Due Diligence

On Father’s Day this year, I got to spend some quality phone time with my father, who’s only recently gotten hearing aids (for which my mother is grateful and Dad seems to be taking a shine to). This makes it a little easier to converse with him, at least physically. But therein lies the rub: It’s never been easy for me to talk with Dad. Even if we basically agree about the issues confronting humanity, we don’t necessarily agree how to solve them—or, in his case, whether solving them lies within the realm of what’s possible.

So, I had to share my letter to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) with Dad, even though it may not amount to, as he likes to say, “a pinch of shit in a windstorm.” Some things we humans need to do simply because our conscience requires us to do so. The letter was a response to the FERC’s Environmental Assessment of Dominion Resources’ proposal to liquefy natural gas at Cove Point in Lusby, Md., just south of

LNG Dock in Chesapeake Bay (Photo by Pam Hairston, Baltimore Sun)

LNG Dock in Chesapeake Bay (Photo by Pam Hairston, Baltimore Sun)

Calvert Cliffs State Park and Flag Ponds Nature Park and surrounded by conservation easements owned by, among others, the Sierra Club and the Nature Conservancy. The EA does not go far enough as FERC only concerns itself with issues of interstate-commerce energy. But, of course, I and legions of others believe that development of an LNG facility in Lusby will only increase the pressure for more fracking of shale gas and this gas will come from outside Maryland—hence “interstate.”

Letters to editors and elected representatives and government regulators are, as far as I know, a tradition in my family—even if the practice leapfrogged my father. My great uncle Frank Glenn, who grew up and lived his whole life in Hattiesburg, Miss., wrote many, many letters, I was told by a cousin-in-law. I never got to meet Uncle Frank, but some part of him no doubt lives on in me, because no matter how hopeless something feels, I can always pick up a pencil or pen or take to the laptop and try to make my voice heard.

Dad these days is fond is saying, “There are no easy answers.” I believe this is the case, especially for Americans, as we’ve been conditioned to desire “easy.” But the more we go for ease, the more difficult we seem to make things for ourselves and especially for future generations who will be stuck to sort out the messes we’ve and those before us have created.

We need to take responsibility for our actions—and our reactions. Because ultimately, we control only those two things—how we act and react.

So, this letter to FERC is both an action I’ve taken and a reaction—to FERC’s inadequate assessment.

Ms. Kimberly D. Bose, Secretary
Federal Energy Regulatory Commission
888 First Street NE, Room 1A
Washington, DC 20426

Re: Docket No. CP13-113-000, FERC Environmental Assessment of Cove Point Liquefaction Project

Dear Ms. Bose:

The Environmental Assessment performed by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission of Dominion Resources’ Cove Point LNG facility in Lusby, Md., is simply not adequate and therefore understates—and greenlights—potential adverse impacts.

The EA says that the FERC’s authority is to review requirements relating only to natural gas facilities involved in interstate commerce, and that “Thus, the facilities associated with the production of natural gas are not under FERC jurisdiction.”

Fracking Liquid Container Trucks in Dimock, Pa. (Photo by JH Fair via http://blog.skytruth.org/2011/04/fracking-safe-or-not.html)

Fracking Liquid Container Trucks in Dimock, Pa. (Photo by JH Fair via http://blog.skytruth.org/2011/04/fracking-safe-or-not.html)

I beg to differ. The potential for natural gas obtained by hydraulic fracturing of shale is just as likely to come from outside Maryland as from within, and would therefore be subject to review, because it will have crossed state lines. By extension, based on where Dominion and its affiliates currently operate in Appalachia and along the Marcellus shale, it is, contrary to the FERC’s EA, most definitely “reasonably foreseeable” that there will be impacts associated with increased natural gas production should DCP’s liquefaction project proceed.

Far-Ranging Impacts
The FERC is required to examine a range of impacts, including temporary, short-term, long-term and permanent. The EA states, “A permanent impact could occur as a result of any activity that modifies a resource to the extent that it would not return to preconstruction conditions during the life of the Project….”

Does it matter whether such permanent impacts are confined within the acres of Dominion’s Cove Point site—or whether they occur hundreds of miles away, so long as we are talking about the “life of the Project”?

Permanent impacts along an impermanent shoreline? (Historic shorelines map from USGS)

Permanent impacts along an impermanent shoreline? (Historic shorelines map from US Geological Survey)

Because we are talking about permanent impacts, including the loss of water “resources” to hydrofracking, the permanent inability by humans and other species to utilize such water, which, whether it’s locked away “forever” underground or simply polluted, is no longer usable, unless, of course, people naturally want to subject themselves and others to radioactive and/or endocrine-disrupting chemicals. Multiple examples of such losses already exist in areas where hydrofracking has taken place. And that is only contamination and does not include an estimate from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that some 35,000 fracking wells glug 70 to 140 billion gallons of water every year.

I realize that the FERC may be limited to look at just one aspect of this picture—the Cove Point facility itself and what Dominion is proposing. But it’s really time for all those who serve on behalf of the public and who are tasked with protecting water, air and land to do their jobs. In this case, that would mean a full assessment of the impacts—ecological and economic—which this EA does not do.

In effect, this ongoing “silo-ing” (this agency is responsible for this, this one’s responsible for that) comes at a huge cost, literally and figuratively, whether it be degraded landscapes or the release of chemicals into the environment and the consequent harms that extend from such releases. Dominion is not required to include all such costs—no corporation is. Essentially, the company need only consider those things within a narrow purview—and whether its proposal will be good for shareholders, in the short-term, regardless of long-term losses paid by nonshareholders and taxpayers.

And, frankly, it’s not enough to try to cordon off things to protect them from harm. For example, even if, as the FERC is requiring, Dominion must fence off, say, the threatened tobaccoweed (located at Offsite A), and can cut down everything around it, that plant lives in a large community of other plants and its health depends on their health.

Elephantopus_tomentosus goes by tobaccoweed here and other names elsewhere.

Elephantopus tomentosus goes by tobaccoweed here and other names elsewhere. (From Southeastern Flora)

Just as the health of the Chesapeake Bay and our own water supplies depend on the health of the adjacent waters. Everything alive is connected by a “neural net” and for plant communities, this includes roots and rootlets and the soil and all of its micro and macroorganisms.

The same applies to us, whether we live in Maryland, Ohio, Virginia, West Virginia, or Pennsylvania. We may be cut off because of political boundaries, but water, air and soil don’t give a whit about political boundaries.

The FERC needs to conduct a full Environmental Impact Statement and, as part of such an EIS, staff need to fully assess the ecological and consequent economic impacts of this project. To say that such impacts are not “reasonably foreseeable and quantifiable” is a way of weaseling out of doing your due diligence and working on behalf of those who don’t own shares in Dominion and have no way of protecting themselves against the unfolding travesty and tragedy that is hydrofracking. It is high time that we start ceding privilege to all those support systems that enable us to live, to give precedence to them, because as they go, so goes our health and our overall economic well being. Compromising those things is not worth the economic benefit to a few in the form of jobs or short-term profits.

Thank you for your attention.


Leigh Glenn

2014: New Growth on the Horizon

Every autumn when I assess my feelings around what I’ve been doing, I often come to the conclusion that whatever I’ve been doing is “never enough.” Seldom have I felt that wherever I am is exactly where I am supposed to be. Is this feeling of “never enough” a particular—and peculiar—artifact of Western culture or, more specifically, American culture?

Not 2010! Not as much snow...yet, but lots of growth predicted.

Not 2010! Not as much snow…yet, but lots of growth predicted.

In my life, I have found it difficult to step outside of the existing culture, but more and more, I know I need to. The culture at-large does not tend to support anyone who feels content with their life.

Living outside Washington, D.C., I am ever-cognizant of the hustle-bustle involved in “the American way of life,” in which discontentment plays a starring role. I used to participate more fully in that way of life, having had a decent-paying job, having spent about a third of what I earned on rent (many people spend much more than a third). When I moved to Annapolis, I then spent a minimum of an hour, often more, commuting to that job in Virginia. I did not enjoy driving; it seemed like a colossal waste of time, and yet, I felt I had to. I felt caught in a bind and as the months of commuting went on, I grew angrier.

That said, as long as I was learning something new, I enjoyed the work. And I enjoyed other benefits: having money to hear live jazz, money to take whatever classes I wanted to take, paid vacation, money for a painting now and then.

I’ve experienced a see-saw effect between that life and the one I now live: It’s as if when I had more money, I had larger holes to fill and I filled them with incessant activity or spending on things I thought could fill the holes. Now, I work to examine the holes, be with them, shift my patterns into viewing myself as whole and healed—as the way God or Creator sees us humans.

Sandhill cranes...and other animals just are. How can we two-leggeds just be?

Sandhill cranes…and other animals just are. How can we two-leggeds just be?

This is not easy work, but it is the most important. If I still had that job and that commute, I probably wouldn’t be doing this inner work and, moreover, I would not be attempting to find or do work that I enjoy.

Life to me is a continual cracking-open of our hearts, which is meant to soften our hard edges, make us more vulnerable so they we can experience greater intimacy, with ourselves and in turn, with others and with Spirit. The cracking-open happens through our experiencing our own difficulties as well as those of others. It comes through pain and suffering, and yet we, especially Americans, I think, have quite a dualistic view of suffering: It’s horrible or it’s great. Seldom is there a middle way when it comes to suffering. We don’t want to suffer and we don’t want to see others suffer. Or, in some intellectual way, we know we need to suffer, but it remains an exercise of the mind while the heart goes untouched, because we are still protective of our hearts.

At this time, for me, everything is up in the air. It’s like the dry snow outside, swirling on eddies of wind large and small. Lately, I’ve explored a little of farming, something I’ve wanted to do since I was very young. I’ve learned that cheesemaking doesn’t necessarily resonate with me, at least on a commercial scale. I know I’d like to learn more about greenhouses and chickens. I know from what I’ve seen and the stories of friends who farm that it is especially difficult to make any kind of living that way and, maybe even worse for those who concern themselves with inner work as I do, there’s little time. So, I don’t know what will happen in that arena.

When I set out to be an herbalist, I had this idea that I just wanted to practice. Practice. Practice. Practice. They call it a practice because the practitioner never knows everything, everything that can help herself or her clients, but you practice, so you constantly learn. I thought it would be practical enough to build a business around herbalism.joe_pye_composite_icon_final_Web

But what I discovered is that many people don’t necessarily know what an herbalist is or what an herbalist does. Perhaps they believe that we have a particular “plant of choice,” such as marijuana—which, at least for this herbalist, could not be further from the truth. I like weeds—nettles, dandelion, plantain, plants accessible to most everyone, if they know what to look for.

I finish 2013 unsure how I can best help to educate people as to what herbalists do, I guess because for me, herbalism is akin to ecology and akin to permaculture; it’s a way of looking at life and at health, of looking at death and illness, of trying to understand how best to support oneself and others in the most healthful way possible, the most whole/holy way possible.

How can I help people get interested in making their own medicine—especially if the kind of medicine I’m talking about may not have anything at all to do with dandelion root, and everything to do with having an intimate conversation with a friend or family member?

How should I market what I do? How should I charge for it? What I do is energy-intensive, because it’s my goal with every client to be present to that person, to give her or him my full presence. Can anyone put a price on that kind of energy?

As I said, at this time, everything is up in the air. I’ve long viewed my business as an extension of all of the work that I do—the work on myself, the work in the garden, the work with family and friends. In 2014, I’d like to spread the word about herbalism, about the permaculture principles of Earth care/people care/fair share. I want to increase my sense of community where I live—to find people with whom I can garden and wildcraft. I have some new health and plant-medicine activities that I’ll share in the coming weeks. I expect that I’ll write more about health. I am open to what comes. I know whatever comes will be an adventure and, ultimately, fun.

Sometimes medicine is experienced just by being with a plant, such as castor.

Sometimes medicine is experienced just by being with a plant, such as castor, a pet, a place, or a person.

If you live in the Annapolis, Md., area and want to learn more about herbalism or want to focus on what your health means for you, please send me a note by e-mail at artofearth@yahoo.com. If you’d like to hear more about the activities of Art of Earth, you can join my e-mail list. I don’t bombard anyone with e-mail, though I do send out more e-mail if there’s a scheduled event. If you find it’s not for you, you can opt-out anytime.

I wish you a happy, healthy, soulfully prosperous 2014. Most of all, I wish you love and peace.

Seeking the Shaman Within: An Interview with Beth Terrence

My first personal encounter with shamanic practices came in 2007, in an appropriate-to-our-times trio of CDs recorded by therapist and shamanic practitioner Sandra Ingerman. It was entitled, The Soul Retrieval Journey: Seeing in the Dark.IngermanSoulRetrieval

As Ingerman defined it, “Shamanism is the first spiritual practice of human kind,” dating back at least 30,000 years. Shamanic practices are cross-cultural, with variants used in Siberia, Australia, Africa, North and South America, and parts of Europe and Asia.

The word “shaman” comes from Tungus, a Siberian tribe (today called the Evenki), and it translate as “one who sees in the dark.” That phrase resonates as shamanic work often involves going into the depths of what we don’t see in our everyday, conscious lives and bringing ideas, revelations, and more nuanced views of old experiences into our consciousness so that we can grow our awareness of ourselves.

Fast-forward to 2011. I’d heard about “Beth” from the friend of a friend, but for whatever reason, it did not work out for us to meet. The friend did not say anything about Beth’s work, just that it sounded like Beth and I would have a lot in common.

When I finally met Beth early in 2012, I was glad I had. Beth Terrence, Annapolis-based shaman, facilitator and holistic practitioner, has become a good friend and has been an integral part of my spiritual growth in the last year. She runs Beth Terrence Holistic Health Resources & Wellness Programs.

Beth Terrence is a shaman, facilitator and holistic practitioner based in Annapolis, Md.

Beth Terrence is a shaman, facilitator and holistic practitioner based in Annapolis, Md.

By the time I met Beth, I’d done some shamanic work on my own and had taken a basic shamanic journeying class through the Foundation for Shamanic Studies, started by anthropologist Michael Harner, Sandra Ingerman’s teacher.

But I had never had a soul retrieval undertaken on my behalf. Terrence journeyed for me and recovered two parts, both of which have begun to play key roles in the spiritual work I do now.

Long-Standing Interest in Holistic Healing
Holistic practices are not new to Terrence. She was 11 when she came across a book on reflexology. She used the book to teach herself. As a teenager, she developed a meditation practice that continues to this day. Her own health issues with fibromyalgia led to yoga, chiropractic work, herbs, massage and acupuncture. When she got as far as she could on the physical level, she began to work with emotions and the spirit. Eventually, this led her to shamanic work.

“Most traditional and indigenous cultures have had someone who holds the spiritual foundation in the community,” she says. “People go to this person for healing. This person works with the individual and the collective.”

Shamanic practices are a natural fit for Terrence. In cultures where a shaman saw to the well being of the people, the shaman often had an initiatory experience as a child—they were somehow set apart from the tribe, whether because of illness or something else that distinguished them.

Terrence believes that her childhood and teenage years were her gateway to shamanic work. Her mother suffered from schizophrenia, InspiredVoicesand the experience of growing up was one of near-constant fear. (Terrence writes about this experience in “Lost and Found: The Birth of a Shaman,” in Inspired Voices: True Stories by Visionary Women, compiled by Andrea Hylen.)

Traditionally and even in many indigenous cultures today, shamans often work on the physical plane, using plants to help heal the physical body. But the work doesn’t rest only on the physical. Indeed, greater support for healing may come through helping the mind, emotions and spirit.

Helping Others to Access the Shaman Within
It is a gift when we can see ourselves as we truly are, but not many people are so well developed or disciplined that they can easily size up their internal conflicts and pinpoint the roots of their illnesses. And in a culture where distractions are woven into the fabric of daily life, it’s all the more difficult to take the time to focus on oneself and discover what lies in the unconscious and to bring it to consciousness and begin to work with it.

But that said, with a little help, we can learn how to work with ourselves.

“I believe we all have a shaman within,” says Terrence, who’s been working with shamanic practices for more than 10 years.

Beth Terrence deepened her connection to herself and to Earth through a vision quest.

Beth Terrence deepened her connection to herself and to Earth through a vision quest.

Shamans can help others access that “inner shaman,” which allows the person to regain his or her own spiritual integrity and wholeness.

A primary tool that shamans use is the shamanic journey, a way of connecting with unseen worlds in non-ordinary reality, that is, reality not bounded by time and space, where the journeyer can access information that can help herself or others.

All in an Afternoon’s Journey
The hallmark of a journey is a visit to lower, middle or upper worlds—or a combination of those. A person initiates a journey to the lower world usually by visualizing an opening in the earth. The opening may be a pool or lake, a tree or a waterfall, even the stairs that lead down to a subway tunnel. The lower world is the realm of power animals or totem animals, which are helping spirits, usually an aspect of ourselves that we need to activate—to bring from the unconscious to the conscious realm—depending on what the animal represents in general as well as to the journeyer specifically.

Middle world journeys take place on this plane and often are initiated by visualizing a walk out the front door.

An upper-world journey is initiated by visualizing an upward track, such as a tree or mountain or even an elevator going up. The upper world is where the spirits of  the ancestors reside along with teachers in human form. Angels or animals may also appear. All can be helping spirits.

Among the reasons for undertaking a journey are to get in touch with these helping spirits and guides. They can provide insights into your past, present or future. They may help inspire your creativity. Overall, they provide a safe connection to yourself to allow for wide-ranging exploration.

Physical and Spiritual Healing
One of the doorways Terrence passed through on her way to becoming a shaman was her own struggle with fibromyalgia at about age 19. “I didn’t find much support in conventional medicine, so I looked to other modes of healing,” she says. “In that process—diet/nutrition, yoga, meditation, body work, network chiropractic—at some point I came to a place where it was 70 percent resolved. I realized the primary aspect I needed to address was the emotions.”

That realization led to other areas, including Bach Flower Remedies, pioneered by Dr. Edward Bach, and PEER (Primary Energy Emotional Recovery).

Willow is one of Dr. Bach's remedy plants, meant to assist with moving emotions involving resentment and self-pity.

Willow is one of Dr. Bach’s remedy plants, meant to assist with moving emotions involving resentment and self-pity.

Working with those methods helped to resolve the symptoms of the fibromyalgia. But there was still more to do. “I still felt like something was missing, some piece—that I still carried a lot of pain and so I continued on my personal work as part of my journey.”

When she left New York City for Maryland in 2001, Terrence experienced a period of grief and intense loss, including the deaths of people close to her as well as divorce. But her mentor for energy healing, Bill Henegan, who helped her understand her calling, also worked with her through that time.

“I wouldn’t have made it through without him,” she says.

A year later, Terrence began to attend a sweat lodge/shamanic journey/ceremony group. Then a friend who felt severely depressed and had serious health issues felt drawn to have a soul retrieval and asked Terrence to come as a witness. That was Terrence’s first experience with individual shamanic work as a healing tool.

Soul retrieval is one of the main shamanic practices. It can be helpful for people who have suffered soul loss, a common occurrence for anyone living. Soul loss can result from basic experiences and extraordinary experiences, such as trauma, accidents, or even those times as a child when we felt no one was there for us or, for whatever reason, our needs were not met. Soul loss may also occur when we don’t have the ability to deal with what’s coming up, when we feel cut off or disconnected from ourselves—even if the disconnection is caused by something that happened in a different lifetime—and parts of ourselves have dissociated.

“Soul retrieval helps people to reconnect with parts of ourselves that are ready to come back,” says Terrence.

Shamanic practitioners and people themselves can use the journey process to recover these parts and reconnect with them. To do a soul retrieval, the shaman first creates a sacred space in which the client is supported in a “container” of love, one that protects him or her from interferences of the outside world.

Dark Night of the Soul
Through that period of grieving and further journey work, Terrence began to feel more connection with the spirit realm. She went to a workshop that combined shamanic journeying and work with stones and crystals as spirit medicine. The workshop leader told Terrence that her pull toward the spirits was so strong that she needed to choose between leaving this realm or staying here and moving through the pain and turmoil. It was then she decided to have a soul retrieval herself.

When Bill Henegan passed away in 2005, Terrence encountered some “divine timing” in her connection with shaman Ross Bishop through the Energy Therapy Network, an online list of providers and events that relate to alternative healing—the same way she had met Henegan.

Terrence apprenticed with Bishop, who had studied shamanic practices with indigenous people, but also incorporated inner-child work with journeying.

Inner children may be described as those parts of ourselves that have gotten—to borrow poet Robert Bly’s phrase—stuffed “into the bag.” The children are, well, children. They are spontaneous and joyful. But to some adult for whom a child’s actions may cause embarrassment, those parts of the children get shoved away, out of sight. But they do not disappear. They become what Carl Jung dubbed the shadow. The question is, of course, how best to reintegrate those pieces of ourselves?

Using Bishop’s techniques, which are found in his book Healing the Shadow, “there’s an opportunity for [people] to, in a sense, self-facilitate their own soul return.”HealingtheShadow_Cover_RossBishop

A practitioner can help initiate the process of returning lost soul parts as well as to help someone move more easily through areas of resistance—areas that may be difficult and uncomfortable for someone to work with on her own.

Terrence has seen how much journeying can help people who are burdened especially by old patterns and habits. One instance of this was in her work with people who have addictions. She was able to introduce the journey process to people who didn’t know about it and didn’t have “too much faith or belief they would have some sort of experience.” They were able to have a visual or auditory experience that helped them to learn about their own intuition and how they themselves experience that intuition energetically, says Terrence.

They learned to solve problems creatively, using imagery that came to them through their inner guidance. Most importantly, they achieved a “natural state change” rather than using a substance. Creating a natural altered state of consciousness is one of the many benefits of shamanic journeywork and opens possibilities for those dealing with addictions. Through journeys, they can experience the sense of connection they had been longing for—a sense of connection for which they had used substances as substitutes. Journeys gave them a way to cultivate connection with—and within—themselves as well as with others and the world.

More Connection, More Joy
That’s how shamanic work goes—whether someone is reconnecting with lost soul parts or simply seeking guidance. The more people connect and reconnect, the more they are able to live fully, with more joy, and the more they are able to be in the present; they become integrated. That can help people to live better with fellow humans and with Earth itself.

It’s always been important for two-leggeds to connect with Earth by actually walking on the land or swimming Earth’s waters. But unless you make the time to do so, it’s difficult today. Yet, as Terrence says, “In any moment, we can go into that space in nature (through the shamanic journey). In our day and age and in our culture, fostering a sense of connection with Earth and the natural world is a major part of shamanic work.”

Even if shamans do not work directly with plants, today’s shamanic practices still derive from Spirit, Earth and humankind, likely making them the oldest co-created practices.

“Often, through ceremony and ritual, we honor and connect with Earth—that’s an aspect of all ceremony,” says Terrence.Beth_VisionSite2

In shamanic work, “there’s a strong respect and honoring of Mother Earth as a caretaker and the feeling that all beings are equal and one,” says Terrence. “The interconnectedness of all things is accepted as a foundational belief or philosophy.”

“Becoming integrated is part of becoming whole and balanced,” says Terrence. “Lack of integration adds to chaos. Integration can provide a sense of peace, balance and wholeness…as more people become integrated, that can create more balance in the world.”

Meeting People Where They Are
In an indigenous culture with an active shaman, people would not be without their soul parts for very long. The return of the parts would often be accompanied by celebration or a joyous welcome from family, Terrence adds.

Given all the chaos present in modern, Western culture, it’s often difficult for lost soul parts to become integrated. “If we lived in a natural place and we lived more slowly, it might be easier for the parts to integrate,” says Terrence.

How Terrence works and at what pace depends on where the client is. Through a process of dialogue, exploration and inner guidance, she feels into what method would best benefit a client at that time.

“Ideally, my goal is to initiate a process of transformation for my clients so that they can then continue to work on their own process of growth and change,” says Terrence. “The work is customized. It may take several visits or ongoing work to address various issues or layers. This ultimately creates a foundation so that the client becomes their own agent of change,”—their own shaman.

Learn more about Beth Terrence by visiting www.bethterrence.com.

On Saturday, July 27, from 1 to 4 PM, in Annapolis, I’ll have the privilege and honor of co-leading a workshop with . Beth and I will offer a variety of tools for heart-centered living as well as heart-supportive plant medicines. Cost of the workshop is $50. Space is limited, so if you’re interested, register by going to https://www.eventbrite.com/event/7246250731?ref=ebtnebregn.

The Ecological Reclamation of the Self

In each of us, there are hidden, often unexamined, motives for why we are the way we are, why we become the people we become.

Stephen Harrod Buhner

Stephen Harrod Buhner taught recently at a workshop on the Gaian mind outside Charlottesville, Va.

After spending a weekend in early June with Stephen Harrod Buhner, author, herbalist, psychotherapist, teacher, generous spirit and more, I realize I need to examine just how much of my life has been driven not only by a desire not to suffer, but moreover not to see or feel others suffer.

A lot of healers, many people who serve as caregivers in our culture, likely have the desire not to see or feel others suffer as an overriding (or underlying) motivation, whether they care much or little about their own suffering.

I have no doubt that I’ve struggled with this my whole life: Why do bad things happen? A younger version of me wrote about the rights of crime victims on behalf of an academic publisher, and I was, during that time, intensely interested in why certain people were vulnerable to the actions of others. Another younger me was also intrigued by the culture of Russians—by their writers and artists and musicians—those people who seemed to be able to feel deeply around suffering and not have those feelings destroy them. I believe the act of creating something out of that suffering is what allowed many of them to continue living.

Suffering as a Window on Feeling
If I poke a little deeper around the issue of not wanting to suffer and not wanting to witness the suffering of others, I believe it is because it upsets us to feel. It upsets us to feel deeply, especially when the feelings are those of suffering. Take any tragedy—something that could have been prevented—Newtown or Columbine, 9/11 or the disasters involving the Challenger or Columbia space shuttles, or even the ongoing shredding of the fabric of life that manifests as habitat destruction, chemical contamination, pharmaceutical runoff, take any of these and ask yourself: How long can you “sit’ with the feelings these things stir in you? How long before you want to look away, before you go back to checking your e-mail or planning your next getaway?

My impulse is to try to distinguish between needless suffering and suffering that cannot be prevented (my way of looking away!). But where is that line?

The example that kept running through my head during Buhner’s workshop was that of Anniston, Alabama, and the residents who’ve lived with contamination by polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) for decades and suffered untold amounts of cancers and death because of a coverup and lack of accountability by Monsanto. History and our current times are littered with such examples.

Part of Buhner’s “consumer warning” to those who attended his workshop was that we would have certain of our deeply held beliefs shaken. My beliefs around needless suffering were among the parts of me that were shaken.

“Gaia is not afraid of death,” Buhner said. “Suffering is built into the system. Because death is inherent, so is suffering—it’s what allows innovation [Buhner’s word for evolution]. You cannot avoid suffering.

“Part of the function of people who are older is to live in balance with suffering—it gives young people hope. Safety doesn’t exist. Shit happens.”

“You have to let the world have its own suffering,” says Buhner.

By degrees, I suspect I will learn how to let go, not of caring, for what kind of human doesn’t care? But to be able to feel through sadness and darkness and emerge more whole, less fragmented because of being able to feel. In fact, learning how to feel initially creates more fragmentation within us. Learning how to interpret what we feel is what helps us piece ourselves together.

Our ability to feel is what allow us as a species to innovate—to be able to adapt. If we do not change, Buhner says, we become caricatures of humans. Being able to feel forms the basis for what Buhner calls the “ecological reclamation of the self.”

What shreds the fabric of life is ecological degradation. Habitat destruction is probably the key here, because various species, large and small, need a certain amount of habitat in which to live—to breathe, to attain sustenance, to be able to defecate without fouling the nest, to be able to reproduce, to be able to raise their young.

The nonprofit Appalachian Voices focuses on minimizing the impacts of coal in Appalachia and improving the prospects for clean forms of energy. Visit them at appvoices.org.

The nonprofit Appalachian Voices focuses on minimizing the impacts of coal in Appalachia and improving the prospects for clean forms of energy. Visit them at appvoices.org.

Humans, too, face habitat destruction. Certainly, whatever we do to Earth—in terms of changing biology and physiology, changing the chemical and hormonal makeup, even changing the geology—we do to ourselves.

But our self-destruction doesn’t stop there. In fact, what is more sinister and more devastating for us is the metaphysical self-fragmentation that goes along with the physical destruction of the planet. The more we fragment Earth, the more we ourselves become fragmented.

The way out is to work on becoming whole humans, to focus on the ecological reclamation of the self. And the way to do that is by learning to feel…to feel everything.

Working with Earlier Ego States—a.k.a. the Inner Children
If there is a key to being able to flow through feelings and allow them to flow through us, it is no doubt because of the inner work we do or the activities that allow us to enhance and expand our perceptions of the world around us—a walk in the woods while being fully present to all that is, or playing music or painting. We may think we know the world around us, but what do we really know?

Those who’ve grown up embedded in Western civilization are the children of the philosopher Descartes. Most of us have inherited his great misperception: “I think, therefore I am.” But it is time for us to mature, to move beyond this great fallacy, to connect with our hearts and to continue to deepen that connection. What would it be like instead to live in the mode of “I feel, therefore I am”?

No one said choosing such a path is easy. It’s hard to detach from the culture you’ve known your whole life. One method Buhner has used to be able to feel and be fully present is through working with earlier ego states. He spent 15 years, day in and day out, working with his inner children through each stage of development, allowing each one its voice and providing it the nurturing that his adult self can offer.

Going back in time, always with the question, “How does it feel?”, each feeling a variant on “mad, sad, glad, or scared”, this work allows openings in our “sensory gating channels”—the channels through which our perceptions and the meanings we derive from them are mediated.

Pine was one of five plants Buhner gave workshop participants the opportunity to "sit" with. Those who sat with pine almost universally reported feeling calm and peaceful in the presence of this tree.

Pine was one of four plants Buhner gave workshop participants the opportunity to “sit” with. Those who sat with pine almost universally reported feeling calm and peaceful in the presence of this tree.

“The narrower the gating, the less meaning [we experience],” he says. “The wider the gating, the more meaning.”

In the past, spending time in nature has helped me to open the sensory gates. And more recently, inner-child work has begun to bring changes to my perceptions of life as well as more meaning into my life.

I find it’s not always easy to talk to my “children.” Certain of them are stronger and louder than others; certain don’t seem to want to talk to me at all while others don’t want to stop talking. Despite the challenges, the importance of doing this work is clear to me, especially after spending some time with Buhner. The aisthesis—or heart-feeling-sense—in the room during his workshop could only have been as deep as it was because he had done that work and because we were interested in doing that work. I loved experiencing that feeling—it was one of comfort, of feeling safe enough to explore aspects of myself that are not often comfortable to explore. I hope to try to, though the inner-children work, maintain that kind of feeling.

Becoming Whole
If we look around us and we are completely honest, we see lots of people—holey people—who try to fill their holes by investing everything in their identities, or by buying things they don’t really need, or by chasing after new and different people with whom they want a relationship, however brief.

I’d guess most of us know about this. I sure do. I know because I used to be that way. My identity was tied up with my hobbies and interests. I used to buy art in order to, as Buhner might say, try to hang onto someone else’s aisthesis (or heart-feeling-sense), whatever glow emanated from the painting the painter had set down on paper or canvas.

But we each have our own heart-feeling-senses. We each have the ability to become whole. If we are to really grow—to conduct our own ecological reclamation of our selves—we’re going to have to make the time to do this work, the work of courting our heart-feelings. It’s long work and hard, but it’s probably the most important work we can do as a species.

Doing this work reinforces something that Buhner said, something that is coming to be second-nature and will eventually feel as though it emerged with me from the womb: “Just because we were abandoned does not mean we have to abandon ourselves.”

Self-Care Tip #4: Crock Pot, Star of the Kitchen

As my beloved and I embark on a slightly different way of eating, I am reminded of the importance of my seven-quart crock pot. It’s been a good friend to me, cooking up delicious broths (vegetable, chicken, and beef bone) year after year. Occasionally, when I’m feeling unwell, I eat some of the chicken broth. But generally speaking, all of the broth (or stock) goes into making soups that we’ve come to love. In the weeks ahead, I expect to be making more soups as we eliminate grains and dairy and add even more greens and veggies.

If you’ve never made stock in a crock pot, I ask you: What are you waiting for?!

The process I’m about to describe calls for chicken, but I’ve also made mirepoix and beef broth. Any of these are easy.

This one yields stock on hand, anywhere from 3 to 5 quarts, depending on bird size, for a variety of uses, plus leftover chicken that can be made into chicken salad. Folks may have other ideas about how to use the meat (and I’d love to hear from you about how you use leftover chicken), but this is the best way I have found.

Here’s how I make stock (the crock pot, of course, does 80 percent of the work!):

Place a whole chicken in the crock pot. (I include heads and feet whenever I have them. They add collagen and make for a richer stock.)


We got this chicken from P.A. Bowen Farmstead in Southern P.G. County. These birds are not fed soy and roam on pasture.

Add apple cider vinegar. I use at least two and sometimes three or four large spoonfuls. The vinegar helps to draw minerals out of the bones.

I generally use an organic apple cider vinegar for this step.

I generally use an organic apple cider vinegar for this step.

Add water to cover. Usually, the water does not quite cover the entire bird, but it’s pretty close. I am careful not to overfill the crock after having had some greasy mishaps.

We use a Berkey dual-stage filter to take the chlorine and fluoride out of our water.

We use a Berkey dual-stage filter to take the chlorine and fluoride out of our water.

Cook on low setting for 10 to 12 hours. Others say to cook the bird longer, but this is what I’ve found works best for me.

Once the cook time is up, I move the ceramic pot into the fridge where it can cool. (I have also taken up the stock immediately, pouring it into glass jars that I then let cool in the fridge. But I’ve gotten a little lazy, so letting the bird and stock cool in the ceramic pot is a happy compromise.)


It’s a slimy job, but somebody’s gotta do it!

When cool, take out the bird and pick. We remove the skin and the bones.

Many soups call for one or two quarts of stock. These containers make it easy to measure those amounts…or approximate, which is what I usually do.

Ladle the chilled stock into quart-sized plastic tubs. I don’t much care for plastic, but this is what has worked for us. Someday, when I have time, I will experiment with filling glass jars half-full with stock and freezing those. I’ve heard it works, but you have to be very careful about not filling too much lest the glass breaks.

Label the tubs and freeze.

Once the chicken has been picked, make chicken salad.

I almost always use tarragon in chicken salad.

I do this by shredding the chicken into smaller pieces, blending in the spices (tarragon, curry powder, coriander) and salt to taste, cutting up and blending in apples, along with the all-important mayo. We may look for something else to use in lieu of the mayo on the new diet.

A “side” effect of chicken stock!

It is wonderful to have a ready supply of stock on hand when the soup-bug bites! You can also make medicinal broth with the addition of various herbs and mushrooms. It’s nice to freeze these and have them ready to be thawed when someone comes down with cold or flu.

P.A. Bowen Farmstead in Brandywine, Maryland, is a grass-based farm that offers soy-free, pastured poultry and eggs, among many other pasture-raised animal foods.

Barriers to Self-Care, Continued

This is the second of a two-part article. The first can be found here.

Seasonal depression—or plain old depression. This is a tough one, because it touches on all levels of a person’s being, not just the emotional/mental, but the body’s physiologic processes, the spirit and sexuality. If not addressed quickly, one ends up in a vicious circle where there’s no physical energy to do much of anything. Then, that lack of motivation feeds back into the other aspects of oneself, further depressing the body, etc. Aside from standard treatment—which may involve overprescribed meds that don’t really address the underlying causes—what can one do?

I can speak only for me in this. When I get the blues, my go-to is often music—listening and singing, sometimes dancing. Sound is a vibration powerful enough to shift our perspective, and some people practice sound healing and music therapy, both of which may include the use of singing bowls. I don’t have singing bowls—though they are lovely!—nor am I a music therapist. What I have found that works for me runs the gamut from Jimi Hendrix’s Drivin’ South to songs by Heart. If I have the energy to get up and listen to these and to dance or sing, then I am generally all right. (I listen to sad songs if I feel I need the catharsis of tears—Poulenc or Janacek, or the Duke Ellington/Mahalia Jackson version of “Come Sunday.”)

If I can make it out the door, my other go-to’s are walking and observing nature. The latter I do most of the time, anyway, and it seldom fails that I don’t see something that lifts my spirits…usually in the form of winged creatures: turkey vultures riding thermals, robins running, wrens picking at berries, cardinals cleaning themselves.

The kinds of distractions I love include watching the interaction between insects (honeybees, in this case) and plants like this meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria).

The kinds of “distractions” I love include watching the interaction between insects (honeybees, in this case) and plants like this meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria).

When I stay indoors, whatever pall I may be working under also tends to stay put.

Sometimes having commitments to others also helps to pull us out of our funk, so having regular activities can be helpful in combating the blues.

But now and then, we just need to feel sad and to know that that is all right. The pain often moves us in a direction different from the one we were going. Giving ourselves the space to feel down can be part of good self-care.

Distractions. Funny, I was distracted by something when writing this post, something I can’t remember that seduced my attention away from the screen (maybe another screen?). It’s easy to be hard on ourselves when it comes to this one, but let’s put this in perspective: Our ancestors would not know what to do with all the things that demand our attention. This is something we need to evolve through, to choose between what we allow ourselves to be distracted by and what we don’t. Not easy. Especially if it’s one of those, “Oh, this will just take a minute” kinds of things: answering a text or e-mail or taking on a chore that we think will only take a few minutes.

Maybe the best thing to do here would be to give regular attention to our self-care. Maybe it’s a small thing: Washing and cutting up leafy greens for supper the next night, or taking five minutes to clean up part of our space. But the point is to just do one thing toward our self-care every day.

“I’ll start tomorrow.” Why wait? You are worth starting today. This is one that has stumped me from the standpoint of concern that I will fail—that tomorrow will come and I won’t be able to continue something I started today. But this sort of thinking gets us in trouble, because we could also start something that would feel so good to us—a bath or a foot soak—that we’ll want to make sure we do it again, if not the next day, then soon. Any care we show ourselves, our body appreciates.

Sometimes, things cannot wait. I don't mind sharing some figs with ants, but it seems somehow disrespectful not to pick them and eat them. They are such a gift! This, too, can be an example of good self-care.

Sometimes, things cannot wait. I don’t mind sharing some figs with ants, but it seems somehow disrespectful not to pick them and eat them. They are such a gift! Harvesting and enjoying them can be an example of good self-care.

“I don’t know how.” This one gets back to self-intimacy. But if you really don’t know, look to people and resources in your community, for they are there. Annapolis has people who can teach you to meditate, people who can show you how to care for your skin, how to eat well, get movement into your life, laugh and have fun.

Inability to ask. As a former reporter, I take for granted my ability to ask questions. But asking for help? That never has come easily. Most of this is pride, no doubt: If I can’t handle something myself, doesn’t that make me weak? Lesser, somehow? There’s also a “pride of ownership” involved in trying to do everything oneself.

It often takes greater self-assuredness and self-knowledge to know when we need help and to be able to ask. We truly have only so much time, so asking someone for help with something they are skilled in and we are not helps us become more integrated, both into our communities but also with ourselves.

Ultimately, self-care arises, I believe, from healthy self-love, and it is through acts of self-care that we grow our love for ourselves. Like a depression spiral, developing the process of caring for ourselves and loving ourselves is self-reinforcing. It often goes against all the imagery we see around us, but the images—whether of elite athletes or supermodels—are false. Our bodies are not machines, to be used up, then taken in for some work, then put back “on the road.” It is for us to learn to work with our bodies—and all they contain—not to override them until they wear out.

Self-Care Tip #3: Soak Dem Nuts

In a little more than the time it takes to listen to Duke Ellington’s “Ring Dem Bells,” you can “soak your nuts” and dry them. Well, the drying will take some time, but you don’t have to hang around and watch.

Now, I can see why you might want to listen to the Duke…or to Lionel Hampton’s version of “Ring Dem Bells,” but why soak nuts? Why not just eat them raw?

Raw pecans in glass bowl await salt and water.

Raw pecans in glass bowl await salt and water.

When people ask me this, I reply with a couple of things:

One is, the nuts taste better. There is nothing in this world like a crispy pecan or walnut.

Two, I suggest they think about what a nut is and what a nut does. A nut—a seed, essentially—is a little package of genetic material protected by natural preservatives. Until the nut or seed finds the proper conditions—good soil, right moisture, enough light—it will wait, ensconced in enzyme inhibitors.

So, when we eat a raw nut or seed, our body has to wend its way through these enzyme inhibitors to get at the nutrients in the nut or seed. I don’t know whether anyone’s studied this, but it seems possible that once the body has expended energy to get at what in the seed, it will have expended more energy than calories and other good stuff taken in from the nut itself. In other words, eating raw nuts can impede your digestion—and cause you to lose energy in the process.

Step 2: Salt the pecans. Here, I've used coarse Celtic sea salt.

Step 2: Salt the pecans. Here, I’ve used coarse Celtic sea salt.

Soaking nuts and seeds in salt water helps to break through the enzyme inhibitors and makes more of what’s there more easily available for us to digest.

Some basics:

Store raw nuts in the freezer. (If you can get them in the shell and store them that way, that helps, though it is more work to shell them.) This helps to maintain their shelf life. Even so, the fat in nuts goes rancid fairly quickly. Try to use them within three months.

Add a little more water than needed to cover the nuts, because they will absorb a lot.

Step 3: Add a little more water than needed to cover the nuts, because they will absorb a lot.

Soak raw nuts in salt water. A minimum of seven hours for something like pecans. Overnight also works well. (Other nuts or seeds may have different soak-time requirements.)

Dry the nuts in a food dehydrator or oven that has a low setting—no more than 150-degrees Fahrenheit. This is where it helps to have a dehydrator. Our oven, for example, doesn’t go below 170.

Store crispy nuts in a jar in the fridge and take out as needed.

I set this at about 135 degrees Fahrenheit. Drying takes about 12-16 hours.

Step 4:  Dry the nuts. I set this at about 135 degrees Fahrenheit. Drying takes about 12-16 hours.

Once you get down with soaking your nuts, your probably will not want to eat them raw again.

You can also flavor the nuts with herbs such as rosemary, a little cayenne, or curry in between soaking and drying. I dredged pecans in curry with extra turmeric recently and they taste quite good, though could use some salt!

One thing I use crispy pecans for is a celery dip, usually at Thanksgiving and Christmas, but sometimes for special gatherings. Blend softened cream cheese with mayo (I make my own with extra virgin olive oil or use safflower mayo) and then blend in ground pecans. Once this is well mixed, you can stuff celery, though sometimes I find it irresistible just to eat a spoon of this by itself!

Celery stuffed with cream cheese, mayo and crispy pecans makes a nice snack and is a good blend of carb and fiber, protein and fat.

Step 5: Enjoy! Celery stuffed with cream cheese, mayo and crispy pecans makes a nice snack and is a good blend of carb and fiber, protein and fat.

Self-Care Tip #2: Coconut Oil, Meet Mary Poppins!

We all have bacteria in our mouths, and many people suffer—sometimes unknowingly—from systemic oral infections. Gingivitis (gum disease) and periodontal disease are our most prevalent forms of microbial infection. Left unchecked, they kill. Who among us was not touched by the story of Deamonte Driver, a 12-year old from Prince George’s County who lacked access to dental care and whose untreated tooth abscess led to his death following an infection that spread to his brain?

Aside from the usual tips—brushing and flossing after meals—there’s a fairly easy way to clear up oral infections and, in the process, actually protect other areas of the body, including the brain and heart, and turn around certain illnesses.

The way is oil pulling, which comes from Ayurvedic medicine and is an old method. Various oils have been used over time, but coconut oil works best, says Bruce Fife, N.D. in Stop Alzheimer’s Now! How to Prevent and Reverse Dementia, Parkinson’s, ALS, Multiple Sclerosis, and Other Neurodegenerative Disorders. (Fife also has published a book specifically on coconut oil pulling.)SpoonfulCoconutOil

Just a Spoonful of Coconut Oil…

First thing in the morning, before breakfast, put a spoonful of coconut oil into your mouth and begin to swish it around. Don’t gargle! You do this for 15 to 20 minutes. Although this seems like a long time, it goes quickly when combining this with other things. Oil pulling has worked best for me when I’ve combined the swishing with washing pans or preparing breakfast or lunch. Just like the oil in your car’s engine, the coconut oil “sucks up bacteria, toxins, pus, and mucous,” says Fife. When finished swishing, spit the oil into the trash—do not swallow! Spitting it into the sink may clog the drain over time.

You can use oil pulling two or three times a day. Just make sure you do it before meals on an empty stomach.

Taking oil into the mouth this way will certainly feel uncomfortable at first. But stick with it, for at least a week. People who have done oil pulling have reported seeing progress, a little every day.