The Churning, the Empowerment

Sometime in the fall an idea began to form that I would participate in the retreat taking place at Garchen Buddhist Institute over the turning of the new year. It was called their Winter Event—with Garchen Rinpoche and Lamas—for the Long Life Ceremony, Mahakala Empowerment and Bodhisattva Practices. I was actually surprised when the thought arose. I hadn’t been drawn before and knew absolutely nothing of Tibetan Buddhism. But somehow it seemed clear to me I was supposed to be there, so signed on for three days of the seven.

As the raven flies, Garchen Institute is about ten minutes away from my home. But because of the dirt roads between my place and theirs, it takes me about four times that to get there. As my first attendance day approached, I decided I’d better do a dry run to see if I could find it. I’d been out there about seventeen years ago, a few years after it was established, curious to see what was there. It’s fortunate I went with a friend then who had a vague idea where it was because it felt like we were lost for sure. But finally, all those years ago, there was a tiny sign indicating where to turn.

This time, on my dry run, I was alone and took my GPS which turned out to be no help, trying to take me down a cow path and then in the opposite direction, which I knew wasn’t right. It occurred to me that such places need to be hidden in a certain sense. When I did find my way, prayer flags were flying and it was clearly marked. But no signage along the way.

Garchen 2

I arrived that first day knowing nothing, which for me has usually worked out best. Little to entangle my mind, and the staff was kind in advising me of basic protocol—no shoes in the temple—and showed me to my place on the floor for the next few days.  I also did not know…

His Eminence Garchen Rinpoche is one of the foremost Buddhist masters and accomplished Tibetan Lamas alive in this world today.” Instead, I began to know so by his overwhelmingly compassionate presence when he first entered the room, something maintained throughout my experience there.

I had a rough time the first day. For years I’ve been able to sit cross-legged, straight-backed without support for hours without discomfort. One time in the middle of another retreat a long time ago, it just suddenly happened, like I was planted, and had continued ever since until this time. Every muscle in my body ached, and my right leg was restless. My mind wandered from the Lama’s teachings, and I kept fidgeting. I wasn’t able to follow what was presented. Frankly, I couldn’t wait for the day to be over.  But overnight something happened. I can only believe I’d been experiencing unconscious resistance in the face of something profound. In order to shift, there’s always conflict between what was and what is coming into being.

Over the next two days, the gentle smiling presence of Garchen Rinpoche, the chants and ceremony took me, culminating with the Mahakala Empowerment. Again, I had no idea what was coming. For me, the teachings were complex. Better to overwhelm my mind with. One of the nuns passed out a card to everyone with an image of a very scary looking deity. It was from the two-armed Mahakala, through Garchen Rinpoche, we were to receive blessings and the empowerment. I only understood this Mahakala to be one of the protector bodhisattvas.

People began to get up from their places and line up. They all had white silk scarves draped over their outstretched arms, seeming to appear out of nowhere. I touched the woman in front of me and told her I was unsure what to do as I didn’t have the length of silk. She smiled widely at me and said, “Yes, you do! I’ll pass mine on to you.” People were so kind. Then suddenly I was standing in front of Garchen Rinpoche. He took my face in his hands and touched my bowed head. One of the Lamas threw the silk scarf around my neck. I felt something. I was passed from one Lama to the next accepting sacraments from them in the form of a seed to swallow, dribbles of juice and a packet of seeds to keep. Somehow, I made it back to my place, closed my eyes, engulfed in energy. A few times I opened my eyes slightly to gaze at the Mahakala image on the card and close them again, as we’d been told to do. Then something completely unexpected happened…and I sat with it for days before I even attempted to express it to a couple of trusted friends. I’ve found that sharing such things, once I’m able to articulate them somewhat, helps to ground them.

Garchen 1

The retreat went on for a few days but it was the last for me. I emerged from that sacred space to hear that Trump ordered the murder of Iranian General Suleimani, that we were on the precipice of war. And it broke me apart. My great sadness and horror that yet another thoughtless act could be perpetuated by this president. The contrast was just too great.

Today I listened to Justine Toms of New Dimensions Radio interview mythologist-storyteller Michael Meade discussing Recreating the World. It was timely and reminded me of what I already know. Meade says we’re in a place the Irish call the Betwixt and Between. I call that place the Edge of Limitation. The end has already happened. We’re in the middle of it. He calls this state the Great Churning, when things come up from the bottom, those things we’ve sensed all along but now clearly laid out in front of us. We’re faced with the cynicism of politics where so many of our elected officials don’t stand for the wellbeing of Mother Earth and all beings. But acting for the 1% and their own self-interest, bought by large conglomerates and the extremely wealthy with an agenda. We’ve lost our Innocence. We experience loss and tragedy.

At the same time, Innovation is also revealed in a multitude of ways, speaking to the possibility of unity, the potential of coming together. We must enter the Imaginal Realm, identified so by Henry Corbin, where we must dive deeply and attune to our true inner nature. Now is a phase heading toward Initiation, unveiling all that’s light and dark.

In the last minutes before I arose from the cushion where I sat eyes closed in meditation— removed from the world in the temple at Garchen—I had a vision. One so real and powerful that…even now as I write this…I feel chills.  There was a great pile of rubble and earth. It began to shake, to come apart. A terrible, strange being climbed out of the gaping hole…and came to stand squarely…in front of me. It was the two-armed Mahakala, protector, remover of suffering for sentient beings. He then vanished and, in his place, was a control panel of the kind in the cockpit of an airplane.

Mahakala

Initially, I was overwhelmed by this vision and remained that way for some days. Now I know it was a clear message and the empowerment…and not only for me.

Now is the time for all of us to make the choice…to journey on…to be leaders in this transition.

I’m reminded of walking the Camino Francés. By the eighth day of my pilgrimage, I was in a great deal of pain, my right foot having sustained a mystery injury. I shuffled along slowly, pulling myself by my walking stick. I was alone. I was in the middle of nowhere…somewhere in northern Spain…

The trail was pretty much empty. I just toddled on. Another older gentleman, this one French, checked on me in passing, “Ca va?” In the middle of nowhere there’s nothing to do but go on. He must have taken a break somewhere because later he whispered as he passed again, “Courage!”

—Excerpt from The Essential Way

 

 

Categories: Compassionate Action, Contemplative Life, Global Consciousness, Spiritual Evolution | Tags: , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress

I pulled the book out of the library stacks drawn by its unusual title, and then the cover with the tiny red shoes. What could Balzac have to do with a little Chinese seamstress? I vaguely remember hearing about the Cultural Revolution during the days of Mao Zedong* but I was quite young then. Too young to have much interest or understanding of what was happening on the other side of the planet to many children the same age I was. This novel educated me.

In 1968 Mao closed all the schools – elementary, high schools and universities – dictating that “young intellectuals” be sent to the countryside to be “re-educated by the poor peasants” presumably to create a great leveling. Books were banned and burned. Anything having a whiff of Western to it, or anyone, was denounced. Academics, writers, artists, any professionals were punished and sent off to labor camps to be “re-educated.” Multitudes did not physically survive and many considered themselves a lost generation.

balzac andThis is a coming of age story in a special setting under difficult circumstances. It’s about what happens when norms are stripped away. When suddenly families are forcibly separated… elements of society previously valued devalued…control wrought by fear…what arises as a result…and the ways in which humans hang onto a piece of themselves and seek to thrive.

The book opens with the unnamed narrator and his best friend Luo having already made the torturous two-day climb on a rugged path up a mountain known as the Phoenix of the Sky to its summit where they were assigned to the headman’s keeping in the poorest village of all. Their lodging was on stilts, a pig sty directly underneath, with little to no protection from the elements. The narrator’s parents were doctors. Luo’s father was a dentist who wasn’t wise enough to keep the fact to himself that he’d fitted Mao with new teeth. The boys were hardly intellectuals, having only finished middle school. Daily the boys were forced to carry buckets of liquid feces on their backs, sloshing as they climbed up the mountain to the fields where it would be used as fertilizer. By the end they’d be soaked with the contents only to begin again. Later they had to work underground for two months in mines that were little used.

In the back-breaking monotony of their days they retained some spirit – subterfuge to trick the headman, have some fun, fall in love, and maintain a semblance of control over their lives where they had little. When the boys arrived in the village, they’d brought two forbidden items. The narrator brought a violin in its case. Luo brought a wind-up alarm clock that contained a rooster pecking the clock’s floor as the minutes ticked away.

Of course, the violin and case were immediately detected and passed around to all those assembled. It was shaken, pounded, its strings nearly broken. The headman declared it a bourgeois toy and started to burn it when Luo stated, with an air of authority, that it was a musical instrument. And his friend the narrator was a fine musician. The narrator, nearly choking, started to play Mozart and Luo said the title of the piece was Mozart Is Thinking of Chairman Mao. Smiles all around.

The headman was fascinated by the alarm clock, never having seen one…especially with a rooster pecking out the time, to the point he’d carry it around and look at it constantly. The boys were able to retain it. One morning when they couldn’t face those buckets that early, Luo turned back the clock by an hour and went back to sleep. The headman was none the wiser. When they wanted to have an early day, they’d turn it forward. Finally, they had no idea what time it was. The headman went by the clock.

But what is the connection between Balzac and the little Chinese seamstress? The boys discovered some forbidden Western classics, translated into Chinese, by Balzac, Dumas and others, hidden in a locked suitcase belonging to another “intellectual” boy undergoing re-education in another village. This, about the same time they met the old tailor in a far village whose granddaughter was beautiful beyond perfection. She was illiterate – as were all the villagers – but hungry for the education books can bring.

There are many levels to this thin novel. It educated me in an area where I knew nothing. The author-filmmaker Dai Sijie also made it into a movie. You can see it in its entirety with English subtitles on You Tube. I suggest reading the book first and then watch the film. The book contains a lot that I would have missed if I’d only seen the film. The cinematography is stunning, and the film contains an epilogue not in the book, closing an open loop. One poignant that brought back my own memories, making me feel nostalgic.

This story takes on another significance considering it’s autobiographic. Dai Sijie was re-educated himself between 1971-1974. The book was his first and became an immediate bestseller and prizewinner in France at its release. Rights were later sold in nineteen countries.

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*Commonly referred to as Mao Tse-tung, he is also known as Mao Zedong and referred to that way in this book.

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

Nurturing Core Silence

My invitation to meditation came nearly forty years ago. As many such things that arrive, it was of necessity, and I was unconscious of it in the moment. Thankfully, that time I paid attention to the part of me that knew—but back then would usually ignore…until I didn’t. A strong message: I must come down out of my head in order to live. You can read this as a metaphor, which is valid. But it was also a physical reality. I had driven myself into the ground until my body rebelled with a clear communication. It took that. I wasn’t listening. It stopped me short and laid me flat. It was serious. A hard learning curve.

It was in the recovery process the pull to meditation became pronounced. Now I would say I was just following the energy. Even that phrase is a poor descriptor. For some things, there are just no words. I had no real framework at the time. Even though “meditation” had become a buzzword…if there were classes where I was living at the time, they were underground, and I wasn’t part of the network.

I turned to research. How I came to these classics—Human Energy Systems by Jack Schwarz and Joy’s Way by Brugh Joy—is lost to time. Although my well-worn copies have remained on my bookshelf as a testament. Their content was a fit for me. I was able to come to my own method using breath and energy. Experiential. Of the body and beyond the body. I didn’t know what I was doing, frankly.

I began a practice that has stayed with me to this day: I got up at least an hour earlier than I did previously so as not to be rushed. (This is the point, isn’t it?) I sat. The mental chatter was an aggressive distractor. Finally, after quite a while, I started getting the hang of it. Then something totally unexpected started occurring.

Pain, pressure and weird sensations that—with my eyes closed—felt like my body was strangely contorting. It was only in opening my eyes, that I would discover I was still sitting upright, never having moved. Much later I would understand I was experiencing blocked energy. I learned through contrast as I began to kinesthetically experience flow in, through and around my body, stronger and stronger over decades. It’s been my saving grace. It’s affected how I live. I don’t know where I’d be without it…this gift from beyond my self.

Silence

It used to frustrate me there’s no Mysticism for Dummies book. No explicit instructions. How could there be? Any true book on mysticism, usually the most obscure, only allude to the elements of the path, always veiled, sometimes through metaphor. There are no words. It’s also a protection from ourselves. The mind loves to get wrapped around the right way to do things, losing out in the process.

What I’ve found most useful is not to read much in this realm. So much better for me to immerse myself and be present. Becoming aware through experience. When later if I stumble across something that documents the elements I’ve come to know experientially, it serves to validate something whose territory is already familiar.

silence bookOn that note, several months ago I stumbled upon Silence: The Mystery of Wholeness by Robert Sardello. There are examples of spiritual literature over the centuries, wisdom writings of great mystics, identifying the heart as the seat of spiritual perception. His writing goes steps beyond in leading the reader to the Presence that resides in the seat of spiritual perception…the wisdom source. This is not something abstract. It’s grounded in full vibration and kinesthetically recognizable. He also offers practices to recognize and develop this spiritual muscle. I’m going to stop here as this is your own area to explore if you like.

Over twenty years ago, I first came upon the word kenosis, coming from Greek, meaning to empty. I identified with it as the path I’ve chosen. The act of kenosis is more though than releasing, letting go. That’s part of the process. But ultimately, it’s about creating the inner spaciousness that invites something else. I resonate with what Robert Sardello gives name to—The Silence and that it comes as grace.

 

 

 

 

Categories: Contemplative Life, Energy Healing, Meditation, Spiritual Evolution | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

Beyond the Edge of Limitation

We’re up against that marker in time—the new year—when so many of us create a space to consider personal evolution, maybe revolution, the threshold and what we intend beyond.

Previously, I’ve offered the practice of choosing a word to frame your new year, one to deepen your spiritual path, a quality to grow into… But there are points of contemplation to inform any movement or choice of word: readiness and the edge of limitation. These two areas are a perennial source of inquiry for those who want to transcend the status quo.

Note that any change involves a natural conflict, a necessary tension, between what was and what will be. So, part of readiness is identifying your personal edge of limitation because that’s the point at which you risk pulling back and becoming stalled—often totally unconscious until you begin to dip into that territory.

I’ve written about these two areas in a variety of ways before. Here are introductions to use as prompts if you wish.

Lake Najá Photo

The Crossing. Photo: Carla Woody

On readiness:

The point of readiness is exactly that.  It’s a pinpoint in time, a moment of decision when we are poised at the threshold contemplating intent’s power to move us to a farther path from where we’ve been…

…Some people dance back and forth or even all around it. Others try to ignore it. But it’s hard not to notice a strong wind at your back urging you to go somewhere, to fly over the landscape.

Still others go willingly, pausing for a moment and then stepping deftly through the doorway…

…The question here is to consider: How do we know when it’s time to go? To jump? To move through? To evolve?

Read original post.

Resistance

The Resistance. Photo: Carla Woody

On the edge of limitation:

For years I led a meditation group…One time during the open frame a longtime participant asked a question.

What is the edge of limitation?

…It was a question that—over time—framed a journey of my own, an odyssey into self-inquiry and the nature of a spiritual journey. I went on to write an entire chapter on this question in [my book] Standing Stark and, in the process, generated other queries to further define the question. Some of them are below.

Where is the meeting point between complacency and possibility?

Where is the meeting point between pain and healing?

Where is the meeting point between control and surrender?

New considerations will open to places that are unfamiliar. I use a variety of metaphors to describe that state. Perhaps it’s a dark forest where the path isn’t visible. Maybe it’s a membrane you bump up against; to break through the sheathing involves an identity level shift: how you are in the world. Or it’s a threshold, the precipice where a decision is made to retreat or move forward. So, the edge of limitation is the pinpoint in thought, time and space before Separation from the old self of status quo…

Read original post.

Adding in several more directly from Standing Stark:

Where is the meeting point between denial and recognition?

Where is the meeting point between control and surrender?

Where is the meeting point between loneliness and solitude?

Where is the meeting point between withholding and intimacy?

Where is the meeting point between aversion and acceptance?

Where is the meeting point between fear and distinction?

…The outcome of this scrutiny will be the finely honed attunement of the tensions we hold. Perhaps we will allow the overlay to occur that will dissolve any separation. The edges will cease to exist. The energy of the threshold will carry itself. We will know That which lies beyond the doorway to be ours.

Invitation

The Invitation. Photo: Carla Woody.

I wish you warm holidays and a meaningful transition to the new year.

Categories: Contemplative Life, Healing, Spiritual Evolution | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

To Be Human

There are two questions Krista Tippett of On Being consistently asks people she interviews. She starts out with what was your religious upbringing? The answer to that may or may not be relevant in the present, although the effect lingers in some way—great or small. Somewhere along the way she does the deep dive with what does it mean to be human? Even though people are usually expecting this question, given Krista’s long history of asking it, there’s a pause…because the answer is defining. There are two additional questions that aren’t usually spoken but are inferred: How do we want to live? Who will we be to each other? From these, the beliefs, interests and actions of the individual naturally unfold to state who they are in the world. It has to do with Identity. It’s important.

I’m not religious but do identify as spiritual. My beliefs are firmly grounded in human potential, the humanitarian and respect for the planet. With that, the questions mentioned previously—setting aside the one on religion—are engrained within my consciousness. Sometimes I think it would be easier if they weren’t, if I could turn my back. But I can’t, even as exhausting as it’s become in the last few years. The questions are swirling around all of us, coming from every direction, calling continually for us to define Who We Are.

Aside from the many environmental issues, immigration is at the forefront for me, having written of it before in regard to Francisco Cantú’s book The Line Becomes a River. I hold great respect for the many who are acting with decency, some with great sacrifice, to do what they can, seeing those in need as people—not chips in a political game.

In October, the Prescott United Methodist Church and others in the local interfaith community, League of Women Voters, Prescott Indivisible and Prescott Peacebuilders sponsored an immigration panel. I went because I really wanted to know how the question was being answered locally. Representation on the panel was wide-ranging, covering a lot of ground. Of the invitations extended, we learned that only the Prescott Police Department declined to send a representative as panel member.

These are the key points offered from those on the panel.

Saul Fein is a Holocaust survivor. Born in Romania, he emigrated to Argentina in early WWII, finally coming to the US to become a citizen after the mandatory five-year wait period. He made these important statements.

Emigration spells persecution. People don’t leave their homes unless they’re threatened significantly.

A member of the local immigrant community, who had come from Mexico 25 years ago, spoke of life as an immigrant seeking citizenship in the US. The tears she could not hold back, her shaking body, communicated more than words ever could.

Dan Streeter, Superintendent of the Humboldt Unified School District, the largest in Yavapai County, cited the 14th Amendment, Civil Rights, Family Rights and Privacy Acts related to protection, and that schools are prohibited from denying students access based on immigration status. He was reassuring in that he said, This is not a political issue for schools. This is a child issue for schools. That was a relief, but then he also stated concerns about children coming to school hungry, or not at all, as families avoid available assistance out of fear—a valid one [my comment].

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Photo credit: Doug Iverson.

Laura Rambikur is an adjunct professor at Boston University’s School of Theology teaching graduate level courses on immigration and theology. She also works as a clinical therapist, serving survivors of torture, for the International Rescue Committee in Phoenix. She spoke of history and what makes it important today.

Family separation links all the way back to the transatlantic slave trade. What we’re experiencing today is baked into how this country really came to be. Immigration in this country is always been linked along racial lines, as well as economic empowerment for very specific groups of people in positions of power.

 We can’t begin to have a conversation on immigration until we recognize the history we participate in. The theological concept of Manifest Destiny is taught in our schools: the right to take advantage of, to conquer and to expand.

 This led westward expansion and cultural development specifically in the Southwest. This is important when thinking of boundaries and borders, especially when considering tribal communities that have been here more than 3000 years. Until the 1930s, tribal membership numbers were kept in the Arizona Game and Wildlife [designation]. Until 1970s, Native Americans had to pass a literacy test to have the right to vote. Immigration has always been about who is counted and who is not, always along racial lines.

 Today politicians use theology [quoting scripture out of context] in a very public way that affirms children being ripped from the arms of their parents.

 How do we participate in these policies whether we are aware of them or not?

Ella Rawls, daughter of an immigrant, is an immigration attorney working with low income immigrants in southern Arizona. Ella went through the types of visas and application process. For some, it may take 12 years.

Now in San Diego and El Paso, when they present at the border, they are no longer allowed into the US. They get a court date and are forced to go back to Mexico to wait. Courts are secretive and do not allow legal observers to view what’s going on. The level of success is very low unless they have access to immigration lawyers, who are often hard to reach and, if not working for a nonprofit, very expensive.

Sue Lefebvre is the author of No More Deaths and representative of the humanitarian organization by the same name based in southern Arizona. Their mission is: to end death and suffering in the Mexico–US borderlands through civil initiative: people of conscience working openly and in community to uphold fundamental human rights. More information on their website. They have especially been in the news over the last few years for search and rescue efforts in the desert, and providing aid by leaving water, food and blankets on migrant trails. Volunteers have been arrested while carrying out their duties according to their charter. Dr. Scott Warren was put on trial in federal court for harboring undocumented migrants, a felony, which ended in a hung jury. Some of the charges were dropped. But, as I’m writing this, he has entered retrial in Tucson and faces 10 years in prison if convicted. You can follow a daily log of the trial here.

Sue spoke about the impact on those living along the border, and hardships and deaths of migrants.

In 1994 NAFTA between the US, Canada and Mexico came into being and destroyed the cotton market in Mexico. Farmers began to move north. In addition, in 1994, they tightened measures at border entry. Many more began attempting to cross through the desert. Before 1994, there were a few deaths in the desert. In 2000 there were 1,600,000 arrests and 260 people died in the Arizona desert [and it’s kept climbing].

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Photo credit: No More Deaths.

Elea Ziegelbaum is a graduate of Prescott College and community organizer from northern Arizona who has focused on migrant and climate justice since high school. She spent several months on a research project collecting data on immigration enforcement in Yavapai County. In her talk she especially focused on the 287(g) program, an agreement between ICE and the Yavapai Sheriff Department. Few in the audience knew what she was talking about.

That’s because it’s secretive. It authorizes local law enforcement to conduct immigration enforcement, the highest level of collaboration possible, with ICE.

This is a completely voluntary agreement.

The main emphasis is to elevate detentions and deportations in members of the immigrant and undocumented community in any given area by creating a tight web that increases people’s chances of being arrested and deported.

Yavapai County has had the 287(g) agreement since 2008. The impact is hard to determine because the records are kept under wraps. They are not open to sharing arrest and deportation data. So, this is a conservative number. Since 2008, 1812 arrests can be confirmed.  Again, a conservative number. Considering how small our communities are, even this is a sizeable impact that has torn families apart.

 Diane Iverson, children’s book author and illustrator, opened the panel with a prayer she’d written. By the time she’d said the last words, tears were slipping down my cheeks…because, as a collective, we’ve fallen so short of the ideals she mentioned, and so many have closed their hearts.

Prayer for the Immigrant

 Oh God, whose name is love, we have a statue on our shore. She lifts her flame heavenward in a way that makes us proud to be American. Please make us worthy of her lofty ideals. Give us hearts willing to share the blessings of this country.

 Welcome into your peace the father and his child, face down on the river’s edge, who longed for the life we sometimes take for granted. Give us the will to free the little ones from their cages and into the arms of their loved ones.

 Be present with all those who work to create and enforce laws, that our nation may be both just and compassionate. Open our hearts that we may remember our own immigration story. For we were strangers in the land of Egypt, and yet here we are, in the comfort and safety of this room and this country by your abundant grace. Amen.

So, we are left with the questions mentioned in the beginning whose answers provide a platform to live by…

What does it mean to be human? How do we want to live? Who will we be to each other?

Categories: Compassionate Action, Global Consciousness, Indigenous Rights | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Indigenous to the Journey

Imagine a people whose origins were once lost to time but who are now thought to have come from northwest India…who—in their own region—endured plunder, massacre and enslavement over 500 years and beyond at the hands of foreign rulers. The result finally creating a diaspora, spread over the world, in search of home…over 1500 years to present day.

When doors were shut to them, the road and their culture endured. It was a way of life. They were so close knit—for mere survival—that, for many of their present-day groups, it’s still a taboo to associate with outsiders except for livelihood…when they themselves are considered so. They’re communal, strict about their traditions and syncretic religion. They’re known for passionate song, music and dance, having influenced jazz, flamenco, and even classical music. They are mostly entertainers, artisans, laborers and trades people. Along with the Jewish people, they were the first target for annihilation by the Nazis, and their women underwent forced sterilization. Despite this, their culture maintains the heady expression of freedom, along with protection of their own.

For the rest of the world, they largely retain an air of mystique and are reviled or barely tolerated. Objects of fear. After all, they live outside the mainstream. They’re different. How can “other” be good?

Their names for themselves vary depending on country—Romanichal (England), Romansæl (Norway and Denmark), Sinti (Germanic countries), Manush (France), Kalo (Spain, Wales and Finland)—or clans—the Kalderash, Machvaya, Boyash, Lovari and others.

The Romani or Roma people are known to non-Roma by a number of names depending where they are: gitans, ciganos, zingari, gíftoi and others, along with the derogatory term gypsy.

Dispersed as the Roma are, in late May, from great distances, they stream into a diminutive French town in the Camargue on the Mediterranean Sea. In a massive gathering, they come to venerate, celebrate and reunite through the passions of devotion, music and processional.

For it is here the three Marys, Sarah—and some say—Lazarus and Maximin landed safely on the shores of Gaul in their tiny boat, site of the present-day Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer. To the Roma she is known as Sara-la-Kali, Sara the Black, their patron saint, an adolescent Egyptian maid who accompanied the Marys. To others, Saint Sarah is the daughter of The Magdalene and Jesus.

And we will be there…women on pilgrimage of spiritual travel…sourcing the ways of love and light. We will be there for the music, dance, making our own prayers as we witness Sara-la-Kali…Saint Sarah in her glorious vestments carried from the church on the shoulders of the Roma, accompanied by the famous Camargue white horses, into the sea.

In Latcho Drom—meaning Safe Journey—you can catch a glimpse of this passion toward the end. Latcho Drom is a 1993 documentary about the Roma by filmmaker Tony Gatlif, himself Roma. This film is a cinematographic masterpiece telling the story of a people through song, dance, music and community. It subliminally tracks their geographic diaspora until you finally realize the whole by the end of the film.

This version of the documentary includes sporadic English subtitles of lyrics, just enough to emphasize the beauty and—later—the poignancy of the scenes.

In one with exuberant music and celebration that continues late into the night until the fire has burned out, a man sings and gestures first to a woman in their circle and then to the moon…

…I have placed my bed in a delicious spot. How can I sleep without you?

 Later…

…In the grounds of my coffee cup, I see your image…It drives me mad…

 And much later in scenes toward the end…

…We are cursed to wander all our lives…Deliver us from our trials…We fled from hate…No one will ever change our way of life…Me? I am a black bird who has taken flight…

 Latcho Drom may be viewed in its entirety streaming online for free. This is a haunting, inspirational depiction of a beleaguered people with a rich heritage not widely known. Highly recommend. 1 hour, 38 minutes.

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The May 20-29, 2020 women’s pilgrimage, Spiritual Travel to Southern France: Sourcing the Ways of Love and Light, takes place in the Languedoc and Provence focusing on Mary Magdalene, the Cathars, art and bounty of the land. There are currently 2 spaces open with group size very limited to maintain depth of process and outcome for participants.

Categories: cultural interests, Film Review, Indigenous Rights, Indigenous Wisdom, Spiritual Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Film: Sacred Trances of Java and Bali

I want to say upfront this is the most remarkable film of its type I’ve seen. Just in the first seconds of the documentary, before an actual image came, the hair rose on the back of my neck. My skin tightened into goosebumps. The staccato chant I heard was well familiar to me.

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Bali Temple, 2007. Photo: Carla Woody

The film is specifically focused on the phases of ritual trance dancing of Java and Bali, particularly the horse dance where the dancer becomes the ‘horse’ he is ‘riding.’ It features elements to induce a trance: dance, drum, chant, whip, hyperventilation, meditation and acting ‘as if.’ Once entering trance, there’s no question the dancers are in another dimension altogether. To the point, after the ritual is complete, their fingers will not loosen from their stead or their body is completely rigid. These are no actors. You will see the dancers guided into and out of trance by the village shaman.

I appreciated the film underscored that these were ordinary people transformed into extraordinary personage through spiritual intent…and so affected return to their everyday lives. The shaman in one part was also shown in his work-a-day world as a government official in his village. One trance dancer was normally a farmer.

I know these things to be true through examples. Long ago, I remember participating in a Sufi retreat with a particularly adept Sufi teacher. At home he was a barista. I work with Maya religious leader-healer Xun Calixto who lives in a hamlet above San Juan Chamula in Chiapas. When not attending to his sacred duties, he works as a gardener.

Another interesting aspect highlighted is the syncretic nature of the religions in Bali and Java. Before other influences moved in and overtook them, Indonesia practiced pure animism. In Java, Hinduism arrived first, which the people incorporated for 800 years until Islam made inroads and prevailed. At that point, Hinduism moved on to Bali and remained. But in each instance elements of their original animism were maintained and expressed in isolated villages or special holidays, depicted well in the film.

To diverge a bit more, it made me think of the Maya people of Mexico and Guatemala, especially in San Juan Chamula. The church there was taken back from the Catholics in no uncertain terms. Yet, they have Catholic processionals on a saint’s day and allow the token priest to take part. The saints in glass boxes still line the walls. But the pews are gone and Maya forms of healing and prayer occur instead. It was a curiosity to me until I learned that the saints may be there, but the Maya people have their own stories about them, resoundingly connecting them to their land. The place is imbued with a sense of the sacred felt viscerally every bit as much as what’s shown in the film I’m reviewing.

You may be wondering how it is I immediately recognized the staccato chant that recurs throughout the documentary. In 2007 I was in Ubud, Bali presenting at a conference and elected to stay on afterward to experience more of its beautiful traditions. One night I attended a dance performance. I had no idea what it was but came highly recommended to me. I was myself entranced the entire time, not moving a muscle even for a while after it was over. It had a number of the same components I’ve discussed here—the ongoing staccato chant rising and falling—but also fire dancing and throwing with no one harmed. It was done at night. Mesmerizing. It’s stayed with me over the years. Whenever I thought of Bali, what I witnessed that night automatically emerged. Yet I had no reference for it until I watched this film. After I viewed it for the third time, I did some research and found the traditional Kecak ritual dance as a type of exorcism. The version I saw was created in the 1930s for Westerners by German artist Walter Spies and Indonesian dancer Wayan Limbak. Not exactly what was in the film. But still… Below you’ll see a good example of the Kecak dance I saw back in 2007.

It’s incredible the filmmakers—Elda Voelkel Hartley and Irving Hartley—were able to document these rituals, obviously done with great respect, which is why they gained permission. This 29-minute documentary is a true tribute to such sacred traditions. It doesn’t matter that if was produced in 1976. These things are timeless.

Watch the Hartley Productions full documentary Sacred Trances of Java and Bali for free streaming here.

 

 

Categories: Film, Indigenous Wisdom, Spiritual Travel | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

One By One

There are aspects of life I largely keep to myself. Not because I’m withholding—but because they’re too sacred to put into words. I’m quite sure that’s true for a number of readers here. When such depth exists, wrapping finite terms around it creates the risk of trivializing.  The vision or process leaks energy. The experience deflates to something more mundane.  That when the culmination—tangible or intangible—is meant to take its rightful place…as a part of who you are. Not what you do.

Good poetry or prose are exceptions. Now, there is specialized language, the kind that uses metaphor and symbol to transport. Stating it directly short-circuits the journey, cutting out the opportunity for readers or listeners to hitch a ride but find their own way.

I notice as I’ve been writing, I’m struggling with how to move into the territory I want to share here. I am a visual artist and rarely talk about my work. Although, I do regularly show my art online and in exhibitions. That’s different. The viewer can experience whatever they will. I don’t typically provide much input, maybe a simple narrative. At shows, I am sometimes asked to demo my work and am quite aware of my internal response.

How can I demo a process…that has turned into a prayer of sorts? A communion built over time? From the first vague spark of inspiration to that liminal point when something else takes over and I’m merely guided? That can be a long process because the spirit of a piece has lived with me for some time before it ever begins to take form? And I don’t create artwork…or write for that matter… just to do it? That’s the sacred part.

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The Ancestors Speak to Me  Oil and cold wax medium. ©2019 Carla Woody

There are the mechanics, of course. The how-to skill I can easily describe and sometimes show, taking the mystique out of the mechanics of artistry. I know someone is looking for something else when the conversation moves beyond the first question, how long did that take? To which I answer, depending on the piece, anywhere from a couple of weeks to a year or more. Then the next comment, you must have a lot of patience. To which I say, it’s a meditation to me.

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Hand of the Healer 3D mixed media. ©2019 Carla Woody.

If they move beyond that in the conversation, and it takes a deeper turn, I recognize someone who is on their own spiritual journey. We have more to delve into even if only for those few moments, and artwork has been the channel.

My friend Jacob Devaney, founder of Culture Collective and co-founder of Living Folklore, posted on social media about beadwork, his regalia and what it really means. I’m sharing it with permission here.

Beadwork is part of Creole Culture. It isn’t something for just women or grandmas. Not too different than Mala Beads for someone while meditating, or Rosary Beads for a Catholic. They are a prayer, each bead is the memory of an ancestor, it is presence, and it is an offering of beauty to the world when it is finished.

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Beadwork by Jacob Devaney.

 Life’s experiences are strung together like beads to make an expression of who we are, where we come from, and what we aspire towards. I don’t see beadwork as art, I see it as an expression of life itself, it is culture for me. In some circles, if I were to show up during carnival season with the same bead patches as last year, people would ask, “What did you do with your life since last year? We already saw these beads!” I know it sounds extreme and it is a form of teasing, but bead patches exemplify the time you spend reflecting, remembering your ancestors, being at home and giving to your community.

There are any number of devotional forms that express similar outcome. Several years ago, my friend Hilary Bee, a spiritual teacher in the UK, described to me how she was taught to make singing bowls, in the old way, by fire. That with each tapping of the small hammer shaping the bowl, a prayer was whispered simultaneously—and became integral to its structure. When I received the bowl she gifted me to carry, it was an incredible honor. I could feel the energy put into it, making its connection to me…and also release to wherever else it needed to go.

That is the intangible intent.

 

 

 

Categories: Contemplative Life, Creativity Strategies, Sacred Reciprocity, Visual Arts | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Book Review: The Blue Tattoo

BlueTattooI stumbled across a brief note on Olive Oatman researching something else, and read The Blue Tatoo to learn the full history relating to what occurred from 1850 and continuing on well beyond her death in 1903.  Olive Oatman’s name became inseparably intertwined with that of the Mojave and Yavapai Indians, a tragic story for all on a number of levels. The complete truth remains elusive. It varied significantly depending on who told the story and when…even becoming an episode of Death Valley Days, the old TV show. The Blue Tattoo may well be the most accurate and comprehensive account, the author Margot Mifflin having depended on historical documents, family diaries, letters and interviews.

In 1850 a large group of Mormons left Independence, Missouri headed to the Southwest. Their numbers went through several splits as different factions sought to take over and redirect their destination. Until finally, the Oatmans—with seven children spread between the ages of 1 to 17 and mother pregnant—were the sole travelers in the Sonoran Desert on a 190-mile trail well known for its extreme desolation and danger to whites, frequently attacked by tribes living in the area. The father Royce Oatman, described in the book as a reckless piece of work, knowingly put his family’s lives at great risk. His actions had dire consequences.

About 100 miles from what is now Yuma, Arizona, the family was surprised by a small group said to be Yavapai Indians, often mistaken for Apaches. They asked for food. Royce refused, and the family was massacred with the exception of Olive, Mary Ann and Lorenzo, ages 14, 7 and 15, respectively. The Yavapai took Olive and Mary Ann, along with the family’s few cows and oxen. Lorenzo, who was severely beaten, had rolled down a ravine and was left for dead.

Thus began the unfolding of events detailed in The Blue Tattoo: the terrible year with the Yavapai, their trade sought by the Mojave, Olive’s assimilation into Mojave life over a 5-year period, her “rescue” and what transpired over the next decades. I won’t go into details and instead leave them for you to read.

But there are a few things I do want to say.

The author focuses on the fact that it would be highly unusual for the Yavapai to conduct such raids except on their traditional rivals the Pima and Maricopa. She puts it to the reason of late winter hardship made more desperate by drought. But cannot say why they chose to abduct the girls since they would be more mouths to feed in dire times. They were, however, mistreated, worked to the bone as servants and last in line to receive what food there was.

The Mojave were farmers who lived tucked away in a little traveled area near what today is Needles, California. They were kind to the girls and likely saved their lives. Olive’s traditionally tattooed chin was an indicator of her assimilation. They were made part of the tribal leader’s family and taken into their clan. When a surveying party headed by a Lt. Whipple came to the village over a several-day period and were made welcome, the girls did not make their presence known or try to approach the party to escape. Within a year though, due to rumors of a white girl living with the Mojave, a Quechan messenger from Fort Yuma came demanding Olive’s return upon threat of annihilation of the tribe.

Shortly after Olive’s arrival in Fort Yuma, she was taken under the wing of Royal Stratton, a Methodist minister, who exploited her for his own gain. He wrote a book, liberally changing the story, adding manufactured details meant to titillate. He set Olive up on the lecture circuit where she traveled for years. She became famous.

It reminded me very much of the same kind of travesty befalling the healer Santa Teresita of Cabora when she was deported from Mexico to the United States, and her many years’ exploitation by a so-called medical consortium.

I understand the terrible conflict Olive must have faced brought back into a society that held the prevailing message: The only good Indian is a dead one. Having now lost two families, she must have been wondering what story to tell at all: the one white society was salivating to hear or the truth. She contradicted herself frequently.

One of the many things that saddens me so about this tragic story is her betrayal of the Mojave people who were kind to her—when she told the version that they had enslaved her. Within a couple of years, they were removed from their villages, split and confined to two reservations: one near Parker, Arizona and the other to the Colorado River Indian Reservation near Needles. Their small numbers lessened.

Margot Mifflin cites, The Mojave homeland was literally wiped off the grid. Area maps printed after 1859 no longer identified the site of the Mohave villages; instead, the region, dubbed Fort Mojave, was distinguished by a military post…to protect westward bound emigrants from the Mojave Indians.

 From the Yavapai-Prescott Tribe website: There are three primary groups of Yavapai existing today – they are located at Fort McDowell, Camp Verde and Prescott.

The Blue Tattoo is widely available in print, ebook and audiobook. I read a copy from my local library.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Categories: Book Review, cultural interests, Indigenous Rights | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Taller Leñateros: A Tzotzil Maya Blessing

I’d just left the family-run hotel where I stay when in San Cristobál de las Casas headed to Na Bolom. I was paying particular attention to my feet due to the town’s notoriously deteriorating, uneven sidewalks with potholes aplenty. When I glanced up to make sure I was still on track, I saw a painted sign, hung over a doorway enclosed by a gate, of a Classic Maya in full regalia riding a bicycle. Its paint was peeling and had seen better days. A similar image and fanciful creatures were strung out along the adobe wall.

I crossed the street to peer into the courtyard. The long work tables lining the wall were filled with stacks of some kind of material – that I couldn’t readily identify – and wood block prints haphazardly hung on the wall. I didn’t see anyone around. It was just too intriguing. I opened the wooden gate and entered. I was fascinated by all the prints, more now visible on the inside wall, and saw a small room. It was stocked full of handmade books and journals, posters and postcards. I’m enamored of such hidden treasures.

I’d discovered Taller Leñateros. That was probably ten years ago. Since then, I stop by nearly every year when I’m in San Cris and purchase a book, postcard or poster. I have my own private collection of their jewels.

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Tree of Eyes. José Luis Hernández, Artist. Printed by Taller Leñateros.

Mexican-American poet Ambar Past started this natural paper and bookmaking collective back in 1975. She’d been living among Tzotzil Maya women in the highland villages of Chiapas, Mexico and, with their permission, began to collect and translate their traditional prayers, spells and poetry, which had never been written down. Her efforts ultimately culminated in a truly unique illustrated book, Incantations: Songs, Spells and Images by Mayan Women. One time when I return, I’ll purchase the handmade book. In the meantime, I own a paperback copy.

I absolutely adore one of their dimunitive books containing only one prayer. It has a place on my altar. Sacred to me, its message touches something deep inside. Whenever I read it, I’m uplifted as much as I want to cry.

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Magic for a Long Life*

Manwela Kokoroch

Elder Brother of writing:

Elder Brother of painting:

I’ve come with roses, with lilies, with carnations, with chamomile.

 

Lend me your ten masks so my years within the corral will grow longer.

My wayhel is suffering in the mountains.**

My animal soul has fallen off the hill.

She’s at the end of the rope, at the last link in the chain.

 

Lend me your ten toes, your ten fingers.

To guide my wayhel back into her tiger cave.

Back in the green cave where my Spirit lives.

 

Lift her up with a cloth that smells of roses.

With a rose, lift me up.

Lay me down in the shade of the vine.

 

Elder Brother who feeds the Souls:

Guardian of the Corral:

Bearer of time:

Spin around in a circle,

Turn around in a square.

 

Don’t let the tiger out,

The jaguar out,

The wolf, the coyote, the fox, the weasel.

 

Herd them together,

Don’t let them go.

I’ve brought you turkey eggs.

I’ve brought pigeon stones for the hand and the foot

Of She Who Sees From Far Away Through Dreams.

 

Thirteen essences of tilil

Make my day longer with the sweat of your legs,

Your hands that glow green as precious jade,

Your green, green blood.

 

Carry me, embrace me and my tiger, and my jaguar.

This is all I will bother you with in the name of the flowers.

 

Keep my animal alive for many years

In the pages of the Book, in its letters, in its paintings,

On the whole Surface of the Earth.

 

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Atlas Obscura just published an article on the collective. For more background and photos than I’ve offered, do read it. It brought back to me the sheer magic of the place, the beauty of Taller Leñateros’ mission, and its fragility.

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* I attempted to contact Ambar Past to gain permission to use the prayer in its entirety, since to segment it with just a few words would do it a disservice. I have been unable to reach her over time. I was advised that Ambar had withdrawn from the world and is now living in a monastery in Nepal. The suggestion came from a friend of hers to use the prayer listing the Maya woman whose version it is, there being other similar versions in the villages. I intend respect and hope to have done it justice.

**Wayhel is a Tzotzil Maya word meaning animal companion. In the words of Ambar Past, “…associated with shamanism, the portals of the Underworld, communication with the gods and the dead. The wayhel accompanies its alter ego from the moment it is born…” If one suffers, the other suffers. If one thrives, the other thrives.

Categories: Book Review, cultural interests, Indigenous Wisdom, Maya, What Warms the Heart | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

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