Winter Solstice

Winter Solstice is upon us, symbol of death and rebirth that inspires the shaping of new beginnings, new ways to turn the wheel of life. The longest night of the year will pass, and the return of light will begin.  As the darkest moments of this season depart, open your thoughts and intentions to living more and more fully in the light.

Holly Bush

Holly Bush

Gather one or more of the mystical plants of this special time of year, and decorate your home – holly and ivy, oak and mistletoe. (Virginia Beach has created recent blogs about these seasonal plants that will delight and engage you.)  Let their presence support the wonderful transformation toward the light celebrated throughout the world.

Pine Cone

Pine Cone

Find a pine cone; cupping it in your hands, blow into it the fears and sadness you feel for the wounded Earth; for the departure of ways of living that we’ve blindly drifted into; for a sense of helplessness in the face of disharmony among the peoples of the Earth; for personal concerns. Gather the threads of disillusion, of worry, of darkness, and wind them into the pine cone with your breath.  Build a bonfire. As the fire begins to flare, add the pine cone to the flames, setting your intent to release the helplessness and apprehension you’ve been carrying. Free your spirit for creative dreaming, for opening the way to notice the new sparks of light over the coming weeks. You’ll find them in peoples’ actions, attitudes, in plants beginning to emerge – a myriad of moments revealed in your willingness to be open to them.

Mistletoe

Mistletoe

And on January 17, join me at Mt. Hamilton, where we’ll enjoy the beauty of enormous mistletoe clusters nestled among bare oak branches.  We’ll talk story of the mistletoe’s special gifts to our awareness.  Between now and then, let the season’s dreamtime drift you through the long winter nights.

BP Oil Spill and You

The BP oil spill has electrified consciousness worldwide; we are all participating in this catastrophe. As oil billows into the ocean, we are connected visually through TV with vital systems of the earth. We see the functioning of the earth’s body, the very processes of the earth’s life changing before our very eyes. Anguish and anger flood over us as images bring home the immensity of the event.

Many have felt the helplessness of the slow wheels of bureaucratic action, and of not being directly able to rescue endangered lives of birds and sea creatures. Initial shock and fury emerged at revelations of ruthless management decisions and inadequate government regulations.

Personal responsibility is harder to see; our lives, so enriched by the contributions of oil’s energy, blind us to needed changes in life styles. But life-changing shifts in awareness can overcome the numbing helplessness toward witnessing such an overwhelming event.

A fundamental principle of ecopsychology reminds us that all life on the planet is interconnected; the empowering implication is that personal changes will put us into more harmonious connections with the ecological systems that sustain all life on earth. If we don’t learn to manage our partnership with the elements of nature, it’s likely to lead to further catastrophes.

BP’s poor decisions and choices that led to this spill are not separate from our thinking and actions. Close to home, other issues exist that profoundly affect water, air, and soil health exist – to name a few, building where endangered species are threatened, willingness to overlook toxic spills into local waters, food supply that travels thousands of miles to reach us instead of food grown locally.

They’re issues that involve our life styles, and involve political and economic issues. The more crowded the planet becomes, the more important we learn to live harmoniously – not only with other human beings, but also with other life forms. In the immediacy of our own lives and environments, we can build the strength and awareness to make personal, political and economic intervention more meaningful.

The helplessness we might experience about affecting the BP oil spill can be shifted as we change our own relationship to energy, and as we attend to the local environment. Here, more immediate and direct experiences help us face the basis of the issues, and develop clarity in shaping realistic intentions for political and environmental involvement in the larger picture.

One nearby example just south of San Francisco is San Bruno Mountain, called one of 18 global hotspots of biodiversity. Here, the struggle to survive is played out, as endangered species hold the line against extinction.  Mountainwatch.org continuously defends  threatened species through educational projects, hands-on restoration, and numerous activities that provide pleasure and learning – visits to ancient shell mounds and unique plant environments, sacred dancing, meditation walks, oral tradition nights.

Over the next few months on the mountain, Circling San Francisco Bay will present two series of events that will provide opportunities from different vantage points to explore personal relationships to the wisdom embodied by endangered species.  Guided visualizations, biomimicry,  ecopsychology events that help people explore deep ecology, personal connection with the natural world.

A series called “Last of the Lineage“,  will focus on a number of endangered species on the mountain, beginning with butterflies and their habitats.  Another series, “The Feminine at this Moment of Transformation”, will begin in September, and will include among the experiences a unique journey on  San Bruno Mountain, as well as other sacred sites that surround San Francisco Bay. Applications are being taken for participation in a 2011 series of visits to six sacred sites that surround San Francisco Bay.

A Living Oral Tradition Emerges on San Bruno Mountain:

Last Thursday at the foot of the mountain, the cozy space of the San Bruno Mountain Watch office in Brisbane was the venue for a wonderful night – a night that evolved into a lively, heartfelt sharing of personal tales of growing up on the mountain and elsewhere, mixed with the traditional poetry of Rumi, Mary Oliver, and other favorites.

The gathering unexpectedly took on a life of its own, when a seed was thrown into the circle by asking the dozen or so people in the group to share something as they introduced themselves about the source of their interest or involvement with oral tradition – the parent, grandparent, teacher, special person or situation that had piqued their interest in stories, song, or sharing out loud.

From the moment of those simple introductions, we brought those special figures from the past into the circle – the memories of them, and the way they live in us. The power they exercised in us came to life. They were present through their humor and wisdom, and colored the evening with laughter and tenderness. They created a different sense of what each individual present brought to the gathering before they’d even begun to share the tales themselves.

People had come from various places in the Bay Area, but we were bound together that night by the personal stories of the elders who’d been our inspiration, as well as the reckless adventures of youth out and about in nature. We opened our hearts and ears to one another in an unusually profound and welcoming manner. Scattered through the personal narrations were poetry, chanting, and traditional story-telling from various traditions. Those traditional stories gave the night a framework to which we could return again and again.

San Bruno by Stephen DuPraw
Why does the mountain need a patron saint?
It is what it is and it ain’t what it ain’t.
A big pile of rocks with some trees and shrubs,
A blue butterfly and a few thousand grubs,
The brilliant sun and the foggy wind,
Surely not touched by original sin.

Does a patron saint need to patronize?
Or can he behold with his holy eyes,
What comes to pass in the world around,
And rabble-rouse with a sacred sound,
That raises the people to a lofty height,
And brings them down to set things right?

But then, which is patron, mountain or man?
San Bruno, we’re doing the best that we can.
We need your help and your towering gaze,
If we’re to steer through the bewildering maze,
And keep back the pavement that threatens your side,
Like you, we don’t have the option to hide.

As the evening wound to a close, many shared the hope that future Oral Tradition nights would be recorded; the stories of the evening were the kind that could easily be lost, and there’s a freshness to sharing out loud that helps us remember details that we carry without being conscious of them. And when one person’s tale taps the theme of another’s personal story, we get to experience the overlap among cultures, and the variations on the playing out of what makes a close family, a close community, a sense of belonging.

In my practice of ecopsychology, I’m often privileged to witness the weaving of peoples’ feelings, attitudes, and experiences with places in nature, with the life forms we encounter, with the web of life. But this evening was a spontaneous and unusual addition, with the inclusion of ancestral threads. It gathered those filaments into the present moment, the present place.

Join us when Mountain Watch again sponsors an Oral Traditions night (see them listed under special events on my website, www.eco-psychology.com . Or join us May 16 when Mountain Watch presents an Intergenerational Walk on San Bruno, bringing generations together in another way –a walk gentle enough for elders and adventurous enough for children (also listed on the website, www.eco-psychology.com