Travel Experiences

Unexpected Music

Place des Vosges

Place des Vosges

We were exploring Le Marais district when I remembered one of my favorite places. Ah yes, just a short distance away. I succeeded in persuading my friends they really must experience the oldest square in Paris. We turned down a side street that opened into Place des Vosges. Its elegant French classical façade spoke to the aristocracy that once lived above the arcades below. It didn’t take much to imagine Victor Hugo striding along anxious to be home to continue penning his novel of the moment. We noticed a bistro just in time for lunch. Salad, cheese, bread and wine somehow tasting so much better than it ever did at home.

Exiting, we started to round the corner that would take us out of the square when we noticed activity across the way under the arches. Some ten or so people setting up—a musical ensemble! We edged closer to watch. A few others began to gather. The discordant sounds of musicians tuning their violins and cellos ensued. And ensued. And ensued. Until finally my friends were getting impatient, wanting to leave. Oh no! Just a few more minutes, I was saying in my head. Feeling the tug of the group, I started to turn away with them.

And in that moment, the cacophony stopped. A split second of silence brought chaos into perfect order as the haunting strains of Pachelbel’s Canon filled the air. The acoustics amplified the notes to such a degree that we were enveloped, rooted in place. The beauty of the moment was overwhelming. I didn’t want to move from that spot. The energy continued to rise as they went on to play Mozart, Bach and Vivaldi. Thankfully, a violinist broke away and began offering CDs. I gladly purchased one and then discovered their name: Classique Metropolitain. What an unexpected gift, an extraordinary dessert, one we wouldn’t have had if we’d not been willing to pause.

Now when I play their recording, especially when I paint, it takes me right back to that split second of perfect order when my spirits soared—to experience it all again, gaining inspiration. Only much later did I discover that Classique Metropolitain regularly frequented metro stations and Place des Vosges playing to passersby, perhaps to lend pleasure to their day.

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On a nearly annual basis, I sponsor a spiritual travel program called Entering the Maya Mysteries in the Chiapas region of Mexico.  I usually go in January and we spend several days in the highlands participating in ritual and religious festivities for San Sebastián. One particular year music was a thread that ran through our time together—sacred and celebratory, vocal and instrumental—something to be expected considering our itinerary. But it was unexpected music, taking the edge off a situation and lifting our spirits or instilling a hush to any tumbling thoughts, that I most savored and have tucked away in that same place where Classique Metropolitain and Place des Vosges reside.

Lalo Ed Adams lives in New Jersey. Some years ago his search for someone going to Piedras Negras brought him to me. He joined our travels, in the process discovering a new name that he wore proudly. On his second trip with me, Lalo came along again wearing the glow I saw develop on the first one. Early on, he brought out a guitar saying he’d learned to play a couple of years ago and now gathered weekly with guitarists back home. During our days staying at El Panchan outside the Palenque ruins, he inched his way from casually playing at our table at Don Mucho’s Restaurant—until fully on stage with microphone and sound system going! I admired his chutzpah and his playing.

One thing about Lalo was that he understood how music can intervene and shift the energy in a moment. We’d been on our way to the Lacandón Jungle village of Najá anticipating the upcoming ceremony with Don Antonio Martinez when the van began to hesitate and sputter. Our driver was worried. “Bad gas,” he said, finally pulling over. We all bailed out; it appeared there would be a long wait while the situation was remedied. It was hot. We were in the middle of nowhere milling around on the side of the road.

Lalo Ed Adams

Lalo Ed Adams (2nd from right).
Photo credit: Bob Moore

It didn’t take long before Lalo pulled out his guitar. I finally couldn’t resist. I joined in with what he later called my “vocal chops”—that hadn’t been let loose in years. Some of the others chimed in until we had a plein air concert of sorts going. It turned a difficult situation to a light one full of fun. We continued to find moments to sing, all the way up to our closing dinner when we essentially took over a restaurant, and the other patrons joined our musical frivolity that ranged from “I Shall Be Released” to “Nowhere Man.”

But backtracking a bit, the latter half of our journey we stayed in San Cristóbal de las Casas in the Chiapas highlands. While we were visiting Na Bolom I heard faint notes of piano music and wandered into a room. Beautiful, I thought. Taking note of the pianist but not wanting to disturb, I examined the religious icons in the room. At leaving, I saw a poster announcing Richard Pierce Milner as the current artist-in-residence with evening concerts being held regularly. In the next day when we were in the Maya village of Zinacantán witnessing the raucous festivities for San Sebastián, I noticed the pianist there with a friend. This time I made sure we met and, on a whim, invited him to come with us. We were on our way to Don Xun Calixto’s home above San Juan Chamula where a special ritual awaited us. In return, I joked to Richard, I must have a concert.

Indeed. A few nights later, after the group had flown home, I went back to Na Bolom. At one time, before it had been the home of Frans and Trudy Blom, or a museum, the old hacienda had housed a seminary. One long room still bore reminders of that time, an altar at one end, religious paintings on nearly every inch of wall. But a grand piano at the other end dominated the space.  The only light source was candlelight. I took a seat. Richard began to play. And I was transported.

Richard Pierce Milner

Richard Pierce Milner at Na Bolom.
Photo credit: Carla Woody

Truly, Richard’s compositions are hard to categorize, a blend of neo-classical and crossover jazz as descriptor not at all doing them justice. What do you say about pieces that snatch you up to share a deeply personal journey with the artist? That wend their way through memories of a moment by the sea, a difficult healing process, or tribute to a mentor now passed? That touch on something not often touched? I can only say that Richard exposes his innermost feelings through his music and extends an invitation for listeners to join him. As I write these words, piano solos from his CD entitled Other Ways of Knowing are taking me back to that candlelit time at Na Bolom when I first heard him play.

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 In these times when so much of life is artificially structured, perhaps even constricted, that we can no longer breathe, do moments other than that—should we allow them—create openings. Chance encounters, courage mustered, intuition followed, and willingness to engage possibilities provide a distinct loosening that allows us to take flight. For me, unexpected music, especially when I find it within myself, has been a theme that has provided a springboard.
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   To see what other bloggers have posted in response to the Daily Post Writing Challenge: Moved by Music go here.
Categories: Creativity Strategies, Music Review, Travel Experiences | Tags: , , , , | 5 Comments

When Hopi Spirits Come to Life: Home Dance at Moenkopi

In July 2009 I was invited by Harold and Char Joseph to Home Dance, the first one in the Hopi village of Moenkopi in 50 years—a very historic event. It’s during this July dance ritual that the Katsina spirits are ushered back to the San Francisco Peaks, the mountain range north of Flagstaff, Arizona, where they live until their return to Hopi in February of each year.*

A friend and I arrived at Moenkopi village outside Tuba City just before dawn. Harold was already leaving home. Moenkopi being Char’s home village, Harold acted as a helper. Normally Harold would have been at Second Mesa’s Shungopavi, already a long time in the kiva, a subterranean chamber reserved for religious rituals, engaged in ceremony in his home village. But this time being quite special he was lending a hand the way relatives do.

The previous night we’d ventured down to the plaza with other family members, carrying chairs, staking out a place in one of several rows already formed. The dirt plaza was long and narrow, enclosed by the original stone homes dating back to the 1870s. I felt like I’d stepped back to another era.

Going Home Shungopavi

Going Home Shungopavi
Oil on canvas
depicting Home Dance.
©2011 Carla Woody

That early morning we sat at the edge of the village with others who had gathered, high on the bluff overlooking the lush cornfields below, a sharp contrast to the red rock cliffs surrounding them. I only discovered later that we actually perched on a kiva. An elder came and asked everyone to move. He slid the wood covering over to reveal its secret and climbed down.

We waited, slightly chilled by the light wind. Glancing around me, some of the people were in special dress, the women in beautiful shawls, and a few young girls wore the traditional hairstyle with fluted buns over each ear. There was a low buzz of conversation and greetings. Everyone waited patiently for the sunlight to hit the cornfields below. A number of pick-up trucks were parked to the side of the fields. In my mind, I converted them to horses. A sound was on the breeze that led me into another time and dimension.

At first it was faint but then it grew, rising up as though from the bowels of the earth. A chant that rose and fell, coming from an area of trees near the field. Those around me went quiet in anticipation, eyes glued, fingers pointing. And finally when the light hit the field just so, Katsinam emerged from the copse forming a single line as they began the slow walk up to the village, carrying cornstalks. It seemed like the line had no end. Finally, all Katsinam came into full view from the woods. They numbered 130, give or take.

As we shifted to our seats at the far end of the plaza, Katsinam poured in one-by-one, forming an ellipsis, continuing the chant, making the small repetitive movements that created the dance, virtually right in front of us. The sound of bells and rattles, strapped to each knee, accompanied each step and joined the drone of their voices. Even though sun now heated the air, I got chicken skin.

They gave cornstalks, a symbol of prosperity, to those watching and gifts of fruit and piki, a paper-thin rolled tortilla made from blue corn. The dancing continued. Then it was time for the first round to end. And the Kachinam left the plaza to be sequestered again. They performed at great sacrifice, foregoing food and water in the blistering sun until much later in the day.

But it was now time for the rest of the village to eat. We returned to the Joseph home and feasted on hominy stew and drank strong coffee. When the phone rang, I’d hear them tell the person on the other end, “Come eat!” One of the family members told me, “This is the Hopi way!” Indeed it was. As people poured through the door, they were directed to grab a plate and ladle a good helping.

The Katsinam were to dance eight times that day. Between dances families and friends gathered at homes, many from out of town it being such a special time. Each time food was shared. We were encouraged to nap in the heat of the day—which I did, in a room full of people that felt like family to me even though it was my first time meeting some of them.

How was it that this was the first Home Dance in Moenkopi in 50 years? Many Hopi people have fallen away from the traditions, and the necessary initiations haven’t occurred to support the ceremonies. Shungopavi is the only village that keeps the complete cycle of religious ceremonies unbroken, the elders staunch.

A strong older woman instigated the 2009 Home Dance. Her son was marrying. She wanted to show off the wedding robes of her son’s bride as part of the ritual. Other brides would be able to do the same. Through her commitment the village re-engaged, others coming from elsewhere to support the ceremony, accounting for the large number of Katsinam, a profound example of what determination can do—and for good cause. Traditions take us back to where we began. For my part, an appreciative outsider greatly stirred by the experience, I hope the Home Dance continues in Moenkopi. At this writing, it’s recurred once. That was in 2011.

***
*A Katsina is a spirit being of the Pueblo Tribes, an invisible natural force that can be called upon to bestow protection and wellbeing for the village. Katsinam is the plural form. In the Hopi tradition there are approximately 400 different Katsinam, each one different and having a separate purpose. For days prior to religious dances, initiated males enter the kiva and undertake long rituals. When they emerge from the kiva to dance, they are no longer who they were when they entered. Instead, they are the embodiment of these powerful spirit beings, dancing in human form, on the earth.
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I will sponsor Spiritual Travel to Hopi: Sacred Guardians of the World during March 6-9, 2014. This is a rare chance to experience Hopi Spirit Keepers in their homes, hear the ancient stories, visit sacred sites, learn about medicine ways and attend the Night Dances, all that weaves the very identity of the Hopi people as guardians of the world. Only recently is it now possible to be invited to such an experience. It’s only through relationships I’ve developed over a number of years that this program has been born. Join us for this adventure of the spirit! Early registration discount ends November 6. A portion of tuition is tax-deductible to support Kenosis Spirit Keepers’ projects preserving Native traditions.
Categories: cultural interests, Hopi, Indigenous Wisdom, Sacred Reciprocity, Spiritual Travel, Travel Experiences | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Lifepath Dialogues Gathering: The Spiritual Meaning of Lineage (Audio)

Lifepath Dialogue Gathering

The Lifepath Dialogues Gathering is held on the fourth Wednesdays, 6:30-8 PM, at Creekside Center in Prescott, Arizona. The intent is to build like-hearted community and dialogue about what truly matters. I choose monthly topics from my blog and host the evening with special invited guest(s) whose philosophies and work are relevant to the topic. The format involves my presentation of material to create a framework and interview of the special guests. This portion is recorded to share with the world community—wherever you are. Then we turn off the recorder and turn to intimate sharing.

The February 27 Lifepath Dialogues Gathering:

The Spiritual Meaning of Lineage

The complete unedited audio is about 40 minutes long. Click below to listen. Please be patient as it may take a few minutes to download! I hope you enjoy.

 LD02-13

This discussion was based on the post:

Lineage: Calling on the Ancestors
By CARLA WOODY
Author of Calling Our Spirits Home and Standing Stark
Founder, Kenosis and Kenosis Spirit Keepers

SPECIAL FEBRUARY GUEST:

TERRI HANAUER-BRAHM

Terri Hanauer-Brahm wondered why her father refused to discuss his past and why her relatives were the same way. She uncovered a family secret that sent her on an odyssey of discovery. Out of her quest came a book: “The Hanauer Family: Before, During and After the Holocaust.” She will share with us what this journey has meant to her.

 

Categories: cultural interests, Personal Growth, Spiritual Evolution, Spiritual Travel, Travel Experiences | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

February 27 Lifepath Dialogues Gathering: The Spiritual Meaning of Lineage

Lifepath Dialogue Gathering

Exploring the many threads that weave together an expressive, celebrated life.

MARK YOUR CALENDAR AND JOIN US FOR DIALOGUE THAT MATTERS

You are invited! Please pass to friends and family.

FEBRUARY 27, 6:30-8 PM

FREE Monthly Gathering on Fourth Wednesdays

Creekside Center, 337 N. Rush Street, Prescott, Arizona

February’s topic:

“The Spiritual Meaning of Lineage”

Based on the post: “Lineage: Calling on the Ancestors
By CARLA WOODY
Author of Calling Our Spirits Home and Standing Stark
Founder, Kenosis and Kenosis Spirit Keepers

SPECIAL FEBRUARY GUEST:

TERRI HANAUER-BRAHM

Terri Hanauer-Brahm wondered why her father refused to discuss his past and why her relatives were the same way. She uncovered a family secret that sent her on an odyssey of discovery. Out of her quest came a book: “The Hanauer Family: Before, During and After the Holocaust.” She will share with us what this journey has meant to her.

Email: info@kenosis.net or call 928.778.1058

Categories: Healing, Healthy Living, Maya, Personal Growth, Spiritual Evolution, Travel Experiences | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Thought Forms in Black and White

I was in Bali during August 2007, most of it spent in Ubud. In my experience, it’s rare to be in a culture where the spiritual traditions and values are so visible even to a casual observer. There are many things I took away with me, but I’ll offer just a few here.

The first has to do with prayer and ritual integrated into everyday life. There are temples everywhere—public temples, shrines on the streets. And every family compound has an altar even if it’s a small one tucked into a corner, but many are quite elaborate.

Offerings©2007 Carla Woody

Offerings
©2007 Carla Woody

The women seemed to spend a lot of time making small, flat offering baskets from bamboo fronds, measuring about 4 inches square. I’d see them sitting outside storefronts or on the sidewalks talking together while their fingers were busy. For the last week I was there, every morning I watched an elderly woman make her rounds in the bungalow compound where I was staying. She carried a large flat basket in her arms, which contained those smaller ones all holding flower petals, incense, rice, things to attract notice of the gods and signify prosperity. Not only did she place one at the compound shrine and at the base of all the statues, but in front of the bungalow doorways and even on the manager’s desk of the adjacent Internet café; all the important places to create a flow. Later walking through the streets or driving through the countryside, I’d note them in front of businesses and homes, almost everywhere.

The moments for remembrance and gratitude were ongoing. Not a time set aside, but included. One day I had hired a driver to take me to the coast. Along the way, he asked if I minded if he stopped for a few minutes. He pulled over outside a kind of marketplace. While I was fooling around with my camera, he got out. When he returned he had rice pressed into his forehead. During one night’s dinner I was enjoying my food (immensely) and observing my surroundings. One of the servers would stop the others as they passed by. She dipped a flower in a water glass and then anointed them on the head with it. Not playing around, but blessing them.

The understanding of interconnection is also prevalent—family, the banjar, the community. Our style of life in the West is shocking to them. The fact that we seem so disconnected when “I am because you are.”

Bali Translator©2007 Carla Woody

Bali Translator
©2007 Carla Woody

Perhaps more than anything I was taken with the sacred statues that were prevalent at every turn, not just in the temples. They seemed so exotic and expressive to me, not at all benign. I had a very kind driver who was not only quite curious about my culture but also eager to inform me about his.

He said, “Foreigners make a mistake and say we have so many gods. That’s not so. Our gods stay inside the temple and are only brought out for special times.”

I asked him about some of those I saw frequently that look somewhat like serpents or dragons and he disclosed that they were translators, conduits. They took the messages of the gods and translated them so we could understand them. And when I asked him about the black and white checked sarongs on just about all of them, which I was quite fascinated by, this is what he said.

“They remind us that we all have both good and not so good inside of us. This is to remember balance.”

In Bali, those reminders abound. Balance. Work gets done, but the days aren’t overly long. Acceptance of both sides of human nature without going to either extreme, or rejecting part of the self. Connection. And the middle road is valued. No wonder I was so touched—and relaxed.

Categories: cultural interests, Indigenous Wisdom, Sacred Reciprocity, Spiritual Travel, Travel Experiences | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

The Holy Places

A Chance Encounter

In July 2012 I visited Ireland with my folks. We’d driven to the Cliffs of Moher finding the coast socked in with fog, nothing visible. Somewhat disappointed, we continued on the narrow, winding road toward the village of Liscannor following the map back to the cottage where we were lodged miles beyond. I almost didn’t see the small sign pointing off to the right that said: Saint Brigid’s Holy Well.

At the time, I didn’t know anything about Saint Brigid or Ireland’s holy wells. But I did know that springs, caves and other natural formations are often special places of ceremony and prayer for ancient and present-day peoples who connect with the Creator through those means. Due to the countless rituals and natural properties of such sites, pronounced energy resides in an ongoing way, a container. I’ve experienced many of them.

Shrine

Altar at Saint Brigid’s Holy Well.
Photo: Carla Woody

 Saint Brigid’s Holy Well

The holy well wasn’t immediately apparent. In fact, we doubled back on the country lane that took us way back in farmers’ fields to return to the original intersection. On top of the hill was a cemetery but below was a small courtyard. Tucked into the hill was a slit just wide enough to hold one person. Visible even from the outside, figures of saints sat in a tight row leading into the darkened inner chamber; layers of rosaries adorned them. The short path ended in front of the spring. Prayer cards, handwritten messages and photos of loved ones covered the walls. One step inside and there was no doubt that we had entered sacred space; the energy was palpable. Petitions for healing, devotion and hope hung in the air. My mother said she felt sadness. I’m sure that was present, too.

But there was also celebration and gratitude. The note from five year-old Jimmy Delany said that at three weeks old he stopped breathing in his mother’s arms. He was revived but in a coma. He recovered without the side effects expected by the docs—that he’d be a “vegetable.” “Unexplainable,” they said.

Jimmy Delany's Note of Thanks

Jimmy Delany’s note of thanks.
Photo: Carla Woody

Holy Waters

Holy Waters
Photo: Carla Woody

I stayed there for quite a while, long after my folks went ahead to the cemetery, and performed my own ritual. Kneeling before the spring, I dipped my palms and brought the waters over my head, whispering my own prayer. And in that moment, I felt the sweetest sense of fullness, an energy transmission that deposited itself in my sacral chakra. I have no other way to speak of it—and it’s with me still, present every morning during meditation.

On the stairs up to the cemetery a small tree was covered with ribbons, small pieces of cloth and more rosaries. An old custom most often maintained by Ireland’s Travellers, when something is hung from a “rag tree” it’s believed to heal the person it belongs to as the item weathers and disintegrates.

I had no foreknowledge that: “…This site has a particularly mysterious atmosphere which may be felt at once by the pilgrims as they enter…” But I can speak from experience just as from other times at the holiest of places.

Before being claimed by the Christians, Brigid was known as the “exalted one” credited with miraculous healings and patron saint of the Celtic Druids. Saint Brigid’s crosses are seen all over Ireland. The story goes that, after healing a chieftain, she made a cross out of rush in thanks. I bought one to bring home but I need no reminder of my time at her holy well.

Categories: Healing, Meditation, Spiritual Evolution, Travel Experiences | Tags: , , , , , | 7 Comments

Sacred Reciprocity – Part II

Excerpted from Navigating Your Lifepath by Carla Woody.

THE NATURE OF TRUE COMMUNITY

In Part I, I wrote about ayni, which can be loosely translated from the Quechua as “sacred reciprocity.” In my estimation, it bears exploring over and over again, as we can dip more deeply into the meanings that rest beneath the surface. Ayni is not merely a concept, something nice to talk about, to the people of the Andes and other Native peoples. It is an actual day-to-day practice so embedded that they don’t even question it.

Carla and Q'ero Waikis

The author greeting Doña Carmina and other Q’ero waikis (friends) before a despacho (blessing) ceremony outside Cusco.
Photo credit: Oakley Gordon

In Western culture we think more in terms of giving and receiving. I give you something. You owe me something in return. In the Andean tradition there’s a much different flavor to giving and receiving. It has to do with the support of the entire community, not just one person.

If one person knows how to do something very well and the other person doesn’t, the one who has the skill automatically shares the teaching. The reciprocity comes to the first person in two ways. First, the teacher is validated for her knowledge base and may also learn more through the teaching. Maybe even more importantly, the entire community benefits because there are now two people with added value instead of just one.

COLLABORATION ONLY WELCOME

In 2004 I heard a radio program on global cultural change called “Andean Harvest” on Worlds of Difference that lent a further distinction to ayni and its influence. The interview took place in one of the mountain villages in Peru and had to do with the potato crop, of which there are a few hundred varieties. The challenge had to do with the farmers growing more of the different kinds of potatoes and getting them to market. To do so would give the opportunity to increase their livelihood. As a part of this undertaking, they were being advised by outside sources.

But the farmers rejected most of the sources’ advice. In the interview one of the elders said, “We will do nothing that would put one of us in competition with the other.” He went on to explain that introducing competitiveness would negatively impact the overall health of the community. What he said gave me pause and a great deal of consideration by contrasting it with my home culture.

THE WORTH OF WHO WE ARE

In Western culture, competition is considered healthy, naturally a part of our capitalistic society. Sports teams compete. Sportsmanship behavior is encouraged. But there are a few other strange, although familiar twists, which get in the way and preclude the practice of true ayni as yet.

The programming of our society says that success means we have to “be somebody.” That translates to a profession: doctor or lawyer but not “merely” a mother or father. If we define our worth and identity through career choice, or lack of thereof, there’s a huge convolution to the psyche; it sends the ego scrambling. The natural follow-on is one of competition, individual gratification, the need to “win” in order to be validated. The behaviors that come of this particular mindset produce not community, but a fractured society generating discordant energy.

Competition introduced into locales such as those in the Andes would create confusion, disrupting their underlying spiritual tradition. People there are known not so much by what they do, but by who they are. Many of the shamans and mystics that I have come across in Peru and elsewhere can determine who we are by seeing our energy field. That tells everything. A light energy field and the intent to evolve are what garner respect, not a livelihood.

Witnessing our own thoughts and actions is a slippery slope at best. The ego has all kinds of rationale to convince us that what we do is for our own good and that of those around us. Coming from the culture we do, unconsciously ingesting what we have, we perform a service to ourselves, and ultimately our communities, by being alert and wiser than the ego mind. The Core Self insists on it. Here are a couple of questions to consider.

– How do you find the level of competition around you?

– How can you make space for and “sponsor” others?

***

Go to Sacred Reciprocity, Part I.

Categories: Indigenous Wisdom, Personal Growth, Sacred Reciprocity, Spiritual Evolution, Spiritual Travel, Travel Experiences | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Sacred Reciprocity – Part I

In the traditions of the Andes, ayni is a way of life. This Quechua word has no real translation but loosely summarized means sacred reciprocity, merely one of the life-affirming teachings about balance and flow. I’ve taken it to heart—and attempted to pass the teaching on in my home culture. I say “attempt” because it’s been a real challenge where, in Western culture, it’s so much more about “winning” on an individual level. In other words: What’s In It For Me? When I was a fledgling organizational development consultant decades ago, I even remember being taught to appeal to people through “WIIFM”…in teambuilding workshops, a paradox for sure.

A Marker in Spiritual Evolution

My sense is that when a person reaches certain markers in their spiritual evolution there’s an inherent understanding of the circle of life—that to hoard interrupts a natural flow, not only to the individual, but affects global wellbeing detrimentally. Instead, there’s an automatic desire to give in whatever ways can be given…and there’s no obsession about how something will be received in turn—what is “due” on the other side.

Connection Mixed Media by Carla Woody

Connection, Mixed Media
©1996 Carla Woody

How Sacred Reciprocity Connects Us

In a recent post, I reviewed Jamie Reaser’s new book of poetry Sacred Reciprocity: Courting the Beloved in Everyday Life with beautiful verses about exchange with the Infinite through nature. Ayni touches many places in our lives.

In my review of the documentary El Andalon I introduced you to humanitarian healer Don Sergio Castro, who works with impoverished Maya communities around San Cristóbal de las Casas in Chiapas, Mexico. It was an act of ayni on the part of filmmakers Veremos Productions to have produced it and are donating part of the proceeds to his mission.

Without that film I wouldn’t have known about Don Sergio’s work. As a result of that introduction, audiences with Don Sergio are now part of the itinerary of my spiritual travel program in Chiapas. I’ve asked travelers to bring simple first aid supplies to donate, along with a monetary amount I will make as an offering.

Don Sergio attending young Maya girl

Don Sergio attending young Maya girl.
Photo: Patricia Ferrer

But it doesn’t stop there. One of my subscribers, who lives in France, contacted Patricia Ferrer, who is in Tucson and connected with Don Sergio, alerting her to my review. Patricia has been volunteering with Don Sergio for a few years now, spending between two to five weeks per year. She gives of her skills selflessly. We corresponded and I had the good fortune to meet her in person when I was recently in Tucson for a speaking engagement.

Don Sergio and Patricia working.

Don Sergio and Patricia working.
Photo: Patricia Ferrer

Here are some of Patricia’s words from the article The Circle of Life posted on Meg Pier’s blog View from the Pier:

…Many of the Indios do not want to go to the hospital as they feel discriminated against, they don’t trust the hospital system, and they don’t understand the system nor does the system understand them. Many times they wait too long to go to the hospital and when they finally do go they die as their condition has become too severe…

 …Don Sergio knows these people well and even when he recommends they go to the hospital they are still reluctant: some do, some don’t. The one constant is if they come to Don Sergio he will do his best to help them although he knows the outcome is not good.  The unwavering trust from the Maya is clear when they arrive to his museo, which is also used as a clinic…

Another Opportunity for Ayni

We currently have six more openings for the January 13-25, 2013 Entering the Maya Mysteries program in Chiapas. A portion of tuition is tax-deductible and already designated toward Grandmother Flordemayo’s project to preserve Native seeds.

However, I have promised Patricia that, for each person she refers to me for registration through this blog post or otherwise, I will donate an additional $100 to Don Sergio’s work, aside from what I’ve already planned to personally donate. So, if you are someone who is called to practice ayni in this way while having a life-enhancing experience yourself, please contact Patricia through her blog, or me. When registering for the January program mention her name to ensure the additional donation will be made.

This is one way the circle of life continues to expand.

Ayni has a flow all its own.

Go to Sacred Reciprocity, Part II.

Categories: Healing, Indigenous Wisdom, Sacred Reciprocity, Spiritual Evolution, Spiritual Travel, Travel Experiences | Tags: , , , , , | 8 Comments

What Is Renewal? – Part I

(Original article written in 2007 with additions here.)

Recently I had the good fortune to be invited to participate in a conference on global renewal sponsored by the Bali Institute. It was held in Ubud, considered to be the cultural and spiritual center of Bali. This was a significant gathering bringing together people from many countries with at least one thing in common — a vision for a better, kinder world and the strong desire to make it happen now. I’m still digesting all that happened for me. Part of it I will share with you here.

GLOBAL RENEWAL

Balinese temple figure

Balinese temple figure.
Photo: Carla Woody

It was the second day of the conference and I had arrived early to the Bali Classic Centre where it was held. It’s a site too beautiful for words with temples, lush foliage and meandering pathways throughout. I was standing in the open-air pavilion where people tended to gather during breaks, just enjoying my surroundings, when a young man approached me asking if he could speak to me. He indicated he had seen some literature on the programs I’m doing with the Maya in the Chiapas region of Mexico. In particular he was interested in Don Antonio Martinez, the last Spirit Keeper practicing the ancient sacred traditions of the Lacandón Maya. Then he said something I didn’t at all expect.

 Do you think it’s time for some traditions to die

so the next thing can come along?

 Whether his question came out of earnest interest or a flip attitude didn’t really matter. His words hit me like a shock wave that reverberated in hidden, interior places. This was a question I had come to Bali to hear.

FRAGILE TRADITIONS

Don Antonio and Balche Ceremony

Don Antonio Martinez of the Lacandón Maya during the balché ceremony.
Photo: Carla Woody

While I’m fairly sure the effect of the missile wasn’t apparent from the outside, my mind was immediately flooded with images. I replayed a time earlier that year with Don Antonio in the middle of the rainforest village of Najá, in his lone god house, burning copal in two of his god pots, chanting, invoking connection with Hachäkyum, the principal deity of the Lacandón, and another god in honor of our visit. He’d chuckled softly when the copal in one of the pots had at first refused to light saying that god was shy that day.

There was evidence of hundreds of such ceremonies in the burnt residue in his god pots, mounded to overflowing. He needed to retire these god pots and replace them with new ones. When asked why he hadn’t, he said that since the road had cut through the jungle to Najá it brought too much noise for the sacred renewal ritual. I remember remarking to myself how very little disturbance there was in contrast with what we visitors had at home. But still, it was an affront to the gods.*

Q'eros of Peru

Sitting in circle with Q’ero spiritual leaders.
Photo credit: Monty DeLozier

Another image came to me in the next split second, this time in the high mountains of the Andes in Peru, sitting in circle with Q’ero paq’os, or shamans, and other members of the Q’ero Nation, participating in a despacho, or blessing, ceremony. The absolute sense of collectively touching something beyond what is ordinarily presented, my eyes swept the circle of travelers who had come with me; I noted the ceremony’s subtle and sometimes dramatic effect on them.

These experiences are precious and will perhaps soon border on extinction just like in the Lacandón rainforest and the myriad other places where the footprint of modern society has been placed. A road is planned to Q’ero, which, until this time, has remained isolated at 17,000 feet in altitude with traditions pure and intact.

Hopi Spirit Keepers 2007

The author with Hopis Clarence Washington (lft) and David Washington (rt) at Salk’awasi, Mollamarka, Peru.
Photo: Darlene Dunning

Then my mind came to rest on the memory of the Hopi father and son that we sponsored to the Andes that past summer. I recalled the gratitude they expressed frequently, through tears, to be gifted with the opportunity to be in circle with their Quechua brothers and sisters and what it meant to them.

As I absorbed the ultimate meaning of the young man’s question coupled with these recollections, I was surprised to find tears welling up from my heart, through my throat, discovering moisture in my eyes. And in a cracking voice, this is what I said to him.

The thought of that happening hurts my very soul.

***

Go to Part II.

*In an area now thoroughly infiltrated by missionaries and decimated by logging companies, Najá was the last hold-out until Chan K’in Viejo, their powerful Spirit Holder, passed in 1997 at about 105 years old. Don Antonio, his son-in-law, is now the last Spirit Keeper maintaining the traditional beliefs and ceremonies.

If you are called to support preservation of these fragile traditions—and have a life-transforming experience yourself—I invite you to join us for Entering the Maya Mysteries, January 13-25. Among other opportunities to engage with authentic Maya spiritual leaders, Grandmother Flordemayo, a member of the International Council of 13 Indigenous Grandmothers, will travel with us…lending her prayers to our circles.

Categories: Healing, Indigenous Wisdom, Lacandón Maya, Spiritual Evolution, Spiritual Travel, Travel Experiences | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Review: El Andalón (The Healer)

Don Sergio doctoring

Don Sergio Castro attending a patient.
Photo: Director Consuelo Alba & Producer John Speyer

El Andalón is a thirty-minute documentary about the healing work of humanitarian Don Sergio Castro who lives in San Cristóbal de las Casas in Chiapas, Mexico. It opens with a scene of Don Sergio swabbing a patient’s injury, all the while speaking kindly. He has been doing the same thing for nearly fifty years seeing about twenty people a day. His patients are the poor, coming to him from the town and surrounding area; and he makes the rounds to Maya villages where he’s much needed. The documentary contains several stories like this of a woman who had a severe injury to her leg:

I don’t know what kind of magic he has in his hands…but he heals…sometimes we aren’t so welcome in the hospital…(She breaks down in tears.)…I almost lost my leg and thanks to him I was healed…

My friend and colleague Carol Karasik said of Don Sergio: “He’s known as something of a saint here. He works with not even as much as most Americans have in their medicine cabinet.”

Don Sergio doesn’t charge his patients; they pay him with their blessings or tamales. His generosity has often made it difficult to make ends meet for his own family—or to fund the work to which he’s dedicated. Years ago, some patients began giving him their own traditional clothing. Don Sergio discovered that visitors were quite interested in these samples. He hit upon a brilliant idea and opened his own small textile museum, which doubles as a clinic. From that source and the occasional donation he’s somehow been able to keep going.

But his work doesn’t stop with doctoring. Villagers began asking him to help with other matters, including schools for their children where there were none. They had no help from the government. So far Don Sergio is responsible for raising funds to help them build twenty-five schools.

Ccochamocco School

School in the Q’ero village of Ccochamocco
Photo: Freddy Machacca

This clearly brought back my own remembrance of being asked by Q’ero spiritual leaders to help do the same for the high altitude village of Ccochmocco in the Andes of Peru: now operating since March 2010. It wasn’t an easy task.

With the dip in tourism to Mexico, Don Sergio’s ability to fund his work has been severely affected. At one point toward the end of the film he becomes overwhelmed with emotion. With a hand gesturing skyward he sends a prayer up that he finds a way to continue. It was heart-rending to me.

I somehow stumbled upon this documentary and then queried Carol. As a result we are now including an audience with Don Sergio and a visit to his textile museum in our “Entering the Maya Mysteries” program during our time in San Cristóbal. I have asked participants to bring any medical supplies they can as a part of our offering, aside from a donation I’ll make from Kenosis—and look at ongoing ways to support this self-less humanitarian work.

Viewers of the film will also get a glimpse Don Sergio with Don Antonio Martinez, with whom we engage in the Lacandón Maya village of Najá, as well as spiritual leader Chan K’in Viejo who passed in the 1990s. The village of Chamula will look familiar to folks who have traveled with us.

El Andalon

Film Poster
Director: Consuelo Albo
Producer: John Speyer

I want to personally thank director Consuelo Alba and producer John Speyer for bringing to light Don Sergio’s work; and to Culture Unplugged for sponsoring it on their website. You can view their documentary on Culture Unplugged. It’s well worth your time.

Categories: Film Review, Healing, Indigenous Wisdom, Lacandón Maya, Spiritual Travel, Travel Experiences | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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