Get comfy, this one’s gonna be long.
Fall of 2019. Whispers. Murmurs. Something new. Unknown. By January of 2020 people in Europe are starting to wear masks. Life in the US is still fairly normal, but with a new undercurrent of unease. That month I attend my first Heilung ritual in NY; the night that I would first encounter my now husband. As winter progresses I get more and more excited for my trip to Hawai’i in March to study LomiLomi on Big Island. I would be gone for twelve days in total. The longest I had ever been away from my daughter. Twelve days of being responsible for no one other than myself. Twelve days of not having to pick up after anyone, especially my husband at the time. Twelve days of not having to manage his life. Twelve days of freedom. There would be 6 hours of time between us…not to mention the entire US continent and half of the Pacific Ocean. The first portion of my trip is fine and rather predictable. I had actually traveled there for 2 reasons. The LomiLomi training and first, a weekend long conference for a company I was involved with at the time. It was fun and nice to connect with some of my associates. Then it was over. Time to make my way south from Waimea down to Puna. The jungle. Near fissure 8 from the last lava flow. Jungle. Lava. LomiLomi. I was excited.
It took most of the afternoon to drive down there. I traversed the length of the island in doing so. I had been told that each island has its own ecosystem. Several of the islands had multiple with their own microclimates. Big Island was no exception. Driving over Mauna Kea was unlike any place I’d been previously. A windswept grassy plain but with areas of cooled, crushed ash from a lava flow. I couldn’t stop staring. Barren. Unforgiving. Desolate. And yet, there was the encampment of Mauna protectors tasked with the job of preventing more destruction of their sacred Mauna from continued development of telescopes. A windswept smattering of tents & people huddled in solidarity. I wanted to stop but I hadn’t properly anticipated how cold it was at such a high elevation and I wasn’t dressed for the weather. I pushed on.
I arrived in Pahoa around dinner time. It was was just starting to get dark when I stepped out of my rental car and into the warmth of a Hawaiian evening in springtime. After a long & cold winter it was luscious. As I write this it is early March 2023, and there is snow on the ground. That lovely evening was three years ago now. Three years and a lifetime ago. That soft warm air, a lover’s caress on my skin. A breath of desire. It carried a sweetness to it that only exists where verdant forests dwell.
I was to meet my teacher’s wife at the natural foods store in town. I love natural foods stores. It’s a great opportunity to check out locally made items like chocolate & body care products. The produce section was vibrant and buzzing with color. I met Nayeva in the parking lot and after we picked up an enormous load of Thai food we headed into the jungle on small backroads. No signs. Puna is not on the map. It’s one of those places…you can’t get there from here. Knowing a local is essential. I learned pretty quickly that using my smart phone to try & navigate in the backcountry of Hawai’i is a joke. It only works with larger towns & cities, and even then it can be sketchy.
It took a while to get to the jungle house. The roads were rough, single track. It was the best they could do for back country infrastructure after the lava flow three years prior had consumed much of the area. I would later learn that entire neighborhoods had disappeared under the flow. We finally turned down a long drive, closing and locking a gate behind us. I was discovering that in the jungle in Hawai’i keeping something out is just as important as keeping something in. Apparently I was now in no man’s land. A place where cops weren’t called if shit went down. You either dealt with it yourself or got help from your neighbor. The gates had a very clear message: unless you live here, stay the fuck out.
I received a very warm welcome by my teacher. I was now a part of their Ohana for the week. It was wonderful. After dinner we took the living room furniture out onto the lanai, a deep covered porch, so that we could set up massage tables for our workshop. Hawai’i kept surprising me in so many ways. At home we have mice in the walls and on the counters. In Hawai’i they have tiny lizards, cockroaches, and coqui frogs. Keep in mind none of these will harm you, they just surprise you. What you have to be very conscious of is the water. Do. Not. Ever. Drink. Tap. Water. In. Hawai’i. Always drink water from a water dispenser. Why? Rat lung disease. I won’t get into it here, you can look it up if you want to. Suffice to say the learning curve when traveling as a non-tourist in Hawai’i can be a bit steep. I’m grateful I had people who could explain things to me.
After dinner I settled into my room. I talked to my family on the phone. This was the longest I had been away from them. I was already four days in, but my journey in this sensuous island was just starting.
I slept but not great. The invasive coqui frogs pierced the night soundscape making it hard to fall asleep or stay asleep once I did finally drift off. Every once in a while I would hear a feral hog snuffling around the base of the building. This land was unlike any place I had experienced. Our first morning we were introduced to the cultural history and importance of Lomi Lomi. I was one of three participants. The teacher’s wife and her best friend were the other two. As the only person unfamiliar with this technique I first had to receive to understand how it should feel. I was the primary person demonstrated on that day and for 4 hours. Two events occurred during those four hours. One, I had never before been coated in that much coconut oil. And two, I now knew what it was to feel worshipped on a massage table.
I was nervous. I’m comfortable with nudity, it’s a part of what I do. After having a child & putting on excess weight, I was still nervous. I needn’t have been. The last time that I had been unclothed in front of a group of people was when I was giving birth. The time before that, massage school. Right away I notice that the approach to Lomi Lomi is vastly different than the Tibetan lineage of my initial training. Tibetan body work is beautiful and deeply healing in its own right. And, because every aspect of Tibetan culture is under the watchful eye of the Chinese government, it is also very conservative. Only one area of the body is undraped at a time. Sections of the body are worked meticulously one at a time until the desired goal is achieved: the pacification of the wind element.
Lomi Lomi, temple style as we were learning. utilizes minimal draping over the pelvis only to maximize exposure and therefore access of the entire form. This means that when you turn over, by default of the draping style, the breasts are undraped. This was my first experience with therapeutic breast massage. In Hawai’i and on the west coast this is fairly normal. Where I live on the east coast, not so much. This was the first time I had received sacred healing touch to my breasts, and from a male practitioner nonetheless. Previously the only touch my breasts had received was either for the sexual arousal of my partner or for feeding my child for two years. I had never truly received sacred touch to this part of my body before without ulterior motive. All I had to do in that moment was receive. It was either in that moment or shortly afterward that my body started to shake in release. For several years prior, I would experience this from time to time. Usually when I was on a practitioner’s table. I came to understand that when this happened it my body was letting go of sexual trauma that I had experienced in high school at the hands of a trusted teacher.
In this moment I could have let fear take over. I could have contracted. I didn’t. I expanded. I chose to be present to the sensations of relaxation, worship, honoring, witness, and healing that was the energy flowing both in and out of my body. The tuning into the minutia of sensation. Turning in towards my breath. Toward the opening of my soul. Toward the suspension of time itself. At the end of the breast demonstration I sat up from the table with one thought in my mind: Bernini’s The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa. Each time I was demonstrated on that week I was given this gift of rebirth through ecstatic healing touch. By the third time, I sat up from the table finally understanding a dream that I had experienced when my daughter was about a year old.
A woman. But not just a woman. A Queen. Seated on a throne carved from ancient stone. Her long black hair flowing about her. This is all she wears. Eyes closed. A gentle smile across her face. Legs spread. Attendants astride her. Rubbing breasts. Sliding down her belly to her Yoni. She is both erect on her seat and flexing her torso back and forth…side to side in a soft pulsation of bliss. The attendants bring forth her sacred fluids with gentle strokes of her sex. She is a wellspring from which her precious liquid flows into a carved channel in the stone floor. This holy water will travel down into the land. It is her gift. Through her the fertility of the crops are dependent. Without her the fields would lie barren. It is this offering which makes the harvest abundant. As the water flows down the channels in the floor the earth is made verdant…ripe…lush.
After I shared this dream with my Kumu (teacher) he said that this was an ancient creation story of Polynesia. For one of the first times in many years I experienced a form of validation that simply required me to be open. At some point that week it sunk in that I was in a very safe place while learning something new. While I was packing for this journey I grabbed what would turn out to be a life changing book…The Magadelen Manuscript: Alchemies of Horus & the Sex Magic of Isis by Tom Kenyon & Judy Scion. This book is a must read for anyone working with Chakras, Kundalini, Sex Magic, Alchemy, Breath Work, or Sacred Sexuality, and many other modalities. This book was echoing so many of the teachings that Kumu was talking about that week. If, like me, you believe that there are no accidents this book was certainly evidence of that in my journey. This book combined with the teachings of that week opened up many many avenues for me along my spiritual path. I don’t know where I would be without it. It has become a book that I always have spare copies of on my shelf to give to others. Sadly I loaned my original copy to someone a while ago and it has not yet returned.
Of all the moments from my week of learning two were acutely poignant. One was the opportunity to build a Morning Star sweat lodge that we would use at the end of our week as a completion ceremony. It was just myself and Kumu who assembled it. I spent those hours soaking up any and all information that he was ready to divulge. We had extensive conversation around Taoism, Chi Gong, Eastern energy practices, sexual Kung Fu, and various energy systems. I was so grateful for this information. The other moment had come the night before when I received my last session from Kumu. Earlier in the week he had mentioned a maneuver to remove sexual trauma from someone. After he had explained it I indicated that I would like to experience it.
It was late in the day on Thursday, our final day of the workshop. My two other learning companions had left to go pick up their kids in various places. Somehow we ended the week with me on the table being demonstrated on one final time. Kumu being the practitioner that he is did not feel it acceptable to leave me without a complete treatment. So he continued to work on me after they had left. Just the two of us in the whole house. At that point it was early evening, around 7 pm or so. I remember the stillness of the evening. The sounds of the jungle rushing in to fill the space of the darkening forest. I’m on the table. Face up. My body doing battle with itself. Wanting to expand. Feeling the instinctual desire to contract in protection. Yearning to let go of decades of a festering wound and be at peace. In that moment I made a decision. Kumu is almost done with the session but there is one more piece to put in place before I am complete. The final push in my healing. I ask him if I may speak the name of my abuser. He says yes. Through gritted teeth and shivering skin I speak the following: Paul Macleod, I want you out of me. In that moment Kumu slides one hand underneath my pelvis and the other over my groin. Cradling my womb. My Bowl of Light. My Kundalini center. The seat of my essence suspended between his strong & gentle hands. Hands that have helped birth 6 babies. Hands that had cut down trees in the jungle the previous day. Hands that have plucked fruit ripe off the vine. Hands that cultivate food and medicines from the earth. Hands. Male hands. Teacher hands. Compassionate hands. Safe hands. After a few moments Kumu pulled his hands from my pelvis and with it all of the hurt that had stagnated for so long. I was free.
He said nothing. I sat up. In silence I went to my room to get my things and take a much needed shower. He went to the kitchen knowing that in a short while the rest of our Ohana would return home for dinner. I did my best that evening to regain a sense of grounding along with an immense gratitude for what had just been returned to me. Safety in the presence of a male teacher. For years I had avoided learning from men because of what I had experience in high school. I have sadness around the loss of some of those teachers who have since passed and I will never be able to work with. Kumu if you are reading this please know how grateful I am for what you gave back to me that evening.
I went to bed that evening and slept the best I could. The whole week was a shit show of sleeplessness every night. Between the deafening sounds from the jungle to the weird bed that I was on that got worse and worse as the week went on. Sleep was my enemy for some reason on this trip. It continued to be so that night. Friday was our last day of learning and the day that we built the sweat lodge I mentioned earlier. That was a day of transition as we began to open up our homestead to welcome others who were there for another purpose entirely. Tipi Ceremony, Native American Church Tipi Ceremony.
Months before when Kumu and I had spoken on the phone he had mentioned that at the end of the week we would finish with a sweat lodge followed the next day by a this ceremony that had been requested by a local to mark the completion of his graduation from college. All week long local guys would come and go as they prepared countless cedar logs for the big day. Each log had to be stripped of its bark in a very specific way. Exactly to the designated length. In a prayerful way. I had never seen someone work logs in flip flops until then. I admit I was completely horrified as this guy brought a maul down on the end of logs in between his almost bare feet. Thankfully no feet were injured during the preparation for this event. Friday also marked the day of our lodge followed by the raising of the tipi itself. I was definitely excited and nervous for what would come the next day.
At the start of my trip when I mentioned that I would get to experience this ceremony to one of the people I attended the business event with she asked me if I had ever had peyote before. No, I replied in a rather confused manner. She smiled warmly and said that I was very lucky to be receiving this gift. Even after speaking with Kumu & being invited to attend I had no idea that I would get to receive the sacrament of peyote.
At this point the news was getting more and more intense around Covid, or Coronavirus it was still called. My husband’s step mom emailed me the day prior asking if I had considered coming home early. No, I replied, I am committed to my time here. Yes it was risky to stay and potentially expose myself on the way home. Life is also risky. I choose life.
We started our day on Saturday by preparing to go into town and gather what we needed for the Tipi ceremony. There was water to gather at the spring. Wooden bowls to procure at the store. And of course we had to go to the Hilo farmer’s market and take in all of the vibrancy of hand made items, produce, and freshly made food. I was in heaven. At the market I bought a colorful sarong and a tank top with a screen print of Pele on it made by a local artist. I love it and still wear it regularly. Walking into Walmart that morning was shocking to say the least. Items were starting to disappear from shelves. Shelf stable goods were getting scarce. A startling contrast to the farmers market we were at minutes before where all was in abundance and from the safety of our jungle nest. We finally managed to find what we needed and left as quickly as we could because the energy of town was too frenetic.
It was on this journey home that my path of a bodyworker would have its first moment of loss. While we were at the spring collecting water I received another email from my husband’s step mom. My first special needs client, a young woman by the name of Marina, had died. Marina fought hard for 19 years through a degenerative brain disease and severe scoliosis. She was also non-verbal, but far from uncommunicative. She taught me so much in the ten months that I was gifted to work with her. I remember sitting in the back of that car not knowing how to feel. Suffice to say I was in a state of delayed grief. We gathered the water and headed home to our jungle house.
People were arriving. In such a short time the space that had sheltered us as a small Ohana had multiplied in size. We went from 6 to about 40 people seemingly overnight. People from all walks of life were now on the property. Here to pray. To receive medicine. To heal. Indigenous people from the mainland who repatriated to Hawai’i for better sovereignty flew in from other islands. Locals came with their children. Young and old. Suddenly we were a kauhale. Kumu and his wife were the Priest & Priestess who would lead us in our journey. I had no idea that I would be up all through the night. I prepared myself for the unknown.
We ate a light meal of soup before heading down into the tipi. I brought with me water, a pillow to sit on, and sarong I had purchased at the farmers market to cover my shoulders. Nothing else. We entered in a circular fashion and took our seats. I was not expecting children to be in the tipi with us. For some reason I thought they would all be up at the house running amok all night while we were in ceremony. I was wrong. The kids were tucked in behind their parents on pillows & cushions and tucked into blankets. In a way they participated with us through dreamtime. In the morning when the ritual was over they would wake and partake of the last part of the ritual but I wouldn’t know that until it was happening.
I was close by to Kumu’s wife Nayeva. Once settled, participants began assembling their sacred tools. Nayeva opened a box of fans, assembled one and handed it to me to use when I needed to. At first I was confused, but I found out pretty quickly why the fan was necessary. Kumu opened the circle with prayers and a sermon. Then the drumming and songs began as did the passing of the sacrament. When the Peyote arrived at my spot I was guided to take a spoonful of the mash and drink the tea. I had had a lot of experience with bitter tasting herbs & plant medicines but this was a whole new level of bitter. The mash was hard to get down but I did it as quickly as possible. The tea was more palatable. Again, bitter but also astringent and I was used to that. As I sat in this foreign environment I began to feel a softness come over me. I started smiling. Giggling too. I looked over at Kumu’s wife and through a goofy grin said how much I liked the medicine. I felt lighter. Less heavy. As I sat there letting the songs wash over me I began to feel a rising of grief in my chest as the evening progressed on.
I am not a person who cries in public. When everyone around me is falling apart I’m the stoic one holding space for others. I cry when I’m angry. I cry when there is injustice. I do not cry at death & dying because I know it to be a part of life. At least that is who I was up until that point. Kumu got up once a particular song was done and started sermon. The man who asked to host the ceremony saw to the fire while this was happening. His role, in addition to being responsible for gathering everyone, was to make specific symbols with the burned embers as we progressed throughout the night. Four in total. One for each sermon. One for each round of prayers & songs. By the time we had reached the second round and the second passing of the Peyote I was on the brink of tears. The welling up in my heart around losing my first client could no longer be contained. I remember an immense sense of release when the tears finally came. I didn’t hold back any longer. I sat there, face behind my fan, shoulders shaking, and wept. I prayed. I prayed for Marina’s soul to rise to Heaven and that she not come back to this world of suffering but rather stay as an angel protecting others. I prayed for her family that they wold find solace in the end of her suffering. I prayed for her community of people who had cared for her over the years which at this point was massive. It takes a village to raise a child without degenerative disease, it takes an even bigger village to support a family with a child who has fought since birth for existence. Marina and her family were held in so much love from the community. I prayed for myself while I struggle to navigate this loss. I prayed for the world in turmoil. I just prayed. Wept. And kept praying. I made my offerings to the hearth fire for her soul to be released from this realm and sat back down.
At midnight the water ceremony was performed by Kumu’s wife. After the ceremony, and during the third round I stepped outside to use the bathroom and just take a moment to get some fresh air. The evening was warm and radiant. While outside I chatted a bit with a man named Job. He had flown in from Maui the day before and we met just before the sweat lodge on Friday afternoon. He said he was struggling with a headache. I offered to help him with this by placing my thumbs on the center point between his eyes. I held my hands there for several minutes until I could feel a shift in his energy. He opened his eyes and thanked me. He said I have a very healing touch. I thanked him for this and went back inside to resume the ceremony. The Peyote went around again and this time I was struggling to get it down. I barely got the mash down before almost vomiting it back up. I did not want to get sick so I drank more of the tea which I had been instructed to do earlier should that very situation arise. When you’re in ceremony with Peyote and you feel sick what do you do? Take more medicine. Feeling tired? More medicine. Hungry? Medicine. All situations are resolved with more medicine in tipi ceremony. All of them.
At the start of the fourth round sometime between 3 and 4 in the morning I was really starting to lose it. At that point my eyes were super heavy. I had to keep shifting my seat so that I would not fall asleep and be disrespectful. Earlier in the evening I had seen a young woman put herself into a ball on the ground while resting her head on her stacked fists. I decided to try this myself. This was position was a great source of rest while staying active. I don’t know how long I was in it but by the time I pulled myself back up I was able to continue until dawn when the next water ceremony would take place. I was told earlier that day that the ceremony would complete after the dawn with a passing around of sacred foods: deer meat, berries, and maize. At this point the children were also roused from their sleep to complete the ceremony with their families.
I was instructed to go with the women and gather the food from the house. It smelled so fragrant and delicious. So simple. And yet I could not wait to dive in to these offerings. We brought everything back to the tipi. I think I was carrying the berries. I walked in, kneeled down in front of Kumu to place the offerings. “You’ve done this before,” he says to me while looking me directing in the eyes. “Not in this lifetime,” I reply with a smile on my face. “And now you have,” he responds while matching my smile, his piercing blue eyes locked with mine for a moment before I rise and reseat myself. He blesses the food and passes it around. Taking a scoop of each with my bare hands I was reminded of life before and how this is what it would have been thousands of years ago. Direct connection with what was about to enter and nourish our bodies. No separation between us and our medicine. I licked every inch of my hands I was so hungry. To this day nothing has tasted so simple and so sublime.
And that was it. The ceremony was finished. We began to exit the tipi and prepare for the next sweat lodge while we continued to drink the tea into the day for stamina. I had slept so badly all week that I didn’t want to completely mess up my circadian rhythm by sleeping afterwards. The sweat lodge was restorative and cleansing. I said prayers of thanks to my family for giving me the space to take this journey. I thanked Kumu for all that he taught me during this week together. I thanked his family for my new Ohana. I emerged from lodge exhausted and blissfully happy.
The bloating in my belly finally began to ease. I learned afterwards that Peyote will do one of several things to your digestive system: bind, bloat, or give you the shits. I was grateful that I was just bloated. Others were not as lucky. After the sweat I used the showers down by the tipi and went up to the house to change while the feast was prepared. At that point, for a multitude of reasons, I hadn’t had fish in three years. This fish had been caught that morning and brought over for us as a gift. I informed Kumu of my no fish stance. He laughed, looked at me square in the face and very firmly said “you’re in Polynesia girl, we eat fish here.” Ok then. I ate the fish. It was sweet, savory, and succulent. It would be another two years before I started eating fish again on a regular basis.
That evening a few people asked for LomiLomi. I was happy to oblige. I had passed my test with Kumu by providing him the a 2 and a half hour treatment a few hours before going into the tipi ceremony. He said that the support from my treatment gave him more stamina for the tipi. I was honored. Many people began to head off to their various destinations. Some stayed, like myself not taking flights home until the following day. At one point in the afternoon Job came up and thanked me for helping him with his headache during the ceremony. He asked if he could receive LomiLomi and I said yes. It was helpful to have more practice before going home. I could tell that he was expressing interest. I was reciprocating that interest while knowing that I had a husband and daughter to return to. It had been so long since I felt seen anew. It reminded me of the vast holes that were present in my marriage and had been there for sometime. It was nice to connect through conversation. After his treatment we were sitting in the kitchen at the counter. He took an apple, bit into it, sprinkled it with salt and took more bites. My eyes widened. I had never tried this before. After months of limited winter appealing fruit selection at home this took apple eating to a whole new level. It is a must try.
I went to bed that evening with a sadness in my heart. Sadness at having to leave the jungle with her warmth, gentle rains, & verdant landscape. Sadness that deep in my soul I knew I was returning to a marriage that was barely hanging on by a thread. A marriage that had been in a state of comfort, complacency, and co-dependency for years. A marriage of convenience at this point. Needless to say I did not sleep well.
The next morning I gave Job a ride to the airport in Hilo. On our way out of the jungle, driving along the cinder track roads I suddenly felt my heart beginning to shatter. In my inner sight I saw the internal light of my heart center crack open my chest and stream out from my being. I gasped placing my hand on Job’s, “take my hand, my heart is breaking,” I say in breathlessness. We hold hands in silence as we drive to the airport. I return the car to the rental company and we make our way into the airport. After getting through security we find a couch where we sit for a while. I can’t remember who ignited what but I once again I found my hand in his. I lean against his chest. I can feel his heartbeat as a figure eight of green glowing energy is flowing from our hearts, through our hands, into the other’s heart and circles back again. All I can do is be present in this moment knowing that it will soon end which it inevitably does. We break our connection with trepidation. Job tells me that the medicine is still in me. That anytime I need it I can take myself back to the tipi and receive the medicine again of Peyote and it will help me. I have often gone back there when I need to. Remembering how the light streamed down from the top on that morning after the final ceremony.
We make our way upstairs to the terminals. It is here that we must finally part. We put our bags down. One more hug. This time I can feel a direct connection from his heart to mine. Again in a figure eight connecting him to me, me to him. Our eyes meet. We part. I gather my bags. I walk the length of the terminal. I do not turn around to look back. I never do when saying goodbye out of fear that, like Ruth, I will be diminished to a pillar of salt. I get to my gate. Heart pounding. Wondering what just happened. Longing to run back. To stay just one more day. To stay forever. Yearning for a reason to be stuck. Knowing that I can’t abandon my child at home. Wishing that my circumstances were somehow different. Feeling the weight of returning to a husband who spirals into chaos when I’m gone for any length of time.
I boarded my plane knowing that I was headed east towards quarantine as Covid was now in full swing in the final days of my time in the jungle. I boarded my plane with a broken heart. I boarded my plane in obligation. In worry. In fear. In grief.
Grief for my crumbling marriage. Grief for those dying from this mysterious illness. Grief for Marina & her family. Grief in the understanding of the work I was now capable of doing in my practice but not being allowed to do so for the unforeseeable future.
I came home to a world shut down. To a husband cold as ice. To a house in disarray. To a daughter who missed her mama. I came home.