HIS P.E.T. 16

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HIS P.E.T. 16


I was surprised and wary the next day when Samantha held the phone to tell me Jim Standing Bear and Henry White Wolf received approval for me to attend church with their mothers that night. I wasn’t big on church worship and organized religion, much less someone else’s. And maybe especially after a night like we had just shared. She held the phone out to me. I pulled up that strength and self-assuredness that Hein talks about being inside me and expressed my reluctance. They assured me that this wasn’t a church in the sense I was familiar with but a spiritual experience, an experience rarely shared with a white outsider, but Samantha had also been allowed to experience. I glanced at her, she nodded, and I agreed.

Samantha explained that the ceremony was deeply personal. There would be others participating but not intimate friends who might cause an unintended influence on the experience. The mothers of the two men would sponsor me through the request of the men. They felt it might assist me in finding my way, the core of my strength, to understand what that strength was and how it influences me, and perhaps provide me with insight into my path forward. I was instructed that it would not be a situation of providing a fortune-telling or a look into my future, but a glimpse of the path available to me if I chose to act on it.

I listened to her, still struggling with the ‘church’ reference. I was also curious about another reference Jim Standing Bear made. She smiled, “It is not a church like you think of it. In actuality, it is a large, family style tipi. It is called a religious ceremony of the Native American Church for government exclusionary reasons. Peyote is used to assist the person along the journey. It is listed by the government as a controlled substance but does not apply to the ‘non-d**g’ use during religious ceremonies of the Native American Church and members of the church.”

“I am not a member of the tribe, much less the church.”

“There will not be anyone to check off membership. The translation of the word for peyote has been traced back as ‘Divine Messenger’ and has likely been used for spiritual and medicinal purposes for at least 5,500 years.”

Though I used alcohol on a regular basis, I had always been wary of other d**gs. “Is it addictive or dangerous?”

“I would not have suggested it for you or done it myself if it was. It is a small cactus, which explains why it has been a staple of their belief system for thousands of years. This is a powerful element for seeing into the Spirit World. It triggers a deep introspection and insight they describe as metaphysical or spiritual in nature. It can be accompanied by rich visual and/or auditory effects, all depending on how open you make yourself to the experience.” I found myself staring out at the trees on the mountainside where the lake was located. She apparently followed my gaze, “Yes, remember our discussion up at the lake? I thought this might help you in some discovery into yourself, what you are at your core and where you could be going if you chose to take that path.” I was still quiet, unmoving, still deep in considering this unexpected offering. “Are you familiar with the term ‘Spirit a****ls’?” I nodded. “I was shown mine, the Sheep, and it reaffirmed to me what Albert has attested. It represents an innocence and gentleness that can lead to weakness and vulnerability that could turn into powerlessness, but with self-acceptance can lead to an ability to respect my own limits. Laura, that is the very definition of who I have been in my life. Through Albert, I am able to explore life while accepting my limitation of control. He keeps me in situations where I can remain safe. It was very affirming for me.”

I asked how long the ceremony was using the d**g. She indicated there was no norm, some were a few hours, but some could be on the journey of discovery for many hours if they were properly open to the experience. Residual effects of the d**g could be a slight high feeling for eight to ten hours.

All of which was how I found myself between the two older women this night. We arrived after a long walk from the car to a flattened area in a small clearing where there was a powerful glow from a large tipi, apparently, a fire inside. It was indeed family style, painted around the edge with a brownish reflection of individuals ringing the inside perimeter. At the apex, where the light didn’t reach, it was dark.

My left hand was tightened inside her grasp and she continued with a final observation, “The mind must be liberated from old habits, prejudices, restrictive thought processes and even ordinary thought itself. It is best, most helpful, to open your mind completely and allow the Spirits within you to lead your way.” She patted my hand, turned to me with a smile. “My sons tells me you have strong Spirits within you, but you are untrained in what they can mean to you. Give yourself to the Journey. Allow the Journey to lead you to your Spirits and your path may be opened to you.”

I turned to her, “You said, your sons, but I thought they were cousins.”

She smiled, “Yes, the white culture would call them cousins. Our culture does not have words for uncle, aunt, or cousin. We are all part of the family. My sister’s son is my son. My son is her son. Our culture is inclusive; we rely on and support each other. The white culture divides and separates. That diminishes family support.”

I thought about how I often described myself as not having any family left. She was right, though. What if uncles, aunts, and cousins were as closely tied as these people were? I patted her hand, “I see where your sons get their deep pride in their culture.”

I wasn’t sure how much of her description of the Spirits made sense to me, but I knew that now wasn’t the time to quiz her further. Her hand tightened around mine, giving a strength that belied her size as she led the way. I had been given a briefing on the tradition of this ceremony. The opening of the tipi was facing east in order to welcome the rising sun and those flaps were now tied open. The woman paused at the entry and spoke in their tribal language in a strong and unwavering voice to those within. After a moment, a collection of voices responded and, still grasping my hand, stoop to enter.

I followed, first ducking my head through the opening, then standing, a little hunched at the shoulders in line with the angle of the canvas of the tipi sides. I glanced at the assembled people and, of course, didn’t recognize anyone. I was told that only those leading the Journey or going on discovery could be present. Samantha’s Apache friends would be nearby during the entire time, however. Some stood and approached me, but the old ones did not, nor did they smile.

After taking our places in a large circle around the fire, Henry’s mother leaned into my shoulder, “I am to be your sponsor tonight. Is that all right with you?”

Sponsor? Why wouldn’t it be alright? “Um … of course.” Others smiled as I glanced around the assembly, but I focused on the three very old, very solemn women, all seated behind the fire and in front of a slight, crescent-shaped berm that half-circled the perimeter. “I guess not everyone is happy to have me here?”

My sponsor whispered back, “No, it isn’t that they are unhappy, it is just that they have very important sacred duties.”

A few words were passed among the three women, at which point the woman responsible for the fire took up a number of bundles that included sage, tobacco, corn husks, and a dried powdery substance. She passed the sage around the circle and I watched as the others drew the bundles across their limbs, trunks, and heads in an initial purification. I did as I had seen the others do, passed it to my sponsor who smiled at me with a nod of approval, then did the same before passing it on. When the bundle had passed round the circle, one of the women took out papers and a simple tobacco pouch, which she passed to the others, who in turn s**ttered a little of the tobacco into one of the small sheets and rolled themselves a makeshift cigarette.

Never having experimented with pot in my past, probably because of concerns for sports and testing, I fumbled with the paper. Mrs. White Wolf’s patient hands took the assembly from me, nimbly rolled the thing, and licked the edge that held it tight.

“Thank you”, I whispered to her smiling face.

The fire keeper pulled a stick from the fire and handed the smoldering wood to the participant to her right, who lit her rolled cigarette before passing the ‘lighter’ to the next person. I managed to light my ceremonial smoke without assistance and without burning my nose or hair, which Jim Standing Bear had wisely tied back in a ponytail.

The others were now talking in subdued voices and it occurred to me that they sounded very much like praying. From next to me came the guiding words, “These are the prayers of smoke to clear your intentions for the ceremony.”

I looked around the circle, then to her with a whisper, “What if I am not sure what my intentions for being here are?”

“Then, perhaps, you should question why you are here.” I nodded. “You do not have to give voice to your prayers; you may keep them to yourself if it makes you more comfortable.”

I nodded, again. My eyes focused on the fire in front me, but my eyes quickly lost focus on it, instead, seeing my thoughts in my mind in the flickering flames as they danced off the logs and shimmered in the coals beneath. My past and present life, the multitude of changes, the past frustrations and fantasies, the present joys and rewards and reality, and the … yes … the questions that persisted. They all flickered and danced through my mind, others remaining constantly present like the shimmering coals. Maybe I hadn’t known why I accepted this invitation, but I knew now. The knowing wasn’t even so much something I could articulate or express, but it was impressions, questions, and ambiguities I sensed.

When I was again aware of my surroundings, I realized I was the only one in the circle speaking. And, I hadn’t been aware that I had been expressing myself.

The fire-woman stoked the flames and I watched as the sparks rose and ascended through the opening at top of the tipi like lightning bugs escaping into the cool, dark night.

When I looked down, there was a bowl being held under my nose that contained a powdered substance. I took the bowl and watched as the person next to me placed a spoonful of the powder into her mouth, then handed me the ornate spoon with a carved bird on the handle.

I sat still, a person whose nearly total experience with d**gs had so far been limited to cold, sinus, and pain pills … and alcohol. Staring at the powder, I took the spoon in my hand. There was no pressure from the faces surrounding me, just looks of reassurance and smiles. I remembered Samantha’s comment, “It is a great honor.” I looked around at the faces, again. I took a spoon full size I recalled the others taking and slipped it into my mouth. It tasted horrible, bitter and dry, and my reaction was to spit it out, but I figured that might be worse than if I had just refused to ingest it.

A moment later, the woman to my left handed me a small cup and filled it with a dark liquid, steam rolling from the opening of an earthenware jug. I studied the small cup and especially the unknown brewed contents, but figured it had to taste better than what was currently stuck in my mouth.

Swallowing the content and remaining powder caught in my mouth, I had to fight the urge to gag and quickly passed the jug and cup to Mrs. Standing Bear. I was wrong, it tasted worse. Taking a few deep breaths, I began feeling a little better.

I wondered briefly if maybe the taste was to make the Spirit respect your commitment and receive you on the journey.

I felt an odd familiarity with the light; the glow from the fire filled the tipi like the gold that sets off the sunset. I basked in its warmth as I looked around the circle, their heads bobbing and their mouths uttering sing-song rhythm of prayers.

I really wasn’t feeling much of anything, except that mild sensation of nausea, but I’d been told it wasn’t an unusual response to the substance. I was beginning to think that I might be someone with a natural tolerance to the stuff and was going to make the whole experience a bust. I had to admit I was a little disappointed at the thought. It was about then that I became acutely aware of the grain in the knotholes of the tipi poles.

The tempo of the chanting had quickened and was reinforced by the beat of the drummer, who also joined the chanting. I listened to the music and allowed my eyes to rest on the fire woman as she stoked the coals of the fire, again sending a flurry of sparks up and away in an attempt to join the stars above.

The warmth of the fire reached out until I could feel the ends of my fingers and toes glowing, which was interesting because my feet were in a pair of Samantha’s boots. At this point, I began thinking I was trying to make something happen, hoping for anything that would be different, anything that might be akin to whatever a Spirit Journey might be like. I studied the patterns in the spire-like poles that supported the tipi, willing something to be seen in the wood, but they stubbornly remained simple knotholes.

It was then that I lowered my face to look around. And, everyone was gone. I blinked my eyes and stared around the interior of the tipi just to make sure what I wasn’t seeing was what I wasn’t seeing … nobody.

The dirt altar that had made up the center of the ceremony floor was still there, even the indented road of the moon, the cigarette butts, the drum. The peyote bowl, spoon, and jug of tea were all there, all of it untouched, as if the participants had suddenly been called from the tipi and had left me behind. The fire was blazing away as if it had been very recently stoked, but everyone was gone.

I started to think about standing up when I noticed something on the ground leading to where I sat. Leaning forward, I poked a thumb and forefinger into the dirt and picked up a piece of thin rope. Where had that come from? I picked up the end of the rope and watched as it traced its way across the floor, underneath the tipi flap, and out.

I moved to a standing position and looked around, again, as if this time I would see what I hadn’t been able to see before. I stood there for a moment and then noticed more ropes lying on the ground, each one leading to where someone had been sitting, all of them disappearing under the tipi.

I moved to the opening, letting the rope slide through my fingers as I moved. For some reason, I was reluctant to release the rope so I put it between my teeth and I swear I could taste the peyote in the jute, but I wanted to be able to use both hands to free the flaps of the tipi opening. It continued to be weird, but the task of untying the flaps was made easier because my fingertips were glowing. I pushed the flaps away, bent over and exited the tipi.

It was daylight outside. At first, that seemed too weird, but then it occurred to me that this must be the explanation of everyone being gone. I must have fallen asleep and the others left me in the relative security of the tipi. But, as I let that thought go, I looked out over the landscape. I was no longer in the land of the Aravaipa Apache … or Arizona for that matter. I looked down at my feet thinking that if I were wearing red slipper, I might tap them three times and settle for going to Kansas. Not only was I not wearing red slippers, but Samantha’s boots were also gone. I was still wearing the simple dress, however.

What I found in the landscape was not the harsh desert sands of Arizona, but sand dunes, strangely yellowed in color. The sky above was a pale blue and richly moist as if it were early morning near the ocean, but without the taste and smell of salt in it.

I held the rope in my hand and turned to the horizon, but all I could see was wind-drifted sand on the rolling dunes. I turned back to look to the tipi and found it just as it should have been. I wondered if I shouldn’t stay in the tipi in case the others returned. That was when I felt a tug on the rope in my hand. Startled, I almost dropped it, but something told me this rope was important. The rope tugged at me, again, and I followed the line of the rope in the sand and saw it plainly, exposed by the tug from the level of the sand and leading over the nearest dune and beyond. I glanced around and could see the other ropes that had come from the tipi, each tracing off in different directions.

My attention was brought back to my rope when I felt yet another tug from it. I was uncertain what this meant, but it seemed even to this white woman that there was something at the other end of this rope that was calling me. Maybe my Spirit a****l. Maybe answers to some of my questions. I stepped away from the area around the tipi, my bare feet sinking inches in the sand and feeling surprised by the coolness of the sand under my feet.

I allowed the rope to slide through my fingers as I walked, always following the rope. It seemed that the rope may lead me to something, but it could also lead me back to the tipi later. The walking was surprisingly easy, given that I was barefoot and in loose sand. As I crested the first dune, I spied mountains in the distance that looked very much like the mountains that should be in the distance, but they were further away and seemed disconnected with the environment I was currently slogging through.

I was unsure what was happening to me but I now figured it had to have something to do with the peyote. I guessed this was what happened when you took the stuff. It was not unpleasant, but it did feel dissociative as if I was outside myself.

I continued until I swore I heard something ahead in the direction of the rope’s path. I crested another of the dunes, this one sharp-edged having to be formed by a powerful wind. I turned my head in all direction to listen but then focused my senses in the direction of the rope’s path. The rope went down the slope and into a constricted valley formed by two close dunes. With more eagerness than might have been prudent, I sped down the slope and into the ravine.

The further into the narrow ravine the clearer the sound and it sounded like chanting, not unlike what I heard last night … or earlier, if this wasn’t really morning. I could now hear the chanting in the native tongue, but I couldn’t find the source. Finally, in exasperation, “Where are you? I need your help in understanding what is happening.”

I continued through the ravine when heard, “Are you lost?”

I looked around me, then continued, the rope still sliding through my fingers, “Lost? I don’t know? Where am I?”

“You don’t know if you are lost or not, but you don’t know where you are?”

I turned a sharp corner in the ravine to find the rope going up the side, but also returning down to continue. I looked up … a giant owl was standing at the edge of the ravine, about head high to me. By giant owl, I mean about three and a half feet tall. Certainly larger than the biggest Great Grey I have seen. I looked around knowing this owl could not have been the one talking to me or chanting earlier.

I took another step to move my fingers to the rope coming off the ledge to continue, but, “I do not think you are lost.” I looked up at the owl. He cocked his head, his penetrating eyes piercing into me, “I think you are on discovery … not lost.”

The owl sat perched on the dune and hooted to himself as he moved the rope between his enormous talons. He looked at the rope in his talons, then at me, “The rope is connected to you.”

I was still trying to get used to the idea of carrying on a conversation with an owl. I stared at him and figured that it was all a part of some kind of dream. His voice sounded familiar, though, but I kept getting distracted by the fact that it was an owl talking.
He hooted again. “Of course, it is only your line in the sense that you picked it up.” His head turned toward me, and I was struck by the penetrating eyes, but the eyes seemed familiar, too. “Why did you choose this rope?”

I shook my head, unsure. “It was the closest and this one moved. It seemed like the appropriate rope for me to take.”

“Yes, I see that now. Intuitive. Not distracted by multiple options. Faced with the unknown, yet persisting.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Why, you, of course.” I cocked my head to look at him and was struck by how similar the action was to the way he had acted to me earlier. “It is who you are; it is your way.”

I stepped back from the wall to better look up at him. “Are you my Spirit a****l, then? The Owl? Are you why I am out here?”

“Hmmmmmm … One, yes, but not ‘the’.” I cocked my head curiously, again. I was beginning to think I might be an owl with all these head movements. But, he continued, “Look at the ground. This rope does not stop here.”

“Therefore, you are not ‘the’ reason I am out here. You are ‘a’ reason.” I was musing to myself more than to him. “So … multiple Spirit a****ls? Is it common to have multiple Spirit a****ls? What does that mean? Maybe that makes sense, though. The way I accommodate and act out the different roles that are my life.”

“See? It is who you are …” I looked up from my musing and saw him smiling. But, how does an owl with a beak smile? Perhaps it was merely something in the eyes …

He then told me something of what the Owl Totem represents, but challenged me to pursue my understanding by delving within myself. It is representative of a deep connection with wisdom and intuitive knowledge, possessing an ability to see what is often hidden to most others, having the capacity to see beyond deceit and masked situations or information. It symbolizes the ability to cut through illusions and to see the real meaning of someone’s action or state of mind.

The owl represents being intrigued by the unknown, an interest in discovering and exploring the mysteries of life and what had not yet been experienced. It can be a guide to uncovering hidden potential and abilities to experience what is new and unexpected.

The presence of the owl announces change, is the announcer of death, but most symbolically as a life transition or change, a transition in life, important changes that are taking place or about to happen. It can provide insight into a moment of transition in your life.

He was watching me. I was watching him. He spoke softly. If I hadn’t been watching him, I might have thought it was my own thought, “It is you.”

I nodded to him and to myself. I looked down at the ground, but more specifically the rope on the ground leading around the next bend of the ravine. “What will I find at the end of the rope?”

“You will find what you will find, if …”

I nodded, “I know … if I am open to finding it.”

I looked back at him and thanked him for his help, still feeling awkward about having just had an extended, seemingly rational, conversation with a giant owl. I was able to take only a step, when, “There is one more thing required before you go.” I turned back to him. “Your covering.” I cocked my head at him, again. “Your garment.” There was that sense of smiling, again. “You must be fully open to what is ahead for you. Not just your mind, but the entirety of you.”

I looked down at the simple dress Samantha loaned me. It was the only thing covering me since I had somehow already lost the boots. Could I really just leave it out here away from the tipi? “Does everyone open themselves like this?”

That damned smile, “Are you everyone?” He looked at me with those eyes and I shook my head in resignation.

* * CHAPTER 18: SPIRIT JOURNEY – WOLF will follow * * Thanks for reading.

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