Changing Seasons

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This summer I turned 70 and the occasion brought with it many reflections.  I found myself wanting to take life easier and decided not to push myself so hard to do the things I “should” do.

As I focused on what I wanted to do, I ended up spending more time outdoors and less at the computer.  Days moved into weeks, and weeks into months.  In the process, I neglected this blog.

Summer has moved into fall.  I’m beginning to spend more time inside.  As I enjoy the process of putting thoughts into words and sharing them with others, I plan to resume writing this blog.  Recognizing, though, that my posts will be less frequent, I decided not to renew the growingourselves.org website.  This means that this blog will soon revert to: www.growingourselves.wordpress.com.

I hope you will continue following this blog and responding to my posts.  I look forward to sharing the changes ahead as I move through this season of life. 

Energy

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Spring bursts forth with gay abandon.  Birds sing, leaves expand, flowers open and chickens lay eggs.  Palpable energy fills the air.

Each day brings new surprises.  The land grows greener by leaps and bounds.

Green Energy

With sun shining brightly, I’m pulled outdoors.  While my eyes inhale vibrant color, my feet dance in rhythm with spring-time energy.  Sensing the energy that surrounds me, I delight in this time of the year.

Upon returning inside, I sit at the computer and find myself reflecting on Harmony Center’s spring workshops.  With no intent on my part, they each ended up focusing on energy.  Though different in focus, their main themes revolve around energy.

So what, actually, is energy?

Great minds have pondered this question for ages.  It addresses the Great Mystery of Life, with both science and religion seeking to answer the question.  In some ways it is the arena where science and religion intersect.

Energy involves the activity of the electromagnetic field around and within all living beings.  This energy connects all of creation, forming the inter-relatedness of all beings.   It can be measured, physically sensed and some people even see this energy.

While most people have times when we pick up energy vibrations, for we talk about experiencing “good vibes” when in the presence of certain people or places, we often don’t trust this information or know how to tune into it on a consistent basis.  For most of us, tuning into energy is an undeveloped skill.

So I’m looking forward to Harmony Center’s next workshop, “Opening to the Energy Field” on June 8th from 1pm to 5pm.  I expect to learn more about energy and further develop my ability to sense it.  Maybe I’ll even get to see it.

Sap Rising

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I sit in my kitchen sipping maple sap, staring at the landscape constantly transforming before my eyes while contemplating the spring equinox.  During the past few weeks, I’ve experienced warm weather melting the blizzard’s huge snowfall, followed by a snowy weekend surprise totaling around 17”.  Again the snow melted, bare ground appeared, only to disappear yet again under another white blanket.

Winter never moves directly into spring.  Seasons spiral in and out as we gradually cycle from one to the next.  Longer days and shorter nights herald the coming of spring. 

Day and night are of equal length at the spring equinox, which marks the official start of spring.  As I do each year before the spring equinox, I cut some forsythia branches last week, brought them into the house and placed them in a vase with water.  Their forced yellow blooms now sit atop a counter in my kitchen – a tribute to spring.    

Prior to the spring equinox, we also gather maple sap from trees on our property.  The sap can be boiled down to create maple syrup.  Many years ago we once took on this project, only to realize its huge labor intensive and sap consuming nature.  Many, many gallons of sap reduced to one tiny container of syrup.

Maple Tap

Our sap gathering equipment gathered dust in the barn until I learned about a traditional practice of drinking the sap without boiling it down.  Consumed in this manner, maple sap is considered a spring tonic.  Full of minerals, and other healing properties, tree sap helps us move out of the winter doldrums and experience the energy of sap rising within.

Although Earth’s energy re-awakens with spring, winter’s lethargy still pervades my body, weighing me down and refusing to release her grip.  As I sip on hot maple sap, I invite the energy of spring to enter my body.  May I feel sap rise within me. 

Praying

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On the day of the impending blizzard, I took my usual walk in the woods.  Snow drifted down lazily around me as I put one foot in front of the other and connected with the land around me. 

Arriving in my sacred prayer area, I stood for a while surveying the scenery.  My heart expanded to include each tree, each rock, and each place my eyes touched.   I felt filled with love.

I began speaking out loud.  “Dear Spirit, please protect all of us during the coming blizzard.  Protect the birds, including Blue Jay who sat on the branch outside my bathroom window this morning, from the danger coming our way.  Protect all the wild beings, including gentle Doe who recently visited this area.  Help all who are in the path of the storm find shelter and stay safe.”

I continued praying, “Please guide each snowflake to pass between the tree branches and pine needles.  Help the trees sway and bend with the wind.”  

My prayers became more specific as I asked for protection for my family and friends, for our chickens and sheep, for Star our donkey, for Kali our dog, for Pizzaz our cat, for our home, for Harmony Center, and for all of Harmony Farm.

I prayed, and prayed some more.  Then stood in silence, listening, sensing, feeling.

Deep inside I felt reassured.  I couldn’t say how I knew, but I felt everything would be all right.

As the day progressed, I watched snow pile up and heard wind blow.  When I went over to Harmony Center during the evening, I noticed that our driveway had already been plowed.  I said a mental “thank you” to John for being out in the storm, for taking good care of people like ourselves.

Snowy Scene

Later at night I lay in bed, listening to wind howling around our house.  Snuggled cozily inside my bed, I felt safe and warm.  As I drifted into sleep, I felt deep gratitude for the unsung heroes out braving the storm keeping us safe, plowing, repairing electric lines, answering emergency calls, clearing railroad tracks, etc. etc. 

I prayed for their protection and sent them love. 

Doe

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The other day I received an e-mail from a friend.  After informing me that her husband had been hospitalized with pneumonia shortly after contracting the flu, she asked that I hold him in my thoughts and pray for his recovery.  

Later that morning I took my usual walk in the woods, which includes visiting a special area on a small hill where I say daily prayers.  I stood for a while in this sacred area, holding Paul in my heart and sending him love and healing energy.  I then vocalized a prayer out loud, asking Spirit to help my both friend and her husband.

Upon finishing my prayers, I immediately sensed a presence on my left.  Looking over, I spotted a beautiful doe looking at me intently.  Again I spoke aloud, though this time I spoke with her and asked her not to be afraid. 

Usually deer run the minute they hear my voice or the sound of my footsteps.  Instead, she remained standing while I moved slowly to another rocky area nearby where I usually say a few more prayers.

Doe on Hill

Looking at Doe, I thanked her for her gentle energy and asked her to send love and healing to my friend and her husband.

Doe and I continued to commune with one another.  I felt her radiating kindhearted gentleness.  She even appeared to pose while I took her photograph. 

When our time together was up, we slowly moved in different directions.  I felt Doe’s gentle energy reverberating inside me throughout the remainder of my walk.

Paul returned home from the hospital and continues to recover.  While allopathic antibiotics helped kill the bugs., Doe’s gentle, loving energy assisted his healing process. 

Thank you dear Doe!  

Winter

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I sit in my kitchen looking out at the wintry landscape.   A blanket of snow covers the earth, protecting it from blustery cold air.  Barren trees shift gently in the wind.  The sun hangs low in the sky; its rays readily pass through the glass to brighten the room. 

Winter Scene

Nestled inside my home, protected from winter’s elements, I feel cozy and safe.  Even though I still take my daily walk in the woods, I hunker down during this time of the year. 

Like bears who hibernate during winter months, our rhythms similarly slow during this season.  We feel inclined to curl up by the fire and read a book or simply day-dream. 

Winter prods us to take time for reflection, for inner composting and rejuvenation.  If we nourish our deeper selves during winter’s cold months, we emerge in spring feeling rested and renewed, with energy for manifestation. 

Despite these natural inclinations, we often expect ourselves to continue rushing around – doing, doing, doing.  I believe that we pay a price for this behavior.  We deplete our inner energy reserves. 

This winter I intend to align with the energy of winter.  I plan to slow down and retreat inside – inside my home as well as inside myself.  I aim to embrace each moment and be.  

Alignment

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At this year’s Winter Solstice, our sun will align with the middle of the galactic birth canal, the dark rift very close to the center of our Milky Way Galaxy.  Much has been written about this galactic event, and its initiation of a new era.

The Mayans predicted that this year’s Winter Solstice would end a 26,000 year planetary cycle.  A decaying, corrupted cycle of human activity would end.  Some understand that this ending could initiate a world where people live in harmony with each other and all of Earth.

Galactic AlignmentAccording to some teachings, the Galactic Alignment will open the door to a higher vibrational energy, enabling a shift of consciousness into a heart-centered way of being.  But there are no guarantees of what will happen.  The time is now, and it is up to us.

I believe that we incarnated at this important time because we each have a mission, a soul’s purpose for being here.  We are here to help birth this time of wholeness and living in harmony.  Each of us brings talents and gifts that will contribute to this process in some way.

On December 21st, at 6:12am, E.S.T. – the exact time of the Winter Solstice – our sun will align with the center of our galaxy.  Let us align with this energy by opening our hearts and setting our communal intention to help birth the time of wholeness and harmony for all beings.

The time is now.  It depends on us.

Making Stone Soup

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One of my favorite spiritual practices involves participating in ceremonies that honor the wheel of the year, the seasonal cycle from winter through spring, to summer then fall.  By aligning with the energy of each season, these ceremonies help me stay in balance.  They also support my spiritual growth.

The ceremonies take place at important junctions in our seasonal cycle, the beginning of each season, which is determined by the length of night and day.  Winter Solstice, the beginning of winter, takes place on the shortest day and longest night of the year.

Winter Solstice ceremonies welcome this darker time of the year, the time when we retreat inside to hibernate.   Winter is our time for reflection, for inner composting and rejuvenation.  Like bears who hibernate, our rhythms similarly slow.  If we rest and nourish ourselves during winter, we emerge in spring feling renewed, with energy for manifestation.

A few friends joined me recently to plan our group’s Winter Solstice ceremony.  One woman had just returned from a trip visiting Peru’s sacred sites.  As she shared some of her experiences, her words sparked a vague memory of a book I once read. 

I wandered to the nearby book shelf, surveyed titles, and my eyes fixated on “Masters of the Living Energy: The Mystical World of the Q’ero of Peru” by Joan Wilcox.  Grabbing hold of the book, I handed it to my friend who located a photograph of the ceremony she had been describing.

We then explored the coming Galactic Alignment anticipated by the Mayans and other indigenous peoples.  Ancient prophesies foretold that this Winter Solstice’s Galactic Alignment would herald an era of spiritual development, with consciousness potentially evolving to enable peaceful, harmonious co-existence with each other and all of nature.

Focusing on the ceremony, we brainstormed in many directions, from Peru to Mexico, from earth to sky and from intent to gratitude.  Our spiraling journey eventually gravitated toward a ritual involving stones.  One of our activities would include narrating the Stone Soup Story and then making Stone Soup.

While many versions of the Stone Soup Story exist, the central theme remains the same.  In a nutshell, here’s the story:

A stranger arrives in a town where the people are hoarding food because of a famine in the area.  When they let him know they have no food to share, the stranger pulls out a pot, fills it with water, builds a fire under the pot, adds a “magical stone” to the water, and declares he will share his delicious stone soup with everyone.  Then the stranger begs for just a little vegetable to add to the pot, to make it truly tasty.  One by one the villagers respond to his pleas and contribute to the pot, until a truly nourishing meal gets created – which they all share.

This story describes how our ceremony came together.  We each contributed ideas to the pot.  It cooked and a nourishing ritual emerged.

Making Stone Soup

After my friends departed, I left Joan Wilcox’s book on the kitchen table.  A few days later, I sat at the computer trying to put the ritual on paper.  Stumbling to find words that would adequately describe the Galactic Alignment, I searched the web to learn more about this anticipated event.

A few hours later, though bleary eyed and hungry, I finally had a sense of the astronomy involved.  Deciding to give myself a break, I went downstairs for a snack.  Sitting at the kitchen table with my bowl of muesli, I idly picked up Joan Wilcox’s book and leafed through it.

My fingers stopped at a page with the caption subtitle, “Andean Prophesy of Spiritual Evolution.”  Reading what lay below, I was amazed to discover information relevant to our ceremony.  This information asserted that we humans will need to work together, in a collective manner, to facilitate the shift in consciousness.

“Aha” I thought, “the prophesied shift in consciousness will require us to make Stone Soup.  Our talents may be different, our interests diverse, but if we pool our resources we can help create a better world.”

Yes!  We’ll prepare Stone Soup.

 

The Great Turning

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People prefer not to think about the fact that we’re destroying our life support system.  Feeling helpless and scared, we protect ourselves from the awareness that we’re nearing a planetary tipping point, a point of no return for human life as we know it on Earth.  This deadening of awareness prevents us from acting in ways that could create a better world, a world where people live in harmony with each other and all of Earth.

Joanna Macy, an Earth activist and Buddhist scholar, proposes that active hope might enable the shift she refers to as “The Great Turning.”  While she recognizes that our industrial growth society depends on the ever-increasing consumption of Earth’s resources, with corresponding ever-increasing waste products which get dumped into, around, and on our Earth, she considers this to be an extraordinary time in human history – with the potential to move from an industrial growth society to a life sustaining one.

In her “work that reconnects”, Joanna guides people to acknowledge their pain for Earth and to open awareness.  She invites us to release the false sense of separateness and to experience ourselves as interconnected, part of the web of life, members of Earth’s community.

The Great Turning requires that we take responsibility for what is happening on Earth.  This entails releasing old structures and enabling life sustaining ways of being to emerge.  It involves creating a new world.

In this new world, partnership and cooperation will replace competition and strife, empathy and compassion will replace hostility and aggression, generosity and sharing will replace selfishness and greed, and the power of love will replace the power of force.  We will move away from striving toward perfection and aim to grow into wholeness.   Rather than disconnection and separateness, we will experience ourselves as integral members of the web of life.

Holding hope for the future, let us join together and help create this better world.  

Learning from Sandy

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Heeding warnings of Hurricane Sandy’s impending arrival in Massachusetts, we battened down the hatches as much as possible.  I carried outdoor chairs into the basement, watering cans into the garage, and cushions into the attic.  Bill dealt with heavier items, turning over the picnic table and benches.

We waited anxiously, aware of the wind picking up steam, watching leaves swirling on the ground and trees swaying to and fro.  Standing inside Harmony Center, I gazed through glass windows at the rock cairns outside.  They looked like sentinels standing guard around the building.  I felt them offering strength and protection, along with an ability to ground swirling energy.  I found their demeanor reassuring.

I sent prayers to the trees, asking them to hold on tight with their roots, release their leaves and allow the wind to flow freely through their branches.

Focusing on Sandy, I sent peaceful loving energy her way.  I asked her to be gentle, to let go of anger, and to be kind to all the innocent beings in her path.

I apologized to Gaia, our planet Earth, for all the abuse we humans have wrought – for the ways we’ve taken her for granted while polluting her sacred waters, air and earth.  I begged for her forgiveness.

As Sandy neared the east coast, I went for a walk in the woods.  Watching the trees bend and sway, I asked them to hang in there, to go with the flowing wind, not fight it.  Arriving in an area I consider sacred, I sent more prayers to Sandy, to trees, to all of Earth’s elements.  I fervently hoped that life would be spared.

Wind howled, rain fell, and so did some trees.  We were fortunate, for the trees along our driveway and around the buildings withstood the storm quite well.  They released some branches and leaves, but avoided hitting the power line and buildings.

Yes, we lost power for a while, but not for too long.  Others were not as fortunate.  Ocean water rose up, flooding areas of New Jersey and New York.  Raging wind fueled fires and devastated communities.

After the wind calmed and rain abated, I prayed for healing.

On subsequent walks in the woods, I observed Sandy’s damage and wondered about the message.  What can we learn?

I notice that oak trees sustained the most damage, especially those with leaves still attached.  Their roots held firm, but their trunk snapped.  Mulling this over, I infer that these trees were too rigid.  Rather than bend in the breeze, they stood straight and tall.   I take this as a lesson – there is strength in flexibility.

Looking at fallen boughs resplendent with brown leaves, I wonder why these particular oaks held on so tightly to their leaves.   They wouldn’t let go.  If they had, perhaps the wind would have flowed through their branches more easily.

Knowing the difficulty I have parting with clothes I rarely wear, I recognize another lesson.  I must learn to let go, to release what no longer serves me.  Taking this insight further, I recognize the freedom that comes with paring down one’s life.  If I let go of irrelevant stuff – whether material possessions, compulsive behaviors or distracting thoughts – I can then focus more fully on what is truly important, more relevant to life.

Most importantly, Sandy sent a message from our planet.

We humans need to shift our relationship with Earth.   We need to recognize that we depend on her for every aspect of our lives: for the food we eat, the water we drink, the air we breathe.  Instead of abusing her, we need to value her, protect her, care for her.   We must end global warming.

Let us heed Sandy’s warnings and learn her lessons.  The time is now.  It is up to us!

Circle of Stones

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Many years ago I read “A Circle of Stones” by Judith Duerk.  The repetitive “How might your life have been different if there had been a place for you, a place for you to go to be with…” evoked a sense of longing in me.  It spoke to the need for women to gather in community, to share their stories with each other, and to support each other’s journey to wholeness. 

“What if there was a place…”  “What if there was a place…”  This phrase rooted itself in my heart, silently waiting for the right time to echo forth.  On walks in the woods, I felt the land offering to be that place … a place where people could commune with nature, connect with each other, and help each other to grow.  “How might that happen?” I wondered to myself, as well as the land. 

Year after year, “How might that happen?” continued surfacing in my mind.  Then my parents died.  After my sadness abated, which took a couple of years, I realized that the money they left might just cover the expenses of erecting a building.  But in order for it to be built, a large and stately pine tree would need to be chopped down. 

My husband and I debated about Grandmother Pine.  She felt sacred.  We wanted her to stay.  Yet forced to choose between the building and the pine tree, we ultimately opted for the building – with one condition.  Grandmother Pine’s stump would need to stay.  I wanted Grandmother Pine to be remembered. 

While the building was under construction, a fluorescent yellow ribbon with the word “CAUTION” circled the stump, alerting all contractors to exercise care when navigating machinery in the area.  I removed the ribbon once Harmony Center came into being.  

I thought of the stump as an altar, and sometimes placed ceremonial objects either on her or around her.  For the most part, however, Grandmother Pine’s memorial remained undecorated.  This summer, when Foxglove surrounded her with loving energy, it felt as if they were honoring Grandmother Pine.

At this year’s Fall Equinox, I placed a sunflower at her base.  Then recently, I stood contemplating her flat top, asking how she might like to be honored, and suddenly thought, “A Circle of Stones!  Grandmother Pine gave her life so we could have that place, a place to gather in community.  A circle of stones would honor the sacrifice she made.”  And with this thought an image came to mind – a circle of stones around a rock cairn on top of the stump.   

I walked around, gathering stones from various places on the land.  As always, I checked in with each stone, making sure it wanted to be part of this altar.  Then I placed larger ones in the middle creating the cairn, and around the cairn a circle of stones. 

Completing my mission, I stood back to take a look.  I saw the cairn as a new being growing up from the center of the stump.  And around this being, a stone circle creating sacred space within which this being can grow. 

“What if there was a place…”  “What if there was a place….”

Thanks to Grandmother Pine, we now have that place, a place where people gather in community – Harmony Center.

Mixed Blessing

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In my previous blog, I wrote about the joy of discovering our guinea hen with her newly hatched brood of keets and my excitment about how all the adults were caretaking the babies (see Cooperative Edge?).  I hoped to watch the tiny, adorable little beings develop into full-grown birds. 

When I first noticed Mother Hen with her babies, I spotted at least 15 keets.  I had difficulty counting as sometimes they were underneath one guinea fowl, then moved to another.  And when they were out-from-under, they ran around so rapidly, peeping and chirping as they went, that I had difficulty counting. 

The adult guinea fowl initially hovered over their babies, protecting them from the cold, and moved around very little.  But as day one moved into days two and three, their attentiveness to the baby keets appeared to wane.  While they continued protecting and teaching the keets, their focus turned to foraging for food.  They moved at a faster pace and travelled further before stopping to eat or rest.

I watched tiny little bodies scurrying, trying to keep up with the adults.  They encountered many obstacles that the adults readily walked over.  A small stone became an insurmountable mountain and a twig a hazardous zone that their tiny legs had difficulty negotiating.  But try they did.  The feisty little souls scrambled up and down, running as fast as they could after the adults.  A noisy little bunch, for they peeped, and peeped and peeped.

While the adults still tended their baby keets, they appeared oblivious to the keets’ inability to rapidly negotiate terrain with tiny bodies and fragile state.  I watched in despair as the parents ran ahead, seemingly unconcerned about what was happening behind them and despite a keet’s loud frantic peeps.

At the end of each day, Mother Hen  found what she considered to be a safe place to spend the night and gathered her keets under her there.  Once I located her under a saw horse next to Harmony Center.  Other nights I didn’t know where she slept, but she and her brood re-appeared in the morning, sitting outside the guinea house, waiting for her “husband” and other pals to join her.

I thought, “if only Mama would take them into the coop. Then I could lock them all up for a while – keep them safe, give the keets a chance to grow stronger.”  Hoping that she might, praying that she would, I readjusted the ramp into the coop to ensure that the keets could readily walk inside.  Doing everything I could think of to entice Mama inside, I sprinkled food on the ramp and turned on the light.

As one day led into the next, my baby keet count went from 15 to 10, then down to 8.  I found two small bodies sprawled, lifeless on the ground.  Gathering these remnants of once spirited beings, I said a few prayers and buried one white and one speckled inert form.

Day four dawned, and as the day developed, one after another baby keet succumbed.  Finding two little souls struggling after the pack, I picked each one up separately and held him, or her, for a while, thinking that I might warm the probably cold body.  But when I put him / her down, I watched each little body struggle to run, only to fall over, struggle again, and fall yet again.  I realized that they’d each broken a leg, probably caught on a twig, or a rock, or who knows what.

During the afternoon, I buried 2 more bodies, and watched two spirited little beings running through the brush, still managing to keep up with the pack.  At the end of the day, when I went to lock the guinea house, all five adults were there.  But none of their babies.

After all the joy and excitement, I feel deep sorrow, broken hearted.  Such feisty little souls, so full of energy and happy peeps – broken legs, exhaustion, cold – I have no idea how each one perished.  They struggled and suffered.  I hope not too much.

Walking around outside, I miss seeing tiny exuberant bodies scurrying around.  I miss hearing boisterous, happy peeps.  Yet those feisty little keets live on – inside me.

Living on Harmony Farm, experiencing nature’s cycles, carries mixed blessings.  Despite my sorrow, I feel very blessed. 

Cooperative Edge?

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After yet another Lyme disease infection, my husband and I decided to bring guinea fowl onto Harmony Farm.  These attractive birds supposedly eat ticks and we hoped that their presence would reduce our exposure to Lyme.  While we’ll never know what impact they’ve had on the tick population, for we continue to pull the little buggers off our bodies, we enjoy watching guinea fowl run around the land. 

When male cocks compete for a female, the two birds chase each other around a large area, running rapidly with their heads tilted forward, their bodies seemly still, and their feet moving at an amazingly rapid pace.  Round and around they go.  Sometimes they take flight for a while, then resume their on-ground race.  When one catches up with the other, he grabs onto the other one’s feathers, they scuffle a bit, then resume their race until one finally gives up the chase.

The victor wins the coveted hen, which is quite a prize for guinea hens are monogamous.  During mating season, the loyal pair roam around foraging together.  I dubbed one particular couple “Romeo and Juliet.” 

Living where we do, with predators all around, our once-large guinea flock dwindled down to five – one female and four males.  Then one evening, only four males were roosting in their coop when I locked them up for the night.  I worried that the female might have met her demise, but held onto the hope that she might be sitting on eggs somewhere.

Unlike birds who nest in trees, guinea hens lay eggs on the ground.  During summer months, guinea hens will often make a nest, lay an egg in it day after day, and when a suitable number of eggs are there (usually over 30), they “go broody” – which involves sitting on the eggs both day and night with a short break now and then to eat and drink. 

As a broody hen is like a “sitting duck,” she often falls prey to animals and hawks searching for a tasty meal.  And if she hatches her brood, they readily succumb to a variety of fates.  We’ve never had a flock born in the wild survive more than a day or two. 

A couple of weeks ago I saw the guinea hen, and heard her distinctive sound.  “Yea, she’s alive” I thought, “I’ll keep my fingers crossed.”  And when the males dashed out the minute I opened the door to their coop, I assumed they were off to visit the mother-to-be.

Then yesterday, mother hen appeared with her brood.  She was sitting outside the locked-up coop, waiting.  And many tiny little bodies – white ones, speckled ones, various shades of black and white ones – poked out from underneath her body, came out for a minute, then popped back under.  Quite a sight to behold!!

I let the males out of the coop, and something amazing happened.  They gathered around mother hen and sat.  When I returned a little while later, I saw the baby keets moving from under one bird to another, to another.  The males were caretaking the keets, keeping them warm.  And not just papa.  All the males.

In all my years on the farm, I’ve never seen such a cooperative caretaking effort.  The baby keets trusted the males, seemed to already know them.  And the males adjusted their bodies to accommodate the little keets moving around beneath them.  They also pushed them under their bodies, just like a female hen behaves.   

As the day progressed, I watched the whole flock move around just a bit.  Like mother hens, the males called the keets over when a morsel of food was found.   The keets ran back and forth between all the adults, under them, and between them.  Often the mother hen was up and about, preening and eating, while the males were caretaking the babies, giving her a break.

Reflecting on this unusual behavior, I think about the Great Turning, where partnership and cooperation will hopefully replace competition and strife.  I wonder, could these guinea fowl be figuring this out?   Could they be demonstrating that the path to survival lies not along the road of individual separateness, but on the path of harmony, of cooperation, and of sharing?  

Whatever its reason, I hope that this cooperative approach might bode well for the adorable little newborn keets.  Dare I hope that these babies will survive?

Stone Woman

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Melinda Coppola, a local poet and yoga teacher, arrived at a Harmony Center event bearing a gift.  As she handed me a beautiful assemblage of stones, my heart immediately responded.  The minute my fingers wrapped around the cairn, my entire chest expanded and the phrase “Stone Woman” popped into my mind.  “Hello Stone Woman,” I thought, “I’m delighted to meet you.”

Feeling an instant connection with Stone Woman, I wondered where she might like to sit.  Cradling her in my hands, I wandered toward a large expanse of glass facing the woods and placed her in a corner of the windowsill.  My body said, “Yes, that feels right.  She can face our sacred space while also feeling connected to her relatives outside.” 

As I joined the circle of people, I remained acutely aware of Stone Woman sitting nearby.  Holding her in my hands had awakened something inside me.  It had kindled a spark of desire. 

The next morning that spark burst into flame.  I dashed over to Harmony Center intent on communing with rocks resting here and there behind the building.  My body wanted to hold them and see whether or not they would like being placed one on top of the other. 

Standing next to a large rock, I recalled what I’d learned from Loralee Dubeau* when we prepared for her Medicine Wheel class.  She and I walked around the land selecting rocks to be used in the ritual.  Reminding me that rocks are sentient beings, Loralee instructed me to check in with each rock before lifting it up.  If the rock resisted being lifted, we left it where it was. 

I looked at the bluish rock, and asked if it would like to have some relatives placed on top.  Perceiving what I took to be “yes,” I looked around.  My eyes scanned nearby rocks, seeking to discern which one would offer itself, and stopped at a dark, oblong, granite-colored stone.  Feeling as though the dark stone had called, I walked over, picked it up, and carried it toward the blush one. 

My hands and eyes processed messages from the rocks.  Somehow I “knew” that these two were O.K. with being placed together.  I balanced the dark stone atop the bluish one, then looked around until a mottled rock grabbed my attention. 

Totally focused on listening to rocks, and following their wishes, I lost myself in the process.  I feverishly created one cairn after another, and another, and another.   Soon there were cairns gathered here and there behind Harmony Center. 

Eventually my inner flame dimmed, my energy slowed.  I stood back, breathed in the scent of rock and earth, and sensed it was time to stop. 

Today as I sit near the pond, I spot some stones nearby and sense myself responding in a new way.  I notice that my relationship with stones has shifted.  I’ve begun to experience them as sentient beings.  Although I used to believe in this notion, I realize that creating the cairns awakened a new knowing inside me.

Dormant senses came alive.  As my hands and eyes deeply connected with various rocks, inner sensory “organs” opened.  Messages travelled back and forth as hands and eyes found ways of communicating with rocks.

When I now connect with a rock, I sense its being-ness.  I see its uniqueness, and can almost hear it speaking to me. 

Recognizing this new sensitivity, I send a mental “thank you” to the cairns.  They expanded my awareness and helped me to grow.  Cairn’s calm strength, inner depth, and sense of balance live inside me.

*Note: Loralee Dubeau will be teaching “Spirit Alignment (beyond 12/21/12)” at Harmony Center on November 3rd.

Skullcap

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Herbalists read the land.  Traditional herbalists teach that the herbs we need volunteer in our back yards.  In general, herbs growing closest to our homes are for more daily use, while those growing in more distant places are to be used less frequently. 

Phyllis Light grew up in the folk herbalism tradition.  She taught me to pay attention when a given plant suddenly appears more plentiful, for that plant’s healing remedies will probably be needed during the coming season.  Such abundance is a signal to harvest that herb in preparation for future use. 

After moving to Harmony Farm over 30 years ago, I delighted in identifying the plants growing on our property and learning about their uses.  I found a few Skullcap (Scutellaria laterifolia) plants growing at some distance from my house, at an edge of the stream and in a few spots around the pond.  I tincture some from time to time and use the tincture when I need a nervine that will be calming while also relaxing muscles.  When I travel, I usually take a little with me in case I experience difficulty sleeping. 

I think of Skullcap as being slightly shy.  Her small blue flowers don’t grab one’s attention, and it’s easy to walk by without noticing her. 

Skullcap recently surprised me.  I suddenly spotted a big patch in the middle of a trail where I take my daily walk – an unusual spot for Skullcap to grow. 

Once she had my attention, Skullcap kept me focused on her.  I began noticing plants growing in quite a few places along my daily walking route.  Each day I discovered more.  As I also stopped finding Skullcap in her usual spots, I realized that she was behaving in an unusual manner. 

On a recent walk in the woods, I stared at yet another Skullcap growing smack in the middle of my trail and suddenly remembered Phyllis’s teaching.  “Aha” I exclaimed while bowing my head, “I get it!  Thank you for being persistent.” 

Suspecting that we will need Skullcap during the months ahead, I returned later with a basket in one hand and scissors in the other.  After snipping sprigs from quite a few plants, I hung some to dry in the attic and made tincture form the rest. 

Reflecting on this experience, I wonder, “Could Earth be sending messages about stressful times to come … about the Great Turning?  Could Earth be offering Skullcap as a way to stay centered and calm during this time of change?” 

I have no idea whether I, or we, will need Skullcap in the season ahead.  Yet with bottles of her sitting on my shelf, I feel better prepared for whatever the future may bring. 

Nature’s Internet

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I leave for my walk hoping that it will help calm my mind and still the energy swirling inside me.  Following my usual route, I cross the pond and head into the woods.  The trail leads me upstream of our pond, and along what used to be the edge of the stream.  This area was recently invaded by beavers who dammed a culvert, then extended their dam to create a huge expanse of water.  One of my neighbors, impressed by its size, called it a beaver lake.

After walking along the banks of this now beaver lake, I head up a small hill, circle back along another trail, turn left and climb upward.  Arriving at a flat area, I walk to a large rock outcropping, where I stop to pray.

My prayer begins with gratitude; I give thanks for the many blessings in my life.  Digging deep into my heart, I express my sense of going round and around in circles, of feeling ungrounded.  I ask for help, for guidance on where to go next. 

Finishing my prayer, I bow my head, then amble toward a large oak tree growing in the middle of large rocky outcroppings.  After circling the tree, I stand and calmly look around, inhaling the view. 

My eyes suddenly zoom in on a bright yellow patch growing out of the trunk of a fallen oak tree.  Unable to suppress my excitement, I exclaim aloud, “Wow!  That looks like a chicken mushroom.”

I walk over for a closer look, and confirm my initial impression.  Yes, it’s unmistakably a chicken mushroom – one of my favorite mushrooms to eat.  Like most edible mushrooms, it also has medicinal benefits.

Staring at the beautiful mushroom, I think about the mycelium growing underground, for a mushroom is the fruiting body of this web-like network of cells.  Mycelia are our planet’s great recyclers, transforming “dead” trees and other matter (even toxic waste) into vibrant, nutrient rich soil. 

Mushroom guru Paul Stamets considers mycelium to be the neurological network of nature, for these membranes are in constant molecular communication with their environment. They not only sense what is going on around them, they respond accordingly. 

Mycelia comprise Earth’s underground communication system.  Vast mycelia networks enable trees and plants to communicate with one another.  They serve as nature’s internet. 

My recollection of Stamets’s teachings comes to a close.  Caressing Chicken Mushroom’s thick, velvety flesh, I admire her luminescent orange-yellow color while my nose moves closer to sniff her delicious aroma.  Inhaling her essence, I ask whether she would be willing to let us eat her for dinner.  Receiving what I take to be an affirmative response, I bid Chicken Mushroom a temporary farewell, for I intend to return later with a knife and basket for harvesting. 

Resuming my walk, I feel grateful for this reminder of interconnection.  As my feet make contact with the ground, I sense my roots descending into earth, connecting with the web-of-life immediately below.  Feeling deeply grounded, focused and calm, I tap into Gaia and send her my love. 

 

St. J’s

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After waiting for the dew to dry, I walk over to Harmony Center where one of my two Hypericum perforatum plants continues to flower.  My friends and I refer to this plant as St. J’s, staying out of the herbal controversy over whether it should be known by its more common name, St. John’s Wort, or the feminist alternative St. Joan’s Wort.  

St. J’s has a reputation for helping to alleviate depression.  While looking at its bright, cheerful yellow flowers, would lift anyone’s spirits, St. J’s offers many other healing gifts to us humans.  In addition to having anti-viral properties, this beautiful plant is anti-inflammatory, anti-spasmodic and anti-bacterial.  I’ve given infused St. J’s oil to people with shingles to apply externally for alleviating the neuralgia and use it myself when my hip or muscles yell in pain.[1]

I was initially taught to gather the top flowering parts of St. J’s, including some leaves.  Like other herbs, I harvested no more than 1/3 of the top.  As St. J’s isn’t plentiful on my land, after harvesting the one or two plants growing here, I drove around scanning the landscape, searching for more. 

My relationship with St. J’s changed after I became friends with salve maker Gretchen Gould.  Her oil won an herbal competition for having the deepest, richest, reddest color, thereby being the most medicinal.  She shared her secret with me.  She only harvests the newly opened flowers.   

I now follow her example.  In doing so, I’ve experienced another St. J’s gift. 

St. J’s begins blooming around the Summer Solstice (June 20th this year).   More than two months later, she continues to offer newly opened blossoms each morning.  Perennials, like St. J’s, usually don’t behave this way.  In contrast to annuals, they have a short flowering season. 

Over these months, I’ve filled jar after jar with St. J’s flowers.  First I made the oil by adding olive oil to the jars and placing them in a sunny spot.  I watched the bright yellow flowers magically transform the yellowish oil into a brilliant red color.  As the plants kept producing, I made tincture by adding 100 proof vodka to a jar of flowers.  The initially clear vodka similarly transformed into a crimson red color.  Then I dried some flowers to use in teas. 

As I walk over to St. J’s this morning, my heart feels full of gratitude.  Arriving beside her, I pick her offerings of the day and place them in my basket saying, “Dear, dear St. J’s, thank you for all you have given me this summer.  You kept giving, and giving, and giving.  It’s time for you to rest and renew.  Though I’ll keep visiting, I’m going to stop picking.”

I stand back, wondering what I can give back to St. J’s.  Looking at her, I focus on my full heart, open wide, and send her my love.  Then I find the hose, and sprinkle her roots with water. 

No wonder St. J’s helps alleviate depression.   She fills our hearts with love. 


[1] St.  J’s oil is generally only applied externally

Summer Soul-stice

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Today, the summer solstice, is the longest day and shortest night of the year.  Summer blossoms forth from this day forward.  After today, daylight will shorten and night-time will lengthen until the winter solstice, when daylight will lengthen once again.

Thinking about celebrating the day, I wander over to Harmony Center.  Sunlight filters through trees and dances along the ground, guiding me down the path. 

When I reach my destination, I stop … in awe of the sight before my eyes.

A sea of foxglove beckons me on.  Waves of white and hot pink spread before me, and envelop me.  Majestic spires of delight reach up and draw in. 

My heart expands – filled with wonder, full of love.

One spire calls me closer.  Pulled into her embrace, I reach out to touch.  My fingers explore her silky soft skin.

Enthralled, I move in for more.  A wide open blossom invites me to enter.  My eyes follow the dotted pathway, travel into her mouth and down her throat.  I enter her center, the core of her being. 

Her place of inner stillness resonates deep inside me.  For a timeless moment, we share this space, the inner sanctum of soul. 

Spring has Sprung

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Spring springs forth with great abandon and joy.  Each day brings new surprises as Earth’s creative energy finds expression everywhere I look.

The landscape grows greener day by day.  Green shoots break through the ground, then rapidly uncoil to rise further up, moving toward the sun.  Leaves sprout forth from trunk and stem, then expand outward.

A chicken sits on eggs in the barn.  Usually hens roost at night – which means that they perch on an above-ground structure.  When a hen “goes broody,” she first remains in the nest, sitting on her eggs, for longer and longer each day, and then starts spending the night there.  She patiently sits, day after day, only getting up now and again to take a few sips of water and eat a few morsels of food.  Beneath her warming body, baby chicks are forming. 

A ewe birthed a beautiful baby lamb last night.  She carefully licked it off, and immediately began nurturing it.  When I saw them together this morning, the lamb was standing on long scrawny legs sucking milk from her mother’s teat. 

I too feel Earth’s creative surge.  My fingers twitch with joy as I head out to plant a package of seeds.  Earth will nurture these seeds.  When the time is right, the seeds will germinate, and follow inner directives to send roots down deeper, push heads up higher, branch out in all directions, flower and bear fruit.

We similarly receive inner directives to grow.  Growth takes us in many directions: into the soil of our deeper selves, out toward other beings and all of Earth, also up toward the light.  Following inner directives helps us grow into wholeness. 

Web of Life

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We live in a web of inter-connection, inter-dependence, and inter-relatedness – the web of life.

Human beings co-evolved with nature, and in nature.  Everything in nature is genetically and molecularly linked.  This isn’t just a fanciful notion, for scientific sequencing of the human genome reveals that we share more than we might have imagined with other animals.  Over 90% of our human genome is identical to that of the lion. 

Deep inside, we know that every aspect of our lives intertwines with nature.  We depend on nature for the air we breathe, the food we eat, the water that quenches our thirst.  Nature exists inside, as well as outside, us. Nature forms the connecting link. 

We share Earth with the rest of our family.  In addition to kindred human beings, our family includes brother and sister animals, plants, birds, fungi – all life on Earth.  We are the human animal.  And Earth is our home.

Our deepest essence is rooted in nature, intertwined with all beings everywhere, with Earth our home, and with all of creation. 

Practicing

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Travelling home from the hospital, I worry, “How will I finish preparing to go away?”  “How will I pack if I’m hopping around on crutches?”   I wonder, “Will I be able to enjoy my vacation?”  Taking a positive approach, I decide to release expectations and learn to relax. 

The following day I assiduously ice my sprained ankle and send it healing energy.  As the day progresses, it gradually responds to my ministrations.  My ankle starts allowing me to put some weight on it without screaming in pain.  I graduate myself to using a cane, and manage to pack. Then, thanks to airline wheel chair arrangements, and my husband’s assistance, we’re able to fly to Salt Lake City the very next day. 

By the time I arrive in southern Utah, I’m able to walk unassisted by either the cane or the air cast.  Having looked forward to hiking in the area’s red rock desert landscape, I excitedly decide to give one a try.  Wanting to honor my ankle’s limitations, I review the three morning hikes being offered and sign up for the easiest, beginner level one. 

Our “Explorer” hike goes at an easy pace, with a guide ahead and a shepherd in the rear.  We frequently stop to admire the scenery – red and white rock formations contrasting against black lava areas.  The guide fills us in on geological history and points out interesting plants along the way.  I feel deeply grateful to be able to hike amidst these wonders of nature.  

After two such hikes, I feel increasingly confident in my ankle’s ability to negotiate the terrain.  My mind toys with the idea of signing up for a more challenging hike.  I yearn to ascend to higher heights and wonder whether to take the risk.

Observing my thoughts, I remind myself – “learn to relax.”   I sign up for the easiest hike. 

I religiously continue applying ice to my ankle.  And though tempted to take tai chi, or another class in the afternoons, I focus on relaxing.  I position myself outside, facing Red Rock Mountain with my leg propped up on a chair.  As I absorb the beautiful panorama, I count my blessings, feeling grateful for the experience. 

Now and again, though, the old thoughts pop up, I start debating about trying to do more.  I treat these thoughts like meditation.  Each time my mind wanders to thoughts of doing, I let go of the thought and focus my attention on being, on learning to relax. 

On my last day there I briefly feel tempted to take a more challenging hike.  Attuned now to my pattern, I immediately release the thought and open my heart to the pleasures of a slower paced hike. 

After a truly relaxing vacation, I return home to piles of mail and a to-do list filled with organizational details. 

Now the real challenge begins – continuing the practice at home. 

Letting Go

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I begin my walk marveling at the glorious spring day – sunshine, blue sky, warm weather.  “What more could I want.”

Passing the pond, I note 2 pairs of ducks gracefully gliding through the calm water, and think “the joys of mating season.”  My ears pick up some sounds, not really quacks, more squeaky than that, floating through air.  Soon two more ducks descend upon the pond, their arrival signaled by a very small splash.  The two additional lovers begin their graceful swim, trailed by two small wakes.  

As I continue down the trail, my mind travels to the future, looking ahead to my forthcoming trip.  In two days I’ll be with one son and his family, including three of my seven grandchildren.  And then further ahead, anticipating the short vacation hiking amid red rock formations.  “What more could I want.”

I muse about how much I love living here, on Harmony Farm.  No wonder I rarely travel.  Yet twice a year I pull up my roots and travel to places where I hike.  “What more could I want.”

I see green pushing her shoots above ground and swelling buds on trees.  I smell the vibrancy of earth beneath my feet.  And then … suddenly … my right foot encounters a rock and loses its grip.  My ankle rotates to the side.  I fall.  My hands automatically reach out to cushion my fall. 

Encountering the ground, I evaluate my situation.  No broken arms.  Gingerly rising, I test out my legs.  “Whew,” I think, “I seem to be O.K.”

Resuming my walk, everything feels fine and I feel deep gratitude.  Then, almost halfway home, my ankle begins to protest.  Soon I can barely walk.  Passing by the pond, I think, “Almost home.”  The last rise toward the house my ankle screams “No!”  I crawl the last few feet, hop into the kitchen, make a bee-line for the freezer, retrieve two ice packs and manage to wrap them around my poor ankle. 

After maneuvering my way to the basement, I retrieve a pair of crutches, swing my way to the phone, and begin a series of calls to locate my husband.  To my relief, he comes to my rescue.

Though the emergency room appears empty, we learn that they are dealing with two ambulance cases.   During our long wait, the loudspeaker announces, “Code Blue in Room One, Code Blue in Room One.”  I remind myself of how lucky I am. 

Many hours later, the verdict is in.  No broken bones, but a badly sprained ankle.  They wrap my ankle in an air cast, teach me now to use crutches, and send me on my way with instructions to keep my leg elevated and apply frequent ice. 

Driving home we evaluate our situation.  No we won’t cancel our trip.  I release my anticipation of hiking, and open to what else might happen. 

Letting go of expectations, I think “Perhaps I’ll learn to relax.” 

 

Signs of Spring

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I awaken to a sign of spring.

Looking into the day through the bathroom window, my eyes get drawn to a fiery red area highlighted against an otherwise drab landscape.  Focusing on the color, which sits on a barren branch nearby, I identify the outline of a bird, its crimson chest blazing out into the early light.

At first I think, “ah a robin red breast.” But as my morning eyes focus, I see that the crimson color covers more of the bird’s body than just its chest.  And as I continue staring at what feels like a mirage, I recognize the bird — a cardinal. 

After making the bed, dressing, and completing a few kitchen chores, I go outside and begin walking toward Harmony Center.  A bird’s clear “tweet, tweet … tweet,tweet … tweet,tweet” floats atop the morning’s stillness.  I reply, “tweet, tweet … tweet, tweet … tweet, tweet.”

Arriving in the building, I move toward a large expanse of glass.  Facing east, I see brilliant sunlight streaming through trees and realize how much the angle of the sun has changed.  No longer low on the horizon, the sun’s position is now higher and further east – moving toward spring.

Finishing my morning ritual that includes giving thanks for the day, some chi gong, a little yoga, and additional stretching, I feel hunger stirring in my belly.  Ready for breakfast, I head toward the barn, and then wander into the chicken coup.  Reaching into a nest, my hand encounters a warm oval gift — a freshly laid egg.  Thanks to longer daylight, the hens are laying again. 

As I continue down the driveway to retrieve the newspaper, my ears pick up sounds of birds chirping their welcome to the day.  Looking towards the stream bed, my eyes recognize skunk cabbage shoots beginning to poke above ground.

Arriving at the mailbox by the side of the road, I watch cars whizzing by, their drivers seemingly oblivious to the signs of spring all around them.

Appreciating my good fortune, I count this morning’s blessings – cardinal, sunlight, birdsong, skunk cabbage, and a freshly laid egg.  Ah, signs of Spring!

Oak

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On a recent walk in woods behind Harmony Center, I feel drawn to stop and commune with a beautiful oak tree.  I admire its strong trunk and look up into its branches.  Noticing some broken limbs, I wonder what trauma could have caused such damage. 

A snowstorm?  A Nor’easter?  And when might that have happened? 

Observing one branch, I note its position about half way up the trunk.  Judging by the size of the tree, I suspect that this damage occurred about 50 or so years ago.  

Sitting on the ground, I reflect on the relationship between growing and healing.  Despite being hurt, the tree continued to grow.  It first sealed off its wound, and then resumed growing. 

I stand and approach the tree.  Wrapping my arms around its trunk, I sense its deep rootedness, its inner strength, its tenacity and fortitude.  After absorbing these sensations, I step back, clasp my hands against my heart, and bow my head in gratitude for Oak’s important lesson.

Despite its shorn limb, Oak continued to grow.  

Prayer

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Prayer, to me, means opening your heart, listening to its yearnings, putting those wishes into words, and sending them out to the universe with the hope that they will be “heard.”  

I used to think that prayer was self-serving, that we need to embrace what we have in life and move on from there.  Prayer assumes that some aspect of the universe is “listening,” and I didn’t believe in a parental, anthropocentric universe. 

Over the years, though, I’ve come to think differently about prayer and incorporate prayer into my life.  Prayer always begins, for me anyway, with an expression of gratitude for all that I have. 

Duncan Sings-Alone, a Native American medicine man and Zen Buddhist priest, taught about two aspects of prayer in one of his workshops at Harmony Center.  He explained that masculine prayer involves expressing what one needs, asking for help with a dilemma or difficulty.  The feminine aspect of prayer is more receptive.  It involves sitting, opening, and waiting for an “answer.” 

Like other Native American teachings, the masculine and feminine aspects of prayer complement each other, and neither is more important than the other.  Prayer involves a dialogue with the spirit world, the unseen dimension.  It requires that we go inside ourselves to identify where we are at the moment and what it is that we need as a human being.  Once we ask for help, then we need to let go of any expectation, open to what might be offered, and listen with the ears of our hearts.   

Both aspects of prayer are necessary, the active asking and the receptive receiving.  Together they create a whole – prayer.