Journal Archive


At times, surrounded by all we possess in the world,

(or for some, the deep lack of possessions)

we may come to feel alone.


But how can it be so?

For at every moment

we belong.


We belong

to the sweetgrass and the mice

and they belong to us;


We belong to the blue of the robin’s egg

and to the cloak of mountain shadows,


And they to us;


We belong

to the stones– the bones of the earth

beneath our feet,


And they to us;


We belong to the hypnotic song a

wood thrush offers from behind the

veil of twilight,


And to the Lynx, the Salmon

and the Little Black Ant,


And they to us;


We belong to the Earth and Sky,

and to our vast human family


And they belong to us.


That we are alone is but an illusion of separateness,

for each breath that we take

is shared with the Earth and with all things–

We are never truly alone.


Life and love are inherently about

belonging, not possessing.


                        – Michael Gambino

                           May 17, 1996



"Flow" © Michael Gambino 2011When I started this website nearly three years ago, I set out to share my experiences and observations on nature and spirituality in the course of living an ordinary life. I knew it would evolve into what it needed to be so long as I was willing to have my direction, my topics, and my choice of words guided by inner vision. 

I feel that there is a shift occurring in all areas of my life and so this will naturally influence my writing going forward.

As with most journey’s in life, we begin with certain expectations, destinations, and an initial purpose for taking the journey. At some point, if we are truly on a journey (and not simply “commuting” between childhood and old age), we may begin to feel that something is following us. We look over our shoulder, metaphorically speaking, to see what’s there. We may not see it, or know what to call such an intangible thing, but we sense its presence. In time, we come to realize that it is leading us, not following on our heels as we once thought. It is only later on that we may come to understand that what we thought was following, then leading us, is actually a great river of spiritual forces, and that we are eternally immersed in its infinite flow.

When we think we are in control of our lives, we often end up swimming against the spiritual currents in this great river, despite achieving many of our objectives in this material world. In my experience, this rigid desire for control causes much frustration and often develops into a battle to win against all odds. Sometimes I win sometimes I lose, but either way, it is a struggle. There are things that are worth fighting for of course, but fighting purely to acquire things, money, power, or fame is an empty pursuit. It is self-serving. When your work is guided by love and a purpose beyond self, these same acquisitions have a spiritual component and depth to them. Also, the way there is often made clear (albeit in small increments) and though it still takes work and a strong commitment, the struggle is diminished, and a sense of purpose is deepened.

Following one’s vision and life-path can be a challenge and a mystery most of the time. It is an ongoing adventure and a process of refinement. I recall an experience I had many years ago as part of my wilderness-based spiritual training that taught me much about the nature of following my vision.

It began when I waded into the shallows of a cold, gently flowing river. I blindfolded myself, preparing to float downstream backwards. Shivering violently, I sank into the water and tried to relax. Intense fear gripped my mind as I fought the chill and struggled to control where I was going. In this state of mind and being, I repeatedly slammed into submerged logs and got tangled in dense beds of aquatic vegetation. Fear of injury and drowning clouded my consciousness. After a surprisingly short time of this flailing struggle, I had exhausted myself and realized my mistake – fighting the water was futile. The solution was to stop trying to control where I was headed and just surrender to the flow of the river. Consciously relaxing my body and mind to become part of the water, I immediately noticed a sense of relief. A short while later, my perception of time and place shifted; there was no cold, no obstacle – and no river. That is to say, no separation between my personal consciousness and that of the universe. I had touched the spirit of the water, and for a long time it seemed that I soared through space past vivid constellations of planets, stars, and galaxies. I was completely at peace, with no effort or struggle or fear. A deeper understanding of my true nature unfolded in my mind, and with it arose a compelling desire to share what I have discovered about life, nature, and spirit with others.

It seemed like ages had gone by when, with some surprise, I felt my body gently wash ashore on a sandy beach at a bend in the river. This physical contact brought me back to earth. The comparative sensation of just how heavy and dense this physical dimension is was shocking. When I took off the blindfold, I looked back up river and marveled at the many obstacles I avoided by surrendering to the flow of the river. It carried me safely around submerged hazards, past thick mats of aquatic plants, and under areas of impenetrable, overhanging thickets. When I was blindfolded, I could not possibly see where I needed to go, yet nonetheless, I was expertly guided by the force of the current and my willingness to trust it.

In daily practice, this kind of surrender is an enormous challenge. Obstacles to our staying in the flow, of hearing and following the direction of spirit, litter the pathway, clog the senses, and threaten us one way or another at every turn. Now more than ever, I feel the deep need to strengthen my ability to trust the forces that guide me to truth and my right-place in life.


The Hero’s Wound

"Sacrifice" © Michael Gambino, 2005, Acrylic on canvasA constant theme in my life since childhood has been what I have come to know as the hero’s journey. Even before I knew there was such a thing, I felt its power influencing my life. As a child, I would sometimes role-play fictional characters from the 60’s and early 70’s television shows. I was often lost in space, or coping with the unpredictability of time-travel, or risking my life to save a fallen comrade in dramatic scenes from classic war movies. Firemen, policemen, the Apollo astronauts, Batman, and fighter pilots all fed my imagination and helped me explore the nature of valor, if only in my backyard. My G.I. Joe action figure was to me an adventurer, more so than a soldier. Alone in trackless jungles learning to survive giant snake attacks, poison arrows, and quicksand. He got beat up a lot, but kept getting back on his plastic feet.

As a freshman in high school, I was introduced to Tolkien's world of The Lord of the Rings.  It offered me a variety of role models at a time when I didn’t have any (but desperately needed) significant flesh-and-blood mentors or guides. The fictional characters guided me with their archetypal energies to have courage even as I suffered emotional and spiritual wounding and awakening. Archetypes and borrowed themes from ancient Scandinavian, Celtic, and European myths and folklore are living reservoirs of the wisdom of the ages. Their power continues to capture my imagination.

Throughout our lives we suffer injuries of all manner and size. Some injuries are physical, others are emotional or spiritual. Most heal quickly – our lessons learned, assimilated, and largely forgotten. Yet some of our wounds carry a hurt that does not pass so readily. They lie deeply embedded within our psyche, rising now and again from the ashes of our past. They speak to us, demand something from us. They are living shadows, fragments of our earlier selves and they carry a message. In the realm of myth and storytelling, some wounds are referred to as a hero’s wound, or a sacred wound. Despite their painful haunting years after the initial event, such wounds are considered a gift (though most of us, if we could, would refuse such a gift in the moment of its delivery). Whether we embrace them as such or not, sacred wounds are powerful forces that shape the path of our lives as we seek to heal them in some way, even as we put much energy into hiding such scars from the world. In other words, while they may feel like our the most fragile part of us, they are often what drives us forward in life.

A volcanic eruption shatters mountains. An earthquake alters the course of a river. This is the potential power of the such wounds – to alter our internal or spiritual landscape. They shake things up in a big way, and the challenge is to pick ourselves up and make our way across the new, unfamiliar landscape. More precisely, we have to try and understand the implications of the wound – the awakening, the newfound awareness and perspective we receive, moving forward to embrace life once more, in spite of any persistent grief. The hero cannot go back to what was, for the landscape has changed. The bridge has crumbled behind him, as it were.

The sacred wound is a gift of potential wisdom that is unwrapped layer by layer over the course of a lifetime. This kind of wound is essentially an opening or expansion of our spiritual consciousness. This wounding – an apparent weakness – can help us find our strength. We all have natural strengths and natural weaknesses. Our task, our choice, is to acknowledge both, improving what we can during our lives. Sacred wounds can ground us in our humanity, point to our spirituality, and keep us open to the immense power of compassion and intimacy in our lives.

With an addiction to competition in nearly every corner of our lives, weaknesses and vulnerabilities are seen as aspects to be crushed aggressively, or at least armored, and at worst, hidden away from even our own self-reflection. Weakness and vulnerability are broadly thought of as negative. While this can be true, it would be a very limited perspective. So, I would like to distinguish vulnerability from weakness. The word weakness connotes that it is the opposite of strength. As I see it, the conscious willingness to be vulnerable is an act of sacrifice. This is what it means to surrender. In this there is power. I believe that this kind of vulnerability is a great strength. Mohandas Gandhi comes to mind as a prime example of strength that lies in conscious vulnerability.

Vulnerability (from the Latin, vulnerare, meaning “to wound”) hints at there being a soft spot, a place where we are susceptible to the world – both its joy and suffering. In our lives we offer and ask for love in its many aspects and in many degrees. In doing so, we willingly face the hurt of rejection and fear for the chance to win love. This always requires courage, especially after being hurt the first time we lay ourselves bare and unguarded to others.

In myths and folktales, a hero’s vulnerability is often revealed by a dragon or some other monster, sorcerer, demon, or witch, or by clever, mischievous characters from the realm of Faerie. In many stories the hero is set upon during his or her journey and wounded, killed, or devoured by such agents. The wound is often times a sacred wound, even though death may result from it. Resurrection into a new life, a wiser aspect of the former self, usually follows in some manner and is a key element of stories and myths. Only by being (appropriately) vulnerable can the hero enter special realms, gain critical knowledge to the success of the quest, and grow true personal power. Myths are traditional stories created not simply to entertain, but to offer memorable examples of paths that can lead to wisdom or folly. We can learn from both types of stories.

In self-reflection we can ask ourselves, how have we risen from the ashes of annihilation as a wiser and stronger person? What new understanding and strength have we acquired in the renewal of our Self? These are a few of the questions we all ponder in our lives, though we may not do so consciously. Each of us has embarked on an heroic journey through life, and although myths and fairy tales may seem quaint or simply viewed as entertainment today, there is still value in their messages for us today. We all face adversity in life. How will we respond to it? Many times we have been reborn; layers of old notions and beliefs shredded, burned, or peeled away, bringing new wisdom to the next challenge we face on our journey.

When confronted in life with a personal dragon of darkness, there are several possible outcomes. We may be slain and devoured by it whereby we are forced to resurrect ourselves leaving behind the old Self. Alternatively, we may slay the dragon, absorbing the power of the beast, having conquered that which the dragon represents. A third possible outcome is that we see the truth about the dragon and befriend it, winning an important ally for our journey onward. This mythic challenge is personal, requiring wisdom to know which method is right for each dragon we face. To put this a different way, what shortcomings, addictions, or poor habits have you conquered in your life so far? Can you think of the ones that kicked your butt in the past? Can you identify the strengths and gifts you gained by grappling with them?

Make no mistake – each of us is indeed the hero of our unique and fantastic journey. The task for all heroes is to be brave, seek the elixir of life, and cease wasting time and energy trying to avoid the pain associated with growth. Heroes learn to embrace who they are – including their strengths and weaknesses. Sometimes, we heroes must lay down our swords, remove the layers of armor and step out into the unknown in order to claim the healing elixir of wisdom and return with it to share with others.


The Boy is Father to the Man

Journal Entry: 12-4-11, 11:48 PM

Sorting through my photo collection the other day, I came across a few that caught my attention. They were not exotic photos of plants or colorful insects, or breathtaking landscapes. They were photos of me, marking various intervals of my travel through time. I don’t have many photos of me, especially the first 40 years – long before digital cameras and iPhones became ubiquitous, so each image of me is part of a small, yet precious archive of a life in progress.

One photo in particular – a school portrait taken when I was ten years old – just grabbed me. There I am, in a moment preserved for posterity, wearing a green shirt I never liked and my hair plastered into a proper catholic school wave-form sculpted by that mysterious gray stiffening gel my mother rubbed into it each morning. What caught me as I was skimming through hundreds of photos in my library were the eyes. My eyes. I stopped and stared into them, and in doing so crossed through a kind of portal that had opened in them. I felt suddenly drawn into the room with my 10 year-old self as he waited for his picture to be taken. We sat silently for a while, staring across the decades at one another not in surprise, but with a kind of knowing that this meeting was a special gift. A chance to reconcile the events of an ordinary life with the dreams of youth.

I had thought of what I wanted to be when I grew up, but at age 10, I wasn’t really settled on any one thing. How much can a boy really see into his future at that age? How can one anticipate the twists and turns of a life? I had considered some professions with specific experiences I wanted to have: an Astronaut (to fly to the moon and look at the earth from the gray lunar landscape, listening to the profound silence there); an Explorer (specifically of the Amazon River, Australian Outback, and the jungles of Borneo); an Archaeologist (discovering some ancient temple lost in desert sands or dense jungle vegetation); and a priest (not for the religion, but to deeply understand the sacred mysteries and spiritual energies of life that I experienced as a young boy). They were not necessarily career goals, but were vitally important dreams to have. Hidden within the adventure of those dreams was a map for the journey of my spirit.

Studying the features on the face of my younger self, I recognized the subtle and important events hidden behind that half-way smile, the dreamy gaze, and unfurrowed brow. It was all there, written on that face… my joys and fears, my spiritual and emotional openings and subsequent wounds. My imagination was strong and elaborate, though my self-confidence was only modest back then. As I looked deeper into his eyes, I was overwhelmed with love and admiration for that brave little boy who traveled daily into the unknown, with his heart wide-open.

Silently, I thanked him for the wonderful gifts he gave to me. I hoped he was not disappointed with my simple achievements over the years. I confessed to him that I had not, in fact, gone to the moon, explored ancient ruins, or traveled much of anywhere in the 40 or so years since he dreamed those dreams. Smiling back at me across the expanse of time, I could hear him say in a sweetly gentle voice, “But you did have those experiences. It just looks a little different than I imagined.”


The Light and the Darkness

There is no darkness without light, nor can light exist without darkness. Such is the realm of duality, wherein we dwell. There is often great beauty born of this interplay between opposites. If light and dark are in conflict, it is only within our minds. In nature they, are in collaboration.

To choose only to see the darkness of our lives is to go mad; to choose only to see the light is to go blind. We are part of a universe of dualities, of opposites. We are flesh, and we are spirit. The path towards enlightenment challenges us to understand duality and not hold one thing as better than another, necessarily, but rather to hold the opposites as one. Our human consciousness and our physical survival is built upon recognizing, sorting, and acting upon the endless variations of duality. This is our physical nature.

In the wild, predator and prey are inextricably linked, each being no better or worse, not more admirable or despicable than the other. They are one organism. If we can see two opposites as a whole, as one, then it points the way to enlightenment. When we see the world around us in this manner, we find a way to step outside of the realm of duality if only for a moment, and touch our divine nature and the great mystery of which we are a part.

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