Caring for Precious Lands

I’ve been listening to the audio version of Fire Season: Field Notes from a Wilderness Lookout by Philip Connors. It’s been a good companion over these last couple of days’ flights home. Particularly in long delays or crammed up against fellow passengers, it serves as a reminder that I’d rather be anywhere than where I am at the moment. And it takes me there.

I’m envious. Notified by a friend of an opening for fire lookout, he quit his job in Manhattan where he was a journalist and during the fire season lives in the Gila Wilderness of New Mexico in a small box held up by stilts. He watches for fires and calls them in.

In some directions, the gaze settles on nothing but vast wilderness. It must have the same effect as gazing into a night sky unobstructed by human-made light. The more you gaze, the more the night sky invites, catapulting you into never-ending depth. There’s the sense of our small place in the universe and ancient knowledge we’ll never know. I imagine it could be a lonely job if you’re not cut out for this kind of solitude and little outside human contact. But for those who instead make friends with nature, find solace in silence and discover meaning in the wind, it must be pure heaven.

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Monsoon season. Photo: Carla Woody

Connors focuses on the 2009 fire season and walks us through his daily life, controversies through the years about the service natural fires perform, the cycle of nature, prescribed burns, what happens in drought years, and philosophical thought. I particularly found interesting his detailed description of sighting tendrils of smoke when he was out on the trail, knowing he was the first to see it, how he sent the alert and the actions taken from that point by wildfire fighters. Considerations if the fire got too close or overwhelming, what options he had to save himself.

I’d never heard of fire lookouts until I moved to the Southwest. Now the possibility of fire hovers in the back of my mind during the season. It’s come quite close to me a few times and otherwise engulfed local areas, leaving devastation and lost lives. And I always think of the animals.

One year — I think it was 2002 — I had a chance for a small taste of what it was like to be a lookout. An acquaintance had been one for years on Mount Union, the highest point at 8,000 feet in the Bradshaw Mountains of the Prescott National Forest.  He’d been inviting me out for some time. One weekend I decided to drive up there, quite the feat for the car I had at the time, especially as it had started to rain and fog was rolling in. Unbeknownst to me, it happened to be the weekend he was going down to Phoenix. I arrived just as he was leaving. He encouraged me to stay anyway.

The clouds had by now enfolded all. I could see only several feet beyond where I was standing in any direction. I was completely alone.

I went inside the cabin, having thoughts toward dinner. Choosing one from the many books Jon had, I carried my plate to the small table in front of the west window, which normally held a view level with, or above, far mountaintops. At the moment, I saw nothing but a solid white wall. And by now, the gentle rain had turned into a storm.

I glanced out the window and couldn’t believe what I saw. An immense fiery ball seemed to be hovering just beyond, in the ravine. I went out onto the porch to investigate. There it was—huge and blazing. How could the sun be coming to me in this way through the now torrential rains and impenetrable shrouding of clouds? I stood watching, awestruck, until the last remnants of this light finally disappeared.

Even though the storm was raging, I was compelled to sleep in the tower. I lugged my sleeping bag and a flashlight up the steep metal stairs, along with some water and Saint Thérèse’s book. After arranging my bed for the night, I stilled myself and just watched the scene before me. From an altitude of around 8000 feet and the further height of the fire tower, I had a sense of being on top of the world. The clouds had raised enough that I could see the panorama of lightning dancing across the land. I’d never seen such a demonstration of raw power. Some strikes seemed too close for comfort and the thunderclaps vibrated the tower’s cabin. But I just stood witness and found an uncanny metaphor in the stormy night to some of the inner turmoil that I’d brought with me to that place. Finding myself distracted and unable to read easily by flashlight, I lay listening to the sounds of thunder and raging wind for the longest time, feeling somehow perfectly safe. Peace was penetrating. I finally slept.

I opened my eyes very early the next morning. I heard no sounds of wind or rain. All was silent. I sat up. There were no clouds anywhere. Peace had come to the landscape. I could smell the fresh scent of washed pines coming to me through the small crack I’d left in one of the windows close by. My eyes came to rest on the mountain range toward the east. First light was appearing. I watched as the same fiery ball rose into view, smaller now, but its appearance just as profound to me. The cycle of renewal was complete.

— Excerpt from Standing Stark: The Willingness to Engage

 

That night was so precious to me. I’ve never forgotten it. In such environments, things are more real somehow than at any other time.

Connors’ recounting also made me recall the years I lived in Germany. Especially those couple of years in a village where the road by the house ended several feet away in pasture, then shortly in forest. Forests in Germany always seemed manicured to me. Beautiful, but pristine and tamed. Each village has a forstmeister, or forest master. I wonder how their role compares to the fire lookouts and forest rangers here in densely forested lands of the US. I appreciate the wildness.

Fire Season will be of special interest to those in the Southwest and other such forested lands. He wrote of places I know. And for those who live in places like Manhattan, it may ignite something similar like it did in Philip Connors.

Widely available in print, ebook and audio.

Categories: Book Review, Contemplative Life, Honoring the Earth, Solitude | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

Retrospective, Part II

Several months ago, I was listening to Elizabeth Gilbert’s 2016 interview of Neil Gaiman on her podcast Magic Lessons discussing the creative process and other people’s expectations. If you’ve done something they like, they want you to repeat it. They don’t want you to surprise them with something else. The gallerist who wants a body of work. The publisher who wants a genre. No matter the author has a history of bestsellers. Write outside the genre they’re known for…and the publisher isn’t interested. What they’re really saying they want is consistency without risk to the bottom line…marketability.

Gaiman told a story. There are two types of writers: dolphins or otters. Dolphins are very good at doing tricks a trainer wants them to do — in exchange for a fish. They’ll do it over and over again. There’s some banter about the dolphin living in captivity and being very good about training the trainer to get what the dolphin wants. It all sounds like manipulation to me.

Then there’s the otter. No one can train an otter. Why would you want to do the things you just did when there’s the next thing to be done? That’s why there aren’t any otter shows…

It’s plain to see Neil Gaiman is an otter, quite the successful one. He’s readily described as a prolific creator of works of prose, poetry, film, journalism, comics, song lyrics and drama.

Consistency — in the terms it’s meant by gallerists, publishing houses and art collectors — bores me to tears. That’s why I took a long break from oil painting. I’d done it off and on across nearly 40 years, with long pauses, until I just couldn’t stand it anymore. But the creative urges kept calling. So, I took up writing. Quite the divergence.

In hindsight, that was the point where I gave myself permission to be as diverse as I liked, and wish I’d done it much sooner. I’ve been so much happier ever since. It matches my nature, and I’ve never done well with attempts to box me in. I refuse to create in a formulaic manner. Fine for others. But for me, it would dull things down and dispel any feelings of awe the process can bring.

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Rolling Clouds. B/W photography, gelatin silver print. ©2004 Carla Woody.

My return to visual arts, finally, was black and white photography. It had always fascinated me. It was emotive. With tips from a photographer friend, I purchased a manual camera and began shooting black and white images. A few years later I discovered mixed media. By virtue of its very name it encourages exploring, combining things in ways to make it more than it would otherwise be using one lonely medium.

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Prophet Series: Warrior of the Spirit. Mixed media on gold leafed canvas. ©2013 Carla Woody.

Here at long last I’ve found a home. What it took was making the decision to create in the way that was most inspirational to me, not by the dictates of the outside world.

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Winter Solstice Mixed media on wood cradled panel. ©2015 Carla Woody.

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The Ancestors Speak to Me Mixed media on wood cradled panel. ©2018 Carla Woody.

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Of the Jungle Mixed media, 3D. ©2018 Carla Woody.

Second, after study about such things, I recognized how my mind works and why I rejected the formulaic method often preached. I accepted my difference instead for the formula my mind came up with that produces efficiently for me more often than not.

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I Hold the Keys Mixed media on canvas. ©2019 Carla Woody.

My personal strategy is in first creating the vision in my mind — the outcome — then gathering up piece parts, considering fit of different media, combining them in such a way most likely to induce the effect I envision. It’s a consistency I can abide by, and it’s rarely the same twice. The strategy isn’t step-by-step and usually not conscious, but a flow when functioning well.

But the most important thing I found? I said it earlier. Giving myself permission to hold the inspiration and strike out beyond any confine. Here is the same thing said in another form of mixed media.

***

Read Retrospective, Part I.

Categories: Creativity Strategies, Healthy Living, Personal Growth, Visual Arts | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

Spiritual Travel to Mexico and Guatemala

SPECIAL ANNOUNCEMENT

Spiritual Travel to Mexico and Guatemala: Entering the Maya Mysteries
January 11-26, 2020
Early registration discount ends August 21. 

Immersion Experience in Maya Cosmology, Medicine,
Art and Sacred Ways of the Living Maya.

A Spirit Keepers Journey co-sponsored by Kenosis and Kenosis Spirit Keepers.
A portion of tuition tax-deductible to support preservation of Indigenous traditions.

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You are invited to step through the threshold…into a true journey of the Spirit.

We are honored to offer a special program focusing on the sacred traditions of Maya peoples. Through the timing of our travels we are fortunate to immerse ourselves in Maya Mysteries showcasing the spiritual strength of the Living Maya connected with their ancient origins. We offer you an intimate opportunity, unlikely to be found on your own, engaging with spiritual leaders and healers who serve their people — with the intent that we are all transformed and carry the beauty home.

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We experience the beauty of the land and Maya traditions of the southern Guatemalan highlands plus the highlands and rainforest of Chiapas, Mexico. This is an opportunity for in-depth exposure to a number of Maya peoples and how they are linked through belief and practice.

Join us for ceremonies, curing rituals, ancestral sites and the inherent magic of Maya Land.

Here is just some of what you will enjoy in the southern highlands of Guatemala and Chiapas, Mexico…

– Lake Atitlán provides the magnificent backdrop for Tz’utujil Maya Wisdom Keeper Dolores Ratzan Pablo to guide our entry into the sites and ceremonies of spiritual significance to her people in Santiago Atitlán.

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– K’iche’ Maya Daykeeper Tat Apab’yan Tew accompanies us offering sacred ways from his native Guatemala and a fire ceremony connecting with the ancestors.

– In the isolated K’iche’ Maya village of Sij’ja’, where they receive few visitors, we take in the life stories and everyday sacred ways of Elders and local traditional women.

– Tzotzil Maya religious leader Don Xun Calixto holds an audience in his home where we learn of his curing methods and calling.

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– Don Antonio Martinez, the last Lacandón Maya elder faithfully practicing his traditions, holds the nearly extinct balché ceremony.

– Take part in the festival of San Sebastian in San Juan Chamula and Zinacantán, and spend time in a Maya church where curanderos conduct healing sessions — and many of our travelers have deeply spiritual experiences.

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– Encounter the mysteries of Iximche and Palenque.

– Experience the passion of Maya artists as they disclose what inspires them.

Throughout our time together, spiritual mentor Carla Woody shapes your journey for optimal transformation that continues to unfold long after you’ve returned home.

Early registration discount ends August 21.

Group size limited. Register today to hold your place!

Go here for complete registration information, itinerary, bios, past trip photos and travelers’ stories.

For more info call 928-778-1058 or email info@kenosis.net.

Registration deadline: December 10.

 

Categories: Global Consciousness, Honoring the Earth, Indigenous Wisdom, Maya | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Retrospective, Part I

I had an invitation from an art docent group to speak about my work a few weeks ago. Since I’m a narrative artist, the subject was art as a form of storytelling. Their preferred method was a PowerPoint presentation — a format I hadn’t used in decades — with real life examples displayed so they could encounter them up close and personal.

How to best represent my art? Going back 35 years, long before it became a conscious outcome, each of my pieces had a story behind them. They came from my experiences. Initially, they centered on villages I’d wandered through and trails I’d followed through forests, particularly in Europe.

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The Florist. Oil on canvas, 1988. ©Carla Woody.

Later, it was more about what came from sacred sites, ceremonies and people who populated Indigenous lands where I returned over and over, conveying in some way what had touched and changed me, deepened my understanding of what matters in this life.

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Maya Prayers Oil on canvas, 2011. ©Carla Woody.

I’m quite clear about my personal evolution over the years — changes I chose that placed me on another track entirely — but I hadn’t realized how it affected my artwork as well. How could I have missed that? I’m like anyone else. I’d gotten so immersed in the day-to-day I hadn’t realized what was evident. Creating that presentation became a gift. It caused me to stand back and pinpoint how I got from there to here. In that moment, I became the observer, not the artist. Each of those pieces were part of a history that generated a visual story. I used the same strategy on myself — in the context of art — that I facilitate with others who want to consciously create a transition in their life.

In being our own witness, rather than being in it, things become apparent. It helps us make decisions. It serves as momentum to veer off a beaten path, to move through a threshold with intent. It naturally gathers energy that provides courage and reinforcement.

So that was my first decision. If these folks really wanted me to relay how art could tell a story, they were going to get a retrospective peppered liberally with how I’d progressed as an artist, what influenced me, and finally what was behind each image in the PowerPoint.

That decision took me to another level. I became aware that, over the last decade, creating art had become integral to my spiritual practice. For me, that means there’s an excavation of sorts that occurs in the process of creation. My intent is to express something deeper than a surface level image and initiate an evocative response from the viewer. To do so, I require myself to go deeper.

During my talk prep, I came across a quote from the writer James Baldwin.

The purpose of art is to lay bare the question hidden by the answers.

 I’d written and taught of this before, although I hadn’t considered art when I did.

…Like an unconscious mantra held in the mind, we ask a question in any given moment. In asking the question, the answer naturally comes to us. Therefore, in holding the thought, we ask the answer. This is the paradox that guides our lives.

We cannot ask a question for which there is no answer. Our minds can’t conceive of such…Through some fluke of determination when our minds can conceive of a wider reality, or at least have some inkling of acceptance, that conception will generate answers beyond the questions. This opening will then move us into new experiences through the wider framework of the mind—and we wonder how we got there.

—Excerpted fromStanding Stark: The Willingness to Engage

I noticed there was increased depth in my art when I made a simple adjustment about five years ago. I sit in the same place every morning when I do my early morning meditation practice. I learned long ago that energy builds up in a physical space when I return to it over and over with such intent. It becomes a natural segue, an anchor or portal through which I easily enter a meditative state. Energy lingers there—like a booster rocket—the same as when I close my eyes in a certain way, signaling readiness for a shift from ordinary reality, a surrender to non-ordinary reality.

The simple adjustment I made was this. I began to bring whatever piece of art I had in process and placed it within direct viewing distance from my meditation spot. Then when I opened my eyes, still in a deeper state of being, a communication started to occur. A communion of sorts. No, I didn’t experience discourse with my ordinary ears or eyes. But something happened. I formed a much greater connection and knowing. The artwork came to life and had its own expression. The piece itself became my guide in how to express its deeper nature.

Of course, you can do the same for any context you wish to explore…whether you place a physical object as I did…or project some representation—via visual, auditory, kinesthetic, olfactory manner—of what you wish to consider.

***

Read Retrospective, Part II.

Categories: Creativity Strategies, Meditation, Visual Arts | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

The Fierce Devotion of Noor Inayat Khan

For nearly a decade I was involved in the local Sufi community. I studied the teachings of Hazrat Inayat Khan who first brought Sufism to the West in 1910 – directed to do so by his own Sufi teacher in India. I attended zikr, a devotional chanting practice, regularly and, in the late 1990s, went to India with a group led by Pir Shabda Kahn, now spiritual director of the the Sufi Ruhaniat International in San Francisco. In Delhi, we paid our respects at the dargah of Hazrat Inayat Khan and, encircling his grave, raised our voices in zikr. The vibrations of this dogma-free Path of the Heart remain with me.

Noor Inayat KhanYet never did I hear of his daughter Noor Inayat Khan in all that time I was so immersed in Sufi practice and study. Somehow, I came across a reference to her on the Internet. Curious because of her name, I did some research and was baffled by what I found.  The source said this first-born child of Hazrat Inayat Khan had been an agent for the Secret Operations Executive (SOE), an espionage agency known as “Churchill’s Secret Army.” I thought to myself, how could a young woman raised within that sacred lineage become a British spy? I delved more deeply and could clearly see what drove her.

Noor’s father — descendant of Indian nobility, Indian classical musician, Sufi mystic — met her mother Amina Begum né Ora Ray Baker — niece to a US Senator, cousin to Mary Baker Eddy who founded the Christian Science Church — at a public lecture he gave in San Francisco. Their love came quickly, but their courtship and prospective marriage were unacceptable to their families. They left the US and married in London. Four children quickly came along.

The family moved frequently and was largely dependent upon the generosity of followers. Her father traveled widely much of the time introducing Sufism to the West and forming centers. The family finally found a home in 1922 in Suresnes, close to Paris center, purchased for them by a wealthy Dutch devotee. Fazal Manzil, meaning House of Blessings, became their home and, for three months each summer, a Sufi school that overflowed with followers. There Noor grew up surrounded by family and community steeped in Sufi mysticism. She was a musician who played traditional Indian instruments and a singer of ragas, taught by her father. She was a poet and writer of children’s stories. Noor was consistently described as gentle, dreamy and shy even into adulthood. In some ways, it was an idyllic, if insular, upbringing. But her life changed dramatically when her father passed in 1927 while in India. Then in 1940 even more so when the family was forced to flee to London as the Germans advanced.

That was the significant point of departure from her former life. This introverted young woman, a practicing Sufi, was set on doing something to defend France. She volunteered for the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) and was randomly chosen to train as a wireless operator. Noor was noticed by the SOE and subsequently invited for an interview, then offered a position.

At times she gave her superiors fits for she refused to lie, that necessary tool of a secret agent. They had to reframe the requirements of the job and relanguage things she would need to say in order for it to be palatable for her sensibilities. However, she wasn’t tricked into what she was about to encounter.

Radio operators had about a six-week survival rate in German-occupied territory. Their job of tapping out coded messages back to England made them prime targets by the enemy. Noor was the first woman to be dropped into occupied France, making her way to Paris. She had to move frequently to avoid detection, and faced danger continually. The radio had to be carried in a clunky briefcase, readily noticeable and an instant giveaway if cracked open.

The SOE espionage networks fell apart. One agent after another was caught, interrogated, jailed, executed or, worse, shipped off to concentration camps. Finally, she was the only remaining radio operator. Noor was alone. She was told to evacuate by her superiors back in England. She refused and persisted radioing coded missals on her frequency, Poste Madeleine.

How she remained calm in the middle of terrible danger can only be due to the great spiritual strength she carried. She steadily gave the Gestapo the slip until she didn’t. Enduring lengthy interrogation and torture, she gave away nothing. Dachau was the final stop.

She called out one word in the split second before her execution. Liberté!

Noor is a sacred Sufi word meaning light.

***

There is much to this story not mentioned here. Although posthumously awarded the honors, the George Cross by Britain and the Croix de Guerre by France, Noor’s incredible bravery and all the lives she saved by such fierce devotion went otherwise unsung for years. She was in the company of many equally as courageous but outside mainstream. She wasn’t a white man.

But over the last 15 years she is being given her due. The Noor Inayat Khan Memorial Trust was founded in London to “promote the message of peace, non-violence and religious and racial harmony, the principles Noor Inayat Khan stood for.” And her memorial was unveiled in 2012 in Gordon Square by Princess Anne.

The 2013 film Enemy of the Reich gives a good overview of her war years. It’s streaming on Amazon Prime.

If you really want to understand how this unlikely young woman was so inspired, risked her life and maintained her unshakeable courage to the very end, read the 2006 book Spy Princess: The Life of Noor Inayat Khan by Shrabani Basu. Available in the public library and wherever books are sold.

Categories: Book Review, Film, Sacred Reciprocity, Sufism | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Your Personal Universe: Through the Maya Lens

The human condition is such that it’s not uncommon for people to wrestle with one or more aspects of their nature, those they strive to resolve but just can’t seem to get beyond. Something chronic that causes continual grief. Something so strong they feel hijacked from the life they were supposed to have. Or, everything is going well. But then that tendency, thought, behavior, internal voice, physical symptom…raises its unwelcome head. Intervenes. Again. Out of nowhere. Just when they were getting somewhere. Stopped short of the threshold to freedom.

I’ve long described this state as bumping up against a membrane. A diaphanous substance that gives to a point but springs back to regain its integrity, its strength reinstated, the barrier retained.

I ask if the aspect has been with them for some amount of time. It’s not unusual for me to hear: For as long as I can remember. Bringing the unconscious to consciousness, I take them through a process where they can identify to me its make-up: how it’s being held internally in the way of sensations, energy, internal dialogue or other auditory manifestations, visual input, even smells.

We use this data as a guide to go back to the first time such things manifested. That’s the pinpoint in time where we center the healing work. That’s where resolution is possible.

It’s not unusual for the person I’m working with to go back to the womb — or even before. And they’re able to identify a number of things. Physical sensations, sound, emotional impressions of their fetus self…and the state of their mother and father, who is there or absent, any number of things. If the person has been transported that far back, then the aspects of their life they’ve been grappling with…got a start in the womb. Or even as they’re hanging out in the ether…a potential awaiting conception…there’s awareness. I can say to them, This is not yours but something you ingested…that you’ve been carrying all these years. There we begin the healing process. Necessarily, we may even work back through the family line reframing, releasing limiting beliefs or traumas, trapped energy, whatever is necessary to bring them to a place of balance and wellbeing.

ApabBookSo, when I read Apab’yan Tew’s book The Birth of a Universe: The Maya Science of Pregnancy, I found myself saying, Yes, yes and yes. Some of the Maya science he documents is well familiar to me through my own work.

His occasional use of a K’iche’ Maya word at crucial points, and its translation, calls in the beauty of metaphor and poetic prose. Thus, it allows the quintessential meaning intended to sink in more deeply and take its rightful place.

Now begins the Maya perspective on the process and elements of pregnancy known by just a few remaining specialists within the ajq’ij — spiritual guide and Day Keeper — discipline. While there are a good number of ajq’ij and midwives still in existence, with this now rare, specialized knowledge the ajq’ij and midwife can work with precision for their client.

In K’iche’ the word uxlab’ means exhalation, steam or breath producing a vital force that becomes a separate entity from its source. Potential parents have their own state of being, and understanding or response to the nature of their relationship, which they carry into the act of procreation, intercourse. If conception occurs, the mother and father transfer their own unique make-up — lineage, underlying beliefs and developmental history, as well as the essence of their relationship in the moment — to the being they are creating. Their “exhalation” intertwines, conveying all the elements mentioned, into its own unique mixture, to the embryo. Now a separate entity, the uxlab’ ingested from the parents the decoction that forms its first tendencies. Creation of an individual universe is set in motion. The uxlab’ is also fully aware and conscious of what occurs outside its cocoon. The membrane being permeable in certain ways, much enters that fully matters.

Hence, the mother’s state of being during the entire pregnancy is paramount. The uxlab’ takes testimony directly from the mother, just as it takes sustenance, and absorbs the communications and resulting emotions, a completely invisible process that takes hold within the womb. Whether the act of conception was pleasant, indifferent or violent matters. Whether the mother is stressed or calm matters. Whether the father is emotionally and physically present or absent matters. Whether the baby is wanted or unwanted matters. It all gets through.

These truths are becoming accepted in some circles of Western healing methods. But Maya science deviates from Western understandings at this point and becomes quite remarkable, even a mystery.  When consulting an ajq’ij for any matter, they will ask for your birthdate according to the Western calendar in order to convert and compare against the Cholq’ij calendar, referring to the one containing 260 days having to do with human life. From a birthdate your nawal is shown. The nawals are divided into the masculine and the feminine, not according to attributes of biological reproduction, but to their substance. Your individual nawal documenting the path of your life can be seen clearly with great detail. If something is generating an issue, the ajq’ij will know exactly how to conduct a healing, through which prayers and ceremony.

But what of a fetus in the womb? The one not yet born? The ajq’ij or midwife with the specialized knowledge asks for the birthdate, which shows the nawals, of the parents so predicting the lifepath and tendencies of the baby. If the mother is stressed or the fetus is positioned in such a way to make a birth difficult, the spiritual guide enters into ceremonial singing using the vibrations of song to move the baby and calm the mother.

I’ve painted broad brushstrokes across a Maya science that is complex and yet straightforward to serve as a brief introduction, and how I could readily relate through particular similarities in my own work.

Apab’yan Tew is one of those few remaining as a Day Keeper, spiritual guide, male midwife, and bone healer who retains the depths and practices of this specialized knowledge, passed on to him by his own teachers, over years of apprenticeship and great hardship in his own life. When a calling comes, the road is rarely one of ease. It is a gift to the world that he has chosen to document a measure of this knowledge so that it doesn’t slip into time and lapses completely.

The Birth of a Universe: The Maya Science of Pregnancy contains wisdom anyone can use. It’s a book to delve into thoughtfully to glean how it relates to your own life.

Available in English, Spanish and K’iche’ Maya through Jade Publishing, Amazon, Barnes and Noble and elsewhere.

*****

Tat Apab’yan will be with us the entire time during our travels in Chiapas, Mexico and southern Guatemala for the Maya Mysteries program in January. Aside from the fire ceremony, he has gladly agreed to share more on Maya midwifery, the Maya Calendar and esoteric practices of the Living Maya.

You are invited to join us for this very precious time⎯a rare opportunity to experience Maya traditions so deeply. For more information and how to register, go here.

 

Categories: Book Review, Healing, Indigenous Wisdom, Maya | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

Terroir: Honoring What Is Precious of the Earth

We were on secondary roads headed down to Nice when I saw the sign…small and low to the ground, easily overlooked, as they sometimes are in France — as if they don’t want to be too open about their treasures. It said Châteauneuf-du-Pape with an arrow indicating left. A little burst of joy, a bubbling of excitement when I saw the name of my favorite wine. Back then I didn’t know much about wine, still not so much. I just knew what I liked, and also had no idea there was a village by the same name. We veered off immediately.

A few kilometers from our destination, we saw another unobtrusive sign. It merely said Vin. We slowed down. Peering down the long dirt driveway, we didn’t see anything that looked like an operation. We did see a house and what looked like a large barn with cultivated fields beyond that. Well, why not?

When we got close, an elderly man, unmistakably French, emerged from the house and walked over to the car. He invited us to the barn, full of his own brand. What I remember most was his offer to taste a 1969 Châteauneuf-du-Pape, what a good year it was. There was no doubt. It was something quite special. We treated ourselves to a couple of bottles of the 1969 and filled the rest of the box with those from 1976. From there, we continued on to the village and had a thoroughly pleasant 3-hour lunch.

Then there was the time driving in circles in the Rheinpfalz of Germany. We had directions written out by a friend that looked more like an indistinct treasure map, siting landmarks but no village or street names. We finally pulled up to a house, in a row with other houses and grape vines growing up the hill. There must have been some distinguishing mark about that one causing us to stop there, but no sign. My memory is foggy now. I just remember our determination to find this place since it was described so effusively by the friend who gave us the map, and our hesitation wondering if we were in the right place. But just as the friend said, a robust German woman opened the front door at our knock and heartily waved us in. She led us down to the basement, a relatively small room with large wine casks stacked two high. Elsewhere was a small table for tasting with chairs, a worktable with a labeling machine and bottles in various stages of readiness for filling and corking.  She explained their process for winemaking and turned on the spigot of those casks whose contents were ready for consuming, and filled our glasses. We spent a lovely hour or so with her. She was quite entertaining…and the wine sublime.

These remembrances are from the 1980s when already these small wineries — vignerons who not only grow their own grapes in the natural way, doing the vigorous work required by hand, with distinct knowledge of their land, and also practicing the alchemy to produce fine wines — were falling by the wayside.  Corporations were taking over, as with everything else, where no one is connected to the process all the way through and may not have such an investment.

There is a French term increasingly used with some food and especially in wine circles: terroir coming from terre, meaning earth or land. Terroir has to do with the microclimate of a specific region — potentially merely a parcel of land — along with the soil type — down to the microorganisms — interacting with the surrounding landscape, farming and processing methods that produce the final result…and character. An individual personality.

Such wineries do still exist, those with vignerons who embrace the philosophy and practices of terroir. But not all can claim to be natural wineries, the grapes grown organically, not even a spritz of pesticide defiling the plants, all done in the old way by hand.

During my 2018 program in Provence we were to experience a marked contrast. We first stopped by one of the large commercial wineries for a tasting. The wine was good, and most of us bought a bottle or so for later. But none of us made a connection to the place or the tasting room host who did little to engage us. The performance was perfunctory. We were in and out. I have little memory of it except what I’ve relayed. Our next visit was another matter.

We followed a road just outside the tiny village of Sannes in the Luberon to find Les Tuiles Bleues. There is quite the romantic story attached to the name, The Blue Tiles, that I promise to tell you a little later. Les Tuiles Bleues is a natural winery sharing the 30 acres with the house, barn, other buildings and large wooded area. There are 6 acres where table grapes are grown and another 6 for the wine grapes. It’s important to note the woods were left as is, not just to look nice, but to provide oxygenation to the area.

Céline Laforest greeted us in a friendly manner and invited us on a tour. This is a family business. But right away there’s a strong sense that it’s always been a labor of love about preserving a way of life. First, we noticed the house, so typically Provençal and the unusual name. And now the story where the romance comes in…

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Photo: CarlaWoody.

In the 1970s, Raymond Laforest, Céline’s father, decided he’d had it with the corporate life. His dream was to have a place where he could grow grapes organically, make wine and leave a legacy for his offspring.  Raymond  and his wife Chantal made the leap, and Les Tuiles Bleues was founded in 1979. As is often the case, things were tough getting it all off the ground.  It can be hard in those circumstances to keep your spirits up. But when things were the most challenging Raymond would break into an upbeat, happy song, Tu Verras by Claude Nougaro, reassuring Chantal…

Ah, you’ll see, you’ll see,

Everything will start again, you’ll see, you’ll see,

Love, that’s what it’s made for…

You’ll have her, your house with blue tiles…

And I will fall asleep…

The task done, laying against you…

Complete lyrics in English here.

The tricky times didn’t end back then. From year to year, there’s the risk of too much rain, not enough…all the considerations of farming, especially for those who do so naturally. But in very good years all aligns to produce stellar wines. Céline suggested we take a look at the vines. The dogs, Grenache and Lune, led the way. She lamented that they had a bad year for the vines but still managed to produce some good wine.

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Photo: Carla Woody.

We continued our tour of the winemaking areas and then on to taste the results from the grapes: Grenache, Syrah, Sauvignon and Ugni Blanc. I loved having the resident cats —Banane, Bambou and Rouflette — adding to the ambience of the rustic tasting room. Of course, Grenache and Lune followed us in as well, everyone harmonious.

Well, the wine! How do I describe it? Delectable. I experienced something quite unusual. At least, I’ve never had wine generate this effect before. I took a sip of the Syrah and my palate came alive. In the next moment…my Third Eye popped open. It was truly a visceral response, and I pronounced it aloud.

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Photo: Jo Elliott.

I asked some of the travelers for their input, and comparison between the two wineries if they wished.

Patricia Potts: Les Tuiles Bleues felt more natural and intimate. I loved the way the animals lived in harmony. It was a reflection of the real world. Not perfectly groomed like the other winery but perfectly imperfect. I felt the indwelling spirit there. 

Share Gilbert: The winery belonged to her father… to pass his love of the earth and passion of making wine to his daughter…[It] was reflected in the wine. The flavors were pure, unadulterated and delicious.  The farm felt comfortable and welcoming. 

Jo Elliott: Les Tuiles Bleues had a feeling of family, animals and easiness, as opposed to the far more structured and orderly feeling of the other vineyard with its formal medieval gardens. It was this feeling of being a family business and the fact that the wines were totally natural and organic that I liked.

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Photo: Patricia Potts.

Our final delight was the detour we took on our way to the van. Over in the barnyard we met the geese and watched Céline feed grapes to Sidonie, Adélaïde and Amélie. They talked a lot.

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Photo: Patricia Potts.

We all bought wine but none of it made its way into our suitcases home.  For my part, I wish they were right around the corner. But it gives me a good excuse to return…as I will in May 2020 sponsoring another spiritual travel journey in Southern France.

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Photo: Jo Elliott.

Les Tuiles Bleues is a treasure. Such vignerons magnifiques are increasingly harder to find. It’s all the sweat and love that only those living within the spirit of the land, giving great care and attention, who can produce the kind of alchemy responsible for popping open my Third Eye. I’m convinced of that and its personality.

Categories: Honoring the Earth, Sacred Reciprocity, What Warms the Heart | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

When Magic Comes Unbidden

We were at the end of the March spiritual travel program on Hopi — always entrancing. On another level, I’d been handling some complex situations over the last couple of months and, in the background, was running on empty. My program partner Charlene Joseph was in the same state. Living as a traditional Hopi lends incredible meaning to a life, but it’s not a breeze. The Hopi Way contains many ongoing responsibilities, especially for women. Char abides by all of them. I’ve frequently told her I don’t know how she does it. But she’s dedicated, working always for family, community and the greater good.

The ability to detach from some things, or at least push them into the background, in favor of fully engaging in the present moment is a human attribute…and a skill. This strategy will be particularly familiar to women. The problem is…we can’t do it ongoing without paying a price.

Char and I left the group for an hour in Harold Joseph’s capable hands where he would share further storytelling before our closing circle. I needed to go talk with a Hopi candidate about sponsorship on the October Peru journey and drove to his studio. While engaged with him, there was a knock on the door. I was surprised to see a slightly built Japanese man. Earlier in the day, we’d been with Hopi artisans listening to them present their work when the same thing had occurred. The same Japanese man had knocked, zipped in, said a few words to one of the artisans and disappeared.

This time as the door opened, he greeted our host, saw us and apologized for interrupting our discussion. We were basically finished. Char and I said so and made to get up from our chairs. It appeared as though there was business to be transacted. But he looked at us and said in heavily accented English, “Can you wait? Just a few minutes?” There seemed to be some urgency in the way he asked.

Char and I looked at each other, having no idea what he intended, and agreed. A nod of the head and he zipped out the door. Glancing out the window we could see him rummaging around in his car.

Soon he reappeared holding a shoebox. Char and I exchanged glances. He went over to a counter and began carefully unpacking what turned out to be the implements of a traveling tea ceremony. Now we had two hosts — one Hopi and the other Japanese. Our Hopi host pulled over a small table and went to heat water. Our Japanese host carried over the most delicate small cups, a bamboo whisk and finely powdered green tea then waited, never raising his eyes. He said, “I only have two cups. I am sorry.” When Char and I started to say, it’s okay indicating they should serve themselves, he said, “This is for you.”

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Our Japanese host proceeded to pour heated water into the cups and whisked the tea with concentration until foam formed in each cup. The exquisite attention he gave to this process and the fine way he lifted the cups, gently setting them down in front of us, touched me at a level where I have no words. Having completed his task, he sat back, still never raising his eyes to ours.

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Tentatively, we took a sip of tea. Char and I paused. I think we were both surprised. I’d only ever had green tea that was too earthy and bitter for my taste. Clearly, I’d never had fine ceremonial Matcha before. We sipped and ate the tiny chewy cookies offered as accompaniment. Both of us remarked how delicious it was and thanked him immensely. All too soon we’d consumed the treat. Throughout, our Japanese host said almost nothing but had an unspoken fashion — offered with great humility — of honoring us and this precious moment in time. I felt completely renewed like I’d consumed some ethereal elixir.

There’s a word the English use that’s uncommon in the US. Gobsmacked…meaning overcome with wonder, utterly astounded. This was the only word I could think of later that precisely described my state.

While our Hopi host plainly knew this Japanese man. Char and I had never laid eyes on him save the fleeting moment earlier in the day. But he could not have distinguished us then, his eyes never even scanned the group.

It seemed like one of those mysteries of the Universe…how he dropped in at precisely the time he did…when it was just us…having finished our discussion. Why he spontaneously decided to surprise us — perfect strangers — with such an enduring ceremony in an unlikely setting is another.

I do know the effect it had on me though. So do others. Char and I returned to the group where I told the story. I’m quite sure I was still in that state of “gobsmacked-ness.” I continued to tell the story…to family…friends…and now to you. Maybe at least a little of what I felt has been passed on.

We all could use that kind of pure wonder where we’re touched to the core…shaken awake in a sense…that we’re being acknowledged in a deeply respectful, unassuming manner for no apparent reason…not because we’ve done something that deserved reward necessarily. But because Magic has come unbidden. A gift from the Universe delivered in an unconventional, unforeseen method when we most need it.

When I returned home, I did my research and guessed at which ceremonial Matcha would best duplicate what I’d tasted. I ordered it along with the appropriate implements. After the package arrived, I remembered that many years ago someone had given me a Japanese tea service. I found where I’d squirreled it away, never used, and washed one cup.

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Now when I perform my own private ceremony and sit…pausing in my day…savoring the taste, not just of the tea but the sense of wonder that returns, I remember that most unanticipated time on Hopi when my good friend Char and I were acknowledged with beautiful intent. I’m so glad we said yes.

Masayoshi Watanabe, ありがとうございま. Thank you. You honored us with your gift.

Categories: Gratitude, What Warms the Heart | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

About the Marys

I’ve had an unflagging interest in Mary Magdalene for decades. Not only relating to the truth of her life, but also the potential of this historical, spiritual figure as a role model, what she means for humanity today. Lately, I’ve been delving deeply into research as my next spiritual travel program in southern France, with a particular focus on the Magdalene, is on the horizon. As I’ve been holding her in my consciousness, it suddenly occurred to me that little to nothing has been written about Mary the mother of Jesus after the crucifixion. What happened to her?

First understand, I keep my distance from organized religion. I’m certainly not a Bible scholar and only find that tome interesting as a metaphor, not to be literally interpreted. It’s clear that both Marys have suffered a long line of injustices dealt by the Catholic Church and institutions that came afterward.

Aside from the virgin birth, Mary the mother of Jesus has been perched on such heights of virtue that it’s infinitely unattainable for us mere mortals, and who would want to be that good or long-suffering. The opposite was levied upon Mary M given that dualism prevails in this line of thinking and control — and blasphemy there would be a female teacher or prophet powerful in her own right. No need to go into the details here which are well known. Even though in 1969 the Catholic Church admitted to making a ‘mistake,’ they declined to recognize her true standing alongside Jesus. I think it’s a particular statement that the tiny monastery perched on the side of the mountain abutting Mary’s Grotto, where she lived and taught the last years of her life, is guarded by Dominicans, original instigators and perpetrators of the Inquisition.

Rex DeusI came across a well-researched, readable book called Rex Deus that sets aside what is questionable or incorrect in Holy Blood, Holy Grail and painstakingly pieces together history, practices of the times and logic relating to the bloodline of Mary M and Jesus, and connections to the Knights Templar and Cathars. I find it fascinating. But more so, what it relates rings true.

One area seems singularly plausible and previously unknown to me. The following history was told to Tim Wallace-Murphy, one of the book’s authors, by a man who claimed the Rex Deus bloodline that holds the descendants of Mary M and Jesus.

The Temple in Jerusalem had two boarding schools, one for each gender. Students were drawn from important families, the highborn, those of rabbis. A girl name Anne attended there, as did her daughter Mary—later to be renamed the Virgin Mary. The High Priests of the Temple were the instructors…but also held another responsibility. After young girls began their menses, these same High Priests impregnated them.

If you’re like me, my mouth dropped open at reading this, and I recoiled in horror. How can that be true? But it just might be true, an early strategy for ensuring an Aryan line, telling of Jesus’ origins. Things have been done in the name of religion that are equally horrendous.

Apparently, the pregnant girls were matched with a suitable husband of equal status to the girl’s…with one condition. The High Priests laid claim to the child at the age of seven when they were remanded to the Temple school for education. In this manner, the bloodlines were guaranteed pure and the child’s education controlled. Mary was said to have been impregnated by a High Priest called Gabriel and married off to Joseph of Tyre of Davidic descent, now known as St. Joseph. By this story, Jesus attended the same school his grandmother and mother did, the family returning to Jerusalem when he was age appropriate after some years in Egypt.

You may be wondering where I’m going with this. As things will at the appropriate time, The Testament of Mary, a novel by Colm Tóibin, an incredible Irish writer, fell in my lap. It tells of the years of Mary’s life preceding and after her son’s crucifixion. Before I synopsize the book, let me offer you this.

I did a search on Mary after the crucifixion. I turned up an entry that said the circumstances or place of Mary’s death were unknown. Perhaps it was Jerusalem or Ephesus, where legend says she lived. Then it went on to give great detail on the location of her house outside Ephesus, its exact orientation, how it was made, what surrounded it, who attended her, the lonely nature of her life, and the method of her anointing after death.

Testament of MaryThe Testament of Mary is written in first person. This novella could be volumes in length for the message it bears and, again, so much more plausible than the long-standing tale of the Church. This is the poignant accounting of a mother trying to come to grips with an ultimate tragedy no mother should undergo. Trying to make sense of her son who’d surrounded himself by half-crazed crowds who venerated him, saying he was not mortal when she knew he was. A son who forgot his mother — so taken he was in the growing attention — and impatient with her when she questioned his safety and wisdom of his actions. How he had become strange to her. The anguish of the crucifixion and a guilt she lived with. Finding herself in imminent danger and fleeing in the face of it. Later, a lonely life outside Ephesus, ostracized by neighbors. Her present guardians were more like guards. They showed up periodically wearing a zealous glow on their faces, taking down a story that put words in her mouth — what did not happen, could not have happened — as she kept her distance and politeness.

All here are so much more when taken as historical figures — real humans — not icons of the Church. In this way, false barriers are permeated. In this way, we can open to teachings in a whole different manner, acknowledge the elements of being human, and embody those we choose.


Rex Deus is out of print but may be accessed through used books on Amazon or elsewhere. The Testament of Mary is available on Amazon and elsewhere.

Categories: Book Review, Global Consciousness, Spiritual Evolution | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

The Insidious Expectation of Privilege: Taking Things for Granted

By chance, I flew out just hours ahead of the predicted snow, hoping to meet better weather in Ohio where I was visiting my folks for a week. I live in a rural, wilderness-like setting on a hill abutting state trust land below, and love it there. Just yesterday morning a bobcat sat on my deck giving herself a bath then wandered on her way. Such things are a blessing to me. Nature—miles of it—is right outside my door. The fact that I must drive unmaintained dirt roads to my place, and absence of services like mail delivery and trash pick-up, have been of little consequence to me. I figure these factors will keep most people from inhabiting this area, and I can maintain my solitude. My neighbor Barry, who lives about a mile away, would stop in to feed my cat while I was gone. He was dependable and I wasn’t worried. That was Monday.

By Wednesday, there were news updates that a colossal snowstorm was imminent back in northern Arizona. I texted Barry and asked him to leave a full bowl of dry food that day for my cat in case he couldn’t make it over the next day. Over the ensuing days, he sent texts with updates as to the situation at home. We had a few feet of snow with drifts up to a foot higher and periodic white-outs. He couldn’t locate my driveway due to the depth of snow and was trekking in from the old ranch road that ran through the state trust land. I later learned that for a day or two the road from his place was also unpassable and—bless his heart—he slogged through snow up to his knees to feed my ungrateful cat who never shows her face to him.

Now, if you live in places like Wisconsin, New York or Canada, this is probably nothing. But we don’t get this kind of weather here and aren’t prepared for it. I didn’t even own a snow shovel. Normally, if there is snowfall at my home, it melts in a couple of hours and the sun is out again. Not so this time. Then came the text from Barry that I had no water. Now I was worried.

Nothing changed over the days until I headed home except Barry said he’d made a trail from his repeated footsteps up the hill so I’d be able to walk in more easily, about a quarter mile. Again, that doesn’t sound like much, and minus the snow wouldn’t have exhausted me ferrying necessities up the slippery slope from where I’d had to leave my vehicle.

The storm was moving eastward across the US. Again luckily, I got out of Ohio early morning before high winds hit but was rerouted because of the storm elsewhere. Before I ventured homeward in the car the next morning, I remembered to buy gallons of drinking water.  Over the next several days, I learned just how much snow it took to make a minimal amount of melted water for domestic use and how much of my time had to be devoted to basic living needs. At least I still had heat. I still could not drive my 4WD vehicle up my driveway.

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Q’eros. Photo: Santos Machacca.

In the midst of scooping snow into containers, I began to think of my Q’ero friends living in their high-altitude villages in the Peruvian Andes in stone huts with dirt floors. No electricity or running water and minimal heat. What was a temporary, minor inconvenience for me is a way of life for them, a hard one.

Just a few days prior to my trip to Ohio, I received a message from Santos Machacca, my Q’ero friend and liaison for the work I do there. He was up in the village of Ccochamocco and told me of the cold torrential rains they were having. At 14,500’ altitude the nights get quite cold even in their springtime. Santos said a lot of baby alpaca were dying. This news reinforced to me the importance of our project providing shelters for alpaca and sheep, not something the norm for them. The Q’ero people are subsistence farmers living on inhospitable land and climate. Loss of any livestock threatens their wellbeing and traditions.

 

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Newborn lambs. Photo: Gi Thomas.

Just as my snow days were starting to draw to an end, I heard from Gi Thomas, one of the board members for Kenosis Spirit Keepers. They were being hit with the monster snowstorm moving across the country. Gi and her partner Katrina Marshall live on a farm in Oregon and had newborn lambs. She wrote, “I’m working hard at just keeping the sheep warm, fed, snow shoveled, water tubs full, etc. All this snow reminds me of what Q’eros must be like during those big snow storms of late. Helps me keep things in perspective.”

 

 

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Katrina Marshall in Oregon. Photo: Gi Thomas.

But lack of snow can bring about hardship, too. I’ve just returned from my program on Hopi. This year they’ve had the same plentiful moisture we have so far. It wasn’t so last winter.  We’d received almost no snowfall and very light monsoon in 2017. I saw the effect because the free-range cattle that sometimes come around my place had eaten a four-foot spread of prickly pear cactus down to nothing. They must have insides of iron. Prickly pear have long, menacing thorns.

During the several days we were on Hopi, comments came from different directions lamenting the drought conditions of the previous year. Traditional Hopis use dry farming, depending on moisture from the sky—not irrigation—to grow their corn, beans, melon and squash. Last year they were not able to produce the needed corn for their ceremonies, or food from their fields.

These days they have access to grocery stores, so are not solely dependent on what they can grow. But it caused me to ask the question, “What did your ancestors do?” The answer came, “They stored food from year to year.” But what if there are years of drought?

The snow finally cleared to the point a plumber could make it up my driveway a week after I returned home. He checked the usual (scary, expensive) suspects causing lack of water, and they didn’t apply. Thankfully. He finally tracked down the issue, an outside electrical outlet that needed to be reset—strangely connected to my well. A push of the button and water began to flow again. He was there about fifteen minutes minus the friendly conversation. I was glad to pay the rather large bill for my needs to be taken care of so easily.

I’m a privileged Westerner living in the area I do by choice, in a home built to my specifications with modern conveniences. Any inconveniences are ones I choose or merely temporary. Most of us—those likely reading this article—are given to taking precious things for granted. Running water, electricity, access to food, readily available transportation, wellbeing. Freedom to live where we choose. These are some of the insidious underpinnings of privilege. There are plenty more. We expect to have them even as others do not. By an accident of birth, we are not where they are.

I cannot brush that recognition away. I cannot turn a blind eye. I cannot do nothing. I bless that storm for reminding me.

Categories: Global Consciousness, Gratitude, Spiritual Evolution | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

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