Sacraments & Enigmas: An Offering on Guru Purnima
I am aboard a Delta 737 winging its way back east to NYC from Las Vegas. It is July 7, 2017 and I was in Henderson for a week to see my Mother and to bring to full closure a period of rigorous self-inquiry and spiritual practice that I had completed just before this trip. The entire time I was in Las Vegas / Henderson, the peak daily temperatures were in the triple digits, pushing-into the mid one hundred teens. Hot. Very hot. At peak, ‘standing close to a blast furnace’ hot. I don’t remember ever being in Las Vegas when it was so hot. The intensity of the desert Summer Sun demanded the utmost respect and consideration in all activities. It was an interesting experience that lent an interesting perspective to a hike that I’ll talk about a bit later.
I’ve spent the last few months on what is known as a ‘social dieta’ – a modified form of the traditional isolation dieta one would typically undergo in the Peruvian Amazon under the care of a curandero vegetalista or healer that specializes in traditional, indigenous, Plant Medicines. Historically and traditionally, one undergoes a plant dieta for the treatment of illness, injury, disease, or 'dis-ease.' The social dieta is a version that one undergoes over an extended period of time, but in our typical, day-to-day surroundings and takes into consideration our daily life – particularly the manic, modern, Western version. I’ve now experienced both dieta versions – the traditional (isolation in a jungle tambo) and the social – and my own experience has given me the opinion that the social version is much more difficult. I do isolation well. I ‘unplug’ very well. I do silence / quiet very well. Especially in Nature. In that context, I can do just about anything for 10, 20, 30 days or more. No problem. Easy. But a long, drawn-out endeavor – like the social dieta – in the midst of my day-to-day life - takes a focus, stamina, and a discipline unlike that which might be applied during, let’s say, a 10-day Vipassana retreat. The social dieta and traditional dieta demands are rigorous and I won’t go into detail here – they are easily found on the Web, but things that are absolutely required are certain ‘withdrawals’ (abstinence) from the incessant media, from numerous daily interactions with many different people (numerous, different energies), from ubiquitous images of violence and sexuality, sex, alcohol, drugs, from your typical diet, etc. In other words, it’s best if you can ‘clear your calendar’ and rent a cabin somewhere. Alone. For an extended period. But of course, that’s something only a very few can manage. I quickly found that I was ‘oversubscribed’ in my daily life – that I was just too busy (distracted). And dieta demands a time of quiet, focused self-care. And of course, self-care in-and-of-itself can be a significant challenge for some of us. I am not the best when it comes to self-care. I’ve not been the best when it comes to self-love. This dieta brought that into sharp relief. It revealed that busy is certainly not always better. If ever. Know your limits...
I’ve talked about my ‘work’ with The Medicine before. La Madre Ayahuasca. This dieta was that of White Sage, but the dieta ‘opening’ and ‘closing’ requires working with the Maha Teacher Medicine, Ayahuasca, as well as the wild, Sacred Tobacco, Mapacho. The psychedelic properties of Ayahuasca are well documented, but cannot really be described in general terms as each individual has almost entirely unique experiences – and they can be vastly different each time one drinks The Medicine. When I began this journey with Plant Medicines, it started way back with Cannabis in my teens – but appropriate reverence and respect was not part of the relationship then. As most, I used Cannabis in an almost purely recreational context. I did the same with other Plant Medicines such as Psilocybin Mushrooms, but only on the rare occasion. Cannabis was the Plant Medicine that was most readily available and with which I was most familiar. Once I reached my 30’s, I didn’t use Cannabis for many years as I hadn’t yet developed the appropriate understanding of - and the sacramental approach to - these powerful Plant Medicines and Teachers. And the recreational use simply fell-away as other things in my life took priority. Luckily, I never really ‘embraced’ self-anesthetizing or escape via alcohol or drugs. My addictions laid elsewhere. I never really enjoyed them (booze and drugs). Or should I say, the enjoyment quickly gave-way to the regrettable aftermath – so I tended to use socially and judiciously. I was usually, and happily, the designated driver.
Fast forward into my 40’s and into my current life & world (I’m now 51 y.o.): My work with La Madre Ayahuasca is sacramental. My work with any of the Medicines is sacramental. I developed this approach and affinity over many years by way of a dedicated yoga practice & exploration of Hinduism & Buddhism, a dedicated spiritual practice (sadhana), a studied inquiry into Eastern philosophies (via the martial arts when I was young), a study of Native American and Amazonian animism / shamanism, and like many of us, as an answer to trauma or crisis (health or otherwise) and depression. Even therapy (transpersonal psychotherapy) helped shape my sacramental, ritual approach to the Plant Medicines. Religion has never been a dominant factor in my life simply because ‘I went another way’ and my boyhood experiences with organized religion left me, quite frankly, unimpressed and uninspired. I never ‘felt’ anything during church services (my family was historically Irish Catholic - but my parents chose Southern Baptist at some point while we were living in the Deep South) and the rituals, protocols, and most of the teachings seemed out-of-touch with the congregation – or at least me. It’s as if the teachings stopped at the doors on the way out of the church for most people. My understanding of hypocrisy was developed early-on. The teachings seemed useful and meaningful to the priests, clergy, and the ministers – but that meaning was lost on me and the ‘spark’ that invites one to ‘go deeper’ was simply absent in me. I needed reciprocity – when organized religion was for me all one-way. Dogma and dictation. My spark lay elsewhere. It appeared during my solitary roaming in Nature, in reading books of fantasy (e.g. Tolkien, Brooks, King, Paulo Coelho, etc.), the curious enigma of the Don Juan stories (Castaneda), the tales of Great Native American Medicine Men such as Black Elk and Frank Fools Crow, and the great works of Paramahansa Yogananda, especially “Autobiography of a Yogi.” Sacred texts such as the Bhagavad Gita and the poetry of Rumi, Hafiz, Kahlil Gibran, etc. And of course, the numerous audio recordings of Terence McKenna, Baba Ram Dass, and the other ‘Eminent Elders’ of the psychedelic and explorative 60’s and 70’s were instrumental in my journey of discovery and development e.g. Alan Watts, Stanislav Grof, James Fadiman, Michael Harner, Albert Hofmann, Aldous and Laura Huxley, Ann and Sasha Shulgin, Huston Smith, Myron Stolaroff, etc.
The thing that has kept me curious and kept me dedicated to this ‘Path of Self-inquiry’ (my ‘trifecta’ of Sadhana, Plant Medicines, & Therapy) has been my experience of my truth. My experience of my purpose. My experience of what can only be described as The Divine or Great Mystery (to me) – and the information and guidance I receive / perceive in Sacred Ceremony (ritual prayer). This is the key: my experience. I couldn’t act simply on faith as it seemed to be required in my experiences with organized religion. To me, my belief had (has) to be based on something else: actual experience. Empirical knowledge. There had / has to be a strong, resonant ‘impression’ for me to take notice. To “Pay attention” as the late, great Terrence McKenna would say. This is what my approach has given me – and that includes all the aspects of my approach, all the teachings I’ve received, all the Great Beings / Teachers that I’ve met along the way.
I believe in the "hollow bone" philosophy of the Lakota / Nakota / Dakota Medicine People. This means (in my limited knowledge), that one must become "clean" like a dry, hollow, sun-bleached bone - so that Great Spirit(s) can work through you. This is no easy task or undertaking - and doesn't come without supreme sacrifice and impeccability - a lifetime undertaking of intent, dedication, and discipline. Very few become "hollow bones."
I hiked-out to my ‘special place of prayer’ in the desert. The ‘Bowl of Fire’ is a powerful place for me. I always hear in my mind the saying of my Great Ally, Abdi Assadi: “The Power of Intention in places of Power” and it is absolutely true. The ‘Bowl’ is a very powerful, ancient, and somewhat remote place. ‘Big Medicine’ exists – and it certainly exists there for me. It was excruciatingly hot while I was in Las Vegas / Henderson. A record-breaking Summer. Highs approaching 120 degrees Fahrenheit. I planned carefully and accordingly and began my hike in the early morning before dawn – and planned to finish before noontime – before the heat and Sun became oppressive, if not dangerous. This is part of my practice – to be extremely respectful and humble in the face of Great Power. And my respect and humble caution was rewarded as my preparation and timing, in hindsight, seemed impeccable.
I know the ‘Bowl’ fairly well now – although I’ve only explored a fraction. It is a huge area and a veritable maze of ancient Aztec sandstone formations that hide innumerable caves, crevices, washes, mountains, passes, ravines, and formations that can be best described as a multitude of ancient ‘faces’ that reveal the entirety of human (and non-human) experience, expressions, and emotions. It’s as if you have a huge ‘audience’ wherever you go – and this audience DOES SPEAK – if you only have the ears (Heart) to listen. These formations, this place, is FULL of Spirits – especially the Spirits of the Great Stone Grandfathers – whose faces have been carved into stone over millennia. Thousands upon thousands of years. Of all the Spirits in Nature, the Stone People 'speak' to me the most.
I have used the sacrament Cannabis out here on a number of occasions – and did so on this trip as well. Cannabis is now completely legal (medical & ‘recreational’ in Las Vegas as of July 1, 2017). I prefer to use this particular Sacrament, Teacher, and Medicine in Nature and it only takes a very small amount to ‘shift’ my awareness into a place where my ‘receptivity’ (openness) is appropriate or in-alignment for deep meditation and ‘active’ prayer. Often this act of prayer takes-on an alignment or resonance with singing, chanting, ‘dancing’ (more like free-form Tai Chi Chuan or Qigong), and ‘conversation’ with the Great Stone Spirits of the Bowl – and with Great Mystery / G-O-D / R-A-M – Sacred Names of the Unnamable. Feel free to substitute your own.
I lovingly, respectfully, and reverently make offerings to the Four Directions, Mother Earth, Father Sky, the Stone People, the Plant People, the Tall Standing Tree People, the Creepy Crawlers, the Finned, the Furred, the Winged Ones, the Four-legged, the Two-legged, the Great Mountains, the Sacred Waters, the Deep Jungles, the Star Nations. The Darkness (Shadow) and the Light. Aho Mitakuye Oyasin.
Once again, I find myself in ‘familiar territory.’ My prayers almost always take-on a similar quality or theme at some point during the journey – over the arc of ceremony. You could almost say, during ‘peak experience’:
“My Great Lord HANUMAN. Great Servant of R-A-M. I humbly ask that you hear my petition. I beg that you protect and watch over my people, my loved ones, my Great Teachers, all my relations. I humbly ask for the great strength to Protect them all, to Serve them all. I humbly ask for Great Strength in body, mind, emotions, energies, and Spirit. Great Strength to Serve the Highest Good, the Highest True, the Highest Beautiful. I beg your forgiveness for my mistakes and transgressions, if I have in any way offended you. I humbly ask for the knowledge to be of Service, to be a better man, and to be the best human being that I can be during this life. I am so very grateful for my life, these lessons, these prayers, these Great, Great Beings you have placed upon my Path. I would have no other desire than to accomplish Your Will. Teach me to Pray. Pray Yourself in me. Teach me to Serve. Perform Service through me.”
And probably THE most important ‘dialogue’ (in tears) –
“My Great Lord, am I worthy?”
MY GREAT SERVANT, OF COURSE YOU ARE. YOU ARE MOST WORTHY
“I am worthy. Thank You, thank You, thank You.”
The ‘Bowl’ is blisteringly HOT. That particular day, the high was 116 degrees Fahrenheit. It struck me as I was making my way back to the car – as I almost bolted from one, all-too-rare mid-day sliver of shade (Shadow) to the next – that much of my ‘work’ in Sacred Ceremony is this coming-to-terms, this ‘embracing’ of my Shadow. And on this day, I was very grateful for the Power of shade (Shadow) and in absolute awe of the Magnificence and Power of the Light (the Sun). I equally honor and embrace both now.
My prayers typically take hours and unfold organically over the course of Sacred Ceremony. I fall into a kind of ‘conversation’ with Spirit that is difficult to describe. The differentiation between Great Spirit and other Spirits is subtle and at times indiscernible. It’s as if I am in a ‘council’ of Spirits and I’m not entirely sure Who’s communicating at different times. One thing for certain is that the insights, impressions, epiphanies, and energies I receive do not feel as if they are one hundred percent ‘mine,’ - if at all. There seems to be a co-creation. Interestingly enough, in ceremonial circles with other Allies and Brothers and Sisters on the Path – there always appears to be a ‘group energy and dynamic’ – a community or collective endeavor – a co-creation. A co-creation for the Highest Good, the Highest True, the Highest Beautiful. It reaffirms that we are all in this together – this journey of life – and that the nurturing and facilitation of the elevation of community / collective consciousness is how we will grow and evolve. How we will heal ourselves and this planet, Our Great Mother Earth. It is a Sacred Duty.
I will never, ever be able to appropriately describe the subtleties, the (much) deeper and expansive Teachings/Lessons, and the extraordinary occurrences that take place in Sacred Prayer Ceremony. If it appears that these feeble words are somehow ‘outlandish,’ my complete stories will undoubtedly leave you with the impression that I am absolutely crazy. If that’s the case, so be it. Know that I am lovingly guided by some extraordinary Souls – extraordinary Teachers – and that they are the epitome of Great, Estimable, Honorable Beings. Know that I only wish to be the best human being I can be and a Humble Servant of G-O-D.
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Today is Guru Purnima (Sunday, July 9, 2017). It is the annual Hindu & Buddhist festival and ceremony celebrating and honoring the Gurus – the Teachers. I would not be who I am were it not for a collection of Great Gurus, Great Teachers, Great Beings that were placed directly (or indirectly) in my path. I am forever grateful. Pranaams at thy lotus feet…
My Mother, Joy Lynn Johnson
My Late Father, Donald Paul Fleming
My Late Stepfather, Melvin Arthur Johnson
My Brothers, Paul Eric Fleming & Robert Allan Fleming
My Sister, Brenda Lee Fleming
All my Friends
All my Acquaintances
All my Colleagues
All my ‘Enemies’
All my Great Loves
All my Ancestors
All my Great Ally Warrior Brothers & Sisters on The Path
All My Relations
Rolf Glessner Gates
Baba Ram Dass
Barbara Verrochi & Kristin Leigh
Tim (“Tim-ji”) Miller
Guru Balachandran Nair / Sat Guru Dharmananda Swaroopa Hanuman Das Swamikil (“Master”)
Regina French / Sistashree
Abdi Assadi (“Soul Brother”)
Orlando Chujandama Huazanga
Metsa & Kapomo
And finally, the Manifestation of My Great Lord HANUMAN in my life, my Greatest Teacher & Ally - Lefty.
I am forever grateful for your Great LOVE and Blessings.
I am and forever shall be your Friend.
I am and forever shall be your Devoted Servant.
Please forgive me if I neglected to mention or forgotten a particular Teacher / Guru – there have been so very many Great Teachers on my Path. No disrespect meant. I am forgetful, but I am forever blessed & grateful for All.
Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu
May all the beings, in all the worlds, be happy and free.
Jai Hanuman-ji, the Breath, Great Servant, and Hammer of R-A-M