cultural interests

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

Film Review: Accordions Rising

My favorite type of novel is when an author takes obscure subject matter or a little known historical occurrence then expands upon it, slipping in a perspective to make entertaining reading. I gain knowledge in an area where I had little or none without the drudge of academic study, all in the midst of pleasure.

That’s how I felt when I stumbled upon the films of Roberta Cantow. Earlier I reviewed Clotheslines. Now she’s just released Accordions Rising. Originally, I wasn’t necessarily attracted but remembered the unique spin she put on Clotheslines, which was really a statement on the status of women. So I watched the new one and became engaged just as I do with the type of novel I mentioned.

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This filmmaker moves you well beyond the instrument’s association with street vendors, Lawrence Welk and the polka to its surprising—for me—modern-day use in orchestral, experimental, jazz and ambient music. And history? How about accordion during rituals of Vodou’s Marie Laveau? Beyond the music itself, she features the accordionists giving voice  on how they came to their instrument. These are the kind of stories I personally love, plus all the examples of its role in traditions across the world. Then there’s the power of the accordion that you can hear throughout the film. Depending on the focus of the musician, it can take you on an emotional ride. And I guarantee you’ll be tapping your foot.

I was curious as to what drew Roberta to undertake all the intense research, time and other investments a documentary requires to do well…for something so unpopular. So I wrote to her and asked. I learned as much from her answer as I did from the film. I’m sharing a bit with you here.

 Let me start with this: The accordion, I have come to understand, is far less ‘obscure to mainstream’ than one might think. In fact, although I was not able to include all of these examples due to licensing issues, the list of musicians that play or include accordions is quite long. All with names that are familiar: Beatles, Bruce Springsteen, Tom Waits, etc.  The instrument was simply not foregrounded. It certainly did fall out of favor at one time, but there has been a resurgence for the last 20-30 years.

When I began, my knowledge of the instrument was thin. I had enjoyed a set of disks called Planet Squeezebox going all the way back to the late 80’s, the accordion in every corner of the world. In the 90’s I started seeing photographs and graphic images that piqued my interest. I attended the San Antonio International Accordion Festival, and it was as if I were lit up. I loved that it had a home in so many different cultures and styles of playing. I thought that it reflected the diversity in our culture (and our world) today. I was also extremely intrigued with the people who were using the accordion differently and unexpectedly in new music and avant-garde forms. My eyes were opened wide to the versatility and various passions of the players. I felt that it didn’t deserve to be ‘maligned’ the way it was, so I set out to set the record straight. I begin the film with these words…. ‘I have often been drawn to the misunderstood….’ and that is true of the subjects of many of my films.

With both of Roberta Cantow’s films I’ve seen thus far, a major take-away: When you think you know something—if you take it at face value—you don’t know anything.

If you have Amazon Prime, you can see it for free or $2.99 otherwise. And tell her what you think in the rating and reviews section.

Categories: Creativity Strategies, cultural interests, Film Review | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

The Unborn, the Ancestors

Little girl…little boy. You, the leaf! You, the new branch! Listen to me. Listen to this song I have. A word I have…a speech. You must be dreaming. You must be sleeping. Are you tired? Can I speak to you? Are you tired? Are you dreaming?

I want to talk to you. I have a word from my heart to you. Would you want to talk to me? Would you want to move?

You are the reason my heart is alive! You are the reason my life is complete!

In a lilting voice he gently coaxed then paused, just as his lineage had for centuries. He sought a cue, maybe movement, to let him know he’d made a connection.

From the beginning of March, I’d traveled with Maya Daykeeper Apab’yan Tew to Kansas, Hopi and elsewhere around Arizona. Between journeys I was privileged to host him in my home. Now we were in the last days of the month, he stood—delicately poised in traditional dress, eyes half closed, an arm lifted, hand upturned—at the front of the room. The rest of us seated, in a meditative state.

Huichol composer-musician Xavier Quijas Yxayotl played his flute softly in the background, his music framing Apab’yan’s words. Monita Lynn Baker joined in with just the appropriate bit of percussion. I’d invited Xavier to our Spirit Keepers Series gathering at North Mountain Visitors Center in Phoenix to reconnect with Apab’yan. They hadn’t seen each other in 25 years. Their ritual music-dance teachers were friends but both had long passed.

Apab’yan had spoken at length on K’iche’ Maya worldview—originating from the Guatemalan highlands—and his responsibilities as a Daykeeper working with the Cholq’ij calendar. During the course of the evening he revealed that he’d acted as a traditional midwife for the last 16 years. He had a patient with a difficult pregnancy, the baby in a questionable position, awaiting his return home. This mention naturally led into the singing speech we experienced, the intervention meant to guide the baby to reposition on its own in utero, to align correctly with the birth canal.*

The song ended. The room was silent, the energy palpable. I think we must all have been touched in ways indefinable. Perhaps there was something enlivened that had been asleep. Or a dream grounded into this reality. Perhaps there were aspects we each may have carried into this life from our mothers and fathers—inner vulnerabilities—that were soothed, shed. This was a perfect portal to usher us into the fire ceremony the next day.

North Mountain Visitors Center abuts the Phoenix Mountain Preserve. The beautiful grounds are pristine, belying its poignant past. It was here, from the 1890s until 1930s, that many Native families camped, attempting to see the children taken from their homes and subjected to forced assimilation at the Phoenix Indian School. Interspersed were the tuberculosis camps in the early 1900s for those seeking the curative properties of dry desert air.

We gathered, in the shadows of the small ampitheatre, and Apab’yan consecrated an altar space where he would guide the fire ceremony. And it was here that he would call upon the ancestors. In his own words

Everything is alive. Everything has a form of communication. Everything has meaning and belongs to a natural system.

The Maya ceremony consists of preparing a ceremonial pyre. It is called a gift but also a payment in the sense of reciprocity. The K’iche’ ceremonial pyre is not a bonfire; it does not burn a long time. It does not need to last. The importance has to do with what happens while the fire is active: There must be a dialogue.

As normal, those assembled took part in the building of the altar, some given special roles. One held the fire stick. Some were called upon to make the first lighting. Two others to pass out candles. And the fire began to burn. Puffing on the ceremonial cigar, Apab’yan called for the Grandmothers-Grandfathers to be present. He made the prayers. Placing candles, we made our own prayers. At long last, the fire started to die down, the conversation coming to completion.

But not yet.

Apab’yan went over to Xavier and Monita, whispering to them. After asking me to lead the circle in holding space, those three walked into the desert. And then…on the air…from the distance…we heard flute and voice rising and falling…singing to the land…to any lingering ghosts of sadness…offering up prayers. And some strange force blew through. It overtook my body. Ever so slowly, involuntarily, my body began to arch backwards until it was in an impossible position. Held. For what seemed like forever. Until it let me go. When I opened my eyes, I saw the Diné woman across the circle crying.

When they re-entered the circle, Apab’yan knelt before her and asked her to ritually bless him with burning sage. That image and the power of it sticks in my mind: Diné woman, Maya man.

The ceremony now closed, the sense of what occurred remained. A communal undertaking. Correctly done. Even as I’m writing this now, I’m feeling into the sacred space…all over again…we all created. I imagine it still hangs in the air in the ampitheatre, the people who pass through wondering what has touched them.

I’ve been in powerful ceremonies before. Fire ceremonies, too. But none ever as compelling as this one. Perhaps it was the culmination of all the energy accumulated from all the ceremonies over a month’s time, carried with us…from Hopi…to private land outside Wichita…to private and public sites in Tucson and finally in Phoenix. And some particularly precious energy remains within my own sanctuary.**

With much respect and gratitude to Apab’yan  and those who showed up in these ritual circles. The journey continues in January in Maya Land with the strength we gathered in March. Anyone drawn is welcome.

Below I’m adding a piece written by Pam Hale Trachta with her own reflections.

 The Power of Ritual and Ceremony

The smoke from the copal grew thicker in the room, as Apab’yan fed the small container fire with the granules of incense, and his prayers. People seated around him and behind him prayed too, mesmerized now by the hypnotic chanting in the Mayan language, punctuated by English phrases so we could all track where the prayers were being directed.

The room was darkened in order to suggest the atmosphere of the caves where this water ceremony is usually performed. A bowl of water resting on the table received the blessing, and participants would eventually be offered sips of it, as in communion. Finally, roses were dipped into the water and used to shake drops of water on all those gathered.

It was a potent blessing, because the intimacy and power of ritual transcends cultures, language differences and even philosophical details. Spirit is Spirit in any language. And the language of Spirit is ceremony.

Water Ceremony

Water Ceremony at Tacheria Interfaith School of Spiritual Direction in Tucson. Photo: Pam Hale Trachta.

Read more

♦♦♦

 * Apab’yan Tew is likely the only male Maya midwife that exists. He knows of no other. Indeed, it’s not traditional. It occurred because, when he was a lost young man wandering in the Guatemala highlands, a Maya midwife took him in. And before long he assisted her in the process. He became her apprentice until he began to birth babies on his own. He remains readily sought after as a midwife. When in the highlands he does everything from the beginning: talks, sings, moves and delivers the baby. In the city, he prepares everything until the point of delivery then sends the mother to the hospital for final delivery by a doctor. This was the case recently in Mexico City. Apab’yan and the mother were able to bypass the difficulties of the pregnancy. She successfully delivered a baby girl.

**With many thanks to the following people and organizations for hosting us and making the March beauty possible:

  • On Hopi: Charlene and Harold Joseph;
  • In Kansas: Lonetta Lollar and John Brack, and Belle Dessa and the Great Plains Earth Institute;
  • Elsewhere in Arizona: Pam Hale Trachta, Frank Williams and Tacheria Interfaith School of Spiritual Direction, Leslie Spencer-Snider and North Mountain Visitors Center, and Cindy Heath.
Categories: cultural interests, Gratitude, Indigenous Wisdom, Maya, Sacred Reciprocity | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

A Havasupai Elder Speaks

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

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.

Daniel Kaska and Apabyan Tew

Havasupai Elder Daniel Kaska & Maya Daykeeper Apab’yan Tew. Photo: Colleen Kaska.

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

Red Butte where the Havasupai were born to this world. Photo: Mike Weddle.

redbutte3

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.

Go here to learn more about Spiritual Travel to Hopi: Sacred Guardians of the World,  and check back for next year’s March travels.

Categories: cultural interests, Healing, Indigenous Rights, Spiritual Travel | Tags: , , | 4 Comments

Film Review – The Red Queen: A Mayan Mystery

In 1994 a tomb was excavated in Temple XIII in the main plaza of Palenque, the large Maya ruin complex in Chiapas, Mexico. It was the finest thus far uncovered, even more so than the great ruler Pakal II’s in the Temple of the Inscriptions just a couple of doors down. The quantity of jadeite, sacred objects and two skeletons on either side of the sarcophagus indicated someone of the highest standing. And a very curious thing: The remains were completely covered in a powdery red substance that turned out to be cinnabar.

A physical anthropologist determined the remains to be female. The temple richness  pointed to the final resting place of an esteemed ruler. But for women to attain such a capacity was unusual. Thus began The Red Queen. And then it immediately garnered my attention when archaeologist David Friedal took the screen saying, “The history of the past is not the history of men but men and women together. And at times women change the course of history. Not men.”

The Red Queen is not a boring historical documentary. Rather it entertains the question: Who was the Red Queen? She was nicknamed so because of the cinnabar. Attendants carefully covered her in the toxic powder at burial. It made its way into her very bones. We’re on board as the film tracks the mysteries, technical methods and data that lead to a conclusion from the three likeliest candidates.

  • Was it Yohl Ik’nal, the grandmother of Pakal? As far as we know she was the first Maya female to rule on her own…for 21 years.
  • Was it Sak K’uk, who took over the throne when her brother was killed? She held rule until she was able to put her son Pakal on the throne when he turned twelve. Likely she guided him from behind for some time after that.
  • Or was it Tz’akbu Ajaw, the wife of Pakal? And sometimes called Lady Conjurer as noted in Carol Karasik’s book The Drum Wars where she devoted a chapter to the Red Queen.

Those who know me are well acquainted with my love for Palenque, having been drawn back regularly since 1995 when I first had the pleasure. So the story of the Red Queen was an interest on that level. But more so, I found it heartening to have women recognized for who they are, their accomplishments and learn something of their story—not quietly influencing behind the scenes but front stage center.

Produced by the Discovery Channel, 2005. Watch it free on You Tube.

The Red Queen 1

Part One: View it here. 1 hour, 9 minutes.

Red Queen-2

Part Two: View it here. 24 minutes.

*****

For more information on our next scheduled Maya Mysteries spiritual travel program in Chiapas…where we visit Palenque and pay respects to the Red Queen, go here.

 

Categories: cultural interests, Film, Maya | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

New Art by Kayum Ma’ax Garcia

In a previous post I told the story of visiting artist Kayum Ma’ax Garcia in his home in the Lacandón Maya village of Nahá during our January 2015 Maya program. During that visit the online Allies Gallery was born. The entire journey was pure magic. The gallery was just one instance of something that evolved organically. As a result, Kayum is able to offer his art to a wider world and has sold some prints. I’m very happy about that, and Kayum and family are ecstatic.

Recently Kayum’s work was featured in Galería MUY located in San Cristóbal de Las Casas. The MUY, now part of our Kinship Circle, gives exposure to contemporary art of Indigenous artists of Chiapas. With their help, we’ve been able to bring more of Kayum’s artwork to you.

Birth

Title: Birth. Acrylic on canvas. ©2014 Kayum Ma’ax Garcia

The Heart of the World

Title: The Heart of the World. Acrylic on canvas. ©2015 Kayum Ma’ax Garcia.

To view more, go directly to the Allies Gallery. Kayum rarely leaves his isolated rainforest village. His art is unique. By purchasing through our online gallery, proceeds support this Indigenous artist document a way of life that is increasingly lost.

 

 

Categories: cultural interests, Lacandón Maya, Visual Arts | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

Those Who Carry Planetary Consciousness

In 2008 Kenosis Spirit Keepers sponsored Hopi Harold Joseph on my spiritual travel program to Peru. The intent being an opportunity for two relations—Q’ero and Hopi—to share a journey from Cusco to Lake Titicaca along their common migration path. Two videographers also came along to document the nature of this work of the heart. Jacob Devaney, of Culture Collective and now blogger for Huffington Post, was one of them.

Last week Jacob contacted me via email related to writing about his experience and said, “My time in Peru was so profound it took me 7 years to even start writing about it… Thanks, Carla! The magic continues to unfold.”

Hopi and Q'ero

Hopi Harold Joseph with Q’ero Wisdom Keepers. Photo: Darlene Dunning.

I can tell you those were quite the momentous times. We fellow travelers were privileged to be there and participate in the circle with these Wisdom Keepers still so committed to their core traditional values. Those who carry consciousness for planetary wellbeing are becoming an endangered strain of humanity.

Thankfully, the track that called me back in 1994 has continued, deepening in so many ways I couldn’t have predicted. In this year’s program Hopi Marvin Lalo from First Mesa will be meeting his Q’ero relations for the first time. Our journey begins at Tiwanaku, the legendary Creation Place in Bolivia, and travels along an initiation path all the way to the Manu rainforest in Peru. Marvin is so excited.

Jacob’s article is titled Wisdom of an Andean Mystic:

This is not your usual story of going to the jungle to try Ayahuasca…

Few people realize that the Hopi Tribe of Northern Arizona have clans that are descendants of tribes from the northernmost to southernmost tips of the Americas (and quite possibly beyond that). The Q’ero are believed to be descendants of the Inca, who fled high into the Andes where they successfully hid from outsiders until recent decades. Kenosis Spirit Keepers had created the cultural exchange program, and Don Americo Yabar was playing a central role in translating between cultural leaders. I was brought along by Carla Woody to help document and assist my Hopi friend, Harold Joseph…

Read the entire article on Uplift.

Categories: cultural interests, Indigenous Wisdom, Spiritual Travel | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

Film Review – Agafia’s Taiga Life

Agafia’s Taiga Life

A Documentary by Vice Media

Agafia

Agafia Lykov. Photo credit: Siberian Times.

In 1936 Karp Lykov took his family and fled into the Siberian wilderness to avoid Stalin and persecution because of their religion. Called the Old Believers, they belonged to a sect of Russian Orthodox fundamentalists. Over the years they retreated deeper and deeper into the Taiga, a forested region in the heart of Siberia, where temperatures are extreme and civilization is non-existent.

Agafia was born into that life in 1943. Agafia saw no one but family for 40 years. And then no one at all for 25 years until a geologist moved a short distance away. All that time, she’d been a woman alone, living off the land.

Journalists from Vice Media visited Agafia to shoot a documentary about her life for their Far Out series. She relates what it’s like to live in the company of her animals, her faith, occasional encounters with bears and rocket debris, a way of life that gets much more difficult as she ages. Her story is an example of pockets in the world where people are living in solitude by circumstance and often by choice.

Watch it online for free. Length: 36 minutes.

To read about another in this series and watch the documentary, see Faustino’s Patagonian Retreat.

Categories: cultural interests, Film, Solitude | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Allies

In January I took a group to Nahá as usual during my Maya spiritual travel program. Nahá is a tiny Lacandón Maya village deep in the Lacandón Biosphere of Chiapas, Southern Mexico. We go there to be with Don Antonio Martinez for ceremony and show our respect that he’s still holding traditions when there’s so much pressure for him to let them go. We also visit with the widows of the late spiritual leader Chan K’in Viejo, as well as spending time at sacred Lacandón sites.

This time we stopped by Kayum’s home. I hadn’t seen him in years. Kayum Ma’ax Garcia is a Lacandón Maya artist of the monkey onen, or clan. He’s also one of Chan K’in Viejo’s sons. He works in acrylics on canvas. In his artwork Kayum conveys actual events, lifeways, creation stories and rituals of a culture nearly gone—as well as his dreams, an important aspect of traditional life. So, in his own way, Kayum is preserving the traditions of his people. I’ve always been fascinated by his art.

Kayum Art

Traveler Frostie Torres purchases a painting from Kayum during our 2007 program. Photo: Alonso Mendez.

But he has little exposure to the world outside his village. I thought to myself, it’s important for his work to get out there, not only to help sustain his family but for others to appreciate Lacandón lifeways and traditions. I suggested to him that he offer his work as archival prints through an online service as I do. But he has no camera, computer or technical knowledge even if he did. Aside from that there’s only Internet at the little lodge where we stay. And the connection is so poor it may as well be non-existent. He had no one to support this possibility, and it was something he really wanted to do after I explained it.

An opportunity landed in my lap, another one that truly matters. The group witnessed the process of this conception. They were excited. I went home and put a vote before the Kenosis Spirit Keepers Board.*

The Allies Gallery is now a program supported by Kenosis Spirit Keepers to sponsor Indigenous artists who have extremely limited capabilities to offer their work. Kayum is our first artist. Proceeds of any of his art sales go directly to him. The same will be true for any other artist we include.

Man of the Wild Acrylic on canvas Kayum Ma'ax Garcia

Man of the Wild
Acrylic on canvas
Kayum Ma’ax Garcia

Our online gallery is now up! You’re invited to check it out and support Kayum through purchase of his work and sharing Allies Gallery with others. We currently have prints available for four of his pieces, in various sizes and formats, and will add more as time goes on.

*******

Kenosis Spirit Keepers is the volunteer-run, grassroots organization I founded in 2007 to help preserve Indigenous traditions, a 501(c)3 nonprofit extension of Kenosis.

Categories: Arts, cultural interests, Lacandón Maya | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Learnings from Hopi: What Is Your Blue Star?

Since 2007 Kenosis Spirit Keepers has been sponsoring Hopi Wisdom Keepers on my spiritual travel programs to reconnect with relations along their migration path from South America.* As much as it’s been spiritually meaningful to them, it’s been an extraordinary privilege for the rest of us on those travels to witness how they find proof in the common symbols, creation stories and even Indigenous language in Peru, Mexico and Guatemala, letting them know—indeed—those were their origins.

One of my favorite memories from Peru is when Harold Joseph met Don Miguelito, an Elder who only spoke Quechua. Yet Harold understood him. Another is when the reed serpent-shaped boats on Lake Titicaca excited Harold. He brought a replica home and showed it to his late father-in-law, the last Hopi oral historian of his clan. Char Joseph told me of her father’s response, “It made him so happy! It proved to him that our stories are real!” All Hopis who have come on the Maya journeys as well have made the connection between the Jaguar Twins in Maya traditional stories and their own, along with many other commonalities.

When such things happen it supports spiritual grounding. Something intangible finds its inherent slot. It’s part of identity and who we are in the world. For so many of us today, ancestry is unclear… lost to time or hidden.

I can easily link my own migrations through this lifetime that have brought me to where I am today. But what about lineage? Mine is a mixed bag. Some can be traced back to the late 1700s through records that tell of my Irish and English ancestors’ wanderings from place to place. However, there’s a good chunk of my heritage only known through veiled family stories or random comments … untraceable. During the first half of the last century, my people were taught to be ashamed of their Native origins and perhaps attempted to pass for something they weren’t. And in earlier years, they were just trying to keep their lives.

What we know of our roots and what we don’t commingles and informs the stories we choose to create through the making of our own lives. And we can pay attention to what runs in our blood that needs no proof.

Pam Hale Trachta, a spiritual mentor and author of Flying Lessons, participated in my Spiritual Travel to Hopi program in March. She’s written a beautifully informative article that encompasses what I’m writing about here: Hopi migrations and our own guiding light.

What Is Your Blue Star?

Blue Star

Blue star petroglyph. Photo: Pam Hale Trachta.

The Hopi people we met in Arizona on a spiritual tour with Carla Woody allowed us to see and photograph a petroglyphic symbol of a blue star that appeared long ago, to signal their way home. The story they told us was that when they emerged through a sipapu or opening in the earth in northern Arizona, they met Masau, the guardian of the earth, who told them they could inhabit this world if they would abide by his instructions…He told them to make migrations into the four directions, and after spreading far and wide he told them they would be signaled back to the place of their emergence… Read more.

Pam also wrote about precious time we spent in the Harold and Char’s home. I wanted to include this, too, as added reading to convey how special it is to be invited.

Hopi Feast

Post-ceremony breakfast feast. Photo: Pam Hale Trachta.

A Hopi Feast

On a literal level, this feast was prepared for us by Charlene Joseph, a Hopi woman from the village of Moenkopi. We were welcomed into her home to learn about the Hopi way of life, which is all about Spirit. Perhaps you can’t see Spirit in the photograph, but it is the major ingredient–the primary flavor in every event, every “dish” that is part of her family’s life…This feast is a tradition the morning after the night Kachina dances, which we were privileged to attendRead more.

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*I founded Kenosis Spirit Keepers, the nonprofit extension of Kenosis, in 2007 to help preserve Indigenous wisdom ways.

Categories: cultural interests, Hopi, Indigenous Wisdom | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

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