This Week in Spirit: Free Advice vs. Advice That Is Freeing

I’m a fan of free advice. People of all types offer free advice: kids, adults, family members, friends, strangers. My dog even offers free advice, every time he sits in front of me with a ball in his mouth.

The trick with advice is learning how to sort through all of the free advice to find the advice that is the most freeing.

 Here's a time where I received advice that I found very freeing. Photo Credit: Arwen Bird 

Here's a time where I received advice that I found very freeing. Photo Credit: Arwen Bird 

Every now and then, a person will say something so resonant that every bit of my being comes alive. I feel like a bell that has been rung. When I have that experience, I know I’ve just received advice that is freeing. The words, and whatever else makes up the experience, shine full of clarity and a kind of power I can feel but don’t understand. 

Take last Wednesday, for example. Last Wednesday, I woke to a foot of snow, a rarity in Portland, Oregon. I did what any sensible outdoors person would do – strapped on my snowshoes, grabbed some poles, and went for an urban snowshoe.

On my snowshoe excursion, I paused to snap a photo of a rufous sided towhee, one of my favorite forest dwellers. As I did so, my ears alerted to the muffled crunch-swoosh sound of a person’s footsteps in the snow. I lowered the camera away from my eye so I could greet the stranger.

 Yes, the exact Rufous Sided Towhee I had been hanging out with and photographing as the stranger approached. Photo Credit: Tanya Pluth.

Yes, the exact Rufous Sided Towhee I had been hanging out with and photographing as the stranger approached. Photo Credit: Tanya Pluth.

The stranger was a woman, probably 20 years my senior. She wore no hat or gloves, despite the frigid 28 degree weather. She passed me on the right, and then stopped two steps away. She seemed to stare at the brambles I’d just been pointing my camera lens towards.

“Good morning,” I said.

“Yes! Amazing, isn’t it?” The woman replied, smiling.

I nodded. The woman pointed at the trees in front of me, where I’d been focusing on the towhees. I got ready to say something about the towhees. But, she didn’t say anything about the Towhees. Instead, she said this: “Isn’t it amazing how the tiniest branch can accumulate so much snow?”

I looked to where she pointed, and saw a series of thin alder branches laden with two or more inches of snow each. She was right. How did such tiny branches accumulate so much snow? Magic. She had said something brilliant. She had offered me advice that I found freeing. I felt my eyes soften, my heart swell, and my toes tingle. I already had been loving every moment of my urban snowshoe adventure, and then a stranger entered the experience and expanded the experience by offering me advice that I found freeing.

 The branches with snow that the woman pointed out. Point of fact, might not be alder trees. Photo Credit: Tanya Pluth.

The branches with snow that the woman pointed out. Point of fact, might not be alder trees. Photo Credit: Tanya Pluth.

The woman’s comment helped me key into another dimension of awareness. I hadn’t really focused on the branches, so much as on the beauty of a snow-covered forest, the incredible expansiveness of the landscape, and the contrast of orange and red birds next to snow. Meanwhile, the woman had been focused not so much on the look or feel of the forest and the snow, as on the phenomenon of accumulation. 

Accumulation is a natural phenomenon, one that occurs to both the living and the inert. The challenge with accumulation is first, allowing it to happen naturally, and second, allowing the same natural forces that create accumulation to also take away what is no longer needed. Accumulation is dependent on receptivity, and receptivity is a natural phenomenon as well. The tiny branch accumulates a lot of snow because it is created to be receptive. Branches help a tree accumulate sunlight and water so that the basic needs of the organism are more easily met. The natural processes of wind, sun, heat, cold – will all combine to melt away the snow accumulated on the thin branches in my neighborhood. As those processes work, the form of the branch funnels water and nutrients to the tree’s core.

This week in Spirit, notice the advice that people, place, and spirit have to offer. Just as a branch helps to funnel sunlight and water to the root of a tree, trust your own natural form to funnel all that is freeing to the root of who you are. In spite of the force of effort and will, it’s quite often random pressures and circumstances that truly create shifts and releases in our lives. This week in Spirit – be like a tiny branch, receptive to accumulating snow in a storm, trusting to your natural form to funnel what is most nurturing and freeing to your root.  

 Not bad for an urban forest, eh? #Ilovemyneighborhood. Photo Credit: Tanya Pluth

Not bad for an urban forest, eh? #Ilovemyneighborhood. Photo Credit: Tanya Pluth

Dear U.S. voter: Feeling insecure? Try using your imagination.

Dear U. S. voters – 

There's been a lot of talk about something many reporters have called “election insecurity”: the feeling of anxiety many people have as they consider what might happen on election day. 

Election insecurity is something I know pretty well. Why? Because I was 18 in 1992, when Oregon, and many other states, began to put LGBTQII rights up for popular votes.  Local and state-wide ballot measures contained language like, “Changes the state constitution to define homosexuality as abnormal, unnatural and perverse” and “prohibits taxpayer dollars from funding any program or institution that casts homosexuality in a positive light” and “requires all state employees to discourage homosexuality.” 

Can you imagine the world in which a law like that passes? I can. Because a law banning protections for LGBTQII workers passed in Oregon in 1988, and other more regressive laws followed on Oregon’s ballot throughout the 1990s and 2000s. Yes, I can imagine a world in which those kinds of laws pass, because I lived in that world. In fact, I came out as a lesbian in 1992 in that exact world. I picked a good time to be gay. 

From the time I came out at age 18 until I turned 30, numerous anti-LGBTQII ballot measures occupied election days in Oregon and other states. And each time, my friends and I, my big gay lovers and I, all of us, held our collective breath. Would this be the time a state-wide ballot measure passed and basically made it illegal to be queer? What would it mean in practice? Every LGBTQII person in Oregon had to imagine how our daily lives would be impacted if such regressive laws passed.

 Ballot Measure 9 - yes, for real - the language of the ballot. 

Ballot Measure 9 - yes, for real - the language of the ballot. 

Imagination can be very useful in a process of discernment. The Oxford dictionary defines imagination as: "the faculty or action of forming new ideas, or images or concepts of external objects not present to the senses.” Notice in this definition that imagination is a kind of muscle to utilize to form a new perspective, outside of, and distinct from, "the senses."  Senses like intense emotion. Imagination is not emotion - emotions are what happen after we imagine something. 

An emotion-intensive tactic was used by the Oregon Citizens alliance when they tried to pass the anti-LGBTQII community ballot measures during the 1990s and 2000s. They never asked us, as voters, to form new ideas or images for ourselves. Instead, they took very old ideas and concepts, then used those to create ads, images, and other ways of attacking the senses with a thousand versions of hell and damnation – hoping that they could convince voters that what they imagined to be true, was in fact true. Hoping to stir people into primal fear and emotional states of mind. Sound familiar at all?

During the 2016 election, each time I listen to Donald Trump, he doesn’t invite me to imagine – to form new ideas – instead, he feeds his own imagination to me, and hopes my emotions get so stirred up that I’ll forget that it's his imagination stirring me, rather than my own. Trump hopes that his imagination will be so convincing, so stirring to my emotions, that I'll just agree with him, because he will offer me an outlet for my emotion, and also, the promise of further emotional highs.

When I listen to Trump’s imaginary world where all Mexicans are rapists, where he can grab my pussy without consequence because he’s famous (though clearly, he would never do that to me, as I’m pretty butchy as far as lesbians go), a lot of emotions are stirred in my body. Imagination can stir emotion. But remember the definition? “The faculty or action of forming new ideas, or images or concepts of external objects not present to the senses.” Emotions are senses – and Trump uses his imagination to stir up our senses. And for some of us, we just can’t get enough, and we’d even like to have four more years of it via a Trump presidency.

Frankly, I've had enough of election insecurity. U.S. voter, I just want you to know how scary it was for me and for many others back in the 1990s and 2000s during the anti-LGBTQII ballot measure campaigns. Those times were not scary because of our imaginations. No, reality was scary enough. The elections of the 1990s were bracketed by 6-12 months of increased anti-LGBTQII violence, including murders of gay men and lesbians. I experienced a few assaults at the hands of anti-LGBTQII people during those years, too. Yes, in “Portlandia.” I came of age witnessing the stress put on people whose status as citizens was put up for popular vote. It’s awful. 

 From the film "Ballot Measure 9" - click the photo to see the trailer! A great, important film. 

From the film "Ballot Measure 9" - click the photo to see the trailer! A great, important film. 

Trump chose to put a lot of people’s lives up for popular vote in 2016, in a way that I think the vast majority of you, my dear U.S. voters, find repulsive. Repulsive, because you do have an imagination of your own. You can imagine what a Trump presidency would do to the social fabric of the United States and the world. You can imagine what a Trump presidency would do to the U.S. economy. To the U.S. concepts of freedom of press and speech. I have faith in you, U.S. voter. Why? Because in Oregon, ultimately, voters rejected the fear and scare tactics of the Oregon Citizens Alliance’s efforts. They rejected the emotions stirred up by the fear tactics generated by the imaginations of the Oregon Citizens Alliance. My fellow voters turned to face people like me, and saw me as I was – a neighbor, a teacher, a student, a customer, a taxpayer, a fairly boring and predictable individual. They used their imaginations to consider what my life might be like if they passed Measure 9, 13, and second 9. In the end, voters rejected an imagined world of violence, fear and conspiracy.

Dear U.S. voter, I encourage you to use your imagination, your “faculty or action of forming new ideas, or images or concepts of external objects not present to the senses” because the use of imagination helps clarify reality. It helps to clarify what information, from which senses, you want to act upon. Imagination helps with discernment, for example, helping to discern what someone’s actions are, in comparison to what a feeling or emotion might suggest. 

The thing is, on election day 2016, I want you, my dear U.S. voter, to listen to your own imagination. Don't listen to anyone else's imagination. Instead, use your own imagination to play out what will actually happen if certain decisions come to pass through the popular vote. Use your imagination, because I feel confident it will help to clarify what sort of United States you want to live in on Wednesday, November 9th, 2016.

I know you will make a great choice. Since I lived through the 1990s, I do feel some fear. In 2004, Oregon did pass an anti-LGBTQII ballot measure, which broke my heart. Yet, here I am, in 2016, f’n MARRIED to my WIFE. 

Someday, I look forward to sharing a really boring Presidential election with you all. I can imagine two candidates who both have experience in governing a nation of incredible diversity of all forms. I can imagine two candidates, one I prefer, but one whose possible presidency just makes me shrug. 

Tomorrow, we won’t have to imagine anymore. Our imaginations will be confronted with a kind of reality: votes. 

So, get your ballot in. And imagine just how much warmth you will feel with your fellow citizen when we all say, together, "President Hillary Clinton."

 

"This is Ceremony - Act ACcordingly."

 Arriving at Oceti Sakowin Camp in September. 

Arriving at Oceti Sakowin Camp in September. 

The word “Sacred” in the name “Sacred Stone Camp” is often glossed over in mainstream media reports of the gathering of over 200 Nations and as many as 7,000 Protectors near Cannon Ball, North Dakota. 

Sacred is a word that many white progressives struggle with, and that’s potentially why many progressive white activists and media outlets focus on the technical aspects of the Sacred Stone camp’s strategies, legal battles, and activism: it’s more familiar. But, what is lost when people say “Sacred Stone” as if the sacred element is an after thought, or worse, just a place name?

Part of why the Sacred Stone, Red Warrior, and Oceti Sakowin camps and the #NoDAPL movement are garnering worldwide attention is because of the images circulating of Protectors acting in alignment with the sacred, to protect the sacred. From Nations greeting each other in ceremony over a sacred fire, to horse-mounted Protectors in formation to stop pipeline construction, to women calling on private security guards to stand down, the Protectors of Mni wiconi act in ways that remind people, everywhere, of what clean, bright, resonantly clear integrity with the sacred looks like. 

 Oceti Sakowin (across the river from the Sacred Stone camp) at dusk, from our camp spot. 

Oceti Sakowin (across the river from the Sacred Stone camp) at dusk, from our camp spot. 

In contrast, when white North Dakota Sheriff’s officers don full body armor and assault rifles to “protect” the pipeline, part of what they are doing is making obvious how little regard for the sacred they have, and how out of integrity their actions are with their stated mission. The Mission Statement of the office of the Sioux county Sherriff’s office describes the office as, “committed to maintaining the public’s trust, providing protection, and professional leadership, by utilizing our skills and resources with integrity.” Clearly, the Sherriff’s office hasn’t protected the people from private security forces, nor maintained the trust of many of the people in the area of Cannon Ball - unless “public” means only white people, and the words “for corporations” were inserted after “providing protection.” The mission of the Sherriff’s office has sacred components, but the actions of the office clearly betray the sacred role they’ve been given.

Sherriff’s officers point guns at people whose hands are locked down to heavy equipment: where is the threat? Why is a piece of iron with a diesel engine more necessary to protect than human beings? It isn’t, and everyone knows that, even those who work for the Sheriff’s office. While the actions of the Sherriff’s officers, and the private security firm employees hired by Energy Transfer Partners, are out of integrity with their stated missions, the acts of the #NoDAPL Protectors are grounded in very sacred forms of integrity. Thanks to social media, cell phones, and the web, millions have been able to witness these moments of confrontation, of differing levels of integrity and groundings in the sacred, from afar. These actions have occurred for generations, yet now, millions get to see with their own eyes and hear with their hearts. The Protectors call all of us to deepen our own alignment with sacred integrity.

 Collecting garbage and recycling from the grounds of the camp. There's a lot of everyday ways to support the community gathered at Oceti Sakowin Camp. 

Collecting garbage and recycling from the grounds of the camp. There's a lot of everyday ways to support the community gathered at Oceti Sakowin Camp. 

While I joined the Protectors at Sacred Stone, I spent time contributing to community and in doing so, heard many people speak and share from their hearts about confronting the lies of modern life and carrying forward that which their elders had given to them, along with their own sense of their gifts and purpose. The experience shifted my internal compass to a truer North, and I know my days will never look or feel the same again. When a woman who is a leader at the camp stood before the community of Sacred Stone and said, “This is a ceremony – act accordingly,” I felt her challenge, and her call. The Protectors call all of us to deepen our own alignment with sacred integrity. 

I act accordingly – and invite you to do so as well. My integrity is grounded in the sacred, and from that place, I steer my actions, my responses to people and places, and my approach to caring for the Earth's resources and beings. From where you are, from what you know of the sacred, from what your answer is to the questions posed by the Nations gathered at the Sacred Stone camp – treat your time now as ceremony, and act accordingly. With so much occurring in the social fabric of the United States, bringing awareness to integrity and the sacred will support the best possible outcomes in each interaction. Not everyone has to go to the camp, or change jobs tomorrow, or stop ordering items from Amazon. Do what you can to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline. And, in everyday life, follow the call, and act, as you are able, to expand the incredible forms of change occurring at Oceti Sakowin, Red Warrior, and Sacred Stone camps. 

 In Portland, today at a Sacred Stone Camp solidarity gathering. 

In Portland, today at a Sacred Stone Camp solidarity gathering. 

On the doorstep of change: Stop the Dakota Access Pipeline

 A rainbow leads the way - cheezy, but true!

A rainbow leads the way - cheezy, but true!

Driving out from Oregon through the Columbia River Gorge, I saw orange-vested and orange-hard hatted people working on the tracks that parallel the highway. I thought of the recent train derailment in Mosier, Oregon that sent dozens of freight cars filled with Bakken crude oil shooting  across the landscape, bursting into flames. Flames of crude oil, causing thick grey smoke to fill the normally clear blue summer skies of Mosier. Driving East, I passed giant wind turbines dotting former, and current, Columbia River water irrigated wheat fields, golden with the Fall season. I passed a truck whose decal said, "Wind without harm," and had a symbol implying the creation of wind technology that decreases the harm to raptors.

While I am driving to the Sacred Stone Camp, the fight waged by the Protectors at Standing Rock is one that can be found in any square mile in the United States: what is the source of power, of energy, of appropriate use of resources, of sustainable growth for all beings and the Earth. Look where you live: what are your lines of protection that you are willing to draw? Clean, lead-free drinking water? Low or zero emissions vehicles? Organic foods and farming? These have long been considered 'environmental' movements and choices. The Protectors at Standing Rock and Red Warrior camp teach, now, that these are all one movement for the people and the Earth. 

I drive East and I say the names of the people whose lands I cross, the ones I know, and I commit to learning the names of ones I haven't learned. Tygh and Wyam, Tenino and Duck-Spus, Wasco, Umatilla, Paiute, Nez Perce, Yakama, Shosone-Bannock. Spokane, Blackfeet, Chippewa, Cheyenne, Crow. I think of all of the people who live in the lands I cross as members of these Tribes, dancing and praying the ways of their people, people whose dances and prayers have echoed in these canyons, grasslands, and mountains since time immemorial.

I cross the headwaters of the MIssouri River, saying these names aloud. I think of my own people, descended from Ireland and Austria and Slovenia, immigrated to South Carolina, Illinois, Minnesota. I think of other white identified people whose ancestors came from England, Germany, France, Norway, Sweden in large numbers and forever changed the ways of the people already living in North America. Most progressive white people do not say the names of the lands they originate from, except in small moments of cultural connection. Why? Because so many of us are very aware of the genocide that white people committed when they came here. So many of us are aware of modern day white supremacy and do not want to identify as anything that can be seen as part of white supremacy. So many of us feel the sorrow of carrying that legacy and living with its benefits. So many of us feel the loss of not knowing the ancient prayers and dances of the people we come from, even as opportunity exists to connect with aspects of those stories and ways.

That is the history - today is the history that we make. Each of us. I go to the Sacred Stone camp not only because of this history, but because today's moment will define tomorrow's needs and the lives of the generations to come. Because I know that 150 years ago, there were white people who saw the harms being committed and did what they could to stop it, and fought and raged and grieved when they witnessed so much loss. Because I seek to share that story in the story of my own life. Because I have the chance to act to be a part of the change that the actions of the Protectors at Sacred Stone and Red Warrior camp have lead us to witness is available. 

While I will work in quiet ways during my time there, the fire of commitment has long been bring in my heart, and will continue, long after I leave the Dakotas. And while President Obama's administration took an unprecedented step to act to align with the goals of the Protectors, it is a long legacy of the U.S. Government to stall long enough for attention to wane, then allow a project to be built within Native American lands anyway. The larger change must come from, and is available to, everyone. 

 

 

The Call of Sacred Stone: Stop Dakota Access Pipeline

 Sunset on a valley in Lassen County, CA. Photo by Tanya Pluth. 

Sunset on a valley in Lassen County, CA. Photo by Tanya Pluth. 

Back in early June I first heard about the Sacred Stone Camp and the movement to protect the waters and lands of the Oceti Sakowin located in North Dakota along the Missouri river by ending the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. Like many, I first heard about this gathering via social media. From the moment I read about the hundreds, and then, the thousands, who responded to the call to come to the camp, I wanted to go. But life felt complicated. What about my business? Who would do the work that requires a solo-preneur to keep projects going and pay the bills? What about activist strategy: is going there the best use of resources? What about race consciousness: is it helpful for a white person to be present? All of these questions quieted the response my heart leapt to, and so, I didn't go in June, July, or even August. I donated money, and I shared news as it came across my social media feeds. Each day, I looked to the sky and the sun and thought of the people on the plains. Each night, I saw the moon and whispered a prayer to the work of the people on the plains. Each morning, I woke wondering what it was like to wake at the Sacred Stone camp.

Then I saw video of white people holding thrashing, gnarling German Shepherds on long leashes as a group of Protectors stood across from them, and as D7 bulldozers tore up sacred lands in the background. I saw a white woman shove her dog into a crowd of retreating Protectors. The dog had more sense than that white woman did, because the dog paused before charging ahead, and didn’t go again until the woman pushed it from behind. I heard the cries of the people, and the shouts of resistance. In that moment, my heart leapt to a whole new level. The call I’d felt way back in June became an extremely loud and resonant gong. 

I am going to Sacred Stone Camp. Today.

I am going to the camp to be witness and to contribute what I can. I am going to the camp to clean up dishes and do other small tasks that free up Protectors for prayer and action. I am going with supplies and donations. I am going with humility and recognition of the work that lies ahead for us all as we end the harms of inherited and present day greed, disease, and oppression. 

And, for each penny I spend on the cost of traveling to the camp and returning, my spouse and I will be donating items from the Sacred Stone camp and Red Warrior Camp lists of needed items. For us, this is what we can do, right now.

What can you do, right now? Whatever it is, do it. Because this is a turning point. This is the gathering of energies and ancient wisdom that marks a turning point. If you have been waiting, ask yourself, what are you waiting for? Your heart, your spirit, your energy is ready for action. You define that action, no one else. Whether donating money, saying a daily prayer by lighting a candle, whatever level of action will align with the Protectors and create more available catalyst for change.

 Sunrise from Topaz Mountain Utah access road. Photography by Tanya Pluth . 

Sunrise from Topaz Mountain Utah access road. Photography by Tanya Pluth . 

I feel an intimate connection to the land and the water, as healers and teachers. I’ve been on the path of learning the ways of spirit, earth, air, fire and water for all of my life. I have had many teachers. All of my teachers carried the same essential message: go with love. So, I travel today, traveling East, with love in my heart for the land, for the waters, for the Protectors who create a space of renewal, strength, and sacred gathering for warriors to use what is available to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline, as well as other threats to sovereignty and sustainable living. I add what I can to that space, each moment I travel East, across the Rocky Mountains, across the wide High Desert of Montana, all the way to Standing Rock. I add my love into the action of joining, and of providing what assistance I can in action and prayer. 

It is my intention to share brief dispatches from the travels to the camp, and the return. I don’t know what is going to happen. If history is any guide, the Governor of North Dakota and the people from the corporation will unleash more than just German Shepherds. But if history is any guide, there are people within the State Police, within the Sheriff’s office, within the holders of state and corporate power, who have hearts that stir like mine do, whose hearts know a limit was crossed not just last week, but last century, and the one before that. They recognize the lines are old and worn, and the only response now is to be willing to put everything you have on the line. Everything you can muster to act differently than people acted before. To act with integrity and strength in service of turning from destruction to protection of life.  

 I am going to Standing Rock. 

I am going to the Sacred Stone Camp. 

 

A Gift Awaits, slowly unravels: How a Hysterectomy Taught Me To See Life Everywhere

A gift awaits - slowly unravels
Not through revealing, questioning, prodding or working
A gift awaits - slowly unravels
through the quiet of loving and the trust of opening
The willingness to hear, follow, accept and act
marry passion and courage
over and again
welcoming each with the love needed at the time
in the moment
to grow.

The design on the front of the greeting card caught my eye as I walked past the nick-knack shelf in my office. A small bird holds in its beak the base of a very large, and very sparkly, flower. The flower spouts out fuscia-colored rhinestones, like some sort of ruby-volcano-tulip. Glitter-green type spells out the phrase: "Find your song and sing it."

I walk by this card almost every day, and most days I cringe when I see it. It reminds me of a time in my life filled with pain and misery. So why keep it, even though it has such a sweet message? I picked up the card to look inside and decide whether there's a point in keeping the card. When I opened it, I found, written in my own hand, the words that began this post.

Not through revealing, questioning, prodding or working.

In 2011, after experiencing chronic health issues for 3 years that limited my ability to eat, exercise, work, and otherwise be a human, I decided to undergo a partial hysterectomy. In 2008, when I first sought help, the doctors offered surgery right away. I told myself, "I'll do anything BUT surgery" to get better. I'd read all the statistics about the large numbers of hysterectomies in western countries, and I'd read the research showing that many were medically unnecessary. I didn't want to be another woman who, from what I'd read, underwent the knife out of supposed convenience.

Instead of surgery, I went to work on my health. I tried every form of treatment available, spending thousands (and thousands!) of dollars on herbal, homeopathic, and every form of "natural" medicine anyone can think of (yes, even that one that you just thought about). I watched my weight drop because my wrecked body rejected food. I watched my exercise habits disappear because of the physical pain and inflammation. I stopped visiting friends because I didn't feel well enough to socialize. No matter how much I avoided wheat, underwent acupuncture, drank tons of tinctures, smeared my body with herb-filled lotions, underwent massage and energy work, my body's direction continued down hill, wasting away month after month.

A gift awaits - slowly unravels, through the quiet of loving and the trust of opening.

In May of 2011, I lost over 15 pounds in six weeks as my symptoms ramped up to a whole new level. Miserable, I sought refuge and healing from the sand and the water at Sauvie's Island, with the migrating geese and the ever-watchful eagles. When I got there, I felt pretty shaky, but decided I'd just move slowly. On my way from the parking lot to the river I made it halfway across the sand and collapsed. Exhausted and hit with sudden sharp pain, the sand held me while I focused on oxygen. As long as I have oxygen, I thought, I'll be alright. I inventoried my possessions to keep my mind busy and out of panic mode: cell phone, warm clothes, rain coat, keys, wallet. I counted my in and out breaths. Five minutes later my adrenaline kicked in. I pushed myself to sit, then stand, then walk back to the car. Sitting in the driver's seat, I pulled out my phone and placed a call to my gynecologist. This was no way to live. I needed surgery.

The willingness to hear, follow, accept and act.

At the pre-op appointment, I explained that I really didn't want surgery, but that I also couldn't watch my health continue to fail any further. The gyno doc listened. She had suggested surgery three years before, so she was more than used to the idea. She said, "Well, at least you never wanted to have kids, so maybe that will make this whole thing a little bit easier."

I felt punched in the gut. I never told her that I didn't want kids. I think my doc assumed that because of my gender presentation and sexual orientation (butch lesbian) I must not want to have my own baby. Or I must not feel the longing in my own body, my body's ability to create life. The thing is, I did feel all of those things. I'd felt it most strongly in my mid-thirties. I knew that a life was available for me, if I wanted to create it. I could feel it, just there, on the other side of the veil, willing. I could feel the womb in my body respond with a deep longing. As I looked around my life, though, I felt clear that what I wanted most was to be an Aunty, not a mother. I felt the loss that decision generated, felt the available child drift away. Facing a partial hysterectomy, the finality of my body losing the ability to bear a child stirred a deep grief in my being.

Marry passion and courage, over and again.

I decided the best way to approach the whole thing would be to treat the hysterectomy as a kind of ceremony: a purging of 37 years worth of pent up illness, stickiness, sickness that I'd ignored, out of my own confusion and pain. I prepared my heart and spirit ahead of time for the huge release available through the surgery. I asked for help from the spiritual teachers and healers in my life. I asked for a guide to be with me through the process.

Aware that the hysterectomy would be a milestone in my life, an event that would generate a kind of "before and after" moment that people rarely have the opportunity to plan for, I decided to write myself a card in the days leading up to the surgery. I put it in an envelope and left it for myself on the desk. After the surgery, I'd find it. I would come home to a kind of wish for what I could have on the other side, after the release, after the loss of my physical womb.

What did I write? The free verse that began this post.

Welcoming each with the love needed at the time.

Once on the other side of surgery, I didn't feel instantly better. Instead, I moved slowly and experimented with growth. I learned to listen more deeply to the rhythms of my body, of my ovaries, which still cycle, even though I don't still bleed. Four years after a partial hysterectomy, my body, mind, heart and spirit are all strong and full of a vitality I have never experienced before. The health I enjoy today is not a result of the hysterectomy. It's a result of the jagged edge that the health problems I experienced brought me up against, and the choices I made when faced with that edge.  I went to the place where my mind was so attached to a certain rule (no surgery!) and certain beliefs (if I just try and work hard, I'll get better!) and held to these stories while my body deteriorated beyond recognition. To heal required releasing all the stories I had about what it meant to be healthy, and to stoop so low as to utilize western medicine (gasp!). To heal required creating space to separate from the stories of violence, pain, and suffering in my life long enough to release the physical form associated with those stories.

In the moment to grow.

As I read the inside of the card today, in May of 2015, I felt surprised. Wow! That was some wisdom from my pre-hysterectomy self. Why did I forget that I'd written that? Why did I just leave it on the nick-knack shelf and frown whenever I saw it?

 Coyote at the base of the cedar tree - a poor iphone photo taken from a distance.

Coyote at the base of the cedar tree - a poor iphone photo taken from a distance.

I didn't have answers, just habit, so I took Dash out on our usual morning walk through Greenway park. Dash and I were walking along Fanno creek when a coyote ran by, its chocolate coat blending in with the weather-stained cedar fences lining the west side of the park. The coyote jogged onto the paved trail, stopped about a one hundred yards ahead of me, then turned up a trail that led out of the park. I altered my steps until my feet mirrored the coyote's trail. I walked its path cautiously, quietly feeling the quality of coyote.

When I reached the trail junction, I looked up the slight incline and saw the coyote lying at the base of a large cedar tree. I froze, and waited. The coyote watched me, and the street, and the sky. It sniffed, and twisted its head here and there. A biker passed me on the trail, a jogger too, then three more bikes and 4 more joggers. All the while coyote, Dash and me shared the space.

The coyote eventually stood up and walked away, first towards a neighborhood and then back into a more wooded/grassy section of the park. I went on my way as well, looping back towards my house, my heart swelling at the magic of the morning. I turned out of the park onto the neighborhood sidewalk, thinking to myself that I must write about expectancy, and gifts, and the magic of circumstance, and then I saw a hawk feather, on the sidewalk, right at my feet, shed from a newly born hawk.

Post-hysterectomy, I've discovered that although I will never bear a child of my own, life is born around me in every moment. In daily walks around the neighborhood, the earth offers up new life, year round. Coyotes in the morning. Hawk feathers on the sidewalk. Trees, shrubs, and ground cover too many to name, even in the cold frost hours of winter. In relationship with dear friends and family, I celebrate children born into this world. I witness and share the joy of the connection between mother and child, father and child, aunty and child. Post-hysterectomy, I've become a student of that special force we call life, the manifestation of physical form and spirit, in everything around me. I feel life, follow life, listen to life, guard life, nurture life, as I am able, physical womb or no.

I've moved the card off the nick knack shelf and into a more prominent position on my desk. I want to take in the messages the card sends. Every day, I want to look at the front of the card and appreciate the reminder: "Find your song and sing it."

Even when the song is one that I've never heard before, and didn't realize I could sing.