When somebody tells longtime meditation teacher Clifford Carter that they’re terrible at meditation, he locates the “land mine,” as he likes to call it, that’s holding them back and neutralizes it.
“If you’re breathing, you can meditate,” says the founder of Inner Warrior Spirit, a nonprofit that focuses on teaching meditation, including in the Colorado prison system. “People believe they have to meditate for a certain amount of time or in a certain place. You can drive down the road and focus on the breath. The whole purpose of meditation is to calm the nervous system and slow the mind so you can see clearly what’s happening inside and why, and is it important, and is it serving you.”
Carter, a Cañon City resident, will be one of about 20 vendors at this year’s Pikes Peak Herb Fest presented by the Essential Wellness Society. The free event is April 10 at Westside Community Center and features herbalists, Rick’s Garden Center, Pikes Peak Mycological Society (mushrooms), a lactation consultant, a chiropractor, essential oils and other holistic modalities. Plants and homemade products will be available for purchase, and there’ll be educational presentations, a free daylong seed and garden swap, an outdoor kids’ space, live music, door prizes and food trucks.
“It’s herbalists coming together and educating the community that there are alternative options or complementary methods,” says Sarah Grant, master herbalist and Essential Wellness Society founder. “I wanted to teach about herbs, that you can grow and enjoy and use them in the kitchen or garden or medicinally. Incorporating herbs into your life is very beneficial.”
About 400 to 600 people attend the annual festival. Masks and distancing will be in effect for this year’s event.
Carter founded his nonprofit five years ago due to the trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder he experienced after enlisting in the U.S. Navy in 1980. In the ‘90s he learned how to meditate and found it was something he enjoyed. It led him to spend long chunks of time in Buddhist monasteries and even get ordained as a Buddhist monk at one point. He wound up in Broomfield, where he worked for 30 years at an aviation company as an upholsterer. The job was physically rigorous and eventually he needed surgeries on his hands that left him unable to work.
That forced stillness brought up a lot for him as he sat at home, unable to do much and wondering if he’d be able to ever work again. He’d been in treatment for PTSD through the Veterans Administration since 2009, but with so much extra time to stew on his life and his past, the trauma he’d stuffed down in the ‘80s pushed its way to the surface. It was one of the darkest times of his life, he says.
“I had to do something that would force me into a purpose and some value. In the military we are part of something bigger than ourselves and we have purpose. When you get out of the military, that all goes away,” says Carter. “When I got out of treatment I said I need to do something. What do I know? I knew meditation.”
He felt an urge to bring that knowledge into the prison system, and was able to teach meditation at the Denver Women’s Correctional Facility and prisons in Cañon City until the pandemic ground his work to a halt. He hopes to begin again soon.
He believes the most important thing to get across to people is teaching them how to let go.
“The quicker we can let go, the faster we are going to feel OK,” he says. “The only reason we hold onto things is because past experience has taught us this is bad or this is good. I teach the way through meditation and breathwork is to connect with sensations and accept them as they come and let go.”
During Herb Fest, Carter will offer a free meditation at 12:30 p.m. Throughout the day, if space permits, he’ll also work one-on-one with people who want to learn to meditate or brush up on their practice. He’ll also have homemade meditation cushions and other accessories available for purchase.
“A lot of people will say I can’t meditate because my mind is too active,” he says. “I have ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) and I’ve sat for five and a half hours. The obstacle is past experiences. We believe we can’t do something because we were told we can’t do something, or we did it and were told we weren’t doing it correctly.”
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