What Is Renewal?
BY CARLA WOODY, M.A.
Recently I had the good fortune to be invited to participate in a conference on global renewal sponsored by the Bali Institute. It was held in Ubud, considered to be the cultural and spiritual center of Bali. This was a significant gathering bringing together people from many countries with at least one thing in common a vision for a better, kinder world and the strong desire to make it happen now. I'm still digesting all that happened for me. Part of it I will share with you here.
It was the second day of the conference and I had arrived early to the Bali Classic Centre where it was held. It's a site too beautiful for words with temples, lush foliage and meandering pathways throughout. I was standing in the open-air pavilion where people tended to gather during breaks, just enjoying my surroundings, when a man approached me asking if he could speak to me. He indicated he had seen some literature on the programs I'm doing with the Maya in the Chiapas region of Mexico. In particular he was interested in Don Antonio, the last spirit keeper practicing the ancient sacred traditions of the Lacandón Maya. Then he said something I didn't at all expect.
"Do you think it's time for some traditions to die so the next thing can come along?"
Whether his question came out of earnest interest or flip, cavalier attitude didn't really matter. His words hit me like a shock wave that reverberated in hidden, interior places. This was a question I had come to Bali to hear.
While I'm fairly sure the effect of the missile wasn't apparent from the outside, my mind was immediately flooded with images. I replayed a time earlier this year with Don Antonio in the middle of the rainforest village of Najá, in his lone god house, burning copal in two of his god pots, chanting, invoking connection with Hachäkyum, the principal deity of the Lacandón, and another god in honor of our visit. He'd chuckled softly when the copal in one of the pots had at first refused to light saying that god was shy that day.
There was evidence of hundreds of such ceremonies in the burnt residue in his god pots, mounded to overflowing. He needed to retire these god pots and replace them with new ones. When asked why he hadn't, he said that since the road had cut through the jungle to Najá it brought too much noise for the sacred renewal ritual. I remember remarking to myself how very little disturbance there was in contrast with what we visitors had at home. But still, it was an affront to the gods.*
Another image came to me in the next split second, this time in the high mountains of the Andes in Peru, sitting in circle with Q'ero paq'os, or shamans, and other members of the Q'ero Nation, participating in a despacho, or blessing, ceremony. The absolute sense of collectively touching something beyond what is ordinarily presented, my eyes sweeping the circle of travelers who had come with me and noting the ceremony's subtle and sometimes dramatic effect on them.
These experiences are precious and will perhaps soon border on extinction just like in the Lacandón rainforest and the myriad other places where the footprint of modern society has been placed. A road is planned to Q'ero, which, until this time, has remained isolated at 17,000 feet in altitude with traditions pure and intact.
Then my mind came to rest on the memory of the Hopi father and son, both initiated in the Kachina Society, who we brought with us to the Andes this past summer, recalling the gratitude they expressed frequently, through tears, to be gifted with the opportunity to be in circle with their Quechua brothers and sisters and what it meant to them.**
As I absorbed the ultimate meaning of the man's question coupled with these recollections, I was surprised to find tears welling up from my heart, through my throat, discovering moisture in my eyes. And in a cracking voice, this is what I said to him.
"The thought of that happening hurts my very soul."
I don't remember what else I said and it probably wasn't as coherent as I'd have liked just because of the powerful emotions washing over me in that moment. But I do know that I thanked him for his question, as it was personally quite significant to me. He looked perplexed.
Do I understand about cycles, death and rebirth, seasons? Of course. Transition is the nature of the work I do every day. Is it time for these traditions to return to the ether? No! At least, certainly not yet.
These are people who touch the earth, live close to it, who understand the nature of connection of all things, energy, sharing in community, a global consciousness. They hold these threads sacred in their now fragile traditions. If you're reading this article, then you probably belong to a culture that has largely forgotten these things. And we're hungry for these aspects that are so rare or fleeting in our present-day societies, especially because the pendulum swing seems stuck toward destruction of these values.
Part of my involvement at the conference was to help facilitate a track called "Language of the Soul". On the final day of that forum, and as a culmination to our activities and discussions, I guided a despacho ceremony with those who had chosen that track, about forty people. To my knowledge only one other person there was familiar with the blessing ritual. But all actively participated, folks from such far flung places like China, Malaysia, Indonesia, Zimbabwe, Australia, United States and others. Afterwards, they made comments about the effect it had on them, such as feeling moved and the sensation of energy for the first time.
I fully believe that if we honor indigenous traditions such as these I've discussed here, if we're willing to sit in circle, to take part in these deeply spiritual rituals, then we touch what's timeless. We're injected. A transmission takes place that gets integrated into who we are in the world.
And when we hold sacred witness to those who have had the difficult and usually thankless role of holding these filaments and honor them for the stake they've held a sacred reciprocity occurs. This is a ripple that goes out. When there are enough of us engaged in this way, then perhaps it's time for some traditions to relinquish themselves. That's hardly yet though, is it?
Isn't it ironic that this consideration came to me at a conference whose subject matter was global renewal? Maybe it's easier to create a careful cocoon, to insulate ourselves, to stick our collective heads in the sand and ignore what's happening around us. I can't do it.
My soul won't let me.
*In an area now thoroughly infiltrated by missionaries and decimated by logging companies, Najá was the last hold-out until Chan K'in Viejo, their powerful spirit holder, passed in 1997 at 116 years old. Don Antonio, his son-in-law, is now the last spirit keeper maintaining his traditional beliefs and ceremonies, truly an actor for the Infinite in his lone god house. You can read more about the Lacandón Maya in The Last Lords of Palenque by Bruce and Perera. Don Antonio has consented to do the balché ceremony with us during the next Maya Mysteries program, a rare opportunity.
© 2007 Carla Woody. All rights reserved. Reprinted here with permission.