A Healing at Salmon Creek
|Despite the cold wind, the sand felt warm and comforting under our feet. As we made our way over the dune, I beheld the sea—not calm and pretty like those touted in tropical vacation brochures, but wild, roiling, dangerous and majestic.
We must've looked a sight to the residents of sleepy Salmon Creek, off Highway 1 past Bodega Bay along the Californian coastline. A motley crew of thirty-odd participants of the Babaylan Conference that had just taken place at Sonoma State University, we had come to the quiet beach with babaylan Reyna Yolanda and five other members of her group to join in a ritual for healing the earth.
Reyna Yolanda, or Apo, as her companions called her, had heard about the Babaylan Conference through her friends in the Philippines. In turn, conference Project Director Leny Strobel had heard about the senyales rituals the Apo had been conducting all over South East Asia from mutual friends Kidlat Tahimik and Katrin De Guia. When the Apo expressed her wish to do this earth-healing ritual at the Pacific Ocean, the Center for Babaylan Studies (CfBS) extended an invitation to the babaylan to be a participant-observer at the conference. This ritual, although not a part of the conference proper, felt like the authenticating event to cap the cultural and psycho-spiritual journey we conference participants had experienced in the last few days.
Malongs of every size and color peppered the sandy landscape as we piled out of our cars parked on the narrow road leading to the beach. Despite the cold wind, the sand felt warm and comforting under our feet. As we made our way over the dune, I beheld the sea—not calm and pretty like those touted in tropical vacation brochures, but wild, roiling, dangerous and majestic. Spray filled the air as the waves crashed onto the hardy brown sand. It was like being on the edge of a whirlpool, the movement of the water expansive, erratic and unpredictable. One was drawn to the sight of the endless sea, yet mindful about keeping a distance. Also, this was the Pacific Ocean. The water was numbingly cold.
It was my first time to participate in a ritual of this sort, that is, not one of those prescribed by my Catholic upbringing. I suspect this was true for most of us present. And except for Reyna Yolanda and the spirits she seemed to be listening to, no one really knew what was about to happen. I knew at the start that I was about to experience something special, but had no idea that by the end of it, the event will have profoundly changed the very core of my being and my understanding of what it means “to be in the world”.
She began by tracing a sacred space on the ground, an “altar” upon which she and her helpers arranged the fruits and flowers we had brought with us, our offerings to Mother Nature. She walked back and forth swiftly, following the requests being whispered to her by Spirit, and we all patiently watched and followed her subsequent orders like obedient children. She led us in a series of actions whose order I can no longer remember: writing on the ground; running, jumping or walking; tracing circles in the air with a sprig of flowers held in the right hand. We seemed to be outside of Time, completely focused in the moment, the sun hidden behind a thick layer of clouds that covered the entire sky above us. And slowly, with each completed action, Nature seemed to be responding to us. Seagulls, at first in pairs, and then in small groups, began to fly over us from a northern to a southerly direction, from the right side of the beach to the left. They flew right above us, zooming to within ten to fifteen feet above our heads. Our breaths caught, for we all instinctively understood the symbolism of this act: Nature was hearing us, and She was pleased.
|I honor and thank the shamans and babaylans of this world, who with courage and perseverance undertake the task of bridging all worlds, bringing about healing and helping evolve consciousness. Mabuhay!
I had no expectations at all in coming to the beach to participate in this ritual. I was in “beginner’s mind”, my cognitive self stretched like a blank, white canvas. So what happened at this point in the ritual was completely unexpected. She asked all of us to form a straight line facing the sea, facing west. She told us to offer our own personal petitions to Bathala, to the wind that swirled around us. We all, as though rehearsed, raised both hands up into the air, our faces held skyward as we silently offered our prayers. I asked for the regeneration of life on earth, for the healing of its parts that may have been badly or even irretrievably damaged. I asked that humans may care for the earth, not in this business-like, politically correct manner, but in a deeper way. Just as I was trying to define in my mind what I meant by a “deeper way”, I heard Reyna Yolanda singing out to the sea in spirit language. As I heard her sacred communication, something began to move within me. I looked at Reyna Yolanda’s figure, clad in a green satin dress, miniscule against the backdrop of the wild sea. And I began to feel a Presence speak inside my bones, my muscles, my heart and mind: “I am a part of you, as you are a part of me. We are not separate. Your being is intertwined with mine in ways that twist and turn and dig and reach. I am not Other. You are my Beloved, and I am Yours.”
I began to cry. In the grip of such truth whose veracity I felt deep in my bones, something collapsed inside me, not walls, but a belief that had been sold to me, to all of us, as truth: that Nature is something outside of us that we must care for just because our own survival depends on it; that we call or label her “Mother Earth” in a metaphorical sense; that we segregate our trash or engage in other “green” actions in the perfunctory way that we make our morning coffee or pay our bills; that the health of our planet is intrinsically linked to ours as a fact of nature, a function of nature, rather than the essence of our relationship with it.
These beliefs but scratch the surface of what may pass as “reality” or “truth”, and to continue to hold on to them would be to deprive one’s self of the truth of being and reason for existing. It would be akin to living a lie, in the same way I pretended as a child to believe in Santa Claus long after I discovered the truth so I could keep getting the presents. In such a self-serving deception, we deprive ourselves of life-transforming epiphany—the truth of who we are.
Then Reyna Yolanda asked us to crouch down, put our palms flat on the ground and start drumming. As I drummed the wet sand, I could feel Nature rise up to meet me. “I love you, I love you, I love you,” I told her, for the first time as Beloved to another (although there really is no “Other”) Beloved. I felt her saying, “I bask in Your love. I need Your love. When You love me, I begin to heal. I am not Some Thing You need to fix. I am One who also needs to be loved.” The tears that flowed out of my eyes seemed to be drawn straight from my heart. I love you, I love you, I love you. Never again will I forget my Mother, for She is my Kapwa, too.
As if in response, the sun broke through a crack in the clouds. Nature received our offering of love into her heart, and we basked in her warmth.
One action after another. We were doing a series of mini-rituals to complete a whole one. In doing them, I began to understand the importance of ritual as a way to experience the intrinsic sacredness of All That Is. At one point, in the middle of one ritual, we all saw a large, white plastic drum, half filled with water, bobbing slowly towards us from the sea. At first it was upright, almost as tall as a man, before it fell on its side and was dragged up to the shore upon Reyna Yolanda’s orders. Was it a mirage? A mass illusion conjured up by the skipped meal and unusual circumstances? It was like we were in the middle of a dream, playing roles in an allegorical tale instead of merely being its passive audience.
The phenomenon of the floating white drum was laden with meaning, Reyna Yolanda explained. “That drum represents our intentions, floating in the sea of hopes and dreams,” she said in Tagalog. “By bringing it onto the shore, we have pulled it in to safety. We have made it possible for the success of our petition to become reality.”
When we finally left the beach, we were euphoric and peaceful. Long goodbyes were said, as some of us would be heading home to wherever we had traveled from: Oakland, Stockton, Los Angeles, Toronto. When I checked the car’s dashboard clock, I was shocked to see that three hours had elapsed since we arrived at the beach. I thought that the ritual had lasted only an hour at most. I chuckled at the memory of sci-fi movie episodes that had portrayed similar phenomena. Had Time folded, or did we simply step outside of its confines temporarily, somehow? I suppose that the mysteries of this Universe will unlock slowly, one at a time, dimension by dimension, truth by truth. For now, this was more than enough to ponder on.
I honor and thank the shamans and babaylans of this world, who with courage and perseverance undertake the task of bridging all worlds, bringing about healing and helping evolve consciousness. Mabuhay!
And to “seed-planters” Leny Strobel, Perla Daly, Letecia Layson, Lorial Crowder, Baylan Megino and the many other members of CfBS for making the conference happen, for the work and words of people like Sr. Mary John and Katrin De Guia that inspired those who heard and heeded the ancestors’ call to action—Thank You. Maraming salamat po.
© Lissa G. Romero