Monday, August 31, 2009


I’ve never had such a marvelous giveaway time as I am having now. I’m not just giving things I don’t want any more to the Salvation Army, or weeding my library to the Friends of the Library Booksale. I’m letting of of objects I’ve cherished for 30 or more years. My Nepalese shaman drum, my collection of china tea cups, my mother’s books, bound in softest leather. Things that once defined me, like special ritual clothes. Things that once held me, like a painting worth thousands of dollars that I didn’t like and couldn’t sell. That object I gifted to the fire!

With every gift I give, I seem to be the one to gain, until I am mad with pleasure. Where does this benefit come from? It’s lovely to lighten my load of possessions so that I can live more simply and I’m glad to make other people happy, but that’s not the source of this deeper joy.

I poked around a bit online looking for thoughts about gift-giving. In many cultures, the giving of gifts is a way to strengthen interpersonal ties. The indigenous folks of the Pacific Northwest are famous for their potlatch giveaways, and some Pacific Islanders and African peoples have objects that are in continuous circulation, giving and receiving being vital to social interchange and community building. Although many see contemporary Christmas gifting as empty commercialism, for others, it’s an opportunity to express affection and commitment. Gift-giving is important everywhere you go.

But understanding gift-giving didn’t enlighten me as to why I’m feeling so happy from my giveaway. Only as I struggled with my illness did it come to me: I want my life to have meaning and this meaning does not come from things. Possessions, successes and achievements, and even the constant hope for those things, have only served to conceal my true value. I am not any of those things. They do not define me or give my life value, even though I’ve wished for them and held onto them as if they did.

If my life has any value, it is intrinsic to my person. I'm worthy because of who I am, not what I have. Everything will be given back when I die, after all. Even my body will be given back. And yet I’ve held on to things as if they defined me. Now, with every object I let go of, every dream vanished or task undone, I become more myself. I see myself, unadorned, undone, unhealthy but beautiful, wonderful, human, and good.

With new eyes, I look at my life and find that the things that have had value have no form: the love I shared, the sacrifices I made, conversations on the back porch. My children, my marriage, my gods . . . these give my life meaning. Not the drum I gave away. Not the fancy house we had to sell. No wonder I’m so happy! With every letting go, my life shines brighter in my own eyes. I see the meaning that was hidden behind the veils of things.

Now, there’s this pretty hand-painted serving plate, dated 1907, with a delicate rose design I’d like to give away. The photo doesn't do its luminance justice. Do me a favor, would you, and take it?

Sunday, August 30, 2009

shaman's drum

This drum came into my possession almost 30 years ago. I believe it is a Nepalese shaman's drum. It's older than the drums you can now buy through importers, and is full of power and energy. Hand made, hand carved, with a rattle inside and a curved stick for beating.

I have kept it carefully, but I found that it was not for me to use in sacred space. Now, I would like to give it away to someone who might truly use it to call the spirits, as it was meant to do.

If you would like to have this drum, contact me through e-mail or comments, and we can talk about how to ship it to you.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Releasing the Spirochetes

I drew this picture as part of my work to release the spirochetes of Lyme Disease. The spirochetes in the image are pink and yellow, like a rain behind the martini glass. Unfortunately, they're hard to see in this online image. For more about my experience of Lyme see Charlie's Blog.

Coming hard on the heels of a ducedly painful surgical recovery, the Lyme has me thinking about pain and suffering in the human experience. Seems like I've had more than my share over the years, for a 21st century USA woman, anyway. But my suffering has ultimately led me to great spiritual growth and a deep personal relationship with my gods, particularly with Charlie and my Creator.

Pain and suffering are an unavoidable part of living in the flesh. In balance with life's pleasures and joys, suffering is a great and wonderful teacher. The Christian mystics understood this. Andrew Harvey, in Teachings of the Christian Mystics, writes of the them, "There are no greater teachers of the purpose and alchemical power of suffering in any other mystical literature, because no other group of mystics have faced the necessity of ordeal with such unshrinking precision and so learned how to transmute agony into thanksgiving . . . "

Be the Christians as they may, our contemporary culture celebrates comfort and ease. We avoid suffering, even as we deny the ways in which we constantly suffer in the body—illness, obesity, sexual disability, cancers from toxins, poisoned food, to name a few—at the hands of the dominators. But avoidance and denial don't allow us the spiritual benefits of our physical pain. In our pain, we come to terms with the limitations of the flesh. We learn to love these difficult bodies. We reach out for spiritual strength. We become humble. We grow in compassion.

This is not to say that we should seek out pain and suffering. Our ordinary human experience will bring us plenty for our spiritual growth. Unnecessary pain is harmful. In fact, if our pain gets out of balance with pleasure and joy, then even the benefits of pain are cancelled out.

Still, pain and suffering have a place in human life and always will. Like every experience in my momentary time on this glorious earth, I will embrace my suffering, experience it fully, and transform it into a pathway to the gods of love.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Rest and Play

Let's spend more time resting and playing and less time producing and consuming. Doesn't that sound great? But there’s tremendous resistance to rest and play in the dominator culture. After all, the purpose of the dominator culture is the manufacture of wealth for the ruling elite, so the prevailing morality supports activities that create wealth and rejects activities that fail to add to it.

In other words, the constant, focused use of human time and energy for production and consumption is moral and anything that detracts from “getting and spending” is immoral. Two classic books review the relationship of capitalistic dominator culture to the morality of work: The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, by Max Weber and Religion and the Rise of Capitalism by R. H. Tawney. Their contention, that Protestantism supports the dominator culture through its "work ethic," has entered the mainstream, and I need not belabor the point here.

Instead, let’s take this concept out of the realm of the theoretical and consider how we might use it to transform dominator culture. If the purpose of an animist life is to be part of the earthly dance of life, then what could be better than simply being? Lao Tzu said that the way to do is to be. And if we look around us at the wisdom of creation, we see that the nonhumans are happily busy being in ways that are true to their unique natures.

The lions are ferociously hunting. The flowers burst forth with color and scent and then wilt and die. Ants hurry along hither and thither in a dither. These are just a few examples of nonhumans being their best selves. You can surely think of many more.

As humans, we have our own unique nature to express. We are creative. We love to observe, experiment, and play. We love to create beautiful sounds, to move our bodies in sport or dance. Humans find pleasure in the activities of daily living and bodily care, like washing our bodies and cooking our foods, and there is nothing more wonderful than simply being, in the company of the nonhumans all around us, singing praises to our Creator.

It is also in our nature to give a rhythm to our days, of activity and rest, eating and fasting, time in company and time alone. We need time to rest, to defocus, hang out, play, do nuthin’, loaf and loiter and goof around, and lie on our backs and watch cloud people cavort across the sky. This is human being, and being true to our natures, living a full human life. Unfortunately, there are three dominator barriers that keep us from enjoying nonproductive time.

1) As mentioned above, nonproductive time is considered immoral. It may be labeled laziness, “not living up to your potential,” or wasting time. You may have heard other labels for rest and play that imply immorality or dissipation. Conversely, productiveness is rewarded in numerous ways, especially with acclaim and money, and money is enticing, isn’t it?

2) Most of us have very little time apart from our jobs to spend in rest and play. Once I start back to school, for example, it’s nine hour days for me, not counting commuting. The United States gives its workers less vacation and sick time than any other industrialized nation in the world. This leaves us with so little time that the activities of daily living that could give us joy, like cooking and eating, often become hurried and joyless.

3) If we are not producing, we are expected to consume, and as marvelous as our leisure toys appear to be, many of them suck the life out of us, dull our minds, and steal the last remaining vestiges of time we have available for rest and play. Things like TV, movies, and passive sports-watching, tourism, exercise as a health-producing activity, and shopping do not feed our spirits.

If we could reclaim rest and play, then their joys become their own rewards. And with rest and play come a host of other benefits, like improved health, better relationships, and time to think things through. Plenty of rest and play could transform the way people think of their purpose and give them a chance to become aware of the nonhumans around them.

After all, if we don’t have time to stop and smell the roses,
then how will we ever come to hear their voices?

If we new animists are to be social activists, then here is an excellent way to begin. Let’s resist the dominator entertainments, steal a bit more time from our jobs, ignore the scolding, and spend plenty of time in rest and play. Let’s encourage our friends and coworkers to do the same. Let’s make cloud watching and flower smelling national pastimes! Who knows what magic this little change might work on our culture?

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Summer Storm

Oh, glorious summer! Lush and colorful! Every wildflower busting out in bloom. The scent of green sex is everywhere, bold enough to make a human dizzy and lustful. Bright goldfinches swoop and dive above the weeds. In midsummer, I walk along the roadside or wander in the green and quiet woods, and feel at peace. This is my time for rest, these precious months, before I return to work in the prison-school.

Yesterday, in the woods, the air was hot and sticky, barely moving. Mosquitos feasted on my bare skin and flies tormented me, but I was happy anyway. I tossed aside my shirt and shoes and danced on the pine needles.

Back home, as evening lowered, I watched storm clouds gather to the west. The wind rustled the leaves and the first drops of rain were heavy, fat blobs, hitting the wooden deck with a musical sound. Then the wind blew more fiercely, turning the leaves over, and then the branches began to heave and the trees to bend. The evening grew heavy and dark. Cloud people raced across the sky, and as I watched, two enormous arms of cloud reached over my house, as if to envelop it.

I gasped! Each end of the great cloud was turning around itself, creating funnels where the hands of its arms would be. They lowered toward me, reaching out for me, down and further down until they seemed near enough to touch. Then I was overwhelmed with a primitive fear and ducked back inside the house. This cloud was a dangerous beast, a huge, monstrous thing, and I was frightened! The moment I stepped inside, the cloud people released their load of rain, birthing a fantastic storm. Rain swept across the lawn in driving sheets. The cloud arms with their funnel hands disappeared into the uniform gray, lightening flashed and thunder shook the hillside.

I watched until the storm subsided. Then, I turned away from the open door and pulled a watermelon from the fridge and cut it up to eat for my beloved and me. We munched in quiet peace.

The evening sky lightened and I could see lazy wisps of storm cloud meander over the valley, shimmering with lightening. Oh, how I love summer in the Land-On-Which-I-Walk! I would love to hear about summer where you live.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Love the Animal Body!

You are an animal. Oh, yes, you are! Don’t believe me? Try looking down. You’ve got skin and hair over muscle, bone, and blood. And get a load of those mammalian genitals. Mmm, baby, you’re an animal all right!

You’re also spirit, you are soul. Your Creator gave you soul, like he gave every animal soul, like he gave soul to everything everywhere without exception. Life is permeated with soul the way snow is permeated with white and the night time is one with the blackness. So, the question, “Am I an animal or am I a spiritual being?” is a non sequitur. You are both at once, like Sun is light and heat at once. Try to separate them and you die.

From where I stand in animist reality I can see that human beings are spirit-animals, our fleshly bodies as complex and beautiful and sacred as our souls. Body and spirit are one. In the animist world, the body is good and sex is good.

For tens of thousands of years, humanity thrived in an animist world. It was only about 5000 years ago, during the rise of the monotheists, that humanity began to reject the body and a mythology of the disembodied soul rose to prominence. In this new system of belief, the body is considered weak and disgusting, and the imperfect and ephemeral nature of the flesh tears it apart from its perfect and immortal Creator. We can only speculate as to why this change of thinking occurred. Maybe we humans discovered the fear of death and rejected the part of us that dies. Maybe as we lost our connection with the other animals, we began to look at animals as dead things, as meat, and we hoped to distinguish ourselves from this dead meat by claiming a unique right to spirit.

Or it could be, and here is where I lay my bet, that the rise of the dominators created a new reality of suffering, which led us to dissociate ourselves from the earth and its suffering forms. Whatever the instigation for this myth of the disembodied soul, humans in newly civilized areas of the world began to think of themselves as essentially spirits encased in temporary physical shells. We fled the garden and its joys of the flesh and cast ourselves out into a newly minted dominator world of torment and death.

Most of our churches and religions continue to preach loathing for the body and embrace the mythology of the disembodied soul. They champion the fear of death, offering us immortality in exchange for our earthly lives. This smoothes the way for the dominators to use our bodies to generate wealth and fight their wars.

One of the key tenets of the new animism is a belief that the body is good. Just as we seek intelligence and spirit in all material being, so we embrace the material being of our spirits and minds. This fundamental love for flesh and form inspires us to love and care for our bodies, leading to good health and shameless sex.

You are the animal body. Embrace it! Revel in it!
Smell, taste, touch, listen, and look around you at this amazing world.
Oh, praise the Creator of the flesh!
I will love and care for my body until the day that I return it to the soil.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Mushroom Animists

I count myself lucky when another reader sends me a note or a link, as Adam recently did. Adam is the author of the blog Animystic. As I reach out, I am delighted to find a growing number of people who have animist experiences, many of us from our earliest childhood. David Ehrenfeld wrote me a note after reading my review of his book The Arrogance of Humanism. He is still writing at the cutting edge of science and spirituality, most recently Becoming Good Ancestors: How We Balance Nature, Community and Technology. Can't wait to read it.

I am thinking that we animists are like mushrooms, quietly building a network underground, popping up here and there, stronger than we appear on the surface. Some of us are psychedelic, others are healers, of breathtaking beauty, rising from the rot of the dominator culture.
Best to all,