Ojo Caliente Hot Springs, New Mexico.
It was the moment of the Bloodline Healing workshop that touched me most deeply. My eyes swelled with tears as I witnessed Abbey, a Native American Elder, embracing Eliana, a young Jewish woman. My chest filled with a pure satisfaction as Eliana sobbed and Abbey soothed. These two participants were perfect strangers before this workshop. Their embrace was perfect.
It was all happening in a heavy wood yurt that sat in the bare New Mexico Sun. Ojo Caliente, the first health spa in America, was constantly pushing its hot mineral water into the man made hot tubs. The large yurt was just a short walk from the hot tubs, and soon our bodies would soak in the curing waters to wash away the dirty smudges and heavy family burdens that we were expressing in the yurt.
Abbey had journeyed from a far away reservation to come to this workshop. Though she was the youngest of her siblings, she was born with the a strong and giving heart. Even as a child, she was someone who carried herself with the authority of someone much older than her position as the “baby of the family”. Early in her life, she had cared for her family by emotionally supporting them and ensuring the many responsibilities of family life were fulfilled. Her service to her family became even stronger when a few early deaths filled her family with grief. In that grief, they had come to lean on her without realizing that she was serving as unconventionally young Elder. For years, she emotionally carried her grief ridden family. But it was not a recognized role. To them, she was necessary, but her contribution was assumed and unseen.
Now, in her later years, Abbey’s grandmotherly heart was reaching the guarded Eliana at our workshop. Eliana didn’t trust her parents or the elders in her family. She moved away from them as soon as she could after years of unspoken emotional neglect. We asked her to participate in an Ancestral Dialogue, an often cathartic opportunity to speak to the deceased loved ones of her lineage about her family struggles. But too many emotions surfaced after she introduced her family tree to the group. In short, she didn’t want any contact with her ancestry because her family always seemed to need so much from her. Instead, Eliana forged a transparent wall, a tense force field around herself to protect herself from a family that had betrayed her. She needed support, but it could not be familiar. She needed a trustworthy stranger.
“I understand what you are going through,” Abbey said. “I know what its like to be left in an unspoken way. But you’re not alone right now,” Abbey moved towards Eliana gently. Her inviting dark eyes put Eliana at ease. Tears fell down Eliana’s face, as a wave of empathy washed over her from Abbey. The ice wall around Eliana began to melt as she stretched out her arms like a forgotten child. They embraced. Abbey spoke softly into her ear, consoling and validating the younger woman. It was the female mentorship and guidance that Eliana did not get from her overwhelmed family.
Eliana cried, expressing how she had always needed this kind of support, sharing how her mother and grandmother failed to see how important this nurturing embrace truly was to her. But Abbey knew. That deep caring instinct of an elder took over. In her younger years, Abbey carried the burdens of her grieving family. But now, Abbey was being seen in her eldership in an appreciated way. It was no longer a hidden job that was done from behind the scenes. Abbey too was receiving a healing by being recognized for her gifted heart.
My heart also swelled with gratitude and celebration, because I knew that I had played a part in bringing together these two women from different worlds. Like a resonate symphony, the whole group was moved as they gathered close to the hugging women. Some cried, other smiled, as we all witnessed the courageous and intimate healing happening before our eyes.
“I really needed this,” Eliana said. “Thank you, Abbey…Wow, this was intense! I knew I needed to be at this workshop, but I didn’t expect this to happen.” The group laughed, as many of them shared that they felt the same way. They were walking a path unknown to the routines of their life. Healing needs change in order to happen.
Mineral Hot Spring by the Canyon just before sunset.
At sunset, the hot water emitted steam into the cool night air. After feasting on fresh cornbread and tender Rainbow Trout for dinner, I slid into the thick heat of the moonlit mineral spring that was nearest to the rock canyon. I too, had received a healing today. By seeing these two strangers embrace, my trust and faith in humanity was growing. “Perhaps we just need more safe spaces like this workshop in order to realize our full healing potential,” I thought to myself. After our group session in the yurt, my heart felt clearer, the burbling water felt more vivid, and the taste of the fresh lemon water lingered on my tongue. “This is why I do this work,” I thought to myself. “It helps me to feel more alive!”
Each time I facilitate a workshop, I too walk into the unfolding healing process. Just like Abbey and Eliana, each participant brings the group a special gift to the gathering. As I daydream about our October 10-13th, 2013 Bloodline Healing Workshop at Brandeis-Bardin in Southern California, my heart becomes bright with excitement. I look forward to being on that sacred land, that refuge from the everyday pressures of our busy lives. Who will come to this retreat? What cross cultural bridges will be forged? What unexpected gifts will perfect strangers share with each other?
About the Author: Kamana Hunter