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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The Tumbleweed, the Flower and the Grief Wheel

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The Tumbleweed and the Flower by Michelle Katz

This week, I met a tumbleweed caught on a low laying branch.  Not normally a striking image here in the southwest, except that I found myself getting curious about this particular tumbleweed’s journey.  I thought of how it once lived on the landscape above the arroyo, I thought of how it was once deeply rooted into the ground, how it once bore leaves or flowers.  When suddenly, a wind came, strong, determined, powerful.  It unrooted this small scrub and carried it across the landscape, rolling it haphazardly into the cut in the earth, and now it stuck, immovable, being weathered by the elements.

On the mornings after the rains, on my daily walk, I also came to meet a single white, fully bloomed flower on the path.  It’s petals soft and pure, it’s stance and heart delicate, yet dominant.  It was beautiful and caused me to stop and be for as long as I could.  Though this in itself is enough to create awe, it was not what struck me the most about this interaction.  It was the return to meet it again, later in the day that struck me.  For when I returned, the flower was gone.  I did not know if it was picked, eaten, or simply shriveled up in the day’s heat.  The next morning, however, the flower revealed itself again, and the next evening, vanished without a trace.  I thought of this brave flower, able to open again and again, though the difficulties of the heat of the day clearly had it go underground again. 

I wondered if I could be so brave to open up again and again, or I was more like the tumbleweed, stuck and weathered.  Both meet the changes of their lives so differently, both teach a lesson in grief.

It occurs to me that moving through the stages of grief, is a journey around the medicine wheel. I walk the grief wheel.  Kubler-Ross spoke of the 5 stages of grief.  Some believe these stages happen in a sequence and build on each other to help us through these times of deep sorrow.  I, however, believe that these stages happen in a cycle.  Round and round we go, many times until we can feel acceptance, at the center of the wheel. 

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I walked barefoot in the sand.  It felt soft, cool; I felt connected. My skin met the cool air, I smelled the changing of the season, I saw budding trees, heard chirping birds.  I moved slow and consciously, looking at earth and sky, feet and dog ahead of me. The earth met me in each step.  Denial is easy to know, as it is the place of being in the body and in hope.  I could convince myself that all was right in the world.  I would believe in magical thinking, ideas that I could dream up and wanted to will into truth. There is no better way to know denial as a stage of grief than to be in the practice of the body and pleasure seeking.  As there are many sides to all things, this can be a lovely place of naiveté and staying innocent, believing that somehow all things will tend to work out.  Yet, this place of naiveté also has a darker side, one that keeps us from maturing and living truths.  I felt that sweet innocence with my feet on the earth and sand between my toes.  I felt aware of all the ways people distract in order to not meet reality: eating, drinking, drugs, sex, jumping into things without deeper soul. 

Suddenly, I remember the reality of the situation. I remembered the presence of my sorrow.  I felt alone and in the knowing of the depths of grief.  I recalled, and again became awake to endings, to wild betrayals and overwhelming heartbreaks, to the state of the world, to the increasing temperatures, the ongoing natural and human disasters.  I felt deeply into the hurt of humanity, how cruel we can all be to one another and to the planet we live with. It’s the turn in the arroyo, where the shadow hits the land I walk on, when I must wake up to a truth, personal, cultural and universal.  I fell to the earth.  Wanting nothing more than to be close to the ground, to be held and loved by the earth. We cannot stay naïve to the world. We hurt each other and this planet and there is no going back from that hurt. This strips us of hope, this brings us down to the ground in the depths of depression.  When our heart breaks and it echoes in every fiber of our being.  This is a place of utter stand-still, of weeping, of withdrawal from life, of feeling numb, living in a fog.  This is also a place of consciousness growth as we come to know reality, though the depths are often hard to bare.  It is in this stage that we began to learn about ourselves. From the places of darkness and depression we find our way to what our gifts, the crack that allows for the light to shine through.

In the quiet of solitude, the soul is known, and then the mind begins to have the loudest voice, ask questions about what could have been done differently.  “If only I had shown more affection, if only I said more about how I feel, if only I listened more, if only I made more time, if only we had stepped in fully, if only I were an outgoing activists, if only I was older, or younger!” I find this part of the circle the most distressing, as I bargain with my journey, as though there was some way to change it.  The stage of bargaining feels, to me, most wounding for the soul.  As I question myself and actions so intensely.  (Unable to recognize that I am not the sole guide of this journey.) This deep and utterly exhausting but unrelenting place of doubt has us second guessing our choices and Self.  Leaving us in a place that feels so detrimental to our well-being.  Could we have saved the life, or made it better, could we have taken different actions that would have led to a different result?  This can feel anxiety provoking, injurious to the soul as it evokes guilt and shame and a wild uncertainty of Self. This is the place that also has us in dialogue with the power of who we are.  A worthy conversation to engage in, for we can create change!  As we call in serenity for the things we cannot change, the courage for the things we can, and indeed, the wisdom to know the difference. 

Then the winds blow fiercely, and we may not be able to hold ourselves to the ground, this is the nature of things.  We must experience a wild part of ourselves. Grief is about a departure from a source that once fed us so richly, that we were once connected with so dearly.  The rupture can evoke a force which is untamable.  This is where anger lives.  There is action in anger, it is fiery, wild, and so incredibly out of control and entirely transformational.  It is the place of burning old matter into a different form, disconnecting from what was. Something takes over that has a life of its own, and it keeps us alive and going.  Anger helps us move, more often than not. Though it can often be a way to stay connected when connection is lost. Anger can be the footing when there is no ground, can be a way to engage in relationship when relationship is lost, can be a way to find our path to change.

We meet denial again, depression, bargaining, and anger, and cycle around getting closer to the center of the wheel each time, until we may meet acceptance.  Each round informing us.

Joanna Macy, speaks about the two sides of emotional states in the practice of the Truth Mandala.  She states that grief and sorrow are just one side of the coin, the other side is love. We do not grieve what we do not love. Great grief is a sign of great love – and great love is a gift beyond compare. If we love with all our being, the grief will be sharp and deep. The price of love is steep.  If we choose to not grieve, or hold ourselves or get stuck in distraction and denial and not move around the wheel for however many times we need, then we are not stepping fully into our knowing of what it is to love.

As I think of the tumbleweed stuck in the branches, and the flower that chooses to bloom daily, I deeply honor both paths.  As I, personally, hope to find the courage and strength to keep going in and coming out, to know that the heat of grief has be recoil inward, and the cool welcoming air has ready to feel seen again.  I wish to know the dark places and keep blooming whenever I am able.

Love and Grieve around the wheel with Oaks Counsel.  Join us this weekend for the Healing Ground Grief Ceremony, a rich process of honor what was, yourself, and what is to come. (Sign up to receive details.)

Heart in Hand

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Heart in Hand by Michelle Katz

I sat down in the arroyo sand. Before I knew what I was doing, I brushed the sand flat to make a canvas, on which I drew a heart in the sand, just to the right of where I sat.  When I realized what I had done, I began to wonder about the symbolism of the heart, so often related to love, emotions, connection, the human heart functions as an organ that moves blood and is a necessary function for life. I began to perfect the image in the sand when I hit something hard, a rock lay at the center of my heart, I picked it up, examined its gray and white color un-patterned, its abstract shape, and its smooth, jagged texture.  Then, I looked down at the heart and saw that the removal of this rock left quiet a hole in the shape of the heart. 

It occurred me, long ago, that every moment in nature is a medicine walk.  I took myself to the mountains last weekend, to explore a new trail.  I walked the path up, at my own pace, observing myself and my surroundings.  Noticing the burden of the steep climbs and the leisure of the flater terrain.  The trail I had picked, included some bushwhacking, some getting off trail and navigating with a different marking of the land.  Once off the trail, the way was steep and unclear.  I began to question everything: Was this the path?  Could this be right?  Should I go back to familiar territory?  Should I climb up these large rocky outstretches of boulders?  What if I get hurt?  What if there was a bear or cougar?  I was reminded of solo nights in the high alpine desert terrains.  There is something about being uncertain, on a life and death level, that can help us tap into our humanness.  Something that helps us know that, at the essence, we are just small living creatures in a world so wild and unknown to us, and that so much can change in just an instant. 

I was lost, I admit.  The trail was unclear, the terrain was rough and I did not know where I was going.  I sought high ground.  My dog alongside me every step of the way, her loyalty and love a constant ally. We came across beautiful meadows, stunning vista views of surrounding mountains, we crawled through boulder fields and trampled through fields of dead slumbering trees, trying not to disturb them. Some spots had a false familiarity, and other spots were strange to me. Without a path, we continued on, in hopes that we would meet our planned destination. At high ground, I knew this would not be the case.  I saw a memorable trail below, which I knew to be far from the intended spot.  But the day was growing long, and my body grew weary.  I knew the best way would be to meet that trail.  The trouble was that the way down was treacherous.  A steep cliff.  I stood on the edge, as without, so within. I evaluated some potential routes and they all felt daunting.

I took my bets on one and began to descend.  I noticed my shakiness, no footing felt sure, I scrambled and grabbed for rocks that instantly fell loose.  I was a creator of much erosion that day.  I looked to my dog, also noticeably frightened as rocks fell with every movement, many in her direction. She spoke to me of instinct, of love, and constant connection through witnessing.  She and I moved down the cliff as best we could.  Step by step every thoughtful foot placement crumbling and falling.  Much of the descent was my body rolling down.  We reached the familiar trail and began to walk with ease again.  We even made a couple friends along the way.  They had no idea what our day was like, but it was sweet to share in stories and community after such an ordeal. 

In the midst of my grief process, this medicine walk was one of importance.  One of great knowing about letting go of anything certain, about paths that take us away and toward people, and that risk and feeling the edge of our existence is part of love and life.  Life has us often feeling we have nothing to hold on to at times. Feeling we are off our path and scrambling down the cliff that we so crazily and exhaustedly climbed just moments before. Feeling absolutely lost in grief, breathless and somehow tirelessly navigating any way we can, back to something familiar and sweet to land on.  It was important to know that grief is the part of the journey that has us utterly uncertain and questioning life and choices.  Somehow, we live through this, be on our own accord or through some form of search and rescue.  Though no one can know with any certainty about what we have been through, we still need people to see us and join us back on the trail in order to understanding what the grief has offered us.

As I looked at my heart drawing in the sand, I realized I could have easily covered the hole and perfected the heart shape again without a second thought, but something had me pause this instinct.  Something about this heart with a hole in it, truly mirrored me and my experience at the moment, there was a resonance, a feeling known.  I looked to the left of me and there was my handprint in the sand, which must have helped me land on the earth, just moments ago. I placed this rock, once in center of the heart, into the center of this palm print. Giving myself the permission to hold the pain in my heart for as long as needed.  I let the hole, from what once was present and now is absent, remain a hole.  This way the heart felt more real and beautiful to me.

Get lost in the woods, draw in the sand, explore your life, yourself, and your world with Oaks Counsel.  Check out our upcoming Healing Ground Day Quest coming up May 27th.

What Are You Made of?: Stone House Story

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What Are You Made of?: Stone House Story by Michelle Katz

I had a strange dream this week, an Alice in Wonderland, sense-of-Self dream.  When I woke, I couldn’t remember all of it as I sat up in the dark room and scribbled in my journal, in a half sleep state.  Something about it stuck and felt overwhelming in a way that screams, “pay attention!”

Here is what I remember:

I was coming up to a stone house, it was beautiful and huge, like the castles you see in Europe.  It was surrounded by a large field in the middle of nowhere.  There were rolling hills in the background.  I do not recall who I was with, but I do know that we were there to look into buying this house.

The stones were intricately placed, it felt unusual to see a house like this in the U.S. Each stone a different size and shape, mostly gray in color, mortared together. We entered the house, first walking through what seemed like a garage space and I immediately felt concerned that this house would be too cold to live in. However, as we entered into the main structure, it was warm and comfortable.  We walked around the house.  The layout was wildly complex, and incredibly modern.  The interior and exterior did not seem to match.  It was already furnished and very well kept.  It didn’t take me long to find what I knew and declared to be my room. It wasn’t the master bedroom, but something particular about it made me know it was right for me.  It was in the front right corner of the second floor of the house.  I liked looking out the window. It had everything I needed.  In the room, there was a stairway that led down to a living room space that I could easily see making my own, it was private but inviting to others.  I found myself running up and down the stairs from the bedroom to the living room.

Along my way I would see an alternate route down on the side of the stairway, but every time I took it, I ended up back on the main stairway.  I was so confused and kept trying to understand the structure of this. I had deep curiosity for the purpose and path of this alternative route.  Feeling that I was missing something, I deeply wanted to figure out what this passageway was about. Up and down I went trying different ways to uncover this alternative path, until I woke up.

When I woke, I found myself reflecting on this dream. Dreams are incredible experiences of connecting to psyche.  Dreams hold meaning, it is important to be with symbols and settings of our dream world as they may reveal something significant about our life process.

In dreams, a house can be seen as a symbol of the Self. Stone houses speak to me of something old, ancient, outdated. Also, wildly artistic and intricate, unique, and picturesque.  This house would be time consuming to construct, more time than our modern day structures. It would entail a great deal of attention and detail. I also anticipated it to be cold, dark, quiet and unusual to navigate; but, it was warm, modern inside, well-lit and comfortable, still unusual to navigate, but beautiful.  I found myself wondering how I embody the old, intricate, yet contemporary and light.

The knowing of my room and the stairwell also seemed important. The location of the room within the house is notable, the right side of the house is a symbol of the tiger in feng shui, and the tiger is a symbol of the yin, the feminine, grounded and earthy.  I don’t know how I knew this space to be right for me in this house but I knew it was my room. Stairways in dreams tend to symbolize the movement from conscious and subconscious or unconscious realms.  In the dream, I seemed to be engaged in the process of moving between these levels of consciousness and looking for different routes to them. The dream also seems to have an Alice in Wonderland quantity, with alternative mysterious stairways that lead to the same place repeatedly.  Alice in Wonderland is a tale of increasing consciousness and individuation.  It is also a story about what happens if we let the ego or if we let our instinct guide us.  Alice enters Wonderland through a fall down the rabbit hole, not unlike the hole/alternative passageway in the stairway of my dream that I continually chose to navigate through. We must fall in order to move through the gateway into another world, sometimes, it seems we must fall repeatedly.  As I fall deeper into my grief this week, this dream arouse; where houses don’t seem to be what they are/ I do not seem to be what I am, paths have different ways but bring you back to the same place/ when trying something different we are brought back to do our constant and important work again and again, where different levels of consciousness can be opened when we recognize we are suddenly in a changed world/when we know our selves differently in the face of grief and loss.

I still sit curious about that alternative stairway and the stone walls. Perhaps a part of me refuses to trust in the alternative route, and feels I need hard walls to hold and protect me.  This is my work now, to find trust and fully fall into the rabbit hole and integrate all levels of consciousness. 

Integrate all parts of yourself and learn what you are made up of with Oaks Counsel.

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Grief: Lessons from the Juniper

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Grief: Lessons from the Juniper by Michelle Katz

On a walk, I picked up a small pine cone, the size of dime.  I held it in my hand, its jagged edges and roundness meeting me. I began to look at it deeply, with all its complexity, its wild texture and pattern, its wounds and holes, its ups and downs.

These past few weeks I have found myself in a deep state of grief.  I approached this through the gate of personal sorrow.  The depth and duration speak to me of a grief, not only of one life-changing event, but many: all relationships that ended, grief of the earth, the grief of shame, neglect, not being enough, the grief of the many people who are not able to grieve, and the story that grief is always with us in every waking moment but we hardly ever acknowledge it walking around with us day in and day out.  Grief comes to me personally, but when it comes, it’s so great I know what I am feeling is bigger than me.  What I feel is universal. 

In a world full of so many distractions: cellphones, computers, tv and movies, people to call, things to do, emails to write, silly things to buy, so on and so on, each one beckoning us to stay away from diving into the grief. I choose to continually challenge myself to not distract, but to be with. It’s not always easy, and sometimes I slip, checking Netflix or Amazon, but again and again I take myself to a place of consciously choosing to sit in this wildly uncomfortable place.

There is a reason for our apprehension to sit with grief; it is dreadful, sorrowful, it is heartbreaking, heart-rendering and vulnerable and it is just as much rich. There is a reason to sit with grief: the world needs us to, it grounds us in our humanity, it brings us to a greater knowing of self and the world around us.  Poet Kahlil Gibran said, “The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.”

In the moments of not distracting, I find myself in a very particular state.  Most notably, it is a state of being slow, like the whole world and I stay completely still for hours at a time. If I move, I move in a lingering manner, in a 5-10 below the speed-limit manner, in the way that a walk that takes me 20 minutes suddenly takes 40.  In a way that the rocking chair feels fast paced at times. Though its movement doesn’t take me anywhere but to myself. It is comforting and offers a great steady view of the mountains. Time feels lost.  It is hard to meet the day from this place. There is this feeling of being estranged from the world.  Some other presence seems to take over, a presence that leaves me feeling humbled and brings me down to my knees.  This is also the essence of the experience of grief for me.  It brings me down to the ground.  I can spend forever laying on the earth, watering planet generously with tears.  Francis Weller points out that the word grief comes from gravity and being on the ground. 

This past weekend, I spent much of my time laying on the large patch of fake grass (after all, we are in the desert) on the front patio that I had intended for my dog.  But there is something that called me to the ground and something about the grass felt comforting in this time, perhaps for the nostalgia of my upbringing in Ohio. I would lay on the earth for hours, knowing grief’s depth.  The sun would come and go, my Fitbit would call for me to move every hour, the wind would blow in its wild way, the birds would swoosh busily in the morning, chirp at dusk, and quiet as it grew too hot. I stayed, the earth knew me well there, and I, it. Together we’d watch the day, me following the earth’s pace.

I went for one of those 20 minutes walks that took about an hour. That is when I picked up that small pine cone.  I found myself needing to stop and sit on the earth again, a shady spot along the arroyo wall.  I drew in the sand with my dog sitting beside me and occasionally stepping into my art. There it was, the pine cone, speaking to me of complexity and its relationship to life: patterns of chaos, broken bits, prickly and smooth, up and down.  Then, I looked up to its place of origin.  The Juniper tree above me does not produce such cones. I admired this Juniper nonetheless, as I always do, because there is something striking about it.  I looked across from where one of its branches touches the ground, and I saw all this plant matter that was piled up and wrapped around it.  I knew which way the water flowed in this arroyo by the way the old natural debris stuck to the branch, but it’s been far too long since we have seen water here.  I wondered if it’s because humanity had stopped spending time to grieve.  I wonder if the earth needs us to grieve to bring the waters back, because without that, we all end up stuck in motion on the branch that stops us. We all dry out and seem stiff and easy to break when touched. 

Then, I looked at the whole of the Juniper.  This was not the only branch that touched the earth, nearly half of them did.  I saw the wound of what must have been a lightning strike that split this tree, bringing these branches to the earth, creating a cave like structure that I found myself sitting under for shade and comfort.  I saw its roots along the arroyo wall twisting and turning and spreading wide across and deep into the earth.  I felt the fibers of its bark and roots, and felt the truth of the axiom “as below, so above, as within, so without.”

 My gaze then moved to the Pinon beside it, where the pine cone came from.  I took time to observe their relationship. The roots intertwined but were clearly different, one going more deep, the other spreading more wide. I took note of the different pine needles, the berries vs. cones.  The Pinon was clearly more vibrant, stood more tall, produced more green.  The thing that struck me the most though, was the way they touched.  You see, one of the Juniper branches that came to kiss the ground took a Pinon branch down there with it.

I began to think of the wisdom of the Juniper, and the courage of its action.  For all things, at some point or another, must come to meet the earth, and it is always best if they do not do so alone.  Grief needs community.  This, as I realized, is why this Juniper strikes me as so beautiful. Though the Pinon seems to be healthier and vibrant, the Juniper seems to embody a soulfulness, that the Pinon does not, for the Juniper’s knowing of grief is different, intimate, vulnerable.  Thus, in this time of deep grief, I take my lesson from the Juniper, to go slow and to be close to the ground and this will contribute to my radiance.

Let’s bring the waters back together, let’s make time away from distraction to get low to the ground and grieve together.  Join Oaks Counsel for this month’s Day Quest experience: Healing Ground Greif Ceremony.

 

8 Reasons to Participate in Nature Based Healing Experiences

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8 Reasons to Participate in Nature Based Healing Experiences
by Michelle Katz

1.     Nature as Mirror: There is something magical that happens in nature.  I see it time and time again, no matter what may be happening in your life, nature has a way of showing you something that reflects you or shows you exactly what you need.  It simply need you to take the time to be with it.  It can be a tree fallen over a creek that appears to speak to you of a crossing, or a hill to climb in order to gain perspective, or perhaps a cloudy sky just happens to open up right above you when you feel clear, or clouds roll in and snow begins to fall just as you connect to your grief. Or perhaps, a deer or coyote suddenly greet you on the path.  Or you begin to think about your choices and wondering about different paths when a tree with a divided trunk reveals itself, one-part dead, the other alive, and the dead still has something beautiful growing off it.  I don’t know how this happens, but nature meets you exactly where you are.  Wilderness Rites of Passage guides have a saying for this remarkable yet trustworthy occurrence, we say, “This shit is real!”  It is just so real!  It is a testament to how deeply interconnected we are with the place we call home and the way it meets us every day.

2.     Not about Navel Gazing: There are times in our lives that have us look inward, this capacity to ask questions like “who am I?” as we hope to make sense of ourselves is a very important part of being human.  The challenge is when this process becomes exaggerated and we lose sight of what is important and even the very self we are seeking to know. It is essential that we look inwardly to know our gifts so that we can share these knowing with the world.  More often than not these days, we look inward to the point of not seeing the outward.  We get lost in the inward gazing and this can lead to depression, isolation, fear and victimhood.  Nature-based healing experiences help us navigate a way to find balance with the inner process as it is informed by the world around us and how it can continually inform how we give to our people.  After all, it is unlikely that when sitting outside we would fail to notice the sun on our skin, the sounds of birds and wind as they respond to each of our thoughts, the smell of the ponderosa pine in the air that has us remembering we are not alone.  When we are with the trees, we hear something about the world, we are reminded of our grandmothers cookies and the family we know and belong to, and we wonder what we can eventually give.

3.     Connection and Awe:  Considering what has already been stated, it is clear that we are connected to something much greater than we knowingly acknowledge on a regular basis.  Nature-based practices help us see the world outside of ourselves more fully and regularly. Nature helps us recognize that we are never truly alone.  And even more, nature gives us the opportunity to be in awe! We are not nearly in awe enough these days!  “We are a collective species and awe shifts us out of self-species and coming into being interested in other species. As Dacher Keltner explains in his very powerful talk.  “Awe is the feeling of being in the presence of something vast that transcends your understanding of the world…. Brief experiences of awe redefine the self in terms of the collective and orient our actions toward the interests of others…Momentary experiences of awe stimulate wonder and curiosity about the world.”  says Keltner in his article “Why do we Feel Awe?” and how important it is for connection in for our species in the world today.  Awe helps us feel more connected to the environment, enhances our well-being and connection to self, and integrates us into a community.  All of this stimulates reflection about personal purpose. From this place we can come to know our responsibilities to ourselves and the world in a bigger way.

4.     Opportunity to Play:  Nature-based practices helped me being a child again.  If we look at Alice Miller’s understanding of Trauma, all human beings have somehow got cut off from their ability to truly be a child. It is important to connect with this child-like nature for balance.  Nature-based practices takes us outside, where being in our bodies and playful beckons.  When we get in the river, it is hard to not splash or feel our bodies float down stream or our toes squish in the mud.  When we see a climbable tree something in us brings to life the little child, even if we choose not to actually climb it.  When in the sand, isn’t it hard to not draw in it with our fingers or feet.  Or a big field of flowers may excite us to run for not reason and then put flowers in our hair. Or a pond that has us catching frogs just to let them go and catch them again.  Nature invites us to play, and play is so healing!

5.     Spontaneity:  We can never predict the hooting of the owl, the shooting star that passing across the sky just as we look up, the moment a drizzle becomes a storm, the eagle swooshing down to catch its prey, or the drop of a leaf dancing its way to and through the curves of the creek with its’ own beat.  Spontaneity helps us connect to our aliveness. The unpredictability of nature helps us recognize the spontaneity in ourselves, helps us connect to the heartbeat that guides our actions in the world and the trusting that when the timing is right, something unbelievable and unexpected can happen and it can be beautiful.  We get to experience the truly creative human spirit in nature.

6.     Breaking the rules:  While our culture loves rules, nature does not abide by rules in such a rigid way.  The law outlines rules to keep us safe and accountable to each other.  The government, places of work, schools, and home have rules (some conscious, some unconscious) to keep us organized.  We have our own personal rules that allow for us to believe what we want to believe about ourselves.  In nature, we get to break the rules a bit, and experience the edge of ourselves in order to learn more about who we are from those edgy places.  Maybe we get naked more easily, maybe we jump up and down and sing and dance more readily, maybe we scream and cry without restraint.  Nature invites us to be fully ourselves with our restriction.  And it’s such a valuable invitation to embrace as it can lead to our greatest moments of transformation.

7.     Nature teaches us about our own Nature:  Nature, in all its’ splendor, is in no way absolutely flawless nor is it controlled; it is wild, day in and day out. This is what contributes to its perfection. It is always changing, season to season, moon cycle to moon cycle, day to day, moment to moment. This is the greatest lesson nature offers us.  In being with nature, we remember we are no different, for we are always changing, and meant to be changing from each season of our lives, and each experience we have; each moment that we take in new information about the world and ourselves. During some times in our lives, we may feel utterly sad. We may think there is no way this will ever change, but somehow, in time, we move, we come to find how the sadness feds what brings us to do our work in the world, and that will bring us to our creativity and spirit and starting a new, until we fall into our sadness again and round and round we go. Always changing, with all that came before tilling the soil and cultivating the nutrients we need to grow stronger and more fully ourselves.  Nature teaches us that we live through all these changes, we grow though all these changes, we find new ways of being purposeful in all these changes. We come to know ourselves differently in the quiet reflection of the nature within each of us, as reflected by the nature that surrounds us in quiet moments of being.

8. The stories will change you.

Are you ready to embrace the power of this nature-based healing experience? Join Oaks Counsel for our various offerings and programs.

Losing Teeth and the Seeds of Change

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Losing Teeth and the Seeds of Change
by Michelle Katz

I had an interesting, though common, dream this week:

I was driving in my car, on the highway, not unlike any other day, when suddenly, I felt my back left molar crack and crumble into little pieces.  In an overall panic, and concerned about swallowing them, I sought out a place to stop to manage the situation.  I pulled into a gas station, or wait station (as I called it in my dream), aptly named Love’s.  I walked through the store and out the door to the desolate area behind of the station.  Where, there on the black tar-top, I saw a shiny new basket drain, like the kind you buy for your kitchen sink, only bigger, stainless steel, clean as can be, and entirely out of place. I thought this would be a good place to spit. My two friends came beside me as I spit out the crumbled teeth from my mouth, one handing me water to rinse and spit. And as I did so, more and more teeth came out broken and crumbled, coupled with blood and tears. I cried and cried, down on my knees, watching my teeth leave me. I was asking and pleading, between my cries and spits, that there be a way to bring these to the doctor to surgically put my teeth together and back in. One friend, then mentioned the possibility of dentures.  In the moment that I immediately resisted the idea of dentures, it occurred to me how different I must look now, that half my face would be caved in slightly. I began to envision how much this has surely aged me.

Dreaming that our teeth are falling out is familiar and memorable to many. There is much meaning and interpretation that can be taken from such imagery of the psyche. When an we dream this, it is incredibly individual as much as it is collective.  Without a doubt, a dream like this is important!

Many people have ideas about interpreting teeth falling out dreams, there are few I can bare the interpretation of, but I found that backofthebrain.com did reveal some good points to consider.  Teeth are the beginning of the digestive process, the breaking down of nutrients, thus this dream may have some relevance to the beginning of a process of psychic digestion. If teeth are falling out perhaps there is a struggle in trying to integrate something.  Teeth also fall out or are absent during certain periods of life: new born babies, childhood, and elderhood. In the first and last stages, our physical abilities are limited as is our autonomy.  But in childhood, this is a stage of recognizing the end of baby teeth and the adult part of us coming into being.

Ultimately, the meaning of the dream can be found in the soul of the dreamer:

Life is busy and more often than not, I move fast.  I am the driver of my own car on the highway, moving from one place to another.  But, something seemingly out of control forces me stop. It is not coincidence that I stop at a “wait station”/gas station (a place on the road, where we have to stop moving in order to refuel to ensure we have what we need to keep moving) called Love’s.  For love is the greatest of red lights, calling out for our attention. Where I lose my teeth.  I certainly see this as statement of letting go of some youthfulness and stepping more deeply into growing up and older.  For goodness sakes, the conversation of dentures entered the scene!

It seemed like the crumbling and spitting out of teeth into the earth was endless, along with the blood and tears of my grief and loss, which can only be felt when love is also present.  My plea to be youthful again, to have the teeth put back in was unrealistic and sweetly naïve.  A plea to be taken care of, shielded from some necessary truth.  Something essential is changing in me at this time and the grief and loss is immensely heartbreaking.

To spit the teeth into a drain in the ground is a bit unusual. It was clear they were not easily being discarded, like the blood and tears that went through the drain and into the earth. I recall the story of Cadmus, who sowed the seeds of a dragon he slayed, and the sprung into soldiers that would eventually help him build a city. This is the collective myth that informed the individual journey.  As I lose something essential, I can plant it into the earth, and from that earth, something greater will grow, and that is what I wish to hold onto in this great time of change.  I am sad, for I have lost something important and grand in the Love station.  I weep and weep and bleed great distress. When the tears have stopped, I saw those teeth in the earth, well held, all as a testament of my growing up and older. May the lessons, once a part of me, never be discarded completely.  May the letting go help me grow into who I am meant to be and may the remains be sown and cultivate the beginnings of building whatever I am meant to build in this life.  This is the story, dream and gift of a rite-of-passage.

Dreaming into your Rite-of-Passage lately?  Oaks Counsel support you in letting go and living into what grows you.  Check out our programs and offerings!

Meeting Yourself in the Dark 

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Meeting Yourself in the Dark
by Michelle Katz

It’s late winter or early spring around 9pm, the sun had set, the moon was dark, and I head to the trail, no dog, no headlamp, no other person.  I remember, that at this time, stories of mountain lions in the area were prevalent and in my consciousness.  I was 25 or so, and I was holding some big questions about my life.  My impaired vision was frustrating, my eyes adjusted slightly in time, but I was still acutely aware of not being a nocturnal creature.   I walked with the intention to meet the darkness openly and with courage, and I held the intention like a shield protecting me from what I feared out there.

My heart would race, every shrub, tree, and trail post looked like a man with a weapon or a potential vicious animal ready to defend it’s territory and I was surely intruding on their space.  I remember walking fast, hoping to get it over with.  I remember fearing the figures that looked more like men than those that looked like animal.  I felt that every step I took was uncertain. 

This was my first night walk.  Being with my fear in this way was incredibly potent.  I had an opportunity to connect to it, to say to myself, “I will take precautions but still go out there, alone and in the dark.”  I found courage and power on this edge.  I felt into how my mind created images and stories while my body had a very different experience. I noticed where I could find lightness while in this place, the stars or the sounds of birds changing my fears to expansion.  The light helping me feel less lost in the darkness.

Many years later, during the darkest time of life, I found myself stepping into the darkness even deeper on a series of night walks.  This time with the intention of calling in my ancestors, meeting shadows and the gifts, and to find the wound in me and the land.  Still I found it amazing what my mind could make of the landscape in shadow. I found light in the moon among the moving clouds, and lightning strikes in the far distance. On a trail I traveled daily, I would find myself lost and inadvertently loud.  The trail in the darkness seemed to be different and the contrast of the silence and my footsteps was stark.  What I thought I knew so well, was lost, as I tripped in holes and hit branches.  I aimed to find the tree I visited frequently for comfort in this dark time of my life, but old comforts could not be found, so I resorting to sitting wherever I sat.

I asked the big questions and rested in the discomfort of them, having profound dialogues with ancestors and earth, without knowing any answers.  Expect that I knew, everything I thought important and true, was not relevant anymore.  And on these walks, I would mysteriously begin to bleed. I had cut my index finger (the one that speaks most about direction), a scape on my navel opened up (something deep inside me wanting to come out) and my cycle started (a symbol for a new life from the dark and deep cut of my body).  And each were painful, and wild, and left me feeling incredible vulnerable and utterly present.

After these walks, I shared my stories with others and stood in deep declaration of myself.  The words burst out of me with such confidence: “I went into the darkness and realized my mind is not in charge of anything, my core is bleeding, light shines around and behind darkness, and people can fear, wonder or judge me, but I will walk on making my sounds!”

Every time I step deeply to meet the darkness, I reemerge feeling a sense of Self I had not previously known.  It is one of the most powerful ceremonies I know.  Come Step Into the Darkness with Oaks Counsel on April 21st, to experience how you meet this part of you.