Sunday, March 19, 2023

Good Samaritans


A colorful hand sewn blouse or dress, worn by a welcoming woman or young lady, offering traditional waters of chilacayota, horchata, jamaica and other flavors is a treat for the eyes and also the taste buds. "In Oaxaca, aguas frescas – essentially a mix of fresh fruit pulp, plain water, and some sugar if needed – are synonymous with freshness and excitement, given the selection of different flavors made from the myriad of fruits that grow locally." (See more) And because the offering is of good will and made as a gift to friend and strangers alike, it is salve to the soul. Día de la Samaritana, or Day of the Samaritan occurred last Friday. It is a celebrated time for offering life giving waters.

It seems there is always some kind of festival or event happening in Oaxaca. The most famous are Dia de Muertos, or Day of the Dead, and also Guelaguetza, the gathering of indigenous peoples of Oaxaca state. The city is a very popular International destination for weddings which pour onto the streets. 

I had never experienced Día de la Samaritana until some friends invited Amy and I to stroll with them through downtown to experience the gatherings and hospitality. Folks bring cups from home to accept drinks, so as to diminish waste.

The story of the woman good Samaritan is told in the Bible, John 4:7-31. Jesus is alone at a well. His followers have all gone off somewhere. A woman with a jug comes to the well. Seeing that Jesus is a Jew, and being of the Samaritan tribe, she is not supposed to have much to do with him and tells him when he asks for water. A conversation ensues; “You don’t know what God can give you. And you don’t know who I am, the one who asked you for a drink. If you knew, you would have asked me, and I would have given you living water.” The woman said, “Sir, where will you get that living water? The well is very deep, and you have nothing to get water with. Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob? He is the one who gave us this well. He drank from it himself, and his sons and all his animals drank from it too.” Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again. But anyone who drinks the water I give will never be thirsty again. The water I give people will be like a spring flowing inside them. It will bring them eternal life.”

Eventually, after Jesus reveals facts about the woman that He could not possibly known, she leaves him her jug and runs to tell people that she thinks she has met the messiah. 

Nowhere else but in Oaxaca is this biblical event officially celebrated.

Sunday, March 12, 2023

To Live Again

The last time I was in a sweat ceremony was in 1972 on the Pine Ridge Sioux Reservation in South Dakota, USA. Twenty years old, I had gone with a few friends to meet a famous yet humble medicine man named Patagah, who graciously welcomed us. One evening  our Native host and our little band of gypsies gathered together to pray and sweat, making offerings to Spirit. A hut, called an inipi had been constructed out of willow branches and covered with tarps."Inipi" means 'to live again’. A hole was in the middle of the ground inside. Nearby a fire blazed, making big rocks hot. We went inside and sat in underwear. The fire tender brought the rocks, placing them in the pit. Patagah made offerings to the Creator and mother Earth in the Indian way, splashing water on the rocks which then burst forth steammixing with fragrant smoke of sacred herbs such as sage. It got good and hot in there. When at last we were done and left the lodge drenched in sweat, the prairie night felt cool and fresh to the skin. 

Yesterday, after forty years I entered a sacred sweat lodge again. This time in southern Mexico where we live in a village on the outskirts of Oaxaca. We were invited by our “vecinos,” neighbors to come for a birthday in honor of their daughter, Kaoni, 39, a healer and health practitioner. They are making a healing center at their home and built a “temescal.”  It is a short dome made of adobe mud bricks with single entrance and fire pit in the middle to hold hot rocks. It holds about 12 people during ceremonies. 

When we were first invited, Amy was not sure she wanted to do the sweat because she has been taking medicine for high blood pressure. In her past she has done many sweat ceremonies with Native Americans, mostly Lakota and Dakota Sioux. But now she has more health concerns. Kaoni encouraged her to at least participate for fifteen minutes. It is not just a physical practice but spiritual as well. 

We walked down at 3:30 in the afternoon. A small group was gathering, all younger than us. Cordial introductions were made. After changing into light attire for the sweat, (I wore swim trunks,) Kaoni asked each person to enter the temescal, kneeling in prayer at the threshold. I could not stand up in the space, but the girl next to me could. Soon we were all seated and given bottles of water, along with sprigs of rosemary and basil. Hot rocks were brought in, the opening shut with cloth, and  in the dark, prayers began. Water splashed against the rocks creating steam. Immediately there was some coughing. Amy was among those who coughed. I don’t understand much Spanish  but got the gist of the prayers to Mother Earth and the Creator. At one point each person spoke something from the heart and the whole group accepted it. In Spanish I said, “Thank You God for earth and sky. Thank you for heart.” 

Within 20 minutes several people left, including Amy. As the heat and steam increased, I sweated. Overcoming some discomforts from sitting on the hard earth in a cramped space, I gave in to the process. I thought of the journey I had been on a week earlier going into the mountains to fast and commune with Spirit. The exact same feeling came; to let go and surrender. I felt the hard places inside melting away. In the womb of darkness, amid other soul travelers facing hardships determined to sacrifice for renewal, I felt calm. In fact I participated in my own rebirth, acknowledging that even if I was seven decades into this life, my paths forward were open. 

Sunday, March 05, 2023

More than Can Be Read In Books


I more clearly see an ending to this journey, with each day bringing me closer to a final scene. I want whatever time is left to be meaningful for myself and others. After seven decades on earth with myriad experiences, all inscribed in God´s cosmic records and my memory, I yearn for more wisdom, understanding and insight into life.

At times in the last few months I have had the feeling, What am I doing with my life? What am I to do with my time?  I have been an artist, writer, photographer, traveler, husband, father and friend. All has helped define me. Now, what more? Of course moving with Amy to a little village in Mexico flipped our lives. My art changed and I ask , Where am I? Who am I?

An excerpt from the writings of Bahaú´llah has been as a lantern in the darkness for me for many years: “O My friend, listen with heart and soul to the songs of the spirit, and treasure them as thine own eyes.” – Baha’u’llah, The Seven Valleys.

An urge recently  took hold to go alone on a vision quest, forsaking food and routine in order to get spiritual clarity. There is a a nature reserve called Cuatro Venados, or Four Deer, about 45 minutes from our house and the road there is paved, with little traffic.

We drove and Amy left me alone, agreeing to return on the third day. An old man took my 500 pesos ( about 25.00 USD) for two nights, then showed me uphill to a cabin made of adobe mud bricks and timber. It could sleep 6 people and had a fireplace. Basically a big room with bathroom attached. Windows with curtains on three sides. Other cabins were nearby on the hillside but I was the only one staying there. Very quiet and I soon felt alone. 

Nearby, a short walk down a dusty road and into the woods is a waterfall that is fabulous. It is part of the attraction of the eco-resort. Also on the property are little trails I explored. A creek runs through on its way to the waterfall. Especially I thrilled at the pine trees and greenery all around. At home, everything is dusty and brown from four months of dry season and no rain. 

Curiously, I had no hunger, and if a small craving came I enjoyed quashing it. My energy stayed good, but eventually I tired more easily during walks. The last night I woke and felt very strange including my heart. If I spiraled into something dangerous I was stuck without help. So I ate a bowl of granola and coconut water.

Everything around was speaking to me: the pine trees, birds, temperatures that went from hot to cold, stars in the night sky, silence and nature. I wrote in my journal: Just being, no agenda—The sound of a gurgling brook. Inhaling pine sap that has been warmed by sunlight. Water flowing over land and through the woods, meandering serpentine until a cliff interrupts its course, causing it to cascade through air, splashing on rock, falling more in spray and thunder until collecting in pools⏤only to resume an inexorable journey. I sit on a hillside that is covered deep in pine needles, under pine trees, while listening to the waterfall. The forest is dappled in light. Air is cool and balmy with gentle breezes wafting all around.  

“Nothing do I perceive, but I perceive God within it, God before it and God after it.” – Baha’u’llah

“Sometimes a tree can tell you more than can be read in books.”  ⏤C G Jung