Journeying to Standing Rock

When I named this blog SoulPaths/the journey, I had no idea of the literal journeys that would be involved in this particular soul’s path. In the past two years, Ecuador, Findhorn…and this week, a pilgrimage of support to Standing Rock, ND.

Why am I going there? I’ve written of the resistance of the Standing Rock Sioux Nation to the Dakota Access Pipeline that is slated to run across the reservation land, crossing the Oglala Aquifer and – many times over – the Missouri River. I touched on how they are being joined by a virtual United Nations of supporters from Indigenous and non-Indigenous cultures from around the world. And I’ve touched on my gradual progress from timorous waffling to starting a group for subtle activism, to a drive for donations.

It didn’t end there…while I was raising awareness online and at Friends Meeting, I was also wrestling with a heart-response to a calling to come to Standing Rock. It seemed purely out of the question at first – an action for brave activist sorts, or groups to go out together – but as the awareness of approaching winter grew, I felt a growing urgency: if I did not go, NOW, and help in whatever way I could, I would always regret my inaction. The parable of the talents haunted me: how in these days am I using my talents for the greater good? Clicktivism and Facebook consciousness-raising were nowhere near enough.

It all came to a head three weeks ago, when I was out in the garden, clearing away spent morning glory vines from the fence and hedge: an inner voice was saying insistently, I am dying.

Wha-at? I asked who was talking – the morning glory vines were certainly giving up the ghost. Was that it? No – that could not explain the edge of gut-wrenching grief that accompanied the words. It viscerally recalled my husband’s last spoken words – Let me go – as he lay swaddled in burn-medicated wrappings after losing 85% of his skin to a reaction against the antibiotics he’d received following the implantation of an experimental device intended to keep his heart functioning until a transplant was found. It was Christmas Day; in an effort to bring holiday spirit and some level of sanity and family tradition to an unthinkable situation the kids and I had decorated his Intensive Care room with ornaments, lights, and a tiny tree the day before…but he was so deeply sedated that he could only rouse himself to voice those three words when we gathered around his bed.

I could not bear to think of the ultimate meaning of his request: the doctors were saying that this horrific, extreme situation was just a bump in the road to his ultimate healing!  Fighting my instinctive knowing, the shock and grief at my core, I started asking him for clarity – am I holding your hand too tightly? Are the bandages hurting you? I have no idea how I could find any other meaning than the obvious, but somehow I did – I kept asking, but there was no response; he’d spent his energy and was unconscious. Fighting tears, I turned to the nurse: this is what he said, but he couldn’t clarify…what do I do? She responded: unless you’re absolutely certain that he wanted you to pull the plug, you can’t do it. He can recover from this; if you ended it now, you’d be haunted by the doubt forever.

They called at 1:30 a.m. the next morning: he was having a respiratory crisis and they needed to do a tracheotomy: would I give permission? And so those three words were his last. The doctors told me a month later that the antibiotic cocktails were achieving no more than chemical reactions; effectively, he was already gone. They pulled the plug on January 28, 2006.

As I stood in the garden ten years later with dead leaves in my hair and spent vines in my hand and I am dying echoing in my mind, I balanced on a similar edge of denial. Am I dying? I asked – I had no knowledge of having any life-threatening medical condition! The knowledge came: you are replicating your father’s denial of life as you work in your house behind your computer screen. If you do not get out into the world and take real-time action, yes, you will die inwardly. But no, that is not what is meant here.

I knew the answer, of course: it is the biosphere that is dying of human’s unceasing assaults: deforestation, oil spills, the Tar Sands, the pumping of the aquifers and poisoning of the waters, pesticides killing the pollinators – all the litany of rape and destruction of our planet. Ecosystems are collapsing, climate change ramping up, a sixth great extinction taking place…yes,  I am dying was the voice of life on Earth.

The grief doubled me over: hanging onto a fence post in the yellowing garden, I wept, screaming soundlessly.

Once the worst of the pain had passed, there was a clear realization: the time for hiding behind a computer screen was over. I needed to show up and take personal action to support the causes I valued. And there was no doubt about the cause that took precedence: the water protectors of Standing Rock.

The connection went beyond their historic stand – the union among nations – the support across cultures and causes and spiritual traditions.

More than 20 years earlier, my husband had been a Sun Dancer, first on Rosebud Reservation, then at Santee, Nebraska. For two of the four years he’d Danced, I went along to support him, and witnessed …I can only call it a different reality. Here were men and women so heartfelt in their prayers that they were willing to dance without food or water for four days under the blazing sun, some of them following Spirit’s guidance to undertake extreme physical ordeals that lent power and urgency to their prayers. At the close of the ceremony, they channeled the Divine grace they had received as healing for the community, and received the community’s honor and gratitude in return.

This was the ethos that undergirded the water protectors, I knew: an ethos of radical self-giving for the ongoing life of the Earth and the People – i.e., all beings, all the peoples of every race, nation, creed, species, and sort – animal, vegetable and mineral. An ethos grounded in conscious connection with the Earth as a living, sentient, sacred being, an embodiment of the Divine. A way of being centered not on consumption of the planet’s resources, but on conscious interaction within the web of life.

When my husband was in his last two years of Dancing, the Intercessor was closing that particular ceremony to non-Natives: they could finish their four-year cycles, but they could not return. The American Indian Movement was a strong influence on the Dance in the two years I attended, and as a very obviously non-Native-looking woman I fielded my share of questions: who are your elders? Where are your holy places? At the same time their questions led me to question my own presence there, even as a Dancer’s wife and supporter, they also sent me on a search for the shamanic roots of my own heritage: a search that led to the Baltic pagan tradition Romuva and the Graeco-Roman ritual dance tradition of Tarantelle. After my husband’s passing, I went on a lengthy path of self-rediscovery and reinvention, staying away from any appearance of cultural appropriation.

That all changed this summer when the world began flocking to Standing Rock. I’d been feeling angry, out of step, and deeply alone in this culture – longing to do more than marketing restorative businesses, practicing animal Reiki, and raising consciousness online, but not knowing what to do. The public invitation from Standing Rock spokespeople – to come and witness and support the Earth-nurturing ways being demonstrated in the support camp of Oceti Sakowin, and for those who felt called, to take nonviolent direct action in the Sacred Stone Camp and Red Warrior Camp – hit with a direct appeal t0 my heart. And that was even before the spokeswoman with whom I was corresponding told me that she remembered my husband from his last two years of Sundancing.

So – with support and prayers from Patapsco Friends Meeting, financial donations from family and friends, and bags upon bags of donated clothing, blankets, and other items for the water protectors as they prepare the camps for the brutal North Dakota winters, I set out yesterday on yet another journey: to Oceti Sakowin, to spend three days helping in whatever way I can. I’m writing this post from an AirBnb host’s guest bedroom midway across the continent, just before geting back on the road.

The journey continues.

An Ecosystem of Support for the Water Protectors

EcoWatch reported the heartbreaking verdict just the other day:

“A federal judge in Washington, DC declined Tuesday to order the halt of all construction on a portion of the contentious Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) route that the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe had recently identified as sacred tribal burial ground, a site that was bulldozed over the Labor Day weekend by pipeline construction crews….

The tribe has been locked in a legal fight against Dakota Access and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers over a pipeline that would cross sacred sites and potentially affect water that the tribe depends on. The DAPL pipeline’s full path extends across North and South Dakota, Iowa and Illinois….

The tribe had filed an emergency motion on Sunday, Sept. 4 for the temporary restraining order to prevent further destruction of sacred sites….

Tuesday’s order isn’t the end of these legal battles. Federal Judge James Boasberg is expected to rule on Friday on an injunction that would halt all pipeline-related construction near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation.

I have been following this story for a month now, thanks to the Facebook updates by environmental lawyer Carolyn Raffensberger,  executive director of the Science & Environmental Health Network and leading expert on the Precautionary Principle, and ecologist/activist Linda Black Elk, both taking part in the peaceful prayer actions.

And the words have been piling up in my mind, escaping through click-shared news articles, finally through a Facebook call for concentrated energy-sending on Sunday, September 4 – the day the bulldozers plowed through the burial ground while dogs tore through the unarmed men, women and children. The call touched a chord, connecting a number of us who are watching and grieving from the outside.

Carolyn Raffensberger wrote on her public FB feed after the verdict:

This morning it is unbearable to know that Dakota Access will continue forcing its pipeline into the Earth, through waters, through the lands of Indigenous peoples.
The judge yesterday said he didn’t have jurisdiction to stop the pipeline from destroying sacred sites. When one of the most powerful voices in government says he doesn’t have power to stop evil, you know we have created a systemic monster.
Rachel Carson said we have lost the capacity to foresee and forestall. We will end by destroying the Earth. Carson
was partially right, we can foresee the destruction. What we have really lost is the ability to forestall. We built a system by and for capitalism and now the Black Snake is loose and devouring the future.”

I have been crying, sitting with this, asking: what can be done? The water protectors – the largest gathering of  Native American tribes in the past 100 years, supported by civil-rights activists, environmentalists, celebrities, and representatives of churches, covens, mosques, and representatives of Indigenous peoples from as far away as Australia, Ecuador, and Scandinavia – have been putting their bodies on the line, bolstered by multifaith prayers and ceremonies from the U.S. and abroad, world-class attorneys in the courts, even censure by the U.N. against the Obama administration for its silence.

But an understanding of the forces arrayed against the people, the land and the water is beginning to take shape, thanks to indefatigable coverage by Democracy Now: a new investigation has revealed that more than two dozen major banks and financial institutions are helping finance the Dakota Access pipeline. And the DeSmogBlog has revealed that Continental Resources — the company founded and led by CEO Harold Hamm, energy adviser to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and potential U.S. Secretary of Energy under a Trump presidency — has announced to investors that oil it obtains via hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) from North Dakota’s Bakken Shale basin is destined for transport through the hotly-contested Dakota Access pipeline.

There is a part of me that wants to wail and cry, dive under the covers and hide from the monsters destroying the world. Every morning after my quiet meditation/journaling time, I sit inwardly shaking and protesting against leaving that safe and sacred space to read the daily news. Every morning I breathe and quiet the terrified, grieving child at my core…the one who first experienced All That Is as alive, aware, and interconnected when I was 10…who still takes pleasure in checking in with the energies surrounding me as I walk the woods. Who, as my mother once did, grieves on seeing woods clear-cut, hears the screaming of a tree when it is dismembered and logged. Who dissolves in total overwhelm at the thought of the indigenous people who have held the land and water sacred from the beginning are savaged by dogs and their sacred places bulldozed to make way for a pipeline that will almost certainly poison the nation’s largest aquifer and last remaining clear tributary system.

I shared these feelings at Friends Meeting on Sunday, breaking down in tears as I spoke. A Friend came up to me afterward and said – I hear you, and I am grieving with you. And it is your light and love and connection to Spirit that will make the difference. Your depression and anger can paralyze you. Stay connected to the Light and act from the Light. 

It took me a long time to hear his message.

So I continued asking: What can be done? And the inner answers begin to arise: the sending of prayers, meditation, energy, magic, ceremony/ritual –  subtle activism  by a critical mass of people, can help to turn the tide: concentrated prayers, energy, meditation, ceremony/ritual. So I created a FB group, Subtle Activism for Standing Rock, as a gathering place for news posts and sharing among those who hold this issue at heart. And people are responding.

What does it mean? Maybe nothing, my 21st-century skeptical self says. Maybe the people who join the group – due to busy-ness or emotional overwhelm – can offer only good thoughts in this direction.

But even if they are, we all start somewhere.

I am receiving the nudging again and again: the more prayers, energy, focused ceremony/ritual, magic – and good wishes – are put out into the ether, the more awareness is raised, the better supported the water protectors will be. As Starhawk told me – every action has many levels of participants: those who take the front lines; those who support them directly with press releases, food, legal representation; those who pet- and house-sit while they are in action, those who run GoFundMes and petitions and other online support campaigns; and those who send gifts, whether material, financial, or energetic.

It is all part of an ecosystem of support; everybody plays a part; and some move from one level of support to another as they gain inward strength and conviction. The more we can give or do, of course, the better – but we all start somewhere.

I remember going to Lakota Sundances at Rosebud and Santee, supporting my husband: how a tent city of hundreds of people gathered to support the Dancers and the ceremony: running supply errands, cooking, building the arbor, pouring for sweatlodges, doing security, fetching sacred herbs from the surrounding plains….and dancing under the arbor, making prayers for the men and women doing giveaway under the blazing sun. Everyone had a way to serve, no matter how small.

We are all related. We share one heart.

Quoting Arvol Looking Horse, 19th Generation Keeper of the Original Sacred White Buffalo Calf Pipe of the Lakota, Dakota, and Nakota Nation of the Sioux:

“Each of us is put here in this time and this place to personally decide the future of humankind. Did you think the Creator would create unnecessary people in a time of such terrible danger?
Know that you yourself are essential to this World. Believe that! Understand both the blessing and the burden of that.
You yourself are desperately needed to save the soul of this World. Did you think you were put here for something less?”

If you want to support the action against the Dakota Access Pipeline, here are some things you can do:



REBLOG: Earth Mother’s Message on Chaos, the Grid of Energy, and need for Calm.

From Mare Cromwell’s For the Earth Blog

Reblogging  this powerful and important channeled message from Earth Mother, transmitted by my longtime friend, Gaia mystic and author Mare Cromwell… she provides a little of her story and her many credentials at the beginning, then starts to deliver the message at 4:12.

Just a few of her key points:

CALM DOWN. Too many of us are getting pulled into the drama of these times. Our collective subconscious feeds an energy grid encircling the planet; some of our actions feed Earth Mother; most don’t. So – yes, feel the emotions, process them, and release them; don’t numb them out or get stuck in them or lash out in anger and hatred at others.

ENERGY FEEDS ENERGY. Hatred and anger build more hatred and anger. There are positive energies pouring into the planet – Cosmic Christ energy, Buddha energy. Pray, send positive energies into the grid. Create prayer circles, do ceremony – the Earth needs this all the time now.

CHAOS IS OVERWHELMING. And it is necessary; a new world is coming in. Native peoples have predicted this. Don’t feed the chaos with reactionary drama. Negative energies are served by our unconsciousness, numbness, reactivity…their time is limited and they are fighting hard to hang on.

WE EACH HAVE A CHOICE: To get sucked into the drama, or not. Facebook is a prime example of the addictive cacophony, the energy hooks us immediately when we login and too many of us are venting there. Step away from the computer, go outside, stand barefoot on the Earth and give our angst to Mother; she is hardwired to heal.

MOTHER LOVES US. More than anything, she wants us to know this. Mother loves us and wants to help and heal us. And she asks us to be present with her, listen to her, love her back.

There’s much more – much more – in this long message, and I urge you – please listen to it all. This is the real deal, and it’s important for all of us to hear it.

For more of Mare’s channeled messages from Mother Earth, see her books, Messages from Mother – Earth Mother and The Great Mother Bible (or, I’d Rather Be Gardening). 

Findhorn: Learning to Listen at the Power Point

IMG_20160421_101315572I could go on and on about the adventures of our group at the Findhorn Foundation‘s Experience Week…our free-time hike to Forres, abetting one young man’s quest to try the quintessentially British diabetic-coma-on-a-plate (a.k.a. deep-fried Mars bar) and then ascending a minor mountain to mug for photos at the base of Nelson’s Tower…wading in the frigid Moray Firth…scrubbing sculleries and washing windows during Love in Action…and serving up a potluck of talent, from Wonderwall to Taize, on our last night…and through it all, through the attunements and trust exercises and service and meditation and clowning, bonding to become a close-knit international family.

It was the experience of a lifetime; I haven’t shared so unself-consciously or laughed so hard or felt so utterly free to drop my masks and public persona since I was a teenager.

…and it wasn’t until I’d stepped into my second week – Spiritual Practice Week – that my deep purpose for coming to Findhorn truly began to take shape: connecting consciously with the awarenesses of Nature. Our small group spent far less time bonding, far more time in solitary contemplation, and despite the wild weather (rotating snow/sleet/hail/rain/sun, often in the space of an hour), I gravitated again and again to the Power Point.

I spent the first few trips alternating between admiration of the glorious forest and mountain vista, and impassioned prayers: let me hear! let me see! let me shift to a new, grounded perspective, one that will last and support a deeper work when I go home! 

Yup, I was broadcasting on a pretty wide band. And remembering the words of Findhorn co-founder R. Ogilvie Crombie (ROC),  quoting the deity PanGreatGodPan in his memoir Meeting Fairies: My Remarkable Encounters with Nature Spirits:

…the genuine people who are legitimately curious about my world… would dearly love to see us. There is nothing wrong with that except that it very rarely works—they try too hard. Perhaps this is fortunate as they do not realise how dangerous it might be if their desire was granted too soon, before their bodies or their minds had been prepared and conditioned for the experience, and the right degree of cosmic consciousness had been reached. The elementals, the ones who are my subjects, belong to a different evolutionary stream than humanity. Close contact between human beings and the elementals can be dangerous if it takes place too soon, especially if the motives for seeking it are wrong.

So you might say I was protected up there…or else I was just making too much noise, asking!

And then there came the day when things shifted…

IMG_20160424_175253499I was coming down the spiral path, touching the trees and bushes in gratitude, when my eyes were drawn to a stump by the side of the path. It was beautiful, covered with moss and lichen, with delicate plants resembling tiny cyclamens springing from its root. And…..something about it, the energy around it, was different.

I slowed to a halt, squatted down, and considered the beautiful little micro-ecosystem…took out my phone and snapped a photo, and rose to go on my way…

and heard in my mind a rather irritated voice, asking, “Is that all you’re going to do?”

Whoa..what??? I turned on my heel, knelt down and apologized: I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to snub you! 

You just didn’t expect your requests to be answered? That’s not unusual. 

I mentally stammered in confusion, mouth agape.

There was a sense of softening, and an invitation: Just sit down and be with us for a little bit. Let us see you. 

I knelt down on the path, the wet leaves soaking through the knees of my jeans, feeling a sense of welcoming. While the stump looked – and felt – like a fairytale scene, while I could imagine the tiny fairies of the storybooks flitting about among the plants and reclining on the mosses, I didn’t see anything…but there was that sense of aliveness.

IMG_20160424_174936088I thought of Hildegard of Bingen’s word, veriditas. referring to “spiritual and physical health, often as a reflection of the divine word or as an aspect of the divine nature”….remembered the warnings ROC had received: that if the nature spirits withdrew that vital force from nature, humans could no longer survive.

Yes, came the response, and I began to catch a sense of a multidimensional macro-ecosystem, not only populated with interdependent physical beings of all kingdoms and species, but also with related ethereal beings tasked with caring for them and keeping the whole system functioning. I knelt there in awe, feeling myself part of a cosmos much more diverse than I’d ever imagined.

You don’t have to pound on the door, came the words, gently. You need only ask in love and openness. We’re here and we want to help you in serving the land and the people.  

With that, I felt I was released; the encounter was complete. I rose and bowed in gassho to the beings of the stump, and went on my way.


Crombie, R. Ogilvie (2011-06-01). Meeting Fairies: My Remarkable Encounters with Nature Spirits (pp. 92-93). Independent Publishers Group. Kindle Edition.

Findhorn Nature Outing: Sitting in the Basket of the Trees

By Tuesday of Experience Week, our little group had gained somewhat of a feel for the grounds of Cluny Hill and Findhorn Park. It was time for our focalizers Craig and Pat to introduce us to the wider bioregion. We pIMG_20160419_095436671iled into the shuttle bus and rode past fields of grazing sheep, through glorious birch, holly and spruce forest, to the Findhorn River. We parked at a trailhead above the spectacular crags of Randolph’s Leap … a spot that clairvoyant/metaphysician R. Ogilvie Crombie (“ROC” for short), a guiding light for the growing community, had identified as particularly powerful and watched over by benevolent nature spirits. Here, Craig and Pat invited us to find a spot, settle in, and meditate, consciously reaching out to the awarenesses of the wood.

With some minimal experience of communicating with nature spirits, I was praying hard for connection here. With all my senses awake, I chose a trail that sloped gently downhill, reaching for the tingle that would tell me I’d found the right spot. Singing a Libana chant as invocation as I walked, I felt into the energy of the wood: where was the best place for me to seek connection?

IMG_20160419_102041149And there it was: a dropoff past a towering Scottish Pine, past ferns and bracken to a sandbar below. Warned by Craig and Pat of the river’s potential for flash floods, I didn’t want to go close to the water…but where to sit? Perching precariously on an outcropping of the slope, I looked to the exposed roots of the Pine, and saw that they intertwined with the roots of a neighboring Beech to form a natural nest. Feeling like a child climbing a jungle gym, surprised at my own temerity (and blessing the deep treads of my galoshes), I clambered over and hauled myself up and in.

The roots on which I rested were covered in moss, swathed in ferns and lilies growing in the dirt accumulated over countless floods.  Facing the river, the trees stood proudly on their exposed, mossy roots like Louisiana Cypresses, with their hidden path-side roots no doubt holding up the hill. I couldn’t imagine the force of floods that would sweep away earth this high – easily 25 feet up from the riverbank. But the trees stood strong, their roots and branches intertwined, IMG_20160419_102012230evergreen and deciduous.

I settled my tush, crossed legs to meditate. Just in front of me a Beech root snaked lithely over a Pine root, both disappearing down into the hillside. I felt the trees embracing in a long partnership. You are at a bridging place, a connection point, I heard in my mind. That is your work: helping to build connections between humans and the natural world. It was the beginning of a long conversation: my trepidation was met with reassurance and guidance; affirmation that despite my self-doubts I had a job to do; even floundering as I have been, a good start had been made, my good intentions were recognized. I sang, laughed, cried…felt a flood of love and connection with these Standing Beings and the micro-ecosystem they supported.

We had 90 minutes in which to do our walk, meditation, and return. I don’t know how long I sat there, cradled; it seemed far longer. As the conversation drew to its end, I saw a discarded juice box half-hidden, caught in the roots of the Beech. It summed up the culture from which I’d come: disconnected from the natural world, focused on immediate gratification, careless of the cost or consequences of its consumption. Yes, exactly, came the response. I wanted to remove it, as a token of service in gratitude, but  I could see it wouldn’t be easy – the box was well lodged, out of reach and slightly down the hill, outside my nest. I looked and found a pointed stick ready to hand, and with diligent poking, maneuvering, and prayers for balance, I edged it out and up to my hand. Yes! 

With that, it was time to go. I offered my gratitude to the trees, and asking their help in getting back to the path, found roots fanning upward like a ready-made flight of steps. A short scramble and I was on level ground, bowing to the trees, the river, the spirits of the land, and walking back to the meeting point with the juice box in my hand.





Findhorn Bound: Women’s Wisdom in Nairn


Leaving Edinburgh was not easy – in one day I’d seen enough to fall in love with the city’s glorious stone buildings, urban mountain, royal and postage-stamp gardens, and friendly people – but I took a great and shamelessly touristy thrill in riding a real British double-decker bus to the train station.

I’d been hoping to find a congenial – and informed – seatmate for the four-hour ScotRail ride to the North….and glory be, next to me settled a delightfully acerbic elder lady from Inverness, who’d been taking the North/South ride throughout her life. IMG_20160415_075758329 Together we entertained a young mother’s active toddler, while my companion shared her memories, gave history lessons about landmarks, clued me in to differences between British and American English, and dished gossip about the royal family and their Balmoral Castle, far over the snow-clad peaks of the Cairngorms to the east.

By the time we were approaching Inverness and passengers were lining up to use the lavatory, she was telling hilarious tales about the tourists who invariably couldn’t figure out how to close the compartment door. When my turn came, and I was equally baffled, she gestured with hands and eyes from her seat as other passengers hid their smiles. IMG_20160415_094240763_HDRI followed her not-exactly unobtrusive pointing, and sure enough, there was the button, just as well-hidden as she’d warned. What a relief!

The train station in Nairn was a mile’s stroll from the home of my AirBnB hostess, the “Swan Woman of Nairn”…healer, artist, photographer, Renaissance woman….and the evening that followed, of touring the town and gathering with her friends in an impromptu wise women’s circle, was magical.


My hostess asked as I was settling in for the night, “Would you like to come for a dip in the sea with me tomorrow morning?” I gasped – the winds that day had been frigid, and the next day’s temperature was predicted to drop into the 30s ! This was her normal practice, she added, smiling, and her guests often found it a profound experience. “No expectations, no pressure,” she added, and bade me goodnight.


Next morning dawned cloudy and as cold as expected, but we sallied out, she jogging ahead, I photographing as I moseyed along, soaking in the beauty of the place. She’d told me the stories of the swans nesting in the river…how she and a friend had saved a clutch of duck eggs from being swept away in a flood…and shared her wonder at seeing the tide coming into the River Nairn as if to meet her on her way to the ocean. I crossed the bridge, passed the trailer – caravan – park, and came to the dunes…and she came to meet me as I topped the hill.

The dunes and sea, Moray Firth

“There are fishermen up the beach, so if you’d rather not undress, that’s fine,” she said tactfully, noting my pulled-down hat and hands tucked inside the sleeves of my thin Gore-tex jacket. “You can shelter here by the pier while I get ready and go in.” Teeth chattering, I nodded gratefully and watched in awe as she slipped out of her jogging suit and shoes, pinned up her hair, and walked serenely barefoot down the beach to the water’s edge. She lay down in the shallow surf, rose, and walked in to waist-height, dipped, emerged, and returned to dry land.

She smiled at my wide eyes and said, “It’s simple. When I lie down in the water, I feel my connection to the land, the water, and the air. I focus on that connection; the more connected I feel, the less I feel the cold.”

(c) Morag Paterson, 2016

I closed my eyes and breathed in her words, remembering my husband’s experience at his third Lakota Sundance ceremony: offering his chest for piercing in giveaway as Traditional intercessor Elmer Running struggled to cut through his skin to insert an eagle’s talon, telling him, “Pray harder! Pray harder!” He hadn’t felt the pain, he said; he was lost in an trance of connection with cosmic Oneness. I’d gone half-expecting to witness macho stoicism or Spanish-Baroque grotesquery, the piety of pain, and there I found him describing transcendent ecstasy.

And here, halfway around the world, was this wisewoman, embracing a habit I’d read of stereotypical Englishmen of the old public-school military sort practicing – but driven not by sacrifice or macho discipline but that same transcendent connection.

Opening my eyes, I turned, walked down to the water, stooped down and held my hands in the receding ice-cold surf as my own homage to nature. A rogue wave rushed up, splashed around my galoshes and soaked my socks, and I laughed in surprise and delight.

And we went back to the house for breakfast.


Let Indigenous Voices be Heard at the Paris Talks!

For thousands of years, civilizations have seen: when the forests are clearcut, the climate changes. The temperature rises, rainfall decreases, catastrophic weather events increase, deserts spread across the land.

The indigenous peoples of the Amazon know this – and they are fighting to save their sacred lands, not only for the sake of their cultures but also for the sake of life on Earth. The U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples protects them in theory from forcible relocation, but this protection is being overridden with coerced, sham agreements, military evictions, and the kidnapping, torture, and assassination of their activists. And the destruction of the rainforest continues.

A climate conference without the voice of these indigenous peoples – the people who intimately know the forest and the natural balance from millennia of personal interaction – a climate conference that doesn’t make a priority of protecting the Amazon and all its lives and cultures – can not succeed in averting climate chaos.

Be a climate leader and defender of indigenous rights! Join Amazon Watch to ensure Amazonian leaders’ meaningful participation at the 21st session of the UN Climate Talks in Paris this Winter. Help me support Amazon Watch by making a contribution.

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Personally Deciding the Future of Humankind

In a prior post I shared a question that keeps arising for me in meditation:   What would you do if you really believed Arvol Looking Horse’s words: “Each of us is put here in this time and this place to personally decide the future of humankind. Did you think the Creator would create unnecessary people in a time of such terrible danger?”

Some months ago, I read Belief Without Borders by Linda Mercadante…a deep analysis of the growing groundswell of spiritual “Nones” – a.k.a. the “spiritual but not religious.”  I could find much to resonate with…but one glaring absence left me flummoxed.

Nobody talked about having an outward vocation or purpose in life. No One. The non-question fairly screamed its absence: it was not asked, nor was it raised by the respondents, even implicitly. Incredulously, I wrote to ask the author about this silence, and she verified: no one brought the topic up at all.

As I sat in utter shock at seeing the results of the midterm elections – a similarly thundering non-turnout by Democrats, particularly women, particularly Millenials, who are among those with the most to lose – I was wondering: were the two somehow connected? Was the apathy linked somehow to a sense of helplessness, disconnection, non-involvement in the events of the world (I’m setting aside the documented issue of purposeful disenfranchisement – that’s a topic for another post…)?

Much has been written about President G.W. Bush’s urging following 9/11: Go Shopping. I’ve written here about the cultural immersion in fantasy, from TV shows to computer games and virtual reality. Bread and circuses – the distractions worked in ancient Rome and they work equally well today.

But the problem is – contrary to what the Law of Attraction would have us believe, disagreeable realities don’t stop when we’re ignoring them. Social injustice, environmental devastation, war, famine, pestilence and death don’t go away when we close our eyes, sing La la la and think happy thoughts. Quite the reverse, in fact.

We can bury ourselves in work, play, retail therapy, food and drink, narcotic substances, fantasy, gaming, on and on – but world events and global devastation will not stop plowing forward just because we escaped into a more pleasant, ephemeral version of reality. Oppressors, ignored, will not suddenly turn into philanthropists; they will only amp up their destruction of the planet to add to their wealth and power.

It doesn’t matter to a warming planet, dying species, drying rivers, poisoned aquifers, vanishing rainforests,  in the slightest whether we have this, that or the other “must-have” dress or vehicle or app; whether we’ve beaten XYZ “boss” in the latest RPG or paid just $XX amount for a full tank of gas. It doesn’t matter to the planet whether Republicans or Tea Partiers or climate-change-deniers of the day insist that the status quo can continue without consequences. Those consequences will come no matter what comfortable untruths the politicians and pundits spout…and no matter what comforting blandishments we offer ourselves to feel momentarily better about the state of affairs in the world.

And then there’s the enemy within: the paralyzing thoughts,  the “I don’t matter, I don’t know enough, who would listen to me? — I don’t have this, that and the other credential, I’m in a completely different field — I’m the one who stops conversations by asking the questions nobody wants to hear — reality sucks, but what else have we got?”….on and on and on.

But what if these paralyzing self-doubts are integral to the forces of destruction? I remember attending a sweat lodge in which I was asked to serve as “outer door” – a guardian/warrior position responsible for watching the perimeter of the lodge circle and protecting the people inside. I was told to make prayers while feeling the lodge circle as a membrane, where it was strong, where it was thin, and to keep my sensors alert for any shifts that might indicate negative energies breaking through.

I did as I was told…all seemed well until paralyzing doubts began to arise: what the —- am I doing here? This isn’t my heritage, I pilgrimagehave no right to be doing this! What do I know about this anyway? I’m not trained… and on and on. I suddenly realized – my prayers had stopped and I was engaged in self-sabotage: where did that come from? Feeling the energy of the perimeter, I found the breach, began hurling prayers at it…and heard the prayers inside the lodge, which had faltered, suddenly rise into song.

Distractions, self-doubts and projections onto others: these are the most effective forces that keep us silenced and ineffective.

Last Sunday a group of friends gathered from widely differing spiritual traditions and personal backgrounds to talk about Andrew Harvey’s masterful book The Hope: A Guidebook for Sacred Activism. The issues I’ve described above are just a few of the topics we addressed….and plan to address in deeper conversations on an ongoing basis. Simply not being alone, finding people who shared our pain and struggles to move past the confusion and despair of our time to positive action for change…this gave a profound sense of hope and healing to all.

One of the key insights we found was that “sacred activism” – action directed by Spirit – showed up as a unique calling to each of us: some felt called to direct action, others to private ritual, or writing, or….

But whatever our calling was, we felt strongest and most effective when we were listening to and following our unique inner guidance from Spirit. 

I’ve written in other posts about the tragic loss of self-worth and personal purpose created by this society. If there is any salvation for our species – and life on this planet – it rests on our shoulders, our awakening to our individual connection and importance and responsibility to Spirit and to all of Life.

Yes. We each have a purpose that has nothing to do with our paycheck or social standing or net worth.

Yes. That purpose is critically important to the fate of life on Earth.

Yes. We are each responsible for choosing to step past  our personal and cultural addictions to discover and act on that purpose.

And if we each become aware of our connection and importance and responsibility to Life, individually and together, we can find that we are not alone, and affirm each other in the journey.




Heal the Land & the People? Racism says “Not Here!”

Three years ago, a friend returned from a conference, thrust a book at me, said “You must read this!” – and shifted my perspective on the world.

The book was Cosmosophia, by the Rev. Dr. Theodore Richards (see my Great Reads page for a review). Shortly afterward I contacted Dr. Richads directly… and that was the beginning of a rich connection. Since then I’ve studied under his direction, and helped to promote his work, and have been deeply moved by his writings on the Wisdom Education tradition, and the way he has been putting this tradition into practice in the Chicago Wisdom Project.

An important aspect of the CWP vision is to help children connect not only to their inner wisdom and their ancestral wisdom, but also to the wisdom of the land through practicing permaculture: the Project has been working for some time now toward starting a permaculture farm in Baroda, Michigan.

Having studied permaculture with the Earth Activist Training, I’ve personally experienced the magic that this integrative approach to agriculture and human culture can work…not only in healing the land, but also in healing and empowering those who work the land, as well as raising the consciousness, sustainability and resilience of the surrounding community. It’s work that affirms the message of Martin Luther King, Jr. at its deepest meaning: that we are one people and we are all related to every other being.

So it was with shock that I read the following blog post from Dr. Richards this morning…and I ask you to join me in supporting his petition:

Dr King’s Work Continues: Forty-eight Years Later, Still “Not Welcome”

Dr King’s Work Continues: Forty-eight Years Later, Still “Not Welcome”

“NOT Welcome!” read the email. I stared at it for a while. We were not welcome to build our farm in Baroda, Michigan, apparently. Even though, in the same email, the neighbor claims he does not know what we are doing. [“It is not clear to me what the complete objectives are for this project, who will be ‘farming’ this land, and why you thought it would be appropriate placement in my front yard! NOT welcome at all.” – Gregory Davis]

But hey, I thought, this is just one neighbor. No big deal. But then I got the call from Mike Moran. Mike is running the farm in Michigan and had just returned from a hearing with the town board. A dozen or so neighbors had showed up, bringing pictures they’d printed from our website, bringing wild accusations about what our plans, bringing, most significantly, fear and ignorance that we’d been taught was a thing of the past. I’d seen “Eyes on the Prize.” I knew that when my wife’s family moved to a white neighborhood in Chicago in the eighties she’d faced similar prejudices. But this was 2014. Dr King’s birthday is celebrated as a big, collective “thank you” for getting rid of this kind of thing, or perhaps as a “Day of Service” where people do nice things like feed the homeless. But addressing issues of systemic racism and exclusion are not really part of the narrative.

(read more)

Please sign this petition to ask the town of Baroda to give Wisdom Farm a fair hearing.

Theodore Richards is the director and founder of The Chicago Wisdom Project. He is the author of several books, most recently Creatively Maladjusted: The Wisdom Education Movement Manifesto, finalist for the USA Book Award. His second novel, The Conversions, is to be released in October. He is the recipient of numerous literary awards, including two Independent Publisher Awards, The USA Book Award, and the Nautilus Book Award. He lives in Chicago with his wife and daughters.

Idle No More: A White Man Speaks

Powerful words on Idle No More from a non-Native writer and a human-rights perspective: “What other religious and non-religious whites would do well to remember that it doesn’t matter whether there is or isn’t a God. All that matters is that all human beings have certain inalienable human rights, and when the rights of even one human being are denied, it means that a statement has been made: All people are equal, but some are more equal than others.”