Clear Quartz Initiation

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True medicine is wild, abundant and free.

This truth, plucked from the stone medicine soliloquy I released several weeks ago, pretty much sums up the bedrock of everything I believe. It explains why I make medicine, why I write, why I teach. Because I’m passionate about helping people to remember that medicine isn’t something we need to earn. It isn’t something that is given to us by any guru, or something only understood by the elite. Medicine, true medicine, is wild abundant and free.

If you asked indigenous people around the world what they considered to be medicine, you would get many different answers. Plants, stones, stars, words, chants, water. But you would see one commonality – many things are medicine, and everything is medicine. Medicine, by definition, is something that helps us heal. Fresh picked strawberries, first kisses, kitten purrs and a thick night of stars. All of this affects us deeply, our inner hearts, our sense of well-being. Opening new layers of meaning, comfort, security, belonging, profundity, inspiration and expression. All of this is medicine.

Since I posted to my video, Stone Medicine Grounded, to Facebook a few weeks ago it has gotten more views than anything I’ve ever released. Over six thousand, to be exact. Since that time I’ve had a serious outpouring of support, camaraderie and questions.

And of all the good questions I get asked, the most prevalent is: Where do I start? This is one reason why I created my new online course How Stones Communicate, because the best way to begin is to learn how to listen. But we all need initiations in our life. Bright moments of new openings that are supported by the very teachers we are eager to learn from.

Quartz crystals

So if you are looking to begin your journey into the stone realm, then look no further than Clear Quartz. Clear Quartz is a master initiator. It is often the first stone people are drawn to, and for good reason. This clearing stone is a vast vault of energy, and can direct Qi (or Chi) accordingly. Known to “take on” the energy of your emotions and intentions, Quartz helps to increase the power and clarity of any given affirmation or thought. It amplifies and opens our intuitive understanding, and holds space for our prayers. Quartz is what lies at the center of all our technology, including this computer upon which I type (and you read).

Clear Quartz is also one of the most prevalent minerals on earth.

Talk about wild, abundant and free.

If you’ve been looking to open a new era in your medicine practice and journey of personal healing, let Clear Quartz open the gates. Read on to learn more about the medicine of this bright stone and how to undertake a self-designed Clear Quartz Initiation.

{Photo by Luminosity Crystals}

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C L E A R    Q U A R T Z

I N I T I A T I O N

 

Are you ready to cross the threshold and begin working with stones?
Let clear Quartz initiate you into the realm of mineral medicine + magic.

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Known as the “master harmonizer” in Chinese medicine, Clear Quartz is a powerful cleanser and amplifier. On the physical level Clear Quartz (Ying Shi, The Brilliant Stone) is thought to increase and regulate the Qi (our life force), bringing vitality to all areas of the body. It can help tame rebellious Qi, which includes nausea, vomiting and coughing, and was traditionally used to clear heat in the blood.

Clear Quartz is highly “programmable,” it can carry and amplify the energy of our intentions. The highly structured composition of this powerful stone enables it to store and record vast amounts of information— it is no coincidence that quartz technology is what enabled the creation of all our computers and cell phones!

In traditional Daoist medicine, Clear Quartz was often used to draw and store energy from other stones, animals, elements or lands. By pointing quartz at a certain celestial body, for example, the stone inherently absorbs some of the energy of that entity and can become an emissary of that medicine wherever it goes.

Clear Quartz brings invigoration and clarity. Quartz can help us to become aware of the thoughts that create “stuckness” and help us recognize the seed of truth in any situation.  Clear quartz can also help enhance psychic communication, meditation and visioning. It aids us in establishing a clear connection to our higher guidance.

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How to begin?

  A Self-Designed Clear Quartz Initiation

Start your journey into the stone realm by finding a piece of Quartz you resonate with. As one of the most abundant minerals on earth, you can find Quartz in any stone store. There are also ample deposits of many different kinds of Quartz around the world! Check out your backyard and you might be surprised to find some some Quartz varieties right outside your door.

 

In cultural anthology and religious studies all initiations are seen as rites of passages with three distinct stages: Separation – a marked moment of leaving the world or experience of reality you previously knew. Liminality – an inbetween state or threshold where you have left behind the old but haven’t yet stepped into the new. And Incorporation – where you return from the journey, integrating what you’ve learned about the world and your deeper self, entering in a new reality or worldview.

The following are three stages of a self-designed initiation rite to help open you up to the incredible magic of the stone world.

1. Meditation + Intention

You will begin to “separate” yourself from the world you previously knew (with its more rigid definitions of medicine) using an age old technique of shifting consciousness: meditation. Choose a day to begin this self-designed initiation and setting aside 30 minutes to sit in meditation with your stone. If you’d like to cleanse your Quartz beforehand simply place it in running water for half an hour. When you are ready to begin, put on soothing music, relax with the stone in your palm and notice any sensation, images or memories that arise. Clear Quartz is a record keeper, so you might pick up on impressions or information that is already stored in the stone. When you feel you have made a connection with your Quartz, ask it to become an initiator for you, a gatekeeper for the opening of this new world of seeing and experiencing a diversity of medicine. Program the Quartz with your intention, whether that be a desire to widen your consciousness or simply to receive deeper healing from the stone realm. The Quartz will hold and amplify this intention for you and open the doors to begin down this new path.

2. One Week Quartz Elixir

Venture into the liminal zone, this transitional state of awakening to the mineral realm, with seven days of Quartz elixir. Begin the night before you wish to start by placing your programmed Quartz in a glass or cup. Any size will do but I tend to select smaller glasses or teacups as I’ll be drinking all of the elixir water at once. Cover the stone with water and fill within a ½ in of the top of your glass or jar. Cover the mouth of your jar with a paper towel or lid and let sit overnight. Drink your elixir first thing in the morning, before breakfast or coffee. Imbibing your elixir on an empty stomach will help you to notice and feel the effects more potently. Remove the stone from the cup if you are worried about swallowing. Otherwise you can just drain the elixir from the cup and then put your stone aside on a cloth to dry. Repeat for seven days.

 

Keep a journal to notice any shifts during this “in-between time.” As we self-initiate into new levels of awareness stuff will come up to be released. Outdated ways of thinking, old patterns of interacting or limiting thoughts. If you re-experience any old fears or worn out doubts, just know that they are coming up because they are moving through your consciousness and asking to be released. You didn’t want to take that self doubt with you into this new era, did you? This can be a challenging, yet wonderous, time. Stay with it and give gratitude for the entire experience. You are moving into a new era of seeing.

 

Note: Clear quartz is one of the safest stones to drink in water, but some stones should not be used in elixirs at all. Please do your research if you decide to try this with any other stone.


3. Dream with your Quartz

Close this week of initiation by spending the night in the dreamtime with your Quartz. Place your Clear Quartz under your pillow before you sleep; this will be your ceremony of incorporation.  When we go to sleep we tap back into the vast reservoir of our deeper consciousness; we rejoin our wider selves.  Every morning we wake up with a more complete memory of who we truly are. And every morning is an opportunity to enter a brand new era. So allow this last sleep to be a ritual of integrating all you’ve learned, on the deepest levels. Before you put the stone under your pillow thank it for all the beautiful work you’ve done together, and feel free to ask the stone to show you what comes next. Put a pad of paper beside your bed and take note of any dreams, feelings or sensations upon awakening. Initiations can be subtle, but they are always profound. Give yourself time to reintegrate and notice this new world.

Honor the stone you worked with by burying it in the ground for an evening to rest. And know that, on the deepest level of your being, everything is crystallizing exactly as it should.

Stone Medicine, Grounded

Processed with VSCOcam with c1 presetFor me, it began with the plants. By which I mean that it was the plants who first helped me to see that the world is alive with medicine. It started slowly, with noticing how blackberry blossoms can dust a hillside like snow. With seeing the dandelions sprout between the pavement, the plantain flourish in the driveway. With hearing the way two maples will rustle together in full leaf, like grandmothers in conversation. A sound that wasn’t just a sound, but a whispered realization of the aliveness happening all around me. The Anishinaabe people have a whole word, just for this kind of conversation. “Si-si-gaw-d,” the sound trees make when they talk amongst one another.*

It began with the plants. They were the ones that first taught me to recognize this world for what it is— a living tapestry of consciousness and connection. But once I opened to this reality I was able to remember what all our ancestors knew intimately. That this entire world is animated by energy. That there is no “it,” no “things”— only beings. And that every being has its own medicine.

And so it was that I opened to our earth’s most ancient medicine— The Stones.

* For a beautiful and storied reflection on si-si-gaw-d and the richly languaged world of the Anishinaabe (Objibwe) people check out Ignatia Broker’s book Night Flying Woman

Stones have been considered emissaries of healing, power, and creativity for millennia. From the Egyptians to the Celts, the Central American empires to indigenous societies throughout Australia and North America — stones are foundational to a diversity of medicinal practices and spiritual beliefs. Stones and crystals are mentioned in many ancient religious texts, including the Bible, the Hindu Vedas and the Koran. The oldest written reference to stone medicine comes from a hieroglyphic papyrus dated in 2000 B.C — but the recognition of stones as medicine can be traced much farther back in human imagination. Stones are an intimate part of humanity’s relationship with the more-than-human world. They are gatekeepers for our interaction with divinity, and with mystery. Stones are part of the fabric of human history. Like the blue stones of England’s Stonehenge, transported over 150 miles to their final resting place, or the quartz crystals found in burials throughout the world, including a California grave dating from as far back as 6,000 BC.

In Chinese medicine, stones have been a part of medicinal prescriptions for thousands of years. In fact, they were used as the original acupuncture needles and are still an integral part of Chinese materia medica today. We hear the term “crystal healing” and we have a tendency to write it off as new age. But stone healing isn’t new at all (unless you count the crystal technology that fuels all our cell phones and computers). Calling upon stones for healing is as ancient as humanity itself. Whether we were marking our handprints with ocher on cave walls, or burying our dead with serpentine. For millennia human beings have recognized stones as medicine

It isn’t that stone healing is new. It’s just that we’ve forgotten.

 

Cueva de las Manos (The Cave of Hands) in Argentina, 13,000 to 9,000 years old

 

Learning to engage with stones as medicine is a way of expanding our consciousness beyond the bounds of what we’ve been handed, opening our hearts to perceive a deeper, more complex reality.

How many of us grew up thinking of rocks as the very definition of an inanimate object? When we can see stones as alive — elements of our world that have been most rigorously denied their behinghood — we can truly transform our perspective of life. We can begin to engage with a reality of the world that is much more life giving, life recognizing. If stones are alive, then absolutely everything on earth is venerable, powerful, and worth honoring.

If stones are alive, how could we deny beinghood to any other life form? If stones are alive, how could we condone strip mining a mountain or building a wall between us and our neighbors? When stones come alive, all the divisions that have created so much strife in our world begin to dissolve. When stones come alive, a true revolution in thinking can take place.

 

Over the past several months I’ve developed a class to help open the gateway to this kind of transformational thinking and medicine making.

How Stones Communicate is a course about beginning to work with stones, and opening up to a more luminious world. Grounded, de-mystified, practical, and story-rich, this class will help you open a dialogue with the stones. To hear the si-si-gwa-d of the stone realm, and find a new language for understanding the medicine inherent to this world.

The class is yours to keep forever and is available to you whenever you are ready. In the meantime, check out my impassioned video about this stone medicine revolution below. Hear about the history of “Woo” and why embracing stone medicine is an integral part of the healing on this earth.

Three Creative Spring Cleanses

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It’s spring and the whole world is cleansing. Tender greens are rising like a blush in the woods. The song birds have returned to flit their wings on the surface of cold ponds. And the forest bathes itself in blooms.

Every spring there is a feeling in the air as if everything can be made new again. That reinvention is a birthright. That we too can slough off what has felt winter-heavy within our bones and burst like a dogwood into full bloom.

Fresh winds, cold springs, and translucent forests of green. In spring we are invited to join the world in a deep and soul-full cleansing.

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Our bodies are like tuning forks. They are as sensitive as a willow switch divining for springs. As human beings we are in constant motion of picking up moods, sensations, chemical compounds, and feelings. But sometimes we accumulate experiences that feel like toxins to our systems…

Inner smog. Overwhelm. Words that stung when they were said, and hung in the air like smoke. Overly processed foods, chronic stress, too little time spent dreaming. All the tiny accumulations of stagnation, moments spent sitting when you needed to move. The seemingly inconsequential self-judgements that build up like wrappers left out in the street. Every time you drank or smoked or snacked or sucked it up when what you really needed to do was soften and cry, receive nurture or be acknowledged.

 

In Ayurvedic medicine there is a term for such accumulated toxins— Ama. When we experience ama we are not just encountering the physical impediments of sluggish organs or overworked lymph, but the stagnation of negative thoughts, stressful environments, and limiting beliefs as well. In Sanskrit the word ama literally translates as “undigested.”  In truth, ama helps us to understand that toxicity is more than just a build up of metabolic residue, it is everything that comes into our system and doesn’t move.

And so the fresh winds of spring bring an opportunity. To clear house. To tend the inner wells and make them bright again. To compost anything that doesn’t serve you and replant the garden of your innermost self with something more life-giving, more authentically you.


We hear the word “cleanse” and we feel that it’s a dictate to scrub away some aspect of ourselves that is unclean. But I think this way of thinking causes more toxicity in our culture than anything else.

True cleansing, real cleansing, is about creating new space inside of ourselves so we can expand.

It is a spiritual practice, one that can be creative, connective and soulful. Cleansing, at its heart, is a radical act of self care.

 
In this blog I offer three week-long creative cleanses to invoke gentle, spirit nourishing spring cleaning. Have fun, be imaginative and implement as you need. Read on to discover these three easeful gateways, and invoke a spring inside yourself.

>> Clear Waters Cleanse <<

A cleanse to invoke a rush of new vision and to refind your inner flow

+ Drink 64 – 80 oz of water a day

The easiest way to make sure you drink enough H2O is to designate a quart-sized mason jar as your water bottle for the week. Drink one quart between breakfast and lunch. One between lunch and dinner, and one in the evening hours between dinner and sleep. (There are 24 oz in a quart mason jar). Don’t sit down for a meal until your water portion has been emptied. Try to eat as cleanly as possible and keep snacking between meals to a minimum. When you get hungry, try a big gulp of water instead. Oftentimes we feel hunger pangs when we are actually thirsty. Make water your decadent treat and notice how much more juicy, energized and enlivened you feel.

 

+ Infuse every cup with good intentions

Water has the ability to take on and be infused with a wide variety of impressions, energy, medicine and intention. Don’t buy it? Try making a cup of tea and see how much that water takes on the color, taste and characteristics of the herb. Or check out the transformational work of Dr. Masaru Emoto. Infuse your water with your intentions for this cleanse. Try leaving a glass of water out overnight with a love note tapped to the bottom. Or hold your cup first thing in the morning as you sing one of your favorite songs. Get creative with how you infuse and your body will become a vessel of new healing.

Quartz spiral

+ Drink a Clear Quartz Elixir every morning

Known as the “master harmonizer” in Chinese medicine, clear quartz is a powerful cleanser and amplifier. On the physical level clear quartz is thought to increase and regulate the Qi, bringing vitality to all areas of the body. Clear quartz is one of my favorite stones to work with because it is so deeply versatile. In traditional Taoist medicine clear quartz was often used to draw energy from other stones, animals, elements or lands. By pointing quartz at a certain celestial body, for example, the stone inherently absorbs some of the energy of that entity and can become an emissary of that medicine wherever it goes.

Program your quartz with healing. Take it with your favorite medicine places. Let it infuse in a spring. If you have a specific intention for this cleanse, hold a clear quartz in your hands and gently ask the quartz to take up the power of this medicine. Speak your intention clearly and imagine that everything you need to heal is infusing directly from you into the stone. Clear quartz will hold this intention for you.

Make an elixir by putting your programmed clear quartz in one cup of water over night. Cover the lid with a cloth or piece of paper and let sit. Remove the stone upon waking (or leave in, if you’d like!) and drink your elixir water first thing in the morning.

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+ Take Lymph moving herbs

The lymphatic system governs the waters of our bodies. A network of tissues and organs that help our bodies naturally cleanse itself, the lymph is like the wetlands and tributaries of our entire ecosystems. The primary function of the lymphatic system is to transport lymph, a cleansing fluid that contains our protective white blood cells, throughout our body. When we get sick our lymph nodes work double time, hence why they often become swollen. Lymphs don’t have musculature, and so they don’t move on their own. This is why yoga, dance, and lymph tapping or massage can be so invigoratingly vital for full health. Herbs can also be deeply moving for the lymphatic system. Spring weeds like cleavers and chickweed are lovely lymph cleansers added to tea or a smoothie. For southwestern folks look into the power-filled Ocotillo (check out this wonderful article by Rebecca Altman about the waters in the body and its resonance with this desert dweller)

+ Bathe, Swim, Sweat, Shower. Go for walks in the rain.

+ Cry. At anything and everything.

+ Fresh Sap Elixir

Take 1-5 drops of this essence blend made with fresh tree sap first thing in the morning to start your day with a rush of new beginnings

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>> Quiet the Hum Cleanse <<

A fast to help detox from the buzz of technology. A cleanse designed for sensitives and introverts to refind the nurturing shores of their inner worlds.

+ Turn off your computer, TV and phone

As much as you can. For the entire week. Turn them off. Take a break from glowing screens and all the toxicity that comes with procrastination, comparison, self-doubt and overwhelm. Turn off everything as soon as you arrive home. Or before you even leave home, if you can. When we quiet the outer buzz it is truly remarkable what we can hear within.

 

+ Give yourself permission to be in your own world

Read a fantasy novel. Color in an adult coloring book. Play with stones, wander the woods alone. Give yourself complete and utter permission to tune out of other people’s needs and create an inner world of vision, dreams and fantasy. Practice allowing yourself to be in your own world for at least a 1/2 hour every day.

 

Modified by CombineZP

+ Smoky Quartz

This dark variety of quartz is revered for its ability to help clear EMF, radiation and environmental electronic fog. In Chinese medicine it is known to help clear “pervasive Qi,” or any energies that feel chaotic and invasive. This is a wonderful companion for a technology fast, and can help us deprogram ourselves. Letting go of the accumulated impressions of the digital world so we can clear space for a more engaged relationship with our own inner landscapes.

Keep a piece of smoky quartz on you all week. Or try making an elixir to drink first thing in the morning (see notes on elixir making in Clear Waters Cleanse).

 

+ Cherry Blossom Flower Essence

Take 4 drops 4x day directly on the tongue to reconnect into the joy of the living world.

 

+ If you have a question go to a living source

When you have an inquiry about something this week, practice going to your neighbor, a plant or (most importantly) your inner sage. Ask a living being for guidance, tune into your intuition rather than  Wikipedia, and see what kind of embodied magic happens.

>> Wildness Cleanse <<

Recall the wild within. Let the natural wilderness of the world return you to your most authentic self.

+ Eat something wild every day

Spring is the richest season of wild greens. Wild edibles tend to have much higher vitamin and mineral content and are infused with the complex compounds and ineffable magic that only comes from living wild. Chickweed, cleavers, dandelion, violets. Most of these greens are growing right outside on our lawn.

Check out this blog post for more insight

And don’t miss this lovely guide from Sophia Rose of La Abeja Herbs

 

+ Go outside. Every day.

Even if just for 10 minutes. Start to shift your perception of the “outside.” Instead of seeing the out-of-doors as separate from your day to day life, allow yourself to embrace nature as a home space that nurtures your wildest self. Find a patch of green and literally stretch. Or jog. Or lay on your back and let the rain fall on your face. Listen to the birds, follow squirrels into the trees. Climb a tree. Find as wild of a space as you can. And act wild as you can let yourself be.

 

+ Eat only whole foods

Only imbibe foods that come fresh, wild, or from the pasture. Cage free eggs, organic whole grains, clean pasture meat, farm fresh vegetables and fermented foods. Don’t eat anything with more than five ingredients on the label. Better yet, don’t eat anything with a label at all.

 

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+ Improvisational Movement every day (10 minutes)

As Mary Oliver says, let the “soft animal of your body love what it loves.” Put on music that digs up something raw and unfiltered inside of you. I love this song by Glasser (I call it “cave dance party” music). Put on a song that ignites you, let yourself be alone with your body, and allow the animal in you to move.

 

+ End the day by Candlelight

Turn off your electric lights and spend at least the last hour before bedtime by candlelight. I normally like to end this week of rewilding and cleansing with a bonfire and long hours spent gazing, remembering what it means to be a human being.

 

+ Go on a shamanic journey to meet an Animal spirit guide

From time immemorial people recognized that the wild beings that surround us often hold great medicine for our deeper spirits. Bears come when we need courage. The meadow lark when we need to sing. When we connect back into the animal realm, we ignite an understanding of ourselves as wild co-creators in this world.

Shamanic journeying with the aid of the drum is an ancient method of shifting ones consciousness. Try this meditative practice to meet an animal guide that wants to work with you at this time. When you meet your animal bring them back into your day-to-day life through a drawing, a written story, an altar space or some kind of totem in your life. (Stuffed animals are totally allowed). Interact with them every day and let them be your guide into the wilderness of this deep cleanse.

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Not sure what a shamanic journey is? Check out this wonderful talk by Sandra Ingermen or read on for my own guide to journeying below.

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Shamanic journeying is a kind of meditation, combined with focused intention, to enter an expanded state of consciousness. In journeying, a Shamanic practitioner enters a kind of “trance state.” If you have ever had one of those moments of being lost in thought, like following the fading lines of a beach trail onto the shoreline of sand, you know how a trance state feels. Trance states are common in meditation, prayer, or intense life transitions—including birth, orgasm, and death. Trance states can be as light as a deeper feeling of awareness or as deep as the seemingly comatose bodies of deeply seasoned Shamans.

When we undertake a journey, part of our consciousness is able to detach itself from the body and explore realms that the physical body cannot perceive or move through. The object is not to escape reality, but to venture deeper into it. Many people who journey for the first time expect to have completely out of body experiences, but this is most often not the case. I often liken it to a branch of a river tree breaking off the main trunk to join a stream. The tree stays put, but an aspect of its being is free to travel. The tree still feels the gentle sway of the water over its roots, sustaining it crown, allowing it be what it is, a tree— it has simply chosen to send part of itself downstream.

Shamanic experiences are different for everyone. Some people liken it to the sensation of being in a dream. Some people have vivid imagery, tastes or smells, others simply have a feeling sense. Above all, try being curious. In his book The Way of the Shaman, Michael Harner likens Shamans to scientists. “Both shamans and scientists,” he asserts, “personally pursue research into the mysteries of the universe, and both believe that the underlying causal process of that universe are hidden form ordinary view.” As you work with connecting to expanded states of consciousness, you may have experiences that are odd, unexplainable, or peculiarly striking. Instead of casting off such experiences or images, save these perceptions as bits of evidence or data. You may not understand their importance now, but catalogue it for later evaluation. Surprise is an integral part of the shamanic experience. Consciousness often speaks in metaphor and we are continually learning how to be better readers.

 

Pintura_Trois_Freres

Cave painting from Trois-Feres, France (13,00 years old)

Steps of the Journey (How to Journey)

1) Find a comfortable and quiet place where you can relax. Before I enter a journey I like to take some time to call in my guides, the four directions, ancestors, or any personal divinity that has meaning to me. This is a time to get clear on your intention. Let your wider consciousness know: You would like to meet an animal guide.

You are setting the stage for a safe and guided space of journeying. If it helps to relax, try some gentle yoga, dancing or deep breathing beforehand.

2) Most people like to journey in near darkness. I suggest turning out the lights and closing the blinds. Some people light a candle at the beginning of their journey, as symbolic gesture of keeping an aspect of their consciousness in the here and now.

3) Drumming can be profoundly helpful for journeying. Find a Shamanic drumming CD you like (or track on youtube) and use it to deepen your journey. When you are ready to begin, sit in a comfortable position or lie down (if you aren’t in danger of falling asleep!) and begin the drumming.

4) Many people like to envision an entryway for themselves. For meeting with a spirit guide traditional people usually went into what we call the “lower world,” deep into the earth. I like to envision traveling down through the roots of a tree, but you may prefer a staircase, a tunnel or a cave. These gateways can often be a signal to our conscious minds that we are transitioning in our consciousness and that it’s okay to let go.

5) Once you “step into” the journey itself just let yourself explore. Images, feelings, sounds or smells should come spontaneously. Shamanic journeying is not about conscious control, it’s about allowing yourself to have an experience beyond your rational mind. During your journey you will stay conscious in your body. You can expect to hear cars passing down the road or feel any itches or bodily sensations. Many people liken journeying to a powerful daydream. You remain conscious and aware, and yet let another aspect of yourself can travel. If you feel any distractions in the here and now, forgive the intrusion and simply let yourself drift back to the journey.

It’s always okay to ask questions. So if an animal comes to you in your journey don’t feel shy in asking, “are you my guide?”

6) If you are listening to a soundtrack of drumming the end of your journey will be indicated by a series of rapid rhythmic beats, followed by several slow thrums. Now is the time to “come back.” I often like to retrace my steps, going back through the entryway I have chosen. If, at any time, you wish to end your journey early just retrace your path and head home. When I arrive back into my body I like to imagine my spirit sifting in from the top of my head and settling down firmly into my heart and all my limbs.

7) Take some moments before you move to deeply breathe and feel yourself completely in your body once more. Once you are ready, I highly encourage writing down an account of your journey. Consciousness most often speaks in metaphor and sometimes the deeper meanings will be made much more clear once you take time for reflection. If only a few sentences, jot down some impressions from your experience and close your journeying time with some gratitude for your guides and for the perfection of this particular journey.

Matrilineal Magic

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kabyle woman weaving

A Kabyle woman weaving Algeria 1973 (credit National Geographic)

There is a thread that runs through the long tapestry of time. A line that connects us back to our grandmothers and great grandmothers and the lineage of womyn who came before. On a loom, each downward string is called a warp. Like time, these warp strings are the backbone that holds the weaving in place. But it is the generations of mothers and aunties, the horizontal weft woven in-between, that fill the loom with life. It is these weft strings, the threads of connection that travels across the space and time, that pulls everything together.

It is from this continuing weft of women that we each come into life.

Science has shown all the follicles (unripened eggs) a woman will ever produce are already present in her body when she is in the womb. The spark that is you was born long before you came into the world. And if you quiet your blood, you can feel a flame that reach back even further. Inside every one of us is a long and often unsung history of women. Fire makers and clay shapers, priestesses and caretakers, those who walked long miles and withstood many centuries of silence. Those who kept the old songs alive.

Asia basket Gila

Photo by Juliet Blankespoor

Connecting back into the power-held lineage of our female ancestors isn’t simply a flight of fancy or genealogical curiosity. To remember the women that came become you, and call upon that distinctly matrilineal magic, is an act of deep reclamation. By calling back we continue the weaving begun from the fingers of our female ancestors, that very first spindle-spun weft.

Long before the tides of Christianity swept across southeastern Europe, there was an ancient Matrilineal network of cultures called the “Old Europeans.” Matrifocal (woman-mother orientated) civilizations with sacred script and professional ceramicists. Cultures that planted seeds and built temples several stories high. Peoples that wove sophisticated lives and prayed to the Goddess(es). According to archeologist Marija Gimbutas, the threads of these largely egalitarian, peaceful and female-centric societies stretched across much of what we now call Europe.

cucuteni-tattoos

A fired clay Cucuteni figure, from 4050-3900 B.C (credit Marius Amarie)

Archeologically speaking, the memories of these cultures are found in whispers. Empty temples and old village sites filled with ritual ceramics. The famous Venus figures and surviving burials. Each unearthed item, a thread that help us to understand what it would have been like to live in a culture in which women held the chalice of their own power.

In our own blood, however, the remembrances of this culture still rings like a temple bell. We can feel it when we pick berries with our fingers or when we are kept up late at night by the moon. We feel it when we dance, uninhibited and when we sing together. We feel it every time we plait back our hair and squat low to build a fire on the ground. We feel it in the fierceness that surges up through us and the bone-deep anger as well. We feel it when we look in the mirror and see a new wrinkle a gray hair, and we think “Good.” When we welcome growing older because we know a Crone is a woman who has come into her power.

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Though it has been a long time since matrilineal cultures flourished in our world, everything moves in a circle, like the round of a harvesting song or the curve of a well-coiled vase. A world in which we value the power of blood that flows with the moon as much as blood that flows from a wound has already seen its wane and its new moon. Now, we are in the time of the waxing.

It has been many generations since every woman was recognized as the vessel of power that she is, but even now our women ancestors remain close, whispering to us of the waxing to come. Matrilineal magic is a deep and ancient kind of craft. One that will never be forgotten as long as we continue to seek and honor the threads that connect us back.

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From the House Painters in Zalipie

<< When the Grandmothers came to Visit >>

The grandmothers never disappeared. They are with us, still. They are helping us to weave the new weft.

Several years ago I set out to make an ancestor altar in my room. A space in which I could honor those that came before me and give thanks for my life. Earlier that day I had spent a totally unexpected sum of money. I was in the midst of a challenging health issue that was asking me to face some pretty overwhelming feelings of isolation and scarcity. On this evening, I tried my best to simply set my worries aside and breathe. I began by reaching up into a worn wooden box for one of my grandmother’s old handkerchiefs, a delicate and lacy swatch of thin cotton. I was shocked when my hand settled upon a softly folded piece of paper. Nestled in the box was an envelope with my name on it, and inside that envelope was a stack of bills– almost the exact amount of money I had spent that day. It was such a moment of unseen assurance; I sank to my knees for a few long minutes to weep.

Many months ago I had kept a small stash of cash in this envelope. But I had since spent every penny, I even had a memory of throwing the empty envelope away. But here it was, full again. In a place before words I instinctively felt my grandmother was there. She was there, cradling me, supporting me, assuring me that I have never, not once, been alone. As I folded onto the floor, time creased as well and I realized that my grandmother has always been here. And the grandmothers before her. And those before her as well. I could feel them, surrounding me in a circle, blessing and cherishing, holding me like the women of old used to do around their wells.

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Our female ancestors and the cultures of magic they created has never left.

The grandmothers are here in the shape of my eyes, my long flat feet, the yearning drum I feel in my heart when I hear throat singing, or the way I might pause to touch the first opening cherry blossom. They are here – in childbirth and summer fields, in breasts full of milk, a faded envelope of bills, and flower bulbs.

Matrilineal magic never died.

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<< Weft Vessel >>

Every once in a while we meet a woman familiar in our life who reminds us of our own strong heritage and the profound magic that can be sparked between two sisters who are seeking their own Weft. A few years ago I met Sylvia Linsteadt and such a flame leapt into life. Ever since the beginning we knew there was important work to be done together. Medicine to be realized, experienced and offered together. A thread we were meant to weave.

Now, after a year in creation. We are delighted to offering such a sister-woven creation to the world…

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WEFT is a journey through plant, stone and word back into the long threads of your matrilineal line. Across ancient Europe there were ceremonial spaces created just to initiate women into the mysteries of life and regeneration, places that held the rituals of remembering and the sacred pottery of women who knew how to heal with their hands. With Weft, we offer both a thread and a vessel. A spindle-spun way to connect back into the powerful lineage of the women from which you came, and a richly embroidered place in which we can remember how to initiate ourselves.

Like a coil pot, WEFT was woven throughout many cycles with a single thread. It began in the spring softened hills of Appalachia where Asia Suler, of One Willow Apothecaries, created an elixir from the shades of ancient medicine there. Crafted from violets, wild iris, aquamarine and feldspar– the elixir was brewed from a spark of insight and a feeling of the women ancestors rising to be heard.

Once created, Asia sent the bottle of Sylvia Linsteadt of Wild Talewort. There, over many moons, Sylvia created the story portal that makes up the landscape of Weft. Ignited from her own experiences with the elixir, and from the kind of synchronistic magic that springs up every time two hedgewitches call back to the ancestors, the story unspooled itself over the course of nine months, a full gestation in which archaeological research, a ceramics class and a table loom all played unexpected parts.

Now, a year after the first spark caught, the first Crone song was sung—we offer this WEFT vessel to the world.

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Comprised of….

The Grandmother’s Elixir: Crafted from the spring-softened medicines of Western Appalachia, Grandmothers is an elixir to invoke the initiatory magic of the womyn ancestors and our collective matrilineal line. Once upon a time we were all born from women who understood the mysteries of herbs and roots and death and beginnings. This elixir is a gateway to help remember our place in this continuum of hedgewitches and healers.

Hand gathered from the early April coves of these grandmother mountains— some of the oldest on earth— this medicine contains the seeds of findings ones destiny as a power-filled woman and recognizing one’s place as a vessel of wisdom in the lineage of all things to come. Created from slow simmered violet syrup, wild iris essence and an elixir of aquamarine + feldspar stones, this alchemical medicine is an invitation to open ones womb-deep intuition like the first folds of spring. An elixir of becoming, remembering and embracing your destiny— this purple hued medicine helps you to realize that the wisdom of the ancients still lives in your blood. You must only quiet yourself to find the inner song.

Weft: A Story – The tale of a girl, a drought, an underworld, and the most ancient roots of the Baba Yaga, set in partly historic, partly imagined Neolithic Transylvania around 6500 B.C.E. At this time, settled agriculture brought by small bands of Mediterranean travelers (and their grains, goats and sheep) was taking root across southeastern Europe, woven relatively peacefully into the framework of indigenous Mesolithic hunting and gathering tribes. Out of this union, a matrilineal network of cultures called “Old European” flourished across southeastern Europe, leaving behind temples and villages full of an astonishingly beautiful array of ceramic work that was largely ritual in function. These ancient village sites full of offering jugs and sacred ovens, at the edges of mountains and woods, feel like indigenous ground in me. On a pathway of my own ancestral blood through Austria, through Hungary, through Poland, through Russia, I can follow a part of myself back to a source, a place of balance, a set of ancient lifeways to look to for wisdom, for strength, for wholeness.

This story is a celebration of the deep beauty and power of ancient women’s work: weaving, spinning, pottery, child-bearing, plant-tending, medicine gathering. It is a hymn to the dying we undertake every moon in the underworlds of our own bodies, even if we no longer bleed, and the process of being reborn. Imagine that it is an ancient clay vessel, dug up in a dozen shards from the earth. These are the warp, the structure, of the telling. It is you, the reader, who must weave the weft of their meaning over-under, over-under, using the shuttle of your own soul to make out of it your version of wholeness: the offering jug left out at the edge of the known field, full of milk.

Ancient Vessel Meditation: An audio journey to guide you deeper into receiving the medicine of this matrilineal weaving.

Weft Voices: An audio soundtrack of the songs and sounds that guided our creation of this vessel, from Hildegard von Bingen to the folk songs of mountainous Bulgaria.

<< Order your WEFT >>

 

Weft Bear

A Windowless Room in Brooklyn

I shared this story of my journey into herbalism in my most recent newsletter and was floored by the like-hearted responses from people across the globe. So many of us are feeling the call to follow an instinct of deeper healing, to get to know the plants by name, to reconnect with the multidimensionality of our world. Once upon a time all I had were my dreams, and a vague notion of what “herbalism” even was.  The start of any path is always the hardest but most transformative part, and when I look upon my own humble beginnings in one of the toughest cities in the world I’m filled with something close to awe.  If you’ve been feeling the bone deep ache to immerse yourself further into the green world, read on. Check out this free Handcrafted Herbalism course (that I am simply delighted to be a part of). And just know– that you aren’t alone.

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I was living in a windowless room in Brooklyn when I first heard the call to study herbs. At the time I was taking care of office plants in Manhattan. I was technically considered a “plant technician,” and to this day I’m convinced this job only exists in a place like New York City. I spent most of my days dusting, watering, pruning and engaging in 30 second conversations with the people who worked in the offices. The job itself was grueling, but I was happy to be close to plant life, any plant life, amidst the concrete jungle. I made it my personal mission to rescue every sad land-fill destined pothos and marginata and bring them back to my tiny apartment to nourish them back to health. Thinking of that one kitchen window, filled with plant light, still makes my heart sing (see picture below!).

I knew I loved plants. I knew I wanted to be close to the earth. I knew there was something inside of me that was aching. But beyond that, I had no idea where to begin.

{actual picture found in the BK archives from my apartment circa 2009. How cute is this?}

They call the kind of apartment I lived in a “railroad”, one skinny length of space with a middle room that was more a hallway than anything else. But the middle room was my room. And even though I didn’t have any windows, or doors, I did have a very dark place in which to sleep and dream. And dream I did.

I can’t remember whether it was a single morning, or a wave of mornings, or even a cascade of nighttime insights, but one day I woke up and just knew – I needed to study herbalism.

At the time, I didn’t even really understand what that meant. If someone had asked me what a tincture was I probably would have drawn a blank. But I recognized a kind of wail inside of me, a high keening sound that was a call to deepen my relationship to the world around me. An insistence upon deeper healing that gnawed at me day in and day out.

{Another one from the archives. Young Asia with dirt on her hands from her backyard Brooklyn garden… they exist you know… and a serious dream in her heart}

And once I had the dream, I couldn’t stop dreaming it. I wanted to know what it would be like to step outside my door and be able to see medicine everywhere. What it would feel like to be able to gather healing from hilltops, to interact with the world from a place of such reverence and interdependence and knowing. To understand how to heal myself with the things that were wild and free. To touch medicine with my own two hands.

If I’ve learned one thing in my time on this planet, it’s that the scariest, most dangerous, most thrilling thing on earth is to say YES to your dreams.
But it’s the most rewarding, too.

After many months of scheming, dreaming and searching I found the website for The Chestnut School of Herbal Medicine and I just knew— this was where I wanted to learn. So a year later I closed an entire chapter of my life, leaving behind work, friends and a long-term relationship to begin anew down in the mountains of Appalachia. It was terrifying and thrilling, but I never looked back. Because ahead of me, lining the path, and underneath every step of the way was a new plant to be met.

When I began to study herbs in earnest, my entire life changed.

Fresh perspectives, profound healing, a whole new awareness of the world. But perhaps the most revolutionary aspect of my education was what it changed within me. I often say that plants are gatekeepers, and when I started to study herablism in earnest I began to understand myself on such a deeper level— who I was, why I was here, what I was meant to be a part of.

I become an herbalist and the gateway to the rest of my life swung open before my eyes.

For the past two years I’ve been a part of helping the Chestnut school to create an online training for those who feel the same call (so you don’t have to uproot your entire life to study plants!), and I am so deeply excited to announce that their in-depth Herbal Immersion Program is going live next month.

In celebration of this monumental offering, the Chestnut school is offering a FREE online mini-course called Handcrafted Herbalism where you can learn about the three foundations of herbalism: Botany, Wildcrafting, and Medicine making.

If you’ve ever felt such a nudging, an inkling, a dream or a wail, come join us for this free mini-course and say yes to that ever-knowing aspect of yourself. On a deep level, we always know what we need to expand and heal. Come begin your studies and let the plants open a new gateway in your life.

Thank you for witnessing me in my story. May your own green path be BLESSED.

Tatterdemalion: The Juniper Tree

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Two winter’s ago a bit of mycelial magic reached out and touched me. Through the webs of the internet, and the crossing lines of one apothecary parcel and a hand-stamped bundle of written tales, I met one of my dearest friends and ever-source of inspiration in my life: Sylvia Linsteadt.

Sylvia Linsteadt Point Reyes

We all hear stories of familiars and soul friends, past life connections and the fact that we are all made from the same stars. But every once in a while it actually happens, you meet someone who stirs up something very ancient, very old and very familiar inside of you, and the concept of our interconnection ceases to be a concept at all. Suddenly the unseen meaning that binds me to you, and you to me, is as real as strands of wool tied within a single nest.

Sylvia is a keeper of such wisdom. Both shamaness and wordsmith, Sylvia is a writer whose work is nothing short of revolution, and magic. Her stories, woven from ancient folklore, ecological exploration and land-based knowledge, have become gateways for me to remember. What strikes me most about Sylvia’s earth-nourished writing is her ability to re-connect. Human to hawk, heart to stone, past to the future, devastation to hope.

Sylvia &amp; Irises

It’s in these encounters, these moments of such transcendental connection that we remember who we really are. That we need the seals and the poems and the iris patches and the mythologies. That we need stories to help us reimagine a world so whole. That we need each other, after all.

In celebration of the birth of Tatterdemalion, a book written and woven from Sylvia’s connection with our storied world the mystical work of artist Rima Staines (and what a lovely story of stardust and reconnection this is!) I am honored to be hosting Sylvia, and her words, on this month’s blog.

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Sylvia Linsteadt walking point reyes
 

Stories are everywhere, waiting to be gathered up like juniper berries, dusty and blue, in your hands. Stories are waiting in the flicker’s call, in the eyes of the elk bulls about to drop their antlers. They are waiting in the mica-flecked granite. They are waiting in the spray of gray whales, migrating south to birth their calves. Stories are waiting just there, under the surfaces of mole hills, in the hands of fresh green nettles, in all the places where you and the world touch. Wherever you are touching, there they can come in.

ElkBoys

We live in a world that defines “story” as something solely of human making; an invention that defines us apart from the rest of the living beings of this planet. But what if story is really the thing that weaves us back in, and always has been? All the wise old cultures of this earth call stories medicine. As Pueblo author Leslie Marmon Silko writes in her wonderful novel Ceremony

 

“[Stories] are all we have, you see,
all we have to fight off illness and death.
You don’t have anything
if you don’t have the stories.
Their evil is mighty
but it can’t stand up to our stories.
So they try to destroy the stories
let the stories be confused or forgotten
They would like that
They would be happy
Because we would be defenseless then.”

 

When stories of interconnection, stories that belong to flickers and junipers and elk as much as they do to humans, are lost, so too are those connections, and we begin to believe that the things we do tell stories about are the only things that really matter. I am passionate about bringing the voices of the more-than-human world back into our stories—not only our news articles, our essays, our poems, but our fiction. Despite a robust and blossoming ecological consciousness coming of age in the world right now, the novels we read, the films we watch, the stories we tell, still most often treat animals, plants, stones, waters, as beautiful backdrops at best, as objects secondary to the plots of human characters. Well—and look how it happens: that’s the true story of our treatment of the natural world too!

 

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Three years ago, I started writing a book called Tatterdemalion. It was born out of the figurative doorways I found in the paintings of the magnificent English artist, Rima Staines, and it features fourteen of them, the bones that shape the stories in the novel. Tatterdemalion explores a post-apocalyptic future in a wildly re-imagined Northern California, from the coast to the Sierras, but it does so in a folkloric way, rooted in the stories of Old Europe. In a ruined world, what survives are the tales we tell, and the characters in Tatterdemalion share these tales one by one with the reader—from Poppy, the boy who speaks the languages of newts & ravens, to Molly, the woman so desperate for a child she wears her own death in a needle around her neck, and will dig a baby up out of the earth if she has to; from Martin, who discovers the thumb-bone of St. Francis of Assisi, and an ancient magical salmon, to the Juniper Tree who tells the boy Poppy (through her wise and dusty berries) the story of the mysterious & revered Anja Born of the Buckeye, and thus the story of his whole world. These many tales are stitched together to create a whole mythology: a story of hope, of a new world where wild places are protected by Wild Folk (part human, part animal/plant beings who serve as guardians for every stone, stream and species left), and where old ways are followed with care.

 

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Anja in the Horse Chestnut (Artwork by Rima Staines)

All the way through the process of writing Tatterdemalion, the stories seemed to come from dandelions and towhees and newts as much as they came from the paintings, and from me. Writing about the Juniper Tree in particular felt like an act of transmutation, of transportation. When I wrote her chapters for the first time, I had yet to meet the actual juniper trees of the Sierras. And yet, I knew them. I knew this tree, deep down inside her dark roots and ancient lightning-struck caverns. Then, about a year after completing her chapter, while hiking in the Sierra Nevadas with my family, up near a high mountain lake in the Desolation Wilderness, I found her. I stopped dead in my tracks, then ran and climbed right up into her arms, tears in my eyes. I’d been savoring and praising the sight of junipers all the way up the crags and talus slopes, marveling at the way they grew straight out of granite, beautifully wind-scored. But this Juniper, she was ancient and enormous, half silver deadwood flanked by healthy growth, and I knew her immediately. There were openings in her bark, suggestions of a far-deep-down underworld. I wanted to weep. Poppy had been here. The tree had found me, or I had found the tree. We had been touching all along, mysteriously, miraculously. She had given the story to me.

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I don’t know how these things work, not in a way I can articulate with words. I only know that the land around each of us—whether it’s the trees and mourning doves on your city block, or the humus-rich fir-forested hills and their stillness— is heavy with stories, and that these stories are in desperate need of being told. That they want to be told. We all can tell them, starting by simply by going out to listen. By bringing gifts (a few beautiful and heart-felt words; a cup of tea; a poem scrawled and buried). By returning home, and letting them come in with us.

Tatterdemalion is one such story, a novel that offers a new way of imagining our relationship to the more-than-human world. And it is being published by the revolutionary publisher Unbound, who puts the fates of books in the hands of readers by having them raise the print-cost via pre-orders before publishing. This means that right now, Tatterdemalion needs each and every one of your help to be born into this world.

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Just pre-order a book (link: https://unbound.co.uk/books/tatterdemalion), and you will be helping us on our wheeled & wild way! Every book purchased is a cobblestone laid on the road to publication! Better yet, give yourself Tea & A Book —a special edition hardback of Tatterdemalion that comes with a Forest Campfire Tea, to be sipped with your back to a tree while reading, or listening to birds, or roots. The tea is a blend of Russian caravan black tea with boreal chaga mushrooms, bishop pine tips, and California poppy petals—to transport you to ancient northern campfires, to soothe and uplift you with the fresh and hearty flavors of California. There are only 25 available!

You can learn more about Tatterdemalion, watch the film, see more of Rima’s beautiful paintings, and order your own book, here.

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I am so grateful to Asia for letting me share these words with all of you beautiful souls. Asia is one of my very favorite writers and medicine women in all the world, and it is an honor to step into this space today to introduce you to Tatterdemalion, and to share some of my thoughts about story, land, and our relationship to both. Happy story-gathering to all of you.

With that, I will leave you with words from the boy Poppy, and his first encounter with the Juniper Tree…

ByRimaStaines

Artwork by Rima Staines

“I went alone. Nobody noticed me going. I had just my silver coffeepot hitched on a string over my back, like always. Lyoobov stayed, eating the embers one by one, letting smoke spell poems into the night from her coiled trunk, her ears. She let the women come and rub her gray skin with the oils of pine nuts and wildflower essences. The shadows from the fire leapt onto the wind-shaped pines. I held that red seed and I walked through the dark, feeling ahead with my feet.

It wasn’t hard to find the tree Sare meant because it was ancient and its trunk silver as all the stars, as time. The hard blue-dusted berries were thick, everywhere, a thousand blue earths. I picked up handfuls and stuck them through the top of my coffeepot, impulsively. The whole tree in my ears thundered like a fast heart. It creaked in the wind. It wanted me near, under the rounded spires of branch, up to the trunk, my body a warmth to keep company through the night. I set the red bead into a crease of the trunk. I smelled the bark. I found that to the left of my feet, in the shadows, was a darker shadow, like a hole. I crawled to see and it was just as wide as my shoulders, gaping, darker than any night can be dark. I went in because Sare told me that I would be able to hear the stories and bring them back.

I’ve wanted, I’ve always wanted, to do one single thing you all approved of.

The bear tooth Sare gave me glowed. I saw the inside of that Juniper. Time had carved waterways of lines, the color soft as firelight or amber. The patterns of stars seemed to be glinting wherever I looked in that hollow of bark, which went deep down below in root tunnels, and up further than that glowing tooth could shed light. That’s when the voice started. It unpeeled from the layers of bark and echoed. It was, and was not, human. It was juniper berry blue in my mind where I held it as it spoke, in my hands where I felt it, dusty, weathered. Steeped and smoked with the centuries of Juniper growing, Juniper seeking water, Juniper breathing and releasing the thin air. It was her, the tree, whispering.

“Little child,” came that voice, and a smell of soft smoke. “Little child. You are only a little child.” All along the inner bark, stars gleamed, in familiar and unfamiliar constellations, from the old stories which I never paid much heed—the one in the shape of a wheel which we call Wheel, after the long ago Fool; the one like an owl, for Margaret, with a bell in its claws; the one like a fiddle, for Rose; the tiny cluster, for the Holy Beggars. And more, gleaming and shifting all around me, ones I couldn’t name. I felt I might have clambered into the beginning of a world.

“I’m Poppy,” I said, deep inside the tree now, in a ruckled chamber whorled with bark. “I am little, it’s true.”

“You have come to learn the true story of Anja.” This time, the voice was nearer, and I turned. In the shadows, on the walls of her trunk, was a woman. She was all hunched up, rounded like the blue berries I’d stuffed into my silver coffeepot. Then she seemed to peel right off the wall, a dark shade. She came and she sat opposite me. In the glow of the juniper bark around us, I saw an ancient little lady with a dozen spindly arms lined as juniper branches, with a spiking mass of hair like spired juniper needles. White hairs grew on her chin. Her eyes were all patched with cataracts, but she had a good set of teeth. I noticed this, I don’t know why, maybe because they flashed.

“Yes,” I stammered.

“But do you even know your own?”

“Well enough,” I replied, staring into my coffeepot because her eyes were too strange, and clear, and the silvery inner bark of the juniper tree too alive with its own stars. “My mother found me in the earth, only really I am part of Lyoobov, and Lyoobov is part of me—”

“But who is Lyoobov, and how, and why?”

“Lyoobov was born out of the dream of Rose, a long time ago, Before the Fall. But what have I got to do with Anja?”

“You were there at the beginning, because Lyoobov was there. You are here now, at the end. But what about the middle, little child, little Poppy, little heart? How can you ask for Anja, without everything that came before? How can you know a whole world, without every tattered thread?”

“I—”

The silvery bark of the juniper’s inner trunk was shifting, the stars scattered there wheeling, like they might across a whole night, not a single moment.

“Did you know that some stars are only memories of light, already dead? Like the voices of people, echoing long after they are gone?”

There were figures gathering against the bark, the way the Juniper-woman’s had, ghosts that one by one peeled away, edged in stars. Rose. The Holy Beggars. St. Margaret, with owl wings. Wheel. Martin. Ffion.

“When you hear a story, little child, it has been folded and unfolded a hundred times in the mouths of its tellers. But the truest stories come right from the source.”

 

The starry ghosts gathered, and waited, glinting.”

 

{{ Tatterdemalion, from the chapter titled “Poppy.” }}

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p.s. Read deeper into Sylvia’s world + the medicine of heartfelt relationships in our interview from 2014

Real Witches See Possibility

I stood before the old cabin with a stone in one hand and the wind in the other. In winter the trees on this land shiver to bareness and the old structures become visible once more. With so much openness the wind whistles clear through the quiet forests, and the old stories return.

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{{ Loss and Chestnut Trees }}

Once upon a time the slopes of these mountains were covered with American chestnut trees (Castanea dentate). Magnificent giants that sustained entire communities with their good wood and bountiful food. Just over a hundred years ago American chestnuts were the monoliths that defined Southern Appalachian forests. Ecologists say that one out of every four hardwood trees in these mountains were chestnuts. Today, all we have left of these giants are hand-hewn homes and memories.

The woods that the first Europeans walked into were vastly different than the thickets of tulip poplar and oak and undergrowth that cover our ridges now. The hills surrounding most homesteads in Southern Appalachia today are burred with a thick tangle of saplings, shrubs, the leggy heights of first succession trees, and cat briar thorns. But once upon at time, these forests were cathedrals, wide spaces of grace defined by the giant buttresses of ancient trunks. Nurtured, protected, and given domain over these hills— the Chestnuts of the indigenous Appalachians were called the “redwoods of the east.”

chestnut-cropped

For centuries it must have seemed incomprehensible to imagine an Appalachia without her magnificent columns of chestnuts, the open churches of the woods.

But today, only saplings remain.

In 1904 a tiny stowaway arrived from a nursery in Asia. A handful of spores from a fungus called Cryphonectria parasitica, a relatively common parasitic fungus for the Chinese chestnut, that proved fatal to our indigenous Castanea. Entering through wounds to the bark, C. parasiticia slowly kills the cambium of the tree, effectively girdling it. In a span of forty years, almost our entire population of North American Chestnuts, four billion strong, was decimated. Appalachia was irrevocably changed.

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The cabins built on the land where I’m living this winter are a testament to this time of life-altering change. Locked and left for decades, to swing open the door to these old cabins is to rush like a pendulum into another era. The insides of some structures are made from Chestnut boards that are unpocked, over a century old, perennial and strong. Others were crafted from the wood that stood for a long while after the blight struck them down. Wormy chestnut, this kind of wood is called. Chestnuts are so resistant to rot they can remain for years after their death, strong and utile to their core despite these damp, damp woods.

Standing before this cabin, a relic from a time when the Chestnuts once defined this land, with a stone in one hand and wind in the other, it would be easy to fall into the sinking feeling of endings. Of epochs that close, life snatched away, accumulated years of grief. It would be easy to get lost in the gravity of sadness that seems to cling to the hem of time like burrs.

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But there is another way of seeing. One that acknowledges both what was and the mystery of what will be. One that recognizes each fallen tree and also greets the mystery.

The women ancestors of my heritage were persecuted for being Witches. Ones that could work with healing possibilities beyond what was immediately perceived. These women were oppressed, silenced, demonized for their connection to the unseen. But above all, they were feared.

What is at once most threatening, and most powerful, about these witches of our collective ancestry, was their ability to see.

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{{ How Witches See }}

Witch is a term as shifting and volatile as mercury. Over time it has been an accusation, a slur, a fear, a story, a fairytale, and a costume. But in the beginning, a witch was someone who was recognized as working with healing. A person who had a direct relationship to the medicine of those things we cannot immediately see.

The etymological roots of the word witch are mixed, murky and a bit mysterious. But some scholars argue that witch can be traced back to the Indo-European world weid – which means both “to know” and “to see.”

Once upon a time all witches saw that healing is a multidimensional activity. In order to heal the body we must perceive the deeper needs of the spirit. For shamans and witches, or those who were simply called “medicine people” in the old communities, it was understood that illness and injury held important communications about what, in a wider way, was asking to be seen. For a healer, the ultimate goal is not the alleviation of a symptom, but for the deeper message of the imbalance to be recognized, integrated and perceived.

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To be a medicine person is to understand the direct link between perception and healing. Traditional healers knew that the way in which we perceive gives shape to our direct experience of reality. If we wish to change our reality, or the concreteness of loss or devastation that we’ve been handed, we must first begin with what we are open to seeing.

And Real Witches see possibility. They understand that sometimes the most profound healing does not come from the physiology of a specific medicine, but from the life-changing alteration of our core vision and belief. To be a healer of any kind is to recognize possibilities. Where there is pain, there could be relief. Where there is death, regeneration can be leased. When we open our minds to perceive possibility – including the possibly of healing itself – we open our consciousness to an entirely new way of seeing.

At the heart, to be a witch doesn’t mean that you manipulate reality to your liking. It means that you can see and call forth manifold possibilities. It means that your perception of reality goes beyond what has been handed to you. And that you can perceive the presence of freedom, and healing, in all things.

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Real Witches know that anything is possible, and this is why they were persecuted. Possibility itself is inherently decentralizing. It places the power of what can be in the domain of each and every being. It can be very revolutionary, indeed, to nurture a belief in possibility.

We do not need major initiation rites, long periods of pilgrimages, aestheticism, or trials in order to become such magicians in our own lives.

All we must do is open ourselves to the possibilities.

When we can engage with the presence of possibility— that, perhaps, nothing is set is stone, nothing is irreparable, nothing is truly lost— does not all of life become infused with magic? And is not magic, in its essence, the recognition of limitless possibilities?

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{{ Change your Perception, Change the World }}

What happens when the small succession forests that cover our hills now are no longer seen as the seconds of what was, but recognized as a form of perfectly worthy reincarnation? What happens when we can gaze at the precious inner contours of a Chestnut cabin and cease to only see loss, but also recognize the raw and humble blessings of a new beginning?

If we want to change the world, we must first shift our minds to perceive a wider, more fluid reality. One that is steeped in possibility.

Our earth doesn’t know endings. Only change. Only possibility. Every time a tree falls in the forest a raucous growth of understory flowers, shrubs and saplings rises up in its wake. Every time a bird dies, a field floods, a drought strips the leaves from the trees, new life and lifeways are diverted, nourished and invented. In nature, there is no good or bad. Simply different, changing.Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset

 

Possibility is the language our very planet speaks. Real witches perform magic because they are so aligned with the earth they cease to see the black and white of death and life— they see possibilities.

Traditional witches were not only emissary of healing within the human community, they were bridges to help bring humans back into balance with the more-than-human world. Historically, the act of healing itself was seen as a process of regenerating ecology. Witches do not lose themselves in what we see as death or endings. They align themselves with the wider truth of an ever-changing world. That every wound, every loss, every illness opens new possibility.

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{{ Possibility is Magic }}

There is a Taoist story that goes like this…

An old farmer who had worked his land for many years has his horse run away. When the neighbors hear the news they cry “What bad luck!” To this he just replies, “maybe…”

The next morning the horse returns with three wild ponies in tow. “What fortune!” the neighbors exclaim! To which the farmer once again says, “maybe…”

The following day the farmer’s son tries to ride one of these new ponies and is thrown, breaking his leg. The neighbors once again come to offer sympathy. “What misfortune,” they say. And the farmer reflects, “maybe…”

The very next day the military comes to the village to conscript all young men into service. Because his leg is broken. the young son is passed over and allowed to remain at home. Everyone in the village congratulations the farmer on what, it seems, was supreme luck. The farmer just replies with a smile, “maybe.”

The beginning of recognizing and invoking magic is being able to question our automatic beliefs. What if we could turn any situation over in our hand like a stone and say… maybe.

 

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Just last month we had a team of tree cutters show up to fell some of our most majestic and long-lived trees on the property. Ordered by the owners of the land, they set about cutting down a handful of 100 year old tulip poplars and some of the very last enormous Hemlock trees (Hemlocks were yet another giant who used to define these forests, and who are slowly succumbing to a different foreign invasion—the wooly adelgid). Each magnificent limb that came down shook the house, and shook loose an old and worthy grief.

Now their trunks lay beside the gravel driveway. Every time I walk to put my hands to their open places they radiate a loss, but they also hum a deeper tune— one of non-judgment, forgiveness and possibility. Though they are no longer growing trees, but they will become the walls of a home, tables to eat from, mulch to nourish the garden. They will be a nursery for medicinal reishi mushrooms and mycelium. Their bark may tan hides, becomes cordage. When we believe in possibility, life continues on.

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In Chinese medicine it’s said that a person only dies of old age because their heart stops believing in possibilities. As the possible paths one may have taken in life seem to concretize or disappear, our heart slowly looses its elasticity, turning to stone and ceasing to beat.

But what happens when even death, the ultimate ending in our cultural mindset, becomes just another possibility?

The ancient Daoists sought eternal life through the full alignment with their Dao or Tao (which can be loosely defined as their path, ultimate selves, or the underlying principle of the universe). If we can continue to believe in all possibilities, then it becomes possible to live long past our deaths – the small ones, and the large ones as well.

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Inside my own home the old Chestnut paneled walls are warmed by a long-embered fire in the woodstove. Elsewhere on the land old Chestnut china cabinets have become nests for wood mice and squirrels. Window frames slowly dissolve in the rain. Entire structures have fallen and softened into the earth and the vast networks of Chestnut roots, those that ran throughout the entire breadth of these woods, are now composted into good humus. They have given up their previous form to become the soil that nourishes thousands of acres of forestland. They live on.

Living, truly living, is an act of embracing possibility. It is standing in front of the old structures, with a stone in one hand, and the wind in the other. Grounding oneself in the solidity of what is and inviting in the touch of the unseen. Recognizing that life itself exists somewhere in the numinous in-between. And seeing, really seeing, that to believe in possibility is to set yourself free.

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 presetp.s. In the vein of miracles and resurrection, check out the incredible work of the American Chestnut Foundation, an organization that is working on restoring our great American Chestnut through an ingenious belief in possibility

Autumn is the Dying

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Thistle down in Autumn

If Winter means death, then Autumn is the dying.

In our culture, death is often synonymous with dread. Like late blight to tomatoes, it seems devastatingly final and achingly unfair. But the idea that dying is an event to be feared is a very human story, and one we have only recently started telling ourselves. To our ancestors death was an inevitable heartache, and an inevitable liberation as well. For most of our predecessors, death was never considered an ending. Rather, it was a transition into mystery itself.

This Autumn, allow yourself to experience the deep liberation of dying.

Autumn Road Revere

Life itself is a cycle— a circle, a wheel, a constellation turning and fading and appearing once more. Anytime we want to remember the truth, all we need to do is look around us. Turn our gaze to the harsh eloquence of the natural world (which is to say, the entire world), and witness how everything in existence both lives and lets go in the same motion of welcoming. Every day that the sun rises and dies beneath the humus of the horizon, the earth will remind us that even dying is an act of life.

Dying can be exquisite, and every bit as freeing as being born. In autumn the earth shows us just how soul-quakingly beautiful the act of letting go can be. As the sun moves lower and lower into the bed of the sky, the life force of the deciduous world buries itself in the roots. Fruit bursts open and feeds the earth. Seeds are carried away on the rapture of wind. Each leaf, having lived their own lifetime of cupping their faces to the light, flames and in a singular burst of ecstasy, dies.

Autumn canopy

In autumn, the world changes before our eyes. The background blur of green dropping away so that we can no longer sleep walk through the sameness of our days. In hues of sunset and ember, ocher and flame, the earth demands our full attention. The maples set themselves on fire and ask us to find the parts of us that are aching to be alive— and the parts of us that are ready to be thrown on the pyre.

When we let go of everything that is ready to decompose, we make space inside of ourselves for newness to be born. Dying has never been a finale, it is only a brilliant bridge to a new section of life. Like compost turned to rich and seed-ready soil, dying prepares us for a new phase of living itself.

Though our smaller selves might dissolve, dying has never been an ending at all. It is, instead, an ecstatic transformation into a wider self.

Autumn color

Rose Hips and Hills

A time of harvest and longing, celebrations, endings and melancholy, autumn is a potent mixture of all the exquisite fulfillment and color that accompanies the ritual of dying. It reminds us that dying is, in truth, a time of the deepest abundance and celebratory release. Blush-colored apples and pumpkins left glowing like lanterns in vine-withered fields. Gourds and sunflower seeds, cracked black walnuts and hickory nut milk. Hardy chestnut cakes and food literally falling from the sky. As we lose everything from the crown of the trees down to the weeds, our forest floors fill with nourishment. Our tables are heaped, our pantries plentifully lined, and we are left with nothing but thanksgiving and the luxurious space to wean ourselves off of that which actually robs our sustenance. To let the aspects of our life that aren’t feeding us die.

And this, after all, is the beautiful truth of dying. That if we can see beyond the waning and our own fear of ending we will notice that the burial ground itself is one of abundance. And a feast of great fullness is what awaits us on the other side.

Marshall Train tracks

Autumn is often a nostalgic season for many people. A time in which we look back on what was, the moments that have flickered and passed. The different versions of ourselves that were born for an era and then were snuffed out in the winds of time. Nostalgia is a potent draft. It can make your mind spin with just a sip. Sometimes nostalgia can even stretch to include the entire sensation of living itself. As if we are looking back from our elder years to feel that sweet and painful thanksgiving for the very opportunity to be alive. In autumn we experience the nostalgia of a well-seasoned soul in the warm blessings of their death bed. Autumn gives us the permission to simultaneously love it all, and say goodbye.

For if autumn is the dying, then winter is the death. And in autumn we prepare for that space of deep reunion and soul quiet that accompanies the soft banks of winter nights. In autumn we are invited to a unique banquet. A table laid with sassafras tea and pumpkin pie, wild nut butters, acorn pancakes and rich apple tarts. And all we must do to enter such richness is shed our old clothes at the door.

Autumn SIlver and Gold

This Autumn, let something die.

A worry, a relationship, a project that has run its course. Let go of anxiety over the future. Let go of guilt.

Let go of other people’s dreams for you. Let go of the fear that happiness or success or love or joyousness somehow isn’t for you.

Let go of feeling unwanted. Go outside, can you feel how deeply your presence is craved here?

Let go of the small and burdensome things. Gifts never opened. Keys without a lock. Broken earrings, old love letters, the ephemera on your fridge.

As David Whyte writes, “Anything or anyone that does not bring you alive is too small for you.” This Autumn, let go of all the clothes you have outgrown.

Let go of comparison.

Let go of doubt.

Let go of the feeling that you are somehow not good enough.

Because every imperfect apple that lays soft in your hands, and every ray of low Autumn sunlight that warms you through woolens will tell you a different story, a much truer story. The story that you are more, much more, than enough. That you bless this world simply by being alive.

Barn view

Now is the time. In the knobbed hands of the wind, the antique scent of dried leaves and the warm cinnamon feeling of fire in the trees. Now is the time to let the dying enter you as clean and beautiful as the stone that was forgotten and then exposed in the wheat gold of fading weeds.

Allow in the beautiful melancholia and heart-throbbing abundance of life itself. Let every day end like a cello on its last note. And relish. Relish, relish this season of profundity and release. Because, despite what we have grown to fear, dying is a beautiful thing. For then, we can rest. For then, we can embrace the unbelievable joy of what comes next.

<<  Practices for Dying >>

Death Mound

A Death Mound

Autumn is an important season of reflection and ritual for me. It is often a time when I look back and take stock of the year’s harvest. The ways in which I have grown, what has been gathered, and what burdens I am ready to lay down.

A potent ritual for me has been to build a death mound. This time of the year the forest and any wooded areas are filled with a bounty of leaves. They give us the perfect opportunity to create a ritual around enacting a much-needed release.

Take an afternoon this autumn to reflect and write down everything you are ready to let die. Gather this piece of paper and any other earth-friendly items that represent those aspects of your life that you are ready to shed and find a quiet spot with a lot of leaves. Dig a small hole and bury your bundle. Then heap over the spot with the leaves to make a mound. You can get creative with colors or patterns or simply toss them over and let your release be messy and complete. Make this pile as high as you dare. If it is a private space, try burying yourself as well. Close your eyes and imagine all of the heaviness dropping from your body like fruit, eager to be given as good compost to the soil. When you are ready, emerge as if you are truly leaving a layer of yourself behind. Cover over the hole with more leaves and say goodbye.

If you can, take a walk by this place on a later date and when you see that the leaves have scattered in all directions (or been carted away), you will know that what was buried in your mound has been released.

Mushrooms

Expose yourself to Wildness

Each season holds its own particular medicine. The best way to imbibe this medicine is simply by getting outside to experience the shift. Go for a walk underneath the changing trees. Jump in your neighbor’s leaf pile (when they aren’t looking, of course). Collect your favorite leaves and hang them temporarily on your wall. Place them back outside when the trees are bare and make a wish with every one.

Eat wild food. Whether its rose hips, or a cracked black walnut, or an apple from a feral tree. Get a bit of autumn’s wildness within you. In the presence of wildness death becomes just another beautiful variant of living itself. Allow the wildness of autumn to teach you how to die.

Ask the season to guide you to new medicine. Autumn is often when I begin to shake up my herbal routines of the summer months. Sometimes dying requires a new medicine, and you will know what you need because you will encounter it and a part of you will spark to flame to say “Yes, I am still alive.” For me, this was a life-altering combination of Ghost Pipe Flower Essence + Carnelian last year. You can read more about their medicine in this story.

Cow Skull

Recognize the Otherworld

Honor the memories. Honor the Ancestors. Honor the ghosts. With Samhain drawing so near, that traditional holiday of influence from the otherworld, autumn is an important time for engaging with the beyond and righting your relationships with the unseen world. Visit more of these potent autumn rituals in this Samhain reflection.

Autumn Road

Above all, give yourself permission, every day, to both die and find the way beyond death. Let yourself live. Spend an afternoon this fall on your back on the forest floor. Make yourself a nest and watch the sky. Follow one leaf from its first brave leap all the way down to the forest floor. Give it time. And one day you will wake up and feel as deep and complete as a maple flame extinguished in the compost of rich soil. You will feel, innately, how very good it is to just let go.

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p.s. If you’d like to hear the soundtrack that created this blog piece, take a listen here

Flame

Allowing on a Late Summer Day

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There is a specific slant to the late afternoon sun that floods my living room with a cast-iron butter of deeply heated light. It’s always that last stretch of sunshine that seems to glow the hottest. In the downward arch of day, the fever of collected sunshine gathers like a stove coil around the rim of the sky, flooding the world with heat. That glow itself kicks up a kind of exhaustion, the feeling of every hurried project just aching to be complete. Recently, it seems the close of each day comes with a command: find your completion or, for goodness sake, find some release.

Max Patch

In Appalachian summertime each day marks a creation in progress. The basil leafing out in pairs from where it was last snipped. The sunflower rotating like a mandala from pollen to seed. The bees carrying fulfillment from one flower to another, rubbing their bodies against everything soft and petaled in their path. Every morning it as if the rising of the sun turns on the great hearth of the world and each new creation, stirred of dirt and mineral and rain, is placed within the hearth of the earth to ripen.

Flower Essence Bowl

Throughout the summer months there are so many individual projects, visions and collections, tiny destinies awaiting to be fulfilled. I imagine the sun must be like a pâtissier in the great kitchen of kings, sending out emissaries in every direction to tend the grasshoppers and zinnias and bees. Perhaps the clouds take part as well, gentle assistants roaming over the hillsides to check the cobalt beginnings of the blueberries bushes or tend the heavy branches of peaches. Each cumulus a white haired women, trailing cotton aprons and the tracks of great care.

Just as the embered end of a long day in Summer bring forth an almost overwhelming peak of heat, the last stretch of August can, at times, seem almost impossibly bright and big and full of needs.

Group Sit

Sometimes, in the thickest ring of a day, I’m just able to keep up. Matching my pace with the flowers expanding ever-wider, the vines finding new perch, or the grasses that risebefore your eyes like well-leavened bread. But then, just as the sun begins to ease back towards the horizon it is as if someone finally opens the door to the oven of the world, to halt all of creation at its peak. The earth floods with a deep heat and everything living is given the signal that it is okay, okay now, to nod your head like the sunflower. It’s okay to give up creating for a moment. To take oneself out of the furnace and find a peck of shade. To put your feet in the creek, to allow yourself some peace.

Perhaps, all along, summer has been the ripest season for such reprieve.

Altar at Max Patch

We often see high Summer and the dead of Winter as opposite wings on the wheel of the year but the truth is that they have more in common than we might imagine. Like the Yin and Yang, anything that is opposite also holds the other within it. The essence of Winter, and its demand for rest, recuperation and the regathering of vision, is flecked like mica throughout the high summer months. In Winter, we rest because there is nothing to plant but dreams. In high Summer, there is a similar pause. At the hottest peak of the day, there is often nothing to do but take our well-mixed creations out of the oven. Let them cool on the windowsill and give ourselves a moment of quiet regeneration and soulful reprieve.

The Queen 2

Summer as a time of rest is almost unheard of around these parts. For all those that garden or homestead it can feel as though the tasks are never-ending. And even those who don’t tend the land seem to fill their coffers with well-intended parades of vacation, work projects, or pie making, but the end result is often the same. We pray for Autumn to come so we can receive a break from the break.

Like the waterfall buzz of cicadas, the high-whine rush of summer always seems be repeating the need for growth. We see the sunflowers grow twice our height in the span of a month, the grass following quickly behind, and there is some deep internal nudging inside of us that says. You, too, must grow so tall, so quickly, so fast! In high summer, however, there comes a natural time when all our bustling projects fall flat. Like seltzer water left out on a sunlit patio. Try as we might (and, to be sure, we try mightly!) we never get quite enough done as these long sunny days would suggest. And perhaps this is when we should simply it let all fall like the head of a blossom gone to fruit and seed.

Passionflower at Sunset

This Summer I have had dedicated myself to practicing the art of relaxation. At the beginning of this summer I contracted Lyme disease (for the second time in two years) and so, very quickly, my attention to plans, both bold and bland, fell away. Rest became my most important prerogative; I went seeking the mica speck of Yin amongst the overwhelming sunshine of Yang. Most afternoons, when the heat reaches its peak, you can find me lounging in bed (the darkest and coolest room of the house) with a tall glass of chilled tulsi tea and a good book. Some days this Summer this was about all I could manage. And it was enough.

This season, I find myself asking new questions. What if we can find our fulfillment in long tides of rest? What if, going even deeper into the season, means finding stillness in the rush of summersong? What if, the most profound lesson of all is to be able to bask in that mirror of Yin within the Yang? And what happens when our entire structure of To-Do lists collapse in the face of allowing ourselves something the nectar seekers never once deny themselves– good old fashioned contentment.

Contentment

// Allowing Contentment //

Every day, in every way, we are all trying. Trying to weed the garden, or get dinner on the table, or find the love of our life, or heal our heartbreak. We try to be better, be happy, to take care of ourselves. Some days I think we are the only beings in all of creation who try so hard! The sunflowers in my garden dwarf me, but not once did they ever stop to try to be magnificent. They simply took in their surroundings and grew. The hummingbird tests each fushia flower and never once grows frustrated. Even the ants, those who work to rebuild their colonies with each overturned stone, go about with a dedication that excludes even the option of trying. They are simply doing what they must. It makes me wonder, what would happen if we stopped trying, like the sun in its last sling of heat easing in the horizon, and simply allowed ourselves to move in natural ways of contentment.

Allowing is a difficult concept for most of us to swallow. Allowing doesn’t mean comprising your goals, your dignity even your boundaries. It means making space for what is. And when we allow for exactly what is, doing what needs to be done without telling ourselves that we are trying to do it, we make the space we need to truly live.

Sunflower heights

After I was diagnosed with Lyme disease this summer I was left with one simple goal. How can I enjoy, I mean truly, enjoy myself. How can I be so filled with my own contentment, that spilling fullness of life, that there is room for little else in my body but more own vital vigor, my own zest for life?

On the days when all I can do is lie in bed with my books and watch the fan whirl, I embrace allowing. There is no trying in this moment, only the sense of doing what I must. It has been rough in patches, I won’t lie. But over my time spent in bed this summer I have learned something incredible.

Juliet's Garden Flower basket

Allowing is the gateway to loving what is, yes, but it is also the gateway to embracing exactly who (and where) you are. And when you can love that person, and all her needs for quietude and nourishment and podcasts and comfy pillows then you can accept almost anything. Including the slow tendriled creep of healing back into your life.

Self love is a term that is often thrown around, but not fully embraced. And frankly, it can feel incredibly difficult to try to love oneself. And so I say, stop trying and instead, on this hot and humid day, simply allow yourself the pleasure of finding contentment. Contentment is a gateway to recognizing yourself in your most peaceful form. It is a way of being receptive to oneself and ones destiny. And it feels so damn good.

Tea

So, for today, I ask you. What brings you contentment? Can you take yourself away from the To-Dos for an afternoon and let yourself be like summer scones just out of the oven. Sighing, resting, sweetening before your eyes. Because this is the truth that is sung by the hearth and the oven, the fire and the sun itself. Creation never becomes complete until it is taken from the heat and allowed, with time and space and tender breath, to let go of the hubbub of transmutation and find its final shift into peace. After all, this— the cooling, the rest, the reprieve— is what makes any fresh baked delicacy ready to dined upon. And what makes that banquet of being alive so very delicious indeed.

Mandala

Summer’s Fullness

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Red Clover Blossom

On the other side of the strawberry moon, after the late spring blossoms of Beltane and the thick pulses of Hawthorn blooms arises a season that weaves itself around the helm of a single word – fullness.

At this point in the season the full arrival of summer is undeniable. Roses are spilled like wine over the countryside and the branches of riverside trees are heavy enough to sweep the water’s surface with their wands of green. Light finds its way into every leaf of the day and even our nights are lit by the floating embers of fireflies.

rose wall with stool

Here, the fullness of summer arrives in waves both infinitesimal and quick. Like a jar left open in the rain. Slowly, in swells beneath the perception of our fast moving eyes, everything becomes full. The arrival into summer can be like waking up with a jolt in the bright light of late morning. As your eyes adjust to the fullness of the day you realize that the slow trickle of dawn, with its dispersed moons of early morning fog, have all but disappeared. There is only the high sun and ocean-bright light and insects running like waves through the thigh-high grass.

Daisy Gift

Motherwort Essence

Summer’s fullness is a mantra, known and carried by every species in these hills. For us humans it means planting the last stragglers into our gardens and tending the sudden tangle of weeds, late-night parties and an endless train of events. It means wild harvests of herbs that last only a week and calendars so full of bustle there is barely enough time to keep the floor swept of barefoot dust and weeds. To embrace summer fully is to be like a bee, in constant motion from the lip of one sweetness to another, to exhaust oneself with so much color and opportunity.

Harvest

We are just a few nights away from the longest day of the year, our Summer Solstice, and the very strand of life has tightened into an almost watertight weave. Open fields are a ticket of thimble flowers, blackberry fruits and rose thorns. The canopy is crowded thick with ropes that wind themselves from forest floor to crown heights in a cordage of grapevine. What was once a wind blown cove is now a cave of green and shadow. Every branch is so full of life, the mountains themselves change from the blue hue of a winter-colored moon to a newborn coat of emerald. In Summer, the entire world of growing beings weaves itself into a kind of container, a place to hold even more than was possible before. The crosscatch of canopy and forest floor braids itself tight as rivercane, the traditional baskets of the Cherokee people of these mountains. The sheer abundance of life works together to create space for more.

Rainsoaked Woods

++ Weaving Yourself into the Basket of the World ++

In Appalachia, life grows upon life. There is no end. As a temperate rainforest with some of the highest biodiversity in the deciduous world, the warmer months can be dizzying. Summer here is an initiation into a world of almost overwhelming life. This year I seem to have taken on more than ever before (Hence my two month delay in getting up another blog post!). My schedule from now until the last sigh of summer is already at its brim and, if I’m to be honest, sometimes I wonder if I have enough hands to hold and plant and tend it all! On those days, I like to walk out into the arms of our forest caves, or find the perfect circle of a deer bed in the high grass, and remind myself that the world can contain it all, and so can I. I must only let the earth weave me into its own way of embracing fullness.

Red Clover Basket

Catbriar on Hemlock

Whenever it seems that I am whittling away my life with To-Do lists and calendar dates, I remember this—we are, in truth, nature creating itself. We are a part of this vast and precious ecology, a spectacularly tiny but unbelievably special node in the consciousness of this entire world. When I feel as if I couldn’t possibly hold it all, I return to my place as co-creator on this earth. I bring my heart back to its roots, at the humble foot of this mountain of growth. I am here to bring the gift of myself to this world and when I allow myself to become a prayful part of the container of life on this earth, I can always hold more. In nature there is always space for growth that benefits the whole. When I connect into the gifts that arise from a consciousness of connection, there will always be space. When I give such soul gifts, the world itself expands, and I end up finding more fulfillment than I ever thought possible before.

Wonder

In Bill Plotkin’s book Nature and the Human Soul he talks about this idea of widening the circle of your identity to become a part of this basket of the world. In an eco-centric society (a culture based around the ecology in which they live), as a person ages they naturally come to a place where the hoop of their recognized identity includes the more-than human world. As we come to understand ourselves deeper we can find more levels on which we can identify with the earth and through this widening we stretch ourselves into vessels of meaning that can literally hold more.

Valerian Essence

Circle of Identity

What makes busyness so exhausting is its divorce from soul. The problem isn’t that our days are full, it is that we don’t fill our days with that which truly fulfills us. The only reason why we can look at the growing world and feel such dismay at the blackberry bramble that continues to peek up through the steps or the weeds that must be pulled is because it strikes such a low-hearted chord of recognition in us. So many of us are like gardeners, pulling that which grows wild and cultivating perennials that don’t actually bring us joy. So how can we begin to grow gardens that truly sustain us? Find work that, through its fulfillment, we feel deeply soul-full? Perhaps the best place to begin is simply to ask yourself what you truly want to be full of…. Curiosity passion, wonder, trust? Begin here.

Fog in Madison County

++ Into Emptiness ++

In these mountains the stumble into summer means the arrival of near-daily storms, afternoon tempests of thunder and green. After a full day of humid rocking the very mountains themselves seem to creek with the need to release. Soon enough, a dark, wasp-like cloud gathers on the late afternoon horizon and you know relief is just a strong wind away. The fullness reaches it brim, and then it spills over. The gardens are watered, the plants in the meadows drink deep. There is an almost audible sigh as the forest refills its streams. It is one motion, the filling and the spilling. Without reaching such a state of fullness, the rain in the wooly tangle of clouds would never be released. Without this constant emptying, Appalachia wouldn’t be the unbelievably ecological rich place that it is.

Pisgah StreamIf I watch long enough everything in the world seems to tell the same tale. Fullness leads to emptiness, and emptiness to full. In order to experience emptiness (the pause before the inhale, that space in which anything can shift, the nothingness out of which newness can take hold), we must always move through a moment of being unbearably full. Even as I resist the fullness of my schedule I look out upon the world and see a place that relishes such a brimming basket. Waterfalls and the full blown bloom of lupines. An entire ant colony under each rock in my garden and the red clover blossoms that arise every time I neglect a corner of my lawn. The world speaks in such tones of fullness, and so I embrace my own place in creating more. I spend my mornings writing, I prepare for classes until late into the night. I eat honey by the spoonful and tend my garden between bursts of harvest rains. I buzz from flower to flower covered head-to-toe in the sacred paint of this earth’s pollen and, in between, I find moments, if only as brief as the span between a hummingbirds thrum, to empty once more.

Butterfly on Clover

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