Cacomixtle: A Chimera’s Story of Transformation, Rebirth, and Becoming Whole
Elemental: A Remembering
“Tears have a purpose. They are what we carry of the ocean, and perhaps we must become the sea, give ourselves to it, if we are to be transformed.”
-Linda Hogan, Solar Storms
When I found my way to my wild canyon home nearly a decade ago, I felt wounded beyond repair. Exhausted from the weight of my pain, my body essentially shut down, and I spent years learning to work with the local plants to heal to the point where I could even digest food again. Yet sick as I was, I felt secure for the first time in my life, safe from unwanted hands or the urge to medicate myself beyond self-recognition. And I slept soundly for the first time in over 12 years, as well, no longer waking in a silent start to protect myself from real or imagined threats. In the arms of newfound family, in the wild place my spirit craved, I found myself unpeeling the many layers of my masks, tentatively wondering if it might be safe to start showing bits of real self.
Then came the bear! During a several day and night long quest in the mountains, soon after my arrival in the canyon, I had an unnerving and vivid vision of a grizzly walking across the precipice in front of me, stopping, then turning to look at me before moving on. This is one part of the origin of my blog address/business name of Bear Medicine Herbals, and I came to know the bear as a role model and ally. Its fierceness gave me a previously unknown sense of feeling protected, while the bear’s affinity with the healing plants afforded me guidance.
Later, while working with my partner Wolf on our 5-element Anima Medicine Wheel, I began to understand the underlying elements and building blocks of how people’s bodies and personalities work, leading to the slow uncovering of my own most genuine, natural tendencies and character, revealing patterns so long buried beneath the artifice acquired for survival. I viewed myself as someone originating in the West, in the element of water, with insight, introspection, enigma, a need for story and propensity for solitude being emblematic of the West’s constitution. I realized I lacked the poise and confidence that often comes with that constitution, yet wrote it off as my being a damaged West person.
But as it turns out, West I am not.
Sacred Datura: Dreaming the Underworld
“Even if you’ve taken off every stitch of clothing, you still have your secrets, your history, your true name. It’s hard to be truly naked. You have to work hard at it. Just getting into a bath isn’t being naked, not really. It’s just showing skin.”
“The other side of the “sacred” is the sight of your beloved in the underworld, dripping with maggots.”
-Gary Snyder, The Practice of the Wild
This past Winter found me exhausted, dealing with one minor virus after another, my immune system trashed even while taking the proper amounts of Vitamin D, whole foods, adaptogens, and all the right herbs. A kidney infection provided a good reality check for just how tired my body, spirit, and mind really was. While I was able to clear up the infection with herbs and rest, they didn’t cure my wounds on deeper levels. I could feel that I was reaching a time of transition, but didn’t even have the energy to sort out all the changes I felt occurring within me. But even without specific attention devoted to the process, the shift kept showing up in my dreams in the shape of very specific images. In my dreams I was kneeling on fragrant needles beneath towering Ponderosa Pines, listening to the wind whip across the ridges above me. Just in front of me was an aged grizzly bear skull, sun-bleached until its lacy framework was beginning to show through. Through its empty eye sockets a Sacred Datura plant grew, its lavender and white blossoms in varying states of unfurling as dusk settled over the forest. Under the Datura, fruiting Fly Agaric mushrooms were fruiting in all their fierce red glory. I’ve long had a close relationship with Datura, considering it one of the more archetypal plants connected with death and rebirth. While teaching, I often call it “the phonograph of the underworld” with its trumpet-shaped flowers and propensity for evoking strong emotions and sensations in humans, even without ever ingesting it.
In my dreams, the Datura and Fly Agaric were surreally vivid, their colors glowing against the growing dark of the forest around me. They seemed to be illuminated from somewhere below the ground, and when I peered into an open Datura flower I found myself falling into a flaming void before waking up with my heart pounding and a profound sense of dislocation and urgency. The dream reoccured so often that I asked Wolf to draw it for me in order to somehow be able to get a grasp on imagery in the waking world. Even without much description on my part he managed to replicate it in nearly perfect detail. As soon as I had the drawing in my hands, the dreams disappeared.
It didn’t take a great deal of interpretation to understand that my dream was speaking to me of an imminent death and rebirth. I didn’t know exactly how that would manifest, but I definitely felt an insistent attraction to the plants and symbols that portend and midwife transformation through vision, dreams, and death. Like pulling the Death or the Tower card in a tarot reading, I didn’t exactly view this as a gift. I’ve experienced so many transitions and periods of falling apart in my life that I’ve learned to dread the often painful process. When, instead of everything going to shit around me, I began finding new creative outlets in the creation of sensual botanical perfumes and sacred incense made from local plants, I felt wary. Rebirth usually hurts, and I was enjoying everything enough that I had myself braced for the backlash I was sure would come. I found myself luxuriating in flowery bath salts and other “girly stuff” that I’ve never had much of an affinity for, and spending far more time than usual (which is already a LOT) sniffing and touching everything in the natural world that I found interesting or appealing.
The flip side is that while my already hypersensitive senses were in overdrive, my sensitivity to other people’s energy and presence was also heightened, and I found myself turning down new clients and any other optional encounters with humans. I knew this was in part due to the inner work I was doing, but also something more. It grew to excruciating levels, where I was in tears at the very thought of having to talk to a stranger, and my childhood shyness, so long subdued, had returned with a vengeance. I wanted to curl into a ball with my hands over my head every time I spoke to someone.
This heightened sense of fear had me questioning the most primary parts of my sense of self. I was unable to break out the shell I felt progressively more trapped within, isolated and alienated from my senses even as my senses were demanding recognition. Curled up in a ball on the cabin floor, crying to Wolf about my brokenness, I looked up at him and said “I’m not really who I think I am, am I?” As soon as I was able to just say it, I felt the shell crack around me, as if it had been waiting for just this one admission. In that moment, all my illusions about my identity shattered. Laughing through my tears, it was suddenly easy to look in the mirror and see the curious, feeling creature on the other side and recognize her as an expression of the element fire, someone childlike and playful, deeply caring, and still innocent in ways I’ve tried to hide for my entire life. I now saw myself with the eyes of a Ringtail, stripped of my guarded grizzly artifice, and my fractured self at last made whole… and home.
El Sagrado Corazón: My Heart on Fire
“in me all that fire is repeated,
in me nothing is extinguished or forgotten…”
Like many breakthroughs, mine didn’t come all at once, in a flash of intuitive brilliance, but arrived in bits and pieces, through the insight and support from Wolf, and from hard-won insights that finally built into a crescendo I couldn’t ignore. Sitting on the floor of our little cabin, all my walls crumbled in on me as I realized just how unlike myself I’ve been for a long, long time. How the masks that had once protected me had become a prison of my own skin, no longer allowing me to grow or shift.
Just as with my relationship to the land, it wasn’t comfort that brought about transformation, but the need to adapt combined with the necessary sense of safety. Snakes tend to become irritable during the molting of their skins, and this has certainly been true of me as well, choosing to step away from most interpersonal communication and public exposure while I dealt with the discomfort and sometimes frightening perspective shifts that accompany rebirth. My old skins dropping away, brittle husks shed in New Mexico’s wild Spring winds. Underneath my skin is still tender and pink with its new exposure to the elements. The bear revealing herself as my protective guardian all these years, rather than being a reflection of my own self.
Dropping the masks has resulted in other changes as well, I find myself dressing more and more in vibrant colors instead of the dark greens and blacks I’ve favored for so many years, suddenly able to opt for expression over camouflage now that I feel more safe in myself. My long-time love for Mexican and Southwest folk art, music, and food has bloomed anew, the burn of the chiles on my tongue, and the flicker of flames around la Virgen de Guadalupe’s sacred heart echoing my own return to fire, the coming home to my original nature and role as a medicine woman filled with the vital spark of life – and with the stories that illuminate even as they heal.
In this newfound core of self, I have also found the true value of my medicine, and my work as a healer. One cannot be a “powerful” Medicine Woman without dropping all the pretense and posturing, stripping back down to our original blessed selves, embracing our true natures, needs and dreams. Then the role that we assume is no longer something we acquire, add or wear, but who we are.
I am finally learning that my vulnerability, my childish delight in all things up-close and small, my inborn belief in the magic of this world, dreaminess, and insatiable curiosity are all parts of my gift and medicine, rather than simply ways that can get me hurt, or excuses for masks and armor. I still struggle with letting myself be seen for myself, in words or otherwise, and I expect this to be a process I move through for some time. It’s difficult to share this intimate transformation with so many through this blog, to not cry at the very thought of allowing anyone to read about the parts of me I’ve kept protected for so long.
I have to remind myself over and over that I no longer need to be a tiny sparrow who can disappear into the mountains, or the combative bear, I can be the wild ringtailed girl in the tree that I really am, watching the moon rise, listening to the plants bloom in the canyon’s beautiful dark.
“I hope, in years to come, I shall hold my heart up and it will be a pane of clear glass, through which I see all, but nothing is distorted.”
-Catherynne Valente, The Folded World