on nature relation,
self care, well being
and becoming whole
Today is Earth Day. Each Earth Day I think, "Isn't every day, Earth Day?" I often wonder how we humans live each day without an awareness of this amazing being, Earth, we live in and on. It can take a while when for most of us, Earth is the place we have always lived since birth, in our homes, our cities, states and countries, not really feeling an actual connection with the web of inter-being spreading across the planet; the source of our ability to live, grow and thrive from birth until death. Even in death, as our bodies go back to The Earth and become earth. The Earth is where we live our lives as an integral part of her ecosystem and then once again our bodies, at the time of our death continue to play an essential role in her ecosystem.
I'm thinking a lot about life and death these days and about what it means to spend the time we have on Earth as part of her web of life. Though so much seems to be falling apart and out of control all over the planet, I have been living in a world that feels otherworldly these past two months since my 94 year old father went on Hospice for congestive heart failure. With both my parents alive and still together in their 90's, I've gotten used to them being around- for quite some time, and doing a pretty good job of it considering their challenges as they have become quite old.
Now, my dad, always a passionate walker, is walking his final walk in his life on Earth. Being the daughter who is here locally, I have felt ripped out of my life by my roots and sucked into an alternate reality as I tend to my father and mother and arrange for their needs for care at this time. Suddenly, I'm no longer living my own life from day to day on automatic pilot, looking to the next thing; the next thing. Instead, I'm living on The Earth from moment to moment with deep gratitude that she is simply here supporting all life. At age 64, as I prepare to say goodbye to one of my parent's, I know I am here on The Earth in Ashland, Oregon, and at the same time, I have been invited to step into The Rabbit Hole where nothing looks as it once did and I know that nothing in my life will ever be the same again. Once my father dies and I am guessing my mother shortly follows, I will feel my family roots in The Earth more than I ever have, even though my ancestor's have all gone before us. I am learning that losing a parent affects one deep in their own cells. I'm feeling it in my cells; in my daily reality and in my dreams. My sister's are telling me they feel it too.
I'm experiencing a new sense of The Earth and the vast web of interbeing she supports for all of us passengers on this wild spinning ride. I'm loving my father and mother and tending to them as best I can, sometimes with frustration along with the love. As my dad prepares to leave, I feel my mother doing the same and I prepare deep in my heart and soul for their departures. Some days, my father describes a train that he says is moving and tells me and my mother it is leaving soon and he feels like he is supposed to be on it. He says, "We'll be leaving soon." Spending the time with my dad as he shares his experiences stepping between worlds is allowing me a powerful glimpse into his dying process. I'm feeling pieces of the world he is navigating as he has lost all sense of time and sometimes place. I'm learning from my dad's journey how fast our lives on Earth pass, even if you do make it to be 94. He's sharing his stories, joy, sadness, regrets and tears as he looks back at his long life and finds himself, right now, exactly where he is, with a deeply challenging opportunity to look within.
Between Covid and my moves to escape wildfires in Southern Oregon, I now feel I am truly home with my family; my community; the land that is my more than human family. I've never felt anything more right than being here and tending to my father and mother during this time. These past two months, I have barely had the chance to be in nature and unable to do the work I deeply love-facilitating others to connect with The Earth in a relational way through forest therapy, also known as Forest Bathing or Shinrin Yoku- a practice that invites you to fall in love in a new way with The Earth. We forest therapy guides and the thousands who have experienced this practice have learned through this work that what we love, we protect.
I am feeling strongly pulled to connect with The Earth; The More than Human World; community, ground myself again in nature and connect with my own inner nature. I invite you to join me for a forest therapy walk this Sunday, April 24, In honor of my love for The Earth and the billions of lives and life she nurtures and supports in every moment, I welcome you to join me, say hello to The Earth and fall in love.
Forest Therapy Walk
Wild Wellness Guide
Sunday, April 24th
11:00 AM- 1:30PM
Lithia Park, Ashland, Oregon
Sliding Scale Donation- $20-$45
Pre-Register through Wild Wellness Guide
Summer officially arrived last week and here in Oregon, it has arrived with true fire-fire from The Sun and fires in the forests. The Pacific Northwest has been hit with a once in a millennium "Heat Dome." With this show of nature's power we humans are certainly being put in our place. In this fiery time it feels like a good time to reach out and say hello following my long silence.
I hope those of you in The Pacific Northwest are safe in this intense heat wave and staying cool and well-hydrated. I have adjusted my time in nature to either the cool of the morning or late afternoon for dipping in the cold waters of Ashland Creek. I am so grateful for easy access to the shade and cool green of nature, especially in this heat wave.
Hand in hand with the extreme heat, the fires have begun, earlier than ever before, with smoke drifting across the border from Northern California. The presence of planes carrying a large cache of fire retardant on their underbelly are ever present in the sky. There has been ash on my car and on my outdoor furniture this past week. Living in The Rogue Valley, we all understand in real time that climate change is here. We are beginning a very early fire season, still carrying the trauma from The Almeda Fire last September, which on top of Covid, dug pretty deep into the psyche of our community. I am already feeling the stress rising, feeling this extreme heat and looking out my closed windows at the smoky haze hovering over The Cascade Foothills.
The past 14 months since Covid began, has been quite a wild ride for all of us and the fires here have only exacerbated it. Though I have guided a handful of forest therapy walks in the past year, once we were well into The Pandemic and my work had come to a halt, I began learning much about stopping and slowing way down. It took a pandemic to stop me from the constant figuring of next steps; the doing and the planning. At the same time, I was also forced to change my pace to assist my very elderly parents, who depended on me during lock-down. Though it took time, I came to accept my inability to control what was happening outside of myself.
Now, over a year later, much has changed. We all have changed; our world has changed; I have changed. Amongst the Covid carnage; the fear and the death, this period has also brought many gifts. The biggest for me was the slowing down and the isolation which served as an enforced personal retreat. Personal retreat sounds pleasant so that may not adequately describe this past 14 months. It allowed me time to go deep within for self-growth and I didn't do it alone. Thanks to my family; my adult children and my parents, it became a time for serious digging deep into the ecosystem of my own patterns in family communication and relating; pulling myself out of the mud, like a Dragonfly discovering the light for the first time. I am more than grateful for my family members who helped either knowingly or simply through their presence or absence, to shine a bright light on dark and neglected places, pushing me toward a new level of understanding and way of being. I had no choice but to either do the deep painful work or lose myself as well as loved-ones. It has been a year of heartbreak in so many ways and as opposites work, also, a time of great healing, love, release, joy and gratitude. I am grateful to my adult children, my sister's and the many healers, teachers, nature and the plant allies who have all been a part of this transformative journey-and the work continues with each breath, each day.
I have discovered many gifts through this time and one of the big ones has been learning how to step back and stop the pushing, the expectations; the grasping and seeing life and circumstances as things that I can manipulate. I've learned to let go of expectations about the environment. I wonder if there will be enough water for my community; if the air will be breathable this summer or ever, and will our homes be safe from raging wildfires?- while keeping an emergency evacuation kit in my car. There are no longer any quick escapes and I feel how we are all in this together. When I think about planning a forest therapy walk and wonder how much smoke and heat we'll be dealing with, I then step back and feel into it and remind myself that now is the time for patience combined with listening to my inner guidance, informed by quiet, slow presence and holding space for myself and others. Patience and letting go is my new normal.
During this slow, deep and painful work, I have discovered a wonderful practice. I was led to it when I used the slow time during Covid to step up my self-care regimen to a few hours each day. This included Self-Reiki; Wim Hof breath work and ice water immersion; skin brushing; Celery juicing, Jin Jing Gong Qigong and forest bathing. This past February, in all of my doing regarding self-care, I discovered, "The Art of Non-Doing" through Yoga Nidra, an ancient practice, sometimes referred to as, "Yogic Sleep." A practice for deep rest, relaxation and calming the nervous system. Soon after, I found a nature-based branch of Yoga Nidra, called, EcoNIDRA™. I was delighted to find a form of Yoga I could practice lying in place, flat on my back, with no place to go and nothing to do for 45 minutes. My whole life has been so much about moving from one thing to the next. I was always stuck on this: stopping and resting meant I was not creating or producing something- proving my worthiness. Once I began attending remote EcoNIDRA sessions, guided by its founder, Kat Novotna, in The Netherlands, I was hooked. I felt a sense of wholeness that had been hard to come by since the beginning of The Pandemic. My sleep became deep and restful; brain fog cleared; creativity bloomed; anxiety lifted and I felt content to be still and linger in the silence for longer than usual. A new level of patience and feeling the world around me with a sense of spaciousness became my new normal. It's amazing what can happen in 45 facilitated minutes of "Non-Doing", journeying through your senses, your body and through The Earth.
This past April, I began a journey along with a beautiful cohort of, "Dragonflies", to become a Certified EcoNIDRA Teacher™. It felt like a perfect fit and complement to my work as a Forest Therapy guide. I am overjoyed and very grateful to announce that I am now a Certified EcoNIDRA Teacher. I've got my wings and am ready to fly far and wide introducing this slow, gentle practice for deep rest and relaxation. Following a vacation break this summer, I will be offering remote EcoNIDRA sessions through Zoom that you can access in the privacy of your home, as well as remote sessions through corporate wellness programs-even Netflix is now offering EcoNIDRA sessions for their employees worldwide. As well, I will be setting up to guide EcoNIDRA sessions in person through Yoga and Wellness Centers and am looking forward to offering one day and weekend EcoNIDRA/Forest Therapy Retreats.
Watch for live streamed EcoNIDRA Sessions coming soon from Wild wellness Guide
Wishing you Peace, Rest and Wholeness,
I have been mostly silent during this past year of pandemic life. Throughout 2020 I had much to say while at the same time was often speechless and unable to write. Life changed so rapidly from day to day that by the time I completed a piece of writing, it was irrelevant.
Way back In mid-October of 2019, I gently began settling back in Southern Oregon after a life-changing nine-month journey in Idaho. By late fall, I was once again guiding forest therapy experiences and was actively forging new collaborations for my nature-based wellness practice, locally in Southern Oregon as well as other areas of the state. 2020 was off to an active start.
In early January I signed a contract to guide a Memorial Day forest bathing retreat at Breitenbush Hot Springs Resort, in collaboration with sound healer and forest therapy guide, Joy Evans, from The Bay Area. I began planting seeds for the retreat 2 years earlier and was incredibly grateful for this hard-earned spot at Breitenbush. As well, Trout Creek Wilderness Lodge reached out in early 2020 with an invitation to facilitate a forest bathing retreat at their healing center in an old growth forest, later in the summer. I was actively mentoring forest therapy guides in training for The Association of Nature and Forest Therapy and cultivating partnerships between Wild Wellness Guide and others.
Much was in the works by mid-March when my elderly parents relocated back to Southern Oregon after nearly two years of living in Montana, near my sister. They were set to arrive on March 19th to a retirement community in Medford. Little did any of us know what was about to hit. It was quite a shock for me and my parents when they arrived at their new community and went immediately into lock-down following a newly issued state order in response to Covid. I was unable to enter their apartment for over 6 months and my parents didn't see any of their friends for 3 months. I instantly donned my health advocate hat to remotely help my parents navigate Covid life, suddenly filled with communication/technology issues, medical crises and hospital visits.
With the sudden lock-down, my work halted. A forest therapy guide training I was scheduled to assist at in early April was cancelled and the training program came to an abrupt standstill. All trainings were postponed and staff put on furlough while A.N.F.T. began re-inventing itself. After many months of unknowing and waiting, my mentoring work came to an end.
At the same time, I received regular updates from Breitenbush Hot Springs, temporarily closed due to Covid, regarding my retreat scheduled for late May. At this point, when Oregon was beginning to slowly open up in early May, most of us were still clueless about what would follow as a world-wide pandemic unfolded. Breitenbush suggested they might reopen by the end of May, just in time for my retreat. I waited for their update, but it seemed clear that a large venue offering communal dining, hot spring soaking, workshops and shared lodging would be one of the last places to re-open during Covid. I received notice in early May that Breitenbush would remain closed until further notice. By August, the retreat was rescheduled for 2021. Then, in early September, when wildfires raged throughout Oregon, Breitenbush tragically burned down and will be rebuilding through 2022. The discussions for the other forest bathing retreat near Portland didn't even have a chance to move forward. I rapidly discovered that making plans during Covid was an exercise in futility. I was getting a serious lesson about living in the moment.
The world coming to an abrupt stop was a shock to my habit of expecting life to show up to meet my plans. Most of the world was in disbelief, and adjusting in unison to the new normal of lock-down, isolation, Covid deaths, loss of physical touch, covered faces and deserted offices and streets. Suddenly, grocery shelves were empty; we scrambled for toilet paper and Googled recipes for hand sanitizer. My daughter who had already been on lock-down in Hong Kong for 6 weeks, composed a Covid song and warned me to buy toilet paper. Up until Covid's arrival, life was easier than any of us had realized. Though I've had a daily gratitude practice for years, in 2020 I learned the meaning of "taking something for granted." Early into Covid, here, in The West, we got a miniscule peek into how people in third world countries and, in many of our own cities, scramble daily for the very basics. I realized what a privileged existence I've lived.
With no work and the sudden isolation, even though I am a quiet introvert, I felt seriously cut off from my local community. I was in stress mode with my sympathetic nervous system triggered daily by the fear of Covid. At the time, I was living with housemates who worked with the public. Initially, I became fixated on door handles, dish towels, hand towels and kitchen surfaces (which later proved to not be the route of choice for Covid's spread). When one housemate brought home a smashed box of sanitizing wipes that weren't saturated with toxic chemicals, it was like found treasure.
Considering "nothing" was happening, everything was happening on multiple levels. We were early into Covid and the overload switch had been flipped on. With the sudden shock of losing my work and income; the isolation; my initial felt fear of Covid and my parents need for much help, health advocacy and communication and tech support, along with the rest of the world, I had entered pandemic reality.
Other than taking care of the basics and helping my parents, I did the untypical for me- I stopped. All of my doing and creating came to a halt, replaced by being. My daily self-care practices became more important than ever. Mornings began with a set of Self-Reiki, Wim Hof Breathing, a shower ending with 2 minutes of ice water (or on some days, an icy dip in the creek); skin brushing, including lymph brushing; a glass of fresh squeezed celery juice and a set of Jinjing Qigong. Finally came breakfast. I'm still doing all the practices and have recently added in Nidra Yoga and EcoNIDRA. What if we organized our work around our self-care routine, rather than our self-care around work?
Early into Covid, my previous life morphed into a world of liminality as we call it in forest therapy- an experience of dropping out of one's typical mental mind and stepping into the present moment. Though it was still quite cold, wet and wintery, I spent much time in the woods, immersing in nature, dropping into my senses through forest bathing. Last winter and early spring, the streets were deserted and the park trails mostly empty. I often found ducks and squirrels using the paths and bridges which they typically stayed clear of when humans were previously present. After 40 years of walking these trails, I spied my first Jackrabbit at Lithia Park. As the animals reclaimed their forest for a brief time, they seemed to quickly adapt to very few humans on their land. At that time I had several experiences meeting small creatures on the trails who suddenly startled at finding a human in their space. More than ever, I understood whose home this forest was.
As Covid brought life to a standstill, I was stuck on a repeating loop, telling myself I should be creating, making and producing, even though I was being called to stop. The Pandemic brought with it the gift of a re-set on a worldwide scale, not something that comes along in a typical lifetime. Though I felt blocked and frozen, initially I pressured myself to offer guided virtual forest therapy walks or create a nature-based coaching offering through Zoom. But even with my strong passion and love for my work and always feeling driven to keep it moving forward, I couldn't make plans. During my trips to the forest, almost daily, I did take photos and nature videos to share through social media for those with no access to nature and the outdoors. That felt like exactly what I needed to do. After months of this feeling of "stuck" I finally was at peace, allowing my heart and inner compass to lead. I stopped grasping for the "next" thing; gratefully accepted the support of Pandemic Unemployment Assistance and allowed myself the needed space to reorient while continuing to assist my parents. Instead of being in what felt like a sinking boat, wondering where land was, I realized the boat was my life raft where I could find safety through this challenging time. As the year progressed, I noticed more and more people looking for relief in nature, leaving gifts for all along the trails.
This time last year, I walked miles in nature and along the eerily quiet empty streets with darkened storefronts. I walked through the deserted campus of The Oregon Shakespeare Festival and felt the massive loss of Ashland's main economic base. I knew that without Shakespeare many local businesses would never reopen once the lock-down was over. My home of over 3 decades was a new world. The silent, deep blue skies and billowing clouds, minus the air traffic became bluer and more stunning each day as I walked the trails, worked in my garden or practiced qigong in the grass. I wondered where all the people were and what they were doing? All the world together had stepped into the same story, called, "Pandemic"-vividly real and surreal all at once. In this story, I was astonished and bewildered and unable to tap into my previous clarity. Devoid of my former routine and mostly isolated, I entered into quiet. I could feel the shocked state of the world and was reminded of the pain I felt when my marriage ended-when ways of relating, unconsciously established over decades, suddenly shattered into disorientation while accompanied by vivid clarity, and the relief that comes with truth.
The challenges and journey of the past year have been powerful and for millions of people, painful catalysts for growth. My own experience was like navigating class 5 rapids in a raging river with no paddle; doing my best to stay afloat. All the death, loss, isolation, separation and pain on the planet has changed me forever. Just before the winter holidays, I lost three friends to different causes within a period of 6 weeks; each of them, gone in an instant from their vibrant lives. 2020 offered a challenging bridge into my next stage of life. I've finally come to accept and honor the beautiful and unique life I've lived. I am grateful for what is and continue to challenge myself to stay spacious, present and aware as I cultivate how to authentically best live, love, serve and remain whole. It took a pandemic for me to fully recognize my essential need to rest; slow down; make friends with the unknown; meet my shadow and practice kindness toward myself as well as others. Onward.
Many Blessings, Sari
Last September in late morning, The Almeda Fire ignited in a grassy field on the north edge of Ashland. The winds were fierce and the fire's first stop, just down the hill, was Ashland Pond, a riparian wildlife area, abutting The Bear Creek Greenway. We'd had a rare summer, a little cooler than usual with little to no smoke drifting into the valley. We thought we were coasting on the home stretch towards a clear autumn, having somehow been spared during the hell of pandemic, from a typical smoke-filled summer. For the past decade wildfires have tragically impacted our valley's emotional, mental, physical, environmental and economic health. The smoke season has become longer each year, causing many to flee the area. Had our whole town not been shut down by Covid, the 2020 season, would have been the first in years where The Oregon Shakespeare Festival would have made it all the way through August with no closures, causing tourists and locals to flee the toxic smoke. July into September have become trauma-inducing months as we hold our breath and pray for the delay of wildfire season and for the winds to blow the smoke out of The Rogue Valley.
On Tuesday morning, September 8th, I was heading home from Eugene, a 3-hour drive to the north. I had finished the last of my food for breakfast; left my friends and timed my journey perfectly to arrive home to Ashland in time for lunch. When I stopped at a rest area north of Grants Pass, about 45 minutes north of Ashland, my phone was filled with notifications. Friends who knew I was on the road, texted and called to let me know there was a fire raging between Ashland and 12 miles to the north in Medford and that the Interstate and Old Highway 99 into Ashland were closed. There was no way to get into Ashland.
I got back on I-5 and headed south, hoping the freeway would re-open. Just before Grants Pass, traffic came to a halt about noon. We creeped and stopped for hours. A friend in Ashland sent me updates of road closures in Medford. At 4:pm, three hours past my expected arrival home, I-5 was barricaded at Central Point, just north of Medford. Finally, we were getting off the freeway., but at the exit, the highway patrol directed traffic away from Medford, toward a fire burning in White City. Most roads leading south were closed, but I found a back-road into Medford along with closed roads at every turn. I needed food and called The Medford Food Co-op and Trader Joe's, having heard businesses were closing and learned they both were closing soon.
Twenty minutes later, just before they closed, I walked out of Trader Joe's with gallons of water and enough food to last through the morning. A friend called and told me to get to a large parking lot to avoid burning up in the fire. I was sitting in my car, numb, in Trader Joe's parking lot, trying to remain calm. I called my parents retirement community in South Medford to check on them an see if I could seek refuge there even though due to Covid regulations, I hadn't been allowed into their building in all of 2020. Their front desk told me no entrance as they were waiting to hear if they were evacuating since the fire was headed their way. I immediately called my parents, who are in their 90's, to check on them. My mother, answered the phone and said they were sitting on the balcony. I asked, "What do you see?" and she said, "There is a huge black cloud of smoke." I asked, "Where?" and she responded, "Right below us." Trying to keep myself together, I told my parents to get inside; close the door; pack a bag of essentials and call me if they are evacuated. Meanwhile, navigating clogged streets and closed roads, I headed over to some close friends of my parents who lived a mile north of my parent's. They welcomed me and even with The Covid situation were happy to take me in.
I arrived at Flo and Shel's at 6:00 pm at the same time as their friend, Andy, who had to evacuate her home in Talent, 9 miles to the south. Flo, generously made up beds for her two guests and I put some food together for myself as she, Shel and Andy, sat down to eat. I had barely begun eating when my stress hormones kicked into high gear once again. As I glanced out the living room window, I saw a massive black cloud of smoke approaching from the south. I suggested to Flo and Shel that I help them pack their car to be ready to evacuate if needed and we were on it. In the background, I heard a news report describing thousands of people being evacuated to The Jackson County Expo Center. There was no way I wanted to end up there during a pandemic. I also tried calling my parents and couldn't reach them. I was trusting their retirement community would take care of them.
My friend Jonnie, who earlier was mapping my driving based on road closures, continued to stay in touch, sending updates on road and fire conditions. As the black cloud headed our way, I received a text from my daughter in Hong Kong, checking-in after seeing a Facebook Post about the fire. I message her that I was ok and would update her later. I learned that day that texting during a natural disaster greatly raises stress levels. Just before 9 pm, Jonnie messaged that "supposedly", I-5 to Ashland had opened. I decided I needed to make a run for it and get home, 12 miles to the south, and I let Flo and Shel know I was going to attempt to get home. Since the winds were blowing north, I encouraged them to head south to Ashland if they needed to evacuate.
"I was still driving though it felt like someone else was at the wheel. Two miles to the south, the orange firestorm had transformed into smaller white flames covering everything west of I-5. I had reached the small town of Talent, where my parents formerly resided for years. I could see their old neighborhood of Oak Valley, just west of the freeway. The whole development was burning. I kept driving and crying; making my way home."
It was a mile to the freeway entrance and by now quite dark. Just before the entrance, billowing across Barnett Road, came the massive black plume of smoke. Once surrounded by the smoke, my headlights created an eerie scene. I inched my way to the freeway with my headlamps illuminating the lane lines. Gratefully, within minutes, I cleared the smoke and was safely on the freeway with no police barriers in sight. I-5 was unusually dark with just a handful of other cars. Though just south of Medford, it suddenly became very bright. On my right, the sky was fully illuminated above the small town of Phoenix. Instantly I saw a raging orange-firestorm engulfing the whole town. I slowed down, having never seen anything like it before and was suddenly wailing with tears streaming down my face. Though I had seen nothing like it in this lifetime, the flames triggered a deep reaction in my body, that I can only describe as familiar. I felt terror. Though I was still driving, it felt like someone else was at the wheel. Two miles to the south, the orange firestorm had transformed into smaller white flames covering everything west of I-5. I had reached the small town of Talent, where my parents had resided for years. I could see their old neighborhood of Oak Valley, just west of the freeway. The whole development was burning. I kept driving and crying; making my way home.
Just before 10:00 pm, I drove into Ashland. The power was out at the exit. In the darkness I recognized several burned structures. The Burger King, formerly near the exit was smoldering rubble. The smell of toxic smoke and fire was nauseating. I had entered a disaster area. Due to the powerful winds heading north along Bear Creek, Ashland was spared from the worst of the fire, though several homes and structures burned down. The worst of the destruction hit The Talent and Phoenix business districts and residential neighborhoods, where about 2800 structures burned.
Thirteen hours after leaving Eugene, I arrived home, a half mile from where the fire began that morning. I was exhausted and all I wanted to do was sleep, but immediately began packing my car in case the winds shifted and Ashland had to evacuate. The town was still under a Level 1 evacuation order. I was packed by midnight when I finally heard from my father. He said they had been evacuated to another retirement home by way of a 2 hour traffic jam and each had a chair for the night. Soon after, I heard from Flo that their trio evacuated to a friend's home in Ashland. And, finally, I contacted both my adult kids to inform them I was safe. I was awake most of the night with my phone on, hyper vigilant, listening in case an evacuation text came.
In the morning, still shaky from the previous day, I walked a half mile, down the hill to Ashland Pond, located just blocks from where the fire began on Almeda Drive. The pond was a special place for many Ashlander's. It was a unique city park, being the town's only riparian preserve. The lands along the connected waterways of Ashland Creek, Bear Creek and Emigrant Creek were home for centuries to The Shasta and Takelma People. The pond was home to a rich web of water fowl, birds, mammals, insects and reptiles, trees and plant species. It was a hunting ground for raptors such as, hawks, osprey and Bald Eagles. Other pond residents and visitors included, owls, egrets, herons, quail, ducks, Canadian Geese, loons, squirrels, raccoons, coyotes, foxes, frogs, turtles, snakes, fish, mosquitoes, bees, butterflies, dragonflies and numerous species of small song birds and other wild beings. In the spring, River Otter's took up temporary residence at the pond and I would visit each day, hoping for a glimpse of the large family playing and sleeping in pairs on the water.
Last spring, while sitting on a rock which jutted out of the water next to shore, I witnessed a Mallard mating ritual. Two males violently fought over a female. I had never seen anything like it. The female was violently dragged under water before her mate fought off the aggressive male, with a wild flapping of wings; loud quacking and what looked like, "beak punching" as he chased the other male from the pond. The male who had tried to "abduckt" the female, escaped and flew fast and high into the sky. Immediately, the Mallard couple, now safe, swam in tandem toward the reeds on the opposite side of the pond. As the ducks calmed down, I too relaxed following the wild scuffle. It turned out we all let down our guard prematurely.
"Often, what we humans observe in nature is just on the surface what looks to be a peaceful day in the wild, when actually, nature can be quite violent. How can it not be when eagles, ducks, fish, insects, foxes, raccoons, song birds and coyotes share the same home and must eat to survive?"
Often, what we humans observe in nature is just on the surface what looks to be a peaceful day in the wild, when actually, nature can be quite violent. How can it not be when eagles, ducks, fish, insects, foxes, raccoons, song birds and coyotes share the same home and must eat to survive? I have found with the regular practice of "sitspot", once I'm quietly in place and about 20 minutes has passed, I begin to see what may typically happen when we humans are absent. After sitting quietly in the same place over time, the wild creatures either no longer notice a human's presence or become familiar with us being a part of the place.
As I sat on my rock quietly watching, the pugnacious Mallard returned, coming in fast from above like a small, feathered torpedo straight on target. He arrived dead-center above the pond and in an instant took a vertical dive toward the two "sitting ducks" on the water. The duck-torpedo hit the other male fiercely as he skidded in on landing, the impact caused the stunned male on the water to be thrown several feet from the female, at which point, the determined male again pulled the flapping and quacking female beneath the water. The Mallard who was blasted out of the water, flew back, skidding in for another rescue. This time the persistent male flew off not returning during the remainder of my sitspot. I was grateful for the opportunity to witness these wild lives.
There are many surprises to be found in nature when you sit quietly, make yourself invisible and simply observe. Once the ducks calmed down, I gazed into the blue-green water and noticed several schools of small silver fish when a large turtle suddenly surface next to me. Soon, a Blue Heron quietly landed on the large perch in the middle of the pond, built just for these residents. Once settled in at my pond sitspot, I often stayed for an hour or two. It was difficult to leave this magic portal into the wild stories playing out at the pond.
I was holding these memories when I walked to the pond the morning after the fire. As I stepped around barriers blocking the entrance, I felt a pressing need to see what the fire had done to this pristine land; home to thousands of nature beings. All the lush green underbrush and dense thickets of blackberries were gone; vaporized with no trace of ever having been there. Almost every tree had burned and was either blown to the ground or stood blackened; some still smoldering. A fire crew spread out in the area was quenching stubborn pockets of fire, deep in the ground. The pond was a stark, dark pool with no sign of its former peripheral dense layer upon layer of green that offered shelter and private dwellings to the local critters. The fire burned so hot that barely anything survived the fury. The pond, formerly teeming with life had been decimated in minutes. There were a few dazed looking ducks on the water. The ground under my feet was so hot and smoldering in places that even through my heavy boots I felt the intense heat. I quickly left after a strong gust of wind blew down one of the burned trees just in front of me.
For some time after the fire, due to high winds; trees blowing down and smoke levels over 500 aqi, I stayed away from the pond. Just walking through briefly that morning, triggered more trauma as I felt the deep loss suffered by the wild beings of this land as well as the pain 3 miles down the road where thousands of Talent and Phoenix residents had lost everything to the fire. I went home and filled my car with clothes, food and household goods to donate and help where I could.
In early October, with our valley still permeated with toxic wildfire smoke from Northern California, I moved across town to a tiny place of my own. There, in my solitude, I spent autumn and the deep dark of winter processing much buried trauma that was triggered by the fire devastation of early September. By January, I finally made my way back to Ashland Pond. The life there was rising from its deep winter sleep and moving to recover from the fire. There were gentle signs of new plant life and animal life everywhere. I could feel how both The More than Human World and we humans are on a parallel journey of grasping to life, healing and restoration. I slowly meandered around the pond perimeter, called there by the land; the stark loss and profound beauty of a slate wiped almost clean to begin anew. The pond was stunning in its bare state of regeneration and vulnerability. Walking that land has been and is a lesson for me in the healing balm of love, nature and the power of hope and potential when one is certain that everything is lost.
Each day every being on this planet awakens to a new world. The sacred manuscript of nature continues to be my guide and teacher; offering beauty, compassion, inspiration, strength, wisdom, love, and divine intelligence. Navigating through devastation, painful loss and transformation is what brings us the resilience that leads to wholeness. We all are nature.
If you would like make a donation to help survivors of The Almeda Fire, here is a very helpful link and way to donate to the ongoing recovery process in rebuilding our valley.
Yesterday, following a beautiful afternoon of warm, winter forest bathing, I came home inspired to bake the big batch of Hamantaschen I had planned a couple days earlier when I prepared a batch of filling. These scrumptious triangular-shaped cookies, eaten on the Jewish holiday of Purim, which coincides with the coming of spring and always with the full moon, during the Jewish month of Adar. Though Purim is considered by many a child-centered holiday with a focus on gift-giving, theater and mask-making, I think of it as being about taking off the masks that we grown-ups wear daily to present ourselves to the world. On the deepest level, I have found Purim to be about turning all I thought I knew and understood to be true, upside down, while gaining new eyes to see and touch life and our true inner selves. Before Covid, Purim was the time for the community to come together to have a wild party and take on a persona through costumes and reenacting in very humorous ways, the story of The Book of Esther. In a deeper sense, allowing more of one's true self to be seen. This year for me, it is a time for deep inner contemplation. There is much to this holiday, but I especially love the idea of Purim being a time when we remove our masks, together in community. Coincidentally, this is the only Jewish holiday which involves lots of alcohol.
My departed Rebbe and teacher, Rabbi Aryeh Hirscfield z'l, used to share the following Chasidic tale about Purim- "When The Messiah comes, the only holiday required to celebrate will be Purim!" He also shared that there is a linguistic connection between Yom Kippur -The Day of Atonement-the holiest Jewish holiday, also being called, "Yom HaKipurim". It gives me much to contemplate, how the holiest day of The Jewish calendar; a time for deep contemplation and fasting, is deeply connected with a holiday celebrated through wild, drunken revelry while reading The Book of Esther, remembering how The Jews of Persia were saved from destruction. It seems we humans spend most of our lives wearing our masks and if through Purim, we can possibly find our true selves; then it is truly sacred.
Here is the recipe for Hamantaschen. Traditionally they are filled with different types of filling-poppy seed, prune, apricot and sour cherry. The below recipe was adapted by my friend, Julia Plevin from, The Primal Palat. and now, I have added some of my own changes such as the filling recipe.
Makes 4.5 dozen (I used organic ingredients)
3 cups Blanched Almond Flour
1.5 cups Arrowroot Flour
1.5 tsp Salt
1/2-3/4 cup Maple Syrup
1/4 cup plus 2 Tablespoons coconut oil
1/2 cup poppy seeds
1.5 cups pitted prunes (check to make sure there are no hidden pits)
1/2 cup ground almonds or walnuts
1/2 cup pure maple syrup
Grated Zest from an Orange
Make filling 1-2 days ahead,
In small- medium saucepan, combine poppy seed and prunes with approximately 2 cups water. Bring to a boil and lower heat and simmer until most liquid is absorbed (about 30-45 minutes based on when the liquid has absorbed.
Next, place the above mixture in either a powerful blender of a food processor and add all remaining ingredients. Blend until mixture is smooth and add a little more water if filling is too dry. It will also thicken up once chilled due to the action of the chia seed. Place in a covered container in the fridge until it's time to bake. You can play with this recipe and use other dried fruit if you like or additional flavorings.
Purim feels a lot like May Day when we gift others with May Baskets. On Purim, we bake Hamantaschen and share them with others in little gift baskets. Good Purim!
I awoke early today feeling a patch of fat, ripe blackberries was waiting for me. Alright, I was questioning if they were actually ripe, I drove to the spot where my dad and I picked berries every summer, after which, my mom would bake heavenly blackberry pie. I arrived at the berry thicket to find it heavy with sweet, plump fruit. My intuition that morning was spot on and I'm grateful I've finally learned to listen to it. My goal was to pick enough berries to bake a pie for my mom and dad.
Life changed much for my family two years ago when my parents moved to Montana to be near my older sister. Soon after, I relocated to Boise, returning to Oregon 8 months later. Over the years, no matter what else has changed, berry picking has been a constant, I picked my first black raspberry with my dad, in the steamy woods of Council Bluffs, Iowa, decades ago. Now, in the midst of Covid, it brings me great joy as I carry on this family ritual. In just over an hour I picked a heaping gallon of berries, paying the painful price of red, swollen, mucked-up arms and hands along with several rips in my ratty picking shirt. It felt like being home; the thorns; heat; blue sky; bird songs and the sweet taste of the abundant harvest.
My parents, ages 88 and 92 arrived back to Oregon exactly when shelter-in-place began. They wanted to come home to their friends, so my sister's and I helped make it happen. At the time, I didn't comprehend the magnitude of what was ahead, for any of us on the planet. As we Oregonians first hunkered-down, I listened to the song my daughter, Ailee, composed and performed on her ukulele, 5 months ago, welcoming the rest of the world to "The Covid Party." She recorded it, isolated on her rooftop in Hong Kong, where they were already 8 weeks into pandemic life. I laughed when I first heard her witty song, having no concept of the reality of the challenges she had already been living through.
Before the pandemic and for most of their lives, my parent's socialized often with their community of friends. As well, my dad, who lives for coffee, dessert and conversation, cultivated new acquaintances daily, at Mix, his favorite coffee shop. Connecting through relationships are deeply nourishing and essential for our emotional wellness. With Covid, socializing has radically decreased, affecting our mind-body wellness. My parent's move brought them to their new home straight into pandemic isolation. When I helped plan their move, I never imagined, their return to Oregon would coincide with Covid regulations that would isolate my parents from friends and family. When the Plexiglas wall went up outside for visitors, though it created a level of protection, it felt like prison.
I always assumed I would be with my mom or dad were a trip to the hospital necessary. Following their initial quarantine after becoming deconditioned from a very sedentary two weeks, my Dad was rushed to the E.R. late one evening. Due to Covid, no family could accompany him. I didn't know if we'd see him again and prayed he wouldn't die alone in the hospital that night. Thankfully, several gut-wrenching hours later, I got a call to pick him up and then dropped him off at the door to his building, from where my dad made his way back to their 3rd floor apartment at 1 A.M. My mother was there waiting and grateful.
Though staff helped my parents move-in, it was very stressful not being there for them. Placing furniture and wall art took place through video chat between me, my parents and staff. I always assumed I would be with my mom or dad were a trip to the hospital necessary. Following their initial quarantine after becoming deconditioned from a very sedentary two weeks, my Dad was rushed to the E.R. late one evening. Due to Covid, no family could accompany him. I didn't know if we'd see him again and prayed my dad wouldn't die alone in the hospital that night. Thankfully, several gut-wrenching hours later, I got a call to pick him up and then dropped him off at the front of their building, from where my dad made his way back to their 3rd floor apartment at 1 A.M. My mother was there waiting and grateful. With everyone in their building confined to their apartments, my parent's isolation following their big move, seriously impacted their pre-existing health conditions and aging process..
My parent's move brought unknowns, heart-break and more stress than I could have imagined. Though I could visit them outside of their building, I was not allowed in for close to 4 months, until my mother had a heart attack last month. Miraculously, the day she went to The E.R. was the first day since lock-down that the hospital began allowing in one visitor per patient. My mom's doctor scheduled a telemedicine follow-up appointment for the day after her discharge. I requested they schedule her an office visit since I serve as her health advocate and needed to be there. The doctor's nurse told me that wouldn't be possible and it could only be through telemedicine. I'm typically calm, respectful and soft-spoken, but the rigid Covid regulations, barring access into my parents home, along with managing their health challenges from a distance, have seriously triggered my stress response. When the doctor's nurse suggested that a staff member at my parent's facility be with my mother for the appointment or that it take place in my car, in the parking lot, I lost it. The nurse was the unfortunate recipient of months of my pent up frustrations. My blood pressure went up and the following rolled off my tongue, "My mother just had a fucking heart attack. Will a staff person with no understanding of her condition know what to ask; how to advocate for her and confer with the doctor regarding her condition? I will not bring my mom to my 95 degree car for a telemedicine appointment. She had a heart attack two days ago! Many people will die from Covid and it won't only be from the virus- it will be from elder abandonment, isolation, stress, and suicide. I need to be with my mom, inside her apartment for that appointment. I am an essential person for her care and wellbeing. Please, I need your help." Two hours later, after a rigorous check-in process, I donned the facilities' version of a hazmat suit; was chaperoned through the halls; instructed to touch nothing and stepped into my parent's apartment for the first time.
Following the appointment, I stayed longer, helping, organizing, supporting and simply being with my parents in the privacy of their home. They were so happy to welcome me into their home. For once, we were not required to shout through the Plexiglas outside or subjected to staff members running outside telling us to move farther apart, even though my dad needs accommodation for his serious hearing disability. I don't know when I'll be allowed inside again, but thankfully, since June, my parents have been able to go out with me and their friends, with no mandatory quarantine upon return. And now, no one asks us to separate since I have spoken to staff regarding the legalities of my dad needing accommodations for his hearing. Both my mom and dad keep saying, "I never thought we would live to see this."
A global pandemic has brought more meaning than ever to simply sharing time and space with family. This evening, we sat out on the Iawn in front of my parents building and shared fresh blackberry pie, tea, stories and laughter.
Today I bought some great pickling cukes and fresh dill at Ashland Food Co-op, having tried first at The Saturday Rogue Valley Grower's and Crafter's Market, where I am guessing farmer's will have their makings for pickles soon. The most difficult thing to find is fresh dill. Often there are piles of pickling cukes but no dill to be found. Gratefully, today I found both. With Covid still running rampant, it's a perfect time to get some immune-boosting lacto-fermented dill pickles or other veggies put up in your pantry.
"The consumption of fermented foods may be particularly relevant to the emerging research linking traditional dietary practices and positive mental health. The extent to which traditional dietary items may mitigate inflammation and oxidative stress may be controlled, at least to some degree, by microbiota."
Lacto-fermented pickles are so simple to make and such a wonderful way to get a powerful hit of healthy probiotics for daily gut and immune health. When I'm eating pickles and raw fermented kraut, I feel my gut and immune system are getting the essential coverage they need for optimal good gut bacteria balance. The word out from my peeps in the field of Nutrition and Chinese Medicine is that, eating fermented food with each meal offers important support for our spleen, digestive and immune system. Though it is always essential to keep our immune system strong, during this time of Covid, it is especially important. I make raw fermented kraut throughout the year and am now so excited to have just put up 3 quarts of lacto-fermented dill pickles. Adding some lacto-fermented foods with each meal is an important self-care practice for not only nutritional/physical health, but also for emotional wellness. There is much evidence-based research correlating healthy gut bacteria to a healthy brain, body and immune system.
"Properly controlled fermentation may often amplify the specific nutrient and phytochemical content of foods, the ultimate value of which may be associated with mental health; furthermore, we also argue that the microbes (for example, Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria species) associated with fermented foods may also influence brain health via direct and indirect pathways."
According to a 2014 study in The Journal of Physiological Anthropology, "The consumption of fermented foods may be particularly relevant to the emerging research linking traditional dietary practices and positive mental health. The extent to which traditional dietary items may mitigate inflammation and oxidative stress may be controlled, at least to some degree, by microbiota." The article states, "It is our contention that properly controlled fermentation may often amplify the specific nutrient and phytochemical content of foods, the ultimate value of which may be associated with mental health; furthermore, we also argue that the microbes (for example, Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria species) associated with fermented foods may also influence brain health via direct and indirect pathways." A great read on the gut-brain connection is the book, "Brain Maker: The Power of Gut Microbes to Heal and Protect Your Brain- for Life", by David Perlmutter, M.D.
So, enjoy these fabulous lacto-fermented, garlic dills. Here's the recipe and method.
Lacto-Fermented Dill Pickles
Makes 6-8 quart wide mouth canning jars
*I like to cut down the recipe and make 2-3 quart batches. This way you get fresher batches that don't over-ferment due to waiting months to eat them.
Brine for about 8 quarts- 9 Tablespoons sea salt or celtic salt to 4 quarts filtered water (mix together very well and remix just before pouring into filled jars- I use a blender)
2 large, folded *Grape Leaves per jar (tannins help keep pickles crisp)
Fresh flowering dill (buy a large bunch and divide between jars)
6 large cloves garlic per jar
½ teaspoon black peppercorns
5-7 small pickling cucumbers- or however many you need to fill canning jar.
Fold grape leaves into bottom of jars.
Place half the dill and some garlic on top of grape leaves.
Pack pickles into jars and add remaining dill and garlic as you pack.
After re-stirring brine, pour into filled jars, all the way to top.
Seal full jar with canning lid ( leave about 3/4 -1 inch to prevent explosion).
Place jar in a low-sided pan, tub or water proof container.
Cover jars with a large dish towel and place in dark cabinet. (55-75 degrees is good)
Let ferment for about 1-3 weeks at room temperature. If your space is warm, you may want to transfer the jars to fridge after only 1-2 weeks. Sample a pickle after one week. They will still continue to ferment in the fridge so judge by the climate of your home. The original method calls for leaving the jars to ferment at room temperature for several weeks but that can be too long unless you have a nice root cellar. Above 75 degrees will require refrigeration sooner than later. If you notice bubbles in the jar, get them into the fridge.
Be careful in opening the jars as they can be wildly fizzy.
* Note on grape leaves- tannins in grape leaves get extra concentrated with fermentation. If you are someone who gets migraine from tannins, simply do not use grape leaves and your pickles will still be awesome..
Yummy Happy Tummy,
Covid-19 is in the news daily; so much that it is dizzying. I have found myself drawn and repulsed by the news at the same time. In an honest check-in with myself, I find that all I want to do is to unplug and get outside to stop my mental mind, rest and recharge in nature.
As a Forest Therapy Guide and Whole Health Educator™, I offer tools to help people find balance and wholeness during life’s challenges. Stress and the anxiety it produces can trigger disease and illness and is also connected to lower immune function. Managing anxiety and stress and keeping one’s immune system strong, is key to staying well and whole. This isn’t a time for panic, though it is a good time for increased awareness regarding our daily habits. Effective hand washing throughout the day is an extremely important practice even when there is not a pandemic and “social distancing” at this time, early on, will hopefully help prevent an exponential increase of infection while we are still in the early stages.
The big picture is still coming into focus as we humans are being called to care for ourselves, one another and The More Than Human World in a new compassionate way to help repair what is broken.
Wellness is not only about one thing. Everything affects everything else. As Georgiana Donadio, founder of The National Institute of Whole Health says, “Everything is Everything. Our, Physical, Emotional, Nutritional, Environmental and Spiritual levels of health work together to support our wellness or contribute to us falling ill. Though I could focus here on the many details of every aspect of health, I am guessing you are reading numerous articles about how best to stay well in these times.
I believe we have entered a new level regarding planetary shifts and will continue to get more potent glimpses of the inter-connectedness of the world we live in, as we humans and The Earth herself evolve together. Human health and wellness is fully inter-connected with the health of all life on the planet. We are not separate from, but fully integrated in the living organism that gives us life-The Earth.
The big picture is still coming into focus as we humans are being called to care for ourselves, one another and “The More Than Human World” in a new compassionate way; to help repair what is broken. Climate change; racial inequality; over-population; poverty; starvation; food insecurity; war; depletion of resources and ancient mutating viruses that we have lived with for millions of years in symbiotic relationship, are shouting us awake. Here is the invitation: to come together; explore and build creative new relationships with ourselves, one another and The Earth as we discover how to share this world together in right relationship.
Caring for Ourselves, Others and The Earth through Nature Relation
An important way to practice “social distancing” is to stay home and communicate with others through online forums or groups. Several countries quickly prevented large Covid-19 outbreaks through “social distancing”. Schools closed; people worked from home and group events were cancelled. The United States has just initiated a month-long travel ban from Europe to The U.S and is asking large groups to not gather. Schools and businesses are closing and people are working remotely. All of this is intended to prevent Covid-19 from multiplying and spreading exponentially.
What do you do when you feel isolated and unable to be with your people and social networks? There is another way to practice “social distancing” and though you can do this solo, you are in no way alone. It’s a practice called, Nature Immersion also known as, Forest Therapy/Forest Bathing/Shinrin Yoku. As a Certified Forest Therapy Guide through The Association of Nature and Forest Therapy, I typically facilitate Forest Therapy in groups.
I have been forced to practice, “social distancing” for years, due to a sensitivity to LED lights and loud noise which caused such violent vertigo several years ago that I could barely be in public gatherings for close to two years. It led me to spend a large percentage of my time in nature where I discovered the lively web-of-inter-being we are all a part of. We live in a human society, but that is not the only world. There exists, “The More Than Human World” which includes all Earthly life that is not us people. The in depth time I spent immersed in nature became a potent healer for my body, mind and spirit as well, it connected me deeply with nature in a new way.
What if you could distance yourself from humans and still find connection and relationship with other beings in our world? How might you step away for a time throughout your week, from all the stress and pulls of life? It might be your garden, a park, the forest or a botanical garden for some solitary, quiet, slow, unplugged time; bathing in the essence of nature. I invite you to explore forest bathing. It’s not a hike; not a nature identification walk and it’s not a run or a fast walk with friends, discussing life stress’s. It is: calming, slowing way down, quiet, restful, unplugged time in relationship with the land and it’s beings. Forest Therapy supports the immune system, mental focus, mood, sleep, regulates blood pressure and reduces anxiety.
A Self-Guided Forest Bath
1-Allow yourself between one to two hours.
2-Dress to stay comfortable. Really layer up in cold climates. Bring a sit-pad or towel.
3-Find a place you are familiar with where you feel safe.
4-Arrive: notice your body and what you are experiencing through all your senses. Look around you. Notice the place- what do you smell, feel, hear, taste and see?
5-Slow Meander-Allow yourself to take time as you explore and notice with your senses. Where does your body lead you? Take a very slow meander and explore with your senses what you are drawn to. Do you feel like sitting with a particular tree, on a rock, near the water or looking at the sky? Then do so.
6-Find a place to sit- a “Sit-Spot”, where you can rest for at least 20 minutes in silence and notice the life around you with all your senses.
7-Finally, plan ahead and bring a thermos of tea and a snack for yourself; Treat yourself royally and set out your tea and food on a beautiful cloth or in the forest duff. Be nourished and held by nature.
Repeat as often as you can.
Blessings for Wholeness, Sari
Some links related to self-care and wellness practices.
Everything is Everythng: The Five Aspects of Health
Spring Energy Tune-Up Part One
Spring Energy Tune-Up Part Two
Raw Fermented Kraut for Body and Mind: The Research and The Recipe
Feet, Feet, They Make Your Heart Beat
Tears of Joy: Crying Yourself Well
I moved to Boise last winter and after an incredible journey, returned to my former home in Oregon, eight months later. Many have asked me what happened. This is the story of my journey.
Last January, before I relocated to Boise, my friend, Judy, pulled out a beautiful wooden box; opened it and began looking through several teeny, tiny cardboard boxes for a parting gift. "This one is for you.", she said, as she handed me a tiny box. Inside were two tightly rolled woven cloth strips rolled together and calligraphed with the following: "Every Journey Brings Blessings.", and, "Blessings Abound; Blessings All Around."
When I left my home in Oregon last winter, I thought of it as a move, not a journey. It seems that Judy knew otherwise. Sometimes I wonder how limited my life experience would be without the awareness to follow my inner compass and listen to the guidance coming through. I so appreciate the love and support I have received from my family and friends over the years. It has taken much courage and strength for me to listen and follow what my heart is telling me, especially over the past 13 years since my divorce. At times it has felt terrifying. When I left the security of what I thought would be a life-long marriage, in order to help save all of us from what had become deeply broken, it was terrifying. It's not a simple matter and it can take years or decades to learn to follow one's inner voice when life feels out of balance, stagnant or when you feel your spirit is being sucked out of you. The work it takes to catalyze change can be excruciating. I was the person who put safety and security above all else. Right up until the point where the awesome job I loved and planned to retire from 20 years down the road- with generous benefits and people I considered family, abruptly ended following a health crisis, 5 years ago.
Sometimes the only way we gain the awareness and freedom to find our true path is through sudden unexpected loss or crisis. In my case it was losing my ability to work, let alone, stand, walk or eat most foods without a violent vertigo attack. Fluorescent and LED lights, triggered sharp pain in my eyeballs and the feeling that someone was blowing up a giant balloon in my right ear. Being in crowds was almost impossible as the sound filtered into my ear as loud, unrecognizable static. The worst of these symptoms lasted for close to two years. I'd spent my life up until that point, being strong, and independent, with the ability to do almost anything I put my mind to. My mind was sharp and my body strong, fit and agile. I'd had no reason to doubt that I would have many years at my job and I had just signed away my spousal support, 6 months earlier. Suddenly, I could barely leave my home, let alone work and support myself. I was flung into the world of unemployment, Medicaid and Food Stamps, terrified of what would happen when my savings ran out. One of the biggest journeys of my life had begun; in the process, catalyzing massive inner and outer transformation, offering me a challenging doorway to self discovery.
Without this crisis, I can't imagine my former self making such a jump into the unknown. I was comfortable and felt in control of my life before I abruptly was thrown into a full-on metamorphosis; a shattering process where everything I thought I was and knew suddenly disappeared with lightning speed. In retrospect, I see it was the only way for me to cross a threshold to now.
Time and the process of finding wholeness have helped me see a bigger perspective. Looking back, I can see a map of my life's journey up to now. I traveled some during my youth, on my own; and then with my husband and children during our marriage, and in the past decade, with my adult children. The last big trip I took while still married, was with my husband and 14 year-old son, to Turkey. Turkey was beautiful; exotic and evoked a deep sense of having passed through this land previously. We visited tombs of Sufi Saints, including Jelaluddin Rumi. We took part in Sufi Zhikr (Whirling Dervish experiences) as caravansari's. We experienced Turkish /Sufi music with our musician guide, Latif Bolat. It felt like much more of an inner journey as compared to our past travels. Upon returning home, our marriage rapidly began to fall apart. It seemed the stressors and deeply buried dysfunction that had been building for years were catalyzed in Turkey and brought to the surface by the depth of that journey. Less than a year later, after a 25 year marriage, we were divorced.
Though I loved traveling, after Turkey, except for traveling to be with my adult kids, who live abroad, I was pulled toward experiences that took me within. At The 9-Day School for The Work, with Byron Katie, I discovered that facilitated inquiry into my stressful stories and thinking, with a group of others drawn to this form of inquiry, was the deepest experience I had up until then. Working through the knotted thoughts about what triggered the end of my marriage was liberating and healing. I began craving quiet places and nature. Instead of planning travel abroad, I was pulled to the forests and hot springs of Oregon, longing for quiet retreats and training's in nature. I studied Qigong and began a daily practice. The following year I attended a Level I Reiki training (energy healing). Soon thereafter, I trained in Reiki Level II & III, becoming a Reiki Master and Teacher. It's almost 6 years since my initial training and I cherish this healing work with clients, as well as my daily "Self-Reiki " sessions for my own self-care. Before my studies, I was not quite sure why I was pulled to Reiki, but quickly discovered my gift. Since early childhood, I always felt electrical tingling throughout my body. I assumed that everyone felt it. After my first Reiki attunement, that "electricity" became quite pronounced and I discovered and owned one of the gifts I came here with, that lay dormant for more than half my life.
Those training's I was called to in the forest at Breitenbush Hot Springs, created a foundation for what came next. Qigong in my back meadow transformed me. Nature came alive as I moved energy through Qigong. Wild animals began showing up where ever I went, peering in my windows and visiting me at the creek; my former, somewhat limited ability to communicate with animals became pronounced. The empty nest box under my bedroom window was suddenly inhabited by a family of Western Screech Owls. My deepening connection to nature was already growing before the health crisis struck and once it hit, one of the only places I could be, other than the sanctuary of my home, was beside the creek in my meadow, practicing qigong with my bare feet on the ground. I feel the time I spent in nature was an essential piece in recovering my balance and discovering a new way to be in the natural world and embodied in my life.
With time, as I healed, I slowly developed my Reiki practice and became credentialed as a Whole Health Educator™. I took groups of clients into the forest for a practice called, "Shinrin Yoku/Forest Bathing." With the first experience, I knew I had returned home. I felt relief, and understood that this too is another gift I have to offer. Two months later I was on a journey to Costa Rica for a week-long training and 6 months later, I had become certified as a Nature and Forest Therapy Guide, through The Association of Nature and Forest Therapy.
When I went to Boise last winter, following two previous visits, I was searching for a home where I might escape the summers of thick, wildfire smoke that Southern Oregon has lived with for several years. I felt called to the land in Boise-the high desert and The Boise River flowing through the middle of the city. Though I was afraid to leave my home of 40 years in Oregon, I followed a calling that felt very alive in me. I experienced severe stress and upheaval that comes with such a huge move, alone. I developed collaborations and launched my practice as a Nature and Forest Therapy Guide in a new city. I made new acquaintances as my guided forest therapy walks began at The Idaho Botanical Garden and at The Foot Hills Learning Center. I spent much time hiking and forest bathing in The Boise Foothills and along the river; biking The Boise River Greenbelt; sitting under the tall Pines at The Anne Frank Human Rights Memorial. I was often at The Idaho Botanical Garden, either guiding forest therapy walks, assessing trails or practicing qigong under a magnificent Catalpa Tree.
I started a qigong practice group and met a friend there who invited me to a Wim Hof practice group, immersing in the icy waters of The Boise River, 3 mornings a week. I fell in love with the river and its life- its web of inter-being. I experienced much synchronicity in Boise, often revolving around the river. My delightful new "river dipper" friend, Tyler and his wife, Jade, had close connections to people in Oregon, at The Hai Shan Center, who are like family to my son, who currently lives in Asia. Being with our Wim Hof group, immersing in the life-giving waters, was being with family. So even when a morning was a chilly 55 degrees outside, I made it to the river. Mostly, I spent my time in Boise alone, immersed in nature. This move was the first time in my adult life, since before my marriage, that I journeyed out alone, leaving my loving people and the land I knew. I longed for the deep human connections I had left in Oregon and felt painfully isolated. At the same time, immersing in the solitude and quiet of nature was affecting me at a deep soul level.
"I wanted a move, but my soul needed a journey. I answered the call to look inside and be present with myself, in a way that could only happen in a foreign place. It seems I had a karmic contract to go through the isolation- to understand there is so much more to life than the human world. In Boise, I met myself through meeting The More than Human World."
I wanted a move, but my soul needed a journey. I answered the call to look inside and be present with myself, in a way that could only happen in a foreign place. It seems I had a karmic contract to go through the isolation- to understand there is so much more to life than the human world. In Boise, I met myself through meeting The More than Human World-through giant puffy white clouds against the clear blue Idaho sky; an apple tree named, "Whomping Willow"; sudden, violent whirlwinds; a Muskrat who popped out of the river one morning in great curiosity; Mallards who included me as one of their flock as I sat in the cold Boise River; the flock of Canadian Geese, flying over and gracing me with their big, soft bodies, within arm's reach, as I lay along the river's edge. I still hear their honking and see their soft white bellies. I met my first Bobcat while practicing qigong, one evening in The Boise Foothills- Bobcat-sleek, knowing, spotted beauty, passing by as I stood in "Universe" pose under an Oak Tree. In one knowing glance, we agreed that all was well before she continued on her way. The Red Squirrel's of Boise, warmly welcomed and assured me they had my back; knew I was there on a "mission" and offered me a place on their land. They talked to me and danced on branches above my head. A male and female, doing a love dance on a low branch, stopped a foot away from me, to mate as they peeked their heads my way.
Riding my bike down The Boise River Greenbelt one late afternoon, a branch unexpectedly dropped, with a squirrel dangling from its tip. I was moving fast on my bike, but the squirrel managed to jump onto my shoulder, as if it had been waiting at the bus stop. It bounced off me to the ground, with a splat-like sound; and ran off. When I told my son, Noah, in Taiwan, the story, he was in disbelief and shared his own squirrel experience. Noah said at what would have been the approximate same time in Taiwan as the squirrel event in Boise, that he was on a train and a wild squirrel came running through the train car and leaped onto his shoulder on its way through. I had tapped into the, SWW, "The Squirrel Wide Web." Five days before my return to Oregon, following a walk with a friend, a squirrel approached us near the river. She walked up to the toes of our boots; sat up on her haunches with her little paws together and her 6 little nipples in view. My friend, Lindsay, said, "Oh my God, I've never had this happen before!" I said, "Really, don't all the squirrels in Boise do this? I've had several experiences like this with the squirrels here." Lindsay, who was born and raised in Boise said, "No, this is not normal. It's because I'm with you."
The Bobcat taught me about solitude; the geese and the ducks shared their stories of migration, flight and navigating the river; the squirrels introduced me to their vast social network and adopted me for a time. And, the land, sky, trees and river introduced me to the vast web of life they support. I am so very grateful for all the beautiful people who I found and who reached out to me during my journey in Boise. I'm grateful for new friendships that were written in the stars and to all who joined forest therapy walks with Wild Wellness Guide. Boise taught me how to stretch farther than I ever have; to be with myself and understand that every journey has potential to lead one home.
by William Lee Rand
At hospitals and clinics across America, Reiki is beginning to gain acceptance as a meaningful and cost-effective way to improve patient care. Personal interviews conducted with medical professionals corroborate this view.(1) "Reiki sessions cause patients to heal faster with less pain," says Marilyn Vega, RN, a private-duty nurse at the Manhattan Eye, Ear and Throat Hospital in New York. [Reiki] accelerates recovery from surgery, improves mental attitude and reduces the negative effects of medication and other medical procedures.
Vega, a Reiki master, includes Reiki with her regular nursing procedures. Because the patients like Reiki, she has attracted a lot of attention from other patients through word of mouth, as well as from members of the hospital staff. Patients have asked her to do Reiki on them in the operating and recovery rooms. She has also been asked to do Reiki sessions on cancer patients at Memorial Sloane Kettering Hospital, including patients with bone marrow transplants. Recognizing the value of Reiki in patient care, 6 doctors and 25 nurses have taken Reiki training with her.
America's Interest in Complementary Health Care
The general public is turning with ever-increasing interest to complementary health care, including Reiki. In fact, a study conducted by Dr. David M. Eisenberg of Boston's Beth Israel Hospital found that one in every three Americans has used such care, spending over 14 billion out-of-pocket dollars on alternative health care in 1990 alone!(2)
A survey conducted in 2007 indicates that in the previous year 1.2 million adults and 161,000 children in the U.S. received one or more energy healing sessions such as Reiki.(3)
Reiki is also gaining wider acceptance in the medical establishment. Hospitals are incorporating it into their roster of patient services, often with their own Reiki-trained physicians, nurses and support staff. Reiki was in use in hospital operating rooms as early as the mid-90's.(4) Since then its acceptance in medicine has grown. It is now listed in a nursing "scope and standards of practice" publication as an accepted form of care,(5) and a 2008 USA Todayarticle reported that in 2007 15% of U.S. hospitals (over 800) offered Reiki as a regular part of patient services.(6) For a detailed description of 64 Reiki hospital programs, please go to www.centerforreikiresearch.org
A research study at Hartford Hospital in Hartford, Connecticut indicates that Reiki improved patient sleep by 86 percent, reduced pain by 78 percent, reduced nausea by 80 percent, and reduced anxiety during pregnancy by 94 percent.(7)
In 2009, The Center for Reiki Research completed the Touchstone Project, which summarized Reiki studies published in peer-reviewed journals. The 25 studies examined were further evaluated to determine the effectiveness of Reiki. The conclusion states: "Overall, based on the summaries of those studies that were rated according to scientific rigor as "Very Good" or "Excellent" by at least one reviewer and were not rated as weak by any reviewer, 83 percent show moderate to strong evidence in support of Reiki as a therapeutic modality."(8)
Why Hospitals Like Reiki
Hospitals are undergoing major changes. They are experiencing a need to reduce costs and at the same time improve patient care. Under the old medical model based on expensive medication and technology this posed an unsolvable dilemma. Not so with Reiki and other complementary modalities. Reiki requires no technology at all and many of its practitioners offer their services for free. Reiki is therefore a very good way to improve care while cutting costs.
Julie Motz, a Reiki trained healer has worked with Dr. Mehmet Oz, a noted cardiothoracic surgeon at Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center in New York. Motz uses Reiki and other subtle energy techniques to balance the patients' energy during operations. She has assisted Dr. Oz in the operating room during open heart surgeries and heart transplants. Motz reports that none of the 11 heart patients so treated experienced the usual postoperative depression, the bypass patients had no postoperative pain or leg weakness; and the transplant patients experienced no organ rejection.(9)
An article in the Marin Independent Journal follows Motz's work at the Marin General Hospital in Marin County, California, just north of San Francisco.(10)There Motz has used subtle energy healing techniques with patients in the operating room. She makes a point of communicating caring feelings and positive thoughts to the patients, and has been given grants to work with mastectomy patients in particular.
Dr. David Guillion, an oncologist at Marin General, has stated "I feel we need to do whatever is in our power to help the patient. We provide state of the art medicine in our office, but healing is a multidimensional process. . . . I endorse the idea that there is a potential healing that can take place utilizing energy."
Reiki at Portsmouth Regional Hospital
Patricia Alandydy is an RN and a Reiki Master. She is the Assistant Director of Surgical Services at Portsmouth Regional Hospital in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. With the support of her Director Jocclyn King and CEO William Schuler, she has made Reiki services available to patients within the Surgical Services Department. This is one of the largest departments in the hospital and includes the operating room, Central Supply, the Post Anesthesia Care Unit, the Ambulatory Care Unit and the Fourth Floor where patients are admitted after surgery. During telephone interviews with pre-op patients, Reiki is offered along with many other services. If patients request it, Reiki is then incorporated into their admission the morning of surgery, and an additional 15-20 minute session is given prior to their transport to the operating room. Some Reiki has also been done in the operating room at Portsmouth Regional.
The Reiki sessions are given by 20 members of the hospital staff whom Patricia has trained in Reiki. These include RN's, physical therapists, technicians and medical records and support staff. Reiki services began in April 1997, and as of 2008 have given 8000 Reiki sessions.
"It has been an extremely rewarding experience," Alandydy says, "to see Reiki embraced by such a diverse group of people and spread so far and wide by word of mouth, in a positive light. Patients many times request a Reiki [session] based on the positive experience of one of their friends. It has also been very revealing to see how open-minded the older patient population is to try Reiki. In the hospital setting Reiki is presented as a technique which reduces stress and promotes relaxation, thereby enhancing the body's natural ability to heal itself."
The Reiki practitioners do not add psychic readings or other new-age techniques to the Reiki sessions, but just do straight Reiki. Because of these boundaries, and the positive results that have been demonstrated, Reiki has gained credibility with the physicians and other staff members. It is now being requested from other care areas of the hospital to treat anxiety, chronic pain, cancer and other conditions.
Alandydy, with her partner Greda Cocco, also manage a hospital-supported Reiki clinic through their business called Seacoast Complementary Care, Inc. The clinic is open two days a week and staffed by 50 trained Reiki volunteers, half of whom come from the hospital staff and the rest from the local Reiki community. They usually have 13-17 Reiki tables in use at the clinic with 1-2 Reiki volunteers per table. The clinic treats a wide range of conditions including HIV, pain, and side-effects from chemotherapy and radiation. Some patients are referred by hospital physicians and some come by word of mouth from the local community. They are charged a nominal fee of $10.00 per session. The clinic is full each night and often has a waiting list.
The California Pacific Medical Center's Reiki Program
The California Pacific Medical Center is one of the largest hospitals in northern California. Its Health and Healing Clinic, a branch of the Institute for Health and Healing, provides care for both acute and chronic illness using a wide range of complementary care including Reiki, Chinese medicine, hypnosis, biofeedback, acupuncture, homeopathy, herbal therapy, nutritional therapy and aromatherapy. The clinic has six treatment rooms and is currently staffed by two physicians, Dr. Mike Cantwell and Dr. Amy Saltzman. Cantwell, a pediatrician specializing in infectious diseases, is also a Reiki Master with training in nutritional therapy. Saltzman specializes in internal medicine and also has training in mindfulness meditation, acupuncture and nutritional therapy. Other professionals are waiting to join the staff, including several physicians.
The doctors at the clinic work with the patients and their referring physicians to determine what complementary modalities will be appropriate for the patient. A detailed questionnaire designed to provide a holistic overview of the patient's condition is used to help decide the course of treatment. The questionnaire involves a broad range of subjects including personal satisfaction with relationships, friends and family, with body image, and with job, career, and spirituality. The clinic is very popular and currently has a waiting list of more than 100 patients.
Dr. Cantwell provides 1-3 hour-long Reiki sessions, after which he assigns the patient to a Reiki II internist who continues to provide Reiki sessions outside the clinic. Patients who continue to respond well to the Reiki treatments are referred for Reiki training so they can continue Reiki self-treatments on a continuing basis.
Dr. Cantwell states: "I have found Reiki to be useful in the treatment of acute illnesses such as musculoskeletal injury/pain, headache, acute infections, and asthma. Reiki is also useful for patients with chronic illnesses, especially those associated with chronic pain."
At this point, Reiki is not covered by insurance at the clinic, but Dr. Cantwell is conducting clinical research in the hope of convincing insurance companies that complementary care is viable and will save them money.
More MD's and Nurses Practicing Reiki
Mary Lee Radka is a Reiki Master and an R.N. who has the job classification of Nurse-Healer because of her Reiki skills. She teaches Reiki classes to nurses and other hospital staff at the University of Michigan Hospital in Ann Arbor. She also uses Reiki with most of her patients. She has found Reiki to produce the best results in reducing pain and stress, improving circulation and eliminating nerve blocks.
Reiki master Nancy Eos, M.D., was a member of the teaching staff of the University of Michigan Medical School. As an emergency-room physician, she treated patients with Reiki along with standard medical procedures.
"I can't imagine practicing medicine without Reiki," Eos says. "With Reiki all I have to do is touch a person. Things happen that don't usually happen. Pain lessens in intensity. Rashes fade. Wheezing gives way to breathing clearly. Angry people begin to joke with me."
In her book Reiki and Medicine she includes descriptions of using Reiki to treat trauma, heart attack, respiratory problems, CPR, child abuse, allergic reactions and other emergency-room situations. Dr. Eos now maintains a family practice at Grass Lake Medical Center and is an admitting-room physician at Foote Hospital in Jackson, Michigan, where she continues to use Reiki in conjunction with standard medical procedures. According to Dr. Eos, there are at least 5 other physicians at Foote hospital who have Reiki training along with many nurses.(11)
Libby Barnett and Maggie Chambers are Reiki masters who have treated patients and given Reiki training to staff members in over a dozen New England hospitals. They teach Reiki as complementary care and the hospital staff they have trained add Reiki to the regular medical procedures they administer to their patients. Their book Reiki Energy Medicine describes their experiences.(12) One of the interesting things they recommend is creating hospital "Reiki Rooms," staffed by volunteers, where patients as well as hospital staff can come to receive Reiki treatments. Bettina Peyton, M.D., one of the physicians Libby and Maggie have trained states: "Reiki's utter simplicity, coupled with its potentially powerful effects, compels us to acknowledge the concept of a universal healing energy."
Anyone interested in bringing Reiki into hospitals is encouraged to do so. The hospital setting where there are so many people in real need is a wonderful place to offer Reiki. The experiences and recommendations in this article should provide a good starting point for developing Reiki programs in your area.
*Editors Note:It is very important when giving Reiki treatments in hospitals or otherwise to make sure the patient understands what Reiki is and to only provide a Reiki treatment if the patient has requested one. Also, if the issue comes up, it is important to explain that while Reiki is spiritual in nature, in that love and compassion are an important part of its practice, it is not a religion and that members of many religious groups including many Christians, Muslims, Hindus and Jews use Reiki and find it compatible with their religious beliefs.
1 The comments that follow were part of an interview I did with each person either in person or by telephone and were first published in my article, "Reiki In Hospitals," which appeared in the Winter 1997 issue of the Reiki Newsletter(precursor to Reiki News Magazine).
2 Eisenberg, David, et al. "Unconventional Medicine in the United States", New England Journal of Medicine 328, no. 4 (1993), 246-52.
2 Beth Ashley, "Healing hands", Marin Independent Journal, May 11, 1997.
3 P. M. Barnes, B. Bloom, and R. Nahin, CDC National Health Statistics Report #12. Complementary and Alternative Medicine Use Among Adults and Children, United States, 2007. (December 2008).
4 Chip Brown, "The Experiments of Dr. Oz,"The New York Times Magazine, July 30, 1995, 20-23.
5 American Holistic Nurses Association and American Nurses Association (2007), Holistic Nursing: Scope and Standards of Practice (Silver Spring, MD: Nursesbooks.org.)
6 L. Gill, "More hospitals offer alternative therapies for mind, body, spirit,"USA Today, September 15, 2008 (Online) http://www.usatoday.com/news/health/2008-2009-2014-alternative-therapies_N.htm.
7 Hartford Hospital, Integrative Medicine, Outcomes, http://www.harthosp.org/integrativemed/outcomes/default.aspx#outcome6. Measurements cited were obtained during the initial pilot phase of the study, December 1999 - December 2000.
8 The Center for Reiki Research, Touchstone Project, Conclusion, http://www.centerforreikiresearch.org/RRConclusion.aspx.
9 Julie Motz, Hands of Life, Bantam Books, New York, 1998
10 Beth Ashley, "Healing hands", Marin Independent Journal, May 11, 1997.
11 Nancy Eos, M.D., Reiki and Medicine (Eos, 1995).
12 Libby Barnett and Maggie Chambers, with Susan Davidson, Reiki Energy Medicine, Healing Arts Press, Rochester, Vermont, 1996.