Musings on oil and vision quests

Oil spill devastationI have been feeling shocked, horrified, and deeply saddened by the environmental damage caused by the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. I am sure that millions of people feel the same way.  We evolved as a species along with the other species on this earth, and are deeply affected by the massive devastation the oil spill is causing to the ocean, seashore, and many creatures living there.

To quote from an article about ecological trauma on the Greenpeace website, “Regardless of prevailing conceits, we retain learned patterns from 50 million years of primate evolution, 5 million years of hominid development, and 500,000 years of fire-bearing, tool-making hunter-gatherer culture. During this long genesis, humanity grew within the comfort and constraints of an intact ecosystem that supplied sustenance, vital lessons, wonder, and a home. Watching that home fall under the blade of industrialism shocks our system, whether we know it or not

“In spite of our civilised ways, human psychology remains linked to our primal origins. As a result, we suffer the trauma of witnessing ecological abuse, watching wilderness obliterated, other creatures eradicated, and the Earth diminished.”

In 2004, I became inspired to study ecopsychology at Naropa UniversityCleaning up the oil spill because of my desire to do something positive with my life to help preserve the animals and wild places that remain. I was also motivated by my feelings of helplessness and hatred towards the human race for what we are doing to the planet. Fortunately for me, and for the many other students at Naropa, the education there is built on a contemplative foundation. Through meditation and other practices, I learned to bring presence and a deeper awareness to my studies and my life. Experiences of the deeper truth of reality helped me to see the beauty and inherent goodness of life. Without this awareness I think it would have been intolerable to continue living in the world the way it is today. It is a miracle to me that my feelings of helplessness and hatred were transformed into feelings of hope, a deep love for the inner journey, and a commitment to doing what I can for the earth in a way that I can offer lightly and with joy.

How is this possible? Partly it is from the experiences of the deeper truth of reality, which helps give me a bigger perspective with which to hold traumatic events such as the oil spill (perhaps better described as an endless eruption of oil). A commitment to this deeper truth helps me to make my inner journey the first priority. I believe that our first task is to mature as human beings into the majestic creatures of being that we are born to be. Or at least do our best in this task! The second goal for me is to do what I can to protect and care for the earth and her creatures in the way that best uses my abilities, energy, and love. To me this means choosing action that I can take from a place of joy, rather than despair.

When I graduated from Naropa, I chose the work of being a vision quest guide as the way I had learned that brought me the strongest sense of joy, excitement, and love for my people. I thought that by guiding others to undertake a vision quest, I would be serving through helping them mature as humans and connect with their love of the earth. In this way, however the participants might choose to serve their people after the quest, they would be nourished by their connection with the earth, and perhaps guided by their love for the earth at times when it is necessary to choose a course of action.

I threw myself wholeheartedly into the path of the vision quest, seeking training with the School of Lost Borders and offering annual programs at BC Wilderness Visions. However, the results have been very modest! I have guided one faster per year, in addition to apprenticing on group fasts. This summer no fasters have decided to undertake this journey at Monkey Valley. It makes me wonder if not this, then what? Where am I being called to serve? I hold this as an open question, and am abiding in the not-knowing place of the threshold phase of the vision quest ceremony. Rather than rushing to fill the void with something new, I await deeper guidance and certainty.

It is so complex to be a human being living in North America at this time in history. We are dependent upon oil, like it or not. We all need to earn a living, and must spend a significant portion of our waking hours doing so. We can decide not to consume needlessly, and we can choose options that seem to cause the least harm, such as growing some of our own food or buying locally grown, organic produce (though many people cannot afford even this most basic choice for health). One of the things I needed to make peace with at Monkey Valley was that even though I was using solar power, I still needed to use my gas-powered car to get there. I continue to drive, too often and too fast, as long as I own that land and travel there, but also in my daily commutes around the city of Vancouver. I spend many hours a week engaged in earning a living as a technical writer, which is an effective way to pay the bills but does not help serve my planet or my people in a way that feels meaningful to me.

I feel my heart’s longing to do something worthwhile with this life. To serve my people and my planet in the best way I can, in the way I am meant to do. I guess today’s entry is my way of asking for guidance, and stating my intention. There is an excitement in the not knowing, and the longing, as I abide in this place. In the past I have shied away from direct environmental action, aside from financial contributions and participating in protests and petitions. I hold the possibility that I will be called to move into this arena more specifically.  At dinner time I often thank our dear earth mother for the blessings from her body, and pray that the nourishment may help me do her work. May it be so.

Klondike Road Relay: The madness continues!

Well, folks, I’ve signed up for the running adventure of a lifetime! My friend Gordon sponsors a team for the Klondike Road Relay, and he has invited me to join the team this year. The race takes place on September 10 – 11, beginning at 7 PM in Skagway, Alaska, and finishing some 20 hours later in Whitehorse, Yukon Territory! The race covers 176.5 KM, with 10 legs varying from 9 to 25.6 KM. Teams can vary from 6 to 10 members.

Klondike trail back in the gold rush daysI will be running leg 4 of the race, which is 21 KM long. This leg will begin at about 1:00 AM at the Canada Customs post between Alaska and BC, and will finish at Tutshi Lake. Gordon ran this leg last year (he’s run 8 of the 10 legs so far), and said it’s mostly downhill. Uh huh! Well, sounds good to me. There’s nothing like running through the wilderness in the dark!

This relay race has been going since 1982, with a really big turnout in 1998, the centennial of the Gold Rush Stampede. In 1998 there were 161 teams. Unlike in the actual stampede, we will not be required to run with 1,000 pounds of gear on our back!

There’s 10 weeks until the race, and I’ve prepared a great training schedule for myself. My sister Kim, who is doing a master’s degree in psychology, suggested I conduct a single-subject study on endorphin release during distance running. So I will be keeping track of how happy I feel as this training progresses! Yes, running can lead to an altered state, which is why a lot of us do it. (Plus we get to eat all the chocolate we want!) I’ll keep you posted.

Medicine walk and 5th anniversary of BC Wilderness Visions

Wildflowers at Monkey ValleyBC Wilderness Visions and the Monkey Valley Retreat Centre celebrates its 5th anniversary of nature programs this summer! The first program was a medicine wheel teaching in the summer of 2005, when 25 people came to Monkey Valley and created a beautiful medicine wheel. Teachers Joyce Lyke and Tracy Leach taught us how to walk the wheel, and people came from California, Wyoming, Ontario, Alberta, and from as far away as the UK to attend this special teaching. The wheel is still there, and last May I lined the spring-to-summer quarter of it with stones. This summer I plan to fill in the next quarter of the wheel.

July also marks the two-year anniversary of this blog! Two years ago my friend John Harper encouraged me to begin writing about ecopsychology and the work I do in nature. Since then I have shared many stories of the land at Monkey Valley, wilderness work, and my happy trails and trials running. Writing this blog has been an expression of my heart as I have shared stories with you of the things that I love. The creativity of writing whatever I feel like in a blog format has felt like a flow of fun and lightness of spirit (with an occasional dash of despair about my unruly ways). I sometimes wonder if anyone reads this blog, but I do hear from one or two readers from time to time! So please join me in celebrating this two-year anniversary, and drop me a note to let me know you’re out there!

This year I am offering a new program at Monkey Valley, together with Angela James—the ChiRunning and yoga retreat July 23 – 25. In addition, it will be the third summer in a row of putting a faster out on the land to fast for a vision, using the ancient and modern ceremony of the vision fast. And, on June 20, I brought the four-shields teaching and medicine walk to Vancouver in a new day-long format.

The glorious Seymour RiverTwo beautiful souls accompanied me to the forest beside the Seymour River in North Vancouver, where we created an altar in a clearing on the bank of the river. Using the form of speaking from the heart known as council practice, we did several rounds. The first round was in honour of our fathers and Father’s Day. It was very moving to express appreciation for the gifts our fathers have given us. The second round was in honour of the summer solstice. Then the participants spoke of their intention for their medicine walks.

Although it was a cloudy day, the land was lush and green, and bursting with salmon berries. Although the participants were to fast from food, shelter, and human companionship during their walks, I left it up to their own inner guidance whether to make like bears and enjoy the berries! While my two friends went on their three-hour walks, I sat beside the river, and drank in the silence and beauty. The water rushed by, green and playful. Sometimes the spumes of white foam curling over rocks looked like little skunks swimming upstream. Swallows swooped low, eating bugs in the air over the river, and one swallow circled, swooped, and darted around in a long loop about five times before seeking new bugscapes. A bald eagle flew upriver high overhead, and a pair of ducks sped downstream in a formation as tight as fighter pilots. What a gift it was to have this unhurried time to watch nature do her thing. As time went on the quieting of my mind deepened, and the trees across the river began to reveal their mysteries in a way that the ordinary waking mind cannot hear.

The richness of my solo time was enhanced by knowing my companions would be back soon, with stories to tell of what happened on their walks. They returned with gifts of stories and berries, and we ate a meal together in the circle before sharing the stories. It was very moving to hear how the land and her creatures had interacted with my friends on their walks. I felt a deep appreciation for this special place, and for the people who were willing to take time to be with themselves in a quiet, intimate way. After we closed the circle, packed our things, and said goodbye to the spot that had held our ceremony, we hiked out through the forest trails feeling a little lighter and closer to our hearts.