Spells of Visibility
As we approach December 21, 2012, I sat down with the intention to write about the Mayan Long Count Calendar which is so much in the media these days. This date marks the end of a 5126 year cycle. Some fear that it marks the end of time itself - a fact that NASA adamantly denies. In recalling many conversations that I have had with Mayan Shaman over the past 8 years while leading Yoga retreats in the Guatemalan highlands, I found that it was not discussions about the calendar that I remembered most vividly, but a warning that the road has teeth!
One Shaman in particular intrigued me. Over several trips to Guatemala Vinnie and I became friends. On my last trip I raised the question of the Mayan calendar. He dismissed the end of times prophesies almost carelessly, explaining that it was just the start of a new cycle, not the end of the world and that December 22nd would mark the first day of a new Long Count calendar cycle. After all, over the last two hundred thousand years that modern humans have lived on earth we have survived about forty cycles of five thousand years.
I think the public fear comes not from the reset of the Mayan long count calendar but rather from our observation of accelerating changes everywhere we look that threaten to tear apart the fabric of our society. The Mayan calendar is a convenient hook to hang this fear on. It is easier to worry about something that is beyond our control and therefore requires no action on our part. It requires more courage to face our responsibilities for the past and to the future. There are many reasons to be concerned right now but the Mayan calendar is not one of them.
In recounting my conversations with Vinnie I remembered something else he said. I had heard that most shaman in Guatemala have a specialty or something they are known for and I asked what he was known for. He replied “I am famous for my spells of invisibility! The Mayan have a common saying –The Road has teeth!”. He explained that a Mayan peasant in the market place must stand out and be seen in order to sell their goods, but that they are most vulnerable when on the road carrying their wares to market, and returning home with money. “I cast spells to allow them to become invisible when on the road”.
After this conversation with Vinnie about his spells of invisibility I started to pay more attention to the Guatemalan peasants we drove past in our tour van going to and from the lake. One day, while stretching our legs at a rest stop I noticed that a small group of women balancing bundles of beautiful hand woven huipils on their heads had passed right by our group without being noticed. It was almost as though, thinking they were invisible, they became invisible. Another group of men, carrying large stacks of firewood on their backs came floating by without a ripple… heads down, avoiding eye contact, unseen, and unnoticed. Later that day we encountered these same women in the market place. The transformation was spectacular. They had no trouble being seen and heard. They called out to us, following us down to the Lago Atitlan shoreline, spreading out their traditional huipils for us to admire on the boat dock, thus blocking our escape to the waiting water taxi. My students found themselves shopping their way to the waiting boat.
In Guatemala it is not just the peasants who learn to become invisible. Two young Guatemalan women in their early Twenties, Lorena and Lucrecia, sisters from an upper middle class family in Guatemala City, attended a yoga & writing retreat that I held on Lake Atitlan some years ago. They were both fluent in English and I took advantage of the opportunity to ask them questions about their country. One story in particular stayed with me. The older sister, Lorena, told us that growing up in Guatemala City, as teenagers, she and her friends, upon seeing a policeman, would run the other way, rather than risk being shaken down for money. They laughed about hiding in the branches of a tree to avoid a corrupt police officer.
In Guatemala, the secret to a long life is learning how to be invisible. This is true of all countries where the rule of law has been abandoned in favor of ‘might is right’. We take so much for granted in this country, including the idea that if you have done nothing wrong, you do not have to fear the police. But this is not true in many parts of the world, and even in this country, there are many communities, where teenagers learn from experience, like Lorena and Lucrecia, to run from the police.
Freedom is seldom given to the invisible and never retained by them for long. Freedom is earned by those who choose to be visible, to stand up and stand out. This can be seen today in the civil rights and gay rights movements but these movements have roots that go back through the Women’s suffrage, the abolitionists, the American Revolution, the Magna Carta and beyond. These rights and freedoms that we enjoy today were obtained at considerable cost by individuals who valued freedom over and above security. People like suffragette Elizabeth Cady Stanton and civil rights activist Martin Luther King and the thousands of equally brave if less well known heroes who took a stand for what they thought was right.
Ahimsa or non-violence is one of the most important philosophical tenets of yoga. It was popularized by Gandhi in his revolutionary non-violent protests that eventually won India her independence from the British empire. Many mistake cowardice for ahimsa, choosing to avoid the bully and ignore social injustice. The real practice of ahimsa is not to run from conflict, but to confront it - not with fear and violence, but with calmness and compassion. This requires tremendous courage.
As the Mayan Long Count Calendar resets back to zero and we enter into a brand new five thousand year cycle, perhaps we can all find the courage to ask for spells of visibility rather than invisibility. Let us endeavor to practice Ahimsa and when faced with teeth radiate compassion in the face of fear.
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|The Peace Pilgrim|
|Follow Your Bliss|
|Leading by Example|
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|The Other Person|