Reminder from Mano: Say hello to the Spirits of the land, the Geni Loci, when entering a park, going to the beach, hiking in the mountains.
Painting by Barbara Thomas
Knowing that Spirit (angelic or elemental) is always placing “next steps” in my path and that I’m committed to paying attention, in mid-September I attended a Gift Economics workshop at the Lama Foundation near Taos, New Mexico. Two of the presenters are authors whose books have been very important to me in the past couple of years: Charles Eisenstein: The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know Is Possible, and David Abram: Becoming Animal. The third presenter, Pat McCabe (Woman Stands Shining), is a Dine elder who works also in the Lakota tradition and is a friend of my daughter’s from Taos. This perfect coming together of valued people I had no idea were connected felt like a calling—to something, perhaps a confirmation of my destiny path or even a sliver-hint of a new one.
One night, toward the end of my stay there, I woke up feeling disappointed, wondering what I had learned and why I had felt so compelled to attend—perhaps partly because Charles and David had arrived only for the last two days of the event. I consoled myself: surely I have been around long enough to know that the gifts we receive may not always be the ones we anticipate, and that their importance may register only later, as reflection sets in and the streams of new relationships play their tune. Now, although I still do not know how this New Mexico time will inform my core story, I feel abundant joy and energy around it—with the new community that blossomed as we sat together for many hours in Lama’s dome space, and with the integrity radiating from leaders and participants.
The most important jewel from the conference—the one I am just now most moved by and certain about—came early in the week through the presence of Pat McCabe. Like Barbara Thomas, Pat follows Spirit, not just occasionally, when it occurs to her, but as a daily, moment-to-moment practice. Being in the presence of such exemplars is a great gift. In the mood of a gift economy, I wonder, how do I value such people and what they bring? I can show my gratitude best, I think, by emulating them, in my own particular way.
Being in that space, with Spirit, requires dreamtime. Pat spoke of how, after a divorce, she spent many days feeling paralyzed. But paralysis transformed into stillness, and then came the message: “This stillness you have is going to be more important than you can imagine.” Barbara goes to the amphitheater nearly every day to feel into its profound stillness, and then to engage in a listening and response with Mano and the other nature spirits. Today I sit by my little fish pond in the sun, bluebirds flitting close, my head expanding into . . . peace.
Yet the journey is not all peace. Barbara’s old dialogues hold so many instances of her forgetting to tune in to Spirit, sometimes for weeks, and then apologizing and recommitting. Pat describes a visitation by the Sun Mother, who gave her direction that she didn’t like and didn’t want to heed. Through this back-and-forth tug— resistance and forgetting giving way to turning things over to Spirit and accepting—the fundamental alliances are forged. The road becomes smoother, reliable, but not without challenge and hard patches.
Early on, Pat said, she was unable to hear Spirit messages because she had an expectation around how they should come. Barbara, too, writes of her initial distaste for gnomes and her gradual process of being opened through teachers and books and, above all, Nature, until she became familiar with and trusted by the elementals. Pat talked about a long period of being tested, not so much a trial, she felt, as Spirit’s checking to find how well she could hear, how willing she was to listen, and how useful she could be. In Barbara’s notebooks, Mano, Rama, and other gnome spirits tell her how they are “training” her to serve the greater cause of reconciling angelic, human, and elemental realms.
I don’t want to contort these two elders into similar boxes—their differences, indeed, are beautiful. They come from different traditions, white European and Native American, and use different tools. Yet I am moved to note a kind of skeletal coherence—a dance—of likenesses. Both women are deep reminders to me that this listening to Spirit is the only response to our crazy world that makes sense.
It’s also interesting that both of these wise women are nurturing the recovery of earth wisdom lost in the witch burnings of the Inquisition, and of thus rekindling a sacred way of living that has an authority beyond patriarchal rule-based rigidity. When Spirit recently asked Pat to orchestrate a series of seminars in Europe to address wounds from this time of great separation, she was initially reluctant to accept this task, which was logistically as well as emotionally difficult. It involved visiting five countries for four-day Human Reunion ceremonies with a group of indigenous women she gathered from across the globe. Each presented her native wisdom and knowledge around the issue of masculine and feminine relationship, as imbedded in indigenous ceremony and the traditions of working with and listening to Mother Earth.
Barbara—from her receiving and publishing of the Burned Woman (available on this website) many years ago, and through the workshops she regularly conducts on “Healing the Burned Woman”—points out that it is time to heal our ancient fears of living in close communion and co-creation with Spirit and Nature. She believes that we all have the burned woman wound within us, whether we were victim or perpetrator (indeed, we may have been both, in different lifetimes).
Barbara painted the burned woman portraits long before she received the story that accompanies them in her book. Both paintings and story came through her more than originating from her. As she relates the experience: “I woke up one night hearing the words, ‘There once was a time, a horrible time’ repeating itself over and over. I got up, sat down at my computer, and word-by-word the whole Burned Woman story was revealed. As I wrote the words I saw paintings I had done 40 years earlier as illustrations for the story.”
“Those paintings were done in the year I was learning to paint. Without realizing it at the time, I was also identifying my inner process and discovering myself as a woman, an adult. I ended up with the self-dedication to be authentic. When I read the quote, ‘To be honest, open, and free, to let people see who I really am, takes the rawest kind of courage,’ I made a promise to myself that I would be that kind of woman. Another quote that has led my life is, ‘Why am I afraid to show you who I really am? Because it is all I’ve got, and if you don’t like it, I have nothing else to offer.’ ”
“Spirit is still in a BIG OVERHALL of my personal identity—who I am and what I am about. My guess is that it will never stop.”