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Deena Metzger’s Message on the Environment – A Talk on Teshuvah Delivered to Beyt Tikkun Synagogue on Erev Rosh Hashanah

Deena Metzger’s Message on the Environment – A Talk on Teshuvah Delivered to Beyt Tikkun Synagogue on Erev Rosh Hashanah

More than twenty years ago, I had the great pleasure and honor of being with Reb Zalman Schacter when he was celebrating Rosh Hashanah at Mt. Madonna in the Santa Cruz Mountains. There was a stream not far from where we were meeting and we went there for tashlich. Everyone was so happy to be in such a setting, they all went into the water itself to offer up their sins and transgressions. As I stepped toward the waters on that breathtakingly beautiful and peaceful afternoon, something stopped me. I could not perform that ritual.  

Later, when we had a group discussion, many were concerned about another part of the Service, when Abraham, the father, is offering his son in sacrifice. I was concerned about the ram. We cannot continue to offer animal sacrifices for our own benefit, I said. And, I continued, we cannot continue to pollute our waters with our sins and toxins. We need to honor Creation as the way of honoring the Divine. We are not the center of the universe. Our homocentric failure to understand the true nature of the universe leads us to disregard the non-human world and the essential nature of the myriad beings. Biodiversity is as central to all life as oxygen and water. Our reflex to use and exploit rather than to align with and protect is leading to the end of the planet as we know it and the death of all life. This is not an exaggeration.  

An unexpected and profound understanding came to me that day. It came to me through Judaism while it took me on another path. It took me back to what we call the old, old ways, the earth-centered, spirit-centered universe where all beings live in harmony with each other.

My relationship to Judaism has been profound and idiosyncratic.. My father was a Yiddish writer engaged with Jewish mysticism and Labor Zionism, and so I gained the complex values of a spiritual, political, socially conscious life, if heartbroken by WWI, the Spanish Civil War, WWII and the Holocaust. We did not go to Temple but we lived a profoundly integrated Jewish life where my father taught me some of the basics, how to read Hebrew, for example, but the teachings came on  a daily basis from the life lived with deep engagement in community, literature, social and spiritual values.  

In winter, he wrote every weekend from early morning until late afternoon at his desk, which I now have, looking out the window. And in the summer, he set up a card table under the cherry tree he had planted on the adjacent strip of land he had managed to purchase for back taxes. He interrupted his writing work only to tend this piece of land, which he turned into a Victory garden that gave us many summer meals. Not unlike some contemporary responses to climate dissolution, the negative effects of commercial agriculture and Covid-19. 

I learned independence from my father and read every chance I had. I read the Bible on my own many times and was always taken with wonder by the lines, In the beginning… 

In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.

And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.
And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.

No one interpreted these lines for me and so I took them in as a novelist does, trying to fathom all the dimensions, meanings, implications of those words, trying to decipher from them, how I was to live my life.

Over the years as I left the academic world, an act which increasingly seemed bashert, guided by Spirit, and began teaching on my own, I found myself carrying this simple question:  If we know, from our deep and true experience, that Spirit exists, how then shall we live?

I come to you today, during the greatest crises that the human world has ever faced, during the most dire one hundred years of global human history, to ask you to take on that question: If we believe in the reality of Spirit, in the Divine, in God, how then shall we live?

I was filled that day during the services of the High Holidays with Reb Zalman, with the original awe I felt when I had read the words, “… and the Spirit of God moved on the waters….” I realized that my spiritual loyalty had to be to the manifestation of the Spirit of God in the act of Creation.  I could not be beholden to human concerns alone – with the delusion that they can be separate — when all of Creation requires our attention, not as stewards, but as peers, allies and kin..  

The use of fossil fuels and other human activities are diminishing the environment. I had known it to my horror when we dropped the Bomb and I was only nine years old then. The Anthropocene, or Age of Man, will be designated as an epoch because the human effect – the extreme negative human effect on the environment has become clear. American biologist Eugene Stoermer coined the term in the late 1980s and Dutch chemist and Nobelist Paul Crutzen brought it to our attention in 2000. Today, twenty years later, we all know.

Seven days to create the world and a few years to destroy it.  

However, is this the only trajectory? 

Every year the High Holidays offer us possibility. It is a remarkable demand and privilege to partake of these ten days. But to meet this sacred opportunity, we have to change our ways — radically.  To do this we have to question all our habits, assumptions, beliefs, ways of life and be willing to shift. No, not shift, but reconceive, re-imagine, alter, transform. The changes required of each of us are equal to the gravity of the situation.

Here we are at the Days of Awe. Days when we enter into the deepest possible reflection on our lives in order to consider with ruthless honesty the harm we have done, the injuries inflicted and then we are called to make amends. This self-scrutiny that each of us is called to engage cannot be performed on a superficial level. And the motivation cannot be so that our individual lives and the lives of our kin and those we love be entered in the book of life. In these times, the prayer needs be on behalf of all life.

I no longer think of repentance. It is insufficient without changing behavior, without considering our on-going responsibility without meeting the spiritual requirement to consider the consequences of our ordinary and familiar behavior, and then to change, Repentance, even making amends, are insufficient if we do not spend the rest of the year, of our lives, bearing witness to the effect of our behavior and life style and our collusion in what destroys, and then in daily focus on divesting from these ways.  

Several years ago I gave a lecture at Palo Alto University. on ReVisioning Medicine, which I have conceived and convened since 2004. As it happened the parking lot was next to a small grove of Redwood Trees. As I walked past them to the auditorium, the Trees said, “Tell them we only have 12 years.” I was startled. These were not my thoughts, but I knew when I heard them that they were referring to the October 8, 2018 Summary for Policymakers of IPCC, the International Panel on Climate Change Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C.

Now we have only nine years and we have not in any way changed the outlook.   

Rather, since then, the Amazon, Australia and the US west have been burning. More than 2.5 million acres have burned in California, and what about the wild life and the trees?  The Derecho devastated Iowa. Lake Charles Louisiana, India, Pakistan, China, Nepal, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Turkey were devastated by flooding and we are fearing this hurricane season in this country.  

Let us pause also to note the climate change associated pandemic of 26 million+ cases, more than 860,000 dead worldwide. We lost 58,000 military deaths in Vietnam which was, for many of you, the war of your lifetime, and 189,000 to the pandemic.

How will we change?

Indigenous people know how to live on the planet in right relationship to all the beings. They understand inter-dependence and inter-connection. We, Western people, Imperial people, Colonizers, Settlers do not. Indigenous people and all the beings of the natural world understand the profound laws of the natural world and live accordingly, or lived accordingly, until we imposed our ways.  

Life flourishes when people and tribes think we rather than I.  When they think of all beings, Mitakuye Oyasin as the Lakota Sioux say, “all my relations. All our relations.”

The rigor of these times calls us to learn these ways. To become quick studies. We may have knowledge but the natural world has wisdom. When we plunder it and decimate it, all life, including ours, dies.

We were born into a Garden and we were thrown out. But the Native People laugh and say they never had to leave. They know how to live in the Garden.

Now it is up to us to learn again. To return to the old, old ways and align with the wisdom of the natural world, and all the beings, and live accordingly so that we may all live, so all life will flourish. This, I believe, is the mandate for these Holy days.

To view Deena Metzger delivering this talk – Click Here

How can we protect what we love? – Book Review

Any book by Susan Cerulean, writer, naturalist and activist, is a gift to all of us. Deeply trained by her heart,  in exact observation of what she loves, Cerulean devotes herself to understanding the nature of what is before her in these times – the fragile nature of everything we love.  She reminds us what intimate relationship is, whether the object is a bird or birds in Florida whose lives and futures are overwhelmed by humans overrunning the shore bird’s fragile territory, or her aging father, whose life is equally threatened by Alzheimer’s and his similar loss of his own territory and agency. 

One would not imagine that these very distinct creatures would each inform us about the other, but to the contrary, Cerulean’s keen understanding of how our contemporary lives endanger all beings, allows us to follow the striking and undeniable parallels between the two. One way that Susan understands Alzheimer’s is as a disease of relentless and continuous loss. The analogue is the dementia of our world which instigates the relentless and continuous loss of one species after another until our lives will be as barren and unsustainable as someone in the last stages of dementia.

A single urgent question threads its way through the book: How can we take care of what we love?  And this question devolves into another even more desperate:  Can we take care of what we love?  How might such caring manifest?

One response that can be gleaned from Cerulean’s inquiries when navigating the confusions, contradictions and traumas that confront both father and creatures, is the need to protect and provide home. And the great difficulty of doing so.  What gives us certainty and security in our lives?  What is our foundation?  Upon what do we depend for comfort and a guarantee of a future?  Home.

We follow Cerulean’s heartbreak as she realizes her father cannot stay in his home, cannot care for himself and none of his children, Cerulean included, can take him into their homes. We do not live alongside each other or even in the same cities or states. We do not live in villages.  We no longer have the ability to take care of an aged parent with dementia.  A patient with Alzheimer’s requires constant care, sometimes, as Cerulean discovers, more than one person at a time.  And if the care is to be kind, then definitely more than one person to lift, dress and undress, bathe, take to the toilet, feed and reassure. Then after such an exhausting and repeating regime, remains the challenge of conversation, entertainment, affection, carrying the memories so life, even if waning, continues to have meaning and satisfaction.

Cerulean has a family to tend. And work that calls her and the natural world to protect, and she is a writer.  She cannot care for her father in the ways her values, her heart, her expectations demand. These day  almost everyone faces such dilemmas whether with an elder, a parent, siblings, children or friends and has to reckon with the institutional inadequacies despite our increasing dependence upon them.  These personal challenges are equaled by the gross inadequacies of our laws, environmental and conservation organizations and government agencies to provide for the natural world whose demise we will not survive.

Cerulean cannot protect the birds whose habitat, whose homes are being overrun by humans and the effects of climate dissolution. The birds’ nesting area is the tiniest sliver of beach in a rising ocean. This is where they lay and tend their eggs. Storms take increasing territory back into their watery maws. The storms that are the consequences of our activities, our life styles heating the planet. As I write this, tropical storm Laura, strengthening over a very warm ocean, is threatening to make landfall with 120 mile an hour winds. Half a million people are being evacuated in advance, but how many birds? 

In addition to the increasing numbers of natural disasters which affect the creatures inordinately, and their loss of habitat and sustenance, of home,  the birds also suffer the on-going appearances of humans.  We do not recognize and respect their territories  We do not see their breeding grounds.  We  do not see these others who live among us or whose lands we trash. A man pulls his boat up on the sand without any awareness.  The helpless squawking birds are not able to alert him to the harm he is doing. 

“The man stands and unfolds his body from the boat.  Nothing safe stands this tall on the sand ….  A few of us tolerate the fear longer than others.  Others jump in the air, swoop and turn “aa-a-raw, aa-a-raw” we cry. And we will, all of us, leave our refuge, which is no longer one, because the man in the boat is  pushing against our sand which is the only place we can nest. …Our flightless chicks scurry for cover, and we cannot protect them, nor our eggs, which are now baking in the sun.”

Even Susan, when trying to fulfill a scientific demand to accurately accomplish a census, comes too close to the breeding birds, aware though she is, trespasses.                      

“I felt the anxiety of this pair who tended this nest, up on the hill.
… Our roles were so very different, I was the one who watched, who
wanted to know and they were the objects I studied and counted and
adored.  Perhaps a relationship could be created if I agreed to curb
my desire to be close, to back away, and to honor their subjectivity.  It
would be better if I honored their moral agency and the fact that they
were engaged in the serious business of continuing their kind on the
planet. I intuited the moment when I had nearly exhausted them with my
insistence on being in their space.  I felt their signal, “Go away,” they said.” 

And here is the dilemma.  In Cerulean’s own words, she, even she, is asked to “Go away.” But if she does, she will not do what she has agreed, what her soul has agreed to do — Bear Witness.

In a dream, Cerulean was assigned a single bird:

“Don’t take your eye off the chick-child and parent!
Care for them!  Protect them.”

 A single bird when what she wanted was a sturdy congregation. But the single, or the most fragile, the declining, the threatened, the disappearing, the ailing, is what we’re being given.

 “Transforming our culture, our assumptions, our world view,
cosmology of separation, our economies, — that is the single bird
we must heal.”

In her final chapter which she, thankfully, dares to call Saving the World, Cerulean writes, in words which refer equally to her father, our Mother Earth, and all the blessed creatures, “We must keep watch over these beautiful lives and pray for direction to inform our actions on their behalf and our own.”

“We must keep watch,” she says, “We!”
We must keep watch, pray for direction, and act.

Covid-19 Meeting a Species – Threatening Illness on Behalf of a Future

Covid-19 Says the Earth Can be Restored 3-27-2020

This is not the first time I have had to confront the possibility that I might soon die.

In 1977, I had breast cancer.  

Like so many people facing a life-threatening illness, I began to re-examine my life, considering deeply what matters and what should fall away. This deep soul journey parallels the physical process of dying itself when so much that we have fervently insisted is indispensable to us, falls away, becomes irrelevant, and what has meaning and is really essential is respected. When, if we are lucky and recover from what has threatened to devastate us entirely, we begin our lives again, we know we cannot, must not, return to how we were living before, we cannot return to the ways that were killing us and others.

In the midst of that crisis, back in 1977, these are the questions I asked: What is the message of this illness that comes to me at this time in particular? What have I been unable to understand or have ignored until it comes in this life-threatening form?  

I knew immediately that I had to change my life drastically, down to the cellular level. And I did.  It was not easy; the process was long, difficult, and disturbing. It continues through this day. Gradually, I understood that even as I was ill and wanting to preserve my own life, I had to shift to consider the whole. 

During the  raw and necessary dialogue I have been having ever since with that illness that I managed to heal from, I realized that far beneath the medical diagnosis was another deep knowing—the ultimate cause of the disease is not the rogue malignant cell or an organ failing – these are the manifestations which we think we know how to treat – but our very life style, our way of life, our lives.

It is that realization that should inform our existence as we all confront the pandemic that is threatening humanity today.

The terrible truth is that our way of life that has tragically become global, has been killing the planet for a long time and for that length of time, despite the increase in life expectancy and the wonders of technology, it has been killing us. We didn’t know it was killing us though we knew it was killing someone in Africa, Latin America or the Middle East, somewhere away from us, maybe someone in the Inner Cities, or living on a Native reservation, but still at a distance. We knew that one life form after another was going extinct. We knew we are killing the water, the air, the Earth, but we were safe we thought, our ways, our things, our technology, our systems, our money would protect us.  We couldn’t conceive they would fail us.  We couldn’t conceive today.

I have spent the last days in consultation with my mind and soul. 

It was not easy, the journey I took, into myself and into the challenges facing my fellows on this Earth.

I had to know at my core that what we are in is about to kill many of us, if not all of us, in the domino effect of all the systems going down, one after another. I had to know this about my own life so I can make decisions about what matters and what does not matter.  I had to know how to relinquish everything that does not serve life and the future of life on this planet. I had to know where I am colluding with those aspects of our culture that are doing so much harm. So that I can, every day, every moment, let go of what is inessential or illusionary so I can be faithful to what is essential.  This is the time for stringent honesty and searing truth telling. That’s how things are in the passageway of dying – there is no time for lies or for pretense, particularly to ourselves. 

So hard a path. But here is the strange thing, this virus is entirely democratic. Every person on the planet is in danger of dying of it, the chances increase each day, exponentially. Not only you, but your children, your loved ones. And so we all are suffering this together, whether or not we are infected at this moment. This mysterious tiny being, whose life and meaning we barely understand, is potentially taking down an entire species that thought itself immortal.  Here we are.

If each of us can understand that there is a real chance that we are going to die. And that we have little time left, then it inevitably means that we must also abandon all the reflexes, thoughts, assumptions, plans which assume a long future. How, then, shall we live?


We are suffering a species-threatening disease.  

The Elephants know the herd is going extinct. The Whales know. The Wolves know. The birds falling from the skies know.  

Be with me, with us, now. Imagine their grief. Enter the Whales’ or the Wolves’ body/heart, and feel their exquisite and common grief knowing their pod, their pack, itself, is threatened.  Forever.  

Now feel the Earth’s grief, her anguish as the essential and interconnected beings who create an intricate dynamic structure through their loving alliances, fall away, like the heart falling out of the body, and Earth knowing she cannot survive when they are gone. 

To feel that grief, and how to emerge from it, let us return to the words pronounced by Martin Niemoller, a German theologist, just after the Second World War that devastated our planet, asking what it means that the executioners came for your fellow humans and you did nothing because you did not think you were like them. Today, we can reformulate his warning as a prophecy:  

First the animals began dying, going extinct, and we did 
not stop what we were doing because we are not animals.
Then the glaciers started melting and we did not stop 
what we were doing because we thought we could do 
without them.
Then the forests were disappearing and we did not stop 
cutting down the trees because we could not imagine 
being unable to breathe.
Then the virus came and there was no one to stop us 
but ourselves.


What does one do when one has a life-threatening illness for which there is no cure and no treatment, no medicine, no protection, no money, no resources, no help? The non-humans simply bear the terrible knowledge of doom for they are helpless to change what is occurring. 

Sometimes we see individual rebellion or revenge, the Lions who ate the poachers, the Elephant who finds the opportunity to stampede the vicious animal trainer in the circus or zoo, or attacks the one who orders her about with a metal hook in her flesh, or the young bull Elephant who remembers the hunter who killed the Matriarch for her tusks and attacks him twenty years later. But as species, knowing they are helpless to change conditions, they succumb. They go extinct, even though they know their disappearance will undermine the ecosystem with dire consequences for all.

Humans have another possibility. 

Isn’t it strange that across the world, more and more people, millions and millions, are now confined to their homes, prohibited from leaving except to risk their lives to procure the most basic necessities? We have all been assigned to solitude, to stillness, to introspection.  An entire planet on a spiritual retreat. A good portion, and increasing, of human beings, particularly those in urban centers, confined with the unique opportunity to deeply contemplate our lives. For a month? For two months? For eighteen months? For our lifetimes? An instant in the universe but long enough in human time to begin to imagine the unimaginable, what we were not able to imagine before: A different world manifested out of our heartbreak for what has brought us here and our increasing great love for life which comes when we feel it slipping away.  

And it happened in a moment: slam dunk. What could not be accomplished after millennia of religious and spiritual urging. Slam dunk. Slam dunk we are in isolation and everything is coming to a halt. Slam dunk, then, we have to change. Maybe we can.  Slam dunk. 

A spiritual initiation of the highest order.

How will we experience this? Each of us differently. We don’t know how and won’t know for a long time. But we have been given the time.  And in this liminal moment, this passage between one world and another, let dying strip us down to the heart as dying does, and begin again. It is a little like a bone marrow transplant –- the marrow is of the only culture that can survive these times, the one in which our species and the other species all thrive together, one that is committed to the life force of all beings, which, hopefully, will include us again.

The path toward healing from a life-threatening illness is the same path as preparing for a good death.

Welcome to the fact and the initiation of Dying. “Queen Corona,” as someone said today, thank you.


First they came for the socialists, and I did not 
speak out—because I was not a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not 
speak out— because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not 
speak out—because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to 
speak for me.
                                                                          Martin Niemöller[i] 
First the animals began dying, going extinct, and we did 
not stop what we were doing because we are not animals.
Then the glaciers started melting and we did not stop what 
we were doing because we thought we could do without them.
Then the forests were disappearing and we did not stop cutting 
down the trees because we could not imagine being unable 
to breathe.
Then the virus came and there was no one to stop us 
but ourselves.

There is a passageway between life and death. It partakes of the sacred. It is not of this world or of the other. It is in between the two and is of uncertain length and development, sometimes dense and sometimes luminous. The passageway is called Dying. What happens in this place is a great mystery.  Everyone will walk it. There is no map but there are questions to hold and consider. The path toward healing from a life-threatening illness is the same path as preparing for a good death.

When people realize they have a life-threatening illness, they begin to re-examine their lives, considering deeply what matters and what should fall away. This deep soul journey parallels the physical process of dying itself when so much that we have fervently insisted is indispensable to us, falls away, becomes irrelevant, and what has meaning and is really essential is respected. When, if we are lucky and recover from what has threatened to devastate us entirely, we begin our lives again, we know we cannot, must not, return to how we were living before, we cannot return to the ways that were killing us and others.

I had breast cancer in 1977.  I asked these questions: What is the message of this illness that comes to me in this form? What is the meaning of this illness, in particular, coming to me, in particular, at this time, in particular? What have I been unable to understand or have ignored until it comes in this life-threatening form?  

I knew immediately that I had to change my life drastically, down to the cellular level. And I did.  It was not easy; the process was long, difficult, disturbing and is on-going. It continues through this day. Gradually, I understood that even as I was ill and wanting to preserve my own life, I had to shift to consider the whole. I was confronted by this need from the very beginning.  A colleague visited me in the hospital and asked me to forgo any thoughts I had of healing cancer myself, as, he said, even if I had the skill to do it, there were many women who would follow my example and they were not prepared. I agreed then to have a mastectomy. But, I also chose not to have chemotherapy or radiation. The tumor was small and the entire breast removed. Both decisions were my way of considering the welfare of all beings. Not a formula, but the soul searching of a forty-year old woman with two young children wrestling with how to meet life-threatening illness and not cause harm to the environment or the community.

Then something inexplicable occurred – I felt the reality of Spirit. At the moment of fearing dying, Spirit appeared. A contradiction I could not deny. Not God in the way of my tradition, not religion, but God, Spirit, as peoples have perceived the Radiant Presence over the millennia of our emergence. I was in awe. Not because I could pray for my healing, but because I understood that any act of healing for myself should be equally benevolent for all, should do no harm. I was wrapped in a story and circumstances that would allow me to be responsible to the deepest aspects of my soul and to the world – no conflict – my life, my family’s life, the community’s life, the Earth, the same.  Spirit had brought me here.

In the raw and necessary dialogue a person has with life-threatening illness, it is often clear that far beneath the medical diagnosis is another deep knowing—the ultimate cause of the illness is not the rogue malignant cell or an organ failing – these are the manifestations which we think we know how to treat – but our very life style, our way of life, our lives. Then the process of looking for healing from a life-threatening illness becomes self-scrutiny. When we ask, “Given what I now understand, how then shall I live?” we know that living requires us to ruthlessly, radically change our lives. 

The terrible truth is that our way of life that has tragically become global, has been killing the planet for a long time and for that length of time, despite the increase in life expectancy and the wonders of technology, it has been killing us. We didn’t know it was killing us though we knew it was killing someone in Africa, Latin America or the Middle East, somewhere away from us, maybe someone in the Inner Cities, or living on a Native reservation, but still a distance. We knew that one life form after another was going extinct. We knew we are killing the water, the air, the Earth, but we were safe we thought, our ways, our things, our technology, our systems, our money would protect us.  We couldn’t conceive they would fail us.  We couldn’t conceive today.

I have spent the last days in consultation with my mind and soul. I needed to understand that I have a life-threatening illness and will probably die soon. Not because I am old but because of Covid-19, what threatens all of us. We went round and round, confronting and ducking, until I knew that this is true. I am going to die. I have little time. This means I must also abandon all the reflexes, thoughts, assumptions, plans which assume a long future. How, then, shall I live?

I had to know at my core that what we are in is about to kill many of us, if not all of us, in the domino effect of all the systems going down, one after another. I had to know this about my own life so I can make decisions about what matters and what does not matter. I had to know how to relinquish everything that does not serve life and the future of life on this planet. I had to know where I am colluding with those aspects of our culture that are doing so much harm. So that I can, every day, every moment, let go of what is inessential or an illusion so I can be faithful to what is essential.  So I can live a devoted life. Had I not done this; I couldn’t write this piece. I had to know this so what I write and post is true. This is the time for stringent honesty and searing truth telling. That’s how things are in the passageway of dying – there is no time for lies or for pretense, particularly to ourselves.  

So hard a path. But here is the strange thing, this virus is entirely democratic. Every person on the planet is in danger of dying of it, the chances increase each day, exponentially. Not only you, but your children, your loved ones. And so we all are suffering a life-threatening disease whether or not we are infected at this moment. This mysterious tiny being, whose life and meaning we barely understand, is potentially taking down an entire species that thought itself immortal.  Here we are.


Let me change the language.  We are suffering a species-threatening disease.  


Here is a passage from the beginning of Doris Lessing’s remarkable, prescient novel, Shikasta:

An individual may be told she, he, is to die, and will 
accept it. For the species will go on. Her or his children will 
die, and even absurdly and arbitrarily — but the species will 
go on. But that a whole species, or race, will cease or 
drastically change — no, that cannot be taken in, accepted, not 
without a total revolution of the deepest self.

To identify with ourselves as individuals — that is the very 
essence of the Degenerative Disease…. What I had to say 
would strike at everything we valued most, for it could be no 
comfort here to be told: You will survive as individuals.[ii]

The Elephants know the herd is going extinct. The Whales know. The  Wolves know. The birds falling from the skies know.  

Be with me, with us, now. Imagine their grief. Enter the Whales’ or the Wolves’ body/heart, and feel their exquisite and common grief knowing their pod, their pack, itself, is threatened.  Forever.  

Now feel the Earth’s grief, her anguish as the essential and interconnected beings who create an intricate dynamic structure through their loving alliances, fall away, like the heart falling out of the body, and Earth knowing she cannot survive when they are gone. Her anguish. Their anguish. Ours???


What does one do when one has a life-threatening illness for which there is no cure and no treatment, no medicine, no protection, no money, no resources, no help? The non-humans simply bear the terrible knowledge of doom for they are helpless to change what is occurring. 

Sometimes we see individual rebellion or revenge, the Lions who ate the poachers, the Elephant who finds the opportunity to stampede the vicious animal trainer in the circus or zoo, or attacks the one who orders her about with a metal hook in her flesh, or the young bull Elephant who remembers the hunter who killed the Matriarch for her tusks and attacks him twenty years later. But as species, knowing they are helpless to change conditions, they succumb. They go extinct, even though they know their disappearance will undermine the ecosystem with dire consequences for all.

Humans have another possibility. We enter the process of deep soul inquiry. What are the underlying causes of this wretched affliction? How can we divest from what is killing us? How shall we meet these times? How shall we live?  

Isn’t it strange that across the world, more and more people, millions and millions, are now confined to their homes, prohibited from leaving except to risk their lives to procure the most basic necessities? We have all been assigned to solitude, to stillness, to introspection.  An entire planet on a spiritual retreat. A good portion, and increasing, of human beings, particularly those in urban centers, confined with the unique opportunity to deeply contemplate our lives. For a month? For two months? For eighteen months? For our lifetimes? An instant in the universe but long enough in human time to begin to imagine the unimaginable, what we were not able to imagine before: A different world manifested out of our heartbreak for what has brought us here and our increasing great love for life which comes when we feel it slipping away.  

And it happened in a moment: slam dunk. What could not be accomplished after millennia of religious and spiritual urging. Slam dunk. Slam dunk we are in isolation and everything is coming to a halt. Slam dunk, then, we have to change. Maybe we can.  Slam dunk. 

A spiritual initiation of the highest order.

Initiation is Spirit’s way of breaking us down so that we might be recreated in a wisdom way.  This is an astounding and awesome initiation by Spirit. It is one of the ways illness transforms us. And so again. 

How will we experience this? Each of us differently. We don’t know how and won’t know for a long time. But we have the time. Eighteen months, some say. And in this liminal moment, this passage between one world and another, let dying strip us down to the heart as dying does, and begin again. It is a little like a bone marrow transplant –- the marrow is of the only culture that can survive these times, the one in which our species and the other species all thrive together, one that is committed to the life force of all beings, which, hopefully, will include us again.

Welcome to the fact and the initiation of Dying. “Queen Corona,” as someone said today, thank you.

[i] Martin Niemöller (1892–1984) was a prominent 
Lutheran pastor in Germany. He emerged as an 
outspoken public foe of Adolf Hitler and spent the 
last seven years of Nazi rule in concentration 
camps. He is perhaps best remembered for his postwar 
[ii] Re: Colonised Planet 5 Shikasta, by Doris 
Lessing, Alfred A Knopf, New York, 1979, P.38

Now That We Know

Now that we are sequestered,
an entire globe aware
we are sharing a common fate,
which has always been the case,
now that we, so frightened
without our things,
know we are all mortal,
while grabbing our last meals
from the emptying shelves,
imagining our last suppers,
how we will spend
the final weeks of our lives,
Now that we are aware
that the gift of breath
we have always received from the trees
may not serve us --
Is it because we 
relentlessly cut them down?

Now that Water,
who is one of the Immortals,
is dying at our hands,
but without planning
for Her last waves and tides,
is remaining Water
for whoever swims within her,
And now that Air,
another threatened Deity
is still holding whatever birds yet fly,
and Earth, Great Mother,
is continuing despite
all her open wounds,
is remaining Earth,
and Fire, Oh! 
He will burn and burn
until every tree,
or the very sun, goes out,

Now that we have succumbed
to each other's downfall,
no difference,no differences,
and we, the ones who have done
such great harm, who tried
to rival the Gods
with all our weapons,
are taken down
by the most invisible and minute,
the very littlest one,
such is our common jeopardy,
our fate,

Now that we know we are mortal,
might we, for this just moment,
hold a broken prayer,
that our hearts open wide
and with such wisdom
that Life will pity us,
will restore the thousand beings,
and give us another
humbler round.


In May 2019, the College of Forestry at Oregon State University clear cut a15.6 acres of predominantly old growth Douglas Fir with trees ranging from 80 to 260 years old with an origin date of 1759 and one tree dating back to 1599.  A memorial was held on October 20th sponsored by the Spring Creek Project and the Friends of OSU Old Growth, which is how I learned of the travesty. I posted the notice of the memorial on FaceBook.  120 people responded and one suggested we write to the University, which I did, indicating that I would make his answer public.   The interim dean, Anthony S Davis wrote back, “I’ve just concluded a second listening session and am working on responses to questions and comments that came up; this is invaluable in crafting a pathway forward. I’ve attached this email two letters on the issue that may be of interest to you. Going forward, I am certain our actions will properly reflect our values.”

I am sure you can receive both letters, dated July 12 and July 26 which are referenced below from the College of Forestry if you inquire.

It is both terrifying and encouraging to see how much has changed in terms of our environmental situation and consciousness in such a short time, in just six months. The climate is declining at lightning speed and our understanding while also rapid is insufficient.  Changes of mind and action such as we have never conceived are required and we are all reeling.  Dr. Davis proposes a three-year process to institute a new program which at some point in our history would have been reasonable, but no longer. Three weeks, given what we are in, is too long and also at the same time we must be careful and thoughtful.  He also proposes, reflexively, consulting with all the “stakeholders” so that their various interests would be considered.  This is, equally, no longer a judicious and tenable approach except to focus the different perspectives and skill sets on the goal we must all accept: reversing extinction and restoring the climate and natural world. 

In 1972 I was invited to a living room reading of Christopher Stone’s argument in the California Law Review aloud: Should Trees Have Standing? Toward Legal Rights for Natural Objects. We were electrified. We knew that an original and revolutionary way of thinking had entered the public discourse, and everything could change to meet our insipient awareness of environmental devastation as a result of what was rapidly becoming a global lifestyle.  And though legal rights have recently been granted to rivers and mountains, this conceptualization has not been established fast enough or broadly enough to save our planet from impending climate dissolution and extinction.

I have been sitting with Andrew Davis’ reply for a month.  Something more seemed to be required than argument, disagreement or criticism.  These approaches would not likely lead to the changes that are mandated by these times. In the 19 Ways, which were transmitted to me and which I teach, the No Enemy Way and Alliance are core principles.  How might they serve us here?

The coincidence of two events this week called me to begin the open letter which follows that I had committed to write to Andrew Davis and the College of Forestry at Oregon State University.  As I began writing, I understood that we are all in this together and we must find the ways to make this clear and undeniable.

Although this letter is written, ostensibly, to Andrew Davis and the College of Forestry, it is written to all of us.  We are each called to attend the issues identified below.  And more.  Unsure of what to say, I wrote this essay under the spreading branches of an oak tree I watched spring up from a seedling that had planted itself and the line of Eucalyptus trees at the border of the house and Topanga State Park which have sustained me for thirty-eight years.  If there is any merit to what is said here, I attribute it to the intelligence they transmitted and, of course, any foolishness is entirely mine.


Dr. Anthony S. Davis, Interim Dean, College of Forestry, Oregon State University

Dear Anthony:

Thank you for responding as quickly as you did and appending the two letters of July 2019 in regard to College of Forestry having harvested a 15.6-acre unit within the McDonald Forest including many old growth trees, one dating back to 1599.  I have been contemplating your note of October 9th in light of the growing planetary crisis, of our rapidly growing awareness of the crises which threaten all life and so all of us equally.  Your letters reveal the perhaps inevitable differences between most institutions’ slow responses and the necessary agility of individuals. The opening concern in your letter of July 12 is with management and timber revenue, albeit to sustain a university and the community it serves.  Quite differently, your letter of July 24, begins with a sojourn in the forest with your family, hiking and biking that leads you to ask fundamental, even daring questions about global responsibility which conventional forestry policies have not recognized as essential considerations.

I am moved by your instinct to go to the forest to contemplate the grievous and thoughtless action of cutting down the old grove. In the same way I take note of your signature, Anthony, on your email, as it confirms that we are each, personally, intimately involved in the current tragedy and need to meet it together. Because the global situation is drastically different than we have understood, because the times are critical, I am hoping to change the conversation between us, not only you and I, but between all of us, including between institutions and living beings, human and non-human, whose very lives and futures are at great risk.

Actually, going to the forest is exactly the suggestion I offered in a letter to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Purdue who is directing the Forestry service to remove protections from the Tongass and Chugach National Forests in Alaska threatening the largest intact temperate rainforest in North America. As the son of a farmer who must cut down trees for farmland, he may not know trees and forests for themselves and so may not intuitively understand that they are as necessary to our lives as breath, that they are our breath, that we are kin.  But in the forest, one can learn this.

Kindergarten knowledge teaches us that trees absorb the carbon dioxide we exhale and provide the oxygen we need to live and that this evolutionary step provided for the emergence of mammals and humans.  We are not accustomed in western culture, to thinking systemically, interdependently, interconnectedly, and in terms of seven future generations as are Indigenous peoples; we do not fathom what this means nor understand how we must live accordingly. 

The following paragraph from botanist Barbara Beresford-Kroeger’s acclaimed new book, To Speak for the Trees , makes this simple and essential point:

“Earth’s atmosphere at the time of change from the ferns to the evergreens had concentrations of carbon dioxide too high to sustain human life. …Trees don’t simply maintain the conditions necessary for human and most animal life on Earth, trees created these conditions through the community of forests.

“…The truth was right there, so simple a child could grasp it.  Trees were responsible for the most basic necessity of life, the air we breathe.  Forests were being cut down across the globe at breathtaking rates – quite literally breathtaking.  In destroying them we were destroying our own life-support system.  Cutting down trees was a suicidal act.”

Institutions, universities, academic departments may not be able to grasp immediately what individuals must that our current circumstances require radical and rapid rethinking of everything.  Within a few years, perhaps even a few months, concerns about multi-value management, various stakeholders, revenue concerns and needs for timber products have become irrelevant before the urgent need confronting all institutions and people to preserve the basic condition of life.   —  oxygen, (air) water, earth, climate – and, therefore, forests and species diversity essential to life.  Ironically, the Forestry Departments which once ‘managed’ and harvested timber are now charged, contrarily, with preserving and extending all our forests as the single most important activity on the planet. 

Two events called me to write to you today.  The first is this the statement signed by 11,000 scientists in the Journal of BioScience:  ““We declare clearly and unequivocally that planet Earth is facing a climate emergency,” it states. “To secure a sustainable future, we must change how we live. [This] entails major transformations in the ways our global society functions and interacts with natural ecosystems.”

I was not aware until I copied it for this letter that the lead author is Prof William Ripple of Oregon State University, your colleague.  In my mind, this synchronicity underlines the understanding that we are called to meet this moment in new and radical ways. As I write this, Australia is burning and the Amazon is burning still.  I appreciated your understanding that everything is connected and that our values and actions have consequences elsewhere, as you write: “What role do North American values play in deforestation of the Brazilian Amazon…?” Or. Anthony, in the fires that are currently raging, or in the increasing inability of people  (and animals) to breathe in India?  And how might the overriding concern for timber revenue which dominates your letter of July 12 be a factor in these fire storms or, more locally, the Kincaid fire, or even the Getty fire, which caused me and so many others to evacuate last week, noting that the wild do not have evacuation routes or centers to protect them.

The second reason for writing to you today was Secretary Purdue’s intention to cut down the Tongass and Chugach National Forests for lumber.  When I wrote to you in October, I requested that the College of Forestry make substantial and appropriate amends for the felling of the ancient trees, though we realize they will not be replaced before 2439. Now, I see an action that would go far beyond making amends for a singular thoughtless transgression against nature but would in fact begin a process of setting things right while preserving the ancient ones. 

It would be most appropriate if you would intervene with Agriculture Secretary Purdue to protect the millions of acres of old-growth forests which are threatened in Alaska. It would be an act of contrition and alliance on behalf of all breathing beings.  In addition, it would be appropriate for the College of Forestry to intervene and to gather other Forestry Departments in North America and globally to do so as well.  It could be the equivalent of the 11,000 scientists who are sounding the alarm.   

You can see, I am sure, the beauty and rightness of such an intervention. 

Desperate times require extreme measures and in this case, swift actions.

I hope you will consider this and act and behalf of all life and the future.





[This was written and not posted on April 1 2019.  Today is September 20, 2019.  The Climate Strike is gathering millions across the globe.  I am preparing for ReVersing Extinction that will convene here in Topanga in a few hours.  It feels right to post this now as an offering for the future. After it is posted, I will go out to the ancestor altar again]

Good morning.  At the site of the Ancestors.  Listening.

Spring is truly here. April 1st, I have lived on this land for 38 years.  I chose that date because I knew that I was entering the unknown and the unexpected and that my life would no longer be in my hands.  I was giving myself over to the spirits.

Accordingly, I went to the ancestors this morning whose bones we buried in what we hope was an appropriate and respectful ceremony at 8 am on February 18, 2018 in the presence and with the participation of Indigenous and non-Indigenous people. These bones which could well belong to Native people had most probably been robbed from their graves to be used in anatomy classes or for research. Our intention in burying them was to undo this too familiar violation of the sacred. Cheryl Potts, an Alutiiq elder created a prayer stick to mark the place where many of us now pray and make offerings. It faces south, for us, the place of the heart.  It is easy to stand here and hear the words I first heard in Canyon de Chelly: This Beauty comes from the Great Heart.”

Cheryl Potts is now (9/20/2019 on Kodiak Island making contact on behalf of returning her ancestors and sacred relics to the land of their origin.  And today is the global climate strike that the young have initiated, millions gathering on behalf of the Earth.)  And in a few hours, ReVersing Extinction will convene here for the second time.)

We do not know the origins of these ancestors so we do not know their homeland but we consider that it may have been the East coast, USA. A physician in our community rescued them. They had been abandoned in a plastic bag on the bottom of a closet after being used to teach anatomy by her grandfather who was a physician and medical lecturer himself. The best we could is return them to the ultimate sacred home, Earth.

I spent time with the ancestors looking at the astonishing green covering the hills and praying for guidance on how we can meet and even ReVerse Extinction and Climate Collapse. For this purpose, a small group of spiritual and environmental activists had gathered in Topanga on March 22, 2019 from various countries to hold Council, our process for gathering wisdom, admit our not knowing and listen deeply together.  We understood that it is unlikely that any one person or group or tribe will find a single answer but that it is our task is to form a vessel from our diversity to hold what might be offered from the wisdom and vision of the spirits, the beings of the natural world and Indigenous teachings. On our knees before everything we have separated from, disdained tried to conquer, killed.  ReVersing. I see no other way that we will survive.

When traveling in 2017 with a Rain of Night Birds, attempting to introduce a new conversation in regard to Anthropocene Climate Disruption, I regularly asked people to find the edge beyond the edge they were already walking on behalf of the Earth. Now when I am with those whose thinking and projects are already far beyond conventional approaches, I still ask them, what I am asking of myself:  Listen to the voices beyond the human and then leap!  Leap far beyond what you know so we might find ways to end the threat to all Life. 

Those of you who know the Fool’s card in the Waite Tarot recognize that instruction – the Fool, a dog nipping at his heels, steps over the cliff into the unknown.  What will become of him?  What will become of us? And so, I write this on April Fools, willing and prepared to leap when the possibility presents itself.

The wind has come up suddenly and powerfully; I pause to consider what this might mean.  One of the participants at our Council placed prayer ties in the trees surrounding the patio, augmenting the energy of the Tibetan prayer flags.  Such weather calls forth the prayers.  May the natural world and all beings, all beings, survive and thrive.  The sudden gusts are at least 24 mph.  I learned to estimate from living for several years with the two climatologists, one Native and one non-Native and a Native elder who are the characters in the novel, A Rain…. They are fictional characters but still they taught me about weather when I was writing the book.  I shiver in wonder.  Terrence Green, the Native climatologist studied wind as had his grandfather but in different ways.  And now the wind surrounds me.

Spring reconstitutes the world.  One participant said it is difficult to accept the horrific global situation we are in when the land is very beautiful and there is much joy from our being together.  We look at the Earth and remember how it was before technology, urbanization, commercial interests and colonization became so dominant. Memory is critical to ReVersing Extinction and we walked the land so we would witness and remember Earth’s beauty and presence  Memory is a seed.  We are the seed banks of what must be remembered.  How do we protect the seeds? How shall we pass them on for safe keeping?  When and how shall they be planted again?  Will we remember the difference between Restoration and Invention? 

Even as I am writing to you, I am listening.  I am listening for what might be communicated and what can be remembered.  There is no need to say anything new. The old stories are told again and again. When a story is true, it is inscribed on the heart more and more deeply with every retelling from the past and maybe even the future.

Surely, it will take time for us, for anyone of us or anyone else on the planet to receive such guidance as is needed to meet this grave catastrophe for which no one has any answers that are sufficient to the need.  We will have to show ourselves trustworthy which means cultivating, if one has not done so already, a true and reliable relationship to the spirits, that is, we need to be vetted by the spirits themselves.  Such a relationship takes years to develop, each of us may be called to it differently through our traditions and through our own practices and activities. Then we may be able to hear what is beyond us and may be so different from what we assume and believe. And isn’t that one way of recognizing spirit’s guidance – it is so often nothing we would have thought of ourselves. 

If/when the Spirits guide us, their communications will not necessarily be, will unlikely be, in words and so it is equally unlikely their directions will be clear.  We have, each of us, to expect, that we will make false starts or go in the wrong direction or not understand why we are on the new path we seemed to be called to walk.  We can’t expect certainty.  And, always, there are no guarantees.  But if we risk the smaller failures, we may avoid the larger failure – extinction and collapse of all systems. 

Looking out on the land, I was again filled with gratitude. It is sacred land.  It sits at the border of a rural area and a wild state park.  There are so many reasons to call it sacred, but one reason is that it is storied land which has hosted rituals and ceremonies.  Many of our dead are buried here.  There have been many occasions of quests and seeking vision.  And recently we withdrew from occupying it at night, giving it over to the mountain lions who are seeking refuge after the Woolsey fire.  We call this land a village sanctuary for all beings and try to live accordingly.  And again, it is sacred because it holds so many stories.

Story is the way meaning enters the world.  Story makes meaning of the world.  The two-dimensional image, the flatness  of linear thinking and event can come alive and multidimensional through story. I sent a group of photographs I took of Elephants in Botswana and Namibia to a colleague.  These are not merely images.  Each photograph is a story that evokes a complex event, relationship and a world.  Each photograph chronicles the still incomprehensible but undeniable meetings and interactions with Elephants in the wild.  Events I/we could not have organized but which depended upon activities outside the ken of mere human beings and which occurred, so they would not be denied, again and again over a period of twenty years. 

The Great Elephant and His Spirit Light

[Notice the light on the ground.  It can only emanate from this Elephant himself.  We had been with him for several hours as  he led us, tested us.  This is our last moment with him.  Who is this spirit being?  How do we honor and live according to his manifestation?]

Yes, today, I was standing by the ancestors, looking out onto the green hills and meadows, the dark green of the oak groves and the brilliant yellow of the mustard rising, it seems, a foot a day after the recent rains. Listening.  Then I knew that there were no words or clear instructions coming to me to advise us regarding these desperate times.  But that I might learn the way I have always been guided through Story, through event, synchronicities, dreams, that is, in the languages that the non-human beings speak to articulate the ways of the sacred in the world.

“What is essential?” asked Gigi Coyle.  “Let us track synchronicities,” she advised.  Let’s listen deeply, I add.  Let us also follow the stories into which we are enfolded.

And so I stand with the ancestors.  I confess I do not know, we do not know how to avert the future that we seem to be calling forth, the compulsion we have for ecocide.  I praise the beauty and bless however and whatever I can.  We do not know how to prevent the disaster we are creating.  I go down on my knees.  My temple to the ground.  I yield.  The wind comes up.  Not hope but a slim possibility.  Butterflies are everywhere.  The wandering birds have returned.  Thrashers, blue birds, jays, gold finches, humming birds, orioles, mourning doves, hawks and golden eagles.  The first squawk of a baby owl heard tonight as I continue to write this.  Just a glance of a tawny haunch in the tall grasses – likely a bob cat but maybe the cougar.  For the moment, a glimpse of life as it once was, still is, and might continue if we drastically change our ways.

Good night.  Praising the dark. Listening.

I have just returned from the Ancestor’s altar, broken hearted and hopeful, today, as the youth declare their determination to meet the crises and rescue the Earth. My prayer,:May we do nothing to impede and everything to protect this Earth as a sanctuary for all beings.

Mitakuye Oyasin


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




Extinction Illness: Grave Affliction and Possibility Featured Essay on Tikkun by Deena Metzger

Everyone says climate is the most important issue of all, and yet they just carry on as before. I don’t understand that. Because if the emissions have to stop, then we must stop the emissions. To me that is black or white. There are no gray areas when it comes to survival. Either we go on as a civilization or we don’t. We have to change.

 – Greta Thunberg, 15-year-old climate activist, self-identified as autistic, speaking at the UN Climate Summit in Poland, December, 2018.

The insight came swiftly, undeniable and overwhelming, like the fire storm that devoured Paradise. Instant and devastating. The impact and understanding immediate.

I had been reeling from the news of the last years regarding climate disruption, wars, famine, hate crimes, the desperation of migrants and refugees, and the incomprehensible chaos and brutishness of our current president – as have we all – and also from a series of events which I had met individually and, without realizing it, had compartmentalized in order to respond from an open an unimpeded heart.

But coming home after many days away to phone messages from two different women who could not speak coherently because they had broken into sobs, I was alerted to the grief that they were carrying for all of us which could not be contained in a personal story. I knew then these are not merely difficult times. And even this might not have been sufficient to alert me to the extremity of the critical shift in our weather, external and internal, had not another message been left from a friend whose daughter had just been killed by the Thousand Oaks shooter and another from a relative on her way to the Pittsburgh synagogue where there had just been a massacre.

On Friday November 13, 2015, I had stayed up all night emailing with a friend in Paris as she hid in her apartment after the bombings which had just occurred in her neighborhood. And in the last year, I had been advising several friends and colleagues who are offering trauma counseling and community support to the Parkland survivors and their families as well as to students and faculty in Pine Ridge who were trying to meet a rash of suicides and attempted suicides in teenagers and younger children. There were also three deaths of young people close to me in the last month. A startling number of friends and acquaintances, formerly competent and active people, have been unable to function for long periods of time due to disabling depression, anxiety, and despair; I do not know if they will recover. Two members of our small, well-educated and trained community are homeless, unable to find work or permanent housing with friends or relatives. An alarming percentage of friends’ children are suffering from addiction, schizophrenia, depression, and are in danger of committing suicide. Two women will meet with me this week to explore writing about living with wary children (plural) suffering mental illness while another friend called to ask for prayers for yet another young man incarcerated in a mental hospital. One of our Daré (community healing circles) members reports monthly on the condition of two sons in and out of mental hospitals over the last ten years. There has been more mental illness and addiction in my extended family than I had ever conceived possible when I was young and more children in my kinship network suffering from conditions that range between high functioning Asperger’s syndrome and extreme autism requiring full time care.

At night, I dream the anguished cries of polar bears, grizzlies, fur seals, whales, wolves, elephants, giraffes, lions, whose habitats are overrun, toxic and gravely dangerous, who cannot live a moment without fear of the next action by the ravenous two-leggeds who hunt or gawk, who pollute, destroy, and dominate. Though I had to evacuate for a week because of the firestorm threat to Topanga, my discomfort did not compare to the death in the Woolsey fire of two of our very, very few mountain lions when 85% of the wild mountain park that was their territory burned. Meanwhile, the rangers cautioned us not to put out water or food because “the animals are resourceful” even though there is no water to be found in this drought which caused the fires. Simultaneously, the Camp Fire changed everything as people were vaporized or cremated in a fire that was hotter than any natural fire we have known. A filmmaker friend who traveled to Chico and Paradise found people gathering – Climate Uprising – to face the climate crisis even while sifting through the ashes for signs of their loved ones and trying to imagine how to survive and rebuild. The probability that there was and may continue to be a release of radiation from the toxic and radioactive super site at the old Rocketdyne lab in Simi Valley is democratically experienced by all beings which means the remaining mountain lions and all the flora and fauna and human beings, myself, my children, my friends included within a hundred miles.

What was my realization? Here it is:

We are all going extinct.

The animals know this and now all humans know this as well. Sensing the imminent death of all species, the cellular understanding of our common fate is making us ill. Our nervous and physical systems cannot bear this terrible knowledge. The growing understanding of the reality of the human caused 6th Extinction is resulting in Extinction Illness.

Contemplating the extent and pervasiveness of despair and violence across the globe, the increasing aberrance of human and non-human behavior, I see that all humans and non-humans know this, all human people and all beings, animals, trees, birds, insects, fish, know this. And all of us are being driven to some form of madness, pain, or dysfunction. For the animals, Bear, Wolf, Elephant, Whale this results in unavoidable and unmediated terror. We humans know, with or without awareness, that we are responsible. And so, we, entirely crazed, become a species that commits ecocide even as we die of it. The different signs and symptoms are ubiquitous and no one is escaping it.

We know we are going extinct. We know this consciously and/or unconsciously. Each person on the planet knows this. Extinction is upon us and no one is immune to it. All beings sense our/their imminent death. Not only their individual deaths, but far worse, the death of their species. An unbearable thought. And beyond that, the death of all species ….

My father, writer Arnold Posy, feared for the death of his people. He wrote in Yiddish and mourned its death and everything that would mean, the end of a culture which was held together for hundreds of years by language. I lived every day with his grief as the truth of the Holocaust descended upon him. He had escaped the Czarist army and made his way to England, because he knew how Jews fared when conscripted and also, he was not a man who could take up a gun. His brother came to the foot of his bed one night, his uniform torn and stained with mud, his head bandaged and bloody, his body broken and exuding the patina of death. “Look, Aria, what the Cossacks have done to me,” the ghost said and disappeared. Weeks later, a letter came to London detailing his death in the army. My father knew that had he not escaped, he would also have died by fragging but he could not bear the reality that his family of twelve children and numerous aunts, uncles, cousins, had perished in mass graves, save him, the youngest, and his sister the oldest, twenty years between them.

We lived with these deaths though my father’s personal sorrow was mostly silenced by the greater wail of the Holocaust. In 1945, at age 9, I learned of the atom bomb and sensed that I would also mourn other incomprehensible tragedies. When my father died in 1987 when I was fifty, I knew that I would be carrying not the death of a people but the death of all peoples, human and non-human alike, the death of the planet, of Earth, of the future, of all life.

It is possible that Extinction Illness is the root of all contemporary mental, physical, and spiritual diseases. Extinction Illness, the essential cellular knowledge and terror that one’s life, one’s people’s lives, all life is threatened, that lineage is disappearing, that we, all, may well become extinct within a very short period of time, that the future will be eradicated.

The fire of knowing sweeps down upon us like a tornado and there is no place to run. There is no escape. And worse, we do not get to live our ordinary lives until the moment of Extinction. Much suffering is inevitable before our demise in whichever way it will come to any one of us.

An inevitable prelude arises: Extinction illness – our bodies, minds, souls reeling with the terrible reality of what we have done, are doing. Extinction is our fault.

Whether or not we ‘believe’ the scientists who say climate change is Anthropocene Climate Disruption, meaning we are the cause, we know extinction and our role in it, consciously and unconsciously. Even those who don’t consciously know or accept the reality of the 6th Extinction or Climate Change or Disruption or recognize the consequences of the bleaching of the barrier reefs, the glaciers and poles melting, the acidification of the oceans, the extreme weather shifts, deadly floods, year-long and increasingly intense fire seasons, wind tornadoes and fire tornadoes, the insect apocalypse, the collapse of fisheries, deforestation, desertification and 17,000 species threatened at this time, they know. The unconscious knows. The soul knows. The connected life system knows even if the individual isn’t consciously aware. He/she/they were born into the network of all life and Life knows too. As Ubuntu teaches, “I am because you are,” which now we must rephrase: I will not be because you will not be. I will not be if you will not be.

Extinction illness. A world condition and a world affliction. Perhaps this systemic affliction is at the root of all our current global plagues, diseases, and illnesses.

As I write this to you, my heart beat is irregular and pounding. I know the reality of all of this in my body. We each know this differently. I know it through hartzveitig– the pain of extreme grief and despair, the anguish of the broken heart. There is no physical medical cause for my body’s agitation; there is only this physical manifestation of hartzveitig. It could be any symptom. It could be any of the conditions or situations mentioned in the beginning of this desperate exhortation to sanity and change. It could be a heart attack, intractable depression, inconsolable grief, addictions of every sort, splitting, compulsions, denial, extreme greed and territoriality, violent rages, derangement, uncontrollable aggression, murder, urges to suicide, even, paradoxically, paralleling the host of auto-immune responses, deliberate acts of ecocide. It could be any of these arbitrary or happenstance physical or mental manifestations of the same illness which we mistake for symptoms and treat uselessly, as we often treat symptoms without seeking the essential core.

As there is no pharmaceutical for Extinction, there is none for Extinction Illness. There is no anti-biotic, no anti-depressant or anti-psychotic, no sedative, no bone marrow transplant, no chemotherapy, rodenticide, no pesticide, no radiation therapy. To the contrary, this list makes it clear that these conventional medicinals are the poisons which accelerate the condition. There is no personal healing for these conditions and treating or focusing on the symptoms is counter-productive and exacerbates our common jeopardy.

Here we are. We are all suffering a life-threatening illness for which there is no discoverable cure. How shall we meet it?

For a period of time, we may be able to bear the symptoms or pretend that they are part of the natural order of disease to be treated conventionally. Over time, this blind recourse will be seen to be self-serving and futile. Like any being with a life-threatening illness, we suffer it and respond in a thousand different ways before we ultimately succumb.

However, in rare cases we can transform our fate through deep listening to what the body and soul need to reverse the death process and enter life. Healing our lives and preparing for good deaths is the same action. Can we heal ourselves, our planet? Can we desist from doing so much harm? There is no medicine, no medical procedure that will heal Extinction except ….

The only healing for Extinction, and so Extinction IIlness, as they are entirely intertwined, is stopping Extinction.


When one is suffering a life-threatening illness, one is called to look beyond the physical manifestation to see the root cause and determine what one can do to change one’s life and, hopefully, extend, even save it. As it happens, the particular symptoms we have, the particular affliction, often point the way to the healing action we are to take. This implies that each of us suffering distinctly gets to add exactly what is needed to the complex whole. Though this way of proceeding is not part of conventional western medicine, it is still a deep response among many people who search to find meaning and purpose in a healing path. Cure is instant but healing is a life-long practice.

Learning I had cancer at age forty, I understood I had to change my life in every way to create health. I had to leave a relatively secure teaching life for the unknown, risking my income, leaving friends, community, comfort and a four-bedroom house and pool in the suburbs to live in Topanga, a rural canyon in California in a two-room broken down cottage at the end of a dirt road to which I had to bring water and other basic amenities. My value system was undergoing an extreme reset. It was excruciatingly difficult to strip away socialization, conventional assumptions about the good life and everyone’s advice to remain safe, but I knew my life depended on the shift. Struggling and afraid, I turned inward to create a relationship with the natural world. Cancer striking at age forty brought a dark time, but the activity of healing brought light. Not everyone can leave our urban centers, but we can transform them so that we are all living less desperate and disconnected lives. We can find the necessary ways to restore and co-exist in different degrees with the wild everywhere. However, to really live once again with the natural world and the wild on their own terms means to strip away almost everything and begin again. And only when we do so will we be in the right mind to begin to contemplate what is next and how to proceed on behalf of a future for all beings, including ourselves.

In the mid-seventies, a man suffering cancer said to me, “Cancer is the answer.” He had changed his life drastically from a deadly regime to life-giving ways that entirely invigorated him and it seemed was also going to extend his life significantly.

And so, given that we are all suffering this life-threatening condition which manifests in the deterioration of the natural world and in concomitant individual, social, political, global catastrophes, and given that a multitude of climate scientists, specialists of Earth medicine, asserted on October 7, 2018, through the release of a UN climate assessment report that we have only twelve years to lower the carbon level or all life as we know it is done for – all life – then we have less than twelve years to reverse this diagnosis. How, then, shall we live to promote health? How will we change our lives drastically enough to save Life itself?

Well, we will have to love life, won’t we? We will have to love life, the natural world, value beauty and the wild nature above all else, won’t we?

And here’s the rub: in order to save our lives, we have to save everyone’s life, human and non-human, because Extinction Illness tells us that we cannot survive alone as the life force and life cycles depend absolutely on diversity and the abundance of all the life forms.

In modern days, when a plague or virus affects a large population or is highly contagious and uncontrollable, all health and medical resources are directed toward healing and containment. But in this instance, medical, psychological, and health personnel have not considered it their duty, let alone their primary responsibility to make the diagnosis and find the causes of Extinction and Extinction Illness in our lives and respond accordingly. It is urgent that we do so. The ultimate meanings of “Physician heal thyself,” coupled with, “First do no harm.”

So much more can and must be said and explored about this, but first we must take in the reality of the illness, its multiple forms and manifestations, the ways it masks ordinary diseases, and the truth that there are no easy cures or even opiates to dull the pain. First, we must recognize our condition and then admit we have caused this crisis, that we continue to create it. We are responsible. It is a consequence of our willful and/or oblivious initiation of an auto-immune disease, simultaneously homicide and ecocide.

Extinction Illness: an affliction and an alert. In 1977, cancer alerted me to Imperialism and its affects: a rogue cell invades a territory, reproduces itself without assuming any useful functions to sustain the whole, uses up all the available resources and pollutes the site until everything, itself included, dies. I had to know it in my body in order to understand its grave harm in the world. Extinction Illness alerts us to the dire effects of our predatory nature. Extinction Illness is an iconic auto-immune disease: the species attacks itself and all life is threatened.

But deep self-scrutiny of the illness and its causes can reveal, as is the case, again, with other life-threatening illnesses, which paths lead to healing and the restoration of vitality. There are old medicines and medicine ways that can be revived. Indigenous peoples whose ways and culture are not responsible for this tragedy, though they suffer it, know something of the values, approaches, lived ways that can mitigate what is otherwise our grim fate. Deep immersion in and attention to and unconditional love of the natural world are necessary pathways. There are other ways we can find but none will be effective unless we willingly, ruthlessly and essentially change our lives.

The only healing for Extinction Illness is changing our lives to stop Extinction.

The only healing for Extinction Illness is changing our lives to stop Extinction.

Read the essay at

The Eulogy that Deena offered at the Memorial for Noel Sparks killed by the Thousand Oaks Shooter

From Noel’s FB page September 9, 2017:-
Sometimes you don’t know the value of something until it becomes a memory – Dr Suess

“I knew also, that for us, the older generation, Noel was hope. When we think of how, despite our efforts, we have failed the time, we think of young people like Noel as hope for the future.”

I knew Noel from approximately age 8 to 14.  We met through poetry and music.  I was reading my poetry with Jami Sieber, cellist and Wendy Anderson, her mother, and Noel were in attendance.  They followed Jami’s music so closely I can only guess that Jami inspired Noel’s love of the cello.  In that way, I think my writing inspired this gifted young woman as well. Our souls found each other, Jami, Wendy, Noel and I.  When Noel was about twelve or thirteen, she attended a week-long writing retreat I offered for advanced writers, many already published.  She held her own and helped out in the kitchen.  All of it part of her home schooling, which Wendy pursued with the utmost seriousness and devotion.  She home schooled Noel because she knew how remarkable Noel was and had a sacred responsibility to provide the fullest most relevant education possible.  

When he confirmed that I would be speaking today, Pastor Curtis Johnson asked me to craft a message of hope.  I took in his request deeply and have been contemplating the nature of hope, how it arises and guides us.  I knew given these terrible circumstances and the grief and violence of these dark years like no other on the face of the earth since the beginning of time, that I had to offer real hope, not rhetoric or exhortation, but hope that would be palpable and sustaining for everyone, myself included.  

I knew also, that for us, the older generation, Noel was hope.  When we think of how, despite our efforts, we have failed the time, we think of young people like Noel as hope for the future.

When we read the current dire IPCC report, the International Panel on Climate Change, and see how grievously we have attacked the earth, or when we take in the tragedy of the fires still burning here and in the North, that are of our doing, we think of Noel who loved the Earth passionately, as someone who already carried and so would initiate the changes we must make in order for life to survive.

A simple story to set the context.  Wendy attended a workshop I offered in Topanga.  We spent a long time in silence on the land meeting the spirit of the natural world.  At the end, Wendy appeared with a rack of deer antlers on her head.  So many of us had walked the land over and over again for years, but no one of us had seen the weathered antlers. It had had to be Wendy.  Wendy is of the natural world. The earth raised her in her great wisdom. And Wendy, in turn, allowed the earth to raise Noel so that she would grow up wise and compassionate, an advocate for the Earth that would give us hope.

When we, the older generation, think of all the wars we wage, the viciousness of the technology, the violence, alienation, the enormous suffering that combatants and non-combatants endure, the fact that the wars never end and come home to us again and again as they did on November 7th, we think of Noel as someone who knew and lived peace in every cell of her being.  Because Noel was intuitively, instinctively, spiritually, even stubbornly, devoted to peace, insisting on peaceful and heartful solutions to conflict, we had hope that she would set right what we failed to do.

When we think of all the Ian David Longs who went to war and suffered such moral injury that drives one mad, and when we admit that we failed to stop these wars,  failed to provide healing, then we had hope that Noel would know how to meet his ravaged soul, that she would have known to take such a one to the forest, to the desert, to rock climb, to be washed clean in the sea, to the healing of the natural world, that she would have listened to his unspeakable story, brought comfort, helped him make amends and heal before…  We had hope in Noel as a healer. 

And when we watch everything of value torn apart by injustice and hate, we had faith that Noel had the fierce and devoted love that could meet such circumstances and those who suffered them and could bring the peace that only a true, determined, intelligent, courageous, undaunted, entirely authentic love can bring.

And so now that she is gone, what hope?  

I reframe here a poem I wrote some years ago:

When a great body and soul 
is broken by catastrophe
We take the pieces into ourselves
And we are made whole thereby.

We have all heard who Noel was, what she lived by, what she embodied, the true, pure and spiritual nature of her being.  

Let us take a moment of silence, and take what we know of her deep. Deep into ourselves.  Let us breathe in the parts of her that are most important to each of us – whether it be 

her profound love and participation in beauty, music, dance, art, words,  
her indomitable healing spirit, 
her love and devotion to the natural world and all beings,
her insistence upon justice,
her lived conviction that violence is unnecessary and peace is necessary
and possible
and her loving nature, her determination to meet every situation in real
time with love, courageously and passionately.

Take these in.  Breathe her spirit into you.  Let it inscribe itself in you.

What is hope?  
Noel was hope.  
And now she is in you, is of us.  
She is not gone, she is dispersed within us.  
And so hope?  
You are hope.  
You are now the hope that will bring peace and restore life to this ravaged planet.  

Bless you all.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SE: An apt analogy!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To read or hear other interviews with Deena go here.

The Mystery: Approaching the Elephant People After Seventeen Years Part II

The Mystery was published in issue # 5 of Dark Matter: Women Witnessing, edited and published by Lise Weil.

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.

Here are some words from what may be a last essay (see below) on our meetings since 2000:

“Accepting that direct communication and analysis came from the Elephant People allowed the field we were in together to become visible. We realized that we had been in ‘spirits’ theater for seventeen years, simultaneously actors and audience.

Neither Elephant nor human could have designed such situations in which members of both species appear to each other as if explicitly summoned. While our meetings were both intentional and circumstantial, the sum total of our many interactions over time, hours, days, weeks, years, cohered in nested living stories that became the language through which we, different species though we are, spoke to each other. This occurred both within and outside of time and space. We had been transported to another dimension where meaning and action are simultaneous and indistinguishable. The story that emerged from and enfolded us challenged all conventional assumptions of reality and hegemony.

We had returned to the Elephants, again and again, at the behest of the Ambassador, and in return we were allowed to participate in a common field of consciousness that manifested unpredictably. Clearly both human and non-human were impacted by each other. Attuned to one another, we began to share a critical DNA of mind from which future connections and understandings would emerge. That is, we melted toward each other and, ultimately, without changing shape, we melted into each other….



Deena Metzger

The Mystery: Approaching the Elephant People

This is a response to the darkest times. We know all life is threatened, and increasingly so under the current administration, yet we inevitably respond from our human perspectives and fears. However, we will not understand what we must without recognizing non-human wisdom. In 2010, several of us had dreams indicating that there are hidden passageways, different for each of us, to saving the earth and restoring the natural world. For me, making alliances with animals and other non-human beings became an essential path.

In 1997, as co-editor of the groundbreaking anthology, Intimate Nature: The Bond Between Women and Animals, which testified to animal intelligence and agency, I was introduced to one of the great mysteries: the true nature of the beings with whom we cohabit the planet which I could only begin to understand by stepping out of my own mind into the consciousness of others.

As many of you reading this know, I met an Elephant we call the Ambassador on Epiphany, January 6th, 2000, in Chobe National Park, Botswana. Traveling to various African wild animal reserves over the next seventeen years, I realized I was engaging with different Elephants and herds while fulfilling the mandate implicit in the original meeting to regard the Elephants as kin.

A few years ago, I was alerted to Elephants in Assam, India occupying an airstrip to prevent military planes taking off and landing. There were also a series of attacks on humans in India and around the globe that seemed to avenge earlier assaults on Elephants, interruption or prevention of mourning rituals, and loss of habitat. It seemed like a global organized activity on the part of the Elephants and I was able to speak of Elephant sovereignty in an article translated into Hindi and circulated in Indian papers.

Very recently, a female Elephant in Hwange killed a big game hunter who was tracking her and her herd. A great white Shark leaped into a fisherman’s boat in Australian waters and a Bear attacked a hunter in Ontario Canada. Regarded as random, these incidents can be understood as conscious non-human responses to intolerable human activities. Animals have a capacity for outrage and retribution as well as surprise and wonder. Once it’s accepted that non-human species have agency and spiritual lives, the world changes and we recognize, against all assumptions, who these others really are.

In the early sixties, a black Panther escaped Jungleland in Thousand Oaks, California. Then a lion escaped from a Midwest zoo and children were bussed to view the hunt. Instinctively, I identified with the animals, imagined what it might feel to be lost and hunted in suburbia and wrote a novel, What Rough Beast, (unpublished) from a Lion’s point of view. I entered into his consciousness, his view of being imprisoned, then hunted, and his thoughts about the nature of human beings. Looking back at my life fifty years later, I see a thread, a calling to bear witness to and speak of the true nature of the non-human beings with whom we share the planet and Creation.

January 2017. I returned to Africa for the ninth time to be with the Elephants, holding different questions and marveling at the unpredictable ways they had been addressed by events Cynthia Travis, Matt Meyer, our guide, and I traveled first to Thula Thula, the South African reserve started by Lawrence Anthony, author of The Elephant Whisperer, and then to Chobe where a group of Elephants gathered around us, seemingly out of the blue, at 5 pm on Epiphany, just as the Ambassador had appeared on Epiphany 2000, and then walked back into the forest exactly at 6 pm when we had to leave the park.


Such meetings constitute the ways the Elephants have been conversing with us over time and space. Sequences of events are a language through which we communicate across species–no translation needed.

On January 9th we arrived at Mashatu in Southern Botswana and on January 14th in Damaraland, Namibia. Given that this might very well be a last visit, it was time to approach all the trips and encounters as a single Story, which viewed as such could provide new insights and guidance for human connections to the wild. I was calling on memory – a very Elephant way of being – in order to see the entire pattern of our relating to each other and what arises from that integrated perspective. Alert to the subtlest possible transmission, still I could not distinguish between the Elephants’ intent and Spirits’ objective.

Back at home, I could not speak of the journey. Then I wrote about Thula Thula and Chobe – humans and Elephants communicating with each other about drought (see link above). When Frankie the up-and-coming Matriarch of Thula Thula reproached me and our species for creating drought and bringing misery and death to her people, she was engaging in a direct, grave and strategic transmission. Too often people speak of the Animals’ inviolable love for us. It eases the human heart to think so. But I wouldn’t console myself with the illusion that this communication was tempered by love.

There was more behind it: Humans must change. How? Think with the heart as Indigenous people do. Think ‘we’ instead of ‘I’. Become more Elephant. Become less of what we are and more of the Indigenous and non-human that we have attacked and violated. Become like they are – earth-centered, spirit- centered, relational beings who would never hunt the way we hunt, kill the way we kill, destroy the way we destroy.

Yes. These are good beginnings.

It takes years to step across the species divide and to recognize different species as peers and equals on this planet. It shatters the mind – as it should. It requires undoing the pervasive structures, apparent and subtle, of the dominating, imperial human cultures that have assaulted Indigenous wisdom and what remains of the true nature of the world. The future existence of the planet depends on creating honest working alliances with all the myriad sentient, intelligent non-human beings. Each meeting with the Elephants had been a gift and a mandate leading us to this understanding.

However, the gift of such extraordinary meetings cannot be received without knowing the gravity of extinction, pollution and climate change we have created and without finding ways to heal what we have wrought.

The Mystery: Approaching Elephant People, Deena MetzgerThe animals, the Elephants, are aware of our criminal activities and are responding. Integrity requires us to change our ways and minds. This is what they are indicating when they come to meet us.


Mashatu Game Reserve consists of 72,000 acres located in the Northern Tuli Game Reserve of Botswana, situated between the Tuli Safari Area, a national park in Zimbabwe and the Mapungubwe National Park, a World Heritage Site in South Africa. As it shares unfenced borders with both the South African and Zimbabwean national parks in the south and north respectively, the animals have a vast area, a long wildlife corridor, to wander through. However, as they are know they are safe within Botswana where hunting is illegal and threatened in Zimbabwe where trophy hunting is encouraged, many animals, if food allows it, avoid crossing into Zimbabwe.

Arriving at Mashatu, we knew we would not experience the intimacy with the animals that we felt with the single herd of Elephants on the 3,000 acres of Thula Thula nor the sense of destiny that came with multiple encounters with Elephants on six different occasions at five in the afternoon at the Chapungu tree in Chobe National Park.

On the last day in Mashatu in 2016, we had been allowed to approach a large herd at a water hole. They departed just at the time we had to repair to an elevated place for a last cup of tea before going to the airport. We were stunned when the herd, split into several lines, approached the Mashatu tree so closely we took cover in the truck. But undeniably, they had come to say good-bye.

Now we were returning a year later. The one desire I had had to listen from within a herd and to greet the Matriarchs formally had been met in Thula Thula and was unlikely again with such a large Elephant population. Earlier, our time in Chobe had confirmed the magical connections we had had there over the years. We accepted that we had been incorporated into a field of co-existence that made communication possible. Now I wondered what insights or messages might come from our next two destinations?


In a dry country, rain is luck. Abundant rains had come to Mashatu and were continuing. A pulley system helped us cross a swollen river where the year before we had driven across a dry ravine. Within minutes of going out on a first game drive, the winds picked up and we stopped the Land Rover to put ponchos on before the downpour. In an open vehicle without a roof we were as exposed to the elements as the animals. It was a good beginning.

The rain accompanied us intermittently until sunset as we drove across darkened and then brilliant yellow fields of devil’s thorn with which the female Elephants adorned themselves.

The Mystery: Approaching Elephant People, Deena Metzger

Accepting that we were not at Mashatu to repeat earlier experiences, confirm previous perceptions or gather new proofs of connection, we tried to look at everything with fresh eyes. It was Cyndie who first noticed the gestures of a herd of Elephants moving with great deliberation and intent into a small grove. We followed them curious. There they divided into little groups leaning against the trees, caressing them with their trunks but not eating the leaves. It can be nothing less than devotion, Cyndie said. We had not expected to come upon Elephants in prayer. But… why not?

The Mystery: Approaching Elephant People, Deena MetzgerReturning to the grove several times, we never encountered the Elephants there again. How empty it seemed without their presence converting it into a temple. Although we didn’t see them in prayer, we did come upon them blessing each other.

The Mystery: Approaching Elephant People, Deena MetzgerBeautiful and awesome as this was, I didn’t initially grasp what was being revealed. Anticipating relationship with the Elephants, or continuously hoping for it, I wasn’t aware of what was, in fact, occurring. In retrospect, stepping out of the confinement and limitation of individual events and examining them within a progression over years, writing this piece, seeing the photos again, I understand what I couldn’t then.

We were shown perfect beauty. We were shown … Creation. We were shown the spiritual lives of the Elephants and the animals. We were shown that we had been born into Paradise and had been exiled by our own hands.

The Mystery: Approaching Elephant People, Deena MetzgerWithin minutes of driving out of the Camp the first morning, we were astonished by two turtle doves making love on a tree branch. A wondrous instance on a brilliant morning. Several minutes later, we came upon a terrapin in the road and our guide following his intuition looked into the underbrush about twenty feet away where two terrapins were mating. Spirit was getting our attention.

For the rest of the days at Mashatu we marveled at the profusion of life forms. There were newborn and young — Elephant, kudu, impala, zebra, wildebeest, cape buffalo, monkey, baboon, lion, giraffe … — everywhere.

The Mystery: Approaching Elephant People, Deena MetzgerAnd in Namibia, where we were to go next, even rhino calves.

The Mystery: Approaching Elephant People, Deena MetzgerAs if to emphasize the message of fertility, everyone was mating. So it wasn’t a great surprise when we came upon an alpha lion we had seen the day before, sleeping under a tree while ten feet away, a young lioness, stirred restlessly. Unable to control her inner agitation, she approached the lion, circled him, prodded him until he stopped resisting her. What struck us was his kindness.

The Mystery: Approaching Elephant People, Deena MetzgerOur guide indicated that she was immature, had never had cubs, was overwhelmed with estrus. While the lion entered her, almost as if bidden, he did so gently, lowering his mouth to her shoulder to ease her before his thrust.

This sequence repeated again and again.

The last hour of the last day at Mashatu, we found a perch at the summit of a small hill that allowed us to look back toward the plain where we had been present as a great bull Elephant had been courting an Elephant matriarch before the entire herd. Then a startling shriek from a little one who resented the bull’s attention interrupted them and the bull strode away.

The Mystery: Approaching Elephant People, Deena MetzgerBehind us to the east, the herd was dispersing for the night. To the north, two Giraffes, their bodies rosy from the setting sun were standing, enchanted.

The Mystery: Approaching Elephant People, Deena Metzger

We could see that they wanted each other, though they were very still. Then he arched back in a parabola of desire and in seconds they mated in the purple dusk.

The Mystery: Approaching Elephant People, Deena MetzgerIt was the last moment of the last day at Mashatu. Then the full moon rose.

We left the field of vision of fertility and creation for Damaraland in Namib, the oldest desert of the world. Here desert Elephants having adjusted to the environment and able to go without water for a few day are frequently born without tusks as a rapid genetic response to poaching. Last year, we saw a tuskless herd in the reserve and this year we were aware of many more tuskless Elephants among the others on the narrow oasis along a sand river where three very small herds sustain themselves.

The Mystery: Approaching Elephant People, Deena MetzgerAs at Thula Thula, we were able to have some intimacy with the Elephants, following one and then another in their daily life. While we recognized individual conversations or connections as they occurred, it was only afterwards that I saw a pattern that could appropriately be acknowledged as interconnection. We were a small group, they were a small herd – we were with each other as distinct from observing each other. I was hoping to be able to see the Elephants and other species for themselves, independent of my own understanding. Over time, moments cohere into a Story, a field of vision, and it is the human task to see it for itself.

Thula Thula had prepared me for Damaraland though I didn’t know it at the time. The continuity of drought was an essential element. The abundance, even extravagance, of life forms at Chobe and Mashatu seemed to deny the grave danger of climate change caused by human activity, the on-going struggle for existence, the conflicts between the herders and the wild as a consequence of the lack of water and resources. In Damaraland, we remembered.

The bare but startling beauty of the landscape resembles the moon more than earth, and the Elephants themselves seem to have emerged from the land. In Damaraland as in Thula Thula, it became possible to focus on particular members of the herd. Following their lead when we came upon them, rather than our inclinations, we repeatedly found ourselves in the presence of a great bull Elephant. Only on our return home, at the airport in Frankfurt, did we realize that this great bull had dominated the landscape on the last day we had spent in Damaraland the year before. He had been posed like a sentinel on a rocky incline at the entrance to the lines of trees and desert springs along the sand river.

We had stayed with him for almost an hour, mesmerized. This year, the same; whenever he appeared, we gave ourselves up to him. Without acknowledging us, he silently directed us to stay and we did for long periods of time. The first day, we were parked below an earthen bank where a female was feeding on a tree when he appeared and displaced her. Though we remained with him, there was no indication that he was aware of or interested in us.

The Mystery: Approaching Elephant People, Deena MetzgerAgain in our presence, the second day, he approached two young bulls who were trying to topple a tree. He advanced as an elder, demonstrated the right technique for grazing on trees and leaned against it so as to instruct them properly.

When they became rambunctious, he turned abruptly and left. We followed but he went off into the bush.

We were finding him an interesting bull Elephant, but on the third day he astounded us. Then we began to consider that something extraordinary was happening and we were, and were not, peripheral to the event.

We had spent a good part of the afternoon unsuccessfully tracking desert lions along the small dunes, always slightly behind the new footprints in the sand. Then we turned back to the sand river to look for Elephants. Pausing to determine our next move, we saw the Bull Elephant approach the hillock above us and we turned the truck to watch him.

He came slowly and determinedly, tore away some branches and threw them aside as if to extend the space. As was the case seventeen years earlier with the Ambassador, his actions seemed conscious and deliberate. To our astonishment, he then carefully eased his great weight down onto the sand and went to sleep, facing the direction of the lions and allowing his back to us.

The Mystery: Approaching Elephant People, Deena MetzgerNeither Cyndie, I, nor Matt, who had been Head Ranger and Head Photographic Ranger at the private South African game reserve, Mala Mala, had ever seen an Elephant lie down to sleep.

What was communicated?


Accepting that direct communication and analysis came from the Elephant People allowed the field we were in together to become visible. We realized that we had been in ‘spirits’ theater for sixteen years, simultaneously actors and audience. Neither Elephant nor human could have designed such situations in which members of both species appear to each other as if explicitly summoned. While our meetings were both intentional and circumstantial, the sum total of our many interactions over time, hours, days, weeks, years, cohered in nested living stories that became the language through which we, different species though we are, spoke to each other. This occurred both within and outside of time and space. We had been transported to another dimension where meaning and action are simultaneous and indistinguishable. The story that emerged from and enfolded us challenged all conventional assumptions of reality and hegemony.

We had returned to the Elephants, again and again, at the behest of the Ambassador, and in return we were allowed to participate in a common field of consciousness that manifested unpredictably. Clearly both human and non-human were impacted by each other. Attuned to one another, we began to share a critical DNA of mind from which future connections and understandings would emerge. That is, we melted toward each other and, ultimately, without changing shape, we melted into each other.

And so we entered the last day. Toward the end of the afternoon before we would have to leave Damaraland, we again came across the bull whom I began calling The Great Elephant. He was waiting for us in the central island of the sand river.

The Mystery: Approaching Elephant People, Deena MetzgerWe didn’t know he was waiting for us then, but I know it now. It has taken months to understand this, to see pattern and Story, too often hidden by time and doubt. A deeper understanding, one that encompasses all the years of engagement, beckons. Indigenous people knew this realm, this dimension beyond ours, this field of knowing and being where humans, non-humans, the spirits and earth co-exist beyond relationship.

The Great Elephant was waiting for us …

For the next hour or two, we followed him through the valley as he grazed or hid in the brush until he led us to the vast desert plain that all of us would cross at sundown. Just as night was falling, he would be on his way to a water tank set aside for the Elephants in return for the government digging wells for the Native people living there, and we would be returning to the Lodge.

Soon after we arrived, he left the tree where he had been waiting, turned east and meandered from place to place. At one point, he stopped, certain that we were watching though not glancing at us, and began to twist his trunk into a strange knot that I recognized as the gesture through which the Ambassador greeted us in 2000. He continued contorting his trunk while we observed, moved and mystified.

The Mystery: Approaching Elephant People, Deena MetzgerFinally, he unfolded his trunk, turned and went on.

The Mystery: Approaching Elephant People, Deena MetzgerFollowing him was complex. We had to be rigorous about not leading, finding a vantage point from which we could see without interfering or challenging him. When he stopped by a small tree, we were already directly in his path and he knew it. There were moments when we felt his love for the tree in the manner of the Elephants in Mashatu and we were simultaneously aware of his comedic threat to topple it upon us. Still, we remained quietly.

Sometimes when he approached, there was a divide between the Damaraland guide’s experience and training in caution and my own deep conviction that we were safe and needed to yield to the bull’s leadership not our fears.

So many minutes passed. It felt like hours or days. Soon he began walking again and we assumed he was leading us out of the valley toward the desert and the mountains.

The Mystery: Approaching Elephant People, Deena MetzgerBut, unexpectedly, he entered a thicket and virtually disappeared. We waited and waited, agreeing among ourselves that we would wait no more than twenty more minutes. When the time was almost over, he emerged so dramatically he seemed angry to everyone in the truck. Believing we were completely safe, I begged them to be still and not startle him by turning on the engine. I had been speaking to him in my mind, explaining that this was our last night, actually our last hour, and had pleaded with him to come out as a sign or confirmation of the connection we were all feeling. And so, yes, he emerged.

There was no attack, no threat, nor had there been for all the time we had been with him over four days.

Now he ambled very slowly ahead of us down the stone-faced incline that was also masking the diminishing light. We might have thought he was oblivious to us if he had not defecated several times along the way. A sign of honor. Connection. (When Elephants meet after being separated, sometimes only for hours, they are overjoyed to be in each other’s company and this is expressed through pissing and defecating.)

I kept reminding our impatient guide, eager to return to the Lodge, to slow down and to wait. It was 7:30 and we were an hour late and tired. It was difficult to contain all the energies and stay parallel or behind the Great Elephant so that he could lead.

The Great Elephant came to the stony edge of the slope where the wide plain of the desert opened before us. He stopped. He pissed and defecated again. Not one of us had ever seen such frequency. Slowly, then, with utter presence, he proceeded up the rise and as he paused to spray himself with dust, he caught the exact and fleeting angle of the ruby light of the setting sun.

The Mystery: Approaching Elephant People, Deena Metzger

Then he went on, his footsteps, mysteriously filling with a sourceless light.

The Mystery: Approaching Elephant People, Deena Metzger

The Great Elephant looked back at us one last time.

The Mystery: Approaching Elephant People, Deena MetzgerAn Elephant Ambassador came to meet us on January 6th, 2000, Epiphany. Now again, at the very last hour of the very last day, another such meeting.

A spirit? A messenger? An angel?

In the presence of the Great Mystery, it is best to remain wordless.

Deena Metzger

Deena Metzger has been writing for fifty years. Story is her medicine. Her latest novel, A Rain of Night Birds, a confrontation between indigenous knowledge and the modern scientific mind, bears witness: climate change arises from the same colonial mind that enacted genocide on the Native people of this country. It was published on Earth Day, April 22, 2017. Her other books include the novels La Negra y Blanca (2012 PEN Oakland Josephine Miles Award for Excellence in Literature), Feral; Ruin and Beauty: New and Selected Poems; Doors: A Fiction for Jazz Horn; Entering the Ghost River: Meditations on the Theory and Practice of Healing and Tree: Essays and Pieces.



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

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

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

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

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

This is what I mean:

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

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

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

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

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

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

If She lives, then there will be life.

That simple.

We Will Not Commit Ecocide

Mr. Trump has crossed the line. He has committed a grave criminal act. I will not cross that line.
Mr. Trump is a criminal. Mr. Trump is committing ecocide which is murder times the number of living beings on the planet. There is no greater crime possible and his actions will not be tolerated.
Mr. Trump cannot prevent me, can not prevent any one of us individually from adhering to the Paris Climate Accords. He cannot because I will not / we will not commit ecocide. Because I will not / we will not murder the Mother.
If he burns coal, we will not use it. If he releases carbon, we will rebury it in the earth. If he poisons, we will transform it to nectar. We will not steal from the future. We will not covet the resources that belong to all beings.
We will protect the earth, we will protect the future.
When I am lost or confused without knowing what to do, I will plant trees and like the true elders on this planet we will listen to the spirits, we will pray and do ceremony and we will stand with water.
I have to repeat this. We will not commit ecocide. We will not murder the Mother. There will be a future for all beings. The earth will be protected and restored. Mitakuye oyasin

This Earth Day, Let’s Not Forget the Long Environmental Plight of Native Americans

From uranium mining in the Four Corners to the Hanford nuclear site, the U.S. government has consistently treated First Peoples’ land with disregard.shutterstock_64893586

Uranium mine tailings clean-up near Moab, Utah.
Photo Credit: Gary Whitton/Shutterstock

In March 2008, a small group of medicine people, healers and health professionals accompanied a native woman back to the Four Corners Reservation in Arizona after 22 years of self-exile. She had been suffering from leukemia, and then kidney failure from chemo, as a result of unknowingly playing in uranium tailings as a child. Yet she was healing despite stopping chemo, and she knew enough from her tradition that physical healing depends also on spiritual and soul healing, and so the journey was arranged.

The first morning in Tuba City, Arizona, we were surprised to meet members of the U.S. Geological Survey team who were looking to discover hidden uranium tailings poisoning the waters. As it happened, the woman had such information from her childhood, and in turn the survey team directed us to a private back road so that from above, we could view the now covered pit where she had played.

It was an extraordinary visit and significant for each of us in different ways. I was deeply rattled at the very beginning when we stopped at midnight at the entrance to the reservation in the tiny town of Cameron. We wanted to approach this homecoming with formal respect. It was necessary to do ceremony. We exited from the cars although it was bitter cold, and I bent down to touch the earth. Running my fingers through the sand, I was astonished to find they were hot. Cameron had been a major mining and storage site for uranium, but uranium is not hot. Nevertheless, on this cold night in March in Arizona, the sands were hot.

I could not forget that moment. It persisted in my thinking for years. In 2011, I began writing a novel, A Rain of Night Birds, about two climatologists, one native and one non-native, who upon meeting each other had to face the emotional and spiritual anguish of their profession. Unsurprisingly, the non-native woman goes to Cameron and discovers that the sands are hot. Her professional training doesn’t help her solve the mystery, but she pays respect to the profoundly wounded earth.

Writing a novel is a mysterious process. Fiction requires the bedrock of truth to be of value and truth requires fiction to translate its deepest meanings and implications. When I was writing the novel, I found myself seeking the bedrock through which the story of the characters’ love for each other and their anguish for the world would be revealed. In October 2013, I visited the Columbia Gorge Interpretive Center Museum and was captivated by the First Peoples exhibit on the history of the original people who lived in the area of the Gorge.

Like the burning sands of Cameron, I could not forget these First People. I was also puzzled by the focus of the museum, at once on the First Peoples and their ways of life, myths and wisdom, and also on the local history of transportation in the modern era. It is a disconcerting juxtaposition of soul and steel. The next August, I had to return; the Columbia Gorge and the Four Corners Reservation were becoming important sites in my novel. I had two visits in mind: the first to the Hanford Nuclear Reservation and the second to the Yakama Reservation.

The U.S. government has the audacity to call Hanford a “reservation” after expropriating Lalik (Rattlesnake Mountain), sacred to the Yakama, for use by the Manhattan Project, which built the B Reactor, the first full-scale plutonium production reactor in the world, which made Fat Man, the bomb that destroyed Nagasaki. Hanford is decommissioned now, but it cannot be cleaned up. It is one of the 10 most toxic sites in the world and the most toxic in the United States. It affects the entire Columbia River and its watershed.

Aerial view of the 100-B Area with Reactor B, the first large-scale nuclear reactor ever built. (image: Everett Historical/Shutterstock)

When my traveling companion and I applied for reservations for the tour of Hanford, we were told they were sold out until 2012. But the day before we left for the Northwest, two tickets became available, so we took the tour into hell. The following day, we met with Russell Jim, an elder of the Yakama Nation, head of the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Indian Nation’s Environmental Restoration and Waste Management Program.

Jim spoke with us about the devastation of the land, how it is affecting the Yakama Nation and about the environmental impact of the radioisotopes that were released into the areas surrounding the B Reactor and the other nuclear reactors aligning the Columbia River. He spoke of the radiant salmon hanging to dry on the porches of the local people, and the radiation experiments enacted on non-consensual local natives. “But we will not leave our way of life,” he said. He was determined that his people would not become like the conquerors, or like those who created Hanford and nuclear bombs.

At its best, literature allows the reader to enter another world and experience another being’s life. In order for this to come about, the writer herself must enter the reality fully. In 1977, I had breast cancer. In 2008, I put my hands on the earth on the Four Corners Reservation and discovered the sands were hot. In March 2011, at the time of the nuclear meltdown at Fukushima, I lay down in my imagination within the body of the Earth Sea Mother to feel the radiation burn she cannot escape. On Aug. 11, 2014, I took the public tour of the Hanford Nuclear Reservation where an accidental release of a plume of radiation burned into my body, evidenced by extreme C-reactive protein levels that took months to cool. For the next years I lived in the body of my imagination or the imagination of my body or both of the realities of the two climatologists whose lives I was coming to know and chronicle in my novel.

We will not survive as people or as a planet if we do not learn each other’s reality in every cell of our bodies. We will not survive if we do not look unflinchingly at the grave harm we are doing. Empathy and the willingness to experience common jeopardy may help us heal our psychotic condition. Writing this on April 6, 2017, I learn that our infantile and demented president has sent 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles onto the bleeding soil of Syria. This Earth Day, I offer you an excerpt from A Rain of Night Birds. May our Earth Mother survive us, somehow.
September, 2007, Canyon de Chelly. It was just weeks since Terrence had collapsed. As they drove in the long about way she and her father favored through Cameron, Tuba City, Kayenta, Many Farms to Chinle, Sandra’s thoughts inevitably flitted to the earlier trip. She had never gained an understanding of the hot sands. She couldn’t set it entirely aside because she believed that Terrence had buckled when he penetrated, with his piercing eyes, the history that led to the contamination of sacred land at Hanford Nuclear Reservation. He had looked through Wy’east (Mt Hood) to see it, in the way he had looked at the 2007 IPPC report through the wide-angle multidimensional lens of his mind.

Alone at Massacre Cave Outlook, where the brutal Kit Carson and his men had slaughtered mostly women and children in order to eradicate the Diné, the sands dribbled back into her consciousness. Terrence’s precarious condition had seemingly allowed her to set aside the entire spectrum of ills from the Anthropocene – from war to the poisoned earth – to focus on him. And also his condition had raised her alarm to orange alert. Worried about him, she turned away from the hot sands, but she could not forget them when standing at Adah Aho’doo’nili (Two Fell Off).

She could see into the earth to its fiery core and as far as the sun, as he could see forward and back seven generations and widely to the origin of the wind, its destination and return, to the swirl of currents, rising and falling, emerging and diminishing, an unending circle encompassing the globe.

Now she – so much had they become one – had to hold alongside Terrence’s collapse looking at Hanford, the inescapable fact, though she did not understand it, that the sands at Cameron had been hot at midnight on a cold March night, 2005, just before the advent of the spring equinox.


Saturday, February 11, 2017, Topanga California

At the very end of December 2016, I returned to Africa with Cynthia Travis and Matt Meyer to meet with the Elephant People who teach us so much by who they are individually and as a species. Understanding the connection they and I have forged over seventeen years comes slowly, if at all, like light approaching from a distant galaxy, from the furthest end, which means the beginning, of the universe. The personal and the cosmic appear to be one: we have been blown apart from what we once knew.
Today, three weeks after our return, I am beginning to grasp something: the very nature of the Elephant herd may be a template for what is being transmitted. It is as if we, humans and Elephants, fell together into David Bohm’s implicate order, a field of being where past and present, dreaming and the manifest, the living and the dead, human and non-human are in dynamic co-existence. This is the real world and we were invited into it.

Friday, January 6th, 2017, Chobe National Park, Botswana

Epiphany: A sudden manifestation or revelation of the divine. There are two aspects to epiphany: first, the revelation of the sacred and, second, being mysteriously drawn to such a vision over time and space. Epiphany implies a spirit-based field of consciousness, a kind of visionary plasma, in which distinct beings with precise histories, join with awareness in acts of creation.

A group of us experienced Epiphany in this way on January 6th 2000 when the Ambassador Elephant first appeared to us at the place we call the Chapungu (fisher eagle) Tree in Chobe National Park, Botswana. That meeting is central to us as we are travel together once again in Southern Africa.
In 2000, I had had an inchoate hope of sitting in Council with Elephants, though I had no idea what that might possibly mean. Now, I title this essay, Beginning Awareness: Approaching the Elephant People. This is the sixth time I have returned to Chobe as on a pilgrimage. To what purpose? How might another meeting and its consistently unpredictable nature serve the natural world and the future?

After the original meeting there were others in 2001, 2005, 2011, 2016, each distinct, each astonishing. My return is always prompted by urgency though afterwards it seems that an essential insight is eluding me at the edges of experience. The Elephants have always come to us in Chobe at the same place at the same time at the last hour of the last day. Each time, we have been met by them in ways that both challenge credulity and assert the awesome beauty of true exchange. In 2008 and 2016, Cyndie and I traveled to other reserves to see if our initial connections, non-locally inspired, might occur in places other than Chobe. And we were met in Tanzania at the beginning of one trip and in Damaraland, Namibia on the last hour of the last day of another.

This afternoon, we are joyous with the new beauty that has arisen in response to the generous and continuing rains. It has been raining in California after so many years of drought, and the weather there is mirrored by the weather here.

Image 2-19-17 at 6.01 PM.jpg

There is an abundance of water and green. When we arrived, we took a boat ride just before a storm drenched us and came upon a massive herd of several hundred Elephants. Then coming to the Chapungu tree two days later, we passed another monumental gathering. Despite poaching, increasing loss of habitat, drought, the plains and savannahs of southern Africa, resplendent with the abundance of birds and game, have intermittently looked like paradise. This time, I am thinking, “Restoration.”

Aware that today is Epiphany, I am trying to temper my hope that Mystery may unfold again and we might find ourselves gathered once more into an inexplicable connection with the Elephants. There is nothing we can do to further this possibility or determine anything about its nature, but we can appear at the appointed place at the appointed time and wait.
We park the truck at the tree as we have in the past, happy to have returned and to spend a few hours in silence watching. We are graced with an unimpeded view of the extended river plain, which has in my memory never been so green, so lush with blessed waters.

There are animals in the distance, antelope and hippo, a few Elephants oblivious to us, who remain far away and my hope begins to waiver as I continuously remind myself not to sully the moment with expectation and longing. It is five o’clock. We will have to leave at six as has been necessary in the past.

But … the two distant young bulls who have been exuberantly scuffling with each other seem to be approaching. Oh this moment – joy and terror! It is fearsome when Spirit makes itself known. The sound of a young Elephant trumpeting penetrates us as a small herd gambols down the closest path from the ridge. They seem not to notice us as they come down but by being here at this exact time, they make it clear that they know we have returned and are offering their respects. They engage with the river and each other.


The two young bulls stop near our truck, the young ones who came down from the ridge play excitedly, the older Elephants refresh themselves and drink from the water. All in all, there must be twelve or more Elephants congregating here from several directions – and nowhere else that we can see. All arrived at approximately five o’clock and then by 6, they are gone. It is so ordinary on the one hand.

However, the view of a great bull, an old Elephant walking down a path at six pm is a sight both unsettling and confirming.


So unremarkable a scene for Chobe– a few Elephants at the river. But for us, yes, nothing remarkable but that they appeared, materialized, at the last hour of the anniversary of the day we met the Ambassador. And when the hour was over, they disappeared. This is not an ordinary event.

Did the Ambassador (herd) come?
And so…?
We are in a field of consciousness that we cohabit. A field that changes us even as we co-create it.
Anything else?
Like two particles, once connected, are affected by each other, irreversibly into the future we, the humans, and these Elephants, relating eternally, have become kin.

Friday, January 6th, 2017, Chobe National Park, Botswana

For the first time in our coming to meet the Elephants, we began elsewhere. We have come here from Thula Thula where another story unfolded. Here, we were also met by the Elephants or we were all immersed with each other in mystery and while this confounds me, it supports me: the irrefutable Presence of Spirit sustains me in dark times. And these are the darkest times.

Cyndie and I are all too aware that we will return to the United States while Donald Trump is being inaugurated. Yes, I was young during World War II, and yes, I became aware of the Holocaust, and yes, I made a pilgrimage to the Death Camps in 1989, but I have not been concerned about the government and the future as I fear them now.
In November 2016, Cyndie and I, and others, went to stand with the Water Protectors at Standing Rock. Native Americans have known the fist and the gun, have known systemic violence, genocide, for five hundred years as have African Americans and other people in this country. And now such brutality is being installed in the White House. Being in Africa, we know the entire world is alarmed, as are we. And yet, the Presence is here. How do we carry this seeming contradiction or explain it?

Saturday January 7, 2017, Chobe National Park, Botswana.

A day later. See if you can create the image that I was not able to photograph, the distances being too great. We have arrived here at the end of a drought and it has been and continues raining today and so it is unlikely that the Elephants will come down to the river. We are at the Chapungu tree again. A narrow band of marshland, with some birds, a hippo and an alligator, is between us and the river. Directly across the waters is a bull Elephant who arrived just after we did and stayed until we had to leave. At the edge of the marsh, are the skull and rib bone of an Elephant who died last year in the drought. The Elephants have a profound relationship with their dead so this is a holy site and here we have an alignment.
We watch the lightning descend everywhere around us, hear the thunder and know that rain is coming. It might be daunting. But I must stay here, no matter the conditions. Such an appointment is a sacred trust.

We are being enfolded into a story that is happening now, outside of linear time though including it, through a remarkable alignment of human and Elephant, living and dead. It is also a story of the five other such meetings, of a journey that brought me to Chobe in 2000, of our original encounter with the Elephant Ambassador, of the third meeting when we, Cynthia Travis and myself and others were thrown a thigh bone of an Elephant ancestor – the most precious and unlikely gift an Elephant might offer – of a unmistakable dramatic narrative through which the Elephants tested Krystyna Jurzykowski and myself, of a dream of a Radical Elephant Movement which calls us to save the natural world, of the unmistakable meetings that have taken place when Cynthia Travis and I have traveled to other places to meet these Elephant People, a Story that will include and integrate each encounter we have and may still have in these three weeks in four game parks in three different countries. The future, including but beyond the next two weeks in Africa, is already here in this still moment of time as is the spirit of this ancestor and the bird who walks so easily alongside the dead one.
It is one living Story composed of so many particulars in alliance, like a herd itself, a single humming mind incorporating thousands of beings, living and dead, in a song as piercing as the Elephant’s trumpet and as still as the great animals tread on the holy earth.

Saturday February 11, 2017, Topanga, California

Over the years, we have been met by the Elephants. We have interacted. We have gazed into each other’s eyes! At the core of each event is indisputable connection; we have been drawn together over great distances of time, space, geography and history, notwithstanding the equally great differences between species. Each day, Cyndie and I wonder why this is occurring, why we are being called to the Elephants in these most difficult and tragic times in world history. We pray that we might discover new ways to protect the lives and wisdom of these People of another species. And being desperate and sometimes despairing regarding the US political debacle, we wonder whether these beings reaching toward us might reveal ways for humans, whose fate they unfortunately share, to emerge from the thrall of death and violence that characterizes these days.

At this moment as I ask these questions in Topanga, California, a platinum light breaks through the clouds after days of blessed rain following five years of drought, and everything is starkly illuminated; once more, I cannot doubt the Presence.

Do these meetings have to be connected to world events, must they have purpose? There is no imperative, but we are being shown that interconnection over time and space is the absolute nature of the universe. We are in a hologram and so connection is implicit.

Events gain meaning within a field of consciousness. We may experience them as autonomous, think they exist independently of each other and that they can be understood individually, but this is an illusion. Events gain their true meanings in relationship to each other, to history, personal and global, also to the future. Events assumed to be unchanging and fixed because they have already occurred are also dynamic systems, transfiguring as their contexts alter through interaction with other events. There are no borders between events, no walls as, in fact, there are no borders between time, space, or individuals “but thinking makes it so.”

Sunday, January 8, 2017, Chobe, Botswana

Computers allow us the ease to move back and forth in time and space while writing. Before we returned to Chobe, Cyndie, our guide, Matt Meyer and I visited Thula Thula, a nature reserve established by Lawrence Anthony, author of Elephant Whisperer, Babylon’s Ark and The Last Rhino. I wanted to visit this reserve as Anthony had a profound relationship with a herd of Elephants to whom he had offered sanctuary. I wondered whether their liaison was intrinsic to who they were, or whether over time, they had created a field of consciousness and whether others could enter it. If we, if others, could partake of their rare association, what assumptions, orientation, qualities would be necessary?

In order to put the events in perspective, I have to begin this section with an excerpt from “Becoming Kin – Becoming Elephant”, (Dark Matter: Women Witnessing, Issue #4, September 2016) about meeting the Ambassador and his herd once more in 2016:

We are left with the original unfathomable events. How do the Ambassador and his people know we are coming to Chobe? It may be that Elephants, who are most probably more intelligent than we are through their capacity for unparalleled empathy, can read the heart across vast distances, unimpeded by species barriers and send out subliminal communications which I / we receive and respond to by coming to meet them.
I was reading The Elephant Whisperer by Lawrence Anthony when flying home from my 2011 visit to Chobe. Anthony had had a remarkable relationship with Elephants based on intimacy and proximity. One might even say the Elephants engineered their transfer to his reserve in order to create this relationship. I wanted very much to meet him but he died suddenly before I returned to Africa. Then stories emerged of the Elephants coming to his Lodge when he died and then every year, for three years, on the anniversary of his death. How is this possible? What does it mean? What do the Elephants want us to know?
In the last years, we have been allowed to be very close to the Elephants. But this connection has not yielded answers to the essential questions: How and why are they communicating with us? What do they want? How can we meet their call? Perhaps in Thula Thula, we will be able to immerse ourselves in the herd. Perhaps they will speak to us. Perhaps we will understand more than before. I am praying that the Elephants will take us across another barrier.

The following words ended the essay “Becoming Kin” written before this pilgrimage to Southern Africa and the Elephants 2017. In November before we left, we went to support the Native American Water Protectors fighting the Dakota Access Pipeline at Standing Rock, North Dakota. If this journey reveals anything, it is that everything is, indeed, related to everything else. Easy to write these words – difficult to understand if one is not born into a herd or an Indigenous tribe. And yet, this is the essential understanding given to us for these times.

On Tuesday the 27th I will return to Africa for almost a month to be with the Elephant People. Until November 8th, I thought I knew why I was going. But since then, I am uncertain, except to be in alliance and heartbreak with the Elephant people who know the dire consequences and agony of Imperial and Colonial mind.
I hoped to be able to spend time within the Elephant herd, to be among them, to be of them. But now I believe my purpose as an Ambassador from humans to the Elephant people and the other animal people, is to say, “I am so sorry.”
…We have elected as President, the father of a family of big game hunters. We may soon all literally know what it is to be hunted for profit and greed. Perhaps this knowledge will help us be more determined in our activity to protect the wild and all living beings.
I am going to Africa to stand with the Elephant People in ceremony and prayer. I want to apologize for us and then to find ways to say, sincerely, “I have, we have, your backs.

As I didn’t know what it might mean to sit in Council with Elephants in 2000, I don’t think I really knew what it meant to speak of the Elephant People when I wrote those words above. I am certain that I don’t fully understand. I have made this journey six times wondering if the Ambassador would come to meet us. This question no longer serves. New questions might be: Were there appearances or connections that reveal the nature of a common field of relationship? Do these manifestations have intent or is intention implicit in the new perspective?

Did we meet the Elephant people? We did.
Did we apologize? We did.
Were we immersed in the herd? We were.
Was there Epiphany? I believe there was.

Thursday, January 26, 2017, Topanga California.

When I travel to the animals, I try to stay empty, without expectations that might shape or distort the possible experiences. Certain mysteries persist – the Elephants meet me/us in entirely unpredictable and persistently enigmatic ways. We do not understand the Elephants any more than we understand the true nature of the world. But these meetings are seemingly outside of animal nature or beyond human-animal interactions, and yet, they occur with enough frequency to suggest that they might be within animal nature. If so, then the nature of universe is essentially enigmatic and yet, given the times, the need to try to fathom it is urgent.
Let me be honest here, with myself, and with you, to whom I am writing. There is nothing personal here – something is being communicated and we happen to be the recipients. The Elephants who engage in the dramatic narrative that cannot be dismissed, do not enhance themselves. They participate in a decipherable theater piece but are simultaneously simply being Elephants. The rapid shift or conversion from one state to another and back and again, is dizzying and unnerving. Perhaps human disorientation is necessary so that all certainties and assumptions fall away and we more capable of discerning the shape or intent of the mystery.
I have been accompanied each time I have traveled to the Elephants with new questions. The questions have been my ground even though there have not been any definitive answers. Still each question constellates a field of possible understanding so that I can proceed to hold the next questions.

Sunday, January 8th, 2017, Chobe, Botswana

Traveling to Thula Thula, keeping an appointment I did not know I had made, I found myself saying publicly “I am going to the Elephant People.” Pondering the need to be so forthright, I began to feel another question formulating when I entered this new territory, one I had not fully considered before: If Elephants are people, are a People, and if I am approaching a new people, what are the rituals and protocols that need to be observed?

The question opened a door. The day after meeting the herd at Thula Thula, I asked our guide, Andrew Murgatroyd, if we could, without intruding, place ourselves in closer proximity to the two Matriarchs so that I could offer respect, speak to them of my/our intentions, and ask permission to be with them, perhaps to be within the herd. Nana, the older matriarch, fifty-four and tiring, has been giving over her responsibilities to Frankie who is ten years younger, the two creating a model for the benevolent transfer of power while retaining deference, respect and honor for the elder for the full length of her life. Both had been present when the oldest bull, Mabala came to the truck the first day, singling out our guide, Matt, exploring his camera case with his tusk and suctioning Matt’s foot with his trunk. An anomalous event or deliberate activity? We didn’t know. Mabala couldn’t have chosen a better subject for his investigations – couldn’t have found someone more comfortable with such an approach.


The next morning, we came upon the Elephants at a muddy pan. Both Nana and Frankie came in late and left before all the others, the young bulls remaining to cavort and tussle with each other in what mud was left. It was exciting to be alongside them, witnessing their group frolic, but our relationship to Elephants had changed over the years and now we were visiting another People not observing animals. This shift in awareness required a different approach. We were also cognizant that there was little water for their sport or to drink.
We had detected tensions at Thula Thula that took a while to fathom. At lunch, we learned that a water truck had been hijacked on its way to Lodge. The government had promised water to the people in the surrounding settlement. Water and the infrastructures to receive, distribute and protect it. But that promise, like so many other ruling party promises, had not been kept.
Before we had left California, we had read that rains were expected in southern Africa. We were prepared for thunder showers but at the time of our arrival, little of the promised rain had fallen and everyone was tense, including the animals.

So it was when we went out that afternoon that I asked Andrew, our local guide, if we could stay with the Matriarchs for a short period of time so I might contact them. What would he think of such an opening request:
“Can you imagine that the Elephants are a People?” I dared being considered foolish or mad.
He answered, “Oh yes,” without hesitation. “They are a People of individuals, each with their own character and personality.”
“If this is so, then they have social structures with their own hierarchies, laws, protocols,” I added quickly. I was aware that we would soon have to tell Andrew the story of the Ambassador so that he could support our hopes and intentions.

The telling of the story of the Ambassador to a new group of people is always complex for it requires the listener to consider animals in relationship to spiritual agency. It undermines human hegemony. Guides and rangers spend their lives in the bush, practicing exact and skilled observation of the animals, sometimes knowing individuals from birth or through particular encounters or incidents. Though the term ‘whisperer’ – one who communicates with animals – is making itself known, it is not generally acknowledged. Few imagine, or admit, that they, themselves, might have such a gift, or that the gift might be common in the ways it once was for Indigenous people. The breach between humans and animals, or humans and the natural world, grows increasingly larger as humans inhabit a manufactured world, living progressively within the artifice of corporate intelligence and cyberspace. To accept the possibility of intelligent, responsive relations between humans and animals, requires humans to step away from the elite conceptions of mind that assert human dominance, superiority and privilege.
While a general audience might be thrilled by stories of human/animal relationships, guides and rangers are less likely to be impressed or convinced. Yet, as our latest itineraries depended upon guides, we had to have their collaboration. Telling the stories did not guarantee such; ultimately everything depended on sharing experiences. Matt had experienced the connections in 2016 and now it seemed Andrew was open to our hope that another kind of interaction between Peoples was possible.

We spent the afternoon looking for the herd. Because of the little rain, the waterholes they frequented regularly, while muddy for cooling off, were without sufficient water to drink. The Elephants had some remaining sources, deep in the forested valley and up on the ridge, places we couldn’t reach. Cyndie and I entered our quiet and persistent rituals of prayers, offerings and gratitude … and hope. It was late in the day that Andrew and Matt spotted the herd moving and we drove to a plateau where Andrew guessed they might appear. We parked the vehicle and waited. If we chased them, we would not catch up to them. Waiting was the only alternative and it is also our desired practice to find a herd and position ourselves so that the Elephants could choose if and how to interact with us.
In a short time, the younger Elephants were coming toward us, as they continued to do from them on, fearlessly and with curiosity, as if our prayers had already been received. Soon Nana appeared some distance away with the very little ones following her and then Frankie with her son Brandon, as always, in tow. We stayed still and I offered my respects as I would have done to any Chief or Tribal elder, asking permission to observe them, be among them for their sakes, I hoped, for the sake of the Elephant people everywhere though I did not know what might result from our connection. “Still,” I added, “I believe I /we have been called here and if that is true, and if common Spirits inhabit a potentially common field of interaction, might we not be called to make ourselves known to each other? The habit of human domination through will and violence is legion; my hope and intention is to yield to Sprit and to you as best as I am able.”
I don’t recall if I spoke directly in my mind of wishing to be within the herd, but it was in my mind that it would be most possible at Thula Thula with its one herd that was particularly familiar with human beings.

The three goals I had articulated before I came were also present:
To be immersed in a herd so as to gain the wisdom they might want to impart,
To apologize for human behavior that was threatening their lives, all lives, the earth,
To find ways to stand with them.
To find ways to stand behind them would mean to support their understanding and actions however transmitted to us. Needless to say, Standing Rock was in my consciousness as the Sioux had designated themselves as Water Protectors. And here we were seeking water.

Were our offerings and requests received? Or were the Elephants following a thread of their own, when Nana and Frankie and then the others veered suddenly toward us, leaving the path they had been following?


They walked past us in their slow and majestic manner though the narrow corridor in the brush was no wider than their bodies, and the field beyond us was fully open. Our proximity to each other was deliberately negotiated; we were in the force field of their presence, as we would be for the days that followed.
Prayers were heard and received and reality reconstituted itself. The Elephants had responded to us. We were contained in a field of conscious co-existence. For the days we were at Thula Thula, the Elephants greeted us and played with us whenever we met them.

We had had lunch that day with Francoise Anthony who, determined to run Thula Thula after her husband’s death, alluded through a variety of stories to the metaphysical nature of the herd. Francoise was not explicit in her interpretations of the events she shared, but Cyndie, Matt and I understood as if we were conversing in a secret code. Not only did she confirm the Elephants coming to the Lodge on three separate occasions on the anniversary of Lawrence Anthony’s death, but described other events. For example, Nana had, most deliberately, with her trunk, undone all the latches on a boma (enclosure) where captive antelopes were being held prior to being relocated for breeding purposes, while the capture team watched aghast.

The next day, we went out with a new confidence. All of us, including Andrew were involved. At the same time, we were watching the few pools of water become mud and the mud pans thicken and become dangerous. On New Years Eve, an Inyala (antelope) who had fallen into a mud pan was rescued by a group returning from a game drive. The guide and guests had gone into the pan themselves, covered the antelope’s eyes to help him relax and had pushed him to stable ground.

Anthony, our guide, could never be certain where we might find the Elephants as they were desperately seeking water. On our third day, the pool of water in which they had frolicked so jubilantly was entirely dry.

I was filled with anxiety and dread as I feared what might happen if there were no water at all for the animals. I could determine the Elephant’s concerns by the response of those in the settlements. The people who had hijacked the water tanker had closed all the roads and were rioting. They had made barriers of burning tires so no one could pass. It was a strange variation on the road closing by the DAPL police to isolate the protestors and prevent supplies from reaching them despite the fierce snow blizzards that were dropping temperatures to well below zero.
Still, on our fourth day, we found the herd delighting in the sweetness and abundance of just ripened figs in a grove of sycamores. When we arrived, we were surrounded. It was an answer to my prayer that I might be immersed in the herd.


After half an hour, Frankie who had been alongside us, alternately grazing and investigating us and the vehicle.


was leading the herd away, but stopped and looked at us with what Andrew deemed a belligerent expression. “She is like that,” he asserted.


But I heard something different. She asked me, quite clearly and deliberately, “Do you understand how hard it is to be the Matriarch when I cannot find water? Do you know what it means when the younger ones in your charge have no water to drink? Do you know what will happen to us if there is no water?” That said, she turned and walked away.

Immediately, I knew that she understood, despite having been given refuge on this reserve, that we, the humans, are responsible for her plight and that of her people.What had seemed like a blessed enfolding into the tribe of Elephant people in pursuit of sweetness with a very young bull, toddler age, suctioning the hood of the vehicle with his trunk and the others, young and old eating grass alongside us though Andrew remarked that there was plenty of grass around and their proximity was, therefore, by choice, had suddenly become a briefing on the perversity and danger of human beings.

I reached for my water bottle and then Matt’s and offered what water we had to the earth in prayer. “In the pursuit of water in limited supply,” Matt said later, “it is always the people who win, though we are quickly coming to understand that this is a very short sighted view.” Especially limited activity by the people in power, I thought, thinking of Standing Rock. The fate of people, the earth, the animals, the same.

The next morning we could not find the Elephants, except briefly, when a tiny bull snorted at the waters of a drying pool and went off disgruntled and thirsty. To dig another bore hole would take months and could well endanger the aquifer even more and threaten the careful natural balance of earth, stone and fluid. As we were driving back to the Camp, we heard that the Elephants were coming down as well. It was feared that desperately thirsty, they might break, as they had at another time, the main water pipes to the Lodge, which cannot be buried. This time they didn’t, but they stood silently by Matt’s tent as, perhaps, they had stood silently at the Lodge to honor Lawrence Anthony.

Predicted thunderstorms brought sprinkles that night but didn’t alter the situation. Maybe water would have to be trucked in. The thirst and need of the Elephants is enormous. An adult Elephant can drink 50 gallons of water a day. There are 30 members of this herd and countless other animals. The reserve is fenced to protect the surrounding villagers. The animals are imprisoned; they have no way to find water elsewhere. We were witness to a crisis of great proportion.

In 2009, I had seen photos from CNN and Save the Elephants of villagers confronting mud-covered bodies of desert Elephants who were dying of thirst.

“Reaching desperately for drops of water, they had lowered their trunks, toppled in, remained trapped and died in Mali’s scorching heat.
“The “last desert Elephants in West Africa “have adapted to survive in the harsh conditions” they face, Save the Elephants said Monday. But now, the group says, conditions have gone from bad to worse, and they are living “on the margin of what is ecologically viable.”


Anguished, again, eight years later, I remembered a journal entry based on a dream on May 25, 2009.


I pray for a dream to show us a path out of the horror we have created. I pray for a dream to show the way to restoration. I pray for a dream though I have never received a dream in answer to such a request.

I have put out a call to gather those who carry sacred and magical powers. Women are coming together in a rectangular room that will allow each of us enough space to sit in a circle together. Spread out on cloths, kangas, lappas, prayer rugs with ritual items around us, we prepare to do ceremony. I have some trepidation about my ability to communicate the beautiful importance of this gathering. Indeed, we are failing to gather in the way that meets the call. We are losing the energy of what we might accomplish, finding new ways of meeting the current danger. I had imagined we would form ourselves into a sacred community, devoting ourselves to supporting public activities on behalf of healing the earth, peacebuilding and restoration. We are being called into alliance. Combining political, spiritual and ritual activities offers the best chance of success. This is a call for on-going ritual and ceremonial work in support of pragmatic social, political and environmental activities. Our situation is dire: Many are being driven to violence, brutality and cruelty. The animals are being victimized. We are deeply concerned with the plight of Elephants, polar bears, wolves. The earth, air and waters are highly polluted. Global warming is real and is having disastrous consequences.
I try to begin again, but everyone is distracted and I don’t know how to gather them together. A young, dark skinned woman with long black hair lying on a low couch raises herself on her forearms, as in a cobra yoga pose, and begins chanting in a foreign language. The young woman’s voice is deep and resonant and the song gathers us to attention and creates the field in which our mandate, for it is a mandate, can be accomplished.

Writing the dream, I accept that I have received spiritual instruction that can help accomplish our deepest hopes for the future if we make these activities the very core of our daily lives. This is the labor that calls to each of us even as it entirely transforms and refocuses our definition of work. It is not only that we are called to do this work together in a group but that we are each, in the way we are trained, called to it as our primary activity. Each of us, devoted and alongside each other. The very definition of work and making a living is altered by the requirement to put ritual activity and prayer first before our work, before our personal concerns and lives.

At Standing Rock, the Elders said, the way to effectively protect the waters is through Prayer and Ceremony.

On the last day at Thula Thula, the rains come. The long lucent call of Burchell’s Coucal, the rain bird, has been realized. Wearing rain ponchos, we seek the Elephants and see them on a distant ridge we cannot reach. Then we cannot make our way up the wet road and slip and slide until our open vehicle is stuck in the deep mud. There is no other vehicle which has the capacity to help us and we are many miles from our camp. Stuck in the mud in a similar way in Liberia with everyday gandhis, Cyndie and I met the rebel, General Leopard, who then gave up his intention to become a mercenary and joined our NGO. It takes a long time and much effort to reverse our direction, go to the bottom of the steep hill, reverse, and with as much speed and power as can be mustered, make our way over the rim and back to camp. Covered with mud ourselves, we are exuberant.
That night we sleep and wake to the rhythm of thunder, lightning and rain. It is our last morning. Because of the mud and rain, we not know if we will see the Elephants. We pass ponds filling with water and I am relieved. Andrew says there is enough for a few days. He continues driving, taciturn, as is his nature. We climb a road that our little group hasn’t traveled before. At each juncture, we fail to see the Elephants. Coming to a turn on a precarious road, Andrew announces that we have come to the very end as there is no other turn-around.

But … “Look,” says Andrew. On the far ridge, in silhouette, Frankie and Brandon and a few of the others are grazing. We watch them until they disappear on the other side of the hill to join the rest of the herd.


Had we come a few minutes later, we would not have seen them. This is, as it has been and continues to be at Chobe, the last hour of the last day of our pilgrimage.


After our return, Francoise Anthony communicated to us that the rains continued at Thula Thula and the streams and pans were filling: “We have had beautiful rain after your departure and nature has come alive! miracles do happen. I am getting a geologist to come and check our land for water so that we can be prepared for the future.”

Thursday, January 26, 2017 Thula Thula photo by Vusi Gumede
Sunday, February 11, 2017, Topanga California

We are in a Story. I have been in this ongoing Story since I determined to be in Council with the Elephants. Who or what was orchestrating this moment and the other moments over the last seventeen years when I had, inconceivably, yielded to and followed a call for connection with another species for their sake, may always remain entirely mysterious. Still, I pray that our strange and unpredictable connections might influence the restoration of the natural world and the vital future of these People who are keystone to us all.
My notes to the dream of 2009, said: “Such collaboration between Native American elders, medicine people and younger Native American activists has recently turned years of failure of achieving goals into success.” These words written in 2009 are the current perspective of the community of Water Protestors at Standing Rock. They have not moved from this position though Trump has extended permission for the Dakota Access pipeline and Energy Transfer Partners to dig under the sacred lake. Perhaps they are the words we all need to meet our global crisis. What are the Elephant People teaching us? What do we learn from being gathered together in this Story?

There is a Story told here through Elephant language of activity and visitation, a story of relationship, connectivity, spiritual awareness and ethical considerations.
There is a Story told here of the Elephant People who have spiritual agency and with whom we can collaborate.
This is a Story about the possibilities offered through dream, ritual and prayer.
This is one Story and many stories. The Stories themselves are visitations. They teach us how to live. We are living these stories and they, in turn, are alive in us.
A field of consciousness gathers us into itself. Events arise out of the field’s essential nature. We are of that field and enfolded back into it.
This Story is told in a universal language. This Story is an act of creation.
If we let ourselves fully enter this world, the future is possible.
Let us meet in this field of wonder:

A NOTE FROM DEENA METZGER AT THE END OF THE YEAR About Going to Standing Rock, About Going to be with the Elephant People, About Meeting These Times,

img_0845Today is the winter solstice, 2016.  On this day in 1996, I was in Norway at the Arctic Circle.  I had gone to Lofoten Island for ten days of silence and dark, hoping, without success, to see the Northern lights.  This was the penultimate day.  I spent it in ceremony.  Suddenly, the night sky turned red and I went out onto deep snow as a great black bird, larger than any I had ever seen, flew through the aurora borealis.  I remember this so I will not doubt the Presence of Spirit even in such disturbing times.  I have been fortunate as events which I can, logically, only attribute to Spirit, are with me often.  But sometimes circumstances overwhelm my deepest knowing, sometimes overwhelm the faith I have based on experience not liturgy, faith that is the same, for me, as hope. Then I remember the on-going Presence of Spirit and I go on.  I go on not knowing, but I go on.

I began writing these words, and the surprising rain which has been falling, unexpectedly, the last days, suddenly changed from a gentle female rain to a downpour such I have not heard in four years of drought.  Music on the chimney and skylights pervades the house.  The rain comes, after four years of drought, and my heart is eased.  How can it be otherwise?
A few weeks ago, as some of you know, several of us went to Standing Rock.  We went for different reasons but essentially to stand with the Water Protectors, to have, as best as we were able, their backs.
For those of you generously contributed to Standing Rock through us, we thank you.  I was able to put a sealed unmarked envelope directly into the hands of LaDonna Brave Bull Allard who started Sacred Stone Camp and is still there fighting DAPL now, and then another similar envelope with checks made out to the Indigenous Environmental Network into the hands of one of the directors. Deliberately, I did not count the cash nor did I total the checks, nor did I identify the source.  To give without attachment, to return what truly belongs to the Native Americans, was my goal.
“We truly appreciate your generous donation to the Oceti Sakowin Camp. We are determined to stop DAPL, protect Native Sacred Land, the water for everyone, and sovereign treaty rights. To accomplish these goals, many resources will be required.  In addition to our efforts for winterizing the camp, keeping everyone safe, healthy and warm, your kind donation will allow us to continue the struggle. North Dakota winters are cold as well as challenging.”
We arrived with the first blizzard and it cut short our ever so brief time there.  But we were there long enough to marvel at the courage, fortitude, skill and devotion of the Native people who were, at the time we arrived, providing for over 9,000 people.  The Sioux elders said,

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

The first thing we learned were The Seven Lakota Values:
Prayer. Respect. Compassion. Honesty. Generosity. Humility. Wisdom

For a discussion of the values see:

Before we arrived, we received the following instructions about how to deport ourselves at the Camp.  Whether one goes to Standing Rock or not they are essential documents, worth studying alone and in community so that we can learn how to walk in the world in good ways.
Whether you go to Standing Rock or wish to support the Water Protectors at Standing Rock or at all the other sites and actions that are beginning or continuing in order to stop the Black Snake, please read the following so you will learn how to live:
We awakened at 5 am each morning so we could make our way to Oceti Sakowin Camp in time for the morning prayers at 6:30.  The temperature fell to the low 20s and the wind was blowing.  We gathered in the dark, in an ever enlarging circle around the sacred fire that had been burning since the Camp was organized to stop DAPL.  Snow had fallen on the tents, teepees, yurts, domes, straw bale improvised dwellings that were housing the thousands of protectors of the Water Protectors.  Wisps of smoke from wood stoves blended into the icy air.  To the north, on the ridge of the hill, which is a Sioux sacred burial site, DAPL search lights interrupted the slow beauty of the transition from dawn to day.
Still, there was a sacred fire.  Still, we listened to the elder sing the morning prayers.  Still we heard the women sing the sacred songs to bless the water and we walked with them to the river, where each woman was assisted hand by hand by men lining the slippery walkway, so that we might, individually, go to the water, offer tobacco, and pray.
Dawn came.  Daylight came. The Camp came to life.  Food was prepared, propane and fuel delivered.  People started building more shelters for the coming visitors.  A village the size of a small city was being constituted before our eyes through hard work, cooperation, devotion, ceremony and prayer.
We left Standing Rock as the first of 2000 veterans were arriving.  Chris Turley, a member of the Osage Nation in Oklahoma who had served in the U.S. Army for nine years arrived after walking 240 miles before he received a ride.  He said, “I’ve come here because of the vow I made when I entered the armed services, which was to protect our country from both foreign and domestic threat/terrorism.”

His words could have been spoken by any of those who made the arduous journey to stand with the Sioux Water Protectors in below freezing weather.  On Tuesday December 6th, the Veterans gathered before elders including Leonard Crow Dog, Arvol Looking Horse, Phyllis Young, and Faith Speckled Owl, to offer the following words on bended knees:

“We came here to be the conscience of the nation. And within that conscience, we must first confess our sins to you, because many of us, me in particular, are from the units that have hurt you over the many years. We came. We fought you. We took your land. We signed treaties that we broke. We stole minerals from your sacred hills. We blasted the faces of our presidents onto your sacred mountain. When we took still more land, and then we took your children, then we tried to take your language, and we tried to eliminate your language that God gave you and that the Creator gave you. We didn’t respect you. We polluted your earth. We’ve hurt you in so many ways, but we’ve come to say that we are sorry, we are at your service, and we beg for your forgiveness.”

This is the solstice, this is the turning toward the light in what many of us fear will be the darkest time we and our country has ever known.  Many of us are still reeling over the results of the election.  In our communities, we are asking how we are to proceed, what we are to do, how we are to stand, how do we resist?

I believe Standing Rock has answers for everyone.  When I ask Native friends how we will survive Trump’s government as individuals and as a nation, they often say, “Trump?  We’ve been living with the violence and greed of colonization for over five hundred years.”
In other words, Native Americans in both hemispheres, and Indigenous people everywhere have been living with violence, greed, lies, distortion and danger  for five hundred years AND they have kept their values, ceremonies and beliefs, their love of and respect for the land. Now when the Earth and all beings are so viciously threatened, when all life is at stake, they are standing in prayer and ceremony on behalf of the future.

In order to meet these times, we can stand with them and behind them if we learn the ways.

At Standing Rock, as non-Native people, we have to face ourselves.  “You are Settler-Colonists,” the Native people say.  The label is a clear mirror into which we can look in order for all life to survive.
How shall we meet these dark times?  How shall we stop DAPL and the Black Snake?  How shall we meet the Trump presidency?  How shall we save the Earth and all life?
If we study the instructions above from Standing Rock, we will know something of how to stand.
On this Solstice night there are four words in my heart:
Remember Spirit, the old, old ways, the wisdom ways, Indigenous knowledge, beauty, heart. Remember what sustained us as children and in right relationships, and what sustains life and all beings.  Engage in the practice of remembering.  Ceremony and prayer.
Restore the Earth, the wild, all generous and loving ways of life. Restore sanctuary. Restore spirit centered, earth based wise cultures.  Restore ethics and generosity, and live according to all our relations, mitakuye oyasin. Ceremony and prayer.
Resist the death culture and imperial mind.  Resist any and all attempts to coerce us into living and acting against our principles, values, neighbors, and deepest held beliefs.  Fiercely protect everything and everyone one you love. Ceremony and prayer.

ReVision, not only medicine but all institutions, our culture, and our lives so that all beings flourish.  Ceremony and prayer.


On Tuesday the 27th I will return to Africa for almost a month to be with the Elephant People.  Until November 8th, I thought I knew why I was going.  But since then, I am uncertain, except to be in alliance and heartbreak with the Elephant people who know the dire consequences and agony of Imperial and Colonial mind.

I hoped to be able to spend time within the elephant herd, to be among them, to be of them.  But now I believe my purpose as an Ambassador from us to the Elephant people and the other animal people, is to say, “I am so sorry.”

You can read my essay on the last journey I took and my reasons for going again at Becoming Elephant, Becoming Kin, as published in Dark Matter: Women Witnessing.
I will be traveling again with Cynthia Travis and you can read her essay in Dark Matter. Listen With Your Feet.
We have elected as President, the father of a family of big game hunters.  We may soon all literally know what it is to be hunted for profit and greed.  Perhaps this knowledge will help us be more determined in our activity to protect the wild and all living beings.

I am going to Africa to stand with the Elephant People in ceremony and prayer.  I want to apologize for us and then to find ways to say, sincerely, “I have, we have, your backs.”elephant-calf-checks-us-out

Meeting the Times November 9 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In our circle last night, simple ways repeated themselves:

Invite spirit.  Listen deeply.

Move with heart and prayer.

Bear witness.

Create, confirm and sustain community.

Stand in communion and community with each other, with all others. Stand in the community of all beings. The 19 Ways became increasingly relevant:

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


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

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

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

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

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

Mitakye oyasin, all our relations.


Returning to Africa and the Elephant Ambassador

I am refering you to the essay The Language of Relationship: Engagement with Elephants again (see below) because it is the reason I am going to Africa with Cynthia Travis of Everyday Gandhis. Not for my / our own sakes, but because we are so heartbroken about the world. As you, who are reading this are, as well. While I am alive, I will not accept that we cannot save all life from the current trajectory of global destruction. Certain realities have not made enough of a difference in our behavior: that the climate is changing drastically, that we are responsible, that our disregard for the earth is criminal, and that modern warfare is a primary culprit. And so I return as a humble seeker to see if something unexpected and, perhaps unprecedented, might emerge from a soul and mind alliance with another most intelligent and similarly heartbroken species, unable, as we are, to change current non-indigenous human activity and violence. Some synergy on behalf of all species.
My first journeys, as chronicled below, confirmed elephant (animal) intelligence and agency, incontrovertibly. Understand that the elephants in the wild met me/us four times on four separate occasions, over twelve years, but at the same time in the same place! At a certain tree, in Chobe Wild Animal Park,between 5 and 6 in the afternoon in Botswana. Cynthia Travis, Valerie Wolf, Michael Ortiz Hill and I were together in Botswana on one of those occasions when the Elephant Ambassador met us directly and threw us the most precious gift possible, a bone of one of his ancestors.
Elephant culture speaks loudly of heart and relationship. We humans are not the experts in the realm of the heart. The encounters with the elephants speak to their spiritual and psychic awareness and skill. But now, what feels like an urgent journey, is on behalf of the possibility of a spiritual and pragmatic alliance between members of different species so that we, who the Kogi call, and rightly so, the younger brothers, might somehow shift all our ways.
I am /we are praying that the elephants will appear, that the Ambassador will come again, and that this meeting will, in ways I cannot predict or imagine, actually serve to align our human species’ heart, to re-tune, entrain us, that it will …. I do not know what, but that some way will appear that will serve all life, all our relations. I am going to this other species as a supplicant.
We will be in the Wild in Africa from January 4th to the 19th. Please keep the elephants in your hearts and prayers and open yourselves to whatever may be asked of us on behalf of all life. I had a dream some months ago in which I was recruited by the Radical Elephant Movement to participate in actions on behalf of the earth that were far beyond any ideas I had of how we might proceed at this time. This journey arises from that dream. And from our belief that such dreams are sent by the spirits and so we are deeply called to listen.
In hope and prayer, Deena.
(Feel free to share this if you think it might have value beyond ourselves.)


“There is a language older by far and deeper than words. It is the language of bodies, of bodies on…


[See below for events before or during sabbatical.]

SOME months ago, I knew I needed time off to write.  In my early years, children and family, teaching, activism and holding community formed an essential unit and still I managed to write in the between times. My first published book, Skin: Shadows/Silence: A Love Letter in the Form of a Novel is composed of short entries that could be written between taking my sons to school and picking them up, or during naps, or their visits to friends. Many of my books were written that way. Several times I rented an office. Wherever we lived had enough physical space – a writer needs little – but rarely had enough mental or spiritual space. When my sons were teenagers, I rented a trailer in Valyermo, CA, a desert area two hours away from my home where I went, when I could, for weekends alone to write. When my children were grown, I could do healing work and teach and write at the same time. I was able to take time off, to go into silence. The books appeared. But over the last years, teaching, healing, community building, activism filled the spaces that should have been occupied by creative work, walking the land, speaking with the spirits, family and companionship. Pondering this, it would be easy to blame age, an inevitable slowing down, but I find myself working longer and harder with equal energy. I think the difficulty is with the times in which we live. A deadly combination of increasing administrative nonsense and extreme need caused by the global and national descent into violence, brutishness and environmental destruction demands our constant attention, willingness to bear witness and to grieve.

Yesterday an interviewer asked me how I had been affected by and what am I thinking since making the pilgrimage to the Death Camps in 1989, which I wrote about in The Other Hand, the novel that wrestled with the two koans of the 20th century – the Holocaust and the Atom Bomb. My answer surprised me.

I remembered how we wondered about the Germans who didn’t respond to the Concentration Camps. We wondered how they allowed the Holocaust – not directed only at Jews – to exist and continue. But now, we live with Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, rendition and waterboarding. We are involved with secret prisons, houses of torture and global scrutiny. We know and yet these unconscionable activities continue. Also DU, white phosphorous, Agent Orange, GMOs, Round Up, Fracking, Keystone Pipeline. Yes, we know …. and yet! The mind of WWII continues; it seems we have ingested it and become what we claimed to have gone to war to oppose.

The Holocaust itself has morphed into Ecocide. Genocide, still existant on the planet, has developed into the murder of the Earth and all Life. Attending such times with heart and compassion takes every moment of every day.

I started a novel three years ago. It has a certain necessity to it.  I am determined to follow this new urgency. I am taking a sabbatical to write this and another book, and to be with Spirit in order to gain, if I can, some wisdom and perspective with which to meet these times.

My sabbatical begins July 1st. It will go at least until December 31st. A few events are still scheduled between now and then and I am listing them here. I may or may not post anything on this Blog. I make no other commitments except to Spirit and where I am called as I listen as deeply as I can. My hope is that you will accompany me with deep listening and prayer. Restoration, sanity and beauty depend on our doing the work and changing our lives. We have to do this together.

Writer’s Intensive May 24-30, 2014 Topanga CA’ Intensive –

Writing Workshop: Finding the Stories of Our Lives. June 6-8, 2014

Rowe Conference Center, Rowe MA More info: 

Healers’ Intensive – June 21-27, 2014 Topanga CA

Healing Stories – Sept. 5 – 7, 2014.
Sacred Wisdom Centre, Guelph, ON, Canada
 Contact: Barbara Booth

ReVisioning Medicine Council and Clinic, September !3-15 2014 , Minneapolis MN  Contact Michele Rae <>

HOW TO START A DREAM THEATER from Dream Network Journal, Spring 2014 [with dream from Ayelet Berman Cohen

Theater director, Steven Kent, and I had not expected to be working together again on a creative project related to dreams at this time in our lives. In advance of producing Dreams Against the State in 1981, he and I had recreated the Eleusinian Mysteries in Greece in 1980 for the first time in 1500 years. I had written the play and Steve was the dramaturge and director. The first production of the play was performed in fifty different venues: private homes, community centers, churches, etc. This deliberate variation on performance space was designed to emphasize the real life danger to dreams and dreaming in our culture and the need for individuals and communities to provide sanctuary for dreams.

 Thirty-two years later, in January 2014, we were co-teaching a class on How to Start a Dream Theater at La Verne University where Steven is a faculty member of the Theater Arts Department. This project is, perhaps, the closed parenthesis of a creative partnership devoted to theater, ritual, transformation and the inner life.

 The creative premise of the class was that the students comprise a theater troupe that visits communities to perform their dreams, and at the same time, are themselves a community whose dreams are explored and reflected upon, theatrically, by the theater troupe. We were imaging being called into a community to enact the dreams in order to help resolve conflicts or disagreements in creative ways.

 Because this class, as conceived, is a unique exploration and a first for Steven and myself, we have been surprised and gratified by the unanticipated directions it has taken. During our first meeting, I was startled to realize what fifty years of working with dreams had not revealed before: the essential connection between dream and theater. Dreams come to us as complete theater events, remarkably scripted, directed, enacted and staged. However, in recalling and communicating our dreams, though we may access meaning, we rarely, if ever, can transmit the quality and intensity of the dream experience itself. Enter theater.

How to Start a Dream Theater met four times a week for four hours during the January Interterm at La Verne University, La Verne California. Ancient Greek Aesclepian medicine considered the union of dreaming and theater as essential to the healing process. Steven and I have visited the ruins of the Aesclepian healing sanctuaries in Greece, but the living theater is long gone; and though the transformational aspect of the Mysteries was preserved in our work, we did not recreate our dreams theatrically when relating them to each other every day. So, in this class we found ourselves exploring a new form with remarkably ancient antecedents.

 Surprisingly, the limitations of working in a classroom with essentially inexperienced students created the impetus for discovery. We had to begin at the beginning regarding dreams, theater and healing. I had expected to be teaching Theater Department seniors but only some of the students in the class were theater majors; the rest were liberal arts majors fulfilling their humanities requirement. The students ranged from freshman to seniors and came from many different multi-cultural backgrounds.

As Steven Kent does with every class he teaches at the University, we opened each session with a check-in, where we often asked the students to share a dream image. We ended with a check-out that consisted of a question or a statement about dreaming or the content of the class. With this simple device we came to know each other intimately, which is rare in a college classroom. Steven’s theater games further relaxed everyone and released energy and tension, thus reinforcing the possibility of bonding. Dream telling each day involved us deeply in the exploration of our inner lives.

 Early on, we made a strategic decision in the interest of efficiency that was critical to the success of the class. We divided the fifteen students into three troupes. Though we heard many of the students’ dreams in the full circle, the troupes worked on their own dreams together when bringing them into form. Because the students now belonged to the dreamers and to the theater troupe, they bonded as a community despite the university setting that generally results in isolation and competitiveness. The students quickly realized they had to be respectful of each other’s inner lives and the necessity of being trustworthy.

Community work happens to be one of Steve’s areas of engagement and expertise, and we were privileged to hear some of his stories about working with gay people in a radical anti-gay state, also with small farmers, with women with AIDs and with other groups in the development of performance pieces. His theater experience with communities, and my experience with individual and community dreaming, together with our life long involvement in the creative process, and more years of teaching between us than either of us wish to tally, were the basis of what we brought to the class.

 When considering the actual creation of a performing dream theater group, we both understood that the performance of the dreams would be the ultimate means through which the community could reflect on itself, provide social cohesion and lessen conflict. However, I didn’t realize that the very act of soliciting the dreams in a collective setting would begin the process through which the conflict might resolve. That meant that if the troupe were also willing to present their own dreams in the process of soliciting dreams from the community, the artificial barrier between troupe and community would dissolve. Finally, enactment could take the community members to yet another level of healing of the original discord.

The most significant understanding came to us when all three troupes independently decided to disregard advice I had given them about enactment. Each troupe met to listen to one another’s dreams and select images/events that reverberated for all of them, which would then be developed theatrically and enacted for the group as a whole. I advised them to avoid “being fair.” Rather than including something from everyone’s dreams, I suggested they focus on one or two images/events they found compelling and performable. However, before beginning the work of scripting and developing, each group chose instead to consider each one’s dreams in order to find a common theme. The for Ruin and Beaurty initial themes were loneliness and separation, explosive emotions, and unacknowledged fear.

At the end of the third week, the three troupes sat in individual story circles, outdoors on the college lawn, imagining darkness and a fire at their center, and spoke of the ways they had experienced these themes in their lives. Though each group exercised confidentiality regarding the details of the stories, when they reported back to the larger group, it was apparent that they had entered the process deeply. They had embraced the experience of loneliness or fear in ‘the other’ as their own, yet recognizing differences as well as commonalities in the origin of such emotions. They had acquired the essential means to understanding and relating back to each other the meaning and implication of their dreams – Empathy.

One student commented that the class had become a group of distinct individuals whom she felt she knew well. Building community had not been one of our stated goals for the class but it became our finest one.

We had found a way, even in a classroom, for the students to experience the exactness and profundity of dream communication. This allowed them to recognize what mattered to them as a community, to refine their intent to communicate this to an audience, to develop language and image to hold their experience, then to embody the experience and finally to perform it for the larger group. The result was that they could bring the dreams back to their original vivid life. Each step in the process eliminated the formal differences between dreamer and actor, between one person and another. Without setting such a heady intention, we were entering into an exquisite balance between our unique experiences, dream language, and the particularity of the dreams themselves, and the trusting and supportive community forming in this setting.

 We were working in a multi-cultural setting and outside of conventional psychological dream analysis. The work is predicated on indigenous wisdom dreaming traditions that assume that dreams are a dialogue between the spirit world and the particular tribe, culture or in this case, troupe and university class. This focus allowed for a creative dynamic between particularity and unity and was of great value and solace to the individual class members. No one was left out of the exchange. Everyone was seen as valuable. The class became a sanctuary for the essential beauty and intelligence of each individual within the safety of the circle formed by the participation of each equally. Which is not to say that there were no difficult moments among us. There were. But as far as I know, these issues were acknowledged and resolved. Increasingly, day by day, the value of the group, the bond between the students was recognized.

 The class process was informed by the presence of Ayelet Berman Cohen, a contemporary dreamer in the old ways. She could not have predicted when she was a prominent photographer in Israel that dreams would become her life. Each night, for twenty years, profound theme-based dreams, as precise and lyrical as any theater or work of literature, have been landing on her, followed by teachings from the ancestors. For many years, she has been dreaming about war, often but not always referring to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and easily translated into any contemporary struggle between peoples. Many of her war dreams are succeeded by healing dreams, or dreams that ßthe antidote to war. In one of the sessions, she spoke of how theater allowed the war to be viewed and understood within the very magic of theater itself. The wound and the medicine together in one venue.

 She gifted us with a packet of six dreams that gave the students original dream images to work with. Independently, the troupes each chose one or two of the same images to dramatize and explore, so we understood that the conflict between victim and victimizer spoke deeply to them. This initial work with her dreams, which were so fully formed and precise in their theatrical intelligence, prepared the students to look at their own dreams and excerpt the wisdom from them.

 Three student dreams at the threshold of the project set the tone for the work to come. One student told a recurring dream that began when she and her family were immigrating to the United States, having already fled civil violence in their native country. In the dream that first came when she was a child, she observed the on-going tension between freedom and imprisonment. The dream had revealed, even to the young child, the fundamental torment that her family and culture were experiencing.

   In relating a dream to his father, another student discovered that the family had psychic gifts that had not been spoken about but were passed on through the patriarchal line.

   Aware of a repeating image in her recent dreams, a young woman decided to call her indigenous grandmother, only to discover that the dreams were warnings that her proposed very generous action would violate her people’s tradition and she would have to wait for the right ritual moment to perform it.

   The final days of How to Start a Dream Theater were spent developing the small theatrical presentations. Within a remarkably short time, each troupe went from acting out various dream episodes to identifying the common emotional elements, finding dream sequences to hold them, and then discarding these images and events for more vital and appropriate images that communicated the fullness of the conditions and emotions to the observers. Informed by Liz Lerman’s Critical Response Process, the students were then able to revise their pieces once again, bringing each to a new level of reflection and communication, perhaps even more powerful than might arise in a class on improvisation because the images developed from the deep personal dream life of each student.

   The students had not known that dreaming had already and would continue to affect and influence their lives. Repeatedly in the check-ins or check-outs, the students expressed their surprise and gratitude for these ways of knowing that they had previously thought entirely unimportant.

Elenna Rubin Goodman, a community builder, had come to the class from Oakland California. The class served her deep desire “ tobring together community, sacred space and the ritual embodiment of dreams/dream theater.” And we were grateful that we could serve both the students and others seeking new ways of serving community that include validating inner life experience.

 Three texts informed the class: Black Elk Speaks, by John Neihardt, Healing Dreams: Exploring the Dreams That Can Transform Your Life by Marc Ian Barasch, and The Practice of Dream Healing: Bringing Ancient Greek Mysteries into Modern Medicine by Edward Tick and Stephen Larsen. Each text speaks to the ways dream inform and heal culture as well as bringing wisdom and insight to individuals for their lives. So many of the dreams that the students brought into our circle were unexpectedly revealed to be vehicles for connection, community and cultural restoration. Entering and living within a dreaming culture is an essential antidote to totalitarian and fundamentalist thought. This is iterated by Paco Mitchell in the Winter Solstice 2013 issue of Dream Network Journal, an essay that we shared in class: “…dreams are such bastions of freedom.”

The class was not about creating a dream theater; rather, our intention was to facsimilate the experience of dream theater troupes and dreaming communities. We had started out suggesting that the students imagine that they were a dream troupe or a dreaming community; within days the imagined manifested. We learned swiftly that understanding self through exploring and performing dreams is also a means to establishing communal identity while emphasizing the wild freedom and uniqueness at the core of the creative process. Some of the students may go on to use dreams in their creative work. All of them, I am certain—whether as physicians or private-eyes, (two examples of the students’ present vocational goals)—will use dreams as part of their future work in the world.

Considering in retrospect my unheeded advice to the dream troupes and their intelligent insistence on following their own wisdom, I am grateful to have been reminded of the sensitivity necessary in approaching another community — in this case, the community of students. We must always fully respect the other culture and what the community itself knows. Fortunately, I didn’t insist, didn’t impose my own understanding. Fortunately, they chose to discern and honor common themes and experience, and to create communities of respect and relationship among themselves. Fortunately, we all honored the dream.

Each student presented a seven-minute excerpt from the journal they kept for the duration of the class that included dreams, the new understanding of their power and importance, reflections on the class process, and selected passages from the assigned texts. Most spoke their deepest truths to each other, though we had been strangers to each other only a month before. Everyone now understood that he or she has an inner life and all were excited about tending it for the rest of their lives. No one doubted the value, meaning, experience or and beauty of dreaming. The possibility of an on-going dream group was gratefully received.

The final gift from Ayelet Berman Cohen was a dream, which summarized her dream spirits’ understanding of the process that was destined to engage us all.

January 23, 2014

Ayelet Berman-Cohen

(dedicated to the students of the Dream Theater Workshop)



A group of students
meet on behalf of their inner lives.
They speak to each other,
and to their astonishment,
discover that the night before,
they all have had the exact same dream.


In their dream
a python lives underneath their house.
There is a group of people shackled to a tree.
And there is another side to the tree.  
A woman who lost her mother is there.
And a shark who looks deeply into the eyes of a boy.
There is fear, laughter, movement and confusion,
each image and emotion
matches perfectly in all of their dreams.

The student body has had one common dream.  
In their dream they see
a woman carrying a suitcase.
She says it is filled with dreams.
She tells them how the Spirits come to her every night
and dictate to her a dream.  
The woman says she has been touched.  
When the students wake up
they know that their inner lives
are no longer the same.

Did the Spirits come to them too?  
How do the Spirits move?  
Who are the Spirits?  
Have they been touched?
They wondered.

The silence had been broken.




A Gift to You for Earth Day


I’ve let the orchard go feral.

We offer it nothing but water

And take nothing,

But leave it to the bees

Who sing among the blossoms,

And to the squirrels who gather

The oranges and grapefruits

That fall and scatter.

The lemons and oranges

Have mated on their own

And maybe they will remain coupled

Or maybe they will sort themselves out

To their own original natures.


This time the old elm is dying.

A very few branches have leaves.

There will be none next year

Except for the sapling that is streaking

Toward the sky.  I thought I might die

With the elm, and wonder if its progeny

Means a new birth for me.  It is, after all,

From the old root.


Everything must have its way.

The oak that planted itself

Created its own field of being,

So the others accommodate

To its shady dominance.

The creatures eat

But they do not slaughter.

The old, old ways insist

That the animals can teach us.

The difference between their natural order

And our domination.


The plumbago expands between

The eucalyptus that plant themselves,

Increasingly at the border, providing

Shelter for the squirrels and a thrasher,

Occasional quail and a flock of brown birds

Who prefer to remain anonymous.

We are advised not to plant these trees

As they will burn hot and fast

When the great fires comes. But

It is their will to abide here,

And who am I to deny them their home?

They are no more immigrant than I

And also, at this time, they are

Calling the cools winds to them,

The heat of the neighboring meadow

Entirely dispelled by their fluttering arms.

And, you must understand that

We are in a conversation about

What it will take for them

To call down the rain –

But only for the frogs

And the non-human creatures –

From this desert blue sky.

— Deena Metzger April 20, 2013



To Consider 2012


A new Blog:

Late 14c., from O.Fr. considerer (13c.) “reflect on, consider, study.” From L. considerare “to look at closely, observe,” perhaps lit. “to observe the stars,” from com- “with” (see com-) + sidus (gen. sideris) “constellation.” (see sidereal). Perhaps a metaphor from navigation, but more likely reflecting Roman interest in divination by astrology.

To Consider and to be Considerate:  To study and reflect and then align oneself with the stars, with the beauty and heart of the heavens (the essential goal of astrology), with the radiant will of Sprit and the Divine.


I awaken just as the sun rises over the hill to the east and a light ray illuminates a leaf of the bougainvillea that was until now in shadow, and so, momentarily, there is a single golden disc among the branches in silhouette.

It is July 30th, Day 143 before 12/20/2012. I am thinking of posting an on-going record of how I am trying to meet 2012.

Hubris, perhaps, to attempt a series of personal but public letters to assert the possibility that we may, as planet dwellers, have a future. You may call this a Blog. I call it a Letter.

The letter form, including writing an epistolary novel, (The Other Hand, Red Hen Press) has been with me since as a young woman, I first took myself seriously as a writer. A letter is intimate and, at its most authentic, is honest and true. I will try to speak from the heart about this difficult time and share my grief and my hope….

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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



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.

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.

Another Meeting With the Elephants

The Gathering of the Elephants at the End of the Story

Friday, September 30, 2011


These are the only words I have to speak from the cleft between awe and wonder. Soon, I hope, the Story will be able to be told.

i arrived in Africa on September 15th.

Many meetings with the elephants occurred over the first days when
Krystyna Jurzykowski and I were in The Chobe National Park, Botswana, with our own 4 x 4 vehicle. Some of the meetings might be dismissed as ordinary or happenstance, except that the individual events formed one indisputable Story enacted over those three days.

The final confirmation or small wonder occurred as our guides,having arrived for the rest
of the journey, were driving us toward our next destination.

At the last moment in the park on September 17th, the second day, my
birthday, an almost invisible event, but one no being could have orchestrated, occurred that was as true a sign as any I have ever experienced.

And again, on September 18th, as has occurred before at the last hour of the last
day on three different days of three separate years, there was a final event
that could stand on its own as a meeting and was, itself, incontrovertible. It transpired over the last two hours, 4 – 6 pm, of our last day in the Park.

The Delegates Meet Us Eye to Eye

We were not met by a single Ambassador, but by an entire delegation.

The elephants came. The message? That they came!

And so this event and its implications become the foreground of my life at this time.


Poem from Ruin and Beauty: New and Selected Poems (Red Hen Press 2009)


Suddenly, I am of a single mind extended
Across an unknown geography,
and imprinted, as if by a river, on the moment…
A mind held in unison by a large gray tribe
meandering in reverent concert
among trees, feasting on leaves.
One great eye reflecting blue
from the turn inward
toward the hidden sky that, again,
like an underground stream
continuously nourishes
what will appear after the dawn
bleaches away the mystery in which we rock
through the endless green dark.

I am drawn forward by the lattice,
by a concordance of light and intelligence
constituted from the unceasing and consonant
hum of cows and the inaudible bellow of bulls,
a web thrumming and gliding
along the pathways we remember
miles later or ages past.

I am, we are,
who can distinguish us?
a gathering of souls, hulking and muddied,
large enough – if there is a purpose –
to carry the accumulated joy of centuries
walking thus within each other’s
particular knowing and delight.

This is our grace: To be a note
in the exact chord that animates creation,
the dissolve of all the rivers
that are both place and moment,
an ocean of mind moving
forward and back,
outside of any motion
contained within it.

This is particle and wave. How simple.
The merest conversation between us
becoming the essential drone
into which we gladly disappear.
A common music, a singular heavy tread,
ceaselessly carving a path,
for the waters tumbling invisibly

I have always wanted to be with them, with you, so.
I have always wanted to be with them,
with you,

Mandlovu is the word the Ndebele people of Zimbabwe use for female elephant, It is connected in resonance with Mambo Kadze the name for the deity that is both elephant, the Virgin Mary and the Great Mother.



The Work of the Next Five Years

A Letter from Deena Metzger   

Dear  Community:
If we want to change our mind, we have also to change the means through which the change occurs. In the process of real transformation, everything changes.

I moved to Topanga on April Fool’s Day, 1981. It is good to start one’s real life with a bit of humor.
Many visions and ways of knowing have been pioneered here related to writing, healing, council, peacebuilding, revisioning medicine and developing true and profound spirit-based relationships with the natural world, the ancestors and non-human beings.

In 1981, I was just beginning to understand the way the stories we live can reveal the ways to meet physical and spiritual illness, and beginning to conceive the forms that led in 1999 to establishing Daré – an improvisational healing community based upon dreams, council and alliance with the Spirits. Last week several of us acknowledged this site as a Village Sanctuary for the Future. Though I could not have imagined the point that we have come to, I have always known that we must search for the forms that invite and hold the visions we are given to carry. And also that these visions need to be on behalf of all beings and the future generations.
More than ever, I am looking for the right flexible and generous forms to hold the necessary work that calls to be done in the next few years. If we are fortunate, the essential work we are called to in the next five years will be realized. 
I have been devotedly following a dream since January 1, 2011.  In the dream, I am to be trained to live and work as an indigenous woman, according to the old, old wisdom traditions.  I am not to be trained in any particular way, but in the way that underlies all the old ways. 
The seeds of the dream lie far in the past, so far back I can’t identify the beginning.  But as everyone likes an origin story – (it’s like the Big Bang – all of life issues forth from it) – let’s say, the origin was 31 years ago when I first led a re-enactment of the Eleusinian Mysteries in Greece, and verifiably experienced the real presence of spiritual energy and spiritual intent outside of liturgy but deeply connected to great respect and rigorous devotion. This continues into the present, and I have based my life upon it.  I carry two related and on-going question in the face of such continuous, unpredictable and radiant experiences:  “What is true nature of the world in which such events occur?  And how, accordingly, shall we live?”
The question of how we live is upon us as it has never been in the history of human beings.  We have never been asked to entirely change our culture within our lifetime – actually, to change even more quickly. There are no formulas and culture is so complex it must be not be defined or limited. This is an impossible task and we must pursue it.
The ultimate goal is the complex vibrant restoration of the natural world in all its beauty and intelligence with the human species in right relationship to all beings. The ultimate goal is that all life thrives.
In 2010, I developed 19 ways to the 5th World. You can read them here on this Blog.  They are an index to the work that I will be doing in the next years.  To work with me is to work in these realms in order to become adept.  To work with me is to pursue the unique and mysterious ways of Council and true alliance with non-humans and humans as a primary way of restoration. To work with me as a writer, is to work with the intention of imagining and participating in a Literature of Restoration. 
Emerging from a profound healing experience several weeks ago, I heard words in my mind answering a question I have been asking relentlessly:  “We cannot tell you how the times will change on behalf of the restoration of the natural world and the restoration of sanity for human beings.  These changes will emerge from myriad different, distinct, spontaneous activities on the part of so many human beings, they cannot possibly be predicted or articulated.  But your task is to recognize the validity of your experiences over the years and so hold to the knowledge that the change will come if all of you are devoted.”
I will be 75 on September 17th, 2011.  I mark the day by going to Botswana in the hope of meeting The Elephant Ambassador for the fourth time.  (Earlier Blog entries, “The Elephants are Calling Us Again”, and “Voices of the Elephants” will introduce you to him). I intend it as an act of reverence, deep respect and faith.  After such a life as I have had the privilege of living, I make the journey gladly — an offering to future. 
Whether The Ambassador comes or not, something will occur that will reveal the purpose of this journey and the hope it carries.  I am traveling with a friend who has also devoted her life to the animals and to consciousness.  Things will occur that we cannot possibly predict. We yield to what comes.  But she and I are thinking of ourselves, expectantly, as ambassadors to the future. 
My husband Michael Ortiz Hill and I just spent a week in Canyon de Chelly and were graced by the Presence once again.  A Story, as I have come to know Story in these years, manifested in such a way that I speak of it with the last lines of a poem I wrote at the Arctic Circle in Norway in 1996 when I was 60:
Rainbow as a covenant
God exists
And Beauty has won.

In the light of such events, aware of the preciousness of time, I am trying to determine – by deep listening – the exactness of my work as a thinker, teacher and writer for the next five years.
As a teacher my focus will be on training and mentoring. This will occur, for the most part, each month between Sunday Daré and the next Sunday’s Training for the 5th World. These nine days provide an opportunity for people to come to Topanga and engage intensely with me and with each other in the work of truly understanding, integrating and inhabiting the Ways to the 5th World.
These days will accommodate those who live in the area and work with me regularly and those who wish to come to Topanga for one or more short periods of time. It can include private work, classes, councils, solitude, and/or time on the land. We can meet in person and also by telephone and via Skype. There is a yurt that people can share, when appropriate, and there are hotels near by. Much of what you experience will come from your interactions with the members of the Daré community. I am looking for informal ways of meeting rather than creating inflexible structures. This flexibility allows us to meet the emerging work with the rigor and commitment required.
The Saturdays before Darés and before the Sunday Trainings will be designated for various focused councils and in-depth explorations in the hope of encouraging heartstorming and visionary, collaborative thinking by gathering those odd, unexpected and necessary companions to imagine and institute the future. There is an ancient symbol called the Flower of Life. It consists of a single form composed of 19 interlocking circles. I am hoping that the infinitely fertile communication possible from such interlocking councils will also be seeded here.
I will devote two weeks of each month to writing and some limited travel. That leaves a little time for improvisation and surprise.
I am trying to step out of a formal teaching or conference schedule into something more organic, compelling, profound, unexpected, conscious, and indigenous – as the dream directs.
When I first started living by council, I would speak of the tradition that so many, if not all peoples, had of gathering those necessary to meet a crisis. We are in extreme crisis. We have to gather, we have to learn, we have to transform. Such gatherings mimic, in the best ways, the dynamic complexities of ecotones and small niches of natural beauty. Let us bear with each other as we extract ourselves from and discard the limiting institutional ways and devotion to material things and violent solutions that have developed in the last years in order to find new forms for new lives.
We will be working in this manner beginning Dare’ week, Oct. 2, 2011. To make appointments, apply, to learn about the Sunday Trainings and other classes, or to explore possibilities that may not be articulated in this letter, please email or call Danelia Wild at 310-815-1060. (Different classes, circles, events are posted on my website Please understand that we do not have a full-time staff person and are yet deeply committed to meeting what Spirit is asking of us, both individually and as a community.
Peace and Blessings



Deena Metzger speaks with Joanna Harcourt Smith about the characters of her latest book “La Negra y Blanca”, grounded visions, the coming shift, making alliances and restoring a right relationship with the Earth and all beings, “the conquest never ended”, the helping guide of the ancestors, the process of peace-making, “the way of story”…


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.


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.


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.


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