A Prescription for All Addictions

Photo credit: @hablachicho . (Thank you Chicho!)

Photo credit: @hablachicho . (Thank you Chicho!)

A Prescription for All Addictions
by Michelle Katz

We all have at least one.  Maybe it’s one of the healthy ones like running, cycling or yoga.  Or maybe it’s the cravings for cheese (which is related to opioids), potato chips (pointing the finger at myself), or the call for coffee.  Maybe it’s one of the more problematic ones: drugs, alcohol, gambling, sex or work.  

Addictions are a human experience. This article is not only to those who are actively in treatment or living recovery, but to all those who are highly functioning with their addiction too.  At times, life is hard and we need things that feel good to us. Addiction is often stigmatized and avoided as an issue that needs our attention. It is clear to me that we fall into these practices to cope with the hard times because we are ultimately not getting something essential we need.

For me, stages of life have revealed many addictive patterns: first perfectionism, then potato chips (really), I am always struggling with being a workaholic, and the one I seem to really struggle with right now is TV. As a millennial and product of immigrant parents who were workaholics in order to make ends meet and support our family, I often found myself home alone propped in front of the TV.  This offer some sort of solace as I was waiting for mom and dad to come home, soothing the feeling of not being with my parents, and it would zone me and my brother out so we wouldn’t fight. Now, when I find that challenging moment of crossing over that threshold between alone (which I love and relish being in) and loneliness, I find that I so deeply want to turn on the TV. This was easy in my 20’s when I didn’t have a TV but with the advent and ease of Netflix, watching TV is all to easy, I don’t even need to be watching it, the familiar voices of old familiar characters in the background is enough.

I have faced the other addictions in my life, with much diligence, attention, and consciousness, while learning about the beauty of moderation of all things, including moderation itself. I eat less potato chips, I let go of being perfect if not every day, every hour.  And I take necessary breaks from work and participate in a more balanced life. Yet, still when things are difficult, all these arise again and again and I meet them the best I can. The TV one will be no different. In this, I also feel acutely aware of the growing addiction to technology in our culture, the dopamine and serotonin hits of illuminated screens and social media likes, screams out that something essential is missing in our lives. Yes, we are virtually connected, but more utterly alone than ever in human history.

Interestingly, I also find that I seem to partner up with men who show me the drug, alcohol, sex or work addiction, or some combination of them all. All of these people have been highly intelligent and good people with so much vibrance. They have well developed brains, maybe causing some anxiety, and in that, they have found ways to cope with their highly active brains being “on” all the time. I really get it and see it as a way that it makes us all more interesting people. I may even go as wildly far to say, addictions somehow contribute to the depth of each individual's’ personality and character.

Whenever something is over exaggerated then we are experiencing an imbalance, and we can hopefully come to realize whatever we are addicted to is beyond our control.  Working with addiction, seems likely related to the imbalance that has to do with: a lack of depth or meaning, a lack of connection or love, a lack of an experience of spirituality in life, or a lack of play (particularly in the life of a workaholic).  All these things really excite me! Imagine if we could invite more of these elements into our lives to heal our addictions! That feels incredibly worthwhile!

This week a friend asked me, “What does Oaks Counsel do for those struggling with addictions?”  

Nature connection!  Today I walked out onto the land, a storm on its way, and the snow on the ground had melted through the week, leaving patches of revealed earth here and there and a dusting of dirt on the once white polished snow. I walked the path, up and down slipping at times, crunching or sinking in other moments. Then the rain came (wishing it was snow). I could not help but admire the trees of the landscape. They withstand all things, winter storms, rain, flooding, heat waves in the summer. They just stay still with all the changes. They don’t turn to technology or food or alcohol. It’s not even in their artillery of choice. They just stay. They just see it all through. Seeing nature as a mirror, I wondered, what it would be like if humans had this as their only choice as well, in the ups and downs and weathering of life when it gets slippery and sticky, when we want to turn to our addictive coping, what if we looked to the trees as a model for what to do and stayed with that uncomfortable feeling.

As a therapist, clients struggling with any addiction issues tended to be my favorite to work with.  The reason for this is that I truly believe these are the people who are really the seekers of something bigger in their life. They are experiencing a call to that something bigger but they lack a clear path to get there, so they have turned to other things to ease the pain of the absence of this, this thing that more often than not, does not have a clear name. From what I have seen, it is the lack of meaning, love and connection, spirit or play. Nature and Oaks Counsel helps us connect to these much lacking and longed for pieces of life.

Meaning. (This is a big one for workaholics who falsely find meaning in their doing rather than their being of who they are.) For addicts, time in nature not only helps them get away from situations that perpetuate the addiction (offering time to slow down to the pace of nature, thus giving them more time to respond rather than react to a craving) but also helps individuals gain a sense of meaning, life, spirit and play. Oaks Counsel is perpetually positing the question of “Who am I?”  The Big Rite of Passage Question. Solo time in nature helps us sit with this question and see what arises within us, in a place that is balancing. Nature offers us balance, nothing is in the wrong place out there, and we learn that neither are we. We are utterly and completely accepted as we are and for all we have to offer the world, through the nature’s lens. No blade of grass is in the wrong place, as the Buddha said. So when asked, who am I? We can hold this in silence and contemplation and know that what arises is right.

Love and Connection. (A big one for sex addicts who rely on the fleeting physical experience when they cannot tap into this not so tangible consistent feeling. Also a big one for technology addicts, who rely on “likes” and wifi connection to meet this basic human need.) Our addictions give us a feeling of being “high” a serotonin or dopamine hit that is similar to the experience of love.  So often our addictions relieve us of feelings of not being loved or cared for and this can be related to the very present moment and go as far back as our childhood experiences. Being in nature, lying on the earth, looking up at the sky, interacting with animals and plants, feelings of love and being loved arise naturally even when human interactions cannot offer this. A big part of Oaks Counsel is also the creation of community. In the process of sharing stories of life, we find deep connection and loving of humanity. The people around the circle seems to mirror our experiences, and when we share our stories we feel heard, seen, and valued in a way that transforms us.  Johann Hari speaks about the importance of this in his noteworthy TEDtalk.

Spirit.  (I do not think it is a coincidence that alcohol is often referred to as spirits.)  People who struggle with addiction are often seeing an experience of higher consciousness, whether they are conscious to this or not. The 12 step program works because there is an element of connecting to a higher spirit.  Someone recently asked me “what is spirit?” The question stumped me, mostly because I couldn’t quite find a way to answer him as I think the definition is different for everyone. Here I am defining it as connection to something bigger than ourselves. (Though I know in a different context, this definition changes for me too). In nature, we can feel and see how related we are to the world around us, that we are part of something much more vast than us alone. In this state of knowing, we experience a higher level of consciousness, one that we so deeply crave in times when we turn to our addictions. Moments of Awe are also a big part of the experience of the spirit; and nature supplies this constantly in sunset and sunrises, in shooting stars, waterfalls, redwood trees, the ocean, mountain ranges, and animal interactions. The feeling of vastness and appreciation for being alive is deeply felt in these moments, as they transform us, it can feel like a deeply religious experience.

Play.  (Also a big one for those that find substances as a way to let go of their adult self in order to act goofy and outside their well developed persona.) Somehow, as we grow older we forget how to play or that play is important. So we turn to our addictions as a way to “cut loose”, to give ourselves some sort of contained experience of play when we can be something or experience some way of being that we usually are not.  (I find perfectionists really love to turn to drugs or alcohol for a good reason to let go of the perfectionism for just a brief time.) I chuckle in wondering what it would be like, if instead of pouring ourselves a cocktail or glass of wine at the end of the day, we met some friends at the local playground and all tried to see how many of us can fit down the twisty slide at one time. Or if we could let ourselves wrestle like we used to with our siblings. Forget organized or skilled sports as a way to let ourselves play, when is the last time you had a snowball or water balloon fight? Or if you are alone, when is the last time you built a castle in the sand or suspended disbelief enough to have inanimate objects talk with each other just out of your own imagination? When we turn to addictions, are we not aiming to play in this pure mind-suspending unadulterated way to balance out the seriousness of life?

Today, I was in my car, when right next to me at a red light, I saw someone I loved dearly and now never speak to. I immediately began waving wildly with both arms and grinning ear to ear with such exuberance that it would make anyone smile, he didn’t notice me and looked intensely serious, on his way to work and likely thinking about it already. I wished he looked around to notice the burst of joy happening toward him just in the next car. It is my wish for all us to look around more often to see the love, connection, spirit and play around us in every moment and that we all more truly see ourselves in this reflection, so much so we may just not need those addictive coping skills that are so well developed to meet our needs.

Oaks Counsel offers all this and more!  Explore yourself and your way through habits that no longer serve you.

Reflections of Grief

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Reflections of Grief
by Michelle Katz

Through the dense and snowy junipers and the growing night just outside my bedroom window, a light suddenly come on in the distance. It is glowing brightly right in my line of sight. I wondered if it was a reflection from me just turning on the light, but it is not. It just sits out there, mysterious to me. It’s small but prominent and seems to be flickering as if the cold and dark are in battle with its warm glow. Like a candle frame on windy dark night. I cannot help but resonate with this battle.

My current bout with grief began in early autumn, when the leaves were changing colors and just beginning to fall off the trees. When I took myself to lay on the earth and parts of the ground were still warm as it held me.  When I took myself out to a cabin in the middle of nowhere so I can go out and scream and wail with my sorrow. A time when I felt I could call on my community and they could come to surround me and witness my grief when I was ready or more so, when I wasn’t ready but needed it most.  Now the snow has come, the earth cold to lay on and the holidays have my allies called to family. I feel the quiet of my grief now.

The stages of grief move through us in a pace that is completely out of our control. The seasons have changed and I wonder how much I have distracted myself in the past months, how much I busied myself with work and commitments, and hid from myself with too many outings and distraction in isolation. Only to feel that next season come in an abrupt way. Time has moved and the silencing of the landscape had me wake up with that familiar feeling, visited by the overwhelm of grief.  The I-will-not-leave-bed-island-all-day sort of grief. The time-passes-and-I-have-no-sense-of-it grief. The all-I-can-do-is-cry-or-stare grief. The everything-around-me-is-silence grief. The I-feel-utterly-alone grief. The denial-bargaining-sorrow-and-repeat grief. The my-heart-cannot-possibly-take-this grief. But it can, and it does, and grows even more resilient.

Nature teaches me a way through, as always. The snow covers the landscape and it seems like nothing can flourish or grow. Seems like the whole earth is hibernating under this blanket, it’s breath shallow and soft, quietly questioning life.

The landscape seems to be mirroring my grief. At times it feels like I am not able to flourish or show up fully, but for a single bud that sticks out miraculously above the snowline, saying, “I’m here, there is much more of me, it’s not able to be seen right now, the rest of me need times in the dark.”  

The sunlight is bright and glowing, though the night approaches quicker now and the clouds cover parts of the light.  On the other side of the sky a storm is brewing in its dark greys and purples, contrasting with the snow covered landscape even more. I am reminded of how so much exists at once.  How nothing is completely dark and nor completely light just as I know grief and love are truly elements of the same experiences.

Months have passed since the beginning of my current round with grief and I feel like I am back at the beginning again.  It’s a strange thing grief does. As a friend put it, “We can wake up and spend all day climbing a tree only to realize at the end of the day we are still at the bottom, sitting on the earth.”  We live in a culture that revels in continuous motion. Winter offers us the much needed pause; the invitation to silence and solitude. I am taking this time to pay attention to what I hold close to the heart. My grief has lived through a season, and in its way, matured and passed into the silence and solitude of this season.

I sense this season asks me to fully embrace the grief journey, to see my unwillingness to cross that threshold, to notice my avoidance of the silence as it amplifies the depth of my loss. It is in the ceasing of doing that I know I will reach a new level of intimacy with grief, by being open to what is present. (I feel the difficulty of this as I love doing. I really have to force myself to stop.)  It is not easy to step into grief, to give grief our attention and affection, to humble ourselves, to feel our deep aloneness. Silence is a process of letting go, or emptying space. So that we can see the howling of our heart, and feel the bittersweet memories of our love, the artifacts of betrayal, and the truth of impermanence. In silence we remember again how love and loss are intricately and beautifully woven together. When we know this place well, the person we wish to present to the world gets stripped away.  Grief takes us, it’s agenda is different than ours. We become wild and we must find a way to be devout to ourselves, wholeheartedly faithfully committed to our process. Allowing grief to seep in means to feel the heaviness in our chest, to carry its weight in our shoulders, to feel it in our bellies and in the muscles that grow weaker every moment and to feel it rest into our bones and the marrow of our bones. This is how we know we have truly let it in. To endure grief is to know ourselves more fully, to feel the weight of who we are, for in grief we have humbled ourselves completely.

The weight of the snow on the branches of juniper, pinon and chamisa has the whole plant life bowing down humbly. Though a single flake on its own feels light and fluffy, accumulated it weighs the boughs down, almost too much for it to bare, if not for its incredible flexibility and desire to live.

I feel grief accumulating overtime inside me, growing heavy and having me bow humbly to the ground, testing my flexibility to be with what is and my passion for this life.  

I remember that in time, as seasons change, because seasons always change and we can count on that, the snow will melt, the buoyancy of the plants will be revealed and the snow will melt to its feet and provide for so much of its continual growth.  

Grief offers us the same reward.

How intimate do you get to be with grief and yourself?  Explore grief and the cycles or human nature with Oaks Counsel.



Lessons from Suffering

Photo credit: @hillary.hilaria

Photo credit: @hillary.hilaria

Lessons from Suffering
by Michelle Katz

An elder once told me, and even more so, throughout my life, several times implied, that you are not living unless you are suffering. In my youth, with my big smile and almost annoying optimism, I refused to believe her. In my late teens and early twenties, I found myself called to Buddhism, recognizing that I related so deeply to the four noble truths and the eightfold path. The first noble truth clearly stating, “there is suffering.”  A familiar statement. However, this offered a little more wiggle room for other experiences as well. I suppose this truth of suffering became more and more clear to me with every big life transition. Though I remain adamant in my belief that life is not all suffering, it is an ever changing movement of many experiences: suffering, ease, joy, sadness, grief, love, and the endless spectrum between and beyond all these. How we meet all this informs our living.

Every year, around this time of year, I take a very particular walk. As the nights are long and dark and the sun slowly crawls its way back to us, I think about what it is that I intend to release, and what I wish to invite in for the year to come. On this walk, I contemplate, one intention at a time. I name one, I hold it thoughtfully, feeling if that intention is accurate for me with each step. If it is, I find a rock or stone that I feel embodies that intention. I pick it up and carry it with me for a time. As the next intention comes to me, I repeat the process, collecting about six stones, three to release, three to grow.

A Santa Fe snow storm came through this year, one we have been waiting for, and the sheets of white that have covered the landscape seem to shine and quiet the world. There is a mysticism in the blanket of white, like something out of a dream, there is this sense of wonder and awe that comes over me and this dreamy state is how I entered into this practice.

All this made it quite challenging to find intention stones. I found myself collecting the rocks at the roots of the juniper trees whose thick layers of branches have left small patches of earth beneath them bare and protected from the snow. The soil below is dark and damp but exposed and the home of many small stones. It became my practice to kneel down below the branches, crouching and tucking in, humbling my head to earth, getting close to the roots. I could not help but contemplate this repeated and necessary action for this task. I had to look toward the roots of what has grown in my life: my holding of my lineage, the dark unexposed parts of self that still feel the cold and wet of the world, the origins of my stories.

I began with what I wished to invite, what I wish to grow. First, the intention of love. Love in partnership and community, a sense of connection and belonging, a knowing that I can witness the evolution of a life and be witnessed in the evolution of my life, and be encouraged and challenged to do the good work we can only do together toward becoming who we are meant to be. A small red stone felt right for this. I picked it up and carried it in my hand. Then came the intention of good health, represented by a white stone that joined the red in my hand. Then, a life in balance, a multicolored stone shaped to a point, and I carried them all. Held them up in my palm, sometimes to my heart, repeating these three intentions as I walked on.

And because things are not all wonderful, because there is suffering, and the last year was not devoid of this truth. It came time to acknowledge the other side, the things I wish to release. First came dis-ease, the ways in which depression and anxiety show up in my life, the ways that certain moments of social awkwardness and discomfort in my body has me lose sight of the person I am, the ways that I can get caught in either/or thinking and not see the whole wild and wonderful spectrum of this world, represented by a large black and white rock holding this story. Then, brokenheartedness, with the symbol of a half heart shaped maroon and black rock. Then, the abandoning of self for others, all in a small black rounded square rock no larger than a marble.

I carried on in my walk, thinking of each of these powerful intentions, taking them for a walk, as if they were each a loyal sweet companion. Oddly enough, I noticed that I had unconsciously carried the rocks in separate hands. In one hand, the growth intentions and in the other, the give away intentions. I immediately came to cup my hands together, holding all six stones toward my torso, having them meet each other in the sandwiched shelter of my hands. The wet and the cold seeping slightly through the layers of my mittens. I chuckled at my love for mittens, not only because they are just so delightfully innocent and playful (which we adults all need a little more of) but more so, because I believe that the digits together create a supply of warmth that cannot be comparable to a situation in which they are seperated. Together the the things that are hard and the things that are beautiful sat in my hands, sharing space, meeting each other, rubbing up against each other, and getting warm.

I found my way to an overlook. I placed the stones in the snow, looked out across the vast landscape. One by one, I took the stones that represented the intentions for release and I named them and threw them into the abyss, with all the force in me. I watched each one take their own flight into the air and journey down with their full weight, to land in a place I will never know. (I wish I had a better throwing arm at times like these.)  I came to the ground and whispered, “may these stories I have held take new form in me.”

I collected my growth rocks. Still holding them with both hands, feeling the difference in weight but the increase in moisture from their time in the snow. I thought of how it can become so easy to know ourselves through our hardships. How we can come to define ourselves by what we have endured. I so wish for these stories to change their meaning for me, to become transformed by them, while not becoming victim to them. To continue to know and nourish my strength, courage and incredible resilience.

I made my way to the lowest ground, to the arroyo, wanting to bury my growth rocks here so that they had endless sky to grow into, and that come spring they can feel the water flow over them and offer some nourishment and movement in their coming to be. I found soft exposed ground by three juniper trees. I dug into the earth, three small holes, mimicking the shape of the surrounding standing trees. Naming each rock, I placed them one by one into one of the holes. Love, Health, a Life in Balance. And one by one, with my bare hands taking in the wet soil in every wintered dry crack and underneath each manicured fingernail, I covered them with soil, whispering, “ May you grow well. Take Care. Find your way into being.”  I stepped back, as far as I could, to gain perspective.

As spring comes, the flowing of water could have all things find their way to this arroyo. I wondered if what I threw out into the abyss, just further up the way, would find its way to this part of the arroyo. If, somehow, once again, that which I released would share space with what I wish to grow. Smiling at the thought.  Yes, there is suffering, this is an element of being alive, and suffering moves, flows into and with all the other parts of life, making the sweet parts, oh so sweet. It is in the meeting of all these experiences that we come to know ourselves again and again. The sky grew darker, I stayed with it a bit and then I found my way home.

What are you letting go of and inviting in this year? How do you meet all the elements of your life? Connect with nature to help inform you in answering life’s questions. Check out Oak Counsel’s programs and offerings!

 

Revering the Dark

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Revering the Dark
by Michelle Katz

It’s the time of long, cold, dark nights and I sit in curiosity of the many ways we can meet the darkness. Throughout time, many cultures have viewed this time with great importance: the shortest day, the longest night, the full transition into the winter season; all brought about various ceremonies and rituals.  The darkness can be felt, and its symbolism cannot go unnoticed. We feel it in the encroaching dim light by mid afternoon having us question time, we feel it in the long shadows that are cast, the glow of the bare branches and tall yellow grasses, the arroyo sand hardened and holding footprints firmly, and the soft muted landscape that seems to fold into the earth.

This is a time of death and rebirth. As we sit in the darkness, let us acknowledge how the sun is taking time to regenerate, renew and reflect. Meanwhile, we get to do this too, as we spend some time with the moon, celebrating its light and cycles. We get to bow to the darkness and be in stillness.

Over the last few days, as the solstice approached, I spent my nights on long walks, taking time to linger in the darkness. I found it to be a beautiful paradox to sit in the growing duration of darkness while the moon only grew brighter and brighter.  I walked with my shadow as my closest companion, asking myself how I see and be with parts of myself and parts of the world that are challenging, the parts that show up in dark place and in dark times. The times are troubling, pregnant with something stirring for change, something to come awake and we have an opportunity to hold the mystery of what may be when the light does return.  And even more, we learn our capacity for mystery.

I love this time of year, perhaps for my great admiration for finding a way through such seemingly disconcerting places, or perhaps for the call to slow down, or perhaps for the movement to go inward.  It is in these places I know I grow and learn and become who I am meant to be. I take long walks to self-reflect, renew, and regenerate and I am continually reminded that nature mirrors my experience. Humanity is certainly seeing dark times, and each individual has a story of their own shadows. What we must recognize and remember in times like this is that the light returns in its own time, not when we wish it to.  

This time offers introspection in order to move into some balance. We need some time in the dark just as much as we need time in the light.  I love the quiet opportunity to look within, to ask questions of purpose, need, value, passion. Asking what needs to be let go of and what is being called in.  How do we go deeper than the new year's resolutions we eventually break, or to touch down closer to the heart of what matters to us beyond the gifts and cheer of the holiday season.  What comes alive in us when the world around us seems too cold and too quiet and too dark? How does the darkness touch us and how to we reach back to it? What can be illuminated in hidden places?  How do we give respect and honor this?

We are part of a culture that loves to look at and elevate the experience of the light, with messages of “Be happy!” and “Stop worrying, crying, thinking negatively…” (pick one).  The darkness asks us to meet the worry, the sadness, grief, despair and negativity, to come face to face with what we try so hard to ignore. Without the sun, we do not see easily, and so we we must turn to rely on our ability to feel deeply. There is a tendency toward sadness during this time of year. Of course, the lack of light can affect us emotionally, physically and motivationally. I wonder if I can encourage us to interact with the darkness in a different way.  To revere our ability to feel our way through the dark. Let us hold in high regard those hard times of shame and disappointment, of heartache, of all those little deaths and the disconcerting ambiguity. Let us understand that the darkness invites in the wild and always gives birth to a new light.

Here are some ideas to change our relationship to the dark:

Get outside!  I know it's cold and dark, but bundle up and get outside!  Light or dark find a way to feel connected to nature. If night time nature causes some fear, take a midday walk or brave the dark and find some new courage. (What a metaphor this can offer you in your life!) If you are taking a walk after work, it may be 5pm and already dark, leave the headlamp behind and turn your focus on the fact that these is always light to guide you! There is this conception that darkness is the absence of light, but it truly offers us a different sense of seeing, through hearing and touch, let this help you on your way.  Try to note those subtle and not so subtle differences in light, let go of either/or, black/white, dark/light thinking and enjoy the the darkness and its variations depending on the moon light, cloud light, or star light. Interact with the shadows and the things that cast those shadows and the way they may offer some optical illusions. Ask yourself what these illusions may say about what’s inside of you and what you may need to pay attention to.

Create some light!  This is the holiday season, and the holidays tend to focus on lighting candles, lighting up the tree, stringing lights, building fires, etc. When the sun goes down take a moment to be with the dark and then create some light, feel the warmth, participate in a way to evoke balance between these two dynamics outside and inside of each of us.

Engage in ceremony! Ceremony is a human-made experience, that has long helped us through times when life feels outside of our control, it helps us honor what we do have and to evoke a greater perspective on life. Make a fire and take it a step further: think about what you want to release from the past year, whatever it is, bring it to the fire. It can be as simple as writing things down on a piece of paper and throwing them into the fire to be released and transformed.  This can be so powerful.

Honor the community you are part of! Gather with the people you love. This time does not really arouse a lot of “going out” energy, yet it is the best time to invite friends over to share a meal, or gather around the fire for life storytelling, this can feel so healing and bring such warmth.

Connect to yourself!  I believe this is the most important part of this time of year. Take time to feel the different pace of life, and get to know yourself right now, the self that comes as the light returns minute by minute, inch by inch in the process of coming into a new season.  Ask yourself the good hard questions about your life and see what comes, what makes your heart beat, what evokes the tears, what sparks love or has you dancing with grief, what calls you into who you are meant to be?


Join Oaks Counsel for upcoming programs to feel into these big questions and nature connection practices!


Go To The Place That Requires Your Attention

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by Michelle Katz

Go to the place that requires your attention,
Though you believe you may not be dressed for the occasion,
Though it may be dark, damp and the ground uneven,
Though the creatures lurking are not in plain sight,
Come as you are.

Cross every road possible,
looking behind and ahead, not only left to right.
Gathering dust on your boots as you go.
Moments, gray in memory, can be vivid with color
In time,
with perspective.
The rocks in this place took long to get here
and will certainly not stay for the duration.

Listen to the phenomena of a falling leaf orchestra,
each section taking a turn to play that magical music of letting go.
Remember the pace of life
moving each of us to the next crescendo or rest.
Allow the footsteps you make on the earth
to be purposeful and potent,
in harmony with the heartbeat.

Get to where you are going
And then sit still.
It is in the slowing down,
A familiar stranger comes to meet you.
It’s not about your endless doing,
but rather, about the being of who you truly are.

Gratitude comes best
when you fall into unexpected grace.
Here, the soul blooms.
The bittersweet moments;
Provide you an opportunity,
To meet the depths of your humanity.
Humbly.
Love is a muscle we stretch to grow.

The walk may be steep
and you know it can only be taken alone.
When you arrive at the top,
Claim your life.
To be celebrated,
by the those that know you best.

Birthday Passage Stream of Consciousness

Photograph by Hillary Kaufman

Photograph by Hillary Kaufman

Birthday Passage Stream of Consciousness
by Michelle Katz

Friday was my Birthday.  And every birthday I sit with my journal and write.  This year, this is part of what came: 

A year in review: It began with a beautiful solo day, a woodpecker in the silent snow, and a dinner with friends.  2-3 days later I learned I was sick, worst flu of my life.  An awkward and hard Christmas celebration.  A sweet time in a cabin on the Chama River.  2 Heartaches, one year, very unusual for me.  An ongoing nonsensical lawsuit, an eventual call by the judge, “closed with prejudice”. Training: dog, biking, alpine hiking. All over the state of New Mexico. Great gathering of Wilderness Guides in the deep Arizona desert.  Humbling hikes to Alpine places. Developing new friendships. Fostering long lasting friendships. Finding friends on the trail through synchronistic commonalities. Grief. A return to Montana, the Buffalo, the winter wild landscape. A Magical Love Story. A best friend move-in. Heroes Journey Ceremony, Night Walk Ceremony, Grief Ceremony, community and storytelling.  Work expansion, changing lives.  Office move. Shakespeare Festival. Beautiful couple. Loss of family, growth of family. An attempt at learning Spanish. Incredible Journey to Peru, lifelong dream met. Lima, Amazon, Cusco, Andes, Machu Picchu. Sliding down sand dunes, southern hemisphere oceans, out of season thunder storms in the jungle, the Inca trail, sleeping in a ruin, arriving at the stairs of a hidden city calling to me for years. Meeting and living through my fear of heights, again, again and again. Long lost friends found in alcoves of ancient cities. Fostering my dreams into being. From the deep dark places, creating light. What’s next? Embracing a new outlook about awkwardness in life. Supported by incredible people. Coyotes. Heartbreak that left me shattered and confused. Grief. The kindness of people. Opuntia. Tres Ps. Giving and continually learning to receive, a rich exchange. Arroyo laying.  Hammock star gazing.  Art making.  Strange footprints in the sand. Mysterious house happening. Forgiveness. Mediterranean cooking. Learning the meaning of true friendship. Learning the meaning and expression of true love. Learning about maturity, humanity, growing up.  Learning about showing up -- with integrity.  Opening my heart. Opening to my femininity, meeting the masculine. Stepping into isolation. Stepping into community. Stepping into being seen. Apologizing. Resisting and dancing with busy-ness, responsibility. Making time for play. Distracting myself from the call. Waking up, meeting it. Freezing storm hiding under the roots of a down tree. Night hikes, night hikes, night hikes. The mystery. Heart tending. Car accident. Three California trips in four weeks. Into the smoky California fires, celebrating the rain, cooking by candle light, a beautiful Thanksgiving. Honoring myself. Honoring other. Honoring earth. Making every success worth celebrating. Laughter. Tears. Anger. Disbelief. Grief. Dreaming. Coconut milk chia. 3 grants awarded, 3 project budgets. Gratitude, naming three or more a day. Challenging edges. Communicating. Finding feeling place. This is home. “Come on, is this all you got!?” (to the wind, to the rain, to life.) Laughing fits, in public, a scene. Spontaneity. The Woodpecker and another journey begins. Who am I now? And now? And now?

For the year to come:  Balance. Balance in community and work.  Balance in dreaming and reality. Balance in partnership. Balance with adventure and travel and commitments and rest.  Balance in self-care and challenge.  Calling in my practice for grounding.  Study of a mythology that informs the year.

Great Learnings:  Not many can handle my depth, my bigness, my boldness, my loving, my full expression of self, my introspection, my investment in growth, my wildness: find those who can and stick with them! Slow is a beautiful pace.  I can hold it, I’m strong.  I can stay with discomfort.  I am patient beyond belief. I need. I give. Authenticity is key.  Love is more than a welcome and lovely distraction from the outlined path created only in our minds. Love is not within our control. The depth of my work now must happen in relationship. I just want 10 people to come out and sit in a circle with me in the woods. Health is vital for my joy. Laughter is vital for my health. I am lovable. I can be with the mystery, with the not knowing, for the unforeseen duration. Trust. Rest. Write. Humor. Nature. Dog. Friends. Travel. I lead with my heart; I cannot do it any other way.

Another year begins…

How do you mark your year? What do you let go of and how do you step in to the new? How do you grow more into yourself and your purpose and path? Oaks Counsel can help you on your Journey, check out our program!

Human Longing

Photograph by Chelsey Taylor

Photograph by Chelsey Taylor

Human Longing
by Michelle Katz

During this time of year, when we change the clocks and the night rapidly encroaches at 5pm, we are asked to have a new relationship with the darkness-- to the realm of shadows. We instinctively begin toto look to the stars for light and direction. The chamisa, not too long ago avoided due to its uncomfortable allergic reaction as it released its late-summer pollen, now provides the much appreciated glow in the moonlight that lines the path I walk. The soft sands and soils I once walked upon barefoot are now flattened by the flood of waters, or chilled by the cold snow. A layer of rubber now lays between my feet soles and the earth.  A veil lives in our lives this time of year, with our layers of clothing, our hunkering inside, and a general going within.

But tonight, on my walk, I thought of longing. An elder spoke to me about my recent break up, as I expressed by heartache. She said, “sometimes it’s like a phantom feeling, like when you lose a limb and you can somehow feel its still there sometimes, because in our hearts and minds, it’s supposed to be. I walked, thinking about this wild thought, being with my longing in the space of darkness and shadows-- needing what I once avoided to show me the way. As I walked, I felt the distance of things not showing their fully textured form, the shielding of my being with layers, a separation from nature’s embrace my skin had grown so used to in the warmer months.  

As I continued on this dark path, I noticed in the silhouette of a great juniper, an outline of a man’s face looking toward the starry sky, mouth open, his expression grief stricken. The light coming through a crack in the dense green showed up to be a single teardrop down his cheek. His expression was heartfelt- almost as if he was grieving. As if he had forgotten that he was part of the greater universe and longed for that knowing once again, but was uncertain how to feel that truth on a regular basis. I found this beautiful image captivating--a mirror of my longing. It occurs to me in this moment that longing is truly just a mask for grieving what was dearly loved and now lost.  -- a universal experience of humankind.

And then my dog began to make the sound of digging a deep hole into the sand, and I wondered more about all creatures longing for the depths. Connection and depth felt deeply intertwined. Soon I began to think of all the people I love, my best friends longing for purpose, or health, or love; my parents longing for an idea of family they do not have, coworkers longing for promotions and homes and stability, people who I know are longing for acceptance or acknowledgement or fame; others who long to be felt and understood. I began to wonder if longing is a deeply human experience.

As I think of the elder’s words, I think of all the parts of self we lose along the way, in our practice of living. Some parts we feel the loss of more dramatically than others, other parts we gratefully bid farewell to, and some parts we don’t realize we miss until much later in our story.  This is all in the practice of learning how to become better at dying. Every small “D” death, prepares us for our big rupture. And let’s face it, humans -- at least in our current modern society, do not “do” death, of any kind, well. We tend to avoid it and fear it. For example, our greatest is loss is no longer knowing our connection and relatedness to the natural world that surrounds us. We have made ourselves separate from our relationship with nature and have not taken the time to grieve or repair it-- we just keep going , business as usual. It is mysterious to me that we feel it is okay to keep on living as we do as I remember the words of another wise woman elder telling me, “What we do to women we do to the earth.” As I walk my own path, I  feel into the suffering of being a woman on this planet and I also feel the earth suffering greatly by our way of life.

The fact of the matter is that humans are deeply intimate beings, we need love and care-- both requiring deep connection. This may be the greatest thing we are longing for but we constantly put these intimate needs in the shadows, where they become difficult to see or know their textures and contours.

Nature teaches us a great many things about this process. Nature in no way avoids or fears the changing of the seasons, it knows these transitions intimately. The interconnectedness of each element responds to even slightest  shifts, and remains present in every change. There seems to be no gripping, clinging, or fear of letting go, but rather acceptance in what is. It seems that the greatest practice that nature teaches me, in this time, is gratitude.  Gratitude for the sun that shines for part of the day, the stars in the sky and the way they move, the wind that blows sand off canyon rock, the leaves ready to depart from trees to become the soil to feed the next season of growth, grateful for the limbs that fall off trees to hold others up as the soils beneath them erode. There seems to be a vast understanding and seeing of all the living beings in their process of change and the gratitude seems to soothe any longing.

And still as I walked myself back home, I felt the longing arise again, the missing of part of me, as I imagine the tree misses part of itself when wind blows its leaves off or its branches fall off, feeling into the longing for what was and a settling into what is.  And just then-- a bright and powerful a shooting star streaked across the sky, as if to say, “I see you, I’m with you, you belong, you are part of this earth.” In that moment I felt a burst of feeling connected and grateful, that healed the longing.

The more we connect to nature, the more we can feel this belonging. Join Oaks Counsel to remember your connection to nature, your belonging to this world, in a meaningful way.

Feeling It All

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Feeling It All
by Michelle Katz

In interactions with both dear friends as well as complete strangers, I often hear two particular comments with frequency.  The first is of concern-- frequent blog readers and some friends, have expressed to me that sometimes they worry about me, noticing that I often go into the dark places, knowing how to speak about depression and grief. These comments tend to center around my ability to feel deeply, expressed through crying or laying of the earth. On the opposite side of the emotional spectrum, another question I often receive is: “Why are you so happy?” or “Your laughter/smile is so great!” or “You seems to radiate joy, what’s your secret?”  I love this question, though I never quite know how to respond to it, other than to acknowledge to myself and them that this is my way of being. I am a genuinely happy person! It seems that some sit in judgement of my joy, and at times people will ask me to stop laughing or skeptically tell me: “your laughter must be a defense mechanism.” My response is to look inward and ask myself the purpose of my laughter as well as if I feel I am being projected on. More often than not I wonder what about laughter makes particular people uncomfortable. But mostly, I celebrate my true capacity to hold both the dark and the light, deep sorrow and abundant laughter, and all the ways these live in me.

The dramatic differences in the response to who I am and how I am perceived interests me.  I choose to meet these responses with curiosity.

I found myself on a walk of deep curiosity. This time I walked with a fellow wilderness guide. The walk began with a good rain, a constant downpour with a rainbow in the distance. I was ill prepared for this walk, with a skirt and high boots that I wore to my day job-- because getting outside sooner rather than later felt more important than taking the time to run home to change. As we began the walk, growing more damp from the rain, we set our intention to name how our hearts were and what is calling our attention. I named my heart in struggle with the question of how lovers can become strangers in an instant.  

It seemed almost immediately after naming this, my fellow guide, pointed out some tracks in the damp sand, saying, “I am interested in these tracks here.”  My eyes and excitement grew! His experience is with nature skills where mine is more nature psychology-- an acknowledgement of how much to learn from each other during our time together. We began to follow the tracks of a mule deer, around the base of the hill, through ravines, up, up, up. As we read the tracks, we learned of the animals pace and course by actually kneeling down, placing our hands and feet into the tracks. We checked for freshness and the direction of movement by the way the sand was lifted or flattened.  

In this tracking experience, I felt myself become the deer, my body embodying their movement, on all fours in a way, leaping as it leaped, turning as it turned, meeting other tracks but still carving out its own path. My body felt the connection to the earth in each movement. I fell in love with the deer, strangers become lovers. I looked at my own tracks in the damp sand as I played with my weight shifting and my dance on the land. I thought of how my body gets so involved in this action.                                                                                                         

My fellow guide then spoke to me about the practice of hunting and the quiet walking of the land, fox walking. We fell into silence and became mindful of each footstep. Our quiet movement up the hill offered a challenge, a purpose to my path, a connection to my core with every step, it required balance and thought. As we reached the top, the wind blew in strong, the rain had stopped only right above us and we could see the stars with clarity, while in the distance to the west, northwest to southwest-- the Jemez mountain range, a great black cloud consumed the mountains and city lights. We watched lightning strike within that cloud-- nature called our attention and we respected and admired its influence.

We stood at the hilltop, watching tentatively the earth and atmosphere that surrounded us. We watched the great ominous storm roll in with the night while talking of ways to bring people to this experience of nature in this way. The wind and cold grew with the darkness and the encroaching clouds now came from all directions as the sky right above us remained miraculously clear. I felt the cold wind blow and the clouds and lightning influence the space powerfully. We laughed at our human needs, the nonsense, tricks and secrets our minds often create. We laughed at the other who missed the awe of a lightning strike due to facing the other direction at the wrong time, we laughed at foot warmers used as hand warmers in his pocket while I feel Scottish with the wind blowing up my skirt, we laughed at how lovers are never strangers despite any attempt to be.  My body felt the chill, my eyes took in the shadows, my heart vibrated and ignited with roar of thunder and the strike of lighting, and I called out into the valley: “Come on, give me all you got! I want to feel ALL of you!” As my voice echoed through the mountains, I recalled all the times nature has me call out this desire, too many to count. I know this is what has me feeling most alive! There is no hiding self here, nature comes to meet us with all of herself.

Reflecting on this experience reveals to me the utter truth of who I am: Yes, I can go into the dark space-- Yes, I can laugh with utter joy!  And in both, I bring ALL of myself to the very human expression of feeling: despair, doubt, grief, excitement, elation, delight. This, and much more, are all human nature! We must let go of the binary ideas of being happy or sad, needing people or being solitary, working or playing, being in the head or in the body. We can experience ALL of us-- dark clouds thundering and open starry sky; sun and rainbow while the cold yet nourishing rain drenches us and pools mud around our feet! This is the practice of a balanced human life, this the practice of living the full capacity of our human nature. This is what speaks to my ability to go into the dark places and the jubilant places, both wonder-full in their own ways.  All of this I learn from watching nature’s truthful way. I wish to meet the world, as it meets all of us, with all of me (stormy and shining)!

Soon we found our way stumbling down the hill, off trail, in the darkness, finding our way with well-adjusted eyes that can see the light and dark of the scene. We made it down in the dark with the thrill of the storm in the distance, the chill of the air and rain-- cold, wet, tired, exhilarated-- and more happy and enlightened than when we began.

How do you meet the light and dark in your life?  Join Oaks Counsel for one of our various programs to explore and play with your way through this landscape!

Lessons from the Lichen

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Lessons from the Lichen
by Michelle Katz

For the second year in a row, I found myself among the most inspiring human beings doing revolutionary work in the world at the Bioneers 29th Annual Conference.  The experience of being at this conference is unlike anything else. I lack the words to describe what happens during these three days as people in the field of social, economic, environmental, political, medical, science and cultural change share how they have created that change. I feel myself expand, get curious, have my passion reignited.

In all my travels, I have learned one very important thing about myself: I never truly arrive in any given place until I spend time on the land.  As I arrived at the conference, with the help of one of my many honored elders, Trebbe Johnson, I participated in having intentional solo time on the land and being able to share that with others in community.  As I sat on the land, I noticed how distracted I was by the many elements of my life at this time-- I began by writing about where I was in that moment, and in many aspects, where I still am.  I have a ruptured relationship with my parents, I am in the midst of a relationship break-up with a man that I wholeheartedly believed I was meant to be with-- and do the healing work of relationship together, I got in a car accident on the way to the airport (thank you Albuquerque fire and police departments for still getting us to the airport on time) that left my car towed and my body is experiencing a great deal of discomfort.  

In this naming all this for myself, I became aware of where I truly was, on a large granite boulder by a wetland area near the Marin Civic Center.  A wetland, where life seems to be everywhere. Tall yellow grasses bending in every direction, making me think of love being the thing that makes us bend. Yellow flowers in various stages of bloom and decay. Soft mud and stiff leaves surround me speaking of great contrasts in life existing in the same space. The green lichen on the rocks I sat on looked like splatter paint. The radius of their reach seemed to be spreading as I looked at them, decorating the seemingly unmovable/unchangeable rock. The spores of the lichen seem to have popped open with a deep exhale, begging the rock to breath with it.  

Lichen is the coexistence of at least 2 quiet different organisms in a mutualistic relationship. I sat with the lichen, the rock, and the wetland in my place of deep emotion, tears, and the hard place of grief. Being with all these elements, I  realized that growth (created in the colder shadowy parts of self)-- wanted or not-- produces color. Soon a little bug landed on me as I wrote. It moved between my thumb and pointer finger, up to the tip of my pen. Aware of the stickiness of the ink, my initial reaction was to say, “Oh no, you don’t want to do that.” But despite my worry, the bug continued on to mark its belly struggled its way off the tip of the sticky ink, and then flew away. I thought, well, it must have needed to do that, in some way, and I wondered how long that mark would last on it his underbelly. I wondered where else he would land and leave his little inky mark. It’s amazing to me all the ways, even seemingly insignificant actions, such as crawling over my pen tip, can leave an impact, even ever so small.

Mutualistic relationship and the mark we make on each other feels to be the theme of the weekend at Bioneers.  During this particular conference my heart felt tapped into today’s struggle of relationship, both on the macro and microcosm, as I look at the human experience in our world and my own personal experience in relationship.

The struggle between the masculine and feminine in today’s world remains in the forefront of my mind and heart. Nina Simons, co-founder of Bioneers, opened the conference by sharing that “The Kabbalah, the ancient book of wisdom in the Jewish tradition, says that the brokenness of our world is due to the masculine and feminine aspects of the divine turning away from one another. We can help heal the world, they suggest, by helping the feminine and masculine aspects of the sacred to reunite.”  

I fully believe that the masculine and feminine need each other. We need each other to turn toward each other, to balance each other. I wonder about our ability to heal if men and woman keep growing more distant in our difference, keep growing more fearful, more blaming, more hurt and unwilling to do the work toward deeper understanding. I believe that one of the primary reasons we are here, on earth, living our lives, is to heal each other, and we can only do this in relationship in finding balance in the masculine and feminine. I know, personally, I aim to focus on this important work and to meet the masculine in this way.

Some of the most powerful elements of the conference were conversations about Redefining Manhood. I heard initiated men speak to owning their mistakes, receiving healing on the traumas our society and systems has afflicted on them, and naming their greatest goal as listening to female voices as allies-- by asking questions and getting curious. With this I gain a sense of great hope in what’s possible.

The curiosity cannot stop at the work between the masculine and feminine. It needs to extend across all diverse groups. How can we ALL honor each other with great respect for each person’s stories and place in the world? How can we have a collective vision of connection? To be aware of something greater we ALL belong to and each of us feeling integral to the world around us? Patrisse Cullors, one of the co-creators of the Black Lives Matter Movement, provided her insights into the pain felt by so many people of color around the world while at the same time evoking the spirit and power of a great human movement. Many presenters at the conference spoke about the impact of finding allies of all colors and cultures, to have each of us explain and grow understanding in relationship that has us stay engaged, to address power imbalances and learn to better share all our resources. May Boeve of 350.org suggested, may we “be impatient with injustice, but patient with each other.”

Our diverse nation is in great pain. But pain can offer us purpose, as it marks us-- if we are willing to go into it and learn from it-- in order to heal a community, which in turn can heal a nation. I believe that with every generation, we move closer to the vision of a beautifully diverse nation. Cesar Chavez said, “There is enough love and good will in our movement to give energy to our struggle and still have plenty left over to break down and change the climate of hate and fear around us.”  Yes, let us recognize our diversity, share our stories of struggle, truly see each other and through relationship, create change.


Another firm belief I have is that each one of us has a unique and needed purpose in this world. As we fly through our routines, work, travels, daily or through the years, where do each of us leave our own inky marks? Your time, talent and treasures make a difference.  I invite to question for yourselves, what relationship to others, parts of your self or the world have marked who you are?  How do YOU choose to connect, grow, bend? Join Oaks Counsel for an experience of human nature and nature that expands.

Walking the Wound

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Walking the Wound
by Michelle Katz

Twice a day, I find myself walking in the arroyo by my house.  I often think nothing of this as it is the best access to the wilderness near my home, where I can walk daily. On one of my walks recently, I began to ask myself about this routine that I participate in without second thought.

An arroyo is a water carved crevice that is dry most of the year (when there is no rain).  This crevice provides a place for water to flow during the monsoon season in the desert, it is a unique feature of this arid landscape. As I began to examine this more closely, I realized that I choose to walk in the place where the earth is cut.  A wound place. Not once, but twice daily, I engage in this practice. I make a small decent down a little path, walking deeper into the earth, immersing myself where walls of soil and dirt and root surround me, where shadows deepen and change sharply as the sun moves across the sky. 

I think about how every rain carves this arroyo deeper, the water that flows through is a womb like substance-- thick, wildly unencumbered, with an emotional energy. Its ability to get into every little crevice speaks to its impact. Roots and rock are exposed in this place. Sands and plants get moved to new places.  The depth beckons us to pay attention to the subconscious, to the deeper emotional state within, to the wounds that expose us, leaving the debris behind.  This is a place that moves us and has us stuck simultaneously. This is a place that has us safely embedded in earth but also vulnerable to our deepest spaces we don’t intend for anyone to see. 

Today I look at this place differently, I look at the plants that surround the walls of the arroyo, those leaning in and those that dare not. I look at the evergreens producing blue juniper berries as well as those changing the colors of their leaves or loosing those leaves to reveal-- their bareness, their skeleton, their unconcealed shell. How do these trees mirror some essential truth about humanity in relation to the wound?

I feel comfortable here in this most uncomfortable of places. Perhaps it is my way: to be with the depths, to explore the hard places in order to grow, to know that the wounds and shadow places offer the greatest gifts. As Leonard Cohen says, “Forget your perfect offering, just sing the song that you can sing, there is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.”

In this place, there are sharp turns around each corner and I cannot see too far ahead. As wind through this water carved path, I am asked to be present to what arises—sometimes unexpectedly. I can easily recall my wounding here-- adverse childhood experiences, traumas, heartache, disappointments, and ego deaths. I remember the arroyo as the place of a great encounter with a pack of coyotes (that trickster energy), when years ago an attack my dog changed our lives.

Despite all the difficult memories that are so easily recalled here, there truly is no other place I would rather walk than in this cut into the earth.  There is no other place I would choose to practice getting better acquainted with my own wounds and growing comfortable with the great ambiguities of life. This place speaks to the wild nature of the changing of seasons, to my knowing of the great emotions of human experience and that at any moment anything can change. Just as the flash floods rush through these very forms they, themselves have carved over the years, I know that the unexpected can happen at any moment. Around any corner, seen and unseen, near or far-- the water, a pack of coyotes, or a shadow striking a radically different pose can suddenly rush through and change everything.

I walk this arroyo daily, I watch my dog go to her usual spots where she releases and expresses herself and of course, I reflect on the places in this same path where I choose to go to release and express, where I pray, cry, dance, lay my heart on the earth. As I walk in this little recess in the earth, I still catch glimpses of those walking on the sturdier, surefooted ground of the pavement above, and I know in my heart, that I don’t choose that route because it does not mirror my experience. I much prefer the landscape of uneven ground with imprinted footprints from long and not so long ago, from creatures large, small, human and animal, all telling me stories.  I prefer the tripping or hoping around rocks, plants, holes and hills, and finding the unexpected along the way. Something about choosing to walk in this arroyo allows me to feel into how the path in life is never straight and easy— tapping into my essential knowing of aliveness. There is something utterly and irresistibly truthful about this place. 

I having been thinking and holding truth in my heart over the last month through the Blasey-Ford case.  There was something wildly powerful in her desire to speak from the place of her greatest wound with truth.  It was even more powerful to learn that she chose to do this with the understanding of the great toll it would take on her and her personal life—all while knowing that her actions were unlikely to change the outcome. So of course I wonder: What makes us step into our wounding and reveal truths regardless of outcomes?  We all watched her stand in so much courage as she spoke thoughtfully and deeply about her trauma-- she openly showed her wound(s), the places where her roots are exposed. It was clear that there was no other choice for her. She knew this wound place well and met it with integrity. There is something so beautiful in the truth of a wound. So many of us choose to avoid this in the desire for certainty and sure footing. This story tells me of the courage it takes to step in, and the calling to do the thing we really don’t want to do—but must in order for us to grow ourselves, share our purpose, and reveal unavoidable truths to change the world.

Truth is about being vulnerable and bringing all part of ourselves to be seen, the deeply mangled roots that wish to be hiding in the earth and the part that the water brings up to the surface despite our best effort to stay underground. Experiencing the bareness of who we are is part of being human, it is part of living life through all our seasons of change. It is vital to our becoming.

In the past few weeks, I have been in the depth of knowing my wounds, my stories of great abandonment, betrayal, and the pain of not being seen or heard or valued.  I had an experience of feeling that someone was telling me who I am without seeing me or giving me the opportunity to show up in my truth. Though it may be false, it certainty is easier to create a story, than being able to step into the unknown and various dimensions of a complex person in her truth! These are tender and deeply honest parts of myself. 

I think of all those that walk on the higher ground of this landscape. How comforting that flat and solid ground must be for them. But for me, I am grateful and honored to be part on a much more complex journey that speaks to the depth, the unknown and the truth of human nature.

What path do you wish to walk in?  Join Oaks Counsel for a walk on your journey.

Ask Yourself All the Good Questions

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Ask Yourself All the Good Questions
by Michelle Katz

Coyotes:
One wounded.
One dead.

Does the extent of the wounding surprise you?
Were you not aware that something needed to die?

Stay still.
If you must go,
Go slow.
Go further than your daily distance
Not too much further,
Just enough to stop
In a different place.
And when you can,
Stare right into the sun
So it burns off
What you don’t need
In order for you to truly see.

Only certain eyes
Can reveal an encounter with utter love.

If you cannot lay your head on your lover’s chest
Find rest on my open and ready ground
Letting the sands and soils into the roots of your hair
Remembering that all things take their time
Especially grief
Which is only known
Because you let love grow so whole-ly.

Come to the floor of the earth
For as long as you need.
Feel the gravity
Of what is dying.

Feel the chill
Reach your bones,
Begging the heart
To know the time for harvesting.

Ask yourself all the good questions.
And know the answers will meet you in the spaces between
Between the tree branches of the juniper
Between the distance of two birds
Between the meeting of sand and stone
In the expanse where the land holds the sky.

Cradled,
Face the stars of the night sky.
While Venus does its dance with Mars,
listen to the pack howling
In the not-too-far distance.

Let Yourself Break Open

Let Yourself Break Open
By Michelle Katz

I don’t care how stable, strong and grounded you are or seem.
You must let yourself be chiseled away by rain and wind
You must let the lichen and moss grow on you
You must let your cracks be formed and visible
You must let yourself be marked and changed
Only then can you become utterly you and more beautiful than you imagine.

You must let yourself break open,
to allow yourself to be many parts of your whole.
So that you can walk the paths between them,
brushing your hand along your own various contours
to know yourself in all ways.
May you lay down in the places most exposed
and most hidden.

Let yourself fall in your own unseen leaf covered holes
known only when you step into them.
Looking up from your collapsed state
to find exposed quarts glistening in front of you
You’d have missed it if you stayed up right.
Let every kind of tree grow in the valleys
created by your weathering
may they change color over the seasons,
may they bend and contort to meet the sun,
may they slowly root in you,
without resistance.

And when a woman visits you
bringing sage to your feet
holding ceremony in the name of love,
know you have done all you are meant to do.

A Medicine Walk At Love’s Turning Point

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A Medicine Walk At Love’s Turning Point
by Michelle Katz

Walking into the dusk, watching all things lose its distinct form in those last moments of thin yellow light along the horizon.  The distractions were everywhere: people laughing and talking loudly on their porches, crickets taking over background noise, the sounds of a man rolling his trashcan to the edge of the driveway.  But I chose to keep my eye on my dog, this small quiet creature that so deeply embodies love, with her little red light on her collar guiding the way for me in the soon-to-be-dark. We sat in 3 spots before knowing we found the right one to watch the darkness ease into the sky.  The sounds began to hush as the darkness came, reveal that the main event was the night sky, for which we all hush to take in the show.  The moon, in its crescent form, hide behind a tree from where I sat, the dark silhouette of the tree only further revealed her brightness.  And I knew the moment I would stand up I would see all of her, even the parts in shadow could not help but be seen. I thought about my brightness, my wholeness, what can be noticed and seen in dark times? 

The shadow form of all things surrounding me, as I sit in the arroyo, seemed larger than life, as if I stepped into Wonderland, and suddenly I was a small creature. I had shrunk, and all the mushrooms and shrubs of nature’s floor were bigger than me. I felt I was in a sweet but infinitesimal part of the world.  The small amount of light of the night sky shined through the branches of a tree with a dense canopy. The branches created a web I knew I could just fly into and get caught, as I was hoping to reach that cloud-like soft top.  Feeling my doubt of not leaping to fly high enough.  I recalled my experience of climbing trees, always having a moment of fear and getting stuck in a spot, fear or uncertainty paralyzing me in taking the next step. 

I then noticed that two of the same species of plant sat on either side of me. A sweet delicate tall grass. On my left, the one stood tall and straight. On my right, the one arched and bended toward the other, right over my head. I thought of their relationship. One bends toward the other that won’t. I wondered what makes each one the way it is, and how it seemed unbalanced. They both seemed to sway in the soft breeze of the night but then take their usual stance. And as I began to wonder if the straight tall grass would ever find its way to be more flexible, my dog, with all her embodiment of love, who since that moment was seated to my right, below the arching grass, found her way, with her bright red light to sit on my left causing that straight branch to bend just slightly.  And then she got up and began to sniff the base of the grass causing it to bend even deeper toward me and grass that so wished to meet it. I thought about how only love can truly makes us bend.

When I rose from my seat, I felt a pain in my butt, I must have sat on a small stone, but I thought it appropriate, sometimes love has us in pain, and we often don’t notice it, until we do and it walks with us, and we hope to walk it off in time.  I followed the love light down the arroyo home, now fully dark and silent but for the crickets that seemed to match the pace of the red light of love.  The dark was more dark now, and the cool more deeply felt on the skin, and this embodiment of love, glowing along the path seemed to never walk in a straight line, but rather moved side to side as she guided the way, though she stayed closer on the path home in the darkness and cold.

We returned home, and for the first time I turned my headlamp on, and rolled the trash and recycling to the curb.  Watching my dog dance in circles at the event. Turned my headlamp off, and looked up at the big dipper in all its glory, guiding me home, as a red plane light moved its way into the dipper’s center.

It is only a matter of time before a loving relationships meets a challenge. When it happens, something important is revealing itself, as we feel unraveled in our hearts and heads.  We must choose how to meet this unraveling, as love changes form.  Do we wish to get distracted by the small things? Or be guided by our hearts? Do we want to focus on one thing or the bigger picture? How do we see each other’s wholeness through dark times? How do we get caught in the web of fear when we so wish and long for the loving soft touch? Can we come to see that things are not always as they seem? Can love help us bend to meet each other? And if so, what is the method we use to help us do that? As it gets darker and colder, do we have a love that stays close and helps us find our way home though it may not be a straight route?  Regardless, if traveled together, is it not a route worth taking? At the end of it all, can we turn the light on, on what is no longer needed and let it be discarded, taken to the curb so love can dance joyfully again? Can we be guided home by the north star as the light of love flies into the center of “The Great Bear”?

Stepping into the Unknown: A Trip to Peru Part 2

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Stepping into the Unknown: A Trip to Peru Part 2
by Michelle Katz

The Amazon felt like the most magical of places after leaving the bustling city of Lima.  This landscape was bustling in all the right ways for me.  This is where the light on the reflecting and open river meets the darkness of the damp forest, knowing they cannot live without eachother.  The trees were so alive in their movements, some even had legs and actually moved about 4 feet a year across the damp rich soil of this earth!  Walking trees!   The birds, all kinds, spoke full conversations without a care for who was listening in.  The TIti Monkeys played endless games with exclamation of excitement in their jumps and leaps.  The Caiman and Heron quietly played hide and seek with each other in little corners of this world.  The heat seeped into everything, the mosquitos buzzed, the termites crawled and took down trees, the rubber dripped from bark, the Capabara scurried and crunched on the good leaves of low plants, and if you listened well enough you could hear things growing, and the rain, oh, the rain ROARED!  Everything was alive and there was nothing to do but feel it's aliveness! 

On my first morning, the wake up time was 5am for a 6am departure across the Madre De Dios River, Mother of God (appropriately named), that weaves its way like a snake through the jungle. The river was the main mode of transportation, to navigate in this way helped me connect to the bloodstream of the landscape.  I felt myself pulsing with the movement of weaving through its thick warm waters.  The wild thunderstorm boomed at 3am waking me up to my own heartbeat. The resonance of the beat left me feeling alive.  It had not stopped raining since, which they tell me is unusual for this season. I am delighted in this dampness, in this downpour, in the sounds that accompany a climate like this. My desert skin has missed this.  We arrived at a trail through the Terra Firma Forest of the Tambopata National Reserve of the Amazon, toward Lake Sandoval. 

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There are large ponds of accumulated water on the trail.  I try to walk around them when possible, but this is not always an option.  I find myself in deep thought, knowing that I need a guide on this land but wanting the solo time, I hold back from the group. I  began to think about the water on this land, how some gets absorbed by the earth to become the mud and clay I place my feet on… at least somewhat surely.  Then there are parts of the land that soak in the rain water and other parts of land that can absorb no more, holding water on the surface. I wonder how long the land will take to absorb this experience, after the rain stops?  I think about how the land absorbs some water immediately and how it takes time to absorb the rest. I reflected on this lesson in my own life as I walked this landscape. What have I absorbed and what still sits on my surface long after the rain has come and gone?

My time in Peru marks a journey for me that started a decade ago, when I first told myself I would visit Peru, one day.  I had heard of its ceremonial culture, this majestic landscapes, its earth connected people. The last 10 years have been challenging, as I am still, bit by bit absorbing its accumulated rainfall.  

As I walked the path in this lush jungle, I couldn’t help but feel I was missing something essential in this experience by walking around the ponds and as I saw my Amazonian guide walk through them.  This is the same guide that told me about the rite of passage in his village which involves young men cutting down a large hardwood tree, on their own in less than 24 hours followed by immersing his hands in bullet-ant gloves to experience the most painful bites.  The completion of these tasks signify his stepping into manhood. I felt grateful for the practice of a four day fast in nature as a rite of passage instead.

I took this opportunity, in the rainstorm of the Amazon, to step in.  Born in the midwestern United States, I am no stranger to splashing in puddles, but here in this foreign jungle, everything felt more uncertain with creatures wild and unknown.  I watched my resistance as I approached each pond , sticking one foot in and leaning back, just in case I needed to change course immediately to save myself from the depths. It felt silly to me each time, but again and again, uncertainty hit as I approached each clouded brown puddle.  In time, I told myself, “Wait a second! I have rain boots on!---they reach my upper calf! I got this!” I then began to unrestrictedly step into each puddle upon the path. The depths still unknown and varying in texture. Also inviting in play, splashing in puddles and remembering my childlike nature.

Naturally, though this process I began to recall the moments in my life when I was stepping into the depths, into uncertainty-- times when I unmistakably felt my resistance and that I had no way out of the sinking into the mud. Times when I could not, did not know what would be underneath the cloudy water I was stepping into. I know in many of these difficult journeys there was no other choice I could have made—I had to go through, not around, it was the only way.  The Amazon reminded me of this.

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More importantly, it was the knowing that I had-- i always have--  everything I need with me that helped me get through. This is the greatest lesson to continually remember. While we may not always come equipped with knee-high rain boots, we carry with us the strength and intuition we need to make it through the situations we are faced with. It is often easy to experience our fear and limiting beliefs when facing challenges, and the invitation is to remember you already have everything inside you that you will ever need.  It is just a matter of reconnecting with that part of you again and again and allowing it to guide your steps forward.  

The option to stay inside was always present in the Amazon with the unexpected rain and cold.  But the jungle continued to call me out. When it rains, when it pours, when the cold can be felt all the way to the core, when the unexpected occurs, when the discomfort is unbearable, what do we do? How do we face it?  How do we find that part of us that keeps us going outside to face the storm? To embrace the cold? To feel the rain on our face and know we can meet it? 

Meet yourself and the unknown with Oaks Counsel.  Join us for one of our many offerings or programs in the wilderness.

Grounding in Peru: A Trip to Peru Part 1

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Grounding in Peru: A Trip to Peru Part 1
by Michelle Katz

On July 14th, I landed in Peru, it was 6am and the whole city of Lima seemed to be buzzing and busy already.  The rain was soft, sweet, gentle, but cold. I felt winter and the world of the southern hemisphere seep into me in sharp contrast to the summer of the high alpine Santa Fe desert.  The city of Lima felt strange as I grabbed a taxi to a get to my hostel and felt incredibly aware of how ignorant I was to the language of Peru. I felt my fear around speaking the very little Spanish I had studied in the months before, knowing my pronunciation was incorrect and my accent was all wrong.  I experienced the struggle of communicating. I thought about the Biblical story of the Tower of Babel, the mythology hit me as I was so mindful of how I could convey what I was trying to say without words. All while being aware of setting foot on Inca land, the land where seemingly inconceivable and entirely man-made sophisticated and elaborately detailed monuments to the Sun God, Inti or Apu-punchau, were created.  I felt myself grow in my heart, as this was the only place I could truly speak from, this is our universal language.

The city felt like a hard landing for me.  The hostel I booked reminded me that I am not in my 20s anymore and I made quick moves to find my way to another hostel, in a oceanside neighborhood, where I can feel myself again. I longed to find myself in some quieter remote places of this county, as it was truly the land that called me here.

The next day, I woke at 5am to an already awake city.  I hopped into cars and buses with utter strangers, ready for my first of many Peruvian adventures.  I was on my way to explore the ocean landscapes of Paracas and the desert oasis of Huacachina. The long bus rides through the countryside had me fall into my imagination of what it would be like to live in each landscape we drove through, much of it poverty stricken, houses left disheveled or unfinished, dog running around seeking their next meal.  But the colors were more striking, mountain sides, painted walls, and the people they seemed to be brightest of all.

There is much to be said for the great contrast of this day.  The movement from a bustling city of 11 million to the countryside towns of sparse population, from the aliveness of creatures of the coast to stark and openly expansive desert sand-scape. Even on a body level, the experience of cold that had strangers snuggling up next to each other making quick friends out of the necessity of warmth followed by the heat, only a few hours away that had me barefoot and in a tank top dancing in the sunset.  

I felt the importance of coming out of my general day to day life, how it challenges me, has me face my edges, and in that, helps me feel alive!  A revealing of Self can happen when when we not in our normal range of comfort.

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I felt this the most in the desert.  I suppose that is why the desert has always called to me as a spiritual sanctuary for getting to really know who I am and how much is inside me.  It is a landscape that is so open, I feel I have space to fill it by being fully myself. The town of Huacachina is built around a small natural lake in the desert.  It is quite literally an oasis. It attracts tourists for the the adventure of dune-buggying and sand-boarding across the massive sand dunes that stretch over several feet high.

Legend holds that the lagoon was created when a beautiful native princess removed her clothes to bathe, but looking into a mirror, she saw a male hunter approaching her from behind. Startled at the intrusion, she fled the area leaving behind her mirror which turned into a lake. Other versions hold that she fled, leaving the pool of water she had been bathing in to become the lagoon. The folds of her clothing, streaming behind her as she ran, became the surrounding sand dunes. And the woman herself is rumored to still live in the oasis as a mermaid.  The legend holds that the water and mud of the area are healing with curative properties for certain ailments.  It was a magical place to land. Given some time before the activities began, I found myself walking around the mirror waters of the lake, quiet and thoughtful and connected.  It was then that I realized that something essential in me, had finally arrived in Peru. I walked slowly and mindfully along the sand, I touched palm trees that seemed to emerge from nowhere, I placed my hands in the still and reflective waters with a prayer.

Then came the time for the adventure.  I found myself in a dune-buggy on a rollercoaster of a ride across the vast expanses of this desertscape. Moments of whiplash didn’t stop my laughter and joy of this entirely unique and new experience. After some time of wildly bumpy, unpredictable, exhilarating and terrifying, anticipation building, laughter ridden riding, we stopped.  In my dazed dizziness, I tumbled myself in the sand, feeling the sweet fine soft texture on my bare feet, sinking my body into the earth that held me still in that moment. I looked out into the vast distance with a feeling of gratitude and humbleness. The mountains that surrounded us in the distance were stunning and comforting as the desert outstretched in every direction with unbelievable ranges of texture and stature-- each pinnacle--  mountain and sand-- mystical in its own right.

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We were soon asked to get on board the dune buggy again, riding off into the dunes madly and with haste.  The language barrier was present between guides and adventures, but no words or explanation would have prepared me for this next part.  When the dune-buggy stopped and we stepped back onto the sand, we were handed a large board and directed with gesture alone toward the great drop offs.  The guides assisted us one by one down the first dune but then drove off leaving us to navigate down the dunes on our own.

 My fear of heights made its first of many appearances on this journey.  The fear had me saying “no” to the question of sliding down each dune. Friendly and kind persuasion does not require a common language, my Peruvian guides flung me into the sandy steep abyss. My screams becoming laughter midway down each time.  The sand was felt everywhere across my body. And though I was moving at rapid speed down the dunes, though I was scared of the height and felt out of control all the way down, there was something incredibly powerful about placing my body on the earth in this magical place, I was connected to the land, my belly and heart close to the belly and heart of the earth in this place.  There was something wild and fun, spontaneous and courageous, real and present about the day.

The day ended with the sun setting across the dunes, the sky alive with every changing color, the sun hungry for the earth, the sand cooling, the shadows inviting me to dance.  And day with this landscape had me meet myself and Peru at last.

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How do you ground to the earth.  Join Oaks Counsel for our programs and offerings to connect to the earth in your way.

Who Are You in Times of Stress? and a Messages from the Cholla Cacti

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Who Are You in Times of Stress? and a Messages from the Cholla Cacti

I crossed the threshold in the midst of a wildly stressful week, setting the intention of being centered in myself throughout it all.

As I walked across the rock, road, sand, dirt and debris from the recent rain, I thought of the words of one of my Rite of Passage guides, “Who are you when you are most stressed?”  I remember her asking this, as if the answer to this question revealed something utterly essential about who we each are.

I could not help but think of this question: my answer and its purpose.

I thought about all the stress of my week and all the stress of those around me this week. (It was a pretty wild week!)  I wondered about all the ways we deal with this experience of cortisol levels rising, and how unique it is to each of us.  It is widely researched how stress effects our bodies and relationships.

Some of us turn to others constantly talking about the stressors and almost seem to take comfort in the drama of the situation-- some of us can’t sleep-- some of us need to talk it out quietly in a coffee shop with a good friend-- some of us get quiet and introverted with the stress and hide from the world-- some of us can’t eat-- some of us work hard and methodically to “get things done,” nose to grindstone to move through it-- some of us get ill-- some of us go out and have a good time to avoid it or feel lighter in it--- some of us lash out on others to gain some sense of control-- some of us use humor to cope, laughing our way through the absurdity of the situation.

Stress forces us to meet ourselves in a real way, not in the way we necessary wish to present ourselves to the world. I know for me, when stressed, I do a mixture of going inward, getting quiet, thoughtful and not quiet present, as I also dive deeply into getting things done in a very regimented and hyper-focused way. The trouble is that this often leaves me feeling lonely, disconnected, not so alive to the experiences of the moment or the people around me who I know I love. I am not entirely connecting to my loving, meaningful, and cherished relationships because I have fallen too deep into my head space.

As I reflect on my stress tendencies, I begin to wonder about what gets me there?  As I typically do with my practice, I began to look at the nature around me, noticing as the monsoon season creeps in after the intense June heat onto our desert landscape. I remember the heat so intense just weeks ago, and the rains that came flooding in only a week ago. I realized that nature, too, experiences stress at times. This can largely be a result of too much of something, too little of something, or something that infesting from within-- a bug, virus or bacteria that can be causing a plant (or animal) stress from the inside out. Humans are no different! When we experience stress it is likely because we have too much on our plate, we feel like we are drowning, or we are not getting enough time/ space/ love/ respect/ etc. It could also be that there is a thought, feeling or physical illness that is infecting us from the inside.

I looked to the cholla cactus on my path, I noticed all the places in which it was getting too much or too little of something. I noticed there were parts that had begun to dry out, decay or look ill. I saw discoloration, parts that looked eaten away, parts that were hollow where only the skeleton of the plant remained. Yet at the same time, I also saw parts that were flourishing-- areas full of sharp and strong spines, the out stretched and muscular arms reaching towards the sun, the beautiful soft blooming and budding pink and magenta flowers.

Something important occurred to me during this interaction. There is a need for balance, and that both always exist together. It would be unrealistic for us to live a life without stress, but can we still experience a full life—along with the stressful parts? Stress is part of life yet our relationship and ways of meeting it can make all the difference. Can we find our way of allowing the stress we all experience be part of our larger self?  When stressful days, weeks or months urge us to pay attention, can we also call in the ways that truly help us through it?

In some cases, the Cholla let the part of itself that seemed stressed by the heat, fall off, recognizing it was no longer serving its growth. Or maybe nearby birds, animals, or insects come along to assist the plant in shedding its decay. In other cases, the stressed out part of this cactus was clearly connected and part of its form and contributing, dare I say, to its beauty.  What if we can notice our experience of stress and find a way of continuing to carry it at the same time we also carry our loving, strength, beauty, ability to connect and open up to the world around us and the people in our lives? (rather than isolate, become a workaholic, or get angry?)

How do we find a way of acknowledging our human nature in times of stress and of getting to know ourselves better?

Come find your way with meeting stress with all of you, balanced and true. Oaks Counsel can help. Check out our programs and offerings.

The Shaping of Rock and Sand: Nature’s Teachings on Love 

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The Shaping of Rock and Sand: Nature’s Teachings on Love
by Michelle Katz

I stepped out onto the land, crossing a line in the sand, holding the intention to learn about the courage to love.

It’s the time of year when the most bearable time to go out is in the times of great transitions, during dawn or dusk. The moments when light and darkness meet. This time often feels like watching the most intimate exchange.  At sunset, the earth turns dark as the sky changes color, figures once illuminated become shadow in the loss of the sun’s illumination.  There is a feeling of the much needed rest from the sun’s gaze and at the same time, a longing for that connection that feeds us all so deeply to remain.  Yet, we must remember that too much sun can also hurt us, dry us out, burn us, keep us stirring. The sun’s rising can feel like the union between souls emerging again, after a short break.  Sometimes, I feel like I am watching two lovers making love after an extended time apart. There is a delicate dance in meaningful connection.

Transition times are challenging, but I relish in the time of year that invites us outside mostly during this time, when it’s not too hot to bear witness to the earth and ourselves.  While in other times of year this time would be too cold, too dark, too uncomfortable to linger in, this time of year offers us a gift of sitting more comfortably in the departure of one state and the inviting in of another.

On this one particular night, I walked out to watch the sun and the earth say their goodbyes to each other, watching the delicate way they longed for each other in the changes: color, light, texture, sound, as the earth grew darker every minute.  I came to a budding pink flower on a prickly pear, feeling the contrast of soft blossom surrounded by sharp needle yet somehow they fit, they knew each other well, they would both offer their unique gifts in the process of growing together.

In my walking, I felt my love for the land and without a thought took off my shoes-- the land already slightly cooled, the day’s heat turning to the night’s cool.  I wondered about how unusual it may seem to find someone walking barefoot in the desert, in the uncertainty of sharp rocks, cacti, and goat-heads.  Though, my love for connecting more deeply with the land outweigh any potential risks.

I found myself called to a rock in the sand. I sat beside it. Placing my hand on its surface, acknowledging its cracks, the way it rested in the sand, the small dot pattern of gray, white and black that made up its texture though feeling seemingly smooth.

My dog heard something in the distance, and became alert.  She stood up and instinctively moved in front of me so that she was between me and this distant sound—imperceptible to my human ears.  She proceeded to sit in my lap, strongly focused on whatever it was she was sensing.  I could not help but smile at her communication of love.  This most scared creature finding her courage in love.

I use to think about love in quiet a cynical way, wondering why people do this thing which makes us act silly, stupid and more often than not, leaves us feeling hurt.

I returned my focus to the rock beside me, and without much thought, I took a hardy pinch of sand from the ground and playfully piled it on top of the rock.  I flattened the pile with my palm and began to spread the sand along the rocks surface. I noticed the feeling of the sand on the rock, the way each grain met the small holes or larger cracks perfectly filling them up.  How deeply these two knew each other, how well they fit together.  I thought of how the sand surrounded and supported the rock in its place, how likely it was for the rock to have been eroded and create the very sand that supports it.  How likely the sand created the texture of the body of the rock.  How they can each simultaneously shape each other.  And even more amazing to me, I recognize that any of these changes—over large amounts of time—could have only occurred in the process of an ordeal, the wind, the rain, the snow.  It is in the transition times that help us in our becoming and help us reveal and form who we are.

The rock and the sand felt incredibly connected, integral to each other’s being, as the sun and the earth at dust and dawn, or the blossom and the cacti needles, or my dog and me, or me and the man I love.

I could not help but think about the courage to love. My cynicism is changing about love.  I have come to learn of love as rite of passage—a ceremony, that requires the same two elements of any rite of passage: an ordeal and a community. I remember the adage so often mentioned in the therapeutic world, we cannot heal alone, we need relationship.  I have come to believe that to love (in many forms) is to invite in a transition, the dance between light and dark, the season changes that have the winds and water erode us. It invites in growth and learning with each other and about each other, in order to best form us into who we are meant to be as we again and again surrender to the very natural uncertainty of how.

If a part of me will crack and break off or maybe I will find my way by being blown fiercely into a crevice that feels so right that I decide to stay and find home there, creating a new formation of myself joined with another. If a wild ordeal comes along and forces me out somewhere down the line, can I feel able enough to surrender, for the current of love is greater than that of the uncertainty of what may come.  Can I play with the changes of coming together and falling apart and coming together again and again like the cycle of earth and sun?  Can I sit in my seat with the spines of a cactus around me, still loving the earth everything she contains, and still bloom?

Something comes alive in us in the marking of Love, it is a commitment to grow ourselves and one another. I now know, that is certainly an initiation process that is worth everything. 

Join Oaks Counsel for a Partnership Passage, whether your relationship is marking a new partnership, an ending, or a brand new phase of the relationship as you learn the ways you fit and grow with each other.

The Horizontal Juniper's Teaching on Obedience

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The Horizontal Juniper's Teaching on Obedience 
by Michelle Katz

I recently met a juniper that seemed to not follow the rules of typical growth. It was coming out of the earth horizontally then growing toward the sky at an angle.  Clearly, this juniper found its own way to sun and earth, not out of command, but intuition, I was touched by its knowing of what to do to be in the world.

Last week, I heard a woman stand up and speak about the values she has for her children.  At the top of her list was obedience.  I noticed that throughout her talk and many hours after that this word lingered, unable to settle anywhere in my being.  Then on my morning walk, my dog and I bumped into a runner with her dog, and my dog approached her dog ignoring my call for her; to which the runner said, “your dog doesn’t obey you!”  And there again, I heard this word like a blow to the chest.

I sat with the word “obey”.  I thought about all the ways it had shown up in the last week.  From hearing stories about authority figures at work, doctors telling us what to do, people/gurus we give our power over to. All the ways we obey without a second thought. I then began to think about the subtle and unspoken obedience of our society-- from a 17-year-old client who shared his feelings about not being able to make the most out of college - yet he is going none-the-less because our culture—and his parents—demand a Bachelor’s degree?  I think about ways we have been trained as children to follow the rules—our almost unconscious responses to the changing colors of traffic signals or even more concerning, follow laws that we know are unjust

I think about where we would be if we all blindly followed the rules and commands of our society or government-- what if we all simply obeyed all the time?  What if no one broke the law of authority during Nazi Germany or the Civil Rights Movement?  What do we make of those great leaders that saw certain authority to be unjust and stepped up to change our world because of it? They chose to NOT “just obey” but instead knew themselves and their truths in this world-- and the call to do so was much bigger than the call for obedience. These are the individuals that guide us as a society through a rite of passage.  Their calling, their knowing, their integration of what they learned and heard from others. They combined this deeper wisdom with what they knew and heard in themselves, and changed everything! Think MLK and Schindler. Think about all the advocates, right now, at our border and across the country, protesting the zero tolerance policy and demanding the re-unification of parents and children, that had been torn apart in attempts seek a better life. A decree our government expected all to “obey.”

I thought about how obedience feels related to childhood, about children being told what to do and following those commands. I began to get curious about each individual’s journey toward maturation, their passage to knowing themselves to the point of not simply following commands anymore. The process of maturation has us question obedience or at least interact with it differently. I recalled my parents’ wish to keep me safe and learn how to be in the world through their guidance, and young as I was and a female, even more so, I did my best to obey them.  However, at a certain age, I found that their guidance did not fit well for me and my path. What once was well intentioned suggestion for my obedience, changed as I matured into adulthood. I began to understand that what I knew, what I had learned about myself through navigating my own life challenges, was more essential to follow than their words and suggestions (no matter how well intentioned).

This is when it hit me, obedience is not good or bad in and of itself. In many cases, it does keep us safe and serves a purpose for learning.  However, it is our attitude toward authority that is truly what is calling our attention. So often, if we obey an authority, it can hold us back from maturing and questioning our own values. I wonder if obedience hinders us from trusting ourselves?  From following what we intuitively know?

At a certain age, I began to laugh at my parents’ attempts to guide me, recognizing it as a hope to control when we clearly live in a world that cannot be controlled. (They often laughed too, for the absurdity of it all). Before I met them with laughter, I would get wildly frustrated with them, but now as an adult, it seems that my intuition and knowing will guide me in the direction I need and anything else would just be giving myself away, would be reverting back to some stage of childhood.

Clearly the commands of my parents, my boss, the doctors, and the gurus will not stop. But my attitude toward them has changed.  If I meet the commands with obedience, I lose myself. If I rebel against all commands and authority, then I am engaging the obstinate part of me. But if I integrate commands and authority with my knowing, then I am participating in a practice of maturity. If we meet commands with rigidity, one way or the other, we are not seeing ourselves in the story of our own lives.

If I stop, feel my feet firmly on the earth, know the place in which I sit, and trust that I will turn into the sun and soil and water for what I need in my own way, as I can fully hear what others have to say but not take it in a rigid way, then I know that I am meeting authority with my authority and maturity. I cannot imagine being a tree that grows straight up and down. I am forever the tree coming out of the earth horizontally and then growing at a diagonal and then wide at the top in every single direction imaginable!  (All while still aware of the directive of the sun and soil and water).

In the theme of all these experiences, I recalled reading Abraham Hershel’s thoughts on obedience in relation to the Jewish religion: “To be is to obey the commandment of creation…there is a cosmic piety in sheer being. What is endures as a response to a command.”  This speaks to me about how important it is for us to live into our full being. Hershel is referring to the statement of the creation of humanity, as higher being commanded it. By living fully and knowing ourselves we are offering the greatest sense of obedience to the life we have been gifted.  This is obeying not only the commandment to BE but also obeying our deep inner Self, regardless of a religious or spiritual practice.

Step into obeying your truth and being with Oaks Counsel, check out our programs and offerings.

Navigating the Dark

Photograph by Sarah Treanor

Photograph by Sarah Treanor

Navigating the Dark by Michelle Katz

There are always moments of deep uncertainty in life.  These moments hit me suddenly –doubt sneaks in like a quiet creature in the dark. Out of nowhere I find myself in shame, feeling intensely vulnerable, then shameful about being vulnerable. An infinite spiral into confusion and pain. With no energy to fight, the urge to flee becomes overwhelming. 

Doubt is a powerful being.  It can have us spinning in our heads, or falling down to our knees in tears, crying out, “What have I done?”

This happens acutely in moments of passage: relationship and role changes, moving to a new place, or on a more daily basis, it happens when making decisions that are unpopular or speaking out against norms.

Navigating these situations is challenging. How do I make the transition without abandoning myself or my knowing?  Do I want to conform to what is popular to keep the peace and create ease?  Do I stay in a relationship when I know it’s not right for me, because the unknown is more terrifying?  In a new relationship, how do I merge well?  Do I move to a new place where I am challenged in new ways, or where I know I will feel more supported or do I stay with what I know simply because it’s familiar? 

How do I change my relationship with doubt?  Can we come to be comfortable with our uncertainty? Can we turn the “enemy” in to an ally?

This is the territory of the West Shield in the Four Shields Model.  Growth requires change, change requires stepping into the unknown.  When we sever from what is known, we enter the strange world of liminal space.  This is new territory – disorienting and frightening.  Though fear is natural in new territory, it also has the ability to block us from becoming who we are meant to be.  We must turn our fear into an ally, for very little can be accomplished if we do not leave the easy road and turn our psyche toward the dark forest.  Our fear and doubt is actually an opportunity to meet our capacity for great courage. 

On a night walk, once known spaces quickly become unfamiliar terrain, and what we relied on once is hard to rely on again. What is familiar in the light of day becomes strange, frightening figures in the dark. We must find a new way to navigate in order to meet the ordeal of uncertainty and doubt. 

When I step into the darkness of the woods, alone, my pace quickens. I watch myself walking as if to run through the unknown and fear, hoping to make it pass quickly. But I try to pause and remember that what is required is slowness, to embrace the uncertainty.  Taking my shoes off ensures my pace slows.  I do not trust my mind – at night the trickster is out.  Every sound is a snake in the bush, a pack of coyotes circling, or a mountain lion ready to pounce.  Trepidation accompanies every step for fear of what may puncture the skin. 

Boundaries are lost in the night.  Safety is left behind. Here there are no wall and no light. We must find a way through to something a little harder to hold on to.  We must trust our footing, our ability to find balance and stability in uncertainty. Be value neutral and let friends be friends and enemies be enemies. Not make the world our adversary. I must surrender to the world around me as it is, not as our fears dictate.

Most importantly, I am part of it. Good and bad. I help create and shape this world. This is the most courageous act – radical acceptance and responsibility.  In the face of doubt, I feel asked to step into the world with all its unknowns and know I belong here, as I am. I am it, and it is me. 

This the mystery of life, and the answer is only found in the journey itself. We must rest in that unknowing to find a space of knowing. No one can do the work for you or give you your answers. That would be too easy.  It is a daily adventure into the unknown, with all the terrors, joys, and opportunities to grow.

If we refuse to step into the dark woods of unknowing, we can never find ourselves, know who we truly are, and who we are called to be.

Join Oaks Counsel in navigated to your knowing during time of doubt.  Check out our programs and offerings.

Living What We Know

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Living What We Know by Michelle Katz

One of my favorite myths comes from Japan.  It is called Tsukina Waguma or the Crescent Moon Bear.

I have been thinking about this story lately, as so much in life is constantly changing, and sometimes I deeply wish for a cure to the troubles I hold, myself, for the people I love, and for the world.

The story is set in a pine forest, where a woman and her husband live.  The husband is sent off to fight in a war for many years, and when he returns, he is a different man, as war would do to any of us.  He would not enter the house.  He slept outside on stones, and stayed in the forest all day, but most of all, he was mean, angry, and hard to live with.  The woman, on the other hand, was so happy to see her husband and tried to do anything to make his return home wonderful: cooking, cleaning, creating, being of service.  Yet, everything she did, was met with anger and harshness. The woman then traveled to a healer for answers, asking for a potion to return things back to the way they were before the war.  The healer agreed to give her a potion, however, she would just need to get one particular ingredient for it to be done.  The healer then instructed her to climb the mountain, find the black bear and bring back a single hair from the crescent moon at its throat.  Then, the healer could give her what she needed and life would be good again.

She went out on her journey, singing to the mountain and the nature that surrounded her as she climbed.  The journey was effortful, with thorns and rock boulders to ascend, there were moments of darkness and moving alongside dark creatures.  The snowy mountain peak made her feet wet and cold, a storm came and blew winds in every direction, into her eyes and blinding her at times. She met them all with grace as she was motivated by love. 

She did not eat the food she brought, she slept in caves covered by leaves, and she prepared herself for the task at hand.  The next morning, searching for the Crescent Moon Bear, she found its trail and followed it to its den.  She watched the bear roar and enter its den, and thought to give it a bowl of food, which she set outside the den and returned to her shelter to hide.  The bear came out and roared loudly, circled the food, and finally came to eat it, returning to its den shortly after.  She repeated this practice for many nights, but every time she stayed a little closer to the bear’s den. 

One night, as the bear smelled the food, he also smelled her.  He roared so loudly the whole world shook, including the woman, down to her bones.  The bear howled, smacked its jaws, hauled itself onto its hind legs, and showed the woman the entirety of its mouth.  The woman, she did not run away.  The bear roared more and more, wailing its arms to grab her, claws coming close.  She was terrified, but she stayed put.  She spoke to the bear, explaining the reason for her journey and what she needed.  The bear, looked into the woman’s frightened face, and the woman, for a moment, felt she could see the whole world in the bear’s eyes.  Peace met them both.

She then requested the hair from the bear’s throat.  The bear thought of the woman feeding him daily and all the ways she had been good to the bear.  The bear gave her permission to one of its hairs, which she plucked quickly, leaving the bear crying out in pain then settling into huffs.  She expressed her gratitude. The bear roared, and she felt a greater understanding of its expression.  She then hurried down the mountain, returning ragged, soil faced, disheveled.  She came to the healer with the single ingredient and he instructed her to get, exclaiming, “I have it, a hair of the crescent moon bear!”

The healer smiled, took the hair, looked at it carefully, acknowledged its authenticity, and suddenly threw the hair into the fire.  It popped, crackled and was consumed by the flame.  The woman cried out in despair, “what have you done?”  The healer then reminded her of every step she took to climb the mountain, all she did to gain the trust of the bear, all she saw and heard and felt in her time up there, then told her to go home, for she already has everything she needs.

This week, I have seen, felt and heard all the ways that doubt strikes us. Personally, I came to meet doubt and fear, particularly in relating to others.  I realize that relationships are always changing, I am always changing, and thus my expectations and the way I meet circumstances also needs to change.  My bear lives in feelings of shame and betrayal.  Anger grows inside me and howls when I feel the depths of hurt I have felt from this. I have no other choice but to listen to these places inside me as a they roar and grab at me fervently.  I then know, I must find my way with this intense experience of Self.  This week, my way to meet betrayal and shame was much like the woman’s in this story, to stay with it and create connection, and to be intentional and honest.  It’s daunting to be so utterly vulnerable and real in this way.  This is a task that asks for every part of us to truly show up.

I went to the mountain as well.  My body feeling sore and achy, I was still determined to climb this mountain. Beginning on a dirt road with many divots and bumps, and then to a narrow path dividing a wild meadow covered in white and yellow spring flowers and surrounded by tall pines, and then into the woods, the darker forest which offered switch backs across a creek over and over again, along logs or rocks, and ascending upward, endless and steep to the peak and mountain lake.  Each section had a threshold crossing, a gate where road met meadow, another gate where meadow met forest, a boulder crossing where forest met alpine lake.  I could not help but think of all the way this mimics relationship.  Each threshold an opportunity to go deeper. As the terrain changes, we must walk differently in each landscape; different pace, cadence, step/level of surefootedness, awareness.  Each part offering its beauty and hardship.  Each part offering us an opportunity to trust ourselves, to cross the creek on rocky terrain and make it safely through again and again, to know that any moment of saying “I can’t” is meant by something deeper inside of us that screams out with so much heart and knowing about our ability to meet any ordeal with courage.

As I learn from this myth, there is no other choice but to meet challenges, especially when we are guided by love or something greater than us. When meeting something so wild and out of control, we come to find our path. Each new territory unveils new meaning, new purpose.  We feed the bear, we watch patiently, we talk compassionately, we see the multitude in all things.  Most of all, may we come to know that there is no magical potion, there is only the hair from the Crescent Moon Bear’s neck, a symbol of our journey and what we come to know about ourselves and the world around us.  We have everything inside of us already, we simply need to go out and practice our knowing. 

Come to your knowing with Oaks Counsel.  Check out our many programs and offerings!

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