You might know what these are. They are native artifacts, more specifically, pestles. These were chosen for their shape and used in stone mortars to grind things. Each one is from a different property I lived on while walking this practitioning path. One is from Encinal Canyon in the wild north of Malibu (home now to Daryl Hannah), one is from the North Bank of the Wild and Scenic Chetco River in Brookings, on the beautiful Southern Oregon Coast, and the littlest one is from an elk field near the wilder part of the Sandy River, between Portland and Mt. Hood. But how they came into my hands (and hence this photo) is the real story here.
So, I was apprenticing with my shamanic teacher during the Malibu years, knowing little to nothing when I arrived during the wildfires of November, 1993, and rocked by the Northridge earthquake starting off 1994 with an awakening jolt. I was starting over at 40, and during the next 8 years I would grow into my new hoop, new life, and new vocation. I don't remember the exact year the Malibu pestle came to me; probably c. 1999, as I was completing the apprenticeship, in deep relationship with the spirits of the land and the little stone cabin I called home.
Only one room, the cabin had big windows looking out at the live oaks, the creek, the tiger lillies, and the coyotes who would parade down the dirt driveway at night as a family pack. Cougars, bobcats, deer, owls, redtails and hummingbirds were regular colleagues, in ordinary and non-ordinary reality. Sitting on the wraparound stone porch at night after journeywork, a large ceanothus moth came and sat on my hand, furry as a winged deer. Rattlesnakes and scorpions had their own wisdom, but that's another story.
I was journeying one day, on the floor by the window looking east. I don't remember the details. When I finished, I stood and looked out the window. There was the first pestle, lying on the ground. It was a bare gravel/dirt area, cleared and part of the parking area by the cabin. The pestle had clearly not been there before, and could not have dropped from above, nor unearthed itself from below. I received it as a gift with honor, gratitude, and wonder.
Things appearing out of nowhere were becoming more of a thing during the Malibu years, which led me to buy the Brookings farm in 2001. The farmhouse had a workroom with a separate entry, perfect for the full-fledged practice I intended to begin there. Each day as I settled in, I'd go into the workroom and journey to ask, What am I doing here? What do I do today to further the work and why I am here? I received very specific instructions to find places I'd never seen, up river, on the coast, in the redwoods, and would follow up. Clients began to appear, retreat ideas would materialize with help from contemplating Mount Emily across the river from the property, and one thing led to another. That it would lead me to Oxford was unknown then, but that's another story.
That property had a spring that was part of the hillside spring system that provided water shared by several homes around. The little spring in the forest near my pump house was clearly sacred, and I would often go to pay respects and honor it. Springs, you know, are kind of a big deal multiculturally as places of reverence and spirit dwellers. I loved that tiny secluded watery magical spot, one of many wonderful spots on that property, all of which imbued the work with extra potency. The lingering spirits of the native people played a major role in my years there, I would come to find out. Their energy was palpable, and much respected.
So one day, I go to the spring to say hello. There, lying pristinely, on the wet muddy back part of the little spring, was the second pestle. Clean as a whistle. Dry as a bone. Placed on oozy saturated mud; everything around it wet and muddy. No prints or marks anywhere around it. Its similarity to the Malibu pestle was remarkable. I don't quite remember which is which.
The smallest pestle turned up when I returned to doing the work fully in Sandy, after nearly 7 years of academic focus with lessened shamanic practice. Reconnecting fully with the work, the crystals and stones, and the energy of remote and in-person transformative assisting felt revivifying, powerful. While there elk, bear, deer, owl, redtails and geese were frequent cohabitants. I visited the native museum in the Columbia Gorge and felt the presence of spirits in the woods and waterfall areas where they'd been so heinously ousted. I gave them sage offerings, said prayers, wrote poems, and studied the anthropological and geological details of the area.
Rattling and drumming and smudging and using feathers is not about pretending to be Native American, or a ritual that must be enacted to make stuff happen. Core shamanic practice draws from many cultures, respecting all. But as an empath, I feel what's around me, and who's around, and what they feel. The energy in much of Oregon notes the sorry way things went, and it wasn't long ago, less than 200 years.
Anyway, again, one day I finished my work in the workroom and went out to rake Sir's area near the barn. He had a big pasture to graze in and share with the wild herds when they roamed through, and then a dirt area by his water and shelter which I kept cleaned daily. There are no trees there, just bare earth that sprouts camomile and buttercups in summer and gets muddy in winter. There, lying on the bare earth, was the third pestle.
What prompted this post today was this morning's journey work, which led me to open a basket to see what was in it, which was another found stone, another native artifact, used for scraping hides as seen here. Chosen for its initial shape and moulded by the fingers gripping it and the hours of scraping, the human presence is still very much intact. I put it on my heart and journeyed about gifts, tools, work, and things appearing out of nowhere. It's the deft combination, under grace, that allows such transmissions, transformations, and materializations. I am grateful. Hoy ya hey!
George Harrison's classic opener to Side Two of the Beatles' immortal LP Abbey Road, Here Comes the Sun knocked us all out on first spin. I was at boarding school in 1969, when Wheeler in Providence was still an all-girls boarding school going by its traditional name of The Mary C Wheeler School. Someone brought in the brand new LP and put it on the turntable. By the time we flipped it over, young minds forever blown, George's catchy singalong joy at the sun coming out after a long cold lonely winter, masterfully played on acoustic guitar in a complex time signature, won us completely. May Day – and May Eve – are all about this.
There are many ways to celebrate the coming – at last – of the darling buds of May, to the upper latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere. Most of them harken back to the olden days of pastoral village life, a closer connection to nature, having only seasonal food to eat, and a deeper acknowledgement of and interaction with folk lore and ancient ways as a means of survival. Which, at May Eve included dancing with the fairies and sprites, shapeshifting and walking between worlds, in league with the invisibles. May poles may have been involved.
While I am a core shamanic practitioner, not a Celtic shamanic practitioner solely, I do have knowledge both experiential and academic; you could say it's in my blood. So I do refer to May Day also as Beltane (BEL-tenn-ah). And I thought I'd use this timely blog post to tell you a bit about it, using information from Celtic experts John and Caitlin Matthews as well as the Oxford Dictionary of Celtic Mythology, without going nuts so I can get back out in the sun and frolic with Sir Galahad. That's my horse, not the Arthurian champion.
Basically, the Celtic sun god, Bel, the Shining One, returns officially on May Day, and everyone's greatly relieved to be through the dark cold lonely winter. Darling buds are blooming, clothes may be shed, birds are singing, and hey! we survived. You may be feeling much the same; I know I am. Hence, 'tis a fabulous time for celebrations with libation and dancing and a certain amount of bonhomie having to do with flowers and phallic pole symbols.
But there's more to it than party party party. Or driving cattle between two bonfires, or eating special foods like May Eve bannocks (cool rolls). There is heightened awareness, an atunement with the natural cycles and our being influenced as a living part of them, a reverent knowing of the power of prayer, love and gratitude, and the expression of these things to the invisible forces and their third dimensional counterparts. We're talking flora, fauna, trees, stones, clouds, waters, and dare we forget: bees! The bees need us to protect them, and we need them to, well, stay alive.
Beltane (and its many derivative spellings depending on location and date) is one of the four Celtic fire festivals, welcoming the sun god back to rule and all. Remember another track on Abbey Road, John Lennon's Sun King, a strangely dirge-like mash-up of May Day-esque feeling and stately Louis XVI pomp (and opening crickets)? It really was a long cold lonely winter recording Abbey Road. Then, the world got the Summer of Love. Woo-hoo!
May Day is the midpoint between the Spring Equinox and the Summer Solstice, what is called a cross-quarter day. On these eight holi-days (spring and fall equinoxes, summer and winter solstices, Imbolc (February 1), Beltane (May 1), Lughnasadh (August 1), and Samhain (November 1), our connection with this world and the unseen is stronger. The Druidry.org site info hyperlinked here mentions that at Beltane the summer literally begins to buzz.
Just yesterday, on this fair and lovely emerald isle of Vashon, a local gardener mentioned that she's not yet hearing the familiar buzz of bees in her century-old apple trees. The blossoms are again returning, let's hope the bees do too. Maybe a little extra bee love would not go amiss this May Day.
While being outdoors, frolicking, giving thanks and tokens of love and gratitude to nature, for its beauty and sustenance and spirits, while enjoying being part of it all is apropos for Beltane, no matter what tradition or none guides your revelry, there's more to it, as previously mentioned.
The veil between the worlds is well known to be thin at these points in time. Beyond witchy superstitions and customs is the perhaps more shamanic appraisal of power times for the work. Shapeshifting is a very natural part of the work, which doesn't mean the raven you hear cawing from the wires, or the dragonfly on your hat is me. Necessarily.
Beltane is a 'work day' for me, and I'm grateful for it. I love my work in all its forms. The energy will be optimal for walking between worlds, within and without. And I love nature, especially the darling buds, and bees, and all the beauty of this world. May you enjoy and appreciate the natural and supernatural, visible and invisible forces that rule the universe, keep us alive and allow us to simply bee.
I feel like I've just been reborn. That's what happens when you get your connect with the Spirits of Place. And particularly when, like me, you've just moved somewhere and it's extremely magical, and you discover a path you can walk to from your new home that leads through the woods to the Sound. Living on an island, as I now do, water is an important part of the place. I knew I would be doing a lot with the water, but I didn't know I could simply walk down the lane and through the madrone and maple forest on this lovely little footpath and be immersed in a magical connection that feels timeless.
The lady at the honor farm stand on the road mentioned the path when I picked up some organic greens the other day, or I might not have noticed it. It's an easy saunter out the gravel lane, past some more horses besides mine and his two newfound friends, and across Vashon Highway, which most of the time has no cars visible upon it. The footpath then winds around through the woods, sloping gently down as the sound of the creek increases, the world falls away, and the view of the water grows more visible. Birds and water sounds lull you into an attentiveness that signals the Spirits of Place are aware of your presence. The trees begin to signal, the budding mallow and currants catch the light. Someone, as you can see in the photo, even planted daffodils near the trail by the Sound.
I'm settling in after the chaotic and strenuous labor of moving. My workroom is ready, but I was not. This morning I journeyed for myself, to connect and ground, and was told in no uncertain terms to chill and ground and go connect with the Spirits of Place. I was also advised to renew faith. So I did. I didn't know what I would find, or even if I had the strength for the walk. I've been pretty knackered, as the English say.
But the Spirits of Place fixed that. I don't even remember what the other worn-out feeling felt like now; a feeling of exhaustion I've had for weeks. Instead, I feel deeply connected to exactly where on this incredible Emerald Isle I live. I now know I have the perfect place to wander, for myself, and in which to work with clients who want to heal, train in shamanic practices, or both, to find their connect in nature and learn the ins and outs of interactions with Spirits of Place, nature spirits, water work, tree and flower lore, etc etc.
There's so much shamanic work to do in nature. It performs miracles for the human beings and the nature spirits love it too. They sure rebooted me. I'd be delighted to introduce you, and was so inspired by the trail and where you arrive at the end that I created a new service: the half day island visit. Or heck, come for a daylong intensive and build it into your studies and healing work, a fabulous dinner and deep dreaming sleep.
I wish I had a readout of my energy, happiness and groundedness levels before and after today's meeting with Spirits of Place to illustrate the power of such nature work. And it's not even work. It's a stroll with a natural heightened awareness. It's a giving and receiving of love and gratitude and beauty and delight. There's lots of oxygen involved, sun and shade and clean air, greenery and circulation. And the invisibles do their thing through the natural wonders all around.
For example, I was walking along, discovering it all for the first time, and I thought of a line that I couldn't place right away. Now the way leads to the hill... faintly recognizable, why did it pop up just then, just that little scrap? I knew it, but couldn't place it right away. The path didn't even lead to a hill, it was leading down a hill, but there was something just at that moment that popped it into my mind, so I explored. Then I got it.
It's a line from a very old Joni Mitchell song, one of her early ethereal ones. The song is called I Think I Understand, and I used to play it in my teenaged acoustic folk singer days as well as love to hear her recording. Then I got why it popped up now that I'm on the island. It was a gift from the Spirits of Place. Here's the full verse and chorus:
Now the way leads to the hill
above the steeple's chime
Below me sleepy rooftops round the harbor.
It's there I'll take my thirsty fill
of friendship over wine
Forgetting fear but never disregarding her.
I think I understand
Fear is like a wilderland
Stepping stones on sinking sand.
Feel free to hear it by clicking on the title link to a YouTube. I haven't thought of that song for decades, nor had I truly tuned into to the level of disconnect and, yes, fear that had sapped my energy for some time. As the Spirits of Place arranged for all of that to coalesce in my mind, body and spirit, the lyrics and melody came back to me and I got the reboot. Boom! Instant, delicate, gentle, complete. Aha. I don't believe that would have occurred were I not in that place.
A hummingbird is swooping and chirping and popping in agreement as I write this. it's another Spirit of Place happening. And I think I understand.
Woke up from a night of intermittent sleep and howling winds to a clear blue sky and thick ice on Sir's water bucket. But in comparison to the extreme commutes I glimpsed on the morning news feed of friends, from my blanketed comfort zone, my work schedule on this blustery cold day is a dream. I'm working right now, in fact, as Alice Sara Ott plays Chopin piano waltzes for the delight of Tigs and Tux, destined to stay in until temps climb to today's high of 30. Mid-20's is quite a bit warmer than -11 currently playing in my hometown back in Illinois. Winter work for me today is centered on clearing channels, residing in open space, working with the energy of light, and learning the healing powers of sound. And writing of course, from a variety of positions. Starting here with the first blog post of 2014. Aloha!
The photo shows one of my main work stations: the pillow on the journey rug in the workroom, with the apophylite and amethyst that often hold the high chakra ground while I work, and are known to be effective in such a position for the work. The word work shows up four times in that sentence, and that's indeed the word for it. Doing the work is a real thing, as is the writing or editing work I'll also do today, from another work station in a comfy chair looking out at the blue. Which is a different kind of real work from the laundry, or the soup stock making also on the docket today. No driving required, no money spent, and I can attend to my old horse, Sir's, hydration by carrying out hot water buckets throughout the day. Simple, but effective, allowing perfect movement breaks. The simplicity and balance of today and today's winter work is a joy, and I am grateful for the myriad small and immense wonderments all around me. The light is phenomenal.
Basically, we're all doing the work of transformation on various levels.. Winter work here today includes turning bones to clear liquid; turning ideas into exchanges that in turn transform into checks in the mailbox; turning blue sky and ice into tankas; turning sound into healing. The foundation of all transformation is open space filled with light, and the different ways we real-ize and work with it through our minds and soul's knowing.
In journeying, I look in and out at the same time, with eye covering blotting out all light. Headphones feed my mind with repetitive drumming by a group of fellow practitioners, keeping the theta waves going in a sound-generated lifeline to this world, the lifeline I literally journey on so I can get back. Doing the work requires being in multiple dimensions at once, going into other worlds or realms at will, interacting with the assistance and guidance of helpers, and bringing back energy to this world. In remote work, that energy gets transported through Middle World to the client wherever he or she may be.
So, as in dreaming, there's a lot of traveling, which is why it's called journeying; a lot of interactions and transmissions. The mind receives an amazing array of information through many channels, visual, audible, sentient, metaphysical; yet to the ordinary reality eye, nothing happens. There's nothing seen, eyes are closed, there's nothing said, and nothing done. A dance of embodied spirit with disembodied spirit that medicine men and women have danced through the world for hundreds of thousands of years.
In meditative practices, such as with the Warrior Syllables I'm doing at present, another kind of relation to open space is happening. Mind is stilled, channels in the body where the chakras spin clear and open, obstacles are removed, and groundedness in space allows positive qualities to spontaneously manifest. Doing this type of practice before journeying, and others such as discharging energy through placing my hands on the crystal clusters set up for that job, readies me for the work. Doing it for my personal attunement is, I'm discovering, essential. And as a practice for healing, it is most effective. I am just beginning to learn this technique. The ability of masters to affect cellular structure through this practice is astonishing and seems miraculous; it is in truth an adept use of open space. For me it is another area of work in progress. To the ordinary eye, naturally, it appears as if nothing is happening.
Which brings me to the famous line by the poet W. H. Auden that poetry makes nothing happen. Nothingness is the primary field of interest in my poetry and critical work. I can't help it, it enthralls me. Here again is the awareness of open space as the stuff of life, what the universe is made of, what we are made of. Looking out on this clear blue sky day, it appears there's nothing happening. The wind moves through the high treetops, and they respond with their own movement and sound. The wind chimes on the porch play a few notes, in tune with Chopin. In open space what arises arises, what disappears disappears. Without open space nothing would happen. Nothing does happen. I love my work: to let the arisings come through, let the open space fill with light, and energy transmit and transform. When I do my work, I aspire to be a hollow reed the wind blows through, creating sound and resonant vibration that affects matter across time and space. I myself do nothing.
Okay, back to work! May your winter work be warming and transforming. Oh, and speaking of those two things, it may be a perfect day for this alchemical medicine: Jane Grigson's Celery Soup, a genius recipe from Food52. May your journey home be magically assisted by helpers in many forms.
This week is awash in gratitude and possibly fraught also with your own personal version of guilt – the other G-word – or a laundry list of what you should do, buy, eat, not eat, say, not say, think or not think. It's a truly complicated American holiday we celebrate, interwoven with family dysfunction, historical misdeeds, and dietary self-loathing all wrapped up in ribbons of Norman Rockwell/Martha Stewart perfectionism, copious side dishes and consumer cattle-prodding. What a charged mix!
Some people have happy family traditions and loving bonds, perfect table settings and plenty of exciting achievement news to share over the stuffing and pie. Others, not so much. And some may have really loaded combinations of all of these appearances that in turn create an internal heightening of all that is bewildering about this 21st century American thing called gratitude. And what the heck do shoulders have to do with any of it, you ask?
How are yours feeling these days? Tight, sore, misaligned, over burdened? Stiff from crouching over the laptop, looking up plane fares or recipes or bank balances, or lack thereof? In my practice, I often mention that the word shoulders is spelled should-ers, and that body symptoms in this area can be related to guilt, lack of self-love, pushing ourselves to do what we think we should. All these, by the way, I know from personal experience. When I track my internal dialogue on a daily basis, the amount of shoulds that old conditioning critic rags on about is insane.
In these days of constant internet advice, we are bombarded by what we should do, numbered and listed for us with an urgency that suggests that if we are not doing, buying, thinking, reading, eating, wearing, going or knowing these tips and tweets and lifestyle choices, we, well, should be, and are somehow the lesser for it. And at this particular holiday, when family and tradition, the things that should be in place within our families and country and are, um, maybe not, the inner turmoil and shoulder stuff can really spiral out, leading to possible inner misery along with shoulder discomfort and even acting-out in potential family eruptions.
We may more quietly, although few mention it amid the hubbub, feel bad about ourselves, our situation, even our bounty in the face of our history or present national outlook. We might be wincing or sad as we catch ourselves comparing our scenario with the ones in magazines, movies, posts and blogs or what we hear from others. It's a common enough occurrence, thinking others have it perfect amid your snafu'd existence. And guess what we do then? Feel guilty – even more guilty – even as we adhere to our Things I'm Grateful For regimen.
The photo above I just snapped out in the upper pasture: it's a path made by wild animals. Out for a Connect and Reflect Walk, it struck me as a metaphor for the simplicity with which we can bypass all that and walk our talk. It begins with feeling ok about ourselves just exactly as we are at this moment. Sounds simple, but especially in holiday activation of crazy mode, achieving this state of mind can be challenging, to say the least. It is assisted by allowing, by being grateful first of all for yourself, not in a should sort of way (as in I feel like crap and am facing real problems but I should feel good about myself, so oh well, fine, I'll do that), but just by tuning into what makes you happy, and being happy about it. We sometimes feel guilty about being happy in a way that doesn't really help, as in I feel guilty about doing something that makes me happy because I'm supposed to be feeling grateful about what I have that others don't have etc.
There's a happy, natural balance of loving and accepting self and others that brings us all together in a Oneness sorta deal that allows true gratitude to warm from within and reach out around the world. And it starts with giving thanks to yourself wholeheartedly as a part of the All [your word here].
To achieve and hold balance through the hubbub, I've been told to take time to feed the soul, and to go deeper in. The woods up the road (pictured below) whispered to me to do just that: go deeper in. Then you can find your connect, ground, relax, warm your heart strings, lighten your shoulder load and come from that place, as you drive or fly or buy in crowds, as you navigate challenging living room dynamics or make food for a multitude, or maybe sit alone in a cold room breathing in and out. Hey, enlightened masters spend plenty of turkey days sitting in caves with nothing, doing exactly that, and they're enlightened. We can lose sight of the inner in the glare of pageantry, lovely as it is, and tasty too. Breathing in and out with mindfulness is enough.
The connect with everything that occurs when we activate our inner connect allows us to send out gratitude across the universe, an energy that is truly powerful and transformative, and comes from love (self-love as well as love of others) rather than from fear, i.e. guilt, envy, manipulation, competitiveness, blame, anger, [your word here]. This is felt as a bubbling up of wonderful that reaches all beings and transmits awareness of the perfection of the All, allowing cool stuff to happen without our even knowing it.
From there we are able to reach back through time and thank the people who fed those without food; we can reach across the family history and find something we appreciate amid the maybe-not-so-great out-picturings; we can send light and love to the community, country and world around us that allows good stuff to happen now and in the future, and we can beam light out into the galaxy that can be felt from far far away. And guess what – I'm willing to bet there are beings in the next galaxy who feel truly grateful when they feel that coming from the humans on the little blue planet. All of this we can do while enjoying second helpings and the liveliness of group conversation if we have them, or the quiet of the starry night if not. The universe loves you, the human heart is capable of brave miracles, Food52 has fabulous recipes and stuff, you are wondrous in the simple fact that you exist, and that's a happy deal. Bon appetit. Your comments are welcome and appreciated.