They had long hair, straight and dark against the pure white flowers they wore crowned on their heads and draped around their necks. They wore long, white cotton gowns with red, geometric embroidery running along the edge. A mid-thigh slit on each side created two fabric panels, the front of which lifted as their knees reached high with each step in the procession.
As the women moved they transformed the march into dance. They held chalice-shaped incensors, gracing the spirit-lifting scent of copal into the woods around us, dense with jungle vines, exposed roots like tentacles, and echoing cries from birds and insects.
We continued on, past the two priestesses, through the giant split tree in the path, and up the first of the several thousand steps we would be ascending on our way to El Tepozteco.
The journey up the mountain is known to give its pilgrims purification. The temple at the summit, we were told, resonated a high vibration that can be felt strongly.
But to reach it, the hike alternated between ancient stone staircases and boulders wedged firmly in place after years of use as steps up the steep pathway up.
I later learned we gained about 1200 feet in elevation in just over two miles. The humidity had me drenched in sweat and the physical challenge of the climb was exhausting. I had to stop several times just to get my breath.
A steady trail of Mexican pilgrims descended the rocks wearing smiles and without a hint of fatigue. One woman wore flimsy slip-on shoes and others looked to be in their 80s. As I heaved heavily and begged my legs not to buckle at each vertical step up, I wiped the sweat lines from flowing into my eyes.
I began to feel like I was in a different dimension than the people coming down the mountain.
Maybe I was.
They had made it to the pyramid. They had seen the view. They had basked in their own accomplishment. They knew how far it was to get the bottom. And how far I had left to get to the top.
They had been purified.
Looking at something from finish-line back puts you in a very different place energetically, and it’s the knowledge you gain from this broader view that sets you apart from the rest.
I was surprised to find myself feeling so small, weak, out of shape, incapable. And my youthful, fit, healthy body just made me feel worse about how hard the climb felt.
It’s easy to doubt yourself when you’re faced with the unknown, and even easier when comparing yourself to those who have faced it already; they make it seem so easy.
I pushed on. I told myself, “If they can do it, I can. I’m healthy. I live at high altitude. I’m perfectly capable of this.” Didn’t help.
Even the fact that my mountain born and raised husband was having a hard time, too, didn’t do it.
So I started to see myself in those descending passers-by to my left. I imagined what it would feel like to have been to the top, seen the breathtaking views, soaked up those positive vibes.
I envisioned myself making my way back down this rocky path that clung to the side of this sacred mountain, and in my vision I felt light, satisfied, and clear.
At points the trail seemed a vertical climb. We stopped for breaks and made photos as brief hints of the valley view came into sight between the peaks. We passed by altars of sacred corn stalks and candles.
The stepping stones led us along the edge of the cliff and suddenly a single peak, long and narrow and surrounded by foliage, jutted out like a sculpture. A vulture swung circles high above. The path climbed higher.
Squeezed into a narrow space between two peaks above us was an iron staircase built just slim enough for one person at a time. I held on to the railing and watched my step along the slippery iron beneath my feet, my husband beneath me.
There was a crumbling sound. Rocks. We looked up to see a dozen or so stones, football-sized and smaller, come barreling down off the cliff. They missed us and continued down, clanging against the iron stairway and barely missing the heads of the hikers below us as we called down to them in warning.
We looked at each other and clearly shared the same thought: Maybe this hike was a bad idea. But we stifled our fear and continued on.
And only moments later, we were there. We had made it to the top. A surreal place.
We were told of its positive frequency and when I took the time to be still, and to listen, I felt it resonating within me. I felt strong and confident and capable.
I know that part of what I was feeling was due to the highly charged ground we were walking. This was one of the “Pueblos Magicos de Mexico,” after all. However, I’m willing to bet that had the temple been built at the base of the mountain, I wouldn’t feel it quite like this.
The climb itself is what makes reaching the top so rewarding. With every stumble, falter, and doubt along the way, you are guaranteed equal measure of grace and confidence at the summit.
Take some time to think about what mountain you have been working hard to climb.
What are you working on in your life right now that seems like you’re just struggling through, inching slowing and possibly back-breakingly toward some unknown you?
Maybe it’s big, like dealing with the loss of a loved one.
Maybe it’s not that loud and you need to really listen in to find it.
You could be climbing the mountain that is discovering what you really want in life.
Whatever your mountain trail is for you, I want you to take a look at it from the higher perspective of having reached the sacred pyramid at the top. Look down at the glowing valley below and the layers of mountain peaks beyond.
So, for example, say your biggest dream in life is to have a little homestead farm out in the country. See yourself sitting by the stream that runs through your property, listening to the water flow in rhythm with the bird songs. The breeze rushes through the cottonwood trees and on it comes the sweet scent of lilac. Feel the sun on your skin and hear your chickens hemming and hawing in the background. Maybe your dog barks, or a cat comes round and purrs into your lap as you sip on a tea bowl of jasmine.
Or, maybe you’re an entrepreneur. How’s it going to feel when you break out big and reach your yearly goals in a matter of weeks? What are you gonna do to celebrate? Who’s gonna be there? What will be on the celebration menu? What’s it gonna feel like to know you’re helping more people than you ever imagined possible?
What’s it going to feel like?
Get specific on all the senses. What are you seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, touching?
This exercise may seem small to you, but I promise you, if you go there, and reach with all your senses, and really imagine how you would feel, and you do it not just one time, but regularly, often, you will be paving the way for your life to lead you there.
This is what we do in qigong.
We intend the energy flow. We imagine it. We look for sensation. We listen with all senses to the way we feel.
And one day, out of the blue, we get a true, real life, this-is-happening sense that (whoa!) I’m really doing this energy cultivation thing and I feel great!
We are constantly scaling mountain sides in our journey through life, and there is never a final summit.
My man and I came down those rocky steps with renewed spirits. We were able to fully enjoy the jungle beauty around us on the way down, and besides the “please don’t let a rock hit my skull” nerves while descending the iron staircase, we were full of confidence and fulfillment.
Behind the lines of women and their smokey copal trails, came the men, bare-chested, in white loincloth shorts and thick-strapped leather sandals. Some of them carried long, deep brown feathers. Leading the men was a drummer, flanked by two others carrying the wooden drum, cylindrical like a log, carved with aztec symbols. He struck a continuous rhythm with two solid sticks. The men at the front wore headdresses with wide bands at the forehead and feathers fanning out like a halo.
Directly after the aztec priestesses and priests came those of the Catholic church, men in hooded black cloaks, holding flags of the church skewered on long wooden poles.
The procession pushed onward through the artistically cobbled streets of Tepoztlan, and every so often one of the men shot off a firecracker rocket, booming like a shot cracking the air, as if to clear the way.
Reto al Tepozteco is an annual reenactment of the “challenge to Tepozteco.” Somewhere I read it is the story of how the mountain told the people to become Catholic.
That’s not what the mountain told me.
The mountain told me to keep going, and step by step, it would help me become more and more Me.
Thank you from my heart.