In Time With the Deluge

Nearly twenty years ago, I began writing my second book Standing Stark: The Willingness to Engage. It was a time of exhilarating change and deep insights for me, rampant with significant leaps of faith, without any visible safety net, that brought me to where I am today.  I was presented with another fork in the road as there had been others along the way. Who knows where I’d be if I’d remained on the beaten path? While those personal choices dismantled much of my old foundation, they were proactive in constituting another, likely waiting for the right time to emerge.

Here we are now, as a Collective, with something so major thrust upon us, something so new that little can be predicted, safety net unknown or when it may settle down. It’s torn apart our systemic status quo and exposed what was kept under wraps. Upheaval. The measure of response at both an individual and macro level will necessarily bring revolution and evolution, or (my belief) we wouldn’t have been presented with it. Its time was past due.

I’ve had plenty of time to muse about things over these months in ways I wouldn’t have had before, being so much on the move. Being still has always worked its magic on me.

With that, I began to consider the words that came through me all those years ago. They flowed out of me to become the prologue, setting the stage for Standing Stark. Presently, we are in the time of monsoons, the same period I wrote then, with barely a drop of relief, hoping for the rains to come. Yet they’ll come in their own time or not at all. We have no control over the movements of nature. But, as with any time, we do have control over our own responses and sensibilities.

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We have heavy rains in Arizona. They normally start in July and go through August. We call the rains monsoons, which may be hard to imagine for those who have not yet experienced the rhythms of the high desert. Sometimes, though, we have a drought year and the rains start later. The tall pines become over-thirsty, beyond being parched. In those times, all of us develop expectancy — trees, plants, animals and humans alike. We are all in it together after all.

But invariably the monsoons come, often with violent storms. Jagged lightning dazzles the sky and thunder cracks so loudly it can bring us up sharply if we’re not attuned. In a primal way, we are all more susceptible during periods of scarcity.

Wandering in the forest later, we can see the aftermath. In a sea of towering ponderosas, or their kin, there are those who stand apart. Not frequently, but infrequently, there will be those who are now shed of their needles, their skins laid open by the snaking of a lightning strike. Standing stark, they appear to be dead. They aren’t. When I go and put my forehead against their trunks, I feel the elemental filaments that have startled another kind of consciousness within them. Still dwelling in their habitat, they are even more alive than before. They draw our attention — our fascination.

The fire that discharged their coverings often may move to some of the surrounding brush and trees, those in close proximity. Sometimes it may travel from a tree to ignite nearly the entire forest. But before that could happen it was first necessary for that tree to be burned of its own covering before the fire that began with that One could affect its brethren…

The lightning strike oftentimes comes suddenly, a bolt unexpected. But there may well be a stirring before the charge and those who have grown the tallest stand most ready to receive…

In order to be ready, we do for ourselves what we know to do as best we can. Yet, there must be no striving. The striving of the material world has no place in this transmission. We need only send our willingness up as a prayer and merely stand waiting. This is for those souls who hold themselves available — to be struck.

— In the time of monsoons

For a few years, prior to a huge personal fork in the road in 1992, I worked as an internal consultant for the US government. (Those who know me find my long stint in civil service hard to believe. Now, so do I.) I was one of several in my small office trained to seed organizational development by focusing on leadership strategies, team building, conflict resolution and the like. The approach most meaningful to me was a holistic one. With intact work teams, we used the Meyer-Briggs Type Indicator or experiential activities that pointed to similar outcomes: the varied styles and capabilities of each individual made a stronger, more creative team. Everyone brings something to the table to contribute. Most of the time, I felt like I was banging my head against a stone wall. It was a challenge to get most of those managers to think beyond protecting their own turf and short-term thinking.

When that happened, we had another trick to pull out of our back pockets: WIIFM (pronounced whiff-um). When wanting them to consider a more holistic, visionary style, we’d guide them to consider, what’s in it for me? Back then I was fresh-faced and hopeful. Now, I see asking that question likely served to entrench rigid individualism rather than open a pathway toward higher values on Maslow’s pyramid and farseeing. It wasn’t long before all came to a head for me. I simply couldn’t do it anymore and cut those ties.

A friend recently said, we’ll all find something to justify our beliefs and actions. Of course, we do. That’s true no matter where you fall in the current deluge that assaults our moral compass or however else you make decisions.

Shortly after leaving disillusionment behind, I was first introduced to traditional Indigenous ways: seventh generation decision-making, sacred reciprocity and actions intent on the well-being of the planet and all beings. This is the world where I choose to dwell, one whose time is long overdue and endangered. In practicing stillness, these are some of the memories and metaphors that have guided my considerations over the last months.

Categories: Contemplative Life, COVID-19, Global Consciousness, Indigenous Wisdom, Sacred Reciprocity | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Make Friends With Whatever Arises

Last week, I had a landscaper deliver and spread much on the few garden beds I have. He’d been out to my place before and is dependable. It’s been a trial over the last several years, finding plants that the wildlife in this outback won’t eat and that can tolerate drought conditions.

It’s certainly been a trial this year in so many ways. Even the flowering plants have largely hidden their color, choosing instead to retain their blooms, leaves frequently curled inward to protect themselves against the raging hot winds.

At dusk, I wandered out to admire what the workers had accomplished. When I rounded the slope alongside my long dirt driveway, I stopped short. I felt a pang in my heart and nearly burst into tears.

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Seeking solitude, I moved to this particular spot nearly 20 years ago because I would have a clear view of the San Francisco Peaks nearly 90 miles to the north. They were precious to me, precious to the Indigenous peoples of Northern Arizona.

When I walked this land back then and noticed small mounds dotting the hillside with waxy leaves on branching stems holding quarter-size violet flowers, it cinched my choice. For me, seeing these brilliant points—each flower only lasting for a day—in this sunburned, high desert landscape has been a kiss of beauty I’ve come to cherish. My love affair with these wild four o’clocks, that I’ve never seen elsewhere, has endured.

A few years ago, several of them started volunteering in the lower bed containing only a large juniper and a few shrubs native here, cliff-rose and Apache plume. The four o’clocks made their home around the juniper where little else would grow. I felt blessed and never failed to glance their way when driving down the hill, looking forward to the day they would completely cover the ground.

But now, the four o’clocks were gone.

At first, I thought I was seeing—or not seeing—things. But then I spotted a pile of wilted leaves and branching stems laying on the wild side of my driveway. They held their beauty close to the vest this year, few of the flowers making any appearance whatsoever.

When I showed my landscaper the next day, he said he felt so bad. I could see he did, having mistaken them for weeds. We searched for some to take their place. Most elsewhere had died back in the heat and lack of water, but we finally found a few. I don’t think the transplants are going to take. I’ve been encouraging them in my daily visits but don’t hold out much hope.

A couple of days later, I began to think about my response to the situation, the visceral sadness, the barely held in tears. I knew something was going on with me well beneath the surface.

A few days later, a friend and I were catching up with each other, a rare opportunity for me to be in the physical (safe distancing) presence of another person, these being pandemic days.

We’d just co-facilitated a meeting via videoconferencing in accordance with safety guidelines. She asked me how I’d been faring, and I told her I was personally fine. But I was so concerned about the Indigenous communities I work with. My nonprofit had been fundraising to provide emergency relief for the Hopi and Q’ero villages who had reached out for help—and the fact that I just didn’t have the means to extend assistance to all.

I knew all were suffering in a variety of ways, from isolation to lack of medical care and protective supplies to food insecurities. I was aware that some of the Maya people I work with are also in a bad way. Across the board, there is serious loss of livelihood for any Indigenous community or business dependent on tourism.

A memory surfaced, and I began to tell her of the experience.

“In 2006, my friend Will and I were traveling in Guatemala. There had been some kind of natural disaster, a hurricane or earthquake causing mudslides and washed-out roads. It was impossible to get to Lake Atitlán or surrounding villages for a few months. We went there right after it had opened up again.

The night we arrived, we had dinner there in Panajachel at an open-air restaurant. I ordered fish. But it didn’t taste quite right, like it was old. I picked around on my meal for a while. I noticed two little Maya girls and an even smaller boy sitting on the curb across the street, their eyes glued on us. When Will and I finished our dinner, most of the food remained. The children ran over and asked politely if they could have what we’d left. Of course, they could! We put it all in a series of napkins, and they scurried back to the curb and devoured the food.

It made my heart ache. Clearly, these little ones had been suffering. Up close it was evident. People just don’t realize how on the edge so many live. How can we ignore such a thing? Once you’ve seen it right in front of your face, you can’t ‘unsee’ it. It breaks my heart, and I know for sure that’s happening now in so many places in the world.”

By the time I finished my story, tears were pooling in my eyes, threatening to overflow. My friend was the same. She said, “You’ve made it real, personal.” We went on to talk about the tragedy of George Floyd’s killing and so many others, the same. I could hardly bear it all.

I don’t want to bear it.

For the last several weeks I’d been participating in online teachings with Pir Shabda Kahn, the spiritual director of Sufi Ruhaniat International, reconnecting with practices.

I suddenly remembered he said something I’d known from long ago:

Whatever arises make friends with it.

And in that instant, the discomfort I’d been so valiantly trying to push down—to make invisible—made its presence fully known.

Grief. I was grieving. How could I not be and still be human? How could any of us not be?

I don’t want my grief to be lodged in my body and forever be carrying it. I don’t want my grief to go underground again.

I want it to be fully present. That way, I simply cannot be complacent or allow anyone to be seen as other.

Pir Shabda had talked about the real meaning of justice, bringing things into balance. Peace won’t come from justice alone but transformation. The remedy comes from each of us. Perennial wisdom has to do with the development of compassion. This is our contribution to send into the world.

The Sufi wazifas are the “99 Beautiful Names of God” that, when chanted, seek to call upon the person any sacred attribute that is named and release it globally. In closing our last session, he offered us the phrase “Ya Jabbar” as a strong way to bring things together. Known as the bonesetter, this wazifa is the healer of fractured human existence.

I’ve been placing this sacred phrase on my breath.

***

Make Friends With Whatever Arises was first published in the Elephant Journal on July 6, 2020 and awarded the status of Ecosystem Winner.

Categories: Contemplative Life, Global Consciousness, Healing | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Art and Energy

There is something about Marshall Arisman’s paintings that is…alive…like they’re going to spring right off the canvas.

I’ve never experienced them in person, and if they have this effect on me only by looking at a computer screen, I can only imagine what it would be like to see them in person.

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Marshall Arisman: An Artist’s Journey From Dark to Light, 1972-2017 Exhibition at the School of Visual Arts, NYC.

I first stumbled across Marshall’s Sacred Monkeys series on the web years ago, and I couldn’t tear my eyes away. There’s something electric that wanted to draw me into another world where I wouldn’t emerge the same as when I entered—should I give myself over to the urge.

Then, I saw one of his bison. Recently, I learned it was from his Cave Paintings series, which explained my own response to it, but I’ll tackle that more later.

Some of his work is quite dark. I really cannot look at the Frozen Images collection, which is a statement on gun violence. His work has a visceral transference across the board, and some of them show us things we probably don’t want to see in ourselves, in other humans, or contained in otherworldly dimensions. Clearly though, this artist is offering this opportunity.

I’ve returned to his website periodically through time to see what’s new. I finally realized that I’m curious about the man himself. Who is this man who’s able to create such artwork? At least, part of that question has been satisfied.

On my latest visit, I noticed a documentary had been uploaded. A Postcard from Lily Dale is about the grandmother who figured so prominently in his life and art, and also showed some of his personal and artistic development. The film premiered in 2014 at the SVA Theatre in New York City. Within some of the high points I note, I’m also including a personal commentary because they ground my own experience.

Louise “Muddy” Arisman was a gifted psychic, medium, and Spiritualist minister. At the age of 10, an old woman appeared to her, overtook her hand, and Muddy began to produce automatic writing. She went on to find the first church dedicated to Spiritualism in Lily Dale, now billed as the largest Spiritualist camp in the world, located an hour south of Buffalo, New York.

One famous story involved a reading she did for Lucille Ball, who had been told she was a terrible actress and should give it up. Muddy told her she would marry a Cuban bandleader and have a wildly successful career as a comedian. The museum in present-day Lily Dale documents it all.

After Marshall’s birth, barely placed in the hospital nursery, his grandmother saw his aura and proclaimed he would become an artist. Muddy was a healer who read the auras of her clients to identify blocked energy and medical issues. This is the woman who Marshall spent weekends with as a child. Naturally, Muddy was a strong influence, even though his own mother believed all she professed was witchcraft.

As Marshall began to make his way as an artist, Muddy advised him that creating art develops intuition and opens the third eye. Beyond that, she said, “The energy you put into your art will live in your art as long as it exists, giving off an aura of its own.”

Hearing that statement validated for me what I secretly knew. The depth of exchange I experience in creating pieces of art is a sacred conversation that isn’t lost, even at the completion of the process. It becomes contained within the work and exists as an energy, which is an inherent aspect of the story it tells. Only this makes sense to me personally when viewers comment on the emotive nature of a work. The piece isn’t static; it conveys something.

Marshall began to see auras himself when he attended a talk by Jiddu Krishnamurti in 1978, at Carnegie Hall. Listening intently, he suddenly began seeing the speaker’s aura. In disbelief, Marshall rubbed his eyes, yet the visible vibration remained.

I had similar experiences in the mid-1980s when I attended an experiential weekend workshop conducted by scientist Valerie Hunt presenting her work on the human energy field. During a break, we came face-to-face as she exited the bathroom and looked directly into my eyes. At that moment, I felt as though she’d uncovered my soul.

I saw a strong yellow-gold field around her upper body. I was stunned at the time, blinked, and blinked. The impression didn’t go away, but it widened my capability to view the energy fields of others in the room. I had the same powerful experience with spiritual teacher Ted Andrews. The image of vibrating emerald green along his arms still lives in mind.

Marshall began to include his interpretation of energy and auras into his artwork in 1990. It must have been shortly after that when I first came across his paintings, and it explains to me now why I’ve found them so powerful: there’s a transmission.

When in the Dordogne of France, he secretly put his hand over a bison and felt heat coming from the cave painting, which is 12,000 or more years old. He proposes what he read in a thesis to be true. The walls of the caves provide a curtain separating the material world from the spiritual world. With the help of an invisible guide, the shaman crossed through the wall to another world, and after returning, he recorded his experiences in the form of paintings on the cave’s walls. In this way, the members of the tribe could place their hands over the cave art and receive the agency of the journey.

It was evident when I entered Les Combarelles and Font-de-Gaume a few years ago that each was a sacred space, a church of sorts, embodying the ritual transference of things unseen. The energy that permeates these places nearly overwhelmed me.

With this, I’m compelled to wonder if Marshall Arisman himself hasn’t made many explorations through the veil and then, upon returning, recorded what he saw and felt it, so that we could acquire the knowledge.

Muddy relayed a secret to him long ago:

“Learn to stand in the space between the angels and the demons.”

I’d say Marshall mastered it. Muddy said she was blessed with astral light and undoubtedly passed it on to her grandson.

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Watch A Postcard from Lily Dale on Vimeo streaming for free.

A Postcard from Lily Dale is a film that’s interesting on a historic level, a snapshot in time of the spiritualism movement. But more so, it’s a tribute that tells of the lifelong reverence that Marshall Arisman holds for a grandmother who so influenced his life that he still calls her mentor, teacher, and friend.

***

Art and Energy was originally published in the Elephant Journal on July 14, 2020.

Categories: Creativity Strategies, Film, Spiritual Evolution, Visual Arts | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

An Offering from the Heart

A  couple of months ago, the newly established Museum of Beadwork in Portland, Maine sent a call out for bead artists to participate in a very special project, which would become part of their permanent collection.  It was an invitation to a community undertaking. Artists would create a design of their choice on a six-inch square hard surface. All the squares would be put together in such a way to form a visual quilt.

The potential of such a project caught my attention. Decades ago in a college art class, the instructor assigned students to shoot black and white photos of the urban industrial landscape that were later cut up, pieced together and mounted on a large collective board. It produced an interesting piece of art. I’m quite sure the outcome was intended to probe the depths of a philosophy—because that’s who the instructor was—and open our sensibilities. I wish I remembered what we unearthed, quite unknown to us at the start. At any rate, the memory of that assignment, the process and result, stayed with me all these years and came to mind again after I received the call for bead artists.

I sat with it. I considered participating but nothing as far as design came to me. And frankly, I  work much larger than the criteria allowed, and it felt restricting. But then I thought about haiku and the six-word story. In their brevity, just the framework, much is left open to the reader’s interpretation.  And isn’t that what art is at its best anyway? Something evocative that touches you? Through which you can have an experience?

That still didn’t produce a design of any juice for me. Finally, something did. I focus my writing there frequently, and especially now.

 

…liminal space, the territory that holds the material and imaginal realms equally…until they come together as one.

—Excerpted from Liminal

 

In the last month I’ve written of immediacy and the process we’ve collectively undertaken one way or another produced by the pandemic: This Pilgrimage We’re On and Move Slowly Back Into the World.

Of course, I’d also want to commemorate my own process in a piece of artwork! But it’s even more than that. Within a rite of passage, it would become a sacrament. An invocation, an intent to release into the world held lightly by community. It takes on power. With shape, color and symbols, as the piece may speak for me, others may find their own meaning through what is left unexplained. The fashioning of form, the placement of each bead is no less a prayer, the embodiment of spiritual practice set into it, ultimately to be released to those who may feel and see, those who open their sensibilities to be touched in that way.

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Offering from the Heart. Bas relief mixed media, 6″x6.” ©2020 Carla Woody.

I finished my Offering from the Heart. Now it’s getting ready to travel across the country to finally find its placement in the community project.

An idea occurred to me after my own piece was completed. This really is a momentous time to make visible what comes from the core. While I usually don’t accept art commissions, I would be glad to do so for anyone wanting to mark their own rite of passage in this way. An intent to move into form, remembrance of a loved one, a blessing to release whatever it is whose time is past. The expression would be yours to formulate and provide me as the well from which to draw. The heart—being the carrier of love and resonance—and the square—as consciousness, Mother Earth, foundation—would remain the common elements. A piece to take its place on your altar, hang on the wall, or include in ceremony. I’d welcome any sacred items, symbols or anything else that would further personalize and would be possible to include within a 6”x6” or 8”x8” format.

See my artist website for detailed images, options and pricing.

Categories: Contemplative Life, Global Consciousness, Healing, Spiritual Evolution, Visual Arts | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

Move Slowly Back Into the World

In looking back to This Pilgrimage We’re On, I was surprised to see I wrote it on May 13 when I was 60 days into sheltering at home. Now—in time—here I am just upon a month later when, in some ways, it feels like only yesterday. Yet, it’s been within my reach, even experience, to travel through galaxies—possibilities and probabilities—to come back to the place I am now.

 At some time in our lives, we receive a signal to arouse from a deep sleep. If we answer the cue, we set out on a journey toward authenticity that takes us into the unknown. We begin to separate from the selves we thought we were and search for who we are.*

Having made the monumental journey, albeit enforced, globally we’ve come to the next phase. It’s a precious time to be framed with thoughtful consideration…how to re-enter the world. Yes, it’s a consideration of safety measures and health precautions. But equally important is the measure of who you are and how do you want to be in the world moving forward. That means something not only on a personal level but collectively. What consciousness do you want to hold and act through?

If you’re like me, during this containment, you’ve visited lifetimes, incarnations you thought you’d left behind. Sometimes giving you a fleeting visit, or sticking around for a while, to let you know there are aspects of underdeveloped selves still contained wanting to fly free. Having habitually denied it, you don’t know that one is still there until you’ve jumped right into the middle of it, automatically entranced as you were when the inroads were made in the first place.

Isn’t it fortunate the pandemic has provided the conditions to shake us all up? There are no words for the tragedies that have occurred. Lost lives. Global grief. Righteous anger spilling out for all the historical and present-day inequities. Injustice. Devastation. Generational trauma. Calling for all to be righted.

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Facing the Storm. Oil and cold wax. ©2015 Carla Woody.

Do not waste this. Do not let life go back to what it’s been.

For in this time, we’ve all been given a gift. If you can take it to heart then its expression will translate to right action.

It’s explicitly due to instilled solitude, crowding, whatever your situation, that gives space for exactly our strengths, yearnings and woundedness to arise.

In my contemplations, a memory came that provided me with a metaphor. It was from the very early 2000s. I was traveling in the Altiplano of Peru with Peruvian mystic Américo Yábar and a couple of friends. This remembrance comes from the hours spent on a sacred mesa  in the middle of nowhere.

Don Américo motioned, inviting us to follow him on a walk around the mesa’s edge. I followed closely behind him, the others straggling farther back enjoying the view. After a distance, he came to a sudden halt and brought me over to the very rim and gestured to a flat rock jutting out below, indicating I was to light there and meditate…

I didn’t want to think about the sheer drop of at least a thousand feet and preferred to look instead at the narrow ground where I would place my feet. I charted a short course and then carefully picked my way to the stone and settled into a comfortable seated position. Legs crossed, spine straight and ready to meditate, a bizarre urge ran through me. There was a strong part of me that wanted nothing more than to physically leap into the lonely, empty space in front of me that stretched for miles! Quickly quelling that impulse and pushing it from my mind, I closed my eyes…

After a while, I heard  a tranquil wind from the right, whistling softly, slowly coming along the perimeter of the mesa. Surprisingly, I felt it touch my body and instead of moving around me, it went through me on its way to the left. The wind was immensely long, its blowing gentle, but when its tail finally exited, it left me bodiless, having indulgently thrown me into the abyss I’d wished for after all. I dissipated into the dark nothingness of the Void while, at the same time, I merged with the totality of the landscape, covering it. The silence was such that I have no words for it, but a feeling of profound tranquility and yet expansive joy permeated the being that I call myself.

I have no idea how long I remained in that state, a minute or an hour. It was timeless. Somewhere in the midst of it, something compelled me to open my eyes, and I received a jolt. Not only was my consciousness not fully in my body when I did so, but I had also erased any awareness that I was seated on the precipice of a very high mesa rather than the usual ground! In addition, I had catapulted myself from the blackest black into the brilliant light of the high Andean sun. I slammed my eyes shut, unwilling to experience the colossal contrast.

Slowly though, I began to feel the outlines of my body and the friendly stone supporting me. This time I took my time raising my outer eyelids and gazed without fear across the miles of the Altiplano, all the way to the ring of mountains on the other side. I found that I was taken with the beauty of this place that many would consider barren and lifeless. I had discovered the richness hidden from casual eyes.

While my compulsion to jump into thin air was unexpected at the time, I’ve experienced it before in high places. After having talked with others, I realize that I’m not alone. This is a common urge. What I’ve come to understand is that it’s a petition from the deepest part of us. It’s the soul’s sense of wanting freedom. It’s a strong inner existential yearning that calls for merging rather than separation…

As though a curtain is drawn open to admit the sunlight, we discover that the Truth for which we’ve strived is revealed to be ever-present. We merely partitioned it off. If we’ve chosen to fully immerse ourselves, without fear, into the effervescent warmth of nothingness, we automatically want to remain there. The everyday world matters little in this flow…

If we’re going to travel the deeper path, we need to learn how to navigate it. If we were thrown into such a sea without any tools we would be seriously disadvantaged at best. So, there are the continuing series of re-entries we make to increase our awareness of the geography. If we pass back and forth over similar area enough times, perhaps we will become familiar enough with the territory to make the one transparent to the other. In the meantime, the transitions can be shocking until we recognize them for what they are.

…The silence may come when we make a space, take time out from normal activities. It can come through meditation, using the breath to empty the mind; finally inspiring the no-breath. It can come through a walk in the forest, mindfully, slowly placing the feet firmly on the earth, connecting in such a way that the body is no longer a body, but a bubble of energy skimming along the surface of life. It can come through intentfully opening the crown center of the head during times of creative expression. We only know that silence has visited when we return to our work later and wonder who has written the passages or painted an image nowhere in our memory to have done so. But oftentimes, no matter how we prepare the ground, it doesn’t come. At least not to the depth we would choose, or the habitual voice imposes instead…

Many have already begun to move back into the world with pronounced actions, clearly needed. Others—I fear—are unable to deal with the discomfort  found in a containment where internal and external voices are more apparently loud, and pain ever-present…and the old ways of numbing out appear the only solution.

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Mythic II Oil and cold wax. ©2019 Carla Woody.

Soon it will be time for me to walk again in a world other than I’ve known over these last months. But not yet. I know I’m charting another path forward, and I know I’m leaving something behind. I can’t formulate words but can feel the energy slowly presenting itself.

In the meantime, I’m sitting with these questions.

  • What are the choices you’re making in the moment—those that fulfill deeper values?
  • What are you giving care to that you had forgotten or set aside?
  • What has come to the forefront that you’re no longer able to ignore?

I’ve called upon patience. I know the answers will be given in stillness. Silence is the conduit for creation.

***

* Quoted portions are excerpted from Standing Stark: The Willingness to Engage, my narrative nonfiction book of a spiritual path.

 

Categories: Contemplative Life, COVID-19, Global Consciousness, Healing | Tags: , , , , | 5 Comments

Book Review: The Storyteller

Over the last five years, I’ve been periodically working with Don Alberto Manquierapa — Huachipaeri-Matsigenka spiritual leader, master of plant medicines—bringing groups to learn from his teachings of the jungle. I’ve consistently said Don Alberto carries the rainforest in his soul. In November 2019, we were with him again in the high jungle of the Manu Biosphere in Peru. For the first time, he spoke at length of the wise men of the Matsigenka (also spelled Machiguenga) and how they were married to Nature but never elaborated directly what that meant.

A few months later I was having a conversation with Jack Wheeler of Xapiri, whose relationships extend to the Matsigenka and ten other Indigenous peoples of the Amazon. He suggested I read The Storyteller by Mario Vargas Llosa to see what I could glean.

StorytellerI was rewarded in the first chapter when a character called Mascarita, in talking to the narrator, spoke of a wise man then saying, “I’m calling him a witch doctor so you know what I’m talking about.” He also used medicine man and shaman as a stand-in. Additionally, I learned that, while the Matsigenka may practice polygamy, it appears that a wise man sets himself apart from the villages, living in the jungle, or on a riverbank, even more simply than others, distinctly in solitude, communing with Nature.

Much of the book is interspersed with creation stories, tales of survival and beliefs. We know when a story ends because it’s punctuated with, “That, anyway, is what I’ve learned.” That said always before launching into the next monologue. Clearly the discourse is relayed to an audience but not clearly who or even the identity of the one relaying…until much later. Many peoples only know of themselves, their origins and how they are to exist and survive through the keeping of oral histories taken on by a living depository. That person has a special role and designation: Storyteller.

The Matsigenka are peaceful people who hold their world together by walking, being nomadic…nonviolent men who walk. But what happens  when Viracochas* begin to intrude and impact the lands always known to them…introduce money and other foreign ways…when missionaries move into their villages? When…”The most important thing to them was serenity…Any sort of emotional upheaval had to be controlled, for there is a fatal correspondence between the spirit of man and the spirits of Nature, and any violent disturbance in the former causes some catastrophe in the latter.”

In such a case, maybe there’s finally a time when only a Storyteller can tell the Matsigenka who they are and where they’ve been.

This may be a familiar tragic tale containing elements we’ve heard all too many times before, but it’s also a mystery. The Peruvian narrator, whose name is never uttered, goes into a small gallery, while in Florence on vacation, and is electrified by what he sees in a particular photograph in the exhibition. And what of Mascarita who appears  to have a significant role in the book but then simply disappears without a trace…never to be heard from again?

The Storyteller is a complex novel. For me, it was equally disturbing as it was compelling. I believe Llosa  meant it to be so. I’ve promised myself that, in the not-too-distant future, I will reread it, thus allowing its even deeper structure to become apparent.

This book was first published in 1989 and still widely available. I bought my own copy. It’s well underlined.

***

*I found it curious that the name Viracocha, commonly known as the Inka and pre-Inka creator deity, is used with a capital “V” in The Storyteller to identify outsiders, particularly foreigners having marked consequences on the Matsigenka way of life.

Categories: Book Review, Honoring the Earth, Indigenous Rights, Indigenous Wisdom | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

This Pilgrimage We’re On

I’ve now been in stay-at-home mode for 60 days. That’s 2 weeks before it became an order here in Arizona. Suddenly, I had all this open space stretching out in front of me. Like everyone else, commitments—work  and otherwise—were cancelled at least for a few months. Part of me was relieved. I haven’t had this much open space in…well…I couldn’t remember when.  I’ve been thinking about this a lot. The only other times I could come up with, other than a few weeks here and there for personal travel, was when I’d undertaken the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela in northern Spain.  But now I’m well beyond that in time by 23 days with uncertainty when I’ll emerge.

On May 10, 2015, I donned my pilgrim suit and officially began walking the Camino Francés, which starts on the French side of the Pyrénées in Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port. Now, it’s a complete synchronicity that I decided to sit down and begin this writing on the same date five years later. I didn’t plan it. Nor did I remember the date I began my walk. I discovered this fact when I just pulled up my blog from that time, The Essential Way, looking to reference something.

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But these are strange times, and the synchronicities have occurred with regularity for me in the last several weeks. Maybe I’m more sensitive  to the vibrations around all of us carrying information, or more able to note things clearly visible beneath the surface, since I’ve been wrapped in silence most of the time.

I remember having a sense that something big was coming for some time, and when it finally dropped, I did elect to go into retreat here at home, formally setting aside 10 days of this sojourn framed by long meditations each day, being in silence, ruminating on what came through, writing and artwork. In some ways, I feel it frivolous to even share these things—when others are undergoing great suffering. Not just minor inconveniences. But the fact is my more introverted nature thrives on such opportunities of emptiness.

What is so different between my 2015 pilgrimage and what we’re undergoing now in 2020? Choice. Even though I’ve never been able to articulate it in words, I was called to the Camino. It was my clear choice, and the same for most who have walked it since Medieval times. That’s unless, as happened back then, some who found themselves forced to do so as  penance for some crime. On the other hand, this pandemic came out of nowhere, imposed itself upon most inhabitants of the planet. For crimes? Maybe. It’s stopped us all short and threw the human world into global chaos, while nature continues to do what nature does.

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The Camino path is well  marked. If you’re a pilgrim in that setting, you know where you’re going at all times. There’s even a recognizable symbol: the scallop shell. Pilgrims are identified by the shell hanging off their clothes or knapsack, and the directional signs, even in the middle of nowhere, are marked with it.

There’s no clear cut path for us now. It’s empty, hazy at best. We don’t have any measures of distance or time. Many of the foundations we thought we had…have crumbled. Illusions. We’ve been shown the dark underbelly and the essence of light.

If those are differences between a well-marked trail and the pandemic, what are the similarities?

In the Chiapas highlands of Mexico, the Maya petition the owner of the land—the Earth Lord—for protection or other things they want. But the Earth Lord also demands payment, a sacrifice. Consequently, the Maya alternately revere and fear this Underworld being. But if you think about it, isn’t this a Universal truth? Sacred reciprocity. The Indigenous people of Peru call it ayni and live by it. Something transformational always involves releasing, letting go, in order to receive something more. It’s just the ego self that balks.

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Prior to embarking on my Camino, I told friends I felt as though I would be placing my feet into the very footfalls of all who had walked there before…all the way back to the Middle Ages.  Be careful what you project especially if, in a sense, it’s true. The 4th day out I sustained what is still a mystery injury that resulted in not being able to put any weight on my right foot without excruciating pain. That’s a story. The pain barely dissipated but I chose to continue on. Now I would say I was making payment. What did it do for me? It forced me to slow down, way down. I shuffled s-l-o-w-l-y along the Camino leaning on a walking stick, and what beauty I noticed that I would otherwise likely have missed. What insights I had. No matter I had to undergo physical therapy upon return home.

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It’s usual for pilgrims to leave notes or prayers at shrines beside the trails. I distinctly remember doing so at a particular shrine. But I have no memory at all what that piece of  paper said. I have no need. I left that part of myself there.

Most pilgrims never forget their Camino. To a one there was suffering of some sort. It’s arduous. And we’re different once its end has come.

Won’t this also be true of the pilgrimage called the pandemic? How we undertake this walk? The sacrifices? The suffering? We’re being called upon to be our Best Self ever. Some are wholeheartedly answering this call while others go in a different direction.

Here’s a truth: The follow-on to chaos—if we’re wise—is a sorting process that can lead to a more identified, aligned existence. If mindful, the Collective We can identify the world we want to live in and lay out, to degrees, how it unfolds. That’s an intent. We have choice within a framework: how to make the most of the time given.

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On the Camino, there’s companionship with complete strangers. Some of those turned into lifetime friendships. We helped each other. We’re compassionate. We recognized there’s no difference between ourselves and others. We’re the same. We’re all in it together. Don’t we have a multitude of examples such as this now, during the pandemic, from around the world?

On the Camino, we underwent a metamorphosis. We were different than when we started. I’m willing to bet that, whenever we come out the other side of this pandemic, we’ll also find this to be the case.

During the Camino…

Somewhere along the way, once I got the rhythm down pat, I began to note somewhat tongue-in-cheek differences between daily life on the Camino and home. But the more I listed the more I realized it’s an intimate glimpse of common pilgrim experiences you normally wouldn’t be aware of unless you’d undertaken the journey. I also began to have insights, reminders and resolutions related to some of them…

After I got home, I documented all of those I wrote down while walking. On that blog post, I called the first section I’ll Know I’m Home When Here are some from that list.

… I’m no longer looking for markers every few minutes to tell me where to go, except perhaps subliminally.

… I’ll no longer hear the well wishes Buen Camino spoken to me by nearly every pilgrim and so many locals, or say it myself, as we pass each other.

… I’ll have more than one change of clothing.

… I’ll have more choices to wear on my feet than hiking shoes or flip flops

… I’ll know on a consistent basis where I’ll lay my head each night.

 … If I’m sleeping in a roomful of people, I’ll know them all ahead and never in numbers between 12-100 in one room.

I called the second section My Take-Aways.

It’s important to be alert to the lay of the land to avoid becoming lost or overlooking tell-tale signals that things are off track or hidden. I resolve to sharpen my peripheral and x-ray vision.

Flexibility is a virtue. It’s also important to set your limits and abide by them. I resolve to identify with even more depth and breadth what is true for me.

A simple life in the best sense is a pure one, devoid of clutter in the mind or unnecessary material goods, anything that weighs down the spirit. I resolve to up-level my sorting and pitching process.

There are more that I’d written. All still true for me now. But this one particularly caught my attention as I read through the post.

I undertook this journey through willing choice. If you look at the list, you may notice there are aspects that are similar to those whose lives often aren’t through choice but circumstance. In a certain way, I had a light taste of what it’s like to be homeless, to experience restriction. The more days I walked the more this awareness settled on me. It increased my compassion toward anyone who finds themselves in such a place and has difficulty finding a way through. There’s always a way across a threshold. It also deepened the great gratitude I hold for having the life I do, and the capability of coming up with strategies to navigate the tricky times.

I’m going to start my list for the pandemic, what I’ve noticed and how I want to be on the other side. Some of these will be the same. Some will be new in the sense of further revealed.

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On my 2015 pilgrimage, when the going got physically rough for me, I invoked a Sufi wazifa.* On the in-breath I would chant Ya Fattah. On the out-breath, I would repeat Ya Fattah. Over and over and over. That beautiful name got me up mountains and down the other side when I sincerely wondered if I would make it.

Here’s holding these pandemic times are embedded in our Collective Consciousness in a good way and direct tomorrow. There’s a choice in every moment.

Ya Fattah! Ya Fattah! O, Opener of the way!

May all beings be happy. May all beings be well.

***

*The Sufi wazifas are the 99 Beautiful Names of God that, when chanted, seeks to call upon the person any sacred attribute that is named.

 

 

Categories: Contemplative Life, COVID-19, Spiritual Travel | Tags: , , , , , | 5 Comments

Film Review: Fantastic Fungi

The film opens  with the fungi  speaking, identifying the alternate universe—the invisible, intelligent network—just beneath our feet.

When you sense Oneness, you are with us. We brought life to earth…We flourish all  around in everything…even though you can’t see us…

 Then goes on to describe how fungi figures so predominately in the birth-death-rebirth cycle that, without fungi we would be in deep trouble. To the point that, potentially, life would have ceased to exist long before humans came along without the fungi kingdom, numbering 1.5 million species.

Mycologist-advocate-researcher Paul Stamets is largely featured. He’s been immersed in the world of mushrooms since quite young when his older brother took him into the forest and they found an unusual variety. Today he’s considered one of the foremost authorities on fungi. He also had a debilitating liability. Although he’d had years of speech therapy as a child, it had no effect. He was unable to communicate well and was socially isolated until one significant day… when, in college, he was given a bag of psilocybin—“magic mushrooms”—and took the whole bag, enough for ten people. As it began to come on, he set intent to lose the stuttering…and did. One enormous dose. The stuttering never returned. A remarkable story that would surely make one a believer.

Additionally,  Stamets is  backed up with segments by scientists, journalists, therapists, clinical trial participants and consciousness seekers. Wide-ranging uses for mycelium fungus are covered, potentialities affecting health, expanded consciousness, bioremediation and more.

The documentary covers the full history of mushrooms from Gordon Wasson’s introduction by curandera Maria Sabina of southern Mexico through its resurgence today as a viable ingredient to clean the environment all the way to providing a gateway for health and spiritual wellbeing.

You’d do yourself a favor by watching this film. I came away spiritually uplifted, hopeful for the planet and feeling gratitude for this great gift of Nature that’s been there, hidden in plain sight, for millenia. The cinematography is also stunning.

Now available to rent ($4.99) and stream or buy at Fantastic Fungi in several languages. 1 hour, 20 minutes.

 

Categories: Film Review, Global Consciousness, Healing, Honoring the Earth | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Update August 20: COVID-19 Emergency Relief for Hopi and Q’ero

Kenosis Spirit Keepers logo

Kenosis Spirit Keepers is the 501(c)3 nonprofit extension of Kenosis.

This is a 7th and final update (now as of August 20) to our original announcement on April 4 sent through our newsletter and on Facebook. It contains our progress from April until the formal close of this drive. Updates are in blue below within our original announcement.

We have so much gratitude for all the support we’ve experienced in the way of funders, mask-makers, helpers, connectors and emotional bolstering in our great desire to serve these Indigenous peoples. Clearly, we could not fulfill our mission without you. You are life-givers. View our tribute.

Extension of Emergency Relief Drive through August 8 specifically to address food insecurities. Note: We will continue to forward funds for food purchase and delivery to Second Mesa when the donation notation designates this emergency program.

Dear Friends,
We have all been touched by the pandemic in one way or another. The Indigenous peoples we work with are also undergoing a state of emergency. In some ways, they are even more at risk due to their isolated locations with little access to food or protective equipment, and little to no medical care should they need it.
We are opening an emergency relief fundraising campaign now formally completed August 8 to do everything we can to help support them in this difficult time that is very real globally. We are specifically focusing on the Hopi and Q’ero people we work with due to our direct relationship. Hence, we have the most control over the needed funds and supplies reaching them.

   Please see the information below given to us personally after being contacted for help.

   To donate by PayPal or credit card, please go here. To donate by check or money order: Please make the check or money order out to Kenosis Spirit Keepers. Mail to Kenosis Spirit Keepers, PO Box 10441, Prescott, AZ 86304. In making your donation, indicate Hopi and/or Q’ero. If both are indicated, we will split equally unless you designate otherwise.

The full amount of your donation we receive goes directly to those in need.

Help for the Sacred Guardians of the World

Blessings of the Four Directions.Hopi Village of Shungopavi: Shungopavi is located on Second Mesa in northern Arizona. Mike Weddle, who is on the board of KSK, and I have had discussions with leadership members as to the situation and needs. The village has been closed. Non-residents are not allowed to enter. However, State Route 264 runs through the middle of the village.  Hopi residents must stay at home in order to be safe. There are three small stores. Any goods delivered have been immediately emptied again. Leadership has requested help to buy non-perishable food supplies, water and PPE (disinfectants, gloves, and masks) so they can allocate them to their people. They have confirmed they have a way to have these things delivered.

What we, Kenosis Spirit Keepers, have been able to do so far: On April 2, a check for $1000 was mailed to the Community Service Administrator (CSA) on Shungopavi to begin purchase of needed items. We sent a check for $2500 on April 13. From additional donations through this fundraiser, we mailed a 4th donation of $1170 on May 13.  Your donations will be sent  directly to the CSA to administer so they may fulfill their needs and manage allocation.

The CSA has advised they are first seeking PPE to protect their people, 265 homes. They’ve been unable to find a source within the US and had to resort to ordering from an overseas source. They are due to receive this shipment costing $12,000 on April 20. Once they meet this need, they will focus on food supplies. 

Food insecurities currently exist within Shungopavi and surrounding areas. First, it has come to our attention that a number of families and elders received inadequate food distributions. Second, residents have little to no income to purchase food due to loss of tourism during this pandemic. The village will remain in lockdown until the end of July. We are now partnering with Filmer Kewanyama and Wen McBrain Vansandt, both from Shungopavi, to ensure food boxes are delivered directly into the hands of those residents who need it most. We were able to purchase food and deliver to a total of 20 food boxes to elders and families on June 12 and July 11 . We will continue this effort through August 8 entirely dependent on donor generosity.

Additionally, masks  from Ohio mask-making teams – Pamela Seel Borgerding, liaison – have been mailed to our Shungopavi liaison for direct distribution. Between June 17 and July 17, 236 adult’s and children’s masks have made it into the hands of Shungopavi residents this way.

Between July 17 and August 15, we shipped 300 masks to Second Mesa donated by private mask-makers, Democratic Women of Prescott and Prescott Indivisible. We were also able to forward funds to Wen, our Hopi liaison, to purchase perishable goods and deliver to 8 households with elders and single parent families.

Original funding goal for Shungopavi: $6000

Added total funding to include support for food insecuties: $9000

Total funding support to Shungopavi as of August 20: $8407

Total in-kind donations of masks: Priceless

Going Home Shungopavi

Hopi Village of Lower Moencopi:  Lower Moencopi is the traditional village located down the hill from Upper Moencopi. Both villages are across the street from the Navajo town of Tuba City. Across the Navajo Nation, they have been hard hit. The lower village is the home to many elders, shut-ins and some families. A board member well known to me reached out for emergency relief. They are doing their best to keep their people home and safe. Food boxes provided to the lower village from another relief organization fell vastly short. Only 7 of 40 elders received food.

What we, Kenosis Spirit Keepers, have been able to do thus far: On April 10 a check for $1000 was mailed to the Board of Lower Moencopi to fulfill the immediate need to cover food for these elders, accomplished through Shamrock Foods. These funds came directly from the donation portion of tuitions from our delayed Spiritual Travel Program to Hopi from March, and an additional private donation.

We asked the Lower Moencopi board to identify any other near-term or immediate needs for their 87 homes, which includes an outlying area. Based on their updated need for additional food, disinfectant and protective equipment, they’ve requested an additional $1000. On April 20 a purchase of 300 masks was made from donations received and sent overnight delivery. These masks have been distributed to the village. On April 28, we were also able to purchase 24 8-ounce bottles of hand sanitizer with hand delivery to Moencopi for May 1.

Volunteers in my home area of Prescott, AZ and others in CA, OH and OR have truly stepped up support. To date, they have provided or sewn over 600 adult’s and children’s masks, 15 face shields and purchased hand sanitizer. An additional 500 masks were purchased and provided. Note: These are being distributed to Upper and Lower Moencopi. Once those needs are met for masks, any other masks sent will be shared with underserved Hopi villages.

The following is a primer on Lower Moencopi provided by Carrie Joseph of their Board of Directors.

Only 5% of homes have direct access (in-house) to plumbing and electricity in the Village of Moencopi. The majority rely on the spring source and three water facets located in the village for water. There is a central “bathouse” that includes six bathroom stalls and shower units that is shared among approximately seven families. One of the six is a handicap stall. For electricity, families rely on generators and propane fuel to light gas lamps. This type of living has always been a part of who we are; however, this virus is making us question what considerations will need to be made for the health of the community in the future. We continue to pray that our village community will continue to remain unharmed; however, with the daily increase in cases in our neighboring Navajo community we are taking necessary precautionary measures to protect our people. This includes closing our village to non-residents and hiring 24-hour security to patrol the village area to regulate village traffic and unnecessary visitation from non-village residents. 

 

Funding goal for Lower Moencopi: $2000

Total funding support to Lower Moencopi as of May 14: $2300

Total in-kind donations of masks and other PPE: Priceless


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Help for the Keepers of the Ancient Knowledge…the Children of Inkari

Hatun Q’ero of Peru: The remote village of Ccochamocco is located at 14,500 feet in the
high Andes. They live in stone huts with dirt floors. No electricity or running water.

I have been in contact with Santos Machacca, my Q’ero liaison who lives in Cusco. I have also consulted with Jack Wheeler of Xapiri located in Cusco. This is the situation…There is a strict quarantine nationwide until Apr 12, but expected to be extended. People in Cusco are allowed out until 6 PM to buy food. Military and police in the streets are controlling movement. There is no shortage of food in Cusco city at the moment. But there are collections of money to help feed the poorest. Indigenous lands are closed throughout Peru at least until the end of June. The Peruvian government did this quickly. There are info graphics going around the Indigenous communities explaining the situation. No Q’ero are known to have the corona virus at this writing.

QeroBoyWhile there is currently no shortage of food or supplies in Cusco, our Q’ero friends living in Cusco largely exist through tourism. There is none. The Q’eros of Ccochamocco are subsistence farmers living at survival level. Their crop is mostly potatoes. What limited monies they normally have comes through selling of their weavings, the same as those Q’eros living in Cusco. Again, there is no current tourism. There are 43 homes in the village.

This is what we, Kenosis Spirit Keepers, have been able to do so far: On April 1, a Western Union transfer of $500 was sent to Santos to divide equally among the Hatun Q’ero weavers 11 cooperative members living in Cusco to be spent on food. This, of course, is not nearly enough.

Immediately upon the opening of Indigenous lands again in Peru, now projected for end of August, we will organize purchase and transport of food and protective supplies up to Ccochamocco with the help of Santos and community leaders in the village. This is a measure we’ve accomplished successfully in the past in 2013 and 2015 under emergency conditions.

There is an average of 7 people living in each of the 43 tiny rock huts in Ccochamocco. Our hope is to raise enough funds to cover the 7-hour truck transport and a minimum of $100 per household worth of food.

I have confirmed there is no aid from the Peruvian government going to Ccochamocco. Nor are any of the isolated Indigenous peoples receiving any help by their government whatsoever. We ask your help to fulfill a much needed requirement for Ccochamocco: food.

As of the end of May we received word that food availability in Cusco has decreased and increased exponentially in price. We sent an additional $500 to help feed the Hatun Q’ero weavers living between Cusco and their villages. They are unable to get to their crops at their village fields due to the close of Indigenous lands, and have very limited income to buy food in Cusco. An additional $500 was sent on August 10 to the Q’ero weavers living in Cusco due to food insecurities.

We are currently awaiting word from the Q’ero village of Ccochamocco that they are ready to receive transfer of food supplies.

Total additional donations raised as of May 20: $7500
Total donations sent as of August 10: $1500
Tota donations raised as of  August 20: $6695

Kenosis Spirit Keepers is a grassroots, volunteer-run 501(c)3 nonprofit. We receive no grants but depend on your private donations and funds coming through the spiritual travel programs we co-sponsor with Kenosis, our mother organization, to fulfill our mission. Your gracious donation is recognized as a charitable contribution by the State of Arizona, and by the US Internal Revenue Service under Section 501(c)(3). The Kenosis Spirit Keepers, Inc. Federal Identification Number is 71-1038685.


Thanking you in advance for your generosity, compassion and support toward keeping Indigenous traditions alive. Please share this invitation and emergency appeal widely with friends and family. Please get in touch: 928-778-1058 or info@kenosisspiritkeepers.org with questions.

Be well. Stay well.

Carla Woody

Founder
Kenosis and Kenosis Spirit Keepers

Kenosis Spirit Keepers logo

Categories: Emergency Relief Fund, Hopi, Q'ero | Tags: , , | 3 Comments

How to Lose Your Skin and Be Consumed

The title is not what you may at first think. It’s not about being eaten alive in the literal sense. But I did want to get your attention. It is about being consumed to the degree that you come alive in ways you may not have experienced.

I found the work of Will Johnson through Future Primitive, a podcast co-produced by Joanna Harcourt-Smith and José Luis Gómez Soler. Joanna interviews guests using a framework: What is it like to be in sacred communion with our living Earth? Will is a Buddhist practitioner with Sufi leanings dedicated to breathing practices that wake up the body. He’s long been offering retreats and teachings through the Institute of Embodiment Training, now in Costa Rica.

What first caught my attention was a statement Will made early in the interview. He was at an event and looked out over those gathered, noticing how very still, even stiff, people were in their sitting meditation. That let him know most of those gathered were not breathing fully, nor engaging the body as part of the process. Shallow breaths.

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©2015 Carla Woody.

I reflected on my own daily practice that has evolved over 35+ years. I was all about the breath, particularly in the early days, directing it in such a way that it opened my energy field and sometimes instigated involuntary movement. Then later for several years I participated in the local Sufi circle, especially zikr, which was anything but inactive.*

Listening to Will, I began to wonder if I’d become complacent. I no longer actively use breath or chants in the way I did in the past, but sit first thing in the morning, say a prayer of gratitude, then close my eyes. When I do, I become engulfed in palpable energy that ebbs and flows. It’s always there no matter how long I sit – 5 minutes, an hour or more. I feel tremendous connection. The witness part of me has noticed there are often times it appears I’ve stopped breathing for periods, but am not holding my breath. When I do finally take another breath it’s subtle. I call it “the breath of no-breath.” I’ve read about such occurrences in literature from Kriya Yoga. My body is quite still but doesn’t feel stiff in my awareness. What I’ve come to has worked for me.

But I decided to undertake the method Will calls the Hollow Bamboo Dharma Practice that focuses on the body and actively uses breath to open six points, freeing energy. This method can lead to a state of unity he calls the Great Wide Open and being breathed by the Divine, Universe, God or whatever anyone may call the Force Field of Creation.

I’ve experienced the state he describes. I call it “losing my skin” where there’s a sense of no separation, a state of being permeated by All That Is, in a way hard to describe, slipping into it with no intent of doing so—that gives deep comfort. Time disappears. I disappear. In the times it has occurred, I’ve almost always been meditating in nature. I can remember one time it happened during a prolonged Sufi retreat. The difference is my experiences have occurred spontaneously, infrequently. I don’t know really how such a sacred unity occurred.

Because of the pandemic, stay-at-home orders and uncertainty of the world, I decided to enter retreat and use this new-to-me approach to meditation as a framework. In his generosity, Will has on his website downloadable audios of a 3-evening presentation where he introduces his philosophies related to what he teaches, and the actual practice he calls Breathing Through the Whole Body. He’s quick to state this shouldn’t be considered a technique, that it’s a natural way of breathing and will feel that way over time.

Of all his books, I chose to get his newest one, Breathing as Spiritual Practice: Experiencing the Presence of God, because the title appealed to me. It turned out to be rather synchronous. I hadn’t read the description very carefully. This book is largely from his personal journaling over his own 10-day retreat several years ago using what he teaches, with each chapter given to one day. I decided to read a chapter each day of my own retreat, usually after I’d done the meditations according to his direction introduced in the audios. When I started reading the book, I found his retreat site to be one where I’d stayed myself, albeit for a very brief time, just a taste with a promise to myself to return. So, his recounting of Christ in the Desert, an isolated Benedictine monastery of silent retreat, in a box canyon at the end of 13 miles of bad dirt road in northern New Mexico, was already alive within me.

Here I’m offering a synopsis of my own process in retreat using the methods on the audio tapes.

I normally sit on my sofa cross-legged with a straight back. To make sure my knees were lower than my pelvis per his instructions, I transferred my meditations to the floor and sat at the edge of a zafu, legs crossed with knees on the floor. I noticed it straightened my spine completely, allowed me to elongate more and sit much taller without effort. The first instruction was about body awareness. I noticed immediately that, in this posture, my sacrum was unhappy and the muscle around my right clavicle was tight, exactly the place my massage therapist always goes after. It was achy but wasn’t unmanageable. This told me I was compensating and, as a norm, ignoring discomfort. This is the kind of thing Will said would be noticeable if you’ve been numbing out pain in the body. On point.

In the audios, Will is good about gently guiding the breath, spot by spot, introducing subtle movement, until the last sequence where you’re breathing in the six directions he identifies. I soon recognized I hadn’t done really deep breathing in years, which was the second point. The idea is to begin your breath in the belly—no problem there—and continue the in-breath all the way up to the uppermost sacs of the lungs at the top of the ribs…up the neck and into the cranium. Wait, what? The cranium? Now I can tell you it’s possible. But for me, not at first…

First time out of the bag, I was able to take in breath until my chest swelled. But I hit a wall when attempting to continue to the top of the ribs. Persisting over a couple of days, I guess I finally experienced body memory. My breath then found the pathway and continued right up into the cranium. Really. Well, I’m not so sure if it was actual breath but perhaps the energy of the breath. Something physical happened though. First the base of my skull popped and then it felt like my entire cranium subtly began moving with the breath.

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©2015 Carla Woody. 

One of the other things wonderful was that, through the breath, I was receiving an inner massage that affected my outer body and relaxed those spots that were protesting. My lumbar let go almost immediately. It took more for that muscle below my right clavicle to release. But I could feel, at the end of 10 days, it was stretching outward and loosening.

It doesn’t take long to get into the state. Once learned, your body knows the way. A by-product, thought also dissipates in such a way there’s just a feeling presence. Even if thoughts return—because they will—it’s easy to return to the breath, and they release.

I did have something occur that was distinctly unpleasant but wasn’t surprised because it had happened once before. About 20 years ago, I was going through a very difficult phase in my life. In order to maintain equilibrium, I was meditating long hours a day. It had a profound impact on my wellbeing. But when you do so, it loosens things that have been trapped, or consciously shut off, deep in the psyche that can come to the surface in different ways…in order to release.

I normally do not remember my dreams. When I do, it usually has to do with some deep spiritual meaning, awe inspiring but not scary. I have so rarely had nightmares in my life, they wouldn’t number the fingers on one hand. But during that time long ago I’m referencing, I had some kind of waking dream where I was surrounded by lepers reaching for me, brushing me. Like something biblical. I felt it all. I was terrified. I started to move and leap out of bed when a voice said to me…Just go into it. Merge with it. Like the story goes, invite the demon in to tea. I did that, and the fear and revulsion released. A sense of calm replaced it.

I’ve never had such a dark night experience recur until about 10 days ago. I think I was on Day 5 of my retreat when I had another waking dream like some godawful place out of Hieronymus Bosch or Dante’s Inferno, and I was in the middle of it. My chest was heaving. I felt electrified. I leaped out of bed, my entire body shaking. The visuals stopped but my body was still there. No saving voice this time giving wise counsel. I had to walk around for a while to calm myself. I was up the rest of the night.

As if it had arrived on cue, two days later reading Will’s Day 7, he had a similar dark night. Not necessarily the same content but within the same spirit.

At least I’d had some previous experience of this territory, and wasn’t caught by surprise. I’m quite sure this was brought on by the pandemic, the global chaos, level of death and destruction of what is familiar. I’d been aware of how very calm I’d been about the whole thing, even had some remarking on that. Not at all cavalier. But stopping short of entering the horror, which as somewhat of an empath, I can easily do. So, it’s no wonder fear of the unknown and real grief for this worldwide devastation had to surface, in order to break any internal paralysis, and be released instead into the realm of compassion.

It’s not pleasant to go through such things, but I don’t at all begrudge them. It’s part of the spiritual path. It’s just good to know the possibility exists. I was glad to see Will brought that particular aspect up in his writing.

In the book, he mentioned you could do the practice of breathing through the whole body anywhere, suggesting when laying down or walking out in nature. I tried both but didn’t have the same effect as I do during sitting meditation. Laying down I didn’t feel the full energy of my body as much. Walking out my front door onto trust land may not have been the best place to try it out in nature. I was too distracted by the roughness of the trail. I suspect I will get better at these other settings with more practice, once this way of breathing is second nature.

My practice continues. I recognize what I’ve undertaken here has health benefits, increased my physical energy and my sleep is so much better. I have a keen appreciation for the spiritual aspects. I didn’t yet get to the place where I lose my skin but imagine that may come. I’m grateful for this additional way of breath, body and energy and am incorporating it into my early mornings.

***

* Quoting Pir Shabda Kahn, Spiritual Director of the Sufi Ruhaniat International: “The mysticism of breath is central. Repetition of sacred sound is central. And the art of living wholesomely is also central. Our effort is to learn to live in the breath twenty-four hours a day. The actual practice is to outwardly connect with the breath, be conscious of the breath, and let the breath fall into its natural rhythm of inhalation and exhalation. And we combine sound and breath. We put a sacred phrase ‘on the breath.’ We do this in meditation, and we do this throughout the day. It could be Om Mani Padme Hum. So, we might put Om Mani Padme Hum on the in-breath and then again on the out-breath, and breathe it out throughout the day, throughout our life.
We recite sacred phrases out loud. Repetition is important. Sound has an effect apart from meaning, based on the rhythm it creates in our physical, mental, emotional and spiritual bodies. One of the phrases we recite is called ‘zikr.’ The phrase is La Ilaha Ilaha Allah Hu. It includes both negation (there is nothing but God—separateness is a false notion) and affirmation (experience yourself as the ONE).”

To read this interview in full, go here.

 

Categories: Book Review, Contemplative Life, Meditation | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

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