"What if everything is an illusion and nothing exists?
In that case, I definitely overpaid for my carpet."
What's that you say? I should have known that this would be trouble when I first heard of it? That the mere mention of chimes and chanting should have tipped me off? That Mt. Shasta is a well-known haven for New Age seekers and Birkenstock-wearing kooks? Oh, what the hell. What's the worst that can happen?
Try to ignore that ominous music you are hearing right now.
The city of Mt. Shasta is located at the base of Mount Shasta which is the second highest volcano in the United States. Historically, villages and cities positioned around volcanoes do not tend to fare very well when the lava gods awaken and decide to render mayhem and destruction upon all living things. Even if the volcano has been inactive for centuries, there is an unsettled sense of needing to be on alert while in its presence...like tip-toeing around a cantankerous giant troll who appears to be napping at the moment, but is guaranteed to be in an extremely foul mood when he awakens. Damn trolls.
I am attending a three-day workshop being held in a sweltering sweat box disguised as a hotel conference room with eleven other menopausal women (project your own judgment here). Not that being in some phase of the menopause process is a requirement to participate, but fortunately for storytelling/comedy purposes, that's how it worked out. If you haven't noticed yet, the universe has a very saucy sense of humor.
The first day of the workshop begins with the unavoidable and detestable (to me) custom of going around the circle introducing ourselves. For an introvert, this part of the process is a jaw-clenching exercise in endurance, and even though I am supposed to be listening with rapt attention to what the others are saying, internally I am stewing about what I am going to say. I recall attending another gathering of spiritually-minded women a few years ago, and as we made our introductions which included speaking briefly about what we did for a living, one of the women began weeping. When asked what was wrong, she launched into a sobbing diatribe about how sad it was that women could only identify themselves by what they do or where they work and that she did not wish to be labeled in that way. She gathered her belongings and marched out of the coffee shop where we had met that day, leaving the rest of us sitting in stunned silence. That was the first and last meeting of that particular group, and an awkward situation that always comes to mind during every circle introduction ritual in which I find myself participating.
The Shasta workshop introductions prove to be less emotional, but more fascinating as I note the disproportionate percentage of attendees who have chosen to ditch their Christian birth names in favor of colorful new titles:
*Rainbow Tree Frog divorced her husband of 30 years to oversee an organic mushroom farm with her lesbian lover in Northern California.
*Favilla Dragonstone, lesbian lover of Rainbow Tree Frog, organic fungus farmer and recent graduate of Wicca school in Oregon.
*Lady Morgana makes her living reading the soles of people's feet (she proudly announces that she is willing to be paid in goat cheese or rabbit pelts if any of us are open to trade).
*Aynjelle (pronounced Angel, but spelled in a way that makes me think she was being paid by the letter), a tiny woman with a gigantic butterfly tattoo covering her chest and upper arms claiming to be the reincarnation of a wood elf.
*Fallopia, a self-taught mystical healer of the female reproductive system, specializing in infertility issues and sexual dysfunction in men and women.
*Wounded Wolf practices aromatherapy out of a yurt in Idaho.
*Jupiter, a mixed-media artist who renamed herself after the largest planet in the solar system in an effort to make peace with her weight.
By comparison, the rest of us have mundane names and professions, and I avoid outing myself as a "psychic" lest I be pressed into service by any of the women seeking guidance and/or predictions during lunch breaks (an occupational hazard I learned about the hard way).
Day 1: hit the ground running
Now that the compelling introductions are behind us, it's time to get down to business. "Patsy" is a no-nonsense facilitator determined to pack as much information into our limited time as possible, and so the rambling lecture begins. We learn about ancient Egyptians, extraterrestrials, Atlantis and crystal domes. A rousing discussion ensues as many of the women feel called to share stories about their personal encounters with alien life forms (my own twisted sense of humor nudges at me to make snarky comments about my parents being from another solar system, but after the chilly reception to that sort of playful banter in Sedona, I decide to keep my jokes to myself). Patsy pulls us back to the task at hand by suggesting that we take turns singing solos so that she can assess our "vibrational healing abilities".
This is where my blood runs absolutely cold. Nowhere in the syllabus was there any mention of singing! I can chant in a group all day long, but warbling solos is not what I am here to do. My heart begins to pound, my mouth goes dry and I feel my hands and feet tingling...sure signs of an impending faint. Can I hide in the bathroom for this exercise? Can I convincingly fake the sudden onset of situational laryngitis? Is it close enough to lunch time to be able to avoid it altogether?
Several eager women raise their hands to volunteer and I relax a bit. These mid-life overachievers are ready to get into the meat of this thing, and I'm still thinking that I can wiggle out of my turn if we can just move the clock closer to break time. But instead of choosing from the willing live wires, Patsy zeroes in on me and asks if I would like to lead the exercise.
Dear sweet baby Jesus mother Mary God in heaven Lord Vishnu help me now! Let lightning strike the building. Let a fire alarm go off in the room. Let someone (besides me) vomit, shit her pants, have a heart attack or create some other distraction so I can wake up from this nightmare.
None of that happens, of course, and it appears that at the undignified age of 51 years old, I am going to serenade a group of ridiculously-named women in a room that must be baking at eighty degrees by now. Patsy gives me a short mantra to sing, and so I close my eyes and wish for death. When that doesn't happen, I sing the words (eyes tightly closed, voice trembling, sweat cascading through my cleavage and down my back) three times in some tune that comes to me between the urge to flee and the feeling that I might dramatically collapse. I finish the mantra and open my eyes. The room is completely silent and Patsy has tears streaming down her round face. What happened? Did she receive a text with terrible news about a family member? Was my performance so horrendous that she is going to have to kick me out of the workshop and refund my money?
I gather that unintentionally, I hit a combination of notes that resonated with a deep well of emotion, and I am immediately catapulted to the top of the class. I hear someone half-jokingly whisper "teacher's pet" and I am right back in high school, reminded that I have never been able to blend in to any group or situation anywhere. The minute I open my mouth, it is glaringly apparent that there is something "different" about me which tends to make people do one of two things: try to get away from me as quickly as possible or glom on to me as though I am in possession of the last lifeboat off of a sinking ship.
The day continues with everyone having a turn to sing as I sit back and enjoy the giddy relief of being done. Assessments are made, more information is disseminated about healing with sound and vibration, and we end the day with Patsy informing us that tomorrow, we are going to start class bright and early by conducting healing sessions on each other, so we should all get a good night's rest.
Easier said than done. Apparently, the energy in Mount Shasta is such that visitors unaccustomed to the vibrations coming from the volcano masquerading as an innocent mountain generally do not sleep well. When I do manage to doze off, my dreams are disturbing and intense. I am awakened at 5:00 a.m. by what sounds like twenty enthusiastic gorillas doing Zumba in the room above me. It's going to be a long day.
Day 2: reality is relative
~Paired with Aynjelle the wood elf for first practice session of the day. Try not to snicker as she clangs a chime next to my ear while chanting "heal, Suzanne!" At first, I think that she is directing me to send healing thoughts to someone named Suzanne, but then I realize that she has mistaken my name. When I gently tell her that my name is Susette, her eyes well up with tears and she runs out of the room.
~Re-paired with Jupiter. Attempt to create soothing sounds with castanets while humming a nondescript tune. The treatment table is far too small for Jupiter (imagine trying to balance a tennis ball on a popsicle stick) and she continually shifts from side to side, nearly rolling off twice. Resist urge to suggest that we escape this thing and go out for ice cream.
~Learn that Lady Morgana has a crystal skull named Candace which she uses as a ventriloquist dummy to speak to the woman on her treatment table. Candace is balanced on the
What the fuck is this all about?
~After lunch, we gather in a circle and sing tones to a quartz crystal bowl positioned on the floor in the middle of the circle. At some point, to everyone's surprise, the bowl shatters and we fall silent, looking to Patsy for guidance on this startling development. All she can say is that the bowl cost $250 and that we should consider making a group field trip to the local crystal store where everyone can chip in a donation towards a new bowl.
~Consensus is that we should have a pot luck dinner followed by a Wicca ceremony tonight. Favilla Dragonstone will lead the pagan gala on the shore of Lake Siskiyou where we will all learn who our animal spirit guides are and offer energy to the extraterrestrial beings living inside Mount Shasta. I send up a silent prayer that this "ceremony" will not awaken any irritable trolls or curious aliens. After hearing how many of the workshop participants have been abducted and probed against their will, I feel we are at something of a disadvantage as far as good luck is concerned.
~Pot luck food inspired by Satan's catering company:
1.Hawaiian pizza abomination with discolored pineapple and soy "ham"
2.Gas station guacamole and stale corn chips
3.The culinary Hindenburg of a tuna casserole in a brownish sauce (side note: wheat germ, it turns out, can't be shoehorned into just anything)
4.Fruit salad that tastes like a scented candle (I learn later that essential oils and a package of strawberry sugar-free jello are the magic ingredients)
5.Vegan brownies (dry and bland) and gluten-free pound cake (disturbing sand-like texture) from the local grocery store. Certainly the most edible of all the offerings.
6.Wine. Lots and lots of wine.
~Wicca ceremony proves to be an exercise in endurance. Favilla has overindulged in red wine and is slurring her invocations and long-winded "blessings". I learn that my spirit animal is the skunk because I have terrible boundary issues. At this point, I can only nod and agree, seeing that I am standing knee-deep in murky lake water holding hands with sweaty, drunk women as mosquitoes drain me of my blood supply.
Day 3: tore up from the floor up
More memorable moments:
Wounded Wolf practices her newly-learned techniques on me as I lay on the treatment table, bloated and gassy from the previous night's "meal", the waistband of my jeans slowly strangling me around the midsection. I steal glances at the clock on the wall, praying for the session to be over (FYI: sound healing does not affect intestinal gas) and resisting the urge to scratch at the hundreds of itchy bites all over my body. Peace treaties have been hammered out in less time.
It is decided that we will make a trip to one of the many local crystal shops to check out the merchandise. I am hesitant to join this junket because Patsy is still dropping hints about how meaningful it would be if we could all contribute to the purchase of a new crystal bowl to replace the one we demolished during the previous day's exercise. A few of the women glance at me, and I imagine them thinking that my personal and particular vibration (the one that brought Patsy to tears on the first day of our workshop) is responsible for the damage and I should be the one to make reparation.
We arrive at the crystal shop and are greeted by the musical stylings of Yanni being piped through an ancient speaker system. I am reminded of my parents' love affair with all things Radio Shack back in the seventies and have a strong flashback of myself sitting alone in the so-called rumpus room of the house where we lived when I was in high school, listening to hours of Elton John, Fleetwood Mac and Heart on a crappy, cheap-ass record player as I pored over photos in the school yearbook of boys who would never like me. Even though I knew the odds were not in my favor, I prayed for a miraculous intervention from the popularity gods while mentally willing the phone to ring.
The women go their separate ways in the shop, each looking for something specific: Lady Morgana is interested in finding another crystal skull so that Candace has a friend to converse with in idle hours. Aynjelle (still not speaking to me after our debacle on the treatment table the day before) needs a new pendulum and dowsing rods since her former partner sold most of her belongings on eBay when she was out of town for a week. Rainbow Tree Frog is determined to find a good deal on polished quartz pieces to bury amongst the mushrooms. My main goal is to stay as far away from Patsy as possible just in case she finds a replacement bowl and starts pressing for donations.
As I am perusing the gigantic amethyst geodes in the back room and sweating through my blouse, I hear a commotion in the main part of the store and go out to see what has happened. It appears that Fallopia has fainted near the Tarot card section and everyone is gathered around her, fanning her with books and asking each other if they should call 911. The jaded (rock humor) clerk behind the counter tells us not to bother; that the last time someone passed out in the store, it took twenty minutes for the paramedics to arrive and grudgingly administer treatment. I gather from her weary tone that fainting is a common occurrence here and that there is no need to panic.
Fallopia does recover and goes on to purchase the deck of Tarot cards she was looking at when she lost consciousness, believing that it is a sign from the universe to take these cards home and give readings to her sexually dysfunctional clientele.
Ever the opportunist, I use the distraction to slip out of the shop in order to avoid Patsy's crystal bowl purchase. I sit on a bench in the sweltering heat and count the men with pony tails passing by. It is a staggeringly high number.
Back in the conference room, we wrap up our workshop by once again sitting in the dreaded circle and practicing our intuitive skills by "reading" each other's energy. We are told that it's fine to provide guidance or to channel messages from invisible entities if we feel it's appropriate. Patsy puts on a CD of chanting monks and we all stare at each other for ten minutes until Favilla steps up to the plate with a message from Aynjelle's animal guide (an extremely chatty rhinoceros) about needing to make better choices when it comes to bosses and romantic partners. Aynjelle and several other women are crying by the end of the mini reading thanks to the talkative rhino who struck some chords of truth with our group.
Jupiter announces that she has a message from one of her spirit guides about my weight and that I should stop eating so much when I am stressed out. I certainly don't disagree with the assessment, but if we are correlating body weight with planet size, Pluto being the smallest (astrophysicist-types may now begin debate about whether or not Pluto is an actual planet) and Jupiter being the largest, I could perhaps be classified as a smaller, curvier Neptune or a 2XL Earth. As she drones on about my food choices, I feel my face flushing and my heart beginning to pound. Jupiter outweighs me by a buck fifty at least, but somehow feels qualified to lecture me about potato chips and ice cream. The herculean effort it takes to not say what I'm thinking creates a massive headache and a renewed vow to avoid any and all workshops in the future.
*Not their real fake names