Quite A Long Time Ago
It was the fifth day without food. He sat squatted down with bare feet firmly planted on red rock, overlooking the canyon that ran away in cliff walls toward the place where the sun sets. It was midday. Hot but not unbearable. He felt the sun on his face, and as he squinted out into the distance, heard the sound of wind coming . . . a warm breath traveling over the landscape and coming closer in waves until it washed over him, stiff and carrying some dust from far away — and then it was gone.
The stillness was vast. He thought about his people at home; his mother who was silent for the few days preceeding the morning he left. His father, who let his hand linger on his shoulder a bit longer than usual. He knew they were waiting for him just a half day’s walk away, singing songs for him, praying for him, as they had all sung and prayed for his older brother and his cousin before. He would be welcomed back after just one sunrise more.
His stomach growled. A familiar sound. He knew if he stood, he would feel lightheaded and would have to move very slowly. There was nothing to do, so he did not stand, but instead stayed and stayed, watching the breezes, listening to the air, smelling rustles and occasional birdsong. He was the breeze, the air, the rustles and the birdsong.
He was no longer afraid of the dark. He was no longer afraid of being alone. Now that he had suffered the demons that came the second night and third day, he found he had become content in the six foot circle that he had lived in for four days, with only his own depths to explore.
As his body had weakened, his willfullness softened and opened, his senses sharpened, and his mind expanded as big as the sky. He spoke with Raven, Lizard, and the star that fell in early morning light. He realized he knew things he could not explain — things the elders would understand. There was much more depth to being alive than he ever imagined.
He was tired, but full of some new energy, some new medicine. Nothing had happened, yet everything had happened. It was both strange and familiar, mundane and profound. It was a time that was both his alone and shared with all of Creation. In this moment, he gave thanks to the sun, to the winds, to stillness, to the red rock, juniper, and birds and all things living and dying; to his ancestors and to his children’s children’s children.
He had found some amazing truth: that the world that he’d always thought was out there, was actually inside himself. In the morning he would gather his few things, perform final gratitudes as he had been taught, and would return to give the gifts of his story to his people.
Eleven Years Ago
It is the third and last day without food. The wind has picked up and the temperature has dropped. I sit in pale sand and pine needles under the backside of a large, leaning sandstone block, the brown tarp I’d set up between two gnarled junipers flapping against the frequent gusts of cold wind. I’d been told ‘no fires’ so instead gathered dried cow patties (which are plentiful) and lit them, tucked back against the rock, as much out of the wind as I can manage. They burn well, like coals, giving off a comfortable heat that I can get very close to.
My stomach growls softly, and I smile. After the first day, being hungry became almost a lovely feeling. Yesterday morning I’d actually felt quite energized as my body’s life force shifted from digesting food to being fully here, in a wild redrock canyon on the border of Utah and Colorado. My senses are acute. I notice small and subtle signs that I could not see two days ago.
I feel the dried mud on my forehead, and raise my eyebrows to feel the tightness of where I had smeared a symbol the day before while conversing for hours with two large psychedelic-colored lizards on a flat rock in the warmth of the sun. I sense the other mud symbols down the front of my body — the spiral at my heart, lightening bolt on my lower abdomen, ‘V’ shape on my neck. Mud symbols on my body feel quite normal, natural, good, and as it should be; even as some part of my brain feels like it is watching a slow and strange movie.
Perhaps tomorrow, if I have extra water, I will wash them off.
I think about the six other people I know are at this very moment somewhere nearby in the canyon. I have not seen nor heard any of them after the first day (when I’d heard someone singing far away, and spotted Deni’s tarp on the slope across the canyon after scrambling up to the base of the cliffs and squatted there, safely under cover as a desert thunderstorm rolled through). My heart swells with warmth as I imagine each of them, hungry and strong, each in their own mythic story, with me.
On this last day, in this colder, windy weather, I feel a sureness . . . I am at home here, in this desert landscape. I can feel the rain coming. I know in my bones what I need to do to keep myself warm and out of the wind. I am safe in the wilds.
And all this . . . after lying flat all day on my tarp under a juniper the first day, pinned down by some giant invisible thumb, unable to move; grief, sorrow and an inability to care about anything paralyzing every effort except perhaps to pee.
Now I am in no way afraid. I am powerful. I can feel my power — and it is connected to the rocks and the juniper, to the birds and lizards, the clouds and the faces I see in the sandstone cliffs. THIS is real. THIS is who I really am. “I am a magical, powerful woman — a clear vessel through which the Light shines, in service of others and of the earth.”
Tomorrow morning I will return to my people and begin to live into this truth. To be of service and bring what I can of this power to anyone else who yearns for depth and authentic freedom.