Author’s Note

“Laugh as much as you breathe and love as long as you live.”

Many doubts surfaced when writing this book. However, this is a gift to my children, my family and my old and new friends, so I pushed through. I do not expect anything in return for writing about my experience, except perhaps a friendly conversation. While the events contained within are factual, I still had continual doubts of writing a book, especially about spirituality. Moreover, writing a book for my children, family and friends could also be misunderstood, especially in light of the controversial content. Yet, this book should be taken on face value. It is a story. The story is both simple and true. Whatever is a take-away from the story is left to the reader.

As I wrote my story, I realized that there is a plethora of books, YouTube videos, podcasts and articles about Near-Death Experiences (NDEs). Rather than aligning with the NDE movement, I have chosen to often refer to my NDE as ‘the event’ so that I can highlight the fact that the event was not a singular instance, but an ongoing unfolding of events – a multiverse, for the lack of a better term. An occurrence added depth and a rich color to my once sepia-toned life. The multifaceted nature of the event is something that we each share, even if our memory and recollection for similar life-altering occurrences has become weak. I hope the story also enriches your view of life as well.

If you had asked me prior to the event if I would write a book about spirituality in the  future, I would reply that I could glue together snippets and re-interpreted parts about what I’ve learned throughout life about God, the spirit, and the hereafter  in a work that would reasonably approximate a  sixth-grade book report. No insult to smart sixth-graders either. The report would be a mental reflection of what I have read and assimilated, from the many writings of the Bible, Koran, and Buddhism. It would be written using content from heady intellect, and not the emotion of a vibrant heart. Critics of the report might kindly state that it was written to be reasonably useful as a brief compendium of new-ageism. I hurl at that notion. The event was never reasonable. It fell outside of everything logical and reasonable. However, here I am to report the unreasonable nature of the event to you.

It truly is without reason. The event gave me a peek into the many realms that exist and the collapsing of time into a myriad of the multi-dimensional landscape that exists, continually, for each of us. This multi-dimensionality is referred to by the suggestion of string theory and quantum theory. However, I will not be expanding on any heady or theoretical concepts, theories, or conjecture in this short book. I do not have the time nor, certainly, the depth of knowledge of physics to provide any reasonable discussion on these theories. I will not bore you.

Instead, I chose to write about one profound life, pulled from one of many threads, that I participated in during the event. During the extracted life, I was gifted four lessons that I will share with you. As I started to write the story, I thought – in school, you are given the lessons first, and then are given the test. In life, you are given the test first. The lessons then follow. Through this story, you will see that I was first given a large test of faith. The lessons soon followed.

I had ongoing doubts about what I could achieve in a book on spirituality. I was the quintessential left-brain American male. Logic ruled over emotions. When people would say something like “I feel that this is just not right…,” the use of emotion to overrule logic did not compute. As a left-brain logical thinker, I naturally fell into occupations that supported my thinking. I entered into the Information Technology (IT) career field. IT made sense to me. This does not. Events since the event turned my “left-brain-first” paradigm, literally, on its head.

Having a heart attack was confusing. It was excruciatingly painful. Terrifying. Somewhere in the midst of the terror, pain and confusion, I passed out. I slipped into an altered state of inexplicable heightened awareness. The event turned out to be a dynamic and seismic shift in my perspective about what life is. This life, the one that we share, is a selected instance in a multifaceted tunnel of options.

I have done quite a bit of reading on other Near Death Experiences (NDEs) since my event and the best way to describe what occurred for me was that I saw a landscape of all of the possibilities (events) and choices that we are given in each of our lifetimes. Each critical choice or event that we face can alter life’s course. For example, if I made the choice to marry one person in contrast to another, my life’s trajectory would have been uniquely different. The movie entitled “Sliding Doors” with Gwyneth Paltrow (1998) epitomizes one small event that of Helen Quilley who is terminated from her public relations job. As she leaves the office, she drops and earring in an elevator. When she rushes for the train in London’s Underground, the plot of the story splits into two stories: one where she makes the train and the second story where she misses the train. The event of missing or not missing the train creates two distinct stories. Each story has very different outcomes.

In each of our lives, we each have many key decision points that define a unique life-trajectory. This multifaceted flower of possibilities became starkly present in my NDE. During my time in the NDE altered state, I was able to relive a few decisions that I made and even the alternative paths that I did not make. This story is about one of the alternate paths and the resulting story that unfolded.

I returned to this life as abruptly as I had left. I hesitated on my return. The afterlife has left me continually sensing this world, as I never have before. I share one of the many realities that I became aware of after the event with you in this small book. In this particular reality, I embarked on an unexpected journey where I received four lessons. The messages were audible, concise, and each left me questioning and wanting more. The messages were given to me from varied locations around Northern Arizona. With heightened clarity, I was compelled to write each in my journal – word for word.

There are many facets to my journey beyond. This book is a mere sliver in a broad plank of spirituality that we each share. To this, I have used my writer’s prerogative to narrow and keep the storyline interestingly memorable in this book. At the same time, each lesson and the event are real and true to form. The lessons gave me a new perspective, as I hope they do for you. The life that I now live comes from a place of continual gratitude, happiness, and joy.

In summary, we each have the power to bring joy to our lives. This is without exception. We are responsible for uncovering as much happiness as we can muster for ourselves. No one else is responsible for our happiness. Profound happiness is a forgotten state of being that we have the opportunity to reinvigorate. Joy can intentionally surface in the stream of life. Individual and abundant joy can have a profound impact on the lives of others too. It is my hope that this humble book will leave you feeling inspired to seek happiness and joy.

Happiness can abound in your life. Think research and write about what each lesson means to you. Compare and contrast. Think about how you can offer another lever to help spring forth your happiness and happiness in others. When your happiness is ultimately found, do not hesitate to spread the word of joy. Please feel free to share these lessons with your children, friends, family, spiritual and community groups, if you wish. It is my prayer that you bask in a continuous stream of unending joy.

Thank you!

Ron

Introduction

Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.  Mahatma Gandhi

Happiness is a butterfly, which when pursued, is always just beyond your grasp, but which, if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you.  Nathaniel Hawthorne

I am determined to be cheerful and happy in whatever situation I may find myself. For I have learned that the greater part of our misery or unhappiness is determined not by our circumstance but by our disposition.  Martha Washington

Our greatest happiness does not depend on the condition of life in which chance has placed us, but is always the result of a good conscience, good health, occupation, and freedom in all just pursuits.  Thomas Jefferson

The Navajos, or more correctly the Diné are a great people of knowledge who have lived in North America and in the Southwest for thousands of years. Diné is a culture that deeply honors kinship and spiritual aspects of life. Diné philosophy is about restoring and maintaining balance in life.

As a Westerner, I intimately know about life out of balance. I sought the usual Western values of success and wealth, status and importance in a vague promise that my world would be in balance and harmony. Perspectives change when you stand on the precipice of death and stare into the great void. I have learned true balance is the seed of happiness is cast to the winds, which can bring joy to you individually and joy to all.

I lived in Flagstaff, Arizona and in the great Southwest over the past few decades. Flagstaff is in the northern part of the great state of Arizona. Northern Arizona is simply beautifully rugged terrain. It is a mix of majestic mountains and varied forests of aspen, ponderosa and piñon pine. Flagstaff offers a unique climate, unlike most other parts of Arizona in that you need a warm, snuggly jacket and gloves for winter snow storms that blanket mountains, and shorts for the summer heatwaves pushed up from the desert 7,000 feet below.

Beyond Flagstaff, the northern region stretches away from the ponderosa pine forest, through piñon pine and towards to the stark desert lands. Wide vistas of the mesa lands open upon the desert. As a non-native, I am a visitor to this beautiful region that edges out the four corners area of Arizona, New Mexico, Utah and Colorado. I am an often respectful, and sometimes a clumsy, interloper in the Native American culture. I have adapted some practices that I have grown to understand. I’ve misinterpreted a few others.

The Diné culture supports the individual goal and achievement for a meaningful life-balance. Balance is represented by the four sacred mountains that include Blanca Peak (in Colorado), Mount Taylor (in New Mexico), Hesperus Mountain (also in Colorado) and the San Francisco Peaks (in Flagstaff, Arizona where this story starts). The four sacred mountains signify four directions in life. In reflection of the four sacred directions, the day is segmented into four distinct times – each is represented by a particular direction and a given color.

By close observation, the earth spirit holds the four directions giving rise to the possibility of an individual life in balance that can be achieved. As caretakers of this land, it is our responsibility is to achieve individual balance with the earth. The essence of life – a deep yearning to be happy – can then be realized when life is in balance.

Before my event, I occasionally sampled aspects of spirituality and religion. I was a part-time spiritual explorer. I sought answers to scattered questions of life. Often, messages that we receive from parents and peers can have a negative impact and often corrupt the pure view that we held as young children. By the time many of us reach our early twenties, often we are jaded by skepticism. Our ability to live fully a life rich with love and compassion is often tarnished.

The event evolved to an opportunity to investigate the messages that I received and their deeper meanings. The event took on a state distinct from this world, which seemed clearer than this dreamlike world that we live in. The messages spoke to the pervasiveness of love in the now and the hereafter. They spoke to the spiritual aspects of who each of us are in the world, our balance with the spirit of nature and what it means to be truly human. Balance is the essence of happiness.

The event gave me a stark blessing for focus. We are in the here and now of a multifaceted thread of life stories. The focus on this “here and now” was achieved in a dreamlike state of absence from this world. I received assurance and evidence that we do not ever walk alone in this life. We also do not die. We only transition. We can relax into the truth of being eternal. This life is a mere shadow of the spirit world. This life can be viewed as a dream and the life hereafter as the real world that we get to transition to.

I was also gifted a guide. I was, unknowingly, introduced to her early on in this journey. In the ebb and flow of my jaunt around northern Arizona, she supported me in my existential search. After the event, I did not understand the messages received prior to the life-threatening event. I even questioned my sanity. However, I still wrote down each and every word of the four messages received.

Doubts of my sanity vanquished on the night of my heart attack. My spirit guide was there as I re-awoke to this world. She supported me. I understood what my spirit guide was talking about in the four messages. The essence of life is to live in gratitude and to share happiness. Further, in the day-to-day living, we can map out directions that provide us with opportunities to uniquely contribute to our family, our community, and to direct our thankfulness and gratitude for living in this moment in time.

By observing patterns in our day and the beliefs that we anchor to, we can examine our own nature. In the examination, we have the opportunity to re-balance our lives. Using the four essential directions, we can to meter our life in harmony with the spirit of Mother Nature and Father Sky.

In this book, I will share the four messages that I received. The messages are a roadmap to balance. A process to support balance and happiness is discussed too. Each message is offered to you as a possibility to expand in the warm light of ongoing love. Love is the nectar of life and our ultimate goal. Your level of happiness will be enhanced by practice, patience, and self-love noted in the messages.

It is my sincere prayer that you will find this book to be an offering to you. This gift can provide a direction and a path to return to your original and authentic self and show the way to be in balance. Our happiness is a choice that we can regain and that we do ultimately control. Look to nature, the land, the sky and seek out happiness and joy. Your intention will guide you!

Chapter 1: The Opening

Path to Perniciousness

There is no mystic secret

It is the betrayal of the stars

And the sun that rests over the mountain

Shows only phases of the aging moon

 

We are barefoot on the path of perniciousness

Uneven footing on rutted brown earth

Sweet whiskey of your soiled lips

Are memories as I lay down on the floor

 

Last night in the dimly lit bar room

Away from the January noon so long ago

You became unearthly bound

Beyond the stars and stratosphere

 

I swear at the lies his injustice

Of drying marrow to the bone

I seek to set fire to this truth

Of infinite lies stretching with smiling stillness

 

For the seekers. From a reformed doubter. On the strength of memories and nothing more, I recall that I lived as a gatherer. I collect the mystery of life to share with you and others. From the very beginning, I forgot that I have always had memories to share. A strong recollection for this one story now leaves my lips. This story is for you, the traveler. These words will leave a unique taste, not unlike a grain of salt on the tip of your tongue. A careful shaman harvests the essential truths that arise like smoke in the moonlit sky. We each are shaman.

To look in the direction of smoke rising from embers is to ultimately understand and know. Each twist of smoke rising is another strand of a story woven into the fabric of this dream. In the strength of dreams, hope is like tufts of yawing grass that arise in the warm spring sun.

Here, near the San Francisco Peaks, the great mystery reaches its stretched fingers, like the bright sun that slowly inches through the sleepy forest in the cool spring morning time. I walk far away from the county roads that gouge the face of this ponderosa forest in Northern Arizona. This is where the dream of hope begins.

In the afternoon of March 18, 2016, I look from the computer screen out the window at a late-winter storm. Typical weather for the southern part of the Rockies. Tender starter flakes toss about on gusty winds. Twenty-eight degrees by the thermometer nailed on the outside wall, just beyond the frost glazed on the window. This was the start of my journey and the messages.

The cell phone rings. On the screen, I see Tamera is calling. She is the sister of my best friend Shane. I have known him for 30 years and Tamera a few months less than that. Tamera moved to Silver City, New Mexico soon after Shane introduced us.

I visited Silver City three times. I tagged along with Shane in hopes of getting to know Tamera a bit more. Silver City nestles in the high desert and is bound by rolling hills of yellow bluestem grass and scattered puffs of juniper and alligator pine. The crumbling mining town of Silver City once hosted brothels, bloody saloons and clandestine opium dens in the 1850s. Past residents of the town include Billy the Kid and Madame Mille.

I am an average-looking guy, about a 5 or 6 on the thigh-trembling Richter scale of 10. Tamera, even after these years, is tapping a 9.5. Me, a headful of greying mud-brown hair, in my mid50 with greenish eyes, a bit too long of a nose and a furrowed brow from squinting years at the computer screen examining programming code.

After I first met her, I called her on occasion. I stepped on my tongue far too often, probably made a bit of a fool of myself. I am sure she was transitionally flattered. Nevertheless, a person cannot live with someone pitying them, so I soon put her on a shelf. Yet, from the day that I met her, I had closely mapped her.

I looked at the time on my computer screen — 2:35 on Tuesday afternoon. Close enough to wind down and think about Mother Road brewery.

Putting on my flirt voice, I said in the deepest and most sultry tone I could muster, “Hey Tamera. How are you doing?”

Sobs came out of the speaker. Jesus, something is up. I lambasted myself under my breath, “Don’t be such a douchebag.”

“Tamera?” I was honestly concerned.

“It’s… it’s  …” she was crying.

“Tamera. Take a deep breath. Calm…calm…” I made a breathing sound into the phone to mimic the slowing of her breath. I waited a few moments. I hear her choking gasps of air. “Now, tell me slowly…. Tell me what happened.” I waited. I learned the technique of holding for a response from my mental health therapist when I went into marriage counseling after my first divorce. My therapist liked to ask one-line questions. I would describe an important event in detail and she would simply respond, “Stan, how does that make you feel?”

I wanted to respond, “How the fuck do you think it makes me feel?” However, I always held off. She would wait for my response. And wait. And wait – some more. Until I replied. Almost as if her waiting was the wick that would sop up the spilled mess, I made of my life.

I heard Tamera sharply inhale again. She blurted out, “Shane is dead. He got hit by a train.” She bawls.

“What?” I burst out. My mind raced. I hoped for a quick retort. Maybe a stupid joke. However, nothing followed. Only sobs from the other end of the line. There’s a few dozen vehicles hit by the BNSF train each year in Flagstaff. His car probably stalled on the tracks.

She carefully restated. “He’s dead.” She wailed.

My response softened. “Oh my god.” I covered my mouth after blurting out. I paused and listened. Tamera sobbed. Seeking clarification, “Did the train hit his car?”

“No… no… it hit Shane. He was walking Pepper … down by the tracks.” I could hear her reaching to catch a full breath.

“Oh god,” I softly responded. Pepper was Shane’s German Shepard mix that he picked up some seven years’ prior. Shane arrived at our office cradling the little ball of fur. He purchased Pepper for a few dollars from a couple of girls who had a cardboard box full of scrambling puppies outside the Safeway.

I sat straight in the chair. I gathered my thoughts. Reassuringly, I said, “Tamera, I’ll head down to the Police Department now. I will find out what I can. Also, I’ll see where Pepper is.”

“Thanks.” Tamera choked.

“I’m so, so sorry. I’ll call soon.” I waited for a response but heard soft sobs. “My love to you and Shane.” I touched the red disconnect button. I held the cell phone against my chest. I stared out the window at snow whisking by. I welled up and sobbed. I reached to make sense of a world without him. I had not bawled so hard since I lost my father several years back. Shane was not only my business partner, he was my friend.

The Flagstaff Police Department provided me with perfunctory information. Scripted and stoic. I was not Shane’s relative, by blood. I was able to retrieve Pepper from the pound. He offered me a friendly face. And a wet tongue. A flood of memories with Shane, too. I hugged Pepper and held on for a while. He did not mind. After returning to the house with Pepper, I called Tamera. We cried. We consoled.

Exhaustion that evening. It felt like a big hole carved in my chest. I was enveloped in a dark tunnel of grief. At the funeral midweek, my spirit seemed out of place from of my physical body. I was an outside observer to the surrealistic stage when you lose someone. I did not want to engage with anyone. Nights seemed lonelier. Darkness seems to scratch at the existing sting from a deep loss. I wrestled the bed to conquer sleeplessness. Worn to the bone, tossing and turning, I ached to sleep.

Pepper had difficulty sleeping too. He paced every ten minutes. His nails tapped the wood floors. He walked in circles from wall to wall to wall. He occasionally halted and sniffed the air. Was he searching for Shane? Every ten minutes, his silhouette settled into the blanket I tucked in the corner for him. Could we be sharing the same gaping hole of loss? Does he remember Shane strewn on the tracks?

Shane was a spiritual mash-up. He was a creative blend of technology and art. A gearhead with hands stained of paint. A soul of beautiful love. Once a purveyor of wild women and song,  he mellowed over time and angled away from the partying scene, but always kept his paints close. He was also a creative technocrat. Lately, he grew uninspired by his computer-programming job. It became a means to pay bills and the source of funding to erect his art studio. He had planned to dump the programming gig soon, but this future would never come.

That week, memories wrestled with sleep. When a few minutes eked in for slumber, disturbing dreams startled me to attention. We went to college together. Later, we raised hell in Flagstaff. Over thirty years, we spent time together as friends and co-workers. It was a long sail together.

Seven days after the accident, I finally fell into a luscious sleep. An intense dream unfolded. My soul seemed to arise away from my body, as my carcass lay prone. My soul lifted through the rafters and beyond the roof. Far above the clear city below. I could see car headlights snake through the streets downtown. I hung mid-air for hours. I was the outside observer passing time.

From a distance, sunrise lifted the dark shroud of night. The rising sun slowly sliced through starry-black curtain of night. The San Francisco Peaks glowed in the early morning light. The sun fingered through the land. Vast open spaces of ponderosa seemed to come alive. The sun reached further into the native Hopi and Navajo lands. A breeze soon lifted around me. A soft message whispered to me, “You must go beyond. You must go beyond.” It repeated several times.

My spirit gently returned to the room. I awoke. The walls, floor and ceiling seemed to glow. The world was translucent. Moreover, the message of the dream remained. “You must go…” I looked to the clock on the shelf. It read 8:02 a.m. I slept for six hours without interruption. Given the intensity of the dream, that night may have well been a year. Time is relative. It is not measured linearly.

Pepper did not pace, either. Soon, he began to stir as I focused. I reengaged with my reality. The mysterious hidden curtain between here and the spirit world beyond was slightly pulled opened that night.  It was in that moment that I knew I was bound for the road.

Chapter 2: The Whisper

Do you hear my whisper?

What does the wind whisper to you?
Listen to the song of the manzanita tree and the desert holly,
As we step down this trail,
Towards the late afternoon spring.

There is a lifting up, of an accord to heaven,
On this wash of red sandstone and hematite;
A distant drumming, together of our heartbeats,
One pulse as we walk along the mesa’s edge.

I catch a glimpse into your eyes,
As the peering sun squints between feathered clouds;
On canyon walls, I hear a subtle song reflected,
From a past long shared, in a distant foreign land.

The whisper of times spent wrapped together,
In a blanket near the fire, on a brisk winter’s evening;

And of moments that we danced slowly together,

In the soft hush of the spring morn.

You searched for me in rainbows that color the sky,
You watched for me in the thousand winds that blew,
You met me in diamond glints in the snow;
When you thought, I was gone.

Turn my way and know;
That I am here, and have always been,
With you.

Do you hear the whisper?

Day One. There is no shame in being a broken man. Loss fractures time. Shane fractured me. In being shattered, new hope can arise, given time and care. The clouds from yesterday’s storm have now begun to clear. Sunrays bounce off a crisp three-inch layer of fresh powder snow.

I am silhouetted against the bright blue sky. I stand in awe of the great mountain. Moments pulse in this holy place of the Navajo and Hopi. Northern Arizona is a place of crisp winter mornings, painted orange summer sunsets and soft evening autumn breezes. Gentle melodies rise from waves of purple three-awn and tufted green hair-grass. This is a place where spirit roams between the red sandstone and hematite canyon walls. Love nestles in these mountains. Stances of aspen stretch far towards vistas of rusty mesas. Time waves away. Rhythmic tics pace to an unfolding journey of truths.

I headed out along with Pepper, my new companion, in my patched-together robin blue 1982 VW minivan. Flagstaff and the San Francisco Peaks were now in the rearview mirror. I proceeded east on I-40. The elevation dropped from 7,000 feet to 4,000 feet in a matter of several miles. The tall ponderosa pines gave way to their scrubbier cousins, the juniper pine. Fields of juniper yielded to the brown-red sand of the high desert. I headed towards Winslow. Streaks of light pink on pale blue skies were the canvas for distant mesas. The absence of trees allowed wind to pick up strength. Scattered patches of snow lay on the desert floor. These were the remnants of a heavy evening snowfall in Flagstaff. This was my journey. A journey set to honor my friend. My first destination was the Hubbell Trading post with a later jaunt to Canyon de Chelly.

It was a blustery day. I popped a CD of Michael Hedges into the CD player, a guitar player Shane listened to when he painted. Old VW vans lack ample heating. My knuckles froze around the steering wheel. I looked forward to a hot cup of coffee. No stores, houses, or structures around. Barren land stretched out over the horizon.

At Winona, I turned down Indian Road 15. I pulled over to the side and re-checked my map. Back on the road and through Leupp. Then onward to Greasewood. Later, to Burnside, I made a sharp right on US 191. Forward to the Hubbell Trading Post.

My mantra — to honor all speed signs. Even in my old bus, I could exceed the speed limit in places. The Navajo Police are quick to give tickets — a sure revenue for this still deprived and battered nation. Thoughts jittered on worn roads.

I hastily packed and made a plan earlier that day. –take a few photographs, journal a bit, and pay homage to my dear friend Shane. The air-cooled engine of the VW bus provides a soothing steady rumble. Pepper relaxed into the warm reverberation of the engine.

I arrived at Hubbell in early evening. The corner of U.S. Highway 191 and Indian Road 264 is bleak. A large expanse of lonely desert stippled with dried brush. A silhouette of mountains hid far in the distant vista. The gravel crunched under my boots when I stepped from van. Winds gusted. The chill lifted from the land. Pepper kept to my side as I walked towards the trading post. This is where I first met Ajei.

Hubbell is a large structure built of chiseled red sandstone blocks, unevenly cut. Bars on the window kept the uninvited out. Recently painted windowsills and doorjambs were stark white against the jagged red sandstone.  A loud creak of the rusted screen door hinges announced my entrance. I turned the handle on the heavy entry door. It required a shove with my shoulder. I took a few steps on the uneven floor.

An unattended cashier’s station sat near the front door. Brightly colored Navajo rugs with strong angled patterns lined one wall. Bolted against the opposite wall were several standing bookshelves. A counter lined with several rows of jelly jars shoved against a portion of the third wall. Another counter sat slightly off-center in the room. A hand-painted sign was taped on the front of a counter in the middle of the floor, “Cold Drinks – Water – Coffee.”

I walked to the refreshment counter. “I’d like a hot cup of coffee, please.” The Navajo man behind the counter looked to be in his sixties. His black hair was shoulder length and was pulled tight and held by a white scrunchie. His pockmarked face was leathery. His extra weight sagged on his medium frame. Distracted by my request, he focused on cleaning up the coffee service area.

He turned around from the counter, leaving the small clean-up towel on the counter. He grinned, “Straight-up?” He brushed his hands against his jeans.

“Yeah, that’ll do.” I rubbed my hands together. Although it was much warmer inside than in the van from the old wood burning stove burning in the corner, it was still a bit chilly in the room.

I glanced around the room while the man behind the counter was pouring my coffee into a brown paper cup. The old trading post was well-stocked with Native American items. Some for sale, some for display. Several Navajo rugs hung on the walls– bright colors and intricate designs. Other items stacked on counters and hanging from shelves were the typical tourist crap. I turned back in Navajo man’s direction. “What’s your name?”

“Joe” he smiled. “Figures. I’m an Injun” he grinned even wider and handed me the warm cup of coffee.

I winced and wrapped my cold fingers around the hot paper cup. “How do I get a tour when I get to Canyon de Chelly?”

“Ask an Injun when you get there.” He snickered and turned back. He returned to wiping the counter.

A beautiful Navajo woman sat at a table next to the coffee counter. She wore a thin royal blue blanket draped around her shoulders. The blanket matched the blue and white earrings dangling from the lobes of her ears. The earrings softly touched her smooth desert brown skin. Her raven black hair cascaded far down her back, almost to her waist. There were two small feathers tied to her hair by a thin leather strap on one side. She softly smiled at me. I stepped closer to the table. I could feel her gentle presence. I introduced myself.

“Hi, my name is Ajei,” she replied. Her eyes were a gentle deep brown. I felt a great sense of compassion. She spoke softly and with clarity, “We each have a story to share. Our shared stories give purpose to each person on Mother Earth. The Holy People of our ancestors set knowledge and life activities into four cardinal directions.” I leaned in a bit.

“Your story will be like a sand painting of healing in four directions. The sand painting will provide you with four lessons that the winds will lift to the sky. The lessons are shared by the winds. And …” she paused. In a soft whispered voice, “…and these lessons will be told to you in four messages over this week. It will be your heart that knows.”

“Curious,” I thought. I waited for a moment.  I started to say something, but Ajei continued, “My message to you will follow your four lessons. And by year’s end, you will know to lift the four lessons to the wind and share them with the world.” She softened and looked down in her unfolded palms.

I drew back from her. A chill creeped up my back. I paused. Disturbed, I politely tipped my hat, “Thank you. I must be going now.” I swigged the last drop of coffee, crumpled the paper cup and pitched it into the trashcan. I closed the door behind Pepper and me. That is how the four lessons started.

Chapter 3: The First Message

Bending Light

Early light glints over the horizon,
It is the introduction of a new dawn.
The sun swells and the dark is coaxed away.
The long shadows of the night slowly roll up.

The crisp sun slips its fingers under the chilled Ponderosa pines.
The trees, mountains, and open spaces released from the nightly cloak of darkness.
Each day is another face of God.

I am but a soul made of red clay,
The ground is my spirit that I walk on.
My ancestors moved before me on this path.
They now step silently along in my exile to the forest
Clothed in Aspen and Ponderosa pine in the morning light.

Each day now holds my spirit.
The colors of sun paint the early autumn
Bled yellows, reds, and orange unto the canvas before me.
I carefully set each foot onto the path —

A corridor of gentle dancing shapes of light.
Each day aligns to a course for my journey.

The heart of nature I seek,
The soul of your presence, I long for.
It is here that I may find you,
My companion, my lover,
On this side of the escarpment, where solace is found.

Each day is of the bending light.

Day Two. I awoke slowly from another deep dream. Pepper pressed up against my back. Last night after my prompt exit from Hubbell, I headed north toward Canyon de Chelly. The canyon was only a 40-minute ride away from the trading post. I parked about 150 yards on a rutted path off the paved entry to the park. Once parked, I squeezed to the back of the van onto the small waiting mattress. As I sat hunched over, I kicked off my shoes. I unzipped and snuggled into the sleeping bag. I fell asleep quickly. I do not typically sleep hard, but for a second night in a row, I sank like a stone.

The winds of the prior day had quieted to a breeze by midnight. It was a welcomed and lonely silence. That morning, I stared up at the inside roof of the VW. I thought about the dreams of travel that I had over the past few nights. A dream can be a lonesome friend. It can direct you onto a new path. The traces of a dream can stay with you for the rest of your life. On the other hand, uncaptured, it can vanish without call. Dreams can be a great producer or a seductive liar. Dreams can free you or they can bind.

The early morning sun squinted between the shades. A sliver of pink light peered on the horizon. I could see my breath when I exhaled, but it seemed much warmer than the day prior. I snuggled deep into the warm sleeping bag. Another 20 minutes would be a perfect amount to coast. I closed my eyes.

A voice softly spoke. I startled. “Listen for the quiet whisper of the song or songs of the mountains. You will see it in the four directions. You will feel it in your weary bones in the small hours. This will be your first message.” I pulled the sleeping bag down from my face. I looked around and saw nothing out of the norm. Was someone talking outside? I rolled in my sleeping bag to one side and peered out the louvered blinds. Nothing. I rolled to the other side and pulled into a half-seated position to lift the shade. I saw the edge of the road leading away from where I parked. I rolled on my back. “God… I must be losing my friggin’ mind.”

The voice continued. I froze, stunned. The voice seemed to originate from inside the van as if someone was hovering over me. “I offer a glimpse into the holy lands.” The voice was paced and oddly familiar. It continued, “This quiet path unfolds each and every day, yet mostly goes unnoticed. Some do not even know of its existence. In each morning, pay attention to the lesson of the dawn. The white light will bring you clarity of decisions and the creativity for you to own each day.”

“Who is that?” Concerned. Was I losing it? I waited for an answer.

The voice continued. It was paced, soft, and clear. “Please take note.”

I thought of Ajei and her message from the day before. I did not want to miss the message. I pulled my journal and pen from my backpack and waited. The voice continued, “Lesson one is to focus on purity of your heart and mind in the feminine white light of the East, where the sun rises. In the break of dawn, take particular care for your creativity to flourish. Make excellent decisions, moment by moment, through the creativity of life. The light of the dawn is that which gives direction to your life. Seek happiness in the direction of your life.”

I laid back and read the transcribed message aloud, “Focus on purity of your heart and mind in the feminine white light of the East, where the sun rises. In the break of dawn, take particular care for your creativity to flourish. Make excellent decisions, moment by moment, through the creativity of life. The light of the dawn is that which gives direction to your life. Seek happiness in the direction of your life.”

I waited for a moment. Was there another message? Another sentence? A noise? However, nothing happened. Silence. Just the breathing of a resting dog. I waited. The, I laid back against my pillow and placed the journal on my chest. Was that Ajei’s voice? Was this the first lesson of the four from Ajei? Will I hear another lesson soon? What does this lesson mean? I shifted in my sleeping bag. I was mostly confident that it was not a hallucination. I was clear-headed.

“Okay.” I finally said aloud. “This is weird.” There were no additional sounds that morning. A breeze began to whip up again outside.

That day, I headed into Canyon de Chelly. I thought about the lesson that I received. It became my mantra for the day and through the evening. I headed to my van. Day Two slowly closed in splendid silence. My ashram is the solitary whisper of the gentle breeze and the starkness of this terrain. My heart, a large red and orange splash painted the sky and welcomed the arriving darkness. I said a prayer of thanks for the quiet of the evening and the upcoming early morning sun.

(c) 2018, Ron McFarland, all rights reserved.