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Horses on Easter Island – Part 3

February 20, 2011

Two full-grown horses we hadn’t seen before cantered to the other side of the fence and one touched noses with the mare, a gesture of reassurance. The men cautiously moved in closer, and she remained motionless. By now she was completely surrounded with two men at her head, three at her rear, and Randy, with the longest arms, angled beneath her belly on his knees, holding the right front leg and the injured left back leg, his chest pressed against hers, heart to heart. He could feel a palpable vibration of love with her. Instead of anxiety, she exuded relief, gratitude, presence and just a little confusion.

The men took turns severing the thick wire from her back legs. Watching, we could tell what strength it took to split each circle of wire in two. One man would nip through a wire, then hand the cutters to another man and they changed positions. It was slow going. I wondered how long the mare’s patience would last.

Our of the corner of my eye, I glimpsed our Rapa Nui driver with the stronger wire cutters racing toward us on foot. He screeched to a halt when he came within view of the mare and then silently stepped toward her. Within minutes, he had removed all of the wire. Amazingly, the mare held perfectly still throughout, though unwrapping the deeply imbedded wires must have been painful for her. The men had gained her trust. And the young foal stayed close and calm.

Then it was time for the five bottles of essential oils, (clove bud, helichrysum arenarium, cistus and thyme thuyanol) which cost hundreds of dollars, to be poured onto her wounds. As Barry worked, the oils must have stung but she didn’t flinch. Upon finishing, Randy and Barry both looked up at the same time to see our female Maori elder facing them, eyes closed, singing and vibrating her hands toward the earth as she swayed back and forth. They could feel her trance-like connection with the horses and the loving energy she was holding for the healing. Randy then realized it was the indigenous Rapa Nui and Maori peoples who truly resonated with the horses. They were most harmoniously connected with the Earth, speaking the same wordless language as all animals.

The men returned to the road where we held vigil. Our work successfully completed, we embraced each other with giant hugs as the tears flowed, tears of jubilation. The mare and foal walked gingerly back to the road, too, sniffed the water (it probably smelled odd compared to their crater-lake water) and started to graze.

When we returned to the buses with the news that the mare was now free, our fellow sojourners, many who had quietly circled together under the trees, exploded in celebration. Unbeknownst to us, they had been praying along with us the whole time. It had taken all 70 of us, along with our Rapa Nui friends, bonding together to release the mare. We were so elated, we practically floated to our next destination.

When we had each spent time with the intriguing Te Pito Kura/golden navel stone by the ocean, we headed back toward the bus. I was with two of the men who had freed the mare and we were still rejoicing. Then I noticed four horses coming in our direction. Their heads held high, they seemed to be moving purposely toward us, which was unusual. We slowed and they strode right up to us, stopping a few feet away with one horse in front, his eyes and ears intent on us. I began to cry as I realized they had approached us because somehow word had spread among the horse population. With focused attention, the lead male asked, “Are you the ones who saved her?” We replied that we were and they thanked us, saying they had been deeply worried about her and the foal. Then they ambled off.

Our devoted guides returned to check on the mare and refill her water twice that evening before the Tapati celebration. They reported that she seemed stronger each time.

During the opening night festival as we watched hundreds of dancers, singers and people speaking their native Rapa Nui language on stage, my thoughts remained with the mare. Many of us in our group continued praying for her recovery.

The following morning, we boarded the buses with great excitement on our way to meet 70-some horses for our long-anticipated trail ride. Our enthusiasm for deeper interactions with this sensitive, intelligent species was soaring after our encounter with the mother and son. And we were eager to see the spiritual petroglyphs along our equine-assisted journey.

We traveled the same southern road as yesterday on our way to the far side of the island. About halfway there, I realized the mare was nearby. She was communicating with us and the air was vibrating with her gratitude. I twisted around and around in my seat looking for her and finally got a glimpse of her and the foal through a window at the back of the bus. They had just crossed the road and were slowly heading toward fresh water. Cheers erupted as we became aware of the distance she had covered since we had last seen her.

Because of the severity of her wounds, she would probably always limp, but she could still enjoy a long life on the island.

trail ride

Jade with her horse before the trail ride across the northern part of the island.

When we arrived at the trail head, most of the trepidation we may have felt about riding quickly turned into loving admiration at the sight of these magnificent and gentle beings waiting patiently. Many of us just wandered around saying hello to them all. I wondered briefly if these horses, too, had heard of yesterday’s events. I supposed they had.

Our guides for the day informed us that this trail ride would be the largest one on the island in their lifetimes. And though many people in our group had never ridden a horse (and I secretly wondered how well these horses had been trained for novice riders), the day-long journey flowed almost without incident.

Greeting me for the day’s adventure was an innocent, three-year-old gelding, Red, who had never been on a trail ride before. In the saddle with him along the narrow path, I chatted as we got to know each other. His ears stayed glued in my direction, a good sign. Though I’m far from an accomplished horsewoman, I’d been on trail rides at my grandparents’ farm growing up. Acknowledging my prior experience in this situation, Red soon put his trust in me. And I did my best to fulfill my role as a good leader for him.

After a few hours we stopped for lunch at a dramatic overlook by the ocean. Freshly caught fish were soon smoking on an open fire as locally harvested potatoes, beets and lettuces were prepared for us. We feasted using palm leaves instead of utensils, the same as we had for our first Rapa Nui meal on the island.

Then with our bellies full, we formed a large circle. And it was here, after finding our rhythm with the horses, with each other, and with the natural world around us that we fulfilled the original purpose of this long journey to a remote Pacific island. In a simple ceremony between the Rapa Nui and the people who had arrived from all corners of the Earth, words of respect, love and forgiveness were spoken to help cleanse the shadow that hung over this island and these people.

Afterward, many of us honored this ancient indigenous civilization in a sacred cave, hearing stories of the spiritual messages that spawned the elaborate rock carvings on the walls.

Like the horses of my childhood, Red had become a dear equine friend that day and it was difficult saying goodbye when the trail ended. Today, I can still feel him, along with my Rapa Nui brothers and sisters. I remember their loving embraces. And my thoughts often return to the mare and her foal, now a three-year-old himself.

Reflecting upon this memorable journey, it seems that our unexpected opportunity to save the dying mare serves as a poignant metaphor for our healing journey with Mother Earth, the purpose of our trip. We released a tremendously grateful mare from her human-created bondage when it seemed that the situation was beyond our ability to help.

Horses grazing inside the bowl of a volcano crater on Rapa Nui. All photos by Midori Nishida.

Perhaps more importantly, she welcomed the expression of our innate goodness, a goodness that lives in all humankind. I believe it was largely because of our love for her that she regained her inner strength to support her healing journey.

And may our continual love for Mother Earth, from people all over the world, help Her regain Her inner strength to support Her healing journey as well.

Iorana and Maruru (goodbye and thank you, in Rapa Nui)

 

 

Horses on Easter Island – Part 2

February 20, 2011

We stood at a respectful distance from the mare discussing our options for about half an hour as people came and went, conversing in hushed tones. Everyone was distraught. Our group had come together from homelands as distant as Russia, Japan, Venezuela, Australia, Europe, Canada, South Africa, and the U.S. And it was clear from people’s expressions that most of us held a deep affinity for the well-being of our animal friends. The mare, at first a bit alarmed by our attention, began to soften as we continually assured her that our only desire was to help her and honor her wishes.

Our considerations for her were: If she were in her death process, would we be interfering, causing her undue stress, if we tried to cut the wires? What if we didn’t succeed and only made things worse? Besides we didn’t have any wire cutters. Nor did we have permission from her owner. And furthermore, she was a semi-wild horse. Even in her weakened state, she could inflict substantial damage if she or her foal felt threatened. From a rational standpoint, it seemed wise to let her be and contact her owner.

After an hour or so, most of the group reluctantly began heading back to the buses. Frits, a compassionate soul who owned horses in the Netherlands, lagged behind with Benito, me and the horses. We were desperately trying to come to terms with our departure when, suddenly, Frits looked Benito in the eye and asked, “Will you give us permission to try to free her?” Benito paused for a few moments, then gave his full blessing.

Frits sprinted to the bus to recruit volunteers. Later, I heard he joined Barry, a healer from Arizona, who had independently decided to help the mare with 5 full bottles of powerful disinfecting/antimicrobial/cellular regenerating essential oils he had serendipitously placed in his bag that morning.

One of our guides found a pair of mediocre wire cutters, and a bus driver departed to obtain a more heavy-duty set. Meanwhile, two other guides rounded up most of our bottled water to fill a large plastic cooler for the horses to drink.

Randy, a friend from the U.S., and I had stayed with the mare. Interestingly, as soon as we decided to attempt to remove the wires, she began grazing and shuffling around a bit, very slowly. But her eyes seemed brighter. I wondered if we had helped spark her will to live. Seeing her desire to eat, I knew we had made the right decision, regardless of the outcome.

As I continued talking calmly with her, she communicated these words, “Even if I don’t live, I’m grateful to know that someone cares about me.” She had been enduring such abandonment in this dire situation for who knew how many days and nights. Surely by now she could feel the immense flow of love surrounding her.

Randy, Guapo (one of our guides) and Benito gently approached her, murmuring soothing words. But she continued to move away from them, the foal always at her side. She seemed stronger than she did an hour ago. The men kept a steady pace in relation to her movements. Before long, the five of them drifted along in unison, together as if in a dance.

Along the isolated road, six women gathered to pray: a Maori elder from New Zealand, two women from Russia, two Americans who lived in Fiji and me. We watched as about seven men returned from the bus and joined the human-equine dance, gently encircling the mare. She limped a short distance toward a long fence and then stopped with her foal nearby. Guapo immediately placed a rope, brought from the bus, on the back of her neck, a trained signal for horses on the island to be still.

(Conclusion in Horses on Easter Island – Part 3.)


Horses on Easter Island – Part 1

February 16, 2011

This is an inspiring story about an encounter with two horses, a mother and son, that occurred in February, 2008, when I visited Easter island, also known as Rapa Nui.
***********************************
The most beckoning part of the itinerary for a week-long trip to Easter Island/Rapa Nui was a day on horseback that would take our group to ancient spiritual altars and petroglyphs. This pristine northern part of the island was inaccessible by motor vehicle. The true purpose of the journey to this remote Pacific island, however, was to join an indigenous Rapa Nui elder to help forgive and heal a violent part of their human history, helping to bring the energy of this precious land back into balance. Over 70 people signed up for the trip from around the world.
 

moai

Fifteen moai facing inland along the southeastern coast of Rapa Nui or Easter Island.

Rapa Nui, also known as “the navel of the world,” is famous for its moai — hundreds of stone figures, some as tall as 18 feet, carved from volcanic rock and placed primarily along the coastline. It remains a mystery as to why the statues were created and how they were transported to their current locations on this small island, where the nearest neighbors live more than a thousand miles away. The largest moai is estimated to weigh 90 tons, and is topped with a separate 11-ton stone hat.

This gorgeous island, located equidistant between Chile and Tahiti, is the most isolated inhabited island in the world. The airline flights from either direction take five hours. The island’s triangular land mass is about 8 miles across with a large dormant volcano anchoring each corner. Fresh-water lakes fill some of the many volcano craters, providing drinking water for the approximately 4,000 people on the island, along with about 2,000 horses.

Our first day on the island was devoted to sacred ceremony with the indigenous Rapa Nui people. After watching a vigorous performance spoken in their native tongue, we were served a bountiful, earthy lunch as everyone got to know each other. Then we hiked a few miles down to an ocean inlet that opened into a cave for a group meditation as the mighty waves sang us their songs.
 

horses

Horses grazing near the volcano Rano Raraku on the southeast part of the island.

During our second day, we happened upon our first horses. They grazed around the rim of Rano Raraku, the crater that formerly provided volcanic rock to carve the moai, and now provides the island with a fresh-water lake. These horses all exhibited behavior somewhere between wild and domesticated animals.

They were clearly accustomed to people but definitely kept their distance, avoiding us if at all possible. Horses are by nature prey animals, prone to flight. We later learned that all of the horses are actually owned and branded by various island residents. And though the horses seem able to roam freely, there were a few barely discernible fences here and there. Overall, the horses on Rapa Nui appeared to experience a near paradise-like existence on open land with no wild predators, a tremendous gift for such highly intelligent, peaceful creatures.

Even though the primary industry in Rapa Nui is tourism, the island remains much the same as when Chile first colonized it more than 100 years ago. Hotels and restaurants are modest. People live simply. According to one of our guides, the majority of islanders dedicate many months of the year preparing for Tapati, an annual, week-long festival celebrating the origins of their culture. Ancient sporting events, feasts, theatrical presentations with hand-sewn feather and reed costumes, and the crowning of a queen are all part of the celebration. Luckily, our trip coincided with this festival.

On our fifth day of the trip, the day before the trail ride, our two buses turned off the primary southern road and drove inland a few miles before stopping for lunch. With our boxed meals, we decided to walk a half mile further up the earthen road to sit beneath a grove of eucalyptus and cedar trees. Finding comfortable spots on the ground, we savored our typical, unadorned island fare.

The atmosphere was jovial and we began relaxing for an hour before the buses would take us to our next destination — communing with a sacred stone near the coast that the native people believe emanates tremendous healing energy. Legend has it that an ancient chief brought the enormous, perfectly rounded stone, named Te Pito Kura (meaning golden navel or navel of light), to Rapa Nui eons ago when his home island flooded. Some people say this chief traveled with his people from the mystical land of Lemuria.

Half-way through lunch, a woman in the group approached and asked me to come with her. She said a mare nearby was in trouble, and her baby was with her. When I arrived, I saw the mare had barbed and smooth wire wrapped tightly around her left back leg and smooth wire wrapped loosely around the other rear leg, making it difficult for her to walk. From her wounds on the lower left leg, it was evident she had been tangled up for at least a week, maybe two. Her ribs were showing and though the grass was lush in the partly shaded area, there appeared to be no water in the vicinity. Her body was immobile, listless, her head low to the ground with glazed eyes. The male foal, however, seemed healthy and alert.

Soon others gathered. As a number of us were able to communicate with the mare, it became clear that she was only alive because of her devotion to her son, who was about 4 months old, not yet weaned. She seemed to be in her death process. Our initial assessment was that the situation was beyond hope. This heart-breaking scene evoked shock and tears among us.

We asked Benito, our kind Rapa Nui spiritual elder, about the possibility of euthanasia, or at least contacting the owner. He said he could find out whom she belonged to from the branding, however, he assured us that because it was opening day of the Tapati festival, it was futile to try contacting anyone, the owner or a vet. After witnessing daily evidence of the labor-intensive work that went into preparing for the festival, we knew he was right.


(Continued in Horses on Easter Island – Part 2)




 

 



 

 

Sea of Humanity

February 13, 2011

Originally written as a newsletter article on 6/14/09.

We’ve been graced with daily rainfall the last two weeks–most welcome in our semi-arid Colorado climate. These showers follow 9 inches of moisture during April and May. The wildflowers have responded with a stunning display and the foothills are carpeted with a luxurious green.

This unusual precipitation is a frequent topic of conversation, eliciting smiles and relaxed body language. The generous rainfall has people, like wildflowers, responding with joy.

One recent overcast morning, I found myself outdoors amid 54,000 people. Thankfully, the rain was not expected to begin until the afternoon. As I blended with the crowd, I wasn’t sure exactly why, after 9 years in Colorado, I decided to walk in the annual Bolder Boulder 10K race. However, I savored the cool and blessedly dry weather as I joined my wave near the starting line.

My group of about 300 walkers was one of the final waves to begin. As we eased forward, a memory of a race I had seen in Kansas City 20 years ago flooded my senses.

One summer day in 1989, I received a notice on my door that a 4K race would pass in front of my house the coming weekend. That Saturday morning just after 7 am, the sound of hundreds of sneakers making contact with pavement filtered into my dream-space. I pulled on my robe and padded downstairs.

Still inhabiting the land between dreaming and waking, I stepped outside to resonate with this flowing river of people and felt an intense rush of emotion. Witnessing this amazing sea of humanity, moving as one, so beautiful, so full of life, I began to weep. I watched the young and old, bald and pony-tailed, robust and lithe, stern and smiling bodies as they passed by, and kept passing by, cascading through my ┬áneighborhood. My response was similar to the joy I often feel watching the Olympics–the world gathered in peaceful, celebratory community.

In my robe, I watched and cheered with my neighbors until the last walker ambled by more than an hour later. I felt as if I had fallen in love with each and every person in the race that morning.

And now here I was at the Bolder Boulder starting line, joining these other walkers destined for Folsom Field 6 miles away. I wondered how I would feel as a participant rather than an observer. I also wondered how my body would respond without any training to speak of. Much to my relief, the relatively flat course was remarkably easy and we were entertained by 10 live bands, bagpipe players in kilts, belly dancers and by offers of donuts and beer! The atmosphere of the crowd was sheer joy.

After an hour and a half, my wave headed uphill to the field house. As soon as I stepped into the stadium, tears began to well. To my complete surprise, my wave of walkers arriving almost 4 hours after the race first began, was being cheered on by more than 15,000 people standing in the stadium, waving flags and brimming with enthusiasm at our entrance.

Spontaneously most of us began to jog in response to this outpouring of encouragement. We smiled and waved back in joyful astonishment as we floated around the track to the finish line. This beautiful sea of humanity opened their hearts to us and we basked in their love.

Later at the celebration’s close, as a singer offered his final notes, drops of delicious rain began to fall.


(Photo from video footage of Why Run, a documentary about running currently being edited. See trailer at www.whyrunthemovie.com)


 

 

Pets as Teachers

February 13, 2011
yellow lab

Originally printed in the Healing Path magazine, Nov./Dec., 2005

The truth of the matter is, as much as we adore our pets, life with our animal companions can sometimes challenge us to our limits.

My first cat after college, Nazare, loved to hunt. As presents for me and entertainment for him , he would sneak live birds into my apartment and release them. (Well, it was better than mice, I suppose.) He rarely harmed the creatures, thank goodness. But guiding a startled bird toward an open door while keeping my cat at bay led to some very frantic moments. Scolding didn’t accomplish anything. Eventually, I became adept at calmly rescuing the occasional trembling bird from my chandelier.

And the funny thing is, as a result of this training, I became more proficient at dealing with crisis situations in my life. Whether he was aware of it or not, Nazare taught me how to respond to unexpected chaos.

Today as an animal communicator, I remain intrigued with the life lessons, or agreements, between people and their pets. I find that by understanding our agreements with our animal companions, we can develop deeper and more harmonious relationships with them.

One client, Alisha, a composed 20-year-old student, was at her wit’s end with her two-year-old Siberian Husky, Gaia. This boisterous dog constantly disobeyed Alisha — disappearing for an hour on a walk, ignoring simple commands she had followed before. Yet Gaia was clearly bonded with Alisha and wanted to please her. After failing an intensely rigorous dog obedience class, Gaia seemed doomed for the Humane Society shelter.

Looking at their agreements together revealed that Gaia and Allisha held opposite views regarding rules — Gaia, a free spirit, perceived rules as limitations while Alisha, a highly organized person, found solace in following rules to the letter. Alisha was trying to force Gaia to become a perfectly obedient dog in every respect, which left Gaia feeling like she was in prison.

The difficult lesson together involved each of them finding more balance regarding discipline in their lives. Gaia knew that her free-spirited nature could easily lead her into dangerous situations. So she trusted Alisha to guide her toward safety in life. But Gaia also needed breaks from the constant training to express her adventurous nature.

Alisha, on the other hand, was learning from Gaia how to relax her need to control her environment so she could take more risks and explore a greater level of freedom in life.

Soon after our session, their relationship blossomed. As Alisha eased up on enforcing unnecessary rules, Gaia began responding more willingly to her requests. And Alisha is now able to take life less seriously as she learns from Gaia’s boundless enthusiasm for life.

All agreements with our pets are not as challenging as Alisha and Gaia’s lessons together. Sometimes animals simply help remind us about the basics in life — love, play, and loyalty to our friends.

Once, I had the honor of meeting a spunky 46-year-old turtle, Zippy, who had stopped eating. True to his name, Zippy careened around the room with plenty of energy as we talked. Laura, his person, obviously cherished this life companion, whom she had cared for since the age of eight. One of Zippy’s agreements with Laura was for her to provide a secure home for him in a house with four cats.

When I asked why he had stopped eating, he kept repeating, “Home, home.” I asked Laura if she knew what he meant. Her eyes dropped and she said, “Oh, I moved his house to a spot I thought he would like better.” She paused then continued, “It was about the same time he stopped eating.” In the new location, he didn’t feel as protected from the cats, so he stopped eating to alert Laura of his discomfort. The problem was quickly rectified and Zippy resumed eating.

Becoming aware of the life lessons we are learning with our pets only enhances our relationships with them. So the next time your animal companion challenges you, ask yourself what you might be learning from this amazing creature who has chosen to share a life with you.

(Photos courtesy of http://www.freedigitalphotos.net)

Buck deer

February 13, 2011

Originally written as a newsletter article on 7/12/09.

young buck deer

A young buck deer.

One morning this week I awoke at dawn. The temperature was predicted to reach the mid-nineties so I soaked my garden in the cool morning air. As I turned the water off, I was treated to a rare sight–only a few feet away strolling along my sidewalk were four, young buck deer. Now deer are spotted fairly often in and around town. But for some reason, most of them are female. To see one buck is unusual. So four? At my home where deer rarely appear? I stood in speechless wonder.

The attitude of this male pack reminded me of teenaged boys, both confident on their journey and self-conscious at the same time. One young buck trailing somewhat behind the group caught my eye. I greeted him wordlessly and he held my gaze as he passed. His fuzzy antlers were about 18 inches high. He was too cute! I noticed the delicate shape of his hooves, and the gentle clicking sounds on the pavement, like high heels.

The group moved to a crossroad and one buck headed north down another sidewalk while the others waited, watching. The lead deer soon came barreling back as if to say, “No, not that way!” Congregating again at the corner, they circled a bit as if confused about which way to go. The gentle buck I had greeted turned toward me again. Acknowledging their obvious desire to find the quickest way back to nature’s open space, I adamantly pointed toward the mountains.

They quickly checked in with one another for a few seconds, then took off at a gallop toward the mountains I had pointed to. These guys not only asked for directions, they followed them!

We love to joke about the differences between the male and female. And the differences are frankly significant. They’re physical, hormonal, familial, societal and even spiritual. Most of us move through life primarily in our masculine mode — logical, thinking, strong, independent, active, rational; or in our feminine mode — creative, feeling deeply, being taken care of, relationship-oriented, passive, intuitive. We may easily embody both attributes, such as being a rational leader at work while pursuing expressive artwork at home. However very few of us embody BOTH the masculine and feminine aspects at the same time.

I believe some of the most important spiritual work today involves intertwining our masculine and feminine attributes (along with using the left and right hemispheres of the brain simultaneously) so we can enjoy a balanced, integrated existence. So we can wear our powerful antlers as we test our abilities in dainty high heels. So we can integrate both aspects of ourselves, both sides of our brain at the same time, and become whole.

The Divine Feminine has awakened recently and understands our spiritual path toward wholeness. She knows that we need to honor both our male and female aspects within us to evolve spiritually, to transcend duality, to heal the planet.

So who represents the highest expression of the goodness of the Divine Masculine and the Divine Feminine in the world around you? For a friend of mine, the highest form of Divine Masculine in her life is her beautiful male dog. For someone else, Oprah may represent the Divine Feminine. Once the healthy qualities of male/female expression become alive and balanced inside of you, you’ll be able to call on the strength/protection of your male side to feel safe in the world, as you express your female heart’s loving desire to fulfill your spiritual purpose. (By the way, most people concur that spirituality is located in the right/feminine side of the brain. Check out neuroscientist Jill Bolte Taylor’s book, My Stroke of Insight, or google her to see her inspiring video.)

Finally, like the deer who wandered into my neighborhood, many spiritual seekers find ourselves not completely comfortable in a suburban/urban environment all the time. We long to smell wild flowers instead of air freshener, to hear a hawk call instead of a refrigerator hum, and to embrace Mother Earth in Her pure, creative exuberance.

Mother Earth knows where we long to go spiritually and will show us the way if we look in Her direction. If you trust her, follow Her.

(Photo of deer from http://www.freenaturepictures.com/young-buck-4.php)

 

 

 


Nurturing yourself

February 13, 2011

This newsletter article was originally written on 3/29/09.

During these stressful times, a glorious gift to yourself can be nurturing your physical and emotional bodies.

Many years ago I learned important lessons about nurturing myself when my ability to walk became restricted for a few months. In addition to the physical discomfort, I became depressed as my world narrowed. However, once I stopped resisting and decided to relax into my predicament, I found great joy in the hidden treasures of slowing down.

The world seemed remarkably full of life everywhere I turned. To aid in my recovery, I began using essential oils early on. Lavender in particular always lifted my mood. This sensory delight led me to begin balancing the pain in my body with a variety of simple, healthy pleasures throughout each day.

Because of my physical condition, each step was a precious gift. So I carefully planned outings around sensory experiences that would rejuvenate me. Sometimes I drove to a park and took 5 careful steps to sit on a rock by a pond, breathing deeply as I watched ducks glide in and take off. Or I would drive to an expansive overlook to watch the sun set.

When I became more adventurous, I traveled to an antique gallery/cafe and sat in one of a number of luxurious chairs as I waited for a lunch table. I remember the delicate wafting of tomato basil soup and pepper spiced ratatouille coming from the kitchen. When my meal arrived, I savored each bite, noticing the life force flowing into my body. It felt as if I had never really tasted food before. Gratitude began to pour into my being.

At home I rediscovered the comforting presence of a hot water bottle and a rainbow shaft of light from a crystal moving gracefully along the floor. Before long, everything around me seemed to spring to life–a philodendron in a hand-made pot, the grace of a sheer lampshade. I felt an inner happiness for the simple blessings of life itself that I never knew when I was rushing about.

Also during those quiet few months in my life, I was drawn to move deeper into meditation. I read Peace is Every Step, by Thich Nhat Hahn, a Vietnamese Buddhist monk who suggests that along with inner stillness, people simply smile many times throughout the day. Smiling changes everything from your attitude to your muscles to your hormones. It helps heal us physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. So I began looking for more things in my limited world that caused me to smile.

Here are a few: the soulful eyes of a dog, finding a face in the clouds, children squealing with delight, earrings that dance, ice cream, feeling a cat’s purr, a single flower in bloom, juicy mangoes, warm sunlight filtering through tree leaves, the earthy smell of a horse’s coat, flannel anything, lemon sorbet, swans, a potter’s glazed bowl, a capella music, a cup of cocoa by a fire, squirrels playfully chasing each other around a tree.

Eventually I made a complete recovery, and I enjoyed the healing process, well mostly. However, the lessons of engaging in the beautiful dance of life, becoming still every day, and smiling often remain with me to this day.

 

 

 

(Photo courtesy of http://www.freedigitalphotos.net)



Male/Female Maori Wisdom

February 13, 2011

This newsletter article was originally written on 1/6/09.


whale tale

Last weekend I felt a yearning for the ocean, so I picked up the movie The Whale Rider to connect with the sights, sounds and feel of the open sea. With the loving expanse of water as a backdrop, upon this second viewing I found myself drawn into the relationship between Paika’s grandparents. (Paika is a fictional 12-year-old native Maori girl in New Zealand who becomes her indigenous people’s first female leader by riding a beached whale back into the ocean.)

As the story unfolded, I felt deeply the constant friction between Paika’s grandfather, a stubborn Maoori community leader, and her grandmother, an incredibly strong, quiet, resourceful woman. The relationship is unfortunately all too familiar, all too painful–an example of the discomfort we often witness between men and women all around us. However, in spite of the tension between them, a deep foundational love held their union together.

I was equally enthralled with the wholeness of the sparkling Paika who effortlessly balanced her inner male and female characteristics. She was as comfortable learning an ancient warrior skill as she was weeping openly on stage in front of her people. At the end of the film when rode a beached whale back into the open ocean, she revealed her strong feminine urgings of intuition, nurturing and patience, along with her male gifts of courage, action and independence. The ocean, the energy of the divine feminine, supported her spiritual odyssey and mothered her back to life on shore.

With this one act, she saved a pod of whales, clearly emerged at the future Maori leader, and brought a new sense of community and cultural pride to her people.

Oh that we might all become more like Paika, developing harmony between the male and female aspects we all innately possess. When the division between head (male) and heart (female) is healed, we are then able to act with integrity and love. The heart holds an intelligence about love for all living creatures and our mother earth that the mind is incapable of fully understanding on its own. And when the two are in conflict, trust the heart. When we honor both our inner male and female inner selves, our relationships with others often become more balanced, too.

Most people have a stronger male or stronger female energy, irrespective of whether they are actually a man or a woman. A healthy male energy is logical, grounded, protective, giving, action-oriented, mental, independent, strong and likes to fix things. A healthy female energy is intuitive, nurturing, emotional, receiving, community-oriented, soft, mystical, mysterious, non-linear, and likes to create things.

Ideally we’re most whole when we can access both male and female attributes within us, depending upon what would be most beneficial in any given situation. This inner work helps us become more balanced in all aspects of our lives. If Paika had only been in touch with her female energy, she might have desired to help the whale but not found the courage to act. Or if she had only been guided by her male energy, she might not have intuitively known what the whale needed to earn the whale’s trust.

Her grandparents modeled the strong male and female aspects, which she was able to integrate into herself. As we, too, bring these parts of ourselves into greater internal harmony, I believe we’re also helping to heal all male/female relationships on the planet.

(Photo courtesy of http://www.freenaturepictures.com/whale-pictures.php)

Ancestral Land

February 6, 2011

This essay was originally printed in Handprint in the Woods, a book by Whispering Prairie Press, 1997.

One evening last June, my husband, Jim, and I helped Grandpa and Grandma count their Hereford cattle as they grazed in the pasture. Again and again our count stalled at 27 head: short one newborn calf. The mother had probably just bedded it down in the tall grass somewhere, but it might have been sick or attacked by coyotes. Jim and I searched through bluestem grass as high as our hips. Grandma, who is unsteady on her feet these days, watched expectantly from the pickup.

Then I noticed Grandpa just standing there, his wiry frame stock still, intent. A moment later, he walked straight to the calf, finding it healthy and safe. I asked how he knew where to look in the sea of grass. He said he just watched the mother, and she kept looking back at that one particular spot.

Jim and I, parched by Kansas City’s asphalt and traffic, often escape to my grandparents’ farm in the Flint Hills, a place settled by my great-great-grandfather in 1872. He brought the first Herefords, white-faced bovines with cinnamon bodies, to Marshall County, Kansas in the late 1800s. The cattle we counted in the pasture are descendants from that original stock.

The pasture’s 160 acres of rolling, virgin prairie enchants everyone in the family, young and old alike, beckoning us to come enjoy a peaceful interlude while we absorb its subtle beauty.

The pasture is also ancestral land. Its recurring seasons of native grasses and the on-going bloodline of cattle remind me of the generations in my family who have sprung up and lain down within view of this place. The pasture has taught us about life and death, scarcity and abundance, travail and hope. All my life, I keep looking back to this one particular spot.

Grandpa, eighty-seven, harvested his last bushel of wheat four years ago. Then he rented the fields to a neighbor and sold his combine.

After Grandpa found the wayward calf he told us, “You know, I’m gonna sell the whole lot of ’em come fall.” For a decade, we had heard him say these exact words about the cattle every year. I looked at Grandma. Her face was solemn, resigned. Somehow, this time, I knew he was serious.

Grandpa, Grandma and Jim decided to check the pasture’s perimeter for fence that needed fixing before dark. Instead of going along with them, I climbed the highest hill to a limestone ledge, breathing deeply the pristine air. From my lookout, I noticed the shiny, emerald shoots of grass sprouting from vestiges of last year’s dry, lifeless shafts. In a good year, the tallest grass could tickle my earlobes. Butterfly plants also dotted the field with deep orange, lily-like blooms.

The pasture remains pure, untouched, just at Native Americans would have found it. The native grasses–big bluestem, little bluestem and side-oats grama–have evolved so they can survive flooding, drought and fires which would decimate other grasses. Grandpa regularly cuts down non-native cedar saplings and thistle interlopers that would overtake the grass, given time. Thus, the pasture remains a sanctuary to mid-sized and tall grasses indigenous to the Midwest, which have too often been sacrificed by tilling the soil for crops or by allowing too many cattle on the land.

Beneath the dome of endless sky, I scanned the horizon. A pinkish hue enveloped a string of clouds to the east, just above two hills, known as the Twin Mounds, bathed in golden twilight.

Sojourners along the Oregon Trail relied upon the Twin Mounds as a distinguishable landmark amid a never-ending expanse of grass. Once, as a child, I climbed the south mound to a rock outcropping. On it were carved two sets of initials and the year 1803. Even earlier, Native Americans reserved the notch between the Twin Mounds for a sacred burial ground.

In the valley that stretches between the Twin Mounds and the pasture lies the final resting place for scores of my relatives–the Antioch Cemetery, a peaceful, well-kept plot of land that originally belonged to my grandmother’s great-grandfather. The stone shell of his house, a solid, two-story structure, still stands next to the cemetery.

Family legend has it that one day a stranger knocked at his door asking where he could bury one of his traveling companions who had died overnight. He told the stranger that they would have to start a cemetery somewhere, so they might as well have it right there on his land.

Since then, five generations on Grandma’s side and four generations on Grandpa’s have been buried there. My grandparents’ engraved tombstone is already positioned at the head of their burial plot, awaiting only the dates of their passing. Jim and I will rest there too, after we each take our final breath.

I stood up to locate the pickup, which had stopped at the opposite end of the field. Grandpa was kneeling by the fence, still working.

Male pheasant.

The truck soon flushed out a pair of prairie chickens who glided a short distance before disappearing back into the dense grass cover. Once near extinction because of hunting and loss of habitat, these large, shy birds continue to breed in the pasture, hiding their nests on the ground. Some people say their foot-stomping, feather-dragging mating ritual inspired Native American ceremonial dances.

Off to the northwest, I caught a glimpse of my grandparents’ house, a white two-story structure built by Grandpa’s grandfather in 1898. Before he migrated west he owned a lumber mill in New York. At age forty, he moved his family to Kansas in hopes of improving his wife’s health. After 20 years in a log cabin, they built the five-bedroom house with long, narrow windows and four porches.

Grandma comes from a long line of honest, resourceful folks. Her grandmother buried one young husband and divorced another for mistreating her children. Then this stalwart woman, on her own, proceeded to build up one of the most prosperous farms in the county.

A picture of Grandma at eighteen reveals a stunning beauty with deep-set eyes wearing a long-waisted 1920s dress and beads. Her hair is cut short, stylish. A photo of her during the Depression shows a thin, tired woman in a faded cotton dress with three children. Without her garden, the family would have starved. Without her efforts alongside Grandpa in the fields, they couldn’t have harvested the crops on time. For sixty-seven years, they have toiled as loyal, equal partners.

Ten years ago, Jim and I were married at the farm, just east of the house between the pear and apple trees. (The pasture, the most holy of holies on the farm, was not an option because the road to it is often inaccessible for days following a heavy rain.) The farm still represents the most sacred site I know.

The pickup rounded the corner by the pond and slowly headed back toward the hill to pick me up. The sun had just dropped below the horizon.

I couldn’t avoid the fact that my grandparents were preparing for the end of their lives. For them, life and death are interwoven, like two patterns on either side of the same piece of fabric. Every summer the crab apple trees bear fruit and then lie dormant for the winter, only to be resurrected come spring. The wheat is planted in the fall, dies back in the winter, and matures to be harvested each June. And every season, cattle are fattened up so that they may be sacrificed, providing nourishment for our bodies.

Grandpa and Grandma have never skirted around the issue of death, least of all their own. Grandpa is fond of saying, “Hell, we’re so old, we don’t even buy green bananas.” Grandma talks openly about who will inherit which piece of antique furniture when they’re gone.

Though I’m saddened by the matter-of-fact references to their own deaths, I’m grateful as well. Whether they know it or not, and I think they do, they are helping prepare me for life without them. And without them, stewardship of the farm and pasture within our family remains uncertain.

No relative has come forward as the likely successor to continue the family legacy. Earning a decent living in rural Kansas with little agricultural expertise is no small feat. And rumor has it that a potential local buyer is waiting in the wings.

But a new owner might graze too many cattle on the pasture, limiting the native grasses’ regeneration. The carefully tended home might become unkempt.

Maybe we should just be content with our cherished memories. Maybe we don’t have to own the land. The new owner would probably let us visit once in a while….

Yet my soul is woven into the fabric of this land. When the time comes, I trust that we, too, will remain guardians for the land we hold dear, this land we all keep looking back to.

(Photos courtesy of http://www.freedigitalphotos.net)


Creative flow

February 4, 2011

Originally written as a newsletter article on Nov. 3, 2008.

It’s election eve. The world is watching. By this time tomorrow night we’ll have a new president for our beloved country. May he follow a path of light.

This year, no matter who you supported as a candidate, chances are you felt strongly passionate about him or her. Enthusiasm and passion are high vibrations, which help our internal life force energy to flow more vibrantly. As a result, we feel more alive. And this inner movement is healthy for us on many levels. We feel propelled into action rather than waiting on the sidelines. It’s the difference between a lively rushing stream and a stagnant pool of water.

Creativity is another high vibration. When we’re actively creating — singing along to music, preparing a soup, carving a face on a pumpkin, arranging a centerpiece of colorful, fall leaves — we can feel a shift within. Slower energies of apathy, boredom and fear cannot exist alongside the movement of creativity. Even the negativity of stress can be channeled into creative projects, transmuting the lower vibration to a higher one. We always have the choice to shift how we’re interacting with the world around us, and so raise the level of our energy.

Recently I’ve been considering such a choice regarding my front door. The lower trim panels are separating from the door and it’s a pitiful sight. Though I love the door, I’ve felt inadequate when faced with repairing it. A new door seems like the obvious solution, however I haven’t been able to decide on a suitable one. I called a handy person, but she can’t come for many weeks. Meanwhile every time I gaze upon my shabby front door, I feel hopeless, embarrassed and paralyzed — very low, stuck vibrations.

So I pondered how I might enjoy looking upon a beautiful front door again. The answer involved my creativity. Since I felt passionately about repairing this door, I realized all I needed to do was to consult a professional at my local hardware store to help me construct and install new trim panels. And I resolved to do it with my own hands. Since I knew nothing about this type of work, it would be a significant creative challenge. Even though I’m still in the beginning stages, when I now gaze upon my door, I feel enthusiastic about restoring it to a state of beauty. The energy is flowing again.

Years ago, during a stagnant time in my life, I kept a bit of plastic/clay, which never dries out, near my chair. I found that as I mindlessly played with it, interesting shapes began to emerge. I found great joy spending time with these little creations. They made me smile. Then, as I felt more inner movement, my outer world began to transform as well.

Each day presents many opportunities for our creativity to find expression. Getting dressed in the morning can become an adventure as we combine new shirts, belts and accessories. Taking a different route as we drive is creative and raises our energy level (just have a map nearby). Turning off the tv and doodling with some paper, pens and even crayons, if you have them, can easily transform your inner energy. Become like a child again. Enjoy the wonder of the world around you.

Walking into an art gallery, a store of hand-made jewelry or any place where creative juices flow can help bring back our dormant joy for life once more. Also, flower shops, nurseries and farmers markets are all bursting with flowing creative energies. Being close to nature brings us into harmony with ourselves and helps us to really feel again.

Even taking a small step toward nurturing a more vibrant inner energy can have a profound effect. And when we feel more alive, we naturally move into a healthier, happier place — physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually.

How might you discover more enthusiasm for living this very precious life you’ve been given?