmed by a gulp of tears that fell hopeless and helpless—in a stomach wrenching sadness, the sorrow of the human spirit, all those who came before me to that loneliness. My heart ached for all of the them. I cried for all my relations.

The despair I felt that night transformed forever my allegiance to "Mitakuye Oyasin," and the meaning it has for me now in my prayers and words gratitude. I could muse forever though about the physical and emotional connection I was able to make with universal emotion, and the amount of humanity there is to be found in the intensity of the moment.