I recently returned from a week-long training for acupuncturists called, “How to be a Global Healer.” It was the 2nd level of training with Acupuncturists Without Borders (AWB) and it was set in a place called Vallecitos, New Mexico. The first level of training really focused on local and national work in the field during disasters and also working with their Military Stress Recovery Project. The second level, as you can tell by the title, focuses more on international political structure, leadership development, and community. I had been looking forward to this training for several months now not only as a personal retreat by going to stay up in the Tusas Mountains of northern New Mexico at a beautiful and remote location, but also to be surrounded by like-minded people in the acupuncture field (trainees who attended were not only licensed acupuncturists, but also Acupuncture Detox Specialists, and more). And what an amazing week it was.
To start, the land up around Vallecitos is nothing short of stunning. On the one hand, I figured by the location that we would be surrounded by a sunny, arid, desert-like terrain and that it would be really hot during the days and fairly cold in the evenings. I figured lizards and coyotes, small streams, red rocks and short, crooked trees. What I got was completely unexpected.
Vallecitos is a 135 acre, privately owned section of Carson National Forest that was originally homesteaded in 1898. It sits at about 9,000 ft. elevation and has some of the most majestic old growth Ponderosa Pine forests in North America. Not only that, it has on its property: the oldest Ponderosa Pine in the Unites States. This tree, rightfully referred to as “The Buddha Tree” is dated somewhere between 600 and 800 years old. As someone who has spent many years studying Plant Spirit Healing and therefore feeling intimately connected with the plant world, I was delighted to be situated near this old teacher. And of course I got the landscape all wrong! There were 7 lakes on the land as well as the headwaters of the Vallecitos Lake running through the entire property (Vallecitos meaning: many little valleys). This place was lush! Visiting during monsoon season certainly brings this out! And so much for my expectation of the sparse wildlife. There were wild horses (those of you that know me know that that alone was more than enough to make me happy), elk, bald eagles, beavers, snakes (of which I saw 6!), deer, bear, Great Horned Owl, and many other creatures. This place was opulent and I was delighted.
(Ensenada Lake…the hiding place of the horses)
(Upper Lake with swimming hole….dang cold water!)
(Wildflowers from the walk in…)
So that’s the premise for the training, boring eh?
The training consisted of 4 long full days sandwiched in between a half day and a morning together. There were 26 participants, including the kind folks who volunteered to share their stories and help out with the training. The first thing I noticed in myself was a deep relaxation in the group. Here I was surrounded by fellow acupuncturists– with a thread connecting us through our unique concern for the national and international situation. I can’t explain what that was like for me but (also for the people who know me) I felt I was with my tribe and that being said, I felt I could deeply relax.
Aside from that, the training included working with projections (for those of you who don’t know what that means, it’s basically acknowledging the lens with which we each see the world through and how that naturally influences our perception), we worked on several assignments with groups to tap into group dynamics of which can be a very rich source of learning! We worked with leadership skills and were given the opportunity to acknowledge what holds us back, and we had many little tastings of different practices that I found nourishing and grounding like yoga, yoga nidra, qi gong, tai qi, meditation, noble silence, etc.
We were also given plenty of breaks and time to ourselves which I used as time to get out onto the trails! Truthfully I really wanted to find those horses and bask in their untamed presence. I found a hiking buddy and we trekked into the woods several times through Wild Horse Canyon and over to Ensenada Lake, one time at sunrise to better our odds. Both of these places were known to be the hiding spots of the horses and neither of which manifested a sighting (though we could smell them in the air!). It was a lesson of patience, anticipation, mystery, and lore. I left the land without ever seeing this wild herd, but just knowing they were out there did something lovely for my spirit. And now I have a bigger and more urgent reason to return
(The view from Icarus Point.)
(My camp for the week… plush compared to some of the other places I’ve slept in the woods!)
(Me, trying to capture the lushness of this land!)
Acupuncturists Without Borders is a powerful organization with a backbone of intelligence, wisdom, and Heart. They are an organization that I feel aligned with both in principles and in practice. When I did Level 1 training I was still in acupuncture school and so I enjoyed the training and was flooded with ideas and inspiration but it also felt like it would be a long time before I was able to engage with the world in this way. (That being said, less than 48 hours after the Level 1 training ended, the Aurora theater shootings happened and I got a phone call from a member of AWB to see what I was able to do, since I lived in the area. AWB was working to set up a clinic for the people affected by this tragedy. Turned out that even though I wasn’t yet licensed, I was able to help with the more background but equally important efforts like calling to find a location for the clinic (which is much more difficult to do than it sounds!) Now, years later and the next level of training behind me, I feel more ready and resourced to engage.
AWB first started in 2005 as a response to Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita where they went into the disaster areas and provided free treatments to all the victims and responders of the disaster treating over 8,000 individuals in a short time. They were also able to train local acupuncturists with the community style model they were using so that they could keep the clinics running after AWB members returned to their various states. Another one of the big visions and missions that fuels AWB is their Military Stress Recovery Project (MSRP). These are all free acupuncture clinics all over the country that treat Veterans, their family members, and some clinics are also open to active military. There are now MSRP clinics operating in 34 different states! So AWB is out there, doing the work, and an inspiring organization to now be even more a part of. However, they are a non-profit and in order to do the work they do, they rely 100% on donations and volunteers. If you are compelled to donate or volunteer, I will put the link to their website below.
(Because I am who I am, I had to take a photo of our traditional Sri Lankan meal…so good!)
(Our wonderful group of Trainers and Trainees!)
I am always that person who, no matter how much energy I am expending, I am compelled to wonder, am I really doing enough? I am someone who cares deeply about community, about this planet, and about what is happening all over the world. I read the news, I ask a lot of questions, I like to decompress with likeminded souls, I educate some and am educated by others. And on this training/retreat, I can’t describe exactly what I was feeling except by calling it kinship. We could all get each other, on some level, and that felt very good to me – to say the least. (My heart weighs heavily with the situation in Syria at the moment. If you aren’t sure of what’s happening over there right now, here is a link to a short introduction to this complex situation: http://www.heraldsun.com.au/news/world/simple-points-to-help-you-understand-the-syria-conflict/story-fni0xs61-1226705155146 And since beginning writing this post, we have had tremendous flooding in Colorado. More to come on that soon but in the meantime, please send us some healing blessings.)
What is my take-away from this training, you ask? Well – among many things, it’s revived my sense of the value of volunteerism. I used to volunteer a lot over the years: as a mentor for at-risk youth via the B.E.S.T. Program, at the Medicine Horse to help with group facilitation and horse/ranch care, as a helping hand at a community kitchen in Richmond, VA, and I’ve donated many acupressure and body work treatments to injured or distressed horses, helped at small farms during harvest season, among several other various projects. Volunteering is a way that we can contribute our time and energy to the projects and the people that we care about and that align with visions similar to our own. Volunteering is a way for an individual’s passion to become the motivating force behind the vision. It is a means of humbling ourselves to the great many ways things get done in this life: with BIG hearts and small budgets.
Unfortunately, many of us leave volunteering until life has smoothed over the cracks and we are financially stable. We want to wait until we are sitting around, twiddling our thumbs before we get out there. But truth be told, that’s not what it’s about, nor is it the best way to get involved, and let’s be honest, it’s pretty unrealistic! It’s similar to the adage of waiting for life to settle and for finances to become abundant before starting a family. In that case, you may never have a family or if you do, by that time you will be deeply exhausted.
Volunteering is humbling because you realize what it means to seemingly “work for nothing.” It’s inspiring because “working for nothing” can actually bring you a lot. Community gets created, connections are made, and work that you care about – gets done! When we give our time, our truly most precious commodity, we are serving the individual, the community and the world. That, in my opinion, is the basis of self-worth. That is where our true gifts come out and play. Many people would rather give money than time, and that’s necessary, too. But it doesn’t come close to replacing the way one feels at the end of a day of volunteering. (Granted, I do wish I was able to give both time and money in this lifetime as there are SO many organizations and individuals who are doing amazing things and I don’t have time for it all!)
Sadly, volunteering hasn’t been a regular part of my life in about 2 years but that’s changing, I promise. I use the excuse that life just got extremely busy and I found that I had no time and no energy to spare. But I don’t think volunteering is something that should be put off until things are just right as I said before. I think it’s more that if it isn’t interwoven into your life, your schedule, and an integral part of your values, it’s easy to fall by the wayside. So how do we work it into our busy lives if it’s not there already?
What I’ve decided to do is to start by dedicating 3 flexible hours each week to volunteering. The hours can be divided up into different days or if I have a busy week, I can skip a week and make up for the rest the next week. With this system, volunteering can fit into my already busy schedule and as long as it’s flexible, I can take my time getting used to it again. Three hours may seem like not enough to get things done but trust me, if you were to let any organization out there know that you have 3 hours each week to donate to their cause, I bet they would take you up in a heartbeat. Just think about how many items you can scratch off your To-Do list in 3 uninterrupted hours?
I will keep you posted on my progress and as to how I decide to spend this weekly allotted time, which organizations I will be working with, and how it’s going for me to reintegrate something I value tremendously. Please don’t hesitate to hold me accountable, ask me about my projects, and if you are able, I may need some volunteers for my upcoming Veterans project (details coming soon!).
I’d like to hear about you, what organizations and what work inspires you? Find an organization that is doing the work that you are passionate about and let me know! Even if you are not in a place to make a commitment, who would you give your money to? Who would you volunteer your time to? Even if you are busy parent, find a cause that your kids are into and can be involved in. Most of the kids I know LOVE to give! Or are you volunteering already? Tell me, what does that serve for you? How would you describe what you get back from your volunteer work?
Thanks for reading and sending many blessings your way.
P.S. My new commitment to volunteering was so soon followed by many opportunities to volunteer my service. Colorado has been devastated by the flood. I’ve been volunteering many hours running disaster relief clinics for first responders and the evacuees. I’ll write more about that journey in my next post.
For more information on AWB, visit: http://www.acuwithoutborders.org