17 miles and 96 degrees in the shade, a venture well worth the effort, gave my Sol Journey mate and I a glimpse into the mystery left behind by the elusive Anasazi. What happened in Keet Seel over 800 years ago awaited our discovery, a question so many had asked while walking the same path we did through Navajo Territory. We were on pilgrimage to this sacred spot, devotion in each step. There was something larger than life that lured us into the depths of the canyons to bare witness to a story told to the few who could endure the voyage. We walked for our love of Anasazi heritage and for those who could not make it to the ancient ruins themselves. Only 20 people a day may enter Keet Seel in a 3 month window of time and sometimes the passage closes if there is rain due to flash flooding. Even though it was hot, we picked a perfect time to explore this slice of paradise.
The wind pulsed through the pinon and juniper calling us home as we prepared for our walkabout. Sand blowing into all our cracks and crevices while slowly carving the rocks of time, we heard the ancestor's prayer to protect this land and their ancient dwellings, a feeling present in each step along the way.
The sun beat down on us as we carried everything we needed on our backs for an overnight stay. Fully loaded we made our way down to Tsegi canyon where spring-fed water flows year round--a welcomed attribute in this desert landscape. We traded our hiking shoes for flip flops and plotted our course up the water way to Keet Seel Canyon. At times the sand and water massaged our bare feet giving us some reprieve on our long journey to our destination. We continued to walk for a long long while...
Water smooths the stone and cools the overheating mind. One of the waterfalls on the trail washed the dried sweat from our bodies and cooled our core temperatures amid the 100 degree assault. In this moment there was no rush, nothing to do, rather a simple communion ensued. A deep breath and a moment remembered. Refreshed and purified, we continued our trek onward to the ancient dwellings of our unwavering attention.
Keet Seel was discovered by the Wetherill Brothers in 1895 and the Navajo National Monument was established in 1909. The Navajo Nation became stewards of the site allowing respectful visitors to enter their territory to experience the treasure left behind by the Anasazi on two conditions: there would be no money exchanged and visitors would stay on the trail defined by white posts along the way. Two stipulations easy to agree to, yet not as easily understood by the anglo-mind. Where can you go to a place for free and additionally not have the freedom to veer off the trail to explore the bend of your heart's desire? We found the place... and ARRIVED with so much gratitude for our passage through this sacred land!
150 rooms and 6 kivas make up Keet Seel. There is a retaining wall, a unique structure to this complex, that allowed expansion of this village in the height of it's existence. Agriculture sustained the ancient ones between 1250-1300 until the "great drought", broken dams, and unanswered prayers caused a mass exodus from this arid region.
Our guide, Steve, was the grandson of the archaeologist who excavated and restored Keet Seel as it stands today. His father along with 31 other workers also assisted in the process. Steve had a palatable reverence for the ancient and current cultures that inhabited the canyons surrounding this anomaly. His expertise was bar none as he patiently answered all of the questions that bubbled to the surface of our contemplation and shared the unforgotten story.
One of the things he explained was the forbidden "Anasazi" term. He used the label freely and debunked the myth of the Navajo translation "Ancient Enemy". Anasazi as explained to Steve by a traditional Navajo woman meant: An ancestor that is not of Navajo origin. A term used in honor not of degradation.
Steve also shared the story of the last stitch efforts the Anasazi made to preserve their lifestyle and alignment with the Creator of all things. They built new kivas, one with a Macaw from Mexico embedded inside one of the stone walls, to reach the graces of the Gods. To no avail, Keet Seel was abandoned completely by its last inhabitants by 1299.
Climate change, challenged agriculture, and natural erosion caused the movement and relocation of this band of farmers. The Ancient Puebloan people did not disappear as so many have guessed, rather they morphed into the established Hopi, Zuni, Navajo, and Ute tribes that still exist today. The spirit of the Anasazi continue to live on through oral tradition, our adventure, and the broken pieces they left behind.
Leaving Keet Seel, I felt the mix of emotions that the Anasazi may have felt as they left their home behind. The land and their lifestyle was unable to sustain the bands of tribes that populated the alcove and surrounding areas. I can only imagine the feeling of defeat as they walked away with only what they could carry on their backs. They may have felt desperation for their fate yet hopeful for survival as they walked into the unknown. This is pure speculation. I honor the gravity of their choice to make an exit and survive against all odds.
I relate this decision to my personal story as my lifestyle can no longer be sustained in the current climate of today. Something must change and as the Anasazi made the choice to move from the comfort of their creation, so must I. Who knows what will be around the bend or where the path will lead?
I have been inspired by this trip into the Ancient Heart and know I am capable of letting go of everything that no longer serves me in order to open to life in a new way discovering a new expression of myself.
On my way out of the canyon a rock fell at my feet upon the canyon floor. I looked up and saw 3 wild horses looking down on me. We communicated beyond words and shared an understanding of something much greater.
I choose to be a pilgrim of life's mystery and walk with my feet firmly planted upon the earth. I am grateful for the wisdom of the desert, the canyons, and the Ancient Ones. Today, I embrace a new step in a new direction...
First Sol Quest...
Who in their right mind would choose to extract themselves into the extremes of the desert for a retreat of non-movement, no food and no distractions for 4 days and 3 nights to experience the raw truth of the authentic self? Sign me up! Talking about what may hypothetically happen out there compared to reaching the edge of the breaking point and passing through delirium to the other side--two perspectives from opposing worlds--the stages of discomfort being the key element missing from the hypothetical version. I have always walked the path less traveled. My quest was to let go of all identity, agenda, distortion, story, projection, ritual, ambition, fear, angst, struggle, chaos, confusion and embrace the mysterious stillness that seemed to eluded me. Anyone that knows me well knows that sitting still has never been my strong point, movement being a constant companion in my life. Fasting also gave me an uneasy feeling as I had not ventured into this realm of the unknown. The more tests the merrier, right? With rain in the forecast, it topped my list of potential discomfort for being cold and wet with no exit in sight. Oh yes, right, I volunteered myself into this process of refinement to become one with the desert--a communion that would change my life forever.
How does one prepare for such a feat? I had the help of two mentors--a traditional medicine man and a veteran of a traditional vision quest. My medicine friend reminded me to communicate with the natural order: the plant, mineral and animal kingdoms to create a protected space, and ask for assistance of Mother Life with the process; my intentions setting the tone.
My veteran friend held me accountable to check in with her with by marking an agreed tree daily to signal my well being and take a food bar with me "just in case" with a mandatory lemon (my saving grace) for trace minerals. My independent spirit resisted both requirements as they took me out of my comfort zone. One, the discipline to not eat what was available in a moment of weakness; two, the idea of burdening someone with my process--I witnessed my mind reel at my dependency for the "gate-keeper". Ultimately, both tasks were catalysts to break me wide open to receive my "vision" for which I am beyond grateful.
After getting dropped off and finding a safe water crossing with the recently rain-swelled creek, I entered the desert to find out what I was capable of and who I was beyond what I knew to be true about myself. It was a miracle to have my schedule open up the time to experience such a quest, and as usual I jumped in with both feet. Being alone in the desert did not scare me, stillness on the other hand was my greatest known challenge. Little did I know there was something more obscure waiting for me around the corner.
I had set up a tarp tent in the past and with the looming storm, I knew I had to be in a good spot for drainage and have my corners secure. I was pretty proud of what I had accomplished and quickly got into my nest shortly after sundown. To be truthful, that night the wind whipped through the desert and made a noise that I have never heard before. The swirling force from every angle tested my lines, slapped the tarp into my face repeatedly, and continued to carve out the petrified canyon walls. Then came the droplets pinging my taught shelter, later becoming a complete deluge. I will spare you the details of my sleepless night where most of my belongings got wet. I woke to the sound of the ravens feeding their young, the signal of the dawn--a new day. The sun came out and I was able to dry all of my wetness.
As I warmed up, the chatter in my mind was endless. To be truthful it was daunting to think of three more days out there with nothing to do. It seemed like it would be an eternity with no food, input, or outlet. My mind drifted to my future schedule and projects. Giving them voice I was eventually able to let them go. Then, my mind recounted all of my trespasses and less than ideal decisions made throughout my life; again another opportunity to let go. This process took most of the day with a pause to tie a signal line to the prescribed tree of well being about a half a mile away. I was beginning to get weak from the not taking in any calories and had to rest along the way. This was the day for stripping my old identity to discover what lay under the constant hum of my mind and body. There was no escape from "me". I sat and melted into the rocks surrounding me. The sun came and went, more wind, more rain. Another sleepless night.
On the third morning I woke up with the birds again and began my trek to the check-in spot because my friend was going to come early that day. I was very light headed and was grateful to have my walking stick to steady my steps. I also made a water run to the river I had crossed at the beginning of my adventure and refill all of my containers. Staying hydrated with iodine filtered water was near impossible, the taste was beyond delightful. This is where the lemon came in handy, which I rationed between the last two days to take the edge off the taste.
This is when the bar started to mess with my head. If I only had a nibble it wouldn't be so bad, it wouldn't be a fail if I just had a taste. My mind was fighting the fast and my body was weakening while I drifted in and out of consciousness. The battle of will was on, an enemy I knew I'd have to face, me--the ultimate test. To take my mind off not eating, and the iodine taste in my mouth that lingered; I harvested a Mormon tea branch, chewed on it, and fell asleep. I made it through my breaking point and found the pit of my weakness--hunger. Discipline, focus, perseverance, resilience, tenacity, endurance, these were all words I could not relate to at the time, but now know the depths of their meaning.
The sun was hot this day. Note to self: Nude sunbathing is not recommended! Again, after sunset, quick to bed; tender from the sunburn and in a foodless daze . I asked all of existence to facilitate a vision and cozied up for my last evening in the desert, ready to receive what existed on the other side of waking consciousness.
The ravens with their routine, signaled my final day on my Sol Quest. Before I woke up I heard these words: "The art of stillness overcomes all. Stillness neutralizes an obstacle, the fight, the struggle, an upset, quick reaction and response. Embrace the pause. Practice stillness above all else." The desert spoke to me in my in-between state. I heard the message clearly and ingested the wisdom.
I was delirious to say the least. I laid in the sun to warm up and drifted, returned to camp to change into my day clothes and drifted some more. Packed up my pack, drifted. Took down the tarp, rolled up my sleeping pad and emergency blanket, drifted r more. I sought shade, drank water, consumed my lemon wedge, chewed a Mormon tea sprig, and drifted. Buried my intentions, drifted. Put on shoes, drifted. By this time it was around three and my ride was coming at six thirty. I decided it would be best to start my way back to the signal tree and rest along the way. With my pack on and off my back, it took hours to make it. A little rock crack shade, drift. Tree shade, drift. Finally I made it to our well being tree and recollected my life lines.
With another rest by the creek, and eventually finding my crossing place, I had to remove my shoes, cross, then reapply--taking at least an hour. Every little task took everything I had. My feet on the road, I hoped that I wouldn't have to cross paths with anyone. I had realized I had not uttered a word in 3 days, and I really did not want to have to explain what I was doing out there in the state I was in. All of my masks had been removed within the desert wild. Here I was, the raw, authentic version of myself--no story, a survivor.
I knew my friend would be arriving soon with some food... my salvation or at least so I thought. I kept one foot in front of the next at a slow pace and kept my gaze down so the sun stayed off my face. When I looked up, my friend drove down the hill I was about to take on. Saved! She handed me an aloe juice, avocado and Braggs Liquid Aminos. We said very little, she knew where I was. She gave me space to enjoy breaking my fast, I was surprised I was full after half of the avocado and ready to re-enter society.
Five days later, this experience continues to unravel. I jumped back into the fast paced world where technology, jobs, schedules, projects, food, movement, friends, events, bills, exchanges on all levels all meet me full force. Re-settling into my new sense of self has been a learning process, as much as my time out in the desert. Revitalizing my body has also been an interesting part of re-entry as well. The first craving I had to satisfy was the PB & J fantasy that kept me up at night. Stillness continues to be my new baseline within the flow of movement. More will be revealed... Who is ready for a Sol Quest? Ha!
PS. The non-movement Sol Journey Retreat will not be as extreme as I experienced. I had to know the edge so I would know how far I could go. There will be a happy medium somewhere along the way for willing participants. This will be the first of many for me, this I know.
Into the Flow
You have decided to venture onto the mighty Colorado River with some of your closest friends to test your courage on a paddleboard. When you arrive at the banks of the waterway, where you will begin your adventure, you meet your guide. She is a spunky rendition of Annie Oakley in a string bikini, braids and a trucker hat. She greets you with a pile of gear—a lifejacket, a paddle, a helmet, a leash, and an oversized board. Before she helps you into this bulky gear and begins her intro into paddleboarding, she has you sign your life away. The risks spelled out in black and white do not faze excitement; you sign on the dotted line without question. As your lifejacket is cinched beyond your lung capacity, you are reassured that this life saver will be your greatest friend of all time. Your guide goes over safety protocols, paddle stroking, board orientation, then explains that the river has many temperaments, especially with the 20,000 cfs (cubic feet per second) raging past the shore.
She tells you that there are smooth glassy sections that invoke care-free drifting where the water glides effortlessly downstream. There are eddies which take the unassuming rookie back upstream, and the unforgiving eddy line where the two currents meet. There are also sections of the river where chaos reigns--when the water passes over and through an obstacle and a mighty rapid is formed. The guide shares her theory about successfully maneuvering through a rapid. 25% is entry, 25% is skill, 25% is the river’s will, and 25% is luck. In her mind, there is a 50/50 chance of making it through a rapid unscathed. With these odds, you fret about the terrifying and exhilarating experience of addressing these roaring monsters that await you downstream. Ms. Oakley instructs you to execute a 45 degree angle to ferry across the current, choose your entry into the rapid, keep your craft straight when the waves surge with the flow, and keep faith in your paddle stroke. Then her eyes glow with passion as she reminds you to never give up even when you think you have been beaten. She assures you that the last push of water may release you from the grips of defeat. With that she lets you loose in a recirculating eddy to apply the tips of engagement.
As you enter the flow and attempt to stand on your board, you realize it is a little shakier than you had anticipated. Your legs find a new balance, using muscles you have never engaged before, dealing with the unstable environment of the water swirling around you. You hear your guide cautioning you to keep your paddle in the water at all times, and this helps steady your teetering confidence. Your flailing paddle keeps you upright one second, while the next you are submerged in an icy cold embrace. The startling chill takes your breath away as your lifeline floats you near your board, which is dancing upon the surface. With your paddle in one hand, you reach toward the handle and attempt to pull yourself up on your board. There is nothing graceful about this maneuver as you grip, pull, push, kick, slither your way out of the water, and flop your extremities back onto your craft. Drenched to your core you humbly acclimate to the flow. Your guide decides you are all ready to start the adventure downstream. You do not know what is in store as you embark upon this journey, but you keep an open mind and zest for the unfamiliar.
Your guide explains that around the next bend is the first riffle you will encounter on your voyage. She recommends dropping to your knees though the first set of rapids and hitting the waves straight with the bow of your board. You are filled with anticipation and question your ability to make it through the raging waters. She encourages you to continue breathing as the speed of the river accelerates faster than the heart pounding in your chest. The roar becomes more deafening than a freight train; frothy water drenches and consumes your board from every direction, and time slows down. You keep your eyes on the rising waves before you and brace your paddle to keep you upright. In a matter of seconds, you have made it through to the other side still right side up and let out a holler in celebration. You gather with your fellow comrades to share tales of the wild ride, wide grins all around.
You have a moment of reprieve as you regain your feet beneath you and relax into the flow. The water is smooth sailing as it careens down multiple bends in the river. You are able to counteract the various boils and whirlpools filling deep voids within the depths of the channel through which you float. You are skimming the surface with effortless paddle strokes as you engage your core with the flow. The beauty surrounding you polishes your character as it has done for eons of time. The canyon walls etch their history, the blue heron follows you to the next rock just out of reach, the water churns, other birds sing, and the wind begins to whisper sweet nothings into your face. Everything seems right in the world as you commune with your environment and become one with the flow. You have found your groove, relaxing into the swift volume of moving water with ease and grace.
As you round the next bend those sweet nothings turn into a ferocious blast. The wind raises its fury to let her presence be known. There is no use cursing the gusts that slice through your bones. Now it is time to stand and face the depths of your grit. You put your head down, keep your paddle in the water, and continue to pick your way downstream. The wind’s force blows you back upstream, making each motion vital to attain forward momentum. You make peace with the elements as you unify your force with nature, one paddle stroke at a time. The up-canyon breeze nearly knocks you off your board as it turns you sideways. You return to your knees and per your guide’s bellows, stab your paddle in the water so the current can assist with your progression. You relax into submission as you wait out the assault and continue downstream against all odds. In good time, the wind lets up and releases the pressure within your mind.
Annie collects your group and explains that the next feature is one of the bigger challenges on this section of the river. She says, “Some stop and scout the rapid, tentatively plotting a course of action only to have the best laid plans change mid-rapid; others read and run the river. Either way, there is a state of mind one must achieve to face what is downstream. There is a “Zen moment” where the mind becomes a blank slate and melts into the flow, leaving one’s destiny up to fate.” With that your guide fearlessly takes on the raging wild. Now you are ready for the seething torrents below you. You are standing up as you enter the first wave, breathing with each paddle stroke. You are beyond fear of the unknown, fully present with the curling waves ahead while the adrenaline pumps through your veins. In the heat of battle, your board jigs while you jag right into the water at the base of a wave. You are sent to the bottom of the river before you resurface to take a full breath of life-giving oxygen. In the midst of the chaos, you remember to keep your feet downstream and your paddle in your hand as you collect your composure. When you grab for your board it turns over, making it near impossible to get back on. You resist the struggle, relax into your fate, and bob through the peaks and valleys of the wave train.
Toward the end of your scuffle with the flow, the current presents an eddy, making it possible to escape the grip of its wet talons. You are able to finally swim to the handle on one side and flip your craft upright, then pull yourself back onto your board. The mighty Colorado has humbled you and brought you to your knees; you take deep breaths to make up for the loss of air within its cooling kiss. Waterlogged and chilled to the bone you take a moment to lie on your board and reset your resolve. You now know the power and the strength of the river first hand. Given your close encounter with this unharnessed force of nature, you give thanks to the Creator for being able to live another day. The sun shines upon your face and warms the wet layers of your body, mind, and spirit.
Your guide comes over and asks if you are okay. Even though you have been shaken to your core, you have never felt better. You feel alive. The water has a way of cleansing the overzealous spirit into an awe-inspired awakening. The river is much bigger than you can conceive and you are a minute particle witnessing its power. You realize there is no taming this beast or getting a handle on properly picking your line through it; you leave mastery for another day. The more you surrender your agenda beyond all thought, the more you find a zone where humility and full participation meet. You have learned about going with the flow. You return a smile to your guide, tapping the top of your head in response to her question, and continue downstream.
When you look at your friends, you realize that the river has changed you all. Some are wide-eyed, some quiet, some are soaked and grinning from ear to ear, yet all understand the power of the Colorado. This tributary has woven tighter bonds among you and your comrades as the shared experiences of drifting and surfing sheer chaos replays in your minds. Laughter and words of encouragement fill the air as everyone recounts their journey through the river’s jaws of death. Past a few more bends downriver, your guide points to a beach on the bank and you follow her lead. You cross the flow and enter the calm eddy on the other side, and discover that you have reached your destination and are safely back on dry land. As you disembark from your first voyage, you detach your leash, pull your board onto the beach, your paddle in hand, and raise your voice in gratitude to the canyon walls. As you celebrate victory with your friends you give your guide a big lifejacket hug. The river has not been conquered, it can never be conquered! But you have survived its many temperaments and found a new passion along the way.
May I be an empty vessel, an opening for the true living Earth to rise through me, so I may deliver Earth medicine to those ready to receive her gift. After setting the intention to dedicate my life to Earth and asking to be assimilated into the natural order, we set out on an adventure that peeled back the layers of my existence.
Many questions lingered within my mind as we filled our packs with our food for the trip, cinching our loads to our backs. I had never spent the night in the backcountry, with all of the essentials on my back within the desert landscape. Snakes, spiders, and scorpions breaching my sleeping bag was a real fear while the test of enduring a long-distance was another palatable weakness. One of the truths I live by: the only way out is through. I knew I would meet challenges, I knew I had enough grit to get through, yet ultimately I knew there would be some pain and suffering as part of the process.
In the photo above, my trusted companion and I dropped unfathomable vertical feet down into the canyon floor. There was a lightly etched trail where many had passed upon the surface, praying that each step to hold their weight. We chose the counter-route of the ranger's advice, meeting the traffic of fellow travelers upon their own soul quest. We met the wary eyes of Lamar with his stories and perspective of our collective adventure, an 80 year old grandfather, a young 10 year-old sprite, and a handful of nameless adventurers sharing the canyons with us along the way.
At every opportunity we dropped our packs and attempted to find a way to reach Ancient Puebloan sites. The pathways up to cliff dwellings was more of a scramble than a walk in the park. The people who made the canyon their home were a tough stock. We found granaries with pottery shards, corn, wood, stacked rock, kivas, rock dwellings, and rock art within nooks and crannies beyond the comfort of the beaten path. And, sometimes we found nothing at all--mislead by our guidebook's vague maps--more than once. It is hard to imagine the reality of the previous stewards of the canyons we visited, yet their spirits are alive and well within their remnants that have stood the tests of time.
The non-existent trail followed a creek bed that carried our drinking water within its banks. Bouldering with full packs was not in the memo--a slow and unstable route. Crossing the creek, bushwhacking, recrossing the creek, venturing through wild terrain was the course, each step counting. I named myself Steady Betty, as I was much slower than my speedy companion. My legs ached, my feet blistered, by shoulders cried for reprieve, yet there were miles upon miles to make, each bend within the canyon opening its beauty into new depths. Being present in the moment and witnessing the natural order unfold despite my discomfort was a force that kept me going against all odds.
Another question that took me deeper into my intention was could I humbly release the ego to accept the responsibility of being a living expression of Earth embodied? Mother Theresa's words paraphrased: She (the earth) will use you to accomplish great things on the condition that you believe much more in her LOVE than in your weakness. These words carried me through the bending of my mind. I reminded myself when I would relate to my weakness to stay the course, continue to open to the opportunity to grow beyond my limits, redefining my edge, and return to the earth for sustenance, security and peace.
We stopped 6 miles the first night and made camp, while making 8 miles the next. Making tea with water collected from the stream, heating up food in our packets of Indian delights, and preparing our sleeping arrangements was our evening ritual. In the stillness, the wild sang their harmonies with the natural rhythm. We heard owls, canyon wrens, and frogs, serenading each other as the stars dotted the darkening canopy. Feet sore from improper socks and bodies sore from carrying our loads, it did not take us long to enter into dreamtime.
Our last evening, I asked to receive a vision from the Ancient Ones.Being a novice, I hung our bag of food near the tent. There was a weather front blowing through which rustled the tent most of the evening. At one point in my dream, I thought something was getting into our food. I opened the tent (in the dream) and saw the biggest black bear I have ever seen coming toward me. My first instinct was to go out and grab the food and bring it into the tent. As I huddled inside, I realized my flaw and woke up my friend. When I looked back out there was a stampede of many animals going by getting out of way of the impending flood. I woke up with a start and had to check to make sure all was well. The vision was clear and the meaning continues to unfold.
The last morning there was a beautiful rainbow of color between the canyon walls. A sight to be seen, yet a warning to the canyon adventurer; rain on its way. We had 3 miles left yet we had to climb out of the canyon. It was a gradual ascent instead of the abrupt entry, yet it was still an amazing feat with a loaded pack, thank god for my walking stick! We passed a few dry waterfalls which would be awesome to witness when the unharness force of water unleashes its fury, us far from its path of destruction. We scaled the canyon walls and passed a cliff dwelling on our way out, a prize for our determined focus.
When we summited the edge of the canyon and looked back, it was an amazing sight to behold. We had come so far and received so much. Vigilance, focus, tenacity, endurance, mind over matter, being present, serenity, peace, stillness, steadiness, healing old wounds/stories, surety, trust, comradery, certainty with each step, honoring limitations, and embracing the wild, undomesticated ancient energy were a few of the gifts from the canyons. On my wish list, ultra light gear makes it to the top!
As for integration, this trip has changed my life. I continue to weave into my life what I learned from the heart of canyon country: May I have the endurance to withstand pressure and discomfort; may I have the strength to see it through each quest; my vision of the Living Earth resides within those canyon walls--the rock formations etched within my mind; may the energy that comes through me reflect the depths of this experience; may I be present--one step at a time, carry only what I need, and be grateful for what I have--what is offered is a gift--an exchange of an interplay of elements; may my relationship to Earth and All of Creation be my primary focus--all else will fall into place, may I give back, trust the process, trust myself, be gentle, and stay the course. I am delighted for the wisdom from this Sol Journey, the first of many!