When you go on a Heartland pilgrimage you have to know that you have unwittingly contracted to take a fast ride down the rabbit hole where you will become immediately disoriented. This I have well learned from two radically different experiences on this route. The big change in 2013 was the addition of landing squarely in Baba’s labyrinth. Baba’s labyrinth is clearly distinguished by His control over the vehicle; where, turning it into His toy matchbox car, He drags it (with sheer delight I am sure) in spiraling U-turns that eventually…..maybe some months and/or lifetimes later…..leads all participants to get much more than we bargained for. It seems as though the result is not only deeply personal, but at the same time expansive, to include the selective choosing of new, innocent, and completely unsuspecting beads to be strung onto His string of unity and oneness. The litmus test that proved Baba had total control of the situation was that no matter how strongly any person thought and insisted they knew the best or correct route to our next destination, each would be wrong at some point…..and sometimes in a big way. There would be no paper map, GPS, or Google map quest that was going to override Baba’s magnetic finger, U-turning us, confusing and frustrating us, and delaying us for His own mysterious satisfaction. This was most definitely the case upon our arrival in Tahlequah.
Tahlequah is not a particularly big town. We were already late and anxious because we knew we had some very special experiences waiting for us with some very special Cherokee people. But just to illustrate how much control was NOT in our hands, we passed, several times, the very intersection we were to turn on to get to the Cherokee village. With Walmart as a landmark even, 2 drivers and 2 navigators plus 11 other people could not see where we were supposed to turn. We even drove 7 miles beyond it and outside of town! I could hear the puzzled patient voice of Wah’de on the phone with Kathryn, sitting in the front passenger seat next to me, trying to navigate us, communicate where we were, and translate what we needed to do. Somehow it just wouldn’t happen.
Our First Nation people are a patient people. They are used to waiting. When we were finally able to see the huge Walmart landmark and arrive, we were given a warm greeting. We had a short talking circle during which we received an explanation about the welcome dance that was the gift from them to us. We were also told about the significance and importance of the turtle shells worn on the legs of the women who kept the pace of the dance, and a bit about the culture of the Council house where we would witness the dance. The Council house is constructed like an octagonal circle, but with more sides. When we were led into the Council house it was deep dusk and rapidly getting dark. Notably, the entrance to the Council house was not straight forward, like through a normal door, but took 2 U-turns to actually get inside! Once inside, the significance and sacredness of what was about to happen made its own strong presence felt. Then even beyond that was the discovery of a new element that was not experienced upon our arrival anywhere else, and which would exponentially enhance opening to the bliss of it, at least for me……..suffering.
In the center of the Council house was a huge fire pit with a few enormous cedar logs that had been obviously burning for a long time. No flames were crackling on those logs. They were now huge coals, profusely smoking, and glowing a hot yellow orange. Apparently, earlier in the day there was a big rainstorm which left the fire pit wet. This was the atmosphere, hot dense smoke. So much so that I was sure I might need an emergency room visit after the experience. As night rapidly fell, the huge room became almost pitch black. We Beads sat on benches, about 3 deep, lining the outside walls. There was coughing and clearing of throats by all, but miraculously we mostly found quiet. Wah’de, a young Cherokee chief, stood in front of the burning ember logs talking to us about the dance and Cherokee tradition. He called the dance, and was joined by an older chief, his 12 year old son, and the women. Back and forth young and older chiefs called out and answered each other in the Cherokee tongue. Then suddenly the women began the stomp of their turtle shells. The dance began. Some of the women had as many as 9 shells on each leg. The effect was intensely powerful, and was even more powerfully accentuated by the women and men becoming dark smokey silhouettes circling those huge hot amber colored logs. The men sang and answered in the language of the dance. The women, in perfect time were keeping the rhythm with their turtle shells. The space was filled with smoke and primal sounds. Our attention seemed to become almost trance-like as we were surely hypnotized by these sensations. They vibrated every part of our souls, the smoke took over our senses, and spirits filled the room. I should speak for myself, but in my perception, which seemed acutely clear at the time, I’d have to say we were all transported to another dimension beyond time and space.
Then the dance ended. The dancers faded into the blackness and Wah’de stood before me as a silhouette and called me up to join him. There were no thoughts in my mind that told me what to do. I got up and faced Wah’de. I don’t remember what he said, but I do remember him literally disappearing into that darkness leaving me standing there by myself. So I began to speak. At first it was painful and difficult to breath and speak at the same time, even while covering my nose and mouth with my scarf. I told something of our troubles in getting there, our U-turns, our not being able to see what was in front of us, and I said that I had to trust there was a reason for it. Out of that smokey darkness the strong clear voice of Wah’de rang through the room answering “there’s always a reason.”
I gave the offering of acknowledging the wrongs done to the Cherokee, and called to the European ancestors to be part of the spirits, to witness the apology I made on their behalf for the generational grief and suffering caused by their ignorance and greed. I spoke of our purpose. I called Irma and Dee to join me so they could read their prayers in the glow of the logs. Danielle and Anisa came forward to offer a bit more light from a cell phone. A few Beads sang, with Kathryn and Richard, a verse of Amazing Grace in Cherokee and one in English. Then, together, all the Beads said the Prayer of Repentance. The effect was beyond words. But our offerings caused Wah’de to reappear in front of me and announce that they wanted to offer another gift to us. This time it would be the dance of friendship. We were all invited to dance together in unity with the Cherokee around those hot smoking logs. This is a very rare honor. Baba’s Beads-on-One-String and Cherokee people danced a long dance together that night in friendship and unity, with all defenses and pretenses erased though loving sincerity. The night ended with a celebratory meal, family style, in a popular pizza restaurant. As I said my good-bye to Wah’de, he told me that the next time we come to Tahlequah we would not have to stay in a hotel, that we would be welcomed into the homes of the Cherokee people.
Beauty, Harmony, Love, Unity.
There’s always a reason.