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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

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

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?

Blog in Process

May 19, 2010

Check back soon.