Author Archives: JoAnne Dodgson

Grandmother Spider

Grandmother Spider

Grandmother Spider – part 2 of my journey to Canyon de Chelley
(If you missed Part 1, click here)

The miles passed by as morning flowed into afternoon. The spacious landscapes of rural New Mexico never cease to enchant me, even on this cold and cloudy day. My spirit soared and my mind quieted, content and curious, leaving far behind the usual list of to-dos.

Crossing into Arizona, I entered the lands of the Navajo Nation. I offered my gratitude and asked permission to visit. This kind of honoring can occur anywhere – in the city, along the highways, in the wilderness – respecting and listening to the spirits of those who live in the places we’re passing through. My destination was Canyon de Chelley and Spider Rock campground. I’d reserved a hogan to sleep in for the night.

I still travel old school – paper maps, landmarks, getting lost to find the way. And it began to dawn on me that I didn’t know exactly where the campground was located. I started to wonder if I’d need to conjure up a Plan B. Then I saw a sign indicating I had ten miles to go. Almost there. It’d been a long day on the road and a long journey that started last spring. And this time, this season, this second quest to see Spider Rock, I was finally going to spend time on the lands that had come to me in a dream. (here’s how it all began in March 2018)

As I drove deeper into the canyon, the sunshine and blue skies emerged from behind the clouds. In the view from the road along the canyon rim, the red rock mesas and sheer canyon walls were compelling. I turned into the campground’s driveway and found the office. On the door was a chalkboard with a handwritten message stating that the host would be back soon. My name was listed next to the assigned “small hogan.” I loved this simple, trusting approach to life. I glanced around the deserted campground. Where was my little home for the night? I was really looking forward to sleeping by a warm fire inside the sacred geometry of the octagonal one-room house.

I was surprised to hear a friendly “hello!” The man greeting me pointed the way to my hogan. What I saw wasn’t translating. It didn’t mesh with the pictures in my mind. This little hut didn’t look like the hand-built wood-beamed structures shown on the website. This wasn’t like the other two hogans just across the driveway or all those I’d passed by on my travels today.

The small hut looked haphazardly built, wrapped with tarps to block the wind. The thought passed through my mind to drive away. I could camp in my car. I had plenty of blankets, I reassured myself.

I paused long enough in my run-away reaction to take a deep breath and take a few steps closer. I peeked inside the hut and noticed the earthen floor, the curved tree branches creating a dome over the platform bed, the fabric wall-hanging, the pile of firewood beside the woodstove.

I really wanted the warmth that woodstove would offer. That’s what convinced me to stay. And after all, this was an on-the-road Gratitude Ceremony, a sacred journey. I wanted to keep my focus there, appreciating the gifts and staying open to the magic beyond what in this moment I could (and couldn’t) see.

As I built a fire, the crackling flames and golden warmth melted away my worries. I was back in the adventure of it all. Bundled up in sweaters, scarf, mittens, woolly socks and hiking boots, I set off to find Spider Rock. I sprinkled tobacco as an offering for the land spirits, the canyon, and Spider Grandmother. She is known in Navajo and Hopi traditions as a creator, protector, and companion of humans. The towering rock formation, Spider Rock, is understood to be her home.

I followed the cairns across the mesa, down a hill, and to the rim of the canyon. The scent of juniper trees floated by on gentle winds. There were horses grazing wild and free.

The immense beauty of the canyon is simply beyond words. I walked along the canyon rim, marveling at the flowing shape and diverse colors of the rocks, the immeasurable depth to the earth far below. What would it be like to live inside the canyon? As humans? A herd of elk? An owl?

I explored the trail along the canyon until the sun was low in the sky in the west. I kept nudging myself to go a little further, certain Spider Rock would be just around the next bend. But it was getting late and I needed to return to my camp. How could I have missed an un-missable destination?

With some kind of magic, so it seemed to me, Grandmother Spider had crept away into the crevices. Apparently it wasn’t time for us to meet.

I sensed the way of a spider who’s weaving a web. Thread by thread. Intricate. Purposeful. Sacred design.

So I’d savor my quest. And soak in the richness of each and every step, gathering information bit by bit.

So I’d hold the remembering of the visions in my dream, hungry to learn more about this land and Grandmother Spider, her medicine and our connection.

So I’d open my arms even wider to embrace the mystery and magic. If and how and when I’d have the whole story wasn’t only up to me. The web was being woven collaboratively.

I stood near the edge of the canyon, watching the shadows of wispy clouds and soft sunlight dance around the red rock walls. I already knew that I would be coming back.

(to be continued…Part 3: Coyote, Buffalo, & Raven)

Callings of My Heart

Callings of My Heart

The canyon keeps calling me back. I decided to return to Canyon de Chelley during the holiday when many people gather for turkey feasts. It was my late father’s birthday. I sensed that in spirit my dad and many others were nudging me on for the adventure.

Once the inspiration for a roadtrip came alive in my heart, there was no turning back. I couldn’t not go. I began packing a bag with sweaters, woolly socks, cozy blankets, and ceremonial items. I looked forward to creating an on-the-road Gratitude Ceremony, returning to the canyonlands that had shown up in my dream.

The vivid dream had come last spring. I was surrounded by towering red rock walls. There was a shimmer, like starlight, in the rocks. Immersed in the awe-inspiring beauty, I felt within me and all around a deep contentment and aliveness, a peaceful, thriving existence. The clarity of connection, the pure crystal clear love, was tangible and stayed with me as I opened my eyes.

I wanted to stay in the world in the dream. This dream was a remembering that held what I wanted. For my life. For our life. For our earth. For us. The wildly diverse us. The community of humans all around our planet living in harmony with ourselves, one another, all life.

This wave of awareness spiraled through me in a matter of seconds as I made the transition from asleep to awake. And I heard: Window Rock, Arizona. That was perplexing. Never before, during a dream, had I been given the name of a place on a map. Curious, I did some research and discovered this place actually exists.

In the heart of the Navajo Nation, this area is known by the ceremonial name, Niʼ Ałníiʼgi. Translated into English, this may be understood as the “Center of the World.” These are sacred grounds for traditional Water Way Ceremony. There are stories of a great serpent who lives here. A memorial honors the Navajo Code Talkers.

These pieces of information were more than plenty to wrap my mind and heart around. Then I found pictures of Spider Rock in Canyon de Chelley, the traditional homelands of tribal peoples prior to colonization. Instinctively, I recognized these red rock canyons as the place that had shown up in my dream.

Spider Rock, in Navajo stories, is described as the home of Spider Grandmother (Na’ashjé’ii Asdzáá). Spider Grandmother, in Hopi and Navajo traditions, is known as a creator, protector, and companion of humans.

So last spring, inspired by my passion to learn more, I went on a roadtrip to find these sacred places. Funny thing is, I never made it to Spider Rock. (In case you missed it, here’s the story about that journey.)

And here I was now, in late November, even more intent on visiting these sacred lands. I felt pulled by an unshakeable calling, weaving the present with the past and the future, the seen with the unseen, the dreamtime with everyday life.

While I packed food for my journey, a spider crept out from her hiding place. I watched her crawl across the floor, following whatever she was following to find her way. She stopped underneath a basket of elk bones I’d recently collected in the mountains. Elk, in my Bone Throwing ceremonial bundle, is a Council of Grandmothers who bring elder wisdom and teach about honoring the feminine.

Spider. Grandmothers. Making their presence known in my home in the early morning hours as I prepared to visit the home of Spider Grandmother in Canyon de Chelley.

Grandmother Spider was making it very clear that she was with me, watching over, as I followed whatever I was following to find my way. She wanted me to remember that I, too, was a weaver of webs, creating fibers of connection with every step along my path. With deep respect and gratitude, I gathered the spider in a jar and set her on the ground outside. She was free now to roam the land too.

The sky brightened with the sunrise and I set off on my journey, driving down my bumpy dirt road. Before I even had a chance to sip the warm cacao elixir I’d made, the cup slipped out of my hand.

The entire cup emptied, a tsunami of cacao splashing onto the floor beneath my feet. A cacao blessing. An unexpected initiation for my journey. Showing me again that the adventures of life, love and awakening may be messy. Yet every drop, every moment, is sacred.

I tried to mop up the pool of cacao with a few crumpled tissues. It was futile. So I continued on down the road, laughing. Because just a few minutes before, as I’d walked out the door of my house, I’d ignored the suggestion that passed through my mind to bring along a roll of paper towels.

Okay, I told the Spirits. I’m listening. To every little thing.

(…to be continued…here’s Part 2)



Bear Medicine: Gratitude

Bear Medicine: Gratitude

The Spirit of Bear has come into my life to teach me about gratitude. In the way of the Bear, gratitude is known as the wide-open welcoming of the gifts. This is heartfelt receiving. Honoring. Appreciating. The gifts. The giver. The opportunity. The connection. Allowing plenty of space, a wide-open embrace, for the flow of the exchange, for the rippling effects of the giving and receiving to unfold.

The Spirit of Bear showed me that gratitude, like love, isn’t conditional. Genuine gratitude isn’t rooted in judgments of better-than or less-than. Saying ‘thank you’ while feeling resentful or angry, while judging the gift or the giver as not-enough or too-much, is a confusing, distorted, inauthentic exchange.

How can we walk with Bear medicine, with a wide-open welcoming of the gifts, in the everyday moments of our everyday lives?

Open your eyes and heart to see yourself, others, and life through the lens of gratitude. Notice colors and sounds. Slow down and acknowledge the gifts of each breath, of each bite of food. Be curious about someone else’s creative expression or point of view.

Set aside the gadgets that impede your receptivity to the people sitting at the table with you or bagging your groceries in the store. Share a smile. Connect eye to eye. Acknowledge what you appreciate.

Untangle from the habit of using empty words. Feel the energy of gratitude, appreciation, respect, love before you say anything. Let your spoken words and inner world be congruous. Speak with your heart.

Bring Bear into your awareness as a guide. Listen to the callings of the Spirit of Bear to open wide your embrace of heartfelt appreciation and loving regard for the gifts of life.

What are you grateful for?

Honor the Feminine

Honor the Feminine

My first steps on the land were filled with familiarity. The ancient rocks felt like old friends. Through the shifting seasons on the earth and in my life, I returned here again and again. Wandering far from the road and marked trails, I instinctively followed the contours of hills and sagebrush meadows. Welcoming the quieting. Flourishing in my belonging in the open space of relationship that wild places so generously share.

On a warm summer afternoon, I felt drawn to the land for ceremony. Gathering up medicine items, gift offerings, food and water, I walked along the arroyo and through the trees to find the place calling to me. I said hello to the soaring ravens, vultures, and hawks, and soaked in the pine-scented air. I relished the peace of the towering red rock mesas and the embrace of the turquoise sky.

Unexpectedly, I felt the sensation of others joining me. Their presence was visceral, though unseen. Elk. A thundering herd of elk gathered in spirit, circling around me. A heightened intensity and awakeness filled the air. The elk had come as a council of Grandmothers.

The Grandmothers surrounded me with their loving, pure awareness. So clear in their focus. Unwavering in their purpose. I couldn’t pretend not to notice. The ancestors had come. And they had something to show me.

Honor the feminine. This, said the Grandmothers, was my sacred task.

Honor the feminine. Even in a world that tells her to stay small. To silence her voice. To distrust her point of view. To hide what she knows, sees and feels.

Honor the feminine. Even in a world that harms the feminine. That threatens her existence. That says her injuries and woundings don’t really matter: it’s deserved, it’s her fault, it’s just part of the deal.

Honor the feminine. Even in a world that objectifies her. And expects her to objectify herself. Judging her body. Everything about her should be other than it is – a different size or shape or texture or color – in order for her to be worthy of love.

Honor the feminine. Even in a world built out of either/or options: victim or victimizer, oppressed or oppressor, power-over or powerless.

Held in the center of the circle, I could feel the Grandmothers calling me to take a closer look at my inner world. Because the outside world will not change if I keep carrying it around inside me.

The Grandmothers were calling me to untangle from the lies. To see with the clarity of the Ancient Ones’ eyes. To reclaim the love. To center in my heart, deeply rooted in who I am in a vast field of relationship. To feel this in my bones. To walk this with every step. Creating circles within circles within circles of relationship.

Reclaiming dreams. Awakening potentials. Growing love from the inside out. Holding wide-open space for healing and belonging. Seeing beyond the seen. Remembering wholeness. Relishing the mystery. Weaving new webs and unweaving the old. Nourishing the continuance of life.

Honor the feminine.

The feminine honoring the feminine.

This was my sacred task.


Loving Changes

Loving Changes

When the pain and sorrow in the world feel overwhelming, the passion for making changes tends to fade. A sense of powerlessness drains vital energy. The dreams for a loving world feel out of reach.

Yet, what I’ve discovered about love is that it is enduring. Love exists, abundantly. It’s already here – all around us, in the forests and the rivers, in the sunlight and the stars.

Love is already here – living inside us, in the very fabric of our being, in the blueprint of who we really are. We’ve forgotten. We’ve misunderstood. We’ve been lied to and misled. We’ve been hurt and are hurting. Love has gotten buried beneath tangled-up layers of wounding, stress, judgments, and fear.

Not-loving goes against nature. It takes immense amounts of energy, time, and resources to maintain a not-loving way of life. All the battles against ourselves and our own bodies. The words used as weapons. The pointing of fingers to blame and shame. The warring between countries and politicians, between races, religions, and gender groups. The physical and emotional walls we build, with conflict and confusion about who’s allowed in and who should be kept out. The harm, disrespect, and desecration of our earth. 

These ways of not-loving have been going on for centuries and passed on through the generations. Yet, as we can see, our human-made out-of-balance world is tumbling down and falling apart.

Love is a healer. The power of love is underestimated, likely because we’ve lost touch with what love actually is. Love, in it’s essence, is a steady, unbroken, continuous flow. Love is the energy of creation, of interconnection, of respect, acceptance, clarity, awareness. Love is an all encompassing embrace. Love sees. Love dances. Love heals. 

Love simplifies things. It’s our nature. When we remember love and feel this, settle in and allow love to be, we rest safely in the assurance of the presence of love. Love flows from the inside out, sharing, interacting, exchanging, transforming.

Love is organic. Love grows when it’s nourished. Weaving a loving world begins with a single glistening thread.

So what would happen, today, if each of us made one loving choice? 

Accept yourself, just as you are.

Accept others, just as they are.

Seek understanding (not necessarily agreement or consensus) in a situation that is usually emotionally charged.

Support the well-being of a plant, animal, river, garden.

Find your joy.

Respect the existence of what is, just as it is and has been.

Honor diversity – listening, observing, learning.

Find language that doesn’t imply judgments of “better-than” or “less-than.” Notice how you feel when you think and speak with these words.

Let somebody know that you care.

Dream wildly and freely. Share your dreams with others, for your lives, for the earth, for all life.

Listen with curiosity, setting aside the habit of jumping to conclusions.

Fully receive – a kindness, a deep breath of fresh air, healing touch, nourishing food, a gift, the love and respect someone offers you.

Consider another perspective, explore a different point of view.

Engage in creative expression – art, music, writing, cooking, dialogue, dance – free of judgment.

Rest when you’re tired.

Clear away toxins – a harmful word in your vocabulary, a harmful substance in your diet, a plastic bottle left on the ground.

Acknowledge and respect natural cycles – seasons, moon phases, births, deaths, beginnings, completions, growth, time, transitions.

Feel the magic and mystery of being alive, of your personal connection with the web of life, with humanity, with the earth, with ancestors, with the spirits, with the cosmos.

Make one loving choice. Then another. And then another. 

Our many loving choices will connect and intertwine. 

Relationships and structures will begin to take shape. 

Thread by thread by thread, we’ll weave heart-centered lives 

and, together, a heart-centered world.

Unleashing Love

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