Along with just about everyone else I know, I have been moving through various stages of depression, anxiety, dread, horror, and grief as I witness the travesty of government, the utter destruction of anything remotely resembling democracy, a social safety net, or environmental protections, indicated by Congress and the evolving cabinet of the soon-to-be-inaugurated dictator-wannabe.
But lately something has happened that – while it hasn’t brought me to singing and dancing, it has allowed me to put my feet more firmly on the ground. take a deep breath, and put myself back together.
A couple of weeks ago, an old real-life nightmare returned after I’d thought it gone forever. It brought profound upset, fear, anger, outrage, and a raft of other emotions, all based on pure conjectures built on a chance 15-second encounter on the street. Trauma kicked in and – after digging deep into my own “Defense against the Dark Arts” toolbox and many others’ – I went through massive home purges and clearings, doing shadow-work and practicing Metta meditation and self-Reiki.
I didn’t know what was coming regarding that nightmare, but based on what I knew, it was likely not to be good. Another wise friend had told me “If you project XYZ negative possibilities, you are also responsible for finding the same number of positive possibilities. You simply don’t know why this has happened.”I tried hard, but past experience was getting the better – or worse – of my intentions.
Finally – exhausted by the what-ifs, the possibilities, the projections, and the near-paranoia of this close-t0-home circumstance on top of the drama on the national stage – I stood at my Reiki altar before the images of Tara and Mother Mary, and the words came to my mind, “Take refuge.” And – having run out of other options – I did. Envisioned a field of compassionate love, the arms of the Divine Mother, took a running mental leap and threw myself in.
The peace was immediate, and exquisite. It wasn’t that the genuine and potential horrors of the world – or the potential terrors of my immediate neighborhood – had ceased to be; I became aware that they were not all that existed. That – as Viktor Frankl had discovered in the Nazi concentration camps – the final freedom of one’s mind was still unbroken:
…everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.. ~~Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning
I could choose my focus: fear and paralysis, certainty of helpless victimhood, outrage and striking-back – or I could focus on the human spirit taking large and small acts of compassion and love nearby, across the nation and around the world. I could focus on the goodness, beauty and creativity of Earth Mother and her endless adaptations of evolution. I could focus on the dark, and surrender to despair, or I could focus on the knowledge that there is a deeper balance.
This didn’t mean that I was going to disappear into never-read-the-newspaper/never-look-at-the-news/happy-happy perky never-a-negative-thought denial. It meant I could see the horrors, but deny them their power over me. I could choose my state of mind, I could choose my actions rather than reacting.
As I disengaged the emotional hooks of dread and helplessness, I remembered the words of the young warrior at Standing Rock: “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.” Take refuge in divine love and compassion.
I 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!
…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…
I 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.
I 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.
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 piled 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 invocationas I walked, I felt into the energy of the wood: where was the best place for me to seek connection?
And 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, evergreen 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.
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.
“…And over there is the Power Point,” said our co-focalizer Pat, waving her hand toward the forest beyond the Cluny parking lot. Dropping that provocative comment with no further explanation, she went on to point out the laundry, the Boutique, the downstairs 24-hour shower, and other necessities. But that brief mention left me determined: when we had some free time to explore, the Power Point would be destination #1.
It only took a passing mention at dinner to discover that five women in our group had felt equally compelled to see the Power Point. Despite the cold drizzle, we bundled up and sallied out across the parking lot, past the heart-shaped wisteria espalier and under the freestanding arch, with its path leading up the hill.
This was just a getting-acquainted trip for us, exploring our environment. The five of us laughed and joked about Woman Power, being unafraid – even eager – to encounter the nature spirits of the spot (or even the great god Pan himself!), but an undercurrent of awareness ran through our carrying-on: this expedition was calling forth a wild-woman face that we each carried hidden. Our backgrounds were varied, international – Welsh, Spanish, Dutch, German, and American – and each of us was aware at bone level that past the budding arch, with its wind chime like a doorbell, lay genuine earth mysteries that transcended our individual cultures.
Instinctively, each of us gently touched the wind chime to ring as we passed beneath the arch. I was reminded of the Shuar community of Ecuador, who painted their faces before going into the rainforest to tell the spirits that they came humbly in peace.
The graveled path arced uphill, turning sharp left around a growth of trees and bushes to reveal two circles, set like an anteroom and sanctuary. My heartbeat quickened at the still air, the echoing song of sleepy birds, the feeling of expectancy.
Instinctively we walked the first circle clockwise, past the Garden of Release and its fragrant flowering bushes. The flagstone path led on to the second circle, outlined in white stones, with a bench facing a simple altar to the Feminine beneath a young Scottish Pine. Silently we gathered in a meditative semicircle and offered an intention for the coming week, then one by one laid an impromptu offering – a feather, a stone, a fallen blossom – on the altar.
We recessed out in silence, feeling as if we had already accessed a Power Point, knowing that the actual destination still lay ahead. Our footsteps muffled by damp leaves, we followed the path as it spiraled uphill. “The path is a beginning of ritual in itself,” one of the women whispered, and I agreed. Like walking the turns of a labyrinth, this wide spiral was leading us inwardly deeper even as we moved higher, glimpsing the roofs of Cluny below us through the trees and the mountains far beyond.
Around and around, walking, walking…there were shortcut trails directly to the top of the hill at intervals, and a couple of the women broke off to follow these, but the deepening feeling of ritual held three of us on the path. Finally we came to the summit, a clearing of holly, birch, flowering bushes and a simple altar of stones. “Love is the answer, Love over all,” said one woman in a hushed voice. Standing there, I felt the connection of earth, trees, sky, the Deep Feminine connection between us five. Smiling impishly at the rest of us, one woman howled at the nearly-full moon somewhere beyond the clouds, and we all joined in, embracing our wild Oneness with divinity.
Walking down, unwinding the spiral, I felt the ritual energy slowly releasing. Women began to talk again, one speaking of similar experiences at other earth sanctuaries, another sharing her worries as a Catholic experiencing things far outside church dogma. I stopped to admire a clump of lichen on the path, and another woman noticed a bee, somnolent from the cold, huddled on the path next to it. Carefully, reverently, we picked it up and placed it in the grasses to the side of the path. Down and down we circled, all five of us, till the path swung wide on the downhill stretch to the arch and wind chime.
After a brief discussion, the other women went on to explore another trail. My feet were still hurting from traipsing the mountain and streets of Edinburgh; I went in to rest and take in the evening’s experience.
It was only in my second week at Findhorn that I learned of the significance of the Power Point: its place among seven sacred hills in the vicinity; its association with the Divine Feminine; the significance of the trees that populated its slopes. But we had been introduced that night, and our impromptu sisterhood had tasted its mystery, and that was an experience to cherish.
Be careful what you wish for, they say…and after a hectic re-entry following two magical weeks at the Findhorn Foundation eco-village and learning center in northern Scotland, I badly needed time to re-ground, re-center, and integrate all I’d experienced into my life and dreams here in Baltimore. And the solution was effortlessly manifested: a case of acute bronchitis that left me flattened on the sofa with a small pharmacy of meds, and just enough energy to contemplate:
What do I do when everything I say I believe – turns out to be true? When some more of the threads binding my allegiance to a materialist-reductionist, goal-driven construction of the world have snapped, opening perception to a living, conscious, and multi-dimensional cosmos, utterly independent of human agendas? When I have taken steps from the frenetic pace of a human doing toward becoming a human being?
The learning began on the very first day, as I checked into the Edinburgh AirBnb, was greeted and given directions by my hostess, and set off with a daypack bristling with necessities and plans to climb Arthur’s Seat, the extinct volcano presiding over Holyrood Park.
The one thing I didn’t bring, however, was appropriate footwear…
I barely noticed while pausing for a quick breakfast at The Southern on South Clerk Street or doing the touristy “step, stop, snap a photo” progress through the few blocks to the park….but once I reached my destination and looked at the winding, rugged stone steps leading to the summit, and the parade of lissome young day-trippers in tank tops, shorts, and hiking shoes ascending, I glanced down at my chic clogs with nearly zero tread and realized this probably wasn’t going to turn out as planned.
And indeed, before I’d gone 100 feet up the stone stair with shoes slipping, ankles wobbling, and acrophobia/vertigo/poor balance kicking in, I’d discovered that 1) the prickly gorse bushes lining the steps were not helpful for support; 2) wobbly middle-aged non-climbers were an obstruction to the parade of (very polite) high-speed summiters; and 3) if I was having this much trouble on the way up, the way down would be seriously hazardous.
My late father’s voice was echoing in my memory from long-past hikes – Don’t be such a fraidy-cat! – but humiliating as it might be to turn tail and retreat, I preferred a wobbly, painstaking way down rather than a high-speed tumble. Thanks be for the patience of the summiters as I made my slow way down against traffic…
Back at the bottom, I tested my shoes on the dirt paths toward the crags, watching the ravens and realizing: this day wasn’t about distinguishing myself in the eyes of other hikers, or in my late father’s judgment. This was my journey, and it was up to me to set the rules and goals.
Why had I come to Scotland, after all? I wasn’t here as a mountaineer to conquer an insensate geological formation. I was here on the first step of a pilgrimage to a spot on the planet where humans purposefully co-created with the consciousness of nature. How could I begin the journey in a spirit of cooperation with this environment?
In all honesty, I realized, getting quickly to the stated destination of a hike has never been my motivation: from childhood hikes to last year’s treks in the rainforest of Ecuador, I fume inwardly when led full-speed past amazing plants and sights on a myopic drive to destination XYZ, when I am longing to slow down and see what is around me. For me, the experience of the journey, the connection with the land, then and now, is what matters.
So I took a second look at Arthur’s Seat: was there a gentler path that would allow me to get acquainted with the mountain, on my own wobbly terms? And there was…
I followed it, slowly, in a child’s spirit of wonder and curiosity, feeling the trail firm under my feet. Taking note of the gorse, the blossoming trees, the lichens and mosses, and one breathtaking growth gleaming translucent as a rose on a sunlit tree trunk. I greeted leisurely strollers and dog-walkers, watched the ravens flying below us….went as far as I felt called, and turned around and returned, impeding nobody’s ascent, when I felt the climb was complete. And saw and felt and experienced it all, as fully as I could….
…And returned to level ground, radiant, and made my way to the Royal Botanical Gardens.
I didn’t know it then, but that experience set the tone of the trip. It wasn’t about achieving popularly accepted goals, repressing the push-pull between the inner “I must/should/shall” voices vs. the voice of the limited – and sensible – inner child for whom depth of nature-connection always came first.
It was about learning to value my own unique perspectives and leadings… respecting my limitations and the gifts they offered. Respecting my own journey and experience…
….and opening the doors to discoveries that couldn’t be reached during the single-minded pursuit of a summit.