On Honoring the Land

Hello friends! It's been a quiet couple of weeks on here as I traveled home to celebrate my grandmother's 90th birthday. I got home a bit later than planned after getting caught up in some serious Mercury Retrograde and Blood Moon eclipse energy that left us stranded in two different airports for over 24 hours. But I've made it back, and spending time in my native land after years away got me thinking about all sorts of things regarding my practice. 

In my last post, I discussed the notion of how our practice belongs within the context of the place we inhabit. I've since spent a lot of time thinking about this further, and about related concepts that stem from this. In her book Braiding Sweetgrass, Robin Kimmerer teaches us that "becoming indigenous to a place means living as if your children's future mattered, to take care of the land as if our lives, both material and spiritual, depended on it."

There is so much to be unpacked in this sentiment, but for the sake of this post, the basic idea here is that we owe it to our land to develop a respectful mutual relationship with it, rather than to treat it as a resource to be exploited. Once we understand the offerings of the earth as the gifts they are, rather than resources, we can start to engage in the proper respect and reciprocity. We shouldn't just take from our land, but instead make an active commitment to give in return. 

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What does that look like if, like me, you've made your home in a place other than the place you were born and grew up in? I've chosen to make Salem my home, and for the last 9 years, have developed a working relationship with the energies and helping spirits of this place. We've built a home here, started a business here, and gotten deeply involved in local politics. These are all modern markers of commitment to a place. But when I step off the airplane landing in Brazil, I recognize the way the wind blows, the smell of the air, and the hum of the earth beneath my feet. "It's good to see you," the spirits say to me, and my body responds, "it's so good to be home." The pull is so strong I came home (and how funny it is, to have two places that really feel like home in my heart) to Salem with a little jar of dirt from my home town, a vibrant red soil rich in iron. It now sits on my altar along with stones dug up from the ground in Salem. Both tug at my heart in different ways, both calling me home. We are being born of the earth, and we must honor our lands if we want to use our Shamanism to heal the world outside of ourselves. 

So where am I going with all this? This all ties into my ceremonial practice of honoring both the ancestors and the descendants. Whether we have positive or negative feelings about our ancestors, there is the undeniable truth that without them, we would not exist in our current form. For that reason, we owe it to our ancestors to honor them - and it's important that to honor does not mean to love. We must also recognize that we are just one point along our lineages, and our descendants will follow. Even if we don't personally procreate, our bloodlines continue, in our nieces and nephews, second cousins, and so forth. We each have a responsibility to live as if we understand that the world will continue after our time, and do our best to take care of it. When thinking of the lands where we were born and the lands we now live in, we are dealing with similar concepts. The place where we were born should be honored as our ancestors are honored. As we commit ourselves to the places we have chosen for our homes, we must care for these places as if we intend to pass them on to our descendants.  

One of the most important lessons we can learn is that we are part of the earth, not apart from it, and we have an obligation to honor it in the way we live our lives. As you deepen your ceremonial practice, I urge you to see yourself as part of this greater whole, and ask how you can contribute to healing the whole. 

 

On Practice and Context

Hello friends and happy New Moon. We have all sorts of energies at work today, with the New Moon solar eclipse. The New Moon is in the sign of Cancer, which is compounded by the solar eclipse and will be reverberating for months to come. Now is the time to evaluate and tend to our foundations, the elements that in our lives that make us feel safe, secure, and as if we belong. This timing feels very appropriate, because what has been percolating for me in the last week is the notion of ceremony within context - more specifically the context of the places we call home. 

When we embark on journeys to non-ordinary reality, a common practice is to start by holding a place in nature in our mind's eye. We pick a place that is familiar and safe, to be our tether to ordinary reality. During a recent workshop, held in a very densely populated urban area, a student asked if it was okay for her starting place to be small. She pointed out that she hadn't had much access to nature in her life, having grown up and still living in this urban center. The short answer is yes, because our ceremonial practice has to function with the context of our lives. Our world is very different than the world of the first healers and journeyers, but that doesn't mean we should look to emulate their world. They worked within the context of their world, and we need to work within the context of ours.

One of the most important aspects of ceremonial work is integration. Integration is when we take the medicine given to us within the ceremony, and take the necessary steps to bring this into our non-ritual lives. This applies to all spiritual work, but in regards to shamanic journeying specifically, we must take the lessons offered by our helping spirits and act on them. If we ask our guides for help and advice, but don't follow up with action, we might as well not bother journeying at all. 

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So how does this tie into the idea of practicing within context? The notion is two-fold. The aspect we already discussed is about not creating a separation between ceremony and the mundane. The lessons and medicines from ceremony have to be integrated into the day-to-day for us to both make room for and experience energetic shifts. Beyond this, we need to understand our practices within the greater context of our lives. We are not isolated beings, and the best work we can do is in healing both ourselves and our environment. 

By environment, I don't necessarily mean nature. Your environment is where you live, whether that be urban, suburban, or rural. Every place in the world needs healing, and the energetic concentration of urban centers is much higher than in other places. While we may rarely see trees or grass in these places, we shouldn't forget there is living earth beneath all the urbanization. If this is where you live, this is where your ceremony matters the most. 

Does this mean you shouldn't go on nature retreats and take time to reconnect with nature? Of course not, I always encourage this. But your practice shouldn't exist only in those spaces, it should also be part of the place you actually inhabit on a regular basis. I embrace the idea that our bodies are a microcosm and a reflection of the macrocosm that is our planet. As we take care of ourselves, we should also take care of our surroundings. A regular practice of mine is what one of my teachers refers to as environmental shamanism. This means taking the time to journey to connect with the helping spirits of a place and asking how we can support and honor them. Every place has helping spirits, and the more densely populated a place, the harder those spirits will be working. While connecting with the helping spirits of a grimy downtown may not sound as romantic as connecting to the spirits of a waterfall, it's a part of our contemporary reality we should not ignore. I encourage all of us to consider this as we continue to develop our personal practices.

Thank you for reading, and as always, please feel free to send me your thoughts and comments! I really enjoy the emails you folks send me.

 

On Gratitude, Intent, and the Helping Spirits

Happy July, folks! I just returned from a four-day trip to Brooklyn, NY where I taught a series of workshops at Catland. It always wonderful to hold ceremony and connect with new people. As we moved through the workshops, two themes kept coming up, and I think they're worth revisiting here. These themes were gratitude and intent.  

One of the goals of Shamanism is to develop an active, working relationship with our Helping Spirits, so that we can integrate their wisdom into our lives and work towards being the best versions of ourselves. In order to develop this active, working relationship, we have to practice both gratitude and intent. What do I mean by this?

Our Helping Spirits are there to support us, whether or not we acknowledge them. But like in any relationship, the more we nurture the relationship, the more we can get out of it. When we start a practice of Shamanic journeying, we start an open dialog with our Helping Spirits. Rather than having them helping us without acknowledgement, we can now acknowledge them. But in truth, acknowledgement is the bare minimum. If the way we are showing up for our Helping Spirits is in the form of repeated demands, we are not giving them the respect they deserve. Every interaction with them should involve gratitude. 

Think of examples in your own life when others have asked things of you. Depending on how the request is made, you are likely to handle it differently. In my own interactions, I am far more likely to go the extra mile for someone who approaches me with appreciation and gratitude. When I am taken for granted, I find myself wanting to do nothing but the bare minimum. In an ongoing relationship, being taken for granted eventually breeds resentment. This is not the kind of relationship we should be cultivating with our Helping Spirits. While I generally avoid absolutes in any spiritual work, this is one aspect of Shamanic practice that I consider non-negotiable. I truly believe we cannot have fully developed and expansive relationships with our Helping Spirits if we don't practice gratitude. 

How do we practice this gratitude? The easiest way is by saying thank you. When you are in journey space, say thank you when they show up, and thank them their messages before wrapping up your journey. But I really advise you to go beyond that. Ask your Helping Spirits how they want to be honored, and then follow through with it. If they ask for dance, dance for them. If they ask for song, sing. Set up a shrine for them in your home, and leave offerings. Ask them what they want for offerings. As your relationship develops, keep asking. Just as your preferences change, so do theirs. Keep practicing constant and continued gratitude, and let this be the basis of your relationship. 

The other concept I want to address in this post is Intent. Our Helping Spirits want to help us, and they notice how we spend our time and our energy. Whatever we spend our resources on is what they will bring more of into our lives - which means we have to be deliberate in our actions. If we tell our Helping Spirits we want to spend more time doing one thing, but spend all our time pursuing another thing, they will believe our actions. It is not enough to define an intent in our minds, we need to integrate and follow through with action. 

This isn't to say we should quit our jobs and shirk our responsibilities. We live in this current world, and we need to function within it as basic humans. Shamanism is contextual, and we must practice Shamanism within the real context of our own lives. But we can choose how we spend our time and energy once our responsibilities are fulfilled. If you love your job and want to spend more of your time doing it, that's great! In that case, you should absolutely be pouring more of your time into it, and your Helping Spirits will continue to bring more of that into your life.

But if you're one of many where your job is a means for fulfilling the basic needs of shelter, food, etc, then you can only benefit by establishing healthy boundaries. If you worry and obsess over work even after work hours, your Helping Spirits will assume this is where you want to focus. Instead, if you devote time outside of work to the things that are important to you, your Helping Spirits will begin to understand where to bring you abundance. This doesn't apply just to work-life balance, but to everything we spend time on. Once we start living with Intent, we are creating the proper dialog with our Helping Spirits to draw in the things that truly matter to us. 

And on that note, thank you to my Helping Spirits and Ancestral Guides for supporting me with in work, and thank you to everyone who showed up this weekend. Many of you arrived hesitant, and were willing to honor my call to be open and vulnerable. Thank you to everyone who allowed themselves to be moved, and for those of you who came up to me afterwards to share. As one of my teachers always says, we are the ones we've been waiting for.