Healing

Book Review: The Horse Boy

Horse Boy imageThe Horse Boy came to my attention through one of the travelers on my Peru spiritual travel program. Françoise Moreels told me she was so inspired by the story, centered around autism and Mongolian shamanism, that she was compelled to journey to Mongolia herself. With an introduction like that, of course, I was drawn to read it to see what was so remarkable. And truly it is.

Imagine a young couple completely engaged in life. Rupert Isaacson was a journalist and activist for Indigenous land rights, particularly for the Bushmen of the Kalahari Desert. Kristin Neff was a professor in educational psychology at the University of Texas. Their young son Rowan just wasn’t developing the way other children did and displayed behaviors that led to a diagnosis of autism in 2004. The book is intimate in detailing all the heartbreak and frustration that comes with parenting a child with such a condition—the daily travails that are so difficult. My great respect certainly goes to these parents.

It became the father’s quest to find a way to heal Rowan. Rupert’s work being more flexible, he stayed home with Rowan much of the time. Unexpectedly, an incident occurred that eventually pointed to a path of healing. One day, Rowan broke away from his father and ran over to a horse named Betsy on a neighbor’s property, a mare known to be difficult. Strangely, Betsy was submissive to the child. And the child’s stemming and outbursts calmed. Rupert knew horses. He grew up with them in South Africa. He asked the neighbor if he and his son could ride the horse, and they did. Consistently.

It had such a positive effect on Rowan’s functioning that, after a time, Rupert had a brainstorm. Why not take Rowan to Mongolia, the place where horses were first domesticated and had become integral to the culture—and particularly their powerful form of shamanism? It took Rupert a few years to convince Kristin enough for her to reluctantly agree. But in 2007, the family began a physically and emotionally challenging odyssey across the remote steppes of Mongolia in hopes their son would be healed.

This is a story of strong intent played out against the backdrop of Mongolian shamanism. I highly recommend the book, also produced as a documentary. As a result of their experiences, Rupert Isaacson founded the Horse Boy Foundation working with autism and equine therapy. Kristin Neff founded Self-Compassion offering training in mindfulness and acceptance.

The Horse Boy by Rupert Isaacson is available on Amazon and elsewhere.

 

Categories: Book Review, Healing, Indigenous Wisdom, Spiritual Travel | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

Book Review: A Tale for the Time Being

I think some stories are best read aloud. For me, this was one of them. I came to this conclusion before I knew that the author herself reads all her work aloud as she writes chapter to chapter. And she was the narrator here. Who better to know how to make her point? After the fact I also learned that author Ruth Ozeki is a Zen Buddhist priest. Then so much of the knowledge dropped in unexpectedly, almost casually, made sense if it has its place in the everyday underpinnings of someone’s life.

I count the coincidence lucky. I’ve just started listening to audio books. I wouldn’t have used the right inflection for the Japanese names or words in my mind. I might have glossed over them. But also because there were things inserted softly that caused me to stop and listen. There’s another layer here, I’d thought. I rewound and took it in again.

A Tale for the Time BeingThere was the clever double entendre: A Tale for the Time Being. We’re all Time Beings for the time being. And it’s a novel that involves time, how we experience it, the ways it warps. But you don’t realize it until you’re well into the novel. It’s subtle until firmly anchored.

A Japanese American novelist with writer’s block named Ruth walked the beach near her home, a little populated island off British Columbia, and found a carefully wrapped, albeit battered, package washed up on the shore. It wasn’t long after the 2011 tsunami and the resulting meltdowns at the Fukushima nuclear power plant.  It contained a Hello Kitty lunchbox, the diary of a conflicted Japanese American teenager living in Tokyo named Nao (Now?) and more. That is the launching point that draws us into the shame-suicide culture of Japan, the suffering of a “living ghost”, and the darker underbelly of Tokyo. If the book had only been these things, I probably would have quit after the first chapter or so⏤stopped short from finding out what it was really about.

I would have missed Jiko, Nao’s 104-year-old great-grandmother, a Buddhist nun  who peppered her conversations with koans drawn from The Shōbōgenzō written by Japanese Zen Master Dōgen. And how Ruth lost the experience of her own now, the more obsessed she became with Nao’s, and began to realize she was “playing origami with time.” Or the strange phenomenon she experienced of changing places with the young girl, populating her dreams, and finding them much the same. Or Ruth’s disclosure of another weird instance, which validated my own, when being so immersed in writing a story that, upon waking the next morning and opening the computer, she found herself wondering who had written the words…

This is a novel about living in the midst of contrast in this modern world, the time of our being and the choices we make, along with a real indoctrination to Japanese culture. I have to end with this because it’s such a great quote:

The ancient Greeks believed when you read out loud, it’s actually the dead borrowing your tongue in order to speak again.

Available in print, e-book and audiobook from the public library, Amazon and elsewhere.

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Thomas Hatathli: The Everyday Life of a Diné Medicine Man, Part II

At the end of the evening introduction to sacred Diné ways, Thomas Hatathli talked briefly about the Blessingway Ceremony he would offer the next day. He spoke of it as a cleansing, a restoration to full health, life-affirming choices and connection to all beings. Through song and prayer the ritual would provide a channel for healing.

I stood and asked Thomas if there was a way we all could best prepare and be ready for the next day’s ceremony. He said simply, “Just be you.”

I waited until he was free, then talked to Thomas privately. “I asked that question for myself. I’ve just returned from Peru. I was in a Q’ero village where I have relationships and learned of a death. I think I’m carrying a lot of grief.” I told him only that.

During time in the village in my role of group leader, I wasn’t able to really process the tragic story I’d been told of a young mother’s sudden, recent death and the devastating effect I witnessed on the dad and very young ones she left behind. Ever since, images had continually played in my mind of the event I never saw—haunting me. I couldn’t shake them, and I was experiencing a physical impact that was getting worse.

He gazed directly into my eyes. Perhaps beyond me, too. “Do you want to be my patient tomorrow?”

I wasn’t expecting this explicit invitation. I nodded yes.

“Then sit beside me tomorrow.” He asked no questions, nothing causing me to replay the painful moments.

The next day we gathered again at North Mountain Visitor Center, which backs up to the Phoenix Mountain Preserve. I found Thomas outside at the small amphitheater that opened to the land, already preparing himself.  He said this round place was a good one. At home he holds ceremonies in a hogan.

As he’d asked, I sat next to him. Others assembled in a loose circle. He took a small rug and woven cloth from a bag and laid both on the ground in front of him, one on top of the other. As he readied the space, he spoke about the turning basket he placed in the middle, the significance of the circle around its perimeter. There was a break in the circle where anything that was not life-affirming could be released to the east. He noted that some patients were afraid to let go and needed encouragement. He’d made sure to place the turning basket with its break to the east, the same as a hogan’s doorway.

Turning basket

Example of a turning basket.

Thomas inherited this turning basket from his grandfather who was a medicine man. It had to be over a hundred years old. I could only imagine how many ceremonies it had seen and the power it held. Even as the formal ceremony had yet to begin, I felt its energy reaching for us. We all were invited to place items—sacred bundles, jewelry, stones—in the turning basket; the purpose to represent each of us in this ritual, to clear any traumas or aspect out of balance.

Thomas talked about the sequence of ancient songs he would sing, the meaning of each one. The Mountain Song would come first, calling in the benevolent spirits of sacred mountains to provide protection and healing. Next would come the song he sang for himself, asking for the strength and capabilities required to sing the songs and make the prayers. The Bluebird Song was one to bring in happiness. The Returning Home Song was about returning home, to the natural order, coming home to your true Self. The prayers would come next, twelve of them.

When Thomas began to sing I closed my eyes. Before long I was lost to this world and entered the landscape this Chanter was weaving. Somewhere in there a thought swam up. I’ve heard this before. It sounds so familiar. I grasped to make the connection but couldn’t and surrendered again, letting the songs take me. At points periodically I experienced a lifting sensation as though leaving my body and thought it would fall over backwards. Somehow I remained upright. Every now and then my ears popped.

As the last song ended, I opened my eyes and knew how the songs were known to me. Icaros. Just a few weeks before I’d been with Don Alberto Manqueriapa, a respected Huachipaeri-Matsigenga spiritual leader, again in Peru as he sang the icaros during the rainforest rituals that hold the same intent of the Blessingway Ceremony. A return to the natural order. They couldn’t be the same language. Yet they were. And they held the same frequencies. They were drawn from the same place.

Thomas handed me the feathered female medicine stick to hold in my left hand and a small deerskin bundle that held dirt from the Sacred Mountain for my right hand.  As I received them extraordinary energy washed over me and I knew their power, recognized how many people had held them as I was now. The Blessingway prayers began, a continual chant until complete.

He directed me to press the medicine stick and bundle up and down both legs, then the rest of my body. Pressing them to my face would cleanse the senses and perception. To my head, purified the mind.

Thomas went to the fire made earlier and threw herbs upon the flames, a further prayer for happiness and blessings. We all went up and made an offering of corn meal. The Blessingway Ceremony came to a close.

Post Blessingway Ceremony

Post Blessingway Ceremony.

I remained seated outside for some time while others drifted back inside where we would share a meal. I didn’t trust my ability to walk. I wasn’t yet fully back in the material world. And I was assessing my state. I felt different, as though something had lifted. I was much lighter.

Three hours had passed as though mere minutes. We’d been encapsulated in a timeless bubble as the world around us went on. A short distance away people were on the preserve’s hiking trails. The parking lot had been full. I’d heard nothing but the cadence of Thomas’ words moving on the air. I felt nothing but the energy coursing through my body, taking me somewhere, and only a slight warmth from the sun. Not its increasing strength as it followed its path across the sky.

Naomi Tsosie had stayed behind, too. During the ceremony, she and a few other Diné women who were present sang softly, barely a beat behind Thomas. I later learned that these echoes are sustenance to the Chanter providing strength for them to continue, sometimes many hours or even days depending on the need.

Naomi came over to me. She gave me a sacred gift that I will always treasure. I understand the meaning. I only wish I hadn’t been so altered and could have expressed adequately how her action and kind words truly touched my heart.

Thomas knows over 500 hundred songs. He retains them in his mind, passed to him orally, not to be written down. Each having their own purpose to be drawn upon depending on the needs of the patient.

That day we experienced an abbreviated version of the Blessingway Ceremony by necessity of the circumstances. I truly get how this is a way of healing. It has had a lasting effect on my state of being, emotionally and physically.

Thomas’ level of impeccability—the care in which he spoke his words, the seamless way I absorbed their deeper meaning, how I felt the medicine he delivered—is a rarity. He would never say so himself…but I believe we were in the presence of a true Holy Man.

 ***

This is Part Two of a two-part article. To read Part One, go here.

To learn more on the Blessingway Ceremony, go here.

I wish to acknowledge Ruth Harrison, Kimberly Ewing, Nathan Shannon and Norm Meier who were present and contributed their memories of our time with Thomas, filling in where my own memory gapped.

Categories: Gratitude, Healing, Indigenous Wisdom, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , | 4 Comments

Thomas Hatathli: The Everyday Life of a Diné Medicine Man, Part I

In the old days there existed 200 or more traditional Diné healers.* “Now,” Thomas Hatathli told us, “There are only 30 to 40.” As I listened to Thomas’ words my heart felt a tug of sadness to be hearing again what I’ve heard so often—directly from the Indigenous healers themselves. And I imagined what it’s like to be one of a dwindling few, and perhaps the only one left in some cases, who dedicate their lives to the wholeness of their people and the planet, living the ancient principles every day.

We’re honored that Thomas accepted our invitation to share some of the work he does as a traditional healer of his people.** Tall and spare, Thomas radiates a quiet strength. He began with a prayer. Then he introduced himself by citing his clan relations, adding, “This is who I am. I know I’m never alone.” And I got the true understanding that knowing your origins, stretching back centuries, gives of itself to spiritual grounding.

Thomas HatathliPerhaps Thomas was preordained to be a medicine man by virtue of the Diné meaning of his last name and precedent set by his grandfather. But Thomas didn’t always follow that path. It wasn’t until, after being away at college, when he came home to find his family’s livestock gone—taken from them by the Federal Government—the family forced by the same to uproot from their ancestral lands and move across Arizona, to enter into homelessness while they awaited the allotted acre and house…that he made a decision. His family was devastated. His people suffered. Mental and physical health were dramatically impacted. Spiritual grounding detached itself to be replaced by the worst influences. ***

For the next four years, Thomas dogged the heels of his cousin, already a medicine man, learning the songs, prayers and rituals, the teachings of his ancestors. Until finally, he was ordained as a healer and Blessingway Chanter. That was more than 25 years ago.

He retains little time as his own. Weekdays he works as a mental health specialist at the Tuba City Regional Health Care Center. And nearly every day people come looking for him, asking him to sing the songs and release the prayers that bring healing. Thomas freely gives of himself to do so. Nights and weekends are not his but theirs. To maintain balance, he runs. Thomas has run 16 Boston Marathons—soon his 58th marathon total. He shows no signs of slowing down.

That evening he dispensed pragmatic wisdom in an unassuming way, just stated fact. And even though I’d heard what he said before, presented in any number of ways, his way slipped in to find a home. Much of what he offered was about gratitude and presence, making good choices—the underpinnings of a healthy life in all ways.

He spoke of chewing his food in gratitude and what’s best for the body…

When I chew my food I taste it. I enjoy it. I break the food down to give my stomach a break. In this way I conserve my energy for when it’s needed.

The body needs movement to be healthy. People say they don’t have time.

When he spoke of people leaving their traditions in favor of technology and assimilating into Western culture…

 Go forward but reach back.

Of the ancient prayers and songs orally handed down to him…

When I pray it’s a thousand years of wisdom coming through my mouth.

As the end of the evening came to a close, he spoke of the Blessingway Ceremony he would lead the next morning. I stood and asked, “As this will be a healing ceremony, is there a way we can best prepare ourselves for tomorrow?”

He answered…

 Just be you.

His practical spirituality is comforting. And it’s evident his life is one of alignment to core values, to family and community. Yet it’s also true his life is one of great sacrifice—one he chooses.

Nothing good comes easy. We need to appreciate effort.

True medicine men don’t choose that path. It chooses them. It means relinquishing an everyday life and surrendering to sacrifice, one that ultimately works at a global level.

 ***

This is Part One of a two-part article. Part Two is on the Blessingway Ceremony in which I was the patient seeking to return to the natural order offered through these songs, prayers and rituals. Read Part Two.

I wish to express gratitude to the Native people who attended this offering and showed respect to this Elder: Naomi Tsosie, Lucilia Benally, De Alva Ward, Ron Interpreter and Sam Hogue. I also acknowledge Ruth Harrison, Kimberly Ewing, Nathan Shannon and Norm Meier who were present and contributed their memories of our time with Thomas, filling in where my own memory gapped.

 ***

 *The name Diné means “The People” in their own language. By the 1600s the Spanish began calling them Navajo derived from the Tewa-Pueblo word for “great planted fields.”

**Twice a year Kenosis Spirit Keepers sponsors an educational outreach program for the general public in which participants can learn and experience the teachings of Indigenous peoples from spiritual leaders and healers who serve their community. We call it the Spirit Keepers Series.

***To gain an understanding of the devastation wrought from The Long Walk in the 1860s, the 1974 Navajo-Hopi Land Settlement Act, the forced boarding schools and acts in-between, the residual trauma which extends all the way to present time for Diné and Hopi alike, read A Historical Overview of the Navajo Relocation published by Cultural Survival.

Categories: Gratitude, Healing, Indigenous Wisdom | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

Book Review: Into the Magic Shop

IntoTheMagicShop

My attraction to read Into the Magic Shop was generated through Krista Tippett’s On Being interview called The Magic Shop of the Brain with neurosurgeon and author James Doty, MD. I had no idea who he was. But sincerity flooded his voice as he spoke about the need and effects of compassion. To have a medical doctor speak in this way is so unusual⏤given the hurried, sterile treatment patients in this country normally receive. When Krista asked him to speak of the ritual he underwent prior to neurosurgery, he had me. Rather than having a nurse prep the patient in the operating room he does so himself. After the patient is anesthetized, he shaves the surgery site himself, saying it connects him to the patient as a human being and grounds him in the procedure he is about to take.

From the book:

It is a ritual I do. And as I slowly shave the head, I think of this precious little boy and go over every detail of the surgery in my mind. I cut off the first bit of hair and hand it to the circulator to put in a small bag for the boy’s mother. This is his first haircut, and while it’s the last thing on his mom’s mind now, I know it will matter to her later. It’s a milestone you want to remember. First haircut. First tooth lost. First day of school. First time riding a bike. First brain surgery is never on this list.

What were the influences that made James Doty who he is today with an outlook and behaviors so unusual in his field? He was born into a troubled family where he received no support. He felt alone. He had low self-esteem. But one day he wandered into a magic shop and found his saving grace in an elder named Ruth who was visiting her son, the owner of the store. She saw something in this boy and invited him to return the next day and every day for the next six weeks. She promised to teach him.

…I know how to turn a flicker into a flame. Someone taught me and now I think it’s time that I teach you…It’s going to take a lot of work and you’re going to have to practice the tricks I teach you even more than you did your thumb trick. But I promise you, what I’m going to teach you will change your life…

This is James Doty’s memoir and includes a long learning curve as many spiritual journeys do…because he neglected to include one of the most important teachings Ruth gave him. Ultimately he remembers but not without many trials. And when all her teachings finally took hold, the most powerful magic happened.

Today Dr. Doty is the Founder-Director of the Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education⏤of which the Dalai Lama was an original funder⏤and clinical professor at Stanford University School of Medicine.

In many ways Into the Magic Shop reminded me of an all-time favorite book: Illusions by Richard Bach. I always held that the story must be true; Donald Shimoda must have been a real person. I longed for it to be so. But Into the Magic Shop is…without a doubt.

I highly recommend this book. Available on Amazon and elsewhere in print and e-book.

 

Categories: Book Review, Compassionate Communication, Global Consciousness, Healing | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

A Havasupai Elder Speaks

We drove along the South Rim tourist area of the Grand Canyon and wound our way to the west on a dirt road through tall pines. Leaving the throngs of people behind, with much anticipation, we entered a different world. During opening circle for our spiritual travel program to Hopi just the night before, I’d let the folks know an opportunity had presented itself.

The Grand Canyon is sacred to the Hopi. They emerged into this middle world in ancient times from a point deep in its interior, and the Havasupai people have called it home for at least a thousand years. A relationship exists between these peoples. So when my Hopi partner Char Joseph contacted the Havasupai Tribe inquiring if there was someone who would speak to us about their ways, they were happy to oblige saying…all too often they were forgotten.

We pulled into Supai Camp, once the tribal winter home on the rim where just a few remain. The traditional dwellings are long gone. In 1934 the National Park Service (NPS) tore down or burned the homes without notice to the residents who were away at the time. I Am the Grand Canyon documents more than a century’s devastation of the Havasupai at the hands of the US federal government, NPS, Grand Canyon Association and Sierra Club. In the book, Havasupai Mack Putesoy testified how their homes were burned to the ground with all their belongings inside. Effie Hanna said she lost things she’d been saving all her life. In place of traditional homes on their aboriginal lands, the NPS built cabins and forced the residents to pay rent.

However, I knew none of this at the time we approached the home where we’d been invited.

Havasupai Girl

Havasupai girl, circa 1900. Photo credit unknown.

We were greeted at the door by Colleen Kaska, daughter of Daniel Kaska who was chairman of the Havasupai Tribe in the 1970s. Elder Daniel is now quite frail but welcomed us. He wanted to tell us the story of the Havasupai, People of the Blue-Green Waters named after the beautiful canyon waters running through the area they now mostly live. Colleen shared in the storytelling.

Their aboriginal lands once encompassed areas from the Grand Canyon to the Colorado River and the San Francisco Peaks west to Ashfork and Seligman. In the warm months they lived in what is now known as Cataract Canyon in the interior of the Grand Canyon and grew crops. In winter months they dwelt on the rim in order to hunt.

Once the Santa Fe railroad came along and interest in the Grand Canyon grew as a tourist and recreational site the Havasupai were squeezed and began to suffer. In 1882 President Arthur declared the majority of their aboriginal land belonged to the American public. The People of the Blue-Green Waters lost their plateau hunting-herding lands and many thousands of acres. They were barred from rim watering holes by cattlemen and the NPS…and relegated to Cataract Canyon. This narrow 518-acre tract doesn’t see sun during winter months, and historically endured flash floods that sometimes took out homes and people.

Colleen had been relating this history in a matter-of-fact way. The more she spoke, the sadder I felt. I had no idea what we would learn when we came through this family’s door. But I didn’t anticipate such a story. I’d thought of the NPS and Sierra Club as entities that conserved beauty…not those who wrought devastation upon peoples of the land (I thought) they were to protect. I said, “This all must be heartbreaking.”

Colleen paused, became still. She had a faraway look in her eyes. “Yes. But when I walk our aboriginal lands⎯the ones taken from us⎯I know it is of my people. My ancestors are there.” The tone of her voice made clear that knowledge gave her strength.

Elder Daniel spoke haltingly of the century-long struggles to be recognized by the federal government, to regain any of the land taken from them, including his own personal involvement as chairman in this quest. Finally, in 1976 they succeeded to a small degree: 185 acres returned to the Havasupai with 95,300 acres named “Havasupai Use Lands” but controlled by the NPS.

Daniel Kaska and Apabyan Tew

Havasupai Elder Daniel Kaska & Maya Daykeeper Apab’yan Tew. Photo: Colleen Kaska.

K’iche’ Maya Daykeeper Apab’yan Tew was present as a sponsored guest on our spiritual travel program. He wanted to know about Havasupai ceremonies. He asked Daniel, “Do you have a story about some time of a spiritual nature you remember?” Daniel shook his head. It seemed the focus for so long had been a fight for acknowledgment, some recognition of their worth, that there was no energy left for anything else.

Mike Weddle⎯Kenosis Spirit Keepers board member, Daykeeper and musician⎯visiting from Maryland was able to join our group for just two days. He brought his flute. I invited Mike to offer Daniel and Colleen a prayer song. The music was sweet. When it came to an end, there was silence. Then Daniel began to sing in words and tones that entered every one of us. The energy seemed to shift.

When we all expressed how it touched us, he uttered softly, “It’s a funeral song.” And then, “We are a lost tribe.” It was painful to hear of such loss.

Our visit was over. We formed a circle outside under the pines and invited Colleen to join us. Elder Daniel was unable to do so. Apab’yan offered a Maya prayer for the People of the Blue-Green Waters and the land.

A few days later I received a note from Mike who had to leave for other business.

I think we all felt the same as elder Daniel Kaska told his story of loss and betrayal, going to Washington where no one would listen, voting against the government deal when his own people would not listen, and his final ‘I don’t know what will become of us’. When he sang his beautiful song, and then said it was a funeral song, I almost wept.

We were invited by Colleen to join a singing ceremony 8 am Saturday at Red Butte. I did go to represent us but there was no one there. There are two forest roads on each side of the Butte, but no people, no cars, and no singing.

So I climbed the switchbacks to the very top of the butte, the summit. At the very top there is a crossing with 4 paths going in the 4 cardinal directions. I’m sending a photo. Colleen called this the Supai place of origin.

I felt that in just 2 days I had been witness to the place where the Supai began and perhaps the place where they end. As there was no one else there to sing, I did the singing, and I sang the Maltyoxb’al, the [Maya] great gratitude song, for the arc of the Supai nation.

Red Butte

Red Butte where the Havasupai were born to this world. Photo: Mike Weddle.

redbutte3

Four Directions at the summit of Red Butte. Photo: Mike Weddle.

When we held our closing circle at the end of our week with the Hopi and Havasupai people, I spoke to the group.

I never know in advance how things will unfold when we hold a sacred container of pure intent. Things I can never predict come in ways that affect us all. I believe the most important thing we did during this journey was sit in respect, listen deeply to this Elder’s words and witness the grief he carries.

Sometimes that’s all we can do even in the face of our own helplessness at such recognition. And that acknowledgment matters.

***********

Note: Elder Daniel Kaska singing recorded by Apab’yan Tew.

Go here to learn more about Spiritual Travel to Hopi: Sacred Guardians of the World,  and check back for next year’s March travels.

Categories: cultural interests, Healing, Indigenous Rights, Spiritual Travel | Tags: , , | 4 Comments

Film Review: Beyond Right and Wrong

beyondrightwrong

Beyond Right & Wrong: Stories of Justice and Forgiveness. Co-directed by Lekha Singh and Roger Spottiswoode.

Directors Singh and Spottiswoode have taken the beautifully hopeful line from a Rumi poem…

 Out beyond ideas of right and wrong doing there is a field. I’ll meet you there.

 …and shown us examples of people who have done just so. I will give you this warning: It’s a difficult documentary to watch. But the rewards of doing so are many.

Some of it is inconceivable. How do those we would think of as victims—or their families—set aside horrendous acts done to them and move on? How do those guilty of such acts face what they’ve done…and the survivors…and live with themselves?

The documentary features acts done in the name of war:

It focuses on the personal stories of selected individuals who entered the tricky area of forgiveness and resolution. They came together in person, the one who undertook the act and the one who was devastated by it. The film uncovers raw emotion and struggle. Initially, a couple of the perpetrators put up defenses…justifications. In the beginning, some of the victims just could not face the gut-wrenching grief, fresh all over again in their presence. But all found the courage and finally a sense of forgiveness and resolution through various means begun through first coming together.

In watching their stories, I immediately thought of the places in my own life that were relevant. I’ve never had experiences to the level these people have. Many of us haven’t. But we’ve all had loss in some respect. We’ve all done things we regret.

The film subliminally invites personal consideration and the act of letting go. While war is the rationale here, each one of us is the instrument within our own lives as to how we respond to circumstances, what we do with what occurs.

I’m certain that forgiveness is not for the one who performs the wrongdoing, although they will benefit through being forgiven. If we don’t forgive then our lives remain tainted with the act—emotionally, mentally and even physically—and we pass the effect on. The same is true for the weight of guilt carried through a lifetime.

It’s not common knowledge that I’ve been a conflict mediator on a professional basis for nearly 30 years. I’ve always done it as a sideline. I believe in mediation and the magic that can happen within its forum. Years ago I mediated victim-offender cases, in this case juvenile first-time offenders. I still mediate parenting plans for divorcing parents for the county where I live. I can think of no better reason to come to forgiveness and collaborate than for the sake of children and interrupt a pattern.

Resolution can be a long, slow process. But it doesn’t have to be. From my private practice I’ve found Neuro-Linguisitic Programming (NLP) processes and rituals addressing forgiveness, grief and loss to be highly effective whether the other person is physically present or not. Here’s an article of mine published in an NLP professional journal back in ’95 that gives a case study example. (Go to subtitled material under “The Grief/Loss Process” and “The Forgiveness Process”.)

You may view the film for free here. You can purchase the documentary within a kit, which also includes a group and self-study guide, as well as a book The Anatomy of Peace: Resolving the Heart of Conflict by The Arbinger Institute that brings the core material in the documentary into our everyday lives for personal and global effect.

The 2012 documentary has received the following prestigious awards: Best Social Impact Film by Sundance Collective, Best Avant Garde Film by the American Psychological Association, Official Selection of the Hamptons International Film Festival, Introduced United Nations Resolution on Mediation by Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, and more.

Film length: 1 hour, 22 minutes.

Late-breaking news! Jo Berry, who is founder of UK-based Building Bridges for Peace and one featured in the documentary, is coming to Arizona in late September-early October for speaking engagements and film screenings.

I am pleased to announce Kenosis Spirit Keepers and the Quad City Interfaith Council are co-sponsoring a film screening and talk “Making Peace with the Enemy” by Jo Berry to be held on September 28, 6:30-8:30 PM, at Prescott College Crossroads Center, 215 Garden Street, Prescott. Admission is free will offering at the door with no one turned away.

Other currently scheduled venues in Arizona are below.

Categories: Compassionate Communication, Film Review, Healing, NLP | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

In Remembrance: Mary Magdalen

My Magdalen Heart

Prophet Series: My Magdalen Heart
Oil with gold leaf on canvas. by Carla Woody

Today is Mary Magdalene’s Feast Day. A few years ago I created My Magdalen Heart as one of my Prophet Series, an oil with gold leaf on canvas. This artwork pays respect to Mary Magdalen who has been denied recognition for her true role by the traditional church, and honors all teachers who go quietly about their service with humility.

The original artwork now lives in Albuquerque with a woman who’d had a relationship with The Magdalen since childhood. She came into The Gallery in Williams where I show my work and fell in love. I happened to be in The Gallery that day. She told me her stories with misty eyes and left very happy. It was emotional for us both. I later received a note from her thanking me again and said, “We put her in the place of honor over the fireplace. I was afraid the painting would get lost because of the size of the fireplace, which is huge. But she commands the room and her eyes follow me everywhere.”

I felt so blessed to received this communication, just as blessed as when I was painting the piece…because it felt that Mary spoke to me as I was doing so.

In Sophia’s Children Jamie Walters writes: Who was Mary Magdalene, really?

And why is this question important at all given that we’re talking about a woman who lived 2,000 years ago, and about whom we have only slender references?

Read more on Jamie’s blog.

Categories: Arts, Creativity Strategies, Gratitude, Healing, Sacred Reciprocity | Tags: , | 2 Comments

Film Review: The Wellbriety Journey to Forgiveness

I will tell you up front that this is a difficult film to watch and can bring up all kinds of emotion. But if you’re going to watch it, then do so until the end because toward its finish there is much hope conveyed.

During our recent Spirit Keepers Series held in Phoenix on the subject of PTSD and Native healing ways, I had invited Eli PaintedCrow, an Iraq War veteran of the Yaqui Nation and co-founder of Turtle Women Rising, to take part based on her own experiences and to frame further aspects of our Series. She showed a portion of Wellbriety Journey to Forgiveness, a documentary produced by White Bison, Inc. They’re a Native American-operated 501(c)3 nonprofit dedicated to culturally-based healing for Indigenous peoples.

The film starts out with a prophecy given by the Old Ones about the light skins who would arrive, create confusion and great destruction. How everything would be taken from the Native American but their spirituality. There would be tremendous suffering, genocide and a time of testing. But opportunity for healing would present itself. After this time of healing, the buffalo, Native people and all manner of sustenance would return. Harmony would prevail. Native people believe that we entered this time of healing in the early 1990s.

This is the story of that destruction, particularly centered on boarding schools and their effect. If you’re not familiar, in 1879 the first Indian boarding school was opened in New Carlisle, PA. Native children were forcibly taken from their families and shipped off to such schools around the US where they were stripped of their language and anything having to do with their culture. They endured ongoing violence and humiliation in silence—many didn’t survive—and it had horribly detrimental effects reaching all the way to today. This is called intergenerational trauma, certainly a form of PTSD.

As a part of the Wellbriety Movement, Native organizers undertook a 7000-mile journey all over the US to give Elders and their children a chance to tell their stories, perhaps for the first time, and express grief. In this undertaking they hoped to break the cycle of addiction and violence, begin the road to forgiveness and a return to spiritual traditions. The film covers Native values and how to live in harmony as taught by the Old Ones, along with a model called the Four Directions of Forgiveness and a call to Greater Purpose.

This is an extremely powerful film and could be called the Schindler’s List for Native Americans. It was created as an Indian Give-Away by White Bison for purposes of truth-telling and healing.

Whether you have Indigenous members in your family line who suffered the atrocities, have ancestors who perpetrated any part of it, or are born of mixed blood as many of us are…the message presented here is relevant to all. The effects of genocide, abuse and shame are equally carried through the family line. This is a film for anyone whose ancestors have experienced anything of the like. That doesn’t leave out many people on the planet.

This is a move for truth—no more secrets—and healing accomplished when we live in harmony as the Old Ones taught. Seeing the complete film instilled even more significance to me in how I personally live and greater understanding of the important work Kenosis Spirit Keepers does, even if we reach only a few.

This is a film for the Next Seven Generations. Critical mass is important. View the film for free on You Tube and share widely. Length: 1 hour, 13 minutes. Also visit White Bison to learn of their healing institution and classes.

Categories: cultural interests, Film, Healing, Indigenous Rights | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Release

Stopped short. Pain out of nowhere…and it recurred over and over with increasing frequency and intensity. It was a mystery. I hadn’t hurt myself in any way that would warrant it. I couldn’t even track what movement caused it. But the laser-like sensations zeroed in on my trunk, and the points shifted inexplicably, as if it wanted to remain elusive. It literally brought me up sharp, halting motion.

I began to have real concern, particularly on how such transient pain, consistent only in its constant appearance, would affect my ability to be fully present. An important journey was coming up—my Heart of the Andes program in late October. Those 2014 travels involved riding a horse and hiking at elevations up to 16,000 feet on our way to the Q’ero village of Ccochamocco.

Arrival in Ccochamocco

Arrival in Ccochamocco in late October 2014.
Photo credit: Sage Garrett.

By that time, I had already attempted to address the issues in ways I thought would work to loosen things up: Swedish massage, deep tissue massage, network chiropractic, regular chiropractic, energy work. All gave temporary relief but not what was needed.

I’ve been a spiritual mentor and practitioner of holistic health for over 20 years. I knew that, more than likely, this physical challenge I was dealing with had a strong, integral mind-body-spirit component.

I remembered back to the mid-90s when a man came to me with severe pain originating in his neck and radiating down one arm. He told me it was so severe he’d gladly cut his arm off to get rid of it. That’s pretty severe. He’d been medically diagnosed with osteoarthritis. The doc told him there was nothing he could do about it.

But I was listening to his language as he spoke about the progression of the pain and asked him: What was going on in your life when you first noticed discomfort? He’d identified a time nine months prior. He thought about it and said with surprise: It was the break-up of my relationship, and I had no control over it! I then guided him through processes to resolve any lingering grief, and then forgiveness. His pain disappeared entirely. It happened in one session.*

During the processes we used, he also realized he’d been conflicted about issues within the old relationship that resolved during our work. I followed him for about a year after that. The only time he’d had any slight recurrence of pain was when he wasn’t being true to himself, which he adjusted. The body has a wonderful way of giving us signals to those things we attempt to push aside or are unaware of in the first place. Hence, we’re supported in our spiritual development this way if we pay attention.

I knew to ask myself these questions and did so. Indeed, I identified an exact point a number of months prior when—out of nowhere—something occurred that went against my values and caused a foundational break for me. Isn’t it interesting how the body can mirror…and what better place to reflect such a thing than the first chakra region, that of foundation?

The truth is: This was an area of my life I’d been uncomfortable with for quite a while. I just didn’t want to look at it. I was forced into it through the circumstances. It had to do with loyalties and impeccability. Qualities I hold highly. But I finally had to answer a question a few folks had directed to me in the last years: Why do you maintain such loyalties when it’s really not beneficial?

I began to do the self-work I knew needed to be done, and over the next couple of months lost the emotional charge to the event that instigated this deep work. In fact, I became grateful for the incident. I experienced relief and so much more alignment. I felt some slight physical discomfort during my Peru program that dissipated entirely over the course of the journey.

But then I returned home.

I address re-entry with the folks on my spiritual travel programs, counseling them how we’ve been in a beautiful, expansive cocoon, an altered state really. It’s necessary to create such a space so that such deep learnings can enter and gain a heart-hold. When we return home though, things at home haven’t changed even though we have. It’s a time of integration and realigning those things hanging out there not fully addressed.

There was that pain again right on cue.

I finally asked my massage therapist, Rhonda Hamilton, if she had any ideas. She’s well plugged into the alternative healing community in our area. She recommended I make an appointment with Ruth Backway, a physical therapist in town who has an excellent reputation. I called for an appointment and was told by the receptionist that she had a long waiting list. But through some miracle, Ruth called me back and got me in within a few days.

I was not in good shape when I showed up at the end of her workday. This woman knows what she’s doing. And my body responded readily as though it had been poised for release. When I left session that day I’d say I was about 80% better. Over the next few weeks I saw her, I vastly improved to the point of complete release.

Release is the operative word and state here. Unbeknownst to me, my entire trunk was twisted to the left. Bizarre. How do such things happen when nothing to cause it occurred? She directed her work on the fascia in that area of my body, the slippery membrane that holds organs and muscles in place. Her approach was painless, a gentle holding until the fascia let go….as though all it wanted was acknowledgement. Isn’t that what we all want?

Ruth had questioned me closely on any accidents I may have had over the years. The only one of any significance I could remember was relatively minor when I was 18. But it was the one I mentioned. In my own practice I always pay attention to what is mentioned, even if it’s not the most obvious. We carry our own wisdom.

Ruth had me recall exactly what happened… and I remembered even the angle of impact…which it turns out was mirrored in my body in the present issue. The question she in turn asked me to consider: Why is this coming up all these years later? We’re talking 40+ years after the fact, especially with such force, when there was no visible injury or emotional trauma at the time. An old pattern stepping forward perhaps?

Why am I telling you all this? Sometimes things hold on…or may have gone underground but affect us in ways we don’t discern…for years. Sometimes there’s a conflict, generating an attempt to go two ways at once. It stops us in our tracks. Sometimes these aspects look for an avenue of recognition, maybe through related issues or correct timing. They become exacerbated.

Any mind-body-spirit residue must be fully identified and released in order to move through the next threshold. When it’s something deep, we can’t address it fully ourselves—even if we have all the tools—and it takes guidance outside ourselves, someone who knows what they’re doing and can see the forest for the trees…and the way out.

With Maya spiritual leaders Don Xun Calixto (l) and Apab'yan Tew (r) in January 2015.

With Maya spiritual leaders Don Xun Calixto (l) and Apab’yan Tew (r) in January 2015.

I am so glad I did. The momentum through the threshold is palpable.

*********

*To read an article originally published in Anchor Point Journal on The Effect of NLP on Physical Pain and Trauma relating the case history in this post, go here.

Categories: Gratitude, Healing, Healthy Living, Spiritual Evolution | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

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