Beyond Fear: Save What You Love
The other night I dreamed that the sky has darkened to the point where
it is almost as black as night. In the dream, I say to Karen Vogel (the
woman who co-created the Motherpeace cards with me in the late 1970s in
Berkeley), "Isn't this tornado weather?" Then right before our
eyes, the black energies begin to take form as a huge funnel cloud, but
it seems almost too large to be an ordinary tornado. It's frightening
and we begin to withdraw into a kind of cave-overhang in a cliff side.
But then suddenly I understand that this fearfulness is a wrong approach
and I fold my hands in front of my chest, saying: "It's the Black
Dakini. Blessed Be!"
And therein lies my hope for the world the Dark Goddess,
Nature herself as a compassionate karmic force, as the Goddess Nemesis,
an ancient representation of the workings-out of Natural Law. There is
truly a dark cloud on the horizon, and when I listen to the politicians,
I am not in the least bit comforted by their formulations and rhetoric.
Nor am I reassured by the scientists with their chemical and science-fiction
scenarios for saving the planet. If not for my spiritual practices and
my sense of connection to the invisible world of spirits and helpers,
I would surely despair.
Even as I write this paragraph, sirens are blaring as fire trucks and
emergency vehicles race toward the third catastrophic wild fire we have
had here in Santa Cruz County in the last month and it's only
June 20th, the Summer Solstice, the very beginning of summer and the dry
season. At the very least it is all quite disorienting.
spring I lost interest in my work. Rarely in my life has this happened.
I have had an almost insatiable appetite for reading, writing, scholarly
research, and intellectual engagement in the pressing issues of the day.
Now all I want to do is put plants in the ground. I want to turn my ordinary
little yard in Santa Cruz into a paradise of vegetables, medicinal herbs,
and flowering plants adored by the birds, bees, and butterflies. I can't
seem to stop myself from spending all my extra money and time on this
garden. Even as a severe drought is spreading in California and wildfires
are burning endlessly out of control, in my backyard I am creating a world
of living things that require little more than water, sunshine, and reasonable
soil for their existence. I love the physical, backbreaking labor of digging
in the clayish dirt and amending the soil with the bags of gorgeous, rich
compost I've bought at the organic nursery nearby. I
am as delighted as a child by the emergence of tiny green sprouts shortly
after I've seeded an area with wildflowers and herb seeds. The unfolding
of my artichoke plants positively takes my breath away. I eat fresh arugula
everyday, and now the sweet sugar snap peas and heirloom tomatoes have
started to ripen on the vine.
As I write, a flock of finches perch on a telephone wire, chirping madly
as they take turns at the feeder I've installed just outside my office
window. Twice daily I have to refill it, so fierce are their appetites.
Yesterday I watched a mother bird go to and from the feeder, retrieving
a seed for a waiting juvenile bird and patiently placing the food into
its frantic open mouth; the baby bird was puffed up with what could only
be called excitement, eager to learn this basic skill of survival. Today
the finches are all wet and fluffing their feathers after a visit to the
lovely birdbath I bought for myself two years ago as a birthday present.
Two local cats skulk through the yard on a regular basis, hiding in the
tall grasses and, presumably, lusting after the birds but
they never actually attack them. Perhaps they are getting old, as I am,
and feel contented just to imagine and remember the wilder impulses of
their youth. Yesterday I planted catnip for them.
Ironically, I have come in from the woods after almost a decade of isolation
from urban life, and here in my crowded neighborhood in this dynamic little
beach town, I am finding an active connection to wildlife and the elemental
forces of nature. Just being near the water is part of the change. As
I walk along the cliffs looking out over the Pacific Ocean almost daily,
I am surprised to find myself fascinated by the surfers, who make up a
distinct subculture here in Santa Cruz. Rain
or shine, hot or cold, they are out there in their sleek black wetsuits
looking like a different species, focused in their all-consuming need
to catch a wave. Every age partakes, from youngsters learning the craft
to older people in their sixties and seventies. Women as well as men make
up this population of mostly tanned, buffed bodies strong enough to withstand
the extremely cold temperatures of our northern California coastal waters.
(I have never gone deeper than my knees into ocean waters here, although
I have lived in California for more than thirty years!) I love watching
the waves crashing against the rocky cliffs, and if I don't go to the
water for two or three days, I swear I feel Her calling me. At night when
I go to sleep, I can hear the rhythmic and powerful sound of the ocean,
Astrologically, this year Pluto is conjunct with my Juno in Capricorn
and squaring my Mars-Ceres conjunction in Aries. Everything I have been
committed to over the years (Juno) is apparently up for re-evaluation,
and my old habitual passions (Mars) seem to have suddenly become quite
muted. The Goddess of agriculture (Ceres) rules this newfound focus of
mine: to cultivate the earth and my relationship with nature. I have always
loved birds and have fed them over the years. Now I have the pleasure
of mindfully creating an environment designed for them, and feeding them
not only from my feeders, but from the garden itself and the things I
can grow all around the yard. Already hummingbirds have enjoyed the salvias
and penstemon plants I have grown for years in a wine barrel. Now I have
planted a dwarf elderberry tree in the front garden, so that the birds
will come for the berries. Several sunflowers in early stages of growth
line my back fence and I can only imagine how happy the birds are going
to be when the flowers bloom and present them with hundreds of fresh seeds.
There are more profoundly motivating factors that lie behind all this
activity, of course. I remember a day more than a decade ago, when I got
caught in a traffic jam near San Rafael (just north of San Francisco)
and learned that there was a serious toxic spill of some powdered chemical
that was already in the air. None of us in that gridlock situation could
do anything to avoid or escape. As
I drove home later that day (wishing I didn't have to breathe), I heard
my inner voice say, "Save what you love, because it's all coming
That message came in the vernacular of the revolutionary organic seed
savers, whose books I was reading at the time. I thought then that,
for an urban person like myself, this meant to save spiritual traditions
like the Tibetan Buddhist Dakini practices I have since adapted for women,
or preserve ancient occult methodologies as we did with the Motherpeace
The apocalyptic scenario has only increased since then, in my mind and
also in the world, and I have never forgotten that message to "save
what you love." Now I find myself deliberately cultivating some of
the more endangered medicinals herb species that have been
over-harvested and wild-crafted almost out of existence. The black cohosh
and motherwort that I've started to plant around the yard can spread to
their hearts' content, while I can feel a part of something larger
a global collective of human souls believing in the future of life.
The proof is in the pudding, as they used to say before women in our
culture stopped spending our days in the kitchen cooking everything from
scratch. Recently I had to have three teeth extracted and the dentist
sent me home with a foul-looking blue liquid in a bottle. He wanted me
to splash it around in my mouth every hour to prevent infection during
my recovery process. Faced with this sudden pressing need for real medicine,
I realized my garden had become a hands-on resource where I could almost
certainly find what I needed. As the novocaine wore off, I got out all
my herbal guidebooks and quickly learned that there were at least seven
naturally antiseptic and/or antibiotic plants already growing in my backyard,
several of which were explicitly recommended as a medicinal mouthwash.
I gathered them (sage leaves, lavender, basil, chamomile flowers, thyme,
and lemon balm), created an infusion (that's herbal talk for "strong
tea"), used it to wash out my mouth and drank it as a tea with valerian
pills for pain. I felt a sense of accomplishment quite out of proportion
to the level of gardening I have so far achieved.
have a ways to go before I will be truly grounded in the practices of
the ancient women about whom I have written so enthusiastically over the
thirty years, and around whose knowledge of plants and animals whole societies
in the past were organized. But I am definitely in an emergency process
of recovery that honors their long existence and positions me within their
lineage. And in this newfound horticultural obsession, with my hands in
the dirt and my filthy fingernails to prove it, I am blessed and I feel
once more in contact with the joy of being alive on this planet.
I feel an almost desperate need to reconnect this way every day. With
all the artificiality of current cultural fashions pressing in from every
direction (cosmetic surgery, genetically modified foods, computer generated
images, C-section births), this simple daily connection to joy functions
for me as an antidote in a time of overwhelming destruction and uncertainty.
Throma, the Black Dakini, is known for cutting through illusion; her
violent epithet, "phet!" dissipates and dissolves all obstacles
through the direct perception that they are unreal, nothing more than
figments of our imaginations. I have sung her mantras for more than a
decade now, at least a million times. She challenges us to conquer our
collective and individual fear of death by facing it, head on. To me this
means, don't hide from the fact that the polar ice caps are melting, weather
patterns are changing for the worse, and the most precious resources have
If I were depending on Science to save us, I would have to admit defeat,
because I don't believe it is possible to "save the world" through
any known means at this time. On the contrary, I put my faith in Nature;
my hope is for the earth's magical and potent regeneration. I align myself
with the Black Dakini, that dark goddess who dances in a ring of fire
and shouts a loud earth-shaking "ha!" of liberation. I vow to
cut through the pain and loss and sorrow, and instead make my pledge to
daily find the joy and celebrate it. The time I spend in my garden is
nothing more or less than my spiritual discipline brought down to the
earth plane and grounded in a tangible reality.
In honor of this sacred cross-quarter holy-day of Lammas, with the New
Moon Solar Eclipse crowning this already numinous day, may all beings
realize the Dakini, be free from suffering, and experience peace on earth.
- my photo of artist Mayumi Oda's Black
Dakini print, which has hung on my walls since 1986 and whose image
graces the cover of my 1991 book, Shakti Woman, © 2008 Vicki
Noble. All rights reserved.
- from my garden: artichoke mandala,
© 2008 Vicki Noble. All rights reserved.
- birds at my birdbath, © 2008
Vicki Noble. All rights reserved.
- neighbor cat getting a drink from my
birdbath , © 2008 Vicki Noble. All rights reserved.
- blue herons where river meets ocean,
© 2008 Vicki Noble. All rights reserved.
- my garden of delight, © 2008
Vicki Noble. All rights reserved.
- first corn, © 2008 Vicki Noble.
All rights reserved.