An Inward Journey

Dear readers,

In the rural Hawaiian valley where I have lived off-grid for the past five years, local people come often to tend their ancestors’ graves, which are marked either by Western-style headstones or by traditional piles of stones, or pohaku. Wandering through the forest, you soon become aware that you are surrounded by graves. Noisy chatter gives way to quiet contemplation; a crashing gait turns into carefully-placed footsteps. The presence of so many ancestors exerts a subtle but powerful effect on peoples’ behavior: there’s a sense that your actions matter, and that you are being watched. Although the forest may look wild or abandoned to an untrained eye, it contains layer upon layer of human history, the evidence of which is all around. I often wonder about the people to whom these graves belong. What would they think of my presence here? Would they approve of the way I’m living? What could I do to earn their respect?

Sometimes, I feel wistful when I speak with a neighbor who can recite the names of relatives stretching far back into her family tree, all rooted to the same land for generation after generation. The deep knowledge of the land and enduring sense of belonging such families possess is something that I can only dream of. Like many great-grandchildren of immigrants, I’ve never felt quite sure of where I belonged, or even where I’m “really” from. For me, the nearest ancestral grave sites are not only thousands of miles away, but located in places where I have never spent meaningful time, if I’ve even visited them at all.

Earlier this year, I had the pleasure of editing Rhonda McCrimmon’s beautiful book, The Cauldron and the Drum: A Journey into Celtic Shamanism. One thing I love about McCrimmon’s work is her discussion of ancestors.

 

 

Shamanic practices from around the world involve calling on one’s ancestors for support, guidance, or protection. However, some of us have a tricky relationship with our literal ancestors—for example, if we know that they were abusive to others, we may not feel comfortable drawing them to mind when we need inspiration or support. For this, McCrimmon offers a wonderful alternative: connecting with “loving ancestors,” whether or not you are tied to them by blood. Just as many people spend the holidays with “chosen family” rather than blood relatives, McCrimmon teaches that we aren’t limited to literal relatives when it comes to seeking inspiration from those who have gone beyond.

She also asks us to consider what kind of ancestors we would someday like to be. How would we like to be remembered by the people who come after us? How can we become the kind of ancestors that our descendants will want to call upon for guidance? As a person in my thirties, I’d never given much thought to these questions, but as I edited The Cauldron and the Drum, I often found myself reflecting on my values, and asking myself how I could grow in the kind of wisdom that could someday be of benefit to others. Was I putting the right things in my cauldron? Could I reorient myself to something higher, something that would make a difference for generations to come?

But as I was editing Rhonda’s book, I began to think about my friends and neighbors who have died in the valley. Their deaths bind me to this place, just as their friendship did when they were alive. I decided to take a pilgrimage to a place I hadn’t gone in three years—a tumbledown house on the other side of the valley, where a friend of mine had died. I packed a small basket with ti leaves, flowers, and some ‘awa root, and set out on foot down the long dirt road. As I walked, I remembered all that my friend had taught me—how to train guava branches by tying them with rope, how deep to make a chainsaw cut in a tree you were felling—as well as the stories he used to tell about the time he was camping on the beach in a wind storm and got pinned under an ironwood tree.

I remembered the many times I’d given him a ride home from town, and how he’d give me avocadoes and plant cuttings for my garden—cuttings which were now six feet tall. As I approached his old house, which was now little more than a pile of rotting boards and gaping windows, I saw the plants from which those cuttings were taken, still standing. I crouched down, lay my offering in front of the gate, and said a few words to wish him well on the other side.

 

 

The very next day, my next-door neighbors came over. “They’re burning down the old house today,” they said. “Would you like to come with us to watch?”

“Which old house?” I asked, amazed.

It was my friend’s old house, which the new owners were destroying to make way for something new. I’d made my pilgrimage just in time. As I stood with my neighbors and watched the place burn, I felt that I’d crossed a transition point in my life in the valley. Where I was once a newcomer, with no memory and no relationships, I was now a person who remembered what it was like when the old house was there; I was a person who knew and remembered the dead. It wasn’t the same thing as having ancestors in the valley, but it was something. I did have graves to tend, and it meant something to me to tend them. In this unexpected way, I was starting to belong.

In The Cauldron and the Drum, McCrimmon writes: “Like many ancient peoples, the Celts believed that the visible world was only one layer of a complex and multifaceted reality. In addition to the everyday labor required to put food on the table and keep a roof over their heads, the Celts practiced extensive inner work, honoring the mysteries of their own psyches and seeking the wisdom within. They were also careful to maintain their relationships with the world of nature, knowing that all energy comes from—and returns to—the earth.”

The longer I live in this ancient and sacred land, the more I become aware of the complex and multifaceted reality of which McCrimmon writes, and the more moved I am by the cycles of energy she describes. Whether you are living in the land of your ancestors or in a place which is completely new to you, there are always ways to show respect, develop relationships, and tap into something timeless and precious.

Readers, I hope you all have a beautiful winter, that your cauldrons are full of whatever nourishes you best, and that you find deep ties of belonging wherever you go.

 

Sincerely,

Hilary Smith

Senior Editor, Hierophant Publishing

 

 

According to the ancient Celts, the root of a person's physical, spiritual, and emotional health lies in the balance between the body's three energy centers, called the Three Cauldrons: the Cauldron of Warming, the Cauldron of Motion, and the Cauldron of Wisdom. They believed a person must activate, nurture, and maintain all three cauldrons to live a whole, connected, and meaningful life.

In this book, renowned shamanic teacher Rhonda McCrimmon brings the ancient, healing wisdom of Celtic shamanism to life so you can break free from the chains of past traumas, hurts, and heartaches and live a whole, connected, and more meaningful life. You will embark on a spiritual journey from the lowest of the three energetic cauldrons to the highest, learning how to cultivate each cauldron’s unique potential along the way.

  • The Cauldron of Warming, the wellspring of our innate knowledge, can be drained by past traumas, leaving us anxious and fearful. By replenishing this cauldron, you can restore your birthright of inner peace and security.
  • The Cauldron of Motion is on its side at birth but fills as we experience deep grief or joy. It is the source of our capacity to love and nurture. Learn how to balance this cauldron, establish healthy boundaries, and protect yourself from emotional drain.
  • The Cauldron of Wisdom is upside down at birth. When it is righted, we receive one of the most sublime gifts of Celtic spirituality—a profoundly felt connection with nature.

In each chapter, McCrimmon provides self-reflections and other exercises designed to help you:

  • Activate and balance your inner cauldrons.
  • Dispel fear by tapping into your innate wisdom.
  • Work through past traumas, foster love, and nurture emotional resilience.
  • Manifest creative potential through rituals and meditations.

You will also learn about the four Celtic fire festivals, and the sacred practice of saining. Celtic shamanism and its practices are open to all. Regardless of your ancestral roots, Rhonda McCrimmon invites you to explore this ancient wisdom and begin your journey down the shaman’s path.

Click here to learn more about The Cauldron and the Drum and to read two free chapters of the book!

Small Living, Big Wisdom

Dear readers,

Before I built the simple open-air hut in rural Hawaii where I cook, write, and practice music, the only structure on my land was a large, open-sided tent perched on a wooden platform. The platform was the first thing I built when I bought the land several years ago—a tiny island lifting me a precious few feet above a sea of knee-deep mud.

To live in the tent was to live in direct contact with nature. I shared the space with enormous brown hunting spiders, bright green geckos, a determined crew of mosquitos, and the occasional coqui frog whose shrill chirping could keep me up all night. Every now and then, a stray cat would decide that I was in need of a roommate, and I’d come home to find a furry intruder glaring at me from my own bed.

When it rained, I’d feel a gentle spray of mist on my face. When it stormed, I’d lie awake, worrying that an overhanging tree branch would snap off and crush me in my sleep. One night, a branch did fall, its jagged, mossy end poking right through the roof of the tent. I pushed it out, repaired the hole with duct tape, and went back to bed. Other times, I’d wake up to the voices of hunters on the trail that runs through my land, and see their flashlights in the dark. Ever so briefly, I’d wish I had a door. As it was, I didn’t even have a wall.

One night during hurricane season, there was a windstorm. As I listened to the metal tent poles creaking and groaning, the tree branches sighing, and the plastic tarp snapping back and forth with every violent gust, I felt real fear. This isn’t how people live, I thought. This isn’t a real life. I felt like a bug in a rolled-up leaf—dry, but just barely. Safe, but just barely. As I contemplated this image, my fear lifted, and I realized I was being given a great gift. How many people in our urbanized world ever get to experience what it’s like to be an insect, a bird, or some other creature who lives with only the barest protection against the elements? How many people get to live this close to the wind, the rain, and the land itself?

The precarity with which I lived was frightening sometimes, but awesome too—in the sense of putting me in direct contact with experiences of awe. Wrapped up in the windstorm, vulnerable to it, afraid of it and awed by it, I had no choice but to experience life in its rawest form.

Even after I built my hut, I continued to sleep in the tent. The one-room hut was too small to fit my bed or store my clothes, and for better or worse, I’d stopped worrying about falling branches. When I visited friends who lived in proper houses, the still indoor air felt spooky to me, and the spacious rooms devoid of life. Where were the vines twining around the legs of the furniture? Where were the spiders and geckos? Where was the mist? Now that I’d gotten used to spending twenty-four hours a day in the open air, living indoors now struck me as incredibly lonely. After reveling briefly in my friends’ comfortable couches and clean kitchens, I soon felt restless to get back to my exposed, precarious, and inconvenient home.

 

 

This summer, the island where I live was hit by a tropical storm. I stayed at a friend’s house in town while the river flooded, and when I got home, I found that the tent which had sheltered me for almost five years had finally begun to fail. As I mopped up the water, I realized that if I didn’t make a change, the wooden platform on which the tent stood would soon begin to rot, and then I would have a real problem on my hands. Maybe it was time to dismantle the tent and build a proper roof and some half-walls—not a sealed house, nothing to give one the feeling that one was indoors, but something a little sturdier, a little safer, and a lot dryer.

For a couple of months, I hemmed and hawed. I worried that building a roof would chip away at the precarity which had become precious to me. Would my newfound comfort come at the price of awe? Would it numb the empathy I felt towards those who had no choice but to live with minimal shelter, and whose precarity was far more real and pressing than the semi-optional version I valued and enjoyed? Once I had a wood-framed structure, it would only make sense to put up mosquito screens; once I started enclosing the place against insects, it would only make sense to put up a door to keep out cats and people, too. Before I knew it, I would be locking the door—and my state of vivid, uncomfortable, electrifying relationship with the land would be forever changed.

 

*

 

Spiritual traditions from around the world emphasize poverty, precarity, and voluntary simplicity as gateways to the divine. The monks in some Zen monasteries bathe in cold water, chop their own firewood, and limit themselves to simple clothing and bedding that provide the bare minimum of comfort. Shamanic peoples engage in practices like fasting, vision quests, and sweat lodges, through which they voluntarily enter a state of mild to extreme discomfort. The Benedictine monastic order of Catholics requires its members to take a vow of poverty, in response to Jesus’ advice, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.”

There seems to be a consensus among world religions that too much material comfort is a barrier not only to mystical union, but also to everyday virtues like compassion, empathy, and community. When we’re just a little bit cold, hungry, lost, or broke, we’re more likely to remember the suffering of others, and act altruistically towards them. Physical discomfort can act as a whetstone to compassion, keeping us in a state of harmony instead of isolating ourselves in an echo chamber of plenty.

I often think of my land as a monastery, and its many discomforts as invaluable tools for honing equanimity, patience, humility, and love. Was I being called to patch the leaking tent and tighten the lashings, eking out its life for one more season? Or was it time to accept the “death” of this particular companion and move on?

 

 

After a second storm earlier this fall left big puddles on my bedroom floor, I made the decision to build the roof after all—and build it before hurricane season picked up in earnest. For a frenzied couple of weeks, I made trip after trip to the lumberyard, stocking up on two-by-fours and primer, and ordering metal roofing. Finally, it was time to take down the threadbare roof tarp and pull apart the hollow metal poles which held it up. For years, that tarp had been all that separated me from the wind and rain. Now, I climbed up on a stepladder and began to peel it off. After just a few tugs, the sky was revealed, and the monkeypod branches overhead. A few more tugs, and I found myself standing on a wooden platform surrounded by trees and plants, a rack of green bananas hanging just out of reach of my bed. It was delightful to stand there—to see how small my life was, compared to the life all around. Compared to the trees and cliffs, my bed looked like a toy, the wooden platform no bigger than a child’s playhouse. And I knew, suddenly, that I could let the tent go, without losing what was most precious to me. In my heart and mind, I would continue to live as a bug in a leaf, even as my body stayed dry.

As fall moves into winter, I invite you to embrace discomfort wherever you encounter it—whether that’s in a forest monastery, on a city bus, or wandering around your own neighborhood. You might just find a new sense of compassion waiting on the other side.

Readers, this November, may you all find the kind of shelter you need—and may awe find you there in all its forms.

 

            Sincerely,

            Hilary Smith

            Senior Editor, Hierophant Publishing

The Freedom to Change

Dear Readers,

This weekend, one of my best friends came to visit me at the small off-grid community in rural Hawaii where I live. As we roasted green coffee beans in a cast-iron pan, we took turns asking each other questions from a game she had brought—What was your most embarrassing moment in high school, what’s the most important trait you look for in a partner, and so on. We soon realized, to our bemusement, that the game was hard for us to play, because we already knew each other so well we could rattle off each other’s answers off the tops of our heads. However, one card gave me pause. When did you change your mind about something?

As my ramshackle cabin filled with the scent of roasting coffee, and the myna birds began to chirp outside, I realized just how many times in my life I’ve gone from fearing, disdaining, or resisting something, to wholeheartedly embracing it. These days, wild horses couldn’t drag me away from my beloved rainforest hut—but five years ago, when life dropped me into this place, you’d think I’d been sentenced to an execution. My e-mails to friends and relatives were grim. To be fair, life was much harder when I was living in a tent, during a year of incessant floods, a stranger in what I then perceived to be a remarkably strange and inscrutable place.

 

 

These days, my e-mails to friends and family are filled with worshipful descriptions of fruit trees, waterfalls, and clouds, proud recountings of minor victories involving carpentry or truck repair, and fond descriptions of the neighbors who are no longer strangers to me. The difficulties and inconveniences I once viewed as outrageous and insurmountable, I now view as precious; where I once experienced isolation, I’ve become aware of teeming, riotous webs of community. I’ve changed my mind about off-grid life, and I can’t imagine going back.

Although my friends sometimes tease me about my “conversion,” I’ll be forever grateful that the people around me gave me the space to change, without trying to hold me to an outdated version of myself. How terrible it would be if we were permanently held to account for our former beliefs and attitudes—if an opinion, once expressed, had to define us forever. How wonderful it is to have the freedom to change—to update our beliefs, our opinions, and our identities as we proceed through life, shedding old layers as we go.

Last winter, I had the privilege of working with don Jose Ruiz on his wonderful book The Shaman’s Path to Freedom: A Toltec Wisdom Book, which releases on October 3rd. Of the ten freedoms he describes in the book, number three will always be my favorite: the freedom to change. In this chapter, Ruiz describes the Toltec concept of shapeshifting, which he defines as “living in dynamic relationship to life.” Life is always changing—not just decade to decade or year to year, but moment to moment. We can confront this change with brittleness, and make ourselves suffer, or we can learn to dance with life. We can learn to joyfully shapeshift, the same way life itself is constantly shapeshifting.

If there’s anyone qualified to talk about change, it’s don Jose Ruiz. As a teenager, he felt compelled to seek out suffering, after perceiving how much the adults around him seemed to prize their trauma and pain. Yet today, don Jose has one of the biggest smiles I’ve ever seen, and it’s hard not to grin when you so much as glance at his author photo. As a twenty-something, don Jose went through a phase where he felt he had to dress in “spiritual” clothes and listen only to mantras—but today, he’s no longer shy about his love of heavy metal concerts, and he doesn’t mind when his dogs get their paws all over his distinctly unspiritual cargo pants.

These days, don Jose Ruiz holds his identity lightly. He writes, When people ask me, “What are you, Jose? What is your profession? What race are you? What things are you?” I think to myself, “I’m just life.” Like a stream that changes shape a million times as it finds its way from a mountaintop to the sea, Ruiz knows that he isn’t any one of the innumerable masks he’s donned throughout his lifetime, but the ineffable life force, or nagual, running through them all.

 

 

I’m just life. What a beautiful sentiment—and how liberating. As don Jose Ruiz describes in The Shaman’s Path to Freedom, so much of our suffering comes from confusing ourselves with something other than life itself. We confuse ourselves with our jobs, our relationships, and our status in the community. We confuse ourselves with our bodies—our health and looks. Meanwhile, we are made of the same stuff as toads and jaguars, starlight and waterfalls, orchids and moss. Life is always manifesting itself in different forms, revealing new faces of the infinite. To think that we are exempt from this process, or to desire to be exempt from this process, is to miss out on the beauty of life—and to align ourselves with this process is to be free.

*

Ten years ago, my sister took me to an ecstatic dance event in the city where I was living. For the uninitiated, ecstatic dance is an event at which people dance to electronic or other music, often for hours, with no talking or phones allowed. When I went with my sister, I found it incredibly awkward and swore I would never do anything of the sort ever again. “The music is terrible,” I remember saying, “And those people—well, they’re just not my people!” I considered myself a serious person with serious tastes—I listened to Indian classical music and was forever trying and failing to write important novels. Like the teenaged don Jose Ruiz, I thought that suffering was a sign of superiority. The thought of joining a bunch of smiling, unserious hippies on a dance floor was anathema.

Although I’ve long since ditched my love affair with suffering, I retained a sort of prudishness and formality when it came to music and art, and feared being caught liking anything that was, well, fun. Then near the end of the revision process for don Jose’s book, I realized I hadn’t been to town in weeks; I had been buried in a happy haze of editing and working on my land. It was the first Saturday of the month, and I knew there was ecstatic dance at the community center in town that night.

I felt in my heart a twinge of longing. What if I did something completely out of character? I thought. It’s about time I poked my head into the world and tried something new. Besides, I think don Jose would approve. Before I could talk myself out of it, I grabbed the keys to my truck and embarked on the long and precarious drive into town. I figured I’d stay at the dance for half an hour at most before high-tailing it out of there, grumbling to myself about the “bad” music and wasted gas.

I ended up staying for the whole two hours of dancing, and for the sound bath at the end, and for the closing circle where I realized that the people I’d formerly described as “not my people” were in fact very much my people. I drove home in a state of elation, my heart humming with the pleasure of allowing a new self to unfold. Am I a serious person? Am I a carefree dancer? Yes to both—because I am life itself. And a part of me that had been stuck is now free.

 

 

Of course, the freedom to change isn’t the only freedom don Jose Ruiz teaches in his new book. There is also the freedom to love unconditionally, when you’ve been taught to judge and condemn; the freedom to heal, when you’ve learned to live within the confines of your wounds; the freedom to see, when you’ve accepted a self-imposed blindness; and all the other freedoms that we must claim if we are to bring our gifts into the world in their highest form. When we attain this freedom, we touch the infinite potential of the nagual— a Nahuatl word for pure life force —which reminds me a whole lot of the feeling I have when I’m dancing.

Readers, I wish I could pour you all a cup of this freshly-roasted coffee, picked from the trees near my land—and I wish I could load you all into my truck and take you to ecstatic dance. I will have to settle for wishing you happiness in whatever form you find it, even or perhaps especially if means taking a leap away from the person you believed yourself to be. May you all have the freedom to change, and may those changes bring you wisdom and delight every single day.

 

Sincerely,

Hilary Smith

Senior Editor, Hierophant Publishing

 

 

 

Humanity is in crisis.

War, poverty, environmental disasters, and more have brought the planet to a tipping point. In our personal lives, many of us carry deep-seated fear, resentment, anger, and even hatred for others and ourselves.
 
Since ancient times, Toltec shamans have taught that the root of all this discord can be found in the human mind and what they called its addiction to suffering. They have also taught that the time will come when we must choose to either break free from this addiction or pay the ultimate price.
 
According to Toltec Shaman don Jose Ruiz, that time is now, and the change that is needed can only come from within.
 
In The Shaman’s Path to Freedom, Ruiz will teach you how to find and claim your own personal freedom, one based on unconditional love for yourself and others, and in doing so break your mind’s addiction to suffering. By walking this path, you can live a life of peace and harmony within yourself, which is the most important thing you can do to bring about the change that is needed in the world.
 
Filled with Toltec practices for establishing personal freedom, The Shaman’s Path to Freedom is don Jose Ruiz’s most personal and radical book yet, guaranteed to thrill both new readers and longtime fans. 

Dr. Marie Mbouni

Marie Mbouni, MD, is a shaman, energy healer, and artist. She was born and raised in Cameroon, Africa, before relocating to Los Angeles in 2000. Her mission is to help others experience healing in all aspects of life. Connect with her at mariembouni.com.

Published Works Include

The Magic of Oneness

Dear Reader, 

 

A short way down the trail from my cabin in rural Hawaii, there is a little old man who lives in a shack with a pig, three dogs, and four cats. Everyone worries that he is getting too frail to live in our remote off-grid community—carrying bags of dog food across the river in a faded green backpack, feeding his pig with overripe breadfruit he hauls down the trail in five-gallon buckets. Although we all lend a hand when we can, none of us are equipped to give him the kind of full-time care he’s getting closer and closer to needing. 

A few weeks ago, he had a serious health crisis. My neighbor heard him shouting and called an ambulance, then lifted him into a wheelbarrow and rolled him all the way to the river, where the paramedics would be waiting to pick him up. That evening as we sat around under the monkeypod tree, my neighbors and I all wondered if he would come back. Perhaps he would go live in town, which was surely the right move for a person in his fragile state of health. 

But just a few days later, I was on my way to check the water lines when I ran into him on the trail, a heavy bag of clothes and groceries in each hand. He was skinnier than ever, with pipe cleaners for legs and white hair sticking out from under his ballcap. He reminded me so much of the stray cat that had made its way back to my land even after I’d driven it three miles and several water crossings away. I stopped and offered to carry his bags, and he readily accepted. Even as I made this automatic offer, I felt a twinge of weariness—I was already so tired after a morning of working on my land in the hot sun, and still had much to do. After carrying the bags all the way to my neighbor’s place, I would have to return the way I had come and climb up the waterfall, which was my original errand. Although my body had extended itself reflexively to my neighbor’s aid, my mind began to protest at the cost. 

Yet when I picked up my neighbor’s bags and felt the weight of them transfer from his body to my own, something miraculous happened: I had a sudden, visceral awareness that this transfer was taking place not between two distinct beings, but within a single organism. I wasn’t depleting “my” energy reserves—I was experiencing a kind of homeostasis, with energy flowing naturally to the place it was needed the most. Although my mind grumbled after the fact, my body had carried out the gesture automatically, the way certain trees will automatically send sugars to their less-healthy neighbors through roots and fungal networks underground. 

Later, I wondered: did I stop and help my neighbor because I perceived the two of us to be a single organism, or did that brief and striking shift in perception arise from the physical act of making his burden my own? 

 

 

Living off-grid, you can’t help but become aware of energy: where it comes from, where it goes, and the many ways it is used, recycled, and transformed. Light comes into the solar panels and the tool batteries greedily consume it, snug in their plastic chargers beside the power strip. 

The energy stored in the tool batteries then goes into turning screws, cutting wood, and mowing grass. You spread the grass clippings in the garden to build the soil, and before you know it you have papayas, pumpkins, and sugar cane to feed your hungry body at the end of the day. 

You scheme about ways to save energy—a more efficient light bulb, a lower-wattage computer monitor. Keeping your tools in a place that doesn’t require you to climb up and down a ladder fifteen times a day, which will cause you to burn fewer calories, which will make your stash of pumpkins last a couple of days longer, which means you won’t have to carry a pumpkin all the way home from your neighbor’s garden half a mile away, which means you will have more time and energy left over to finally fix your chainsaw, which means you can help your neighbor cut up the windfall bamboo, thus repaying the debt of energy left over from the time he helped you fix your solar system. 

You notice the ways your neighbors are constantly transferring their energy to you—through their labor, their gifts of food and other resources, their encouragement on hard days. You transfer energy back in the form of your own gifts and words of encouragement, and the strength of your own body applied to a common task. The flow is organic, spontaneous, and unplanned. There is no ledger, yet all debts get paid; no accounting, and yet all that which is depleted gets restored. 

 

 

As an editor at Hierophant, I don’t frame roofs, cook meals, or harvest vegetables with the authors I work with, but there is nevertheless an aspect of shared labor, and therefore of community. When editing a manuscript, I receive the gift of the author’s wisdom; at the same time, I apply myself to the project of helping that author express their wisdom in the clearest possible way. Because many of the books I work with deal with spirituality, there is also a sense of chipping away at a shared mystery, and becoming part of one long chain of human endeavor to understand and celebrate the divine. 

Recently, while editing a book chapter in which an author was describing a significant event in her life, I had an experience not terribly unlike the moment when I picked up my neighbor’s grocery bags. Gazing into space, as I do at regular intervals when I’m writing or editing, I tuned into the emotions the author was describing, allowing them to play out in my own body. As I pondered the idea she was trying to express and toyed with different ways of expressing it, I felt a sense of oneness with the work in which I forgot that an “author” and “editor” existed, and instead felt myself to be part of a unified field of humanity, all working on these deep problems of life, all shouldering the burden of being human together. 

Although there are practical reasons for putting an author’s name on a book and giving that book its own title and cover art, this is really for the sake of convenience. As don Jose Ruiz likes to say, “We’re all working for the same boss.” Just as flowers come out of the earth, ideas come out of the great pool of human history. A flower couldn’t exist without the earth, and a book couldn’t exist without thousands of years of humans thinking, feeling, searching, and dreaming. Whether or not you ever have your name on a book, you’ve probably helped write one just by being alive. All labor is shared, whether we realize it or not—and realizing it can make us feel happier, more grateful, and more alive. 

 

 

I’ll never forget the time I carpooled to a meeting in town with several of my neighbors. We were sitting in the bleachers of the high school gym, listening to some engineers give a presentation about plans for our road, when I happened to glance down. My feet and shins, I noticed, were caked with dried mud—the natural consequence of hiking through several streams on my way to the car. I rarely remember to rinse off my legs before going to town, and was feeling a little embarrassed at being seen this way by the town folks, when I saw that my neighbor’s feet were also brown with mud. Turning my head to look down the length of the bleacher, I saw that we all had the same dusty streaks on our calves and dried mud between our toes.  

The sight of so many muddy legs nearly moved me to tears. I felt a sense of comfort, belonging, and something akin to pride. My neighbors knew the weight of a wheelbarrow, the value of a pig, a pumpkin, or a five-gallon bucket, the sound of rain on a metal roof. They knew what it was like to sit in your chair in a stupor at the end of a long day, too tired even to read; they knew the night-blooming flowers and the moon. When one of us was sick or weak, the rest of us didn’t carry that person’s burdens for them—we just carried them, period, because they were there to be carried, and we weren’t many beings, but one. 

Readers, as we transition from spring to summer, may you all be supported by the energy of sun, earth, and community; and may your roots feed others, and be fed in return. 

 

Sincerely, 

Hilary Smith 

Senior Editor, Hierophant Publishing 

 

Click here to read Hilary's previous essay, "Hitchhiking to Freedom."

Hitchhiking to Freedom

Dear readers,

As an editor at a spirituality and self-help publisher, I learn profound lessons from all the books and authors I work with. In fact, I often joke that it’s like getting paid to do therapy all day—there’s just no way to spend so much time reading and editing uplifting books without having those positive messages sink into my heart and mind. This has never been truer than with Adelfa Marr’s book, Lord Knows This Sh*t Ain’t Easy: How to Stay Emotionally Balanced in a Chaotic World, coming out from Hierophant next month.

 

a headshot of author Adelfa Marr

 

I have to admit that I was a little nervous about working with Adelfa. After all, she’s a successful life coach, Instagram influencer, and lives in southern California with her husband actor Manny Montana—about as different a life from my rustic off-grid existence as you can get! How would we relate to each other as author and editor? Yet I soon found out we had a lot in common. On the very first page of her book, Marr writes of her struggles with anxiety and overthinking:

In my mind, being in control of my emotions—and ideally, the emotions of everyone around me—was the only thing that could keep me safe… I truly believed that I could eliminate any uncertainty, awkwardness, or discomfort from my life if I just thought hard enough.

When I read these words, I felt like I’d been struck by lightning.

Like Adelfa, I’d spent long periods of my life believing that I was responsible for, well, everything. It was my job to defuse conflicts, pre-empt disasters, and eliminate all negative emotions in myself and everyone around me. I was constantly rehearsing conversations, convinced that if I could just think of the perfect thing to say and the perfect way to say it, I would magically gain control over the situations that scared me. Yet for all my thinking and planning, life continued to be as awkward, uncertain, and uncomfortable as ever, and even my “successes” at controlling outcomes failed to bring me lasting peace.

As I slowly read and edited Adelfa’s manuscript, I began to remember a time in my life when I hadn’t been so fearful and controlling—when, in fact, I’d routinely taken risks that many people would find uncomfortable, with complete trust that everything would turn out OK.

At eighteen years old I was obsessed with hitchhiking. In high school, I’d read The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Even Cowgirls Get the Blues, and On the Road. I’d also recently discovered mysticism, and begun devouring the works of Rumi and Lao Tzu. Between the swaggering characters I encountered in the novels and the thrilling ideas I absorbed from the poems, I was filled with eagerness to hit the open road and discover these states of freedom for myself.

I’ll never forget the day I walked to the side of the highway and stuck my thumb out for the first time, carrying a backpack stuffed with books and a guitar I had no idea how to play. The sky was clear and blue, and the air pleasantly chilly. I was filled with a sense of hope, possibility, excitement, and absolute trust. I trusted my body to walk for miles if I needed to, and my instincts to turn down rides that didn’t feel safe. I trusted my long johns and raincoat to keep me warm and dry if the weather turned stormy. Most importantly, I trusted in life. I believed that everything was a kind of teacher—the road, the drivers, the weather—and I was open to all of it, with a near-total absence of fear.

 

 

 

For me, hitchhiking represented a voluntary surrendering of control. I didn’t know who I would encounter on any given day, where I would sleep, or whether I would spend hours in a state of hunger, wet, or cold. Although cell phones existed at the time, they were not yet ubiquitous, and I was unencumbered by one. I was happy not knowing, and not having the option of knowing—content with being confined to the present moment, to the direct sensory experiences of wind, sunshine, and rain, and to the feelings of joy, curiosity, pride, and trepidation that came and went like passing clouds.

For the next four years, I hitchhiked on a regular basis—a short trip here, a long expedition there, sometimes alone and sometimes with a friend. I slept in public parks, in strangers’ homes, and in the occasional campsite or motel room. I interacted with people from all walks of life, and became very competent at meeting my own basic needs and staying calm and cheerful under all sorts of conditions. Those years were a magical period in which my tendency to trust was at an all-time high, and my tendency to control was at a corresponding low.

This all changed when, at age twenty-two, I got into my first “serious” relationship with a man I’d met after—what else?—hitchhiking to San Francisco. Interestingly, the easy and expansive sense of trust I’d felt towards the universe while hitchhiking dissolved abruptly when it came to trusting a specific person. I felt anxious about my partner’s eating habits, his approach to finances, his behavior in social situations, and a myriad of other subjects. My not-so-subtle attempts to control these things did little to gain me the sense of safety I craved, while doing much to aggravate my partner.

In Lord Knows This Sh*t Ain’t Easy, Adelfa Marr writes, “When you put your anxieties in charge, the first thing they do is cannibalize your joys.” This was certainly true for me. Like a swarm of termites, my anxieties about being vulnerable to another person swiftly began to bore holes in the joy I felt at falling in love. Before I knew it, I had turned from a carefree hitchhiker into a micromanaging control freak. Although I had no problem trusting strangers with lead feet to give me rides down winding forest roads in the backs of their pickup trucks, I could barely let my partner drive me across town without holding my breath and clenching my foot on an imaginary brake pedal, convinced it was only my hypervigilance that kept us from crashing.

 

 

Over the years I stayed in that relationship, this mystery tormented me: how could I be so trusting in some domains of life, and so controlling in others? What was it that made me shift so dramatically between these two states? When I was alone, I could sometimes recapture the sense of cosmic certainty I’d experienced in my days on the road; yet when I was with my partner, I often found myself in an anxious, contracted state that was anything but mystical. Which one was my “real” self? Was I a trusting, mystical person or a neurotic, controlling person?

It was only while editing Adelfa’s book that I finally stumbled upon the answer: I wasn’t inherently trusting or inherently controlling. These qualities simply appeared or disappeared based on how free I perceived myself to be. As an inexperienced twenty-something who had been socialized to value long-term commitment, it didn’t occur to me that I had the freedom to leave my relationship. It therefore became ever more important to control my partner and somehow turn him into the person I wanted him to be.

As a hitchhiker, I knew myself to be free, and could therefore accept all kinds of uncomfortable experiences, knowing I could always leave. I didn’t need to control things to feel safe, because my freedom was my safety. In the context of my first big relationship, I’d believed myself to be bound, and therefore fought tooth and nail to ensure that things would go my way. I’d forgotten my freedom like some precious coin that rolled under the couch, and with it, lost my sense of safety. For me, therefore, regaining that sense of mystical trust was contingent on regaining a sense of freedom. The more I learned to bring my hitchhiker self to my relationships, the better a partner I became—and the less I felt the need to control the minutiae of my own life and the lives of those around me.

 

 

 

In Lord Knows This Sh*t Ain’t Easy, Adelfa Marr gives us practical ways to reorient our lives towards trust, spontaneity, and ease, no matter how far down the rabbit hole of control we may have fallen. The tools she shares have been life-changing for me, and I believe many readers will feel the same way. I wish her wise, entertaining, and deeply relatable book had been around when I was twenty-two. As it is, I will be handing out copies to everyone I know—and to every hitchhiker I pick up along the lush Hawaii roads, trusting that they are all teachers in disguise.

 

Sincerely,

Hilary Smith

Senior Editor, Hierophant Publishing

 

Click here to read Hilary's previous essay, "A Tale of Two Waterfalls."

 

Book cover for Lord Knows This Sh*t Ain't Easy by Adelfa Marr

 

 

A worldwide pandemic, climate change, social injustices. . .

Over the last few years, it’s seemed like things on the outside are falling apart! Meanwhile, on the inside, many of us are struggling with feelings of unworthiness, fear of failure, and difficulty finding hope—all while trying to be perfect partners, parents, or friends!

In a world that seems increasingly chaotic, unpredictable, and sometimes downright scary, is it still possible to live a happy and fulfilling life?

Beloved life coach and self-care guru Adelfa Marr tackles this question with her characteristic wit, humor, and warmth, and readers will find a refreshing take in her answers.

Marr understands that self-care isn’t all bubble baths and scented candles. This book gets into the messy stuff—the fear, the shame, the regret—and shows how we can all become more authentic, joyful, and courageous versions of ourselves.

Lord knows this sh*t ain’t easy, but with Adelfa Marr as your guide, you may find that it’s not as hard as you think.

A Tale of Two Waterfalls

Dear Readers, 

 

For the first three years I lived on my land here in rural Hawaii, I didn’t have running water. Instead, I hauled drinking water from a spring in five-gallon jugs, and set out buckets to catch rainwater for washing dishes. This sounds like a hardship, and it was—but the upside of living without running water is that I was forced to walk to a nearby waterfall every day to bathe. 

At first, my visits to the waterfall were utilitarian: I was sweaty and needed to rinse off. The water was cold, and I would wade in quickly and get out just as fast. As the days and months went on, however, my relationship to the waterfall changed. I realized that soaking in the cold water reduced the pain in my back after a hard day of work, and sometimes erased it completely. A dip in the waterfall was also extremely effective at resetting my emotions if I was feeling sad, stressed, or overwhelmed.  

It wasn’t long before I’d stopped seeing the waterfall as a mere substitute for a hot shower, and begun to see it as a kind of mother, always ready to wrap her cold, wet arms around me whenever I needed a hug. I brought my sorrows to the waterfall, and my joys as well. I never walked past without pausing to say hello and pay my respects, even if I didn’t have time to get in for a swim. Other times, I’d sit on the rocks and utterly lose myself in the sight and sound of the waterfall, enchanted by the sprays of yellow leaves floating down from the trees to land on its surface, the prawns scuttling across its pebbly floor, and the ever-changing tune of its cascade. 

Like the heady excitement that goes along with getting to know a new human friend, I found myself wanting to know everything about the waterfall, to catch up with it every day and see what was new. If I went to town for the day, I missed the waterfall and wondered what it was doing. When I got back home, I’d visit as soon as I could, eager to see its latest colors, hear its sounds, and submerge myself in its waters no matter what the weather was like that day. 

 

 

Two years ago, my next-door neighbor offered to add me to his water line, which is connected to a separate waterfall. I was very appreciative for what was a huge gesture of trust and benevolence in a community in which the most basic comforts are hard-won. I bought some PVC pipe and the strange purple ointment that seals it together, a hose valve and a long green hose, and by the end of the day I had joined the ranks of people with running water. Now, my life was defined by relationships to not one, but two waterfalls: the one which had kept me clean and healthy during my first hard years on the land, and now this second rivulet, which was steeper and more austere, and whose high and rocky pools did not invite swimming. 

Befriending this second waterfall was an entirely different matter. Hidden away on the side of a steep and crumbly cliff, guarded by dense thickets of coffee trees and storm-felled Java plums, it was not a place to visit every day. Instead, I bowed to it from a distance, catching sight of its pale white stream high on the cliffside as I walked home after a trip to town. Once, during heavy rainfall, I heard what sounded like a jet engine passing over my land. After a few minutes of baffled searching, I realized it was the waterfall, swollen so much from its usual flow that I could see it from my own front porch, high in the trees like an apparition. 

 

 

Last month, a friend of mine who is an avid naturalist came to visit me on my land. As we sat on my front porch drinking tea, he continuously expressed curiosity about aspects of the natural world to which I’d never paid much attention. What was that bug doing? What was that bird eating? What kind of insect would hatch out of that foamy green mass of eggs? I felt a mixture of awe and embarrassment as I realized that my friend’s attention was capturing thousands of details that I routinely overlooked. He was loving, noticing, and attending to the animal life of the land, the same way I attended to the waterfalls. 

He pointed out a jumping spider on a sugarcane leaf, and we walked over to take a closer look. The spider had a smooth, shiny back and milky aquamarine eyes. My friend explained that he’d once made friends which a jumping spider, and got to know him well over a period of about eight months. Jumping spiders are intelligent, he said—they can recognize individual humans, and even learn tricks. As we stood in the sunlight, admiring the spider, I let this startling fact sink in. The creatures around my home knew and recognized me—were attending to me, in their own particular way. What would happen if I finally started attending to them? 

In the days after my friend went home, I found myself seeing and hearing things I’d never seen or heard before. I watched ants crawling on a bright pink ginger blossom, and two cardinals calling to one another across my ‘awa patch. I peered at the small white eggs my friend had discovered in a rolled-up scrap of tarp, wondering when they would hatch. I considered the elegant brown spider on my wall. I realized there was no end to the ways in which I could expand the range and depth of my attention, and in so doing, come into relationship with the whole world, and not only its human residents. 

 

 

What good does it do to attend to the natural world? Certainly, we can speak of the benefits to ourselves—a sense of peace and health, a heightening of empathy—but does our attention benefit nature? Does a waterfall gain anything from being loved and admired, a jumping spider from being known? Surely, attending to a pine tree won’t stop it from burning in a wildfire, and listening to the minute details of a heron’s footsteps won’t stop the factories whose effluent pollutes the river in which that bird hunts for fish. Is attention merely a feel-good exercise, or is there something more to it? 

In the modern world, most of us have been taught to reject anything that isn’t quantifiable. Gazing with love upon a waterfall or a spider doesn’t appear to “do” anything, and as we move out of childhood we learn to give up these pastimes in favor of more “productive” activities. If we care about nature, we sign petitions, organize protests, and campaign for earth-friendly policies—laudable and necessary actions which are the “yang” to attention’s “yin.” When it comes to protecting nature, we rightly put our energy into urgent doing. But I wonder if there is also urgency to the manner of our being—if our local waterways, spiders, and birds would benefit, in some mysterious way, from our stepping back into relationship with them. 

 

 

Last week, there was a huge storm, and my neighbor and I had to climb up to a high pool of the waterfall to fix our water line, as we often do when the inlet gets blown out. This sounds like a hardship, and it is: the climb is difficult and dangerous. We grab at roots and at frayed scraps of rope, our feet slipping on the crumbly cliffside. My neighbor never fails to point out the spot where another neighbor of ours was killed by a falling rock several years before, as well as the latest landslides and downed trees. 

But the upside of this hardship is that I know the water. I’ve seen it running brown and furious, thin and drought-stricken, clear and cold. Not only that, but I know my neighbor: some of our best conversations have taken place as we scrambled up the rocks, stories and confessions pouring out amid commentary about valves, fittings, and basic hydrology. The waterfall binds us to itself and to each other; in our mutual attending, we all become more alive. 

It's not every day that we can stop a wildfire, save a coral reef, or make some other concrete “difference”—but no matter where we are, we can elevate our relationships through the quality of our attention. We can be friends to the wind, the water, and the jumping spider, without even knowing what “good” it does. Perhaps there is something more precious to this not-knowing than we will ever realize, and more good than we can ever perceive. 

 

Sincerely,

Hilary Smith 

Senior Editor, Hierophant Publishing 

 

Click here to read Hilary's previous essay, "The Downside of 'Having it All.'"

Lord Knows This Sh*t Ain't Easy

Lord Knows This Sh*t Ain't Easy: Life coach Adelfa Marr's guide to self-care and fulfilling relationships. Discover a happier you!

The No Self No Problem Workbook

Author Chris Niebauer's follow-up to his bestseller No Self No Problem. In The No Self No Problem Workbook experience the state of "No Self".

The Human Design Workbook

With the Human Design Workbook you can uncover life's purpose through your unique chart. Transform your destiny step-by-step.