Loving the land, leaving the land

Loving the land, leaving the land

This post is by Alison Mee, who has been part of the EarthSpirit community since 1999.  She lives near Harpers Ferry in West Virginia.

photo by Alison Mee

photo by Alison Mee

A year ago, as events in our lives unfolded, both logic and intuition told my husband and I that we needed to pick up and move our family from our home of 18 years, to somewhere new.    We felt about as sure as we could be, that the move was right for us, that we were moving toward greater joy.   But that didn’t make it easy for me to leave the land.

I had allowed myself to fall in love with the land on which I lived.   I had connected to it as deeply as I knew how.    One summer, I decided that every single solitary day, I would eat something from my land.   I started with the chives and the fresh onion grass of spring.   Then, with my relatively meager gardening skills, I grew some vegetables, and brought snap peas with me when I traveled, keeping them carefully and eating one every day.    By autumn’s figs, I was feeling the land as part of myself.

I went through retreats, of staying on that land for a week or so at a time, spending time outdoors, but not going beyond that piece of land.     I composted the story of my life, into the soil:  apple wood from the home where I grew up, branches from the woods behind my grandmother’s house, flowers from funerals and weddings.   The first time we placed each of my children’s feet on the earth, it was there.   I brought bits of the land — soil, moss, pine needles — with me when away from home.

How could I leave?    I could leave, I found, with love, appreciation, and intention.

As soon as we knew we were going to be selling the property, we had a family ritual with the land.     We thanked it for it’s support of our family, and rejoiced in all the great years we’ve had there.   Then, I opened up the thicket, the space that I had set aside some years ago to be mostly free from human intervention.   I wouldn’t be protecting it in the same way anymore.   Our relationship would be changing.

Then I sought to use my connection to the spirit of the land where I had been living, including the local river, to reach out to the land I was moving to, to help me find my correct path.    Somewhere, I knew, was a place that could give me what I was needing, and likewise, could need me.     I wanted to let the land  reach out to me, as I searched for it.

When we were looking for our new home, I paid as much attention to the land as I did to the houses.     We explored all over the county, and I smelled the dirt.   At first I was shy and kept trying to do it when the realtor wasn’t looking, but eventually I got used to his attentiveness and he got used to the fact that I spent more time on the land than in the house.   I stopped worrying about his opinion of me.   Finding the right land was more important to me than not weirding out the realtor.

If I weren’t going by smell, I’ve since learned that I could have gone by field guide maps.    It turns out that what smelled so good to me was biodiversity.   Where we live now has a huge variety of plants and animals.

Now that I’m here, I’m falling in love again.    Instead of plowing in with what I think should be here, I’m waiting and letting the woods show me their paths.    I’m watching to see what’s going on.   Who has been living here before me?    What needs to be done?   What’s been waiting for me?   What would rather be left alone?

I bring water from my old home, to my new home.     And earth.   And sap from the white pine which used to be my meditation spot.    If I were moving very far, I might worry about bringing non-indigenous plants, insects or microorganisms.    But it would still be acceptable, generally, to bring vegetables grown in one home, and then compost them into the land in the new home.    And in this way I’m bringing the story of my life forward, weaving together the connections.

Now it is spring, and I am seeing the emergence of new flowers, hearing new birds, connecting deeper with the spirit of this land.

And tasting the sweetest onion grass in the world.     I’m home again.

Shadow and Brightness

Leaf by dancingwolfgrrl

I went to a pagan workshop in another state last month.  In it, we were led in a beautiful guided meditation that brought us to a pool, where we met and interacted with our shadows and our brightness.  Afterwards, the facilitators asked for comments, and every single person, including me, said that they were more comfortable with their shadows.

Shadows, I admit, are one of the things I love about my spiritual traditions.  Throughout the Pagan movement, I see people standing up and acknowledging the power in our anger, our guilt, our sexuality, our sensuality, even our deaths – all of the parts of our lives and our selves that are too often denied or ignored in mainstream Western culture.  It took me years to learn how to be really angry, and I value those lessons deeply.   (A wise man told me that I would have to scream to do this.  I told him I didn’t want to scream, which was true, but he was right.) But my experience at that workshop made me think about what we’re still excluding.
Taking on my shadow side felt to me like courage and power in ways that I knew how to identify.  I thought I have to be brave and face your fear and do it anyway.  Just do it!  is a style of engagement whose virtues are sung from billboards worldwide.  Often, its siren song helps me to avoid thinking of myself as a victim when in fact, I just don’t like any of my choices, and that is no small gift.
But for me, engaging my brightness is a much more difficult endeavor.  My brightness holds my most tender parts: my openness, my willingness, my yielding, my yearning to see and be seen, to love and be loved.  Even to write those words on a page is vulnerable.  To try to feel them as fully as I learned to feel my anger sometimes seems impossible.
And yet, I find that this, too, is courage and power.  Much of the deepest magic I have known comes from being able to stay with a practice or an experience that is uncomfortable, choosing not to set myself against it, but to make space for and breathe into it.  The feeling of discomfort, I’ve learned, is the feeling of possibility shifting inside me, looking for a new shape to settle in.  I always have the option to make a choice and shut down that potential, and I often do so, just to make myself more comfortable, but sometimes I try to make a different choice.  I don’t get up from my chair when the writing gets tough, or throw my camera in the lake after the 500th completely boring photo.  I say “that sounds so hard” to a struggling friend instead of changing the topic, and I mean it.  I go back to my practice, again and again.
This is the challenge brightness offers: how far are you willing to open? To what are you willing to yield?  I dare you.  

Offerings

by Katie Birdi

The world is (among other things) a cycle of give and take. We breathe out, the plants breathe in. The plants breathe out, we breathe in. Offering doesn’t have to be about sacrifice. It can be joyful gratitude for the bounty we are surrounded by, a connection with our prayers, a gift of service, and the passion we are compelled to express.

My offerings come in cycles, as a part of my daily practice. I offer something daily, weekly, monthly… and they connect me to different rhythms in my life. Daily, I offer my breath to the plants, keenly aware that their existence, and my own, is locked in an elegant (covalent) bond. Weekly, I offer a bowl of rice to the spirits of the land I live on in respect and gratitude for the Unseen Ones that populate this place with me. Monthly, I donate newborn and preemie hats (knitted with love) to the local hospital. Every other month, I also head downstairs to donate a pint of my blood, a very physical offering, and one of my favorites. I give thanks that I am healthy and strong, watching my blood flow out of my body, and wish with each drop that whoever receives my blood also be healthy and strong. I do my best to stay open and aware, and I give other offerings as they seem appropriate. I do my best to do it with a clean, clear heart, and with respect and honor to the world which is my home and family. One of my favorites is to leave nuts in the holes of trees. I will do this to give thanks, sometimes in supplication, and sometimes just because it feels right to do.

Offerings come in many forms. Gifts of service are particularly humbling to me. I have friends who host gatherings, musical performances, and I have one friend who consistently does the dishes after a group meal. What an amazing, oft overlooked offering! I am touched each time a person holds the door for me, offers water to a dog that needs it, chooses to ride a bike instead of drive a car, or offers to help someone change a flat tire. Recognizing these offerings makes each moment of my life sweeter.

My son turned two in February of this year, and we enjoy frequent walks in the woods. I am so glad to have the opportunity to show him all the wonders that the world so passionately expresses. I was dismayed at first, that my son was most fascinated by the trash he would find in the forest. Running past a snail, a fallen tree, a pine cone and a forest of fiddleheads, he triumphantly points his finger at a smashed plastic cup and its blue straw, sticking up pathetically from the wreckage. “Bwoo! Bwoo!” he says, looking for affirmation that he has correctly identified the color of this amazing thing he’s found in the forest. “Yes, blue” I say, proud that my son is developing in language, awareness, and ability. I’m also dismayed that the forest I’ve brought my son to, hoping to teach him about the sacredness of the Earth, is filled with trash.

It occurs to me that the trash I’m surrounded by is an offering. The people who have left these offerings have shown, with their actions, how much they value the Body of the Earth. What are you offering? Is it the best of who you are and what you have to give? If offerings are a prayer, what are you praying with? What sorts of unspoken things are you saying to the world and your community with your habits? If the only offerings we make are the convenient offerings of coffee cups, wasted food, and misprinted copies, we invite similar energy into our lives. Take a moment. Take a breath. Take only what you need, and give of yourself in return.

I do my best to help my son learn the vital lesson of the Thank You letter. Gratitude is something I wish to nurture in his nature. I do my best to teach him that an Intentional Offering isn’t always a thing. Sometimes it’s money, food or goods, but sometimes it’s an offering of time, skill, or consideration. Sometimes it means inconveniencing ourselves for the good of the World. Carry a reusable water bottle. Enjoy your reusable mug. What do you “throw away” on a daily basis? Where does it really go?

When we go shopping, my son has his own, toddler-sized reusable shopping bag, and his own toddler-sized water bottle. Children learn by imitating adult behavior, and as Mama carries a reusable bottle & shopping bags (offerings of consideration), he needs one of his own. One of his first chores was to help Mama sort the recycling. We talk about reducing, reusing, and recycling every day. The concepts are clearer to him now than the words are when he says them, and I am a Proud Mama…and now our walks in the woods include a bag for the trash we find, which we sort for recycling later.

Practicing Paganism

by Morwen Two Feathers
Like a lot of other people, I got laid off during this last recession. When it came it was a blow, though I realized later I could have see it coming if I was looking. It was autumn, just past Equinox, time to slow down, turn inward, and that I did. Looking back, I saw that I had been seriously out of synch for a couple of years. My creativity had slowed to a crawl, and even in the warm growing season I’d felt curiously stagnant. Time for attunement.

When I first began to walk the pagan path more than 30 years ago, I was driven by a desire to connect with the sacredness I’d always felt in the woods. Although my studies in psychology, sociology and anthropology gave me a deep appreciation for the power of symbol, story, metaphor, and community ritual, I was not so interested in Deity or ceremonial magic. My investigations led me to a series of practices that were designed to align my life’s energy to the systemic cycles of the earth, moon, and sun. I found that careful attention and an intention to align myself with the cycles of the seasons and the moon, along with the life cycles of the animals and plants in my environment, helped me keep my life in perspective. And when I was attuned to the natural world in this way, the Universe delivered an endless stream of good fortune and synchronicity into my lap. I could not articulate any scientifically acceptable reason for this, but it worked out that way nonetheless.

It is easy to fall out of practice under stress, and the last couple of years have been filled with stresses including aging parents, a child hitting the teenage years, a changing primary relationship, and conflicts at work, not to mention my own dance with menopause. I just felt I didn’t have time or energy to stick with my daily meditations and attunements. As my practice slipped, though, my beliefs didn’t. I thought I was just as connected as always, until I was shocked awake by a layoff notice. And even then it took a winter of forced hibernation to make me realize just how disconnected I had become.

Nearly all the choices I make in my life are grounded in my pagan beliefs, including my volunteer work on sustainability in my town as well as my choice to seek work in the nonprofit sector, my consumption habits, my parenting, and more. Yet being forced to stop and take stock has made me realize that for me paganism is more a practice than a set of beliefs. And an interesting thing happened when I began practicing attunement again. Spring Equinox came, and I could feel the sap rising in the trees and in my own soul. And after months of sending out resumes with nary a peep in response, a week after Equinox I was contacted and asked to apply for three different jobs in one day. As I write this it’s still in process and I’m not sure where I’ll end up. But it’s good to feel the energy moving again, and to know that practice, not belief, is the key.

***
Attunement Practice for Connecting with Food:

With your plate of food in front of you, come to inner stillness. Meditate on the source of each ingredient in your meal. Where was it grown? How did it get to your table? Be aware that all food comes from the Earth, and ultimately from the Sun, the source of all energy on our planet. Be thankful for all the human hands that brought the food from its origins to your plate.

Say:

“Mother Earth, bless this food.
Fruit of your body, fruit of your womb.”

Enjoy your meal mindfully. Over time you may find your choices of what to eat shift. Listen to your inner wisdom.

Guising

by Sarah Twichell

In fairy tales, beings often appear in guises. A spirit appears in the guise of a fox. A god comes to earth in the guise of an old woman. In traditional European cultures, people took on guises as well. In Scotland, people dressed as spirits of the dead at Samhain, or changed their appearances to trick evil spirits out of harming them. In story and ritual, the appearance of guises teaches us that things are not always what they seem and that we should look carefully before judging or dismissing something.

When I work magically with a guise it teaches me the same lesson. I am not always what I seem, and I should look carefully before judging or dismissing ideas about who I am or could be.

Guising gives me the opportunity to take a look at what I consider to be beyond my own boundaries. When I guise as a being who is deeply wild, I can embody more wildness than I can ever imagine having in my ordinary life and self. In doing so, I gain a chance to question those limits: am I really tame and civilized as think? Is there wildness I didn’t see or recognize in me? What else am I missing when I say and act as though I am not wild?

Guising also works to free me from the ways that habit and expectation limit my perceptions of others and of the world. Sometimes things seem clearer, even harsh, through new eyes, and at other times they look softer and less clear. Knowing how different even the very familiar can look reminds me to find out what I can see when I really look, even with my everday eyes.

No matter how deep or magical my connection with a being I am guising is, in the end, I must come back to a shape that’s nearly the same as the one I left. In that “nearly,” though, lie the most powerful lessons of guising: the ones we bring back to our everyday lives.

At Rites, there were several opportunities to take on a guise. Did you choose to do this work there or somewhere else, or to interact with someone in guise? I’d love to hear your experiences in the comments.

[photo by David J. Anderson]