Hiking deep in a canyon in my home state of Arizona last year, I had a chance encounter with a timeless creature …a wild stallion. This steed and his herd run free on Indian land and have never been ridden or domesticated. The lead stallion came forward from the pack to inspect me. He was curious and innocent in a very child-like way, yet majestic and totally sovereign. We stood, felt, enjoyed, and marveled in each other’s being for an eternal moment. I pulsated with the wild, explosive, yet soft energy that emanated from his core. I glowed and quivered in this vibration for the rest of the day.

That night the spirit of the stallion came to me in an awake vision. He spoke to me gently,brotherly…not in words, but in a direct capsule, heart to heart:

For a longtime, you humans have been using techniques and processes to try to free yourselves from artificial structures and constraints to get back to a more relaxed, happy, natural state …with your own being and with each other. This approach has worked only to a degree. This is because the very way you have been going about it-studied, linear, logical-has inhibited, and in the end prevented, the very goal you seek — free-flowing, natural aliveness. The only way to recapture the fire that you have lost is to re-connect with it directly. Technical and methodical approaches will not cut through the ancient layers of deadness and fear that now surround your every breath and movement. Only by again touching original essence, core life force, infinite spirit, the alchemical cauldron of life, will you have enough power to burn your way to freedom and real vitality. Re-discover the fire in your belly, the primal excitement that is life itself. Nurture it as you would a pilot light, as if it meant the very survival of your soul, which in fact, it does. Put your attention there and only there …not only in order to heal, not only in order to transform, but just simply because that is the prime directive, because that is what your heart longs to do…because that is where life itself resides. In this way, you will begin to live again, and to become what each of you actually are, an energy, a vibration, a star.

I recalled Carlos Castaneda’s Don Juan speaking about a man whose “spirit is broken,” just as a horse is domesticated by “breaking its spirit.” As I read this, a realization dawned on me like the sun piercing through an early morning fog: “That’s it. My spirit was broken. That’s what happened!” I was so emotionally shaken by these words that I spontaneously went back to the very moment in my life when my “spirit was broken,” when I resigned myself to following outside authority, accepting others’ boundaries, and “adapting to the real world.” I had never realized it before, but there was one exact moment when I was a teenager in my hometown, when I completely gave up on myself, on the excitement I knew life was about, on life itself. Since then, I had not felt deep, total aliveness. In fact, I buried it so well that I forgot it ever existed.

I carried a deep sadness for days and eventually broke down, crying out: “How could I have done this? How could I have lost touch with myself and my connection to everyone else? How can I get it back?” For weeks I prayed that I would find a way back to the core vitality that I once was.

One evening as I laid on a beach in Hawaii, the answer to my longing finally came. This night I was particularly open, or perhaps more accurately, I was desperate. I realized that after a lifetime of thinking I knew what life and other people were about, I really didn’t have a clue. What I did know for sure was that I had to do something different. I had to look somewhere new, fresh. I collapsed in a state of philosophical and spiritual exhaustion. As I finally gave up all hope, I relaxed in relief. I surrendered what was left of my beliefs to the sound of the rhythmic waves lapping on the sand. Gently, tenderly, I was gathered into the arms of the earth. I was held child-like by life itself. Each breath of wind spoke to me of the love that was my essence. The only word I know that comes close to describing this ecstatic state is grace.

While in this space, which felt entirely natural and familiar, I found myself very willing to feel any emotion or thought that spiraled into my awareness. I spontaneously felt the brutal clarity spoken by the wild stallion and the sad reality of how cold and dead my heart and personal interactions had become. As I embraced the grief and anger of losing my spirit, I felt warmth and energy come back into my being. As I felt my way through my past, old confusions lifted, ancient terror melted, and the horror of separation dissolved. I felt my passion return. By consciously going back to when! shut the door to my essence, I had cleared the path to retrieve my spirit. I re-connected myself to the energy of my own eternal being, to the fire of being really alive. I felt whole and complete for the first time in my life. Now I can offer a strong, vital, real person to my friends, family, and the world. And I can enjoy the growth and aliveness of others, rather than feel threatened by it. Finally, with this new solid sense of my own self, I can authentically celebrate the expansion and evolvement of myself and the people! love.

This is why we gather now: to open back into life. In a space of grace and true understanding, free from unconscious judgment, we are exploring and experimenting with being intuitively open and real with each other and ourselves.

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Keith Varnum has expressed his approach to personal dynamics as a film maker, acupuncturist, therapist, vice-president of a natural foods company, owner and chef of two gourmet restaurants, and now presents nationally the workshop, The Dream — a Gathering of Equals.

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