We stand in a circle beneath the stars in Mexico. The blazing sun has given way to an enchanting night, as if darkness has been stretched over the sky and all the stars are pinpricks, admitting the light back in from so far away.
Some say the Mayan calendar predicts the world will end as we know it on December 21, 2012. So I’m getting in some holiday time while I can, going on a spiritual quest that takes me to the Mayan community of Das Palmas.
Here, in the jungle of the Mayan Riviera south of Cancun, I have my face turned upwards with a handful of seekers from the Netherlands, Germany, Canada and Mexico. Each of us holds a conch shell to our pursed lips. If you blow into it the right way, you get a raised trumpet sound—a clear clarion call. When I blow, it emits a kind of stuttering flatulence that startles even the bats, which dart for cover.
I have jetted more than 4,000 km to blow into the business end of a dead sea snail so I can connect with my innermost being, which tends to be wayward and, for all I know, missed the flight. It is a cry for help.
We are visitors with Dos Palmas Ecotours and have gathered to experience a cleansing ritual led by a Mayan shaman. My collection of worry-stained thoughts has piled up in the attic, so to speak, in a way that would frighten even the producers of the television show Hoarders. (“Step back, you can’t take that one, I’ve had it since I was five!”) So I am in need of a good psychic scrubbing.
This ancient purification ceremony features a temazcal—an igloo-like stone sweat lodge that priests and kings once used to be reborn as warriors. We begin with the conch shells and then scream to the sky, so that we may find our true inner voices. The others howl heavenward. My scream, however, is Canadian: more of a polite inquiry as to whether my soul is anywhere nearby and, if not, is an appointment possible? I get no definitive answer.
I tag along with the other post-screamers to an area where the shaman presides. He wears a loose white-cotton long-sleeve shirt and matching drawstring pants, with a visage of beguiling serenity. It is a good, pre-apocalyptic look, something I consider taking home, though he has no shoes. I am going to have trouble making that work for me during February in Calgary, when I’m knee-deep in snow with a shovel—especially the serene bit.
Inside the temazcal, we all wear bathing suits. The shaman’s assistant shovels hot rocks onto the fire at its centre. As it gets hotter, we sit and sweat and close our eyes to look inward. I can hear the rasp of the shaman as he moves heat with a palm frond. When I squint, he looks like a blackbird with one wing beating, again and again.
He encourages us to shout out any darkness that is inside us. My face is beet red from the heat, but I’m sure I shout loud enough this time to appear ghostly white. My mind glows like an ember and I feel a shift inside that’s hard to describe, like falling into place.
At the ceremony’s end, I crawl backwards out of the tem- azcal on my hands and knees. I feel somehow less troubled, though maybe I’m just light-headed. When I ask the shaman about the 2012 prophecy and what it means, he shrugs. He’s never heard of it.
Maybe that’s what I’ve come so far to learn. At the end of all our journeys, even as the world allegedly spins towards its end, there are no definitive answers. There are, however, good meals and drink and newfound friends. I stride from the temazcal toward dinner with the others and my innermost being, who, I learned in my quest, has been a stowaway all along. He’s still a bit cranky, though, and refuses to return as baggage.
We’ll work it out.