Just as so many of us set our intentions when the new year approaches, a 5-day period of reflection precedes the Maya New Year. This time of solitude and purification is called Wayeb' by the Yucatec Maya and it is known as Tz'apil in the Maya K'iche language.
Mayan spiritual guide Lina Barrios describes that: "Tz'apil means closing a door, for it is closing the door to the old year and receiving the new one cleansed on all levels to achieve happiness."
I have certainly felt a door close behind me these last two months. I know I'm not alone. This is true for us all and especially for those who are sick, separated from family, have family members who have died, those who have been on the front lines and in the hot spots through this pandemic, and all of us who struggle with difficult feelings and finances.
The life we knew is gone. We stumble together through tragedy and uncertainty.
As our reality door shuts, we are brought to our knees. Can we reframe the human experience during this time of collective solitude, to find greater happiness?
This is one of the opportunities.
Meanwhile, how do we hold it all in our hearts and bodies?
On March 1st I traveled to Guatemala to facilitate my twelfth journey to work with Maya wisdom keepers and spiritual guides. The novel corona virus was just breaking into the United States.
I, like many, thought of the SARS panic in 2003 and how people succumb to flus each year. Mostly concerned for the frail and the elderly, I thought the scare would pass quickly. Flying from Seattle through Houston and then into Central America, the only sign of what was to come was that before entering customs at Guatemala City's La Aurora International Airport, men wearing white masks scanned our temperatures. I felt fine and passed through easily. I committed to staying healthy and resilient.
Then, I forgot about novel corona.
Mostly unplugged from life at home throughout the trip, this years' journey working intimately with Mayan people ran deep. We were steeped in age-old ceremonies, living with the wisdom keepers amidst their ancient volcanoes and sacred waters, on vortex lands where spirits were palpable and multi-dimensional portals, wide open. Time stretched and yawned. Twelve days felt like two months.
The immersion was life changing for everyone.
Reorienting to the outside world the last forty-eight hours of the journey was jarring.
We were not returning to the same reality.
The world was amok.
I worried about how my trip participants would handle this. How are their families? How do they feel about returning to chaos? Will it be difficult for them to get home?
I was moved that everyone was strong and clear. Steeped in the energies of the sacred fires, the teachings and deep care of the Mayan people, every person was grateful. They walked with power and felt ready for whatever we stepped into back home.
We settled into the beautiful town of Antigua for a final dinner together. Most folks flew out the next day without a hitch. My friend and trip colleague, Lis Traphagen, and I would leave the country on Monday.
Back at our room, Lis checked her flights; she was good to go. I checked mine.
Not only had United had canceled my whole itinerary, they had no other flights posted.
My heart was beating in my throat. Lis tried to reassure me. I quickly booked the soonest return - Wednesday on Delta. Wednesday.
I told myself there was a reason for the extra days. I've stayed on alone many times; everything would be fine. Extended time in Guatemala is always a gift.
Yet, I couldn't sleep.
I said goodbye to Lis in the morning then checked my emails. I found a message from our tour operator, Alfonso, that made my stomach lurch.
"Guatemala is closing all in and out traffic for two weeks. This is going into effect at midnight tonight. The airport will be closing." 15-hour notice. No word from Delta. Nothing on the internet.
I had a hard time breathing when I spoke with my family. They urged me to go to the airport right away to get on any plane out of the country that I could. If I didn't leave soon, I might be caught here indefinitely. That made me more anxious. I said I'd call them back. I got off the phone and lay down on the bed.
I closed my eyes and tried to take deep breaths. My body shuddered with the first attempts. Though delirious with the news and from lack of sleep, after some moments I relaxed enough to tune in.
What I should do? What should I do?!
The message was simple, "Drop inside. Trust your feelings".
This was surprisingly easy.
When I thought about going to the airport my mind raced, my chest tightened, and my body trembled. When I thought about staying and trusting that I would figure things out, a warmth came over me, I felt peaceful.
It was in those calmer moments that I saw it with my inner vision - A path of light spanning a great distance before me.
The pathway of light was straight and luminous.
An inner voice said: There is a pathway through this. Feel your feet upon the path.
I remembered when Quechua shamans from the high Andes of Ecuador visited my family in the United States many years ago and we performed a fire ceremony on a beach in Rye, New Hampshire. The moon was full that night and Don Esteban had all 90 of us stand in a line to face the ocean. Salty breezes stung our nostrils and lips. Waves crashed upon the shore and a chilled mist wetted our cheeks. The moon loomed luminous over the expanse of water. A broad, brilliant path of light extended from the moon at the water's horizon all the way to the shore, just ahead of us.
With great feeling, Don Esteban spoke in an indigenous dialect. Translated from Quechua, to Spanish, to English, this is what he shared with us:
"The shaman's path is a path of light, with darkness on either side. The shaman must walk this path of light - and help others walk upon it. I have always seen the shaman's path with my inner vision. This is the first time in my life that I have seen it with my physical eyes."
The shaman's path of light.
I called my family to tell them I was staying at the hotel another night. I would rest, then figure things out.
Later, I heard from others that the airport was packed that day and people were frenzied. Folks stayed for hours trying to get on flights out of the country, with no luck.
After a nap, in passing through the lobby I met others who were stranded: two women from Texas who'd come to hike, a man from New Jersey who'd flown in with nine family members for a wedding, and a tall shapely woman with cropped silver hair who stood at the front desk wrapped only in a jacuzzi towel. The latter smiled at me; she was fine. The others were not fine. One of the Texas women cried. I told them how lovely Antigua was, and that they would get home. I took their numbers. It felt good to support these folks who were in Guatemala for the first time.
I left the hotel, following a lead to an inexpensive guest house a ten-minute walk away.
Stepping carefully on the cobblestoned street, I put on my sunglasses. It was the first business day of the week and the sun was high in the sky; the city should have been humming with activity. Yet, the streets were vacant. The shops were closed. The chicken busses weren't even running. How would those in the outlying pueblos survive without bussing into Antigua to sell their food and ware?
All was quiet except for an occasional motorbike that whizzed by, operated by a masked driver. The bustling center of Antigua had become a ghost town, literally overnight.
My knees felt weak as I walked.
I remembered the pathway of light. I sensed it straight before me with my feet firmly upon it.
Walk with strength.
I bolstered myself, stepped up onto a curb and knocked on the broad wooden door of the guest house. It was set into a stucco wall that seemed to span the whole block. A little door opened in the upper right-hand corner and a man's face popped into it.
My voice sounded like a stranger's.
"Ah, yes, hello. I'm looking for Blake, please?", I asked. Without a word, the little door shut, then the large door creaked open. Not knowing what to expect, I stepped in through a dark entryway and out onto a sun-bathed patio. I heard the man close the heavy door behind me.
A spry, thin man with half-shaved blonde hair and kind blue eyes rushed over to greet me. I told him my plight. I followed Blake, a ceramic artist and the guest house host, through the courtyard that spread out in the center space of the old colonial home.
The sun dappled the trunks of ancient trees. There was an herb and a vegetable garden, flowers, birdsong and butterflies. The surrounding hillsides were visible against the expanse of blue sky above the enclosure. I had left the twilight zone and stumbled into paradise.
There was one room available. It was beautiful, with a private bath. I took it.
Blake asked what brought me to Guatemala. I told him about my work with Mayan spiritual guides. "Oh", he grinned, "That's a sign, as Carlos Barrios is staying here".
I had visited Guatemala for the first time with Gerardo Barrios, who was Carlos' brother. I'd known of Carlos for years yet, we had never met. The Barrios brothers were legendary experts on the Mayan Calendar and Carlos' seminal work The Book of Destiny was widely known.
I took a full, deep breath that felt so good. I was in the right place. The pathway of light sparkled, as if saying I told you so.
On my walk back to the hotel, I saw the tall shapely woman with silver hair walking briskly the other way, on the opposite side of the street. Her short and fitted sleeveless dress was splashed with a bold flower print. The woman smiled and waved exuberantly.
"I found a really nice, less expensive hotel!", she shouted. "Great!!", I waved back. I had no worries about her. I took a jacuzzi that night and slept soundly.
The vulnerability crept back when I was toting a backpack and rolling my suitcase over the antiquated stones, on my way back to the guest house. I took in a steady breath and felt my feet firmly on the path.
From that time on, whenever I felt anxious or uncertain, I would envision the path of light. The more I connected, the more real it became.
Upon seeing the Mayan Priest, Carlos Barrios, that first night, we both knew we were meant to meet.
The rooms off the gardens that encircled the courtyard of the old colonial guest home were rented by other stranded foreigners: two lovely men from France who left on a French Embassy flight the day after I arrived; a bright young photographer named Ben who was based in LA; Ollie, a happy and inquisitive theology student from Singapore; and Carol, a caring and savvy admin director at Harvard Law School.
Most of these folks wanted to go home. Carol had a teenager and a six-year-old daughter waiting for her.
Some were considering staying until things got calmer in the states. Yet, Guatemala lacked the infrastructure to handle a massive infectious outbreak. If things got bad, foreigners would be a burden to the Guatemalan people, and they might also be caught here for months.
The world had changed overnight, and no one could predict where this was going.
There was an option of hiring a driver to travel overland to walk through the Mexican border, which many were successfully doing.
I checked emails, news and border issues, and texted my family as well as the other stranded people I'd met, every day, just like everyone else. I also took many breaks. To not get sick with worry, I focused on the beautiful nature there, the uplifting company of Blake and Carlos, and the path of light.
There was a pathway through this.
Carlos did Maya readings for some of us and he led a fire ceremony. It was beautiful to see the strength come into people as they immersed in the traditions of these lands and the sacred fire. How auspicious to be 'stranded' in a beautiful setting with a Mayan Priest. There were no accidents.
On one of the days, Carlos filmed a talk. In it, he spoke of our imposed isolation and of being locked down now as its own Wayeb'.
This, Carlos said, was a time to: "..reflect on our level of harmony with the earth, cosmos and creation and go deeply inside to develop our abilities to create reality."
To meet the upcoming year with good energy, traditional Maya cleanse their bodies and tidy and paint their homes. They also look carefully at how they can live in ways that fulfill their purpose.
As spiritual folks, there are many and simple ways for us to make the most of this time of incubation.
We can look carefully at who we are, meditate and tap our inner dreaming powers; we can organize our lives and our homes and do blessing rituals to uplift our environments; we might eat more cleanly, exercise and do energy and body disciplines to be strong and resilient; many of us can spend time in nature and perform ceremonies.
Of course, it's a lot easier to do a retreat when everything is taken care of for us and we aren't dealing with a pandemic. Yet, during these extremely trying circumstances our efforts are all the more meaningful.
The return pathway appeared one week after lockdown. Carol and I were booked from Guatemala City to Miami on the first humanitarian relief flight for US citizens, operated by Eastern Airlines. The cost was exorbitant, but it would get us on our way home. Carol took this photo of all of us - she in the foreground then Ben, me, Carlos, with Blake and Ollie behind us - just before Carol and I left for the airport.
It was a twenty-eight-hour journey to get home to the Olympic Peninsula. This gave me time to prepare, as I knew things would feel harder upon return.
The first week, I was euphoric to be with my family. The second week, I was traumatized. People were suffering and afraid. People were dying in shocking numbers. Finances were terrifying. Everything was upside down. In Guatemala, there were not enough resources, no welfare or government assistance. The continued curfew, and disappearance of tourism meant people would starve.
I became exhausted. My heart and nervous system were overwhelmed. I withdrew. I slept.
There are no easy answers at times like this. And, there were forewarnings. Many of us who are sensitive felt the shockwave of this death to rebirth passage months before it hit. Vertigo, grief bubbling up for no reason and, a sense of not being able to see the future, were what I heard the most. These were harbingers, we were the canaries in the coal mine.
Astrologers were telling us something big was coming. What was it? World War 3?
When John Perkins and I met with the Hopi twenty years ago many elders weren't traveling anymore. They knew great changes would come, and with them, travel limits. They didn't want to be separated from their lands and community.
Great changes during these times have been predicted by many indigenous groups.
The old reality door has closed. We cannot turn around and walk back through that door. The self and world we knew, has dissolved. We must keep moving forward toward the light; feel our feet on the path even when we can't see it.
Now is a most tender and open time. We are learning so many things personally and collectively - about our gifts and strengths, and our weaknesses and vulnerabilities. We are purifying, just as nature is cleansing.
Reality shifts before our eyes. This is scary and has a lot of heart-wrenching consequences. It also means that our personal and societal realities are malleable, now more than ever. The opportunity, the calling of these times is to shapeshift how we humans create our life experience on Planet Earth.
My friend, Alejandro, expressed it well: "Perhaps this is the Great Turning that brings us to our knees and changes things, forever. Amazing opportunities and changes can come out of chaos."
This is the time to dream new and remarkable stories.
It's the time to honor death as we also nurture life and rebirth.
It is the time to manifest our most heartfelt dreams, many we had forgotten, as we remember we are the dreamers - who are dreaming ourselves back to what truly nourishes all life on this planet and reconnects us with cosmic grace.
There is a pathway through this. Feel your feet upon the path.