Finding Comfort And Meaning Half a World Away
It was like a dream, stepping off the boat and entering a world defined by a glistening blue basin of a lake, watched over in the distance by a trio of majestic volcanoes. The fringes of thatched-roof buildings rustled in the wind, and colorful blossoms dotted tangles of lush green vegetation.
It was a dream come true for me, to be spending a week and a half in Guatemala as part of a writing and yoga retreat. I’d long wished to spend time in the land of the Mayan people, who descend from some of our planet’s original dreamers.
The joy of walking through the Guatemalan highlands on the shores of Lake Atitlan was beyond description, and would have been complete, if not for the feeling that a disturbing dream was unfolding back home in the States. News was seeping in, like a series of warning tremors before a dangerous eruption: Immigration bans against people with every legal right to enter the country, nightmarish threats to religious freedom, and unprecedented tests of political power.
I tried to keep that world at bay, as I explored my new surroundings: An eco-friendly retreat center featuring rustic gardens, and breathtaking views. I climbed some 55 stone steps from the dock to reach the cabin that would be my temporary home. Outside was a hammock from which I could glimpse the lake. Inside, I opened closet and cabinets to find a stash of bottles with a Mayan woman on the yellow and blue label and Spanish words I couldn’t translate. Not knowing what it was, I tried to unscrew the top of one, but it was stuck shut. Intrigued and curious, I placed the full bottle beside my bed.
That night, when I closed my eyes to sleep, the beauty of my new surroundings faded, and the dystopian headlines from home filled my head and kept me from settling in to deep sleep. I tried to shift my focus and invite dreams of peace for my country.
Instead, I slid into dreams of soldiers and missing people who’d been “disappeared” by a rogue government. Then there were dreams within dreams in which I was running, trying to tell others about the injustices I’d witnessed. Over the course of this dream, I encountered two of my friends from waking life who study and practice shamanism. One of them was seated with her back to me and a baby in her lap. I tapped her shoulder, and she turned to me and said, “You need caring.”
Just then, a dark-skinned man appeared beside me. Without a word, he reached out and touched his fingertips to the skin at the center of my chest. Instantly my fevered fear and tremulous anxiety disappeared, and a cool, calm clarity filled my being.
Just then, somewhere in the windy night just beyond my cabin, a door slammed, and I woke in my bed with a start.
I wanted to return to the dream of the man with his healing touch, but could not. Nonetheless, that dream literally woke within me a calm center that I called upon each time the fears and sadness for my country and the people who were being unjustly kept from their family and loved ones due to the ban, crept in again.
All week long I was held in a bubble of love and connection by the 15 other women with whom I was sharing this retreat. Together we wrote, we took yoga classes, and we visited villages around the lake to learn more about the people whose country we were visiting.
As the week drew to a close, we were privileged to take part in a Mayan protection ceremony, which was offered by a local shaman. The 16 of us gathered around a circle of stones along with the shaman, a drummer, and an interpreter.
The shaman, who spoke to us in Spanish and a Mayan dialect, led us though a ceremony during which he called on various elements and attributes such as love, laughter, peace, transformation, strength, etc., each represented symbolically by variously colored candles and flowers, which we were instructed to toss into the fire as we tossed away things we wanted to let go of, or to call in things we wanted to manifest or magnify in our lives.
At a certain point he pulled out a small bottle of liquid to sprinkle on our offerings. I recognized the label on it immediately. It was the same yellow and blue design with the traditionally garbed woman as the one in my room up on the hill. It turned out to be a Central American liquor that happened to also be used by shamans during ceremonies.
The shaman looked around the circle at each of us and told us not to worry about politics back home. He encouraged us to take a bigger view, to see the spiritual landscape and how steady it remains even while our human dramas suck us into a belief in darker dreams. Coming from a man whose people have been subjected to authoritarian and military regimes, civil war, and various forms of brutality, this seemed a realistically reassuring invitation to have faith.
Now he motioned for us to stand one by one. He sprinkled water from his bottle onto the large feathered wing of a hawk or eagle, and one by one, fanned the wing against each of us to bestow a blessing.
When I stood, I felt the cooling wind of the whooshing wing as he blessed the crown of my head, each shoulder, my back, and the spot at the center of my chest where the cool drops of water flicked against my skin, just like the cool fingertips of the dark-skinned man in my dream.
It is my hope, dream, and wish to bring back to my daily life with me the beauty, majesty, joy, healing, and heart-centeredness that I experienced in the land and people of Guatemala and Lake Atitlan. With these words I offer all of that and more, to you.
May you dream and be well.
I dedicate this post to my students in the Institute for Dream Studies Certification Program, who are on their way to becoming dream professionals who who will help us all wake up to the beauty, wisdom, and power of our dreams.