Our Plutonian Journey

I am celebrating a milestone this month, one of nearing completion of a long and dark Underworld journey.  I have been living and breathing a very personal dance with the planet Pluto for more than a decade. For the past several years, as it has come to the exact degree of my Capricorn Sun, most of the ways I have thought of myself and my place in the world have shifted. 

I have written two installments of what I’ve come to think of as my “Pluto diaries”, originally as part of an intended memoir. I shared them on my Patreon page, first created as a means of support for the yet-to-be-completed book and, more recently, The Natural Wisdom Podcast. I have been shy about sharing these personal stories further, but as the United States enters our own collective Pluto transit, specifically the return of Pluto to its place at the birth of our country, my words seem relevant. Titled “The Death of Control”, they capture some of my experience of what an encounter with Pluto feels like. 

The basic energy of Pluto intensifies and eliminates. The end result is a rebirth, like that of the phoenix rising from the ashes of destruction. The Lord of the Underworld in mythology, Pluto guards the riches buried beneath the surface. The only way to get to them is by visiting the Underworld. The ancient myth that best captures the process is that of Inanna, the Sumerian queen who went to visit her sister in the “place below”, where she was summarily killed and hung on a meathook prior to being brought back to life and released. I told the whole story in my Pluto class, as well as in a writing salon session on the planet Venus.

Whether you live in the States or simply watch from elsewhere in the world, the Plutonian process is evident in a number of ways, but perhaps no more clearly than through our confrontation with the shadows inherent in our creation. Our country is in the throes of our Pluto return. An internet search of “US Pluto return” will provide a list of astrologers opining on the subject. But we have only to pay attention to the national conversations to get a sense of the shadows we are facing. As I write this, for example, we have just celebrated Thanksgiving. I grew up with the version of the holiday told through rose-colored glasses, about pilgrims and cooperation. Now we are being forced to acknowledge the more brutal history behind the holiday, with many questioning whether we should even retain it on the calendar.

Such is the way of Pluto, bringing to the surface what has been buried and hidden. Yet as in the myth, treasures are hidden in the darkness, most notable among them a sense of unshakable power that comes only from facing the dark places and reclaiming what we have turned our backs on. The wisdom of Pluto is the depth of character that comes with honoring both the light and the dark within us all.

The next couple of years will show what our collective Pluto process has in store; for now we are in the midst of the chaos and dismantling. My own journey is still in process as well, of course, but I can finally feel the light at the end of the tunnel. I hope to write part 3 of my Pluto diaries in the coming months, as I emerge more fully from the Underworld, bearing its gifts.

Injuries are my (embodiment) teachers

Injuries are my teachers

When I broke my collarbone in January of 2001, it was the first time I had ever been seriously injured in my life. I was on horseback, chasing after a cow in a team-penning practice. Suddenly, I was no longer on the back of the horse but lying flat on my own back in the dirt, with very little memory of getting there.

After the crowd of friends (several of whom were EMTs) determined I was coherent and hadn’t broken my neck, I got to my feet, tied my bandana into a sling for my mostly useless left arm, and followed my husband to the truck and trailer, leading my horse. All the way to the emergency room, I kept telling myself ‘it’s only my collarbone’. The pain had not yet set in. After having several layers of clothing removed, x-rays to survey the extent of the damage, and a soft brace fastened around my shoulders to support my posture, I was given heavy-duty pain medication and sent home. 

Back then, I was in full-on corporate warrior mode. Although my boss took my place on the business trip across the country that week, I drove myself to the office two days later and tried to work, despite the combination of intense pain and lack of sleep (I had thrown away the pain pills after realizing just how dangerous they were – it’s completely understandable that people become addicted!). 

In short, I tried to ‘cowgirl up’ and escape the pain and limitation of my injury.

Four weeks later, the bone was still not healing. In desperation to avoid the threat of surgery, I accepted the offer of my first-ever Reiki session with my counselor/Reiki master. 

I had walked in stooped over in pain. My healer told me she felt my pain as nausea in her own gut. While she held her hands slightly above various parts of my body, we talked a little, mostly about my fear of never being whole again. As the session progressed, I realized my body needed my acceptance of the brokenness, and my trust in its capacity to heal. I walked out of her office feeling relaxed and at ease for the first time in over a month, with far less pain. The bone began to rebuild right away.

Repeat lesson

A few days ago, I fell five feet through the open trap door into the crawl space of the family cabin, slamming my chin into the floor as I went through, cracking a rib, and badly bruising elbows and hip on the edge of the opening and ladder below. This time, as I picked myself up from the floor of the crawlspace and cleaned myself up, I promised to be gentle with myself – both physically and emotionally – and not try to escape from my experience.

I cleaned myself up and treated the few cuts, and then lay down to allow the shock to pass. For the rest of the day, I did nothing beyond a bare minimum and stayed with emotions as they came up. Every time I walked over the trap door, I felt some trepidation. Seeing the bruises come up brought tears to my eyes at the damage to my body. I staunchly refused to criticize myself for the circumstances of the accident.

In truth, I have been amazed at the speed at which the bruises are fading, the cuts are disappearing, and the pain of the cracked rib is easing. I certainly credit my first aid kit: I used honey for the open wounds; homeopathic arnica montana for the pain and bruising; and homeopathic comfrey, called ‘symphytum’ for the bone trauma. A friend gave me some oil infused with cottonwood buds, a version of the biblical ‘balm of Gilead’.

First aid supplies

One of the greatest medicines has been rest, the ‘nurse of the world’ according to Ayurveda. It takes resources and intense ‘labor’ behind the scenes for the body to rebuild flesh and bone. It deserves to be able to focus on the task at hand, despite the voice in my head telling me I need to get moving again, get some exercise, get some work done for Heaven’s sake.

Accidents such as these are traumas, and have mental and emotional as well as physical effects that need to heal. Conventional models, such as the one I followed so unsuccessfully with my first injury in 2001, are designed to ‘fix’ what is broken, cover up the pain, and ignore the rest. It is all about powering through and getting back to ‘normal’ as quickly as possible. There is also a strong tendency to try to affix blame and determine fault, which can simply be another way of avoiding the feelings of the experience.

But healing does not work that way, and we have an epidemic of PTSD to prove it. 

“Healing comes through embodiment of the Soul”

Marion Woodman, Jungian analyst

The fundamental lesson of injury is the necessity of embodiment – of staying present with the pain, shock, fear, grief and limitation. Taking unplanned time off as a self-employed person is not my first choice, of course. But for a human living in 3D reality, the body takes priority. I’ve tried the other routes of trying to ignore and ‘rise above’ the physical plane with poor results.

Embodiment means allowing myself to feel whatever is happening, and letting my body call the shots, even when it means doing very little for long stretches at a time.The hours I spent during those first few days simply noticing, feeling, and allowing helped the shock to abate, my adrenal glands to calm, the emotions to flow through rather than become stuck, and let my body get on with its work of renewal.

Interesting to me is that the planetary alignments for this accident are very similar to that of the one in 2001. Three transiting planets – Uranus, Saturn and Mars – were in the same tense, dynamic configuration. Uranus can signify trauma, Saturn offers limits and restrictions, Mars creates action and acts as a trigger. Uranus in the sign of Taurus, too, brings up themes of our relationship with the material world, from money to food to our bodies. In my personal make-up, Uranus figures prominently, and its wake-up calls do as well.

From one point of view, the line up in the skies symbolized an intense level of tension needing a place to go, much like the build-up of static electricity before a lightning strike. In one sense, I offered a pathway for part of that release. Whether I could have avoided the situation or not I don’t really know. Maybe if I had looked closely at the chart that morning I would have been more cautious; maybe I could have been more cautious in general. Maybe, it just happened and my choice is to respond as consciously as I am able. 

The latter seems best to me – no assignation of blame, no need for self-attack to add insult to injury. I can release the arrogance of thinking I can control everything, and practice embracing life as it comes, even when it is a bit faster, harder and more painful than I might like. 

Most of all, I can embrace the experience, knowing that even these sensations are part of the roller coaster ride of physical existence, and an opportunity to practice being present right here, and right now, as an embodied human being.

Sacred rhythms of life – and health

In the indigenous medical science from India, Ayurveda, there is great emphasis on harmonizing daily life with the natural cycles of the Sun and seasons. The focus on lifestyle and routine (rhythm) was also an integral part of traditional Western medicine in ancient times. The word ‘diet’ originally referred to not just what we eat, but – as in Ayurveda – the whole construct and pattern of our daily life.

When, what and how we eat (‘food’); how we exercise and the balance between sleep and waking (‘sleep’); plus how we use our creative energy and the quality of our relationships (‘sex’)  are the three pillars of health. Yet, these three essential components of human life are commonly overlooked in the quest for ‘silver bullet’ solutions and quick fixes for our symptoms. Whether it is a vaccine for a novel flu, a superfood to prevent cancer, special diets, the latest pharmaceutical creation, and even – ever more popular – herbal concoctions, we spend huge amounts of money and create entire industries dedicated to finding the ‘right’ remedy for what ails us.

But what if the key to our health is less about treating what’s wrong, and more about remembering what our bodies already know – that we are inextricably intertwined with the cycles and rhythms of the Earth, the Sun and even the planets?

Ashram porch

Some years ago, I spent a month in an Ayurvedic ashram in India, undergoing a detoxification and renewal process called ‘panchakarma’. Rising time, meal times, even when I could get hot water for a bath were all consistent, structured, and based in Ayurvedic teachings. In one of my last conversations with my doctor, as we were discussing some of the herbal medications he was sending home with me, he pointed out that herbs are wasted if the client does not adhere to basic healthy lifestyle practices. As someone with a deep respect for all life, he – and many of us who work with plants and other natural remedies – preferred not to offer herbs to someone who was looking for an easy fix while continuing destructive lifestyle practices.

When I work with clients on wellness, my first go-to ‘prescription’ is regulating mealtimes and sleep schedules, with an emphasis on have the largest meal in the middle of the day when possible. Other simple – but not necessarily easy – recommendations include not eating or drinking anything past seven p.m.; getting up with or before the Sun; and creating rituals around daily tasks, especially eating. It is quite easy to get much more elaborate in outlining a daily routine consistent with Ayurvedic teachings. For those who more fully integrate Ayurveda and yoga into their lives, or live in yoga ashrams (spiritual communities) the instructions can become even more proscriptive and detailed. In fact, this is likely why so many people with a little familiarity with Ayurveda see it as complicated and time-consuming – which, of course, it can be.

Yet the greates benefit to our health can come from the smallest efforts. One of my teachers used to say the single most important practice anyone can implement to improve their life is that of eating consciously. When you eat, just eat. Practice mindfulness over your food by putting away the TV, computer, and books, and focus on your food as the sacred gift from the Earth that it is.

This ritualization of daily life, bringing back the sacred to the mundane, is the great work that will bring balance back to the Earth and our bodies.

I like to dream of a time when food is truly seen and felt as the sacred body of the Earth. If eating were an act of worship, I sincerely doubt we would engage in ‘factory farming’, or look for lab-grown meat and ‘protein’ to fill our plates. Rather than meat production, perhaps we would return to animal husbandry and plant-tending in a time-honored co-creative relationship with the beings who nourish us. 

This movement back to partnership is just as important in our relationship with plants, which provide the bulk of our food and medicine. Whether the grains that have adapted with us and for us, or the fruits that tempt us to spread them wherever we go like Johhny Appleseed, or the herbs that offer their medicine in our yards, the gracious presence, intelligence, wisdom and beingness of plants deserves our honor and appreciation as much as the two- and four-legged creatures, bees, and other animate creatures on whom we depend.

I do not believe we can reach my version of Utopia until we learn to see the deeper meaning of, and on, our dinner plates. As long as food is a means to an end, something to manipulate and analyze in an endless quest for the ‘right’ diet, the ‘right’ weight, the ‘right’ nutrition and the cure for what ails us, we will continue with our tunnelvision of the Earth, plants, animals, and even microbes being ‘out there’ rather than part of the continuum of material existence that includes our notion of our physical selves. Forget the idea of your body as a discrete human entity. What you call ‘you’ is mostly other – microbes outnumber human cells by a factor of ten to one.

We can turn to modern research to corroborate the ancient wisdom regarding how aligning our lives with natural cycles can support our health. And we can turn to our hearts to underscore the importance of honoring the lives that support our lives. Best of all, we can just begin where we are with our bodies as our laboratories. Pick one thing – getting up earlier, or eating a lighter dinner, or starting your morning with some sort of mindfulness practice – and try it for a week or two. See what works for your body, your heart, your mind.


Want to find out more about how to incorporate nature’s rhythms into your own life, and support your well-being naturally? Check out my Signatures of Health consultations. Your birth chart is also your health chart! And, coming in May, 2021, I’ll be leading a seven-week online course on Diet as Medicine. Registration opens in mid-April.

Occupy – yourself

 

“Place your bare feet on the earth

or your opened palm upon a tree,

and you will start to feel better,

no matter what your ailment.


The earth and the tree are not healing you.

They are Reminding you of What You Are.”

Sera Beak, Author and Redvolutionary

The word ‘occupy’ conjures up a variety of situations based on its historical use. In my parents’ generation, occupation referred to an invading army taking over a country, as with my mother’s native Norway and the Nazis during World War II. In more recent times, it has come to represent a social and political movement with, for instance, the Occupy: Wall Street activism.  For me, there is a more critical application of occupation for every one of us to practice: to fully occupy our bodies and our deepest selves in order to heal ourselves and our planet.

To occupy is to take up space, inhabit. In so much of spiritual and religious teaching, the object seems to be to subdue and subject the body, or even divorce ourselves from it altogether in the name of transcendence and oneness. Spiritual practice of all stripes becomes focused on, for instance, controlling desire. Renunciation takes on the meaning of doing without physical comfort and most certainly without pleasure. Denying the body became the way to Heaven and peace and contentment in mainstream religion, and we are closer to that line of thinking than we’d like to admit in New Age spirituality as it is sold and practiced. When is the last time a spiritual teacher suggested a hot fudge sundae as a spiritual practice? And yet, a sweet, creamy, chocolatey treat may be exactly what is needed for the soul to fully experience this life on a particular day.

Western culture has incorporated this theme of subjugating the body so completely that we no longer see it, although our bodies feel it. From our calendar with little or no connection to nature’s seasonal rhythms (even the month has long since lost the connection to the moon’s actual cycles); to work schedules that shape our days around the needs of machines or dollars rather than bodies and minds; to food sometimes so far removed from its source that the body can’t recognize it as nourishment; we deny our true nature as nature. 

As one of my yoga teachers liked to say, people in Western culture seem to walk around all day ‘like brains on sticks.’ We are so caught up in our thoughts or external distractions, we miss most of our actual experience, as when we stick earbuds into our ears and divide our attention between what the body is doing and the music we are hearing. We do our best to ignore and suppress and sometimes even oppress our bodies and their signals, tuning out the little pains and discomforts in the name of convenience or fear or simply because we can no longer hear them. Until the body’s voice becomes too loud to ignore, when the little pains and discomforts become disease or dysfunction.

Here we are as human beings, by definition beings of flesh and blood. To be fully human requires being fully present with and as a human body. Rather than spirit trapped in flesh, we are soul expressed as flesh and blood, emotions and sensations. We are made of the same stuff as everything and everyone around us. We are inter-connected as individuals as well as collectively with each other and our home planet. In divorcing ourselves from our bodies, we have also divorced ourselves from nature. We see ourselves as separate from, and either superior or inferior to the creation around us. Our view of separation has resulted in dire consequences for both humans and nature. We don’t make the connection that our warming planet might be a consequence, at least in part, of the same patterns of over-doing and over-consuming that make inflammatory diseases so common in our bodies.

What does it mean, what does it feel like and look like to be fully embodied, to feel and sense and experience to the extent of our capacity? For one thing, being fully in and as the body means being comfortable in our own skin. Embodiment requires a compassionate embrace of every cell, every wrinkle, every ache and pain and sensation, whether we choose to like it or not. Radical self-love begins on this material plane of flesh and blood. It does not matter the state of health or dis-ease, the level of physical ability, whether we can perform arm balances or not. The current state of the body reflects the current accumulation of life experience, family and ancestral history, cultural and environmental influences. We may not have control over all illness and injury that comes our way, but when we fully occupy our bodies, there is less room for disease and more support for our bodies’ own natural inclination to be healthy.

What we get from this radical self-acceptance is a more full and complete experience of life, and of our selves. We get a model of how to be in relationship. Just as important, when we come home to our bodies, re-sensitize our selves, we realize our role in the greater natural world. The inherent intelligence of nature is reflected within the body in form and function, and rhythm. We can sense that local, in-season foods are more nourishing. Not surprisingly, eating locally and seasonally is gentler, too, on the earth.  When we are tuned into our natural circadian rhythms, we are more inclined to get up and go to bed with the sun. Again, this pattern creates less impact on our planet as we reduce our need to light up the night.

Fully inhabiting a body – occupying our selves – is a declaration of ownership, acceptance, and authority. My body, my life, my health. Embodiment is the path to the full expression of ourselves, our souls, as well as realizing our innate connection with the world around us. And when we finally get it, that what we do to ourselves we do to the Earth, maybe then we can heal both.

How to obey a tree

Obedience: from the Latin “ob audire”: To listen with the ear of the heart

To understand the true meaning of the word obedience, and to perceive just a little more of the Truth of a tree (or flower, or houseplant or being of your choice), try this meditation.

When you take the time and offer love through your attention, you may learn that a tree is a universe in itself. It transforms water, sunlight, minerals and other substances into shade, oxygen, scent, mass. It provides food, shelter, structure, stage for all manner of small creatures.

If you sit quietly enough, curious enough, and relax what you think you know, maybe you can begin to feel the tree’s presence.

Choose a place where you can sit relatively undisturbed. It’s ideal to sit close to your tree, but through a window works too.

Start by noticing what you think you know about the tree. We’ve already given it the name of “tree”, and perhaps further refined it’s name by species.

Laying hands on a tree
Tree love

Next, try forgetting its names, and perceiving it again with eyes and heart, mind and body.

Bring your attention into your heart, perhaps by placing a hand there, and just feel. Notice, too, the sensations in the whole body. Feel your connection with the Earth through your feet or seat, even if you are on a chair or cushion. Let your body feel the heaviness of gravity pulling you to Earth.

Use your imagination to grow roots and let your roots intermingle with the roots of the tree. Feel your head and spine reaching to the sky, and sense your breath intermingling with the tree’s respiration process. Maybe you’ll sense the tree’s heartbeat.

If you are close enough, lay a hand on the tree’s trunk, or touch a leaf. Make your touch a caress.

And then just be quiet and curious.

Rest and heal at the Pisces New Moon

PiscesThe last New Moon of the solar year occurs in Pisces, the sign of the fishes, on the morning of March 17th, 2018. The twelfth sign of the zodiac symbolizes the ending of a cycle and the merging of the individual back into the ocean of consciousness, into the in-between space prior to rebirth. This symbolism of the fish repeats in many spiritual traditions, including Christianity.

Outside our windows, we see the returning of the light and life of spring, coming out of the seeming death of winter. The Sun is nearly halfway to its highest point in the sky, when it rises in the sign of Aries and begins the next solar cycle as well as tropical zodiac cycle.

In mutable water sign Pisces, we have passed from the airy mental realm of Aquarius and 11th house themes of higher perspective and detachment into the emotional depths of Pisces and the twelfth house. As a mutable sign, Pisces marks a seasonal transition. As a water sign, Pisces is linked to emotions and feelings. Whereas Aquarius was focused outward, Pisces draws us back in, reaching for higher consciousness through feeling our own deep places.

 

Spring buds

Pisces and the 12th house, plus their ruler, Neptune, offer us the opportunity to cleanse, purify, and renew in preparation for the the new life of Aries and spring.

This year’s Pisces New Moon is amplified with a stellium (a cluster of 3 or more planets) in the sign, including the Sun and Moon plus Neptune and Chiron. As the ‘ruler’ of Pisces, referring to its affinity with the sign, Neptune is especially powerful here. The God/Goddess of the Sea offers us the opportunity to develop faith and compassion through the knowledge of our true origins, of Oneness. Neptune also has a dissolving energy, helping us with the process of letting go of anything preventing us from feeling our connections to the rest of the world.

True compassion is the highest expression of Pisces. This is the compassion that comes with knowing each of us is part of the same whole, and there is no difference between the meanest and the greatest. This is a good time to use imagination to look for the ways in which we are the same as other people, or trees, or a nearby creek. It is also a good time to watch for ways in which we try to escape our day-to-day experience, especially the painful parts.

It can be easy to forget the truth of our unity and connectedness, whether with nature, the cosmos or other people. There are examples throughout the mainstream media of a preference, instead, of pointing out victims and perpetrators. Victimhood is one of the shadow expressions of Pisces, and it derives from a sense of powerlessness and lack of compassion. The way home is through grief and loss. Grief is the doorway to compassion: when we allow ourselves to fully feel not just our own grief, but also that of another, we come to understanding. When we come to understanding, we have access to compassion.  When we have access to compassion, we can see the pain that causes someone to inflict pain, and we can act to heal rather than blame. This is true whether we are finding compassion for our own meanness, or timidity, or inadequacy of some sort; or another’s.

Compassion and connection – for ourselves first –  lead to healing.

The healing theme of this New Moon is emphasized by the proximity of asteroid Chiron, representing the archetype of the wounded healer and wise mentor. Chiron, leader of the Centaurs in Greek mythology, was the gifted healer and teacher who could not heal his own painful wound. In the astrology chart, Chiron can point to where we feel the most pain. Just as Chiron’s pain led him to give the gift of his own immortality to Prometheus, our own greatest pain shows where we have the greatest gift to offer another as part of our healing process.

At this Pisces New Moon, take time for healing by offering yourself deep compassion:

Rest more;

Immerse yourself in water and remember the womb;

Watch for ways in which you allow yourself to feel like a victim;

Forgive yourself for ways you’ve fallen short of your intentions;

Let yourself feel.

 

Co-create your life with the planets

Imagine if, during a particularly challenging time, you were handed the script of the play that is your life and offered a chance to co-direct.

A reading of your astrological birth chart gives you the information you need to share the director’s chair.

Each of us is on our own unique heroine’s (or hero’s) journey. We are the protagonist, the star of our life story. In an astrological context, the signs of the zodiac describe the setting of our personal play; the planets are the actors; and the houses delineate the scenes.

By learning the language, characters, and context, we gain the ability to co-direct.

Our birth chart is a record and a map of our soul’s story. It shows us our inborn physical, emotional and mental tendencies, our karma. While in past centuries astrologers often used their skills to pinpoint and predict actual physical events, the real value today lies more in bringing to light what is on the inside of us. Our chart describes our unique blend of the qualities of the planets as they express through the zodiac signs in the arenas of our lives marked by the houses.

Astrology’s blend of astronomy, mythology, psychology and nature offers us a language with which to communicate with our souls and the natural world about our lives.

The words of the language are the mythological stories that express timeless, universal themes of being human on this planet. The planets, for instance, each represent archetypes or universal patterns of human behavior. We each contain all of them: stern, authoritative Saturn; assertive Mars; harmonious Venus; each describes an element of our make-up.

The qualities of each planet live in us based on how they are moderated by sign and house placement. As well, we have the opportunity to bring their shadows to light, to balance them with each other, and to put them into practice in the most constructive way possible for us.

Will our personal Mars, planet of will, give us clarity about our desires or fall into anger when we don’t get our way? Is our Venus manipulative and indulgent or does she bring beauty and true pleasure into our lives and the lives of others?

Rather than showing us a predestined fate, understanding the patterns in our chart offers us the opportunity to co-create our lives with the forces of nature. In every aspect of ourselves and our birth charts we can learn how to develop more skillful approaches. We can express our internal planetary energies constructively or destructively.

Fate and free will move together in the dance of life on Earth.

When we can read the map, on our own or with the help of an astrologer, we can make choices in line with our soul’s desires. We can become the co-directors of our own unique play.

 

Clear out summer’s heat for winter health

Clear out summer’s heat for winter health

Ancient healing traditions such as Ayurveda see the transitions between the seasons as an opportunity to pause, take a break, and clear out imbalances accumulated in the previous few months. Much as we love our summers here in Montana, the long days, high temperatures and intense activity can result in excess heat lodging in our bodies.

In Ayurvedic teaching, any substance we take into our bodies that is not completely digested and either assimilated or eliminated can become a toxin, called “ama”. Ama tends to collect first in the digestive system, then spill over into the parts of the body in which we are uniquely vulnerable. In the case of an over-abundance of fire, we may notice it in a number of ways, such as inflammation, digestive upset, or joint pain. Over time, short-term accumulations become long-term imbalances, contributing to chronic conditions such as arthritis, headaches and even fall flu episodes and spring-time allergies as the body tries to clear out what it perceives as toxins.

In my case, my enthusiasm to cram in as much sun-time and hill-climbing as I can in a short summer can find its way into my knees as soreness and swelling, or result in insomnia. Couple the activity with a little alcohol, sugar and a late meal of fish and chips, and my digestion can begin to feel overloaded and over-reactive.

A simple, gentle way to help the body re-balance itself and clear out ama is through a seasonal cleanse based in Ayurvedic practices. The protocol I offer my clients describes a few days of lighter activity (including work if possible); “fasting” from most outside stimulation such as news and social media; and an easy-to-digest mono-diet of kitchari, a simple stew of split mung beans and basmati rice. Unlike some other cleanse procedures, the approach I recommend does not involve adding the stress of going without food, taking lots of supplements and herbs, or aggressive means of clearing out the digestive tract.

Because we digest everything we take in through all of our senses during the course of a day – sights, sounds, emotions, sensations – detoxification works best when we reduce all the inputs and allow ourselves to truly rest. This is why an effective detox program includes lots of rest, gentle movement, and reduced screen time. When we give them the space to do so, our bodies know how to detoxify and heal.

It’s easy to try a gentle Ayurvedic detox at home by simply clearing your calendar for a day or two and eating a simple light diet. You can try a simple home cleanse, or sign up for a consultation if you’d like some personal support.

At the least, taking the time to incorporate a little more rest into each day will support the body’s natural health.

Harmonizing with the rhythms of the cosmos

We humans are not designed to be random. Our bodies are in tune with the sun and moon, the seasons and stars, and the weather. We can learn to feel these connections and harmonize with them, supporting our innate capacity for health.

Built in to the traditional healing science from India, called Ayurveda, are prescriptions for regular practices to align the body’s cycles with nature’s. The sun, for example, is closely tied with digestion. Ayurveda tells us when we eat is as important as what we eat to synchronize with the sun. For example, by having the main meal in the middle of the day when the sun is highest in the sky, our digestion is strongest and our bodies can receive the most nutrition from what we eat. Eating the lightest meal at the end of the day, at least a couple of hours before bed, supports both a restful night’s sleep as well as the body’s nightly detoxification cycle.

I have studied and practiced Ayurveda and yoga, its sister science, since the early 2000s. Yet it was during my second trip to India, in 2011, that I felt the full power of the daily routines and practices. I had signed up for a month long cleansing and rejuvenation process in an Ayurvedic ashram in a small village in south India. During my stay, daily routines were strictly set. Every morning, my first Ayurvedic treatment would begin around sunrise with a prayer. When the treatment was finished, I walked down the hill to the main house, where water was heated by the perpetually tended fire, to receive a bucket of hot water for my bath. I went back for breakfast after my bath; we did not bathe for several hours after eating. Meals were at least four or five hours apart with no snacking in between, except in rare cases. And in the evenings, electricity was intermittent so bedtime came shortly after dusk. During my stay, my doctor assured me that my long-time adherence to these daily routines, along with my yoga practice, had helped offset the effects of many of my less-than-wise and harmonious diet and lifestyle choices through the years. I was healthier than my Western lifestyle and corporate career might otherwise have indicated.

Another way to connect with nature is through astrology, an integral part of traditional wisdom teachings.  Most of us have heard of using astrology for agriculture, yet it can be very useful for helping us to know “what time it is” for beginning new projects or taking advantage of opportunities in certain areas of our lives. A simple way to get started with astrology is by setting intentions each month at the time of the new moon for what we want to grow and manifest in our lives. Each new moon carries the energy of the season and supports intentions of the specific time of year. For example, if we want support to begin a new writing project, the Gemini new moon of late May can be a great period of mental creativity. My own writing practice took off this year as soon as the sun moved into Gemini, beginning with this column. In my astrology practice, I focus on the birth chart as a map of the soul’s purpose and intentions in this lifetime. The placements of elements in the chart indicate the strengths and skills we are born with, as well as some of the areas of our lives in which we have both the chance and the means to grow.

Once we begin to pay attention to the natural cycles of our bodies and creative energy, and their connection with nature, many daily decisions on how to support our health and well-being become more intuitive.

If you find yourself intrigued and ready to explore how living in harmony with nature could support your creative energy and health, contact me at kristine@kristinebackes.com or 406-222-5271. 

This article appears in the July/August 2017 issue of Natural Life News and Directory: NaturalLifeNews.com

Soul Fire

Mountain healer
Lichen heart on mountain rock

I met my soul during the summer of 2014. The words seem ridiculous, but they are true. I suppose I knew I ‘had’ a soul, but soul was a concept, not an experience, and I was certainly not in a conscious relationship with mine.

That July, I participated in a SoulFire retreat, offered by spiritual activist and author Sera Beak. This retreat for women was intended to support us in deepening our relationships with our souls. I had read Sera’s spiritual memoir, Red Hot and Holy, the previous December, my first Christmas on my own, in a rented cottage on the Oregon coast. In between walks on the beach, cooking and eating my holiday dinner, and wandering through the coastal village, I read and wept and laughed out loud as I recognized parts of myself I didn’t even know I had. In contrast to my serious and idealized spiritual strivings, her story was filled with passion, humor and real humanity. I took her advice to dance a little more, meditate a little less, and have a glass of wine before reading a couple of particularly offbeat passages in the book. I began to realize something was missing in my earnest spiritual pursuit.

When I returned home from the ocean, I dove into Sera’s website for a little more of her refreshingly irreverent story. There, on her offerings page, was an invitation to her retreat. It was to be held in a location that had intrigued me for years and was all the more attractive because it was a short drive from the family cabin in Montana where I spent part of every summer. Moreover, the dates of her retreat overlapped with my planned Montana time. Without thinking about it too much, I signed up. The quote from my journal the following morning says, “Sometimes I am still amazed how loudly and clearly Life speaks to me”.

Months later, a couple of weeks before the event, I panicked. I had never been to a ‘women’s’ retreat, dismissing them as too frivolous. Now, anticipating my first, my mind filled with visions of a room full of perky 20- or 30-somethings dancing naked, and my 50+ self trying to be something I am not. I went so far as to check the possibilities of refunds and try to think of someone to take my place, but it was too late. I finally determined it was about time for me to stretch out a bit, and trust the initial urge to attend.

My fears were unfounded. The women ranged in age from 20-something to at least 60-something. Many of us had the same apprehension about being out of place, yet none of us were. There was dancing, but fully clothed, and besides being fun the movement helped us process and release the intense emotions that came up in our work. And the experience of sharing the parts of our journeys that are uniquely feminine had a healing power I had not imagined. The combination of retreat structure, Sera’s guidance, and the willingness of women to be open, vulnerable and supportive, encouraged real transformation.

During one exercise to clear a ‘soul block’, a story or memory that holds us back from fully expressing ourselves, I couldn’t shake a childhood memory. At some point in my miserable junior high school years, we were each asked to write a will for the class yearbook, filling in blanks to describe our states of mind and body, then bequeathing possessions. Being my literal-minded and serious self, I wrote on the form that I was of “pretty good” mind and body, or words to that effect. Nothing special but perfectly functional was my assessment of myself. When the yearbooks came out, my answers stood out to me as arrogant and unimaginative in the sea of sarcasm and self-effacement from my classmates. In the end result of this process, as I saw 40-plus years later, some hidden sense that it was not OK to be OK was reinforced. I had internalized that it was safer to downplay and minimize myself in order to fit in and not draw attention.

In my journal entry a couple of days later, I make the commitment to just be myself, to stop apologizing for being quiet, shy, liking solitude, loving nature. I also reclaim pleasure, telling myself it doesn’t have to be hard to count. My self-reclamation project was in evidence a few nights later when I overcame the critics in my head for my soul expression to the group, our last retreat assignment. Rather than forcing myself to dance or sing because others were planning to do so and I thought I should, I followed my inner guidance to choose silence. When my turn came, I asked the women to stand in a circle. I settled myself firmly into my body, and feeling 100 percent me, walked slowly around the circle holding each woman’s gaze for a moment as I passed. I stood in my own authority and sovereignty and silently invited each of my sister souls to do the same.

A few days after the soul retreat, I sat on the porch of our family cabin in the mountains repeating the simple soul retrieval meditation we had learned. As I sat quietly, I asked to be shown any part of me I may have lost in the past, either in this life or before. At the cabin, sitting quietly in the sunshine, surrounded by birds and breeze and creek, it registered how much of my voice I had restricted over the years. I was dismayed to remember how many times I had shut up (or down), deferring and holding back rather than sharing what I felt or knew. As someone whose public life had long involved speaking and writing, I saw how much I had shaped my words around how they would be received, rather than what was true. As I sat quietly with my eyes closed, I saw a soft, shimmering gold sphere floating in front of me. I knew it was my voice and welcomed it back. Only days later as I drove along the Yellowstone River, returning from a day in the park, it flashed on me I wanted to write. I began the process of putting my stories onto paper the next day.

Three years after SoulFire, life is irrevocably different. There is no going back to looking outside of myself for guidance and authority. Now I listen to my soul, whether through meditation or quiet walks in the wilderness. I live in the place where my soul has felt at home since I was a little girl. I have reinvented my work and career, leaving behind corporate communicator to become a natural healer, astrologer, writer, yoga teacher. The process has been scary and uncomfortable and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

In a post-retreat dream, a bottle of red wine in the back seat of my vehicle has leaked its red color all over the car: the red passion of soul I have kept bottled for so long is seeping into my body.