[These excerpts are from BURNOUT, Book 1, Burnout to Bliss series.]
From Part III, Vision Questing Somewhere in Mexico:
Camping With My FEAR
and Ancient Shamans
While everyone else was enjoying friendly campfire camaraderie, I was drawn to the moon, to the stars. The desire to be alone in the cornfield overwhelmed me. Obsessed as I was to do battle with fear, I wanted to zip myself to the gills in my mummy bag while others played around the campfire over 50 yards away. I wanted to be in the present moment with my fear. On the other hand, I also wanted to learn this social thing.
As the sun went down, I joined the others by the fire and listened to their patter for a moment. But I did not feel accepted as one of them. I felt alienated by the cheerful camaraderie of my travel companions, who seemed satisfied with their simple campfire banter. But I was drugged by my larger mission – redeeming my soul – so I left them to be alone with my “stuff” for a while. I was drawn to the moon and the stars and really just wanted to be alone.
I got Jack to escort me to the cornfield (so someone would find the body if one of those scorpions killed me) and proceeded to meet my Maker. Jack accompanied me about 50 yards away from the group, to the soft dirt that once had been a cornfield.
I took only my mummy bag, but Jack brought a rice mat to lay underneath it to keep the dirt out of my sleeping bag, my bed. Once he was sure I was okay, he returned to the group.
The night was black and still, save for the chilly breezes that frequently swept across the cornfield. They would have no trouble hearing me if I cried out, if I needed help.
At first I sat on the mat, wrapped in my down bag, facing the group. I could see their four shapes huddled together around the blazing fire like a picture on a calendar, although from this distance there was no way to distinguish the woman from the three men, nor to discern how much of each shape was solid or mere shadow cast by the dancing flames. They could easily be the ancient ones, I imagined, reinforcing my desire to have such an encounter while I was here.
Soon the aching I felt in my heart reminded me of all the other campfires I had sat around as a child. Then, too, I had felt alienated. Perhaps I was too driven, even then, by my desperate spiritual search to enjoy the light-hearted banter and silliness of friends enjoying one another.
Confronted even from this distance by the other campers’ presence, so far away, I simply turned my back to them and laid down inside my mummy bag, preparing to face, to do battle with, the dark side I had rejected – all the disappointments, fears, and anguish that by age 44 had burgeoned into a considerable adversary.
I was lying on my back with my mummy bag zipped up all the way and my arms tucked inside, helpless. The drawstring on the hood of the mummy bag was pulled tight, leaving me only a few inches to peer through from inside my cocoon, similar to the mask of a diver or a skier. I faced the darkness alone, away from the distant glow of the campfire – defying the unseen dangers of rattlesnakes and scorpions that might innocently chance upon me. After quickly scanning the shadowy trees and bushes on the edges of the field I could see, I was suddenly overtaken by fear that those deadly desert creatures were inching their way into my bag.
What was I trying to prove?
Breathing deeply, collecting myself, I turned my gaze towards the heavens, and instantly plunged into that sea of brilliance with the bravado of a desperate being, realizing that – as with all my other conflicts – no one but me had created this challenge.
Through my tiny porthole I had an uninterrupted view of the heavens. Steadfastly determined to experience that mystical, elusive sensation of joining with All That Is, of joining with my Maker, I focused all 50 trillion cells of my existence on one tiny section of the sky at a time, the total portal of my cocoon, until I mastered the view, knew the exact location and degree of brilliance of each astral body. Then I shifted my gaze minutely, conjuring up the laser beam focus again and again until suddenly I found myself … in the heavens!
I was dancing with the stars in the heavens!
And a stream of unbidden thoughts vibrated through my skull:
“I AM a source of energy equal to their brilliance, dancing amidst the stars, at ONE with the entire universe!”
“I don’t have to know or do anything to prove it. I simply AM.”
“In fact, no one can be, have, know, or experience it all. It is too vast for any kind of understanding by mere mortals.”
With that final realization came the inevitable release, the flood of tears that washed away the essence of my fear – of my own inadequacy – my feeling that I was not enough. But it was then replaced, gently, with the Knowing, now addressed to me.
“It is enough that you are. You are! You have nothing to prove. It is enough that you are. And, it’s okay to be alone.”
“No one can know, be, have, or do everything!”
I could get familiar with only the tiniest section of the heavens before it changed, and I realized that it was all really too VAST – Omnipresence!
I realized that I am part of all that. I suddenly was very clear about the fact that I don’t have to keep driving myself for enlightenment, because no one gets to “get it” anyway, no matter how hard we try! Not even the oldest shaman!
With that awareness and just as suddenly, I found myself once again in my body, back in the cornfield, merely a middle-aged woman with friends on a camping trip.
I felt stunned and at the same time exhilarated.
Shedding the bag and collecting the mat, I rushed back to tell what I’d learned to the shaman who accompanied us on this vision quest. His knowing smile both acknowledged and dismissed the battle I’d just waged and won. Without speaking, he offered me the sacred water drum, inviting my soul to sing her new song.
That night I learned something really important for an academic know-it-all: IT’S too vast for anyone to “get it,” and that’s okay. Desire is the beginning, and I had lots of it. I was driven by desire to know as much as I could about the human condition, healing, change and, especially, surrender, as in living in faith. It was in this state of pure acceptance by God, pure acceptance of my fellow man, that I ended up wandering away from the group again, this time toward the meditation tree. I wanted to be alone again.
But it wasn’t long before I realized that I was not alone.
Before me was a stream of people walking toward me. Some carried baskets on their shoulders; others carried small children or firewood. I was mesmerized by this solemn procession coming from the sacred mound. We were told we’d be alone, that no one else knew about this place. Then I realized that I really was still alone. These people were not here now. They were spirits of the ancient Indians in their ceremonial cornfield. They passed without speaking.
I suddenly gasped, aware I hadn’t been breathing. I wanted to run back and tell Bill what I’d seen. But halfway to his tent, I realized how he’d probably respond and chose against telling anyone anything. Instead, I went to my own tent and sat at the doorway … watching. This was a gift for me alone. I asked for it and I got it! No one else needed to know about it.
It didn’t help. In fact, he joked, “If anyone was going to see ghosts…”
Seeking the company of a man didn’t make the fear go away, because the fear was in my mind, I realized. All I needed to do was get outside of my tent and notice the stars in the incredible heavens where I had recently danced to center myself. I silently swore that I would remember: “Fear is in the mind! I never have to be afraid again!” I asked to be without fear, and it was happening! By focusing on the beauty around me, the stars, instead of my fear, I was becoming fearless!
On the third night, stormy wind whipped my tent into a million different bell curves, extremely skewed to the right and left and back again, and the night continued to make chewing sounds. I was not afraid. I chose to journey all night long, even though I probably had only three hours sleep in as many days. I watched my fear dance with the billowing tent.
I felt tremendously free on peyote. I was no longer suffocated by the bindings of my own perceived limitations, wrapped around me like pythons. Every emotion that came to me came amplified; there was no chance to be inhibited, no chance to be unable to “name that feeling,” as I have been when I was emotionally stunted. I realized over and over again that IT – everything – simply IS. And without the ego-personality limitations, I was able to conceive, of the possibility at least, of Limitless Being in a way I had never imagined before.
Peyote also enabled me to see in a different way. I could see auras, life-force energy, and beautifully intricate mandalas floating in space in my visual path. I had experienced mind-altering drugs before, in college, like magic mushrooms, “acid” and other concoctions made by chemistry students. But nothing prepared me for this journey. Those other drugs were all “body slammers,” from which I needed at least a very long nap if not a day in bed to recover. In contrast, I found peyote to be life-enhancing. It gave me energy. It definitely “cleaned my tubes” (while everyone else was retching behind bushes, I was having the most satisfying bowel movements). It allowed me to contemplate my life from a different perspective. And whereas I would never consider doing any of those other drugs by myself, I enjoyed my journeys on peyote alone.
From the narrow opening of my tiny tent, I glanced over at the group, who were still doing their campfire thing, laughing, telling stories and enjoying themselves. A tiny part of me wanted to join them; the rest of me remembered the heartache from all the times when I had.
Another gift from camping with shamans and seeing how my tribe, the Americans, always cluster together like little chicks no matter where they are – even camping with shamans somewhere in Mexico – was this flash of insight about my writing. Since I don’t fit in anywhere, writing must be the way I share, the way I have conversation. So what if it’s a conversation with myself? But the question still haunted me: “Why don’t I fit in?”
“But Prenda sees me,” I argued. He was the only American-born person here who seemed to accept me. I questioned further: “Could it be because he is the only one who is really enlightened? Or is it because we’re both academic nerds?” By contrast, Jack, the leader of the pack, seemed really disgusted by me. Or was he threatened? Both John and Bill were faithful followers of our leader, in other words, “Nobody’s home.” And Precious… well, she threatened no one.
Instead of aggravating my situation by joining the group, I chose to spend my time alone or with the desert animals. On my various treks into the desert away from the group, a burro shared his shade with me; birds drank my water and ate my crackers; and the lizard talked to me.
The lizard talked to me!
_________end of Chapter____
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About the Burnout to Bliss Series
(1) Burnout — How a Desert Lizard Restored My Faith tells the story of a workaholic who experienced “dark night of the soul” or existential crisis. The tale begins with a murder that happened while she was lecturing. It relates all the ways the author sought relief – from self-medication with alcohol, drugs, and men to psychics to counseling and psychiatry. Most importantly, it reveals how real healing began when the author camped with shamans in a culture vastly different from her own. Buy it from Amazon here.
(2) CYCLING in the CITY is a story about overcoming limitations –one small step at a time. It’s also about the process of making life changes – like why resolutions don’t stick. It shows how you can plan for success instead of failure – even how to make tough changes like quitting smoking, alcohol or drugs. And, it includes the underlying SECRET for success!
(3) The real story of the ego surrendering control began when that sanctuary was no longer available and I became like The Fool (Tarot card, pictured here), jumping off a cliff with a tiny knapsack and a little dog for company… Book 3 is a full-length book, currently sitting at 70,500 words. It’s a tale of letting go and trusting that life is good and safe and that all needs will be met even before I realize I have them. It is the final story of an awakening experience, my two-year journey with one modest paycheck and no plans that was launched with BURNOUT. (Working title is “Practicing SURRENDER.)
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Coming up next: A Lizard Talked to Me!
Till next time, please be kind to everyone you meet, for we all have our hidden sorrows. ~Tzaddi