A new José Stevens Article

Fires, Flooding and Responsibility

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The smoke from several huge fires hung menacingly over the New Mexico horizon like a toxic shroud. The forests, still burning out of control, for a time threatened the Los Alamos nuclear labs with incineration. Other fires raged in Arizona consuming over half a million acres there while Texas burnt as well. In many parts of the country floods devastate the landscape, threatening a nuclear power plant, flooding huge tracts of homes and businesses. Few places are free of the threat of one kind of disaster or another. Times of purification are here.

Before the fire near Los Alamos started, Lena, Anna, and I left for Eagle Bear Ranch on the Eastern slopes of the Sangre De Christo mountains, basically due East from Santa Fe and Los Alamos. Although the drive there is about one hundred miles, as the crow flies it is more like fifty. Eagle Bear is the land where we conduct many of our retreats and seminars. On this occasion we had the final meeting of our one year program, a group of sixteen people who were there for a week including a three day solo experience. During our first few days the air was relatively clear and hot with just a hint of smoke in the air. We knew that a fire had started near Santa Fe before we left home and we had kept tabs on that one. Although still uncontrolled it was not a threat. After a series of talks and exercises we sent the people on their three-day solos and after they were out for half a day the winds began to blast from a westward direction. Soon giant angry plumes of dark smoke towered above like thunderstorms and turned the sky dark brown. The smell of smoke was much stronger and then the smoke began to rain ashes, bits of burned pine needles and leaves. Through our cell phones we were able to find out that a huge fire had begun near Los Alamos labs and that it had grown to forty thousand acres in one twenty four hour period. With fifty mile an hour winds the smoke was arriving within an hour.

I had told the people before they left on their solos that if the danger of fire threatened we would evacuate and we had a system in place to warn them. This is always necessary in Northern New Mexico where fire is an ever present a possibility. Now I was faced with the fact that if Los Alamos labs burned or even if the trees surrounding it caught fire, a huge amount of radioactive waste would be released and would arrive within one or two hours. Meanwhile the smoke was thick and the visibility had dropped to about five miles. Although the sky had been clear of clouds the sun was blood red and the light was disappearing. What to do?

I continued to get reports from home. Officials were saying that the radioactive waste was safely stored and there was no danger but other reports said that twenty thousand drums of low-level radioactive waste were being stored temporarily in fabric tents. Further reports stated that trees absorb radioactivity and after many years of nuclear testing the trees all around Los Alamos were highly toxic and if they burned the air would become dangerous.

The conditions varied with the winds so at times the smoke would lift and then it would pour in densely between the trees. I never remembered winds this violent in the month of June here in Northern New Mexico. The winter had been dry and little snow had fallen. The forest had not had any measurable rain in about ten months and everything was crisp, bone dry. I worried for our own forest and the animals trying to find a drink of water. While last year we already had hundreds of humming birds, this year only a couple had shown up. We had our feeders up because there was not a flower in sight.
I felt myself feeling rather helpless in the face of these huge events and then I noticed that I was feeling rather angry and this led to a cascade of bitter thoughts about climate change, overpopulation, carelessness, the lies that politicians and officials tell to cover their asses and on and on. I thought grumpily about how officials at the lab had not taken the proper precautions with all the radioactive hazards and now our lives could be at stake. Ten years before they had experienced a major fire and still did not have everything safely protected. What was the matter with them?

Furthermore no one yet knew how the fire started and I thought, “It was probably some idiot that started this fire with an untended campfire or a thrown cigarette or the like. Yes, that was it. We were victims of idiocy, incompetence, and lack of responsibility. With this series of judgments I felt myself sinking into a miserable state. Should I call in the folks on solo and flee. Flee where? Back to Santa Fe and much closer to the firestorm? There was really nowhere to go since the winds were blowing the smoke willy-nilly and far and wide.

Lena and Anna had gone back to Santa Fe to shop for more food, take care of some business, and left me to hold down the fort at base camp. My job each day included checking to make sure everyone had an adequate stash of water at the water stations and making sure everyone had checked in and left their marker indicating that they were all right. In addition I checked in on each person energetically and said prayers for whatever and whomever seemed appropriate. This is what I always do but usually I am not distracted by the severe threat of fire like this time, so it was hard to remain calm or in a good mood.

Early one morning after a very restless night and heavy smoke I went down to the fire circle to do some chi gong and say some prayers and I received very specific instructions from Spirit. I kept hearing, “Fight fire with fire. Get some tobacco.” Now I had been very careful with tobacco because of the fire threats but this morning the winds had died down so I got a big chunk of tobacco and placed it in the fire pit. Then I waited for more instructions from Spirit and heard, “You need to honor fire by offering some tobacco to it.” So I lit the chunk of tobacco and made a small fire with it in the fire circle. As the smoke curled up to join the other smoke in the sky I offered this to Tatawari’, the Huichol word for grandfather fire. Further I offered the tobacco to the entire tinder dry forest and all the animals there. I said something like, “Hello Tatawari, thank you for all the benefits you have provided us people over the years, the heat to cook, the heat of the sun to warm us, the heat in our bodies that helps us digest our food, and many uses you provide like electricity and light. We could not do without you. I have been worried about all the fires but I guess you know what you are doing and are purifying the land in some way that I do not understand. Help me understand. Thank you for everything and I am sorry for worrying so much and thinking I could control you like that. I had better turn things over to you. Help me relax and be more present”.
The tobacco burned very well and sent up copious amounts of smoke but it also burned cleanly and the wind remained calm for the time being. It was as if the winds and the forest all around were pausing for this little ceremony. When the tobacco had completely burned up I sat with the ashes for a little while and then words began to form in my head as they sometimes do when I have been praying for a while. Although I cannot reproduce them verbatim I can give a summary here.

Spirit: “Notice that you have separated yourself from the events all around you. This has caused several things. You have been in judgment of the officials at the labs, people who you think may have caused the fire, and others. You blame them because you feel a victim of them. In addition you have felt afraid of the fires themselves as if they were separate from you. That does not feel good and you know better. You know that when you are not connected with spirit or coming from your essence you don’t feel good and this is a good example. When you are in your essence you feel connected to everything and then you cannot feel at the effect of others or other things. You need to take a look at this.”

I did look at what Spirit was showing me and I was horrified. How could I have been so blind and unconscious as to slip into this old way of thinking? This old way of thinking comes sneaking up inside like an old tenacious parasite. I began to feel berate myself but fortunately I caught myself and thought, “I am not going to beat myself up about this. Get it and move on.” So I did and my conversation with Spirit continued.

Spirit: “Look Jose, if you take responsibility and think bigger you will see that the fires are part of the dream you are dreaming. This is your dream. Are you going to blame others for what you are dreaming. All those lab officials, politicians, and other folks are part of your cast of characters. In a way that is hard to understand, they are aspects of you. You yourself sometimes flirt with dangerous things and then don’t take the proper precautions. When you were younger you were willing to lie to cover up your mistakes and so on. You yourself have started a fire due to carelessness. So when you blame others you are actually attacking yourself and this comes to no good because there is no solution there. With that way of doing things all you can do is be afraid.

Actually those projected parts of yourself need love, need to accepted back as part of you and then they will mature much faster than being rejected. You do not seem to appreciate the incredibly symbolic nature of your experience as a human. You are the whole thing, no exceptions. There is nothing outside of you. Those parts of yourself that you experience as others, they are dreaming you as well. You are part of their cast of characters. When you stop blaming and love instead, they have a new character that loves them in their dream. Get it?”

My personality: “Uh, I do get it but I want to be careful here because isn’t this dangerous thinking, perhaps inflated or somehow grandiose?”

Spirit: “Only if it is. Are you being that way?”

My personality: “No.”

Spirit: Ok then that is not a problem. Don’t create problems where there are not. You are not psychotic nor are you being inflated here. At some point you have to grapple with these understandings because that is part of the path of liberation. It does not happen all at once. You have to be reminded over and over in order to wake up and understand your true nature. You are not small and you are not little. You are vast but your little personality is tiny. That is it’s nature. On an essence level you have no limits so don’t think in a limited way. When you take responsibility for your experience without blame you are in your essence.

My personality: “OK.” I checked inside. The fear of the smoke was gone. The blame was gone. The upset and anger were gone. I chuckled, “Pretty good. Thank you Spirit for once again bailing me out. I was being a fool but now I’m all better.”
The air was still filled with smoke. The breeze was picking up. Nothing had changed externally. My perception, how I saw everything had changed radically. The world was different from this perspective and way better. I felt good. The tobacco ceremony had done wonders.

Spirit: “By the way. It will turn out fine. You don’t need to call in the folks. They are fine. The land is fine. Rain is coming. Don’t you remember that with your group, you intensely prayed for rain last week. You think that doesn’t have an effect? What is your expectation? That your prayers don’t get answered? Think again.”
My personality: “Rain is coming? There’s been no forecast for even a drop of rain, but OK, rain is coming, I accept it.” I could see Spirit’s logic but it was still a stretch.

That day I went about my business and felt pretty good. In the afternoon I was startled to hear thunder since there was so much smoke in the air I could not see if there were clouds. The sky got even darker and sure enough there began to be big flashes in the dim smoky light. Suddenly I felt a huge pang of fear, “Holy shit. Lightening and the forest is tinder dry. How am I going to get people off the ridge tops if a fire starts? With this wind there could be a firestorm.” In my mind I immediately began to form evacuation plans. I felt the acrid taste of fear in my mouth as another giant flash of lightening was followed by crashing thunder. Still no raindrops. How quickly amnesia sets in. I had suddenly forgotten all that Spirit had told me.

The next fifteen minutes was filled with a fierce lightening storm with just a few scattered drops. These were the most dangerous conditions possible. Here was the big test. I had fallen into fear-based thoughts yet again. I then recalled the conversation with Spirit earlier that day. “OK, this is where the rubber meets the road. I either believe that what Spirit told me is a load of crap and I better get out of here or I believe what Spirit said is right and I relax knowing that nothing bad is going to happen.” Was what Spirit said just a figment of my imagination or should I trust it?

I began to work with one of my favorite mantras from the Course in Miracles, “Fear is never justified.” I have used this mantra to very good effect on a number of occasions, once when confronted by a snarling dog in Bolivia. The dog went away. Maybe now the Lightening would go away. But it didn’t. The lightening continued slicing through the sky but then the rain did come in torrents. I felt such tears of relief. Later that evening I hiked up to a high place on the land where I could look out and watch for any tell tale plumes of smoke that indicated lightening strike fires. I saw nothing close by but in the distance I did see a large plume of smoke about ten miles away. I heard the sounds of distant sirens as fire trucks were racing to the scene. Then as I watched a giant thunderhead approached the fire with heavy rain streaming from underneath it. For a time the smoke was completely obscured by the cloud. Meanwhile the immediate sky all around me was absolutely magnificent and the damp winds were blowing hard. Somehow where I was, the smoke had cleared away and the air was fresh and clean.

When the thunderstorm had passed I looked for the great plume of smoke and it was gone. Instead there appeared a slice of a rainbow right where it had been. I looked around. Everything was OK. Spirit was right.

The fires are still burning around the Jemez mountains where the Los Alamos labs are. Much has burned but the labs did not. Reports are that the fire has not been the most destructive kind for the most part because it has left a mosaic of green belts and forest. Much undergrowth has burned which is good for the forest in the long run. Some people have lost their homes and the Santa Clara Pueblo has been hit very hard. Animals have lost their food and are hungry. There is much to do to mop up these fires and clean up. Yet, in the long run, Spirit has been right. Instead of resisting, blaming, and feeling victimized with every new disaster, it is better to accept and take responsibility for our dreams. Perhaps after these times of purification we can dream the world back into a beautiful garden. It won’t take long if our dream resonates with Spirit’s dream. Happy dreaming.

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José Stevens

José Luis Stevens, PhD is the president and co-founder (with wife Lena) of Power Path Seminars, an international school and consulting firm dedicated to the study and application of shamanism and indigenous wisdom to business and everyday life. José completed a ten-year apprenticeship with a Huichol (Wixarika) Maracame (Huichol shaman) in the Sierras of Central Mexico. In addition, he is studying with Shipibo shamans in the Peruvian Amazon and with Paqos (shamans) in the Andes in Peru. In 1983 he completed his doctoral dissertation at the California Institute of Integral Studies focusing on the interface between shamanism and western psychological counseling. Since then, he has studied cross-cultural shamanism around the world to distill the core elements of shamanic healing and practice. He is the author of twenty books and numerous articles including Encounters With Power, Awaken The Inner Shaman, The Power Path, Secrets of Shamanism, Transforming Your Dragons and How To Pray The Shaman's Way.