By Rene Villard-Reid
Discussing the interconnectedness of all life is one thing, but to truly experience and know it, is another. In his teachings, “knowing it” meant to interface and truly be a part of nature and existence… to live it, breath it, touch it, hear it and be taught by it. Talking was one thing… walking another.
These lessons have lived in me many years. So, whenever I am in nature, as I am today, it is within these living teachings I walk. Today I have at long last returned to a place which I’ve held in my heart since I left California 15 years ago… the Sequoia National Forest. Please join me and allow yourself to become immersed in an experience of interconnectedness and when the day is over, make these teachings your own. He always said to share everything and pass the gifts along, so, today I pass this blessing to you.
He’d taught me to pause in reverence and respect at any of nature’s thresholds… to humbly ask, with all my heart, to enter. Iit is with this knowledge I stop and await invitation from the gatekeepers of the forest before setting my foot on the trailhead. With closed eyes, I take a deep breath sending my energy down through my feet… down through the powdery dirt and ground pine needles. A faint vibration answers, traveling like a delicate silver chain up my legs and into my body. I wait. Soon, a wisp of crisp autumn breeze caresses my face and disappears. There is no other movement. None is needed. In the language of spirit, I have been granted gracious entry. Nodding my head in thanks and honoring, I take my first step… and pause.
Taking the Time
Listening with my inner ear, I am not disappointed. You see, there is music below the surface of the world’s sounds, just beyond the reach of the five senses. It is different than the breeze soughing through the needles of a pine branch. It is different than the rush of water over granite. It is different than the chitter of a chipmunk or squirrel. It is a music deep and rich as the earth. It is the music of the other world. Can you hear it?
The trees play etheric cellos… branches drawn across invisible strings… with tones deep and resonant. I take another step and place my palm against the rough flesh of a Ponderosa. I know you. I remember you and your woodpecker tattoo, which honors ancient rites of passage marking your wisdom and elder status. Do you remember me?
Beautiful sentinel, I have no tobacco to bless you with today, but take a few strands of my hair in offering. Accept my touch and the beat of my heart. I am grateful for your presence on the earth. Take a little bit of me and know my love for you. Though many years have passed since we last met, I would know your face anywhere. Please accept my gift.
Peace Within Nature
For a brief moment, I am one with tree, its life blood mingling with my own… its breath fragrant within me. I surrender into the moment and am lost within the sweetness of our connection. For awhile, we are as one. There is a change in the air, or was it the rustle of leaves saying it’s time to move along? Thank you, beautiful one. My heart is full.
I turn and travel up the trail allowing my heart to set the pace. The elevation, slight exertion and just being older moderates my speed. It keeps me aware of another heartbeat. A deep unheard frequency. The heartbeat of the mother whose breast I walk upon. Her subtle rhythm echoes his teachings. Walk easy. Walk softly.
If you listen with all your being, it will speak to you. There… right there! Did you hear it? Can you feel it? It pulses and thrums beneath my feet. Solid, firm, comforting. I crouch down and place the palm of my hand on the earthen floor. She’s there. She’s always been there. I whisper. Do you remember me, Mother? Do you remember a young woman who once ran up the trail following the curve of your body… flying as if she had wings? Do you remember her? I remember you. Hello Mother. Blessings, dear Mother. I am home. A tear falls and beads on the path. Please accept my small gift. Know my love for you. My heart is ever yours. Reverently, I withdraw my hand and touch the dirt to my face. I mark my cheeks with her dusty kiss. I am your child.
Slowly rising, I step back onto the trail. It winds, gradually keeping the river in sight. One step in front of another, knees slightly flexed, I keep a thoughtful tempo.
Around a bend, steam rises from a downed tree… the sun’s warmth drying it from the night’s rain. I pause. Moving gently to its side, I pass my hand through the mystical vapor. My gaze travels upward. The sun glints in my eyes and I raise my arms in blessing. The prayer comes effortlessly to my lips as it has so many times in years gone by.
The Great Spirit
Hou Wakan Tanka, Tunkashila… Greetings Great Spirit, Grandfather. I come to you with all my senses… all my being. I have come to gather and make good medicine. Hear me, help me.
Do you remember me? He’d called me Sun Woman. Do you remember?
For a moment, my skin grows warmer as the sun appears to brighten. Facing the golden orb, I lift my voice and sing… Wakan Tanka wase na ya… . He’d taught me to offer song when my hands were empty… offer song as a gift to Spirit. So I sing in praise and love, my voice echoing down the canyon. Accept my gift. Accept my heart.
The forest ceased all movement. It too listened. There was no breeze. No sound of birds or smaller denizens. All held its breath as the chant and music was raised to Father Sky. He’d said that when an offering is good, all of nature agrees and responds to it.
My countenance a golden shield, I was blessed in the sun’s brilliance as the last strains lingered and faded. Its intensity eased and all became as it was before. Rustlings in the underbrush, the scratching of tiny claws on bark and the harsh shriek and clicks of a blue jay announced the movement of time. He had said, when nature pauses, you pause. When nature moves, you move.
Nodding my head in thanks, I return to the trail and its gentle ascent. Rounding a slight turn, familiar granite slabs flowed like thick liquid, unbroken by time. They are polished and smoothed by eons of wind and water. Like a mother’s arms cradled to hold a child, they have molded themselves around the river. Gliding across its floor, the waters spill gently over a curved lip of stone shaped by its own rapid passage.
I make my way down and plant my feet on its solid body.
To Experience It, You Must Feel It
Whorled out by years of swirling waters, I find my shaman hole. The river has receded and left this entrance to the lower world available and open. I approach in deference. Do you remember me? I remember you. You have taught me before. Will you teach me today? May I travel your descending highway and journey within your depths as ancient shamans and medicine people have before me?
I lay beside the carved out pool. The water magnifies within its depths tiny granules of broken and tumbled rock which rest at the bottom. They appear close to the surface, yet I know better.
My belly against the cool stone, I reach in, water to my elbow and extract a small handful of pea-sized grains. Rolling into a sitting position, my eyes close and I turn within. I brush past the rushing and gurgling sounds of the river reaching for the music beyond the surface of sound.
There… can you hear it? Like a magnificent pipe organ, sonorous dark tones ebb and flow pulling me into the depths of a spiraling vortex. The hole coils away like a great earthen worm tunnel. Down, down, down until at last I am poured out into a dimly lit subterranean cave. I have come to a place of great rushing waters. Rivers run deep in the mother like gigantic thundering arteries of life. Deep in the darkness, within her womb, life is lush and verdant.
I am here. I am your servant. Please teach me.
She says, “On the surface, my skin is barren and drought ridden. Thousands of dead trees blanket my hills and mountains. Don’t believe what you see. My heart is still beating. Life is still beating. The waters are still flowing and will ever flow. Believe with your heart, not your eyes. I am strong. It has always been so.”
Humbled, I vibrate with her words and truth. Thank you Great Mother.
My heart calls me like the beat of a drum. I rise upward into the light and the rushing of the river moves me into present time. My eyes open to a crystalline world sharp and bright. Shimmering auras play at the edges of all I behold, reminding me there is the space in between all things where no solidness resides. We are nothing more than space and energy. You, me, the trees, the rocks, a table a chair… intangible space. All about me floats in etheric waves of truth and beauty. In this moment, I am separate from nothing and part of everything.
Tears stream down my face in gratefulness and I share them with the rock and the river. We comingle ourselves and are as one. Take my tears. Take my heart. I love you. I love you. Thank you.
Reluctantly, I take my leave and clamber out of the canyon. Soon I am returned to the trail and retrace my steps. The music accompanies me as I reach out and touch a branch here and a rock there. I am not alone as I reach the end of the trail.
Before leaving, I turn back. Standing strong in spirit, arms raised, I grasp the etheric curtains and drop them down, sealing the way into the other world. Always close the door. Protect the old ones and their energies. His voice echoes in my mind as I thank the guardians and return to the world.
This is an excerpt from my book Sun Woman, Moon Chief and has been rewritten for this article.