Showing posts with label sacred. Show all posts
Showing posts with label sacred. 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, April 17, 2022

Procession of Silence

I knew I had to be on the street, up close at eye level for "La Procesión del Silencio", or the Procession of Silence. It is a yearly grand march winding through the center of Oaxaca. Various churches are represented with somber marchers and holy icons. 

So I left Amy and our friends on the rooftop patio of the restaurant where we had a late lunch and walked a few blocks to the front of Temple Santo Domingo, in centro Oaxaca de Juarez, close to where the solemn parade was about to begin. Amy and the others stayed behind and waited for the marchers to wind their way in front of the restaurant, where they would have a bird´s eye view.

Streets were roped off. Onlookers, mostly locals of all ages with some tourists thrown in, lined each side. The parade began solemnly moving forward; every 100 feet stopping to pause. Facilitators were with each group of marchers, acting as guides. Press photographers were allowed in the street. The atmospheric reverence was more pronounced by pervasive silence in wrapt devotion. “The mystery is further heightened by the metered beat of a drummer, candlelight, shawl draped women, hooded men, the eerie sound of crosses dragging on the cobbled streets, and  illumination of a full moon.” ­ 

I had a good vantage point for taking pictures, and when the procession was near its end, I raced forward to the front, taking pictures again. By the time it reached the restaurant, I was up on the roof with Amy.

I did not grow up with religion, and only became “religious” by choice at the age of 19 when I joined the Bahaí Faith. Amy attended Catholic grade school, and can tell who is who when it comes to martyrs and saints in the Catholic faith.

"Bahá’u’lláh says that religion must be conducive to love and unity. If it proves to be the source of hatred and enmity, its absence is preferable; for the will and law of God is love, and love is the bond between human hearts. Religion is the light of the world. If it is made the cause of darkness through human misunderstanding and ignorance, it would be better to do without it."  
‘Abdu’l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 287

Sunday, October 31, 2021

Our Ofrenda

“ The most acceptable offering to God Himself comes from a grateful and joyful heart. " - William Shakespeare 

 As the saying goes, when a loved ones passes away they are, “Gone from our sight, but never from our hearts.” Here in Mexico, where Dia de Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is a national holiday, it is occasion to remember our departed loved ones in a spectacular way. 
Yesterday, when Amy and I were driving into town we passed fields of flowers bustling with activity. People were cutting and loading armfuls of marigolds and cockscomb into pickup trucks, cars, onto donkeys or simply carrying loads on their back. A palpable sense of excitement is in the air. The smells and colors are stimulating both to the senses and soul.

Everyone it seems, builds an “ofrenda” or shrine to the departed in their home. Also entries to homes and businesses are decorated with flowers. 
Amy and I have built our own ofrenda near our front door in our entry hall. I must say it feels good. When I am near the ofrenda I feel warmth. 

The ofrenda is a portal, bridging worlds. That is its purpose, to reach into another place and open doors of perception. Commemorating spirits gone into the next world, we build our altars of flowers along with meaningful objects and reminders⏤everything to honor souls and life.

Sunday, October 07, 2018

Ocean Of Trees

I stumbled upon a shrine someone made and hid in the woods. Intoxicated with mountain fever and wandering off a trail at upper elevations, beauty had made me drunk. It is in moments like these that surprise comes.

Shimmering gold against a blue sky makes for a sublime dance in the mountains. For a brief span of about two weeks at the beginning of October it’s entrancing to go hiking in the woods high above the city. As seasons shift and autumn arrives, aspen trees heart-shaped leaves quake and gleam golden at the slightest breeze. Each white bark tree is rooted with another close by so that together, they make for some of the largest living organisms on earth and blanket mountainsides.

Amy and I began early—At 7, beginning with a stop for fresh coffee at a local cafe and then up along the winding road to Santa Fe Ski Area. Near the top is a favorite trail called Aspen Vista. We stopped there and to our surprise, although it was not yet 8:00, many cars were parked at the trailhead. It had rained recently so the ground was soft. A mist shrouded the upper mountain. We hiked on the broad path, reveling in the color of the aspens with accents of deep green from fir and spruce trees.

Near a small stream, we left the main trail to follow the water upward. Amy felt dizzy from high altitude so we found a place along the stream for her to sit. “I am going to explore the woods but won’t go far” I said, and left for a short sojourn into the primitive terrain, looking for the next photograph. Soon I was climbing over fallen tree trunks on the densely forested mountainside. The aspen stood side by side and shot up hundreds of feet toward the heavens. Often they are bare until near the top where foliage grows and receives sunlight. Dotted amidst the aspen are the deep green, sturdy fir trees with their skirts spread. I clambered over fallen trees and took photos, but thought of Amy and turned back after ten minutes. As I neared the stream, something caught my eye. A large shell gleamed underfoot. I had seen mollusk shells before in the southwest, even in desert regions where millennia before oceans covered the land. But this one was iridescent abalone and therefore struck me as unusual. Reaching down, I turned it over and saw that someone had put small symbolic objects underneath the protective cover. “Amy! Where are you?” I shouted. “Here” she replied and I saw her move just fifty feet away. She came and we both studied the tiny shrine. Amy is more familiar with native symbols and began telling the importance: Abalone shell used in sacred ceremonies for burning sage, obsidian stone, also called dragon stone, is volcanic glass and used in making arrow heads and also clearing blockages, white quartz for healing and purification, Native American pottery shard representing first people, and a metal bookmark with shell emblem—perhaps representing wisdom.

Someone had deep communication in the woods and felt thankful enough to make a sacred offering in a private ceremony which for some reason I was meant to discover.

The abalone is back in its place in the ocean of trees.

Amy, with two friends she met on the way home

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Two Doves

We all knew it was a message of love coming from heaven above. A once in a lifetime display never to be seen again. It’s been nineteen years since it happened but is still mentioned and makes me think how SPIRIT can use all creation to communicate to humans. Moreover, beings in the next world can give us physical signs that write indelible language upon our souls.

Someone recently read my memoir of my daughter Naomi called, A Heart Traced In Sand, Reflections On A Daughter’s Struggle For Life, and he mentioned the event. The story concludes the book. It demonstrates how life is interwoven through many realms; visible and invisible.

Naomi died of cancer in 1999 at age nineteen after a heroic battle to stay in the world she loved. One year later a group of devoted friends gathered at our home to remember her life. A woman who had been Naomi’s teacher brought materials to make a cord that we all could hold. Small pouches holding sacred objects like rose petals and each person’s note to Naomi were tied to the cord. We all went outside to a lawn and garden then stood together in a circle holding the cord and our prayer bags. One by one we read our remembrance and prayer. The sky had been cloudy and now it rained lightly in a mist. This was unusual because we had been in a drought. A dazzling rainbow appeared beside us. When the last person had read, we all stood together in unity. Suddenly two doves appeared directly above our circle, hovered for a second then dove spiraling downward so closely that their wings almost touched. Down they flew with rapidly beating wings and in perfect precision flew upward again, only to spiral down in place and rise again. The beating wings and precision of their spirals was joyous. It was apparent they came to bring a message of love to us. Then they flew away. One young person burst out, exclaiming, “I hope she keeps sending us messages like that, letting us know everything is okay!”

Sunday, November 05, 2017

A Sense Of Gladness

I was on a metro train streaming underneath Washington DC from my brother's house in Maryland when I began seeing familiar stops. (I grew up in DC.) My plan was to go to the Washington Monument and the National Mall to re-visit the broad spaces and wondrous memorials. As the train approached Dupont Circle, on a whim I decided to get off and walk the familiar streets, something I have done only a few times in the last forty years. Soon I was at The Phillips Gallery, standing in front of a Vincent Van Gogh painting. How wonderful! As if a great gift had been thrust into my life. Van Gogh made the painting using his famous slashing bold strokes of color. It depicts workmen in a rural village during autumn, toiling under trees brilliant with yellow leaves. Houses are nearby, with women dressed in black walking by. The masterpiece bursts with energy.
Last time I was at the Phillips Gallery an entry fee was in effect. Now it is free. A sense of gladness filled my soul. I could walk away from the Van Gogh, go downstairs and sit in a room that was like a chapel—filled with Mark Rothko large sized color field paintings. Or I could go upstairs and visit one of the most famous of Auguste Renoir's oil paintings—the impressionist masterpiece called Luncheon of The Boating Party.

Back on the pavement, I walked about a mile to the mall, seeing familiar streets and corners along the way. I passed the Corcoran Gallery of Art, where I took art classes on weekends as a teenager. In a few minutes I came to grassy fields and a crowd of people—mostly Chinese tourists. They were animated. Looking in the direction they were aiming their phones and cameras, I saw the south side of the White House. Surrounded by barriers and immaculate grounds, it seemed lonely and far removed from public life.

The next day, Friday, my brother took off from work to join me in taking an art odyssey. Together we went to one of my favorite museums in the world—The National Gallery of Art. By good fortune a spectacular special exhibit called Vermeer and the Masters of Genre Painting was being featured. First, my brother wanted to see early gothic and renaissance art (12th century AD - to about 1527). He is not religious so I was mildly surprised. Yet he stood in front of many of the paintings, slowly admiring the fine details, gold leaf, and sacred storytelling. Me too. I could see Rembrandt masterpieces across the hall and made my way there to stand in awestruck rapture. I imagined the past breathing its secrets into the present. Suddenly it occurred to me, gazing at a delicately painted hand, how often in my earlier years I had studied it. 

In a room nearby is a portrait painting by Leonardo da Vinci, titled "Ginevra de' Benci" it is of a 15th-century Florentine aristocrat woman (born c. 1458). It is the only painting by Leonardo on public view in the Americas.

The Vermeer exhibit was like icing on the cake. It is an ultimate gift to stand so close to masterpieces of another age in human history.

Wade left me for an appointment late in the afternoon. I remained in the museum, wandering among the deep and glorious collection of art.

Tonight I leave for Paris.