Working With the Spirits

Shrine, Chennai, India

Eight years ago we purchased a dilapidated cottage, took it down to studs, and with the aid of a brilliant contractor, built a wonderful home. Since then we have developed much-loved gardens on our small plot of urban land.

As the late effects of Polio have become more challenging for me to manage, Jennie has become the tender of those beds. We both care deeply about the garden’s well-being, but much of my limited energy is needed for our healing and teaching work. I am grateful to Jennie for reminding me that healing and teaching are also forms of gardening, other ways of working with spirit.

In the seven years we have lived in our home we’ve been quietly working with the spirits of the land. This is a tad challenging as we live in a residential neighborhood and all ceremony is public. My teachers always said one should be polite, humble, and do ceremony anyway. This simple advice turns out to be remarkably complex in practice.

The spirits of the land are often profoundly responsive to gratitude and ceremony. One evening during our most recent Asia trip we were asked to do a simple traditional shamanic ceremony for a group of college students. This was to be a simple show-and-tell, yet, as sometimes happens, the ceremony took on a momentum of its own, becoming profoundly moving and healing for all present.

When we returned home to Vermont we told our friend and colleague, Julie Soquet, about the experience. Julie listened to our story, considered it for a moment, then said, “The spirits of the land must be really alive and receptive there.”  I was stunned by her naming of the missed obvious. Local gods and spirits are routinely honored in both India and Hong Kong, and Jennie and I had spoken after the ceremony about how we felt the presence, support, and appreciation of the spirits. (There was an active shrine directly across the street from where we were conducting the ceremony.)

The other night, in dream, I was reminded we are loaned our bodies for our stay here on Pachamama. Our bodies are sacred; they are Medicine bundles. At the end of our lives we give our bodies back to the Earth. Pachamama asks that we grow the spirit and power of these bundles, so that when we return them they benefit Her and all beings. In the dream I was asked simply to keep this in mind as I made my way through what remains of my walk here. There were no other instructions, no “shoulds”, no “musts”. Expressing gratitude to the myriad beings who make our lives possible is part of that way of walking and gardening. I wonder how these simple, profound truths will enter into our work.

Michael Watson, Ph.D.

© 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.