Virginia and many parts of the Mid-Atlantic have been suffering on and off from drought for the past 6-7 years. As I write this, it is finally raining. In the county where I live, we are under water use restrictions. At the end of the summer, I took my pup, Sym, to Sugar Hollow where a large creek pools into lovely swimming holes before it spills out into the county reservoir. The creek was so low. It was sad and even frightening.
It calls to mind the history of the Anasazi and of Chaco Canyon, their great ritual site now located in Northern New Mexico. Over a period of 500 years in the 11th and 12th centuries, the Anasazi built a fantastic city of multistoried buildings, public spaces, and dozens of kivas in a breathtaking canyon now located in Northwestern New Mexico. Four wide highways lead into the city. They were built with huge timbers transported on the backs of Anasazi workers from hundreds of miles away. Chaco is filled with sites that have been identified by astroarcheologists as being positioned to record very specific astronomical events such as the equinoxes and solstices. The building of Chaco was a feat of engineering and ingenuity and clearly marked a pinnacle achievement for their society. There is evidence that the religious life of Chaco was informed by the Maya of New Mexico. Ritual objects and products such as brightly hued parrot feathers have been found among the remains of a great people.
When I visited Chaco in 2003, there was no doubt in my mind that it was a very spiritual place. I had been told before I left I would visit a place “where the veil between the worlds is very thin” and where I could ask for help from the Spirits. As you stand in various places in the Canyon, there is a palpable vibration or hum. The inner senses are stimulated and if you tune in, you can hear voices. It was here that a beautiful hawk feather came to me in a very mysterious way. The Anasazi clearly chose this location due to its high energetic frequency and the ability to speak to the Spirits with little difficulty.
In the early 12th century, the buildings and squares of Chaco were precipitously abandoned. In a place called Cowboy Wash nearby, archeologists unearthed what has been identified as human remains from that time period. There is evidence of cannabalism. In the meantime, it appears that the Anasazi retreated to heavily fortified aeries built high in the cliffs of the region. The only way to reach these rooftop homes is by scaling the sandy, slippery sides of rock. The homes are surrounded by walls with small, narrow windows out to the plains below placed at strategic locations as if there was a need to keep close watch for approaching enemies.
The Pueblo tribes of the region who claim the Anasazi as their ancestors vociferously argue against the cannabalism theory and the theory that the Anasazi devolved into a long period of violence of neighbor against neighbor, tribe against tribe. Of course, we know that Western scientific methods can misinterpret and even overlook evidence. It is also possible that other kinds of people could have come to the area who did not leave any traces. Yet I was curious about the contrast between the oral history of the Pueblo and the written history of Western scientists, so I did some research of my own. It appears that Chaco’s demise was brought on by a long 50-year drought. During the rainy season, the Anasazi would collect water in huge stone canisters pouring off the high plateaus surrounding the Canyon. Little by little, rain stopped coming.
Upon seeing the immensity of Chaco and understanding the complex processes that would have been involved in both its construction, maintenance, and management, it stands to reason that there had to exist some kind of hierarchy to oversee it. I could imagine the Chaco project being undertaken with a combination of great inspiration, vision, love, and fervor. Hundreds of thousands of men and women could have been joined in a common purpose–to create a great religious center to enhance their communion with the spirits. In that amazing spirit of cooperation which sacred space can inspire in humans, they build with tenderness this vast ceremonial complex under the direction of trusted priests and guides.
But human nature being what it is, there is always the possibility for greed and fear to arise, particularly when resources become scarce. The trajectory of drought followed by famine and the eventual evacuation of a beloved center of spiritual growth and opportunity into places that evoke images of fear and mistrust speaks to a very human story of transgenerational trauma. Hierarchies are very delicate things. Where a few control and manage many, there is always the potential for ego distortions to take hold over certain individuals. Seeking power and control under the guise of spiritual guidance, certain individuals can take over masses of people desperate for relief from suffering. It is a common human story that we have seen in many places over thousands of years: Rome, Egypt, and the rise of the Western Powers in the 20th century. The former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. It only takes one act of terror such as a human sacrifice to frighten people into submission.
Yet at the same time, we also know that oppression and scarcity can bring out the best in people. I imagine that even while things became more and more desperate among the people of Chaco and fear began to pervade their daily life and prayers, there were some who chose the path of peace and resisted giving over their inner authority to a few petty despots using spiritual language to justify their hold on power. Fewer and fewer people went on pilgrigmmage to Chaco for spiritual enlightenment. Numbers dwindled as water was reduced to a bare trickle. Eventually, this place of wonder and inspiration was left to be purified over centuries of its human story, leaving only the bones of a once great city.
Paradoxically, violence engenders peace through the delicate flower of courage and compassion. Fear is simply fear. Death is only a transition, not an end. Those who recognize this–know it deeply in their bones–do not fear pain nor the possible end of things. They surrender to change with kindness in their hearts, no matter how harsh conditions may be. We can assume that the many generations of prayers and rites offered by the Anasazi in their beloved canyon had created so much light that there was enough to hold the revealing of darkness in their midst. For the inner darkness is part of the human condition on earth as we traverse our way to higher levels of being. No one is immune to the work of the shadow. The body, with its neurobiological fight or flight mechanisms, combined with the amazing storytelling capacity of the neocortex means that we all must grapple with the experience of fear at a very primal level. The mind can create stories of hope or stories of despair. The body seeks its own value fulfillment on these levels even as we seek transcendence and peace on other levels. Before mind, heart, and spirit can come into balance with all, the body must take its own, slower journey. This is the nature of physical existence. To experience these heavy states and to eventually hold them with love.
My research into the history of the Anasazi and Chaco Canyon convinced me that at least one incidence of cannabalism may have been undertaken as a scare tactic. Divide and conquer is a common way to attempt to control. Despite my desire to honor the history as it is told by the Pueblo and to not be another Western anthropologist who naysays it, nonetheless, there is too much evidence in human history of a desire to whitewash the shadow actions of our ancestors. This becomes particularly true when we are caught up in trauma triangles where we stand frozen in the position of victim or perpetrator. Both want to deny their culpability in certain historical events. Nevertheless, none of us are immune from such leaps into darkness in times of desperation. The most spiritually aware people recognize the movement of the shadow in the mind and body even if they have the self-discipline to not act upon it and instead dissolve it in the light of compassion. Even the Dalai Lama, one of the greatest spiritual teachers of our time, says he occasionally hates the Chinese. But then he remembers that they are human like him and he holds his own hatred and theirs in loving kindness.
Over the years that I have lived in Virginia, I have seen the waters slowly recede from the creeks and springs. It was not uncommon 20 years ago to have mold growing on the walls of my home. My books would carry a characteristic hint of mildew in their leaves. Now newer books remain crisp and fresh smelling and while there is still humidity, there are more days that are high and dry. I have no doubt we are in the midst of the great Earth Changes predicted by the Pueblo and other Native peoples. We are emerging from an age of incredible violence and disparity of resources.
At the same time, while fear is sometimes present in my own mind, I also feel the sweet elixir of hope. As darkness emerges in human actions, such as in the War on Iraq, increased incidences of terrorism around the world, and the rise to power of petty despots who spout archane religious tracts of patriotism and spin off accusations of heresy to those who disagree, I also see more and more evidence of light. The offering of ancient teachings for ameliorating hard histories in body and mind by Cherokee, Andean, and other spiritual guides. The numbers of people who are seeking spiritual answers to human problems. An ROTC student in one of my classes at the University of Virginia who was about to graduate and go on to be an officer in the army who said: “Everyone should take your classes. When I first came to class, I wasn’t sure what I had to learn. But it taught me that to be an effective leader, I must know what is going on with my soldiers’ inner life and to allow them to talk about their fears openly.” This man was going to go on to be a fighter, but he was beginning to fight not from a place of force and fear, but from a place of openness. It is one step towards relinquishing the war within and without.
So, as I close this journal, I am thankful for everything that has come my way, both the difficult and the joyful. I am thankful to the Ancestors and the Spirits for the gift of this Living World! Aho!