Posted in Essay, Shamanism, Spiritual Practice

A Second Spiritual Experience – Part One

I feel privileged to be in the company of those who write here upon The Bardo.  It is an honor.  Though untrue, I often feel as though we write together.  That is comforting to me.

Spiritual experiences are by their very nature exceptionally private.  They can be difficult to speak of due to that private nature and due to the lack of an adequate lexicon.  I am not terribly private.  So, I would like to share one of my own experiences with you, as it radically changed my life.  It was 2005 and I had been retired for two years.  I served on several boards as a volunteer but otherwise I was bored.  So I will say to you before you read further – do not be offended by anything that I say.  This is a personal experience.  I am not proselytizing nor would I ever.  I am merely sharing.

I have never served in the military and I have never been to war.  The closest I came was in 1967-8 when formerly married and living on Okinawa, close to the war in Vietnam.  But that experience bears no relation to this experience.  This experience of which I speak was the second life changing spiritual experience that I have had within my lifetime. The first was Christian in nature in 1973.

This life-changing experience came to me via my plea one day to God: “What do you want me to do? What should I do now?”  At about the same time I began an ongoing conversation with a Vietnam Veteran, a former B-52 Bomber Pilot.  The experiences that followed were all a part the answer to my question. This experience was shamanic in nature. Shamanism is something that I studied in the 80s and 90s. This experience lasted about 6 weeks, it appeared to many that I might be having a “nervous breakdown.”  My friends were worried. My husband trusted me but worried nonetheless.  The experience was very dramatic, very painful and most ecstatic. I knew that I was doing exactly what I was meant to do.  None-the-less, I hung on for dear life. It was extremely hard to remain grounded. To do so I engaged the services of three different people, a body-worker, an exercise therapist and a counselor.  I remember and will recount one particularly humorous thing that happened.  Tomorrow.

unnamed-2LIZ RICE-SOSNE a.k.a. Raven Spirit (noh where), perhaps the oldest friend to Bardo, is the newest member of The Bardo Group Core Team. She is also our new Voices for Peace project outreach coordinator and our go-to person for all things related to haiku.  She says she “writes for no reason at all. It is simply a pleasure.” Blogging, mostly poetry, has produced numerous friends for whom she has a great appreciation. Liz is an experienced blogger, photographer and a trained shaman. We think her middle name should be “adventure.”

Posted in Uncategorized

The Equinox and the Medicine Wheel

Early Autumn color, Vermont

Editorial note: My apologies to readers and to Michael for not scheduling this in sooner. An oversight on my part. J.D.

This is a reblog of a recent post to Dreaming The World.

This week marks the Autumn Equinox. The Equinoxes and other aspects of the calendar round are markers made by people; we need markers to make sense of our lives, to place ourselves in relationship to All That Is. Sometimes we forget the markers are of our creation, and we imagine they hold intrinsic meaning, rather than the meanings we assign them. This is a dangerous assumption as it tempts us to believe there is only one story, and it is true for all people, everywhere. Such thinking always causes great suffering.

Next week, in class, our friend, Alicia Daniel, is leading us in the creation and exploration of a Medicine Wheel. Alecia allows participants to explore, and assign values to, the directions.Given the freedom to make meaning opens the students to Mystery and Wonder. Not surprisingly, the values discovered by students often resemble the attributes assigned the directions by the Indigenous peoples who have lived here for thousands of years.

I usually teach the Medicine Wheel using attributes for the directions as I have been taught them by teachers from the Northeast, where we live. While there are small differences between tribal, even band, understandings of the directions, the general framework holds firm. As I understand it: The East is the place of birth and death, sunrise, spring, mentation, air, and all beings who fly. The South is home to fire, warm bloodeds, and the plants. It is the place of healing, noon time, and high summer. It is the direction of physicality, and in some traditions, sexuality. The West is home to water, dreaming, evening, and autumn. It is the place of responsibility and parenting, and of the Dream Time. The North is the home of the Ancestors and the rock people, the place of winter and night, the direction of clearly seeing the big picture, of vision. We journey sun-wise around the wheel, returning to the east to die and be reborn.

My Lakota kin likely say we are born and die in the West. That makes sense to them, where they live. The Medicine Wheel is a teaching about our locale and inner worlds, telling us much about local ecology, culture, and understanding of self. Wherever we are the Medicine Wheel speaks to us of our life journey, a road we share with the people and other beings who comprise the community in which we live.

In Western culture the wheel has a bad rap. Rather than a map for living a joyful, fulfilling life, it is often emblematic of being caged, or of soul killing work. In the East it may be something to be escaped. Yet, in Indigenous cultures around the world the wheel remains a powerful symbol for relationship, connection, and the good life.

This week we take a few minutes to acknowledge the Medicine Wheel that is our calendar year. We will express gratitude to Father Sun, and acknowledge Grandmother Water. Without them we would not have life. It is good to do this, and to have the opportunity to do so openly, for we remember the times, some quite recent, when we could not do so.

© 2013, essay and photographs (includes the one below), 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 Buddhism, Fiction, Michael Watson, Shamanism

A Force of Nature

Winooski RiverThe waters are rising. We have had many days of rain the past couple of months and the rivers are running high, many in flood. Here on the western flank of Vermont rain falls in the mountains and tumbles through rocky streams to the rivers, then into the lake. We are told the water is too cold, high, and fast for swimming, yet people, refusing to honor the Nature of the torrent, go swimming, often creating unhappy outcomes.

We are each a force of Nature, although we tend to forget this, individually and collectively. We seem to easily lose connection with the great powers that lie embodied within us, ignoring the joys and dangers they offer. It is so very easy to identify with mind or brawn, money and might, missing the deep connection implicit in recognizing one’s own Nature. Or perhaps we lose any connection to the force of our Nature, imagining we are powerless or fearful of the energies we intuit within us.

Power is a loaded word, drenched in the abuses ingrained in our various forms of governance, education, and sadly, even family and community. Too often power is power over rather than power with or through. Yet the shamans have always taught that we are each, like the raging river, a force to be honored and reckoned with. Shamanism, like zen, opens doorways to the realization of one’s true Nature. Dare we walk through?

© 2013, essay and photographs (includes portrait below), 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 Buddhism, Michael Watson, Shamanism, Spiritual Practice

Spring, Ritual, and the Great Mystery

P1050397When I first began learning the ways of shamanism, more than thirty years ago, my Cherokee teacher used to speak to me about the similarities between Buddhism and Native American thinking. She was particularly fascinated by Tibetan Buddhism, and had traveled to Asia to meet with Tibetan teachers. I was intrigued, but not particularly interested in learning more. I was still trying to sort out my relationship to Native America. Adding Buddhism to the mix was quite simply beyond me.

Recently, I’ve been reading Bringing Zen Home, by Paula Kane Robinson Arai. The book is a marvelous piece of ethnographic writing examining the ways a group of Japanese women use domestic zen practices as healing tools. If one only read the early sections on ritual, the book would be a worthy purchase. Reading Arai’s words reminded me of my first teacher. I imagine she would love the book, especially the author’s focus on gratitude,  joy, kindness, and ritual as sources of connection to All That Is. She would also, I believe, deeply appreciate the discussion of Dogen, and his weaving together of form and formlessness.

This week Nature gave expression to the form/formlessness paradox. A few days ago there were buds on the trees, then in a single day, as if arising from nothing, innumerable umbrels of furled leaf and flower replaced them. The umbrels, in turn, transformed into flowers in full bloom, then immature seeds. Now the trees have largely leafed out; the entire process seemed to occur overnight, a green, fiery, big bang. Engaging Nature’s seasonal changes, we are reminded that the progression of the year is a ritual, encompassing and illuminating the patterns of Self as we unfurl, transform, and perhaps, seek rebirth. Our very lives enact, and reenact, the great patterns of the natural world.

I’ve also been reading Patrisia Gonzales’ Red Medicine: Traditional Indigenous Rites of Birthing and Healing. In this volume Gonzales reminds us that human birth is another expression of the paradox. We know how pregnancy happens, yet the miracle of personhood challenges any simple reductionism. In quite a few Native traditions reincarnation is a given. One just expects those who pass on to be reborn to the family line, often announcing their intent by appearing to their prospective mother in a dream. Life and death are doors through which we pass, nothing more than state changes. Yet we do not know, ultimately, where we come from or whither we go; that remains a Great Mystery, of which we are all, innately, a part.

In their respective books Arai and Gonzales discuss ritual as serving to connect women to the Great Mystery, and in so doing, offering the possibility of an expanded perspective and healing. Their ideas echo those offered me by teachers in Native traditions from both North and South America, although rather than the term, “ritual”, my teachers often utilized “ceremony”.  As a mature practitioner, I encourage those who come to me for healing to create meaningful rituals in their daily lives, to “practice.” I also strongly advocate for ceremony. Like ritual, ceremony seeks to make evident the sacred nature of our lives, to encourage gratitude, and to embody participants in the experience of self as cosmos. When rituals and cerem0ny work, we are transported into an awareness of being part of, and supported by, All That Is. Of the two, perhaps ceremony is more social, often engaging communities in support of those seeking healing.

Reading the work of these thoughtful authors has reminded me of  my first teacher’s wisdom, insight, and clarity. Looking back those many years, I now see her efforts to broaden my perception in a new, more favorable light. I am grateful for her kindness and teachings.

– Michael Watson

© 2013, essay and all photographs include the portrait below, 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 Guest Writer, Shamanism

A valuable post that I know will interest readers here on “Into the Bardo.” Both traditional and modern technologies for repair are harbingers of hope whether your concern is personal spirit or the global challenges among cultures and their current expression as warfare and genocide. Jamie Dedes

Dreaming the World

Yesterday the snows came in the form of persistent flurries that left 1/2 inch of powder on the ground, then largely melted off when the sun came out in the afternoon. Overnight they returned, and continue this morning. The cold has settled in; we had a fire in the wood stove most of the weekend. Very seasonable!

Now the leaves are down we can see areas in the woods where some of the more invasive shrubs have taken hold. One of our naturalist friends believes they will not be able to thrive in more dense woodland, but here they are doing quite well, at least along the margins. Some of them are undoubtedly escapes from our yard. We inherited Burning Bush when we purchased our home. Neighbors also have the plant, which has striking red leaves in Autumn. It also is quite invasive, defying all our efforts to eradicate it…

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Posted in Essay, Guest Writer


Early Azaleas

I am pleased to welcome my friend Michael Watson, a shaman and gifted healer to Into the Bardo.   He and I go back many years as friends, colleagues, and fellow therapists in Vermont. It is so nice to see that our minds continue to follow similar tracks.  Shared here with gratitude, Rob.

A World of Difference:



Michael Watson (Dreaming the World)

The cold returned this past week, and many trees and flowers seem to have taken a deep breath and halted their rush into Spring. Were the maple sugaring season ongoing, these would have been perfect sugaring days and the sugar houses would be boiling madly. (The warmth of a couple of weeks ago stopped the sugar season short.) Now, there is an air of expectancy in the natural world, a quickening and watchfulness, for we are in April, and returning warmth and renewing rains become daily more likely.

The seasonal round brings comfort and a sense of belonging. Maple sugaring gear is cleaned and put away. A few people have made it into their gardens, preparing for the warm season to come. Neighbors, yard and garden tools in hand,  wave to one another. “This sure is weird weather, ain’t it,” echoes down the block. A few daffodils have burst into bloom in south-facing flower gardens, some making their way indoors to adorn tables.  Throughout the neighborhood there is shared business and meaning.

Last week, in class, I showed the Bill Moyers interview with Bill T. JonesStill Here. The video, from 1994, follows the MacArthur Award winning choreographer as he morns the loss of his mate, faces mortality via an AIDS diagnosis, and creates his groundbreaking dance, Still/Here. The video addresses many topics our culture still finds difficult, and does so with refreshing directness: death, terminal illness, homosexuality, loss, and race, among others.

The real focus of the film is difference, a too-hot-to-handle concern in many cultures. Difference is a form of social glue, allowing us to identify ourselves in opposition to the other. It is also the source of creativity, innovation, and adventure, as well as some of our most threatening taboos. The tensions between these functions are played out daily in our cultures, our personal relationships, and our inner worlds. For many people around the world, accepting new technologies, no matter how socially disruptive, has become easier than accepting differences among human beings.

Of course, issues of difference demand attention in the therapy setting. Whether we sit with couples struggling with disagreements about how to manage daily life, young women critical of their body image, or youth and adults who carry labels of major mental illness and wrestle with unique experiences of the world, the underlying concerns are those of difference and acceptability. Always the questions held deep inside include, “Am I loveable as I am?” and “Am I safe?” These are not simple questions.

A walk in the forest offers the opportunity to see difference. No two plants of the same species are identical.  Life history and microecology play an enormous role in the development of each individual. From the point of view of the forest, each is perfect. Only through the gaze of other organisms do individual plants acquire differentiated value. When humans are involved, value is most likely culturally ascribed. Persons of diverse cultures may well read the worth of an individual plant differently from one another, as may individuals of separate species.

Ideally, psychotherapy offers persons the opportunity to challenge internalized or culturally enacted views of  difference in relationship to her or his life. In the process, it may place any number of subversive, liberatory tools at the disposal of those seeking help. Such therapy seeks to provide a space for the successful re-authoring of those stories that isolate and demean on the basis of rubrics of difference. In order to do so, patients are encouraged to challenge the authority of many voices, within and without. Yet, no one can successfully create a rewarding life alone; we each need others to witness and affirm our acts of courage and self authoring.  The therapist is a necessary, yet usually insufficient witness.

Would you share with us your healing stories of seeing, and of being seen by others?

Michael Watson ~ has been blogging (Dreaming the World) since September of 2009. He is a shamanic practitioner, psychotherapist, educator, and artist of First Nations* (Mixed Eastern Woodlands, Cherokee, and Lakota Sioux) and European (British Isles) descent. He lives and works in Burlington, Vermont.

Michael’s teachers and his teachers teachers were shamans. His work is influenced by both the traditions of the First Nations* and contemporary Western traditions. It reflects a strong sense of “connection to the forces and processes of Nature.”  The greater objective of his work is to “support others in developing intimate, transformative relationships with both Self, and the natural world.”

* First Nations – the indigineous peoples of the North America. 

Posted in Guest Writer, Poems/Poetry, Shamanism

SHAMANIC JOURNEY, Old Raven travels to Machu Picchu, Peru

Following the shaman. (2007)




Old Raven (RavenPress), All Rights Reserved

Still, stillness now
Quiet, center … centered now
Go deeply within
Slowwwwww … ly
Deeply quiet.
Deep within
Space consummation.
Not hurtling … no, not hurtling towards the void.  But slowly advancing.
Slowwwwly … condense all thought.
Become nothing.
your place
your opening
movvvve slowly towards
your opening.  Be still.
the tunnel.
LAND.  Quietly.
Summon … your Power.
Summon your … Animal.
Let him/her
Now take you into the void.  Void.  VOID.
CIRCLE … find what you need.
bring it back.  BLOW.
Rattle … feather.
Return now … open, open, open … your … eyes.
The rocks carved to imitate the mountains … an alignment happened when the sun reached a certain place in the sky.
An Alter used for ceremony long ago.
Standing with my feet curled over the edge looking straight down 2600 feet, this is where I chose to lose my fear of heights.
Doing ceremony.
© 2011, 2012 poem and photographs, L. Rice-Sosne All Rights Reserved. No re-blogging or reprinting without the express permission of the author.

♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

OLD RAVEN writes poetry and memoir and shares her photography at RavenPress. She  lives with her husband and several pets and writes extensively about war and the suffering that results, especially post-traumatic stress disorder. She also touches on her own spiritual healing, shamanic studies, and the outcome of her shamanic journey. Currently Old Raven is working on a major project: a book about her mother’s experience of World War II, which we look forward to reading one day. Her mother worked for the United States Office of War Information (OWI). Old Raven just completed a five-year study of the Second World War, combat PTSD, and her father’s war experience.  She recently celebrated a birthday. We gratefully celebrate her here today. Please visit her blog to say “hi” and “happy birthday.” Happy Birthday, Liz.