Several years ago I was involved in a two-week intensive course in shamanic training at Esalen, a beautiful retreat center located along the Big Sur coastline in California. It comprises 27 acres of natural beauty, set on cliffs overlooking the vast expanse of the Pacific Ocean. Trees are all around, and mountains rise up as if they were swept up from the depths of the sea. The dynamic juxtaposition of the mountains and the ocean creates the kind of interaction that makes the Earth breathe with life, and you can feel the power generated by these contrasting elements.
For thousands of years, this was home to the Esselen Indians, who would move back and forth from the inland to the coastal areas (depending on the seasons) for fishing, hunting, and shelter. Artefacts up to 4,000 years old have been found among the ancient ceremonial grounds along the coast, with some as recent as the 1700s. The Esalen Institute was founded by Michael Murphy and Dick Price in 1962 and soon became known for its experiential and didactic workshops and the influx of various teachers from the fields of psychology, art, and spirituality.
For the shamanic training, there were three and sometimes four classes each day, with a 90-minute lunch break. On some of the evenings when we had free time, several of us would gather in the main classroom, put on some music, and dance. The music and physical movement helped relieve much of the accumulated stress and tension from the day’s work.
It was several days into the course when my roommate and I discovered a smaller room near the place we were staying. There was a stereo and a few CDs. So before breakfast, those of us in the nearby cabins gathered and danced that morning, which really got the juices flowing. Better than coffee! There wasn’t a lot of physical activity for the classes that day and nothing was scheduled for the evening, so we set up a group dance.
Although I’d gotten a lot of dance exercise that morning, it had been so much fun that I knew I wouldn’t miss doing it again in the evening. As soon as I walked into the room, my body started moving to the rhythm of the music, which would change from song to song, varying from slower and deliberate to rock and roll. After several dances, I paused, sweating profusely, and sat on one of the many cushions. I noticed a bit of tightness in my lower back but didn’t think much of it. That is, not until the next morning.
When I woke up, my lower back was so stiff I could barely get out of bed! I rolled sideways, moving very slowly and awkwardly, trying to remember to breathe as I stood up. No dancing for me this morning! After going through my morning rituals, I lumbered along to class. Sitting on the cushions, every time I moved I did my best to suppress a grimace. I know I missed some of the lecture even though I tried to focus my attention on what the teacher was saying. At times the pain was just too distracting.
Lunchtime came, and with it my relief. Instead of eating right away, I walked outside to sit against a tree that was near the edge of the cliffs and looked out over the ocean. I’d made a deal earlier in the day with my spirit guides that for five days in a row during lunch, I’d sit with this particular tree, offering up some tobacco as a sacrament to her and the spirits of the land. I’d lean my back against the tree, gaze out to the ocean, and simply meditate, listening for any messages from Spirit that I might be able to discern.
I’d successfully done so for the first two days. On this third day with my back aching, knowing I had to fulfil my commitment, I decided that after placing some tobacco near the tree’s base, I’d ask Tree Spirit to heal my back. I wasn’t completely sure it would work, but since I’d had some powerful and illuminating teachings from Tree Spirit over the previous two days, I figured what the heck—I’d give it a try.
So I closed my eyes and clearly heard Tree Spirit saying, “Place your spine in alignment with me.” I did so and then took several slow, deep breaths and prayed. I said a prayer of thanks to the one I call Grandfather, Tree Spirit, the ancestors, and Spirits of the land. I visualized the energy that was binding the muscles in my back draining from me to the tree, down through the roots, and into the welcoming bosom of Mother Earth.
I sat like this for several minutes and then realized I had to leave. I still had some time to get a light meal before the cafeteria closed and class began.
I thanked all the spirit helpers and especially Tree Spirit, got up slowly, and felt the catch in my back still there, about the same as it had been. I was disappointed, as I’d hoped for a miraculous and instantaneous cure. Oh well. I grabbed a quick bite to eat and then went back to the classroom, still moving rather slowly and deliberately, listing slightly to compensate for the tightness in my back.
I made it through the two-hour class, sitting on one of the cushions that had a backing, and was actually quite fascinated with the lecture. When the class was over, I gathered my things, got up, and . . . there was no pain in my back! I moved around a bit and stretched to see if its absence was only temporary, but my movements were fluid and pain free, and remained so for the rest of the two weeks. I even danced again that night — a dance dedicated to Tree Spirit and the other spirit helpers who cured my backache.
That’s Earth Magic!