Mt Monadnock, one of the Seven Sacred Mountains of the U.S.

Mt Monadnock, one of the Seven Sacred Mountains of the U.S.

On my way out of town on the way to Austria, I felt a previous lesson rising within me.  This was a teaching, a lesson, that I had learned about going on a journey.  One time I learned the hard way, ignoring this feeling, and all of my bags disappeared out of the back of the car, but that’s another story.

“I think we should stop and offer prayers before this incredible journey to Austria and back”, I said to Aji, my adopted 17 yr old nephew.  “Good idea, Uncle Mark”.  (I should note he was with me when we discovered the mysterious disappearing bag trick.)

We pulled over and walked to the side of the gas station parking lot.  There in the distance was Mt. Monadnock.  Now this was special because it’s a rare place that one can see Mt. Monadnock from these parts.  As well, it’s one of the Seven Sacred Mountains, according to Gilbert Walking Bull, an elder of mine, who has “changed addresses” so to speak.  Each time he came to visit us from the Black Hills, he would tell us about this mountain and others like it around the country that rise up out of the land.  “People have quested on these mountains and received visions from the creator, these are sacred places”.

“Perfect”, I said to myself, regarding the synchronicity.  I pulled out my ceremonial tobacco pouch that I use when tending a Sacred Fire.  “I would like to make an offering to this Sacred Mountain here in New England, to watch over us until we reach the high mountains of Austria”.  “And back”, said Aji.  Bless us with a grounded and safe journey so that we may return and tell the story of the day, sharing the blessings and teachings from the Alps Nature community to our own”.  Aji and his mother, who was kindly driving us to the airport, also joined in.

We had a natural moment of quiet when we were done.  I think it was peace.  The feeling was, ‘We’ve done what we can, it’s the creators turn.  Let’s continue and live our mission to the fullest’.

And so we did.

When we arrived in Tyrol by plane, the descent into the high valley was spectacular.  The scale of the mountain peaks to the valley floor was ridiculous.  We were alive and impossibly in some Magical Land.

tryol landscape

Our host, Ron Bachman, co founder of the Alpen Wildnis Schule, gave us a greeting of local lore and legend on the drive through town.

The first story he told us was about this cave, which we could see, on the side of this mountain, rising steeply from the valley floor.  “ This is one of the Seven Sacred Mountains of Tyrol” he began.  My jaw dropped.  I shot a glance to Aji in the back seat that said “No way !”.   I looked up at this great mountain and reflected back on that moment, 24 hours earlier, when we left New England.  An unspeakable gratitude came over me.  I feel blessed.  This is unexplainable, but I feel protected and supported by the mountains, by these Sacred Mountains.

Inside, I expressed my appreciation and dedicated my journey to the highest purpose I could fulfill, an international network of peace.

Tyrol, Austria

Tyrol, Austria

Traveling to Austria for the first time triggered teachings I learned from Paul Raphael, Odawa Peacemaker.  He told me that before he traveled he would visit with his elders and tell them about the trip he was going on and the intention behind it.  He would ask for their blessing and prayers for his journey.  Sometimes they asked questions, looking for clarity and defining the mission.  This has become known as the Anchoring Principle.  It refines my purpose, supports my intention and empowers my best self to show up on the journey.

In this case, I talked with two elders in my community, and asked them for a message.  I would be traveling to another nature based community in Austria, I told them, what message should I carry from this community to theirs ?  “Geez, Mark, ask me an easy question would you ?”, Hank, the eldest at 84, said.  Then his gaze focused, looking me straight in the eye, “ Tell them to watch over the children, like a tree protecting the up and coming saplings” I was rivoted, my heart quickened.  “ Tell them to go the edge.  Stand on the shoulders of what we have done, there is no choice but to take risks.  Support the children to do that”.

Ok, done.  “Thank you, I’ll tell you what happened when I get back.” I was inspired by his conviction.

The other, Cara, told me this story: “Be like the Moon.  I read a story recently where an elder on the edge of the village told passersby, Be like the moon.  One day a child asked him ‘why do you always say that ?’.  ‘People complain about the rain, too wet, too cold, People complain about the sun, too hot, too dry.  Nobody ever complains about the moon, so Be like the Moon’.

“Thank you” I said, feeling blessed.

These are the first words I spoke in Austria. I shared this at the first moment I stood up to speak at the workshop, entitled “Peacemaking”.  It was my turn to introduce myself to 100 europeans from several different countries.  “ I am here with the blessing of my family and I have a message from two elders in my community for you”.  I felt a formal conduct enter my being.  Words of love and connection came through me offering a message of peace from one side of the world to another.  My gratitude to Paul Raphael and his elders for conducting themselves in this way and sharing them with me.

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Story of the Day – Part Two: The Sacred Mountains Blessing

After the Vermont Art of Mentoring, some close friends stopped by to stay the night.  There were three families total including mine.  The teenagers slept, recovering from all-night adventures at the Teen Rendezvous.  The younger children played in and out of the house, climbing trees, drive-by snacking.  The adults sat contentedly around the kitchen table sharing insights from the week.

Then there was the Green Rag.

It was the dishtowel that had been used for who knows what for who knows how long.  It was a little gross and it sat on the table amongst the guests.

The conversation came around to some emotional exchanges about relationship.  “Do you really want to be related to me?  Because I have my ups and downs, and it isn’t always pretty.”, one of the adults expressed.  Right then, something powerful came to the surface.

After many years of knowing each other, visiting each others homes, caring for each other’s children a gateway of sorts materialized.  The challenging questions essentially were “Is this real ?  Will you really be there for me when my stuff comes up?  Can I trust this?”

The response in the room was electric and silent.  A kind of formality entered the room.  Something historic was happening.  It reminded me of when Ingwe gave me the Ndaka Oath (but that’s another story).

I looked around and saw the Green Rag and began a declaration, a tone that sounded ancient, of commitment to the other.    “In the spirit of extended family will you adopt me as your brother, ” I began, ” I will call you my sister, your children my nieces and nephews, and from here forward refer to you as family.”

And as a symbol of creating that family bond, like an invisible rope between kin, I looked down into my hands at this, moist, slightly piquant, green dishtowel.  I could feel that we were stepping over a line into “real”.  These were not casual words, it was an oath, a commitment and we were being witnessed.

I balled up the rag, with no apologies, and tossed it to my new extended family “sister” and said “Would you be auntie to my children ? ” She smiled, tears in her eyes, acknowledging the humor and depth to the green rag metaphor.  ” I would be honored “, she said.

Around the table we went, tossing the green rag, accepting all that it had to offer.  This was part of being family.  And we knew that the rag was used to clean up spills, to make things clean again, to scrub old gunk off the floor.  We knew the rag would be periodically washed, rinsed, aired out to dry, folded, only to be used again.  This was our symbol of “real” relationship.  We would be there for each other for the high’s and the lows.  And we would take care and tend these relationships with awareness and intention now.

At this point I noticed I had adopted some of their children as my nephews, in the course of leading them through the Boys Sacred Fire Initiation.  “Yes.” we said to each other, ” call the children in, they need to be apart of this too.”  They drifted in with sleepy smiles, curling into laps.  I could see some had a “knowing” look on their face, about what was happening.  The feeling in the room was pregnant.

Another edge.  The most respectful approach clearly was to ask each of them directly, will you be my niece ?  Will you call me uncle ?  What if they say no ?  Having done this before I began, “I want you to know that I am like a brother to your father and mother,” and to prove it I said,  “we just tossed this green rag back and forth”.  Everyone laughed.  When it quieted down I continued with the formal tone, lighter now but with commitment and intention, ” You always have a place here that you can call home, a place you can come to like you have.  Especially if you need support, take a break from the parental sibling scene, I will be there for you.  Would you be willing to call me Uncle from now on and I will call you my niece ?”  ” Yes, I would love that !”

Around the kitchen we went, auntie to nephew, uncle to niece, auntie to niece, Uncle to nephew.  There were so many real “ropes” of relationship going back and forth in that kitchen I felt like I was the luckiest man alive.

The kids ran off and played, like they already got this extended family thing and we were just catching on.  And it was time to move on with our day, our travels.  We stood up and something was calling, something, symbolic.  Now what ?  How do we remember?  I glanced down at the balled up rag, sitting in the center of the table.  “Would anyone like to take this home and clean this, care for it ?”

“Yes !” one adult responded,  “I had the same thought, I want to make a pouch for it, so that we can bring it out again if we need to.”  We nodded.  Yes.  It’s no longer a dirty dishtowel, somehow it has meaning, and we can’t go back. It has now entered the realm of the sacred.

Just like our relationships on that day.