Monday, March 29, 2010

Meditation, Imagination and the Creation of Sanctuary

As part of the Taos Sacred Places Summer Celebration I will be facilitating a retreat called Meditation, Imagination and the Creation of Sanctuary on July 17th and 18th of this year. We'll begin our time together with calm-abiding meditation, to refresh the mind/body and free ourselves to observe our world with clear and open eyes.

Thich Nhat Hahn offers this description of this sort of meditation - to see ourselves as a stone tossed gently into a river and coming to rest in the sandy river bottom, completely held by the sand and able to watch our thoughts flow by like the river's water, as we remain at ease on the river bed. In the meditation we'll practice together, it will be the breath that we can come home to, rest in and be held in.

We'll use the refreshed, spacious perspective that meditation offers us to fuel a lively engagement with stories from the world's wisdom tradition and personal encounters with images, objects and the natural world; so that each of us can shape a 3 dimensional representation of our inner sanctuary.

We'll have time for discussion and shared silence as well as time outside among the pinon and juniper trees.

Creating Sanctuary
Sanctuary can be defined as a consecrated place where sacred objects are kept, a refuge from danger or hardship, a sacred and inviolable asylum. 

What might that mean to each of us?  What do we need to create a space that can offer us rest and safety, a space that can remain stable in the  turbulence and turmoil of the world? 

Is it a place to hide? Is it a space that provides a constant source of
re-fresh-ment, so we can be in the world fearlessly and do what needs to be done?

I hope you will join me on July 17th and 18th, from 9 am - 5 pm to discover your own answers and shape your personal sanctuary.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Lessons from Ixchel and the Fer-de-Lance

Its a gorgeous day today, with birds of all sizes singing in the pinon trees. While its getting warmer here on the mesa, elk and deer are coming down from the mountains where the deep snow makes food scarce and the bobcats are following them, even to a city street in Santa Fe. Truly! What a combination of emotions that news aroused in people.

There is the thrill of picturing that bobcat roaming the courtyard walls and alleyways of a Santa Fe neighborhood along with the awe (which the dictionary says is respect and wonder mixed with fear) and the caution that is needed when a predator is so close to home. That particular bobcat was tracked and transported to the Carson National Forest, much to the relief of people with cats, dogs and small children.

 In my neighbor on the mesa, where a bobcat did eat several chickens, the end was quite different. It was pursued by a local dogpack, or coyotes and died when it chose an electric pole as its way to safety.

Of course wild life is not inherently dangerous. The pathways of wild and the domestic intersect all the time. Its just that certain seasons make it all more visible. The Tarantulas that spend the winter in their chosen spots on my land will begin to appear soon, walking slowly across the mesa, large enough to make dogs bark, slow enough not to be too scary.

I saw a shiny black widow in the wellhouse last week so I made enough noise to get her to retreat back into her small cave as i descended to check on the pump. But i know she's ready to lay many eggs. And when i walk on the mesa these days I do recall that I have seen a rattlesnake sunning herself at a certain spot on the trail I walk with my dog. Nothing to be frightened of, but plenty to be aware of...

All kinds of wildness is emerging, becoming more visible and reminding me of its existence. And then, the other night, this dream...

I dreamt that a fer-de-lance, the most dangerous and territorial snake in Belize, had somehow entered my home. I opened a door and used sweeping motions of a kitchen broom to "shoo" it out the door. Then I closed the door firmly behind it. It did not give up so easily and when it tried to get into the house again my efforts to stop it with the broom only seemed to enrage it.

 I cannot recall what made it finally leave the doorway to my home. But I do recall that i saw it outside. Night had fallen. Our struggle had consumed the daylight hours and outside in the dark of the night, I could see that the snake had glowing designs on its back and seemed mysterious and beautiful.

 Since that dream I've been remembering what Basilo, a Mayan man in Southern Belize, taught me about how he deals with this snake. I'm also wondering why the snake has appeared now in my dreamworld and what the dream might be telling me i need to be tending in my waking world.

At the time of my visit to Belize Basilo and his family were living in San Ignacio Toledo, not far from Guatemala. Basilio is a strong believer in the rainforest's place in his peoples lives and an advocate for its preservation and re-vitalization.  The area behind his house was filled with cuttings of copal trees, annatto and medicinal herbs that were getting harder and harder to find as the people continued their slash and burn farming techniques in oder to feed their families.

“We have to walk farther and farther to find these plants,” Basilio told me, “So I hope to plant them here and start reseeding this area around the village.”  His other activities included encouraging traditional music and dance celebrations and working to maintain traditional communal ownership of the land rather than see it privatized and developed by outside interests.

During the time of my visit Basilio was walking to his milpa early every morning.  To get there he traveled through the rainforest - home to the fer-de-lance. I'd read that the fer de lance is a very poisonous snake. And prone to attacking people. So I asked Basilio what happens when one encounters a fer-de-lance in the rainforest during such an early morning walk to the milpa.
Basilio’s answer was direct, surprising and instructive.  “Well,” he said, “this is the most bad tempered snake in the forest. Everyone knows that. And they like to lie right across the path. So I tell it, move out of my way or I will chop you in half with my machete”.  It is a mix of unshakeable intention and commitment to action that Basilio expresses when he speaks to this dangerous snake because he knows that faltering could be fatal.

I was stunned. “Basilio", I asked, “Couldn’t I just say hello and please don’t hurt me.?” Basilio looked at me with surprise and a bit of dismay. “Rose”, he told me, “You will have big problem.”  That evening Basilo asked if I'd like to walk to the milpa with him in the morning.  I declined.  Today I like to think that I would take that walk.

On my wall in Taos I have an embroidery of the Mayan female healer, IXCHEL, that was made by Basilio's wife, Maria. It depicts IXHEL sitting on her knees, with a red and black snake, perhaps the Mayan coral snake, on her head and medicinal plants in her two hands.

“You must master the snake,” Basilio told me. “I know Americans do not like the words slave and master, but you must master the snake. Then you can use its powers for healing.”

Over a decade later these words continue to come to mind. On one level there is the absolute necessity to see what is really in front of me…not what I hope is in front of me but what is not turn my face away from the details of a situation or person.  Its important not to fool myself, thinking a bad tempered snake will become capable of withholding its conditioning or its poison if I find the right words to say --  In a dangerous situation I need complete commitment to radical and fearless action.
Its easiest for me to see the dream as a reminder that its my own poisons that I must master…anger, envy, hatred, pride and that whole familiar list. If I understand and master these, their poison will be transformed and the energy they hold can serve as medicine.  I do believe that is true.

But I just learned something else about Ixchel, whose healing powers include mastering a poisonous snake. According to one narrative she lived with an abusive diety who she was assured would straighten up and treat her right. But he didn't. So Ixchel fled and became a jaguar, and like the jaguar, she was "invisible" when she needed to be. 

It's said that Ix-Chel teaches us to acknowledge the negative forces that affect our lives and assert ourselves when faced with violence of any kind. Assert ourselves fully in situations that would diminish our sense of self, erode our understanding of who we truly are. Assert ourselves, stand for ourselves, without hesitation or doubt. And stand for others as well, with the same commitment and steadfastness.
In this season of Easter and Passover, which both tell stories of courageous sacrifice and commited journeys, perhaps the dream is a reminder for me to see the forces at play around me fearlessly and respond with the dedicated action and persistence that is needed...even if that task consumes the day.