On Saturday, I mentioned attending a Joanna Macy inspired ritual in Elkhart as part of my friend Nicole’s birthday celebration. David and I had the pleasure of hearing Joanna speak in 2012 when we lived in Madison, but we had not ever attended any of her workshops. This ritual was based on her concept of the Work That Reconnects:
“The activist’s inner journey appears to me like a spiral, interconnecting four successive stages or movements that feed into each other. These four are:
- opening to gratitude,
- owning our pain for the world,
- seeing with new eyes,
- going forth.”
We really didn’t know what to expect, but we love Nicole and what she and her friends at Prairie Wolf Collective bring to life, so we went with open minds and hearts. We found there an intimate group of mostly strangers (to us), which oddly made the Work That Reconnects feel even more reassuring and powerful. Respecting the privacy and sacredness of the group experience, I’ll just share some of my own observations and takeaways.
First of all, as I’ve mentioned before, Joanna Macy is up there as one of my most admired people on this planet. I love that she has created a process that communities can repeat for themselves, helping people to tune deeply into both ecology and the people around them. Nicole’s community actively facilitated the entire process, dramatizing the destruction of our ecosystem, and leading various exercises, group sharing, songs and rituals.
I have to agree that “gratitude grounds us.” After watching the interpretive Dance of the Waters — from their original freedom to pollution and corporate control to their healing through love and effort of individuals, I was afraid I might start bawling and not be able to stop. The gratitude exercises, circling through the group with why we’re glad to be alive at this time (The Great Turning), memories of a sacred childhood place, someone who made us believe in ourselves and something we appreciate about ourselves really did anchor me back into a position of strength, despite reeling from the magnitude of our task to heal this planet and return to a culture of life.
Next, we moved to the Element of Fire — outside — building a bonfire with bones and sticks, each of us speaking to the group before adding our piece. This was the “honoring our pain” portion, and for me, living in Northern Indiana, I am never far from the pain of what we have done to this planet. It hurts. I have lived in many of the most beautiful, pristine places of North America, and until moving here, I always chose my locale for its proximity to some gorgeous, large natural feature. From Seattle to Santa Fe to Sedona to Lake Tahoe to Monterey to the shores of Lake Michigan … on and on through 43 addresses, I’ve always made sure to live and breathe the beauty. The landscape has always been a part of who I am.
It took six months of recurring dreams in 2009 telling me to move from Sonoma County California to Northern Indiana, and even then, I did so by way of daily walks by Lake Michigan and then Madison, WI and the nearby woods and lakes, only moving here because my true love needed to care for his parents here. He asked, and I agreed, because six months of such bizarre dreams is no small thing.
But it hurts to live here.
When we first found this property, I felt the pain of neglected land that had had its trees clear cut in preparation for the gut rehab of the house. I saw the dry, cracked earth, full of scraggly weeds and dead tree stumps — and I knew that if we did not take this rental, that it would take hundreds of gallons of toxic RoundUp, imported topsoil and sod to make this yard “acceptable.” I could feel the Nature Spirits traumatized, the animals bereft of shelter, and even though the neighbors all swore this was such “an improvement” over the way it was, every fiber of my being recoiled at the trauma.
Beyond our yard, we have a factory across the street, a caved in garage roof two doors down, and some of the most impoverished, tiny neighborhoods I have ever driven through, let alone lived near. Our rivers are filled with so many chemicals that a local scientist tells me the fish are hermaphrodites, and Monsanto rules the roost with GMO corn and soy fields all across this flat expanse. I learned on Saturday that for a hundred years, Indiana had 10 square miles of trees cleared per day. Diana is the Goddess of the Woodlands, making the name In-Diana as ironic as naming a state after the indigenous people forcibly marched out on the Trail of Death. Along with the real Indians and the Goddess of the Woodlands, straight streets, flat plowed fields and extremely patriarchal, stark religions have managed to squash almost every remaining vestige of the Sacred Feminine.
Ninety trains per day shriek their brakes and toot their horns, while transporting car after car of RoundUp-sprayed GMO high fructose corn syrup. Huge trucks rattle right through Main Street, and illegal immigrants inhale toxic fumes and dust particles in RV and other factories. When the economy crashed here in 2007 — before the rest of the nation — some neighborhoods experienced 80% unemployment, and with such high illegal populations that few could collect any benefits. With such challenges, maintaining yards, sidewalks or caved in garages were hardly priorities.
All of this and more I see, hear, smell, taste and feel. Daily.
This is why I garden. This is why I have hauled over 25,000 pounds of wood mulch, over 10,000 pounds of compost, coffee, potting soil, and manure to heal the soil. This is why I plant ornamental fruit trees and fruiting shrubs, why I obsess over an eight foot tall grape vine trellis, sunflowers, scarlet runner bean tee-pees, and morning glories. This is why I just ordered a Sweet Mock Orange to create a fragrant hedge on the north edge of the front yard, why I’ve got five profusely blooming, tough-as-nails Robinhood Rose bushes to form a hedge out front, and why I choose ornamental varieties for all my vegetable crops. This is why the inside of our home has become a different universe, one that welcomes faeries, the Goddess, and sacred rituals celebrating the Wheel of the Year. This is why I continue to paint portals towards a better future, why I keep interfacing with locals who look at me like I have three heads or don’t belong, why I offered two Reiki certification classes at a Mennonite church last year, and why when people compliment my garden, I admit to receiving faery help.
Confession and perhaps not a surprising one: during the winters in Elkhart County, Indiana, I fantasize about living elsewhere. Without my garden or mature evergreens to clean the air and remind me why I’m here, I cocoon deep inside our faery cottage. Except after the quiet, magical snows that temporarily beautify everything, in winter, I often go weeks without leaving the house, looking at nothing besides my paintings, indoor plants, tarot cards and books. Piles and piles of books about gardening, food forests, and the Faery Realm. Whenever people visit, they immediately notice the “other realm” nature of our home. The energy sparkles inside, and until things start pushing their way back to life outside, my heart can’t stand the brutality of what humanity has done to Northern Indiana.
I didn’t say all of this on Saturday as I picked up a bone to place on the fire, but raw emotion flooded through what I did manage to share. I felt the tears, hot, like lava in my stomach, exploding from my heart, and cracking through my voice, and then it hit me: I’m not just feeling Northern Indiana in contrast to Monterey or Lake Tahoe. I am feeling Gaia Herself, weeping for the way Her children have used Her, beaten, raped and overpowered Her. Everywhere. Elkhart County just forces me to recognize and feel that pain, to own it instead of blissfully pretending it doesn’t exist as I look at waters filled with invisible radiation or land parched by geo-engineered drought. There is one Earth, and all of Her is sacred. Some parts need more help than others, but all of this planet needs healing. As much as I would love to run away, to distract myself from this visceral pain, truly, where would I go? If I don’t heal this land, my little spot in Goshen, then, tell me, who will?
Who else would have looked at hundreds of tree stumps, tens of thousands of dandelions, quack grass clumps, a creeping field of garlic mustard, sorrel and poison ivy and thought, “Permaculture Paradise”? Who else, right here, right now, would have spent the hours and money to heal, regenerate and harmonize this land?
On Saturday, I remembered my place — not just via remembered recurring dreams, but in my body and in my soul. In the gratitude section, I realized that what I’ve done with this land is no different than what I do with discarded doors — purifying them, cleaning them, sealing them, and painting them into portals that lead to preferred destinations. This time on Earth — what Joanna Macy calls “The Great Turning,” in which everything falls apart with unknown outcome but enormous potential for healing — is really no different than individual coaching sessions in which I help people move through their worst nightmares into a magical, healed, and preferred life. It’s not easy, but I love it. I love showing up at these moments of incredible odds and almost unimaginable creation.
The next part of the spiral had us back inside, literally walking backwards, around and around the circle, metaphorically moving back through time to all the challenges our ancestors have faced. This portion was the least new to me, since I spend so much time doing past life readings. I’m quite familiar with perennial challenges facing humanity, as well as my own soul’s history, even though I don’t know my family history much beyond my grandparents. I still enjoyed the exercise, appreciating how fortunate I am to experience such a vast temporal perspective on a daily basis. “Seeing with new eyes” for me meant recognizing how blessed I am to live so far out of ordinary life.
The final part of the spiral was “going forth,” and it involved wandering aimlessly around the room until we were told to stop. Then, we paired up with the closest person to us, holding hands, gazing into each others’ eyes and silently participating in whatever exercise the facilitators read. I ended up taking the opportunity to offer a huge surge of Reiki and Runic healing to whomever I paired off with. The energies just surged through me, and I realized another key difference between my regular life and that of most people’s “ordinary life”: Presence. I spend my days in sessions, deeply honoring the being of each client, and David and I have a strong, soulful connection with each other. I had given up on most other people here being able to connect anywhere near that level. I always feel the walls of culture, religion, repression or distraction. So many walls wherever I go here, but in this exercise, for those brief moments, I realized, “Wow! This capacity has not been completely bred out of people in this area. Some are capable of this level of presence. Good to know.”
I felt my own energy expand in a way I rarely allow it to here, out of respect for the extreme Anabaptist infiltration of everyday life. Mystical it is not! In those moments of feeling the Reiki and Runes surging through me and having an unknown other actually trying to connect instead of running from that level of soul communion, I let my energy relax even more, not caring if magic happened around me, as it usually does when my energy moves — freaking out bookstore clerks, baffling salespeople or other shoppers when books or objects I need appear out of nowhere. Here, in the course of “going forth,” I thought, “Ahhh, yes, I will continue to go forth, and maybe there are receptors for what I have to offer in Elkhart County.” I looked forward to conversing afterwards with those I’d connected with in silence.
The ritual ended, and poof! Presto, change-o, I felt all the walls re-erect themselves, and I smiled to myself. Patience, grasshopper. The first three people I connected with seemed to pointedly and awkwardly avoid me for the rest of our time there, but the last one spent hours talking with David and me. We connected with others, as well, not to the degree we are capable of connecting with others, but more deeply than usual in this reserved area. I left the gathering recognizing just how much this community (and probably many communities) need(s) The Work That Reconnects, and I felt grateful that we have people willing to show up. I feel grateful for Nicole and her dozens of friends who took the time on a Saturday afternoon to drum, to cry, to share, and to build — to recognize the pain of our planet and to commit to doing our own part as individuals and as a community to heal ourselves and our Mother. I feel grateful and humbled to heal this yard and to teach and live in this county, in this state, which people on either coast usually dismiss as backwards, redneck and ugly.
In many ways, they would not be wrong, but to dismiss Elkhart County whole cloth is to miss the subtle beauties of regenerating land, economy and soul. I, of course, went home and ordered a bunch more plants, because you always need more flowers, ground cover and nuts. Can’t forget the hazel nuts! In the process of determining which hedges to put where, I heard from a local gardening friend about the Arbor Day Foundation, an organization devoted to growing more trees all over the US. They want to encourage people to plant more trees, so they sell them to you for very low cost, enabling more people to afford more trees. Even if you live in a less obviously hurt spot of Mother Earth, I encourage you to check out the Arbor Day Foundation to see what trees grow well in your zone and area of the country. You can even leave a will of trees, gifts that last a lifetime.
I will leave you with the words of Chief Seattle, quoted recently by Ann Kreilkamp, a friend and fellow InDiana resident from fellow Transition Town, Bloomington:
Every part of the earth is sacred to my people.
Every shining pine needle,
every sandy shore,
every mist in the dark woods,
every humming insect.
All are holy in the memory and experience
of my people.
This we know.
We belong to the Earth.
The Earth does not belong to us.