Division Can Connect: Personal Relationships Toward Social Change


Division Can Connect: Personal Relationships Toward Social Change 
by Michelle Katz

Suzanne Simard, a Professor of Forest Ecology in the Department of Forest and Conservation Sciences at University of BC, and Peter Wohlleben, author of The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communication---Discoveries from a Secret World, speak and write about a scientific revolution that nature is soulful, not to be dissected and studied, with no sense of its sacredness.  They say that the current era demands us to transition our way of thinking and learning about nature, and I believe we should do the same about our thinking and learning of other humans!  How do we treat all living beings in a sustainable and life-honoring way?  Nature is not a mindless machine, it is a complex living systems with intelligence, and most notably, with intricate relationships!  Simard’s and Wohlleben’s research has shown that, without a doubt, forests are in fact communities with adaptive networks, they help feed each other, and help each other grow.  In fact, these networks, look a lot like human neural and social networks!  This offers us a lot to learn about community and about survival.  If we, as a species intent to survive, it may be in our best interest to learn how to live in balanced way, to learn from the way plants and fungi live, then perhaps we can find our resilience for the long haul.

As of late, I have found myself in deep and continual dialogue about diversity.  These are not easy conversations. I am finding lots of fear in these places/spaces.  Fear of being hurt, fear of being misunderstood, fear of being accused, fear of being stereotyped, free of saying the wrong thing, fear of hurting another. I wonder if there is a way to grow more willing to be with this fear, because it does not seem like it will be going away anytime soon.  And if we can do this, then, maybe, the fear will slowly dissipate and leave greater understanding.

This past week, I sat with a diverse group of individuals.  Many ages, races, genders, religion, and ethnicities, represented within this small group. When I looked around at the faces, some familiar and some new, my heart felt so full.  (something whispered about a microcosm of America and what it dreams to be.) As each one of us took turns to speak of our lineage into the circle in any way we can, I felt expansion.  And as our time continued on, I watched as individuals began to represent a group in our greater population.  I found myself following suit, stepping in as a Jewish Woman, when I don’t feel I truly represent this whole. I began to then think of the psychology of those that hold the not so obvious minority culture, versus those that are more obviously of a minority culture.  I thought about the discrimination many face, and how now it feels as if no group is immune to this.  The defensiveness is in everyone.  I thought, then, about the happening in Charlottesville this year (being particularly hurtful for me) and the many similar events that occur before and after.  These demonstrations revealing how far back in the past we are in this fight.  Inside I was screaming, “I don’t want to talk about what makes me different, I just want to sit in the knowing that all our difference make it possible to create something great! Complexity can be simplified!”

At this time, I, frustrated, decided to take a walk.  I went toward the mountains and into woods, I walked a snowy path with foot prints along the way, rabbit, deer, children, adult; I heard birds, blue, wren, chickadee, raven; I touched trees and plants; large, small, pinon and ponderosa, shrub; I stepped on wet soil, pine covered soil and rocky path.  I felt myself truly relating to the world here.  I sat on a rock and watched at the creek moved through the landscape and how the sun hit and shade crawled onto the area.  And I recalled Suzanne Simard and Peter Wohlleben. I was on the land, learning about diversity and societies working together! I remembered that it’s not about claiming our differences or what divides us and standing strongly in the need for apology of any wrong doing toward these differences.  It’s about acknowledging and seeing how the differences inform the whole, Relationship is what creates reparation.  And it’s not the relationship between every Pinon and every Ponderosa and every Aspen and every shrub in the whole world (that’s too much to ask for right now), it’s about the relationship between the Pinon that rests in the arms of the Ponderosa, or the shrub that faces the Aspen across the river. The invitation was clear to me: personal relationship is what moves us toward social change.

Later in the week, the invitation and opportunity revealed itself again.  I watched people got uncomfortable in the conversation of appropriation and how we can come to respect of each other, offensiveness and fear revealed itself in everyone.  I watched uncertain of engagement and how it can lead to positive outcomes, and I saw others want to jump in with both feet with the desire to become more and more conscious in our ever changing society.  I know both paths have its difficulties.

I again returned to my time in the woods, knowing from nature, that engaging in the conversations of potential discomfort but continual curiosity, we grow, and it won’t be a world change until we do the soulful personal exchanges.  Let’s stop dissecting ourselves and each other and come to a place of acknowledging we are all sacred, and all worthy of honoring, and in this, humanity as a whole can be more sustainable.  Humanity is complex, our relationships are complex, but we can choose to take a cue from nature, and be complex in a way that supports each others' growing together rather than breaking us apart.  Let us find a way to work together as the woods do.  It is time for us to adapt, to feel what nutrients are needed across the river to ensure our survival, and send it that way so that we can continue to look at each other for the long haul.

Learn from nature toward the resilience of humanity with Oaks Counsel.  Check out our programs and offerings!

Us Too, We Have

Sculpture: EQUALITY EMERGING - THE PEOPLE by John Behan.  In Galway City, Ireland.  "Equality Is But Difference – Respected and Celebrated."

Sculpture: EQUALITY EMERGING - THE PEOPLE by John Behan.  In Galway City, Ireland.  "Equality Is But Difference – Respected and Celebrated."

Us too, We have by Michelle Katz

I feel sad in this #metoo/#ihave movement.

I understand and can also feel into the great impact of this movement for women and other minority genders finally having a voice in the face of perpetrators in our lives throughout the many years we have faced so much of this on a regular basis.  And I can also hope and believe that the men that are apologizing, admitting and speaking up with #ihave are providing some healing or retribution for these experiences.

What saddens me is not the movement’s intent. What is causing so much hurt in my heart around this is the movement’s process and some of its potential outcomes to create more rupture and more pain.

It is important, and can even be beautiful, to bring such shadows into the light.  To make what is unconscious, conscious for some healing or deep understanding.  However, I feel uncertain about if that is what is happening.

Here is how I am seeing this:  women are finally sharing stories of being victim to incredibly hurtful misogynist acts  with men as the persecutor, and men seem to be feeling obliged now to speak to it with admittance/apology.

As for the depth and feeling about how these men are experiencing the repercussions of these actions, that I leave to each individual man to know in himself.  And I leave it to the women (and other gender identities) who hear the admittance/apologize to accept them in a way that feels good and true to them, in hope that it does indeed, leave them some resolve.

But for me, what it all brings up, is two primary questions: 1) Where is the empathy, the process, the movement toward greater healing? 2) What are the impacts of this in the larger culture?

I wonder if the hurt being expressed is creating more hurt/fear?  Are we forgetting that age old knowing that most perpetraters are victims first? Are we blindly continuing to follow this pattern?  Where is the empathy? “I’m itching to live in a world of empathy, where none of these reactions is wrong—and where we can engage with each other openly about the venomous stuff inside us that has resulted from having been trained, all of us, to behave in our different but interlocking fucked-up ways.” (Joanna Bock)

I cannot help but wonder about the process of this all.  It seems to me something essential is missing or being forgotten.  The empathy.  It seems like the Anima, the essence of the feminine (and when I say feminine, I do not mean female, but rather the symbolic/inner feminine that lives in all of us, a soulful and relational part of Self), that, underneath is all, is really what is being called on to emerge, is also being forgotten or lost, because this does not feel like a truly feminine way, it feels like an imitation of the culture we have so long lived in and felt dominated by.

In this process, are we not harming as we have been harmed?  Are we not using the same tactics of victimization?  Have we forgotten that there is a way to do it differently?  A way that speaks deeply of the feminine.  A way that says, “I see you (people of all genders, race, gifts) and I see your wisdom and your suffering. I see what you offer and what you know, and I deeply understand and accept it, and wish to find a way for us to meet in a good way so that we can honor all parts of ourselves, including our weaknesses and strengths.  For ultimately, your weakness and mine, your strength and mine, create the beauty and connectedness of our world.” 

Yes, I agree that it is time for a change, for the feminine to come and shift our culture in ways that need shifting.  But are we doing it in a way the speaks truly to the shift or are we just doing it in the same old way?  Which opens up a number of additional questions for me: are we seeking revenge? Justice? Understanding? Or true cultural shift?

Is the #metoo movement meant to create guilt and shame?  What if we are creating a society in which men become so afraid to talk to women, out of fear they may say something “wrong”, and women, in a desire to protect themselves, stay away from men?  Does one have to be or feel lesser than another? Are we seeking to lecture or are we seeking to learn through authentic and empathic communication? Where is the deeper connection? Even the "I" and "Me of this movement speaks volumes to where we are at in this process, I beg for the "Us" and "We", because we all do it, we all are persecutors, we all are victims and we all are healers.

Riane Eisler speaks of a partnership-domination continuum, in her book the Chalice and the Blade.  She asks us to look at relational dynamics in a systems way, rather than a dominator way.  The dominator way is by ranking, in which differences lead to superiority or inferiority; it's authoritarian in nature and often involves a high degree of abuse and violence.  The Partnership model suggests that we see how different components of a living system interact to maintain one another and the larger world of which they are part of. This model is what we see in nature, thus, this way calls us to remember our human nature.  As every element of nature plays an important and vital role in contributing to the greater whole of nature, so is true for humanity.  Seemingly dissimilar elements are deeply and intricately related and working together to make it possible for the living system to not only live, but thrive!  What if power could be empowering for everyone rather than disempowering?  Eisler called this partnership model, “gylany”, coining the word for a society in which relationship between the sexes are seen for all they bring, are more peaceful, and are focused on life-giving and nurturing.

So often, I have found myself apologizing for my existence, much of it may be my Jewish lineage and the historical trauma of Jewish persecution I hold in me, and much of it may be the fact that I am a woman (noting the many times I hear women apologize needlessly).  Regardless, I know what it is to constantly apologize for being who I am, and I would not wish this upon anyone, not Nazi’s, not men.  The apologies will only go so far, for me, it is the sitting in circle, learning from each other with all of our hearts involved, and seeing how we all contribute and fit together that will help me most.  We all are worthy of this life.  We all hold human faults.  And, I believe, in order to create true cultural shift, we must come to celebrate each other’s existence. 

My hope/wish/call is that the #metoo movement not use the same format we have learned but come to find another way to bring in the balance that is being called forward for human relational sustainability.  We are in a cultural and societal rite-of-passage now, may we sever from what we know, learning from the past and moving into a new, different, intentional way toward a more worthwhile future.

Let’s step in to this major cultural passage together!  Oaks Counsel offers many offerings for rites-of-passage for individuals and groups for a greater understanding of our human nature, remembering that we are part of something bigger that we are being called to remember.

Belonging to the Earth

Belonging to the Earth by Michelle Katz

Last weekend I found myself in the land of clearing smoke post wildfire, in a place that just days before was home and refuge for those who were evacuated, in a landscape were tall trees meet misty ocean air, the sky had cleared from the past weeks happenings, the sun could be felt, and the people around were full of inspiration and hope.

The Bioneers conference offered so much in a time of uncertainty, most notably but not limited to, incredible hope and inspiration.  The variety of offerings included in-depth sessions and keynote speakers addressing human rights, nature rights, indigenous storytelling and spoken word arts, our youth, our elders, new energy economies, politics, healing. 

Every session I left feeling a sense of promising solution to the issues our world faces today.

The insight and new perspectives into issues invited deeper understanding.  I felt my mind being blown, and I loved it.

The weekend, for me, began with the first speaker, Dean Hoaglin, opening us into the weekend with one simple and true sentence: “What we do to this earth, we do to ourselves, let us be good relatives, good care-takers.”

Humans are part of nature.

The weekend continued with an insightful look at how true this is.  First we looked at trees, and how they teach us by example about many things:  Diversity, living in harmony side-by-side without judgement; Roots and fungi may not be seen but they keep a community strong through connection; Purpose, responsibility and unique role in our world.  Trees offer us a crucial lesson about survival and creating a life in balance.

The conversation moved then to how to create a world that embodies social justice.  The answer inspired me: “eliminate limiting beliefs and encourage imagination.  Inclusion is about a spectrum of possibilities,” said Victor Pineda.  Bringing in a way to sit with question of how do we live with barriers, how do we recognize that humanity is also about weakness as well as strength, that in understanding our vulnerabilities we may create bridges and be able to response to the needs of a whole population. The conversations and speakers continued to inspire as the days continued, from issues of how to create a One Fair Wage, acknowledging the unfair conditions of restaurant workers across our nation and forcing us to ask ourselves what kind of world we want to live in?  If we can survive climate change, what is the world we want to inherit, what kind of society do we wish to be part of?  The earth issues are human issues and the human issues are earth issues.

I then heard a Din’e Storyteller, Sunny Dooley: “When you are born, you are already someone’s grandmother, mother, aunt…”  She spoke about how the ancestors whisper stories in our ears, and we must hear them because those are our stories as well.  She spoke of how everything we do on the surface of the earth is connected and related to everything else.  It is our mission to authentically address every experience of our lives. And her continually repeated line : “We are epigenetically predisposed to survive.”  I felt her words in my heart, though, even more, I felt them in my bones, it was such a deep ancient truth she told.

This was only half of the first day! 

The conference continued and each offering reached parts of me I would have forgotten if not given the opportunity to be reignited by this event.  On Saturday night, I saw the community come together and drum in circle on the land and among the trees.  The beat felt to be one beat.  The experience spoke of a story of belonging to each other not only as people but as the grass and soil at our feet, the trees in circle with us, the sun at dusk and the moon beginning to show, the ocean sound on the other side of the hills and the ducks landing in the pond across the way.  john a. powell spoke about this belonging on the last day of the conference, talking about it as a place of healing through deep listening and empathy, and stating simply that this is what is critical to the survival of the planet.  He asked, “Who belongs to the circle of human concern?” Can we create a we that no one is on the outside of?  Belonging changes the structure of society, as all “their” lives are in ours.

Inspiration and hope.  Join this circle of human nature belonging with Oaks Counsel.                  




Floods and Fires: Burning the Candle at One End and Drowning it at the Other

Images courtesy of The Florida Times-Union (left) and The San Diego Union Tribune (right) and   

Images courtesy of The Florida Times-Union (left) and The San Diego Union Tribune (right) and   

Floods and Fires: Burning the Candle at One End and Drowning it at the Other 
by: Michelle Katz

Our land is in trouble, and so are we. 

I like to look at the ways nature mirrors us.  Thus, as I see what is happening in the U.S., I cannot help but sit in the question of what is being mirrored about us?

The Floods of the South:

The South, according to the medicine wheel model of nature and human nature, is a direction that speaks to us of childhood, play, being in the body. Sexuality, sensuality. Needs, and needing others to survive.  Being taken care of, attachment, attunement. When this is exaggerated, we can find ourselves in addictions, or not able to pay attention fully to anything, constant distractions, and materialism.  The water in these floods is an element that tells us about deep emotions and the unconscious.  

As one end of our country is being flooded and effected by hurricanes, can we hear and respond to the cries for help, what is needing our attention and care? How can we respond?

The Fires of the West:

The West, according to the medicine wheel model of nature and human nature, is a direction that speaks to us of shadow, the place of darkness, introspection, the “who am I?” question.  It is the place of facing challenges toward growth.  It is also the place of a death, the place of harvesting fruits from the dying.  When the west is exaggerated, we find ourselves in depression, self-absorbed and self-deprecating, unable to see what we have to offer the world. Fire is an element of powerful transformation.  As it burns beauty down, it also provides the heat that opens up the pine cones to great new life.  It can create openings to start anew. 

The other end of our country is being burned by wildfires.  Villages are being burned down because something needs to be felt and heard, and something needs to fall in order to be transformed.

Nature is telling us something essential about us in these moments.   Though, we are not in control of these big natural disasters, they are mirroring something big about us.  Looking deeply into the macrocosm, the US has been stuck in the South and West for much of our existence as a country.  We are young in this world, and often looked at by others (as youth is), we are incredible pleasure seekers, materialists, constantly distracted by the next new thing.  Additionally, we have no idea who we are, being the focus of the world, the super power country, we have taken in all the attention without being able to fully know ourselves. 

It is time to ask ourselves: what is it we provide the world?  As we fluctuate constantly between the south and west, between wanting to be taken care of and be the center of attention as well as hating ourselves, confused by our place in the world, and sad about our state of affairs; as we fluctuate between republican and democrat, between being a beacon and hiding in shame, between giving and taking from others and from the earth, how can we evolve and show up in the truth of who we are?  Even more, we see that many of our elders are not willing to step into elderhood, claiming it for what it can offer this world, and our youth are being guided but many initiated adults or silenced and unheard for the knowing they bring.  No one is growing up! And nature is literally forcing us to let go of these parts of ourselves, because we need to. We are a culture living in perpetuation childhood and adolescence.  I hope every day, we find a way to truly grow up and into our purpose, individually and collectively.

What is happening?

Trees are falling down, houses are being destroyed, lives are being displaced.  What has lived a certain way for a long time can no longer live the same way now and every again.  Those of us who can, must ask ourselves, how do we survive this?  What can we learn from this?  What will bring us to what’s next?  What is next?

What happens when the fires and waters at each end of us meet, when we are simultaneously filling our lungs with fire and water, when the candle is dissolved, limp and non-existence.  Perhaps it’s time to start a new wick.

I believe these natural disasters are informing us to experience a rite-of-passage as a country.  To grow into who we are.  Perhaps, we may learn that we are the people that rise in the face of chaos to help one another.  That our identity rests firmly in our humanity.  Perhaps our gifts can be revealed and we can take our proper seat in the world.

 And on the microcosm, may be learn that each of us has our individual work to do, in this same manner.  It is time for each one of us to feel the flooding and burning within, to face challenges, turn to our community with perspective and knowing, so that we can be who we are meant to be in order to better ourselves, our community, our country, the world/nature we are part of and is part of us.

Step into this work, individually and as a community, for the world. Sign up for a rite-of-passage or nature-based program with Oaks Counsel.

Weaving Time: A Call for Intergenerational Councils

Photography by Geseko 

Photography by Geseko 

Weaving Time: A Call for Intergenerational Council by Michelle Katz

In preparation for Oaks Counsel’s upcoming Day Quest, I have been finding myself acutely attuned to the generations a call for bringing the dialogue together.

This week began with me sitting in council with teenagers, asking them the question of what it is like to be a teenager today?  I began the council practice to provide a model for sharing from the heart in this way.  I recalled being a teenager in my time, 16 years and 1 month ago, to the day of that circle, was 9/11, and I remembered being my teenage self, hearing the news of attacks on American soil.  I recalled feeling that an experience of safety had somehow left me.  Just a couple years after that, still in my teenage years, I recalled the college my brother attended having a shooter on campus.  Again, my feelings of safety were challenged.  On top of this, I recalled how unseen I felt as a teenager, how I felt my parents continually saw me as something I was not, and how I struggled with asserting my Self and exploring my independence.  I recalled the internal conflicts I faced when it came to my peers; never quiet fitting in and feeling the difficulty of “group think”, I often found myself alone in the hallway at lunch, with my sandwich and a good book.  I recalled the adults that really supported me through this time, the mentors and allies I felt connection with, the teachers and parents of friends, without whom I am not sure where I would be.

I passed the talking piece on.  And the thread between us began to weave.  As we all held the theme of isolation and loneliness in these years.  And we all had our stories of struggle and growing pains.  The teens spoke about gratitudes and hardships.  Of finding the delicate balance in figuring out how to care for others while developing and independent sense of self.  Of finding pockets of acceptance and yet knowing a feeling of discrimination. 

I was left in the question of how do we come to know ourselves in this time and how can we best support our teens through such vital passages in a way that ensures they feel more empowered and important to this world?

Later in the week, I found myself in an unexpected council with an elder.  We spoke about changes in career, success and loses, struggles with family and ways to practice better loving communication with great conscious effort and work, she spoke about seeing the world, and living through life-threatening illnesses, hope and love and adventure, failures and lessons and successes, letting go and taking things on, starting anew again and again.

Again I found myself in the questions and resting in someone knowing as well, how do we come to know ourselves in this time and how can we best support our elders through such vital passages in a way that ensures they feel more empowered and important to this world?

I hold these two stories in my heart this week.  Feeling the calling inside of me, the urge to bring all the generations together to talk and learn and call on each other in a life-giving way.  I hear the story of generations that feel unheard and unseen, that don’t know what they can or have to offer at certain points in their life.  The answer is clear to me; each generation offers so much!  These conversations are rich from teens, elders, and all those in-between.  Let us lean into listening to each other.

Join Oaks Counsel on October 29th for an Intergenerational Council Day Quest.  Let us hear from you, you teens and young adults, you elders and olders who know so much, when we live in an ever changing world of uncertainty.  Let us turn to those that hold an important perspective of history and to those that call us into what is to come!

Mass Shooting and Hearing the Story of the Aspens

Mass Shooting and Hearing the Story of the Aspens by Michelle Katz

I awoke Sunday morning to the headlines, the daily news, hitting my heart in way that echoes through my life.  Another mass shooting in the US.  The numbers keep escalating and frequency increasing.  We are killing each other and ourselves and doing nothing about it.  It is hard for me to not get disheartened by these events.  It now seems that our response to these events is to become more and more detached, in the normalizing of these situations.  It’s such a tragic happening, and even more so when we lose our ability to authentically and heartfully react, thus becoming removed and dissociated from what’s happening in our world.  How can we not look anther and see, that person is the same as I?  Are we feeling so powerlessness, stressed isolated? Where is our sense of connectedness and our knowing ability to create change? For those people who are working in this realm, who tireless aim to create change in policy through conscious activism and who create movement because of the knowing of the preciousness of life, for these individuals, I feel so grateful for your strength and the important role you hold in our society, especially noting your reliance during such heart-rendering times.

All in all, I sit and ask, what’s happening?  A question I ask myself often.  Both, on the mirco- and macro-.  My brain often comes up with theories.

That same morning, after hearing this news, I found myself in the Aspens of the Santa Fe National Forest.  Quiet in this sanctuary, listening for answers.

The rains of the past week had magically cleared with the gift of a sunny and mildly warm day.  The yellow leaves of the aspens danced above, before the blue sky.  The sounds of the leaves always different this time of year.  Their rattle speaking about being: being between life and death, between holding on and letting go, between sky and earth.  Living partly in two different states of being, speaks of confusion as well as wisdom and perspective.  The columns of white trunks usher me deeper into the woods.  I feel their presence with me, I am never alone.  Some trunks are marked, wounds or natural scars, often feeling like the eyes of the tree looking and meeting me just as I meet them.  Some carved into with messages of the love of a couple or the desired marking of existence through etching a name, all for the tree to endure and eventually absorb. The density of the groove encourages more peace, more awe.  And the vistas through the landscape reveals awareness, perspective and the worlds of man and nature together.

It’s always striking to remember the Aspens are one organism, attached by the intricate root system, they are all connected and live with each other, they are from one another, intimately linked. This is how they live, for many, many thousands of years. It is an ancient forest, largely because of its ability to loose leaves every season (in the practice of living and dying), because its able to withstand fires and grow even in harsh conditions (resilience and desire to live), and because every tree is known and connected to the larger system. This is what contributes to the longevity of this nation. This is the story of the Aspens. 

I sit in how nature mirrors humanity.  Collecting leaves from the ground like the answers to my questions.  I see how we must remember we are capable of such a living: of knowing our resilience in time of hardship and noting our desire to be alive and honor life in the face of the heat of our culture’s fires and harsh conditions.  I know with all my heart, we must learn to beautifully and naturally change the colors of leaves, as the aspens do, and to let them fall as the seasons call for them to for they will offer growth for the seasons to come.  And most of all, I pray that we may learn from the Aspens that truly and wholly, we are all connected and deeply related to each other. And may all this enhance our humanity’s life on this planet.

Experience nature as mirror in holding hard questions in your life, learn how to move with the cycles of nature and human nature, know your resilience and feel into your community with Oaks Counsel’s programs and nature-based offerings.


23 Countries, 200 Rites of Passage Guides, Thousands of Woodland Trees in Southern Germany: One Unforgettable Experience

23 Countries, 200 Rites of Passage Guides, Thousands of woodland trees in Southern Germany: One Unforgettable Experience by Michelle Katz

It has been hard for me to truly articulate what happened at the 7th International Gathering of Rites of Passage Guides.  I am still sitting with it, reflecting and integrating it.  And yet, it feels important to somehow articulate what I can about it, in living into the traditional and practice of storytelling.

From the high desert of New Mexico, lands of expansive views, monsoons and wildfires, after 30+hours of travel, and into the humid wet woodlands of Southern Germany.  Upon arrival, pitched a tent and shared a meal with friends from familiar lands and began the 10 days participating in a powerful Pilgrimage to Dachau (see previous blog post), and then, 2 days later, the larger group arrived.  200 Rites of Passage guides from 23 different countries.  Representation from Germany, Denmark, South Africa, Spain, UK, US, Israel, Columbia, Chile, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Czech Republic, China, France, Italy, Netherlands, Switzerland the list goes on.  It was a beautiful collection of people to bared witness to, hugging and laughing and storytelling with no knowledge of the passage of time. 

The week together began with one representative from each country stepping into the council and speaking about their country.  I heard the collective story of struggle and difficulty with political situations, social landscapes and injustice; as well as the shared story of collective caring for nature and the future of humanity.  It was powerful to witness what draws us all together.  It was deep recognition of not being individuals from many different countries, but being the world.

The councils continued.  The collective saw those that identified as Elders step into the center. I witnessed those that have experienced various changes over the time of their lives speak about how they identify with the title of Elder, what they have learned and what they continue to learn. The words they spoke offered a refreshing drink, a gentle reassuring smile and a comfort in knowing that as life continues we all continue to grow. 

The week continued and I found myself, in an honoring of being an introvert, moving my tent beneath an oak tree on the far outskirts of the grounds and wandering the lands of deep damp woods full of pines with the intermittent oaks, all meeting the rain in a soft quiet way.  It was a place of whispering life.  The meeting of the wide and fast flowing glacial water, river Isar, offered a welcomed resonance and pace. I visited often, listening to the calling.

The drums from the South African community echoed across the land every night, as did the feet that danced in sync with the heartbeat heard by human hands and breathing earth.

The week concluded with two councils to compliment the first two.  One being the community gathering for decision making regarding the location of the next gathering.  I have been, and continue to be, in awe of the way of this practice.  Mostly, I sit in awe of the communal aim and deep desire to include, share and come to a consensus, a seemingly impossible task of our time.  I cannot help but exclaim, “I love our way!”  Especially as I watch the difficulty in it all and still we stay present and stay connected to each other, and continually meeting all the differences in thought and opinion with spaciousness, time and patience for developing more and more deep understanding.

And finally, it was the council of the younger guides, the guides of the future, who had the opportunity to share and be heard and seen.  We began our circle holding hands in a deeper knowing that regardless of feeling alone so often, we are never alone and we know each other, need each other and hold each other in deep respect and loving.  We honored our predecessors, we honored our stories and needs and we dreamed of what is to come.  In the end, the whole community rose to hold, support, and celebrate the vision we collectively create.

Join Oaks Counsel for one of various programs and nature-based healing practices, to live into the vision named and witnessed at this gathering.

Honoring the Ancestors, Bridging and Dancing in the Grass: A Pilgrimage to Dachau

Honoring the Ancestors, Bridging and Dancing in the Grass: A Pilgrimage to Dachau
by Michelle Katz

This month I found myself on a journey to Germany.  The trip consisted of two parts for me: a pilgrimage to Dachau and a gathering of 200 people across 23 different Countries that offer Rites-of-Passage to the world (More on this next week.)

The first two days were spent with a small group of rites-of-passage guides coming together to talk about our ancestors, to visit one of the most deplorable concentration camps in the time of Nazi Germany.  Dachau was one of the first camps established during the early 1930’s to imprison Jews, Jehovah’s witnesses, homosexuals and emigrant. It is the site where many SS guards were trained in methods of torture, tyranny and maltreatment. A site that was a model for all other concentration camps created in years to follow.

The small group gathered the night before the pilgrimage to Dachau. We shared stories about what we knew of our lineage and how we have all held this somber history of persecution, German descendants, Jewish descendants and everyone else, the whole world holds this tragic history.  As I sat in this circle, it hit me that I sat as the only Jewish person in this group.  I told my story of my grandparents, 2 surviving the camps, 1 surviving a prison, another marking this time with her family (including 7 children) in a small hole dug out of the earth.  I spoke about the deaths I knew of that lead to my grandfather remarrying my grandmother post war and giving birth to my father.  I spoke about how the holocaust in a large part is the reason my father and subsequently, I exist.  Thus, my relationship with this abysmal happening, is challenging to the say the least. I felt quiet, holding guilt and shame, fear and heartache.

The next day, we arrived at Dachau.  I set my intention: honoring and bridging.  Honoring my ancestors and something about the word “bridging” felt important though uncertain of what it was about yet.  To honor and bridge, I crossed the threshold into this silent solo walk on this landscape. 

I felt the loneliness hit me strongly.  I missed my family.  I wondered about my mom and dad and how they might have experienced this.  I walked on the grass, because I knew that my ancestors would have been shot if they did. It was my “Fuck You” statement to it all, though the stories of the men shot on this lawn was much more offensive than my private quiet defiance more than half a century later.  Stories that are etched in my heart, of the SS guard pulling the hat off a prisoner and throwing it on the grass ordering him to get it, knowing he would be shot if he defied the SS, but if he stepped on the grass the SS in the tower would shoot him anyway. Images craved in my minds-eye of my ancestors gray and devoid of life by alive standing being fences, while I looked upon incredible Oak trees just on the other side of the metal chain-link.

I stopped at the crematorium, I walked in each chamber, where people were taken to take off their clothing because they were told they would shower, to the room they were gassed, to the room where bodies lay lifeless before being moved onto a metal stretcher and shoved into stoves.  And then I stepped into the depth of the woods surrounding this site, where ashes of “thousands of unknown” are the foundation of the landscape.  Through the depth of the woods, where I saw the firing wall, the remnants of blood stains and echoes of screams and prayers unanswered.  I touched every oak tree standing tall and strong.  I walked to the memorial built at the far corner of the site, muttering the few Jewish prayers I knew, and sat there in the dark with a far off light coming through the roof.  A light at the end of a tunnel.  I sat at the bunkers and ate a bit of bread at each one, leaving crumbs for the ancestors.  (We were told not to eat onsite but this was another exclamation of “Fuck You, I will eat because my ancestors didn’t.”). I came to the bunkers in the back and read stories of those held and tortured there. Felt the power of reading one prisoner who shared my last name, his story and death.  I thought a lot about my life.  About what I’d be capable of in such circumstances. I wondered how my ancestors had such strength and will to live.  As I walked this walk, I noticed, I did not feel sad.  I actually did not feel anything.  I was depressed, in the truest sense, devoid of all feeling, unable to emote.  I wondered if this is what they felt. I craved so deeply to feel something.


The group came together and in silence we walked off in teams of two to share something about our experience with another.  My partner took me outside the camp walls to a field, and together we collected flowers, various wild flowers grew in an unkempt field just outside these walls.  I felt myself growing joyful. We took our bouquets, and soon came to the “Grave of Thousands of Unknown” where the ashes lay and grew a forest.  I lay my bouquet down and whispered, “I know you.”  The tears finally came, I was able to move toward healing.

The group gathered again for a finally ceremony on the land with honoring and prayers.

When we shared stories the next day.  The experiences not only become more solid and real in the sharing but more so, each story transformed into healing.  In the end, everything in me brought me up, out of my seat, to embrace this one German woman in particular, her story resonating with me deeply though language and lineage may have divided us, this connection and shared experience bridged any gaps in our stories, and provided profound healing, I believe, for everyone in the circle.

I walked away from this experience with lots of still present questions and thoughts; but mostly, from this dark place, I have come to believe the resilience of my ancestors was all toward a desire for life, for them and those that they would come after them.  Thus, I walk away resolute, from now on, to not only walk in the grass, but to dance in it! 

Honor ancestors, bridge in community, and join us in the discovery of how the dark places can inform who we are and what we do.  Oaks Counsel has various offering in Nature-based and Rites-of-Passage practices.


Making Things Real: Intention Setting and Storytelling

Making Things Real: Intention Setting and Storytelling 
by Michelle Katz

This week I returned from my annual Wilderness Quest.  It was the most difficult fast I have had yet, and hope to ever have.  The physical pain of this fast was immense and led me to actually to come down from the mountain a day earlier than anticipated.  It was a humbling and new experience for me.  And of course, despite it’s ordeal, I am awaken to it’s alignment with my intent.

I arrived on the land, a land I did not previously know, to find my spot for this initiation.  A rock that called to me was a 20-minute hike up from the basecamp and situated me close to my co-guide and co-quester’s spot in case anything happened.  The land was truly magical.  The mix of pine forest and desert related showed a juxtaposition that was awe-inspiring.  The mica dusted and quarts embedded granite rocks invited a looking in, through and at myself.  The view of the surrounding mountains offered a perspective of all directions and expansiveness of seeing.  The scent of Ponderosa was faint in the wind and told stories of those that do know this land well, the bears, mountain lion, coyote, elk and deer, finches, eagles, hawks.  And the bones and feathers left behind on the earth were the writings of these stories.

At the threshold crossing, I stepped in, speaking of an intention I was reluctant to declare.  “I need honest and conscious connection to myself and others.”  Admitting to myself that I need people and I need myself to show up fully with them.  And in the moving up the mountain slowly with my gear, my body already felt weak, just stepping into this.  I knew I was about to embark on something big.  And so the ceremony began and guided me to whatever I needed.  The ordeal was real, the message was loud and clear and heard immediately.  I began feeling more and more ill, and on the third morning, I woke and truly needed someone.  I blew my rescue whistle, in the honest and conscious connection to myself and in it’s true lesson of surrendering to my need and the need I have for other, I was assisted down the mountain.

After eating and some good company, I felt much better.  In that time we both held our own intention and stories personally and in deep reflection and integration of the experience.  And as the next morning came, it was time to do what always seems so hard: share the experience. 

No matter what, every time I return from questing, I think, “I have nothing to share” only then to ask, “how do I have much to tell about nothing at all?” 

I recall, after one Quest, speaking to Meredith Little, co-founder of the School of Lost Borders, where I did my training to be a Rite of Passage Guide, and telling her “that the most powerful element of this practice for me, is in the storytelling.   I often feel my life is nothing much, until I share the story with someone, then I come to realize just how Big my life is and can be.”  

After this Quest, I am again shown this profound yet simple and beautiful truth of the practice.  I marked the needing of others, regardless of how hard it can be to relate at times, as well as an authentic and trusting connection to myself.  And with the time on the land, I was shown the realness of my intent in a clear and firm way; from the truthful cries of the hawk circling above to the knowing of the woodpecker in it’s drumbeat and the showing up of the hummingbird and chipmunk as I needed them most, and, of course, to the showing up of the human being when I sent out my call for help.  And none of it felt real until I sat in circle to share that story and be seen for it through the acknowledgement of my community, for the lessons learned and the maturity met.  Now, I get to see how I live it in the world, carrying with me the knowledge that I am supported both by the land and the people.

Come share in this important practicewith Oaks Counsel.  Our initiation intensives for teens and adults starts in October, sign up for an experience that will mark a new you.  

Why do we do this?: Starving Ourselves to Live.

Why do we do this?: Starving Ourselves to Live. 
By Michelle Katz

As this posts, I will be into the first night of my annual Quest.  I write this in my preparation, which often brings up various questions, from what to pack and what is my intent, to why do I do this again?

I’ll be spending time on the land, having intentionally severed from an old way of being and in the liminal space before beginning a new.  I sit with no company, no food, and no shelter, being midwifed by the earth.  Uncomfortable, waiting, hungry, scared, and amazed, peaceful, accepting and open.  Trusting in the process.

As I pack and anticipate what’s coming, I wonder why the hell I do this and why would I ask others to do it too?  Why would I ever want this to be such a significant part of my life?

The short answer is to become better at dying and living.

When I taught The Psychology of Death and Dying, I spoke to my students about all the little “D” deaths in their lives and how they can live those in preparation for the big “D” Death to come.  In doing this, we can deeply know our human nature as we live our lives.  The little “D” deaths are present throughout our lives and reveal to us who we are in an ordeal, in the transition places, in the struggle out of the cocoon or through the vaginal canal, or into and through the tunnel, out to the unknown other side, so that we can fully step into our one precious life.  What if breaking up with someone was easier each time?  What if losing a loved one was met with acceptance?  What if changing careers created excitement rather than anxiety? 

This ceremony is big.  Marking a transition is not a new year’s resolution, which we live and break. This marking of the end of one way into another way of life, requires all of us to show up, required that we experience the ordeal and find a way through, requires that we grow, we listen, we respond, we learn about the unknown and know within each of us.  And it challenges us to live into what we mark, for years to come, this is no stopping the way this ceremony reverberates into our souls.

Another reason why, is the daily headlines.  I look at the rates of suicide and suicidal ideation, the use of drugs and alcohol and other additions, the alarming number of depression and anxiety diagnosis.  We are more anxious because we have lost the ability to connect to our playfulness and spirit.  We are more depressed because we cannot see we have gifts to offer this world or we do not know how to offer these gifts.  We use drugs and alcohol because we are deeply seeking spiritual and higher spirit experiences but don’t know how to know this place inside of us (it is no coincidence that these things are often referred to as “spirits” and getting “high”).  We use other addictions because we fear going deeper into dark uncomfortable places, so we turn to distractions.  And we want to kill ourselves and actually do so because something in us needs to die, there is wisdom in this process of letting go, the trouble is that we do this literally because yet we have forgotten that what is truly needed is a metaphoric death, not an actual one. I shudder at the knowing of how many lives we lose because this practice of dying into life, because rites-of-passage, is lost.

I also do this because I want to know what moves me. I can best know this, by dropping into where I currently am and by looking out into the natural world in order to see what is inside of me.  Then I can notice how I move around the wheel: Is it the rock digging into my back that has me shift my perspective? Is it the rain that has me seek shelter? Is it the sun that burns my skin begging me to find a tree for shade? Is it the wind that blows my tarp in ways that make me wrestle with it and myself?  Is it all those things?  And can I live into the metaphor of nature mirroring my experience of life?  Can I sit with myself as I am ushered into the world anew, in all the discomfort and with a greater knowing of my human nature, humbly, respectfully and with strength and understanding?  The answer when I return to base camp, withmy first deep breath and warm greetings of joy and hugs from my community, is always, “Yes, now I am ready to live again.”  And that is why I do this, starving myself to grow hungry to live!

Join Oaks Counsel in the experience of dying into life.  Check out our upcoming Day Quests, and some of out Intensive programs (which includes Quest experiences).

The Eclipse as a Mirror of Conflict: Internal, Interpersonal and Global

Photography by Jeremy Knotts

Photography by Jeremy Knotts

The Eclipse as a Mirror of Conflict: 
Internal, Interpersonal and Global 
by Michelle Katz

There is nothing like an eclipse season to bring up a reflection of contrast and conflict.  The energetic, experiential and visual dramatic meeting of two seemingly opposites sides in drastic juxtaposition with each other. 

It is in this that I cannot help but think about the ways conflict can be approached.  Can it be a battle or create more intimacy?  Be it inner conflict, interpersonal conflict or global conflict, what is the process one chooses to approach this particularly natural happening in our lives?

As I watched the eclipse this week, I could not help but be in awe of its way of meeting.  Dark and light, day and night coming together.  I almost felt as if I was seeing something far too intimate and otherworldly for me to witness as a human being. 

So, I began to feel the eclipse inside of me and bring it back to the human experience, as I sit in the reflection of how nature mirrors us and how we mirror nature.

Let us look at inner conflict first.  It can take so many forms: shame, doubt, judgment, the battle of the ego not wishing to be humbled.  We live in a culture that is focused on “be happy” which leaves us in utter conflict when these inner experiences arise and we are simply and irrevocably not happy.  There are many ways to face this inner turmoil.  Some may want to step away from this painful experience, focus more of the pleasure and positive elements of life.  Asking, what can I do for relief from this inner experience.  We may find ourselves focusing on outward tasks: cooking, work, relying on relationships to regulate us.  Another option may be to sit with it, stay, feel it fully though, emotional expression, writing or art, or long internal dialogues on nature walks.  Perhaps asking ourselves, what is so uncomfortable about this, what are the triggers that led me here, how can I experience this in a way that provides some nurturing growth for my future.  This way truly requires a willingness to be uncomfortable, terribly, terribly, uncomfortable without knowing when it may end or how it could possibly be resolved within ourselves.

Then let us look at how we do conflict on an interpersonal level.  It is easy to see dichotomy in interpersonal conflict dynamics.  Each person will like vehemently defend their way of seeing things.  It is in interpersonal relationship that we truly come to see our patterns with conflict.  We can have the experience of wishing that our interpersonal relationship is all light and loving, but the fact is that we are drawn to people who, at one point or another, trigger us.  Leaving us to question our ability to be loved and show us how we each hold a different way of being in the world, and the one we love holds it in a way we are not able to own and honor in ourselves.  When in conflict interpersonally, a stubbornness can easily arise.  And how we want to move into this is key to our way with conflict.  We can ignore and push though, again focusing on distractions or pleasure seeking.  Or we can choose to move in.  If we choose to move in, we choose to get really messy with each other.  We are then choosing to ask big questions: is this worth it, am I willing to experience myself differently, am I willing to be really terribly uncomfortable in order to find my/our way through and out of this toward some greater growth and understanding?  Am I willing to do what’s easy or what’s challenging?  Am I willing to get ugly and wild and awful and still find a way or a willingness to be loved in it, through it, for it.  Am I willing to choose connection and learning toward a compassionate end?  Or do I want to walk away because it is no longer fulfilling?  Is it about who win or losses or is it about discovering an alternative that’s not easily seen or revealed?  Mostly, am I willing to be transformed by this conflict?  Find the intimacy, when shadow overlaps the bright sunlight?

Now, let us look at the global conflict.  Todays news, the headlines: Conflict between countries, or world leaders, conflict within countries, conflict between peoples of different beliefs or cultures or race, conflict of climate, the conflict does not seem to cease on this global level.  And so, it reveals how each of us meets contracting energies.  Do we look the other way?  Do offer a blanket statement “we see the world differently” or “it’s both sides that are wrong”?  Do we fight with words of constant protest or loaded threats without true outcome?  Do we take drastic actions, running people over with violent intent?  Or we sit with each other, and look at values and needs, as Marshal Rosenberg so graciously advises in his study and practice of non-violent communication.  Do we rage and stay in opposition or find a way through?  Do we choose to rely on ego and stubbornness or understanding and growth?  Do we stumble through incredible discomfort, owing the ugly way we can be and the blindness we can practice? Only to eventually begin to turn toward each other in conscious ways of communication and seeing, toward creating a once unforeseen resolution?  What need is being met? Or not met?  What values do we have in common?  How can everyone be seen and heard and felt and compassionately open up? How is the sun and the moon more similar than different?

This reveals to me the ways we practice our human nature.  We naturally go around and around the medicine wheel.  We feel the depths of emotion, we tantrum and argue or we aim to distract and see what we want to see in pleasure seeing proclivity.  We then move into an introspective place with the conflict, asking: who am I in this?  Reviewing the conflict and taking it into the depths of our soul, requiring us to sit in the darkness with it for the duration until something bright reveals itself.  Then we can move forward and bring perspective and truly come to see ourselves and the other with what we mutually have to give in the way of growing and relating.  And then, only then, can we find the transformation place in all this conflict, that bright light that comes to contact with that dark place we sat in for so long.  Only then, do we know a new way of being.

In our western culture, we often stuck in the first two stages of the wheel, vacillating between pleasure seeking or drastic emotional reactions and the deep introspective meeting the dark places and then back to pleasure seeking and drastic emotions.  We rarely choose to navigate our way though the dark toward a greater seeing of one another and a transformation that can alter us, our relationships and the world we live in.  The navigating through is where initiation happens.  It is the invitation to not remain in a sole state but rather move into a soul state.

How do you do conflict?  Step into a world of courageous movement around the wheel, get unstuck, with Oaks Counsel.  Learn more about this simple and profoundly intimate way of navigation in our world.

Grief Needs Witness, Grief Needs Nature

Photography by Guu

Photography by Guu

Grief Needs Witness, Grief Needs Nature by Michelle Katz

The last two weeks I held such deep sorrow and grief.

The first few days, I found the desire to remain stoic in my enduring of it, knowing it as a familiar companion that can take a hold of me.  In my alone moments, I wouldn’t quiet let it in, and I found work to distract me from it.

But it was in the witnessing that I could no longer hide what was so truly inside me.  Once I sat in place to be seen and heard by others, my stoicism released.  It was what was needed, as it led me beyond my ego and it instantly became ceremony.  The grief was wild, it came alive, in the witnessing: in class, at the yoga studio, in the arms of my friend, in the company of a friend on the other side of the phone waves.  No words exchanged.  None needed.  I just wailed with tears of grief, and cries of anger.  And it did not stop, it continued on in waves. In feeling the presence of a person who was truly with me, I released all of who I think I am, and allowed what I keep in the shadow to arise.  Seen in my mess, in my rolling on the floor, in my curling up in ball, in the running nose and puffy eyes, in the yelling, screaming, throwing of things, in the scrunched up red face that could not contain the depths of this, despite it’s feeble attempts, in the primal eruptions that echoed on earth and was an echo of earth within me.

Francis Weller speaks on the need for communally honoring of the living in the ritual of grief, with grief as a way of deepening into relationship with soul. He speaks of gathering together, to hear each other mourn, weep, wail and cry our in pain, all in order for healing to begin.  In the recognizing of grief in ourselves and other, we see all of humanity and the earth.  For in grief, comes parts of ourselves we often believe cannot be loved: our anger, our sensitivity, our power, our depression, anxiety or addition, in grief it all arise to be seen and loved.  We call to attention something big and important within us that needs awareness, that needs witness so that we find healing, into our humanity.  We live into the unlived life. 

Grief drops us down to the earth, to the dark soil, reminding us of our inevitable return to the earth.  It shakes the foundations we stand on, leaving us no choice but to fall, fall to the earth, be close to the thing that knows dying well, that know of the coming and going of all living beings.

After my community witnessed me, the earth held me.  First on my back, wind taken out of me, clouds passing, change forms, evaporating.  Birds flying passed.  Insects landing and absorbing what they have taken from my flesh.  Then on my side, curled up, drawing circles and boxes in the sand. Each spec of sand, seen clearly, as a microcosm, of each human in grief on this earth.   Feeling particles fall off my skin in their time.  Then on my belly, with heart and womb to the earth.  I am beating into earth, earth beating into me.  Grief brings one back to the pace of the earth.  We can slow way down, in time, body, thoughts.

We so often loose connection to nature and our own human nature when we move through our day-to-day lives.  Grief gives us no choice but to return to nature.  And once we do, we come to not only grief the loss that brought us here, but the loss of this connection we have been missing and too easily forget.   There is no greater witness than the earth in these times of sorrow.  She accepts without any expectation, she acknowledges and offers needed reflection.

In grief we know what matters, we know of deep loving, our own worthiness of being on this earth and our authentic humanity.  In grief we are welcomed into the depth of living by learning of dying.  Grief teachers us  how to meet death, each one shows us how to die and with each turn of this meeting, how to die better than the last time.  How we meet these ends reveal our meeting of passages, our rite to what is next (in all it's unknowns), our rite to this human experience.  We cannot do this without grieving.

People use to ask me or comment about my big smile , how am I always happy?  I replied: my sorrow is equally as big.  For those of you who know these two sides of me well, thank you for baring witness to all of me.  And for those of you who do not yet know these sides of me and these side of yourself, I invite you to take a seat at the table, and let’s get real together.  For our grief, in experiencing all the deaths we experience in our lives, will move us, if we choose to meet it in our fullness.  I'll witness you, if you witness me in our human nature.

Be witnessed and with earth in all the deaths of life with Oaks Counsel.

Dead Bird

Dead Bird by Michelle Katz

I have seen you a couple time before,
Thinking, I need not do a thing,
nature knows it's way.

Yet, having just emerged from my own laying on the land,
in an experience of a death,
This time, I stop, in resonance.

And I see you now.
Your weightless bone foundation,
your fresh flesh,
your fine feathers.
Beautifully exposed to sun and eye.
I wonder, what has left you?

I take a white rock,
dig into earth,
not deep, just below the surface,
to the wet sand,
after the long rain.

I lift and carry and lower you down.
Feet down,
no longer meeting this end on your back.

I cover you with prayer, 
stone setting, 
and flower.

The eulogy is left to me.

I do not know what led to your death.
I can imagine the life you led,
and I honor the gifts I am sure you brought.

It seems unusual, your death,
in this time at this place.
With no tree to have fallen from,
no signs of being caught and dragged.
Much like my own loss, 
I cannot find the reason for this end.

The earth seems to beat and breath
where you once lay,
faceless creatures wishing for more of you,
communities disperse, wandering in all directions.
Grabbing for and wanting something that is no longer there.
So many, so much lost without your presence.

All death, beckons a ceremony
as the grief takes us underground.




Morning Monsoon Medicine Walk

Morning Monsoon Medicine Walk by Michelle Katz

Entering the canyon,
Seeing all that’s changed in a place I have not visited for awhile.
Recalling places of deep connection yet long departures.

Marking the end of disassociation.
The beginning of reconnecting to myself.
Severing from, a world of distractions,
Inviting in, a slowing down.

Intentional relationship,
A yellow butterfly and I
Taking turns on guiding.
The sound of an owl or coyote or dove mimicking the call of the flute,
I miss playing.

Rock and juniper play here together well.
An avalanche occurred
and while all adjust, I marvel
at the way the canyon wall seemed to just let go of this mass.

The ceremony is in me.

Rain meets the desert in a sweet way.
I step into earth’s clay, play.
Feeling the connection
in-between my toes
and fingers, lathering water and sand in.
Making handprints that won’t last.

The clay drops off but the earth remains.
Clay shoes I put on and lose again and again.
Geckos, centipede, butterflies,
We all want to be in the remnants of  
Water ways
That lead to the Great River.

What happens when I avoid the shadow?
Even as I sit in it.
Has it hit me so hard in the past?
Am I no longer willing to relate?
The ants bite my clay-covered toes.

I feel the generations.
Every one learning from the last.
Every one criticizing the next.
Everyone wanting better for those they love.

What place do we have
to place our understanding of happiness on another?
Can we all be right and wrong simultaneously?

Happily chasing lizards we never catch
Returning to rest.
The primal instinctual beauty of love and loyalty.

The juniper roots are twisted,
And the branches offer much needed shade.
And the Canyon that holds them is vast, alive, brightly warm and complex.

The rock pillars at the top are not my aim;
It’s the getting through with clay shoes
I lose and make,
again and again.

Living the Wheel

Photograph by Laurie Zuckerman

Photograph by Laurie Zuckerman

Living the Wheel written by Michelle Katz

“If there were a measure of ‘mental health,’ it would involve the ability of individuals to grow into the fullness of each season—this is, the ability to fully become, or enact, the contents of each shield.”-Steven Foster and Meredith Little

As I go through my day, month, year, life, I ask myself where am I? Not in physical space, not even in mental space, but in the space of human nature. 

How many of us have felt unbalanced? 

Think of times when all you did was play, the semester of high school or college that you were focused more on socializing and parties than meeting responsibilities. Recall a time in your life where work took over all priorities, “I just need to finish this project and then I will be okay, only then will I be able to pay more attention to my family or friends or personal health.”  Was there a stage of life when it was hard to see who you are through the struggles you were experiencing, times of shame or regret or not knowing, times when all you can do is wait?  And can you think of a time that was almost too good to be true, as if you were living on a different worldly plane, a time of such ecstasy it was hard to see who you really are in all the mystical bliss.

Living in one of these places over a longer duration of time may mean there is some imbalance in your life.  These are signs of experiencing an exaggerated shield.

We are all vulnerable to this. In fact, most of us have our proclivity to a shield. I tend to live in the west and north shields, I tend toward asking big questions of introspection that lead me to dark places and I can be overly focused on my work that can leave me feeling more alone than I really am. American Culture generally lives in the south and west shield, involved in our distractions and pleasures and ever questioning our changing or unknown identity. Those who we know that have devoted their lives to work, live in the north shield, and those who are committed to spiritual practices would have an inclination for the east shield.

The practice of the Four Shields Model, invites us to look at where we are and how we are experiencing our human nature while offering us the significant truth of what we naturally do: move.  We are never stuck, it our nature to change as the seasons do.  And even more, in any given time, we are having one experience of a shield, on top of another experience of a shield, on top of another and another.  I can be the west shield phase of my life, while living a very north shield day, and experiencing a very east shield hour.  And we keep going around the circle.  That is the balance. This is living our human nature. This is growing into the fullness of each season. This is mental health.

Learn more about the experience of living the medicine wheel with Oaks Counsel at our first 2017 Day Quest experience introducing the Four Shields Model.


Recent Travels Around the Medicine Wheel


Travel has a way of stretching, teaching and taking us out of our comfort zones.  Of course, staying home and doing our practices offer us a certain opportunity to grow; yet travel propels us in this process exponentially.  My recent travels have revealed a number of important elements that I will never forget.

Here is the story of how I moved through the medicine wheel in my travels.

I begin with the knowing that at this stage in my life, it is difficult to leave behind the life I have created: my house, my dog, my job, my community.  It is even difficult to find the time to plan a trip: flights, accommodations, activities. 

Before I departed, I watched as I grew anxious about my responsibilities, how would I get everything done before I left, let alone plan for my travels and what I would do when away.  It was a great threshold to cross, offering a rites of passage practice of leaving behind and starting a new.  Two weeks prior to the trip I focused on completing unfinished business, and sensing that the trip itself was some abyss of unknown.  It certainly felt like a practice in dying.  And in it, the lesson that I must rely on others to complete things I could not, to let go of some self-importance and allow others to care for me in some ways.  Thus, I was propelled into the medicine wheel.

I had to rely on co-workers to hold projects that I was in the middle of, and I had to trust that they would take it on.  I had to trust my dog sitter to watch over the being I care for dearly and manage all her little peccadillos .  I had to trust my travel companion to manage much of the planning, as I could not. The south shield of the wheel is about this attachment and connection to others as they aid in my existence.

And around the wheel I went.  Landing in a strange country, learning how to be and talk in this new experience of the world.  Learning by watching, practicing ways to listen and speak differently, move through the world differently, feeling my body scream with discomfort at times. When finally establishing some grounding, I created my itinerary, looked into what I wanted to do and made a plan.  And into the west shield of the wheel I went, as plans did not work out, propelling me into learning more about my inner landscape in moments of disappointment and struggle.

It is here, in these dark spaces, that I also found great allies in the natural world.  My connection to animals: birds, dogs, elephants, monkeys, showing up when I needed them to. Each telling me stories of abandonment, of living in community, of being of service and patience and moving toward what was needed.  Offering wisdom that allowed me to move forward and take on the next step: apologizing, getting back on the bike, stepping into the next unknown, waiting for the answer to come, being rather than doing.  The north shield offers me this perspective.

This story feels pertinent to share: I was experiencing sea sickness on a boat.  It began with a growing nausea but then someone opened the lid of a nearby trashcan and I heard myself yell “No!” with a strength I didn’t know was in me, at least not in any public realms.  I began to place things on the trash lid prepared to seriously injure or scream at whoever would open the lid again.  Then, despite any efforts to remain well, I proceeded to shake, get clammy, and vomit into my small plastic bag.  It's been a long while since I have done this, and in it all, I felt wildly conscious of the power of this experience of myself.  I was incredibly present and my sound could only be related to that of a lioness protecting her pride, it echoed across the boat.  I was heard and seen and felt, though my usual would be to be quiet and hidden in such a situation. The niceties of who I was dropped and a part of me I usually keep private revealed itself.  With it came this gift of knowing my strength and power to be in the world. What was dark and shadowy moved into the north shield, bringing what is learned in struggle into the light as a gift and what is needed for me to show up.

Daily, I walked into the transformation place of the east shield.  All along the way, I saw the practice of alters.  Incense and candles lit, figures of Buddha or Shiva adorned with scented elaborate flower arrangements.  Every day, these alters were visited and attended to.  And every day, I found the practice beautiful and significant.  Everywhere I turned I saw the spiritual present.  Every greeting was a blessing and prayer of seeing and inviting in the place within.  It is so simple yet incredibly transformational.  Most of all, this practice is what I will take home with me.  Living ceremony every day, honoring that the spiritual is essential and present in all areas of life.

I return home now, forever changed by this turning of the wheel inside me.  I cross the threshold back to my life I once feared leaving, grateful that I did, bringing back the gifts that are now a part of me.  And now, the next experience of the cycle comes: I am different and the world does not yet know it.

How do you travel through the wheel?  Explore your medicine wheel journeys with Oaks Counsel!

Ceremony with Shadow

The solstice came and went.  And with it we welcome the days beginning to turn dark again, thus I find myself contemplating darkness and curious of the shadow.  The summers so often show us the light of things, though one thing is certain; there is an equal amount of shadow as there is light in all things. 

When it comes to the darkness in us, we generally don’t own it, yet it comes out eventually calling our attention.  Often we hate when it rears its head; and equally as often, it takes us by surprise, especially when in the form of utter admiration.  I’d like to posit a new relationship to shadow, one of seeing.  Because, in actuality, the shadow is great!  It’s a very integral part of our human nature. 

Here is why.  If we consciously called out the shadow in us, I imagine it would be like this:  People would know themselves!  We would experience the metaphoric death of who we think we are and step into more and more truth in each new encounter with this darker side of ourselves.  And in this place of meeting this hidden friend, we can uncover our gift to the world!  What we can and are meant to offer our community comes with this deeper knowing of our shadow.  Thus, in owning our shadow we are more connected to ourselves and the world around us. Peter Pan teachers us this, as when he finally catches his shadow, we see he is able to fully engage with the world outside of Neverland and he is able to see very real parts of himself that are forgotten in his other world, namely his boyhood and what makes him magical.

So, How the heck can we do this?

It begins with growing awareness about what we are projecting on to others: what do you find yourself hating or loving in friends, partners, co-workers, even pets?  What qualities create these high emotional states of aversion and attraction?    Then, we take the time to know this part in ourselves, courageously and consciously.  This could be through art, creativity, suspended disbelief, and ceremony. 

Draw, tell a story, dance, burn, bury.  The psyche responds to symbolic emotional experiences just a much, or even more, than actual events.

Just the other week, I have noticed how I project my shadow, because I do not wish to own these things in me, and then I watch the ways I hide these qualities from the world.  This is a great disservice.  Can we really afford to this to each other? To ourselves?

My task now is to own these parts of myself, so no one else needs to.  I recognize it is no small challenge.  This includes deeply knowing qualities that are heroic and appalling.  It can be vulnerable, revealing, uncomfortable, regretful and shameful. Regardless if the projections are glowing or adverse, we must ask ourselves what right do we have to project our shadow onto anyone? 

Shadow offers an opportunity for a greater knowing and realization of who we are, so that all parts of us can show up.  Parts of self that have long been cut off and kept in quiet dark caverns believed to be not acceptable. 

Shadow catches up to us, as it always does. Behind seemingly bad life events, lies a gift of what is so precious about who we essentially are and can possibly do.

This is an initiation experience.  As we know our shadows, we know ourselves, as we know ourselves we step into our maturity, and our shadow introduces us to a part that is essential to the whole of who we are.  The most beautiful parts of ourselves lie these dark places.  Think of gold in dark caverns of earth. 

Nature teaches us this most admirably, as all nature lives in polarity of light and dark, creation and destruction, up and down, male and female.  This is the same in our psychological structure.  With time in nature, we can begin to see and find the mirrors of our polarities, remembering who we were before we learned to divide ourselves for cultural acceptance.  Nature accepts us unconditionally, we can own the shadow within and share it with the world in truth, we can become more balanced in the knowing of polarities.

Check out Oaks Counsel programs and offerings that invite you to create ceremony with your shadow! 

More Than You Think You Know

Photograph by Danny Thompson

Photograph by Danny Thompson

Do you ever feel like you were meant for more than what you are currently doing in life?  Did you ever notice how people have a hard time with change and life transition?  Do you ever wonder what could possibly make these experiences more approachable?

The unsettling feeling that something more is calling you can be strange and is often ignored.  Is there a sense of purpose and enjoyment in your daily tasks?  Many of us find our routines monotonous, from the way we get coffee and brush our teeth each morning to the way we interact with co-workers, family and friends, all the way to how we get ready for bed.  We have our reasons for these routines, making money to support ourselves and others, staying awake, finding comfort.  But do these routines provide you with something more, something special, something that reveals a hint of your unique purpose in our world? 

Often times I can recall a youthful moment in which I dreamed, or even knew, I’d change the world somehow.  It was hard to hold this knowing as I continued to grow.  Life lessons, lessen the knowing and enthusiasm of being a change agent.  Attempts and letdowns have us finding ways of making life work rather than moving with purpose in our lives.  But, where does this go?  And can it return to us, be of value to us, reveal our truth to us?  We may not know what is calling us now, because we change and what calls us changes.  And I believe that that youthful moment still lives in all of us if we are willing to discover and connect to the call.

As for change, I think we can all relate to feelings of resisting change, experiencing clenching in our bodies, or creating the reasons not to make big moves. Changes can disrupt our lives and leave us feeling un-easy in unpredictability.  Ambiguity is uncomfortable. However, discomfort, more often than not, invites us to grow.  Think of the big life phases that stimulate discomfort in the unknown: moving away from home for the first time, getting married, becoming a parent, changing your career and risking it all do so, stepping into separation or divorce, no longer identifying as a parent, leaving the working world, leaving the world (terminal illness or facing death).  Having lived through any of these, would you ever wish you hadn’t? All these experiences ask us to sever from all we know, from ways we have come to define ourselves, and invites us to step into something really different.

How well do you do this?  Do you find yourself spiraling into dark places, shame or doubt or guilt?  Do you find yourself moving through it quickly, ripping off a band-aid and walking on, not taking time to notice the mark of the former experience? Do you seek ways for someone else to give you the answers? Do you drink too much, eat a lot or too little, grow angry easily, feel too distracted to manage day-to-day tasks?  What if we all had the ability to move through transitions in a way that reflects our maturity?

Though, everyone is different and approaches situations differently, there a number of components that I believe can help almost everyone:  Nature, Community, and Ceremony.  Nature, because it offers us acceptance no matter what, the lesson of learning and adapting to constant change (among many other lessons), and the pace of returning to our nature/truth.  Community, because it allows us to be seen, heard, valued in our experiences and it holds us to growing into who we are.  And Ceremony, because the psyche needs markers, needs time to recognize the end of one way, hold sacred the time of the in-between and of emerging, and the celebration and acknowledgement of beginning a new way.

Some people may think Oaks Counsel is a program that connects people with nature, maybe putting it in a category of “shamanism” or alternative healing, but it’s more than you may think; just as you are more than you think you know.

Oaks Counsel is about you! It’s about you grounding yourself in the discovery who you are and what you offer this world.   Check out what you are capable off through our programs and offerings.

Feedback Amiably (Not Failing Miserably)

This week, I have felt particularly aware of shortcomings.  I noticed the ways in which what I expected of myself and what I believe others expected of me was not being met.  I then acknowledged that I have had many changes occurring all at once.  While facing them I notice this belief that “I should be able to hold my many transitions and everything I usually do, and I should be able to hold it all well,”  as if the transitions aren’t even happening!  This is the expectation of business as usual.  I notice this as a theme:  Climate change, the expectation is keep paying for gas and go to work: business as usual.  Loss of a loved one, the expectation is to return to work quickly, business as usual.  Relationship struggles or Questioning who we are, expectation is to carry on being responsible regardless, business as usual.  As a society, we tend to focus on prosperity, economic growth, success.  These are not bad things in and of themselves, though they do narrow us and thus contribute to neglecting our wider human nature.

Joanna Macy, author and environmental activist and Buddhist, speaks of Business as Usual in a way that assumes there is little we need to change about the way we live.  And this contributes to what she terms the Great Unraveling.  Meanwhile, holding both business as usual and the great unraveling, allows a new and creative response to emerge, what she calls The Great Turning. The Great Turning is seen as humans sit in transition, for example the transition of an industrial and economically focused society toward a life sustaining one, committed to healing and recovery of Self and the world we are a part of. 

If we practice business as usual or great unraveling thinking, we will know if it’s working for us based on how we feel in the doing of it, and if it isn’t feeling right, this is feedback for what could potentially emerge as a new way of being.

This week I watched my business as usual practice, my unraveling practice and despite how miserable I felt and the sense of failure that crept in, the feedback is rich and helpful. 

There are 5 major stressors that contribute to changes in life: Death, Divorce, Job Change, Moving, Illness.  Most recently, I have had experienced half of these things happening simultaneously.  And I have felt the call of Business as Usual.  And it didn’t work.  I felt awful. It seemed like there was nothing I can do to stop the unraveling that came.  It was out of my hands.  I didn’t have the capacity to hold it all.  Who I thought I was, and how I wished to portray myself, quickly revealed itself to be inaccurate. The truth is: I goofed this week, silly goofs, like sending out the wrong new address to friends, thus sending them to travel all over the city; I showed up tired, frantic, and careless at times; sometimes I had difficulty moving or being unable to articulate myself well; I kept finding myself late to meetings, and my usual self-care practices just weren’t cutting it. The Feedback: when I try to do business as usual in the face of big transitions, it doesn’t feel good.  I need to slow down and acknowledge the changes in my life.

Transitions need reflection time. Time to build an understanding and grow.  Transitions invite us to find a new balance in times when the old way of being are teetering. Self-generated ceremony, community, nature, story-telling, help us create space in these times of change and show us a new way.  Create time for reflection in times of transition, to change the business as usual thinking into something life-sustaining and healing, check out Oaks Counsel’s programs and offerings!

Mental Health and the Medicine Wheel

I feel anxious.  The last two weeks have been overwhelming and busy for me and I notice that my head goes wild when there is a lot on my plate. I feel incredibly stuck in my thoughts.  But everyday, I walk out onto the land.  I watch the sunset over the vast mountainous landscape.  I put my feet in sand.  And I say some prayers.  In this experience, I recall times of great anxiety in my life: sleepless nights, the desire to do and the discomfort of waiting, the unsettled gut feeling, my appetite being altered, etc.  It became part of an internal conversation, asking, what could possible help me not feel this way?  Therapy?  Medication?  How can I seize this discomfort?  And this is not the only type of incident stimulating this inner dialogue.  I think of life phase experiences that stimulated feelings and actions of depression, avoidance, drug/alcohol use or pleasure seeking and even moments of being immersed in spirituality that can feel ungrounded.

When I was therapist, and even now as a Guide, I have had many clients/participants with stories of diagnosis.  Declaring these labels as part of their identity.  “I’m depressed.”  “It’s because of my ADHD.”  “I’m too anxious do that.”  Are diagnoses made into excuses for behaviors?

This breaks my heart.

The mental health system seems to be limiting people!  Don’t get me wrong, I am a firm believer in therapy and the benefits of this important work, and I know of the benefits of medication (used well) as a tool to support people in experiencing their best self when struggling with these big feelings.

I think we can all agree that the medical model, adapted by the mental health world, is one that is a straight line.  Problem/symptom to diagnosis/treatment.  I acknowledge the benefits of this model while also wanting to offer a big YES, AND…(it’s not a no/but/or) there is another model too!

The medicine wheel offers a different view, a circle.  Within the wheel, you can find pleasure seeking, addiction, depression, anxiety, ungrounded thinking, noting that these are all part of the larger human experience! And these are deeply connected and coupled with playfulness, body-connection, deep introspection, insight, self-discovery of core gifts, planning and giving to the community, and connection to something bigger than ourselves.  In this understanding of experience, we are never stuck; we go around and around constantly, in an hour, a day, week, month, year and life: a cycle, on a cycle, on a cycle simultaneously moving in you.  And if you feel stuck there are things you can do to move you.  If you don’t want to do these things, it is in your nature to move around the wheel whether you initiate it or not.  It’s all okay.  It invites you to be you, in your natural pace, in connection to your nature. 

It may be wild to think this, but these experiences are human nature!  And an important part of balancing all parts of Self.  Most of all, this model suggest these are not labels you wear as your identity but rather elements of being human that you integrate into who you are and how you can live your purpose.

I invited you to learn, play, dance, live, and experience the wheel in your life, feel your human nature with Oaks Counsel!