Posts Tagged With: memories

Caring for Precious Lands

I’ve been listening to the audio version of Fire Season: Field Notes from a Wilderness Lookout by Philip Connors. It’s been a good companion over these last couple of days’ flights home. Particularly in long delays or crammed up against fellow passengers, it serves as a reminder that I’d rather be anywhere than where I am at the moment. And it takes me there.

I’m envious. Notified by a friend of an opening for fire lookout, he quit his job in Manhattan where he was a journalist and during the fire season lives in the Gila Wilderness of New Mexico in a small box held up by stilts. He watches for fires and calls them in.

In some directions, the gaze settles on nothing but vast wilderness. It must have the same effect as gazing into a night sky unobstructed by human-made light. The more you gaze, the more the night sky invites, catapulting you into never-ending depth. There’s the sense of our small place in the universe and ancient knowledge we’ll never know. I imagine it could be a lonely job if you’re not cut out for this kind of solitude and little outside human contact. But for those who instead make friends with nature, find solace in silence and discover meaning in the wind, it must be pure heaven.

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Monsoon season. Photo: Carla Woody

Connors focuses on the 2009 fire season and walks us through his daily life, controversies through the years about the service natural fires perform, the cycle of nature, prescribed burns, what happens in drought years, and philosophical thought. I particularly found interesting his detailed description of sighting tendrils of smoke when he was out on the trail, knowing he was the first to see it, how he sent the alert and the actions taken from that point by wildfire fighters. Considerations if the fire got too close or overwhelming, what options he had to save himself.

I’d never heard of fire lookouts until I moved to the Southwest. Now the possibility of fire hovers in the back of my mind during the season. It’s come quite close to me a few times and otherwise engulfed local areas, leaving devastation and lost lives. And I always think of the animals.

One year — I think it was 2002 — I had a chance for a small taste of what it was like to be a lookout. An acquaintance had been one for years on Mount Union, the highest point at 8,000 feet in the Bradshaw Mountains of the Prescott National Forest.  He’d been inviting me out for some time. One weekend I decided to drive up there, quite the feat for the car I had at the time, especially as it had started to rain and fog was rolling in. Unbeknownst to me, it happened to be the weekend he was going down to Phoenix. I arrived just as he was leaving. He encouraged me to stay anyway.

The clouds had by now enfolded all. I could see only several feet beyond where I was standing in any direction. I was completely alone.

I went inside the cabin, having thoughts toward dinner. Choosing one from the many books Jon had, I carried my plate to the small table in front of the west window, which normally held a view level with, or above, far mountaintops. At the moment, I saw nothing but a solid white wall. And by now, the gentle rain had turned into a storm.

I glanced out the window and couldn’t believe what I saw. An immense fiery ball seemed to be hovering just beyond, in the ravine. I went out onto the porch to investigate. There it was—huge and blazing. How could the sun be coming to me in this way through the now torrential rains and impenetrable shrouding of clouds? I stood watching, awestruck, until the last remnants of this light finally disappeared.

Even though the storm was raging, I was compelled to sleep in the tower. I lugged my sleeping bag and a flashlight up the steep metal stairs, along with some water and Saint Thérèse’s book. After arranging my bed for the night, I stilled myself and just watched the scene before me. From an altitude of around 8000 feet and the further height of the fire tower, I had a sense of being on top of the world. The clouds had raised enough that I could see the panorama of lightning dancing across the land. I’d never seen such a demonstration of raw power. Some strikes seemed too close for comfort and the thunderclaps vibrated the tower’s cabin. But I just stood witness and found an uncanny metaphor in the stormy night to some of the inner turmoil that I’d brought with me to that place. Finding myself distracted and unable to read easily by flashlight, I lay listening to the sounds of thunder and raging wind for the longest time, feeling somehow perfectly safe. Peace was penetrating. I finally slept.

I opened my eyes very early the next morning. I heard no sounds of wind or rain. All was silent. I sat up. There were no clouds anywhere. Peace had come to the landscape. I could smell the fresh scent of washed pines coming to me through the small crack I’d left in one of the windows close by. My eyes came to rest on the mountain range toward the east. First light was appearing. I watched as the same fiery ball rose into view, smaller now, but its appearance just as profound to me. The cycle of renewal was complete.

— Excerpt from Standing Stark: The Willingness to Engage

 

That night was so precious to me. I’ve never forgotten it. In such environments, things are more real somehow than at any other time.

Connors’ recounting also made me recall the years I lived in Germany. Especially those couple of years in a village where the road by the house ended several feet away in pasture, then shortly in forest. Forests in Germany always seemed manicured to me. Beautiful, but pristine and tamed. Each village has a forstmeister, or forest master. I wonder how their role compares to the fire lookouts and forest rangers here in densely forested lands of the US. I appreciate the wildness.

Fire Season will be of special interest to those in the Southwest and other such forested lands. He wrote of places I know. And for those who live in places like Manhattan, it may ignite something similar like it did in Philip Connors.

Widely available in print, ebook and audio.

Categories: Book Review, Contemplative Life, Honoring the Earth, Solitude | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

Retrospective, Part II

Several months ago, I was listening to Elizabeth Gilbert’s 2016 interview of Neil Gaiman on her podcast Magic Lessons discussing the creative process and other people’s expectations. If you’ve done something they like, they want you to repeat it. They don’t want you to surprise them with something else. The gallerist who wants a body of work. The publisher who wants a genre. No matter the author has a history of bestsellers. Write outside the genre they’re known for…and the publisher isn’t interested. What they’re really saying they want is consistency without risk to the bottom line…marketability.

Gaiman told a story. There are two types of writers: dolphins or otters. Dolphins are very good at doing tricks a trainer wants them to do — in exchange for a fish. They’ll do it over and over again. There’s some banter about the dolphin living in captivity and being very good about training the trainer to get what the dolphin wants. It all sounds like manipulation to me.

Then there’s the otter. No one can train an otter. Why would you want to do the things you just did when there’s the next thing to be done? That’s why there aren’t any otter shows…

It’s plain to see Neil Gaiman is an otter, quite the successful one. He’s readily described as a prolific creator of works of prose, poetry, film, journalism, comics, song lyrics and drama.

Consistency — in the terms it’s meant by gallerists, publishing houses and art collectors — bores me to tears. That’s why I took a long break from oil painting. I’d done it off and on across nearly 40 years, with long pauses, until I just couldn’t stand it anymore. But the creative urges kept calling. So, I took up writing. Quite the divergence.

In hindsight, that was the point where I gave myself permission to be as diverse as I liked, and wish I’d done it much sooner. I’ve been so much happier ever since. It matches my nature, and I’ve never done well with attempts to box me in. I refuse to create in a formulaic manner. Fine for others. But for me, it would dull things down and dispel any feelings of awe the process can bring.

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Rolling Clouds. B/W photography, gelatin silver print. ©2004 Carla Woody.

My return to visual arts, finally, was black and white photography. It had always fascinated me. It was emotive. With tips from a photographer friend, I purchased a manual camera and began shooting black and white images. A few years later I discovered mixed media. By virtue of its very name it encourages exploring, combining things in ways to make it more than it would otherwise be using one lonely medium.

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Prophet Series: Warrior of the Spirit. Mixed media on gold leafed canvas. ©2013 Carla Woody.

Here at long last I’ve found a home. What it took was making the decision to create in the way that was most inspirational to me, not by the dictates of the outside world.

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Winter Solstice Mixed media on wood cradled panel. ©2015 Carla Woody.

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The Ancestors Speak to Me Mixed media on wood cradled panel. ©2018 Carla Woody.

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Of the Jungle Mixed media, 3D. ©2018 Carla Woody.

Second, after study about such things, I recognized how my mind works and why I rejected the formulaic method often preached. I accepted my difference instead for the formula my mind came up with that produces efficiently for me more often than not.

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I Hold the Keys Mixed media on canvas. ©2019 Carla Woody.

My personal strategy is in first creating the vision in my mind — the outcome — then gathering up piece parts, considering fit of different media, combining them in such a way most likely to induce the effect I envision. It’s a consistency I can abide by, and it’s rarely the same twice. The strategy isn’t step-by-step and usually not conscious, but a flow when functioning well.

But the most important thing I found? I said it earlier. Giving myself permission to hold the inspiration and strike out beyond any confine. Here is the same thing said in another form of mixed media.

***

Read Retrospective, Part I.

Categories: Creativity Strategies, Healthy Living, Personal Growth, Visual Arts | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

Retrospective, Part I

I had an invitation from an art docent group to speak about my work a few weeks ago. Since I’m a narrative artist, the subject was art as a form of storytelling. Their preferred method was a PowerPoint presentation — a format I hadn’t used in decades — with real life examples displayed so they could encounter them up close and personal.

How to best represent my art? Going back 35 years, long before it became a conscious outcome, each of my pieces had a story behind them. They came from my experiences. Initially, they centered on villages I’d wandered through and trails I’d followed through forests, particularly in Europe.

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The Florist. Oil on canvas, 1988. ©Carla Woody.

Later, it was more about what came from sacred sites, ceremonies and people who populated Indigenous lands where I returned over and over, conveying in some way what had touched and changed me, deepened my understanding of what matters in this life.

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Maya Prayers Oil on canvas, 2011. ©Carla Woody.

I’m quite clear about my personal evolution over the years — changes I chose that placed me on another track entirely — but I hadn’t realized how it affected my artwork as well. How could I have missed that? I’m like anyone else. I’d gotten so immersed in the day-to-day I hadn’t realized what was evident. Creating that presentation became a gift. It caused me to stand back and pinpoint how I got from there to here. In that moment, I became the observer, not the artist. Each of those pieces were part of a history that generated a visual story. I used the same strategy on myself — in the context of art — that I facilitate with others who want to consciously create a transition in their life.

In being our own witness, rather than being in it, things become apparent. It helps us make decisions. It serves as momentum to veer off a beaten path, to move through a threshold with intent. It naturally gathers energy that provides courage and reinforcement.

So that was my first decision. If these folks really wanted me to relay how art could tell a story, they were going to get a retrospective peppered liberally with how I’d progressed as an artist, what influenced me, and finally what was behind each image in the PowerPoint.

That decision took me to another level. I became aware that, over the last decade, creating art had become integral to my spiritual practice. For me, that means there’s an excavation of sorts that occurs in the process of creation. My intent is to express something deeper than a surface level image and initiate an evocative response from the viewer. To do so, I require myself to go deeper.

During my talk prep, I came across a quote from the writer James Baldwin.

The purpose of art is to lay bare the question hidden by the answers.

 I’d written and taught of this before, although I hadn’t considered art when I did.

…Like an unconscious mantra held in the mind, we ask a question in any given moment. In asking the question, the answer naturally comes to us. Therefore, in holding the thought, we ask the answer. This is the paradox that guides our lives.

We cannot ask a question for which there is no answer. Our minds can’t conceive of such…Through some fluke of determination when our minds can conceive of a wider reality, or at least have some inkling of acceptance, that conception will generate answers beyond the questions. This opening will then move us into new experiences through the wider framework of the mind—and we wonder how we got there.

—Excerpted fromStanding Stark: The Willingness to Engage

I noticed there was increased depth in my art when I made a simple adjustment about five years ago. I sit in the same place every morning when I do my early morning meditation practice. I learned long ago that energy builds up in a physical space when I return to it over and over with such intent. It becomes a natural segue, an anchor or portal through which I easily enter a meditative state. Energy lingers there—like a booster rocket—the same as when I close my eyes in a certain way, signaling readiness for a shift from ordinary reality, a surrender to non-ordinary reality.

The simple adjustment I made was this. I began to bring whatever piece of art I had in process and placed it within direct viewing distance from my meditation spot. Then when I opened my eyes, still in a deeper state of being, a communication started to occur. A communion of sorts. No, I didn’t experience discourse with my ordinary ears or eyes. But something happened. I formed a much greater connection and knowing. The artwork came to life and had its own expression. The piece itself became my guide in how to express its deeper nature.

Of course, you can do the same for any context you wish to explore…whether you place a physical object as I did…or project some representation—via visual, auditory, kinesthetic, olfactory manner—of what you wish to consider.

***

Read Retrospective, Part II.

Categories: Creativity Strategies, Meditation, Visual Arts | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

When Magic Comes Unbidden

We were at the end of the March spiritual travel program on Hopi — always entrancing. On another level, I’d been handling some complex situations over the last couple of months and, in the background, was running on empty. My program partner Charlene Joseph was in the same state. Living as a traditional Hopi lends incredible meaning to a life, but it’s not a breeze. The Hopi Way contains many ongoing responsibilities, especially for women. Char abides by all of them. I’ve frequently told her I don’t know how she does it. But she’s dedicated, working always for family, community and the greater good.

The ability to detach from some things, or at least push them into the background, in favor of fully engaging in the present moment is a human attribute…and a skill. This strategy will be particularly familiar to women. The problem is…we can’t do it ongoing without paying a price.

Char and I left the group for an hour in Harold Joseph’s capable hands where he would share further storytelling before our closing circle. I needed to go talk with a Hopi candidate about sponsorship on the October Peru journey and drove to his studio. While engaged with him, there was a knock on the door. I was surprised to see a slightly built Japanese man. Earlier in the day, we’d been with Hopi artisans listening to them present their work when the same thing had occurred. The same Japanese man had knocked, zipped in, said a few words to one of the artisans and disappeared.

This time as the door opened, he greeted our host, saw us and apologized for interrupting our discussion. We were basically finished. Char and I said so and made to get up from our chairs. It appeared as though there was business to be transacted. But he looked at us and said in heavily accented English, “Can you wait? Just a few minutes?” There seemed to be some urgency in the way he asked.

Char and I looked at each other, having no idea what he intended, and agreed. A nod of the head and he zipped out the door. Glancing out the window we could see him rummaging around in his car.

Soon he reappeared holding a shoebox. Char and I exchanged glances. He went over to a counter and began carefully unpacking what turned out to be the implements of a traveling tea ceremony. Now we had two hosts — one Hopi and the other Japanese. Our Hopi host pulled over a small table and went to heat water. Our Japanese host carried over the most delicate small cups, a bamboo whisk and finely powdered green tea then waited, never raising his eyes. He said, “I only have two cups. I am sorry.” When Char and I started to say, it’s okay indicating they should serve themselves, he said, “This is for you.”

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Our Japanese host proceeded to pour heated water into the cups and whisked the tea with concentration until foam formed in each cup. The exquisite attention he gave to this process and the fine way he lifted the cups, gently setting them down in front of us, touched me at a level where I have no words. Having completed his task, he sat back, still never raising his eyes to ours.

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Tentatively, we took a sip of tea. Char and I paused. I think we were both surprised. I’d only ever had green tea that was too earthy and bitter for my taste. Clearly, I’d never had fine ceremonial Matcha before. We sipped and ate the tiny chewy cookies offered as accompaniment. Both of us remarked how delicious it was and thanked him immensely. All too soon we’d consumed the treat. Throughout, our Japanese host said almost nothing but had an unspoken fashion — offered with great humility — of honoring us and this precious moment in time. I felt completely renewed like I’d consumed some ethereal elixir.

There’s a word the English use that’s uncommon in the US. Gobsmacked…meaning overcome with wonder, utterly astounded. This was the only word I could think of later that precisely described my state.

While our Hopi host plainly knew this Japanese man. Char and I had never laid eyes on him save the fleeting moment earlier in the day. But he could not have distinguished us then, his eyes never even scanned the group.

It seemed like one of those mysteries of the Universe…how he dropped in at precisely the time he did…when it was just us…having finished our discussion. Why he spontaneously decided to surprise us — perfect strangers — with such an enduring ceremony in an unlikely setting is another.

I do know the effect it had on me though. So do others. Char and I returned to the group where I told the story. I’m quite sure I was still in that state of “gobsmacked-ness.” I continued to tell the story…to family…friends…and now to you. Maybe at least a little of what I felt has been passed on.

We all could use that kind of pure wonder where we’re touched to the core…shaken awake in a sense…that we’re being acknowledged in a deeply respectful, unassuming manner for no apparent reason…not because we’ve done something that deserved reward necessarily. But because Magic has come unbidden. A gift from the Universe delivered in an unconventional, unforeseen method when we most need it.

When I returned home, I did my research and guessed at which ceremonial Matcha would best duplicate what I’d tasted. I ordered it along with the appropriate implements. After the package arrived, I remembered that many years ago someone had given me a Japanese tea service. I found where I’d squirreled it away, never used, and washed one cup.

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Now when I perform my own private ceremony and sit…pausing in my day…savoring the taste, not just of the tea but the sense of wonder that returns, I remember that most unanticipated time on Hopi when my good friend Char and I were acknowledged with beautiful intent. I’m so glad we said yes.

Masayoshi Watanabe, ありがとうございま. Thank you. You honored us with your gift.

Categories: Gratitude, What Warms the Heart | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

As Good Things Come to Pass

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read more.

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

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

 

 

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

In Memoriam: Doña Panchita of Palenque

There are people who belong to a place in such a way that they become imbued with the very energy resident there. It permeates who they are…and they’re generous with it. Over the years I’ve returned over and over to certain areas that are dear to my heart. In particular ways, I live vicariously through those I’ve known at some depth who have consistently played a part during special journeys. They ground me in the land. When I see them through the years, they reinforce all my experiences by virtue of their physicality. When suddenly that person is no longer there, it leaves a void and a piece of me goes with them.

Doña Panchita, curandera of Palenque, was one of those people. A couple of weeks ago, I received the sad news that she had recently passed. Annually during my Maya spiritual travel program in Chiapas, we would see Doña Panchita for an individual limpia, a clearing session.

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We would go to her home just off the main street running through the town of Palenque and take our places in her waiting room, which doubled as a storage and laundry room. Sometimes kittens would scamper in as the kitchen and rest of the living quarters were through an open doorway on the right. A curtained door next to the washing machine led to the tiny room where she saw patients. We weren’t the only ones waiting. Locals often sat patiently, too. You see, Doña Panchita was respected in Palenque as a bona fide healer. She served her community.

Working through prayer and clearing methods, she alleviated imbalances and dissipated blockages in the emotional and physical bodies, and dispensed with spiritual afflictions. She sent outside interferences packing, such as envy from others, etheric cording that drains, a hex from a sorcerer or any other detrimental attachments.

P1010689Doña Panchita was not given to talking about herself or how she worked. She was humble. In my experience over the years, she was no-nonsense and wanted to get down to business. I imagine this was especially so because she would already have had a full day from early morning working as a maid in a local hotel. That’s before she would begin seeing anyone in her waiting room. But one time her husband slipped in and sat down with us. He disclosed that the spirits of the house, or the small plot of land where it sat, had made their connections with his wife many years ago, and she worked through them.

She was Catholic, deeply religious. Along an entire wall from tabletop to ceiling, was an altar with religious statues and accoutrements of various sizes. She favored Mary. Framed pictures of saints also hung on the wall. I remember being overwhelmed by it the first time I entered the room. Other than the altar there were few furnishings. Mainly two chairs—one for her and one for her patient—and a small table to hold the herbs and other things she used.

LaCruzI remember the first limpia with Doña Panchita maybe ten years ago. She didn’t know me, and I didn’t say anything about myself except whatever she may have gleaned from my request of her, something fairly benign. I closed my eyes and heard her praying under her breath then felt her brushing my body, head to toe, with a branch of holy basil. Once she was done, I opened my eyes. I remember feeling a bit spacey and had glanced over at the altar, which seemed to have come alive. She stood in front of me pointing to an ornate cross around her neck and told me in no uncertain terms that I must immediately buy La Cruz de Caravaca and wear it, that I needed to protect myself because of the work I do. She then called to a young woman, probably a granddaughter, and dictated a prescription instructing me to, once I returned home, bathe in the infused liquid she gave me and purchase some other things to add to the bath. I did both.

During my 2011 session, I told Doña Panchita that I had been feeling off for some time. Nothing seemed to be going well. At every turn there was a roadblock. Sometimes it was worse than others. It didn’t feel like it was something of mine generating the problems. I always look inside myself first to evaluate.

What I had not told her was how uncomfortable I also was in my own home as though I was unwelcome. I often felt on edge. I would frequently wake up in the middle of the night on high alert as though there was an intruder in the house. Sometimes there would be popping noises or the bureau in my bedroom would crack loudly like it was splintering.

I had barely stopped talking when she took hold of my head on either side and began shaking it, making guttural sounds, growling, into the crown of my head. Then praying fervently and whacking me with a water-drenched holy basil branch. Understand this was rough treatment coming from her. She was normally quite gentle. When there was a lull, I opened my eyes to slits just in time to see her holding scissors a foot away from my body. As she began to slice through the air, I can only say it was like floodgates released⎯and whatever had been there…vacated. I felt immediate release…light energy…and extreme relief.

When she was done, she took an egg from the table and cracked it into a glass of water. After a few moments, she showed me the glass, and based on how the egg appeared, that all was well. I don’t know how to read such things. But I certainly took her word for it. I’ll never know the cause of all those troubles and didn’t ask her.

Before I stood, she asked me to open my hands and placed a white flower across my palms. She closed my hands together with her own and said, “For your work.” I was so very touched by her blessing.

After that journey when I walked through my front door, everything looked brighter in color and had a sparkle to it. Really. Whereas, for years I’d been experiencing the things I’d mentioned, from that time forward all has been clear. No more cracking furniture. No more high alert. I am home.

I hold much gratitude toward Doña Panchita of Palenque. I know others do, too. She blessed many with her attention, kindness and skill. She was the real deal and is missed.

 

Categories: Gratitude, Healing, Spiritual Travel | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

Of That Time in Iran

“I think you should open it,” my dad gestured to the bottle of Camus Napoleon Cognac, still in its original box after all these years. His face was poignant, holding mixed emotions: doubt, resignation, a touch of sadness.

Camus CognacIt touched me, too. Dad is 85 years old and had held this bottle for 38 years, patiently waiting. He’s sentimental and loyal to his convictions. He holds things inside. Nearly every year for at least 25, he’s said to me, “We’ll wait until Ahmad comes back.” He kept it tucked safely in the bar. Now it sat on the top. It took something for him to do that, to make that final decision, waiting for me to come home for Thanksgiving.

“I think so, too. It’s time,” I said.

In May 1978 I traveled alone to Iran to work on a project called Peace Log, a collaboration between the US and Imperial Iranian Air Force, that acted as oversight to Lockheed’s fielding of F-16 jets. I was 24. I was to be there for six months working on Doshan-Tappeh Air Base outside Tehran.

Don’t ask me what I was doing. It was many lifetimes ago. It had much less to do with the logistical work I would do than the call to adventure that had been roiling in my blood. I’d applied for the job not really even knowing where Iran was, other than it sounded exotic. I was just following a strong urging. The internal conflict produced from being in a line of work that went against my values hadn’t yet gelled. And as much as I wanted the adventure, I hadn’t figured into the equation my extreme shyness and the huge gap in age between me and the US people I worked with. I pretty much holed up after work and read books.

But it wasn’t long before I met Ahmad, an Iranian captain a few years older than me, who worked in the same complex. He asked me to dinner. That was more complicated than it sounds. There was a strict order from the Iranian side against fraternization. And within a couple of weeks after my arrival we were suddenly under martial law with strict curfews and all the riots and bombings you’ve read about. The Shah was falling.

Nonetheless, Ahmad and I began to see each other a few times a week. It was like a grade B spy movie. I’d leave the apartment building where I lived with other US work personnel, located on one of the busiest boulevards in Tehran, walk nonchalantly a few blocks over where he’d pick me up in his car and whisk me away.

If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t have seen the things I saw. We hiked the mountains surrounding Tehran. He took me to Isfahan with its extraordinary ancient architecture. For a weekend we went to the Caspian Sea with his cousins and friends. One time we had to travel through Qom, the revolutionaries’ stronghold, and he brought me his mother’s chador to wear so I’d be safe. But mostly, we talked. He would teach me basic Farsi and I would correct his English as he asked. We roamed the bazaars, had meals together and developed a quiet bond.

Iranian MiniatureIn the middle of my assignment in Tehran, Ahmad had to accompany his general to the US. He was gone a few weeks. They had business in different sites. One was Wright-Patterson AFB in Ohio, outside Dayton where I lived at the time. He visited my folks while there.  They had him to dinner at their place. That’s when he gave Dad the cognac. For my mom, he brought an exquisite Persian miniature, an Iranian art form. My folks enjoyed his visit thoroughly. The next day Mom took him shopping.

That day in November, right before Thanksgiving, when I was slated to fly back to the US, he accompanied me to the airport for which I was so grateful. I only realized later what a risk he took being seen with me in that environment. It was chaotic and dangerous, people clamoring to leave. Somehow he parted the seas. Or at least it seemed that way. I showed my documents and was granted passage. In those last moments, we said little. But we both cried.

In January 1979, he managed to call me. There was a lot of static on the line. I remember our conversation was brief. We may have been cut off. That was the last time I heard from him. Ever.

My dad doesn’t forget kindnesses personally granted him. Neither do I. Over the years, I’ve thought of Ahmad countless times. Wondering what happened to him, where he was. Did he survive the revolution? I’m afraid he didn’t but don’t want it confirmed.

After the fact, I realized just how little I really knew about him. Somehow I got the idea he was from a well placed family, and that his allegiance to the Shah was questionable. Although he never came right out with either of these.

A few years ago, I did a google search to see if I could turn up anything. I was shocked when I was greeted with listing after listing of a man by the same name identified as the father of modern Persian poetry. I was disappointed when I reviewed photos that told me he wasn’t the one I sought. But still a strange coincidence. My Ahmad was much younger, of course. So perhaps a namesake or family relation.

The cork broke in two and crumbled into the bottle; it was dry. I took a sip of the cognac, and it took my breath away. It was so strong. Perhaps as strong as my memories that without Ahmad wouldn’t have been so rich.

If I could, this is what I would say to him:

I hope you’ve lived a long, healthy life filled with love, family, children and work that nurtured your soul. You were of such significance to me at a time when I was young, naive and scared, not of my surroundings, but of myself. You provided a safe haven and wanted nothing in return except friendship. I’ve never forgotten it.

I mourn that I cannot find my photographs from then. But I can offer these words from a poem by Ahmad Shamlu that speak, for me, of that time in Iran.

The sea envies you
for the drop you have drunk
from the well.

 

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Categories: Gratitude, Sacred Reciprocity, Spiritual Travel | Tags: , , | 15 Comments

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