RUIN AND BEAUTY

DEENA METZGER'S BLOG

Category Archives: community and healing

WHAT OUR BODIES KNOW

       … Danger everywhere, signs and portents, miracles and catastrophes. The hammer of one ambition against another, fusion and fission. And then an unending firestorm in the mind. Enter the grim reaper of the death of spirit. Alarmed, I put my hand into the poultice of earth.

At my feet, a wild trapezoid of new grace, her legs angling away from her body in a stretch of memory holding snow, the midnight sun, the blue continuous night in her paws, and despite that radiance, Isis, the great white wolf of the Arctic, is helpless against the disappearance of the time before, the time before, the time before, endless time disappearing.

To walk into the unknown to make it known may not be the way. To open the door underground and pass through, flooding it with Herculean light, may not be the way. To streak in a straight line into the sky, trail of gases blazing, may not be the way. Traveling forward in a straight line to the end of the universe without looking back, afraid even of the opalescent curve at the end of the shell of time, may not be the way….

                                    From Star Walk, Ruin and Beauty, New and Selected Poems, Deena Metzger, 2009

Writing that poem more than twenty years ago, I was aware that the great suffering of the animals, already visible, was precisely related to the way we live our lives.  In this instance, the Wolf’s history, her ability to rely on instinct, habit, Wolf custom, the past, what she had learned from her mother, what had been transmitted through thousands of years of ancestor wisdom, was disappearing. Now she had to live by her wits confronting situations her Wolf people had never known or imagined and also had to develop the ability to understand the unnatural preferences and intentions of two-leggeds from whom her people had always happily distanced themselves.  Though she lived with us, with human people, though she did not live in captivity, was not confined against her will within a house or an enclosure, both entirely alien conditions imposed upon her pups and their progeny, still, she died in pain, of cancer, a human condition imposed upon her.  We did not attribute her death to natural causes. 

Last week, I made a list of people whom I am carrying in my heart with daily prayers because they are deeply afflicted, with cancer, other life-threatening and mind-threatening illnesses, or great emotional suffering. Within a six-week period, six people in my kinship network were diagnosed with breast cancer while several others began facing other grave illnesses. I made the list because the numbers are increasing drastically and I didn’t want to forget anyone or any being… or any being.  I had also learned that one out of three dogs will have cancer  and 50% of those over ten years old. Cancer is no longer rare in the wild and threatens the existence of some species . “Long-term monitoring of the beluga population in the Gulf of St Lawrence in Canada has revealed that 18 per cent of deaths in this particular population are caused by cancer – making it the second leading cause of death. A further 27 per cent of adult animals that were found had tumours.”  Tasmanian Devils, the marsupials of Australia are similarly threatened with extinction because of cancers that develop first on their face and the move to other parts of their bodies.

https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=Special:Search&redirs=0&search=tasmanian%20devil%20tumours&fulltext=Search&ns0=1&ns6=1&ns14=1&title=Special:Search&advanced=1&fulltext=Advanced%20search#/media/File:Tasmanian_Devil_Facial_Tumour_Disease.png

[ii]

The Belugas and Tasmanian Devils are far from the only species threatened.  “We are changing the environment to be more suitable for ourselves, while these changes are having a negative impact on many species on many different levels, including the probability of developing cancer. … a team of international researchers, point out many pathways and previous scientific studies that show where human activities are already taking a toll on animals. These include chemical and physical pollution in our oceans and waterways, accidental release of radiation into the atmosphere from nuclear plants, and the accumulation of microplastics in both land- and water-based environments. In addition, exposure to pesticides and herbicides on farmlands, artificial light pollution, loss of genetic diversity and animals eating human food are known to cause health problems.”[iii] Very recently, another Whale died, its belly laden with eighty-eight pounds of plastic bags. 

In a recent dream, a Mountain Lion was locked onto a glassed-in porch opening to a circle of trees at the edge of a meadow,  She was throwing herself against all the walls, trying to get into the house or out onto the land but without seeing a way to freedom.  In fact, we had just come upon mountain lion tracks in that meadow and decided, after the dream, to cancel a planned quest so that the lion could have free access to territory having lost all in the Woolsey fire

.In 1977, I  thought that illness, as a messenger, would be the catalyst that would inspire us to change how we live in substantive ways that would benefit everyone. People responded very thoughtfully when asked, Why is this illness, in particular, occurring to you, in particular, at this time in your and our common lives? And how, then shall you live to bring healing to yourself and to others?  What are the underlying causes of the illnesses which are afflicting so many?  Consistently, people found meaningful answers that revealed social, political, environmental, spiritual issues at the core of their lives.  Accordingly, healing required them to make significant changes to the ways they were living that could also have impact on others. I thought then that we would change our personal lives and our common lives.  That we would change culture and society so that everyone could be more alive.  I thought we would find the underlying causes of our afflictions – the social, political, environmental causes – would admit the dire effects of the Anthropocene and devote ourselves so that the healing activities on behalf of any one individual healed all.  Seeing the extent of the pain and suffering that was emanating from our life styles and which we were each suffering, I thought, hoped, that each person’s healing path would affect everyone.  I would heal – you would heal.  The wolves would heal.  One action and one beneficent consequence for all being

It seems that is not what happened.  Seemingly, the more people felled by cancer, the greater the panic that is generated and the more docile the population becomes in acquiescing to how we live our lives or to the medical treatments that do such harm to the earth, inflicting our suffering on future generations.  Chemotherapy and radiation, despite the torment of the treatments, have become commonplace. People wrestle with which tortures to select, not whether one will undergo such, not whether it will also be inflicted on the earth and our descendants.  The sign in the UCLA oncology bathroom says flush twice to protect the porcelain.  Protect the toilets! What about protecting the water and the earth? Ourselves?  When I ask the physicians who prescribe medications for me how the environment will be affected, they shrug.  My physical response will be monitored, the earth’s responses will not. 

Few seem to have the free attention to be  interested in the story as messenger, in the story the illness is telling except when it points to how to get well.  There is little encouragement to discover why, really, we are ill, but there is much emphasis on getting through the treatment, returning to the old life, the one that is making so many ill. 

The authority of the physician seems to be increasing even as his or her distance from the individual patient increases also, not by choice, but by institutional fiat.  My country doc tells me his son has just finished his medical residency and has become a hospitalist in one of our city’s largest hospital.  My doc, who is taking his time, regaling me with tales, who knows healing relies on relationship, who has retained an old-fashioned private practice, says his son is interested in “efficiency.” I silently vow to stay out of the hospital.  I make a note to add to my medical directives that I do not want to be treated by a hospitalist and I do not want to die in a hospital. Chemotherapy, often as extreme as any torture, is taken as inevitable.  Also radiation.  Treatments, again, no matter how extreme are integrated into one’s life schedule even one’s work schedule. A friend gets up early to go to radiation treatment and then on to work.  When I refuse routine x-rays, radioactive dyes or CT scans, my doctors are concerned, some will not treat me.  They do not understand that I am hoping we will remember the ancient art of bone-setting or other Indigenous ways of knowing.  It is possible that my life will be foreshortened by this refusal to accept certain diagnostic procedures or treatments but the life of the Earth may well be extended 

It begins to seem like the only life we can have is the one that is killing us.  Presented with an application for a rescue Dog, I was asked whether I will provide all necessary medical treatments despite the cost.  There was no room to say, I will only do what I will do for myself.  There was no room for me to refuse what I will refuse for myself.  I did not qualify for the dog.  Fortunately, another rescue appeared.  My new Dog, GentleBoy will not be tortured and I will do what I can so that he lives a life aligned with his animal nature. 

I have been greatly affected by a story I heard years ago of an American lineage carrier for a Siberian shaman who told an audience that she most probably would not take the shaman’s place when he died.  She said, his daily job was to tend all the souls of the community in the soul hut and she was not sure she was able to carry such a responsibility.  When I heard the story, I didn’t know if I was or would be capable of such a spiritual task but I hoped that as I developed as a healer that I might approach it.  Accordingly, I certainly didn’t want to forget any of those on my personal list which is very long for the moment though relatively short given the list of lives threatened by Extinction and Climate Collapse and I certainly don’t want to forget any one of the species whose life is threatened by the ways I live my life.  My body, our bodies, the animal bodies, the trees, the wind, the water, the earth.

Carrying the souls of the community …. Today when I think of such a task, I know that I have to include the souls of the non-humans who are suffering such extreme anguish.  And the Elementals.  How do I know?  I know it in my own body and through yours.  And through the Earth actions we call weather.  As the Earth is a living being … what do these fires, floods, storms, extreme droughts tell us…? Isn’t the Earth living in extremis from our activities?

Maybe it is not too late for the changes that might spring from empathy?  That is, maybe it is not too late for such changes which could save the planet and all life? 

January 6, 1999.  That was a moment in my personal history when, without understanding fully the change of mind I would undergo, I said to an Elephant, we were in a few minutes to recognize as an Ambassador, “Your people are my people.”  I didn’t know then that I had stepped across, as is required for these times, from a human-centric belief system to a more appropriate ecological understanding of the reality of kinship among all beings.  Mitakuye Oyasin.  All my relations.  Or, your people are my people.  I was not taught or directed to say these words.  They did not come to me from my culture, nor from a teacher nor from anything I had read or studied.  They came in the moment, through what can only be described as a Spirit, or spirits directed experience.  The exquisite orchestration of wonder in a moment revealing the true nature of reality that could not be communicated by any other means – it had to be revealed to be known and it was. 

Once animals lived with the natural order – then death was part of the cycle.  In Botswana, I  watched the young lion walking through a herd of impala who barely moved out of his way.  He was not hungry.  They were not prey.  Similarly, the Elephants on the veldt in Kenya paid no attention to a young lion who was, from our human perspective, stalking the newborn just behind the mother’s legs. Filled with anxiety and disturbed by the mother’s seeming oblivion, we still adhered to out pledge not to interfere even when he crouched.  We could see the taut energy in his limbs as he prepared to spring, the baby surely doomed, when the mother, just before he might have been mid-air, turned on a dime and reared as casually as we might swat a fly.  She had known he was young, and practicing, not skilled enough yet to be of concern.  She returned to grazing, her little one remaining behind her massive legs and the lion, seemingly chagrinned, ran off. 

The non-humans have not until now carried the fear of death the ways humans, or at least modern humans carry it as an on-going anxiety, as beings whose survival seems threatened increasingly  (though by our own hands – our adamant species auto-immune response and so organize their lives to ward off danger by carrying weapons, gating communities and setting up surveillance systems, the private equivalent of waging on-going war, building walls between nations and spying on each other’s every move with increasingly pervasive and invasive technology. And fear, we know, begets fear. 

 Though all animals do not respond the way we do; the animals know that their species are threatened.  One sign is the new herds of Elephants in Namibia who no longer have tusks, another is atypical behavior of Elephants such as young bulls sexually aggressing on Rhinos, or the desperate Polar Bears who invaded Belushya Guba in Russia

 The body knows and changes accordingly or it is altered by the untenable forces acting against its survival. 

Some people on my list were recently given a temporary reprieve – that is all any of us get.  But others joined the list. We are living in a world of sorrow and pain.  Grief groups and grief counseling burgeon dramatically – a sign of the times. People have always died but now our grief and anxiety seem inconsolable and entirely disabling.  Are we suffering something more than we have in the past?  Is our extreme pain and accompanying dysfunction a symptom of our unconscious perception of the tragedy of this time?  People have always been dying but the grief in the atmosphere seems to increase with the carbon content.  And if we track shifting animal behavior in the wild, we must surmise that the animals are also consciously suffering the grave threat to all life but without the benefit, if there is any, of easing the pain with anti-depressives, opioids, individual therapy or grief groups. 

A veritable mental health specialty has been created in the last years to counsel those who are suffering loss.  The death of loved ones, spouses, friends, parents and siblings seem to induce  breakdown, disabling depression, overwhelming anxiety and lack of ability or desire to function.  Are we so devitalized by loss because we no longer live in villages supported by each other’s presence or because this personal loss signifies the greater loss, not only of our own life in the impending near future but of all life?  And when the future disappears from view, then meaning, associated with posterity, disappears and we are left unmoored. 

A friend suffered several bouts with different cancers a year ago.  He has recovered physically but despite his developed consciousness and deep meditation practice, he is the victim of childhood memories which rise unexpectedly in response to relatively slight provocations.  And it seems to be increasing in these times. He viscerally re-experiences the times in his life when he was the young victim of violence and aggression in his family, plus racial and other violence in the neighborhood, and life in general.  He was born into family and street violence in a violent time.  1946 was a violent time. Perhaps that war which had supposedly ended, never ended though the future is being foreshortened.  Perhaps that war is still with us – on-going Holocausts and nuclear explosions persist calling into their vortex the World War before it, the Civil War, the invasion of North America, all the wars against the Indigenous people, the Crusades against the Muslims and the Inquisitions against the Jews and the subsequent wars which followed those and are cohering in the present moment so that the body mind cannot hold itself intact.   My friend can no longer separate his current life from its violent history, as I cannot separate my life from the on-going desolation of all the non-humans around me.  We are, no matter our species, anguished by the threat to all life.  To live in constant fear and trembling of a disaster that cannot be prevented seems to have become the human and non-human condition. 

We have two alternatives.  Pervasive sorrow and fear can lead us into increasing self-involvement so that our focus becomes our sorrow and not the myriad unbearable affliction suffered by all the beings.  Or it can open us to the great wisdom of compassion.  To live in response to the knowledge that  our unbearable grief results from mourning all life changes the quality of pain.  Suddenly it is has to be bearable so we can stand with the starving Bear, the hunted Wolf, the homeless Puma, the starving Whale, the cancerous Tasmanian Devil, the harried Coyote who have no recourse and greatly diminishing resources for their survival.

Oddly enough it is in our best interests to focus briefly on our own grief, long enough to create an alliance with the other suffering beings. Pain can do what pain is designed to do – create awareness of the cause and source.  My broken heart, the exquisite nature of hartzveitig, takes me to the suffering of the natural world.  If I bear witness without turning away, I may learn how to live and act and on whose behalf. 


[i] https://www.newscientist.com/article/dn17358-hidden-cancer-threat-to-wildlife-revealed/

[ii] https://www.livescience.com/18515-australia-tasmanian-devil-photos.html

[iii] https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/05/180521143853.htm

The Lost Etiquette: Sharon English Converses with Deena Metzger at Dark Mountain Project

Recently I was interviewed by Sharon English. The interview I have posted below can be found at The Dark Mountain Project.

I met Deena Metzger in 2014 when she visited Canada to teach a weekend workshop on story and healing. As a teacher and writer myself, deeply interested in how writers can address ecological and social crisis, the workshop theme intrigued me. Deena’s biography described her as “a poet, novelist, essayist, storyteller, teacher, healer and medicine woman” who has been devoted to “investigating Story as a form of knowing and healing.” Excitingly, her notion of ‘healing’ seemed radically extended to include “life-threatening diseases, spiritual and emotional crises, as well as community, political and environmental disintegration.” Still, I knew nothing of the extraordinary individual awaiting me, with whom I’ve been fortunate to continue learning and seeking since.

“Who do we have to become to find the forms and sacred language with which to meet these times?” Deena’s life is certainly one possible answer to her own question. Spanning many decades, her work interweaves activism, art and community building with a rare courage to cross frontiers such as the reality of animal intelligence and agency, and the reality of spirit. Her book The Woman Who Slept With Men to Take the War Out of Them was published in one volume in 1977 with Tree, one of the first books written about breast cancer. The book coincided with the printing of the exuberant post-mastectomy photograph of Deena, called “Tree” or “Warrior”, which has been shared worldwide. It took the third publisher, North Atlantic Press, to have the courage when reissuing Tree to print the poster image on the cover. Since writing Entering the Ghost River: Meditations on the Theory and Practice of Healing (2002), which came out of a decade’s work with animals and Indigenous medicine, Deena has held ReVisioning Medicine gatherings for those trained in Western medicine who long to be healers too and also Daré, a monthly gathering for the community at her home in Topanga, California, and a practice that has spread to other North American cities.

Drawing on myth, Indigenous and other wisdom traditions that have been lifetime pre-occupations, Deena has articulated a vision of why and how we must create a culture that does no harm, called the 19 Ways to the Fifth World. She’s recently been touring her new novel, A Rain of Night Birds (2017), which addresses ecological crisis and the necessity of bridging the disparity between Indigenous and Western mind. I caught up with her on Skype in August, 2017.

Sharon English: Let’s start with the invitation which Dark Mountain made with Issue 12, which led us to this conversation: an invitation to reflect on our experience of the sacred in a time of unravelling and how that experience might call our contemporary assumptions into question.

Deena Metzger: I think the essential questions are: How is the sacred implicit in whatever possibilities exist for this time? How can our own experiences of the sacred inform our activism? I think you know that, for me, the only hope that I really see for a future for the planet and all life is following the direction and the guidance of the sacred, being aware of its presence.

SE: Yes, yet the sacred and spirit have had a very bad rap. On the one hand, because religion has been put into the service of the dominator culture, many people associate the spiritual with something oppressive or at least conforming. On the other hand, New Age spirituality seems too bound up in the individual – ‘what’s sacred to you’ – to be relevant in a time of unravelling.

DM: I would prefer not to go there. Because if we go there, we’re focusing on the human, when what we’re called to do is to listen and respond to the sacred. How you and I have experienced the sacred, without reference to how it has not been experienced, feels very important to me. What feels essential is speaking about the sacred, and the awareness that this is what Indigenous people have always known and what has sustained them. My interest is in returning to the old wisdom and bringing it back so that the planet can be saved.

Terrence Green, one of the protagonists in A Rain of Night Birds, is clear about this as he, a climatologist, faces the reality of the planet’s unravelling. A mixed blood man, he became Chair of the Department of Earth and Environmental Studies, but his grief awakens the Native teachings transmitted to him by his grandfather. This is 2007. It’s the time of the International Panel on Climate Change. In this stunning report, he finds two small references to TEK: traditional ecological knowledge. Within thousands of pages of scientific data and analysis, he finds two small references, four or five sentences. This both moves and grieves him. His response is to go to the Mountain where his grandfather took him as a child to teach him about the old ways. As he prays to the Mountain and apologises for having left the red path – even though he left it for reasons that were theoretically on behalf of his people, learning what Westerners were doing so that he could help Native people adjust to the way we are living – he realises exactly how much he betrayed his soul for entering into Western living:

He was speaking aloud, but he didn’t know to whom he was speaking, or whether he was speaking, or in a dream of speaking, or in a spirit realm to which he had been transported by what appeared to be injury, but was also something else. [The injury is the Earth’s injury and his own injury.] There was a thousand different ways he’d accepted that spirits are real although Western mind was a miasma of denial that entered through the cracks and fissures of his being, like water seeping through rock, undermining the original structure of all things. (174)

I think that’s all that needs to be said: Western mind IS a miasma of denial that undermines the true nature of the world. So then, how can we make our way back? How do we accept Spirit as reality, not illusion? And what is Spirit saying to us?

You’ve recently had a remarkable dream that is teaching you/us a lost etiquette. I’ve also had such dreams. They come from Spirit. This novel was given to me by Spirit. These gifts are our “evidence”. They offer guidance. They teach us what is important to bring forth. When I heard your dream, I knew that you were being guided and were dreaming in the old ways, which means not for you personally or psychologically, but as a teaching for all of us.

SE: I’ll retell it now for readers. The dream came early this summer:

I’m attending a council of Indigenous people held inside an orca. First, I’m shown that the orca has two spaces: a small opening in its body that has something to do with healing, like a healing chamber, and also a larger opening like two skin flaps that part and lead into a sizable circular chamber, like a tent, with a floor and walls of black and white orca skin. I enter.

Inside, a group of Indigenous people are sitting in a circle around a simple altar of animal skin with objects placed on it. An elder sits on the far side. I sit down in the circle, directly across from the elder. I’m the only non-Indigenous person. It occurs to me that I’m not sitting in the right place, that maybe I shouldn’t be facing the elder so directly, so I change places in the circle so I’m more to the side. I feel like I’m being invited here for the first time and am learning the protocol.

One of the biggest teachings for me, in opening to the sacred and spirit, has been coming to understand dreams as language or communication that aren’t only about the isolated individual. That dreams can hold meaning for the community, and come through us, not only from our own psyches.

The great danger at the core of Western thinking is our belief that we are the world, the centre of things. So when we respond to the crises in our world we assume it’s up to us to figure them all out – the very kind of self-involved thinking that got us here. We have no sense of living in a field of relationships with other creatures who possess their own traditions, wisdom, consciousness and agency. That when it comes to our world crises, everybody, human and nonhuman, needs to be at the table. At this point it’s we who need to be guided by whales and spirit, or Spirit-as-Whales.

DM: The dream is about more than being guided by Whales. In the dream, you enter into the Whale, and the council is taking place inside the Whale. In other words, in the dream, Whale consciousness is the sacred world we enter. That’s the territory in which this Indigenous council is taking place. As the Whales or other beings live in our consciousness, we are now living within the Whales’ consciousness.

Furthermore, you are aware that you don’t know how to deport yourself in this setting. As more of us experience the presence of the sacred, we have to figure out the protocol, the etiquette for approaching this realm and those within it. We have to re-learn what our Indigenous ancestors knew and also discover how to proceed at this time in history. Here the sacred is within the body-mind of the great ones, in this case, Whale. We have to go into the internal place where the field exists, the consciousness we need. In a sense like the story of Jonah – except we hope to keep living there, not leave.

When a dream like this comes as a teaching for the community, it’s not going to be an easy dream to understand. We’re going to have to sit with what it means. You and I may not know all its dimensions as we’re speaking to each other, so we carry it for as long as necessary, bringing it to others who might help to reveal its profound mystery. We do this because we understand that such dreams can be the source of wisdom. In the old, old days, no matter which Indigenous culture one was part of, if there was something going on that was really difficult or terrible, one would ask for a dream. The community of elders would gather and hope that a dream would come, or someone would come and say they’d had a dream, and people would gather to listen to it. This happened with your dream: you responded to it in the old, old ways by bringing it to me. We talked about what it might mean, and then I suggested that you take this dream to the community. And you did. Those you’ve shared it with have pondered it with you. We are not asking the personal meaning of the dream, ‘What is this dream for your life?’ Rather we’re considering, ‘What is this dream telling us?’

I had an experience this weekend that feels related: I went Whales watching in the Channel Islands off the coast of southern California. There were so many Whales, such a profusion of wildlife, that the guides on the boat were astonished. Again and again they marvelled that they had never seen anything like it. I’ve been speaking with friends who live along the coast who’ve also been seeing a remarkable profusion of Whales this summer. Stan Rushworth, a Native novelist, author of the remarkable book Going to Water, speaks of the surprising occurrences of Whales coming in close to the shore and breaching over and over when he is walking on the beach. Cynthia Travis, who founded and directs the grassroots peace-building NGO in Liberia, everyday gandhis, and who lives overlooking the sea in Ft. Bragg, CA, has also been startled by the profusion of Whales.

Cynthia was on the Whales watching boat with me as was Cheryl Potts, with whom I share my land in Topanga. Cynthia and I have travelled to Africa to meet with the Elephants many times. At the moment when we found ourselves among several different kinds of Whales, and kinds of Dolphins and Sea Lions, Cynthia wondered if the Whales were coming to us deliberately in the way that the Elephants came to us. So maybe your dream isn’t accidental, but part of a consciousness being held by Whales that’s alerting us humans to what’s happening on the planet – and to the fact that there’s a protocol required. That’s the sacred knowledge being transmitted: first, that we’re within Whales’ consciousness, and second, that there’s an etiquette we have to learn.

SE: In Amitav Ghosh’s book The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable, he notes how various thinkers have begun to use the word uncanny in relation to macro ecological events because, he says, they’re recognising what we’ve long turned away from: “the presence and proximity of the nonhuman interlocutors” (30). Having to learn the etiquette for approaching the nonhuman and the sacred – that’s such a different teaching than this idea that ecological events are uncanny, a concept that suggests the world of the nonhuman is unsettling, inexplicable, and even creepy. There’s a great humility required to accept that we’re being called to learn, not to figure things out, but to learn or recover the ways of relationship to the sacred.

DM: It’s important what you said, “not to figure it out”. We don’t have the capacity to figure it out, and that’s humbling. We learn some from the old, old ways: we learn things about making offerings, about meeting the nonhuman and the sacred with profound respect and honour, and then, we listen deeply to the teachings that come. So your dream was the thing-in-itself and also about it: you went into the sacred and were taught how to approach the sacred.

SE: Yes. In approaching the sacred, council seems integral, as was pointed out in the dream. And your process, whether in Daré or ReVisioning Medicine or writing workshops, is to teach by holding council. Can we talk about what council is and why it’s part of our relationship to the sacred?

DM: It goes back to what you said, ‘It’s not about us figuring things out.’ When I was visiting a nganga, a medicine person in Zimbabwe, Mandaza Kandemwa, alongside whom I worked as a healer on many occasions over ten years, he said something that’s guided me since: “When human beings sit in council, the spirits sit in council as well.” His sense is that the sacred is a council: it’s the interconnection of all the different points of light. It’s the net of Indra. A field of knowing constituted of all the different parts in interrelationship – that is what the sacred is.

When you sat in council within the Whale, you were with those elders who’d been informed for generations and generations about the way to meet the sacred. They had their own individual and collective experiences, and so we understand that you have to meet the sacred wholly, and then the holy is there. Part of the relationship with Spirit involves stepping away from the horrifically narcissistic dangers of individualism. Everywhere we locate the sacred, we also find interconnection, as in the natural world.

SE: When you bring up the problem of individuism, I think about how challenging it is to get people to think broadly and collectively in terms of what’s good for all humanity, let alone all beings on the planet. There’s this fear reaction of collective action and purpose or identity, really a kind of twisted up notion of collectivity as entirely negative, group think, et cetera. Sorry, I know you don’t want to focus on our problems.

DM: Because we keep refocusing on ourselves, it’s important to keep coming back to ‘Let’s not talk about our problems’ precisely because it’s so hard to stay away from focusing on ourselves, whether as individuals or as humans. So this is a practice of looking at what’s been invisible to us, which is the presence of Spirit. A practice of going back to what was shown, rather than what we didn’t see or don’t want to see.

Was there an initiatory event that opened you to recognizing your materialistic way of thinking? How did Spirit reveal itself to you?

SE: For me, following the writer’s path has meant that I’m always making meaning my focus, my purpose, and attuned to listening to and observing the world, trying to see and feel the patterns. So although I come from no spiritual tradition – on the contrary, an anti-spiritual tradition via my upbringing, education and culture – I think being an artist primed me to be receptive to the sacred.

Now I can look back and see how Spirit has guided my life, if I view it that way. There wasn’t a key initiatory event, but what did open me up most consciously to the sacred was spending more time in nature. I did a great deal of that after writing my second book, in part because I’d become injured and needed to stay off the computer, in part because I felt evermore compelled to immerse myself in nature. I found myself growing desperately alarmed at the ecocidal path that our culture is on, and it seemed to me that we were never going to come to our senses without recognising our own limits and narcissism. I came to see and feel, deeply, that the human is not the centre of reality but part of the whole, and that the whole is animate, conscious, intentional – everything we are and more. As well, I’ve always paid attention to dreams, and about a decade ago I experienced a couple that were powerfully, undeniably spiritual in tone and images. These helped push me into humbly recognising the arrogance and limits of my materialist mindset – and also the tremendous loss of spiritual and life wisdom from our ancestors that’s happened as a result of our obsession with mechanical, materialistic thinking.

DM: We’re at a critical moment, and it’s a moment of consciousness. Stepping into a world where Spirit exists – stepping into, finally, the real world, being able to remember it as Indigenous people have known it forever – is for us Westerners as great a mental shift as it’s possible to make. Like the consequences for Copernicus and Galileo when they understood that the Earth went around the sun.

SE: An apt analogy!

DM: Yes, the sun. It’s not that Spirit is the sun; it’s that Spirit is the entire universe, and we circle a light that it shines to us and that keeps us in relationship to others who are circling this light, and are warmed by it, and have life because of it. Because we’re at a certain distance from it, but not too far, the structure of the solar system as we know it isn’t a bad analogy, though not the whole.

But here’s the important moment: we either talk about what we didn’t know, or we talk about what we see. Once you know the reality of ecocide, once you say that word, nothing else has to be said except what follows from that knowledge, what you now see/understand differently: what you see in the natural world that’s different, what your experiences from Spirit have been – that’s the mind shift. I can’t emphasise how important this is. If we continue to look at and articulate and be obsessed with what’s wrong then we find ways to meet it that are familiar in terms of how we solve problems, and they’re not working. I’m not saying leaving them altogether, for some people have to focus on familiar problem solving, but for those of us who have felt and experienced and seen the irrefutable presence of Spirit, the next step is learning how to listen and take direction. We really don’t know what to do to restore the natural world and sanity without Spirit’s teachings; everything we have ‘done’ until now has brought us to this place of devastation. So your dream comes: Learn the protocol; enter into the mind-body-being-universe of Whales. Then …? Then we’ll see what becomes possible and how.

In 2010, I had a dream: I won a contest, and the prize was that I would go to New York and be part of a program, after which I would be or think like and move in the world like an Indigenous elder. When I woke up, I understood, after sitting with the dream for some time, that it was instruction. Not about going to New York, but learning how to be an Indigenous elder. I enrolled myself, so to speak, in my own program, and as I think back upon it now – I didn’t realise it until this moment – I changed to a great extent what I was reading. I started reading far more Indigenous literature and thinking than I had before; I started listening even more deeply to my Indigenous friends and colleagues; and I asked myself at every moment when I had to make a decision, How might an uncolonised, Indigenous elder respond to this situation? In part I’m doing that with you now, coming back again and again saying, What do we see, what are our experiences? That dream, and my understanding that it was instruction, changed me, and we would not be having this conversation if I’d not responded to my dream in that way.

Before writing A Rain of Night Birds, when I was in the desert and hoping for the next novel, I heard a voice saying, ‘You know. Her name is Sandra Birdswell and she is a meteorologist.’ And I said, ‘No, I don’t know!’ Yet even as I responded, I knew that I was being given something by Spirit and had a mandate to write whatever came, which required enormous research, thinking, listening, yielding and daring. Daring to say the book was given in that way. Daring to write things that I knew would be challenged if not ridiculed. But it was what was given, and the next six years verified that it was given because of all the other events and revelations that came and made a whole of the book.

If there had just been a voice one time and I never heard anything again, that would be meaningless. But when we listen and enter into a field, a council if you will, of events and synchronicities and revelations and experiences that we ourselves could never have created on our own, then we know we’re in the domain of the sacred.

SE: In this sense holding council, even with just one person, seems crucial to yielding to the sacred. We need support for daring to listen to, take seriously, and follow our experiences of the sacred in these times. Even you, with all your years of following the sacred, still had that feeling of, Wow, I really have to say things that might seem totally out there to people! Yet you did, and it seems to me that having a council and/or a spiritually focused community made that possible.

DM: It’s essential. When you sit in a circle with people and the conversation is about Spirit, and how Spirit has come or how Spirit is directing, the fact that Spirit exists is the ground. So, everything you say is enhanced by or grounded in Spirit’s existence, and our relationship to it, and the possibility that that kind of alliance might in fact save the planet. You have the assumption that you want it saved and that you’d give everything to do that – that forms a different kind of conversation. Our conversation right now is grounded in the councils we’ve been in and those assumptions. We don’t step out of that when we step out of those councils.

SE: It’s beautiful and supportive what you just said, that once we sit in council, those councils go with us. You’ve spoken of the field as a kind of container as well.

DM: The field is composed of all of us and we emerge out of it, as if born out of it but never leaving it. It is of us and we are of it.

In January 2017, when I met with the Elephant people in Thula Thula, South Africa, I understood that our interactions could only occur because we were in a field of consciousness together: we were brought to a meeting place and had an interaction that was articulate and specific.

SE: And that field existed because you responded to the call of Elephant?

DM: Right. And again and again over 18 years. In retrospect, I understand that I had to show up all those other times, and every time I did, there was an interaction, the field was being built. It wasn’t only that I showed up, but that the Elephant people showed up as well.

When I went to Thula Thula in 2017 and could say, without awkwardness, ‘I’m going to meet the Elephant people,’ capital E, I understood that I could no longer write ‘Elephant’ with a small ‘e’ any more than I would write Canadian with a small ‘c.’ But then, I could no longer write ‘Cow’ with a small ‘c’ either because the experience with the Elephant people taught me that they are as humans are: conscious beings who exercise spiritual intent.

As I write these days and capitalize the different species or peoples, my consciousness changes. Because then, I’m always in a kind of council with them, a council that extends because we sit in council with the humans as well as the nonhumans, and our human minds change.

SE: How powerful it is to make that seemingly small change on the page: from small ‘e’ to capital ‘E.’ I’ve been disturbed for a long time now by our human-centric narratives in literature, how these reinforce a poisonous and frankly wrong-headed worldview. Amitav Ghosh observes that although the nonhuman had and has agency in many narrative traditions, in modern Western literature nonhuman agency has been relegated to “the outhouses of science fiction and fantasy” (66). Making that shift in capitalisation loosens our grip on the narrative, so we start to perceive and tell different kinds of stories. It’s a radical change, and also a return to the old ways and understandings.

DM: Suppose an Inuit man or woman said, ‘I had this dream and Bear came and talked to me about how to walk out on the ice and fish.’ She wouldn’t say ‘a bear came’ but Bear came, capital B implicit. When you read that, you’re getting an entirely different understanding just by that capital: Bear came, a profound spiritual being, and it really happened. To incorporate that into our literature or writing or speaking is to change our minds, to create a literature or conversation through which the earth and our consciousness can be restored.

Imagine if we began to think of our writing and speaking as having to do with connection and relationship rather than indulging a language that’s so combative and therefore constantly honours combat. There are many things we can do to undermine war, but one of them is to stop thinking in terms of war and to stop referencing war constantly.

SE: Part of what’s so unbearable about listening to mainstream news, political discussions, economics, and so on is the incessant repetition of military metaphors, a combative way of looking at each other and the world. What you’ve called the Literature of Restoration offers a way changing our stories, our language.

DM: Changing our stories, changing our paragraphs, changing our sentences, changing our words. The Literature of Restoration is not something developed yet; it’s something I’ve been thinking about and gave a name to, an opportunity for all of us to discover what it might be. I can’t do it alone and shouldn’t attempt it. Perhaps, there’s nothing any of us should do alone except to be in solitude with Spirit at times when we need it.

I was in a circle with a woman who was trying to think about how she might speak differently. She was speaking of a woman she’d been with in Nicaragua, and said, ‘Listening to her, I was held captive.’ And then she said, ‘Wait a moment. Held captive? No, that’s not what happened.’ She had to find language that did not speak of violence in order to honour.

The Native American writer Robin W. Kimmerer, who wrote Braiding Sweetgrass, speaks of how the English language is so full of ‘I’ instead of we, and how it makes Spirit an object. She notes that the Anishinaabe language does not divide the world between he, she and it, but between animate and inanimate. This distinction asserts an entirely different world. Here’s what she says:

Imagine your grandmother standing at the stove in her apron and someone says, ‘Look, it is making soup. It has gray hair.’ We might snicker at such a mistake, at the same time that we recoil. In English, we never refer to a person as ‘it.’ Such a grammatical error would be a profound act of disrespect. ‘It’ robs a person of selfhood and kinship, reducing a person to a thing. And yet in English, we speak of our beloved Grandmother Earth in exactly that way, as ‘it.’ The language allows no form of respect for the more-than-human beings with whom we share the Earth […] In our language there is no ‘it’ for birds or berries […] The grammar of animacy is applied to all that lives: sturgeon, mayflies, blueberries, boulders and rivers. We refer to other members of the living world with the same language that we use for our family. Because they are our family.

SE: So in learning the protocol for approaching the sacred, we have receiving certain dreams as spiritual communication and guidance for the community; approaching the sacred wholly by sitting in council together; entering into a conscious field with our nonhuman family; and finally, changing our language to shift our minds.

One more thing feels important to speak about: beauty. In your book Entering the Ghost River, you tell a story about coming to understand Spirit through beauty. Beauty is central to your work and what you’ve articulated in the “19 Ways to the Fifth World”. Beauty seems to me one way – maybe the way – that everyone feels the sacred, though they might not call it that. Does part of the protocol we’re learning involve honouring beauty?

DM: Beauty is experienced in many different ways. But the visual is also at its heart, and the ability to see beauty is a great gift. I’m using the word ‘see’ very deliberately because seeing is so important to English speakers. Visually, from my point of view, there is not a single millimetre on the Earth – the part that hasn’t been touched by human hands – that isn’t beautiful. Beauty is a force, and it’s also how Spirit reveals itself. In terms of a path, seeing beauty and then honouring it is a way of recognising the presence of Spirit.

The story I tell in Entering the Ghost River happened in Canyon de Chelly, Arizona. My ex-husband brought me there for the first time, knowing it was going to be an incredible experience. As we were driving, we hit incredible storms and went through one of those initiation stories: the rains come, the mud is thick, everything is dangerous, you can’t get there, the car doesn’t go, you run out of food, you meet a stranger, you stop at a little hut and ask for directions and the directions they give you are impossible to follow, so you keep going and trying, and you pick up this old man … [Laughs.] I’m so scared at this point, the roads are so slippery and we’re on a cliff, that I get out and walk while Michael is driving the car and this elder, this Native American Diné man is sitting in the back of it eating the nuts that we gave him – it was all we had to offer – and he’s laughing!

We dropped him off about 1,000 yards from the entrance to Canyon de Chelly, and when we got to the very entrance, the road was completely dry.

Michael then did this amazing thing. He blindfolded me and took me to this outlook, and I looked out at this extraordinary canyon and the mountains around it. It was sunset, and the lightning and the colours of the sunset and clouds were the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen in my life. We’d arrived at a moment that could not have been choreographed, that would not have happened if we hadn’t arrived exactly at sunset because we had gotten stuck in the mud – one of those. I looked at the cliffs, which are rust colour and blue from the copper, extraordinarily beautiful, painted, and I knew: This Beauty comes from a great Heart. Love – heart – are at the very core of creation. Beauty and Heart are the same, just different ways of seeing, different manifestations.

That was so powerful an impression – and I mean it pressed itself into my consciousness – that I’ve been marked by it. It’s a living mark: I’m always aware of Beauty, the beauty that’s the essence of the natural world, and that’s changed my life as much as anything, and confirmed the reality of the Divine. Our collective task, as I see it and expressed it in that book, is to re-establish the sacred universe and render the signature of the Divine visible – beauty.

To read or hear other interviews with Deena go here.

OUR MOTHER IS DYING – ECOCIDE

Ecocide.

So we are sitting with the Mother. Our Mother. She has been mortally wounded. We are at Her bedside. You know this place. We wonder if She can recover or if She will die. One way or another we have to be with Her. We can’t just hire a nurse or a technician to be with Her. We can’t leave Her in the hands of anonymous physicians who cannot possibly understand the full story of Her terrible illness.  We seek advice, yes but we must be with Her and bring healing to every aspect of Her pain and suffering.  If She is going to heal it will be because we are with Her each critical moment.

We are a large family and we all gather so we can bring all our gifts. Some of our siblings did research and found out what is poisoning Her, what adverse side-effects of Her / our lives are taking Her down. We stopped the poisoners. Some of our siblings found out who was beating Her and wounding Her. We stopped them too. Some of us discovered those who are plotting against Her and we are stopping them cold.

We are also gathering the community to sit with Her. We sit with Her day and night. Some of us drum and sing to Her. Some of us make her laugh,  Some of us pray and do ceremony, day and night. Some of us wash her body and ease her broken body   Some of us bring her food and drink, what will nurture her.  Some of us ease her fevers.

Some of us tell stories so she will remember and the memory of how she lived once, how we lived together will revive her,  We take her outside,  We bring her to the trees and the animals.  She feels the wind blowing again.  We bring her to the living waters and immerse her.  We sit her before the sacred fires.  Each action helps her toward health.

Somehow our lives change and become about being with our Mother full time so she can rally. We take turns but she is never alone, never without her family, never without those who love her. Not any one of us is away more than a day or two and even then we are always with her.  We discover, this is a good way to live.

This is what I mean:

This news about Trump and the other criminal murderers – can’t go the way of other headlines and news bulletins, We can’t succumb to  distraction, the next obligation or the next emergency.

She, our Mother, is who we must attend, no matter what else, every moment of Her/our lives. This pis the conundrum – Our Mother is dying and if she dies we die too. No one will survive Her dying, No one and no thing.

So we gather at her bedside. All of us. All the children and the grandchildren and the great grandchildren

And we do our work of changing the climate, which is killing Her and restoring a climate in which She can survive.

And we do it ceaselessly. 24/7. 365 days. For millennia, if necessary.

Nothing else matters. If She dies, we die and our children die. All beings die.

If She lives, then there will be life.

That simple.

Meeting the Times November 9 2016

Yesterday, two experiences early in the day assured me of the existence of spirit. Then I was, as are many of us, mystified, stunned and fearful as the unimaginable came closer. Donald Trump was elected president. For some the world shattered.

I have to ask: What are we called to at this moment?

Let me say what I must directly. We are stricken. We don’t know what is coming toward us, what we will be called to meet. And we don’t know what to do or how to do it.

I am thinking about the Water Protectors at Standing Rock. Despite adversity, they have created a village. It formed on behalf of endangered and violated Water and on behalf of sacred land and the ancestors. The elders created protocols for entering the culture of Standing Rock:

“Ceremony and prayer are the bedrock of Indigenous peoples’ connection to land and water and are central in protecting them. Actions are ceremony and along with meetings, usually begin with prayer.”

A small group of us will join those at Standing Rock from 11/29 to 12/2. It is more important than ever to stand there on behalf of Water.

There are sacred circles of standing stones across the globe.  Dan Berrigan spoke wisely in the midst of the Vietnam war: “Just don’t do something, stand there.”

Several people met at my house on election night. No one should be alone tonight, we said.  We agreed that rather than watching the returns constantly, we would spend the night in silence, prayer and council. We invited spirit, we passed a prayer pipe several times; we listened deeply.

A core question repeated itself: How do we meet this moment?

For myself, there is a clear call to divest myself from all the systems in which I am / we are embedded that have led to these dire circumstances. Even as they will beckon more powerfully, so determinedly must I refuse them. I am aware of a similar need to disentangle from Western and colonial mind that have brought us to this brink.

Watching a tsunami of fear and analysis which is reifying the divisions and the danger, I will not declare war or name enemies.  i want to walk the No Enemy Way.

It is a time for living the medicine without compromise or accommodation. We are being called to lives of exquisite integrity.

Let us try not to be self-righteous; let’s try to be courageous.

In the darkest times, we have seen people abandon each other out of fear and to serve power. We saw it in this election. Let us try not to be like them.  In the darkest times, we have seen people join with and sustain each other.  Let us be those people.

We are being called, once again, to meet what we must.  Perhaps this is not just a spiritual opportunity but a spiritual demand.

In our circle last night, simple ways repeated themselves:

Invite spirit.  Listen deeply.

Move with heart and prayer.

Bear witness.

Create, confirm and sustain community.

Stand in communion and community with each other, with all others. Stand in the community of all beings. The 19 Ways became increasingly relevant: http://deenametzger.net/19-ways/

Protect the Mother, Earth, as the primary, daily, on-going activity.

***

Last night we consulted the I Ching. Question: How do we meet this time?

Hexagram 50. The Vessel. (No changing lines):

Ding is a ritual vessel that signifies connection with the spirit world and the ancestors. It is divination… submitting questions to the oracle, as well as the right moment to act. …It offers nourishment to the warriors and sags and the sage-mind in all of us brightening the eye and ear. It suggests a mandate, a fate conferred by heave that is also a duty or responsibility. It means becoming a true and responsible individual.

1972, I marched with thousands of people in Santiago, Chile, in support of President Allende and the Unidad Popular. One year later, I was in Cuba on 9/11/73 when the brutal golpe in Chile occurred. For the next years, I recited the names of those I had met in Chile as if saying a rosary to protect them. (It was not all I did on behalf of Chile to end the horrific violence. I was devoted.) Whether coincidence, magic or the power of prayer, those whose names I said, were not killed by those who were torturing and murdering.

Today we are putting all the names into the circle. We call you into the circle. Let us stand with and love each other and the Earth very well.

Mitakye oyasin, all our relations.

***

A Brief History of a Feminist Mind

This is the text of a talk I gave for the WCLA Women Writers Series in alliance with the Feminist Majority Foundation /Ms.Magazine February 27, 2014.

When I was invited to this event by Ms Magazine and the Feminist Majority Foundation, I couldn’t simply read from a new book. The invitation from Simone Wallace, who with her sister Adele, founded Sisterhood Bookstore, one of the most important cultural institutions of Los Angeles, required another response. So receiving the invitation, I saw the necessity to acknowledge the trajectory I had been on since teaching at California Institute for the Arts, Founding and Directing the Writing program at the Feminist Studio Workshop the first feminist institute for the arts and social change outside of a university, being part of the leadership of the Woman’s Building where Sisterhood had a store and gathering a small committee to organize and host the first Woman’s Writing Conference – Woman’s Words, since a Conference by the same name in Chicago 1893.

My intention tonight is to trace what I was writing and what preoccupied me then, and what I am writing and preoccupied with now. Literature has taught me the value of a body of work, of the slow, deliberate, heartfull development of form and idea so that one’s work and labor might contribute to the community and the future. This is particularly important as we are living in a culture that commodifies art and literature and has no consciousness of history or the necessity to honor and preserve ethical and cultural values – concerns that were core to the second wave of feminism.

The woman’s movement intended to change the world. It was not that we wanted equal participation in a destructive system but that we wanted to shift the means and values so that they incorporated what we believed were benevolent women’s ways, ancient and contemporary, of living in family, community and the world.

Feminism had a great range from protesting war, economic, political and racial inequality, fighting violence against women, opposing nuclear weapons, to recognizing an intrinsic woman’s culture and seeking interactive, collaborative, intimate, nurturing, non-violent, non-hierarchical, inclusive, earth centered, spiritually aligned, respectful social and creative forms. Not everyone held to all the values and interests, but there was enough agreement, complexity and cooperation for the movement to be effective then. Art, politics, eros, activism, spirituality all blended so that feminism became a true movement determined to achieve social and political change that would benefit all. Women were not seeking dominance. We, each in our own way, were seeking sanity, beauty, peace, security and health for all.

Friend, colleague and neighbor, Maija Gimbutas’ archeological work laid the foundation for non-violent cooperative, life giving matriarchal goddess cultures. Marija came to her conclusions reluctantly. She didn’t start out trying to prove that Neolithic goddess cultures were peaceful. She was unable to refute the evidence. When she joined theater director, Steven Kent and me in Greece at our re-enactment of the Eleusinian Mysteries for the first time in 1500 years, she praised our work, saying we had managed to restore the spiritual integrity of the ancient Demeter ritual. Fifteen years later, we regretted that she wasn’t with us when we found an ancient icon of Persephone in Eleusis, approximately 2500 years old, in the place where the Goddess was said to have made her appearance during the Mysteries.

In my own life, I continue to be taken by two streams from Feminism. Political analysis insisted that one bear witness to the world’s atrocities and women’s spirituality is fundamental to my growing experience of the presence of the spirits. Conventional politics and traditional religion diminished as present day events and my personal experience called me, increasingly, to a different life and commitment to community and healing.

One important artistic focus was on form. It was clear that the personal is political and that form is content. Consciousness raising was intrinsic to the discovery of our own lives and stories. It occurred in circles. The shift from a straight line to a circle was an essential radical accomplishment.

Forty five years later, the circle is even more important than we knew. An indigenous community form, it gained strength from feminism and is entering the main stream as conscious people seek peership and equality instead of hierarchy and dominance. I am increasingly unable, or unwilling, to use what seems like a simplistic linear way. Even here, I seek the energy that comes from following the original associative form that called me to woman’s literature and the rest of my life.

From A Traveling Jewish Theater:

Stories move in circle. They don’t move in straight lines. So it helps if you listen in circles. There are stories inside stories and stories between stories and finding your way through them is as easy and as hard as finding your way home. And part of the finding is the getting lost. And when you’re lost you start to look around and to listen.

This talk is also going in circles and spirals, moving forward, circling back. The first image imprinted on my heart from literature is still vibrant and active in my life and thinking: Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse is written in the form of a lighthouse. The shapes of our lives are not straight line, but circles, passing into light, falling into darkness, illuminated and shadowed, again and again.

Marxist self-criticism practiced in progressive organizations yielded in the woman’s movement to the positive forms of consciousness raising. My experience with non-Western and indigenous cultures created a deep respect for the wisdom that emerges in a council form. I began to practice Council in my own life as a way of inquiry and problem solving. At Daré, the healing community which gathers at my house, and which my ex and I introduced from Africa, has Council at the core. Council, story circles, dream circles, healing circles all cohere community. Whenever possible teaching occurs in a circle and outdoors, and around a fire in the old ways.

And so, stories are themselves circles, each with a magnetic center that draws what is necessary to its beautiful and radiant interior.

And so, my writing. My first published book, Skin: Shadows/Silence is a resonance of voices. Later, still not knowing what I was doing but seeking new and coherent forms, I called The Woman Who Slept With Men to Take the War Out of Them, a novel in the form of a play. I had not consciously envisioned the infrastructure of the circle or spiral as I would later in Entering the Ghost River: Meditations on the Theory and Practice of Healing, then more fully in From Grief into Vision: A Council, and differently, but as determinedly in La Negra y Blanca: Fugue and Commentary. In many of my works, beginning perhaps with the play, Dreams Against the State in 1981, and then in The Other Hand, in Doors: A Fiction for Jazz Horn, in La Negra y Blanca, the endings are codas that reveal and unite the themes and voices together as in musical compositions, chorals and choruses.

As I was writing this, I saw that while patriarchal culture became progressively mechanical and technological, woman’s culture became musical – the writer’s voice, the rhythm of the language, its emotional communication increasingly important. Gertrude Stein, Virginia Woolf, Marguerite Duras were concerned with the sound of their prose because that carries meaning.

At California Institute for the Arts, I taught a class on 20th Century Women’s Literature — it may have been a first in such an institution — and the first Journal Writing class. As Sheila de Bretteville, one of the three who founded the Woman’s Building, and I explored the possibility that woman’s culture still existed, I heard its resonance in contemporary women’s literature and this gave me permission to follow my own instincts in my own writing.

Soon, women adopted the journal and there, again, explored voice as well as prohibited stories. The Journal writing class was inspired by then recent scholarship revealing the hidden practice of journal writing pursued by pioneer women who had no company on their new homesteads and were quietly going mad. The journals often hidden among the linens helped. The other source was my dear friend, Anaïs Nin, who introduced the journal to contemporary life and to me. Now we scarcely imagine our lives without our journals. In 1970, they were almost non-existent. When I compared my writing to contemporary American fiction and poetry, I was out of the mainstream and had no interest in joining. What needed to be said, what needed to be revealed required its own form. African American literature, Native American literature discovered its own music. To create a culture of one’s own that is also resonant with other non-dominating cultures in the world changes the way of life.

In retrospect as we are facing the slow apocalypse of human designed climate change and the genocide of the beings of the natural world, I see that feminism allying with Native American beliefs gives us the essential understanding that may yet shift our consciousness enough for the earth to survive. Goddess spirituality also held “The earth is our mother.” Feminist theory understood that misogyny paralleled abuse of the earth and the environment.

Domination of women and nature co-existed. Violence against women and violence against the earth – the same. War everywhere. Over time I came to know that being against was being in battle. I began to seek forms in my life and in my writing that offered change. Increasingly I and my characters stepped away from conventional forms and values and created different lives.The Woman Who, What Dinah Thought, The Other Hand, Doors: A Fiction for Jazz Horn, Feral, La Negra y Blanca feature women protagonists who find the means to step into another world – in the last years, learning from Native American spirituality – I recognize it as the 5th World. The books I write depict that struggle to disentangle from western imperialist culture, from patriarchy, from their assumptions, habits, securities and desires in order to live with integrity.

My current teaching is based on what felt like a transmission: 19 Ways to the Fifth World. You can see how they are sourced in Feminism:

1. COMMUNITY. Recognizing and living aligned with community as an essential vessel and means of transformation.
2. COUNCIL. Entering and trusting the ways of Council, Dare’ and Mandlovu mind.
3. STORY. Story is an event and a path. Learning to listen, to recognize, understand and attend the way of Story and the particular path of healing and transformation it reveals for each one.
4. SPIRIT EXISTS. Spirit speaks to each of us in a shared language. Entering into a dialogue with the divine. Developing and living according to a spiritual practice that develops from a real relationship with spirit.
5. THE PATHLESS PATH. Recognizing the path that one has traveled and seeing where one has been taken and the dynamic path that emerges from the journey. Attuning to, developing and being faithful to a spiritual practice on the pathless path.
6. BEARING WITNESS AND DISINGAGEMENT. Bearing witness to the horror and corruption of these times, scrutinizing our lives, and consciously ceasing our involvement.
7. HEALING WAR AND PEACMAKING. Committing ourselves to healing war within us and in the world. Committing ourselves to our transformation from war-traumatized people to peacemakers and visionaries. Walking in peace. Responding peacefully.
8. THE NO ENEMY WAY. Understanding and incorporating the No Enemy Way into our daily private and public ways. Walking the No Enemy Way in the world as best we can.
9. REVISIONING. Revisioning public institutions of thought and action. Imagining and aligning ourselves with ReVisioned Medicine, Science, Law, Economic Social systems. For example, a ReVisioned Medicine practices the No Enemy Way, does no harm and integrates the combined wisdom of medical people and medicine people. Assuming the equal relevance of indigenous, earth centered, spirit centered wisdom in all reasoning and thinking processes. Changing one’s mind.
10. INDIGENOUS WISDOM TRADITIONS. Studying, respecting, honoring, preserving, supporting, allying with indigenous wisdom traditions.
11. DREAM. Living by Dream, Intuition and Divination. Reading the signs and then following other spirit centered ways of knowing. Yielding to initiation and living accordingly.
12. HEALING. Recognizing the presence of healing. Learning the ways of healing. Seeking out healing. Becoming a healing presence.
13. MITAKYE OYASIN. Living according to All Our Relations.
14. THE WILD. Protecting, preserving, sustaining, bringing healing to the wild, the earth and all beings.
15. THE OTHERS – NON HUMAN BEINGS. Recognizing the intelligence and agency of non-human beings and living among them accordingly.
16. BEAUTY AND CEREMONY. Living according to Beauty, Creativity, Intuition, Prayer, Ritual, Ceremony, Loving kindness and Compassion as essential forms.
17. SILENCE. Valuing and engaging in silence, solitude, formless forms and not knowing.
18. SANCTUARY. Honoring, providing, become sanctuary for all beings by learning the way of the land.
19. ALLIANCES. Fostering dynamic relationships with other groups and organizations working in parallel heartways.

THEN recognizing that one’s mind has changed, one is living in a different field of understanding and assumptions. Stepping through the portal to live faithfully according to the laws of the 5th World that mandate serving Spirit and the on-going future.

Even as a young woman, as The Woman Who Slept With Men to Take the War Out of Them was written in 1978, I was exploring healing and peacemaking, trying to understand what I would call in later years, The No Enemy Way.

From The Woman Who: P. 11

A woman whose name is Ada walks down the street of an occupied village from the cemetery passing her own house, to the General’s house which she enters without a word to lie down unashamed on his bed. She does this –

– With the full cognizance that she is coming a political act.

***
From The Woman Who: P. 21

The woman who lived in an occupied village went to the General. She knocked at his door with the pretext of selling him eggs.

In the morning, she washed herself and in the shower as water fell on her she asked:

May I be like water. May I bend over rocks. May I not break. May I flow. May I endure.

If I die, may I go up and come down again, may I not be gone forever. May I find a secret hiding place under the earth. May I be a well. May I move under the feet and over the houses. May I be strong. May I be white. May I be pure.

And the water fell on her in great hot sheets ad she soaped her long dark hair and piled it whitely on top of her head The soap curled under her arm, her groin, on all the covered places of her sex and then was rinsed away. And she went to the house of the General and knocked at his door.

***

Sometimes I think feminism failed. The struggle for economic and political equality overshadowed our passion for transforming our lives and undermining patriarchal agendas. Two women Secretaries of State – yes. Hillary Clinton probably running for President. But business as usual in Washington DC. The wars continue as does domination and imperialism. We had hoped it would be different.

Today is my son’s Marc’s birthday. I remember my early involvement with the anti-war movement. In 1960 a photo in the L.A. Times was captioned, Marc Metzger at 3 months of age, kicks up his heels against war.

At that time, I was also worried about milk. Testing had revealed that Strontium 89 with a half life of 50 days and strontium 90 with a half life of 28.9 years appeared in breast milk in 1961 when I was nursing my son, Greg. And it was also in the formula Marc was drinking. The highest concentration of strontium 90 in milk occurred in 1963.

My sons were three and two years old. I was frantic, looking for powdered milk dated before the various above ground tests of the early 60s. In 1961, Women’s Strike for Peace organized thousands of women against nuclear weapons.

I have a cousin who died of leukemia because as a soldier he was put in the front lines – without warning or permission, at the Nevada testing grounds.

This week, as a healer, I am working with a Vietnam veteran in constant excruciating pain from numerous cancers and surgeries all of which are being treated independent of the root cause of his extreme suffering. When I met him, I couldn’t restrain myself from saying, “Agent orange.”
“Yes.”
He had testified for Senate hearings, but that didn’t help him get that diagnosis into his medical chart. From Grief into Vision: A Council, deals with Los Alamos and Chernobyl.

The novel I am currently writing, A Rain of Night Birds, is set, in part, on the Four Corners Reservation where the yellow dust from uranium tailings still blows across the land and pollutes the waters. The protagonist is a climatologist. Not my idea of a novel. Spirit sent it. War, the Bomb and the destruction and poisoning of the earth were then and continue to be primary fields of inquiry and deep concern. It always feels that I am called to these concerns, called to write the books I write. That I have no choice. Spirit insists – and that insistence from Spirit, its Presence gives me hope that we might find ways not to avoid the path to total destruction.

***

From Doors: A Fiction for Jazz Horn, which I had the privilege of writing with the renowned Argentinean writer, Julio Cortázar, 20 years after his death in 1984. P.43.

Rio ultimately acknowledged that he had a toothache. He had been to the dentist who had treated him without, it seemed, providing instant relief. And Iris did not know if it was permitted to reach out and stroke the somewhat puffy cheek in order to sooth his pain; it was a skill she had but was not something she announced publicly. She could put her fingers on his skin and extract the pain. It would happen so quickly everyone would assume the morphine had done it and would look at her transgression with polite disapproval.

In the cellar at that moment, someone was slowly and methodically extracting a friend’s teeth one by one. Iris had not learned to heal across a timeline or a space barrier. When Iris looked at Rio she saw that he knew what was occurring. This was no naïve display of sympathy. The two events were unrelated co-incidence. Rio did not think he was sharing his friend’s torture. He didn’t claim to be suffering someone else’s pain. Nevertheless, the two events co-existed. Rio’s tooth had been removed and he was suffering real and phantom pain that he had no desire to ease before he studied it soberly to learn its qualities. Iris was relived not to understand any of the languages in which they were now discussing what was broadly referred to as politics, for it allowed her to settle steadily into the pain that flared out into the room as from an infection of lilies. No one has the power to ease pain who will not feel it in her own body

***

In 1989, I made a pilgrimage to the Death Camps of Europe. When I returned, I began writing The Other Hand and addressed it as a letter to Cardinal Lustiger of Paris whose Jewish mother had died in Auschwitz. The protagonist is an astronomer who is inhabited by a Nazi and she attempts to see the holocaust also through his eyes. The novel is an extended koan on light and darkness.

*** The Other Hand p.3

November 17, 1989
Dear Cardinal Lustiger, Your Eminence:

My name is Daniella Stonebrook Blue I am—or was—by profession an astronomer. We are strangers to each other. Your name was given to me by a woman on a bus as we were traveling across New Mexico. Because of her insistence, I am writing to you about this dark period of my life. I need to speak to you about the matter of light. Light is the alphabet of God. I knew this when I was born and then I forgot. This is the first time I have understood it as an adult woman. Even as I prepared to write these words, I didn’t know what they implied until they appeared on the page.

***

The Other Hand
page 105,

Rosa had gotten up from the piano and walked into the kitchen as if she were going to prepare a meal and then just as suddenly she laid the pan down on the counter and returned to the piano, improvising on Twinkle Twinkle, Little Star. We were spellbound.
Twinkle, twinkle little star. How I wonder what you are? Up above the earth so high …” It took a long time to get to the fourth line but when Rosa was there, I had chimed in as I had always done as a child, “Like a skymond in the die.”

“What’s a star, Dani? ” Rosa had asked without stopping. “What’s a star, Dani?.” She hit an insistent dissonant chord in the middle of a scale and then returned to her variations on the simple melody again.

Without waiting for my answer, “A star, Dani, is a time bomb. Do you know what I mean?” A few bars of music. “What’s a bomb, Dani? Again, without waiting for an answer: “A bomb, Dani, is a container with a star inside it, ready to go off, taking the whole world with it.”

That plaintive singing. I could still hear it clearly. My mother’s terrible, even demented, singing: “Twinkle, twinkle little star…”

***

The Other Hand page 166

Babylon was a beginning, Cardinal, where the magi, those Chaldeans, those astronomer- astrologers that the Old Testament rails against, had watched the stars with unprecedented devotion, seeing light everywhere, seeing gods in the constellations and the spirit of light passing down into them as destiny.

Babylon is where it had begun. The Babylonians had not distinguished between knowing the stars and their configurations, measuring the orbits of the planets, discovering the cycles of Venus, calculating the lunar and planetary ephemeredes years into the future, regulating the calendar, studying equinoxes, solstices and eclipses, and discerning the influence of these stellar bodies. And by some grace, I had found myself in this silent blue oasis in the middle of darkness. A brief blue interlude within the fetid industrial air of the poisoned city of East Berlin.

These had been the people of the stars. I was of their lineage even though they had conquered the Jews and brought them to Babylon, including someone whose name I bear. Daniel, the great magician, who had visions and understood dreams, had been here. He had been a captive and lived his life of exile here. Both slave and minister, he had walked down this very processional. He had looked at the stars from this place. He had touched this wall. He had survived the lions’ den and he had touched this lion. His hand on my hand through the fold of years. The same Daniel directed the Magi to follow the star that rose over Bethlehem indicating new light.

I had come through the arch of the blue gate, blue as the sky, with its gods, with its dragons and bulls of gold and white and was walking along the blue processional wall with its lions, gold and white as stars. There was no one else in this vast room that was, unlike the others, gleaming with the colors of light: gold of marigolds, white of lilies, blue of approaching light, blue of twilight and dusk.

Babylon was a point. A moment of light. Its rays like roads from the temple of the astronomer priests glanced off in different directions of space time: astronomy, astrology, cuneiform, writing, mathematics, diasporas, captivity, slavery, Talmud, Daniel, the Christ Child, Berlin and the Bomb. ….

Let’s meet in Babylon, Cardinal. Let’s go there together and watch the astronomer-priest climb the stairs to the summit so he can study the stars. He was the most honored one. After him came the ones who did the calculations and after them, the scribes who wrote it all down. Let us be with him there because shortly after this moment, he divided in two and the astronomer went his way and the priest went the other way and we see where that has led.

***

In 2005, I was honored to deliver the keynote to the American Academy on Environmental Medicine. A few days later, I went to the land around Los Alamos to do ceremony for restoration. My cousin, Alexis Lavine, then a geologist at the Laboratories, was my guide and companion.

From Grief into Vision: A Council: P. 93-94.

I went with Alexis to the suffering land where nuclear waste and other chemicals from experiments at Los Alamos had been dumped into the canyons and carried by the waters. Lat year, the spirits led Alexis, then a geologist at Los Alamos, to find a cave on land that originally was a sacred home to the Tewa people.

(An identified sacred cave [see photo in book] at Los Alamos has been closed with steel mesh and bars and is inaccessible even to the native people.)

This cave is a sipapu, a portal to the spirit world. We came in under a heavy cloud cover that arose suddenly. We had been required to change the time of our visit so many times, we had to accept that were being called to this place at this exact moment. Though the sky had been clear, I had had the premonition that we would encounter weather and soon we were accompanied by the rumble of thunder.

Alexis stopped, advising me that the cave was around the bend and it was time for us to take off our shoes. As we did, lightning flashed closer and closer and then it thundered again and hail fell furiously. We huddle momentarily under a tree that didn’t protect us and then made our way barefoot over mounds of hail to another cave from which we watched the display of lightning and of hail dancing.

Thunder continued to astonish us with its force and proximity. It was as if we in it and we blessed the Thunder Beings for gifting us with their presence. Water was streaming through the adjoining cave, a small flash flood that didn’t enter where were despite the hole at the level bottom of the common stone wall. After the storm, we made our way to the cave we were seeking. The only standing body of water we saw was at a small rock in front of the cave. Everything around us was renewed, vibrant and alive from the gift of the abundant water as if we were given a sign about the possibilities of restoration.

***

To return to the beginning. The title for The Woman Who Slept With Men to Take the War Out of Them came to me in a dream. Finding the icon at Eleusis when the archeologist at first dismissed our claim because they had scoured the area for twenty years and were sure there were no artifacts left, was a miracle. Collaborating on a book with a dead man was a gift from spirit. I was introduced to Cortázar work when a book, New Writing in Latin America, fell off a shelf into my hands and introduced me to Latin American culture and politics which have engaged me ever since. There are miracles every day and they determine our lives. Often the miracles appear as afflictions.

I had breast cancer in 1977. I had been writing a novel, The Book of Hags, about women who had cancer:

From Tree: Essays and Pieces P. 31.

For years the women had been dying. One by one. Stricken in their youth or middle-age just as things were beginning. An unknown assassin. Just at the moment when everything was possible. Education. Power. Consciousness. Self They sickened and died. That is not true. They did not die of their own accord. Something sickened them and they died. They were murdered. Stricken. Poisoned. Assassinated. Suddenly. The doctors call it cancer. It is. But of what nature? And why now? And why so many? And why so young?

When I finished the book, I discovered I had cancer. I was 40. I didn’t know I was a very young woman to have cancer. It was hell. My children were very young. My ex had a heart attack a week later. I was afraid my children would be orphaned. I had to find the life force for all our sakes. One conclusion in the Book of Hags is that cancer is imposed silence. So I took a typewriter to the hospital.Tree, a journal, was the result.

I had a mastectomy. I did not have chemo or radiation. Ultimately, Hella Hammid took a photograph of my tattooed chest and we published the Warrior Poster, designed by Sheila de Bretteville. Having traveled around the world, becoming even a book cover in Japan, the Poster has, I know, saved countless women’s lives, those who might have suffered, might still suffer from silicone poisoning or complications when pursuing reconstruction and or breast enhancement.

This is the text on the poster: From Tree: Essays and Pieces. P. 91

I am no longer afraid of mirrors where I see the sign of the amazon the one who shoots arrows. There is a fine red line across my chest where a knife entered, but now a branch winds about the scar and travels from arm to heart. Green leaves cover the branch, grapes hang there and a bird appears. What grows in me now is vital and does not cause me harm. I think the bird is singing. When he finished his work, the tattooist drank a glass of wine with me. I have relinquished some of the scars. I have designed my chest with the care given to an illuminated manuscript. I am no longer ashamed to make love. In the night, a hand caressed my chest and once again I came to life. Love is a battle I can win. I have the body of a warrior who does not kill or wound. On the book of my body, I have permanently inscribed a tree.

Cancer changed my life. I became a healer. I train healers. I am a medicine woman. I have gathered physicians and medicine people to create a medicine that does no harm to humans or to the earth. We call it ReVisioning Medicine. That is how I met the veteran who is toxic like the earth is poisoned. Seeking to bring healing to him, we are seeking also to bring healing to the earth.

On 9/11 I was in Zimbabwe. Entering the Ghost River opens with these words:

Entering the Ghost River P. 5

What is your medicine? I was asked.
Story. Story is my medicine, I answered.

Cancer taught me to ask: What is the message, the Story the affliction is carrying? What is the healing Story?

In The Woman Who, Ada goes to the General to heal him of war.

In 2007, I met the General. I was working with a grassroots peacebuilding organization in Liberia when we met a rebel general who, because the war was over, was going to become a mercenary in another West African country. Instead he became the youth director of everyday gandhis. We did not become lovers as in The Woman Who, but he calls me Mama Deena.

Peacebuilding and healing one gesture. One thing we learned in Africa is that you can’t have peace unless you heal the land. Our bodies, our communities, the earth require simultaneous healing. Healing depends on seeing the other. The great blessed other is the natural world. The other person. The other animal.

From Feral P. 9

The moment it first occurred to the woman that she would bring the girl home was when the girl had climbed to a sturdy branch half way up the sycamore and ensconced herself there, first removing, then dropping, her yellow leather work boots and then her socks, stretched out like lilies at their tops, fluorescent lime green no less. The girl wrapped what looked like prehensile toes around some of the finer twigs so that it appeared that she had grown into the tree or it into her.

When the woman was trying to discern the nature of the being she was examining, first she thought feral, then thinking feral, she thought wolf. But wolves don’t climb trees, both the girl and the woman knew that Confronted by the girl’s feet, she was compelled to say simian, ape, primate, mono, monkey, but stopped there as no one would identify a species by its feet alone.

Then as the woman teetered between one identification and another without knowing if the confusion or complexity was in the girl or in herself, the girl raised her mouth to the sky and opened it into a fluted goblet as if to catch rain. The sadness the child exuded was so like a perfume that one could not bear taking it in or being without it. Grief eased out into the air extending itself in mineral colors like oil on water, the thinnest of diaphanous films until it found its destination and wrapped itself about the living body, a sculpture in opal and mother of pearl. So many days, the woman admitted, she had been curious about grief while most willing to avoid the textures of its mysteries.

From “Coming Home,” Intimate Nature p. 363

It has taken a long time to be properly humbled by the irrefutable evidence that I have been living much of my life in the presence and territory of other distinct, awesome, might intelligences without having any but the most rudimentary understanding of the meaning of their individual and species lives which I have nevertheless so deeply violated. This cultural and historic obliviousness, which sometimes overwhelms even those traditions that hold otherwise, has now brought all of us to the brink of destruction. So even if I weren’t personally compelled on this quest of alliance, making amends and restoration, even if I hadn’t opened up worlds of beauty and interest, even if I weren’t motivated by irrepressible passions and curiosity, it would behoove me to ask the animals: Who are you? – and to continue to adjust my life according to what I hope will be an increasing ability to understand their answers.

But nothing prepared me for meeting the wild Elephant Ambassador, four times, four separate years.

I met the Elephant Ambassador in the wild in Chobe Wild Animal Park in Botswana. He had walked to the open back of our truck with clear determination and intention. I had had the strange and inexplicable desire to sit in council with elephants, and now he was standing before me looking me in the eye.

From Entering the Ghost River P. 183

In my mind, I said the following to him:

I know who you are and what kind of beings your people are. I have some sense of the extent and depth of your intelligence and development. And I know that you are a holocausted people I know something of this means because I also come from a holocausted people and I have studied other holocausts and the planet in this century. I apologize to you for my species and what we are doing to you. I cannot tell you the extent of my shame and grief. If there is any way for you to imprint me with your wisdom so that we can form an alliance, so that we can, together, accomplish something on behalf of the earth, I am here and I am not afraid.

Alliance with the animals and alliance, also, with the elementals. All the beings of the natural world. The EarthSea Mother is profoundly injured in so many ways including the gulf spill and Fukushima.

La Negra y Blanca was written in the flames of fire storms. La Negra is a woman and/or a spirit or the rain itself.

From La Negra y Blanca 252

The setting sun is very red. Twenty miles away, rugged canyons have been burning for more than a month, columns of smoke, higher than the mountains mount the sky. It will be many more weeks before the fire is contained. It is hard to breathe because of the dense smoke. It is very quiet here as the sun sets; the fire has stilled everything. There is only the hum of a few bees, as of a depleted swarm searching out a site for a new hive to establish a new life. Or there are only a few because the bees are disappearing. A friend says the weather is perfect where he lives; though the plants are full and hearty, they are not yielding crops. There are flowers, he says, but no fruit. Some flowers are pollinated by the wind, I reassure myself, alarmed as he is.

A year later, the fires are transforming the colors of the sky again. This time the smoke turns the sky yellow brown, a sallow color and the trees cower in the wind. Everything is turning brown. I can smell deer flesh roasting in the fire hell of the burning wilderness.

It is August and the smoke from the wilderness fire twenty-five miles away blows over the setting sun, turning the sky brown yellow and the sun blood red. The fire will rage for weeks, even after it is contained, drawing closer and closer to the molten center. There was a drought before the Conquest. The Maya had been taken, as Blanca’s people are being taken, by the follies of empire. The Maya also cut down the trees. Drought followed and then increased warfare. Devastation everywhere. Fire is replacing rain. The trees are dying, the forests are aflame, the poles are melting, animals are going extinct; even the bees are threatened with annihilation. Where drought isn’t, there are floods, earthquakes, tsunamis, cyclones and hurricanes.

Blanca takes a rain stick and goes up to the circle of trees above her house. She has placed a sculpture of three frogs in a crude clay basin of water. The drought has reached extreme proportions, calling us back to the old ways of reverence for the earth, to different lives, to prayer and offerings. When there is no rain, the wars increase and the earth increasingly suffers our violence. May rains come bringing an end to the untenable wars we are waging.

***
From La Negra y Blanca 253, 254

The terrible drought of 1989 finally broke in Yaxumá, Yucatán, only a few days after the village shaman, Don Pablo, had conducted a three-day long ritual called a Cha-Chac ceremony to summon the storm gods who would bring rain to the parched lands. Having participated in the earlier ceremony, an astounded David Friedel stood in his archaeological field camp watching the rains Don Pablo had called sweep in from the northeast over the pyramids of the ancient city next to the village. With his triumph written across his face in a huge grin, Don Pablo came running over the crest of a nearby hill, clutching his hat in the gusting winds as he fled inches ahead of a gray wall of rain. A great rainbow arched over him in the brilliant orange light of the setting sun in a magnificent display that affirmed the success of his performance as shaman.

The old knowledge of relationship comes with the rain. When we are oblivious to relationship, drought is inevitable. The shaman running before the rain is literally attached to the rain spirits, to Chac, to the thunder beings through the bright banner of his ritual work and prayers for the earth.

The sky is clouded over and the winds are fierce each morning and evening as if a storm is imminent although it has not rained for months except the intense moment when Blanca had been typing these words about Don Pablo, the Shaman of Yaxumá, Yucatán and the sky darkened with storm and emptied, rain and hail. May the rains come now.

The sky has turned dark and when Blanca gets up and goes to the door, there it is, a crash of thunder and rain pours down.

As I speak to you in Los Angeles on February 27th 2014, it is raining. It has been the first real rain in Topanga in about eighteen months. It is not enough to last us the next year, but perhaps it will restore the dying sage and the trees. The deer will eat the new grass and be sustained for a short time. In the last months we have put out water for the wild creatures and even alfalfa for the deer. The squirrels in the area share the bird seed with the birds and we try to provide for the wild on the land we have taken from them in ways that might be somewhat equal to how we provide for ourselves. In the last weeks we have seen bobcat, skunk, raccoon and eagle in addition to all our familiar neighbors, coyote, cougar, rabbits and squirrels. These days, everything I do is, I hope, a prayer for rain, the wild and a generous future for all beings.

From Ruin and Beauty: New and Selected Poems P. 292

RUIN AND BEAUTY THE END

A last poem on behalf of ruin and beauty. A last poem hovering somewhere near, alongside everything that needs to be said now, in this time. The last poem for a book may be the last poem for a lifetime. What offering can be made with yet another last word?

Each time I write, I pray the last word will be a beginning. Even I pray for this, I, who love sunset, more than I love dawn, for its abandon to fire as embers turn to coal and then to diamonds that emerge from the heavy night. These are not the diamonds of the field; they do not rip the life out of the earth or the life from the hands of those who must carry the shovels that will dig into their hearts. These are not lights that need to remain buried in the dark.

I am remembering myself now because like everyone else I have spent a life forgetting. I recognize the child who loved trees as well as the woman who fell so passionately in love with light; she would follow it to its birthplace in the distant stars if she were able. When she was younger, she announced her willingness to burn to ash for the sake of blazing, and today she is an aging woman pausing before the bare elm, as skeleton now as the woman soon will be. It will dim before it blazes and so will she.

Who knows but the two, tree and woman, may fall at the same time, the way the acacia fell the night of the funeral, the way the great pine went over, bent over prostrate, along the threshold, the night the wind rose to take everyone down. We cut the pine into round steps; they decay, they fall apart, they ease into the earth or become the kindling we burn in the bright winter fire. The wisteria went down with the pine, but has risen again. It is winding a future of delicate purple blossoms through the eucalyptus trees. It will be fire next time before the fall.

It is not envy, it is not my own death that moves me. I am not wistful before the resurrecting wisteria displaying nubs, hard pressed, like a young girl’s nipples toward the sky. Rather I shade my eyes before the certainty of God, an invisible shimmering bird, perched in the elm’s silver nest, dull bark turning platinum with the Presence.

Soon the ravens will come, the hawks, vultures and owls to take possession of that naked perch, claw to claw, searching for prey and rain in the great round of life that still remains to them despite the airplanes that bruise the surfaces of clouds, poisons dripping from metal tail feathers.

I have written of this all my life. Each time I try to get it right so that life will continue. Not my life, you understand, but life itself. The magic formula constantly eluding all magis. I let each day fall out of my hand, another petal on the patio stones, or on the metal table, splashes of color turning brown, becoming soil again, melting into the future. The earth deserves a long life that will never end, constructed entirely of the sweet and rightful deaths of all the creatures who feed here on the various honeys of creation.

Of course, I am lying when I say my death isn’t a big deal. A poet’s rhetoric. It will seem that the world is dying when I will be dying. I will be leaving but it will seem that the world will be dimming and falling away. A physicist’s relativity.

“How do we serve the dying?” the exhausted woman asked from her mother’s bedside. Could she assure the dying woman, she had the courage and fortitude to pull away from us and enter the last adventure on her own. Easier said. But every one of us will be in that bed, wondering how to triumph at the end of the taffy pull. We will wonder about how to do it, while someone who hasn’t met that challenge yet will kindly reassure us with what she cannot know. If she is skilled, we will believe her, and we will speed away at sufficient velocity from all that we have until this moment loved more than life, have assumed is life, the whole of it.

This is where we part from the earth that until now we called our mother and so presumed she would precede us in all things. We pull away toward the solitude that is finally, irrevocably ours. We can report to no one from the dark cave that may or may not be a tunnel with a light at the end. Whatever it is for us, no one will ever know. We have been practicing a lifetime to learn to be, finally, on our own.

Earth is not so fortunate. She has made the essential bodhisattva sacrifice. She remains here until all beings are enlightened. Oh how bitter! She is unable to escape us. Even light gets to fly away.

***

In a clay bowl filled with white milk, we washed the dark feet of a soldier who had eaten human hearts. Another woman came and then another, washing, washing. Such forgiveness, acts of utter hopelessness and impossible hope. Forgiveness required that we sharpen knives until nothing could resist us, so we could sever the past from the future, for him and for us. He slashed and we slashed. The milk roiled in the earthen pot. Milk so white, pressed out of a living creature, milk I know because I nursed my sons, swirling about my burning hands. I searched to find all the love within me though the general had devoured the source of love so many times. He had assumed love would disappear from our planet forever; how else could he survive? When we were finished, the milk was so white it could have blinded us. Some deaths cannot be redeemed without acts of utter desperation.

Ruin, you see, is not the end of life despite museums of crumbling cornices and corner stones. Ruin is unremitting beauty flinging us to the ground. Ruin is a supernova exploding, an old one turning in on itself and becoming, in that moment, as much light as will blaze from the sun in the next ten billion years. Ruin is that gamma moment pouring out into the universe now.

Ruin and beauty:
Despair not,
There will be a future;
There will be a future before
Or after we die.

*******************

REVISIONING MEDICINE 2004 – 2014 AN INVITATION

Join Us For a ReVisioning Medicine Council foR Physicians, Psychotherapists, Health Professionals and Healers

Feb. 15-17, 2014 in Topanga, California [Los Angeles area.]

In the old days, when a people were gravely threatened, the Chiefs, Medicine People, Healers, Shamans, and Elders, the spiritual leaders of their communities, called Councils. They looked for solutions to problems by aligning themselves with the ancestors, the Natural world and their wisdom traditions. They were careful to consider dreams, signs, myths and stories. Recognizing that illness is often the consequence of having violated the earth, the community and the spirits, they searched for systemic responses to assure healing. The spirits, animals and plants, even the elementals, communed with them, extending teachings, blessings and wisdom. In times of crises, they gathered, as we are gathering now.

This is an invitation to a ReVisioning Medicine Council to be held in Topanga, California, Feb. 15-17, 2014.

A core group of physicians and healers have been consciously exploring ReVisioning Medicine since 2004.

Deena Metzger convened the first gathering after giving the keynote address at the annual meeting of the American Holistic Medical Association (AHMA). In that talk, she identified both medical practice and the earth as the patients we were called to heal.

  • ReVisioning Medicine is a council that honors and relies on deep dialogue between medical and health practitioners and medicine people – healers, pipe carriers, shamans, energy workers, dreamers, story tellers, sound healers, indigenous elders and practitioner – as peers. To address healing with heart, complexity and profundity, we gather a broad based healing community to inform and sustain each other.
  • In a circle of trust and camaraderie, ReVisioning allows each person to examine the gulf between the original call to be a healer and the increasing limitations and distortions imposed on medical practice by different aspects of corporate and institutional medicine, insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies and government.  It is so important now to have working connections that support the expertise and the heart and soul of our work. Through ReVisioning, healing teams emerge – teams that gather around patients and also improvisational, impromptu teams of and for the practitioners as well.
  • ReVisioning is an on-going creative process.  In the ten years we have been gathering we have learned that community is essential to healing, that community, itself, heals.  Those who come together for ReVisioning create a community, albeit far flung across the country, that continues to support each individual’s exploration and activity on behalf of a new medicine.
  • Based on Council principles, everyone’s unique intelligence, medicine tradition and wisdom is appreciated. ReVisioning Medicine is a spirit-based medicine, as healing is a spiritual practice for medicine people. It promotes alliances between the patient and physicians, healers, the family and the natural world. Such partnership has major implications in terms of diagnosis and treatment as does including ritual and ceremony in the healing process.
  • Medicine determines culture.   Therefore our medical practices need to change for individual, social and environmental health to improve and flourish.   Medical practice itself is one of our patients.  So we gather physicians who can carry seeds of change to create circles of support so that physicians and health practitioners can return to their original calling as true healers.
  • At ReVisioning we ask: Can medical people also be medicine people?  Can a physician serve the community in the best ways that medicine persons served theirs indigenous communities? Can we speak honestly and from the heart about the grief and vision we carry around medicine and healing? Can we examine together what we must step away from and what we want to change? Can we create medical practices and treatments that do not harm people or the environment?
  • With the hope of approaching the entire Story of an illness or affliction, and seeing how it may affect both an individual and the community, we seek to expand the narrow medical focus, looking beyond symptoms, the physical and emotional components, beyond testing, seeking many ways of knowing and a range of possibilities for treatment. In the intimate process of healing, we also learn and carry each other’s stories, what we have suffered and how we have triumphed, we recognizing the healer in ourselves and each other and support the path we are each called to walk.
  • We have each experienced, participated in or witnessed unexpected healing events; this is a safe place to explore them and consider their import. We begin to imagine on-going alliances as we become true healers in a time of history that requires such transformation.
  • ReVisioning gatherings are always small so that true exchange can occur.  While the days together are planned, they allow for spontaneity and improvisation. We always hope to spend time on the land and in silence or solitude.  When possible we sit around a fire in the old ways to access inner wisdom.
  • Someone volunteers to be the focus so that together we might discover the deep story of an illness and illuminate the coexisting paths of healing that extend beyond the “patient” to the people and the earth. Particularly attentive to and respectful of what the patient knows about his or her affliction, we listen carefully for the Story. We call this exploration Indigenous Grand Rounds.
  • Over the years, we have worked with such Volunteers who have been afflicted with various cancers, heart disease, leukemia and kidney failure (from playing in uranium tailings on the Reservation) agent orange poisoning, (Viet Nam), chemical sensitivities, and other ailments. (A good percentage of our Volunteers have been also been participants working in conventional medical fields.) We always try to focus on someone whose affliction has ramifications for the society as a whole and to see how non-conventional ways of healing might inform us and the patient in new ways.
  • The Volunteer for our February 2013 gathering was a 21-year-old woman who had suffered continuous pain since she was 18 months old, later accompanied by depression and fatigue.  We were acutely aware of the great number of young women suffering similar often undiagnosed afflictions or variously diagnosed as lyme disease, fibromyalgia, etc.  We were, and were not, surprised to observe that that the young woman’s energy increased with her willingness to explore and comment upon the field of her suffering.  She, who had because of pain insisted that she not be touched, embraced each one of us at the end. A few weeks later, her mother wrote, “M is doing great!  She is lifting weights, running a mile, doing yoga, dancing, hiking and meeting new people. She is even boxing.
  • The Volunteer for the Nashville Council, September 2013, was a woman who had suffered chronic pain in her arm for six years. We (and she) did not know when she was invited that she is one of the Great Storytellers.  In telling her story, she detailed the ways historic, religious, political and economic circumstances combine with medical and institutional abuse to exacerbate symptoms and illness.  We do not know yet if / how her physical condition will resolve, but it was confirmed that sometimes listening to the story, without pathologzing, can be the medicine.
  • We are very concerned with iatrogenisis. Too many are suffering the side-effects of prescribed medicines, and/or complications from medical or hospital treatments. One physician, using a short hand, referred to the majority of her contemporaries as practicing “pharmaceutical medicine.”
  • Physicians also become patients and endure iatrogenic events. An M.D. colleague, who was planning to attend ReVisioning, suffered acute kidney failure in 2011 from the prescribed medication for rheumatoid arthritis. Despite having insisted that rigorous research precede treatment, he became the victim of a protocol that was known to cause harm.
  • If we are free to think differently about the nature of illness and healing, as well as the relationship between common illnesses and modern life, we might seek other interventions, invent treatments that do no harm to individuals or the planet.  ReVisioning calls us back to the original call to physicians to heal and not do harm.
  • We also gather to support each other on our individual journeys.  ReVisioned Medicine is reciprocal medicine, based on relationship, collaboration, on taking care of each other.
  • During the last meeting in Topanga, a physician asked for community support. He was torn between the restrictions of corporate for-profit medicine and his heart’s call to a spirit based, indigenously informed, humanitarian medicine.  He was relieved to discuss the heartbreak of his devotion to his patients and the compromises he was forced to make.  Deena met with him in October 2013, in the city where he is currently practicing medicine.  He has formed a deep healing alliance with a medicine woman who lives in this area and also attended ReVisioning.  Far from being lonely in a new city, he is creating unexpected healing possibilities for his new patients.
  • ReVisioning Medicine seeks to bring medical wisdom together with time tested indigenous ways and contemporary vision. Cooperation between western medicine and non-western healing practices is implicit in Complementary and Alternative Medicine, but these are still parallel systems operating from different perspectives. A new collaboration is essential.  Integrating the old, old medicine of Story, right relationships and respect for the communities of all beings, can bring us back into alignment and health. When medical ways and medicine ways are aligned, then community itself is healed as are many of the grave ills and illnesses of modern life.  ReVisioning Medicine brings all the ways into a unified and dynamic council; it is, we believe, the future.
  • A few days after the Nashville Council, one physician wrote: “My connection with patients was subtly different this week. I found the willingness for more risk-taking, and the directness on multiple occasions led to some remarkably beautiful sessions. There were shifts in some long- term patients, with whom I’d begun to feel resigned to the status quo. I feel very grateful to you all.“

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ReVisioning Medicine in Topanga, February 2014 

As this will be the ten-year anniversary of ReVisioning Medicine, we expect this gathering of medical and medicine people from across the country and even the world, will deepen our understanding of how we may collaborate to create and restore a medical/medicine culture that seeds health in every interaction.

Deena Metzger will be leading the gathering again in alliance with Kjersten Gmeiner, MD, Karen Mutter, DO, and Muz, Richenel Ansano, formerly of Global Medicine Education Foundation and now with the NAAM Foundation, the National Archeological – Anthropological Museum of Curaçao.  Joining them will be Lawrie Hartt and Danelia Wild, dedicated healers and musicians who have been carrying ReVisioning Medicine since its inception and Tobi Fishel, PhD, Director of Psychological Services at the Vanderbilt Center for Integrative Health (VCIH) and Associate Professor in the departments of Psychiatry, Psychology and Pediatrics who organized the ReVisioning Council in Nashville, September 2013.

To reserve a space and for more information, including fees, interested parties please call or write to Deena at deenametzger@verizon.net  310-455-1089 or Kjersten Gmeiner, M.D. gmeiner.k@gmail.com 206-679-5429.

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Essays on ReVisioning Medicine and healing can be found Deena’s website:http://deenametzger.net and her blog, www.deenametzger.wordpress.com.

These include: Thinking About Healing; Illness Heals the World; On ReVisioning Medicine and the Possibilities of Miracles; The Soul of Medicine (Deena’s address to the AHMA in 2004); Illness Can Heal the World and Healing in the Community. Her books related to healing include, Tree: Essays and Pieces, a journal of surviving breast cancer, Entering the Ghost River: Meditations on the Theory and Practice of Healing, and From Grief Into Vision: A Council.

Peace and Blessings,

Deena and Kjersten

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