Posts Tagged With: pandemic

Move Slowly Back Into the World

In looking back to This Pilgrimage We’re On, I was surprised to see I wrote it on May 13 when I was 60 days into sheltering at home. Now—in time—here I am just upon a month later when, in some ways, it feels like only yesterday. Yet, it’s been within my reach, even experience, to travel through galaxies—possibilities and probabilities—to come back to the place I am now.

 At some time in our lives, we receive a signal to arouse from a deep sleep. If we answer the cue, we set out on a journey toward authenticity that takes us into the unknown. We begin to separate from the selves we thought we were and search for who we are.*

Having made the monumental journey, albeit enforced, globally we’ve come to the next phase. It’s a precious time to be framed with thoughtful consideration…how to re-enter the world. Yes, it’s a consideration of safety measures and health precautions. But equally important is the measure of who you are and how do you want to be in the world moving forward. That means something not only on a personal level but collectively. What consciousness do you want to hold and act through?

If you’re like me, during this containment, you’ve visited lifetimes, incarnations you thought you’d left behind. Sometimes giving you a fleeting visit, or sticking around for a while, to let you know there are aspects of underdeveloped selves still contained wanting to fly free. Having habitually denied it, you don’t know that one is still there until you’ve jumped right into the middle of it, automatically entranced as you were when the inroads were made in the first place.

Isn’t it fortunate the pandemic has provided the conditions to shake us all up? There are no words for the tragedies that have occurred. Lost lives. Global grief. Righteous anger spilling out for all the historical and present-day inequities. Injustice. Devastation. Generational trauma. Calling for all to be righted.

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Facing the Storm. Oil and cold wax. ©2015 Carla Woody.

Do not waste this. Do not let life go back to what it’s been.

For in this time, we’ve all been given a gift. If you can take it to heart then its expression will translate to right action.

It’s explicitly due to instilled solitude, crowding, whatever your situation, that gives space for exactly our strengths, yearnings and woundedness to arise.

In my contemplations, a memory came that provided me with a metaphor. It was from the very early 2000s. I was traveling in the Altiplano of Peru with Peruvian mystic Américo Yábar and a couple of friends. This remembrance comes from the hours spent on a sacred mesa  in the middle of nowhere.

Don Américo motioned, inviting us to follow him on a walk around the mesa’s edge. I followed closely behind him, the others straggling farther back enjoying the view. After a distance, he came to a sudden halt and brought me over to the very rim and gestured to a flat rock jutting out below, indicating I was to light there and meditate…

I didn’t want to think about the sheer drop of at least a thousand feet and preferred to look instead at the narrow ground where I would place my feet. I charted a short course and then carefully picked my way to the stone and settled into a comfortable seated position. Legs crossed, spine straight and ready to meditate, a bizarre urge ran through me. There was a strong part of me that wanted nothing more than to physically leap into the lonely, empty space in front of me that stretched for miles! Quickly quelling that impulse and pushing it from my mind, I closed my eyes…

After a while, I heard  a tranquil wind from the right, whistling softly, slowly coming along the perimeter of the mesa. Surprisingly, I felt it touch my body and instead of moving around me, it went through me on its way to the left. The wind was immensely long, its blowing gentle, but when its tail finally exited, it left me bodiless, having indulgently thrown me into the abyss I’d wished for after all. I dissipated into the dark nothingness of the Void while, at the same time, I merged with the totality of the landscape, covering it. The silence was such that I have no words for it, but a feeling of profound tranquility and yet expansive joy permeated the being that I call myself.

I have no idea how long I remained in that state, a minute or an hour. It was timeless. Somewhere in the midst of it, something compelled me to open my eyes, and I received a jolt. Not only was my consciousness not fully in my body when I did so, but I had also erased any awareness that I was seated on the precipice of a very high mesa rather than the usual ground! In addition, I had catapulted myself from the blackest black into the brilliant light of the high Andean sun. I slammed my eyes shut, unwilling to experience the colossal contrast.

Slowly though, I began to feel the outlines of my body and the friendly stone supporting me. This time I took my time raising my outer eyelids and gazed without fear across the miles of the Altiplano, all the way to the ring of mountains on the other side. I found that I was taken with the beauty of this place that many would consider barren and lifeless. I had discovered the richness hidden from casual eyes.

While my compulsion to jump into thin air was unexpected at the time, I’ve experienced it before in high places. After having talked with others, I realize that I’m not alone. This is a common urge. What I’ve come to understand is that it’s a petition from the deepest part of us. It’s the soul’s sense of wanting freedom. It’s a strong inner existential yearning that calls for merging rather than separation…

As though a curtain is drawn open to admit the sunlight, we discover that the Truth for which we’ve strived is revealed to be ever-present. We merely partitioned it off. If we’ve chosen to fully immerse ourselves, without fear, into the effervescent warmth of nothingness, we automatically want to remain there. The everyday world matters little in this flow…

If we’re going to travel the deeper path, we need to learn how to navigate it. If we were thrown into such a sea without any tools we would be seriously disadvantaged at best. So, there are the continuing series of re-entries we make to increase our awareness of the geography. If we pass back and forth over similar area enough times, perhaps we will become familiar enough with the territory to make the one transparent to the other. In the meantime, the transitions can be shocking until we recognize them for what they are.

…The silence may come when we make a space, take time out from normal activities. It can come through meditation, using the breath to empty the mind; finally inspiring the no-breath. It can come through a walk in the forest, mindfully, slowly placing the feet firmly on the earth, connecting in such a way that the body is no longer a body, but a bubble of energy skimming along the surface of life. It can come through intentfully opening the crown center of the head during times of creative expression. We only know that silence has visited when we return to our work later and wonder who has written the passages or painted an image nowhere in our memory to have done so. But oftentimes, no matter how we prepare the ground, it doesn’t come. At least not to the depth we would choose, or the habitual voice imposes instead…

Many have already begun to move back into the world with pronounced actions, clearly needed. Others—I fear—are unable to deal with the discomfort  found in a containment where internal and external voices are more apparently loud, and pain ever-present…and the old ways of numbing out appear the only solution.

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Mythic II Oil and cold wax. ©2019 Carla Woody.

Soon it will be time for me to walk again in a world other than I’ve known over these last months. But not yet. I know I’m charting another path forward, and I know I’m leaving something behind. I can’t formulate words but can feel the energy slowly presenting itself.

In the meantime, I’m sitting with these questions.

  • What are the choices you’re making in the moment—those that fulfill deeper values?
  • What are you giving care to that you had forgotten or set aside?
  • What has come to the forefront that you’re no longer able to ignore?

I’ve called upon patience. I know the answers will be given in stillness. Silence is the conduit for creation.

***

* Quoted portions are excerpted from Standing Stark: The Willingness to Engage, my narrative nonfiction book of a spiritual path.

 

Categories: Contemplative Life, COVID-19, Global Consciousness, Healing | Tags: , , , , | 5 Comments

This Pilgrimage We’re On

I’ve now been in stay-at-home mode for 60 days. That’s 2 weeks before it became an order here in Arizona. Suddenly, I had all this open space stretching out in front of me. Like everyone else, commitments—work  and otherwise—were cancelled at least for a few months. Part of me was relieved. I haven’t had this much open space in…well…I couldn’t remember when.  I’ve been thinking about this a lot. The only other times I could come up with, other than a few weeks here and there for personal travel, was when I’d undertaken the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela in northern Spain.  But now I’m well beyond that in time by 23 days with uncertainty when I’ll emerge.

On May 10, 2015, I donned my pilgrim suit and officially began walking the Camino Francés, which starts on the French side of the Pyrénées in Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port. Now, it’s a complete synchronicity that I decided to sit down and begin this writing on the same date five years later. I didn’t plan it. Nor did I remember the date I began my walk. I discovered this fact when I just pulled up my blog from that time, The Essential Way, looking to reference something.

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But these are strange times, and the synchronicities have occurred with regularity for me in the last several weeks. Maybe I’m more sensitive  to the vibrations around all of us carrying information, or more able to note things clearly visible beneath the surface, since I’ve been wrapped in silence most of the time.

I remember having a sense that something big was coming for some time, and when it finally dropped, I did elect to go into retreat here at home, formally setting aside 10 days of this sojourn framed by long meditations each day, being in silence, ruminating on what came through, writing and artwork. In some ways, I feel it frivolous to even share these things—when others are undergoing great suffering. Not just minor inconveniences. But the fact is my more introverted nature thrives on such opportunities of emptiness.

What is so different between my 2015 pilgrimage and what we’re undergoing now in 2020? Choice. Even though I’ve never been able to articulate it in words, I was called to the Camino. It was my clear choice, and the same for most who have walked it since Medieval times. That’s unless, as happened back then, some who found themselves forced to do so as  penance for some crime. On the other hand, this pandemic came out of nowhere, imposed itself upon most inhabitants of the planet. For crimes? Maybe. It’s stopped us all short and threw the human world into global chaos, while nature continues to do what nature does.

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The Camino path is well  marked. If you’re a pilgrim in that setting, you know where you’re going at all times. There’s even a recognizable symbol: the scallop shell. Pilgrims are identified by the shell hanging off their clothes or knapsack, and the directional signs, even in the middle of nowhere, are marked with it.

There’s no clear cut path for us now. It’s empty, hazy at best. We don’t have any measures of distance or time. Many of the foundations we thought we had…have crumbled. Illusions. We’ve been shown the dark underbelly and the essence of light.

If those are differences between a well-marked trail and the pandemic, what are the similarities?

In the Chiapas highlands of Mexico, the Maya petition the owner of the land—the Earth Lord—for protection or other things they want. But the Earth Lord also demands payment, a sacrifice. Consequently, the Maya alternately revere and fear this Underworld being. But if you think about it, isn’t this a Universal truth? Sacred reciprocity. The Indigenous people of Peru call it ayni and live by it. Something transformational always involves releasing, letting go, in order to receive something more. It’s just the ego self that balks.

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Prior to embarking on my Camino, I told friends I felt as though I would be placing my feet into the very footfalls of all who had walked there before…all the way back to the Middle Ages.  Be careful what you project especially if, in a sense, it’s true. The 4th day out I sustained what is still a mystery injury that resulted in not being able to put any weight on my right foot without excruciating pain. That’s a story. The pain barely dissipated but I chose to continue on. Now I would say I was making payment. What did it do for me? It forced me to slow down, way down. I shuffled s-l-o-w-l-y along the Camino leaning on a walking stick, and what beauty I noticed that I would otherwise likely have missed. What insights I had. No matter I had to undergo physical therapy upon return home.

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It’s usual for pilgrims to leave notes or prayers at shrines beside the trails. I distinctly remember doing so at a particular shrine. But I have no memory at all what that piece of  paper said. I have no need. I left that part of myself there.

Most pilgrims never forget their Camino. To a one there was suffering of some sort. It’s arduous. And we’re different once its end has come.

Won’t this also be true of the pilgrimage called the pandemic? How we undertake this walk? The sacrifices? The suffering? We’re being called upon to be our Best Self ever. Some are wholeheartedly answering this call while others go in a different direction.

Here’s a truth: The follow-on to chaos—if we’re wise—is a sorting process that can lead to a more identified, aligned existence. If mindful, the Collective We can identify the world we want to live in and lay out, to degrees, how it unfolds. That’s an intent. We have choice within a framework: how to make the most of the time given.

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On the Camino, there’s companionship with complete strangers. Some of those turned into lifetime friendships. We helped each other. We’re compassionate. We recognized there’s no difference between ourselves and others. We’re the same. We’re all in it together. Don’t we have a multitude of examples such as this now, during the pandemic, from around the world?

On the Camino, we underwent a metamorphosis. We were different than when we started. I’m willing to bet that, whenever we come out the other side of this pandemic, we’ll also find this to be the case.

During the Camino…

Somewhere along the way, once I got the rhythm down pat, I began to note somewhat tongue-in-cheek differences between daily life on the Camino and home. But the more I listed the more I realized it’s an intimate glimpse of common pilgrim experiences you normally wouldn’t be aware of unless you’d undertaken the journey. I also began to have insights, reminders and resolutions related to some of them…

After I got home, I documented all of those I wrote down while walking. On that blog post, I called the first section I’ll Know I’m Home When Here are some from that list.

… I’m no longer looking for markers every few minutes to tell me where to go, except perhaps subliminally.

… I’ll no longer hear the well wishes Buen Camino spoken to me by nearly every pilgrim and so many locals, or say it myself, as we pass each other.

… I’ll have more than one change of clothing.

… I’ll have more choices to wear on my feet than hiking shoes or flip flops

… I’ll know on a consistent basis where I’ll lay my head each night.

 … If I’m sleeping in a roomful of people, I’ll know them all ahead and never in numbers between 12-100 in one room.

I called the second section My Take-Aways.

It’s important to be alert to the lay of the land to avoid becoming lost or overlooking tell-tale signals that things are off track or hidden. I resolve to sharpen my peripheral and x-ray vision.

Flexibility is a virtue. It’s also important to set your limits and abide by them. I resolve to identify with even more depth and breadth what is true for me.

A simple life in the best sense is a pure one, devoid of clutter in the mind or unnecessary material goods, anything that weighs down the spirit. I resolve to up-level my sorting and pitching process.

There are more that I’d written. All still true for me now. But this one particularly caught my attention as I read through the post.

I undertook this journey through willing choice. If you look at the list, you may notice there are aspects that are similar to those whose lives often aren’t through choice but circumstance. In a certain way, I had a light taste of what it’s like to be homeless, to experience restriction. The more days I walked the more this awareness settled on me. It increased my compassion toward anyone who finds themselves in such a place and has difficulty finding a way through. There’s always a way across a threshold. It also deepened the great gratitude I hold for having the life I do, and the capability of coming up with strategies to navigate the tricky times.

I’m going to start my list for the pandemic, what I’ve noticed and how I want to be on the other side. Some of these will be the same. Some will be new in the sense of further revealed.

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On my 2015 pilgrimage, when the going got physically rough for me, I invoked a Sufi wazifa.* On the in-breath I would chant Ya Fattah. On the out-breath, I would repeat Ya Fattah. Over and over and over. That beautiful name got me up mountains and down the other side when I sincerely wondered if I would make it.

Here’s holding these pandemic times are embedded in our Collective Consciousness in a good way and direct tomorrow. There’s a choice in every moment.

Ya Fattah! Ya Fattah! O, Opener of the way!

May all beings be happy. May all beings be well.

***

*The Sufi wazifas are the 99 Beautiful Names of God that, when chanted, seeks to call upon the person any sacred attribute that is named.

 

 

Categories: Contemplative Life, COVID-19, Spiritual Travel | Tags: , , , , , | 5 Comments

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