LIFE’S MOMENTS

Lillies
I got a phone call yesterday from someone who had just gotten news earlier in the day of the death of a good friend and colleague. It was a man he had been close to, but had not seen for a while. Word had gotten out that his associate was not doing well, but no details could be filled in. The person who was ill had wanted it that way. Still, it was a shock when word came that the friend had died.

I remember when my brother was ill and dying, how cagey he was about who he wanted to know about his illness, and who he didn’t. On one level that was understandable since he was a practicing psychologist at the time of his diagnosis, and he didn’t want to upset his clients unnecessarily. However, I never really understood why it was so hard for him to share his journey with certain friends and not a problem with certain others.

My father had also been like that. He received a cancer diagnosis and was given just a few months to live. He asked that no one but the immediate family know this, including at the time, my new “family” of in-laws. I had just gotten married a couple of months earlier.

Without meaning to, my father put me in a really uncomfortable situation. My new family wanted me and my husband to spend that first Christmas with them. I knew this might well be the last Christmas with my father, and Christmas was a big deal to him on every level. It was his favorite holiday. My father was ever so precious to me, so that made it a big deal to me.

I would have been happy to blow off my husband’s family so I could be with my dad, but I didn’t want to betray his confidence. My husband could have cut me a break and told his family anyway so we could be with my parents, but I don’t think that ever occurred to him. The result was that I chose to be the good and silent daughter. I spent Christmas with relative strangers, with a distracted and hurting heart.

There were days during my brother’s illness when I had to field phone calls from people he didn’t want to talk to. I think he found other people’s empathy incredibly hard to deal with, and he already had enough on his plate. Of course there were also days when he was just worn out from his treatment, or had had enough to process simply getting through the hours. It was awkward making up excuses about why he wouldn’t come to the phone, while still trying to express gratitude that someone cared enough to call.

“So and so is on the phone,” or “So and so is at the door,” I would say. He would hiss some rejection of “so and so” at me and beg me to turn them away. I mostly didn’t obey. I would hand him the phone, or let them in the door. My brother would sometimes cry after they left or hung up.

“Thank you,” he once said to me afterwards. “Thank you.”

The fact that we might feel shut out from a friend’s dying experience has more to do with them than with us. The path of grief and loss and illness is never an easy journey. Life seems to contract and get smaller with every such experience, and sometimes we become leery about other potential losses we see on the path ahead of us.

The important thing is not to shut down. I have come to understand that there is so much more to this existence than I will ever understand. The struggles and grief I have managed, have expanded who I am. Friends, old or new, are ever so much more precious to me simply because we have shared our journeys together on this Earth. I see life now as the gift it is meant to be, no matter where it leads me.

My heart has been broken open by some of my experiences. Surprisingly, that has been a good thing. I am so much more open to seeing the good in people, and to walking through life with compassion instead of judgment. It forces me to live in today, sometimes one minute at a time.

In Christianity, the Holy Spirit is referred to as the “Comforter.” I’ve always loved that concept, that God can heal the things we cannot heal alone. It says in the second step of the spiritual recovery program of which I am a member, “Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.” Just the thought that help is out there, if I will only seek it, has helped me find peace when life seemed hard.

To all of you out there who may suffer loss, and grief, or too much change of any sort, I pray you may find the relief and comfort of knowing you are loved beyond imagining. Our tiny human capacity for love is merely a reflection of the greater love that is All That Is.

From this side of the veil, it seems as if our lives become less because we have lost someone precious, perhaps irreplaceable. I have found, however, that this has forced me to become bigger. I am so much less willing to let death, or any great test of my resilience for that matter, get the upper hand.

It is my belief that death is not the end. Exactly what that looks like is not something I can answer definitively at this time, but I am certain our essence lives on.

In the meantime, until I find out by “crossing over” myself, I cling to this certainty; love never dies. I still carry the love of every friend, every family member, every acquaintance, living or dead, deep within my heart. And so do you.

We are so blessed that ever they crossed our paths.

NEVER ALONE

Orange Horse
Only a couple of evenings ago I was whining to my dinner companion about the usual circumstances of my life; I can’t seem to find something new to throw my creative energy into that ignites the fire and passion of interest that so many things over the past years has hooked into, that I spend an inordinate amount of time by myself, that on some level, despite the age I am, I still wonder who I will be when I “grow up.”

I detest getting stuck in that kind of mental space. This morning, except for my two dogs, I am sitting alone in my house. The raging snowstorm of yesterday is still sprinkling lightly down on the frozen cars and roadways I can see from my windows. The probability that I will get out on the road and go somewhere today is remote. The only sounds are the hum of my computer and a distant fan in the refrigerator. And the fact is, I am content. Gone is the ennui of that dinner conversation.

This is what I call my “God space.” I got up this morning and went and sat in my healing room in the dark and meditated for a while. Afterwards I sat and wrote in my notebook the visions and conversations I touched on in that time of silence. I am as peaceful and quiet inside this morning as the soft snow outside. From the inside I feel the faintest of smiles along my lips that signals a whole physical relaxing of my face. There is no discontent today.

When I was a little girl I used to like to go and sit in the bare patch of earth under one of the large Maple trees in our front yard. From there I could see other houses and sometimes other children or families as they came and went. I played with a few animal figurines and breathed the scents of the flowers in my mother’s nearby garden. From this time so many years distant from that, what I remember is the peace. The only person I might have welcomed with me would have been my brother. Yet I was never alone.

The earth, the grass, the huge tree and the flowers, even my small animal companions were more than sufficient company. I lived in a different space than most people, it would seem. To my mother I was an “odd” child, scary because I knew things I shouldn’t have, given my age and lack of exposure to the world at large. I knew when things she told me weren’t true or were “dumbed-down” for me to understand. For a while, until I was conditioned otherwise by the world to keep silent, I would confront her about those things.

I have a picture of myself, or mostly of my face anyway, in a silver frame in my healing room. I think I am seventeen in that picture. That is the last year I remember living so freely in this intuitive space, though even then I was shutting down, so much so I often thought of death as a release from being so “odd” and unseen by the people around me.

I have been thinking about doing shamanic work for that girl, doing soul retrieval for the person who never felt like she fitted in, who’s struggled forever after with trying to find love and acceptance from the very people least qualified to offer it. It’s not that I’ve not been blessed by finding many other similarly gifted people along the path of my life, but I want to do work to remove the effects of the suffering caused by the others whose minds were closed. I think it is the suffering, and the fear of it, that keep me from following my path in any big, or public way.

My brother died a few years after I first learned Reiki. Reiki is a healing energy that can cross dimensions of time and space. Healing using Reiki can be sent to any time and place, past or present or future, and even to the dead if you can allow yourself to believe that. So can shamanic spiritual healing be used similarly. I am adept at both.

I have done a lot of reading about life after death. I knew from Catholicism (from my Catholic aunt, to be exact) that prayers were said for the dead to help them ascend into heaven. Other spiritual traditions offer similar assistance. My brother died with a lot of struggle on physical and spiritual levels in his passing. I thought for sure he could use some help in his journey into the next life.

One night as I lay in my bed alone in the darkness of the wee hours of the morning, I got the idea to send him healing. I held my hands upright toward the corner of the wall where it met the ceiling. I sent the Reiki symbols I thought would be most helpful for a couple of minutes, always holding my intention that they find the way to the place where my brother might be.

Suddenly a red triangle appeared in the space near the ceiling. It was like a strand of bright neon light in the shape of an Isosceles triangle. I could see nothing in the interior of the triangle, but the room remained clear and normal outside of it. I could see the symbols I was sending enter the triangle, make a turn to the right, and then disappear. I knew in my heart the healing was reaching him.

I sent him healing many times after that when I woke in the night and thought of him, but I never saw the gateway appear again. Maybe I never needed to see it again, for that one experience was enough to ground my belief in the possibility that this is real. In the years since, I have come across certain esoteric writings that mention the red triangle, and now actually have a friend who says she has seen it herself.

If Reiki can cross such dimensional lines, and shamanic healing can also retrieve energy from the past and the future, why can I not use this to help myself?

Physics tells us now that time is not linear, after all, even though we experience it as so. “Time” is a purely human construct according to many of these same physicists. Science has acknowledged that there are at least 11 other dimensions out there, probably many more. It’s only my own locked-into-the-apparent-here-and-now self that has difficulty with this concept of self-healing, surely not the soul I wish to assist.

So this afternoon, since I can’t go anywhere else anyway, I think I’ll travel the dimensions of time and space and see what I can see. Maybe after a few sessions the person in here and now will be a happier soul.

Kind of like that girl in the photo.

TWINKLE, TWINKLE

Stargazer
The stars sparkled in the black sky overhead tonight as I stood on my little patio. Even though my subdivision is mostly filled in with houses now, and there is much more light pollution than even a couple of years ago, it is still darker here in this part of Colorado than it ever was in New York.

I remember when I first moved here, being awed by actually being able to see the Milky Way sprawling its glory across the sky on a warm summer night from my vantage point on the deck of our country house. I had, after all, spent the majority of my life in or on the edge of one of the largest cities in the world. The Milky Way was something to be seen in pictures, or in the Planetarium of the American Museum of Natural History, not overhead. It is much fainter from my patio, but still visible. A simple journey up into the nearby mountains turns the night as dark as a voyage out to sea.

The darkness connects me to a more primal way of being and wakens some wilder soul I never would have known had I not moved here. On nights when the moon is full and the ground is bathed in that liquid white, my senses seem to sharpen and my awareness spreads out as far as my eyes can see. It is a magical experience for someone trained to live within the boundaries of all that is man-made, and the limits of surviving within constant swarms of fellow human beings.

I am not exactly at home in this natural world, but it has helped me connect to a sense of mystery and certainty that our lives are watched over and guided by a benevolent Universe. I am grateful for the calm and peace that affords me, since I am a person who suffered from panic anxiety for years. Something about the wide horizons and the glory of the Rocky Mountains to the west pulls me out of myself and into a far more meditative space.

It was almost 70 degrees yesterday, and it is only the beginning of February. While the poor Northeast, which I once called home, lies under assault from continuing winter storms, I got to sit on the step in front of my house and watch my kids wash and detail their cars. They have a sweet relationship, just as I had always hoped, even though they are almost five years apart.

My relationship with my older brother was a life-saver for a big chunk of my life, so it makes me feel happy to see my kids bond so well, too. They chat amicably, even making room for the occasional comment from me. Mostly I sit in silence, soaking in the sun, grateful for the cooling breeze and the presence of two people I love more than life itself.

The outer stillness has allowed me to find the gifts within that only flourish in that space of inner listening. I have been blessed to find all kinds of training that nourish that part of me; shamanic healing, Reiki, Healing Touch, crystal grids, psychic mediumship, so many beautiful modalities and friends that once I would have snorted with derision at. The best part is that I get to share these things with people who come to me for healing help. I know I am not the “healer,” but I am absolutely certain there is One who works through me. It is a gentle presence called by many names around the world, but whom I choose to call God.

The shrink I once went to for help with my anxiety diagnosed me with PTSD from growing up in my family of origin. Oh yeah, that and many things that happened long after I left my “family of origin,” have forced me to grow and evolve into a person with a deep, deep spiritual connection.

It is a presence that sometimes arrests my attention in the middle of a hectic day, forces me to stop and notice the flutter of leaves on the trees outside my window, or absorb the play of light on the snow-capped mountains and their reflection against a pristine blue sky. Not much can defy the inner joy that touches, and the healing that comes from a few seconds of absolute peace.

Last week, on a miserably dank and blizzard –ridden morning my son took my car to work in Denver. An hour or so after he left, he called to tell me he had had an accident. On an ice-covered hill he had been unable to stop, and hit the trailer hitch on a truck stopped in front of him. It punched in my bumper significantly, but he was okay. It’s the second accident my poor new car has suffered in the four months I’ve owned it.

Shortly after that my daughter called. Her little dog, bane of my existence in many ways since he stirs up the two dogs I already live with to the point of driving me nuts, was flipping out as she tried to go to work and leave him in her new apartment. I had been celebrating the fact that the dog was finally out of my house and back with my daughter.

“Can you take him to work with you?” I asked.

“No. Do you think I should call in and stay home from work with him today?” she asked.

I sighed. “Call in and say you’ll be a couple of hours late and bring him back to me,” I said, with a surprising chuckle.

What could I do but surrender to the day’s events? The dog is a sweetie pie except for his high-strung nature. I’d already lived with him for three months. A bit more time with the dog wouldn’t kill me.

Money would fix my car, and my lack of distress would help my son’s guilt.

These events were irritations, not the end of the world. Not something the old me would have been able to see.

To my many friends, teachers, sponsors, the great state of Colorado, and most especially my Higher Power, whom I choose to call God, I give blessings and thanks.

DAWN’S MUSE

Self Portrait
I sat facing west on my front porch in the clean, cold air this morning as the sun began to rise over the houses behind me. The yellow light poured ever so slowly down the fingers of the bare young trees in the pocket park in front of me and along the angular tips of the shingled black rooftops of my neighbors’ homes. In the quiet it felt like a living essence was reaching out and touching everything with the new day, especially the motionless trees.

That mystical color and life in the light only lasts a few minutes before the sun breaks the horizon completely. Daybreak comes late on these winter days, but the Solstice has just passed, and now as this shortest of days begins, we climb ever so slowly back to earlier dawns and longer afternoons. I so look forward to this transition point, when I can sense the larger change coming, and my spirit also begins the climb up from some inner darkness.

It will take a month or two for this shift to become obvious, but for this morning it was yet another of those magical gifts; the not quite tangible realizations of the true miracle of being here at all as a sentient being, of the existence of something so much larger than my singular life running things, of all being perfect as I sat there on the porch.

For months I have wandered in a seeming desert of purpose, where life has felt very routine and unchallenging, but I am coming to realize that perhaps it is this kind of pause in the flow of being that is the most challenging of all.

I tend to look outside of myself for answers and feel frustrated, sometimes angry, when what has worked before is not adequate now. I am older, so time does not feel so abundant, so expendable. People and activities, places and routines begin to feel stifling in their limits.

The idea of the little RV and taking off on a ride to who-knows-where for who-knows-how-long becomes the life-saving thought. That is until I realize that the work being called for is within. Without that, I can’t manifest the courage to challenge myself with doing something so outside my box.

This afternoon chilling sleet flies in the wind, a tell-tale leading edge sign of the more intense snow storm in the western mountains. Both of the lovely friends with whom I had a celebratory pre-Christmas lunch the other day talked of the possibility of moving away. It seems change is in the air. I’ve been the one to stay rooted in one place for years and years, and now even I long to move, somewhere different, anywhere that is not this place.

“Where would you go?” my adult children ask me.

“I don’t know,” I reply. I don’t want to go far from them, but Colorado is no longer the anchoring place for me it once was. The ocean is calling again. Perhaps it is the ancient Inland Sea deep within the soil around my house reminding me of my love of water, calling in the silvery moonlight on nights when I look out my kitchen window.

For a moment I see sandy beaches and crashing waves and long walks by myself, or perhaps with my chubby little dog. The Universe urges me to laugh as it snaps me back to reality. Chippy hates to get his tiny knobby feet wet at all, even in warm summer puddles after a thunderstorm. I amend the dream.

Instead I imagine myself laden with whatever shell-treasures I have found on my morning walk. I see my bare feet stepping on worn, sun-bleached wooden steps, and climbing over the dunes to the shaded deck of my rented cottage. Maybe I’ll write a book there.

All the darkness that hides in the nooks and corners of my present house, stories of divorce and change and too much loss, lose their power when I think of the smell of the salty water. The constant ocean breeze whispers of the presence of God. There my little dog can toast himself on the warm deck, or dig a shallow nest in a pile of ocean sand.

Ahh, yes, on this shortest day of the year, this feels ever so much more manageable than that RV I’ve longed for for months on the far side of the fence at the edge of my subdivision. The number on the For Sale sign taped up by the man who lives there will at long last go uncalled by me. Imagination has moved me on in that yellow light seeping down the trees this morning.

He will have to sell it to someone else.

CHRISTMAS EVE

Trees in snow

My grandmother passed away December 20, 1980. Twenty two years later, on the same day, my brother passed away. On that first December 20, the family gathered in Ohio to bury my grandmother. My parents had moved out there earlier in the year. My father had retired by then, and my mother was an only child who had moved from New York to help her father care for her mother.

Christmas Eve that year my brother and I flew home from Columbus, OH to LaGuardia airport in New York City. There’s always something about seeing the city lit up at night, sparkling and glittering through the darkness and patchy clouds, land masses broken up by wide expanses of black water, which calms and soothes. I felt especially touched that night, for these sights, along with the bumpy descent of the plane, mean I am coming home.

At the time my brother and I lived in side-by-side apartment buildings on a main street in the town where we had been raised. We shared a cab from the airport home. Everything seemed lit by the gaudiest of Christmas lights, a visual assault on the senses that went on for miles and miles and miles.

I remember Co-Op City, an apartment complex in the Bronx, especially from that night. Like the lights from the city itself, there is something grounding and comforting for me in the glare of holiday lighting, too. Co-Op City was a mass of multi-storied buildings of apartments with balconies and windows and rooftops blinking and twinkling in the night. Even the train trestle in the town in which we lived sparkled with the light of a huge flashing wreath as we passed under it, almost at our destination.

Still later that night I sat in the darkened living room of my apartment and watched the dots of primary colors from the little tree there blink across the walls and ceiling and reflect from the window glass as I thought of my grandmother. She was always a part of my childhood Christmases, with sparkling eyes and neatly permed white hair.

Twenty two years later it is the daylight vision of a receding view of the city I remember. I can still hear the roar of the plane as it rushed toward the black water’s edge, sense the lift as it seemed we barely crossed the water before watching the rush of cars on the highway below and the approaching rooftops of buildings so close you could almost touch them, can still remember the right-handed lean into the steep bank of the plane as it circled over the eastern end of Long Island, south over the Statue of Liberty, up, up, crossing New Jersey, and finally west toward home, Colorado. This time I traveled with my husband and kids, to a whole new world without my brother.

I have a younger friend who just lost her mother a few weeks ago and for her, this will be her first Christmas without her mom. Precious tears rolled down her face as we sat talking. I used to hate holidays and anniversaries and birthdays because they reminded me of loss, and change, and the fact that there are no certainties in life. I used to hate that I can’t control events or people or even my feelings about them.

Somewhere along the way I have learned to see things differently. It’s not that the pain ever goes completely away, but it does ease with time. I had a friend long ago whose little daughter at the time had a rare and aggressive kind of brain cancer. She had already lost an eye, and faced another major surgery. He talked about the only way he could deal with being with his daughter and the girl’s mother without breaking down was to focus on how grateful he was to have both in his life. Every minute became precious.

It took me a number of years to really get what he was talking about. I like to think that I live much more from a place of gratitude than I used to. Living in the now, in the moment as it is passing, means I am truly present to my life. It’s not just a series of memories of the past, or thoughts about the future that engulf me. It’s where I am today, at this hour of this day.

Last week I went to a wonderful Christmas service at a church a friend attends. A friend of hers sings in the choir. There were three different human choirs, a large bell choir, an orchestra of stringed instruments and horns and flutes and drums, and members of the clergy and congregation to read the spiritual passages of Christmas from the Bible and other texts.

Yes, this Christmas for me is radically different than others that have gone before. This year a wiser and more patient and hopefully, with the passing of each year, a deeper person looks out at this holiday.

We celebrate the coming of Light into the world in the form of a baby born in a manger and call it Christmas. I have thousands of associations with the symbology of this season. For me one of the most profound occurred a long time ago.

The church I attended as a kid and young adult used to have a Christmas Eve service that started at 11:00pm and ended after midnight, so really it was Christmas Day when we finished.

One year I had attended the service and walked out into the parking lot with a couple of hundred other people. It was very cold and you could see your breath in the air. Snow covered the ground and crunched under our feet. In the black sky above my head, stars twinkled brightly, numerous beyond counting.

I stopped and stared at that sky. I held my breath, the still air chilling my nostrils. The very space around me seemed alive. For that minute, in that place, I knew without knowing that I was not alone. Something was looking back at me. The Light of the World truly touched me. To me, that’s what Christmas is about.

THE PAST CAME KNOCKING

Rocky Mountain View

The honking of Canada geese fills the silence in my kitchen and slides up and over the roof of my house as they head west, toward the mountains. There have been so many geese lately I have wondered if something is unusual this year that makes them gather and move in big groups so differently than other years. It’s been an odd weather year here, at times warmer, then colder, then warm and dry again in seeming measured bursts. The sky is very still today, threatening to bring a little snow.

The honking is a beautiful sound that pulls up memories from my childhood. I remember one long-ago morning as I walked to school and looked up into a similarly gray and tentatively stormy sky. The staccato sound was loud but gentle as not just tens but hundreds and hundreds of geese flew overhead. It seemed to go on for minutes as I watched. There was a hint of sadness in my heart as the last of the stragglers flew on and the sky emptied. Recollections like this don’t change with time, I’ve found, but something needs to happen, like the sound of geese, to bring them back so clearly.

Such a thing happened yesterday. A comment came in from my blog, sitting there in my email in-box. I love the things people write. I think it’s the interaction that touches me most. “Oh, someone read what I wrote.” I think. “What was it they felt? Who might this be who comments? How have we engaged?” Every comment is still a fresh experience, even sometimes the things I don’t like. This one was a surprise. It came through the comment path, but it wasn’t a comment. More a personal note.

Hello. A phone number. A name. “Really? Is this happening? Am I seeing this name for real?” A sweet breeze of summer flew across my mind. A friend like no other, for far too short a time. Decades and decades ago, now. My skin remembered the warmth of the sun in July. My eyes locked on that name. A basketball clanked on a chain link fence forty years in the past.

The voice. I remembered the voice that went with that name. Would I recognize it? Would it be the same? Dare I call? “There’s a voice that goes with that name,” I thought. I smiled. I felt like I would cry. “I can’t do this,” I thought. “I can’t open this Pandora’s box.” So I let hours go by. Finally I thought “How could I not? How could I not call?” So I texted. So he called.

I talked to the man that kid had become. Uncountable summers later that voice was the same. Of course I remembered. “That was a sweet time for me,” he said. A sweet time. Oh yes. Almost unbearably sweet, still. I liked the man. I liked the things he said. I liked his curiosity, his wanting to know. I liked the heart and the wisdom he shared, perhaps without knowing, when he talked about his work.

It’s curious to me that this contact comes now. I suppose nothing about the Universe, the mysterious ways of the Lord, should surprise me. I’ve been talking to my Higher Power lately. I’m not so afraid of men anymore. So much has healed. I’ve moved on from a very sad place. I’d like to know who I am now, in a relationship with a man. I’m not looking for another husband. I’m not sure what I’m looking for. Perhaps a reminder that I have a heart, still. A chance to practice and be honest with someone who also happens to be a man.

All this year men have been coming out of the woodwork. Chance encounters. Conversations. Coffee. I must be paying attention. I must be less guarded. I smile. I respond, and talk and laugh. Men at the gym. Men in stores. Younger men. Older men. The men at the workshop I just went to. Okay, I get the hint. Maybe it’s time for me to move forward, with heart. So how do I do that?

And then this. That name. That voice. That time. That soul. Not just a little heart. Full throttle heart. A remembering. An unexpected approach. The Universe tells me not to be afraid. There is nothing to fear. There never was anything to fear, here. Except maybe for love itself. If I talk to him again, so be it. If I don’t, I learned something profoundly important, anyway. My heart is alive and well.

I remember that day my daughter walked into my house and down into my basement with her stuff, to move back in after living in Australia for a year and a half. I remember how I watched her and heard myself say silently, “You better not let yourself love her too much. She’s just going to go away again and break your heart.” As if love is something you control, or should even try. I was surprised I even thought about it. I was surprised I had become so guarded. I loved her anyway. She is my forever precious child.

And so I guess I learned another lesson about love. A phone call from a timeless place reached right to the heart of the matter. I should never limit who I am, just because I am afraid I might get hurt. I should never limit who I am just because someone might not like me, or worse, not love me. I’m not here to live a limited life. No one is. I’m here to live a full-throttle life, now, today. Life never ceases to be full of surprises. Guidance comes in the most unexpected forms.

Thank you, John.

SHAMANISM 101

Animal Speak

I’ve just returned from an extraordinary experience outside of Madison, VA. I got to spend two weeks participating in Michael Harner’s Foundation for Shamanic Studies annual Two Week Shamanic Healing Intensive. If that sounds like a mouthful, then know that actually being there was more like a soul-full of both personal and spiritual revelations that have helped to transform me yet again, and pushed me outside the limits of the box of “who I imagine I am.”

The Foundation for Shamanic Studies teaches “cross cultural shamanism,” which means we learned ancient spiritual healing techniques common to most indigenous societies rather than to a specific culture. Believe it or not these techniques are very similar no matter where on earth they may have originated.

“Extraction healing,” for instance, or removal of unwanted energies like illness, stress, entities, curses, or pain might look different from culture to culture, but the method has more similarities than differences. Where one culture might literally work with the shaman, or medicine healer, sucking something from the body and spitting it into a bowl, we learned to use our hands and to dispose of what we remove by “throwing” it into a body of water.

The point of much of this work is to rebuild your “spiritual power” in this reality, called Middle World, with the help of compassionate helping spirits and power animals from Lower or Upper Worlds. These are different “levels” of reality akin to what I might better explain as another dimension where things are just as real as they are here. One of the more exciting exercises for me was where we were sent to find a partner in either Lower or Upper World and to describe what we saw.

It was set up like a game of hide and seek, and we had to place ourselves in this other reality and wait to be found. Our partner had to wait approximately 30 seconds and then take off after us, tracking until they found us. This is done in a trance state initiated by the sonic drive of drumming. The drumming creates altered states of consciousness. That I could actually see my partner come and find me, and then go and search and actually find my partner, was validating on a very deep level that not only does “this stuff,” (shamanic spiritual work) work, but that it is as real as anything else I have experienced.

The point of this essay is not to reveal all that we learned, for that would not be possible using only words. Suffice to say that over the time of the twelve days we were together we became a community. We were sequestered in a beautiful wooded area of Virginia with walking trails, a river, wildlife galore, and time enough each day to commune with Nature, each other, and the power of what we were learning. The modern world still intruded, but it did not disturb. We could hear traffic, and trains, the lowing of nearby cows, and every once in a while, gunshots as deer season began.

Learning these techniques involves both giving and receiving healing energy. It requires trust of a stranger, who in the beginning the only thing you have in common with is a similar interest in non-ordinary reality. In a video conference we had with Michael Harner, Ph.D., an anthropologist who has made shamanism and preservation of these ancient healing techniques his life’s work, Dr. Harner told us that his intention is to have us learn this work in an effort to help heal and save the Earth.

According to Dr. Harner, we have ignored our responsibility for each other and our environment for too long. His admonition to us is that it might be too late, but our obligation is to try to help. Even if it’s just working with friends and family, or as part of a community drumming and healing circle, we should do something. Change happens one person at a time, after all.

Part of the work of the traditional shaman was not only to take care of the tribe, but the total environment, physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. The whole community participated in this as part of everyday life, and a spiritual overview of the nature of reality was a given. It was not religion as I have ever experienced it, but a deeper and more intimate connection with both seen and unseen worlds where help and guidance are available for the asking.

An interesting culture we learned about sent their very young children out into the wild by themselves, unguided, unprotected, in an effort to find spiritual help that was then believed to stay with and guide the person for the rest of their lives. As you might imagine, not everyone came back. I think this is an extraordinary act of trust. I surely would not have sent my precious children on such a journey.

Our retreat did not only open my mind and teach me about the techniques I signed up for. I lived very intimately with more than thirty other people for almost two weeks. We spanned a gamut of ages from 20 – 70. Some of us had experience with this work, some did not. We were all at different places in our lives. We were all looking for some kind of inner change as a result of participating.

I learned I still suffer from a lot of self judgment. “I am too old,” “No one will like me,” “I am not outgoing enough,” and a hundred other things ran through my mind. None of these judgments proved true, but it was interesting to listen to the inner dialogue. It made me very grateful for the life I do lead, living where I live. I am a thousand times more connected with the natural world than I once was. I have found inner peace and quiet on a very deep level even when the world around me is fairly chaotic.

My trip home was an awakening of sorts, too. Due to equipment problems my connecting flight to catch a plane back to Denver landed five minutes before the Denver flight was due to take off. I asked the flight attendant if he thought I’d be able to make it. “Not if that plane is on time,” he said.

We had landed at Gate E48. I needed to get to Gate B10. Even though Charlotte, NC is not a huge airport, that was a heck of a distance to negotiate in five minutes. So I meandered along for a minute or two. First one, and then another person sprinted by me. So I thought I’d sprint too. Maybe that plane would be a little late, too.

It was late enough at night so the moving sidewalks, which might have saved me not only a couple of minutes but some wear and tear, too, were all turned off. I had plenty of time to mentally thank my friend, Pam, for making me do my cardio so I could run so far without having a heart attack.

I got to Gate B10 and there were people there. I was thrilled. I had the good sense to ask someone, “Is this the plane to Denver?” instead of standing there waiting to board with everyone else.

“No,” she said. “That plane’s been moved to B14.”

I raced on to B14. Not a soul was there, but I could see someone still sitting at the desk. “Is the plane gone, yet?” I asked.

“Nope,” the bored looking woman said calmly. She scanned my boarding pass. I trotted down the empty rampway to the plane door, and on to my seat. It was 8:35pm when I sat down. The plane had been scheduled to take off at 8:20.

“Thank you, helping spirits,” I said.

“Thank you, friends from the intensive who sat with me in the first airport and helped the hours pass swiftly as I waited for my delayed puddle-jumper propeller plane to finally arrive.”

“Thank you, USAirways for being delayed for whatever reason so I could make it home tonight.”

Ordinary reality can sometimes be a real pain to negotiate. It’s so much simpler if you can just be grateful. No matter what.

I’m so lucky.

I had the best two weeks.