Film Review: Accordions Rising

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Turning basket

Example of a turning basket.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Post Blessingway Ceremony

Post Blessingway Ceremony.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 ***

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

To learn more on the Blessingway Ceremony, go here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Go forward but reach back.

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

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

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

He answered…

 Just be you.

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

Nothing good comes easy. We need to appreciate effort.

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

 ***

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

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

 ***

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

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

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

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

Film Review: The Alma Drawings

You may have heard of the psychic phenomenon automatic writing. But what about automatic drawing?

In her later years Alma Rumball felt the urge to pick up a pen, and her hand began to move on its own. She said, “My hand started to move and I started to draw.” In that moment these creations took over her life and home. Eventually when paper wasn’t enough, her walls, floors and even bathroom fixtures became crowded with repetitive motifs.

Alma Rumball

Automatic drawing by Alma Rumball.

As I watched the film I became fascinated by the remarkable similarity of the symbols and figures in Alma’s work to those in Maya, Tibetan and other world religions. I also noted some resemblance to the technique called automatism introduced by the Surrealists meant to give the subconscious mind free range.

But those don’t appear to be the influences here. Alma was raised a devout Christian and had always led an isolated life in a rural area of Northern Ontario, with very little exposure to the outside world. She never studied art and took no ownership of what she produced. She allowed, “The Hand did them.” And sometimes there were spirits that lived near the ceiling who gave her messages. The Hand—being in charge—would let her know when she was done with a piece when it ceased to move. When The Hand came into her life at the age of 50, she withdrew even more so and claimed to know nothing of religions elsewhere in the world.

Filmmaker Jeremiah Munce covers Alma’s origins, later life and artwork, much through her own words thanks to a recorded interview. The question it puts forth—as ascribed to a number of artists—was Alma’s work directed by a higher consciousness…or the result of mental illness?

Alma Rumball passed in 1980 but left a rich collection of work. Go to the official website to view her art and read articles.

View The Alma Drawings in its entirety on You Tube. Highly recommend not merely as a curiosity but also as a question regarding the creative portal. Released 2005 in Canada, 46 minutes.

 

 

Categories: Creativity Strategies, Film Review, Spiritual Evolution, Visual Arts | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Reflections Forward

Q'eros

Q’eros. Photo credit: Carla Woody

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

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

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

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

That was the background. The foreground was this…

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

Despacho ceremony

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

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

Face painting

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

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

Carla Woody

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

Heart of the Andes 2016

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

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

Film Review: Clotheslines

ClotheslinesThis 1981 documentary takes us back to the time when women were defined by laundry and, in many parts of the world, still are. As bizarre as it sounds, Director-Producer Roberta Contow shows us this truth—as stated in so many words by the women she filmed.

Some reading this review will not have the faintest memory of clotheslines—the time before dryers were common—and certainly not of washboards. I wasn’t around for the latter. But viewing the film caused me to look back through my early years to remember my mother setting aside Mondays for laundry day. How she’d set up the ironing board in the spare room, sprinkle water on clean clothes and iron for hours—even the sheets if memory serves—and starching my father’s shirts. My mother kept any complaints to herself. But just witnessing this drudgery made laundry an onerous task to me—one I put off until absolutely necessary to this day. And I never learned to fold sheets well, probably on purpose.

For some, the perfect fold brought a sense of pride and artistry. The surprising part to me —albeit presented with humor—was how women judged other women related to this totally irrelevant category, which spoke to how little power they had that they could only unleash any frustrations on their own kind. If the laundry wasn’t organized on the clothesline by color and type, or upon inspection a speck of stain remained…well, it said something was lacking about your neighbor. Heaven forbid if there was nice lingerie on the line. That said she was cheating on her husband.

Clotheslines 2

I’m quite sure few women of those times recognized how something so trivial automatically became part of their identity by birth. It was just something expected and accepted even if they secretly hated it.

Watching this film caused me to reflect in what other ways any of us—women and men— automatically assumed, without question, stealth mores. Clotheslines is a film to watch especially for these times when—at least in Western culture—each of us has a voice…that we can make heard by our choices. What is onerous is not something to abide.

View Clotheslines online free on Folkstreams. Highly recommend setting aside the 32 minutes it takes. Also available on DVD for purchase directly from Roberta Cantow by emailing rcantow@originaldigital.net.

Categories: Film Review, Personal Growth, Spiritual Evolution | Tags: , , | 4 Comments

Film Review: Griefwalker

Griefwalker

Griefwalker

Directed by Tim Wilson

Tim Wilson went into the hospital for a routine procedure and ended up on life support, hanging to this existence by a thread. A friend heard and emerged from the wild to lay his medicine pouch on Tim’s body, then left. Miraculously, Tim recovered and went back to the life he’d led.

When his friend saw him again after so many months he said, “You don’t sound to me like a man who’s been given his life back.” And Tim woke up.

This Canadian documentary is presented against the backdrop of Stephen Jenkinson’s work with the dying. But points to the fact that we’re all dying the moment we’re born. What does it mean to embrace knowledge of our own mortality as a “prized possession” to ensure we live well—every day—and use that understanding to turn our lives around, to make good choices toward what really matters?

Stephen’s words cause us to consider, in Western culture, Death has been tidied up, kept at arm’s length…and how…as a result, this major life passage none can escape is laced with deep soul suffering.

I’ve watched this powerful film twice now and still sitting with all there is to contemplate. Highly recommend for everyone.

Streaming online free on Culture Unplugged. 1 hour 10 minutes.

For more on the work of Stephen Jenkinson, including books, recorded interviews and teachings, go to Orphan Wisdom.

 

Categories: Film Review, Healthy Living, Spiritual Evolution | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

When the Dream Just Isn’t Enough

I’ve just started reading Gloria Steinem’s new memoir My Life on the Road…and I’m held. Its grasp started with an excerpt on the jacket flap.

 When people ask me why I still have hope and energy after all these years, I always say: Because I travel. Taking to the road—by which I mean letting the road take you—changed who I thought I was. The road is messy in the way that real life is messy. It leads us out of denial and into reality, out of theory and into practice, out of caution and into action, out of statistics and into stories—in short, out of our heads and into our hearts.

 Steinem is now in her 80s…and she still travels. She writes how the word ‘still’ entered her life when friends would say: So you’re still traveling? As if it should have a timeline on it. It all started in childhood when her father would consistently throw the family in the car and take off cross-country to discover what they would find.

Reading just these first several pages is causing me to reflect on my own life—my own odyssey that has brought me to where I reside now…on the road…returning to ground the experiences at home for a few months or less before resuming.

It occurs to me that many of us need to be given ‘permission’ to travel, to step out of the comfort zone called home. I mean travel in the sense of journey…not as a tourist but to viscerally experience the land and people…to take a risk…to open your mind. It’s not a crazy or frivolous pastime. I’ve traveled in 31 countries and 35 US states. A good number are still on my list. The road is also in front of me. I’ve made friends and created deep relationships. I’ve gone places few venture—over and over.  Many have entered my bloodstream and reside in my heart: shaping my lifework, writing and art. Probably other expressions as well.

It’s my way of life: my choice. But my introduction was not unlike Gloria Steinem’s.

Both my folks came from a small town in East Texas. Neither had been exposed to other ways of life outside their geographical area but were well familiar with tough times. I think it must have been the need for more than just survival that initiated their leaving. My dad joined the Air Force not long before I was born. Within seven years we moved four times. But the big one that opened the road for me was our move to Paris for nearly five years. By that time my dad had become an attorney, speaking French with his Texan accent, defending GIs in French courts.

Passport Early

On our way to Paris.

My father had a place to go to every day, an office and colleagues. My mother didn’t. I put myself in her place and what it must have been like for a small town girl who spoke no French to step on the Metro, alone with her child in hand, and travel like any other Parisian in that big city. We did it consistently. I have distinct remembrances. Some of my fondest memories of childhood and adolescence are traveling through the Spanish and Italian countryside, a month at a time, and all the shorter trips as a family we were able to make, wandering the streets in tiny villages, eating unfamiliar food, hearing languages strange to my ear. This is one of the biggest early gifts my parents gave to me—curiosity and appreciation—even though I’m sure they didn’t realize it at the time.

After we returned to the US, I was stationery between the years 14-17. But ventured out after high school graduation to make the requisite trip to Myrtle Beach and the Smoky Mountains, my mom going with me after a friend pooped out. Then at 24 I moved to Tehran to work for six months…and I’ve been on the road ever since.

Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu, 1996.

I could never be just an armchair traveler, dreaming of the journey but never embarking. Obstacles? That’s just the mind creating distractions, attempting to keep you mired in the status quo. It’s a signal of being on the threshold, especially so the louder the internal dialogue. But if you move through your fear—however it presents itself…thoughts of financial scarcity, overwhelm, safety concerns, the myriad rationalizations—ahhh…there the journey presents itself.

When I started this blog in 2012, I posted Spiritual Travel: Destination or Process? which I originally wrote for my newsletter around 2005. I find it still to be true today…and more.

 

 

Categories: Personal Growth, Spiritual Evolution, Spiritual Travel | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

The Selfless Work of an Unheralded Saint

In The Grace of Ayni I began with these words…

There’s a point in spiritual development that—if we’re going any further—we recognize something so important that it will guide us the rest of our lives: It’s not all about us. It becomes a natural act to give back in whatever ways we can, large or small.

Don Sergio Castro is the epitome of such an altruistic person. Quietly, he goes about his humanitarian healing work with Maya communities in Chiapas. For forty-plus years he has continued in the face of severe hardships and little funding support. Through Kenosis Spirit Keepers we do what we can to alleviate his funding worries so he can attend to the important work he does. But so much more is needed.*

In July Dr. Mike Weddle took the time to visit and work with Don Sergio. I want to share with you his impressions.

As a board member of Kenosis Spirit Keepers, I recently visited the healing practice and wound clinic of Sergio Castro in the town of San Cristóbal de las Casas in Chiapas, Mexico. The clinic is partly funded by an adjacent museum of traditional dress, and the funding often comes up short. On the day I visited, there was one group waiting for the museum tour, and another group, the constant line of patients with diabetic ulcers, burns, gangrene, and skin infections. It was clear that Sergio was torn between the wounded, and the paying customers he needed to treat the wounded. As a physician, I pitched in so that he could devote some time with his museum group.

This resulted in an invitation to do house calls with him in town and in the rural hills that surround the town. Some of these people he attends to every day. I can’t reasonably describe what I saw. Maybe I could in a hospital grand rounds, but not here, to a non-medical audience, who would find such descriptions horrific. From my work in Guatemala I know well the hidden people, the paralyzed, the stroke people, and infirmed, that live in the darkness of back rooms of the houses you walk by, or houses you see dotting picturesque hillsides. We saw a child who in the U.S. would be in a hospital burn unit, and a diabetic man who would be in an operating room. We did surgery at the edge of a cornfield. It was a privilege working with him for this one day, but he is there every day. It’s hard to imagine what these people would do without him.

museum clinic

Dr. Mike Weddle (left) and Don Sergio Castro (right) at the textile museum-clinic in San Cristobal de las Casas.

Don Sergio

Don Sergio Castro tending to a patient in the field.

I have personally witnessed the patients waiting for Don Sergio’s care at his museum-clinic. But Mike’s descriptive words of working with Don Sergio in the field…just take my heart. He brings to mind Mother Teresa. The difference: Don Sergio has no church behind him; no rich foundations sustaining his work. Yet he continues because he must.

Thank the gods there are such people in the world.

*****

*Read more on Don Sergio’s work and view the documentary El Andalon (The Healer) here.

During our January 2017 Maya spiritual travel program to Chiapas we will visit Don Sergio and bring donations of simple medical supplies and support funds. These monies come from tuitions for travel program and any other donations. if you’d like to help, go here.

Categories: Maya, Sacred Reciprocity, Spiritual Evolution | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Our Visible Wings

I came across the inspirational short Invisible Wings when it was first featured on Karma Tube in 2015 and have watched it several times since. It touches a soft spot in me. It opens my heart, and I feel the flow of my own life moving through me. It generates reflection and gratitude…all channeled through the words of a 65-year-old tea seller named Vijayan against visually beautiful backdrops.

His use of the metaphor ‘journey’ in the film is important as well as the way he validates it. A bona fide journey isn’t over smooth ground but fraught with challenges along the way. If we meet those obstacles eye-to-eye, it encourages our growth, nurtures the spirit and frees our dreams…to manifest. If we don’t, it harnesses the soul.

All this from a man many may overlook: the owner of a small stall in India where he pours tea, his wife Mohana working beside him. They appear to have little in the way most would see them. But Vijayan carries a dream— to travel the world, to open his heart and mind to other lands and ways of living—and his wife shares that dream. They have traveled the globe. Even though, at the start of their marriage, she’d never been out of her own hometown.

It takes courage to face the Unknown, to step out of your comfort zone. But the comfort zone so quickly widens when you do…no matter that others think you’re crazy or try to hold you back. There is so much beauty to be experienced when you ignore those who remain in the corral.

Whether you take the initiative to make life happen or sit back and let life happen to you, it’s a choice—even if you don’t think the latter is. And while the title of this tribute to Vijayan and Mohana is called Invisible Wings, the wings any of us wear are visible and how we wear them: fully extended, clutched to the side, or somewhere in-between. Others easily see them if they pay attention. And we ourselves can feel them.

Nothing is more valuable than the felt presence of your own unleashed spirit, intimacy with family and friends…and a life fully lived…however you travel. I’m sharing this little film here—short in time but saying so much—with intent that it brings to you the sweetness and consideration it has for me.

Categories: Film, Gratitude, Spiritual Travel, Travel Experiences, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

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