The Breath of The Earth
Ancient Animá for The Modern Age
By Jesse Wolf Hardin
“The call to power necessitates turning towards the unknown, the mysterium.
This change of direction can be accomplished only through what Carl Jung has
referred to as ‘an obedience to awareness’.”
— Joan Halifax
There is one near-constant in the canyons of the Southwest. To some it seems like an adversary and to others a friend.... the breath of Earth, the wind. It blows most of the year, from a gentle and delightful breeze to furious gusts that threaten to down the weaker trees, lift the roof of our cabin, and bring even the most arrogant of us to our knees. Most often it is a soft nuzzling, just enough movement of air to let us know it Is there. There can be midmorning moments of absolute stillness, but even they seem somehow taut in anticipation of when the winds might begin again.
It is the wind that blows caves into the tufa and limestone where no water can reach, that carries the scent of the unwary hunter to the flared nostrils of the deer, and that grabs the attention of even the most distracted — reminding them of the world as it is right now, right here. Wind that dries and cracks the ground, and wind that brings the rain. If a sapling is strong it is not so much from the tensile of its fibers as the periodic testing of the wind. Wind that tugs at our clothes like a teasing lover, or whips the sand into our eyes. Wind that at least temporarily blows the clutter of words from our burdened, racing minds.
Even the most educated and sophisticated of us walk down this river canyon changed, refined not reduced, simplified into beings that hunger and love, that sense cold and heat, that notice the wind’s passage and sing without provocation. Into curious primates, kindred creatures to those furry and feathered ones that share with us this home. To even the most jaded and predisposed, all the canyon seems energized, alive.... inspirited. Spirit in the myriad plants and animals, vibrating within volcanic rocks, glowing in the light of a setting sun. Spirit in taste and scent, struggle and fun. Spirit in the life-giving river, and in the giddy intercourse of evolving life forms. Spirit in those small and plain things our society so often scorns.
Spirit tracing its own movements, in graceful designs in weed-lashed sand. Spirit empowering every helpful hand. Spirit in our daughter’s hopeful face. Spirit in the hearts and deeds of they who serve love, truth and place. Spirit singing out from pink and gold cliffs, in the voices of those russet ritualists who came before. And spirit emboldening young cottonwoods and willows to do the “impossible” — extending determined roots into what is an always shifting shore. Spirit that seems to writhe like a river within, spirit as indomitable wind.
Throughout history most cultures and religions have made reference to wind as a manifestation of, or metaphor for spirit. To the Greeks, Animá meant both “courage”, and wind or breath. In the Taoist tradition of Tibet and Nepal, passing through nature and life fully present, conscious and compassionate is called “lung-gom”, the way of the wind. The original meaning of the word “spirit” was “breath”: a clear volume of energy that one can best feel when it moves, alerts, prods or pushes, seduces or agitates. One way to think of spirituality then is as an act of tireless respiration, rhythmically and reciprocally taking in and giving back in equal willing measure.
Students and seekers come to this canyon from all over, each riding astride the currents of their own personal winds of change. Whether they have a language for it or not, most people come here for more than to just spend time at a wild and beautiful retreat center. They come to get in deeper touch with that place within themselves that is still just as beautiful and alive, free and untamed, passionate and purposeful.... to visit what usually proves to be a vast, uncharted and hope-filled savannah within. They are often at a crossroads in their lives looking for the necessary signs to help them decide, or on the edge of some precipice from which they must either fall or fly.
Their journey begins not with the booking of a flight to New Mexico, the long drive from Albuquerque in a rented vehicle, or even the mile-and-a-half walk to the refuge from where all cautious cars park. It begins with an awareness they cannot suppress, insights they are unable to ignore, distraction and dishonor we can no longer tolerate.... and sometimes a calling that just won’t let us be. It is furthered with our grounding in authentic self, service and place. It involves conscious mystical connection, interdependence and interpenetration; expanding empathy and heightened sensation; contact and contracts with the inspirited land, its creatures and plants; energies, entities and insistent inspiriteurs.
Whatever one calls it, there seems to be a dynamic power coursing through this planet and its wind-filled atmosphere — a vibrational unity, an underlying if in some respects incomprehensible pattern, an entity or energy of inclusion that animates, inspires, enlightens and fuels the best of what it means to be human “kind”. It is this sense of lasting integral beingness that we cleave to, whether envisioned as a male God or Yahweh, a female Goddess or Mother Earth, or a formless force for balance or good. And whether recognized by Christian or Jew, Buddhist or Pagan, reformed urban cynic, or man and woman of the woods.
The Animá we teach is not just primitive religiosity or a holistic way of perceiving the world. It is a growing contemporary study, practice and way of life intended for all deeply-feeling, intensely-seeking people... rooted in ancient ways of knowing and being, in connective “New Science” as well as the lessons and revelations of the natural world. Drawing from the source and ground of all knowing and being, it is possible for Animá to inform — rather than compete with — existing religious, indigenous, magical and philosophical traditions.
As a study, Animá can deepen understanding of our genuine, able selves, in interrelationship with each other, our human communities, and the community of all life. As a practice, it can help us: Increase sense of presence and enjoy increased mindfulness. Better explore personal direction and spiritual or magical path. Deepen awareness and understanding of natural authentic self. Awaken bodily senses, learning to better sense the world we are an integral part of, see more patterns and beauty, hear more exquisitely, taste every nuance of our food, savor even the mundane details of our mortal lives.
Explore the so-called “sixth sense”, including resonant empathy and innate intuition. Tap into bodily knowing and primal instinct. Grow our sense of place... of family, home, land, ecosystem and bioregion. Further our awareness of and active relationship to the natural, revelatory world. Recognize the intrinsic nature of and animating force in everything, and every thing’s intrinsic value apart from human use. Increase our sense of self worth and confidence, based on our true abilities rather than imposed or imagined characteristics and gifts.
Come to better understand our fears, and how to use them as markers for what needs our attention, as fuel to act, to change what needs changing. Realize that we are a co-creators of not only our reality but our world, and commit to acting accordingly. Discover how to give back to the earth that provides and inspires. Learn how to grow from every mistake or misdirection. Get beyond victimhood and attachment to escape or distress. Extricate ourselves from unhealthy habits, expectations, judgments and ways of thinking. Develop healthy attachments to life, spirit, values and missions.
Make every moment a decisive moment, and take responsibility for what we both do and don’t do. Reawaken a childlike sense of wonder and connection. Learn how to best utilize our gifts and skills for the good of the greater whole. Discover how to actively fulfill our most meaningful purpose. Positively affect, even in small ways, everyone we meet. Make our environs more healthy, beautiful and natural, as we heal, express and manifest our natural selves. Learn to better celebrate and greater savor.
While each person is unique, the animating spirit of nature can take us to our core, beneath the edifice and habit, and to a place of core agreements and values. In the condition where we are most alive, that we are also most connected, empathic, grateful and caring. Learning to open to the pain of separation and imbalance, simultaneously expands our capacities to feel excitement, awe, love, inspiration and satisfaction. The same winds course through the hearts of every feeling creature, and it is that Animá that connects us all.
Again the Southwest breezes pick up, mussing our hair as we breathe in the
world... and the earth, in turn, breathes us.
Jesse Wolf Hardin is an acclaimed teacher of Animá earth-centered practice and author of five books including “Gaia Eros” (New Page 2004). He and his partners offer online Animá correspondence courses, as well as host students and guests for retreats, counsel, vision quests, internships and events in their river canyon and ancient place of power: The Medicine Woman Intensive Nov. 10-12, and the rescheduled Shaman Path Intensive Dec. 1st-3rd. Contact the Animá Wilderness Retreat Center & Women’s Sanctuary, Box 688, Reserve, NM 87830 www.animacenter.org
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