“Spirit Paths” Book Wins Grand Prize from TISBA

SPFrontCover_071814_450This month, Spirit Paths: The Quest for Authenticity, written by Gerry Starnes, M.Ed., and published in December 2013, has won the Grand Prize Award from The Indie Spiritual Book Awards. The competition was open to authors who publish independently regarding spiritually-oriented topics in 9 non-fiction and 1 fiction category (novels, poetry, or short stories0. Spirit Paths won in the Non-Fiction, Education category. The anonymous Education Category judge wrote the book review:

Spirit Paths is one of the best books available regarding spiritual and personal development. Stages of the process are clearly defined and differentiated. Exercises are described in detail and are easy to follow. Each new section repeats the essence of the previous one without becoming boring or irritating. In fact, the author seems to anticipate questions just as they arise and is ready with the clarifying answer. The author supports and affirms the reader at every step, instills confidence yet doesn’t minimize the work required or the profound life changes involved in the journey. Warnings are provided but not in a way that brings self-doubt or anxiety. Spirit Paths invites the reader into self-searching but without undermining confidence. Mr. Starnes’ style is that of a personal coach that affirms and celebrates the reader’s highest possibility. The book draws from a surprising array of traditions, yet there is no confusion about point of view or philosophy. The wisdom in the sequence of stages, the exercises chosen to deepen personal work speak of profound knowledge. In all, Spirit Paths is a brilliant guide for beginners as well as the experienced person looking to deepen spiritual and personal development.

More information and reviews are available on the Spirit Paths Book webpage. My gratitude to the many individuals who participated in the Spirit Paths program on which the book is based. Your contribution is greatly appreciated! The book is available in print and Kindle versions on Amazon.com.

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Making Room

If there is light in the soul, there is beauty in the person.

If there is beauty in the person, there is harmony in the house.

If there is harmony in the house, there is order in the nation.

If there is order in the nation, there will be peace on Earth.

—Ancient Chinese Proverb


My partner Donna and I recently had the opportunity to consult with a Feng Shui expert to cleanse and revitalize Open Lotus Studio. The process was literally transformative, and I can attest that the newly cleansed Open Lotus studio is filled with light and love. Interestingly, the process brought into clear focus one of the core concepts of Feng Shui and sacred space-setting: that clearing the energy when you “make room” often means literal letting go of things, people and ideas.

When we re-make a space, whether in the Feng Shui tradition or from a Shamanic perspective, we are clearing energies to make room for clean and light-filled energy. Just like with our own energy field, we often collect dust or cling to clutter, which can literally be attached to other people’s energies. We can smudge and realign a space, or paint and redecorate a space, but often we are confronted with a tangible “letting go”.

Clearing our spaces of unnecessary attachments can be powerful medicine. Sometime it is only in the discovery of an old thing that we realize how much we are hanging on to an outworn idea of ourselves or a person from our past. Sometimes, a more powerful medicine is warranted—such as a cord-cutting ceremony or even recapitulation work with the help of an experienced shamanic practitioner.

Do take time to clear and cleanse your space, and make sure to take the opportunities for personal clearing that come up for you. You may be pleasantly surprised by the extent of your transformation!


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A Warrior’s Refrain


Pehriska-Ruhpa of the Dog Band of the Hidatsa tribe of Native Americans

Starting a 7th year teaching the Spirit Paths program, I am afforded the opportunity to examine again what it means to be a warrior. The word has often confusing meanings in our Western culture, and many of our images of warriors seem to be stuck in the past. Don Miguel Ruiz offers a contemporary definition of a warrior (in the Spirit Paths Program we spend a good deal of time focusing on Ruiz’s Four Agreements):

“The big difference between a warrior and a victim is that the victim represses and the warrior refrains.”

― Miguel Ruiz, The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom

This description hardly seems to fit our typical image of a warrior as a samurai, chief, or soldier ready for battle. Of course it takes courage and action to not repress and to refrain. But refrain from what? Refrain from… repression? Refrain from acting without intent? Refrain from doing… anything? This is interesting, because the person who represses something is avoiding it, and therefore not taking action. But a warrior who refrains from action, is also seemingly “not doing anything.” From the outside, it might be hard to tell whether a person’s inaction is from a point of strength or from repression (which of course is where Ruiz’s 3rd agreement rings true: Don’t make assumptions.)

Implied in Ruiz’s quote is that warriors know when to act and when not to act, and their decision is an active choice rooted in Freedom. Warriors act with intent, and only act when their intent is aligned with their authenticity. Thus warriors are always tuning in, checking in, and actively participating in their own authenticity. That’s why in the Spirit Paths program we teach tools for developing our authenticity, tools that often mimic the spear or blade to help us defeat our internal enemies and align ourselves with intent. In effect, then or now, the internal work of a warrior is very likely the same.

Learn more in the book, Spirit Paths: The Quest For Authenticity, available from Amazon.com.

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The Shaman in the Cave

A friend recently relayed her trip to the Lascaux Cave Painting exhibit at the Houston Museum of Natural Sciences. Many of you are familiar with the nearly 18,000 year-old Lascaux cave paintings discovered in France in the 1940’s. Werner Herzog’s recent documentary film Cave of Forgotten Dreams is an amazing opportunity to see the paintings come to life, as well.


The only image of “man” in the Lascaux Caves.

It is believed that Lascaux was a shaman’s cave. A place where possibly many shamans came through the years, centuries—even millennia!—to worship, create and (possibly) tell stories.

There is one particularly intriguing drawing in the cave—the only representation of a human. Yet it is not a human, but that of a bird-man. Like Thoth in the Egyptian pantheon, this long-beaked, tall creature is a shape-shifted half-man, half-bird creature.

Our oldest images of our humanity are in fact shamanic in nature. We were to be seen as animal-first, as connected to our spirit world intrinsically. We can think of this from a contemporary shamanic perspective that shamans did not not simply “go on a journey”, but rather we were so ever-connected with spirit that we would be entwined with animal spirit and then painted, etched and carved into stone for future visitors to remember.


The Egyptian god, half-man, half-bird (Ibis).

The Lascaux exhibit is very much about “perspective”, both how the shamans created the artwork (along the bumpy cave ceilings with a mindfulness of how a viewer on the floor might perceive the animal) and how we can use our modern perspective to visualize (using 3-D modeling and infrared light) how the painting were created.

But we also know that the bird-man offers another perspective. That of how the spirit world and this plane are one; how Eagle (bird) sees the world from that uniting of these planes; how we are invited to move between these worlds with the soaring and graceful spirit of a bird in flight.

Pretty powerful stuff.

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Magic Words

A friend recently shared this popular poetic translation of a creation myth from the Inuit shamanic tradition:


“In the very earliest time,
 when both people and animals lived on earth,
 a person could become an animal if he wanted to and 
an animal could become a human being.
 Sometimes they were people
 and sometimes animals, 
and there was no difference.
 All spoke the same language.


Picture of a half-animal half-human in a Paleolithic cave painting in Dordogne, France.

That was the time when words were like magic. 
The human mind had mysterious powers. 
A word spoken by chance 
might have strange consequences. 
It would suddenly come alive 
and what people wanted to happen could happen—
all you had to do was say it.
 Nobody could explain this.
 That’s the way it was.”

—Translated from the Inuit by poet Edward Field.

This story has interesting echoes with other cultural stories (as in the biblical verse “In the beginning there was the word….”), and of course it also reminds us of one of Ruiz’s lessons from The Four Agreements: “Be impeccable with your word.”

The Magic Words tradition also reminds us of the power of intention through words. But it is not enough to just ask for what we want. We must ask impeccably. When we are both impeccable with our word and we speak what we want or need, we very often bring those wishes/hopes/desires/goals into fulfillment.

This Inuit tradition also reminds us, people and animals were one and the same. We spoke the same language. What does that mean in terms of articulating your goals and intentions?

In the Shamanic tradition of shapeshifting, the dissolution of our identity on this plane into the spirit world and back again offers us an opportunity for perspective, for connection, and for understanding that common symbolic language. When we embark on shamanic journeys, we are re-remembering our forgotten language, our animal ancestry. We might ask, in terms of how to be impeccable with our words, WWSD? Or, What Would Spirit Do? What Would Jaguar Do? What Would Wolf Say?

When we embark on a shamanic journey, and spirit speaks to us, we are privileged to be able to reflect upon and reconsider our intentions. We are privileged to remember that words are magic. It is up to us to choose how to best be impeccable with our words.

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Pulling Weeds

The Art of Pulling Weeds is an exceedingly meditative practice. It is not simply about pulling plants out of the ground; it is about doing so mindfully and in awareness. Anyone can pull up weeds; however to do it well, you need to have a certain mental discipline.

Getting To The Root

You can stop the weed’s growth completely if you can pull it up by the root. If not, it will grow back again. Some weeds are easier to pull by their roots than others. Success depends on how quickly you act, for one thing. The weed will establish a strong root if you wait too long, and if it goes deep enough, you may not be able to extract it by hand or alone. However, if you can get to the weed soon after germination, just as it pierces the suface to make itself known, it can be easily plucked.

How easily you can pull up the weed by its root also depends on the nature of the soil, and to some extent, how recently the weed has been watered. Hard dirt allows the weed to take hold strongly and to break as needed, just like a lizard may shed its tail to live another day. However, if the soil is soft because it is good soil or loosened by rain or watering, the root has little purchase. The earth gives it up easily, readily.

Of course, how well the root is removed depends greatly on your attention. If your mind wanders while you are working, your hand will not find the proper hold and the root will break. And it will break if you get in a hurry. Pulling the weed by its root requires patience, sensitivity, and focus.

Overlapping Weeds

Weeds that spread out often overlap with other weeds, especially if you have waited too long to attend to them. Overlapping weeds protect each other, hiding the entrance of their roots into the soil. By creating a mat, they confuse the unwary by entangling within the limbs and tendrils of the other.

Only by careful attention to the way the weeds grow and have grown together can you identify the individual roots. You can see the core and true nature of the weed by thoughtfully separating each one from the other and addressing them separately. Trying to address them together often leads to broken roots. It is in the nature of things that those joined together are stronger than those separated.

It takes a special focus and awareness to attend to overlapping weeds. Resigning to frustration and rushing the effort feeds their success, and both or all live to grow again another day. By giving in to the desire for rapid results, you will find yourself returning again to the task.

Tall Weeds

It is not necessarily true that tall weeds, those that are apparent and obvious, have deep roots. Some spring up quickly though their roots may be shallow. Some of the most most difficult to control tall weeds do have shallow roots, but grow very quickly just beneath the surface. And some of them sprout not from seeds, but from nodes that form in the roots themselves.

Tall weeds may also disguise themselves as something completely different: budding trees. Weeds with woody stems that grow quickly and send deep roots may be overlooked completely by the unwary or undisciplined. They look promising at first, but do not amount to anything in the long run.

Planted Weeds

Sometimes the weeds you have to pull are those you planted. Perhaps you did not know what they were, how large they would grow, or how they might conflict with the rest of your garden. Still, they have to go and you have to do the weeding.

Most often the difficulty with planted weeds is more about the planting than the weeding. There can be sadness for a dream garden not realized, or perhaps shame or self-blame for planting the wrong thing. Yet, in the final analysis, the planting was in perfect harmony with your vision. It just did not work out as you had envisioned or hoped.

There is no advantage to keeping planted weeds when they no longer serve. All things have their time and there is no blame when that time ends. They become compost, recycled energy for new plants, new beings to grow and develop. It is the nature of life.

No End

There is no end to pulling weeds. Though you might mindfully remove all the weeds you can find in your garden, the seeds of weeds of untended gardens of the neighbors blow in. And some come from far away and distant lands. Where they find fertile, willing soil, they will take root and grow.

It could be said that much of life is about pulling weeds: making way for the lush and thriving bounty and beauty of your cultivated garden by removing that which consumes more resources than you are willing to allow or that which no longer serves. Vigilance is required. You must not neglect your garden for very long. Weeds grow quickly.

And, of course, this is not about gardening.

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Rat In The Attic

A True Tale of Urban Shamanic Living

In December 2011, I had the most amazing encounter with a rat in our attic. Although we had spent several hundreds of dollars sealing openings and clearing the attic, one evening we heard the tell-tale squealing and scratching inside our kitchen wall.

The sound was as though a rat had gotten through some undiscovered opening under the porch, but stuck halfway up the wall. Since there was no way to get into the wall, all we could do was wait. If it was truly trapped, we would soon know. However, the next day, familiar sounds rumbled away above our heads. It was a weekend, and there was no one to call for assistance.

The next night, the sounds intensified. The creature dug furiously at the wallboard ceiling near the AC/HV closet. All I could think about was the destruction to our vents by previous visitors: the opossum and raccoon that had precipitated the expensive repairs, as well as entire families of rats who had taken up residence before. Those vents could not be repaired because that space is too narrow for any human to work within. They were open to the attic, with plenty of exposed insulation material to nest in.

Having little choice, I set a trap in the closet where we heard activity earlier, which is open to the attic. A 2×4 joist at about eye level between two exposed studs seemed the perfect place for the baited large spring trap. I set it and closed the door. Somehow, I did not expect it would take very long. And indeed, after less than an hour, we heard a sound that was not quite the “snap!” of it springing. It was a softer sound, though clearly the trap had been sprung.

Close Encounter

I took a flashlight and looked in the closet to find a large Norwegian brown rat apparently entangled in the trap, but still very much alive, staring at me. I could not discern its size accurately, but previous experience suggest that it was at least 15-18 inches from its nose to tip of its tail. My guess also was that it was a female seeking a warm place to nest.

We gazed at each other, barely more than a foot apart. She raised up nervously, leaned forward, pink paws curled near her chest, then settled back down again. I watched her round, black eyes, her whiskers sensing the air between us, his pink nose twitching, sorting out the scents, round ears forward. Two broad, flat and very sharp teeth protruded through pursed lips outlined by white fur.

“I am sorry,” I said. “You are destructive and you cannot stay. I am sad for you, but you must go.” Donna and Marty, our cat, came to see what was going on. Yet the rat and I simply watched each other for several minutes, a very long and exciting time.

It was not clear to me how the trap had caught her. Certainly, she was not held in a death grip. Her body was whole, and she was very much alive. Perhaps merely a hind foot or its tail was pinned. I looked closer, trying to determine what to do and how to do it.

I thought that it might be best to put the rat in a pail of some kind and carry her outside, let her go. I could imagine carrying her, dangling from the trap by her tail, though I had no idea how I would be able to get past her to extract the trap itself from the wall. Yet, then she could easily return to our attic or to a neighbor. Would she die naturally of injuries that I could not see? Would it be more human to put her down, even if I had no idea how to do so? Nothing seemed right.

As I looked more closely, trying to see how the trap had pinned her, I could see her feet, her tail. Nothing was caught! Then she began to move and turned away, crawling up the stud, over the edge of a crossbeam, and back into the attic. She had not been pinned at all! Somehow the trap had been sprung, and she had been sitting on top of it all the time. She had not run away from me or the bright light of the flashlight.

For that long two minutes or more, she and I connected in a way previously reserved only for trusted companions. No fear; simply one being encountering another on the path of life. Scarcely a foot apart, human and rat gazed at each other, saw each other, were real to each other.

At this time I thought, of course, she must move or she must die. It is a reality of living in the human space. Her predecessors left us with hundreds of dollars of damage, some of which cannot be repaired. It was my sincere hope that she would take the encounter as a warning: move on, dear one. Please move on.

Tale’s End: March 2012

I left the unsprung and baited trap in the closet for several weeks. It was never sprung. In the end, I removed it completely. We heard no more sounds from that encounter. Now, in early March, the attic remains quiet.

This true tales of urban shamanism reinforces for me the knowing that all the beings and creatures in our environment can hear and respond to us, if we will only try to communicate with them. Our first response to “pests” need not be to kill what we don’t like.

During the depression, hobos would mark houses in their own code: “This one is one is good for a hand-out,” “This one will give you a place to sleep,” “Stay away from this one.” My hope is that there is in Rat a marker for “Good people, but they don’t want us here.”

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