Monthly Archives: September 2013

Book Review: The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse

The Last Report on the Miracles

In The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse, Louise Erdrich has written a book that transports the reader not only to another time, but also to a field where all could dwell with increased respect and understanding.

Agnes is the main character, an inventive person of strong character who found a way to deal with living in a time when women had few choices—the early 1900s. Timing, opportunity and a desire to leave her old situation behind allowed her to step into the identity of Father Damien Modeste, a priest who was expected shortly at a remote Ojibwe reservation in North Dakota called Little No Horse. The narrative takes us over nearly a century of what it was like to have a foot planted in both worldsa woman living as a manministering in one culture yet not intruding with another, developing roots and living with a sporadic fear of one day being found out. Would everything Father Damien built in his beloved community, all trust and love given to him, be discarded if Agnes was discovered?

The telling of this chronicle comes about through the investigation of one Sister Leopolda who is up for sainthood. When the church’s emissary comes to interview Father Damien, we have the opportunity to witness a life well lived, intricately woven and deeply connected to community. Not the life of Sister Leopolda but that of Father Damien.

Equally important is the telling of the Obijwe traditions, the sometimes funny and bizarre antics of medicine man Nanapush and the difficulties often endured. Peppered throughout are enormous gems of wisdom. A couple of examples are shown here.

…even careful plans cannot accommodate or foresee all the tricks of creation…

…We see the seasons pass, the moons fatten and go dark, infants grow to old men, but this is not time. We see the water strike against the shore and with each wave we say a moment has passed, but this is not time. Inside, we feel our strength go from a baby’s weakness to a youth’s strength to a man’s endurance to the weakness of a baby again, but this is not time, either, nor are your whiteman’s clocks and bells, nor the sun rising and the sun going down. These things are not time… (Nanapush)

It’s also punctuated with Father Damien’s frequent, unanswered notes to the Pope such as this one.

Pope!

Perhaps we are no more than spores on the breath of God, perhaps our life is just one exhalation. One breath. If God pauses just a moment to ruminate before taking in a new breath, we see. In that calm cessation, we see. All I’ve ever wanted to do is see.

Don’t bother with a reply.

Modeste

The characters in this novel are so rich and their stories so resonant, there’s a part of me that secretly hopes the writings are based on fact. They have an underlying inherent truth. Life is indeed layers of complexity, with all its attendant emotions. Here it’s delivered to us through Agnes and Father Damien, their voices intermingled. This book is much more than entertainment, and it’s one of my all-time favorites.

Available on Amazon and retail bookstores.

Categories: Book Review, cultural interests, Indigenous Rights, Indigenous Wisdom | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Seed Intelligence: Indigenous Perspectives and Our Collective Birthright

In October 2010, Flordemayo was in Los Angeles attending a conference. At break she returned to her room on the 23rd floor. Before lying down to rest her eyes, she noticed an emerald green glow on the wall. When she opened them again the light had taken up the entire wall and a vision unfolded. “There was a panoramic landscape and everything was emerald,” she said. “It was so beautiful that I said to myself, ‘I’m going into this light.’ I have absolute memory of walking in a field dialoguing with everything. I noticed a mountain to my right. Then everything began to change! At the top, it split and there was movement like an avalanche! The forest and everything in it came tumbling down—trees, animals, stones, water. It crossed the road below and I saw that all domestic life was being swept away! I thought, ‘I have to get to my cornfield!’ I was praying and running as fast as I could, and then I’m grabbing the yellow corn, the blue, the red, the black…and then I grabbed all the rainbow corn I could grab! I bundled all the corn I could carry up in my long skirt. But I couldn’t run fast enough! I heard a voice from above, ‘Flordemayo! What are you doing? The military is coming!’ I answered in a cry to the Universe, ‘It just doesn’t matter anymore!’ Then I was standing in the hotel room again facing the wall. The emerald light was gone. I had tears in my eyes. I fell back on my bed. I was devastated.”

Flordemayo

Grandmother Flordemayo
Photo credit: Linda Rettinger

As a young child, Flordemayo was recognized as a seer. By the age of four, she had already begun her training as a curandera espiritu, a healer through divine spirit, a gift inherited through long family lineage, originating from the Maya highlands of Central America. She is a member of the International Council of 13 Indigenous Grandmothers, standing for peace and healing of the Mother Earth. When messages come strongly, Flordemayo knows to answer them—no matter the obstacles.

What is the timeliness of this vision?

Apab’yan Tew is an Ajq’ij, a Day Keeper, and spiritual guide of the sacred K’iche Maya tradition from the village of Nawalja’ in Sololá of the Guatemalan highlands. His ceremonial work most often takes place in caves, engaging with resident energies of the natural site and timing of the Tzolkin calendar in conjunction with needs of communities or individuals. Like Flordemayo, his gifts evolved from childhood until he ultimately answered the call through a series of difficult shamanic challenges.

Apab'yan Tew

Apab’yan Tew
Photo source: Apab’yan Tew

Apab’yan elaborates on the Maya worldview: “We cannot be who we must be without the land. Another principle is that the body we have is not really ours. It is lent from the Mother Earth herself. So if you create any kind of danger to your body, you are also hurting the Mother Earth. What the Earth produces and what we produce is part of the same cycle, the same system. We are not separated from the Earth—and the Earth is not to be thought of as just another provider of goods. The term that is used in the West is ‘natural resources’ as something to be taken, something to be transformed. For us, we don’t use this term. We use the term ‘elements of life.’ It is our life! It is not a resource.”

In Indigenous traditions, every aspect of life is integrated and sacred. This Maya spiritual leader is quite clear that to surpass a cycle creates imbalance. Nothing should be moved from its place in the Universe. His people think of the seed as a living feminine entity, not a commodity. There is a proper way to carry her, to talk to her, the Sky and the field in the act of sowing according to specific timing. This in itself is a ceremony, integration of a flow that already exists and must not be taken from those like himself who hold these ways close.

There are those who seek to eradicate the sacred ways.

Apab’yan talks about the Maya ways of respect: “It is our purpose not to take more than we can give back. But it is also our purpose not to change. We must not touch what is not ours. It is not ours from the beginning. It is ours to have a dialogue. The seeds talk to us. We have five seeds. Only one of the five is for us. One is for the Sky. One is for the Earth. One is for the brothers in the fields. Maybe there’s a crow that’s going to come. The last one is for anybody who needs it. In my harvesting, maybe I’ll have some extra seeds to give to someone or sell them. There’s no harvesting for commercial purposes. But we have extra if someone needs it. We are Corn Beings. So we must not even play with the seeds.”

He believes there is no current problem with GMO seed infiltration in the high altitude area of his village: “You don’t sell milk to a cow!” For the Guatemalan highlands, there’s not enough room for the politics of Monsanto. What the West calls “organic” these Maya farmers have been doing for eons—and the best selection has long ago been made. However, he sees a danger as any of his people become more influenced, perhaps by emigrating and then returning home, to set aside their ancient ways of living.

That same protection isn’t available to Native and heritage farmers in the US. Five years ago I sat in a conference session and heard a Zuni man sadly express the fear he held: the real possibility of GM seeds blowing into the fields that he and his ancestors had planted with their pure Native strain for hundreds of years. It was disheartening and outrageous.

If the spirits of Earth and Sky are no different than the seeds they sow, the food they eat, what their bodies are made of…then to tamper with any part is an outright act against religious freedom and quality of life, rights the US constitution is supposed to uphold. For giant agribusinesses to also attempt to spread their seed where people have few rights equates to preying upon those who have a voice but are ignored. When spiritual tradition falls apart, grounding dissolves; detrimental influences make additional in-roads; suffering takes over—a process proven over history. Spiritual pride is lost; ethnic groups are additionally marginalized.

A grassroots movement has sprung up.

Learn About GMOsPeople are starting to come together, much as in past times of threat or needed change. Coalitions are appearing like GMO-Free Prescott, a small, volunteer-run nonprofit organization in Prescott, Arizona specifically formed to educate and support everyone’s right to choose food and products that have not been genetically modified. Founder Shea Richland states, “I got involved due to health issues when I was leaving ‘no stone unturned’ to find answers. The more I learned, the more concerned I became. When the documentary Thrive was being shown in our area, I felt it was an opportune time to do more. So, GMO-Free Prescott was born. If people were walking what the Native people teach, then our organization wouldn’t be necessary.”

Winona LaDuke, an Anishinaabekwe (Ojibwe) enrolled member of the Mississippi Band Anishinaabeg, is known as an environmental activist. She is the Executive Director of Honor the Earth, where she works on a national level to advocate, raise public support and create funding for frontline Native environmental groups. She lives and works on the White Earth Reservation. Her organization offers a number of naturally derived products that may be found via Native Harvest online to help fund the White Earth Land Recovery Project.

Winona LaDuke Source: Native Harvest

Winona LaDuke
Source: Native Harvest

She shares this: “When I was a young woman, my father would listen to me patiently, with great compassion, as I explained to him the many environmental issues facing our community and the complexities of the world. His name was Sun Bear, or Vincent LaDuke. He used to tell me, ‘Winona, you are a smart young woman, but I don’t want to hear your philosophy unless you can grow corn.’

I remembered this for many years but was not as smart as he thought. It took me until the turn of the millennium to become a corn grower. I thought about this often and wondered about the corn varieties my ancestors in northern Minnesota would have grown. I began a quest, one of many. The first corn that came to me was a Bear Island Flint corn, eight to twelve inch, multicolored cobs. The seeds were gifted from Ricardo Salvador, then a professor at Iowa State University. He had found them in a seed bank. The corn came from an island in the middle of Leech Lake Reservation, where I later learned, after many interviews and much research, that our people often grew corn on islands, away from predators, in micro-climates surrounded by water. Ingenious. We began to grow. Then, I moved onto Manitoba White Flint, the northernmost varieties of the Ojibwe, grown about 100 miles north of Winnipeg.”

Winona notes the importance of growing Native seeds and seed saving: “Never a crop failure after all these years with this corn! It is hearty (with) twice the protein and half the calories of market corn. And it is resilient. (Through) frost, drought and high winds, it stays. We were the northernmost corn growers in the world. And yet, we had lost much of our corn and our seeds. So, we have grown that corn now for a decade. Again…resilient. Monsanto’s crops failed in 2012, but ours did not. We are grateful. That was the beginning. Today, we are growing an 800-year-old squash, found in an archeological dig in Wisconsin. And we are growing many other varieties. It is our hope to create a northern Anishinaabe seed bank.”

The vision that Flordemayo received was a strong message coming from the Creator to uphold the welfare of our interconnections. As she accepted what seemed like a monumental task, things quickly began to fall in place—as it so often does when a vision is true. Exactly the funds required to purchase the forty acres of land that came available near her home in Estancia, New Mexico appeared. She established the Seed Temple as a volunteer-run project under her nonprofit organization, The Path. Smaller donations came to excavate the underground seed vault, construct the classroom building that covers it, and to create its accompanying medicine circle and fire temple. Flordemayo said, “You can’t have plants without water. We need a place to go and pray…to hold the spirits of water and plants in prayer.”

Rainbow Corn

Rainbow Corn
Photo: Greg Schoen

Local volunteers and those from some distances come regularly to continue building and advise. Greg Schoen is one of them. He’s impassioned about seed preservation: “Crops are being stripped and ‘dumbed down,’ the diversity bred out of them. When we do this to the corn, we do this to ourselves.” He got his start as a seed saver in the mid-1980s receiving his original “Glass Gem” jewel-like kernels from Carl L. Barnes, a mixed blood man of Cherokee/Irish/Scots ancestry now in his eighties living near Liberal, Kansas. Over the years, Greg received other Native varieties from Carl, planted them himself and gifted them to such organizations as Native Seeds/SEARCH in Tucson, Arizona.

“I think of corn as holding a knowledge, like a recordkeeper. Sometimes when Carl would grow corn in his fields, Native strains that had gone extinct would re-emerge. When Native people here lost the corn they carried, it’s like they lost the central point that anchored them to the land, like they lost their language. So, when Carl would reintroduce their ancestral corn to them, they would light up. It would be like you were wandering in the desert and your ancient scrolls were returned to you!”

Greg freely gifts baggies of “Glass Gem” seeds to anyone who wants them. In the coming year he will plant at the Sufi community near Silver City, New Mexico where he now lives. When asked what direction the Seed Temple would take, he said, “We’re starting to provide educational support to seed savers. There will also be a ‘seed lending library.’ Individuals can take portions of the seed stock of one of more items from the seed bank, with the agreement that they will grow out the seed according to proper growing practices, and return a portion of the seed produced to the seed bank. Those are just some of our plans.”

Flordemayo affirmed Greg’s statement and added, “The seed has a spirit, but it doesn’t have a voice. We are giving the seeds a voice! We are welcoming Native and heritage seeds from growers. The only restriction is that the seeds are organically grown; and we know where they came from and who is growing them. So we need to have documentation in receiving them.”

Kenosis Spirit Keepers is the volunteer-run nonprofit I founded to help preserve Indigenous wisdom traditions. We see the Native seed issue as an integral aspect of Indigenous spiritual traditions and are helping to support the Seed Temple. More is still to be done in the way of construction and obtaining all things necessary to start up and maintain. One way Flordemayo plans to help fund the project is through classes in the growing and use of medicinal herbs, sacred bathing, and vision and dream work. She has turned the Hogan, located next to the seed vault, into the Temple of the Golden Child, which will be used for this purpose.

More and more independent seed saving operations are being established in pockets around the globe. Greg Schoen continues to quietly do what he can to preserve our heritage by sharing his passion, experiences and seeds with others on a similar track. Shea Richland believes so strongly in our birthright for health and well-being that she reluctantly stepped into the public eye to form GMO-Free Prescott and educate regarding our choices. Winona LaDuke works at the national level through organized environmental activism. Flordemayo answered a vision. Apab’yan Tew performs ceremonies for the well-being of the planet in the dark recesses of caves.

It takes all of us, each bringing our own way, in the face of such forces that would act against us, to support and maintain our collective birthright—and succeed.

***

This article is being incorporated into the Anishinaabekwe (Ojibwe) Farming Curriculum that will be part of the Tribal Community Colleges in the region where Honor the Earth Foundation is active.

***

Kenosis Spirit Keepers is sponsoring Grandmother Flordemayo and seed savers Greg Schoen and Dianna Henry for events on January 31-February 1, 2014 in Phoenix, Arizona. The proceeds from ticket sales go to support the seed saving project founded by Grandmother Flordemayo. For information and to purchase tickets, please go here.

***

Sources:

Interviews with Flordemayo, October 17, 2012 and February 1, 2013.

Interviews with Greg Schoen, October 17, 2012 and February 8, 2013.

Interview with Apab’yan Tew, November 6, 2012.

Interview with Winona LaDuke, November 27, 2012.

Interviews with Shea Richland, November 9, 2012 and January 2, 2013.

Categories: cultural interests, Indigenous Rights, Indigenous Wisdom, Sacred Reciprocity, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | 4 Comments

A Primer on Food and Our Collective Vote Toward WellBeing

Food is fundamental to way of life. Quality can be measured through its nutritional make-up. But there’s more. Increasingly, what we eat and how food is produced has become the prophecy of our future—unless we stop it now.

Since the start of the Industrial Age in the 1940s, the push has been to produce more food. The means involved use of more bio-fuels, synthetic fertilizers and focus on monocrops, breeding out diverse strains and heritage crops. In one sense it’s been hugely successful, quite profitable for the corporate giants who engineered the chemical experiment. Supermarket shelves are full of GMO foods like corn, cottonseed, wheat, soya and sugar beets in one form or another. Currently, 88 percent of corn, 93 percent of soybeans and 94 percent of cottonseed grown in the US are GMO.

What is at stake?

 It’s tough on the environment. When monocropping is used instead of traditional crop rotation, it depletes nutrients in the soil, threatening healthy growth. To support production, farmers must use chemical fertilizers and pesticides—liberally. The earth is further depleted; chemicals get into ground waters, or carried by air, resulting in pollution.

The huge agribusinesses like Monsanto, DuPont and Dow want to make sure growers remain dependent, even shackled. Monsanto claims a patent on their seeds; their policy bars seed saving after harvest for use in the next planting, a practice farmers have historically undertaken. Now they are forced to purchase GMO seeds year and after. If a farmer ignores the policy…Monsanto sues. There are currently eight cases before the US Supreme Court. Yet, how can you patent something provided by Mother Earth?

Corn Samples

Corn samples from the Seed Temple preservation project in Estancia, NM.
Photo credit: Carla Woody

An entire American way of life is threatened and will soon be extinct. The US Department of Agriculture shows that the number of family farms in the US has dramatically dropped from 6.8 million in 1935 to merely 2 million in 2012, while food production continues to rise through the corporate agri farms. It’s just no longer economically sustainable for small farms to operate. Quite soon the family-run farms will go the same way of mom and pop restaurants, grocery stores and bookstores, overwhelmed by corporations. Farm Aid statistics show about 330 farmers give up each week.

But also consider the health risks. The American Academy of Environmental Medicine (AAEM) indicates that several animal studies show GM foods pose such serious health risks as infertility, immune issues, and changes in the gastrointestinal system and other major organs. Indeed, when squirrels and mice are given the choice between GMO and non-GMO foods, they won’t touch the former, which says it all.

Aside from all the concerning statistics and studies, the focus on food as commodity merely reflects the mindset that humans themselves are considered for their economic value. In the corporate workplace, the push to produce, astronomical work hours and competition serve to further disconnect people from each other and any spiritual grounding. Food is something eaten in a hurry from a packaged container or fast food wrapper. There is little to no connection with the very elements that serve to give us life.

We vote every day by where we shop, what we buy and choose to put in our bodies. We have the power to make a difference toward collective health and well-being.

***

Sources:

Etc Group. “The Great Mexican Maize Massacre.” November 15, 2012.

Mark Sherman. “Supreme Court to Hear Monsanto Seed Dispute.” Huffington Post, October 5, 2012.

Barbara H. Peterson. “Monsantopoly – A game pitting farmer against farmer that only Monsanto can win!” Farm Wars, August 3, 2011.

Institute for Responsible Technology. “GMO Dangers.”

Michael Snyder. “The Family Farm Is Being Systematically Wiped Out of Existence in America.” The Economic Collapse Blog, April 26, 2012.

Tom Philpott. “Could Prop. 37 Kill Monsanto’s GM Seeds?” Mother Jones, October 10, 2012.

Categories: Healthy Living | Tags: , | 1 Comment

Common Threads Beyond Culture

With news of devastations in Syria and the US Government poised to take warring actions, I’m compelled to share these thoughts and send prayers toward peace.

Offering Photo credit: Carla Woody

Offering
Photo credit: Carla Woody

I traveled to St. Petersburg, Russia in 2005 where I had the privilege of presenting workshops and sitting on a roundtable discussion at the 13th Annual Conference on Conflict Resolution whose theme was “Engaging the Other.” Cosponsors were the Harmony Institute of St. Petersburg and Common Bond Institute located in Michigan, along with a whole list of multinational endorsers. Aside from Russia and the US, there were participants and presenters from Israel, Serbia, South Africa, Palestinian Authority and a number of other countries.

The roundtable where I was a panel member was entitled “The Other as Both Humankind’s Oldest, Most Resilient Foe and Our Shared Identity.” My workshop session introduced the “Re-Membering Process,” the model of spiritual evolution I developed, along with experiences of working with intent. In the parallel youth conference, I focused on cleaning the energy body with the teens.

My participation in this conference was a case of intuitive guidance. While I didn’t give it much thought beforehand, there was something inside me that said it was important to go. Once I got over the initial eleven-hour jet lag and began to immerse myself in the conference, I realized it was impacting me in a way I couldn’t articulate and certainly hadn’t expected. I had to sit with it for a time and allow the meaning to come in bits and pieces.

First, I recognized that twenty-five years ago this conference couldn’t have happened. I was in Moscow in the mid-1980s as a tourist when things were still shaky between the US and Russia. The atmosphere at that time was uncomfortable, to say the least. At the 2005 conference, people whose nations were current enemies, or foes in the recent past, were sitting side by side for learning, dialogue and some fun along the way. This was a progressive group of people who looked well beyond the politics of their respective countries.

Butterfly

Photo: Carla Woody

My next realization was the contrast between my focus, alignment of the individual in order to make a difference, and the majority of other workshops, which were dealing with the traumas and ravages of war, extreme social strife and disease. I quickly noted how removed my own life is from such things. I’ve had my challenges but nothing like what these presenters were discussing. I began to wonder if what I had to share would have value in those cultures experiencing such high degrees of discord.

I told the workshop group that I knew the “Re-membering Process”* to be true in my own culture. But I didn’t know if it would be valid for them and invited them to give me feedback. As I led them through the phases of spiritual evolution that I had identified, the issues that tended to arise and the path of progression, I saw a lot of heads nodding in agreement.

A number of people shared their stories. But one woman’s story in particular was quite moving. She came from an area of Russia that had a long history of hostilities. She said her grandparents had been killed and her father was jailed for many years. She gave examples of her own suffering through those times. Through tears, she then stated that the “Re-Membering Process” was true for nations as well as individuals. It gave her hope as she could identify her own progression and that of her country. Later when I led a guided imagery, meant to take the group into the Core Self and experience intent, she experienced an energetic opening, as did others, never having done so before.

The outcome of that workshop deepened a certain meaning for me. There is indeed a common thread that runs through us all. We want the same things. Some of us find ourselves in horrific situations in which we feel helpless and hopeless. Yet there is a resident resilience in the human spirit that whispers to us: Something else exists.

Yes. We need to get through the traumas of war. But then what? Dialoguing alone won’t do it—and further aggression won’t either. To leave the times of war behind, whether the conflict is internal or external, micro or macro, we must experience the possibility of spiritual evolutionand connect to it. As we step into Core Essence and remain even remotely aligned to it, we positively affect ourselves but also others. The results can then blow like a strong wind across all lands. I believe it.

***

 *Note: The “Re-Membering Process” is thoroughly described in my book Standing Stark. To learn more about this annual conference, see Common Bond Institute.

Categories: Compassionate Communication, Healing, Spiritual Evolution | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

Book Review – Fleeting Moments of Fierce Clarity: Journal of a New England Poet

Fleeting Moments

L.M. Browning has written a volume about spiritual travel, not in the sense of exotic adventure, but in leaving the familiar inner dwelling, while staying close to home, to discover what is true. She lets the reader know that difficult circumstances accompanied her through much of her young life, alluding to sacrifices and betrayals. But that’s not where she leaves us. The purpose of disclosure is to let us know where she’s been and where she’s come to this point: unstintingly honest having found strength in vulnerability. Gratitude for the small things. Connection to place.

She frequently mentions the Transcendentalists. In reading the poetry and introductory essays, I can easily imagine the author walking by Thoreau’s side around Walden Pond. I’ve traveled to some of the places named. But even if I hadn’t, her use of language makes them immediate. And there’s a feeling sense that speaks to an inner space common to all of usif we choose to know it.

 As I grasped the old wrought doorknobs, I shook hands with the past.

 Celebrations of nature and history are used as vehicles urging toward spiritual travel, to shed what is meaningless and embrace greater freedom. There are examples on every page. I’ve chosen this one, reprinted with permission, to include here.

The Truce

 

Pluck a strand of wind

And listen to the trees quiver.

 

Run until your heart pounds

And watch the stagnant surface

Of the pond ripple.

 

Throw back

The suffocating blankets of false comfort

And let yourself feel the renewal of the rain.

 

Only when we overcome

Our fear of being along,

Can we come to know the company

That is always with us.

 

In surrendering, we are cradled.

In accepting, we are able to impart.

In kneeling, we stand taller.

 

Gather what is worthy of your devotion

And never betray it.

 

So that, in the end,

You will know that,

Though you be small,

You poured out all that you are

Into what is greater

 

And in doing so,

Became part of it.

 In this thin volume much is said. You’ll not want to hurry through it but rather take a page or two and linger, much as you might to inform meditation practice. Fleeting Moments of Fierce Clarity has been given the distinction of Finalist, Next Generation Indie Book Awards in the Non-Fiction Regional Category.

Available in trade paperback, e-book and audio formats via Homebound Publications, Amazon and other online or retail bookstores.

Categories: Book Review, Healing, Solitude, Spiritual Evolution, Spiritual Travel | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

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