Strange Teachers

For several nights now I’ve dreamt of a temple of death.
Apropos for the Halloween / Day of the Dead season I suppose – the skulls and skeletons are everywhere, sticking up out of the ground, in and around a kind of pyramid rising up into a darkened sky with segmented sections, the lower levels somewhat gorier and grisly, the staircase up to the upper level flanked with lithe dancing young people.
The dreams seem sort of natural for the season, or like maybe they’re a by-product of the new moon / eclipse action happening in the sky, but I also suspect they’ve been brought on by this breathing exercise thingy I’ve been doing.
The exercise is an extended 5-month project, 40 minutes a day of combined breathing and visualizations, taught or guided by Sergio Magaña of Mexico City. He has a school in Mexico for teaching spiritual mastery and healing techniques of the ancient Toltec and Mexicas, or Aztec as we would call them.
Here’s some music to set the tone (the video has Maya imagery, but gives that ancient Mexico feeling) –

This guy Sergio has a book out, and someone on the book jacket blurb calls him “the new Carlos Castaneda”, really a most unfortunate and misleading reference because for one, his writing is not the lush fiction of Castaneda, but a more impenetrably cryptic mathematical and culturally localized explanation of things that made no sense to me until I went to a workshop he gave a couple of months ago in Owen Sound.
Secondly, there is no sign of a creepy Castaneda cult around him – he is a funny, laid back, lovely, helpful guy, and works with the UNESCO Heritage Club to preserve the Nahuatl culture.
Nonetheless, at the workshop in Owen Sound I found I was having some serious resistance – doubts or hesitations or reservations about being open to a teacher, a healer from outside my own cultural tradition. Maybe it was because I hadn’t dreamt about him before he appeared – something that has happened to me more than once, where I’ve dreamt of a wise person, then met them later, a phenomena which made me trust the wisdom, the prescience of the dream to have led me to them.
With Sergio there was also a question for me of cultural appropriateness – I worry over the kind of mix & match version of spiritual grab-baggery that seems to plague New Age type ventures. Even though I am fascinated by all things Mexican, have spent a lot of time there, still I hesitated.
I kind of wanted to ask him directly about these questions, about why we Anglo-Saxon types should feel free to saunter into the study of ancient Mexican culture, but I felt awkward and maybe like an insensitive brute, cause in the back of my mind was also the thought that it seemed a bit bizarre to be learning spirituality from the tradition of the Aztecs? I mean heck, those guys were INTENSE!
jawbone ex1 again
But I waited, didn’t raise any questions, just learned what I could, and then back at home one night reading, I stumbled on these words:

…if you go back far enough you can probably find that all our ancestors practiced human sacrifice. It was part of the religion in the old days and seems like it was practiced all around the world…” ~J.M. White

Right. Of course. Abraham and Isaac. Not quite the same scale but yes, the idea being that human moral codes are constantly shifting.
And the joke I always remember of how they say the Aztecs and the Spaniards deserved each other in terms of their mutual capacities for cruelty.

So being charmed by his lovely personality and the remarkable amount of success he’s had with his practices, and because it’s free and I find myself totally unable to stick with traditional meditation, I committed myself to the 5-month project of Sergio’s breathing exercises. And things are definitely starting to shift internally – some seismic cracks that have left me without much impulse to write.
The fundamental point of this breathing exercise is to “cleanse the shadow”, or in Western psychological terms, clear the unconscious.
It’s a technique that proposes to bypass all talking cures and do away entirely with the “story” of the self.
The idea is to let go of all the elements of what we tell ourselves about who we are.

The challenge lies in understanding and accepting that human beings are simply an idea, an illusion in motion, and that the only truth is the energy of the essence, which is pure potential. As long as we are aware that this is the case, then our idea of ourselves can easily be replaced by a better idea. ~ Sergio Magaña

The more weeks and now months that pass of doing this exercise for 40 minutes a day, the more I seem to be dreaming of death.
But later, as I get towards the end of it, I wonder what new imagery might wait for me there?

What do you dream of, dear reader?

Power Animals and Santos

Buffalo-DancerOne of the teachers I follow – travelling when possible to her workshops in the States cause yes, she is that unique and interesting – is Ohki Simine Forest.
An important element of the work she does with people is helping each person discover and build a relationship with their personal power animal. It’s a modernized, workshop-able version of what was pretty traditional Native custom.  Ohki herself is Mohawk of the Wolf Clan (clan animals being entirely separate from power animals) and she currently lives in Chiapas amongst the Maya, so she is influenced by both Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) and Mayan cultures, with a dash of Mongolian shamanic education thrown in.
The idea of a power animal or animal totem is that an animal guides and influences your spirit throughout this life. It’s not really as exotic as it sounds – chances are you already have an inkling of your animal, dream of them often or feel some affinity for a particular species. But this relationship can be developed, enriched. As Ted Andrews, author of Animal Speak writes –

By discovering your animal totem, studying it and then learning to merge with it, you will be able to call its energy forth whenever needed.

Ohki expands on this, suggesting more of a two-way street kind of arrangement –

In all cases, this exchange of energy between soul and power animal must be understood as a trade… In the exchange for mutual evolution, it obtains some of your mind’s energy, which you probably have in excess, while it gives you back the instinctual and intuitive power, powers often relinquished by humans.

Wolf Dancer Lakota NationAccording to Ohki, the power animal resides behind our backs and above our heads, attached to what she calls the “dream body”. So when you see someone wearing an animal skin or dancing with a skin draped over them, it approximates the location of their power animal living just ever so slightly behind, ever so slightly above the physical body. And dancing, descending into trance with the rhythm of the drum, the heartbeat of the earth, is a way to connect deeply with your animal.
Santeria, the religion of Afro-Cuban culture, has a somewhat similar current in its use of drums to connect with spirit, and in that when someone is born, they are not seen simply as individuals, but are considered a child of one of the various Orishas or Saints, incarnations of characters from Yoruba tradition. Some are found as children to be so highly charged with an Orisha, they are encouraged to follow the path, learn the Yoruba language, and as they get older will go into trance and channel their Santo at religious events. The use of drums, complex rhythms and song to enter into a state of deep connection with the spirits, is a huge part of what has created the spectacular range of Cuban music.

In the fall, my husband and I went to Cuba for his first visit back since he moved to Canada.  His mother told us to come over on Thursday night as there would be a party at the house, a Fiesta de Santo – a Saint’s Party, a Santeria event – in honour of Eleggua, the Trickster, dweller of crossroads, opener of gates and pathways.
eleggua-eshu-3-a-study-for-the-orishas-collectionWhen we arrived at the house – an apartment, really – people were crowded on the front balcony, spilling out from the tiny living room, the closet of a kitchen, and we could see through the half-open door to the bedroom the Eleggua, not yet dressed, but already deep into his trance, holding court, waving a half-empty bottle of rum as he channeled the ancient spirit. His voice rose with animation and agitation, speaking half in Spanish, half in Yoruba, calling various people into the room and looking deep into their souls and lives and telling them about themselves, what they must do to ease their burdens in life, to clear their paths.
Eleggua’s character is infantile and tempestuous – he sulks and plays tricks and demands candies and rum and songs, exhausting his hosts.  At one point, swaggering around the drummers and dancers squeezed into the living room, he took a swig on his bottle of rum and sprayed a mouthful all over my husband. No one reacted. My husband simply stood up, walked to the kitchen and wiped himself off. Apparently the thing is, one must endure his behaviour. And he will test and test and test the limits of that endurance.
I asked my husband who the man was in his everyday life and he said he would just be an ordinary man with an ordinary job who a babalao would have singled out at a young age as embodying the Eleggua. And so he would be called on to do these ceremonies, exhausting as they might be, as little as he might even remember of them.
At a certain point a chicken appeared from the shadows of the back porch, and Eleggua began to dance with the chicken poised on his shoulders.  Holding one arm out he balanced the chicken on his shoulder and began to dance the most natural symbiotic fusion of man and chicken, then without missing a beat dropped the chicken into his hands, clutching it in tight, lovingly, to his chest as he danced, and then up went the chicken onto the other extended arm, until he passed the chicken off to someone and began to dance AS a chicken, squatting down amongst the drums and drummers, his head jutting out in sharp pecks, arms as wings flapping, strutting around the room.
Of course the real live chicken didn’t make it to morning, and at some point there was a rather gory spectacle of the chicken’s demise. I was out on the front balcony talking to my sister-in-law when the chicken’s head came flying out, landing small and sad in the dust of the road, and I peeked into the living room just long enough to see the body of the chicken tipped up as Eleggua drank back the flow of blood.
But that image aside, what was most striking in his performance that night was the man’s ability to channel both the physicality of the chicken and the spirit of the Orisha Eleggua, the faculty, the facility for entering fully into a trance state and allowing the self to be coursed through with animal and ancient archetypal energies truly affecting and memorable.