Compassionate Inquiry: Writing Ourselves, Writing the Other, Workshop


Please join me for a writing workshop on Thursday, August 27, 9 am to 12:00 pm at Southwestern College, 3960 San Felipe Road, Santa Fe as part of the Diversity, Healing & Consciousness, 34th Annual Transformation & Healing Conference.

Our basic quest for unity asks us to consider: Who am I? Who is Other? Writing is a powerful expressive arts therapeutic tool for self-discovery and self-acceptance. In this workshop we will touch on issues of identity, family and community. We will explore the separation we may have experienced through racial, ethnic, religious, economic class, sexuality, gender, or other socially defined categories of difference. We will seek to recognize, reconcile and release that which keeps us feeling separate. Using both imagination and memory, we will use the power of metaphor to express a transformational experience.

3 CECs available for counselors, art therapists and social workers. Limited space available. Please register now. $40 for workshop. Call toll free: 877-471-5756 or 505-471-5756 or email:

Make New Friends But Keep the Old

I did not realize that my weekend intensive, “Wisdom of the Earth Medical Phyto-Aromatherapy Certificate Level I” (March 14-15), was to be an initiation. When the instructor, Dr. Sam Berne, mentioned this, I became immediately more alert. I am an initiate and have been trained to initiate others. I stand in the lineage of the late Keewaydinoquay, an Anishinaabe (Ojibwe) mashkikikwe (plant medicine woman), with whom I studied for twenty years. I served as her personal helper or oshkibewis, learning the songs, prayers, ceremonies, plant medicines, oral traditions and sacred stories. I studied the language. I made a commitment to carry this lineage in my body for it cannot be written down. I am now a leader and a spiritual teacher/healer in this tradition.

For me initiation is “to find out how you’re related to the world of the divine, know how you belong, how you’re at home there just as much as here. It is to become adopted, a child of the gods . . . making a connection between this world and that . . . [as a] matter of being prepared before you die. Otherwise, it’s too late.” (Kingsley p. 64) Initiation is therefore vital to one’s ability to live consciously and deliberately with death as partner. For as every healer knows, death is the partner of life.

The plant essences I met over the weekend want to work with us as partners in healing, as partners in our deepening relationship with the divine, and therefore they help us fully partner with both our lives and our deaths. I bow to the plants for their sacred wisdom. I open myself to learn directly from them as they are our elder brothers and sisters, our sacred teachers.

The first to speak to me in a clear unique voice was Cypress, Emerald. Interesting. I have no specific relationship to this tree or its place of origin. Australia? Never been there. Who is she to me? Is our relationship strictly vibrational? It seems something in her quivering nano-realm speaks directly to the throbbing need in me to live my life as fully awake and aware as I can be.

I look up Cypress Emerald in the reference guide and read: “Deeply spiritual friend for the times we are living in.“ I also see that she is a newcomer to the fold, and her gifts are being revealed. Here is my contribution: She wants to partner with those of us already on a spiritual path to help us grow stronger and clearer. She wants to support us to fulfill our true purpose.

The second to invite my joy was Violet. I know her well. I know her heart-shaped green leaves in the wet woods of southern Ohio, and the intense pleasure I always feel to see her purple-bright soft face turn to the sun. At the close of the first day, Violet greets me back to my childhood of running barefoot and free. Violet was one of the first to invite me to study herbal healing as a teenager, to connect the wildness outside to the wildness within. This began a lifelong journey that continues to bring new surprises, including this weekend initiation into the plant medicines of Wisdom of the Earth. On the second day my chakra meditation partner and I immediately agree that Violet will be our contribution for the 6th chakra. It is perfect.

On the second day Davana totally surprises me when my partner anoints me with a touch of Davana on my crown chakra. I am on my back when she applies it to the top of my head. I feel it travel immediately down from my crown to the base of my spine. I feel that it connects directly with the serpent power that resides in the spinal column bringing light energy from above to below in seconds.

Later I notice in my notes that Sam had mentioned Davana for skin repair. I have highly sensitive skin, an Irish fair complexion. My pale face has a tendency toward rosaceae, and recently I have had two treatments by the dermatologist burning a spot on my face he says has pre-cancer cells. Sam through Christy had recommended help from frankincense, cistus (rockrose) and cedarwood (atlas). I began using all three in layers, but my skin became more aggravated. I experimented and settled on morning and evening applications of cedarwood atlas. The raw red spot seems to be vanishing. But perhaps Davana has a contribution to make to my sensitive skin? This is a relationship I need to explore.

The Guide informs me that Davana belongs to the family Asteraceae. I have a long relationship with this family. According to my training, it is connected to the moon cycle, especially the beginning of menses and menopause. Members of this plant family are part of women’s ceremonies in my spiritual lifeway. Davana is helping me connect these new plant medicines with what I already know and use. The old Girl Scout song rings in my mind: “Make new friends, but keep the old, one is silver and the other gold.”

I enjoy noticing plants from my healing tradition that are important among your plant essences: Balsam Fir, (who we refer to as Nimisse, Elder Sister) Birch, (who we know as NiMishomis or Grandfather), White Pine, Calamus, Peppermint (who we call Ombendam, which means: to open the mind powerfully), among others. When Sam anoints me at the altar, he brings Tamarack from the table, calling it, “The Alchemist.” In my lineage, Tamarack is Mashki Autig, Medicine Tree, for a bit of Tamarack can be put into any oil, lotion, cream, salve, balm, tea or related herbal plant medicine that we make. It potentizes (is that a word?). Tamarack amplifies as your materials say of Helichrysum.

I learn new ways to know some of my old friends. For example, I have had some vertigo when I am falling asleep or waking up. It is disconcerting. I am lying in bed on my side and suddenly the room swirls. Then everything is right again. Sam tells us that Calamus can be used for dizziness. I am happy. An old friend has a new trick to share with me! I have used Calamus for sore throat. Typically, it is part of our all-night ceremonies. We chew the root during all-night sings. It is both a mild stimulate (so we can keep going until the sun comes up and the ceremony ends) and it coats the throat to keep us from getting hoarse as we sing.

I was adopted by the Native elder, Kee, when I was twenty, so most of my adult life has been in this world into which she ‘assimilated’ me. Though I worked with her for two decades, I was aware that even then I did not learn everything she knew. I was also made aware that even with all of her knowledge so much had been lost. I know specific songs and stories for specific plants. I know our kinship relationships. But I also know that once every plant had its song, story, and medicine. Whoever it was that lived nearby and worked with that plant knew the spiritual and material properties of that plant. All cultures, all peoples, all of our ancestors were once embedded in the land and knew how to relate with all the beings of that specific land. This is our birth rite. We must reclaim it for the generations that will follow us. I feel that Emerald Cypress serves to support this purpose.

We have in our hands today the torn-up bits of the once whole cloth of our inter-related and inter-dependent lifeway. That unity has been destroyed by modernity, and yet it can be restored. We can recover the lost material through dreaming, through listening, through loving dedication to our wholeness. We can re-member and we must. We have the opportunity now to bring together the intense scientific specialization perfected by the Western intellectual tradition with the holistic understanding of ancient peoples. The two ends of this spectrum are being brought together. The denigration of indigenous knowledge systems is coming to an end. And the future of life on this planet depends on those of us today willing to be part of the great transformation. This change has started, and though we will not live to see it come full circle, we must not give up our vision of what will be. Cypress Emerald speaks to this clearly.

In 1992, I was completing my doctoral research and was invited to witness the First World Parliament of Indigenous Peoples in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. They had gathered to convene their own dialogue simultaneous to the United Nations Earth Summit, to which they were systematically excluded. Most indigenous groups exist as internal colonies inside nation states, and only the nation states are recognized by the U.N. So I went to listen and learn from the contemporary representatives of these diverse ancient land-based cultural groups gathered from Canada, Ecuador, Africa, Peru, the U.S. and Mexico to discuss their relationship to the Earth and what is being threatened right now. The preface to their powerful Kari-Oca Declaration is this:

                        We cannot heal the Earth until we heal ourselves.

                        We cannot heal ourselves until we heal the Earth.

This insight has become the mantra of my life. I have been dedicated to the path of education to make change. I began by teaching troubled youth in alternative inner city schools. Then for fifteen years, I was a leader at Antioch College developing and delivering an undergraduate education based on personal empowerment for social and ecological justice. For the next nine years I served as the Academic Dean at the Institute of American Indian Arts. Last summer I joined Southwestern College as Vice President. Their mission is: transforming consciousness through education.

This is where we are now. We are partnering with the sacred plants, soils, waters, animals and ancestors as equally important members of a spiritual and physical interdependence. As healers and teachers, we are part of this change. Specifically, Cypress Emerald and Davana want to help us now. They both spoke to me with such clarity.

I feel connected to the work you are doing at WOTE as it is part of the work I am doing. Thank you. I am so happy to feel this connection to these plant essences.

I would like to close with a poem that came to me as I was driving into the workshop. I arrived early and found a spot to settle in and wrote fragments of the poem. Then over lunch I walked away to a quiet place beneath the cottonwood trees beside the pond of recycled wastewater and completed the poem. I shared it with the group after lunch.

Animal Divine

In the warming light

Spring’s green steps

begin to mark the land:

furred, hoofed, horned

feathered, humming, cloven,

singing, howling, silent,

buried, sleeping, slow ones –

The hungry, the wanting

the wild unbidden

stir in me.

In the waking light

early iris opens

mud softens

ice breaks in the river

flows to the throat of the sea.

A voice rises in me.

Beast, Buffalo, Bear,

Gods of cave and prairie,

Forgive me for fear,

the false wall I keep

between you and me,

brick by brick

I take it down

Yielding to Holy Ground


Kapp, Barry B. Wisdom of the Earth, Medicinal Grade Plant & Tree Essence for Phyto-Aromatherapy. Essential Essences (oils) Book & Reference Guide. 2008

 Kari-Oca Declaration, Rio De Janeiro, World Parliament of Indigenous Peoples, 1992. Personal copy.

Kingsley, Peter. In the Dark Places of Wisdom. Golden Sufi Press, 1999.

Peschel, Keewaydinoquay. Translations of plant names and information about these plants learned from personal conversations, classes, workshops and trainings 1979-1999.

Spring Renewal Ceremony

1. Living Within the Seasonal Cycle

We see in the natural cycles of seasonal change that there exists a constant process of change and transformation: sprouting, growing, blooming, wilting, seeding, greening, flourishing, fruiting, subsiding, advancing, receding, wetting, drying, conceiving, bearing, birthing, breathing, living, maturing, aging, dying, and dreaming. And yes, we are part of this, part of the dream of this, part of all that is. We are an expression of nature.

The abundant evidence is that life occurs in a vast, mysterious, changing, and on-going universe. And yes, we are part of this universe.

We are the children of starlight as evident by the chemical composition of our bodies. We are literally made of stardust, including nitrogen, hydrogen, oxygen.

We carry the same materials in our flesh and bones as are in the soil itself, such as magnesium, calcium, lime, gold and silver. This is not simply poetic metaphor but literal fact.

How do we embody this understanding of ourselves as part of the enormous diversity of life in the ever-changing universe?

How do we live as part of nature?

In the lineage I carry, there are a number of ways to bring one into deeper awareness of our interconnected reality with nature and all that is. To pause and take the time to celebrate in ceremony the Winter & Summer Solstices, the Autumnal & Spring Equinoxes, to do this year in and year, to make it a regular part of one’s life practice, just as breathing is, this is one of these ways.

The Ceremonial Celebrations of the Four Quarter Days of the Solar Cycle help bring into greater focus the ongoing dialogue between self and life.

The purpose of these Ceremonies is to bring oneself and one’s life into greater alignment with All That IS. The intention for each participant is to touch Source Energy (however one might understand that) and renew one’s deepest relationships to Source of Life, Great Mystery, Great Spirit, Creator/Creatrix, God/Goddess, Diety, Self, Beloved, or by whatever name you know the Ultimate Being who exists within, around and between us.

2. Spring Renewal

The specific qualities of Spring Equinox embody preparation for a cycle of new growth.

The plants stir beneath the Earth, bulbs burst open sending tendrils toward the light. Bear rumbles and stirs in the hibernating cave of deep sleep, emerges to forage and feed the newborn cub. The ground softens with mud. The air shifts and Spring winds blow away the last of the autumn leaves.

On Equinox the sun is balanced in our sky. We experience exactly the same amount of sunlight as night dark. Throughout the flourishing of people here in the American Southwest when Chaco Canyon and related sites were at the height of activity, the Equinoxes were a time of profound celebration and observation. If we feel it in our bodies, we too, can experience the center of time, the still point, the moment of perfect solar balance. The architecture and petroglyphs in these ancient sites emphasizes this magical point of praxis. Unlike Stonehenge and other ancient sites in the British Isles that were created to honor the Summer or Winter Solstices, here where we live today, Autumn and Spring Equinox were considered the high holy days.

Our Ceremony will bring us into greater awareness and alignment of the profound opportunity available to us to re-experience balance in our own lives.

We will identify the old leaves still clinging to our branches and let them fall. We will also identify the growing tips in our own lives, those edges moving from the center of our being outward toward manifestation. What is awakening in us that will be able to grow toward the light? From the moment of Spring Equinox until we arrive at Summer Solstice, we will be experiencing a time of increase. Let us focus now. What do we seek to increase? Let us tend our inner gardens, choose freely what we will give our energy to now, and make room for this new growth.

Ann Megisikwe Filemyr

Ceremony & Workshop Protocols

Ceremony & Workshop Protocols

Helpful guidelines for participants joining Ann Megisikwe Filemyr or other teacher-leaders sharing traditional practices for the School of Embodied Spirit (SES).

How to Prepare

Each of us is ultimately responsible for ourselves.

We will each hold ourselves accountable for our own participation.

Expectations for participants include:

  • Open-heartedness
  • Willingness to engage honestly with self and others
  • Willingness to engage deeply with the other-than-human world
  • Willingness to enter silence
  • Willingness to participate in the community we will create together, including keeping confidentiality
  • Ability to listen carefully and learn experientially
  • Commitment to sobriety

 What to Bring

  • Pack a simple daypack for light items you might want to carry with you during outdoor activity, including any snacks or foods you need.
  • A journal and pens/pencils as we might sketch or write or if it serves your memory, there will be opportunities for you to take notes.
  • Wear comfortable weather-appropriate clothing, including sturdy shoes for walking or other outdoor activity.
  • Bring layers for cooler weather or sudden rain.
  • Watershoes are always helpful to have with you so we can walk/be in the water if the opportunity arises.
  • Sunhat, sunscreen, sunglasses. Remember we live in the desert!
  • If you have sacred tobacco, cornmeal, or kinnickinnic for the offering, bring it with you.
  • Bring something special to place on the altar throughout the Ceremony, something that you will take home with you when you go.
  • If you have a sacred and/or ordinary object that you use regularly that you would like cleansed and/or blessed as part of the Ceremony, bring it with you.
  • If you have a Pendleton blanket, bring it with you to sit on, wrap up in, or it may be used in other ways during the Ceremony.
  • If you prefer to sit on a sit-upon or something that you can carry that is easy and lightweight, bring it with you. Otherwise, it is fine to just sit on the ground!

What to Leave Behind

  1. Cameras and recording devices – nothing can be recorded from these teachings unless prior arrangements have been made as we are deeply engaged in strengthening and keeping alive the oral/aural cultural practices of this lineage.
  2. Cell phones – turn them off during activities.
  3. Any mind-altering substances – absolutely no alcohol!
  4. As much as possible, leave other commitments, duties and responsibilities at home or at work. This is a time to come together and be rejuvenated through traditional practices of reconnecting with ourselves, each other and the land.

Please inform the teacher/leader:

  • If you are currently dealing with any health issues and/or you are taking any prescription drugs. Please share this information prior to your decision to participate.
  • If you have any concerns regarding your own well-being at any time during the teaching or the ceremony.

For any questions regarding these protocols, please email:

Migwetch! Thank you!