Continued from Chapter 9.
“Perhaps the time has come to not simply follow others, and instead, go a different way. I am offering you the opportunity to take a completely different path than most people walk. It is an ancient path, the path of your ancestors, a path connected with nature and the earth, connected to God and the energy of the universe. It is the way our ancestors used to live.” Tío Emilio
By Richard Juarez
As it turned out, our incident in East San Diego didn’t slip by unnoticed like we thought it did. One of the neighbors had seen us talking that night in front of Nana and Tata’s house. A few days later she asked Nana who had been driving Tata’s car and talking to her grandson and Amador’s store clerk. Of course it was a total surprise to Nana and Tata that Tío Emilio had been with Tony and me that night. So when they called and asked him about it, he told them the whole truth. And they, of course, told our parents, plus a few others.
Pretty soon everyone in both families had heard at least one or more versions of the story about how Tony and I almost died in East San Diego. In some of the versions, Pablito and Arturo were still missing. You’d think we had been arrested for some serious crime, the way everyone was yelling at us. It was as if it was the worst thing that could have happened. But nothing happened!!
“You keep doing these things!” my mother yelled. “It keeps getting worse and worse. You could be dead already! There’s no reason to go talk to him now. He was supposed to help straighten you out. And now it’s too late. You won’t stop hanging out with those criminals!”
She started in on me again. This had been going on since Wednesday, when Tío Emilio called to say he would be coming down to talk to me.
“Ya Maria!” my father yelled. “Enough already! Let it be!” He paused briefly, then, at a slightly lower volume said, “His life isn’t over. Now, more than ever, he should spend time with Emilio. Maybe that will help. Anyway, that’s what was already decided, so just stop it!”
He looked at me and nodded toward the door. “Go on,” he said gruffly, “he’s waiting.”
As I walked over to Nana and Tata’s, my stomach was churning. My mother and father had been fighting, mostly about me. And I got the feeling she had been fighting with Tata over this too. She still didn’t want me to talk with Tío Emilio. But it looked like Tata had already decided what was best for me. I wasn’t totally sure about it, but it was either don’t do it because my mother said no, or do it because Tata said yes. Even though this whole thing was a little scary, I decided to go with Tata.
Tony was sitting on the curb in front of Nana and Tata’s yard, waiting for me. He found out his father and grandfather had talked to Tata and Tío Emilio when he was in town last time. They strongly encouraged Tony to come with me, even though his grandmother was against it. As I started up the steps to flip open the gate, I expected him to get up. But he didn’t move. He just kept looking straight ahead.
“Hey, Tony. You okay? You still gonna do this with me?”
He turned toward me, looking a little scared. “Uh … I don’t think it’s going to do any good. I don’t really believe all that brujo stuff, even if my grandfather does. But I would like to hear about these powers brujos supposedly have. My grandmother says it’s black magic. My grandfather says it’s not. But he and my father think, black magic or not, maybe this might keep us from getting into more trouble.”
Tony stared at me for a few seconds, looking like he was trying to decide. “I guess I’ll go with you. I just don’t want to get caught up in some black magic problems. I don’t know whether to believe my grandmother or my grandfather. First sign of any weird stuff, though, I’m bailing, man. I don’t want to abandon you if there’s trouble, but I’m not going to stick around and get hurt.”
“Hey, Tony, he’s my grandfather’s cousin. He’s familia. He wouldn’t let anything bad happen to us. And my Tata wouldn’t let anything bad happen to us.” I don’t know if I sounded convincing, but I was worried too. “Anyway, strange stuff or black magic or whatever, we’ve got to do something. We can’t keep doing like we’ve been doing. I don’t want to end up dead or in Juvie. Maybe he can help.”
Tony got up from the curb. “Okay, let’s go listen to what he has to say.”
We walked up the steps into the yard and over to the side of the house, where we paused. Looking into the back yard we could see Tío Emilio sitting in the garden shed, waiting for us.
“Buenos dias, señores. Come on, come in.” He waved his hand as we walked toward him, motioning for us to join him in the garden shed. “Have a seat.”
We both said good morning as we walked in and took a seat across from him on new padded folding chairs that had been placed near the open end of the shed. The ratty green vinyl chair and the old wooden one were gone.
“What a beautiful day,” said Tío Emilio. “A great day to be alive, qué no?”
Cutting right to the heart of the matter! No beating around the bush. Neither of us said anything. It wasn’t really a question, more a vivid reminder of why we were here with him today.
“It is good to see you again, Tony. I am glad you are able to join us. I understand some in your family want you to be here and others aren’t so sure. Just as in Vincent’s family.”
“Yeah, with the trouble we got into in East San Diego and stuff before that, they wanted me to be here too. I think they hope you can figure out a way to keep us out of trouble. But my grandmother is worried, like Vincent’s mother and grandmother.”
“They do not know what I teach or what I do to help others. People fear what they do not know. You do not know how I was able to be there the night I rescued you. That has you a little worried. But your parents and grandparents are willing to set their concerns aside at this time if what I have to share will help you. The primary concerns of your families are the bad choices you have been making and the trouble this has gotten you into. What I have to share with you is more than being in the right place at the right time. It is about choosing to live well rather than choosing badly. A bad choice was your attempted suicide that night in East San Diego.”
We both chuckled at his little joke, calling our close call an attempted suicide.
“You can laugh, but I am serious. It was an attempted suicide, even though unconsciously you left it up to someone else to do the damage. There are no accidents. We choose our life actions, and doing so, we choose the consequences too. If we choose not to die, we do not put ourselves in danger.”
Tony responded, “I still say I didn’t ask for those guys to jump us. But, I have to admit, I knew it was a stupid and dangerous thing to do.”
“And you have to take responsibility for the decisions you made to put yourselves in that dangerous situation, yes?”
We both nodded.
“Well, your actions have your families very concerned. So they have asked me to try, as they said, to ‘straighten….”
“Straighten me out!” I said, yelling, before he could finish. “I hate that! I ain’t crooked!”
“I prefer to call it helping you choose a better path. Both of you have to choose between becoming more like your two friends, or taking a different path.”
“Hey, man,” whined Tony, “we ain’t becoming like Pablito and Arturo. I don’t wanna be like them.”
“No,” said Tío Emilio, “but right now you have one foot on each path, and the paths go in different directions. You cannot follow both. You are kidding yourselves if you think you can be involved with gangs and drugs and not fall into further danger.”
“Our parents want us to stop seeing our friends, but that’s impossible,” I said, with some exasperation. “We see them all the time––on the street, at school, the park. Tony and me, we don’t like the drug dealing and other illegal stuff some of the guys do, but except for that, hanging with our friends is hard to give up. I mean we grew up with these guys. We’ve known them all our lives.”
“I am not saying that you should not do things with friends,” said Tío Emilio. “But perhaps the time has come to not simply follow others, and instead, go a different way. I am offering you the opportunity to take a completely different path than most people walk. It is an ancient path, the path of your ancestors, a path connected with nature and the earth, connected to God and the energy of the universe. It is the way our ancestors used to live.”
“Aha, los conquistadores!” said Tony with a smile.
“Yeah, right,” I said, smiling back at Tony. We had heard enough conquistador bashing around here and in school to know he didn’t mean them.
“I am talking of a way of life still lived by many native groups on this continent and elsewhere,” he continued. “This way of life goes back way before the conquistadores, before the formalized practice of religion lost much of its true connection with God and with the energies of nature and the earth. It goes back before the Aztecs, Mayans, and Incas, and before them the Toltecs, before them the Olmecs, and back to their ancestors. It has its roots in the spiritual practices of the ancestors of all native cultures in the world.”
“That’s some pretty old stuff,” said Tony. “But haven’t we learned a lot since then?”
“Yes, we have learned much since then, but the knowledge is, how do you say, lopsided. We have had 500 years focused on advances in technology, but in the process we separated ourselves from our spiritual nature, our connection to the earth and all living things. The elder shamans and their guides say the time has arrived for the shift back to a better balance, a more spiritually connected existence. They say we must now share the secrets of our ancient spiritual ways to help others learn a different way of life. If you allow me to share this knowledge with you, and as you experience this other way, your spirit will recognize the path. You will open up and let your full self, your higher self, guide you on a path of personal growth and spiritual awareness. This path of spiritual awareness will last your entire life and beyond.”
I didn’t want to stop him because what he was saying sounded really interesting. I wasn’t exactly sure what he meant by things like higher self and spiritual awareness, but I thought I would let it slide for now and find a better time to ask.
“I will teach you about the sacred ways of your ancestors,” he continued, “and about how to live in a sacred manner, connected to the earth, to all living things, and to the spirits who guide and protect us. It is not so much a matter of doing, but an awareness of that connection, and living or being in that awareness. Your ancestors knew these things. If you decide to enter this training, and if you practice this way of being, you will be a different person.”
Tony raised his hand, and Tío Emilio nodded. “What do you mean I’ll be a different person? Different how?”
“You will see things differently. You will think about the world differently. You will feel more connected to things, people, God. You will know things ahead of time, where to go, how to be in the right place at the right time. You will have an inner knowing that is not available to you right now.”
My hand shot up. I had to ask, “Is that how you….”
“How I read your mind? Yes, that is how I sometimes know what you are thinking and what you want to say. My connection with you is very strong, and as long as I am in that connected place, the information I need flows to me, and I am aware of it. As you learn the secret teachings, you will find that information flows to you too, along with the good things you want in life. You will learn that the bad things that have happened were created by you, and you will learn how to stop that from happening. I will even show you how to get high without drugs or alcohol, using the spiritual ways of your ancestors.”
Tío Emilio’s words gave me a glimmer of hope for finding a way out of the garbage pit of life I had been slowly sliding into. “Count me in. If this can help keep us out of trouble, and help make things better in our lives, then it’s gotta be worth it.”
The look on Tony’s face told me he still wasn’t convinced. “I’m not so sure about the brujo stuff, and I don’t want to get involved in any black magic spells that might cause us trouble. But I do want to know more about this secret you mentioned. If this can help make good things happen, I’m all for it. Lately it seems like it’s been bad stuff happening to us.”
Tío Emilio turned in his chair and looked directly at Tony. “I want to put your mind at ease right now. As I said to Vincent, there are brujos who misuse these powers and work with what some call black magic. I am not that kind of brujo. That is why I prefer the term shaman. I want you both to know there are no spells or black magic in the work I do. Nothing we practice will cause either of you any troubles.”
I was glad to finally hear him say there were no spells. Although I didn’t think there would be, I had to admit I had been wondering about it ever since Manuel asked if the brujo would be putting a spell on me.
“Your first step in this process is to agree to participate as opposed to being forced by your families. This is very important. It is a statement of your intention and your desire. You must be very clear that this is what you want to learn and experience. Your intent is what will open the door to create changes in your lives. Now, do you freely choose to participate in this effort?”
I nodded again in agreement.
“My mother and grandmother don’t want me here,” said Tony. “But they said it was up to me to decide. So I guess I’ll give it a try. By the way, what should I call you? You ain’t my tío.”
“Well, now that you have asked,” he paused for a moment, “some people call me Don Emilio, as a sign of respect for the work that I do. So, as a sign of respect for this sacred journey we are beginning, you can both call me Don Emilio. And, as a mutual sign of respect, I will call you Vicente and Antonio, your formal names in Spanish. Is this agreeable to you both?”
We both nodded.
“Very well then, I will begin now by talking about the teachings of the ancestors in general terms, and in later sessions will cover these topics in more detail. Our first topic is spiritual energy. According to recent discoveries in the field of physics, everything that exists in this universe is made of energy––it is everywhere and is in everything. Centuries before the scientific discoveries, the Toltec shamans were aware of an indescribable energy, that they called Intent, which permeates the universe. They taught that this energy is alive, and has consciousness. Every thing in the universe, from a pebble, to a tree, to a star, to a galaxy, are all a part of that one living energy consciousness, and therefore all are alive and have consciousness. That one living energy consciousness is here on the physical plane as well as the non-physical plane.
Don Emilio looked at Tony, then at me. We must have looked clueless. Despite the blank stares, he continued. “I know much of this may sound strange to you, but I will explain these terms as we move along. As you become familiar with the words, the concepts we discuss will begin to make more sense to you. For now, ask any questions and stop me whenever you want clarification. And you do not need to raise your hand. You are not at school.”
“Okay, why do you call it spiritual energy if it’s just energy?” I asked.
“Because it is not just energy. I am not talking about strength energy or a caffeine energy jolt. I am talking about the energy essence that permeates all things, the life Force of the universe.”
“Force?” asked Tony. “Like in Star Wars and the Force be with you?”
“As a matter of fact, yes. As everything in the universe is made of energy, that Force sustains us and connects us to all things in the universe. Our personal life force is a part of the larger Force of the universe.
“Some shamans live a life focused on keeping their spiritual energy levels high. Those who commit to this path of increased spiritual energy call themselves spirit warriors. They become very aware of persons, actions, or events that result in a loss of energy—much like the abilities of the Jedi knights in the Star Wars movies. A spirit warrior aims to stop living by the whims of whatever or whoever comes along to impact his energy, and instead live a life dedicated to taking every opportunity to increase this energy.
“Our initial objective is not as intense as that. I want both of you to simply become aware of your personal spiritual energy level. When you have that awareness, you can then begin to understand what happens to cause you lose to lose some of that energy, and what you can do to stop losing it. I will also show you how to increase this energy. Does that sound simple enough? Are you ready to begin?”
I nodded. Not because it sounded simple. I wasn’t sure about what he was saying. But I was ready to hear more about this Force.
“So let us start with a simple exercise that will help raise your energy level, as well as help stop the mind chatter that is constantly going on in your head. In this exercise, we focus our attention on an object as a way to calm the mind and stop that internal dialogue. Some call it meditation. It starts with relaxation and deep breaths.
“Start now by closing your eyes. This is the first step in turning away from the outer senses, and opening up to the inner world. Sit back and relax. Move a little in your chair if you need to, so you are comfortable. Move your head … relax your face muscles … shoulders … arms … legs. Let your whole body relax. Take a deep breath in, and then let the air all the way out, while you seem to sink into your chair. Slowly, take another deep breath, and then let it all out as you relax even more. Now breathe normally, but be aware of the air as you breathe in, then as you let it out. Keep your attention focused on each breath, in … and out. This deep breathing helps you release your thoughts and worries, and helps you relax. You might hear each other breathing. Ignore that and focus on your own breathing.”
I focused on each breath, listening to my own sound. I could hear Tony letting his air out. Don Emilio was right. Closing my eyes and breathing deeply did help me to slow down and relax a little. The outside world seemed far away even though I knew it was just on the other side of my eyelids.
“If your mind wanders, do not worry. When you become aware you are thinking about something else, stop, and then focus again on each breath, as you inhale and exhale.”
It was a relief to know I wasn’t screwing up, because my mind was already wandering. Once in a while Don Emilio would remind us to focus on our breath. Sometimes when he spoke I was still aware of each breath, and other times I was off somewhere in other thoughts. When I heard his voice, I just came back and concentrated again on my breath. It felt very relaxing to just listen to the in and out, in and out. And sometimes it was an effort to keep from going off on some thought that popped in. After awhile, there was just quiet….
“Vicente and Antonio.” The voice sounded so very far away. He spoke again, slowly and quietly. “Take three deep breaths now … move your body a little … and when you are ready, open your eyes.”
When he said move, I had to think to get anything to move at first. Everything felt heavy and a little numb.
“Are you back now?”
With heavy eyelids I looked at him and slowly nodded. I realized that when he called our names and started talking to us, I was no longer aware of my breathing. I had lost track of it entirely. I think I had lost track of everything.
“You both relaxed so well that you fell asleep. When you get this relaxed and you shut down the mind’s control, your body can do what it needs to do to restore itself. It can build its own energy, which is good. Apparently you both needed some total rest.”
“Yeah, I guess I dozed off,” said Tony, stretching and yawning. “I know I lost track of my breathing for a little bit.”
“I felt so groggy when you called our names,” I added. “I must have dozed off too.”
“You both followed your breath off and on for four to five minutes. Then you were out, fast asleep, for at least ten minutes.”
“No, you’re kidding. Ten minutes?” Tony seemed as shocked as I was.
“An afternoon nap! I can’t believe it,” I said. “I can never take naps during the day!”
“That is because your mind has been in control, and would not let your body do what it needed. Meditation shuts down control by the conscious mind and sidetracks it into concentrating on something simple, like following the breath. Try this same exercise at home this evening. As we did now, listen as you breathe in and breathe out. Your mind will wander, but do not worry about it. Just stop and come back to being aware of your breath.
“In addition to doing the breath meditation this evening, I would like you to practice it at least once a day, for about 20 minutes. Try to get into a habit of doing it at the same time each day. It was easy for you to do that meditation, at least before you fell asleep, because I was here to talk you through it. Since you will do this on your own for the next few weeks, you may find it more difficult to stay focused on your breath. Your mind will wander. Just know that the more you practice, the easier it will be to stay focused and reduce the mind chatter. We will talk about your experiences when we get together again in four weeks.
“For our future sessions, we will meet for a couple of hours or so on Saturdays, and occasionally on Sunday as well. We will have four to six weeks between most sessions to give you time to think on what we talk about and to practice what you experience. That will be the method we use for all our sessions. You will experience some of what I talk about, and you will practice those experiences on your own until the next time. I will sometimes specifically mention something I want you to practice, but usually I will not. It is up to you to pay attention, and then practice on your own. You can ask at any time for clarification. As our sessions add up, you will find you have a lot to practice. So that you do not feel too overloaded or stressed out, you will choose what to practice based on what best helps you to increase your energy and minimize your internal chatter. As you practice, your experience will help you to choose.”
With that, he ended the session and sent us on our way. We left through the alley and walked to Amador’s, where we sat on the wall behind the market for a few minutes, thinking and talking about this first day with our own private shaman.
“This could be kinda interesting,” said Tony. “What he said about secret teachings, learning to make good things happen in our lives, and reading people’s minds—that’s what I want to hear more about.”
“Yeah, I’m really interested in those secret teachings too. What if they really turn out to be something special, like information that really makes our lives better? Then everyone will want to know more about it—our friends, and even our parents.”
“But I’m still concerned,” said Tony. “He said there wouldn’t be any black magic stuff. Do you believe him?”
“We don’t have any reason not to believe him. Not yet anyway. Let’s listen and think about what he says. And like you said, you can always bail later if something gets too weird.”
“Yeah, I guess there’s no sense worrying about that unless something happens. You know, this might not be so bad after all. I kinda like your Tío … oh, excuse me, Don Emilio.”
“Yes Antonio,” I clowned in a deep voice. We both laughed. “I kinda like him too. When I first heard about him coming here, my mother didn’t want to talk about him. That seemed really weird. I was worried about who this guy was, but not anymore. I think he could really help us. If nothing else,” I said grinning, “we get to take naps in the afternoon.”
Copyright © 2013 Richard Juarez
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