I recently started watching a mini series called The Chosen. It centers around the disciples of Jesus, and the teachings of that great Master. It’s certainly a work of fiction (I’m not going to give my opinion of the series here), but it has rekindled my love for this teacher, whose ministry was only three years long, yet whose story changed the world and still throbs like heartbeat and a wound within the psyche of many, including myself.
So this Christmas I’m trying to remember Him, and his ministry. For many years I avoided His story because I had encountered people who said they were His followers, and yet did harm to others in word and deed. I encountered bigotry, closed mindedness, and judgmental attitudes too many times to believe there was any truth in Christianity. I only came back around to Him after I found truth and answers to my spiritual questions from the Yoga teachings of the East, and a spiritual teacher from that tradition who spoke of Christ’s teachings and revered Him, encouraged all of us (his students) to read the Bible and learn from the teachings of Jesus.
And so I have been striving to, and finding Christ’s teachings and indomitable love to be like nectar; very comforting and also so relevant and alive today. Paramahamsa Yogananda wrote a huge volume called The Second Coming of Christ: The Resurrection of the Christ Within You, and I’ve begun diving back into that too. It’s a two volume set where the great Yogi presents all of Jesus’ teachings and shines the light of the yogic perspective on them.
Even a Tom Brown Jr. book I’ve been reading unexpectedly turned to Jesus’ teachings this morning, as the author recounted how his Apache teacher Stalking Wolf encouraged him to read the Bible and learn from Jesus:
“Grandfather sat for a long time gazing at the cross, then he finally spoke the words that still resound in my mind and life. He said, ‘I am in awe of this man called Jesus. He was a man of purity, of wilderness, a prophet and a teacher, a man who walked close to the spirit… This man has inspired more nations and healed more people than I could ever dream of. Yet what we do to his name and teaching today has distorted that truth..’”
I can attest to that. And I can also attest to the fact that the heart of His teachings are ever pure, untaintable. If Jesus’ life shows us anything- it’s that love is the most powerful force known to man. It’s a yet unharnessed power (on a large scale), but one that lies within each of us. I’m praying we all get a good dose of it this holiday season, and remember the teachers whose lives were such beautiful examples of Love’s transformative power.
A few weeks ago I took my yearly pilgrimage into the Gila wilderness. The remoteness and wildness of this place always fills me with awe and reminds me of my own nature. On the way in we passed a big wildfire. The wind was blowing away from us and so we had a clear view of the soft gray plumes rising above the tree line.
After arriving at our campsite, we quickly set up camp and headed to the hot spring pools for an evening soak. I had seen Allen, the campground host, making his way around, talking to each camper and asking them questions- partly to get a feel for who they were, and partly because he just seemed like a curious and friendly guy. By the time he made his way to me and my friend as we floated around in the warm waters, the sun was setting and the light was silhouetting his tall angular frame against the western sky.
He asked us a few questions about where we were from and what we did, and we chatted a bit about our connection to the Ayurvedic Institute in Albuquerque. After some light translating about what Ayurveda is, we all found ourselves agreeing that natural healing methods are the best healing methods.
Our minds were still preoccupied by the fire, so we asked him a few questions about it. It was burning about 5 miles away but you’d never know it since the sky was so clear. He confirmed that we didn’t have anything to worry about, since the winds were blowing in our favor. My friend asked him about if wildfire had ever come through the area where the campground was.
“Not often” he said pointing to the surrounding cliffs, “Rock doesn’t burn.” This area did feel very protected, nestled in the valley alongside the west branch of the Gila River.
He went on to tell us about the one time it did burn, in 2011. Apparently he had been out of town, telling us that he got called in by the forest service to help alert the locals when they discovered the fire was threatening that area. (I looked it up later and found out that the fire was called the Miller Fire and was caused by humans- almost certainly by accident.)
Allen is probably in his 70’s and has spent most of his life out here. He had experience fighting fire in this area and stressed how essential it was to know the land well in order to be able to predict what the fires will do there.
When the fire approached the nearby Gila Cliff Dwellings monument, the State sent in reinforcements from neighboring cities to help contain it. Allen went on to tell us that the fire near the monument became so powerful that at one point all of the fighters moved back into the safety zone of the adjacent parking lot. All expect 8. The eight fighters who stayed were a team of Apaches.
“Those guys don’t run.” He said in a steady tone, holding my gaze.
They stayed with the massive fire and put it out. Eight men.
“What did they use to fight the fire with?” I asked, in wonder.
“Juniper branches.” He said with a smile in his voice.
My jaw dropped and I looked at my friend in disbelief. “You’re kidding.” I say, trying to get a little more out of him.
“We had to give those guys credit.” He said, and they did. “Those men walked around that night ten feet tall.” Noting as an aside that the forest service hadn’t gone out of their way to acknowledge them.
The Gila wilderness is Apache land. It’s probably due to the presence of these fierce and wise people that the land itself was able to stay wild for so long and remains in such a pristine state today. I’ve always felt the presence of wise ancestors here, and after this talk I realized that this is largely due to the Apaches also. You must love a place to protect it. You must become a part of the land itself to be able to do what those eight Apache firefighters were able to do.
In the wake of all the changes to our climate and feeling the tremors of more changes to come, I am reminded that our connection and intimacy with the land we are on will be our salvation and will unlock the solutions to the problems we are facing. Several years ago I heard a small voice within me repeating “Indigenous wisdom will save us.” and I knew it was true.
This story of the Apache fighters gilds that phrase in a new light for me and I find myself bowing deeper to the whispers of the ancestors, and to the treasure of the presence of Native people here. May we listen to them, give thanks for them, and do everything we can in these coming chapters to heed their advice and honor the wisdom they still carry. The wisdom of the land itself.
“With the aid of your Soul, lift yourself up from delusion. Do not degrade yourself, for you are your own friend, and you are your own enemy.”
-Bhagavad Gita 6:5
On my final day at the Temple of Compassion’s first wellness retreat I received an osteopathic treatment from my friend and leader of the retreat. He had been working for five solid days, treating countless people and staying constantly busy, so I put up a bit of a protest before getting on his table, but knew deep down it’d be good for me, and that after five days of volunteer work myself, I deserved to receive.
My main complaint was chronic shoulder pain on my right side which had been interfering with my ability to perform multiple massages back to back. The work my friend does is a bit of a mystery to me and I can’t say exactly what happened for the few minutes I was on the table, but I sat up feeling lighter, more aware, and energized.
After the treatment my friend told me a bit about what he found during the treatment, and assured me that the problem with my shoulder would soon be resolved. (In fact, it was fine by that evening and now, almost 3 months after the treatment, my shoulder pain- something I had resolved to live with forever- has not returned.)
Before I left the room he turned to me and said “Rosa, I think you should do the Ayurvedic Studies Program.”
I’ve wanted to complete the educational program at the Ayurvedic Institute for years. My friend has encouraged me to apply before, and each time I tell him that I can’t afford it. That it is too expensive, and that students in the program don't have time to work. That there was no way I could take a year off of working and afford to live, much less front the cash for tuition.
I find myself saying something like that to him again when he asks me about it after my treatment, but the words suddenly feel hollow. He listens to me, nods his head, and gently repeats “I think you should do the program.” I take a moment and examine the part of myself that has been saying I can’t do it for so long. I thank him, and tell him I’ll give it some more thought. And on the plane ride home, I do. By the time I return to Albuquerque, I have politely dismissed the part of myself that had been telling me “no” for so long and allow myself myself to be openly curious about seeing what could happen if I put a little bit of my attention and energy toward this goal.
Over the next week I was amazed at how many people I found supporting my decision, and how right it felt. Within two weeks I’d applied to the program and secured a loan which would allow me to pay the tuition and clear some of my credit card debt. Things just started to flow. And all it took was removing that little voice that told me I couldn’t do it.
I know much more effort lies ahead, and I’ll probably be presented with more inner and outer obstacles to overcome, but this little reminder has been so powerful for me. Remembering that just one thought can be powerful enough to eclipse our vision of what is possible. And that we are the creators of our thought forms after all, and can, in just one ripe moment, gently move them aside and see what’s been hiding right behind them, just waiting to shine on us.
I recently stayed at a little cattle ranch in west Texas on a roadtrip back home to Albuquerque.
As a lifelong vegetarian, I debated for a minute about whether or not to stay there since I feel so strongly about not eating meat. But the price was right, it was close to the highway, the setting seemed really beautiful, and they allowed dogs.
So I booked it.
When I arrived at the ranch, a little past sunset, I quickly settled into the little cabin, ate some food from the road and caught an eyeful of stars before falling fast asleep.
In the morning I messaged the host to see if they could sell me some bones for my dog Luna since I realized it would be much better to get them fresh from small farmers than anywhere else.
I got a quick response saying that I was in luck and that they would be delivering me bones for free before I left!
A few hours later I was holding a bag full of bones and trying to keep Luna at bay, while chatting with the beautiful, fresh faced daughter of the woman who ran the ranch. To my surprise, she informed me that she was a vegetarian too, but that she was working the ranch since it was the family business. She told me stories of working in the local slaughter house where their cows were “processed” and that though she would never work that kind of job again, she was glad she had done it. I couldn’t believe that someone like her could have worked a job like that. “It was easy work” she said, “just wrapping.” She had been the only female, and said that the men who worked there would have done anything to help her.
She proceeded to tell me about how her and her mother were utilizing the principles of regenerative agriculture on their ranch. I told her about how I’d been working at a regenerative farm in southern Oregon over the summer and was surprised to learn that regenerative ag was possible on a cattle ranch in the middle of the west Texas desert.
“There’s way more life under the soil than above it” she stated. “You see that land over there?” And pointed to a field in the distance. “That land hasn't had cows on it in seven years. See the way the grass is dying and patchy? The land actually needs the animals to stay fertile,” and told me more about the fine balance between overgrazing, and undergrazing.
She also told me about the changes they had made to the types of food they fed their cattle. Like many local ranchers, they had been feeding the cattle leftovers from the cotton fields for years.
“They love it” she said. “It’s high protein and helps keep them warm.” But soon, they started seeing problems with their animals.
“Since we keep our cattle on longer than most” she said, noting that they don’t rush their animals to slaughter like a lot of ranchers, “we started seeing lumps growing in their mouths and throats. Other ranchers called this ‘lump mouth’ and said it was just something that happened.” What she found out, however, was that it was cancer that formed in the mouths of cows who ate the cotton leftovers and was caused by the herbicides and pesticides used in the cotton fields.
“We stopped feeding them that stuff and they stopped getting the tumors.” She said.
She went on to tell me about the strong family bonds that existed between the animals, and how they tried not to break up the families, letting as many generations of cows live together for as long as possible.
I could have talked to her all day, but she had work to do and I had a long drive ahead of me, so we said our goodbyes and I made a note to write about her, about their farm, and about the possibilities that exist to raise animals like cattle in a way that is beneficial for the land and all the life that lives upon, and underneath it.
I recently visited a park I hadn’t been to before in Albuquerque, and there, off the beaten path, I met an old grandmother Cottonwood.
She was glowing in the evening sun, her leaves bright gold and glittering in the gentle October breeze. She stood beside an acequia at the corner of the park. She must have been several hundred years old, her trunk looking like many cottonwood trees all molded together. One long arm curved downward, several feet from the ground, and then curved back up again, to form a perfect swing.
A little cottontail rabbit hopped quietly between us as I stood there for a moment, in awe. I found myself being drawn into her, the way a big mother draws a tired child into her arms. As I touched her bark, my heart met her and I was overcome with tears of relief. Comfort I did not even know I was longing for surrounded me like a medicine blanket as I hugged her huge, gently swaying arm. I could sense so many of the babies she had swung in this arm of hers, all of the life she had seen and helped nurture. This tree was medicine.
I climbed up into her branches, the grooves of her bark forming deep hand and foot holds that made this seem so natural and welcomed. She held me and shared stories with me under her warm blanket until I was ready to leave.
I emerged back into the bustle of the public park, feeling like I had discovered a very powerful and mysterious secret. I found another old tree- an elm- and spent some time with him too. I began looking for the eldest in all the tree stands I came across, and I found myself realizing that I long to live in a world filled with old trees. Where every tree under the sun is allowed to know one of its own elders. Is allowed to become an elder, if it is in the will of Nature for it to be one.
Old trees are by their very nature healers and wisdom keepers.
Living records of everything that has transpired during their vast lifetimes.
They hold the secrets to survival.
All we have to do is let them live on, and listen to them from time to time.
I couldn’t help but to think of my own elders, and remember that they are medicine people too. Just by the nature of their record keeping, of their deep roots, and by the number of babies they have swung in their arms. I regret that I didn’t spend more time in the arms of my grandparents, or by their sides listening to the stories they had to share. And I pray to be surrounded more and more by wise elders who can help me learn how to, with God’s grace, become one myself.
Summer in Southern Oregon was just as beautiful as I had imagined it might be. Sunny and warm during the day, with crisp, clear nights that glowed with stars. It felt like heaven on earth. And then the smoke rolled in.
Sometimes it would just last a day or two, and other times it seemed to hang around for weeks.
Even though the locals were expecting it, it affected everyone- leaving us foggy headed and lethargic, with a sense of general uneasiness, reminding us that the world was burning.
Towards the end of my stay on the farm the smoke cleared up and by the time October rolled around, bringing the Fall rains, the threat was over and the grass was green again, the clouds were rolling in, and the mosses were plumping up and coming back to life too.
The smoke made me thankful for every clear day we had. For every mountain peak I could see, and for every beam of sunshine that broke through the trees and fell across my face.
As I enter back into city life after living in southern Oregon paradise for a season, I’m reminded of the smoke, and the effort it took to see through it. To know there is a gorgeous landscape all around me, it’s just being obscured temporarily. I feel that way in the city almost always- like I’m living in a ceaseless smoke season. I know that all around me exists heaven on earth- right here where I am, wherever I am- but often there are things that obscure it and cause me to forget.
Artificial light doesn’t make the stars disappear- it just creates a veil that keeps us from seeing them clearly. The sounds of the birds, the river, the winds, still flow through the landscape- they’re just covered up by the noise of the highways- those rivers of human hurry.
Our ancestors still whisper to us in the ethers, encouraging and guiding us on our journey- but often we don’t hear them through the drone of our technology and the chatter of our minds.
I am convinced that our self generated distance from Nature is at the root of our illness as a society and as individuals. Luckily, health (and heaven) is still here, waiting for us, behind the layers of debris created by our own forgetting. All we have to do is remember it. And as we remember it, it will come back into focus, and we will change the way we are living to accommodate its reflourishing.
As I settle back into life in a city- with so many layers- I will strive to appreciate and attend to every piece of paradise that I perceive- even if I can only see the outline of it.
For the past ten weeks, I've been working on a regenerative farm in Southern Oregon. It's been an amazing experience, rich in learning and growth. I wrote the following passage after my first day of working in the field- and I'm at peace with the harvest process now- but still felt like I should share.
The first day of farm work felt like an initiation. Our small group harvested about 1800 pounds of tulsi. Scoop, slash, scoop, slash- down the rows we went. Leaving short stubs of tulsi bushes in our wake.
The farmers are good people and the operation is one that is done in all the right ways- no herbicides or pesticides are used- plenty of biodiversity exists within all the planting fields and the land truly does feel vibrant and happy- but this felt violent to me.
I had been introduced to tulsi as a Devi- literally a goddess- and I’ve always felt that way about her- so to “harvest” her like this just felt wrong. But my role here is as a farm worker and I knew I had to play that role- so I did. My conscience and my body were both very sore at the end of the day. And as I sat down for meditation that evening, I saw tulsi behind my eyelids and I felt her coursing through my body. I allowed the energy of tulsi to touch every cell and every channel within me and I felt its healing power regenerating my aching back. Tears came to my eyes as I heard her whisper to me “Don’t worry dear one. You can’t hurt me.” And a renewed sense of awareness revealed all the people who would be helped by the work we did that day and all the medicine that would be made.
It's a fine line between making a profit and keeping things sacred, and I'm looking forward to learning more about how to walk it.
I recently spent a couple nights camping at one of my favorite spots in New Mexico- the Gila. If New Mexico has a heart chakra- it’s the Gila.
I stayed at a small campground on the west branch of the Gila River. The Gila is a national forest of over 3 million acres of wild land that spans from western New Mexico into Arizona. The Gila River is one of the last wild and free rivers in the American Southwest, meaning that it is not diverted or dammed. It is a living river that moves gradually (and sometimes suddenly) over time, like all healthy rivers should, and creates an environment that is ever-changing, dynamic, and teeming with biodiverse life.
While I was there, I met a man named Bo. He was the first person that I saw as I was driving into the campground, lazily riding his bike along the dusty road. Later as I was walking my dog along the same dusty roads that surround the campground, I spotted Bo again. I asked him if he lived there.
“I live in my body” he said, “..most of the time,” with a twinkle in his eye.
I chatted him up because I could tell he had good stories behind those eyes, and a kind heart on his sleeve, and he proceeded to tell me about the life of the river- how it was changing (and eating away at the little parcel of land he lived on).
“I guess I own part of the river now since it’s on my land!” he chucked, “but how can you own magic?”
He had been living there for 26 years- having fallen in love with the place in the middle of a road trip so many decades ago. After buying a few acres by the river (next to a little outfitting business) he lived in a tent on the land for over a year. Next came what he jokingly called a “white trash shanty” and then, over time, gradually developed into one of the most beautiful handcrafted dwellings I have ever seen. Nestled into the woods, surrounded by flowers and trees of all varieties, and cornered on one side by the clear running water of an old irrigation channel, his home looked to me like something out of a fairy tale. He built a workshop under the tree canopy for his projects and a guest house, which rivaled his dwelling for beauty and efficiency. There was not much more there than the essentials. The simplicity and care put into every little touch made this dwelling feel like a poem.
I caught him the next day as I was walking Luna down along the river. He was driving a big work truck and was on his way to help a neighbor clear brush from around their house. A wildfire was blazing in the forest about 15 miles away (the smoke had settled into the river valley in the morning as Bo had told me it would the day before) and he was in the rhythm of looking out for his neighbors like this.
“They’re trying to let the fires burn themselves out,” he told me, explaining that the forest service had finally come to the conclusion (after much convincing from naturalists) that it was in the best interest of the forest to let some fires burn themselves out. Years of fire suppression had “backfired” by creating land that was so full of tinder, it created the potential for superfires that could get out of control very easily. It struck me as very progressive that the forest service was taking this approach, and respecting the natural cycles of fire that actually help support this forest and the life that thrives there. As we were talking, a huge bird flew over our heads.
“That’s a black hawk!” Bo exclaimed. “They’ll say it’s the ‘common’ black hawk, but they’re not common.”
That evening, my last night by the river, I said a prayer of thanks to the place. To all the life that I had met there. To the spirit and ancestors of the land whose presence I felt like the watchful eyes of a grandparent. As I finished my prayer, a black hawk flew over head, and looked back at me. A quiet voice inside whispered “remember who you are…” and left me filled with grateful tears.
On my drive home, the only road that leads out of the Gila to the east and back towards Albuquerque was closed due to the wildfire. It added some time to my drive, but by the time I got back on 25 and headed north- I looked out my window to the west and saw the smoke rising from the soft curves of the Gila. The view stayed with me for about an hour as I rode north, and I found myself comforted by the thought that this wild place was allowed to just be wild. To be free. To have its cycles of wild fire, and of wild water.
Genius is wild. Innovation, inspiration, creativity- all wild things that exist in between and outside of thought and logic and control. Wildness demands trust, flexibility, and cooperation. I was reminded of this during my short time away from the city. And I hope to bring some of this beautiful wildness back into my life. Because really, trying to control the events of the world- or even of our lives- is like damming up a river. It may create some temporary stability- but ultimately we will pay the price by the loss of the magic of wildness.
I left Bo a little thank you present for his time and insight. A ripe avocado and few bananas- a small book and a pretty rock. And a little note, thanking him for being a steward of the river, and a good brother to man. He reminded me that spotting a rare type of human can be just as interesting as a rare bird, and that we can still be in the modern world (somewhat), and maintain our wildness as we let the fires burn themselves out.
I was chatting with a friend recently, and the subject turned to technology. She’s a yoga teacher and a bodyworker and was expressing her concerns about humans and technology. She knew she had to start developing an “online presence” but was resistant to the constant use of technology. I could relate.
My use of technology has skyrocketed since the pandemic- as I’m sure is the case with most people in the mainstream. Staring at a computer screen for hours has already affected my eyesight, my posture, and my mind. I can feel the effects of the electromagnetic frequencies of my phone and computer on my physical body and it often leaves me feeling a little scrambled. The same technology has also allowed me to have a job doing what I truly love, to attend classes I would have never been able to attend in person, and has enabled me to help friends and connect with loved ones who are thousands of miles away.
While we were talking my friend asked me how I managed to spend so much time on the computer and still stay grounded and embodied. I thought about it for a moment, and realized that the things that are occupying my time on the computer (for the most part) are projects that are aligned with and serving my deepest values. This is the purpose of technology at its best.
In the same moment, I realized that the potential future of technology was very bright.
Imagine: technology that is sustainably resourced. That, instead of being harmful to living organisms, “leaves no trace” on the planet or the ethers. Technology that serves the Earth and her inhabitants. Just think about it. It’s not only possible, it’s really the only way we can continue.
I also spend time in nature every day. And this has become even more important as my screen time has increased. I go to the river and sit in the sand and let the sun wash over me as I listen to the song of the surrounding forest. It’s a sacred act and a silent prayer. And it restores my body’s coherence and rhythm better than anything else I’ve ever found.
So that’s my formula. Use the technology you have to serve your highest calling, and when you’ve finished your work- get the hell away from the computer and go outside.
Technology is dangerous to us when we get lost in it. Like anything that provides a temporary escape route from our discomfort or boredom or loneliness, our devices can become addictions.
The day after I had this conversation, I went walking down by the river as usual. Before leaving home I debated whether or not to bring my phone with me. The calm wise voice within told me not to worry about it, and then a small fear intervened and showed me scenarios of being stranded without (gasp!) my phone, so I pocketed it and headed out the door.
Halfway through my walk, I realized the phone had fallen out of my pocket.
Instantly, I forgot about all of the beauty around me, and the serenity of the present moment gave way to panic.
Inwardly frantic, I started racing around- retracing my steps. I quickly went through the stages of grief and finally, laughing at myself a bit, I let it go. I accepted that my phone was gone and may never return. And then I remembered the offering I had brought for the river and had forgotten about. I reached in my pocket and felt for the small bag of ceremonial ash taken from my daily fire ceremonies. Bending down to the water’s edge, I offered the ash to the river with a prayer.
“Thank you Mother-Father God, thank you planet Earth. Please help me find my phone.”
Laughing at myself again for making such a silly prayer, I stood up and began walking further. Within three steps, I spotted my phone. Black and glistening in the sand at my feet.
Inwardly elated, and aware that I had just been given a clear message, I bowed to the river, to the Earth, to the Creator from which all things emerge and into which all things return. Including cell phones.
I recently found myself in the middle of a social media tornado after I posted something political (anti-trump) on facebook. After watching the people go wild (both sides saying the same things about the other), I felt called to write the following statement, and was surprised to see how many people resonated with it, so I will share it here:
I see a division happening now that worries me. A schism, a rift, that is splitting the people of this country in two. Both sides are seeing a mirror image of their worst fears in the other. So what are we to do when we see our worst fears projected onto the canvas of the other side (left or right)?
Stay. In. The Middle.
And by that, I don't mean throw out your values, or even your opinions. What I mean is, don't be swayed into perceiving your brother as your enemy. (S)he's not.
The enemy is the Anger. The Fear. The Confusion. Anything that moves you off your center and away from love towards your brothers and sisters. All of the spiritual teachers of the world have said this is different ways. Keep standing up for what is right, but if what you're doing is belittling someone else, then you're off track. I'm ready for a Revolution of Kindness. I feel certain it will come, and when it does it will take off like wildfire and will dissolve the things that trick us into thinking we aren't members of one human family.
A very wise Native American Elder and Wisdom Keeper (Marshall Golden Eagle Jack) gave a metaphor for the time we are in. He said that the image is that of an ocean parting, as the Red Sea parted before Moses. On both sides there is a swelling of fear, passion, and anger. And our task is to walk the narrow path down the middle. We must keep our feet on the ground, our eyes on the future ahead, and our minds sober amidst the swirling waters all around us. I have held this image close as I feel the seas of contention parting us. I feel myself getting swept up in fear and anger too. And then I remember this teaching. I remember my Teachers, who never get swayed from peace and love and union. Thank God for them.
We can get through this folks. Good things are coming. I love you.