In the space in between Christmas and New Year’s this year, I found myself preparing to move from a temporary stay at my parents’ house to a new home. I sifted through old memories, pieces of my childhood, old wounds and fears, feeling through the past 34 yrs (and the past year, especially) quite literally in the room I had lived in for half my life. Interestingly enough the room had become my place of practice, study and storage the last few months, a refuge for reviewing past lessons. I was determined to clean out, organize, and clear space for the new home, new year, and new chapter of my life. I was being very particular about what I would take with me and what I would leave behind in 2015. What would move with me and what would I bury in past?
As I did this, a memory from Aluna Adventures’ most recent retreat to Guatemala in November kept coming to mind. I saw myself in the cemetery on Day of the Dead (Nov 2). A group of 15 gringos being stared at but welcomed by a sea of Guatemalans who were honoring those who have passed, in complete celebration (serious party in the grave with a DJ and everything!) It was one of the most beautiful moments I had ever experienced. And it was totally unplanned 😉
I saw Meg, my friend, co-leader, and business partner (being the firestarter that she is) urging me to go use my Spanish to talk to a woman who had just walked by swinging what looked to be a can of incense. Meg was curious as to what it was. For some reason I resisted at first and contracted for a few seconds. Why are we so afraid to make simple connections sometimes? All of a sudden I felt a piece of my old self that had apparently not died, the shy little girl who was afraid to speak. All my years of travel have seasoned me to never think twice about striking up a conversation with a stranger, so it was odd to feel what I was feeling in that moment. But Meg fed me a bit more fire, and I followed in the direction of the woman.
The connection was probably only 5 minutes long, but it will live in me until my dying days. I’m not sure exactly why. Maybe it’s that the most memorable moments, are simple, yet full of heart. Maybe it’s that the women were tapped into what I needed at that moment in time. Or it was a foreshadowing of all that is to come. Maybe it was all three and there are more reasons waiting to unfold.
I learned that what she was burning was the incense copal from the tree resin of the copal tree. It’s used widely in Mayan culture especially around Day of the Dead. It was discovered in ancient Mayan burial grounds and like many incenses and is used for spiritual cleansing. I felt cleansed by sweetness, a characteristic of the Mayan people, as I small talked to the woman and her friends. And of course, they chuckled at me, another characteristic is their innocent laughter.
Interestingly enough, in Tzutijil Mayan, the words for “I feel happy” are literally translated as “honey in my heart” (which I learned from Martin Prechtel, a Mayan shaman who grew up in the Southwest US.) I felt filled with courage as I shared in the steady presence of a woman standing next to the grave of the husband she had lost in the past year, and at same time thinking: how does one do that?? They handed the incense to me, and I swung it, the smoke and scent filling my smile. Heidi, Aluna’s photographer, said to me afterwards, “You were meant to hold that incense.”
I guess I was. It’s as if they knew I needed it. As if they knew that we in the West need to learn to let go, to let die what needs to die. To be with death itself rather than clinging and clutching to what they are about to lose. They let it go and honor what has died, trusting in the cycle of life. And as we have just passed through the death of another year, another season, suffering from losses of relationships, jobs, loved ones, long-held identities, to name a few…..Can we do like the Mayans do and let go of what has died, celebrate at the crossroads, and trust that new life is on it’s way?
At Aluna we see every culture and creature as a teacher and we travel as a way to bridge the gap between us and the world. It’s a way to clear the heaviness and rid ourselves of old belief systems, judgements, and patterns that we have about people and countries we have never even met. What have you been clearing to make space for the new, for another wild adventure around the sun? And what adventure will you take with us this year?
In the name of peace, love, + wildness,
**photos by the amazingly talented: Heidi Roland Photography
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