Thursday, March 26, 2009

Shaking Medicine

A song flew into my ear this morning, slipping through the window I had cracked hours before. I opened my eyes to find a room still dark, and a first-blush of dawn sliding across the sky. I heard the bird sing again. Perhaps it was that first-of-the-season, spring-signaling red wing blackbird that Kyra spied the other day. Or maybe it was one of the many starlings making nests under our eaves. The song floated through once more. I smiled. You can’t stop spring.
The tomato plants we planted in the paper cups left over from our Genesis concert are popping their heads up to take a peek around. It has been just over a week since Jessica, Kyra, Kai and I filled those cups on a sunny stoop, lined them in shoe boxes, and began our watering routine. Tiny weed heads sprouted first, but now furry fronds are finally poking out and lifting their chins to the world. They are so fragile, so indomitable--the force of life breaking out, breaking forth, breaking free.
Everyone seems to be doing it—the birds, the cows, the rooster and the duck. The rooster and the duck? We haven’t decided whether the rooster thinks he is a drake, or whether the duck imagines herself a hen, but whichever way it is, these two feathered friends flock together. The ardent force of their lonely loins seems to overcome any differences, except for yesterday. When our duck decided to go for a swim with a couple of wild mallards in the pond across the street, our rooster paced the shore crowing with concern. He did not appreciate the competition.
We are waiting for Precious’ calf to come. While Precious was due on the 24th (we think), she is not yet showing signs of being ready to pop. She has not yet "bagged out": her udder is small and slack. Nor are the muscles around her tail soft and sunken. We know, however, the birth is going to happen. It will.

Meanwhile my small traveler is thrusting about with a life of its own. I can barely imagine the choreography it is taking to make such tattoos on my belly. The lumps and bumps, pressing and receding, fill me with delight in anticipation of what is coming: a new being, happening now, happening every day, happening soon.
I went to a terrific conference this weekend at Duke University on the healing powers of music and dance. The keynote speaker was Bradford Keeney, a scholar and shaman who has traveled the world studying bodily movement in healing traditions from Africa and South America, through North America to Japan.

Keeney applauds western cultures for how well we have appropriated the meditative strands of non-western religions. As he notes, the Relaxation Response, made handy by Herbert Bensen and others, is now a ready cure relied on for many ills: migraines to mental illness, cancers to colds.

However, Keeney insists, we have missed the other arc in the rhythm of healing. In addition to relaxing deeply, we also need to wake ourselves up, arouse our senses, and raise and release the creative energy stuck in our bodies by engaging in vigorous bodily movement. Shaking medicine he calls it.

Shaking medicine, as he defines and practices it, is all about (what I have described as) cultivating a sensory awareness of our bodies as the movement that is making us. Shaking we learn what our bodies know about how to participate in the rhythms of our own becoming. We tap our healing energy, and let it happen through us.
Shaking, healing, springing forth. Healing happens, spring happens, with a force that cannot be stopped. It is what our bodies do; it is what the earth does. It is our very life, constantly being born, constantly recreating itself, until the day we die.

Is it a coincidence that I heard Keeney speak on the eve of spring?

In every moment, the thrust of life is charging through us, breathing, beating, breaking forth. With every movement we are creating ourselves, singing and dancing ourselves into existence, creating the relationships with others that will support us in becoming who we are. As we do, we heal. We find ourselves moving in ways that do not recreate the patterns of pain and hurt in which we are stuck. It is what our bodies know.

Spring is here, and we remember the regenerative power lodged in our lungs and limbs. Catching songs in our ears, we hear new life. Stretching in the sun, we dance.
When I was gone, Jordan decided it was time to plant potatoes. He hoed six furrows, twenty feet long. He marshaled Jessica to help him cut potatoes into two-eyed chunks, and urged Geoff to buy another bag. Kyra counted the 100 pieces they made. Then, followed by Kai, all four kids went out to push their potato promises into the softened earth. The thoughts of nourishing their bodies nourished their souls. Aligning their energies with the growing, thrusting force of spring, their enthusiasm was contagious. The movements they were making were making them.

What should we plant? How should we move? What shall we sing?
What will grow if we do?

For more information about Keeney, see this article or this interview.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Yoking, Yearning & Yoga

Kyra is drawing explosive, volcano flower sunbursts.

Jessica is plotting plant patches for her garden.

Kai wants to ride one of the puffy white clouds that dangle in the blue.

And Jordan is training his bull calves.

As I move through the postures of my yoga routine, the thought forms: it’s all yoga. Yoga: the Sanskrit word for “union,” and a root form of our “yoke,” means to join or connect, to form a bond. In yoga, a practitioner breathes into bodily shapes that draw our sensory selves into the present, so we can unite with ourselves, unite with what is. In all these activities too, these kids are joining and connecting, creating the relationships that will support them in unfolding what they have to give.

Isn’t this what life is about?
It is not easy to form a yoke.

In order to train his bull calves, Jordan first had to make one: a crossbar pierced by two semi-circle bows that would embrace the calves’ heads. Choosing a slice of birch, he carved a curvy bracket with his draw knife, drilled four holes, and began a regime of linseed oil application. A yogurt container stuffed with an old rag lives by our sink.

Then for the bows, he needed a special kind of hard but bendable wood. After a couple of scouting trips around the farm, he found the perfect shagbark hickory tree—big enough that he needed help felling it. After he and Geoff lopped off the limbs and dragged it back home, Jordan split the log into sixteenths and took out the heart to make two four foot lengths of one-inch chunk. It was hard. Would the wood bend?

We devised an apparatus for the top of our wood stove: on top of a water-filled spaghetti pot with vented lid, we placed with an upside down funnel, on which sat a PVC joint holding a five foot length of PVC piping. It looked like the stove had sprouted rabbit ears. Into the pipe went the bow. After a steamy soak, Jordan took out the wood, held the ends, and bended it like licorice around his knee. One bow bowed, the other quickly followed. Minutes later the bows were as hard again as the wood they were. After drilling some more holes and gathering the proper pins, Jordan’s yoke was ready to go yoking.

At first, the bull calves weren’t so sure about the yoke, but they liked the attention, the nose and neck scratches, and the walks around the yard. By now they seem quite comfortable, pleased to play this pulling game for a few minutes every day. Jordan guides them around the yard with his stick yelling “Gee!” to go right, and “Haw!” to head left. Then he says “Whoa!” and stands in front of them to block their way, his stick a wall. Good thing they are only calves.

The smile on his face when he came in today says it all: “Oh they were so good today!”

Kai agrees.

A yoke is the piece of wood, carved and shaped.

A yoke of oxen is what the calves will become when they pull as one.

To yoke is to join or connect these independent powers in the service of a common goal—becoming one force for action.

The questions arise: What kinds of yokes are we creating for ourselves? With what or whom are we joining? What kind of relationships do we want to create?

What are we yearning to do?

These kids seem to know.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Spring Spots

It was a dark and snowy morn—not what I was expecting. The dark, maybe, with daylight savings and all, but not the snow! The weekend had been so tantalizing—warm and windy. We were thinking, feeling, dreaming of spring. Then more snow? Truth be told, it was not a lot, just a dusting, barely enough to cover the recently revealed ground. Still, I am clinging fast to the first spots of spring.

We are post-Genesis. The concert celebrating creation that kept us hopping and hoping through the winter months came and went (February 27-8). Released from its grip, I have been reflecting on what the concert brought to life.

It was good to be dancing on a big stage, with Geoff beside me playing. We want to do more.

It was good to be working together as a family to get it accomplished. Jordan and Jessica were indispensable front-of-the-house and backstage support. Kyra got people there who otherwise wouldn’t have come. Kai slept through the first night and sat calmly through the second, enabling us to do our work.

It was good to be coming out in a new community, where everyone in the audience was someone we have come to know in our past three years here—farmers and professionals, educators and artists.

It was good to wake up the morning after the final performance, offered at the end of an eternal February, and know that we had made it to March—the month in which spring begins!

Our dance about beginnings left us wanting more—more dance, more family, more creation, more sharing, and more spring!!

Creation accomplished, we began spotting further signs of spring.

First, it was the hens. After months of cooping themselves by choice, they are hazarding forth in search of earth patches, pecking for whatever shoots and bugs they can find. What they leave behind, Kyra is collecting—eggs! After taking their habitual egg-laying hiatus through the darkest months of the year, the hens are producing again.

After the hens, it was the horse. Marvin now emerges from his run-in to run around his field. We tried to take him for a walk yesterday. He seems to have forgotten that slow is a desirable speed.

Then the cows. The three girls now plod up the hill, away from the barn walls, nose to the ground, scouting for those first shoots. Around them frolic the bull calves, frisky enough that we set them loose with the cows. Precious is bulging, nearly ready to drop the calf she has been carrying for the past nine months.

Then the cats. Zelsha caught her first mouse. She caught a second, and left a third as a gift for us on the doorstep. Son Butterscotch, now three, has yet to develop a mouse habit, but perhaps he will evolve beyond birds and rabbits this year.

Then the kids. Everyone is in what Jordan has come to call a “deep state of wanting.” They all want to be outside, in the mud, up the hill, planting the garden, on the horse, done with school, doing their own projects. My small traveler is kicking up a storm too, already not wanting to be left behind.

Then the flies. This weekend, as they hatched from our sunny sills, I marshaled the kids for an all-out war. Jordan questioned my use of metaphors—me the pacifist, urging military action? I reconsidered. Realizing that the flies, like every other creature, just want to get outside, I spent the rest of the morning orchestrating Operation Liberation. What a pleasure to open those windows!

Even this snow, really, when I think about it, is a spring thing. The farmers around here call it the “poor man’s fertilizer.” A small snow like this, just as the shoots are beginning to pop, covers the new growth with nitrogen nicked from the air on its way down. The plants will be healthier and stronger and greener for it.

As spotty as they are, these glimpses of spring encourage. Indeed, there is life after Genesis, and we want it. We are feeling the pull to open ourselves to the coming sun, and grow anew.

I am ready.