Inspiration #1: How To Tell Real From Faux Feelings

By | June 14, 2016

I just spent most of the afternoon with one of the trauma therapists with whom I work. It was a magical time-the synergy kept sending chills up our spines. I’ll share with you the bursts of awakening that came to me during that sharing.

A number of Native languages have no version of the verb “to be”. Curiously, nearly all professional writers shun the verb and its variations: I am, you are, he is, and so on. They consider it to be passive, and I suspect this is why it is not popular with Native people, who lead active, engaged lives. The issue with writers-and I propose that you and I make it an issue as well-is that the verb to be lures us into the glad/sad/mad trap.

Let’s take “he is,” which means next to nothing in and of itself. One is naturally drawn to ask, “He is what?” Let’s fill in the blank: “He is angry”. The rational mind would say, “Well, that’s expressing a feeling. What’s wrong with that?” The only problem is that it’s not a feeling-it’s an assessment. Using this form of expressiveness is one of the pitfalls many aspiring writers fall into, as it quickly separates amateurs from professionals. Instead of the passive assessment “He is angry,” an accomplished writer, Native person, or anyone who wishes to truly express feeling would say something like, “He leaned forward, clenched his fists, and gave a wicked scowl.” Now, that conveys feeling! Notice how we just went from observation to immersion, from safe detachment to, well, feeling, becoming impregnated with the visceral energy of the scene. This is how rich and real our emotional sharing could be.

My conclusion: For a feeling to be truly expressed, it cannot just be labeled; it must be felt.

The Final Healing

By | May 26, 2016

Dementia is typically viewed as mental decline—the irrevocable disintegration of cognitive capacities that terminates with death. From our cultural vantage point, this makes perfect sense, and I am not here to deny or refute it. Rather, I would like to present an alternative reality: Dementia is the final healing journey, where the person becomes demented, i.e. enters trance, in order to free his essence of trauma memories. In this way, he lightens and purifies himself for the next step of his journey, his passing over.

The dementia journeyer is the consummate shaman: fully empowered and innately knowledgeable of the process. To enter the demented state, he passes through the same three stages as do others engaged in Trance Trauma Release:

Stage I  Memory Loss.
With contemporary somatic based approaches to trauma therapy, the first step is to shed the story that is attached to the trauma memory. When a trigger brings our trauma memory to surface, we generally experience PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). This activates the story of our traumatizing experience that we have consciously attached to our trauma memory. The story tells the who, whatwhen, where, and why. It typically contains elements based on the actual experience and elements that are constructed from imagination, the power of suggestion, and cultural elements. The story needs to be shed in order to progress with trauma release. For the dementia trancer, this is accomplished through memory loss.

Stage II  Losing the Self.
How we define ourselves is a combination of how others perceive us, how we wish to be perceived by others, and what we have constructed around ourselves in order to subsist. Some of this is functional and useful, and some of it is dysfunctional and hurtful, both to self and others. But none of it is truly us. We are constructs, braided together from these elements by our egos, to give us semblance of sentient beings. This “self” must disintegrate, and all the remnants need to be shed, in order for our authentic self to emerge. After the shedding, our naked self appears as though materializing from the mists. He is typically kind, generous, and sociable. Longstanding feuds are forgotten, and the boundaries of established relationships are dissolved. He is himself—nothing more and nothing less. And to him, everyone else is the same.

Stage III  Dancing out the Poison.
Deep in trance, with no memory and no sense of self to deny, suppress, or distort the bare-boned trauma memory, the person in dementia trance, enacts the final release—the ultimate cleansing. He may come across as violent, bitter, and/or antisocial, but it is not him. It is the poison. He is dancing it out, cleansing his soul to make it unburdened and nimble for whatever is to come.




Finding Clan in a Rack o’ Ribs

By | May 9, 2016

Lety and I just returned from an interplanetary voyage. Okay, that’s a slight exaggeration, but it did seem way out there to us. We were beamed down to Syracuse, New York, where we visited Lety’s eldest son. He took us to what could just as well have been Jabba the Hutt’s hangout: a place called Dinosaur Ribs.

Why did we go there? Because it’s the go-to place for anyone visiting Syracuse. No doubt it was. Sunday nights are usually slow for eating establishments. It should be even slower for Dinosaur Ribs, which has live blues bands all other nights of the week. But not so. We stepped into the busiest Sunday night eatery that I had ever seen. Waiters with three-foot diameter food and drink-laden trays held high had to sashay through dozens of people who were standing in whatever open areas there were waiting to be seated.

Here’s why. We picked up the smoky barbecue aroma a half a block before we reached the door. Once inside, we no longer needed our noses to pick up on the ambiance, which was a pure St. Louis barbecue pit. Their slogan is Blues, bikers, and barbecue, and it took us just one glance around to nod in the affirmative. The walls were covered with posters hawking Bessie Smith and B.B. King concerts, along with murals of bikers and other good-timers drinking, hustling, and getting down with some groovin’ music.

We waited—standing—for an hour and a half to get a table. And we hung out with no complaint, just like everyone else. It gave us good time to take it all in. Definitely not a family place: there wasn’t a single child. Yet I couldn’t see a reason, as the atmosphere was jovial and I saw only casual alcohol consumption.

Okay, so it wasn’t a family restaurant. But neither was it a raunchy biker hangout. I saw a wide variety of people, from well-dressed out-of-towners to casually-clad locals of all persuasions. Many appeared to be regular customers. There were even couples on first dates.

So what was the magic? You’d think the food, but I couldn’t imagine anyone actually living on the stuff. Only potter’s clay would sit heavier in your gut. A typical plate—excuse me, platter—consisted of a foot-and-a-half long rack of ribs laying beside hefty globs of beans, macaroni and cheese (really!), and cornbread. No vegetables.

Lety and I decided to join in anyway. We took it as a good opportunity to check one off of our life list. Yet we wanted to keep from sinking the next time we swam, so we scoured the menu for some veggies. We found two: collards and fried green tomatoes.

At least they were veggies in name. The collards tasted like—you guessed it—barbecue. Which was not surprising, considering that they were 50% meat. Actually, everything tasted like barbecue except the cornbread. How they missed that must have been an oversight. Alright, with food that could double for cement mortar, with no one belting out the blues, and with it being a typical slow night, why did this place not only still pull people in, but all kinds of people?

Authenticity. Many eating establishments create atmospheres that are blatantly fake. The Olive Garden is hardly a veranda in Venice, and Peking Palace makes me feel like I’m in Cathay as much as my Hawaiian shirt puts me on Waikiki. But when you sit down at Dinosaur Ribs, the table itself tells you that this is the real deal. There isn’t a square inch that hasn’t been “customized.” And I’m not talking scratches, but some serious knife work. From names and slogans to random gashes, there’s no way the barbecue sauce splatterings aren’t going to permanently stain the etchings.

The same with the bathrooms. A quick coat of paint takes care of the graffiti in most facilities, but not at Dinosaur Ribs. Just like the tables, what’s on those walls—even the mirror frame and door—are there to stay.

It all spoke a sense of place, of belonging. The extremely casual atmosphere made everybody feel comfortable and welcome. No matter how you were dressed, how you wore your hair, or what your skin color, there’s no way that you could feel out of place. The genuineness and lack of pretense made everybody feel at home, even if they had to stand for an hour or more before getting a table.

In the ultimate, I think people are drawn to Dinosaur Ribs to experience the sense of clan. The formality and regimentation of other eateries—even fast food places, with their ordering and pickup protocols—cause one to feel like an outsider who must conform in order to be accepted. At Dinosaur Ribs, there are no rules other than common courtesy and the beckoning to leave your world behind and drop in on another one, where everybody is welcome and there is no pretense or expectation to be anyone but who you are.

Now, if only they could do something about that food…

How to Become Invisible

By | April 23, 2016

The following is an excerpt from my latest book, Becoming Nature: Learning the Language of Wild Animals and Plants which can be found in Step 7, Turn Invisible and Instill No Fear.

Becoming Nature by Tamarack SongI remember standing at the upper end of a shallow pool on a tiny stream early one morning and watching a large Snapping Turtle slide into the pool at the lower end. Realizing that I was right on her trail, I forgot about her and went back to listening. When a gust of wind tugged at the nearby bushes, I bent as well.

Catching her every now and then in my peripheral vision—which was easy with the water being so shallow that it didn’t cover her shell—I kept track of her progress. My gaze drifted here and there, to whatever attracted it. When she reached my end of the pool, she passed by me without a flinch, even though I was standing in full sunlight and was so close that I could have bent over to pick her up.

Read the rest of the excerpt here…

To find out more or to order your own copy, visit 

The Biology of Sexism

By | March 24, 2016

It is commonly believed that gender inequality is culturally rooted. We see it in institutionalized sexism and centuries-old practices of gender repression and exploitation. Gender-related violence, imposed limitations, and condescension (credibility differences, mansplaining, over-emotionalism, rescuing) are all entrenched in our beliefs, institutions, and everyday practices.

At the same time, empowered voices are calling for change. We see education and reforms making a difference, both relationally and in the ways we conduct our affairs and run our institutions.

But not across the board. Some roadblocks seem insurmountable, and it’s not just because of the recalcitrance of the privileged and prejudiced. Nor is it simply due to the rigidity of antiquated systems. There is a glitch—something heretofore unexplainable that resists all efforts toward understanding and healing.

The classic approach to sexism in nearly all its guises is that we can explain it sociologically. For the most part, I believe this to be true. I say “for the most part” because recent findings in the fields of behaviorism and neuroscience point to the possibility of biological factors playing a role.

One of these factors is the way males and females handle stress differently. While it’s true that stress is stress, no matter what the source or circumstance, stress response varies from person to person. The most notable difference turns out to be gender-related. Recent research shows that when females are stressed, their nurturing tendencies typically predominate, whereas males tend toward a defensive-protective response.

For Clarity

Before further exploring this topic, I want to state that I am speaking in generalities. As with many gender differences, there is no clear dividing line with stress response. Rather, there is a spectrum, where more females than males tend to congregate in one area, and more males than females in another. 

These findings are nothing new to those familiar with classical character archetypes. There are many interpretations of the archetypal model, and here is clearest one that I have found: each of us embodies three archetypes: Nurturer, Guardian, and Leader. None of them are gender specific, and each one occurs to varying degree in each of us.

Except in stressful situations, when a gender bias appears, exactly as recently “discovered.” In archetypal terms, the Nurturer predominates with women, and with men it is the Guardian. Traditional stories depict women gathering things and looking after people, while men demonstrate fight-flight responses. From the stories, these actions strike me as intuitive responses to prepare for worst-case outcomes.

We now know what occurs, but we don’t know why—especially as it relates to stress. Is acculturation the cause, or could there be other factors at play?

To solve the riddle, human behaviorists are looking at new brain-function research from neuroscientists. They have found that the amygdalae, two almond-sized structures in the brain, are responsible for the behavioral differences between men and women. The amygdalae are part of the limbic system, which is one of the three main parts of our brain (the limbic system is also known as the mammalian brain or midbrain). In all mammals, including us, the amygdalae are the sources and controlling agents of our two core emotions: fear and yearning. Both are forms of stress.

Most important to our discussion is the fact that the amygdalae are the most sexually-dimorphic brain structures. They differentiate before puberty, growing larger in males than in females. Male amygdalae develop a high number of sex hormone receptors. Complementing this is the fact that male sexual behavior is strongly influenced by visual stimuli. Female amygdalae gain the ability to direct the retention of strong and clear emotional memories.

Behaviorally, this translates to distinct emotional and sexual response differences between the genders. In times of stress, women’s feeling-oriented amygdalae give them the nurturing proclivity noted above in the archetype discussion. Men’s sexually sensitive amygdalae and visual (external) orientation direct them toward the defensive-protective stress responses previously mentioned.

This is important because stress is an intrinsic component of gender-based interactions. It can be nurturing to intimate relationships when it takes the form of creative interchange, flirting, fantasies, and other expressions of sexual tension. With inter-gender communication in general, the stress surfaces with efforts to mesh two different archetypal expressive styles.

Dysfunctional behavioral and communication patterns increase the stress, which tends to magnify natural gender differences. This can produce results ranging from discomfort to disaster.

Yet no matter what the scenario, and no matter whether interactions are pleasant or abrasive, gender-based behavioral differences take center stage. They play key roles in our daily lives with the opposite sex, along with either shaping or supporting cultural practices and relationship patterns such as those listed in the first paragraph.

Understanding the biology of these gender differences can contribute significantly to self-understanding and accepting others for who they are. The knowledge could help us successfully navigate relationship dynamics. Aware therapists use the information to identify clients whose lives seem normal only because they have adopted effective ways to mask their chronic stress conditions. Clients reveal their stressed states—and their degree of stress—when they enact the gender-specific stress responses described above either out of character or out of context.

On Our Unholy Fear of Root Canals

By | March 15, 2016

People prefer cockroaches, colonoscopies—and even Congress—to root canals. Yet as dreaded as they are, 26% of us have had one or more, and 25 million of us get root canals every year.

I recently had one, when my #20 premolar recently died. In layperson parlance, it’s the tooth between the lower canine and the first molars. Before deciding how to handle the corpse, I thoroughly researched my options—which will be no surprise to those of you who know the obsessive me.

But before I get into that, let me extol the virtues of ibuprofen. I’ve never before taken it, and I’ll be happy never to take it again (just read the side effects). Yet what a wonder drug it is when you need something to kick pain’s butt—such as when you have a rotting tooth carcass embedded in your jaw.

And I’d like to give credit to progressive dentistry. I sat through an hour-and-a-half procedure so comfortably that I could have read a book. Well, that may be a slight exaggeration, but I easily spent the time daydreaming.

Okay, now onto the juicy stuff. My first recommendation is to avoid a root canal at all cost. It’s invasive and carries a number of risks (which you can explore elsewhere, as they go beyond the scope of this piece). Do everything you can to keep that tooth alive and the surrounding tissue healthy.

Yet once a tooth is dead, it’s dead. In nearly every case, it will rot out, and it might just take a chunk of your jaw along with it, not to mention poisoning your system. Here are what I found to be the most feasible options, along with their pros and cons:

  1. Pull the tooth. Works well in the short term, except for compromised chewing. Over time, adjacent teeth start to move and the opposite tooth can loosen.
  2. Removable partial. Can work well, depending on location in mouth, personal tolerance, and level of hygiene.
  3. Fixed bridge. Requires grinding the two adjacent teeth down to stubs in order to anchor the bridge that supports the floating replacement tooth. A high level of hygiene is essential.
  4. Implant. Done properly, this works well for many people. Yet it’s the most invasive option.
  5. Root canal. The least invasive if well executed; potentially dire consequences if not. The saving grace: if it fails, nos. 1- 4 are still options.The dangers of old-time root canals are well-known and documented. They are one of the primary reasons we have such fear and loathing of the procedure. Because of that, I was all the more amazed at how much my research had shown the root canal procedure to have evolved in recent years.

The first thing we need to know is that molars, with their multiple and sometimes forked roots, are the most difficult to operate on, which means they carry the greatest risk of failure. Second, we need a progressive practitioner, whether dentist or endodontist, who has depth of experience, good bedside manner, and the ability to articulate.

Here are the questions to ask him or her:

  • Do you use a slow-speed rather than a high-speed drill (to reduce
    Do you use pro taper rotary files (which grind away less dentine)?
  • Can you execute the procedure through a small entry hole, rather
    than grinding off the top of the tooth (which requires a crown)?
  • Do you use a soft amalgam? (Hard amalgams cause cracking because they
    do not flex with the tooth.)
  • Will you check thoroughly for existing cracks in the enamel
    (bacterial entry routes)?
  • Do you meticulously clean all soft tissue from the canal (to prevent reinfection)?
  • Do you use a topical antibiotic throughout the procedure, and after
    the canal is cleaned out?

If you don’t settle for anything less than having these seven points met—and you have a skilled practitioner—you stand a very good chance of a root canal procedure that will allow you to keep your tooth for the rest of your life. That is, if you don’t forget your fluoride treatments. Just kidding!

Remember Nature Speak, the First Language

By | February 22, 2016

The following is an excerpt from my forthcoming book, Becoming Nature: Learning the Language of Wild Animals and Plants, scheduled for release on March 31st, and is now available for pre-order on Nature

Every plant and animal is speaking all the time. They are talking to you, and me, and all we have to do is listen. It’s that simple, yet it’s not that easy, and I will explain why shortly. First, let’s get acquainted with animal language. It goes by many names: mental telepathy, psychic ability, intuition, extrasensory perception, gut feeling, first impressions, nonverbal communication, animal talk, the primal language, interspecies communication. Each term describes an aspect of animal language, yet not one of them fully captures what it is. I prefer Nature Speak, which refers to what it is, rather than trying to explain it.

Nature Speak is the First Language—it is the mother tongue of all life and the foundation of interspecies communication. It is the root from which our spoken and written languages grew. Yet even more than a way to speak and listen, it is the operating system for our minds and the basic lens through which we perceive our world.

Our ability to communicate in Nature Speak is inherent to being Human. Nature Speak, one of a bundle of core operating skills that include orienteering, tracking, and Envisioning, is imprinted in our DNA and our brain is wired for it.

Some people see the ability to talk with animals as women’s intuition. Even though many well-known animal communicators are female, my experience shows that gender is not a relevant factor. Children of both genders prove to be equally adept, and the same is true with adults. The apparent gender difference arises from the cultural pressure on men, more than women, to be rational-mind centered (see step 3), so the proclivity for Nature Speak has atrophied more in men than in women. Yet before we get into that, let’s get to know our First Language.

You can read the rest of the chapter here.


Resolve Conflict by Becoming It

By | January 30, 2016

Common knowledge amongst emotionally intelligent people is that when there is interpersonal conflict, the two most helpful things the involved parties can do are to extend empathy and listen.

These practices can truly be helpful, yet I see them as only a first step. By diffusing tension, they set the stage for what I think needs to really occur if there is going to be any true resolution, and that is to become the conflict. I can listen to your need to bring irrigation water to your crops, and I can empathize with you for the sweat you have put into digging irrigation canals, yet I still remain detached from your reality.

I can bridge that detachment by picking up a shovel and getting down in that irrigation ditch with you. Yes, that would make it seem as though I have become a traitor to my belief system and gone to aid and abet the enemy. Yet in actuality what I accomplished is going beyond listening and empathy by bridging the physical and emotional distance between my adversary and me.

Now, without the boundary, I can see our relationship: the water we are helping to reach your crops grows the broccoli that feeds my family. We are now on common ground, both literally and figuratively.

While working together, we discover that we have another common interest: trout fishing. We decide to grab our fly rods after work and visit a favorite stream up in the hills behind the farm. While there, we see that that diverting too much water for agriculture has nearly dried up a stream, which is killing the fish and worsening the drought conditions that fueled the recent forest fire.

“But that’s such a simple example,” some of you will protest. “What about war, or rape, or economic exploitation?” If I can’t find the common ground, the deficiency lies with me rather than the issue. We are all of the same species, with the same needs, living in the same home. There is always common ground.

There is no innate conflict—we create it. And because we create it, we can eliminate it. Listening and empathy can’t do that. They are attractive options because they feel righteous. There is another reason we are drawn to them that is hard to see, much less admit: they are safe. We don’t have to change, we don’t have to get down and dirty with our “opponent,” and we don’t have to look at how our own beliefs and vested interests might be creating blind spots.

When we become the conflict, it simply disappears. That gives us the clean palette for the true creative process: building relationship. Here is a traditional Zen story that shows how it happens.

In a long-ago time lived a fabled Wise Man, who many a Seeker set out to find. However, all the stories of his whereabouts seemed to lead only to a palace in a distant land. There a wealthy nobleman lived, surrounded by luxurious gardens and waited upon by legions of servants.

When Seekers came upon the scene, they felt defeated by their Quest. They could only turn around and leave, reasoning that either the stories were false or they did not get clear directions.

One day, a Seeker decided to disguise himself as a servant. Week after week he waited upon his Master, and in time he came to realize that his Master was actually waiting on him.

“My hunch proved true,” thought the Seeker. “This is no wealthy lord—he is none other than the storied Wise Man. And these servants are none of the kind, but rather Seekers like me.”

Late one afternoon, the Seeker summoned up the courage to ask the Wise One, “Why is it that you have everyone know you as someone you are not?”

“You I shall answer,” the Master responded. “There are two ways to be invisible: one is not to be seen, and the other is to be so conspicuous that you are not seen. To the true Seeker, the Truth reveals itself regardless, and this is the reason you are here. This is also the reason I am invisible to nearly all who set their eyes upon me.”

Rewilding is a State Of Mind

By | January 8, 2016

Shevik is a friend of mine from New York City. About thirty-five years ago, he came here to the Wisconsin wilds to join with a group of us latter-day Natives in a hunter-gatherer inspired community I founded that was called Coldfoot Creek. After a few months, the excitement of the new lifestyle wore off and Shevik expressed a desire to go home. “When I left to come here,” Shevik told me, “my aunt said that you can take Shevik out of New York, but you can’t take the New York out of Shevik. Now I know what she meant.”

Since then, I’ve seen many people come and go, all essentially with the same story. They did the research and found the locations that they thought were best suited for rewilding. Whether it was Hawaii, Puerto Rico, Montana, Alaska, Wisconsin, Maine, or Colorado, the story was nearly always the same: they wanted an expanse of wild land with clean air, clean water, and abundance of animals to hunt and fish to catch. They were sure that once they got settled into utopia, people would come flocking to join them.

However, in virtually every case, either no-one came or those who did must have had aunts like Shevik’s. The few pioneers who survived did so by at least partially merging with the local backwoods culture and settling for nuclear family existence. A few became seasonal residents, gaining their primary sustenance outside the area.

Why do such beautiful dreams bring such dismal results? It’s simply because it takes more than dreams to change who we’ve come to be. We can become proficient at a broad range of primitive survival skills—enough to theoretically sustain ourselves—and still we fail. We can find physical comfort, yet we cannot feel at home. We might be able to nourish our bodies, but we fall short of nourishing our hearts. Dreams can only carry us so long, with the average time being three to four months. Those few who stick it out longer run on sheer determination. Some people stick it out longer out of sheer determination, yet they too succumb.

The answer? That’s easy. It’s putting it to practice that scares the heck out of everybody. The bottom line is that it’s not what we do, but what we become. Forget the primitive skills workshops, the field guides, and the equipment. Instead, listen. The birds, the waters, and the trees will tell you how to be.

Where is the Tracking Snow?

By | December 10, 2015

Here it is mid-December and it’s been so warm that we joke about getting out the Maple syruping equipment. Usually we tap the trees in mid-March when daytime temperatures reach the 40s, but we’re already there.

Usually we have knee-deep snow by now, and at least we got a couple of inches recently, which hasn’t yet melted away. It’s enough for tracking, and it feels good to again be able to look back and easily see my tracks. I’m reminded of winters past when I realized that I couldn’t take going somewhere incognito for granted. Someone could have very easily followed me, and I could go out the next day and be quickly reminded of where I went, what I did, and how I came back. This included not only the day before, but the day before and the day before that, all the way back to the last snowfall.

I like that awareness, as it’s really the way of life. Everything leaves its track, which ripples on and becomes indelible.

Yesterday I went out with three of my compadres to read some of those ripples while we still could. They are volunteer Wolf trackers for the DNR, and our goal was to record the carnivore activity in their survey area. We found a pack of five Wolves chasing a Deer, another pack of three, and a couple of solo animals. In addition, we noted Bear, Bobcat, and Fisher tracks, along Coyote and Red and Gray Fox. We were so psyched over the profuse animal activity that only the fading daylight could force us to quit. If we had adequate flashlights, I’m sure we would have continued.

Some people I know see snow as little more than a nuisance. Sure, it looks pretty when it hangs heavy on the branches at Christmas time, but then they have to trudge through it to get from home to work. Others escape and come back after the spring melt. If only I could take each of those snow-loathers out on a crisp morning to read the story of what Deer and Owl were up to in the night, I think they could find the warmth the snow brings.