Posts Tagged ‘Ritual’

Vision Quest Reboot, 2013

August 31, 2013

I have done a number of Vision Quests over the course of my adult life, but three, and now a fourth, stand out as pole stars around which the rest of my psyche and life revolve. The depth of insight into Self and world from these experiences is unmatched by anything in my experience.

I will briefly describe the first three, and then in more depth the one I undertook just this week. The first one took place around the time of the end of my career as a minister. Knowing a shift was coming and being still unable to conceive of it, something from deep inside of me said, “I need a vision quest.” I don’t know where that came from, as at the time I had never known personally anyone who had done one, and barely realized that they were still practiced. “Ask and ye shall receive.” Very shortly after that I met a woman at a gathering who was part Native American. She mentioned that she led vision quests. I asked her without hesitation if she would conduct one for me. She did. After careful preparation with her I sat awake under the stars from sunset to sunrise in the mountains outside of Malibu, California. It was the simplest, clearest, most pure rite of passage I could ever have imagined. Within a month I resigned from the ministry that had been my life and career for 20 years and embarked on the rest of my life with new vision.

Some years later, after my ex-husband and I had separated, a situation that was unbearably traumatic for me, I began work with a Nigerian dibia who conducted a training and initiation for me over the course of about 9 months. It was the year 2000. Eze instructed me during that period that I should shave my head. I dwelled upon his suggestion for a time and then one night the thought hit me. Ok, I will shave my head, but when I do I am going to go out into the wilderness on a solo vision quest for 10 days to sit in raw nature and listen deeply. It came as a crystal clear vision and I committed myself to it on the spot. I spent several weeks preparing for this, and then did so. It was one of the most magical, informative and transformative experiences of my entire life. I have written and spoken about it elsewhere many times since then, so will say no more about it in this writing.

In 2004 I moved from my long home in Los Angeles to live in the wilderness within the mountains of Western North Carolina and start a retreat center. As I think about it now, the intentions behind this move were largely based upon the experiences I had during those vision quests. While working through the processes of making such a huge adjustment, in 2006 a friend who is a professional nature photographer, Lori Kincaid, invited me to hike to Shining Rock Wilderness with her where she was going to take photographs. I jumped at the chance. Shining Rock is a miraculous mountain of crystal rock that ages ago exploded out of the earth when continents collided. It is a white and brightly colored rock several stories high. Looking up at the side of it while we were there I saw a little cave-like grotto half way up the wall of stone. I heard a clear message that said “Come back here for a 10-day quest and spend as much time as you can in this grotto.” This I knew would help me to relocate my spirit to this side of our continent and get a vision for the next phase of my life. I committed to that vision and prepared myself for a couple of months before I came back. This experience was, equally and differently, as profound and transformative as the other two quests I described had been. One of these days, possibly, a book or writing of some length will come out of all of this, but for now my life itself is a testament to the quests and an outgrowth from them.

Now, in 2013, I have just made a move from my wilderness home into the city of Asheville, North Carolina. The move has been an earthquake in my soul, a shift that has rocked me enormously. When my friend Lori mentioned recently that she wanted to return to Shining Rock and did I want to come, I knew it would be a perfect time for me to reboot the power and the experiences from that 2006 quest. We went for two nights and three days this past week. Hiking the 4.7 miles in over rocky terrain with heavy packs on our backs I felt the weight of the experience in more ways than one, but the anticipation in my heart was so high that I barely felt the strain. When we got there we put our tent exactly where my tent had been those ten days before. I prepared the circle in the ritual methods I know. While Lori was off photographing I spent the time in communion with the familiar rocks, woods, trees, and spaces that had been my home and my village in 2006. I told Lori that a million dollar vacation to an exotic location could not have made me happier than I felt being there.

I spent timeless time in the area of my tent home, in the grotto, in what I called my tea garden, and in the spot where I had written down my dreams and in my journal every day previously. The spirit of the place was fantastically alive for me, and I felt fantastically alive as well. Memories of where and who I had been in 2006 were clear, reflections and questions about all that has transpired since then emerged, and information from nature that had been sealed into me then flooded back and expanded.

On the final morning I revisited and spent timeless time reflecting in all of my familiar areas, and explored some new ones as well. As I sat leaning on the tree across from some tall rocks in the location where I had done my journaling, I mused upon the stones in front from me. For the very first time I saw a face in the stone as clear as if it had been carved like the busts on Mount Rushmore, only this one more beautiful as it is nature’s carving. The face is of a Native American man, high cheekbones, smiling eyes, perfectly chiseled nose, chin and mouth. I could barely believe I had never seen it before. (I will include pictures in a future blog post. New programs automatically added to my computer changing how things used to work, and now using a new smart phone rather than my camera, prevent me from knowing how to do this just now.)

When I made the intention to quest at Shining Rock the first time, I happened upon a statement in the book called Shamanism by Joan Halifax saying that the Huichol believe that the spirits of departed shamans go into the crystal rock, inhabiting them, and from there they instruct the living shaman. When I encountered these words I got chills all over and knew that the idea to go to the rock for those ten days had been inspired by the shamans living in the rock. And now I was actually seeing the face of one of them. As Lori said to me when I showed it to her, “I believe this is an omen.” I was an unexpected and very powerful blessing.

A dear friend of mine, Chris Moors, recently encouraged me to publish my blogs in book form. He said that to him they represent how the indigenous mind handles modern world challenges. He wrote these words that have reverberated within me and mean very much to me: “Can it be done to hold ancient space in the modern world? Yes. How do I know? You are doing it.”

This is indeed my quest. My commitment. My hope. My longing. And my journey.

Vision Questing is a profound ritual. I commit myself to providing and reviving these rites for modern men and women. Just yesterday a friend and client who attended a vision quest that I conducted on the mountain years ago spoke passionately and eloquently about the profound benefits and life-altering effect that experience has had on her, effects that increase and continue to move her constantly.

May each of you who reads this find and follow your deepest visions. I ask the blessings of nature and the ancestors for you in this.

A Ritual for Bonding with Place

August 4, 2013

When I purchased my home in Asheville 3 months ago, along with a darling little cottage came an acre of beautiful gardens on the slope behind my house, complete with a gorgeous waterfall created by the previous owners. It was impossible not to fall in love with this place.  Hook, line and sinker, I was a goner. Where do I sign? The sale went quickly.

I hadn’t been here but a couple of weeks, however, before the shadow of this great grace began to present. Few people would be as naive as I was about what is entailed in caring for these gardens. In negotiation for the purchase, a for sale by owner property, I explained to them that I know nothing about gardening. I was married to a landscape contractor for 20 years who for the length of our time together had his crew come in and take care of everything. During those years I was working two jobs and raising children, and happy not to have to even think about that part of the responsibility in home ownership. When I moved to the mountain I took care of my 6 1/2 acres, but those weren’t gardens – it was wild land. I bought a tractor and mowed it myself, and otherwise had only a tiny bed for herbs, tomatoes and a few flowers.

The owner told me that this garden is low maintenance; it really only requires that you put down mulch every couple of years. She probably easily assumed that anyone’s mind would be able to fill in the blanks – that hours and hours of weeding, pruning, dead-heading, thinning the overgrowth, and on and on would also be included. Sadly that was not the case for me. I thought, “Ok, mulch every couple of years and I get to live in Disneyland, garden-wise.”

Oops. I moved in at the end of April. Summer hadn’t even started. With all the rain we have had it wasn’t long before the weed population threatened to take over everything. And every other undone garden thing began glaring at me – as if to say, you idiot! I was a deer in the headlights. I couldn’t sleep for a month. I thought I had made a huge mistake, and felt very down on myself about it. How could anyone be that naive? If I were in a better situation financially I could just hire someone to do it all, but that is not my circumstance at the moment. There is so much to learn I feel a little like a pre-schooler suddenly thrust into a Ph.D. program. Sitting to just enjoy the property became barely possible.

And so, rather than sell the place, cut and run, or continue to wallow in fear and despair, I decided I had to do the only thing I DO know how to do. Create a ritual. Ritual calls in the great powers; it is the language that connects mere humans with the caring and wise invisible resources who are just waiting for us to engage with them so that they can assist. Ask and you shall receive. Knock and the door will open. Those principles are at work in ritual well conceived.

I did not feel bonded to this place. Like a newborn who is not bonding with mother, it is a dangerous situation. I felt alien. I didn’t know how to engage. I truly believe that there is a spirit to every place, and spirits that inhabit it – devas, plant spirits, elementals, angels, fairies and the like – but I didn’t feel remotely conversant with them. How do I open myself to the conversation, introduce myself to them, tell them my situation and ask to become an active part of this community of life? I need desperately to bond, to feel a sense of belonging, to care for the land and let it care for me.

The idea came in a flash; begin a 40-day ritual. 40-day rituals are spoken of in nearly every spiritual tradition. Jesus was in the desert for 40 days before he began his ministry. All scriptures are rife with such stories. Indigenous people say, “You must feed the holy;” make food offerings to the land, spirits and the ancestors. So I decided to go out in ritual mode every day for 40 days and make offerings, pray to know and be known by those who live with me in this place, and then look about and see what comes for me to do. Try not to think about the never-endingness of what there is to do, and how little I know about it all, but just do something, whatever shows itself.

The first day I was shoveling dirt that had fallen down the hill in the torrential rain. The next I was cutting back plants that had already bloomed, someone had pointed out to me which ones needed that. The next it was another thing, the next another. Each act is a prayer. One day I sat with the big tree in front, planted a crystal under its root, and just hung out with it. Another I got a blanket and lay on the land and watched the life buzzing all over it – wild turkeys, bunnies, butterflies, birds, bugs. Some days treasures are delivered – the gorgeous shell of a turtle who died, the luminous body of an expired butterfly, beautiful feathers.

We’re bonding. It is happening. I don’t know what is ahead or how it will all get done, but I’m not going to let the worry and anxiety that was threatening my sanity to intrude on this ritual. It’s a beginning. Adventure is ahead, and I am readier to embark. Ritual is good. I am grateful.

Everything I do, I do it for You

May 18, 2012

I have just spent my second night in my new apartment in Asheville. My mountain home is still home, but is on the market and so I make this transition in merciful stages. After the roar of quiet out there – only wind, rain, stars and forest creatures to talk with, this move feels huge for me. I hear people walking from room to room upstairs, turning on the sink, coming and going, street noise, yard equipment, sirens. But I love the fact that there are bird songs here that I don’t hear up on the mountain, different varieties, new tunes.

After my buddies from the mountain who helped me move had left two days ago, with boxes, bags of things, misplaced furniture everywhere, I laid down on a mat on the floor, body out of gas. As my spinning mind started to settle, the first clear thought was, “How do I say thank you? How do I thank You – my Lover, my ‘Friend’” (Hafiz’s name for the one who loves and moves us)? This thought got me off the floor. Build an altar. Take a walk, put up a fresh flower, light some candles, give my heart, be sure to say clearly that I do this for You. Everything I do, I do it for You.

When Easter rolled around this year I was as sick as I have been in years, had had some big blows in plans I had been making, repressed anxiety from earlier big blows in life got out of the cage with the new anxieties, darkness rising. I felt my heart trapped in a cage, on lock down, afraid to come out and risk being hurt again. And I was very aware of a part in me who was ready to give it up, give in, live only half a life or no life. The part who has had courage and has undauntedly embraced risk all my life hadn’t been heard from in a while. She was in trouble, banished. “Shut up; go away, you’re a fool anyway.”

And so I decided to do a 40-day ritual starting on Easter Sunday. Usually the 40-day observances are for the days leading up to Easter, but this seemed good to me. Each day for those 40 I would open my rib cage, lean back, shoulders back, and offer my heart to the universe; tell the protector around my heart that we’re going to come out now. The hiding away inside this iron cage (which I could see in my mind’s eye) has run its course. And, along with this, I visualized the sad, weak and failing part of myself as a band of energy, and the courageous and trusting and strong part of myself as another band of energy, and would intend that the two of them weave together like DNA strands around my spine – each holding the other up and informing one another.

This meditation I did faithfully for 40 days. The first day when I pushed my shoulders back and opened my heart, I heard the crack physically, I’ll never forget it. My chest was full of mucus from the illness I was suffering so that the crackling in my ears was loud. And meaningful. The last day of the 40 days, certainly completely unbeknownst to me at the time I began, ended up being the first night I slept in my new apartment, May 17th. I realized this as I was lying on the floor after my moving friends had left.

And here is the kicker. A miracle. Some magic. When moving things down from Weaverville I put just the few things I knew I would want to find immediately in one little bag – things I keep on my night stand, glasses and such. In the midst of the chaos of boxes, I set a little table right next to my pad on the floor (no bed here yet), and placed those night stand things on it, along with a lamp. It was just a few, very specific items, nothing random.

When I went into the room later in the evening, folded up on that little table under my glasses was a piece of paper with writing on it. What is this? I knew I hadn’t put it there and it looked very deliberately placed. I opened it and nearly fainted. It was a letter that I had written to the Universe maybe a year ago – prayers,  hopes, visions, dreams I had wanted to articulate clearly. I do not know where it had been all of this time, I’d forgotten. But I do know that I didn’t put it on that little table. In the mass of chaos, the one clearly deliberate thing I had done was set up that table. And that I did well after my friends had left – they had just dropped boxes and furniture anyway, didn’t touch a thing otherwise.

During my 40-day ritual I made a drawing of my heart, just spontaneously. Growing out if it were huge vines, emerging from that soft red organ like Jack in the Beanstalks vines bursting through earth. The drawing surprised me. After this little magic of finding the note on the table, I felt so strongly the love in whatever force had orchestrated that surprise; and I felt the vines of love coming out of my heart to meet it. Pull the love out of me, You Who I Love. Let it grow like a strong vine into the world.

The cards say what I know, that this transition does not promise to be an easy one. But I’m going to pour my heart into it. And I will always say thank You.

Say to the sun and moon,
Say to our dear Friend,

“I will take You up now, Beloved,
On that wonderful Dance You promised.”

~ Hafiz ~

Rites of Passage, Death and Mystery

July 14, 2011

Rituals are symbolic acts, gestures that create a relationship between individuals or communities with the larger reality. There are daily rituals, which indigenous cultures describe as maintenance rituals, and radical rituals which address larger questions and transitions in life.

Then there are Rites of Passage. These are rituals that take one from one stage of life to another and are irrevocable. Birth is an irrevocable rite of passage. You can’t put a baby back in the womb. Penetration in sexual intercourse is irrevocable; once experienced the person has moved beyond virginity. Motherhood is irrevocable. A child delivered, living or dead, turns that woman into a Mother. Death is irrevocable, a rite of passage not only for the soul who transitions but for all who have loved that soul. We are never the same after experiencing death.

Since the recent passing of my Mother, the mystery that death has represented for humans since the beginning of time is highlighted for me not so much “death is a natural part of life” as they say, but as death being a mystery.  I have experienced significant personal deaths before – including that of my first boyfriend, my father, my dog – but this one inches me closer, not to understanding death but to appreciation for mystery.

Mystery surrounds us. Every time a tiny seed becomes a plant, sweet love-making becomes a baby, a cut on the body heals – though science tries to describe it, mystery is never eliminated. Somehow the Western mind, with its addiction to reason, rationality, explanations, control and answers – along with an alarming capacity for numbing denial – robs us too often of the experience of simply reveling in mystery with a sense of wonder, allowing ourselves not to know a thing and be comfortable fools in that.

A Rite of Passage is like a tunnel, a birth canal. Whoosh, you enter another world, one you have never known before. Or, better said, by labor you enter that other world. The Rite generally, in Earth reality so far, involves pain; not that there is anything wrong with pain, but more with our acceptance of or relationship to it. The passage, and the pain, are doorways to a new reality.

Part of this mystery for me personally so far, is the life-review aspect of death. They say that in dying one’s life flashes before their eyes. I think that must be true not just for the one dying, but for those who love the one dying. For a slide-show at the Wake we found ourselves pouring through family albums that have been collecting dust for decades. Clearing out the house, family clothes, portraits, letters and treasures have to be reviewed for their meaning, present value, and where they should go next.

When I went through an extended initiation with a Nigerian shaman he wanted me not just to discover who I am now and where I want to go, but where I came from, who were my ancestors, what are their deep stories. Apparently there is no successful birth to the next life without a sense of continuity with the one left behind.

This look back for me, at the moment, is more mysterious than the look forward into the world beyond. Ahhhh. I can barely say what mystery it holds. That “other” world feels so much less mysterious to me than this.

Indigenous people infallibly teach that we need the dead, we must be in relationship to the dead. Our ancestors carry those keys for us. And the dead need us.

Mom, what can I do for you now? And now that we are birthed through this passage, how can we help each other in the new world? Let us enter together this mystery.

A void

May 8, 2011

Recently, with shifting circumstances in my life, stretching myself between town and mountain and not feeling exactly at home anywhere, imagining how to get my mountain home ready to be a rental – which means removing personal items from living spaces – I keep having this psychological sense of a vast void. It is hard to describe, and has not been that obvious to me why it is there. Internally it feels like inhabiting big empty spaces, very Zen in one way, very disconcerting in another.

A good friend brought to my attention today an issue that I had nicely tucked away in my psyche, having put a period on the end of it. Over, done with that. The story is written, conclusions reached, the book closed. He was insightful enough to point out that the story is my little “dogma.” As such, if I am to practice what I believe, it has to be questioned. So out it came for serious review. Within a couple of hours I had developed a fever. It was the tipping point for several things, I suppose.

Now I understand the void a little better, however. A void. Avoid. I have created a void by avoiding this issue. I have not been present to it.

On Good Friday my friend Ali and I did a Letting-Go ritual by the stream. I had been thinking of all that Jesus let go of on Good Friday – a lot, a lot – so it occurred to me that it was a good day to ask for help with letting go of old things. We named them together, sent them downstream and washed each other in the water. Now this old thing is shaking loose from my psychic space. It had been so much a part of the wallpaper I didn’t even see it, I needed a reflecting partner to help with that.

Now possibly something can wash in to that void, something living, fresh and new. A new dance rather than the stance of avoidance. Ritual is powerful medicine and magic.

I Feel a Ritual Coming On

January 15, 2011

The new year has gotten off to a shaky start for me. The Full Moon is next Wednesay, the 19th. I will start a 40-day ritual that day which I am designing now. Career activating, butt kicking, hello world, here comes the sun, break through the dross, smile the bright smile, give the root some water, tell it to the trees, peek around the corner, smash it in the middle, shoot from the heart kind of ritual. The ideas are gestating.

And not until I began writing the above did I realize that today is January 15th, the day in 2010 that I began writing my blog every day. It was a New Moon and eclipse day, as I recall. Strange how I felt a ritual coming on even without having connected that yet. Ritual does have autonomous life and intelligence, the universe is made of it. Catching the train is a wild and wonderful ride.

Power of Ritual

November 14, 2010

More than 20 years ago I had a dream that demonstrated to me the power of ritual. I will never forget it. It is one of my life dreams. In it, I was next to a lake and felt the sudden inspiration to perform a ritual there, next to a tree. I did so; it was a simple, domestic kind of prayer to the gods in this symbolic way.

Shortly after that an enormous piece of substance flew through the air like a comet, an island about the size of Manhattan. It landed in the lake next to where I stood. I watched, and saw it suddenly turn upside-down in the lake. I was alarmed as I knew that if it floated upside-down for more than a few minutes the water would destroy its value to earth and the gift of it would be lost. Suddenly an enormous hand rose up out of the lake, the size of a multi-storied building. It turned the piece of land right-side up so that it’s value would be saved. In the dream I thought this hand was coming from “the lady of the lake.” I watched in awe. She saved it. Then, the piece of land turned upside-down again. The gift might not survive. The hand came out and righted it again. This happened three times, and then the property was stabilized and its value was now available to earth. I knew in the dream that the little, simple ritual that I had done on the side of the lake had been inspired, and that if I hadn’t done it the situation would not have turned out the same way.

This dream has spoken to me for these decades in a visual way, and I have observed the truth of this “fairy tale,” as dreams can be explained; psychological and spiritual truths for the collective psyche. Our tiny, simple, sincere, domestic petitions to the gods are heard and they harness the forces of the universe to respond to our prayers.

Simple rituals performed with faith and sincerity create the world. Galaxies of energies respond. We are co-creators with divinity. She responds to simplicity and purity of heart.


Power of Ritual

August 7, 2010

I practice private rituals regularly to make prayers, set intentions, offer thanks or call in helps. The inspiration to do them usually comes spontaneously, and their design is simple and straightforward. Occasionally, and usually when I feel a very deep or urgent need, I plan ahead for a ritual that will involve many days of repeated practice. This blog was begun as a 40-day exercise starting on the New Moon in Capricorn in January of this year. As I was deciding whether to continue or not at the end of those 40 days, some endearing angel spirits worked through special people in my life to urge me to continue and I am glad that I have.

I have long observed that once a ritual is planned the power of it starts pulling in a tide of response before it even begins. And so it has been for my most recent plan. I decided to start a 21-day ritual on the New Moon August 10th, 3 days from now. Exactly three weeks is what many philosophies say is the time it takes to create important change, or to break an old habit or create a new one. Wanting to clear my psyche of old hurts and unprocessed emotion, and to invite newness, I decided to begin a 21 day ritual on August 10th wherein I would clear some area of my physical space every day – a drawer, a section of my closet, a file case, a pile of papers, a bookshelf – as a way of emotional and psychological clearing also. And I have planned various simple daily practices to go with this to invite needed changes.

As I have been preparing, planning, making notes, etc., the changes have begun already. Someone arrived at my door today, out of the blue, who might want to buy my property. I don’t know what I will do, there is much to think about, but this sure is a sign that a planned ritual sets into motion surprising forces.

Humans have been spontaneously planning and doing ritual since earliest recorded time. It is a deeply instinctual way to interact with the forces of the greater universe in our human life.  I never cease to be amazed and surprised by it.