Monthly Archives: February 2019

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: , , , , , | 3 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

Don Xun

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: , , , | 4 Comments

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