Sharon Simone’s Reading of Fired Anew
Healing is a river—a live current, a cascade like the one I loved up in North Cheyenne Canyon growing up—a glissade down a mountain, a drill hole directed straight at one’s tectonic plates. If you are fortunate, healing overtakes you, works your stubborn muscles of mind into clay then fires you anew.
I am fortunate. Healing has overtaken me. Two years ago, I was diagnosed with Stage IV metastatic pancreatic cancer and given two months to live by a surgeon who unexpectedly encountered my belly full of metastases while operating to resolve a bowel obstruction following a pancreatic resection five weeks earlier.
Today, I am well with no evidence of disease supported by nine negative CT scans and normal tumor markers over the past two and a half years. I owe my well-being to the Village Sanctuary as I have come to understand it these years, although the journey began years earlier.
Called to Attention
When I was a young girl still going to church, especially on Good Fridays, I loved the ritual chanting we did of the Litany of the Saints. We intoned the names of all the saints and angels, sitting then kneeling, sitting then kneeling, until our backs and knees ached: Sancta Maria, Ora pro nobis; Sancta Maria Magdalena, Ora pro nobis; Sancta Agatha, Ora pro nobis; Sancta Lucia, Ora pro nobis; Sancta Cæcilia, Ora pro nobis. We acknowledged mostly the male saints and Church fathers, and a rare female saint, never the rest of creation. I did not know the language of the Earth or her creatures though these had seeded themselves in me awaiting a time when I carried a mind that could recognize their communications.
Today, daily, I intone the names of particular rivers in the same way I called out the names of the saints—Colorado, Arkansas, Rio Grande, Gunnison, Platte, Kern, Missouri, Mississippi—praying to know the depth of the language they left in me, the imprint of their bends still moving me along. At 74, it is not too late to confess my love of and dependence upon the rivers and Raven, specific mountains and streams. I believe the rest of my life depends on being in relationship with these beings—on my being open to their call to attention when it arrives.
When Raven cries out overhead, as one is doing at this very moment, does it mean anything more than Raven carrying out its life as I am carrying out mine? As if answering Raven’s call, I begin to write about what I just experienced as a call to attention. This attention. This writing about relationship with Raven, or wind, or trees or snake or moonlight in which they speak to me and I respond in some unexpected and spontaneous way, or they reorient and reorganize me down to my tectonic plates.
Every day, since I was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, I have prayed to recognize and heed signs, warnings, omens and magic that arrive separate from thoughts and plans or even worries about my state of health or the state of the world. No one told me that this practice or habit would help me navigate the catastrophic undoing and reorganizing underway. I just began, in the quiet that descends upon one living such an illness, to notice, say Raven crying out, or the trees turning from green to golden to barren as the seasons passed outside my window. And in this noticing, a form of communication unfolded, an entire language, not rooted in words, but in sounds and moonlight, the hoot of an owl at two a.m. when I woke with a nightmare I could not shake, or in the slight movement of leaves in an easy breeze that educated me, comforted me, loosened the heavy cloak of civilized ways of knowing and living from my shoulders. Until I woke up well—more well than before I was diagnosed with cancer.
The Weight of Knowing
Village is not a metaphor or concept, but a concrete reality to which I gave my life when the unmistakable call arrived, as it did for me in 2011 outside the Uffizi museum in Florence, Italy. I was in the birthplace of the Renaissance.
Standing in the Village Square one afternoon I broke down in tears. I felt the weight of Western civilization on my shoulders—a weight in stone and stained glass, art, cobblestone streets, papal crypts and cathedrals. It was an unbearable weight to which I had dedicated five decades of my life—this one way of knowing, this Western, Imperial way. I knew there were other ways, older, indigenous ways of knowing; I had been exploring these since I had a disturbing dream in 2005 that caused me to acknowledge and confront the Imperialist within me. I made a vow then in that Village Square, to finally leave this Western way of knowing and change my life.
Mountain Lion Enters the Field
In April 2012, upon returning from Italy to Topanga, CA, I sat out all night beneath an old Acacia tree on the land dedicated as a Village Sanctuary. Others were on this land in various places, all of us offering ourselves to the spirits and non-human beings of this land. We fasted and were up without shelter all night.
Near 11 PM, under a white moon that hung high in the sky, a Mountain Lion ambled up a small hill toward the citrus orchard, maybe fifty yards from me. I froze. I had ignored what I understood to be an internal directive—that I stay beneath the canopy of the Guardian Tree. I gambled with the spirits, rationalizing I would be just three feet outside the canopy where I had promised to stay—that this little distance would not make a difference. I wanted a better view of the beauty before me—the moonlit, magical meadow (my Western, imperial mind at work). And at the moment I settled myself outside the canopy, there stood the Mountain Lion. He turned his head 90 degrees and stared right at me for perhaps fifteen seconds. Though I wanted to bolt to the car nearby, I knew he had to be faster than I was and I had made a commitment to stay out and offer myself in dedication. So I cautiously slunk back beneath the canopy of the Guardian Tree, chastened and terrified, where I remained, awake, for the rest of the night.
Sacrifice an Old Identity
In April 2016, at a gathering in Connecticut, thirty women were sharing dreams, visions, personal stories, fears and sorrows related to the dire state of the world, the endangered planet and its non-human beings in particular. We were asked to consider this question: “What current impediment arising out of Western mind is keeping you from meeting your life’s calling?” We were given time to reflect, walk in the woods, listen. My response was to do a divination using the I Ching. The hexagram I received, #59 Dispersing, offered this central message: “Clear away what is blocking clarity…sacrifice an old identity.” Immediately, I knew what old identity I must sacrifice. On receiving the instruction, I responded: “Yes, I will sacrifice it. But I don’t know how in the world this will unfold.”
Three days after the gathering, I was with my friends Karen and Lawrie at a bed and breakfast. I was up all night very ill and in pain. Rather than rush to the hospital, which I would have done in the past, I worked alone with myself all night trying to release the old identity that worshiped and relied primarily upon Western medicine. In the morning, it was obvious to my friends I was quite ill. After a few hours, I asked them to take a walk in the snow and to leave me alone with the fire and my spirits. This vision unfolded:
I am in the anteroom of a cave up in the high desert—a place very familiar to me. An old, old woman spirit lives here. I met her in 1995 when I was despairing in the aftermath of dealing with a violent childhood very publicly. She brought profound healing over many months and has stayed nearby all this time. I consider her a teacher. She is sitting on the earth before her fire—a pit in the floor of the cave—doing what she always does—throwing stones and bones divining for where the rents in the world are so she can mend them. I can see her from an anteroom where I am lying on a slab of stone. I am in a hospital gown and an IV is in my right arm. A Mountain Lion stands next to the earth bed I am lying on.
The cave is lit as if a fire is burning in this anteroom though I do not see it—the walls are illuminated warmly. I know those gathered here in the cave are from the Village. Lawrie is doing a bird dance—her arms flapping gracefully in full arcs. She appears in trance. Cheryl is sitting on the cave floor at the threshold between the old, old woman spirit’s part of the cave and where I am on the earth bed. She is smoking a sacred pipe. No one is talking in this vision. Everything is just unfolding and I watch. Tobi plays a drum she sings into and it whispers back. Marc blows a shofar. Muz is hitting a huge drum he holds and beats in rhythmic response to something he hears or feels. Karen is playing her buffalo drum. Another woman, Adriana, faces the main room of the cave and is in a profound trance, fiercely focused and intent. There are others in the far corner of this room though I cannot see who they are or what they are doing but they are at work. Deena Metzger, mentor and colleague, sits in the main part of the cave alongside of the old woman spirit by her sacred fire. They are divining and discussing what they are reading from their stones and bones.
The door to the cottage opens with my friends’ return and I hear a parting message out of the fire: “This will take some time.” I understand I am to be hospitalized and will have IV treatment. Yet the place of healing will be this cave where I am lying and where a Village is gathered doing healing activities they know and live. The two realities—the hospital and the Village gathered in the cave—are one in which this illness and how to meet it are being revealed to me.
We left for the hospital, where I was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
Snake. Bear. Drum. The Way Opens
It was all so sudden and so dire. I didn’t know the Way. Family had flown in from around the country to be with me for the surgery. Karen Mutter, my physician friend, returned to CT from Florida to stay with me during the hospitalization.
A woman from the gathering in CT dreamed of snakes coming up around a fire pit in the woods where I had just been before falling ill; the snakes in the dream were saying: “Do you trust us?” She believed the dream was a message. At the very moment this dream and its message were being conveyed over the phone from CT, a six-foot-long rattlesnake approached Deena’s office door in Topanga, CA and nudged at the doorknob as if seeking entry to her home. A video of this snake’s appearance was taken and sent to me.
A week prior to surgery to remove most of my pancreas along with my spleen, I had had a consultation with a homeopathic practitioner—a gift from a friend of thirty years—who wanted to help me find a path to deal with this illness. On the same day as the snake dream and the rattlesnake’s appearance at my mentor’s door, and without knowledge of these events, the practitioner emailed me to say, “I have meditated on your behalf asking what homeopathic remedy out of the 3900 possible remedies is needed at this moment—it is rattlesnake venom.”
The night before the surgery, Terri Kamihcetwayaksihk Opiway, offered to drum and sing Dakota sweat lodge songs of protection for me over the telephone. She sang traditional native songs sung in the Dakota Inipi ceremony—a sacred activity undertaken for the purpose of cleansing and clearing mind, body and spirit.
Terri told me that just before she entered her sacred space to sing and drum, a large bear showed up near her door. It was a good sign, she said. She did not know that two years before this diagnosis, when I was quite ill, another native woman taught me a Bear Dance she had learned in a dream from her Ancestors when she sought their guidance on behalf of my healing. They told her to teach me the Bear dance and have me do it with the community gathered. In preparation, I slept for an hour under a Bear skin then woke to these words: “Perform a system reset. That is what will take place tonight.” In a lodge on the land of the Village Sanctuary in Topanga, amid medical and medicine people and spirits, I wore a Bear skin and did the dance I had been taught.
The morning following Terri’s offering, I was taken into the pre-op area, where I was given a paper hospital gown with a large animal paw print resting over my heart. Beneath it were these words: “Bear Paw.”
Microbe Hunter Girl
I had spent a lifetime pursuing microbes in one way or another—as a microbiologist, science teacher, researcher, in short, a worshiper of Western medicine and its ways of knowing and acting. This old identity took shape when I was ten years old as I read and re-read The Microbe Hunters (de Kruif). After this immersion I asked for a microscope for Christmas. What followed were countless hours spent peering through the microscope examining spider’s legs, dust, my own blood.
The Microbe Hunters “is a tale of the bold and persistent and curious explorers and fighters of death…some of them who were too bold have died—done to death (emphasis added) by the immensely small assassins they were studying [microbes]…” (3). These little beings, herein labeled assassins, were discovered by microbe hunters such as Pasteur, van Leeuwenhoek, Lister, Koch, Walter Reed. Koch, deemed a hero by many scientists of his era, later “proved that microbes are our most deadly enemies…he trapped the microbes that murder animals and men with anthrax, and cholera and tuberculosis…” (263-4). These men’s thinking and activities deeply influenced me. I learned to think, as the microbe hunters did, that killing the microbes and eradicating disease in this way was a healing activity.
Microbes are not “our most deadly enemies” but allies essential to our very existence. The energy (ATP) that enables us to metabolize, breathe, and live is dependent upon primitive bacteria that joined up with our cells eons ago in a cooperative relationship. We kill microbes unilaterally at our own peril; now we have superbugs that are resistant to most antibiotics— generated in hospitals, places where healing should be taking place. We have gotten ourselves (and the microbes) backed up against a wall through our war against these “assassins.” Throughout childhood and across my lifespan I pursued cures for countless respiratory and gastrointestinal ills, all of them involving antibiotics. A fair estimate of how many of these antibiotics I used would be in the hundreds of rounds over five decades. I don’t know how many billions of microbes I eradicated because I could and because I saw them as the source or root of my illnesses, as did many of the physicians who treated me over the years. It is not surprising that I am now allergic or resistant to most frontline and even second line antibiotics. It has taken me a long time to come to a change of mind regarding my belief in pursuing microbes in the way the microbe hunters did, and the way I further learned while earning degrees in chemistry and biology and working in many hospitals as a medical technologist. Pursuing master’s and doctoral work in my forties, focusing on uses, misuses and abuses of power in educational systems, still did not awaken in me any wariness concerning the particular orientation of mind lauded in The Microbe Hunters. I now understand that capricious, relentless and unexamined assault on microbes does not constitute a healing activity and comes with great cost to life itself—mine, the microbes’ and the planet’s.
Mountains and Mind
As a kid growing up in Colorado, I loved the mountains. Pikes Peak most of the time was snow-covered, often blazing in the pinks and golds and fiery reds of sunrise and sunset and frequently shrouded in ominous blue-black thunderheads. This mountain held me, kept me, comforted me when the darkened rooms of childhood threatened to swallow me into an unending cycle of child abuse and domestic violence at the hands of an FBI agent father. It was, for me, a compass, a companion, a sentinel—one far more trustworthy than the human beings charged with raising or educating me.
Years later, on a return visit home to Colorado, I saw long, red gouges dug deep into the mountainside beneath Pikes Peak and across the foothills of the Front Range—evidence of strip-mining. It was like seeing the scars of rape in plain view. It was a first awakening for me to the ravages of exploitation, for human purposes I did not know then, would not know for decades, that I, too, carried within me a mostly unexamined allegiance to entitlement and domination.
The Return: Mountain Lion and Microbes
At that gathering in the woods in Connecticut in April of 2016, before my diagnosis of pancreatic cancer and having made the commitment to “sacrifice an old identity,” the group entered a quiet state of visioning together, listening and looking for guidance separate from our own minds. I closed my eyes and listened to the drum. Immediately, the Mountain Lion I saw that night in 2012 picked me up at The Guardian Tree. He took me down a path past the oak grove into Topanga State Park. I was taken through an “aperture,” some sort of lens, and was shown a phosphorescent green landscape with a few tumbling little creatures I recognized as microbes. Further down the path I encountered a vast, phosphorescent blue-purple landscape with the same situation—devastation. Many dead microbes littered these landscapes and a rare living one remained tumbling with life. I was stunned and deeply disturbed. The microbes were revealing themselves, for which I was humbled and grateful, and their state of affairs was one of almost total annihilation. Where were these landscapes? In me? On the planet somewhere? Both?
For years I had tried to make peace with the microbes that were wreaking havoc in my gut—so many episodes of bowel infections from microbial imbalances, so many rounds of antibiotics, so many hospitalizations and finally a surgery to remove a large section of my colon. I hoped one day to somehow make amends to the microbes and become an ally. I tried to approach the microbes in vision from 2010 through 2015, but was never given an audience with them. I understood that perhaps being barred was a lifelong consequence of the havoc and destruction I had participated in personally and professionally.
When I received the cancer diagnosis a couple of days following this vision, I immediately concluded that the first devastated landscape I saw was in me, in my pancreas. A year later, after treatment for the cancer, I discovered that there is a direct relationship between a disrupted gut microbiome — which years of antibiotics can certainly cause — and pancreatic cancer. This intuitive understanding was one of those communications (signs, omens, warnings, magic) that I was learning to take seriously and live by.
All My Relations
I have come to understand that there is no separation between me and other beings, the earth, the cosmos, that we are all interdependent. I am indebted to indigenous peoples for this understanding, many of whose worldview is rooted in “All My Relations”. In June of 2017, six months following my last chemo treatment, I was in the Greenwich Hospital Infusion Center receiving an I.V. infusion of magnesium as my kidneys had been injured by one of the chemotherapy agents. A Healing Touch Volunteer approached me to ask if I would like Healing Touch. I happily accepted. She put her hands beneath my left rib cage, right where my pancreas and tumor had been. As her hands alighted there, the words Great Barrier Reef dropped into my consciousness and then: I wonder if the Great Barrier Reef is in trouble? I did not know anything about the Great Barrier Reef —only the term was familiar. When the session was over I learned the healer did not know my diagnosis—her intuition had guided her hands. When I got home and researched Great Barrier Reef, I learned it is the largest living being on the planet and is located off the coast of Australia. It is 1400 miles in length, can be seen from outer space, and yes, it is in deep trouble due to rising ocean temperatures caused by global warming and increasing levels of CO2 from the burning of fossil fuels that creates ocean acidification.
In 2016, the year I was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, the GBR suffered a massive bleaching event in which thirty percent of the corals died. A second bleaching event took place in 2017 and wiped out another twenty percent of the corals. Bleaching is directly related to microorganisms the corals are symbiotically dependent upon for their nourishment and protection. Acidification and higher ocean temperature alter the microbes. The corals read the chemical changes as dangerous to their life and they eject the microbes. As a result, the corals bleach and die. Because marine animals such as turtles, whales, dolphins, sharks, many fish species, some birds, and others spend up to thirty percent of their life cycle on the GBR, the implications of the fifty percent loss of coral in just two years for them and for ecosystem balance is catastrophic.
I saw the documentary Chasing Coral a few weeks after the Healing Touch experience. I almost lost my mind when the exact blue-purple devastated landscape of my vision from two years earlier appeared on the screen. The narrator explained: “This beautiful color is not natural to the corals. It only appears when the corals are in their death throes.” It was as if they were saying: Look at us. We are dying.
The Bedrock of Village
It is August 2018. Healing has been working my stubborn muscles of mind into clay for a very long time. What has the mind got to do with healing– or more accurately, my healing? And what am I healing from and toward? I am healing from pancreatic cancer, but what else? What else is there beneath or embedded within this illness that took me down to my tectonic plates? For what life was I healed to live?
My experience with illness has shown me that it was necessary to reach bedrock in order to heal. What do I now understand the bedrock of my healing to be? My understanding is still evolving but I do know that it has a great deal to do with returning to Village ways of knowing, living and acting—old, old ways.
Village is a consciousness, a call, and a sentinel in an increasingly violent and dissembling world. It is a place, an orientation and Way to live. This Village requires a new mind, one that works to restore right relationship with the natural world. Village itself may be being restored in the process.
When I read the literature on the dismal survival rate for pancreatic cancer when first diagnosed, I made an important decision to depart from my reliance on science. I chose to not know what the outcome would be for me. It was predicted by a surgeon that I would die in two months. I did not. I have survived because of the Village and Village Medicine. Many offered this Medicine—so many beings, spirits and visions, and people and land, and elementals.
It is predicted that the Great Barrier Reef will succumb completely and soon to the impact of climate change, but perhaps it will not. We don’t know the outcome and if we foreclose possibilities, as I might have done with my diagnosis/prognosis, we may also foreclose the potential for — and the enablement of — miracles and healing.
Opening to possibilities for me has meant paying attention to Raven, Bear, Rattlesnake, Fox, Mountain Lion, dreams and divination. It has also meant reading signs—both statistics from science and data from other regions of spirit and life. It has taken the absolute stillness that illness such as mine engenders for me to learn this language, this way of communicating, this old, old way. It has meant saying yes, I will sacrifice a beloved old identity on behalf of entering Village mind, which is rooted in Village ways. So far, the amends I am making to the microbes consists of saying yes on behalf of their survival and the survival of the Great Barrier Reef. I am listening for what else.
In the meantime, I am riding this river, this live current, this cascade of healing into the life I was born to live. I am being fired anew.
I am well thanks to: The Ancestors, especially my Alutiiq elder friend Cheryl Pott’s ancestors who taught her the Bear dance and allowed her to teach it to me in 2014, that I might heal; the spirits who came in dreams and visions to aid my healing; Mother Mary, dreams, divination, Mountain Lion, Bear, Rattlesnake, the one-hundred year old Acacia (the Guardian Tree) that lives in the Village Sanctuary in Topanga, California; maple, elm, birch and white pines that held me during the long days and nights of treatment in Connecticut; the moon; Red Fox who came in vision and in the flesh to bring me to an unexpected understanding—you will endure.
And, to the microbes and the archaebacteria (our most primitive ancestors); the rivers of my childhood; my husband and family who did not move from my side for two years; friends who traveled to sit with me during chemo treatments or to offer love and Council; buckets full of lilies from Patti that provided beauty and company; Bob, whom I have known since grade school and who offered unlimited support for in-home massage and a special chair so I could be comfortable when my body hurt terribly; the medical team at Greenwich Hospital; the woman from the Village who funded expensive alternative medical treatments we could not afford; an array of medicines and treatments—acupuncture, conventional chemotherapy, IV Vitamin C, plant medicines (mistletoe and cannabis), homeopathic remedies (rattlesnake venom, garden spider, dolphin milk), synthetic drugs and antibiotics; a lay monk in Thailand who offered nine months of daily chanting and phone calls; and Fire, the elemental that kept me so many nights and days when I was bone-chilled, afraid and terribly nauseated. To the Village Sanctuary where I found and continue to find refuge. To all who offered and continue to offer me Village Medicine—the land and natural world Herself, and to particular human beings—my friends from the Village, Karen Mutter, a physician and Lawrie Hartt, a spirit-medicine healer; my oncologist Dr. Barry Boyd for his skill and love of the natural world, which showed me he was a healer I could trust; and Deena Metzger, Village Medicine healer, mentor and friend, whose vision of a “Village Sanctuary on behalf of a viable future for all beings” has brought forth a consciousness that is seeding restoration of the planet, and all beings, myself included.
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About the Author
Sharon Rodgers Simone is a poet, writer, educator and activist. She helped establish a private, college-prep high school for disadvantaged youth in Detroit, taught and pioneered program development in institutions of higher learning, including a first- in-the-country Master’s in Social Justice program in Detroit, and worked professionally for many years as a chemist and medical technologist. In 1990, Sharon sued her father, a retired FBI agent and nationally recognized child abuse expert in Denver District Court, for child abuse. With former Congresswoman Pat Schroeder, Sharon is responsible for getting The Child Abuse Accountability Act passed in Washington, D.C. Now federal pensions can be garnished for child abuse judgments. Sharon garnered recognition as a national advocate and spokesperson on behalf of victims of child sexual abuse and domestic violence. Her vision and emphasis on community-based transformation of these inequitable structures and relations resulted in path-breaking national programming and training for judges, attorneys, psychologists, pediatricians, child protection experts and social workers as well as laypeople dedicated to social change toward a more just society.
Sharon has turned her attention to the endangered planet and is writing and speaking about healing that is now focused on the abuses of power, conscious and unconsciousness that are threatening the Earth, thousands of species and in the end the survival of human beings—particularly the generations to come who will be left with a polluted, ravaged biosphere. What she learned through her journey out of child abuse, has given her insight into the capacity and proclivity of people, herself included, to not look, not see how self-focused, human-centric attitudes toward peoples and creatures, especially particular mountains and rivers she loves and the Great Barrier Reef and its impending demise is a parallel process to one she knows well—abusing power for one’s own gratification. In opening oneself to healing from such a devastation as child abuse and recently pancreatic cancer and receiving gifts of healing and liberation from the grips of these comes with a responsibility to see and know and act wherever one is called, to bring healing.