Showing posts with label darkness. Show all posts
Showing posts with label darkness. Show all posts

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, August 06, 2017

Darkness and Light

The ultimate task for me is not an external goal. Rather it is gaining wisdom and inner peace. Sounds simple enough but if we understand that it may take many years to understand just one dream we have had, then we see some of the difficulty.

I had a startling epiphany during a particularly crucial time in my life. During my late teens my mother had just finished reading books by the esteemed psychologist Karen Horney (German/American, 16 September 1885 – 4 December 1952). She had gained insights and lauded them. Two hardbound volumes by Horney were on our bookshelves: Our Inner Conflicts, and The Neurotic Personality Of Our Time. I was a voracious reader and had read classic literature, so read both books—though the language was dense and sometimes almost indecipherable. 

Through reading, I grasped that neurotic people identify themselves with an idealized image and will go to great lengths to maintain an unreal position. Their pain is unconsciously knowing they are not the idealized vision. The gap is unbearable. 
I realized I had been doing the same by blocking out undesirable aspects of my "hidden" self in favor of a superior.

I entered a trial period of just letting thoughts and emotions float to the surface without judgement. Even nasty stuff appeared but I did not bury it. Rather, I accepted and witnessed without judgement. Although difficult, this process lifted me to greater strength. I breathed deeper. 

At that time, I had also delved into religion and enjoyed the ideals in the Baha'i Faith. Furthermore, great emphasis was on unity, freedom from prejudice, purity—away from materialism and towards spirituality.

As I continued my experiment, I remember coming to a crossroads. The difficult emotions and feelings continued arising and I wondered if I could go forward in life feeling such dark forces yet being a person of light. I wondered if I could live with the dichotomy. Should I block the gate and keep the devils locked away, concentrating on adhering to a religious and pure way of being? Or continue withholding nothing and feeling like I was in a Hieronymous Bosch painting of The Last Judgement with depictions of rebellious devils led by Lucifer, or Garden of Earthly Delights.
At this particularly sensitive time in my development, I chose to block the uncomfortable dark feelings and urges. Instead, I would concentrate on immersing myself in religion as a way of evolution and salvation.
I would adopt thinking similar to what Emanuel Swedenborg, (Swedish, 29 January 1688; died 29 March 1772) wrote: The amount of goodness we receive from God can only equal the amount of evil we remove from ourselves as if by our own power, which is done by both working on ourselves and putting faith in the Lord. 
This fateful decision led me into a colossal war of light and dark forces. The more I sought to dispel the anger, frustration, pain and malevolence within me, the more it insisted on knocking at the door of my consciousness. No amount of praying, being with religious people or studying holy texts could slay the monstrous beast terrorizing the kingdom of my being. My light side hated my dark side. I was divided and suffering. 

My family history is an interesting study in light and dark. My mother came from a disturbed upbringing. She lived in foster homes at times. Her mother went from husband to husband; eventually going through ten of them. Mom was beautiful and hardscrabble when she met my father in Chicago. My father grew up the son of doctor and a sensitive Jewish mother, was brilliant and entered the University of Chicago at the age of fifteen. He finished graduate school with a degree in criminology. Human darkness fascinated him and he was a problem solver. He went on to an illustrious career in social engineering, implementing great changes in American society.
Perhaps it was fate that I would be a problem to myself and have to unify my original archetypes.

These days I find myself embracing non-conflict. I have come again to allowing all feelings, memories, thoughts and perceptions. They come and go without a fight. I am a changed person. I continue in my religion and gain great inspiration from it, as well as from other sources of the same Divine light.

A few days ago, I wrote in my journal:
Essentially, I will stay in a state of peace. If my pristine and calm being is tested by unruly ego or illusion of duality, I can override the challenge. It is as if I am at last taking the throne of command to my own kingdom. No longer driven by intractable and wayward passions..
Thank you Lord for giving me what I ask for.

So I embrace all and realize that all is necessary. Nothing drives me but the urge to understand the puzzle of life and be near God.

The darkness and light inform each other. Any great work of art must have them both.

Sunday, January 03, 2016

A Life Of Its Own

Traveling in THE DREAM has a life of its own. All experiences are essential and woven together, and cannot be labeled or isolated by the dreamer. They unfurl like a flag in the wind, ceaselessly changing shape. When I arrived in Sanur, Bali, I spent the first night in a hotel near the airport, since my arrival from Cambodia was after midnight. The next day a short taxi ride brought me to a homestay I had booked in Sanur, in a densely populated neighborhood not far from the beach. The hostess from Finland met me, along with the Balinese owner of the house who lived with his family in the rear. Cia, the Finnish woman showed me around and I put my things down in my room. Immediately, I felt a bit sick to my stomach, and when alone, went in the bathroom and vomited. I realized that something was amiss. The room was windowless, and had a shallow light, peculiar smells were in the air, the furnishings were worn and drab, and I felt unsettled.

Cia is a short woman and underweight. She drinks and smokes, and I soon learned that she is battling lymphoma cancer and has large tumors on her neck. Her mind is bright, and she smiles readily, but there is a darkness settled around her. I discovered that she cannot eat because it causes her pain, but drinks beer and smokes cigarettes.

I never had the thought of leaving, and spent seven days with her. I didn't feel comfortable in my physical circumstance, but I am not physical. THE DREAM brought me to Cia, and I came to appreciate her and could relate with her because I lost my Naomi to cancer and walked with her for two years through the valley of the shadow of death. Cia has been living in Bali for five years and has a wealth of knowledge about the island and its culture. She speaks at least four languages, is an ardent animal lover and takes care of them wherever she finds they need help. Three cats and a dog have found her and stayed to live with her. She is pragmatic and accepts her condition in a matter-of-fact way.

One night at dinner she mentioned she was trying to make a doctor's appointment for the next day. I told her I would go with her so she would have company and not feel alone. Her eyes opened wide and she stared at me and said, “But you are on vacation, you don't want to do that!” I looked back straight in her eyes and said, “Yes, I do.” Her jaw dropped, and looking even more intensely into my face she said, “I believe you.” And then she started to cry, and apologized. Later I told her that the two years I spent in close communion with Naomi, by her side through all her medical treatments and living with her in foreign cities, was the best time of my life. “We were burning the candle at both ends.” I said.

I left Cia a couple days ago and THE DREAM put everything in place for me. I found a lady from Bali who is renting me her car. Anne, a young woman from Finland who is a friend of Cia's has given me the keys to her bamboo house up the coast in a place that Cia wrote on her list of places for me to visit. I am now in the bamboo house, making paintings, visiting nearby villages, swimming in the sea, taking photographs, and continuing creatively.

Cia said, “There is a reason we met.” We will meet again. I left a few of my things with her so must return before leaving for New Zealand in about a week.