The Insidious Expectation of Privilege: Taking Things for Granted

By chance, I flew out just hours ahead of the predicted snow, hoping to meet better weather in Ohio where I was visiting my folks for a week. I live in a rural, wilderness-like setting on a hill abutting state trust land below, and love it there. Just yesterday morning a bobcat sat on my deck giving herself a bath then wandered on her way. Such things are a blessing to me. Nature—miles of it—is right outside my door. The fact that I must drive unmaintained dirt roads to my place, and absence of services like mail delivery and trash pick-up, have been of little consequence to me. I figure these factors will keep most people from inhabiting this area, and I can maintain my solitude. My neighbor Barry, who lives about a mile away, would stop in to feed my cat while I was gone. He was dependable and I wasn’t worried. That was Monday.

By Wednesday, there were news updates that a colossal snowstorm was imminent back in northern Arizona. I texted Barry and asked him to leave a full bowl of dry food that day for my cat in case he couldn’t make it over the next day. Over the ensuing days, he sent texts with updates as to the situation at home. We had a few feet of snow with drifts up to a foot higher and periodic white-outs. He couldn’t locate my driveway due to the depth of snow and was trekking in from the old ranch road that ran through the state trust land. I later learned that for a day or two the road from his place was also unpassable and—bless his heart—he slogged through snow up to his knees to feed my ungrateful cat who never shows her face to him.

Now, if you live in places like Wisconsin, New York or Canada, this is probably nothing. But we don’t get this kind of weather here and aren’t prepared for it. I didn’t even own a snow shovel. Normally, if there is snowfall at my home, it melts in a couple of hours and the sun is out again. Not so this time. Then came the text from Barry that I had no water. Now I was worried.

Nothing changed over the days until I headed home except Barry said he’d made a trail from his repeated footsteps up the hill so I’d be able to walk in more easily, about a quarter mile. Again, that doesn’t sound like much, and minus the snow wouldn’t have exhausted me ferrying necessities up the slippery slope from where I’d had to leave my vehicle.

The storm was moving eastward across the US. Again luckily, I got out of Ohio early morning before high winds hit but was rerouted because of the storm elsewhere. Before I ventured homeward in the car the next morning, I remembered to buy gallons of drinking water.  Over the next several days, I learned just how much snow it took to make a minimal amount of melted water for domestic use and how much of my time had to be devoted to basic living needs. At least I still had heat. I still could not drive my 4WD vehicle up my driveway.

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Q’eros. Photo: Santos Machacca.

In the midst of scooping snow into containers, I began to think of my Q’ero friends living in their high-altitude villages in the Peruvian Andes in stone huts with dirt floors. No electricity or running water and minimal heat. What was a temporary, minor inconvenience for me is a way of life for them, a hard one.

Just a few days prior to my trip to Ohio, I received a message from Santos Machacca, my Q’ero friend and liaison for the work I do there. He was up in the village of Ccochamocco and told me of the cold torrential rains they were having. At 14,500’ altitude the nights get quite cold even in their springtime. Santos said a lot of baby alpaca were dying. This news reinforced to me the importance of our project providing shelters for alpaca and sheep, not something the norm for them. The Q’ero people are subsistence farmers living on inhospitable land and climate. Loss of any livestock threatens their wellbeing and traditions.

 

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Newborn lambs. Photo: Gi Thomas.

Just as my snow days were starting to draw to an end, I heard from Gi Thomas, one of the board members for Kenosis Spirit Keepers. They were being hit with the monster snowstorm moving across the country. Gi and her partner Katrina Marshall live on a farm in Oregon and had newborn lambs. She wrote, “I’m working hard at just keeping the sheep warm, fed, snow shoveled, water tubs full, etc. All this snow reminds me of what Q’eros must be like during those big snow storms of late. Helps me keep things in perspective.”

 

 

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Katrina Marshall in Oregon. Photo: Gi Thomas.

But lack of snow can bring about hardship, too. I’ve just returned from my program on Hopi. This year they’ve had the same plentiful moisture we have so far. It wasn’t so last winter.  We’d received almost no snowfall and very light monsoon in 2017. I saw the effect because the free-range cattle that sometimes come around my place had eaten a four-foot spread of prickly pear cactus down to nothing. They must have insides of iron. Prickly pear have long, menacing thorns.

During the several days we were on Hopi, comments came from different directions lamenting the drought conditions of the previous year. Traditional Hopis use dry farming, depending on moisture from the sky—not irrigation—to grow their corn, beans, melon and squash. Last year they were not able to produce the needed corn for their ceremonies, or food from their fields.

These days they have access to grocery stores, so are not solely dependent on what they can grow. But it caused me to ask the question, “What did your ancestors do?” The answer came, “They stored food from year to year.” But what if there are years of drought?

The snow finally cleared to the point a plumber could make it up my driveway a week after I returned home. He checked the usual (scary, expensive) suspects causing lack of water, and they didn’t apply. Thankfully. He finally tracked down the issue, an outside electrical outlet that needed to be reset—strangely connected to my well. A push of the button and water began to flow again. He was there about fifteen minutes minus the friendly conversation. I was glad to pay the rather large bill for my needs to be taken care of so easily.

I’m a privileged Westerner living in the area I do by choice, in a home built to my specifications with modern conveniences. Any inconveniences are ones I choose or merely temporary. Most of us—those likely reading this article—are given to taking precious things for granted. Running water, electricity, access to food, readily available transportation, wellbeing. Freedom to live where we choose. These are some of the insidious underpinnings of privilege. There are plenty more. We expect to have them even as others do not. By an accident of birth, we are not where they are.

I cannot brush that recognition away. I cannot turn a blind eye. I cannot do nothing. I bless that storm for reminding me.

Categories: Global Consciousness, Gratitude, Spiritual Evolution | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Teresita

In 1889, a young girl was overcome with a mysterious affliction, some say a response brought on by an attack from a rejected suitor. She fell ill to the degree she took no sustenance and descended into a coma-like state. Nothing could be done either by the ranch’s curandera, the local doctor or the ever-present praying women circled around her bed. As her skin grayed and shriveled, her father had to face a reality. She was quickly slipping away. On the twelfth day, he instructed his men to build a coffin. When finally her breath ceased, heart stilled and no pulse could be found, all knew the worst had happened. After the ritual washing of the body, she was clothed in white and laid on a table in a room with candles, the coffin nearby. There she would be placed the next morning. The women began their overnight vigil, praying as they would. Suddenly, about midnight, there was a scream from one of the women who glanced up from her bowed head to notice slight flickering of the girl’s closed eyes and movement in her body. Then more screams from the rest and a rush out the door…for the girl slowly sat up and began looking around the room disoriented.

Over the next three months, she remained in a trance-like state. Her weakened condition returned to normal over that time, but for much of it she had to be cared for and fed. She showed no interest in food and displayed no emotions or interest in anything. Remaining in her room, she withdrew into herself or sometimes gazed into space as though seeing beyond this dimension.

Then one day, the fugue lifted as quickly as it came…and she began to heal the afflicted merely through her presence, gaze of her eyes, vibration of her words, and laying on of hands. And somehow…she correctly foretold futures. None of these capabilities existed previously.

teresitaShe was 17 years old. Her name was Teresa Urrea, affectionately known as Teresita, the illegitimate daughter of Cayetana Chávez and Tomás Urrea. Soon she would become widely known, throughout Mexico, the US and elsewhere, as Santa Teresa of Cabora and, in some circles, the Mexican Joan of Arc and Queen of the Yaquis.

Teresita’s mother was a Tehueco Indian, 14 years old at her daughter’s birth. Her father was a wealthy landholder of Spanish lineage, a patron owning several ranches. At 15, she was taken into Don Tomás’ home where she made the transition to a girl of privilege – for which she cared little – while alternately being schooled in herbalism by Huila, the ranch’s curandera. Her heart rested with those who had the least, and the Mayo and Yaqui Indians of the Sonoran region.

Teresita first began her healing ways with mothers during childbirth, easing pain and moving babies in dangerous birthing positions. But quickly the incidents moved on to other ailments. There was an uncanny similarity to some of the stories of Jesus. A paralyzed man found he walked after her quiet urging and touch. A deaf boy suddenly able to hear. There were countless others. Now, such fantastic tales could easily be dismissed were it not for the fact that they were corroborated by eye witnesses and consistent over time. When she was unable to dispel disease, she instilled peace and readiness for passing.

Word spread like wildfire. It wasn’t long until the sick and their families, in the thousands, made pilgrimage, setting up camp to wait for audiences with Teresita. In all her short lifetime, she accepted nothing from people for her work. Life for Santa Teresita of Cabora – declared so by the people she served (which brought anger from the Catholic Church) – her father or any of those associated with the Urrea ranch would never be the same again.

The Yaqui and Mayo Indians uplifted her as their champion. Word made its way to northern Chihuahua, and the ears of Cruz Chávez, a rebel mestizo religious fanatic in the remote village of Tomochic. Chávez and followers made their own journey to consult Teresita. Thereafter, he kept correspondence with her until his death during the siege and massacre of Tomochic, perpetrated by Porfirio Díaz, president of Mexico, and the federal army.

Although Teresita’s message was always one of peace and tolerance, she was blamed for the Tomochic uprising, a precursor to the Mexican Revolution. Later discovery of letters between Chávez and Teresita proved her innocent of any inciting. However, the Mexican government continued to hold her accountable for subversive activities regarding insurgence of the Yaqui and Tomochi and feared her influence. At the age of 19, this devout young woman – an Innocent in so many ways – was arrested by the federales. Threatened with execution, she opted for exile over the border to the US. Don Tomás left his wife, mistress, many children and properties behind and accompanied her. Over the next years Teresita would be exploited by a “medical company” for their own gain and a political activist-publisher, a longtime family friend, in support of his cause against Porfirio Díaz. She would live in Arizona, Texas, California and New York, and travel across the US.

Santa Teresita of Cabora would finally return to the small town of Clifton in eastern Arizona where she would live out her days. There she was diagnosed with tuberculosis and passed in 1906 at 33 leaving two young children. Having healed so many, she was unable to heal herself. She is buried next to her father.

Teresita remains venerated.

I will admit to a fascination with Teresita, her life being well documented. I’m not the only one. William Curry Holden, historian and archaeologist, researched her life for 20 years, speaking to those remaining who had known her and going to the places she had frequented, along with unearthing newspaper articles of the time. His investigation culminated in Teresita, a straightforward biography published in 1978 that reads like a good novel.

Author Luis Urrea discovered he was Teresita’s great-nephew after a colleague suggested it in 1978. He thought back to what he considered interesting but false family stories he’d heard as a boy from an aunt in Tijuana describing an ancestor who could heal and fly. Then he found there were those who had written books about her. His lengthy novels The Hummingbird’s Daughter (2005) and Queen of America (2011) fill in any gaps left by Holden with lyrical language and story.

I’ve read all 3 of these books but left wanting more. This spring I may be making a pilgrimage over to Clifton in search of any lingering presence Teresita may have left.

Categories: Book Review, Contemplative Life, Healing, Indigenous Wisdom | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Heroic Journey of Maya Spiritual Leader Xun Calixto

Imagine you live in a rustic, tiny village and have barely ventured beyond the next town. Few westerners can imagine confining themselves to a small radius within the region of their homes. But in many parts of the world, it’s normal for any number of reasons. Now imagine if you were invited to travel beyond the borders that are familiar to you…all the way into another country? Would you go? Your answer will be telling as to the filter with which you experience the world. It’s usual to have at least some questions or trepidation about venturing into the Unknown. But would you let it hold you back? Or would you instead leap at the chance?

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Totik Xun laying an altar in his home. Photo credit: Carla Woody.

I’ve known Totik* Xun Calixto for about ten years. He’s an important fixture during my Maya spiritual travel program when we visit his home in a misty hamlet above the Maya village of San Juan Chamula in the Chiapas highlands of Mexico. Xun came to his calling later in life, enduring a process that involved a number of hardships (not unusual for those sought out for that kind of sacred responsibility). He holds a private ceremony for us according to Tzotzil Maya traditions. Xun retains spiritual responsibilities within his community and is also revered as a healer. In his tradition, he listens to the blood by pulsing the wrist, and is able to determine the cause of any malady – spiritual, mental

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Listening to the blood. Photo credit: Carla Woody.

or physical. The transmission he receives determines the coding – size, color and number of candles and specific accompanying prayers – of the curing ritual he does before his altar. Xun is quite forthcoming in describing to us what he’s doing and why from within his traditions, an approach that describes things in metaphorical fashion, often otherworldly. Sometimes a stretch to understand from a strictly western reference. But the curing isn’t for the mind’s understanding anyway, which can certainly get in the way if someone is too attached to intellectual knowledge.

This year’s Maya journey could be thought of as a pilgrimage. It took us through southern Guatemala, over the Mexican border to the Chiapas highlands and then down to the rainforest lowlands. I wanted to sponsor Xun on the Guatemala portion so he could experience and share traditions with Maya cousins. But I didn’t really know if he would consider going. It required him to travel on his own by bus, a long trip from his home all the way to our starting point in Guatemala City. Air travel was out of the question. I shouldn’t have wondered though. Xun was over the moon at the invitation.

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Pure enjoyment. Photo credit: Bekki Davis.

It sometimes happens that, when any of us decide to take that leap outside our comfort zone, there are tests…as if to say…are you sure? Travel required a passport, which turned out to be a several months’ long, challenging process of back and forth travel to the large city of Tuxtla Gutierrez because Xun had no birth certificate. Without on-the-ground liaisons to accompany him there would have been a different outcome, and I’m in their debt. Just shy of two months prior to our launch, he finally had passport in hand. It was nail-biting time for me on the day of his anticipated arrival at our lodging in Guatemala City. The long ride required changes along the way, perhaps daunting for one who hadn’t traveled. When the front door sounded that night, I finally exhaled. Then took in the light of his ear-to-ear grin and added my own to his.

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Pure absorption, textile museum in Guatemala City. Photo credit: Bekki Davis.

 

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An invitation to spin wool in San Juan La Laguna. Photo credit: Carla Woody.

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Maximón. Photo credit: Carla Woody.

It’s a safe bet to say that Xun’s experience was one of bewonderment. I don’t recall ever seeing an adult be so open, just taking things in at every turn. A good role model for any of us. I never saw him rejecting anything unfamiliar but simply accepting, an appreciation of difference.

One of the most touching moments for me was when we were in the Tz’utujil Maya village of Santiago Atitlan and visited Maximón. Known as Rilaj Mam, Beloved Grandfather or Venerable Ancestor, Maximón is a trickster diety and protector, disguised in effigy, who may be petitioned through prayer and offerings of alcohol, money or tobacco, and interventions by his attending curandero. This tradition only exists in several towns in western Guatemala. Thus, unknown to Xun. Yet when we entered the small ceremonial house, Xun immediately dropped to his knees and began to pray before Maximón. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen such an outpouring. In his own dialect, he chanted. Soon tears were springing from Xun’s eyes as he gestured, taking in all present, asking for blessings and healings for everyone. It was sincere and humble. He was present, no show for effect. It wasn’t long before my own eyes began to feel wet with emotion.

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Xun (2nd from right) in the home of Maximón. Photo credit: Carla Woody.

It’s impossible to orchestrate each person’s journey and I wouldn’t want to. Each has their own reasons for setting out on such a venture into the Unknown, even if not consciously known to themselves. Openings, difficulties and beauty occur. Resolve and resolutions integrate as they will over time, a part of the spiritual path.

I am very much looking forward to seeing Toltik Xun again next year, in expectancy for what these travels have come to mean for him. It was a real honor and blessing to have him accompany us.

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*Toltik means Spiritual Father, a title of reverence in the Tzotzil Maya dialect.

 

 

Categories: Gratitude, Indigenous Wisdom, Maya, Spiritual Travel | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Borderlands

I’m sitting here waiting for the words to come. Sometimes writing is like that. Not because there’s writer’s block but because it takes a while – sometimes a long while – for the feelings to swim up…and form thought…then phrases…then sentences. At least enough to make a cohesive statement.

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Yaxchilan, Chiapas, Mexico. Photo: Carla Woody

I’m not sure I’m there yet. I knew it five days ago when, during the final circle of this year’s spiritual travel journey in Maya Lands, I attempted to express myself. By then we’d been in the rainforest for five days. Its soft humidity – really, something about the inherent energy ⎻ tends to open other dimensions for me, even as it retains the Great Mystery. Perhaps it has something to do with the insistent, primal calling of the howler monkeys.

Having heard theirs, I’d offered some last reflections to the group on our experiences then paused. I realized I’d left out a piece I was struggling with emotionally, something well beyond my control. What I was able to say in that moment felt totally inadequate in relation to what I wanted to say. I imagine it came out somewhat flat, even though I could feel the tears in my throat.

linebecomesariverI’d avoided reading The Line Becomes a River: Dispatches from the Border by Francisco Cantú for several months. I knew the subject matter would be hard for me to ingest. My feelings about what’s been happening at the US-Mexico border run deep. It rips my heart out. I personally know Rita Cantú, the author’s mother, a retired park ranger and composer-musician. She lives just a few miles from me. Knowing more now through her son’s book, I have enormous respect for the care in which she raised him, to instill the cultural values of his Mexican heritage and respect for nature. That said, I could imagine her challenges when he decided to join the US Border Patrol. Learning so in the book, it seemed unfathomable to me.

I can’t imagine what possessed me. But I decided to take Francisco’s book on my spiritual travel program in southern Guatemala and Chiapas, Mexico. I guess some part of me decided that reading it from a physical distance at home in northern Arizona, difficult but still easier, wasn’t appropriate. Instead, after our daily immersion with the Maya peoples and sacred traditions of those lands, I spent most nights with Francisco’s recollections. I struggled with them.

Francisco set the stage by writing of his fascination with the borderlands, wanting to know as much as he could. He disclosed that, after obtaining a degree in international relations, he desired more than intellectual knowledge. This is what led to his work as an agent for the US Border Patrol working in the hard deserts of Arizona, Texas and New Mexico between 2008 and 2012.

I doubt he held anything back in the book. Although, he does say some of those in the book are composites of different people he worked with or otherwise encountered. Locations were sometimes changed. Done so to protect privacy and, I imagine, safety in some cases. He relayed his daily life: the range of personalities and approaches of fellow agents, tracking and capturing humans in the bleakest places, witnessing desperation, hopelessness and death, the horrific acts of the drug cartels and opportunism of coyotes.

No matter what you tell yourself and how kind you may be toward asylum seekers, after a while it’s got to take a serious toll on your psyche. I was relieved when I began to pick up Francisco’s internal conflict such that he finally opted for a job removing himself from the field, and then from the Border Patrol completely.

But that brought new awareness. He’d developed a friendship with a Mexican man who, unbeknownst to Francisco, had been brought to the US illegally at age 11, married and had children who were US citizens by birth. His friend went home to Mexico to be with his dying mother but was caught attempting to re-enter and detained. Not able to just stand by, Francisco found himself on the other side. He did all he could to support his friend in navigating a legal system that cares little of personal circumstances, and otherwise helped out the family whose father was deported. At the publication of the book, they remained torn apart.

The Line Becomes a River, named a top ten book for 2018 by NPR and the Washington Post, was a hard read but a necessary one. I was personally glad the author didn’t gloss over the most difficult parts, that he was exposed to wide-ranging aspects of the border issues, and wasn’t afraid to write honestly about it. It’s a book all should read to best inform their thoughts and votes.

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I’ve spent many years developing relationships with Indigenous spiritual leaders and healers who serve their own people in the lands where I sponsor programs. Travelers’ tuitions help support the families of those involved and, through special projects, for the well-being of their communities. A range of service people are also involved and the local economy benefits. I don’t frequent areas considered unsafe. So it’s unlikely those I work with encounter the drug cartel. However, for many of them, behind the scenes of our time with them, they endure the results of acute poverty with little to no opportunity to change that state.

That hurts my soul, and extends globally to anyone seeking relief from violence, scarcity of any kind and inner demons they carry as a result. I cannot harden my heart as many can and turn away. Through a slight accident of birth and the times I was born into, I have not personally experienced these levels of hardship but a good number did down my family line.

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Altar at the Cofradia House (Brotherhood), Santiago Atitlan, Guatemala. Photo: Carla Woody.

So I am yet sitting here waiting for the words to arise to adequately express the sorrow I hold for a world where everyone isn’t invited to the table, and the helplessness I feel to do anything about it except my very small part to make it so.

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The Metaphor: Borderlands

During opening circles for any of my spiritual travel programs, I invite participants to note any personal themes that run through our time together. Mine are not tourist trips but first to help preserve Indigenous traditions, and also an invitation for travelers to undertake deep inner work. What better way than spiritual journeys against the backdrop of sacred lifeways of foreign lands where we’re not within our usual comfort zone? The purpose, of course, is to carry the learnings home to create re-alignment and best live through personal values.

I invite them to note any metaphors that arise from their themes, providing a rich foundation and potential in-roads. Only this morning, as I finish writing this article, have I discovered my own coming from these travels: Borderlands.

There are the literal borderlands fraught with political issues that create great distress and tragedies. But also there are metaphysical borderlands. In this moment, what comes to me is the forbidden ground we’re told we must not cross in order to reinforce the status quo. But if we did and navigated those lands wisely, with great courage and heart, there’s the opportunity to integrate any wounded or unintegrated aspects of the self, and move through the threshold to enter an elevated life.

This is an area of personal depth and further unearthing. The Line Becomes a River  delivered it to me, gratefully while being immersed in the Maya lands and in relationship with peoples I’ve come to love.

Categories: Book Review, Global Consciousness, Indigenous Wisdom, Maya, Spiritual Evolution | Tags: , , , | 3 Comments

Spiritual Travel to Peru: The Heart of the Andes

SPECIAL ANNOUNCEMENT

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Inka Cross at the Island of the Moon. Photo: Carla Woody.

Spiritual Travel to Peru: The Heart of the Andes
October 20-30, 2019

An Intimate Journey Honoring the Peoples of the Eagle and Condor.

Co-sponsored by Kenosis and Kenosis Spirit Keepers.
A portion of tuition tax-deductible.

Registration discount until May 31.

We are pleased to announce our 2019 spiritual travel journey to Peru, an immersion experience in sacred ways linking the Indigenous peoples of the Andes and High Jungle.
We begin in areas outside Cusco with Doña Vilma Pinedo, born into a long lineage of respected Quechua paqo’s— traditional Wisdom Keepers and mystics. Through her teachings and rituals we first experience ayni — sacred reciprocity— and how to guide through dreams and divination.

In a nighttime audience with a well-known Altomisayoq, high priest in the Andean Way, we touch the invisible world in a session where the mountain and earth spirits manifest and answer our personal questions. Then encounter condors, representatives of the Upper World, in their natural habitat riding the air currents in front of us. A beautiful sacred site by a Pachamama cave is the place that frames a day of ceremony and community with Q’ero paq’os, ushering us fully into the world of the Andes.

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Q’ero despacho ceremony. Modesto Machacca Apaza breathing prayers into a coca kintu (prayer offering). Photo credit: Cécile Sother.

Transitioning through the Cloud Forest, we float down the Alto Madre de Dios — High Mother of God — deep into the jungle to the pristine, wild surroundings of the Manu Biosphere Reserve. There we come to engage with Huachipaeri-Matsigenga ceremonial teachings and medicine ways of the jungle with Elder Don Alberto Manqueriapa. It’s said he carries the rainforest in his soul.

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Despacho with Don Alberto Manquierapa, 2-day ceremony in high jungle. Photo: Carla Woody

Throughout our travels Carla Woody guides the grounding of your experiences so that you may take them home to inform your life in transformational ways.

Sponsored Guests Through your tuition and private donations we are sponsoring a Native Wisdom Keeper from the US to join us for the entire journey.

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Sacred mountain Apu Ausangate. Photo: Carla Woody

This is a journey of ayni — sacred reciprocity. We sit in ceremony of all these traditions, become an allyu — spiritual community — honoring all that sustains the planet and our own wellbeing. We come together with blessings, prayers and share the daily activities of all pilgrims.

Registration is limited to maintain the intimate nature. A portion of tuition is tax-deductible to help preserve continuity of Native wisdom traditions through the support programs of Kenosis Spirit Keepers, the nonprofit extension of Kenosis.

 

For detailed information including itinerary, tuition, bios, and how to register, go here.

Early registration discount ends May 31. Register now to hold your space!
Registration deadline September 20, 2019.

For questions call 928-778-1058 or email cwoody@kenosis.net.

I am privileged to bring you such a special opportunity – one you’re not likely to find on your own. I have been offering this program since 2000 and have developed relationships with authentic spiritual leaders and healers who serve their communities. Join me for this Adventure of the Spirit…and know that you are supporting continuation of the invisible, sacred threads that hold the world together.

Categories: Andean Cosmology, Global Consciousness, Indigenous Wisdom, Q'ero, Spiritual Travel | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Great Becoming

This is the time of drawing together the threads of where you’ve been and what you’ve experienced. Typically, we all do it in one way or another. Unconsciously, we all agree upon this premise: The new year is a line of demarcation, artificial though it may be. There’s the thought of something new on the horizon, maybe more, some kind of movement and being refreshed, perhaps even stated goals. I almost cringe when I write that last word, a surface structure declaration having little to do with an evolutionary or revolutionary process ⎯ depending on your personal preference for rate of speed.

But what if you went deeper? What if you consider the deep structure? Determine if you’re presenting yourself to the artificial line of demarcation…or a true threshold. So that’s the first consideration and choice.

If you go for the threshold, you elected for the Great Becoming. I’d like to tell you it’s a magical spell, one that you cast during an exotic ritual. But it’s not. Don’t let anyone try to convince you otherwise. I could say it’s easy, that you won’t be frightened, challenged or confused. But I won’t lie to you…because I’ve been there and anticipate being there to varying degrees again.

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In the time of monsoons. Photo: Carla Woody

It takes courage, commitment, paying attention and making the incremental choices that are most aligned with where and how you want to be in the world. Careful discernment. It means discovering ways to dispense with whatever had been holding you back and took you offline, usually at an unconscious level, as well as giving yourself permission to operate differently.

I will tell you that it’s bound to create chaos if you jump in with both feet. Some of us have more stomach for navigating upheavals than others, which is absolutely fine either way. I will also tell you the path levels out as you make new choices that serve you well. That doesn’t mean tremors will completely go away. Often, full-blown eruptions occur just as you ready yourself to step through the next threshold and then the one beyond that. It’s normal. Challenges and tests present themselves to see if you really mean it.

For me, the life you live ⎯ meaning any of us ⎯ is a deeply spiritual journey meant to return you to the place of purity where you began. By necessity, part of the trip is getting distracted along the way. There’s no point in beating yourself up about it. It’s a sign indicating you’ve fallen away from your Self, and introducing foreign territory is the cure.

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The clarity of night. Photo: Carla Woody

There then is a choice point, a fork in the road. We all face them to lesser and larger degrees. If you choose to ignore the signs, then things will occur in ways that can be painful but probably not unexpected. Rather than remaining stalled, you can take responsibility and deviate…off the beaten path. When you do, you begin to regain that sense of Self. You experience an Initiation brought about by your own accord. In turn, it produces the momentum that feeds Readiness…the final element required to compel you through the Threshold. This is the process of the Great Becoming that, if you’re determined, continues as long as your breath. It’s a conscious one.

With every footfall you create your own story and legacy. If anything, these quieter times of stillness are opportunities to be introspective. Take yourself back over the lands you’ve traveled…in all your years. Where have you placed your feet? How was that landscape your teacher and what did it hold to be true over time? At what points have you experienced Initiation? It’s equally as important to acknowledge these truths and embody the grace you yourself have created, and where else you want to go.

Categories: Contemplative Life, Spiritual Evolution, Spiritual Travel | Tags: , , , | 3 Comments

Book Review – The Monk of Mokha

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The Monk of Mokha is a modern-day Hero’s Journey – a monumental quest – and, amazingly, it’s completely true. Mokhtar Alkhanshali, was raised in the US in poor circumstances by attentive Yemeni parents. But like a lot of young people, he couldn’t get his act together. He also distanced himself from his Yemeni culture. While other friends and family members found their place, Mokhtar wandered aimlessly through life and changed jobs frequently. That is…until one day in 2015…prompted by a friend…he looked across the street from his workplace and noticed a statue of a Yemeni man drinking coffee, an artifact left over from the long abandoned Hills Brothers coffee plant. Suddenly, 27-year-old Mokhtar received his calling, and his hair was on fire.

With some research, he discovered that Sufi monks in the isolated mountains of Yemen were the first to cultivate and brew coffee beginning in the 15th century. Over the next 200 years, Yemen owned the trade, exporting high quality coffee to Europe, starting the coffee craze. He also found that the quality of Yemeni coffee drastically declined throughout the 20th century due to limited rainfall and the growing popularity of chewing qat, a mild narcotic that had overtaken coffee fields and eroded the soil.

Mokhtar decided that he was going to revolutionize the coffee of his family’s homeland, bring it back to its former grandeur, and return to Yemeni coffee farmers the dignity and prosperity they deserve. Here are just some of the challenges: Mokhtar knew nothing about coffee and must become a top certified expert, a stringent and costly venture. He had absolutely no money. He desperately needed a mentor, someone who could show him the ropes and guide him in such a journey.  Few farmers in Yemen even attempted to cultivate the poor quality coffee the land produced, and he knew none of those who did. Maybe the worst: Just saying Yemen immediately brings to mind tragic civil war, staggering humanitarian crisis and extreme danger. Who would even invest in such a venture? Could the necessary infrastructure be put in place? How would travel even be possible? How would he dodge bullets and escape terrorists?

The Monk of Moha is the inspiring story, a very wild ride, of exactly how – in just 2 short years – Mokhtar Alkhanshali accomplished exactly what he set out to do. In 2017, his fledgling company Port of Mokha offered East Hayma Single Farmer Lot. It was given the highest score ever awarded by the Coffee Review’s grading program since its inception over 25 years ago. Best of all, Mokhtar has revived communities where only devastation lived. Port of Mokha coffee is now selling for $42 per 4 ounces.

The author Dave Eggers is to be commended for his social responsibility, having undertaken this unlikely, heroic tale. He successfully produced an insightful book that also offers an appreciation for Yemen, its people and culture against tragic circumstances the country is currently suffering. I also learned a lot about coffee.

Here’s an engaging bit of the story in video, told by Mokhtar himself on the Port of Mokha website, to entice you to read the book. Available in print, ebook and audiobook at Amazon and elsewhere. Highly recommend.

 

Categories: Book Review, cultural interests, Sacred Reciprocity | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

Book Review: The Meaning of Mary Magdalene

magdalenebookIt took me some months to read Cynthia Bourgeault’s book on Mary Magdalene. Not because I was slogging through mud, just the opposite. It contains such richness that I read just a few pages in each sitting to give passages time to digest. There are many books out there giving evidence, laying down arguments for and against, as well as historical references on the identity of Mary Magdalene and her role relative to Jesus and the apostles. This book goes deeper and harvests the fruit in a down-to-earth, often humorous, way. No stuffiness here.

The points for us today rest in the title of the book – The Meaning of Mary Magdalene – where we can understand the true significance of who she was, the effect she had then and what her spirit carries through time. Consider that, in 2017, the Dalai Lama said women playing a key role in this century would ensure peace and “promote basic human values of compassion and love.” Truly this is what we need.

Central here is the Gospel of Mary Magdalene discovered in an antiquities market by a German collector in the late 1800s. It essentially languished until it was published in German in 1955, then in English in the mid 1970s. It is but 19 pages, essentially of dialogue, with pages 1-6 and 11-14 missing. Bourgeault also draws heavily on the Gospel of Thomas and Gospel of Philip from the Nag Hammadi findings, which she says are of the same “spiritual stream” as the Gospel of Mary Magdalene. These three gnostic gospels were not controlled by the politics of the time, as the sanctioned New Testament. The author does make reference to statements in the New Testament, but this is more to get beneath the surface of what was stated or inferred and how it balances out with the the gnostic writings.

However Mary and Jesus met, whether or not they were married in the everyday sense, it is clear they were joined in a holy, sacred marriage as part of a conscious path. Each was equally important to the other in the process of deepening, equality, love and integrity in service of wholeness and purity of heart. They entrusted each other – created the safe haven – to do the shadow work necessary to deliver them. Reading here we sense the intensity in which it all took place, an alchemical process of transmutation to something greater than either could be on their own. This in the midst and mess of humanness, but not all. There is also the imaginal realm, another dimension where chaos is swept aside and the light gets in.

I also appreciated the attention given to kenosis in so many paragraphs. Twenty years ago I used that word to name the work I do and still abide by it.

Kenosis comes from the Greek verb kenosein, which means to empty oneself…

self-emptying is the touchstone, the core reality underlying every moment…

The letting go of kenosis is actually closer to letting be…

first and foremost a visionary tool…its primary focus is to cleanse the lens of perception…

the direct gateway into a divine reality that can be immediately experienced as both compassionate and infinitely generous…

I originally began reading The Meaning of Mary Magdalene as a deepening for my [now recent] spiritual travel program in Provence where Mary figured prominently. By preparing in this way, it took me to places I hadn’t previously been in meaning and depth when I actually walked the land once more where she also put her feet.

This is an important book for our times.

Available in print, e-book and audiobook on Amazon and widely elsewhere.

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

To Be Caught

I had the overwhelming pull to get out on the land. To place my feet solidly and walk. To be conscious of placing each footstep. I did…for some miles. I found it imperative. That – even though I was exhausted, arriving home just the night before from a very long journey. Writing now, a few days later, I recognize – by surrendering to that draw – I began my integration process, and I hold a new awareness.

I was summoned by the wild land where I live – not some random thought of my mind. Having learned what I’d learned in the land over the ocean, Re-entry required this physical act. It’s about engagement, like introducing a new friend to an old one who needed no explanation when both had claimed me. Neither were jealous, and I’d allowed myself to be caught. Somehow this recognition has further solidified my grounding. The giving over. Surrendering. Whatever you want to call it, know that it had nothing to do with the mind and everything to do with the heart.

♦♦♦

We sat in circle, having settled into this spacious, high-ceilinged room in a 16th century building, now a small family-run hotel in Arles. I began to lay some initial groundwork for entry into our journey in Provence. I talked to the women about the land. There are certain places in the world that hold a form of magic. Hard to articulate, it comes out through its attraction and what it produces. Provence is one of those places. To feel such depth, it must be welcomed through pure immersion. As that happens, it touches aspects of ourselves we didn’t know existed. Then we can begin to understand the beauty the Provençal land produces, attraction to artists, other makers…and the currents that brought Mary Magdalene, Mary Jacobi, Mary Solomé and Sarah – also known as Sara-la-Kali, adopted by the Romani people as their patron saint – to land on its shores.* We can also begin to sense its effect on us.

I acknowledged the controversy surrounding Mary Magdalene’s role, who Sarah may have been and the question of whether they and the other Marys had been there at all. I invited the women to sweep it all away – all that chattering distraction – and just be present to what their own experiences tell them.

The next day we drove to the small Camargue village of Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer where the Marys and Sarah landed. We were to visit Notre Dame de la Mer. This is the church venerating Sarah, Mary Solomé and Mary Jacobi who chose to live there.  It holds their relics and has an underground crypt especially designated to Sarah. It’s said many healings have taken place through prayers that are left.

This is sacred ground. To enter carelessly doesn’t do it justice. We first went to the shoreline where I invited the women to find their place, connect with the land and put themselves back in time, to the time when the boat rode the waves onto the beach. Some were overcome there. Others as we went through the doorway of the church. Some while leaving their prayers with Sarah. Not one was untouched.

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Saint Sarah’s crypt in Notre Dame de la Mer, Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer. Photo: Carla Woody.

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Stained glass window above the main altar in the Basilica of Mary Magdalene, St. Maximin. Photo: Carla Woody.

A few days later at the Basilica of Mary Magdalene in the village of St. Maximin, where her relics rest, the pilgrimage continued as did the effect. Before we began the long climb up to Mary’s Grotto on St. Baume, I suggested we pause again to put ourselves through time, ultimately to the time Mary would have climbed this mountain herself. There would have been little path, if any, the forest completely wild, full of feral life we no longer see there. I walked slowly, noticing the stillness of the woods save periodic songbirds and the conversation of others climbing ahead.

I found Mary’s Grotto as I had in my other times there. I wiped away the chapel and altars that had been placed for worship. Instead, listening to the sounds of dripping water, feeling the damp and sensing her presence. Being still.

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Saint Mary Magdalene’s Grotto at St. Baume. Photo: Carla Woody.

Taking a different trail down, it was rocky, more steep, sometimes slippery from previous rains. Much like life. I paid attention to where I placed my feet. Somehow, I felt the place impressing itself upon me. Or maybe it was an exchange.

♦♦♦

Within the safe haven of circles, I invite travelers to share their personal experiences: insights, questions, struggles, if they wish. Not for others to resolve or analyze but to witness. Witnessing is a sacred role we fulfill for each other. It brings things to earth rather than flying around in the ether. In this way, each one’s process is acknowledged as significant and supports an evolutionary unfolding.

When we close our circle at the end, I speak to them on the elements of Re-entry, a phase of the journey that is quite real and continues, sometimes for months or longer. It’s about integration. Something that naturally occurs to bring our learnings to bear upon life at home. Best approached with eyes wide open and embraced, I lead them through a recapitulation of our times together suggesting they pay attention to what comes to the forefront to be carried home. Sometimes words escape us, seeds still germinating. But – always – we feel the presence of something growing.

There were two facets from our immersion in Provence that featured prominently for me this time, at least what I was aware of in the moment. I voiced them. The first was the way the people of Provence spoke about the Marys and Sarah. It was matter of fact. There was no engaging in the controversy flying around elsewhere in academia, religious entities, or popular media. They had existed there, celebrated annually on hallowed ground through festivals and the churches built to them. They are solidly implanted in Provençal cultural memory. The land holds them.

My take-away:

There will always be detractors and distractors. Focus on what you know to be true and hold it in your soul.

The second had to do with the colors in the land and how they’re reflected throughout Provence in the food, art, architecture and geniality of the people. Ochres, blues and greens. They made me happy and something more I can’t yet give words to. I vowed they would find more of a place in my home.

My take-away:

When something touches you deeply, bring it into your home. It’s a visible reminder of what’s become a part of you. We don’t leave things behind. They dwell within the sanctuary of our Core.

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Mt. Sainte-Victoire outside Aix-en-Provence. Photo: Carla Woody.

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Windmill in the village of Goult. Photo: Carla Woody.

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Architecture, Aix-en-Provence. Photo: Carla Woody.

 ♦♦♦

When we journey in foreign lands, we leave the familiar behind. We enter places that are waiting to be known, many of them for us to re-engage with aspects we’ve forgotten.

Western people don’t belong to the land – unless born into a culture that supports it, or consciously becoming part of it over time. It means being present. To disregard the urge to move on too quickly. It means to linger. It means to return, to know it even more so. To surrender and let go of thoughts that take up space.

Only then can we be caught.

Only then can the secrets that we knew all along be divulged.

*****

* Mary Solomé was the mother of apostles James the Greater and John. Mary Jacobi was the mother of apostles James the Younger (or Lesser) and Joseph. Sarah is said to be the daughter of Mary Magdalene and Jesus, in other circles the Egyptian servant to one of the Marys. Also know there are stories of others in the boat including Lazarus, Martha and Maximin. I’m writing of those who are acknowledged in the places we went.

*****

There were so many elements that made up our spiritual travel in Provence. I already know I will be writing more…in appreciation. This is just the first blush.

 

 

 

Categories: Contemplative Life, Global Consciousness, Sacred Reciprocity, Spiritual Evolution, Spiritual Travel | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

Book Review: The Books of Athabaskan Native Velma Wallis

Velma Wallis was born of the Athabaskan people in a small village in remote Alaska. She grew up in the traditional way and heard the oral history of her tribe and others in the region through her mother. She’s documented two of those through Two Old Women and Bird Girl and the Man Who Followed the Sun.

TwoOldWomenTwo Old Women tells of two elders who had lost their usefulness, often falling into complaining in the face of decline. As tradition holds, the duty of providing for them fell to their extended family and others of the tribe, which they did. But the tribe fell upon hard times. Food was almost nonexistent and some successive winters brutal. Finally, the chief made a decision, when the tribe departed in search for a more hospitable home, the two old women were left behind in favor of tribal survival. This meant they were leaving the elders to a certain death. Two Old Women discloses the internal conflict many of the tribe experienced and the process of the women as they faced a fate they did not choose, and the unexpected outcomes.

BirdGirlBird Girl and the Man Who Followed the Sun is about a girl and boy, living in separate camps of the Gwich’in people. Neither fit in. At a young age, Bird Girl’s father had taught her to hunt and roam along with her brothers. Having tasted that freedom, she took no interest in the never-ending burden of women’s work or taking a husband. Finally pushed to fall in line, she chose to leave home to make her way on her own.

The boy Dagoo was told about The Land of the Sun somewhere to the south where the sun shone all the time, and it was warm, unlike the frozen ground where he lived. His elders said that some of their people had gone in search for this place but turned back, while others went on and never returned. Dagoo was compelled to wander, to explore what potentials may be had beyond the small confines of tribal expectations and limited grounds. After being given an ultimatum to conform, he left in search of The Land of the Sun.

Bird Girl and the Man Who Followed the Sun is about the need to belong, and the choices and consequences of rejecting what doesn’t fit.

Both books are about the meaning and pressures of tribal community and historical, territorial violence between tribes as well as first experiences with European intruders. Told in a straightforward manner, they are impactful eye openers that caused me to consider the choices I have taken in my own life.

Available on Amazon and some public libraries.

Categories: Book Review, cultural interests, Indigenous Wisdom | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

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