Surrounded by established organic farms like ALBA, new progressive ventures like Monkey Flower Ranch, the Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve, and huge swaths of protected watershed, it doesn’t surprise me that the only signs of spirituality in our Californian neighborhood of Royal Oaks are a few churches for the Spanish speaking farming community. Organic farming and Slow Foodie friends of mine typically describe themselves as “spiritual but not religious.” Cooking, growing food, and spending time in nature are all profound experiences for them, but they’ve resigned themselves: They’re not going to push harder on the spiritual front—part of their great flight from their parents’ religions.
My wife and I moved to this rural farming area to build a sustainable way of life, infused with a sense of sacredness for the natural world. Much like early civilizations that celebratrated food as part of a cultural and spiritual connection with the Earth, we have started our own journey with the spirit of the land.
Harvest festivals, planting rituals, and biodynamic practices all hearken back to a time when sewing a seed was a spiritual act. Many of those spiritually rooted agrarian cultures were consumed by industrialization, and the few remaining are poised on the brink of demise. When most of us look to our own ancestry we find only the fragments of ancient wise ways: strange European dances in Spring, Dia De Los Muertos later in the year. Others of us may be blessed with living traditions that don’t seem to fit. If only we were wired with our own spiritual tools, we could create new ways that work today.
Good news: We are. Yep, that’s right. We’re built to engage the Earth in profound spiritual ways that come naturally to us. Since the late 1970’s, people like Michael Harner have been teaching people like me how to take a shamanic journey with astounding success. After years of study as an anthropologist, Harner came to the conclusion that the shamanic journey was central to the life of virtually all cultures at one time or another. Being able to journey to the consciousness of the natural world is just part of what comes with being human. His organization, The Foundation For Shamanic Studies ( FSS ), has spent the last forty years studying, preserving and teaching shamanism for the welfare of the Planet and its inhabitants.
The familiarity of journeying bears this truth out. Like re-introducing music to a culture that has lost it for millenia, the shamanic journey feels completely natural to many people from the very beginning. After one short workshop, most of us can begin applying this basic technique to our lives immediately. In my own spiritual seeking, I’ve found the shamanic journey to be the one key that opens doors for me and others, time and time again. It has also proven to be the most useful tool in creating a sustainable and sacred life.
Shamanism, as a practice for our civiliization, works directly with our environment, allowing practitioners to engage the natural world as a responsive consciousness. It asks us to partake in the continuously renewing cycles of nature as an equal partner, making us a part of the reciprocity that is key to sustainability.
As a practice for individuals, I’ve found shamanism to be an indispensable and complimentary tool in helping my wife and I transform our one acre homestead into a thriving organic food environment. Whenever I’m going to start a new project at our home, I journey to the spirit of the land and talk to her about what I plan to do. I always discover something new about what I’m trying to accomplish. The shamanic journey can involve 24 hour ritual or occur spontaneously with no obvious prompting. For me it involves sitting quietly on the land and drumming or rattling, perhaps with some additional ritual involved.
Working with shamanism has produced a conscious change is in how I relate to the land. One great example comes to mind:
Gophers. If gophers were money, I’d be rich. The previous property owner’s slash and burn approach to landscaping combined with our proximity to formerly non-organic commercial farming made our acre a gopher sanctuary. Asking them nicely to stay away didn’t work, and there are just too many to trap. I’ve learned a few things:
- It’s about presence. The gophers fill a void and a valuable ecological niche. The idea is not to eradicate them, just reduce their impact on our food. The more we occupy the land in healthy vital ways, the more we’ll find balance with the gophers.
- Caring for the cycle of the gopher’s life. When I do trap a gopher I use a quick kill trap (cinch trap). I journey on behalf of the gopher I’ve killed to ensure its peaceful passage. This has contributed not only to my growing awareness, respect and appreciation of gophers, it has also brightened the feeling of our garden.
The end result is we have fewer gophers and when we do trap them, I’m much more responsive to the cleanup. I also believe the land itself appreciates the attention I’m paying to this cycle—after all, gophers are part of the bounty the land is producing.
I want to send down a taproot into our life here, to learn to work within the life systems at deeper and deeper levels. I’ve made a commitment to work with the spirit of the land in all important projects. The most delightful surprise in all of this is that work has been transformed into a kind of illuminating play. Weeding becomes a dance with something much greater than just crabgrass. My hope is that more supporters of sustainable food movement will make a choice to take their relationship with the land to the next level.