Teotihuacan

One of the wonderful things about having grown children is how they expand my life through their adventures and accomplishments.  It almost makes up for them leaving me with an empty nest-not quite but almost. In 2018 Alexandra and a friend climbed the tallest mountain in Mexico, Pico de Orizaba (18,491 ft). She finished out her vacation at Teotihuacan, a place that had been calling me for over ten years. Since she didn’t summit the first time, she wanted another attempt, I wanted to meet her in Teotihuacan so we made plans for the whole family to go to Mexico City for Thanksgiving.

Teotihuacan is just 25 or so miles northeast of Mexico City and at the top of my must-see list. This enormous archeological site has three main pyramids along with dozens of smaller structures all along the 1.5-mile Avenue of the Dead. This enormous Mesoamerican city was constructed over 2000 years ago but not much is known about the original builders. The Aztecs later moved in and named it Teotihuacan, “place where gods are born”.  The Pyramid of the Sun is the third tallest pyramid in the world and the equally impressive Pyramid of the Moon is surrounded by platforms and smaller pyramids.  At the far end of the Avenue of the Dead is the Temple of the Feathered Serpent. We stayed in a charming hotel that was on the archaeological site where The Pyramid of the Sun was my constant reminder I was on sacred ground.

The first morning we rose early to have our first full experience of Teotihuacan, floating gently, silently over the pyramids in a hot air balloon bathed in the early morning light. The terrain and gentle steady winds make it an ideal place for hot-air balloons. I can’t think of a more magical way to experience this magnificent place. This was my first balloon ride and I was ready for the adventure. Over the course of about a half hour, twenty colorful balloons launched into the pink haze of sunrise to drifted over the Pyramid of the Sun.  Silently, the balloon’s shadow crossed over the ancient stones and down the Avenue of the Dead.  This eagle-eye’s view of the entire site, well before the day’s visitors, was a gift from the gods. There I was, floating above this ancient world that was still so powerful that the awe of the gods was palpable.  We continued to float over the town for another hour, past the churches and schools, until we were expertly landed in a nearby field. After a traditional champagne toast and hearty buffet breakfast we had a nap before heading to climb the pyramids.

I planned two full days at Teotihuacan and was glad not to be rushed by just a day trip. After lunch, we set out from our hotel for the 15-minute walk to the main entrance. I suggested we walk all the way to the Pyramid of the Moon and then slowly make our way back. The Avenue of the Dead goes up and down stairs, in and out of what remains of the glories of this impressive city. We took our time to enjoy the walk while avoiding the endless sellers of puma calls and woven blankets.  Lots of school groups were easily absorbed in the vastness of the complex and we felt we had the place mostly to ourselves.  A climb to the top of the platform of the Pyramid of the Moon was first on the agenda.  It wasn’t a long or hard climb, but the altitude (7000 ft) made me a bit winded but the view was worth the effort. Hot and thirsty, we wandered back to the hotel to sit by the pool and were surprised by Alexandra’s early arrival.  She realized she was not up to the intensity of the summit and so just enjoyed the climb and extra time with her family.

After breakfast the next day, all four of us headed to the Pyramid of the Feathered Serpent. We wanted to beat the heat and visit what we saved from the day before.  Hamilton climbed the Pyramid of the Sun while I sat nearby listening to music and soaking in the sun on Thanksgiving Day. I was so thankful to be with my family and visit this remarkable and sacred place. Hamilton and I visited the museum and were impressed by the pottery and sculptures that had once decorated the pyramids.  In the heat of the afternoon, Hamilton read, and the ladies indulged in massages but our time a Teotihuacan had one more delight.

The glories of the ancient world collided with the wonders of the modern world with a Sound and Light show on the Pyramid of the Sun. As we walked into the darkened site we were treated to the crescent moon and sparkling Venus, a celestial light show.  The show first started with a walk up the Avenue of the Dead toward the Pyramid of the Moon beautifully illuminated with changing colors. Without the distractions in the daylight, I became part of the site and felt transported by the experience. We each had a smartphone that gave a detailed history and showed what the site looked like throughout history.  Next, we sat on cushions in front of the Pyramid to the Sun. Thanks to virtual reality I was able to glimpse into a probable past of the history of Teotihuacan. For a brief time, this great pyramid was once again decorated with color and sculptures to the great gods. All too soon, the lights faded, and the pyramids receded back to their stony silence. But, even though the ages have taken their toll and our view of the gods have evolved, this magnificent place still holds the power to transform and remains a place where “man became gods”.

Pyramid of the Moon

 

 

 

Shaker Village

shaker1

You don’t have to go to the ends of the earth for a pilgrimage to change you. Some of the loveliest places can be close to home. Pilgrimage is a perspective as well as an experience. Pilgrimage is seeing the divinity that is all around. Next month I will be back with new content but today enjoy a happy journey from a few years ago.

For most people visions of heaven include pearly gates, streets of gold and jewel encrusted mansions but not in my world. All I have to do is go to Kentucky to find my version of nirvana and it is called Shaker Village. After my lovely time at the Serpent Mound, and fortified with a latte, I retraced my path back to Lexington for the night. I had one more essential pilgrimage stop to make the next day. I needed a Shaker Village fix.

These days I live in my in-law’s home which is decorated in a style I would call High Ostentation but in my heart I prefer a style more like Early Convent. My Taurus/Virgo soul longs for a tidy house with white walls and simple furniture. The Shakers perfected this style and brought it to a high art.

shaker3

So who were the Shakers? They were a branch of the Quakers who came to America looking for religious freedom. Lead by Mother Ann Lee, the first communities were started in the late 1700’s and formed around 20 utopian centers with 6000 members at the peak of popularity. These communities were founded on principles of equality for the sexes and races, celibacy and pacifism. Men and women lived separately but worked together and the congregations grew by recruitment since procreation wasn’t allowed. In the early 1900’s the communities stopped taking members and were eventually closed

Spiritually they believe God was both male and female and the imminent second coming of Christ. They worshiped in stark meeting rooms with narrow benches and no pulpit. The service consisted of singing, dancing and ecstatic states of shaking and shouting thus they got the name “Shakers”. They wrote many songs for their worship and the most popular tune is Simple Gifts, immortalized in Aaron Copeland’s work Appalachian Spring.

shaker4

The communities were self-sustaining farms and invented many new labor-saving devises. The Kentucky Shakers were know for their brooms and high-quality seeds as well as furniture and weaving. Hard work was important to them so all the communities thrived. They believed that beautifully made simple furniture was an act of prayer. Each building and room was perfectly planned for simplicity, practicality and order and ideal which has had a lasting influence on American design.

Shaker Village in Harrodsburg, Kentucky, is like stepping back in time. On this perfect September day the buildings glowed in the sun with a back drop of purple/blue sky. Pumpkins and corn stocks decorate the stack stone fences and there is just a hint of color in the trees that line the lane; translation—-pure joy. I wandered the buildings looking at the magnificent worn furniture, craft demonstrations, amazing circular staircases and stark perfection. I wandered into the dinning room for corn pudding and buttermilk pie, headed down to the old barn to see the friendly ram and horses and felt the gentle grace of this place frozen in time. During a past visit I sang Simple Gifts in the meeting hall where that song has reverberated thousands of times and I’m thrilled to sing it for myself.

After having my joy quotient filled by two beautiful days in Kentucky. I headed back to Tennessee. I didn’t have far to go and on the way home I listened to John O’Donohue talk about beauty. I have been bathed in beauty and sacred vibration for two days which has left my heart singing and spirit cheerful. My quick pilgrimage had all the joys of any exotic journey with no jet lag or expensive tickets. So this Fall find a place to pilgrimage close to home and bring beauty and joy to your soul.

http://www.shakervillageky.org

shaker5

St James of the Field of Stars (Santiago de Compostela)

 

photo81

This month is the 5th anniversary of my Camino walk. The Camino was life changing and I miss it often.  Enjoy this lovely memory with me.  My daily posts on the Camino can be found in the archives in May and June 2014.

My book Pilgrimage: A Modern Seeker’s Guide was inspired by my walk on the Camino and many other pilgrimages around the world and close to home.  The e-book is now priced at $5.99.  Check it out at Amazon. 

First Published June 2104

It wasn’t until the last week on the Camino that I could even think about Santiago, yet that was always the goal.   Every day I concentrated on the next 20 km or talked about the next big town, Pamplona, Burgos, Leon.   After Astorga, Santiago started to come into focus.   There were rumors about a celebration in Santiago about the time I planned to get there.  That was when I realized that if I arrived one day early I would be in Santiago for Pentecost, a holy day and a guaranteed Botafumeiro, the mammoth swinging incense censer in the nave of the Cathedral.   See a video of the Botafumeiro here.

Pentecost is the graduation day for the Apostles, including St. James, after Christ’s Ascension.   The Holy Spirit came to them in the Upper Room and sent tongues of fire to anoint them to go preach the Gospel.   No more perfect day to finish my pilgrimage and graduate to the next stage of my life.

While Alexandra slept I spent Pentecost with St. James.  I first listened to the beautiful chant of the Rosary.   Next the Botafumeiro made its mighty journey through the Cathedral to the sounds of the organ and choir.  I dreamed of this moment along with the centuries of pilgrims who had dreamed that same dream.   I went to a chapel to celebrate Mass in English with an Irish priest.  He read the story of Pentecost and we sang songs and lit a candle for all of the continents and peoples.     I joined the main Mass where the Archbishop presided over Confirmation.   I was having my graduation ceremony.  I had completed my task.

I didn’t realize how much I was going to need those extra days in Santiago to process my experience.   I saw pilgrim friends I hadn’t seen in weeks and we hugged and congratulated each other on a job well done.   It was special to be at Pilgrim’s Mass with my fellow travelers, a shared experience to the end.    I saw everyone I had hoped to see again and exchanged contact information.

I went to dinner with my friends and we talked about our favorite and least favorite Albergues, tales of the food, injuries and blisters and things we learned.  One pilgrim was in tears because he finally forgave his father, others had come to terms with their past or had new hope for their future. We were all proud of our strong bodies and loose hiking pants.   I cherished every moment of the language of the pilgrim, I miss it so much.

The next day my friends arrived by car with clothes for me and to share my triumph.   It was hard to move out of the pilgrim world.   The first day I put on a new shirt.  The next day I put on different shoes but still wore my hiking pants.  I had to reenter the world gradually.   We went to Mass together and they were treated to the Botafumeiro, and I was glad to see it another time.   We went behind the altar to touch the statue of St. James and went below to the crypt where his bones are kept in a silver casket.

All of my pilgrim rituals where complete and it was time to go.   I left my worn out shoes and some clothes I couldn’t bear to wear again and a piece of my heart in Santiago.

photo 5

Worn out shoes

E-book

My Book:

Pilgrimage: A Modern Seeker’s Guide is now available in e-book at Amazon and currently featured as a selection on Kindle Unlimited.  I would love if you would leave a review, it helps others find my book.

My Blog:

This summer I’m finishing my last classes for my Masters in Depth Psychology and speaking at the Jungian Society for Scholarly Studies in Asheville this June. As I work on my last few papers, I’m going to take some time from writing new posts.  So please enjoy my favorite posts from the past and I will be back in October with new adventures.

 

Basho

Breaking the silence

of an ancient pond,

A frog jumped in to water —

A deep resonance.

This haiku by the poet Matsuo Basho (1644-1694) is one of the most recognizable poems in Japan. Haiku is a short traditional form of Japanese poetry consisting of seventeen syllables divided into three sections of five-seven-five. It was Basho who perfected the haiku form, but he also wrote beautiful prose in the form of a travel log with the haiku inspired by his experiences. The Narrow Road to the Deep North is his best-known work and read by almost every Japanese high school student and translated more than any other work of Japanese literature.

I first learned of Basho while researching pilgrimage. I was already familiar with the haiku form and its popularity in both Japan and the West but going deeper into Basho’s life and work expands my understanding of the form, but more importantly informs my own pilgrimages and soul journey. Although Basho spent a great deal of time traveling, it is this pilgrimage to the Deep North that called his soul. To wander in nature and discover the world was not a luxury for Basho but a necessity for his poetry and the calling of his soul.  On this journey, Basho developed a new form a writing called haibun, which alternates prose and haiku to describe his journey. The prose, equally as beautiful as the poems, explains the physical aspects of the journey where the haiku illuminates the internal images and experiences. He walked 1200 miles over five months with his disciple Sora and planned part of the route to include places described by other writers. Basho’s call to a pilgrimage was not a specific place but to experience whatever unfolded before him. “I myself have been tempted for a long time by the cloud-moving wind–filled with a strong desire to wander”.

Basho’s words are beautiful in their simplicity and grace. He uses a lightness and gentleness to describe nature and life itself. Beauty becomes an essential element in the soul’s journey. Basho found beauty on his journey: in the change of seasons, fleeting moments of sun on dew, a hazy moon, the arch of the Milky Way. He found beauty in the smallest details of cherry blossoms, pine trees, wind and water. Life is fleeting and these details captured the ephemeral moment when life is perfect beauty. Basho took great delight and wonder in these moments that fed his soul’s path. It is in these brief moments that Basho experienced eternity and left a trace in his haiku.

Walking pilgrimages are inherently simple. Life is reduced to what you can carry on your back. Basho’s haiku perfectly alludes to the essentialness of his journey. Pleasure is found in the simple moment of a flower, the soft breeze, or sound of a cricket. Basho left behind the comforts of home and community to see the world in the simplest moments where the sacred is found. Basho doesn’t analyze or offer opinion on what he sees, rather he relates pure experiences as they happen in the moment and in his heart. Haiku becomes the way he expresses his journey. Although haiku is simple in form it is not simplistic for the subtly expressed by the image associations and verbal play enter in the depths of the human heart.

In the essence of his work, Basho is above all a nature poet. All his senses were tuned to the natural world and Basho misses none of the subtleties of the wind, seasons, smell and sound, often bringing him to tears in the moments of pure wonder and grace. His poetry and prose are words of praise and thanksgiving for life in all of its forms. The sea, rocks, stars, mountain, trees, flowers, all participated in Basho’s poems to the ineffable mystery of our world.

Although written almost 400 years ago, Basho’s story and poetry are timeless. His experiences and observations reflect his deep understanding of nature and his own interior life. Pilgrimage, as a time of solitude in nature, becomes a catalyst that opens an important soul space.  Basho heard the call of this soul space and left a beautiful account of what that interior pilgrimage looks like. His words are those of the mystic that sees the sacred in all things and in all places.

The title of Basho’s story, The Narrow Road to the Deep North, reflects the physical road and is a metaphor for the quality of the interior journey for the sacred does not come with broad highways and neon signs. The sacred is found with effort on a narrow path that takes time and sacrifice, suffering and joy. There is no easy and quick way to a lasting relationship with nature and the soul. Hard work and dedication are needed to find these numinous moments when the world becomes alive with wonder as we step out of time into the timeless.

Later this year I am going to Japan to see for myself what inspired Basho. I will be walking part of the 88 Temple trail on Shikoku island, a 1000-year-old spiritual pilgrimage and a sister pilgrimage to the Camino. Basho did not walk this particular trail, he walked north of what is today Tokyo, but the landscape and culture as well as the search for the heart and soul of nature aligns me with the spirit of Basho.  Basho wrote on many subjects that moved him to live in relationship with his soul and thus offers me language to seek the same beauty.

 

 

Amid mountains of high summer,

I bowed respectfully before

The tall clogs of a statue

Asking a blessing on my journey

 

To talk casually

About an iris flower

Is one of the pleasures

Of the wandering journey.

 

In the utter silence

Of a temple,

A cicada’s voice alone

Penetrates the rocks.

 

 

.

 

Apalachicola

photos by G. Smith

For the last four winters, I have traveled to the Florida panhandle to the little out-of-the-way town of Apalachicola. Along this long expanse of white-sand beaches outlining the Gulf of Mexico is an almost forgotten land where time stands still, and Florida remains as it was before air-conditioners and high-rises. My aunts were looking for a place to find refuge from the arctic cold of northern Minnesota where they live most of the year. Apalachicola is just a bit north for warm weather in February, but it is still moderate, much more moderate than the icy north and just right for their winter retreat.

The first two years, I drove my mother the 9 hours to the coast to visit with her sisters. The last two years, I flew the two short flights to Tallahassee–and it is still another two-hour drive. This part of Florida is not on of normal tourist routes but that is its charm. These last two years, my aunts rented a home on St. George’s Island, a long drive across the bridge from the mainland. Family, food, chatter, movies and naps fill the day between my walks on the beach. I love the beach, any time and in any weather. I can’t get enough of water, sand and sky—this simple landscape that feeds my soul.  I love the salt air, breeze, sound of waves and gulls and water lapping at my ankles. I’m a beach girl to the core of my being.

But last year this almost desolate coast endured the ferocity of nature–Hurricane Michael. The third strongest hurricane on record, Michael hit the coastline on October 10, 2018. Mexico Beach and Port St. Joe were devastated. Apalachicola was damaged but not quite as severely and by the time I arrived in February much of the brush was cleaned up. But there was no turning away from the destruction. The roads are being rebuilt and I got a flat tire from the construction debris. Along the road were tall piles of rubble that was once someone’s beloved home. I drove down the streets of Mexico Beach, but I couldn’t really comprehend what all those empty lots meant for the residents of that small town. I was seeing the aftermath from an outsider’s perspective months later.  I know how much I love my home; how could I ever recover from having it destroyed. But the resilient human spirit seeks hope in the face of overwhelming adversity. Small campers now stand next to the rubble as homeowners work to rebuild a life.

Apalachicola has become a new refuge for my family, a place to be together. This new place has come from our own loss of land and home in Minnesota. So, we, too, have found our resilience, knowing that life and family do transcend place. It isn’t what we wanted, but we found a way to build new experiences that nurtures our bonds

.

The Getty Villa

November found me back in Southern California to visit Alexandra and attend my quarterly class at Pacifica.  I always have a couple of days between my weekend with Alexandra and my classes giving me opportunity to search for beauty in an abundant part of the world.   On this trip I visited The Getty Villa in Malibu just a few miles up the road from Alexandra’s apartment.  Since it was a weekday and off-season, I found the place mostly empty expect for some rambunctious school groups loading back into their buses.   Soon the Villa was peaceful and after a lovely pesto and cheese sandwich at the café, I was ready to explore.

The Getty Villa is J. Paul Getty’s first art museum built when he realized that his art collection was much larger than his home.   With billions at his disposal, Getty spent his later years collecting some of the finest art work around the world and left a large endowment for their display and care.  The Getty Villa houses his classical art from Greece and Rome and the rest of his collection is a few miles away at the Getty Center.  But he didn’t want just any old building for this magnificent art, he wanted to recreate Italy itself on his property overlooking the Malibu coast and out onto the endless Pacific.   The plan for the new villa was based on an excavation in the 1750’s of Villa Dei Papiri, that had been buried by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD.  Not only is the new villa the same scale and plan but also includes some materials from the 2000-year-old villa.

After watching the short introductory film, I took a guided tour of the gardens.   The docent detailed the four main gardens starting with the fragrant kitchen and herb garden.   I was encouraged to take small samples to smell and after placed the samples in my pocket—I had plans for those herbs.   The formal water garden had a magnificent view of the ocean way below.  There was a sculpture garden with pomegranate trees and a walled garden with acanthus plants and laurel trees.  I wandered around the galleries enjoying the detailed Greek urns, perfect sculptures and mosaics.  It was hard to believe that this art was so old and yet still had such a current influence in our world.    The gods and goddesses portrayed in the art remain part of my everyday life as I study myth and archetypes as part of my classes.

Two days later I again drove past the Getty Villa and up the beautiful Malibu coast to school near Santa Barbara.  It is my favorite route to take and the ocean, cliffs and music on the radio together make a beautiful experience.    The next day I started to get texts to see if I was alright—were the fires near me?   I was far enough from the fires but couldn’t believe the peaceful drive just a few hours before was now an inferno.   I took those herbs I gathered just a few days before and walked them to the center of the labyrinth on campus.  I had physical gifts from those peaceful gardens to offer prayers for the people suffering from the destruction.

The Getty Villa had to shut down during the fires but remains unharmed and has now reopened.  Two thousand years ago the first Villa was destroyed in a sudden rain of fire and ash and now the new Villa had the potential to meet the same fate.  How fleeting life can be, peaceful one day and gone the next as we witness every day the natural disasters that happen on our planet.  I try to savor every day, not in a fatalistic way, but so that life doesn’t just pass unnoticed until it is too late.