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