I once spent a year travelling to a workshop called “Spirit Dreaming.” Every couple of months forty people met in Northern California at a place called Camp Gualala, located in the middle of a redwood forest. For five days at a stretch, we would enter the Dreamtime to envision a new world and look for ways to creatively manifest those visions in our daily lives and communities.
During those long weekends, we created gorgeous, powerful rituals where we broke our hearts into pieces, reclaimed things we’d lost along life’s journey, and then put our sweet hearts back together again in a new way that allowed us, as Maya shaman Martin Prechtel says, “to jump up and live.” We made sacred tools, grieved, taught each other songs, got silly, did impromptu theatrical presentations, slept outside our cabins on the deck or took our mattresses down by the river to listen to the water and watch the stars wheel by overhead. It was glorious.
Each time we shot the rapids of those five wild, pure days of conflict, honesty, and compassion, we fell madly in love with each other and with the world—over and over again.
Re-dreaming the Bond between Men and Woman
I remember a day when a couple who were having problems with their relationship asked the group’s facilitators for help. That long weekend we were working on re-dreaming masculinity and femininity. Frances suggested that instead of the group facilitators being the ones to lead the discussion, that we should involve the entire community in the dialogue.
Held within the Communal Embrace
So, we began by putting the young woman in the center of a circle with all of the other women holding her in a safe and sacred container of holy feminine love and support. Meanwhile, the men and her partner sat silently in a larger circle of support outside the periphery of the women’ circle. Within this loving space, the young woman poured out the story of her relationship, its challenges, its joys, and her doubts that it could last.
The circle of women just listened at first, holding her grief and uncertainty in the warm, nonjudgmental embrace of our attention. Then, one by one we began to share the stories of our own relationships and what we had learned when we had dared to open our hearts to love and commitment, come what may. We talked about the things we had gained and the things we had lost; how we had found ways to “make it work,” and how we had learned to let our lovers and husbands go; how love had died and how we thought we would never love again; but how love could always be reborn. We spoke of hope, forgiveness, and coming back to life.
Then it was the men’s turn. The young man sat in the center and the men made a circle around him, while the women silently held the sacred space in a larger circle around the men. The young man spoke of his love for the woman, his grief that she might want to leave him, and his hopes that their relationship could be healed. One by one the men shared their stories of daring to open their hearts to love. I thought I knew something of men’s hearts, but I realized that I didn’t know the first thing about them. The men were that honest.
Washing Each Other’s Feet
Everyone wept and laughed, and we finished this ritual by washing each other’s feet. First the men washed all the women’s feet, then the women washed all the men’s feet. I will never forget the sweetness of that hour. Even if only for awhile, the barriers between the genders came down, and we knew what it was to touch hearts as free men and women.
The Bundle of Sacred Tears
Since there had been an unexpected amount of weeping that day, and a surprising lack of attention to trash baskets, someone suggested that we should gather the tissues scattered about the room into a bundle and bury them under the 2,400-year-old redwood tree on the other side of the river. After all, these tears were sacred and represented a great many heart-wrenchingly beautiful stories about the meaning of love. A couple of us carefully picked up the tissues, wrapped them in a cloth, decorated the bundle with ribbons, leaves, and flowers, and placed this bundle on the shrine in the middle of the room until nightfall.
That evening after dinner, we all made a procession with flashlights and candles down the steep wooden steps of the hill, across the suspension bridge that spanned the river’s voice, and into the forest. We sang as we walked through the black moonless night. Above our heads the enormously tall pine trees made that soughing sound in the wind that only tremendously tall and old trees can make. It sounds like the voices of a thousand invisible unborn children whispering together.
When we got to the base of the 2,400-year-old redwood tree, two of the men began to dig a hole a few yards out from the trunk. All of us were in an altered state, silent, entranced, and filled with power. The men looked very serious as they positioned their shovels, put their feet on the top of the blades, and began to dig. Suddenly, we heard a loud clunk. Thinking they’d just hit a rock, the men moved a couple of feet away and tried again to push their shovels into the dirt. Clunk again. It soon became clear that the fellows were trying to dig through a wide buried shelf of concrete that seemed to encircle the entire base of the tree. It had been there for so long that it was invisible, covered with a foot of moss, humus, and leaves.
We all stood there with our mouths open for a second, feeling like we were falling over an emotional cliff, then we began to laugh uncontrollably—forty adults standing in a forest under the new moon, laughing their heads off. So much for the solemnity of our ritual to honor our tears. The men with the shovels moved further off from the base of the tree and finally found a place soft enough to dig a hole. We resumed our ritual then and buried our bundle.
Laughing with God
Sometimes it’s good to be reminded not to take ourselves so seriously. Since when are ritual and worship supposed to be perfect—or even so very solemn? We felt like the spirits of the place were laughing with us that night, like God was laughing with us, and it felt good.
We need to open the ears of our hearts and hear God’s punch line once in a while—put our tears to rest and share a good belly laugh with the Divine.