RUIN AND BEAUTY

DEENA METZGER'S BLOG

Category Archives: Feminism

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.

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A Brief History of a Feminist Mind

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From A Traveling Jewish Theater:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From The Woman Who: P. 11

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

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

***
From The Woman Who: P. 21

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

***

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

*** The Other Hand p.3

November 17, 1989
Dear Cardinal Lustiger, Your Eminence:

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

***

The Other Hand
page 105,

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

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

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

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

***

The Other Hand page 166

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

From Tree: Essays and Pieces P. 31.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Entering the Ghost River P. 5

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

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

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

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

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

From Feral P. 9

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

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

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

From “Coming Home,” Intimate Nature p. 363

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

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

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

From Entering the Ghost River P. 183

In my mind, I said the following to him:

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

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

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

From La Negra y Blanca 252

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

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

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

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

***
From La Negra y Blanca 253, 254

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

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

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

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

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

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

RUIN AND BEAUTY THE END

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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