My attraction to read Into the Magic Shop was generated through Krista Tippett’s On Being interview called The Magic Shop of the Brain with neurosurgeon and author James Doty, MD. I had no idea who he was. But sincerity flooded his voice as he spoke about the need and effects of compassion. To have a medical doctor speak in this way is so unusual⏤given the hurried, sterile treatment patients in this country normally receive. When Krista asked him to speak of the ritual he underwent prior to neurosurgery, he had me. Rather than having a nurse prep the patient in the operating room he does so himself. After the patient is anesthetized, he shaves the surgery site himself, saying it connects him to the patient as a human being and grounds him in the procedure he is about to take.
From the book:
It is a ritual I do. And as I slowly shave the head, I think of this precious little boy and go over every detail of the surgery in my mind. I cut off the first bit of hair and hand it to the circulator to put in a small bag for the boy’s mother. This is his first haircut, and while it’s the last thing on his mom’s mind now, I know it will matter to her later. It’s a milestone you want to remember. First haircut. First tooth lost. First day of school. First time riding a bike. First brain surgery is never on this list.
What were the influences that made James Doty who he is today with an outlook and behaviors so unusual in his field? He was born into a troubled family where he received no support. He felt alone. He had low self-esteem. But one day he wandered into a magic shop and found his saving grace in an elder named Ruth who was visiting her son, the owner of the store. She saw something in this boy and invited him to return the next day and every day for the next six weeks. She promised to teach him.
…I know how to turn a flicker into a flame. Someone taught me and now I think it’s time that I teach you…It’s going to take a lot of work and you’re going to have to practice the tricks I teach you even more than you did your thumb trick. But I promise you, what I’m going to teach you will change your life…
This is James Doty’s memoir and includes a long learning curve as many spiritual journeys do…because he neglected to include one of the most important teachings Ruth gave him. Ultimately he remembers but not without many trials. And when all her teachings finally took hold, the most powerful magic happened.
Today Dr. Doty is the Founder-Director of the Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education⏤of which the Dalai Lama was an original funder⏤and clinical professor at Stanford University School of Medicine.
In many ways Into the Magic Shop reminded me of an all-time favorite book: Illusions by Richard Bach. I always held that the story must be true; Donald Shimoda must have been a real person. I longed for it to be so. But Into the Magic Shop is…without a doubt.
I highly recommend this book. Available on Amazon and elsewhere in print and e-book.
We drove along the South Rim tourist area of the Grand Canyon and wound our way to the west on a dirt road through tall pines. Leaving the throngs of people behind, with much anticipation, we entered a different world. During opening circle for our spiritual travel program to Hopi just the night before, I’d let the folks know an opportunity had presented itself.
The Grand Canyon is sacred to the Hopi. They emerged into this middle world in ancient times from a point deep in its interior, and the Havasupai people have called it home for at least a thousand years. A relationship exists between these peoples. So when my Hopi partner Char Joseph contacted the Havasupai Tribe inquiring if there was someone who would speak to us about their ways, they were happy to oblige saying…all too often they were forgotten.
We pulled into Supai Camp, once the tribal winter home on the rim where just a few remain. The traditional dwellings are long gone. In 1934 the National Park Service (NPS) tore down or burned the homes without notice to the residents who were away at the time. I Am the Grand Canyon documents more than a century’s devastation of the Havasupai at the hands of the US federal government, NPS, Grand Canyon Association and Sierra Club. In the book, Havasupai Mack Putesoy testified how their homes were burned to the ground with all their belongings inside. Effie Hanna said she lost things she’d been saving all her life. In place of traditional homes on their aboriginal lands, the NPS built cabins and forced the residents to pay rent.
However, I knew none of this at the time we approached the home where we’d been invited.
Havasupai girl, circa 1900. Photo credit unknown.
We were greeted at the door by Colleen Kaska, daughter of Daniel Kaska who was chairman of the Havasupai Tribe in the 1970s. Elder Daniel is now quite frail but welcomed us. He wanted to tell us the story of the Havasupai, People of the Blue-Green Waters named after the beautiful canyon waters running through the area they now mostly live. Colleen shared in the storytelling.
Their aboriginal lands once encompassed areas from the Grand Canyon to the Colorado River and the San Francisco Peaks west to Ashfork and Seligman. In the warm months they lived in what is now known as Cataract Canyon in the interior of the Grand Canyon and grew crops. In winter months they dwelt on the rim in order to hunt.
Once the Santa Fe railroad came along and interest in the Grand Canyon grew as a tourist and recreational site the Havasupai were squeezed and began to suffer. In 1882 President Arthur declared the majority of their aboriginal land belonged to the American public. The People of the Blue-Green Waters lost their plateau hunting-herding lands and many thousands of acres. They were barred from rim watering holes by cattlemen and the NPS…and relegated to Cataract Canyon. This narrow 518-acre tract doesn’t see sun during winter months, and historically endured flash floods that sometimes took out homes and people.
Colleen had been relating this history in a matter-of-fact way. The more she spoke, the sadder I felt. I had no idea what we would learn when we came through this family’s door. But I didn’t anticipate such a story. I’d thought of the NPS and Sierra Club as entities that conserved beauty…not those who wrought devastation upon peoples of the land (I thought) they were to protect. I said, “This all must be heartbreaking.”
Colleen paused, became still. She had a faraway look in her eyes. “Yes. But when I walk our aboriginal lands⎯the ones taken from us⎯I know it is of my people. My ancestors are there.” The tone of her voice made clear that knowledge gave her strength.
Elder Daniel spoke haltingly of the century-long struggles to be recognized by the federal government, to regain any of the land taken from them, including his own personal involvement as chairman in this quest. Finally, in 1976 they succeeded to a small degree: 185 acres returned to the Havasupai with 95,300 acres named “Havasupai Use Lands” but controlled by the NPS.
K’iche’ Maya Daykeeper Apab’yan Tew was present as a sponsored guest on our spiritual travel program. He wanted to know about Havasupai ceremonies. He asked Daniel, “Do you have a story about some time of a spiritual nature you remember?” Daniel shook his head. It seemed the focus for so long had been a fight for acknowledgment, some recognition of their worth, that there was no energy left for anything else.
Mike Weddle⎯Kenosis Spirit Keepers board member, Daykeeper and musician⎯visiting from Maryland was able to join our group for just two days. He brought his flute. I invited Mike to offer Daniel and Colleen a prayer song. The music was sweet. When it came to an end, there was silence. Then Daniel began to sing in words and tones that entered every one of us. The energy seemed to shift.
When we all expressed how it touched us, he uttered softly, “It’s a funeral song.” And then, “We are a lost tribe.” It was painful to hear of such loss.
Our visit was over. We formed a circle outside under the pines and invited Colleen to join us. Elder Daniel was unable to do so. Apab’yan offered a Maya prayer for the People of the Blue-Green Waters and the land.
A few days later I received a note from Mike who had to leave for other business.
I think we all felt the same as elder Daniel Kaska told his story of loss and betrayal, going to Washington where no one would listen, voting against the government deal when his own people would not listen, and his final ‘I don’t know what will become of us’. When he sang his beautiful song, and then said it was a funeral song, I almost wept.
We were invited by Colleen to join a singing ceremony 8 am Saturday at Red Butte. I did go to represent us but there was no one there. There are two forest roads on each side of the Butte, but no people, no cars, and no singing.
So I climbed the switchbacks to the very top of the butte, the summit. At the very top there is a crossing with 4 paths going in the 4 cardinal directions. I’m sending a photo. Colleen called this the Supai place of origin.
I felt that in just 2 days I had been witness to the place where the Supai began and perhaps the place where they end. As there was no one else there to sing, I did the singing, and I sang the Maltyoxb’al, the [Maya] great gratitude song, for the arc of the Supai nation.
Red Butte where the Havasupai were born to this world. Photo: Mike Weddle.
Four Directions at the summit of Red Butte. Photo: Mike Weddle.
When we held our closing circle at the end of our week with the Hopi and Havasupai people, I spoke to the group.
I never know in advance how things will unfold when we hold a sacred container of pure intent. Things I can never predict come in ways that affect us all. I believe the most important thing we did during this journey was sit in respect, listen deeply to this Elder’s words and witness the grief he carries.
Sometimes that’s all we can do even in the face of our own helplessness at such recognition. And that acknowledgment matters.
Note: Elder Daniel Kaska singing recorded by Apab’yan Tew.
In the 1983 my life began to change drastically. I was living in Germany and suddenly exposed to many influences unavailable⎯or at least drastically hidden⎯in Ohio where I’d lived for the previous seventeen years. I regularly attended weekend seminars in Wiesbaden through the international branch of the Association for Humanistic Psychology featuring researcher Dr. Stanley Krippner’s work on dreams and shamanism, scientist Dr. Valerie Hunt’s research on the human energy system and others. And I was immersed in a progressive, experiential master’s degree program on human relations through the University of Oklahoma’s satellite program that exposed students to such areas as Virginia Satir’s family systems work, sacred Native American rituals and even Robert Monroe’s studies in out-of-body experiences.
It was somewhere in here that I heard about neuroscientist Dr. John Lilly’s sensory deprivation tanks, initially emerging from his interest in trance states and what happened⎯physically and mentally⎯to astronauts when freed from gravity. The late Edgar Mitchell, who went on to found the Institute of Noetic Sciences, is a good example, seen here in this beautiful tribute video We Are One.
I remember thinking: I wonder what it would be like if I no longer identified with my body or mind? I’d already been meditating for about five years, a practice begun as recovery from a serious health issue. After the first few years I’d begun to experience⎯what seemed like at the time⎯strange sensations in my body. Having no one to talk to about these experiences, it was a relief when I went to Dr. Hunt’s seminar to learn that energy was something present for everyone. We just need to open our awareness to it.
But there was no floatation tank available, and my desire to experience it went underground. Years later through meditation, ceremony and being in an altered state of consciousness for days through spiritual travel I would sporadically lose any sense of boundaries. The only way I could refer to it was “losing my skin.” These rare occurrences were spontaneous, nothing I could call on myself. But the sense it brought was merging with the Universe⎯not unlike what Edgar Mitchell described.
Then about a year ago I came across some information online indicating there’s been an upsurge in interest in floatation tanks, state-of-the art versions, and more prevalent opportunities to dip a toe in. In fact, there are several sites in Arizona alone. Indeed, it seems to be going as mainstream as massage therapy.
So a couple of weekends ago when I was in Sedona with close women friends, I suggested we make appointments at True Rest. We all held anticipation for the hour-long session. I’m sure with different thoughts going through our heads as with any unknown experience. There were three uppermost in my mind. I’ve never had claustrophobia but wondered if I’d have any anxiety being completely contained in a small pod. That was a needless concern. The young man on staff was very careful to introduce every aspect of the experience, through video and demonstrating each feature on the pod, including how to alleviate any sign of claustrophobia. The second thought in my mind was whether it would be like “losing my skin.” It was and more. The third had to do with sleep patterns and whether it would help. For years, I’d been experiencing cyclical issues with sleep. I was in the middle of one and sleep deprived.
The young guy on staff had offered his own story having to do with a broken back, intense chronic pain and no sleep, which had resolved through regular float sessions. So I was hopeful.
The float rooms and tanks are private with shower. The water in the pods is body temp and they’re filled with a huge amount of Epsom salts, causing the body to automatically float. There’s an option to have light or complete darkness, as well as soothing music or none. My initial experience was floating on a warm sea that graduated to being in the womb. And before long I did “lose my skin” and had the sense of being elevated somewhere in the clouds or beyond. Periodically, I would feel gently thrust through the earth’s core. A purely kinesthetic experience of nothingness, with movement, quite hard to describe. At one point I had a fleeting thought to breathe in and out of my third eye and was presented with extraordinary visuals and energy. As I breathed in, I was looking from above into billowing light and energy emerging through the third eye portal. As I breathed out I was in an underground cavern standing at the edge of a lake leading to light in the distance. I was in two places at once and witnessing from a distance, the image begging to be documented on canvas.
Pyrenees, Camino Frances, 2015.
There was a sense of timelessness. After “no time” the filter began swirling and drew me back, letting me know the hour had somehow ended. I showered off and went to the other dressing room. My body was more relaxed than I could remember, even after a very good massage. I looked in the mirror and swear I appeared ten years younger.
But the best news is the longer effect it’s had on me. Since this initial float I’ve slept quite well at night. Only once did I resort to the herbal sleep aid I keep on hand. I feel rested upon awakening. The visuals are still vivid, waiting to be transferred to canvas.
After the float when my friends and I returned to our lodging I was drawn to sit outside where it opened to a creek and wilderness area beyond. I felt absolutely present with nature, a comforting stillness inside. I sat there for quite some time until I got up to leisurely shoot images of the ducks and light on the red rocks. Only in retrospect did I realize the float had provided this segue to absolute Presence.
Each friend’s experience was different; the common denominator was deep relaxation. When I spoke to the young man about the depth of my own initial experience, he said I was probably predisposed due to all my years of daily meditation practice. I intuitively knew how to put my mind and body in a state; the float took me the rest of the way. In all the literature I’ve read, including the classic book by Michael Hutchinson The Book of Floating: Exploring the Private Sea, experiences similar to mine do begin to occur after a series of floats, number depending on the individual. Long-term effects being: stress management, healing, pain management, enhanced creativity and sleep, increased problem solving capabilities, and spiritual consciousness. It’s even said to have effect on addiction and weight loss, which makes sense if the aforementioned attributes are in place.
Of course, the ultimate intent is to have such a Zen state integrated through daily life. It seems to me that, in addition to my daily meditation practice, a monthly float will help create such a passage. There’s no need to have the background knowledge that ushered me into my first session, just a desire to glean the benefits.
To find a floatation location in your area, go here. I do recommend True Rest in Sedona, with other locations in Arizona and elsewhere. The premises were quite lovely and spotlessly clean, and staff was welcoming and informative. Groupon coupon discounts are sometimes available.
The Lifepath Dialogues offer an invitation toward embodiment of all that is life-affirming and the deeper meaning of sustainability. Themes are drawn from books "Calling Our Spirits Home" and "Standing Stark" and 20+ years as a conscious living mentor leading spiritual travel journeys with Indigenous Wisdom Keepers serving their communities, group and individual programs. Carla specializes in working with people who seek to live through their deeply held values. For more info see the “About” tab. The author may be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow this blog by becoming a fan on the Kenosis Facebook page.
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