Ritual Body Postures and Soul Retrieval Workshop at Cuyamungue Institute
May 1 – 10, 2013
by Brigitte Veiz
Arriving at Cuyamungue
“At the Cuyamungue Institute we will get up early to greet the rising sun together“, explained our workshop facilitator Ki, about our stay at Cuyamungue Institute. Getting up to greet the sun, seemed rather early to me. Back home in Germany I hardly made it out of bed early enough to be at my office at 9 am. In summer getting up early seemed easier. After a very long and cold winter in Germany, which lasted well into April (and which actually continued through June), however, it seemed impossible to me.
I arrived at Cuyamungue Institute on May 1st. The sun was shining on blue mountains and a yellow high desert landscape on a wonderful spring afternoon. The mountain air was fresh and clear. The institute lay nestled in between soft rolling desert hills on the Pojooaque Indian Reservation, north of Santa Fe. I had visited the place a few years before, when I had been passing through on Highway 25. I only had had a few hours time on that day in summer 2007 on my way from Taos to Albuquerque Airport. I stopped at Cuyamungue and had a glass of water and a short walk around the Institute grounds. I liked the place right away and I would have liked to stay longer.
Now, 6 years later, I was here to stay for 10 days. Wonderful! 1st of May, and it was going to be a good month for me in the Southwest. I was given a sleeping place in the lovely adobe guest house near the lion man circle at the “heart center” of the institute. I made myself home and enjoyed the quiet land. A bird would call, sometimes when the wind blew from east, Highway 25 could be heared in a distance, but I felt far away from civilisation and everything I did in my everyday life in the bustling city of Munich, Germany. Here was high desert and quiet nature, crows where flying low, hawks were flying high in the sky, rabbits hid under the pinion bushes, humming birds came to drink at their feeding station. On the first day of May I sat and contemplated nature, having a cup of tea on the bench in front of our adobe house and I was happy.
In the afternoon we met in the Kiva, right behind the lion man circle, for our first session of the workshop. One of our first exercises on that afternoon was to find our power place out on the land. I took a walk up the hill and enjoyed the view, turning in all four directions. The … Mountains rose bluish grey in the east, at their foot the huge Buffalo Thunder Resort shone in bright brown adobe colour in the late afternoon sun. To the south, the high desert hills and Highway 25 towards the Santa Fe Opera were visible. Fresh snow was on the mountains tops near Santa Fe and the skiing range shone in bright white from afar. Towards the west the high desert mountains were brown and beige in the distance. Pinion bushes like little green polka dots spread out over the flanks of the desert hills, as far as the eye could see. I loved that sight so much, the green dotted hills. That is what I always thought of, when I thought of New Mexcio.
To the north, I looked towards Espanola and blue hazy mountains and I saw what I thought was the silhouette of Taos Mountain very far away against the horizon. I turned around in all four directions. I took a deep breath and smiled to myself. A wonderful view, a landscape full of wandering lights and shadows, painted on the surface by sunbeams and changing clouds. A mystical place. I felt home right away.
I had been to New Mexico several times before, first time in 1984, and it had always been like a coming home to a land that was very close to my heart. It was the first time, however, that I would stay 10 days in the same place on the desert, instead of traveling around. I could make myself at home for a while. I searched for a spot, that would serve as my power place for the next 10 days at Cuyamungue Institute. There were many good places with good views out on the land or with green bushes casting shadows or in full sunlight or hidden from view in soft ditches. As I walked around, I noticed that he sandy earth was strewn with colourful stones of all sizes, gravel, pebble size pieces and some flat rocks one could sit on. Dired wood from the pinion bushes and whole dried bushes lay everywhere, eroded in bizzare artistic shapes. I looked for the ideal place that could be my power spot for the coming days, for quiet meditation and contemplation. I did not find it. We had to return to the Kiva at a certain time to tell of our findings. So I decided to set up a quick “emergency” power place for the sake of it and to go on searching for the ideal spot the next day. I sat down and looked out on the silhouette of Taos Mountain on the far horizon. It was good. I did the exercise we were supposed to do. It was also good. We shared our experiences in the circle in the Kiva. Everyone else had found their spot. I felt that it was symbolic for my life at this moment and a true Gestalt that I had not found my spot on that day. I did find my power place the next day.
Greeting the Sun in the Morning
In the evening, we had dinner at the spacious main building. I thought it was very special, that we could use this very nice building for meeting, eating and getting together. The couch near the east window became my favorite place to sit after dinners. The first evening I was very tired and I went to bed early. We were supposed to get up at 6 am for the sunrise ceremony. The sun was supposed to rise at 6:30 am. I thought that I would not push myself and I would see if I could get up easy in time. The woman sharing my room activated her alarm clock. I had no such device with me. I slept well, though the night was cold and the temperatures were below freezing. The adobe house had no glass in the window frames, which made it all the more authentic. My sleeping bag was new and good, but it was made for warmer climate. I was cold and my feet were cold, which was worst. I decided to wear socks to warm my far travelled feet and I slept well. I woke up fresh and well rested at 6 am, before the alarm clock went off. I was surprized and happy to wake up by myself that early. We dressed quickly and went up the road to the place where the medicine wheel was layed out on the ground. It was the place where Felicitas Goodman had always greeted the sun in the morning. The sun was still below the horizon, when we all stood in a row, looking east. When the sun came up, Paul, the President and Executive Director of the Institute began to greet the sun in the traditional way. We all lifted our hands and arms towards east and sang: „Ahheiaa, ahheiaa, aheiaa haa!“ Then we let our arms sink down and we sang again, with arm rising in the air to greet the sun: „Ahheiaa, ahheiaa, aheiaa haa!“ And a third time: „Ahheiaa, ahheiaa, aheiaa haa!“ The sun rose up over the horizon. I smiled and twinkled in the bright sunlight.
Paul spoke a prayer for all of us and for the land: „Grandfather sun, we thank you for your warmth and your shining light. We thank you for your compassion and wisdom. We thank you for giving us your guidance on this day.“ He went on with his wonderful blessing and we all listened. He always finished with the words: “Your blessings shall be returned to you. Aho!” I liked that thought, because we asked for blessings from Grandfather Sun and we were willing to give something back in return. In some way, through our doing and thinking and our spiritual work, the blessings from the sun would be returned.
Then some of us spoke out their own prayers, thanking Grandfather Sun for the warmth, the light and the insight he could give us and asking for a good day. I always thanked for the warmth and the light that I had missed so much over the winter months. I asked for the sunlight to shine on my path and to show me the way inside and outside. Paul after that went on thanking the land and Felicitas who had given us the knowledge of the body postures and the methods we worked with. After that, he played a short piece on a Navajo flute, which had that wonderful haunting sound. After that we were asked to share a song or a tune. On some days I sang some circle songs or mantras from India. But one day I recalled that there were some really nice yodeling songs from Austria, that I remembered. I had never learned yodeling, but in the Alps the yodeling was a traditional call to greet the mountains and nature and each other over long distances. It also was used for calling the cows, who wandered over the green mountain pastures. And cowboys are yodeling as well, aren’t they? So why not greet the New Mexico sun in the morning with a yodeling? I did as best as I could at that early hour and the Alpine call sounded exotic on the high desert. Being the only woman from Bavaria, the mountain state in the south of Germany, in our group of German women, the yodeling became my trademark, I guess. We practiced this ritual of greeting the sun every day while we stayed at Cuyamungue Institute and I never missed one morning.
The Corn Dance at Taos Pueblo
The workshop started with some excursions and I found it especially fascinating to travel to Taos Pueblo on May 3rd for the Corn Dance. The drive along the Rio Grande river was beautiful as ever. The grey stemmed trees at the river side where sprouting tiny bright green leaves. The vegetation seemed fresh and new and spring was all around in the Rio Grande valley. Humming birds fed at the Humming Bird Cafe, halfway to Taos and we watched them for a while. The next spectacular sight was the Rio Grande Gorge as it is seen when coming out of the valley onto the high mesa. From the photo point, the gorge is visible to the west and looks like an incredible gap in the earth’s crust. It is enormous, breathtaking and though I have seen it before on several visits, it is always like something I have never see before. A view out of this world, ungraspable, wonderful. I am always at awe at that sight of the gorge and I could sit and just look at it for hours.
I had been to Taos several times before in summer and fall, but I had never seen it in spring. Taos has always been one of my favorite places on the planet and now it was fresh and green and looked different again. It was always a surprise. I love the village and the pueblo with it’s majestic and magic Taos Mountain, whom I consider one of the most holy places I have ever seen. There is some aura about that mountain, that is hard to describe. Sometimes, when I look at it, it seems to vibrate and glow around it’s edges. Painters and photographers in the area have again and again tried to capture the magic of Taos Mountain. In rare cases they succeed and their pictures actually do reflect the exceptional magic of that holy landscape.
May 3rd was a festival day and no photos were to be taken at the pueblo. So we went there to watch. There had been traditional dances on May 1st, that were closed to the public, a footrace had taken place on May 2nd and in the morning of the third and last day. Now the public Corn Dance would be performed. We had to wait. Indian time is relatively different from a western concept of time measured by watches. It was a sunny spring day and dandelions were blooming at the creek, that ran through the pueblo. A wonderful day. I sat near the water and contemplated Taos Mountain while I was waiting for he performance to begin. Many people gathered. At some point men, dressed in Indian clothes, were seen standing on the rooftops of he buildings of the north and the south part of the pueblo. They called out loud to each other accross the square, they made singing sounds and called out in the pueblo language. After a long wait the dancers came in from the backside of the pueblo, young men and women dressed in traditional clothes. All of them wore beautiful white deerskin boots.
The women wore colored dresses in red, blue or white, some with flower patterns all over, others with geometrical patterns running accross the hem. Their dresses were asymmetrical with one short sleeve on them and one shoulder exposed. Their long black hair was nicely held together by ribbons and beads. In their hands the young women held fresh green corn leaves. The young men were bare chested and wore beautiful loin cloth with fringe, made from white deer skin. They looked like hunters and the fur of foxes and other animals was hanging draped from their hips and from the back of their traditional costume. They had their long black hair hanging loose over their backs and each of the young men had an eagle’s feather tied to his hair. In their hands they were holding a gourd rattle in the right and fresh green corn leaves in the left hand. The young men and women walked in front of the Taos Pueblo church and stood in two lines. The women were standing outside facing center and each other. The young men, who were much less by number, were standing in front of the women facing center and each other. As the dance began several old men started singing and drumming together on a very big powow drum outside the dance circle. The dancers danced in line, moved in ovals and circles and always came back to the formation of two lines.
The young men where rattling and singing as they danced. When several dances where over, the dancers walked to another place in the village. They moved together accross the bridge over the creek. The audience would follow them. It seemed that houses of important members of the village were chosen as dance places. This way they moved and danced around the whole pueblo. The inhabitants of the pueblo were all dressed up for he occasion. In their best clothes and decorated with silver and turqouise jewelery the women were sitting in front of their houses, enjoying the day. The men were standing together talking, watching the dances. Someone said, the dancing would go on all day. At some point we to head back to the parking lot to drive back to Santa Fe. We bought some smudge sticks on the way, fresh mountain sage bundeled together. The scent of the sage was rather intense and spread in the car and reminded us for a long time of our stay in Taos.
The Lion Man
The days at the institute were dedicated to working with ritual body postures in the mornings, movement, drumming and more body postures or meditation at our power places in the afternoons. A soul retrieval workshop was part of our seminar training and an American woman came from Ohio to join us for three days. A refreshing change for us. She had known the work from years before and was excited to experience more of it. She had to deal with four German women out in the Santa Fe desert. Also a refreshing change for her it seemed. The woman from Ohio moved in with us into the adobe house at the lion man circle. I often spent the time after lunch sitting with a cup oft tea in front of our adobe house, contemplating the lion man rock. It took me several days of observation to understand why Felicitas Goodman had seen a lion man in the rock lying there. The longitudinal rock lay there in north-south direction. The south end seemed to represent the tail and the end facing north really had a lion’s face on it. It seemed like a male lion lying down on it’s side with his face in the grass. Seeing it from the side of the Kiva in the west, it looked like there was a small lion’s body stretched out on the ground with a lion’s face to the left. The body had also human features and therefore it was a lion man, no doubt. I remembered a small ancient figurine made out of mamouth tooth, that I had seen in an exhibit in Germany years before. It was a small human body standing straight up, with the arms down at his sides, the head being a lion’s head – a lion man. 25.000 years old. Voila!
The Soul Retrieval Workshop
The seminar went on with the exploration of our lost soul parts, parts that supposedly had been „lost“ in life, because things that had happened had been too painful or unbearable. Our seminar leader Ki described the lost soul parts as something psychotherapy normally could not deal with, something very different form the regular psychological experience. I was curious, working as a psychologist and Gestalt Therapist myself. I had explored the depth of my soul over many years and had traced all sorts of bits and pieces of my soul, that needed to be reintegrated and accepted and loved. I had done a lot of work with myself over almost three decades and was curious what was there to come. A part I may not have found yet? What could that be? What would come my way in the trance? The body posture named „Southamerican Soul Journey“ was used to find the lost soul parts. After a session of drumming together, we lay down in the posture on our back with the right hand on our foreheads. After a short while of rattling from our group leader, a power animal came to me to guide me through my vision. It stayed with me all the time and it showed me the way down a dark passageway into the earth. I walked through my inner landscapes. I found myself at the banks of a river with lush green vegetation and palm trees. I met a young woman, whom I had discovered before in other visions. She seemed to be my own self from a past life. I saw her life’s story and felt very close to her. We smiled at each other and she walked with me. My power animal showed us the way down another passageway. There behind some mist I found a girl on a meadow, who was another part of myself. I felt great empathy for her. We all three looked each other and understood that we were meant to stay together from now on. Guided by my power animal we reached the surface together. The ratting stopped and my vision ended. I found myself lying on the floor in the Kiva. The stories I had discovered, which were part of my own life’s story, were sad and dramatic and the relief of having found my soul parts was very intense. It took me a long time to come out of the vision. We shared our trance experiences in the group and everyone had a very intense story to tell. We took the afternoon for integrating what had happened. I wrote in my trance book and went to my power place to sit in quiet contemplation and to look out over the beautiful landscape. I felt like I had returned from a far away land.
Clinical Psychologist (M. A.), Master of Drama (M. A.), working with Gestalt Therapy, Systemic Family Therapy, Movement Art Therapy in her own Therapy Office at Munich, Germany