Sunday, November 30, 2008

Return to Innocence

On the Tuesday night before Thanksgiving, between the towns of Helper and Price in Utah, our car hit and killed a Mule Deer. His big, beautiful body flashed for an instant in our headlights before he landed on our hood, flew off into the opposite lane, and was hit by another car. Three young fellas from the town of Helper immediately pulled over to make sure we were O.K. (and we were). They were dressed in matching suits and their nametags identified them as interns with the Church of Latter Day Saints.

The car had sustained significant damage to the hood, which looked like a napkin that had been balled up, and then somewhat reflattened over the engine AND the airbag had deployed. The highway patrol officer said that it was the third accident that evening involving a Deer. This stretch of road was particularly dangerous because there were fields of hay and corn on the one side and a stream on the other. Ranchers had begun erecting tall fences along the road to keep the Deer from crossing, but they had just moved further down the road where the fences hadn’t yet been built.

Because of the upcoming holiday and our remote location, we were told it would be at least three days before the car could be fixed. So, that evening we had our car towed to the nearest town of Price, paid for a hotel, and the next morning rented a U-Haul & trailer to take our mangled car back to the ranch.

Immediately after the accident, I went into a bit of a shock. There was a smoky smell that at first I couldn’t identify, but then realized it was the airbag. Then there was a liquid that was pouring out from under the hood, which later turned out to be the radiator fluid. There were also the dogs in the back seat. But mostly my mind replayed the split second that the four-point Buck leaped in front of the car right before we hit him.

Some Native American traditions would say that the Buck sacrificed his life in order to give us Deer Medicine. In honor of this majestic beast, I’ve been exploring the teachings of Deer Medicine and how they have presented themselves in my life.

When a Deer shows up in your life, so they say, the lesson he has for you is gentleness, innocence and a return to wilderness. These lessons have also come to me from some of my most profound teachers – not so much as a direct teaching, but by their living example.

One of these teachers was Swami Mahadevananda of the Sivananda Ashram in South India where I did my Yoga Teacher Training. As wide as he was tall, Swami Mahadevananda had lived at the Ashram for more than 30 years and his booming presence was matched only by his voice. I loved listening to his daily talks as he appeared to me to have infinite wisdom and yet a lightness of heart.

I remember once coming across him along a quiet path on the grounds of the Ashram. Alone, he was bent down towards the ground. I approached to see what he was doing and found him captivated by the newest arrival of stray young kittens that had adopted the Ashram. Fascinated by the contrast of size, age, and experience, I watched him pet the kitties for a while. At one point he looked up to acknowledge me and with a smile on his face just said ‘kitties’ and went back to petting them. I left him there and was struck by the fact that a person so worldly wise could also be so gentle and innocent in manner.

I’ve seen this same kind of gentle, child-like innocence in HH the Dalai Lama. I once had the good fortune to attend one of his lectures. He gave his talk in his native tongue, which was translated into English at appropriate intervals. The subject matter involved the finer differences of the various Buddhist traditions, which frankly was over my head. So instead of listening to the content, I watched and absorbed his mannerisms and tone. I noticed how quickly and with ease he could flow from a very strong and direct tone to a light-hearted, joking manner. With regularity, he would break into laughter for what seemed like a few minutes at what he had just said. Since it had not yet been translated, we couldn’t understand the cause for his laughter; however, it wasn’t long before we were all laughing along with his infectious joy. As with the Swami, I was once again struck by the ability to be both profoundly wise and at times exhibit a child-like innocence.

The workshops at the Buffalo Woman Ranch emphasize authenticity and one of the main impediments towards being authentic is a loss of innocence. Webster defines authenticity as genuine, real, not false or copied. A loss of innocence can come at any stage of one’s life and can take many forms such as betrayal, neglect, abuse or violence. However, no matter when or how our innocence was lost, it can always be reclaimed. One way to do that is to learn to be present, in your body, with the full range of what shows up. By being present, we will have to acknowledge any emotional wounds that exist in our bodies when the come up and be with them, without trying to make them go away, ignore them, feed them with food or movies or alcohol or whatever. If you stay present, over time these wounds will have less of an impact on you, which will make it easier for you to be authentic.

In addition to gentleness and innocence, Deer Medicine also teaches a return to wilderness. I’ve recently read a little from Bill Plotkin’s work, which is also about being authentic, and he believes one of the best ways to do this is through being in nature. I have to concur. The simple rhythms and cycles found in nature mirror our own cycles, which we’ve suppressed through our modern lifestyles. By being in nature, we can again explore our rhythms and return to balance.

So, if a deer shows up in your life, this is the time to express gentleness to yourself and others, reclaim your innocence through being present, and spend some time in nature. The reward will be a reconnection with your authentic self … you might even hear a soft voice saying ‘it’s so nice to be with you again.’

Monday, November 10, 2008

The Secret Life of Nubians

The ranch has just acquired 3 Nubian goats – a mama and her 2 kids. They are quite fascinating creatures and I’ve decided that all I ever needed to know about living the good life can be learned from Nubians.

Chew your food many times before swallowing.

Get plenty of Vitamin D.

Think outside the box.

Be comfortable with giving and receiving love.

Look people directly in the eye.

Eat plenty of fiber, daily.

Laughing is good medicine.

Yawning releases tension.

Head massages feel great.

And ear massages do, too.

And when there's no one around to give you a massage, self-massage is equally rewarding.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Connecting the dots

There are times when language does not do justice to the depth and breadth of intense emotion. The mere act of searching for descriptors and qualifiers tends to reduce the expansiveness of the moment to a finite, boxed-in, flat, one-dimensional instance. Since I've been exploring my reaction to the election, I'll do my best to put my feelings into words, aware of my limitations.

That said, my story is not entirely unique. I have spent my whole life living in the racially-charged South. Raised in a somewhat progressive neighborhood and from a very liberal and open-minded family, you could say that I was not prepared for the anger that racism evoked in both African Americans and Whites.

Growing up in downtown Greensboro, I was a bicycle ride away from the famous Woolworth's which held the first sit-ins in the nation and served the best soul-food in town. In the first grade, I was bussed to a predominantly African American school - a positive experience which further reinforced my family's belief system that all people are created equal.

A few years later, my mother rode her bike in the Communist Worker's Party parade in downtown Greensboro to protest the injustices promoted by the Klan. The KKK showed up with rifles and shot and killed 5 of the protesters. Though the shootings were caught on video tape by the media, no jury would convict a gunman in repeated appeals. One of the folks shot and killed was a classmate of mine's stepfather.

By fourth grade, my parents moved me to an Open School which offered a completely different teaching style to encourage independence amongst the students. It was a predominantly white school and it was also the first time I experienced a class system based on economics, of which I found myself towards the bottom.

In high school I dated an African American fella. We worked together at a grocery store and fell in love. For the first time I experienced prejudism from my own race. The ugly looks and derogatory comments made towards me felt scary and caused me to solidify my compassion for blacks in the South and understand on a visceral level the injustice and fear of prejudism.

My first year of college was spent in central Africa where I was the only White in the school, yet I was treated like an equal. However, after I returned to the U.S., I experienced two incidences of racism from an African American - one from a fellow student at UNC-CH and another from a co-worker while working on a political campaign directly after college. In both cases, the racist anger that was unleashed on me was so irrational, it was as if they were letting loose generations of anger rooted in inequality and injustice for what I represented - the white race.

I have heard many justifications for racism - some from the educated and others not so. Each time I encountered a comment, I would redirect the conversation or ignore it, meanwhile my insides turned upside-down. I knew racism was irrational, but it was also ingrained like a deep groove in the psyche, wrapped in pain and injustice on both sides.

Having grown up without a church home, the words of Martin Luther King and his description of a Promised Land for all peoples made more sense to me than anything I'd read in the bible. His vision of a country where children of all races could sit down together at the table of brotherhood came as close to a description of Heaven on Earth for me.

So on this past election day when I found myself huddled together over homemade tamales and barbecue with Native Americans, African Americans, Latinos and Whites at the Obama HQ in Cortez, Colorado, I was overcome with emotion when Obama was elected the 44th President of the United States. Sitting next to a friend, we both turned to give eachother a hug and all I could think to say was that a very old part of me had been waiting to exhale for a long, long time....