[These excerpts are from BURNOUT, Book 1, Burnout to Bliss series.]
From Part III, Vision Questing Somewhere in Mexico:
A Lizard Talked
I was off on one of my solo treks. We were in the last days, and I was saying thank you and goodbye to this magical place, filled with gratitude for my empowering experience.
As I walked through the area around the cornfield, memorizing each detail in my heart, I was stopped suddenly by a voice in my head.
“Stop, clumsy fool!” And I did, looking around for the source of the command. I saw no one and was about to move on when I heard the voice again.
“Down here!” it called. And I looked down, all the way to the ground where I saw a tiny, spiny desert lizard looking up at me.
“Do you know where I live?” he asked, with an imperious tone.
“No,” I answered aloud, feeling suddenly stupid. What if someone from our group happened along on their way to a bush and saw me talking to a lizard?
“That’s because I have no house,” he continued. “Do you see my storehouse of food?”
“No,” I replied, silently this time.
“That’s because I don’t have to store food like you fools. I know the Creator will shelter and feed me. Why don’t you? Think about it!”
And I did as I watched him leave in his tiny little lizard huff.
The lizard had nothing, yet he worried not. Rusty memories of Bible study came to mind – something in Matthew about the birds:
Don’t worry about things – food, drink and clothes. For you already have life and a body – and they are far more important than what to eat and wear. Look at the birds! They don’t worry about what to eat – they don’t need to sow or reap or store up food – for your heavenly Father feeds them. And you are far more valuable to him than they are. Will all your worries add a single moment to your life? —Matthew 6: 25-27
I felt warm all over, saturated with love by my encounter with the lizard.
So I had to go to Mexico, eat peyote and talk to a lizard to be reminded of the truth I’d learned as a kid? That we live in a loving universe and all our needs are met? So what! God speaks to us however we can hear. And in that moment, I heard!
I returned to my fellow campers with a shit-eating grin and was shocked to hear Precious speaking about something important: social responsibility!
Precious said she had been boycotting tuna 14 years because dolphins are killed in tuna nets. By my estimate, that would have made her eight years old when she began this politically correct boycott. She also said she had no high-tech gadgets when she lived in Europe – “just a microwave.” Not only that, but she said she had “shared a bathroom with four other people!”
I shook my head slowly and said, “Wow. That must really have been so hard for you.”
Realizing that I was being sucked into my old patterns again, I bit my tongue and silently asked myself, “Why did I respond that way to her? Sure, she’s an air-head. But could it be that I feel slighted because there are only two women in our group and the four men all fawn over her as if she were a Persian cat?” I didn’t want to be Jack’s lover, nor did she, so she said. But I felt like she was sucking up to him for special favors. And the ever-present monitor inside my head said, “So? Who cares? When did I ever need that? Is he someone you’re interested in?” And, of course, the answer was “No.” It was more the reminder of being excluded than anything else.
I decided it was in everyone’s best interest for me to practice silence, to the extent possible, for the rest of the trip. With that, I retreated again to my desert, reminding myself what I’d learned earlier: “I’m alone, and it’s okay.”
Some part of me imagined that maybe I’d learn how to do this “group thing” before the trip was over. It was true that I wanted very much to learn that skill. All my life I had been on the outside, on the fringes. Even in elementary school, I was never chosen for one of the teams in Red Rover. I can’t ever remember being included in any group, not even Brownies. People loved to elect me to be in charge. They came to me with their problems. But they never seemed to want me on their team. What’s up with that? I wondered. Maybe it had something to do with being “the only one who can do it.”
The last night in the cornfield, figuring I had absolutely nothing to lose, I asked the men why they were afraid of me.
They laughed. They actually laughed! Finally, Jack said, “You’re not afraid to put yourself out there.”
Fascinating! I’d always seen myself as being the most fearful person in any group. On this trip, according to him, I was the least!
I left again, and they must have said something to Precious, because she made a gesture, albeit an awkward one, to connect with me on our return trip from the desert.
The bus driver pulled into a station and said we had a five-minute bathroom break. Precious followed me, uninvited, into my teensy bathroom stall, where I sat peeing. I found myself suddenly hoping for a stinky dump. She pinned me in with her arms braced on each wall, her legs against my knees, and her back against the door of the stall. She announced that she wanted to talk. I looked up and found it really difficult to pay attention to her request as I was looking at her crotch while I was peeing, possibly even shitting if I were lucky. I was nonetheless able to emit some soothing teacher-to-student sounds as I had tried to do with her during this entire trip, only because I’m older and felt so obliged. I let her speak and did not interrupt or ask questions or make any other kind of verbal utterance that might extend her stay in my toilet stall.
“Perhaps before it’s over,” she said, “we’ll be chums.”
I wanted to laugh. I trusted the scorpions more.
Precious was a wonderful teacher, because she showed me by way of her constant inanity and my inevitable nurturing response just how full of bullshit I was. My trouble with relationships had always been that my appreciation of intelligence and wit exceeded my desire for community. I’ve always found it hard to love everyone despite how inane or vapid they were. I wanted to be able to. But I still had a long way to go before I could honestly and unconditionally love dear Precious. There was still a lot of road ahead of us, and I vowed to avoid being in such close proximity with her again for the rest of the trip, just to be safe.
Despite my difficulty with Precious, I imagined that my general tolerance for others was expanded with this trip to Mexico. All my life, I’d felt sorry for poor people I’d seen in places I’d visited, especially Mexico, probably because I visited that country more frequently. Now that I’d lived with them and shared their joy, I knew they were far richer than I was in many ways.
Once again near Tepic, we made our way through the jungle to see the ancient one, Don José Matsuwa, way up high on a mountaintop overlooking the town, about a two-hour drive in the back of yet another truck. And I got another lesson.
Don José spent his days on a covered litter outside the tiny dirt-floor hovel where he lived with his wife who was also a shaman. There were chickens in the yard which was shaded by tall trees. The chickens were pets, part of the family. After we stretched our legs a moment, we gathered in a circle around the litter.
At the mountaintop, sitting at the feet of Don José, I suddenly felt as if I belonged, as if I had come home. Then, when the others left to buy arts and crafts from shaman relatives who were coming up the path with their diverse wares, the old man spoke to me.
First he tried his language. I shook my head stupidly, looking beyond him, frantically searching for an interpreter. He waved his hand dismissively and started again. This time he spoke not in words but directly inside my head, as the animals in the desert had done.
He acknowledged my insatiable thirst for spiritual knowledge and smiled. He offered to show me the way. Sweeping his hand to embrace the enormous vista before us beyond the mountaintop, he reminded me of the mountain lion who visited me during my massage sessions with Mimi. He told me, “You can learn everything you want to learn right here, and you’ll want for nothing. I’ll teach you.”
But I was too afraid. I couldn’t speak his language, and my Spanish sucked! And my mind certainly wasn’t developed enough to transmit thoughts consciously to another on that level!
Again he waved his hand to dismiss my fear, to shut me up. He heard what I was thinking!
I pleaded with him, “How can I learn from you if I can’t even speak your language?” He shook his head and spat to the side. In the face of such resistance, what else could he do? It was obvious he had given up on me; my desire to learn from him was not strong enough to overcome my fears. I had flunked the interview.
I sat in silence with this ancient man for what felt like an eternity until the others returned. Then he laughed with his grandson, Prenda, and accepted the gift of a cigarette from Jack, whose ease of relating to anyone, anytime, or anywhere embarrassed me even more in view of the interaction I had just had with the old shaman.
Finally, the old man blessed each of us with the sacred feathers, and when it was my turn, the “blessing” was an impatient swishing. I could feel his disappointment in me, in my deplorable lack of faith. (Who said spiritually enlightened folks don’t get pissed-off?)
Before we left, perhaps subconsciously wanting to piss him off even more, perhaps wanting to win favor by supporting his kin, I scurried to find the artisans I had ignored earlier. I would indulge myself with material things, by God, even if I was living on air! But instead of jewelry, I bought a special bolsa (shoulder bag) from the shaman’s wife (similar to the ones our shamans had carried instead of backpacks for camping) and two of his healing feathers. Perhaps I was hoping that someday, when I was wiser, the old man would come to me in a dream to share his wisdom.
But the gesture of the bolsa didn’t quite accomplish what I’d hoped. Don José had already made it clear; he wanted nothing more to do with me. I felt it in his “blessing.”
When he mumbled the blessing prayer and touched my shoulders with the feather, what I “heard” was “you chicken-shit,” and what I felt energetically was a slap.
It wasn’t until I started writing about this adventure, almost 30 years later, that I realized why he was so upset with me. He knew that I spoke with animals, that I’d been called to be a shaman. But I had flunked the test with my worries about how I would get along.
I worried, because I didn’t speak the language, didn’t know the culture, had a job and two cats waiting for me at home, and I couldn’t imagine how I’d possibly deal with all that from his mountaintop to be his student. After being called, after animals speak with the shaman-wannabees, the applicants are tested for the strength of desire that will enable them to go the distance. Despite the longing he recognized in me, I simply didn’t have the faith to commit and therefore flunked that test in a big way!
Not only that, but not long after this experience, I learned that Don José Matsuwa had died at age 117. I chose to believe his impatience with me was related to his desire to quench my spiritual thirst immediately, knowing that he didn’t have much time left.
The beginning of my “heart melt” may have been the peyote. But it was three-year-old Marianna, niece of Prenda, who trusted me, loved me, played with me, and let me love her. She was the one who broke down my last wall, and when the truck broke down on our return from the visit to Don José, we walked together through the jungle to a small school for safety.
There were wild animals lurking in the jungle – like panthers. While we were waiting for the men to come back with another vehicle, I held Mariana in my arms while she told stories in what I heard as her tribal language. She was incredulous when I explained in broken Spanish that I couldn’t understand her. She switched to Spanish, laughing at my weak approximation of even that language, saying I sounded like a two-year-old. I promised her and myself that I would study Spanish before I returned.
Of all the “spiritual people” I was around on that trip, Mariana was the one who healed my wounded heart and taught me to love, simply by loving me. Her steadfast love and acceptance reminded me that giving love where there is none is the special challenge in A Course in Miracles. She was only four years old, but had mastered loving! So, for the rest of the journey, I allowed myself to play with the children instead of being alone. They are, after all, the real healers in any culture. And they were much easier to be around than my peers.
Back in Tepic, I bought another remembrance – a yarn painting made by Prenda’s mother-in-law. It was another gesture on my part, hoping she would explain to him that I really was a bit more than a dumb nerd after the event on the mountain. After all, her daughter, Silve, had been with me in the desert. She knew the animals talked to me. I was hoping she would tell her mother.
While everyone was yakking about their purchases, Silve pulled me back into her bedroom and presented me with handmade earrings and a crystal necklace – presents I would cherish forever!
Despite all my blunderings in my complete lack of social skills for the group experience, I had actually bonded with the only ones I cared about – Silve and her spiritually enlightened husband, and their niece Marianna, not only because they were wonderful people and great teachers, but because they saw me!
We returned to the coast and began our decompression for re-entry to the States with a day trip to a small island surrounded by a dense coral reef. Thin strips of sandy beach became rocks, sometimes broken glass, and then feathers and droppings of the island’s hundreds of inhabitants. The top third of the island was tropical, jungle-like. I saw five pelican nests in one tree. The tree appeared to be dead or dying. Someone said the bird droppings were killing all the trees.
On the far end, following a narrow path beside the rock wall of the island, wooden steps led to an abandoned restaurant resembling a ship’s deck, complete with wheel, sculptured mast, and guard rails. The thatched roof provided the only relief from the sun other than the jungle which we’d been warned to avoid because of the deep bird droppings.
After exploring what I could, I returned to the water, where I floated and swam for a nice long time … alone. I felt safe and emotionally nurtured by the water – at least until I put a foot down and got pricked by a sea urchin. That was, a sharp reminder to pay attention. The day was mostly lovely, a preparatory step for re-entry into our very different lives back home.
I had been fascinated by all the birds and tried repeatedly to get closer to them.
Later, while sitting on the rocks, I noticed a pelican standing nearby. I imagined it liked me, and I marveled at its gentleness. Then I noticed the somehow sad and very small eyes that scanned our space. It moved so slowly. I wondered why it chose to be with us instead of flying or floating with its kind. Perhaps it was begging for a handout. John was feeding it, after all.
And then I saw the truth.
One wing was mutilated, broken off at the elbow; it couldn’t fly. It wanted to be close, to share any food we might have because it was helpless to feed itself.
I thought of Precious, who I perceived to be trying to pass off responsibility for herself by attaching sexually to our leader – to be “fed” by him. And I thought of all the other women I’d worked with who had likewise attached themselves to males their whole lives and who were now totally helpless, because their benefactors had either died, had grown tired of the burden, or moved on to younger women.
As the day passed, the beach began to shrink as waves lapped with greater energy, taking away more of the sandy strip with each bite. I could feel the group’s uncertainty, tension, even anger at their perceived helplessness. Everyone seemed to be wondering the same thing: “If our boat doesn’t arrive soon, where would we go next?” Our tiny strip of beach was shrinking rapidly. We couldn’t go into the trees, and we were a long way from the mainland.
Finally, the boat arrived to take us back to the beach on the mainland, where we could at last shower, eat real Mexican food, and party.
I found myself once again longing for a man to notice me. This time, Bill was the chosen one. But it was the same old story. It reminded me of the studies I’d done before this trip. According to A Course in Miracles, when the ego searches, it gets, but it doesn’t find what it looked for. So perhaps this longing for love just out of reach was my spiritual self, the Holy Spirit within, repeatedly trying to get my attention?
On the last day, staying at a Mexican beach resort to relax, I bought myself two last presents – a white rug for meditation and a strand of rough Lapis rocks. Lapis supposedly has to do with wisdom. Lord knows I could use some. I showered, put on my hot pink “Puerto Vallarta dress” and Lapis necklace, and looked into the mirror, trying to understand who was looking back and what she was so desperately wishing for.
So far, it appeared that my great lesson about relationships with the opposite sex had something to do with longing for the one who didn’t want me. This time, his face was the one I had drawn over 10 years ago, one night in my apartment on the river in Purgatory. It looked exactly like Bill. How had I known then about this man I hadn’t yet met and wouldn’t meet for so many years to come?
And now I was hoping to connect with him. What on earth was I thinking? Was this the ultimate rejection? Talk about unavailable – in every conceivable way. Why had he become such an obsession for me?
Reining in tightly that inner romantic, I was determined to enjoy myself, to let go of my obsessing and simply be part of the group. They were now dancing on the beach to Phil Collins tunes broadcast from Jack’s boom box.
On my way to join them, however, a coconut bombed me. Naturally, it landed on my foot which was already wounded from all the hikes in the desert. I limped up to the resort and asked the bartender for ice. And then I massaged my foot as long and as hard as I could stand it. When I thought I could walk, I went into my room and asked for White Light, lots of it, to heal what felt like a fracture this time.
Energy filled my body and my hands trembled! Bill, meanwhile, had come into the room, had seen my hands shaking, and asked me about it. He then asked me to place my hands on his back, his knee and, finally, his heart. I prayed silently, “Lord, let me be a channel of healing for this man.”
Bill shook his head in astonishment. He said his pain had been released. He embraced me, whispering, “I love you,” like all the men before him, and – whoosh! He was suddenly gone, like all the men before him.
About three hours later, at 6:30 a.m., I was dressed and on the beach asking the time so I could help Bill catch his flight. He had mentioned the night before that he had a hard time getting up. But when I knocked on his door, I found him dressed and already packed.
We went to the beach to watch the fishermen throw, and then collect the giant seine.
Jack and John were up and we sat on the porch one last time listening to tunes, drinking a coke, and sharing stories: “a 12-day blur… the truck… no truck… vomiting our guts out… Cosmic cops on the loose.”
Then we strolled down the beach for “café con leche y huevos con frijoles” for everyone except Bill, who said he gets airsick and therefore doesn’t eat before flying.
Strolling back with his arm around me, Bill said that he wanted a copy of the picture Jack took of us and that perhaps we would get together again soon. He called me “sweetie”, gave me a powerful hug, and told me cold-stone-sober that he loved me; he kissed me, and then disappeared in the taxi.
More tears. I smoked one of Jack’s cigarettes, and then played in the water one last time. “Vaya con Dios,” Bill!
Why was I always saying goodbye?
After the plane landed in Denver, Jack and I rode in silence, well over an hour, all the way back to his house. Perhaps we were both still decompressing … or not.
When my truck was warmed up and loaded, when I was ready to leave, he suddenly chose to dial a number on his phone and disappeared! I guessed I wasn’t the only one who hated good-byes. I left a note and took off for the eight-hour drive back to Purgatory.
__________end, Chapter 12_____________
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About the Burnout to Bliss Series
(1) Burnout 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. Buy it from other venues here.
The first get away from that extreme situation was to a “sanctuary” in California as related in Book 2, CYCLING in the CITY. That get-away apparently was presented simply to heal myself enough to take the next step.
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! Buy it from Amazon here.
(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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Next: Part IV, Going Home
Till next time, please be kind to everyone you meet, for we all have our hidden sorrows. ~Tzaddi