Home again; home again.
The Mayan Riviera was incredible. We mostly hung out, practiced, went to the beach, mealed, and drank margaritas. There were breakthroughs on the mat--firsts in handstand, bakasana and urdhva dhanurasa. There's nothing quite like the sheer astonished delight when someone surprises herself, or himself, on the mat. It's so infectious that everyone present feels it, and shared delight has a special kind of magic that transforms a group of strangers into shyly new friends.
What I really want to tell you about is the temazcal but I already know I won't find the right words. A tezmacal is a sweat ritual, a kind of ritual rebirth guided by a shaman. It's intended to purify and heal the body, and to strengthen the spirit.
The temazcal at Ceiba is a low, circular domed structure right on the beach. After yoga, at sunset, we stripped down to bathing suits, and chose a pebble from the shaman's open hand to represent a heart's desire, a prayer, or a wish. One by one, we stretched our arms out at our sides while he swept a bundle of fragrant herbs over our bodies--rue, I think--from head to toe. One by one we knelt before the door of the temazcal, folded our palms and spoke the words he'd told us to say, "for all my relationships," before stooping to enter.
We filed in to the right, sitting in a circle on palm leaves upon the sand. Four times, the door was opened and then closed. Each time, nine lava rocks, glowing orange, were shoveled to the center. Dashed with water and herbs, they created fragrant steam that smelled like heaven.
When the door closed it was dark.
Joel, the shaman, told us that our bodies would resist, and that we would want to give up. He told us that his goal was to guide us through the ritual, and to help us complete it. He said that, in the beginning, the steam would scratch our throats, and make us cough.
He was right.
The group disappeared into the darkness. We recognized each other only by voice. Right away, I heard coughs in the dark. I wanted to cough too but tried to hold back, fearing that if I started I wouldn't be able to stop. It crossed my mind that I might not be able to see this through.
Four times the door opened and then shut. Four times new rocks were shoveled in. Each door signified an element, and a particular kind of wisdom: earth, wind, water and fire. Every time the rocks arrived, we were to shout, "Ahoo!" I'm pretty sure that's Mayan for "bring it, bitch!"
Joel spoke to humankind's innate instinct to climb the rungs of the evolutionary ladder. Since we first crawled up out of the ocean, developed lungs, and opposable thumbs, and learned to shoot each other, humankind has strived to climb. I had the deep recognition, then, that the urge I feel to reach, and to grow, is bigger than just myself; it's programed in. Even while I marveled at the resourceful insistence of life to evolve itself, it made me weary.
He spoke of our conflicting urges, of the spiritual urge to change, and the opposing emotional one to not let go. He spoke of the possibility of reconciling experiences that challenge us. He called us to courage and to action. The words he spoke are fuzzy, which is odd for me. Words tend to stay with me but when I reach for his they elude me. I guess that's what happens in extremely altered states of consciousness.
The rocks sparked and blazed. I saw jaguar eyes in them.
It got hot. Really hot. Toward the end of the third door I lay down, but even when my heart started to pound I felt supervised, and safe. Still, when the door was opened to receive the final influx of glowing lava rocks, I began to seriously doubt that I could make it through. Joel had said the temperature would reach 170 degrees. Maybe I didn't have it in me.
I poured water from a bucket, via coconut shell, over my head. For a moment it was ecstasy but the water heated on my skin almost immediately, making me hotter. I lay down again, breathing in and out through softly pursed lips. It was tolerable for only a single breath at a time. Soften into it; soften into it, I told myself like a mantra. Resistance would make it worse. Resistance would defeat me. The only way to make it through was to entirely surrender to the heat.
"Sitali breath," I wanted to tell the group. "Do sitali breath. It's cooling," but I couldn't speak. My pounding heart became harder to ignore. I thought about leaving but standing up was out of the question. I already knew I wouldn't be able to safely navigate the close quarters around the molten rocks but it was beyond what I could endure. The tezmacal had defeated me.
Then the door opened. It was over.
I stumbled out and spilled beneath the starlit sky. Dizzy and heart racing, I couldn't walk straight. I thought I might pass out.
Joel had said,"When you come to the ocean, come exactly as you are. Take your pebble and fling it in. Dive."
I waded, disoriented and still off balance. The water was warm. Ultramarine by daylight, now it was dark. Placid waves rolled in to greet me. I plunged in. The ocean opened up its arms and embraced me.
I'd gone through trial by fire, hoping to gain courage for transformation, but instead had been released and held exactly as I was.
I wanted to weep.
In a good way.
I sat down on the shore, right at the water's edge. I sat there a long time. When I could move, I lay on my back, looking at the stars, communing with the wind. When I started getting cold, I laughed. After the temazcal, it seemed absurd to be cold.
I gratefully wrapped myself in the enormous white towel that had been held out, and went back to my room, skipping dinner. I couldn't speak. I wasn't back yet.
What I want to know is: when do we grant ourselves permission to be as we are, to come to ourselves as we are, and to embrace ourselves as we are?