Friday, October 30, 2015

Honoring those who Have Passed On (Samhain/All Soul's Day/Day of the Dead)

Most of us have people who have left our lives and crossed over. Whether you believe they are in heaven, have reincarnated, or are in another dimension, no doubt you have thought often about them, where they may be. Often when a loved one departs this world, we are left feeling empty and sad. Sometimes this feeling moves on with relative ease, and at other times we can go through a challenging period in our life trying to reconcile the feelings, find closure, or make amends. In the end, we all just want to know that our loved ones are in a good place and have only good and loving thoughts for us.

This time of year is the perfect time to reflect on those who have passed on. All Hallow's Eve, originally called Samhain (pronounced saah-win or saa-ween) means "Summer's End," and is an ancient holiday celebrating the final harvest, winter's approach, and so is a festival of the dead. It is said that this time the veil between world's is the thinnest, and is the best time of the year to try and make contact with loved ones and those passed on.

As many of you already know, my Grandmother passed away just a few short months ago. This week I cultivated a lot of energy around communing with her and honoring her. It started with a short meditation and ritual last Sunday (10/25) and then to more meditations Monday - Wednesday. Wednesday evening, after a long meditation for my Grandmom, I walked over to a jewelry dresser that I use every day and found on top the mala bracelet that I had made using some crystals from one of her necklaces. It had been "Lost" since her services and I'd turned the house and car inside out and upside down...and alas, there it was in plain site, where it had not been before. That night I slept with that bracelet and a skeleton key under my pillow in a protected satchel and had a prophetic dream involving my Grandmother as well. Last night (10/29) I went into Philadelphia with a friend to see a well-known Medium. In a room full of probably 200 people, only 10 received messages...and my Grandmother came through as the 3rd or 4th one of them - loud and clear, concise and without a second thought that it was her.

The veil is thin, indeed.

Tomorrow night is October 31 - All Hallow's Eve (Celtic: Samhain, Mexican: Day of the Dead). Then November 2nd comes, known as the "All Soul's Day," a Christian holiday of remembrance for the souls of the dead. So whether you are Christian, Celtic, Pagan or have other beliefs, we can all agree to honor our ancestors and loved ones who have parted this time of year.

Some people have asked how to properly do this. Well, I feel that you must do what feels right to you, first of all. If you have a particular religion or spirituality, move from that energy using rituals that feel comfortable to you. If you are open, then here are a couple of simple techniques:

1. Light a candle. Get a black candle and set it up in front of a picture of your dearly departed, and if you have a small personal item of theirs it is also nice to place that on your alter with the candle. Take a moment to think of them in the best light possible. Light the candle saying their name out loud, then spend some time in quiet contemplation on your loved one. Don't blow the candle out...let it go out on its own.

2. Visit final resting place of your loved one, placing fresh flowers and cleaning off the site. Spend some time in quiet contemplation before moving on.

3. Bonfire Releasing Ceremony - if you are still holding on to the person who has passed in some painful way, maybe it is time to fully release them. Create a bonfire in a safe place, and put any personal affects of the loved on into the fire and watch them burn and turn to ash. Ask for support from the Universe in releasing your loved one from your heart, with love. If you do not have any personal items, you can write them a letter, and burn it in the fire. Quiet time as the items burn is important and also some time to reflect or cry after.

4. Dinner for the Dead. Prepare a table with black tablecloth, plates and utensils. Eat seasonal items, and save an open place at the table for the deceased. You can bring a picture of them to the table if you like. Only use candlelight, and eat in quiet with your deceased. When you are finished you can read a prayer or blessing for the departed.

How do you know if your dearly departed is communicating with you? Look for the signs. They are all around us. Synchronistic events are not coincidence. Lights may flicker, you may have a dream about them, you may think that you feel their presence, missing items may show up, magical things can happen and for some people you may even hear or see them. This is not meant to be a total list, but rather just some ideas. Use your innate intuition, which is also heightened this time of year. Like anything, if you put your energy into honoring someone who has passed on, then they will in some way let you know that they are with you.

Last but not least, do not be afraid of this energy. This is the natural cycle of life. We all are birthed into life and at some point we all die. At the end of the day we are all energy, so how could that energy cease to be when we leave our body? We just take on another form...or become formless! We return to our original state: Divine Light.

So if you want to honor some loved ones who have departed, do it now. They will be listening. And if you are too, then you will commune with them?

Friday, October 16, 2015

Peruvian Adventure - Pt. III: Lake Titicaca & Bolivia

Having returned from Peru a month ago, I have found it very difficult to sit down and talk or write about the later end of our trip, which took us south to Lake Titicaca and then into Bolivia. I did not want to rush into this blog or what I might say, and as time goes on, I realize that I am still a little unclear as to what I felt during this time.

To say that the last leg of the trip was a challenge is an understatement. Having come off of an exhilarating and tremendously spiritual journey in Machu Picchu and Sacred Valley, we journeyed for 10 hours in a bus from Cusco to Puno, Peru, with me being sick the entire time. My energy exchange the last day in Sacred Valley had led me to a purging and cleansing. It may have been a blessing to spend the day on the bus, quietly resting, instead of journeying around outside. Fortunately there was a bathroom on the bus, and some stops in which to lie down or get fresh air. But in its entirety, it was not an easy ride. I felt a little guilty for not being able to talk much with my companion, Victoria, but hoped that she understood that I was not myself this day. It is sometimes very nice to sit quietly next to someone, but not feeling the need to talk.

I tried not to allow myself to be in my head on the ride down. I tried to really sleep and rest and not think. There was definitely a sense of letting go...what exactly I was releasing was on multiple levels. However, by the time we reached Puno, I was feeling, on a whole, much better than I had the rest of the day.

Lake Titicaca view from the hotel
Our hotel sat on the banks of the legendary Lake Titicaca (or Titikaka, depending on what you read). The legends of this expansive waterway are interesting, to say the least. The Incans believe it is the birthplace of life. Some will say it is an intergalactic portal for space travel. But for many, it is just another way of life, one that is fully present and connected to the earth, the water, and God.

There is a sense, a feeling, that you get on the banks of the lake. A sense of something bigger - that is for sure. At times this felt ominous. At other times contented. But all of the time a sense of omnipresence.

We left our trusted guide Jorge Luiz Delgado for these parts unknown. As he reminded us often, it was a lesson in trusting. We were met at the bus station by another Jorge and then driven to the hotel with a third Jorge (the next day when our driver spoke no English and had a different name, I was hard pressed to remember it). Jorge #2, let's call him, took us to our hotel and helped us check in and get settled. There was a discrepancy with our itinerary and Bolivia, so we were attempting to work that out with he, the hotel, and Jorge Delgado. Again, we were reminded to trust. In the end the itinerary worked out, but there was a little confusion on our part, however. Partly because of our poor Spanish skills, which collectively should have been much better, and partly because of the energy of this place that was begging us to let go even more.

View for the "Dreaming" ceremony on Uros Floating Island
Our first full day on the lake took us to the Uros floating islands. These amazing people live on reeds that float on the lake. They pay no taxes and live off the island and bartering with other villages. They live simply and are a quite hardy stock of people. We experienced a "Dreaming Ceremony" here. Lying on a reed boat, floating in the lake, we were guided on a meditation to recall our fears and negative emotions from the past and just be with them. I didn't have to think at all. Almost immediately three things came to me, which I will keep for myself. We blew 3 coca leaves, 3 times into the lake and asked Pacha Mama to release our fears and negative emotions. As I lied down, I repeated these three negative emotions over and over until they started feeling further and further away, eventually until I found myself unable to remember them at all! Since the words no longer came to my mind, I envisioned a rope tied to each one of them in the water, not unlike the way the floating islands are anchored down. One by one I cut the rope and allowed the negativity to float away. And I felt it go.

Our next stop was to Tequile Island where we did a "Rebirthing Ceremony." Like with our "Dreaming Ceremony," we were first cleansed with flower water and then told to meditate on rebirthing for one hour, and to come up with a new name for ourself. At first I was a little intimated given a one hour timeframe for meditation. I wondered if I would be able to keep my Gemini mind quiet that long. I had been wearing a set of mala beads that I had made for myself for my trip to Peru and I hadn't yet broken them in. I figured this was the perfect time and began with one round of 108 to "I am that." The second round of 108 changed to "I am." And the third round "Love, Service, Wisdom." After my japa mantras, I was stunned at with what clarity I was able to clearly see my new self. And then my name came...and then another name...WHAT!?!? Mind kicked in, "I can't have two names!" In fact, on the way walking up to the meditation site, I had a thought of one of the names before we even sat down. I let it go feeling it was my mind creating it. But when it came to me the second time, I realized it was more than that. My two names are: Lunara and Trakara. When asked to give my name, I went with Lunara. I am a Moon Girl, after all! But there is a ring to Trakara too. I'll have to spend some more time with each to see which one resonates with me more.

The day was perfect. Again I felt another wave of energy come over me as I let go of my old self and set upon a continued discovery of new energy in the guise of love, service, and wisdom. But could that all stay with me as we left for Bolivia? Well, I was about to find out.

If Peru is the place of the gods where spirits are lifted and consciousness elevated, then Bolivia is the place that challenges one's faith and tests the soul. For me, this arduous journey began with a challenging morning when Victoria woke up very sick and not sure if she would be able to travel. What did this mean? What were our options? Would she need medical attention? So many questions flooded my morning as I headed downstairs for breakfast to let her sleep a little and hopefully and miraculously feel better. On my way upstairs I met our guide, Jorge, in the lobby and broke the potentially bad news to him. He traveled up to our room with me, where Victoria was awake, packed and up, but not feeling well at all. I wasn't sure if it was the right thing to do, but she said she wanted to go. And so we were off.

I had lost a day of travel to Puno feeling ill and cleansing, and now Victoria was battling her own energies on a day of long travel - tit for tat, is that what they say? So knowing that she needed to rest, I tried to keep to myself and watch the travel unfold. We began with a long journey by bus to the area around the Bolivian border, where we left our trusted driver and headed to parts unknown. The landscape was rustic and barren, with broken up and abandoned looking cement structures that had iron jutting out from the top. Were these buildings half finished or in the process of being taken down? Who knows. We didn't speak the language well enough to get around, and we had really no idea where we were. We clung to our guide Jorge for safe passage, but were alerted that at the border we had to enter on our own, as the Bolivian government was intolerant to Peruvian guides bringing people in. Oh, and did I mention that Bolivia doesn't like the USA? Yea, so there was that.

Before leaving for our trip we had to get a yellow fever shot. I had a site reaction to said shot and thought, momentarily, that I was dying. Gladly, I did not die with the shot, but I should have seen the foreboding of this trip. We were also told that we could get our visas at the border - no problem. Have passport photos, passport, application, and about $65 american dollars. We were NOT told that the american dollars had to be in mint condition (the littlest tear or marking makes them invalid), and it was unknown that the Bolivian border would be so unrelentingly difficult in allowing us in. Flash forward nearly 3 hours, a million photo copies of documents acquired via email from a local vendor, and a whopping $160 entry fee, we were finally granted permission to go into Bolivia...with a one year visa! We almost didn't make it in. He had to let me use Peruvian money and let us slack on our hotel confirmation once we provided him with our air itinerary proving we were leaving via Peru soon. Victoria was sick. Jorge had to space himself from us. I was nervously trying to figure out what we needed. And emotions were definitely heightened and strained. But alas, we were granted entry.

It is interesting to note that we met up with two Aussie friends at the border who were given swift passage with one quick look at their Australian passports, while we Americans had a very different experience of entry. So now we are inside Bolivia, knowing that their government dislikes our country and hardly wanted us there, and I have this moment of fear that I immediately ignore so that it does not grow into anything more. I just decided to trust, and let it go.

As we travel to the lakeside town of Copacabana, there is a dichotomy between the stressors we are feeling and the elation that we are nearing closer to the birthplace of man. But there was much more in store for us this day, so after a brief lunch and rest in Copacabana, we board a very small vessel and travel on Lake Titicaca to Moon and Sun Islands. Victoria smartly lies down to rest. I decide to go up on top of the boat for a while and enjoy the view. Myths and stories of the lake flood my memory as we slowly move along the water. My polarized sunglass lenses reveal to me gold and magenta flakes in the water from time to time, and only when we seem to be traveling along a certain line. And as I continue to try and see what this pattern is trying to reveal to me, I realize that the many mysteries of Lake Titicaca, may have to remain just that. So I just enjoy these sparkles when I see them, take in the ride, and sometimes enjoy conversations with Jorge along the way.

Me at Moon Temple
Our arrival to Moon Island is greeted with much less fanfare than Tequile and Uros. We seem to be the only tourists in the area at this time of day, having lost much time at the border earlier. But to this we welcome. There is a temple on Moon Island where the Incan Virgins went to study. It is beautiful and magical. This is the island where the first woman is said to come from, so Jorge tells us, "this is YOUR island." We perform a short ritual holding hands to remove negative energy and emotions, again using flower water to cleanse us and blowing 3 coca leaves and giving them to pacha mama. Jorge also chanted and did some energy work around us while we held hands. Then he gave us some time to meditate before we had to leave. The visit was too short, but we still had to make it to Sun Island, and the day was waning. I would have liked to have spent more time in meditation on Moon Island, but it was not in the cards for us this day. I did feel much more grounded and present with a greater feeling of contentment after our visit to the temple than I had from the earlier part of our day. The long journey by boat probably also helped me relax into the moment, but the Island also felt quite serene and special. Surprisingly, a hostel sat just below the sacred grounds of the temple, on the cliffside, and we both thought how amazing it would be to spend a night right here...but perhaps another time...we do have a year visa, after all!

Sun Island sacred site, a woman and her flock!
As we embarked to Sun Island I quickly noticed the change in energy. The winds began to pick up and the sun was hinting of going down. The tiny vessel cruised along slowly and when we finally came to our port on the other side of Sun Island it was a mad rush to get on top. Luckily I grabbed my hat and gloves for the journey. The wind was whistling and we met a Bolivian film crew at the top who were there to film a shamanic ceremony around the very same sacred place that we were looking to perform our own ritual. We waited against the rocks and watched as two different women walked through with their flocks of sheep. It was nearly 25 minutes and the film crew didn't look any closer to getting rolling, so we went up to the stone alter and began a despacho ceremony. The wind blew the alter cloth to and fro and we had to gather some local rocks to hold it down. When that didn't work, we had to lean against the cloth. Then the shamans started to surround us. And then the film crew began asking us how much longer we would be there. This was no private ceremony. Again, the dichotomy between the sacredness of the ceremony with the circle of shamans surrounding us and the technological influence of the film crew and their drone equipment split me in half. Part of me felt privileged to be there at this sacred place performing this very intimate ceremony, while the other part of me just wanted to wrap it up and run down the mountain.

Dusk was in full swing as we finally departed down the mountain towards our tiny vessel. Winds howling and frigid temperatures pinching my skin, we raced against the waning sun like the last scene in Coppola's Bram Stokers Dracula! Jorge carried our precious cargo from the ceremony and promised to release it into the lake on our way back to our evening sanctuary. But by now the waves on the lake had increased to large swells, rocking the boat and causing us to break out into a little rendition of the theme to Gilligan's Island, which we then had to explain to Jorge. There were moments during this voyage where, again, fear crept in. I had to brace myself more than a few times as the tiny ship was tossed. Jorge did manage to release the wrapped cargo into the lake as we pulled closer to our port.

We, of course, made it to our destination. A tiny village on Sun Island where we would spend our evening. The guest house overlooked the lake, had no hot water or heat. The temperature was in the 40's, so after dinner, I wrapped myself into more layers of clothing (including my wool hat and scarf from Peru), tossed my scarf over the window for privacy, and jumped into bed for the night. It took me some time to get warm enough to fall asleep and our morning journey was another early one. But I knew that after the hour plus journey back to Copacabana via boat, that we had another 5 hours of auto travel in which to reach our next destination: Tiwanaku.

There are so many little details of the trip that I cannot express in one blog. The nuances and energies of these places is so difficult to share amongst a travel log. The theme for me with Bolivia seemed to keep going back to survival fears. Being there and moving about had quite a primal feeling for me. At each turn from start to finish on this journey there were omens, energetic road blocks, and terrifying situations - all surrounded by some of the most awe-inspiring places and experiences. I realized when I am connected with the earth, I trust and feel safe. And when I am not connected and more in my mind that the fear creeps in. So I attempted to stay safely out of my mind as much as possible!

Again on our long journey to Tiwanaku, we were thrust into a car with an unknown Bolivian spanish speaking driver (our trusted Jorge was with us), an old car, and unpaved roadways they called "short-cuts." At some points I thought our car was going to drive off the cliffside like on the old SNL skit "Toonces the Driving Cat." At one point we almost hit a woman crossing the road in a town because he just didn't slow down. I thought how much my husband would have enjoyed the ride - and even more so if he could drive it himself. Perhaps all of his driving gymnastics had prepared me for the ride along the Bolivian countryside because, although definitely crazy, I was not so much scared. I did have many fleeting thoughts to the theme of, "This is how people go missing," however. But, no, press on and keep out of the head, sister!

And so we arrive in Tiwanaku, an ancient city and current archeological zone sitting at 13,000 feet above sea level (the highest ancient city in the world) that historians date to about 400 A.D. But that is not what drew us to this city, it was a more recent theory that Tiwanaku is actually potentially the oldest city in the world - quite possibly some 15,000 years old. The research seems to suggest varied different views amongst scientists about the actual date of Tiwanaku, so who knows for sure? All I can do is tell you how I felt when I was there and what I saw and experienced: monolithics, unexplained precision cut stones, the elaborate doorway known as the "Gate of the Sun," which is believed to be a calendar, 7 chakra stones that when held emit a vibration that you can feel at different frequencies and in specific energy centers of your body, temple walls that boast the many different faces of man from all over this world - and beyond, temples that have yet to be unearthed and explored, the oldest Chakana (Incan Cross, representing the upper, middle and lower worlds) ever found, monuments and temples aligned to the sun and other celestial events, a general sense that the Bolivian government does not want you to know very much about this historical site, and the intersection point of several major energy grid lines or "Ley" lines where electromagnetic fluctuations have been proven to occur and along which all of the major temples of the ancients in the entire world lie.

When we placed a compass on one of the stones in Tiwanaku, it changed direction rapidly and constantly. Energy was certainly cruising around there! Were we able to definitively acquire more information about the site? No. But you could definitely feel the energy and could sense the mechanics of some higher source at work. Maybe one day we will unearth more discoveries about Tiwanaku, but for our journey, we still had to drive hours back to the Peruvian border, cross over, and head yet another hour or so to our hotel.

One last flash of fear came as we approached the border. What if they don't let us back in? Then I let it go...and ran over the border.

As I look back at the entire trip as a whole, I see how I slowly journeyed away from the external, into my self, awakened energy, elevated my consciousness, and then had my faith tested over and over again. Did I pass with flying colors? Not a chance. But I passed (I always was a consistent "B" student). Which brings me to the question of faith...what is that for me, exactly? I teach yoga and have an affinity for the Hindu pantheon. I have a deep appreciation for the Buddhist teachings. I was baptized Methodist. And I have personally practiced earth-based spirituality my whole adult life. So what do I believe? I believe in the powers of the earth, the elements, the sun, moon and stars. And I believe that as a part of those energies, that when I align to them, I am connected to the "One" source and thus have the ability to cruise with relative ease through the varied terrain of life. I've realized that the closest western definition to this is: Shamanism. And although I bow to the shamans I have met and worked with over the many years of my journeys, I can honestly and truthfully finally step into the role of one as I continue my spiritual path.

So here I am: Shaman, Healer, Yogini, Seeker. Call me what you wish - I never liked labels. What I am is a vessel of light living on this earth in this body and just trying to do my best and help others. I hope to bring many people to Peru with me to explore their own awakenings. But Bolivia? I'm not sure that many folks are ready for that yet. But when they are, I'm sure that I will be called to bring them there too. And when the spaceships finally come up from the depths of Lake Titicaca, then that will be a much better mode of travel than the path we took! Have I lost my mind entirely? God, I hope so!

In Love, Service and Wisdom.