RETELLING OUR STORIES

Stories – personal and collective – have so much power. The stories that we tell about ourselves and about our families and communities can move us towards healing, or away from it. Because of the power of these stories, a power we are too often unaware of, most of us have tales that are untold, unknown, or sometimes hidden in plain sight. Such is the case for my own family, regarding my maternal grandmother Vera Cone’s childhood experiences. Let me explain more.

I have faint recollections of Vera, she passed on to other dimensions when I was in elementary school. I do recall her style, her strong energy and presence. Everybody in our family had stories about her, many tales of courage and spunk. My mother, her youngest child, would recount them to me often.

One of my mother’s favorite stories was about Vera’s step-father, William Morris Stewart, and grandma’s childhood spent partially in Nevada. Grandma Vera never knew her real father, who had died before she was born in Washington DC. A few years later, her mother (Mary Agnes Atchison) had married one of her husband’s friends who had just become a widower. This man was William Morris Stewart, who at that time was the first Senator to serve from Nevada, which had just become a state.

Over the years, I heard many a tale about this man, who helped raise my grandmother. Standing six foot six with flaming red hair, he was the stuff of legends. He made and lost several fortunes in silver mining out West, and was a lawyer to boot. I was told how William Morris Stewart knew Mark Twain, offering him lodging and a position as his personal secretary for a short time when Twain wrote his first book – Innocents Abroad. (They eventually quarreled due to Twain’s cigar smoking habits and other issues). I was told how William Morris Stewart had been offered a position on the US Supreme Court, but turned it down to return back West to Nevada, which he preferred above life in Washington DC.

I was also told that William Morris Stewart had, among his many feats, helped the Indians by setting up a school to teach the Indian children so they could advance and have a better life. This story was one of my mother’s favorites – “What good work to help the Indians,” Mom would tell me with a smile.

Fifteen years ago, I was invited to Reno, Nevada to visit an educational program. During this trip, I mentioned my connection to William Morris Stewart and my host looked at me aghast. “That was the man who set up the horrible Indian boarding school that took so many Native children away from their families and tribes and forced them to only speak English and give up their traditional cultures.”

This was not the way my family had told me the story. Listening in Reno to this was a shock, and it was also a wake-up call.

My mother never quite grasped or accepted the version of the Stewart story I had learned in Reno. She could not give up the ‘helper’ slant, the ‘good white man helps the uncivilized Indians’ version. My sister did not really care much either way, and when I drafted a letter of apology to send to the former Stewart Indian School (now a museum and location of the Nevada Indian Council) she did not feel there was any need for her to sign. “I haven’t done anything wrong,” she told me. “I don’t have anything to apologize for.”

My extended family was not close. My mother’s older brother Harry had three daughters whom I rarely saw. One was institutionalized from a young age. The other two had left for California in the 1960s and did not even attend their father’s funeral. They both changed their names, and I had no contact with them for many years. And then through the twists of life, shortly after my Reno visit I happened to reconnect with one of them – now called Simone.

“I will always apologize, it is good for the soul,” Simone told me when she signed the letter to the Stewart Indian School. She had cried with sorrow when I told her the story of the school.

Flash forward to June 2017. I am in Regina, Canada, attending a conference on Indigenous Higher Education between the United States, Canada and Mexico. Held at the First Nations University in Regina, perhaps the largest Indian university in North America, in talks we learn more about the recent efforts of the Canadian government and people to move towards truth-speaking and apologizing for their history of Indian Residential Schools (the last of which did not close until the 1960s). The largest class action suit in Canadian history, settled in 2007, was about these Indian Residential Schools and their searing legacy of abuse and community and cultural genocide. From this legal case came the Canadian Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which issued a final report in 2015 with ninety-four points of action.

At several sessions in the conference, Canadians of Native American ancestry spoke of the inter-generational trauma of these boarding schools, repercussions still felt deeply. Some of the speakers had attended these schools; all had family members still alive who had done so. I tried to visualize how I would have felt if my six year old daughter or son had been wrested from me and taken far away to be taught a different language and lifestyle than my own. How would I have handled only seeing my child two months a year, on brief visits in the summertime, and perhaps not even being able to communicate with them in a common language?

A Canadian educator of the Ojibway nation said that the Canadian boarding schools had gone on for seven generations, and it would take seven generations at least to heal the trauma and pain. And he called on all Canadians to learn new stories about the Native peoples and nations – for an indigenization of education for everyone. This is also a recommendation stemming out of the Canadian Truth and Reconciliation Commission report.

The second morning of the Regina conference opens with a pipe ceremony, led by an elder from the Cree nation. All of us women are told to wear long skirts, or at least to cover our legs with a blanket. We sit around the outside perimeter of the circle, housed in a tepee-like structure within the university. In the inner circle are the participating men, who smoke the pipe as it is passed around. The air is pungent with the smell of ceremonial smoke; the sacredness of the moment is palpable in the enclosed space as some of us participants feel tears coming to our eyes, shivers upon flesh.

“Now is the time to offer a prayer for those who are not here,” the Cree elder says. “This is the way of our tradition.”

After a moment of silence, one and then another and another person share out loud a prayer for a mother recently passed on, for a sick friend, etc. I sit silent, wondering, do I have the courage in this space to speak of my family’s story, and is it appropriate?

The last of the prayers have been made and the Cree elder is about to close when I manage to softly speak my Grandmother Vera’s name. I pray for her. And I mention William Morris Stewart and the Indian Boarding School he established in Nevada. I speak only a few sentences, my heart pounding in my chest as the words come out of my mouth. “We have much reconciliation to do in the United States.” And then somehow, some way, I hear my own voice saying, “Those of us who come from families that carried out this abuse also have our pains and ancestral sorrows.”

The Cree elder nodded. I like to think he understood. Seven generations from now, what will be the stories told of this time and place?

 

 

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Staying Grounded in Uncertain Times

In challenging times such as these, it is even more important than ever to stay grounded and balanced to the best of your abilities and qualities. This can be easier said than done, of course, for all of us. In this article today, instead of being “heavy” and “intense,” I am going to try a different tack: a simple list of suggested “feel good” possibilities. Consider trying them out and seeing how it goes.

  • Unplug from your plugged in life. Take a day to not read any news, check social media, or your smart phone except as necessary. For those of us above about thirty years of age, remember back to what life was like before we had any electronic apparatus. Try to reclaim it again, albeit for just a short bit of time. It can be amazing how a vacation from electronic technology can revive us sometimes.
  • Try being a hermit for a while. Now, I don’t mean a real life hermit, but do a mini solitude retreat. Instead of feeling guilty about “not doing your tasks,” try not having any tasks for an hour, a few hours or even a day. Give yourself a total break from any “to dos” and “shoulds.” Just chill out with yourself. P.S.: I like to do this sometime by staying in bed all day long – it can be a fantastic treat that is free!
  • You can also try to treat yourself as royalty for a bit. Do something to pamper yourself. What would that mean to you? For me, I enjoy giving myself a facial and a warm bath with essential oils. For you it may be something totally different. We are each different so of course what makes us feel special is different as well. I like the word in Spanish for royalty, which is “real.” You are real, as real as they come.
  • Don’t forget to look up at the sky, the trees and the clouds. Even for the briefest of moments, remembering just how beautiful our world is, how majestic nature is and how lucky we are to live in such a breathtakingly gorgeous area can recharge batteries rapidly. The other day I was beginning to feel really stressed out at work after back to back meetings when I caught the bare branches against the winter blue sky and all of the sudden it was okay.
  • Relax.   As my Tai Chi teacher Patrick reminds me each week in class, soft strength, real strength, is based on active relaxation. It is more powerful than hard strength which has its limits. Soft strength has no limits because you can always relax more. Such a simple concept is so profound. Remembering to relax no matter what is going on can truly be a life-saver and stress-eliminator sometimes.
  • Connect with your senses. Smell deeply – whether it be fragrant tea or herbs, essential oils, a burning fire, a sweet flower. Listen with quietude to something that makes your heart sing. Touch and be touched. Chew slowly and savor like an epicure a favorite food. See less detail and information with your eyes and let them enjoy having a cucumber rest.
  • Grab a stone, any stone that means something to you. Hold it in your hand. Give it your worries and pains. Blow into it your sorrows. Pass it over your body, head to foot, envisioning clearing any dim energies from your aura. Put two stones on your feet, by the arches, and let that energy run through your body. Put a favorite crystal or stone on your heart or any place that you feel called to. When you are done, wash it under the water and let it carry your pains and sorrows with it.
  • Think of somebody or something you love deeply. Hold that in your heart and send it out to the world.
  • Try to find something to make you smile and laugh every day, no matter what your problems or the problems of the world.

Remember, the stronger and more grounded your energy is, the more powerful you can be and the better you will feel. And the better chance you will have to contribute to the more positive tomorrow in whatever way you feel called.

Published in the Monadnock Shopper – March 2017

 

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Live Close to the Earth

Live simply,
Live close to the earth;
Enjoy life
With all its mirth.

Live high,
Live close to the sky;
Fly on eagle wings
To where your desires do roam.

Live close to your home,
Live tight to your clan,
Live without an ambitious plan,
Live to enjoy the new dawn
When the lone star
Touches your breast.

Live on the soil
Without any toil,
Live in your place,
In your sacred space
That is as high and as wide
As an infinite wave
That crashes upon you
Without water or sand,
Caressing your hands
That touch my eyelids
Asleep with the now
Of your loving me.

 

 

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HEALING AND POLITICS

Published in the Monadnock Shopper News – February 8-14, 2017

This column is supposed to be about healing and often we are told that talking about politics or anything that could be confrontational and divisive is not healing.  But I beg to disagree, especially now given events in the political arena that seem to be beyond the norm of our political system to date.  These events are causing stress and anguish for many people while others are cheering in victory.

For me, my interest in healing actually began with an experience when I was 17 years old.  I was an exchange student to Uruguay where I learned shortly after arriving that the country was in the midst of a brutal dictatorship and my host family had a son who was a political prisoner.   His name was Luis.  I visited him several times in prison, at a place called Libertad.  Ironically, this word means Freedom in Spanish.

How could my host brother have ended up in jail for carrying out non-violent activities?  It was my Uruguayan high school friends who explained to me that their military had learned how to do this repression from the U.S. military school, then based in Panama (now in the Carolinas).  At first I refused to believe it, but they convinced me of this truth.  They also told me that they did not equate me with my government, and that of course they like me and wanted me as a friend.

Flash forward many years.  Luis just finished serving as Minister of Development for Uruguay, under the Presidency of another former political prisoner – Mujica – who endeared himself to the world with his modest ways and care for the poor.

I became obsessed with understanding how governments can fall apart, how democracy can be lost, and how it can be regained again.  That one question guided me all the way through to a PhD in Latin American studies.

I spent more than a decade living in Chile as I witnessed that country shift out of a military dictatorship to return to a robust democracy under the banner of a coalition of political parties from the left to the center right.  I became friends with Cubans who helped rebuild their country’s economy during the Special Period, when the nation was near starvation.  I spoke with people who ran soup kitchens in Buenos Aires for formerly middle class people who had no food due to an economic collapse.

What I can say from all these various experiences is that the people who were at the forefront of the struggles has no certainty of the outcome.  They would tell me modestly of how they just started to write down a few human rights cases for the record or go into the fields to learn how the old timers grew crops or give solace to people who a few months earlier had not wanted to help any beggars or soup kitchens themselves but now were without food.

As desperate and hard as those experiences and times often were for so many people, at the same time they were moments that brought out the courage and imagination of many.  Some people just did what they felt called to do, with their unique strengths and gifts.

The other thing that I have felt in those places and periods was that in some odd way they were also times of great joy.  In my early days in Chile, the man who became my husband and his friends had little money to go out, but they would hold all night dance parties until the curfew was lifted.  There was lots of laughter, easy friendships.  Difficult discussions were had.  People disagreed about politics.  Folks were scared, unsure, but also we were oddly alive.

Ever since my time in Uruguay, I have felt a heavy burden knowing that it was the policies of my government that helped to jail my host brother Luis.  And contributed significantly to the military coup in Chile, where the brother of my friend Marcelo Montecino was killed, along with thousands of others.

I sometimes hesitate to talk too much about these truths here, afraid to offend people, or sound too political, or too harsh against the United States.  But these days, for better or worse, I am hearing people talking about politics and policies in new ways.  People are grappling to understand what may not be understandable.  I spent decades studying this same question and never found the answer.

But what I did find was many amazing stories, many brave people, and a few tragic tales as well.  I did learn that processes can take time, sometimes a long time, to play themselves out but that nations can heal from trauma and pains. Challenging times that shake a nation to its core can eventually help usher in new beginnings we cannot yet even conceive of.

 

 

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Crystal Message for Keene #2

I come to tell your community
that the time of the clans and cliques is done.

It is time to unite,
to come together with gentle words
and without undue strife.

To forward collectively
the cause of this land,
which is to protect the energies of
the mountains, lakes and rivers.

You are a valley,
a portal between peaks,
and due to this configuration
you have a unique energy to keep –

Valleys bring together people
in good brotherhood and cheer
telling people from far and near
that they can have a respite, a pause, some hospitality, a smile.

Before they continue on their journeys
to other domains far and wide

So create of this community
a site of hospitality and good cheer;
Welcome all strangers who pass through
with a nod, a smile and a song.

And as your community grows
Exclude none in your embrace –
the fair and ugly of face,
those of all colors of skin and race

All are brothers and sisters,
All are united in our common humanhood
So use me to promote good brotherhood, harmony and cheer.

Enough of depression, addictions and pains,
from this there is no karmic gain.

Banish all those ghosts, those shadows that cling to ourselves
through pardon, good grace and a fair face.

Now when I say a fair face,
I’m not talking of a pretty girl or boy:

I’m talking about the sacrifice of the sacred
Each person can extol

With the way that they work,
the way they live their lives:
with good will to all
and no evil disguise.

And the malls and corporations,
the asphalt filled wetlands,
will pass in due time

When people access more deeply
the sacred and the divine
that can be found in your soil,
in your rivers and slopes,
in the trees and the deers,
in all kinds of folks –

So in good brotherhood
with love and good cheer,
plant me with firm conviction
that other times are drawing near.

Written 2013 for a ceremony in Keene, NH, USA.

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Crystal Message for Keene #1

I am a crystal so bright –
who will accompany your community
All day and all night.

All through the hard times,
The sad times to come,
If you call upon my radiant red light
I will beam bright
upon you –

With malice unto no one.

I come to tell you to believe
That there is a light
That shines so bright
It can never be extinguished
No matter how hard some people may try.

So please tell your people
In sweet dear Keene
That each life is dear –
Human, flower and animal too.

Let love beam bright
all around your hometown,
Imbue it with passion
For the beauty of life divine –

Without any expectations of wealth or recognition,
Just enjoying the joys of ever-loving mother Earth.

Keep out greed and mistrust
Banish those enemies from your domains

Make this a humble place
Simple and sweet
And goodness and bounty will smile down upon all
In good time and due course.

Written 2013 for a crystal healing ceremony

 

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Now

I don’t want to carry your
burdens anymore –

Don’t give me your tired, your lost,
those yearning to be free
0f them, I have no
more needs

I don’t want to carry your burdens
anymore—

Be gone, just let me be

in my isolationist stupor
in the pain to the known
in the fear of the knowing
in the branding of you.

I don’t want to carry your burdens
anymore—Be gone, banished from my distant
shore

while I burn effigies of
me
and conjure up eschatologies of thee
as my neighbor smokes his weed
to forget all that he does see

I don’t want to carry your burdens
anymore—

be banished deep in the earth,

up to the forever skies—

into the volcanoes, the ash clouds,
the poison rains

that pour down upon me

all I don’t acknowledge of thee

in nightmares silently scream on

celluloid blogs

in the mechanic’s garage.

 

 

 

 

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