Shedding Skin

The bite of a young winter seems to have finally taken hold of the land, after a March-like holiday season. My little joke for the holidays has been that our “culture” lives in crocks and jars in the root cellar, happily canned or fermenting away, not in the shopping malls and big box stores. Our gifts to family and friends more often then not come from the same place under our living room where our culture grows, jars of miso, wine, honey, maple syrup and jam. “Who could ask for anything more?”.

This year, more then ever, I’ve noticed it’s not just the merry façade and mad consumerism of the stores that people can’t stomach, it’s also much of the traditional holiday fair. Refined white sugar, hybrid grains and unnatural fats find there way into the “holiday treats” that we consume in the name of celebration. ‘Tis the season to push aside our bodies needs and indulge our cravings like no other time of the year. It used to be that we all suffered from drinking too much, as I’m sure many still do, but in our circle of family and friends it’s the temptation of unlimited and so called “traditional” treats that we suffer the after effects from now. This time of year is the hardest for those of us with restricted diets. My sister has been dancing with cancer for a number of years and part of that dance is a sugar-free ketogenic diet. She avoids many gatherings to avoid the social pressure to partake of drink and sweets. This year she felt it important to go to a solstice party with her friends from a drumming circle. She arrived with resolve, but when she looked at the feast she wanted to cry realizing that without a word her friends had all made things that she could eat and there was no sugar filled treats. Best present ever. We can always start new traditions.

The New Year, whether solar or calendric always brings to mind the teaching of the snake. I’m not sure where I learnt this teaching. Maybe it was that year long ago when I actually did molt all my skin between solstice and new years. But that’s another story.

Picture your consciousness, your life, like it was a snake moving through the forest, moving through time and space. Over time the snake’s skin gets calcified and thickens to protect it from predation and the rougher aspects of its environment. This thick skin eventually restricts the movement, vision and reactive abilities of the snake. This is also true of humans. Particularly true of our emotional, mental and spiritual bodies. As we move through our days we get set in our thoughts and emotional reactions to that which surrounds us. This saves us the effort of having to deeply think about things and seems like a way we can protect our self from the harsher realities of our life. But the callus doesn’t just stop the unpleasant truths from piercing our consciousness it stops everything from getting through. These set thoughts and feelings don’t really protect us but they make us feel better and like we’re on solid ground and know where we stand. Anyway, the more of these conclusive thoughts and judgments about reality that we have and the more we invest in them, the thicker and more calcified our ideological skin gets. This protective shell clouds our vision and feelings and can restrict us from living in a fresh and compassionate way.

As we move into the New Year, time is presenting us with an example, and an opportunity for us to shed our restrictive outer casing. A chance to let go of who we think we are and move out into the world with the vulnerability and courage of a new born. To once again be our deepest self and perceive the world, our self and all things with an open heart. To see life and our place in it as it is, without judgment or attachment.

Without understanding this teaching we cannot grow, move forward or be in the moment. This teaching isn’t given just to do this shift once or twice a year like Grandfather Sun but is a reminder for us to do this in each emerging moment. Life can be a meditation where we move through time like molten metal or lava flowing down a hill. In each moment we must leave behind the last, to be fully present in the now. Pushing out from our core, breaking free from the solidifying surface judgments that encase us, again and again. We can perpetually be giving birth to new consciousness.

If you’re new to the site or newsletter, and you’ve read this far, you may be asking, “what’s all this got to do with The Sacred Gardener? What this got to do with Gardening, Foraging, Building, Crafting, or Healing with wild plants? The simple answer is, that without this moment-to-moment consciousness you cannot work with the Earth in a co-creative way. Without this shedding of preconceptions it’s not possible to have any real interactive co-creative relationships. We may want to learn to work with the Earth and develop skills, just like we may want to find a lover and court them, but without learning to be in the moment and feel the ‘other’ within ourselves we will never actually be in the heart of life, never really be with the one you love.

For years I have been teaching Earth wisdom skills, and this is a fairly easy sell. “Come to a workshop and learn traditional skills that will bring you closer to the Earth”. But the deeper gift that apprentices and workshop participants have received from their time here is not the skills, but the feeling of how beautiful life can be when we are connected with the Wild spirit of the Earth. This is more important then any skills because intuitively we all know that this wild Spirit is that from which we all came and to which we will all return, that from which all traditional skills come and that which walks with us, however distantly, through our lives. When we feel the presence of that Spirit we know that She is the only real thing and that the rest of our “life” is just the casings we will leave behind.

Even though this truth is at the core of what The Sacred Gardener has to offer, it is seldom spoken about. This is not just because of the wild Spirits ephemeral nature but because this is a much harder sell and monumental thing to teach. While teaching or learning the outer form of traditional skill’s is fairly strait-forward; demonstration, understanding and practice. To bring the deeper teachings to bare and to practice these traditional skills in an sacred (ecologically/spiritually integrated) way is truly a challenging one. This is because it requires that those who are learning shift something deep in their consciousness. And this shifting is not just a matter of will, intellect or physical skill but is a matter of Spirit over which we have little control. I do my best to guide people to think about and perceive the Wild world in a way that will allow their spirits to move out from their core. By helping people understand history and how we got this way I can help peel away our cultural prejudices. And by explaining and showing folks that there are other Earth centric ways of doing and seeing things, I can lay out a path for them to step forward into another reality. But understandings and perceptions is not something we can change overnight. It takes time and practice, years to undo the knots we’ve tied to hold fast to the culture that we’re from.

While this task of undoing may seem impossible at times, I still feel after thirty some years of teaching that it’s the most important step in coming back to the Earth. That to learn to see and interact with the spirit of the land is for me the only thing worth living for, and the only thing that will save our souls and the generations to come from the ecological/spiritual genocide. And that there is nothing more rewarding than to help someone discover or remember who they really are.