Her Juggling Feet

everybody's a nobody. and nobody's perfect.

Friday, June 30, 2006

How I Learned to Climb a Rock

Nossa. Where to start.

We have been travelling through the Mata Atlantica, a series of critical ecosystem habitat that hugs much of outer Brasil. I can´t express in words the things I have seen.










Much of this comes from my experience in a town called Apiai, placed in the thick of the Mata Atlantica, in a part known for its channel of caverns and caves.

We spent 3 days in a national forest reserve outside of Apiai with the intention of facilitating inner-community dialogue and personal growth. La Caravana, it seems, never stops moving, never takes the space to just be because we always have to be somewhere, doing something. So this was an opportunity for us to all take a breath, individually and together. I worked with Beate and Alejandra, a lovely Argentinian women, to coordinate activities and dynamics over the course of the weekend, and it went phenomenally well. The location was perfect--three caves were within hiking distance, with creeks and open space and tree-studded hills surrounding us. We started the weekend with a hike into one of the larger caves, with the assistance of a Brasilian guide. We followed him into this thin crevice of a hole, and then the space just opened up wide, lit only by the flame of our guide´s kerosene head lamp. Stalactites, stalagmites, drops of water seeping into our clothes...the walls, over time, carved in the shapes of faces and animal forms. Remarkable. We stopped in the belly of the cave and our guide turned off the light, and we all breathed in the damp silence, the denseness, the darkness of it all. I felt like we were in an ancient, ancient womb.

The rest of the day was spent in quiet reflection. Amazing the sorts of insights you can get when you´re in nature and paying attention. The following day, we circled and everyone had space to share something. Ankle-deep in creek water, I found myself facing some 15-some Caravaners, with a bromelia leaf as a talking stick, in tears. I didn´t think I was going to cry, but I did, and I am glad that I allowed myself the space to do so. There was nothing sad about the moment--I just felt this immense sense of gratitude well up within me, for this experience, these people, this environment.

We finished with activities in the evening, first doing rapid rounds of questioning of what-are-you-passionate-about and what-brings-you-joy, and then another exercise called the Gifting Circle. This is something that I learned at Lost Valley--it´s an opportunity to share feedback and information on a more intimate, one-one level. It operates on the notion that feedback of any kind is a gift. It starts with one person approaching someone who is sitting and has an object in front of them--a signal that the person is open and available for receiving feedback. The Giver sits in front of them, hands them the object, and then shares responses to the following questions:

1. Something I appreciate about you is...
2. Something I know about myself is...
3. Something that has been a challenge for me with you has been..
4. Thank you for listening.

It´s super powerful--we must have gone on for about 3 hours until only a few candles were burning (we didn´t have electricity). I think everyone felt enlightened afterward. I have discovered that when living in community, everyone acts as mirrors for everyone else. If I am having a conflict or a difficulty with someone, it is usually because it is a problem I am having in myself--the other person just magnifies the issue and reflects it back to me.

Anyway. We left in high community spirits, back to Apiai, to continue our workshops. We worked with the state´s Secretary of Tourism, Chico, who was our main guide and a gift to us all. He arranged for us to stay at the national reserve, coordinated our workshops, took Beate and me on a 30 kilometer road trip to buy raw sugar and molasses from a local producer, everything. His generosity knew no limits! I was so impressed, and touched.

In between workshops, Chico also took us on a day-long trek into the Mata Atlantica to explore another cavern. We spent 3 hours just getting to the cavern, climbing up and sliding down and wading through the trail. I long ago let go of the idea of keeping my clothes clean. We arrived at the mouth, a long low tunnel, really, with crystal clear creek water running beneath that reached almost to our waists. Frigid.

And to be frank, I was just about spent with caves. I think they are impressive and mysterious and beautiful in their own way. But I prefer sunlight and green space and soil and birds and wind. After an hour spent inside the cavern, exploring its depths, I was happy to leave. For about 2 seconds. Because we started this crazy ascent up the back side of the cavern, and I realized that I carry a very debilitating fear of heights. I was one of the last people to go, and I had no idea that this was the way we were choosing to return. In short terms, I had a panic attack. I mean, I am clinging to rocks, my toes pressed into loose soil, looking up up up as our group weaves across this incline of about 60 degrees. And then there are shouts from above that rocks are falling, and sure enough, one gets me right on the ankle, and then 5 seconds later, my other foot gets nicked. It was one of the slowest, most painful hours of my life. At certain moments, I just froze. I couldn´t put one foot in front of the other, couldn´t look down, couldn´t do anything. I have never felt so debilitated by fear. Chico managed to come up next to me, and Beate and Alejandra stayed in front and behind me, so I had this mini-caravan of support. When I made it to the top, wow, all the energy and emotions that I had stuffed to just make it up, spilled out. I was angry, I was tired, I was everything. I needed to yell into the space, so I did. We all did. We all roared and our voices sank down, echoing into the ground that we could just barely make out below.

I thought, okay, now is the easy part. But on our hike back to our buses, night fell, so we were trekking in almost pitch darkness, with a few lanterns for light. The air was damp and full with the scent of puma, a type of leopard that Chico told us about on our way in. I think, great. If I don´t fall to my death, I am going to be eaten by a great big cat.

Nothing of such occurred. We all arrived back to our base camp in one disheveled, but intact piece. And I went to bed and didn´t wake up until the sun was quite high in the sky the next morning.


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