Everyday Shamans: A Practical Guide to Owning Our Medicine
On the evening of September 10th, I arrived in New Mexico to attend a five-day Vipassana Retreat in silence, which was to begin the following day. Early the next morning, the world as I had known it, ceased to exist. The evening of the 11th found me at the Lama Retreat Center in Questa, New Mexico, just north of Taos where I had no access to TV, radio, e-mail, newspaper or phone. The only way I could tell if things were returning to normal, beyond the boundaries of Lama, was by checking the skies for signs of America flying again.
The first morning of the Vipassana, I awoke to deafening silence. As I overlooked the city of Taos from my mountain retreat, I was struck by the quiet beauty and peaceful stillness of my surroundings. They were such a sharp contrast to the chaos, noise, death and destruction I witnessed on national television the previous day's reality I continue struggling to comprehend. Gazing at the horizon of snow capped mountains, a myriad of emotions coursed through my body and settled in my throat as a painful lump. I was feeling overwhelmed. Crying helped relieve my vexation.
After breakfast, I made my way down the winding path to the circular adobe building where our little meditation group was to meet each day. I believed the only chance of finding hope or inner peace for myself awaited me on my meditation cushion. Sadly, the only thing I found there was my restless ego, hurt and inflated. By the second day, I noticed a palpable shift in my focus. My resistance was melting away like freshly fallen snow on a sunny day in the Rocky Mountains.
However, I still longed to be home in New York. During this time of crisis all the trivia of my life fell away, and what "truly" mattered was all that remained. It distressed me to think I was unable to assist my family and friends and our Moonfire community while I was stuck on that mountain. Why wasn't I home where I belonged? Why was Spirit playing this cruel joke on me? In meditation, time and time again, I asked for insight into these questions, without satisfaction.
Finally, a reply floated to the surface of my silence. "You are here to gather medicine to bring back with you for the people, a medicine to heal their wounds, bring peace to their hearts and courage to their souls." A long pause followed and my silence expanded. The message continued, "Go up into the mountains and gather this medicine that the people are in need of now. That is why you are here. Those in service to the people often find themselves cut off from others, especially in times of need. Seclusion expedites service."
I remembered what an elder once told me about those who dedicate themselves to a life of service. He said they often live on the outskirts of their village, isolated from community, by choice or circumstance. This keeps them safe in the face of danger or illness, and when their training and expertise are needed most or when their unique perspective, indispensable for the good of the community, is required, they would always be available to the people.
This new outlook on my stay at Lama brought the deep inner peace for which I had been praying. It gave me a sense of duty for which I was very grateful. Although the nature of the medicine I was to gather was yet unknown, or remained unretrievable left behind in the Silence of my meditation. I hiked the mountain paths in search of medicine to help to heal the people several times a day between sitting meditation sessions and meals.
On my first trip up the mountain, I found a Grandfather Tree and asked if he had the medicine I was to gather. He offered me nothing but encouragement, and advised me to stay open to the guidance of the mountain spirits. Next, I thought perhaps the medicine I was looking for would come from Black Bear. The mountains were full of them this year. Regrettably, Bear had no medicine for me either.
Although I felt discouraged by my lack of success, I did enjoy my daily hikes. The Rockies were a kaleidoscope of late summer colors. The woods were awash in a sea of sunset orange and fireball red, amid glittering gold aspens and bright green pines. I noticed that some trees were strong and upright, others were young and frail, while others were merely burned out hollow trunks that no longer resembled the magnificent beings they once were. I was told that many trees were consumed by a forest fire several years ago and the retreat center was nearly leveled. No one knew if Lama would ever be rebuilt.
Was this message of hope and rebirth the medicine that the mountain spirits would bring to me? Is this what I came to witness and take back to New York as medicine to heal the people? This seemed too obvious and it was then that I realized I could not rationalize my task. Gathering this medicine was a matter of heart and soul, not intellect.
Day after day, I continued to scour the hillsides looking for anything of a "medicine nature", yet found nothing. Who did I think I was anyway? Did I really think I could find something that would make a difference in the lives of the people back home? Often the words of Mother Theresa echoed in my ears, "If God gives me only what I can handle, then God thinks too highly of me."
My silent time at Lama passed quickly and soon I was prepared to break my silence and end my retreat. As I began packing to leave, I noticed one of my ceremonial necklaces was missing. I headed up the mountain, one last time, to look for it. At the trail head I noticed I felt somewhat lighter, more joyous, more relaxed than on previous hikes. I drank in the sights and sounds of the mountain. I ran, walked, and even skipped, all the time mentally multitracking, as I searched for my necklace. It was a remarkable experience. Smiling as I gazed at the fluffy, cotton ball clouds suspended in the clear, electric blue September sky, I felt captivated by the warmth of the late morning sun. Everything seemed brilliantly bright and dazzling. The sun reflected off every rock, leaf, tree trunk and shrub. In no time, all thoughts of medicine, necklace, terrorism, death and destruction vanished. All feelings of inadequacy, loss, fear and anger disappeared. I fell under the spell of the beauty of the moment. I opened up my heart to all the life around me.
It was then that I observed something unique about the trees and the mountain that I hadn't noticed before. Alive or dead, all the trees looked beautiful and seemed vital to the life of the mountain. The flowers along the path, dressed in their finest colors, smelled especially aromatic. My nose tingled as the blend of musk and floral scents mingled with the aromas from Lama's kitchen wafting up the mountain. Two chipmunks squealed and jabbered and to my surprise, I understood their conversation. I climbed to the summit where hawks called out to me as they gracefully played on the air currents. Everything in view was outstandingly vibrant. I could sense the whole mountain breathing, speaking, laughing and playing with me. "So much Life!" I remember murmuring. Is this what Grandfather Tree meant when he suggested I stay open to the guidance of the mountain spirits?
I experienced a magical connection to everything, a sense of oneness with all creation, the oneness of all beings. I felt enraptured by the wholeness I perceived within myself, but not like being in ceremony or meditation where I melt into parts of myself and dissolve into all things. Nor was it like being lost in the "Void". This feeling was my perception of pure delight, bliss if you will, and in it I remained whole as my consciousness expanded and I, simultaneously, became everything and everything became me. I felt blanketed by the comfort of neither needing nor wanting anything. I was absolute and complete. Moved by this recognition, I experienced a sense of euphoria. My eyes filled with happy tears and I cried.
The sound of bells, calling me back to the meditation hall, eventually caught my attention. As I began my descent, I detected a lilting spring in my step, and experienced the sheer joy of moving my body. I felt so energized, infused by the tranquil resonance of delight, that it made me giggle. I felt as though I was floating down the mountain. It was then that I noticed the tiny floral print of my multitiered skirt. Gazing at the field of brightly colored flowers that swaddled my body, I gracefully swished and swirled the layers of my skirt as I skipped down the path. I danced to the rhythm of life spiraling within me and outside of me, and for the first time in days, felt unencumbered by the stiffness and pain in my knees and back from hours of sitting in meditation each day.
I twirled myself into the adobe meeting hall and corkscrewed my body down on to my mediation cushion. I felt as though I was a beam of light. When I first closed my eyes I could see energies, colors, sensations and vibrations projected onto the screen of my mind's eye. Wisdom and compassion flowed effortlessly. All was beautiful! I was lost in the blissful countenance of delight.
Finally, stillness and once again, a message awaited me in the awe of the Silence. I listened deeply. "This is delight. It is the medicine of pure joy that you found so electrifying and tranquil, energetic and focused while on the mountain. Within its vibration, there exists the absence of anything that does not resonate with delight and its accompanying experience of brightness. You have gathered this medicine for the people and have experienced its powerful healing quality for yourself. Bring this message of delight to them so they too may experience it and heal."
Every cell of my being was vibrating with delight, the joy of simply "being". Not the fickle, impermanent joy born of situation, but the life affirming, omnipresent joy that's inherent in all life. In a million years, my mind would never have considered delight as the medicine I was to gather up in the mountains. Only my heart could gather this remedy to heal pain, hatred, anger and fear.
The Silence held more for me. "Delight is your natural state of being, your birthright, the innate brightness of all human experience. Generously apply this healing balm to your life and enjoy its powers in all human endeavors. Use its gifts to build the future, the Next World. Share this medicine with all those who have lost their memory of the power of delight and the "oneness" of all life. The children of the Earth must remember that they are Joy and Delight and have the power to choose to allow themselves to live and create fully from that awareness." This was the final message from within the Silence.
A few days after leaving Lama, planes were flying again. My flight was one of the first cleared to land at La Guardia Airport. My stomach felt queasy in anticipation of what I would be stepping into when I got back to New York. Nevertheless, I was eager to get home to facilitate our monthly women's circle in Manhattan. That night we flew over "ground zero". Even though the area was illuminated by countless bright flood lights, a veil of mourning shrouded the site in a ghostly, smoky gray aura. "Where is the delight in this?" I asked myself, angrily and tearfully.
With my next breath, I remembered the medicine I gathered on the mountain. I recalled that the message from the Silence requested to generously apply this healing balm to my life. When I exercised my power to choose to do just that, I experienced the simple and magical beauty of the medicine of delight. I acknowledged that because I carry the vibration of delight within me, although the circumstances of the world seemed void of delight, I was not. I was astounded by this wisdom. It sang to my very soul and I felt healed. It was as Louise Bogan wrote, "Surely the strange beauty of the world must somewhere rest on Pure Joy."
Now, in my work, I encourage everyone to gather personal medicine and learn to use it for themselves, their families and communities, to live from their hearts and remember their birthright of brightness. During these times of change, the medicine of Joy and Delight is ours to share generously with all the children of the Earth for seven generations to come as we create the Next World together.
Moonfire Meeting House
1691 County Rd. 39
Southampton, New York 11968
phone / fax 631-287-9000