Pruning the garden…

Posted in gardening, Healing, Initiation, prayer, Sun Moon Dance, yard work on July 7, 2015 by Standing West

There’s been a lot of new growth around here these last few weeks.

The two timid strawberry plants I stuck in the ground a couple of years ago have exploded into a patch that yielded us 6 gallons of berries by the end of this year’s harvest. A multitude of tomatoes and peppers hangs fat and lazy in the early morning sun, and spaghetti squash – an unexpected discovery rescued from the rotary composter – proudly distend their mottled bellies among the dandelions and the  ghosts of last year’s onions.

The new herb bed out front is bursting with life, secure behind sturdy walls lined with Marigolds unfurling their orange and yellow banners defiantly against the ever-present threat of hungry rabbits.

And although we’ve certainly been blessed with abundance, our space here is limited. The success of our harvest is due in no small part to ruthless and diligent pruning.

I see the recent changes in our lives reflected in the garden. May 21st marked my last full day of 9 – 5. My position was phased out and so I left a job I’d held for nearly ten years. I’d sensed for some time that it was coming; not only from the slowing down of work, but also from the subtle – and not so subtle – nudging of Creator to plant my feet firmly upon the spiritual path, tend to my own self-healing, and simply let the rest take care of itself.

For the last two or three years I’ve been praying almost ceaselessly for the removal of anything that might interfere with this journey. During that time, friends have gone their way, habits and hobbies have waned or disappeared, and interests once deemed vital have completely flickered out.

In the space that has opened up, two new studios have generously offered to accommodate an increasing number of appointments; and my wife and I have finally finished converting our downstairs family room into a home office. During this time, we’ve had ample opportunities to focus on our own healing work; and also to pursue our work with others in ways we’d never imagined.

As we enter the arbor in two days for the Sun Moon Dance, I’m keenly aware that as it’s my 7th time, I’ll be dancing in the West of the South: the place of sacred work in the direction of emotion, opposition, and the dying away of things which no longer serve. Admittedly, I enter the arbor this time with no small trepidation – even writing about it now stirs some tension in my solar plexus, and reminds me that the years that have passed since I first picked up the drum have led me to this place.

And while I feel the symptoms of deep and difficult work approaching, I’m no longer focused on the outcome.

I seek only to walk, and to work, and to serve; to prune away the dead and dying branches, that Spirit’s light might reach and nourish the rest…

Tuesday…

Posted in Compassion, Healing, Initiation, Inspirational, poetry, Spirituality on April 7, 2015 by Standing West

And so it is:
golds and browns
giving way to sleepy greens
and grays tinged with blue.

On days like this
even the rain is meditation.

We’re called to these things.

And as we rise to meet them,
they become us;
or rather,
they fold us into themselves,
so that after a while one fails to notice
the difference
between the service
and the one who serves…

Someone gimme a stone…

Posted in ceremony, Healing, Initiation, prayer, sweat lodge, visions on January 7, 2015 by Standing West

I’ve found myself being called upon to welcome the Stone People into the sweat lodge on a regular basis lately. As is typical when undertaking a ritual, one must be aware of both the practical or exoteric component, and the deeper or esoteric component that empowers the physical container with the Sacred, enabling it to become a vessel for the breath of God.

The Grandfathers leave the fire cherry red; the images on their skin whispering stories in the dark for those who will open themselves and listen. We receive the Stones from the pitchfork into a basket formed by interlocking the tines of White Tail antlers. Then they are placed into the pit to receive their blessing of herbs and the water which, in the form of steam, will carry our prayers to the Great Spirit for the good of All Our Relations.

On a practical level, the antlers are sturdy, resistant to heat, and fit together securely, keeping the Stones from rolling away and burning someone. They also provide better control over where the Stones are placed in the pit.

Symbolically the antlers represent gentleness. The fire from which the Stones are taken is a violent, masculine environment. Rather than bathing the participants in this emotionally aggressive energy, the Grandfathers are cradled in a softer, feminine energy before being brought into the lodge. Focusing on this, one transcends the self and becomes the instrument through which the process unfolds.

The last time I was asked however, a deeper level of awareness opened up. As we move through our lives, or rather, as our lives unfold through us, we will encounter difficult situations which will test us in every conceivable – and perhaps not so conceivable – way. We can meet these challenges carelessly, injuring ourselves and others in the process; or we can open up to them and receive them with gentility and grace, allowing their energy to serve, through our interaction with it, as a lesson for All Our Relations. . .

The challenge of love…

Posted in Initiation, Inspirational, Spirituality, sweat lodge with tags on November 20, 2014 by Standing West

Many years ago, I was speaking with a cousin of mine whom I deeply respected and loved as an older brother. He was the father of two children and was telling me his views on parenthood. “My job,” he said, “is to draw a circle around my kids. As they come up to the edge of it, I push them back into the center until I see that they’re strong enough to step outside of it. When they do, I welcome them into their new world and repeat the process all over again.” Even though I may not remember the words he said 100% verbatim, I have never forgotten the gist of what he told me.

While sitting in a particularly difficult sweat lodge this past weekend, I found myself at odds with the heat. Suddenly, my cousin’s words came back to me and my suffering broke into a moment of realization. The difficulties we face in life are simply the arms of God wrapped around us in order that we might push against them and find the strength to grow beyond the space that they allow us.

This does not mean that Spirit is a cruel and sadistic entity who repeatedly confines us to a place of suffering for his own amusement. On the contrary; it implies that Spirit not only provides us the challenges we need to grow, but embraces us completely throughout the process

By any other name…

Posted in ceremony, Healing, Shamanism on November 18, 2014 by Standing West

“Are you a shaman, Ben?”

The question came from one of the members of the group who’d gathered at a new studio for a dedication ceremony I’d been asked to officiate. We’d prayed together, smoked together, shared a cup of mead, and offered our thanks and best wishes to our hosts. It was a multi-traditional ceremony which, like so many others I’ve attended, started with a simple idea and wove itself into a tapestry of faith, love, and Spirit.

“I never use that title in reference to myself,” I answered. “Some people in my community have called me that, but I prefer to think of myself as Spirit’s roadie. I show up, put out what I’m asked to, let Spirit do His thing, and then pack up everything and leave when the work is done.”

Perhaps my answer might have seemed a bit flippant. And maybe it might not have sat well with some Elders. At this point I have no way of knowing that. All I know is that I cannot claim title over any of the healing or curing that might take place beneath my hands. I’m  simply a man who does his best to serve as a vessel for Spirit’s love…nothing more and nothing less.

I know that there are many who would look at my initial training in Michael Harner’s Core Shamanic method and classify my work as cultural poaching or “Neoshamanism”.

And this is exactly where the difficulty of a modern healing path presents itself. To truly be a vessel of Spirit, one must walk beyond the opinions of men and embrace completely the will of the Creator. Yet one must also serve one’s fellow man, honor fully the traditions that make this possible, and remember always the Elders who’ve lived and died to keep these traditions alive, and the cultures from which they have sprung.

So how does one honor a form without becoming restricted by it? I’m paraphrasing here a bit, but as a teacher of mine once put it, “What kind of healer would I be if you came up to me one day asking me to pray for your wife because she was sick, and I told you I couldn’t because I didn’t have my drum?”

I’ve tossed this issue back and forth a lot over the last couple of years and with the help of my current teacher, I‘ve come to believe that the answer lies in acknowledgement, permission, and gratitude.

When we are called to serve, we must first acknowledge and accept our responsibility to those who’ve come to us, to the Creator, and to All Our Relations. Then, with full permission of all parties involved, we open ourselves to the Will of the Creator and gratefully allow His healing light to flow through us for the greatest good of all. Whether that healing manifests itself through song, rattle, drum, dance, or smoke is immaterial – the form often changes according to the needs of the patient.

This does not mean that we “do whatever we feel like at the moment.” That is a reckless path that leaves us open to the possibility of some very hard lessons. No. What we must do, however, is place ourselves completely in Spirit’s hands, knowing that once there, “WE” aren’t the ones making the decisions. “WE” are simply the conduit through which Spirit’s will is made manifest.

Our main responsibility lies in recognizing the difference between the two. . .

I have walked on rose petals. . .

Posted in Compassion, Healing on November 18, 2014 by Standing West

There’s a lot of anger and hatred in the world these days. Perhaps it’s escalated, or perhaps, because of the speed at which information now becomes available due to the Internet and the myriad devices which utilize it, we are simply more aware.

War, murder, bigotry, pedophilia, religious colonization, the hoarding of wealth, the raping of the planet and the indigenous peoples who walk upon her…the litany of offenses stretches on – seemingly forever.

It’s easy to understand the angry and sometimes violent response provoked by these occurrences; as a people, we are often goaded into action by the basest of our emotions. And while we might be able to justify these actions in the name of some higher purpose, one simple fact remains: violent conflict as a means of ending violent conflict only brings about more violent conflict.

In the midst of all this negativity, we are faced with one simple choice: Do we come to the aid of those oppressed from a place of love? Or do we lash out at the “enemy” from a place of anger? One of these paths is true compassion; the other merely hatred thinly veiled.

“First you get angry,” the old adage says, but what you do with your anger is up to you; for as the words of another old saying tell us, “hatred is like swallowing poison and hoping the other person dies.” The more we hate, the more the light within us dims; and by extension, the darker the world becomes.

I don’t claim to have all the answers. I only ask that before lashing out in anger we take a moment to consider those most deeply afflicted by a given set of circumstances and ask ourselves the following question: “What do THEY need?” Do THEY really need their infrastructure bombed into irradiated dust to rid them of their oppressors? Do THEY really need their traditions destroyed in the name of democracy and material wealth? Would Jesus or any of the other prophets really want someone beaten into submission in order that they might learn to praise his name?

It has been said that energy follows intent and form follows energy. If there’s any truth to this, then the motivations behind our actions will breed true in their results. We are here not only as wardens, but as co-creators. Our external nightmares are nothing more than the physical manifestations of our internal ones. Perhaps it’s time we found the courage to carry a little light into our own corner of the world, lest we continue casting shadows upon the rest of Her…

Not by works…

Posted in Compassion, Healing, Religion, Shamanism, Spirituality on October 15, 2014 by Standing West

(This blog stems from a conversation I’ve had with an Elder on my Facebook page…)

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God–not by works, so that no one can boast.”

The spirit of these words, given in order that we might learn humility, has been twisted to justify the killing, maiming, and raping of the World and her Peoples since they were codified. Who cares how I treat All My Relations, so long as I have faith?

How quickly we forget  these other words: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” …and it is with added shame that we’ve forgotten our neighbors don’t only come in the two-legged variety.  When the central theological dogma of your culture assures your “dominion over” everything, ANY form of nature reverence can be classified as sacrilege.  (Add that to a cultural vision based upon the consumption of resources, and it makes for a VERY dangerous worldview…]

I keep thinking lately of the poem “God’s Grandeur” by Gerard Manley Hopkins (a Jesuit, surprisingly, with some very “pagan” ideals):

“The World is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs—
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.”

Written in 1918, it speaks with a voice at once much older, and yet VERY applicable to the condition of world of today…

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