Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about happiness. We’ve made a lot of changes this year, and underlying it all was the assumption that these changes would ultimately bring about greater happiness. But the plain, bald truth is, change is hard. For a lot of the past few months the best word I can choose to describe what I’ve been feeling is unmoored. I watched the landscape out the windows of my new home wake from winter into an abundant, flowery, spring, which in turn unfurled into a lush green summer. The song birds woke me each morning singing with such joy and abandon, and I was keenly aware that my heart was not singing with them. I was not a part of it all because I was still looking around for wide open vistas and towering red rocks. I understood that if I wanted to be happy, I was going to have to find my bearings, and anchor myself to the energies that now surrounded me. Somehow, I had to convince my heart to let the desert go, but the how of it was eluding me.
Towards the end of May, I returned to Flagstaff, accompanying Mark to one of the Native American leadership initiatives that he has been teaching with Professor Manley Begay at NAU over the past few years. My apologies to all my Sedona friends. As much as I had wanted to stop in Sedona to say hello, our schedule was too tightly packed We were able to fly from the east coast to Dallas and then Dallas to Flagstaff, completely by-passing the long drive up the mountain from Phoenix to the high country that would have taken us right by Sedona. Arriving at the Flagstaff airport was almost surreal. As we watched all the familiar landmarks of Flagstaff appear below us, it became quite clear that this quiet mountain town was on the map in a way it never had been in all the years we’d lived in Northern Arizona.
We stayed at the Drury Inn, along with many of the participants of the leadership program. There were managers and leaders from tribes across the country, and from as far north as Canada, and as far south as Mexico. Many of them were faces we’d seen before, inspired enough from their first session to want more. I’ve attended and photographed every session Mark and Manley have taught, but there was something about the way Native American and Western thought came together in this session that was electrifying. I sensed that every person there felt how Mark and Manley were creating a coherent alignment, stoking fires, satisfying the desire of everyone there to learn how to affect positive change and growth within each of their communities.
I will confess, I had been nervous to return to Flagstaff. I’d been worried about whether I’d made the right choice, moving away from a place that I’d had such a strong connection to. I worried that having left, I would now find that connection was no longer there, or that all that I’d learned from my years in the desert would not survive a return to a major metropolitan area. But as I sat in my hotel room and looked out the window at the San Francisco peaks, I came to see there was still an energy to this place that my body and spirit immediately responded to. It had been a cold spring in Northern Arizona, and the mountain was still snow capped, the peaks buried deep in heavy cloud cover. I closed my eyes and began to meditate, feeling the energy of this sacred mountain reverberate all around and through me. I began to sense that the mountain had an answer here for me. The mountain shared with me its strength, it’s power to endure, it’s ability to draw energies to itself, and it offered me the reminder that I also had these same strengths. Then, I very much felt like the mountain gave me it’s blessing to follow this new path. I was being offered the chance to take some part of it with me so I could move forward with one of my deepest desires; to bring my children and grandchildren closer together, and for Mark and I to be there to enjoy it.
On the way home, Mark and I got to stop in Denver for a much needed trip to see my family there. One of the hardest things about leaving the west was losing that easy proximity I had to family in Colorado, California, to my brother, Dan, who had recently moved to Tucson, and even to my cousin and her family in Seattle. I had prioritized children and grandchildren over parents, siblings, and cousins by making this move. I was giving up road trips for plane rides, but I feel pretty sure my family understood my choice. I was welcomed back to Denver with the same open, loving embrace as always.
With what felt like an accepting nod from both the mountain and my family, I came home and found that I was more curious to get to know my new environment. I was starting to ask the same question in Connecticut that I had asked so many years ago along the red rock trails of Sedona. It was the question that had ultimately given birth to Cha’risa’s Gift. Who had walked here before me? I may not have had dramatic mountains clearly marking the direction north, there might be more days where the sky was cloudy and I never saw the sun, but the question anchored me.
Right around this time, another important shift began to happen. The settling in process was slowly starting to ease, making more energy available for the kind of special family moments we’d envisioned when we’d set this course, nearly nine months ago. Shortly after our return from Flagstaff and Denver, we made a quick trip into NYC to see a show Jamie had produced at 54 Below of new works, which included selections from the musical she had written with Eric Fegan. The entire show was very successful, but needless to say, my favorite part was the selections from their show, The Valley. Even at the late hour of 11:30 pm there was a good sized, enthusiastic crowd. The cast was so energized and talented that I had no trouble at all staying up way past my bedtime. Jamie and Eric are currently working on producing a full staged reading of their musical in September, and I’m really looking forward to seeing the show in its entirety. Launching a show is a very long, drawn out labor of love, but I really think when it’s finally birthed, this baby is going to be beautiful!
Not long after that, the summer solstice rolled around and I decided to create a Strawberry Moon/Summer Solstice ritual for David, Natalie and Mark, where I shared what the Mountain had revealed to me. I think the kids also were in need of the assurance that message provided. Their renovation project is on-going and they are still living with us, the majority of their belongings still in boxes. The renovation has been frustrating at many levels,coming in way over- budget and behind schedule. Natalie told me the mountain’s message felt especially tailored for her. The thought of Mount Humphries sending her strength and the power to endure brought bittersweet tears to her eyes. While we’re all anxious to see the renovation project come to an end, we will miss the kids when they go. And as for little Avery, Mark and I have grown so attached, and he to us, that it will be a wrench to see him move even two miles away. But, it is clearly time for David, Natalie and Avery to finally have their own chance to settle in and put down roots. Time for all of us to make one last change to make this family vision complete.
During the last weekend in June we had a big family get together with Jer, Julie, Jordan, Julie’s parents, her older brother and his two twin boys, and the canine brigade, Bowser and Moose. It was a wonderful, noisy, crazy weekend where we ate a lot, got to see our two toddler grandsons really talking and playing with one another, and spent a lot of time splashing in our pool, which has turned out to be such an incredible garden oasis. It was our first real test of how many people this house can comfortably hold. Our home lived up to all our hopes and expectations. It is a wonderful gathering place.
Then, just one week after that big family hoo hah, I got to have a very special experience with Jeremy. It was his birthday present to me, a day long workshop in northern New Jersey where we could both experience an alternative healing modality called Holotropic Breathwork. I think we were both a little nervous, but I’m so glad I took that leap of faith with him.It turned out to be an important step on my journey to make peace with leaving Sedona.
Holotropic Breathwork is a practice that uses deep, rapid breathing and music with strong primal rhythms to induce a state of non-ordinary consciousness. It was developed by Stanislav Grof as a successor to his LSD-based psychedelic therapy. Neither Jer nor I really knew how the process would affect us. All we knew was that it would be a journey inward, and that really anything at all could happen in that altered state. It might be beautiful, it might be anguishing, it might be deeply disturbing. There was no way to know what would be waiting for us just beyond normal consciousness.
The process is done in pairs, one person breathes, the other sits and watches over. It has been a long time since either Jer or I have been in a position where we needed to rely on one another, but after so many years of being apart, we both wanted this chance to be there for each other. There was an introductory phase before the actual process began, and at the end of it we were offered a chance to choose an Angel card from a deck for a bit of guidance. Jer had never seen cards like this before, but I can never resist them, so we each used our intuition to peruse the pile of cards placed face down, and then chose one. The one I chose was called “Energy Work.” The picture was of a beautiful woman, her wings protectively spread over a cradle with an equally exquisite small boy inside. The words on the card made me feel certain that all I knew from my Reiki practice would serve me well here, and that it was right to call on those energies to protect us both. With Jer listening on, I asked for us to have the highest and best experience; one where we could learn, grow, love and know more about what was deep within ourselves. Then, I laid myself down along with all the other breathers and gave myself over to the process. Almost immediately I began to feel very cold – I began to tremble and shake uncontrollably. The music was vibrating all through me, a strong, aboriginal dance rhythm. I heard the strains of a flute in a canyon and felt tears come to my eyes, but that also was quickly consumed by the dance. I let myself move with the rhythms. It began to take me deeper inward. I remember feeling very grateful to be here with Jeremy, to know that we could share a moment like this; that our love for each other was something we both felt deep in our hearts. I reached for Jeremy’s hand and felt his warm reassurance,but soon the pounding rhythms pulled me once again back into the dance.
The music, the sound vibrations continued to mount. I remember trying not to resist my thoughts, just let them happen, let things unfold. Then a surprising thought popped into my mind; it wasn’t my mind I needed to release, it was my heart. Because I had suffered for many years from heart arrhythmias, I realized that there was a part of me that never fully trusted my heart to beat reliably. But now I saw my heart was strong, that I could count on it. I saw my heart dancing outside my body, brilliant red, taking on the beat of the pounding drums. It danced for a while before I flashed forward to see the end of my heart’s song. It was laying on some stones, dull red, and very still. I found I wasn’t troubled by my death. It felt natural, organic, an ending, but not of the song. I saw the many hearts of my family beating all around me, continuing the dance. Together our hearts linked, and we sank deep into the heartbeat of the earth. We went deeper still, past the earth, into the expansiveness of the divine, and there we continued to all beat as one.
I remember losing track of my breath. It had become very slow, and I had to remind myself to breathe. I stretched my hands above my head and opened them palms up. Energy flowed into them, strong and vibrant. I had a vision of wings unfurling, heart chakra opening. The music had past its zenith and I realized we were in the final stage of the holotropic journey, the winding down. I felt myself come back enough into my body that I sat up and motioned for Jer to sit near me. I put my arm around him, and from deep in my heart I told him that I was so happy that I had come back East to be closer to him. As I spoke those words, they rang with absolute truth, and I was at last able to be at peace with the heart-wrenching choices I’d had to make to get to this place. Jer and I sat there side by side, my arm around his shoulder. I finished the experience drifting in and out of a deep state of calm. Finally, with the warmth of Jeremy’s body anchoring me, I fully understood my heart’s choice. I was home at last.
My Angel card – Energy work – “Life can be electrifying because it’s very essence is energy. Your body is a remarkable field of energy that will positively respond to loving treatments. Your hands and heart are activated to give healing energy to your loved ones and clients.”