“Let the beauty we love be what we do.
There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.”
I was touched by the kindness with which the teacher, during our last class session, heard my question and even heard between the lines the depth of my need to be heard. My heart stirred –as it does now as I write this– to have been given, uninterrupted, the time to not only articulate the resistance in me wanting to be expressed but also the space to be with my feelings as they arose. His kindness was a salve on my soul. Gratitude welled up in me even as a memory of Mom swam into my mind. Her heart was deeply kind. It was she who nurtured in me her own love of animals. She was also unquestioningly devoted to the rightness of her religion, and in her gentler moments her voice tinged with sorrow when speaking to or about those (such as I) who she saw as “mistaken” for not believing as she did. Mysterious what elicited that memory. But no matter now. What reverberates in my soul is the kindness. That moment –and now this moment in the remembering of it– lives in me as exquisitely tender.
During the seven weeks of the course, Path of the Universal Shaman, I felt recurring waves of resistance. I had expected perhaps an overview and an experience of shamanism in the modern world. And I had hoped to be moved to up-level my own public expression of my deep reverence for the Earth, with an eye in particular toward improving the plight of animals. Not expected had been the intense immersion in the ceremonial practices of the Pachakuti Mesa Tradition with its meticulous detail, the fairly extensive use of Quechua spoken in the Peruvian Andes, and the oft-repeated chantings. These were lavished on the energetic composing of the Mesa, the altar traditionally laid out on the ground. And this detailed instruction in ceremony continued in all handling of the artes, the pieces placed on the Mesa to represent the seven sacred directions –Above, Below, Before, Behind, Left, Right and Within– associated with elemental and archetypal forces present in the cosmos and in oneself. The Mesa, properly activated, anchors the energies of the Cosmos, and serves –as I picture it– as a kind of vibratory “control panel” for invoking, evoking and transacting with seen and unseen forces, present in all realms of creation and accessible within the individual. Those forces who serve as guides affect personal and collective healing –the mission of this Tradition.
Perhaps had a more extensive orientation prepared me for what was to unfold I might have been able to let the challenging elements wash over me. Instead I chafed at times under what felt to me like laborious and inscrutable ritual. Not fully aware of it at the time, I was responding as if cast back to my childhood experience of forced attendance and scripted participation at heavily-incensed, Gregorian-chanted Mass –which in my body-memory remains a many-layered and still somewhat loaded experience. But life happens without a rehearsal. And the resistance that did get roiled up was precisely what needed to be called up –was, in fact, the continued purification I needed to complete prior to whatever could and will come next. Burning away in those seven weeks and the weeks that followed was my own conditioning, the more deeply buried psychic layers of struggle against the expectations of the religious culture into which I was born, including fourteen years of Catholic school with elements of indoctrination, against which I rebelled, and what meaning I had made of my alienation, my worth, and the complicated pain of not belonging.
In the aftermath of this course I now wholly comprehend my unconscious and convoluted habit of resistance: I automatically defend against anything that in any way pairs authority with religion in particular, though not exclusively, and where my natural inclination to probe beyond accepted confines is rejected. And more: having chosen to visibly stand in my own experience in the face of that authority, the powerless-child part of me once again feels loss, assuming I’ll be marginalized in community. Just knowing this, seeing in bold relief how the pieces mesh, is a boon as I move forward, noticing resistance as it arises, consciously choosing to wholly feel its clutching sensation without identifying with it –as merely passing energy– and in that way giving it the space it needs to dissipate.
First two clarifications: Shamanism is not a religion. It is a way of life lived in service to the community, to the web of life, through Earth-based spiritual practices and with guidance from all realms, seen and unseen –and this is what the course imparted. My resistance was in no way to the spirit of the Tradition, which is whole-heartedly loving and joyful and based on Ayni, sacred reciprocity in all things. And by “resistance” I mean the inner armoring sensation of defending against or walling out whatever feels psychically threatening –and usually arising from early childhood programming. When such resistance is not triggered, it is easily possible to meet any proposition without feeling defensive or projecting any internal conflict outward, making the other person wrong. It is possible to hear words that push our buttons, reframe them in alternative terms, and better hear what is actually being said. It is possible to meet our own fear, our unknowing, our rage without losing our center. When triggered, however, choice is lost and the pre-programmed powerless-child kicks in.
During the course I repeatedly stalled at what struck me as too much detail and culture-specific ceremony for my purposes –given my foremost desire to persuasively speak up for animals– which left me wondering what could be this Tradition’s practical application in my life. That was rational and legitimate. I could have simply and matter-of-factly taken what was useful and left the rest –and to some extent I did. What was not rational was the shadowy just-below-the-radar inner struggle against a phantasm of my unconscious. At best a phantasm dismissive of my notion of activism informed by spiritual principles. At its extreme a phantasm with its monstrous power to determine what is acceptable and what is punishable at the stake. This sounds too remotely out of bounds as I write it. Yet such is the nature of what is locked in the unconscious. My personal experience is but one drop in the collective experience of the patriarchal juggernaut –still to this day battling to maintain control over women’s sexuality and contraception [see Matthew Fox, below]– that for millennia ran every detail of our lives and which is only now being brought into balance by the rising Feminine. It is no longer astonishing to me the number of women who speak of recalled past lives that ended branded and burned as witches for having practiced their healing arts. I have no such memory. But I am cognizant that the self-directed life I take for granted today, requiring no priest-craft to access the Mystery, openly seeking my own answers, practicing my astrological arts, would have undoubtedly taken me, during those burning times, to the stake. But that is a topic for another day. Suffice it to say, it is precisely the vestiges of patriarchal oppression in me that I am purifying today.
Proceeding through the course in my own naturally Earth-loving way, two unexpected wonders occurred –both having wider ramifications beyond the incidents themselves– and both having to do with stones. Stones are considered the “bones of the mother”, that most-solid element of our mother Earth which takes the longest to erode, just as our own bones remain long after all other tissue has returned to soil. And stone is a fitting symbolic teacher on the subject of my solidified resistance…
The first incident had its roots early in the course as we were being instructed how to place the artes on the Mesa. One piece was to be chosen for each of the four cardinal directions, South, West, North and East plus the Center, in that order as the Mesa is configured in a spiral. Each direction is associated with an element such as earth for the South, holding the energies of Pachamama, our Earth Mother, associated with our physical body and where physical healing takes place. West, holding the energies of Mamakilla, Mother Moon, associated with the water element, signifying the collective unconscious, our own feeling nature and the place of our emotional healing. North, the transcendent realm of Wiracocha, the Creator/Creatrix, associated with the element air, our spiritual body and the place of spiritual healing. East, holding the energies of Inti, Father Sun, associated with the fire element and the place of mental healing. And the sacred Center, considered the hub, the axis mundi where personal intention and all universal energy converge, is associated with the shape-shifting energy of K’uychi, the Rainbow Spirit, which is an element in itself. Our first instruction was to choose a “stone relative” to symbolize Pachamama, the South.
My own garden provided the stone, a smooth, simple beauty the color of ashy charcoal with delicate white veins running through it, that fit comfortably in the palm of my hand. I have always loved stones for their beautiful architectural form. Seldom do I return from a walk in nature without a stone or two in my pocket. I place them reverently around my home and love looking at them. However, it had never occurred to me that stones were my relatives. This was a new way of seeing, unfamiliar, yet that made sense. Matter is, after all, the dense form of spirit. And spirit the subtle form of matter. Having no actual felt experience of this kinship with stones, however, I could do no more than let the notion be. Looking back now, I see that the stone’s mere presence on the Mesa was laying groundwork for what was to come.
Once the artes for the four cardinal directions and the center were chosen and placed on the Mesa, all done with much ritual and chanting, we were instructed to choose for the following week’s session the remaining two artes that would complete the seven sacred directions. The sixth piece, to be placed in the Northwest, signifying our higher mind, is symbolized by the Royal Hummingbird, that most ephemeral winged creature –able, amidst its own agile and rapid movement, to hover in mid-air in total stillness. And the seventh piece, to be placed in the Southeast, signifying embodiment, symbolizes the repository of our healing. This piece was to be preferably of a metallic nature for its ability to retain the healing vibrations that it would come to hold and to transmit.
It was this seventh piece, at that time not yet known to me nor in my possession, that would become my teacher. That week, looking for a woven pouch in a Haight Street oasis, I was drawn to an unusual double-terminated quartz crystal, amethyst-based, of an opaque smoky color capped at one end in rusty red. In my eyes it had a quiet beauty of its own but not in the classic crystalline way. I have crystals, enjoyed for their beauty, without knowing much about them or their qualities. This crystal, the moment it lay in my hand, had an unmistakably strong effect on me. The attraction was so complete I could not put it down. Its function on the Mesa, if it had one, was unknown, but it accompanied me home.
Immediately it became part of my meditation. Not through any process of deliberation. It simply happened. Customarily I meditate lying flat on my back and combine it with Reiki, the gentle pressure of my finger tips on my breast bone eliciting a deeply spacious vibration to flow from my heart chakra. With the crystal now resting there, and its weight equal to what had been the pressure of my fingertips, the vibratory effect was identical.
Since I close my day and also begin my day with meditation I was now falling asleep with the crystal on my chest, sleeping through the night and waking in the morning with the crystal there still. A palpable bond soon flowed between us and, imperceptibly with each day, the crystal had grown more beautiful in my eyes. It became clear this was my Mesa’s seventh piece, the embodiment arte called Enq’a in Quechua. I was now addressing it with a reverentially expanded heart as I moved it to and from the Mesa each day. Without effort on my part, Enq’a had become kin.
Due to earlier bouts of fatigue, during the weeks of the course I’d had a series of treadmill stress tests that included ultrasound and echocardiogram. No abnormality was found in the pumping of my heart but a possible problem with a valve. Nutrition is my remedy for most things. A valve malfunction, however, being mechanical, is not amenable to food medicine. But definitely subject to energy medicine. For some things there is no readily explainable cause and effect and no way to be certain. However, my sense was and continues to be that this stone with its healing vibrations is accompanying me, opening my heart, as I learn. And the valve insufficiency has now been medically determined to be negligible.
The second unexpected occurrence with stone relatives had to do with building an apacheta, a stone cairn. They are often encountered in landscapes, roughly pyramidal piles of stones. I’ve thought of them as markers, perhaps pointing the way, but hadn’t given them much thought. Nearing the end of the course we were instructed, again with careful attention to detail, on building an apacheta. It was explained that the Earth has meridians, as do our own bodies, and that apachetas serve as acupuncture points. A well-fed apacheta, one that is maintained with reverence, feeds energy to the Earth.
Due to planned deck construction on the property where I live, I didn’t begin my apacheta until after the course ended, the instructions no longer pressing. One day I just began, the stones themselves seemingly finding their places. Even the top stone, a large smooth egg, some days earlier broken by a careless bicycle tire, had something to teach. My heart had sunk when, toppled, it had split length-wise in three parts. When it came time to place it where it was meant to go all along, its three parts were held in place by the smaller stones wedging it in. The fissures were noticeable, but barely. Except for one small diamond-shaped fragment nearing the top that stuck out a bit. The next morning that fragment protruded still further and I lifted it out of its chink to investigate. Promptly an earwig, who apparently had used one of the tight inner cracks as a vertical corridor, stuck her head out then flashed me her pincers –like a flustered housewife scolding this hapless intruder. Quickly I returned the fragment. The apacheta was occupied –and I say “her” because (as I later learned) mother earwigs devotedly guard their young until they are grown!
Each day I sweep around the apacheta, add a small offering –a sprinkling of blue corn meal or pure water, a new stone, a bit of moss or sprig of pine, a seed pod, a feather… Not the prescribed tobacco or Florida Water, things rich in meaning for someone else but, for my own use, disconcerting. Tending the stones stirs my heart with such ineffable tenderness. I’ve grown to love the apacheta, to look forward to stepping outside first thing in the morning to be with it. Clearly in this simple act of ritually feeding the Earth I too am being nourished –the ever-flowing dance of Ayni. I think of Alice Walker’s words “anything we love can be saved” and for the first time they dance in my heart. There is magic in love, in loving the world with our whole heart. And from that love acting on its behalf in whatever way we are called.
I am reminded also that in my second grade classroom, on the windowsill sat a tiny painted house. The roof had a slot where the children dropped coins for the “pagan babies”. Unless they were baptized in our “one true religion”, we were told, these children could not enter heaven, living out eternity in the shadow world of limbo. Even then, at age seven, I recoiled from the stinginess of that belief. Somehow I knew that the world held more promise than that. Perhaps because twice already I had been uprooted, at age 3-1/2 from my native Nicaragua, and at 5 from Honduras to the U.S. –both times fleeing dictatorial regimes…
Back in the days when the word was a slur, pantheism provided a refuge for me. It held the view that the totality of nature is identical with what some call “the Divine” or “God”. I had not then connected the dots but I know now that the natural love of the Earth from which these “pagan babies” had to be “saved” was the same love for the smallest of creatures that since childhood throbbed numinously in my own heart. In every blade of grass the Mystery is vibrantly alive and felt and visible for anyone seeing with indigenous eyes…
Shamanic wisdom and Dimensional communication with Don Oscar Miro-Quesada
Earwigs and Baby Earwigs
Using Stones for Personal Growth
Matthew Fox, theologian, on patriarchal religion, The Hobby Lobby, etc. 7-6-14