By Wendy Dudley
My pulse tripled and my muscles tightened. Only two hours had passed on my solo day in the desert at Ghost Ranch. And here I was, high on the cliff rocks, facing a snake. I live in the foothills of Canada’s Rocky Mountains, so am used to dealing with bears and cougars, but not a venomous Snake. My adrenaline still rushing, my inner voice began to tell me I was fine, that this was meant to be, that things were unfolding as they must. I was outside my comfort zone, and I knew this is where we learn the big lessons.
Meeting Snake was the pinnacle moment of my week-long Choosing Conscious Elderhood (CCE) retreat, held under the masterful guidance of co-leaders Ron Pevny and Anne Wennhold.
Our group was well prepared for our solo. We had discussed our inner fears, and what we needed to release, so that we could move forward in a more free and joyous state.
We learned how important it is to come from our hearts, and to speak our truth, and how anything is possible if we overcome our self-limitations and remain open.
Using intent as our gateway, we opened ourselves to receive light and love, and messages that can arrive through visions and from Nature.
Surrounded by magnificent red rock cliffs and an oceanic sky, Ghost Ranch is the ideal setting for the CCE retreat, as it is in Nature where we often come face-to-face with our truths. With daily opportunities to commune with the high desert environment, participants are washed with birdsong and the beauty of the spacious and humbling land. Science has proven that being in the natural world can take us into a peaceful state, where we often find clarity in our focus, thoughts and intentions. Some may call this space the Field, the Mystery, the Cosmos, God, or Spirit. The label does not matter. What is important is that we hold this sacred space dear to our hearts, for this is where we seek authenticity and our personal truths which help guide us on our unique paths. It is for this reason that indigenous peoples sought their life purpose through vision quests, when they left their villages and spent time alone steeped in Nature.
By wandering among the trees, along creeks, or in the mountains, we are reminded that we are not separate from Nature. Rather, we are part of it. We are all interconnected through a web of energy. And in doing so, we welcome Spirituality into our lives.
Nature is an integral element of the CCE program, whether sitting under a sea of stars, hiking mesa trails, or simply meditating beneath a canopy of arroyo cottonwoods. With loving and caring support by fellow group members, and respectful guidance from the co-leaders, Nature also becomes our teacher and healer.
Basking in the outdoors, we learn that Nature is full of signs to help guide us on our paths. We may find meaning in a particular bird, the shape of a cloud, or an animal crossing our path. The CCE program teaches us to be open, to be willing to receive and accept what is shown us.
And so on this day, I was given Snake, symbolizing transformation since it sheds its skin, casting off an old identity for a new one. According to many cultures, it is also the sign of a medicinal healer, which mirrored my interests in Medical Qi Gong, Shamanic work, and art therapy. Snake rested half in shadow, half in sunlight, marking the importance of seeking balance in all that we do. It also was stretched out, an indication of awakening from a coiled state, as we move from karma to dharma. These signs of healing were significant, as I had arrived at Ghost Ranch with broken trust. Through the letting-go ceremonies and heartfelt group discussions in the retreat, I began to heal, to feel I could trust again — as in trust myself, trust Nature’s signs, and thus begin to trust others.
After spending five hours with Snake — during which time I rattled to it and played my flute — I walked up a windy ridge. I felt like I was wrapped in a ceremonial blanket, as I gazed over the mesa and incoming rain squalls. I let the wind rustle my hair, as the rain washed and cleansed my soul. In that moment, I took back all the power I had mistakenly given away. I was now truly the co-creator of the rest of my life, consciously aware that my path was a worthy one, and that I myself was worthy. I felt my calling, as I received affirmation that I was to teach and share my love of Nature through my practice of shamanism and my painted drums which send out healing vibrations when played, echoing the heartbeat we sense and hear when we are still in the womb. To know one’s sense of purpose, and to answer it, is transformational and life-changing.
And so, without surprise, when I returned to the rock I had shared with Snake, my reptilian teacher was gone. Its lessons had been passed. My old skins were shed.
It was up there, along the cliffs, where the eagles nest and the ravens dip and dive and dance, that my life began to take on a different shape. This could not happen in a boardroom, or among the competing distractions of an urban environment. This could only happen in Nature, in the truth of its songs and chants and meaningful encounters.
From modern-day spiritualists to monastic monks to native North Americans, many spend time in Nature. It is the ideal environment for meditation, since the Earth’s electromagnetic frequency is one that promotes relaxation and restoration. When we are in Nature, the tendency is to synchronize with its healing frequency, which also puts us into a state of increased happiness and compassion.
If there is one animal that reflects the essence of the CCE program, it is Snake.
Through loving and gentle support, Ron and Anne assist Elders-in-the making with shedding patterns, releasing what is no longer serving us well, and setting intentions as to how we wish to live the rest of our lives. I left the CCE retreat with increased awareness of the conscious state, which is where our dreams and wishes reside, and awareness of the importance of a caring and supportive network. I knew I would always embrace Life with passion, and that our truth comes from deep within our souls. Others may guide us, but only we hold the answers for our unique path.
Building an altar is part of the CCE program, and today, a Zuni stone carving of a fully stretched snake holds a place of honor there, as does the CCE program that allowed me to so fully transform, so that I may trust myself to become the keeper of my own flame, knowing no one has the right to blow it out.
The drumbeats and rattling, which welcomed each morning of our retreat, continue to vibrate throughout my very being.