Spiritual Evolution

The Internal Constant in an External World

A couple of months ago I had two curious dreams in quick succession. First, meaning it was curious for me to even remember a dream. Second, that they came within a few nights of each other. My remembrance of any dream is a significant outcome in itself. Rarely literal, they present as a metaphor—realized after the fact—alerting me to shifting sands. A signal to pay attention, but its explication not quite straightforward.

I faced myself in a mirror and didn’t know who she was.

This one was quick, maybe a fragment of a longer dream. Quite disorienting.

I was in a celibate marriage of sorts but couldn’t see my partner.

This one was so real that, when I awoke, I continued lying in bed for some time searching to see where in my material reality it was true, and came up with nothing.

The last eighteen months for me have been quite intense. Never mind I had become more and more susceptible to the chaotic, tragic happenings in the world—especially in my home country—increasingly dealing with a sense of helplessness, anger and sadness…consistent perforations to my soul. Additionally, the nature of my work and family health was calling for ongoing attentiveness, sometimes venturing into places I hadn’t psychically visited, in the process generating much more than normal (for me) travel.

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Monsoon dawn. Photo: Carla Woody.

Now that I’ve been home for a few weeks, I’ve come to realize I was exhausted, close to burnout. Not an unusual state for people in the encouraged busyness, demands and fragmentation of this Western culture. I had experienced near burnout years ago and successfully backed out of it. I knew the territory.

A significant factor: I’d had little time for myself. I’ve been a daily meditator for more than thirty years. Yet, I found I was unable to do so. It felt shallow if I could even bring myself to sit as normal. There were a few cases where I behaved in ways uncharacteristic to me, felt badly afterward…and decided I was unfit for public consumption. Even remarking so to a few close friends. Clear signals something was off.

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Monsoon dusk. Photo: Carla Woody.

Then came two gifts in quick succession, not unlike the dreams.

Last week I flipped the calendar page and discovered I had an entire ten days with absolutely nothing scheduled with the exception of a massage a few days away. I blinked my eyes and thought, Oh no, what have I forgotten to mark down. I wracked my brain. Realizing there was nothing, I exhaled. I decided it was a minor miracle, and the Universe had a hand in it.

Then within a day, I somehow stumbled upon an interview of poet David Whyte, part of Julia Bainbridge’s mini-series on inner lives on her podcast The Lonely Hour. I was listening to it as I worked on one of my mixed media sculptures that had been languishing for months. Listening to David Whyte always puts me into an altered state. When he said this…I backed up the recording to hear it a few times more then wrote it down…

One of the nourishing things of being alone again is who this stranger is inside you. I feel you always meet a new you in the form of a stranger, and to meet that stranger you have to spend time alone.

 It stopped me short. I remembered the first dream from a couple of months ago.

And he mentioned inviting in invisible help.

 I remembered the second dream…and what I call my council that has been with me for as long as I can remember.

I’ve sensed for a time that some kind of personal evolution is on the horizon—potentially a revolution. I can’t tell you what exactly. This I do know. When any of us are at a threshold of spiritual passage, our internal and external worlds collude and collide somehow in an attempt to maintain the status quo or even regress us. It’s that biological response of the amygdala mistakenly recognizing opportunity for threat.

The times that I’ve experienced major spiritual breakthroughs are rarely when I’m with others, although the circumstances and interactions certainly may orchestrate the launch pad. It’s only when I retreat into my inner world that I’m ushered through another threshold by whatever means arrive. Silence, the abject beauty of the night sky, the words of a poem, the stroke of my paintbrush, and the quiet feeling comes that something is now different or renewed.

I’m a confirmed introvert, almost off the scale. I must have those empty spaces of remembering, engaging the Internal Constant always there with me…or I suffer. I’ve always wondered how extroverts do it in the ongoing involvement with people they thrive on. How does the break appear proactively, not being forced into it by circumstance?

In mainstream Western society, the need for retreat and being alone—even if only a few hours or days—is often misunderstood. It can be thought of as an act of withholding or selfishness. In reality, for a major portion of this society, it’s the gift they need to give themselves in order to be whole in the world. Also the allowance for easing back into the places and spaces usually frequented so as not to be shocked and overwhelmed by the contrast. It’s not a luxury. It’s necessary…and often the ground of change.

Categories: Contemplative Life, Healthy Living, Solitude, Spiritual Evolution | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

About the Marys

I’ve had an unflagging interest in Mary Magdalene for decades. Not only relating to the truth of her life, but also the potential of this historical, spiritual figure as a role model, what she means for humanity today. Lately, I’ve been delving deeply into research as my next spiritual travel program in southern France, with a particular focus on the Magdalene, is on the horizon. As I’ve been holding her in my consciousness, it suddenly occurred to me that little to nothing has been written about Mary the mother of Jesus after the crucifixion. What happened to her?

First understand, I keep my distance from organized religion. I’m certainly not a Bible scholar and only find that tome interesting as a metaphor, not to be literally interpreted. It’s clear that both Marys have suffered a long line of injustices dealt by the Catholic Church and institutions that came afterward.

Aside from the virgin birth, Mary the mother of Jesus has been perched on such heights of virtue that it’s infinitely unattainable for us mere mortals, and who would want to be that good or long-suffering. The opposite was levied upon Mary M given that dualism prevails in this line of thinking and control — and blasphemy there would be a female teacher or prophet powerful in her own right. No need to go into the details here which are well known. Even though in 1969 the Catholic Church admitted to making a ‘mistake,’ they declined to recognize her true standing alongside Jesus. I think it’s a particular statement that the tiny monastery perched on the side of the mountain abutting Mary’s Grotto, where she lived and taught the last years of her life, is guarded by Dominicans, original instigators and perpetrators of the Inquisition.

Rex DeusI came across a well-researched, readable book called Rex Deus that sets aside what is questionable or incorrect in Holy Blood, Holy Grail and painstakingly pieces together history, practices of the times and logic relating to the bloodline of Mary M and Jesus, and connections to the Knights Templar and Cathars. I find it fascinating. But more so, what it relates rings true.

One area seems singularly plausible and previously unknown to me. The following history was told to Tim Wallace-Murphy, one of the book’s authors, by a man who claimed the Rex Deus bloodline that holds the descendants of Mary M and Jesus.

The Temple in Jerusalem had two boarding schools, one for each gender. Students were drawn from important families, the highborn, those of rabbis. A girl name Anne attended there, as did her daughter Mary—later to be renamed the Virgin Mary. The High Priests of the Temple were the instructors…but also held another responsibility. After young girls began their menses, these same High Priests impregnated them.

If you’re like me, my mouth dropped open at reading this, and I recoiled in horror. How can that be true? But it just might be true, an early strategy for ensuring an Aryan line, telling of Jesus’ origins. Things have been done in the name of religion that are equally horrendous.

Apparently, the pregnant girls were matched with a suitable husband of equal status to the girl’s…with one condition. The High Priests laid claim to the child at the age of seven when they were remanded to the Temple school for education. In this manner, the bloodlines were guaranteed pure and the child’s education controlled. Mary was said to have been impregnated by a High Priest called Gabriel and married off to Joseph of Tyre of Davidic descent, now known as St. Joseph. By this story, Jesus attended the same school his grandmother and mother did, the family returning to Jerusalem when he was age appropriate after some years in Egypt.

You may be wondering where I’m going with this. As things will at the appropriate time, The Testament of Mary, a novel by Colm Tóibin, an incredible Irish writer, fell in my lap. It tells of the years of Mary’s life preceding and after her son’s crucifixion. Before I synopsize the book, let me offer you this.

I did a search on Mary after the crucifixion. I turned up an entry that said the circumstances or place of Mary’s death were unknown. Perhaps it was Jerusalem or Ephesus, where legend says she lived. Then it went on to give great detail on the location of her house outside Ephesus, its exact orientation, how it was made, what surrounded it, who attended her, the lonely nature of her life, and the method of her anointing after death.

Testament of MaryThe Testament of Mary is written in first person. This novella could be volumes in length for the message it bears and, again, so much more plausible than the long-standing tale of the Church. This is the poignant accounting of a mother trying to come to grips with an ultimate tragedy no mother should undergo. Trying to make sense of her son who’d surrounded himself by half-crazed crowds who venerated him, saying he was not mortal when she knew he was. A son who forgot his mother — so taken he was in the growing attention — and impatient with her when she questioned his safety and wisdom of his actions. How he had become strange to her. The anguish of the crucifixion and a guilt she lived with. Finding herself in imminent danger and fleeing in the face of it. Later, a lonely life outside Ephesus, ostracized by neighbors. Her present guardians were more like guards. They showed up periodically wearing a zealous glow on their faces, taking down a story that put words in her mouth — what did not happen, could not have happened — as she kept her distance and politeness.

All here are so much more when taken as historical figures — real humans — not icons of the Church. In this way, false barriers are permeated. In this way, we can open to teachings in a whole different manner, acknowledge the elements of being human, and embody those we choose.


Rex Deus is out of print but may be accessed through used books on Amazon or elsewhere. The Testament of Mary is available on Amazon and elsewhere.

Categories: Book Review, Global Consciousness, Spiritual Evolution | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

The Insidious Expectation of Privilege: Taking Things for Granted

By chance, I flew out just hours ahead of the predicted snow, hoping to meet better weather in Ohio where I was visiting my folks for a week. I live in a rural, wilderness-like setting on a hill abutting state trust land below, and love it there. Just yesterday morning a bobcat sat on my deck giving herself a bath then wandered on her way. Such things are a blessing to me. Nature—miles of it—is right outside my door. The fact that I must drive unmaintained dirt roads to my place, and absence of services like mail delivery and trash pick-up, have been of little consequence to me. I figure these factors will keep most people from inhabiting this area, and I can maintain my solitude. My neighbor Barry, who lives about a mile away, would stop in to feed my cat while I was gone. He was dependable and I wasn’t worried. That was Monday.

By Wednesday, there were news updates that a colossal snowstorm was imminent back in northern Arizona. I texted Barry and asked him to leave a full bowl of dry food that day for my cat in case he couldn’t make it over the next day. Over the ensuing days, he sent texts with updates as to the situation at home. We had a few feet of snow with drifts up to a foot higher and periodic white-outs. He couldn’t locate my driveway due to the depth of snow and was trekking in from the old ranch road that ran through the state trust land. I later learned that for a day or two the road from his place was also unpassable and—bless his heart—he slogged through snow up to his knees to feed my ungrateful cat who never shows her face to him.

Now, if you live in places like Wisconsin, New York or Canada, this is probably nothing. But we don’t get this kind of weather here and aren’t prepared for it. I didn’t even own a snow shovel. Normally, if there is snowfall at my home, it melts in a couple of hours and the sun is out again. Not so this time. Then came the text from Barry that I had no water. Now I was worried.

Nothing changed over the days until I headed home except Barry said he’d made a trail from his repeated footsteps up the hill so I’d be able to walk in more easily, about a quarter mile. Again, that doesn’t sound like much, and minus the snow wouldn’t have exhausted me ferrying necessities up the slippery slope from where I’d had to leave my vehicle.

The storm was moving eastward across the US. Again luckily, I got out of Ohio early morning before high winds hit but was rerouted because of the storm elsewhere. Before I ventured homeward in the car the next morning, I remembered to buy gallons of drinking water.  Over the next several days, I learned just how much snow it took to make a minimal amount of melted water for domestic use and how much of my time had to be devoted to basic living needs. At least I still had heat. I still could not drive my 4WD vehicle up my driveway.

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Q’eros. Photo: Santos Machacca.

In the midst of scooping snow into containers, I began to think of my Q’ero friends living in their high-altitude villages in the Peruvian Andes in stone huts with dirt floors. No electricity or running water and minimal heat. What was a temporary, minor inconvenience for me is a way of life for them, a hard one.

Just a few days prior to my trip to Ohio, I received a message from Santos Machacca, my Q’ero friend and liaison for the work I do there. He was up in the village of Ccochamocco and told me of the cold torrential rains they were having. At 14,500’ altitude the nights get quite cold even in their springtime. Santos said a lot of baby alpaca were dying. This news reinforced to me the importance of our project providing shelters for alpaca and sheep, not something the norm for them. The Q’ero people are subsistence farmers living on inhospitable land and climate. Loss of any livestock threatens their wellbeing and traditions.

 

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Newborn lambs. Photo: Gi Thomas.

Just as my snow days were starting to draw to an end, I heard from Gi Thomas, one of the board members for Kenosis Spirit Keepers. They were being hit with the monster snowstorm moving across the country. Gi and her partner Katrina Marshall live on a farm in Oregon and had newborn lambs. She wrote, “I’m working hard at just keeping the sheep warm, fed, snow shoveled, water tubs full, etc. All this snow reminds me of what Q’eros must be like during those big snow storms of late. Helps me keep things in perspective.”

 

 

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Katrina Marshall in Oregon. Photo: Gi Thomas.

But lack of snow can bring about hardship, too. I’ve just returned from my program on Hopi. This year they’ve had the same plentiful moisture we have so far. It wasn’t so last winter.  We’d received almost no snowfall and very light monsoon in 2017. I saw the effect because the free-range cattle that sometimes come around my place had eaten a four-foot spread of prickly pear cactus down to nothing. They must have insides of iron. Prickly pear have long, menacing thorns.

During the several days we were on Hopi, comments came from different directions lamenting the drought conditions of the previous year. Traditional Hopis use dry farming, depending on moisture from the sky—not irrigation—to grow their corn, beans, melon and squash. Last year they were not able to produce the needed corn for their ceremonies, or food from their fields.

These days they have access to grocery stores, so are not solely dependent on what they can grow. But it caused me to ask the question, “What did your ancestors do?” The answer came, “They stored food from year to year.” But what if there are years of drought?

The snow finally cleared to the point a plumber could make it up my driveway a week after I returned home. He checked the usual (scary, expensive) suspects causing lack of water, and they didn’t apply. Thankfully. He finally tracked down the issue, an outside electrical outlet that needed to be reset—strangely connected to my well. A push of the button and water began to flow again. He was there about fifteen minutes minus the friendly conversation. I was glad to pay the rather large bill for my needs to be taken care of so easily.

I’m a privileged Westerner living in the area I do by choice, in a home built to my specifications with modern conveniences. Any inconveniences are ones I choose or merely temporary. Most of us—those likely reading this article—are given to taking precious things for granted. Running water, electricity, access to food, readily available transportation, wellbeing. Freedom to live where we choose. These are some of the insidious underpinnings of privilege. There are plenty more. We expect to have them even as others do not. By an accident of birth, we are not where they are.

I cannot brush that recognition away. I cannot turn a blind eye. I cannot do nothing. I bless that storm for reminding me.

Categories: Global Consciousness, Gratitude, Spiritual Evolution | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

Borderlands

I’m sitting here waiting for the words to come. Sometimes writing is like that. Not because there’s writer’s block but because it takes a while – sometimes a long while – for the feelings to swim up…and form thought…then phrases…then sentences. At least enough to make a cohesive statement.

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Yaxchilan, Chiapas, Mexico. Photo: Carla Woody

I’m not sure I’m there yet. I knew it five days ago when, during the final circle of this year’s spiritual travel journey in Maya Lands, I attempted to express myself. By then we’d been in the rainforest for five days. Its soft humidity – really, something about the inherent energy ⎻ tends to open other dimensions for me, even as it retains the Great Mystery. Perhaps it has something to do with the insistent, primal calling of the howler monkeys.

Having heard theirs, I’d offered some last reflections to the group on our experiences then paused. I realized I’d left out a piece I was struggling with emotionally, something well beyond my control. What I was able to say in that moment felt totally inadequate in relation to what I wanted to say. I imagine it came out somewhat flat, even though I could feel the tears in my throat.

linebecomesariverI’d avoided reading The Line Becomes a River: Dispatches from the Border by Francisco Cantú for several months. I knew the subject matter would be hard for me to ingest. My feelings about what’s been happening at the US-Mexico border run deep. It rips my heart out. I personally know Rita Cantú, the author’s mother, a retired park ranger and composer-musician. She lives just a few miles from me. Knowing more now through her son’s book, I have enormous respect for the care in which she raised him, to instill the cultural values of his Mexican heritage and respect for nature. That said, I could imagine her challenges when he decided to join the US Border Patrol. Learning so in the book, it seemed unfathomable to me.

I can’t imagine what possessed me. But I decided to take Francisco’s book on my spiritual travel program in southern Guatemala and Chiapas, Mexico. I guess some part of me decided that reading it from a physical distance at home in northern Arizona, difficult but still easier, wasn’t appropriate. Instead, after our daily immersion with the Maya peoples and sacred traditions of those lands, I spent most nights with Francisco’s recollections. I struggled with them.

Francisco set the stage by writing of his fascination with the borderlands, wanting to know as much as he could. He disclosed that, after obtaining a degree in international relations, he desired more than intellectual knowledge. This is what led to his work as an agent for the US Border Patrol working in the hard deserts of Arizona, Texas and New Mexico between 2008 and 2012.

I doubt he held anything back in the book. Although, he does say some of those in the book are composites of different people he worked with or otherwise encountered. Locations were sometimes changed. Done so to protect privacy and, I imagine, safety in some cases. He relayed his daily life: the range of personalities and approaches of fellow agents, tracking and capturing humans in the bleakest places, witnessing desperation, hopelessness and death, the horrific acts of the drug cartels and opportunism of coyotes.

No matter what you tell yourself and how kind you may be toward asylum seekers, after a while it’s got to take a serious toll on your psyche. I was relieved when I began to pick up Francisco’s internal conflict such that he finally opted for a job removing himself from the field, and then from the Border Patrol completely.

But that brought new awareness. He’d developed a friendship with a Mexican man who, unbeknownst to Francisco, had been brought to the US illegally at age 11, married and had children who were US citizens by birth. His friend went home to Mexico to be with his dying mother but was caught attempting to re-enter and detained. Not able to just stand by, Francisco found himself on the other side. He did all he could to support his friend in navigating a legal system that cares little of personal circumstances, and otherwise helped out the family whose father was deported. At the publication of the book, they remained torn apart.

The Line Becomes a River, named a top ten book for 2018 by NPR and the Washington Post, was a hard read but a necessary one. I was personally glad the author didn’t gloss over the most difficult parts, that he was exposed to wide-ranging aspects of the border issues, and wasn’t afraid to write honestly about it. It’s a book all should read to best inform their thoughts and votes.

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I’ve spent many years developing relationships with Indigenous spiritual leaders and healers who serve their own people in the lands where I sponsor programs. Travelers’ tuitions help support the families of those involved and, through special projects, for the well-being of their communities. A range of service people are also involved and the local economy benefits. I don’t frequent areas considered unsafe. So it’s unlikely those I work with encounter the drug cartel. However, for many of them, behind the scenes of our time with them, they endure the results of acute poverty with little to no opportunity to change that state.

That hurts my soul, and extends globally to anyone seeking relief from violence, scarcity of any kind and inner demons they carry as a result. I cannot harden my heart as many can and turn away. Through a slight accident of birth and the times I was born into, I have not personally experienced these levels of hardship but a good number did down my family line.

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Altar at the Cofradia House (Brotherhood), Santiago Atitlan, Guatemala. Photo: Carla Woody.

So I am yet sitting here waiting for the words to arise to adequately express the sorrow I hold for a world where everyone isn’t invited to the table, and the helplessness I feel to do anything about it except my very small part to make it so.

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The Metaphor: Borderlands

During opening circles for any of my spiritual travel programs, I invite participants to note any personal themes that run through our time together. Mine are not tourist trips but first to help preserve Indigenous traditions, and also an invitation for travelers to undertake deep inner work. What better way than spiritual journeys against the backdrop of sacred lifeways of foreign lands where we’re not within our usual comfort zone? The purpose, of course, is to carry the learnings home to create re-alignment and best live through personal values.

I invite them to note any metaphors that arise from their themes, providing a rich foundation and potential in-roads. Only this morning, as I finish writing this article, have I discovered my own coming from these travels: Borderlands.

There are the literal borderlands fraught with political issues that create great distress and tragedies. But also there are metaphysical borderlands. In this moment, what comes to me is the forbidden ground we’re told we must not cross in order to reinforce the status quo. But if we did and navigated those lands wisely, with great courage and heart, there’s the opportunity to integrate any wounded or unintegrated aspects of the self, and move through the threshold to enter an elevated life.

This is an area of personal depth and further unearthing. The Line Becomes a River  delivered it to me, gratefully while being immersed in the Maya lands and in relationship with peoples I’ve come to love.

Categories: Book Review, Global Consciousness, Indigenous Wisdom, Maya, Spiritual Evolution | Tags: , , , | 3 Comments

The Great Becoming

This is the time of drawing together the threads of where you’ve been and what you’ve experienced. Typically, we all do it in one way or another. Unconsciously, we all agree upon this premise: The new year is a line of demarcation, artificial though it may be. There’s the thought of something new on the horizon, maybe more, some kind of movement and being refreshed, perhaps even stated goals. I almost cringe when I write that last word, a surface structure declaration having little to do with an evolutionary or revolutionary process ⎯ depending on your personal preference for rate of speed.

But what if you went deeper? What if you consider the deep structure? Determine if you’re presenting yourself to the artificial line of demarcation…or a true threshold. So that’s the first consideration and choice.

If you go for the threshold, you elected for the Great Becoming. I’d like to tell you it’s a magical spell, one that you cast during an exotic ritual. But it’s not. Don’t let anyone try to convince you otherwise. I could say it’s easy, that you won’t be frightened, challenged or confused. But I won’t lie to you…because I’ve been there and anticipate being there to varying degrees again.

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In the time of monsoons. Photo: Carla Woody

It takes courage, commitment, paying attention and making the incremental choices that are most aligned with where and how you want to be in the world. Careful discernment. It means discovering ways to dispense with whatever had been holding you back and took you offline, usually at an unconscious level, as well as giving yourself permission to operate differently.

I will tell you that it’s bound to create chaos if you jump in with both feet. Some of us have more stomach for navigating upheavals than others, which is absolutely fine either way. I will also tell you the path levels out as you make new choices that serve you well. That doesn’t mean tremors will completely go away. Often, full-blown eruptions occur just as you ready yourself to step through the next threshold and then the one beyond that. It’s normal. Challenges and tests present themselves to see if you really mean it.

For me, the life you live ⎯ meaning any of us ⎯ is a deeply spiritual journey meant to return you to the place of purity where you began. By necessity, part of the trip is getting distracted along the way. There’s no point in beating yourself up about it. It’s a sign indicating you’ve fallen away from your Self, and introducing foreign territory is the cure.

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The clarity of night. Photo: Carla Woody

There then is a choice point, a fork in the road. We all face them to lesser and larger degrees. If you choose to ignore the signs, then things will occur in ways that can be painful but probably not unexpected. Rather than remaining stalled, you can take responsibility and deviate…off the beaten path. When you do, you begin to regain that sense of Self. You experience an Initiation brought about by your own accord. In turn, it produces the momentum that feeds Readiness…the final element required to compel you through the Threshold. This is the process of the Great Becoming that, if you’re determined, continues as long as your breath. It’s a conscious one.

With every footfall you create your own story and legacy. If anything, these quieter times of stillness are opportunities to be introspective. Take yourself back over the lands you’ve traveled…in all your years. Where have you placed your feet? How was that landscape your teacher and what did it hold to be true over time? At what points have you experienced Initiation? It’s equally as important to acknowledge these truths and embody the grace you yourself have created, and where else you want to go.

Categories: Contemplative Life, Spiritual Evolution, Spiritual Travel | Tags: , , , | 3 Comments

To Be Caught

I had the overwhelming pull to get out on the land. To place my feet solidly and walk. To be conscious of placing each footstep. I did…for some miles. I found it imperative. That – even though I was exhausted, arriving home just the night before from a very long journey. Writing now, a few days later, I recognize – by surrendering to that draw – I began my integration process, and I hold a new awareness.

I was summoned by the wild land where I live – not some random thought of my mind. Having learned what I’d learned in the land over the ocean, Re-entry required this physical act. It’s about engagement, like introducing a new friend to an old one who needed no explanation when both had claimed me. Neither were jealous, and I’d allowed myself to be caught. Somehow this recognition has further solidified my grounding. The giving over. Surrendering. Whatever you want to call it, know that it had nothing to do with the mind and everything to do with the heart.

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We sat in circle, having settled into this spacious, high-ceilinged room in a 16th century building, now a small family-run hotel in Arles. I began to lay some initial groundwork for entry into our journey in Provence. I talked to the women about the land. There are certain places in the world that hold a form of magic. Hard to articulate, it comes out through its attraction and what it produces. Provence is one of those places. To feel such depth, it must be welcomed through pure immersion. As that happens, it touches aspects of ourselves we didn’t know existed. Then we can begin to understand the beauty the Provençal land produces, attraction to artists, other makers…and the currents that brought Mary Magdalene, Mary Jacobi, Mary Solomé and Sarah – also known as Sara-la-Kali, adopted by the Romani people as their patron saint – to land on its shores.* We can also begin to sense its effect on us.

I acknowledged the controversy surrounding Mary Magdalene’s role, who Sarah may have been and the question of whether they and the other Marys had been there at all. I invited the women to sweep it all away – all that chattering distraction – and just be present to what their own experiences tell them.

The next day we drove to the small Camargue village of Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer where the Marys and Sarah landed. We were to visit Notre Dame de la Mer. This is the church venerating Sarah, Mary Solomé and Mary Jacobi who chose to live there.  It holds their relics and has an underground crypt especially designated to Sarah. It’s said many healings have taken place through prayers that are left.

This is sacred ground. To enter carelessly doesn’t do it justice. We first went to the shoreline where I invited the women to find their place, connect with the land and put themselves back in time, to the time when the boat rode the waves onto the beach. Some were overcome there. Others as we went through the doorway of the church. Some while leaving their prayers with Sarah. Not one was untouched.

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Saint Sarah’s crypt in Notre Dame de la Mer, Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer. Photo: Carla Woody.

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Stained glass window above the main altar in the Basilica of Mary Magdalene, St. Maximin. Photo: Carla Woody.

A few days later at the Basilica of Mary Magdalene in the village of St. Maximin, where her relics rest, the pilgrimage continued as did the effect. Before we began the long climb up to Mary’s Grotto on St. Baume, I suggested we pause again to put ourselves through time, ultimately to the time Mary would have climbed this mountain herself. There would have been little path, if any, the forest completely wild, full of feral life we no longer see there. I walked slowly, noticing the stillness of the woods save periodic songbirds and the conversation of others climbing ahead.

I found Mary’s Grotto as I had in my other times there. I wiped away the chapel and altars that had been placed for worship. Instead, listening to the sounds of dripping water, feeling the damp and sensing her presence. Being still.

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Saint Mary Magdalene’s Grotto at St. Baume. Photo: Carla Woody.

Taking a different trail down, it was rocky, more steep, sometimes slippery from previous rains. Much like life. I paid attention to where I placed my feet. Somehow, I felt the place impressing itself upon me. Or maybe it was an exchange.

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Within the safe haven of circles, I invite travelers to share their personal experiences: insights, questions, struggles, if they wish. Not for others to resolve or analyze but to witness. Witnessing is a sacred role we fulfill for each other. It brings things to earth rather than flying around in the ether. In this way, each one’s process is acknowledged as significant and supports an evolutionary unfolding.

When we close our circle at the end, I speak to them on the elements of Re-entry, a phase of the journey that is quite real and continues, sometimes for months or longer. It’s about integration. Something that naturally occurs to bring our learnings to bear upon life at home. Best approached with eyes wide open and embraced, I lead them through a recapitulation of our times together suggesting they pay attention to what comes to the forefront to be carried home. Sometimes words escape us, seeds still germinating. But – always – we feel the presence of something growing.

There were two facets from our immersion in Provence that featured prominently for me this time, at least what I was aware of in the moment. I voiced them. The first was the way the people of Provence spoke about the Marys and Sarah. It was matter of fact. There was no engaging in the controversy flying around elsewhere in academia, religious entities, or popular media. They had existed there, celebrated annually on hallowed ground through festivals and the churches built to them. They are solidly implanted in Provençal cultural memory. The land holds them.

My take-away:

There will always be detractors and distractors. Focus on what you know to be true and hold it in your soul.

The second had to do with the colors in the land and how they’re reflected throughout Provence in the food, art, architecture and geniality of the people. Ochres, blues and greens. They made me happy and something more I can’t yet give words to. I vowed they would find more of a place in my home.

My take-away:

When something touches you deeply, bring it into your home. It’s a visible reminder of what’s become a part of you. We don’t leave things behind. They dwell within the sanctuary of our Core.

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Mt. Sainte-Victoire outside Aix-en-Provence. Photo: Carla Woody.

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Windmill in the village of Goult. Photo: Carla Woody.

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Architecture, Aix-en-Provence. Photo: Carla Woody.

 ♦♦♦

When we journey in foreign lands, we leave the familiar behind. We enter places that are waiting to be known, many of them for us to re-engage with aspects we’ve forgotten.

Western people don’t belong to the land – unless born into a culture that supports it, or consciously becoming part of it over time. It means being present. To disregard the urge to move on too quickly. It means to linger. It means to return, to know it even more so. To surrender and let go of thoughts that take up space.

Only then can we be caught.

Only then can the secrets that we knew all along be divulged.

*****

* Mary Solomé was the mother of apostles James the Greater and John. Mary Jacobi was the mother of apostles James the Younger (or Lesser) and Joseph. Sarah is said to be the daughter of Mary Magdalene and Jesus, in other circles the Egyptian servant to one of the Marys. Also know there are stories of others in the boat including Lazarus, Martha and Maximin. I’m writing of those who are acknowledged in the places we went.

*****

There were so many elements that made up our spiritual travel in Provence. I already know I will be writing more…in appreciation. This is just the first blush.

 

 

 

Categories: Contemplative Life, Global Consciousness, Sacred Reciprocity, Spiritual Evolution, Spiritual Travel | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

As Good Things Come to Pass

With things the way they have been for a while now…when offensive acts strike at my core values…when I find myself becoming so incensed by it all that I’m distracted and even feel sick or paralyzed…I know it’s time to step back and take stock. I know it’s time to note in what ways my life has meaning, how my own thoughts and actions matter and contribute to the beauty of the world.

Recently a good friend shared on social media Spiritual Integrity and Preservation, a 2014 article I’d written. It brought me back – front and center – to the intent that navigates the path that chose me. Acknowledgement is an important aspect of staying on track. It’s good to know where I’ve been, to draw it around me like a cloak, to shelter me and strengthen intent in the midst of the fire storm…and then keep on going.

That article was a celebration of sorts for a dream I didn’t know I had when it all began. When the dream grounded itself into reality, don’t be fooled into thinking I knew where it would lead. I had no concept at the time. I just trusted the energy it contained and somehow knew to follow it. I had to because it wouldn’t be denied, and things began to fall into place.

I believe we all have such compelling dreams living in our hearts. One just for each of us…waiting for us to say yes to the invitation. To grab it and go.

The article I refer to has to do with the work of Kenosis Spirit Keepers, the nonprofit extension of Kenosis. It tracks the evolutionary process of the work, going back to 2007, in helping to preserve Indigenous traditions. When my friend posted on social media, it caused me to look at what else has happened since 2014.

It brought back some wonderful memories. In 2016, I sponsored a second pilgrimage from Bolivia all the way to the high altitude Q’ero village of Ccochamocco in the Peruvian Andes, finally ending in Cusco. It was a very special journey bringing Q’ero, Maya, Hopi and Aymara Wisdom Keepers together and participants from across the US. In that journey one of the Elder spokespersons for the Hopi religious leader accompanied us to further validate the discovery by Hopi Marvin Lalo the previous year of the Hopi migration petroglyph on a huge slab at Puma Punku next to Tiwanaku in Bolivia. This has great significance if you realize the story of Hopi migration paths from South America previously existed only in Hopi oral history.

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A powerful despacho ceremony with Q’ero, Aymara, Hopi and Maya on the Bolivian waters of Lake Titicaca on the way to the Island of the Moon, where Inka priestesses engaged in the Great Mystery.

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Q’ero friends are offering a despacho ceremony in respect to the land and its spirits, asking permission before we descend to Tiwanaku.

It’s also caused me to look to the future. In January 2019, we are sponsoring Eli PaintedCrow of Yaqui-Maya heritage to accompany us to Guatemala and Mexico for the Maya spiritual travel program. While Eli has had direct access to her Yaqui traditions, she knew nothing of her Maya lineage. When I discovered this, I invited her. I can in no way project any outcomes, but Eli has a son and grandson. I’m guessing it will be important for her to tell them of the strong, proud people they hold in their blood.

Because I’m right upon another important anniversary, I’m sharing Spiritual Integrity and Preservation here. It will link to two other articles – The Last Spirit Keeper and The Ninth Evolution of the Spirit Keepers Journey (with video) –  that complete the history.

In 2009 an important tradition began, first started by Hopi elder Harold Joseph who accepted an invitation to accompany me on my spiritual travel program Entering the Maya Mysteries. As his religious leader’s emissary, the purpose was to reconnect with relations, those from Hopi migration paths…

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Don Antonio Martinez and Harold Joseph at the Lacandón Maya village of Najá in 2009.

 …The intent I hold for spiritual travel has remained the same from the start. It is not to co-opt Indigenous traditions. It is to offer respect through our presence and to hold space that these sacred ways continue…If in the process we visitors are deeply touched—and we are—we bring this difference home. Who we are in the world is influenced…and felt by our families, friends and communities. Core spiritual elements are strengthened…

Read more.

With many thanks to Linda Sohner who started me on this odyssey of remembrance.

***

For more information on spiritual travel programs to Hopi, Peru, Guatemala and Mexico, go here. For more on the work of Kenosis Spirit Keepers, go here.

 

 

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

Liminal

FranceCezanneRefuge2bWhen I was in my late thirties, I became certain that something big was on my personal horizon. I had no idea what it was but just knew it was out there waiting…and would change the very fabric of my life. I remained open to discovering what was in store because it was so compelling. But in another way…scary. It contained uncertainty. A few years passed when suddenly the threshold appeared. It happened quickly. It was palpable. I was standing before it, and all looked so much brighter on the other side…even though I still couldn’t make out exactly what was there.

I had entered liminal space, the territory that holds the material and imaginal worlds equally…until they come together as one. Once done, you can step blithely through the threshold, never looking back. To do so necessarily involves un-grounding, prying your feet off the soil you’d known in order to set the stage for a wider life. It’s uncomfortable. Depending on your nature, it can be downright anxiety producing. Then those internal looping messages start to roll and can be incessant as they attempt to keep you tethered to where you were. They may get their reinforcements from external sources as well.

But there’s another part that clearly knows the old ways no longer seem right. Stick with it and know this is a part of the process. In fact, the internal and external messages often exacerbate before they flame out and dissipate.

Even so, the new landscape hasn’t made itself quite visible yet. In this transition, the imaginal realm is your great ally. I tell people I’m working with to pay considerable attention to their dreams during these times, to inexplicable visionary experiences and insights that swim up from some place you can’t name to land solidly in your lap out of the clear blue. This is the great gift of bonding with your Core Self, learning to trust metaphoric or literal messages as guidance. Creating clarity is key at this point. The imaginal world is your friend. When you know – and recognize you know –  a foundation starts to form.

In reality, the threshold didn’t appear suddenly. Coming to readiness is a required piece, getting unseated enough to wake up and discover it’s time to move. Life is happening without you. Readiness isn’t necessarily a smooth trajectory but may involve dancing back and forth until the call is just too insistent to ignore.

Rites of passage aren’t prevalent in Western culture. Whatever may once have existed has been forgotten or downplayed. Know what I’ve been discussing is a rite of passage. Call it so. The time when you are no longer who you were but who you’re becoming. This particular rite is completed when you step through the threshold and fall into the next iteration of your life.

If what I’ve written here sounds all too familiar…and you recognize you’re smack in the middle of it, just name it. You’re in liminal space. It’s sacred. Treat it so. Getting to a place of full knowing – recognizing connection with the unseen world that is more real than what your logical mind would have you believe – is integral to this rite of passage. You’re not alone in your experiences.

Here I am nearly three decades later, having recently passed a milestone birthday, looking back over the years I have thus lived. While the big rite of passage occurred all those years ago, putting me on the path I’ve been on ever since, there have been smaller rites along the way. They further aligned me to my intent. Be thankful when you sense your own threshold coming steadfastly toward you. I bless all of mine.

 

 

Categories: Healing, Personal Growth, Spiritual Evolution | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

The Great Unsettling

Maybe you’ve been in the same place or still are. I started experiencing a sense of generalized, underlying dread. Like waiting for the other shoe to drop. A kind of existential angst…over which it felt like I had no control. For months, I awoke in the morning and steeled myself to face the day. What new outrage would be presented? How do I navigate the low-level grief – or overwhelming waves of sadness and righteous anger – and be able to function reasonably in my everyday life? My energy was sapped by some stealthy foe.

Then I realized I’d started to grow numb to what occurred…and that’s not healthy. That would only indicate that it was becoming submerged to the point of becoming the norm.

That isn’t who I am or how I choose to live my life. I can pinpoint exactly when it began – and it turns out I haven’t been alone.

Oh, I’ve been through the intensity of the Dark Night of the Soul, thrashing around in the invisible landscape, and came out the other side. You can read about those years in my book Standing Stark. That’s not what this is about. Nor is it about all the times I stood at the threshold – restless for change – sensing, but not seeing, the next realignment of my life. Those times I actively chose. Those were personal. As much as any of us have any control whatsoever, I felt as though I was the rider of that horse who, in partnership, would take me where I was meant to go.

After the many months, I finally determined I’d relinquished the reins and wasn’t on the horse at all. In shock, I’d allowed myself to be thrown off by a dangerous runaway, out of control, underbelly completely visible.

Here’s what makes this different: This challenge was delivered at the meta level. It affects the world community and our collective future.

***

In June, I was in France for the month, the last leg two nights in Toulouse. A little rest before the long flight home. I was walking along the river when I glanced back toward the Pont Neuf bridge and saw the most curious thing. There at the edge of the circular opening between the piers closest to this side of the bridge sat a figure, its legs dangling over the edge. A red devil. At first I thought it was someone dressed in costume, maybe a street performer. I snapped a photo and posted it on my Facebook timeline, jokingly labeling it The Entrance to the Underworld. A closer look – and the fact it hadn’t moved the next day – determined it to be a fixture.

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Overnight I’d done some research and learned of Notre Dame de la Daurade, less than ten minutes from my hotel, that contained a Black Madonna. Excitedly, I struck out the next day. I couldn’t understand why I hadn’t noticed the church previously when it was located along the river, quite close to Pont Neuf. Then I saw why. It was a blocky building, looking more like a Masonic Temple or maybe part of the art school whose walls adjoined it. Plus, it was partially hidden by fences and restoration equipment. But the front door was open. So I entered.

The inside walls were shrouded in dirty draping, dust everywhere, building materials scattered on the floor. No pews. Nothing really. Not what I expected. The few workmen I saw paid me no mind. It took me a minute to get my bearings. I knew the Black Madonna was supposed to be in the southern transept and picked my way through. I was about to go through a small opening in the drapery that segmented the back part when a man, probably the one in charge, told me I couldn’t be there. I attempted to talk him into it, “Even for a moment?” But he was firm.

Disappointed, I turned to go. I was nearly out the front door when I felt a strong pull coming from my right. I paused to look around to see if the coast was clear…then followed the energy. That’s where I found her. She was stuffed into a dark niche, stripped of her finery, behind tall iron bars, a padlock barring entrance. It seemed so disrespectful. A couple of candles burned just outside. I stayed for a long time. If anyone saw me, they let me be.

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Something bothered me. The only things of significance I took away from Toulouse were that devil – on which I could find no information online – and the Black Madonna. It just didn’t sit right with me. So I sat with it for several days through the first few days I was home. It hit me.

The devil guarding the gate. The Black Madonna and child locked up. Held hostage. Renovation.

I’m one for metaphors. When I’m involved in deep spiritual inquiry, that’s where my mind tends to go. This, coupled with all the environmental upheavals across the planet, brought me to focus. It’s not like I didn’t know this at some level. Now it’s no longer hidden. I’ve got it.

This is shadow work. We’re all being called to it: collectively and individually.

We’re being asked to consider:

  • In what ways we argue for our limitations;
  • The call to re-examine our cultural norms;
  • The willingness to avert our eyes;
  • The act of unconsciously filtering because we can’t contain it all.
  • How we perpetuate implicit bias.

I’m deep in the thick of it. Sorting. I don’t have any answers yet. Just the questions that have been there all along now made plain and visible.

For me, insights come in silence and solitude – in the early morning when all is still and little is fighting for my attention – still fresh from sleep where so much is recycled and put to bed. The way through reveals itself in the aftermath of meditation, in the process of writing or creating artwork, and during the method I use to clear my brain.

Whatever answers finally come are mine and may not be yours. But my deepest hope is that all will hold the core values that nurture the collective. In the meantime, these things I write of here are helping me fine-tune the path I take.

 

Categories: Global Consciousness, Healing, Spiritual Evolution | Tags: , , , , , | 8 Comments

Lineage and Tradition: Holding Strong for All That Matters

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Ceiba: Tree of Life. ©2018 Carla Woody.

I’ve been considering lineage. First coming from Latin as linea, evolving to Old French lignage and English line to finally form lineage, meaning lineal descent, ancestry and parentage. It has to do with roots from the seed. What is the seed? Where are your roots planted, and how deep do they go? That’s underground. What is drawn up through those roots to make its way above ground? Heritage is a living entity. What does the bloodline produce?

I like this on lineage from biology: a sequence of cells in the body that developed from a common ancestral cell. I think about origins, and all the stories that are passed along a family line ⎯ said and unsaid ⎯ and those told over and over that bind a collective to each other. Influences. There are those stories best to learn from and let go. But that’s another piece of writing.

Here I want to focus on tradition as it speaks to lineage.

When we are rootless…when we don’t know where we come from and don’t hear the stories…we long for knowledge of the line that could give us spiritual grounding, heritage in the highest sense. If we never know…if we’re disconnected…then we’re left to take the solo journey toward creating a solid identity. Or, not at all and remain ungrounded. Some are fortunate to find community that sustains them. Floundering is often the norm until some semblance of foundation forms. Whatever traditions come of this quest are deeply personal and create stability through time. They give expression and instill what it means to be human.

There are multitudes across the world who can trace their lineage back hundreds to thousands of years. Most of these are tribal peoples. They are grounded in the very lands where they or their ancestors were born. Their stories are centuries old, some never written down, and endure. They know who they are at a deeply unconscious level, made visible through their traditions. Rituals ⎯ how a baby receives its name, crops are planted, dreams advise ⎯ provide the framework that guide lives. They are not alone. Ancestors are actively present. So is the community. The richness of lineage is told through dance, songs, music and art.

I say these are the sacred threads that hold the world together because it’s true. These timeless elements produce spiritual grounding and strength beyond anything material. Yet to the present-day mainstream majority these threads are unseen or valued least with little to no thought or understanding.

There are so many examples of detractors acting against the stability that we all seek at a core level. On the world stage, most of us (who would be reading these words) can name those most grievous actions and their perpetrators right off the top of our heads. The source is rootlessness, the disconnect of those who have chosen to stay ungrounded. I have to believe this because I can’t imagine that anyone who has pledged commitment to all that encompasses spiritual identity could even consider, much less act on, what tears the world apart.

The question becomes how do those of us who hold value for the planet and all beings, not only survive but thrive and stand up to what acts against all we hold dear. I don’t believe we do it by force. I don’t believe we do it by cutting ourselves off from what is going on in the world. By virtue of holding anything at arm’s length, tension is created by focusing on what we want to avoid…thereby naturally drawing it to attention.

I don’t believe we do it by allowing ourselves to be assaulted. I say this in particular because I felt that way for months in this last year when I’d learn day by day of yet another thing that went against my deeply held spiritual values. This wasn’t just an attack on my mind. I felt the attack viscerally. But going numb isn’t the answer either.

I’m writing of this because it’s been so much on my mind. It’s probably been on yours. As I have been attempting to grapple, accept, rise above…I can’t say I have answers. But in the midst of all this, something did present itself. I’ve been drawn to return to reading passages in spiritual literature, adding this practice in to my daily meditation as I did many years ago when going through difficult times. I do feel strengthened.

We find our true identity in lineage and tradition, the sacred threads that hold the world together, woven tightly and held lightly.  I do believe this is what we’re called to do in these times, upleveling the breakthrough that must be on the horizon.

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Drops and Ripples. ©2018 Carla Woody.

Synchronicity being what it is, as I was finishing up this piece, I received the weekly newsletter with an article from Yes! Magazine entitled Don’t Just Resist. Return to Who You Are by Taiaiake Alfred. I zeroed in on these words scattered through a paragraph.

Reclaim.

Rename.

Reoccupy.

Restore.

That seems to say it all.

 

 

Categories: Global Consciousness, Healing, Indigenous Wisdom, Sacred Reciprocity, Spiritual Evolution | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

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