Confronting the Poverty of Spirit: An Interview with Amanda Kerner


by Buffy Aakaash

Amanda has been an ardent supporter of the Blue Deer Center from its beginnings and is now President of Blue Deer. She served as one member of a three-person Executive Committee for ten years. Her primary area of responsibility has been that of stewarding the BDC relationship with our donor community.

I caught up with Amanda in her busy life, which she spends almost always playing the role of ambassador to the Blue Deer Center, confronting the “poverty of spirit” in her own inspirational way. Before I could ask any questions, she started in, in her humble way, asking me to explain myself…

Amanda: So with so many wonderful people out there…Why do you want to talk to little old me?! Why me, Buffy? [Laughter] What got into you?

Buffy: Well, Amanda, You’ve been there since the beginning.

So? Big deal!

That’s a big deal! [Laughter] And you’ve just done so much for the Center, and I think it’s important for people to hear from someone who is so dedicated. Because that’s what we need, right? People who want to dedicate their time to something meaningful.

Yes... The Blue Deer is doing work that so many people care for. Work that is urgent. That is important. That brings joy to our lives! We’re not trying to save the world from the hunger of the belly, but we are addressing another type of silent suffering. In the book [Plant Spirit Medicine], Eliot talks so beautifully about the "poverty of the Spirit," which we are not addressing. There’s one part in the book that is so powerful to me. – "No one is confronting the appalling and dangerous poverty of Spirit." You and I know what that is. We’ve felt it. We see it around our communities. Our friends have it. Our families are suffering from it. Our neighbors. It’s huge!

So in an effort to better confront this poverty, you recently helped start a book discussion group.

The FIRST book discussion group! The first seed! Just in case, I want to make sure you remember that! [Laughter.] In twenty years can you believe that we’ve never had a book study group for Plant Spirit Medicine? But now we have four.

Where did the idea come from?

I don’t know where the idea came from. Truly. It was just that I started reading the book. And the concepts were so big. The vision, the views of life and the message. I couldn’t absorb it in one sitting. By myself. In my own little mind.

So you invited people to your home.

So I started talking to a couple of friends and asked them if they were reading the book. And they said, "Yes!" Some of them were like, "Oh my God! I’m having really strong dreams about it!" And we were like, " Why don’t we get together?" So we set up a plan to do it for six months. Well, we’re in our seventh month, and we’ve only finished the introduction. [Laughter.] We’re moving like snails.

Why do you think that is?

You know why? Because it takes time to sit down and talk about the concepts that Eliot is putting forward. The idea of dreams being your true teachers. Relationship with the natural world. What is relationship with the natural world? The way ceremony works. Eliot is teaching us about "giving and receiving" and what that is, and how does it work. Take only what you need. Always give back. These are concepts that we have not lived by. At least I haven’t. And when we sit down to talk about them, they shatter our world. They’re like earthquakes. How do you recover from an earthquake easily? This book for me is not just about reading it and putting it away and saying, "Oh. That was nice." It’s about chewing it little by little and digesting it. And that’s why we’re only in the introduction. We thought it would be six months. We think now it will be for the rest of our lives! Who knows where our "book club" is going to end up? For now a few of us are planning to go to the “Wisdom of the Divine Natural World" program at the Blue Deer the introductive program to the Plant Spirit Medicine Class.

What drew you to the Blue Deer Center originally?

Oh God! Same old thing. Eliot Cowan. What else? Friendship with Eliot Cowan will always get you in trouble. [Laughter.] That’s it. The plants get in trouble. Everybody gets in trouble… Give me a break! [Laughter.] I was a friend of Eliot’s before he had the vision and the Blue Deer Center was founded. He was my healer. We started talking and I gave him a couple of my opinions, which I’m really shy about giving… obviously. [Laughter.] And he said, "Oh! You’re going to come and volunteer for the Blue Deer Center." That’s it. As simple as that. It was because I had a friend… who invited me to help him. And I couldn’t say no.

What is it about the mission of the Blue Deer Center that keeps you inspired?

For me, the Blue Deer Center is truly changing the world. One person at a time. And I’m not kidding when I say that, because if one person finds balance in their life, that person will change many other lives. If they come to Blue Deer and they receive the medicine of the ancient wisdom traditions, they cannot go home without at least a little bit – and I think more than a little bit – of balance in their life. As more and more people keep coming and participating in our programs, more of us start to remember our relationship with the natural world. Those forgotten companions, such as the plants, which many people come for, Plant Spirit Medicine, the fire, the river, the water. We are remembering. And as we remember, we heal. That’s just what happens. It’s all about relationship. I think that is the thing that we’ve lost in our daily lives, is good relationship. With everything. And with everyone. Our Center is uplifting the spirit of humans. Of you and me. And that’s huge! Because then we go home. We live a good life. A better life. And these are not easy times. If we can live a balanced life, and a better life, we’ve done great good for humanity….

So, this building of relationship forms a basis for all the other causes in the world…

I think so. We’re all talking about climate, right? And what that’s going to do. And we’re scared. We’re afraid because we’re seeing what’s happening in so many places. But what we are not talking about is how we relate to those [weather] beings. How do we learn to relate? And have a good relationship. Because we have really messed up those relationships. We don’t consider them worth having! And so I really believe that is what the Blue Deer Center is doing. You see it. When you talk to people after having spent some time at the Center, their hearts are singing! Their isolation is gone. Their courage to live is back. They go home and they live better lives. Not to say that it’s easy to break all the patterns; and there’s a lot of work to do! But they begin. It starts. It cracks us. All of us who go there. And so I think we want to care for this place, because we need this place.

You’re passionate…

I’m excited. I’m sure everybody knows I LOVE doing this work. Period. I wake up every day full of joy. It’s because I’ve had experiences that have changed me. This is important. This is necessary. Every time a friend or member of my family is in a difficult situation, that’s the first thing I offer them, go to the Blue Deer Center because I know that it works. The medicine of the ancient traditions works. And we’re lucky to have it here available today in the Catskills in New York at our Center.

Do you have anything else to say to those interested in the Blue Deer Center and its work?

The medicine of healing our wounded spirits is imperative. Eliot talks about that again and again in the book. And he demonstrates it all the time, with the work that he’s doing, as a teacher, as a healer and as the founder of the Center. This is a treasure that we have here. And I pray that with our commitment to the Blue Deer, we can continue to make a difference in many lives.

Thank you, Amanda!

Thank you, Buffy…

If anyone is inspired by the book, Plant Spirit Medicine, and would like to lead a discussion group in your area, please contact Buffy at buffyaakaash [at] bluedeer [dot] org (buffyaakaash [at] bluedeer [dot] org).