during the 2013 gathering of friends general conference in greeley, colorado, a few of us met for three hours each day, all five days, to see what would emerge if we applied friends’ faith and practice towards seeking deeper unity with nature. mark helpsmeet from “northern spirit radio” often attends this annual gathering; he interviews friends there and edits those interviews into segments for his radio show. he arranged to interview three of us exploring unity with nature on thursday afternoon.
as i was going to bed wednesday night, i was thinking, “humm, what do i have to contribute here, from my personal experience, about ‘deeper relationship with earth?’” so, it's wednesday night, and the interview’s the next afternoon, and i'm thinking hard about this question, and nothing is coming up. then i did something that i had only done once before in a focused way. i asked for a little help from the ancestors.
the first time i tried this, i was preparing for a meeting in chicago. a document was coming up for approval at that meeting which included a central element that reflected a divisive conflict that had been unresolved for years. i remained clear about where i was on the issue; at the same time, i didn't know if i had the strength to deal with the situation. in my discomfort, i asked the ancestors if they would give me a little help – if it were appropriate. at the last moment in the full committee proceedings, i found myself standing, lifted not by my own volition, and addressing the situation. an ad hoc committee was formed to labor that evening over the point of conflict, and it ultimately produced a minute that was accepted by the entire meeting. the air was cleared. the space of clarity that opened in me that day lasted for weeks.
although i know the ancestors are always with us on a certain level, i do not ask for this kind of help often. it should not be misused.
when i think of the ancestors in my life, the first that come into my mind are the hopi grandfathers that our young family knew decades ago. grandfather david was the elder we were with the most. then don talayesvia, who was the last hopi sun chief of this the fourth world, according to their story. both are remarkable human beings and no longer with us on this physical level. then i think also of makere, a waitaha grandmother, whose gift is that she can open the space for the ancestors to come through. and then johnny moses, a pacific northwest master story teller, healer, shaman. he recently brought the ancestral wisdom of the ghost dance of western turtle island back into our circle today, to help with communication, cooperation, and community.
both times when i consciously brought the ancestors to mind and asked for their support and guidance, i held no conscious expectations. i asked them to help only if it was appropriate.
so, just before going to sleep that wednesday, the night before the radio interview, i asked – “could i possibly get a little bit of help here?” the next morning, i woke and lay there musing and then something happened that, well, i don't know exactly what terms to put on it. i could call it an awakening experience. suddenly i was fully awake, aware, and present.
beginning in the fifth grade and all the way through high school, i'd sleep outside in the back yard. i had this old canvas wall tent under a large maple tree. whenever the weather permitted, i'd pull the cot out of the tent and sleep under the stars. it was great! that tree was a place i would go when i needed to work on something or get away. i had quite a relationship with the tree. i climbed it hundreds of times.
so on that thursday morning, i found myself in a space and time at the top of that tree. it was very real.
a few days earlier, i had heard jane goodall on pbs radio. she talked about being face to face with a chimpanzee, just sitting there, looking at each other in the eyes, being with each other. then she said, “we all think in words, and when we connect beyond the words, it's always a mystical experience.”
so here i found myself up in the tree. i was very much there. and the words went away, the intellect went away, social and religious conditioning went away. i was just there with the tree. i knew i was with the tree, and the tree knew i was with it. we knew we were exchanging energy. it was beyond words, beyond amazing. almost beyond remembering.
then i was on the cot under the stars, thinking like i have many times – here we are on this little planet, going around this insignificant star, our sun. thinking, intellectually – the percentages say that there must be life somewhere out there. then i shifted awareness. i shifted into a kind of awareness, a deep connectedness, that told me clearly, there is life out there.
near the end of this experience, I started thinking, i've got to hold onto this. i want to remember the realness of this, the reality of this. and i started feeling, even before i left the room, that it was starting to slip away. and as i got outside to where there were people walking around, and people i knew were asking questions and trying to talk, i recognized and said to myself that i really had to focus on this tree thing, hold the memory of it, hold the feelings of it – this tree experience, this awakening experience.
in our morning workshop on unity with nature, in that circle of openness and acceptance, all women except myself, i shared much about what had just happened with me. i felt like i was communicating between worlds – between the world of very real awakening and the world of mainstream, conditioned society. and i didn’t want to let the awakening experience slip away or be overwhelmed by the physical world i am so familiar with.
then it was the afternoon, and three of us were being interviewed for the radio. we had a thread that we were trying to maintain together. i had my parts that i wanted to contribute, and at the same time, i was trying to hold onto that experience from the morning. it was hard to hold onto two different planes. it was the first time i started to deal with trying to accurately articulate this. the words fell short.
since that day, i’ve learned that with an experience like this, if you really work to hold onto it and not let it slip away, it can make a difference. when i look at a tree now, even if i don’t consciously experience every tree with full awareness, i know that a level of fuller awareness is available. since that thursday morning, i would like to think that i am more open to experiencing it.
it is not easy for me to share these kinds of experiences, particularly in writing. i know that these experiences are a part of each of us, consciously or unconsciously. they are a reflection within ourselves of everything being connected. in our culture, we tend to be unaware of them, much less talk about them. it is my hope that this type of sharing can encourage each of us to get in touch with these deeper parts of ourselves. working, playing, being together in the manner of friends can significantly nurture this process. in this way, we can take a more active and effective part in humanity’s transformation and awakening. we can help access the deeper information, knowledge, and wisdom that humanity so urgently needs today – to see our way beyond fear and through the challenges we face to continue human life on this beautiful planet.
in all of this, i am reminded of the necessity of being open to continuing revelation, being truly open, and not imposing limits on the possible.
there is now no question in my mind that the ancestors, the ancestral wisdom, is available to us today. there are many paths toward contact with ancestral energy, to be taken only when we seek something significant for the common good.
access to ancestors takes openness. it takes asking and listening. it takes listening with both conscious and unconscious ears. it takes responding. access to ancestors clearly includes the query, "what would the early friends, friends of truth, with the clarity and commitment they had, be doing in the world today?"
the wisdom of both indigenous peoples and quakers can help guide us in seeking continuing revelation on how to act by drawing inspiration from deep reflection. for native peoples, that reflection tends to occur within a worldview of equality with human and nonhuman beings, a worldview that recognizes and honors the great spirit that pervades all creation. for early friends, reflection emerged from silence and the light within, within a christian culture of patriarchal hierarchy and a worldview somewhat shaped by the sharings of a much more radical jesus than we are generally lead to recognize. both communities offer much to guide us today in a world that is both wholly interconnected and madly driven by hierarchy.
i am still struggling to find words to express the ultimately inexpressible feelings and knowing that came to me that thursday morning. whether it's language, intellect, social conditioning, religious conditioning . . . it can be so difficult getting through all of that stuff. but I can say this – i’m not just talking about the past when i talk about ancestors. a perception of our deeper experience is being recorded within each of us – now. ~~~
eric maya joy, with his young family, affirmed their commitment to the religious society of friends in argenta bc canada (cym) and is now with olympia friends meeting in washington state, (npym). he is a founding member of friends committee on unity with nature (fcun, twenty five years ago) and continues with quaker earthcare witness (qew), particularly the "friends centering on unity with nature” committee, "spiritual nurturance” committee, and "no-name” committee within qew.
eric's experience ranges from working decades ago at the leading edge of design and development of computers and computer languages, to living almost an entire wonderful decade with no telephone and mostly no electricity or indoor running water. his more recent experience centers around friends (quaker) education at friends schools, and education within the context of community and real life.
for decades, eric has used only lowercase letters in his writing as a spiritual practice of reflecting the equality of the light within all life spirit.