Finding the gates to the ancient city of Tiahuanacu locked with me inside turned out to be the perfect metaphor for my life in January of ‘92.
At nearly forty-three, I’d finally found the courage to run away from home. As a young boy, I’d toyed with the idea many times but settled for just dreaming about it while hiding out from the world in my bunk bed. I so enjoyed my mother’s southern cooking, especially her fried chicken and pecan pies that satisfied my sweet tooth.
Sam considered my running away to be abandonment. “You son-of-a-bitch, you’ll go off to find yourself, become the man I knew you could be and leave me with two screaming kids!” My own home felt an unsafe place for self-discovery. One night she’d thrown all my books on the subject out the living room window into the snow-covered courtyard six stories below. I saw my journey as a desperate act of self-preservation. I felt compelled to discover who or what it was inside me that summoned me to “Know Thyself.”
The abortion we’d endured together in ’88 had driven me deeply inward. A friend introduced me to the local Thai Buddhist Center where the head monk read my palm and hesitantly alluded to the big challenges that lay ahead of me. That same friend introduced me to a “self-improvement program.” Taking their classes acted like eating sugar. I wanted more, more, more. Hungry for more sweetness of “self-knowing,” I was introduced to shamanism and a world of mysteries, metaphors and fire ceremonies by another friend. We thought what better way to discover more about ourselves than doing sacred rituals in Pre-Columbian archaeological sites in western Bolivia near Lake Titicaca? The native people on the Island of the Sun graciously shared their traditions with our small band of gringos. They showed us how to honor Mother Earth and Father Sky and shared the secrets of their lake with us. Sleeping in the Cave of the Moon produced prophetic and profound dreams.
Strangely, I didn’t panic when I found myself locked inside the remnants of this ancient Andean City. Current-day Tiahuanacu is surrounded by a ten foot tall chain link fence crowned with rolls of razor wire. It was unscalable without significant bodily damage. Mine was already hurting from a cracked head earlier that day. Our bus driver slammed on the brakes at the very moment I was standing in the isle searching through my backpack in the rack above. I fell to the floor and slid 20 feet to the front of the bus and cracked my head on the gearshift. BAM! That hurt like hell and I was left dazed for hours! I’d already been introduced to the idea that my external experiences reflected my thoughts and beliefs. What the hell had I been thinking? The universe has all kinds of tricks to make certain that we wake up from our illusions of separation to receive it’s true blessings.
Dusk was quickly turning into night. The stars were fading from my view under a fast approaching canopy of low thick clouds from which mist was falling. The temperature dropped. Then a steady rain began. Soon I was drenched. The soil beneath my feet turned to thick mud. Which way do I go to meet up with my traveling companions? Heading left from the gate and running my fingers along the fence, I paid attention to the soggy ground. After walking about a mile, I felt a depression in the ground. I managed to lift the chainlink just enough to squeeze myself under it. Finally, I was free but completely blind in a deepest darkness I’d ever experienced. Relying solely on my intuition, I chose to head what I thought to be straight. Now trudging through shin deep mud for at least another mile, my feet suddenly detected gravel. A road?
Again, which way do I go? Logic told me to head right since I’d walked left from the gate. The rain became heavier. So did my down jacket, now completely waterlogged. Somewhere along the way, I was overcome by a perfect moment of clarity. Absolutely nothing in my life mattered. My family, my architecture business, my car, my summer home in the Berkshires no longer mattered. All my attachments dissolved instantaneously. I’ve never felt so free as in that moment. Then the freezing cold brought me back into an abrupt awareness that I still occupied a human body on Earth. That’s when I saw a light about a mile or so off in the distance. Guided by that light and the crunch of the gravel road beneath my feet, I headed in that direction. An hour later I was wearing dry clothes, sitting in front of a blazing fire in a small hut with a cup of hot coca leaf tea, telling my fellow traveling companions about what had happened.
“Experiences like yours are to be expected when you embark on this journey inward,” our shamanic studies leader remarked. The next thirty years would test me in every way imaginable. But with my trusty shamanic allies of metaphor and intuition, I knew that night, I could endure anything.