Tag Archives: Eco-spirituality

The MCC Forecast by Anne Higgins

Standard

Mandala Reflections often visits the holistic experience of well-being as it relates to personal vocation and self-realization in the greater world. Guest blogger and Crew Leader for Montana Conservation Corps, Anne Higgins, is taking what some might call an “alternative” route in the work she does, and yet her and her “job” fit nicely into this larger conversation about vocation and the meaning of life. Mandala Reflections is honored to share her eloquent work, “The MCC Forecast,” adapted from a piece by Douglass Wood. 

The Forecast:

There is a 95% chance that today’s weather will be either too hot, too cold, too sunny, too rainy, or too windy.

From a desktop sign, Quetico Park Visitors Center

In many ways, trail work is an endlessly repeated exercise in various modes of misery, each one a contrast – therefore, a relief, albeit temporary – to the misery preceding it. So there is always the illusion of looking forward to something that will most likely be … another misery.

Trail work could in fact be described as swinging or cutting or chopping or digging until arms ache, back hurts, skin is burned, legs are cramped and muscles twitch.

Finally a break and a chance to bump camp and a chance to stop swinging, chopping, digging and move to a new area. Also a chance to deal with blackflies, deerflies, and various other versions of evil incarnate; a chance to climb up and down hills with loads that would crush a burro, that strain neck, back, and hamstrings and threaten to drive shoulder blades through hips; a chance to wade through mud, muck and other corruption, to climb over and under deadfalls and trip over stuff and to figure that death will probably arrive – mercifully – before this infernal trail reaches sight of an open, sandy grassy campsite. Where of course, the cycle begins again.

The greater goal and end of this particular cycle is the evening camp, that blessed spot of rock and tree kissed by evening breezes and the last slanted rays of the sun. Having found the camp, at whatever stage of exhaustion seems appropriate to the lateness of the hour and the rigors of the day, it is time to set up the tent, gather water, start the stoves, get out the food, cook the food, and …ahhh…eat. And drink. In a warm and happy trance of pure bliss and satisfaction. This lasts… some moments. With the arrival of the evening watch of mosquitoes, the cooking gear is up-gathered and washed; the food repacked; the pack hoisted and hung safe from bears, mini-bears (chipmunks), and micro-bears (mice); personal hygiene is attended to; the tent entered; tent invading mosquitoes dispatched (except for three which are never found); the sleeping bag snuggled into and finally, sleep. The sweet, dark, wonderful nothingness of…Rock. Root. Pinecone. These are the nemeses that will be there, along with the three renegade mosquitoes, all through the night. They will become intimate with back, sides, and stomach, with muscles, bones, and insides – and loom ever larger and sharper and more offensive in the imagination and the anatomy, until dawn cannot come too soon.

And with the arrival of dawn – the pack is lowered (mini-bears found it anyway), breakfast cooked, water filled, camp attended to, and – back to trail work once more.

The Backcast:

So why…why go through it? Why even be here?

The second answer is easy. Because “here” is where the beauty is. Here is where the sunsets are. Here is where the campsites and campfires are, and the clear deep waters, and the wildlife, and the pines, and the mountains. And yes, the storms and the big winds and the downfalls. Here is where the journey is.

But why go through it? Why do I…why do I go through it? I think because no one else can go through it for me. And because the modern city-world system uses people to get work done. Important work, supposedly. That’s the whole idea. That’s why we get paid. But here – here I’m using work … to get myself done. What better work is there than that?

Anne is a Crew Leader for Montana Conservation Corps. Her crew goes out into the Bitterroot National Forest for 8- 10 days at a time, maintaining back country trails. (Anne is much more than her work, and I personally adore her).

A closing quote to bring it back to Mandala Reflections and the greater community:

“Work is one of the most far-reaching mysteries in a human life. Because it is so common and so much a part of everyday life, it’s tempting to consider work only on a literal level–as a way of making a living. Yet…work is what makes life worth living and accounts for meaning and deep satisfaction…If we were to appreciate more fully the connection between work and our general emotional state, we might withdraw our attention from narcissistic preoccupation with self and find the soul at work in the world. Then we might also realize that it isn’t enough to consider work only in relation to personal and individual issues of meaning and emotion, but that work always implicates family, neighborhood, community, nation, and the globe itself. If the soul is to be served adequately, it isn’t sufficient to find meaningful work for the individual; we also have to examine our social, corporate, and political views on work.” -Thomas Moore

Anne, you continue to make your family and community proud of the work you do, and I can’t wait to learn what’s next on your journey. Thank you for sharing your soul with the world.

The Summer Day(s)

Standard

Wherever we live, summer time tends to push our biological clocks at a faster pace than during the other seasons. I certainly never seem to avoid the busyness that accompanies summer, and unlike many businesses and fairs that are booming around town during this time of the year, my blog closes up shop for three months. It’s truly a slow season here. And that’s okay. Although summer is busy and full of fun activities, it is also a season meant for relaxing and noticing. It’s a time to take life in at it’s fullest – even if its taking a deep breath in the quietest of moments.

This past weekend I spent some time in the garage going through some boxes that have been untouched since we moved to our new space in March. I came across a crate of various papers, articles, and business cards that I have been collecting over the years and found this poem by Mary Oliver, which I think captures the moment.  I am posting the poem mainly so I can toss out the paper, but also so I can remind myself to take time to soak in the rest of summer, not judge myself too harshly about how I spend my days–just as long as I am being present and honoring my one wild and precious life.

Good Summer Day(s) to you!

The Summer Day

Who made the world?

Who made the swan, and the black bear?

Who made the grasshopper?

The grasshopper; I mean–

the one who has flung herself out of the grass,

the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,

who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down–

who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.

Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.

Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.

I don’t know exactly what prayer is.

I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down

into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,

how to be idle and be blessed, how to stroll through the fields,

which is what I have been doing all day.

Tell me, what else should I have done?

Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?

Tell me, what is it you plan to do

with your one wild and precious life?

~Mary Oliver~

 

Reclaiming Ritual: Confessions of a Skeptic

Standard

While I heard about ritual in my master’s program and even participated in a few healing rituals myself, I never really felt like I connected to the simulated ceremonies. I always thought they were a little goofy, and I never felt the liberating power people talked about, in my heart. I would come home with a cool new rock, and my husband would ask me about it, and I would stare blankly at him and recognize that I didn’t even remember why I had a rock in the first place. Well if you know anything about rituals, the one thing you might know is the importance of symbolism. So, me forgetting what the rock was for at the time, was very symbolic of my disconnect to ceremony.

The rock now sits on the window sill, and I still don’t know what it is supposed to represent, but I do know that when I see it, it must be fulfilling some part of its purpose, because it is a visual reminder that brings me back to ritual and makes me reflect on my relationship to ritual. When I look at it today, I am thankful for it, because I recognize how it has helped me reclaim ritual in my life.

What was once a minor curiosity of mine has ballooned into a great interest. Now, I cannot seem to avoid the concept of ritual. It keeps surfacing in the oddest places. I notice it while observing patterns in my dog’s behavior (don’t ask me which ones), while engaging in various readings, and while meeting new people and old friends. Because I started to notice it, I now recognize that despite my original unenthusiasm for it, I am actually starving for more ritual in my life.

But how do you recreate something that you aren’t even sure you understand? Also, a big part of ritual happens in a community-based setting, so how can you have ritual if you do not have a community eager to share this experience with you?  These are the questions I sit with and investigate.

What I have discovered in a few, short months of inquiry has been life-changing, and I imagine it will continue to be enlightening. As I understand ritual more, and incorporate it into my life in a way that feels genuine to me, I find that I am healing, I am connecting to my community, and I am enabling myself to follow my dreams.

As a result of my personal research, below is some food for thought about the power of ritual and how it relates to our personal and collective stories of healing, community, and personal development, three favorite topics of mine.

Definitions of ritual 

From the Korean perspective, a ritual or a kut, is a “controlled artistic activity springing from a human urge to transform time, space, and a community’s life together into a realm of contact with the gods and ancestral spirits.” As ritual relates to healing, the ritual is more dependent on whether the ritual expresses the sympathy of the healer AND “the prayerful concern of the ill person’s family and the concern of the praying community.” This reflection on ritual, healing, and community makes me think about the isolation people experience today. When we are trying to heal, it doesn’t matter if you receive state-of-the-art health care and have the best healer in the world. In my opinion, if you do not have a family or supportive community that is concerned about you, your healing journey will be longer and more difficult. This notion also reminds me of how people have become so disillusioned with religion, that they have given up all aspects of spirituality in their lives. What suffering has the human spirit endured because we have forgotten that we actually are spiritual beings and need to address ourselves that way?

My women’s spirituality group which is rooted in European traditions, also shares similar thoughts on ritual. “Ritual serves to focus our attention and intention so that we have the opportunity to honor, heal, and work with personal and collective energy. It is how we manage energy and/or matter in a sacred way. Ritual provides a container that allows energy to transmute consciously. It is an invitation to the mystery and to the soul to listen, guide, and help move life force energy…We recognize that ritual is an intentional weaving of spirit into form.”

Malidoma Somé writes in The Healing Wisdom of Africa, about ritual, healing, and community. He explains that ritual helps us “connect with unseen realities” and that “the realities made visible in our symbols, is crucial to the well-being of our psyches.” He says, “a person who walks through a ritual…ends up feeling charged and invigorated” and “is a blessed recipient of healing waves of energy that no one can see but everyone can benefit from.”

Somé continues to explain that ritual “is central to village life, for it provides the focus and energy that holds the community together, and it provides the kind of healing that the community most needs to survive.”

Why we are skeptical of ritual in the “West” and the consequences of our skepticism

Somé speaks to the misunderstandings surrounding the idea of ritual. He says, “The West is also struggling with a confusing notion of ritual, for the word usually refers to some sort of dark, pagan, and archaic practice that has no place in modern society. The only accepted rituals are ceremonial practices with clearly predictable content and outcome, such as what can be seen in the Sunday church service of one of the organized religions. When we talk of ritual here we are talking about something much deeper. We are talking about the weaving of individual persons and gifts into a community that interacts with the forces of the natural world. We are talking about a gathering of people with a clear healing vision and a trusting intent toward the forces of the invisible world.”

With his words, Somé suggests that the loss of ritual and the loss of community in the West are linked. He explains that this absence is also connected to the decline of health and well-being in “modern society.” He explains how important it is for us to reconnect with each other, and to acknowledge and interact with our surrounding environment and the subtle energies in a way that is healthy. Ritual is a way to do all of those things.  

What happens when we practice ritual?

We increase our awareness, and we transform. We come to know ourselves. European, African, and Korean traditions more or less agree that “ritual is aimed at increasing our awareness, for awareness of the existence of the reality beyond the palpable world that we live in is one of the keys to transforming individuals. Ritual can shake a person free from the rigidity of that part of the ego that wants to limit growth and experience.”

For those of you who have trouble envisioning the reality beyond the palpable world think about it in terms of yourself. “Eventually such awareness becomes an honoring of the shadowy and hidden parts of ourselves, those parts of ourselves that are invisible. There is such a thing as a spirit person and a physical person, and more often than not the physical being is so detached from the spirit that one feels split inside. Awareness should ultimately lead to an attempt to bring these two parts of the person together to become one.”

How do you practice ritual?

The answer to that question, is up to you. How will you answer it?

Still hungry? Reflect on the questions that appeal to you.

1) What is your relationship to ritual? Are you a skeptic? Why or why not.

2) What rituals do you have in your life? How do they contribute to or suppress your health and well-being?

3) Where do you have community or a sense of belonging in your life? How does community impact your health, and how can you build community?

Overachiever? Or just plain lost? (Or both?)

Call or meet with an elder in your family or a person you know who is connected to themselves and to those around them. Interview them about how they create ritual and ceremony in their life.