Monthly Archives: February 2013

Acts of Creation

A few years ago, I was in the Musée d’Orsay in Paris and copied these words from a plaque on the wall in one of the many rooms that contained art works from the mid-1800s through the early 1900s.

A young painter asked Gaugin for advice and he answered, ‘Do not paint too much from nature. Art is an abstraction; extract it from nature while dreaming in front of it and pay more attention to the act of creation than to the result.’ 


Cézanne's refuge on Ste. Victoire mountain.

Cézanne’s refuge on Ste. Victoire mountain.

Paul Gaugin’s words punctuated, for me, similar reminders coming over the course of travels in Provence with my group, which then culminated in Paris. As always, those things that stand out to us are what we’re there to encounter. This theme was mine to hear and one that is still prevalent in pockets of France, especially Provence.

Mont Ste. Victoire is a hulking giant of a mountain dominating the Provençal landscape. Post-Impressionist artist Paul Cézanne was fascinated with it. Painting it numerous times, he even had a refuge near the top, to the point we hiked and picnicked having our own luncheon on the grass painters Manet and Picasso might have found acceptable.*

Near Ste. Victoire’s base sits Mas de Cadenet, a winery that has been in the same family since 1813 producing exquisite examples of Côtes de Provence. We stopped by and Matthieu Négrel was waiting for us.

For such a young man, Matthieu was quite the inspiration. Only 25 at that time, he was set to take on a large role when his father retires. Indeed, he had already stepped into sharing many of the important decisions about cultivation of the vineyard and wine-making. We even had a discussion about what it was like to have such a family legacy and the expectations that may come with it, whether it was a harness or a sort of freedom. For Matthieu, it was obvious that he had found his passion early on—and it rested in the land, rhythms of nature, things tended with care, patience. He seemed to contain a distinct knowledge of his place in the world, rare for someone his age. With unabashed charm and a lot of gesturing typical of the region, he exuberantly related fact and philosophy about grapes and wine-making. We were not bored and much of what he relayed was done through metaphor. Matthieu and his family produce wine from vines that range from 35 to 50 years old.

Photo: Making Christmas Wine

Matthieu Négrel making Christmas wine in the old way.

Standing in the vineyard, with Ste. Victoire as the backdrop, he told us about his life. How it was to plant a vine and wait—to harvest only after 5 years. Pointing out a vine planted when his grandfather was a young man and then another planted when he himself was a child, he laughed and said, “Things are very s-l-o-o-o-w here in Provence.”

Then he went on, “In Provence they say, when the vine is young it produces much. But the quality is medium. When older it produces less but the quality is much better. Ahhhh…but when it is the oldest it’s very wise and it holds it all inside and it gives out very little!”

On another day we traveled through the beautiful countryside on winding roads, climbing in elevation and finally came to a Religious House with lavender fields surrounding it. Tucked away in the Alpes de Haute Provence region, discreetly out of sight, three sisters of the Soeurs Coopératrices Maison St Joseph live in an old farmhouse. They are known for cultivating lavandan, a prized type of lavender only grown at this particular altitude, producing the highest medicinal quality essential oil, in the old way, mostly by hand and not technology. Sister Marie Michelle, who greeted us, had a similar glow about her as the one Matthieu had, but many, many more years.

Sister Marie Michelle

Sister Marie Michelle

She showed us their fields and, even though it was late in the season, we could smell lavender faintly in the air. She talked about how they carefully harvested and let the blossoms lay in the sun a certain amount of time so that the oils they made would be at the best strength for all the ways they could be used. She bemoaned the fact that other lavender farmers used machinery that cut the stalks in such a way as to lessen the quality and then didn’t allow them to “strengthen” in the sun after harvest as needed. It was all done quickly, cut and dried—so to speak. And she was quite clear that what sold as lavender essential oils in the world market was lavandin, having much lesser properties, and not lavandan. I was curious how three elderly sisters managed all the fields and harvest until she told us that people from the local community helped. When the sisters are gone, will this art become lost?

Lavender farm photo.

Lavender farm at
Soeurs Coopératrices Maison St Joseph.

Creek Chincultik

Creek Chincultik
©2010 Carla Woody
First oil painting after a 12-year hiatus.

Honoring the Process

I’m going to come full circle and talk a little about painting. I’m an artist, using mostly oils as my medium. During my lifetime, I periodically took a hiatus from that art form for various reasons. The last rationale was because I moved cross country and no longer had a studio—or so I told myself. I took up black and white photography for several years, but found it not as tactilely satisfying. For a long time, my friend and spiritual mentor Don Américo Yábar had been urging me to paint again and said it would be quite different than what I’d done before. I thought he meant that my subject matter and style would be esoteric based on my experiences in the last number of years. In the fall of 2009, after a 12-year pause, I began to paint again. It just seemed right somehow, without Don Américo ever mentioning it at all when I had been in Peru that summer. And I discovered what he may have meant—however else my canvases may eventually develop. When I was much younger I painted fast and furious, always with a goal in mind, turning out a completed work typically in somewhere between 4-8 hours. Now I’m painting on the same canvas for weeks, sometimes longer. Quite content in the process, I’m allowing the colors to emerge and what expression is more deeply inside me. Perhaps I’m becoming like the older vine Matthieu talked about. Not quite the elder and I’m not yet holding it all inside. Too much to discover still!

But I think what I’ve learned over the years, that is coming out in my painting, and what was echoed through the people we engaged with in Provence, is this. There’s great value to immersion in the integrity of a process. Then the quality of the outcome is naturally delivered. I’ve been taught patience for things to come to fruition. Some things need to happen for others to evolve. When you know this at a visceral level, it brings that joie de vivre written so plainly on the faces of those who live through that understanding like Sister Marie Michelle and Matthieu. It also takes faith—and sometimes more than a little stamina.


*Édouard Manet turned the French art world upside down with his controversial painting Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe. Pablo Picasso later did his own versions of Luncheon on the Grass.

View information about our October 2013 “La Source de Provence” program here. Limited to 7 travelers.

Categories: Creativity Strategies, Spiritual Evolution, Spiritual Travel, Visual Arts | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

Book Review – The Drum Wars: A Modern Maya Story

The Drum Wars: A Modern Maya Story

By Carol Karasik

Drum Wars Cover ImageIn the 1990s, a friend and I were walking on the road to the Palenque ruins. We noticed a narrow dirt road that led into the rainforest. Curious, we followed it and came to an enclave containing ramshackle treehouses—one with a sign that said “Yoga”—and a camping area. We looked at each other and said, “What is this place?” We had stumbled upon El Panchan in its beginnings. Since then it’s grown considerably to a mishmash of cabanas, camping, a couple of competing open-air restaurants with live music, culminating with late-night fire dancers and drumming.

Now all these years later, as part of our annual “Entering Maya Mysteries” pilgrimage, lodging at the Panchan has become a tradition for its close proximity to the ruins—but maybe even more so for its out-of-time, otherworldly value all its own. A year ago, my group sat in Don Mucho’s Restaurant eating tasty cuisine, watching odd characters wander by, listening to live Salsa music, when one of the travelers turned to me and said, “This is like being in a movie!” He had a look of wonder on his face. Just this past January, another traveler looked around and pronounced, “Surreal!” That said even though the day was still quite young.

Carol Karasik has written a historical adventure, an enthralling ride, about a dysfunctional family dynasty, seekers of the unknown and unknowable, and the ancient land and people who issued a calling card to the crossroads called El Panchan. The Drums Wars is an entertaining story that is stranger-than-life, but true. With wry humor, Karasik recounts the origins and intrigues of the residents and transients of this jungle community, grown up near the Maya ruin of Palenque. The gritty, often tedious work, of archeologists, and those of similar eke, are chronicled aptly, adding a bit of mysticism, romance and education along the way.  I was particularly taken with the discovery of the Red Queen’s remains, later to be identified as Lady “Conjurer” who was Pakal the Great’s wife—and the important role played by women at Palenque, the place of transformation.

As I read this crazy backstory it occurred to me that by virtue of its proximity to Palenque that, of course, the Ancient Maya world had to inform it. The planets of the Panchan are in continual alignment, merely a mirror, to create a container. Those drawn there are acting out their fantastic journeys into the Underworld, catapult to the Upperworld, and manifest delivery into the bohemian Middleworld called El Panchan.

Howler Photo

Howler Monkey

Whether you’ve been a traveler in my Maya Mysteries programs, or want to enter this curiosity of human condition—taken to the extreme on your own—reading The Drum Wars may point to some explanation of your own journey…or, at the very least, you’ll find it a fascinating read. Available through Amazon.

Categories: Book Review, Maya, Spiritual Travel | Tags: , | 3 Comments

Speaking Truth

I’ve been reviewing some of my archived newsletter content and came across this paragraph I included in my old “Metaphors for Life” column back in 2009. This one bears repeating. Knowing the truth, or backstory, instead of taking something at face value is always a good idea before opening your mouth to speak, particularly when doing so could inadvertently create damage when none is deserved.

The Media Mantra on Coca

Despacho Photo

Despacho, or prayer offering, containing coca leaves.
Photo credit: Peter Coppola.

Several weeks ago while driving into town I was listening to NPR. A BBC correspondent who had been in Bolivia was being interviewed about the political situation there. During the course of the program, he made a side comment that he’d had a problem with altitude sickness. Then in a sneering tone said something to the effect, “You know what they did for it? Brought me coca tea. You know what they use that for!”

The reporter had absolutely no idea what he was talking about, but merely passed on propaganda. If he had bothered to find out what coca is really about, he’d have discovered it’s largely the spiritual and nutritional mainstay of the Quechua culture. Coca in its natural form is not a drug. Nor do they use it as such, but instead in sacred ceremonies and as a food source. The black market for coca, for purposes of processing into cocaine, is only sustained through demand from the USA and Europe. Take care of the issue at home and the black market trade virtually disappears.

By making the statement he did, especially on NPR, the reporter helped spread an assumption that the Quechua people who chew coca must be addicts. Out of ignorance, people often pick up a carefully manufactured mantra meant to further a misguided cause, parrot the message and create more damage.

Categories: Compassionate Communication, cultural interests, Healthy Living, Indigenous Wisdom, Spiritual Travel | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

Book Review: Iris


From The Fairy Tales of Hermann Hesse
Compiled by Jack Zipes

Iris is a tribute to a boy’s fascination with a flower he knew as the sword lily, an older man’s deep love and the poignancy of things well known when very young but lost along the way. Hesse’s beautiful use of language in this short story invites us into the depth of the main character’s journey, one we may all take to some degree.

… this was the flower’s mouth, that behind the luxuriant yellow finery in the blue abyss lived her heart and thoughts, and that along this lovely shining path with its glassy veins her breath and dreams flowed to and fro…

This is a tale, an odyssey taken through life of innocent wisdom, distraction, loss—a meandering path that returns to the place it began. Iris will remind us that Hesse is a master storyteller imparting levels of knowledge if we’re ready to receive it. And for those Richard Bach fans it will recall Illusions and others like it.

Iris is a summons to read the complete collection of The Fairy Tales by Herman Hesse. All of the short stories are written between 1904 and 1918. But with titles like The Difficult Path, If the War Continues and A Dream About the Gods, this is also a book for seekers of today. Some things just don’t change.

Available through Amazon and elsewhere.

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A Hopi Spirit Keeper’s Travels in Mayalands

Note from Carla Woody: In December 2012, I offered a special Winter Solstice “Entering the Maya Mysteries” program. Kenosis Spirit Keepers sponsored Charlene Joseph, a Hopi Spirit Keeper from Moencopi, on this journey as a part of ongoing efforts to bring together Indigenous Wisdom Holders for mutual spiritual support. Char’s presence, and the heartfelt connections she made with her Maya relations, brought even greater depth to our shared experiences. Truly, it was a gift to have her with us. Below she has generously shared her journey and what it meant to her.

My Mexico/Guatemala  Spiritual Adventure

By Charlene Joseph

What an adventure!  I traveled to Peru in 2009 and had a very rich cultural and spiritual experience.  Knowing the Hopi ancient history and growing up in the traditional Hopi way, I was able to connect to the indigenous people and their way of life.  My travel to Mexico and Guatemala in December 2012 was just as spiritual and the connection to the people culturally and traditionally was immense, just as it was when I went to Peru.

Charlene Joseph and Carla Woody departing for Chiapas, Mexico.

Charlene Joseph and Carla Woody
departing for Chiapas, Mexico.

I spent one week in Tucson with my daughter’s and son’s families the week before my trip. The day before we were to fly out of Phoenix, I left Tucson for Phoenix to meet up with Carla Woody, the organizer of the trip, and spend the night.  Not only did I have trouble finding my way to the hotel, but the next morning as I was reorganizing my luggage, I discovered that I didn’t have my passport! I had left it in Tucson.

It was still early enough to drive back to Tucson and be back before our plane left at 3:00 p.m. so I called my daughter.  Even while studying for her final exams at University of Arizona, it was very thoughtful of her to bring my passport halfway to meet me at Casa Grande. So now, I’m set with my passport and ready to board the plane to Mexico, wondering what laid ahead for me.

San Cristóbal de las Casas

As we were driving to San Cristóbal from Tuxtla after spending the night, I thought about my family back home, the upcoming Hopi New Year and prayers that I will miss for the first time in years, my father who taught me about the Hopi migration from the South. At the same time, I was enjoying the beautiful scenery.

Arriving in the colonial town of San Cristóbal and checking into our hotel felt to me like we were in seclusion.  It was chilly in the hotel lobby and I was wondering why the heater was not on. Once we got checked in and made our way to the room, I found it was just as cold there.  Soon found out that there are no heaters.  We had to dress warm at night or even wear our jackets to bed.  During the day the weather got very warm so we soaked in as much sun and warmth to our liking.

Processional during Festival of Our Lady of Guadalupe.©2012 Carla Woody.

Processional during Festival of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
©2012 Carla Woody.

It was lively day and night in downtown San Cristóbal with fireworks, parades honoring the Lady of Guadalupe, locals selling their art and craft work, food, and even fresh boiled corn, which was my favorite! Also many tourists walked the streets looking, eating, buying from locals, and just enjoying their time.

Family kitchen.©2012 Carla Woody.

Family kitchen.
©2012 Carla Woody.

One evening we drove about twenty minutes up to the indigenous village of Chamula to participate in ceremony with Don Xun Calixto.  As we were driving through the village, I saw ladies and young girls washing clothes at the water spring, just like we used to when I was growing up.  That scene took me way back to my childhood days. I felt at home seeing the people working in their gardens, fields, drying their harvest, carrying water from the water spring to their homes, and firewood for the evening loaded on the person’s back and everyone working in harmony, it seemed.

We stopped at the bottom of a hill and walked up the steps to Don Xun’s family home, a traditional brick home with an outside shed-like kitchen where they also kept their harvest of corn, beans, squash, variety of melon, and cauliflower stored. On the open fire-pit was a pot of boiling stew being prepared for our meal with the family.  In the yard chickens were being fed, and the group gathered talking and admiring the craft work the family had for sale.

Don Xun Calixto, Spiritual leader of San Juan Chamula, and Charlene Joseph.©2012 Carla Woody.

Don Xun Calixto, Spiritual leader of San Juan Chamula, and Charlene Joseph.
©2012 Carla Woody.

Don Xun  started the ceremony in the main house in front of the altar as we sat around him on wooden benches or chairs.  We sat quietly and watched while one group member did the interpretation.  After ceremony was over, I gave a talk and encouraged Don Xun to continue his and his people’s way of life,  that it is good to find that they are still growing their own food and eating off of the land.  I shared with him that my people, the Hopi, live that way also but that we are slowly forgetting.  I told Don Xun that what I shared are my father’s words that he had wanted me to tell our people from the South and that we are connected.  We are brothers and sisters.  Don Xun was happy to hear this.

I presented him with a katsina rain spirit doll (Corn Boy) and asked him to remember my people on Hopi when he is doing his prayers because we need rain for our corn to grow. I asked him to send the rain clouds to Hopi with his prayers because we have been getting little moisture and we need it for our corn to grow.  Don Xun chuckled and said that they did not get enough rain this year either.

Southern Guatemala

Charlene Joseph and Don Nicholas, who attends San Maximón, in Santiago Atitlán.©2012 Carla Woody.

Charlene Joseph and Don Nicholas, who attends San Maximón, in Santiago Atitlán.
©2012 Carla Woody.

A few days later, we left for Guatemala and were on the road all day.  On the way down to Lake Atitlán, Guatemala, there were cornfields everywhere, all the way from San Cristóbal, Mexico to Guatemala.  I was happy because this made the connection for Hopi, and me personally, even more significant.  Corn is very important to Hopi just as it is to the Maya people in the South.

Lake Atitlán is very beautiful, especially at sunset and sunrise.  The weather was much warmer at night which made it very comfy to sleep.  In the morning, after a night’s rest, we got on the boat to take a 40-minute ride across the lake to Santiago Atitlán, below a volcanic mountain.  There we participated in ceremony with Don Nicholas honoring San Maximón.   After ceremony, we headed back to our hotel to board our private bus for Antigua.  It was a 3-hour ride and we got there around 8 p.m.

Ajq'ij Felipe Mejia (Maya Daykeeper) at Iximche.©2012 Carla Woody

Ajq’ij Felipe Mejia (Maya Daykeeper) at Iximche.
©2012 Carla Woody

Ajq'ij Apab'yan Tew (Maya Daykeeper) at Iximche.©2012 Carla Woody

Ajq’ij Apab’yan Tew (Maya Daykeeper) at Iximche.
©2012 Carla Woody

This time we checked into our hotel for three nights.  On December 15, we drove to Iximche for a fire ceremony with Maya Daykeepers Felipe Mejia and Apab’yan Tew at a sacred place where there are pyramids.  It felt very welcoming to see school children playing games and having a cookout.  It was very lively!  The ceremony was interesting and was very colorful.  Again, I felt a strong connection to the Mayas when offerings were made to the fire with food.  I shared with them that Hopi does the same thing.  We also feed the fire and make food offering to the sun.  There were other similarities that I observed that reaffirmed the history of the Hopi to the Mayas of the South.


Temple of the Sun at Palenque, Winter Solstice 2012.©2012 Carla Woody.

Temple of the Sun at Palenque,
Winter Solstice 2012.
©2012 Carla Woody.

Nearing the end of our travels and looking forward to Palenque in the jungle.  We left Antigua, went through border checkpoint, and got back into Mexico on December 17th.  Took the whole day to get back to San Cristóbal where we spent two more nights before heading to Palenque where the great pyramids are in the jungle.

It was amazing!  I can’t even begin to express how I felt when we went to the pyramids in Palenque.  Magazines, movies, and pictures are never the same as experiencing the real thing.  Driving to Palenque through the mountains was awesome, too.  All of a sudden a person or people will come out of the forest, people walking along the road with hoes, wood, carrying traditional pottery filled with water.  Wow!

We visited the pyramids on December 20th.  We did a great amount of walking and climbing at the pyramids.  I managed to climb up several with the help of my group members, and especially Ed from Prescott, Arizona who pulled me up and helped me down.  It was interesting to find that the temples are named for the sun, moon, snake, corn, and others I can’t quite remember.  Hopis honor those same things.  There was a ballcourt and a shrine representing the Twin Warriors and the Grandmother which Hopi includes in the Hopi Way of Life ceremonies today.

December 21st was the day of Winter Solstice in Mayaland.   On Hopi, Winter Solstice is also happening at this same time when the men are in the kiva praying and preparing for the New Year.  A time of sacrifice without sleep, praying and working hard so life can continue. They do this for, not only the Hopi, but for all life on earth including animals, plants, sun, moon, water, Mother Earth and all humankind.

On this Winter Solstice Day, the rain was coming down hard and it had started the night before.  Hoping that the rain would subside, we left at seven in the morning for the pyramids to observe Winter Solstice. Sitting on the steps of the Temple of the Sun waiting and getting drenched, after a couple of hours, some of us decided to go back to our cabanas to dry,   We didn’t get to observe the Solstice because the rain took over until five in the afternoon.  As I always say, things happen for a reason!

This journey to Mexico and Guatemala reaffirmed the Hopi migration and some history from the South for me and the Hopis.  My father talked about Palatqwapi , the Snake Serpent, the Twin Warriors and their Grandmother, and more that they brought with them when migrating from the South.  These are all still very much alive today in the Hopi Way of Life.

My father always emphasized that we need to keep faith and continue the Hopi Way to keep the world evolving. I feel very humbled to have participated in this journey and to be able to honor my father and his knowledge and wisdom in this way.

Categories: cultural interests, Hopi, Indigenous Wisdom, Maya, Spiritual Travel | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Book Review: The Woman at Otowi Crossing


By Frank Waters

I discovered The Woman at Otowi Crossing in the late 1990s. It spoke to me in such a way that I wrote the executors of Frank Waters’ estate to get permission to use a paragraph in the flyleaf of my own book Calling Our Spirits Home—and they graciously complied. 

So all these scribbled pages, Jack, are to help you understand that an awakening or Emergence, as the Indians call it, is more than a single momentary experience. It requires a slow painful process of realization and orientation… How many thousands of obscure people like me all the world over are having the same experience right now? And for no apparent reason, like me. Keeping quiet about it, too.

                                                       —From Helen Chalmers’ journal in The Woman at Otowi Crossing

The book by Frank Waters is a fictional account of the real-life Edith Warner, there called Helen Chalmers, who ran a tearoom at Otowi Crossing, near both Los Alamos and San Ildefonso Pueblo, for more than twenty years until the Chile train line shut down. Set during the time of the research and development of the atomic bomb, it creates a juxtaposition between the ancient ways and beliefs of pueblo life, modern science and so-called progress. The secrets of those things kept hidden were in the air, the goings-on at Los Alamos as well as influences from her close relationship with the Pueblo people. They permeated Helen’s days in such a way that it created awakenings in her, what she called Emergences. The Woman at Otowi Crossing is replete with such rich aphorisms as the one below, reflecting, too, Waters’ own journey of consciousness.

 … Perhaps none of us really learn anything by degrees. We just keep absorbing things unconsciously without realizing what they mean. Till suddenly, for no apparent reason, it all comes into focus with a blinding flash… 

Historically, Waters’ book would be of interest, too, weaving in the likes of Neils Bohr, Robert Oppenheimer, local Pueblo people and others who frequented Helen’s tearoom. If you’re like me, then, after you read The Woman at Otowi Crossing, you’ll rush out to get The House at Otowi Bridge by Peggy Pond Church. It could almost be considered a companion, one not to be read without the other. Church’s book is a biography of the legendary Edith Warner, a complex woman who lived simply in an out-of-the-way place in a controversial time, and gained wide respect by those who knew her.

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February 27 Lifepath Dialogues Gathering: The Spiritual Meaning of Lineage

Lifepath Dialogue Gathering

Exploring the many threads that weave together an expressive, celebrated life.


You are invited! Please pass to friends and family.

FEBRUARY 27, 6:30-8 PM

FREE Monthly Gathering on Fourth Wednesdays

Creekside Center, 337 N. Rush Street, Prescott, Arizona

February’s topic:

“The Spiritual Meaning of Lineage”

Based on the post: “Lineage: Calling on the Ancestors
Author of Calling Our Spirits Home and Standing Stark
Founder, Kenosis and Kenosis Spirit Keepers



Terri Hanauer-Brahm wondered why her father refused to discuss his past and why her relatives were the same way. She uncovered a family secret that sent her on an odyssey of discovery. Out of her quest came a book: “The Hanauer Family: Before, During and After the Holocaust.” She will share with us what this journey has meant to her.

Email: or call 928.778.1058

Categories: Healing, Healthy Living, Maya, Personal Growth, Spiritual Evolution, Travel Experiences | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

What 12-21-12 Meant to Me by Lori Clarke, Guest Blogger

Note from Carla Woody: Lori Clarke is a Canadian who traveled with us on the Winter Solstice 2012 program. She has generously offered impressions of her travels and a day she’d been anticipating for many years.


The anticipated climax of my trip was to be the day of the end of the Mayan calendar, December 21, 2012.  I have been following this day since my mid 20’s, copying the date into each new years calendar.   In my 20’s, the date seemed a life time away but now in my mid 50’s, the date is actually here… right now…

I decided several years ago that when this date arrived, I didn’t want to be home.  I wanted to be able to say where I was on that date, when whatever happened…or didn’t happen…on the Winter Solstice of 2012.  The end of the Mayan calendar and by some peoples’ interpretation, an accurate prediction of ‘the end of the world.’

Maya Relief

Maya Relief
©2012 Lori Clarke

I left Canada on Dec 8. Our ambitious itinerary kept us busy traveling and participating in healing and fire ceremonies, dinners with traditional families, textile and art gallery tours with our guides, visiting churches, museums and sacred sites.  Meeting our guides, hearing their stories and feeling their passion was inspiring, lifting.  It is very encouraging to learn that there is quite a collective movement cultivating the Mayan culture–the archaeological and historical richness, and striving to find the balance between maintaining tradition and economic growth in an increasingly modern world.  Pride in their ancestral lineage, increased understanding between the many language dialects and unity are essential components for their future.  The Maya were not defeated but very much alive.  Coming together.

Our group of 12 arrive in Palenque on Dec 19.  We spent the day touring the ruins and hear about Maya cosmology.  Upon returning to our lodging after a long, hot and humid day, I laid down before having dinner.  I increasingly didn‘t feel well and ended up vomiting.  After all these years of anticipating this date, how could I be sick and miss Dec 21, 2012.  I didn’t eat dinner that night.    Then, as night fell upon us, it began to rain.  We have not seen any rain on our trip and now, on the eve of Dec 21, it is not only raining but we are having a torrential downpour.   I began to worry if we were even going to the site in the morning if this rain continues.

Temple of the Foliated Cross

Scene from the Temple of the Sun toward the Temple of the Foliated Cross.
©2012 Lori Clarke.

To my astonishment, I woke up in the morning feeling fine.  It was a one-time appellation, no diarrhea, no headache.  Very strange.  But it does continue to rain.  We gather, eat breakfast and catch a cab to the Palenque ruins.    Along the road we pass a large group of walkers.  Maybe a 100 people, all soaking wet, singing and dancing on their way to the site.  Mostly young people, long hair, oddly dressed and obviously free-spirited.  At the gate, we are the first people in line and wait to get our tickets.  While we are waiting, we notice that the rain has stopped.  How timely.  The large group of walkers then arrive and fill up the entrance area.  Moments later, our group was allowed in 15 minutes before the park was officially open.  We quickly walk to the selected area and climb the steps up to the temple (The Temple of the Sun).  To our amazement, we have the place to ourselves, only one security person and us.  The rain has stopped but the grounds are wet and slippery making the climb rather tricky.   We look out over the jungle canopy and observe the low level of clouds, hanging heavy and providing a misty, mysterious mood to the morning.   We had a beautiful period alone on top of the temple looking down at the altar and up over the treetops.  It was a sacred moment.  The rain began again and groups of people started to arrive on site.  How truly special it was to experience this quiet and private time alone in the heart of Palenque.  No distractions from completely being present and absorbing all of its splendour.

However breathtaking this moment was in space and time, it wasn’t what we were expecting.  It had been our plan to see the sun rise above the jungle canopy at 8:36am.  The anticipation of being there to see the first peak of the rising sun on Dec 21, 2012 was exhilarating.  As much as it was disappointing that it didn‘t happen that way, it had to be realized that, unseen to us, the sun certainly did rise that morning.  A very powerful acknowledgement.

It continued to pour.  We all were varying degrees of wet and a little annoyed with all this rain.  But then I had another realization.  Water is life.  The rain is cleansing and water inspires growth, like the planted seed.

My eyes were then attracted to the altar in the centre of this area.  It was great to see it this morning without people sitting on or hanging around it, as was the case yesterday.  The altar is stone in the shape of a cross.  The centre of the cross is also marked, marked with another raised stone.  To me, this represents the heart.  From the heart, energy flows out in all four directions.  Each direction having it’s own strength and character.  Standing at the top, I could see it clearly.

I decided to go down to the altar and stopped for a moment at each of the four directions.  I then noticed that the rain falling on the temple steps was pooling and then cascaded over and down the stairs creating the flow of a waterfall.  I had glad I decided to wear my sandals this morning so I didn’t have to worry about my shoes getting wet.  I chose to be childlike and walked through the puddles.  I intentionally walked up the steps of the highest temple, following the cascading waterfall.  I imagined, feeling like a spawning salmon climbing upwards against the flow.   Reaching the top, I noticed my heavy breath.  After a few moments, I made my decent following the same path down.

As I left this area, and walked between the two sets of major ruins, I felt a strong wind.  As I learned in Peru, I stopped, opened my arms and greeted the energy.  I stood still for a moment breathing in the breath.

Dec 21, 2012  is the beginning of a new era.  What was profound to me on this date is what I already know to be true.  Believe in the unseen.   I saw very clearly, that when we are aligned with a higher power, and are connected at the heart, we will be nurtured and guided so our energy will flow outward in love and be of service to the universe.   Through our own free will, each one of us as individuals will live our life and learn the lessons through our authentic souls.

©2012 Lori Clarke. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Rain at Palenque

Rain cascading over the steps leading to the ball court,
Dec. 21, 2012.
©2012 Carla Woody.

Categories: cultural interests, Healing, Indigenous Wisdom, Maya, Spiritual Evolution, Spiritual Travel | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

Lineage: Calling on the Ancestors

January 2012

The nondescript address promised little from the street. I opened the old wooden door to slip through the walled entryway and found otherwise. Carol Karasik and I had arranged with the group to meet at Laughlin House, one of the oldest houses in San Cristóbal de Las Casas, then owned by anthropologist Robert Laughlin and his wife Mimi. Carol had been staying at the venerable hacienda—and, with all its rustic charm and lush garden, it seemed the perfect place for our evening gathering.

Dusk was coming quickly. I wandered through the narrow, uneven paths admiring the beauty of the garden, down to the small greenhouse at the far end. As I passed by the main house I noticed a woman kneeling in the grass separating the dwelling from the garden. She was carefully digging a shallow circle, exposing the dirt, already preparing the space. Copal smoke rose from the pedestal burner.

Floridalma (Flori) Pérez González, a traditional  Ajq’ij, a Maya Daykeeper from a Mam village in the mountains of northern Guatemala, was there to offer us a fire ceremony, so sacred to her people. As the rest of the group drifted in, she invited us to join her and sit in circle. We watched in silence as the altar grew on the bare dirt: sugar drawn in a symbol reflecting the day in the Maya calendar, fist-sized balls of resin mixed with shredded wood, candles laid in a circle as offerings to the Nawals, Day-Spirits of the calendar, and Four Directions, sticks of pine pitch, rose petals around the perimeter.

Fire Ceremony Altar

Fire Ceremony Altar

By this time it was dark, just the glow from the incense burner reflecting on our faces; we were cocooned, a timeless place separate from the everyday world. Flori spoke softly and asked me to express the collective intent of the group, then invited each one in the circle to offer their individual words. She lit the fire and invoked the presence of the spirits, praying intermittently in her Maya dialect and Spanish.

Floridalma Pérez González

Floridalma Pérez González

The fire’s flame rose. She called on the Nawals and Ancestors, Grandmothers-Grandfathers, inviting them to accept our petitions and blessings through the smoke. Every now and then she reached her hand into a bag and threw herbs upon the flames. The fire changed shape, moving against the light breeze, not with it. Flori told us the meaning and said it was a good sign. We were drawn into her soft prayers, the flames and, otherwise, the stillness.

After a time, she passed thin, white tallow candles asking us each to take eight, then instructing us to separately approach the fire and, as we settled the candles one by one into the fire, call out the names of those who have gone ahead of us, our Ancestors, to welcome them to our circle, to bless them, as they who are part of who we are, to hear our prayers.

I started. In that moment, I realized that I knew so little about my own family line—but a few names, not nearly enough for the candles I held in my hand. I attempted to sweep the corners of memory to see if anything arose. It didn’t. And when it came my turn to kneel at the fire, beyond three names I could name no more. I placed the remaining tapers, intending they would find their match.

But sadness arose; a hole was uncovered. I didn’t know My People.

I recognized then one of the reasons I’m so drawn to Indigenous traditions. Upon introduction, a number of Wisdom Keepers I’d met would identify their villages and clans going back a few generations. I’d been told that the purpose was to offer any mutual connections. But it’s also a clear statement of identity, place in the world. Those who maintain their traditions are grounded through lineage, lending spiritual strength. Hearing these pronouncements always stirred something poignant in me, as though I was attempting to reach out, to find my own conscious grounding. But I had none in that way, not of the blood that ran in my veins, the places My People had walked, or what aspects of them resonated through time to find residence within me—beyond my own mother and father. I discovered I wasn’t alone. Several of the members of the group struggled in their own way. It was a powerful ceremony.

Fire Photo

It is said that the fire works on you over time.

Its work with me began immediately. I emailed my folks the next morning mentioning the intent of the fire ceremony and my sadness for lack of knowledge of the family line. My mother wrote back saying, “It’s strange you should mention this because yesterday we started cleaning out old boxes…and found papers tracing your father’s family tree!” One of his distant cousin’s had undertaken the search years ago. The papers had been forgotten. We were both astounded at the timing of their urge to clean. I asked my mom if she’d begin looking into her line; she had little knowledge either. She promised she would.

Tracking genealogy is something of an art, sometimes an endless maze with dead-ends, particularly if you have little information at the outset, or experience. My mother got discouraged, having come up with few leads, after much time spent. The project stalled.

December 2012-January 2013

When I visited my folks over Thanksgiving, we talked of family line again. Don Boyd is an old family friend who has become something of an expert in tracing genealogy. I contacted him to see if he would be willing to give my mom some pointers. I then left for my Maya spiritual travel programs over the next two months.

Immediately, there was a flurry of emails between my mom and Don, with copies to me in Mexico and Guatemala. In no time flat, Don was able to produce information that led to a fairly extensive maternal family tree. Although some of the data petered out, thanks to Don and my dad’s distant cousin, I now know most of my lineage.

We still don’t know anything about my dad’s maternal line. But, for the rest, My People were all from the South. My paternal grandfather’s line traces back to 1724 England—and, a curious aside, includes Arthur Woody, the “legendary barefoot forest ranger” one of the first pioneering forest stewards in the US. My maternal grandfather’s people go back to 1766 Ireland. Cherokee lineage exists on both my maternal grandparents’ sides, for sure one documented to 1867 North Carolina. There’s a possible trace of another Cherokee ancestor as far back as 1797 Tennessee, but that one is difficult to prove.

Sunset over San Cristóbal de Las Casas.

Sunset over San Cristóbal de Las Casas.

Less than a week ago we met Flori at dusk. The fiery sunset announced the fire that would be lit in ceremony on the ground, perhaps already mirroring back to us our prayers that would rise. And when it came my time to approach the fire and lay the tapers, I called on my Ancestors, My People, clearly by name. I’ll never know all their stories but I can now intuit their lives—and feel their influence on me, rising up through time, running in my blood, to my place in the world.

I am grateful to the fire.

Fire Ceremony Photo

Categories: cultural interests, Healing, Indigenous Wisdom, Maya, Spiritual Evolution, Spiritual Travel | Tags: , , , , , | 3 Comments

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