Listening for Possibility

As creators of our lives, we all have the innate capacity to build, inform, move, transform, and deeply touch others. The teachers and artists who went to San Luis for the Move Mountains Project, teaching, sharing, and encouraging students to express themselves, are a special group of people. Although I only caught the tail end of the Move Mountains Project: San Luis, the folks I met, the local lore and scenery, and the spiritual movement I encountered in my own life during the weekend I visited were so powerful, I took nearly a month to reflect before writing this piece. 

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Move Mountains Trailer:

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SSLOoverviewVisitsloan Luis, Colorado – The teachers were all camped out in a white house on the side of the highway. They were a little stressed about dinner when Matt, (computer tech guru by day and math superhero by night), Sarah, (his red-haired, green-eyed English wizard, wife, and teacher), and I, (blogger, artist, eccentric) arrived. I immediately set to work making calabacitas to supplement dinner. Calabacitas is a traditional dish combining yellow squash, corn, zucchini, onions, and garlic. As I grilled the corn, Matt and Sarah cracked open their cooler and beers began to circulate. Many of the participating teachers and artists brightened up, accepted beers, and began sharing. I listened, mingled a bit, made some connections, and then took the successfully grilled corn into the house.

In the kitchen, Kerry cut all the vegetables for me, and we just talked. There’s a special kind of unreserved talking that happens in the kitchen, and Kerry understood this, a tradition passed from cook to cook for uncounted generations. She gave me the space to speak, listened to my woes, my concerns, my confusion about life, and I just allowed it all to bubble up and out, dealing with whatever came to me. Then she talked, and I listened to her tell me about her brothers and father and how they cooked and shared, and how she was used to being their support, the prep cook, and how she loved being in a loud kitchen. Her story touched me, warmed my heart, and this intimate and open exchange was the beginning of a weekend of listening.

Dinner was soon served, a mishmash created by our communal foodstuffs, and we all stood in the kitchen, 15-20 adults, talking loudly, drinking beers, laughing at jokes, and eating with fingers, forks, spoons, and tortillas. And this marked the moment when Time began to seem odd to me, as if some wayfarer had simply cast me adrift in a rowboat along Time’s misty shores.

People near campfire in forest.After dinner, we gathered ’round the fire outside and created a singing circle. We seemed to sit there singing for hours, our eyes bright in the firelight. People tapped hand drums, gas cans, and other unlikely percussion instruments, played panpipes, and took turns singing. For a while, I sat, trying to fight something inside me. I felt a deep sadness and a ferocious feeling of loss, something unbidden, and I decided to sing it out. I waited for a break, and then I just became the vessel for a message I could never recall nor understand. After I finished, I knew only that it’d been a song of grief, of loss, of pain. My throat was tight, and I realized that I was on the verge of tears.

I gazed around the circle, and everyone was looking away from me, ashamed, pensive, sad, thoughtful, mourning the losses of the community with the recent death of a young woman, or perhaps consumed with thoughts of their own losses, and I was annoyed that no one would acknowledge me. Then I made eye contact with Miguel Huerta, who’s dark eyes seemed to understand. That open understanding and sympathy angered me as I wanted no sympathy, and I excused myself from the fire and attempted retiring for the night. Clambering into the tent and crawling over Matt and Sarah, I laid down, but rest would not come. I tossed and turned, unable to get comfortable.

Sometime around midnight, I got up, telling myself I had to go to the bathroom, but as soon as I left the tent, the new moon’s dark night, the bright stars strewn across the sky like billions of diamonds against velvet, the cloudy vision of the Milky Way, these things called me. I answered in movement and began walking away from San Luis, away from this place that brought out such emotions in me.

The entire night to this point marked the beginning of a greater movement in my life, a spiritual sway, a physical draw, making me taut and ready for release, and I was overcome with it. Life, work, family, relationships, friends, hobbies, vacations–everything was shifting along with my perspective, and part of me did not want to let go of my old ways, the ones that didn’t ever work well and created so much drama in my life.

My thoughts swirled around my personal phobias about the future, the past, and my present, so restless, but in the movement of the walk, I began to quiet that inner voice. I stopped several times to simply lay on the ground and gaze up at the heavens, and the beauty took me far away because I had spent my childhood longing for the stars, longing for someone to come down from another planet and just take me away, longing for adventure. The stars were steady guides, a latticework for my thoughts, and the sky drew my mind toward emptiness, toward the dark places I normally ignored so they, too, could be emptied.

fence-and-treesAt one point, I stood, and I saw some trees in the distance. I began walking toward those trees, cutting through the fields before me. I encountered a barbed wire fence and decided to jump it. I cut my leg on that first fence, and in the pain of it, I determined to get to the trees and touch them. I encountered another fence, also topped with barbed wire, another, and another. They seemed to never stop coming, and I began thinking that I’d never reach the stand of trees. I despaired for a good time, but I kept moving, kept myself in action, and I pushed through. Soon, I stood at the base of the hill where the trees lived.

Two much taller fences met in a V-shape, and I stood, completely forlorn and discouraged because I could not climb those fences. I gazed up through the fence to the nearest tree. It was just near enough for me to touch. I placed my hand on the tree’s trunk through the fence, and I stood there, exhausted, spent, and full of peace. I made it to the trees, but this fence I would not climb. I turned and returned to the teachers’ camp, and I stopped by my car and just sat for a moment in the drivers’ seat, closing my eyes.

When I next opened them, it was morning, and I realized I’d fallen asleep in my car. I got up and made my way back to the tent, sliding into my sleeping bag, and I fell into a deep, dream-filled sleep. In my dreams, the fires burned into the depths of the night, and drumbeats called me, a flitting hummingbird, to faraway lands where I spoke before many people. Communities coalesced, moved together organically, grew like cells in fingernails, and seeing the movement, I relaxed.

This was the morning of the Santa Ana Festival, a Catholic Feastday popular in the Latin Church,  held on the 26th of July each year. Santa Ana (Saint Anne or Anna) is a strong female figure, the Mother of Mary, who was Mother to Jesus. I finally got up, faced the sunlight, ate breakfast, and left for the Festival. I felt washed, blank, and ready to listen. I tied my skirt and straddled the rickety bike I was using courtesy of a good friend. I knew something had been set free within me on that walk in the middle of the night, but I still struggled to understand it.

The festivities distracted me enough that I didn’t really think about the previous evening’s journey again until I was riding through the night with fireworks exploding above my head. In that moment, breathing hard and startled by the loud explosions, I gazed up into the night sky, and the patterns there etched flame into my retinas. I chose at that moment, to live my life fully, to tackle the fences I can now, and remember to come back and re-visit the ones I’d not yet climbed.

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The 2015 Move Mountains Project: San Luis is run by a phenomenal group of leaders who empower teens to run their own non-profit. To find out more, please visit the Facebook page.