Day 7:

New Cumberland, PA

After a wonderful stay with Barbara in East Aurora, NY, I headed out in the late morning.  East Aurora IMG_5684really captured my heart – a beautiful town with old victorian houses, a sweet and vibrant main street, and a definitively progressive vibe.  I can’t wait to go back!  After a delicious breakfast that included some amazing locally grown blueberries, YUM, I merged into the rolling hills, idyllic with their fields of wildflowers, picturesque barns, and fields of crops.  And lots and lots of wind energy turbines ~ a good sign in our progressive transition to sustainable, clean energy.

The rolling hills morphed into small mountains, and the roads were often lined with marshland reeds and cattails.  I had noticed so many dead trees throughout this area, and had asked Barbara about the issue.  She told me that a particular kind of insect has been destroying trees in this area, and it was truly devastating to witness the result.  In places, it seemed that we were in the dead of winter… and yet, other deciduous trees were surrounding these dead zones, clearly still in the full glory of summer green.  Yet another reminder of how important it is to find ways to protect our beloved IMG_5690Pachamama ~ our Earth Mother, our home.

Eventually, the road turned south, and I crossed into Pennsylvania.  For much of the afternoon, I travelled alongside the magnificent Susquehanna River.  Years ago, I had been so taken by the beauty of the Susquehanna, I wrote a poem about it.  (I’ve included it below, for your enjoyment!)  For the most part, the road took me through towns and small cities, a welcome reprieve to the impersonal endless speed of the highway.  In the mid-afternoon, I rolled into Harrisburg, grateful to have arrived.

IMG_5687Our Sound Medicine Journey was at the beautiful healing arts center, Bee Present Wellness.  Jaque, the visionary owner of the space, instantly felt like a kindred spirit and sister, and we talked nonstop about healing, shamanic practices, and the traditions that we have learned.  Originally from Brazil, Jaque and I especially connected in conversation about the sacred traditions of South America.  Our Sound Medicine Journey was deep and awesome, a perfect way to enjoy a Tuesday evening, and everyone lingered to chat and share about the experience.  It seems that New Cumberland is quite the center for healing arts and souls called to the path of healing themselves ~ always a wonderful inspiration!

As the evening closed, Jaque invited me to return ~ which I certainly will, gladly!  We IMG_5696also began planning a wonderful weekend initiation into the Rites of the Munay-Ki for the spring, and I am excited to bring this beautiful weekend workshop ~ and my beloved Helene, my co-facilitator ~ back to New Cumberland to initiate a group of people into these powerful Rites.  Very exciting!

My favorite thing about this tour so far is travelling with blessings in my heart to share with others ~ I still have some of the tobacco ties I made back in Brooklyn, and will be picking up new fabric today so that I can make more and keep spreading the love.  This is becoming a great teaching for me, a practice of living in the immediacy of Ayni ~ sacred reciprocity ~ each day.  I give these little blessings, as well as my words and my Sound Medicine offering, from the love in my heart.  My heart’s sincere intention is to bring others into peace and harmony, to provide a space so that we may come to know ourselves and our own truths, and to hold the space for healing to unfold, whatever that may look like.  I am so grateful for this path, and for this life.

 

SusquehannaIMG_1576

 

Afternoon sunlight
glinting on the still surface of
the Susquehanna…

Yes,
the road goes this way,
we have erected towers
of gray,
rigid and secure,
safely above her waters.
A solid, gray bridge,
a clear, reliable structure
beneath our cloudy gray sky,
surrounded by our tall gray
buildings,
places where we lock ourselves away
in the realm of
dull gray suits,
dull gray thoughts,
dull gray hearts.

Electric ribbons of light,
formless,
incidental,
raucous,
rip their way across the river.
Out here,
on the banks of the Susquehanna,
there is just enough
fresh air,
just enough
brown, blue, green,
just enough
subtle silence
to coax
imagination from its
hibernation.

The space between thoughts becomes greater…

The path of the wind becomes clearer…

The hollowness of the world of man is revealed to me once more,
and I feel alive.

 

 

Day 6:

East Aurora & Niagara Falls

After finally getting a full night’s sleep, I awoke in the most deliciously comfortable bed IMG_5662to a beautiful sunny day ~ my one free day during the tour!  I took my time in getting up for the day, and eventually made my way downstairs to greet Barbara.  We enjoyed a delicious breakfast together and shared stories from our lives ~ stories of adventure, stories of resilience, and stories of the beautiful spiritual journey that we both share in common.  Sitting on the porch was a delight, just like it is at home, and I was so grateful for having this leisurely time to connect with my beautiful friend and sister.  It’s only in the spacious times that we begin to open deeper and share the stories of our lives that help others to really appreciate all that we have become through the challenges and mysteries of this beautiful journey of life.  Listening to these kinds of stories just fills me up!  It was a wonderful way of starting the day.

IMG_5657After our conversation came to a close, we planned our day’s adventure:  visiting Niagara Falls!  Having never been in this area, I was excited to visit one of the most powerful waterfalls in North America, and to connect with the energy of the water.  I was also excited to share the 13th Rite of the Munay-Ki with Barbara ~ The Rite of the Womb ~ and had proposed doing this at Niagara Falls.  Being a lover of ceremony and ritual, I’d spend every day of my life honoring the sacred if possible ~ and most days I *do* spend at least a small amount of time in sacred honoring.  The idea of sharing this powerful healing energy with my beloved sister in such a magnificent place stirred every part of me, and she loved the idea.  It was less than an hour’s drive to Niagara Falls, and though it was busy with IMG_5668the tourism of late summer, we found a parking space only a few blocks from the park.  Barbara led me to the path along the Niagara River, and we made our way in the baking delicious sun.

The Niagara River’s waters were the fiercest rapids I had ever seen, and the energy of the IMG_5666current was so strong even at 20 feet away that it was dizzying.  The water was frenzied and wild, frothing and icy blue, and most certainly deliciously cold.  As we approached the point in the path where the water plummeted over the edge, falling below in its magnificence, I entered into a deep connection with this place.  This is a holy, sacred, amazing place, for sure ~ and I was moved to tears by the unbelievable power and force of the waters.  It was challenging to enter into a deep space of prayer here, surrounded by tourists and the capitalist culture that surrounds all tourist destinations, but in my heart, I understood why this place has become such a powerful destination.  Though it’s a bucket list place IMG_5656and many go to see it because it’s a world wonder, there is a deeper call that most don’t recognize or understand fully:  the call to be in the presence of something so magnificent that we feel small, truly insignificant beside of something to powerful, ancient, enduring, and unbelievably beautiful.  The truth is that we are surrounded by magnificence all the time, and we become numb to it, distracted by the happenings of daily living.  Though our American culture would like us to believe that we are dominant over the natural world, that we are brilliant and powerful and in charge, being in the presence of such an incredible place in the natural world reminds us that we are merely one part of the interdependent web of life, and that we are fragile, vulnerable, and at the mercy of forces far greater than ourselves.  Amazing!

IMG_5676In my heart, I was moved to tears in wondering how anyone could witness such an incredible place and choose anything but a deep commitment to the protection and care of the natural world.  How we could continue to want to focus on the moneymaking aspects of something so beautiful, and neglect the deeply rooted problems our culture is facing in protecting the waters, the land, the air, the forests, and all the natural world.  I may never fully understand the hungry ghost of greed that pulls the mind in the direction of wanting to possess, control, and profit from things at such immense expense.  And with that in mind, I was grateful to cross the Niagara River bridge and walk toward Luna Island in order to share the Rite of the Womb with Barbara.  She led the way, knowing the park well, and we found a small trail that led us to the river’s edge – it was just what we were IMG_5665looking for!!

After gathering a jar of water ~ the special request of my beloved Helene ~ I sang to the Niagara River and to the forest, calling the energies of the land to be with us for our ceremony.  I set up a simple altar, and we honored the seven directions.  As I shared this beautiful and powerful healing Rite with my friend, I felt the aliveness of everything all around, and was in utter awe at the magic of what was happening between us.  What an honor to share this energy, destined to bring healing to the Divine Feminine in all its manifestations, in such a powerful and sacred place.  Once our ceremony was complete, we made our way back into the thick of the flow of tourists, and back to the car.

IMG_5660What a day!  I bow in humble gratitude to all the steps that have come before this time that have led me here.  I offer my heart’s gratitude to my teachers and the wise ones who have guided my path along the way.  Today is a day that will live in my heart always!  Once I return home to the Mountain, Helene and I will have a healing and honoring ceremony around our Medicine Wheel to offer gratitude, prayers, and blessings to the Niagara River and Falls, praying that our world will awaken to the reality that the wise ones at Standing Rock have been making so heard in the past year:  WATER IS LIFE.

 

Day 5:

East Aurora, NY

After a long drive on Saturday night, and another short drive on Sunday morning, I IMG_5641arrived in the charming town of East Aurora, NY with about an hour to spare before the daylong Power of Healing Sound Workshop ~ and we were expecting a full house!  The morning’s drive was beautiful.  Along the highway were rolling hills dotted by wetlands, cattails and tall marsh reeds thickly lining the edges, and magnificent fields of wildflowers in every color imaginable ~ even Monet couldn’t have painted something this stunning!  Farm fields were plentiful, and every few miles a faded, yet functional barn would appear.  Truly a spectacular scene.  As this was my first time travelling in western New York, I truly enjoyed taking in the land and sky!

My host was a dear sister I met in Peru in 2014.  Barbara, her daughter, Helene, and I all met while going through the initiation into the Rites of the Munay Ki in the Sacred Valley, and she and I had stayed in touch since that time.  In planning my tour, I reached out to her and was so thrilled when she agreed to host me for this daylong workshop ~ one of my favorite ones for sure ~ through her healing center, Crystal Bridge Healing.  As time approached for the tour, I kept getting updates on more and more people registering for the workshop, as well as people who would join us for the evening’s Sound Medicine Journey, too.  While the distance had seemed daunting at first, I was mostly excited to reconnect with Barbara, and imagine my surprise when I learned that the workshop was fully booked!  As we were setting up for the day, I was even more surprised to hear how many more people would join us for the evening’s journey ~ so many that we’d need to use chairs and cushions instead of having everyone resting on the floor ~ amazing!

During the day, we explored all the ways that sound can be used for self healing, as well as in working with others in both one-on-one sessions and groups.  We explored toning, chanting bija mantras, singing kirtan-style mantras together, and had some rich conversations about what it means to free your voice and liberate your creative flow. We also explored drumming as an entrance into trance states, and drummed together, such IMG_5636fun!  And we closed the workshop with my favorite:  the Sound Medicine Orchestra!  Everyone had the opportunity to choose a drum, rattle, singing bowl, or gong, and we created a rich and exotic tapestry of sound ~ once it was steady and flowing, I joined in with the flute, and it was really, really beautiful!

In the evening, over 20 people filled the space for our Sound Medicine Journey!  It was packed for sure, and the community was already well versed in journey space ~ there are so many healers, intuitives, and shamanic practitioners in this area, and that makes it so easy to slip into the space of deep listening.  It was pure magic!!  I truly cannot *wait* to come back to this community!  In fact, I think about half the people in the workshop decided that I should move here pretty much immediately so that we could all continue to share such meaningful and fun practices together on a regular basis!  I love it!

By the end of the day, I was so exhausted that I was feeling a bit delirious and couldn’t even fall asleep for a long time ~ after five days of getting far too little sleep, being on the road so much, and directing my energy externally far more than usual, I was in need of deep rest, and grateful for Barbara’s generous hospitality.  The bed felt like the most comfortable bed I had ever slept on, and the cool evening breeze coming in the open window was a delight.  Every day the gratitude grows bigger!

IMG_5645

 

 

 

Days 3 & 4:

Greater Philly ~ Haverford & Lafayette Hill

IMG_5621On Friday night, I was blown away by the amazing crowd that came to experience Sound Medicine at Prana Das Yoga in Haverford!!  It had been just over a year since I was last there, and both the community and the space itself have grown considerably!  The space was so packed, and even after our official start time, people continued to pour in!  We ended up needing to move some of the furniture in order to make room for everyone to rest comfortably ~ what a nice surprise!  Sometimes a group of people collectively go very deep in this process, and I can feel it opening up, and Friday night was deep, for sure.  It always means so much to me when people really let go into the journey space, and connect with their own true knowing.  In the conversations that followed this journey, I was witness to rich reflection and deep commitment to personal growth shared by several beautiful souls, and it is these conversations that really are touching to me.  One that really lingers in my mind is from a conversation with a young mother, as we shared our curiosity about IMG_5624and desire to heal the wounds of our ancestors in order to resolve ancient pain that we continue to carry and pass on to our children.  I was truly touched as she shared about her little ones, and the ways that her own work to heal the painful stories from her life is providing her children with a very different experience growing up.  *This* is the very essence of the transformation that is happening all around the world at this time ~ truly beautiful!

My beloved friends Charlie and Joan are such gracious and kind hosts, and I am always IMG_5631so grateful for the care they offer when I stay with them.  Charlie always wants to make sure I’m taken care of, and even changed out a dead headlight bulb before I headed out for the next part of the tour.  I was excited to have some time with him to help him with his new adventure ~ learning to play the Native American flute!  The rain IMG_5626was heavy during the night on Friday, but Saturday morning was clear, and we sat out on the patio, enjoying the cool, damp air, playing the flute ~ Charlie had already discovered so much on his own while camping in the Montana wilderness the week before, and we explored new techniques to add to his style and creative expression.  He’s a natural, and I can’t wait to hear how amazing he sounds next time!!

On Saturday afternoon, I made my way to Sit Meditation Space, a new meditation practice studio in Lafayette Hill.  Jason, the visionary owner, was enthusiastic and down IMG_5632to earth, and I liked him right away.  Soon after my arrival, another bright spirit, Anthony, joined us ~ both of these kind gentlemen insisted on helping me bring all the instruments into the space, and were eager to learn more about Sound Medicine, and about my path.  I immediately felt a connection with this community, and was sure that if I lived in the Philly area, these would be my people.  As more people joined us, I was really delighted by the fun, lighthearted, genuine, and open energy, and the whole place was truly a breath of fresh air.  The guys had arranged the space beautifully, and since we were an intimate group, everyone was treated to exquisitely comfortable accommodation for the journey.  It’s rare that I’ve played in a space with no windows, totally enclosed ~ but those spaces feel so much like a womb, and allow us to be in near total darkness with few distractions.  It was awesome!!

IMG_5635Following the journey, I was so happy to hear someone singing the closing song, Compassion, one of my newest songs ~ and he said it was going to be stuck in his head for a long time.  It really is the *best* when I get to experience these songs ~ and this work ~ land fully with people, carrying the message as intended, and lingering as a positive influence in their lives.  It made my day!!  As I packed up and prepared for a long drive to Corning, NY ~ my stopover on the way to the Buffalo area ~ I was invited to come again next time, and I surely will!  Just before heading out the door, Anthony shared a few minutes of Reiki to help me transition from journey space to the highway, and it was a wonderful gift.  I left IMG_5638feeling grounded, awake, and filled up from so much positivity!  I hope that spaces like this really take off in this culture, as we need a mainstream movement toward being mindful, practicing presence, and learning to listen within ourselves with great courage.  The journey continues!!

 

Day Two:

Brooklyn, NY

The quiet of suburban Philly is a refreshing contrast to the controlled, friendly chaos of IMG_5606Brooklyn ~ the wind in the trees and birdsong welcomed me here just a little while ago, and I’m delighted to be in the company of my dear friends Charlie and Joan.  Soon, we’ll be heading out to Prana Das Yoga, the beautiful center owned by our friends Derek and Nadia.  It’s been over a year since I last came to share Sound Medicine at Prana Das Yoga, and I’m looking forward to being back!

Last night was the opening night of this year’s Sound Medicine Tour, and though our crowd was small, it was a beautiful night.  The Rakit Club is an eclectic, funky art space in an unassuming warehouse district, and if you just drove by, you’d likely never discover it.  But just inside, amid the bright and colorful lights, artwork, and assorted collection of musical instruments, is a cozy space that welcomed me with gracious arms.  We drifted in the deep space of singing bowls chiming, Koshi chimes carrying us back to unknown sweet spaces, and sweet, inspiring songs calling our hearts open to the depths of the spirit.  At the end of the night, we all sat in a circle, sharing.

I feel like many loose ends were brought together… I hope I remember!

IMG_5603I realized how being still is *always* going to be work… there is no “storing it up!”  We always have to be present in the moment anew.

I was able to process a lot of emotional stuff that I hadn’t been dealing with… tears flowed down my face all night!

I am so grateful for this work, and the beautiful people who I meet along the way!

Today, just before heading out of Brooklyn, my dear IMG_5613friend Neimah was so kind as to restring my 12 string guitar, giving her some much needed TLC ~ what a blessing, for sure, as it was LONG overdue!  Lalita will be delighted tonight, and so will I!

Looking so forward to continuing to flow with the trail of blessings along the way, and to bring the blessings and prayers for peace and harmony from my heart to the hearts of others.  IMG_5602

Tour Day One:

Harpers Ferry ~ Brooklyn

After a sweet lunch with Helene, my beloved, I got underway at around 1:30pm, and 20728984_10159125617485032_2405710432830669580_owhat a beautiful day for a drive!  The sun was bright, not too hot, what an anomaly for an August day on the East Coast!  What a good idea to get underway a day before my first event, allowing for some time to enjoy my dear friends, Neimah & Audrey ~ beautiful people I never get to spend enough time with!

This tour is coming at the end of some much needed time on personal retreat, a time where I practiced silence during the days, fasting from all work and communication until after 7:00 pm.  After 11 days in rich silence, personal contemplation, and deep time with Pachamama all around the beautiful area I call home, I feel so blessed to step into the world with the intention of bringing peace, harmony, balance, and beauty to both beloved ones, as well as beloved ones I’m just meeting along the way.

At around the halfway point on my drive, I was listening for the first time to an album by a sister I met back in March in Boulder ~ and just as I was driving across the Delaware River, I was touched by the words of the song I was enjoying, words that were reminding the listener that we all have a choice in how we choose to show up in the world, whether we want to embrace selfish choices and think only of our momentary desires, or whether we want to consider the world we are leaving behind for the grandchildren of our grandchildren.  In that moment, clarity came to me about the ultimate purpose of this time on the road, sharing my work with Sound Medicine Journeys!  This is to be a time of giving blessings to those I meet, to staying connected in the heart, humble and sincere, and simply praying to leave all those whose paths I cross better than they were a moment before.  As I drove across the Delaware, I held up my left hand, sending prayers to the river, to the land, to the sky, and feeling the gift of knowing why I am here in the first place ~ always a good reminder!

After a delicious smoothie made by my beloved brother Neimah (oh the joys of watermelon – see recipe below!), I headed out for a while, waiting for Audrey to join me.  We ended up in a delicious little cafe, Meme’s, and had both an awesome, healthy meal and an awesome conversation about the power of healing sound, music, and binaural 20645253_10159125617470032_2973086623149634158_obeats with Carlos ~ a bright soul working at the cafe ~ inspiring me as I begin this tour, as it seems that more and more people are longing for this kind of energy, which is a catalyst for silence, inner peace, and self-connection.  What a gift it is to know that bingeing on TV, social media, and consumer pleasures is waning in its grip on people’s lives:  it is amazing to choose consciously what we consume, considering how it affects us and others, and what we truly want in our lives ~ as we come to know ourselves better and better, the shallow hunger of living fades into the background, allowing space for the true calling of the soul to speak to us.

In the spirit of being a carrier of blessings during this tour, I picked up a new pouch of tobacco, and with the amazing help of Audrey (a sewmaster extraordinaire), I was able 20728771_10159125617475032_182955176941937090_oto put together a collection of prayer ties to carry with me during the tour.  Singing prayers into the tobacco, and filling them with my best wishes for every single being in this world, and beyond it.  If I can choose this in my life:  to walk as a living prayer, as one who carries the deep longing for peace in my heart, and the desire to contribute my life to helping others and being of service using the gifts and abilities I carry, I know that my life will be a part of the healing of this world.  In Peru, the practice of Ayni is the law of the land among the traditional people.  This is the practice of reciprocity, of giving and receiving in balance.  In contemporary culture, there is an increasing movement in the direction of consumption, fickle desires met almost instantly by technology and the generation of material goods.  But in the practice of Ayni, the focus shifts:  how can I give from myself in order to be a sustainer of life?  How can I help?  How can I use my mind, my heart, and my hands to bring more love into this world?  What a far cry from the usual voice of capitalism:  competition, more-faster-better, and demand.

I will never be a biological mother in this life.  I will never seriously consider the future of my children, grandchildren, and their grandchildren in a personal way.  But I am a mother to those who I love and care for – friends, soul family, plants, animals, ideas, traditions, and lifeways.  I am grateful for having a heart to care, and the resilience to see so much suffering and pain and destruction and *still* maintain a deep longing to be a part of the healing of these things.  It can be overwhelming to face so much uncertainty and pain, for sure ~ and the world seems to be filled with it more every day, but to continue to open and inquire in what ways we can be a force of love, healing, balance, peace, and compassion… that is the path.

Today as we returned from a delicious lunch (yay, Brooklyn delicious food) at Sun in Bloom, we discovered that there had been a fire just down the street last night, and upon inquiring, we learned that an 81 year old woman had died in the fire.  A tragic and scary way to leave this world, for sure, not being able to escape the building.  With this, I offer up my prayers to Gertrude as she makes her journey onward ~ grandmother Gertrude, may your transition be blessed, and may you feel the love that you were surrounded with during your long life! 

Watermelon Smoothie Recipe:

Watermelon

Fresh Basil Leaves

Ice

Water

Blend and enjoy!  Thank you Neimah for your genius!!

20689894_10159125617465032_4673129612207074714_o

 

Beyond Stress: Sound Medicine Heals

In recent years, Sound Medicine has been making headlines. Instead of heading out to _MG_9016the pub on a Friday night, many people are now choosing sound journeys as a way to relax and unwind. To those who view music as nothing more than entertainment, Sound Medicine may sound like a New Age gimmick, and even those who have experienced the benefits of healing sound may struggle to explain what exactly happens during a session. In light of this, it is helpful to consider the history of sound healing, as well as the science behind its effectiveness.

In western culture, people often assume that Sound Medicine is an emerging field, however cultures around the world have practiced sound healing for millenia. The indigenous people of the Amazon have long used medicine songs called icaros in plant medicine healing. The pre-Hindu Tantric Yogis used potent sound meditations to heal and awaken. Chinese Medicine and Ayurveda use sound for both diagnostic and treatment purposes, and in ancient Greece, Pythagoras cultivated practices based on the Harmony of the Spheres. Indeed, Sound Medicine is hardly an innovation of the New Age.

Sound Medicine is much more than a relaxing concert. With artistic mastery of their chosen tools and instruments guiding the experience, as well as a thorough understanding of the energetics of sound, a good sound healer possesses the presence and knowledge to support clients in engaging with healing in mind, body, and spirit in an intentional way. The underlying goal of any Sound Medicine work is to reset the sympathetic nervous system’s response to ongoing stress. Western medicine now acknowledges that the cumulative effects of stress contribute to nearly every major illness. Living in a culture of busyness, increasing levels of mental and emotional strain escalate into chronic stress, and over time, this can have a serious affect on our health. As the body is continually flooded with stress hormones, heart rate increases, blood pressure elevates, and the digestive system can’t function in an optimal way. Over time, this ongoing state of fight-or-flight can lead to disease, including high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, ulcers, and immune suppression.

Many health professionals now encourage patients to engage in simple and effective practices, including meditation, body awareness, and breathing exercises, to interrupt the cycle of chronic stress, and supporting the body’s natural capacity to heal and return to balance. This is where Sound Medicine is key. While all forms of meditation and self-awareness are beneficial, the part of the brain that engages with sound is directly connected to memory and emotion. Sound Medicine embraces this natural interconnectivity. Whether evoking soothing sounds, such as ocean waves or chimes shimmering in the breeze, abstract sounds such as the gong or singing bowls, or the words of a song to guide the exploration of a particular emotional landscape, life experience, or inner inquiry, Sound Medicine engages the parasympathetic nervous system, initiating a deep state of relaxation. In turn, the body is able to come into greater balance, and can result in lower blood pressure, improved digestive function, and nourishment of the body’s tissues and organ systems, not to mention allowing the mind and emotions to enter into calmness and clarity. Ultimately, Sound Medicine is a wonderful tool that can support any healing journey. While it is not a substitute for appropriate medical treatment when facing a serious health condition, as a complimentary modality, it can be very beneficial alongside any allopathic or holistic disciplines.

 

 

Angela Blueskies is a visionary musician and medicine woman who carries deep understanding of the healing powers of music and the Earth. A lifelong musician, she has been deeply influenced by the traditions of Nada Yoga and Bhakti Yoga, as well as indigenous and contemporary traditions of healing medicine songs. With a pure vocal quality, lush, beautiful harmonies, and rich instrumentation, Angela’s music brings people into profound meditative and ecstatic states and inspires deep connection to the heart. She is the founder of Sound Medicine Journeys, and offers sound healing sessions, classes, and workshops that are both experiential and grounded in the principles of holistic healing. A shamanic practitioner rooted in the traditions of the Peruvian Andes, Angela is also the Creative Director of Heart of the Mother Retreats, and leads journeys and pilgrimages to powerful healing destinations around the world. For more information, please visit angelablueskies.com and heartofthemotherretreats.com.

_______________________________

First published in Natural Awakenings DC, June 2017

Photo courtesy of Yulia Mikalchuk

Spiritual Bypass

monk-458491_1920In a recent conversation, I was surprised to hear a woman who considers herself a new-age spiritual teacher say something like, “with enlightenment, we don’t have to care about the worldly stuff anymore.”  I noted a distinct air of superiority in her tone, as if she had finally risen above the need to get involved in the mundane affairs of living as a human being here on Earth at this time.  Taken aback by her declaration, I pointed out the ancient vow of the Bodhisattva, who continues to reincarnate into this world to serve the awakening of all beings.

Bodhisattva:  (in Mahayana Buddhism) a person who is able to reach nirvana but delays doing so out of compassion in order to save suffering beings.

This idea was instantly dismissed, of no interest to this self-proclaimed enlightened master.  The conversation has stayed with me, inviting me to look within the culture of the personal growth movement, and consider the roots of such a perspective.

Even though a few moments with the daily news might make it difficult to believe, there is an unprecedented movement of awakening happening all around the world.  People are seeking to move beyond self-interest, greed, separation, fear, and mental rigidity, opening into a new way of living that is compassionate, inclusive, and holistic.  As we come to identify habitual approaches to living that are no longer in alignment with the awakened vision of a new way, inevitably we are forced into the uncomfortable process of change.  In order to create a world that is no longer dominated by self-interest, greed, separation, fear, and mental rigidity, we must look within ourselves, seeing where these things are alive within us.

The process can be painful.  Most of us like to think that we’re good people, doing the best we can, and when we uncover a shadowy, misaligned part of ourselves, it can trigger disbelief, guilt, shame, anger, self-hatred, and complete denial.  Ultimately, in order to transform ourselves and the ways of our culture, we are required to face these things and to walk through the alchemical fire of change.  When we encounter our pain, wounds, fears, and flaws, it is easy to become overwhelmed, and we push it all away.  It certainly seems preferable to just walk away from all these issues, stepping instead into a new way of being, but without honestly addressing these parts of ourselves, no enduring change will occur.

In the process of spiritual awakening, this dissociation often falls under the guise of spiritual bypass.  A term first coined by psychologist John Welwood in the mid 1980s, spiritual bypass includes all the ways that people attach themselves to spiritual practices and beliefs to avoid facing emotional and mental wounds.  Spiritual bypass often shows up as detachment, repressing the full spectrum of emotions, hyper-positivity, stigmatizing anger, lack of beneficial boundaries, denial of personal or collective shadow, an elevated sense of importance of the spiritual, and an elevated sense of self in regard to the spiritual.

Having walked in circles connected to yoga, spirituality, and personal growth for over twenty years, I am intimately familiar with each of the strands of spiritual bypass, and have personally experienced many of them.  In reflecting upon these things as they appeared in my life, I believe that I ultimately wanted to know that I was OK, that I was a good person, that I was getting something right.  Seeing the suffering in our world, and wanting things to be better, it was too painful to believe that I was a part of the problem.  After all, I had devoted so much time and energy into becoming a better human being, living up to my potential, and doing my very best in all the arenas of my life.  Of course, the path of healing unresolved emotional wounding is circuitous, and it’s not possible to force a complete and thorough resolution according to our preferred human timelines.

And while that is true, there is a strong desire to at least seem like we’re getting it right, finally.  Among spiritual circles, one might feel compelled to say, “I’m Angela.  It’s all good, I’m okay with whatever is happening in the world.  It’s all in Divine order.  I’m a positive influence in the world, happy in every circumstance, never angry, never sad or hopeless.  I’m completely open, fully whole, and living in the radiance of my own true inner light.  The suffering in this world is an illusion, and as a warrior of the light, I transcend this plane of existence, an intergalactic citizen of the universe.  I’m on my way home, and this place just isn’t it.  Peace, love, and light to you!”  But what happens when the truth is more like this?  “I’m Angela.  I see the good all around me, but there is also a lot of pain in this world.  I have experienced a lot of suffering and trauma, and am not sure how to go about healing it, though I want to very much.  I want to understand the mysterious unfolding of life, which sometimes seems like it is in Divine order, and other times seems to be nothing but chaos.  I am doing my best every single day, but I stumble a lot, as I am human.  I feel all things that come through me, from the heights of bliss to the depths of agony, and know that these things are the essence of human experience.  From this comes compassion, opening my heart to the suffering of others.  I know that in my own journey of awakening there has been no clear-cut path.  Sometimes it seems clear, and other times I feel utterly lost.  But I am awake, paying attention, listening, and present.  I hope that through my life’s experience I can be a positive support to others, as we are all in this together.” 

The path of awakening is a path of embracing the full spectrum of human experience.  Too often, the error we make is in wanting to transcend the world and its problems.  We tend to believe that when enlightenment comes, we will no longer have to feel pain, sadness, fear, anger, or confusion.  We want to believe it is possible to live in a place of endless joy, and too often that is accompanied by the belief that we will either escape this realm of challenges and struggle, or we will be saved by some external force that will eradicate whatever is in the way of eternal ease and happiness.  Ultimately, awakening is much the opposite journey:  as we open to experience all that arises and all that falls away, we cultivate greater compassion, and are able to be present with life with all the challenges and struggle.  We awaken into feeling every single thing, resisting nothing, embracing it all.

On an individual level, this is profound.  As we truly awaken to the present moment with our full senses and heart, healing and transforming our own lives, we also awaken to a greater sense of personal responsibility, and the desire to be of service to others.  On a collective level, as we awaken, we make the leap from living in a human-centric way of conflict and exploitation, to living in a respectful, balanced way, considering the impact of our choices within the interdependent web of life.  Bringing together the gifts of compassion and insight, and uniting our hearts and minds, it is no longer desirable to simply look the other way, seeking an escape from the pain of this world.  Instead, we look fully into the suffering of the world, opening our arms, becoming the healing presence that will transform the world.

This is not a simple process, nor an easy road.  We are facing immense global challenges that threaten life as we know it.  The extinction of species, climate change, social and human rights issues, violence and discrimination, injustice, fear, and deep and abiding separation are pervasive at this time.  Hearts are closed, minds are rigid, and weapons are at hand, as we continue to face the darkness within humanity that has been suppressed for millennia.  And just as with an infected wound, we must open and purify the wounds within the collective consciousness of humanity, allowing the infected hearts and minds to heal and return to basic goodness.  This will take time, and it will not always be graceful, but when held in the compassionate embrace of the Bodhisattvas that have come to Earth just now in order to facilitate this awakening, it will continue to unfold.

Angela Blueskies is a visionary musician and medicine woman who has traveled the world for over a decade in search of meaning and spiritual growth.  She is the founder of Sound Medicine Journeys, and offers sound healing sessions, classes, and workshops that are both experiential and grounded in the principles of holistic healing.  A shamanic practitioner rooted in the traditions of the Peruvian Andes, Angela is also the Creative Director of Heart of the Mother Retreats, and leads journeys and pilgrimages to powerful healing destinations around the world.  For more information, please visit angelablueskies.com and heartofthemotherretreats.com

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First published on My Area Yoga:  DC, Philly, Chicago on May 15th, 2017monk-458491_1920

Healing the Feminine Soul

The womb is not a place to store fear and pain. The womb is to create and give birth to life.In shamanic cultures, soul loss is a condition that occurs when a person has a traumatic experience, leaving one feeling disconnected, fragmented, and lost.  Though ultimately seeking a part of oneself that is missing, those who undergo soul loss often seek external experiences that help them feel whole once more. Others withdraw, unable to find a sense of inner strength and centeredness.   While the path of resolving trauma is complex, shamanic healing addresses the situation at an energetic level, which in turn supports the process of healing mind and body. Through the process of soul retrieval, it is possible to recover lost and fragmented parts of oneself, restoring a sense of wholeness.

While soul retrieval is a potent way of initiating personal healing, the collective pain we share is much more challenging to address. In our modern world, we have immense material abundance and comfort, but in many ways, we have lost our connection with ourselves, each other, and the natural world. Caught in the trap of constant busyness, we are exhausted and struggling, ever striving toward an elusive and distant goal. From the shamanic perspective, this is indeed soul loss on a cultural level, and tremendous healing is needed to restore us to balance.

Seeing a vast collective need for healing, a number of indigenous elders around the world have begun sharing their wisdom and traditions with those who are called to bring healing to their people. One such exchange took place just a few years ago, deep in the Peruvian Amazon during a powerful ceremony with the female shamans of the Shipibo Nation. Urging women to step into their power and heal the trauma that women have carried for generations, the Rite of the Womb was brought forth. Also called the 13th Rite of the Munay-Ki, the Rite of the Womb may be shared with all those who are committed to healing themselves, their relationships with the feminine, and Pachamama, Mother Earth.goddess-1500599

As the Rite of the Womb is passed from one woman to another, it transmits an energetic force into the womb of the receiver, with the intention of initiating the healing of fear, pain, sorrow, grief, shame, guilt, and all other burdens that women have carried from their life experiences, their ancestry, and their cultures. As these heavy energies are cleared, the Rite empowers women to reclaim their place in the world as wise leaders, teachers, and healers. In full understanding that healing the feminine requires the healing of the masculine as well, the Rite is also shared with men who are called to support healing and balance in the world.

As women receive the Rite of the Womb, they open themselves to healing their relationships with their bodies, find greater love and acceptance for themselves, release self-limiting beliefs and habits, and embrace the fullness of who they truly are. Letting go of competitiveness and judgment, women find new ways of uplifting and supporting each other in sharing their gifts and creativity with the world, creating a stronger sense of community based in care, compassion, and connection. In continuing to nurture the Rite, the process of healing is fully integrated, and as the wounded fragments of the feminine are welcomed home, the feminine soul is restored to wholeness, bringing humanity back into balance within the interdependent web of life.

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Would you like to schedule a private initiation into the Rite of the Womb in your home or venue of choice? 

Please contact us at angelablueskies@gmail.com.

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First published in Natural Awakenings Magazine DC, May 2017_mg_9029

Angela Blueskies is a visionary musician and medicine woman who has traveled the world for over a decade in search of meaning and spiritual growth. She leads initiations into the Rite of the Womb and the Munay-Ki Rites several times each year.  She is also the Creative Director of Heart of the Mother Retreats, and leads journeys and pilgrimages to powerful healing destinations around the world. For more information, please visit www.angelablueskies.com and www.heartofthemotherretreats.com.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Foncebadon & the Iron Cross: A Sacrifice in the Mountains

Excerpted from The Slowest Pilgrim ~ the story of my journey along the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage road.

***
Foncebadon is a fabled village of wild dogs and even wilder fear. A village finally back in the mountains, a place of silence interrupted only by the whistling wind gently brushing the grass covered hillsides with her long, gentle fingers. A town higher than any other on the Camino, Foncebadon is little more than a relic. This is the final town on the ascent to Cruz de Ferro, the highest point on the entire path through Spain.

 
I have no idea what happened in Foncebadon, why this beautiful place is nothing more than ruins. Especially when one considers the tremendous number of thousand-year old houses that are still standing, this village is anomalous in Spain. It appears that Foncebadon was never a large village, perhaps twenty houses and a church. Today almost all of those stone houses have collapsed. A stone wall here and there, surrounded 002_14by stone rubble and fuchsia foxgloves growing wild. Some of the houses are nothing more than piles of stone. Others are partially standing structures with wood frameworks that appear ready to give way in the next strong gust of wind. One house even had a window frame moderately intact, however, it was misshapen from the stones settling over the years and looked more like a fun house window than one from an ancient village. The few modern houses seemed oddly out-of-place in this pseudo-gravesite, but the smell of wood fires in July was remarkably comforting as the surprisingly chilly evening breeze settled in with the night.

 
Foncebadon is a place of great peace, deep silence, and endless time. Nature has returned humanity’s structures to her womb, to be held and weathered and reborn. To have spent time here is a blessing, reminding me that nothing is permanent, that all of life is a sacrifice. With every step, water courses through my veins, washes my eyes and throat, pours out of my body as sweat, and is returned to the atmosphere. With every step, air moves through me, feeding my body and moving me into greater awareness through the aligned rhythm of breath and step. With every step, the earth meets my feet, reminding me that I can’t help coming into relationship with all that is around me, that the earth and I are intricately connected. With every step, I am asked to face my existence now, without any consideration of the past or the future, the fire that is my life force burns on even when my mind is unable to process any more. The cyclic nature of my place in existence, the cyclic nature of earth, the cyclic nature of life in every form, I can’t escape the reality of these things. Every step takes me further away from the notions of my life and closer to the pure current of life that is no different from the foxgloves pushing their way through the rubble of fallen Foncebadon.

 
As for the wild dogs of Foncebadon reported by Shirley MacLaine and Paulo Coehlo in their books, the only dog I encountered in the entire village was a large tan dog sleeping outside the albergue, a dog who didn’t move from the time I arrived until the time I left the next morning. On the Camino we all have different paths, different struggles, different fears, different demons to face. The wild dogs of Spain didn’t emerge as my experience. I believe that in some way we all created the obstacles we would face on our journeys. Mine didn’t involve devil dogs with gnashing teeth. Mine was a maddening struggle with the sun and the inescapable heat.

 
In Foncebadon, I began to understand some of the greatest lessons of my Camino. My journey showed me that there is no true escape, though I may often feel that I can escape from one problematic situation to the safety and comfort of another situation. In truth, 027_25Athere is simply one thing, then another, then another. To be cornered by the open sky, to be trapped beneath the bright summer sun, and to be unable to escape was the greatest suffering I’ve ever known. In the midst of such intensity and exhaustion, even my mind was no longer available as a playground of escape. My mind abandoned me on the Camino. I was left holding nothing but another step, another breath. The horizon wasn’t a goal, but a frozen moment of now. I was always safe, the ground was always there to comfort me, and occasionally there were trees to shade the way and fellow pilgrims to remind me that I was indeed absorbed in the flow of life.

***
After I finished my morning writing, I noticed Matthias standing on the hillside to watch the sunrise. I left my pack inside and joined him. We huddled close together in the freezing morning air, watching clouds of breath form. At first a deep, earthen color began to emerge from the horizon, illuminating a few deep gray clouds. A few others joined us, but the sunrise came slowly. I returned to the dining room for a breakfast of tea and toast, enjoying its cozy warmth. I stared out the window and watched the sky transform to a deep amber, then through a sequence of fiery oranges. When the appearance of the sun itself was imminent, I ran back outside to join the others. As I watched the sun emerge from the earth, I felt as if I was witnessing a miracle, the birth of radiance, of light from darkness. As my heart expanded, tears of gratitude welled up in my eyes and spilled down my cheeks.

 
After the sun had taken its place in the rhythm of the day, I went back inside and gathered my pack. Before harnessing my bag, I stuffed my hands in my pockets, exploring the contents within. In the right pocket, tangerine lip balm, as usual. In the left pocket, two small, smooth stones. Assured that everything was in order, I heaved my backpack onto my shoulders and wandered out into the bright July morning.
I wandered up the well-worn dirt path that led through the town. I passed by the ruined 007_19stone houses that I had spent so much time wandering amongst the day before. The foxgloves turned their bright fuchsia faces to greet the sun, and I nodded my greeting to them as I passed. A trickle of pilgrims wandered past the church, past the modern houses and up into the mountains. On the outskirts of Foncebadon, I paused between two small ponds teeming with frogs and other wildlife. Delicate grasses grew on their shores, softening the edges and partially hiding smooth stones that were scattered here and there. Before continuing, I turned around to glance at Foncebadon. From that vantage point, it was hard to believe that a village existed there at all. I felt deeply glad that it was there, though, offering pilgrims a peaceful place to rest and contemplate their journey to the Iron Cross. I honored Foncebadon in my heart, and after a few moments I turned and continued walking.

 
I walked alone that morning, holding a stone in each hand. One stone was mine, the other for dear friends who had asked me to carry a stone for them. I walked very slowly, appreciating every step. I breathed deeply and drank in the morning light. I gathered my thoughts during the walk from Foncebadon to Cruz de Ferro. What do I want my stone to 001_13represent for me? What part of my life am I ready to release? What are my prayers? I whispered these questions to my stone as I walked. That morning, I encountered many familiar faces, and while I greeted fellow pilgrims, my attention never left my contemplation. The path wound higher and higher through the sparse trees along the stone-strewn trail.

 
Cruz de Ferro, the Iron Cross, is an unusual sacred place. A small iron cross is mounted atop a tall wooden pole, which is atop a mound of stones that’s more than ten feet high. The casual passerby would see just another Christian shrine along the Camino. But pilgrims know that this mound of stones is different. For centuries, pilgrims have carried stones to this place. An act more likened to Pagan tradition than Christian, pilgrims leave stones as a symbol of leaving their old lives behind. Some pilgrims pick up a stone along the way, and others carry a stone from home along the path to this place. A variety of rituals surround the surrendering of stones. Some pilgrims meditate in the fields next to the site, others climb instantly to the base of the cross and pray, some jovially take photographs with fellow pilgrims. But few pass this place without taking the time to honor their journey.

 
My eyes sought the Iron Cross, eagerly anticipating that first glimpse. Around every twist or turn, I hoped that its glorious image would appear on the horizon, but the trail followed the ridge in such a way that the shrine wasn’t visible until a pilgrim is upon it. Upon arriving at Cruz de Ferro, I was flooded with a wave of emotion so intense that it took my breath away. I walked around the base of the stone mound, trembling, barely holding back my tears. I squeezed my hands around the little stones within, taking in as much of the place as possible in those first few moments.

 
Along the Camino, there were many small shrines. Fields or steep hillsides were frequently covered with cairns, stones stacked in pillars. Fences were filled with twigs assembled in the shape of the cross. Notes were left on guideposts, held down by a stone, offering the finder wishes and prayers, but Cruz de Ferro was overwhelming. The stones were piled nearly fifteen feet high. Big stones, little stones. They somehow managed to remain stacked together solidly and the hill was sturdy enough to handle hundreds of pilgrims climbing it 033_46every day. Bigger stones tended to be further down on the mound, toward the bottom, and small stones and personal objects of every kind were offered at the base of the cross. The colorful array was deeply moving.

 
I walked to the meadow beside the cross and sat cross-legged, leaning against my backpack. The dry, brown grass was so tall that it was nearly over my head, but it was soft and cool. The wind rustled the leaves over my head, and the grass danced about, brushing up against me. A faint fragrance of pine filled the air. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath, feeling the energy of the two small, warm stones that were encased in my hands. My mind was swimming with all the thoughts that had come to me during the morning’s walk. I first placed my attention on the stone I held for my dear friends. I imagined their faces and felt gratitude for their presence in my life. I felt honored that they had allowed me to carry this little stone, along with their prayers, to this sacred place. I asked the universe to bless them with joy, love, and abundance in every way possible as I held their small, greenish stone between both hands. I felt a wonderful warmth in the stone, and meditated as I held it. After a while, the energy shifted, and I placed their stone in my lap.

 
I picked up my stone. It was so small, so smooth, so round. It was beautiful. A smile spread across my face as I regarded the little stone, and I began to cry. I was alone, and I spoke out loud. I poured my heart out to my stone atop the highest mountain on the entire Camino. It was confession, it was prayer. It wasn’t poetic (or maybe it was) but it was pure and raw. I offered my entire heart and soul to that little stone, holding back nothing. I felt as if a raging river was rushing through me, beginning at the ground where I sat, and leaving through my words. When the words ran out, I sat in meditation for a while longer. Suddenly, I opened my eyes. I was ready to make my sacrifice to Cruz de Ferro. I left my pack in its place and walked in a straight line toward the cross. My pace was deliberate, focused. I felt pulled forward with each step. The tears welled up in my eyes, and I felt myself climbing the mound of stones to the base of the Iron Cross.

 

There were photographs pinned to the pole, prayers for friends and family who were ill or had passed on, letters, jewelry, images of Christ and the Virgin Mary. Some were new and colorful, others were faded and tattered from exposure to the elements. Surrounding these offerings were stones of every kind. There was so much powerful energy on top of that mound of stones. My lips quivered as the salty tears spilled down my face, and I could feel my stomach begin to clench, holding back the sobs. I walked counterclockwise around the pole, feeling slightly self-conscious about the fits of sobbing that could burst 030_28Aforth at any moment. There were three or four other pilgrims there, but I didn’t make eye contact with any of them. I breathed deeply, searching for the best place for my two little stones. I selected a spot on top of a large, flat stone right at the base of the pole and offered a final wave of emotion as I regarded the two little stones. They’re just rocks, I thought. Or are they? I drew in a quick breath and brought the stones to my lips, kissing them quickly. Then, I kneeled down to my chosen spot and placed the two stones there. I arranged them so that they were aesthetically pleasing, making sure that they wouldn’t easily be knocked aside. I nodded my head, and without a second glance I walked back down the way I came. I could barely see through the tears as I found my way to level ground. I walked quickly into the edge of the pine forest and immediately burst into gut-wrenching sobs. I sat down on the ground and cried and cried. The feeling was not merely of letting go of the past, but also of creating a new intention for my way of life. It was a formal dedication. I felt light and serene.

***

The rest of the morning was a blur. Though I felt a little spacey and lost, I found my backpack in the grass and prepared to go, but something about this place made compelled me to linger. Once I began walking, my step felt lighter, the air felt fresher, and my heart sang out with joy as I walked in the mountains. The cloudless blue sky was an intense contrast with the dry, sage-colored mountains. Prickly, scraggly plants grew in the dust in every direction, intermingling with sharp rocky outcroppings. These were the most unusual mountains I’d ever seen, a strange mix of the dry American southwest and the gentle, rolling Appalachians of Virginia. I loved them, and felt their love flowing back to me. After only a couple of kilometers, a few crumbling stone buildings appeared along the trail. Manjarin, whose albergue was rumored to be run by an eclectic Spanish saint.

 
As I approached, a loud bell rang out, momentarily drowning out the warped sounds of Gregorian chant that was being broadcast from an out-of-sight speaker. Manjarin was a beautiful village, even more ruined than Foncebadon. Many dilapidated stone ruins were nestled into the steep hillside, but two ancient structures remained intact. One building 015_19was the refugio, a tiny, dark building with mattresses scattered about, all covered with heavy woolen blankets. There was no electricity, and in the center of the room there was a wood stove, the only source of heat. I wandered toward the main building, which was bustling with pilgrims. Again, the loud bell rang out. Next to it stood a wiry-haired, wild-eyed older man, dressed in a t-shirt and flowing pants. He spoke quickly and loudly in Spanish, guiding several young men in various tasks. I inquired about the bathroom, and I was directed to the fields next to the refuge. No electricity and no bathroom.

 
I sat down at a long, wooden table. This space was protected from the elements by a very basic wooden roof and felt much like a porch. Coffee and cookies were provided, with a box for donations placed in the center of the table. For a while, I simply sat at the table, drinking coffee and attempting to ground myself for the day’s walk. I was snapped back from a moment of reverie as a woman approached me. I had noticed her earlier, and based on her body language and interactions with the odd bell-ringing man, I had gathered that she was his wife. She stopped beside me, smiling beatifically. She gazed at me intensely, looking directly into my eyes. She then bent down and gave me a kiss on the cheek, then turned and left. I was deeply touched by her kind gesture.
As I sat at the table, various members of my Camino family wandered in. Matthias, Gemma, and I went into the main building where there was a small shop. There were various pewter pendants hanging on red string, all symbols of the Camino: scallop shells, images of Saint James, gourds. To commemorate the day, I purchased a large scallop shell pendant with the image of Saint James on the inside.

 
Manjarin was an oasis in the mountains and I didn’t want to leave, but the day was young and I continued along the path. I quickly developed a headache. Was it from the coffee? From too much crying? It became worse as I walked, and I stopped many times. The mountain vistas were spectacular. I pushed on, walking alone for a while, then meeting friends along the path. After a few kilometers in the high mountains, the path 161steeply plunged into a small village. My heart kept trying to jump-start feelings of joy and happiness, but my head throbbed. I wandered into town and spotted a row of familiar backpacks outside a bar. I heaved mine onto the ground with the others and entered.

 
Food. That’s what I decided would cure my headache. They offered empanadas, which looked delicious, but the bartender informed me that they had just sold the last one. I ordered a Coke, paid, and sat down to sulk at a table with my friends. After looking over the menu, I settled upon a bocadillo con queso, half a baguette with slices of deliciously mild Spanish cheese. I ate part of the sandwich, which was dry and bland, and made my way back outside.

 
I wandered to the next town. My stomach began to churn as my headache pounded. I dropped my pack next to a stone wall that was shaded by an olive tree, and lay down beneath it. The town’s refuge was right across the street. I contemplated ending my day’s walk right there, but decided that a nap would help to clarify my decision. I drifted off into a dreamless sleep. I awoke and found two other pilgrims sitting near me on the stone wall, but I was feeling too miserable to engage in conversation with them. I wandered through the rest of the town and found Mette and Brigid reclining in the shade. We chatted for a few minutes, and I continued walking.

 
My headache continued to pound, and I stopped to relax in the shade of several very tall trees. The grass was soft and inviting, and the glade was perfectly serene. I dropped my pack and leaned back across it. My headache began to subside. Before long, I heard singing. Brigid approached, and she was walking alone. She joined me in the shade for a while, and shared stories from her childhood. My headache gradually disappeared. I lingered in the glade for a while after she left. The next part of the trail meandered through beautiful woods, and I wandered through a stand of giant chestnut trees.
The path emerged from the woods and the afternoon was very hot. My headache reappeared. The earth was red and a trail of dust billowed behind me. The scent of the dry, dusty earth mingled with hot pine, and the trail flanked narrow ridges. I walked with care, for the narrow trail was full of rocks and roots that could easily trip a pilgrim lost in thought. It was a long way down those steep cliffs.

 
The trail emerged alongside a crystal-clear river, and a charming village appeared. Molinaseca. A picturesque stone bridge led into the center of town, and in the river 004_20below, people were laughing and splashing in the water as they swam. A shout rang out from below, and Claire and Gemma waved to me as they waded into the river. The others were sitting in the grass nearby. My mind wandered to the sparkling stream, dreaming of the delight of immersing myself in ice-cold water after a hot day of walking. I met the others on the far side of the bridge. The refuge was full in Molinaseca. Even the porches and tents had been filled. The next refuge was in Ponferrada, over an hour’s walk away. I glanced down at my watch. It was already late in the afternoon, and the sun was roasting the dry earth, everywhere except on the banks of that cool river.

 
Suddenly I knew there was only one rational thing that helps in a moment of deliberation such as this: eat ice cream! I shed my backpack on the sidewalk next to a bar that offered helado con chocolate and as I walked back toward the river, I contemplated my options. I could walk to the next town, following my day’s walking plan, or abandon the plan completely and spend the rest of the day relaxing by the side of the river. Matthias, Tom, and Irina were planning on camping right there for the night. Gemma and Claire wanted to continue to Ponferrada.

 
In retrospect, I can clearly see that this day was pivotal. It was the day that my Camino family began to fall apart. It was inevitable, really. The fact that we had continued together for so long was extraordinary. I had walked with these people since I had met 014_31them in Najera three weeks before. Day after day, we has shared each other’s stories, often over a hearty dinner in a bar or town park. We had embraced each other’s joys and sorrows. We had nurtured and supported each other physically, emotionally, spiritually. The bond that formed between us is difficult to describe. We were bound by our common journey, by walking, by suffering, by laughter, by sweat, by tears, by moments in time that might appear rather ordinary under everyday circumstances. Like gazing at the sunrise. Or placing a stone at the base of an old shrine. With the trappings of modern life set aside, all of life became infinitely precious. Indeed, standing silently beside another human being, simply alive in the light of day was the greatest blessing. To walk in the company of others while becoming more and more deeply aware of this was profound and experiencing this depth of community for weeks along the Camino was a beautiful experience.

 
There seemed to be two choices at Molinaseca. The first seemed to beckon me to go with 010_14the flow, to luxuriate in the beauty of the moment. The second asked me to complete the task I’d set out to complete, to push on at any cost. I hardly noticed the deeper question that was presented to me in Molinaseca: will I choose now or will I choose then? Will I live in the moment or am I bound to the goal? My mind was reeling with heat and exhaustion and a lingering headache. I felt a deep connection with Claire and Gemma and I didn’t want to fall behind, succumbing to my feared role as The Slowest Pilgrim. I listened to my mind, not my heart. Then, I heaved my pack onto my sunburned shoulders and began walking toward Ponferrada.