This is the beginning of an epic column, so please read and let me know your insights! More to come next week!
We were thirty minutes into the ceremony when the medicine began to take hold like a fever, washing my blood in a hot, nauseatingly ticklish wave. A distant sound: water rushing through metal pipes? I turned to monitor the young man beside me, hoping to perhaps get an assessment since we were similar in the time-dose continum, but he sat perfectly still in his mccaw-feather necklaces, his knees delicately folded in lotus.
One of the two Colombian “curanderos” (Spanish for healer) whistled a high-pitched incantation (referred to as an Icaro, a song that channels the spirits) through the dark room. His voice reached in and clutched my racing heart. The room began to buzz, but nobody seemed to notice. From the twisted chambers of my skull, I heard the faint, familiar mumbling of cackling voices.
Enter the Lords of Gonzo.
“WHAT the HELL is going on HERE?” The two cronies — Hunter Thompson and my father, John G. Clancy himself — cajoled, peering at the scene through my third eye. Circling my eyes crazily, I watched the candle-lit altar in the middle of the room dissolve into a pixilated mandala. Things were getting weirder by the minute, and of course my Gonzo comrades were on time to crash the party.
“What are all these FREAKS doing here, swaying in their seats like drunk autistic sailors?! DON’T JUST SIT THERE! DOOOO something, goddamnit!” Dizziness hit and I had the urge to stand up and dance. That’s when I knew it was really them, my Gonzo comrades—they never missed an opportunity to dance. As much as I wanted to stand, toast to the strange underworld we were entering, though, I felt an invisible cape hanging heavily over my shoulders, causing me to slouch like the Good Doctor. In an attempt to delay my impulse to make a scene and lash-out wildly, I gathered up my strength and slithered with wobbly knees and crooked ankles out of the room and into the harvest moonlit night.
BIRTH AS GONZO
There’s a moment in a taped phone call from 1969 where, conspiring new tactics to win the upcoming Sheriff election, my father shouts to Hunter: Do you think I CHOSE to be Radicalized like this?! Don’t you think we would have been happy as a plumbers, car salesmen for Christsake?!” Listening carefully now, I can relate to the desperate, seething glory in his voice. Because its true. Gonzo isn’t something you aspire to become. It’s something your soul chooses before it’s born, an odd tick that leads you towards revolution and uprisings and, if your not careful, complete madness.
It’s a rote story in my family: My father and Dr. Thompson were cronies and roommates in NYC when Hunter worked as a copy boy for Time Magazine. They raised hell together in San Francisco, sat together on the “council of the Aquarius”, and, despite their different paths, stayed friends until their death. Before I fell in love Hunter’s writing, I knew him as a strange uncle, someone with whom my father used to drink absinthe on frigid winter nights, share a cot on Perry Street, climb the Brooklyn Bridge on Fridays at dusk, light mangy couches on fire, join forces to elect as sheriff (“just 500 votes short, my father would mumble, “he should have taken my advice and cozied up more to the ranchers.”) Growing up, I associated Hunter with our peacocks (who we would often drive over to Woody Creek) and my father with plastic cigarette holders, Gonzo tales, and one helluva fiery soul.
When Hunter died, my family drove to Woody Creek for his last bash: the cannon blastoff. It was a deliciously eerie blend of Hollywood and home-town country: Colorado natives chuckled over memories of playing horseshoe and romping the jeep with the Good Doctor while buzzing production assistants rearranged giant Styrofoam boulders underneath the throbbing fifty-foot altar. Lyle Lovett crooned onstage and Bill Murray dipped a girl wearing a cowboy hat in a waltz on the dance floor; Josh Hartnett leaned on the bar aside Senator McGovern and waited for a drink.
Past the bodyguards and chandeliers, hundreds of fans lined the street on the outskirts of the property holding glow sticks, cardboard signs of the Gonzo fist, and blow-up dolls.
My father’s memory that night floats through me like a ghost. He and I shared a lot in common: writing, debating, laughing like lunatics with our necks craned up to the night sky. The thing we both loved the most though was dancing. At one point during a particularly fantastic bluegrass jig, my father turned to me on the dance floor, grinning madly. Thick grey hairs shot out of his ears and two long fang teeth dropped down from his smile, giving him a Warewolf look. “If you remember anything about us, just remember: we are warriors. It’s in your blood, it’s in your celtic genes. We are fighters.” With that, he raised his fists in the air and pumped his arms, twirling and kicking joyfully around the crowd. Not knowing it then, it would be the last real conversation I would ever share with him.
We kept dancing, and Hunter’s ashes were duly shot into a Colorado sky with low-hanging clouds that reflected the iconic fist like it was the Bat Signal. His ashes-and-gunpowder mix showered over the party like confetti. Exactly 40 days later, my father went out in his own blaze of glory. Driving past Ghost Ranch in New Mexico (Georgia Okeefe’s old stomping ground), he flipped his shiny black Mercedes at sunset. They said he died instantly. Being that my father acted as Hunter’s lawyer for many big deals, we nearly joked that HST really needed strong representation at The Pearly Gates and called his lawyer up for good council.
It’s really no surprise they chose to go out in a poof of ashes, my father and Hunter. After all, Football season had ended, as Hunter ominously wrote on a napkin as his suicide note, in a lot more ways than one. At that point in 2005, George W was two years strong into office and burning holes in history. Things didn’t look good. From the looks of the 2012 republican candidates, I don’t think they would have had it any other way. No, they bowed out with style, retired their masks just in time.
My ARTner Laura Lee Gulledge met this fantastic Lutheran pastor, Ben McKelahan, who uses collaborative art and social participation games to create loving relationships in Brooklyn (or wherever he’s invited to do so).
I got a message today from ARTner Brynn Ronning, who is creating an artist residency program at the Jail House in Buena Vista, Colorado. I’d love to bring my pARTicipation and spiritual practice pARTners together at the Jailhouse to dream, sew, dance, pray, sing and meld in an ART church for a month.
This is an interview with Thea Blair, a Certified Massage Therapist, a Certified Pediatric Massage Therapist, and a Waldorf teacher, as well as a mother of two children. Her son is 16 and her daughter is 9. She lives with them and her ex-husband in a small intentional community and farm in Nevada City, California.
“I am passionate about the healing benefits of touch. It started with my experiences with the children in my home kindergarten. I was amazed at how simple touch, either comforting or playful, worked like magic to transform aggressive and anti-social behavior into calm and friendly willingness to play.
Later, after my massage trainings, I discovered that I am gifted in helping parents and teachers achieve greater connection and collaboration with their children. My own children are the “guinea pigs”! Because of my training and experience as a Waldorf teacher I am able to create simple massage routines in imaginative ways that are fun and easy to do.
My work extends to Personal Consultation. Its all about connection and learning to live to our full potential. With children its about helping them live to their full potential. The sense of touch is integral in this process.”
You call yourself a Touch Educator. How did this journey begin and what is your mission?
My mission is to bring awareness of the importance of nurturing human to human contact in healthy human development and in the evolution of empathic and enlightened human culture, because touch is our primary language of acceptance and belonging, safety and security. Nurturing touch, or touch-with-presence is a physical, tangible form of love.
What is the significance of touch for an evolution towards greater compassion?
Well, this comes straight form Rudolf Steiner, the founder of Waldorf schools: In his view, touch is the first and over-arching sense, culminating in a perception of the sovereign being of another. Namaste, if you will. I call it Empathy, or the capacity to perceive self and other simultaneously. If you think about it, thats what touch is on a physical level – a simultaneous perception of self and other. When this is received, especially at developmentally important moments, it translates into the social sense of mutuality.
What role does the sense of touch play in personal development?
I became aware of the significance of the sense of touch to the quest for self-knowledge when I was in massage training. Suddenly all of my spiritual, emotional and intellectual strivings since adolescence began to integrate! It was a very exciting moment when I realized that I had not been “in my body” for years.
My first clue was a couple of years before this when I was going through a dark night of the soul. Once, in the midst of my deep despair, I had a flash back of being an infant and crying out and no one came. The ensuing panic and terror sensation in my body was almost more than I could bear.
My second clue was when I became aware of the lack of nurturing touch in my marriage; in my childhood; in the
culture. How normal this was and how inhibited I felt about touching. (This is what I mean when I refer to a “touch barrier”.)
I began to do a lot of research and read that others, such as James Prescott, discovered that touch deprivation leads to violence. I found, through my own introspection, my personal research, that this was so. Furthermore, I have discerned that if violence is not “acted out” it is “acted in”. I don’t know if anyone else is saying this. Now, I had the answer as to why I had feelings of self-loathing, feelings like I had done something terribly wrong and voices in my head berating me for not being enough”.
Humans are social mammals and as such, touch is our primary language of acceptance and belonging. When a social mammal perceives itself to be outside of the group, either left behind or banished, this is extremely stressful and the brain goes into the survival mode of fight, flee, or freeze. The Hormone that stimulates this is Cortisol. With Cortisol everyone and everything is seen as potential enemy. Now, Cortisol lives in a balance with another hormone and that is Oxytocin. Oxytocin is known as the bonding hormone, because it was discovered in infants and mamas when they are forming attachment. Nurturing touch stimulates the secretion of Oxytocin, which views everyone and everything as a potential friend. This is why I refer to this duo as the “Yin and Yang of Survival” and why I believe that touch and Oxytocin will lead us to an Empathic Civilization.
Is your work primarily with parents and children? Do you work with couples? What is the nature of your Personal Consultation service?
Educating others, especially parents, about what it is that infants and children need is part and parcel of what I do, because the first thing they need is touch.
I offer a service for coupes that I call Couple’s Massage Personal Training. wherein I teach them to give each other a massage made-to-order. It is a lot of fun for everyone!
My Personal Consultations always focus on what is right about a situation. What is the wisdom that is trying to be revealed through certain behaviors.
What poses the greatest challenge to this work?
I would say, all things considered, that denial is the greatest challenge I face when bringing an awareness of healthy touch to adults. Because touch deprivation in infancy is traumatic and because it is the nature of the brain to numb out painful experiences; because touch is portrayed as violent or sexual in the media, most people just don’t get what I am about until they hear my presentation and experience Peer Massage for themselves. So I face a challenge in being invited to speak. But once I do, my work is always received with enthusiasm and gratitude.
Tell us about your work with children and massage: How did you come to do this work?
For fourteen years I held a Waldorf inspired pre-school in my home for ages 2 through 6. In my last year of teaching I became acutely aware of the significance of touch, either comforting or playful, in resolving children’s difficulties whether between two children or a disturbance they brought with them from home. This coincided with my own awareness of the lack of touch in my marriage, the lack of touch in my childhood, the lack of touch in my culture.
I stopped working with children to process a divorce. I enrolled in a massage training, because it was something I always wanted to do. One of my fellow students told me about massage in the classroom and zoom! I had another way to contribute to my life purpose of supporting healthy childhoods!
How do you bring it to children?
All the routines on my DVD developed spontaneously with my pre-school children or with my own children. My daughter is 9 and my son is 16. During my massage training I practiced on them and was amazed at the immediate change in attitude and behavior it effected! This fueled my fervor to bring awareness of healthy touch to parents and teachers.
I give talks and teach workshops. I visit classrooms. I work one-on-one with parents and their children, teaching the parents how to massage their child.
Why is touch so important?
Touch is our first sense to develop. It is our primary language of acceptance and belonging, safety and security. We need touch our whole lives, but some times more that others. Most people are aware that infants need touch, but are not aware that touch deprivation in infancy is trauma and has an affect on how the brain develops.
Touch is also important at adolescence, which I think of as the second emergence, a very stressful time.
To understand the importance of touch it is helpful to understand that when we are stressed the adrenal gland secretes Cortisol which stimulates the Fight, Flight, or Freeze response. This causes blood to be diverted from the digestion, the immune system and the forebrain (the place that makes creative thinking possible) and shunts it into the large muscles of the arms (to Fight) or the legs (to Flee).
Nature is wise. Sometimes we really need this response to get us out of immediate danger. At all other times it is most advantageous for our survival to collaborate, to think rationally and creatively. There is a hormone which stimulates this, too, and it’s called Oxytocin. Oxytocin is known as the bonding hormone, the love hormone, the friendship hormone, the community hormone. It was initially discovered during parturition: it stimulates contractions (babies first massage!), flow of milk, and bonding. It is secreted by the pituitary gland and when it floods the blood stream it is like a sigh: the breathing slows, normal digestive and immune function resume, relaxation occurs; everyone and everything is seen as a potential friend.
What brings on the Oxytocin? Connection. Any kind gesture, any attempt to understand another, any way we share a common purpose, will bring on the Oxytocin. By far the most significant contributor to the secretion of this “peace hormone” is our primary language of mutuality: Touch. That is why a hug is so comforting.
How can it help in the classroom?
In the classroom it is called Peer Massage and is conducted student to student with the teacher telling a story and overseeing the activity. It helps the children be calm, focused, and friendly. It dissolves cliques, reduces bullying, increases social inclusion. In addition to all of this, it establishes a respect for physical boundaries and empowers the children in ways to get their needs for touch met in non-sexual ways.
How is it received?
From my experience in Waldorf schools the children of Kindergarten age and younger receive nurturing touch from their teachers and then share it with their friends and family through imitation. I bring Peer Massage to the grades and high school. I have found that up until 6th grade the children need very little explanation. Beginning with 6th grade I encounter gender-embarrassment, yet they do not want to hear much explanation. They definitely do not want to hear the word “sex”, yet they are responding to the messages they get from our culture about touch and sex. By high school they have calmed down quite a bit and can engage in a conversation about how touch is depicted in the media. The challenge in high school is that the social boundaries are more established and some of the youth identify themselves as outsiders – they have given up on trying to belong – and will opt out of the activity, not giving it a chance to work.
At the end of every session I ask, “How was that for you?” I have never had a negative response. Usually they say, “Relaxing”, or “Peaceful”. A few 6th graders once said, “This was the best day of my life!”
My greatest challenge is that, until parents and teachers and school administrators hear my presentation and experience the peer massage for themselves, they are skeptical or even uninterested, because the value of healthy touch is not a reality for them. And I can empathize! But once they receive my presentation they are always enthusiastic. One 8th grade teacher said that it wasn’t until my presentation that he saw he was touch-phobic and that was why he asked me to bring peer massage to his class. He knew he was not capable of bringing this valuable skill to his students.
Many children are very sensitive to touch, how does massage work for them in the classroom environment?
Every case is different, but on the whole it gives them an opportunity to communicate exactly how they want to be touched. I have seen children who are touch-sensitive teach their partner to touch them in a way they enjoy. It is very empowering. They are in total control of the massage. Checking in with your partner is part of Peer Massage. They are also free to decline the activity.
What might parents do at home to bring conscious touch to their children?
A couple of things. First, experiment: instead of arguing or punishing anti-social behavior bring in touch. Say your child comes home from school and gets sassy or shows angry behavior to you. Invite them to sit on the couch and tell you about their day while you rub their feet. Or perhaps your child will respond to playful wrestling. A hug, a shoulder rub… get in as much touch as you can. I have done this and watched in amazement and gratitude as the anti-social behavior simply dissolves.
The second thing you can do is examine your own “touch biography”. When I did this I saw how much of my life had been lacking in touch so the amount of touch that I considered normal was not enough. I still have to push myself through my own “touch barrier”.
Is this good for adults too?
Most definatly! Just remember, touch is our primary language of acceptance and belonging, safety and security. People behave differently when they feel loved and accepted in this tangible way.
How can teachers, parents and child care providers learn more about bringing touch to children in this way?
First of all I can be contacted through my website: www.theablair.com There you may purchase my DVD called Playful Touch, 10 massage routines for your child. You can also subscibe to my weekly newsletter called Let’s Stay in Touch. I am available to do a workshops such as “Breaking Through Your Touch Barrier” and “Getting in Touch, Staying in Touch”. I also offer Personal Consultations for parents, teachers or anyone else. What is blocking you from getting what you want? You may schedule a complementary conversation with me through my website.
Let’s just imagine this IS the last year of our lives. How do we want to live it?!!
This, my dear friends and family, is how I will live this prophetic 2012. Even if the core of the Earth doesn’t explode, Jesus doesn’t descend upon us in a Wall-Mart parking lot, or Dec 21 comes and goes without ecstatic revolution–we will still only live this year once. So let’s make it a year of creative manifestations, fearless communication, and graceful, honest dancing…..
Yesterday my partner-in-crime, Nikola, and I moved into a tent for the summer. We packed up our mattresses, clothing, camping chairs, dreamcatchers, and sunscreen from our paradisiacal house near Santiago, Chile and headed south. We left our peaceful house, surrounded by shady avocado and almond trees, for a two-room tent on a dry, agricultural plot with tall dry grass and prickly trees. Welcome to La Bella Eco-Aldea (“the Beauty” eco-village)–a budding community on 135 acres, located at the base of the Andes deep in a valley known for it’s witchcraft. In order to arrive to La Bella, you have to pass through a tiny village called “Rari”, famous for its horse-tail-hair artesania and swiss chocolates.
We didn’t leave to escape electricity and traffic. We’re following an artistic “mirage”, a dream of creating a dance piece in residency here. For those of you who don’t already know, we’ve already won one international grant to produce this grand work of art. It’s called UMA, which means WATER in the indigenous language Aymara. Through dance and theatre, we will create an ode to the magic, consciousness, and reality of water. What is our relationship to our Life Source? What happens when our water sources run out? Who owns water? How can we conserve and honor water in the most efficient way? We will dance all these questions. So far, we have 11 dancers from USA (me!), Australia (a sacred clown!), Argentina (an actor!), Colombia (a mystery!), and Chile (the rest). We’ve hired Leo Yanez, the son and prodegy of the most famous living Chilean folklorist, and have a Greek audiovisual engineer with his wife who will work as the visual designer. WOW!
The plan: The company will live in LA BELLA for three months in residency. What was once a raw piece of agricultural terrain is now, after three months of hard labor, an inhabitable land. We have an open-air kitchen, water tower, running water, a 40-foot geodesic dome, a teepee from the north, dry toilets, and showers. We begin Feb 15th. Stay tuned for more details…
Artistic residency: check. Self-sustainable education: here we go. My dear friend from Colorado, Cuatro Kruse, arrived two days ago. He is a professional permaculture designer, natural builder, and all around bad-ass. He plays a mean bass. We organized a couple of workshops for him to come and teach people how to build a “cob” kitchen. Between now and march, he will be occupying this eco-village, teaching us how to sculpt sinks, build a living roof, create grey-water systems, and install solar energy in a 20-foot kitchen. See the “upcoming retreat” page for more info.
And to start the summer off right, tomorrow I journey to the blessed mountains near Pucon for my annual Vision Quest. Based loosely on the Lakota design and modified by the Sacred Fire of Itzachilatlan, the vision quest is a time of solitude, fasting, and contemplation. This is my second year, the year of the SOUTH, developing the WILL of the HEART, and returning to the WATER (what synchronicity!) I will be in solitude for 7 days and couldn’t be happier to take a break from the world and learn how to LISTEN more deeply.
Okay, this is all for now. I will add pictures soon. I sign off from the straw-bale summer kitchen with my new dog, Lua (a white dogo, my angel), convulsing at my feet in her dreams. Cuatro is testing the soil to find the ideal mud and dancing to reggae that blasts from his solar-powered stereo. Hey–maybe we ARE the change we’ve been waiting for!
My every day pretty girl female beauty regime used to include daily toxic chemical doses of awesome products with pretty packaging that stayed on all day and made me look absolutely fabulous! But it turned out after bathing myself in these household names and cutting edge boundary pushing styles that these companies who I have trusted–some of whom I have actually worked with, actually have, when used alone and in conjunction with other products– very undesirable side effects to my health. Ones that I experienced were: breakouts and extreme allergies. After educating myself through literature and the resources available at the Environmental Working Groups’ Skin Deep Data Base (which list the side effects of the ingredients listed on the back of cosmetic bottles), I realized that I was using ingredients who’s side effects are linked to hormone imbalance, cancer and genital mutilation in male off-spring. I recently lost my favourite Uncle David, My darling Grandma Evie and a sweet family friend Kay to cancer acquired through unknown means. I know my Grandma who was the head Nurse for most of her career in Los Angeles County, trusted a cosmetic company whose branding looks like a pharmacy and is a staple in every mall nation wide as a clean and solid choice for personal care-but who in reality has many chemicals in their products which are proven to cause cancer.
At the dawn of my 30th year, I decided to transform my chemical beauty regime into a series of empowering and uplifting lifestyle beauty rituals. As a former sorority girl this seemed almost impossible I had to throw out everything I owned even things that were sold at big health food store chains in their bath and body section and had packaging that read: natural and organic.
I discovered 900 companies on the Campaign for Safe Cosmetic Compact for Safe Cosmetics website that agreed to refrain from the use harmful chemicals and to create their personal care products in compassionate and healing ways. I became focused on handmade products in small bathes with raw ingredients with female formulators and got introduced to Welstar Organics. Their comprehensive line of skin-care products, tinctures, aromatherapy and herbal remedies has helped my healing process. Founded and Formulated by Mahara Ashlie, Welstar Organics helped me realize that when I began incorporating natural ingredients, intentionality, and love into my daily personal beauty rituals–I had to give up the appearance of super natural polished clear skin for clear skin. I had to give up the investment and the work to cover up and make up for all the things that I lack to celebrate who I really am and to heal from the inside out.
The cosmetic industry is self regulated. They believe that their products our safe for people in the US. In Canada and the UK they have been forced to re-formulate and take out all of the potentially dangerous ingredients. In the US they are still getting away with putting questionable things in our eyeliner, hair products, nail polish and lipstick. The skin is our largest organ.
Reflections on the Moon: In the name of Empowered Women and Voice, we welcome this new series of poems, essays, and interviews about one of our most intense rituals, our menstruation. We all know, men and women, how much we women transform over the course of a month! Instead of feeling choked and smothered, we are learning from our monthly flow about how to dance with raw passion in the face Life, Death, Life. Long live La Lobas! Please comment and continue the conversations…
DARK RED LIFE
We women bleed, and when the walls of our wombs burn so red they have to weep, we remember:
Make the best of it. The pain that weathers our bones will always be there, death is inevitable and day by day we age, we shed ourselves, we become new and old at the same time. Every month we meet our mortality, we come to face the truth that we were made to carry it all, own it all, all the sorrow and devotion. We carry the water, we carry the weight, we carry the reminders of our fragile and fleeting yet infinite existence.
Our happiness must not depend on our men. They fight their own battles towards balancing on three legs. Until we leave them be, and return to ourselves to sit and soak in our own emotions, our own intuition, then we just support their egos (and our wounded ones!) We cannot remain mute. It doesn’t serve the Goddess, Pachamama, Life. So let us nestle into own silent space and make big room for our invisible altars, the ones that burn in our intimate chambers of the heart. We deserve to be heard, consulted, honored, adored, and we know just how to satisfy that by doing it to ourselves first. The rest is just dessert.
Do not Meditate (or do anything, really!) to make yourself feel better. We practice mindfulness to remember that beyond the fields of our minds, our judgements and our stories, there is a crystal mirror that tells the truth. It is the transparent canvas where the spinning wheel of madness (aka Samsara) splashes its colors and paints its rainbow dramas, paints the ego’s inflation and destruction, resistance, and enthusiasm. Watch the art show, put your nose right up against the pane and watch it carefully, get to know all the colors. Yoga is unifying with what IS, not what we want, including the desires for peace and happiness. We move out of suffering by entering it, choosing to become allies with it, and then, letting it wash clean. We women are the living manifestation of the Cycle of Life, Death, Life, honor that cycle in all it’s hues.
Get angry. It feels good to show the fangs, to growl into the darkness, to shoot arrows at the stars like warning flares. It feels good to want to live, to want to chew on the meat of existence, to get sweaty and naughty and wild. That’s how we feed our dancing lobas. We dance to feed our inner bitches.
Long live feminine alliance. Long live the circles we create to commune about all that we learn and all that remains mysterious. Long live the sincere conversations, conspirations, consolations, cosmovisions. Long live our hands that hold each other to the Light, that hang onto the dignity that resides in that pelvic lining.
May we always take the time to regenerate our souls and connect with our sisters every Moon.
Today together with my friend and fellow yoga teacher, Sarah Kent, we led a free, all level Occupation Yoga Class in Downtown Oakland. We are both admirers of public practice and sharing radical self expression. Also a recent relocee to the Bay, Kent came from Nebraska last July. She is a seasoned yoga teacher whose passion includes bringing yoga to people in homeless shelters, incarcerated youth, and to women who have experienced violence and are in transition.
Today in class she proclaimed, “Let’s take all of our positivity and just put it out into the world the best way we know how. I know it may sound cliche, but this world needs a lot of positivity and the more you can put it out there right now, here is your chance…shine some positivity outward.” I started singing outloud. A girl in our class started laughing hysterically.
Sarah and I used the definitions of OCCUPY while we prepared for class:
to take or fill up (space, time, etc.): Hundreds of Tents occupied Oscar Grant Plaza in Downtown Oakland.
to engage or employ the mind, energy, or attention of: Occupy the fullest capacity of your lungs while you are breathing.
to be a resident or tenant of; dwell in: We occupied the four corners of our feet all eight points sticking into the earth
We are asking yoga teachers, meditation leaders, singers, dancers, artists and healers to use the definition of Occupy in your work and share it with us through a video! We will be sharing our ideas as the weeks go on—please chime in!
Deep breathe. We’ve finished up our summer/fall retreats, and want to give a big shout out to our most recent sponsor, Bendala Yoga Mats (www.bendalaliving.com)
After spending four days in the backcountry of the Uncompahgre Mountains in Southwest Colorado for our annual Altaer Retreat, one things for sure: Bendala makes yoga mats suited for centered adventure in Mother Nature.
The mission of Altaer Education is to create sacred spaces in Nature where participants spend time, out of the system, connecting to a deeper silence of the wilderness and discovering the wildness of their inner souls. In essence, we create, honor, and celebrate the natural altars of Mother Nature and our own bodies using meditation, yoga, wilderness education, trekking, and dance.
When Bendala agreed to sponsor the “Awakening the Spirit” retreat, we received a heap of their handmade cotton mats (made in India!) for our clients. Doing pranayama at dawn, the mats soaked up the moisture from dewy ground and never got slippery when we stood for sun salutations. They were perfect blankets for our talk circles in the aspen groves, and served as picnic platforms during our day hikes.
We often stopped along a rocky rivers edge to sit and hear the waters sing; many of our clients draped them atop the boulders to meditate. Extra long and spacious, they acted as ideal cushions for our acro-yoga session in the community tent.
Because of their organic cotton, Bendala mats make practicing outdoors feel more natural than ever. No synthetic fibers, no slippery slopes—Bendala provides a platform where muddy feet, sunbaked backs, and sweaty hands can practice with ease.
When the fallen hero Chris McCandless of Jon Krakauer’s bestseller Into the Wild was found dead inside an abandoned bus in Alaska, readers were heartbroken – but not shocked.
No preparation? No previous experience? What was he expecting?
The story of McCandless, who tried to survive entirely off the wilderness, illuminated the schism between modern day society and a more ancient, primitive way of relating to life. In this fast-paced world where technology teaches us more than, say, a hunting spear, it’s rare to find anyone who lives entirely off the mercy of Mother Nature.
Maybe McCandless was hoping to turn out more like Doug Simons.
Simons, 51, also wandered into the wilderness 30 years ago. But instead of tragedy, he has not only lived to tell the tale but also teach the lessons learned from his experience.
“Simons truly walks his talk,” herbalist Michael Murphy says, “He didn’t read a book to learn the edible and medicinal plants of the Southwest – he lived his questions by surrendering his life to the wilderness.”
Intrigued by plants from an early age, Simons grew up with a gift for plant identification and communication. He spent more than 30 years (off-and-on) wandering around the Gila and Sonora deserts with nothing to eat other than what he found along the way. When he needed fire, he used a bow drill; shelter, a canvas tarp. He didn’t have a back-up plan, either – when he was in the wild, his survival depended completely on his acquired physical skills and a deeper spiritual alignment with the rhythms of nature.
“Living off wild foods doesn’t give you the benefit of, say, a supermarket, where you can plan your meals in advance,” Simons says. “A lot of times I lived from meal to meal, and it tested me a lot. When I was hungry and tired, I had the choice of living from faith or letting the fear overcome me. It was more productive when I trusted that the land would provide.”
For Simons, survival and spirituality are inseparable. He exemplifies a shamanistic path. Defined as “one who walks in both worlds,” shamans are credited with the ability to translate between the spirit and material realms.
“The truth is, we can talk to plants, but we were never taught that in this culture,” Simons said. “It takes a while to remove the layers that block us from believing that.”
Just as we learn the codes and etiquette for communicating with people, Simon believes we can learn the codes to help us connect with plants.
In a world of weed eaters and pesticides, the concept of communicating with plants may sound inconceivable. But Simons reminds us that most native peoples facilitated the relationship between plant, human and spirit.
From a young age, Simons has studied and participated in rituals with such tribes as the Lakota, Tarahumara and Navajo. “Sacred rituals remove mental blocks and help us move into a place where we hear more clearly,” he said. “It’s also about developing our voices to speak back to them, have our questions answered, and be prepared for the answers they give us.”
After 10 years of wandering, Simons felt a calling to teach. Deb Buck, a Durango herbalist and friend of Simons, began encouraging him to teach after they met three years ago. Buck remembers giving Simons his first car ride in 10 years.
“When I met Doug, he was just transitioning from living in the desert. I immediately saw the gifts as a healer he had to share with people,” she recalls.
The two began monthly seminars around the Southwest. Combining ceremony with well-researched field facts makes his workshops special, Buck says. “He is incredibly well-read and researched. But he relates to everyone and tells great stories,” she says.
His students often refer to him as a humble presence with an incredible talent for turning his workshops into creative learning environments.
“It’s not an intellectual wisdom. Mother Nature has really tested his survival skills. Because of this, he has a reverence and down-to-earth perspective,” Murphy says.
When Simons teaches, he shows people that the plants come first. “We have to relate with the plants as living people with the same kind of respect that we have for other humans,” he says.
Feeling awkward about sweet-talking your sunflower? No matter, says Simons.
“Humans are here to learn to be better relatives to all living beings. The more we are willing to reveal all of ourselves to them, the better off we will be. It’s a joke to suggest that the plants don’t already know what’s going on in your mind.”
In addition to learning how to “speak” with the plants, Simons also teaches thorough plant identification, medicinal harvesting and edible preparation. He teaches slowly, thoroughly, and specifically about each plant. After all, we don’t want to end up like McCandless and poison ourselves with mysterious berries.
Simons grew up in Colorado, so coming to Durango is a sort of homecoming. He is particularly excited to see his “relatives” – the elderberry, valerian root, monkshood, spruce, willows and yarrow. August is a high-time for mushrooms, too, which excites Simons. “I’m very taken by the people of Durango … many people here carry their own enthusiasm; they take responsibility for their happiness. Also, the outdoor enthusiasm lifts up the energy of the whole town.”
Simons teaches all over the Southwest and sees some reoccurring ailments, such as over-stressed kidney and adrenals. Simons works with specific herbs to replenish and hydrate.
Buck, who co-facilitates his workshops, notices that more and more people from all walks of life are looking for a deeper connection to themselves through plant communication.
“When it comes down to it, Simons facilitates that connection and teaches life-ways so you can live outside and have fun,” Buck says.
If you feel called to meet the wilderness (or just your back yard) with a bit more finesse, you can meet Doug in person this week. He’ll give a free workshop at Durango Natural Foods on Thurs., Aug 11, 6-8 p.m. He will also be giving a three-day intensive workshop in the mountains near Durango from Aug. 12-14. In addition to plant identification and harvesting, Simons will instruct in basket weaving and run a sweat lodge. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit Simon’s website, www.chanchka.com.