Once in awhile, I get visions. That means that while I am awake, I am aware of being in a zone of experiencing, remembering or, perhaps, imagining distant experiences. Some might call this awareness “past lives”, others insist that it must be parallel universes, while many would simply make the arbitrary judgment of “crazy” or “insane”. I will even dare to conjecture that what Jungians today call Shadow, may be left over fragments of other life experiences. Regardless of the definitions, these are quite real to me and each one has brought healing through the integration of new and deeper self insights (and in some cases- blatant epiphanies). It feels important to me to conclude that we are in the flow of life and our highest choices seem to be to simply accept what is and integrate each experience as a valid contribution to wholeness.
Along the journey of integration and wholeness we are called to step into uncertainty and to face our fears so that we can live more fully meaningful lives. To avoid the fears can lead to “craziness” via inner constriction that impedes our ability to effectively contribute to this physical world we call our temporary home. This resistance may also be seen externally through the chaos corruption around us.
I’ve carried a lifelong inner corruption of fear, that of going “crazy” and being put away in some mental facility. It seems fitting now, to simply embrace the strangeness of these offerings as my true experiences and risk whatever consequences these revelations bring. It is my belief that everyone experiences similar such events but tuck them nicely away in the subconscious to avoid potential rejection by family and/or friends due to predetermined social stigmas.
To dispel the fear, I searched for and discovered a new definition of crazy in the Urban Dictionary that I like a lot. 1. Often misinterpreted as a bad characteristic, crazy is used to describe people that are random, hyper, creative, and flat out fun to hang with.(adj.) To balance things out, it came with another one that could potentially reactivate my lifelong fear : 2. Used to describe someone with serious mental issues that often effect their interaction with other people. (adj.). It seems clear to me that I get to choose how I define and describe my experience. Therefore, no external validation is needed.
It seems both unnecessary and undesirable to recount mystical experiences in any particular sequential order or to make a priority list of facets more and less important. That being stated, I shall still begin with my best recollection of my first Native American memory/experience which emerged during the 1980’s.
In an effort to de-stress during a cold winter weekend off, I decided to drive alone along a portion of the Natchez Trace. I left very early in the morning so I could experience being mostly “alone” on the road. It was enjoyable for me to seek out places where trees seemed to grow without interference. Those places, all along the Natchez Trace, allowed me to imagine that I could see things as they might have been at the dawn of time. The Trace offered the opportunity to imagine how things were naturally- long before civilization cut roads, planted crops or dammed streams. This specific Saturday was sunny, around mid day, as I arrived at the northernmost end of the Trace (just west of Nashville, Tn). Still feeling energized by my communion with nature, I was not ready to return home so I continued further east to discover Old Stone Fort, near Manchester, Tn.
Exercising curiosity as I began to explore, I stopped by a little museum built of natural native stone building that contained a sparse display of artifacts.
I learned that Old Stone Fort is not really a fort. It is actually a prehistoric Native American ceremonial structure now designated as a State Archaeological Park. It is located on an oddly shaped peninsula formed by the confluence of the Duck River and the Little Duck River (shown below). Perhaps simply by being at this particular spot, some previous awareness awakened in me as I remember feeling a deep resonance at this specific point.
(All remaining photos by DM Tilley)
Curiosity stimulated me to find more information about this unusual place. It is believed that the Middle Woodland tribes may have built and sustained the area as a special ceremonial ground for at least 500 years. The walls of the Old Stone Fort consist of stone and earthwork, and are on average approximately 4–6 feet high. The walls originally consisted of an inner and outer layer of crudely stacked rocks and slabs with gravel and earthen fill in between. Over the centuries, the earthen fill has spilled over the rock layers, giving the walls their current mound-like appearance. The remnants of that double rock wall that once encircled the entire ceremonial space intrigued me.
Immediately upon arrival that first visit thirty-something years ago, I remember that it was a cold blustery day. I felt beckoned to begin walking toward the right. I began to explore the beauty of the trees, the bluffs, the gorges and the waterfalls. The combined sights and sounds helped me appreciate how it must have felt to be among the earliest humans who trekked through this amazing place. On that sunny and clear yet chilly February Saturday, it was easy for me to imagine it all as pristine space. I relished the feeling of being entirely alone as I noticed there were no other humans exploring here that particular day.
In October 2014, when my husband expressed a desire to explore a different place for a photo safari, I suggested Old Stone Fort. It was on this trip that I finally noticed the four mounds at the entrance, indicating a “gateway” to the historic site. The entrance mounds are aligned within 1 degree of the summer solstice sunrise rays. This single fact seems beyond auspicious to me. What other delights might I have previously missed?
On that first trip, I had followed the bluff, circled around and climbed down to walk along the stream bed where the streams met and the water was most shallow. Returning upward, then, I continued along the remnants of the ancient rock walls and stopped at a small clearing where I could see across the stream to a meadow. As I gazed I observed a small settlement of huts made from sticks and smoke from a fire being tended by a girl sitting with her back to me. Then I was aware of a woman dressed in animal skins. Her coal black hair was contained in one large braid draped over her right shoulder. Her piercing dark eyes stared intently at me and I stared back at her. Intellectually I knew there actually was no one there and yet I could see her so clearly! Emotionally I took note of fear arising as I mentally questioned my own sanity. Momentarily I looked away and when I turned to resume my gaze, I could see only an overgrown meadow. (The meadow photo below is today’s view of the center of the sacred space. In February, it was all brown so I was delighted to see the golden yellow meadow glistening in the bright midday sun!)
Some 10 years after the initial experience, while in dialogue with an Iroquois Shaman, I was told that indeed many “Spirits” still live among us and carry on with their native culture. He assured me that they are actively “living” in a parallel space/universe and will join us only if we choose to invite them for they will always respect our boundaries.
He claimed, then, that he could see them filling my small apartment one day as I, feeling skeptical at his comments, opened the door and asked those living in an adjacent field to “come on in!” I could not see them and I could not feel them so, for me, they did not exist. For him they were a living, thriving community. At that point, I could have called him “crazy” and suggested that he depart my home immediately, or I could simply respect his personal experience as valid. I chose the latter and, as a result, he shared many more of his own stories with me.
My friendship with the shaman completed itself a few months later after I returned from a trip to the west coast where I experienced an epiphany of Universal Oneness as I sat on a rocky bluff above the Pacific Ocean. I was eager to share my experiences with him because I felt certain that he, being a shaman, already knew the Oneness that had only just been revealed to me. His response surprised me and left me feeling incredibly uncomfortable. He asserted that maybe he should now listen to me. My discomfort was partly that he could not validate my revelations from personal experience and partly because I had not yet released the belief that he, as a man and a shaman, was superior to me. Feeling the conflict inside, I could no longer find words to articulate my experiences. I’m certain that sensed the discomfort as he left that evening. To my deep regret we never had such intimate spiritual dialogue again.
In retrospect it seems that my discomfort shattered whatever basis there had been for our sharing and there was nothing left to support continued exchanges. I like to think, now, that we both learned some important things from each other before it was time to for each of us to explore life in divergent directions. Now I can more clearly see that one of the greatest gifts he provided me was that feeling of discomfort.
Also, I’ve since learned that there is no need to feel regret when a relationship is complete. Some part of me still feels recognition of the native woman across the stream that cold February afternoon. Perhaps those visions were only remnants of another life relationship. My shaman friend would certainly entertain that notion. And, in the end, who can truly say?
Equally important to my life now is the increasing ability to get comfortable with discomfort (as crazy as that may seem to some). Life brings us many uncomfortable situations. I think they simply indicate that we are moving forward into new adventures and different experiences. Like the streams that converge and diverge around Old Stone Fort, relationships come and go yet they do not stop flowing. Like our breath that must involve both inhale and exhale, we are in constant movement, giving and receiving. All is well, all the time and our individual and collective experiences are all part of the flow of life-not good or bad, not right nor wrong, they simply are our human experiences. As I practice saying “Yes” to the totality of life, I again remember that still all is well and may it ever be so.
Wanda has served thirty plus years as a healthcare professional. Currently, she serves as a Minister of Peace ordained by The Beloved Community. In July, 2007 she completed her PhD in Philosophy focused on Intercultural Peacemaking. For her own spiritual nourishment, she enjoys reading both contemporary and ancient spiritual writings.