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September 2009

Buffalo Comes Calling:
Look-at-Me-See-Me

 

Dear Friends,
I received many wonderful letters in response to my August reflections on Corn Mother. These responses are Kernels in my Basket of Blessings. I thank you for taking the time to write. Some of the emails included how different ones of us were now dancing with Corn Mother and what we have learned - or what we wonder about - in this Dance.

It is quite clear that Spirit uses each of us, from time to time, as a Hollow Bone through which Kernels can be passed to the community. My plan is to use this newsletter, in which to share and respond to these emails, from time to time. If I quote someone directly, I will ask permission from you before doing so. Through this sharing, I am simply providing a CyberCornBasket from which we both provide and receive Soul food from one another---the community working together in the fields and eating together long after the harvest has been done.

kernels

I can just hear Mother Corn Spirit, saying:
"Now is the time when I return to ground..
While I am replenishing Myself within Earth's Body
Pass around my Basket of this year's Corn
And I will keep birthing within you..."

Stepping into the Circle

Invariably when focusing on some particular Animal Spirit, such as Corn Mother, Bear, or Turtle, another will soon come calling our attention...stepping into the Circle of our consciousness. Often this will be because this Being has a particular affinity or relationship with the One upon whom we are focusing. In this case, while reflecting on CornMother, Buffalo came calling. In my journeys and dreams, she wore different aspects of her being: the actual animal we call Buffalo (Bison), WhiteBuffaloWoman, Buffalo Dancer, Iniskim, and Grandmother Buffalo.

I am struck, however, by the fact this month Buffalo appeared so often in its Earthly form. That being the case, I decided I should call attention to this Earthly Body in my writing...as well as to the Spirit clothed in other ways.

As I was making notes for this newsletter, I found myself so easily thinking in terms of "what message do you bring? What are you wishing for us to know or to see."  Then, while drumming and singing to Buffalo one day, I found myself singing to her of her beauty, of the delight I took while watching her move across the lands. Returning to my writing, I wondered: "Why am I so quick to move from focusing on some Being to asking what this Being offers me? Where in my writing are reflected the times in which I simply sing to another or sing of another?

winter buffaloI'm embarrassed by what I consider a rather bad habit: that is not taking time to appreciate the presence of Another before proceeding to ask "what have you for me or for us?'  I lost my relationship with the Messenger and was focusing only on the message. Such an approach has the possibility of leading to disastrous results; it is not a long reach from that approach to neglecting my tending of the Messengers. I shall try to rectify this impulse and Buffalo is a wonderful animal to assist me in this.

And I invite each of us to considering the Beings with whom we work... or whom we focus on in our ceremonies. Where some Spirit also appears in material or earthly form, what do we know of this actual Being? How have we educated ourselves about their needs or desires? Have we developed a relationship with this Earthly Being? In some cases, it may be quite difficult to have physical encounters but so much knowledge, including detailed images, are available through Internet resources that we can learn.

And this learning may take us to paths where we actually find some way to support these Others during their earth journey... just as we learn of other humans in lands far from us. On our spiritual path, we are not here just to be channels for messages but also to be partners with those who arrive to our awareness in some fashion.

Enstatic and Ecstatic Shamanism

So while talking with Buffalo and writing this newsletter, I began musing on my encounters with Buffalo and seeing Buffalo as embodied Spirit... trying to appreciate what Buffalo's Body revealed by its very structure. Often I felt like a child asking such questions as

Why does Buffalo have such thin rear legs?
How can Buffalo hear with such small ears?
Are they always found in the company of one another?
How does Buffalo hold up such a huge head?
Can Buffalo see what's in front with eyes on the side of the head?
How fast can they run and how quickly stop or change directions?
Don't they get too hot in the Summers with all that fur?
         
My seemingly silly questions were actually analogous to questions I raised as I examined a corn plant this Summer. And I learned so much about CornMother through examining her physical body. Experiences with Her led me deeper into knowing how form reflects substance and how the spirit of a being is mirrored in its physical structure. In essence, I now have a firmer appreciation for enstatic shamanism.

This issue of enstatic shamanism has become very important to me since I began walking with Bear and teaching BearMedicine. Pursuing the way of enstatic shamanism has enabled me to rediscover the knowings of our relationship with other Beings --knowledge with which we are birthed and then forget.

As I may have commented previously: ecstatic shamanism is the practice wherein the person goes out of or leaves the body in order to achieve shamanic states and gain knowledge or the power to do.

Enstatic shamanism is the practice wherein the person plunges inward or into the body to achieve shamanic states and gain knowledge or the power to be.

I think we have entered a period when the ways of practicing enstatic shamanism are being required of us----both as a corrective to the almost exclusive emphasis on ecstatic shamanism and because transformation in our times requires full respect of Embodied Spirit. Interweaving these ways and thus balancing our spirituality,

We create ourselves as Baskets
that can hold corn..
can pass corn around
can pour corn into the Earth
and thus grow more Corn...

These are physical actions triggered and sustained by one's spiritual intentions. They are also spiritual actions made possible by ones' physical being. And, although I am using metaphors connected with Corn, Buffalo is the one who prompted these reflections.

buffalobuffaloHere's the tableau of what's before me as I write you:
To the left side of my computer monitor,
sits my Basket of Kernels...
      placed here when I began focusing on CornMother.
To the right side stands a carved Buffalo...
One side of the carving is suggestive of Buffalo
the other side is clearly a sculpted Buffalo.

While writing this newsletter, my eye wanders to one or the other. They are related: my quest is to understand more of that relationship---that is, what are the correlations between Buffalo's body and Buffalo Spirit or Medicine. How does that power-full body indicate certain medicine powers.

Between this and October's newsletter, I hope to reflect on both Buffalo as material form and Buffalo medicine. Some focus will be given to enduring ceremonies. Part of my journey has included work with WhiteBuffalo Woman. I want to share ways in which I think her teachings speak to us in our times. I'm not foolish enough to think I can cover these topics in a newsletter format but we can begin with the essential issues. So both this and October's issue will focus on Buffalo Medicine.

This medicine is at the core of this harvesting season, of preparations for Winter, of enstatic shamanism, of living in Circle, and of embracing the challenges peculiar to our times in the global community. Reflecting together, we can take initial steps in transforming and transformation... we can share and plant our kernel seeds while trusting to Spirit and Earth's powers to assist in the maturing and flourishing of seed to flower and fruit.

Buffalo Keeps Calling
Look at me..see me..
From yonder I come calling
Out of the mountains I come..
While I am here..
Look at me...see me..
With the turning winds
Into the mountains will I disappear...

So many of the traditional Buffalo songs have phrases that include "Look at me, see me...look at me..see me" and I've often wondered why. Given the massive size and the plentiful herds in those times, how could one not see? And why do songs nearly always include: "into the mountains will I disappear?" The songs are also present in areas absent of mountains that are dominated by long, unending, horizontal vistas. And extensive travel from flat plains to plains with mountains was no so common in the long ago days.

In working with Buffalo, I have drummed some of these songs into my heart so much that I could almost give Buffalo the Name: Look-at-Me, See-Me. So I started this morning's meditations by greeting Look-at-Me-See-Me... on the tip of my tongue, it actually feels like a good name and carries some resonance of Ogallala language intonations.

buffaloSo as I gaze upon my carving here of Look-at-Me-See-Me, I begin to focus on times when I encountered Buffalo: in Yellowstone Park, in San Francisco's Golden State Park, and more recently, at a Buffalo Preserve in Indiana.

The Yellowstone trip stands out because our experience of them there was similar to our safaris in Africa... that is, seeing large herds of different animals as they moved over the land and forded rivers. During our days there, we observed them in variations of movement, depending on the terrain: sometimes trotting, sometimes cantering. Climbing over hills of considerable scree and fording the river with a kind of rolling motion in the water. Whatever the actual surface, always were they elegantly agile. We were quite happy, in both cases, to be forced to stop vehicles and pause while these animals moved all around us.

However, the experience that also lives in the very tip of my fingertips occurred in Indiana when our friend, Pirkko, took us to a Buffalo Preserve. We spent the time with the herd and were given a superb description of their native habitats, their social behavior, and their life cycle.

I could not soak in enough the incredible majesty of Look-at-Me-See-Me's body. Here was this massive, huge furred head, a body tapering to what seemed a thin hindquarters, spindly rear legs, a narrow tail accentuated with tufts of fur at the end. Their tails are clearly a marvelous invention of Nature used for expressing moods, swatting irritating insects, or for subtle balancing.

A few calves were nursing and their tails twitching with obvious pleasure.
The legs allowed for quick leaps and turns while also unfolding delicate dancing patterns. Occasional grunting or bellowing turned momentary encounters into conversations.

We watched them play, roughhouse with each other, and respond as One Mind to any quick movement in their range. Within just a few moments, their herd instincts or oneness of Mind became apparent - clearly this was an Animal teaching how to live both individually and within community. And I felt a deep aching that so few remained... and, of them, so few in their natural habitats.

Unlike most other places I had visited to see Buffalo, the preserve had no stench and carried only the sweet scents of prairie grasses and lake. We learned that in their natural habitat, the grasslands do not contain the chemicals found in processed food or food not appropriate to their digestive system - as the Preserve keeper pointed out, we could know they were eating appropriately by the absence of fecal odor and, equally important, that their fecal droppings were replenishing the grasslands rather than damaging their surrounding ecologies. The description of the complete digestive processes of Buffalo reminded me of the phrase "to chew on a matter" or "to digest something before responding." They are extraordinary recyclers and waste managers.

During a long period of us simply being still, the Buffalo approached, drawing close enough for one to poke a nose between the slats on the truck's bed. Slowly I extended my open palm and felt the moisture of the nose. Then Buffalo pressed the left side of his face against my palm and I shivered from the power being exuded. For long moments I gazed into those large, dark, soft, and saucer shaped eyes. They seemed to undress my soul and carry some knowing in which I was sorely lacking. If I bided here a while, perhaps Buffalo would reveal that which seemed hidden from me.

Then, as if an unheard command had been given, the two Buffalo at the truck did a half-leap, turned, and ran back to the herd. Suddenly they were all grunting and cavorting again --- I imagined that truly this is the look and sound of Buffalos laughing together and getting a kick out of watching us!

When Buffalo says Goodby...

As we were readying to leave, the Keeper pointed to an island, off in the distance, on a large lake.

"That is the island upon which they are buried."

And she shared how they leave their Earthly Kin and go to greet those of their Kin Who-have-gone-before.

Their dying here on the Preserve is simply a phase of their eternal cycle they seem to understand. When one of the herd becomes terminally ill, that Buffalo goes to the edge of the Lake, point its head towards the island of their buried kin, bellows forth, and then become quiet. Apparently they may do this for several days until one day, they simply stand at the edge, facing the Island of Ancestral Bones. When the Keepers see a member at the Lake's edge, they know this Buffalo's death is quite near so do their own ceremonial preparations for Keeping the Soul. When that buffalo dies a short time later, they boat its body to the island.

I was profoundly moved by this description... even imagined myself or any of my loved ones...going down to the Edge, looking toward our Island of Bones, bellowing forth ("I am coming, I am coming") and thus awakening our Ancestors to our arrival there soon.  How wonderful to then take time for a few short leaving-and-returnings, going-away and coming-back, and then the last day of departing... all the while knowing my Ancestors
"they are awakening to receive me." 

Buffalo Mindfulness – Holding Sky to Earth & Earth to Sky

While driving away, I kept my gaze on one specific Buffalo while seeking a meeting-of-mind-to-mind. I communicated my gratitude to his family here gathered and sent to him the question:

"What does it mean to walk with your Mindfulness?"

and soon as the question slipped from the lips of my brain, the shape of my head seemed to actually change... I felt this huge expansion, a sense of grand vistas, and felt literally that my Brain, that is my head or my mind, held strings of attachment flowing forth to anchor Sky and Earth through me so they could communicate with each other always.

buffaloIt was the strangest feeling and the closest I can compare is to an LSD trip I did with my dying sister in 1962. In that situation, NIH was conducting experiments to see if the use of LSD could assist both the dying and their family members in communicating and sharing deeply in the process of dying and grieving... and by altering my usual consciousness, I changed my experience and perception of the soul leaving the body, and a sister leaving her Earth home.

In this case, I had sought to know or experience the mind-full-ness of Buffalo and in those moments, my mind literally changed. I could feel wind vibrating these strings of attachment... sometimes my head felt like a balloon - that is, perfectly round and floating in the sky yet still attached to Above and Below. Like Balloon, I was light of being and nothing seemed to be holding me down. Following this flood of feelings, I suddenly gave myself startling moments of anxiety... the lightness of Being seemed almost too much to handle. Then I found myself saying "is this a Buffalo's Mind?" and soon as I said it, I had stepped outside my experience and suddenly I was in my usual conscious body. The actual sensations of this experience are ones I can remember now although I can't duplicate that experience.

Now, however, as I've spent time this morning describing to you my perception of Buffalo's very body, I can actually see Buffalo's mind as a form of Conscious Balloon... filled with Breath (Spirit). The shape becomes movement of Mind rising to Sky... front legs almost off the ground while the rear legs barely touch. (This is but one way to see... there are many others!).

From another angle, Buffalo is taking form with rear legs landing first into the Earth; then Creator's hands and breath continue moving, sculpting more form around breath... until with the last great Breath, bountiful oxygen is blown into the head and it seems to lift off the ground... as though Sky Spirit wanted Buffalo to look upward as much as to the ground.

Undoubtedly we shall give ourselves strange, new, and sometimes startling experiences when we seek to know the feelings or reality of another embodied Being... yet this is the type of knowing I think is available to us. I cannot be Buffalo yet perhaps I can be Buffalo temporarily... somewhere within me or you or all of us, is the common ancestry we share---certain branchings from the common root live more emphatically within us while others are more muted. But I don't think it is only a metaphor to say "walk with Buffalo mindfulness" although it does require us to practice enstatic shamanism. And, if this is only metaphor, then I remind myself that all language is metaphor but impulses from the wisdom of the heart are not metaphor. If I can learn more of what it feels like to be Buffalo, Bear, Turtle, Corn, (or any other Being), then I shall act from a mind informed by my heart.

Buffalo and the Coin of the Realm

Although I've been working with Buffalo and Bear's relationship for a few years, it was only this past Autumn that I received guidance to give of my attention and teaching to Walking with Buffalo... to do full gazing upon Look-at-Me-See-Me. This Calling actually came forth through the emergence of Iniskim in my life - a discovery I spoke about in an earlier newsletter and a description can be found at my website.

I will return in October's newsletters to Buffalo Medicine and Ceremonies. I want to close this month's newsletter by sharing some Buffalo history.

While gathering images for a workshop,  I wondered: "what did that Buffalo nickel actually look like?" I could not remember seeing or holding one since I was a child and I'm always intrigued when national instruments (like coins, flags) use symbols based on some animal or plant.

buffalo coinBrief history: in the 1900's, as preparation was made for striking the first nickel, the photographer James Fraser was having a difficult time finding a suitable Buffalo. He had grown up in South Dakota where he had seen many buffalo during his childhood but during later trips in his life he was unable to locate one.  Although millions had roamed the western plains, by the late 1800s they had been slaughtered to the brink of extinction.

The Buffalo on the nickel was intended to symbolize the "winning of the West" and the theme of unity (the Latin on that side of the coin is translated: "From the One Many, from the Many One").

With the deadline approaching for having the image ready, Fraser ended up photographing Black Diamond - a buffalo held within an enclosure in the Bronx Zoo.  The photographic result and the newly minted nickel were a source of dismay to many. Even the director of the Bronx Zoo at the time, considered the bison on the nickel to be "a sad failure with its head drooped as if it had lost all hope in the world."

Fraser speculated Black Diamond had developed this drooping form because his enclosure was too small for him to properly expand, express his Being, or even fully lift his head. To complete this pathetic story of the Buffalo Nickel, just a few years later Black Diamond was sold to a meat packing plant. Various individuals tried to intervene to save Black Diamond from this slaughter but to no avail.

When I put together the drooping head and the fact that from many Buffalo in his childhood, the grown man Fraser could find only one, I thought "this nickel is such a clear demonstration of what happened in this country - with the animals and the peoples." (Remember that the opposite of the nickel bears the alleged head of an Indian warrior - that is, there is dispute about whose head this is - but that's a different story just now...)

My purpose in telling Nickel's history, however, is to reflect on the difference between a Buffalo's Body when allowed natural growth and the Body when confined unnaturally. The very difference, in the position of the head and the shoulders or humps, speaks about a mind-fettered versus a mind-full and free. Buffalo Nickels' history alerts us:

As I do unto others, I do unto myself - as we do unto our Greater Community, we do unto our Human Community.

Having this Buffalo nickel, side by side with an image of a healthy Buffalo, is a marvelous source for meditation on such concerns.

Buffalo Comes Calling Again...

I return to encounters with Buffalo from Yellowstone and the Indiana Preserve. Surely Buffalo's Shape and Form indicates the very wisdom carried within its Being. A massive Mind that makes gentle, dancing feet on the ground. A great calm Being whose power when running shakes the Earth and plunges Thunder into Ground. An expressive voice that makes grunts and bellows that sound like the shaking of Rattle and the beating of Drum. A Stands-Alone-in-the-Snows Being who is known by the habit of Never-Stands-Alone.

If you study my ways, you will learn the strength
Of One who is strong enough to live in community...
If you dance with me, nothing shall be crushed beneath your feet
And flowers bloom wherever you have walked...

I certainly do sense that Buffalo is truly returning and checking us out may we be worthy companions for we need each other. May we continue to learn what it means to Walk with a Buffalo Mind...to live with the mind-fullness of Sky Above, Earth Below, and All that Surround.

Corn Mother spoke to her Grandchildren of working the Seasonal Fields while Buffalo points our minds towards the Callings within a Day. Both remind us that the individual journey is a journey of the village too. Nothing is ever completely done alone... the question is "have I put out a hand that some can hold and as well as the hand that needs to be held".

In Buffalo's leap from the side of the truck back to the herd, he said ever so clearly

"for me to Be is to Be-With"
... "unto my dying breath and beyond to the Island of my Kin".

The distance between Land and the Island in the Lake speaks to Buffalo's as a Crosser of Bridges -- reminding me that I am Bridge-Crosser too... and given the wonderful shape-shifting powers birthed within us, we ARE also the Bridge sometimes while others Cross
and we Cross the Bridges that Others offer.

I would love to receive a call sometime from the Keeper of the Preserve, informing me that some old Buffalo has pointed his head at the edge of the Lake - and towards the Island now is looking. To catch a plane, drive to his Land, walk myself down to the edge and bellow across:

Thank your for you time with us - this one is coming home

Then turn around, walk back to the herd and be able to say,

as long as you are here, this is your home

and be able to say that with a guarantee...

There is something remarkably comforting to spend time with the herd and times when one points yonder... time with our Buffalo Kin... spending time with

Look at me, Look at me
See me...See me..
 I am your friend and your teacher...
My massive head lifts towards Sky
Yet every step I take is one with Ground
Mindfulness of All underneath, above, and around...
Look at me, See me
Before to the Mountains I disappear.

With gruntings and bellowing to my shamanic community...
I wish for each of you mindfull walks and conversations
And time -- along with -- our Buffalo Kin...
Carol

More Information

  • Complete information about  workshops can be found at Carol's website or will be sent to you upon request.
  • These workshops welcome commuters as well as residential participants.
  • Partial scholarships are available and can be applied for when registering.

To register for one or more workshops with Carol, contact the Coordinator  for Shamanic Visions:
Pirkko Miller at Pirkko@embarqmail.com
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P.S. We invite you to visit our Home Page to see if there are other shamanic activities listed there in which you might be interested.

Or if you wish to join in a Circle, check our Global Circles web page to see if there is one in your area. If not, then please start one because Circles can be powerful places of support for each of us on the shamanic path.

 
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Copyright © 2016 Carol Proudfoot Edgar
Not to be reproduced without permission