Jean sat in her favorite chair in the kitchen by the screen of an open window. She blew her cigarette smoke out past the tiny metal mesh, which temporarily protected her New England farmhouse from a few select mosquitoes of early summer. My new near-80-year-old poet and housemate seemed to love looking out the window, reflecting on her next poem, or maybe her many years married, and raising children, or her husband’s recent death.
As I stepped into the dimly lit kitchen, Jean looked up. She greeted me as I prepared to leave for a weekend of translating for an Ecuadorian Shaman who was visiting up north, in the White Mountain area. I had just arrived at her farmhouse several days earlier, but was now traveling two hours north to translate for an organization called Dream Change.
When I arrived at the home where I’d work, the Ecuadorian Shaman, Alverto Taxo, sat in a corner of the room, legs crossed. He was a good-looking man with long black hair and graying beard. I greeted him, presented myself as the person who would be translating his Spanish to English. He nodded, smiled.
Later, he would tell me stories about growing up under the tutelage of his shaman father, and a lineage of healers along the Andes and Latin America. He’d tell me about his initiation at age 13, when he was sent to the mountains to stay three days in a hole dug into the ground. One of those days, Taxo awoke with a snake coiled on his belly, at which point he described being fearless (since snakes can smell fear and attack). Instead he told the snake how beautiful it was and it uncoiled and slithered away. His journey as a shaman continued until his father’s death, which provoked grief and anger and two years of living on the streets and temporarily abandoning his healer’s path.
I loved listening to Taxo’s stories. After all, imagine missing out on your childhood, and, at an early age, being asked to carry forth a 500-year-old prophesy of your indigenous ancestors to prepare for an immense change for the earth and humanity, a “Pachacuti”, that would occur at this time in history. This was Taxo’s reality, combined with political work he did, demanding equal rights for Ecuador’s indigenous people.
Beyond his stories and teachings, what struck me most about Taxo was the manner in which he approached life. As I translated for him during various gatherings and healings, he displayed an immense amount of grace and presence. He seemed to bow to all of life—to the trees, to the animals, to the food he ate, to the people he passed—in a state of gratitude and listening. It was a practice I imagined he had learned early on in life—a practice that seemed a stark contrast to our modern-American “let’s move fast and get somewhere or something (and not listen much)” approach to life.
While Taxo was far from perfect (He seemed to have been seduced by modern Western culture in an unhealthy way), I returned to the farmhouse having learned a state of grace and gratitude that would help me heal my injury and heart.
From that weekend forth, I began to walk in the woods, a hundred feet at a time (or as far as I could go with my pain), and did so by bowing down to every tree, every flowering, breathing element in the forest. As I walked, I breathed the trees and their energy field into my heart, and, with every out breath, I bowed to the trees, greeting and honoring them. In doing this kind of mindfulness meditation, I soon discovered how blocked my heart was—how challenging it was for me to truly receive and feel the beauty around me. I also understood that if I continued this practice, I would feel the origins of my blocks and slowly get “out of my head” and open my heart, bit by bit, to feel.
Back then, Taxo’s example offered me my first important lesson of many that would help me walk again—from 50 feet to three miles by the end of the summer on Jean’s farm. It’s a lesson I’ve come back to, time and time again, in my life (even though I’ve gotten lost, plenty of times, in all the daily running around!).
This place of grace—this bowing down to and honoring life—still sits waiting for me, and all us, at all times. These days, I return to this place of grace in the dark of the night, when I sing an offering to the land, to my recently deceased father, and to those I love; when I bow in gratitude and love to my friend and lover; and when I sit still enough to feel this butterfly of transformative love for myself and all of life that sits fluttering in my heart.
Michelle Adam is an experienced writer, teacher, and healer. She recently published her novel, Child of Duende, after twenty-plus years as a magazine and newspaper writer. Her articles have appeared in The Hispanic Outlook in Higher Education Magazine; Hibernia Magazine, an Irish magazine; Vista Magazine, a Hispanic insert of major national newspapers; and multiple other publications.
Michelle has also been a photographer and artist; has taught middle school students Spanish for the past dozen years; and has worked as a healer and shaman. Michelle has created healing and teaching circles of song and sound, assisting others in awakening the spirit of the earth, “duende,” within them, and creating a space for the celebration of life.