A Brief Meditation on Grace and Comfort

GardensAfter a cool, damp week the sun is out! June is in full bloom, our perennial gardens bursting with color. In the the kitchen garden rows of tender plants have appeared in the raised beds, and we are eating mesclun. Lovely!

Here in Vermont the trees are a dense, lush green. Plants need to take full advantage of our four to five months of warm weather, and go about the tasks of reproducing and storing energy with vigor. In just a few weeks, by late July, the foliage will begin to thin, already preparing for the autumn to come.

We have stopped filling the feeders as the birds have other food sources available to them. Now that the feeders are empty we will likely take them down and store them until October. Come the first chilly days of autumn the birds will remind us to bring out the food; we have a good working relationship!

I recently read a post on Australis Incognita, an interview with an Australian Aboriginal elder, Uncle Paul Chapman. The essence of the conversation is that we learn who we are in the world by paying attention to the landscape and Nature. There is an ancient Indigenous knowing that we can’t figure it out by turning totally inward, as that is out of balance. We learn from bridging the worlds of inner an outer, self and landscape.

Reading Uncle Paul’s words reminded me we are of the landscapes we inhabit; we even have our own internal seasons. I often suggest to students that after we watch for a while we may begin to notice that sometimes the inside and outside worlds are in sync, other times not. Lately I have found myself diving deeply into the interior, even as I engage the Natural world as it bursts into furious activity.

Lately, I seem able to stand with a foot in each world, shifting between them as need be, and am rewarded by moments of grace. Grace reminds me to be grateful for my life, family and friends, and the Beauty surrounding me, even as I feel disappointed and angry with much that is unfurling in the world. Grace encourages me to be concerned for my grandchildren, and curious as to how we humans will manage the road ahead.

In dark, difficult, times it is easy to forget that summer invariably follows winter, and life sprouts anew when given any opportunity. This will be so as long as there is life on our precious blue-green planet. May we take refuge and comfort in that.

Evening-Sky The sun has broken through and the sky is a brilliant blue. Over the lake a layer of clouds, white and bubbly, hangs. Trees and gardens are  abloom, and the scent of lily-of-the-valley and lilac saturates the air. The day is beautiful. May we walk through this day in Beauty, together.

– Michael Watson

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.

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.

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.