The medicine walk: cell phones and lizards

Golden chollaAfter the ritual of the south I felt it was time to move. I couldn’t get comfortable in this place. It was too hot in the sun, too cool in the shade. All the rocks felt rough and uncomfortable to lean against. So I gathered up my things and headed down the wash.

I saw a spot with red rocks, which I had noticed on the way up. It was at the mouth of another wash that led to a plateau high above the valley floor. I continued down the wash a little further until I came to a beautiful big golden prickly cactus. I took its picture, remembering another faster who had taken a picture of the same type of cactus.

I wanted to check the messages on my cell phone. (Not a very ancient ritual, I’m afraid!) Leaving my pack and extra clothes near the cactus, I took my cell phone and climbed up to the top of the red rock wash. I looked around and saw a faster below, in another canyon. I retreated below the ridge line to turn my phone on, got a minimal signal, and stood up on the ridge line again to check voice mail, but it didn’t go through. Aha. So this is what the spirits of the place had to say about modern communications!

I climbed back down to where I’d left my pack, and noticed a flash of movement. I’d startled a lizard, who had darted under a little plant. I looked at him and noticed he was a collared lizard with two black stripes around his neck and orange in between. The rest of his body was coloured a softer orange with a grey pattern. He was quite big, and had a long, slender, flexible tail.

Collared lizardI really wanted to give him some water, so I poured some into the lid of a water bottle and sat very still, waiting to see if he’d drink it. I was facing down the wash, with a wonderful view across the basin floor to the mountains on the other side. I tried to be patient and just wait. It seemed quite a while, and I could see the lizard under the plant, absolutely still, with one eye facing me. Eventually I saw his tail moving, flicking slightly back and forth, and then he turned fully towards me.

He came a little closer, looking right at me, only about 18 inches away. He flicked his tongue at me, tasting and sensing me. I looked at him too, and then he went over to the water in the bottle cap. He looked at it but didn’t drink it. Then he scampered over my pile of black jackets, pausing and continuing until he was right up close to me. He looked at me again, straight on. Then he jumped off the pile and ran away, off to my left.

While we had this contact I had been asking the lizard what it would take to have someone love me the way I want to be loved. He seemed to be showing me something about curiousity, getting to know someone, check out what’s offered, and then decide whether it was what I wanted. In the case of the water, it wasn’t what he wanted. And then he took off, after his curiousity was satisfied.

To me, lizard is the creative masculine of the east. But exploring my desire for a loving relationship with a man seems very west. Hmm! This is one of the mysteries of the wheel, how the two opposite poles are related to each other.

I didn’t feel fully satisfied with the lizard’s answer about finding love, so I decided to continue the exploration by having a conversation with the golden cactus. To be continued…

The medicine walk: hiking up the canyon and the ceremony of fire

I have been writing about the medicine walk I went on in the Eureka Valley in California, east of the Sierra Mountains. Sparkly red beads at thresholdSo far I’ve described the process of mirroring for intention. The intention I formed was “I am mother and father to myself. I have the strength and take the time to care for my hurt self.” Now I’m going to tell you the story of what happened when I went on the medicine walk.

I set out shortly after dawn, with the intention of staying out until dusk, and fasting from food, human company, and built structures. So this medicine walk was like a mini vision fast. I had a sense of the supportive presence of Ruth and Larry in base camp, and all the fasters hidden away in the hills and canyons around the camp. I decided to hike up a canyon where I knew no other fasters were staying.

Walking up the canyon, I created a beautiful threshold crossing once I was out of sight of base camp. I made two cairns of stones to walk between, marked with vials of sparkly red glass beads. I was worried about not being able to find the threshold when I returned, especially if it was dark, so I retraced my steps after I had crossed the threshold, and noted markers in the landscape to help me: creosote trees and the tip of the ridge. I also noticed that the threshold was slightly to the left of the centre of the wash.

Pale yellow stone with crystalsI noticed I was walking into the east, and partly up the wash I came upon some bushes with beautiful yellow flowers. Flowers always seem like such a precious gift in the desert. This dry wash must collect enough rain once or twice a year to allow these flowers to grow and bloom here. Further up the canyon I saw three yellow stones on the ground. Another sign of the east. I picked one up and tasted it, wondering if it was sulfur. It tasted salty like the desert and had tiny crystals in it. I gave Reiki to the earth to thank the land for this gift.

At the top of the canyon was an amazing place with tiger- and leopard-patterned stone walls, in orange and yellow and black. There were lots of little hidey-holes for rodents. I noticed two crazy webs that could be the work of black widow spiders. Very sticky, with strands in three dimensions rather than the flat, neatly patterned two-dimensional web that most spiders make. I found a place in the shade to keep the water I’d brought for the day. Then I looked around for a good place to do my first ceremony, working with anger.

I found a gravelly place in the wash that was quite flat, Tiger stoneand dug a hole in the gravel using a larger stone. I set up four coloured direction stones around me, and the strands of coloured beads for each direction that I carry in my medicine bear-pouch, Graham, whom I claimed and named in a trip to the desert several years ago. Maybe I’ll tell you that story one day. I meditated for a while, turning so that I spent some of the time facing in each of the four directions, sensing how the energies felt in each direction.

I’d brought a letter that I’d received from a friend right before the trip, in which she had said many hurtful things about me and my anger. What timing! This was someone I’d known for twenty years, and had shared the deepest parts of myself with. I had felt very hurt and upset by her letter, as well as angry. So I began speaking to this woman, telling her how I felt about the letter, and the hurt I felt that she didn’t know me after all these years. I told her the hurt I felt that she didn’t care about me. I told her all the things I’ve felt frustrated and hateful and angry towards her about.

Graham bearWhen I’d been talking about the letter with Ruth and Larry I’d wondered whether I should read it again during the ceremony. Ruth asked me “Would you read this letter to your inner child?” What a brilliant question. Of course I wouldn’t read a hurtful letter to a young child, and I wouldn’t dream of re-hurting the child by repeating something hurtful. So this guidance helped me learn something, and I knew I didn’t want to read the letter again. So when I’d said everything that’s been unsaid, including my caring about my friend over these years, and holding space for her, I said I was giving her back the shit she’d put on me.

Then I used the element of fire to burn the four or five pages of the letter, along with some sweet grass and a tiny bit of cedar and sage from my medicine pouch. Once the letter had burned to ash, I repeated my intention, thanked the spirits of the land, and covered the hole with gravel.

I felt satisfied with the beauty and simplicity of the ceremony, and connected with myself and the land around me. It seemed that this ceremony to deal with my anger was a significant step in changing my behaviour. It also seemed like a celebration of the aliveness and life energy that the anger brings. I wasn’t denying the anger or suppressing it. Rather, I expressed it in a way that did not hurt myself or anyone else. In this way, I claimed the strength of the red. Beginning with the red beads that I used to mark the threshold, and culminating in the anger ceremony, this part of the medicine walk was my ceremony of the south.

My intention was to do a ceremony in each of the four directions, moving around the wheel as the day went on. This way I would be invoking the energy of each of the directions to help me claim my intention. I’ll tell you what happened next…

Mirroring for intention: putting it all together

Bear pooI’ve been telling you the story of how Ruth and Larry mirrored my intention for my day walk, also known as a medicine walk or contemplative walk. Mirroring for intention is an important part of the vision fast ceremony. This process usually begins months before a participant’s fast, with a statement of intention in the application letter the participant prepares.

Once the guides and participants meet in the place near where the fast will take place, a key part of the preparation in the days preceding the fast is to clarify the participants’ intentions. If there is a group of fasters, they sit in circle together and listen as one by one they tell their stories of why they have come to the desert or mountain to undertake this rite of passage. When there is a solo participant, the guide or guides have the luxury of more time to spend with the faster, helping to clarify what the faster has come to claim.

To help you understand this process, I have been telling the story of a recent trip I took to the California desert. I was apprenticing on the vision fast, and while the fasters were out, the guides and I mirrored each others’ intentions for a solo day walk. I have been delving deeply into the story, so that you can understand the way that this type of work can help a person learn and grow.

Here is a list of the entries I have written about the mirroring process. You might find this helpful to read before turning to the story of the actual medicine walk.

Taking the time to care for the hurt self

Ruth and LarryI have been describing a process of exploration and healing that occurred on a medicine walk in Eureka Valley. There is one more piece to the puzzle that arose as I explored my intention with Ruth and Larry. I’ve already talked about the defense of anger, and how I was using that to protect my hurt self.

As I described various incidents to Ruth and Larry in which I’d felt hurt, another theme that emerged was time: I felt like people didn’t care about me because they didn’t give me time. They didn’t want to spend time with me, as in the case of the friend who had put me off three times when I wanted to get together with him. And they didn’t give me enough time. This had arisen in a small group meeting with my Diamond Approach group, when the teacher had said I could work for 10 minutes only. I had agreed to the time limit, but it hadn’t been enough time and had led to deep feelings of shame when the time was up and I needed more time but the teacher didn’t let me have the time I needed. And time has often been a sore point in my interactions with friends, when they take up all the time we’re together by talking about themselves, leaving me to feel like I don’t matter. So TIME is an issue, or at least TIME is the way that Being was trying to reveal a truth to me, through the persistent feeling that there is not enough time for me.

Ruth and Larry noticed this theme as I spoke, and drew it to my attention, and this became the final piece of my intention: I am mother and father to myself, and I have the strength and take the time to care for my hurt self. This last bit, taking the time to care for my hurt self, was a crucial piece of the puzzle. For it is I who am responsible for taking the time I need, and asking for the time I need, in my relations with others. But even more importantly, for making this time for self-care in my daily life. It is up to me to value myself enough to attend to my self with curiosity, care, and compassion when I am feeling upset about something. And even when I am not upset about something!

So this was the intention I took out on my walk. I am mother and father to myself, and I have the strength and take the time to care for my hurt self. Next time I will tell you what happened on the walk—how I worked with the intention, and how nature interacted with me to bring healing to my hurt self.