RUIN AND BEAUTY

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LIVING BY DREAM

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

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

***
A Map to the Next World
Joy Harjo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Once we knew everything in this lush promise.

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

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

An imperfect map will have to do, little one.

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

There is no exit.

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

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

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

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

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

Fresh courage glimmers from planets.

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

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

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

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

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

We were never perfect.

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

We might make them again, she said.

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

You must make your own map.

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A Brief History of a Feminist Mind

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From A Traveling Jewish Theater:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From The Woman Who: P. 11

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

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

***
From The Woman Who: P. 21

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

***

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

*** The Other Hand p.3

November 17, 1989
Dear Cardinal Lustiger, Your Eminence:

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

***

The Other Hand
page 105,

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

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

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

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

***

The Other Hand page 166

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

From Tree: Essays and Pieces P. 31.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Entering the Ghost River P. 5

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

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

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

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

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

From Feral P. 9

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

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

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

From “Coming Home,” Intimate Nature p. 363

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

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

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

From Entering the Ghost River P. 183

In my mind, I said the following to him:

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

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

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

From La Negra y Blanca 252

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

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

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

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

***
From La Negra y Blanca 253, 254

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

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

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

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

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

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

RUIN AND BEAUTY THE END

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

What Story Is and How Story Heals: Variations on a Talk. SoulCollage Conference October 2013

A Story is an entire, distinct world.  It has a heart that acts as dynamic center for the sake of revelation and healings. Story is an exact and particular, dynamic emergence, in time, the emergence of a particular configuration of meaning from several or many particular intersections and interactions.

It is not a chronological sequence but it can contain one.  It is a magnetic center, like the dark hole, let’s say, at the core of the Milky Way, or our sun as the energy that holds our solar in dynamic relationship, or the heart from which wisdom arises.  Events, moments, synchronicities, surprises, dreams gather mysteriously into meaning that reveals a path,

Like the world, it is not created exclusively by human means.  Stories are not only of our invention. Stories are not manufactured.  They happen spontaneously.

A Story is given and our task is to recognize it and then live accordingly.

Story does not tell us what to do in a simple linear fashion.  But it is revelatory. It awes and surprises us, once we recognize its presence.  It opens a path that is healing.  But a healing path cannot be healing only for ourselves.  A healing path cannot be walked in the midst of devastation or in despite of surrounding contamination.  A healing path heals what is within its perimeters and seeks to extend the area of its purview to meet the life of the individual, the times in which she or he lives, and the future for all beings.

Story, as I have come to know it over many years of study and investigation, is an insight or vision on behalf of all our relations.  The Lakota Sioux end their communications with the sacred phrase, mitakye oyasin, all my relations.   It is an equivalent of saying, Blessings, when the word is sincerely meant.  It invokes the harmonious and the sacred.  mitakye oyasin.

Story brings together everything that is related to its magnetic heart.  Some elements may be invisible but they are still present.  A story is whole and, therefore, is complex.  That is why and how it heals.

Story is whole AND also it is particular.

(You may have heard me tell, or read some of the stories I am telling here.  But stories change according to their context.  This essay is not about each story per se, but what is revealed when the stories are in new relationships to each other.)

In 1976 I was teaching at the Center for the Healing Arts.  The first Center for the ancillary treatment of cancer.  It predated, even sparked everything we now call CAM or complementary and alternative medicine.  A man whose life was profoundly changed through the deep healing process we were exploring as Westerners, having forgotten the old and indigenous ways, wanted to create a bumper sticker – Cancer is the Answer.

When I had cancer in 1977, I began to understand that I there was a Story that included the illness and was leading me toward healing.  I was in that story.  For story is not finite, it is a dynamic event that may have no end.  As I entered a healing path, carefully following the emerging story as it was being revealed to me, I also received a wisdom teaching that has become my foundation:  Heal the life and the life will heal you.  Then I understood that the healed life was not for myself alone.  I was not to focus on healing my life first in order to offer healing to others.  But rather the goal is to heal the life, to heal life itself, and then all, I and you, we will heal accordingly.

I will tell some of this story further on.

Healing stories are given to us so our times will heal.   These times are critical.  Life itself is endangered.  Some years ago, I keynoted the annual medical conference of the American Holistic Medical Association.  In my talk I said, Medicine, medical ways and the Earth are our patients today.

This cannot and must not be denied.  All life,, and so all lives, are gravely endangered, physically and spiritually.  And so we gather in the pleasure of each other’s company, in the relief of each other’s company, in the wisdom of each other’s company in order to see what we might offer individually and together to the future – mitakye oyasin.

Stories are like interlocking circles.  19 interlocking circles make an ancient image called the Flower of Life.  It speaks of the akashic records. It speaks of the eternal hidden wisdom stories.  A story integrates other stories.  Becomes wisdom.

Here is a true story.  Three weeks ago, I was flying from NJ to Los Angeles.  Preparing to give a talk that is the basis for this essay at a SoulCollage® (http://www.soulcollage.com) Conference.  I was reading about archetypes, Neters, as they are called in the ancient Egyptian pantheon. I glanced up at the film that I was occasionally s‘watching’ without words as I do when I fly.  Briefly, an Egyptian image appeared on the screen.  Horus, I think. And a word:  Neter.  Horus is one of the Neters who maintains the divine order.  The film was called “Now You See Me…”   Horus.  But maybe Tehuti.  Why not.  Tehuti has been a profound influence upon me.  Tehuti the great healer.

Tehuti came.  In Story.  We will speak of Tehuti later.  Suffice it to say here, that I was preparing to give a talk about Healing Stories, preparing actually to give this talk, and an image appeared on the screen that corresponded exactly to the book I was reading, Soul Collage Evolving: An Intuitive Collage Process for Self-Discovery & Conmmunity, by Seena B. Frost.

Story gathers into itself events from the inner and outer worlds.  Much of story derives from our own activity and thoughts, but some of it derives from real energies outside of ourselves. I look at Stories and Dreams in the old ways.  My hope is to contribute to restoring the indigenous wisdom that recognizes that Story and Dreams are gifts from the Spirits.  The Spirits are real.  Our task is to learn to recognize them so we can live in what the Native Americans would call The Good Ways.

The Kogi, one of the few most intact peoples on the planet, call us the Younger Brothers (or Sisters).  They are the Older Brothers.  The know what we are doing to the earth. They know we do this because we are young, callous, self-centered, greedy and naïve.  We don’t know how to listen to the Earth and the Spirits.  We don’t realize that we have not invented, are not giving words to the Spirits (archetypes) orto the Beings of the Earth but sometimes, when we are fortunate, they speak to and through us.  Story is one of the languages through which they speak.

We need to yield to wisdom wherever it is.  And we are children before Wisdom.  Story can teach us how and when to yield: when it is our thinking we encounter and have to step away, when we have to get out of the way, and when it is Spirit who calls to step forth.

I have over the years encountered Tehuti and learned how to serve this Neter.   To be graced by his energy and wisdom,  sometimes having the fortune of moving in the world in ways he might be directing.  In my novel, Doors: A Fiction for Jazz Horn, Tehuti is central, is the core, the energy, is an actor in the book.  It is his book.  So let us say, the Neter in the silent film – designed by the filmmaker but only partially perceived because I only looked occasionally and didn’t hear any sound, so also designed by the great silence — was Tehuti.  It makes a good story.  No one says we can’t add imagination to the Story.  And now I ask the question, did Tehuti appear to emphasize the reality of Spirit and also did he come to remind me of a sacred relationship that was no longer prominent in my mind.

This Neter, or energy, Tehuti, that appeared ten years or so after Doors:… appeared within the activity of my preparing to speak.  The intersection of the film’s story and the story of the SoulCollage gathering, a focus upon Story itself and the nove,l published ten years ago or so, became a living Story in that moment.

The Neter or energy or Spirit often expresses itself in Story.  Stories emerge from such energies in the way that stories are also connected with place and event.  A story that has associations, in the way of collage, may have origins, development and futures.

When I had cancer, I was a given a question that has served me and those with whom I work: Why did this event, or dream, or illness, in particular, come to me, in particular, at this time in particular?  And now I add another essential element to the question:  At this time in our lives – at this time in the life (or dying) of the earth, of our beloved planet?

In looking at the particulars, Story appears.  But not merely a Story of beginning middle and ending, but of origins developments and futures.

Beginning, middle and end yielding to origins, developments and futures.

What if events in our lives, or afflictions lead us to stories so that we learn to live on behalf of yourself and the future for all beings.  Ecology.  The Story of all beings.

What gives me hope – in such dark times – when I know that we don’t know how to meet the times or the consequences of our own behavior – is that Stories emerge, is that inexplicable events are enacted in our lives – and so confirm, as the only logical explanation – the Presence. The Old Ways, of whatever tradition, recognized Dream as a gift from Spirit or the Divine.  Story is the same.  The Presence announces Itself through Story.  And the Story teaches us how to live.  When we live in healing ways, we are healed.   When we live in healing ways, the world is healed.  Our healing.  The world’s healing.  The same.

***

Because we can’t invent a Story, in the way I have understood Story all these years, we sometimes really need a story.

Fifteen years ago, I was in Berkeley preparing to give a talk at the California Institute for Integrated Studies.  In order for the talk to be successful, I needed the right story with which to begin.  I had spoken there several times over the years and so I needed a different story from which a new focus would follow.  The entire week before, I had been reviewing my life looking, but no formerly untold story emerged.

As a writer and teacher, I live by story.  Not only these classic or cultural stories that have sustained people for centuries or for the life of their tribe, but the stories that emerge in our individual lives from the dynamic between experience, events, synchronicities, dreams, sometimes divinations, and history.  One way of understanding this is that Spider Woman is present among us and She is weaving a story from the bits and pieces, shards and threads of experience, or she is about to weave strangers into an unexpected fabric of connection through the revelation of their common and overlapping experiences, through sharing, becoming part of a common story.  In an alienated time, we can become kin or members of the same tribe through recognizing unexpected connections.  In the ways a cliché can allude to a common but powerful truth, we are made whole through the gathering together of the scattered parts as wholeness and healing are of a single root.

When the needed story did not manifest before I began traveling, I was certain it would come to me on the plane or in the hotel room that night or ….  Now it was a few hours before the talk.   I went to a local sidewalk café for coffee to take a break from my desperation.  I had back ups and there were always myths I could tell to weave a talk, but ‘the’ story eluded me.

Some weeks before I had read an article about Dr. Jean Achtenberg.  She said that she often prayed to the Four Archangels before meeting a difficult case or before entering the surgical theater.  I hoped that the unlikely remembering of this essay might be a sign.  I understood that the four Archangels are Judeo-Christianity’s way of recognizing and calling on the sacred energies of the Four Directions and so it was neither alien nor inappropriate to invoke these sacred beings whom I knew from my birth tradition.  And so, having the security of a cappuccino at my small table, I pleaded for a story to Archangel Michael in the East and Archangel Gabriel in the North both messengers and protectors, to Raphael, the angel of healing in the West and Uriel the angel of Sacred fire and vision in the South.  Please, I begged, remind me of, send me a story so that I can bring some insight and wisdom to the community.  I ended, as I always do, “On behalf of all beings and the future.”

Some minutes later, a small man in a worn brown gabardine jacket began lurching from table to table asking for moneys.  Soon he made his way to my table.  Aware that under his jacket, he was clutching a brown paper bag with a beer bottle in it, I wondered if I should give him money as it would obviously feed his habit.  But recognizing that he had lived his entire life without my advice, I gave him a generous donation and exchanged blessings with him.  He continued through the maze of tables and then stopping at the edge between the shaded café and the no man’s land of the street, he turned and looked at me directly:

“Would you like me to tell you a story?” he asked.

“Oh yes,” I answered passionately, “I would love you to tell me a story.”

“Do you know,” he began, “what General Patton said when he was preparing an offensive in Africa?”

“No,” I answered.  “I have no idea what General Patton said.”

“He said,” the man’s gaze was steady and grave, “Tho I walk in the valley of the shadow of death…”

The man stopped, turned and began walking away.  Then he turned toward me again and certain he had my attention, he began speaking again.  “Though I walk in the valley of the shadow of death…” he repeated the words but with a different emphasis that called us both into our common mortality. Within a moment he turned the corner or disappeared.

I had my story and we have this story now.

Versions of the story of the beggar who is an angel appear throughout the world.  It is an analogue of the beggar, the disreputable, needy or unpleasant old man or woman who appears to test us and who offers us gifts if we respond appropriately.

When we hear these stories, we want to identify with the ones who recognize the angel or who always act as is appropriate to an angel, or who treat everyone like an angel, but we rarely expect the angel to appear.  Appear, really!

A healing story is a living or a lived story.  It is a story that arises out of our lives and teaches us how to heal, how to live.  In its classic form, it requires an exact action and an offering.  True stories may seem random but they are precise.

Stories, such as these, which are gifts from Spirit, seem obvious in the telling but we can easily miss them.  They require us to be awake.  The one who is living the story may miss it and we hope that the one who is listening, the storyteller /healer will recognize it.  Our training through listening to the traditional and classic stories can alert us to the lived story when it appears.  Listening to and telling classic tales, reading books, literature, myths imprints the patterns on our hearts and so we are alerted when something similar begins to appear.  If I didn’t read voraciously, I could have missed this story.  If I didn’t know myth ot the Old Testament, I would have missed the story.  It could have turned to ash in the guise of an old drunk weaving through a café, easily dismissed, unless you know the sacred relationship between beggars and angels.

In this case, I had prayed to the Archangels and not the Four Directions.  Had I done otherwise, I would not be thrust so particularly into the story of the Angel and the Beggar.  But if I were out in the wild, I probably would have prayed to the Four Directions.  Because every medicine person knows that we must honor the Gods of place first.  And then, perhaps, a bear would have appeared.  Or a Wolf.  And I would have another story altogether.  I will tell such a story later too.

If only the beggar came, it would have made a good story but not as good as it is with the angels invoked and an angel appearing.  Not as good a story as to know that Spirit really exists, that the Angel is not a metaphor.  Spirit exists.  The angels are real.  And so are the beggars.  Such stories understood in the old, old ways, teach us the etiquette and ethics required in both worlds, in the world of the angels, that we rarely enter or are visited by, and in the world of the beggars, where, unfortunately, so so many people live most of the time.  A Story can bring these worlds together.

During a teleconference renowned storyteller Laura Simms and I participated in on June 13th, 2012, Laura spoke of the Story as inherently creating, reconciling or teaching relationships.  This Story reestablishes an ethical world of exchange and respect that also reunites the spirit world and the secular world.

The beggar and I had an ordinary exchange.  I gave him money, he gave me a blessing.  A kind but not memorable event.  He is still merely a beggar.  But then he turned to me:  “Would you like me to tell you a story?”

Now I the storyteller, the healer, the story carrier must pay attention.

Now we are in the miracle.  Now Story comes alive.  Now he is also an angel.  Now we are in the unfathomable.  Now Spirit is present.  What is happening now is entirely outside of human intent.  A dimension opens to the Great Mystery.  For the Lakota Sioux, the name of the Divine, of God, if you will, is Wakan Tanka.  Great Mystery.  Ahh.

This would be more than sufficient but we need to pay attention to the Story the Beggar /Angel will tell.  It is a story of the human condition. It is the story that levels all distinctions between a General, a beggar and the listener.  “Do you know what I thought when I was in the Valley of the shadow of death?”  Now we are all in the story for each of us have been or will be in that Valley.  We are companions as we will all face death.  No exceptions.  Such deep equality.  The profound question that we are each being asked is – Will we under similar circumstances, turn to Spirit?

The beggar offers me a surprising healing of whatever fear I might have of death.  For Spirit has just made itself known through the beggar/angel’s presence as he asks me (asks you) what might I / you think when ….?

One way of thinking about a healing story is that it reveals a path that the afflicted one is to follow.  In this instance, among other things, I / we are enjoined to recognize the existence of Spirit and the way it works in our lives.  To recognize Spirit even though we will die, even in the face of death.  And to recognize and listen to the teachings and guidance of Spirit as it comes to you, in particular, in its particular form, in the face of the possible death of the planet.  Our individual deaths are certain. The death of the planet is an aberration.  Can we devote our lives to turning this around?

In this case, we are invited to recognize Spirit twice – through the Beggar turning to me and answering my prayer and through the content of the Story he tells.

***

First it is necessary to recognize the Story that is coming to us, or that we are in or that we are called to live.

At this point in the essay, I turn back to the Conference and write the words I spoke then:

“In this moment, speaking to you, I am in another Story.  As Stories are co-existent and co-extensive, I can, we can, be in many stories at once.  A conference was planned, I was invited, and here we are.  All of you brought me here.

“But something else happened.  Someone you do not know brought me here. Someone I scarcely know.  Someone I didn’t know before I accepted your invitation.  Someone I encountered many months after accepting the invitation and just a few months ago.  Someone named Terrence Green.  He is a character in a novel I am writing.

“When I “met” him, I knew nothing about him, except that he was connected to the protagonist, Sandra Birdswell, of the work in progress entitled, A Rain of Night Birds.  He didn’t tell me anything about himself, but in the way of novelists, I began very slowly to know something of his story.  I began to know that he made a shocking discovery and it brought him to his knees.  I learned, doing the calendar for my novel that this happened in 2007.  And so doing research I found something that could have been the cause. It was a publication of the United Nations: The Contribution of Working Group II to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change 2007.  And when Terrence Green who is a Climatologist held this in his hands and saw that it mentioned – for the first time – the validity of indigenous knowledge in understanding climate change – he had to leave his western office so he could read this where he could understand it best.  He had to be in nature.  He had to be on land he knew well.  He jumped in his car and took off.  For where?  For a place that appeared on the page but I didn’t really know where it was.  Mind you this occurs in July 2013.

“This conference has been planned for almost two years and its location well established. On my page, he takes off for Mt. Hood.  Confession. I didn’t know where Mt. Hood was.  So I began researching Mt. Hood and tried to understand why he went to Mt. Hood.  I began reading about Native American life in Washington and Oregon, about the ways the Europeans colonized the native people, took the land, destroyed tribal life, forced the end of their spiritual lives and languages.  The under history, untold history, real story of Lewis and Clark and all that followed.

“So please, please imagine my fearful astonishment in late August, early September, when I began to map the drive to this Conference, having decided more than a year ago that I would drive but not knowing why, not having paid any attention to the Conference’s location, not having any idea where it was to be except somewhere on the west coast of United States, when I realized that I would be driving through what I had been learning is Terrence Green’s territory.  And beyond that, this Conference is being held in the shadow of Mt. Hood.  This sacred co-incidence made it possible for me to drive the Mt. Hood loop visiting ALL the places in that loop I had researched for other reasons altogether, ending up Thursday afternoon just before the opening at the foot of this road, where the First People exhibit has inscribed sacred stories of Coyote the creator.  Coyote, the trickster, indeed.

“Who brought me here?  Terrence Green.  Why? I don’t know yet.  Accept to say, I am living a Story.  When there is a call and we answer, then we are in a Story.

“In my community, when events like this occur and a Story begins to form itself in this way,  we say, “You can’t make this shit up.”  And then we follow the Story.”

***

Community, which we call, Daré, (which means Council in the Shona language) gathers monthly meeting at my home in Topanga Ca – and in other places across the country — on behalf of healing.  We meet all issues through council and we speak in council by telling the stories and experiences of our lives.  We also ask the afflicted ones who have come for healing, to tell as best as they can, the story of their pains or illnesses.

A story is complex and carries a reality that the recitation of events, the offering of a diagnosis or the recitation of ideas cannot match.  When someone tells a story that carries such an imprint of Spirit as in the Beggar and Angel story, or the presence of Tehuti or Terrence Green, we frequently ask – What is the true nature of the world in which such events happen? Such stories, especially when they have mythic resonance as do the Beggar and Angel story, the Neter story, the Terrence Green, the Coyote story, reveal the true nature of the world.  The stories have other meanings and functions but in categorizing stories, I would say that is their ultimate purposes are to reveal the true nature of the world.

They call us as listeners or members of a tribe to ask – How shall we live? They call us to remember how we must live.  When we are in alignment, healing can occur.

Folk tales, fairy tales often have miraculous circumstances, which, as westerners, we are led to quickly deny or subsume or perhaps even colonize as parts of ourselves.  The fairy godmother, the wizard, the magic wand, the myriad givers of gifts are relegated to the realm of make believe or psyche..  But what if such narrative devices are actually metaphors for the inexplicable events that sometimes occur in our lives and that change a set of linear experiences into a real story.

Storytellers healers work in different ways.  Some, like Native American physician and ritual practitioner, Lewis Mehl-Madrona, MD may offer the patient a traditional story to consider as a template through which to understand their lives or to reveal healing procedures.  In these instances, mentioned above, we are also asked to traditional or mythic tales as part of the narrative structure of the Story we are in. Other story healers, listen for the Story that the illness or affliction is telling in order to attain a diagnosis and find the healing path. All such stories often have a common basis: Spirit exists and Spirit wants to heal.  Spirit wants or is willing to come to us, to move through us, to affect healing.

And what is healing?  In the world of Story, healing can be physical, as in cure, or it can be emotional, and or spiritual, or all.  It can bring us relief, ease, restoration and it can bring us meaning. It can also direct us to change out lives.   We may still have the physical condition but when we are living differently, it may not matter so much.  Sometimes healing moves the illness, distress, affliction away from the center of our consciousness and allows our different ways of living to come forward.

Preparing to give a talk, I needed a story.  Ideas alone would never have served me or the community.  But a Story, as we just heard, is a small but complex world and if we enter it, we can be transformed.

In the land of Story, the particularity of any physical illness may point us to understanding our deeper suffering and the path to heal it.  When I first understood this, I realized that illness can be a messenger directing us to live in a different way.  So when I am ill, or when I am called to meet someone who is ill, I / we need a story or we want to know the story that the illness is telling and the path of healing it suggests for our future.

Sometimes, of course, an illness is just an illness, and sometimes there is something profound we need to learn for the greater healing.  Often I say, “Don’t heal too fast, so that the deeper questions can be addressed before the field of inquiry vanishes. Our culture draws us to focus on the physical.  A Story based culture would look to the medical, physical or body event, as well as the Story that encompasses the distress.   We look to body, mind and spirit to heal us and we look for the Story that includes all of these as well.

In 1975-76, I was teaching at three different educational institutions with very different women’s populations:  a community college, California Institute for the Arts and the Feminist Studio Workshop, the first feminist institution outside of a university for the arts and social change.  In each school, there were high percentages of women suffering breast cancer.  I began writing a novel, The Book of Hags, which became a radio play produced by KPFK, Pacifica Radio, with this question at its center: Why were so many women suffering breast cancer, why at this time in history, and why so young?

In July 1976, I had had a dream in which I was being tortured by a matron from a concentration camp whom I recognized from documentary footage in the Alain Renais film, Night and Fog.  In the dream, pretending she wanted me to give her information, she commanded, Sveig.  Silence.  I understood torture seemingly inflicted to get names or information is primarily designed to silence the population.  In the radio play, cancer and silence were intimately related.

I finished writing the novel in December 1976 and discovered I had cancer in January 1977.  I had a map for healing – it was within the Story that I was living.  I took a typewriter to the hospital and placed it on the little table that in those days opened so that the patient could use the mirror to put on eye shadow and lipstick.  As the typewriter was one of those IBM monsters, I gave up the cosmetic table for consciousness.

Might the woman who came to the Woman’s Word’s Conference I organized a the Woman’s Building in 1975 two years earlier have been correct about her life when she took the microphone on the stage and whispered, “I never spoke and so now I have cancer of the throat?”  Not that her silence caused the cancer but that the body inevitable carries the imprint of the sorrows and difficulties we carry and, also, it may begin to heal when it receives the energy of understanding.

My full story of cancer and healing developed over several months and then became the book Tree.  I was alert to the appearance of the Nazi matron from the Camp, and so I was willing to follow my intuitions when I saw cancer also as an act of imperialism, or as a conquering army.

Tree was published with another story – The Woman who Slept with men to Take the War out of Them – not an unrelated story, because it is a story of healing war and healing the General – and with several essays on healing which I wrote as the years developed.  But that first story, writing the text that became a radio play and writing the journal that became the book Tree, taught me that Story is at the essence of healing and through that teaching fashioned me into a Healer.

A friend and colleague has been on the land where I live as I have been writing this talk.  She came because a death in the family dispirited her and she needed soul company and she needed silence and we could provide both.  One evening, we offered her what we call a Music Daré, a music council.  Some healers, energy workers and musicians gathered to hear the story of her despair and anguish and then to offer an improvisational sound healing to call her spirit forth.  It is our custom to offer such an event to someone who is suffering an illness and is need of such deep attention.  The two essential elements are the exploration and telling of Story of the affliction, followed by the music that in its way develops according to the story line as we experience it.  In the course of examining her life, my friend traced her grief to an earlier time when she began to lose her life force, strangely enough just after she had completed a book about her journey to Spirit. The book, as it happened, unwittingly held the story of her affliction AND a path for healing.

Story has the capacity to awaken physical healing, emotional and spiritual healing.  Once in a Daré Council, two women, the daughter of a holocaust survivor and the granddaughter of a Minister whose Church had opposed, even plotted against, Hitler realized they were both profoundly connected through the stories and dreams of these events they had carried all their lives, which, for each, centered on the Nazi death camp, Matthausen.  Listening to them find each other and make an alliance across history and war, bringing their ancestors into the room through storytelling, it became plain that we had been called together that night so that their two personal stories could weave together into a new, distinct story, this unexpected common moment of understanding, compassion and forgiveness.

A similar event occurred at a Healing Intensive that I led in Pine Mountain California.  Of the twenty-four women in the room, two were the daughters of Holocaust survivors and another had been born in Switzerland and spoke German fluently.  One of the fathers who had been in the Camp had been born in Germany.  When his daughter collapsed remembering her father’s story, the Swiss woman embraced her and the women whispered to each other in German, the common language of their grief.

Silent, but present in the stories we tell, are the listeners from the past and from the future.  The story is not whole or full until we hear all of it and then because we inevitably breathe our own understanding and associations into it, blowing it up like a ball, like a world map, even the old story is vitalized by our participation through listening to it.

After writing much of this talk, I went out into the field and sat on a stone bench at the graves of my wolf hybrid companions Cherokee and her daughter, T’schee Wah Ya.  It was a beautiful day, the sun bright on the dry grasses and the brilliant oranges of the feral orchard lighting up the royal purple of the self seeded jacaranda tree.  I realized that I was re-enacting the scene of the story opening this essay. I was asking Spirit for the story or stories with which to conclude.  I was focusing on the questions that have engaged me for more than thirty years:  What is story? What is healing?  Why are they intrinsically related?  And what does it mean to live a story?  What does it mean to recognize the healing path revealed by Story and live accordingly?  What stories reveal the healing paths for the Earth?

Once again it seemed that hat only stories could answer these.

Sitting by their graves, I was pondering another theme in stories, as frequent as the theme of beggars and angels, the theme of animals as helpers or wisdom carriers.  I began to remember Cherokee and T’schee Wah Ya stories and how deeply connected I had been with them and with all the animals of my life.  To recognize the animals as kin has been part of my development as a person and as a healer for the earth and these times.  I believe that many of our illnesses and the harm we are doing are caused by our profound disconnection from and lack of understanding of the beings of the natural world.  Folk tales, fairy tales most often included these others and when these stories were at the center of our lives, the animals and plants were as well.  Much of our troubles come, then, from the destruction of an ecology of mind and spirit, as well as from our destruction of the earth.  Listening for the connections that still exist, both the animals we live with as well as the animals that come to instruct or enlighten us, listening for the stories that contain these connections or point to the disconnections, can lead to personal and global healing.

Sitting at the gravesite, I remembered many stories of my growing relationship with animals and my coming to understand that they are intelligent beings who can act with intent, even spiritual intent.  My first experience of this was with a squirrel in the forest twenty years ago.  She or he stopped me and we engaged in a back and forth communication for close to an hour.  It changed me entirely, especially as I was carrying the guilt of having killed a rattlesnake with an axe when I first moved to Topanga.

In 1996, I was co-editor of a groundbreaking anthology, Intimate Nature: The Bond Between Women and Animals.  As my contribution, I was writing the essay, Coming Home, “ to assert my recognition of animals as kin, as in the fairy tales,.  The essay was an apology to the rattle snake and as one might expect from a good story, a rattler appeared once again at the threshold.  This time I did not kill it but gratefully noted its appearance.

After, the book was published, I became aware that the arthritis I had been suffering in my right wrist had disappeared.  I am not certain exactly when my wrist healed.  Maybe it was when I told the story.  Maybe, it returned, years later, when I had no choice but to watch the death agony of a harmless gopher snake that a meter man had killed, before I could stop him, also by cutting off its head.  I watched the severed head and severed body reach toward each other in a horrific dance of longing that went on for almost an hour.  Maybe telling this story, maybe feeling compassion, will heal my wrist again.

At Cherokee’s grave, I remembered another story. It was the last time that my friend Hella, ill with cancer, telephoned me while I was teaching a writing class.  “Are you dying?” I asked her.  “I don’t know, she answered, I’ve never done this before.”

In our work together, she had described the cancer pain she was feeling as a porcupine in her gut.  Returning to this image again and again, she recovered a lost memory.  Her country house had been infested with porcupines and she had insisted that her young son, who had an aversion to violence, take a gun and shoot until it was dead.  She had never apologized to him or the porcupine for this breach of right relationship until these last days.   She and her son had had a difficult time for many years but now he was at her bedside and in the moment of her dying, she rose up and fell across his lap, a pieta in reverse.  And their lives reconciled.

The greater healing affects the individual, the community and the earth – all beings.  Many of our stories point toward that unification.  I write it again: Heal the life and then the life will heal you.  It is the wisdom that I carry since I had cancer.

In 2000 I met an elephant in the wild.  We call him the Elephant Ambassador.  I met him again, four times, four different years, at the same place on the very last day of my journey, at the same time of day.  You can read about it on my website The Language of Relationship: Engagement with Elephants, https://deenametzger.wordpress.com/2011/12/07/the-language-of-relationship-engagement-with-elephants/ and in From Grief into Vision: A Council.  The true story of meeting the Elephant Ambassador heals the world.  It establishes right relationship with the others.

Children’s stories classically involve animals but we may have forgotten that they are also calling us into right relationship with the wild.  From this perspective, the Bear’s poignant questions: “Who has been sitting in my chair, eating my porridge, sleeping in my bed, may be calling us to see how we are overrunning the habitat and taking the food of the animal world as our own.”  Goldilock’s intrusion into the bear’s territory, takes on other meanings if we look at the story from the bear’s point of view.

Sighting of animals on the land may signal healing and restoration.  Peter Nabokov, Where the Lightning Strikes, defines sacred land as a recurring place of ceremony or a location for sacred events or visions.  When the land is occupied by the original people or when it is restored, the sacred occurs again and again.  Sometimes we say, the land is storied by these repeated events.

Sharon Simone was one of several participating in a ceremony of restoration, designating the land in Topanga as a sanctuary for all beings.  As if going on a quest, the participants spent the night in silence on the land without tarp or tent while others kept a sacred fire.  Not surprisingly, the wind came up fiercely that April 1st night.  Huddled in prayer under what she calls the Guardian Tree, she saw a large animal move across the field in front of her.  It stopped to look at her and she looked back, frozen, as she was eye to eye with a large cat.  A bobcat, she reassured herself, though she saw the animal’s long tail.   She pulled a tarot card to give her bearings.  The card was mountain lion.  The card spoke to her of leadership which was very appropriate to events in her life.  However, it also revealed that the animal that she was seeing was indeed mountain lion.  It had come to her before, through scat she saw when hiking during a quest, but never in the flesh.  Now the land as sanctuary carries the story of mountain lion as totem, spirit and presence.  When we live a story, as Sharon Simone is doing, it alters us to the sacred presences around us.

The concern with body, mind and spirit extends to body, mind, spirit, community and earth in the process of becoming whole.  To repeat what feels most important here:  Healing occurs when the essential relationships that have been broken are restored.  Another way of thinking of story is that it chronicles the ways in which these essential relationships are restored as it gathers into itself all the disparate pieces.  It is possible to see that everything can be part of a story.  Seeing relationships is creating a story that heals as it restores the fragmented and diminished world–

Terri Many Feathers returned to the Red Path after years of having been disconnected.  When she returned, she devoted herself, becoming a Pipe carrier, a Sun Dancer and holding Lodge.  She also began teaching her children the sacred songs and prayers.  One day, she heard the growl of a bear on the hill outside her house and then the breath of wind as her son rushed past her toward the outside.  She was alarmed but it was too late to stop him.  Slowly and quietly, she made her way toward where she thought he had gone.  Within a few feet, she saw her son in the distance, singing the bear song, he had just learned, and the bear sitting, facing him, listening.

For the Diné (Navajo) illness occurs when the relationship with the community, the land or the spirits has been violated.

I met a Navajo professor of anthropology at a Conference on Sand paintings in Santa Fe, NM.  He had been skeptical of the old practices and decided to put his native medicine to the test. He had had a chronic skin condition that was not yielding to conventional medicine. The hand trembler (a Navajo diviner) who looked at his rashes told him he had offended the Red Ant people. When he made amends, he would be healed.  Well, the educator had offended the ant people. He had used gasoline to burn an area where they had been living in order to create a place for his sleeping bag. Chagrined, he made the required offerings. He acted for the land in ways the Ant people demanded.  (He did not speak of what he was asked to do, but certainly telling the story in academic circles to honor his people was one requirement. )  The infected rash disappeared. Right relationships were restored. A healing occurred that all the steroids in the world had not been able to accomplish.

I don’t know if he had had a Singway ceremony to cure this condition.  But if he had, it would have included various rituals that restore hozho, a term that means a combination of beauty, stability, balance, and harmony.  These might include gathering the community for the Red Ant Way ceremony, creating a sand painting of a moment in an appropriate myth, and perfectly singing the myth and saying the prayers in ceremony so that the entire perfect world implied in creation can be restored.  The story, the healing, the world become one.

We can look to Navajo wisdom to see what aspect of community, earth or spirit has been violated so that we can find the Story and the path that might set things right and bring healing as well.  In as much as our physical illnesses are increasingly the consequence of our assault on the environment, finding the Story of our illness in relationship to the earth and making amends can lead to healing beyond the personal.  Looking to Navajo wisdom, respecting and honoring the wisdom ways of the First People begins to heal the great illness, Europeans imposed upon the people and the land.

When we meet with a patient in a ReVisioning Medicine Council which brings together as peers, physicians and healers, medical people and medicine people, therapists and story tellers, we enter into what we call Indigenous Grand Rounds, listening together for the story.  We are honoring the medicine ways of the First People as way of healing conventional medical ways and their dire consequences that all of us suffer that result also from the disconnection from the land and all our relations.

The most important part of this healing work is the listening.  We have to listen between the lines, we have to listen to what was not said.  We often have to listen to many stories that gradually interpenetrate each other to reveal a single story that can point the way to healing.

Here is a Story from the September 2013 ReVisioning Medicine Council in Nashville, Tenn. When she was a very young child, a woman’s uncle committed suicide.  The event entirely overwhelmed the family and so her life.  The effect of the suicide reverberated through her childhood and then adulthood in its subtle but persistent way.  Many, many years later, when she was leading a workshop on veterans and the wars, a homeless veteran approached her.  He said, “I have killed so many.  Forgive me.”  She embraced him, held him, forgave him. He left gratified.  Many years later, she told the story to us and, to her surprise, added a detail that had not been part of the story before: just before his suicide, the uncle had returned from World War II.  In that moment, we/she grasped so many years later, that she had, in her gesture to the veteran, actually forgiven her uncle, also.  The story of her grief and his was over.  And, perhaps, a new story, arising out of forgiveness, was beginning.

Healing is rarely the reinstatement of the former condition or the status quo.  Healing brings the parts that have been broken, scattered or disassembled together again but in a new pattern that is more true to the complex nature of the world than to the simple assembly of technology.  Story also gathers distinct parts into a new configuration.  Healing invites us to be in resonance with all life.  So does Story.

Stories also bring us to the spiritual entities who inform our lives. In these stories, the Beggar, Horus, Tehuti, Terrence Green, wolf dogs, rattlesnake, porcupine, elephant, the wounded uncle veteran, arise into our lives out of the soil of the stories.

We are all descendants of indigenous wisdom communities from which we have been separated by global tragedies.  Every such community has a tradition of healing and story and their relationship.   The Navajo, as above, speak of it in their way.  The Jewish tradition speaks of it another way:

When the Divine poured itself into vessels in order to create the world, the vessels could not contain the energy and they broke.  The task of every conscious person is to gather the broken pieces of light that were scattered everywhere.  This act is called Tikkun Olam – it means mending the world.  A healing story is the vessel that gathers to itself the broken pieces of the afflicted one, of the wounded community and the broken earth as a spiritual act of healing the world.

We have to listen back into the past and into the future.  We have to listen in non-linear ways.  Origins.  Developments and variations.  Futures.

Here is a final story:  Orland Bishop is a healing presence in Los Angeles, devoted to human rights advocacy and cultural renewal with an extensive study of medicine, naturopathy, psychology and indigenous cosmologies. He is director of  Shade Tree Multicultural Foundation, pioneering approaches to urban truces and mentoring at-risk youth that combine new ideas with traditional ways of knowledge. He told this story to a ReVisioning Medicine Council in Topanga in February 2012.

As a young man, Bishop had befriended a young ex-felon, becoming his guide and teacher as the felon transformed his life entirely.  One day, it was revealed that the young man had AIDS.  Bishop stayed beside him.  At that time in his life, he was attending Charles Drew Medical School with the hope of becoming a physician.  His young friend became increasingly sick.  Bishop visited him in the hospital knowing it was his last hours.  He sat by his bed. The young man was unconscious. Bishop said good-bye and got up to leave.  As he reached the hospital room door, he heard a voice:  “Do what you came here to do.”

Bishop was startled to hear his friend’s voice so clearly. He turned around and went to the bedside.  His friend was still unconscious.  Bishop left again.  At the door, he heard the voice again, even louder and more vigorous than before.  “Do what you came here to do.”

Because three is, as you know, a magic number, the voice spoke a third time with final emphasis.  Bishop left the room and went directly to the medical school and resigned.  The work he was called to do was healing work of individual and community that goes far beyond what he could possibly do as a physician.

As I record this story hearing it yet again, having heard it and told it so many times, I hear something else.  Bishop told it to a room full of physicians. It was about becoming a healer in the way that Story and Spirit intend, which may be far beyond the conventional ways of healing.

I offer it to you at this moment.  What if that voice is speaking to each of us as we wonder how we may heal and bring healing to ourselves and others, to humans and non-humans alike – May you each do what you came here to do.

And so this final coda:

Here are words from repertory of the Traveling Jewish Theater, from their opening play Coming From a Great Distance:

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

***

For further information about the books mentioned, Daré, and ReVisioning Medicine please see my website:

REVISIONING MEDICINE 2004 – 2014 AN INVITATION

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

ReVisioning Medicine in Topanga, February 2014 

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

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

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

***

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

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

Peace and Blessings,

Deena and Kjersten

ReVisioning Medicine: Imagining a New Medicine and Healing for All Beings

A core group of physicians and healers have been consciously exploring ReVisioning Medicine since 2004. Over time, we have come to understand that ReVisioning Medicine is a council that honors and relies on deep dialogue between medical practitioners and medicine people as peers. It is an emerging contemporary version of the old, old indigenous wisdom traditions that consulted and included all the elements in the little world that became a field of healing, a field from which healing emerged.

Healers and medicine persons were once the spiritual leaders at the heart of the community. They partnered with the chiefs so that the individuals, the community, the earth thrived under their care. The animals and plants, sometimes even the elementals, communed with them and they exchanged blessings and wisdom. They knew the spirits, the earth and all the members of the human and non-human community. They carried all the stories. They were as connected to the daily events as they were to history, myths, visions and dreams.

For the Navajo, the Diné, illness occurs when the sacred order has been violated. Healing occurs through restoring harmony and order. The first requirement is gathering the tribe. Healing cannot occur outside the community and healing is an essential beautiful process that requires everyone’s participation.

Healing does not create enemies but creates connection. For example, a Navajo professor of anthropology, skeptical of the old practices, decided to put his native medicine to the test. He had had a chronic skin condition that was not yielding to conventional medicine. The hand trembler (a Navajo diviner) who looked at his rashes told him he had offended the Red Ant people. When he made amends, he would be healed.

Well, the educator had offended the ant people. He used gasoline to burn an area where they had been living in order to create a place for his sleeping bag. Chagrined, he made the required offerings. The infected rash disappeared. Right relationships were restored. A healing occurred that all the steroids in the world had not been able to accomplish.

More than a physical healing occurred. The relationship between the man and his people was healed. Now our relationship with the old wisdom ways that are so despised by western science, is also being healed through this story. Healing, in the old ways, is systemic. Healing reaches back to the ancestors and forward to the future beings. Healing is round.

***

I had cataract surgery six months ago. The surgery went very well, but two days later, rather than my sight being restored, inflammation started and floaters, worse than I had ever had before, appeared and have not dissolved. I had had the surgery because I had been blinded by the light of the setting sun. Sensitivity to light did improve with the surgery but not as much as I had hoped. Something was not right. Inflammation continued and the drops that were to have stopped within a few days were to be continued. Four months later, I insisted on tapering down from both the steroid and non-steroid eye drops that had been prescribed when the condition didn’t heal. I reduced the drops carefully, but still more rapidly than a specialist, who had been consulted, recommended. Finally, against advice I stopped them altogether. When I went to the doctor a month later, the inflammation was abating markedly and it seemed to me that the hearing loss that I had noticed increasingly after the surgery was also improving.
“Hearing loss is not associated in the literature with the medication,” he stated.
“Actually, it is,” I countered, having read the literature.

My cousin had cataract surgery in another state, six months after I did, is very concerned with her hearing loss and heightened tennitis since her surgery. The same meds were prescribed for her as were prescribed for me.

The ophthalmologist, who had performed the surgery and whom I had seen regularly for ten years, noted that the inflammation was mostly gone and my eyesight had become 20/30. “Do you know why?” I asked. “Perhaps because I stopped the meds,” I continued.
“The surgery went very well.” He was repeating what he had said for months as we puzzled over the unexpected phenomenon. As the appointment came to an end, he looked at me quizzically, “Do you think the inflammation and the floaters are due to the medication from the beginning?” He could ask that question because he knows that we are both trustworthy. It is not a question a doctor can easily ask in these times of distrust and conflict, when such relationships that thrive only in mutual confidence, have become increasingly combative.
“I may have a paradoxical relationship to these medications,” I said, wondering whether my concern about western medicine, springing out of my awareness of the grave cultural distortions of our time, makes me particularly vulnerable to the increasing dangers of pharmaceuticals to all life, my own included. A paradoxical relationship to western medicine, to our medical system. This physician is entirely accepting of western medicine from which he derives his exceptional skill and competence. Nevertheless, he had been puzzling over the unexpected symptoms and the modest, incomplete healing that occurred.
“Sometimes patients have a different response to medication,” he offered.
“Please pay attention for your other patients,” I countered. “This was an iatrogenic event.” I am intolerant of the ways we are being acclimated to medical side effects and I know that what goes through my body enters the biosphere and negatively affects other beings without their permission.”
Some months later, a stitch that hadn’t dissolved was removed from my eye and an antibiotic prescribed against infection. I experienced a searing burning sensation as if acid had been dropped in my eye. I flushed my eye with water for twenty minutes and, of course, stopped using the prescription. The physician recommended another medication. I desisted, taking a risk, perhaps. No infection resulted.

***

In 1999, I called together a healing community we call Daré which means Council in the Shona language of Southern Africa. The community gathers for a day of healing on the first Sunday after the new moon. We have been meeting for more than 13 years. Whoever comes to Daré is welcomed as a member of Daré. Much healing occurs as we learn and apply the old, old ways to ease, relieve, cure as best as we can. It seems that miracles occur every month. Not everyone is cured. But then not everyone is cured by western medicine. But many people are benevolently affected on the physical, emotional, spiritual planes. Also community itself is healed as we heal. And additionally, as it is increasingly clear that the healing ways of western medicine are enhanced by the medicine we offer, alliances between the best of the two ways of knowing become possible. Such parallels between western medicine and healing ways are implicit in CAM, Complementary and Alternative Medicine. But they are still parallel events operating from different perspectives. ReVisioning Medicine that brings all the ways into a unified and dynamic council, is we, believe the future.

The ways of Daré are carried among us from month to month. We try to walk in the world as healing presences. We try to live according to the healing ways that are revealed to us. Although Daré only meets officially once a month, it is a 24/7 activity through which our consciousness develops.

***

As I write this, a colleague and long term Daré member, is trying to recover from serious auto immune responses to medication. The physicians do not have other medicines to offer patients even though they increasingly have to deal with side effects that are serious, sometimes more serious than the original condition. If we thought about illness differently, we would seek other interventions. We would invent other treatments. We would all be engaged in ReVisioning Medicine. This colleague came to see me because she was in increasing discomfort, pain, fear and anxiety. There were a scattering of potential diagnosis and an increasing negative response to the medications suggested. Autoimmune responses to steroids is the least of it.

We did what healers and medicine women have done from the beginning. We sought Spirit’s aid. We turned to divination. I suggested, as is my way, a series of questions that she could address over time. At the heart of our concern, was a piece from her early history. As a young girl, she had had the desire to be a medical doctor. It had arisen when she read and reread Microbe Hunters. Now in her sixties, after a long history of university teaching and activism related to social justice, her thinking has changed. A Daré member for many years, she has deeply assimilated the teachings that have emerged based on “all our relations.” She is committed to a revisioned medical practice that does no harm. She no longer wants to hunt and kill microbes. She wanted to know what peaceful co-existence might be.

Her insight and resolve came a short time before a different attitude toward microbes is entering the culture:

“I would like to lose the language of warfare,” said Julie Segre, a senior investigator at the National Human Genome Research Institute. “It does a disservice to all the bacteria that have co-evolved with us and are maintaining the health of our bodies.”

This new approach to health is known as medical ecology. Rather than conducting indiscriminate slaughter, Dr. Segre and like-minded scientists want to be microbial wildlife managers.

No one wants to abandon antibiotics outright. But by nurturing the invisible ecosystem in and on our bodies, doctors may be able to find other ways to fight infectious diseases, and with less harmful side effects.
http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/19/science/studies-of-human-microbiome-yield-new-insights.html?pagewanted=all

When my colleague addressed the question that affected her most urgently, “What am I called to in order to ease and bring peace to the distress in my body?” the answer from the I Ching, her augury of choice, was direct:

“Shake/rousing (51) describes your situation in terms of a disturbing and inspiring shock. The way to deal with it is to rouse things to new activity. Re-imagine what you are confronting. Let the shock shake up your old beliefs and begin something new. Don’t lose your depth and concentration. What at first seems frightening, will soon be a cause to rejoice.”

This advice was followed by: “This is a time when Noble One transforms anxiety and fear through adjusting and inspecting.”

Mysterious and ultimately incredible as it seemed, the pain she had been feeling disappeared with “Shock” from the I Ching. And then, also, the anxiety was gone. Three years ago, when she had been also suffering from diverticulitis, a Music Daré restored her to health that lasted until these last weeks when she has been highly stressed. Now again, the old, old medicine of Story and right relationship and community of all beings brought her back into alignment and health.

***

Some weeks before the cataract surgery, I had given the ophthalmologist, my novel, Feral, which is grounded in the particulars of the beauty of the natural world. The Girl in the novel has gone feral in order to ease the pain of her life. To live within the animation and beauty of nature was to be vitally alive. Happiness came to her from being companioned by lizards and a wolf. She had agreed to come down from a tree where she was making her home on condition that the Woman, a therapist, not confine her within the terrors and illogic of civilization. The young woman initiates her therapist into the true ways of healing through challenging psychology’s identification with pathology while insisting upon right relationships and alliance with and compassion for the earth and its creatures. Her agonies and distress derived from knowing that the animals are consistently hunted down, that humans are afflicting and terrorizing all life. That the violence she suffered as a child, is suffered by the natural world a thousand fold and without end.

“When you read this,” I had told the surgeon, “you will know why the surgery has to go well. I am a writer, I need to be able to see.” I had put myself in his capable hands so that my somewhat clouded vision might be cleared.” I had also given him texts of keynote addresses I have delivered to various medical associations on the loss of the soul of medicine, on the increasing gulf between the medical world and true ways of healing.

My primary motivation in presenting him with several books and essays was to create a relationship with him so that healing could occur. He performs so many surgeries – and the great, great majority are successful – I didn’t doubt his expertise. But I was putting my eyes, my vision in his hands and in my philosophy that act requires connection and interconnection. For my comfort, we needed to care about each other. To be friends. That’s the way it used to be. That is the way it was when I was a child. My parents and our doctors were friends, neighbors and colleagues. Health developed among them.

As it happened, I had been so alarmed by the negative changes that were occurring after surgery, I used his offer to email him after office hours far more frequently than I could ever have imagined. He was always kind and immediately responsive even when he was visiting his family in another state. And so though my eye was not healing, my respect for him increased. And he has a sense of humor as do I. That always helps.

***

Before leaving for the appointment with the ophthalmologist, I had a conversation with a colleague about medicine and its dangers. We could have spent hours articulating the systemic problems, the pressures and expenses of the pharmaceutical, scientific and technologic research industries, the collusion of hospitals, doctors and insurance companies, the weight of the multiple lobbies, the entire system beholden to profit and power. She did not agree with her assigned doctor’s approach to illness.

“But we have to go to the doctor,” she said. She had no choice, she felt, but to accept treatment.
Technically, she has the right to refuse, even if emotionally she is tied in, as so many are by the reflexive warnings that our failure to follow medical advice will end in disaster. Maybe she has the right to refuse but the consequences of exercising it are extreme. A friend who wanted to refuse chemotherapy was told her insurance would be cancelled, and all her family members deprived of insurance if she did not comply.
“Do we have to go to the doctor?” I asked.

Do we have to? Do we always have to get so many x-rays? Do we have to have mammograms when there are other means of detection? My dentist advised me that he will no longer treat me if I refuse to have a full set of x-rays next time I come to visit him even though I have signed a paper refusing them. Do we have to get dental x-rays? Do I have to submit to a diagnostic test that will cause me harm and will infinitely damage the environment? The earth is a seething body of pain caused by all our tests and medicines. Who says I must! Why are they so certain? Why are we not committed to tests and treatments that do no harm to the earth? Why don’t we train our physicians and healers to detect illness in other ways, in the old ways that often served before current technology.

The US government paid researchers to mutate the Bird Flu virus so it would move down into the animal kingdom and be more deadly to humans. Do we have to get flu shots? Do we have to inoculate infants even if these measures may seriously damage their brains? Do we have to yield to chemotherapy and radiation? Who has the courage to resist these treatments? How many of us will have the courage to claim our rightful lives and deaths?

“The physicians have to change,” my friend asserted. “They have to resist and change their ways.”
“The patients have to change. The public has to change,” I suggested. It is up to us to support healers in searching for and providing a kind and just medicine that will serve the patient and the earth.

***

A physician friend had the following dream: A heavy energy field shows up in her office at the end of the day. All her patients have left. Her colleagues have slipped out of the back door. She is alone with this energy or entity. It wants something of her but she does not know what. She can’t escape it. The entity follows her into a hospital room. She is forced down on a hospital bed. She awakens very unsettled. Who will be with her? Who will stand by the physician?

What is the great weight, the energy or entity that bears down on the physician so that she is incapacitated? What is the great weight that is bearing down on physicians everywhere so that they cannot practice the medicine they committed to practice? What is the great weight that overwhelms and subsumes the very will of medical doctors so that they are daily forced to violate the most sacred injunction – First, do no harm!

***

When we cannot exercise free will in the deepest areas of our souls we are living under totalitarian conditions. Totalitarianism is not only related to dictatorships, the absence of fair elections, the military evidence on the street of a police state. Totalitarianism is systemic. It is a state of mind. It is present when the dominant ideology penetrates every aspect of our minds and lives. It is present when the assumptions, beliefs and attitudes of one group entirely control our thinking and we have no recourse. Often we don’t know that our minds are fully under a system’s control. It is present when we cannot act against the current of thought because we believe that doing so will cause great harm to us and those we love. Totalitarianism is present when its way is the way. When we are mandated to act against our core beliefs and better judgment “for our own good.” When commercial interets overwhelm human concerns. When to violate it is unthinkable. No one small group, even physicians, can resist totalitarianism alone.

Physicians also become patients. They also suffer iatrogenic events. An MD colleague suffered kidney failure from medication for rheumatoid arthritis. His own physician did not protect him from the medical treatment that was known to cause harm and he couldn’t protect himself either. This was the protocol insisted upon. He was its victim.

To almost every Daré gathering, someone has brought a story of having suffered recently at the hands of western medicine. Yes, they asked for treatment but they didn’t expect to become sicker, they didn’t expect to suffer from the medicine to which they had been forced to submit. Debilitating infections contracted during hospital stays. Sensitivity to pharmaceuticals. Children, everywhere, on drugs. An alarming increase in autism.

Medical research consistently denies the relationship between mercury in vaccines and autism. But ask the mother (in our community) who brought a healthy, vibrant baby to the post natal clinic for his shots and two days later had a lifeless baby who is seriously autistic twenty years later.

Medicine has hidden the ever present dangers of the thousands of chemicals used by industry because it itself is an industry that uses toxic chemicals in the form of drugs. …According to the New York Times a study by the Army surgeon general, conducted soon after 9/11, found that up to 2.4 million people could be killed or wounded by a terrorist attack on a single chemical plant. What could be released instantly in a cloud of death is inevitably released slowly in the environment and carried to our children through the air and through the many thousands of products including medicines, vaccines and dental fillings…. Today the nightmare for doctors, who have any kind of sensitivity to the realities that environmental medicine provides, is to diagnose problems and disease that are occurring against a background of chemical hostility including the ever-present serious side effects from medications. The general tendency of allopathic physicians is to deny toxicity while falsely elevating bacteria and viruses as the main causes of disease. Their failure to understand when chemicals are combining to overwhelm the health of any particular individual is tragic.
Multiple Causes of Autism Spectrum Disorders
International Medical Veritas Association Mark Sircus Ac., OMD

This week there was a suicide in our kinship network. The woman, addicted to prescribed pain pills, could no longer bear her life. The question remains, wouldn’t we invent different treatment if we thought differently about healing? If we didn’t see enemies everywhere, might we create protocols that are not devastating to the body and the earth?

***

I am haunted by an image. I have had the great fortune of being friends with the extraordinary woman writer, Anaïs Nin. Anaïs’ life was committed to beauty and graciousness. She introduced her readers to the mysterious realms of the dream and inner life. In January 1977, she was dying of cancer. Before her death, her husband had built a Japanese teahouse outside her bedroom window that she would never enter. In the last weeks of her life, until I had to go to New York, I had been able to visit her every day to help her cross from one world to another. These were blessed moments. She had arranged her dying to accord with her living so that it would occur peacefully in the house she loved, by the miniature sand garden with sunlight and moonlight reflecting on the dark waters of the little pool outside. Her husband, who loved her passionately, had promised her that she could die at home. I called from Manhattan to say good-bye yet again. I could barely make out her voice. When I called the next day, I learned that in the last moment, her husband had panicked, had been afraid to defy the doctors, had called an ambulance and she had died in the hospital.

This is the image; I wasn’t there but it is one of my strongest memories: Anaïs is strapped onto a gurney that is being raised into the ambulance. Her husband has placed a red velvet bow in her hair. An IV is being plugged into her vein. Her eyes are wide open. Startled. Terrified. Later, her husband would say, “I knew from the way she looked at me, that I had entirely betrayed her.”

Betrayal is a word commonly used by people coming to Daré or ReVisioning Medicine. Betrayal is a word that veterans use when speaking of their military experience in Vietnam, Iraq or Afghanistan. Those who come to Daré suffering PTSD, say they did not expect to be violating the basic principles of human community in a war whose motives they quickly began to distrust. Betrayal by family members who never learned the ways of healing, by physicians, therapists, priests, lawmakers, police, teachers, whose loyalties are to other than the individual patient.

***

We are not free to live or to die the ways we wish. We do not have control over our own lives. We are forced to yield to authorities we do not know and may well not respect. Guilds of professionals and politicians, often beholden to the pharmaceutical, insurance and medical industries, make strategic economic decisions that will decide our fate. When you are prohibited from acting on behalf of your own life, you are living in a totalitarian system. Despite what we have been led to believe, totalitarianism is very subtle. It seeps into our bodies and minds like an invisible gas. Like radiation that we cannot detect without a specialized instrument, that enters our bones, distorts our cells. “You must. You must not.” Even those who ultimately impose the laws and create the conditions under which we live, are not aware of the full impact of their decisions, actions and their consequences. It is the way of those who presume, without asking, to alter our food supply, to pollute our land, to envelop us in a chemical and electromagnetic soup that threatens all of us, our children, human and non-human.

In The Third Reich of Dreams 1933 – 1939, Charlotte Beradt, who kept a diary of patient dreams in Germany during the rise of the Third Reich and smuggled it out of Germany in code, traces the ways in which the rising tide of fascism infected the unconscious lives of ordinary Germans, how people, according to one reviewer, are remade from the inside out by totalitarian regimes.

In the time since I was young, western medicine has become a dogmatic system entering every aspect of our lives. If an individual or a family refuses certain treatments, they can be coerced into acquiescence. Children who are not vaccinated cannot attend public school despite the increasing evidence, scientific and anecdotal, of the relationship between the plague of autism and vaccinations. People can be denied their rightful and respectful death by being kept on life support or revived against their will and their instructions. We are injured and die of a host of medical treatments and procedures. Every prescription comes with a long list of possible side-effects, from mild to serious. Iatrogenic illness is the third most fatal disease in the United States after heart disease and cancer.

I must repeat this: Iatrogenic illness is the third most fatal disease in the United States after heart disease and cancer.

And yet, we have no freedom to refuse and no global imperative to undo the system that is killing us and the earth, but still calls itself medicine.

***

This morning, I awaken to the words in this essay streaming through my mind. I don’t know if I have dreamed them, but I must write them down. Everything is coming at once, the interaction with the ophthalmologist, the conversation with a Muslim acquaintance, who wears a hijab, but who is compelled by her HMO to put her naked body in the hands of a physician whose medical orientation is foreign to her. Fish, frogs, insects animals feminized, masculinized, their reproductive systems disrupted due to the hormones, endocrines and other medically related pollutants in the water table. 250,000+ human patients will die in the hospital of iatrogenic illnesses this year. Thousands and thousands of people are writhing now from pharmaceutical side-effects. Millions are using drugs that are making them ill as they try to heal from the horrific illnesses we are causing.

What will it take for us to step out of the system that is causing all life so much harm? What will it take to say No and seek other ways?

What if we gather together to step out of the dominant mind set that requires us to do harm or be harmed? What if we adamantly refuse any and all medicines and treatments that seriously harm the patients, communities and earth? We have to undo the authoritarianism of the current medical model that is doing so much harm and has corralled the global population into serving it. How many people are undergoing chemo and radiation to treat the diseases that we clearly cause? A horrific and continuous cycle.

What if we insist that all healing regimes must also benefit and or heal the earth? What if we direct all research to find only those medicines that consider the health of the future as well as the health of the patient?

***

Anaïs was vividly with me this morning though I haven’t thought of her for many months. As it is so many years since she died, I consider her an ancestor. It is cold outside. I build a fire for warmth and sit before it with the laptop that I haven’t used since December. An event reminder springs up to alert me: January 14th. Anaïs’ death!

Synchronicity. I know I am to write this essay now. When I tell my husband, Michael Ortiz Hill, about the confluence of events, noting that I awakened thinking of her for the first time in many months as this essay began to form in my mind and then opened the computer to a reminder of Anaïs’ death, he says, “Synchronicity is the antidote to totalitarianism. It is the voice of the ancestors from the other side.”

I speak of this essay and he adds, “Global warming is an iatrogenic autoimmune crisis, as is what is happening in the body politic and also in the body of medicine. And so in our bodies as well.”

Yes, Anaïs is an ancestor now. In the old medicine ways, we recognize that she has come as an ancestor to bring us wisdom and help set things right. Why has this ancestor arrived now? What might she want me to consider?

Her appearance as an ancestor references a different kind of medicine. Indigenous medicine not Western medicine. Revisioned Medicine. A spirit based medicine. A medicine that is kind and relational. A medicine that is integrated into the natural world and respects all beings. Everything about such a medicine is different. All the forms are different.

Imagine a medicine woman from your far lineage. Imagine you are ill and so are going to her compound. Imagine you may have to wait at her compound for a long time, because she has gone to the mountain to speak to the spirits. So, while you are waiting, you may as well cook a soup as she’ll be hungry and tired when she gets back from the mountain. Indigenous medicine is reciprocal medicine, is based on relationship. In indigenous or ReVisioned medicine, we take care of each other. When you understand this about medicine, it will be the right time for you to speak to the spirits as well. When the medicine woman comes back, she is going to ask you your story, what you think about your illness, what you have been dreaming, what the spirits are saying to you about your life, so you may as well be prepared.

This is not an impossible scenario. This is the way we live and offer healing at Daré. This is a form that informs ReVisioning Medicine. Such a medicine requires that we say No to what acts against all life and we be rigorous about bearing witness when it occurs. Then we say Yes to what sustains life, all life, and ally with others who do the same.

ReVisioning Medicine is a form that came to me some years ago. Perhaps it was when I began speaking to physicians about the story that the illness is telling. When I began to see that healing one’s life means healing our lives. It began when I began to collaborate with physicians in recognizing such stories and treating the patients accordingly. It began when we recognized that we could listen with the heart as well as our minds.

We’re only at the beginning of ReVisioning Medicine. We have to learn the old, old ways again and integrate them with the medical forms that can sustain us when they do no harm. We help each other say No and then say Yes. Tradition, vision, science and deep listening. Contemporary experience affirms that medical interventions are enhanced when the afflicted ones recognize the story they are living, the meaning that can be derived from their suffering, and see the way to healing. ReVisioning Medicine gathers everyone, the way we used to do when we sat around a fire and listened for the story that was going to nourish us for the years to come. We listen to the story the illness is telling hoping to set us on the right path.

***

A woman consults me regarding an interaction with a physician. Several years ago, she healed from multiple sclerosis. Afterwards she had cancer. This was treated; she is well. Now she is told that tests reveal that she has another serious illness. Its nature however is mysterious. The tests do not identify it. It has no symptoms. Or affect. She feels well. The doctors want to continue to test her, to look for the cause of the anomaly in her test scores. If she follows their regime, she will be completely enveloped in a field of fear and disease. She finally convinces them to leave her alone for six months. “Whatever it is, I will discover it and heal it my way,” she says. She has had many extraordinary experiences that support this.

One night she has a dream. An old man with wise and kind eyes, hands her a goblet of water. He says, “Drink this. It will cure all your ills.” She waits and does not take the water.
“Don’t you want to be well?” he asks.
“I do, “ she says. “But I don’t have time.”

Trained in divination, I ask her to select a card from a Tarot deck we both use. “Ask the spirits,” I say, “to tell you what I am thinking about your dream.” It is a risky gesture. But it is based on faith in the spirits, that they will speak truly and we will recognize their presence. It is based on the faith that the spirits want to heal and they want the earth to heal as well. They want a new medicine that includes the old wise ways that are aligned with the earth and the welfare of all beings. Indigenous people relied on divination because they listened to wisdom that comes from beyond the human mind. The wisdom of the ancestor, Anaïs, for example.
The card the woman chose is the nine of rivers from the Shining Tribe deck. “The nine of rivers shows eight broken pots, symbolizing the fragmented areas of our lives. But we also see one pot already healed.” In the image, the pot is full of light.
“We cannot predict the results of healing either our own or the world around us. We need to act for the sake of a redemption that will be a mystery until it unfolds before us.”
It had been clear to me that the old man in her dream was handing her the grail, the vessel of spiritual light and healing for herself and others. There is no conventional logic that can explain how she randomly turned over a card that would reveal the grail.
The text connected with the card continues, “The idea of a perfect vessel to hold divine light may remind some people … of the Holy Grail. Divinatory meaning: Healing.”
“When the grail is offered to you, you must take it,” I tell the dreamer. “I would have told you this, even if you hadn’t received that card. I would have used these identical words. The dream and the Tarot card are one.” She knows this. As soon as she received the card, she understood what she had to do. She had to trust her own deep knowledge. She had to find the time for healing. She had to accept the path of the Holy Grail.

***

Before contact with the colonizers, indigenous societies were able to heal disease. What they never could heal were the diseases of the colonizers. These are the physical, emotional and spiritual illnesses that are devastating us at this time. Healing will not come to us through the activities of the nation state because it is implicated in our diseases. We have to heal ourselves. However, such healing cannot happen under the auspices of an authoritarian hierarchy that does not recognize the profound wisdom and self-knowledge of each patient let alone all the allies needed by the circle. In the field of ReVisioning Medicine, there is an alliance between the patient, the physicians, the healers, the family, spirits, the earth and its creatures, the ancestors and future beings. ReVisioning Medicine brings together everyone who must speak and be heard in order for healing to occur.

Healing is intimate. It occurs within the heart. Each such healing opens the possibility of many others healing accordingly. Each such alliance creates the circumstances that challenge the ills of our time, circumstances in which the entire world can heal.

In the time of writing this essay, I have been approached by three women from very different parts of the country suffering unusual, mysterious conditions that seem caused or exacerbated by different medical treatments. Each woman cited severe pain, exhaustion, rashes, hives, especially in the mouth or throughout the body, and various vascular and circulatory, blood vessel anomalies, endometriosis like symptoms, painful eruptions, even of or around their nerves, that seemed to have no known cause. For each, fybromyalgia and lyme disease were ruled out as they seem to be the catch all for unknown suffering. In sitting with the afflicted one and listening deeply to every detail of the story they chose to tell, each also described a serious disconnection from the natural world which had sustained them earlier and their sense that illness will not recede unless they are able to reconnect with the earth.

I am increasingly pained by the extent of the grief and suffering that is in our communities and that is too often caused or intensified by the medical system we have created. We are all responsible. We all collude in the distortion of a system that was committed to healing and compassion but has been taken over, without our consent, by influences we believe are beyond our control. Physicians do not want to cause harm. They want to heal. Their original intention was to be healers not business people or overworked professionals in the service of an impersonal economic system. A physician, using a short hand, referred to the majority of her contemporaries as practicing “pharmaceutical medicine.” That says it all. We need to find the way back to the original call.

One of the women, a psychotherapist, who suffered these strange symptoms after capitulating to a surgery she did not want, is in the process of closing her practice and settling in a small town in Vermont in order to be on the land. The physicians she saw, and the insurance company she was affiliated with, did not see a connection between all her different symptoms, nor to the coercion that had led to surgery, nor the professional life style she had to adopt in order to serve her patients. They did not see and respond to the whole story and so the affliction was never really seen despite some perfunctory diagnosis, and she did not heal and did not think she would until she would be able to live and practice her medicine differently.

The person, mentioned earlier, who committed suicide had bought a house near the woods years ago. A town grew up around the person’s house and then a freeway had been installed directly behind the house. The freeway wall became the back wall of the garden. The family attributes the fatal despair to the strangle hold of urban life.

When I had breast cancer in 1977, I quickly learned the following: Heal the life and the life will heal you. We can scarcely fathom the extent and breadth of what we are called to heal so that we can all live vital lives. But every act that restores a bit of the natural world, that understands that relationship is medicine, that understands that community heals, that understands that we must not do harm, contributes to the healing of the world.

***

The next ReVisioning Medicine weekend for medical and medicine practitioners will be in Topanga California on President’s weekend February 14-15 2015 with an additional clinic day,for physicians and their patients on February 17. We seek a balance of medical professionals and healers, of new participants and members of the core group. If you are interested please write to me at deenametzger@verizon.net.

SPIRIT SPEAKS TO US WHEN WE OPEN TO IT

SPIRIT SPEAKS TO US WHEN WE OPEN TO IT

For Heidi Hutner who inspired this scrutiny.

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

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

This is the second day of 2012.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It is so simple.

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

Nothing else is required.

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

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

Spirit speaks. Spirit speaks when we open to it.

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

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

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

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

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

Spirit speaks. Because we have opened to it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spirit exists and is entirely benevolent.

Beauty and Heart are one and interchangeable in the Presence.

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

Nothing else is required.

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

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

This is what the Dine call the Beauty way.

19 WAYS TO THE 5TH WORLD

This is one guide to how we change our minds sufficiently to live differently and act in ways that will preserve the future and protect the earth and all beings. When we incorporate these ways of thinking, we will no longer be people who do harm. But again, we have to change our minds as we won’t fully know what to do or how to do it until we respond instinctively with different minds, values and reflexes. These 19 Ways indicate the areas where transformation can occur.

The changes required are systemic and cellular. Too often these days, the very framing of the issues limit the possibilities. How will we survive? How will we thrive? How will we prosper? may no longer be the questions, if the WE refers only to humans. We have to free ourselves from the programming, at the least, of the last century. It is a huge task and it is possible. We have allies. They are not all human. The future is possible BUT we have to offer ourselves to it, unconditionally. When we do, guidance occurs. Spirit speaks to us when we open to it.

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

The changes we are called to make so that the earth and all beings might survive are extensive and extreme. They require comprehensive and global shifts of consciousness and activity. No one is exempt from such a challenge. As extreme, at this time, as are the dangers to all, are the signs of possibility we witness and experience each day. These are 19 ways that have been communicated to me over the years. They are certainly not the only ways but it seems that each one is essential. They represent a significant change in consciousness from seeking development or vision for oneself to seeking out the precise offering one is being asked to make on behalf of the future. It could take a lifetime to apprentice oneself to even one such way of transformation. We are called to meet each one of them – and perhaps more. We are called to commit ourselves to recognizing and understanding the nature of each one of these, as best as we can, as quickly as is possible. Each day we have less time to enter these sacred ways. As indicated, these are Ways that can best be realized in community, that is with each other and also through a direct and true relationship with Spirit.  Basic to entering and securing a 5th World are alliances with all beings and following the teachings of Spirit.

19 Ways to the 5th World

1. SPIRIT EXISTS.  Spirit speaks to each of us in a particular and shared language.  Entering into a dialogue with the divine. Developing and living according to a spiritual practice that develops from a real relationship with spirit.

2. COMMUNITY. Recognizing and living aligned with community as an essential vessel and means of transformation.

3. COUNCIL.  Entering and trusting the ways of Council, Dare’ and Mandlovu mind.

4. STORY.  Story is a pattern of events and also a path. Learning to listen, to recognize, understand and attend the way of Story and the particular path of healing and transformation it reveals for each one.

5. THE PATHLESS PATH.  Recognizing the path that one has traveled and seeing where one has been taken and the dynamic path that emerges from the journey. Attuning to, developing and being faithful to a spiritual practice on the pathless path.

6. BEARING WITNESS. Bearing witness to the horror and corruption of our history and these times and scrutinizing our lives accordingly.

7. DISENGAGEMENT.  Consciously ceasing our involvement with those forms and values that we,  individually,  believe do harm to human and non-human beings, the earth and the future.  Entering the long and exacting practice of bringing our lives into alignment with our beliefs and understanding.

8. HEALING WAR, PEACEMAKING and THE NO ENEMY WAY.  Committing ourselves to healing war within us and in the world.  Understanding and incorporating the No Enemy Way into our daily private and public ways as best as we can.  Committing ourselves to our transformation from war-traumatized people to peacemakers and visionaries.

9. REVISIONING. Revisioning public institutions of thought and action.  Imagining and aligning ourselves with ReVisioned Medicine, Science, Law, Economic Social systems.  For example, a ReVisioned Medicine practices the No Enemy Way, does no harm and integrates the combined wisdom of medical people and medicine people.  Assuming the equal relevance of indigenous, earth centered, spirit centered wisdom in all reasoning and thinking processes.  Changing one’s mind.

10. INDIGENOUS WISDOM TRADITIONS.  Studying, respecting, honoring, preserving, supporting, allying with indigenous wisdom traditions.  Changing the activities and forms of our lives accordingly from respecting and honoring elders to living prayerfully.

11. DREAMS AND DIVINATION.  Living by Dream, Intuition and Divination.  Reading the signs and then following  other spirit centered ways of knowing.  Yielding to initiation and living accordingly.

12. HEALING.  Recognizing the presence of healing.  Learning the ways of healing.  Seeking out healing.  Becoming a healing presence.

13. MITAKYE OYASIN. Living according to All Our Relations.

14. THE WILD.  Protecting, preserving, sustaining, bringing healing to the wild, the earth and all beings.

15. THE OTHERS – NON HUMAN BEINGS.  Recognizing the intelligence and agency of non-human beings and living among them accordingly.

16. BEAUTY AND CEREMONY.  Living according to Beauty, Creativity, Intuition, Prayer, Ritual, Ceremony, Loving kindness and Compassion as essential forms.  Recognizing that Joy is Praise.

17. SILENCE.  Valuing and engaging in silence, solitude, formless forms and not knowing.

18. SANCTUARY.  Honoring, providing, becoming sanctuary for all beings by learning the way of the land.

19. ALLIANCES. Fostering dynamic relationships with other groups and organizations working in parallel heartways.

THEN COMMITMENT and stepping through the portal into a different field of understanding and assumptions. Living faithfully according to the laws of the 5th World that mandate serving Spirit and the on-going future.

WHY WE ARE REVIVING FIRE/WATER CIRCLES TO HEAL WAR – FOR ALL WAR TRAUMATIZED PEOPLE

REVIVING FIRE/WATER CIRCLES TO HEAL WAR – FOR ALL WAR TRAUMATIZED PEOPLE – TOPANGA CALIFORNIA

Increasing violence everywhere on the planet, increasing numbers of people who are victims of violence, whether they are civilians or combatants. Increasing violence in the home and in the streets. Increasing development of horrific weaponry that destroys people, souls and the earth. Increasing violence against wolves, elephants, whales, dolphins, rhinos, birds, trees, water, air, earth, against all the beings of the natural world. Increasing dissociation from the realities of our time, increasing lack of responsibility for our behavior and its effects on others and on the natural world —
— call us each to see what we can do to heal war and its aftermaths.

Members of the Topanga Daré community spent over a year and a half training to become people who could receive the stories of war so that those who have been wounded by war might transform into guardians of peace and guardians of the environment. Healing themselves, the earth, and the world at the same time. Our experiences listening to the war wounded have convinced us that those who know war can, in collaboration with others in community, transform culture so that a true and viable future will emerge for all beings.

Come, sit in the dark, wrapped in a blanket, under the night sky. Owl will come and the chorus of coyotes, those singers. Victim, perpetrator, witness, accuser, bystander, next to each other; the notion of enemy falls away. We are all suffering war. We all want to heal and we want each other to heal so that violence will fall away. Each one’s story breaks open the heart. Each one’s story, no exceptions.

Fire/Water Circles calls us to deep, compassionate, empathetic listening. Call us to community, council, story telling, dream telling, visioning, healing, renewed relationship to the natural world, ceremony and ritual. Our ancestors knew that sitting outside, in the dark, around a fire or by a body of water, unites the hearts of those in the circle and that meaning, peerage and communion, not otherwise available, become possible.

In June 2010, we held ceremony for a former African rebel general who now leads a peacebuilding team, of everyday gandhis that is devoted to bringing healing to child soldiers and ex-combatants, who seeks out former military commanders to examine their past, ask forgiveness, atone. He asked for community ritual and Daré activity so that he could begin to carry the ‘medicine’ of peacebuilding in true alliance with the spirits. He was transformed as he hoped he would be, and so were the members of the circle who received him. We could not ask him to put down his weapons without putting down our own in whatever forms we carry them. The days of circle and ceremony were and remain profoundly healing for all participants.

A mother attended the February 6th, 2011 Daré after saying good-bye to her son who has joined the Marines. She wept for the lies the military has been telling her son, the ways his sweet nature is being distorted and we wept together for his future. There is a photo on our Daré altar for a daughter of a Daré member who, after many tours, is in Iraq again. Each day, when I see her photo, I pray that she will do no harm and come to no harm. The two mothers looked into each other’s eyes from across the room. After the mother of the young marine finished speaking, we knew it was time to revive the Circles to Heal War.

The original Fire/Water Circle to Heal War came from a dream that I had had: “I met Navy Seals who were returning to Iraq though greatly wounded. They couldn’t talk to me or to Daré yet, but said they would be sustained by the knowledge that the community would be present to help them heal and make amends when they were discharged.”

Increasingly, we receive dreams about war and peacebuilding and we have been changed by these dreams. We invite the dreamers, anyone carrying such dreams, to join us as the dreams bring essential messages from the spirits.

Over the last years, many veterans, veteran’s families, victims of war have gathered at Daré. Too many of these veterans or members of their families or families of soldiers in active duty are of Native American origin. So many driven to the military because of horrific, unchanging, unending poverty. They often speak of carrying the double wound of fighting wars that they learn are illegitimate and so violate their warrior traditions, and fighting wars that desecrate the earth that Native American and Indigenous wisdom traditions are called to protect and preserve.

A Metis (Cherokee) woman who does shamanic healing work with veterans and military people said she is “unwinding the curse of the Trail of Tears.”

Iraq Veterans Against the War sent out the following notice today, February 11, 2011: “We are energized by the revolution in Egypt brought about by the peaceful mass movement of Egyptians from all walks of life. … we here at IVAW are drawing an important lesson that we hope Americans will take to heart — democratic regime change does not have to come with foreign invasion and overwhelming violence. However, 23,000 soldiers will be deploying to Afghanistan to replace the 101st Airborne Division returning home this month. Many of these replacement soldiers have served in previous deployments and are suffering from un-treated trauma such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Military Sexual Trauma, and Traumatic Brain Injury….”

It is time to re-open the Daré door and our hearts to those traumatized by war. We are open to hearing the stories that must be told, the stories that are too difficult to carry alone, the stories at the core of the PTSD so many are carrying. We wish to do what we can to help heal these traumas and to be effective in changing the circumstances that create more and more trauma and violence at home as well as in combat. The planet cannot survive more wars- we know this – and we offer ourselves to meet this crisis. We want to collaborate to change consciousness and heal war.

Let us gather to meet this crises together. Please join us as we renew our efforts on behalf of peace.

If you are a veteran, a soldier, a member of a military family, the relative of a soldier, an individual or a friend or relative of someone who has been injured or traumatized by war, please come. If you are a member of Daré, please come to hear and receive the stories and to do your own work of giving up war.

For more information, please write deenametzger@deenametzger.com or dwild4deena@ca.rr.com.

***

As I posted this on Face Book, I began re-reading Judith Herman M.D.’s Trauma and Recovery, Basic Books, 1992.

After reading and contemplating the quotes that follow, it becomes clear why we are being called to meet in circle. Every unhealed victim of violence, every war-traumatized person, unwittingly contributes to the perpetration, intensification and recurrence of violence and war. Every person healing from trauma is a potential peacemaker.

***
Here are a few quotations to contemplate from her ”Afterword: The Dialectic of Trauma Continues”.

“The study of psychological trauma is an inherently political enterprise because it calls attention or the experience of oppressed people.”

“Only an ongoing connection with a global political movement for human rights can ultimately sustain our ability to speak about unspeakable things.”

“In the five years since the book’s publication, (1992) new victims of violence have numbered in the millions.”

“The massive communal atrocities committed during the course of wars in Europe, Asia and Africa …”

“Within the US, a number of large-scale community studies have demonstrated that, even in peacetime, exposure to violence is both more commonplace and more damaging than anyone would like to believe.”

“It has become clear that traumatic exposure can produce lasting alterations in the endocrine, autononomic and central nervous systems.”

“…dissociation lies at the heart of the traumatic stress disorders. Studies of disasters, terrorist attacks, and combat have demonstrated that people who enter a dissociative state at the time of the traumatic event are those most likely to develop long-lasting PTSD. … Though dissociation offers a means of mental escape at the moment when nor other escape is possible, it may be that this respite from terror is purchased at far too high a price.”

“The next generation of researchers [of dissociation in traumatic stress disorders] may lack the passionate intellectual and social commitment that inspired many of the most creative earlier investigations. Early investigators often felt strong personal bonds and political solidarity with trauma survivors, regarding them less as objects of dispassionate curiosity than as collaborators in a shared cause. This kind of closeness and mutuality may be difficult to sustain in a scientific culture…. Yet without it, the possibility of authentic understanding is inevitably lost.”

“The collaborative working relationship with the trauma survivor also remains the cornerstone of treatment of PTSD. The principle of restoring human connection and agency remains central to the recovery process and no technical therapeutic advance is likely to replace it.”

“Insight into the recovery process may also be gained by drawing upon the wisdom of the majority of trauma survivors worldwide, who never get formal treatment of any kind. …most survivors must invent their own methods, drawing on their individual strengths and the supportive relationships naturally available to them in their own communities.”

“…safety requires putting an immediate stop to the violence, containment if not disarmament of the aggressors and provisions for the basic survival needs of the victims. All of the classic political conflicts between victims, perpetrators, and bystanders have been reenacted in these most recent peacemaking and peacekeeping efforts. Once again, victims have been outraged by the apparent indifference and passivity of bystanders.”

“In the aftermath of systematic political violence, entire communities can display symptoms of PTSD, trapped in alternating cycles of numbing and intrusion, silence and reenactment. Recovery requires remembrance and mourning. …restoring a sense of social community requires a public forum where victims can speak their truth and their suffering can be formally acknowledged.

“Like traumatized individuals, traumatized countries need to remember, grieve and atone for their wrongs in order to avoid reliving them.”

“Perpetrators [of massive political crimes] will do anything in their power to preserve the principle of impunity. They demand amnesty, a political form of amnesia.”

“In South Africa the officially established Truth and Reconciliation Commission has offered perpetrators a limited time period in which amnesty will be granted in return for public confession. Implicit in this bargain is the belief that if full justice cannot be achieved, public acknowledgement of the truth is more important than punishment of the perpetrators.”

“… newly established democracies have had to contend with a past record of abuses that were endemic to the entire political system. … without some form of public acknowledgement and restitution, all social relationships remain contaminated by the corrupt dynamics of denial and secrecy. Our own society {USA] faces a similar dilemma with respect to the legacy of slavery.”

“The problem of coming to terms with endemic abuses of power also pertains to crimes of sexual and domestic violence.”

“…creating a protected space where survivors can speak their truth is an act of liberation.”

***

A LETTER TO A YOUNG MAN ON MADNESS AND HEALING

Within the last months, so many lost young people suffering madness, addiction, rage, fear, so many variations on breakdown, have come into the field of our families and communities. Every small circle of people that happens to come together in our country has children suffering in one way or another. Our family secrets.

Today, a colleague wrote: “In the latest edition of Harper’s they list in their Harper’s Index the chance that an American teen suffers from a severe emotional or mental disorder is one in five! It’s too bad it has to show up as a one-liner in Harper’s.”

Desperate, lost, hungry, abused, anorexic, autistic, suicidal, paranoid, violent against themselves or others, environmentally poisoned and injured, drugged by doctors or dealers, unable to find work, meaningful labor or education, alienated from their families and communities, often without any alternative but going to war, they are the ones, by their very conditions, who are speaking truth to power.

In the last week, a young man has been writing to me of his uncontainable anguish, pain, overwhelm, anger and confusion. His letters could have come from any one of dozens of young people I know of, or know. He was writing of his great fear of the world. Of the ultimate uselessness of hospitals, pharmaceuticals, therapists, police and healers. Of his failure to find anyone to help him.

He is desperate. He is angry. He is overwhelmed. He is hearing a multitude of voices and they are driving him mad. He does not know if he is hearing Spirit or if Spirit is attacking him. He is out of control. He is lashing out.

His inner state is not unlike the nation states on the planet: Suspicion. Fear. Strike.

He has to heal as we have to heal.

This is a letter I wrote to him with the hope that he will find his way to sanity.

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

Psyche lost Eros because she was incapable of believing in, having faith in, the Divine that must remain invisible and because her jealous sisters insisted she challenge what appears only in the dark. Recognizing the Divine in the moment of loss, she had to engage in different tasks to restore her relationship with the face of God that had appeared to her.

The first task was to separate the beans from the peas from the lentils.

We are called to separate the destructive voices of the sisters, from our true internal understanding. We have to be willing to discern and trust the Divine when It appears.
We are called to separate the true voices of spirit from our own internal voices and from the external voices that are imposters. To separate the trustworthy internal voices from the internalized destructive voices. To separate the internal voice purporting to be, let’s say, the Dalai Lama, from the teachings of the Dalai Lama, from the spirit of the Dalai Lama who may also be speaking to you. Let each stand on its own and respond to each as it its due.

Sometimes the animals come to us, or the trees, or the wind. Learn to distinguish these spirit beings, from the embodied animals, trees, elementals that may also come and speak, and differentiate these from your fantasies or wild imaginings. This task, like Psyche’s original task, requires discernment and faith. If you have grounded faith in the existence of the spirits, it will be easier, ironically, to recognize the phantoms of your mind and others’ minds.

Sometimes the dead come to us with their agonies and demands. The dead want to be heard. They want us to help them cross the river, to transform, as the I Ching speaks about it, from ghost to ancestor. We do our best to meet their call, to distinguish the hungry ghosts from those who can and will transform. The dead come in great waves. Not only our dead. Not only the dead our ancestors may have injured or allied with, but all the dead, of all the races, of all of history.

These days, there are so many, we feel we are drowning too. It is true; there are too many of the anguished dead. Too many died in the most horrible ways in the last decades, in the last centuries. There are too many to acknowledge, hold, console, cross and mourn. Tell them this. There is no choice but to share the truth with them. You cannot do it all. Nor can we, your elders. But you can be aware of them, here, among us, clamoring and suffering. Tell them we know and this knowledge will have to be sufficient. And also, whether they are ready or not, you can insist they help us, just as you have to assist in healing the world. You are not ready, but you have to be.

How do we do this? Each person, like Psyche, must find his/her way.

You have to separate the dissonant voices you hear, whatever names they bear, from the real voices of spirit and health. You are called to differentiate between those who speak on behalf of your healing and those who are not committed to your healing.

I am not your enemy nor are any of those alongside you that you are ranting against. If you rant against those you are hoping will help you, you are creating the loneliness you are in.

Something inside you is no longer able to differentiate. Everything becomes everything. You are losing the ability to distinguish the beans from the peas from the lentils.

There is a healthy, strong self within you. Find that one. You can.

There is turmoil in the world. Yes. There is danger in the world. Yes. There are assaults on innocence and goodness everywhere. Yes.
.
We all know this. We are all concerned. We are each trying to find each of our distinct ways to meet the different crisis. We cannot respond to them all in all ways. No one can. We each work in different ways. This implies a council of response. You will find your ways as we have found ours.

If you continue to lash out at anything that moves, especially those who you think can help you, you will be part of the pattern of destruction that is driving you crazy

Though you don’t know this yet, you can chose to extricate yourself from the crisis, to find balance and insight inside yourself and so differentiate between what is no longer able to align with goodness and what is determined to align with goodness for all beings.

It is not your task to try to educate, to issue alarms or to rant now. We are not innocent or ignorant. We know the dangers, are bearing witness, are acting accordingly. Each, we hope, in our own, thoughtful, ways. Each, we hope, as careful as we can be.

It is your task to differentiate what is wise and kind, to support it and let its light reach you even from afar. If you do this, you will not feel so alone or endangered

Also you can’t use up all the space with your agony. We are all trying to meet the overwhelming anguish of the times. Take your formidable intellect and your love for the earth in hand. Focus the light of these into your psyche and find the sanity in the swirl.

Like Psyche, no one can do it for you.

When I was young, I once told a dear friend that I couldn’t bear a certain situation. I was afraid I would break entirely under the weight and anguish of it.

She responded, wisely: “Who asked you if you can bear it? Bear it!”

I learned to bear it. It doesn’t mean, I didn’t break from time to time. There is no way to do this easily. No one can be safe or comfortable in a world that is not safe.

I wish we could provide you with a safer world. But, alas, it is your task to do your part to make it safe. Start with yourself. This is the work for which your entire life’s suffering qualifies you.

I hope this letter helps you set out on what is for everyone a solitary journey. I believe you will find your own sanity as you search for it as Diogenes searched for truth.

When you return to the world having found the strength, sanity and healing that is indigenous to you, you will have proved to all of us that sanity is possible. I will look forward to hearing from you and learning of your ways.

.

11/11 ELEVENTH HOUR REFLECTIONS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This IS the history of the Americas and the Conquest.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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