Monday, October 17, 2011

along the trail

Yesterday we went up into the Sangre de Cristos Mts. Probably the last journey up till June, when the snow has melted...unless i am brave enuf to snowshoe up the mt...which is not likely!  It turned out to be a perfect day to see the "aspen glow."  Parts of the trail were dry, but other sections were like a riverbedm, complete with trickling water, or muddy, slushy or icy from the shade of the tall pines and the feet of many hikers.

taos mt out my east window

  The trail was a great reminder of mindful walking, and the importance and joy of staying in the present. As in - BE HERE NOW!
        Note: Mindful walking is relaxed walking where one is connected to  each footstep and how our body and movement relate to gravity and to the surfaces of the earth.
    I have been reading about the "mind" again recently, according to Buddhist perspective. How random thoughts are floating through just about constantly, not good or bad, but taking us away from being in the moment. Being in the present moment. What exactly is that, how does it "feel" and how do we know when we have slipped out of the present and into the past or future.

The book I am reading refers to fantasies, which i find a very helpful description. As long as I was simply walking, sun on my face, the sweet and sharp scent of the pines, my step on the slippery slopes and rocks, all was well.

But if for a moment I stopped  receiving the experience I was having and began, instead, to plan how i would write this blog! :) or what great metaphors I was observing, or if i entered into a "conversation" I would have later about all this, then swoosh! i would lose my footing. I did not fall, but each short slide demanded that i regain my balance and alerted me to the fact that i was fantasizing and not being present. This may sound obvious, noticing moments of not being present, the moments of fantasizing, but try it for yourself . Walk somewhere that takes attention and see what happens!

All in all it was a glorious day. Its about 3/4 of a mile to the trailhead, and then another 2 miles uphill to Lake Williams, at 11,000 feet. Lake Williams sits in a bowl beneath snow covered Wheeler Peak, 13,000 ft. and the highest point in New Mexico. At the Lake, wind blows through the tall pine trees and marmots shout warnings about visitors, while gray jays seeking food will fly to an open palm and delicately snatch a piece of cracker or cheese.

I have been feeling alot of physical tension lately...but this walk and a 4 mile walk on an easier trail the day before, have left me feeling wonderful today. No tension in my neck or shoulders, no pain anywhere. Why...Partly from being in nature, partly enjoying the changes in the trail, the increasing amount of snow among the trees, the surprising beauty when slants of sunlight came through, stripes of deep golden light among the dark wet trees, but perhaps above all, the hours of silently watching the trail and watching my mind! Maybe the attraction to "risky sports" is that they call us to be mindful, fully aware and alive, using all the senses and capacities we were made with and designed to use.

Thich Nhat Hahn says, "present moment, perfect moment. " Some diagree, after all the moment might hold pain or any number of "imperfections" and unwanted aspects. But perhaps, in a way, no matter what the moment "holds" it may be that it is the act of being present - of being in the moment with all our senses, that is the perfection, the perfect moment of our life.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Where the Wild Things Are!

Its gorgeous today, after 2 days of much needed rain, in a season of record breaking heat and very, very little moisture. Coyotes have recently snatched at least 2 small dogs, there is barely a rabbit to be seen and a female bear and her 2 cubs have been spotted on the mesa, moving away - in the ways bears do- from humans and dogs. They are headed to the river,  probably hoping for a nice compost pile or two to tide them over on their journey.
   The mountains appear to be close to my home but they are really miles away. These bears have had many homes and dogs to avoid and miles of arroyos and open land to navigate. Staying alive is a fierce inspiration.
   Many homes have been built over the 30 years that i have lived on this mesa and we now have 1 mile of pavement. But this area remains a spacious landscape where wild and domestic life co-exist and nature makes her wild self well known, whether or not we care to know her! 
      The dictionary defines Wild as: "Living or growing in the natural environment; not domesticated or cultivated."  
    Nature is wild; and living in a place where we have to engage with that wildness is a blessing and a challenge.
       I now have a very different relationship to the elements that I did as a kid in Brooklyn. At that time a good snowstorm meant a day off school, and the opportunity to play in snow drifts. Rain was a source of entertainment when i could trace raindrops on the windows, but it "ruined" picnics and it was awful to be on the subway, packed in with dozens of wet people.  I never considered where my drinking water came from and the tap never ran dry. Water was something to cook with, bathe in, or use to wash dishes, but never offered as a drink!  Its common to offer a glass of water to guests in Taos!
    When i was in grade school I realized that the earth had been covered with cement by human beings - that without that cement I would be walking on the same earth that lay untended in the lot that i passed by on my way to school.  I was stunned. Who did that and when! and why?
      I was reading The Secret Garden at the time and wanted a secret garden of my own quite desperately. Since then I have discovered a secret garden, the one that grows inside me and can be expressed outside myself.  
    The garden inside me is wild.
     The icy winter winds in NYC made walking to work in Manhattan a bitter journey. It could be exhilerating i never considered the purpose of wind in the great scheme of things. I never saw wind at work, connecting us to all parts of the world, till I moved to New Mexico 42 years ago.
     Earth, water, fire, air and space are unescapable, active and welcome elements in my life on the mesa. They are WILD and their wildness teaches me and rejuvenates me and inspires me in simple and profound ways.
      I drink my well water, its delicious, and during seasons of little rain we conserve it, saving the dish water and using it to water plants. The wind blows quite fiercely in the Spring and when fires happen hundreds of miles away we are reminded that we live on the same globe, all of us in it together. Its an important reminder.
       It was 24 below zero this winter, with very little snow.  These cold days made me acutely aware of the blessing of a sun rise! Our ancestors knew that, and sang to the sun at dawn.
       I have learned to appreciate the necessity of snow here, not just as something beautiful on the mountains but as a crucial element for life on the mesa. Our slow growing, beautiful pinon trees need snow. Without snow they are vulnerable to insects and many acres of forest land has dead and dying trees. We and all living things here depend on snow and the precious insulation and water it provides.  And its "Wild water" that we need, there is no way a well can keep this 8 acres alive! 
     There is other wild life that journeys across the mesa. Deer come by when they can, night hawks make their nests on the ground among the sagebrush, flickers and finches and hummingbirds, titmouse and chickadees, raucous pinon jays and of course the sky-grazing ravens, who are a source of wonder as they swoop across the sky, riding the currents.
     An occasional hawk is here, and now and then owls, and songbirds i never quite manage to see. There are fewer snakes, because the dogs discourage those, but large, slow moving tarantulas make their way to and from their underground nests, depending on the season.  I could go on and on naming "smaller and smaller wildlife."
    I am reminded of a morning prayer at Zuni, during Shalako. I was told that the prayer, which is sung while stars are still in the sky, is praying to/for and naming every part of life, starting with the small unseen molecules that we evolved from.  I remembered that yesterday, and then picked up a book called Thinking Like a Mountain, Towards a Council of All Beings, which encourages us to remember those humble molecular beginnings.
     I think that the Council of All Beings has always been in session. Our interconnectedness with the elements that sustain us is inescapable, but our appreciation of that connection and our active participation has been lacking.
    Regardless,WE ARE, like it or not, relatives of the Wild Things, and if we listen carefully and move just a little slower we can feel it, that wildness that still lives in us and all around us.    

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Sitting on the Ledge

  I often learn about myself and human nature in general, observing the creatures that i share the planet with.  Just the other day i heard a rattling sound that seemed to be coming from my woodstove. This usually indicates that a bird has somehow flown down the chimney pipe and is struggling in an inch or two of (luckily) cold ash. I have never figured out how or why they do that.
     I carefully opened the stove lid. Yup. There it was, a small grey bird, a little finch of some kind almost the same color as the ashes. I closed the lid, got a small towel and tried to gently capture him so i could release him/her out into the blue sky from which she came.   
    No such luck. She flew past me, hit the wall, fell to the floor, stumbled for a few minutes and then flew up onto the ledge of the clerestory that runs the southern length of my home.The clerestory is a 50 ft expanse of glass, made up of 7 separate windows, that provides solar heat for the house in the winter.
    Our cat, startled by the commotion and my involvement in it, decided not to chase the bird, and ran and hid in the bedroom! A decision I very much approved.
   Now I had a small bird throwing herself repeatedly against the glass.
   i tried to coax her off the ledge with a straw broom, but only succeeded in displacing quite a bit of dust onto the floor. I talked to her, "showing" her the open door just a few feet from where she sat on the ledge.  That did not seem to work either.
   I hoped she'd eventually get tired enough that i could use a ladder, pick her up with a cloth and take her outside.Then I gave the broom, and the bird, another chance. "Come on," I said with enthusiasm, whisking the broom along the ledge, "there's the open door, liberation awaits you!"
  Lo and behold, she hopped from one window ledge to another, flew to the open screen door, clung to it for a moment and then, when my back was turned, flew away.
   I've been seeing her since then, in the branches of a tree beside my house.
   I was reminded of a Mayan healer saying to me, "Rose, you bang your head against the wall, instead of walking through the door!" My response at the time was that I didn't see the door, otherwise I'd use it!
   I have many doors in my home, several of them lead outside.
   So i wonder, am I still inclined to throw myself against the glass, seeking the sky, but somehow not seeing the door that stands open, the way to life,  liberation and the spaciousness sky I seek?
   Are you? 

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Descent and Return, A Journey to Enliven One's Heart

Descent & Return
The journey to enliven one’s heart.

A myth is like a stone dropped into the still waters of a clear lake; creating ripples in ever widening circles that reach the shore, inviting us to enter at any point and offering to orient us along the path.

In the ancient Sumerian myth of Queen Inanna, ruler of the Upper Worlds of Heaven and Earth and Queen Ereshkigal, ruler of the Lower Realm, we are introduced to a primal human experience.

The story presents one map for working with the full range of our individual experience- claiming all of who we are - so that our vitality and full presence in the world can be revealed.

We’ll use poetry, sand tray, journaling, discussion and time in nature to enter the territory of this timeless myth. Together, we’ll explore the guidance it offers for engaging with grief and loss and investigate ways to integrate the personal and collective wisdom illuminated by our own cyclical journeys of descent and return.

Where: Hondo Mesa Zendo
When: Friday, August 19, 6:30pm-8:30 pm
Saturday August 20th, 10 am to 5:00 pm
Sunday, August 21st 10-1pm

Fee: $150.00 includes materials & a light meal on Saturday
For Registration Details Call: 575 776 8705 or 505 310 2765 or email

Class Maximum: 12

Presenter, Rose Gordon has facilitated workshops and retreats since 1997. Her decades of scholarship, training and professional work includes a special degree in Hospice & Grief Counseling, serving as Director and Faculty Member for Upaya Zen Center’s Being with Dying Program, working as a Deputy Investigator for N.M. Office of the Medical Investigator and facilitation of Training Programs for Healthcare Professionals, Family Caregivers, Hospice Staff and Community Members in New Mexico, Colorado, Boston, New York and Dubai. Currently Ms. Gordon is Manager of Volunteer Services at VistaCare Hospice in Santa Fe, N.M.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Meditation, Imagination and the Creation of Sanctuary

As part of the Taos Sacred Places Summer Celebration I will be facilitating a retreat called Meditation, Imagination and the Creation of Sanctuary on July 17th and 18th of this year. We'll begin our time together with calm-abiding meditation, to refresh the mind/body and free ourselves to observe our world with clear and open eyes.

Thich Nhat Hahn offers this description of this sort of meditation - to see ourselves as a stone tossed gently into a river and coming to rest in the sandy river bottom, completely held by the sand and able to watch our thoughts flow by like the river's water, as we remain at ease on the river bed. In the meditation we'll practice together, it will be the breath that we can come home to, rest in and be held in.

We'll use the refreshed, spacious perspective that meditation offers us to fuel a lively engagement with stories from the world's wisdom tradition and personal encounters with images, objects and the natural world; so that each of us can shape a 3 dimensional representation of our inner sanctuary.

We'll have time for discussion and shared silence as well as time outside among the pinon and juniper trees.

Creating Sanctuary
Sanctuary can be defined as a consecrated place where sacred objects are kept, a refuge from danger or hardship, a sacred and inviolable asylum. 

What might that mean to each of us?  What do we need to create a space that can offer us rest and safety, a space that can remain stable in the  turbulence and turmoil of the world? 

Is it a place to hide? Is it a space that provides a constant source of
re-fresh-ment, so we can be in the world fearlessly and do what needs to be done?

I hope you will join me on July 17th and 18th, from 9 am - 5 pm to discover your own answers and shape your personal sanctuary.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Lessons from Ixchel and the Fer-de-Lance

Its a gorgeous day today, with birds of all sizes singing in the pinon trees. While its getting warmer here on the mesa, elk and deer are coming down from the mountains where the deep snow makes food scarce and the bobcats are following them, even to a city street in Santa Fe. Truly! What a combination of emotions that news aroused in people.

There is the thrill of picturing that bobcat roaming the courtyard walls and alleyways of a Santa Fe neighborhood along with the awe (which the dictionary says is respect and wonder mixed with fear) and the caution that is needed when a predator is so close to home. That particular bobcat was tracked and transported to the Carson National Forest, much to the relief of people with cats, dogs and small children.

 In my neighbor on the mesa, where a bobcat did eat several chickens, the end was quite different. It was pursued by a local dogpack, or coyotes and died when it chose an electric pole as its way to safety.

Of course wild life is not inherently dangerous. The pathways of wild and the domestic intersect all the time. Its just that certain seasons make it all more visible. The Tarantulas that spend the winter in their chosen spots on my land will begin to appear soon, walking slowly across the mesa, large enough to make dogs bark, slow enough not to be too scary.

I saw a shiny black widow in the wellhouse last week so I made enough noise to get her to retreat back into her small cave as i descended to check on the pump. But i know she's ready to lay many eggs. And when i walk on the mesa these days I do recall that I have seen a rattlesnake sunning herself at a certain spot on the trail I walk with my dog. Nothing to be frightened of, but plenty to be aware of...

All kinds of wildness is emerging, becoming more visible and reminding me of its existence. And then, the other night, this dream...

I dreamt that a fer-de-lance, the most dangerous and territorial snake in Belize, had somehow entered my home. I opened a door and used sweeping motions of a kitchen broom to "shoo" it out the door. Then I closed the door firmly behind it. It did not give up so easily and when it tried to get into the house again my efforts to stop it with the broom only seemed to enrage it.

 I cannot recall what made it finally leave the doorway to my home. But I do recall that i saw it outside. Night had fallen. Our struggle had consumed the daylight hours and outside in the dark of the night, I could see that the snake had glowing designs on its back and seemed mysterious and beautiful.

 Since that dream I've been remembering what Basilo, a Mayan man in Southern Belize, taught me about how he deals with this snake. I'm also wondering why the snake has appeared now in my dreamworld and what the dream might be telling me i need to be tending in my waking world.

At the time of my visit to Belize Basilo and his family were living in San Ignacio Toledo, not far from Guatemala. Basilio is a strong believer in the rainforest's place in his peoples lives and an advocate for its preservation and re-vitalization.  The area behind his house was filled with cuttings of copal trees, annatto and medicinal herbs that were getting harder and harder to find as the people continued their slash and burn farming techniques in oder to feed their families.

“We have to walk farther and farther to find these plants,” Basilio told me, “So I hope to plant them here and start reseeding this area around the village.”  His other activities included encouraging traditional music and dance celebrations and working to maintain traditional communal ownership of the land rather than see it privatized and developed by outside interests.

During the time of my visit Basilio was walking to his milpa early every morning.  To get there he traveled through the rainforest - home to the fer-de-lance. I'd read that the fer de lance is a very poisonous snake. And prone to attacking people. So I asked Basilio what happens when one encounters a fer-de-lance in the rainforest during such an early morning walk to the milpa.
Basilio’s answer was direct, surprising and instructive.  “Well,” he said, “this is the most bad tempered snake in the forest. Everyone knows that. And they like to lie right across the path. So I tell it, move out of my way or I will chop you in half with my machete”.  It is a mix of unshakeable intention and commitment to action that Basilio expresses when he speaks to this dangerous snake because he knows that faltering could be fatal.

I was stunned. “Basilio", I asked, “Couldn’t I just say hello and please don’t hurt me.?” Basilio looked at me with surprise and a bit of dismay. “Rose”, he told me, “You will have big problem.”  That evening Basilo asked if I'd like to walk to the milpa with him in the morning.  I declined.  Today I like to think that I would take that walk.

On my wall in Taos I have an embroidery of the Mayan female healer, IXCHEL, that was made by Basilio's wife, Maria. It depicts IXHEL sitting on her knees, with a red and black snake, perhaps the Mayan coral snake, on her head and medicinal plants in her two hands.

“You must master the snake,” Basilio told me. “I know Americans do not like the words slave and master, but you must master the snake. Then you can use its powers for healing.”

Over a decade later these words continue to come to mind. On one level there is the absolute necessity to see what is really in front of me…not what I hope is in front of me but what is not turn my face away from the details of a situation or person.  Its important not to fool myself, thinking a bad tempered snake will become capable of withholding its conditioning or its poison if I find the right words to say --  In a dangerous situation I need complete commitment to radical and fearless action.
Its easiest for me to see the dream as a reminder that its my own poisons that I must master…anger, envy, hatred, pride and that whole familiar list. If I understand and master these, their poison will be transformed and the energy they hold can serve as medicine.  I do believe that is true.

But I just learned something else about Ixchel, whose healing powers include mastering a poisonous snake. According to one narrative she lived with an abusive diety who she was assured would straighten up and treat her right. But he didn't. So Ixchel fled and became a jaguar, and like the jaguar, she was "invisible" when she needed to be. 

It's said that Ix-Chel teaches us to acknowledge the negative forces that affect our lives and assert ourselves when faced with violence of any kind. Assert ourselves fully in situations that would diminish our sense of self, erode our understanding of who we truly are. Assert ourselves, stand for ourselves, without hesitation or doubt. And stand for others as well, with the same commitment and steadfastness.
In this season of Easter and Passover, which both tell stories of courageous sacrifice and commited journeys, perhaps the dream is a reminder for me to see the forces at play around me fearlessly and respond with the dedicated action and persistence that is needed...even if that task consumes the day.

Monday, February 22, 2010

When Clouds Obscure the Sky

 My house has many windows and this morning they all looked out on a vista of green and white. Snow. Again. Still. I sat by the fire and watched it fall. All kinds of snow. Big wet snowflakes, tiny hard shards of snow, snow falling gently, snow blowing almost horizontally. Sometimes I couldn't see the mountains or the valley.  The sky was white, the falling snow was white, the ground was white. The pinon trees were heavy with snow and a few hardy, hopeful juncos hopped among the branches that hang over the east deck; looking for birdseed.

For  hours the snow blotted out the distant views of mountains and gorge.It also seemed to blot out time, replacing the pace of minutes and hours with a steady rhythm of its own, one that defies the clock.  Minutes and hours change in a steady predictable pattern and pace. Every day. But its hard to predict exactly when the snow will start...or end...or begin again.

Its irrational, but when all I can see is snow I start to think that its snowing everywhere. That there is possibly no end to the snow. After all, I cannot see beyond it. Which is true of another circumstance in my life... The recession (and its effects on the job market) a circumstance which, like this snow storm, seems to have its own pace and sometimes takes up my entire view.

Then I remember --- If you look through a window and all you can see is a storm cloud filling the entire view you can make the window frame bigger and you'll see that the storm cloud has a beginning and end. It arises and dissolves. And beyond the storm cloud is a blue sky, untouched by the storm passing over it.

So I decided it was time to re-frame my relationship to this snowy day. I swept and shoveled a path to the wood pile, 3 times, maybe 4, happy to taste the cool wet air.  I knocked snow off the low hanging pinon branches outside my front door and laughed as cold snow slipped down my collar.

Later the clouds parted to reveal blue sky and my house filled with sunshine, making the hours of falling snow seem like a dream.  I put on boots, grabbed a hat and ski poles and headed for the deep snow in the arroyo, revelling in the trackless mounds of pure, cold white against the dark wet branches of the evergreens. Things changed again; the sun disappeared behind a thick mountain of clouds and the snow fell thick and fast.  A biting, blowing snow, challenging and exhilerating.

I moved up the hillside in the knee high snow, confident in these familiar surroundings and then a sense of curious wonder as I looked around and did not recognize where I was. Had I had turned a corner in the blowing snow and entered new territory? How could I re-orient myself? I looked at the shape of the land, looked for landmarks. How odd to feel disoriented on land I had known for 30 years.

Peering through the falling snow I saw buildings in the distance and realized that of course was not lost.
I had just never seen my land from this particular viewpoint or under these conditions. I was seeing things from a new angle and was touched by the humble loveliness of the shed, the old red truck, the grey weathered planks of a falling fence.

My relationship to finding work is alot like this short journey in the snow. In one sense I'm in a familiar landscape.  After all, I have known myself for a long time. At the same time, in this search for satisfying, sustaining full time work I am moving through trackless territory and I am seeing both myself and the world of work from a new angle, under new conditions.

There is a purity of possibility in this unmarked landscape, as well as a feeling of surprise and curiosity about coming upon the unfamiliar in this way, at this time in my life. It's somewhat disorienting and raises questions of "where am I, where do I belong and how shall i get there?" 

In this case, while I'm looking outside at the lay of the land I am also looking inside to re-orient to a sense of self that cannot be defined by resumes, interviews, emailed rejections or even a great paying job. A "self " much larger than this passing storm.