(Original article written in 2007 with additions here.)
Recently I had the good fortune to be invited to participate in a conference on global renewal sponsored by the Bali Institute. It was held in Ubud, considered to be the cultural and spiritual center of Bali. This was a significant gathering bringing together people from many countries with at least one thing in common — a vision for a better, kinder world and the strong desire to make it happen now. I’m still digesting all that happened for me. Part of it I will share with you here.
It was the second day of the conference and I had arrived early to the Bali Classic Centre where it was held. It’s a site too beautiful for words with temples, lush foliage and meandering pathways throughout. I was standing in the open-air pavilion where people tended to gather during breaks, just enjoying my surroundings, when a young man approached me asking if he could speak to me. He indicated he had seen some literature on the programs I’m doing with the Maya in the Chiapas region of Mexico. In particular he was interested in Don Antonio Martinez, the last Spirit Keeper practicing the ancient sacred traditions of the Lacandón Maya. Then he said something I didn’t at all expect.
Do you think it’s time for some traditions to die
so the next thing can come along?
Whether his question came out of earnest interest or a flip attitude didn’t really matter. His words hit me like a shock wave that reverberated in hidden, interior places. This was a question I had come to Bali to hear.
While I’m fairly sure the effect of the missile wasn’t apparent from the outside, my mind was immediately flooded with images. I replayed a time earlier that year with Don Antonio in the middle of the rainforest village of Najá, in his lone god house, burning copal in two of his god pots, chanting, invoking connection with Hachäkyum, the principal deity of the Lacandón, and another god in honor of our visit. He’d chuckled softly when the copal in one of the pots had at first refused to light saying that god was shy that day.
There was evidence of hundreds of such ceremonies in the burnt residue in his god pots, mounded to overflowing. He needed to retire these god pots and replace them with new ones. When asked why he hadn’t, he said that since the road had cut through the jungle to Najá it brought too much noise for the sacred renewal ritual. I remember remarking to myself how very little disturbance there was in contrast with what we visitors had at home. But still, it was an affront to the gods.*
Another image came to me in the next split second, this time in the high mountains of the Andes in Peru, sitting in circle with Q’ero paq’os, or shamans, and other members of the Q’ero Nation, participating in a despacho, or blessing, ceremony. The absolute sense of collectively touching something beyond what is ordinarily presented, my eyes swept the circle of travelers who had come with me; I noted the ceremony’s subtle and sometimes dramatic effect on them.
These experiences are precious and will perhaps soon border on extinction just like in the Lacandón rainforest and the myriad other places where the footprint of modern society has been placed. A road is planned to Q’ero, which, until this time, has remained isolated at 17,000 feet in altitude with traditions pure and intact.
Then my mind came to rest on the memory of the Hopi father and son that we sponsored to the Andes that past summer. I recalled the gratitude they expressed frequently, through tears, to be gifted with the opportunity to be in circle with their Quechua brothers and sisters and what it meant to them.
As I absorbed the ultimate meaning of the young man’s question coupled with these recollections, I was surprised to find tears welling up from my heart, through my throat, discovering moisture in my eyes. And in a cracking voice, this is what I said to him.
The thought of that happening hurts my very soul.
Go to Part II.
*In an area now thoroughly infiltrated by missionaries and decimated by logging companies, Najá was the last hold-out until Chan K’in Viejo, their powerful Spirit Holder, passed in 1997 at about 105 years old. Don Antonio, his son-in-law, is now the last Spirit Keeper maintaining the traditional beliefs and ceremonies.
If you are called to support preservation of these fragile traditions—and have a life-transforming experience yourself—I invite you to join us for Entering the Maya Mysteries, January 13-25. Among other opportunities to engage with authentic Maya spiritual leaders, Grandmother Flordemayo, a member of the International Council of 13 Indigenous Grandmothers, will travel with us…lending her prayers to our circles.