Saturday, January 28, 2012

Climbing San Pedro

Beautiful San Pedro

Tomorrow I will turn 57 years old. Some family and friends have been asking, “What are you doing for your birthday, Amy?” Well...I’m gonna tell you now!

Since I arrived to San Marcos, Lake Atitlan, I have been practicing Yoga on the rooftop of our apartment. Early mornings I spend approximately 1 1/2 hours face to face with an awesome, majestic volcano called San Pedro. As I practise I have an unobstructed view of her facade, and when I invert into my headstand, I get to see her magnificence in a completely different perspective. I have come to know her well.

San Pedro is one of the volcanoes that line the shores of Lake Atitlan. It just happens to be the one that stands directly across from our windows. I read recently that San Pedro has a reputation for ‘asking’ to be climbed. Many visitors feel the compulsion to do so. I know I certainly do!

There is something that has happened for me over the past two months living amongst the vast expanse of mountains and volcanoes. There is a sense of security that I feel. It’s like when I knew I would never fall out of my crib when I was a baby, or the supported efforts of my friends circling the trampoline, ready to catch me if I fell off. The volcanoes are strong. There are three main ones in our view on the Lake. They are called Toliman, Atitlan, and San Pedro. Atitlan is the biggest of the three. Toliman is next. San Pedro is the smallest.

Tomorrow morning we’ll be taking a ferry across the lake to the volcano of San Pedro. It stands 3020 metres high. At an altitude of 1560 metres as our starting point we will be climbing (up) about 1.5 kilometres. There will be about 7 of us beginning the climb early in the morning. The local tourist agency calls the trek ‘difficult’ and Paul and I purposely did a treacherous hike this past week into the mountains of San Marcos to play in the huge waterfalls. That was our practise run. It was hard, but manageable. We’re ready for tomorrow. It’s exciting and a great way to spend my birthday. And, I know, San Pedro is waiting for us. She told me so! Stay tuned.....
(Epilogue-We did it! 4 hours up. 3 hours down.  I feel GREAT! What a happy birthday!!!! Thank you San Pedro!)

San Marcos

The small village of San Marcos circles around a central square. A full sized, often used basketball court is usually bustling with kids of all ages playing basketball, dancing, practicing music, or just ‘hanging out’ as young people do everywhere.

Numerous tiendas (grocery stores) each vying for customers stock relatively similar products. The church, sometimes lined with rows on chairs is situated across the narrow road. I have never seen services taking place in the church, although there are often meetings going on. Since I don’t speak even a word of katchikal (the native Mayan language) I have no idea of what the meetings are about. My North American biases led me, at first, to assume, that they are meetings for AA.

Two restaurants in the centre feed hungry travellers vegetarian fare and also fried chicken. Of course both restaurants serve rice and beans, the typical side dishes for everything.

Make shift stalls offer fresh fruit and vegetables. Young children and women of al ages saunter up and down the roads selling simple crafts. Homemade woven cloths, freshly baked cookies and natural chocolate with all flavours are our favourites.

I am sitting in the centre, waiting for my little friend, Eric. He’s meeting me here at 12:00 (it’s now 12:20) to introduce me to his mom. I’ve invited Eric to come with us on our excursion tomorrow to climb Volcano San Pedro. I came to make sure Eric’s mother approves. Before leaving my home, I made sure to practise the words I would need in Spanish. Invitar (to invite), escular (to climb), cena (dinner). My Spanish is definitely improving but I still am frustrated when my ignorance of vocabulary keeps from connecting to Spanish speaking people. I am finding more and more, though, that I am able to get around.
The circle is a bit quiet this afternoon. I can smell the smoke that looms from within the village mountain where the Mayan community lives. Cooking, heating, burning daily garbage are all excuses for fires. Ceremonies abound too, and fire is an important part of the ritual.

I feel good being a part of this community. Here I am learning Spanish, taking massage classes, visiting friends, and just living.  Every once in a while I feel the desire to go out on adventures and see other parts of Guatemala. There are so many small, interesting to places to go. And, still,  often, I just want to be here, comfortable in familiarity and embraced by what and who I know.

Thursday, January 26, 2012


On our way to shoe shop

There is a very distinct history to the development of shoes in our society.  In Toronto, the Bata Shoe Museum displays shoes from the time of creation until now. There, one can see the significance of shoes in the life of a people, anything from class distinction, to gender oppression, to fashion interests. You can tell a lot about a culture by their shoes! I remember visiting the museum with our children. I dragged them in as they complained, “Shoe Museum, mom? We don’t want to do this!” and, on the way out they were completely enthralled and grateful for the experience.

Personally, I like walking barefoot. I feel good walking directly on the earth, feeling the ground under my feet and reinforcing the natural curves of my arches. It gives me a feeling of strength and endurance. I used to love running barefoot on sandy beaches. I try to avoid shoes always. While in the cities, I wear sandals (in the summertime) or boots, any other time. Running shoes work at other times! Recently I borrowed a ‘fancy’ pair of shoes for a wedding that I attended. Thankfully, I had permission from the ‘lender’ to leave the shoes in Mexico where the wedding took place.

I’m not one to give in to the fashions of the time. When sneakers began to ‘diversify’ I avoided getting sucked in. I used the same shoes for running that I used for walking, or basketball, or baseball. I just made sure they were well made. I was never a “shoeaholic”. I know some people who collect shoes and need special closets to store the many different shoes that they buy.

Colouring and trying on new shoes...
That's Eric!
There is a lot that can be said about people’s shoes. In some of my workshops, I often do a strategy called “Shoe and Tell”. Each participant is asked to place one of his or her shoes in the middle of the circle. Taking turns then, each person shares a description of their shoe - where it came from, why they bought it, and when. Shoes tell a story., and, undoubtedly, everyone has a story to tell.

Many children in San Marcos walk around barefoot. They just don’t have the resources to purchase shoes. They walk on the dirt and rocky roads innocently traversing sharp stones and dangerous fragments of earth. The bottoms of their feet are calloused and hard. They seem comfortable absorbing the divine earth with their feet. I have never heard one child complain. And yet, not having shoes prevents many of them from going to school. So many of the people here believe that feeding children is necessary before they allow them to go to school. “How can we send children to school malnourished.” is a common way of thinking. I believe that going to school is equally as important as feeding our bodies… feeding our souls is critical. Feeding our brain is too. Organizing breakfast and lunch programmes in the schools is essential!
Fernando 'selling' shoes

I’ve made friends with some of the children in the community. As I walk on the road into the village of San Marcos, I call many children by name. I often here “Buenos dias, Amy” in response. The new school year began last week and most kids are in classes during the day. Still, though, there are many children I see in the streets. They don’t go to school. They don’t have shoes.
Learning to walk made easier!

On Tuesday I went with friends, Sandra and Fernando into San Pablo to purchase 20 pairs of beautiful new sneakers ($60.00 for all). We bought smaller sizes for toddlers just learning to walk. We bought slightly bigger sizes for younger children still playing on the roads and in the parks. The rest of the shoes are for school age children who will be going to school for the first time. With new shoes they can walk safely through the streets to get to class. It doesn’t sound like much, and, in the bigger picture it really isn’t much. Shoes are just the beginning. There is still so much embedded in the infrastructure that makes it really challenging to emphasize the importance of education.

I was surprised when I gave Diego his shoes. Diego is just going into grade one in the public school in Tzununa. There are no shoes with velcro straps in the stores in San Pablo when I went shopping.  I thought I would be spending a good part of the morning teaching the children to tie their laces. But with excited energy, Diego grabbed his new sneakers, and, placing them on his bare feet, he tied both laces. I’m convinced he didn’t learn that by tying shoes. He learned it by tying fishing netting, or roping necklaces for tourists, or finishing the knots of woven cloths of the garments that his mother creates. Nonetheless, Diego happily ran off to school with two beautifully tied sneakers! And a huge smile on his face!

Their shoes are made for walking…not up…not down….just to keep on going. Avoiding stagnation, trying to stay above the poverty line, malnutrition and ignorance can be helped with something as simple as a new pair of shoes.

Happy kids!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Spiritual Mayan World- The Fire Ceremony

The Fire Ceremony in Mayan culture is one of the most important gatherings for spiritual expression and religious ritual. The symbol of fire represents light and amplifies our intentions and gifts. Mayan people believe that the divine lives in the fire. The fire ritual feeds and nurtures the divine as a living spirit. “Fire”, I have heard, “is not a symbol of God but is God herself."
Paul and I have heard about one elder Mayan Shaman, Tata Pedro, for many years from our friends, Clayton and Maalaa. He performs fire ceremonies regularly for the Mayan community living around the lake. He often invites visitors to participate. We were lucky this week to receive such an invitation!

I don’t know much about Mayan spirituality. I am learning more and more as I interact with the people on the streets, visit different villages and cities (Antigua), and read more about the numerous practices and rituals. One thing I do know about the fire ceremony, is that it is important to enter the event with an open mind and an embracing of the possibilities it offers. As our group walked quietly up into the mountains of San Marcos towards the ceremonial cave, I kept my mind and heart open to receive the experience as a personal and communal opportunity. I still have much to learn!

Preparation for the ceremony begins almost immediately as we all help unravel the ceremonial offerings from their carefully packaged wrappings. Wooden pieces of bark with the sweet smell of pine that still have the sticky sap on its sides are carefully placed in the centre of the fire pit, which is divided into four quadrants using streams of sugar. This accentuates the division for the four elements of our universe, as well as the four directions, east, north, south and west. There are many other interpretations for this division. I like the use of the cross here, which apparently is not a Christian influence, but an ancient Mayan one, symbolizing the central World Tree from which the four directions came.

There are piles of coloured candles (purple, white, yellow and red), each representing a different direction of the universe, placed in the alter. Then circles of sugar are collaboratively poured into each quadrant. Liquid incense oil, also poured into the altar, is intended to ‘please’ the Gods and help carry our thoughts and intentions to the appropriate spirit.

Finally small cakes of copal, (aromatic tree resin used as incense) are carefully piled in the centre and small coin-like pieces of the same are distributed to the participants of the ceremony.

Finally, after about 45 minutes of preparation, Tata Pedro leaves the circle to dress in traditional costume. Once he returns, he pours a licorice like liquid into the centre and proceeds to light the fire.
For the next 2 hours, he prays prostrated, lifts his arms to the universe, thanks the spirits, shares love, and asks for safety, health, abundance, world peace, happiness, and environmental safety.

I watch as many participants close their eyes, tensing their brows in spiritual immersion, and lose themselves in the spiritual presence. Tata Pedro’s intense communication with the spirit gods and his whole body engagement move me, and encourage me to let go of my need to understand, to come out of my head and open my heart to understand meaning. I am inspired to connect to the various sources of nature as we are invited to offer pine needles, branches, sugar, coloured candles, and more copal into the fire. Every so often the Shaman drizzles more liquid incense into the blaze.

We cover all of the 20 nawales of the calendar, each representing a different dimension of the natural world. I had discovered that my Mayan astrological symbol is called ‘Eish’ which is represented by the jaguar. With my birthday coming up this weekend, I want to find out more about that Nawale and learn more about where I fit in this ancient Mayan world.
Tata Pedro and one other participant continuously smoke a series of huge home rolled cigars. One participant even arrives to the ceremony smoking a cigarette, which I discover is considered perfectly okay. My friend who was visiting us at the time and participating, asks her to please put it out!  Who knew?! Tobacco is an important element of the ceremony as a force for potentiality. The smoke supposedly dissolves any negative energies that surround the experience.

By the end of the ceremony, the fire burns out, we gather remnants and make our way back down the mountain. I recognize that I still have so much to learn about the ritual. I am finding it a challenge to relate to Mayan spiritual practice, which, for me is surprising. I usually find my place in various practices and create meaning and significance in my own heart. I am looking forward to engaging in other fire ceremonies; learning more, and finding those meaningful connections. What a great introduction to the ritual, though! Thank you Tata Pedro!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012


Old is beautiful

Antigua means antique. There is a charm in the narrow streets represented by the simple architecture highlighted by deep bevelled window frames and wrought iron coverings. Cement and stucco facades on buildings are painted in various colours. Like Guatemala City, doorways are barricaded with gate locks protecting beautifully natural courtyards and welcoming restaurants and cafes.  The Spanish colonialism, Baroque architecture and vibrant life, surrounded by 3 awesome volcanoes, lend a humbling attitude that can be felt in the streets.

For 3 full days we walked the streets of the city. From early morning until late at night, music played in various areas. The centre of the city, Parque Central, bustled always, with buskers performing music, sometimes Latin-influenced and often western. Clowns, magicians, mime artists, fire jugglers were scattered through the streets. Crowds of people watch at each stop. The narrow cobblestoned roads were busy with pedestrians and spectators, and, occasionally, we needed to squeeze our way through. Sometimes we had to climb high sidewalk curbs to avoid the cars slowly making their way through the streets.

Paul and I have passed through Antigua several times on our way to Guatemala City. The city looked so interesting and we were eager to plan time to be there. On Friday morning, we began our trip, which includes the adventurous ride through the highlands of Lake Atitlan. Navigating the narrow roads and switchback turns of the mountains is definitely a trip! I counted 18 separate switchbacks in the first hour of our trip! The views are spectacular and the relief of making it to “Kilometre 148” finally arrived. Two friends were with us, Maalaa from Gabriola, and Susan from Toronto.

We took a fantastic 3-hour walking tour on Saturday morning and learned so much about the city. On that day, too, there was a human chain making its way up Agua, one of the 3 volcanoes surrounding the city. I wanted to be on that chain. Volcanoes have become my new comfort provider. I have been living surrounded by volcanoes since early December and now, I don’t like to leave the protective, comforting feeling.

love those windows!
We ate some good typico food in the restaurants and one night Paul sat down at a piano and accompanied a local accordionist. There was music everywhere… in the streets as well as in cafes and restaurants. The city is an attraction for travellers from all over the world offering great restaurants, vibrant nightlife, cultural events and daytime festivities.

narrow, cobblestoned....old
The churches, shops and restaurants that line the neatly cobbled streets are Baroque-style colonial buildings. Many of the buildings look very old and are obviously remnants from structures that were destroyed in the various earthquakes that eventually made it necessary to give up on Antigua being the capital of the country. After the big, most destructive earthquake in the 1700’s, the government changed locations to Guatemala City. But the old buildings are truly beautiful with old concrete foundations surrounding natural growth courtyards and romantic pathways.

The one thing that haunts me everywhere in Guatemala is the lack of educational excellence. Money issues and a lack of leadership and organization make it almost impossible to gather children from the various villages and encourage them to attend. I have never met a parent who doesn’t want his/her child to go to school. Even though public education is ‘free’, children without shoes can’t make their way there, and, besides, there are extra expenses that make their attendance impossible. Charges for supplies, the need for book bags and pencils and notebooks, lack of food, all contribute to the challenges of public learning. To me it just seems so fundamental. Breakfast and lunch programs, free school supplies, a general insistence on education are all so easy with limited effort. Too many families prefer having their young boys helping in the fields than have them attend the local school. I don’t understand.

In Antigua children line the streets selling simple wares and sheepishly beg for sales. Colourfully dressed in typical Mayan costumes they approach me constantly with beaded necklaces draped over their delicate arms, or intricately woven cloths. I would love to buy them all, but I don’t. I can’t help but think, “Why are these gorgeous smart and energetic children not in school?” I know I am thinking from a western perspective. It is hard to open up and think differently.

Our weekend was great. We played in this fantastic city, spending time with our friends Maalaa and Susan. We shopped, ate, walked, learned, laughed and played. And, by the end of Sunday, we were safely back in our paradise on the Lake. Life is good!

Eating, drinking, laughing!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Time Just Passes!

It’s quite amazing how we have settled in here on Lake Atitlan. Even though we had to move apartments for a couple of weeks, we still marvel at the beauty of the place and recognize how easy it is to make things work around here. Our room now is very small, with room enough for our bed and a table. There are two chairs that we move from the inside to the outside depending on where we want to sit. The kitchen is small enough for one person at a time, so when we make our meals, we either leave it to one of us, or we bring the food preparation part outside. There is a stove with 4 burners, and no oven. A table sits on a small patch of grass outside. There is a small bench there, and when we carry the chairs from the inside out, we can sit four people at the table. The shower leaks and has a low ceiling that makes it hard for Paul to stand up straight! It took a bit of adjustment from our spacious, elegant apartment from before, but I’m going to say, it’s still pretty fine. I think of this place a little bit like Gabriola! And....when I look out from our small bench at the table outside I can think of no other place I’d rather be!    

Our work with Casa Hillel has been great! We didn’t go there this week, even though it’s been two weeks, because Rabbi Elyse is there for the weekend and they need to concentrate on their own relationship together. But Paul and I have still been busy creating for them and working with them. One of the boys, Ardany, is having a Bar Mitzvah in November. It’s not the first Bar Mitzvah in the community, but it is the first Bar Mitzvah where the child will read directly from the Torah. We have started that process together. Also, the members of the community have begun taking turns writing a Dvar Torah, and there are many songs that they know now. Paul and I recorded many of the prayers for them. I have to say I really liked singing into a microphone. Maybe I chose the wrong profession! Yeah...that’s it! Maybe I’ll ‘go on the road’ with Paul!!! Ya’ think?

I started a course in massage this week. I decided to go for it because the hours are really flexible, it’s something I’ve always wanted to learn, it’s really inexpensive, and I love the couple who are teaching it! Jaina is British and Fernando is Mayan. Their approach is body and heart! I understand that concept and really appreciate it. I want to learn massage so I can give massage to friends and family. It’s not about work. I never expect to be ‘paid’ for it. I just think it’s such a great way to share. I love the idea of putting my whole body into what I’m doing and connecting with my heart and soul. (It’s a little bit like carrying my babies during pregnancy. It takes mind, body and heart.) The course is really good. I think it comes a little naturally to me. And Paul is, so far, the one who has benefitted the most!  Anyway, the weirdest thing, as it turns out, is that Jaina is best friends with Philip’s girlfriend’s sister in Mexico! The connection is so bizarre, and yet, with the way our universe unfolds, I’m not the least bit surprised! It’s only natural that I would meet the friend of my son’s girlfriend (Toronto) sister (Mexico), while I’m in (Guatemala).

Our friend Susan from Java Mama has been visiting us this week and so we’ve gone on several excursions together. Yesterday we went into San Juan to visit the indigenous communities and shop in the various homes of women who sit and weave and make absolutely gorgeous woven and knitted work. I even got to play with one of their handmade “backstrap” weaving machine. Susan purchased many things. She’s a bit of an activist in the world, and was intentional about spending her money directly with the people who create the items that she bought.

I am continuously blown away with the simple joy and openness that the people here exude. It is so common to find children laughing and playing together so positively. I have never seen any foul playing going on, even amongst those who we think are of typically aggressive ages. People just seem to be pleasant, happy, grateful, and open. I just love interacting with those in the streets who are quick to wish me a ‘good day’ or a pleasant evening.
We’re going to Antigua this weekend. We’ve passed through there several times on our way to Guatemala City, but we never stopped to experience it. Since we’re in this smaller apartment for a couple of weeks, we’ve decided to spend some time travelling. We’re going tomorrow and meeting our friend Elyse there on Sunday. She’s coming back with us to spend a couple of nights before she flies to Mexico where she’ll be accompanying Casa Hillel in their first participation in the Reform Convention, before she returns to Toronto

Our Spanish teacher, Andres, “abandoned” us for a while, so my Spanish is at the mercy of the people I get to speak to in the streets. Fernando (my massage teacher) also speaks only Spanish so I am practising when I’m with him. Of course, I’m disappointed that I’m not fluent yet, but, I have to say, I am getting better. There is so much to learn!! There’s just so much to learn!!!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Energy Spots

My formative years were in New York City. I grew up until the age of 14 in an apartment building in a dark, crowded, urban area of Queens.  I didn’t know much about trees, or flowers or gardens. We bought our cut flowers from the local florist if we had enough money.

In the summers I went to the beach. I revelled in those days, vigorously digging in the sand and fighting with the strong waves of the Atlantic Ocean. The beach was my favourite place.

Outside of Givat Ada, Israel
I left New York early in my life, trusting my 14 year-old intuition about my need for nature, and my desire to escape the city. I convinced my parents to send me to a school in Israel where I could focus on graduating with American qualifications and concentrate on agriculture and community. I finished High School in a communal living environment, finding comfort in the daisies and pleasure cultivating cauliflower and cabbage. It was the beginning of my understanding of the natural world and my own relationship with it.

I am inspired by Nature! I suppose we all are, in fact. It’s just that some of us haven’t figured it out yet, I even think there are certain places in the world that emit more energy than others. I would guess that we each react to the energy spots in the world differently, depending on our own inclinations and our karmic connections.

I am realizing that there are places around the world where I feel strong pulls of energy. It’s not always related to Nature, but I would guess that Nature plays a role in the creation of the power that I feel.

I am 'here'. Sedona, Arizona
While in Sedona, Arizona last year, we regularly heard about one of these energy spots being referred to as a vortex. I do believe that the energy of the universe (actual magnetic forces) gathers in certain spots of our world. I also have a strong sense of human energy in certain energy spots. For instance, years ago when our family went on our yearly trip to Ottawa we visited the Parliament Buildings. I marvelled while walking slowly through the building. I could feel the energy of years past. I could almost hear the echoes of (mostly) men’s voices through the halls and in the chambers.

Quite frankly, while in Sedona, I became a little annoyed at the abuse of the ideas of vortex spots. Tour promotions were created and sold as excursions to powerful vortex points. “Feel the feminine energy in this vortex,” I heard the tour guide suggest. Or, “This vortex emanates power and strength.”  I believe it’s a combination of the natural surroundings and the human energy at work there. Sometimes, the history of the human energy is known, and sometimes we’re not consciously aware of the energies that existed there.

Jerusalem, 2008
I am reading a novel right now by Maeve Binchy. Woven into the plot of the novel is a statue with mystical powers where people go to for help. While there, the energy from the statue along with the energies from the others who go there is realized. I get it!
For instance, Jerusalem draws me close. When I walk the streets of Jerusalem I am filled with spiritual energy that warms my essence and brings a smile to my soul. I want to sing. I feel grateful, and, I suppose, closer to God. I get more in touch with my self and ultimately with my surroundings. I love even more.

Have you ever been in a place where you felt empowered? A place, perhaps, where you could stay for hours and you just don’t know why? I remember as a teenage girl in Israel sitting in the middle of a field of daisies that grew just outside my school. It lay in between the school and the nearest village, Givat Ada, where we would walk to buy candies and treats. I often would sit in the middle of the field while my friends continued on their way. I waited for them to return. I was happy there. Just sitting.

I have been reading research that reinforces the importance of nature in our lives. Some articles have noted that people who are more in tune with their natural surroundings are happier, nicer and more communal. These people are more comfortable with diverse attitudes and spiritual pathways of thought. There is more emotional stability when one gets in touch with nature, and opens up to godliness.

San Pedro Volcano, Guatemala
I believe I am in a powerful place right now. The majestic volcanoes rise sturdily over the lake. They carry a message that I hear, although they are quiet and protective. The indigenous residents carry on with life, interacting with each other and with travellers. Some have a message to share too. The local shaman offers natural herbal remedies. Elders participate in a fire ceremony to heal a member of the community. Women carrying their fresh produce atop their heads, smile broadly as they offer their wares. The energy circulates.

I seek out natural places now as I get older and more in tune with my own needs for nature. Lake Atitlan is powerful and I am comfortable here. I am recognizing the peacefulness that I have within. I am quieter, and my thoughts seem to be more organized.

Our land on Gabriola is like that for me, too. Working with the earth and becoming familiar with the silhouette of the treetops is comforting. The natural space is empowering. I find myself immersed in the beauty of my surroundings and gathering its energies to find my own place inside. Native communities have populated that island too. Their energy is evident always.

I am enriched by my surroundings, and although I still need to reach out to others through my work and my interests, I also find satisfaction in the quiet of my own world.

Our front walkway in San Marcos-
I am learning to just be… finally. I am practicing the simple process of being in touch. It isn’t always easy, but I am finding, it is always worth it.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Josh, Birthdays and Chocolate Ceremonies

My step- son, Josh, and I share January as our birthday month. Since all of our other kids have birthdays in the fall, I feel an astrological closeness to Josh because we were both born in the winter!

Bottoms Up!
In our travels in Mexico and Central America, I have had a chance to spend lots of quality time with Josh We have taken many opportunities to ‘catch up’ and get to know each other better. That has been, for me, a most significant gift.

This year, I decided to give Josh a different kind of birthday present. Yesterday I invited him to share a unique experience with me. Together we spent the afternoon with Keith, the Chocolate Shaman, well known here in San Marcos, Lake Atitlan.

Keith is a counsellor/healer who uses 100% pure organic chocolate as a stimulant to wake up emotional energy and create opportunity for self -exploration.

The Chocolate Ceremony begins at 12:30 in the afternoon. Keith facilitates these ceremonies about 3 times a week. Generally there are between 9 and 15 people who attend. The ceremony lasts approximately for 5 hours.

The participants are people who are seeking guidance in deepening self-understanding and identifying what Eckhart Tolle calls ‘pain bodies’. These are the pains that we accumulate in our lives that perpetuate negative energy and occupy our body and minds. Identifying those pain bodies helps us recognize and understand the stories that we create. The stories, ultimately, energize the pain bodies, which finds its expression in negative emotions such as anger, jealousies, regrets, and frustrations. The chocolate ceremony is a safe place to explore our pain bodies and to settle in to dissipating the pain and becoming happier and more emotionally positive.

That's Keith, "The Chocolate Shaman"
As we gather on Keith’s porch, each person receives a 2-ounce cup of pure liquid chocolate. Sweeteners and/or chili powder are offered to modify the taste for each individual’s desire. While we drink, Keith warns:

Do not drink this liquid if you:

·      Are taking any form of medical anti-depressants (migraines usually occur)
·      Have any form of chronic heart condition (blood flow speeds up too fast)
·      If you are a dog, a parrot or a horse (these animals don’t have the metabolic capacity to digest the enzymes)

The chocolate flows through our bloodstream as Keith gives a brief seminar about the benefits of chocolate. Referring to the work done in the 60’s with the use of psychedelics and therapy, Keith emphasizes that chocolate is not a psychedelic. It is a facilitator, a conduit, to open up one’s emotional depths and expand on ones’ spiritual and emotional capabilities. Swallowing generous amounts of chocolate, and skillful facilitation provides enormous opportunity for growth. (For more information, check out this website: (
The pure chocolate bean

As he speaks, and I drink, I wait for the effects of the chocolate to ‘hit’. As Keith begins to connect with others around the circle, I continue to wait. I’m not sure if the chocolate ever really affects me, but I decide to get into the flow anyway.

Keith moves around the room, and makes connection with each individual participant. There are tears…. many tears. And laughing too. Keith often suggests, “Close your eyes. Find the pain in your body. Give it a shape. Where is it? Go sit down next to it. Embrace it.”

For each person, the journey is different. Keith is incredibly tuned in and demonstrates unique intuitive gifts. He is adept at structuring his feedback and he is skillfully in tune with individual needs and potentials.

The group dynamic on the porch percolates as individuals go deeper into their own beings. It is easy to relate to others’ issues. No one is an island. We all share similar pains. The feeling of abandonment. Being pushed too hard. Not hard enough. Being squelched, or molded. Abused or neglected. Not loving ourselves. Difficulty loving others. Feeling lost, disconnected, numb. There are always issues. To ignore them is a means of feeding the pain. And we do…. we all do!

Recently I read about ways in which we dull our pain. It said, “Smoking suppresses anger and resentment. Pot suppresses sadness, and alcohol suppresses our fears.” Sound familiar? For me it does. I heard Keith say several times “Many people would rather die than confront these issues.” I believe that many do, through illness, or suicide, or misery.

I love this stuff! And I love sharing it with Josh. He embraces it (as I do) with a sense of adventure and exploration and growth. A journey into oneself, into connecting deeply with others, and to exploring our own human potential in a loving and compassionate world. Happy birthday Josh!