The never-ending journey to find out who we are--
and the lessons learned along the way that only experience can teach us.
Ankles deep in early spring snowmelt, cocktailed into an array of
multi-colored mud, the path began to eat my feet like quicksand–
pulling my ratted, slip-on walking shoes into its abyss with every other step.
The only point of returning them to their living place on my soles,
rather than finishing the half-mile uphill battle barefoot,
was to keep my blistered toes from freezing off.
I was sure they’d simply begin to crumble away and knead their own dust
into the murky March soil-dough. And I needed like I’d never needed
for my feet to stay in one piece. Or rather two pieces. One each.
Or maybe 5 pieces each, one for each toe. But then how do I quantify
the soles and carpals and muscles and bones and ligaments?
One step at a time, in that moment,
became a more tangible quantity for my feet to fill.
Karl was the name of the man who answered my thumb that morning,
after a snowstorm stranded me in Eagle’s Nest for the night
and the sweet, elderly Christians put me up in a motel room.
Naturally, the manic Rocky Mountain sun had melted the snow upon first gaze,
sending it back to whence it came as quickly as it had the courage to fall. It fell into the soil.
Dripped into the stew of spring life that it was concocting below the eye’s domain.
“You sure you want me to leave you at the bottom of a hill?”
He wheezed over his sixth Newport 100 of the car ride.
“I don’t normally chain smoke like this,” he kept telling me, “just when I’m high.”
Judging from the way he readily smoked me up upon entering the vehicle
and the sheer amount of ash covering the inside, from blown out butts,
he was telling the truth, in his own way. Which was perfect,
because as far as he was concerned I was Nikki from North Carolina.
My family came from Tewa roots, and I was on my way to trace my lineage.
Sometimes, I turn tales just to amaze myself at the accuracy
with which I can forsake my own perceptions to be another.
I didn’t go to acting school in vain, or so I often feel the need to prove to myself.
My ancestors are not Tewa, I whispered to myself in the silence of my lie,
they are Choctaw. I am Choctaw. I am not Cherokee.
The strangely paradigm shattering feeling of finding that my family came from a tribe
different than the one I had been told to identify with in my youth was swimming in my veins still,
pulsing to reach a believable conclusion within my blood. It was not yet ready to be expressed.
It had been almost a year since the casualty with which my mother shared
this information with me had uprooted that piece of my feathered identity.
Just over three months since the propensity with which Afrika had shattered
the one I built up for myself had sent me, myself, dripping back into the dirt–
returning from whence I came. The most uneasy part of it
was the disorientation I had expected would dissipate after a day or two.
I had never anticipated it could exist, let alone be so profound.
And I’d never known in full the culture to which my soul ached everyday to return.
Native tradition was never “Christ-like” enough to be embraced in my home.
My tribe came from North Carolina before the Trail of Tears,
my grandfather had lied for the sake of assimilation, I was going to Taos to learn about myself.
So am I not Tewa too? Am I not of the rainbow tribe?
In Taos they call me half-breed when I go near the rez and there is the strangest comfort in that.
I kept on sloshing up the sticky mix of mud and spring snow, melted by the
manic Rocky sun. To the Buddhist monastery, just like Mama had said
last night during my prayers. Karl dropped me at the base of the path,
with my emphatic blessing, and returned to the remaining twenty miles of winding road
into Taos Town. I had sent him with a well wish of possibly meeting again someday.
I was measuring my journey that morning by how far gone I could find myself.
With every labored step equaling ten in the world of easy steppin’, I understood
what my yoga teachers meant when they told me to be wary of kundalini until I was ready.
Each motion is ten times as powerful as vinyasa, ten times the power of flow.
Kundalini rising is a hurricane.
I made it to the top by some miracle.
Then they immediately drove me back down to the bottom after finding me
filthy in the temple, kneeling at the feet of whatever version of the Bodhisattva
they had provided my convoluted practice with at that moment.
I had no choice but to pray and follow Mama.
Life had taught me that, if nothing else, thus far.
Not only was I a woman Westerner in an all male, Japanese monastery,
I was simply not allowed to pray in the temple except during a designated time,
once per month when the sanctuary was opened for community Sadhana.
But where is your cup? Why don’t you have a cup?
They were as distraught with such a concept as that I could be cup-less and traveling
as I was with the idea of having lost the cultural identity I had so desperately gripped
for most of my life. It was taking so much time for the white–which I had always
hated myself for–of my knuckles to return to their natural caramel and rouge
that I had forgotten how to hold onto anything else. My cup, for instance.
And I had a cup. It was sitting in the window of my hut back home in Carbondale.
Why on earth I had been an idiot enough to forget it, I could not berate myself
enough to figure out. I always, always, ALWAYS had my cup.
I told myself to be nice to myself. Self anger would serve no good now.
Self. That was all I had, now.
No matter. They gave me a plastic one for the rest of my journey
along with an apple and water to fill it. Made me tuck it into the flap in my
pack where they could see before they dropped me back where Karl had.
In the most broken English, they imparted to me the importance of keeping my cup
close and full. It was a brilliant dance of energetic communication that marked me
profoundly as the wheels of their donated Kia climbed back into the chaos
of a slick spring path with the ease my feet had lacked.
I could speak for days about the details of the inner workings of my
abstract thought patterns and the conclusion they brought me to.
Instead I will say this: I learned that I am a cup, not a culture.
Red and yellow, black and white, I am precious in the sight of the Almighty;
a cocktail of multi-colored earth, concocting a stew of life
beneath my squishy surface; I am a warrior of the rainbow.
And with the pains in my crooked hips that I felt for days after,
I began to understand that I can be filled with life. I can be filled with Love.
In the most tumultuous times, I can be filled and fed and sent back along my way.
I found my sovereignty that day.
Now, instead of fighting myself to rationalize my own nakedness amidst the
clothing of an identity I had perceived as unrighteously stripped from me,
I fight to be filled. I fight that I may runneth over and feed the
concocting cocktails of multi-colored consciousness stewing below the
surface of every squishy, sacred, sovereign human I may be so blessed as to meet.
never go anywhere without my cup now.