I woke up gasping for breath my heart pounding. A heavy weight sitting on my chest. These words ringing in my ears, “Get Brant!” This dream as real as the surroundings of my bedroom. It is February 17, 2008. What I remember before being startled awake was the end of a dream in which three rectangular black shapes move through the air toward me. One, closer than the others begins to form into the shape of an anvil and I know it will land on my chest and sink into me.
I have studied dreams for over twenty years and do not take them lightly. I thought I might be in actual physical danger including the possibility of a heart attack. Brant Secunda was also in the dream. The fear of the black anvil started in the dream and continued upon awaking. I could not stop this thing from coming into me.
That morning on my way to work I called Dance of the Deer Foundation. I have been attending workshops offered by Brant Secunda, a Huichol shaman, for several years. I especially appreciated Brant as my teacher, the Huichols honoring of dreams, and all of the work that the foundation does to support the wonderful Huichol tradition. Brant responded that it was not a heart attack but rather a spiritual crisis. There were some very specific suggestions about what would help at that moment. Of course, I did them.
Three months later I found I was eating everything in sight, especially sugar, sitting on my couch watching TV with no energy or enthusiasm, only going to work and home again. A friend of mine, who is a teacher and a counselor, thought it might be depression and suggested I make an appointment with my medical doctor. I did. Her diagnosis: severe depression. Her solution: medication.
I suddenly saw years of moving in and out of depression and how unbelievably tired of it all I was. I truly did want out. I finally recognized the toll that this pattern had taken on my physical, psychological and spiritual body. I understood that I had been spending over half of my life trying to pull myself out of the depression and negativity that surrounded me. Like living in an unbelievably thick fog bank.
I called Dance of the Deer again, fearing that the only way out would be drugs, which I had never taken and did not want to take now. It would be three weeks until the upcoming Dance of Deer retreat in Alaska and I was asked if I could wait until after that retreat before taking any medication. I vowed to hold out until then. For the first time I remembered the dream from February and the spiritual crisis. Was this what the dream was trying to get to my attention? How could I, by myself, change? I was too depressed and exhausted to even think about it.
Then the magical wild world of the Alaska retreat came. As soon as I set foot on that land I began to sink into it. Then the quiet, peace, calm, and beautiful practice of the Huichol traditions began. The whale, eagle, and even raven songs floating around me. The beautiful and loving Dance of the Deer community and especially for me, the children. Slowly, I began to breathe again. It felt as if I had been holding my breath for months or maybe even a lifetime. I returned home much better. As the days and images began to fade, I wondered, had a shift actually happened? Doubts returned. I was thankful that the time for the Dance of the Deer Mt. Shasta retreat would be coming up soon.
As I arrived at Mt. Shasta I saw the mountain outlined in blue smoke and the air filled with left over haze from a huge forest fire that had recently been in that area. I felt a deep sadness, not to see much of Shasta or the beautiful snow. An inner shadow reflecting my own darkness and a fear that the depression might not be completely gone.
And then once again; prayer, song, dancing and the beautiful Dance of the Deer community arising. I settled into the depth of the land, the Huichol tradition and the majesty of that healing mountain. Brant’s teachings, the daily exercise, healthy food, the kind and loving people touched me deeply. With each breath I began to relax and let go. I knew I was better but should I stay longer and if so why?
Soon this shorter introductory time would end and another longer time would start. What should I do? We were sent out by Brant to sit, be still and just be with the mountain. This is one of my favorites among many of the wonderful exercises that Brant teaches us. I knew as I connected with Shasta that I was better, but I also got a sense that there was something more, something not quite finished yet. I decided to stay for the longer session. It was a pivotal decision.
The next ten days would take me back to the mountain twice more. The second time for an extended stay. What a rare opportunity. As I sat there on the mountain with my back against a large boulder, a creek running near by, the peak directly in front of me, I felt different, a sense of wholeness that I had never experienced before. I watched the sun, clouds, light, and wind change and flow in front of me. I felt Brant’s presence and the years of the many gatherings on this mountain. I remembered all of the ancient ones who had been there before and Brant’s words to not forget the power and gifts of this mountain. I felt as if I was on holy ground.
I know that staying for the longer group grounded and rooted the seeds of healing from depression, which had begun in Alaska and the beginning group time of Mt. Shasta. That in this process of staying I had been given the gift of a loving and caring community, something I desperately needed. I had been given the strength and courage to change my life in small yet powerful ways. I had been given the support of laughter, encouragement, and honesty so that I could actually believe my life could be different.
I am so thankful to everyone, but especially, to Brant, my teacher for his kindness, patience, wisdom and ability to hold onto his commitment to bring these teachings of the Huichol traditions into our Western world. To the Dance of the Deer community who work so hard to show us what a Western Huichol community looks and feels like.
Each morning when I pray I give thanks for my life. Such a simple thing and yet each time it brings me to deep humility and tears. Brant, Nico, Barbara, Dance of the Deer, Huichols, Mt. Shasta, Alaska — I thank you for my life.