Variations on a Theme of Conscious Community

In celebration of the super moon-blue moon-blood moon-eclipse Wednesday, a healing music center in T or C invited a large circle of like-minded souls to dance and drum. The evening was semi-structured, with guided meditation followed by free-form dancing, drumming, singing, and story-telling. The opening meditation encouraged us to share self-expression in a non-judgmental space.

When I’m attending a ceremony like the Apache dances of the Mountain Gods or a Pueblo corn dance, every drummer and dancer seems to merge with the ceremony. Apache Ga’an dancers are painted and masked. The women who circle the dance arena are wrapped in shawls, and all do the same step. At Pueblo corn dances, the entire community filling the plaza becomes one flowing pattern, the men in white leather kilts and red-brown or turquoise-blue body paint, and the women in one-shouldered black dresses and rainbow crowns, subtle individuality showing only in their jewelry and parrot feathers. The clowns are painted, losing their personal faces to the role they fulfill.

In T or C at the full moon event, we danced as our individual selves. Entering a spiritual, ceremonial mind space was more psychologically challenging. My head kept filling with questions. Whose little girl was that, doing happy somersaults in the middle of the circle? Why wasn’t a certain person dancing—was she okay? Was it all right to use a drum I found near my chair? Was I taking up too much space when I danced? A lot like the dance of daily life in a community.

A healer and dancer led the opening breath work and imagery. For those who weren’t aware of it, she mentioned that she has a degenerative condition that affects her muscles, so she depends on chi, and called her illness a gift that helped her truly appreciate and experience this vital force. She guided us to raise our energy and awaken our spines, and she then danced, graceful and expressive. During the drumming portion of the event, she was often the only person moving. She wasn’t performing for an audience; the circle was giving her energy, chi, and sharing the joy of moment, with awareness of the limited time in which she may be able to move this way. As Castaneda’s teacher Don Juan told him, death is your advisor; he walks by your left shoulder. Listen to him. The difference between her and the rest of us is that she is always listening. She opened the evening with the analogy of the body’s web of connective tissue and how it enables one small part to affect another at a distance, saying we were connected in a web of life energy the same way. Briefly, while drumming for her, I felt myself disappear into the rhythm, and there was only the sound and her dance.

I had hesitated to schedule a hot spring soak at the Charles Spa right after this event—it meant leaving before the music was over, and missing the closing meditation—but my legs were sore from the previous night’s yoga class in Albuquerque and I knew I needed the mineral bath. When I arrived at the Charles, the young man at the front desk informed me there were other women in the baths. He knows I like peace and quiet when I soak. No chatting, no loud groans and sighs. Noisy relaxation isn’t relaxing for me. “They’re part of a silent retreat,” he said. I was more than willing to share space with them.

The tubs at the Charles are private, each person behind her own curtain. The knowledge that the other people were observing silence as a spiritual practice put me into the same frame of mind. I’ve done half-days of silence at various retreats and taken college students on silent walking meditation, so it was a familiar zone. A welcome one. No sounds but water. Stillness. Then someone moving in water. I was in a new communal spiritual space with unseen people. Consciously silent. Respectfully present.

Ten Things I Love about Truth or Consequences

Conversations. I’ve never been in a situation where anyone was at a loss for words. The line in Bullock’s grocery store, Art Hop, the pool, a drum circle by the Rio Grande at night … it doesn’t matter. People will talk to you anywhere. I met all my friends here through random conversations with strangers.

Passion Pie Café. The place has art on the walls, art on the tables, great tea and coffee, vegan date bars, a free book shelf, and plenty of the above-mentioned conversation.

Hot springs. Of course. That used to be the town’s name. A soak can restore mind and body and spirit.

A history of healing. Magnolia Elis was an important part of the town’s life as a healing destination in the middle of the twentieth century. Her capacities as a healer were reputed to be extraordinary. Her building is a historic landmark now, with her name glowing on the roof in blue neon at night.

Critters. Bats come out at dusk to hunt insects near the Rio Grande, swooping and dancing over the river and the wetlands. If I go to the right spot at the right time, they surround me. Sometimes I’ve seen them crossing the stars as I lay in a hot spring at night. If there’s been rain late in the day, tarantulas emerge from their burrow to seek mates. Lizards seem to be everywhere—scurrying from one patch of shade to the next by day, occasionally sticking to walls and windows in the evening. They look bland at first, but on closer inspection I’ve found that some are pearlescent gray with a subtle peachy glow and others have a delicate brown-and-white checkered pattern with hints of orange. There are hummingbirds, butterflies, and also few of the most impressively vile bugs I’ve ever met, such as big black ants that can bite through your socks and a few summers ago we had a bizarre inundation of skunk beetles. I don’t want them to visit again, but they were interesting.

Stars. Okay, everyone in the desert gets excited about stars. Anyone who has ever come from the humid East to the dry West has had the same dazzling discovery: there are a lot stars up there, and they are really bright.

Rain. It’s so special when it rains in the desert. A big black cloud is not threatening but promising.

Turtleback Mountain. The serene turtle draped gracefully on its crest really looks like a turtle. (I can’t see the elephant in Elephant Butte, can’t even tell which of those gray buttes is supposed to be the elephant)  The turtle is always relaxed, as if he has just done yoga and is now in an amphibian’s version of savasana. With the recent rain he’s looking a little like a chia pet as the red-brown rock fuzzes up with patches of green.

Color. Much I love adobe-brown-pink-beige Santa Fe, I like the way T or C mingles that esthetic with wilder décor (and a lot of trailers). There is a candy-cane striped law office on Main Street. Homes range from adobe-normal to pink, purple, yellow, turquoise, and covered with murals. A shop on Broadway has Lakota-style ledger art on its stucco walls. The next one is bright green with orange and blue turtles parading over the door. An old van drives around town wearing the word “whatever” on its collage-covered side.

This isn’t a rich town; in fact quite the opposite—it’s always struggling. And yet it never collapses in on itself. It’s vibrant, full of art and originality.

 Do you know and love T or C? What’s one of your favorite things about it?

Out of the Office!

I love putting that “out-of-office” automated response on my college e-mail account every summer after the three-week June session ends. It means I’m only a writer for July and half of August. I do all my fall class preparation in June, so I feel free: no pressure or to-do lists hanging over me. It’s not that I dislike my job—I enjoy my interactions with students—but I do have a tight schedule during the academic year, keeping up with two off-campus yoga teaching jobs as well my faculty job. I spent a few days in Santa Fe to celebrate my freedom, and now it feels great to settle back into in Truth or Consequences, 100 degree weather and all. When it got down in the eighties in the middle of my first night here, I went out for a soak in the hot spring under a full moon. When I woke up blissfully late, the first thing I did was write, working on the fifth Mae Martin book during breakfast. That’s my idea of the perfect start to a day.

As I always do in the summer I went out in the heat yesterday. The sign on the Bank of the Southwest said 102, but I’ve been told it’s right over a very hot spot in the hot aquifer and is usually wrong by a few degrees. Convinced it might it be only ninety-nine degrees, I walked to the river. The Rio Grande was full and broad, its waters gleaming with reflected blue and green. The bright notes of a red-winged blackbird perched in a shrub on the bank, the sweet scent of the sunbaked plants and the yellow flicker of a butterfly in front of a vista of pink-red dirt stopped me in my tracks—and stopped time. Nothing existed but the moment itself.

As I headed home, a friend driving past on his way from the pool stopped to talk in the way of small towns, cutting off his engine and rolling down his window. There was no traffic for us to interfere with, not in July, and I stood in the middle of the street for a one of those unexpectedly soul-baring conversations which are the cherished hallmark of our friendship. Later, while I was doing yoga in the shade on the back deck, watching a promising flock of dark clouds being herded in by the wind, a white butterfly against the thick blue-gray stilled me again. Stopping is good. To talk, to see, to be. At night, soft rain fell, touching my face with its cool fingers while I soaked in the hot spring. Water from above, water from below. Doubly blessed.

While I’m in T or C, my internet connection is limited to our wonderful local coffee shop, Passion Pie Café, which closes at three, or a feeble little mobile hotspot, which is sometimes so slow I’m reluctant to waste time dealing with it. This is making me cut back on my social media interactions, so I’m out of the office to Facebook and Goodreads, checking in rarely and saying little when I do. This results in more time for writing. I have no idea what impact my partial absence will have on my social networks on those sites, but it’s having a great effect on the next book.

My summers in T or  are always healing and productive. Immersion in the living world, from butterflies to old friends, is as important for my creativity as the freedom to write.