Tahiti - photo by Mark Allen Ironman Triathlon World Champion

Tahiti – Realizing a Childhood Dream

In my early teens, I saw a group of photos from Tahiti. They showed deeply contoured lush island peaks surrounded by emerald blue ocean lagoons. It was the South Pacific, French Polynesia; the very islands that some say their Hawaiian neighbors originated from, traveling across vast expanses of ocean from one paradise to another. In those first moments lost in the pictures in the magazine in front of me, I hoped that some day I’d be able to make the journey to Tahiti to see such amazing beauty with my own eyes.

But the years ticked away, one decade then another. Life has its own timeline, and although I’d had a number of opportunities to go there over the years, it just never panned out. Fortunately, the window opened this year and I boarded an Air Tahiti Nui plane bound for Papeete, the largest city in the islands and the capital of Tahiti. Unfortunately the flight landed well past sunset, forcing me to wait another night on top of the 40+ years I’d already spent dreaming of seeing the islands first hand.

Tahiti Sunset Clouds - photo by Mark Allen Ironman

Sunset in Tahiti • photo by Mark Allen

It was worth the wait. Sunrise was a flush pink and golden sky that met the powdery blue ocean. Moorea in the near distance had each of its sharp jungle-covered peaks capped in cottony clouds. How could it get any better!

I soaked it in, way in. The experience was new. The process was familiar. You see as a young boy I had another dream, which was to find a teacher, a real teacher. Those weren’t quite the words I had for it at the time, but it was a yearning to be guided and learn from someone who knows the workings of the universe beyond the ordinary constraints of life. Someone who could help me connect with the greatness of all life in a way that only a person who had dedicated their life to knowing the Great Spirit could bring. That dream was answered twenty-five years ago when I met Brant Secunda in Mexico and began to study with him.

Tahiti Intense Clouds - photo by Mark Allen Ironman

Intense Cloudy Sky in Tahiti • photo by Mark Allen

 

Over the past two and a half decades I’ve heard him emphasize again and again that shamanism is about developing a relationship with nature: with the light, the plants and rocks, the trees and flowers and all the animals, and Mother Earth.

In those first moments breathing in the beauty all around me in Tahiti I realized this is what I do every day. All around me no matter where I am, there is some aspect of nature that I become aware of; that I connect with, that I can draw perspective from and be reminded of how I’m a part of nature’s greatness. It takes away isolation, stress; it resets my trust in the bigger picture of life. It’s priceless, and I realized that although I’d waited over forty years to experience the beauty of Tahiti, that I’d been experiencing beauty in a deep and profound way with Brant and through his teachings since 1990.

He speaks about how a flower is no more or less important than a rock, and that a lake or ocean is no more or less important than a mountain peak or vast endless grasslands. I’m blessed to make it to Tahiti. I’m also blessed to be seeing every day as a chance to experience the “Tahiti” in my own backyard.

Grasses from the point of view of a deer

Becoming the Deer

I wandered through grain-laden grasses,
taking in what I could before the scarcity of winter set in
and this is what I saw through my deer-eyes:
sunlight shivering like crystals through the tall grass
sunlight brilliant on the water just over there
layers and layers of soft lines and
sharp shapes of light and dark
and the rhythm of life going on

Alaska Humpback Whale Tale

Living the Dream in Alaska

I just returned from a wonderful trip to Alaska … not the cruise that most people choose, but a retreat to learn and practice Huichol Indian Shamanism, led by Shaman & Healer Brant Secunda.  We stayed in a lovely lodge right on the inside passage, with a view of the waters and snow covered mountains dividing the inside passage from the wild ocean beyond.  We witnessed eagles flying overhead every day, saw a couple of bears, a porcupine, and enjoyed the best salmon in the world.

One of the highlights was a whale watching boat trip …the whales were just amazing! We were lucky enough to witness a pod of whales bubble net feeding where 8 or 9 whales circled together and blew bubbles to stun the herring, then all came up at once with their mouths wide open.  This is rare to witness, but we saw them do it 5 or 6 times.  The boat had a hydrophone so you could hear them singing their love songs. Saw lots of whale tails and a baby practicing it’s flips!  Visited the Mendenhall Glacier and took a quick dip in the icy waters … swimming along with the icebergs. This area is rainforest so everything is huge … fields of wildflowers taller than me, plants with leaves 2′ across, with a backdrop of glaciers and snow covered mountains. This is the Shamanic version of Disneyland – with everything real!  While I make it a practice to try and connect with nature every day, it’s so easy to do in such a wild and beautiful place.

Mt. Shasta Pond Sunset

Mount Shasta Journey

Looking ahead, I see a journey to Mount Shasta. A beautiful, magical place which over the years has brought much power, healing, and balance to my life. Although this will be my 16th consecutive year it is, I hope, as if I am going for the first time. I know the area and places we will be going, I know how to get there, and have seen the view for many years, but I like to always go “as if” it is my first time. This allows my heart to see things in a way I may never have seen them before. It allows my heart to be open to what the mountain wants to show me, to what the spirits of the sacred land want me to see and learn. It allows for new experiences. The mountain has sight, it can hear, it has power and heart that deeply touches my soul and transforms what needs changing.I look forward to this journey every year. I feel I begin to prepare at the end of one years’ journey for the next which is still a year away.

This year is centered on healing for my heart and kupuri. I have been preparing by praying to the mountain, visualizing the mountain, and trying to dream of the land I will be sleeping on for 9 days. With only several weeks to go before taking off, I continue to focus on what need to be done before I leave. This becomes easier as I know that soon I will see the mountain, soon I will sleep on the earth listening to the sound of the water putting me to sleep at night. Soon I will sit before the fire, my grandfather, and speak to him with my heart. Soon I will make beautiful prayers with my family, friends, and community for the things that are most important in life.

Soon.

Santa Cruz Harbor Ocean Sunset

Softening at the Ocean

I am at home and I feel a certain restlessness. It is one I am not unfamiliar with, it is the feel of the ocean telling me that I need to come and sit with her for awhile. At first I resist, I have this or that to do, but in the end I concede and allow my heart to drawn to her shore. As I approach, the sound beckons me to come closer. I sit down on the sand giving myself a few minutes to transition from one world to another. The endless ebb and flow of the tide on the shoreline slowly seeps in. I feel my self slowly relaxing, letting go of what feels like a hardened thin crust of clay I have created to protect me from certain aspects of our modern world. I have not created it consciously, but almost as impulse or reaction by my body to the constant inundation of sounds, sights, and pace of modern living.

Grandmother sea, tate haramara, sends her beauty and love to me the instant I sit down. I can feel that thin layer softening, being melted by her continual beauty. I feel more relaxed. I feel my mind slow. I feel my heart opening to receive what she offers. I close my eyes trying to deepen my connection. The sound of the wind, the sound of the seagulls, pelicans, cormorants, and sandpipers. The sound of each wave breaking, the rush of the water up the sand and then racing to return to the ocean. There are other background noises, but I close them out. I focus just on the sound of the water until that is all I can hear. I can feel my heart trying to catch and hold onto anything my spiritual grandmother has to say and is willing to send my way.

As I rise and prepare to leave, once again I feel that tugging and a small sadness in my heart. I do not want to leave. I tell my grandmother I will miss her, I will pray to her, I will imagine her until I return again. As I walk away, I thank her for the healing I feel.

OakTree

Springtime Gratitude

SPRINGTIME RENEWAL

a poem by Terri Anderson

Shaman sings creation songs
Softly calls to other side
Chants to earth mysterious words
Corn sprouts, grows though mother’s toes
Roots grasp hold, white veins alive
Feed young plant, green stalk to thrive
And now to pass new life along
Each generation must learn the song

[divider]

There is some truth in the old saying “you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone”. We are wired to notice what is not working or broken because there is so much that is always working to sustain us. Our drought in California this year made me very aware of how quickly life can go awry, of how we count on nature’s balance. I was acutely aware of the trees and plants suffering all around me. I noticed whole mountain sides turning brown with dead or dying pines and cedars. Thousands of heritage oaks did not survive the summer heat and lack of rain. In January the earth was dusty and hard. Shamanism trains us to wake up, to become more aware and sensitive to our surroundings . For me this heightened sensitivity was painful as I felt the plants suffer, watched deer grow thin from lack of grass. I felt fear rise for the summer ahead, fires, no grass for the animals.

When I caught myself thinking negative thoughts I remembered to trust in the Gods. One of the basic prerequisites for shamanism is belief in the Gods, to trust and have faith. Day after day I prayed to Takutsi-Nakawei (Grandmother Growth) for rain. Even though we were experiencing record drought, I did not give up on her. I kept praying. Brant did ceremonies for the rain too. Finally in February, the rains came.

I felt a tremendous sense of relief, a huge sigh from the earth, plants, and animals, as if a pent up tension had been released. The waters were flowing once again. I felt the earth soften and watched beauty emerge from our loving earth mother. Spring warmth brought forward the green. So many shades of greens, grasses, trees and shrubs, all humming with growth and vitality.

Lack made me very aware and grateful. On daily walks in the woods I felt held by the greens. As I breathed in, my heart was filled with green healing color.

I received many gifts from the drought. My awareness was expanded and heightened. Each spring is a miracle of renewal, but this year I felt more present and at times could almost hear the grass grow.

I felt empowered by my prayers, as if maybe I had some small part in the return of the rain, and an increase in gratitude to be alive. Gratitude to Grandmother Growth for beauty and fertility. Gratitude to be able to pray to the fire, and gratitude for my teacher, his courage and wisdom, for the good luck of finding this beautiful Huichol tradition.

Spring Blossoms of the Soul

The Power of Springtime

In the springtime, the Earth is waking up from her dream and everything bursts forth to grow. Think about the flowers and trees, how they awaken and come back to life in the spring. The rains fertilize Mother Earth and help the process of spring evolve. Water also fertilizes the hearts of humans causing the flower of the heart, the “tutu” to open, so we can become wiser and more beautiful. Our heart is dormant during the winter like everything in nature – resting. This is a good thing. It is being charged up to awaken and arise in the spring; as the earth is waking up, we too, wake up.

Spring brings back the power of light. Light, the relationship of the sun to the earth, is what helps define the seasons. Light has the effect of awakening both the Earth and people. The sun gives light to the earth. Light activates chemicals that promote love. Love is the power of springtime, and as Mother Earth wakes up, she exudes that love. The energy of love is thus reborn in the spring.

It is the same way with humans. The seasons affect us and we go through a major shift with the change of seasons. We are introspective in winter; energy goes inside. In the spring, we experience a rebirth – physically, spiritually, and emotionally – we gain new life.

Springtime affects your spirit; you are affected by Nature and the evolutionary processes that occur. Every spring you have a chance to be regenerated again, reborn from the stillness and quietness of winter. You have a chance to open up, just like everything around us. You can be reborn right here, on this Earth, by opening your heart to the process of regeneration. Feel the aliveness that comes into your own personal spirit, which is rooted in the spirit of nature.

We become part of the process of re-creation occurring during the springtime. We wake up, become more alert, our hearts are more open. It is a time of new beginnings; everything is fresh, clean and striving to grow upward toward the sun. In spring we transition from an introverted state to a state of physical and spiritual blossoming.

The light transforms us. It is a time of fertilizing, watering our spirits, and unfolding the pedals of our hearts. Honor the return of the light. Bring the light into your heart, your being. Look at the light in nature; become attuned to your environment. As we approach the Equinox, it is a time of balance between light and dark. By taking in the light we can achieve greater balance and harmony.

Walking on the earth is a good way to awaken your connection to the natural world. Feel Mother Earth waking up. Tune into nature and feel yourself becoming aware and alert during this season. Be aware of what’s happening around you and realize that same transition within yourself.

Approach spring as though it is the first time you ever experienced it – the first time you ever saw a flower, a tree growing, a bird flying. Open your heart to love, to beauty, to clarity. Leave the old behind and be reborn during the season of spring. East is representative of the spring season, the image of the sun peeking through the clouds. You are reborn as the sun is reborn each day. Each spring your spirit will burst out of the darkness of winter. Make your spirit bright like the colors of Nature. Feel the world through your heart. This is a time to leave behind old patterns, old ways of doing things, and embrace the power and beauty of new life.

Watching the sunset over Crete on a spiritual retreat

Crete – A Special Place

I have been to Crete several times with my dad and it is always a special place for me. The land is very rugged and wild, yet it has a gentle vibe. When you go to Crete you know when you have arrived because all your senses are overwhelmed. The place where we stay is not only one of the most visually stunning places on earth, with flower covered mountain ranges and crystal clear oceans, but it is the other things that set it apart from so many other vacation destinations. It is how the air is dominated by the smell of wild herbs that grow where we meet everyday, how the food is some of the best I have every eaten ( I eat about twice as much as I do at home), and the people are so courteous and kind. Crete is simply a place where you can go and enjoy a land that is so different from your own, yet comforting and strangely familiar.

Huichol girl with a ceremonial rattle

Huichol Pilgrimage and Ceremony

How do you celebrate your life? How do you honor this radiantly beautiful Mother Earth that we call home?

For the Huichol Indians — a small tribe of around 15,000 who live in the Sierra Madre Mountains of central-western Mexico, these are easy questions to answer. For them, shamanism is a way of being — the practice of honoring all life and remembering how we relate to the world around us through ceremony, prayer and pilgrimage.

The Huichols go on pilgrimage to sacred places of power in nature. They go to pray and honor the earth, and to honor the spirit of those places of power. As humans, it is our responsibility to pray and make pilgrimages. We can help to heal Mother Earth and ourselves through this ancient tradition of pilgrimage. The Huichols say that we are surrounded by the Ancient Ones, and that it is our responsibility to stay connected with them. All places of power – kakuyari – are dreaming gods, dreaming goddesses. By connecting to the spirit of a mountain or a lake for example, we open ourselves to the power and energy (the kupuri) of that place, bringing unity and harmony into our own lives and that of our communities. And, with our prayer offerings, we in turn give love and respect back to the earth. This reciprocal interaction creates a sacred circle, what the Huichols call a nierikaThis helps us to develop more fully the connection between our hearts and the natural world, and gives our lives meaning filled with strength, healing, and love.

As the Huichols believe it is important for people to go to sacred places of power, I have led many people on spiritual journeys all over the world. Every year we go to Mt. Shasta, one of the most spectacular places of power in North America.
We go to Alaska, where our ceremonial chanting and dancing is answered by the calls of whales and eagles circling. We go to Grandmother Ocean, to various hot springs and other special places. In Europe we travel to Mt. Blanc, the tallest mountain on the European continent, and to Crete, the birthplace of Western civilization, and a place filled with power. While there, we always make ceremonies to honor the spirit of the place and tap into the life force Mother Earth has to offer at each one of these special locations.

Huichol life is a continuous cycle of ritual and ceremony designed to help them stay in touch with the Ancient Ones. In making these ceremonies, they are celebrating their lives and the life of all nature. During ceremony, with their drumming and chanting, the Huichols invite the spirits to come into the circle to be with them. The shamans guide the people through the doorway between the worlds, once again helping to empower them and their families to achieve lives of balance and integrity, and to help the universe stay in balance as well.

The Huichols say that human beings are in the middle, between the earth and the sky, and that we are mirrors of the gods. You don’t necessarily have to make special ceremonies like the Huichol do in order to connect your heart, your spirit with the natural world. But you can celebrate your lives with humbleness; celebrate the life of nature all around you. Remember and honor the sacredness within you, within each living thing. Go out and honor the sunrise and the sunset. Pray to the four directions. Honor each one of the seasons. Doing these things helps us to become one with the spirit. When we open our hearts to the beauty all around us, when we stay aware and present in the moment, we can truly connect to the spirit of all creation; we have the possibility of transforming ourselves.

Shamanic pilgrimage to Crete with students sitting in a ceremonial circle.

Deep Blue Mediterranean

Imagine a place where the earth is carpeted with wild sage, thyme and oregano, where at the end of a long hike your shoes smell sweet from the scent of these herbs. Picture yourself drifting to sleep with the soft sound of the ocean in the background. Try to feel what it might be like to have your lungs breathing in fresh warm air that has traveled miles and miles across the deep blue Mediterranean Sea and to have every cell blend with the energy of rocks and mountains that surround you singing their ancient wisdom into your heart. Rest assured there is a place where your soul is soothed. It’s called Crete, and these simple but deeply touching experiences are what I felt being with Brant and his family at his yearly retreat in this magic land.

For the last ten years Brant has opened up his ceremonies and pilgrimages on Crete to everyone who wants to come. It has become one of the rights of springtime in my life each year since. It’s spiritual luxury to be able to walk through this land that was the birthplace of western civilization, taking part in pilgrimages and Deer Dances that honor the season of awakening and growth. It fosters clarity for me, giving me the chance to reflect on the important things about life and in my life. This retreat reminds me of what it must be like to be a bulb in the ground that germinates in winter, pushing up until it finally breaks through the surface to be warmed by the sun. I feel like that bulb, and Crete is where I finally break through the ground of winter feeling alive once more to reach for the sky.

This is a must do retreat at some point if you have yet to come. It will recharge your batteries. It will bring your life to a point of positive focus. It will soften the rough edges that can build up over time when the commitments of daily life build up. It will align your inner being with a sense of wonder.