June 2010
Shamanism: the Spills in our own Backyards

Dear Friends,

I have been in intense preparations for the SSP Conference that starts here in Santa Cruz on June 3rd. Some of this work involves going to the various sites which shamanic teams will be tending during the weekend.

This last week I went to the areas where water meets land: lagoons, estuaries, river, and ocean. As you might imagine, there were moments when those places reminded me, or spoke to me, of the Gulf Oil Spill. My last such scouting exploration took me to where the San Lorenzo River runs through the great Redwoods in Henry Cowell State Park.
That was last Saturday morning. Since then I've been reflecting on what River said and another, yet related, Revelation connected with the Prayer Tree we shall be tending during the conference weekend.

First I shall share regarding the Park and then the Prayer Tree. Both occurred within the same morning.

My experience with River incorporated so much of what the Land and Waters here have tried teaching me through these six months of scouting the sites that still hold uneasy energies from previous traumatic events.
It's important to know that when I use the word Land, I'm including all the Inhabitants; likewise, Water includes all Beings living with, or dependent upon, the Waters.

This particular Park presented itself as a Sacred Place of Power in this region. All regions have such Places - it is a matter of discovering them, learning from them, and seeing how they might be a critical Resource for healing that may be needed in that region. There is now a whole genre of shamanic literature that addresses such places and how, since ancient times, they have been places for ceremony, for learning the Songs of a region, and for restoration of the Land.

Within this park lives the oldest Redwood Grove in this area with Ancestor Trees ranging from 1,200 to 2,000 years old. The San Lorenzo River, the primary River of Santa Cruz, wanders throughout the Park. Species found only in the Redwood Forests are present here. Even though most of these Ancestor Trees evidence the present of previous fires, overall they are healthy and vibrant --- the whole park seems immersed in the Songs of this Land.

During the months of experiencing other sites with so much trauma, I have been profoundly reassured and comforted by knowing that Here, in This Place of Power, we would have Helpers.

I went to this Special Place last Saturday for one last check to make sure of our welcome and to leave a prayer of promise on behalf of the conference participants. For the first time in my explorations there, the Park Ranger was not busy and we had an opportunity to walk some of the trails together. Earlier with her, I had shared about the Conference, our intentions, and when we expected to be coming.

She had made quite clear her joy that such a group would be gathering in Santa Cruz and ended with the comment: "We are compatriots, you know." Yes, indeed we are, and wherever we do this work, it's important to be alert to such compatriots for it is only by working together with others, outside the shamanic community, that our hopes and dreams might be realized... or at least be truly awakened to the larger collective consciousness.

After we both spent some time with the Ancestor Redwoods, I commented that I wanted to walk the River Trail. Her immediate response: "Oh Thank goodness - that's where we need help!"

We only had time to walk a portion of River Trail together but that brief walking became an Awakening for me to some realities and issues in this work that I'd not considered enough, if at all. At various points along River's bank, she would describe the vegetation and animals, birds, or fish present there. Rounding a curve of River's, she paused, then pointed to an area on the other side of River. Within those marshes, it seemed there were areas where plant pieces had collected...almost like low mounds within the grasses.

"Those, she said, are nests that have been deserted. This is one of the breeding areas that the birds have left and, if you knew what to look for, you would see there are hardly any smelts or other River fish here."

I could hear clearly the sadness in her voice.
We spent the rest of our time together with her explaining to me the damage that was being done by people with dogs who were using this Park in increasing numbers. With some urgency she said "They just don't understand what they are doing and some probably don't care as long as they have a place to walk their dogs."

I received a good lesson in how the scent of dog urine (in River and on Land) is perceived as Predator and, over time, the natural inhabitants leave such a place - sometimes forsaking even their eggs and their young. Together we reflected on how few places there were in Santa Cruz county for dogs to be off leash. Thus 'word' gets communicated quickly that 'there is a park' which allows dogs on leash and 'once you get past the ranger station' you can, if you wish, let your dogs off-leash.

This park is accessible, by foot, 24 hours a day and each time I have gone, I've been struck by the number of dogs and their walkers in the park. Of course, the Park signs state clearly: "Dogs must be on leash" and there are signs indicating that certain trails are off-limit to dogs even if on leash. She shared that each morning she spends anywhere from one to two hours picking up dog poop. There's too much poop for her to pick up completely so she has an order of priority and the first priority is to pick up poop along River's banks and trails.

I am listening to her with a mixture of alarm, sadness, despair, and anger. I am hearing why 'dog people' are getting such a bad reputation here and elsewhere. I find myself even thinking about how can "we stop people from coming to this Park with their dogs."

I can't imagine living without a canine companion. These companions have provided me, and others, with years of joy, comfort, and wisdom. They have befriended not only me but others with whom I have walked in my life. I can feel comfortable leaving home for periods of time because I know Shamana is here... keeping watch, tending, and providing Bob company. But suddenly I am seeing how Shamana and her Kin are a genuine threat to other Beings.

I felt compelled to raise this in my newsletter. I've worked with members of the shamanic community in animal shelters and I plan to continue this work. I feel rather embarrassed and negligent that it never occurred to me to raise this issue in doing these companion-animal/shelter workshops.

Now I'm wondering what are we each doing to curtail our animals' grievous destruction to our environment - no matter where we live. And furthermore, what shall we "dog-lovers or cat-lovers" do to help change the behavior of other 'animal lovers.' I find myself considering how to promote the restriction of such animals in sensitive areas of our parks and woodlands. Right now, that seems the only way to address the problem presented by those who don't curtail. 

And I'm hoping that after the Conference, I will find ways to actively help clean up the messes left in this particular Place of Power and see where 'cleaning up' might take me in terms of other activities related to this issue. Writing this, I may be treading in a sensitive area but this is one area where the preparations for our Conference have changed my way of thinking of companions animals, of my own dog, my friend's dog, and what was a general issue feels deeply personal.. 

And the final lesson for me was to be more active in informing myself about the parks and the 'places set aside' so that future generations of all the inhabitants - human and otherwise - might prosper.

Confusing Size with Power
Among other issues surfacing during this preparatory time, is that of confusing size with Power. A marvelous teaching from many Native stories is the tendency of humans to equate power with size. Eagle is bigger and thus mightier than Mouse. A Mountain is more challenging to climb than the bank of a River. The oil spill in the Gulf is of greater importance than the oil that leaks to the ground in those times when I change my auto's oil in my own backyard. Oil leaking from my boat upstream has little consequences as it moves downstream, collecting in various places.

The consequences of this confusion are compounded by the way the Media decides what events to cover in terms of their size. If we haven't seen it on the news, it is probably not important. Just spend a few days tracking what Google puts on its news page and you will see how extremely limited can be one's perspective regarding  "what's happening in the world" if this is the main source for being informed.

Approached from another direction, I believe that if each of us took time and informed ourselves of our immediate neighborhood (much less town or city), we would discover that, being thus informed by our own region, we would have some profound ways for interpreting what we read or see regarding 'nature events' and human-created catastrophes around the world.

Our own backyard, the region in which we live, is a superb laboratory for studying, learning, and testing shamanic methods of intervention.

For example, there is not one site that we have scouted here in Santa Cruz that does not have some equivalent relative in other regions... not only in this country but on the planet! A trashed lagoon here speaks to lagoons the world over.

The Earthquake Fault Line in Santa Cruz represents the always-moving and fragile Earth itself. The mudslides evoke slides from other floods and even from volcanic eruptions: in each the body of Earth sends degrees of debris running down from her shoulders or the elevated points of her body. The murders, gang and drug violence in an extended neighborhood here is reflected in many other urban or semi-urban places around the Globe.

And the ways we have for 'measuring' such Earth events or unwanted activities are themselves ineffectual and rob us of vision:

"Natural disasters" are measured by how many human lives were lost That is followed by how many human lives were injured. And these are followed by the number of human dwellings or property destroyed or severely damaged.

It seems that unless we are directly affected, we humans have a difficult time appreciating what happens to the rest of the Planet and its Inhabitants.

In an awful way, this is what makes the current Gulf Oil Spill so singular in its effect upon us and our response. We are seeing the images of marshlands permeated with oil sludge; birds and sea life covered with oil; eggs covered that will never hatch; and from deep underwater cameras, the flora and fauna on the ocean floor being destroyed... perhaps never to recover... or if they do, it will be generations and centuries from now.

While I am heartbroken by what is happening in the Gulf, I'm also hoping that the extent of this will awaken us to new priorities and changing our behaviors accordingly. But at what cost?... that is the heartbreak.

The Gift of Shamanism: the Web of Longing and Belonging
At a retreat recently, I was bitten by a Spider. Shortly thereafter, we were doing some extended dancing... transforming ourselves from Buffalo to Eagle to Mouse; that is, from the last clothing of Winter to the rising, unfettered spirit of Spring, to the just stirring excitement of Summer; in these key turning points of the Wheel of Life, these Seasons have moments of overlapping and the powers embedded within the overlap is analogous to new life emerging in any transition zones or transition boundaries (the space between ocean and land). ...

At some point in my dancing, I was seeking to return to find my Drum I left by a log stump but I was very, very confused. Someone tried to intercept and turn me around and I said "from where I stand, every direction looks the same." Thinking about this later, I realized I was actually in the web of that Spider but I didn't, with my ordinary eyes, know how to move or track within that web. I needed to pause and wait... listen... see what Being might be calling me to a certain direction. I am sure had I paused and listened, I would have heard my Drum calling me; or I would have 'seen' in what direction Drum was waiting for me.

I say that with certainty because a major gift in the practice of shamanism is this continued development of 'sensing' just What and Where other Beings are. Sometimes we label this compassion, extraordinary perception, primitive connectedness, and the ability to merge... or become one with... other Beings.

Thus attending from this shamanic consciousness, we feel almost equally the impact of mud on the feathers of a pelican and ourselves grounded by oil and unable to fly. We are alerted by the distressing cries of oil slicked dolphins and the cries move through us. It is this very sensitivity, this interspecies communication, that is a touchstone of one who lives shamanism... not just practices but lives his or her shamanism.

So I decided to journey back to this Spider, to the Spider bite, and to the web in which I was wandering that night of trance dancing. And what I saw was that the Web had points of 'chokeholds' and 'strangleholds' within it... and the 'bite' was given to wake me up to seeing them; to infect me with this perception. I found myself longing to be untangling those 'holding' places for within them I could see the living beings that were affected and in dire condition if not released. They had become part of the 'web' of life and the very webbing had become distorted. I knew that I 'belonged' to this Web and as the Web was affected, so too was I. It was this combination of knowing my longing and belonging that was the source of my passion, of any inspired action I might take, any prayer I make and send.

Perhaps it is time we all journey to the Web and asked to be shown how the Web itself is doing... the nature of our own belonging... and based on these visions, what steps need we take to restore where fractured and to help continued prospering where healthy.

Drama Can Put Us To Sleep
The other night I dreamt I was watching a sinking boat, off the Santa Cruz coastline. I could hear helicopters overhead and knew rescue was underway but watching from the shoreline, it didn't seem the Rescuers would make it before the boat and people disappeared into the waters. I was wondering how such a small boat even managed to get that far out in the sea (it almost seemed like a large rubber raft). Just as I'm wondering how it got so far out there, I become aware my ankles and calves are getting wet from swirling water. I look down and realize the water is rising fast around me and I think: "oh *#*#... I'm sinking too." Waking immediately I KNEW the message was that I was drowning while my eyes had been fixed on the distant horizon and the sinking boat. I had taken my consciousness off of the reality immediately around me.

I've wondered periodically about my dream and began to recognize the concern I had that all of us would be so caught up in the 'drama' of the Gulf Oil spill that we wouldn't be able to keep our eyes on the immediate, on the Presence of what's around us here in Santa Cruz county as we began our work for the weekend. I know that this a dilemma within me. I do have a hard time maintaining focus "Here" while that is happening "There."

Yet that's one of the ironical teachings just now: namely, whatever we learn about Santa Cruz County this weekend is related to the Gulf spill as well as other disasters. And if we don't learn how to tend what's right before our eyes, much less the very land within which we are standing, then we shall eventually have our own version of the Gulf Oil Spill right here.

It is in that sense that the 'drama' of what's unfolding there can put me to sleep about Here. And in many ways, I cannot intervene directly there but I can take action here. So as we consider, in our lives, how to keep our minds and consciousness on both 'here and there,' it's important to remember the warning to don't go back to sleep, don't go back to sleep...'

This is Memorial Day Weekend and rightfully so, we remember and honor those who lost their lives in war and those whose families are so grievously effected. The cost of war is staggering. It is so appalling that such days are needed so that we don't forget and remember both to honor and hopefully, make war no more. And just as I think about the casualties to the Planet from the Gulf Oil Spill, there are huge causalities from War and the weapons themselves. Fields of dead planes, tanks, arms and of plastic in so many shapes and forms. Land destroyed from various types of bombing; areas where the Land is so toxic no Being would choose to live there.

Wars bring heartbreak to so many peoples and have consequences that produce endless heartache for Earth too.

What can we do? What dare we NOT do?
Wherein is our Hope, our Trust, our Confidence
can Earth and Her creatures have hope, trust, and confidence is us?
In the midst of this, what is the Dream dreaming us?


Raising a Prayer Tree in our Midst
Since first dreaming began for the Conference, I have seen us as having a Prayer Tree that we would engage with continually during those weekend days.  All over the world, people make objects holding and sending their prayers. These are often called bahos (Hopi), prayer flags (Tibet, North American Indians), or prayer sticks (everywhere!).

I often refer to these Prayer Trees as "Praying Trees" for this connotes the important understanding that Spirits continue to work with these prayers, placed on the Tree, long, long after the ceremony of making and attaching prayers is done.

Making prayers is different from saying prayers. The making of prayers involves leaving material that is transformed into Spirit. This transformation of matter into Spirit is what shamanic work is all about: whether doing healing, assisting the crossing over of souls, changing our patterns of behavior and thinking, etc. And the transformation of matter into Spirit does not 'stop' with the word Spirit but means that whatever happens in the transforming process returns Spirit to form, to embodiment in a new way than previously held.

For a Circle or group engaged in a range of shamanic activity, there are various times when we invoke

Oh hear me All Spirits
Please hear my prayer
Please take my prayers
Here do we tie them
On these branches of Eternal Tree
May Tree bloom and our prayers
Be Received by the Waters, the Land
And all therein...
Returning to them
Peace, prosperity and unending harmony.
Oh hear me All Spirits...
My prayers I send...

One ancient tradition involves finding a seemingly 'dead' branch of a tree. That branch is erected in the midst of the village and as prayers are made and tied, the dead branch transforms into a living, blooming Tree considered the World Tree from which all branches and to which all is rooted - through prayer.

And A Child shall Lead them...
I asked my friend, Cheryl Ban, if she would be responsible for finding this branch. Not having heard from her for a few days, I had begun to think 'maybe we won't be having a Prayer Tree.' I knew my days were now packed with preparations still to be made for the Conference and only four days remaining until it started. As with most major gatherings, sometimes we have to release certain dreams and take comfort in the fact we have done all that we can -- and leave the rest to Spirit and the Circle that will form once we begin. 

Then Cheryl called me while I was enroute to the park. She suggested she and Mark, her husband, would come up to our land and look for a branch here... we set a tentative time that afternoon. I knew there were plenty of fallen branches in the woods around here but also knew it would take some time to find the suitable one. I agreed to go looking but could also feel the tightness in my shoulders that came simply from adding another, unexpected activity, onto my already full platter.

Shortly after arriving back from the Park, Cheryl calls me to leave a brief message: "I'm sending you some photos to see if what we found is suitable for the Prayer Tree. Mark, Ian and I took a walk and maybe what we found will work." Mark is Cheryl's husband and Ian is her grandson... they had a family outing to look for our Circle's tree.

Immediately I come to my computer and open 6 great iPhotos.

I am literally bathed in the Eternal Waters as my eyes travel over and within these photos. My heart rises and swells from a sense of Mystery revealed; my brain goes quiet while my Mind keeps repeating 'oh my... oh my... oh my..."

And I feel the joy known when Grace appears and seems to resettle one's mind from many fragments to a Basket holding the Beauty of the World as intended to be...

The River that earlier seemed perilously blocked is streaming vigorously from past through present towards the future just round the bend...

And for those who might be getting these monthly reflections through soundfiles, I'll try to describe what has to be seen...

A smallish dead tree on the ground
Many branches... many branchings...
A child lifting the tree in his right hand
While the left moves his rattle towards the top of the tree
His Grandfather lifts up the tree entire so all can see
The strong branching network just waiting Prayers to receive...
In front of the Grandfather railroad tracks appear
Trestles running beneath his feet and off into a distance
We can barely see... finally disappearing through the Big Trees beyond...

We could not ask for a more profound rendering of what our work for this conference is about... the tableau focuses our intentions with an acute sensitivity.

The Child inviting us to walk our talk; to walk our prayers; to do as we've promised for the Child needs us to do so! 

We speak of the "Fires of the Seven Generations" or 'the Children's Fire'. We refer to tending this planet on behalf of our descendants.

How exquisitely ironic that almost the last preparation that needed doing was to find a fallen tree limb that would serve as our Prayer Tree----for the Prayers we send so that our work and activities can extend into the Future that is coming.

And here comes the Child, even knowing to rattle the tree limb and lifting it high as his small limbs will allow, saying "this is the One; here it is; this is the One.."

And suddenly I remember how always the Child seems to step forth... the danger these days is that no one is listening or looking and getting perilously close to where even the Child is connected only to voices coming through some modern communication device in his ear.

But we are not completely disconnected from the Long Ago Old Ones or the Far Away Young Ones and that's what the Railroad Tracks let us know. They remind us we are riding the rails, aboard with our Ancestors... bringing them and their Wisdom through us, into the Present... as we walk and explore with the Ones Coming in... coming through...
We are being given the opportunity to stay on track with what will endure.

I ask each of you to pray for the work being done at this conference, for each of the participants. To pray especially for the work to be done beyond this conference, now and into the future.

The railroad tracks themselves
are speaking to us of the journey already begun,
the Child, the Grandfather, even the Grandmother taking the photos
and the branch that is the Prayer Tree Becoming,
they remind us times of pausing, of reassessing
times in other places when we are off track - to stop -
Remind ourselves of what we are doing and the Call we are answering
To Lift up a Praying Tree and renew both Tree and ourselves...
See how the tracks speak of the Journey...
Shall we be on track with what we are doing?
Surely, surely let us hope so...
And just as our Prayer Tree we are making and tending
So too may we each be a Walking Prayer Tree.



We now have audio versions of these newsletters, read by Susan Gilliland, available on the Shamanic Circles web site.

Note regarding future workshops:
My 2010 Calendar of Workshops can be found at my website. The Calendar is under periodic revision so I invite you to check there late Spring and mid-Summer for any workshops added or changed since January. The website includes other shamanic resources.

**Except for the SSP Annual Conference (June), these workshops are limited in enrollment.

Other than the May Women Healers Retreat, all these workshops are for men and women (referred to as Mixed Group). There has been some confusion about this because for several years I was teaching many Women's Circles and some people presumed my workshops were for Women only. I have always felt it is our working together, men and women, that will lead to a transformed world.

Susan Gilliland and I continue to teach together. In addition to working with Susan and Pirkko, plans are underway to teach another workshop (at an animal shelter) with Dan Jordinelli in Los Angeles in mid-Summer.

If you wish more information or to be on a workshop mailing list, please contact the coordinator
Pirkko Miller at pirkko@embarqmail.com. Registration is also available at my website: www.shamanicvisions.com

Carol's Workshop Calendar for 2010

June 3 - 6
Society for Shamanic Practitioners (SSP) Annual Conference "Self in Service: Shamanism without Borders"    Soquel/Santa Cruz County, CA - for information & enrollment: www.shamansociety.org

July 18 - 23
Bridging East and West: Bear Roams the World  
This is a workshop I will teach with Hideki Hamada (Japan) and Cheryl Ban. The workshop will focus on Shamanism and BearMedicine. This Supreme Wilderness Physician is the Tutelary Spirit for both Western and Eastern shamanic peoples. A more complete description of this workshop will be posted at the end of April.

July 29 - August 1
Philadelphia, PA

Sept. 9 - 12
Spirits of Place and Creation of One's Medicine Bundle.
Mixed Group - Santa Cruz, CA (Thursday - Sunday)
Every shamanic practitioner is advised to create a Medicine Bundle. The  primary issues are: what is held within the Bundle; how is the Medicine Bundle used, renewed, and named. Items within a Medicine Bundles are primarily received from Nature and certain Tutelary Spirits within Place. During this weekend we will create our individual Medicine Bundles, empower it, and use it in various healing activities.

More Information

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