Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Give Thanks to Pacha Mama

Castro Canyon, behind Deetjen's Inn, has long been known as home to faeries, magical spirits of the land. Hit hard by the fires this past summer, winter rains now threaten its pristine, gentle quality. Redwood logs are stacked and chained together to block mud flow, and sandbags fill the gaps between dam and canyon wall.

Fortunately, we have among us some inspired practitioners of shamanism, Peruvian-style. These gifted women work with the living energy all around us to do wondrous things. They have traveled to the source, and studied with the masters of the craft, cultivating a primal yet playful consciousness.

Devotees of Pacha-Mama, Mother Earth, two of these wise souls led a small group of neighbors in a “Despacho” last Friday afternoon in the canyon. This ceremony is a gift to Pacha Mama. We give her our love, our breath, our prayers and thanks, in the hope that in healing her, she will heal us in return. She likes pretty things, heartfelt words, and chocolate!

Painter Branham Rendlen leads us in blessing this medicine space with the ringing of bells, and the spraying of scented water. She calls in all the major and minor deities, from Allah to Krishna, from Mary to Inanna, as well as the divas of this land. The Kintu, or gift, to the Mother, is really the creation of a tiny universe, representing all of Life's elements, sending love to Her in grateful prayer.

The childlike nature of the offering lightens our hearts: Seashells at the center, representing the womb of the Sea, Candies for our relations, our masculine and feminine energies, seeds for our creative force. Llama fat for the life force, feathers for vision, rice for fertility, sugar and incense for sweetness. We dip white carnations and red carnations (for mountains, for earth) into wine and sprinkle drops across the gift. We each sip a bit of the wine, which oddly recalls the more formal communion of the catholic church.

Then, best of all, we add our prayers themselves, rose-petals wrapped in bay leaves, each tiny package sealed with discreet puffs of our breath, hopeful kisses of thanks. A Pacha is also a cross, indicating an intersection in space and time. Time and space converge powerfully in ritual, and intention (also known as faith, or belief) is everything. We're talking about the power of prayer, baby.

Next we clambered over the dam and up into the canyon itself, where Deetjen's General Manager Torrey Waag buried our gift beside the stream. At the end of our ritual, we all felt the its unique power: the gift, built ceremoniously, wrapped in fabric and passed over our bodies, generated a surge of positive healing energy, which flowed out of our eyes and our hearts. We are safe! We love and honor our Pacha Mama, and She loves us in return.

Magical Canyon waterfall
Flood preparations
Our offering—in progress, wrapped for delivery, in the earth
Petals in the stream

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Joy of Stuffed Animals

As the season of giving approaches, I find myself thinking of the most simple of gifts: a Stuffed Animal. There is something deep in the human soul that needs to hold, to touch, and sleeping all alone at night is just not really do-able, at any age, perhaps especially in early childhood.

For children, the acknowledged wisdom is that stuffed animals are an important part of healthy psychological development. Yes, you can make a real difference in the world, by donating a stuffed animal or two to your local holiday toy drive.

When I was little, I had a stuffed toy named Bully, with a plush body and a plastic bull's head. I also had a favorite blanket, a baby blue quilt-like number with pink tufts emerging from the center of each sewn square of fabric. Holding onto these things gave me comfort; I could talk to Bully, and bury myself in the softness of my blanky at nap-time.

Today, I sleep cuddled against the warm body of my Welshman husband. We curl and uncurl around each other all night long, holding hands, rubbing feet together, caressing hips, and planting kisses on the center of each other's backs. When he gets up in the middle of the night, I sense the sudden solitude, and wake up. Him too, when I sit up to read or tap on the laptop.

They say that healthy adult love includes elements of nurturing often missed in childhood, and still needed at a profound level. I have single friends who wrap themselves around large pillows, or invite their cats and dogs into bed with them. Most of us, as "grown-ups" are somewhat shy about being partial to a humble stuffed animal, except in times of extreme stress and loneliness.

However, I have a theory that if all the world had something to cuddle with, we'd be happier all around and wake up smiling every morning. Holding onto to anything while we slumber takes us back to less complicated times, when just giving love nourished us, with no expectation except a small dab of comfort. The great mystery here is, that by just loving, even an inanimate object, we feel loved in return.

Does love make our loved ones more real to us? Absolutely. And this concept has never been better expressed than in the wonderful childhood story, The Velveteen Rabbit. I dare anyone, especially during the winter holidays, to hear this story and not shed a tear.

My elderly friend Bob understood this intuitively, when I gave him a stuffed rabbit to hold during his hospital stay two years ago. He missed his cat, so the white bunny from the drugstore it was. He resisted holding it, but when he put it on his lap and stroked it, his face broke out in a smile of understanding. Connecting with his love for life by feeling love in the simplest of ways gave him strength, no doubt.

So, don't be shy. Share a story here of the joy you find in a soft, furry toy. Let's create a love-fest of happy moments, of that sense of contentment that only holding and loving can give. To kick it off, here's a priceless pic of the long-suffering Welshman himself, cuddled with his new favorite.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Winter Reading

When I was a little girl, my mother was the Librarian in our town. I loved to visit her after school at the romantic old library downtown, built in the 30's. I'd find a dog-eared copy of Jane Eyre or Anne of Green Gables in the stacks and curl up on the red velvet couch in front of the fireplace and read for hours. Those afternoons were a blessed escape from a childhood set in the midst of the godforsaken 1970's!

Later, I somehow discovered Anaïs Nin, and then, Erica Jong. Delta of Venus and Fear of Flying were harder to read in public, but I devoured them secretly, filled with delicious, guilty pleasure. At about this time I also read Philip Roth, Kurt Vonnegut, Aldous Huxley and George Orwell, as well as the usual trashy science fiction and historical romances bookish teenage girls always seem to find.

Reading has been my salvation—I've found some of my best teachers, healers and lovers in books. To disappear into the content of a story, any story, from fantasy to current events, makes me feel bigger than myself, connected to a community of human souls beyond my world.

When I'm troubled, I turn to books of poetry by the 13th century Sufi poet Rumi, the musings on love of psychoanalyst Erich Fromm, the compassionate detachment of Sogyal Rinpoche's Buddhist texts. While I can never fully assimilate all this wisdom (I often follow up a short read with a good cry and a cup of tea followed by hiding under the covers) I am constantly seeking more.

Perhaps it's not surprising then, that I would spend a few years working at the Henry Miller Library here in Big Sur, and consider it one of our community's transcendent places. Current Nympholibrarian Keely Richter reigns there now, in charge of archiving rare books. When I tell her of the secret union of Librarians she nods complicitly, hazel eyes laughing behind her glasses.

My latest book purchase? (From the Miller Library, of course.) The Portable Dorothy Parker, edited by Marion Meade. My favorite poem so far in this large tome of short stories, verse, and early New Yorker articles, is one which offers up these lines:
Yet this the need of woman, this her curse: / To range her little gifts, and give and give / Because the throb of giving's sweet to bear.

And it is.

Next on my winter reading list: MFK Fisher's The Gastronomical Me.