Abiquiu and Ghost Ranch – Journey within the Journey

After the magic of the Hieroglyphics Trail, I was excited to explore more of these mysterious mountains but my enthusiasm would have to shift focus!  It was nearing the time for me to travel north into New Mexico to a small town called Abiquiu where I’d registered for a week long retreat facilitated by Joanna Macy, a Buddhist and Systems Thinking scholar, nuclear activist, and author of several books stored in my library back home.  It was very serendipitous that I’d be wintering so close to Ghost Ranch (even still 8 hours by car) so that I could take advantage of this event. Maud, whom I’d met when I was in Kentucky, had emailed me in mid-November with the notice of this offering asking if I’d be near enough and whether I was interested in attending with her.

My response had been “what? She is my hero!” I felt as if fate had just knocked on my door!  I had been a long-time fan of Joanna Macy reading and re-reading several of her books since being introduced to her and the Shambala Warrior Prophecy by a former Palermo neighbor and friend, Lane. The first one I read back in the early 90s was titled Coming Back to Life – The Work that Reconnects. I enjoyed that one so much that I purchased World as Lover, World as Self.  Long before I was awakened by a desire for a spiritual practice, these books fed my soul. I resonated with Ms. Macy’s work in so many ways. It was these books that inspired me; someday I would create and facilitate workshops that focused on protecting the earth and all its inhabitants. Some 15 years would go by before I found a way to implement what I had absorbed from her writings.  The systems thinking approach that she espoused was the foundation for a 5 year project I undertook during my last years at MaineDOT. The so-called Gateway 1 Project that I created and managed involved 21 municipal governments in mid-coast Maine along 100 miles of US Route 1.  Route 1 was a lifeline to many and a major tourist route.  The DOT was responsible for its maintenance and improvement and it was quickly being overtaken by local strip development. Municipalities were competing for tax revenues brought in by commercial development but many residents were less that satisfied with the transportation impacts that caused the state, with its federal funding strings, to expand the roadways passing through iconic seaside villages.  The Gateway 1 project would bring economic, environmental, neighborhood and multi-modal (bike, ped, rail, auto, truck) interests to the table for a collaborative planning process that promoted shared decision making on an unprecedented scale. After much national attention for the methodology used, the political tides suddenly turned; with a more conservative governing structure, the Gateway 1 project was suspended by a new Governor. Nevertheless, the systems thinking principles that I’d used, learned and experienced as the project manager for Gateway 1 were invaluable!

I hadn’t needed to wrestle for very long with Maud’s invitation to join her at Ghost Ranch. In addition to the Joanna Macy connection, this was where Georgia O’Keefe painted her iconic scenes of the southwest!  This was the opportunity of a lifetime; I had registered while still in Deming! And now it was time to make the trek.

I left on a Thursday right after lunch. GoogleMaps estimated that it would take me 4.5 hours to get from Apache Junction AZ to Gallup NM where I’d booked a hotel room.  The drive was mesmerizing! From AJ to Zeniff AZ. I traveled through the Superstition Mountains and the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest. The weather and the road conditions made this an enjoyable drive, despite the chill and snow covered forest floor at the height of the Superstitions.   At 6000 feet AMSL, the forest made me homesick. Giant pines, snow, boulders, wetlands….all but the cliffs…gave me a sensation that I hadn’t felt since September 2016. My excitement continued to buoy me.

Beyond Zeniff was Holbrook where I picked up I-40 which replaced the iconic and historic Route 66. Before the Interstate was built, Route 66 was a two lane road winding from Chicago to LA. By the looks of it, when I-40 was built in this area, Route 66 became the eastbound lanes, and a new pair of west bound lanes was built with a wide median separating the two. Historic Route 66 was left intact where it passed in more developed communities like Gallup NM and Winslow Az. Along the rural and urban bypassed stretches, there were many abandoned but largely intact roadside signs with as many derelict and underutilized retail outlets which very likely defined Route 66 back in the day!  It was then I remembered a few lyrics from the song Route 66 that referred to Gallup New Mexico! Suddenly, I was hit with a wave of nostalgia.  I was just a child when I first heard that song!  What was I doing here in the middle of January driving on Route 66 toward Gallup New Mexico?  How did this happen?

From there to Gallup was another 1.5 hours.  I saw signs for the Petrified Forest National Park; the view was striking but it would not be for another few months while staying at Homolovi State Park in Winslow before I actually had the opportunity to visit that National Park.

I turned off I-40 into Gallup at dusk. I found my hotel on Route 66; it was the cheapest room I could find in town at the “America’s Best Value Inn”.  I had no idea what to expect but I can tell you, it was not much, for the price.  The young Navajo man who registered me was pleasant and courteous; once registered, he gave me directions and the key to my room.  On entering the room, I was more than a bit surprised. I was facing a dining area, beyond which was a living room!  To my left was a full kitchen and to my right was a doorway into the bedroom that contained a king size bed, double closet, 50” TV, a desk and full bath.  I had paid $50 for this room and I could have fit 4 of my trailers in it.  I thought “This is what happens to you when you have downsized to the point of living in about 100 square feet for the past 6 months.”  I could not help but smile as the memories of my large home on Blueberry Hill streaked down my cheeks.  This was an unexpected journey within a journey and in so many ways it was surreal.  So many feelings flooded my being as I recalled another big dream I’d had 24 years before.

…..I am about to have surgery. My mother is with me and I am awake as the doctor removes a black object from inside me.  Shortly afterwards I’m released from the hospital and mother and I begin to walk down a long pathway.  Pretty soon, she has turned off and I lose track of her, but soon I am joined by a group of very dear women friends.  We enjoy our walk on the path together, but I am aware of how tired and weak I am, still recovering from surgery. Soon, one by one, I lose track of all my friends and find myself alone on the edge of a Ghost town.  Once again, I am aware of how tired and weak I am. Before entering the town, I have to cross a narrow bridge. As I look over to the other side, I see the town is desolate. The wind is blowing tumble weed from right to left and there is dust flying everywhere. The store fronts are dark and the threatening clouds make this scene look not only unappealing but in some ways daunting! I think of how exhausted I am; knowing this is the way “home”, I proceed to cross this bridge into that dark and lifeless place. After I cross the bridge, I find myself in front of one of the buildings. There I see a bench on the wooden walkway; it sits up against the building’s large many paned windows. In complete exhaustion, I sit and lean my head back against the glass.  Within moments I feel movement at my left shoulder. I open my eyes in time to see a hand reaching through the window pane. In the hand is what appears to be a white card; “an invitation” I thought.  I reach for the card and open it – the crease is on the top horizontal of its rectangular shape.  Adjusting my eyes, I see writing on the inside.  On the top half it says “God has chosen glorious resplendence for you”. The crease at the center of the card obscured the words inscribed there but my body sensed it was something like “Prepare Yourself”.  On the bottom half of the card, I read “For on the 24th day, you will know God”….I woke up!

I thought of this dream many times over the years! What was I doing in a ghost town? Who passed me this invitation through the glass?  Who uses language like “glorious resplendence” and what did it mean? What did it mean that I would “know God” on the” 24th day”? And what did it mean “to prepare”? The dream frightened me at first but over time it began to bless me with hope. Admittedly, I thought I was having a prophetic dream and that literally, I would die in just a few days.  The dream came in October of 1992; I recall it was very near a full moon. The 24th was in just a few days!  But after several 24ths passed, I relaxed a bit.  Instead of feeling the dread of impending death, I began to see the dream as a gift.  This dream became a guide post for me as I slowly began a new level of self-awareness. I wanted to feel the glorious resplendence and I wanted to know God; I wanted meaning in my life!

In a previous story of my travels, I mentioned being triggered by the sight of old western towns and tumbleweed.  And those triggers continued to arise as I spent more time in the southwest. This dream was very near the surface. I felt I was getting close to something but I just could not see it! Not until sharing this dream and decision about traveling to Ghost Ranch with Stacey, a colleague and dear friend back in Maine, did I ever think to associate the Ghost Town in the dream with Ghost Ranch.  In all the 24s that had passed, this was the first 24 year! I had heard that in dreams, time and space are very different than in ordinary reality. The 24th day could easily be the 24th year.  Yes, I recognize that I am stretching the possibilities here. Yet, I’ve had too many un-explainable experiences in my life to write off this uncanny coincidence!

On that beautiful crisp Friday, I drove through Albuquerque and on to Santa Fe. At one point, while contemplating the beauty of the land juxtaposed with the evident poverty and land-scarring industrialization, I was suddenly being escorted by a raven.  It was a welcomed sight as I had not seen many ravens since leaving Maine; buzzards yes, ravens not so much.

At the Sage Inn, I met Maud waiting outside.  We greeted one another; I helped her with her bags.  She got in the front seat of my car and soon after that I knew I’d met a soul sister. Such a blessing she was to be sharing this meaningful week with me.
Our first stop was the Santuario de Guadalupe – the Sanctuary of Guadalupe which is the oldest sanctuary honoring Our Lady of Guadalupe  in this country.  I was touched by the beauty and care given to this symbol of the divine feminine.

After a wonderful authentic Mexican meal in Espanola, we continued our drive to Ghost Ranch. All the while we are traveling, we are of course sharing stories.  It turns out that Maud’s family has a very strong connection to Ghost Ranch; because of her father’s work, her whole family would spend summers there. She herself took advantage of college accredited programs hosted by Ghost Ranch. I learned so much about Maud and this area during this trip!

We checked in and received the access codes to our ‘bunkhouse’ rooms.  Four other people shared the common bathrooms; three bedrooms were each shared by two guests. The other 4 ladies were students from 2 or 3 colleges; they were involved in one or more programs offered by Ghost Ranch.  So, I was in a dormitory again! That took me back too!

The session I’d registered for was actually two sessions with the first (Friday eve to Sunday noon) being a prerequisite for the second (Sunday eve to Friday noon). At the Friday evening opening, there were some 60 people sitting in a circle in chairs or on the floor.  Two Native American women opened the session by calling in the directions and conducting a water blessing ceremony.  Joanna then led introductions and gave an overview of her approach to the “Work that Reconnects.”

In my journal, I wrote the words “pathologizing distress”; these were words she used when describing the way our culture has negated and subverted emotional pain. There is a pill or a treatment for every kind of symptom but very little acknowledgement of the source of pain. If you tell someone you are seeing a therapist, the reaction is often associated with at least the thought “oh, there is something wrong with you!” It reminded me just how much stigma there still is associated with the non-medical health system….especially mental health.

I cannot begin to relate all that I experienced in these 8 days at Ghost Ranch.  But, here are a few take-aways from that time:

  • Gratitude is Grounding
  • What are you doing here (on earth now)? Are you living this question?
  • Don’t let the system privatize your pain; it’s healthy to feel and show it!
  • What we are creating we can never fully know
  • Not knowing is the knife edge of bringing forth what is needed through great creativity
  • We must learn to celebrate uncertainty
  • What is exquisite is that anguish and ecstasy are inseparable
  • What batters you becomes your strength (Rilke)
  • The “bomb” (Hiroshima and Nagasaki) broke our connection with past and future unlike any other event…we carry a sense of discontinuity in our oxygen. The assumption of continuity was lost….it created a pivotal change in our view of life. (attributed to Robert Lipton)
  • At the same time, we’ve created waste streams/impacts that last forever (atomic, extinction, genetic modification, mountain top removal, plastics, fracking impacts etc.)
  • “When you belong to the earth, you don’t die – instead you die into it”
  • Nobody owns anything when we get to “we are one”
  • Apathy is inability or refusal to suffer
  • Pain has become something to overcome (as opposed to allowing and responding appropriately)
  • Emptying allows great creativity to arise
  • Let the way show you the way
  • Don’t fear fear!

I had the chance to hike in the hills around Ghost Ranch. I met some wonderful people and I participated in countless heart opening activities.  In one exercise, we were in groups of 4 people. Along with me, my group consisted of a professor of history who was also a Tai Chi master from Berkeley, a healer who had grown up among the Cherokee after the loss of both his parents at age 5, and a singer songwriter from Tennessee whom I believed to actually be an angel.  We were given several open ended questions to answer; each person had 5 minutes to respond to each question. All the questions were to be answered by the same individual before the next person shared their responses to the same 4 questions.  The questions were: 1. What gifts did I receive from my ancestry – the family I was born into? 2. What gifts did I receive through dreams?  3. What gifts did I receive from nature? 4. And what gifts did I receive from the work I’ve done in my life?

I thought I had answered all these questions at different times in my journals in the past. The difference this time was that I would be doing so aloud and one after the other. I believe the impact of this exercise comes from being witnessed without judgement and through total immersion in the idea of the gifts you have been given or have developed. It is so easy to deny ourselves especially as women; we come off as braggarts.  Yet this was not about bragging. This was acknowledging what I had been born with and what I had acquired in my life to date.  I was facing my 3 partners in a circle. I instinctively began by sitting straight up with my hands on my laps; for some reason I was compelled to hold my palms up.  The more deeply I ventured into the acknowledgement of gifts I’d received, something powerful began to occur.  At first it was barely noticeable but as I spoke the sensation expanded. As I spoke, I was aware of a column or beam of energy emanating from my palms.  I could not see it but the sensation was undeniable.  The beam extended only a couple of feet upward at first; the longer I spoke, the longer the beam extended until it seemed to be touching the cathedral ceiling inside our meeting room.  It was a wonderful feeling; I was aware of a deep sense of calm and love. I was filled with light.  In retrospect, I think the sensation I was experiencing was a complete and total connection to my higher self; I was not the ego known as Kat but I was in those moments one with my creator. To say it another way, I believe I was experiencing an aspect of God.

Other times I’d experienced energy like this coursing through my body had startled me. I did not understand it. Once, while at the Pipestone National Monument, I felt as if I was glued onto a spot on the earth as the beam entered my feet and traveled up through my body and out into the universe. It was so powerful, I could barely breathe; I was experiencing great beauty at that moment. Later, on the same trip I was a passenger on the drive up to the Mount Rushmore monument; I’m not sure what precipitated it because I could not even see the monument but I felt as if the top of my head were opened up and I was being filled with a powerful healing light that flooded my entire being.  Again, this sensation caught my breath.

Energy moving through my hands in this way was fairly new; I’ve practiced Qi Gong and Tai Chi, and I’ve taken a Reiki class, so I had been experimenting with moving energy in ways other than through my shamanic practice.  During a breath class in Maine, I experienced my left hand being so filled with energy that I felt it was more of a paw than a hand; I could feel thick pads and big cat claws instead of a palm and fingers. More recently, during a weekend shamanic workshop, I’d experienced a powerful surge of energy emitting from my left hand when I had asked my spirit guide to give me a “power song”. But this experience at Ghost Ranch was the most palpable and sustained sensation that I’d experienced. Author, shamanic teacher and psychologist Sandra Ingerman would describe this kind of experience as a “transfiguration”.[1]  Joseph Campbell advised his students to “follow your bliss”; I believe this feeling was one of bliss.  It subsided in the same way that it appeared.

So where does this all bring me?  Well, I’m not really sure. What I do know is that as humans we are capable of a lot more than we typically allow ourselves to experience or to know. Many of us seem satisfied to move through this life as if we are innocent bystanders. At the same time, I know that we have little control over how life actually unfolds. This beautiful duality creates an internal balancing act that pushes me forward into the unknown.

I’m grateful to my spirit for giving me the drive to seek knowledge. I’m not a thrill seeker in the physical sense; I don’t get into the X games. But what thrills me is learning new things, making connections that at one time baffled me or to which I was blind; and experiencing the mental and emotional richness that life on this plane and planet have to offer. Despite the losses I’ve experienced throughout my life,  I consider myself truly blessed; each time I allow myself to have the experiences that my heart desires, I  feel myself heal just a little bit more.

I don’t know what the future holds for me, for my loved ones, for this planet. I know that my heart is opening up every day all the while I continue to challenge my beliefs and values about what it means to be a woman, what it means to be human.  I have thoughts about what’s next for me but I also know that my experiences are guided by my soul.  My soul speaks to me in dreams and through the sensations that run through my body. I’m learning to hear and to respond. I have little doubt that it will all unfold in a perfect way!

When I left Ghost Ranch, it was spitting snow. By the time I reached Gallup where I stayed the night again, it was snowing steadily. When I awoke the next morning, there were 3 to 4” of heavy wet snow on my car and the wind was blowing hard. I was not sure about driving west but I missed my dog and was scheduled to pick him up that day.  I set out early; the first 20 miles to the Arizona/New Mexico border were nothing but hard packed glare ice. I pulled into a rest area on the Arizona border to get my wits together.  I had no phone signal so opted to continue driving to Holbrook or Winslow on I-40. I was uncertain about driving across the Superstitions; I felt that the interstate was safest. While the roads in New Mexico had been glare ice, I-40 in Arizona was bare and dry. The sun was shining. I stopped in Winslow to check Phoenix and Flagstaff weather. Phoenix was great, Flagstaff was snowing.  Again, uncertain about mountain roads, I opted stay on the Interstate and drive the extra distance to Flagstaff which added two hours to my trip. When I got there, I was in a full blown blizzard with at least 6 inches on the ground. The Interstate was down to one lane southbound, and it was the passing lane. From 7000′ down to 4000’ I was in winter driving conditions that recommended chains!  I left Maine to avoid winter driving…ha! By the time I got back to Apache Junction, the sun was out, it was dry and the desert was blooming. What’s the metaphor?  Keep moving, have faith that you will arrive safely at your destination.

[1] Chapter 16 of Medicine for the Earth, How to Transform Personal and Environmental Toxins, by Sandra Ingerman, 2000