There’s a saying that everyone knows they’re going to die, but no one believes it. The same is true of natural disasters – everyone knows it could happen in their town, but no one believes it will.
And then it does. And the big question will be: were you prepared?
This is not the post I had planned for this week. I was going to write about “Earthing” – the healing benefits of standing barefoot on Mother Earth.
But this week, my life got interrupted by a natural disaster, and I felt there would be more benefit in a post on the unexpected lessons that occur when Mother Earth seems [emphasis on the word “seems”] to turn against us.
Once again, scientists are proving what indigenous people and nature lovers have always known: being outdoors is healthy! Specifically, new research shows that being surrounded by a forest environment, or “forest therapy” can improve your health. And may even help fight cancer.
In Japan, forest therapy, or shinrin-yoku, is standard preventative medicine. It’s not about being alone in the wilderness or extreme outdoor sports, it’s about allowing your body and psyche to hang out in the peace of the woods.
The term shinrin-yoku was coined by the Japanese government in 1982, but is based on ancient Shinto and Buddhist practices. [There’s that ancient wisdom again!] It’s also known as “forest bathing.”
It was just a few decades ago when people made fun of “tree huggers” — as a former “tree hugger” myself, I now feel thoroughly vindicated!
THE RESEARCH ON “FOREST THERAPY”
What were you doing while the world was falling apart?
Imagine your great-grandchildren asking you that question. Can you be proud of your answer?
The “seventh generation” principle taught by Native Americans says that in every decision, we must consider how it will affect our descendents seven generations into the future. It is clearly not embraced by most governments and corporations in the world today.
It is also at the heart of the Idle No More movement of the Canadian First Nation People.
The Idle No More movement started in Canada in December 2012 as a response to Canadian Bill C-45 which lowers environmental protection standards for Canadian waterways, much of which passes through the land of indigenous [First Nations] people.
Please remember that before our ancestors came to North America several centuries ago, this entire continent was indigenous land.
Winter Solstice is the day when light is reborn out of the darkness of winter.
Our days start to become longer and lead us back to the beauty of spring and the warmth of summer, stretching towards their peak at the Summer Solstice.
Most ancient cultures celebrated this return of light and life with feasting, music, light and fire, and for many, it was the true beginning of the New Year.
It was so important to the pre-Celt ancients of Ireland that they spent over 30 years building a monument to the returning sun: Newgrange.
Older than Stonehenge and the pyramids of Giza, it was designed so that on the Winter Solstice, the rising sun shines directly along the long passage into the inner chamber and for 17 minutes illuminates the chamber floor and the symbols etched on the back wall.
It’s hard for the modern mind to fathom spending 30 years to build a monument for a 3-day event. What did they understand that we don’t?
Most of us think of October 31 as Halloween, a time to dress up in costumes and make merry.
But it originated as so much more. In Celtic times, it was a time to honor those who have gone before us. The masked figures represent the spirits of the dead: our ancestors.
A WEE BIT OF CELTIC HISTORY
The ancient Celts, going back 4,500 years, divided each year into the dark half and the light half. The end of the light half was marked by Samhain [pron. Sow-ihn], a time when they were stockpiling food for the winter and giving thanks to the Sun God.
It is also a time of year when the veil between this world and the next is at its thinnest – an appropriate time to invite the souls of the dead to come back for a visit. Candles kept in the window guide the souls back home and a place is set at the table for them.
“In our culture, whenever we receive a gift of food – whether someone buys us groceries or makes us breakfast or takes us out to dinner – we say that it extends our life. And as we accept that food, we breathe a word of prayer so that the dividends of that gift might be multiplied into the life of the person who gave it.” Bear Heart in The Wind Is My Mother
CEREMONIAL GIFT OF FOOD
Viewing food as a gift is one reason that most Native American ceremonies I have attended include a pot-luck afterwards: we are practicing the gift of life extension by feeding one another.
But before the people eat, a “spirit plate” is prepared and offered to either the Ceremonial Fire or Mother Earth. This represents a thank you for all that we have received and a prayer for the continuation of life and that all the nations on earth have enough food and water always.
Many Native American ceremonies also include Spiritual food on the altar. In the Lakota tradition it may be water, corn, berries and meat that are placed on the altar during the ceremony.
They are placed there as a prayer that the Eagle Nation will come and take the essence of that food to the places in the world where there is not enough food or water. So the food on the altar is a prayer that all the Nations have enough to eat.
This Saturday, September 22 at 10:49 a.m. Eastern Time marks the beginning of Autumn in the Northern Hemisphere. It is a day of balance of the hours of light and dark.
From here, temperatures begin to fall and daylight hours get shorter than the nights. The word equinox comes from the latin words meaning “equal night.”
Since a balanced life is something we all strive for, yet can be hard to achieve, why not set the goal of having the best possible day of balance in the Equinox? Just one day to start with. One day at a time is often the easiest way to make any change.
Here are 16 tips to help you live a day of balance this Saturday:
Notwithstanding my love of my I-phone and other I-things, I am an old-fashioned girl at heart. For as long as I can remember, my food-related motto has been, “How my grandmother ran her kitchen is good enough for me.”
I have never owned a microwave. Native Americans teach that it kills the spirit of the food.
Even before hearing of that teaching, it intuitively felt wrong to put food in it. We even use the phrase “nuke it” – I rest my case with that statement.
Our society has become so dependent on microwaves that some foods come only with microwave instructions. I recently bought a spaghetti squash with a label for microwave cooking — no other cooking instructions. I was grateful to have a pre-microwave edition of The Joy of Cooking to tell me how to cook it.
Does the energy in food matter? Absolutely!
One thing that doesn’t get much attention in discussions of our food is how the animals we eat are raised and killed and the energy transmitted along with that.
In other words, what you eat affects more than just your diet.
MEDICAL MYSTERY OR CUTTING EDGE SCIENCE?
But first let me tell you about my friend Pete, who developed a sudden love of dark chocolate after receiving a heart transplant. It mystified his wife, but she heard similar stories in their heart transplant support group.
Unusual? Not at all. There are legions of anecdotal stories about organ transplant recipients taking on new interests and food cravings after their transplants:
There’s a lot of discussion these days of where food comes from. And I’m not talking GMO, fertilizer, hormones and antibiotics.
How many of today’s children know that the meat in the package from the supermarket was once a life? That vegetables grow in the ground? That milk comes from cows? Unfortunately, many don’t.
The distance placed between us and the source of our food has desensitized us to the world around us. What we eat used to be a life – and too many of us have lost all awareness of it.
FROM VEGETARIAN BACK TO MEAT EATER
Being raised Irish-American, meat and potatoes was standard fare at my house.
“Pure water is the world’s first and foremost medicine.” Slovakian proverb
It seems to be an axiom of life that we take for granted those things that are always present. Our bodies are made primarily of water, as is planet earth. Yet how often do we think about our relationship with water? Or how to protect it and use it?
It is universally accepted that there can be no life without water.
It is the first thing we use every morning and the last thing we use each night. It comes to us in the form of lakes, rivers, streams, ponds, springs and sacred rain.
Ancient prophecy told of a time when we would have to buy our drinking water – that time is here. So that indicates to me it is time to stop taking it for granted.
Most people in the Northern Hemisphere are happy around the time of the Summer Solstice. The days are long and, if you’re not in the desert, the earth is green.
Beauty, fruits and vegetables abound. “Fun in the sun” is an oft-used phrase.
But how can we go deeper on this longest of days?
We are taught that we are all related, but how often do we acknowledge the contributions of the lowliest of animals, such as the prairie dog.
A member of the ground squirrel family, the best known of the five prairie-dog species is the black-tailed and they live in larger communities called towns which may contain hundreds of prairie dogs.
The other day I stumbled upon a short marketing film by the Finnish government about the Northern Lights. It’s lovely and I’ve linked to it at the end of this post.
The film opens with the following statement:
“Aurora is a natural light display in the sky, particularly in the polar regions, caused by the collision of charged particles directed by the Earth’s magnetic field.”
Hmmm! That’s a very nice scientific explanation, but what are they really?
One of my subscribers asked for a suggested reading list to help gain more insight into Native American spirituality and I am happy to oblige.
I have one caveat, however: Indigenous spirituality cannot truly be understood intellectually. It is based in the heart and the body and communicating with the natural world. I strongly recommend following the practices I share in my posts, particularly those that involve communication with nature. The reading will be a nice supplement to that.
This is a list of some of my favorites:
Last week, I shared Bear Heart’s story of how the cedar tree is a gift from the Creator. Today’s post shares more teachings about cedar.
The history of cedar
The cedar tree has been revered for it’s spiritual qualities by many cultures, and is frequently referenced in the Bible: it was chosen to build the temple of God in Jerusalem [1 Kings 6:9-20].
The wood is not attacked by insects, has no knots and has remarkable longevity: the cedar forests of Lebanon often had a lifespan of over 2,000 years.
Cedar wood was used to build the doors of sacred temples in ancient cultures and burned for purification.
This story about the Cedar Tree was told to me by Bear Heart:
“A long time ago, there lived a human being who always went out of his way to help the people of his village.
“When the elders could no longer hunt for themselves, he would bring them food.
“A young couple getting married could count on him to help make their tipi poles and gather the hides needed to cover their lodge.
“If a child’s family was killed, he would take that child in and raise it as his own.
“And there were many more good deeds he performed that no one knew of, because he never sought praise or attention for his actions. Every day he remained alert to what he could do to help his tribe, and he did so with good humor and enthusiasm.
“Many years went by in this way and all the while the Creator watched this man and took note of his virtues.
A young Native American man was talking to his grandfather about how he felt.
He said, “I feel as if I have two wolves fighting in my heart.
“One wolf is the vengeful, angry, violent one.
“The other wolf is the loving, compassionate one.”
The grandson asked him, “Which wolf will win the fight in my heart?”
Last spring as I was walking around the lake near my home, I came upon a family of swans by the shore: two beautiful, huge adults and 10 little baby swans. Ten!
[Yes, I know they’re called cygnets but that word isn’t cute enough to do them justice].
The two parents were putting up a very loud squawk and, as I got closer, I saw that one of the babies had become stranded on the shore side of a big log and the parents were encouraging it to climb over.
The baby kept trying to get over the log but the log was too big and the baby too small. So the parents took turns stepping up on the log, turning around and squatting in the hopes the baby would grab on to them and be pulled out. After about a dozen attempts, they succeeded.
The irony was that if any of them had looked to the baby’s left, they would have seen it could easily have swum around the log to freedom! But they were all too focused on the problem right in front of them to look for other solutions.
It struck me that this was a perfect example of the benefits of meditation. Stop, take a break, relax, regroup and look around for a fresh perspective. That usually allows inspiration and new ideas to flow in.
Tobacco is an herb that has become a pariah in our society, yet is sacred to many native peoples. It wasn’t meant to be used and smoked the way we use it in our society.
My first teacher, Sun Bear, had a wonderful saying: “White people misused tobacco, the sacred medicine of the native people, and it made them sick. When native people misused white peoples’ medicine, the sacred wine of the mass, it became their undoing.”
We must respect one another’s medicines.
THE UNKNOWN SPIRITUAL LIFE OF TOBACCO
Tobacco has the quality of being able to absorb. When made into a poultice, it can absorb toxins out of a rash or bug bite. When you pray with it, it absorbs your prayers. And when smoked, the smoke carries your prayers up to the Creator.