I recently returned from a prayer fast/vision quest in Big Bend – the big majestical Texas desert country. My spirit called me to sit in quiet union with the Divine in nature and I was honored to accept the invitation. As I was getting prepared to take my solo journey, I was excited, as I felt deep in my soul that this was a right of spiritual passage for me, but I was also scared. Scared of what you might ask? Scared to be alone in the wild, to feel the rawness of my nature in the open desert, and to put my faith and trust 100% in God’s love and that I would return safe and sound. I kept thinking, “I’m a single-mom for goodness sakes, I have to be careful here, I have sacred duties to uphold….there are bears and mountain lions out in the desert, what if….” I was going to be out of my safe container and my faith was going to be tested, not fun, but an ecstatic adventure to say the least.
Ay, there’s the rub as Hamlet proclaimed in his soliloquy, “To sleep, perchance to dream – ay, there’s the rub, For in this sleep of death what dreams may come…”
My vision quest started before I ever pitched my tent where I was to see no human soul for a few days fasting on water in the hot arid climate. Alone. I took a deep breath and said a prayer of gratitude to be taking this journey. “I choose life and love”, I said quietly to myself. I looked at fear and giggled in its face. “God will guide me through and my faith is strong” was the mantra I kept repeating to myself. But I was also well aware that that fear kept nudging me to say, “What are you going to find out there anyway that you can’t find here at home?” was laying dormant just under the surface itching and scratching on the inside of my skin. I could feel it pull me in its direction each step I took in my commitment to go on this journey.
I had just suffered tragedy, a big loss, the most painful and excruciated experience I’ve ever had to bear thus far – my son’s father committed suicide on May 17, 2015. It was not a natural death or an accident. He chose to leave. His pain was all consuming, at least that’s what I tell myself. He chose to check out. He was standing in Hamlet’s shoes, “To be or not to be…” and he chose not to be, anymore. The physic imprint this has left in my brain and my body is hard to put in words. Take my personal relationship with him of 18 years, 12 of which we were married, out of the equation, and just consider for a moment that our fellow human brother, that I happen to intimately know, chose to die and leave his son, his obligations, his path to be walked in all the beauty and the sorrow. My gut was left with a wound carrying a million pounds of led in it. Some scars go far and for this one, it feels infinite.
I know my Dharma (my life’s path) well. I have an intimate relationship with pain and loss. As a teacher and writer, I guide others to find the beauty within their pain. I don’t just know it on an intellectual level; I know it experientially, emotionally, and spiritually. I’m an ecstatic healer and mystic, so I help others take the lead out of their gut and make gold. But, I don’t do this alone. I do it with my faith and love in the Divine. And, I do it with you, in community with all my soul brothers and sisters. So it was on this journey that my faith and love would be tested. I felt it. That’s the comfortable level of fear that matched my deep love and devotion to God, but didn’t ever get a pass through the windows in my soul.
I had my pack, my water, and my tunes, and I headed to the high desert on my date with God. Before I left on that long 9-hour stretch of drive out in beautiful West Texas, I needed air in my tires, but I’m not very good at putting air in my tires. It’s just not my thing y’all. I can do a lot of different things, but I wanted to make sure the air was right. So when I pulled into the gas station, I saw two young black construction workers wearing bright green vests smoking their cloves in the shade. I parked my car by the air machine and walked over to ask for help. They kindly agreed. Then I gave them both huge heart hugs and told them how much I appreciated their help. God delivers indeed. Yes, I just chose to bring race into this issue. This wasn’t another story of violence and label aggrandizement for cultural dichotomy and manufactured consent of us/them purposes. It’s just a little story of love and connection in soul community. A white girl asked two young black men for help and they did, kindly. And, in that moment where I thanked them for their help with hugs and gratitude their smile let me inside to see the pureness of their soul, not the social constructions that are still rampant in race relations in our society. This sojourn was already beautiful. “Good sign, good stuff”, I thought. I waved and drove off on my long journey ignited by the smiles from my soul helpers at the gas station.
On my arrival in Big Bend, it was raining, raining in sheets. God did not promise perfect weather. I trusted that there was more to the rain than the drops pouring on my skin. Then, I walked into the visitor’s center and met Anne. She’s the park ranger that gave me my backcountry permit. She said to me, “You look familiar, have I given you a permit before?” I smiled and said, “Maybe”, but as an ecstatic healer and mystic, I knew the deeper message here, that our souls were intimately connected beyond this moment in time. She fervently made sure without actually saying that I was crazy, that I was crazy. She said, “You are very aware that it’s very hot and that we have thunderstorms in the forecast.” Fear began to knock a little more at this point, but I smiled and said, “Yep, I’m good. My intent is not a bunch of hiking, I’m here for solitude and I’m good on the right gear.” I got my permit as it was pouring down rain and when I walked outside to walk back to my car, the clouds were breaking open just over the Chisos Mountains and I smiled thinking everything will be all right. I headed off to St. Elena Canyon to find my sacred spot off the trail in the Homer Wilson Ranch area, real desert country.
There are no trees in this location in the desert, just small bushes and brush, ocotillo and cactuses. I found a location off the trail in an old dry creek bed where I abutted my tent next to the wall of erosion and could wiggle my body in the small spots of shade under the brush. I spent half my time on one side of the creek bed in the morning and the other in the afternoon as the sun danced its course through the day. On a prayer fast/vision quest, the intent is to sit and be with what arises in the moment. I can only go outside of my spot to relieve myself. I also set up a walking meditation spot right in front of my tent, walking in small circles, when my body felt the urge to move. Tent was up, rainfly on, water bottle full, and yoga mat under the tiny spot of shade. I sat down to gulp some water, already feeling hungry from my pre-fast the day before on raw food and began to meditate. It was not peaceful nor anything near tranquil. “Buzz, buzz”…. I heard over and over. Thousands of varieties of buzzy bugs were flying around me. There were honey colored wasps, big red ones, tiny yellow buzzies that like to get close to you with their tentacles and just hangout out buzzing, big black buzzy hopping things ejected themselves out of the desert ground and leaping yards, gnats, biting flies, bees, beetles, lizards, and so many varieties of colors of buzzy love buggies I couldn’t seem to get my focused attention on at the moment!
I had some natural bug spray, sure, but nothing was going to stop this bugs buzzy symphony. My new mantra was, “befriend the buggies!” So I meditated with the bugs buzzy symphony. It was certainly quite different than meditating in my quiet and controlled tranquil spot at home. That safe container where messiness peaks up only in the distance. I opened my eyes to watch them. I was so intrigued by the layers of small life that I generally run away from. I couldn’t run away from them here. The buggies were flying all around me. I had to befriend the buzzy buggies, all of them. When the big buzzy buggies got near me, I breathed deeply and prayed, and they buzzed next to me and kept their stingers ready for other prey. I sometimes hid my face if they got really close, but I didn’t run. I stayed still and silent with my new buzzy bugs. Not quite the peace and tranquility and solitude I thought I would experience. It was intriguing to say the least.
It was such a beautiful day after the rain cleared. The skies were crystal clear blue and the sun was shining bright. And, it was hot. But luckily with the recent desert rains, it was not as hot as it normally was, so big blessing. After hours of sitting and working different kinds of meditation – seated, chanting, walking, etc., I needed my whole body in the shade, so I laid my back down on my yoga mat to wiggle my whole body in the tiny spot of shade under the desert bush and laid in constructive rest pose. As soon as I laid in constructive rest pose there was a resounding “Boom!”, I could hear that violent rumble and vibration in my bones. It was so clear as I looked over the horizon beyond the tips of the mountains. I wondered where that sound was coming from and within seconds the wind picked up to soft brushes on the skin to gusts through my hair. I looked behind me and the sky turned very, very dark with bolts of lightening flashing in front of me.
As soon as I thought, “Get in the tent now!”, the rain came down in sheets and I was barely zipping myself to safety in my thin layer of shelter. There I was in the tent, as the rain poured, the thunder rumbled, the lightening flashed, and the wind gusted to what felt like 30 knotts, but somehow I kept saying I’m safe knowing that between me and the elements was only a centimeter of material, but I was dry and felt loved. The thunder was louder, the lightening more intense, the rain was pelting down on my tent, and the wind was so strong the poles where bending from side to side. I hurriedly put heavier items in each corner of the tent and sat in front on the side that was getting the heaviest gusts to diffuse some of the strong wind force against my back so as not to have my tent come tumbling down. Ok, now I was scared. Yeah, it was just water, but people die in the desert from lightening strikes. This was not a soft and tranquil storm it was violent and loud. Fear was rearing its head again. I was scared, really, really scared. So I prayed and breathed deeply. A lot. Then, the storm was gone. It was quiet and I heard nothing but the sound of rain drops running off my tent’s rainfly. God’s hand held my heart and I felt the prayers of all those I asked to keep me in their prayers upon my sojourn through that violent and turbulent storm.
After making it through the storm, I was pretty exhausted. It was an hour of intense rain, thunder, gusty winds, and lightening. I slowly and cautiously unzipped the door to my tent and took a big inhale to the most sweetest and cleanest smell I’ve ever smelled before. After an intense rain in the desert, everything is so thirsty since waterfall is pretty rare. I could smell and hear the plants singing their rejoice after bathing in the holy waters. All my little buzzy buggy friends came back out to sing their love songs too. I had to do a bit of walking meditation around my tent to release the stress hormones that were released while I prayed fervently in my tent during the violent storm. There was such beauty after the turbulence. The plants, the bugs, all my little creature friends were buzzing and singing, the mountains I was surrounded by, even the rocks in the creek bed were joyfully dancing in time and out of time. There was such Divine sweetness after the cast of the shadow.
It was a relief to go to bed with that thought as I crawled back into my tent, rolled out my sleeping bag, and laid my head down in gratitude, thankful that my gear was still dry inside, that I stayed with my fear instead of allowing it to overcome me, and that I was tuned in enough to hear the layers of life singing joyfully around me. I was blessed to be a witness. I was relieved for the peace and tranquility that I was experiencing at this point. “What a peaceful night it will be after such rains”, I thought. Big sigh of relief.
One drinks quite a bit of water in the desert anyway, but add in the fact that it’s the only source of nutrition/energy, I was drinking a lot of water. Consequently, I was relieving my bladder quite often. I made sure of this before I settled in for the night, but, my bladder awoke me around 10pm. So I put my headlight on and walked outside of my tent. It was so quiet and tranquil. There was still a blanket of clouds from the rainstorm, so it was quite dark. I started moving my headlight around to check out the night scene.
It was really hard to see, so I went back to finish my business and right in the middle of this action, while my bottom is sticking out in the darkness surrounding me, my eyes jolted open wide, I almost froze, but can’t stop the pee train, and hear a demonic growl about 2-3 feet in front of me. At this point, I started conversing with God about allowing me to pee in peace without getting my bottom wacked off and repeating my new mantra, “I got this….I got this…I got this…”, but the demonic growl wouldn’t stop. Then I repeated, “God protect me…pee, tent, pray.” I made it back to my tent, but that growl wouldn’t stop. Should I keep my light on or turn it off? Do I feverishly look through my pack to get my multi-tool out that has a sharp knife on it and make all kinds of noise or do I sit still in frozen mode? I was so worried about the bears on this solo journey, but it wasn’t a bear. It was a desert mountain lion screaming at me!
At this point on my sojourn, I’m praying for all kinds of protection and guidance. So the Divine said to me, “Sit peacefully and breathe, you scared her and she’s just growling at you as a defensive act.” I learned to sit peacefully and befriend my buzzy bug friends, but this is in a whole different ballpark, this is a Mountain Lion! “She could rip me a part and I could die!”, which I must have said a dozen times in my plea with God to protect me and give me the courage and strength to stay calm and centered. I mean really, there’s a fine line between real fear that motivates you to save your life and the fear that get’s in the way of your life. Which one was it?
I decided I scared her, so I sat in my tent hyper vigilant, but centered and breathed deeply and slowly, held my amulets I wore with all my might and prayed for strength and courage. I was so beyond my comfort zone at this point, I felt like I was going to fall off my edge at any minute. But, there’s this thing called Faith that pulled me through. I was invited on this vision quest by Spirit, not to die, but to experience. I had no attachment or expectation to what I would experience, except that it would be peaceful and tranquil of course, and at this point, it had been anything but peaceful and tranquil. I had no attachment, but I had a very basic attachment to this certain expectation, so joke is on me. Ha! Back to this thing called Faith. I had such conviction, trust, and spiritual confidence that God had my back and so did my friends back home praying for me, that I made it through this other storm within a calm-center.
Calm-center doesn’t mean that I OMed out and Zen chopped my way to peace and tranquility. I managed to stay within my calm-center in the mountain lion storm by doing these 4 things – focused attention on my breath, breathing deeply and methodically despite fear rearing its ugly head and trying to keep my heart beating a millions miles a minute, intention setting, and intense prayer. The mountain lion finally stopped growling after 15 minutes of intense demonic sound. By the way, look up the growl of a mountain lion on YouTube, scary stuff. So, I laid my head down in my sleeping bag, and didn’t sleep much that night. There was a lot of tossing and turning. I had a lot of questions to God asking why the violent rainstorm wasn’t enough that I had to top the late night off with a visit from a mountain lion. I wasn’t angry, but I was intensely looking for the meaning until I dosed off and awoke to the sweet sound of, more rain!
Yet, this rain was soft and sweet. There were no gusty winds, there was no lightening, no thunder, just soft sweet nourishing and calm rain. Thank goodness I kept my rainfly on. Because the soft rain started so early, around 5:30am, I dozed off into a deep and relaxing sleep. Finally some tranquil rest. There were no growls, no buzzy bugs, just soft and sweet sleep. I reveled in the restful nectar.
As this point in my journey, I was a little weak from no food and the heat was a bit much in the high afternoon hours, but I’m on a vision quest, not a hike fest. I even did some gentle practice with my buzzy bug friends in the morning before the heat had me hide out under the shade. My mind was clear, but screaming with thoughts of attachment and detachment, loving and letting go. Ah, that elusive equanimity.
My body was sore and the pain was looming large. I sat on my meditation rock to meditate, to pray, to commune, to mindfully watch the life around me, to sit, to be, ah, the pain though, the pain was all consuming me. There was no running from it. No hiding from it. No numbing it. No distracting from it. No stacking things on top of it. Of course, I could do all of those things, but I knew the pain would only get worse, because, I’ve tried those paths before. They were tempting, but in the end, they were soul suckers. I fought too hard with my own blood between my fingernails to sit in the silent union right here and right now to just throw my hands up and run. I’ve worked a great part of my life to face my fears, to eat the dragons to cleanse my soul; I wasn’t about to give up now. I accepted the prayer/fast vision quest invitation from Spirit with courage and honor and love. I drenched myself in humility and prayed for guidance during this weak hour begging on my knees to see the light cast on the shadow filling space in my internal landscape.
So I sat on my meditation rock, chin up high, heart open, and gazed over at the cloudy horizon admiring the strong and steady mountains in the background. I felt the knots tighten in my belly and the lead slammed me down so fast into my gut that I could do nothing in that very moment but cry, whale, and moan. Like when the wolf howls at the moon, I was sitting here in the wild desert with my raw thoughts and connecting to a place of wildly painful union of whaling and sobbing. “My whole reality has changed again, just when I really felt connected to my most authentic joy, my gut was ripped in half, my heart felt mutilated, and my gut was loaded with led…” I was completely and utterly immobile. I surrendered in my pain. I didn’t give up though. There’s an important difference here.
When I surrendered, I invited the Divine to heal me. I invited faith to open the bridge so I could crawl to the other side. But come hell or high water, I was going to cross the bridge no matter how much lead was in my stomach, no matter how ripped open my heart felt, no matter how much howling it took, because I felt God’s love in my heart. As I looked fear, pain, and loss in the face and cried and said, “I love you too. And I’m grateful for your presence in my life for without you, I wouldn’t be right where I’m supposed to be in this experience, but now, I’m breathing you out, I’m letting go, it’s time for me to cross the bridge in the depths of my soul.” I said a silent prayer to honor the cast of the shadow in my spirit. I wiped my tears and felt the sun on my shoulders. The winds had shifted the clouds away and the sky was impeccably clear and blue. It was the clearest moment I had seen while I had been in the desert. I felt at peace, I felt calm, I felt loved, but I still felt the pain. It was different though. I was different. My soul and my spirit were dancing in love’s embrace.
My time in the desert was sacred. My date with God was an adventure into all planes of experience. It brought me to a place of greater appreciation and understanding to see the beauty in all things. I knew a little something about this before, but this experience of that spiritual tenet was quite different. I was out of my safe container. I was in the wild tuning into my raw and wild feelings. I was in a wild environment. I came one-on-one with a wild animal. The wild kept whispering its unique love to me in ways that I kept missing fully or just wasn’t simply attuned to with complete awareness back in my safe container. The wild became my messenger on this prayer fast/vision quest. And my human family, they were my helpers.
The wild landscape taught me this – the environment in the desert changes so sporadically. It seemed as though the clouds shifted with each breath and I found myself clinging to the beauty of the blue skies, to the rays of the sun beaming over my skin and seeing their light dance through the desert brush, but when I let go of this image of neatness and pristine that we tend to think of when we think “tranquility”, I smelled the sweetness in the wind shifts, I reveled in the coolness of the sun behind the clouds and I felt cleansed by the holy waters dropping from the sky. The constant shift in the desert landscape that spirit opened up to me on this quest reminded me of the impermanence of life. We desire so much for the sun to stay, for the temperature to be just right, for the setting and the relationship to be clean and fit neat into boxes where nothing inside is stirred up.
My time out in the desert reminded me and took me to new depths of understanding of how sporadic and uncontrollable life is. Life and love are messy. They don’t fit into containers with neat labels and formulas. As Mother Teresa said, “Real love is painful.” Messy is painful. Impermanence is painful. Uncontrollable and unpredictable environments are painful. But, just as much as these things are painful, they are also filled with much love, like the real deal kind of love. The kind of love that makes your soul shine and can also tear it a part. Spirit doesn’t awaken within you to only hold your hand, but awakens in you to tear you down and pick you back up, until you are attuned so acutely to Divine love that you are no different than Spirit. If you are living your life in containers with neat labels and formulas all the time, then you are too much in your head and missing the whole gem of life. You are missing the most exquisite and sensual love known to humankind. And, if you are in the container all the time, you are allowing fear to perch in the guise of honoring your edge.
We can certainly be prepared in our lives and relationships to an extent, but beyond the essential and initial preparation, life and love will blow its own way. If we are to live fully in our skin and our spirits, we must adapt to the way the wind decides to blow after we do the work of initial preparation. We must root down in our faith and trust that the bridge between pain and beauty will always be made accessible to us with right intention. We must embrace the messengers of the wild and hold steadfast the helpers in our human family.
It’s quite dangerous and destructive to the spirit to stay attached to our containers and labels and formulas (think mind speak here) because what happens in this daunting attachment is that we start connecting to our illusion of the self like it’s mother love. Mother love was the first love we ever felt and we all long to its return through all we do, but it’s most apparent in our relationships. We can fall prey to connecting to the illusion of the self like its family. This begs the important questions then – Why are we so afraid to heal with each other that we build up a false sense of safety and security within the sugar glazed walls of the self (think ego here)? Why are we so scared to heal our wounds and face our Self (think spirit here)?
We go about our day asking others how they are doing and do we really want to know or is that question just another convenient cultural construct to serve the container and formulas that everything and everyone is running along properly and neatly? What happens to the container when the answer comes from the wild call of our spirit? When the wild voice calls, real love’s wings lands on our hearts and rips it wide open to surrender and be in the beauty of all things – in the pristine and in the messiness. We look to so many things to find mother love, but the last place we look is within ourselves and in community. Safe containers are important in healing, yes, very important. But, we can get too attached to them and they inhibit our growth.
The prayer fast/vision quest in the desert taught me how to gracefully take the Texas two-step with malady and melody and love them both equally and with all the joy, pain and pleasure, smiles and tears it evokes inside of my internal landscape. We must remind ourselves that every environmental phase has its own beauty. It’s very similar to our own internal landscape and life. But, when we get stuck in our heads and disconnected from our bodies, so many of us don’t appreciate all the phases. We don’t want messy. Why do we want cleaner versions of something that doesn’t exist – the illusion of self, and then we connect to it like it’s family and when we go for the big hearted hug it crumbles in our arms?
When things get messy, that’s where we must hold onto our love and faith in God/Divine/Reality. The Divine helps us see that our messiness, that the constant changes in the landscape, either internally or externally, and either violent or serene, is the key to real love and connection. That is the ultimate human experience. Our messiness is the sum total of who we are – it’s our internal union of self and Self. Let’s not keep sweeping it away. It’s where beauty and change, love and fear, pain and loss, and birth are no longer on separate sides, but when they are all on the same side singing the melody with spirit, we will know that our Faith has carried us to the other side where soul and spirit dance in the wildness, where malady and melody intertwine with the ecstatic nature of who we are and what we are to experience in this beautiful world – the shadow and the light, the colors, the music, the either and the or, and all the blood, sweat, and tears in between.
Ay, there lies the rub – not seeing the beauty in the difficulty and bringing finality to something that had the possibility of being infinitely beautiful because we were afraid of the mess and hurried ourselves to be falsely held.
The wild messengers call forth and ignite, the human helpers nurture and hold. When we answer the call with courage and fall in the arms of that embrace with sweet surrender, in that moment the soul rises to greet the riches bathed in Grace’s smile and our humanity shifts its heartspace a little more beyond this time and this place.
Om Shanti Om ~ Athea