Tuesday, August 3, 2010

The Messages of the Desert: Thinking Outside the Bomb Day 1

"The Tradition tells us that we should believe the messages of the desert.  Everything we know was taught to us by the desert."  
-- Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist

I had no idea last week that I’d be in New Mexico this evening, but the fates decided otherwise.  And so here I am at the Think Outside the Bomb Encampment, on less than four hours of sleep, in a large tent made of tarps and alit by strings of Christmas tree lights and silver branches of lightening creating flashes of purple in the wide black sky, surrounded by activists of every age and persuasion who are living together and aligning heart and soul to do the work of healing this desert and her people. 

One of the most notable things about this group, aside from the general kindness and groundedness present here that sometimes evade activist communities, is the rainbow of skin colors.  There are natives here who’s families have lived near the Los Alamos labs for generations, young Latino water activists from Albuquerque who’s roots stem from Bolivia and Puerto Rico and Mexico, rosy-cheeked blonde dready hippies and silver-haired elders in baseball caps, an African-American fellow sporting a Lakers jersey, children with almond-shaped eyes and olive skin. 

Right now we’re talking about the legal ramifications of being arrested on Friday, which is the 65th anniversary of the day that the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, and what I’m learning is that this group is part of a long tradition of contentious protestors at the labs who have been brought here by that strange mix of faith, innocence, disenfranchisement, and grief that marks so many activists and visionaries.  Then we’ll talk about tomorrow’s actions, which include banner drops, conversations with government officials, and postering – the kind of things that will raise awareness of our presence and our mission, and perhaps even raise support, among the community that lives here – many of whom work at the labs.  While their livelihood is dependent on them, their children are being poisoned by uranium in the waters here and their lands are being destroyed by mining.  So, it’s a complicated issue.

I know that I should be listening, but I’m sleepy and it all feels like a dream – both my magical journey here and the magical place that I have found myself in.  It began with Scarecrow, my partner, who told me that our dear friends Lisa and Juniper were working with these people and how inspired and inspiring they are. No, actually that’s not right -- it began last year at the two-week retreat that I did with my mentor, Joanna Macy, who has worked in the anti-nuclear movement for decades.  “We need to make shrines of these nuclear sites, to tend them and care for them as places of great and terrible power,” she says.  “For even if they are closed today their destructive legacy will outlive us far beyond the lives of our grandchildren’s grandchildren.  They must be marked, and we must dedicate our lives to healing and transforming the earth around them – for the half-life of their waste alone is tens of thousands of years.” 

Tens of thousands of years.  Beyond imaging.

Earlier today, Juniper led a workshop on Magical Activism, where she led us through an experience of grounding in the midst of crowds and then connecting in with our spirit allies to hear messages for our work here in Los Alamos.  Since this whole trip has been a blur for me – knowing that I wanted to come here and work and learn from these people, feeling unable to pull it off and slightly unwilling to go without Scarecrow (who had to stay home and work), then having everything synchronistically fall into place as if the whole universe was indeed conspiring to make it happen – in all of that, I hadn’t had much of a chance to meditate on my purpose here and what I can bring to this place.  So I felt incredibly grateful to her for creating a time and space to tune in and listen to the tres, the earth, the downpouring rain. 

In my meditation, I had visions of the role of wisdom and prayer in these issues, both in our organizing and in the work of the lab.  I saw that uranium is a very powerful magical tool, one that we dabble with and tamper with without understanding it and without connecting into the wisdom of our deepest selves and our connection to the earth.  Afterwards, talking to a beautiful mohaked woman who happens to share my name, I learned that the native peoples of this land honored uranium as powerful medicine, and that they feel that using it as a fuel is an aberration of its true purpose.  Hearing her, I felt a kinship with this mysterious element for the first time – for how many of us feel like our true purpose is tampered with and our power co-opted, used as fuel for death and destruction that we know in our heart is wrong?  What could we learn from this powerful medicine, if we were able to start from a place of wisdom and prayer?

My sense of being in a dream is heightened by the extreme majesty of the landscape here – such sky! such sweet air! – and the beauty of the camp itself.  Seeds of Peace is here cooking; there is a healing center and designated sacred spaces and altars and permaculture gardens; an art space for making puppets; even the composting toilets are clean and unsmelly.  

I suppose I should come out of the dreamworld and start paying attention, though, because I do want to get up in the morning for the banner drop.  I’ve always wanted to do a banner drop, I must confess, although I’m afraid of heights.  So, we’ll see how it goes.  Scarecrow, community, everyone – I wish you were here.  Stay open, though – I didn’t think I’d be here until I almost was, and perhaps if you listen and look, you’ll find the way “synchronistically” opening up as well.  I’ll continue to hold it in my heart as a possibility if you do.

Introduction to Disarmament Summer Video

The Pagan Cluster's Very Own Lisa Fithian Talks Nukes and Other Niceties


  1. This is an incredibly beautiful post! What you said about uranium: I'm connecting it with something, which I'll tell you about later.

  2. Many thanks to Starhawk for alerting me to this post. Sounds like an amazing experience, with amazing people. I look forward to hearing more. Peace!

  3. laura holland belkAugust 5, 2010 at 9:33 AM

    Oh, Riyana, my heart is filled with so much gratitude and delight at being able to share this experience with you through your blog. Can't wait to read about the banner drop! Hope you still make it to Witchlets!

  4. I'm grateful to be alerted to your blog via Starhawk's post on FB. You are doing great work for something that continues to touch so many people. My family lives in MT now but lost their NM ranch in the 40's as it was taken under imminent domain to be used for nuclear missile testing. Many of them have long since passed away but I know they would be moved by your efforts.

  5. This is a very beautiful piece. What you have said about Native American responses to our abuse of uranium is englightening. Thank you. I wanted to be at Think Outside the Bomb, but it wasn't mean to be I would love to hear more about what happened and what you learned.