Thursday, March 8, 2018

Blessed are the Meek

My little lame chick is gone. (see No Ordinary Love, Dec. 7/17)  She died last December, but I only recently found out about it.  We shared a special connection for a brief, beautiful time in the Amazon rainforest of Peru.  She was one of the guiding spirits who helped heal me at an ayahuasca retreat I attended there in November. 
There were two animals  that stayed at the retreat. One of them was Tyson, an orphaned young wooley monkey, and the other was my chick without a name.  Victoria, one of the co-owners of the retreat, brought both animals with her to stay at the retreat.  Tyson is Victoria's animal companion, and the little chick was brought along because she needed extra care due to a badly deformed foot which caused her to limp. 
After a week in the rainforest, all of us returned down river to Victoria's home in the village of Shintuya, where I waited with Jessica, my guide and ayuasquera, for our driver to pick us up and take us on the long journey back to Cusco.  We sat in the back lot of Victoria's home with numerous chickens that Victoria raises.  They wandered freely around the property, clucking and pecking to their hearts' content.  The little lame chick joined them for a while, but when I came and sat down at the picnic table, she hunkered right up next to me, leaning against my foot.  She was so light and small I barely felt the gentle pressure of her body on my shoe.  I didn't dare move because I wanted her to stay there as I listened to Jessica spin a magical tale about how she was called to perform ayahuasca ceremonies in the Amazon.  Eventually the chick jumped up on the bench and stuck right by me.  I knew this wasn't normal behaviour for chickens that are being raised for eggs or meat.  But she wasn't an ordinary chicken.  She had another purpose in this world, and I know that it was to teach and heal me. My little lame one was most surely an animal angel.  And in case you're thinking that I'm off on an unfounded flight of fancy regarding messages and signs, Tyson proved she was no ordinary chick, too. 
While she sat next to me on the bench, Tyson joined us as well.  When the chick jumped down on the ground to greet him, he immediately scooped her up in his long, dangling arms.  The chick offered no resistance as he cuddled and embraced her.  They became a single unit of twisted arms and wings enfolded around each other.  It was touching to see such precious inter-species bonding.  
I was fully aware why the chick was being raised by Victoria, and made no judgement.  I saw many small animals and birds being raised for the same purpose, and they were healthy and free.  The term free-range doesn't even begin to describe how well they lived.  They roamed freely on the same property as the humans that fed them, and were able to avail themselves of the entire rainforest if they wanted.
When I saw how Tyson cared for the little chick, I worried that he might miss her if she went the way of the other birds.  I mentioned this to Jessica, who said she would pass my concerns onto Victoria.  But alas, it never came to that anyway.
A few weeks after my visit to Peru, my little chick was caught and eaten by a tayra, an Amazonian weasel who invaded the chicken enclosure on Victoria's property.  I'm sure she was the easiest of prey for the weasel to capture, considering how lame she was.
I cried when Jessica informed me of my sweet chick's demise, but I also understood that it's part of the cycle of life, especially in the wild.  The weasel needed to eat, too.  But I loved that little bird, and I know that a large part of the reason for her existence was to help me, and she certainly did.  I needed stability and grounding, which I found in Peru, where a plethora of plant and animal spirits abide.  

I'm pretty sure it was never meant for my chick to live a long life.  A couple of the many attributes of the chicken as a spirit guide are sacrifice and resurrection.  She made the kind of sacrifice that has created at least one major religion, and saved many of its believers. But my animal angel was a lowly  chicken, and the only person she helped save was me.   
Although there are a multitude of magnificent Amazonian birds and animals, none could have taught me better.  Chickens are flightless, common birds.  They can flap and flutter a few feet up in the air, but earth is their element.  My little lame chick, by her very nature, was grounded and humble.  I learned the same lessons of grounding and humility from Grandmother Ayahuasca during ceremony.   
Both spirits brought me down to earth.  However, it must be said that I had a much softer landing with my chick than I did with Grandmother.  That's just as it should be, because Grandmother is the matriarch of all plant spirits in the Amazon.  The little chick's role in my healing was as Grandmother's teaching assistant, and she performed it perfectly. 
My little chick's short life was not without meaning and purpose.  She taught me by her example, and healed me with her presence.  If that doesn't make her a spirit guide, then I don't know what does.  I honour her memory by carrying  her teachings with me for the rest of my life. 
So mote it be.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Magic Rocks

January 31, 2018 was a blue moon, which is the second full moon of a calendar  month.  I always enjoy a full moon, whether it's blue or not, because of all the weird energy that goes around.  There's a buzz that passes amongst people, whether they know it or not.  This past blue moon was no exception.  In fact, it rocked - literally.
Ever since my transformative trip to the Amazonian rainforest in Peru last November, I've been applying the lessons that Grandmother taught me.  (see Eternal Return, 12/21/17)  I learned about the importance of love and connection.  I knew that intellectually, of course, but hadn't properly integrated into my life.  To quote myself - I learned that love is the bedrock to a life well lived
I went to Peru to establish emotional stability.  Due to faulty wiring early in life, I didn't have a rock-solid foundation.  Thanks to Grandmother, I got the grounding I was looking for, but only after the shaky, old house that was my former self crumbled and fell.  It was an extremely difficult healing process, but worth it in the end - communing with Grandmother over tea is first and foremost about healing.  Receiving mystical visions and insights is great, but if Grandmother knows a person needs to be healed, that's what she addresses first. 
Since then, during a very harsh winter in these here parts, I've sustained injuries from a fall on slippery pavement, as well as endured a miserable, lingering cold.  Normally so many unpleasant circumstances would have sent me spiralling into a pit of despair.  But not this time.  In fact, I'm doing just fine.  I'm handling the normal challenges of life with enough strength to stand on my own two feet, even when I'm flat on my back with sore ribs and a cold.   
My spiritual progress was on my mind on the day of the blue moon as I cruised the aisles in the bookstore where I work.  My thoughts turned to Grandmother and all the messages and lessons she still sends me from time to time, mostly in the way of signs and  synchronicities.  I mused on my newfound stability and well-being, as well as my deeper appreciation for rocks and stones as symbols of strength and balance.  (I've yet to tell them, but I picked up a couple of rock-related stories whilst in Peru.)  So I couldn't help wondering if Grandmother or the Universe had any magic in store for me that day.  Added to that, it was also a mental health awareness and fund-raising day, sponsored by a major media corporation.  As a recovering depressive, mental health is something that concerns me  deeply.
While I was passing through the "Health and Well Being" section of the store, I noticed a small package stuck in-between a couple of books on one of the upper shelves.  At first I assumed someone had left it there by accident, but it was positioned in such a way that I realised it was deliberately put there, and meant to be found.  I pulled a small, mesh bag down and saw that it contained a smooth, polished stone that fit nicely into the palm of my hand.  There was a card included as well, with a note to indicate that the stone was purposely left as a reminder that the day was dedicated to mental wellness.  The stone bore the painted image of a heart containing the words - wait for it -  healing first!  What a thrilling moment.  Grandmother had come through again, and on a blue moon, no less.
Grandmother continues to speak to me through signs, symbols and metaphors, giving me magical stories to write on this little web of mine.  Writing heals me, too, and Grandmother knows it.  The small stone she sent my way, via some local angel-artist, renewed my faith in the healing power of the many gifts bestowed upon me by the loving spirits that grace this bountiful, beautiful Earth.
Blessed be.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Water Divine, or Life with Gill

The Shape of Water, a film directed by Guillermo del Toro, is truly fantastic, in every sense of the word.   There are other films I've liked as much, but I wanted to write about Water because I felt as if it spoke to me personally, and its subject and themes suit this little web of mine perfectly. 
Guillermo didn't just write the film for me, he wrote it about me.  He doesn't know that, of course, but writing this blurb is my way of putting it out there so that maybe he'll get the message on some wyrd, unconscious, quantum level.  I like to imagine there's some entanglement going on.
The Shape of Water is about my universe and how I live in it.  I live my life through signs, symbols, archetypes, and metaphors.  The Shape of Water is chock full of them.  That's because it's a myth, as ancient as it is modern.  I felt the same way when I saw James Cameron's film Avatar, but didn't have a blog (ugh! ugly word) back then.  When I recently learned that Jim and Gill are good friends, I was thrilled, although not really surprised, because they both care about this planet and make fabulous films about it.
(N.B. Before you read any further, if you haven't seen The Shape of Water, consider this a "spoiler alert.")
Although I hadn't even heard of the film, I knew I'd love it when I saw a fascinating picture on its "coming soon" poster at a theatre.  It shows an otherworldly couple in a loving embrace, weightless and free floating in deep water.  Even the title captured my attention.  How exactly does one describe the shape of an element that's so amorphous and fluid?  The beautiful image and evocative title got me hooked.  I felt certain I was in for a treat, and I wasn't disappointed.
The Shape of Water is a mythic story set against the backdrop of the Cold War in the early sixties.  The heroine, Elisa, portrayed by the awesome Sally Hawkins, is a mute cleaning lady who works at a top secret government laboratory.  One day an amphibious creature is brought to the facility in a water tank, and eventually our heroine forms a close bond with him. 
Both characters are outsiders.  In fact, most of the "good guys" in the film are outsiders of some kind.  Her closest friends are Zelda, a black co-worker, and Giles, a middle-aged, closeted gay artist.  Being a black woman or gay man still connotes some sense of outsider status, but in the early sixties it was way out there.   That's one of the many reasons I enjoyed the film so much, because I tend to favour oddballs and fringy types, something I write about frequently.
The fish-out-of-water theme is established very early in the film.  The first scene shows Elisa performing her morning ablutions in her bathroom.  As she inspects herself in the mirror we see three long, straight scars on the side of her neck.  The enigmatic poster that drew me to the film already hinted at her origins, but upon seeing the scars I knew that they were vestigial gills, and that our heroine was a mermaid.  Her inability to speak confirmed that, because mermaids are traditionally mute in myth and folklore, and fish don't have vocal chords.  Further evidence of her watery background was revealed in the same scene when she pleasured herself in the bathtub - all part of her ritual to get the day started. 
Most of the sex in the film, whether it's do-it-yourself or let's-get-it-on, is in water, which is where fish and sea mammals do it.  And if that weren't enough to indicate her fishy past (and future), she was abandoned as a baby by a river.  Shades of Moses found in the reeds of the Nile.
The more prosaic of you might say so what if I figured out she was a mermaid right from the start?  Why should that make it a good film?  Okay, maybe that doesn't make it a good film (although I happen to think it's a great one), but it makes it my film and my story and my world.
True, I have a thing for mermaids.  In fact, I have a thing for otherworldly beings of all kinds.  No wonder I recognised Elisa for who she was right away. And no wonder Elisa was immediately drawn to the amphibious creature from the Amazon, revered by the natives as a god, but regarded by his captors as a monster.  And no wonder the creature/god saw a kindred spirit in her.  And no wonder I flashed unto communing with Grandmother Ayahuasca, who's one of the most venerated plant spirits of the Amazon rainforest. 
I had recently returned from a transformative spiritual retreat in the Amazon jungle of Peru when I saw the film.  Finding out that the creature/god came from the Amazon got my it's a sign! radar  bleeping loudly, only this time it sounded more like sonar. 
It wasn't a random choice on Gill's part to have the Amazon rainforest as the creature's habitat.  The Amazon is home to the world's widest variety of plant life, which means it's the lungs of the planet.  The creature/god, who originated in the primordial waters of the Amazon, represents all of Mother Earth's flora and fauna.  He represents Life itself, all life.  
Natural resources should be protected and preserved for the sake of all humankind; not pillaged and exploited for power and greed.  That's exactly what's happening in the pristine jungles of Peru right now.  Roads are being built to gain easy access into the rainforest for logging and mining, threatening  indigenous people's land and  lives, as well as the health of the entire world.  The seizure and abduction of the creature/god from the Amazon jungle is emblematic of what's currently being done to the environment.
It's obvious to me that Gill and I are on the same wavelength - we ripple at the same frequency.  So how could I not resonate with this film?  And how come I wasn't called to work as an extra on it?  They had all kinds of extras in it.  Surely I'm worthy enough to at least have hovered somewhere in the background.  After all, I'm an actress.  I'm fairy-friendly.  And the film was shot in and around my home town of my childhood, which is less than an hour from where I live now.  Everything was aligned to create a serendipitous event.  Being a part of that film should have been a slam dunk.  But alas and alack, it was not.
But I digress.... sort of.
The fact that The Shape of Water was filmed on my childhood stomping grounds is another of the many ways I feel connected to the film.  The narrative revolves around Elisa and her friends helping the creature escape so that he can return to his watery home in the jungle.  Elisa's inner journey is essentially the same.  It's the story of discovering her origins and finding her true home.
One of the first important symbols is the seemingly ordinary egg, which plays a role in revealing Elisa's history.  The expository scene with Elisa features a bowl of white eggs that appear almost  luminous set against the backdrop of her dingy flat.  Elisa's fondness for eggs isn't just because they're something to eat; she loves to fondle and caress them as well.
To gain the creature's trust, Elisa places eggs by the side of the pool where he's kept, because she intuitively knows he will be drawn to them.  Their strange, mutual fascination with eggs is no doubt because they're both amphibians, and like fish, they're hatched from eggs.  I thought the scene was charming.  The quirky, amphibious couple looked as if they were playing with small children, full of tenderness and care.
In a subsequent scene we see Elisa gazing at a pair of red high heels in a shop window.  A short time later Elisa is striding down a city sidewalk, proudly sporting her flashy, brand new red shoes.  So what's with the red shoes?  Why make a point of showing Elisa's desire to own them?  It wasn't until after I'd seen the film that I figured out what the red shoes signified.
Shoes are worn on the feet, and feet make direct contact with the earth.  Red is the colour of the root chakra, which is located at the base of the spine.  It's the chakra that grounds us, and connects us to the earth.  (That's easier to envision if you're sitting squarely on the floor in a meditative posture.)  Thanks to my yoga practise I was finally able to connect the dots...  Shoes - Earth - Red - Root Chakra - Bingo!  She was yearning to connect with her roots. 
(I wonder if Gill practises yoga.)
So far I've only discussed the metaphors that related me to the good guys.  The collective group of bad guys in the film is one big, fat metaphor as well.  They're a secret government agency spying on Russians, and performing torturous "scientific" tests on a being they consider subhuman.  In other words, the bad guys in The Shape of Water represent patriarchy at its worst; the kind of patriarchy that radicalised my feminism lo these many years ago.  The biggest bad guy of them all is Colonel Strickland, the man responsible for capturing the putative monster.  (And lest I be accused of making waves, please know that I don't think patriarchy is all bad, just as I don't regard matriarchy as perfect.  It's only when both systems work together equally that balance is created.) 
The nameless monster/god is all that patriarchy fears and abhors.  He's a creature of nature who comes from a land of myriad plant and animal life, fed by waters of the jungle, things patriarchy feels it must control and exploit.  It's a culture of domination and power over, rather than power from within; power over the earth, animals, and women. 
Earth and water are feminine elements, as opposed to the male elements of fire and air.  Even though the monster/god is identified as male, he embodies the feminine principle, which is a large part of the reason the Amazonian natives recognise his divinity.  The amphibious creature/god is a  harmonious balance of the masculine and feminine. 
One of the ways to oppress people is to deprive them of a voice.  Strickland finds Elisa's inability to speak a turn-on; her muteness gives him more power over her.  As much as he'd like to, he can't act out his dominator fantasies with Elisa, so he brings them home to his wife, where he insists that she remain completely quiet while he rudely and roughly "ploughs" her like fallow ground.  It's the shut up and do what I say method of taking control. 
All depiction of tender love-making is saved for the scenes between the creature/god and Elisa, which happen in life-giving and life-sustaining water.  The watery, expressive poster of Elisa and the creature/god embracing is similar to The Lovers card of the Tarot.  The first and most obvious meaning of the card is romantic and sexual union between a woman and a man, and indeed, Elisa and her creature/god consort are lovers in the truest sense.  But the image of The Lovers in the Tarot denotes much more than that.  It represents balance and harmony between the animus and anima of Jungian archetypes - the marriage of body and mind, earth and sky, water and fire.
On a purely personal note  (as if this blurb isn't personal enough already) allow me to point out that The Lovers card represents my personal life path.  (Now is not the time to explain that bit of esoterica.)  Anyway, I'm just going to come out and say it...  It's a sign!  Yet another reason I was so mesmerised by the poster.
The predominant element of the film is obviously water, which is the element that represents the unconscious.  All the outdoor scenes are set at night - evoking dark, watery depths, while daytime action takes place in dimly lit interiors.  The darkness and shadows of the film aren't necessarily depressing; they are meant to conjure the depths of the unconscious - the realm of dreams, buried memories, secret longing, and mystery.

As Strickland is dying he finally recognises the creature/god's divinity.  When Strickland sees the creature/god rise up from the dead he utters his final words, "You are a god."  Resurrection is the sort of miracle that would make even the most cynical person believe.  But the miracle of our nameless hero's return to life isn't a lame literary device like some deus ex machina at the end of a Greek play.  It's the miracle of life itself, and the healing power of water.  The Amazonian god brings Elisa back to life as well, through the power of Love, while restoring her to her true nature.  It's a story about going home.  And wouldn't you know, that's another big theme in my life.
Finally, what exactly is the shape of water?  Realistically, there is no shape to water, and yet it is all shapes.  It's a formless, mutable substance.  The many dark, fluid scenes of the film reflect its inchoate and embryonic nature.  Water fits whatever shape contains it, and the very first container that humans know is the womb. We all spend our first nine months on this plane floating in amniotic fluid.  The Shape of Water is a love story on a grand scale - love for Mother Earth, and all the life she harbours, no matter what shape or size.
The story of Elisa and the creature/god is about things that matter deeply to me, and I write about them often.  Then along comes Gill and splashes them out there on a movie screen as if to say this is for you, Gossamer P.  Okay, he doesn't know me personally, but he virtually knows me better than a lot of the people who really know me -  if you know what I mean. 
So how about it, Gill?  Next time you make a film about me, why not give me some screen time?  Even if it's just as some fly speck in the background?  If you ever end up reading this, then you know how to find me.  But please know I'm not under any delusions about the chances of that happening, so I'm not holding my breath.  Unless I'm under water.

Friday, January 5, 2018

Winter Blows - Big Time

It's hard to be happy when it's so friggin' cold.  An Arctic front has been visiting my part of the world for more than two weeks now, and it's taking the piss right out of me.  I've written about my aversion to cold a few times in winters past, so my faithful followers already know how I feel about being a denizen of the true north strong and freezing during the winter.  I  suppose I should have my citizenship revoked.
Last week, on my first day back after Christmas at the bookstore where I work, I inexplicably began to weep copious tears for my late, lamented kitty, Lulu.  I hid behind bookshelves when I couldn't keep my feelings contained, all the while wondering what had suddenly triggered such depth of grief three months after her passing.  By the end of my shift I finally figured it out.
The store is heated of course, but it's so large that even proper heating can't keep the frigid cold completely out. So even inside I'm always cold and scared, huddling and shivering like a homeless, frightened 
waif straight out of a Hans Christian Andersen story. 
Feeling fear when it's cold isn't uncommon - it's the body/mind thing.  Shivering is a physical reaction to both cold and fear, so sometimes the brain will fire up fear responses when the body sends a message that it's cold.  But that doesn't explain why I felt grief as well.  The answer came to me when I passed the "Religion" section of the store.  I noticed C.S. Lewis's book A Grief  Observed on one of the shelves.  It's a personal account of his deep mourning after the death of his wife, Joy.  Upon seeing the book I remembered what is probably its most famous quote - No one told me that grief felt so like fear.  Suddenly I understood how the physical and emotional feelings of cold and fear are so easily entangled with grief. 
The body and mind talk back and forth to each other all the time.  Even as I write this I still feel cold just looking out the window, and afraid for all the small birds and animals that must endure this wretched weather.  Many of them die during such a winter as the one we're having now, which saddens me even more.  And so goes the mind/body loop.
Dante had it right when he described the deepest level of hell as a land of ice and snow, completely devoid of life.  The Devil is trapped in ice up to his waist, while his huge bat wings continually flap up a frigid, deadly wind.  It's the worst kind of hell because there's no hope for life of any kind.  There's neither growth nor decay, nor the combustion of the better known fiery levels of Dante's hell.  The true heart of hell holds no possibility for change.  It's a hopeless, frightening land of icy, eternal stasis.  Abandon all hope, ye who enter here. 

Dante's description of hell very poetically explains why I often feel sadness and fear during the coldest months of the year.  Fortunately, unlike Dante's ice-bound hell, the cycle of the seasons keeps on rolling, and light and warmth eventually return.  I'm also truly grateful to have shelter that includes a working furnace.
As I write this the late afternoon sun shines so brightly it makes the bitterly cold scene outside my window positively sparkle, adding to the beauty of the intricate, lacy patterns the frost makes as it creeps up the window pane.  The present onslaught of harsh weather will surely pass, and I'll get through it, difficult though it may be.  And that makes me happy.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Eternal Return

The Winter Solstice is as sacred as any pagan holy day can be.  The return of light after darkness is honoured in many cultures.  Symbolically, the season of winter is considered a death, followed by rebirth in the spring.  Thank Goddess the days brighten in northern climes as winter's harsh bite sets in.  It's the lengthening daylight hours that offer hope that winter will indeed come to an end.
My thoughts have been with my dear, sweet kitty Lulu a lot these days.  A day hasn't gone by since her passing in early October that I haven't shed tears for her.  With the imminent returning of the light, she's on my mind more than ever.
I previously wrote (posted Oct. 11/17) that she was blind when she died, which is true.  However, she had been blind for less than half an hour when the veterinarian put her to sleep.  When I carried her to the clinic that morning she could see perfectly well.  I'd brought her there, after much soul-searching, because I felt she'd been sending me messages that she was ready to go.  I needed to know that I was right about that, and her passage into darkness, and then the light beyond, proved it to me. 
Lulu had been at the vet's a number of times over the years, and of course she was always a little frightened to be in a strange environment.  Her behaviour was the same the last time, slow and tentative.  But within minutes of placing her on the gurney at her final visit, I noticed that her eyes were covered in a milky film.  She seemed to have developed cataracts since we'd left home fifteen minutes earlier.  The sudden appearance of cataracts was puzzling to say the least. 
A few minutes later the vet came into the room and quickly observed that she appeared to be blind.  He moved his hand back and forth in front of her face, and she made no reaction at all.  She was, indeed, completely blind.  So I looked at her again, and this time the milky film was gone, but her pupils were fully dilated.  Cats are extremely sensitive to light, but Lulu wasn't registering any reaction to the extreme light in the room. 
Lulu knew I'd brought her to the clinic to help her die.  She was ready to go.  Sight is usually the first sense to go before death, and Lulu was preparing herself.  She began her journey even before the vet helped her complete it.  Her physical response was not fear, it was acceptance.  In retrospect I know that the sudden blindness before her death was a sign that I'd correctly interpreted her many messages about wanting to cross the rainbow bridge.  Somehow she was able to shut the light out herself. 
Grandmother Ayahuasca is also on my mind these days.  I experienced a ritual death and rebirth in Peru when I drank her tea last month.  (posted Dec. 7/17)  Along with the passing of Lulu, my recent spiritual death and resurrection makes this the most meaningful Winter Solstice I've ever had.  I am humbled and healed by all that has transpired in the last few months as the daylight hours decreased, leading up to this very special day.
As fate would have it, I'm going to a funeral home this evening to pay my respects to a dear friend for the passing of her mother.  We had originally planned to meet tonight, along with a mutual friend and fellow crone, to celebrate the Solstice.  Obviously our plans changed.  Despite the sadness of the occasion,  honouring my friend's mother's passage into eternal light is the most appropriate and meaningful way to sacralise this day. 
I wish you all a magical and meaningful Winter Solstice.  May the return of Light guide you to Love and Peace. 
Blessed be.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

No Ordinary Love

I bonded with a little lame chick in the Amazon rainforest.  A few weeks ago I travelled over 6,000 kilometres to the Peruvian jungle where there's a myriad of exotic, fabulous creatures.  Some of the animals that inhabit the Amazon rainforest are the mighty, mystical Jaguar, as well as ocelots, capybaras, anteaters, and birds such as harpy eagles, macaws, toucans and hummingbirds.  But I ended up making a special connection with a lowly chicken.  Go figure.
She was still very young and one of her legs was deformed, causing her to walk with a sweet, awkward, little gait.  I loved her right away, because I've always had a soft spot for animals and people who hobble.  Something about their noble efforts to compensate for being off-balance endears them to me.
I went to the jungles of Peru to participate in the sacred ceremonies of Grandmother Ayahuasca and find balance and emotional stability, and heal from old wounds. It's a subject I've written about a few times on this little web of mine. 
Grandmother had been calling me to have tea with her in the jungle since this past summer.  The signals she sent were numerous and unmistakable, but because I simply couldn't afford the trip I didn't pay much attention.  Then one day I got a lucrative commercial gig - a joy in itself - and voila! I was able to sign up for a retreat that not-so-coincidentally happened while I was turning 66 years old. In numerology Six is my life path number and means a great deal to me, magical thinker that I am.  So when all the stars aligned for me to celebrate my 66th birthday having tea with Grandmother, I didn't waste a moment making travel plans.  I arranged to visit the ayahuasca retreat aptly named Grandmother's Home.  It also goes by the Harakbut name of Parign Hak, which means the same thing.
I did not make the decision to go to Peru for an ayahuasca retreat lightly.  It was deeply considered, especially because my experiences with Grandmother's jungle juice have always been very difficult -  nauseating, in fact.   I know that I experience nausea more than most people who drink her tea.  If everyone had the same extreme physical reaction that I do, nobody would be drinking it at all.  After all, who would deliberately subject themselves to several hours of vomit-inducing biliousness?  Unless, of course, you're some kind of a masochist?  (Another issue of mine.)  That's why every time I drink ayahuasca and end up reeling from its effects, I vow that I'm never going to do it again.  But the healing that happens and the subsequent epiphanies always lure me back.
Grandmother called me for unfinished business.  First and foremost, ayahuasca is intended for healing.  It purges the inner demons caused by psychological wounds such as childhood trauma, depression, and post traumatic stress disorder.  Some people enter other realms of consciousness, or make an intimate connection with the plant and animal world of the Amazon rainforest.  I envy them, because I've always wanted that, too.  The fact that I haven't had that experience with Grandma's tea sometimes makes me feel as if I'm spiritually undeveloped or insensitive.  I mean - nausea every time?  Give me a break, Grandma.  Please?  (That's my OCD - obsessive comparison disorder - talking.)
Grandmother wouldn't have beckoned me if I hadn't been able to comply.  I feel fortunate that I was able to do so, because she is the most powerful and revered of the plant spirits in the Amazon rainforest.  Because Grandmother knows best, she went straight into healing mode with me.  And deep healing, whether it's physical or spiritual, is never instant or easy.
After our first ceremony I wondered why oh why do I manifest such severe nausea in order to heal?  The answer came to me while I was clucking like a mother hen over my little lame chick at the jungle retreat where I was staying.
Suddenly I understood why I've always had a soft spot for wobbly walkers. 
Nausea is frequently experienced in situations that induce vertigo, which results in lack of stability and loss of balance.  Some of my regular readers might recall that I refer to my milder bouts of depression as the wobblies.  The presence of that lone, lame chick at the retreat wasn't mere happenstance.  She was there to send me a message, and I loved her for it.
The second ceremony was two nights after the first, and on my birthday.  Jessica, our experienced ayahuascera, and co-founder of Parign Hak, always tells the participants that no two ceremonies are the same.  I really wanted to believe that, but the nausea I experience every time makes it feel the same to me.  Dizziness overpowers anything else that happens, including the vivid visions.  It's hard to pay attention to mystical visions while feeling bilious.
So, apart from praying for cleansing, healing, and learning, I asked Grandmother to teach me the ways of the Wise Woman.  Since I'm fully ensconced in my senior years, I figured it wouldn't be asking too much to teach me how to be an exemplary elder.  I felt certain Grandma would reward me with deep, mystical insights in the ways of the Wise Woman.  Surely I deserved it because I'd shown my commitment to healing by repeatedly coming back for more tea.  But I was wrong.  Boy, was I wrong.
As it turned out, my birthday ceremony was different, but not in the way I'd prayed for.  The visions usually appear to me just slightly before the nausea sets in.  This time there weren't any at all - just the usual, unwelcome land-lubber sea-sickness.  After reeling and rolling for a while, I realised I wasn't going to get any magical teachings on how to be an awesome elder.  Instead, I got angry.  Really, really angry.  That part was different, too.  I'd never felt any anger during ceremonies before.  But on my birthday I felt as if Grandmother had betrayed me, because my prayers were so heartfelt and I so desperately wanted relief from the assault on my body.  After railing against Grandma to myself, I finally succumbed to the full physical effects of her tea.
More differences were to come.  In most of the previous ceremonies I'd regressed to a young child, cowering in fear, and hiding from the outside world.  This time, however, I went all the way back to a puking, mewling infant.  I became a newborn baby, barely out of the womb.  I'm so glad the ceremonies are performed in complete darkness, because I wouldn't have wanted anyone else to witness my regression.  It was not a pretty sight, I'm sure. 
I kept chanting to myself "This is my birthday.  This is my birthday," because I couldn't understand why Grandmother didn't ease up on me just a little on my special day.  Eventually the nausea passed, as it always does, and I waited for the blessed euphoria that happens as the effects  fade away.  But Grandmother had other plans for me.  This time I fell into a deep, dark funk.  Yep.  I ended up in the kind of depression I thought was being purged.  Instead of sitting in a state of bliss and grateful to be alive, I lay on my mat weeping and wondering what the point of it all was - typical depressive thinking.  So yeah.  I finally had a ceremony that was different.  It was harder on me than all the others I'd been through,  and without any of the perks I get for enduring it all.  Yippee.
By mid morning I was feeling completely normal again, and deeply puzzled.  I needed to know what Grandmother had taught me the night before.  Then I saw my beloved little lame chick with her funny, lopsided gait.  I suddenly realised Grandmother had, indeed, answered my prayers.  My birthday ceremony was a truncated, no-frills version of my path through life right up until that moment.  My journey through childhood trauma and the subsequent adult depression was my personal path to wisdom.  My life experience has made me who I am.  It validates my own brand of wisdom. 
I was looking for Grandmother to give me a magical formula, but that's not how wisdom is attained.  The getting of wisdom is owning and learning from our experiences and the lives we live - all the hardship and joy, love and drama.  But the most important lessons are the toughest ones, and Grandmother showed me that in her usual in-your-face style.  I will never question her methods again.
Ayahuasca is a Quechua word which means vine of the dead.  It is so called because many patients who drink ayahuasca for healing purposes experience a very difficult metaphysical death.  I've heard several people describe how they thought they were literally going to die while under the influence of Grandmother's tea.  Of course they don't die.  They are spiritually reborn.
I now know that chanting this is my birthday, this is my birthday during ceremony wasn't so much a plea for an easier ride as it was a proclamation that I was, indeed, being born again.  It was my rebirthday.   The old me died giving birth to the new me, and Grandmother A. was the midwife.  I attribute the deep-sea blues I had when I would have normally felt euphoria to a typical case of post-partum depression.  As a writer I love that kind of stuff - metaphors and symbols that perfectly describe what I'm thinking and feeling, and Grandmother's always supplying me with all kinds of them.  Signs and symbols are magical, and mythologise my life story.  But Grandma doesn't offer them to me randomly, I have to earn them by paying attention.  And I do.
My little lame chick is a prime example of metaphors I meet on my path through life.  Not only does she represent my affinity for wobbly walkers, but as feathered animals go, she couldn't represent a more commonplace bird.  And I don't like ordinary.  Never have.  But I fell in love with that sweet chick, and she bonded with me in return.  Jessica pointed out that my little lame bird recognised a kindred spirit in me as well.  I like to think so, too, and there's nothing ordinary about that.
I went to the Amazon for tea with Grandma to rebuild the shaky foundations of my life.  My spiritual death and rebirth shattered the old paradigm and allowed me to start all over, like a phoenix rising out the ashes and rubble of my old self. 
I've never been much for overt displays or verbal expressions of love, which is why I'm almost embarrassed to advocate Love as the answer to the world's problems.  It seems like such a sixties, hippy-dippy cliché, and goes against my usual, spinsterly ways.  Nevertheless, it's by far the biggest and best lesson I learned while having tea with Grandmother.  Teatime with Grandma was hard on me physically, emotionally and psychologically.  But I wasn't alone.  Jessica was there to assist me if I needed it - and I sure did - as was her friend and co-founder of Parign Hak, Victoria. 
Victoria, along with her devoted partner Alberto, helped facilitate the ceremonies, and offered me unfailing love and support for the entire week I was there.  (I couldn't help noticing that Victoria and Alberto bear the same names as Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, true lovers if there ever were.)  I may have felt bilious during ceremony, but I always knew I was safe.  Grandmother and the extended family at Parign Hak proved to me that if a person is raised on a solid foundation of love and respect, she can firmly stand up to any crap that life throws at her (and it will) with the necessary strength and grace.  Love is the bedrock to a life well-lived.
I was hoping to connect and commune with all kinds of beautiful, exotic flora and fauna on my jungle journey, whether it was in or out of ceremony.  It's an amusing irony that my closest encounters were with dogs, turkeys, geese, and chickens; animals that I can see at anytime in my home and native land.  So it was an unexpected joy to be amongst so-called ordinary animals and appreciate how special and beautiful they are.  I've learned that Love and Beauty - attributes of the number 6 - can be found under the most difficult circumstances and in the most ordinary places.  That's why I'm finishing this story about a powerful, extraordinary visit to a mystical forest with a visual cliché.  I want to include one of my favourite pictures of a couple of the lovely, supposedly ordinary critters I met in the Peruvian jungle.  So here goes...
This marks The End.  The Very End.
- G.P.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

to Tg from G.P.

This birthday greeting goes out to all and any two-legged animals with a porcine nickname who celebrate their birthday today and take photos of four-leggeds and two-wingeds whilst saving baby turtles and having the good fortune of being blessed with a fabulous older sister who writes silly blurbs on magical webs.  All of you very select folk will appreciate this very special greeting designed especially for you ...
Happy Birthday Pig!