The Selfless Work of an Unheralded Saint

In The Grace of Ayni I began with these words…

There’s a point in spiritual development that—if we’re going any further—we recognize something so important that it will guide us the rest of our lives: It’s not all about us. It becomes a natural act to give back in whatever ways we can, large or small.

Don Sergio Castro is the epitome of such an altruistic person. Quietly, he goes about his humanitarian healing work with Maya communities in Chiapas. For forty-plus years he has continued in the face of severe hardships and little funding support. Through Kenosis Spirit Keepers we do what we can to alleviate his funding worries so he can attend to the important work he does. But so much more is needed.*

In July Dr. Mike Weddle took the time to visit and work with Don Sergio. I want to share with you his impressions.

As a board member of Kenosis Spirit Keepers, I recently visited the healing practice and wound clinic of Sergio Castro in the town of San Cristóbal de las Casas in Chiapas, Mexico. The clinic is partly funded by an adjacent museum of traditional dress, and the funding often comes up short. On the day I visited, there was one group waiting for the museum tour, and another group, the constant line of patients with diabetic ulcers, burns, gangrene, and skin infections. It was clear that Sergio was torn between the wounded, and the paying customers he needed to treat the wounded. As a physician, I pitched in so that he could devote some time with his museum group.

This resulted in an invitation to do house calls with him in town and in the rural hills that surround the town. Some of these people he attends to every day. I can’t reasonably describe what I saw. Maybe I could in a hospital grand rounds, but not here, to a non-medical audience, who would find such descriptions horrific. From my work in Guatemala I know well the hidden people, the paralyzed, the stroke people, and infirmed, that live in the darkness of back rooms of the houses you walk by, or houses you see dotting picturesque hillsides. We saw a child who in the U.S. would be in a hospital burn unit, and a diabetic man who would be in an operating room. We did surgery at the edge of a cornfield. It was a privilege working with him for this one day, but he is there every day. It’s hard to imagine what these people would do without him.

museum clinic

Dr. Mike Weddle (left) and Don Sergio Castro (right) at the textile museum-clinic in San Cristobal de las Casas.

Don Sergio

Don Sergio Castro tending to a patient in the field.

I have personally witnessed the patients waiting for Don Sergio’s care at his museum-clinic. But Mike’s descriptive words of working with Don Sergio in the field…just take my heart. He brings to mind Mother Teresa. The difference: Don Sergio has no church behind him; no rich foundations sustaining his work. Yet he continues because he must.

Thank the gods there are such people in the world.

*****

*Read more on Don Sergio’s work and view the documentary El Andalon (The Healer) here.

During our January 2017 Maya spiritual travel program to Chiapas we will visit Don Sergio and bring donations of simple medical supplies and support funds. These monies come from tuitions for travel program and any other donations. if you’d like to help, go here.

Categories: Maya, Sacred Reciprocity, Spiritual Evolution | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Our Visible Wings

I came across the inspirational short Invisible Wings when it was first featured on Karma Tube in 2015 and have watched it several times since. It touches a soft spot in me. It opens my heart, and I feel the flow of my own life moving through me. It generates reflection and gratitude…all channeled through the words of a 65-year-old tea seller named Vijayan against visually beautiful backdrops.

His use of the metaphor ‘journey’ in the film is important as well as the way he validates it. A bona fide journey isn’t over smooth ground but fraught with challenges along the way. If we meet those obstacles eye-to-eye, it encourages our growth, nurtures the spirit and frees our dreams…to manifest. If we don’t, it harnesses the soul.

All this from a man many may overlook: the owner of a small stall in India where he pours tea, his wife Mohana working beside him. They appear to have little in the way most would see them. But Vijayan carries a dream— to travel the world, to open his heart and mind to other lands and ways of living—and his wife shares that dream. They have traveled the globe. Even though, at the start of their marriage, she’d never been out of her own hometown.

It takes courage to face the Unknown, to step out of your comfort zone. But the comfort zone so quickly widens when you do…no matter that others think you’re crazy or try to hold you back. There is so much beauty to be experienced when you ignore those who remain in the corral.

Whether you take the initiative to make life happen or sit back and let life happen to you, it’s a choice—even if you don’t think the latter is. And while the title of this tribute to Vijayan and Mohana is called Invisible Wings, the wings any of us wear are visible and how we wear them: fully extended, clutched to the side, or somewhere in-between. Others easily see them if they pay attention. And we ourselves can feel them.

Nothing is more valuable than the felt presence of your own unleashed spirit, intimacy with family and friends…and a life fully lived…however you travel. I’m sharing this little film here—short in time but saying so much—with intent that it brings to you the sweetness and consideration it has for me.

Categories: Film, Gratitude, Spiritual Travel, Travel Experiences, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Film Review: From the Heart of the World and Aluna

The Kogi of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta on the coast of Colombia were not as well known 20-plus years ago as they are now. The documentary From the Heart of the World had received critical acclaim and enjoyed extensive showings in the 1990s.  By the time I wrote a review in 2008 the film had become difficult to find. The DVD was gifted to me from one of my readers. I’m sharing this review again for those who are not familiar with the Kogi or weren’t able to see the film before. I recently discovered that it’s now freely available on You Tube. Its sequel Aluna is available on Netflix.

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From the Heart of the World

From the Heart of the World: The Elder Brother’s Warning
Documentary Film by Alan Ereira
Produced by the BBC

This compelling documentary filmed in 1990 is about the Kogi of Northern Colombia who call themselves Elder Brother, descendants from the pre-Columbian Tairona. It contains a clear message to Younger Brother ⎯ westerners ⎯ about the havoc we’re collectively creating and how we need to take care of the world. The Kogi live high in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, a microcosm of the world containing a range of climates from glaciers to jungle — and it’s dying.

Elder Brother warns that the underlying network keeping the Earth in place is being torn apart and they want the whole world to listen.

The Great Mother is the mind inside nature… [With your mining] You are taking the Mother’s heart… She is being stripped to pieces… You’re bringing the world to an end. This looting will destroy it… We are not mad at Younger Brother… but you must learn.

The Kogi believe their role to be caretakers of the world.

If we Mamas didn’t do our work, the rain wouldn’t fall from the sky. The crops wouldn’t grow.

They spend much of their time in ritual and prayer. They live sequestered, virtually unreachable, yet knowledge of the state of the world comes to them. How can we not hear their message?

There’s also an amazing similarity to me between the Kogi of Colombia, the Q’ero of Peru and the Lacandón Maya of the Chiapas rainforest of Mexico that echo similar sacred beliefs, teachings of respect and some common experience. All three left their original homes and isolated themselves about four hundred years ago with the coming of the conquistadors. To me, there’s an uncanny resemblance between the traditional clothing and even some facial characteristics of the Lacandones and the Kogi.

In alignment with one version of the Condor and Eagle prophecy, the Kogi speak about Younger Brother being given knowledge of the machine and sent away across the sea from the Heart of the World (where Elder Brother lives). Of course, Younger Brother later returned and infiltrated the Americas. The jungle at the base of the Sierra Nevadas has been destroyed much as the Lacandón rainforest has been decimated.

Elder Brother is separated by altitude as are the Q’ero who have managed to keep their traditions largely intact. However, the Lacandón jungle didn’t prove dense enough to keep others at bay. Hence, their traditions are suffering near extinction.

I want to direct you to the Tairona Heritage Trust which contains history on the Tairona and Kogi. For folks who have worked with the Q’ero, you’ll be interested in the article on the use of coca in South America, also used by the Kogi in ceremonial function and otherwise.

View From the Heart of the World streaming on You Tube.

 

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Aluna 

Aluna: Produced and directed by Alan Ereira

 

Some 20 years after The Heart of the World was released Kogi Mamas initiated contact with their friend Alan Ereira living in the UK. They were worried. Younger Brother hadn’t heeded their warning. The state of the Earth was in ever-increasing danger. They asked their friend to help them put together a film. Speaking about Younger Brother

 

We are incapable of being changed by being spoken to. They now understand that we learn through our eyes, not our ears.

 

 

The film traces the Kogis’ journey to lay 250 miles of golden thread from the mountains to the coast, showing the interconnection of the natural world to the devastating environmental impacts at the hands of Younger Brother. Indeed, in this film they are showing—not telling us. All but a small percentage of the dialogue is in Kogi. There are no subtitles. None is needed for us to understand the clear message.

If you would like more, Alan Ereira generously shares his intimate diary here.

Aluna is available streaming on Netflix.

 

 

Categories: Film Review, Global Consciousness, Indigenous Wisdom | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

A Beautiful Calling

Imagine you are an unborn child. You are sleeping in the womb when, slowly, something reaches into your dreams drawing you awake. It’s gentle…inviting. The waters around you move slightly, a conduit for steady vibration. You feel it on your skin. The pulsation washes through your small body.

Maya midwife

Apab’yan Tew preparing mother and unborn baby for birth. Photo courtesy: Apab’yan Tew. Used with permission.

You are tenderly rocked.

You are held in flow.

You are held by waters.

You are held by Presence.

You are held by love.

You feel welcomed.

You anticipate birth into the arms of the one who calls you.

You await the moment you meet the one who carries you.

You look forward to life.

You are comforted.

 

I was so very touched by this image that I wanted to share it with you. My good friend Apab’yan Tew is a Maya Daykeeper and spiritual guide. He’s also a midwife, likely the only Maya male in this role. In The Unborn, the Ancestors I wrote of the singing ritual he shared with us, as well as the fire ceremony, when Kenosis Spirit Keepers sponsored him to the US in March for our Spirit Keepers Series.

The “singing speech” is used to engage the baby in preparation and during the birthing process. It was powerful for me when he offered it back then. Now putting it together with the image⎯more so⎯imagining what it is like for the unborn child.

And, in the Maya way, a birth takes place in the tuj, the traditional sweatbath. The child is delivered into an environment full of warmth and humidity. Different but not so different than the womb.

In the fire ceremony, the ancestors are similarly called to be present and acknowledged.

Imagine a world where those who are coming behind us…and those have gone ahead of us…and all beings…are so revered and respected.

 ***

Tat Apab’yan will be with us the entire time during our travels in Chiapas, Mexico for the Maya Mysteries program January 18-28. Aside from the fire ceremony, he has gladly agreed to share more on Maya midwifery, the Maya Calendar and esoteric practices of the Living Maya.

You are invited to join us for this very precious time⎯a rare opportunity to experience Maya traditions so deeply. For more information and how to register, go here.

The mother successfully delivered a baby girl.

 

Categories: Compassionate Communication, Indigenous Wisdom, Maya | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Book Review – Georgia: A Novel of Georgia O’Keeffe

GeorgiaI’ve read biographies on Georgia O’Keeffe. But this is different. You might think because this is a novel it’s a poof piece. It’s not. The author portrays the relationship between O’Keeffe and her patron-photographer-husband Alfred Stieglitz from the first enchantment to its lingering disintegration. It’s written from the painter’s perspective. While no one can ever get completely inside someone else’s head, it’s evident that Dawn Tripp has done the extensive research necessary that makes the book plausible. Believable. This is essentially a book about the precise care and manipulation Stieglitz gave to the creation of O’Keeffe’s public persona from the point she was moldable to when she was not. It’s a story laid against the backdrop of their great talents and marriage—the play between Steiglitz’s control and O’Keeffe’s internal conflict. It’s about the position women were historically placed and their treatment … and how this woman claimed her rightful recognition as one of the greatest American artists. Perhaps there’s an argument that O’Keeffe wouldn’t have made it there without Stieglitz. But I don’t find merit in it. She was a force all her own.

As an artist myself I appreciate the way the author wrote from an artist’s sensitivities on the form. That, too, made the book believable.

…It occurs to me now that art is exactly this: making what’s unseen but all around, visible. Having that sort of faith…

And it pained me to read what she wrote of O’Keeffe going blind. She enlists the gardener’s help:

…to lead my left hand onto the first sheet of paper… He leaves and I’m alone. I paint shapes—a wave, a circle—the circle slides like grace over the page. I make forms that echo those early abstract forms I made when I was no one, and it occurs to me that art is a separate country, outside the body, outside time, like death or desire, an element beyond our physical selves we are traveling toward…

 

Available on Amazon and elsewhere.

 

Categories: Book Review, Creativity Strategies, Visual Arts | Tags: , , | 5 Comments

The Grace of Ayni: How a Young Q’ero Man Journeys to Maya Land

There’s a point in spiritual development that—if we’re going any further—we recognize something so important that it will guide us the rest of our lives: It’s not all about us. It becomes a natural act to give back in whatever ways we can, large or small. Every time we do it’s an act of gratitude done—not with thoughts of getting something in return—but purely because it’s ours to do, representative of a deeper calling. I’ve written about ayni before, a practice embedded in the way of life in the Andes and other Indigenous cultures. Ayni is a Quechua word loosely translated as sacred reciprocity, a way of living within the universal law of balance and flow.

Ayni travels anywhere in your life: family, friends, those you know little or not at all. Acknowledgement to the Creator, Mother Earth, the ancestors and guides—those seen and unseen—comprising all the threads of this tapestry we call existence. It’s the validation of your presence in its make-up, a particular insight to global consciousness.

The practice has long been a focus in my personal life through what I’ve learned by consistent contact with Indigenous ways. I’m especially invested in exposing participants of my spiritual travel programs as I can—by writing about it, speaking of it and embedding automatic ayni within tuitions that goes to help support the spiritual leaders and their families who have offered their hearts to us. And it goes into the communities to benefit people the travelers have never met.

I make this point because it’s not a natural part of Western culture, which is particularly evident lately. We must be taught that ayni is ours to embrace so the world becomes a better place. In the last few years, I’ve become much more vocal about all this. I talk to people about standing beside me in this work. It does take a global village. Through Kenosis Spirit Keepers, we’ve created Kinship Ambassadors recognizing individuals who are supporting our initiatives in various ways. Our Kinship Circle acknowledges collaborative organizations we’ve worked with to jointly further our common missions.

A wonderful thing has unfolded over the last few years, something that makes my heart sing. Folks are stepping forward to support or completely sponsor areas of the work. They understand the value through their own experiences. I cannot begin to tell you how much it means that they are joining with the vision. This is ayni in action.

With this preface, I want to share a story leading to the most recent occurrence. During the 2014 Heart of the Andes program, we visited with Q’ero friends in Ccochamocco. We spent our days in ceremony, surrounded by the children, awestruck by the power of the land. Ccochamocco is a small, isolated village high in the Andes at 14,500 feet. Residents live in stone huts, with none of the most basic services we have, their alpaca close by. Life is hard there. Yet in its simplicity, in ayni with each other and Pachamama (Mother Earth), the Apus (sacred mountain spirits), Mama Killa (Mother Moon) and Inti (the Sun), these are some of the most peaceful, connected people I’ve experienced. Power is delivered through their natural reverence for all things. We can learn a lot from them.

Our first day in Ccochomocco, a young man made the point of introducing himself to me. He was 17 years old at the time. His name was Santos, son of my old friend Don Domingo, a respected paq’o (shaman or traditional Wisdom Keeper) that I’d first met 20 years before. A few years ago he passed suddenly under unexplained circumstances, a tragedy his family still struggles to endure. It was evident this young man was suffering his father’s absence. He stayed close while we were there, and proclaimed he would follow in his father’s footsteps to undertake the path of the paq’o himself. He meant it. It’s not a light commitment. It’s one of endurance and duty to community, in service to the Cosmos. He set aside his given name Santos and took on a new one: Salqa. In Quechua, Salqa (or Salka, another spelling) means ‘undomesticated energy’⏤the word given to the chaotic energy of The Great Mystery that distills into pure intent.

The next year I arranged a pilgrimage starting outside La Paz, Bolivia and ending in Cusco, closely replicating the initiation journey of the first Inka couple Manco Capac and Mama Ocllo. Directed by their father-god Viracocha, they sought a most holy place to build a city—a place of the sun and navel of the world. As part of this program we sponsored five Qeros and one Hopi along the path of their origins. I made sure that Salqa was invited. I felt it important that, if Salqa was going to commit himself in this way, then it was key for him to know, at this young age, the place of his spiritual origins.

He was thrilled to be part of this journey. Innocence and humility are part of his make-up. He was so eager to learn. Janet Harvey, a return traveler from North Carolina, remembers him this way:

Salqa and I stood listening to our guide describe the significant areas at Raqch’i, the temple of Wiracocha. The guide mentioned one place as the ‘ushnu.’  “Isn’t that a word for ‘navel’?”  I asked. Both of us checked the guidebook he had purchased to find this place on the map. Instead, we became transfixed on the photo of a sculpted image of Viracocha. One of many moments shared with this young/old, playful, wise, curious, creative, helpful, encouraging (for those of us hiking UP the steep path), smiling, thoughtful young man.

During this 2015 pilgrimage I experienced a vision during despacho ceremony that will shortly come to pass in 2016: Qero, Maya, Hopi and Aymara journeying together all the way from Bolivia culminating in Ccochamocco in the high Andes of Peru. But secretly I also held another vision: to bring a Qero paq’o to Maya Land in 2017 to meet those relations in their home environment. A Hopi Wisdom Keeper is already slated to join us there as normal. I had no idea how this would come to pass but have learned to trust and set it aside. The details were not mine to arrange.

This May, out of the blue, I was contacted by another return traveler inquiring about the possibility of sponsoring Salqa on the Maya program in January. Terry Waters of Colorado told me she’d intended to set her reasons for making the suggestion down in just a few paragraphs…and wrote a few pages instead. They were heartfelt. In part, she wrote:

…During our ceremony in Raqch’i Salqa so powerfully expressed himself, clearly from his heart, in the English he’d just learned. His words will remain in my memory. It was like music to my soul…Our Q’ero friends planted blessings in my heart that just keep growing, and I experience this young man as a fine representative of his people, someone who will do great things and impact many souls.

Salqa Apaza

Salqa (left) breathing prayers into a kintu during 2015 despacho ceremony outside Cusco. Photo courtesy of Diane Grupe Marshall.

As ayni took the lead, things were on the wind and developed quickly. In just a few days it was settled. A group of women who traveled with Salqa in Bolivia and Peru bonded together to sponsor him to Maya Land this coming January.

Salqa Bolivia

Salqa Apaza (foreground) on the Island of the Sun, Bolivia, during the 2015 Bolivia-Peru pilgrimage. Photo courtesy of Diane Grupe Marshall.

Diane Grupe Marshall of Montana shared with me:

Salqa is so kind, compassionate and mindful of his traditions. But he’s also becoming aware of today’s challenges and need to preserve those Q’ero traditions.

Maya Daykeeper Apab’yan Tew has agreed to act as his “spiritual father” during the entire January journey. Indeed, he’s delighted to take him under his wing with great anticipation. Since Tat Apab’yan will be on the Bolivia-Peru journey in September-October, they will have opportunity to make a connection in advance. Such mentoring will be a blessing to witness, and I know will add so much for all of us as we hold the space.

As for Salqa, he accepted our invitation and wrote:

 It is a magnificent idea! I will be preparing for such a trip from this early time. I would like to share our customs and traditions…Andean spirituality of the Nation of Q’eros. I am happy to read this message! Thank you for giving me the opportunity to travel and get to know other countries and get to know the Maya brothers. Greetings from the distance and many hugs for you.

Ccochamocco

Q’ero village of Ccochamocco in the Cusco Region of Peru. Photo courtesy of Carla Woody.

And so…this is the story…how the young paq’o Salqa Apaza will make history by being the first of his people to share traditions with Maya leaders in their home communities in Chiapas, Mexico.

And how the grace of ayni has a life of its own and travels on.

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You are invited to join us on this important, history-making journey, January 18-28, in Maya Land, and support the tutelage of this young Qero Wisdom Keeper. Be part of the global village.

 

 

Categories: Global Consciousness, Gratitude, Hopi, Indigenous Wisdom, Maya, Q'ero, Spiritual Evolution | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

Film Review: The Grounded

It’s apropos that I’m reviewing The Grounded documentary at this point. I’ve just returned from a weekend in Utah where I attended a workshop by my old friend Oakley Gordon introducing the material and practices from his book Andean Cosmovision, which I reviewed last month. The two are connected.

Steve Kroschel is an independent filmmaker and naturalist. His work has been featured on the National Geographic Channel, BBC, PBS and feature films. In 2012 he stumbled upon the power of connecting to the Earth⎯sometimes called “Earthing” or “Grounding”⎯because of his own physical pain issues. He discovered that, if he would lie directly on the ground, or even bury himself in soil, his pain lessened and overnight…dissipated. He slept better, too. Curious, he undertook research to determine how Grounding affects life force. He came up with a way to conduct Earth frequencies through a cable and attached it to cut flowers in a container of water on a table inside his home. Sitting immediately beside those flowers were others that were not connected. Those receiving the energy lived significantly longer.

Not everyone can or wants to walk barefoot outside frequently or bury themselves in earth. Steve invented devices that people could use on an everyday basis and began distributing them for free to the population of Haines, Alaska near where he lives. Soon he had a pool of local folks using them on a regular basis, participating in his research. Results were largely consistent with his own experience, some quite remarkable. One man was in a wheelchair, his legs paralyzed for 25 years. First, he was able to move his legs and feet slightly. Ultimately he was able to walk haltingly with a walker.

Steve knew that if he could get some well-known figures on board with his discovery, to show them proof, then this message of healing would likely reach a wider audience. That was his goal: a drug-free, natural approach to health and wellbeing available to everyone. He was able to gain the interest and endorsement of the late Apollo 14 astronaut Edgar Mitchell, environmental scientist Dr. David Suzuki and others. Today he collaborates with Dr. Laura Koniver in this work documenting changes in pain levels, macula health, osteoporosis and more.

Of course, Indigenous peoples have known since time immemorial that Mother Earth is alive, as is the entire Cosmos.  These energy properties are available through intent and connection. Merely sit on the earth, or raise your hands to the sun or moon and experience an elevated sense of being. That’s what Oakley’s book is about: his learnings over 22 years from the teachings of the Andes. I validate what he is now teaching through my own experience over time with Andean and other Indigenous traditions.

Here’s what’s particularly important about Steve Kroschel’s documentary. There are a lot of naysayers out there, those only too ready to dismiss the effects discussed here as “New Age” or devalued out of hand, particularly by those with interests in Big Pharma. With the clinical proof and testimonies offered in the film, there’s no denying the powerful regenerative effects all around us…for free.

The Grounded is well worth your health to watch: 1.25 hours. Available streaming on You Tube.

Or, at least view Prescription Is Earth, the shorter version that contains most of the salient points in 18 minutes. Also streaming for free on You Tube.

For more information on Grounding, see Steve Kroschel’s website.

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With thanks to friend Betina Lindsey for pointing me to this film.

 

 

 

Categories: Energy Healing, Film Review, Healthy Living, Indigenous Wisdom | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Unborn, the Ancestors

Little girl…little boy. You, the leaf! You, the new branch! Listen to me. Listen to this song I have. A word I have…a speech. You must be dreaming. You must be sleeping. Are you tired? Can I speak to you? Are you tired? Are you dreaming?

I want to talk to you. I have a word from my heart to you. Would you want to talk to me? Would you want to move?

You are the reason my heart is alive! You are the reason my life is complete!

In a lilting voice he gently coaxed then paused, just as his lineage had for centuries. He sought a cue, maybe movement, to let him know he’d made a connection.

From the beginning of March, I’d traveled with Maya Daykeeper Apab’yan Tew to Kansas, Hopi and elsewhere around Arizona. Between journeys I was privileged to host him in my home. Now we were in the last days of the month, he stood—delicately poised in traditional dress, eyes half closed, an arm lifted, hand upturned—at the front of the room. The rest of us seated, in a meditative state.

Huichol composer-musician Xavier Quijas Yxayotl played his flute softly in the background, his music framing Apab’yan’s words. Monita Lynn Baker joined in with just the appropriate bit of percussion. I’d invited Xavier to our Spirit Keepers Series gathering at North Mountain Visitors Center in Phoenix to reconnect with Apab’yan. They hadn’t seen each other in 25 years. Their ritual music-dance teachers were friends but both had long passed.

Apab’yan had spoken at length on K’iche’ Maya worldview—originating from the Guatemalan highlands—and his responsibilities as a Daykeeper working with the Cholq’ij calendar. During the course of the evening he revealed that he’d acted as a traditional midwife for the last 16 years. He had a patient with a difficult pregnancy, the baby in a questionable position, awaiting his return home. This mention naturally led into the singing speech we experienced, the intervention meant to guide the baby to reposition on its own in utero, to align correctly with the birth canal.*

The song ended. The room was silent, the energy palpable. I think we must all have been touched in ways indefinable. Perhaps there was something enlivened that had been asleep. Or a dream grounded into this reality. Perhaps there were aspects we each may have carried into this life from our mothers and fathers—inner vulnerabilities—that were soothed, shed. This was a perfect portal to usher us into the fire ceremony the next day.

North Mountain Visitors Center abuts the Phoenix Mountain Preserve. The beautiful grounds are pristine, belying its poignant past. It was here, from the 1890s until 1930s, that many Native families camped, attempting to see the children taken from their homes and subjected to forced assimilation at the Phoenix Indian School. Interspersed were the tuberculosis camps in the early 1900s for those seeking the curative properties of dry desert air.

We gathered, in the shadows of the small ampitheatre, and Apab’yan consecrated an altar space where he would guide the fire ceremony. And it was here that he would call upon the ancestors. In his own words

Everything is alive. Everything has a form of communication. Everything has meaning and belongs to a natural system.

The Maya ceremony consists of preparing a ceremonial pyre. It is called a gift but also a payment in the sense of reciprocity. The K’iche’ ceremonial pyre is not a bonfire; it does not burn a long time. It does not need to last. The importance has to do with what happens while the fire is active: There must be a dialogue.

As normal, those assembled took part in the building of the altar, some given special roles. One held the fire stick. Some were called upon to make the first lighting. Two others to pass out candles. And the fire began to burn. Puffing on the ceremonial cigar, Apab’yan called for the Grandmothers-Grandfathers to be present. He made the prayers. Placing candles, we made our own prayers. At long last, the fire started to die down, the conversation coming to completion.

But not yet.

Apab’yan went over to Xavier and Monita, whispering to them. After asking me to lead the circle in holding space, those three walked into the desert. And then…on the air…from the distance…we heard flute and voice rising and falling…singing to the land…to any lingering ghosts of sadness…offering up prayers. And some strange force blew through. It overtook my body. Ever so slowly, involuntarily, my body began to arch backwards until it was in an impossible position. Held. For what seemed like forever. Until it let me go. When I opened my eyes, I saw the Diné woman across the circle crying.

When they re-entered the circle, Apab’yan knelt before her and asked her to ritually bless him with burning sage. That image and the power of it sticks in my mind: Diné woman, Maya man.

The ceremony now closed, the sense of what occurred remained. A communal undertaking. Correctly done. Even as I’m writing this now, I’m feeling into the sacred space…all over again…we all created. I imagine it still hangs in the air in the ampitheatre, the people who pass through wondering what has touched them.

I’ve been in powerful ceremonies before. Fire ceremonies, too. But none ever as compelling as this one. Perhaps it was the culmination of all the energy accumulated from all the ceremonies over a month’s time, carried with us…from Hopi…to private land outside Wichita…to private and public sites in Tucson and finally in Phoenix. And some particularly precious energy remains within my own sanctuary.**

With much respect and gratitude to Apab’yan  and those who showed up in these ritual circles. The journey continues in January in Maya Land with the strength we gathered in March. Anyone drawn is welcome.

Below I’m adding a piece written by Pam Hale Trachta with her own reflections.

 The Power of Ritual and Ceremony

The smoke from the copal grew thicker in the room, as Apab’yan fed the small container fire with the granules of incense, and his prayers. People seated around him and behind him prayed too, mesmerized now by the hypnotic chanting in the Mayan language, punctuated by English phrases so we could all track where the prayers were being directed.

The room was darkened in order to suggest the atmosphere of the caves where this water ceremony is usually performed. A bowl of water resting on the table received the blessing, and participants would eventually be offered sips of it, as in communion. Finally, roses were dipped into the water and used to shake drops of water on all those gathered.

It was a potent blessing, because the intimacy and power of ritual transcends cultures, language differences and even philosophical details. Spirit is Spirit in any language. And the language of Spirit is ceremony.

Water Ceremony

Water Ceremony at Tacheria Interfaith School of Spiritual Direction in Tucson. Photo: Pam Hale Trachta.

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 * Apab’yan Tew is likely the only male Maya midwife that exists. He knows of no other. Indeed, it’s not traditional. It occurred because, when he was a lost young man wandering in the Guatemala highlands, a Maya midwife took him in. And before long he assisted her in the process. He became her apprentice until he began to birth babies on his own. He remains readily sought after as a midwife. When in the highlands he does everything from the beginning: talks, sings, moves and delivers the baby. In the city, he prepares everything until the point of delivery then sends the mother to the hospital for final delivery by a doctor. This was the case recently in Mexico City. Apab’yan and the mother were able to bypass the difficulties of the pregnancy. She successfully delivered a baby girl.

**With many thanks to the following people and organizations for hosting us and making the March beauty possible:

  • On Hopi: Charlene and Harold Joseph;
  • In Kansas: Lonetta Lollar and John Brack, and Belle Dessa and the Great Plains Earth Institute;
  • Elsewhere in Arizona: Pam Hale Trachta, Frank Williams and Tacheria Interfaith School of Spiritual Direction, Leslie Spencer-Snider and North Mountain Visitors Center, and Cindy Heath.
Categories: cultural interests, Gratitude, Indigenous Wisdom, Maya, Sacred Reciprocity | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Dialogue of Creative Intelligence

Ann Hamilton describes herself as a “maker” rather than artist, and characterizes the start of her projects this way: I just try to listen for what something needs to become. Michelangelo relayed a similar process so long ago: I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.

Delivery doesn’t come in an instant but evolves in a process ⏤ bit by bit. It’s about being patient with the unfolding. It takes a dialogue with what wants to emerge, creating space for the communication. Sitting with it.

If what emerges has depth then it isn’t formulaic. For me, it’s about synthesis. In what form does this communication want to be held? Two-dimensional? Three-dimensional? Oil? Mixed media? Or written form? I introduce options to the conversation and question the best fit ⏤ and am open to changing directions in mid-stream because it’s suddenly called for.

I’m not a person who has one way of doing things. That would bore me to tears, limit flexibility and impede problem-solving. I enjoy stockpiling choices at my fingertips. It fuels my creative energy. Ongoing learning, adding this and that to my repertoire, inspires me. I believe this strategy sparks a type of creative intelligence. I wouldn’t fit on an assembly line and abhor restrictions. It sucks the life right out of me.

I’ve written before about the expectations establishment galleries and publishers hold. Recording companies, too. They want what they call ‘consistency’ which translates to limitation of subject matter and form. Of course, they’re invested in bottom line dollars. But what they’re doing in the process is obstructing artistic growth. The artists I revere most are those who deviate.

Shawn Phillips is a case in point:

…The mere fact that he was a musician as much as a singer and songwriter made him stand out, and helped him attract a dedicated following. His refusal to shape his music — which crosses between folk-rock, jazz, progressive, pop, and classical — to anyone else’s expectations allows him to hold onto a large and dedicated cult following, without ever achieving the stardom that his talent seemed to merit…He never courted an obvious commercial sound, preferring to write songs that, as he put it, “make you feel different from the way you felt before you started listening”…

My respect for Picasso grew exponentially when I was in Paris last year and went to the Picasso Museum, which houses representations of all the journeys he’d taken. I’d known him mostly as a Cubist, and for his Rose and Blue Periods. I discovered he was not only a painter of many diverging techniques, but also a sculptor, printmaker, ceramicist, stage designer, poet and playwright.

 

PicassoGoat

She-Goat. Picasso, 1950. Constructed of found objects then bronze cast.

Picasso’s ability to produce works in an astonishing range of styles made him well respected during his own lifetime. After his death in 1973 his value as an artist and inspiration to other artists has only grown. He is without a doubt destined to permanently etch himself into the fabric of humanity as one of the greatest artists of all time.

There’s something to be said for being unorthodox. Especially if you don’t care about mainstream success. Although it may come unexpectedly…precisely because you deviate.

In this round-about way I’m now introducing my latest venture. For a while I’d felt the pull to move into more three-dimensional artwork and had been casting about to see what drew me. Then I discovered the separate works of Jan Huling and Nancy Josephson…unlike anything I’d seen before…which spoke to my unconventional soul. They’ve both had their artwork featured in a multitude of galleries, museums, newspapers and magazines. I decided to go study with them for a week in April in Puerto Vallarta at Hacienda Mosaico and came away with a treasure trove of new knowledge from their generous teachings. And they’re good people.  No affected airs there despite all their accomplishments.

Das Bug

Das Bug. 8′ long. Jan Huling. Currently showing at the Duane Reed Gallery in St. Louis and slated for the Art Market + Design Fair in Bridgehampton, July 7-10. Photo used with permission.

In her artist statement Jan says:

In a recent review, the New York Times dubbed my work “oddball assemblages,” and aptly so. My three-dimensional collages combine found objects with surface design, sometimes touching on narrative themes. I’m also drawn to religious and political icons, inspired by a continuing fascination with indigenous or popular culture and world religions…Czech seed beads adorn objects in colorful patterns, camouflaging their original circumstance, allowing us to see them as pure form without their usual connotations. The process is slow and meticulous, Zen-like, with the choice of forms motivating color schemes and iconography.

Bird Goddess

Erzulie Kouvez, Bird Goddess. 10′ tall x 6′ diameter. Nancy Josephson. Exhibiting at the Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore until September 4. Photo used with permission.

Erzulie Kouvez

Erzulie Kouvez, detail. Photo used with permission.

Musician, artist, Vodou priestess…Nancy shares this:

I started in music. I only wanted to do ‘real’ music…rootsy, soulful and elemental. I wanted to get to the core of what music is in the way it lifts the spirit from the inside…Then I started using my hands instead of my voice. Visual art gave me a more solitary way to explore how to surround myself in physical beauty and meaning. Trial and Error was my alma mater…Then I went to Haiti…My first trip opened up questions about physical home, one’s spiritual ‘home’, how one ‘gets by’, what one must risk during the creative process, what IS the creative process. With every trip I found more questions as well as a few answers.

Here’s the piece I’ve thus far created since returning home. A plethora of ideas hover in the ether nagging at me. I believe most of them will get their turn over time. I’ll integrate what I’ve learned into both two and three-dimensional pieces, an extension of my meditation practice. Indeed, I’d been describing the process as Zen-like before I read the same in Jan’s artist statement. But then there’s a bit of obsessive quality to it, too…

Rain God Front

The Rain God. Carla Woody. Mixed media: Czech glass beads, resin clay, found object, acrylics. 7.5″ tall x 14″ diameter.*

The Rain God

The Rain God, side view.

On another note, I’ve been asked about my artwork: How can you let them go?

When there’s a dialogue of great depth I find that I do need to keep them on the easel or table for a while, maybe even a few months, to see what else we may have to say to each other ⏤ to make sure the conversation has come to a close. When there’s a sense of finality then I can release it with the intent the piece itself will take the dialogue to others.

Sometimes that happens in surprising ways. A few years ago I painted an oil I called My Magdalen Heart which was displayed at The Gallery in Williams. On a day I was there, a French Canadian man approached me with an incredulous look saying the piece had spoken to him. It’s a blessing for me when I hear how the dialogue continues. A few days later the Magdalen went to live in New Mexico with a woman who’d had a relationship with her since childhood.

It’s important to put our expressions out into the world, in whatever way we do, without conforming to others’ rules, and then sending them on their way…so they can take on a life of their own. There may be someone just waiting to engage in the dialogue ⏤ with an anticipation they didn’t know they had.

♦︎♦︎♦︎

*The Rain God is currently available through The Gallery in Williams or inquire by email through this blog.

Categories: Arts, Creativity Strategies, Visual Arts | Tags: , , , | 4 Comments

Book Review: The Andean Cosmovision

AndeanCosmovision

This is a precious book on a number of levels. First, it is written by a Western man, a dedicated seeker on the Andean path through the teachings of Don Américo Yábar, who has consistently held intent to integrate his learnings back into life at home…and share what he’s discovered over more than twenty years. He touches on some of his struggles to do so coming from a Western intellectual perspective.  This honesty is important. It shows possibility toward core understanding beyond the mind and a way of incorporating it into daily living, an evolutionary process.

I can state these things with confidence having known Oakley Gordon over a very long time, witnessing his process as much as being a fellow traveler on the path. I know his heart. We were introduced to the Andean way through the same spiritual teacher, literally at the same time and place. He has also served on the board of Kenosis Spirit Keepers as Vice-President since our inception.

The book is a primer on Andean worldview. If you want more beyond the introduction, Oakley provides endnotes and anthropological resources. In this book though he writes to you as a friend would, not as an academic. It’s easy to take in and comprehend.

But ultimately it’s a guidebook, a how-to. It’s a compilation of meditations gleaned directly from Don Américo and exposure to other paq’os⎯a general Quechua term for healer, shaman or mystic⎯or created by the author from what he’s learned while in Peru. I don’t think another such book exists. This is important. From my own spiritual travel programs, people periodically express the fear of not being able to recreate the same state of being upon their return home. I share and show them how to do so. But The Andean Cosmovision provides it in print with many different examples to explore with step-by-step instruction.

Oakley states that, although much of the book is taken from the teachings of one specific teacher, he believes any paq’o would validate them. I’ll take it one step further. The tenets covered in this book are found at the core of all Indigenous traditions I’ve worked within: Maya, Hopi and Andean, as well as others where I’ve had exposure.

Highly recommend. Available in print and e-book through Amazon and on Oakley’s website.

♦︎♦︎♦︎

 Oakley will be covering the material in his book during a weekend workshop June 3-5, 2016 in Rockville, Utah to benefit the Heart Walk Foundation who work within the Japu Q’ero villages in the areas of education and agriculture. For more information, click this link to a pdf flyer: Andean Cosmovision Workshop

Categories: Book Review, Indigenous Wisdom, Meditation, Q'ero, Spiritual Evolution | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

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