I arrived at the Advanced Soul and Destiny Retrieval course in Joshua Tree, California with a right eye that looked as if I’d gone a few rounds in the ring with Mike Tyson. For the past six months, since the last time I went to California, I’ve had a blocked tear duct in my left eye, which caused tears to roll down my cheek so often that the skin under my eye began to shrivel from the salt.
After seeing two regular doctors, going to acupuncture twice, visiting the eye doctor twice and then the eyelid specialist twice, a plastic surgeon had to cut the tear duct open to relieve the overflow. “You’ve got small tear ducts, Lady. What can I say?” he told me. Although this explanation didn’t satisfy me, for two weeks I basked in the glory of a tearless left eye. Then when my right eye started to swell, it felt like a blow to my spirit. Before I left for the desert, my father’s wife suggested that maybe it was my mascara. I had thought of this before, but didn’t want to acknowledge the possibility. I barely wear any makeup, but in my mind, without mascara I looked unspecial, tired and older than my age. I thought about the word, mascara- to mask, to cover up. Was there something behind the mask that I didn’t want to see? I begrudgingly threw away the tube of Lancôme and dedicated my week to uncovering what I haven’t been able to see for the past six months, and most certainly longer.
Yet the first day of class I wore sunglasses, hoping no one would notice my bung lid. The second day a rather blunt classmate asked, “What’s wrong with your eye?” Hmm, I guess they noticed. What I received though, rather than judgment, was a genuine desire to help. “Try this homeopathic remedy.” “Soak a washcloth in this Epsom salt and put it on your eye.” “Rub some garlic on it.” “I will give you a reiki session.” All these offers I accepted gratefully, hoping one would work quickly. But by the third day when my eye still looked like a small medallion of beef, I knew I needed to let go of trying to make my eye heal faster. I had a sense that this wasn’t about unlocking the secrets to rapid healing. It was about accepting the process, even the parts that were painful, physically and emotionally.
One of our practices in shaman school is to make a “sand painting” to represent the work we are doing. As I stood before my pile of rocks and sticks, looking out over Mother Desert, her beauty astounded me. She was not wearing mascara. She revealed all her blooming bushes and withering shrubs, her lorax-looking trees, some standing tall, others in the shape of an arch or a slumping “y”. She did not hide. She did not apologize for being herself. She just stayed put and let me look.
I could hear her whisper her wisdom to me on the wind. Our beauty is not in the attractive masks we put on to go out into the world. It is in the taking off of these masks. It is in allowing ourselves to be seen in the process of our unfolding. So much of my life I had been trying to get out of and away from the ugliness- missing teeth in elementary school, acne in high school, weight gain after college. Of course we would all prefer to have flawless skin and perfect teeth, but most of us don’t. We have to bear the reality of our imperfections. We can do this by hiding or we can do it by allowing.
I had tried hiding many times. I was ready to try allowing. That night we met for ceremony, in which we offered one another the kawak rights, kawak meaning “to see God”. In order to offer one another these rights we stood face to face for some time, looking into a partner’s eyes. When my partner, a kind Australian man, looked into my eyes, I looked down. Not only did I not want him to see the purple lump on my eyelid, I also remembered how uncomfortable it made me feel to look into the eyes of someone I don’t know. But we stood there for so long that eventually I had to. Then I had to draw his forehead to mine and whisper the words that ignite our ability to see the Divine. You would think seeing God would be like a good acid trip, maybe he would float down through the ceiling in white robes and hover before us, but no. That’s not what it’s like at all. It’s in taking the risk to be vulnerable to one another that we see God. It is in pulling back far enough to see your partner’s eyes again and in them to recognize the full acceptance that can only be seen if you too are offering it.
After the rights were exchanged our teacher instructed the outer circle to move around the inner circle and gaze into each person’s eyes. I stood still as a slow motion parade of faces moved past me, letting each one see me in my unfolding, seeing each one in theirs. It hurt a little, like the Skin Horse told the Velveteen Rabbit that it would, but as he said, “That is how you become real.” And of course, by the next morning, the swelling in my eye subsided. I dismantled my sand painting, throwing rocks to the four corners of the earth, sweeping the sand away to release the imprint of what needed to go. Then I stood, holding a colorful scarf full of pieces of snakeskin that one of my students found on our retreat in Costa Rica. When she gave the skin to me it was fully in tact. Now the tiny pieces fluttered away in the desert wind showing me that I had finally let go of an old brittle skin and a new tender skin was being revealed. Letting ourselves be seen, seeing one another as we truly are, this is how we see God, whose beauty is always present within us, waiting, like the desert to be recognized and remembered.