Sunday, September 21, 2008
Autumn Equinox - part ll
Dancing in the Abyss
Whenever I feel as though life is hurtling toward the edge, I think of the flyers, los voladores of ancient Mexico… tied by a rope, tethered to the Tree of Life, flying upside-down in the wind; ribbons of color cutting the air with red, yellow, green and blue; music trilling lightly from their flutes singing from the brink of oblivion…. dancing in the abyss. Los voladores are a tradition and vision of equanimity. They breathe grace, even as they spin, hanging by a strand as they hurtle toward the earth. Their sureness and grace lie in their knowing. They know they are held safely, cradled by invisible threads that anchor them to the Infinite.
In the middle of the night, as my abdomen engorged and distended, this unknown “thing” rapidly was crowding my stomach, kidneys, gut and breath. I struggled to breathe – to remain present. The pain cut through my belly with each partial breath, defining the edges of bearable. I fought to find my way to the still-point, the point of balance, where I could float free of pain or at least be released from it’s tenacious grip of fear. I searched to find my freedom and release my fear as I fell through the infinite, through the Abyss. And all the while the pain charged, mounting stronger, searing itself into my flesh, my breaking flesh.
High above the earth, the four voladores settle onto their seats at the top of the central pole. Each flyer, one of the Four Winds: East, South, West and North. The fifth volador climbs above the seated four, standing straight atop the pole on an area that spans no larger than the soles of his feet. He lifts himself upright, defying gravity, height and fear. Drum in hand he begins to beat the rhythm of the heartbeat: ba-bahm, ba-bahm, ba-bahm, ba-bahm. The Heartbeat of Tierra Madre; ba-bahm, ba-bahm, beating on the drum, beating down through the pole, beating into the earth. He sings, calling forth the four winds, the energies weaving together to create a dance of light and air and Spirit. Los voladores sit, each in his direction, high above the density of a world caught in gravity and heaviness. They wind their rickety platform like the winding of a cosmic clock, their ropes wrapping around the pole as they wind it up. Then, together in a synchronized movement, they let themselves go, falling backwards off of their platform into the emptiness of space behind them, trusting that their connection, a single rope tethered to the pole - the Tree of Life, will hold them up against gravity. As the weight of their four bodies pulls downward, the ropes begin unwinding and the flyers soar through the air in ever widening circles. Suspended upside-down, colors flying in freedom, flutes warbling a song of beauty, they defy distress, instead embodying the lightness of Spirit in a state of grace. Los voladres - the flyers: equanimity and balance while dancing in the Abyss.
I lay my body on the earth asking her to cradle me, to take my suffering, to pull the pain from my aching flesh. She calms me, soothes me, comforts me, her child. I give her my fear and panic, the hooks that anchor the intense pain ripping through my flesh. And I breathe…. I breathe.... I could stay here under the nighttime sky asking her to take my pain for as long as she will, for as long as she is able. I could stay here and let go of the body, release it back to the earth…. return it from where it came… “from dust thou came and to dust thou shall return…” And then their faces: my children, my wife - my loved ones appear before me calling me to return to the living, return to the suffering, embrace the pain, to find the rope tethering me to the Tree of Life - the hope for a fleeting moment of grace in the midst of chaos. I pick myself up off the ground and choose to walk forward with courage, to walk myself through the hospital doors. I surrender. And upon arriving in that darkened, pre-dawn hour at the hospital, I surrender myself to the knowledge that my life will never be the same. I surrender to what will be a week-long search for an answer: a search into my body, into my soul.
Los voladores arc gracefully through the air, their ropes unwinding from the pole, 52 times circling in an inverted upside-down dance; 52 sacred circlings of grace under fire. 52, the sacred number from the Ancient Ones, the memory passed from one generation to the next. And they hold to the instructions, hold to the memory, hold to the ancestors, performing their sacred duty, their flying dance of 52 circlings of the Tree of Life that helps the earth to awaken to another day.
The story of the hospital unfolds amidst blood tests, x-rays, cat scans, lymph node biopsy, bone marrow biopsy, consultations and teams of doctors searching for an answer, tracking down clues to a puzzle, in hopes around the next corner the answer lies: 52 sacred turnings of the rope, circling the Tree of Life.
Now the ropes unwind to their full length. Los voladores fly in beauty; large slow circles, the flutes trilling playfully, the drum steadily beating, another Dance of Grace completed… and in the final circling, the 52nd one, the flyers smoothly right themselves to meet the ground on their feet. They take their first steps on the earth... humble walkers once again. Flyers, disguised among the walking - until tomorrow when they will fly again and call the Earth to awaken to another dawn.
Dawn in the hospital held most in slumber, except those who had routines to perform: blood to be drawn, medicines to be dispensed, vitals to be recorded… routines. The dawn of my diagnosis of cancer coursing throughout my body, through my blood, found me escaping the hospital walls to the outdoors – to the garden. Here I was again, under a pre-dawn, still nighttime sky. All of my worldly foundations had crumbled. Now, I sat under a vision of an endless universe filled with stars, galaxies and Mystery; a vision of the Eternal flying high above this mortal ground… and this time I sang. My IV pole on wheels became the Tree of Life; the plastic tubing dripping medicines into me became the rope tethering me to the Tree. I circled the IV pole Tree of Life, inverted, upside down, 52 sacred circlings, defying pain and fear, safely held by the Invisible, connecting me to the Infinite.
I had become un volador - one who dances in the Abyss…and sings:
In the house made of dawn,
In the story made of dawn,
On the trail of dawn…
Beauty is before me.
Beauty is behind me.
Above and below me
Hovers the beautiful.
And I am surrounded by it.
I am immersed in it.
In my youth I am aware of it,
And in the sunset of my life
I shall walk quietly
The beautiful trail.
(poem by n. scott momaday)