Rilke: Poet and Mystic

I read poetry nearly every morning as part of my spiritual practice. It is a way for me to ground into the present and connect more deeply to the Sacred through the holy words of the poet. Of course, Mary Oliver is one of my patron saints and quote her here often. Also David Whyte, John O’Donohue, and John Keats. Poets, past and present. For me, poets are mystics and this is especially true of Rainer Maria Rilke. I adore his Duino Elegies which are earthy yet transcendent. Such beauty. The last few days I’ve been reading his “Sonnets to Orpheus.” Here is one that speaks to me and the lightness and the darkness of being.

II, 29

Silent friend of many distances, feel
how your breath enlarges all of space.
Let your presence ring out like a bell
into the night. What feeds upon your face

grows mighty from the nourishment thus offered.
Move through transformation, out and in.
What is the deepest loss that you have suffered?
If drinking is bitter, change yourself to wine.

In this immeasurable darkness, be the power
that rounds your senses in their magic ring,
the sense of their mysterious encounter.

And if the earthly no longer knows your name,
whisper to the silent earth: I’m flowing.
to the flashing water say: I am.

Translation: Stephen Mitchell

Loving the World

From my August Newsletter. To sign up for my monthly newsletter, go to

August. For our earth-honoring ancestors, this is the month of Lammas, a time of thanksgiving which marks the middle of summer and beginning of the harvest season. Because of our wet Spring, harvest season arrived late here in my garden but there has been an abundance of lettuce and the tomatoes, cucumbers, and zucchini are finally coming in albeit slowly. Broccoli not so good. I’m still learning but everyday I go into the garden with delight to check on their progress while realizing that growing food, simplifying, and learning the ancient ways connects me to the ancestors. I like that. Our spiritual teachers tell us this is the remembering time. So, amidst the oil spill, global warming, the economic crisis, and the overall challenges of modern life, I’m acutely aware of the sacredness of each day and am mindful to not take this one “wild and precious life” for granted, to quote the poet Mary Oliver. In Messenger, she writes:

My work is loving the world.
Here the sunflowers, there the hummingbird –
equal seekers of sweetness.
Here the quickening yeast; there the blue plums.
Here the clam deep in the speckled sand.
Are my boots old? Is my coat torn?
Am I no longer young, and still not half-perfect? Let me
keep my mind on what matters,
which is my work,
which is mostly standing still and learning to be
The phoebe, the delphinium.
The sheep in the pasture, and the pasture.
Which is mostly rejoicing, since all ingredients are here,

which is gratitude, to be given a mind and a heart
and these body-clothes,
a mouth with which to give shouts of joy
to the moth and the wren, to the sleepy dug-up clam,
telling them all, over and over, how it is
that we live forever.

Oliver speaks so exquisitely to the holiness of our world. Seeing and paying attention to that which is at hand is at the heart of the creative process. “Standing still and learning to be astonished.” Beauty. To create art, we must “learn to see” which requires slowness and attention. I remember my first art instructor during my undergraduate years who wadded up a large piece of white paper, threw it on the model stand, and told the class to draw it. Perplexed by the unglamorous nature of the subject, I remember that being one of the most challenging assignments I was asked to undertake. White was not just white. Under the light, and with more scrutiny, I saw colors of yellow, gray, pale blue, and lavender. Light and deep shadow. It was a valuable lesson in seeing and one that provided an early context in which to view the world around me. Not so many years later, my vision would be transformed once again but through grief and loss. Both the light and the dark invite us into a more intimate encounter with the world around us.

An exercise for practicing the art of seeing:
· Choose an object from nature or let it choose you.
· Sit in silence. Contemplate its characteristics.
· Notice the shape, color, texture, light, dark, edges.
· Feel it, smell it, and roll it around in your hands.
· Draw the object without looking at the paper.
· Or write a poem. Or move with it.

What did you notice?

How are you encountering the world? Are you taking time for the sunflowers and the hummingbirds? For creativity? To write? To draw? To dance? To grieve? To quote Oliver, all the ingredients are here, which is gratitude. Like our beloved poet, my work and, indeed, our work is in loving the world.

Praying by Mary Oliver

Once again, Mary Oliver for inspiration this morning. Like the vibrant Prism Violet splashing across the canvas in the early hours, paying attention to color, the silence, beauty….praying, praising…giving thanks.


It doesn’t have to be
the blue iris, it could be
weeds in a vacant lot, or a few
small stones; just
pay attention, then patch

a few words together and don’t try
to make them elaborate, this isn’t
a contest but the doorway

into thanks, and a silence in which
another voice may speak.

-Mary Oliver, from Thirst

Despacho Ceremony

In 2006, I went on pilgrimage to Peru to learn and partake in the ancient spiritual teachings of the Andean people. This was a life-changing experience for me and their wisdom continues to inform my spiritual life. I’ve written about some of these teachings and the intention behind the journey (based on the Prophecy of the Eagle and the Condor) on my blog. Click here to read more. One of the most sacred rituals performed there is the despacho ceremony which are ceremonies of gratitude and thanksgiving to Pachamama (Mother Earth) or an Apus. While in Peru, we were told that the despacho is also considered a work of art, or a painting. It was at that moment I had a vision for the painting above. I knew when I returned home that I would create my own despacho, and then paint it as an offering to Pachamama.

The “despacho” is an ancient ceremony performed in the Andes. These are offerings to either Pachamama (Mother Earth) or an Apus (mountain spirit). The former is distinguished by an abundance of red objects/flowers, the latter by white. They typically begin with a shell in the center to represent the feminine, a cross to represent the masculine, and Kintus (3 cocoa leaves grouped together). In the Andes, additional items might include money, food items, ribbons, alcohol, dung, or a llama fetus. These are determined by the paqo or shaman performing the ceremony which is very elaborate and includes praying, group cocoa exchange as well as music and sharing of the pipe. Overall this was a magical and mystical experience for me and words just don’t do it justice. For my painting, I went to the local market, chose items I felt would please Pachamama, and created my own despacho which I then painted as an offering. My process is one of devotion and is a prayer for the healing of the earth. Ayni, or reciprocity, is at the core of the Andean way of life and rituals like the despacho honor our relationships to the earth, the living energy, and to each other.

This past weekend, I was invited and honored to share this ceremony with my spiritual community, People of the Heart, during one of our shamanic training retreats. I substituted the cocoa leaves, which are illegal in the States, with another of the leaf family but included many sweets, grains, seeds, herbs, jewels, red flowers, and miscellaneous goodies that I felt would please Pachamama. Drumming and rattling. With reverence and gratitude, we each offered these gifts as prayers for healing ourselves, each other, and our world. Singing. When the ceremony was complete I bundled up the despacho, wrapped it in ribbon, and placed it in a cloth. Sending the bundle around the circle, we blew our breath and our prayers into the despacho. Drumming. After blessing everyone in the circle and a closing poem, we then buried the bundle on the land.

I feel humbled by the simple beauty of this ritual as a gift for the healing of our world, and the Earth. I give thanks to my teachers: dear friends and guides Carol, Jim, Terence; don Sebastian of the Q’ero; and the Winay Taki for sharing their wisdom with me/us.

In a time of returning, we give voice to the heart of the Earth.
With countless others awakening we walk upon Her now.

We are One Remembering

Women of Vision speaking to inspire what follows.

Love is our word

Men of Heart embracing, to shape new ways to live.


With each other making us One

And sustaining our interconnection with all life.

Sun, Moon, Stars, Earth, and Great Mountain Spirits.

Vision and heartfelt action benefiting all life

We are one of many within us all

We are restoring our story…

From Carol Stewart’s poem “Rainbow Threads”