Something different. I have used meditation to survive daily stresses but for many years I have had some profound experiences with it. This is one of those experiences:
Indian Summer – 11/20/2000
Surrounded by six elderly Native American women, I am in the middle, nestled, safe and protected by two powerful elements – age and wisdom, yet no one speaks, there is no need, we just drift in silence. Staring beyond the many miles of wrinkles, sun browned skin and snowy white hair, a tunnel of trees brush by us as our canoe is expertly guided downstream. The sun is behind clouds and we are all wrapped in faded wool blankets. It must be early in the morning but I am not told why I am here or where I am going. The trees still have leaves but I can see my breath and my cheeks feel the cold air.
Noiselessly the paddle pushed water from our sides sending ripples from us in ever widening pleats. We are deep in this wood and I like the feeling of tunneling through this ancient forest by boat, then sheltered again by my silent women. One of them smells the air, the others follow. They look at each other with some knowing that I don’t share. Could they smell home like an animal does? They shift only slightly to face forward, craning their ancient necks to get a better view. My eyes slowly close, I resist sleep in order to smell the moisture and to listen to women breath. I lose the battle and drift off to a peaceful slumber.
The boat is met by other women, yes, they too are old and grey. I feel as though I am still napping as I walk onto the shore. My clothes are magically and gently taken from me and I am led to a field where others are waiting, all women, 50, 75 maybe 100 of them. I can’t see them all, some older than anyone’s memory, ancient beings like apparitions with silver hair and pale grey clothes. Each hold their identity masterfully drawn on a circular shield. Images of animals and elements circle each one. They stand to face me, I have been expected. I know them, their faces are familiar. Thin and drawn, short and stout, some almost ghost like, others solid.
I am given one of these shields and asked to hold out my arm. She cuts my forearm hard and deep but I feel no pain. My blood comes quickly red and rich with the years of venison and berries. It is collected and pooled in the center of my leather circle. The bleeding stops. I have been inducted but I am young and question the women with my eyes. It doesn’t matter, is the unspoken answer, it is said with a shrug of their shoulders. I am led away to be cleansed by herbs inside and out.
At my cleansing one woman speaks to me. “Soon,” she says, “you will remember that you have done this to others as we are now doing. Only your body is young we have been looking for you. You will leave us soon but you will be back again.” I wonder to myself, where I will go and how long I will be away. My skin is burning as the women rub sage and other herbs on my face and back, my legs and chest. The cut on my arm is gone and more herbs go there too. I am covered with a mixture of bear grease and bits of roots, leaves and other things that stain and smell. The bear grease alone is enough to make me gag but I don’t. I breathe in its awfulness instead and remember discomfort like a badge of honor.
Herbs and water are thrown onto burning red rocks inside a sweat lodge. The flap closes, I’m alone for the first time. The thick steam and spicy fragrances make my head swim and my eyes close. My naked body responds to the heat well and I fall into a place not unlike sleep but I am awake and walking. A hawk as big as the sweat lodge appears before me and tells me get on its back. No questions asked, I feel safe with her.
I am flown over the world. Above cities from eons ago to villages I’ve known and lakes and rivers I’ve swam in. Wind rushes past my ears so loudly and yet I could still hear my host tell me I must learn to see like a hawk. From above, from afar, from space, then back again. She tells me she can see a mouse run even from this lofty position high, high above the ground.
I am placed down gently, my ride is over and I am exhilarated by what I’ve seen and learned but I am nowhere yet and open my eyes to a cold lodge and shivering skin. My teeth chatter and for a moment I’m lost and not sure how to get out of this darkened camp. Slowly I begin to remember another life and open my eyes again to find my room dark and cold. Where I had been was never answered. My arm throbs, my cheeks are cold and my blanket smells like it’s been outside.
I have been away now for many years. Are there years yet to go before I can go back? I don’t know where I was but I do know how to return.
Chapter two 9/23/2013
It has been years since that last experience and I have returned to the same ancient meadow next to the water. This time there is no canoe ride down a quiet mountain river or restful naps before I arrive. This time I was there already, lying on a table covered with layers of skins and wool. The bed was both hard and soft but I felt almost anchored to the spot with the weight of my illness. This time I came to the grounds and watched myself being cared for by all the women. I was sick and they came to my aid.
With gentle hands a poultice of herbs mixed with mustard was smeared on my chest then covered with a thin layer of deer skin; on top of that warm river stones were placed. My breathing eased and all of sudden I was no longer looking at myself from a distance but looking out from my own eyes smelling the strong scent of pungent herbs.
A woman came from behind me and pressed the palms of her hands on the top of my shoulders and then rubbed downward in long strokes around my armpits to the sides of my chest. A rush of fresh air came into my lungs where very little came in before. I was suffering from some kind of bronchitis or asthma. The physical healing came not only from the herbs and the massage but as they worked I realized that it came from their very presence. With the unconditional support they gave I could let go of all the burdens my life had piled into it. I wasn’t alone, I had help, I had the tribe.
With soft humming, chanting but with no words spoken the women worked their healing magic. They had me understand that this was the way to live and survive – with women helping women. I began to drift off but as my eyes closed the woman who had been massaging me turned into my sister bear, I could smell her and feel her before I could see her. She placed her giant paw on my chest and with her claws dug into my lungs to pull out my sickness. Aggressively she tossed it to the side. Later she would grind it into the ground with her foot and cover it with a small boulder. I gasped as I watched the procedure. How can I still be alive and why would my sister bear do this to me?
She answered by handing me a bowl filled with a steaming tea and said this is the way. Once again without words there was intense communication. This is what you must create, she infered. Get the sisters together to heal and support each other. You know I only speak when it is important.
I understood her meaning. Many years ago I was walking my dog on a leash. She saw a squirrel or chipmunk out of the corner of her eye going in the opposite direction than we were headed. My young, 70 pound Newfoundland named Ursa, whipped me around and although the leash flew from my hand and the top half me spun with her pull, my foot, for some reason remained planted right where it was. Needless to say it was badly sprained with bleeding on the inside and painful to walk on.
I nursed it for many, many weeks and yet it never got better. I decided to meditate and see if I could get an answer. As I scanned my body I noticed, at my ankle there was a black pointed, curved, cone shape thing. It was curious and seemed imbedded, so I decided to see if it was attached to something. Following it out away from my ankle it was indeed attached to a huge, growling black bear. She had grabbed my ankle and was not going to let go until I promised to never leave the red road again. I had stopped meditating for a while, like any modern woman I was frantically busy raising my family and working, neglecting my own needs.
When I promised to go back to the red road she joyfully pounced on my chest, licked my face and told me that my ankle would be completely healed by the next day (which it was) and that she was my sister. I never want to experience her wrath again. So when she told me that it was important to listen to her when she speaks, I believe her.
She continued to hold me as I sipped the soothing liquid. How, I wondered will I get women together? These ladies are ancient, they understand tribal living, they know how to use herbs and massage, and they know when to step aside and when to intervene. I looked into my sister bears eyes. Something told me this was a matter of survival. A new journey must begin. How does an introvert artist gather women for support and healing, where do I start?
As I pondered this question, I knew my time was ending with the women of the meadow. It was like being a child again, safe in the arms of a mother. I resisted letting go for as long as I could but I felt the answer: you’re better – now touch the life of others as we did for you.