Sunday, December 1, 2019

Solstice Reflections

Today is December 1 and the solstice is only a few weeks away. In the northern hemisphere the days are growing shorter. In the southern hemisphere they grow longer. Christmas decorations adorn houses and shops and there is a festive mood in the air. The holiday season is in full swing with parties and celebrations.

This is a festive time of year but it is also a time to reflect on the previous months of experiences and lessons, identifying what you are ready to release as well as honoring areas of growth and expansion. The soul's journey requires tending. During December I like to read through old journals and set aside time for rituals of release and renewal.

Winter is the final phase of the twelve-month cycle of Earth’s seasons. Like all cycles, winter holds evidence and clues within it about what came before, what is and what will likely be. The energy of winter is an ending and a new beginning. There is increasing darkness, the darkest point and then the shift toward increasing light.

At this time of year I look to nature to show me her rhythm, her way of "being". She is quiet. Her leaves cover the ground, decomposing. During the process of decomposition, the decomposers provide food for themselves by extracting chemicals from organic wastes to produce energy. The decomposers will then produce waste of their own. In turn, this will also decompose, eventually returning nutrients to the soil. These nutrients can then be taken up by the roots of living plants enabling them to grow and develop, so that organic material is naturally recycled. Virtually nothing goes to waste in nature.

During this season of quiet reflection and review, I encourage each of you to recycle your energies. Renew, refresh, and envision the richness of your journey to date and the possibility that lies before you. Read through old journals or inspirational books, noting personal themes that are ready to be released and new lines of inquiry that your soul is ready to explore.

Ritual and ceremony allow us to source from our inner beings, to create from pure intention, to see more clearly what doesn’t serve us any longer and to dream our new direction into being. A ritual has a beginning, a middle and an end. There is no correct way to do a ritual but the creative process is empowering. By identifying the intention and following one's intuition we can open our vision to be in alignment with our communities, the earth and ourselves. When created and practiced with the intention for the highest good for all, we contribute to the alchemical process of transformation and oneness.

This ritual is one possibility for release and renewal...

A Ritual for Release and Renewal

This December the Full Moon is on the 10th, the Solstice is on the 21st, and the New Moon/Solar Eclipse is on the 25th. All three of these dates are powerful times to do ritual.

Gather Ritual Materials for Altar
A candle
Flowers, stones, crystals from nature
Sage or favorite incense
Personal altar objects that align with your intention
2 pieces of paper and string
Access to a fireplace or outdoor fire

Choose a Quiet Space
Find a quiet place inside or in nature where you can be comfortable. Begin to calm your body with deep breaths and bring awareness to your intention for your ritual.

Build an Altar
Place your candle in the center and your natural items in the four cardinal directions. Add your personal sacred objects to the altar.

Use Sage, Palo Santo, or other incense to purify your body and the altar.

Set Sacred Space
Call in sacred space and honor the medicine of the directions. Various traditional cultures see the cardinal directions in different ways but the following is an attempt to provide insight that is in alignment with many traditions.
  • East represents spring, new beginnings and rebirth; the intellect and ability to reason; element is air
  • South represents summer and abundance; growth, passion, fertility, and happiness; element is fire
  • West represents autumn and harvest; the deep self, emotions, and intuition; element is water
  • North represents winter and the cycle of death and connection with the Ancestors; powers of stability and silence; element of earth
  • Above is Father Sky, Grandmother Moon and the stars and our reverence to the spirit world
  • Below is Mother Earth for grounding, creation and abundance
You can rattle, drum, or play music as you sit in meditation. Focus on connecting with your breath and your soft receptive nature. Notice parts within you that may need to be released. This could be in your physical body, your emotions or limiting beliefs. What no longer serves you in your life?

Write: Releasing
Write on a single piece of paper all the things that no longer serve you in your life and what you are ready and willing to release. Then roll up the paper and wrap it with string. Blow your pure intentions  for release 3 times into your rolled-up paper and place on your altar.

Honor Yourself
Sit again in meditation honoring your whole, connected and vibrant self. Repeat out loud 3 times “ I am whole, I am open, I am love.” Bring awareness to what you are ready to invite into your life. Take time to imagine yourself living this invitation.

Write: Invitation
Write on the other paper what you are now inviting into your life. Using present tense "I am" and "I" statements are powerful. Blow 3 long slow breaths into your invitations and place on your altar.

Sit once again in silence and observe how you feel. Are there any sensations or images coming to you now? Stay soft, open and receptive.

With focused attention take your rolled up papers and honor the work you have done today to let go of old ways and welcome in the new. Fire has the alchemical property of transformation so as you burn your papers envision releasing the old and birthing the new vision.

Close the Sacred Space
Close your sacred space by honoring the four directions, Mother Earth and the stars, sun, and moon. If it feels right, honor your ancestors and spirit guides. Thank your self for being the open luminous vessel of light and love that you are. Journal about your ritual and share with a trusted friend if you choose.

I leave you with these beautiful words from John O'Donohue...

"Within the grip of winter, it is almost impossible to imagine the spring. The gray perished landscape is shorn of color. Only bleakness meets the eye; everything seems severe and edged. Winter is the oldest season; it has some quality of the absolute. Yet beneath the surface of winter, the miracle of spring is already in preparation; the cold is relenting; seeds are wakening up. Colors are beginning to imagine how they will return. Then, imperceptibly, somewhere one bud opens and the symphony of renewal is no longer reversible. From the black heart of winter a miraculous, breathing plenitude of color emerges." ~ John O'Donohue, "Benedictus"
Blessings of peace, love, and light,
Gretchen Crilly McKay

Friday, June 28, 2019

Reconnect with the Magic of Nature

If we want children to flourish, to become truly empowered, then let us allow them to love the earth before we ask them to save it. Perhaps this is what Thoreau had in mind when he said, “The more slowly trees grow at first, the sounder they are at the core, and I think the same is true of human beings.” ~ David Sobel

Nature inspires me. She invites me to connect to my inner child - to play, rest, walk, meditate. There’s no end to the lessons nature provides when I spend time exploring, allowing a childlike sense of awe and wonder to accompany me. In exchange she asks me to be a caretaker, to honor the natural world and remind others of the need to walk mindfully on this beautiful planet, Mother Earth.

Spending time with my family, especially with my grandchildren, brings back sweet memories of my early years as a child and then a mother. As a child I spent many creative hours exploring the orange grove near my home and playing with friends outside. I wanted my own children to have similar experiences in the natural world. I wanted them to be creative problem solvers and develop a sense of freedom in making choices, with guidance and supportive boundaries. Nature can teach us much about this.

As parents we are often to overwhelmed by responsibilities and daily life. I guess that’s where grandparents come in! In retrospect I see that I was able to be a supportive parent but I couldn’t do it all. As a grandparent I realize how important it is to get children out in nature, to explore and just enjoy the natural world. All too soon little ones become adolescents and, for a time, are not interested in many of the simple joys in nature that enthralled them only a few years before. But the values and experiences children glean from nature stay with them forever and they will return to those simple joys later in life.

When we invite children to spend time in nature they develop a strong relationship with the natural world and a sense of self, flourishing and becoming empowered. This love of earth creates a strong foundation for becoming a fully empowered human being who will love and protect Mother Earth.

It’s never too late to fall in love with nature. Enjoy nature. Reconnect with your own inner child and be reminded of the wonder of it all!

Saturday, May 4, 2019

The Soul of Nature

"The land is sacred. These words are at the core of your being. The land is our mother, the rivers our blood. Take our land away and we die. That is, the Indian in us dies." ~Mary Brave Bird
Spring arrived with an explosion of color here in Southern California, gracing the landscape with brilliant hues of yellow, orange, and purple. Walking in a nearby canyon I rediscovered the magnificence of local medicinal plants growing in abundance. The rains have restored streams that flow through previously dry creek beds, reminding us of ancient earth rhythms. I am in awe of her beauty.

At the same time much of humanity continues to live in unaltered ways, littering the earth with materials that are not biodegradable, continuing dependence on fossil fuels and living in unsustainable ways. Climate change and global warming are a reflection of humanity's disconnection with ourselves. Mother Earth is inviting us to go into our hearts, seek balance within, and reconnect with Nature as a spiritual teacher. We are spiritual beings and the mind-body-spirit connection can be restored when we align with our Mother.

In every community there are places that can be reclaimed and restored as open spaces and community gardens. Restoring our yards and open spaces with trees and plants that are native to the area brings back the local ecosystem, including native wildlife. Grassroots organizations and nature-loving communities are doing this throughout our country. In this era of political ignorance and denial, we can be part of the change, of the solution by care-taking our neighborhoods and consciously restoring the natural habitats where we live.

When I was living on the property in Laguna Beach I learned a great deal about balance and how nature collaborates. Native plant species growing on the land invited birds to return and the birds spread seeds. Snakes kept the rodent population down and birds of prey balanced the snakes. I watched coyote, quail, and raccoon parents teach their young about the wild places to seek food and find shelter. I even had the privilege of observing a mountain lion walk the hillside in the canyon where I lived.

Get out into nature. If you are lucky enough to live in a wild place, spend time observing and sitting in sacred silence. For those who live in the middle of a bustling city, choose to take yourself for a long walk in nearby natural places at least once a week to restore your inner balance. Walk mindfully. Sit with a tree. Go bird watching. Meditate with the soothing rhythms of the ocean waves. Nature is a healing tonic for the soul and the more you connect with her the more your own inner peace and balance will be restored.
"Keep close to Nature's heart... and break clear away, once in awhile, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean." ~John Muir
Blessings of peace love and light,
Gogo Gretchen
May you find a harmony between your soul and your life ~ John O'Donohue

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Choose Kindness

"When you lend a hand, you open a way for your heart to touch the heart of everything. This is a wealth that only grows. While those we help may leave or die or simply grow into their own beauty and be loved by others, the closeness uncovered by kindness turns to light in the body, until the closeness generated by kindness makes a lamp of the heart." ~ by Mark Nepo, Seven Thousand Ways to Listen

I love the last line of that quote, "...until the closeness generated by kindness makes a lamp of the heart." This is a profound reflection of what is true about relationships and how the Divine can work within and without to create peace and harmony. We see examples of this in nature. It's less evident in daily news reports about the current state of human interaction but I am motivated to keep my eyes and heart open for examples of kindness in unexpected places each and every day. What I have discovered is that I am surrounded by good, kind people in the communities I interact with and I am hopeful for the future. We never know what we are learning in the midst of giving or receiving kindness but when we step back and reflect, we are changed. 

Throughout my life I have been blessed to be the recipient of great generosity from others. Nurturing the friendships that I have developed over my lifetime has provided so many blessings! Long ago I recognized that tending and nurturing relationships with those who also value kindness resulted in trusted friends who I can process and grow with. There are times to give and times to receive. Reciprocity allows for mutual expansion and the key is an open heart and a willingness to take risks with another person.

I choose to continue opening my heart to the goodness of humanity. I choose to give kindness freely and receive it equally! I choose to experience joy and love and laughter with people I cherish. I count myself lucky to have so many kind and loving friends who value my presence and whose presence I am continually enriched by. Each friend is a unique flower in my garden for that I am eternally grateful!

May each of us find others to open our hearts to "until the closeness generated by kindness makes a lamp of the heart".

Blessings ~ Gretchen

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Community Connections

Here in Southern California rain is something we truly appreciate. Our average annual rainfall is about 14 inches and many years we receive less than that. So a rainy day is greeted with appreciation. I always thank the Water Spirits for blessing the land with the sweetness of water and for refreshing nature. 

In the Dagara tradition of West Africa, there are five elements: fire, water, earth, mineral, and nature. People carry one of these five elements and this is their soul's contribution to the community. To identify your element, look at the last digit of your birth year. Then look at the picture below to see what element you carry. 

Each of the five elements has particular medicine to offer to the community. Fire, the original element, is seen as a most potent connection to the spirit world. It connects us to our spiritual path by consuming that which stands between us and our purpose. Water brings cleansing, reconciliation, purification and peace-making. Earth, the central element, is the mother who is inviting us to come home to community and the earth, our true home. Mineral is the elemental energy that invites us to remember, through ritual, who we are and why we are here. Nature asks us to open to transformation in order to realize our true and authentic selves.

Within communities, all the elements need to be represented. The example of Mother Earth and her expression through nature is key here. We must be in touch with our human nature while living with the elements of nature – water, earth, animals, plants. When we are connected with the rhythms of nature, we are in balance and see with all of our senses. Intuition is heightened and the importance of living in harmony with our neighbors and our self is brought into focus. There is an ongoing cycle of death and renewal in nature and if we apply this to our personal and family life, we can learn how to interact harmoniously with others. 
This year, 2019, is a Mineral Year in the Dagara system. A mineral year is about remembering who we are and why we are here. Our bones hold the "stories" of our lineage through our DNA. The minerals of the earth hold the ancient wisdom of Earth's creation and the history of all that has occurred during the earth's transformations. What old stories are relevant for today and can help guide humanity move forward in a positive way -- stories that we can benefit from remembering and sharing? It's also important to look at the old stories we tell ourselves that are outdated and need to be reimagined. How can we learn from the past to create a better future?

Indigenous cultures throughout the world understand this connection between humans and the elements. Rituals using the elements are performed to remember who we are and why we are here. We can learn from the wisdom of cultures that are consciously choosing to live in balance with the natural world.

Humanity has much to reflect upon in our current chaotic climate. Our personal and collective communities are going through an evolutionary process and we are being invited to choose how we move forward. What can we learn from history and how can we take responsibility for the future of Mother Earth? Grassroots nonprofit organizations are communities focusing on solutions and need the support of those in alignment with their mission. I encourage you to find local organizations where you can volunteer or offer financial support. Get involved in your community!  
What do you long for? Is it time to change jobs, receive training in an area that interests you, move to a new place, or end a relationship in your life that no longer serves the highest good? What is working well? What is not? What old stories about yourself do you want to release? Listen with your heart. Discover joy again. Get involved with like-minded people who also want to contribute in a positive way to Mother Earth's evolution. Be the change you want to see!

Blessings of peace, love and joy,
Gogo Gretchen Crilly McKay

For more information about the Dagara, read an article written by Sobonfu Some

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Shared Roots

A few months ago I met a lovely woman, Jen Kramer, who had committed to a year of postings on social media at #yearoflove. Her goal was to acknowledge the people in her daily life that she appreciated and who made the world a better place. Jen inspired me to make a similar commitment for 2019 but with a different focus.

Over the last year I have been contemplating community and all the ways we help our planet heal by actively participating in various communities. Recently I began reading Mark Nepo’s latest book, More Together than Alone: Discovering the Power and Spirit of Community in Our Lives and in the World and decided to make community and nature the focus for my year of reflection.

Nature provides many examples of interconnectedness and interdependence, especially among tree communities. California’s coast redwoods are among the most impressive trees on the planet. They are one of the oldest living organisms in the world and can live more than 2,000 years! They are so tall that their tops are out of sight. Mats of soil on the upper branches support whole communities of worms, insects, salamanders and mammals.

Redwoods can clone themselves, resulting in a complex network of roots beneath the forest floor with which trees communicate and share nutrients. Their roots are not deep, only about six to twelve feet, but they are interconnected. Extending up to 100 feet from the tree’s base, they intertwine with the roots of others, holding on to each other, increasing their stability.

Throughout the coast redwood forest there are about 400 small redwoods that are completely stripped of color, albino or ghost redwoods. Scientists have discovered that these trees are full of cadmium, copper, nickel and other noxious metals that are harmful to the forest. These albino trees suck the heavy metals out of the soil in a symbiotic relationship with their healthy neighbors. These ghost trees act as reservoirs for poison in exchange for the sugar the healthy trees need to survive.

Coast redwoods take care of each other. They form bonds and look out for one another, even recognizing their offspring. All trees in the redwood forest are interconnected and interdependent, actively participating in the health of the entire forest. It is the interactions of the whole forest that keeps it strong and thriving as a community.

This year I am going to explore and share reflections about the power of community to heal our world, inspired by nature and people in my life. We all come from the same ancestral roots.

Please share your thoughts and reflections as I post on Facebook at Ancestral Wisdom, #sharedroots, or Instagram @gcmckay.

May 2019 inspire you and bless you!
May you discover and expand your appreciation and interconnectedness with the communities in your life.
May you recognize the interdependence of all life on Mother Earth and become part of the solution for our planet and all living beings.
May you give and receive the gift of love and shared ancestral roots.

“Shared roots live longer.” Mark Nepo 

Gogo Gretchen Crilly McKay