Loba’s writing has effected women from all over the world, feeding their creativity and growth. An expanding sample of articles follow, many of which appeared first in publications such as SageWoman, Beltane Papers, Awareness, Aquarius Journal, New Connexions and Sentient Times.
“I cried as I read Loba's article in SageWoman and I realized I had something to give... something to say about things. We must find the joy in life and make life a joy! Sisters, we can do this!”
“Your writing conveys passion, a wildness of instinctual truth.”
“You remind me so much of myself and my hopes and dreams for the sisters... for the earth... for the future. You give me hope for us all. Hugs and more hugs to you!”
It’s getting pretty late by the time I finish with dinner cleanup, and clear a space on the dining room table for a candle and papers. Kiva is in the other cabin, hard at work on her Medicine Woman book, and our daughter Rhiannon is off playing with her Papa. Now with the noise of school-time and the rattling of dinner dishes over, even the mellowest world music on the stereo seems too much. I sit down to the sweet hush-hush sounds of the river coursing below the kitchen, and open the latest of many letters I’ve gotten over the years from my so-appreciated SageWoman readers.
Sometimes a letter will be about its writer having had a similar experience that I spoke of in an article here, and how she feels less crazy now and less alone. Or it might be a thank-you for my having somehow enriched or emboldened somebody’s life, helped them to really intensely taste their desserts or trust their instincts and feelings. Not having purged every last bit of self-doubt, readers’ acknowledgment and sharing is always huge for me. They assure me that I really am benefitting the women I work with even when I don’t always have the perfect words to describe what I’m trying to get across. I arrived at the Anima Sanctuary with an old thirty pound computer, sure that I was meant to be a writer, but after years of struggling and lots of help with editing, I can honestly admit that writing is not my natural thing. While I will always write, what I am is a teacher, and whenever I’m not writing for this great magazine, I’m realizing all the wordless ways there are to teach. Students and guests usually understand my meaning in spite of my creative (or shall we say colorful!) phrasing. Maybe it’s the tone or my expressions, or maybe it’s that there is something more than a feeling that passes between us when in a powerful place like this, focused on learning and healing.
Tonight’s letter tells the powerful story of Julie, who came to the Sanctuary because she so loved my column about Gratitude, and how it made her realize not only some of the things she felt grateful for, but also some of the things that needed changing. This was the first time I’d heard from her since Julie came for one of our women's gatherings, and then went home and completely remade her life. She left her non-supportive relationship and spirit-deadening job for a magical but totally uncertain future, devoting herself to her own healing as well as to using her music to help inspire the healing of the earth. Reading of this, all the pain and joy and lessons of my life – and the work of putting that into words for others – feel immediately worth it. And if that weren’t enough, then come the lines that bring tears to my eyes, thanking me for my writings... but also saying that she may have learned the most just by being with me, going on attentive walks, sharing meaningful “looks”, and cooking mindful meals together.
I’ve given my life to being an Anima facilitator and teacher, but then, we are all teachers to the degree that we ever impart information, insights, techniques, values and so on... something we do first and foremost by our personal example. When I talk or write, my example is to pour my heart out and try to get across what matters most, no matter how hard that can be. But I’m being told that my example is also the fact that I live my dream, do the work of the dream, swing an ax even when my wrists hurt, listen well when people talk, exhibit my true feelings, am affected by the pain of others, care and give care, revel in the pleasures of the physical senses, and sing and dance without worrying about who thinks that it’s silly.
“We communicate not just through the artful assemblage of words but through a multitude of complex nonverbal languages, including our body language, the language of glances and frowns, of subtle and projected energies, of sad expressions and revealing laughter, through an entire repertoire of skills, gifts and blessings, evocations and responses... through what we in any way ascertain from the world, and what the world in whatever ways learns of us.”
-Jesse Wolf Hardin, The Way Of Anima
On the rare occasions I still see my parents, I no longer try to make an argument for who I am or the choices I’ve made. If something my mother says hurts my feelings, it’s enough that I communicate the pain legible in my eyes. And if I hurt them, as I have too often done, while clumsily trying to explain myself, they can find in these same eyes the understanding and gratitude of a loving daughter. Now when I face the difficulties and sometimes frustrations of mothering our little girl Rhiannon, I only try to patiently support her individuality and eccentricities, but am learning the impact of a gesture and the power of a look. A child can read disappointment on a face, even when we think we’re composed, and that disappointment can shade everything they do for years to come. And likewise, a lifetime of self-honoring and self-confidence grows out not out of what we say so much as the looks they’re given. I get frustrated when teaching Rhiannon’s school lessons, and now I know a bit of what my mom dealt with when raising me. But I have to be sure she sees reflected in my eyes includes my very real and constant belief in her.
I want to be able to express all the things I know and tell the tale of all I love, but whenever that doesn’t work, or when the situation is too somber or ceremonial or sexual or magical for that, I still want to be able to make known the truth of the experience I long to share. I want to make my intentions clear, even when poorly imparted. Those times when I want to say something funny or sweet, but something ugly or ridiculous comes out, I still want Kiva to be able to read in my being what I couldn’t get across in sentence and metaphor, that I trust her wisdom and value her help. And even more importantly, I want to continue making the ways I teach and affect without words, ever more purposeful.
When I am preparing and serving a wonderful meal to our students and guests at the Center, the food works in partnership with me to engage them, pull them down out of their busy talking minds, and awaken their physical senses! First we communicate the need to focus and notice, through a language of aromatic spices, orange zest and the yeasty smell of fresh baked bread, and through the way I stop joining in the buzz and instead sit down and attend the feast. If they still don’t notice, I emit a sincere but louder than usual “yum!” in order to gather up their attention. When people come here for the wild-foods workshop in late Summer, I help lead walks where I don’t know the names of every plant, not even all of them that I know how to cook and eat, and even if I do know their names I likely have not remembered everything about their constituents or ecology. In spite of my degree in English, I really have to work to make sense with the words I use, I tend to creatively sort known facts, and often draw unusual connections no one else can see. But those gathering native plants with me for our supper, learn how to enjoy finding them by joining in as I weave and circle, dance and laugh on the way to each treasured patch. If they seem distant or reticent, or afraid to get their clothes dirty, I motion for them to get on their knees and put their faces close to the vibrant leaves and heady flowers. When I spend an impossibly long time honoring and praising each before I pick or pull them, it results in a shift in how the participants relate to the plants whose lives are given to nourish us.
I tend to rewrite and rework each of these written sentences twenty times or more, and they still need editing. So no wonder it’s so much harder in person, when there’s not much time to prepare a response. Since I have partners who are authors, and also have allies and supporters in this teaching project, I figure I can start to relax a little about my often unraveling linguistic abilities, and put more emphasis on recognizing and then consciously utilizing the ways that I affect people and the world without the necessity of words!
All of us, of course, can teach without words, from the smallest child to the most wizened elder. Every time we make sounds of pleasure when we eat, cry a tear of empathy, rise to meet some challenge with a willing heart and body, every time we stop to admire a little bug, pause to sniff a lover’s neck before a kiss, respond to another's panic with groundedness, or respond to a need with silence and touch, we are teaching without words. We must be aware of how very much our depth of presence influences the degree of presence of the people around us, and own our affect on people and events. Every time our self-knowledge can be employed to affect the world outside our personal sphere, we may help others to develop that ability. Every time we make our intentional practices become habit, or shed our habits to embrace some magical offering of the moment, we help open the door for others to do the same.
Now it’s almost bed time, I fold up the pretty handmade paper, and put Julie’s letter back into its envelope. Blowing out the candle, I sit in the dark for a precious while, feeling grateful and blessed that I was able to be of help, and how the canyon makes all the magic that happens here possible. I walk out of the kitchen into the embrace of the night, and the arms of love... from the halls of the busy mind, to where the words are no more.
As we get older, many of us end up with more material things than we ever intended. Some of these we collect out of interest or need, some as duplicates or “extras” in case the original items are lost or break, and others are kept out of an unhealthy and unreasonable fear of someday having to “do without.” Those things that are truly essential, likely share the house with unnecessary objects saved out out of a sense of sweet nostalgia or nagging guilt.
It’s easy to feel overwhelmed at times, when there is so much to properly keep track of or take care of, and when “stuff” can seem to get in the way of our personal mobility or distract us from focusing on our spiritual growth or our life’s meaning. On the other hand, it can be just as unhealthy to disregard the things of the world, when they each have a history and purpose, when trees died for the wood and mountains surrendered their minerals to supply finished goods to human kind, when a history of weavers and their families vibrates in every piece of old cloth. “The problem is never the things we have,” Jesse Wolf Hardin writes, “but the things we hoard, disrespect or ignore.” The key is to trade off or give away that which we have no real use or affection for, and to maintain a balanced but intimate relationship with the rest.
All of our Anima Center events are by donation only, resulting in a very low income and no health insurance. As a result, almost all of what my family and I "own" has been purchased at thrift shops and swap meets and barter fairs, found somewhere on our land or gifted to us by students, supporters and friends. Shelves draped with fifty year old cloths are lined with neatly folded piles (well, sometimes!) of shirts and vests, sarongs and aprons, hats and gloves, antique bloomers and corsets, lace and fabric, things to be mended, and always, a pile of things that need to be folded. There are two steel cords suspended for hanging our plethora of skirts and shirts, and a huge iron chain that runs the whole length of the room that is full of hanging dresses, organized by color. And within each range of colors, the styles span the globe, and the time periods represented go back centuries, and sometimes millennia, such as African caftans, an Afghani wedding dress, a buckskin medicine woman dress, lacey princess dresses, a handmade pioneer-style "hoedown" dress, to a simple Amish cooking frock. Today I'm straightening the piles, re-folding things, sorting out some of our winter clothes and making sure everything is hung in the right place. As I work it's exciting to find things I've been missing that I can't wait to wear, and it feels so good to give everything its due! It's as if the hanging dresses love to be touched and petted, and told how lovely they all are!
And there is a recountable history to everything that decorates our guest cabins, that lines our kitchens and closets, or that equips our tool shed. It's as if you could feel the bumps and taste the dust of the long road and backwoods trail that led these treasures finally to their home – a place where all is noticed and cherished. A place where all the stuffed animals have a turn in bed with our dear little Rhiannon, and are given blankets and picnics, friends, new hairdos and changes of clothes. A place where Mama's antique clock has a place of honor on the wall, but is no longer required to tell the correct time, heirloom Bavarian china is used for supper everyday, and a hundred year old woodstove is used to bake an endless procession of cakes and breads, pies and roasts. Grandma's old Singer sewing machine is still used for mending, as well as being the convenient place to set anything that doesn't belong in the kitchen and is in its way to somewhere else. An antique bread box stores a squirrel's fantasy of dried fruits and nuts, and old cookbooks sit on a shelf next to strange looking antique cooking implements that all still work and are still put to use: vintage apple corers, biscuit cutters, nut choppers, melon ballers, a tortilla press, a food mill, potato masher, an egg slicer and a cheese grater. On the kitchen altar, there's a piece of whale bone that was once used by Inuit women used to scrape their seal hides, next to an ancient piece of volcanic stone that was once a Mogollon villager’s stitching awl. Two metates and their manos rest outside the kitchen, awaiting their next task, still singing of the hands that ground corn on them thousands of years before.
Being "a materialist" in this culture has gotten a bad rap, evoking images of people with more money than they know what to do with, spending for the sake of spending, and accumulating multiple houses full of fancy possessions that they neither use nor remember to savor and appreciate. But I'm living proof that someone can be "a materialist" and live a very simple life. The root of the word "materialist" is "matter", and of course the root of the word matter is "mater" or "mother", the source of all life! Our Our Anima teachings re-define a materialist as someone to whom the "things" of the world truly matter. I feel it's important for us to value and take care of the things which can help connect us back to Her, and to honor our role as caretakers and celebrants of Her gifts, gifts that are like family treasures.
Walking around our home, I keep noticing how many things around me connect me back to the earth, and thus back to myself. Sitting in my dining room, where I write and paint, I'm surrounded by art that serves as a mirror of my own wildness and femininity. Faeries and goddesses of all shapes and sizes look out at me, and a painting of a hearth goddess graces the kitchen, reminding me of the magic in every meal I cook. That row of beautiful hand carved spoons hanging from its ceiling, are not just for decoration! It gives me so much pleasure to reach up and choose a certain one for a particular task, and to feel the love in the artist's hands that whittled them, and the gift of the tree who gave its flesh as I stir my bread dough or ladle out polenta. This causes me to better sense my own worthy and working hands, as well as the green and growing beings of this and every land.
As Anima and nature herself make clear, our lives have the potential to be deliberate works of art, all the colors of the universe are available to us, and the brush is in our hands! We have the power to create an existence that is beautiful, meaningful, and sensually engaged. Owning our roles as artists as well as sensual beings, we weave together the elements that most reflect our truest spirit, co-creating a life that fulfills and nourishes us on all the deepest levels. In this way are not all that different from the bower bird and the magpie, who love to collect shiny and colorful objects. And like the packrat who trades its collected loot, or the spider that takes down and recreates its magnificent web each day, we gradually eliminate bad habits by replacing them with healthy ones, we constantly adjust and reline our own nests.
An artful life is one which employs the art of discernment, making an effort to be very conscious of those things we choose to weave into our webs and nests, what things we can treasure, what has no power for us and therefore should be given away. It's important that everything we choose to keep as part of our "nest" reflects our evolving character, and nourishes our spirit! I love making piles of gifts for people when I clean, and piles of things I want to use in a creative project, or to move to a space where it's more likely to be noticed or used. Always I find things that need fixing, too, and it's always empowering to find a way to make something that's broken serviceable again.
Yes, the world is being suffocated by the garbage from our throwaway society, but that is all the more reason not to disparage the materials that all things are made of. I have to value even plastic, drawn from the fermenting earth in the form of oil, and the ways it helps me store large amounts of food in coolers and buckets, how it keeps homemade bread fresh for days. When a cooler or a water barrel has a leak, we try to fix it with silicone before giving up on it, and we're constantly moving the plastic water buckets into the shade so they won't get brittle and break. Growing up in a normal suburban American household, learning to watch the sun and to be aware of what's being consumed by the elements wasn't something I was taught! Learning about ways of honoring, recycling, repairing, and utilizing things rather than mindlessly accumulating or wastefully throwing away has been really essential to my becoming a human fully engaged with the real world!
Smoke rises from a bundle of sage, set inside an abalone shell. I'm listening to my favorite cello music, wearing a long comfy dress, sorting through piles of lace and fabric, sorting clothes, re-decorating the jewelry altar, dusting things with a flannel cloth, finding all kinds of hidden treasures that seem to ask for attention. There are small containers filled with rattlesnake rattles, bits of fur, beads, feathers, stones. Touching each little thing, I'm feeling the memory it holds for me, how it connects me to a certain walk down this special river canyon, a moment of discovery or awakening, a blessing, a story or a lesson... to someone I love, to Spirit and my personal spiritual quest.
Join me in audience to each and every thing, as they call for us to notice their unique forms of beauty, their sharpness or softness, delicateness or strength. Those we have no relationship with appear ready for new homes, the recyclers bench or the compost heap. And those that we know well, or love much, stand out as reminders of who we are and what we hold dear, of the meaning in all things and the tales and lessons they tell. They are each small embodiments or extensions of the stories we want to spend the rest of our lives co-creating and celebrating, recalling and retelling. They are function and beauty... not prideful vanity, or constrictive cage. We cannot really “own” them, sisters. And as Medicine Women, we know well enough how to keep them from owning us.
Over the past decade I’ve come to accept and embrace my role as a writer and teacher, gratified to see the effect I can have on my dear readers and the women who come to study or quest at the Anima Sanctuary. We’ve gotten hundreds of letters, describing the wonderful healing, scary explorations and important growth resulting from their time here, dispelling any doubts I might have harbored. Yet from time to time, I still find myself needing to confront and deal with deep seated insecurities. They come, I've discovered, not from a failure to love my true self or value my inherent gifts, so much as from the unhealthy imagining that I need to have all the same gifts and abilities as others do.
Growing up, my nemesis was a girl named Maggie who lived down the street from me, who I rode to school with every day. She was the archetypal Perfect Girl. Not only was she very beautiful, she got the most perfect grades in class year after year, and had so many clothes that it seemed she never wore the same outfit twice. Her house was a gorgeous, old and mysterious mansion, where her mother baked homemade pastries while she slept in a hand-carved oak canopy bed covered with antique lace. I bugged my mother to get me a canopy bed after seeing hers, but mine was bought at Sears and of course was nothing like Maggie's. Predictably, the boy that I had the hugest crush on fell for Maggie, while his funny looking friend liked me. Maggie was always polite, but I felt she looked down on me and must have felt a little embarrassed to have to say hello when our paths crossed in the hallways. I never thought I was exactly ugly, but figured if only I was prettier and had better clothes that the popular kids would like me better, that they’d want to pick me first for their teams in gym instead of always nearly last.
No matter how well I did in school, I still worried because I wasn't as good as the very best students. I excelled at track and cross country, not because I had a natural talent, but because I pushed myself so hard that I was able to win races in spite of my awkward gait. Even moving from upper middle class Massachusetts to the hip neighborhoods of San Francisco, involved trying to be somebody I wasn't: super hip and savvy, clever, independent, more interested in sexual variety than finding true love. I dressed the part, shaved my head, wore torn black clothes and black lipstick, yet still didn’t feel like I belonged even there among the self proclaimed "freaks".
If ever the lesson should have been driven home for me, it was 3 years ago when my dear little brother was found hanging in my parents' suburban garage. He died not because of some incurable organic insanity, nor because he was mysteriously called to a better place as comforting as such scenarios might be. But rather, he exited under the rafters because he could never escape the fear that others were inevitably better than him, making him feel never quite good enough in the eyes of the internalized parent and of his peers, unworthy in the eyes of God. The twist is that he was one of the most sensitive and compassionate people I've ever known, only 27 years old and physically healthy, blessed with opportunities to do many things he might have found meaningful. He never did anything to hurt anybody, and in fact suppressed his needs and desires in order to please others, yet he somehow managed to conclude that he didn't deserve to live. "Why can't I be like other people?" he asked us, in the same email where he wondered if suicide victims really go to Hell like the Bible says.
Many the divorce is due to comparing one's own marriage to what we imagine to be the happiness of others, even though we usually never see what struggles they really go through. There would be fewer race wars if one color wasn't imagining the other color to be richer or more endowed, born with more advantages or coddled by government programs. The real threat from Russia never came from communism, which was a failure on its own, but from the resentment and envy that comes with comparing their gross national product and consumer luxuries to those of Americans. Suicide and clinical depression wouldn't be so common, if we in modern society hadn't gotten into the habit of comparing our abilities to those we believe have more, while downplaying our own innate qualities, and taking our developed skills and accomplishments for granted. It's likely not a good idea even for a carpenter to always be comparing his work to that of other carpenters... and it makes even less sense for him to compare his abilities and efforts to those of affluent stock brokers or television he-men. Nor for a sick old man to compare himself to an exuberant teen, or a woman to compare her physical strength to that of a large and laboring man. When I told our partner Wolf that I was sad I might never be as strong and decisive as him, he replied, in a lovely piece of writing, that "I am not and will never be as naturally blissful, undemanding, child-like, easy going or plain old pleasant to be around. I could never sing like you, able to make the river smile and the trees dance. I could never touch people's hearts with my cooking the way you do, if I practiced a thousand years. And you can make clumsiness appear graceful, while my every every slip-up looks ridiculous and deserved. Compared to you, I'm insufficiently accepting of other people and not nearly forgiving enough of their transgressions, weaknesses or faults. When wounded, I'm more likely to hit the other's cheek than to turn mine. I can be discerning to the point of being unbearably critical, motivated to the extent of pushing too hard, and alert to the point of being aggravatingly overstrung. I might have to feel bad about myself, if I thought it reasonable to expect me to be like you. By your smiling, brown-haired measure I'm not nearly considerate enough, patient enough, accepting enough, relaxed enough, or even sweet enough..."
For 14 years now, I have been in a devoted relationship where my real self and natural abilities have been affirmed and nurtured, while living in an inspirited wilderness canyon that tends to destroy every illusion and self-placating lie. The woman in my life cares for me for who I truly am and not what I might ever wish to be. I recognize my essential gifts now, and teach our women students from that place of authenticity with all its attendant power. Like a reformed alcoholic, however, the challenge not to compare myself to others never goes completely away. While I am honored for my example of presence or the special magic of the food I prepare, complimented for how easy it is for people to bare their hurting hearts to me, and thanked for the delight and playfulness that I inspire, I still have to be on guard not to ruin the moment with regrets that I'm not a wonderfully confident orator like our amazing partner and Anima co-director Kiva Rose.
The flip-side, of course, is how perfectly our differing talents and temperaments compliment each other. While not being total opposites, we are definitely pieces of a puzzle with qualities that make our world here in the canyon feel more whole. She is the Grizzly Bear, self aware, gifted with dreaming, connection with plants, intuition. I am the Elk, blissed out with my head in the clover. I so appreciate her ability to communicate with words, and how she celebrates my ability to communicate without words, through heart, touch, and gesture. Together, we reap the benefits of her discernment, awareness and groundedness with my natural compassion, ability to trust and always see the best in people.
To give wholly, we have to be whole. This is what we teach in Anima, as much as anything else. And wholeness is the lifelong reclaiming and growing of all our healthful, essential parts. To accomplish that, we have to accept our weaknesses as well as strengths, and get over trying to live up to a model that we, or our parents, or society hold up as ideal. We need to get over any illusion that better grades or more accomplishments would make our life more heartful or purposeful, that we need to be as sweet as a certain friend or as pushy as our boss in order to get ahead, or that plastic surgery on our breasts or changing the way we talk could bring us happiness or true love. At the same time, it would benefit us to develop the skills that don't come naturally, exercise weak muscles, learn what's hard, push our limits and boundaries, explore new ways of being and doing.
To the extent that I am able to teach or inspire anyone, it is by being all I really am. In the moment, as in the end, the best we can be is the best of all we really are, continuously getting stronger and more able... not like the women or men we measure ourselves against, but more like ourselves, like nobody else. We need to be both adamant and vigilant when it comes to how we perceive others and our selves. No comparison.
Here are some important practices I have been working on myself to cultivate awareness, responsibility and presence, so that we might give and receive the gifts at hand as openly, intimately, and heartfully as possible. (please read as often as you can and ask yourself how you’re doing)
1.Being aware of speech- when it adds to or detracts from presence, practicing making portions of the day without speech, quieting the chatter in our heads, becoming aware of the ways we let any chatter influence our presence, our intimate engagement with the land, each other, and the All
2. Being aware of movement-- when are we “in the dance”, when we are not
3. Being in our senses, in our bodies as much as possible
4. Paying attention to and honoring our hungers and other needs as sacrament, sitting down to eat, drinking water as prayer, all body tending as prayer, etc.
5. Noticing when things need tending and acting in the moment as much as possible, taking responsibility for maintaining and contributing to harmony, the feeling of the whole canyon as a sacred altar
6. Tackling something that seems unpleasant or otherwise daunting every day for however long we can, and seeing if we can shift our attitude and feel satisfaction in our heroic efforts!
7. Making time every day to focus on pure delight and connection, both with and without any accomplishment
8. Making time every day to let in the whole range of what the earth is feeling in a grounded, heart-centered way
9. Being aware of our “stuff”-- when personal issues, fears, challenges get in the way of our presence, taking responsibility for shifting the energy if possible, or asking for help
10. Noticing patterns of what “stuff” most often takes us out of presence, out of the flow, and making commitments to doing the work to release ourselves from these patterns, habits, ways of seeing, interpreting, believing, doubting
11. Keeping a honest journal of all lessons, challenges, ways we’ve experienced old habits taking over, ways we have streched our capacities , accepted limitations, asked for help and gotten it, been present and aware, felt our hearts open, and become aware of new promises/commitments we want to make to ourselves.