Posted in Environment/Deep Ecology/Climate Change, Essay, General Interest, Michael Watson, Nature

In Wilderness Is the Preservation of the World

Tidal-Marsh I came of age with Eliot Porter. Not literally of course. Rather, my adolescence and young adulthood were accompanied by his books and photos. He taught me how to look. Even now, his photographs influence my writing and visual work.

A few weeks ago we were in Downeast Maine, north of Bar Harbor. Every few days we drove south, down Penobscot County way. Eliot Porter spent much time in the Penobscot region, as well as out West. Out West, his photos were panoramic. Downeast, they were more intimate, capturing a brook, leaf, or pod of berries. If memory serves me, his iconic book and homage to Thoreau, In Wilderness is the Preservation of the Earth, drew heavily from his Penobscot experience.

People tend to think of wilderness as vast tracks of untouched ecosystems. Yet in ourWater_Striders time, there are few such places. Climate change and other forms of pollution reach the farthermost corners of the earth. Here, in North America, fossil fuel mining takes place in the midst of former wildlands. Our population has grown so large that we fill the back country with people on many weekends.

The elders taught me to treasure wilderness, and to remember there is another wilderness, the one that lies within each of us. Those vast spaces can be imposing, even terrible, in their beauty and harshness. I was taught there is another danger in focusing on the wilderness inside us: we may ignore the needs of the Planet that supports us, and the innumerable beings that accompany us. To successfully journey into wilderness requires forethought and balance.

For many, the inner wilderness seems most inaccessible, even dangerous. There are daemons within, and sea monsters, waiting to devour us. As shamans everywhere have long known, there is also the ever present threat of madness. Yet there is also the promise of renewal.

Mossy_LogShamans journey into this wilderness to seek aid for others, to return souls to their owners, and to accompany the dead to the other world. They travel for visions of the future, to learn where game will be tomorrow, and to correct imbalances in the world, imbalances most often created by people. Sometimes shamans travel and fail to return home; this is a always a risk.

When Europeans arrived in the Americas, they brought imbalance to our people in the form of illness, alcohol, and social chaos. Faced with this, the shamans and Medicine people sought cures in the inner and the everyday worlds. They were resourceful and connected to the spirits of things, and were often successful in finding ways to heal those afflicted. Yet, eventually, the sheer volume on illness overwhelmed many of our cultures, killing great numbers of healers as they cared for others. Much knowledge was lost in those dark days.

Downeast, Eliot Porter focused on the small, the everyday. He reminded us that wilderness is a matter P1080565of scale and attention, that we can find wilderness wherever we are. We can, in turn, look closely at the minutia of the world around us, journey deep into the forest, or turn inward. Sometimes we do all these, simultaneously. Such moments form a sort of vision quest.

Eliot Porter taught me that as we look through the camera’s lens, we sharpen our attention, and open to the magic of the unexpected. Perhaps, for just a moment, we discover ourselves reflected in the world around us, and are returned to primal wholeness and balance. In such moments we may know that we are the salmon swimming home to reproduce and die, the leaves settling into the litter, preparing to nurture the next generation, or the eagle that flies above the world, capturing visions of wholeness. Then we may understand that wilderness is indeed the preservation of the world, and of the soul.

Buch_Berries

– Michael Watson

© 2014, essay and photographs, Michael Watson, All rights reserved

michael drumMICHAEL WATSON, M.A., Ph.D., LCMHC (Dreaming the World) ~ is a contributing editor to Into the Bardo, an essayist and a practitioner of the Shamanic arts, psychotherapist, educator and artist of Native American and European descent. He lives and works in Burlington, Vermont, where he teaches in undergraduate and graduate programs at Burlington College,. He was once Dean of Students there. Recently Michael has been teaching in India and Hong Kong. His experiences are documented on his blog. In childhood he had polio, an event that taught him much about challenge, struggle, isolation, and healing.

Posted in Essay, Spiritual Practice, Victoria C Slotto

Keeping Sabbath

The Paradise

Last Sunday, I chose to practice Sabbath—a tradition that was a strong factor in my growing up years, but that waned with my work as a nurse…patients need care every day of the week. Most of us know and understand the concept of a day of rest, but our frenetic lifestyles tend to get in the way.

Sabbath crisscrosses most cultural, spiritual, religious and secular societies, even pre-dating biblical times. The Babylonian Enuma Elish prescribed a day of repose. In the Genesis creation story, God rested after his six days of work and, I suppose it worked out well so that he added it to those tablets of stone he handed on to his people through Moses. Wicca, Islam. Buddhism, Cherokee teaching and others all caution humans to take a break, chill out, and rest.
Wisdom, it seems to me, embraces our need for refreshment, for replenishment of body, mind spirit and emotion, for regeneration and reflection.

For many of us, well, for me anyway, the need to be in control seems to take hold and it becomes oh-so-hard to let go of time, accept idleness and non-productivity and, perhaps, the feeling of uselessness. I suspect that there is a trust issue here. Can I really believe that God will take care of things in my absence? Can I believe that the work of creation on this particular day will go on without my amazing intervention?

So, what kind of things did I, Ms-Doing-Not-Being do?

• Meditation—a bit longer than my ordinary routine.
• Journaling. And in the process really waking up to what was happening around me. I wrote of all the wonderful sensory experiences that the pristine late-spring day offered—the finches song, the brilliant orange of the male oriole at our feeder, the spicy scent of new-born flowers and the basil in the vegetable garden. I noticed the play of light and shadow in the now-expansive boughs of the ash tree we planted almost twenty years ago and watched the hummingbirds fly back and forth sipping nectar from both flowers and feeders. I felt the gentle kiss of the breeze and delighted in my dogs’ warm bodies flanking me on either side. I listened to David busy chopping spices in the kitchen.

Photo Credit: D. Slotto
Photo Credit: D. Slotto

• Spa Stuff. I pampered myself with a Pomegranate/Cranberry exfoliating scrub courtesy of Burt’s Bees, did a manicure/pedicure and, well, thought about taking a nap. I thanked my body for its almost-seven decades of service and praised the many scars that it bears, a reminder of the life-threatening illness I have survived, for now.
• Creativity. Maybe some consider engaging in the creative process to be work. For moi, I allowed the muse to come out and play, more by way of brainstorming than actualizing any project. Sabbath time allows ideas to gestate and gives clarity as to where to take them.
• And, yes, a final confession. I did laundry. So, it wasn’t a perfect Sabbath, but for this woman who tends towards OCD, that’s probably not a bad thing. Besides, we needed clean clothes!

Photo Credit: Bergen Linen
Photo Credit: Bergen Linen

That night I slept well, but will I be able to repeat the experience? My history tells me that this is not something that comes easily to me. I am aware that Sabbath doesn’t have to always be on Saturday or Sunday, or even occupy an entire twenty-four hours. How would life be different if, each day, I remember to tuck in an hour or even minutes for the divine repose, sit back and let go?

– Victoria C. Slotto

© 2013, essay, Victoria C. Slotto, All rights reserved

Victoria and Dave Slotto
Victoria and Dave Slotto

2940013445222_p0_v1_s260x420VICTORIA C. SLOTTO (Victoria C. Slotto, Author: Fiction, Poetry and Writing Prompts) ~  a Contributing Writer to Into the Bardo ,attributes her writing influences to her spirituality, her dealings with grief and loss, and nature. Having spent twenty-eight years as a nun, Victoria left the convent but continued to work as a nurse in the fields of death and dying, Victoria has seen and experienced much. A result of Victoria’s life experience is the ability to connect with readers on an intimate level. She resides in Reno, Nevada, with her husband and two dogs and spends several months of the year in Palm Desert, California.

Winter is Past is her first novel. It was published in 2012 by Lucky Bat Books. She has a second novel in process and also a poetry chapbook. Victoria is also an accomplished blogger and poet who has assumed a leadership role in d’Verse Poet’s Pub. You can read more ofher fine poetry HERE.