Weekend in the Hudson Valley

fleabaneAs much as I love my home, the farm, and my work, once in a while I have to get away. My partner and I went to visit my friend Beth and her husband Mark over the weekend. They live in the Hudson Valley, which isn’t really that far away from here — about a three-hour drive. We had a great time!

Beth and I are old friends from our Morrisville College days. We were in the Equine Program together, and even though we have been through a lot of changes in our lives and live relatively far apart, we have remained the best of friends for 29 years.

The four of us rented bicycles on Saturday morning and rode the Rail Trail. It was beautiful, with all the honeysuckle and spring wildflowers blooming! It was good exercise, and a great way to re-connect and catch up with recent events in our lives. We had a late lunch in Copake. That evening we headed for the Blackthorne Resort in East Durham to see Black 47, an Irish rock band who is on their last tour, after which they are going to retire. The show was fantastic!

Yesterday morning we hung out at their farm (lilacs blooming everywhere), visited with the two resident mares, walked the 20-acre property and just had a lovely, leisurely day until it was time to leave so we could get home at a reasonable hour in order to feed my own horses. The Catskills are magical and beautiful and being surrounded by them this weekend was good for my soul.

My plans for today involve weeding the raised bed gardens in my yard in preparation for planting.

Hope your Memorial Day weekend is a happy one, too! And thanks to all the veterans who served our country. We are deeply indebted to you.

- CLM

Bless the Noisy Crows

crow(A memory today stirred up this post. I felt the urge to share in the hope that my experience might help someone else going through a similar thing.)

Several years ago, we were battening down the hatches for yet another Nor’easter, which intended to drop several inches of snow and/or ice on us. The sun had been absent from our skies for a long time; the days were grey and sullen. It is this sloppy, wet murkiness, the sodden grey-ness of it all that (still) gets to me after a while. You see, I have Seasonal Affective Disorder, also known by its acronym, SAD. My symptoms were extreme that year, for we had a very long sun-less winter, in which it either rained or snowed an unbelievable amount at once. Thankfully, I have friends in warm places, places where the sun shines a great deal more than it does here in central NY. I did manage to get away for a long weekend, which refreshed me a great deal.

However, in the midst of the darkness, at my lowest low, when I wasn’t communicating with anyone (which, by the way, is a bad thing to do when you’re depressed), in the throes of wading through waist-high snow to get my poor snow-bound horses outside after days of captivity, I fell – and that fall changed everything. As I lay in the snow on my back, physically unharmed but looking skyward with tears streaming down my face, I thought how futile my life seemed, and I had no energy to keep going, to even move from where I had fallen. I could see no reason for my continued existence, no reason…

As they say, it’s always darkest before the dawn. After laying there in the snow for a while, I suddenly heard a crow yelling from a nearby tree, and that call sharply pierced the blackness of my despair. I realized that the sun had come out. The sky was a perfect blue, with light fluffy clouds making their way across my field of vision. And I realized that the snow was very comfortable, so I reclined there and watched the sky for a bit longer, my tears freezing as they rolled from my cheeks. The crow’s call in my ears seemed to change, and, in a most amazing revelation, it dawned on me that this crow was speaking to me, yelling at me, “Get up! Get up! Why do you lay there?! Don’t give up! Get up! Get up!”

Don’t give up.

Imagine my surprise. Fight on, I heard in my head. And I realized in an instant that I was being spoken to by the Divine through this noisy crow. So I did. I wiped my tears, heaved a great sigh, and climbed up out of the snow, with the crow cheering me on, and then more crows. Urged on by their cacophony, I continued to struggle forward through the snow. And yes, it was a great struggle, but I finally got my horses outside in the sun, where they needed to be.

Of course, the encouragement from the crow was more than it seemed at the time. It was really more about the inner journey I had been experiencing than the outer struggle of the moment. I was yanked abruptly from my depression by this experience, for it occurred to me then that, although I am not the center of the universe by a long shot, I am, in fact, a very necessary part — as we all are necessary to the lives of others. My vision expanded outward from the recent wintry obsession of my inner Self hunkering miserably in darkness — to the sky, the clouds, the crows, the horses, and, ultimately, understanding. I understood at that moment that it isn’t all about me, but rather, that I am a servant, a vassal, a productive arm of the Gods of my People, put here on this earth and in this time to do the work they ask of me. Whether I know it or not, I am important, for many reasons. And there are people and creatures that depend on me; not just my family and my horses or pets, but the crows and other wild animals, trees and plants and water spirits that live here under my physical and spiritual protection. In that moment, I rolled the thought around in my mind again: it isn’t all about me.

When you come outside of yourself in such a way, you realize with a blush and a start how selfish you have actually been, withholding your bright energy from the world, withholding that spark within you that is Deity. You understand how your own self-absorption has produced negativity in a world that needs all the positive energy you can muster for it. You make a conscious choice to continue to crouch selfishly in the shadow, or to become a light in the darkness for the benefit of all. Sometimes we are so far gone that only a kick in the ass from a warrior goddess (through her beloved crows) can bring us back into balance — and sometimes we are blessed enough to actually recognize that kick in the ass when we experience it.

I have refused to succumb to the darkness since this divine intervention. I take vitamin D, I meditate, and I pray on a regular basis. When I feel that black shadow pressing down on me now, I fight it, with every cell in my body and every ounce of my spirit. If I need to, I go south to find the sun — whatever it takes to feed the light of my soul. After all, I did not come to this world to hunker in darkness; I came to this world to shine!

- CLM

Wisdom from Nelson Mandela’s People

John Lockley 2It’s a good idea for you to come to be with us in ceremony this weekend…and there are just a few spots left!

If you are already signed up and you bring a friend, the two of you get a deeper discount! If you haven’t signed up, now is the time!

Because something unique will be done that has never been done before. John Lockley, South African Xhosa Sangoma, will be teaching the core essence of Nelson Mandela’s philosophy, which comes from Mandela’s people, the Xhosa people. This philosophy is called “ubuntu,” which means “humanity.”

John has been working with his Xhosa teacher for 17 years. He is a medicine man of the Xhosa tribe.

But more than that, this weekend will be a unique opportunity to work with an indigenous shaman through the use of sacred dream medicine. This work helps people get dreams and visions in order to connect with their ancestors. It is safe (non-hallucinogenic) medicine, and part of the White Medicine tradition in South Africa.

We will be working with this sacred dream medicine in 2 forms: as an external blessing and cleanse during the day, and as a tea ceremony in the evening.

So if you or your friend has been undecided, now is the time for action. To attend this unique weekend ceremony, call Cindy today at 315.289.2030.

Mithrandir’s Magik (Alf), July 10, 1987 – April 14, 2014

Alf 1 I said goodbye to my soulmate on Monday, April 14, 2014. It is very difficult to say goodbye to one’s soulmate, maybe especially when that soulmate is a horse you brought into the world as a tiny foal, and with whom you spent 27 years of your life. It’s like burying your child. Well, at least that’s what it feels like for me.

Yes, my best friend, my partner of nearly 27 years is gone. Alf, my Alf, who filled my life with so much joy, and brought me some of my dearest friends, has departed this earthly plane. We knew it was coming, but you can’t really prepare for something like this, and finally the day came when his failing body could no longer support his immense spirit. On the Friday morning when he couldn’t move to get to his breakfast bucket, the morning he looked back at his uncooperative hind legs and then looked at me with a face that clearly said, “Help me,” I knew. I knew the time had finally come to release him from any future suffering; things were only going to go downhill from there. He was ready. I, of course, would never be, but this wasn’t about me.

The weather was perfect, with temperatures up into the low 80s for two glorious days. He had a lovely day on Sunday, being bathed and pampered and snoozing in the sun. Then on Monday morning, he was combed and kissed and fussed over, got to spend a few hours grazing in the lawn unfettered by lead or muzzle, ate a bag of apples, and was escorted like the King he was to the burial ground, where at 12:30 p.m., he passed easily, with help from our skilled and compassionate veterinarian, and surrounded by love. No, surrounded by LOVE. Big letters. Big feelings.

I have no regrets. It could not have gone any better than it did, this strange funeral rite, with Alf’s dignity remaining intact. And, just like he had so many times before, with so many things — training, or trail riding, or showing, or simply being the most cooperative, willing horse I ever knew — he made it easy on me. He crumpled gently to the earth and was gone from his body almost before his knees hit the ground. He looked strangely (or perhaps not so strangely) like a war horse in death, resting on his sternum, knees tucked under, nose touching the ground lightly, hind legs tucked as if caught in the middle of springing forth in ballotade.

I had prayed for an easy go, at least in that way. My prayers were answered, for which I am very grateful.

I have put other beloved horses down: Dusty, Red, Connie. I have assisted in putting horses down for friends. But I have never felt what I felt when Alf went down, a physical ripping sensation at my chest, a tearing, and an excruciating pain, as though some great spirit hand had reached into my body and torn out my soul. The gaping hole remains; I may look okay, I may even seem normal at first glance, but there is this great rent in the very fabric of my being that threatens to consume me.

A light has gone out of the world, and I am swimming through a river of grey, trying to find my way back through the darkness. I know he is with me in spirit. I know it. I trust that, even though I may be too caught up in my grief to see it yet. I am just feeling sorry for myself, because I will never be able to kiss his soft nose or feel that oneness of being, the other half of a centaur, again.

Still, memories of Alf are helping to heal me even now. He was a very smart horse with a great sense of humor, and his antics are the stuff of legend. There was the day in a trail class when I ground-tied him and then turned to see him eating the plastic flower decorations from the markers, or, as a mate recently reminded me, the way he would come for his medicine every day when I said, “Alf, it’s tea time!” He was a real character.

The other horses are grieving “the boss,” he who was their herd leader for their entire lives. They went outside yesterday and called and called for him. And I realized as they did that they weren’t really calling for him because they expected him to come back, as one might imagine. They knew he had gone into spirit. They were mourning, an act akin to my wailing when he dropped, akin to human expressions of grief. It was incredibly difficult to witness that pain. But after about a half-hour, they stopped and went about the business of living. Of course, they continue to look for him, in the fields, in his stall, just as I do, before I remember and emotion takes me again; this, too, will pass.

What a love! What a horse! What an incredible journey! I am what I am because of his presence in my life, because of his devotion, and I will never, ever forget that.

Rest in peace, Alf. I’m glad I could help you cross over when you needed me to. I am happy to know you are free from the horrible pain of DSLD. I will love you forever.

- CLM

My Personal Adventure to Meet John Lockley

Last October, on the weekend before Hallowe’en, I took a train to Manhattan with my partner. He was going sightseeing in NY, but I had a very different agenda. I was going to meet a man who claimed to be a genuine Xhosa Sangoma, which is a kind of medicine person/shaman from South Africa. I was following a hunch, a nudge from my spirit helpers and guides, and, I realized later, responding also to a strong push from my ancestors.

I had seen John Lockley’s face for the first time in an email from the NY Shamanic Circle. He intrigued me, this white man dressed in Xhosa ceremonial attire with the ghostly mask painted over his eyes. Normally I might only give a cursory glance at the NY Shamanic Circle emails, because after all, we are a long way from NYC, but I found myself reading carefully. I even followed links to videos and more photos, and heard his magnificent drum and songs in the Xhosa language. I read his story, related strongly to the “shaman sickness” that ultimately brought him to his teacher, and started to feel like I needed to meet him.

Now, I have Celtic, Native American, and Peruvian Amazon training, but mostly Celtic (Irish, to be specific). I’ve done trainings with some big names in Western shamanic circles as well. Still, I had never been drawn to African shamanism, so I was a little confused by this inexplicable need to find out more about what John was doing. Maybe my curiosity was partly piqued by the fact that he was a white male accepted and trained in a tradition usually filled by black females. But there was something more that I couldn’t put my finger on. As it turned out, my schedule conflicted with his first workshop date, so I reluctantly set the idea aside and went about my life. But then another opportunity presented itself, and my schedule cleared for this one, so I immediately made reservations for a weekend in Manhattan.

The Friday night before the workshop we got into the hotel about 9:30 p.m., so I really had no time to think, but the next morning, as I was getting ready to go, I was gripped by a strange reluctance, almost a fear, and I even told my partner I had changed my mind, that I didn’t want to go. I asked him if he wouldn’t rather we do the sightseeing thing in Manhattan. He looked at me incredulously. He said, “You came all the way down here to see what this guy is all about. I think you’d better go.” Then he hustled me out the door and into a cab, riding over to the Lower East Side with me, where we had breakfast together at the corner MacDonald’s once we found the address for the workshop. The whole time, my stomach was tied in knots. But I told myself this was ridiculous, and I took a deep breath and bravely rang the bell. We were buzzed in and went up the elevator to meet our lovely hostess, whom I had only previously conversed with through email. I instantly liked her, and my stomach settled down quite a bit. I was smudged before entering the ceremonial space, and I felt even better. I had time to meditate a bit in silence for some time before John came in.

I am very glad that I didn’t change my mind before breakfast that Saturday morning. John is a charming man and an entertaining speaker. But he is also a powerful and gifted shaman who plays a brilliant ceremonial drum and holds sacred space so that we can connect in a deep and meaningful way with our own ancestors. Learning Xhosa chants and songs and practicing the trance dance was fun and enlightening and difficult all at once. Being part of that sacred and ancient ceremony was very special for me.

At one point on Saturday afternoon, John was talking about honoring the ancestors of the land here, the Red People, the Forgotten Ones. We each did our own ceremony honoring our own ancestors, and I felt the name LaRock well up in me to speak out even though we were only suppose to speak the names back to our grandparents. LaRock is the maiden name of my maternal great grandmother, Adelaide, who was of the First Nations of Canada. This part of my family’s heritage was denied for so long, swept under the carpet and (intentionally) forgotten even within my own family, and I realized then that this was the main reason I was brought to this ceremony with John (although all of my ancestors were honored): to finally honor that part of my family, that forgotten bloodline, and that aspect of myself. When John spoke of the pain of the forgotten Red People, I felt that pain within my heart — the pain of denial – and, with the release and relief of that blood finally being acknowledged, I wept. My ancestors wept, through me. And I felt a lightness of being, suddenly, that persists to this day, though I have since been continuing the work in order to understand the circumstances around the denial of my great-grandmother’s people. I feel that a rift had been mended between all my ancestors, and so a healing took place within me as well.

My dreams that night were vivid and prophetic.

Now, this was my experience with John and his medicine, and I knew at the end of that weekend ceremony that I needed to somehow bring him to my community, to you. Your own experience with this powerful medicine may be different, depending on where you are on your path and what healing needs to be done in your life. But I can guarantee that there will be healing and there will be dancing and singing and drumming. And in the midst of it all, you will learn some teachings that you might not even recognize as such right away. But they will sink into your bones and by their very nature, they will change you.

I was thrilled when John agreed to come to Syracuse. This is a rare opportunity to have someone of this caliber come to us to teach! What a blessing. What an honor! And if you have any inkling that you might want to be part of this wonderful process, please register with me immediately. You see, John needs to know that he has a guaranteed minimum in order to be able to cover his travel expenses to Syracuse from South Africa, so now is the time to step forward with the fee for the May 3-4 workshop and say, “Yes, I am attending” so we at least know we have the minimum. Otherwise, he won’t be coming – and that would be a shame. We need to demonstrate support for traditional indigenous shamans and medicine folk, for this is the true healing for the earth and for ourselves that those of us in Western culture crave.

John will also be scheduling private sessions while he’s in town, so get in touch with me if you are interested in that, too. Contact me to register. Or feel free to mail your check or money order made out to:

Cindy L. McGinley
5900 N. Burdick St.
Suite 201
East Syracuse, NY 13057

Paid registrants will receive further details and directions closer to the event. Hope to see you there!

- CLM