Some people can walk into a group and immediately immerse themselves as if they have always belonged. I cannot. So when I arrived at the retreat late on Friday evening, and things were well under way, I decided to simply make myself a cup of tea and retire with a good book to my room.
The tea station was set up in the basement of the conference center, across the room from the stairway. I hesitated to cross as a group of women had gathered for a drumming circle and I would have to cut through their gathering.
“Go ahead.” The leader nodded at me. “Don’t mind us.”
Apologetically, I made my way, not daring to look at anyone, feeling like the intruder I was. I selected a nice chamomile and while waiting for the water to boil, I kept my back to the group. Their drumming had somehow synchronized and the intensity was building. I found myself becoming very sleepy. So sleepy that I never made it back across the room, having to stop instead to sit on a vacant chair.
“I’m so sorry,” I slurred. “I don’t know what is happening to me.”
“That’s alright. Just go with it. We are here to help.”
My eyes were suddenly so heavy that I struggled to keep them open, but I did manage to see the lead woman nod to the people beside me, encouraging them to take my hands.
“What is happening?” I managed.
“You tell me,” the woman coaxed. I knew this woman from other retreats. A Native American versed in rituals and ceremonies, she frequently offered to share her learning. Until now, I had stayed away – the eternal outsider.
“I feel like I am falling……as if the earth has opened up and I am dropping….down….down.”
“Let yourself go. You are safe. You will be able to tell us what you need.”
The drums continued and somehow trusting, I let myself go, deeper and deeper into the blackness, less and less conscious of the room around me, until I landed.
“Where are you?” Her voice sounded far away, at the other end of a tunnel. “Describe what you see.”
“The ground is cushiony, green, like moss. I am in a forest. It is quite dark, but there is some light in the distance. I follow it and come to an opening. It is beautiful here, and so serene.” I feel myself breath, and relax. In my mind, I am thinking that this is something out of a fairy tale: little girl lost deep in the woods, finds herself surrounded by flowers and friendly forest creatures. “This is crazy,” I try to open my eyes again, but the room is dark and filled with shadowy figures – animals, not people. I start to hyperventilate.
“You are okay,” she soothes me. “Tell me what is happening.” All the while the drums beat.
“I can’t see anyone…in the room… only…..animals. Not real animals….more like…spirits.”
“What do you see?”
“You are a Raven, and someone over here a Bear, and Helen….it doesn’t make sense.” Helen is an artist, gentle by nature and frail. “She is a Thunderbird.” Is there such a thing? My mind tries to make sense of what is happening. “Her animal is so strong!”
I lapse again into the darkness, falling back into the woods scene. “Someone is here,” I manage to whisper. “A woman. Ohhhh…..” I am struck with a profound feeling of well-being and harmony as the woman seemingly merges with me. I know her! My heart is racing. I have seen her before in dreams and visions. Ten years she has appeared, mysteriously, leaving an impression, but I have never understood. Now the pieces are falling together and I am one with the numinous being, and an ecstatic bliss fills my soul and I surrender.
“Yes!” the leader exclaims. “Yes.”
I remained in that suspended state of awe while the rest of the evening unfolded around me. Words emerged from my mouth, but I’m not sure that I spoke them. The drummers kept up the beat, and the women responded to the commands, and a healing energy moved amongst the gathering, the ecstasy spreading until I could hold the space no longer, and the leader called me back to consciousness.
“We will not speak of what has happened here further,” she said. “We have stood in the presence of the sacred, let us keep it that way.” But as I opened my eyes I turned to the woman beside me and realized for the first time who it was – a Judas – and I knew that our beautiful moment would be spilled, and that others would not understand.
“You had to be there,” I would respond when the questions came the next day.