Saturday, December 13, 2008

Honoring the Ones Who Come Before Us - As We Go Our Own Way

Lately I've been thinking about Systemic Constellation Work. My good friend Lisa, who introduced us to the work in Cornwall back in 2001, is visiting from Germany. This has brought to mind all the things I owe to this work. Perhaps most obviously, Patricia and I would not be expecting a child in late May, if not for the years of good healing work done with Heinz Stark during the two year training program and beyond. I have been able to see and accept my mother - certainly for the first time as an adult. This seems to have changed . . . everything!

However, while I have found the work to be of immense help in my own growth and healing, it is difficult to express this in a way that most people find meaningful, and so we find ourselves unable to fill even a single day workshop this last year. We have theories as to why this is: Poor economy; not so much appreciation of family in the USA; or, simply the fact that no one knows what we are talking about. 

In the process of re-evaluating how to go forward with our Soul Solutions practice, in the face of low turn-out, I find myself coming to some other belated realizations. This has been coming for awhile now. The keynote speaker at the last North American Systemic Constellation conference over a year ago was a very nice man whose son had been killed as part of a gang initiation. His response was to forgive the boy who killed his son. Ultimately the boy wound up coming around and helping build a foundation to support non-violence. This was all well and good, but it felt "wrong" for a constellation conference. For one thing, constellations show us that offering forgiveness attempts to place us in a higher moral ground - to make us bigger than those we forgive. We observe that it is not up to us to forgive those who harm our families. And so I was confused by how avidly people responded to the speaker and his perspective. Other than Patricia and Heinz, everyone seemed to be okay with that. Then there was the movement to use constellation work in order to decide where to hold the next conference. This felt "wrong" as well. It seemed inappropriate and disrespectful to use such a powerful and connected tool to avoid responsibility for making a choice. 

On top of these experiences of the last conference I have the attempt to bring Heinz Stark back to Ohio to offer his comprehensive professional training in Systemic Constellation Work. First I ran into a wall trying to get CEUs for the program, in spite of the fact that the very same training had been accredited by this same board only a few years before. Perhaps partially because of that, we were not able to find enough people to fill the training and had to cancel it. So not only did we miss out on having more of this quality of training offered here in the states, but on having more well trained facilitators of the work available to this marketplace. 

So - I'm not sure how to proceed. I know that this country NEEDS what Constellation Work has to offer. I know that there are few people who are well trained in the work and can offer it in an effective and meaningful way to meet these needs. But I don't feel that I am a part of the "community" of constellators in the USA. Perhaps I exclude myself, but I feel that the work is too important and too powerful to approach with less training than most people get before receiving their first driving license. On the other hand, I too rebel against the idea of putting Constellation Work under the oversight of yet another professional bureaucracy. As far as I can see, there IS no clear answer - and we will need to come up with a new approach if it is to be both effective and fair to all involved. 

All I have to offer at this point are these thoughts. 

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Writing the flow. . .

Often, when I come out of Stillness from my morning sitting, I am left with a flow of creative energy and think "what a great time to go update my blog!" However, as soon as I sit down in front of the computer, I find that the creative flow has not yet resolved into a word-like substance. And so the updates keep getting put off until I actually drag myself into putting something onto the page. I use this self reflection to preface this entry, because I am still in that flow of creativity - and this is what is emerging. I am going to trust that it will take us all somewhere before I'm done. 

There are many ideas that occur to me during the day - and just as quickly disappear. I'm quite sure that at least some of them are brilliant - and just as sure that most are not. But whatever I may come up with while I'm NOT at liberty to write doesn't matter so much as what comes to me as I sit here now - or anytime I take keyboard in hand and grind something out. Now - just to be clear - I am not complaining. I actually rather enjoy the whole process. . . which leads me to this: While driving across town the other day, I watched a cloud of birds wheeling in the sky and felt a rush of joy rising with them inside me. I thought, "I'm so happy! My life is good. I am blessed with a wonderful partner, right livelihood, a safe and comfortable home. . .." And then I began thinking about how much of my happiness is based outside myself. Some much of it comes from my relationship with my wife, Patricia (aka "the Lovely and Talented") and I started questioning if there was something "wrong" with my happiness because it seems to be so based in externals. 

I took this question home and sat with it; put it on the back burner and let it simmer; and what I've come up with is this: Our happiness in the things around us is based on the choices we make, which in turn is based upon our inner dynamic. When my inner dynamic was clouded and wounded by past karma, I could not make the decisions in my life that led to happiness. Instead, I often chose things (relationships, jobs, experiences) that simply continued the state that I was in already. It took many years of concerted effort at self healing to be able to make healthier choices, less burdened by the experiences of my past. As I was able to make these choices from a more conscious place (due to many years of meditation, etc) I found that I was happier. Was that happiness based simply in the rewards of the choices I made? Or was the happiness the inner root of my outer experience? I suspect the later. 

When I am enjoying a beautiful vista and I feel my heart swell with appreciation, I realize that it is not just the beauty of the view that is involved, but also my capacity to appreciate it. The same is true with anything or anyone who I respond to with appreciation, love, gratitude or joy. When I make offerings to my ancestors in the morning and notice how much more strongly I feel them, it's not because they are any more present than before, but rather that I am now more open to them. 

Has it been mere fortune that allowed Patricia and I to find each other and to be so happy together? I suspect that it is much more than that. It seems to me that, as we grow and develop, we find those things in the world that most clearly reflect our own nature - and in doing so, we reflect the nature of those we find as well.

What I have discovered in this reflection is that the root of our happiness and appreciation of the external is still internal. It is our own inner Self that looks upon the world and sees itself reflected there. As we become more aware of the nature of that reflection, we grow in love and compassion, not only for ourselves, but for all others as well. Truly - to know yourself is the beginning of all wisdom. 

Monday, December 1, 2008

The Happiness of Things

What I had started out to write in my blog entry last time - and never quite got to - was that we were much happier as a people (or so the polls told us) before the advent of the consumer society. Perhaps a movement away from hyper-industrial production, mimicking a war economy, would actually allow us to return to a way of life that was happier and more fulfilling for those of us who are not making the huge profits from this absurd financial experiment gone wrong. 

I've noticed that when someone tends to hold onto things rather than throwing them away, people will say it's because they - or their parents - grew up during the depression. For a long time, I simply accepted this bit of common wisdom without question. Now I'm not so sure. From what I understand of the world before the Great Depression, people had the ingrained habit of conserving rather than consuming and discarding their resources. This was not because of any poverty or miserliness, but rather because they had not been introduced to the throw-away culture that we live in today. This was before built in obsolescence, when things were not only made to last a lifetime, but also to reflect the skills and aesthetics of the maker. 

We live in an older home, built in 1915, and its construction reflects these values. Even the radiator covers, such humble creations, are works of art - and have lasted for nearly 100 years. What products made today have any such expectation? Even the houses we live in that were built more recently have a shorter life expectancy. And as much as I love my Macintosh computer, I know that it is already on the verge of being obsolete after only a little over two years. If I want to keep up with the rapidly developing internet and software, I will need to "upgrade" within another year or so. But do I need to? Do I really need to?

I remember very little of my childhood, but I do have some surreal mental snapshots of being very small and there being a room in the house with some boxes piled on a couch. I suspect I wasn't allowed in the room, nor in the boxes, and so they took on an aura of mystery and treasure far beyond anything they might actually contain. I have a vague memory of creeping into the room - I must have been five or six years old - and opening the box to find a curved bronze dagger in a bronze sheath, something that my Dad had picked up on his travels. There was a magic to that chunk of metal that I've never felt from any mass-produced object of any kind. 

So - what have we lost? And what can we regain? I believe that this most recent economic crisis is nothing less than the long over-due response to an artificial economy, and that it can allow us - at least those who take the opportunity to do so - to return to an economic footing similar to that our parents or grandparents would recognize from their own early years. This would mean making some fundamental changes in how we live our lives. With a basic value on "conserve rather than consume" we could put more of our income into savings. We might take another look at things we spend money on and decide that we really don't need more than one television; a cable service with over 100 channels; a new car every three years; new clothes every season; gadgets that we are going to throw out in less than a year; or anything that we are able to live a happy and fulfilling life without. We might even begin to dismiss the idea that have been drummed into us by advertising over the past several decades: That we must consume in order to be a productive member of society. 

This is not to say that I am some sort of enlightened zen master, no longer attached to material things. On the contrary, I rather like my material things. As I was sitting in our Temple room with Patricia this morning, I was noticing how much I enjoy and am comforted by our "things". To some extent, this is because these objects express and reflect our shared aesthetic, and seeing them gives me an illusion of permanence. It is a way in which we extend ourselves into the world around us and claim our territory. With these objects, we say: "I am here! This is my space - my part of the ever-changing world." 

It seems to me that all of the pieces fit together. The throw-away aesthetic leads to shoddy workmanship and to a greater sense of impermanence. This also leads to people spending beyond their means, because they are told that happiness is to be found in having the latest widget, in the most popular color. And of course, it isn't. If the polls are any indication, happiness was something we found in much greater measure back in the days when we put our money into savings and purchased things that would last as long as we did; when our happiness was based on the health and well being of our loved ones; the closeness and companionship of friends; and, on our own spiritual connection with the wholeness of the world. 

Perhaps this crisis is a blessing in a this disguise. If we have to pare back our spending this year and focus on those things that are both free and priceless, it's not such a bad thing. 



Saturday, November 29, 2008

Post Thanksgiving Ramblings

This is one of those rare days when I have lots of small things on my list to do, but it doesn't feel like the world will end if I don't get to all of them. It's days like this when I realize just how stressed I am a lot of the time - without realizing it. It's on days like this that I promise myself that I will "do" less and "be" more - and I try to keep that promise. But "being" me leads inevitably to "doing" more. Or so it seems. The tendency is for me to go into our temple room and sit, gradually settling into Stillness - and as soon as I've let go of the rush of everyday mind jabber - in that moment where the cosmic inner smile begins to peek through - another part of me begins to suggest how I can do this - or that - usually deeply spiritual things - anything to keep from falling into Stillness again. I have to smile. It's rather like a child who doesn't want to go to sleep and keeps coming up with excellent reasons why they should stay up. So I guess this analogy applies to when the kid has stayed up for a few days in a row - or when I've managed to skip my meditation for a few days - and then I fall into it like a rock into deep water. 

This morning I sat - chanting mantras and letting go of thoughts - staring at the Enso calligraphy on the Enochi altar across the room from me. When Patricia is sitting with me, she blocks my view of this card - perhaps even takes the place of it. But its image reminds me - as does her presence - of what is truly important in this moment. And I let go and sink more deeply into that.

It's a good feeling - the letting go of "me" of everyday nonsense that seems to terribly important - until I let it go and it's not anymore. I breathe more deeply and smile from the inside out. The wave surrounds me and I float. 

There are no words for the place with no words. But coming out of it, I feel - as usual - renewed, calm, and something like happy but without any subject. Just happy to be . . . here. 

I find the words of the One Center chant rising through me, so I spill them out, letting them take me out of the timeless place of Stillness. They bring thoughts with them - images and movements within me. I find myself returning to the dharma hall at the zendo where the chant was inspired. And other moments when the clarity - what I used to call the "inevitability of life" - has come to me with an assurance that there is some greater "something" to which I belong and that, when I relax into the flow and direction of that greater Self, my movement carries me toward greater awakening and other Mysteries which I do not yet begin to understand. This state of gnosis is a comfort to those parts of me that are committed to this adventure and I find myself thanking my ancestors and all other benevolent beings for this opportunity to Be Here Now. To be here with a partner who shares my thirst for this path, and who challenges me and supports me in ways that I did not know possibly until now. I thank them for the opportunity to become a parent - to take part ever more fully in the Human Experience. And I begin to think of our child, growing for more than three months now inside Patricia, who will be emerging into a world so very different from the one either of us were born into. I consider how many people believe that this is an ugly and dangerous world to bring a new child into - but we don't see it like that. Not that we don't recognize the challenges and take them into consideration, but we also see what a treasure this life is and what a joy it is to pass on this blessing to another. 

Thinking about the world in all it's complexity, I am reminded of a link that Patricia sent me a few weeks ago ( with an animated explanation of how things get made and the impact it has on our lives and environment. One thing that really stood out to me in that video was that people described themselves as much happier before we created the consumer society we live in today. It's as if the industrialists decided to make our happiness a part of their own equation of prosperity, and we are the ones who loose. They have created a perception that in order to be happy, we need the latest, sexiest, most expensive gadget, car or pair of shoes that we can afford. I realize that this is nothing new. Intelligent people have recognized this for decades. I was fortunate to have one of these intelligent people as my father. (Thanks, Dad!) He taught me that it was better to buy one really good pair of shoes that cost twice as much as the ones that were in style but that would last ten times as long and could be repaired rather than being thrown away after a couple years. (I still have a pair of wingtips I bought 20 years ago. They still fit and I still wear them.) 

What's different for me right now is that, since we're expecting a child, I am thinking about how I can pass these values onto HIr. In other words, I'm in the same quandary that every new parent experiences: How can I pass along my values and ethics to my child in a world that seems to contradict them at every turn? 

I don't expect to find one answer to this very large question. And I'm not interested in home schooling. What I do expect is that it will be a continued opportunity for our whole family to learn and grow together. And I'm looking forward to it!



Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Catching up

I seem to be having difficulties coming up with something to add to this blog. It's not that there are not interesting and meaningful things happening in my life. On the contrary, I've not been bored in many years. The problem is that so much of what is important right now is not something I want to share in such a public forum. 

However, I can say that I am very happy and excited that Patricia and are expecting a child to join our family towards the end of next May. If someone had told me even ten years ago that I would be happily becoming a father, I would have laughed it off. But a lot has changed in those ten years and I am now looking forward to the adventure of parenting. 

As I mentioned, I've been trying to write something for this blog for a couple of weeks now, but I don't get very far before I run into a wall. This time I've decided to stubbornly hack my way through the wall and get SOMETHING published - no matter what the quality of it. 

One of the interesting bits that's come up of late is having my book out there on I see that it's being read by more and more people who I don't know and who have purchased and read the book without ever laying eyes on me. There's something that is happening there that goes beyond my understanding. I don't know if it's as simple as knowing that my words are touching people I've never spoken to - or what, but there is a definite sense of accomplishment to it. Also a sense of satisfaction, as if I am responding to some old and deeply buried geas. There is also the sense of spirit reaching through me to connect with those who read the book and are touched by it, perhaps awakening to their own journey more fully. That certainly makes all the work that went into it worthwhile. And the public library even ordered 8 copies!

Then there is the whole economic hulabaloo. I will just say that I feel for those who are loosing their retirement income, but I am not convinced that this is not a good thing for us in the long run. The US has been on an artificial economic footing since the end of WW II, and it needs to rebalance. It would do the whole world some good if we moved away from our fascination with consumerism and returned to a more conservative economy - buying only what we needed instead of constantly purchasing the latest, newest and most quickly obsolete merchandise to feed a hunger created by the non-stop commercial programming we are subjected to from every direction. 

Okay - what else? I've been working on a training program for Sheya mentors. The first module has been put together and it looks like it will happen in late January. It feels like this will be a very important element in what Sheya is to become, laying strong groundwork for those who come after us. It's almost like building the infrastructure for our descendants to use. I'm looking forward to see how it works - exploring the process of teaching the mentors how to teach others. 

Blogs are a strange way to publish. They seems to take the form of serious essays or - more frequently - rambling conversations. I think I've tried a little of both so far. No photos for this entry though. Nothing that seems to fit. Perhaps the next time, I will find the image first and then build the words around it.  

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Post Election Reflections

Okay - a bit of an interruption for the elections there. Very exciting to see Hamilton county go blue! The election of Barak Obama certainly appeals to the optimist in me. All the economic gloom may take us awhile to work our way out of, but it may also have been the only thing that allowed Obama to be elected by such a strong majority - or perhaps at all. And it is clear to me that we need this person at this time to help begin the changes that need to happen if we are to survive - not just as a nation but as a planet.

Change continues in every moment, with every breath. It is not just something that comes to us in tsunami-like waves, as it did with this election, but with every choice we make. To paraphrase a billboard about seat belts, "it's not just a good idea - it's how things work."

Life has a way of teaching us the lessons we need - long before we have any idea we need them. I suppose that's why mindfulness shows up in so many practices. If we aren't paying attention - we miss the lesson. I think that one of the lessons I've learned over the course of the past few elections is that our choices do not operate in a vacuum. Other people have a choice too. And when there are more of them - or if their choice is more powerfully manifested - the change will be the one they choose. 

I know it felt really good to be an active part of the campaign to elect Obama (thank you, Patricia) and that for the first time in 8 years I feel comfortable and proud to be a citizen of the U.S.A. However, I also think back to how I felt after those last two elections - the sense of profound exclusion; of being disenfranchised from the American identity. I remember talking with others about the possibility of moving to Canada, because we no longer felt like we belonged here. Now it is those who voted for the other candidate who feel that way, and this is an opportunity to practice compassion for those who made the less powerful choice. Even if that compassion is not received, it is still good for us to feel it - to choose it - at this time and place in our personal and communal history. 


Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Vision Quest Aftermath

I just got back early this week from a vision quest that lasted from Friday afternoon to Monday morning and I've been trying to write about it with no success. At first it was the lack of verbal thoughts, which persisted all of Monday and a bit into Tuesday morning. Having spent some time out on the front porch with my pipe and a wee dram, things are a bit more clear now. 

Perhaps the first reason that it is difficult to put down in words is due simply to the state of consciousness that comes on after a day or so of sitting in the woods with no company, no food and little water or sleep. We went out on Friday afternoon and prepared our secluded positions, taking them up that evening in the continuing rain. After the first night, I was probably already more altered than I realized at the time. That's often the way of things. I was chanting and meditating a lot, with the intention of altering my consciousness, so it's hardly surprising. But it wasn't until Sunday that I really noticed the extend to which I was no longer in ordinary state. I found that I was actually staggering a bit when I did my morning QiGong. 

The second reason it's difficult to put into words is that much of what happened seemed to be happening to a part of me that was not directly experiencing it. There was at least one point at which I had the distinct impression that my soul had gone on a journey without "me" and that I would only find out about it later. (I'm still waiting.)

Then there's the fact that what realizations I had were fairly . . . compact. For instance, a glimpse of myself in slow motion explosion from my center/the one center which is everywhere/everything constantly emerging from that one center which is everywhere. . . that sort of thing. And GrandFather mentioning that I should really consult him more before doing something like a vision quest (oops!).

But this quality of vagary predated the vision quest as well. Going into it, I realized that I have never led anyone else into this particular process before. I've been teaching shamanic practices since the early 90's, but none of my apprentices have gotten to this point before. (And I'm quite impressed with these two for having made it!) So there was a lot of consideration that went into just how this was going to work. On the one hand, there are no clear parameters for what constitutes a "vision quest" outside of particular medicine societies. So I had to look at my own experiences (should have asked GrandFather) and come up with something that was workable. Then I began thinking, "this is not a coming of age ritual. These are sovereign adults. They should make their own choices about what elements they will include." And so I began drawing back from the role of "teacher" into more of a facilitator position for their process. 

Okay - that's all I'm up for tonight. More on this tomorrow.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Notes From the Road. . . New Jersey Edition

I am sitting in a room at the Mt Laurel Extendedstay, enjoying the in room WiFi that I'm hoping will allow me to catch up on blog entries and other writing projects that have been getting put off in favor of more immediate (read urgent rather than important) and more enjoyable (Couch of happiness with Patricia.) pursuits. 

So - what's been keeping me so busy?

The weekend before last I had promised Patricia - my Lovely & Talented wife - that I would pull out the honeysuckle shrubs beside the garage and replace them with a terraced rock wall. It all sounded relatively simple until I actually started getting my hands dirty. It wound up taking pretty much the whole weekend and allowed me a preview of heavy lifting that will no doubt be coming when we get further along with the Stone Circle at hope Springs. (More of that later) I did manage to get it done and even had the leisure of contemplating the ironic act of removing one set of "decorative" plants to make way for another. This led to the following poem.


Gloves keep 
skin on my hands
as I wrangle rough stones 
into place
stacking a wall
between dirt and more dirt
building good boundaries
for new plants 
to reach beyond
I carry the old ones away
they have overgrown their welcome
and now I must pry
their adventurous roots
from between buried rocks and
send them on their way

The rest of the week was filled with clients, preparation for the annual Sheya Retreat and other projects - and almost at the last minute, creating the promotional post card for the 2009 LumensGate. 

This is a labour of love - and one of those times that I actually get to make some use of my years of art training. I like the outcome, though I might still tweak it a bit before printing up more of them. But the important things was to get them done in time for the Sheya Retreat this past weekend, so that the Sheya from other regions could take some back with them. 

For those of you who don't already know - LumensGate is one of the best-kept secrets of the spiritual community. Mind you, we aren't TRYING to keep the secret. It's just that we have a hard to getting it out - so feel free to spread the word. LumensGate is definitely ready for prime time. After 18 years of experience, this is the premier ritual event in the United States. (and possibly the rest of the world, but I haven't checked, so I'll hold off on that claim.) The problem is - there are not a lot of others competing for the accolade, so it often falls on deaf ears.

So let me tell you a little about what LumensGate is. From the time people begin arriving on the land, the sense of shared consciousness begins to grow and deepen. With the opening ritual - the lighting of the sacred fire and the formal connection of all our hearts and souls to the One Center - we enter into a shared experience of spiritual awakening and transformation. The personal interactions with others of like-mind and similar spirit add spice to the work of preparing the participants for the impact of the ritual cycle. Evenings at the hot tub or around the heart fire deepen the sense of shared joy and openness. Daily meditation and yoga help to bring bodies, minds and spirits into union, and the food at Hope Springs nourishes the palate as well as the body. Essentially everything that happens - both planned and not planned - contributes to the gentle movement toward the ritual climax - usually on Friday evening. 

After the main ritual, we begin the process of integration - gently welcoming the changes into our lives; acknowledging what has been released and making room for the new energies and awareness. This continues through Saturday evening, when the feast and bardic circle provide opportunities for all those gathered to share their own creative expressions in the loving and warm embrace of this community that has become "home" in such a short time. The closing ritual is followed by tearful farewells and many long hugs. And the community continues throughout the year, as we look forward to the next opportunity to meet in person; welcome new faces; and join hands and hearts around the fire once again. 

For anyone interested, we do have a LumensGate FaceBook group - as well as our own website: 

The Sheya retreat - taking place at Hope Springs as well - is a smaller gathering of folks, sharing the transformative path of soul awakening and growth. The retreat went very well this year . It was great to have both longtime Sheya and newly "hatched" ones, with many in between. 

It was especially sweet to gather around the table at meals and share the wonderful food and company, swapping stories, telling jokes and remembering those who not able to join us this year. 

So - here I am in New Jersey - catching up with my writing and deepening my Tai Chi practice with the amazing Master Ting.

I drove directly from the airport to the Tai Chi class last night, arriving just a little late, but very happy to be able to finish an otherwise exhausting day with some movement of my body and chi.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Shamanic States of Consciousness

There is a lot written about the experience of trance - some of it quite excellent. However, I thought I would take a shot at it this morning. 

First off - the idea of "altered state" is difficult to clearly delineate, since the boundaries of our "ordinary" state of consciousness are so unclear as it is. That said, most of us car recognize an altered state once we are in it. In, my own experience, there is often a dream like quality, and my body seems to move more fluidly and feel heavier. However, some of the most effective states can feel very similar to the ordinary state. 

When I talk about shamanic states of consciousness (hereafter SSC), I am focusing on those states which allow me to function as a shaman. This includes the ability to simply perceive and express from a soul level of awareness. This is the base level of SSC for me. It allows me to sense what is going on with myself and a client in a non-rational, non-intellectual manner that cuts through the thinking mind and directly addresses the deeper parts, which is where my work is. This state is a very present, focussed awareness, which doesn't feel too different from ordinary consciousness. And yet it is the one most useful to the work I do, since it allows me to interact clearly with the client at various levels - communicating in a way that they can understand and staying aware of their body language, tone of voice and facial expression as well as any surges of energy or emotion arising from their soul.

I move into this state using something I call Medicine Body. This is a simple and effective technique (described in more depth in my workshops and my book) that extends my conscious awareness into my aura. This allows me a much deeper and holistic perspective of what is going on with the client. It feels as if the client is floating inside me and I can sense the flow of their energies very clearly. This also engages my intuitive sense and I find that I am aware of what lies beneath the words the client may be using to describe their problem. Knowing this, I can speak to that deeper level, engaging it in the healing process more immediately. 

There are other SSC that range much more deeply, and which make it more challenging for me to remain connected with, and able to communicate effectively, with the client. It takes more energy to maintain the sense of being in two places at once. This is particularly true when journeying with a client. In shamanic body I may be in a different world all together and communicating there directly to the part of them that is present there as well, but in order to have the client be able to take in the work, I need to also be speaking in my physical body to their physical body. 

Moving beyond the work with a client in an office setting, I want to speak briefly of work in other settings. For instance, performing a sweat lodge ceremony entails moving through many layers of consciousness and back again, while creating space that allows for the participants in the sweat to move through these payers with me. It begins around the fire with the opening of the space that is at once emerging from the center of the fire and from the stone pit in the lodge. This is a treatment of space that is essential to much of shamanic practice - the paradoxical sense of One Center. Entering the Lodge brings another deepening and it sometimes takes a teaching story or prayer/chant to ground that before continuing. Each round of stones is a deepening as well, until it becomes clear that it is time to return, and then the journey back needs to be crafted in a gentle way as well, allowing for a safe and comfortable return by all the participants. 

Over the years, I have been gifted with many teachings to make the movement into SSC and back again. But I am also always finding places and states that are new to me; providing new lessons and new teachings. Every day I go into my office, knowing that I will learn something new. It may not always be comfortable or easy, but it is this constant growth and learning that keep this work fresh and alive for me and those with whom I work. Many thanks to all of them and to my many teachers - in both human and spirit form. 


Thursday, September 25, 2008

Notes From the road. . . part II

I've been out in Palm Springs with Keter and Patricia for the past week, soaking up warm desert sun rays and thinking progressively slower thoughts - but we leave tomorrow for home and I wanted to blog some highlights before returning. For one thing, as soon as I get back to Cincinnati, I have to drive up to Detroit for a promotional event and then to another one up in Ann Arbor. So I have very little breathing space. Better to blog now and not worry about it for a few more days. That's the plan in any case.
We spent the first day here just winding down and getting used to not being on email or the phone. We had some vague plans of getting massages - which never actually happened - and of taking some hikes - which did happen. The days all run together for me right now, but I know we did get to the Living Desert which is right here in Palm Desert. That is a combination botanical garden and zoo. Much fun! We saw some great hawks; watched a couple bobcats playing with each other; etcetera. 

On Sunday, Patricia and I took the car into San Diego to visit my half brother Michael. This was the first time I've seen him since meeting him when he first visited a few years ago. It was good. We met his wife, Cris who seems interesting and intelligent. We enjoyed their house which reminded me of the place we stayed on the slopes above the Loga Magori (?) in Switzerland. It has a great view of the valley and all the way out to the ocean. After lunch with them, we drove on to visit with Patricia's sister Margaret and her family near Mission Viejo. That went well too. It was a good day for making family connections. (I'm not sure if our brief visit to Camp Pendleton had any impact on that.)

Keter talked us into visiting "Shields Date Farm" and trying the date ice cream (thank you, Keter). It was terrific! Not too sweet but very rich and delicious. We have a pint in the freezer at the time share to finish off after dinner tonight. 

I think it was Tuesday that we had planned to take the tram up to the San Jacinto State Park and sniff the butterscotch pines. Unfortunately, we discovered that the tram is down for 
annual maintenance this week, which is a good thing for all those tourists who will be using it for the next year, but not so great for us. So we figured out where the tram would have deposited us and then drove as close as could to that - a beautiful drive up into the San Bernadino Mountains - and then hiked from there for a couple miles up the mountain. On our way, sniffing the amazing butterscotch pines (you have to smell them to believe it!) we encountered a rattle snake under a rock beside the trail and had to work our way around it. The views were amazing. (I will add some photos as soon as I can get them loaded onto the computer. That cord is not with me.)

Yesterday we took the day off. Read out books and dozed pretty much all day. This morning Keter and I headed out to the Joshua Tree State Forest, while Patty stayed behind to work on a paper for her yoga teacher training. Once again, an amazing drive. We went past the air farms at the head of the valley. Over 4,000 wind turbines are located there. Patricia and I like to think of them a huge dharma wheels sending prayers for peace and compassion out to the world. 

Our first hike of the day was the Hidden Valley train. Only a 1 mile loop through great boulders, with several different kinds of lizards, pinion pine, desert oak and - of course - Joshua trees, which feel very good. No particular adventure there. Just a nice walk with great views. 

The second hike - considerably more exciting - was up the Ryan Mountain trail which took us past what we later learned was a mature  Southwestern Speckled Rattlesnake. I had just passed it when I heard a short rattle and froze. Keter saw it and urged me to hurry and move past it, then we turned around and she showed 
me where it was hanging out under a low bush. On the way back we carefully worked our way around it without anyone getting hurt. However, I was beginning to wonder what the deal was with two rattlers showing up on our trails. That is still weighing on my mind a bit.

In all, it's been a great time here - thank you, Keter - and a much needed rest. Even though I'm going back to a very busy weekend, I do so pretty refreshed and ready to dive back into it all. I'm even thinking about getting to work on some of my other writing projects. . . .

namaste from the road.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Adventures Off the Grid

It turns out that the high winds on Sunday were actually a level one hurricane - without the water. They certainly did a lot of damage to the area. We were very lucky. Several roof tiles went flying and we wound up with a lot of debris in our yard, but the major impact was the loss of electric from about 1:30 on Sunday afternoon until 8:30 this morning (Tuesday). I would like to be able to report that it was no problem for me to be without electric for a couple days - other than the loss of the food that went bad. The truth is though that it was the simple things that I missed. Being able to turn on the lights to read - or to simply find my way around the house - after the sun goes down. That was probably the biggest one. 

The first evening we sat at the dining room table, Patricia working on her 108 mala project and me trying to re-string my green adventurine malas. I think she got seven finished in the time it took me to thread my beads, reconnecting all the pieces into a single whole. Then we went to bed and read, Patricia with her little miner's lamp headband lamp and me with my book light, the cats quietly competing for the "best spot" on the bed.

Monday morning, I had to open Patricia's garage door manually, and it wouldn't close after that. I wasn't worried. We had left the garage doors open before with no trouble. We've come to trust and appreciate our neighbors, and it didn't feel like a risk. Tai Chi class was cancelled - no power at the yoga studio where I teach - so I got home early, around 5:30. I thought I would use up what I could of the food in the fridge and make a large dinner with enough to share with Patricia when she got home later. The pasta was just about done when I looked out the window and thought I was someone pushing a shopping cart into our garage. I checked the time - three minutes before I had to pull the macaroni out of the water - and headed out the back door. 

Standing in the middle of the garage floor was a Kroger's shopping cart, being loaded up by a fat, middle-aged, white male in shorts and a white t-shirt. I asked him what he thought he was doing in our garage and got no answer. I asked him for his ID and he claimed not to have any. When I asked where he lived, he claimed to live on down the street on Graselli. He said his name was Jim and his breath smelled like cheap alcohol. I asked if he had already made other trips with the cart and he said no. It hit me that I had pasta ready to pull off the stove so I told him to go home and I would be calling the cops. I just wanted him off our property. I headed back to the house, turning to watch him push his, now empty, cart on down the street. 

I had just finished putting dinner together when I noticed blue & white flashing lights out back and watched two police cars pull to the curb. I went out to see if I could report the fellow with the cart. When I got to the car, it turned out that they had been called by our neighbors in the apartment house across the street when they saw me confront the fellow in our garage. Then another one of the neighbors said he knew who the guy was and where he lived. He offered to show the officers and they left together. 

A little while later, I was sitting on the front porch, eating my half of the dinner I had made directly from the casserole dish while waiting for the cops to return. They came back with the guy in the back seat and asked me to identify him - which I did - and then showed me the weed trimmer and hedge trimmer in the trunk and asked if they were mine. I said they were and they asked if there was anything else missing. I had already told them that Patricia is the detail oriented one, but I went into the garage and looked around with a flashlight, before coming back just in time for Patty to drive up. Together we drove to the guy's apartment and collected a number of other items he had made off with, including an old TV that had been there when we bought the house and one of my grippo boxes full of old collectible (I hope) comic books. 

There were more details, but I think that's enough for now. It's good to have the lights back on. Good to be able to catch up on email - and blog entries. And it's good to know my neighbors keep an eye on things.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Becoming a Man of Power

I remember reading Carlos Castaneda's "Don Juan" books back in High School and being fascinated by the idea of a Man of Power. As I recall it now, this was a man who was constantly going beyond his limitations, feared by his enemies, with Death walking beside him. At the time, for a wounded teenager who had no idea where he belonged, this seemed like a good way to be. I wouldn't need anyone. I would be completely self-sufficient. I would be afraid of nothing and others would fear me. 

It wasn't until many years later, when I was studying more authentic versions of native Medicine ways that I discovered that the traditional view of the Man of Power is really quite different. To traditional native people, a Man of Power is someone who is living a good life, in balance with spirit, honoring his ancestors, caring for his descendants. Someone who others look to for advice or help when needed; trusted by his friends and family. A man of integrity, with a good home, a loving wife and healthy children. This is one who is blessed by the spirits, and that is a Man of Power. 

This is a very different vision than what I had read about back in High School, and it led me to consider some of the clear differences in our modern culture - relative to tradition ones - that lead us to believe that power is always something to use against others. 

It seems to me that our modern Western culture, especially here in the US, is more than a little bit like that wounded teenager I used to be. It seeks to overcompensate for its feelings of vulnerability by being so big and scary that no one will come near. It doesn't trust the good will of others, and is more motivated by its fear than by its real strength. Unfortunately, too many of us living here have become reflections of this cultural model. I know that I myself and still healing the wounds of that teenager, slowly realizing that I do belong after all and that there is room for me to explore the gifts that my ancestors granted me.

This is a message that is slow to come to people living here in this beautiful land. This is a place where money and possessions have been given great value, so that those without these things are considered powerless, helpless and pathetic. People here have forgotten that money is nothing more than a means of storing and directing energy. Perhaps it is because they have forgotten their connections to earth, ancestors and spirit that they have put so much onto money. But I can see what an empty goal it is, when that becomes an end in and of itself.

The only true power, in the traditional sense, comes from living a life in balance; honoring your ancestors; caring for those who you love; treating others as you would have them treat you. I have been walking this path for awhile now, setting aside the old wounds and taking up joy. In doing so, my life has changed completely. It has not been easy. The old wounds are hard to let go of. But the result is that I live a fulfilling life. I love my wife and look forward to having a family with her. My work is easy and rewarding, because it flows from within me. I am loved, respected and appreciated by those who are important to me. This is heaven. This is becoming a Man of Power. 

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Sorting Babas

I had an experience today that points out just how easy it is to use the same words to mean different things. 

I had zoomed out of the house for a lunch appointment with my friend Rabbi Dave and had almost made it all the way across town to Baba India, one of my favorite restaurants, when I realized that I had zoomed out without my monk's bag (wallet, driver's license and other necessary items). So - I found a place to make a possibly legal U-turn and zoom back home. By now I was feeling a little like a mazda commercial gone wrong. 

My bag was right where I had left it and I snatched it up and ran back out the door, jumped in my car and sped off again. On my way, I realized that I was already late for our appointment so I juggled cell phone and palm pilot to find Dave's number and gave him a quick call to let him know that I was on the way. "No problem. I'm here. See you soon." So, I arrive at Baba India and walk in, scanning the packed tables for his familiar smiling face, and . . . nothing! Did he get bored and leave? Is he in the men's room? 

I step back outside and take a turn around the parking lot to see if his car is there. No familiar bumper stickers! I begin to panic - mildly. I get out my cell phone and call Dave again. 


"I'm here. Where are you?"

"I'm in the back, where the couches are."

(Couches? What couches?) I walk back inside, still scanning. "I don't seeee you. Are you at Baba's?"

"Yes. The one in Clifton, right?" 

"No! The one in Clifton is AMBAR India. Baba's is owned by their cousins - or something."

"No - Baba Budan's. The coffee bar?"

"...oh. Wow. I haven't been there in a long time. Are they still around?"

SO you see how easy it is to take one name - Baba's - and have it mean two very different things. 

Fortunately the story ends well. We had a great lunch that started late but lasted until after 2:00. We discussed future projects and set up a time for our next lunch - location to be decided - before going our separate ways, full, satisfied and no longer quite as confused, at least about where Baba's is. Somethings are just in more than one place at a time. 

(And it gave me something to break the writer's block I've had on this blog, so all is well!!!)

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Identity theft?

Something happened the other day that really got to me - and then, the very fact that it had rocked me so much, got to me more. What happened was that I got a bill for a magazine I had not ordered. When I called them to find out what was going on, they told me that I had "ordered it online." Since I knew that I had done no such thing, I asked them to give me the contact information. They had the right name, address and phone, but someone else's email address. I pointed this out to them and asked to be taken off their mailing list. After hanging up, I felt rotten - like I have been invaded somehow. This person had masqueraded as me and gotten away with it. How could that be? The part of me that thinks of itself as unique and special was feeling quite bruised. 

It took awhile for the edge to come off my irritation and for me to begin considering the event from a different perspective. What really happened? Probably someone got ahold of my contact information and used it to fill an online sales quota. That has nothing to do with me. They probably have no idea who "I" am, nor do they care. So why do I take this so personally? 

We hear about identity theft becoming more and more common, but what are we really talking about? Is my identity the sum of all the numbers that make up my address, car registration, birth date, etc? Do those figures in fact define me in any way? Somehow I doubt it. What they DO is locate me in space and time. They say "Kenn is the person who is right here and was born at this time in this place." They are labels of events in the time space continuum, "identifying" me by notations of when and where, but they are not definitions of who I am. 

This leads me to consider: If these are not my identity, what is? On a purely physical level, there are literally millions of tiny organisms that make up my body, and it is only the efficacy of their communal interface that allows me to breathe, eat and move - not to mention think and speak. This is a rather uncomfortable thing to really dwell on, but I cannot think of it as "me." 

On a more esoteric level, I have three souls: The soul of my physical presence that is tied to this world; the soul that will return to my ancestors; and, the soul that will come back for other lifetimes, as it has before. Is the co-mingling of these etheric elements the basis for my identity? 

By now my head is spinning. What is identity anyway? In mundane terms it does refer to those pieces of information that separate you from everyone else for the sake of legal purposes. My name, social security number, driver's license, address, phone number - all of these are saying in some way: "this is me - that is not me." So "I" am the one who makes this statement, yes? When I sit down to meditate, it is "me" who is taking a seat on the zafu; "me" who is seeking the inner Stillness; "me" who is observing the breath; "me" who. . . but wait! If I am the one observing, who is it that is observed? 

So here we are at the real problem: We don't really know who we are. This is perhaps because our "self" is more mystery than fact. But it is this discomfort of realizing that we truly do not know who this thing called "self" is that keeps us grasping at the straws of identity. There is no "self" in terms of numbers or concrete object. There is only a wavefront of consciousness, arising from the vast and incoherent community of organisms, souls, memories, connections, preferences and loyalties that masquerades - for a little while - as someone we call "ourself". 

Now - when I consider the copy of TV Guide I just threw out, I am somewhat more at peace. 

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

LumensGate Update - Emerging from the illusion: the ecstasy of Liberation!

Photo by Bonnie Jean Starr

This past Sunday was the first meeting of the new planning staff for LumensGate. On the one had, I was confident that it would go well. I've worked with Mar - the new staffer - for years in other positions and knew that she would be up to the job. On the other hand, the old crew had developed such a tremendous rapport over the many years we worked together, and I was slightly concerned that moving from a staff of four to one of three would be difficult in some unforeseen fashion. Thankfully, I was wrong. Everything went quite smoothly. 

We had an ambitious agenda, including the setting of a theme for next year. I was also wondering if we would be able to do this in a graceful manner. We generally have a bit longer to ruminate before we choose a theme, however it has become clear that we really need to get moving on it if we are going to make the positive changes and generate the kind of interest - and attendance (!!!) - we need for next year to be a success. It was almost strange the way that everything fell into place, each piece building on the ones before, until it became quite evident that the LumensGate gestalt - made up of all those who have gathered around the HeartFire over the past 18 years and are still connected to us in some inexplicably wonderful way - was speaking to us all very clearly. We all were having similar sensations and perceptions of where we need to go, and - with some verbal juggling - came up with the wording for the '09 theme: Emerging from the illusion: the ecstasy of liberation!

At first glance, that is a BIG theme. Okay - even at second and third glance, it's a big theme. But consider that the actual spiritual experience is very personal and immediate, and it is that experience that we are aiming to engender in our participants. So, no matter how big the theme may sound, it will eventually come down to the real experience of those who are gathered around the HeartFire next year at Hope Springs - turning those words into their/our shared reality. 

We spent a good bit of time going over the marketing suggestions made by Mar's daughter Sarah. Excellent suggestions, which we are trying to implement to the extent which we can. Some we've done before and then gotten lazy about, while some are simply beyond our means at this point. But there are quite a few that are very much what we need right now. So we jammed on that for awhile and were getting ready to break for lunch when we started looking at the idea of holding small events to get out information to prospective attendees. Sort of "meet and greets" for those interested in checking it out - AND a chance for those who are already "gators" to get together and enjoy the pleasure of each others company.
Photo by BJ Star

I was still thinking in terms of a "Brunch & Drum" - very old school, neopagan sort of get together - and Patricia came up with the great idea of a "Tea Tasting". She also suggested that we hold it at our offices instead of at home, so that it would be accessible to a wider group of people. All three of us started throwing ideas into the mix and there was a moment when they all gelled and I could feel the hair raise on the back of my next as we came up with the same idea at the same time and practically finished the sentence together. It wasn't the idea itself - which is that we hold the tea tasting at Essencha Tea House - but that we came together so powerfully, that provided the extra oomph. 

So, it seems that the new staff is more than up to the task and that things are off to a great start for next year's event already. It's exciting to know that the magick is continuing, even as Keter and Donna head off on their own new journeys. May it be a blessed year for us all. 


Friday, August 22, 2008

Practicing like your hair is on fire. . .

Patricia recently passed along a suggestion from one of her yoga teachers: "When you are sitting, practice like your hair's on fire." What a wonderful way to get across the essence of the necessary attitude for meditation! 

It is so easy to get pulled out of Stillness by the seductive activity of the thinking mind. I know that, for myself, there is almost a rhythmic quality to my sitting. The first bit it letting go of all the accumulated content since the last sit. Then comes the first brief layer of Stillness. This is usually short-lived, interrupted by thoughts of what I "need" to "do"- challenging me to combat my thinking mind. What I mean by that is that there is a tendency to try to repress the thoughts - which never works. All that does is get me more and more engaged. The trick it to simply allow the thoughts to float away. If I can keep from rising to that challenge, it usually subsides for awhile and I can often get some decent Stillness in. 

Then - often after ten to fifteen minutes of decent sitting - I will start getting waves of input from thinking mind about how I could use my immediate experience to teach this sitting to others. I assume this is just something that gets to to me because I teach. For others, the thinking mind probably comes up with equally engaging antics. The strategy seems to be to get me thinking of what good material this is, and then believe that I need to remember it when I come out of Stillness. Well - I'm not in Stillness anymore, am I? 

I've found that returning to the idea of "practicing as if my hair is on fire" really helps me to move through these layers of thinking/not thinking. It reminds me that the only thing that matters - right now - is my practice. Everything else can wait. 


Friday, August 15, 2008

Notes from the road. . .

Patricia and I have just returned from a road trip to visit my aunt Marie - the last surviving sibling of my father - in Madison, WI. We drove to Chicago on friday and spent the night with Cliff and Laura after a great dinner at the Chop House with Patricia's aunt Carol and uncle Tom. Tom has been the accountant for the Chop House - a popular Chicago steak house with nothing but meat on the menu - for over 20 years. He made reservations for us for 6:00 and it was only after we had shown up and were seated at the table that he leaned over to us and whispered, "So - do you eat meat?" We both decided to indulge, in honor of Tom and the rest of the family.

Saturday morning I dragged myself out of bed and went running with Cliff and Laura - Which somehow didn't keep me from gaining 5 pounds somewhere on the trip. It was nice to be clomping along the sidewalks of Chicago, chatting about Sheya and gang warfare - not necessarily related subjects. Then we got an early start and - despite some confusion about what time zone the gps was registering - made it to Madison by noon. Patricia suggested that we stop to pick up some flowers for my aunt - and perhaps some knitting needles for her. We did find a good florist right down the road from my aunt's apartment building and were able to put together a nice bouquet for her. (Patty found some knitting needles later and was able start her next project. She finished the pair of socks for my birthday on the way up from Chicago. Great socks!)

Shortly after we arrived, Patricia and I were sitting at a table drinking tea with Aunt Marie. She was regaling us with stories from her childhood in Kentucky. "This was about my grandmother - the only one I knew - my father's mother. She would take me on walks to collect herbs. She would say 'I smell pennyrile' and then we would find it and put it in the basket. One time she was going to take me walking and I couldn't find her. I went to the back of the house and there she was, leaning back against the house with her eyes closed. She wore dresses that came all the way down to the ground and so I couldn't see what she was doing. I grabbed her by the hand and she said 'don''t pull on me! Can't you see I'm pissing?' I went back into the kitchen and asked mom 'what's pissing?' She said 'where id you hear that?' I told her and she couldn't get too angry with me since it was my grandmother who I had heard it from. She just shook her head and said, 'the back of the house always smells so bad and now I know why.' It was years later that I figured out that it was pennyroyal that we were picking and making into tea."

It was good to hear some stories about my dad too. I found out that he had joined the army in WW II because he had Jewish friends and he felt he had to do something to help them. He had already been declared unfit for duty because of the finger that got cut off that he couldn't bend properly. They were afraid he wouldn't be able to shoot a rifle. In spite of that he qualified as a marksman. 

After a very large and wonderful breakfast at "Lazy Jane's" we went for a walk and I found some good antler tines to use in sweat lodge. You never know when and where something useful is going to show up. 


Tuesday, August 12, 2008

A Normal State of Consciousness

Someone asked me once what I meant by "a normal state of consciousness." At first, I thought this was a simple question with an obvious answer: "the state of consciousness you walk around in every day." But then I started to look at that answer - to pick it apart. Is the state of consciousness I'm in when I wake up and realize that I'm no longer dreaming the same as the one in which I drive to work? Is the state of consciousness that arises from making breakfast the same as that when I am eating lunch? There are so many variations of consciousness - from one moment to the next. I can be driving along in my car, thinking of what I have to do before my first client shows up and then I see the traffic slowing and stopping in front of me and my state of consciousness shifts. I am no longer in my mental fantasy of the future, but immediately aware of the cars stopping front of me. 

If something that happens to bring up old unresolved feelings, I am "triggered" into yet another state of consciousness. Something else happens if I get to see my wife during the day; there is an upsurge of joy and openness which leaves me in a better mood for the next hour or so. There are so many different states of consciousness, impacted by the immediate environment, people, sensations, memory, sound, light . . . perception in all its modes. It rapidly becomes clear that there is no such thing as a normal state of consciousness that most people share for even a moment. 

Instead, what I find is that there are states that we share with others - and ones that we do not. When I am working with a client, I will generally either be mirroring their state, so as to communicate with them more effectively, or I will be modeling a different state for them, to alleviate some discomfort caused by their current state. When we enter into that same state together, I am more able to "hear" them at many levels. I feel more open and receptive to what they are expressing and I find that they are generally more responsive to what I have to offer. 

I imagine that the same phenomenon can be found in any crowd, where a single state of consciousness is picked up, shared and amplified by the many people in the same space - thus resulting in "mob mentality." But is this "normal?" Not so much. It only happens in situations where all the people are experiencing a similar enough stimulus from a similar enough perspective to spark that shared consciousness. 

Perhaps what I was trying to express by the words "normal state of consciousness" was simply a state in which the mind is alert and focused on physical sensations arising from the immediate environment - not stuck in the past or projecting into the future, but relaxing comfortably in the Now. Hmmm - that sounds a lot like what we call "mindfulness." So much for it being normal. 

From now on, I think I'll ask my clients to seek an "abnormal state of mindfulness," when returning from a trance.


Monday, August 11, 2008

consideration of initiation

It's been awhile since my last post. I've started a few, but they've just not come together. And I'm going through one of those spells where everything seems. . . harder - more difficult and demanding than it really should. Never-the-less. . . I've been taking part in some discussions about initiation in a few different places and it's been bringing up some old questions. 

Initiation comes in many ways, but it comes down to a few essentials - necessary elements. 1) The person has to be capable of doing the work. This means having the talent to heal. 2) The spirits have to have noticed the person - and then begun trying to get their attention. This could be anything from an illness or loss to a life threatening accident or being struck by lightning. 3) The person has to be prepared. This preparation consists of whatever it takes to sensitize the initiate to the energies and presence of the spirits. It generally requires painful loss and ego destroying experiences that leave the person reeling and open. 

As I write this, I can feel the blind spots I still have around this whole process. I know there is still a part of me that wants to somehow justify NOT being a shaman; that would like all this crazy stuff to go away and allow me to lead a "normal" life. I also know it's not going to happen. It was only after years of looking back at my childhood that I realized just how deeply I have been impacted and transformed by the death of my family - and other experiences that I'm still not comfortable addressing in such an open forum. And yet, it's still hard for me to look at it - to put all the pieces together - and then see the complete image that the pieces make: The image of myself as a shaman. Parts of me that learned to disassociate at an early age, which allow me to enter into the healing trances in which I do my work, also want to keep me from accepting the truth of this at any deeper level. It's an on-going struggle. 

Another element in my own process of becoming a shaman was the actual realization - the looking into the puzzle/mirror and seeing that image reflected back at me through the limited work I was already doing. The retroactive tour of my early life - most of it still clouded - that made me accept this transformation/awakening came even later. First there was the recognition that what I was doing was shamanism. Then there was the gradual realization that I was a shaman - followed by the understanding that this process had been going on my whole life. (Apparently I'm a slow learner.) 

There is a lot of discussion around the crisis of awakening to the shamanic consciousness - the realization that you are going to be doing the bidding of those "psychological allegories" we call "spirits." In my own case, it was a series of crisis which I survived, one after another, until I belatedly woke up and realized what was happening. After all, I have spent most of my childhood and a good bit of my early adulthood in a fog. I still feel that it is only gradually lifting - that I am beginning to see the world in all it's profound beauty and intricacy only now. I suspect this process is going to continue for quite some time. 

I still have questions about the role I am accepting. I know that it feels to my deeper self that I am answering the call of the spirits and that I am here in service to the community of souls that includes humanity, the earth and much more. I also have my doubts. There are times when I hear about the shamans who can actually shapeshift - or levitate - or in some other way really transcend the apparent rigidity of this physical existence - and I wonder if what I am doing is "real." But Grandfather has long taught me  that there are different kinds of "real" - just as there are different kinds of shamans. The work that I do with my clients fulfills some deep hunger in my soul. When I watch someone awakening deeper layers of herself; breaking out of the box of ego and fear and habit - I KNOW that I am doing what I need to, and that there is something that thanks me. That this is all part of something greater than anything I can imagine, and that I am - to some extent - placing myself into alignment with that greater presence. I don't know that I can ask more than that. 


Sunday, August 3, 2008

Blood, Sweat and Community

I am just returning from teaching a weekend workshop on ceremonies, which climaxed with a sweat lodge on Saturday night. I am so grateful for the generosity of the Grandfathers - the spirits that come to us through the heated stones, offering us healing, blessings and medicine teachings. As usual with such an event, I am humbled by the greatness of those who come before me; those upon whose shoulders I stand - and also by the courage and spirit of those who have chosen to call me their teacher. They, of all people, know how human and fallible I am, and yet they still listen to what I have to say and take on the ordeal of the medicine lodge with me. 

Over the past twenty years, I have worked many sweats - so far, this was the best one yet. We had expected to have to journey and work with the spirits for some time to find the perfect place for the lodge, and yet, when we started walking the land we were all immediately drawn to the perfect location. We thought, "the river is to the south, to the door will point that way which must be east", but when we checked it with a compass (for some strange reason) we found that the river was in the west and that the door opened to the south. In the Sheya tradition, South is the direction of consciousness, awareness and community. It hit me then: "This lodge is about community." 

Unlike so many other lodges we've built, this one is semi-permanent and will be available for us to do many more sweats, which will also increase the opportunities for those apprentices who want to learn the roles of Firetender, Doorkeeper and Pourer. Not only is it in a lovely setting, but the nearby house is a natural retreat center. Quite handy.

The stones were beautiful and strong. In spite of the larger size of the lodge, it got quite hot enough. The purification rounds were particularly . . . effective. 

It wouldn't be appropriate for me to go into too much detail on what the others experienced, but I got some good work done myself - letting go of some heart and soul wounds, as well as some blisters on my fingers I got while moving a hot log earlier in the evening. The stars were out when we emerged from the lodge. The feast was great - and then I think I passed out on the floor before being told to go to bed. These things really take it out of me. 

I realize this entry is a bit disjointed, rambling and unfocused, which is a good description of how I am - the day after a powerful sweat.


Friday, August 1, 2008

Trusting the Spirits - a short note

I just have a moment on my way to getting ready to pouring a lodge this weekend. The process has given me an excellent opportunity to reflect. We have received mixed messages from the spirits about whether or not to proceed. After considerable meditation and divining, I am choosing to go forward with the sweat. 

Eventually - even with the best of advice coming from worthy sources - we need to make our own minds up. It is one thing to ask the spirits for their input; to get a different perspective on how things are - it is another to abdicate our personal choices to the influence of the spirit world. There is a delicate balance between a good relationship with our spirit allies and putting them in the driver's seat. Sometimes the spirits will even test us by trying to take over the running of our life in order for us to realize that we are the ones responsible. 

This can be a difficult test. Do you honor the wisdom of the spirits by making a choice that reflects their input? Do you honor the spirits by acknowledging their input and making a choice of your own? Perhaps the most important thing is to remember that you are responsible for the choice made - whatever the advice you follow. 


Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Good Teachers, Ego and

I want to write something about how difficult it has been for me to find a really good teacher in this lifetime; how my own ego got in my way and made it hard to accept anything less than amazing master teachers; and, how I have managed to find a few of those - in spite of myself. But it's hot, humid and my brain cells are moving at a perfectly appropriate speed for this set and setting - just this side of completely stopped. So - I will give it a shot. 

As I've already stated, I have found it almost impossible to locate a "good teacher." Most of this was due to the fact that, my childhood being what it was, I hadn't a very high regard for authority or those who felt they had a right to wield it. That cut out quite a few teachers from the start. Then there are my admittedly high-ish quality standards for both form and content of anything I would be willing to take the trouble to learn. I felt I needed to have a true master from which to learn, so - even when I took a class from someone - I didn't really accept them as my Teacher. That would have been admitting that they knew more than I did. And as insecure as I was, that was the last thing I could have done. My loss.

In spite of all that I managed to run into Elisheva; an amazing woman who was at the time - some 20 plus years ago - everything I always wanted to be when - if - I grew up. Or at least that's how it appeared to me. Because of this, she managed to hold my attention long enough to get some core lessons across to me - all without me even noticing. I'm still not sure how she managed some of it. All I know is that I think I was looking the other direction when it happened. She remains my best friend and mentor to this day. 

About 17 years ago I heard about a weekend of Tai Chi workshops being held over in Northern Kentucky and decided to go down and check it out. I had been teaching Yang style Tai Chi in a haphazard way for some 5 years and thought I pretty well had the whole thing figured out. With a strong grounding in Chinese Medicine and QiGong, I knew more than the average Tai Chi instructor.    . . . Master Ting was NOT your average Tai Chi
instructor. After that first workshop I stopped teaching Tai Chi, because I realized that I knew nothing about Tai Chi. Master TIng was like the blind monk who taught Kwai Chang Kane in that old TV series Kung Fu - except that he wasn't blind and he has never taught me how to use throwing stars. At least not yet. Master Ting is amazing. He truly is a Master - both as a martial artist and a teacher - so of course it took me more than a few years to get around to working with him again. Now - at long last I am taking workshops from him a few times a year. Even bringing him to Cincinnati to teach once a year. (You should really ask me about that if you have any interest in excellent martial arts.) 

Finally, there is Heinz Stark. Back in 2001 I was teaching a series of Shamanic workshops in Cornwall as part of a tour I was leading there. (see my book Dance of Stones: A Shamanic Road Trip) My friend Lisa (Soli in DOS) had just been introduced to Constellation Work in Germany and was overflowing with enthusiasm for this new technique. I asked her to show us how it worked and we wound up spending every evening doing constellations instead of what I had planned. I was blown away by the power and possibilities of the work - as was Patricia who was along on that trip as well.

Lisa gave Patricia and I a present of some Constellation Work with some German facilitators on our next visit to Berlin, and we became even more enthralled. We had to find a way to study it - but couldn't see spending a couple years in Germany (though I was beginning to consider it). Fortunately, another friend and one of my shamanic apprentices at the time found that there was an in-depth training being offered up in Racine, WI. We checked into it and it was clearly too expensive and too time consuming for us to do do - so I went anyway. After the first weeklong seminar, Patricia joined - and we have been facilitating together ever since. But that beginning was not easy. I had to look at Heinz, with all his very human foibles, and accept that he had something very valuable to teach me. That was the first time I knowingly accepted someone as my teacher. And I've never regretted it. 

Now I am hoping to find yet another teacher - and hope to be open to whatever adventure they have in store for me - kicking and screaming all the way.