Author Archives: Carla Woody

About Carla Woody

The Lifepath Dialogues offer an invitation toward embodiment of all that is life-affirming and the deeper meaning of sustainability. Drawn from themes in "Calling Our Spirits Home", "Standing Stark" and latest book "Portals to the Vision Serpent" with 20+ years as a mentor leading spiritual travel journeys working with Indigenous leaders and guiding people to live through their spiritual values. Topics are meant to open conversation. The author may be reached via cwoody@kenosis.net or visiting http://www.kenosis.net and http://www.kenosisspiritkeepers.org. Follow this blog by becoming a fan on the Kenosis Facebook page.

Mama Coca and a Story of Intent

In 2009 when I heard a reporter on NPR infer that the Indigenous peoples of the Andes were addicts because they use coca, a nutrient in its natural form, I was incensed. I was compelled to speak out in my newsletter and again years later on this blog. We have too many incidents of dominant cultures misunderstanding those who are different than their own, supporting marginalization.

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I met dear friends Dr. Emma Cucchi Luini, a humanitarian doctor who modeled herself after Dr. Albert Schweitzer, and Christo Deneumostier Grill, her research partner, in 2001. Finally, their legacy is receiving more recognition. The Coca Museum in the San Blas District of Cusco is the location of what was their second storefront K’uychiwasi Qosqo. The original storefront was located within the walls of Koricancha in Cusco.

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Without their dream and persistent research, alternative coca products like candies, soaps, even ice cream, would not be flourishing all over Peru now. All were derived from Emma’s and Christo’s determination and products to give coca farmers other choices than dealing with narco traffickers or the Peruvian government who paid them a pittance for their crops. They won the coveted Slow Food Award in 2002. Others took notice and started copying their products. Although, in my opinion, none of them match the quality of those from K’uychiwasi. In the process though, nutritional coca products are more available for wider consumption.

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Both Emma and Christo have gone on to other things having accomplished their mission of training the Quechua staff to take over, and encouraging the product spread as they did. But the story of their beginnings should not be forgotten. It’s one of strong intent in the face of much adversity. For that reason, I documented it in my 2004 book Standing Stark. I’m sharing an excerpt here.

…The bulletin board on the wall just outside the tiny shop front had some very detailed information posted about preventing high-altitude sickness. Alongside was an article on Coca-Cola. I thought it mighty strange that a display partnered the story of the evolution of a commercial product with data on medical advice. Then I realized that the common denominator was the use of the coca leaf. The sign over the door said K’uychiwasi Qosqo, Rainbow House of Cusco. Curious, I glanced inside the small space and was invited in by the brightly colored wares…

 A diminutive woman wearing clothing that seemed to swamp her small frame and a large brimmed black hat covered with folk art pins busied herself with something behind the counter. As I walked in, she glanced up, immediately broke into a big smile, her eyes, crinkling up behind wire-rimmed glasses, greeting me. I took a leisurely turn through the shop looking at cookies, candies, teas and artwork. By then, my friend had caught up with me and came in to investigate as well.

Seeing our apparent interest, Emma Cucchi Luini introduced herself and began to tell us of K’uychiwasi Qosqo’s mission. The central purpose of this nonprofit organization was to educate about the uses of the coca leaf and its connection to the Andean culture. Actually, rather than connection, Emma emphasized that the coca leaf was the backbone of this ancient tradition, its practices and health of the native people.

Beleaguered with the discovery of a chemical extraction known as cocaine, the sacred coca leaf is now being threatened with extinction. Through tighter and tighter governmental controls and concurrent illicit operations, the simple coca farmer has been squeezed. Trying to scratch out a meager existence raising the same crops their ancestors have raised for centuries, these people are being directly affected by an encroaching Western culture in which a number of people substitute nose candy and greed for real experience.

In the last couple of decades, the national governments of Peru and Bolivia, pushed by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, have targeted the coca leaf as the enemy, totally disregarding its cultural and quite innocent, but important, use by the indigenous peoples. The chewing of coca leaves is standard practice among the natives in the Andes, not to give them a high, but to increase their stamina for living and working in an environment that is often very difficult. Instead of inducing any undue alteration in their normal consciousness, which the coca leaf cannot relay at all in its natural form, its nutritional makeup provides them with energy and a plethora of nutrients not as available elsewhere in their sparse diet. Also ignored is its elevated status in the spiritual traditions and rituals of the Andean Indians. Mama Coca is the plant spirit invoked and Her leaves used in divinations, blessings and ceremonies. An analogy would be the chalice of wine symbolizing the blood of Christ in the communion ritual of many Christian religions.

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As Emma so aptly put it, “There are many, many alcoholics in the world. Do they destroy the grape?”

That question certainly does make one think, particularly relative to what other motivations, political or otherwise, could possibly exist for the shortsighted methods used for eradicating cocaine trafficking through a focus on coca crops…

…Enter Emma. With the in-country support of two Dominican friars, this Italian woman founded K’uychiwasi Qosqo in 1999. Christo Deneumostier Grill, a young Peruvian man, has since joined her in her efforts. In addition to educating about the traditional and medicinal uses, they research new ways to use the coca leaf.  In their quarters they help women, girls and young men in need by training them to produce cookies, candy and folk art using the coca leaf as an ingredient. They look forward to eventually create additional goods such as soaps…

…Emma and Christo are currently making small but painstaking steps within the bureaucracy of the Peruvian government toward wider distribution of their coca wares, the regulation of coca being tremendously tight. The only export of the leaf currently allowed is to the Coca-Cola Corporation in the United States. Ultimately, the success of Emma and Christo will benefit the Andean culture and help to maintain the growing of the coca leaf by offering products to be used by mainstream society.

As she finished her monologue, Emma shrugged and opened her hands in a characteristically Italian way and said, “I’m Italian. This cause doesn’t even belong to me.”

Reviewing our encounter in my mind later, I thought to myself, “This is a cause that belongs to the world. It belongs to us all. Emma chose to take it up.”

StandingCover72Emma’s story continued with a recounting of her remarkable life and humanitarian service that took her to dangerous, remote areas in Haiti, Sudan and Bolivia. It was deep in the jungles of Bolivia that she first met the coca farmers who befriended her and further informed her path. They educated her in the chewing of coca and told her of their difficult lives. When she became their outspoken advocate she was thrown in jail in La Paz, beaten and deported to Italy. But that didn’t stop her.

Both Emma and Christo embodied intent and humility. To me, they’re primary examples of the many unsung heroes the world over who believe in something and get it done.

For the complete story and others on the path of intent, read Standing Stark.

Categories: Global Consciousness, Indigenous Rights, Sacred Reciprocity | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Film Review – Jesus Was a Buddhist Monk

Years ago I began to read books by researchers challenging the resurrection of Jesus as traditionally depicted in the Christian faith, as well as the role Mary Magdalen played in Jesus’ life. So when I stumbled upon the BBC documentary Jesus Was a Buddhist Monk, I was naturally drawn.

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Prophet Series: Warrior of the Spirit. ©2013 Carla Woody                  

It asks questions that, for some, would be considered heresies around the resurrection:

Would a man really die after only 6 hours on a cross (when it would normally take several days)?

Was he drugged?

Was he rescued?

If he didn’t die, where did he go?

Then the film methodically goes into the politics of the times, why a resurrection story might be a strategic means to an end, legends and historical references of Jesus’ appearances in other parts of the world after the crucifixion. The viewer is asked to contemplate the boat that landed on the shores of Southern France, the Cathars and findings of the Knights Templar. And what of a man named Issa, a long life in Kashmir and a burial site in Srinagar?

The documentary does a neat job of asking the questions that deliver answers depending on your perspective. And, if you’re so inclined, follow the threads to additional research.

Available for free streaming on You Tube. 49 minutes.

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Truth and Sacrifice: The Leadership of Buffalo Bull Who Sits Down

There are some things held in secrecy because they’re too sacred to tell. Or if uttered at all, are whispered in the night in silent places. There are others whose truths are hidden because to openly relate them at all risks great punishment. Or they’re distorted through misunderstanding by a culture that cannot fathom a different meaning than their own.

I’ve admitted to being greatly distressed by the ongoing acts against truth, understanding and compassion in the current political climate and otherwise. And truly attempting to find grace and balance for myself within it all. I do believe that the Universe does deliver when we open in that way. Hence, some salvation dropped in my lap.

I stumbled upon a 2009 interview by Krista Tippett, host of On Being, of Ernie LaPointe, a direct lineal descendant of Tatanka Iyotake. Closest translation from Lakota being Buffalo Bull Who Sits Down—not Sitting Bull.

In the interview, Ernie LaPointe relayed some of the oral history passed to him by his late mother, Angelique Spotted Horse-LaPointe, about his great-grandfather and their traditions. I was so moved I listened to the two-hour, unedited version of the podcast twice—and then bought his book Sitting Bull: His Life and Legacy so I could return, again and again, to points that particularly inspire me.

The parts about the Indian Offenses Act of 1883 outlawing sacred practices, all the betrayals and ramifications generated a great deal of sadness for me that is hard to put aside. But within that is an example of a man who held utmost integrity and compassion in his heart. The long-term wellbeing of his people informed his decisions. History calls him a war chief when really he was a great spiritual leader. He was killed on Standing Rock Indian Reservation for who he was. But his Spirit lives on. He was humble, preferring to be known as a Sun Dancer. Not a chief. As a child he was called “slow” by some, a misrepresentation of one who notices everything, weighs all sides to come to deliberate decision.

Here’s one about knowing when to fall on your sword and the good karma that comes when rash decisions are avoided. When Tatanka Iyotake, then called by his childhood name Jumping Badger, was 7 years old he was among a band of young boys being tested for their skills. First they had to make the perfect arrow and then were told to hunt and return with a beautiful bird. He and another boy spied a bird at the same time. The other boy let his arrow fly but it missed and lodged in a tree branch. Tatanka Iyotake offered to help the boy by shooting it down with his own arrow. He succeeded but the boy’s arrow broke when it hit the ground. The boy became angry and blamed him. Rather than get into an argument about the whole thing, Tatanka Iyotake gave the boy his own arrow, which he’d labored over to perfect. When their teacher heard through others about the incident, he gifted him with a full set of bow and arrows.

Perhaps my favorite story is this one that foretold his future as a great spiritual leader. When he was 10 years old, his uncle Four Horns tested his tracking and hunting skills for buffalo, a dangerous undertaking with the potential of stampede. Tatanka Iyotake rode into the center of the herd, aimed at a huge bull, let his arrow fly and brought it down. Proud of his nephew, Four Horns was also angered at the dangerous risk he took. When asked why he didn’t go for the cow at the edge of the herd, he responded that he saw the cow. But he also saw her calf. If he’d killed the cow, her calf would die, too.

Four Horns guided him through the ritual to thank the Great Spirit then directed him to run get this mother and the other women to butcher the bull, which he did. But not before he asked his mother to be sure to save good portions for a widow and her children who lived nearby.

From this incident, which displayed his foresight and generosity, Jumping Badger gained his adult name Tatanka Iyotake, Buffalo Bull Who Sits Down.

Stories like these and other sharing about Lakota ways were so good to hear. It was also disheartening to learn how things changed due to outside influences.

Counting coup, the striking of an enemy with a stick, was as a visual way of settling differences and gaining honor. It was after the white man came that young warriors started killing instead.

During vision quest the young men would often see colors that would then be worn as protection, a part of spiritual practice. Not “war paint”—a measure of disrespect by those quick to misunderstand.  Ernie LaPointe spoke of himself and others who carried PTSD as a spiritual wounding because they didn’t wear their colors to protect their Spirit.

The reverence toward women is woven into the culture. The belief is, through their menstrual cycle, women go through a natural, monthly purification process. The wisdom they gain in the process is enlarged upon throughout their lives. So, while the men may consider a direction, the final decision is not made until it is placed in front of the women, who weigh in with their wisdom.

What I’ve shared here is only a token of all I heard and read. For the full richness, view the full interview or listen to it on Sound Cloud.

With so much appreciation to Ernie LaPointe for telling the stories of his great-grandfather, even in the controversy directed toward him for doing so. Because of him, I’ll continue to watch for the leader who Carries the People in the Heart. We’ll know that person by their name. Not because they proclaim it. But because the people have granted it by virtue of the actions that distinguished the honor.

Categories: Global Consciousness, Indigenous Rights, Indigenous Wisdom | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

Spiritual Travel to Mexico: Maya Mysteries

SPECIAL ANNOUNCEMENT

Spiritual Travel to Chiapas, Mexico: Entering the Maya Mysteries
January 18-28, 2018

Early registration discount ends August 28.

Immersion Experience in Maya Cosmology, Medicine,
Art and Sacred Ways of the Living Maya.

A Spirit Keepers Journey co-sponsored by Kenosis and Kenosis Spirit Keepers.
Portion of tuition tax-deductible to support preservation of Indigenous traditions.

Don Antonio Martinez

Palenque
You are invited to step through the threshold… into a true journey of the Spirit. We are honored to offer a special program focusing on the sacred traditions of Maya peoples. Through the timing of our travels we are fortunate to immerse ourselves in Maya Mysteries showcasing the spiritual strength of the Living Maya connected with their ancient origins. We offer you an intimate opportunity, unlikely to be found on your own, engaging with spiritual leaders and healers who serve their people — with the intent that we are all transformed and carry the beauty home.

Join us for ceremonies, curing rituals, ancestral sites and the inherent magic of Maya Land.
Here is just some of what you will enjoy from the mountain highlands to the rainforest lowlands of Chiapas:
  • Maya Daykeeper Tat Apab’yan Tew accompanies us offering sacred ways from his native Guatemala and a fire ceremony connecting with the ancestors;
  • Tzotzil Maya religious leader Don Xun Calixto holds an audience in his home where we learn of his curing methods and calling;
  • Don Antonio Martinez, the last Lacandón Maya elder faithfully practicing his traditions, holds the nearly extinct balché ceremony;
  • Receive a private clearing session with Doña Panchita, curandera of Palenque;
  • Take part in the festival of San Sebastian in San Juan Chamula and Zinacantán, and spend time in a Maya church where curanderos conduct healing sessions — and many of our travelers have deeply spiritual experiences;
  • Carol Karasik — poet, writer, Mayanist — shares the mysteries of Palenque;
  • Experience the passion of Maya artists as they disclose what inspires them;
  • Throughout our time spiritual guide Carla Woody shapes your journey for optimal transformation that continues to unfold long after you’ve returned home;
  • And so much more…

Kenosis Spirit KeepersA portion of tuition is tax-deductible through Kenosis Spirit Keepers, the 501(c)3 nonprofit arm of Kenosis. We believe in the sacred sense of reciprocity. Your tuition includes a financial contribution to support the welfare of the Maya people with whom we engage, as well as other Native traditions.

For this year’s Maya program, your donation goes to support:

  • Spirit Keepers Journey supporting a US Native Wisdom Keeper to make connections with Maya relations.
  • Don Sergio Castro’s textile museum and his humanitarian healing work with poor Maya communities.
  • For more information on what we support, please go here
In January 2013 Grandmother Flordemayo, member of the International Council of 13 Indigenous Grandmothers, traveled with us. She was so taken with her experience that she offered to give her impressions in a video.

Early registration discount ends August 28.
Group size limited. Register today to hold your place!
 Go here for complete registration information, itinerary, bios, past trip photos and travelers’ stories. For more info call 928-778-1058 or email info@kenosis.net.
Registration deadline: December 17.
JOIN US FOR THIS ADVENTURE OF THE SPIRIT!

Categories: Global Consciousness, Indigenous Wisdom, Spiritual Travel | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Calling to Truth

Any semblance of moisture we received in Northern Arizona has been long gone for months. It’s so hot that airplanes can’t fly two hours to the south. My eyes burn with the dryness, and I squint sharply against the sun. The winds have been so strong the gale seems to penetrate my very being, leaving only the core essentials as it exits. We await reprieve.

In my 2004 book Standing Stark, I wrote of monsoons to frame the spiritual process I would relay.

We have heavy rains in Arizona. They normally start in July and go through August. We call the rains monsoons, which may be hard to imagine for those who have not yet experienced the rhythms of the high desert. Sometimes, though, we have a drought year and the rains start later. The tall pines become over-thirsty, beyond being parched. In those times, all of us develop expectancy—trees, plants, animals and humans alike. We are all in it together after all.

But invariably the monsoons come, often with violent storms. Jagged lightning dazzles the sky and thunder cracks so loudly it can bring us up sharply if we’re not attuned. In a primal way, we are all more susceptible during periods of scarcity.

A threat to collective Spirit is in effect. The tragic loss of lives, the reigning political untruths and senseless decisions that throw working people and the environment under the bus. Those who stand for Truth⎯in all its manifestations⎯can’t help but be affected. What can be done?

A few years ago, an acquaintance told me he respected my activism, and I was startled. I didn’t consider myself so. I actually wanted to flee. To me, activism meant center stage, labeled a radical, fighting the continual fight. It would mean a huge sacrifice on my part. I’m an introvert and can be left exhausted by such engagements if it goes on long enough. But I’ve shifted my perspective.

Wandering in the forest later, we can see the aftermath. In a sea of towering ponderosas, or their kin, there are those who stand apart. Not frequently, but infrequently, there will be those who are now shed of their needles, their skins laid open by the snaking of a lightning strike. Standing stark, they appear to be dead. They aren’t. When I go and put my forehead against their trunks, I feel the elemental filaments that have startled another kind of consciousness within them. Still dwelling in their habitat, they are even more alive than before.

It doesn’t mean taking radical action⎯except to stand against what insults your soul. It doesn’t mean being in the forefront, unless you choose to do so. It does means being actively engaged in what you believe rather than passively going with what you’re given, or assuming you can do nothing to change the tide. Every day there are choices to make. The quality of thoughts you launch into the ether. The words you write and speak. Where you expend your energy. You retain power by educating yourself to spend money only where it supports life-giving, not life-taking. These things do make a difference.

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The fire that discharged their coverings often may move to some of the surrounding brush and trees, those in close proximity. Sometimes it may travel from a tree to ignite nearly the entire forest. But before that could happen it was first necessary for that tree to be burned of its own covering before the fire that began with that One could affect its brethren.

But truly it starts with each of us first to dispense with any untruths, any limiting beliefs, that cling to life within ourselves. Doing the work that must be done to release anything that speaks of “I don’t deserve,” “I’m not good enough,” “I’m not capable,” “It’s not possible.” Moving into wholeness⎯your birthright⎯lends strength to all of us.

The lightning strike oftentimes comes suddenly, a bolt unexpected. But there may well be a stirring before the charge and those who have grown the tallest stand most ready to receive.

In order to be ready, we do for ourselves what we know to do as best we can. Yet, there must be no striving. The striving of the material world has no place in this transmission. We need only send our willingness up as a prayer and stand waiting. Those souls who hold themselves available are struck.

I’ve decided I actually am an activist … in my own quiet way. It’s a step-by-step evolutionary process that has brought me to where, sometimes unexpectedly, I find myself today.

Truth matters. The planet matters. We matter. I smell the moisture coming that will drench the lands.

Categories: Global Consciousness, Sacred Reciprocity, Spiritual Evolution | Tags: , , | 3 Comments

Film Review: Beyond

Beyond charts the quest of photographer Joey L. as he seeks religious ascetics in Varanasi, India to include in his series on Holy Men. Each morning before dawn Joey L., his assistant Ryan and filmmaker Cale Glendening make their way down to the Ganges where they remain until dusk. They roam its banks to find just the right light and spot to capture the core essence of the sadhus who willingly agree. But first something else must occur.

This is not merely a documentary about shooting images. It’s just as much on the importance of relationship, understanding and respect. Only by sitting with the sadhus, hearing their stories, sharing a meal does the deeper meaning of their chosen life emerge through film and photography. Trust develops. With a sensitivity unusual for one this young, Joey L. is given to portray them and their rituals in a way that austere beauty is clearly spoken. This is so particularly of the Aghori who are little understood by outsiders and often feared.

In the end, the filmmakers speak candidly about their experiences, how aspects may change who they are, and what they consider to matter.

I was truly moved and fascinated by this film⏤to the point I’m still thinking about it a couple of days later. The cinematography was beautiful and the photography exquisite. For more examples, view the websites of Joey L. and Cale Glendening.

Watch Beyond streaming free on Vimeo. 43 minutes.

Categories: cultural interests, Film Review, Global Consciousness | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

What the Jungle Knows

When so much has been charted, made dry and predictable there are those drawn to what is uncharted, unanticipated, not quite so visible. By venturing into these places, material and nonmaterial, we learn of ourselves⏤what we’re made of and can truly be. A quest for lost treasures. An ascent is one thing. But the point when we grow wings and fly is only probable after the great descent and excavation.

The classic 70s film Chac: The Rain God contains a powerful illustration of such a journey. On the surface level, it’s about a Tzeltal Maya village in the highlands of the Mexican State of Chiapas whose rain-starved crops are devastated. Led by the cacique, their village chief, a small crew of men seek a diviner who will petition Chac, the rain god, to have mercy on them and send moisture to the land.

Insert the deep structure … Such a diviner—a Holy Man—is not easily found. He lives far from the village, a personage unknown: a foreigner at best, a witch at worst. But the need for such intervention is so great, they attempt to hold their fears at bay and proceed. When the diviner is finally found, he demands a price.

Being a Holy Man, he knows there must be a payment, an investment signaling commitment, for a coveted desire to materialize. He exacts a journey into the jungle, a place well feared by the highland villagers. The jungle is not just the jungle … but the Underworld where things are hidden and unfamiliar, waiting to reveal themselves to a vulnerable passerby. In the shadows of a ceiba tree, an owl shapeshifts to human form and slithers down a branch. Was mysticism extending its offer or was it merely a trick of the mind? They come across the dreaded Lacandón Maya, who call the rainforest home, and wonder if they’ll make it out alive. Or was the threat just a legend? Who in the group will persist? Who will fall away? Who will find it possible to walk at the edge of reality across a waterfall?

A few months ago I read Exploration Fawcett, a book compiled from Col. Percy Fawcett’s manuscripts and field notes on his quests into the Brazilian Amazon searching for the Lost City of Z. It was first published in 1953 by his surviving son Brian. Whether his father and eldest brother found the site they sought remains a mystery as they did not return. But their undertakings in the jungle, told through Percy’s own words, contain the same central elements I describe above. Others sought to replicate his journey and found their own, documented in David Grann’s book on the same subject, also a newly released movie.

There is no shortage of such books. I’ve read many of them: Wild, Tracks, To the Field of Stars and others. Whether the expeditions were initiated as spiritual journeys, that’s what they became. Each one has its own special challenges depending on the physical environment. But the central theme in all of them speaks to the human hunger toward personal potential that challenges of the journey inward bring.

More than anything, here I focus on The Jungle as a metaphor containing the lost city that was not at all lost. But merely waiting for rediscovery once we step outside the comfort zone.

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You are invited to join us on these upcoming journeys that range from the highlands to rainforest places. Click the link for more information including detailed itinerary, photos, travelers’ stories and more. A portion of tuition tax-deductible to help preserve Indigenous wisdom traditions.

I offer you an intimate opportunity, unlikely to be found on your own, engaging with Indigenous spiritual leaders and healers who serve their people — with the intent that we are all transformed and carry the beauty home.

October 24-November 3, 2017: Spiritual Travel to Peru. Registration discount until June 23. It is a privilege to sponsor a special program focusing on sacred traditions linking the peoples of the Andes and the Manu rainforest.

January 18-28, 2018: Spiritual Travel to Chiapas, Mexico. Registration discount until August 28. Immersion experience in Maya cosmology, medicine, arts and sacred ways of the Living Maya in the highlands and rainforest.

 

 

 

Categories: Global Consciousness, Indigenous Wisdom, Spiritual Evolution, Spiritual Travel | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Book Review: The Horse Boy

Horse Boy imageThe Horse Boy came to my attention through one of the travelers on my Peru spiritual travel program. Françoise Moreels told me she was so inspired by the story, centered around autism and Mongolian shamanism, that she was compelled to journey to Mongolia herself. With an introduction like that, of course, I was drawn to read it to see what was so remarkable. And truly it is.

Imagine a young couple completely engaged in life. Rupert Isaacson was a journalist and activist for Indigenous land rights, particularly for the Bushmen of the Kalahari Desert. Kristin Neff was a professor in educational psychology at the University of Texas. Their young son Rowan just wasn’t developing the way other children did and displayed behaviors that led to a diagnosis of autism in 2004. The book is intimate in detailing all the heartbreak and frustration that comes with parenting a child with such a condition—the daily travails that are so difficult. My great respect certainly goes to these parents.

It became the father’s quest to find a way to heal Rowan. Rupert’s work being more flexible, he stayed home with Rowan much of the time. Unexpectedly, an incident occurred that eventually pointed to a path of healing. One day, Rowan broke away from his father and ran over to a horse named Betsy on a neighbor’s property, a mare known to be difficult. Strangely, Betsy was submissive to the child. And the child’s stemming and outbursts calmed. Rupert knew horses. He grew up with them in South Africa. He asked the neighbor if he and his son could ride the horse, and they did. Consistently.

It had such a positive effect on Rowan’s functioning that, after a time, Rupert had a brainstorm. Why not take Rowan to Mongolia, the place where horses were first domesticated and had become integral to the culture—and particularly their powerful form of shamanism? It took Rupert a few years to convince Kristin enough for her to reluctantly agree. But in 2007, the family began a physically and emotionally challenging odyssey across the remote steppes of Mongolia in hopes their son would be healed.

This is a story of strong intent played out against the backdrop of Mongolian shamanism. I highly recommend the book, also produced as a documentary. As a result of their experiences, Rupert Isaacson founded the Horse Boy Foundation working with autism and equine therapy. Kristin Neff founded Self-Compassion offering training in mindfulness and acceptance.

The Horse Boy by Rupert Isaacson is available on Amazon and elsewhere.

 

Categories: Book Review, Healing, Indigenous Wisdom, Spiritual Travel | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

Of That Time in Iran

“I think you should open it,” my dad gestured to the bottle of Camus Napoleon Cognac, still in its original box after all these years. His face was poignant, holding mixed emotions: doubt, resignation, a touch of sadness.

Camus CognacIt touched me, too. Dad is 86 years old and had held this bottle for 38 years, patiently waiting. He’s sentimental and loyal to his convictions. He holds things inside. Nearly every year for at least 25, he’s said to me, “We’ll wait until Ahmad comes back.” He kept it tucked safely in the bar. Now it sat on the top. It took something for him to do that, to make that final decision, waiting for me to come home for Thanksgiving.

“I think so, too. It’s time,” I said.

In May 1978 I traveled alone to Iran to work on a project called Peace Log, a collaboration between the US and Imperial Iranian Air Force, that acted as oversight to Lockheed’s fielding of F-16 jets. I was 24. I was to be there for six months working on Doshan-Tappeh Air Base outside Tehran.

Don’t ask me what I was doing. It was many lifetimes ago. It had much less to do with the logistical work I would do than the call to adventure that had been roiling in my blood. I’d applied for the job not really even knowing where Iran was, other than it sounded exotic. I was just following a strong urging. The internal conflict produced from being in a line of work that went against my values hadn’t yet gelled. And as much as I wanted the adventure, I hadn’t figured into the equation my extreme shyness and the huge gap in age between me and the US people I worked with. I pretty much holed up after work and read books.

But it wasn’t long before I met Ahmad, an Iranian captain a few years older than me, who worked in the same complex. He asked me to dinner. That was more complicated than it sounds. There was a strict order from the Iranian side against fraternization. And within a couple of weeks after my arrival we were suddenly under martial law with strict curfews and all the riots and bombings you’ve read about. The Shah was falling.

Nonetheless, Ahmad and I began to see each other a few times a week. It was like a grade B spy movie. I’d leave the apartment building where I lived with other US work personnel, located on one of the busiest boulevards in Tehran, walk nonchalantly a few blocks over where he’d pick me up in his car and whisk me away.

If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t have seen the things I saw. We hiked the mountains surrounding Tehran. He took me to Isfahan with its extraordinary ancient architecture. For a weekend we went to the Caspian Sea with his cousins and friends. One time we had to travel through Qom, the revolutionaries’ stronghold, and he brought me his mother’s chador to wear so I’d be safe. But mostly, we talked. He would teach me basic Farsi and I would correct his English as he asked. We roamed the bazaars, had meals together and developed a quiet bond.

Iranian MiniatureIn the middle of my assignment in Tehran, Ahmad had to accompany his general to the US. He was gone a few weeks. They had business in different sites. One was Wright-Patterson AFB in Ohio, outside Dayton where I lived at the time. He visited my folks while there.  They had him to dinner at their place. That’s when he gave Dad the cognac. For my mom, he brought an exquisite Persian miniature, an Iranian art form. My folks enjoyed his visit thoroughly. The next day Mom took him shopping.

That day in November, right before Thanksgiving, when I was slated to fly back to the US, he accompanied me to the airport for which I was so grateful. I only realized later what a risk he took being seen with me in that environment. It was chaotic and dangerous, people clamoring to leave. Somehow he parted the seas. Or at least it seemed that way. I showed my documents and was granted passage. In those last moments, we said little. But we both cried.

In January 1979, he managed to call me. There was a lot of static on the line. I remember our conversation was brief. We may have been cut off. That was the last time I heard from him. Ever.

My dad doesn’t forget kindnesses personally granted him. Neither do I. Over the years, I’ve thought of Ahmad countless times. Wondering what happened to him, where he was. Did he survive the revolution? I’m afraid he didn’t but don’t want it confirmed.

After the fact, I realized just how little I really knew about him. Somehow I got the idea he was from a well placed family, and that his allegiance to the Shah was questionable. Although he never came right out with either of these.

A few years ago, I did a google search to see if I could turn up anything. I was shocked when I was greeted with listing after listing of a man by the same name identified as the father of modern Persian poetry. I was disappointed when I reviewed photos that told me he wasn’t the one I sought. But still a strange coincidence. My Ahmad was much younger, of course. So perhaps a namesake or family relation.

The cork broke in two and crumbled into the bottle; it was dry. I took a sip of the cognac, and it took my breath away. It was so strong. Perhaps as strong as my memories that without Ahmad wouldn’t have been so rich.

If I could, this is what I would say to him:

I hope you’ve lived a long, healthy life filled with love, family, children and work that nurtured your soul. You were of such significance to me at a time when I was young, naive and scared, not of my surroundings, but of myself. You provided a safe haven and wanted nothing in return except friendship. I’ve never forgotten it.

I mourn that I cannot find my photographs from then. But I can offer these words from a poem by Ahmad Shamlu that speak, for me, of that time in Iran.

The sea envies you
for the drop you have drunk
from the well.

 

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Categories: Gratitude, Sacred Reciprocity, Spiritual Travel | Tags: , , | 10 Comments

Book Review: A Tale for the Time Being

I think some stories are best read aloud. For me, this was one of them. I came to this conclusion before I knew that the author herself reads all her work aloud as she writes chapter to chapter. And she was the narrator here. Who better to know how to make her point? After the fact I also learned that author Ruth Ozeki is a Zen Buddhist priest. Then so much of the knowledge dropped in unexpectedly, almost casually, made sense if it has its place in the everyday underpinnings of someone’s life.

I count the coincidence lucky. I’ve just started listening to audio books. I wouldn’t have used the right inflection for the Japanese names or words in my mind. I might have glossed over them. But also because there were things inserted softly that caused me to stop and listen. There’s another layer here, I’d thought. I rewound and took it in again.

A Tale for the Time BeingThere was the clever double entendre: A Tale for the Time Being. We’re all Time Beings for the time being. And it’s a novel that involves time, how we experience it, the ways it warps. But you don’t realize it until you’re well into the novel. It’s subtle until firmly anchored.

A Japanese American novelist with writer’s block named Ruth walked the beach near her home, a little populated island off British Columbia, and found a carefully wrapped, albeit battered, package washed up on the shore. It wasn’t long after the 2011 tsunami and the resulting meltdowns at the Fukushima nuclear power plant.  It contained a Hello Kitty lunchbox, the diary of a conflicted Japanese American teenager living in Tokyo named Nao (Now?) and more. That is the launching point that draws us into the shame-suicide culture of Japan, the suffering of a “living ghost”, and the darker underbelly of Tokyo. If the book had only been these things, I probably would have quit after the first chapter or so⏤stopped short from finding out what it was really about.

I would have missed Jiko, Nao’s 104-year-old great-grandmother, a Buddhist nun  who peppered her conversations with koans drawn from The Shōbōgenzō written by Japanese Zen Master Dōgen. And how Ruth lost the experience of her own now, the more obsessed she became with Nao’s, and began to realize she was “playing origami with time.” Or the strange phenomenon she experienced of changing places with the young girl, populating her dreams, and finding them much the same. Or Ruth’s disclosure of another weird instance, which validated my own, when being so immersed in writing a story that, upon waking the next morning and opening the computer, she found herself wondering who had written the words…

This is a novel about living in the midst of contrast in this modern world, the time of our being and the choices we make, along with a real indoctrination to Japanese culture. I have to end with this because it’s such a great quote:

The ancient Greeks believed when you read out loud, it’s actually the dead borrowing your tongue in order to speak again.

Available in print, e-book and audiobook from the public library, Amazon and elsewhere.

Categories: Book Review, cultural interests, Healing | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

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