Once again the main contributors to this issue, the third and last in our series “What does it mean, to heal?”, read each others’ work before publication and then came together for a Zoom conversation.*
There’s an astonishing coherence to the material in this issue— though I only realized this once it was all assembled. A dream I had just after I finished editing seemed to weave it all together. There are references to the dream throughout the conversation—you can read it in its entirety here.** You will also find many references to Deborah Bird Rose, the visionary anthropologist who died in December of last year and whose life and work are celebrated in Gillian Goslinga’s homage in this issue. Death is a predominant theme of this our eighth issue—so I was interested to learn shortly after our conversation that the number 8 in astrology is Scorpio: death and resurrection.
Jacqueline: This was so much fun. I LOVED it! My last few nights I’ve been reading these just before I went to bed… I’ve been so inspired. I feel privileged to be here.
Lise: I feel the same way.
Anne B: It seemed to me in every piece there was an encounter with either an animal, or a plant, an element or a culture that led to something much deeper, that was a conduit to some element of the spirit world.
Gillian: Yes, moments of profound shifts of awareness. Rebekah Parr’s dream crystallized a theme I see across all of the essays: “To wake up from the illusion.” Waking up to a world that’s sentient, that’s intelligent, and also—that loves us. Just loves us. And invites us to grow.
Lise: For Ann D., waking up from the illusion involved traveling halfway across the world to encounter an indigenous culture.
Ann D: When I first went there I was just twenty-two and I was there for two years. It allowed me to know there was another way to see the world. That sense of being one with everything in the universe. I think this is what Deborah Bird Rose means by quantum connectivity. Throughout these pieces I felt the writers’ awareness and connection with different beings, animals, plants—a sort of shape-shifting into the energies. It all felt very coherent.
Nancy: I was so moved by the feeling of interspecies partnership in all of these pieces. The line between the shamanic world and ordinary reality is so thin or even nonexistent in all of them. There’s a sense of nonhumans coming to each of us in their own way offering their gifts.
Andrea: I was very aware of the theme of death weaving through many of the writings and the courage it took to bring this up and stay with it—especially in a death-phobic culture. Whether it was Nancy writing about the whales knowing how to die—their consciousness of extinction, or the shamanic deaths Ann writes about—going into darkness right up to the edge of death, or Britta’s near-death experiences with drugs. And then Jacqueline’s near-death experience with the jaguar.
Lise: Jacqueline can you take us to that moment of near-death? I’ve read a bit about what prey animals feel in that moment but have never heard or read about a human experiencing this.
Jacqueline: I found it immensely distressing at first that I had agreed to be complicit in this relationship. I never thought this was what I would do. I thought I would fight tooth and nail to stay alive at any cost. It was almost nonviolent. There was no conflict at all about it.
Andrea: You wrote that the Jaguar “ate your passivity.” It was truly an initiatory experience.
Gillian: What I was struck by was that you were seeking the jaguar, seeking jaguar medicine.
Jacqueline: I remember being in high school having a fascination with jaguars. I had no idea how I was being pulled towards this one. I gotta tell you I have lived for years with it and even as we’re talking it’s come back to me three times, being inside the jaguar’s mouth from right here. I don’t think there are many humans alive to speak about this.
Nancy: I was blown away by this piece, it was so close to what I’ve heard from animals about the predator-prey relationship and how the prey animals feel, how they experience it, what their agreement is.
Britta: It’s something I could really feel… I could feel that moment and for me it connected in a big way to the surrender of the psychedelic space—the giving yourself over to that other form of intelligence, which has happened in my sexual healing work as well, this ultimate recognition…of going into service.
Anne B: I loved how you said Jacqueline it “freed you from being afraid.” You had a death transformation in life, and a rebirth, through this death connection with the jaguar.
Jacqueline: What I felt like for a long time afterwards, and this is something I saw in a lot of the other pieces too, was that I was walking in two worlds at the same time. That I had knowing that was from the other side that I never expected to have as a live waking person. And still even today, some twenty years later, I can call it up at the drop of a hat.
Ann D: From a shamanic perspective, it’s very much about you two becoming allies, the jaguar becoming your guide, a merging of your spirits. When I studied with my teacher in Borneo he brought me the crocodile spirit. I didn’t realize at the time I’d been swimming with the crocodiles (if I’d known I probably wouldn’t have gotten in the water). Like the jaguar, we’re in a giant cage so you can see them in safety. With ten different crocodiles I would say in my mind “if you can see my crocodile spirit open your mouth” and all ten times they opened their mouths. If we can understand that we’re all part of the same vibration that we can have these kinds of experiences.
Gillian: We’re told these experiences are internal to us, are in our heads, but Jacqueline what yours did was anchor it, show that these are real events that can be experienced—and maybe it’s in the way they’re interpreted or understood or felt that the difference lies.
Andrea: But I’m also seeing something very interesting happening in terms of the collective consciousness. The world out there is not so distant any more, it’s not as far from the shamanic work we are doing with our active imaginations and hearts. It’s something you explore beautifully in your article, Ann, as both a shamanic practitioner and clinical psychologist. There is resonance in the social media and the mainstream. For me this is an example of the web starting to reweave itself in a different way.
Britta: I feel a lot of resonance there because I do feel that reweaving happening—as we live on the edge of possibility from a place of total destruction.
Kristin: Before we leave the theme of death, I want to mention Gillian’s homage to Deborah Bird Rose which I found astounding and so deeply moving in its honouring of a life. Gillian writes about Deborah’s fearlessness in witnessing death and that was powerful. But the way that Gillian has witnessed Deborah’s life throughout this piece is equally powerful.
Gillian: Jacqueline, in your piece you write that Life has its own agenda –that death and birth and existence are all part of the same cycle. During the attack, you felt yourself to be a vehicle for a vital life force surging forth. That is something Deborah was trying to communicate with her work: that we are all part of Life, that Life has a will of its own, an existence that is greater than our own and will come forth in form after form. Whether we call it vibrational energy or Life, we all partake of it and death is part of that experience.
Lise: In my dream, death is the missing piece I’m trying to restore by completing the circle. I think it was Clarissa Estes who came up with the phrase “Life/Death/Life”. Death has to be in it—and it felt like so many of the pieces in this issue were trying to weave it back in.
Anne B: The web being rewoven makes me think of the yellow butterfly that came and alighted on Val Plumwood’s coffin during the burial service. Butterflies had always kept her company as she was gardening. Gillian when you write of “quantum connectivity” you use this example.
Gillian: Yes and I think the key that weaves through all our work here is intimacy with experience itself. Andrea sitting in meditation for sixty days with her snake. Anne with water. Britta’s experience that unfolded over ten years, the up-close intimacy of the felt sensation.
Andrea: I wanted to say how thankful I was to have in the middle of an issue with so much darkness Anne’s gorgeous photos of the water with your lovely, lucid writing.
Gillian: Yes they were absolutely beautiful images. And I was enthralled by your essay.
Jacqueline: Andrea, I had the most interesting experience reading Snake Medicine. Right about where you took the ball and popped it into your mouth which I thought was so incredibly brave I suddenly became aware of my eyes. One eye began aching and the other one started tearing up and crying. I was having a double experience with each eye being independent of the other in my reading. I don’t know what that means but I found it very powerful.
Andrea: Those snake writings are included because Lise twisted my arm to include them.
Chorus: I’m so glad she did.
Andrea: I also really appreciated what Deborah wrote about double death, the killing that “thwarts every possibility of renewal” and that links ecocide and genocide in our awareness of what’s going on right now, the totality of the desecration. I’d never put that together before and it was very, very powerful for me.
Jacqueline: I wanted to say to you, Gillian, I was not familiar with Deborah Bird Rose before. As I read your piece I came to know her in a heartful way. I had a vital sense of her aliveness in the world today and I so appreciate the responsibility you took to convey her living essence.
Lise: I’m just curious how many of you on the call had ever heard of Deborah Deborah Bird Rose before?
Chorus: Not me.
Lise: Well, now you all know what you’ve missed.
Gillian: That’s one reason I’m overjoyed at having been asked to write about her for Dark Matter because it’s a platform that can actually bring her outside the academy and I am so honoured to be part of that extension of her work. And speaking of partnership… I wrote it in partnership with her. Asking myself at every moment “is this true to Deborah?”
Lise: I wanted to come back to what Anne B. said at the beginning about how each piece in the issue features an encounter. I think part of what these encounters are about is that all of us are at least were at the time of these encounters—let’s face it—clueless white Western women. (Sounds of general agreement.) And so it took encounters like these to wake us up, or at least to begin to… Britta you were the only one to address directly in your piece some of the ethical challenges this brings up.
Britta: Well because we are so clueless, when we do wake up and have these encounters there’s been a struggle to figure out how to use that knowledge in a way that’s in right relationship with the world we’re encountering. Both in terms of being in conversation with these plants and their sociopolitical context. It feels like such a big question to me.
Gillian: Have you ever asked the plants themselves?
Britta: Yes, I’m trying to follow the threads of what I’ve been able to perceive in communicating with them. I suppose I feel a double responsibility because I’m out in the world often speaking about these plants and how they can help us to heal so it’s not just about my own personal relationship to them.
Andrea: I really appreciate your struggling with that question. I started making flower essences in 1995 and my approach was allopathic. But the essences would not cooperate. Finally I turned around and asked them: “How do you work?” I gradually realized they would support a process of blossoming but not of fixing and healing. I now make that really clear with people who come.
Britta, I was so impressed with the way you created a roadmap through your piece about what it takes to heal. I mean you nailed it, girl.
Gillian: I second that.
Andrea: And it comes from having lived it. The honesty in your piece was just heart-opening. You have a beautiful ability to listen with the whole of your body. It’s something I think all of us are doing, bringing a tremendous vulnerability and open respect to these encounters.
Gillian: Britta, I too was blown away by your honesty. Vulnerability is also a language that Deborah uses in her work and she means it in exactly the way Andrea just explained. And I think vulnerability and honesty are needed for transformation. In Rebekah’s dream the trickster energy of the illusion involves lies, deceit. It’s why maintaining honesty and integrity—the kind of honesty and integrity I felt in all these pieces—matters. As does staying with the felt sense, staying with the guidance, staying with the experience, not making it about something else. I saw each of you holding to that. Deborah held to this integrity too even when colleagues rejected her or didn’t quite get what she was saying.
Lise: Britta has to leave us in a few minutes. Before you do, Britta, I want to say something about your piece “Heal/Weave.” My dream helped me understand that Heal/Weave is snake medicine. Because that’s what snake does—heals by weaving. I know this from having done Tai Chi for many years and I felt it so strongly reading Andrea’s writing—or rather Snake’s writing. It was the same energy driving your piece: primal snake energy. And it’s totally erotic.
Britta: Yes,” Snake Medicine” was, and as I was reading it I was thinking of all the writing I want to do about sex.
Britta exits to chorus of goodbyes.
Anne B: Ann, at the end of your piece you write about your work with people who disassociate and the karmic imprint that we carry from our families—the idea that we can be very different from our family of origin and we gravitate towards the energies that help us become who we want to become. You write, “it’s not selfish to do what we came here to do…. It’s essential to become who we came here to be.”
Ann D: As far as I can tell this is a really poignant time on the planet and a lot of us agreed to be here now to help with the shift in consciousness which really is understanding the energetic base of our being. When I was doing my postdoctoral work which was before I studied shamanism, I was on a unit where each young woman who had been raped or sexually abused had a mother who had been abused at the exact same age. Sometimes they hadn’t remembered it. That was the first step in understanding how we carry all these energies. Anxiety, fear, depression form how we perceive the world; we perceive through the lens of these energetic imprints as well as what we’re taught. It’s what I came face-to-face with when I first went to Borneo, because absolutely nothing there was familiar, but on a vibrational level I felt I was home—because you were connected with everything that is. So when I read Gillian on Deborah and double death I was thinking of our culture and how we’ve had a double death because we’ve lost that awareness of connectivity. When we cut trees down we should do ceremony for them. I live on a rocky coast and when you sit on the rocks you can absorb the energy that comes up from them. We’ve lost this. All of you in your beautiful articles have moments of connection with that sort of awareness and it’s so important that we help bring that to everyone because if not we could lose the planet.
Jacqueline: In your bio I saw your most recent work is about healing the vibration of the land. I live in a village in the Pacific Northwest that’s only about 120 years old. I started noticing these conflicts in the community and I laid out a map. I went back in time and noticed that people who had lived in the same place before had the same conflicts. Two unrelated people in that place found themselves in conflict. That vibrational trauma field persists even when it doesn’t seem to make any sense. I live on a farm and it’s made me aware that we need to live in the vibration of harmony and forgiveness as a constant—so that we can expand it out from our land.
Gillian: Ann you speak of soul loss in your piece and like Jacqueline I also noted that you write about the trauma of land. Would you say it’s soul loss that starts the trauma, also for the land?
Ann D: Yes and it repeats. War is the easiest example. People go to war and they come back traumatized having flashbacks and passing on the trauma of war to their families and that goes on from generation to generation. Maybe we’ve been imprinted both karmically and culturally and from our families that this is how we respond to things and if we can understand the energies we carry that aren’t really us then we can be free to be who we really are. Some people have a lot of trauma from emotional and physical abuse. My hope is as a culture we can begin to embrace this energetic aspect. Our country was founded on genocide and slavery, so that energy lives here and feeds the psychic structure, which explains why we’re where we are right now around race. There are ways to go about healing the land and healing those energies.
Lise: I’ve noticed trauma comes up as a theme constantly now with my young students and it actually makes me hopeful—that this generation is acknowledging trauma in a way we never did. Also to know that we now have ways of truly understanding it and tools we didn’t have before so maybe now it can be addressed at the root.
Andrea: Also we’re not just about healing person to person. We have so underestimated the wisdom and intelligence of all the other realms. Gillian, I’m thinking of Deborah’ s story of the pod of orcas who accompany the boat carrying the Suquamish chief with the hundreds of ceremonial artifacts. Our encounters are opening corridors of communication so the vast range of intelligence that’s needed at this time is available. I’m very aware of the web between us being strengthened as we’re talking. And with us are all the animals all the plants and the ancestors because we’re open to them.
Nancy: I keep circling back to the end of Britta’s piece: “the web is woven and I weave back”. That reciprocity—being woven and being the weaver. And in Lise’s dream, the snake energy weaving the figure 8 and completing the circle. One thing I’m continually reminded of and take comfort in is that as difficult and dire and complicated as the situation is on the planet, there is weaving that may include us but is also far vaster than what we may be able to understand and that is partnering with us.
Lise: There must be something vibrational about the number 8, because more than any before it, this issue is about weaving and woven-ness.
Nancy: It’s also a teaching that the dolphins give so often. When they swim they make that shape with their body over and over again.
Kristin: I always find tremendous comfort in the messages Nancy brings back from the animals. It’s so hard for me not to go to a place of grief, so there’s a balm and a balancing that happens for me when I read Nancy’s work. Part of me has a hard time understanding how the animals can continue to love us. Why the orangutan in my dream (Orangutan Mercy) would show me such mercy. But I’m willing to believe that there are people who have a much greater understanding of this than I do. I’m hitching the wagon of my heart to that possibility.
Lise: You’re speaking for so many of us, Kristin. The orangutan is one of the animals who are breaking many hearts right now.
Ann D: When I was first in Borneo there were orangutans everywhere swinging from the trees. Now you have to go to a preserve—we’ve cut down so much of the rainforest. It’s heart wrenching.
Nancy: I was with the humpbacks in January and then in Baja with the blue and gray whales in March of this year. In Baja there were a lot of really obvious changes: a significant difference in the number of whales and also their health, their body condition, in particular the blue whales. Their population isn’t necessarily in decline, but they’re having much more difficult time finding food.
But I want to add that one of the greatest teachings for me has been the teaching on grief and how grief and joy and love are not separate for so many of the beings that I’ve had the privilege of being with. I’m thinking about the orca last summer who carried her dead calf for seventeen days in a public grief ritual. I think it’s really important to remember that our grief is important and it’s holy and the animals who are losing their habitat and their species and their young are grieving, also—and that sense of grief does not need to be separate from the connection and weaving and love and outreach and understanding that the nonhuman beings are offering us.
Anne B: It feels like that becomes a model for how we all have to hold very opposite feelings and experiences. Part of the challenge of this time is that we’re being asked more and more to expand to hold the opposites. The message from the belugas in your piece was absolutely that.
Jacqueline: And I loved how in spite of all we humans have done to them you show they are still living one breath, one breath. A beautiful wholeness to their experience of life…
Nancy: Life and death. Life/Death/Life. I think of Gillian’s piece, how she wrote about the light in the eyes of her dying friend, the light in the cat’s eyes. In the middle of dying, the quality of luminescence. That’s what we’re all trying to figure out at this time. How to be in the both/and.
Kristin: I don’t see the grief and the joy and the love as separate, but for me it’s often through the grief that I can touch the deepest parts of my heart where I feel the love most intensely.
Gillian: What you just said, Kristin, is what Deborah understood by loving fiercely.
Ann D: My teacher always said that light and love are so much more powerful than the dark. It’s why we should stand in the light and the love to heal and transform the dark.
* For more about why this format, please see the letter that went out to subscribers in our Nov 14th, 2017 email.
** The entire night it seems I was engaged in what felt like a sacred task. I was walking the loop at the top of Mt. Royal, trying to complete the circuit, and as I did I was seeing/hearing the words “HEAL/WEAVE” and Britta was chanting and casting spells and as she did EVERYTHING was healing/weaving. And somehow SNAKE was behind all this, we were all being woven and healed by SNAKE. I felt SNAKE coursing through me. Only once I awoke did I make the connection to the number of this issue –8; the snake, my body, everything around me was describing that figure. And when I thought about what it might have meant to “complete the circuit” I thought of the Great Round and how completing that circle requires that death be woven in. Which is what so many of the pieces in the issue are about…