SKYE STEPHENSON Writings About…

Healing, Spirituality, Indigenous Wisdom, and Community

MY FATHER’S DEATHS – Published March 2013, Monadnock Shopper

stephe01Today is March 29th, 2013.  On this day, 94 years ago, my father was born.  He almost did not make it through his first year of life, at just a few months of age he was one of the millions of victims of the influenza epidemic that killed so many people in the United States and around the world that year.

My father – James Hawley – had another very close call with death as a young adult.  He joined the Air Force near the start of World War 2 and was the only soldier in a bomber plane to survive being shot down by German forces over Axis territory.  His family was informed that he had died.  In reality, he was a prisoner of war in Germany.  When he was released with the German defeat, he arrived back to his family house in Ithaca, New York only to learn every item he owned had either been given away or discarded.

Surprisingly (or not), my father never, ever talked about any of his war time experiences or being a prisoner of war.  Even when I pressed him as a young adult to tell me something, anything, he would seem to freeze up and say it was better not to discuss such horrible things.

What my father did feel comfortable discussing with me was death – both as a powerful reality and ultimate shaper of our human existence.  As a homeopathic doctor who meditated and had a deep spiritual practice, Dad not infrequently would say such things as “If I ever got a terminal illness, rather than waiting around to die I would volunteer for a life or death kind of mission that would help people and my country.”  Perhaps in some intuitive way, my father sensed what would be his ultimate fate in this incarnation.

Flash forward to 1985.  I am a grown doing my doctoral dissertation in Chile.  I have not seen or spoken to my father for almost a year.  In the pre email days, traveling to foreign countries usually meant limited and slow (I.e. letters) communication with family and friends  Back home.

Before the date of March 25, 1985, I had never ever had a dream I recalled about any family member.  At that precise date, I was house sitting someone who did not even have a telephone.  My fiancé (later husband) was working in construction in the south of Chile. Saving money to travel to the US with me.

In the previous weeks, I had been helping his family in Santiago deal with an uncle who had pancreatic cancer.  Rene was his name.  He had at one time been a big, strapping German Chilean, but when I came to know him he was a wizened and sick man who no one wanted to tell that he was dying.  The family members clustered around his hospital bed talking about his getting out, renewing his driver’s license, etc. Making plans we all knew would never come to fruition.  An operation did not keep his death away.  On a steaming hot February day Rene passed on to other dimensions.

One month later, I awoke from a dream I will never, ever forget.  Honestly, it was more a vision than a dream; so real and clear that even now more than a quarter of a century later I can still recall every detail.

My father was in front of me, radiant and full of light.  But one important thing was different about him than the last time I had seen him. At his throat was a large hole with light beaming out of it in all directions.  He was so beautiful.  My heart felt full, and then overflowing.


I was not so surprised when I received the message later that day that he had died of pancreatic cancer. 

A few days later as I was preparing my journey home for his funeral, he came to me again in another dream.  This one was even more light-filled than the previous dream.  “Don’t be sad Skye,” he told me with a smile.  “All of the pain is gone.”

I have pondered that last line he told me ever since.  “What pain?”  I would ask myself.  What pain was he talking about?  The inevitable pain of being a human?  The particular pains of his life?  Something else?

At the time of his death, my father had a second wife and a step daughter he helped raise.  Relations were strained in large part due to this second wife’s alcoholism.  She did all she could to keep my sister and me away from my father.  At his funeral, all we learned about his death is that he had probably felt bad for months and not seen a doctor.  (Generally speaking, doctors are not good patients).  And when he reluctantly went to the hospital, he was diagnosed with advanced pancreatic cancer.  So the story goes, he refused an operation and all medication.  He tried to get released but the hospital staff refused, claiming he was mentally unstable and probably suicidal.


How can someone be called suicidal when they are in the advanced stages of a terminal disease?  My father knew the odds of advanced pancreatic cancer.  He knew he would die from it, and that even an operation would not stop this relentless disease.

I recently read about an interesting study that found that doctors and others in the health professions refuse treatment and even take their own lives when faced with terminal illness at a much higher rate than any other group.


A few months ago I learned from my step sister with whom we recently reconnected that my father had contacted someone who gave him a dose of an homeopathic remedy to let him pass on.  This month a nurse I know told me what it was, and that in the state she used to live in and practice, a person can decide to leave this world of their own violation under certain conditions such as terminal and/or degenerative diseases.


I understand that
New Hampshire has been considering similar legislation for some time now.  On the date of my father’s birthday and near the date he chose to leave the pain of his body through an herbal avenue, I am coming forward to support legislation that gives an individual the freedom to legally end their life if facing terminal illness.  I know without a doubt that my father is smiling down on me as I write this, and that his dream message to me about the pain gone really was true for him.

http://sueyounghistories.com/archives/2009/12/31/james-hawley-stephenson-1919-1985/

A TALE OF TWO CITIES – Published in the Monadnock Shopper February 2013

People's History MuseumI write from Manchester.  Manchester England.  The town for which the largest city in New Hampshire is named.  Perhaps more importantly Manchester, England is where the industrial revolution began.  Here in this midland city mechanized textile mills were first introduced; cotton grown by slaves from the south of the United States and elsewhere was turned into mass produced fabric with the help of laborers, some six years old, who worked 14 hour days, 6 days a week shifts under squalid conditions.

As I walk through the newly inaugurated People’s History Museum, I learn much about the workers’ struggles for fairer living and working conditions here.  I close my eyes and see the face of some of the young children mill workers in towns throughout New Hampshire and western Massachusetts  captured in sepia tones in old photographs I have seen.  Their lives not so different from the English Manchester workers.People's History Museum 1

Nearly a decade I have been living in the Monadnock region but there are still aspects of the culture here that puzzle me.  One is the clear lack of government and general citizen support for funding education from pre K all the way through university.  Despite New Hampshire’s relatively high per capita income, as a state we consistently rank towards the bottom of education funding.  This includes being 50 out of 50 states in university funding.

Recently a multigenerational native helped me understand this phenomenon.  As he put it, “New Hampshire was historically primarily a state with many mills and factories.  And like mills everywhere, the mill owners and wealthy elites found it to their advantage to keep their workers undereducated. “

He continued by stating, “There is still a lot of that mill mentality in New Hampshire.”

Back to the People’s Museum in Manchester, England.  Crowds of young school children are visiting and learning of the heroic struggles and brave quests for better working conditions and a more just society.  These working men and women are lauded as strongly as military figures and veterans.  And in a way the struggle for the average person to not be exploited and society to be more fair can be viewed as one of humanity’s greatest efforts.

I wish I knew more of the brave men, women and children in New England who fought for better working conditions.  Some cultural commentators of the United States point out that as a nation we sometimes avoid acknowledging the role of class and presence of entrenched social inequities.  Some in New Hampshire may date back to mills and have not yet been fully redressed.

Perhaps Manchester, New Hampshire can learn something from its namesake in England.

People's History Museum 2

ANDEAN RITUAL CLEANING – From my monthly column in Keene, NH

I am writing this article from Otavalo, Ecuador, after a visit with the shaman Jorge Tamayo who recently carried out a ritual cleaning for me.  Don Jorge, as he is known, is a gentle spoken man of an indescribable age who speaks Quechua and a spotty Spanish.  About five feet tall, he lives with his wife in the nearby town of Carabuela, where all the houses have front lanws of corn in various stages of gestation.  I first met Don Jorge and his son Esteban when they visited a healing center in central New Hampshire several years ago and I helped out with the translation.

           This is my second visit to his home, which also serves as  a cermonial center.  Since I am in the area, I figured it would be good to check in and get a ritual cleaning.  While I have not had any health problems of late, nonetheless I have felt my energy a bit low due to various concerns.  We all go throught these periods, as they are part of the warp and woof of all human cycles.
            Just as we need to keep our physical body clean, so too is it a healthy practice to keep our energetic body in good resonance.  Since our energetic body – which recent advances in science increasingly acknowledges – functions in a manner of speaking like a first line defense, its role is critical to our well being at the mental, emotional and physical levels.  All of the spiritual and religious traditions of humanity have their own practicies for clearing stagnant energies from our being.  These practices can include water, incense, fire, the use of stones, chants and sound, and much more.  Of course, it is the intention behind these rituals and ceremonies that are key.
            Don Jorge follows the Andean indigenous practices that date back to before the arrival of the Inca and, later, the Spanish.  We begin with a discussion and reading through the use of a white candle.  Don Jorge himself is seated at a rustic wooden table filled with balast stones of various shapes and sizes as well as numerous clear crystal balls.  After this initial consultation, I am instructed to remove my clothes and stand in the middle of the semi-darkened room as he and his son Esteban proceed to guide me through the passing of stones on my body, the spraying of herbal liquid, the blowing of fire, tobacco smoke, and the spitting on two eggs.  I finish up passing a refreshing liquid along my body, head to foot, and am told that the ceremony went well.  And that I can dress.
            During the clearing, or limpia, as it is called in Spanish, I felt as if a weight had been lifted from me, and I envisioned a person close to me who I am concerned about being well tended and cared for by the figure of Jesus.  This Jesus, for me, is the great healer, and is beyond any religion or creed.
            Don Jorge finished by telling me that I should not bathe for 24 hours and for four days can not drink caffeine or alcohol or eat pork, seafood, avocado or hot pepper.
While not everyone who feels drawn to having such a limpieza has the chance to experience what
              I am honored enough to have been able to be part of, there are ways that we can all take care of our own energetic body and give ourselves limpiezas.  One simple practice taught me by a shaman in Brazil is to once a week after shampooing your hair put a small amoutn of gin (yes, gin) on the top of your head.  This area is key for our energetic well being, and the gin helps clear and refresh energies there.
              Partaking of baths with certain essential oils, working with healing stones, using sound to help clear negativity, spending time connecting to nature and the elements, lighting incense and-or healing herbs (such as copal, sage, tobacco, palo santo and others), and other practices are all ways we can take care of our energetic bodies.  Such tending is as important as taking care of our physical selves.  Especially when we are feeling stressed and rushed, taking time out to take care of ourselves is one of the best gifts you can give not only yourself, but to those around you as well.

A PRAYER FOR KEENE

CRYSTAL MANDALA PRAYER

Dear Keene
We come to you
Small spirits on a winding path

At the turning of these days
At the changing of the cycles

Please open the way
For our small and humble community
To shape shift into the next
Step of planetary evolution

We call upon the spirits
Up high and down low

To honor us
With the grace and life gifts you bring

As we honor you
Together – united –
Animate and supposed in-animate
Alive and supposed not alive
Human and non-human
In their forms and shapes and smells

We say to them all
Help us heal our ways:
Gentle earth
Flowing waters
Deep and forever skies

With these small crystal souls
Entities of sunlight and starlight
We imbue them with the intention of:

Good-living
Right-living
Correct-living
Loving-living
Abundant-living

And in the center core
We ask, pray and beseech
En-lightenment, wisdom and
Collective transformation and healing

For fish and fowl;water and land
Air and the flower petals;
The tress, grasses, rodents, insects,
Rocks, pebbles, metals, leaves
And all the moves, breathes, lives and loves

We ask with love in our heart
And light in our intentions.

LET’S NOT CONFUSE CRIME WITH TERRORISM

Several recent articles published in the local press – including one about the Concord City Council requesting permission to apply for a Lenco Bearcat armored vehicle – quote individuals who seem to be confused about the important difference between general crime – which society always has to some degree – and terrorism.

Terrorism is a very specific term according to various US governmental agency documents as well as international conventions.  The US Dept of State defines terrorism as “premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by sub national groups or clandestine agents.”  (Title 22, Chapter 38, US Code).  The US Department of Defense has a similar definition: “Terrorism is the unlawful use of violence or threat of violence to instill fear and coerce governments or societies. Terrorism is often motivated by religious, political, or other ideological beliefs and committed in the pursuit of goals that are usually political.” (2010)

Even the USA Patriot Act, which specifically defines domestic terrorism, is clear that the violent act must appear to be intended (i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population, (ii) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion, or (iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping.”

Clearly, none of these definitions of terrorism include somebody drugged out with a shot gun, underage people drinking and getting rowdy, bank robbers, situations of violent domestic abuse, or large public events that need to be patrolled for public safety purposes.  And yet such activities are increasingly being labeled “terrorist threats” and used as reasons for obtaining counter-terrorism equipment.

Yes, we do need a police force adequately prepared to meet emergencies.  Yes, we want a safe city.  But let’s be clear what exactly terrorism is and – more importantly – what it is not.

Some security experts distinguish between three different types and causes for crimes in society.  The first is “typical” crimes such as those mentioned above. We will always have these types of crimes, and they need to be controlled.  The second are “terrorist” crimes, of the type committed during September 11th, 2001 hundreds of miles away from Keene. The third are acts carried out due to “structural societal violence.”

“Structural societal violence” such as high levels of unemployment, increasing poverty, lack of access to mental health care when needed, etc. can and do cause some affected individuals to “break” and commit violent crimes.  We have witnessed an increase in these types of crimes in recent years in the Monadnock area much more than we have experienced any kind of terrorist threat.  Several unemployed people feeling desperate and alone have committed serious acts of violence when they lost all hope.  And the best way to minimize these types of crimes is not through increased anti-terrorism hardware but through a two-pronged approach of (a) official policies and programs to support their needs and (b) compassionate and caring support for these individuals from all of us.

 

 

ONE ASPECT OF COMMUNITY HEALING

ONE ASPECT OF COMMUNITY HEALING

            When we think of healing, most of us tend to think of physical, mental and/or spiritual aspects of healing.  Another very important type of healing not as often discussed is healing around issues of employment and monetary well-being.  As this long recession drags on, there are millions of people in the United States who truly want to find gainful employment and – against their best intentions – cannot.

The stress this puts on individuals and their family members can be tremendous and multifaceted.  Some even break under the weight, as evidenced clearly in at least three high profile incidents that have taken place in our region recently. The man who set himself on fire in downtown Keene, the Brattleboro Coop employee who shot and killed the person who had recently dismissed him, and the still unknown individual who threatened to bring “big fireworks” to the recent Firework Show in Jaffrey all share one characteristic:  they had been dismissed from their jobs, were unemployed, depressed and desperate.

We are a society that places great emphasis both on personal achievement and our job.  Unlike many cultures where emphasis is placed on family affiliation, philosophy, hobbies, etc, in the United States the typical opening line among adults who don’t each other is: “My name is X and I work at X company/institution/school/etc.”  Our social status is often tied to our employment status and type of profession.

This is compounded by the often unstated but strongly held conviction of our mainstream cultural values (and reflected in much of the discourse in the media) that everyone in the United States has the opportunity to be successful, materially speaking, and if you are not it is somehow your fault.  This national myth continues even in the light of recent research that clearly indicates that it is less likely for a poor person from the United States to advance to the middle class than for a citizen of any other developed nation.  Horatio Alger still rings true here, despite hard evidence to the contrary.

So let’s get back to healing.  How can we, in the Monadnock region, help heal some of the crippling wounds being caused by long term unemployment that is impacting people we interact with every day?

While most of us do not have the power or ability to “create jobs” for unemployed individuals, perhaps we can begin by simply reaching out to those without work, or the underemployed, kindly and without judgment and ask them how they are doing.  What is their story?  How are they surviving?  What are they feeling?  What support do they have?

I would like to share a personal story with you.  There is a local man who I worked with closely a few months ago in a joint project.  We were on the Steering Committee, and often discussed issues of peace, society and shared interests.  I knew he was not employed at the time, despite experience in the health sector.  It was only several months later, at a Fundraiser of the Hundred Nights Shelter, where I saw him and learned that he was homeless.  He had not been able to afford rent since he was summarily dismissed by a local social service agency.

At that same fundraiser, the man who began Hundred Nights commented that he was inspired to do so when a local politician commented that there was no homeless problem in Keene.

I wish that there were no homeless people in Keene, or in our region.  But we must be truthful to reality.

Brazil has been one of the most successful nations in the recent decade in lifting people out of poverty and into dignity, as they put it.  This has been a centerpiece of both the outgoing and current Brazilian Presidents.  A key program launched early on and now highly successful is called “Operation Hunger.”  In this program, the President asked every employed Brazilian citizen to invite someone who was hungry and/or homeless to their home for a meal.  Brazilian President Lula clearly stated that it was in the invitation itself where the power of this program resided and that the program was about more than donating money or providing a meal.  It was about learning the story of the person in poverty, and treating him or her with respect and dignity.

Some may say this is too political a column, but the truth is that politics and economics have a tremendous impact upon our individual and societal health and well-being.

THE WEEDS OF OUR LIVES

The beauty of the humble healing dandelion

Weeds!  All summer we are pulling out those “pesky weeds” so our lawns will be closer to “perfect.” Out come those rambunctious dandelions; those spreading wild mints; and those plantain plants with their wide spread leaves.  What we want is an immaculate green grass carpet without a tinge of brown or a hint of any so-called invasive plant.

How hard many of us work to achieve this ideal and how disappointed we can be when our lawns do not live up to our expectations.

But it is precisely these so-called “unwanted” plants that enter our gardens uninvited that harbor the greatest potential for healing us, according to Muskagee plant shaman Tis Mal Crow.  In fact, in many indigenous healing traditions, it is precisely those plants that spontaneously grow and thrive in our natural local environment – plants we tend to call “weeds” – that are the most powerful.

Tis Mal Crow explains in his wonderful book about plant healing that the precise plants that we need for our healing will arrive and begin to grow in our gardens to help us.  He goes on to say that he can even learn about the illnesses a family may experience in the next year by seeing what “weeds” begin to grow outside our house now.

I was discussing this powerful concept with a friend who has a beautiful, spirit-filled garden in Keene the other day.  Together we marveled at this almost miraculous gift from nature.  We also lamented how much knowledge, wisdom and potential healing help from the plant kingdom may be lost to us when, in our ignorance and disconnect from the natural world, we pull out and, in some cases, even poison, the so-called weeds that grow nearby our houses.

This got me thinking about another type of connection between humans and plants.  Another book I read recently called The Unlikely Peace at Cuchumaquic: The Parallel Lives of People as Plants: Keeping the Seeds Alive, by Martin Prechtel has profoundly impacted my perception of the world and relationship with plants.  I also had the honor of spending a weekend with Martin Prechtel a few months ago where he honed into the workshop participants the striking similarities and interconnection between the plant kingdom and humans.  He also reminded us that the plant world is as alive and feeling as the animal world.

So let me return to the concept of “weeds” once again.  And permit me to briefly share a personal story.  My father’s second wife was a glamorous and wealthy woman from Milan named Victoria who had a small daughter from a previous marriage named Natalia.  Victoria moved to the United States and lived with my father until his death from cancer 27 years ago.  Natalia spent a decade being raised by my father, who became in a manner of speaking her surrogate father.

My sister and I were a decade older that Natalia.  And we soon learned (as my father did) that Victoria had some very serious addiction and psychological issues, to the point where he kept us away from her.  It was a painful situation for my sister and me, and one we did not fully understand.  All I knew and felt at that point was that my family situation was far from the “perfect family” I longed for.

And yet having a mysterious Italian stepmother who spoke in a foreign language and exuded a type of allure propelled me into my lifelong travels and cultural studies.  It also pushed me from the comfort of my house out into the world, since my house was no longer such a comfortable place to be.

This year, through social media, I was able to reconnect with Natalia, who has lived in Italy for 27 years.  We have met in person twice.  I learned for the first time the impact my father had upon her, and also the tragic last years of her mother’s life.  Glamorous Victoria ended up drinking herself to death in a small apartment, estranged from her daughter and not leaving her bedroom for a decade.

Natalia is now studying to be a counselor, to help others deal with family members who have psychological and addiction issues.

If people are like plants, in a manner of speaking, than we also have our weeds.  Those unbidden, often unwanted and unwelcomed, individuals who enter our lives against our will.  Sometimes, often, they can be family members.  In some cases they may be work colleagues or neighbors.  Whoever they may be, we somehow feel that their presence disturbs our concept of “perfection”; we may wish things were different.

But maybe, just maybe, it is these “weed people” whose presence in our lives offers us the greatest opportunity for healing and growth.  Perhaps they have entered our lives precisely to help us learn important lessons, to help us move towards wisdom.

THE MYSTERY BEGINS: EXCERPT FROM MY NOVEL “THE SPIRITS OF JADE”

EXCERPT FROM MY NOVEL “THE SPIRITS OF JADE”

Whenever people asked Jade to describe what happened next, the only word she could come up with was “beautiful.”  It’s not a word that anyone would expect, but that was the first thought that appeared in her head when she stood at the threshold of her mother’s bedroom and looked inside.  Of course, the first thing Jade saw was Olive.  She was lying in bed, her head propped up by several puffy white pillows and a celadon green silk scarf around her neck.  Her eyes were gently closed.  Jade couldn’t remember when she’d seen her mother so radiant.  It didn’t surprise her in the least that her mother didn’t turn to say hello.

An eerie sense of normalcy reigned.  Papers were piled high on her mother’s desk, as always. Shocking pink, mustard and tangerine-colored zinnias stood in a Japanese style vase on the bedside table.  Next to them, her mother’s eyeglasses rested, as if waiting to be called to use once again.

Jade noticed a yellow pad of paper resting next to Olive’s left hand.  She guessed that her mother was writing something when she’d paused for a brief moment to close her eyes.  It was so like her.  Their mother’s incessant notes sometimes drove Jade and James crazy.  They were typically written on small lined index cards.  Some were even scribbled on random pieces of paper.  The subject matter of these infamous note cards varied widely.  Some were simply reminders of people’s names, of things to do, of presents to buy, of sales at a store.  Others might list a book she hoped to read or a movie she wanted to watch.  A few were more philosophical in nature.  One that Jade particularly liked said – “In the end, we are all stardust.”  When Jade had asked her mother where she’d found this quote, her mother had simply smiled.

But a legal size pad of paper was uncharacteristic.  It was this pad of paper as much as what she guessed she was about to find that drew Jade forward. Only her mother’s two arms were visible above the puffy peach colored winter quilt.  Something about them that was different, although it took Jade a minute or two to figure out what it was.  Her fingernails.  Each one had a dark mark along its base that almost looked like a tiny crescent moon.  Jade guessed that this must be what happens when people die.  She realized this was the first time she’d ever seen a dead person so close.

Jade was uncertain what to do next.  She didn’t feel quite ready yet to touch her mother, and so she turned her attention instead to the pad of paper.  Now that she was closer, she could see that there was an open pen next to it.  Curious, Jade picked up the pad and read in her mother’s unmistakable handwriting:

Tell Jade about the Spirits of Place

It was only a short phrase – seven words, thirty letters to be exact.  But it was enough to shift the whole essence of the experience for her.  She couldn’t help but wonder (perhaps selfishly) what her mother’s last note could possibly mean.

To find out more about this novel see http://www.skyestephenson.com or amazon.


A Poem Written on my Last Birthday

LET MY VOICE BE PURE

Let my voice be pure

To sing the spirits of the stones;

Let my mind be focused

Upon an awakened world to birth.

Let my heart beat in one

With the son of the suns

And let my soul find peace

In the precise space and time where I was birthed.

May I know the mirth of laughter’s tales

And may I know the pain

of too much beauty to behold

That it spills from my single body

Into the universal soul.

Help me thank my ancestors

Who opened up paths for me

So I can such a wondrous world

Partake of and perceive.

And may I help to open the way

For others yet to come

By my simple stories and journeys carried out with zeal

As I keep on searching for the great mystery

That will never, ever be revealed.

 Image

An Ode to Turquoise

Turquoise: Sacred Inclusion

Turquoise is what you call me;

though many names have I

I span all the ages and domains

I can connect the earth and the sky

I am the sun, the moon and the stars

The thunderbolt and the gentle rain

I am the eagle and its prey

I am the heart and mind

I am mother, father, child

I am the reaper and the grain.

In my rippling ways

That cover phosphorous days

And coppery nights

That bring together stalewart blue

And gentle green

I can do so very many things

With my embrace I can protect

Or heal an ailing lamb

I can give you in-sight

That will expand your sight

And then I can stand back

And let you a ceremony conduct

I am medicine woman, shaman man

I am the very best that you can be

And I can draw from you –

And from the cosmos too –

The very best that can be conceived

So let me take your hand

Let me nourish your ways

With the wisdom that comes

From knowing that we are all inter-connected

We are all part of the sacred trilogy three

Whose secrets I can whisper into your right ear

As you let it flow through your life wide and clear

 

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