Click "Read More" to read my reflection through the cycles of the Serpent, Jaguar, Hummingbird and Eagle, along with our journeys to Yosemite and Mono Hot Springs and our special experience with the Cacao Ceremony.
I find I have come to enjoy the work that is processed in the Serpent Cycle. Perhaps it’s a reflection of my joy for all aspects of life that causes me to want to bring students to that place of surrender and just break down and cry. The Serpent Cycle is not an easy time, I believe the constant vibrations of our wording Letting Go, Fear, Expectations, Loss, the fact that we barely know Ourselves, eventually it works, eventually the student surrenders and allows the energetic build up of emotion to release in warm tears. For this reason I intentionally led the days intentions of Letting Go (1st day) and Surrender (last day) as well as guided our Letting Go ceremony. With the intention implanted in our hearts, most students who hadn’t already had that emotional release that refreshes you to your soul, finally found their chance to release. Re-embodying a painful time or place or experience in their life, eyes closed, feeling the moment with every sense available, reliving it, till they open their eyes and see the eyes of a caring soul, simply holding space with no judgement, with love and understanding, they final have a chance to let go. The feeling after a cry is uplifting, you find a moment where you are not sure whether to laugh or to cry, and it liberates you. Later that evening gathered around the fire, connecting this communal moment, this circle, this fire to every fire that has ever been. Since the beginning of fire, we have sat and shared, we have told stories and sang together, opened our hearts to each other. As we sit at this fire, we remember all those who have sat for generations before us, asking the same mystical questions, why, why, why. We build the energy with drum and song, connecting the body and the elements, “earth my body, water my blood, air my breath, fire my spirit.” As the energy builds we prepare to hold space for others and to let go our sense of self and surrender again to what is “Om tat sat” The energy builds to the point where the time has come, I pull out the guitar, I start slow, melodic, rhythmic, then join with the voice “Asato ma sat” “Lead me from the Unreal to the Real, lead me from the Darkness to the Light.” The ceremony is in full swing, each participant nervous the energy of the release beginning to bubble. A student drops to their knees, following my guidance they pause and blow intention into their talisman, the music plays steady and true like a guiding hand guiding their release into the fire, the flames ignite, the energy soars through our voices as we hoot and holler in support, strumming the guitar to it’s breaking point, and then...dropping the energy back down, the rhythm slows, the melody returns the circle is open for the next participant.
Trip to Yosemite:
The timing to visit Yosemite, after the Serpent was closed, and on one of the students birthdays (the student who is visiting from the farthest location and misses home,) was wonderfully timed. We flowed right through the gates of Yosemite, no traffic. We stopped for photos of El Cap and Half-dome before the tunnel and the crowded parking lot beyond it that most people go to. It was our first chance for group photos like that and it was fun. We hiked half the Valley Loop trail a 7 mile loop. We parked at the chapel and crossed the meadow to the lower falls trailhead where we used the restrooms and filled up on water as there is no water on the trail. The trail was beautiful weaving along the valley floor, even though it is close to the road, it still feels serene. We stopped about a ¼-½ mile from El Cap, where the river turns and there is a beautiful secluded beach. We swam and had our packed lunches of homemade granola bars, wraps and fruit, while gazing up at El Caps shear wall. We were visited by deer and ducks, even babies.
After lunch we continue the loop, crossing El Cap Bridge with a chance to look at the climbers through telescopes set up by the park rangers. The second half of the trip was a little quieter off the road a bit and we completed it fast. About 4 - 5 hours with a 1 - 1.5 hour lunch stop
It is amazing to see the progression of our students in just a few days less than a week together. They have already begun to step into their own power and I feel the energy of the Jaguar slipping away quickly, with the release we found in the Serpent Cycle I am not surprised, but hope to keep the energy of the Jaguar bright. The students, although they found great love for our student who left, have moved on and have focused their attention to study, I guess they feel the energy of the mind is a good time for the Questions in the manual, as well as prep for their peer teaching. We started the cycle with a visit to the Mono Museum, we arrived over an hour early to use their space for our Daily Intention, my version of Who Am I? After talking to the cultural impressions of our conditioning, we sang one of my favorite songs “I breathe In, I breath out, I remember Who I am.” It sets the perfect mood for our partner exercise. After digging deep into questions of society, parents, what we like, who we are, we began our tour. A friendship dance led with a music stick by our docent as we sang we moved first left and then right ending with a big HO!
Cacao Ceremony Yosemite July 2015
Transition from Darkness to the light,
A journey from the lessons of Jaguar to the medicine of Hummingbird
We have just come from our Cacao Ceremony and my body is vibrating, my mind is flowing, my soul and spirit are free. Trust in the process and allow yourself to walk through the door, this is the strongest I have ever felt the energy and Spirit of Cacao within me.
Like most ceremonies, there is some plan and at the same time no plan, the most amazing things cannot be planned and the following reflection is proof of the power of the flow.
We started our Cacao Ceremony like so many other ceremonies we have moved through so far in this 200hr teacher training. We set our sacred space with gongs and bells, drums and rattles, flutes and singing bowls, tingshas and wooden song makers. We smudged ourselves in ceremony with white sage and we stepped into the power of the Om Barn, on sacred Mono land, the land of the Nim.
You could feel the excited nervousness in the air of what was to come. With the beat of the drums we moved into a favorite song of the training “Heya Hey Yo Ya Heya Hey o”, the rhythm carrying us forward and upward with it’s vibration. We then introduced the Spirit of Cacao to the group, the mythology, the use, the practice, the story of rediscovery leading us to this moment.
We were moving from the Jaguar energy into the Hummingbird energy and there might not be a better teacher in this moment then Cacao. Cacao medicinal properties are said to open you to the experience before you. Sometimes we are using the Cacao to work through our “Dark Shadows” our suppressed emotions, fear, hatred, aversion, the energy of that the jaguar helps us to face in the darkness of night. Other times Cacao leads us to the Power of the Light helping to facilitate love, heartfulness, creativity, the essence of the Hummingbird. Along with Cacao we added a very special mushroom, Rishi, for creativity and manifestation. We would move from Jaguar to Hummingbird with the help of our friends Cacao and our brother Rishi.
After blessing our own cups of Cacao we began to drink, pungent and astringent at first, the back of the brain tingles all the way down the back of the neck, you can feel the healing energy at the first sip. We continued to drink. It was time to release the Jaguar, the guitar played on, “I am here, to release all of my fears, come to peace with all my tears and discover what it means to be alive, “Om dum durgayaaa om nama shivaya.” We sang till the energy built to the max, bringing the rhythm down we need with silence and a sigh, we move into meditation, guided by the energy flowing in the heart, spreading outward to the entire body, the Cacao begins to take affect. We sing to the hummingbird “En el centro es del templo vive calibri.”
We move back to silence, and into the sound healing. Dings and chimes slowly enter the space guided by the drum, I dance around the room with countless instruments drawing sound from all directions, I am supported by my co-leads. The sounds move and swirl through the energy of the space, building ethereally with the chimes and bells and gong, moving up the pole of sound to the grounding drums and flute, to the sound of the wooden music makers, we move through the circle of sounds, healing here, drawing the sound around there. Icharos pour from my heart in Shibibo, Quechua, Spanish and English. We continue for hours the room building with creative energy, a drawing here, a poem there, words floating through the air, the music build, we build, we laugh we cry. “I was born in the river of the light, I ain’t afraid to love cause I ain’t afraid to die”
After sometime the silence creeps on of it’s own accord, the spirit of the Cacao guiding the flow of the ceremony, the ceremony a co-creation of our collective energies. I pick up the guitar, “Jai ambe Ma” calls itself to the strings. The song builds and builds, suddenly a flash of lightning a crash of thunder, sounds that haven’t settled on this land in sometime. They are sounds foreign at first to our ears, followed by another foreign sound, tip tap tap tip tap tap tap taptaptaptaptap, the RAIN! The energy of the ceremony breaks the clouds in a down pour of rain, harder then any rain we have encountered in over a year. Tap tap tap “Jai ma kali, ja mahadevi.” the students rise and begin to pour their souls into the rain, the guitar straps itself across my neck, I am standing in the rain, guitar playing on, the coolness, the wetness, in the rain we sing with our hearts and souls, we build and build with emotion and delight, tears of joy flow down our face, rain, rain, rain!
We are ecstatic, we are ecstatic, we are pure light. The joy within us was bursting forth, dancing in the rain, no shoes, hugging trees, exploring our inner hearts. At the height of all our joy, our dear friend Jessie Fairlight pulls a kitten from her shirt, she had been hiding it for fear it was a distraction, as our Hummingbird hearts soared we took in the love of the kitten, too small to be away from it’s mother, but it has no choice in this matter.
We finally return to the sacred circle of our Om Barn, more music pours from our hearts, “I want to let the sunshine, shine down on me, I want to let the rain cloud, wash over me, Expansive lands won’t you carry me, I wanna let the strong wind, set my spirit free” on and on the songs flow “we all come from the goddess and to her we shall return….todos ninos de tierra, y ya ella regresso.”
The energy still soaring hours have past, the sun has set and we are still together. We energetically close our ceremony, but recite our new poetry for each other and continue to embrace the love of the Cacao.
Journey to Mono Hot Springs
We backed up our camping gear, some food for the road and drove out to Mono Hot Springs to camp at Mono Creek Campgrounds a short 3 miles up the mountain road from the springs. The drive was longer and the road was worse than we imagined. But the sights and the nature where breathtakingly beautiful. We arrived at the turn to Mono Hot Springs and even though there was an urge to just hop out and hop in, I saw the clouds taking the form of rain, so we continued on till we arrived at camp. We set up camp with just enough time to take shelter before the thunder and lightning gave way to rain. We huddles under a 10x10 shelter I set up and stretched our limbs. The heaviest part of the rain soon passed and we loaded into the cars to drive back down to the springs. Our luck, when we finally crossed the wooden bridge to the closest baths, there was no one else around. We soaked in the Springs for a few hours until the families came in groups, it was incredible timing. We ate dinner in the lodge and a few of the group opted for the walk back up to camp. The rest of us took a hike along the ridge near camping exploring till we heard the other group on the road, we were reunited in the woods.
When we got back to camp we were all pretty ready to turn in. Some had a rather cold night and restless sleep, which sometimes turns out to be refreshing in it’s own healing way, nature has that effect. We did hear a rather large tree tumble down into the night from our tent, a reminder that campgrounds are a little safer than just pulling off to unmaintained areas. We slept in an extra hour to allow the earth to warm as the morning was colder than we were used to. We had our first vinyasa class amongst our tents under the beauty of the pines, cedars and Sequoias.
We packed up camp and blindly found our way to the “garden of eden” springs which holds true to its name. Slightly hidden off the road the hotsprings are tucked below a rocky wall, the spring is large enough for a decent sized group and looks out to the mountains in the distance and meadows that are straight below. Flowers grow wild everywhere and you are protected by small but ancient Sequoias growing out of the rocks.
The Hummingbird moved out as smoothly as it moved in, with a flutter of it’s wings it is gone, revealing space for the Eagle. We moved nicely through the Vinyasa Sequence, our morning practice on the deck feeling extra connected and beautiful. We watched “Breath of God” which was way better than I thought, it is about Krishnamacharya and features Sri Pattabhi Jois, Iyengar and Krishnamacharya’s children. On our third day of the cycle we finished our Yoga Sutras sections and spoke with Dennis. I am very happy with the way the Sutras were presented by both Zach and myself and with the way the students grasped the subject matter. We were silent that day till 3 pm which was a really nice break for us all. The next night we had our Spirit Games satsang involving group games and sharing, it was really special, especially since the following night was our Gift Share, with may students reading poems or singing songs, the love was flowing from our hearts and our eyes. After our Gift Share we finally noticed the smoke on the mountain, the entire Northern sky was engulfed in smoke, but the smoke was rising upwards past us and we hadn’t even begun to smell it yet. The fire burned in a 200 acre area only 3-4 miles from us near Willow Canyon Rd and Bass Lake. I stayed up most of the night waiting for word of evacuation as some nearby communities had already been evacuated. At 11pm I went outside, by this time the smoke had finally begun to settle down to the house, looking towards the mountains the glow of the fire was uncomfortably close, i returned 40 minutes later and the glow has settled down. We awoke on our off day to find that the fire had increased to 1100 acres with 700 active people on scene. Planes loaded with fire retardant chemicals flew directly over the house, their bravery uplifting as they made harrowing turns in huge planes, flying blindly into the smoke. We had a nice sharing circle where I reminded everyone, including myself, how fast the last cycle will go and that we need to fully embrace the Eagle energy and the time with each other, it turned into a wonderful sharing circle from there.
Off Day at Home
We had a very mellow off day, just relaxing indoors as the smoke was an issue, we made a group trip to the creek, no smoke there
As the Eagle Cycle started, I opened the sacred sharing circle to remind us all that we must maintain the experience and cherish our last few days together. Little did I know that the distractions from the outside world would come down the mountain in the form of smoke and fire. We continued to do most of our practice inside. The students taught their Vinyasa classes and we continued our loving community. The third day of the cycle the fire began to move towards us, I decided it was best to take an extra long break and have everyone prepare their things in case we needed to move. An hour after we finished packing the Sherrifs showed up to talk to us, to convince us to leave that afternoon as the next morning they were announcing the Mando Evac, and that it would be intense. Lacey had already reserved us a campground. The flow of our movement away from our sacred space flowed with the Spirit of the Eagle, everything just fell into place, and no one was scared but we did have heavy hearts. When we finished setting up our camp at Bass Lake, we joined our voices for Satsang, the beauty of words flowed through us and emotions ran high. When I felt the timing was right, when we were in that space, we gathered in a circle holding hands to share a blessing for the land. I offered the beginning of our prayer as we went around in a circle to add on. It was a beautiful experience, the emotion and the love flowed through our fingers, hands and our tears. We thanked the beauty of the land, the spirit, the four legged, the winged, the flowers and trees.
The next day we went to one of the many Day Use Areas on the 222, we swam, we had class, had lunch and then another break. We prepared for our manifestation ceremony and the facilitators secretly prepared the graduation ceremony as well. With our beautiful Talismans laid on the table, we began the music, building the energy with the group's favorite songs. The time was right, with a little preparation we started a slow progression to the water “May you walk in beauty,” “Beauty is Before me,” “As I went down to the river to pray” we reached the water's edge, sat ourselves in a circle and began to sing “Asato Ma Sat.” The time was right, one by one we walked into the water most of us to our knees a few of us in our clothes, we spoke the words of our affirmation to the universe, blew our intention into our talisman, and released it to the water. After the student tossed their talisman, they screamed Jai, those of us on the beach joined in with sounds of encouragement, hoots and hollers, Native Chants and excitement. One of my favorite moments of the trip was when Bethan, one of our more quiet students from England, turned from the water and lept to the sky screaming jai with such excitement and happiness that we all laughed together. Another favorite was our 17 year old student Margot, already wise and mature beyond her years and beyond most of us in the group, Margot had chosen Asato as her mantra, and she sat in a blissful state, smile on her lips, holding light and loving energy for the group.
I feel really good about this training, I felt organized and feel that the hardest lessons were presented in an easy to undertake way. Simple things like explaining a Sand Painting or more complicated things like explaining the formless and duality were easily absorbed by the students. Everything I (or I would even say Spirit) wanted to share came out at it’s appropriate time and it was beautiful, I feel the Art of leading a solid training and I feel it especially from the students. I am floating on high.
Mono Hot Springs was a hard and tiring journey, but I think it was good, and I think the hardest parts of the training, the springs the fire, not being used to being outdoors, will be the most memorable filled with love and light.
The fire was hard but not devastating to our group. They trusted in our abilities to keep them safe and as I said before the timing really worked well even in the emergency situation. I very much feel the responsibility for my students in a good way and I do like to embrace that part of me that is protector when needed (most likely a reflection of caring for my mom and sisters growing up.)
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Darin Lehman is a Yoga & Qigong Teacher, Shamanic Guide, Musician, Artist and Writer.