Our Ceremonial Weekend


I know, I know… a beautiful Blue Racer may not be the most ideal marketing tool, considering the aversion so many — too many — folks feel when a snakes suddenly reveals its secret presence. But this scaly beast’s fluid movement had mankind recognizing the creative life force and fertility as well as duality symbolized by serpents from The Beginning . Associated with some of the oldest rituals known, snakes shed their skin, becoming entirely new creatures, making them potent figures of rebirth, transformation, immortality and Healing. “Sometimes snakes can’t slough. They can’t burst their old skin,” the writer DH Lawrence reminds us. “Then they go sick and die inside the old skin, and nobody ever sees The New Pattern. It needs a real, desperate recklessness to burst your old skin at last. You simply don’t care what happens to you. If you rip yourself in two, so long as you Get Out.” Sure there’s work to be done, trudging and sloughing and even bursting involved, but the result is a renewal, of mind, body, and Spirit, and advancement from the stagnant past into the new energetic and vital.

That’s the work that went on here this weekend during our monthly Ceremonial gathering. I’ve told so many of these weekend success stories from my own perspective, I thought I’d leave this one up to the people. “Last evening was Fantastic,” wrote Wild Heart Guide J. Scott Campbell. “Love the power of the energy that gets going at Higher Haven.” Scott is truly a Force of Nature and you’ll have to come out and discover what his Forest Therapy Walks — inspired by the Japanese practice of Shinrin-yoku, or "Forest Bathing”— are all about. I’ll close with Mindy’s takeaway, a new community member who experienced her first visit here. We’ll be doing it again next month, along with our Medicinal Herb Walk Weekend, Summer Wednesday Meditation class, and other happenings into the late Summer and early Fall. Toksha, Until then.

"The Higher Haven Retreat Center is a truly wonderful and majestic place. The property is breathtaking and the retreat house has one feeling instantly at ease. Paul is an incredibly gracious host and a joy to converse with. Upon arrival and getting settled in, Higher Haven immediately felt like a home away from home. The overnight retreat culminated in an ancient Ceremony that led to an overwhelming feeling of release and being born anew. It felt like everyone in attendance had all bonded and become a little community. The celebratory feast after was fresh, healthy, and delicious, as was the food provided throughout the entire retreat. My experience at Higher Haven was one on I look back upon fondly. It truly is a place above all others. I want to thank Paul for facilitating such a healing experience, and look forward to returning!" – M.R. 

More On Grief, Loss and Love

My Brother Mark and The Big Dog Bentley share a moment of repose during a 2018 summer visit.

My Brother Mark and The Big Dog Bentley share a moment of repose during a 2018 summer visit.

As if our hearts weren’t heavy enough, our cold, Spring season of loss actually began months before the loss of my brother Mark. Way back mid-Winter, just after my January travels, we suffered the tragic death of The Big Dog. Being 105 lbs. plus, a Gentle Giant like Bentley, with his big Butterscotch Butt and fragile hips, lead to an incident prompting his peaceful departure on a frigid February morning. February ended up being one of the coldest, wettest and sunless months in Midwest recorded history, which is exactly how it felt, down to the bone. As to an appropriate dirge for B., aka Sweet Boy, aka CodeBentley, aka Tuff Stuff, the slightly edited version of Bruce Springsteen’s Terry Song will always be Bentley’s song, God rest his sweet, unconditionally loving canine soul. I’m finally on the hunt for a Dog as it’s long, long overdue, so watch for a Higher Haven Mascot as in Hungarian Vizsla (?), Black Lab(?), Golden Retriever(?), Italian Mastiff(?) Husky(?), Wolf(??) pup joining our ranks sometime soon. And we’re back On with a regular monthly overnight, an extended June Solstice weekend retreat, a July Summer Herbal Immersive and September Women’s retreat with some additional offerings to help turn the next few months into a summer of Hope and Healing. 

“They say you can’t take it with you, but I think that they’re wrong
Cause all I know is I woke up this morning and something Big was gone…
Gone into that dark ether where you’re still young and hard and cold
Just like when they built you Brother, they broke the mold
Now your death is upon us and we’ll return your ashes to the earth
And I know you’ll take comfort in knowing you’ve been roundly blessed and cursed
But Love Is A Power Greater Than Death just like the songs and stories told
And when she built you brother, she broke the mold
That attitude is a Power Greater Than Death just like the songs and stories told
And when they built you Brothers… “

On Grief, Loss and Love


Say Hi to Eli aka Elias Robertson Tootalian aka Mile High Eli, Denver resident and first born son to my nephew Nicholas and his wife Emily, and first grandson of Nick’s dad, my brother Mark Steven Tootalian. Mark passed into the world of the Spirit in the early morning hours of May 2nd, bringing to a close his courageous, two-year, three month battle with Pancreatic Cancer. Eli, born January 1, 2019, crossed paths in the material world with his Grandfather for just over four months, becoming the apple of his Papa’s blue eyes. The picture above - sent in a text April 18th - was my final communique with my brother.

The photo was the last in a long line of beaming mug shots, the first arriving Tuesday afternoon January 1st, soon after Eli himself. “Meet Elias aka Eli Tootalian” wrote Mark. I responded with excited Grandpa congrats, a mash of emoticons, and the long-distance doting was On. “Gimme an E”/Gimme an L”/”Gimme an I” I’d text intermittently, followed by “What’s it spell?” And then “Where’s Big Eli?”, soon answered with the latest photo of Eli looking adorably angelic. “He reminds me of the infant Superman Kal-El on Krypton before Marlon Brando sent him to earth” I commented on a photo of a month-old Eli glowing otherworldly white. Back would come a GIF of a spinning Superman S, and then another of a soaring Super Boy, proclaiming, “I am here to save you.” Eli in the Bumbo Seat. Eli in his Magic Sleep Suit. Eli watching MSU in the Final Four, sporting green and white. Eli dancing, Eli sporting dinosaurs, Eli looking “Full and Alert. A Good boy” per his Papa’s comments. “Eli The Healer” Mark dubbed him a few months back. “On so many levels.”

I happily convey all this here because my brother and I had our differences in life, the distance between us only increasing at the onset of his illness — at least initially. Communication was strained, that is or was until all twenty-four inches of Eli The Healer closed the gap. Reading highlights off my phone to my sister Debbie, she responded, ”It sounds like you guys totally reconciled.” The latter half of April proved difficult for our entire family; with Mark’s health turning, we gathered at Easter, enjoying several rounds of Tootalian-style Jeopardy competition, the version where you out shout your relative as well as Alex Trebek, and then ask: “Wait, what was the answer?” Family activity being good for us all, the last few weeks were spent around Mark’s home in Orchard Lake, Eli going from wonder boy in short, texted videos to showing up in (perfectly pink) flesh and (Tootalian) blood, a blessing and reminder of life’s endless cycle.

Mark was honored in a Catholic Mass moved by The Holy Spirit at The Shrine Chapel at Orchard Lake Schools. His Bible was discussed, filled with hand-written notes and excerpts of passages from Thoreaus’s Walden, his favorite. “We must learn to reawaken,” read the cut and pasted pieces, “And keep ourselves awake.” Days later Team Tootalian took on our first Purple Stride in Detroit, the walk to end pancreatic cancer, with every member sporting #51 in honor of Mark’s standout high school football career and his well-known admiration for 1970’s Chicago Bear’s linebacker Dick Butkus. We raised over $32,000 in the mere days between my brother’s passing and the race, with our almost 90-year old Mom Louise rolling the 5K course. We’ll be there next year as well as in the years to come, punking it out proper with purple wigs and track suits, honoring our Husband Father Papa Son Brother Friend Mark T. Forever.

Shots and commentary on Eli’s beaming mug weren’t the only missives Mark and I exchanged. A video of the Crosby Stills and Nash concert he attended came through on March 21st. I’d forgotten I’d shared this old story with him, my favorite memory of Mark launching into Find The Cost of Freedom as he buried my pet parakeet. “Watch at 1:08”, he wrote, when they stopped harmonizing and ripped into Ohio. “That’s Amazing”! I responded. Did I share that story with you!?” So at the same time we hooked it up, therein also is my one regret regarding my brother - that I didn’t know they’d be passing a mic at the post-mass luncheon and didn’t get to tell that tale, of him and his chain-link wallet, back pocket bandana and denim, jean jacket tuxedo of a 70’s teen, singing the great memoriam of America’s Civil War fallen to my dead bird. But that’s alright, because we’ll be telling Mark stories for the rest of our lives. He will be dearly missed.

Find the cost of freedom, buried in the ground
Mother earth will swallow you, lay your body down
Find the cost of freedom, buried in the ground
Mother earth will swallow you, lay your body down