Book Review: The Horse Boy

Horse Boy imageThe Horse Boy came to my attention through one of the travelers on my Peru spiritual travel program. Françoise Moreels told me she was so inspired by the story, centered around autism and Mongolian shamanism, that she was compelled to journey to Mongolia herself. With an introduction like that, of course, I was drawn to read it to see what was so remarkable. And truly it is.

Imagine a young couple completely engaged in life. Rupert Isaacson was a journalist and activist for Indigenous land rights, particularly for the Bushmen of the Kalahari Desert. Kristin Neff was a professor in educational psychology at the University of Texas. Their young son Rowan just wasn’t developing the way other children did and displayed behaviors that led to a diagnosis of autism in 2004. The book is intimate in detailing all the heartbreak and frustration that comes with parenting a child with such a condition—the daily travails that are so difficult. My great respect certainly goes to these parents.

It became the father’s quest to find a way to heal Rowan. Rupert’s work being more flexible, he stayed home with Rowan much of the time. Unexpectedly, an incident occurred that eventually pointed to a path of healing. One day, Rowan broke away from his father and ran over to a horse named Betsy on a neighbor’s property, a mare known to be difficult. Strangely, Betsy was submissive to the child. And the child’s stemming and outbursts calmed. Rupert knew horses. He grew up with them in South Africa. He asked the neighbor if he and his son could ride the horse, and they did. Consistently.

It had such a positive effect on Rowan’s functioning that, after a time, Rupert had a brainstorm. Why not take Rowan to Mongolia, the place where horses were first domesticated and had become integral to the culture—and particularly their powerful form of shamanism? It took Rupert a few years to convince Kristin enough for her to reluctantly agree. But in 2007, the family began a physically and emotionally challenging odyssey across the remote steppes of Mongolia in hopes their son would be healed.

This is a story of strong intent played out against the backdrop of Mongolian shamanism. I highly recommend the book, also produced as a documentary. As a result of their experiences, Rupert Isaacson founded the Horse Boy Foundation working with autism and equine therapy. Kristin Neff founded Self-Compassion offering training in mindfulness and acceptance.

The Horse Boy by Rupert Isaacson is available on Amazon and elsewhere.

 

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Of That Time in Iran

“I think you should open it,” my dad gestured to the bottle of Camus Napoleon Cognac, still in its original box after all these years. His face was poignant, holding mixed emotions: doubt, resignation, a touch of sadness.

Camus CognacIt touched me, too. Dad is 86 years old and had held this bottle for 38 years, patiently waiting. He’s sentimental and loyal to his convictions. He holds things inside. Nearly every year for at least 25, he’s said to me, “We’ll wait until Ahmad comes back.” He kept it tucked safely in the bar. Now it sat on the top. It took something for him to do that, to make that final decision, waiting for me to come home for Thanksgiving.

“I think so, too. It’s time,” I said.

In May 1978 I traveled alone to Iran to work on a project called Peace Log, a collaboration between the US and Imperial Iranian Air Force, that acted as oversight to Lockheed’s fielding of F-16 jets. I was 24. I was to be there for six months working on Doshan-Tappeh Air Base outside Tehran.

Don’t ask me what I was doing. It was many lifetimes ago. It had much less to do with the logistical work I would do than the call to adventure that had been roiling in my blood. I’d applied for the job not really even knowing where Iran was, other than it sounded exotic. I was just following a strong urging. The internal conflict produced from being in a line of work that went against my values hadn’t yet gelled. And as much as I wanted the adventure, I hadn’t figured into the equation my extreme shyness and the huge gap in age between me and the US people I worked with. I pretty much holed up after work and read books.

But it wasn’t long before I met Ahmad, an Iranian captain a few years older than me, who worked in the same complex. He asked me to dinner. That was more complicated than it sounds. There was a strict order from the Iranian side against fraternization. And within a couple of weeks after my arrival we were suddenly under martial law with strict curfews and all the riots and bombings you’ve read about. The Shah was falling.

Nonetheless, Ahmad and I began to see each other a few times a week. It was like a grade B spy movie. I’d leave the apartment building where I lived with other US work personnel, located on one of the busiest boulevards in Tehran, walk nonchalantly a few blocks over where he’d pick me up in his car and whisk me away.

If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t have seen the things I saw. We hiked the mountains surrounding Tehran. He took me to Isfahan with its extraordinary ancient architecture. For a weekend we went to the Caspian Sea with his cousins and friends. One time we had to travel through Qom, the revolutionaries’ stronghold, and he brought me his mother’s chador to wear so I’d be safe. But mostly, we talked. He would teach me basic Farsi and I would correct his English as he asked. We roamed the bazaars, had meals together and developed a quiet bond.

Iranian MiniatureIn the middle of my assignment in Tehran, Ahmad had to accompany his general to the US. He was gone a few weeks. They had business in different sites. One was Wright-Patterson AFB in Ohio, outside Dayton where I lived at the time. He visited my folks while there.  They had him to dinner at their place. That’s when he gave Dad the cognac. For my mom, he brought an exquisite Persian miniature, an Iranian art form. My folks enjoyed his visit thoroughly. The next day Mom took him shopping.

That day in November, right before Thanksgiving, when I was slated to fly back to the US, he accompanied me to the airport for which I was so grateful. I only realized later what a risk he took being seen with me in that environment. It was chaotic and dangerous, people clamoring to leave. Somehow he parted the seas. Or at least it seemed that way. I showed my documents and was granted passage. In those last moments, we said little. But we both cried.

In January 1979, he managed to call me. There was a lot of static on the line. I remember our conversation was brief. We may have been cut off. That was the last time I heard from him. Ever.

My dad doesn’t forget kindnesses personally granted him. Neither do I. Over the years, I’ve thought of Ahmad countless times. Wondering what happened to him, where he was. Did he survive the revolution? I’m afraid he didn’t but don’t want it confirmed.

After the fact, I realized just how little I really knew about him. Somehow I got the idea he was from a well placed family, and that his allegiance to the Shah was questionable. Although he never came right out with either of these.

A few years ago, I did a google search to see if I could turn up anything. I was shocked when I was greeted with listing after listing of a man by the same name identified as the father of modern Persian poetry. I was disappointed when I reviewed photos that told me he wasn’t the one I sought. But still a strange coincidence. My Ahmad was much younger, of course. So perhaps a namesake or family relation.

The cork broke in two and crumbled into the bottle; it was dry. I took a sip of the cognac, and it took my breath away. It was so strong. Perhaps as strong as my memories that without Ahmad wouldn’t have been so rich.

If I could, this is what I would say to him:

I hope you’ve lived a long, healthy life filled with love, family, children and work that nurtured your soul. You were of such significance to me at a time when I was young, naive and scared, not of my surroundings, but of myself. You provided a safe haven and wanted nothing in return except friendship. I’ve never forgotten it.

I mourn that I cannot find my photographs from then. But I can offer these words from a poem by Ahmad Shamlu that speak, for me, of that time in Iran.

The sea envies you
for the drop you have drunk
from the well.

 

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Book Review: A Tale for the Time Being

I think some stories are best read aloud. For me, this was one of them. I came to this conclusion before I knew that the author herself reads all her work aloud as she writes chapter to chapter. And she was the narrator here. Who better to know how to make her point? After the fact I also learned that author Ruth Ozeki is a Zen Buddhist priest. Then so much of the knowledge dropped in unexpectedly, almost casually, made sense if it has its place in the everyday underpinnings of someone’s life.

I count the coincidence lucky. I’ve just started listening to audio books. I wouldn’t have used the right inflection for the Japanese names or words in my mind. I might have glossed over them. But also because there were things inserted softly that caused me to stop and listen. There’s another layer here, I’d thought. I rewound and took it in again.

A Tale for the Time BeingThere was the clever double entendre: A Tale for the Time Being. We’re all Time Beings for the time being. And it’s a novel that involves time, how we experience it, the ways it warps. But you don’t realize it until you’re well into the novel. It’s subtle until firmly anchored.

A Japanese American novelist with writer’s block named Ruth walked the beach near her home, a little populated island off British Columbia, and found a carefully wrapped, albeit battered, package washed up on the shore. It wasn’t long after the 2011 tsunami and the resulting meltdowns at the Fukushima nuclear power plant.  It contained a Hello Kitty lunchbox, the diary of a conflicted Japanese American teenager living in Tokyo named Nao (Now?) and more. That is the launching point that draws us into the shame-suicide culture of Japan, the suffering of a “living ghost”, and the darker underbelly of Tokyo. If the book had only been these things, I probably would have quit after the first chapter or so⏤stopped short from finding out what it was really about.

I would have missed Jiko, Nao’s 104-year-old great-grandmother, a Buddhist nun  who peppered her conversations with koans drawn from The Shōbōgenzō written by Japanese Zen Master Dōgen. And how Ruth lost the experience of her own now, the more obsessed she became with Nao’s, and began to realize she was “playing origami with time.” Or the strange phenomenon she experienced of changing places with the young girl, populating her dreams, and finding them much the same. Or Ruth’s disclosure of another weird instance, which validated my own, when being so immersed in writing a story that, upon waking the next morning and opening the computer, she found herself wondering who had written the words…

This is a novel about living in the midst of contrast in this modern world, the time of our being and the choices we make, along with a real indoctrination to Japanese culture. I have to end with this because it’s such a great quote:

The ancient Greeks believed when you read out loud, it’s actually the dead borrowing your tongue in order to speak again.

Available in print, e-book and audiobook from the public library, Amazon and elsewhere.

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Unearthing of the One Tribe

Early morning as it was drawing to a close, I reflected on our journey in the lowlands and highlands of Chiapas. I don’t quite know how to describe what I was feeling in this time of unearthing. Some mixture of great gratitude and overwhelm. Not overwhelm in the way I may sometimes feel it at home when I have too much to juggle at once. Rather it was the sense of overwhelm that comes when so much has happened of a sacred nature. You can bathe in it…even though the deeper meaning isn’t yet realized. But my mind’s attempts arising nonetheless.

Words broke through in staccato—bullet points. My hand flew to jot them down. Each one came illustrated with examples from the Maya people themselves.

Sacrifice

The religious officials in the Chiapas highlands carry cargo, a term to describe the responsibilities they take on to maintain their traditions, to care for the saints, to make sure the processionals occur as they have for many hundreds of years. And house the saints well between times so they will receive the prayers of believers. Carrying cargo is a burden taken on for the sake of the community, done through community. Tasks are divided and shift to others from year to year. No one person can do it all. The strain is too great on family finances and time away from the fields. These are not paid positions. They do it because, if they didn’t, a way of life that connects all things would otherwise disappear into the ether from which it emerged.*

Don Antonio

Don Antonio signaling the start of the balché ceremony.

For some, the sacrifice is ongoing. I always think of Don Antonio Martinez, the last Lacandón Maya Elder still holding the rituals of his people, faithfully feeding the gods, laying down the prayers to create balance in their rainforest home. His is not an easy life when others have turned away to foreign religions or the influx of material things, when he is nastily pressured by converts to give it all up. I’m guessing he hangs on because he recognizes his soul would otherwise suffer, and he cannot find it within himself to abandon the gods.

Humility

For me, a clear measure of an authentic spiritual leader or healer is humility. If their ego isn’t making pronouncements, they can approach their work with compassion. Connection to the person in front of them, and their community, is genuine.

Don Xun Calixto, Tzotzil Maya of San Juan Chamula, is a profound example of that for me. Over and over, I’ve witnessed his ability to put his fingers on a person’s wrist, someone he’s never met before, and listen to their blood. Then with gentle words tell them the exact nature of what they need to let go in order to heal, his words confirmed when his patient bursts into tears as he holds them in a comforting hug. The care and precision in which he lays the altar, and how he sinks to his knees and utters the prayers to carry the healing. Or the relief a patient displays when he tells them they can put fears aside because they’ve already overcome their trial.

Don Xun

Don Xun listening to the blood.

Today we don’t think of political leaders having humility, the opposite so often true. In ancient times though, Maya kings and queens were spiritual leaders and protectors. Indeed, they were seen as gods incarnate, walking among the people, making personal sacrifices. Humility displayed itself in the bloodletting rituals they undertook upon their own person. For the kings, thrusting a stingray spine through the penis; for the queens, through the tongue. Their blood dripped onto a paper then burned, taking the blood prayers for good crops to the heavens.

In the Popol Vuh there is explicit counseling against narcissism and pompous behavior. Seven Macaw, a demon parading as a god, claimed to be the sun and the moon. He terrorized the people and puffed himself up with jewels and arrogant proclamations. In doing so, he gained the attention of the Hero Twins, Hunahpu and Xbalanque, who noted his evil and summarily took him out.**

Courage

Depending on the nature of an affliction the people consult different types of healers. An example would be Doña Maria, a curandera who attended us during this recent journey. Her prayers will cure an earache or get an innocent man out of jail.

Doña Maria

Doña Maria making her initial prayers before beginning clearing sessions.

But when someone thinks the ailment involves the supernatural, particularly witchcraft, they will go to Don Xun. And if he diagnoses soul loss, he will be called upon to descend into the Underworld, through trance or dream, with a dire mission. Not an undertaking for the faint of heart, Don Xun must wrestle the person’s soul away from the Earth Lord. In this process his prayers return the patient to wholeness.***

Don Xun

Don Xun laying an altar.

Persistence

In the face of great adversity, I witness quiet persistence, strength and faith in the person of Don Antonio in the tiny village of Nahá.

Emerging from the 1990s genocide in Guatemala and Chiapas, the Maya have not been defeated. Particularly the Zapatista Movement in Chiapas is alive and well. Nonviolent marches protesting treatment by the Mexican government regularly occur. At the entrance of villages, signs proudly declare a people in resistance. While behind the scenes, Zapatistas are not merely complainers but have actively established their own Indigenous schools, clinics and pharmacies using traditional ways.

Integration

Throughout the Indigenous communities of Chiapas, I am consistently reminded of a way of life that integrates spirituality into everyday life…and the grounding that brings. As I’ve returned to my geographic home base in the US, I’m also reminded just how fragile that way of life is with the forces active to destroy. I am aware of the soul loss within this nation ⏤ including my own. And the need to pull together, so that we do not feel as though we are merely one…but the One Tribe.

♦♦♦

* Outward appearances may confuse outsiders into thinking Catholicism is being practiced in the Maya highlands. This is not the case. Instead the saints have been converted. Each one carries the meaning and stories the Indigenous people have given them, and the spirit of the forest permeates the church with trees (pine boughs), mist (copal incense) and fireflies (a multitude of candles).

**The Popl Vuh is the K’iche’ Maya creation story and historical references originally documented in Maya hieroglyphics, transcribed in the 16th century.

***One of the worst curses perpetrated upon someone is due to envy. One person seeks to usurp what another has and, through witchcraft, captures the soul and offers it to the Earth Lord. In the Tzoltil Maya religion, the Earth Lord rules the Underworld and owns all the natural resources. The Earth Lord, represented as a greedy ladino with a cowboy hat sitting on a bull, may grudgingly provide, but may also take away on a whim. In Chiapas when a shaman of Don Xun Calixto’s stature engages with the Earth Lord it is not done through hallucinogens or alcohol but, as described, through trance, dreams and prayer. These undertakings are every bit as real as anything in the material world involving battles and danger.

♦♦♦

All images in this article ©2017 Carla Woody. All rights reserved.

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Book Review: Serpent Box

Since finishing Serpent Box, a novel by Vincent Louis Carrella, a few hours ago I’ve not wanted to let it go. I’ve been letting the words and content wash through me trying to find a place for it to settle. I even went out and walked the land. Still it is yet to ground.

Serpent BoxThe novel takes place in the backcountry of Appalachia, in hidden pockets, during a time in the last century when the Ku Klux Klan held no fear for what they did. There’s a Tree of Life and Death, entrance to the Underworld, signs, visions, spirits and The Holy Ghost. There are plenty of Heroes, female and male. The central one being a Holiness Child following his daddy’s footsteps, a traveling preacher of a charismatic fundamentalist sect whose practices involve handling deadly snakes and drinking poison in praise of Jesus.

Serpent Box reads like a mythological story. It speaks of those things people carry deeply and hold true⏤no matter what⏤and a darker nature of humanity. It’s a Hero’s Journey of a different sort. And all the archetypal characters, forces and phases of the journey are present. Carrella uses words and visual imagery hypnotically. He leads the reader in…bit by bit…until suddenly you may find yourself entranced⏤as I was⏤equally as mesmerized by the content of the novel as were the characters caught up in the path they were drawn to follow.

I didn’t fully realize the book’s subject matter before being pulled from page to page. Somewhere in the back of my mind I remembered hearing of Pentecostal sects who handle snakes regularly in their worship. Although, the drinking of lye and strychnine was new to me. But I knew little. I would urge you not to do research prior to reading Serpent Box. Save that for later so it doesn’t get in the way of the story or some insight into the culture and its beliefs.

As far as I can tell, this debut novel published in 2009 is the only book Vincent Louis Carrella has authored. He says, “The book, which took me seven years to write, was inspired by a single photograph of a young boy holding a snake in a box. That photo changed my life, and serves as a reminder to me, not just on the power of photography and story-telling, but fragility and meaning of the human body.”

I’d vote he writes more novels.  In the meantime follow his blog where each post uses a photo as entry for  “essays, stories and poems that deal with nature of vision and human perception, the mystery and power of memory and the intersection of spirit with the realm of the physical world.”

Serpent Box is available in print and ebook via Amazon and elsewhere.

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Book Review: Quantum Creativity

There’s an annual tradition I hold as a year closes. I find something to read that I think will set a meaningful frame for my personal transition into the next year. This time I found that in Amit Goswami’s Quantum Creativity.

Quantum Creativity Image

You may remember this author as one of the researchers and physicists featured in the documentary What the Bleep Do We Know? Dr. Goswami was also a senior scholar in residence at the Institute of Noetic Sciences and has taught at Pacifica, Philosophical Research University and elsewhere as well as written a number of books for the layperson on quantum physics related to consciousness.

If you’ve ever had the experience…

…of teaching and suddenly find that something has overtaken your vocal chords and words are being delivered at a depth you wondered afterward where they came from…

…or you’re writing a book and find it all laid out in front of you as though you’re watching a movie and realize your job is to merely scramble and write it all down as fast as it’s happening…

…maybe you’re painting and enter a space where the subject matter itself seems to be directing your brushstrokes and effect of the colors you use…

…then you realize this is one of the great wonders of the Universe.

The experiences I mention are mine. But most of us have had such things happen to varying degrees. And it brings a sense of true reverence and awe to the creative space. When it happens to me I know I’m touching something much larger than myself. That I’m somehow communing with the Collective Unconscious. I define these occurrences as one of the Great Mysteries. And I want to fine-tune my capabilities to open that portal more so.

I don’t know that it’s possible to call upon such a gift by will. But I am sure we can all develop ourselves to be in a state of readiness for when it does insert itself.

In Quantum Creativity Goswami goes a long way in explaining the quantum physics that informs the creative process.

…when subtle energies engage with consciousness, then creativity is possible, even likely. In their quantum aspects both the brain and the mind consist of possibilities from which consciousness can create the endlessly new…The presence of consciousness in itself does not cause potentiality to actualize. Collapse [manifestation] occurs when an observer with a brain is present as well, with the intention to look…

 He also confirms that having a consistent intention to look is like exercising a muscle. It develops strength to support the endeavor. It supports the wisdom of ritual. You have to religiously show up with your readiness. It’s not a sporadic thing, not something for dabblers.

There’s also the argument for daydreaming, mind wandering⏤something many of us were probably chastised for in school.  And for time in nature or meditation. Creativity shows up in the space between the thoughts.

Consider the composer Richard Wagner’s account of his discovery of the overture to Das Rheingold. Wagner came home after taking a walk and went to bed, but could not sleep for a while. His mind wandered through various musical themes and eventually he dozed. Suddenly, he awoke and the overture of his famous Rheingold came to him in a creative outpouring.

 As much as this book is a primer for quantum physics in general it also offers the relevance to the creative process specifically and how to set yourself up to receive it. If you want to enhance your own process, then this is a book to assist your development. Of course, you still have to do the work involved yourself. The first step is showing up for that exhilarating ride.

Quantum Creativity is widely available in print and ebook. Here it is on Amazon. Highly recommend if you’re interested in self-development of any kind.

 

 

 

Categories: Creativity Strategies, Sacred Reciprocity, The Writing Life, Visual Arts | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Encore – Following Energy: The Key to Your Navigational System

Rio Paucartambo

Rio Paucartambo Cusco Region, Peru ©1996 Carla Woody

Having heard that so many of us had a challenging 2016…in any number of ways…and since we’re at the start of 2017, I wanted to offer you a rerun of this article I wrote a few years ago.  It speaks of following energy, perhaps in a way you haven’t considered. And shares with you an annual tradition of mine⏤featured at the bottom⏤I’ve kept since I discovered it about five years ago. I find meaning and inspiration for the coming year in this way.

***

Several years ago, my friend Hilary Bee, a professional intuitive and spiritual teacher in the UK, told me that I have a strong inner navigational system guiding me. Over time, I’ve learned to trust it implicitly—even when the next step is obscured from my vision.

I call this navigational system intent, and it produces a high frequency of energy. I recognize completely when it’s communicating a path I am to take, choices to make. I’ve learned to recognize the energetic language. Equally, I’ve come to know over time when I’m straying from the path, or it’s time for an evolutionary change. A totally different level of energy accompanies that alert—and a nagging feeling something isn’t right. Of course, taking that fork in the road may initially produce chaos until order—and realignment—produces a deeper order.

I offer you this poem by C. P. Cavafy and then a caveat.

Ordinary people know what’s happening now,

the gods know future things

because they alone are totally enlightened.

Of what’s to come the wise perceive

things about to happen.

Sometimes during moments of intense study

their hearing’s troubled: the hidden sound

of things approaching reaches them,

and they listen reverently, while in the street outside

the people hear nothing whatsoever.*

 While I agree with Cavafy in that the majority of people may be completely unaware, or at least ignore signals, you have an opportunity always to live according to the wisdom of the gods. It’s a fine-tuning process but completely available to you. It requires that you pay attention and then the courage to deviate from any beaten path, sometimes to follow what you can’t readily see.

Here’s a rather dramatic example from my own life. Several years ago, I sponsored two back-to-back programs in Peru. During just one spiritual travel journey the energy is always strong from ceremonies, resident energy in sacred sites and more. With an additional one under my belt and little break between, the veil between the worlds had grown quite thin for me.

After the last group left for home, I was sitting in an Internet café in Cusco. It was the time of Inti Raymi, the festival of the sun, which transforms this usually placid former Incan Empire capital into masses of revelers, huge numbers coming from other locations. I knew that many pickpockets came from Lima to take advantage of the tourists during this time. Consequently, I took precautions. I carefully sat on my coat with my passport and money secured in an inside zipped pocket while I focused on email neglected for several days.

I had been at it for some time with people at computers on either side of me coming and going without any real attention on my part. But then I sensed something, noticing only the color green in my peripheral vision, and went back to my emails. Then again, slight movement out of the corner of my eye. A loud internal voice—not mine—said, Look down! I followed suit. My coat was hanging open, the inner pocket unzipped with passport and money gone!

Literally with no thought in my mind and seeing nothing to go after, I was out of my seat in a split second and onto the street thronged with thousands. Instead of raising a cry with no information to relay, something caused me to turn immediately into the small travel agency next to the Internet café. My hands had a life of their own, clamping onto the arms of two men standing just inside the agency, waiting in line. In a loud authoritative voice I stated, “My money and my passport! My money and my passport!”

They faced me then with shock on their faces as I continued to make the same demand. Both struggled in my grasp; my hands had become pincers of steel. Travel agents and other customers began to turn and get up from seats. The two men managed to turn me toward the entrance in their efforts to be free. One finally managed to duck out the door saying something to the other one, who slipped out of his jacket, leaving it in my hands.

Dropping it, I started to go after the pair but heard a woman’s voice saying, “Are these yours?” She held my passport, money pouch and the green jacket. I thanked her, as well as the others who had risen to aid me. Then I returned calmly to the café and resumed my correspondence.

That night I had a dream: Someone gifted me with a puma.**

As we entrain with a higher vibrational frequency, light energy doesn’t allow us to doubt or contract in fear. It is supreme and grounded. It has peripheral vision. Salk’a—as they call undomesticated energy in the Andes—induces clarity without thought, compassionate detachment and the warrior’s action. This is a state of being we can maintain.

I have a personal tradition. Either during winter or in the first days of spring I seek to remind myself of this Salk’a journey and store further inspiration for the long haul. I want to offer my tradition to you: Watch another of Cavafy’s poems, Ithaca, beautifully set to the music of Vangelis and the resonance of Sean Connery’s voice. This one I fully ascribe to.

********

“Poem by C.P. Cavafy, Collected Poems. Translated by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard. Edited by George Savidis. Revised Edition. Princeton University Press, 1992.

**Known as puma in Peru, we also know this sleek animal as jaguar, cougar or mountain lion. In the Indigenous Andes, it represents how to effectively navigate the Kaypacha, or Middle World, the one we walk in our everyday life.

Categories: Energy Healing, Healthy Living, Indigenous Wisdom, Spiritual Evolution, Spiritual Travel | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Hopi Qawinaq: Our People the Hopi

In March 2016 Maya Daykeeper Apab’yan Tew was sponsored by Kenosis Spirit Keepers as a guest on the spiritual travel program on Hopi. He was quite taken with his experience there and just sent me his thoughts. I want to share them here to show just little difference there is between any of us at the core level.

Apab'yan Tew

Maya Daykeeper Apab’yan Tew communicating to Hopi Land through his flute, March 2016.

There has been always a problem to determine what is Mesoamerica as such.  A territory? A cultural frame? A shared philosophy between related languages? Is it an absurd idea coming from a researcher’s desk? Maybe it’s just the obsession to try to classify everything!

When eating corn,  beans and chilis in the house of a friend, I feel no distance in my heart. Moenkopi, deep in what is now the modern United States, is ⏤for me⏤the town next to where I come from. But what am I saying? I’m from Guatemala! Let me say something: I no longer care about classification. The Hopi people are also my people.

We speak same way about the wind, the water, the air. We treat the bird, the snake, the rainbow, the rain…with respect. The living and the dead. Nobody knows where the link begins for us although Hopi elders retain their oral history about that. I believe what they say! Now, I ask my own elders: Did our brothers…some brothers…go to live far to the north?

I’m waiting for answers. And I will tell you what it is said here in my heart: It will come that we are the same people. Beloved and respected elders will speak  to us all again.

⏤Apab’yan Tew

Join us for our March 15-21, 2017 Spiritual Travel to Hopi: Sacred Guardians of the World to experience what Tat Apab’yan relays here.

Categories: Global Consciousness, Hopi, Indigenous Wisdom, Maya | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

Film Review: Accordions Rising

My favorite type of novel is when an author takes obscure subject matter or a little known historical occurrence then expands upon it, slipping in a perspective to make entertaining reading. I gain knowledge in an area where I had little or none without the drudge of academic study, all in the midst of pleasure.

That’s how I felt when I stumbled upon the films of Roberta Cantow. Earlier I reviewed Clotheslines. Now she’s just released Accordions Rising. Originally, I wasn’t necessarily attracted but remembered the unique spin she put on Clotheslines, which was really a statement on the status of women. So I watched the new one and became engaged just as I do with the type of novel I mentioned.

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This filmmaker moves you well beyond the instrument’s association with street vendors, Lawrence Welk and the polka to its surprising—for me—modern-day use in orchestral, experimental, jazz and ambient music. And history? How about accordion during rituals of Vodou’s Marie Laveau? Beyond the music itself, she features the accordionists giving voice  on how they came to their instrument. These are the kind of stories I personally love, plus all the examples of its role in traditions across the world. Then there’s the power of the accordion that you can hear throughout the film. Depending on the focus of the musician, it can take you on an emotional ride. And I guarantee you’ll be tapping your foot.

I was curious as to what drew Roberta to undertake all the intense research, time and other investments a documentary requires to do well…for something so unpopular. So I wrote to her and asked. I learned as much from her answer as I did from the film. I’m sharing a bit with you here.

 Let me start with this: The accordion, I have come to understand, is far less ‘obscure to mainstream’ than one might think. In fact, although I was not able to include all of these examples due to licensing issues, the list of musicians that play or include accordions is quite long. All with names that are familiar: Beatles, Bruce Springsteen, Tom Waits, etc.  The instrument was simply not foregrounded. It certainly did fall out of favor at one time, but there has been a resurgence for the last 20-30 years.

When I began, my knowledge of the instrument was thin. I had enjoyed a set of disks called Planet Squeezebox going all the way back to the late 80’s, the accordion in every corner of the world. In the 90’s I started seeing photographs and graphic images that piqued my interest. I attended the San Antonio International Accordion Festival, and it was as if I were lit up. I loved that it had a home in so many different cultures and styles of playing. I thought that it reflected the diversity in our culture (and our world) today. I was also extremely intrigued with the people who were using the accordion differently and unexpectedly in new music and avant-garde forms. My eyes were opened wide to the versatility and various passions of the players. I felt that it didn’t deserve to be ‘maligned’ the way it was, so I set out to set the record straight. I begin the film with these words…. ‘I have often been drawn to the misunderstood….’ and that is true of the subjects of many of my films.

With both of Roberta Cantow’s films I’ve seen thus far, a major take-away: When you think you know something—if you take it at face value—you don’t know anything.

If you have Amazon Prime, you can see it for free or $2.99 otherwise. And tell her what you think in the rating and reviews section.

Categories: Creativity Strategies, cultural interests, Film Review | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Thomas Hatathli: The Everyday Life of a Diné Medicine Man, Part II

At the end of the evening introduction to sacred Diné ways, Thomas Hatathli talked briefly about the Blessingway Ceremony he would offer the next day. He spoke of it as a cleansing, a restoration to full health, life-affirming choices and connection to all beings. Through song and prayer the ritual would provide a channel for healing.

I stood and asked Thomas if there was a way we all could best prepare and be ready for the next day’s ceremony. He said simply, “Just be you.”

I waited until he was free, then talked to Thomas privately. “I asked that question for myself. I’ve just returned from Peru. I was in a Q’ero village where I have relationships and learned of a death. I think I’m carrying a lot of grief.” I told him only that.

During time in the village in my role of group leader, I wasn’t able to really process the tragic story I’d been told of a young mother’s sudden, recent death and the devastating effect I witnessed on the dad and very young ones she left behind. Ever since, images had continually played in my mind of the event I never saw—haunting me. I couldn’t shake them, and I was experiencing a physical impact that was getting worse.

He gazed directly into my eyes. Perhaps beyond me, too. “Do you want to be my patient tomorrow?”

I wasn’t expecting this explicit invitation. I nodded yes.

“Then sit beside me tomorrow.” He asked no questions, nothing causing me to replay the painful moments.

The next day we gathered again at North Mountain Visitor Center, which backs up to the Phoenix Mountain Preserve. I found Thomas outside at the small amphitheater that opened to the land, already preparing himself.  He said this round place was a good one. At home he holds ceremonies in a hogan.

As he’d asked, I sat next to him. Others assembled in a loose circle. He took a small rug and woven cloth from a bag and laid both on the ground in front of him, one on top of the other. As he readied the space, he spoke about the turning basket he placed in the middle, the significance of the circle around its perimeter. There was a break in the circle where anything that was not life-affirming could be released to the east. He noted that some patients were afraid to let go and needed encouragement. He’d made sure to place the turning basket with its break to the east, the same as a hogan’s doorway.

Turning basket

Example of a turning basket.

Thomas inherited this turning basket from his grandfather who was a medicine man. It had to be over a hundred years old. I could only imagine how many ceremonies it had seen and the power it held. Even as the formal ceremony had yet to begin, I felt its energy reaching for us. We all were invited to place items—sacred bundles, jewelry, stones—in the turning basket; the purpose to represent each of us in this ritual, to clear any traumas or aspect out of balance.

Thomas talked about the sequence of ancient songs he would sing, the meaning of each one. The Mountain Song would come first, calling in the benevolent spirits of sacred mountains to provide protection and healing. Next would come the song he sang for himself, asking for the strength and capabilities required to sing the songs and make the prayers. The Bluebird Song was one to bring in happiness. The Returning Home Song was about returning home, to the natural order, coming home to your true Self. The prayers would come next, twelve of them.

When Thomas began to sing I closed my eyes. Before long I was lost to this world and entered the landscape this Chanter was weaving. Somewhere in there a thought swam up. I’ve heard this before. It sounds so familiar. I grasped to make the connection but couldn’t and surrendered again, letting the songs take me. At points periodically I experienced a lifting sensation as though leaving my body and thought it would fall over backwards. Somehow I remained upright. Every now and then my ears popped.

As the last song ended, I opened my eyes and knew how the songs were known to me. Icaros. Just a few weeks before I’d been with Don Alberto Manqueriapa, a respected Huachipaeri-Matsigenga spiritual leader, again in Peru as he sang the icaros during the rainforest rituals that hold the same intent of the Blessingway Ceremony. A return to the natural order. They couldn’t be the same language. Yet they were. And they held the same frequencies. They were drawn from the same place.

Thomas handed me the feathered female medicine stick to hold in my left hand and a small deerskin bundle that held dirt from the Sacred Mountain for my right hand.  As I received them extraordinary energy washed over me and I knew their power, recognized how many people had held them as I was now. The Blessingway prayers began, a continual chant until complete.

He directed me to press the medicine stick and bundle up and down both legs, then the rest of my body. Pressing them to my face would cleanse the senses and perception. To my head, purified the mind.

Thomas went to the fire made earlier and threw herbs upon the flames, a further prayer for happiness and blessings. We all went up and made an offering of corn meal. The Blessingway Ceremony came to a close.

Post Blessingway Ceremony

Post Blessingway Ceremony.

I remained seated outside for some time while others drifted back inside where we would share a meal. I didn’t trust my ability to walk. I wasn’t yet fully back in the material world. And I was assessing my state. I felt different, as though something had lifted. I was much lighter.

Three hours had passed as though mere minutes. We’d been encapsulated in a timeless bubble as the world around us went on. A short distance away people were on the preserve’s hiking trails. The parking lot had been full. I’d heard nothing but the cadence of Thomas’ words moving on the air. I felt nothing but the energy coursing through my body, taking me somewhere, and only a slight warmth from the sun. Not its increasing strength as it followed its path across the sky.

Naomi Tsosie had stayed behind, too. During the ceremony, she and a few other Diné women who were present sang softly, barely a beat behind Thomas. I later learned that these echoes are sustenance to the Chanter providing strength for them to continue, sometimes many hours or even days depending on the need.

Naomi came over to me. She gave me a sacred gift that I will always treasure. I understand the meaning. I only wish I hadn’t been so altered and could have expressed adequately how her action and kind words truly touched my heart.

Thomas knows over 500 hundred songs. He retains them in his mind, passed to him orally, not to be written down. Each having their own purpose to be drawn upon depending on the needs of the patient.

That day we experienced an abbreviated version of the Blessingway Ceremony by necessity of the circumstances. I truly get how this is a way of healing. It has had a lasting effect on my state of being, emotionally and physically.

Thomas’ level of impeccability—the care in which he spoke his words, the seamless way I absorbed their deeper meaning, how I felt the medicine he delivered—is a rarity. He would never say so himself…but I believe we were in the presence of a true Holy Man.

 ***

This is Part Two of a two-part article. To read Part One, go here.

To learn more on the Blessingway Ceremony, go here.

I wish to acknowledge Ruth Harrison, Kimberly Ewing, Nathan Shannon and Norm Meier who were present and contributed their memories of our time with Thomas, filling in where my own memory gapped.

Categories: Gratitude, Healing, Indigenous Wisdom, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

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