The air around my head is thick with emerald hummingbirds, zooming loudly to and from the red glass feeder a few feet from where I stand. In this moment, I count a dozen, each of them blurred in motion. The wide smile on my face is mirrored in my heart, a warm sentiment of bright joy flooding me – not only for watching such animated acrobatics, but also the pastel-hued vista extending beyond the terrace to the western horizon.
Here is an organic tapestry of pale green chamisa and sagebrush growing in reddish earth. Dark silver-green dwarf juniper trees and knobby piñon pines are stitched abundantly about, while the upper reaches are an endless turquoise sky strewn lazily with white, fluffy clouds. It is a landscape I know well, having twice resided in northern New Mexico, the aptly called ‘Land of Enchantment’, a place that has long been my spiritual touchstone in North America. Now I am ‘home’ once more, to lead an intimate retreat with a band of brave, luminous souls at historic Ghost Ranch, near Abiquiu.
Barefoot on the worn bricks of the patio, with each breath I draw in the significance of this place to me, its aesthetic of timelessness, of weather and light; a rugged, undaunted land that stirs my very soul. Two decades ago, as a city-raised youth, it was not far from here that I lived six months alone in a three-story, octagon adobe tower built by a Cherokee medicine man on the edge of a sage-strewn mesa, and there I first encountered and lost my heart to the Wild Beloved. This is the corner of the world wherein I first awakened to soul, mystery, and nature, along with forces and shadows larger than I could comprehend.
Spreading my arms wide and inhaling deeply, I catch dusty, familiar perfumes of the land. How good to be back on tierra sagrada.
None of the participants have yet appeared, and I myself have only just arrived from a few days in Santa Fe beforehand with dear companions, but every cell in my being hums with wordless delight. A song of hopeful possibility for what the next three days may bring. This is the first workshop I have offered in more than ten years – a decade of radical change, expansion, and initiation – and it is high time this mystic sat in a circle of seeking souls, offering something essential from the depths of soul. Supported by the power and magic of this largely untouched landscape, who can say what will unfurl. I’ve no real agenda other than to simply show up and be fully present through all my senses, trusting in each session that a gleaming, golden thread will manifest to lead us into the depths.
Hummingbirds have long been a ‘totem’ or spiritual ‘medicine’ for me, representing the energies of joy and intuition. Pollination. Given their audible, colourful and animated presence here in such profusion, I further trust that just the right alchemy is going to occur.
Let the giveaway commence.
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Gather: to collect from different places; assemble | to cause to come together; convene | to draw (something or someone) closer to oneself | to harvest or pick
A good word, gather. Multilayered. Hopeful. To me it conveys a feeling of sharing, and some sense of happiness. Pleasure, even. Mulling it in my mind as I often do with words, it somehow suggests a worthwhile endeavor or path to travel, albeit in a more old-fashioned sense than our modern, consumptive, overfed accumulation of material things and lifeless foodstuffs. Rather more to gather as our forebears and ancestors did – just enough, without waste – and also to be together in a place (e.g. a communal table, the hearth, a circle) where there is warmth, camaraderie, good stories and laughter.
Here, in an adobe house constructed in the 1930’s (when this land was still truly the Wild West), two miles removed from the hubbub of activity at the main conference centre, down a rutted dirt track, only a stone’s throw from the isolated residence of the early Modernist painter Georgia O’Keeffe, we gather. Myself and ten others who have traveled to this well-removed locale heeding some call or invitation: an untamed environment, a workshop’s details, the opportunity to sit with me in a meaningful, public exchange – perhaps all three of these, or even some other, yet-to-be fully understood summons. A few of the participants I know from various facets of my work life or paths that have crossed in the past, but at least half of them I’ve not met; faces new to me via various avenues of my public offerings (e.g. THE BONES AND BREATH, the Soul Artist Journal, video symposiums, and TendingSacred). Due to a last minute cancellation, the men now just outnumber the women – unusual for most workshops of this sort – and I hold that this somehow reflects and upholds my ongoing work (even if it seems lesser of late) with the archetype of the Sacred Masculine.
We will gather on the terrace, sheltered by a thick canvas canopy from the intense, high desert sun of afternoon, kept company by the whir of hummingbirds and a pair of swift swallows repeatedly winging under the portal (covered walkway or porch) to feed their four, vocally hungry chicks in a mud nest just outside the bathroom door. Too we will gather indoors in the main room with its roughly-hewn vigas (beams) and old wood floors the colour of honey, sheltered by thick adobe walls, seated around the fireplace we cannot light due to strict fire regulations at the height of another dry summer. (Vast portions of the American West are currently ablaze, and the skies, though clear here, are murky with smoke for hundreds of miles.)
From locales as far flung as England we will gather, assembling together in this timeless house set amid 20,000+ acres of open wildness. And we will draw something or someone closer to ourselves, welcoming it into an awakened, awaiting heart: the wild earth; a sense of possibility or a whisper on the wind; spoken words of inspiration and vulnerability; poetry; breath; smiles or tears. Beauty. Together we will harvest or pick what is offered to us from this landscape and newly called circle, or whatever it may be that I offer in these three days for insight into soul, purpose, invoking the ordinary sacred, and releasing our old stories to make room for something new.
Here, we gather at Casa del Sol, a place that, playing with identical sounding words, I have recast as Casa del Soul.
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Late afternoon. A mighty clap of thunder rattles thin panes of old glass in the windows just as lightning flashes outside. Ten thousand fingers of liquid pewter begin drumming loudly on the flat roof, and suddenly it is a perfect moment to rise from our chairs, open the doors and windows, and dash outside – dancing in the downpour on the patio, inhaling the sweetly resinous fragrance of sagebrush bruised by the hard-falling deluge. In the gale winds, the terrace canopy comes crashing down, poles uprooted from the bricks. I had just been explaining a concentric, expansive model of the soul’s journey, how we evolve through distinct stages, but am left grinning from ear to ear at this sudden squall. It feels like the perfect approbation or blessing, because there is always a thunderstorm when I come home to Santa Fe or Taos, New Mexico. Always. As if the land and spirits are acknowledging and welcoming me back.
It happens when I go ‘home’ to England too, as on my last trip to visit my dear friend in Kent, a true ‘hedge witch’. Out of the blue, a massive storm appeared seemingly from nowhere just as I arrived that evening at her cottage, and raged through the night whilst I lay in bed, chuckling and smiling as lightning repeatedly seared the black sky outside and thunder shook the roof. Another perfect welcome. In the morning, over respective cups of coffee and tea, my spooky friend looked at me knowingly and raised a pointing finger, “That storm last night was because of YOU…” and we fell about laughing, both of us knowing it was true.
It has happened far too many times to be coincidence (which I don’t believe in anyway); a tempest appears every time I come home to a ‘power place’ where I somehow belong. Most recently prior to this workshop, a storm greeted me on the summer solstice when I rolled into Bend, Oregon, arriving from California with my car packed with dearest houseplants and our two English Whippets. As I pulled up to our new rental house, the rapidly darkening heavens unleashed their dramatic show of thunder, lightning and rain. I stood outside on the upper deck, sheltered from the deluge, and laughed aloud with delight, arms outstretched. “Thank you!”
The medicine man has arrived at Ghost Ranch, with appropriate panoply and ballyhoo, courtesy of nature and the spirits. Now on with the show.
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“There were Indians dancing outside my room last night.”
My English soul-sister tells me this on the first morning when we are alone together briefly in the kitchen. As a hedge witch, she is far more attuned to the spirits than I am, at least in terms of ‘sight’, for she is often able to see them clearly. Somehow this doesn’t seem the most opportune moment to explain that ‘indian’ is not generally the correct term anymore to use in the States (unless one is Native American and referring to themselves). Instead I simply raise my eyebrows with a knowing smile, for I too was awake in the wee hours, feeling the powerful energy of the land, its echoing rich silence, and the presence of others.
“Wonderful! Feels to me like a recognition that we have come to this place with deep respect and honouring… and further that I recognized and called out to the Ancient Ones in our opening ceremony last night, asking for their permissions and blessings.”
“Yes, it was brilliant they were here,” she smiles, coffee cup in hand, “but it did make it very difficult to sleep!”
The following night, after finally managing to drift off while listening to a pair of gently hooting owls outside, I’m awakened in the darkest hours by a strong vibration of energy – the sort that to me always signals magic or a thinning of the veil between realms – followed shortly by native drumbeats at the foot of the nearby cliffs. I know there is no one out there in human form and what I’m hearing is decidedly in the spirit frequencies. The Ancient Ones are most certainly present, and like a silken scarf or shawl draped round the shoulders, this comforts me.
Calling upon and honouring the ancestors has increasingly become a part of my healing work and ceremonies; more and more do I sense an important relationship between land, the ancient ones, and self – understanding that they remain present as energies ready to assist and protect us. Acknowledging them feels especially potent in a place like this that has been set aside from modern spoilage or ‘development’, where their energy may still be felt if our heart and senses are ajar. It is another aspect of connecting with Spirit through the living landscape; a connection that, for most of us, is absent in our lives.
It bears a larger discussion, but bridging or relating with ancestors and place is one way we begin to heal our un-connectedness – which for everyone is a significant part of healing and evolution. We must learn to perceive as much of the whole as we can, rather than simply the small, seemingly disjointed parts.
And while it may be invisible to most people, the spirit world is very real, my friends.
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The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you.
Don’t go back to sleep.
You must ask for what you really want.
Don’t go back to sleep.
People are going back and forth across the doorsill
where the two worlds touch.
The door is round and open.
Don’t go back to sleep.”
Years ago, during my apprenticeship as a guide for ‘vision quests’ and wilderness-based ‘rites of passage’ work, I learned the power of poetry read aloud. Soulful poems formed an essential aspect of ceremony and group council, deftly moving us into deeper waters, and each facilitator carried a thickly-stuffed notebook of poems we knew well – if not by heart, at least a few key lines, enough that we might turn to the appropriate pages and read an offering that felt timely to be summoned forth.
In 2014, at the Redwood Men’s Conference near Mendocino, California, I first experienced poems spoken aloud, without reading them, into the gathered circle. So impressed was I by these brave, tender-hearted men reciting poetry from memory, that upon returning home, as a type of ‘soul practice’, I promptly set about to retain at least a few of the ones I held most dear. [Read “A Poem by Heart: Soul Practice,” the Soul Artist Journal, 2014)
Throughout this retreat, at various moments when we are gathered, I offer some of those gems I now carry in my cellular matrix, summoned at will. They are like old friends or lovers, and I never cease to marvel at their power to collectively enrich, enlarge or crystallize a moment, nudging (or toppling) everyone into the subterranean currents of soul. Here, at Ghost Ranch, I realize that speaking these poems aloud is yet another facet of walking the Beauty Way – which, as I often write and say, is not simply looking for and appreciating beauty in our lives, but also creating it and gifting to others, as well.
What could be more beautiful than offering a love poem to the world, spoken from the heart? Or attempting to live one’s life as poetry for the Beloved in a sacred giveaway.
Language can be so achingly beautiful, especially when well-written or spoken, throwing open the rusty shutters of the heart. And I know this is somehow part of the gift I bring, these poems in my memory, to this group of courageous souls… as well as to others in the future.
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Thirty meters from the house, a sizable heart-shaped labyrinth is laid out upon the russet earth, the first of its kind I have ever seen. At the centre, previous pilgrims have created a modest altar of sorts: a mound of unusual stones, coloured glass, bits of wood, various trinkets, discarded jewelry, and whatnot. In advance of our workshop, I invited each participant to bring something for our group’s shrine, and also a token to leave in the labyrinth’s heart as an offering – to the land, spirits, or simply the larger story.
Labyrinths have long been a tool for meditation, contemplation, even divination. Holding a query in mind, one walks slowly and mindfully along the spiraling path, following the twists and turns, a step at a time, and upon reaching the hub or centre, an answer is often clear.
I find the circular labyrinth to be an apt metaphor for life, and have often used its example in coaching or ceremonies. We may see the axis or destination but not clearly how to reach it. The actual route cannot be determined by observation or planning. Instead, we simply follow the path, one foot leading the other, able to see only what’s directly ahead before the track loops back again. This is quite different than a maze where one wanders around lost, repeatedly encountering an impasse; in a labyrinth, there are no dead ends, the serpentine path always leads to the centre.
On the first morning, as well as the final day, collectively we walk the labyrinth as a meditation. Most of us are barefoot upon the earth, slowly treading the cochlear path to the heart’s altar, whereupon we sing our names into the sacred space, and eventually retrace our steps until we reach the threshold stone.
Spiraling into and out from the heart becomes a repeated metaphor for our time together. Each must go inwards to find what is ours to share, or perhaps our wounds to heal, and then reemerge bearing those gifts (so often to be found in a sacred wound) and courageously, vulnerably offer them forward.
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There is so much I wish to offer during this short time of our retreat, and I further desire that I could have these dear souls for another two days. Already the cups are overflowing but still there is much more to give. Many of our conversations and councils are worth pursuing and circling back to, another round for going deeper, but as a guide I do want to cover some broad stretches of ground toward the horizon rather than retrace our steps. Still, I would lay out the feast even larger.
As with being a healer, teaching is merely part of who I am and my soul’s expression; it is no longer an ego-cloak or a way of affirming my identity. And while I’m the one who has conjured this gathering, I understand that my job is simply to hold aloft a silver mirror for each participant present, revealing the beauty of their Self, and to support their search for the unique gifts to offer their tribe, whomever or whatever that may be.
Indeed, while walking one morning bare-footed beneath the azure sky, then sitting beside a spiky, cholla buckthorn cactus as I gaze across an arroyo inhabited with whispering green cottonwood trees, I understand that the land and spirits have summoned ME here to offer this workshop (an invitation that arrived curiously via a hitherto unknown man who reached out and invited me to Ghost Ranch to host a retreat). Something much bigger than me is the ‘real’ teacher. My role is just to hold the collective space with a wide open heart, welcoming whatever arises – to be a ‘hollow bone’ or reed for Spirit, allowing the higher guidance and deeper messages to come through to share with those assembled. All this rather than to hold any sort of agenda of things/topics on which to lecture, instead to trust that I am never doing it alone, to listen to intuition and soft guidance from other realms.
Follow the glimmering golden threads as they appear or when you ‘feel’ them.
Just as I write these words in a notebook with my trusty old fountain pen from Paris, scrawling black ink across the page in nearly unreadable script, a green hummingbird – the first I’ve seen since returning to Oregon after the workshop – hovers just outside the living room window, as if in affirmation.
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What I know as a healer is that all of us are imprisoned within walls of our own making. Our limited sight sees only surfaces rather than the larger whole, and few of us actually care to look more closely or deeper for the intrinsic, essential connections.
Our healing and evolution comes by reconnecting with Spirit – the force that animates all life – however we perceive that. Part of my work is helping to repair the broken links between heart and mind, body and soul. Helping others inch closer to a sense of primal harmony in their being. Communing with the Larger Story, each may sense their essential place within the web of creation.
Everything is relationship… and relationship is everything.
When my new friends have departed on the final morning, after the last bits of gathering, tidying, and loading the rental car, I stand silently for a minute in the bright sunshine. Looking up at the painted spires and cliffs that have watched over us these three days and nights, I once again offer thanks to the unseen forces supporting me, including the ancestors of place.
“Sacred Earth: Heart, Senses and Soul” has completed, my giveaway to a band of shining, luminescent souls and this remarkable landscape, a love poem to the Wild Beloved.
Spiraling into the heart and emerging. Again and again. We are never doing it alone.
Friend, my hope is that you hear a call to some sense of adventure or place, whether it arrives as a faint whisper or personal storm, and then have the courage to disentangle from all the demands and drama of daily life to answer that summons. Say yes. Emerge from the walls and patterns that contain. Feel and explore some new possibility in your bones and breath, stepping out on the quest of becoming. Be as the final line of Mary Oliver’s epic poem “The Journey” and become “… determined to save the only life you could save.”
In so doing, eventually your soul-note may shift to one of harmony rather than disharmony, which is the root of all our suffering, depression, and dis-ease.
Gather yourself together. Even if you don’t know who they are, call out to your allies and most ancient ancestors for strength.
The time has come.
The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you. Don’t go back to sleep.
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