Everything seen and unseen is made up of vibrating energy and capable of communicating with everything else. This idea is central to the belief system known as animism—a word derived from the Latin word anima, meaning breath or soul.

Another term for animism, which may be more familiar to modern readers, is shamanism. Animistic beliefs are among the oldest human beliefs, most likely dating from the Stone Age. Similar ideas are still found in native cultures around the world. The basic tenet of animism is that everything has consciousness, both living creatures and the inanimate, including animals, trees, rocks, and water. Animism also embraces the idea that everything continually reincarnates in the physical dimension. According to animism, the spirit world and the material world are different aspects of a greater reality, existing simultaneously, and that everything is alive and sacred.

When I was about seven or eight years old, I could hear the grass, trees, and even rocks talking to me. The grass mostly expressed ambivalence about being walked on, and the trees said they loved it when the wind blew. Communicating with rocks was more of an energetic connection, as I held large pieces of rose quartz in my hands for hours and slept with a large box of them under my bed to absorb their emanations.

But as I grew older, without realizing it, I lost touch with this sensitivity. It was replaced by the harsh realities inherent in dealing with other humans and mundane activities such as holding down a job to pay the rent. Fortunately, when I began to meditate in my thirties, my sensitivity and spiritual receptivity started to come back. Now that I have more fully embraced the natural state of mediumship, I am grateful to find I have come full circle. Once again, I am able to experience all kinds of non-verbal communications.

A few years ago, while editing a book on shamanism, the various stones in my house—some of which I’ve held captive for many years—started calling out to me. I began to go through every closet and drawer, but most of all a special shelf where I had long kept objects of special significance. As I collected the stones and meditated on them, some of them told me they wanted to stay with me and help with my healing work. These I kept and later took to a creek for a re-energizing bath.

Some of the to-be-eliminated stones included the crystals given to me by my father after his death in 1998. Others were from my various trips to the Philippines, and also shells from the South China Sea. These will be especially difficult to part with because of my deep love for the Philippine islands, my spiritual home.

While packing up everything to take to the river and release, I remembered one drawer I had forgotten to check. To my surprise and dismay, I found my father’s bolo, a weapon made of three rocks tied together with leather straps. As I held these stones in my hand, an intense wave of sorrow came over me. It was the feeling of the trapped stones, who told me they never wanted to hurt anyone. They will be the first to be thrown into the river, and I will be especially relieved to liberate them.

The book I’d been reading also talked about ancestors, and I was horrified to realize that I had been holding captive some of my ancestors, too. So I took with me the remaining ashes of my parents and Mr. Fluffy (my cat who died), and a clipping of hair from the head of my former spiritual teacher Swami Muktanana. He died in 1982, so it seemed like it was time to liberate that part of him, too.

I headed for the Rogue River at Gold Hill in Southern Oregon, and when I exited the freeway I turned onto Upper River Road. I had never been on this road before, but I was looking for the right place to offer my treasures to the river. After about a quarter of a mile, I passed a bright yellow geodesic dome that stood out against the green of the forest and the other houses. But I kept driving, because how could I go up to some hippie’s house and say: “Would you mind if I liberated my deceased ancestors and rock collection on your property?”

I drove about another quarter of a mile and saw that it was all private property with no public access to the river, so I turned around and went back to the dome and parked the car on the road.

Almost immediately, a golden Labrador retriever and a man with two brown braids came up to greet me. As I began to tell him (cautiously) about why I wanted to access the river via his property, he said: “Oh, I understand. You want to liberate your stone people. But this isn’t the best place to do it. Let me show you. Just walk with me.”

He led me up the road with the dog (who stopped briefly to roll around in a dead otter). As we walked, the man told me he was Scotch-Irish and Cherokee Indian, and that he had lived most of his life with the Native Peoples in Oklahoma, but now he was living in Southern Oregon.

“This part of the river is where the Native Peoples came for centuries every spring to lay down their troubles and their differences. Together as one people, they threw their burdens into the river and they blessed the salmon. They didn’t even take one fish at that time, but let the fish continue swimming upstream to lay eggs, ensuring another season of fish for the people. Just two weeks ago, we held this same ceremony here on the river.”

He stopped at a wide spot in the road and led me to the edge of the riverbank. At this place, two parts of the river that had been separated by a small island came back together, causing fairly wild, white water rapids.

“This is where you should liberate your stone people, because from here the water will carry them down the river to freedom.”

We walked back to the dome in silence. Then, as we were about to part, he said with a somewhat serious and respectful tone in his voice, “Would you mind if I gave you a hug?”

“The Cherokees in Oklahoma don’t hug each other, especially the men,” he added. “So now I’m trying to learn how to hug people. Hold out your hand and I’ll show you how they greet each other.”

With this, he gave me a stiff handshake, and then we put our arms around each other and hugged. As I turned to go, the dog asked me to throw a stick for him to chase. Then I got in the car and drove back to the place where I intended to perform my ceremony. I felt incredibly blessed to have been brought by divine direction to meet this incredible man.

Back at the river, I began throwing the rocks into the river, saying things like “Go in peace.” They were no longer mine, nor had they ever been. Strangely, I felt no particular emotion, no sadness. It was as though I had already let go of them a very long time ago, and this was just the final act of release.

The house seems more peaceful, now that these old attachments are gone. It’s a time of clearing out what no longer serves me so I can focus more clearly on the love and service I have yet to give others.