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.

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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.

 

 

 

 

REBLOGGING: “Mutiny of the Soul” by Charles Eisenstein

Charles Eisenstein‘s essay, examining the chasm that yawns between the social definition of a good life versus the soul’s definition, and our body’s paths of rebellion against the soulless life mandated by society, is critical reading for our time….particularly for anyone who struggles with depression, anxiety, or chronic-fatigue dis-eases (or, I might add, physical or psychological addiction). What are the messages our wise bodies are trying to convey?

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Mutiny of the Soul

Mutiny of the Soul

 

Depression, anxiety, and fatigue are an essential part of a process of metamorphosis that is unfolding on the planet today, and highly significant for the light they shed on the transition from an old world to a new.

When a growing fatigue or depression becomes serious, and we get a diagnosis of Epstein-Barr or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome or hypothyroid or low serotonin, we typically feel relief and alarm. Alarm: something is wrong with me. Relief: at least I know I’m not imagining things; now that I have a diagnosis, I can be cured, and life can go back to normal. But of course, a cure for these conditions is elusive.

The notion of a cure starts with the question, “What has gone wrong?” But there is another, radically different way of seeing fatigue and depression that starts by asking, “What is the body, in its perfect wisdom, responding to?” When would it be the wisest choice for someone to be unable to summon the energy to fully participate in life?

The answer is staring us in the face. When our soul-body is saying No to life, through fatigue or depression, the first thing to ask is, “Is life as I am living it the right life for me right now?” When the soul-body is saying No to participation in the world, the first thing to ask is, “Does the world as it is presented me merit my full participation?”

What if there is something so fundamentally wrong with the world, the lives, and the way of being offered us, that withdrawal is the only sane response? Withdrawal, followed by a reentry into a world, a life, and a way of being wholly different from the one left behind?

The unspoken goal of modern life seems to be to live as long and as comfortably as possible, to minimize risk and to maximize security. We see this priority in the educational system, which tries to train us to be “competitive” so that we can “make a living”. We see it in the medical system, where the goal of prolonging life trumps any consideration of whether, sometimes, the time has come to die. We see it in our economic system, which assumes that all people are motivated by “rational self-interest”, defined in terms of money, associated with security and survival. (And have you ever thought about the phrase “the cost of living”?) We are supposed to be practical, not idealistic; we are supposed to put work before play. Ask someone why she stays in a job she hates, and as often as not the answer is, “For the health insurance.” In other words, we stay in jobs that leave us feeling dead in order to gain the assurance of staying alive. When we choose health insurance over passion, we are choosing survival over life.

On a deep level, which I call the soul level, we want none of that. We recognize that we are here on earth to enact a sacred purpose, and that most of the jobs on offer are beneath our dignity as human beings. But we might be too afraid to leave our jobs, our planned-out lives, our health insurance, or whatever other security and comfort we have received in exchange for our divine gifts. Deep down, we recognize this security and comfort as slaves’ wages, and we yearn to be free.

So, the soul rebels. Afraid to make the conscious choice to step away from a slave’s life, we make the choice unconsciously instead. We can no longer muster the energy to go through the motions. We enact this withdrawal from life through a variety of means. We might summon the Epstein-Barr virus into our bodies, or mononucleosis, or some other vector of chronic fatigue. We might shut down our thyroid or adrenal glands. We might shut down our production of serotonin in the brain. Other people take a different route, incinerating the excess life energy in the fires of addiction. Either way, we are in some way refusing to participate. We are shying away from ignoble complicity in a world gone wrong. We are refusing to contribute our divine gifts to the aggrandizement of that world.

More…..

Findhorn Love In Action:
Reconciling with the “Monster” Within

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.

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The dunes at Findhorn Park

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.

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The Caddys’ original caravan in Findhorn Park

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.)

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Findhorn’s Original Garden, literally built on sand

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?).

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Cullerne Gardens

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.

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The Main Sanctuary, Findhorn Park

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.

Findhorn: Ascending the Power Point

“…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 bIMG_20160430_065735943rief 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 IMG_20160430_065804821backgrounds 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. IMG_20160430_070004602

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 aroundIMG_20160424_172002788_HDR, 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.

 

 

Findhorn Bound: Women’s Wisdom in Nairn

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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(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.

 

First Steps to Findhorn: The Mountain Not Conquered

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?

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The path not taken (the steep cut to the right) and the path taken (the long line to the left)

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.

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Gorse – not for grasping

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. 

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Judas-ear fungus (thanks to the RBG staff for the identification)

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.

IMG_20160414_080820808_TOPI 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.

It’s Kitten Season!

This is a public service announcement…

We are right in the middle of “Kitten Season” when every rescue organization and shelter is overrun with adorable bundles of fur.

Because of this overwhelm, many shelters can only keep the kittens for a very few days before putting them to sleep. So, at this time of year, taking feral cats or kittens to a shelter can be a virtual certain death sentence. Dedicated foster caregivers are worth their weight in gold.

It’s particularly tough for adult feral cats who have not been hand-trained…in most cases, they are considered “unadoptable” and put to sleep immediately because there simply aren’t the resources to hold them safely, much less domesticate them!

Are there alternatives? Yes.

If you have been adopted by a momma cat and her babies, and you want a no-kill solution – or if you’ve fallen in love with them and want to care for them yourself (you wonderful person!)- check this great Squidoo resource lens for a wealth of advice and resources:

How To Save Feral Cats and Stop Overpopulation With TNR

The author, Frankie Kangas, is a good friend and a veteran foster caregiver with years of experience in trapping and caring for feral cats. She’s an expert resource worth checking out!

For two great FAQs on helping feral cats in your area, see The Humane Society of the US or (for in-depth info) Alleycat Allies

For Feral Cat events in your area, check out the Alleycat Allies calendar.

For advice on protecting your feral colony against a disaster, see http://www.alleycat.org/DisasterTips

 

Escaping the Good Daughter

I’m flexing my wings for another journey this spring…this time to Findhorn, a destination I’ve wanted to visit for years. There’s an Experience Week happening, and with it the opportunity to step into a landscape where the green beings are awake and aware and working with their human stewards. It’s a trip I’ve dreamed of taking for years. 

The challenge is going to be getting there. I’ve learned from experience that each step forward is met with equal inner pushback…call it inertia, call it resistance…and this is no exception. Far from it.

For example, there was the challenge of escaping the strictures of the Good Daughter…

While shopping for my plane tickets to Inverness, I found one of those “flexible dates” offers – a walloping difference in price if I left two days early. How could I resist…it would add free time to the trip, independent time with which I could do as I chose. I’d be crazy to pass it up….

With the purchase made, and 24 hours’ freedom to reconsider, I reconsidered. I could do as I’ve salisbury-crags
always done in past travels – arrive at the site of the workshop, spend all my time in the area, attend the event, turn around and go home….or I could allow some space to be a solitary tourist in a bucket-list land, change my landing point from Inverness to Edinburgh, spend a day sightseeing, and mosey up to my destination by scenic train through the Scottish Highlands.

How was this even a question? It would be the trip of a lifetime! I swapped out my tickets for a (nonrefundable) arrival in Edinburgh, and commenced to plan….

…And awoke at 3:00 that morning, submerged in terror. The plane would go down, Edinburgh would be attacked, the train would derail – my imagination was conjuring up no end of horrors.

After fighting through the cold sweat, nausea, and metallic taste of panic, I finally realized: this was the lifelong conditioning of the Good Daughter, the internalized message thundering through my nervous system like a voice of God, delivered via my cautious, Depression-raised parents: “Thou shalt not stray from the approved path…thou shalt not waste time and money on needless curiosity…thou shalt not add needless expense to thy already unnecessary and excessive vacation…thou shalt not….”

By going to a different and distant landing point and traveling on public transport through wild terrain to my ultimate destination, I was breaching the circle of safety I’d allowed for the specific purpose of the workshop. Like Little Red Riding Hood, I was frolicking away from the narrow path I had allowed myself; and I was ripe for the picking by any predator. And, my conditioned conviction insisted, I would most certainly be picked. Red Riding Hood couldn’t have been any more doomed.

But this trip was for precisely that purpose: making my choices, stepping outside the comfort zone, defining my own experience. Escaping the conditioned straitjacket of the Good Daughter to live my own life, now that I was free to do so. Defining my purpose for the extra time and giving myself my own approval. Indulging the impulsive, curious, adventuresome Younger-Self who regularly hopped off the MTA bus a mile or more from my destinations for the sheer joy of walking and seeing the neighborhoods.

The memory arose: receiving tickets for the commencement ceremony for my Master’s degree, knowing that no one from my family would be attending. At the university bookstore, ordering the frame for the diploma, I saw a magnet: Make Yourself Proud. That became my impetus: I hadn’t spent seven years pursuing the degree, devoting doctoral effort for each 3-credit independent study (my advisor said), for my father’s pride or my family’s approval. I had done it to reinvent and reclaim my life and purpose.

This was another step on that autonomous journey. The work of overcoming my Good Daughter fears was the prerequisite for the work of my stay in Findhorn.

So refusing to be turned aside, I pushed back. Set up my B&Bs, identified the sights that called irresistibly to be seen. Set up the train trip through the Highlands to the beachside town of Nairn, and from there to Findhorn. Experienced a warm online welcome from the people who would be hosting me.

And step by step (picturing my mother cheering me on as I broke out of her inherited reclusiveness), the nightmare scenes of disaster were replaced by the images of historic, mystical, Earth-power sites. The fear was replaced by anticipation and a solid sense of rightness.

Yes, as a fifty-something middle-aged woman, I might be breaking out of the Good Daughter mold absurdly late. But better claim my life, my autonomy, my purpose, my fun, my adventure, late than not at all.

 

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.

The process is fast, easy, and secure and it benefits a great cause.

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