Indigenous Wisdom

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

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.

***

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

Unearthing of the One Tribe

Early morning as it was drawing to a close, I reflected on our journey in the lowlands and highlands of Chiapas. I don’t quite know how to describe what I was feeling in this time of unearthing. Some mixture of great gratitude and overwhelm. Not overwhelm in the way I may sometimes feel it at home when I have too much to juggle at once. Rather it was the sense of overwhelm that comes when so much has happened of a sacred nature. You can bathe in it…even though the deeper meaning isn’t yet realized. But my mind’s attempts arising nonetheless.

Words broke through in staccato—bullet points. My hand flew to jot them down. Each one came illustrated with examples from the Maya people themselves.

Sacrifice

The religious officials in the Chiapas highlands carry cargo, a term to describe the responsibilities they take on to maintain their traditions, to care for the saints, to make sure the processionals occur as they have for many hundreds of years. And house the saints well between times so they will receive the prayers of believers. Carrying cargo is a burden taken on for the sake of the community, done through community. Tasks are divided and shift to others from year to year. No one person can do it all. The strain is too great on family finances and time away from the fields. These are not paid positions. They do it because, if they didn’t, a way of life that connects all things would otherwise disappear into the ether from which it emerged.*

Don Antonio

Don Antonio signaling the start of the balché ceremony.

For some, the sacrifice is ongoing. I always think of Don Antonio Martinez, the last Lacandón Maya Elder still holding the rituals of his people, faithfully feeding the gods, laying down the prayers to create balance in their rainforest home. His is not an easy life when others have turned away to foreign religions or the influx of material things, when he is nastily pressured by converts to give it all up. I’m guessing he hangs on because he recognizes his soul would otherwise suffer, and he cannot find it within himself to abandon the gods.

Humility

For me, a clear measure of an authentic spiritual leader or healer is humility. If their ego isn’t making pronouncements, they can approach their work with compassion. Connection to the person in front of them, and their community, is genuine.

Don Xun Calixto, Tzotzil Maya of San Juan Chamula, is a profound example of that for me. Over and over, I’ve witnessed his ability to put his fingers on a person’s wrist, someone he’s never met before, and listen to their blood. Then with gentle words tell them the exact nature of what they need to let go in order to heal, his words confirmed when his patient bursts into tears as he holds them in a comforting hug. The care and precision in which he lays the altar, and how he sinks to his knees and utters the prayers to carry the healing. Or the relief a patient displays when he tells them they can put fears aside because they’ve already overcome their trial.

Don Xun

Don Xun listening to the blood.

Today we don’t think of political leaders having humility, the opposite so often true. In ancient times though, Maya kings and queens were spiritual leaders and protectors. Indeed, they were seen as gods incarnate, walking among the people, making personal sacrifices. Humility displayed itself in the bloodletting rituals they undertook upon their own person. For the kings, thrusting a stingray spine through the penis; for the queens, through the tongue. Their blood dripped onto a paper then burned, taking the blood prayers for good crops to the heavens.

In the Popol Vuh there is explicit counseling against narcissism and pompous behavior. Seven Macaw, a demon parading as a god, claimed to be the sun and the moon. He terrorized the people and puffed himself up with jewels and arrogant proclamations. In doing so, he gained the attention of the Hero Twins, Hunahpu and Xbalanque, who noted his evil and summarily took him out.**

Courage

Depending on the nature of an affliction the people consult different types of healers. An example would be Doña Maria, a curandera who attended us during this recent journey. Her prayers will cure an earache or get an innocent man out of jail.

Doña Maria

Doña Maria making her initial prayers before beginning clearing sessions.

But when someone thinks the ailment involves the supernatural, particularly witchcraft, they will go to Don Xun. And if he diagnoses soul loss, he will be called upon to descend into the Underworld, through trance or dream, with a dire mission. Not an undertaking for the faint of heart, Don Xun must wrestle the person’s soul away from the Earth Lord. In this process his prayers return the patient to wholeness.***

Don Xun

Don Xun laying an altar.

Persistence

In the face of great adversity, I witness quiet persistence, strength and faith in the person of Don Antonio in the tiny village of Nahá.

Emerging from the 1990s genocide in Guatemala and Chiapas, the Maya have not been defeated. Particularly the Zapatista Movement in Chiapas is alive and well. Nonviolent marches protesting treatment by the Mexican government regularly occur. At the entrance of villages, signs proudly declare a people in resistance. While behind the scenes, Zapatistas are not merely complainers but have actively established their own Indigenous schools, clinics and pharmacies using traditional ways.

Integration

Throughout the Indigenous communities of Chiapas, I am consistently reminded of a way of life that integrates spirituality into everyday life…and the grounding that brings. As I’ve returned to my geographic home base in the US, I’m also reminded just how fragile that way of life is with the forces active to destroy. I am aware of the soul loss within this nation ⏤ including my own. And the need to pull together, so that we do not feel as though we are merely one…but the One Tribe.

♦♦♦

* Outward appearances may confuse outsiders into thinking Catholicism is being practiced in the Maya highlands. This is not the case. Instead the saints have been converted. Each one carries the meaning and stories the Indigenous people have given them, and the spirit of the forest permeates the church with trees (pine boughs), mist (copal incense) and fireflies (a multitude of candles).

**The Popl Vuh is the K’iche’ Maya creation story and historical references originally documented in Maya hieroglyphics, transcribed in the 16th century.

***One of the worst curses perpetrated upon someone is due to envy. One person seeks to usurp what another has and, through witchcraft, captures the soul and offers it to the Earth Lord. In the Tzoltil Maya religion, the Earth Lord rules the Underworld and owns all the natural resources. The Earth Lord, represented as a greedy ladino with a cowboy hat sitting on a bull, may grudgingly provide, but may also take away on a whim. In Chiapas when a shaman of Don Xun Calixto’s stature engages with the Earth Lord it is not done through hallucinogens or alcohol but, as described, through trance, dreams and prayer. These undertakings are every bit as real as anything in the material world involving battles and danger.

♦♦♦

All images in this article ©2017 Carla Woody. All rights reserved.

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Categories: Global Consciousness, Gratitude, Indigenous Wisdom, Maya | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

Encore – Following Energy: The Key to Your Navigational System

Rio Paucartambo

Rio Paucartambo Cusco Region, Peru ©1996 Carla Woody

Having heard that so many of us had a challenging 2016…in any number of ways…and since we’re at the start of 2017, I wanted to offer you a rerun of this article I wrote a few years ago.  It speaks of following energy, perhaps in a way you haven’t considered. And shares with you an annual tradition of mine⏤featured at the bottom⏤I’ve kept since I discovered it about five years ago. I find meaning and inspiration for the coming year in this way.

***

Several years ago, my friend Hilary Bee, a professional intuitive and spiritual teacher in the UK, told me that I have a strong inner navigational system guiding me. Over time, I’ve learned to trust it implicitly—even when the next step is obscured from my vision.

I call this navigational system intent, and it produces a high frequency of energy. I recognize completely when it’s communicating a path I am to take, choices to make. I’ve learned to recognize the energetic language. Equally, I’ve come to know over time when I’m straying from the path, or it’s time for an evolutionary change. A totally different level of energy accompanies that alert—and a nagging feeling something isn’t right. Of course, taking that fork in the road may initially produce chaos until order—and realignment—produces a deeper order.

I offer you this poem by C. P. Cavafy and then a caveat.

Ordinary people know what’s happening now,

the gods know future things

because they alone are totally enlightened.

Of what’s to come the wise perceive

things about to happen.

Sometimes during moments of intense study

their hearing’s troubled: the hidden sound

of things approaching reaches them,

and they listen reverently, while in the street outside

the people hear nothing whatsoever.*

 While I agree with Cavafy in that the majority of people may be completely unaware, or at least ignore signals, you have an opportunity always to live according to the wisdom of the gods. It’s a fine-tuning process but completely available to you. It requires that you pay attention and then the courage to deviate from any beaten path, sometimes to follow what you can’t readily see.

Here’s a rather dramatic example from my own life. Several years ago, I sponsored two back-to-back programs in Peru. During just one spiritual travel journey the energy is always strong from ceremonies, resident energy in sacred sites and more. With an additional one under my belt and little break between, the veil between the worlds had grown quite thin for me.

After the last group left for home, I was sitting in an Internet café in Cusco. It was the time of Inti Raymi, the festival of the sun, which transforms this usually placid former Incan Empire capital into masses of revelers, huge numbers coming from other locations. I knew that many pickpockets came from Lima to take advantage of the tourists during this time. Consequently, I took precautions. I carefully sat on my coat with my passport and money secured in an inside zipped pocket while I focused on email neglected for several days.

I had been at it for some time with people at computers on either side of me coming and going without any real attention on my part. But then I sensed something, noticing only the color green in my peripheral vision, and went back to my emails. Then again, slight movement out of the corner of my eye. A loud internal voice—not mine—said, Look down! I followed suit. My coat was hanging open, the inner pocket unzipped with passport and money gone!

Literally with no thought in my mind and seeing nothing to go after, I was out of my seat in a split second and onto the street thronged with thousands. Instead of raising a cry with no information to relay, something caused me to turn immediately into the small travel agency next to the Internet café. My hands had a life of their own, clamping onto the arms of two men standing just inside the agency, waiting in line. In a loud authoritative voice I stated, “My money and my passport! My money and my passport!”

They faced me then with shock on their faces as I continued to make the same demand. Both struggled in my grasp; my hands had become pincers of steel. Travel agents and other customers began to turn and get up from seats. The two men managed to turn me toward the entrance in their efforts to be free. One finally managed to duck out the door saying something to the other one, who slipped out of his jacket, leaving it in my hands.

Dropping it, I started to go after the pair but heard a woman’s voice saying, “Are these yours?” She held my passport, money pouch and the green jacket. I thanked her, as well as the others who had risen to aid me. Then I returned calmly to the café and resumed my correspondence.

That night I had a dream: Someone gifted me with a puma.**

As we entrain with a higher vibrational frequency, light energy doesn’t allow us to doubt or contract in fear. It is supreme and grounded. It has peripheral vision. Salk’a—as they call undomesticated energy in the Andes—induces clarity without thought, compassionate detachment and the warrior’s action. This is a state of being we can maintain.

I have a personal tradition. Either during winter or in the first days of spring I seek to remind myself of this Salk’a journey and store further inspiration for the long haul. I want to offer my tradition to you: Watch another of Cavafy’s poems, Ithaca, beautifully set to the music of Vangelis and the resonance of Sean Connery’s voice. This one I fully ascribe to.

********

“Poem by C.P. Cavafy, Collected Poems. Translated by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard. Edited by George Savidis. Revised Edition. Princeton University Press, 1992.

**Known as puma in Peru, we also know this sleek animal as jaguar, cougar or mountain lion. In the Indigenous Andes, it represents how to effectively navigate the Kaypacha, or Middle World, the one we walk in our everyday life.

Categories: Energy Healing, Healthy Living, Indigenous Wisdom, Spiritual Evolution, Spiritual Travel | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Hopi Qawinaq: Our People the Hopi

In March 2016 Maya Daykeeper Apab’yan Tew was sponsored by Kenosis Spirit Keepers as a guest on the spiritual travel program on Hopi. He was quite taken with his experience there and just sent me his thoughts. I want to share them here to show just little difference there is between any of us at the core level.

Apab'yan Tew

Maya Daykeeper Apab’yan Tew communicating to Hopi Land through his flute, March 2016.

There has been always a problem to determine what is Mesoamerica as such.  A territory? A cultural frame? A shared philosophy between related languages? Is it an absurd idea coming from a researcher’s desk? Maybe it’s just the obsession to try to classify everything!

When eating corn,  beans and chilis in the house of a friend, I feel no distance in my heart. Moenkopi, deep in what is now the modern United States, is ⏤for me⏤the town next to where I come from. But what am I saying? I’m from Guatemala! Let me say something: I no longer care about classification. The Hopi people are also my people.

We speak same way about the wind, the water, the air. We treat the bird, the snake, the rainbow, the rain…with respect. The living and the dead. Nobody knows where the link begins for us although Hopi elders retain their oral history about that. I believe what they say! Now, I ask my own elders: Did our brothers…some brothers…go to live far to the north?

I’m waiting for answers. And I will tell you what it is said here in my heart: It will come that we are the same people. Beloved and respected elders will speak  to us all again.

⏤Apab’yan Tew

Join us for our March 15-21, 2017 Spiritual Travel to Hopi: Sacred Guardians of the World to experience what Tat Apab’yan relays here.

Categories: Global Consciousness, Hopi, Indigenous Wisdom, Maya | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

Thomas Hatathli: The Everyday Life of a Diné Medicine Man, Part II

At the end of the evening introduction to sacred Diné ways, Thomas Hatathli talked briefly about the Blessingway Ceremony he would offer the next day. He spoke of it as a cleansing, a restoration to full health, life-affirming choices and connection to all beings. Through song and prayer the ritual would provide a channel for healing.

I stood and asked Thomas if there was a way we all could best prepare and be ready for the next day’s ceremony. He said simply, “Just be you.”

I waited until he was free, then talked to Thomas privately. “I asked that question for myself. I’ve just returned from Peru. I was in a Q’ero village where I have relationships and learned of a death. I think I’m carrying a lot of grief.” I told him only that.

During time in the village in my role of group leader, I wasn’t able to really process the tragic story I’d been told of a young mother’s sudden, recent death and the devastating effect I witnessed on the dad and very young ones she left behind. Ever since, images had continually played in my mind of the event I never saw—haunting me. I couldn’t shake them, and I was experiencing a physical impact that was getting worse.

He gazed directly into my eyes. Perhaps beyond me, too. “Do you want to be my patient tomorrow?”

I wasn’t expecting this explicit invitation. I nodded yes.

“Then sit beside me tomorrow.” He asked no questions, nothing causing me to replay the painful moments.

The next day we gathered again at North Mountain Visitor Center, which backs up to the Phoenix Mountain Preserve. I found Thomas outside at the small amphitheater that opened to the land, already preparing himself.  He said this round place was a good one. At home he holds ceremonies in a hogan.

As he’d asked, I sat next to him. Others assembled in a loose circle. He took a small rug and woven cloth from a bag and laid both on the ground in front of him, one on top of the other. As he readied the space, he spoke about the turning basket he placed in the middle, the significance of the circle around its perimeter. There was a break in the circle where anything that was not life-affirming could be released to the east. He noted that some patients were afraid to let go and needed encouragement. He’d made sure to place the turning basket with its break to the east, the same as a hogan’s doorway.

Turning basket

Example of a turning basket.

Thomas inherited this turning basket from his grandfather who was a medicine man. It had to be over a hundred years old. I could only imagine how many ceremonies it had seen and the power it held. Even as the formal ceremony had yet to begin, I felt its energy reaching for us. We all were invited to place items—sacred bundles, jewelry, stones—in the turning basket; the purpose to represent each of us in this ritual, to clear any traumas or aspect out of balance.

Thomas talked about the sequence of ancient songs he would sing, the meaning of each one. The Mountain Song would come first, calling in the benevolent spirits of sacred mountains to provide protection and healing. Next would come the song he sang for himself, asking for the strength and capabilities required to sing the songs and make the prayers. The Bluebird Song was one to bring in happiness. The Returning Home Song was about returning home, to the natural order, coming home to your true Self. The prayers would come next, twelve of them.

When Thomas began to sing I closed my eyes. Before long I was lost to this world and entered the landscape this Chanter was weaving. Somewhere in there a thought swam up. I’ve heard this before. It sounds so familiar. I grasped to make the connection but couldn’t and surrendered again, letting the songs take me. At points periodically I experienced a lifting sensation as though leaving my body and thought it would fall over backwards. Somehow I remained upright. Every now and then my ears popped.

As the last song ended, I opened my eyes and knew how the songs were known to me. Icaros. Just a few weeks before I’d been with Don Alberto Manqueriapa, a respected Huachipaeri-Matsigenga spiritual leader, again in Peru as he sang the icaros during the rainforest rituals that hold the same intent of the Blessingway Ceremony. A return to the natural order. They couldn’t be the same language. Yet they were. And they held the same frequencies. They were drawn from the same place.

Thomas handed me the feathered female medicine stick to hold in my left hand and a small deerskin bundle that held dirt from the Sacred Mountain for my right hand.  As I received them extraordinary energy washed over me and I knew their power, recognized how many people had held them as I was now. The Blessingway prayers began, a continual chant until complete.

He directed me to press the medicine stick and bundle up and down both legs, then the rest of my body. Pressing them to my face would cleanse the senses and perception. To my head, purified the mind.

Thomas went to the fire made earlier and threw herbs upon the flames, a further prayer for happiness and blessings. We all went up and made an offering of corn meal. The Blessingway Ceremony came to a close.

Post Blessingway Ceremony

Post Blessingway Ceremony.

I remained seated outside for some time while others drifted back inside where we would share a meal. I didn’t trust my ability to walk. I wasn’t yet fully back in the material world. And I was assessing my state. I felt different, as though something had lifted. I was much lighter.

Three hours had passed as though mere minutes. We’d been encapsulated in a timeless bubble as the world around us went on. A short distance away people were on the preserve’s hiking trails. The parking lot had been full. I’d heard nothing but the cadence of Thomas’ words moving on the air. I felt nothing but the energy coursing through my body, taking me somewhere, and only a slight warmth from the sun. Not its increasing strength as it followed its path across the sky.

Naomi Tsosie had stayed behind, too. During the ceremony, she and a few other Diné women who were present sang softly, barely a beat behind Thomas. I later learned that these echoes are sustenance to the Chanter providing strength for them to continue, sometimes many hours or even days depending on the need.

Naomi came over to me. She gave me a sacred gift that I will always treasure. I understand the meaning. I only wish I hadn’t been so altered and could have expressed adequately how her action and kind words truly touched my heart.

Thomas knows over 500 hundred songs. He retains them in his mind, passed to him orally, not to be written down. Each having their own purpose to be drawn upon depending on the needs of the patient.

That day we experienced an abbreviated version of the Blessingway Ceremony by necessity of the circumstances. I truly get how this is a way of healing. It has had a lasting effect on my state of being, emotionally and physically.

Thomas’ level of impeccability—the care in which he spoke his words, the seamless way I absorbed their deeper meaning, how I felt the medicine he delivered—is a rarity. He would never say so himself…but I believe we were in the presence of a true Holy Man.

 ***

This is Part Two of a two-part article. To read Part One, go here.

To learn more on the Blessingway Ceremony, go here.

I wish to acknowledge Ruth Harrison, Kimberly Ewing, Nathan Shannon and Norm Meier who were present and contributed their memories of our time with Thomas, filling in where my own memory gapped.

Categories: Gratitude, Healing, Indigenous Wisdom, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

Thomas Hatathli: The Everyday Life of a Diné Medicine Man, Part I

In the old days there existed 200 or more traditional Diné healers.* “Now,” Thomas Hatathli told us, “There are only 30 to 40.” As I listened to Thomas’ words my heart felt a tug of sadness to be hearing again what I’ve heard so often—directly from the Indigenous healers themselves. And I imagined what it’s like to be one of a dwindling few, and perhaps the only one left in some cases, who dedicate their lives to the wholeness of their people and the planet, living the ancient principles every day.

We’re honored that Thomas accepted our invitation to share some of the work he does as a traditional healer of his people.** Tall and spare, Thomas radiates a quiet strength. He began with a prayer. Then he introduced himself by citing his clan relations, adding, “This is who I am. I know I’m never alone.” And I got the true understanding that knowing your origins, stretching back centuries, gives of itself to spiritual grounding.

Thomas HatathliPerhaps Thomas was preordained to be a medicine man by virtue of the Diné meaning of his last name and precedent set by his grandfather. But Thomas didn’t always follow that path. It wasn’t until, after being away at college, when he came home to find his family’s livestock gone—taken from them by the Federal Government—the family forced by the same to uproot from their ancestral lands and move across Arizona, to enter into homelessness while they awaited the allotted acre and house…that he made a decision. His family was devastated. His people suffered. Mental and physical health were dramatically impacted. Spiritual grounding detached itself to be replaced by the worst influences. ***

For the next four years, Thomas dogged the heels of his cousin, already a medicine man, learning the songs, prayers and rituals, the teachings of his ancestors. Until finally, he was ordained as a healer and Blessingway Chanter. That was more than 25 years ago.

He retains little time as his own. Weekdays he works as a mental health specialist at the Tuba City Regional Health Care Center. And nearly every day people come looking for him, asking him to sing the songs and release the prayers that bring healing. Thomas freely gives of himself to do so. Nights and weekends are not his but theirs. To maintain balance, he runs. Thomas has run 16 Boston Marathons—soon his 58th marathon total. He shows no signs of slowing down.

That evening he dispensed pragmatic wisdom in an unassuming way, just stated fact. And even though I’d heard what he said before, presented in any number of ways, his way slipped in to find a home. Much of what he offered was about gratitude and presence, making good choices—the underpinnings of a healthy life in all ways.

He spoke of chewing his food in gratitude and what’s best for the body…

When I chew my food I taste it. I enjoy it. I break the food down to give my stomach a break. In this way I conserve my energy for when it’s needed.

The body needs movement to be healthy. People say they don’t have time.

When he spoke of people leaving their traditions in favor of technology and assimilating into Western culture…

 Go forward but reach back.

Of the ancient prayers and songs orally handed down to him…

When I pray it’s a thousand years of wisdom coming through my mouth.

As the end of the evening came to a close, he spoke of the Blessingway Ceremony he would lead the next morning. I stood and asked, “As this will be a healing ceremony, is there a way we can best prepare ourselves for tomorrow?”

He answered…

 Just be you.

His practical spirituality is comforting. And it’s evident his life is one of alignment to core values, to family and community. Yet it’s also true his life is one of great sacrifice—one he chooses.

Nothing good comes easy. We need to appreciate effort.

True medicine men don’t choose that path. It chooses them. It means relinquishing an everyday life and surrendering to sacrifice, one that ultimately works at a global level.

 ***

This is Part One of a two-part article. Part Two is on the Blessingway Ceremony in which I was the patient seeking to return to the natural order offered through these songs, prayers and rituals. Read Part Two.

I wish to express gratitude to the Native people who attended this offering and showed respect to this Elder: Naomi Tsosie, Lucilia Benally, De Alva Ward, Ron Interpreter and Sam Hogue. I also acknowledge Ruth Harrison, Kimberly Ewing, Nathan Shannon and Norm Meier who were present and contributed their memories of our time with Thomas, filling in where my own memory gapped.

 ***

 *The name Diné means “The People” in their own language. By the 1600s the Spanish began calling them Navajo derived from the Tewa-Pueblo word for “great planted fields.”

**Twice a year Kenosis Spirit Keepers sponsors an educational outreach program for the general public in which participants can learn and experience the teachings of Indigenous peoples from spiritual leaders and healers who serve their community. We call it the Spirit Keepers Series.

***To gain an understanding of the devastation wrought from The Long Walk in the 1860s, the 1974 Navajo-Hopi Land Settlement Act, the forced boarding schools and acts in-between, the residual trauma which extends all the way to present time for Diné and Hopi alike, read A Historical Overview of the Navajo Relocation published by Cultural Survival.

Categories: Gratitude, Healing, Indigenous Wisdom | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Reflections Forward

Q'eros

Q’eros. Photo credit: Carla Woody

Inclement weather prevailed. Mist drifting into the small valley out of nowhere lending invisibility to what was just a few feet beyond, then dissipating equally unannounced. Splashes of rain turning steady through the night, chill creeping into the bones. Snow in the high mountains. Rays of sunshine breaking through. We soaked up the warmth when we could.

This was the backdrop for four days in the Hatun Q’ero village of Ccochamocco in the Cusco Region of Peru. People in my group kept asking, “Is it always like this?” No. The last time it was mostly sunny with a brief snow shower. We played outside in light jackets with the children and freely roamed the land.

This time we were clothed in as many layers as we could stuff under our heavy coats. Mufflers. Hats. Gloves. Meanwhile, nothing altered much for Q’ero waikis (term for brother, sister or friend). The children still wore sandals with bare feet as did the adults. Layers of sweaters, yes. Heavy coats, no. Bare legs on the girls and women. Their homes: tiny one-roomed huts of local stone with thatched roofs, dirt floors, most having no hearth inside with appropriate ventilation. These things have changed little over the centuries in this high Andean village at nearly 15,000’.

More fortunate, we were housed and fed in the large room of the new community hall that sported a wooden floor. No heat but solid walls and roof. The waikis brought plastic, alpaca hides and blankets from their own homes for us to place under our sleeping bags, barriers from the cold seeping in through the ground.

That was the background. The foreground was this…

The men busily cooking in the entrance room designated as the kitchen producing three remarkably tasty meals a day from simple ingredients. Their constant laughter punctuated the air.

Despacho ceremony

Despacho ceremony. Modesto Machacca Apaza breathing prayers into a coca kintu (prayer offering). Photo credit: Cécile Sother.

A communal despacho ceremony where we all placed prayers for family, friends, global consciousness…our own path… the bundle later taken and burned outside—somehow in the pouring rain—by my compadre Modesto, the father of my godson. But not before, by their request, we visitors formed a tight circle which the waikis entered singing, touching our hearts and hands, wiping down our bodies to release any last vestiges of heavy energy that may have remained. I can think of no words to describe the love in which these actions were given. The transmission remains imprinted in my soul.

Face painting

Lisa Flynn of Santa Fe, NM with her face paints. Photo credit: Cécile Sother.

The children…of all ages. Bright. Curious. Well-behaved. Raised to be happy and free. It shows. There were always at least a handful among us. Sidling up to one or another of us. Reaching out a hand to be held. Lots of laughter during face-painting or hair-braiding time.

Carla Woody

Communing with the mountains and my morning coffee in Ccochamocco. Photo credit: Cécile Sother.

What to say about the land? It’s not in the background. The very terrain, dotted with alpaca and sheep, dramatic, sweeping: Its vibration permeates everything. I know I’ve brought it home, reinforced once again.

Every moment there was filled with magic against the backdrop of hard living—at the level of survival—unlike anything any of us visitors have experienced in our own lives. This was the true initiation presented on this pilgrimage that began in Bolivia…preparing us for its culmination in Ccochamocco, where the highest concentration of paq’os—Andean mysticsreside. Where, in their tradition, an alto mesayoq is chosen by the lightning itself to work with cosmic energies. Where a pampa mesayoq undertakes many years of sacrifice and apprenticeship to learn the ways to honor the Pachamama (Mother Earth). Where the community lives in ayni, sacred reciprocity.

The morning after we returned from Ccochamocco to Cusco I awoke with intense feelings and recognition that I shared with the group as we closed our circle:

I’m feeling much gratitude this morning. After a hot shower and having slept in a warm bed with a good mattress…instead of the hard floor on top of an alpaca hide and a blanket to keep the cold at bay. Q’ero waikis have such fortitude to live in extremely difficult, unpredictable  conditions—subsistence—and yet theirs is also a life interlaced with laughter and sheer joy. It’s also evident to me that their connection to the Pachamama, Apus (sacred mountains) and community is their source. Our culture has much to learn. After yet another reminder of their ongoing gratitude, I can’t help but be humbled again.

And I can’t help but think our initiation, the opportunity always orchestrated by the Universe to be accepted or put aside by each individual, is in what we choose to focus on and how we integrate what we’ve been presented.

Tomorrow I will have been home a week. I’ve only ventured outside my home once to get a few groceries. I placed all other life on hold as I can do little but stare at the distant mountains and landscape outside my own home. Integration has its own way with everyone. This is mine. Tomorrow I begin re-entering my daily life, lunch with a friend and a meeting in town…and see what else the Universe has in store.

***

With many thanks to the gracious, courageous people who joined me in this pilgrimage, making it possible. I continue to be honored by your trust.

Heart of the Andes 2016

Heart of the Andes 2016 bringing together Q’ero, Aymara, Hopi and Maya spiritual leaders, and other intrepid travelers. Pictured here the 3rd day of the pilgrimage after ceremony off the waters of the Island of the Sun at a hidden sacred site. Photo credit: Stacy Christensen.

Categories: Global Consciousness, Indigenous Wisdom, Q'ero | Tags: , , | 4 Comments

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