Recently, I began working with women who are housed in a safe-parking shelter in the small town where I live. We meet in a large white tent. It’s exposed to the elements: the tent walls flap in the wind, the heat can sometimes be overwhelming. But inside the tent, there is a space. And in that space, a small circle of women gather each week.
A few weeks ago I suggested that the women write from a prompt. They love the writing practice we do after a brief silent meditation. So I offer ‘Begin writing with the words, Once there was a stone… A stone is part of the earth. A stone reminds us of strength and resiliency. Maybe you remember a time when you found a stone, and its beauty or solidity touched you in a special way.’ Then I briefly shared with them how a stone once gave me strength. But now I’ll share the whole story with you.
Many years ago I participated in a gathering of indigenous Grandmothers from North and South America. Over the four days of the gathering, I rarely spoke. I sensed that my role was simply to listen, to witness. And, that I wasn’t there for myself. I returned home empty handed, as it should be, so I thought.
But in the early morning the day after I came home, something happened. I was still asleep, in that liminal space just before awakening, when I saw a large circle of Grandmothers, maybe fifteen or twenty of them. I could sense their power and singularity of purpose. Most of them I had never seen before. They gave me a piece of obsidian, and then one of Grandmothers said, This is so you don’t forget. It felt impersonal, yet intimately connected with my life.
I awoke with a start and lay still for a few moments, stunned. There was no stone in my hand, but the inner reality was unshakeable.
What I recall is the way in which the elders shared, as it was through their stories that they reflected possibilities that live within each of us. I remember the opening of the gathering by a Chumash spiritual elder in her early eighties. She stood on the sacred ground that looked over the Pacific Ocean, with her grandson close by tending the fire. She spoke for three hours about her life without a hint of judgment, spreading before us incredibly difficult times.
At one point, she pulled up her sleeves to reveal scars from an early marriage. She later said, I had to forgive myself to do the work I do now. As she stood there on the bluff by the ocean, her joy, her strength and devotion, were a shining presence.
Another Grandmother, younger and with a quality of fierce compassion, spoke tenderly about a feminine spiritual consciousness that has been placed inside each one of us. She told us that we have each been given a ‘bundle’ that expresses itself in different ways according to the traditions and lineages we belong to. She explained that instructions are there inside each one of us – how to live in caring relationship to each other, to the natural world, to the sacred in all things.
Stories hold and transmit wisdom. And when I remember an experience or a dream, when it comes up in life, I pay attention. For there, inside the story, I find a kernel of truth to reflect on, helping me to understand how I need to live.
The toxicity that we encounter in our current culture, a culture that has forgotten its sacred origins, is often difficult to bear. But we are in service to life. And my understanding is that we can only participate in life in this deeper way, to the extent that we honor and hold sacred our own life. And as we deepen our embodiment of oneness, we can plant seeds of reverence and care for all life.
So I return to the obsidian – the gift of the Grandmothers – and the words that remain with me like an echo, This is so you don’t forget.