Thursday, July 23, 2009

Cross Pollination

As I watch my daughter (8 weeks old and counting) growing larger, smarter and more engaged with her surroundings, I have been reflecting on the amazing world we live in today. I often liken it to "life in a science fiction novel," because there are technological wonders and social meanderings that would have been considered too strange to be believed even 50 years ago. The upside of this is that we have a tremendous wealth of resources, not only material but intellectual, spiritual and aesthetic, with which to play. Because of the way we can overlap the maps from one system to another, we also have a wonderful opportunity for cross-pollination – applying the wisdom of one discipline to the problems of another. One good example of this is a bit that I encountered in my Tai Chi/QiGong practice that I applied to my sitting meditation practice.

In Tai Chi there are a series of fundamental teachings that apply to all movements and postures. Among these are a few gems that work equally well for sitting postures. The corollary to "stand as if sitting" is "sit as if standing." When sitting on your cushion, extend your legs (in your mind) down into the earth so that it feels like you are standing. The admonition to have your head "rise toward heaven" and your feet "sink below the earth" applies as well. As does the instruction to "expand your body to fill the space around you effortlessly." This is not alway an easy direction to follow. It actually helps to have practiced Tai Chi or QiGong first and have a good foundation, and then apply it to sitting. However, this can still work.

When you take your seat, be sure that your knees are even or lower than the crest of your hip. Now imagine your body like a tree; roots plated deep into the soil, limbs reaching for the sky. Trees have no tension and yet they are very strong. They are "relaxed like a tree." This is how to sit as well. Next, imagine that your whole body is gently expanding from within, like a balloon. Feel the internal force of the expansion holding your body effortlessly erect. Now your energy will flow more easily through your limbs, allowing you to sit for much longer without your legs falling asleep. Try it!

Working with plant spirits

I'm currently putting together a short "playshop" for some of my students to learn how to make a flying ointment – a salve that assists in leaving the physical body to journey otherworld. As much as I'm looking forward to working with the plant spirits, I'm really going to enjoy puttering around in the kitchen with my friends for the afternoon. That said, it occurs to me that I need to start reacquainting myself with the necessary spirits so that I am ready to do the work. In the past, I've found to my chagrin that spirits are much like people in that they don't appreciate it if you only come calling when you want something.

Once I get back in touch with the spirits of the plants, I will need to begin exploring the specifics of the recipe, which tend to vary from one batch to the next. The quantity of each herb in the mix depends on the strength of that plant when it is harvested, relative to the other ingredients. This is further complicated by the fact that the main active ingredient is being cultivated by one of my apprentices rather than in my own garden. So I think she will have an opportunity to get to know that one a bit better before our kitchen encounter.

I have a somewhat strange sense of anticipation about this – possibly because I've never mixed up an ointment with a group. This has always been a very internal and solitary part of my practice, and in a very real way, the person I was when I last did this no longer exists. So this will be new in more ways than one.

Monday, July 20, 2009

A Word on Shamanic Training

As many of you already know, one of the things I do as a part of my livelihood is teach weekend workshops on shamanic practices. There is a series of workshops that forms the foundation, and then there are other intermediate, advanced and master tracks for those that want to take it that far. In addition, I do take a very few people on as apprentices. This could easily give the impression that I believe that an individual can be trained to be a shaman. So – let me be clear: No workshop - or series of workshops - can make you a shaman. What it can do is train you in essential skills that you can apply either in your own growth and healing or in service to others.

The work of a shaman is to serve community, and individuals within that community, at a soul level. We no longer live in traditional community, and so this can become problematic. What is the community the shaman serves? This question has many answers. Sometimes the shaman's community consists of his or her extended family and close friends. In other cases, the shaman's clients and students create a community through the work they do together.

If the circumstances of your life and the substance of your spirit are such that they provide you with the foundation and the desire to become a shaman, than this might be a good way to begin or continue that journey. I have a few students who have gone on to become apprentices and are working toward practicing shamanism in their own right - in their own way. But this is the exception to the rule. Most who participate in these trainings simply find that the experience benefits their own life and the lives of those around them.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

More from Sirius Rising

I just returned from Sirius Rising and it is clear to me that it was a good thing that I went – in spite of my resistance and missing my family. As with most years, the experience brought greater awareness of the personal growth I've achieved over the past 12 months and opened me up to further growth as well. While the workshops I taught were rather short (I got 1 hour slots for both) I made some excellent new connections and also deepened some existing ones.

When I am at Sirius, I camp with Elisheva and Karen, together with Jan & Tom, Wolfy & Harold, and – usually – Hacksaw, we make up Camp Sashu. A federation of many different traditions, we borrow our name from an ancient Egyptian record of cattle-stealing barbarians that plagued their borders and may have been an early manifestation of the Hebrew tribes. This fits well with us, since Elisheva is shofet of the Amha, a reconstruction of pre-rabbinical Hebrew Earth spirituality, which I am also aligned with. This year we got dinner invitations from both an Asatru group called Manaheim, and the Druids (ADF) Camp Sashu has been hosting potlucks for Manaheim for the past few years and it was a pleasure to have our hospitality graciously reciprocated. The ADF feast the next evening was kind of a surprise. It began raining about the time we started preparing to head up to their camp, so I ran ahead to make sure it was still going to happen. I found a very well organized camp with lots of dry space and chairs and a warm welcome. We mixed in with folks from the other tribes and I got to chat with Nora, who has invited me to present some workshops out at Desert Magic, in Tucson, AZ next May. That led to her asking Elisheva to come as well. We both agreed and I'm looking forward to that trip already. I hope to be able to set up a Family Constellation workshop the weekend before or after in Tucson.

One thing that became gradually more clear to me over the week is the extent to which Elisheva has been more than just friend, mentor and chosen family, but one of my very few teachers as well. And I don't use that term lightly. There are only three people I would put into that category: Elisheva, Master Ting and Heinz Stark. It feels like it is especially important for me to recognize these people as I begin to develop my own students to advanced levels.

It was good to be able to read aloud from my book during the first of my workshops at Sirius. I wouldn't have thought of it if not for Patricia's suggestion. I think it worked well. And it seems that every copy of the book that I sell adds more momentum to the work I'm doing. It makes my soul smile to feel this happening. Even with the Warrior Shaman workshop, where there was no time to read anything, I felt like the people there were really getting something worthwhile. Always a good feeling!