It is a familiar dry landscape with its accompanying heat. The dust strewn road, expansive as a highway, is brimming with tourists, tour guides and circling vendors selling trinkets, woven blankets, hats, masks, and obsidian jewelry. Ancient platform stone monuments and two pyramids line the street known as the Avenue of the Dead.
I hadn’t planned on returning so soon, or even at all, but I received an unexpected cash bonus at work that enabled me to embark on a pilgrimage of sorts, a journey inward facilitated by the energy alive in the rocks and sacred spaces left behind by the people who created this pre-Hispanic site outside of Mexico City. My fourth time here and the first time without my husband. It is a women-only retreat, led by an apprentice of the shaman Miguel Ruiz who is also my spiritual teacher. They believe Toltecs built the city as a place for teaching their philosophy of mastering awareness and a path with heart. A philosophy made popular in the sixties by Carlos Castaneda with his book The Teachings of Don Juan.
My palm is sweating after Rita, my Toltec teacher, reaches for my hand, but she doesn’t let go of me as we walk from the Pyramid of the Moon to the Pyramid of the Sun at Teotihuacán, sometimes referred to as City of the Gods. Later, Rita asks what we experienced that morning, and I think of Deb, Paige, and the other women who were sitting all around me.
It felt as if we were one connected bloodstream that morning. Our energy circulated through us and erupted in tears, laughter, howling, sobbing and breathing as it passed through each woman. I remember hearing Deb whisper, “Yes, yes,” and when I allowed her words to open my heart, I understood everything she was saying yes to, and I cried. What courage, what beauty, what heart is squeezing my hand? Nothing else was real except Deb’s willingness to accept what is here right now, openly and without reservation. It was catching, this surrender, this bliss, and we became one under the glaring brightness truth of the sun.
I tell Rita and the four women acting as teacher assistants that this was the sweetest moment for me: sitting next to Deb, who has never been away without her husband and children before. She is here out of faith; faith that what Dana, her neighbor and coordinator of this retreat, has discovered is worth checking out.
Before we arrive at the Pyramid of the Sun, Rita says that she has no expectations for the next ceremony, no preconceived notions of what should be. She is not attached to any outcome. She turns to me while asking the group, “What would happen if you totally let go?”
“I don’t know,” I reply, looking into Rita’s brown eyes. We turn to face the immense pyramid, its front side contains platforms and stairs, and resembles a face that curious visitors climb up and down, and it beckons “Climb me.”
“You will know what to do by the time you reach the top,” Rita tells her apprentices. Now I am officially one, ever since I walked into the hotel and Dana told me I would be assisting a group leader. I was surprised I’d be taking on this role, but that was a good thing, because I felt no obligation to prepare or project anything. It is the perfect way to experience life on a spiritual adventure: no obligations, no preparations, only surprises and flowing with the moment.
I let go of worrying about what to do at the top. Things have a way of happening there, so what’s the use of “figuring it out?” Intent seems different at Teotihuacán too. As if a higher, not quite personal, intent superimposes itself. Personal intent is too small, too vaporous to stay focused upon. It dissipates in the wind blowing through ancient mysterious edifices built to shatter the smallness of our personal views, desires and concerns.
The Moon is my source of wonder at Teo. I never particularly liked the Pyramid of the Sun. It’s too large, too masculine. This trip, though, I feel different. Perhaps being among women, and away from my husband’s maleness, allows me to breathe in the Sun’s energy easier.
The pyramid has been inviting me to climb it for two days now. I feel ready to accept its protective, assuring stance. I begin the climb up by placing a foot on the stone step in front of me. The stairs at the base are tall and steep so I simultaneously place hands on the steps as I climb. I look like a small child climbing a staircase at home. After a few steps, I place my right hand on the smooth side of the pyramid rather than the step in front of me. When I feel the pyramid’s uneroded stone beneath my palm I am filled with words immediately. I know what to say, and I agree. The mountain has spoken, transferred through rock its intent, its purpose.
The climb becomes more difficult, and I have trouble catching my breath. Gravity pulls me into the rock and each step requires my full strength and attention. By the time we reach the first platform I am gasping for air. I lean my full body against the slanted side of the pyramid and gulp air into my lungs. I don’t understand. I have climbed the pyramid several times with no problem. I hustle around New York City streets with ease. Why am I out of breath, and my heart pounding in my throat? I remember breathing like this in front of the Moon just six weeks ago. Maybe a larger spirit than mine takes its toll on the human body, perhaps my physical exertion affirms the mountain’s wishes?
Rita leads us around the parameter of the pyramid, and performs a ceremonial prayer at each corner. By the third corner I forget where I am and merge with the mind of the earth. Perched high, arms wide open, and with blessed cool air caressing my body I could be anything. I am to speak the mountain’s heart felt intent for the pilgrims who climb it. We continue our way around to the next staircase and I climb to the top with ease.
It’s a busy day at this stunning ancient archaeological site. When a large family leaves, we move in quickly and sit down cross-legged, forming a circle in the flat center of the very top of the pyramid. We join hands, and as my left palm slips into Rita’s I go limp. With every breath, my head slumps closer to my chest. My shoulders sink towards the earth while my arms become heavy as rubber weights. On my right, Catherine is rocking and vibrating in contrast to my leadenness. I briefly wonder if something is amiss with me, but the feeling is too exquisite, too enveloping, and I don’t want to resist it, I don’t want anything. My hands are lifted on either side as the other women raise their arms following Rita’s words and gestures. I don’t respond. I am gone, too lovely to sink into the stone, too peaceful to think at all.
I don’t know how long we stayed like that but after a while, my human habit of wondering what’s next takes over. When I open my eyes, I see the rest of our group gathering around us. They seem unsure of what to do. Gloria, another retreat coordinator, steps into the circle we have prepared and begins to speak. A thought creeps into my mind and squeaks, “I don’t know how to say it.”
“The mountain says,” is answered back from the pyramid. I wait for the right moment to start. Rita stands up to join Gloria and begins to speak to the women, but it doesn’t feel right. “If you are going to do it, do it now,” I tell myself, and so I stand and face the women gathered at the top of the Pyramid of the Sun.
“Climb me, said the mountain. Climb me!”
My voice is loud and clear as I look into the faces of the women I have spent the last three days with. I don’t need to think about the next word, it easily comes to me.
“Climb me for I am big and strong and of the earth. I will support you, hold you. Climb me, said the mountain. Climb me and lay down your burdens, give them to me. Give me your concerns, your troubles, your weight. Let it go. Give it to me, I am strong, I can take it from you. Let it go. Climb me, said the mountain. Let it go, it is not yours to carry. Unburden yourself on me. Let it go. All of it. Empty, empty yourself. Let it go. And when you are empty, and can see the world as it is, without judgment, when you are empty then there is nothing else to do but to fall in love. Fall in love with everything, everything as it is.”
I pause and notice a large group of Mexican people have gathered around us. One young woman is speaking in Spanish to them. I am not done and want to express the wonderfulness of falling in love with all that surrounds me. Words come to me again, and I want to let them out so I start to speak again. Falling in love with what is, without wanting it to be what I think it should be – the ecstasy of empty that allows love to spill in and out.
But the young woman gets louder and drowns out my voice. I stop and yield to what is. Now I listen to her and watch her expression. Rita translates a few words and falls silent when the crowd around us chants “Mexico, Mexico.” Roused by the emotion of the lone young woman when she resumes speaking, the people raise their arms and chant again. I raise my arms and chant too. I don’t know what it is all about, but I want to join in. The Pyramid of the Sun’s message has been delivered and the moments that follow are filled with chanting. I smile at the crowd and the young, powerful Mexican woman. She speaks less loudly and soon stops.
She asks in English if they may use the center for a moment. Rita and Gloria make way for two little girls dressed for a holiday. The woman speaks in Spanish again and the people gathered around cheer. She hugs the girls and then the girls hug Gloria and Rita and make their way back to their parents. The fiery Mexican woman thanks us and the crowd with her disperses.
I have no idea what just happened, but I later find out that she wasn’t praising my speech, but was in fact being rather derogatory about Americanas. We probably fouled up a long-time planned ceremony for the girls and their parents. But in the end our smiles and bewilderment won the day and our ceremonies merged within the hugs of two young girls. Ah, if only all such conflicts could be resolved so sweetly. Maybe they can if we imagine it that way.
16 December, 2022