Friday, November 16, 2007

Classical Martial Arts Training: An Eastern Inspired Path to Wellness and Empowerment

"The primary meaning of the kata is for the performer himself. If he is unable to immerse himself in the kata and so release his emotions or life force, a master will say of the performer that he is still "in the dance", unable to emote or express his feelings at will" The Karate Dojo. Sensei Peter Urban.

Ahh! After being on the road for 10 months and doing only sporadic training, I am back into my regular martial arts routine, and oh what a joy it is!! Most people know about the health and wellness benefits of yoga, but few are aware of the benefits of another Eastern tradition, classical martial arts training. Before I started seriously training 8 years ago, I was like many women who pictured karate, the only martial art I knew much about at the time, as a ‘sport ‘ for teens or twenty something or thirty something men, like my two younger brothers that practiced it. I had dabbled in yoga over the years and taken a few continuing education classes in tae kwon do and karate, but saw them as means of exercising, not much different than the aerobics classes that I loved to attend. It was only when I started doing classical martial arts training in a dojo [translation – place of the way or centre of spiritual enlightenment, or on the more mundane level, a school of martial arts] that offered a variety of different arts that I began to understand what was meant by ‘training’ as opposed to taking yet another fitness program that lasted about as long as it took me to get bored of it. It was this idea of training, of progressive improvement towards a goal, the goal being mental, emotional, physical and spiritual well-being, that has allowed me to ‘stick with the program’ and to reap some of the rewards.

Back in the days when I was an undergraduate student in Genetics, more years ago than I care to remember, I was the studious keener who got good grades because I spent lots and lots of time studying – sitting in front of books, typewriters and later my computer. My diet wasn’t all that great and I loved to reward myself for all my hard work with yummy goodies, so needless to say I was few pounds over weight. This had been my pattern since high school. Being an achievement oriented person that came from a family and a culture that sweated the small stuff, I had learned to push myself to the max and to really stress myself out at exam times, when I had to do a presentation or generally whenever I found myself in a time crunch. Trying to do more was always better from that point of view. The aerobics classes I took during my undergrad years and the dance and yoga I did in grad school helped to reduce my stress and maintain my weight but, I never really lost weight, and try as I might, my lung capacity was not the best and, all the exercise I did didn’t really relieve my stress because when the time crunch arrived, the first thing to go was the exercise. My stressed out mind would always tell me that I didn’t have time for it!

When I was working full time and finishing up a doctorate in environmental studies, the stress of work and school and the bodily fluctuations of peri-menopause began to catch up with me with more and more sleepless nights and less and less energy. One day I walked into a dojo that I had passed almost every day for 4 months since I started working in the area and it really changed my life, or maybe saved my life, who’s to know. I was 39 when I began training, at the time, one of the older beginners in my dojo. At first I started doing Tai Chi because I wanted to relax and the truth was that even though I had been working in health education and health promotion for years and knew all the theories and explained them to others I was still not totally applying them to my life.

In fact, overachiever that I was, it took me twice as long to get things as some of the other people who started at the same time, but already know how to really relax and go with the flow. I was so busy trying to ‘get it’, to figure out how to move like the black belts and instructors, that I didn’t really tune in to the thing that was so different from all those aerobics classes, dance classes and hours at the gym – the flow of chi or vital energy in my body, the importance of my breath and that present moment awareness. I hadn’t yet learned that less can be more – less thought and slower movement. It was three years into my tai chi training while also doing practicing the daily meditations I had learned years before, that I really began to be able to go with the flow of my energy and the energy of the chi field, or the field of vital energy, created when a group of like minded people are focusing on the same movements at the same time with the same intent. It took me three years of focusing my intent on feeling the energy in the movements and consciously willing myself in my first twice a week, then three times a week, then daily practice to let go of my need to always be right and to always know what I was doing, that is to finally start to learn not sweat the small stuff.

As I practiced tai chi chuan and ghi gung regularly and with intent, I learned to be more relaxed, not only while I was training but at work and in my studies. In my early 40’s after a lifetime as a type A worrywart I was learning to develop inner peace. Once I began to feel the chi I understood in an experiential way, not in a theoretical way, that there was a flow and a harmony to the Universe, there were forces greater than myself that I could not comprehend or begin to understand, but which I could tune into, if I slowed down, quieted my mind, which took me a long time to learn to do, and learned to focus. Research on Tai chi has found that it increases focus and mental concentration, enhances circulation and helps to balance the functioning of the internal organs, promotes proper posture and helps to calm the mind. My experiential knowledge has corroborated these studies. Through my training I learned to pay attention to my breath and in times of stress, how to co-ordinate my breathing with my movement. On a more spiritual note, the meditation and inner exploration taught me how to connect to our inner self and to become more balanced and whole person. Tai chi had started me down an incredible path towards mental, emotional and physical wellness.

After training in tai chi for a couple of years I became interested in Iaido, Japanese sword, one of the other arts taught in the dojo I was at and began to train in that as well. There is a hardness and a rigidity to iaido that is so different from the softer more internal martial arts yet there is also a grace and flow to the movement, very similar to tai chi and chi gung, and an incredible attention to detail as one repeats the then 10, now 12 cuts, over and over and over again, ever refining the detail of the body movement. I had always been an ideas person, a big picture kind of gal, and the detail and repetition of iaido combined with what I was learning from my tai chi training forced me to focus my attention and allowed me to begin developing a more zen-like mind, one that could focus on many details at the same time, even in stressful conditions. When I had reached a basic level of proficiency in tai chi and iaido, and was exposed to kobudo and goju-ryu karate at a dojo seminar, my enquiring mind, wanted more. I started with kobudo and later added karate to my plate.

Both kobudo and karate are more external arts, which focus methods of formation of power and on expressing one’s internal power. I found them both physically more demanding than tai chi, chi-gung or iaido, but my solid footing in meditative movement that I had developed through my tai chi practice was to serve me well as I ramped up into a more physical martial practice. While I was not training as many hours in each of the arts as many of my dojo colleagues who focused on one art or the other, there was an element of cross-training that benefited all my arts and the chi or energy development was common to all. Training is indeed training, and learning to integrate the hard and the soft elements of the different arts has taught me valuable lessons for everyday life. When I finally learned to apply various principles from each of martial art to the realm of everyday life, I was better at making spontaneous decisions, at interacting with difficult people, diffusing potentially challenging situations and at maintaining a positive mental attitude.

My one mistake with my training was that spending as much time as I did in the dojo, training and instructing in the various different arts, often up to 18 hours a week, I had given up the daily home-based practice I had developed in earlier years. I would learn how important the personal practice aspect of martial arts training was when I went on the road. Over the past 10 months I have been travelling in the US and Mexico and though I started off with great intent, after a while my regular practice diminished and I found myself only training periodically. Physically my body has felt the effects and this recent respite has allowed me to see really clearly what I was getting from my regular martial arts training. As a form of physical exercise, martial arts training in a dojo, is not only an active individual practice, but also a social endeavour. It involves aerobic conditioning through cardiovascular exercises that work the muscles and help practitioners to develop strength, speed, balance, coordination, awareness, stamina and endurance. I lost a lot of each of these during my hiatus though it happened so slowly that I didn’t really notice until I entered a heritage run sponsored by the American Indians in Texas and found that not only had I gained back much of the weight I had lost through consistent training, which my tight clothes had clued me in on, but my lung capacity was nowhere near what it was when I was training and my endurance had rapidly declined in less than a year of no longer regular training. My poor placement in that race made me reflect on what I had been missing over the past months. I had the technology. I know more katas, chi gung exercises and tai chi sets than I could shake a stick at, after all, I had assisted and taught kobudo, tai chi and karate classes for several years now, but despite my commitment to my physical health, the social environment that the dojo provided me was not there. Gone was the comraderie of the two women who had gone from white to orange belt in karate with me. Gone was the cohesiveness of the group of 6, 5 guys and myself, who had graded for shodan together, and assisted each other with difficult moves and combinations. Gone was the spiritual bantering with the other tai chi instructors and I slacked off.

But, my time away taught me how valuable my training, and the environment in which I had been training, has been. While in Arizona I eventually did find an Aikido dojo, which also had a great ambience and later began learning a new form of healing chi gung. I realized that the variety of movements and exercises we do in the different martial arts I practice are not only beneficial for health and fitness, but kept my mind, which seems to require a lot of change and stimulus, from getting bored with the same old, same old routine. A few years ago I read a study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine (BJSM, 2004: 143-147) and can now attest that my experiential knowledge substantiates what they found, which is that martial arts training is a complete form of exercise which decreases body fat and promotes physical strength and flexibility in middle aged practitioners. Over the years the constant challenge as one moves from one belt to another, from one art to another, becoming proficient at one thing only long enough to grade and then add more complex and newer elements, has also helped me to boast my confidence and my self-esteem in a way that none of my many academic achievements did. It taught me how to take control of my life and not let circumstances control me or stress me out. Martial arts training has been a path to empowerment for me where I have learned important lessons about energy, vital life force and mostly about power and methods of formation of power.

As an academic, though now more of an ex-academic, I lived in my head and spent most of my time out of touch with my body. Martial arts training showed me how to tap into my internal power and how and when to externalize that power. I learned how to be assertive and balance that assertiveness with a sense of respect for myself and for others, something assertiveness training workshops never quite managed to do. It showed me tactics and tactical thinking and gave me the confidence to avoid conflicts and provided me with methods of conflict resolutions when conflicts arise. As well as techniques for avoiding conflict, I, after being somewhat of a introvert most my life gained the confidence which allowed me to go off and travel for 10 months, putting my life in the hands of various people I didn’t know and hanging out in places I knew little about. The ability to just jump off the cliff and know you will be taken care of is a really valuable asset to have in one’s mental health and wellness toolkit. This lessons I learned from my years of martial arts training about present moment awareness, living in the now, being confident, resolving conflicts and know how and when to defend myself are mind-body wellness tools that are particularly importance to women, but also to men, living, working and travelling in our increasingly complex and chaotic world today.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Mayan Art and Hispanic Culture

Mayan Art and Hispanic Culture – September 28, 2007

While in Albuquerque waiting to connect with Karen and Antonio who would take me to the people who were going to host us while we took part in the traditional medicine and healing gathering, I met up with Linda who was in Albuquerque to take part in a Civil Rights event at which her uncle, a champion for civil rights in the Hispanic community, was being honoured.

Linda took time out of her busy schedule to visit the Mayan textile exhibit at the National Hispanic Cultural Centre (NHCC) and I met up with her there. The NHCC was launching an exhibition of Mayan Textile Art, which showcases “Mayan textiles which, as works of art, reflect the splendor and continuity of the Mayan culture.” There were two other related exhibits opening at the same time - Threads of a Different Colour: Guatemalan Textiles from the John Shaw Collection, a collection of very colourful hand woven huipiles, or blouses, from Guatemala, and as well, an exhibition of the photographs of Linda Montoya called Mayan Indians – Weavers of Colour, which documents Linda Montoya’s journey to Chiapas Mexico to connect with Mayan Indian women and children.

The textiles were exquisite. Each colourful and intricately woven piece was only surpassed by the neighbouring piece, each a work of art with delicate traditional and modern patterns with detailed designs. Each of the vibrant red, green, yellow, blue and white pieces spoke to the time and patience involved in weaving the fabric and putting together the blouse. Each one was a testimonial to the creativity and artistry that lives in the Mayan soul that is expressed so beautifully, so colourfully in each piece – each similar, but at the same time completely unique. The vibrant colours and intricate work reminded me of the yarn art and the beadwork of the Huichols that I had visited with in Real and the Sierras. The vibrant colours and the designs of the Mayan, like the Huichols, are a reflection of their spiritual beliefs and their view of the world. Art for them is not something to only hang on the wall to be admired, as these pieces were, but art is practical, art is an intimate aspect of everyday life. In fact, art is life, as clothes and colours are life.

After a brief tour of the textile exhibit, Linda had to leave to rejoin her family before flying back to San Antonio. I stayed for a video presentation and discussion of latinos in WWII. This was an aspect of history that I knew nothing about and was interested in finding out more. While waiting for the film to start I met an interesting woman who told me she was a historian. She asked me where my Spanish ancestors were from. The truth is I don’t know, but I said that I thought they might come from Toledo given the connection I had to that city while I was in Spain. I had not felt that connection in any of the other places I had visited in Spain. Putting her historian hat on she began to explain the history and meaning of the name Toledo. We talked for a while and as the mathematics would have it, in a crowed centre, with many people in beautiful outfits present for the opening of the Mayan Textile and the video presentation, I would connect with someone who had an interest and knowledge of holistic medicine and natural healing. She talked to me about curanderas and about three herbs with incredible healing properties, one of which was the common culinary herb rosemary. She herself had used rosemary when she had broken her arm, which she had set herself after she had treated it using rosemary to draw the swelling, blood and toxins from her arm, so that she could set her arm She had not gone to see a physician and her arm, which was still sporting an adjustable support was healing nicely. I suspected that she had more knowledge than she let on, who knows, maybe she was a curandera herself, but I did not have too much time to talk with her as the film was starting.

The session was opened by Eduardo Diaz, the director of the NHCC and featured Hector Galan, who had been producing programs for public television documenting the works of Latinos. He produced the 2 clips that were shown. The first was part of the story of latino mineros and their struggle for fair wages and equal pay and told the story of their role in WWII. The second clip was from a 14 hour PBS series on WWII. Galán noted that when it was about to air there were no latinos featured in the entire series and the reason he was given for that was that no latinos came forward when they were looking for stories. Sound familiar? No doubt wherever the call went out for stories it was not in Spanish, and did not appear in any of the Hispanic media.

When Galan reviewed the footage, he noted that there were many latinos in the WWII footage but they had no voice. The piece he showed featured two latinos talking about their experiences. It was shown at the end of the first show of the series. He noted that the battle of omission had been won but the war wasn’t. Many people were still very unhappy about how the latinos were placed and the fact that there weren’t more in the series. An all too familiar story of the dominant culture eyes that do not see what is outside of their field of view and why the struggle for representation and for social justice is as important now as it has ever been.

The clip that was shown was an eye opener for me as it recounted that, unlike the situation with the African American and Japanese American troops, the Hispanics shared barracks and eating quarters with the white personnel. This was the first time that many of the Hispanic and white boys had experienced that type of intermingling and it changed both groups of men. One of the latino veterans mentioned that even though when he came back to the US he still faced the same discrimination that he had when he left, he had been changed because he had risked his life and fought for his country and knew that this country was just as much his as it was the property of the white servicemen he had fought alongside.

What an evening it was from Mayan textiles to the latino presence in WWII. The events at the National Hispanic Cultural Centre cleverly intermingled art and social justice, colour and beauty. It was a veritable feast for the eyes!

A Gathering of Traditional Medicine and Healing in Albuquerque

A Gathering of Traditional Medicine and Healing in Albuquerque – Saturday September 29/2007.

After saying goodbye to Masauke, Linda and all the other healers I had been working with, learning from and sharing information with over the past months, I sadly left San Antonio and the wonderful community of people that had become family to me. I made my way to Truth or Consequences, New Mexico to collaborate with Karen and Antonio, who I knew from the Sundance, and who are starting a healing centre with many of the elements of the centre I want to start in Toronto. I arrived in TorC just long enough to unpack and drop off my luggage at their house before I headed off to Albuquerque where Karen and I had been invited to take part in a gathering of Traditional Medicine and Healing.

The gathering was organized by Kalpulli Izkalli, a community organization that is a grassroots intergenerational action and resource centre dedicated to transforming the health and environment of the local community, Their motto, Healing Ourselves, Healing the Earth is one of the concepts I have used for years in the courses I have taught, so I immediately resonated with this wonderful organization and their incredible event. Kalpuli Izkalli was started as an effort to create an alternative institute that could serve as a model for “integrating strategies to educate, advocate, and take action on those changes necessary to protect human life and the earth, and her resources with proactive alternatives that promote traditional knowledge and ethics of behaviour that celebrate the intrinsic value and sacredness of the natural world and its interdependence on humanity.”

“Kalpulli Izkalli are Nahuatl words meaning Kalpulli (Community) and Izkalli (House of the Light/Resurgence). Kalpulli Izkalli was formed in 1996 to promote, preserve and protect cultural and traditional practices. They are dedicated to community healing through these practices which include agriculture, medicine and traditional healing, ceremony, as well as the use of art, music, dance, writing and individual creativity to enhance personal, family, community and general human development. Kalpulli Izkalli exists to strengthen the capacity for individuals and families to create positive changes in the way we live that foster healing and renewal for ourselves and Mother Earth.”

The health fair took place in the parking lot of the Topakhal Clinic. The Topakhal Clinic (House of our Medicine Clinic) is one of the projects of Kalpulli Izkalli. It is a family practice clinic which combines Western and Eastern medicine, allopathic and naturopathic approaches. It has a beautiful community garden and a well designed clinic with treatment rooms, a small community kitchen and even an altar room for ceremony! What a progressive community health centre. I have been involved in the community health centre movement in Toronto for many years and have yet to see one with such an incredible integration of traditional and Western medeicines.

The gathering began with a Danza Azteca ceremony which honoured Mayahuel, the Guardian of Medicinal plants and healing and dona Predicanda, a local curandera or traditional healer, who had been healing the community for more than 60 years. Dona Predicanda was born with the ‘don’, the healing gift and grew up learnig from her grandmother, an indigenous curendera from Chihuahua, Mexico. Dona Predicanda and twp other curanderas were presented with plaques and honoured in the ceremony.

All the healers who had volunteered their services, myself included, were called into the centre of the circle of Aztec dancers to stand in front of the curanderas who were being honoured to be blessed with copal, prayers and agua de flores, flower water. After our blessing and the presentation of the plaques of honour to the curanderas, the Aztec dancers continued their dance into the early afternoon. The large group of Aztec dancers and drummers dressed in colourful clothing and elaborate feathered headdresses occupied most of the large parking lot. Information tables and healing tents had been set up around the perimeters of the parking lot. There was information on pregnancy and childbirth, breastfeeding, services for people who had been physically or sexually abused, and information on local environmental justice projects.

In the two tents close to ours there were massage therapists, Reiki practitioners and curanderas offering limpias or spiritual cleansings. There were three practitioners in our tent, Karen Ferreira, a homeopathic doctor who was providing information on healthy natural foods and homeopathic consultations; Dr Miguel Ortega, an iridologist from Cuernavaca, Mexico, who was staying with the same people who were hosting our little group, and who was examining eyes/doing iridology consultations and I was doing energy work and bodywork, incorporating some of the techniques I had learned from Masauke and company despite the fact that I had left my feathers in San Antonio.

We had a large number of people sign up for all of the different therapies when we first set up the tent but we were following Sundance rules and waiting for the ceremony to be over before we began the treatments. It was only some time after noon, when the woman who had been the first to sign up came over to find out if I would work on her that we found out that the tradition in Mexico was different from the Navajo Sundance tradition and that treatments were common while the dancing was going on. With that information in hand, I started working on her and from that time on wards there was a steady stream of people coming to our tent all afternoon. The treatments continued even when high winds suddenly began to blow and the tent almost came down around me and the woman I was working on. Karen and the husband of the client Miguel was working on grabbed the tent poles as the wind picked up, and along with the small group of people who quickly jumped in to help, they saved the day. We continued to work even after many of the information tables had been packed up and other practitioners had left. Miguel closed up shop finishing his last consultation under a tree as a group of volunteers came to take the tent down around him. Like at the sundance our services were voluntary.

It was a beautiful event which for me really demonstrated the integration of traditional and western medicine, as the regular Family Practice clinic was going on inside the Tophkal clinic. The waiting room was full of clients while the fair was going on and periodically the practitioners and interns from the clinic would come out to watch or take part in the ceremony. Many of the traditional practitioner who were practicing in the healing tents also provide services in the Tophkal clinic. All in all, the day was an amazing example of a community based model for integrative wellness – integrating traditional medicine, natural healing with ceremony, wonderfully healthy food and western clinical services. Bravo Kalpulli Izkali for a job well done!

For more information on Kalpulli Izkali and their annual gathering of traditional Medicine and Healing visit

For more information on Homeopathy or the Gaia Sophia visit

Monday, September 10, 2007

Wellness -- It's All in The Feet!

Wellness – It’s All in the Feet!
September 10, 2007

Wow! I feel good … tanannana …. Like I knew I would … tannanana … It is rare that I am wowed by a new therapy or holistic treatment because I have tried so many different things, but 1 session of this combo treatment has really made me feel different. My head is clearer, and colours seem brighter and it feels like I am breathing easier. It feels like my whole body is running a little bit better than it was before we started the session.

I just had an ionic footbath treatment followed by a mineral soak. Although, like the machine, I am from Canada, and I had heard about it from an ex-coworker, I had never tried it. As usual, I approach every new therapy with a healthy bit of skepticism. The treatment was administered by Gayle, a pain elimination specialist, who uses a combination of NST [neuro-structural integration technique] and Reiki, when working with her clients. As well as these modalities, Gayle assists her clients to eliminate pain using the IonSpa and mineral soak. I had met Gayle just over a week ago at a healing circle that Masauke was facilitating.

As I too work with Reiki energy, I offered to be a guinea pig for one of her students in the Reiki classes she was teaching and after the session I had the opportunity to speak with her about her practice. She mentioned the ionSpa Detox Footbath and it immediately intrigued me. The footbath is described as “a holistic way of approaching disease through saturation of the blood, tissue, cells and organs with ions.” “The ionSpa,” the flyer she gave me tells me, “produces negative hydrogen ions, which act as both an energy carrier and an antioxidant in the body.”

I read that the ionSpa “allows for a large uptake of negative ions into the coenzyme NAD (nicotinamide adenosine dinucleotide) which creates active NADH, which the flyer reminds me is the essential coenzyme of all cellular regeneration and reproduction.” I am thinking back to my undergraduate biochemistry days and remember that NADH is used in the Krebs cycle, which is supposed to allow the body to generate cellular energy – more than that I can’t remember. I make a mental note to do some more research on how this all works.

Back in Gayle’s treatment room she sits me on a comfortable chair next to the sink as she wraps a large basin in a double layer of plastic, “for sanitary reasons,” she tells me. She hooks up a small square black box – the brains of the operation, I am told – and hooks it up to an electrode that reminds me of the ones I used to use for gel electrophoresis back in the days when I worked in the lab. I placed my feet in the basin turned footbath on either side of the electrode and she filled up a large container with warm water and pours the water over my feet, almost up to my ankles. So far, so good.

She adds a couple scoops(less than a quarter of a teaspoon) of sea salt to the water, then punches in some numbers on the buttons on the little black box. I feel a light tingling in my feet when she first turns on the current. I look at my feet. Bubbles are coming up out of the electrode in between my feet. The water is clear. I remember my colleague Debby had told me about her friend who had tried it and had ended up with black water. I am sure that my water will be pure, after all, I’ve been eating a mostly organic diet for years and, after I finished working as a molecular geneticist, where I am sure I soaked up more than my fair share of noxious chemicals, I spent several years doing regular juice fasting and all manner of cleanses to help my body to detox from the chemicals I knew I had been exposed to over the years, despite all the precautions we had taken in the lab. In recent years I had started purchasing and using primarily natural, nontoxic products and had been doing a regular liver flush to help my body to reduce it’s toxic load. Surely, I thought, my footbath will be different. I will be the one person who has almost clear water at the end of the treatment.

Well, I was right for about the first 4 minutes of the session. After that this yellowish colour began to ooze from my feet. I remembered that the flyer had said “Because of poor diet and high stress, we tend to accumulate and store excessive quantities of waste products. Particles, fat and mucous residues found in the water after bathing reflect the waste that have left the body during the 30 minute session. Neutralized particles are pulled out of the body through the skin via osmosis. Colour changes in the water are only some of the indicators that toxins are removed from the body.”

I look down at the basin watching my feet. At first there was only a hint of yellow colouring coming off my feet. Two minutes later the yellow colour is seeping from my feet and spreading throughout the entire basin. A few minutes later the water is changing from a light yellow to the colour of light corn syrup, with a slightly reddish tinge. A small mucousy plaque floats out and Gayle tells me that it could be from vitamins or supplements that are not completely natural. That’s definitely a possibility because although I am normally very careful about the types of vitamins and supplements I take, when I was younger I certainly wasn’t as aware as I am now and also since I’ve been traveling I haven’t always been able to find the type of supplements that I normally buy.

Gayle smells a little bit of a sweet smell and says that may be petrochemicals coming out. I think back to my little Smart Car sitting in the garage in Toronto and wonder how much of the diesel fuel soaks up into my body when I’m standing at the gas pump, because there aren’t a whole lot of other petrochemicals in my environment. Mental note: another thing to do some research on – Are we exposed to trace levels of petrochemicals when we breathe in exhaust fumes while sitting in heavy traffic or might they com from gasoline fumes while pumping gas at the gas station, and/or are there trace amounts that soak in through the hands from whatever might be on the pump handle. Beep goes the machine. “It is going into a new cycle.” clarifies Gayle.

A tiny blue speck floats by on the surface of the water. Gayle tells me it is a star of aluminum and it’s one of the biggest one’s she’s ever seen. Aluminum I think, where would I have been exposed to that? Well, I stopped cooking with aluminum pans about 17 years ago so it’s not there. I don’t use aluminum foil when I cook but I do sometimes buy pies in aluminum pie plates and I don’t always cook for myself and I don’t know what others use. Ah, I remember. If this footbath pulls out stuff that’s been stored for a long time then of course there were those aluminum tumblers that my brothers and I used to drink out of when I was a child. Growing up in Jamaica where bauxite is mined and sent off to be processed into Aluminium, those tumblers were very popular. Mine was red, very light and I really loved it. Could trace amounts of aluminium still be in my body 40 years later from so many breakfasts drinking fresh squeezed orange juice out of that cup? Does slightly acidic juices leach aluminium out of those cups like oily substances are supposed to leach plastic from the containers they are stored in? Mental note: more research needed here too. Yes, says Gayle, when I mention that I don't cook with Aluminum pots, and what about cans? Have you ever thought about how many people drink daily from Alumimum cans? Ah yes, those aluminum cans that I occasionally drink Ice Tea from. Good Point! I have not totally reduced my exposure to aluminum as I had thought.

She asks me if I have had any allergies recently. Yes, I reply. Actually I have had for the first time in about 20 years since I have been traveling. It is mostly in the mornings that I’ve been waking up sneezy and slightly stuffed up. I suspected it had something to do with the carpets in the places I’ve been staying. Back in Toronto I had no carpeting in my home and since I’ve been traveling many of the places I have stayed at have some sort of carpeting, usually in the bedrooms, so I have been sleeping in rooms with closed windows, because of the air conditioning, and with carpeting. I know that carpeting is one of the main sources of indoor allergens and environmental toxins from my years working in environmental health. Gayle’s next comment is “It seems like something you inhaled.” House dust and cat or dog fur from the carpets could be it I think. But Gayle says that she thinks that my allergic reactions may be to the mould, weeds and oak that have been present in the environment in Boerne at the time of my treatment. Gayle told me that she had been seeing much the same thing in many footbaths during the same period of time. "Maybe dust might have been a factor for you", she points out, "but by the look of the response, it did not look like it was dust or dander. Dust or dander would have most likely come out in the look of the water in the foot bath as lymph. I'm not sure why that happens but it does seem to" Gayle clarifies More questions I think, but there’s definitely something to this machine because Gayle is picking up stuff that I hadn’t told her.

By now the surface of the water has a reddish yellow film on it and underneath the colour is a strong yellowy red. So much for me being different. So much for my body being less toxic. Gayle says it has the look of copper. The mixture is starting to look like a newly opened can of tomato soup. She writes something else down on the cue card she has been making notes on. She asks me if I have ever smoked, something is showing up that suggests tobacco smoke. I’ve never smoked but have been exposed to second hand smoke at various periods in my life. She suggests that it not likely to be secondhand exposure but if it was it was an old exposure since recent exposures show up on the surface and this is in the underwater. She says that anything that comes out on the surface of the water is coating the body’s cells, making it more difficult for the body to operate since impulses have to get through the coating before the cells can communicate with each other.

There are no liver or gallbladder related colours or materials. Gayle tells me. That is common with many people though the response showing gallbladder apparently can change in a matter of days. There’s that sweet smell again. Can you smell it? It’s those petrochemicals. I get a wiff of a very, very faint sweet odour. Beep goes the machine. “Have you ever had a hair analysis done? There’s a combo of metals” Gayle says. “It looks like lead and mercury.” I look at the now quite darkish rusty coloured water but don’t have a clue what she is seeing. I notice the brownish bubbles in the centre over the electrode. “Is that it?” I ask. “No” says Gayle. “That’s yeast.” Could be I think. I first did a Candida cleanse in 1992 and then spent several years on a sugar free, yeast free, wheat free, dairy free diet to eliminate all the yeast from my body. In the last few years and more so in the past few months of my travels I have been eating more sugar and bready type goodies than I usually do so a resurgence of Candida is not out of the question. Gayle would explain later that the lead and Mercury was showing up in the under water and was a dark gray and then turning to a deep black. She knew it was heavy metals, most likely Mercury.

Beep! The machine sounds off again. The session is normally over 25 minutes after it begins but Gayle tested you and added an additional 5 mins. in the water. The basin at my feet looks like a freshly opened can of frothy tomato soup. As I take my feet out and wipe them with a paper towel I leave a brownish yellow film on the white towel. This does not look good I say to Gayle as she puts down a fresh basin with water and takes away the now brownish mixture of water with the goopy ooze that came out of my feet. I would have thought that with my years of healthy, mostly organic, eating and non –toxic living my first session would have been better than this. Gayle laughs when I tell her that I had expected that the water would be clear. She says “This is about ¼ as bad as most people on their first session, so your healthy eating and living is doing something!” I feel a bit relieved.

Now comes the mineral soak. I ask Gayle if the soak is important to rebalance the mineral content of my body after the detox treatment. She replies emphatically "NO! Not what I said. The mineral soak is not needed after a mineral soak to put back minerals that have been stripped out. I don’t want to give anyone that impression. Most people would do their entire “run” (the number of treatments that it takes for that person to remove the years of toxic buildup) before doing a Mineral Soak. That is a separate treatment. You are right that until some of the toxins are removed the minerals are not readily uptaken by the cells….which is the reason to wait until most of the toxins are removed. In your case, you are certainly “clear” enough to go ahead doing the Mineral Soak after only one Detox. Does that make sense?" Gayle brings out a large stainless steel container. She fills a large plastic container with water and pulls out a series of bottles. Which ones resonate with you? She asks. These two go into every treatment she says putting one dropper full of a clear liquid labeled Magnesium and another labeled Mineral Complex. Chose three more. I select Pancreatic Support, Circulatory Support and Balance from among the 6 bottles she offers me. Each bottle contains a proprietary mixture of various Minerals and support essences. I put my feet in the steel basin as Gayle pours the lukewarm mixture on my feet. She dims the light and leaves the room, advising me to focus on my breathing. I go into relaxation mode, beginning my meditation by slowing down my breathing and clearing my mind.

25 minutes later Gayle is back. As I come out of my meditative state I scan my body. Wow! I feel good … tanannana …. Like I knew I would … tannanana … it really feels great … my mind is clearer and the colours around me are brighter. It is easier to breathe. There is definitely something to this treatment. Gayle tells me that normally she would do a run of treatments – 5 to 7 being the most. To do the initial detox and then the individual only needs to come in periodically to maintain it, and all for the low price of $60 for the combo treatment. "When people finish a run", Gayle tells me, "They may come back for 2 or 3 mineral soaks, or they may come back in a month or 2 for the combo treatment just like you had. It seems to be a very good way to do it." Wow! Wellness in a footbath and a mineral soak bottle! What a treat! Thanks Gayle!

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Delicious Dinner for the Divine Divas

"True Peace is not merely the absence of tension, it is the presence of justice." Martin Luther King, Jr

I arrived in Truth or Consequences late Tuesday night. Karen, the homeopath who I was to stay with, had just arriving home from a concert, where Miriam, a Peace singer had just entertained a local group for several hours. Karen welcomed me with raw hummus, raw vegan crackers and olives and tales of the beautiful music, which I had missed by a few hours. Karen decided to host a dinner the next evening for all the Divine Divas -- the spiritually inclined women in the community -- to say goodbye to Miriam and to meet with me.

Karen and her husband are raw foodists so the feast the next day was to be a fare of 100% raw food. Though I have eaten vegetarian for many years i had not really thought about food in terms of whether it was raw or not. My stay with Karen was to make me look at the world with new lenses.

The next morning Karen started calling and emailing the local women. We went down town to the local health food stores and met several women who Karen immediately invited. Everywhere we went we met women who we interested in the gathering, some who could make it and some not. In the end we had 9 women who formed the first Goddess Circle in the community, what those who came are hoping will become a monthly gathering for the spiritually minded women.

Karen and I worked all afternoon preparing the spread -- guacamole made with fresh organic avocados, tomatoes, onions and garlic; raw vegan crackers; gaspacho with tomatoes, onions, zucchini and green pepper; my mother's amazing cucumber salad, a huge raw organic salad with romaine lettuce, fresh pea sprouts; carrots, green pepper and tomatoes; a plater of sliced carrots, cauliflower, broccoli; raw goats cheese; a raw banana coconut pie with a walnut date crust; an avocado chocolate mint pudding; gingered grapes and hibiscus sun tea. It was a feast fit for a Goddess, or a Divine Diva.

Women started arriving slowly congregating in the kitchen until the crowd began to spill over into the living room. We introduced ourselves and Miriam welcomed us with several songs of Peace sung in her native language, Hebrew. Karen sang a song she had shared with Miriam the night before and Lou recited a poem. Peace was the topic of the evening. Peace, a Raw feast, Hot Springs and Divine Divas ... what more can you ask for ... a combination made in heaven!!

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Firing the Grid and Admiring the Desert

"Responsibility does not lie with the leaders of our countries or with those who have been appointed or elected to do a particular job. It lies with each of us individually. Peace, for example, starts within each one of us. When we have inner peace we can be at peace with those around us. When we feel love and kindness towards others, it not only makes others feel loved and cared for, but it helps us to develop inner happiness and peace" his holiness the Dalai Lama.

Thursday July 17 was the day to fire the grid. People from around the world were connecting energetically through prayer and meditation to our mother the Earth and sending love, peace and harmony and the energy of collective cooperation to heal the earth and to awaken our individual and collective souls as human beings on this planet at this conjuncture in time-space to our true purpose. If you were not part of the process or know nothing about firing the grid you can find out more at

I was a one of the millions of people around the world who fired the grid at 11:11am GMT or 4:11am Arizona time. I had originally planned to be on my way to San Antonio, Texas via Truth or Consequences, New Mexico on Monday but decided to stay to collectively fire the grid. It seemed like a good way to end my stay in Prescott.
Although I had stayed up very late packing up and cleaning up the apartment in the healing centre where I had been staying, I was up at 3:45am when Daisy came over to prepare the healing centre. The women started arriving a few minutes later. By 4:09 am there were 7 women gathered. We all sat in a circle around the deerskin rugs in front of the altar and we were ready to begin. The final two women who would join us came in just after we started the ceremony.

After a brief introduction, Daisy played the flute and and Margaret, who runs the sweat lodges at the healing centre, began drumming. That was their prayer for the earth. The rest of us were meditating and praying, sending healing energy to mother earth. Part way through the hour we listened to a CD of chants and the drum and flute prayers continued and our meditations continued. The birds were beginning to sing outside the window of the healing centre, joining in with us. Towards the end of the hour we began to name beautiful and not so beautiful places on the earth that we wanted to be healed. We all joined hands and I imagined that we were holding hands with all the people around the world that were firing the grid at the same time that we were. We did a visualization where we draw the vital energy from the sky, from source, through our bodies and sent it down into the earth to wrap three times around the core of the earth, the heart of our mother pacha mama. It was 5:11am. A few women had to leave to go to work and a few remained to discuss the prayer.

It was starting to get lighter. Margaret suggested that we go outside and drum in the sunrise. It was a great idea as it allowed us to walk on mother earth with a new sense of connection and respect, still focusing on peace, harmony and balance. We went over to the sacred ground where the sweat lodge is usually held. It is a clearing surrounded by firs and desert shrubs. The sun was just beginning to peak over the mountains in the distance. There were 4 of us. Margaret was drumming and singing a Lakota turtle song for Mother Earth. It was a powerful experience indeed.

After tea and breakfast I finished packing the car and was on my way. It was much later than I had planned to leave and I had hardly slept so I only drove for an hour heading towards Phoenix before I had to stop to have a nap. Ten minutes later, totally refreshed, I was on the road again and did not stop till I got to Picacho Peak State Park. I had seen the name when I googled Sonora desert and for some reason it caught my eye.

I pulled off the highway when I saw the sign, paid my $3 fee to enter the park and was informed by the two park rangers that it was over 104 degrees and probably not a great time of day to be hiking up to the peak. I knew it was hot but did not realize that it was quite that hot. I was told it would take over an hour to hike up to the top of the peak. I was still planning to arrive in Truth or Consequences relatively early so decided not to do the climb. Instead I drove to the furthest part of the park and hiked around that area, enjoying the incredible view of the rolling desert plains, with the train tracks in the distance and the blue, blue Arizona sky.

I was very thirsty. I opened one of the juices I was carrying in the cooler and made a cheese sandwich, eating it as I looked out over the distant horizon, wondering which of the famous cowboys I had read about when I was a child had passed through this area that was now a park. I had visions of covered wagons moving across the plains and gun slingers and cattle rustlers riding among the tall cactus. Other than myself, the plants and the warm breeze, there was no one around and no movement anywhere nearby. Off in the distance I could see the tiny cars passing by on the highway and the even tinier train halfway across the plain.

This was a perfect place to continue to celebrate my connection with Mother Earth. I did a standing meditation facing the rugged mountain peak and then lay down briefly on the earth, feeling the incredible heat that had been accumulating all day on my back. It felt good to connect with the earth, to remember my connection to this powerful element that sustains us and gives us life. I thought back to the ceremony earlier in the morning when millions of people around the world joined together to send our energy, our healing energy, to nurture our mother who has nurtured us and continues to feed and clothe us. I said a prayer of thanks to the earth before I quickly got up before the heat of ground became too much. There was such a sense of peace.

Lessons learned: 1) Many hands make light work. We need to each do our part to nurture and take care of the earth. 2) Sometime you can find peace only a few steps off the beaten path, 3)Beauty is where you are.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Desert Rain! Oh How Sweet it is!

"Whoever Can See Through All Fear Will Always Be Safe" Tao Te Ching.

Ah!! The monsoons have arrived! I was hoping they would come before I left and today was the day. It has been raining since 2:30pm this afternoon and it is 10pm and it is still raining. Oh how sweet it is -- rain in the desert. I have never appreciated rain as much as I did today.

I was at the healing centre all morning and about 2 pm decided to go downtown to say goodbye to a few people I had met before I left and pick up a few things for my trip tomorrow. This time I took my camera, having found my battery charger the night before after it had hid itself away for the past 2 weeks. My first stop was to be the bank across from the square, but as I had my camera in hand I drove by the Aikido dojo where I have been training for the past 2 weeks to take a couple of photos before heading off to the square. There were a couple of large dark clouds hanging low in the sky and a few rumblings but there had been rumblings and the occasional dark cloud for the past week. I had been told that the monsoons were coming but truthfully did not expect to see rain before I left.

When I first arrived in Prescott just about a month ago the days were very hot and the nights quite cold, much like you would expect in any desert area -- not much of a difference as in the Wirricuta desert in Mexico. It got cold enough at night that I was sleeping with a blanket and with the windows closed. Not so of late! After I returned from the Sundance I noticed a shift in the night temperatures. It was getting warmer at night because of the increasing cloud cover which didn't seem to affect the daytime temperature, which was still hot but at night it was no longer that delightful cool then quite cold, in fact if it got to delightfully cool you were lucky. It was more of a balmy almost tropical summer night.. much like it had been in Jamaica when I was growing up. In fact some nights it was so warm that I found it hard to sleep. I was told that the balmy night weather had to build up for days until finally it rained. I kept hoping for the rain.

Well, it arrived today and has it ever rained. I arrived in the plaza downtown with many heavy clouds and took photos of the square trying to capture the light. I went into a spiritual bookstore hoping to find a present for Daisy the guardian of the woman's altar and 'bumped into' two of the people I had planned to see before I left. As I left the bookstore the rain started ... Those big, fat delicious raindrops that you get in the summer and oh the smell of the wet earth. It was amazing after so many weeks of hot dry weather. I stopped at the local natural food store to stock up on some items for my trip and by that time it was pouring. The heavy sudden down pour that we always used to get in the afternoons in summer in Jamaica. Ahhh.. and me with no raincoat! There I was running into the store like I used to run in the rain between classroom in high school.

Feeling the fat warm drops on my back and head. What a delight. In the store I again 'bumped into' another one of the few people I knew in Prescott. When I got everything I needed and was at the checkout counter the young woman who was on cash was looking longingly outside as the rain poured down. I'd love to be out there she said, but I am stuck in here. Everyone in the store seemed to have a smile on their fact. Rain in the desert where there has been a 12 year drought is enough to make even the hardest hearted person smile. As I went outside with my bags of groceries there was a woman sheltering from the rain under the eves. She asked if I was from here and did I know how long it lasted. I laughed and said I wasn't from here. Just then a man came out the store so I asked him if he was from here and how long the rain lasted. He said it usually lasts 20 minutes but that he was not going to let it keep him here because you never know how long it will really last.

I followed suit and ran through the rain to the car. It felt great to get wet in the desert. As I drove back to the healing centre I noticed so many puddles that had not been there only 2 hours before and the smell of the fresh wet pines. Oh how sweet it is. It doesn't get any better than this. I was later told by a local woman who came to the altar for a ceremony that the day before she had called her grandchildren in Vermont and they had told her that they had done a rain dance for it to rain in Prescott and her grandson had sent one cloud to her. Well, what powerful kids, I said. That one cloud must have picked up several friend's on the way because when it arrived in Prescott, it rained from 2:30pm till the wee hours of the morning...

Lessons learned: 1) Rain beautiful rain. Give thanks for the element of water in all its beautiful forms. 2) Our prayers are answered, 3) Innocent children carry powerful medicine.

staywell and travel with Spirit in Beauty and Truth, Spirit Traveller.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Traeger, Ecological Acupuncturist

Traeger Stertzbach, Ecological Acupuncturist.

I met Traeger at my first Aikido class in Prescott. He is a student of Sensei Bob Ward, who I had met at the sundance and who graciously allowed me to train in his dojo while I was in Prescott. When I found out that Traeger also does acupuncture I thought he might be a great subject for my blog, so I went to visit his practice which is located in the space owned by the Shanti Wellness Project, a not for profit Organization which provided low cost Wholistic Health care for Women in Yavapai county. More about Shanti in another post.

Traeger graduated last year from the 4 year program at the Oregon College of Oriental medicine. After finishing an undergraduate degree in natural history and ecology, he went to Portland planning to go to Naturopathic College but after talking with senior students at both colleges decided to go into Oriental medicine. At the time it seemed like a huge shift. But what he asked himself was whether he wanted to continue to operate in a Western scientific framework or if it was time to step outside of the box. The answer was Oriental Medicine.

“I graduated with an undergraduate degree in natural history and ecology from Prescott College in 1999. The same year that Shanti was finishing up her project. I graduated from Chinese Medicine school last September. When I came back to Prescott I was looking at partnering up with a chiropractor, or something like that. I was hoping to find someone to work with or learn from. I called everyone I knew and no one seemed to need a partner. The truth is in Arizona, if you partner with a chiropractor who is billing for your services it’s a bit tricky since acupuncturists are not allowed to bill for our services. I realized that I needed to just go for it and open my own practice. I found out that the Shanti Wellness Project was looking for practitioners through two friends who are acupuncturists. They work out of room 1 on Monday’s, Fridays and Saturdays. I called Sherry and arranged to see the space. When I came I felt that the energy here was great, so I put some paint on the walls and a rug on the floor and here I am.”

“The mission of the Shanti is something that I fully connect to and I have several related projects on the go. Jason and Laura, the two other acupuncturists, and I are discussing the possibility of a community based acupuncture clinic similar to the working class acupuncture project that they have in Portland, Oregon. You can think of it as a type of group acupuncture or network chiropractic. The practitioner sees each client individually to take the pulse and check the tongue and find out their chief complaint but instead of having one room, one client all the treatment is done in a room with several clients. The practitioner puts the needles in and goes on to the next person.. This allows the practitioner to charge $20-$35 per session making it feasible for people who do not have a lot of money to come in once or twice a week.” That way of practicing is much more similar to the way they treat patients in China.

I asked him if he saw OM as more of a spiritual path. His response was that he does but that this path is also helping him to be more grounded to the physical realm as his tendency is to think a lot and this is a very physical and very practical form of medicine. He uses a lot of shiatsu in his treatments. For him it is very important to be fully present with the patient and the real time changes that are going on during the treatment. “It is possible to get off into your head, but the hands-on work requires you to really pay attention.” he says. Traeger is a minimalist when it comes to point selection. His training is much like mine – use as few needles as possible. He explains this drawing on the imagery used in a lecture he once attended – the pond effect he calls it – the difference between the ripple effect after throwing one or two stones into a pond and throwing many stones into the same pond. He sees oriental medicine as a medicine that more in tune with the ecology of the human body than the reductionist approach of allopathic medicine.

Although he is a fairly new practitioner, he is drawn to meridian style acupuncture where he sees the channel as a whole. He loves to have 5 element acupuncture done to him, but on his patients he focuses on the entire meridian, or energy channel.

I asked Traeger to explain why he sees acupuncture as more like ecology, than reductionism. He takes me back to my undergrad ecology days, reminding me that the root of ecology is eco’ logos – the study of the family home, and that it focuses on looking at the organism in relation to the environment they are in and the greater system that surrounds them. He says that in oriental medicine we have to take into consideration the organism, their environment and factors in their day to day – that is ecology. In fact, oriental medicine stems from a real close observation of nature. He talks about the time when he was walking near a shipyard and noticed the variations in the river channels he immediately thought back to the he-sea points and the shu-transport points on the energy channels he had studied and realized that this was how the analogies were made, by observing these relationships in nature.

Traeger adds “After I finished my undergrad I left Prescott wondering how am I going to affect change in this environmental crisis? I am not an activist nor am I a policymaker. This seemed like a way to affect change at an individual and a community level. Not only can we use specific acupuncture points to affect the ecology of an individual but that individual is him or herself an acupuncture point in their community.”

One of the projects that Traeger is working on really integrates his ecology background with his love of oriental medicine. That is the herbothecary and teahouse he is working on creating with Margaret, the owner of Magpie, a local food coop and health food store. They plan to sell bulk teas and to serve teas in a traditional way.

“In relationship to my clients, I see myself as a guide or a listener. I really see them as the teachers. Everyone is just an incredible resource. I am getting a lot of difficult cases and they are teaching me how to practice this medicine. I feel fortunate that I have been able to help some of them make changes in their lives. I love to come to work to help people make changes in their lives.”

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Healing Myself at The Women's Altar

"Power is not given lightly but awarded to those who are willing to carry responsibility in a balanced manner" Jamie Sams and David Carson

I've been staying at the Morning Blessing Way Healing Center since Sundance ended. Daisy had invited me to come back and stay for a while. The invitation was in fact an invitation from the Grand Will, there were things I still needed to learn and much I still needed to do at the healing centre. Masauke was heading back to San Antonio with Linda after the Sundance to do some carpentry work and transform her house. Linda, who had driven from Texas to the Sundance, wanted to spend some time with Masauke and to enjoy a slow drive from Arizona to Texas, connecting with friends and relatives along the way. Spirit was again coordinating our agendas -- I would drive her car back to the women's altar allowing her to head back to Texas with Masauke and me to have a vehicle to get me back to Texas after my stay. The Great Mystery works in amazing ways if we are truly open to the workings of Spirit.

Before I had left for the Sundance, Daisy and I had done our first work together at the altar facilitating an energetic shift for a man who had a very difficult childhood and was still carrying the energetic resonances of his early childhood experiences. It had been a beautiful experience working together at the altar as we work in very different but complimentary ways. Daisy, using the flute and drum as she connects to the Great Spirit in prayer, and I doing energy work and featherwork, clearing away resonances from his energy field. He had wanted to come back for a deeper session but I had been leaving for the sundance so Daisy invited me back.

There have not been a lot of people coming to the altar since I have been here other than him. Those who come are those who should be there. When Daisy and I worked together again Daisy rebirthing this man and I helped to connect him to his mother's love and his father's strength, neither of which he had experience before even though he is now in his late 50s. It was a powerful experience for each of us - him because he was able to feel those powerful emotions and for me because it allowed me to trust my inner knowing that I would know which of the healing tools, the medicines, I carry would be appropriate and when to use them.

Daisy and I have since worked together to do an energy clearing and to introduce a visiting woman to the energy of the woman's altar. Most of the time that I have been here Daisy has been working on finishing her book. I have had the opportunity to read and review the book which tells a truly powerful story about the healing of her son and her spiritual journey. As well, I have had time to experience a new martial art - Aikido at the local Aikido dojo, to write and to visit several local organizations and individuals some of whom I had met last year when I had visited after the sundance and many of whom serendipity or the Spirit has newly presented.

Mostly what I have been doing while I have been here though is healing myself! Listening to the voice of Spirit, listening to my inner knowing and truly learning to follow that. I have been sleeping in the apartment built by Masauke ajoining the healing centre which serves as a retreat for those visiting. The center surrounded by trees and a dry wash/river bed divides it from Daisy's house and the area where the Blessing Way sweatlodge is conducted at times of the year when there is no fire ban [There has not bee a sweat since I have been here because of the fire hazard, but I am told that the monsoons are coming and hope to experience them before I leave in a few days.

Every day I have been spending time at the women's altar, meditating and praying. A few nights when I could not sleep I would go quietly into the healing centre and lie on the deerskins in front of the altar, falling asleep to beautiful dreams of a very old medicine man and medicine woman working on me as I sleep, massaging my spirit and soothing my mind, removing that which no longer serves me from my mind, body and spirit. I have been re-connecting with the exercise and meditation routine I used to follow and figuring out what is right for me at this time. I have been following a simple but very well balanced diet and getting as much rest as my body has demanded. I have been doing my headstands and my tai chi and martial arts routine regularly. It has truly been a gift to have this time at this beautiful healing centre to focus on healing myself. What a blessing indeed!

Thanks You Daisy! Thank You Linda! and Thank You Masauke! for all you have shared and for all you have taught me about listening to myself and healing myself, and most of all thank you to the Great Spirit, for working through Masauke, Linda and Daisy.

Lessons: 1) Always listen to your body and your inner knowings, 2) Know when you need a rest and take it! 3) Be true to your self and your path. Do what is right for you!

staywell and travel with Spirit in Beauty and Truth, Spirit Traveller

Monday, July 9, 2007


Blessings to everyone reading this blog:

May your path continue to be illuminated.
May you find peace and joy scattered like rose petals at your feet on your journeys.
May you dance with innocence and enchantment.
May truth fall like raindrops and refreshen the ground you walk on.
May love encircle your heart and send it's root into your soul to nourish nourish nourish you and keep you strong.
May Faith, Joy and Hope be your constant companions.
May blossoms of beauty scatter in front of you like tiny seeds blowing in the wind, and may all the desires of your heart become whispers that echo in the canyons of possibilities, manifest in the realm of dreams and take root in the lands of opportunity.
May ALL that is good, true, beautiful, magical and harmonious be your now and always and may you find those you truly love and continue to walk together with love in your heart, beauty in your soul and joy in your steps and the deep and true knowledge that you are always connected through time and space to the ends of infinity and eternity and back.
May you bathe in fountains of love and swim in rivers of abundant blessings.
May you know that you are a precious and true manifestation of the Divine and that you are always truly, truly blessed and that you are also a true blessing to Gaia/Pacha Mama, our home and earth mother.

This is my blessing to you ...

StayWell and Travel with Spirit, in Beauty and Truth, Spirit Traveller

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Hanging Out with HyoChul

"Unlike goddesses associated with fertility, Tara is approached primarily as a protector and preserver of life. In the sky above, a dragon emerges from the clouds clutching a wish-fulfilling gem. In the Buddhist tradition, the pearl without price symbolizes the wisdom of selflessness, of great compassion - "the one force benefiting both self and others." Celestial Gallery. Romeo Shrestha.

Hyochul is a very special 14 year old boy who lives in Prescott, Arizona. He has lived here for 11 years and before that lived in Idaho. Hyochul loves to draw, ride his bike and rollerblade. Hyochul tells me he had leukemia for 3 years and says that he was dealing with the medical stuff for a long time. His mother clarifies that it was the rejection to the bone marrow transplant and the after effects of the transplant that lasted 6 and a half years. Thirty percent of kids who have the transplant die during the transplant and another 30% die in the first year. HyoChul is one of a very small percentage of kids who have survived a specific type of childhood leukemia, and his mother Daisy feels that he is a precious gift who came into her life to reinforce her faith in the Great Spirit and that through his sacrifice and her sacrifice to keep him alive, she found the strength she needed to become the guardian of the women's altar.

His mother, who has studied with many great teachers including Swami Hiraharinanda Giri, the last living disciple of Sri YuctaSwa and Yoginanda's fellow disciple, with Luke Chan the first Master of ChiLiel Chi Gong in the West and with Masauke, says that HyoChul is her greatest teacher. She tells of the time when they had found out how serious HyoChul's leukemia was. He had 0.02% chance of living because he had a very specific translocation and did not go into remission. She and her husband had to decide whether or not to go the route of a transplant and she had 4 people pray and send chi when they were making the decision about whether he would have the transplant that had as much chance of killing him as saving him.

Many say that HyoChul is still alive now because of Daisy's faith, she never ever gave up, and also because of the energy and chi and prayers sent by the thousands of people around the world who were part of Daisy's chi gung network. Hyochul's story touched the heart of a Navajo medicine man who gathered 21 native men who had never met HyoChul and did a sweatlodge for his healing. The Bodinath temple in Katmandu did a ceremony for his healing. Daisy even went to the local Tibet store and asked them to take a picture of HyoChul to Garchen Rimpoche and he too gave a blessing. "China and Tibet were completely united in that little child at 7 years old" she says.

After several attempts during the 6.5 years to reduce the anti-rejection meds that kept HyoChul's transplanted immune system from rejecting the rest of his body, he finally came of the meds last year just before he want to the Sundance. Daisy firmly believes that it was the days of drumming at the Sundance that kept HyoChul's body from needing to go back on the meds. When asked about his experience at the sundance last year, HyoChul said that it was nothing special, just another religious thing, but that he had met some people that he really liked at the Sundance.

Hyochul's first love is his art. He says that the love of art has always been in his family and that even when he was very little he can always remember scribbling and drawing, He's just gotten better as he got older. He feels that he is good at art because he practices every day not so much because he was born being really good.

The thing he loves best about living in Prescott is his friends. He loves hanging out with his friends and even more hanging out with his 4 older brothers and 1 older sister. Most of the time he is not very excited by Prescott though because he says that there is nothing to do in Prescott.

He is working on drawing a comic book which he started a few years ago and which features an evil inventor who created a character named after Hyochul who must escape from the clutches of his evil creator. The story sounds really interesting though I haven't seen Hyochuls' drawings yet. We spent some time this afternoon hanging out at the ice cream parlour in front of the downtown square eating sorbet while HyoChul filled me in on the plot of comic book.

Hyochul has been home schooled for most of his life and has had 1 year of regular school. Although he thought that the 'regular' school is more social and that you meet a lot of people, he did not like going to school because many of the kid were jerks to use his words.. They talked about people behind their backs and to their faces and he really did not like that.

He also plans to create designs that he wants to put on t-shirts and sell. He is already a bit of a business man as he negotiated a deal with Masauke to buy some of his Huichol t-shirts at cost and he sells them to visitors to the healing centre.

HyoChul has tried Aikido but found that sitting in ceza [sitting on your knees] was very hard on his legs that he says are not as flexible as many other peoples. I taught him some of the basic karate stances, kicks and punches and he seemed to really connect with karate so I plan to take him to one of the local karate schools later this week to see if he connects with that art in a way that will help him find the pearl without price in himself.

It has been a wonderful experience meeting this special kid who is struggling to find himself and his gift to the world and who despite everything he's been through, does not feel that he is any different from any other 14 year old.

Lessons learned: 1) Life is Precious, 2) Never make assumptions about who people are or what they have gone through, 3) Prayer is powerful! Faith even more so.

Staywell and Travel with Spirit in Beauty and Truth, Spirit Traveller.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Supporting the Sundance

"Driven by the forces of love, the fragments of the world seek each other so that the world may come into being. Love alone is capable of uniting living beings in such a way as to complete and fulfill them, for it alone takes them and joins them by what is deepest in themselves" Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

This was my third year as a supporter at the Little Big Medicine Sundance. How I was called to connect with the LBM sundance was totally a story of following Spirit. A chiropractor/ homeopath friend of mine had received an invitation to support the LBM sundance by volunteering her services for the local Navajo community and for the sundancers. She was really clear that she needed to go and when I heard about it, something really spoke to me so I asked her to forward the email invite to me. I contacted the homeopath who was organizing the healing tent to find out whether they needed acupuncturists and was invited to come. By the time my friend decided that she was not going to the sundance I was already committed energetically and financially [I was really excited about going and had already booked off that time as vacation time and bought the plane ticket].

I however knew nothing about the Sundance ceremony. As I am part native I had been studying with an Anishnawbe elder who encouraged me to go to the Sundance but would tell me nothing more than that the ceremony involved 4 days of fasting, praying and dancing. "Go and find out for yourself if this is a ceremony, a medicine, that speaks to you." She said, "You will know if this ceremony or something like it belonged to your people, you will feel it." Having never been to Arizona and knowing no more than the little I can find on google about the sundance ceremony, I asked Karen, the healing tent organizer, for a contact person to talk to … I felt there was something very serious about the sundance and knew I needed to be properly prepared.

I spoke to Cheryl, a local naturopath who had been to the sundance the year before and she filled me in on a lot of the etiquette and suggested that I call her when I get to Albuquerque airport and if the timing worked out I could get a ride with her. The talk with Cheryl set my mind at ease in many ways but there I was, the night before getting on the plane for the Sundance feeling like I was jumping into the unknown, feeling sick to my stomach so much so that I called the airline to find out if I could change my departure date. Not without paying another $150 was the reply, so after throwing up all night, I packed in less than an hour, arrived at the airport an hour before the early morning flight was to leave and was on my way.

I knew that where I was going was very significant for my spiritual development as the Adversary was already putting up roadblocks, or who knows maybe it was the Great Spirit who had decided to test my resolve. Was I committed to the path that I had chosen? As it turned out I was. When I called her from the airport, Cheryl had already left the city and had arranged to make a few stops before heading to the sundance. That worked out well because my luggage, with my camping gear and acupuncture supplies, had been delayed and when it had not arrived 3 flights later I rented a car and went to tour downtown Albuquerque. When my luggage came in on the last flight of the evening it was too late to start my journey. I stayed overnight in Albuquerque and in the morning I went to the grocery store to stock up on supplies before heading off into the unknown.

I had been to PowWows, full moon ceremonies, sweat lodges, shaking tent ceremonies, sunrise ceremonies, solstice and equinox ceremonies, but somehow this felt different. I had been reading Douglas Adam’s book Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency and had connected with the part where Dirk was following a lead and jumped on a plane not really knowing where it was going then gets in a cab at the other end and passes a sign that says ‘Gusty Winds May Exist’, so as I am driving along I-40 heading towards Arizona and I see the same sign and I immediately felt at ease. “Ah, a wink from the Great Spirit” I thought at the time. The passage from the book I had just recently read had manifested in my path to let me know I was indeed heading in the right direction – going where I needed to be.

Well, I arrived at the Sundance the first time after taking many wrong turns and driving half way across the Navajo reservation and back but when I arrived I was greeted by an older woman with a beautiful spirit who invited me to set up my camp in the area that she and her daughter and granddaughter were camping. She took me under her wing as though I was her own daughter. From that moment it felt like coming home and I knew why the Great Spirit had led me to this place at this time. I received many winks from the Great Spirit at that first Sundance and once the ceremony began I immediately connected with it. It felt as though my many years of martial arts training, meditation, fasting, praying and dancing had all brought me to that moment to be there supporting the sundancers both during the ceremony with my dance, as well as after the ceremony with the acupuncture, massage and other healing arts.

Last year I supported the Sundance again and felt that my connection was even stronger than the first year because as well as supporting in the ways I had the year before, during the dance, I really connected energetically with one of the sundancers, a man who I never met and knew almost nothing about, and felt that during the 4 days of the dance that my prayers were being taken directly to the Creator through him and his dance. It was a very powerful experience that awakened in me long forgotten memories of a time gone by -- maybe this sundancer was my energetic counterpart at some moment in time, who knows, but our purely energetic connection awakened memories of past lives, or maybe they were ancestral memories encoded in my DNA, who is to know but the experience and the dance were very powerful.

Again this year I returned to support the LBM Sundance and it’s beautiful vision of many little medicines coming together to make one big medicine that will be healing for all the individuals at the Sundance as well as for our families, our communities and for the entire planet. This year I was called upon to do more than I had in previous years, to help take care of a young child, so that her mother, a sundancer, could dance, to assist at Masauke’s altar when he and Linda were called away and to continue assisting with the healing work I had been doing in the past 2 years.

This year I was also called to take part in the ceremony at a deeper level, and received permission to dance the last day of the dance to give thanks to the Creator for all the wonderful blessings that had been bestowed upon me and to ask for my own healing and for the healing of all sentient beings. Being in the dance itself, even for such a short time, was extremely powerful, even more so because the energetic connection I had to the sundancer who is like my energetic double was re-established and once again he too served as a channel directing my prayers to the Creator.

To think that three years ago Sundance was a name that I only associated with Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Spirit has really lead me a long long way and who knows where this path will end.

Staywell and Travel with Spirit in beauty and Truth, Spirit Traveller

Friday, July 6, 2007

Tibet in Arizona -- Happy Birthday Dalai Lama

"Generosity Brings Forth Fortune. Perfect Self Restraint Creates No Enemies" From the wall of the Garchen Institute stupa.

Last night I was getting restless, feeling that I am in between assignments, waiting for further instructions from the Great Spirit. Daisy and I had worked together for the second time and done a very powerful healing/rebirthing for a local man and I had since been working on my book and feeling called to get away from the healing centre and out into nature. I pulled 3 cards from a deck of self care cards at the center and they had read - Nature, Help and Wait. How appropriate. I asked Daisy for help...the name of a good place to go and sit with nature. She suggested several. The third one was the Garchen Tibetan Buddhist Institute which was about a half hour drive from the healing centre. This one resonated with me as I had just pulled out my travelling altar and placed it on the desk beside my laptop. As well as the kanji for compassion given to me by my Sensei I have a picture of the Dalai
Lama and several other sacred items.

The Tibetan Buddhist Institute seemed like a great place to visit -- though I am not Buddhist I am familiar with and have great respect for their teachings and spent several days receiving the teachings directly from the Dalai Lama himself when he was in Toronto. As one who travels with Spirit, I travel with my own altar with all the things that are sacred to me and at the same time I respect all spirits and all spiritual traditions. I always ask permission of the spirits of the land wherever i go before entering any sacred space and I honour the deities of the people with whom I am travelling or in whose lands or territories I find myself.

Yes, when I woke up I was sure that greeting the Tibetan Buddhist Deities residing in this part of Arizona seemed like an appropriate thing to do today. I took highway 89 into Chino valley, past the Safeway to the next road, Perkinsville Road and then turned right.

Starting off with the typical suburban scenery, several Arizona style houses in close proximity, Perkinsville Road soon gave way to open countryside -- the road was fenced on either side and several herds of cows roamed the dry pasture land. I passed a gravel quarry, then several small farms or ranches. The road switched from a paved road to a gravel/dirt road. I kept going. It was almost 10 am. The sun was already quite hot. Unlike most of the other days since i had been here when the sky was completely clear, today there were many clouds.

I thought back to my high school geography classes tyring to remember the names of these particular clouds, but they escaped me. I studies the clouds as i drove slowly along the dirt road. There were several different kinds of clouds some round and white floating very high in the sky and others whispy, hanging in the sky behind the hills in the distance, changing the blue skyline to a hazy gray. The hills look very dry. The brown dirt is covered with patches of sparse green brown grass and short round green bushes. I see many short seemingly stunted fir trees. I keep driving slowly observing the scenery and slow even more when I spot a young cow sitting in the middle of the road. Luckily I am gong so slow that it has time to get up on what seem at first like wobbly knee and then run off gracefully into the field beside the road. I pass a faded sign that says welcome and wonder if that is the institute but keep going.

The next entrance way on the right sports a sign that says The Garchen Institute. I have arrived. I notice some very faded prayer flags on a tree. I drive in along the natural gravel nd dirt road and pass more prayer flags.. green, red, white, blue and yellow, streaming in the wind. The road is very windy and this is the middle of the desert. The ground is parched. I drive by a house and wonder if it is the institute, there is no sign. I keep going. I see a sign saying Keep Right. I follow the sign up the hill to where the road widens into a parking area with several fir trees with tattered prayer flags and a stone facade witha small green tile roof that says Garchen Institute. There is a metal pole behind it with a gold orb on top and a line ao prayer flags area attached to the pole. I know I am in the right place..

I park the car beside the 2 other cars in the parking lot which both have window shades to protect from eh already brutal rays of the sun. The stone facade has information about the institute, pictures of 4 lamas and announcements about the retreats that have just passed and retreats to come. The crickets are singing and in the background I hear the crows calling to each other. I stand in the parking lot for a moment and admire the beautiful view of the nearby beige hills covered with stubbly green desert vegetation and the distant red cliffs reminiscent of the red rock country of Sedona.

I turn to walk up the hill. a sign by the path says Natural Wildlife Area. Please Watch Carefully for Snakes. I keep my eyes peeled on the ground noticing several short gnarled sticks that resemble snakes, but no snakes [I would be warned later about the 6 foot rattler that was spotted int eh parking lot but luckily it wasn't there when I passed by!]. My first stop wa st the stupa, a beautiful octagonal white building with red trim around the windows and doors, a green roof with red trim and 4 sets of eyes painted on the steeple like structure above the roof -- presumably each set of eyes is watching one of the four directions.

I take my shoes off before I enter the shrine. It is decorated with blue red and gold wall hangings around the outer walls with statues of various buddhas and teachings painted on the walls. There are numerous sacred objects in the shrine along with a sand mandala. I stop to examine each item as my feet sink into the plush burgundy carpeting with the gold trim. The silence in the shrine and in the whole area is tangible. The energy is amazing.

Next I visit the temple, which is a much large space with long red rectangular floral carpets on the floor. Again I take off my shoe and hat to enter. There are piles of meditation cushions and an altar with a picture of the Dalai Lama and with numerous statues of Tibetan Deities. The walls are all decorated with colourful banners. There is an oriental woman sitting down at the front of the temple space with a laptop computer sitting on a short stool. She is documenting something. I sit down on one of the mats to do my meditation. Half an hour later when I come out of my meditation I notice another woman has entered the temple and is sitting crosslegged on a meditation cushion praying. There is complete silence inside the temple.

After I leave I bump into Trish who coordinates the work of the Institute and who asks me if I want a tour or if i would like to wonder around. I chose the latter option and spend the nest 3 hours exploring the grounds and hanging out with the rattle snakes, who luckily kept out of sight. As I am leaving I go to the washrooms in the office area and notice a sign which says that In honour of His Holiness the Dalai Lama' 72nd Birthday there will be a ceremony in his honour on July 6th at 9 am. I realize that is why the Great Spirit has directed me here to this little piece of Tibet in Arizona today, to honour His Holiness the Dalai Lama on his 72nd birthday, by visiting the temple and connecting with the teachings and the energies.

staywell and travel with Spirit in Beauty and Truth, Spirit Traveller.

Lessons Learned: 1) There are no co-coincidences, 2) Nature is a beautiful teacher and a great healer, 3) Always listen to your inner guides. If you have done your homework and know how to listen, they will not lead you astray.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

A Prophesy Fulfilled: Tales of the White Sundancer

A few days before we left for the Sundance, Isaiah, one of the local sundancers, stops by to visit. He works in the forests behind the healing centre and had walked over the mountain to stop by to connect with Masauke. I spoke to Isaiah about his journey as a Sundancer. He is an eagle dancer at the Little Big Medicine Sundance that i have been attending/supporting for the past two years. He has been sundancing for 8 years -- this was his 9th year. As well as sundancing he has been doing sweatlodges for 12 years since he was 16 years old. He told me that he had bolted out of the first sweatlodge that he ever attended in Florida and had sat outside for the rest of that sweat wishing that he had never left.

Isaiah informs me that Souix sweats are part of the Souix 7 sacred ceremonies brought by White Buffalo Calf Woman. The Sundance is a part of the same spiritual system. The Sundance is the the most sacred, of the sacred of the sacred ceremonies. When Isaiah started sweating he knew nothing about the Sundance. He was sweating to connect to the earth and to hear the traditions and teachings from the Lakota Souix.

When I asked how his life might have been different if he had not become involved with Sweatlodges and the sundance, Isaiah tells me "I have always been a spiritual person and have connected to other spiritual traditions form around the world and see that if I would have pursued one of these traditions the details of my life might have been different. The underlying essence of the dance is to have this practice that is to relieve the suffering for all sentient beings. In many ways the underlying goals and motives are very similar to the Tibetan Buddhist path."

As well as being a sundancer, a sweatlodge conductor and someone with a deep connection to Native American Church ceremonies, Isaiah is also a feather worker. Like Masauke, he uses the feathers from a variety of different birds to make ceremonial fans for sundancers and Native American Church ceremonies.

"My spiritual connection to birds is related to the Sundance. It is my medicine. The style of featherwork is also related to the family I am in. In the Peyote way there is a tradition of featherwork that I am adopted in, it is a complete way of using all of the bird species in different ways. It is based on what these birds are, the essence of the bird. I use my connection to the bird in the sundance when I am doing the featherwork, but in general as an eagle dancer my greatest connection is to the eagle."

What else have the sweat lodges taught you? I ask. "I take a psycho-spiritual approach to conducting sweats using the concepts of psychoneuroimmunology bringing that from a traditional standpoint and applying it to modern principles of psychological growth. The sweat that I use is all about healing. I'd mixed sweats and mens sweats. There are many ways to run the sweats for different reasons eg if someone is sick or if they want to celebrate."

As a white boy from Florida, how did you get introduced to your first sweatlodge? His reply is simple. "Some friends of my family had an organic farm and they had a sweatlodge there."

After the first sweat what called you to continue? is my next question. "The feeling of wanting to … there was noting more profound."

How has the sweat lodges and the sundancing helped you to understand native people and their culture? His reply shed light on something that I already knew about Isaiah, he had a deep connection to native cultures. "Through the traditional ceremonies, different tribes maintain their cultural belief systems. The ceremonies are the heart of their cosmology, by sitting in ceremony you learn from the inside out , not as an onlooker. I have a lot more inter-cultural sensitivity because of this path."

What made you lead sweatlodges? "Because I wanted to sweat. I love to sweat. After you sundance for 4 years you earn the right to lead sweat lodges, to pour water. Mine is a mixed sweat because it is a family fireplace. If I do a sundance sweat it is a men's sweat."

It is at this point that Masauke tells us the story of a white sundance chief who goes for the first time to another sundance where everyone is native and is feeling a little bit tenuous because of the colour of his skin when a native sundance chief comes up to him and says, "When I was young my grandfather predicted that there would come a time when the white man would be dancing in our ceremonies. I did not think I would live to see that prophesy fulfilled. Thank you for being the person who has fulfilled the prophesy"

Lessons Learned: 1) We never know what path the Great Spirit will lead us on, 2)Always follow the path with heart as Carlos Casteneda would say, 3) Respect for others and their traditions is respect for ourselves and our traditions

staywell and travel with Spirit, Spirit Traveller.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Lunch with the Sinagua People of Walnut Canyon, Arizona

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes” Marcel Proust

It is about 2pm in the afternoon. I am sitting on the dirt under an overhanging cliff on the island trail in Walnut Canyon, Arizona. As I take a bit of the juicy red organic fuji apple I brought with me on the short hike and sip the still somewhat cool water I have been carrying around, I look out past the remnants of the ancient walls of the small room built by the Sinagua people more than 800 years ago. Behind me the walls of the cliff/cave are still blackened with smoke from the fires they used to cook their food. I am eating my lunch where someone, likely a Sinagua woman, spent many hours cooking and possibly where the family also ate. It is a lunch invitation I have taken a long time to accept.

The Sinagua people [sin agua from the Spanish meaning without water – these were the people without water] are no longer with us but they left a powerful indication of there presence, life and culture in the cliffs of Walnut Canyon. I was driving from Wheatfields to Prescott Arizona and the Walnut Canyon National Park sign caught my eye as it had the two previous times that I had passed this way on highway I-40. This time I am in no hurry to get anywhere and so I answer the call of Spirit and accept the age old luncheon invitation.

The road to the park has pine forests on either side. As I drive up to the park ranger’s booth, I remember that I had planned to stop at a bank machine in Flagstaff. I have only $5 US currency in my purse and a few Canadian bills that I have not yet converted. Before I have time to wonder if I will be able to get in the female ranger says, “Only one person? That will be $5”. Spirit is making sure that I can keep my lunch date. The visitor’s parking is only a few feet away from the ranger’s station, with the Visitor’s centre hanging off the edge of the cliff on the right side. I am pleased to see recycling containers lining the parking lot. They are few and far between. So far I have not seen any at the many rest stopped I have made along my journey. I have collected a large plastic bag full of plastic water bottles and metal tins along the way and am glad for the opportunity to finally recycle them.

The ranger in the visitor’s centre has a beautiful smile and a twinkle in his eye as he tells me there are two trails that will allow you to see the cliff dwellings – the easy one, a 0.7 mile trail along the rim of the canyon passes by the ruins of rimtop structures, while the second one is a bit more physically challenging I am told as it involves a 185 foot climb into the canyon on the 0.9 mile trail which I am told goes past many of the cliff dwellings. I decide to take the more challenging trail and the ranger advises me to carry some water with me. I return to the car for my water bottle and decide to take my lunch, an apple and orange with me.

Descending the 240 stairs to the island loop is not difficult but I pass several couples huffing and puffing as they make their way back up the stairs. The canyon rim is nearly 7000 feet above sea level so going up hill is not as easy as it is at lower altitudes. I walk along the constructed path wondering what it was like to navigate when the pavement was not there. I stop at the first overhanging cliff which looks like it has several flat bed like structures carved out of the rock at the base. There are no walls, but the overhang would certainly keep away much of the rain, snow and the mid day desert sun.

I am fascinated by the canyon vegetation which varies from tiny red bell like flowers to prickly pear cactuses, pinyon pine, ponderosa pines and balsam firs. It is such a mixture of what looks like temperate as well as semiarid vegetation. On the other side of the cliff face I see caves with walls inside. These must be the cliff dwellings I think as I walk further along the path and come face to face with several shallow caves, mostly not much taller than my 5 foot 3 inches height, with remnants of walls built from what looks like limestone rocks and clay. Each ‘room’ is small about 3 feet by 6 feet and many of the back walls are blackened with the smoke from years of cooking.

I walk further past other open and semi open cave rooms and am finally find the perfect spot to sit and eat lunch in a relatively open room with half a wall and a magnificent view of the canyon below. Apparently the Sinagua began building their cliff dwelling around 1100AD and lived there until about 1250 AD when they are thought to have moved to new villages closeby along the Anderson Mesa and to eventually become assimilated into the Hopi people. Exactly why they left is not known but they certainly left behind enough to spark our imagination about what life must have been like without water high up on the slopes of Walnut Canyon.

After my lunch date with these ancient people is over I make my way along the remainder of the path admiring the magnificence of the canyon before hiking up the stairs back to the visitors centre and heading on my way.

Lessons Learned: 1) Water is precious. Our bodies are made of 70% water. We need water to live. Learning to respect and take care of the water element is an important part of maintaining a healthy life and a healthy planet, 2) Nature is beauty. Stillness is peace. 3) Whenever you find a beautiful spot away from the madding crowds take a moment to stop and meditate, soak up the energies of that spot or simply sit and have lunch with the inhabitants of days gone by. You will be surprised what messages and memories the walls and the wind may share with you.