RUIN AND BEAUTY

DEENA METZGER'S BLOG

Category Archives: ESSAYS

LIVING BY DREAM

LIVING BY DREAM was published in the inaugural issue of Dark Matter: Women Witnessing, edited and published by Lise Weil. http://www.darkmatterwomenwitnessing.com

Dark Matter publishes writing and visual art created in response to an age of massive species loss and ecological disaster. It is a home for dreams, visions, and communications with the nonhuman world…especially those with messages for how we might begin to heal our broken relationship to the earth.

***
A Map to the Next World
Joy Harjo

In the last days of the fourth world I wished to make a map for
those who would climb through the hole in the sky.

My only tools were the desires of humans as they emerged
from the killing fields, from the bedrooms and the kitchens.

For the soul is a wanderer with many hands and feet.

The map must be of sand and can’t be read by ordinary light. It
must carry fire to the next tribal town, for renewal of spirit.

In the legend are instructions on the language of the land, how it
was we forgot to acknowledge the gift, as if we were not in it or of it.

Take note of the proliferation of supermarkets and malls, the
altars of money. They best describe the detour from grace.

Keep track of the errors of our forgetfulness; the fog steals our
children while we sleep.

Flowers of rage spring up in the depression. Monsters are born
there of nuclear anger.

Trees of ashes wave good-bye to good-bye and the map appears to
disappear.

We no longer know the names of the birds here, how to speak to
them by their personal names.

Once we knew everything in this lush promise.

What I am telling you is real and is printed in a warning on the
map.

Our forgetfulness stalks us, walks the earth behind us,
leaving a trail of paper diapers, needles, and wasted blood.

An imperfect map will have to do, little one.

The place of entry is the sea of your mother’s blood, your father’s
small death as he longs to know himself in another.

There is no exit.

The map can be interpreted through the wall of the intestine—a
spiral on the road of knowledge.

You will travel through the membrane of death, smell cooking
from the encampment where our relatives make a feast of fresh
deer meat and corn soup, in the Milky Way.

They have never left us; we abandoned them for science.

And when you take your next breath as we enter the fifth world
there will be no X, no guidebook with words you can carry.

You will have to navigate by your mother’s voice, renew the song
she is singing.

Fresh courage glimmers from planets.

And lights the map printed with the blood of history, a map you
will have to know by your intention, by the language of suns.

When you emerge note the tracks of the monster slayers where they
entered the cities of artificial light and killed what was killing us.

You will see red cliffs. They are the heart, contain the ladder.

A white deer will greet you when the last human climbs from the destruction.

Remember the hole of shame marking the act of abandoning our
tribal grounds.

We were never perfect.

Yet, the journey we make together is perfect on this earth who was
once a star and made the same mistakes as humans.

We might make them again, she said.

Crucial to finding the way is this: there is no beginning or end.

You must make your own map.

***

People lived according to the dream spirits in the old, old times. Then the Church, the State, and later Science taught the people to distrust and disregard them. Attending the dreams in the old, old ways was prohibited and the priests and secular rulers persecuted dreamers. Learning to live by dream again restores the ways that honor the spirits and realigns human activity within a web of relationships.

The sacred ritual of the Eleusinian Mysteries was practiced in Greece for 1500 years until 396 CE, when the Christian/Roman empire suppressed them. (See Birth and Rebirth in the Eleusinian Mysteries on my website The Mysteries were extensive ritual and narrative events that were prepared for rigorously in March of one year, and then enacted eighteen months later in September. During the Mysteries, as many as 1500 people at a time walked the nineteen miles from Athens to Eleusis, engaging in complex activities on the way. Much of what we associate with rites of transformation was practiced here: purification, fasting, dietary restraint, rites of endurance, meditation, theater, sport competitions, and visioning. Women and men, citizens, slaves and foreigners were all able to participate if they prepared for and committed themselves to the beautiful extremity of the event.

My consciousness was reawakened to the old ways of dreaming through the means of a play I was writing that drew increasingly on the spiritual context and intent of the Mysteries. As has happened to me many times, the writing of the play revealed the nature of dreams far beyond what I had understood until then. I don’t remember why I started studying the Mysteries, only that they pulled me down into the sacred underworld as they were meant to do. I was immediately ‘entranced’ when I learned that the underworld had been a destination in the Mysteries, a place of wisdom and transformation. (Pluto, the Roman name for the equivalent god, Hades, means ‘treasure.’) Christianity, to gain hegemony, had demonized the ritual event, declaring Hades to be hell, Dionysus/Pan to be Satan. A ritual required by the ancient world on behalf of soul-making was forbidden. Soul, as the ancients would have warned us, began to disappear and was increasingly replaced by secular materialism.

In the late 70s, I was working with an improvisational theater group. Our work led to the development of different characters who became important to me and to the actors. Unexpectedly, the characters began to create relationships among themselves in my imagination, and the play Dreams Against the State was born. Each of the contemporary characters was based on a figure from the Mysteries and, in the first draft of the play, there were entre-acts in which the Gods – Demeter, Hecate, Persephone, Hades, Hermes – appeared. Later, their roles were incorporated into the characters so that the audience could see that we can each live the intensity and passion of divine energies if we allow ourselves our real lives.

In the play, the contemporary characters were drawn together ‘underground’ through the power of dreaming at a time when dreaming was illegal. The dangerous upper world was inhabited by police and other forces of conformity and repression who sought to stifle all vital and individual life energies. When one of the dreamers was captured and incarcerated, the dreamers had to develop the ritual means to retrieve her and restore her body and soul.

Theater director Steven Kent and I re-enacted the Mysteries in 1980 (and twice again in the 90s) for the first time since 396 CE. We began the long ritual at the Cave of Dicte where Zeus had been born on the isle of Knossos. As we descended the narrow spiral of stone stairs, each myste carrying a lit taper to illuminate the way down into the dark, I knew that we had found the entrance into the ancient way of the dream. We were stepping into another world, not only the underworld from which we would emerge ritually, but into the old, old world whose ways would continue to guide and sustain us from that time forward. Rising quietly in the morning, telling dreams before speaking and before breakfast, and using the dreams to enhance and understand our experiences was our way then of beginning to live according to our dreams.

More than forty years later, the necessity is even greater to live the dream, to live by dreams and the values they teach when the dreaming community is aligned with spirit. The centuries since the Mysteries have ricocheted between a search for spiritual consciousness and increasing cruelty. An age of unprecedented brutality is upon us as on-going violence is directed against humans, animals, the earth and the spiritual life. One can argue the many reasons for the agony of these times, but the phenomena of urbanization, militarism, media saturation and control, and the forces of economic, political and social domination have left few, if any, safe havens for any beings. Perhaps there have been people who have suffered some of our ills before, but never has such pain, suffering and dispassionate cruelty been the fate of so many, if not most of the world. If the imperium of technology and power has its way, everything may die.

But as we grieve this time on earth, we also see that there is a parallel return of vision, dream and spiritual presence, which, if attended, may save us. This vision, these visions, are the reasons we gather together to see how we can sustain the future.

At the time when the Eleusinian Mysteries flourished, Greek citizens, then others, were enjoined to participate once in a lifetime in order to gain a soul in this life and the next. It may be that we are being similarly enjoined to gain a soul by listening deeply to our dreams and living according to their sometimes very demanding wisdom. Since the advent of psychology, dream analysis has been a familiar process designed to help people improve or heal their lives. Living by dream on behalf of community and the future is quite different. It is not important to tell our dreams or to understand them unless we are willing to live accordingly. Dreams received in this way, fully respected and honored, can teach us how to live. To live by dream is to change one’s life and mind entirely.

In the old days, dreams came to an individual on behalf of the community. Such dreams have the potential to reveal and drive the essential shifts of consciousness and behavior that can save the earth. To invite such dreams again, to open ourselves to the dream spirits, to accept the dreams as wisdom-givers, to gather in community to ponder their instructions and to live accordingly, are ways to live on behalf of the future.

Not every dream is of portent for the future. Not every dream contains ethical instruction or direction for the community. Dreamers may be involved in nightly narratives, but only some are essential guides. Over time, often with a teacher, elder or companion, or in dream circles, we learn to distinguish them. Sometimes it takes several dreams over time to reveal where we are being led. I will consider several dreams together, as they constitute a field of consciousness that has guided me, with increasing intensity, over the years. Contemplating the dreams, sometimes for years, I have also chosen at times to offer them to others so that we might be guided as a community to incorporate the wisdom being transmitted. Because we are not grounded in a dreaming culture, not everyone who hears such dreams can take them to heart. But increasingly, as we consider the state of the world, as we grieve together and dream together, we are awakened to ways of supporting each other and the possibility of change.

When these dreams came to me, I recognized them as significant, even urgent, and offer them to you to contemplate in that spirit.

Spain. Around the time of World War II, of Franco and Hitler. A film is being made. The first scene is of a young woman too poor to become a great dancer, though she is gifted. The second scene is of a street festival becoming a riot. A man pulls down his pants so a demented king can anoint his penis with firewater. Joy turns into debauchery. The third scene is a group of men who will kill anyone. We look for a place to hide from the coming blood bath. Scene four shows a parade of polished sedans. The wealthy class, young men and women in formal dress, are aloof to the dangers around them.
At the end, Brown Shirts are marching down the street, filling the roadway, ten abreast. I climb a steep wide flight of stairs, as steep and broad and narrow as the stairs to the top of the Mexican pyramids, but these are European stairs. There is nothing at the top. No structure. From above, I see the Brown Shirts approaching. There are not that many yet. They are not the majority yet, but they are very dangerous. One scene leads to another of increasing dehumanization, soullessness and violence.
We must leave Europe today. If we stay longer, it will be too late. We have twenty-four hours to leave Europe.

In 2001, I brought this dream to Daré, (Council) the community healing event that has been meeting at my house for fifteen years. The last lines translated quickly into urgent instructions: Twenty-four hours to leave European mind.

Over the last years, EuroAmerican mind and Western civilization have come under great scrutiny from non-Western people and developing nations. European mind is associated with the hegemony of the Church, the military, science and materialism that set out to conquer the peoples of the Northern and Southern Hemispheres in 1492. In that year of the Inquisition, Jews and Moors were expelled from Spain. This same mind prohibited dreaming, the inner life and earth-centered, spiritually-aligned, indigenous wisdom traditions wherever they were encountered. That legacy of persecution exists to this day across the globe.

As I am well acquainted with World War II, I didn’t think the dream was giving me a history lesson. It was asking me to see where I was carrying the destructive qualities of Western mind without realizing it. I was being asked to consider where I and my peers are unconsciously aligning with power and riot. I was being asked to scrutinize my life so that I do not inadvertently invite fascistic thinking into the world. The dream was asking me to scrutinize my soul.

The stairs in the dream resemble the pyramids of pre-Columbian peoples. They link the Holocaust implied by the presence of the Brown Shirts with the holocaust against the Native people in North and South America which began in 1492. The dream invokes the global European occupation: a history of violence, brutality, burning, slavery and torture, land and resource appropriation, exploitation, pollution and all the possible ills of war and conquest. The dream awakens me to the urgency of changing my/our minds.

In the dream, the Brown Shirts, Nazi Germany’s Storm troopers, the SA, are returning. Observing from the sacrificial altar at the top of the stairs, I see the return of such violence as led to World War II and the Holocaust. I see what led to the Inquisition and the Conquest of this country. I have twenty-four hours to end my identification with the values, all the values, that led to those times and which are threatening to reassert themselves.

When I had breast cancer in 1977, I knew I had to change my life in order to be healthy, and I did. I moved out of the suburbs to a very simple house at the end of a dirt road. I gave up community college teaching and taught writing at home. I tattooed my chest instead of having reconstruction. I began speaking and writing about cancer as silence, as a particular affliction of women, as a metaphor for our political lives, and a consequence of our increasingly violent relationship to the environment. Having created the Writing Program at the Woman’s Building and the Feminist Studio Workshop, I was very sensitive to the fact that our EuroAmerican culture treats women and the earth in similarly brutal ways. I lived as closely as I could to the values I held dear, trying not to compromise on anything that was important. And as the title of one of my books suggests, I practiced Writing For Your Life.

While cure is instant, healing is ongoing, a practice. In 1986, nine years after I had breast cancer, I developed a program called Personal Disarmament, which calls us all to self- scrutiny. Participants were asked to examine their own inner governments. Are we living under the dictates of an inner general? An inner war machine? Are we armed? Are we developing the equivalent of chemical, biological or nuclear weapons? Did we stockpile weapons? Do we have armies? Will we agree to no first strike? Will we disarm?

Writing the scenario of our inner governments was like writing and living in a dream. I was shocked to discover that my inner government was a theocracy that denied full citizenship to its creative members, confining them on reservations. I had thought I was a free spirit. I discovered I was not. I discovered I ruled by force. I set myself the task of changing again.

Years later in 2001, the dream of the Brown Shirts emphasized an inner system of repression and also dramatized the global danger to all life. The dream’s critique of how we live went far beyond the personal or psychological. The earth, its peoples, the natural world, all are endangered.

First I had had to learn what is making me and others so ill. Then I had had to learn what is destroying our communities. Now I had to learn what is killing the earth. Stepping out of European mind became the focus of my intellectual, ethical and spiritual work.

Again in 2006, I dreamt the Nazis were coming. I could easily interpret these as precognitive dreams warning me/us about the developing fascism in the U.S. and globally. We can, foolishly, use such dreams to confirm our fantasies that we are innocent and the others are the enemy. But I prefer to understand them also as a reflection on our lives and our history and so as instruction, as an increasingly urgent call to awareness and living in different ways, both for myself and the community.

In 2007, another dream:
There is an occupation in the works. It isn’t clear in the dream whether it is a foreign army or a home army. This seems not to matter, for the army is dangerous in ways I once associated with the Nazis, but which are now rampant across the world. This is happening here and we are in danger. We are trying to pack the car that is in the room of the apartment where we are living. The room is dark and the images are vague. There are children in the car, lying down in the rear behind the back seat and we are packing food, clothes, supplies for the dogs, between the children. I have no sense of the personalities of the children or the people in the car, only the fear that we will not get out in time, that we will not find the route to avoid the soldiers or police, that they will recognize us as among those to be arrested or killed, that we will not be able to cross the border or find a place to hide.

This dream came just after I led a Circle, The Council of Possibilities, in Oakland, CA. A conversation about water boarding was occurring in the public sector. Michael Mukasey, who supported enhanced interrogation techniques on al-Qaeda suspects, had been approved by the Judiciary Committee to be U.S. Attorney General. Accordingly, protesters had been demonstrating water boarding in the streets in Washington, DC. It was clear that Cheney and Bush approved and ordered torture; Rumsfeld had just been indicted in France for torture, as Kissinger had been earlier for his role in fomenting the brutal golpe against the democratically elected government in Chile, in 1973. Neither can now travel abroad for fear of being arrested. Extreme unwelcome changes challenging all our democratic values were taking place in the United States.

The dream made it clear that we had to give up innocence. We are all endangered. Fascism is here and we are its vehicles and its victims. There is no place to hide.

These dreams indicate momentous changes in our culture and society and in the world. They call us to action.

In 2009, I had another dream, set in Europe and in America. It challenges the belief that some can be safe while others are endangered because the rich or powerful can successfully negotiate with evil to protect only themselves and their loved ones. The dream starkly emphasizes the need to leave the European mind that creates privilege:

This is another time. Central Europe. Early twentieth century. A candelabra appears like a heraldic symbol on a shield in the sky. A miracle. Words in red are inscribed beneath the shield. 100 days.
She, the old woman, or my mother, warns us: There are smugglers outside. We go back into the European manor house. Our rooms are above the wide staircase that, as in the first dream, resembles the stairs of an Aztec pyramid.
Watching through the window, we see a group of men dressed in black taking things from the house at the corner. They will be here soon. I ask my mother to find something to give them. Silver, not her best but antique, good enough, is stored in an anteroom. We find a solid candelabra. It has not been polished in a long time, but is a fine silver piece that turns dark green- blue, like brass or metal that has aged. I know that she must give away something valuable. I know she wants to hold on to everything. I am trying to protect her and I am also hoarding her valuables, so she will have them, so she will have something for the next time, as if she could bribe them and remain safe.
I wait for the doorbell but the smugglers jimmy open the door and come up the large staircase into the house. Trying to find out who these smugglers are, I speak to them about the Mob in Brooklyn and the possibility of buying ”protection.” Even so, I understand that there is no guaranteed exchange and they will be back for more.
Through the window I see an old woman running. They have taken her things too, but things don’t matter to her. She yells to me that she left her doors unlocked. Nothing matters, as they won’t ever find her real house. She is running very fast, especially for an old woman, and I follow her, barely keeping up. We run through the entire country. A single red dirt road turns here and then there. We are no longer in Europe. We are in two time zones simultaneously—contemporary New Mexico and New Mexico before the Conquest. We enter a labyrinth of clay tunnels and stairs that lead down into a vast cave house, with a clay floor. The dwelling is essentially a workshop. A kiln occupies one area. She works in clay and silver. While there is no evidence of her work, this is the place where she works, where she is entirely happy, where the smugglers will not come, where her life is. Where I will stay.

When I awakened, I thought first of the number 100 in lights. I had recently read that several Native American tribes believe it is necessary to repeat an activity for a hundred days to make it a habit, in order to integrate it into one’s consciousness. I was being instructed that I had to do what was necessary so that the old, European mind would give way and the new way of thinking would become habit. It was clear to me that I/we must give up valuing things and possessions, the antiques and valuables we are clutching. The two candelabras indicate the difference between a sacred sign and a battered object that had value once. The 100 days of creating consciousness are heralded and the dangers of hoarding are revealed.

The teachings were clear: The old (European) world is a dangerous place. Making payments is a way of staying connected to the system. We must come to a new world. As with the Mysteries, it is necessary to go underground and return to the earthen ways.

Dreams are not linear events and do not yield to the kind of analysis associated with European mind. Rather, dreams often present a field of relationships in which images and events resonate with each other. Sometimes our lives are like dreams. The silver piece offered to the smugglers to protect my mother is a flattened version of the brass elephant that is by the door to the patio in my house in non-dream life. The elephant was a gift from Lisa Rafel, who came to Daré at a critical time and by her singing into the body of a woman who was ill, initiated our particular form of healing. Lisa’s gift of the elephant and her gift of healing is flattened in the territory where European mind dominates. In the dream, the silver candelabra has great value to those who adhere to European mind. In life, the brass elephant represents the sacred.

In 1998, I went to Zimbabwe with my then husband Michael Ortiz Hill, who introduced me to a Shona medicine man, Mandaza Kandemwa, a nganga. As I had become a healer, it was very gratifying to recognize that we worked in similar ways, though we languaged our work differently. Mandaza would say, “The spirits are heavy upon me” and I would say, “Illness is a path,” but we would mean very similar things. Within a short time, I was working with his community and patients as he worked with the people we brought from North America. By unspoken agreement, we initiated each other, exchanging our own teachings, ceremonies and ritual. From the beginning of our friendship, we entered into dream work together, each of us knowing from our own experience and teaching that attending the dreams is an essential form. These profound experiences altered me deeply and I was able, upon my return, to further teach and train others in healing ways.

Meeting Mandaza and his community, participating in his Daré, watching how he worked as an indigenous healer in an urban setting, revealed to me the depth and value of native healing ways. I began to ponder how equivalent healing communities might develop in the United States. In 1999, I was called to sit in Council with Mandaza’s community and also to sit in Council with elephants. I did not know what this could possibly mean, but several of us including Mandaza went to a wild animal preserve in Chobe, Botswana. There on the last day in the Park, I met and entered into a relationship with an Elephant in the wild whom we now call the Elephant Ambassador. I write about my history of becoming a healer, about my meeting Mandaza, and this remarkable exchange with the Ambassador in Entering the Ghost River: Meditations on the Theory and Practice of Healing.

Healing from EuroAmerican mind means stepping out of hierarchy into relationship. Elephants have complex and developed social systems extending from their young calves back to their elders and ancestors, and from which we have much to learn. Indigenous people know this about the animals. They have great respect for other beings and live in a harmonic web of relationships and alliance.

Meeting an Ambassador from another species brought the understanding that the animals and the beings of the natural world are equal partners on the planet. (See The Language of Relationship on this blog). They are our peers, and the old, old ways teach us how to live in right relationship with them. I have met the Elephant Ambassador in the wild four times over twelve years. I have also met in dreams other elephants that I know in waking life. One we call:

Spirit Sister. In the first dream, she comes in from the forest and we nuzzle each other. In the second, she is living in the house as kin.

I believe she came in my dreams so that I would remember these truths about the nature of reality that are at the lived core of the old, old ways.

After the meeting in Council with Mandaza’s community and with the Elephant Ambassador, I introduced Daré to my community. Fifteen years later, that Council-based, spirit-led, dream-focused community healing circle continues. By 2001, I began to understand something of what might shift if we changed our relationship with animals and the natural world. By 2004, the Lakota wisdom mitakye oyasin, all my relations, became central to Daré.

There are many indigenous traditions that speak of the Fifth World or the Next World, a real place that we can access only if we leave our dangerous Fourth World ways behind. Joy Harjo references this world in her poem, A Map to the Next World, above. The next or Fifth World is ruled, as is this universe, by its own cosmic laws. To be able to live in this world, one’s entire nature and being have to be resonant with these intrinsic ways. This cannot be negotiated; one is aligned or one is not. In this instance, ethics, values and actions are as absolute as are the laws of physics. The values of interconnection and deep respect for the beings of the natural world and the spirits are fundamental.

To live in the Fifth World we must strip ourselves of our Fourth World qualities and become other beings. This activity is as rigorous as the imagined journey through a black hole into another universe. To enter the Fifth World means we change our ways entirely.

People often speak of dreams or other ways of knowing as being given to us. What we mean by this is that the understanding is not a creation of our minds, but comes from beyond us. Sometimes such gifts come in a single unit, like a dream or a story. Sometimes they come over time. As a teacher and healer, I have over time received or been given directions for transforming our lives that I call the Nineteen Ways to the Fifth World. These are a distillation of the paths we are called to take so that we can live in ways that serve the future.

It could well take a lifetime to understand and incorporate and truly inhabit any one of the Nineteen Ways. We don’t have lifetimes. I began to explore and teach them to myself and to others. The Nineteen Ways create a field. It is the field that creates the world. (See 19 Ways of the 5th World on this blog)

After receiving the Nineteen Ways, I had a dream that changed my life again.

I have won a contest that I have not entered. I have won it three times. The award is a trip to New York for a year, where I will be educated and trained. After the year, I will be an indigenous woman.

I understood this dream as a mandate. I am to apply myself to becoming an indigenous woman. I am taken back to my origins to begin again on a different trajectory. I must discover how an indigenous woman would think and act in these times. I have taken on these instructions far beyond 100 days. I have entered into a different way of living. Before I speak, before I act, in the face of any important decision, I ask myself: How would a wise indigenous elder, free of the great damage of the on-going Conquest, act? I model my life accordingly. Over time, I see my mind changing and my ways of living, as well. Living as an indigenous elder calls one to put the community and the earth before oneself. It means one is loyal to and committed to the future. It means we respond out of relationship, not out of self-interest. It means alliance, not competition. Harmony not conflict. It means we know the earth and all her creatures are alive. This has come to me from the dreams.

Let us return to the initial premise. In the old, old days, and now, once more, the dreams come on behalf of the community and these times. They are presenting us with the dilemmas we are facing and will face in the future and they are teaching us, as they once did, how to live. These dreams, then, are available to guide any one or all of us.

It is possible that the world can heal. Dreams are showing us the ways.

Realities Enter Our Lives: Fukushima and the Future

Every morning when I awaken and see the amber light on the old dying elm and the vigorous eucalyptus, the one that bled crimson sap one season I think, ‘Beauty is still here.’  Relief and gratitude.  Life as I have been living it – shall I call it – life as usual – goes on.

I can meet the day.  I determine to go on living my life as well as I can.  The early morning light is beautiful as it was yesterday.  Today will be hot again, but the nights are cool and clear.  We are meant to sit under the stars. 

Life as usual, what is it?

At this momentarily quiet moment, it is: Pray, eat, write, work, water, feed (the wild), dog, walk, read, family, friends, solitude, sleep. Again and again.

But also at this hour and every hour, deadly radiation – 300 tons of toxic water per day – is leaking from the storage tanks in Fukushima.[1]

“The water from the leaking tank is so heavily contaminated with strontium-90, cesium-137, and other radioactive substances that a person standing less than two feet away would receive, in an hour’s time, a radiation dose equivalent to five times the acceptable exposure for nuclear workers,” Reuters reported.

TEPCO, Tokyo Electric Power Company has finally admitted what we, and they, have known from the beginning: they do not have the means or the knowledge to remedy the situation.

An hour later, the light is stark and will remain so all day.

After twenty-seven years, I am divorced.  The reality of this great loss enters my heart.  I did not expect to have to re-imagine and rebuild my life at this age.  One prepares for the death of a life partner, but divorce is an unnatural death blow to the heart.  After divorce, I have to assess what life is, so I can reconstruct a pattern that is a life.  The essentials are there: Pray, eat, write, work, water, feed (the wild), dog, walk, read, family, friends, lots of solitude, sleep.  Now Fukushima is here.  Drone, and dissonance.  It adds another dimension to the question: How does one go on?  How am I to live?

These are not the questions I expected to ask at this time in my life.  But now I must ask them.  The personal and the global coincide.  Fukushima, only one of the myriad horrific consequences of the ways we are living our lives.  How do we go on?  How are we to live?

1985.  A dear friend died.  I was inconsolable.  Driving on the freeway one gray morning, a disembodied voice said, “Forgive those who have left early.  Who could not stay to witness the end.”

I protested that I was also unwilling to stay to witness the end, but I would stay as long as I saw that I might make a difference.  I was not fifty yet.  Too young to know that one doesn’t win when trying to bargain with the spirits; I thought I had made a deal:  I would stay. We would all work to change consciousness and there would be no end to Creation.

I was certain or I was determined: The human could not (would not) overcome the Holy.

Last night, August 24th, I was anguished about Fukushima, climate change and the Rim Fire “swallowing everything in its path.” as it approached Yosemite . My own personal pain and unexpected loneliness, miniscule and irrelevant before the anguish of the earth. Losing a soul mate is not the same as losing a planet, even though it raises similar questions about how to live and what has meaning.

“A raging California wildfire has grown to 200 square miles and is so large and burning with such force that it is creating its own weather patterns, making it hard to predict where it will move,” fire officials said. “As the smoke column builds up it breaks down and collapses inside of itself, sending downdrafts and gusts that can go in any direction,”

She is really angry” a Native American friend says.  “No telling what She will do.”

I went to bed asking for wisdom, which only rarely comes to me in dreams.

I dreamed a friend has decided to commit suicide.  Her husband and I are accompanying her as witnesses.  We are facing her as we sit on the ends of a small couch, a large space between us.  She is speaking to us but she is speaking in absolute silence.  She is standing, restless, as she reveals her decision.  She does not have to explain.  We know.  We understand.   Sometimes my friend suffers what the world is suffering in her body.  We see that she cannot bear the pain.

My friend is living in a neighborhood where violence, always a constant, has suddenly escalated.  She is aware that the escalation in her neighborhood is an analogue of the global escalation.  She is not willing to respond personally without also considering the global dilemma.  So she speaks, without words, of the local incidents, the murders and break-ins, and the parallel events in our country, and around the world.

The communication between us is entirely silent and precise. We could elaborate, but, in the dream, we are committed to short hand:

She is thinking of the violence in her city, the violence in our country, the violence in the world.  Personal violence, national violence, global violence.  Murder, massacre, terrorism, war.

I am thinking of climate change, global warming, nuclear accidents, oil spills, extinction.

She is considering suicide.  We are immersed in ecocide.  We are each holding everything the other one is holding.

She and I have declared our houses as sanctuaries for the community of human and non-human beings.  Now sanctuary is threatened.  Sanctuary , a quality of earth, is threatened everywhere.  In the dream, the reality of the loss enters her heart.

At first, neither her husband nor I interfere.  It is, after all, her life.  We know her anguish.  But then it seems, I do question her decision and she falters.  She cannot stand her ground about suicide.  It seems she decides to live.  Or rather, she decides not to take her own life.  In the dream, I am now responsible to her for the unbearable pain she will have to bear.

She will ask the question:  How shall I live?  She will ask that even if there are no remedies that she knows.  No remedies for her pain.  No remedies for the disasters the world is facing.

I am trying to follow the wisdom and direction of the dream.

On August 23d, NPR played an interview with climate scientist Judith Curry, who in 2005 predicted that hurricanes were going to get more severe due to climate change.  She also did diplomatic work behalf of the IPPC, the United Nations, International Panel on Climate Change.  This spring, she testified  to a house subcommittee that “If all other things remain equal, it’s clear that adding more carbon dioxide to the atmosphere will warm the planet, but all other things may not remain equal.”  She didn’t feel certain about the outcome and so she recommended taking no action.  “I have six nieces and nephews who have recently graduated from college,” she says. “Not easy finding jobs in this economy. Are we going to jeopardize their economic future and they may not even care?”

Leaked material from the soon to be published IPPC 5th Assessment Report declares that scientists hold humans 95% responsible for climate change.  Until we are certain of this, do we indulge business as usual for the imagined economic benefit of our relatives without considering all the other beings, human and non-human on the earth?

Native Americans have an answer to this.  In Lakota, it is mitakye oyasin, all my relations.  Ideas are not abstractions.  Embedded in culture, they, like the force that turns sunflowers always toward the sun, magnetize and focus our energies in particular directions.  These two words, alone reveal the great gap between a culture that lives for a technology that created Fukushima and a culture that lives through a reverent love of the earth.

As it happens, I am writing a novel , A Rain of Night Birds, about an atmospheric scientist.  The novel was ‘given” to me.  I would never have conceived of it, nor could I have developed it, by myself.   I have been writing it for two and a half years, faithful to whatever is given me, listening, listening, listening, deeply involved and yet not knowing.  I have given the summer to it and in turn I have been guided in ways that bring me to my knees.

Because of a series of accidents and complications, I was seated in my car and turned on the radio, just as the interview with Judith Curry aired.  Had this been an ordinary day or hour, I would not have heard her.

These are the last days of the writing retreat.  When the novel came to me, I knew no more about climate science than the average well educated citizen.  Frustrated with trying to write intelligently about  characters whose work and knowledge are central to the story while I do not share their understanding, I set out to query several scientists for a reading list of books I could understand without having the math background necessary for environmental sciences..  Years ago I had managed to learn what was necessary to bring Daniela Stonebrook Blue, an astrophysicist in my novel, The Other Hand, to life.  The research had taken a year or two, but afterwards I could write in the language of the stars.  Maybe I still have a year or two to learn enough of the environmental sciences to satisfy the integrity of my characters.  Within a few hours, and before I wrote to anyone, a reading list appeared with articles I could understand that cover the entire field: “Welcome to Resources in Atmospheric Sciences.”  Welcome, the title says.  Welcome!

I do not generally associate technology and magic but I see that the spirits use any means necessary to communicate with us in ways that we can accept.  They use dreams and they use Google.  The combination is breathtaking.   And a little humorous.

Earlier in the week, other strange circumstances connected me with the IPPC 4th Assessment Report.  I had never read it.  A brief section startled me: The Role of Local and Indigenous Knowledge in Adaptation and Sustainability Research.[2] “Research on indigenous environmental knowledge has been undertaken in many countries, often in the context of understanding local oral histories and cultural attachment to place. A survey of research … outline the many technical and social issues related to the intersection of different knowledge systems, and the challenge of linking the scales and contexts associated with these forms of knowledge. With the increased interest in climate change and global environmental change, recent studies have emerged that explore how indigenous knowledge can become part of a shared learning effort to address climate-change impacts and adaptation, and its links with sustainability.”

How did this report come to me?  The novel called it forth.  The inner world and the outer world, experience and the imagination, life and spirit, they are always in resonant exchange.  This report came to me because its material is central to the novel.  Every environmental /earth scientist will read the Assessment, so will the characters in my book.  But perhaps, the Assessment came so that I, as a citizen, will read it.  So that it can be brought to your attention here.  So that you , and I, will learn something of what we are facing AND that spirit exists.  Both and together.

I do not know how to restore the earth any more than I know how to write this book.  But I do know that it is necessary to take signs seriously and listen deeply.  This is one of my commitments to these times.

And so the dream.  I am trying to follow the meaning and implication of the dream.  In a strange way, Judith Curry is part of the dream.  As so are the characters in the novel I am writing.  Environmental scientists.  Earth scientists.  How do they bear it?  How do they live given what they know?

Often dreams pose questions rather than answering them.  Dreams focus our attention in new ways.  Here are some questions the dream may be asking:

How do we live if there are no known remedies?

Are there changes we are being called to make whether or not we know in advance whether anything will make a difference?

What might it mean to give up life as usual to actively face and meet these grief times?

How do we shift, if we don’t know what to do?

At least for this moment, let us agree.  Let us not live life as usual.  Let us not live  business as usual. Let us not allow life, our lives, to be beholden to commercially designed, media driven, technologically determined life style.

How, then, will we live?  How will we live each moment with integrity?

I had breast cancer in 1977.  I sought out the life force, as a healing strategy, in the face of threat.  In 1997, I wrote a journal of healing, Tree.[3]  In it, I named the life force, Toots.  It was a proclamation. The question I asked then:  What are the forces in me that say Die and what are the forces in me that say, Live?

The answers were so easy then.  So personal.  I had to change my life and I did it.  At that time, a dream that alerted me that I had cancer, instructed me to step out silence.  To speak. That was one way.  I was a feminist; I understood how essential this was.

That dream in 1976  centered on fascism.  It was set in Chile under Pinochet.  It featured the Dina, the Chilean secret police, and a Nazi matron from Dachau who intended to use torture to silence me.

Today, as I remember the dream, and our need to identify our real lives, Daniel Ellsberg declares “”We have not only the capability of a police state, but certain beginnings of it right now,” Ellsberg told The Huffington Post Wednesday.[4] “And I absolutely agree with Edward Snowden. It’s worth a person’s life, prospect of assassination, or life in prison or life in exile — it’s worth that to try to restore our liberties and make this a democratic country.”

In my dream of August 24th, 2013, my friend and I speak silently of everything that is bringing us to grief.  Somewhere in our hidden conversation, teaching us how to live in such times, are Edward Snowden, Chelsea Manning and Julian Assange.

Here is another question inspired by the dream and the gravity of this time:  If we have the courage and capacity to consider everything that is threatening us at once, might there be responses that can help us meet everything at once?

What would it mean to hold and consider everything at once?  In the dream, my friend wants to die because she cannot bear it but later it seems she capitulates to the need to live and bear everything.  What is everything?  We each have our own list:

It is probably divided between the deliberate killing and the concomitant dying.   The wars we are waging and the victims we have become of those wars.

(Please stay with me, with us.  If you’ve come so far, please read this list, create your own and stay present to it.)

The development, sale and use of weaponry and the victims of these weapons..  Nuclear weapons and the dangers of nuclear power.  Hiroshima / Nagasaki and Chernobyl /Fukushima.  Syria and the new potential for horrific war sparked by the U..S. Arms sales and rapes and murders.  Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib and Drones., Surveillance, poverty and prisons.  Sexual abuse, domestic violence, torture. Home foreclosures and city bankruptcies.  Hurricanes, tornados, and fire storms.  Monsanto, Keystone XL pipe lines, fracking, drilling, mountain top removal, coal,  and mining,   The melting glaciers, the release of methane from permafrost, the rise in carbon dioxide levels, the holes in the ozone layers, the rise of seas, the deaths of the polar bears …  Our maddened and suffering children.  All our losses and disconnections.

We murder and we die.  This is who we have become – murderers and victims, both and at once. “I have become death, “Oppenheimer declared.  That recognition did not save us.

Here is the challenge – for me and for us:  If we have the courage and capacity to consider everything that is threatening us at once, and every way we are living that supports it, might we find ways that can truly help us meet everything at once?

And what if no answers come that guide us to know what to do?  What if there are no remedies?  How will we live our lives?

So often, I come to writing thinking that there is something new and urgent that I must set down.  And then, I find myself, as at this moment, at the same insight.  But once again, with urgency.  Perhaps that is what writers and artists do.  We are given an essential form or insight that is ours to continuously examine and perfect.

Remember the classic story of the renowned Japanese carver who had saved a very particular log.  Being more than eighty, he told a friend, that after a lifetime of study, he  thought he might be ready to begin to carve.

Mitakye oyasin as a response, as a standard, meets everything at once.

The repeating, on-going, continuous, relentless, insistent understanding:  if we change out lives, if we step back entirely from those forms and habits that directly, if inadvertently, lead to Fukushima or any of the horrors we faced above, then … then … we still might save Creation.  Everyday, the need to change and the radical nature of the change gets greater and more urgent.  And even so, if there are no carbon emissions for the next year, the seas will not freeze over as before in a year or two.  But we do not know what might result from such a united and complete offering to Spirit.

Judith Curry wouldn’t speculate on global warming because she can’t calculate all the factors.  Or perhaps, she hit despair. When we hit despair, we go on with life as usual, in its most diminished form.  We continue to insist on what we, individually need and what we individually want.

Unlike Judith Curry and like all the contributors to the IPPC 5th Assessment, we can assume that global warming will get worse and we are responsible.  Therefore …

Just after 9/11/2001, I wrote in Entering the Ghost River: Meditations on the Theory and Practice of Healing (Hand to Hand):

“At the time when the planes hit, seven of us … were engaged in fierce ritual work.

“Two stories intersected in that moment: a story streaming toward destruction and a story streaming toward healing.”

The path toward destruction has gained momentum.  Fukushima may mean that destruction is imminent.  And yet …

I don’t know what is at the end of that last sentence.  I will let you finish it.  But the dream implies there are right responses even if we do not know them.  And that we are to choose life.  I am asking myself and all of us, what does it mean to choose life?

Are we willing to change our ways, to live in what Native Americans call the good ways, to step away from what leads to the tragedies we have each listed, even if, ultimately, it may not save our lives?  Are we willing to make those radical offerings?

At the end of When Women Were Birds, Terry Tempest Williams writes: “An albatross on Midway Atoll, dead and decomposing, is now a nest of feathers harboring plastic from the Pacific gyre of garbage swirling in the sea.  We can kneel in horror and beg forgiveness. Or we can turn away.  But the albatross crying overhead, buoyed up by the breeze, is now suspended in air by her vast bridge of wings.  She is the one who beckons us to respond.”

Terry learns that she has a tumor close to the language center of her brain.  Surgery might threaten her understanding or her speech.  Doctors giving second opinions “all asked the same question: ‘How well do you live with uncertainty?’

“’What else is there?’” she said.

The friend from the dream and I have just had a conversation.  “I have made the pledge to live twice,” she said.

“I have as well,” I answered.  “But I made it conditional upon reversing the terrible disorder of things. Perhaps the dream calls me to make the pledge unconditionally.”  As I write these words, I wonder if this is the offering?

My friend says, “You will not be alone if you choose life. We will help each other bear it.”

***

Since I was young, I have been told that we can’t go back to the way it was.  (Also that this way is better –  that is not worth bothering to refute.)  Don’t be a Luddite, I was advised – or warned.

This is the other theme explored here:  Everyone of us comes from an indigenous culture. That means we all come from people who knew the spirits, loved and interconnected with the earth and all its beings.  It means we have the love of the earth, beauty, art, song, healing, vision within us.  It means we have access to deep peace and respect for all beings.  It means that we can all follow the African way of Sankofa, the mythical bird that flies forward by looking back.

It means we can go back.  it means that, as in the dream, we can falter in our determination to kill ourselves and destroy all life.  It means we can gather the wisdom we need to live real lives.  It means we can be freed from what has taken us over. It means we do not have to continue on this death march of our own invention.

When Fukushima first exploded, I journeyed to Her, to the one who I called the Great Earth Sea Mother.  I didn’t dare do this in what is called real time, but I could do it through the ways that Spirit has given us to reach across from one realm to another.  I wanted to comfort Her of course.  She did not allow me to ease my heart that way.  “Be with me,” she said.  So I was as extensively as I was able.  Imagine then, the pain of the on-going nuclear reaction within her, the unimaginable fire, the continuous, relentless agony.

We don’t know how to decontaminate the waters.  We don’t know how to ease her pain.  A hundred years estimated to repair the nuclear facility?  How many years until the radiation is spent?

But we also don’t know what will be possible if we go back to the original wisdom and live accordingly.  I don’t think any indigenous people on the planet have the intention of  saving  us.  But living in the old ways, that they have so carefully and respectfully preserved, may save the earth.

Mitakye Oyasin.

Our Exile. A Chilean Memoir of Dislocation

I met Ariel Dorfman in Santiago Chile in September 1972. I and my then partner, David Kunzle, had to prove that we were trustworthy and not working for the CIA. There were already indications that a coup, supported by the U.S. was brewing to overthrow the first democratically elected socialist government in the hemisphere. We didn’t know how brutal it would be. We didn’t know it would direct and change the course of our lives. We didn’t know how profoundly it would affect world history and conscience.

Very reluctantly, Ariel went into exile after the coup. Feeding on Dreams is his most extraordinary memoir of those terrible years. It is a story of exile itself. And so it is our exile. Not only his, and Chile’s and mine, but yours, and so ours. Our exile. The circumstances and powers that led to that terrible coup were not confined to Chile or to the 20th century but continue to thrust all our souls into exile and to insist that we live in profound disconnection from land, values, community, from all that matters.

In 1972, Ariel didn’t know that we would see each other again. We didn’t know we would become brother and sister. And I couldn’t have predicted that 40 years later, I would have the deep honor of writing this essay in response to one of the finest memoirs of our time, written by one of our finest writers, a man of great heart and wisdom even in the face of terrors.

“The twentieth century of exile and displacement bleeds into the twenty-first century. Great waves of despair, huge surges of people fleeing toward uncertain safety accompany innumerable individual losses of land, country, language, and culture. Increasingly, we are a world of displaced persons, refugees, asylum seekers, migrants, immigrants, and exiles. Alongside us, invisible animals, birds, and other creatures seek habitat and food as they are equally crowded out, hunted down, unable to adapt to the sudden and increasing changes in their environment. The very nature of their lives, and so their nature itself, is distorted—no differently than the lives of human beings. There are increasing numbers of citizens of nowhere and no place, and such diasporas add to our forgetting that land and place, country and territory, are essential to the stability and sanity of human beings.

Ariel Dorfman is one of our era’s many citizens of nowhere, and Feeding on Dreams is the story of his exile from Chile. It is the story of the recreation of a self under the pressures of dire loss and ongoing efforts to support, maintain, and protect those left behind. It is also the story and examination of exile itself in a time when such a state of disconnection and dissociation is commonplace….” Our Exile: A Chilean Memoir of Dislocation

SPIRIT SPEAKS TO US WHEN WE OPEN TO IT

SPIRIT SPEAKS TO US WHEN WE OPEN TO IT

For Heidi Hutner who inspired this scrutiny.

Scientists in Alaska are investigating whether local seals are being sickened by radiation from Japan’s crippled Fukushima nuclear plant.
Scores of ring seals have washed up on Alaska’s Arctic coastline since July, suffering or killed by a mysterious disease marked by bleeding lesions on the hind flippers, irritated skin around the nose and eyes and patchy hair loss on the animals’ fur coats.

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/45800485/ns/technology_and_science-science/t/scientists-test-sick-alaska-seals-radiation/#.TwJvPZi1n9I

This is the second day of 2012.

The way I live my life is causing great pain and injury to many beings.

I am hoping that the trajectory of our lives will change on 12/20/2012. This will only happen if we approach it deliberately.

Here is a first step. It is so simple and ordinary an act; it is a leap.

I have to do what I have been asking everyone to do:

I have to disentangle from whatever I recognize causes harm and injury to the earth. Why would I allow myself to continue to live in ways that agonize the beings of this world?

The seals are in great anguish. There are no painkillers for them. Little ones are in agony. Some have died. Who was with them? Who comforted the mothers?

The cause may be radiation from Fukushima. I have never advocated for nuclear energy or weapons. But the life I live and the privileges I accept, are congruent with nuclear energy. I have to begin to turn away from the life style that harms others so extremely.

Seals have lives. We have life styles. The discrepancy is intolerable.

I have to disentangle from the minds that can tolerate others suffering such pain or suffering for the sake of economic or military gain or …. I have to recognize and accept that they are mad. It is no longer important to know why they are mad. It is essential to know they are crazed and to step away from the circle of their constructions.

Every day another technological, economic, political, social event, activity or invention violently diminishes or harms life. Our lives disappear and what is substituted is a manufactured reality, increasingly the domain of the criminally insane.

Spirit disappears. It cannot exist in the unnatural realm. To do so, perhaps, would be to accept our life styles.

Conventional wisdom says that I have to acquiesce to the contemporary world, to how things are. It says, I have to submit in order to be effective, to create change, in order to survive. This is what you have to do to survive, it says, kindly.

This is not true. It is only true so long as we agree to live this way.

Spirit was the source of different lives. Spirit shows us other ways. Living each day and moment in a dialogue with spirit, responding as spirit would have us respond on behalf of Creation, is a Way.

We once were one with spirit. Each of us lived within the sacred conversation. We had the means and the understanding. That relationship was once intimate and continuous. No one was denied it. No one was outside it. We breathed it and it rained upon us. It was a great light. It was the comfort of being immersed in starry darkness.

A great distortion came into our midst and separated the human from spirit.

The moments of vision that we sometimes experience and call extraordinary reality, and that are so brilliant that a single instance can sustain us for a lifetime, are merely sightings through pinholes to the radiant world we once inhabited.

It was once this way. Then listening was forbidden. Then it was mocked. Then it was overridden.

Spirit speaks to us when we open to it. The way to disentangle from what causes such great harm and pain is to reconnect.

It is so simple.

A true and ordinary life is entirely connected with spirit that benevolently considers and praises all beings.

Nothing else is required.

Be with me as words enter the world through the invisible conduit that has always served creation and is sufficient.

Image: Occupy Wall Street or Occupy Los Angeles or Occupy Everywhere. There is no microphone. Someone, however, has a megaphone. A simple device. She, or he, says a short sentence. The crowd repeats it and amplifies it a thousand fold. Not only does everyone know what is being said, but everyone passes the words through their bodies. In this way, every word is understood deeply, is taken in, and what is being spoken is vital for everyone.

Spirit speaks. Spirit speaks when we open to it.

In this moment, something is being spoken that I did not expect. Spirit is speaking and I am passing it through my body as I write the words on the page. I am speaking them aloud as I type. Words doubly etched. An antidote for alienation.

Stay with me. If you like, repeat what matters to you. We are in a practice, an exercise that undermines possessions. The words are entering. They are entering in their own time.

I listen. More importantly I take the words into me. I want to understand and offer myself to be altered.

Of course, I have to trust these are spirit’s words, not my own or anyone else’s. Certainly, I can’t be sure., but they are surprising me. What is being communicated is simple and is startling.

I am coming to a standstill as if yielding to a wordless understanding that is beyond me. There is nothing I can do to invite it closer. We will see whether or not this comes to a conclusion. We will see whether the entire understanding will emerge roundly.

Spirit speaks. Because we have opened to it.

This is so simple, I cannot pretend I am inventing it.

I am afraid that this is so simple, and so familiar, that I will not be able to meet it. That I will not turn the 180 degrees that is required to meet it at this very moment.

I am afraid that I will ignore it. I am afraid I will say it is obvious and banal.

The challenge is to recognize this simple and yet enormous truth. I am afraid I will not understand that this is important enough to turn my entire life around. To turn my life around entirely, here and now.

Is it possible that the full realization of my life depends, now, on the simple gesture of turning my back so I face a life that does no harm.

Living with spirit is something we have known. It was of us but we separated from it. It became an idea and it was no longer a Way. We stopped living accordingly. Ideas that we do not live, do not matter. These words are insisting on being a Way again.

I was on the way to writing something else. But these words began coming and insisting themselves. This may be a reliable sign.

I think these words emerge from kindness. I do not think they will do harm. I see that it may serve to let these words pass through me and become the Way I will live my life. You can do likewise, if it serves you

To know serves us only when knowing is alive, when we live accordingly.

If something strikes you, let the words will pass through you also as they are passing through me.

These teachings come to us so quietly from ancient and indigenous wisdom traditions

Kabbalah says that Spirit descends into the world. A great light or rain or wind arrives from elsewhere.

Kabbalah says that we also rise up to meet the holy.

The way to disentangle from what causes pain is to reconnect with spirit. Spirit comes when we open to it and live within it as if it is the air.

Spirit exists and is entirely benevolent.

Beauty and Heart are one and interchangeable in the Presence.

The true and ordinary life requires us to be aligned, at each moment, with spirit, with what does no harm.

Nothing else is required.

I insist that I will find ways to sustain and be sustained as I return to the real world that was never constructed of others’ pain.

I can do this. We can do this. A new step each day away from what causes such pain. Step by step, we can do this.

This is what the Dine call the Beauty way.

THE LANGUAGE OF RELATIONSHIP: ENGAGEMENT WITH ELEPHANTS

“There is a language older by far and deeper than words. It is the language
of bodies, of bodies on body, wind on snow, rain on trees, wave on stone. It is
the language of dreams, gesture, symbol, memory. We have forgotten the language.
We do not even remember that it exists.”
Derrick Jensen, A Language Older than Words.

On September 13, 2011 I traveled to the Chobe National Park in Botswana with Krystyna Jurzykowski, founder and former Chair of the Board of Fossil Rim, a preserve in Glen Rose Texas that was originally for endangered African animals and now includes animals from North and South America. I wanted to see if communications that had occurred between me and one individual elephant on three separate occasions, and whom, accordingly, we named the Elephant Ambassador, might occur and be witnessed again. I was choosing for the second time to be with the Ambassador on my birthday; Krystyna was also choosing to be with the white rhinos in the area of Ghanzi, Botswana, a week later, on her birthday. We dared not speculate about the meaning of such events except in the ways that they accord with the developing understanding about the mysterious nature of the world in which animals and other non-human beings reveal themselves capable of intentional activity and of originating inter-species communication. We chose to do this on our birthdays so that, if the elephants came forth yet again, we would be open to being catapulted onto new paths to realize the work of the rest of our lives.

It is difficult to speak of this because western languages lack the vocabulary for such experience. Indigenous people from many parts of the world would understand our journey having lived with such assumptions and experiences until imperialists, colonizers, westerners denounced, diminished, prohibited this knowledge and, ‘cleansed’ our language of the means of this discourse. In the way of ‘ethnic cleansing,’ the languages, and the beings themselves, are being disappeared. The right, the means, to speak with the animals and of the animals as sentient companions as essential to the planet as human beings, is regularly dismissed. It is replaced by the ever increasing human passion to dominate animals and the natural world, to use, consume, and enslave,or, at its “best” to confine these non-human beings in circuses and zoos for our entertainment or education. And finally, to only allow them to live in designated areas or on reservations that too often become the equivalent of displaced persons camps.

In this century, preserves such as Fossil Rim, or the Tennessee Elephant Sanctuary are necessary tiny sanctuaries protecting the species’ existence, attempting to preserve the gene pool and to provide some peace and quiet for a few members rescued from the violence of habitat destruction and hunting. But they are not able to replace the wild and vital life that was once original to the planet. Traveling to be with the elephants in this way, Krystyna and I were treading in the area of the forbidden.

Both Krystyna and I have had many encounters with animals that could be considered a dialogue. Both of us know that animals are intelligent, sentient and adept at communication. However, this was different. We were traveling to the wild, or a small strip of what is left of it, half way across the world, with the hope of keeping an appointment that could be made only in our hearts but would call us to change our minds, and so our lives, in the most profound ways.

***

We have not yet learned fully why Krystyna was called to be with the rhinoceroses. The experience with them was different than with the elephants in Chobe. They live in the wild but this wild has to be fenced. Wherever they live, they must be protected or they will be slaughtered for their horns. For awhile, conservationists hoped that if their horns were removed, they would be safe from poaching; this has turned out not to be true. Poachers who track rhinos from the air have taken to killing those without horns so that they will not spend the efforts tracking them only to find there are no horns to be gotten. It seems hopeless.

Krystyna was greatly surprised to see that Edo’s Camp in the Kalahari near Ghanzi is a mirror image of Fossil Rim. Similar antelopes and small predators, like cheetahs, populate the preserve. Like so many private preserves, they were both once used for hunting. The question, in Africa in particular, is whether eco-tourism can finance what hunting once financed. Can preserving life be as profitable as destroying it? Krystyna was intrigued by the ways in which Edo’s Camp and Fossil Rim resembled and differed from each other and what might come of their learning of each other.

The first night we were there, we toured a small portion of the preserve, watching the rain clouds come in two weeks early, mesmerized by the flashing lightning and rolling thunder. A good sign and a relief to Krystyna because Texas had been in flames for the months before we left. (When we had arrived in Botswana, she received a text saying that an inch and a half of rain had fallen at Fossil Rim. Just days after her return, seven inches of rain fell. The pans were being replenished and the first tufts of new grass and red flowers were emerging.) We were at home at Edo’s camp: there were impala, wildebeests,

kudu, sable antelope, springbok, waterbok–

the antelopes that Krystyna knows so well from Fossil Rim.

Then at night, as the African sunset was bathing the earth in its red light, seven of the twelve rhinos moved with an unexpected determined grace down to the water hole.

Two of the rhino were pregnant, their young sons keeping close contact with their mothers, knowing that as soon as the birth contractions begin, they will be sent out to be alone. There are no longer small groups of bull rhinos to receive them and teach the ways of the species that existed for 50 million years. Rhinos are the old ones. The ancestors. These young bulls, however, despite their heritage, will be alone and lonely and untutored for the long time until they are ready to mate and then they will have to fight the dominant bull for a female to begin their own herd. There are not enough bulls to sustain this natural conflict and replenish the species without human intervention moving bulls from place to place.

Edo’s camp, like Fossil Rim, is one of the few places on the planet where rhino breeding has been successful. So again, Krystyna was at home there. When she had been drawn by intuition to this area of the Kalahari, she hadn’t known of Edo’s Camp nor was she aware that we would be with the rhinos in the (protected) wild. Another strange circumstance to be fathomed over the next months as she cogitates on the possible connections between these two preserves and works to understand where and to what the rhinos, so so so endangered, might be calling us in their own slow and powerful ways. What is rhino intelligence, rhino legacy and how might we meet it?

***

We were going to meet the Elephant Ambassador that I had met before on three separate occasions: Once on January 6th (Epiphany) 2000, with four other companions, a Jungian analyst, Michele Daniel, a shamanic practitioner, Amanda Foulger, my husband, a writer and RN, and a Zimbabwean medicine man or nganga, Mandaza Kandemwa. Again, in August in 2001, when my husband, Michael Ortiz Hill and I made the pilgrimage alone, the Ambassador came to our car from a great distance, aggressively pushed through a small circle of females to stop inches from the front of our car and trumpet. The third time, that we met the Ambassador was also on my birthday, was in September 2004. Filmmaker Cynthia Travis, also founder of the peacebuilding NGO, everyday gandhis and I had gathered a small delegation of Bushmen, Africans from South Africa and Liberia, and participants from North America to meet the Ambassador and encounter the wild. a similar group, including ex child soldiers and ex combatants, would travel with us again to Tanzania where we would once again have unprecedented real meetings with elephants.

Each time the connection was made with the elephants at the same place in Chobe, at the same tree, at the same hour 5 pm, which was the very last hour of the very last day that we could be in the park. That last time, there was material evidence of an incomprehensible but irrefutable exchange between the Ambassador elephant and ourselves. After becoming the audience for a carefully choreographed display or performance, we were thrown a bone. Literally. Those who know something of elephant culture, who know the enormous significance of bones to elephants, might guess what gifting us with such a sacred object implies.

This return to Chobe was six years later. As we entered the park, Krystyna asked if the elephant that had come the last time, was the same elephant. Did I recognize him by his tusks or ears? Did I recognize him at all? I didn’t know. “I believed it was,” I said, “but I don’t know. It may be that it is the same energy carrying the same intent but I do not know if it rests in a particular individual or moves to another or other beings.”

I was also wondering whether the elephant’s intention emerged from a single elephant, or arose from the consciousness and intent of the species at a critical time in their history, or was an expression of Spirit’s intent using elephant, or none of these, or was some combination of all. I continue to wonder if I will ever be able to answer this question with confidence. In the same way, I do wonder whether I am Spirit’s instrument or whether I am merely acting with human agency even though I always hope that I am aligned with Spirit on behalf of the future of all beings. Am I intuiting? Am I being guided? Are these my ideas? Is Spirit working through me? Can anyone of us answer these questions with certainty?

At our last meeting, the Ambassador had introduced us to his female partner, another younger female and a calf, a very young bull elephant who wanted to stay with his father. We had also been a tight knit group that afternoon, my husband, Cynthia Travis and shamanic practitioner, Valerie Wolf. The others in our group had decided to explore the park on their own. When we saw what was being presented, the four of us assumed that the Ambassador wanted our family to meet his family. We began to understand that our communication was to be focused upon family and its meaning among his people.

As I write this, I realize I had attributed all agency to the Ambassador without considering that the Matriarch might have been collaborating in the meeting, or that the energy and agency was moving through them, not only through him. The new understanding fits the social structure and wisdom of elephant culture – which is tribal at its best, is relational, not individualistic.

As a writer, I am immediately within the dilemma. I am comparing elephant culture to human culture, anthropomorphizing. The error is not that elephants can’t attain human development but rather the opposite; these experiences indicate that Elephant may be communicating beyond what we have achieved, that Elephant is a culture that may in many ways be more developed than our own. That Elephant may be coming forth to teach us as we increasingly fall into brutishness.

There – I have said it!

***

In the years that have followed this third meeting, there have been other experiences and many opportunities to compare notes with others who have found that the hierarchical thinking that places humans above all other non-humans is wrong and unacceptable. These hierarchies merely serve the industries that exploit animals and other beings as food, resources and subjects of experimentation Such hierarchies, and the criminal intentions they serve, are at the core of the myriad forms of racism, sexism, colonialism, economic and political exploitation. Science, for example, is not likely to recognize sentience and intelligence in the beings it tortures for prestige and profit.

The first three meetings with the Ambassador challenged everything I had been taught to believe. I was/ we were astonished and grateful. Those of us who were working with everyday gandhis would soon learn that elephants are seen as peacemakers in Liberia and that they have played a mysterious role in helping to end the Liberian civil war, 1989 -2003. As a writer, and Senior Advisor to everyday gandhis, I was trying to detail what was being revealed about elephants as I was trying to integrate these three experiences into my life. To be honest, I might have been trying to normalize them as they challenge the very basic assumptions of civilization itself.

It is easy to write such a sentence. It is very hard to live with it. The foundations of my life were shaken as my heart insisted that I meet what was being revealed sincerely and without bravado. It was very important to refrain from exploiting the experience or my knowledge for my own enhancement. My loyalty had to be to Creation, to the elephants, and the nature of what was being unveiled.

The first time we met, I had said to the Ambassador, “I know who you are. We are both from a holocausted people.” Then I continued, “Your people are my people.” I have to live according to my word. One does not want to invoke rhetoric with a species that knows truth.

This morning I spoke with a writer who said that truth is the entire foundation of culture and identity. Without truth, there is only violence, disorder and despair.

***

I understand now that it took six years to be able to return and be worthy of, that is readied for, what might occur. As I prepared, inner understanding cautioned me to be more concerned that the Ambassador would show up than that he would not.

I was preparing for another experience that could be entirely discontinuous with modern or post modern life, with Western culture, with the dominant assumptions of the media, and with current religious, scientific, commercial, political, technological and military ideologies (or ideology). I was preparing for the possibility of an experience that constitutes a significant cognitive and ethical challenge to our way of life.

In the intellectual and spiritual communities that I serve, we have developed a common response to extraordinary events: “What is the true nature of the universe in which such things occur. And how then shall we live?”

The advent of the Ambassador had been leading me to ask what is the real nature of the universe that we inhabit. What is the real nature of the universe in which such events are occurring? Hardly the first to ask this question, I was grateful to be companioned by Krystyna who has also been reflecting on this for many years.

I had met Krystyna in 1995 when I interviewed her for the anthology, Intimate Nature: The Bond Between Women and Animals. In her essay, “Dance with a Giraffe,” she wrote, “When I am in direct, intimate relationship with an animal I am more able to ask questions from within the cycle of nature. Animals take me into the nature of nature. The universal dance of form and relationship–creation and destruction, of which we are all part.

Krystyna’s words came out of her deep, unconditional respect for animals and the complexity and sentience of their lives. “Being with the giraffe, Old Nick, brought this feeling to me, especially when I was summoned to participate in his dance with death,” she wrote as she described the hours she had spent before he died with his head in her lap, as the other giraffes circled and circled him in the ritual moment.

Hearing this story from the Founder of Fossil Rim, who is deeply involved in conservation on national and international levels, was fundamental to understanding animal intelligence. We had not expected some of the conclusions that developed from gathering the essays for Intimate Nature: “At the center of empathy and compassionate understanding lies the ability to see the other as true peer, to recognize intelligence and communication in all forms, no matter how unlike ourselves these forms might be. It is this gift of empathy and connection, embodied in the relationship between us and other species, that enables us to thrive now and into the future.” Krystyna’s essay and her experiences were critical to our understanding of the field of relationship between women and animals that had been challenging the more conventional beliefs held by science and western culture.

If the Ambassador came again, in whatever way and form, I would have to transform my life entirely to meet this real event and its implications. I could not imagine what would be asked and was glad that I was not pretending to know. However, I am carrying the question each moment of each day since my return: How then shall I / shall we live now?

***

I am always alert to events at the threshold of a journey. Just days before the trip, I learned of an attempt in South Africa to save a particular bull elephant, the patriarch of a small herd, from being the object of a hunt. The price on Ngani’s head was $20,000+. He had been sold to a hunter by the owner of a small preserve who had been in financial difficulties. Now the old owner wanted him back but the new owner who had organized the hunt for very wealthy international clients, wanted twice the money he had paid. From the moment I learned of Ngani’s situation, I felt as if a brother of mine had been kidnapped and was being held for ransom. I was impatient with all the maneuvering as everyone, even those with the best intentions, had agendas to fulfill through serving Ngani’s story; I wanted to secure the life of my kin.

The appeal for Ngani was prescient. Most of the conversations we had with guides and tourists in Botswana and Namibia centered on the economics of eco-tourism, buying and selling animals, stocking and restocking, hunting, canned hunting (shooting an animal such as a white lion confined in a cage) and the technology and munitions involved in the poaching of elephants, lions and rhinos. Poaching has become a militarized industry using advanced technology, helicopters and machine guns. Modern warfare at its most insidious.

At the time we left, we did not know the outcome for Ngani, but we did learn to our horror, at the end of the trip that even if he were to be ransomed, another elephant would be hunted in his stead. It was hopeless.

I had once dreamed that my father and I had been given the task by Nazis to choose ten people who would saved from the Death Camps. In the dream, we tried to find those who had the most life in them, who would live longest, who would be able to … who knows what. In the dream, the task was horrible and haunted me for a long time. Another instance was occurring in real life at a time when I was preparing to make an unprecedented alliance with another very intelligent, socially and ethically developed species.

Now we were both searching for ways to respond to Ngani’s situation and to hunting in general, an activity that Krystyna knew well from her professional history of animal activism. In her essay, Krystyna recalled a pledge she, as a child, had repeatedly made to a baby anteater. “You are my friend, you are safe here, you will be taken care of.” She has been living according to this pledge her entire life. But, at the very beginning of our journey, we were being challenged by the dangers that animals experience each day and were wondering if / how we could create safety for them.

(Editing this on Wednesday, November 30, 2011, I know the terrible outcome of the terrible situation. Ngani’s life was saved but another elephant was offered up. The hunter was given a “destruction permit” on the very last day that it could be issued. He came upon Beuga, the matriarch of the seventy elephants in the herd, darted her and killed her. (See http://www.corporate-wildlife-teambuilding-adventures.com/2011/10/further-elephant-communications-saving-the-life-of-ngani-and-beuga’s-plea/)

There are no words to describe this tragedy.)

When I was considering going to Chobe to see if I could meet the Elephant Ambassador on my 75th birthday, Krystyna had said, “I want to go with you. I want to meet him too.” When I heard her words, knowing who she is, I knew that we would go.

***

I traveled to Africa, this fourth time, with the stated intent or, hope, to meet with elephants, to sit in council with them, and to see how we might, together, act on behalf of a viable future and the restoration of the natural world. For the fourth time they came. They came even though we do not have, or I did not know we have, an established means of communication.

Krystyna and I could exercise our human will to the extent that we could board a plane and make our way to an established meeting place in Chobe. After that, what would occur was in the elephants’ trunks, so to speak.

We had three and a half days to stay in Chobe. We would go to the appointed place. We would see what if anything, outside the realm of tourism, might occur. I knew that we had to be very sensitive to any gestures, movements and activities so as to distinguish which, if any, were directed toward us, and which were part of ordinary elephant activity. Yes, we had come to see the elephants as they live their lives, but we had also come to be with the elephants.

We do not have a common language. If there were to be a conversation, a language would have to be created. And so it was. At first it was a language of gesture and response, then a language of event, then of events becoming motion. Motion and meaning became one. That one can also be understood as Story. Then all the other stories integrated to become one Story. Except by arriving each time, it was not a language that we initiated. The elephants had agency; we were the respondents.

I don’t know the first sentence of the communication between us, because I do not know if they called me/us or whether we called them. I know that each event or moment might have been understood as static, as a noun. Then the nouns gathered, one after another, like a procession that had a dynamic energy that could be called a verb. Syntax: noun – verb – object became verb, became dynamic, became resonant relationships, like an Athabascan language. Utterance by gesture, then reply and acknowledgment. And again. Call and Response, inseparable from each other. Music. A divine order that includes all.

We, the two humans, who met the elephants, as we had seemingly agreed, in the years before, at a certain place and at a certain time, did not create the language except by making the journey and keeping our word. This was already a great leap out of the conventional human world into another dimension. We went toward the elephants who, we came to believe, called us, with eagerness and without expectation. That they had come before had been an unimaginable gift, not for us alone, but for the future, for consciousness, and creation. That they might come again, might recognize the gesture we were making toward them, was more than we could hope. It was enough to see ourselves as willing to set forth because this alone might have the possibility of changing the field. But then they came.

Immediately, yes, but at first not from within Story. We were just, it seemed, passersby, even merely tourists, different beings in the same place at the same time. Then we realized we were in a dialogue. And the dialogue became a Story – a coherent, complex, inter-connected, resonant set of events that gathered meaning as they progressed. Then this story began to merge with the previous stories and we saw that we were in another field of knowing and being altogether. Story. Story as I have known it and have been teaching it for more than thirty years. Story: A series of comprehensive, interlocking events, experiences, and understandings that arise determinedly and spontaneously, from within and without one’s life, that cannot be willed or controled and that,ultimately, create, establish and reveal a little world, a singular and integral cosmology.

The reality, according to which humans, particularly westerners, have lived for several thousand years and which they consider absolute, was being shattered as these two humans and the elephants were considering each other as peers with the ability to converse in the ways and field of another dimension. We met in the field called trust. As humans, Krystyna and I hoped to be trustworthy. It is a new territory, a manifestation of ancient knowledge and current experience.

Needless to say, this is not the first time that animals and humans have had such an exchange. Such is the very basis of indigenous life, myth and spiritual understanding. Such meetings have been increasingly recounted in the last years. Nevertheless, the experience is awesome and those who participate are left undone – as they should be. It is required that we fall apart and reconstitute to meet the new reality. I knew this and Krystyna knew this and we offered ourselves to it.

***

After we left Chobe National Park, we were traveling with Wilem Barnard, the son of Izak Barnard who had introduced photo safaris to Botswana, and the grandson of Bvekenya Cecil Barnard, the notorious elephant hunter, who had given up elephant hunting when he saw that it had become a terrible, commercial business and was no longer remotely a sacred or respectable activity. At age 43, he had hunted a great mammoth of an elephant and at the last moment, Barnard recognized who, indeed, the elephant was and risked his own life by letting him go. Barnard quit hunting and forbid his sons to ever hunt again.

As I watched Wilem interact with the animals, and the ways he avoided our being surrounded by them, or the way he avoided elephants who were coming toward us, as he had to do as a responsible guide, I understood how remarkable the experience was that Krystyna and I had had. We had gone ourselves where few go unguided and mutual trust had allowed us to truly come together.

From the beginning, when we were alone in our car in the Park, we were always directed by mutual intuitions to be in a certain place when the elephants would also be there. Within minutes of our coming to a place where we felt we should stop, an elephant herd appeared and quickly and gently surrounded us as if we were not there, as if we were ourselves elephants. Though there were very young elephants in the herd, some nursing, and though the car often separated the young from the adults as they crossed behind or in front of us where we were parked, there was never a sense that we were disturbing them or intruding upon their lives.

In contrast, we saw a white car make its way down the road by the river when elephants were crossing to the waterhole blocking the road. The driver of the car insisted on continuing and we watched, alarmed, as a matriarch reared up and trumpeted in rage. Frankly, I was concerned for the consequences to the elephants should they have been provoked to defend themselves.

When it was time for us to leave the Park at 6 pm on the night of the 16th, we made our way carefully without incident. Soon, we found ourselves enveloped by elephants coming toward us – we stopped instantly – and then released toward the Park exit just before closing.

On the 17th, the elephants were always with us during the hours we spent by the river at our meeting place, the tree. Then at six, we made our way toward the exit. We were taking our last photos when Krystyna spotted another tree. “An elephant ears tree,” she exclaimed. I took the photograph. I was astonished to see that the tree appeared with a rainbow on it.

“Rainbow as a covenant” had been a theme for Michael and myself in the summer when we had gone to Canyon de Chelly. At the last hour of the last day we were at the Canyon, rain clouds had gathered, a greatly welcome sight at a time of drought and fires. As we stood at Face Outlook we watched a rainbow descend into the canyon and then rise up again making a double rainbow before us. Then the rain came.

I had met such a rainbow on the summer solstice at the Arctic Circle in 1996 and had written a song which ended, “Rainbow as a covenant/ God exists /And Beauty has won. / God exists / And Beauty has won.”

A rainbow preceded our journey to Africa after Canyon de Chelly and welcomed me as I was telling the story of the journey to Michael on our return.

The strange appearance of the rainbow on the tree caused by the light bouncing off the car mirror echoed the time in the Canyon and Topanga and alerted Krystyna and I that we were being asked to enter a covenant with the elephants.

On the last day, we went toward our meeting place early but on the way we saw a herd of elephants out on the field across from the river and we stopped to be with them. They were not close but we did not feel we could leave unless we had permission from them. Much out of character, and perhaps playfully, I asked the elephants to give us a sign if we should go to the tree where we had met the elephants each time. We were aghast when the elephants broke out of the clutch they had formed and stood, evenly placed, in a line facing south to the tree. It would have been rude to ignore this sign and so we went to the tree. To the south was another group of elephants standing in random order. When we arrived, they also briefly formed a line and faced us. We were now, it seemed, in the right place at the right time. The area where we were at the water hole was, however, empty of animals.

In awhile, a small elephant, three years old perhaps, came down on his own to the water hole. We were alarmed. Lions had been in the area in the morning and they would not hesitate to take down a lone little elephant.

I began, we began, to pray for its safety.

Soon a truck came by with a guide and tourists. They stopped to photograph the baby and I flagged them down as they passed us. I asked why this baby might be alone and the guide said that it was probably ill and had not been able to keep up with the herd. From all appearances, however, despite his thirst, this little one was not in dire straits and the herd was not threatened and needing to go on without one of its own. Everything I know about elephants contradicted what the guide said, and we were troubled by this anomalous situation; elephant mothers do not desert their child, nor do the herd members, unless it is dire.

So, we continued meditating, praying both for the health of the baby and for the appearance of his mother. As we sat there, I found myself in the grip of strange emotions. I have been visiting Africa and participating in Safaris since 1985. I am deeply respectful of the rules and the ways humans are ethically required to behave in the wild. The first time on Safari in Kenya, we were witness to a young male lion testing himself by stalking a baby elephant behind his mother in the midst of a herd. Even when the lion was perched on a great rock above the little one, slowly hunkering down into leap position, we were enjoined to be absolutely silent and let the wild enact itself. Human restraint is essential. In that instance, just seconds before the leap, the elephant mother flapped her ears, even without looking up at the lion, and he slunk away.

Now I was observing a baby elephant without a herd and without his mother. What would happen if a lion came? I tried to gather myself into disciplined silence, but another part of me suspected that I might not be able to control my impulse to run out of the car and protect the elephant. It was a mother instinct that I had not known before with non-human beings. It would be wrong. it would be foolish, it would be dangerous, and it would be ineffective as the two of us might easily be taken by the lion. But something was occurring within me. The words I had first uttered to the Ambassador were becoming real: “Your people are my people.” These words were not sentimental. This was my kin. This was, as if, my child or grandchild were threatened. I had crossed the species border finally into unexpected and entirely, for my life, unprecedented relationship.

In about fifteen very, very long minutes, two older elephants came to the water, a mother, we thought, and a sister. They spent some time at the water hole and then went on toward the sand bridge that led to a wide plain along the river. Again we were alarmed as the baby did not move. But then the two returned and stayed with him.

At this moment, another white car approached and a stopped. A photographer stepped out of the car and approached the elephants closely. I yelled to him to return to the car, afraid of a repeat of the elephant anger that we had seen the day two days before. Ultimately, the man returned to the car and the car took off and we were left alone, again, with this tiny group. Soon the three began walking toward the sandy plain.

We watched them for a long time, relieved, as they were staying together. Then we were stunned as elephant after elephant came down to the water hole. So many elephants of all ages.

The Gathering of the Elephants at the End of the Story

We were together for a long time when the sun turned orange and began setting and we knew it would soon be the end of the last hour of the last day we would be in Chobe. Then more elephants were coming toward us from every direction, as if all the elephants in the area were gathering around us. In the last minutes, we saw that the elephants with the small bull were returning.

The female we thought was a sister stayed at the break in the sand bridge, directly across from us,

reminding me of the photograph by Cynthia Travis of the Ambassador on the cover of my book, From Grief Into Vision: A Council.

The larger elephant had gone forward to join the others and we were enfolded, again, in a very large herd.

Now, it was time to leave. How very difficult it was. But if we didn’t leave, we would be locked in the park for the night. Not a comfortable situation. So I turned the key and began moving very, very slowly onto the road. Immediately, the largest elephant of the herd bounded up the incline from the water hole and stopped in the middle of the road. Others joined, including another little one, and we were effectively and adamantly blocked.

I remembered well the incident with the first white car and so I leaned out of the car and told them that I would not insist my way. We would not be willful. We would yield to their wishes. I turned off the engine and we sat looking at each other. Then they ambled down to the water again. Regretfully, I started the car and we crept slowly past the herd on the road they had vacated. When they were behind us, we stopped again. They were forming a long line with the great elephant in front and, we saw, the little elephant who we had prayed for earlier, the last, following the female elephant and kin up into the brush. Within a moment, they had all disappeared.

The next day as Willem Barnard was driving us on the highway that bisects the park, we slowed for three elephants crossing the road who looked exactly like the three we had prayed for the night before. They were together and it was clear the little one was healthy and vital.

***

Yes! Another part of the story inserts itself on October 10, 2011. I am writing this essay and looking at the photographs I took for the first time. I stare at the photographs and revisit the scene I could not concentrate on before because of my concern for the little one. The large elephant is a bull.

The smaller one, obviously now, the mother of the little bull.

We have been met by a family as we had been the time before. A most unusual circumstance and so an event to be noted and seriously considered.

Elephants do not travel in nuclear family units. The older bulls stay to themselves. Breeding herds consist of the females and the young ones including young bulls.

We have been in the presence of the Ambassador without knowing it.
The question I was asked before? Does the Ambassador always come in the same form? Will you recognize him?

The Ambassador came. It takes time to understand what is being said in the language of the Elephant People.

The Ambassador came and did not announce himself but engaged us in a Story, as is his nature, or is the nature of this gathering. We have been met again, family to family, and we have been taken into tribe. The great elephant who ran up to block the road and test us was probably also the Ambassador. We have, indeed, crossed the barrier and have become kin. I am awed and frightened in the way one is shaken by the Presence.

How, now, shall I live?

***

I am reminded of Krystyna’s questions upon the death of Old Nick. “Am I willing to imagine the possibility of true partnership in nature? Am I willing to engage in the mystery of language beyond words? Will I trust what I hear? What am I being called to remember?”

***

The first time we met the Ambassador, he had stood a few feet from the side, the back and then the other side of our own truck and looked in our eyes for no less than ten minutes in each place. Then he had disappeared. But as we drove along the river to leave the park, all the elephants in the area lined up along the river and bowed their heads and flapped their ears as we passed.

The second time we met the Ambassador, he came at the same hour from a very great distance, a mile away, perhaps, and shouldered his way aggressively through a group of female elephants at the water hole, then climbed up the embankment and stopped directly before our car and trumpeted, then disappeared.

The third time, as I have written, we were introduced to his little family and then were given a sacred bone.

We have had four remarkable, unprecedented, irrefutable meetings with elephants acting with agency, intent and grace. This time, we were enfolded into the herd. But also, they tested us, as well they should, to see if we are trustworthy. Would we be honorable? Would we yield to the circumstances they were clearly creating, even to staying overnight in the park if required? Would we follow their directions and their lead?

In the proximity of these great gray beings, I understand that they are not merely another species; they are a formidable and beautiful people inhabiting the earth with us, capable of complex communications and wiser than we can imagine. The Elephant People are essentially kind, exceedingly intelligent and conscious presences, increasingly maddened and driven to acts of unnatural violence by our destructive behavior, tortured beyond endurance by their clear understanding that the earth, all life, their little ones, will not survive unless we human transform entirely, become more like they are again.

( See http://www.kerulos.org/learn_more/elephants_edge_assets/BradshawSchoreEthology07.pdf”)

Krystyna and I were allowed to cross the barrier that humans beings created when they separated themselves from all life and manufactured cultures entirely incompatible with the life force. Barriers as hideous and real as the great stone walls we arbitrarily erect to isolate ourselves from all others.

In contrast, every gesture, every action from these great beings revealed or involved us in vital and dynamic relationship which is the very core of elephant life. The Elephant People made visible the depth and profundity of their connections with each other, they reached out to us and spoke to us in profound and irrefutable ways, and they reminded us that human beings have fallen out of the network of all our relations and the consequences for all life are tragic.

Their communications were clear and the language precise. As we were leaving the area, they appeared again, as to underscore what we could barely comprehend. The Ambassador and the Delegation from the elephants called us to them from across the world. And now I am transmitting their call to you. Come meet with us in the way of beauty. Be aligned fully once more with an inspirited world. Become whom you must become in order to communicate with these great ones, in the field of their understanding, in a language older than words.

This fourth meeting with the elephants, with the Ambassador, with his family in an unusual and notable configuration, and then also with an entire Delegation is the unequivocal answer to a prayer that we, as a species, might truly be in alliance with other species. That the human people might meet the Elephant People as peers. That the original ways of Creation can be restored and, together – “Your people are my people” – we might strive to help the earth and all its beings survive and flourish.

No Soy de Aqui, Ni Soy de Alla

I awaken to questions. That’s how writing begins – or ends. I awaken with the question that led to writing La< Negra y Blanca: Did I ever meet La Negra? Nine years later I am still puzzling the way a mysterious question, that enters one as if it were a scent, can manifest in a novel and call so much into being.

I awaken with the question of meeting La Negra still as vivid as it was when it first announced itself like a guest at the door who would never stop knocking. Then I learn that Facundo Cabral, the Argentinean singer, poet, guitarist was murdered in Guatemala and somehow the two become linked though I can not explain it, just that it is.

I’m trying to tell you about writing a novel and what it really means when I say that a novel is a little world. It is a life force. It is complete. It emerges out of a single image, sentence or idea, the way the world emerged from a point and all the wonders, that includes all life, materialized from the mystery of light becoming matter but not forgetting itself as light.

When I wrote Ferall, I resided in a sycamore and then a Brazilian pepper tree in my mind

When I wrote The Other Hand I had to learn astrophysics and I lived among the stars for ten years. The stars and the holocaust – infernos of beauty and rage. Writing and contemplating, I spoke a language I didn’t understand and yet it became the equivalent of my mamaloshen, my mother tongue. It became for me a language of creation. And even now, like a particle that was once linked to another particle and so experiences parallel changes even if over a vast distance, I find myself thrust again into that energy, that light, that field of knowing in which I was immersed for those years. One merely has to mention a name, Daniella Stonebrook Blue, Cardinal Lustiger, Peter Schmidt, or a place, Palomar or Auschwitz, and the world that was The Other Hand springs into being and I am in that country again. Not writing, therefore, is an unbearable exile for then I am living without a country under my feet.

Each novel is a universe and the writer becomes a citizen whether or not she or he has a public identity in the book. At least that is the way it has been for me. As a writer, I live in the book. Once the territory is established, and the flora and fauna take root and thrive on their own – even if I may be writing about the threat to their lives by the ways we are living – as soon as their indigenous nature is established, I can make my home there. No, it is more than that. I have no choice. I become of it as I write it. I am shaped by it. I am no longer myself – I am its progeny, a creature of its distinct field of being and knowing. Another species from another universe, though all the references are to planet earth and its terrain, the more specific, the better.

And for a time there is no other world except that one, although it may occur that it, like a whirling sun, may gather other energies, other fields, other suns to it, so that they all become one. Like the meeting between Facundo Cabral and La Negra.

They say that there are many parallel universes, or one may be tucked within another, we do not know, but each has a sealed boundary, Each has its own cosmic laws so that the substance of one cannot accord with the other – and they cannot cross the boundary without being destroyed or undergoing a complete transformation – the one becoming the other. And as each novel, like each world, wants to remain separate, that is, itself, then I am called to transform completely each time I enter one of those distinct spheres of being.

Do remember that I am speaking about La Negra y Blanca and I am trying to explain why the book is a field of energy, is a way of knowing, is its own domain. This concern is what awakened me and further reminded me of other questions I have been carrying about what I call the Literature of Restoration, a shamanic use of language to restore the world that we are murdering.

The novel began with a question: Did I ever meet La Negra? It or I was preoccupied with the question – but not the answer – for nine years. And here is the book wrapped in beautiful colors painted by the Chilean muralist, Francisco Letelier. We are making a weaving of the brilliant and desperate colors of the sun. The colors are all dipped in blood.

La Negra y Blanca begins in Mexico as Blanca is traveling to Cuba or to Chile. Francisco is the son of the assassinated diplomat Orlando Letelier. Letelier was killed by a car bomb explosion on September 21, 1976, in Washington DC along with his US assistant, Ronni Moffit. You remember, don’t you? Members of the Chilean secret police, the DINA, were implicated as was Augusto Pinochet who led the bloody coup against the democratically elected President, Salvador Allende. He was not called to stand trial for this murder. A few were convicted and others went free.

The novel includes a sojourn to Lake Atitlan with Morena Monteforte the daughter of a Tz’utujil woman, Doña Rosa Chavajay and the former Guatemalan Vice President and novelist, Mario Monteforte Toledo. Allende’s death is part of the novel. Mario Monteforte Toledo and Salavador Allende were friends in the way I was friends with Morena. We sat at the same table together. When you break bread together, your relationship is true.

The image of La Negra on the cover of the book is from Francisco’s mural in Whole Foods on Lincoln Boulevard in Venice, California. Blanca believed that if she could return to the moment of meeting La Negra, if La Negra could become real and enter the world in the manner that befits such a being or spirit then everything might change. That was one of the novel’s goals. We can put this in the realm of Restoration.

Then I found her portrait in Venice California, painted by a Chilean muralist who lives nearby. I remember well when his father died, but I didn’t know Francisco then. I remember meeting his mother in North Carolina years after Orlando Letelier’s murder; I think I met her there and then. I could have met the two of them in Chile in 1972. Maybe I did when we were all marching on behalf of the Unidad Popular or dancing in the mud on the stormy night of the Dieciocho, the Chilean Independence Day.

I never met Facundo Cabral though he is playing now from over there where the dead live. But I did hear Angel Parra play in Chile in 1972 before Allende was murdered. Angel and others. Then I brought home their music: Angel’s, Isabel’s, their mother, Violetta’s, the one who began Cancion Protesta – Gracias a La Vida. Inti-Illimani, Daniel Viglietti, Victor Jara. I knew Victor’s music before he was killed, before they broke his hands in the stadium, before…. And then afterward, Angel was in my house, and Viglietti, Inti-Illimani, I think, as well. I could be imagining this, – that is how a novelist is – but it actually happened. The real and the imagined, the known and the unknown, came together in the field that was Chile: With Poems and Guns, a film I worked on in 1973, the first film about the brutal golpe in Chile. Now I call this field La Negra y Blanca and it expands to something else with the addition of Facundo Cabral. The field becomes a sphere. It resonates with the music. How can we not believe in possibility?

So many of my novels have come out of music. They wouldn’t have existed if not for the sax, guitar or flute through which they were written. But the music of this book did not exist except for birdsong. Then last night, Facundo Cabral was assassinated and his music began to seep into the words as if the pages could have been a bandage to staunch the flow of blood.

Is it rhetorical to say that no matter how tortured these lands have been from the beginning of the Conquest and including the ongoing hemorrhage of pain and violence into the present, there is also a luminous plait of all the latitudes and longitudes of hope?

Let me weave another story into this world. I met a man who came from a war torn country in Southeast Asia. He had been adopted as a war orphan by an American military family and being well trained, they tortured him. He ran away many times. He couldn’t always escape. When he did, he made his way to an old Black woman who taught him how to play the guitar. The story goes the way such stories go. The guitar saved him again and again. The way another friend of mine, a Vietnam veteran was saved by deer; now he attends each road kill, each hunted deer corpse with the reverence one learns to bring to the holy.

I met the former orphan days ago and learned his guitar had been stolen. There was nothing to do but buy him a guitar. Don’t you think? And so, as I write these words, he is on the knoll at the edge of this land where we once planted an olive tree on behalf of vision. He is playing his heart out. I asked him to play on behalf of Facundo Cabral’s soul. Can you hear his notes?

As I contemplated La Negra and who she really might have been – whether I had really met her or not – whether anyone really knew who she was – what essence and future possibilities she carried – I understood that she was looking for a way into the world on behalf of Restoration. Oh how she loved the green loros, parrots, who came to her window each morning – no matter where she lived – to tell her their dreams!

If the world erupts from a point, and that point is the meeting with La Negra, then Restoration is possible because La Negra is the green wholeness of possibility. This is what Blanca began to understand and why she went back into the past to the time when she might have met La Negra and hunkered down in La Negra’s living room, behind the yellow chair where the Writer, Mario Monteforte Toledo, always sat, to observe La Negra long enough to be able to testify on behalf of the reality of La Negra’s life.

I woke up this morning as I often do, filled with fear and with hope. How can one not fear for the world when everyone is going mad and beauty is being systematically murdered? But I was thinking about La Negra and so I was in the field so carefully woven of the strands of color that streamed, as if from the sun, from Mexico to Guatemala to Chile and back.

The field of La Negra y Blanca is altered and amplified by the death of Facundo Cabral in Guatemala. It is another book altogether even if you never heard the music of Facundo Cabral and never will. Even if you will be unable to hear it when you turn the pages because it wasn’t there before the book was published, but it is there now.

I read about the assassination last night. Then Glenn Lopez, our dear friend, the MD who established health clinics on the banana plantations in Guatemala to treat the poorest of the poor, and now practices medicine in a mobile unit that he parks anywhere in the neighborhood he can, has come to gather up Michael to attend services at Agape. We haven’t seen each other for months. He enters singing “No soy de aqui, ni soy de alla.” I am listening now as I write so this essay, too, is in the rhythm of Facundo Cabral.

You can tell, can’t you, that I am on the edge of beginning another novel? That I am on the edge of stepping across a singularity into an infinite realm that I have never known? It seems that I am going to be learning about weather, about storm, cyclone and hurricane. These made an appearance in La Negra y Blanca but now they want their own text, as does the desert. It seems I am to learn about the Elementals, those great gods who occupy the four directions. I will have to find a language for them. Their own mamaloshen.

It is said there is a Fifth world waiting for us at the edge of where we are but we cannot enter it unless we are transformed according to its laws and it does not let in murderers. It does not let in those who take arms against the earth and its beings. But sometimes I think that those who have committed murder, and recognize what they have done, and change, are exactly those who can enter that new world. As I’ve written before, I met a man who said, he couldn’t go with me into that world because he had carried a gun. I didn’t know then what I know now about those who put down the gun to become true guardians of peace and the natural world. It isn’t easy, to say the least, but it is possible and actually we depend upon it happening.

I know nineteen ways to the Fifth world, and you have to manage all of them. There are probably more but I haven’t learned them yet. Kabbalists say there are fifty gates of understanding and they are all ways of exodus from slavery. We are enslaved by our own violence. We have to extract ourselves entirely from the culture and the ways we are living. Nineteen or fifty paths, it doesn’t matter. We have to manage them all. And whether we were murderers or not, we have to change down to our cores. Every cell must change. And we will sing and weep alongside each other as we try. I don’t know if the nineteen ways or the fifty paths are to be in the new book, but I do believe the book will be about Restoration or will be within the field of a Literature of Restoration. Why else would I write at this time in history and in this time of my life?

11/11 ELEVENTH HOUR REFLECTIONS

She wanted counsel and council on 11-11 at 11 am. I was ill but kept the appointment because we had set that time deliberately, though not revealing why. Reflecting on her life and the effects of war, she still suffered, she said, because her heart had been thrown on the floor and shattered into a thousand pieces by a man who couldn’t love her and couldn’t let her go.

I had just read a commentary on Veteran’s Day from the poet, Raphael Jesus Gonzalez: While WWI was officially over on June 28, 1919, it had ended in reality on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, 1918.

Veteran’s Day is Remembrance Day in Canada. Her lover had been in Vietnam and had been so wounded in the war he couldn’t function in relationship. “It was war, not the man, who wounded you,” I said.

Our conversation allowed for the understanding that she is a victim of war. Accordingly, she recognized, she was being called to heal what had injured her so. She was to pick up the broken pieces and reconfigure them. Healing is like a kaleidoscope, I said, the fragments reconfigure and then, viewed in the light, reveal a new beauty in relationship to each other.

The anguished and lonely women keep saying, “The men are so wounded.” It sounds like compassion, but it is also often complaint, sometimes condemnation. We cannot continue to make the other gender the enemy or censure the person for what he (or she) has suffered. If we do, we are committed to having an enemy, and that is the foundation of war.

In my play, Milk Fever, the handyman confronts the landowner: “Who do you get to do your killing for you, Lady?”

The issue of war and healing has been with me for years. Tree, the journal I kept when I had breast cancer, was published in 1978 with The Woman Who Slept With Men to Take the War Out of Them.”

In Tree, I wrote: “To return to health, I had to scrutinize my life, root out the destructive elements, be surgeon and seer to my own psyche, make the necessary changes which the life demanded. I had to see the disease as metaphor, interpret it and act accordingly.”

The disease is the disease and is a metaphor. The war is war and is an on-going disease.

“Collateral damage” from every war is universal. The phrase “collateral damage” is an abomination. It is another horrific act of war against each person’s identity and humanity.

If the woman seeking counsel is still carrying the wound, thirty-five years later, imagine the man who went to war, did what no human should be asked to witness or enact. Or imagine the fate of his victims who may not have been lucky enough to die after what they experienced or saw. Just the thought of the weaponry we have created, not what is unleashed through their use, but just the idea, their intent, is enough to destroy a mind and leave it unfit for life in community.

At the beginning of WWII we were horrified by Guernica, aerial bombing, attacks on civilian populations by the end we were asked to accommodate to the Camps and the Bomb. During the Vietnam war we accommodated further to Agent Orange and other atrocities. In the last years, we accommodate to genocide, DU, water boarding, torture, the violation of the Geneva Convention and drones. This is not normal behavior – if one can say – even for war. We are maddened creatures.

Roberto Bolaño’s brilliant novel, 2666, details the cause and continuity of the great world trauma that began in 1914. Every weapon we have invented is a betrayal of our souls. The ratios of those who have been damaged by war, directly or indirectly, are out of proportion to the healthy and vital minds that remain, if any, unscathed.

Add to this the pre-natal and post-natal damage we inflict that comes not from weaponry but also perhaps from the electromagnetic and chemically toxic fields we invent and inhabit, that increasingly emerges in so many tragic ways including autism, “impaired social interaction and communication,” or as one site describes it, these children “lack empathy.”

A dramatic rise in autism occurring at a time when our culture becomes increasingly impaired in social interactions and increasingly lacks empathy and compassion

There is more to our suffering and our children’s suffering. Every child that watches murder on television, or plays violent video games, becomes a victim of PTSD. Every such child is recruited, while watching, into being a child soldier. As adults, we are increasingly entertained by murder.

Elephants, like dolphins, among the kindest, most cooperative, compassionate of living beings, but who have been the victims of culls, who have witnessed their people killed, who have been chased by helicopters, as wolves and people are now being chased so, turn rogue, go against their innately kind nature, their profound instinctual and thoughtful concern for the social fabric of life; they become aggressive, commit acts of rape and violence against each other and other species.

So now, there are also the animals, the vast cauldron of pain they suffer, the distortion of their nature by our activities. Every animal on this planet is a victim of our madness.

Afterwards, becoming wounded, one can be completely unable to function on behalf of a sane and caring society but without knowing the harm that has been done to oneself, and without realizing one has become a perpetrator.

As we try to identify causes and lay blame, let us imagine that every criticism reveals an area or person that needs healing. Like or dislike, there is a great wound, as great as the wound to the EarthSeaMother in the Gulf. We each carry it. It has gone viral, and the wound wounds everyone. Shall we not, each of us, take on the task of healing?

There is no one to blame. We are not born with thoughts of inventing ways to destroy people, animals, the earth. All Our Relations is an indigenous understanding that is innate to every newborn and then, as the indigenous people suffer everywhere, it has been and is being conquered.

If we could only listen to the children before they can speak, we would know what a pure soul is and live accordingly

If WWI is one of the great unhealed planetary wounds, and before it, five hundred years of Conquest and Inquisition and, before that, Rome – and then if we consider the explosive consequences of everything after WWI – we have a great deal of healing to do and extend to each other and our ancestors, in a very short time, or the entire planet will perish very soon.

My husband and I marvel at the differences between us, our different values and assumptions, that arise because I was born into a worldview of hope as I was born in the U.S, before WWII and the Camps and he was born in the U.S. after the Bomb. My family found safety and sanity, they thought, in the U.S. After WWII, they thought insanity was mostly elsewhere. My husband grew up in New Mexico knowing there isn’t any safety or sanity here. Still, he writes about compassion and tries to teach it to those who are concerned as we are. Michael Ortiz Hill’s latest book is Conspiracy of Kindness: The Craft of Compassion at the Bedside of the Ill.

Sometimes I think PTSD results not only from being forced to commit the unthinkable, but from burying fleeting moments of insight and compassion that precede their acts of horror. Healing, then, would also consist of re-viewing one’s instinctual recoil from inflicting pain and cruelty, from bearing one’s innate kindness.

I didn’t expect to write this, but the other night, I saw Tsotsi, written by Athol Fugard. The young man’s nickname or war name,” Thug”, came from his desperation, and that desperation, from his father’s desperation. Cruelty is not an innate condition. It is a curse upon the person who suffers it, the perpetrator and then the victim. It is contagious and is passed down. A terrible legacy. If too few remember, experience and adamantly hold kind and compassionate ways of being, if too few face their own complicity and heal themselves, cruelty will overwhelm us.

“Decency? Do you know what decency means?” one of the gang members asks after an entirely heartless murder was committed.

Yesterday, I read two sentences in Peter Matthiessen’s, In the Spirit of Crazy Horse, (page 6) that will haunt me forever, even though I spent years studying the Holocaust day and night, and went on a pilgrimage to the Death Camps of Europe, then wrote The Other Hand:
“Spotted Tail, chief of the Brule band, … had led a great raid in 1864 on Julesburg, Colorado; this raid reflected the widespread outrage among Plains Indians caused by the slaughter at Sand Creek of an unsuspecting Cheyenne camp by an armed mob of Colorado irregulars with subsequent gross sexual mutilation of men, women and children. (“Cowards and dogs!” declared Kit Carson, whose own regular soldiers known to the “Navajo as “Long Knives” had sometimes played catch with the severed breasts of young Navajo women.)

This IS the history of the Americas and the Conquest.

Maybe people have always fought, but not this way. It is not that they didn’t have such weapons, it is that they wouldn’t invent them. It is not how people are because it is not how animals are.

In Shakespeare’s Hamlet, it is said: Something is rotten in the State of Denmark.”

We are wounded. Our wounds wound. How shall we heal in order to protect others?

A general, who had committed the unspeakable, came to the Topanga Daré to be initiated as a peacebuilder. For years, we have been training as a community to receive those who want to heal from war. A basic premise is that we must know such transformation from within ourselves: We must recognize our own war wounds, how they were afflicted, and what we have done, are doing, to heal our warlike ways. We could receive the general with integrity because we acknowledged our commonality of pain and betrayal.

A veteran who had served in the first Gulf war, surrendered his own sword in the traditional way. Another woman symbolically surrendered her sword and for weeks later said she didn’t know who she is or how to respond without having a sword – “just in case.” Last week, another woman surrendered her sword, also in the traditional way, and now there are two swords on my altar.

In Liberia, the women fed up with war, sat and danced in protest in the streets, in grueling sun and pouring rain, and also took the weapons from their sons, brothers, uncles, fathers. And so the civil war ended.

A woman who came to Topanga last night, for a Music Daré, our “indigenous” healing form, had fled the war in Somalia as a child. She also set this date, 11/11 for her healing. Recently, she gathered and the money and resources to return to her country on her own. She put on a burqa and traveled alone for 4 months and 4 days. Often she couldn’t speak, afraid that an English word would escape her mouth and reveal her identity. If so, she might be raped, kidnapped and held for ransom. “So many women are willing to marry and have children at eleven or twelve to escape being raped. Still life goes on. Life goes on.”

She stayed for a while in the village of the tribe that had killed her father and was treated with kindness. What healing we were able to offer her was through our recognition that she is, herself, a profound healer of war.

I am writing this at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. Who will you devote yourself to healing today? As we say in Daré, “Wash your dish and someone else’s.”

Heal yourself and give equal time to offering healing to others. If everyone on the planet would take responsibility for healing oneself and one other person of war ….

Meeting the Deer Mother: A Letter to Laurie Markoff

Dear Laurie Markoff:

Your letter, (below,) raises the questions that have to be raised: What difference do consciousness and heart make? What is their pragmatic value to a world that is increasingly mired in brutality?
In Liberia, the elephants have been coming to the people in just the ways you describe, asking them to restore the contract or asking that the old ceremonies, sacrifices or offerings be restored. These were interrupted by the horrific civil war, though they were already yielding to more practical concerns and large scale land clearance on behalf of farming, manufacturing, mining and other human activities. It is hard to make offerings to the elephants with one hand, or to read them the Koran, while holding an AK 47 in the other. Each demands its own logic. The AK 47, designed to kill humans, certainly does not value elephants. Standing before the question of expanding territory, hunting meat, procuring ivory, the AK 47 mind wins. The AK47 exists in a field of ideas that include dominance, control, self-interest, entitlement, superiority, power.
Reading the Koran to the elephants, assumes the animal’s intelligence, understanding and sacred nature. The elephant whisperer that I met, who read the Koran and attributes his survival to this activity, also credited the elephant with protecting him and his family during the war, advising him when to flee and where, when to return, and where to farm. What the elephant couldn’t do, however, was protect the whisperer from peoples’ envy and their accusations of witchcraft.
Another distinction arises. The elephant whisperer and his family were not as hungry as the poachers were. Alliance with the animal world protected the whisperer, but would such alliances protect an entire village? Some think it would but only if there were enough land to grow food for each person AND enough land for the elephants. The elephants need a vast territory so the trees they tear down and eat this year will be fully grown by the time they return. A 200 year migration cycle is best but this does not suit the needs of corporate farms and plantations, landless people, expanding towns and cities. The people and the elephants are displaced from their land, separated from their rituals, deprived of their elders, and are without food and water.
Their common suffering pits them against each other. We have not learned how to relieve each other’s suffering through alliances. What would an elephant/human alliance around such issues look like?
We do not have the means to act on the basis of our heart alliances with non-human beings. The elephant asked you to fulfill your contract and you don’t know how to protect them from poachers or guarantee their territory.

But …

There was a time when people talked with the animals because they saw them as kin, peers or holy creatures. Understanding these relationships, they lived accordingly, honoring the animals and respecting the animals’ needs for territory and independence.
I don’t know the answer to your anguished question, but I do believe that engaging the non-humans in heartfelt interchange and speaking of this freely, creates another intellectual and spiritual environment that will influence our responses. When we think differently, when we carry different assumptions, we act differently.
When Linda Hogan, Brenda Peterson and I published the anthology, Intimate Nature: The Bond Between Women and Animals, in 1999, almost no one recognized the extent of animals’ intelligence or their spiritual nature. At that time, Jane Goodall’s essay, “I Acknowledge Mine,” astounded us by documenting instances of chimpanzee compassion AND their great suffering. One essay after another asserted the reality of complex heartful intra and inter species relationships and the pain we subject them to. In ten years, so many more of us are aware that we torture the natural world and that the natural world is sentient. Just as we have become aware of our cruelty and obliviousness, our hearts and minds perceive the animals differently and our formerly thoughtless behavior becomes untenable. In 2010, we are living in an ever deepening, ever expanding field of respect and love for the animals. Because of the field, we respond differently. Your experiences and your willingness to speak of them, make an important contribution to this field.

So now we have the Deer Mother. Wasn’t she also an ambassador to you? Will people reading our correspondence invite her and her fawn into their consciousness so that, without remembering why, they might act to preserve the deer, or refuse rat poison, or leave the deer the woods it needs, discourage hunting, allow the deer to nibble their roses? Might it not become commonplace to speak about the Deer Mother and her family in the ways we speak of our own friends and family? Can we doubt that this will make an enormous difference to the Deer Mother’s life?
There is nothing I can or would do to ease your grief. Understanding our role in these tragic times is essential. And also, I will do everything to defend the reality and profundity of interchange between you and the Deer Mother. Also, this year, I am not the only one who thinks this way. There are many of us now, a mere ten years since this understanding burst into print.
Your heartbreak is an essential medicine for the violence of this time. It is not the only medicine we need, but it is a medicine. We are creating a field of co-existence, of ‘all my relations.” Thinking this way will have repercussions though we don’t know where we are being taken and how the world will reconfigure itself in the light of such alliances.
Thank you for writing, Laurie. Please tell the Deer Mother that I hold her and her little ones in my heart and prayers.
Mitake Oyasin,

Deena
(Letter from Laurie Markoff) “Dear Deena,
It is strange that you have been writing this letter to me, as I have been writing a letter to you in my head as well. I have been re-reading “Ghost River” (maybe this is the sixth time and each time it feels like a new book, but perhaps that is because I am different.) and this time it feels like it explains what is happening to me, how I am becoming undone and feel both strongly called to respond to these times and deeply unsure that I know what to do. It is not that I don’t see the signs, it is that I do not know what the signs are pointing me toward. I go and pray for forgiveness for my people at every body of water I encounter. I dreamt that Mandaza was pouring water over a bunch of miniature rose buds between my naked breasts and saying “This is medicine for your people” and so I found a miniature rosebush and we will make a flower essence in that manner. At the SpiritSong retreat, when I was singing, the elephants came and surrounded us, and when I finished singing they spoke to me and said ” If your people will restore the contract, we will do our part.” But how do I make that happen? What am I to do? When I took my daughter to college, early in the morning, as she slept, I hiked up in the woods that the college owns. I saw one or two young people hiking up there, and was thinking of how the woods and the farm there (where my daughter teaches children how food grows) are teaching and tending these young people, and I stopped and made an offering by a tree with roots like the feet of an elephant, thanking the land for tending these young people. Later, a deer stepped onto the trail 20 feet from me and made eye contact. I spoke to her in my mind, introduced myself and she nodded at me. And then I said “You look like a mother. I am a mother too, and I am here to thank all of you for tending my daughter while I am not here. And she nodded again, and her fawn stepped out of hiding and looked me in the eye as well. We stood like that for while, and then someone shouted in the distance and they bounded off. I could not stop crying. In my dream group, in all of my communities, many of us are all having encounters like this. As if the animals are coming to us to make alliances. I am grateful for the signs, I am listening as hard as I can, but I do not know what they are calling me to do, only that it is urgent. I am hoping somehow, Deena, that we will find the answers here. If nothing else, it makes me feel less alone with my questions. So thank you.

WHY AM I WRITING A BLOG?

I HAVE BEEN WRITING A LETTER TO YOU IN MY MIND, EVERY DAY. I began it on the computer, last month. But it wasn’t really a letter, and it wasn’t really a letter to you. It was an informal essay passing as a letter. But that is not my intent. I am hoping to write a real letter to you. Even though I don’t know you. Or I don’t know that I know you as I won’t know when you come to the site which will be for us the same as if you, at another time, picked up a sealed envelope and opened it, though it was not addressed, and reading it, realized it was intended for you.

Spirit works that way. It speaks to us through coincidences and strange, encounters, occurrences we could not have designed, possibilities far beyond us. A book falls off the shelf into our hands and our lives change. This happened to me. It took me to Latin America. My life took a 180 degree turn. Maybe something similar happened to you. In our circles, so many events happen so many connections that can’t be explained, so many inexplicable signs, leads and blessings, we continually ask:  “What is the true nature of the universe in which such things happen?”  Or, in another mood, we say, “You know, you can’t make this shit up.”

So you come across this letter and or the ones that will follow and or … who knows .. maybe it will save our lives.

Spirit says that there are hidden passageways that we can discover to take us toward the restoration of the earth and our real lives.

I spent the summer praying for such possibilities. I went into silence on the hill behind my house. I made a journey to Canyon de Chelly. I spent days in prayer asking for signs. I had other things planned for the summer, but this is what I did. I was given signs.

There are hidden passageways to restoring creation. We have to find them for ourselves and we cannot enter them without changing entirely so that we are aligned with the possibilities of a future and not the trajectory of the past and present.

I STARTED WRITING THIS BECAUSE I AM ANGUISHED ABOUT THE STATE OF THE WORLD AND SO ARE YOU. I cannot imagine coming to the end of my life and realizing that I didn’t do everything I could have done, that I was distracted or preoccupied and I didn’t become everything I could have become in order to help save the natural world, the environment, the earth, all life, Creation. You reading this feel the same way; so let us begin and proceed undaunted on behalf of Beauty.

Five in the afternoon, we see an owl in the old oak in the meadow. An hour ago, a deer and two giant bunnies grazing on the hill. Yesterday at the ocean, we were greeted by dolphins, and for a moment I saw the long body of a sea lion in the translucent, turquoise waters just by the shore. Pelicans in formation. Gulls; God’s hungry angels, I call them. And then, remarkably, entirely out of season, there in the distance, a whale spouting. But overhead, army helicopters. Just as they grind overhead at the moment of writing these words. The animals want to live and so we have to stop the wars we are engaged in everywhere against all things and all beings.

You are not asked to sacrifice your life or anyone else’s for Creation. Actually, you are asked if you will live your life fully on behalf of Creation. You are being asked if you will live fully on behalf of all our relations. What does that Lakota phrase, mitakye oyasin really mean? As you enter into its meanings, everything will change and become filled with light.

In a prior version of this blog, I listed many of the horrors. I will again because we have to face the whole picture together especially as life is killed off one being at a time. We are so divided trying to save this and then that, that we cannot save the whole. The changes we are called to are systemic.

I am reading One Square Inch of Silence by Gordon Hempton. At the beginning, we see that he couldn’t even save one inch. I don’t know what happens at the end, but I know that I have never been anyplace where there is complete silence, as he says, for fifteen minutes.

EVERY TIME I CONSULT AN AUGURY, THE DIVINATION SAYS I MUST DISENTANGLE FROM THIS CONTEMPORARY LIFE: LEAVE WESTERN CULTURE; IT IS MAD, VIOLENT, DERANGED AND DEBASED.

The deer looked me in the eye and I opened my heart to it. I must leave these ways if not on my own behalf, at least so that it can live. It can’t live alone on this planet, as we think we can; it needs everyone, the bunnies, coyotes, wolves, deer ticks, squirrels, bees,  grass, rain, sun, light and dark, birdsong and stillness. It needs the whole life for its whole life. It knows this so it is a holy creature.

I began this letter on August 8th, which is directly between Hiroshima Day on August 6th and Nagasaki Day on August 10th. On August 6th, we dropped an atom bomb and on August 10th we dropped another. That is, we, the citizens of the United States and our ancestors. In order to do this work of Restoration, we have to know we did this.

Today is September 11th. The day, in 1972, of the horrific golpe (coup) that, with covert US support, overthrew the first democratically elected socialist government in Chile headed by Salvador Allende and threw Latin America into a turmoil of torture and violence. Friends of mine were tortured. Imagine torture! We torture. We are torturing. At this moment. Please don’t look away.

On this day in 2001, a plane flew into the twin towers in NYC. They say there were two other planes but what happened to them, we don’t really know. We don’t really fully know what happened on September 11th 2001, how or why. I was in Africa at the time and wrote the following in Entering the Ghost River: Meditations on the Theory and Practice of Healing, which was published on September 11, 2002: “Two stories intersected in that moment: a story streaming toward destruction and a story streaming toward healing.”

I AM WRITING THIS BLOG SO THAT YOU WILL MEET ME IN A STORY STREAMING TOWARD HEALING. Spirit says it is possible. I do not write this to give you false hope or to discount your fears. Your fears are appropriate. The situation is dire. All of creation is threatened at this moment.

Still, Spirit says, there are hidden passageways to restore creation.  But … entering them asks everything of me and of you.

***

I AM WRITING TO YOU BECAUSE I HAVE THE STRANGE BELIEF THAT SOMETHING UNEXPECTED, AND EVEN HOPEFUL, MIGHT OCCUR IF WE LOOKED AT THE WHOLE, the entirety of what we are facing and heartstormed together. I am writing because I can’t look at the whole of it alone. I am writing this letter and those that will follow because Spirit says there are ways, hidden passageways, to save Creation.

Here is a short list of some of the unbearable events of the last few months. One leads to another, relentlessly.  Let’s locate ourselves so we can reverse the order.  Iraq. Afghanistan. Thousands and thousands of civilian deaths. Agony.  Depleted uranium in our weapons leaving radioactive fields. Unprecedented suffering and horror, madness, violence, suicide experienced by our soldiers and veterans, men and women, largely unacknowledged, untreated, untreatable at the moment – the shorthand is PTSD. Leukemia, cancers, other terrible diseases in the areas around uranium mines, Native American reservations in particular.  Water, earth, air poisoned. The Gulf hemorrhage, its hidden oil plumes under the sea, the incalculable effects also of the dispersants, the death and suffering of the fish,birds, animals, humans  and more ‘spills’ than we know, everywhere. Incalculable effects on all life. Global extinctions proceeding at lightning speed. Hate bubbling up in Arizona and other states against the poor, the desperate, the non-white. Economic turmoil.  Poverty. Walls going up at the Mexican border, at Gaza. We are imprisoning ourselves everywhere. Global loss of control over our food – genetic modification, cloned animals. Increasing numbers of autistic children born. Increasing numbers of people suffering mental illness, depression, despair. Radiation and chemotherapy have become normalized procedures as if everyone living should look forward to such treatment. Plagues of cancers, auto-immune diseases, other horrors. Wolves and elephants hunted and culled from airplanes. Six northern white rhinos remaining. How many tigers? Women raped, mutilated, brutalized, enslaved in the Congo and everywhere. Human trafficking. Child soldiers. Domestic violence and physical abuse.  Parents, priests, ministers, religious leaders, medical people, educators committing sexual abuse of children. No safety. Global warming, flooding, drought, famine, earthquakes, hurricanes, volcanoes, glaciers melting, ice shelves falling into the sea, fires, the radioactive forests surrounding Chernobyl burning.

THE EARTHSEA MOTHER SAID:  “DON’T JUST BEAR WITNESS.  BE WITH ME.”

In the face of all of this and more, Spirit says, There are hidden passageways to end the horror and restore creation.  (The owl living in the meadow is calling out.)

When people suffer life-threatening illnesses and want to heal and live, they often recognize they must change their lives entirely. They make the extreme offerings. Sometimes they live long lives. At the least their lives are extended. Meeting death, if that is the ultimate fate at that moment, they can meet it at peace with themselves and the world. They know they have made an offering to the community and the future in their living and in their dying.

A man in my kinship-net who was gravely ill, got up from a coma and completely changed his life, did what he wished he had had the courage to do forty years earlier. Mysterious. Then he followed equally mysterious and challenging instructions that came in dreams. This connected him with Spirit in ways he had not imagined. This gave him time and his soul. It gave everyone around him new life and the courage to live it. The vital two months he received changed everything for everyone. It was a miracle.

The changes we are called to are radical and ethical beyond anything we have ever imagined.  We have been thinking of what to do for a long time, and we can’t stop thinking, but our thinking is paltry before this crises. We have to find the visionary ways to the visionary ways. And the courage to live them without compromise.

Engage in this thought experiment with me: Imagine that you have been born at this time so that your life will make a significant difference on behalf of the future of all life. What are you called to be, do given the alarming state of every aspect of our lives and your heartbroken desire and intention to be a remedy and a healing for this time?

From the beginning, I mean from the time I was three, I assumed I was here for a purpose on behalf of the world and each day of my life has deepened my belief and commitment. I am writing to you because you feel the same and always have, whether or not you are willing to admit it to your family and friends, or the public, to me or … to yourself.

I mean, why would you have been born in such a time if not to – if I put it crudely – be part of those who are going to … fix it, heal it, rejuvenate, revive, restore all life? Would anyone sign up for this nightmare if they didn’t have such a purpose in mind and a sense that they could accomplish something whether or not they got the credit a lot of people want more than the change?

I was born in 1936, the year of the Spanish Civil War and the Hitler-Stalin Pact. A few years later, when my father learned about the death camps, the gas chambers, the Holocaust, he had a breakdown. What mind could incorporate the realities of 1939 to 1945?  After 1945, the Holocaust was the constant subject in our household. 65 years later, the Holocaust and so many other holocausts and genocides, the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki remain in the air like radioactive poisoning. As a species we no longer exercise restraint on the horror we are willing to inflict on each other, on animals, on trees, on beauty, on the earth.

But still …. Here we are. In as much as the trajectory that we are on, which is leading to the death of nature and the extreme violation of heart and beauty, is unacceptable, what are you, I, we going to become and, how will we live accordingly?

THERE ARE SECRET PASSAGEWAYS TO ANOTHER VITAL LIFE FOR THIS PLANET.  You have to find yours and burrow through. You have a unique way waiting for you that belongs to you. It is the exact fulfillment of your life, experience, understanding, suffering and heart. As I have mine. Each of ours is distinct, but aligned and harmonious with each other’s. Restoring Creation is what we will do together.

My husband, Michael Ortiz Hill and I were at one of the overlooks at Canyon de Chelly on August 27 2010, praying for the earth, asking for guidance, and a sign. At sunset, we looked across the canyon at some small clouds in the distance. We were beneath a rainbow but there was no reason for a rainbow. A rainbow is a covenant. A covenant has two parties. It was a sign from Spirit. Let us meet it.

***

This is the beginning of this blog. I don’t know how it will continue. Other letters.  Poems. Comments. Notes and dreams.  Some of you will write letters back. I will post some or excerpts. Answer others. Idiosyncratic,irregular co-respondence. This beginning.

Thank you. Bless you. May your dreams show us the ways.

Deena

THE VOICES OF THE ELEPHANTS

Dream Voices of the Elephants

John O’Neal, actor, director and founder of the Free Southern Theater that accompanied the Freedom Riders in their quest for civil rights, says the following in his play, Don’t Start Me to Talking or I’ll Tell Everything I Know: Sayings From the Life and Writings of Junebug Jabbo Jones: “I’m going to tell you what I’m going to tell you. Then I’m going to tell you. Then I’m going to tell you what I done told you.”

This is what it takes, he knows, for us to hear.

The elephants first came to me in 1999.  I was so sure I understood what they were saying, I wrote about it and then I acted on it and went to meet them. On Epiphany, in the year 2000, the elephant, we now call The Ambassador, and a small group of us met in Botswana. Then I met the Ambassador again, and then again, and then there were other elephant encounters. I speak of these events repeatedly because they are such extraordinary events that we cannot, even ten years after that first experience, claim to understand within the ordinary reality in which we live day to day.

The advent of the patriarch, the Elephant Ambassador, the circumstances of his arrival, his appearance, again, to my husband and myself in the summer of 2001, were events so compelling, demanding and humbling that a small delegation of the wide ranging everyday gandhis team from North America, Liberia and Southern Africa traveled to Chobe Game Reserve in Botswana in 2006 to document, if we could, the reality of the Ambassador.  The Ambassador came again, and introduced us to his family, entwining his trunk with his mate’s, and acknowledging their two young calves.[i] Witnessed and photographed, he then astonished us by engaging in ritual contact, literally “throwing us a bone.”

We caught it!

It must be noted here that it was an ancestor bone, an elephant thighbone,.  Thus he called us into a sacred event of the highest order, offering us a mandate whose nature we cannot entirely understand yet and shaking the entire foundation of our thinking about the true nature of the world.

We did not know how to meet this event; we continue to ponder it actively. Accordingly, however, Cynthia Travis and I took the ‘Future Guardians of Peace’ – five ex-combatants and one former child refugees and other members off the everyday gandhis peacebuilding team on safari to Tanzania.

Another reason we went on this safari with the ex-combatants is that the appearance of an elephant and her calf during the Liberian civil war caused the LURD rebel Minister of Defense, known as Master General, now on our peacebuilding team, to tell his 36,000 soldiers to lay down their arms because, elephants are a sign of peace.[ii] The indigenous wisdom tradition of Liberia, as in much of Africa and many parts of the world, is based upon being guided by dreams, divination, signs and unusual events, such as the appearance of these elephants “The war is over,” Master General said. He considered this a message or commandment from Spirit that he could not refuse

The young men and woman who came with us on safari had never seen an elephant in the wild.  Though elephants are native to Liberia, the war had destroyed their habitat and they were hunted for food. The elephants who survived had gone into exile in Guinea.  That is another but related story of how the elephants in Liberia, as elsewhere, exiled themselves during the war and returned when it was safe … or so they hoped.

While waiting for the ‘Future Guardians of Peace’ to join us in Tanzania, we spent a few days on safari at the Ruaha game reserve.

We hoped but could not ‘expect’ the elephants to meet us as they had in the past. But they did. The elephant we call Spirit Sister came to me, Cynthia Travis, her son and his fiancé in the Ruaha.  The one we called the Delegate came later in the Selous reserve.  We name them thus because of the undeniable intentionality with which they met us.

Though quite a young elephant, six or seven years old, Spirit Sister, left her mother and approached us as we were parked above a watering hole.  Alternately, she drank water and sprayed us for twenty minutes or longer.  Then she, her mother and two other siblings climbed up the embankment and waited alongside us as her twin brother approached from the bush.  We were all so close they could have stroked us with their trunks as these introductions were being made.

Later, we met the Delegate, a bull elephant, in the Selous reserve.  Some hours after engaging in ritual activity of invitation, we came upon him in the forest.  Solemnly and carefully, he advanced on our open trucks, his tusks almost grazing the rails and our arms.  We all recognized him as a delegate from the animal world coming to meet his counterparts, the young, healing future guardians of peace. This encounter is documented with photographs and text by the young people in everyday gandhi’s Tanzania Safari: Future Guardians of Peace. 2009.

Since the advent of the Ambassador, we have received many dreams, testimonies and recounting of personal experiences and associations with elephants.  Shortly after being in Chobe and receiving the ancestor bone from the Ambassador, we gathered in Santa Barbara for the eg annual meeting and were astonished at the threshold of the meeting by the remarkable article in the New York Times Magazine by Charles Siebert, “An Elephant Crackup?”

We immediately understood that the stresses that elephants and ex-combatants and child soldiers suffer are the same, that their anguish, its symptoms and consequences are the same, and that the ways of healing are the same and equally valuable for all beings and the restoration of the earth.

After reading Siebert’s article, I contacted Gay Bradshaw whose work was the foundation of Siebert’s article and brought her into our circle of consciousness.  Her remarkable book, Elephants at the Edge which details the similarities between elephant suffering, behavior and healing, and human suffering, behavior and healing, was published in 2009.

This incomplete chronicle does not, however, bring us closer to comprehending the reality that elephants and other animals are  coming to us.  Perhaps seeking alliance with us is a last resort for them and the planet. Writing an op-ed for a newspaper in Assam, India, after elephants had taken over the runway at a military airport, interrupting border skirmishes, I suggested that we may have been ‘contacted’ by elephants making a broad sweep, offering up a universal SOS, to see who would respond.  I like this idea because it removes the human recipient from being special and honors the elephant as the originator of the energy of connection.  Each time the Ambassador has come to meet us, he has demonstrated will and intention. A daunting idea, but, perhaps a necessary one, especially for these difficult times in human history when we are traveling so quickly away from our original interconnections with all life and all beings.

Now, additionally, we are being called to consider the plethora of dreams regarding elephants that are emerging in our far-flung community.  We have communicated some of them and we are being guided according to the deepest held principles and understanding of many of us associated with everyday gandhis.

Ki’na Dark Cloud, Cynthia Travis, Elenna Rubin Goodman, Lawrie Hartt, Christian Bethelson, and others connected with everyday gandhis and the Topanga Daré[i] have had significant, even startling, dreams about elephants that have called us to a deeper consideration of the issues confronting us.

Ki’na Dark Cloud dreamed a young female who was dying of thirst because she couldn’t drink from water holes bloodied by war.  A man pitied the little one and pledged to bring her water while her elephant mother took on the care of the man’s son.  Cynthia dreamed that Bethelson was heading a phalanx of humans meeting a similar phalanx of elephants coming to each other to make peace.  Another dream from a Liberian, J. Flomo Sawo described elephants carrying delegates to a peace conference between tribes when the roads were obstructed by heavy rains.  As dreams teach us the mysteries of peacemaking to which everyday gandhis is devoted, we are increasingly aware of the appearance of elephants signaling peace.

For many, many years, I have honored the dream life, have lived my life accordingly, have written novels and a play that emerged from dreams given to me in the night.  Every workshop that I lead starts with dream telling.  However, in the past, we looked to see what the dreams mean. Although we didn’t seek psychological meaning, leaving that to psychotherapy, we still stopped after being satisfied about meaning.

This spring I wrote to the members of the dream class that I teach as follows:

“This circle seeks to restore the deep ethics and spiritual development of all dream cultures. Together we will re-enter the dreamtime, explore the dreams sent to us for the sake of community and the future according to the old, old ways and new vision.  In the past, dreams served to reveal the soul’s path, to protect individuals and communities, to alert people to future events, to teach people how to live in the heart, to link people and communities over time and space, and to reveal the true nature of reality.  We hope to be able to revive such dreaming skills and use them to bind community and communities together.  Finally, we will learn what it means to live by dream as individuals and as a community.

“This morning, I responded to three elephant dreams, one from Ki’na Dark Cloud. The second dream is from Ki’na’s uncle, Ti’an Dark Cloud, a traditional Native American man living on the Navajo Reservation who never has thought about or dreamed of elephants. The third is from Patti Sheinman, new to our circle, who contacted me and came to Topanga for Daré mentoring after reading about my connection with the Ambassador.  She dreamed the dream in Topanga.

“Ti’an Dark Cloud’s dream: “There were four bull elephants coming into a village where there were men with guns.  Each elephant got in front of a man and turned to the side so that the men could not see whom to shoot.  Then the men tried to hit the elephants with the guns because it was illegal to shoot them. The elephants made the men mount them after setting down their guns. They took the men away from the village to where the other bull elephants stayed when they went crazy.  It was a place where they could get away from all the input of hate.”

“Ki’na Dark Cloud’s dream: “The same night as Ti’an’s dream, I dreamed that a family of elephants, including the aunties, were on a long walk trying to find a safe place for their brain injured loved ones.  The brains had been injured from the repeated sound of gunfire and they were wailing from grief.  The sounds were very similar in the elephant’s minds. An old female, a true grandmother, walked with the injured and made a chuffing sound that was soothing.  I found myself following them and looking for my mother. An auntie began to walk with me, so that I would not be alone and outside of the family. We came into a place with pools of water and abundant foliage to eat. The healthiest of the family led the brain injured to the food and water and waited patiently for them to get their fill. Only after the injured had fed did the rest of the family feed.  Then the healthy members encircled the injured and lay down around them so they would know they were safe.”

[We have to note that too many soldiers from Iraq are now suffering similar brain injuries and trauma from gunfire and explosives. DM]

“Patti Sheinman’s dream: “I’m in Haiti, a few days after the 2010 earthquake, standing on a mountainside, crying as I look at the mass graves. As I look from afar, I see elephants coming toward the graves. They stop at the graves and with their trunks, begin to cover them with leaves and brush until the graves are covered with their offerings.”

(Six months after this essay was published in the everyday gandhis newsletter. Spring 2010, Ki’na’s father, Awé Che, a traditional Arikara elder, who was in no way concerned with elephants or the dreams referenced here, was astonished by a dream of an elephant calling him to climb Many Ghosts Hill on the Four Corners Reservation in order to sit in council with all the animals that the elephant was leading up the hill.  Though very ill, Awé che, made the arduous climb up the hill in the company of a medicine man, to honor this call.)

“I don’t know what these dreams are really calling us to become though they are calling us to something of great importance, and we are to give up the lead and self-congratulation. Also we can’t explain the dreams away by thinking they come out of our own concerns, no matter how deep our concerns are. These dreams are not of our own creation; they are not from our unconscious or from the collective unconscious, unless you fully include elephant conscious and unconscious in the sacred collective. These dreams are not from ‘us’ alone.

“I don’t claim to understand fully how these dreams are from the elephants themselves, though I believe we are receiving them as such and this requires us to undergo a total change of consciousness and live accordingly. I hold these dreams as sacred. I am humbled before them. I see where we are being taken — as long as we don’t lead. A billboard in Botswana outside of Chobe, shows a procession of elephants following the elephant Matriarch who says “Follow Our Lead.” I am staying in ‘not knowing’ and also trying to follow her lead.

“The dreams indicate that despite ourselves, the elephants take us on their backs, transport us, and surround us because we are violent, crazy and brain damaged.  Despite ourselves the elephants come and help us bury our dead in the profound and beautiful ways they bury their dead.  They help us remember what we have forgotten.  Following their lead helps me deal with the unbearable pain of knowing who we have become and how the animals are suffering from almost every movement we make.”

As I wrote this note to my students, I understood something I had not understood before: We are the hate-filled, violent and maddened, the brain injured, and still we are being surrounded by the elephants, we are being transported in order to engage in peacemaking. Thus they, the elephants, are healing us.  The way they are healing us is through the dreams!

We are the mad ones.  And we can be healed.  We are brain injured and they are trying to take care of us. The very act of dreaming the elephants is placing us within the circle of their dreaming, their being, their healing.

“I’m going to tell you what I’m going to tell you.  Then I’m going to tell you. Then I’m going to tell you what I done told you.”

The elephants told us what they were going to tell us.  Then they told it to us.  Now they are telling us again what they have told us. Again and again, until we understand.

When I had almost finished writing this essay, I dreamed that I saw a small elephant walking down the boulevard in the San Fernando Valley.  I tried to catch up to her, but she was far quicker than I.  She had a familiar bounce, and she was smiling, satisfied that she was pulling a fast one on me.  She lived on the land of a woman whose last name was Ruachitta.  I repeated the name again and again in the dream so I would remember it when I awakened.  Cynthia and I had gone to the Ruaha in Tanzania. and ruach means wind, breath and spirit in Hebrew. I began writing about the elephants and dreaming and dreamtime and Spirit Sister come.

Perhaps I hear their call:

We will gather all the dreams and elephant experiences that have come to all of us.  We will make their circle of healing accessible to all, so that we can be immersed in their healing activities, so we can heal.  We will do this even if we cannot yet understand what they are saying to us and how we are being led.  When we heal, we change, we transform.  To immerse ourselves in such healing will be to experience, and later, identify the transformation.

In immediate response, I am initiating a project, Healing Voices – Dreamtime – The Elephants, under the auspices of my non-profit organization, Mandlovu[iii]. If you have dreamed the elephants or experienced their influence, if they have come to you in any way, please write to me at deenametzger@deenametzger.com [Needless to say, if you have had healing dreams from other non-domesticated animals, from animals in the wild, do send those dreams as well.]

We will gather these sacred moments and experiences and bring them together, as we are guided, as we seek to understand the true nature of the world and its creatures and follow their lead.

***

This essay was written originally for the everyday gandhis newsletter, Palaver Hut,  Spring 2010.  everyday gandhis is a Santa Barbara based NGO supporting grassroots and indigenous peacebuilding activities in Liberia and West Africa.


[i] Daré means Council in the Shona language of southern Africa.. The Topanga Daré relies on Council, alliance with Spirit and the natural world, the rituals, practices, ancestor work and teachings of indigenous and wisdom traditions, music healing, dream telling, divination, kinship, and story telling to achieve personal transformation, community healing and social change.

[i1] I have written about this encounter in my book From Grief Into Vision: A Council, Hand to Hand, and in previous editions of the everyday gandhis newsletters.

[iii] The understanding of the role of elephants in peacebuilding in Liberia is documented in the everyday gandhis film, The Dead Will Guide Us, that premiered at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival on February 7, 2010.

[iv] Mandlovu is committed to the exploration, revitalization and preservation of indigenous wisdom and medicine traditions as paths to planetary healing and peace-making on behalf of all beings. Mandlovu is an African Ndebele word for elephant, and also is the name for the Great Mother.  In addition, Mandlovu describes elephant consciousness – the spiritual group mind that arises spontaneously from the individual intelligences of all its members.

%d bloggers like this: