I was visited by spirit
It has been about 10 days since I have returned from my life changing experience at Wilderness Torah’s “Passover In The Desert.” I was invited to serve as an artist in residence at this years festival. However little did I know that they were facilitating the entire holiday from the fist and second Sedar throughout the end of the holiday. I commuted to the festival with my dear friend Rachel Rose Reid who was also serving as artist in residence as well. We both met at Limmud UK last December when I stumbled into room to rest my voice because of laryngitis. We then had a two hour conversation by using pen and paper not saying one word to each other. I then realized her laugh reminded me of one of my old friends from my child hood. Believe it or not, Rachel is my friends cousin.
Rachel and I traveled to the desert, (aka the place of nothingness) hoping to arrive a few hours before the first sedar. My front right tire had to be tightened on our way out, but other than that we had a really smooth trip. After 3 and half hours of driving North east past Victorville, and the open desert filled with Joshua trees we finally made it to the Panamint Desert Valley where we would camp for the next 8 days. Right before we made the turn to the dirt road, Rachel asked me “What is Tanya?” Right as I opened my mouth 6 wild donkeys cross right in front of our car. I slammed on my breaks and we stood in awe as a family of beautiful donkeys greeted us. I knew at that moment we were entering a very sacred and holy place. I had the same feeling when I return to Burning Man every year. For some reason divine coincidences show up more when we completely disconnect ourselves from technology and open up to what is in the now. There’s something special about being in the desert. To be honest it’s my favorite place to be. I grew up in coastal desert with the ocean so conveniently placed to seek comfort.
The week at “Passover In The Desert” had a completely different energy to “Sukkot On The Farm.” Here we were experiencing an extra intimate connection between the community (the Village), because of the desert living situation. Compassion, understanding and mutual helpfulness were common in the interactions I witnessed. This desert seemed to crack open hearts and to allow people to be embodied with a deep sense of authenticity. We were all in this together. There were Jews from all over the world, and from all walks of life. From families, to elders, to dozens of young professionals who practice Judaism in their own ways. Some people belonged to a specific movement. Others choose not to define it. Everyone who was there were all teachers and students and this was vital to our dynamic and beautiful community. The kitchen was kosher for villagers who were orthodox or not and for villagers who were learning kashrut. Everything was kosher, and might I say healing and delicious.
I was one of the 22 villagers who participated in the Vision Quest. I have been trying to process my experience from the Vision Quest and I gained clarity recently. To be honest I still feel like I am on my Vision Quest. Indigenous tribes have been participating in Vision Quests to pray to the divine and seek clarity in vision and understanding of the world that we live in. Some of these quests last 4 days and 4 nights. However the one we I participated in was 16 hours, from 4pm-8am the next morning. We were invited to fast and stay awake the entire night focusing on our intention while in spiritual practice. For over three weeks before I went our to the desert I was preparing for the journey by creating intentions that I wanted to have clarity with after participating in this powerful ritual. One of my intentions was to connect deeply with the Shechinah (the divine feminine aspect), as I grew up always relating to g-d as the mother. I felt before the vision quest that I was loosing my connection to g-d and experiencing a connection with the earth. This was my time to ask permission to build on our relationship and feel mama earth connected with me through my interactions nestled in the natural elements our our world
After two days of preparation through intensive counsel with the wilderness team and shamans, we were ready to offer our blessings to the spirit. I walked out to the sacred fire wearing two kefiyot, sand goggles, my outback hat, and bringing my yoga mat, blanket, backpack 1.4 gallons of water. Twenty two of us met sacred fire where we each offered our intentions and prayers into the fire. As we were there we were greeted by our shamans and members of the village who were holding space for our quests and committed to praying for us as we prayed for them as well. Believe it or not many stayed at the fire all night as we were out there in the darkness. After offering my blessings into the fire I walked out to the location that I scouted a few hours before. I laid down my belongings and created a circle of stones around my yoga matt. As the sun was still up I did a 2 hour yoga practice and Kriya yoga chanting to clear the space for my night meditation. I davened mincha and as soon as the sun went down I walked into the circle and did not leave the circle until the sun shined on the mountains in the morning. The sun set and the most beautiful sunset scorched the sky with beautiful pinks, greens, oranges and yellows. The sky turned dark blue and the stars joined the sky one by one. I laid back and was in complete awe with the abundance of stars light that seemed to keep the desert lit. In those few hours of stargazing I experienced moments of clarity and was visited by many power animals. It started to get really cold and dark? Where was the moon? I called out for the moon. But where was it? I waited for hours and just let go. Finally a bright almost full moon finally rose over the eastern mountain peaks. Now I was really out there. I would have to make it through the night. Trust I would be safe. So I prayed like I never prayed before. I sang out to g-d so loud that other villagers in the valley were echoing my songs.
I soon became aware that I was in this calm dreamy state, not sure what reality was. I would go into mini dreams and was have flashbacks of my life and seeing future adventures. I was visited by the spirit. She came to me. I would go into more detail but I’m saving what took place in those hours for people who want to learn more.
In the morning the 22 of us returned to the sacred fire and had a half day of counsel to lear how to integrate our experiences into our daily lives. I shared my story and visions in counsel. I shared having a brand new relationship with the sun, stars and moon as they all guided me through this profound ritual. One of the shamans told me I have a bunch of new allies here, and more power animals to observe and listen to as I continue to deepen my relationship with the spirit. Another shaman also mentioned that the stones that I have been cultivating and praying with are fossil sea shells. These sea shells come from the bottom of the ocean, and the divine feminine (shechinah) is described as the element of water and the ocean. I have been using these stones from the unknown depths to help ground me as I pray to the only one who performs wonders that are mysterious like the depths of the oceans. I grew up surfing and theres no wonder why I have been yearning to be greeted by mama ocean. No wonder why I returned to the waterfalls and natural mikvehs that were up the canyon from the festival. I was returning to my spiritual home… the water.
A few days after the festival I was studying the daily Tanya. That day the world was reading Tanya chapter 42. In this chapter Rabbi Shnuer Zalman of Liadi talks about the sun, stars and moon and how they are g-ds internal and external garments. That when we experience their power we have access to the wonder they bring to this universe. When we are present to this we can be overcome with awe. This gives major clarity to a main point I have been struggling with in my Jewish practice. What some Jews define as “fear” of g-d is actually defined here as “awe and wonder,” That when we experience the vast power and blessing that hashem gives to us through the stars, moon, sun, creatures, wind and anything that we can experience we are overcome with “awe.” From here we can come from a place of nothingness and create our lives with the power of authentic choice with a foundation of love.
On this Shabbos, may you build on your relationship with the wonderful divine garments we are blessed to observe. May you participate in a new and profound awe that deepens your relationship to your spirit and the divine. Good Shabbos!