Returning to my people

Ruth and Larry after the vision fastI’d like to conclude my story of the medicine walk with telling you about how Ruth and Larry mirrored the story for me, and what has happened since then. As I mentioned in Three parts of the ceremony, the final stage is reincorporation. During this stage, we bring the gifts of our threshold time back to our people. We find a way to manifest our gifts and vision in the world.

The first way we do that is by telling the gift of our story. Having had the privilege of sitting in story council dozens of times, listening to the stories of fasters, I affirm wholeheartedly the value of hearing these stories. It is moving, uplifting, and makes us more human to witness the vulnerable, innocent, desperate, and triumphant struggles of those who dare to fast alone in the wilderness. It is truly a gift, and we tell the fasters not to squander the gift on just anyone. We tell them to share the story only with those who have ears to hear. I am trusting that you, dear blog readers, are such people, people who have ears to hear.

It was wonderful to sit in circle with Ruth and Larry and tell them about my medicine walk. I gave them the gifts I had made for them, and showed them the bouquet. I told them about the four ceremonies I did.

Although I had focused on each of the four directions in my ceremonies, Ruth said that it was strongly a story of the south, of the place of the child, with the strength and passion of the red south energy. She named the many times I used red in my ceremony—the threshold of red beads, the blood, the red cap for the lizard, the red suede wrapping the bouquet stems, the shield with red hearts on it that I gave my inner man.

This is one of the mysteries of the wheel. When we are working with the wheel, we can view each direction through the lens of one direction—in this case, the south. So the energies of the west and inner man can be viewed from the south. The making of gifts for our people, north energy, can be viewed from the south. And the creative celebration of the east can also be viewed from the south. In this way, the eyes of the child and her strength interact with the energies of the other directions, viewing them with her particular concerns, interacting with them with her innocence and ruthlessness.

Ruth reflected that the little girl in me was strong, and that her love of beadwork was a gift she’d brought to the world that helped me survive. That little girl is a survivor, all right! Ruth honoured the way that I held my little girl, and later made a piece of art depicting my hands unbraiding the little girl’s hair. The freedom of the little girl running through nature after I held her in the ceremony is a feeling I have experienced several times since returning from the desert, when I have listened to my experience deeply. The freedom to just be myself, without distorting, contorting, or contracting to be what I think someone else wants. This is the freedom of the unecumbered soul—the birthright of us all.

The other aspect of my ceremony that Ruth mirrored was that I claimed my balls! I hadn’t realized the significance of this at the time, when I was interacting with my inner man in the final ceremony and gave him some balls of warm peachy-yellow stone. In the past when I have worked with my inner man, I have given him a penis but not thought that the balls were necessary. But I guess a man might have quite a different perception! This spontaneous act of claiming the balls is what solidified and completed my intention of claiming my inner father: I am mother and father to myself, and I have the strength and take the time to care for my hurt self.

I didn’t understand the importance of this brief moment of spying a stone and scooping it up, and sliding it under the penis I’d already give the man figure I created. But this has had an incredible impact on my life since coming home from the desert. Even a few days later, when we returned to Big Pine, the confidence and groundedness in my body was palpable. I went on a night run through the town of Big Pine, saw some pink roses drenched with recent rain, and totally ravished them, sinking my face into the petals and drinking up the rose-flavoured water. This is what it feels like to be a man, taking what I want! (I imagine! Any male readers who care to comment on whether this is true for you, please do.)

Other evidence of the incorporation of my inner father continues to manifest. I noticed right away that a particular kind of longing for something from a man had disappeared. I didn’t need it from the outside, because I had it on the inside now. I am speaking of a longing to be seen, cherished, approved of, loved. What I wanted from my father, and sought from lovers. I was no longer looking at men with this same needy eye, hungering and trying to get something from them. There is truly a feeling of completeness on the inside. And, correspondingly, a realization that no man can give me this. This makes me feel freer—no longer driven to try to be what another wants to get the love from the outside. And it also gives any men I might come across freedom to be who they are, not the projection of my father. So freedom all around. That’s a good thing!

One interesting thing I have noticed as I recount the events of last October to you is that I can’t recall what Larry said. I didn’t take notes of the mirroring. Although I vividly recollect sitting in circle, and hugging Larry at the end of the mirroring, I can’t remember any words. I only remember a loving feeling of being held by his warm attention. Perhaps the claiming of my inner father manifested this way as well—I didn’t need to be affirmed by a man on the outside. [Coming back to this later it occurs to me that of course Larry affirmed my story. I may not have needed his words to affirm my words, but the warmth of being truly listened to and heard is something I do need, and that I felt nourished by on this occasion.]

And finally, I hope you will all understand something else from this story. By being more fully who I am, free to be my true self—playful, innocent, strong, vulnerable, confident, dignified, silly, and joyful—I actually am free to contribute my gifts more freely in the world. This is one of the benefits of the vision fast ceremony. It empowers us all to be more fully ourselves, and this is the greatest gift we can bring our people.

Next time I will tell you about a dream I had the night after I returned, which illustrated some of the themes I have written about in a beautiful way.

The three parts of the ceremony

A medicine walk, just like a full-length vision quest, has three parts to the ceremony: severance, threshold, and The ever-popular bear poo is often seen in BC wilderness visionsreincorporation.

The time spent mirroring my intention was part of the severance phase, during which I was preparing to leave my people and go out into the wild. This time also included packing and preparing for the day walk.

The time on the walk is called the threshold phase, during which I was in the sacred space of the ceremony, and a ghost to my people. The threshold place is the place of spirit, of magic, and of the unknown. Some call it the liminal space. This is the place where trees, animals, and rocks can talk to us, if we will listen. This is the place where a vision might come, though it can come to us anywhere and anytime if we are open to seeing.


The final phase, reincorporation, is when we return to our people with the gifts we have gained from our time of trial. The hardest task is to embody the vision in our lives, through service to our people. But before I describe this phase of my journey, I’d like to summarize what I’ve said so far.

First, there were the entries from the severance phase, about mirroring for intention.

Then there were the entries from the threshold time, while I was out on my medicine walk:

Next time, I will tell you about the reincorporation phase.

The medicine walk: getting down to the nitty gritty

Inner man with shield, tree of life, and road at his feetContinuing on with the story of the east shield ceremony, I was now near the mouth of the canyon, near the canyon wall on the north side of the wash. The wash was filled with stones, from tiny pebbles to large boulders, but I’d chosen a ceremonial spot that was flat and gravelly. The canyon walls are formed of Paleozoic sedimentary rocks, and the area where I found the yellow flowers is a favourite site for trilobite seekers.

After I danced with my inner man, I spoke aloud to the figure I had made of stones, imagining it was the man I was currently attracted to. I told him everything I longed for, thought I knew, and feared about him. I imagined my first name paired with his last name, and smiled, for this combination forms the name of a spiritual teacher I respect greatly. It reminded me of being in grade school, with the other girls, writing out our names with the last names of the boys we had crushes on.

As I spoke to him, we danced a little more, and I picked up some stones to add to the figure. I found a branch that looked like a tree of life, and I put it in his right hand. Then I found a shield with red hearts on it, to put in his left hand. I gave him warm, round, peach-coloured balls. One leg was a bit shorter than the other, and I put a smaller red and white rock under it. My heart!

I spoke aloud my belief that he needed to walk the path of his own truth, healing, and growth. That was the most important thing, and more important than any relationship he might have with a woman. At this point I put a rock that looked like a road, with a line running down it, under his feet. A little while later, as the ceremony unfolded, I put another small rock to represent my heart, and another to represent a warm stone pussy, on the road.

After I’d done all the talking and dancing, I sat down beside him and asked my inner man to talk to me. First he said, “I love you.” Then that he would protect my inner child. Then I felt a shining golden bliss in my torso, the feeling of our love-making. Then he said he loves me fiercely, in the ancient ways and for all eternity. I could feel the wind blowiong like the wind of eternity, and the truth of it.

I wondered how my own father viewed me, for that is part of the impression that forms our inner masculine. I remembered being a teenager, dressed up to go out, with makeup and a mini-skirt, and my dad saying I looked like a whore. As if there’s anything wrong with that, I said to myself. I remembered how he liked to look at Ursula Andress in her white bikini, arising out of the ocean in Dr. No. Him saying this had always hurt me, but now I knew he was just having a hard time letting his daughter go to other men. I couldn’t recall either parent ever talking about my future as a wife or mother, or hoping that I would have a good relationship with a man when I grew up. Maybe it was expected but unsaid.

I thought about the man I was currently drawn to, and what the attraction felt like. I imagined various aspects of a life together. Just then a plane flew over and made a giant X in the sky! It is so nice when the universe gives really clear messages!

My inner man expressed the fierceness with which I want to be wanted—sexually, romantically, and for who I am as a person. That is how he wants me, and as the inner father I am claiming in this ceremony, that is what he wants for me. Looking back at the ceremony now, I feel that the inner father was blessing me to find this kind of relationship with a man in the outer world. And I also know that the fierce longing is the longing of each soul for our beloved—the mystery that we are, are from, are part of, and long for complete union with. The love between lovers is a beautiful form this takes: the love of the beloved in each other. May it be so…

The medicine walk: ceremony with the inner masculine

Altar with bouquet and direction stonesI have been writing about my medicine walk in Eureka Valley, California, last October. After I completed the north shield ceremony, which involved gathering the bouquet of flowers and making gifts for my people, I felt that I wanted to do an east shield ceremony. I didn’t know what form this might take, but considered doing work on what I was projecting onto a man I currently felt very drawn to. Or perhaps I could do a ceremony with the little boy inside, or lizard man—two east shield figures I have done work with in the past. Or maybe I would be drawn to do a ceremony on something else that is creative, joyful, and the breaking down of old forms.

In keeping with the movement of this day, I decided to move further down the wash for the final ceremony. I gathered up my pack and jackets, as I still felt the heat of the afternoon and wasn’t wearing all the layers I’d started out with that morning. I began walking down the wash, looking for a place where I felt drawn to do my ceremony. When I came to the small waterfall (now dry), I picked up the bouquet I made earlier. I didn’t quite find a spot that felt really good, but eventually saw a place to put down the bouquet on a flat rock. This became my altar, and I arranged my ceremonial stones for the four directions on it, with a tealight candle in the middle.

I wanted to find a form in nature to represent my inner man so I could talk to him. I scanned the cliff that formed one of the canyon walls, and looked at the boulders in this area, but nothing seemed quite right. Since I couldn’t find a life-size figure, I made a figure of a man from smaller flat pieces of rock, which I laid out on a yellow towel. (Yellow for the east!) First I found a red and white stone to use for the heart, then a big round white stone that I felt inspired to use for the head, and then some flat pieces of slate to use for the torso, arms, legs, and pelvis. I found some dried branches to use for hair, and a yellow stone from the buddy pile to use for the penis.

I offered tobacco from Dirk, the sweat lodge fire keeper and water pourer who had given me this gift in Arizona at the wilderness guides gathering. I sprinkled the tobacco in the four directions, offering thanks to the spirits and asking them to be with me in this ceremony. At first I felt a little shy talking to this figure I had created to represent my inner man, and I sat across the altar from him. Then I stood up to talk to him, and danced to some songs in my head—You Sexy Thing and Beast of Burden.

To be continued…

Yoga for the New Year

Speaking of bears, I’d like to invite you to a yoga class I am teaching on Bear poseTuesday, January 19. It’s free for members of the Society for Technical Communication. If you’re not a member, it’s $15 to pre-register online, or $20 at the door.

One of the poses I’ll be teaching is called the bear pose! This class is a gentle class intended for people with any level of experience with yoga. No special equipment or clothing is necessary, as the poses are chosen so that you can do them at the office during your workday.

I teach four short sets of poses that you can do at work while taking a five-minute break, bringing energy and suppleness into your body, focusing your mind, and easing tension from your eyes and neck.

If you’ve never done yoga before, this class is a great way to experience first-hand the joy that yoga breath and movement can bring. Participants who came to the class last year were amazed at the states of pleasure they experienced from these simple techniques. If you’re already a regular yoga practitioner, you may still learn something new as the class draws on poses from Qigong and Kundalini yoga, which may be new forms to you, as well as the more familiar Hatha yoga. You’ll feel great whether you are new to yoga or have been practicing for years! 

P.S. If you couldn’t make it to the class, but would like to experience the benefits of yoga in your workplace, check out the info at www.karenrempel.com. I would be happy to bring this workshop to you!

The puzzle of the marks on the tree

Hi Amy,

Marks made upwardsI’m answering you as a blog entry rather than a comment, so I can include photos. I’ve puzzled over the pictures you sent me of marks on a tree, as well as the details about measurements and known wildlife in your area. I also consulted with an expert woodswoman.

The width of the marks you found is within the range possible for cougars (3.5 to 4.8 inches) or bear (3.75 to 5.5 inches). Cougars would likely only show four claw marks together, as their fifth claw, like a domestic cat, is located separately and further back from the four front claws. Bears can show five claws, but, especially in the case of black bears, the fifth one is usually faint.

Regularity of marksHowever, the real deciding factor was the regularity of the marks (as in the photo to the left). I believe that a wild animal would not make such regular marks (12 sets, separate from each other), and the lines would not be so even and parallel. Also, I think the animal would not scratch upwards, as were the marks shown in one of your photos (shown above).

I’m including a photo of bear marks, which shows that the path of the mark is less regular, and has only four claw marks. The curved lines are more typical of the natural arm movement of a bear. Bear marks

The second photo is of cougar marks, and you can see the lines are very thin, and there is a lot of overlap as the cougar scratched repeatedly in the same spot.

Cougar marksSo the conclusion I have reached is that the marks on the main tree you found were made by humans. The expert woodswoman I consulted thought some of the marks might have been made using an axe. However, the other marks you found on a different tree were less regular and could have been made by a cougar or bear. Thanks very much for writing and sharing this puzzle with me and the other readers on this blog!


Mixed media and more sex for the New Year

Happy New Year, dear blog readers o’mine. Before I continue with the story of my medicine walk, a few amazing things have come through my inbox that I’d Cougar claw marks? BC Vision Questlike to share with you:

First is a mixed media music video by cartoonist Doug Savage (music by Laura Veirs), a friend of a friend from writing school. The linked page describes a few incredible things about how the images were created. I like the forest theme with lots of my favourite animals in it. The sequence with all the animals actually reminds me of a dream I had on the vision quest trip I’ve been writing about, which I may describe later. The music is haunting and the images are hypnotically archetypal. Anyway, check this out:

July Flame

Cougar claw marks? BC Vision FastAnother cool thing that has come into my inbox is some pictures from a reader named Amy, showing claw marks on a tree. Amy lives in Willamette Valley, Oregon, and found this tree during a hike with her family in the hills on the edge of town. Amazing! I’ve never seen such a group of regular marks. And I love the power of the cell phone. Where would we be without those mini cameras?! Thanks Amy! They could be cougar scratch marks, but I’m betting on the Sasquatch, myself!

Erotic Fantasy Seminar

As a final bit of news, I am varying a bit from the theme of this blog, but I wanted to let you know I will be teaching an evening workshop on erotic fantasy on Monday, January 11, 7:30 PM at the Art of Loving, 1819 West Rare Sasquatch photo5th at Burrard. The cost is $30. Here is a link to the details:

Erotic Fantasy Seminar

Start the new year with some juicy energy. Come alone, or with a partner. I’d love to see you there!

The medicine walk: bouquets and gifts of the north

For the next part of the medicine walk I’ve been writing about, I wanted to do some work in the north part of the wheel, which involves giving our gifts to our people. It can also involve making gifts, doing concrete physical tasks, craftwork, and so on.

I walked farther down the wash, and found a nice big boulder to lean Wilderness visionsagainst, which gave me a bit of shade, but not too much. I wrote in my journal about what had happened so far. Then I went down to the place where I had seen the yellow flowers. They were in a flat area nestled among boulders above a drop in elevation, which would be a waterfall when the rains fell in this dry desert place. Possibly a small pool formed here before spilling over, allowing more moisture to remain here, quenching the flowers with the water they needed to grow. I marvelled at this miracle of life in the desert.

I gathered a bouquet of the yellow flowers, adding some pale green leaves that had a band of red and yellow tips on them, and a sprig of a lush reddish plant. I gave Reiki to each plant, thanking them for these gifts of beauty from their bodies. I bound the stems together with a strip of faux red suede and some black thread. It reminded me of the bouquet my buddy had made for me and left at the buddy pile the first time I fasted in the desert. I had carried that bouquet in my car for about a year after the fast.

I thought of leaving this bouquet on the buddy pile for the faster I was buddying from base camp. Then I thought maybe I should give it to my inner man, to woo him and deepen my relationship to him. At this point I still didn’t know who I would give it to. I left it in a safe place by the yellow flowering plant, because it might get wrecked if I put it in my pack.

I came back up to my nice boulder spot and made a ring of gold and purple for my little girl. The first day the fasters went out I had a long meditation in base camp, and the colours purple and gold had infused my soul. I had somehow chosen these colours of beads to bring along on the trip when I had been packing in Vancouver. I also brought the colours of the four directions.

Ring for my inner childSo now I made the ring, contemplating my association of this particular shade of purple, a mauve colour, with mourning. I had experienced it when mourning at Auschwitz about the loss to the world of the gifts and love of all the people who were killed there. I now felt the mourning of the gifts that were lost to the world because my little girl was hurt and it has taken so many years to heal and begin bringing her gifts into the world. The gold was a celebration of her beingness and our connection, which I had experienced when we interacted by the golden cholla cactus—a merging bliss.

As I worked on the ring I acknowledged and honoured the way she HAS brought her gifts into the world, struggling all the while but doing it in spite of the immense obstacles. She shared her love of beading with the world (through writing the book Complete Beading for Beginners), and this earned awards, recognition, and even enough money to buy a car. That’s a helluva accomplishment for a little girl!

Then I made beaded bracelets for Larry and Ruth, using the colours of the four directions—white, yellow, red, and black. I also made one for my buddy, to leave on the buddy pile. I selected purple too, for Ruth’s bracelet, gold for Larry, and green for the faster. I loved the pattern that emerged from the selected colours, and the mathematical element of combining the beads to make the right length of bracelet. When I was finished, I wrapped these gifts in scraps of the faux red suede, with a small stone for each. Then I noticed a beautiful dried flower that seemed to be a kind of daisy. I snipped its stem, using the scissors on my Swiss army knife, and took it down to add to the bouquet.

It felt so satisfying to create gifts of beauty to give to my people. The knowing of how to do it and the tools to use was very north shield. But the creativity involved was east shield. My thoughts turned to the east shield now as I contemplated the ritual I wanted to do for the east part of my day walk.


The medicine walk: cholla cactus and golden braids

If you have been following this story of the medicine walk, you might The elusive inner masculinebe wondering what my longing for a loving relationship has to do with the intention I brought on the walk, and why I chose to ask the lizard that question. I can tell you two things about this. One is that the question arose spontaneously, as did the entire interaction with the lizard. And it is this spontaneous arising in nature that is part of the gift of the medicine walk, vision fast, and other work in nature. One never knows what is going to happen. And what happens is outside the realm of our usual experience. This is why we go to nature in the first place—to gain insight and understanding from a place that is different from our usual thought processes and ways of interacting in the world. As my story continues I will draw together all the pieces of the events on the medicine walk into a cohesive whole that makes sense.

The second piece about asking about my desire for a loving relationship is that this is part of the work with my inner man. I mentioned previously that I am claiming my inner father. Yet the inner masculine is also my inner lover. And the type of relationship I have with both these aspects of my inner masculine will affect the quality of relationships I have with men in my life, especially in the area of intimate, romantic relationships. Looked at one way, this means that the desire for a great romantic relationship is a strong motivation to do the inner work to have good relationships with the inner masculine aspects. But that’s kind of a backwards way of looking at it, as you may know if you are involved in inner work yourself. The gifts of looking within are the goal of the work, and the benefit this may have in our outer lives and relationships is secondary. (Or so the theory goes!) But the truth is, our relationship with ourself is the one constant that is there throughout our life, while outer relationships come and go.

So, to continue my story, I left off at the point where I was sitting near the golden cactus. I noticed it was prickly, to keep other creatures away (like me). And beautiful, to draw them close (like me). Suddenly I wanted to know what it would take. If only I could DO SOMETHING, like flog myself with the cactus, cutting my arms, or run across the desert for miles and miles, to make it happen. I felt my powerlessness. Do I have to move to California or New York to improve my chances of meeting the kind of man with whom I want to have a relationship, who is as deeply committed as I am to the inner journey? Does he have to be on the same spiritual path, or can it be someone like Larry, who runs and meditates and has a deep inner awareness, and holds the sacred ceremony of the vision fast? He can sense himself and his unfoldment, though his inner work has been on a different path than mine. And then there is that mysterious factor of strong physical attraction, which I would want to feel with my mate. When will I find all of this in one man, I wondered.

I felt into the sadness in my chest, and the longing to be seen, regarded as special, loved and cherished—from a lover man whom I felt passionate about. And I felt the helplessness and hopelessness about ever having that. I believed I don’t get to have it, won’t ever get to have it. The hopeless sad powerless longing felt like when I was a child. And cactus was saying don’t look outside for what you want, just do your inner work. (And I remembered Larry saying what we all want is on the inside.) That felt frustrating and unsatisfying too, but I also noticed the feeling tone of feeling powerless to ever have what I want, and hopeless, felt like when I was a little girl, wanting mom and dad’s love and attention and for them to think I was special.

Unbraiding her true natureI remembered being about four, having these feelings. Longing for love, closeness, attention. Feeling ugly and unloveable. The hurt of it all. So I started talking to little Karen, telling her I could feel her hurt, and I was there for her, loved her, thought she is beautiful and precious, and that I cared about how she felt. I asked if she could hear me, but she seemed pretty absorbed in her hurt and sadness. She didn’t seem to be aware of me. With my eyes closed, I imagined drawing her near to me, and I unbraided her two braids. I touched her hair, telling her that her hair was beautiful, soft and wavy from the braids, and that she is special. I could see her uniqueness and the qualities in her that are different from most little girls. This showed in her face as a seriousness and strength.

I held her close, telling her she is special, and felt a very full, loving feeling, deep pink, in my heart. The pink fullness was also between us and through us, a unified field of it. Then I saw her as free to be who she was—happy and light, a tremendous force of nature, running through the landscape.

Although this experience wasn’t the union with the masculine that I longed for, it was very satisfying, and seemed to be a piece of the puzzle of healing so that I am ready for a relationship. Reparenting my inner child, releasing her pain, allowing her to be free to be herself. With this work done, I no longer needed to seek someone on the outside to give her the love and attention she had been longing for. To honour and mark what had occurred, I did a small ceremony. Earlier, when I crossed the threshold, I had a nose bleed. I buried the kleenex with my blood on it at the base of the cactus, as a gift of thanks from my body to the earth, and a symbol of letting go of the suffering from the past. I marked the tiny grave with a black stone, and placed a piece of the cactus that had broken off on the flat black stone, together with a tiny red stone.

This concluded the second part of my medicine walk, which I thought of as being related to the west side of the wheel. The inner masculine work is the work of the west. But clearly the work with the inner child is the work of the south. Ruth reflected this back to me later on when I told the story to her and Larry. And she made the beautiful piece of art pictured here, showing the hands loosening the braid.

The work with the little girl seemed like a possible completion of my medicine walk. It was so wonderful to have cared for her in such a way that her suffering was relieved and she was freed to be her true, magnificent self in the world. As often happens when fasting, my thoughts turned to food and I wondered if I should call it a day and go back to base camp to eat! But I had it in my mind to do some further ceremony for the north and the east…