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Tears for Trees

Tears rolled down my cheeks as the trees I have visited most every day for the last 18 years were being torn down with heavy machinery. These trees have witnessed my tears, heard me sing, soothed my fears and given me a sense of belonging that the human world has not. They are my friends. I use the wood products these friends will be made in to; so who am I to be against their death? Mother Nature also gives the death sentence; it is the cycle of life. Additionally, I do not doubt that the remaining trees will benefit from the openness and sunshine. So, what exactly does make me so sad? With contemplation, I find it to be the lack of reverence for life and the community these trees live amongst. Trees have been proven to communicate and help each other grow through an underground network of fungi. Not having words or tears does not equal an absence of compassion or community.

The first week of cutting, the birds were silent. Later, not so much, as they flickered around not knowing where to go. Same with the deer who were wandering down the side of the road, wondering where to take refuge. I haven’t heard a peep or sighted the porcupines that move slowly among these trees—what are they doing? And the Barred Owls I’ve run into regularly, how have they been affected? This forest is personal for me, as I know it intimately. Yet, the tears that roll down my cheeks are not just for these specific trees and animals, but equally for the condition of our culture. We live in an artificial and disposable society that believes itself to be real and important. Money for instance is a human construct, yet it has become equivalent to our life force. In America, we seem to groom kids for winning more so than good character. In this situation with the trees, the falsity is that we need to “manage” the forest for it to thrive. This is only potentially true, because of the damage humans have done over the last two hundred years interfering with the natural growth cycle of trees. No matter what, life will go on—for the forest, for the animals that call it home, for the men doing their job and for me. The real question is; will we have reverence for that life as it continues? Will we be mindful of the others, humans and non-humans, we share our home with? Will we recognize that the tree’s life does not depend on us. Instead, we depend on the trees, as they produce the oxygen that allows us breath. Thank the good lord they are willing to share. How are we reciprocating?

Thich Nhat Hahn suggests;

“We need to change our way of thinking and seeing things. We need to realize that the Earth is not just our environment. The Earth is not something outside of us. Breathing with mindfulness and contemplating your body, you realize that you are the Earth. You realize that your consciousness is also the consciousness of the Earth. Look around you–what you see is not your environment, it is you.”

So, my question turns inward as well—will we have reverence for our own personal nature? Another favorite quote was spoken by Howard Thurman;

“There is something in every one of you that waits and listens for the sound of the genuine in yourself. It is the only true guide you will ever have. And if you cannot hear it, you will all of your life spend your days on the ends of strings that somebody else pulls.”

One of the great tragedies of our time is how hard it is to hear our genuine voice. The “strings” come from everywhere—the greater whole, advertising, our families or that one person we most love. Their ‘sound’ is often loud, perhaps rational and appears real. Meanwhile, our true guide is quiet, humble and when heard sounds too much like ourselves to be taken seriously. To hear it takes silence and subtle listening, as well as a belief in our deep self. None of which are strengths of our busy, noisy, outward-focused society. Additionally, I sense that because our culture lacks a function of unconditional belonging, there is a fear that going inward to meet and know our own self, will further separate us from the world—from others. My senses also tell me that the opposite is actually true. To go inward and revere our own nature will ultimately show us our connection far deeper than blindly following society, someone else or an ideology. When we are true to our genuine voice, we have no desire to attach strings from either end—the controlling or the following. Such an appetite is the result of weakness and insecurity. It is worth noting that a poverty of strings does not mean pure solo flight, rather that we have self-responsibility within the whole.

This essay may seem hard on our society, let that be no reflection on the beautiful people within it. Culture is a structure in which people live, not the people themselves. However, it is up to us as individuals to create the change we want to see within it. We have reached a turning point. I feel it, my guess is you have too. While, we may differ in what we want, it seems most of us sense a need for transformation. I personally and whole-heartedly want to see a world that is genuine, true, and reverent for what is wild and alive. I want to see love for our inner and outer environment and to know that we belong. I want mindfulness and questioning to bring us to what is real. Mostly, I want humans to feel the connection that exists between the earth and all that live upon her; those with two legs, four legs, wings, and roots. To do all that starts with loving oneself. Not love based on personal achievements, but for the divine fact that we have been given the extraordinary gift of life. Let us choose wisely how we use that gift.

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Deer Wisdom

The other day I was with Tom, my horse, in a low section of the farm where the grass grows lush. It was twilight and peaceful. While Tom was grazing, there was a group of birds flitting around. With the low light I was trying to identify them by their quantity and movement rather than by sight. My attention was soft and taking in all that surrounded us. While listening to the small birds, I heard the leaves rustle off in the woods. This was obviously not any of the birds, so I slowly turned to locate what the originator of that sound and found a doe. She was standing still on the edge of the woods quietly gazing at us. Not wanting to startle her, I subdued my excitement and nodded a hello. Tom continued to graze, while the doe and I gazed at each other. It was an honor to be seen by such wild beauty. After about 5 minutes of this open exchange, more leaves began to rustle behind the doe. I could not see who was therebut for whatever reason Tom started to get antsy. While he is a laid-back guy most of the time, he can get riled up in certain circumstances and that was beginning to happen. I was already holding his lead rope; because when in this area he is more susceptible to fear (elsewhere on the farm, I flip the lead rope over his back and give him freedom.) By now, he was jigging around me while the doe continued to simply watch. Wildlife is less fearful of humans when a horse, another prey animal, is with them (why I’d love to do an African safari by horseback.) So, even with Tom trotting around, the doe continued to be unconcerned by us. The doe eventually bounded through the open space, slowly and gracefully to what seemed a predetermined place 20 feet away. By then, Tom had had enough and continued to tell me he was ready to leave, not desperately, but with conviction. Regardless of being hesitant to leave the connection with the doe, he and I began our walk up the hill. Luckily he was willing to slow down for me and my short two legs. A study in dissimilar species working out their differences.

The next day the sun was setting while I was driving home from the barn. I love capturing the sun in pictures and was frustrated to be driving and unable to do so. I had stopped earlier to take a few, yet as the sun continued to lower it got increasingly intoxicating. So, rather than turn down our road, I kept driving in hopes of finding a place to pull over to photograph its beauty. No luck, it kept going down while remaining behind the trees in the places available to pull over. When the sun was totally set, I turned around to go back home. As I pulled back out onto the road, there was a buck on the left. He was stunning with 4 points. I was already going slow, but came to a stop and as I did he ran across the road, bounding into the woods.

Then this morning, my dog Z and I were walking down the road on our way to the woods. Z doesn’t walk on a leash and was off to my left. I had my head down, not paying attention to what was ahead. On walks my awareness always includes Z, so when she stopped in her tracks and got focused, I looked up. As my eyes followed her gaze there was another doe staring at us.

On their own, each of these experiences is enough for me to feel touched by the deer. While deer are not uncommon, being “touched” by one—any wild animal—is a grand experience for me. So, while doing a meditation that asked me to think of an animal encounter, the first deer came to mind. The doe then told me; “Do not live in fear. Instead, allow fear to be inspiration to take action. When deer feel concern, we run. That’s it, nothing more to it. When you feel fear, allow it to communicate that something needs to be done. When we run from a threat, it’s simply a response to the situation at hand and when it’s over we let it be over. We urge you to do the same. Act when it feels right to, or stand and eat when that feels appropriate. Beware not to get stuck in either in the movement of change or the stillness of peace. Simply act according to the circumstances at hand. Use all your senses along with your thinking mind. Humans have forgotten how intelligent their bodies are and rely too much on their thoughts. Meanwhile the self-organization of life runs through and communicates with their bodies, so humans rarely hear the voice of the All. This is the root cause of their excessive disconnection which is evidenced by behaviors and emotions that are negatively affecting the Whole.”

Hmmm…. Interesting. I have often felt prickled by the idea of living fearlessly. To do so, would suggest we need to shut down our most natural emotions. Yet, I’m not sure that I’ve listened to it as a sign to take action. More likely I get the feeling and simply wait it out, knowing ‘this too shall pass.’ And funny enough, it does. However, I suppose that is what Doe meant by getting stuck in the stillness of peace.

Do you listen to the “self-organization” of life? Or are the thoughts in your head too loud? Thinking is certainly useful. However, if we quiet ourselves enough, the song of the connected world may sing loud enough for us to dance with it.

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Grace

The other day I went for a run. The sun was shining. My body was enjoying the movement. My mind loved the music playing in my ears. Then suddenly, the sense of bliss became so great it stopped me in my tracks. My eyes closed, my arms remained alongside my body, while my hands turned outward in acceptance of something that seemed to be flowing into me. A few moments in this position and my arms went out and up towards the sky. This beautiful feeling continued to wash over me—pouring into my hands, down my arms, through my body, and out the bottom of my feet into the earth. I felt a strong awareness of being a conduit. I did not need to chant, meditate, or set intentions. I only needed to be there, fully open to receive. In doing so, I was allowed to experience the incredible grace that flows from heaven to earth. It runs endlessly using trees, birds, animals and even humans as funnels.

I am telling this story reluctantly. I do not feel words do it justice. Nor do I want others to tarnish it with their own opinions or explanations of what was taking place, decidedly positive or negative. However, I am writing about this experience because it is important to share what I have been “told” over and over again through such occurrences. Which is that because our bodies are connectors between the heavens and the earth, we can access and carry grace into all that we do. No matter what nationality, race, species or belief pattern someone carries, as beings of this earth, we are all connected by a gravitational pull. When we allow ourselves to be conduits for Grace, we are in effect blessing both the earth herself, as well as each individual that stands upon her through that connection. That’s powerful.

Tom, my horse, is currently at a natural horsemanship trainer. My first day riding there, Bob the trainer, asked me to back Tom up. Being watched, I felt insecure about our ability to accomplish this simple task, so I pulled hard on both reins trying to force him to step backwards. In response to my pulling on the bit in his mouth, Tom pushed against the pressure, without moving his feet. Bob gave me some sage advice that ultimately meant “do less.” I tried again and this time Tom moved back a couple steps practically in response to my thought. This gave me insight not only to a method of working with horses, but a technique for handling life—less is often more.

Reflecting on this lesson with Tom, I remembered the feeling of bliss that washed over me days prior. I have done countless activities to open to Grace. Yet, it was when I stopped ‘doing’ that an authentic faith in my integral part of the Universe grew enough to realize myself as a conscious conduit.

There are many ways to practice translating spiritual knowledge to physical action and vice versa. Working with horses is one way I choose to do so. How do you do it? My suggestion is to follow your bliss and see what opens up.

Trusting in life,
Katrina Clay
Essay from June, 2007….

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The other day, I noticed my horse Tom eating goldenrod, a weed that often gets mistaken for ragweed. I hadn’t seen him do this before, so I went to the expert in all things—google—to find a long list of benefits from it. Two of which were insect bites and wounds. Tom had sustained a cut the day before and had many, many bug bites. This amazed me and was a reminder how wise animals are about their needs and the environment. We neglect that intelligence by micromanaging their behavior and limiting their choices. There are times when they can use a bit of guidance. For example, Tom is somewhat accident-prone and it may avoid injury if I suggest he not step in a hole that I see and he doesn’t. However, we disempower our animals (dogs and cats included) when we take away their power of choice, believing that as humans we know what’s best. There was probably a time when we also understood the innate benefits of the earth’s bounty without having to look it up via a book or the internet. Now, we have so separated ourselves (as a cultural generalization) from both our innate wisdom as well as the wild, that people are more afraid to eat berries directly off a bush in the woods than those sold in stores grown with pesticides.

Later on a run, I was climbing a hill. A car drove by and the driver enthusiastically gave me a thumbs up out the window (think Alan Garner from “The Hangover” in a 1988 Oldsmobile sedan). This was a kind gesture meant as encouragement and brought me a smile. It also made me feel ridiculous, for no one encourages those who are going along doing great—it is reserved for those that are struggling. There are probably people who enjoy receiving acknowledgement in such situations; I am not one of them. Somehow it got me thinking about how as kids we are told not to listen when people put us down. Simultaneously, we are expected to accept compliments. This never felt right to me—you either listen to what everyone says or to no one. Our minds aren’t able to categorize what to hear vs. what not to, mine isn’t anyway. Neither choice is right or wrong. If you listen to everyone, simply know that hearing what they say and taking it on as truth are two separate things. If you choose to listen to no one, be mindful that you are clear about what you believe.

Another Tom story; as many of you know, I work with modern shamanic practices. Typically, I lead people on their own “journeys.” On these journeys, we are often in communication with spirit animals. Yesterday I was at the barn early and didn’t see Tom as I arrived at his paddock. When I called his name, he came galloping from around the trees towards me, reminiscent of a spirit animal approaching during a journey. This reminded me of the fine line between what we call our spiritual experiences and life in the material world. Actually, there is no line, it is all the same. Compartmentalizing devalues them both. At times we may be involved in one area more than another but in the human condition exists the union of spirit and matter, thought and action, micro and macro.

These three stories may seem unrelated. I am sharing them together to illustrate the point that we alone have authority of our lives. Following your instincts may lead you to your needed nourishment. Choosing to listen to people’s encouragement, leads you to also hear other’s pessimism—be clear what is true for you. When considering your spiritual path, remember the whole human experience is spiritual, that is what makes us alive.

It’s not hard to agree that there is an emphasis on the outer in our modern world. We even assume protection needs to come from the outside—buildings, laws, rules, regulations etc. You may know what stones or crystals will keep you ‘safe’ or the right prayers and incantations to bring light or a “system” to tell you who you are. What if we found protection and wisdom from within? What if what we choose without thought is exactly what we really need, like Tom eating Goldenrod. Wouldn’t that be of great value and less stressful than constantly checking with outside sources about what is right? We can examine astrology, consult books or go to workshops with the finest teachers, yet at the end of the day it is our selves alone living our life. Any system becomes a path of conditioning if we follow it without questioning how it applies to what we experience as our inner wisdom. Information is available at our fingertips, let us not confuse that with having sagacity. We can hide from our vulnerability in that knowledge. Leading a genuine life, one of my goals, takes regular clearing. This is what “being in the moment” or “present” means. For it isn’t just about time and space, but also clarity.

On November 6th, I’ll be presenting “Find Your Inner Shaman: The Way to Awaken Your Power” for SIMEN at the Saratoga Springs Library at 6:30. We will tap our personal wisdom and experience how to discern our truth. Looking forward to seeing you there.

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While in South Carolina, I went for a run in the woods. With a map of the trail system in my pocket, I didn’t pay much attention to my route—taking the left trail here and the right trail there. After a good run, it felt like time to head back to the house. Not really knowing where I was, I pulled out the map. It quickly became clear that a map is only a piece of paper if, like me, you don’t know corresponding points in relation to where you are or where you want to go. So, map or not, I was lost.

 

After some aimless darting, I stopped under a soaring turkey vulture and shouted up “Greetings, my friend, will you please point me in the direction of the Farm?” While standing there deciphering an answer, I felt and heard a big swoop above my head. Where there is one vulture, there are usually more, so I happily assumed that’s who was close overhead. Yet, as it got in front of my vision the huge black bird fanned out its tail, which to my astonishment was white. It then tilted its head to the right, for me to see that it too was white. A Bald Eagle! Even writing about it now makes me tingle with excitement. While it was happening, I dropped all thought and fell into my heart—where it felt bigger than the container of my body. Large enough, in fact, to touch all life and that which creates it. In addition, there was a sense of awe and or accomplishment for being acknowledged by such a majestic bird and all that the eagle represents to me. This bird’s presence gave me the feeling that all my time spent in loving appreciation of nature and wildlife had not gone unnoticed. Nor had it been wasted time, which my ego/personality is sometimes afraid of. In this heightened state of awareness, the way back was still unknown. Yet, returning to the rhythm of the run found me shortly back at home base.

 

This story has two meanings for me. The first, is to never stop paying attention to where you are simply because you have someone else’s map in your pocket. An apt metaphor for maneuvering through all of life. Secondly, doing what you love rewards you with events that make your heart and soul sing. Allowing for this song to play through you may be your greatest gift to the world, whether it pays back in cash or not.

 

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Since 2003, I have been leading people on their own modern shamanic journeys. I call them modern because in other times only shamans journeyed and they usually did it only for others. Today, as humans evolve, we are being asked more and more to take responsibility for our own spiritual growth and experience. In this evolution, some of us are also being asked to become our own shamans rather than abdicating that responsibility to anyone else. Hence, now we have the opportunity to visit the surrounding spirits for guidance.

What happens during a Journey?

The facilitator, perhaps me, drums a steady beat while leading a guided meditation. Sometimes there is just the drum and you go on your own meditation with some thought or intention, such as meeting a guide or totem animal. The beat of the drum allows your conscious mind to concentrate on something, which allows the subconscious to speak through images.

Benefits of a Journey.

Most feel a deep peace afterwards. Additionally, journeys give you the opportunity to ask your soul, or spirit guides, for guidance in your everyday life. This gives you a new understanding and perspective on your life. The modern shamanic journey is valuable for all people that are interested and willing to get to know their own self at a deeper level. Sometimes this happens by dialoguing with your soul, which is a facet of ourselves that we often silence regardless of its innate intelligence. Other ways are by giving voice to the guides that surround you. They share guidance always, yet they are unable to make you choose to follow that “advice.” The modern shamanic journey is one way to quiet yourself enough to hear what they want you to hear.

Shamanic Reiki.

There is another way to experience healing. A Shamanic Reiki session is a time to recieve the healing energies of Reiki while allowing your body to speak. In today’s modern age, we tend towards regard the body as a sort of inanimate object. We know it needs care and maintenance, but it doesn’t have much to say. In reality, it carries and holds wisdom. It knows what’s really happening for you, probably better than your thinking mind does. With Shamanic Reiki, we allow it to speak in order to gain clarity. For instance, you may have a shoulder issue, we would travel into the place that most calls to you (may be the shoulder, may be a different area) and name whatever is there hanging out. Something in a shoulder might be feelings of carrying too large a load, being overwhelmed or some emotion that is stuck in the shoulder. Once this has been named and acknowledged, it often has served its purpose and is able to move out and with it the symptoms. Clearing our bodies, is one of the most effective ways of clearing our minds.

What is a Pet Journey?

Have you wanted to deepen your relationship and understanding of your pet? I have begun a new project of creating individualized pet journeys (perhaps they will have a more elegant name in the future.) The benefits are the same as above, but we journey to dialog with your pet, preferably with s/he nearby although it can be done anywhere as your connection is beyond physical presence. I travel to your home or barn so that the animal is able to remain relaxed and comfortable. We do the guided meditation with the drum. This gives you the opportunity to shift perspective for a deeper understanding of and bond with your pet. One client said this about her experience;

“I Love Katrina and I enjoy doing any work with her! I always leave feeling grounded. Journeying with Katrina always helps me to see things differently in life and help in my journey through life. In working with my dog Miley in this way was very helpful. It gave me a much better understand of Miley’s needs. Miley is an anxious dog and needs a grounding force to help her maneuver through her life. So when we go for walks I center myself and help her to feel safe. In doing the journeying with Katrina and Miley I realized Miley was not sure this was her forever home so myself and my family have worked hard to let her know she is here to stay! Thank you Katrina for a great experience and helping me to understand Miley on a much deeper level!”

Full Moons.

Every full moon, I facilitate a modern shamanic journey. The location and attendance is always shifting. What remains true is the genuine experience of soul-level peace. In August the event will be held outside at the Saratoga Spa State Park, where we are surrounded by the wisdom of the trees. Keep in touch to find out where future Full Moons will be held. It is a great way to start your inner journey.

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My favorite place to write is anywhere outside. So, now I am on the front porch wondering how to put into words the concept that is circulating through my system. To my left is a tree with red berries that my niece call ‘bird berries’ for good reason. Much to my chagrin, this particular bush is starting to push out the lilacs as it grows. Yet, once the berries are out, I cannot imagine taking the tree down, for chickadee, tufted titmouse, cedar waxwing and especially robins love it. This year, a robin built a nest right in the middle. What seemed like overnight the eggs became fledglings. Today, the babies are out of the nest on branches in their home tree. One grabbed a berry with her beak, staring at it while seemingly considering how to maneuver the food into her mouth without dropping it. Finally, she lifted her head, opened her beak and bam in it went. While this bird had no knowledge of me (that I know of), she showed me that when something seems potentially too big to take in, you will only figure it out by just going for it. While I believe that nature and wildlife are always “teaching” us, I do not think that is their primary purpose. That baby robin is living as a robin, doing what robins are hardwired to do—grow, eat, procreate, scatter seeds, sing and whatever else that I’m unaware of. Yet, because we are in the same place, at the same time, the baby was able to show me something I needed to see, simply by doing her thing. This is either because of the natural synchronicity of life or because we all find our own meaning in what we see. Perhaps a combination of both.

Some believe that we all mirror each other. I have written about it myself, mostly in relation to the animals in my life mirroing me. Eventually, it felt like a disservice to said animals by neglecting their free will and individuality. This isn’t the best example but for instance, that bird was not mirroring me, yet it did show a wise teaching needed in that moment. While we affect each other in every interaction, just as chemicals react when mixed, it may be that what we call mirroring is the sight of our own unclaimed traits—for the better and worse—in the other. You could say then, that it is our perception that appears as a reflection. This information is useful in deepening our understanding of ourselves, but it shouldn’t be confused as the actual other person or animal.

What if instead of seeing others as mirrors, we choose to see them clearly for who they bring to the moment on our shared journey of life? How does that change the way you see the other, as well as their behavior? Again, we affect each other energetically. Yet, as I see it, we are both individuals AND an integral part of the “One.” Just as my heart, lungs and skin are completely separate entities with different functions, they make up one human being. When each organ is working properly in its own way, the whole unit thrives. To broaden it, the earth is the body and we are all working parts of that organism—individualized and integrations of the whole. Which means that all others are also individual and integrated. Can we see them clearly for that?

It seems a human need to be understood. Yet, it’s important to remember that we don’t need to be the same to experience that. I spend more time with animals than people, my dog is snoring next to me now and my afternoons are spent with a horse named Tom. All this time allows me to practice being with and loving others that see life completely differently than me—literally and figuratively. We have the same basic needs of food, shelter, family and friends. Yet, beyond that, every guess I have of what they are thinking and feeling is interpreted through my human filter. I have no grasp what it is like to have smell as my primary sense like my dog does. Nor do I comprehend what it would be like to have almost 360-degree vision as a horse does. I can imagine both, yet again its going through my human filter of understanding. Regardless, I try to observe their behaviors objectively, so as to understand them as they truly are. It has been years of releasing the desire to couple with my animals by trying to be similar; either by asking them to follow my human priorities or by trying to emulate their species. I came to realize that because of the clarity it brings, we are more connected when each is true to their own nature. This has spread to my relationships with humans, in that I am more appreciative of people for being genuinely themselves, whether that is like me or not is irrelevent. This takes a lot of clearing and is always a work in progress. For me, clearing means staying neutral and free of expectation. Put another way in the words of Don Miguel Ruiz “Don’t take anything personally… Nothing other people do is because of you. It is because of themselves. All people live in their own dream, in their own mind; they are in a completely different world from the one we live in. When we take something personally, we make the assumption that they know what is in our world, and we try to impose our world on their world.” Perhaps Pema Chodron’s words are also helpful; “The truth you believe and cling to, makes you unavailable to hear anything new.” That includes beliefs about other people, for good and bad. Stay true, my friends, get clear and stay true. Ultimately, that is all I’m saying.

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photo credit; Deborah Neary

 

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