I hesitated to post this, because it is so personal. Then I decided to do it anyway. To hell with it.
Sometimes when completely immersed in the mundane world of child rearing and being a caregiver of a disabled and medically dependent child, homeschooling, the stress of a tight household budget, home upkeep, marriage, politics and trying to start up a small handcrafted soap-making business while careening into midlife, it's hard to remember why I sometimes like to spend three entire nights with a large group of people moving rhythmically around a fire to the sound of drums and chanting in the middle of the desert.
Yes, that was one sentence. But it's all true.
As the weekend of Mayfire approaches, doubt, anxiety and negative self-talk creep in. I tell myself all of the reasons I shouldn't go:
Staying up all night moving around a circle? At my age?
Seriously. Why on earth would a middle-aged mom want to do something that crazy?
A responsible woman doesn't spend hard earned funds on such a thing when the bathroom needs repair and the kid needs braces and homeschool curriculum. A respectable woman doesn't put on harem pants and twirl around with a red veil at two o'clock in the morning. And all that singing! Worse yet, dancing! Who the hell do I think I am?
They'll laugh. And they should because it's ridiculous. I'm not one of those "cool" people, with the looks and the talent and the moves. I don't belong there.
Not to mention the time. Taking off three days when the youngest always
needs to be educated and the house always needs to be cleaned? Don't
responsible people do all their work first, THEN play?
I haven't prepared anything, no offerings for the fire, no new chants. My voice and body are out of shape, and I haven't been doing the alchemical work. It's like a kid showing up for school without having done the homework or studying for the test.
And besides, I have children and a husband. I can either drag them along or go without them, but either way I'm being selfish.
Speaking of kids, what if our special needs son behaves in socially inappropriate ways? He sometimes has meltdowns and has difficulty controlling himself. What if he is disruptive? What if we have to remove him from the area? What if he wanders off to find the restroom and gets lost in the dark or falls and gets hurt? And besides, in our case it's impossible to parent while co-creating with the fire community, so I won't be contributing and participating at the levels that the others will be. It might be better if we don't go.
I'm having minor structural health problems, and sometimes walk with a slight limp. What if I can't endure the conditions? Perhaps I should stay home.
And so it goes, in my head, this anxious little hell I make for myself.
The truth is that I am not resisting because fire circles are frivolous. I am resisting because they are transformative and healing. Self care is such a challenge for me. All that poisonous negative self talk is exactly why I need to go. It's time to give it to the fire. The fire will take it and transform it.
My husband is wonderful. He knows me. He says, "You should go. We should go." He arranges to take time off. He goes to the site ahead of time and sets up our tent. Our friends are wonderful too. They make it possible for us to pitch our tent within view of the fire circle so that we can keep an eye on the children through the night. I am in awe of the kindness and generosity of these amazing, beautiful people.
The first day arrives and I want to be unobtrusive, like a shy kid at a new school. I want to hang back, go unnoticed. It's embarrassing that I still find social interaction so challenging. It's a secret I prefer to keep hidden. In my attempt to hide my anxiety, I hang back, put up walls, reject connection. I worry that it seems cold and unfriendly. Inside my head, I am overwhelmed.
In the beginning, someone mentions that this is an ordeal. For me, the ordeal isn't working around the sacred fire for three nights. The ordeal is just getting there, showing up, and staying with it.
The first night around the fire circle, despite hearing words of welcome, I feel like a fraud or an imposter. These are irrational thoughts from a person who has been at this for 15 years.
Moving around the fire in time to drum beats has a hypnotic effect. It's a time of day when many are usually sleeping, which heightens it. At times we are moving around the circle and at other times we are nested in our camp chairs outside the ring of prayer flags, resting while the music washes over us. Still other times I'm in the tent where it's a bit warmer, holding one of my sons in my arms as he sleeps, and I hear magical melodies weaving around us like a musical blanket. Even inside the tent, it seems as though we are inside the crucible.
At one point someone plays an achingly beautiful melody, and someone begins to chant, "I become my highest vision," and someone else joins in, and someone else, the voices harmonizing beautifully, weaving together and moving and swelling like waves on water. In that moment I realize, "This is it. This is why I am here." I can imagine it, dreaming of my highest vision and then becoming that, little by little, day by day. The vision is within reach.
At another time, as I lay back on a reclining camp chair outside the prayer flags, I turned my head so the ear is parallel to the ground, and could hear the sounds of drumming and chanting bouncing off the canyon walls, multiplied a hundred times, a cacophony of ghostly voices. It sounded as though there were several pow wows all around us far off in the distance. When I sat up I could only hear our circle, no matter how carefully I listened. Later I wonder if I really heard that sound or if I dreamed it.
From the nest I see my husband, blissfully drumming, or stepping in the track in time to the drumbeats. He seems so calm and centered and my heart swells to think of what we've come through together and how much I love him.
I told our youngest son that he can sleep all night in the tent if he prefers, or he can join us in the circle. It's entirely up to him. I do not want to place any expectations on him, because our spirituality is about freedom and he is so eager to please. One night I looked behind me and to my surprise there he is, standing with us. He walks around the fire for hours until it's very late, and then joins us to celebrate the sunrise after a short nap. I try to explain to him, in the simplest terms I can think of, why we do this. For transformation. To connect with spirit. To transcend the material world. He says, "Mom, I've known this for years." He's eleven years old.
By the third night, the positive effects of the magical working begin to take hold. I feel the resistance melting away. Negative thoughts bubble up and I see them for what they are. Illusions. I release them and they are gone. Just like that.
My son with special needs tumbles out of the tent, fresh from a full night's sleep, enthusiastically sharing his puppet "Dr. Woofie" to anyone who will interact with him. Again I am amazed at the kindness and generosity of people who are willing to stop in the middle of what they are doing, after being up all night, to be present with this child.
Bit by bit, the illusions of separation melt away. The anxieties begin to fade. I almost feel like my old self again. What was I so afraid of?
A strange thing has been gradually happening to me in the past few years. I have become so deeply immersed in the role of wife, mother, advocate of a special needs child, so involved in the needs and expectations of the most important people of my life that I feel as if I have lost touch with the essence of who I am separate from how I am experienced by those I love. I know there is a still space in my center, a place deep inside of me that holds who I am, and no matter how chaotic life is, no matter the demands and roles placed on me, that True Self is still there, waiting. But I haven't been there in a while and I haven't been faithful to myself. The longer I wait, the harder it becomes to find it again. The more I lose contact with this deeper part of myself, the harder it is to authentically connect with others. I have walled myself in while locking myself out.
At one point we are given a magical talisman, a beautiful key carved of bone, and we are asked what we will use it for. I say, " I will use this key to tear down the walls I build around myself." Later I will add, "and use it to unlock my inner door." The fact is, to the small circle of people I serve daily, I must include one additional person.
All of these pieces of me, some apparent and some hidden, some developed and some inert - wife, mother-teacher-mentor-protector, dowdy middle-aged woman, craftswoman, witch, and more - all these things dissolve together and form an alloy. The walls are coming down.
After we broke camp and returned home, I thought, "I can wear harem pants and a red veil whenever I want to." The fact is, I DO want to. But that's not why I want to return to the fire, again and again. It's not the exterior image. It's all about the work.
Mayfire is an annual all-night alchemical fire circle event put on by the Vegas Vortex at the Valley of Fire State Park in Southern Nevada. The alchemical fire circle experience is a gift of spirit. I have no idea what battles the other participants
are fighting in their daily lives. Some may go to work magick, overcome obstacles, or to express joy, and others may go simply because it's a rare and beautiful experience.
Regardless of your reason, if you feel called to go, check out one of the many fire circles taking place around the country. Just go.
For more information, go to www.vegasvortex.com