Eagle’s Challenge

The Eagle chapter of Spirit Paths: The Quest for Authenticity is challenging. It leaps from a discussion of personal authenticity within family and community (Tribe) to an overarching view of responsibility for nurturing human evolution as a whole. That is a view difficult to comprehend, much less hold, for many people.

Eagle sees the vast curve of the Earth, as well as a mouse on the ground.

SoaringEagleThe perspective of Eagle requires the ability to hold two disparate views of the state of the world. In one very broad worldview, a vast perspective like gazing down at the globe from a great height, everything is perfectly balanced and aligned. The dimensional poles of light and shadow, love and fear, joy and suffering are completely balanced, everything is perfect just as it is. There are no boundaries, no partitioning of the land and features into distinctly separate pieces. All things are held in an exquisite and dynamic wholeness.

Yet, far below, Eagle also sees Mouse on the ground. From Mouse’s worldview, it is clear that there is suffering, that the dimensionality of love and fear are not experienced as so balanced. The individual—and even group—experience is quite different from that of Eagle soaring overhead. There is work to do on the ground, big work.

For an example of the work needed, I selected a topic that is very important to me: the plight of Family in our society. Family is at the root of any culture, and the plight of Family is the cornerstone of mending what is broken in it.

The EuroAmerican culture has pulled apart the nuclear and extended family and scattered the pieces to the winds. Just more that 50 years ago, individuals within a family lived within 10-20 miles from where they were born or where the family called home. Now, members of families may be separated by hundreds or thousands of miles: separate states, countries, even continents. Some of this is driven by a hyper-monitized society, in which money and the accumulation of wealth is seen to be the path to happiness, or even a necessity for security.

Family farms dwindle as the children move to urban areas in search of work or success, and the children of Elders who carry generations of wisdom come down from the mountains in pursuit of “something better.” Family fields are abandoned to corporate farms, and the Wisdom Keepers find no one to teach.

Gaps between the generations are widened also by the cultural focus on the value of youth, rather than the wisdom of age. The distances between children, youth, adulthood, and the elderly have become increasingly clear. Rather than being integral parts of an organic evolution of family, the care of both children and the elderly are being outsourced into childcare and eldercare institutions. Whereas children used to be reared by grandparents while the parents worked the fields, in a blink of an eye, in terms of the human experience, their connection has been severed and pulled apart.

The cost has been unacceptable. More children in schools are on medication to manage their behavior than ever before, and the trend continues at an alarming rate. Many of the elderly are sequestered into “nursing” homes or other long term care institutions—mostly discarded and abandoned as their children continue their pursuit of money, whether from desperation or desire for security no longer found within the intact extended family system.

Yes, there is work to do to rebalance the human experience, to bring together the strained dimensionality of love versus fear… to realize the greater vision of Eagle.


Eagle perspective shows that all is not lost, however. Upstream, in the mouth of the future, there is hope. Much of the solution lies in our not-so-distant cultural past. Although returning to these earlier days is not an option, by looking forward toward a renewed integration of the potential of future generations, we can create a new vision of wholeness. A key, I strongly believe, is the institution of Spiritual Eldership that grows from authentic community.

When the focus of culture and society can be changed from short-term gain to longer-term vision, balance can be achieved. When it is recognized that the wisdom of age is as valuable, or perhaps more so, than the raw energetic of youthful exuberance, a renewed emphasis on spiritual community can emerge.

When you know enough about enough things, then you become truly useful.

Spiritual Eldership is a term that describes the place of people who through experience have learned many things about many subjects and situations. In culturally organic societies and tribes, for example, it is the elderly who care for the children. they have the patience to handle the vast energy of children, and the time to be available for care and nurturing. Children truly love to be with the elderly when they can, and the elders find the energy of children to be refreshing.

I believe that we are several generations away from this possibility, however. Our culture has created a relatively new phenomenon called toxic elders, older people who have lost their place in the flow of society and family, and have become suspicious and often angry. They feel cut off and abandoned. Many times they feel betrayed by family in particular and society as a whole. They did what they were supposed to in order to be happy, but in the end, the social promises failed them. Some do not recover and refocus their lives afterward. They become bitter and angry instead.

Yet, the experience of the Intergenerational Learning Center, a preschool located within Providence Mount St. Vincent, a senior care center in West Seattle, is a prime example of how powerful this pairing can be. It is a template which can be used and expanded to help heal the generational divide. Imagine an entire educational and apprenticeship system that uses such creative initiatives as the base, rather than the current view!

The results of such a societal change could be the return of a more balanced way of living as a whole, since the intergenerational wisdom that could be formed creates an upward spiral. Each generation adding to the wisdom of the previous, with Spiritual Elders as mentors to human evolution once again.

This holding of the grand vision of humankind as part of the exquisite balance of nature, as well as the ability to perceive and address suffering, is the challenge of Eagle. It requires patience, persistence, non-judgement, and overall trust in the mysterious unfolding of Spirit in everyday living. We can do this.

Eagle: The Path of Spirit
Where Everything Is One Thing
Spirit Paths: The Quest for Authenticity

Posted in General | Leave a comment

“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.

Posted in General | 2 Comments

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!


Posted in General | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in Authenticity, General, Programs, Society, Spirit Paths | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in Animal Wisdom | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in General | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in General, Healing, Learnings, Relationship | Tagged , | Leave a comment