by Michelle Larson
Who am I, really? I have gone through life identifying myself by all of the things that I do, the amazing experiences that I have had, the places I’ve seen, the people I know. Then there is the dramatic version, the pain and suffering, how I have been wronged by so many, the victim, poor me…(let me impress you with how far I have come through all of this adversity). This is what society tells us we are. Keep climbing the ladder; the corporate one, the status one, the martyr one, the beauty one, trying desperately to ascend to the next rung so, at last, so then, I will be happy, right? So why doesn’t the contentment arrive? Why does the ladder keep getting taller and I keep feeling smaller?
Teotihuacán, Mexico is a place where, for thousands of years, people have gone to shed themselves of the skin that they have created, to awaken to the truth. It’s a place where I have longed to go since I started my spiritual journey just over a year ago. I have heard the testimonials from dozens, claiming deep transformation beyond your wildest comprehension. It has been said that words cannot describe the experience. That anything else pales in comparison. “Just wait,” I was told, “you will see when you go. It will completely change the way you move through life.” Intriguing, to say the least.
Arriving in Mexico City was a lesson from the beginning. A flooding, torrential rain hit the city hard, pouring down fierce and fast. It was the worst storm the city had experienced in over 60 years. This otherwise nourishing gift, pushed the capabilities of the infrastructure over the edge, and it was not able to contain the rivers of water that flowed out of control. Most streets were impassable and the traffic became a confused mess of vehicles trying to impatiently enter and exit. Small cars were up to their windows as they crossed the depths of the pools. The 35 mile ride took about 3 ½ hours and we arrived feeling relieved and hungry and grateful to have made it to The Dreaming House, the place that we would call home for the next five days. The darkness and the curious weather created a metaphor for our lives, as we knew them. The chaos, the drama, the frustration, the emotions, the intolerance, the stirring, the anxiety…the fear, of the unknown…it was all present to whisper in our ears… “Why are you in Mexico?”
Morning arrived, allowing the sun to show us where we had landed. The earth was still wet and puddled, but the sky was as clear as can be. Everything looked more detailed and bright, intensely illuminated by the light. A deep inhale of the crisp, clean air with arms stretched wide…began the day.
We all gathered in the meeting room after a delicious breakfast, to get acquainted with each other and receive the low-down of what we might be in for on this journey together. We were reminded immediately that our “stories” had no business in this place. We went around the circle, basically giving our first names and where we were from. That’s it. Getting hooked on our familiar personal pitch-line was what we were there to get away from.
“Be Here Now!”
I found this so refreshing. To experience and share with a group of over twenty people for five solid days and not discuss what it is that we do for work, how many kids we have, where we went to college, what kind of car we drive, nothing from our past…to stay as present and in-the-now as possible, was our goal. So when you couldn’t remember someone’s name, it wasn’t, “you know that lawyer guy,” which of course labels him and puts any number of different perceptions one might have about lawyers, attached to him. It also, and more importantly, kept us all on the same plain…humans, gathering together to have a human experience. Aww…how nice is that?! We weren’t comparing ourselves or creating a hierarchy of wealth or intelligence. We were simply there to learn and grow and release, and find our truth. Lee McCormick, our Toltec guide and shaman, started us off by reminding us that, “We are living with our past in front of us. We need to let go of our story in order to put it behind us. We are not our bodies, our minds, or our belief systems…that is all just an interpretation, not the truth. We are willing to go to any length to prove that we are right. We work so hard to fit in, so we can get conditional love. We’ll do almost anything to avoid the unknown. We are working so hard to manage our misery. And, of course, misery loves company, so we indulge in it, share it and spread it to everyone we know. The bullshit has to stop. The stories have to stop.”
Arriving at the ruins, we sat on a set of ancient stone steps with a vantage point from which to meditatively observe the plaza that represents Hell on Earth. What brought us to this place, this place where you go to remember who you are? Were we all willing to leave our old lives behind in exchange for our freedom from fear? In the center of Hell is a platform with steps on four sides called the Island of Safety. This represents all of the ways that we find to cope and comfort ourselves in our lives–the aspects of our lives that we make responsible for us. The labels. What are the agreements that we have made with ourselves to feel safe? What has served us, but now feels like a trap? We all wandered in Hell to contemplate and journal about what this might be for each of us.
This was a time for me to get very real with myself. I have defined myself, for most of my life, by what I do, the company that I founded, my list of achievements and successes, my travels to far away lands, properties that I own, how wonderful my children are, and on and on…I have used this story to create, what I hoped, would be a positive perception from others of what I’m all about, to get love and acceptance, or even to place myself higher than others on the interesting and impressive scale. But what I was really doing is hiding behind my fear of what I am without this story of what I am? If not this list of “good” stuff, then was I the bad stuff…the shame, the ugliness, the disappointment? Or maybe I am none of the above?
Could I simply be divine light…an energy being with a huge capacity to love?
We were asked to pick up stones that represented the agreements and beliefs that we were ready to discard. None of the ideals that we thought were making us safe were actually making us safe from anything. The real safety is in the love that we give ourselves, the refraining from judgment, and the acceptance of ourselves, and others. Called by a Tibetan bell, we gathered on top of the Island of Safety, looking down on our Hell below. Lee had drawn a circle with an X in the middle, dividing it like a compass. One by one we each entered the center of our circle and ceremonially laid our stones in one quadrant with gratitude for the life that we have led and a commitment to leave it behind, in exchange for a new beginning…free from suffering, free from judgment, free from the past. For me, this was a powerful start to an amazing transformation.
There is so much more to us than what we have been living.
That night, feeling a little dazed by an emotional day of growth and awareness, we all stumbled into the meeting room to discuss what we were experiencing. A little sharing was done, but mostly it was quiet. We were all processing. Joan Borysenko and her husband Gordon Dveirin, were attending this retreat with us as teachers and guides as well. Even Joan, who is an internationally renowned speaker and author on spirituality and integrative medicine, seemed a bit stunned, stating that she came here knowing nothing of what to expect and she was going to sit with this unknowing until she knew something and then she would speak. What she did ultimately share with us that night though, is that we should be particularly aware of our sleeping dreams during our nights at The Dreaming House. To keep a journal near our bedsides, ready to document our visions, for if we go to sleep with the right intentions, our dreams may have messages for us on issues that we need to work on. This was interesting to me, as I have always paid particular attention to my dreams. I have found them to be helpful with creative inspiration and they are many times very strange, which amuses me.
My Dream That Night: I was very frustrated. Over and over and over again I was making a pizza. It wasn’t your typical pizza, it was gourmet, with yummy organic and exotic toppings and rectangular in shape. I would make this pizza with such precision, wanting it to be aesthetically balanced and perfect. I would carefully put the pizza in the oven at just the right temperature, for just the right amount of time, but each time I would pull the pizza out of the oven it would be flawed. The pizza would have a big tear in it or it would be burned or flat on one side. I couldn’t get it right, no matter how hard I tried. So, for what seemed like (in dream time) an entire day, I kept remaking the pizza. You see, I had crashed into this guy’s car. No one got hurt, but I put a dent in the back of his car and I felt really bad. I had to make a perfect pizza to give to this guy so he would forgive me, so he would like me, and not think of me as an irresponsible person who created this problem for him that he was now going to have to deal with.
So the next day, I knew what I needed to focus on. Letting go of perfection, and trying to be everything to everyone to earn their love, respect, or forgiveness.
I am good enough just as I am.
As individuals moving together, twenty humans BEING, we climbed the steps to a platform directly in front of the Pyramid of the Moon. Each of us were strategically placed, sitting with four people in the center facing outward and then four across from them facing each other and then one person in each of the spaces between, and someone across from each of them and so on, so that each person was looking into the eyes of another. We then placed one hand on the heart of the person in front of us and the other hand on the person’s heart next to us, so that ultimately we were all touching, connecting to each other. Staring into the eyes of the person in front of us we began breathing in unison, all of us, exchanging loving energy with intention. The flow of energy began as a simmer and over the span of a few minutes, with all of us continually breathing together, deeper, inhaling and exhaling, and with more intent, became a roaring boil of electric connectivity, the tears rolled down our cheeks, and the light that we created rose from us shined up and out, into the universe. I could feel each and every person, like a current running through me. I felt a deep grounding with the earth as if roots were growing beneath us down through the ancient ruins and into the core of the earth. The feeling of oneness with everything and everyone was brilliant and clear. The intensity, the power, the pure love was the most beautiful thing I have ever experienced. To be so free, to be nothing but love and light, and to be enveloped with all that is and ever was…miraculous!
All we need is love, love, love is all we need.
And so, five wondrous days fly by, as days do. We all have to leave our compound of closeness and comfort, with all that is. Trying hard to hold it together, to not open the floodgates of emotion, I say my good-byes and then a woman that I made a special connection with, comes over to me with tears welling in her eyes and I lose it. We hug, one of our deep and warm, lasting and sweet hugs, and as we pull away she says, looking at me with tears streaming down my face, “It was really nice to meet you,” and I say to her, “No, honey, it was really nice to FEEL you.”
For me this journey was truly transcending. I am not the person that I was when I arrived. I have evolved to the point that, that girl I thought I was…all aware and enlightened, is barely recognizable. What do I do? Where is the ladder? I can’t recall my story. It seems so insignificant anyway.
Can five days really make that big of a difference in your life?
Anything can happen when you lose your identity and forget who you are in the middle of Mexico at the temples of Teotihuacán.