Marriage to Self, Place and Spirit
By Jesse Wolf Hardin
“To all our relations...”
— AmerIndian Prayer
Know it or not, we relate to all that exists, and to all that has ever existed — to every thing, from the familiar and the close at hand to the eminent energies of far and distant galaxies. And thus, all things are our relatives, our extended family. Contemporary social and environmental insanity can be traced to our inability or unwillingness to recognize the myriad “others” — other people, other species, the rocks and the rivers — as the family members they truly are, and to honor their integrity the way one would ideally honor their parents, their children, their husband or their wife.
The return to balance requires we recognize the fact and understand the subtleties of relationship. It requires we relate intimately to the multiple aspects of our authentic self, to those castaway “others,” to animate place and omnipresent Spirit. For the rest of Nature, intimacy is a sim-ple matter of proximity and familiarity. For separative human kind, intimacy is also a voluntary discipline, involving our deliberate and active participation.
It is a mandate, a crucial quest to really know and to love the self again, and thereby erase the destructive effects of inculcated insecurity and low self esteem. To love the others as our self, from “homeless” panhandlers to cattails, condors and creeks. To love the land as our source and context, and Spirit as the source and context for the living land.
One who loves their self, will insist on being treated kindly and honestly, on a lifestyle that’s healthy and a life with meaning. Because they are sure of their worth, they’ll look for worth and value in others, and in the land.
A lover might leave flowers in the path of the returning beloved, faithfully kiss his mate’s eyes open each morning, or sing her praises with a mad passion.
A lover of the land plants the seeds of endangered flora, embraces the sun each and every dawn without fail, composes lyric praise for the perfumed earth.
A lover of Spirit walks in holy intercourse with this numinous quality, sensing and surrendering, learning and praising. The men and women of such passion paint in oils the telling faces and curving bodies — the subjects of their affection, layer transparent pigments atop each other in a heroic effort to capture the luminosity of a cherished mountain range, to allude to the splendor of that inclusivity we call God. They dance the sacred dances and fight the essential battles to not only protect but nurture and celebrate these things which are dear to them.
Intimacy depends on a willing exchange of information and acknowledgment, opened to its full potential with the vital addition of promise and trust, and deepened by the passage of time. It benefits from the kind of reciprocal contract of the hearts we’ll call “marriage.”
Far too many ceremonies retain the forms without the commitment, pledging allegiance to a country or cause without really meaning it, mouthing the sacraments of a church and then behaving the opposite, pledging someone a lifetime and then finding the relationship has become too unhealthy to be deserving of fidelity in a few years or less.
What is needed is a promissory relationship founded not on rule but choice, not on obligation but on love, a wedding of the sometimes contentious parts of the self, of the self and other, of self and place. Such coupling requires both a binding agreement and a purposeful ceremony: a glad vow, an unending ritual sharing, a lasting emotional and spiritual bond.
We promise to give ourselves fully to our sentient selfhood, to one another, to Earth and Spirit. We vow to respect and to nourish the beloved’s unique needs and vital expression, to share adversity and fortune equally, and to defend each other’s honor and form against all outside threats.
In any healthy marriage we praise the qualities and gifts of the other, consciously celebrate our relationship on a daily basis, infuse every moment with an attitude of deepest thankfulness, and seek to give back equally to the other with no resentment or restraint. Whether a marriage to persons or to the land, part of what we give back is care, and this care is most significant when it is truly heartfelt, and when it involves voluntary prayerful sacrifice.
“When you make the sacrifice in marriage, you’re sacrificing not to
other but to unity in a relationship.”
— Joseph Campbell
Many of us have an aversion to the very idea of sacrificing anything, equating it with the spartan puritanism attributed to our parent’s or grandparent’s generation. And yet it is through giving up the focus on our attachments, our sacrifice of the surface minutia, that we gain access to the whole, the holy. The word “sacrifice” comes from the same root as the word “sacred.” We help make/maintain the sacred by surrendering the impedimenta. We sacrifice our schedules, our habits, our predispositions, and ultimately our lives on the altar of love, not out of atonement for the sins of our predecessors, but to give some of our selves back to the powers that gave us birth.
It may be difficult to reconcile with Odin’s hanging from the tree of knowledge, the Indian fakir stretched out on his hard rock perch, or the Sioux sun-dancer making the circle with buffalo skulls hung from the skewered skin of his chest. We need to look at how all plants and animals give of themselves, how the death of each being contributes to the flow of life, to help us accept our sacrifices as ways of sharing our vital energy while we are still alive.
In deliberately abstaining from our normal course of comfort, sleep, food or sex, we can become more permeable to the penetration of spirit, more receptive to the incoming messages. This spirit is manifest in place, the messages available to those of us residing there.
Something else essential to any marriage is good communication. By quieting the verbose mind and opening up to the meaning-filled signals from the rest of the living planet, we create the condition of respect necessary for complete rapport. It is our natural, if suppressed ability to communicate with the other agents of the earthen whole, to serve as a conduit for their expression, and to send our own response back to that holism, informing it as it informs us. In this way we are the instruments of the totality, and lenses benefitting from every increase in clarity.
Ritual is one way of communicating to this whole, in a deliberate exchange of sensations and responsibilities. A way of communication with the whole through the aperture of a particular, specific place. A place we’ve come to know well and deeply appreciate. This is how we contact the entire universe through the eternity of a single touch. It is the way of the rest of Nature, and the way of our ancient foremothers and forefathers.
Again, all things are connected, and all exist in relationship... consciously so or not. And whether acknowledged or unrecognized, all things have significance and relevance to the other. Conscious relationship, however, is our awareness of that relevance. What we call “independence” is little more than the willful neglect of existing relationships. Environmental collapse, like the collapse of a loving relationship between two or more people, results not from some counterproductive “codependency” but rather from the pursuit of this illusory independence. All elements of the whole depend on the rest of its constituent parts, and thus none are free of need or effect, consequence or responsibility.
A marriage — to the inspirited Earth, to sweethearts, or to our own hungering souls — is interdependency made deliberate. It is conscious, certain relationship, holy relationship, carried forward into the wholly uncertain future.
Jesse Wolf Hardin is an acclaimed teacher of Earth-centered spirituality, living seven river crossings from a road in an ancient place of power. He is the author of “Kindred Spirits” (Swan•Raven 2001) and “Gaia Eros: Reconnecting To The Magic & Spirit of Nature” (New Page 2004). Wolf and Loba share the riverside sanctuary where he offers men’s quests and intuitive counsel, and she hosts women for quests, wildfoods gathering, special resident internships, and the annual Wild Women’s Gathering each June 17-21: The Earthen Spirituality Project & Sweet Medicine Women’s Center, Box 820, Re-serve, NM 87830. For more information, please see our website: www.earthenspirituality.org
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