The work weeks passed in a blaze of productivity…but oh, the weekends. I had loads of overdue home and garden work, client work… no worries, I thought. I’d keep busy, call friends….
Little did I know…
Outside of the compulsive news-sharing, Facebook, of course, brought connection….lively connections with activists and news junkies across the nation and around the world. Many of us had never exchanged email addresses or phone numbers, because – why should we? We were in near-daily connection in FB-land or Messenger!
Until…..my contact list was just as inaccessible as the rest of my FB account. And I had simply vanished from their world without announcement or farewell.
Kind friends shared my news of deactivation with their overlapping friends lists. A couple of friends emailed in response. But that was all…and I realized with a jolt of humility that between the water-cooler convenience of Facebook, and our fast-rushing news stream, my Facebook friends may not have even noticed my absence. Even if they had, the velocity of the news feed and the busyness of their lives probably prevented their reaching out specially to a nonparticipant. I had become a rogue, a renegade. An outsider.
How I choose to pursue connections, what they will look like henceforth, is entirely up to me. And it is entirely probable that hundreds of Facebook connections might simply be lost.
That was when grief and loss finally broke through the energy that had carried me through the work weeks: at the thought that deep, profound friendships may have just vanished with my disappearance from the platform.
There is one group in particular – a group made up of poets and priestesses and psychologists, scientists, storytellers and mystics…we called ourselves a tribe. Early this year (2021), a dearly-beloved member, a storyteller, photographer, master gardener, potter, and force of nature in the form of a woman, who had become part of all of our off-Facebook lives in her travels, was diagnosed with an aggressive, inoperable cancer and entered her decline only a few months later. A group member went to stay with her as she prepared to move into hospice; a week later we all gathered on Facebook Live to hold vigil with her as she lay comatose, the end approaching. We sang to her, read poetry to her, prayed with her, told stories of our friendships with her…cried and were held by the circle in our shared love and grief. The Live session lasted, I think, more than two hours.
Bonnie Ann died in her sleep the next day.
Some time later, her brother sent me a bowl that she had made, a form so organic that it seems to have grown directly from the earth. It sits as an offering bowl on my altar in her memory.
Connections like those are the ones that matter on Facebook. Connections like those are the ones I can’t let go. And because the Tribe group on Facebook was, for most of us, our only point of contact, these contacts are lost to me now.
That needs to change. So…I’m going to jump through the reactivation hoops just to check in with the groups I loved, let them know I’m leaving and make plans with them to stay in touch….then download my contacts and data, delete my account, and leave.
Make it a proper leavetaking, not an involuntary banishment. Do it with honor and love, not AI aspersions and reactivity.
First, on October 3, there were the verification requests. I’d just closed a tab, why did I have to login again? Sigh. Enter username, password – why was I having to verify again, and again?! WordPress, Facebook, three other sites – what on earth –???
I didn’t realize until later that night that my new browser was set by default to private sessions – close the tab, you’re logged out. And until Facebook suddenly pulled the plug and locked my account, I had no idea that the big blue F would see my browser’s annoying behavior as highly suspect.
Next thing I knew – just before Facebook’s own world crashed – my account was deactivated. But when 2.8 billion people around the world breathed a sigh of relief as they recovered their pages and data – I was breathing a sigh of relief because – through no effort of my own – my FB addiction was broken, cold-turkey.
No more doomscrolling. No more reflexive clickshares. No mo’ FOMO. Sure, I could show government-issued IDs to reclaim my page (really?!) — but why? For the first time in years I was breathing deeply, fully present. The itch was there to share articles I read, sure – but I couldn’t. And amazingly, with that impossibility, the itch quickly faded.
I haven’t had such a productive week since…I don’t know when.
Facebook for me had been a place for connection with friends, sure, but also a soap box: I loaded my page with shares of news stories and political analyses from NYT, WaPo, LATimes, SFGate, BBC, Reuters, etc.; well-documented environmental memes; statistic-laced calls to mask and vaccinate; ecospiritual blog posts, petitions…..I was proud of my feed; I curated it like a minor newspaper, with a minimum of personal posting. And friends praised the breadth and depth of information I shared; I felt I was offering a service of worth. And those who told me I was too political, too vocal, please sit down and post pictures of food and cats like polite people? They were always welcome to unfollow, I told them.
Meanwhile I met the end of each day exhausted and increasingly depressed and anxious from the immersion in news packed into mealtimes and coffee/water breaks. Distracted and nervy from scrolling my newsfeed, I rarely engaged in personal conversations except in FB self-help groups, adamantly skimmed past the newsfeed flamewars, but who could not see (or unsee) them?
There were the acquaintances passionately posting egregious COVID misinformation, the GOP family member’s laughing emoji at a heart-wrenching news article about refugees…the…..ouch. Ouch. Ouch. I rarely responded…on the occasions when I did, it was usually with one clinical blast of (hopefully) inarguable data and corroborating series of impeccable links, then usually unfollowing the post and turning off notifications. The goal was to educate, not debate.
Even so, toward the end I was checking in on my feed feeling like I was on speed – not in a good way: muscles tensed, heart racing – how could I process this, how could I share responsible, good information that put outrages in a clear and truthful light? Because, surely, it must be communicated, people must be informed!! How else could change occur?
Like the girl in the fairy tale, my feet were locked into the dancing red shoes – I couldn’t stop, couldn’t help myself….until, by the grace of the Goddess, Facebook lowered the boom thanks to my wonky browser.
And suddenly – PEACE. FREEDOM. PRESENCE. FOCUS. Suddenly, I could think – could hear myself think. Could carry on a train of thought, undistracted. My depression and anxiety vanished, creativity came flooding back. I was free of the Facebook trance.
I’d forgotten it was possible to feel so good, so peaceful! Yes, I’m aware that the world is in dire straits; my professional work is focused on promoting educators working for positive change. But I’m not swimming continually in fear, outrage and catastrophe; I am intentionally creating a base of simplicity and serenity in my home, from which I can deal with what must be faced.
Next? Find a way to connect and communicate outside of FB.
I’ve been journaling the journey offline this week, so there will be a couple of back-dated posts until I catch up. I’m hoping that this chronicle will inspire others to take the leap…and rediscover their sanity outside of the FB trance.
At two-twenty one morning, after a week of horrific news from Standing Rock, Washington, Aleppo, ecosystems of the world, I was numbly clicking through Facebook posts so I didn’t have to go to bed, lie there staring at the ceiling, and possibly get waylaid by the despair that had been building in me since….I’m not sure when, probably since the brutal attacks started at Standing Rock.
The Facebook post wrote itself…and touched off a flood of support, empathy, and wisdom: 104 “likes,” 64 comments (some long-extended comments spanning hours or days) and one share…not to mention the personal connections made and deepened off the thread. Six days later, the “likes” and responses continue. I am astounded..at no time have I ever been so raw in my FB sharing; nor have any of my posts touched such a chord. Never have I been gifted with such solidarity, support and wisdom. I am awed, humbled, and deeply grateful for so many soul-connections, unknown until now.
As friends have been posting their own struggles with depression and despair since then, I’ve been tagging them on the post, so they could share in the wealth of solidarity…and finally realized that it would make far more sense to copy the post and comments (with their makers’ permission) here.
Let it stand as a testament to human connection in a time of growing isolation, a demonstration that even when we humans feel most alone, most direly isolated, we are not alone; others are sharing the struggle, suffering with us. We are all truly connected in this world, we all do share in the sufferings and delights of others at profound levels, whether we realize it or not.
I have (for obvious) reasons, posted only a select few of the comments; for each one here, there were many variations on “You’re not alone,” “I hear you,” “I’m struggling too” and “Standing with you,” many punctuated by heart icons. What a blessed festival of love.
Phila Hoopes December 14 at 2:22am ·
This has to stop. I am lying here on my sofa at 2:20 a.m., clinging to our sharing, our grieving here, each share a bearing-witness, each click a prayer. Dry-eyed, choked silent, feeling the knot of world-pain growing in my chest, in my throat: Aleppo, Standing Rock, Washington, the rainforests, the oceans, the…….all of it. Too much to begin to comprehend, too much to bear…and yet as a human with a heart I cannot shut it down and go to sleep; I cannot stop this vigil of solitary grieving, this silent, ongoing scream of desperate, directionless prayer that does nothing practical (or does it?).
This is the worst time, when the phone is running out of power and bed is beckoning my body, but I cannot think of letting go even this tenuous FB thread of connection to people who together are suffering the connection to the world’s pain and fighting the causes in such wee-hours ways as we can – a petition here, a letter there, a donation somewhere else, prayers and Reiki ongoing – does it make any difference at all? The demons set loose on the world would have us believe it does not – meanwhile trying to keep up the energy to do our own work of service for the world.
This is the time when I wish for a sweatlodge to wring the salt water and pain from pores and eyes while surrounded by others similarly releasing. To hear prayers from others echoing my own. To know that somewhere, somehow, this giveaway of heart makes a butterfly-flap of difference, shifts the balance even the tiniest fraction of a millimeter toward the light.
Comments Sucely Lucifera Hernandez<3It does. The Moon bears witness to our pain at the same time as she sheds light on it.
Casey van BronkhorstYou are far from alone. Let the thread of connection act as a very slow recharge cable, linking you back to us all with the faintest and most delicate of energies. You are heard. You are, softly, appreciated. Rest if you can; sleep if you must, but savor the hidden strength of that cable. …Run with us, if you’re too tired to stand. We pace in the earliest hours. We listen, though our ears are too weary to accept silence.…Grief is a needle and thread that stitches you back together after a phenomenal loss. Occasionally, as it does its work, it sticks you, catching you off guard. That’s part of its process, though, as each bit of pain is a healing moment but it may help keep your empathic talents in perspective at the moment when you feel like reaching out and grabbing someone’s pain from them.
Cate Raphael Send out that which you desire and turn it over. It’s so easy to get caught up in all of the drama and the emotion of it, it happens to me too. But then when I go into meditation and be very quiet and focused and send out what it is I wish to see in the world , I remember that it is all happening for a reason. The best thing we can do is to take care of our bodies and our spirits , so that we can raise the energy, raise the vibration in this crazy world filled with turmoil. You cannot control people places or things you can only send out the energy that you want to receive. That is how healing works. If you are unable to physically help then work on raising your own energy so you can help with the healing ! You are draining yourself, and that will not help anyone but it will hurt you.
Karen Starr So many of us are reeling at the state of the world at this moment. And it is hard to know where to focus and how to best be of use. Especially for empaths this is a very hard time indeed. However, I think we need to cultivate a calmness that allows us to move past the grief and outrage to find the wisdom to direct our action. So many beings are depending on us and we have more allies in the natural and spiritual world than we can possibly imagine. Each day, each hour there is only each of us doing our best to relieve some small part of the suffering around us as best we can. Sending you lots of love, Phila.
Christel Libiot I hear you sister and yes there is so much going on in the world, everywhere, at so many levels.. It seems the hope of “better” is so tenuous. And more than ever we need to show up and stand strong as the peaceful warriors that we are and come together to energize the emerging paradigm of Oneness and Right Relationship with All Our Relations, supporting a new establishment of a World that Works for Everyone. We have the power to do what is necessary. Let’s gather; let’s do it!
Sue A. Phillips I am there with you too. One day despair, the next day hope. I am working on standing in my loving warrior space – I get there for a little while, then I am overcome with a depth of sadness that has me running scared – retreating into my little one who can ignore reality for a while. I honor all sides of myself along this very difficult road. We must move out of FaceBook to the real world and start standing together- for support, yes, but more for the strength of our warriors standing in all of our collective glory to protect Mother Earth and our sisters and brothers . The hard part for me is how to start the process.
David Alan TynerPhila, your witness is heard, your sharing felt, your deep compassion appreciated, yet most significantly your hope is kindled and enfolded. We who are letting ourselves be sensitive to this often overwhelming life, must find some way not to be crushed by its weight and expanse. Thich Nhat Hanh has helped me take Andrew Boyd’s challenge to somehow find a solution and to become it, piece by peace.
….”The second aspect of true love is karuna, the intention and capacity to relieve and transform suffering and lighten sorrows. Karuna is usually translated as “compassion,” but that is not exactly correct. “Compassion” is composed of com (“together with”) and passion (“to suffer”). But we do not need to suffer to remove suffering from another person. Doctors, for instance, can relieve their patients’ suffering without experiencing the same disease in themselves. If we suffer too much, we may be crushed and unable to help. Still, until we find a better word, let us use “compassion” to translate karuna.” http://andrewboyd.com/the-agony-of-being-connected-to…/
….“Oh well, blankets for land is a bargain indeed, And the blankets were those Uncle Sam had collected From smallpox-diseased dying soldiers that day. And the tribes were wiped out and the history books censored”
~ Buffy Sainte-Marie
…. A close friend just mentioned obliquely who knew of Buffy Sainte-Marie, the lyricist for Donovan’s “Universal Soldier” ? And I burst into tears remembering her as the one who told my near empty younger slate of the story of blankets, that forever changed my life and perception of First People’s struggles, being beyond any misery I could ever imagine. Still trying … many decades later.
Carol Sheppard I understand and share in the mania of love, and worry, and needing to make even a flicker of a difference when all the forces seem to be saying that it is futile, with so many hands reaching toward fleeting connection and community that only faith says might make contact and matter. This is such a dark and difficult time and I pray to the spirits that somehow so much suffering may eased. Hard as it is we must hang on and do the work of loving fiercely and fully, especially when there is no evidence that it makes a difference. It is necessary to be the ones that do so, especially now. Sending you love and blessings ♡♡♡
Kerrith McKechnie I am with you. I think there are countless beings with us. We must be still so we can know our strengths and do what we must do. One tiny step at a time, but it IS a step, and we ARE together.
George Moore I’ve changed my prayer intention from putting an end to all of what is going on to allowing it all to ramp up to the point that finally tips the scale and creates worldwide peaceful resistance and economic revolution. By being peaceful resistors in the faces of militarized corporations, like the Water Protectors are doing, we can affect peaceful change. By not buying anything from the multi billion dollar corporations and buying locally from small businesses that only sell what is produced in your home country we peacefully cut the supply of green blood to the greed ridden billionaires and put them out of business. These actions will change the entire world. This is what I pray for, meditate on, and ask everyone to join me in.
Just a brief post tonight….and yes, there will be more about my visit to Standing Rock; after the horrific events of 10/27, I am still madly sharing the news I see to inform sympathetic friends.
But this thought: One of the most moving elements of my experience at Oceti Sakowin was the warmth of the welcome and the shared support of the men and women camped there. The elders at the drum circle would speak of the campers as family – “we are all relations here” – and it was common to hear groups addressed as “relatives” or “brothers” or “sisters” with the deepest authenticity.
In the deepest sense, yes, we were all there as members of the earthly tribe of living beings whose most critical and intimate connection is to water – water as sacred, water as life, water as ultimately endangered – and so we as humans (whatever our race, gender, nationality or creed), along with nonhumans of all descriptions, were intimately related. It was a bond of mutual support, respect, caring, and genuine tenderness.
As many times as I had heard the words Mitakuye Oyasin – All My Relations – I had never experienced it so deeply.
Coming home after that profound experience of community – family – was difficult; re-entering my solitary life was difficult. Reading of the events that followed my departure – the overwhelming, brutal force unleashed against the water protectors – has been devastating. Yes, I’ve been madly sharing article after article; the pain of reading and sharing has in some strange way been…not relieved, but distributed…among other caring hearts who add their prayers and energy to the immeasurable energetic support being sent to Standing Rock, and share the word in turn.
By joining the innumerable others who have connected to the heart-community of mni wiconi – water as sacred, water as life, water as endangered – in sharing its suffering and power with our circles of friends, and seeing them passionately spreading the felt connection to their circles of friends, we are helping to extend the family of Oceti Sakowin across the continent and the globe.
We are all, truly, related.
And now the meaning of the water-blessing ceremony begins to sink in: just as the water of life was poured into the sacred vessels, blessed, shared throughout the community, and borne to the river, where it rejoined the earth’s living waters with prayers, we who have visited Oceti Sakowin have become vessels of its message, carrying it in our hearts and sharing it with the world, and returning it to Source in our steadily multiplying prayers of support.
I remember Bea Jackson, the Ojibwe medicine woman who led and taught us the ritual, smiling and saying “It’s all part of the action.”
Reading the prevailing mainstream coverage of the horrifying events at Standing Rock on 10/27 and 11/2, as hundreds of police from multiple states massed in military vehicles and riot gear against the unarmed, praying water protectors, I have been simply appalled. While some reporters have represented the full situation (more or less), too many have been one-sided or biased in their coverage, weighting the words of corrupt officials beholden to the oil industry and diminishing the just claims of the people being victimized as they struggle to protect the water resources not only of their tribal lands, but of the nation’s heartland. Even cursory research would have turned up the truth that there is far more to the situation than is being represented.
Here is the backstory too many articles are not mentioning: the Dakota Access pipeline was originally slated to run close to the city of Bismarck, but potential risk to the city’s water sources (!) led the project engineers to re-route the pipeline’s path across the treaty lands of the Standing Rock Sioux Nation. Note the difference here: where water needs of the citizens of Bismarck were consulted, those of the Standing Rock Sioux Nation were not. They were presented with the pipeline plans as a fait accompli, as their treaty rights were blatantly disregarded in yet another disgraceful example of this country’s double-dealing with the sovereign nations within its borders. They have been fighting this pipeline route since 2014; the current direct action resistance is simply the latest tactic.
A common statement is “(protestors) are concerned that if the pipeline ruptures, an oil spill could pollute drinking water.” Again, this gives only part of the picture. The DAPL – which is being constructed by the same company responsible for the recent leak that contaminated the Susquehanna River in Lancaster, PA – would threaten not only the Missouri River (and ultimately the Mississippi) but also the Oglala Aquifer, the nation’s largest source of ancient fresh water, on which not only the Standing Rock Sioux Nation but millions of people, Native and non-Native, depend. According to water protector Debra White Plume, reservation water is mixed from the Missouri River and the Aquifer – which has already been compromised in places by corporate uranium mining in the Black Hills. If oil seeped with groundwater into the Oglala Aquifer, or contaminated the Missouri River, the effect would be catastrophic – and irreparable.
How likely is the pipe to leak? Take a look at this map of pipeline leaks over 5 years. In North Dakota alone, there have been 292 spills in just two years – only one of which was reported. “”Oil pipelines break, spill, and leak—it’s not a question of if, it’s a question of where and when,” as 13-year-old Standing Rock Sioux Anna Lee Rain YellowHammer said .
More than 200 indigenous nations from the U.S., Canada, Central America, South America, and Australia, have gathered to support the Standing Rock Nation, recognizing that this issue is one of global environmental justice as represented in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples – which the U.S. has endorsed.
One reporter mentioned that “earlier this month, the tribe lost an appeal in federal court, paving the way for construction on the $3.8 billion pipeline to continue.” Again, only part of the story, not mentioning that the Department of Justice, the Department of the Army and the Department of the Interior immediately responded to the court’s decision with a joint statement to “cease to authorize construction” on federally controlled land.. Quoting the statement:
“The Army will not authorize constructing the Dakota Access pipeline on Corps land bordering or under Lake Oahe until it can determine whether it will need to reconsider any of its previous decisions regarding the Lake Oahe site under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) or other federal laws. Therefore, construction of the pipeline on Army Corps land bordering or under Lake Oahe will not go forward at this time. The Army will move expeditiously to make this determination, as everyone involved — including the pipeline company and its workers — deserves a clear and timely resolution. In the interim, we request that the pipeline company voluntarily pause all construction activity within 20 miles east or west of Lake Oahe.” (http://www.ecowatch.com/dakota-access-pipeline-decision-2001895297.html)
Meanwhile, the Sheriff of Morton County, supported by Gov. Dalrymple and the mercenary security forces serving DAPL have been ramping up their mistreatment of the water protectors. Their actions qualify as torture under theU.S. Army Field Manual– using attack dogs hoods, strip searches (including repeated strip searches of underage girls); shooting unarmed elders and supporters with rubber bullets and chemical agents at point-blank range; leaving prisoners naked in their cells for prolonged periods, penned in dog cages on cold concrete…and more. Since when was this allowable in the U.S.?
Both theU.N. and Amnesty International have now sent delegations to observe the treatment being meted out by the so-called law-enforcement forces.
The water protectors are supported also by science, as CommonDreams.org notes: “Close to 100 scientists have signed onto a letter decrying “inadequate environmental and cultural impact assessments” for the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), and calling for a halt to construction until such tests have been carried out as requested by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.”
If journalists are going to cover this historic story, I would hope that they would do somewhat better than the current Fox News level of lazy and one-sided coverage skewed to propitiate the same oil corporations being served by the notably corrupt Gov. Dalrymple. The Sioux nations have been waging a peaceful, prayerful resistance for the sake not only of their own water but for that of the nation’s largest aquifer and heartland rivers (see a map of the Mississippi watershed, and the rivers veining the center of the U.S. here, stating time and again “Mni Wiconi” – Water is Life – and “You Cannot Drink Oil.” And for this, self-serving media outlets have been blindly accepting a corrupt government’s portrayal of them as criminals. This is utterly unacceptable. Even a cursory YouTube search will reveal the documented evidence of human rights abuses against prayerful, nonviolent resistance.
This is a watershed issue with implications for the world (as affirmed by the delegations of indigenous nations from Canada, Central and South America, Australia and Norway to Standing Rock): the need of living beings for water is being pitted against the crushing domination of Big Oil, with its devastating impact on ecosystems and the climate. Even insiders in the oil industry are admitting that this situation represents a “political debacle” for Big Oil.
This is a moral issue for the journalists of the world: the facts you choose, the quotes you use, by default support either DAPL’s script – supporting oil extraction and spills, climate change, poisoning of the water of millions, and criminalizing those who resist – or that of the people and ecosystems of the Mississippi watershed, and the global climate. The potential impact of the stories you publish is profound. On which side of history do you choose to land?
There is a time when human-interest stories of strong and gentle people preparing for winter in a remote resistance camp fade before a heart-stopping demonstration of raw communal courage, made in the face of overwhelming militarized force. A demonstration documented only on social media; the most important history of our time is being made far away from the mainstream news cameras.
That’s what happened yesterday. My accustomed middle-class routine was setting in; I’d intended to spend the day blogging about the amazing people I met at Standing Rock. But upon seeing a stark, terse warning in a NoDAPL group’s feed, I spent the day frantically scouring Facebook for the latest news, trying desperately to find out what was happening and get the news to someone – anyone – who could give it the mainstream media coverage it deserves.
Urgent. Tell frontlines on all channels. Confirmed: Around 50 police vehicles on the way to front lines with 5 trailers full of atvs.
30 police suvs
5-6 flare beds full of atvs (5 atvs per trailer)
4-5 unmarked suvs
4-5 Cop cars probably from various jurisdictions
5-6 sand colors humvees/mraps
Get get word to frontlines
Seen 45 miles east of bismarck around 10:45
So total 60 vehicles plus 30 atvs
Plus forensic van
It was another reminder – if reminders were needed – that Oceti Sakowin is not a rainbow social gathering, much as it seemed like one, with people of all races, genders, and creeds present and pitching in harmoniously. The camp is very genuinely a strong and oppressed nation’s last stand in defense of its land and water, its people and ultimately all peoples, human and otherwise, who occupy the watersheds of the continent’s great heartland rivers and Oglala aquifer.
There are still stories to tell about my stay at Oceti Sakowin, but I can’t think of them now. From what I have learned today, on the morning of Sunday, October 23, the water protectors set up a blockade on Rt. 1806 and reclaimed and reconsecrated the land ceded to them in the 1851 Fort Laramie treaty. According to their press statement:
“This frontline camp is located on the final three 3 miles of the proposed pipeline route, before it connects with the drill pad that will take the pipeline beneath the Missouri River. Active construction of the Dakota Access pipeline is 2 miles west of this frontline camp. Oceti Sakowin water protectors continue an on-going pledge to halt active construction as frequently as possible.
Mekasi Camp-Horinek, an Oceti Sakowin camp coordinator states, “Today, the Oceti Sakowin has enacted eminent domain on DAPL lands, claiming 1851 treaty rights. This is unceded land. Highway 1806 as of this point is blockaded. We will be occupying this land and staying here until this pipeline is permanently stopped. We need bodies and we need people who are trained in non-violent direct action. We are still staying non-violent and we are still staying peaceful.”
Joye Braun, Indigenous Environmental Network organizer states, “We have never ceded this land. If DAPL can go through and claim eminent domain on landowners and Native peoples on their own land, then we as sovereign nations can then declare eminent domain on our own aboriginal homeland. We are here to protect the burial sites here. Highway 1806 has become the no surrender line.”
They were met with a massive military force – armored vehicles, tanks, sound cannons – and a pro-DAPL sniper shot a video drone out of the sky to eliminate documentation of the event. Later that evening, Linda Black Elk, tribal coordinator of the Standing Rock Medic and Healer Council, told me that the state’s forces “have seriously lost their minds.”
That is as much as I know at this time. I have seen no new news so far today.
There were warnings even before I left that something was in the works. The police patrols on Rt. 1806 past the camp and in the air were increasing in frequency. People coming into camp reported seeing police and military vehicles massing at points alongside the highway. At the communal tables in the dining tent, front-line activists spoke of seeing others arrested, passing time with Amy Goodman (who had stopped briefly at Oceti Sakowin before proceeding to her hearing for alleged rioting while doing her job as a journalist, recording dogs set on unarmed water protectors a month before; the rioting charge was ultimately thrown out in court). The consensus: the Bill of Rights was being shredded, with freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, and freedom of the press in tatters. And when would Obama step in?
It was hard leaving the friends I’d made; all of us were aware that anything might happen in the coming days or weeks. The National Guard at the “information stop” on Rt. 1806 waved me through with barely a glance; I learned later that the checkpoint was shut down the next day. Because communications are jammed and mainstream media, by and large, are studiously ignoring the history being made there, getting news of events as they happen is next to impossible.
And so I connect by social media with other Standing Rock supporters across the nation, make prayers, and reach out to all the media folk I know.
May justice and peace prevail. May justice and peace prevail.
On Saturday, October 15, everyone in the camp met for Pipe ceremony preceding a direct action at the pipeline construction site. This account is based on my memory; no notes were taken. I’ve made every effort to remain faithful to the messages conveyed, but these are paraphrases, not direct quotes.
The call came while the eastern sky was still dark: Wake up, water protectors! Wake up, water warriors! Hoka hey – it’s time to get up! We have been sleeping for more than 500 years. This is the time to stand up and protect our land for coming generations! We are the seventh generation, this is the seventh fire, now is the time for us to stand up at Standing Rock! They want to portray us as savages – it is time to show them that we are protecting the water and land not only for our people but for all people and for all of life. The world is looking at you! It’s time to get up and remember that!”
Lakota Elder Guy Dull Knife of Pine Ridge, SD, was rousing the people for Pipe ceremony at the South Gate, riding through the camp with microphone in hand, his voice resounding in the still, cold air. Wondering how to find the South Gate – perhaps follow the drums that were now echoing some distance away? – I rolled out of my sleeping bag, hastily changed clothes and maneuvered out of my tiny tent with flashlight in hand. Fortunately I encountered one of the women I’d met in the kitchen earlier, and together we followed the rutted dirt roads through the camp – how far? Half a mile? More? – to a fire beside one of the gated driveways opening onto Rt. 1806. Shadowy forms of people circled the fire; several elders were sitting beside it. There was no other sign of activity; the summoning voice was still distant.
This Pipe ceremony for the entire camp was to precede a triple action at the pipeline construction site – that was all I knew. We waited in chilly silence until the voice and sound of drums grew louder, and two trucks approached: Guy Dull Knife as ceremonial leader and his assistants. Sage was sent around to smudge the people as the singers honored the four directions, the Great Mystery, and Mother Earth; Pipe carriers were called to the center to prepare their ceremonial pipes as the canupa-filling song was sung. And as the Pipes were taken around the circle for the hundreds of people, Dull Knife spoke of the sacred intent and protocol of the action that was about to take place.
This was an action of prayer and love, he reminded the people: we were in ceremony and should act accordingly, with dignity and restraint; the water protectors must stay in prayer. He understood that the young men, seeing the abuses of the police and DAPL mercenaries, could get angry, but this was a place to keep emotions in check, to hold oneself accountable to the people. If a water warrior did get angry and begin to swear and act out, a security person from the people would step in to stop him, and that would reflect badly, that the people were not in unity and prayer. The eyes of the world were on the water protectors, people from all over the world, even movie stars, were coming to stand and be arrested with them.
I could hear a wry smile in Dull Knife’s booming voice: are there any movie stars here? Come and stand with us!
His tone shifted: He knew that there were spies for DAPL and the police and the feds among us. He invited them to come along and see that the water protectors were not savages, but that they were protecting the water that the families and children of the police and DAPL also needed to drink. We cannot drink oil, the water must be protected, the water is life! In fact, he invited them to come and stand with the water protectors, be arrested alongside them!
The Pipes were coming to the completion of the ceremony. As their carriers performed the closing portions of the ritual, Dull Knife began calling out the logistics: move quickly to your cars, buddy up, we leave in five minutes for the sites! People were striding in all directions – which way had we come? Where was my campsite and car? And was I prepared to go and risk being arrested? I made a guess as to the direction from which we’d come and started walking, soul-searching all the way, heart pounding as I thought of the increased militarization of the forces that surely would meet the water protectors.
By the time I found my tent and car, the decision had been made for me; the cars were gone and the camp was relatively quiet. Wondering what I should do now, I made my way up to the central drum circle, and found a cluster of women at the speaker’s tent, preparing for a ceremony. One of them smiled and asked if I would like to take part in a water ceremony by the river. I hesitated – was this a part of the action? The elder woman in ceremonial regalia – Bea Jackson, Ojibwe medicine woman – smiled. “It’s all part of the action,” she said. Her assistant clarified: this was a separate ceremony, to be held away from the front line, at the Cannonball River.
I learned later that Bea’s elders had given her this ceremony to share with the people of Standing Rock and beyond, that it was a blessing for the water, to give it healing properties for the people and all beings. It was based on a three-line chant of love, gratitude and respect for the water, sung as the water was poured into sacred copper vessels and offered to the Mystery and the Earth. Then, as the water-carriers made their way down to the river, chanting, each person they encountered was given a small amount of the healing water to drink, At the river, each woman would have an opportunity to offer a little of the remaining water to the river with a prayer, followed by a pinch of tobacco carrying her prayers for the protection of the waters. Every day the water would be blessed and shared with the people and with the river, drawing them ever closer in a sacred bond.
After a few men of the camp helped us up the steep hill from the riverbank, Bea thanked the women who had taken part in the ceremony: if we were interested in learning more, she said, she would offer further teachings in the afternoon, followed by a special women’s ceremony in the evening.
I knew of the DAPL desecration of ancient graves and brutal attacks on unarmed water protectors; the ramped-up arrests by the Morton County sheriff’s officers; the lies being spread through the local media about the resistance to the pipeline. I knew of the paramilitary equipment that was showing up against the front-line water protectors’ actions. But nothing could have prepared me for the shock of seeing the steady parade of law-enforcement vehicles on Rt. 1806 past the camp, or the surveillance helicopters and planes that circled many times each day. It was clear: this camp was at the border of a conflict zone; a psy-ops campaign was underway to wear the people down.
It is a strange feeling, being a white middle-class woman, a clicktivist, letter-writer, and subtle activist but not a direct-action protestor, walking into such a situation: the adrenaline immediately starts to flow, the nervous system goes on hyper-alert, and the slightest thing can seem to be a danger signal. I was awed at these people, survivors of 500+ years of attempted genocide, who lived day-in, day-out under the strain, strong, watchful, and outwardly cheerful, with a constant thread of ceremony weaving through their life together. walking peacefully to stand in the face of the paramilitary forces that seek to destroy their land, culture, and sacred places.
Still, it didn’t take long to start hearing warnings and rumors. I’d just set up my tent and come down to the central drum circle to hear Dennis Banks, co-founder of the American Indian Movement, welcome a busload of middle-school students from Duluth, MN, when a woman hurried up: “Have you heard? They’re saying the governor’s going to call in the National Guard to evict us all, any day now.” Mark Lesser, the firekeeper who had helped me put up my tent on the first day, pooh-poohed the rumor when I asked him a little later. “That’s been going around the camp for months. This land is off reservation territory,” he told me. “According to treaty, it still belongs to the Standing Rock Nation. However, it’s Army Corps of Engineers land, and yes, any of us could be arrested for camping here. If you want to be safe, you should go and camp at Sacred Stone, that’s private land.”
I chose to stay, but took the lesson: live lightly, set priorities, be ready in case of eviction. Everything except the barest necessities stayed in the car. The phone stayed with me at all times unless it was charging at the solar station at the top of Facebook Hill.
The real wake-up moment came as I was standing at that charging station at the highest point in the camp, hearing the buzz of a DAPL airplane overhead as I talked with NoDAPL activist Deborah Gaudet of New Mexico. Nearby, journalists interviewed Dennis Banks, and security guards rode past on horseback, surveying the camp perimeter. In that charged moment of communication and watchfulness, shortly after I’d learned of the eviction risk, I saw the bright yellow of a front-end loader rolling past the security station and into the camp.
Had it begun already? A black SUV followed the heavy equipment, and I thought of the unmarked black vehicles that had accompanied the police cars on their last pass. What to do? Frantically weighing options, I gave increasingly distracted responses to Deborah, until she made her farewells and moved away. I headed downhill for the security station.
The young guard there – Larry, who had greeted me on my arrival – smiled easily as I approached. No sign of alarm there. Feeling rather foolish, I stammered, “I, er, saw some heavy equipment coming into the camp just now…ummm, is everything OK?”
He glanced down the central avenue, lined with the flags of the nations represented in camp, and nodded. “Oh, that’s just to help with building the yurts for the elders,” he said. “The building materials arrived a while ago and we’re getting ready to level the ground to put them up.”
I breathed a sigh of relief. “I’m so glad,” I said. “I’d just heard that the National Guard might be coming to evict us all in the next day or so.”
He frowned. “You’ll hear stories like that all the time. The police and DAPL are trying to scare us, put us off our balance. Don’t let it disturb you. After all, what’s the worst that could happen? You’d go in spirit to see your relatives. Don’t let them shake your prayers. Stay in prayer, sister.” He smiled reassuringly, held out his arms and gave me a big hug; I smiled at him in gratitude.
It was the first of many times I would be reminded of the source of this camp’s heroic strength.
After the final AirBnb evening, I was off on the last leg of my outward journey, with a slip of scrawled directions from the NoDAPLSolidarity.org site in my hand and the little remaining space in my car stuffed with firewood for the camp. It was a glorious day for travel: the miles of rolling brown hills, studded with oases of cottonwoods and shrubbery, rolled past, with hawks and buzzards circling high overhead; the breeze through my open window was brisk and scented with the fragrance of water and living earth.
A long stretch on ND state road 1806 was the last bit…a stretch marked by a sudden eruption of weathered rock “badland” formations, private homes and rich river valley groves where the road parallels the Cannonball River. And then….came the signs for an “information point.” It was the roadblock I’d been expecting – originally erected by the Morton County sheriff’s department, then taken over by the ND National Guard, ostensibly to protect the drivers and pedestrians passing by the camps (censured by Amnesty International and protested by the water protectors, the block was finally removed on 10/18).
Feeling my palms sweating against the wheel, not knowing what to expect, I advanced slowly to the stop sign. Concrete barriers closed off the road to a single lane; guardsmen stood at the entrance and exit. One approached me: “Ma’am, have you come this way before?”I said I hadn’t; he nodded: “There are demonstrators up ahead; the speed limit drops a ways beforehand. Just go slowly and stay alert. Go on ahead.”He waved me through; the guardsman at the exit point nodded and smiled, and I was on my way with a sigh of relief.
Miles rolled past with no traffic or signs of habitation, and I was starting to wonder – where was the camp? Finally, a makeshift cluster of tents and shacks showed up, heralded by signs along the roadside fence: Mni Wiconi – NoDAPL – Water Is Life. I slowed, pulled over and waved; a stern young man waved back. “I’m looking for Oceti Sakowin,” I called to him, the name sounding Japanese as I guessed at the Lakota pronunciation. “I’m bringing donations.”
“Oceti Sakowin?”He was correcting my pronunciation; I noted the soft “sh” sound substituted for the C and S, the emphatic “ko” in Sakowin. “It’s a ways ahead, not far, you can’t miss it.”I nodded, thanked him, and went on.
Seeming miles more. NoDAPL signs festooned a fence beside a gated drive; surely that couldn’t be it. I looked ahead; no sign of anything. Was this it? I turned around and headed back to the cluster of shacks, pulled over and stopped as a truck paused on the other side of the street to check in. Snippets of banter floated back to me.
Going up to the elder in the driver’s seat, I asked with careful pronunciation, where Oceti Sakowin was. He twinkled at me: “I’ll guide you there, but it will cost you…hmmm, yes, a big juicy cheeseburger and fries.”I answered his smile with a laugh: “I have fruits and veggies and lots of clothes and blankets to donate. Will that do?” He reached out,clasped my hand briefly and said, “That’s for the people. Get in your car and I’ll lead you there.”
I thanked him, scurried to my car, turned around, and we set off. And there, just a short distance past the point where I’d stopped, was the full vista of the camp below us in a river valley. A sharp driveway opened onto a broad dirt avenue lined with the flags of the Native American nations supporting the pipeline resistance; the camp spread out widely on both sides with tipis, tents, and Army tents clustered together in loose circles. A large portable solar panel was positioned near the entrance by a cluster of Army tents, one of them labeled as the camp school. Nearby stood a tipi and a pristine row of Spot-a-pots.
My guide turned in; I followed; and at the makeshift security station by the entry, a young man stopped me, smiling as he noted the load of bags and firewood bundles in my car. “I’m a visitor, bringing donations,” I told him, and he directed me to the dropoff point.
Bumping along the rutted dirt road past campers, tipis, tents, that’s when it hit me – I am here, at Standing Rock. As I worked with several young men to disgorge the bags of donations from my car, the sounds washed over me: drumming… poet Lyla June Johnston reciting her work calling all nations to rise up…the rhythmic thwack-thump of a young man splitting wood… the drone of a surveillance helicopter overhead.
I looked around at the people walking past: most were Native American, many represented other heritages of the human family. All the reading, all the info-sharing I’ve done on Standing Rock doesn’t touch the reality, I thought. This is so much more than anything I had expected or imagined.
The second turning point of the Findhorn visit opened a part of me that I had thought unreachable…a part I’d feared for years as a monster intent on destroying my life.
There was the rush of arrival and meeting other Experience Week participants …the check-ins, the introductions, getting-acquainted exercises, and talks…and under it all, the looming question: where would we each perform our Love In Action (service periods)?
(In the early days of the Findhorn Foundation, when spiritual pioneers Eileen and Peter Caddy, their three sons, and their friend Dorothy Maclean were surviving on meager means in a trailer on Findhorn Park, they supplemented their diet with what they could grow in gardens literally built on the sand of the Moray Firth dunes…gardens that flourished beyond all possibility, thanks to Dorothy’s communication with the nature spirits, Eileen’s direct transmissions from Spirit, and Peter’s hard work.
As word spread about their impossible harvests (including famous 40-lb cabbages), they received a flood of eager visitors seeking to experience a community based on spiritual principles. With some visitors less willing to help out than others, Peter laid down a firm rule: every resident and visitor who was capable would contribute work as “Love in Action” toward the physical development and maintenance of the community. This rule continues today, and Experience Week includes four periods of service, either in Cluny Hill or in the Findhorn Park. Where you perform your Love in Action is determined not by assignment but by “attunement” – a meditation to match participants’ inner call to the needs of the community.)
Sunday morning, as I dressed after showering, I felt a weight on my chest, seemingly compressing my lungs till every breath was a focused effort as I told my body, No. You are not going to do this. This is not allowed. When I get home I’ll go to the doctor, but right now you are not going to do this. My heart is fine, my EKGs are fine, I’m not going to break up this week. I was getting light-headed and the sensation was not stopping…finally, I lay down, breathing deeply and calling on every spirit-helper I could think of. Slowly, the sensation passed and I joined our group for the introductory tour of Findhorn Park and its blossoming new development.
After supper came the Attunement. We were offered a choice of Cluny Kitchen, Dining Room, Home Care (housekeeping); Park Kitchen, Dining Room, Home Care, and Cullerne Garden – the large, CSA-like farm that supplies most of the community’s vegetables, year-round (did I mention that the Findhorn Foundation is located on the same latitude as Alaska and Moscow, with a three-month growing season?).
There was no question in my mind of where I should be: the Garden. This, after all, was the reason I’d come for a two-week visit: to immerse in the organic/semi-permaculture gardens, be as useful as I could, learn as much as possible, and bring home a new understanding of co-creating with nature. There was simply no other option.
When we all emerged from the brief Attunement meditation, I headed immediately over to the corner marked “Cullerne”………with three-quarters of the rest of our group. The other areas received only a bare sprinkling.
Clearly some negotiation was needed…and was done, gently at first and then with quiet intensity: this was not about our personal needs or wants, but the needs of the community as a whole. We would have free time in which we could experience the gardens, if we chose. One by one, people moved to other areas. I stayed rooted, with four others: this was also about the need to give to my community at home! Finally, I realized: I was here for two weeks; there would be another opportunity to serve in the garden; I didn’t need to be rigid. After a brief inner check-in, using my necklace as a pendulum, I moved to Park Home Care.
Meeting with the Home Care group in the Nest next morning, we had another choice: cleaning and blessing the sanctuaries and Library, or scrubbing and Hoovering (vacuuming) the Community Center? Once again I consulted the pendulum, and went off with Susan, a Danish energy-healer and former therapist, to the sanctuaries, intent on freshening up and affirming their powerful positive energy.
We came to the Main Sanctuary and began our work. I’d thought initially that it needed to be done in silence, with utter focus and intent, but Susan drew me out with questions about my life and background, and to my surprise I found myself telling her the experience of the morning before. She gazed at me a moment, and asked, “Would you allow me to listen to your heart?” I nodded and she placed her hand on my chest.
“There is a voice here that says ‘I don’t want to be here,’ not here at Findhorn, but on this planet,” she said after a pause. I caught my breath: she was directly quoting the words I perennially heard from my inner child. “You don’t need to worry – she’s not going to cause a heart attack,” Susan continued. “But she’s wounded and afraid, and she desperately needs love. She’s trying to get your attention in the only way she knows how.”
I was staring at her, thinking of my experience on Arthur’s Seat – the forgotten hiking shoes and the terrifying vertigo and acrophobia that forced me to step back, embrace my limitations,and choose a gentler path, examining with childlike curiosity the plants along the way. Was my forgetting really an accident? I remembered other unaccountable choices that had led to risky or physically or socially self-destructive situations, and how I’d reflexively fought and judged them, had been tempted to despair, believing that something within would forever sabotage me, perhaps one day fatally…..
“She wants you not to fear her, but to accept and love her unconditionally. Treat her as you would treat any scared, hurt child,” Susan said. She paused, closed her eyes for a moment. “I’ve given her healing energy, but the rest is up to you. She’s living in fear; you need to surround her with love. Set aside the fear in your mind and replace it with love.”
Tears were running down my cheeks now, thinking of my mother’s closely-constrained existence and the tightly-structured do’s and don’ts of my childhood… how after 20 years of rebellious growth and leadership, supported by my husband, I’d withdrawn into a spiral of isolation after his passing, fighting fear, paralyzing inertia, and self-sabotage with every attempt to break the pattern.
I nodded, remembering the experience on the beach at Nairn, seeing my hostess transcend the cold of the Moray Firth with conscious loving connection to the earth, sea and sky. Feeling the playful lick of the waves around my galoshes as I moved past fear of the frigid water to make my own loving connection. Realizing that despite my best control-freak efforts, this Love In Action attunement had brought me exactly what I needed.
Finally I gathered myself and thanked Susan from the heart. We continued the cleaning, I tapping into the accumulated energy of 50+ years of community meditation in this spot, and remembering the reading from Eileen Caddy that had closed the morning’s meditation:
Expect your every need to be met, expect the answer to every problem, expect abundance on every level, expect to grow spiritually. You are not living by human laws. Expect miracles and see them take place.