Mexico: The Power of Grandmothers
The Story of Kalpulli and Grandmother Hope
The Power of Grandmothers can create and maintain healthy communities - just like this one from Mexico, collected and translated by Tracy Barnett.
Esperanza Moran was not a young woman when she decided to pack up her family, leave the big city and stake out a claim in the wilderness with an assorted band of spiritual seekers. The eldest of her five children was already in college; she had co-founded the first School of Love, a program dedicated to exploring the divine feminine within, and had a lively social life in the upscale Polanco neighborhood of Mexico City. She had long been on her own spiritual path, a member of the Great Fraternal Brotherhood, a network of Eastern-oriented “iniciatical schools” offering a series of disciplines – meditation, vegetarianism, yoga – all with the goal of awakening human consciousness to its divine nature. Her husband, Roberto, was a successful civil engineer; not so taken as his wife by the spiritual path, but he indulged her interests and activities, which led her to travel far and wide.
She was happy – but still, something inside yearned for something different. She’d heard through her networks of Teopantli Kalpulli, the Village of the Sacred Standard – an ashram being founded in the wilds south of Guadalajara by a charismatic teacher from the Great Fraternal Brotherhood named Domingo Dias Porta, and she was intrigued. Not long after, she was there, attending gatherings and helping to organize. There wasn’t much to see – the whole 38-hectare parcel had been deforested and farmed exhaustively, and only two trees – one at each end – provided shade in the hot, dusty summers. Only a couple of small houses offered shelter. There was no electricity or running water; the community piped in its meager water supply through a hose from a spring nearly a mile away.
But there was something there that spoke to her soul. “It was the idea of living in the country, in contact with nature, with other families, forming a community…. I found it fascinating.”
When Esperanza arrived for the first time, the community was still an ashram, organized around a series of disciplines. Together they awoke early each day and began their day with yoga and meditation; together they would cook their vegetarian meals in a communal kitchen; there would be another meditation every afternoon.
“Little by little, these disciplines were changing,” recalled Esperanza. “The community took a turn from a Buddhist current to one that was more indigenist. We began to learn everything related to the traditions of the Americas: Aztec dances, temazcals, vision quests. We began to adopt different elders of tradition, and we started sharing their traditions and lifestyles.”
Every vacation, every chance she got, Esperanza would persuade her family to accompany her to make a pilgrimage to the Teopantli Kalpulli. It wasn’t long before she had persuaded them to buy a parcel for the family; and by 1992, the family made their move and became a permanent part of the community.
The shift from ashram to a center elevating indigenous thought and practice was at that time a controversial one, but one that Esperanza embraced. Realizing that the spiritual traditions of the Americas held as much wisdom and power as those of the East, Dias Porta and others in the community – including Esperanza – began to seek out teachers from the Amazon and the Andes, and from Mexico’s own deep spiritual traditions: the Maya, the Aztec, and Jalisco’s own Wixarika or Huichol people. A Wixarika marakame or spiritual guide named Pablo Taizan came to the community and taught its residents how to mark the seasons and celebrate the Wixarika traditions, and helped the community to build a kalihuey, a Wixarika house of worship.
In 1989 an event occurred in the Kalpulli that became a turning point not only for the community but for a larger community of people who sought to consolidate and disseminate a way of life based on indigenous traditions and spirituality. Led by Raymundo “Tigre” Perez, a medicine man from Texas who had studied for years under the Lakota elder Henry Crow Dog and others, they organized an inter-tribal encounter called Kanto de la Tierra, bringing elders from all over the Americas to pray together for the Mother Earth and humanity, and to share their teachings with more than a thousand people gathered to hear them.
Tigre Perez brought the fire of the temazcal or native sweat lodge ceremony to the Kalpulli and gave the training to authorize a number of people to carry out the sacred medicine ceremony, some of whom continue that tradition today, such as Heriberto Villaseñor, Jorge Quirarte, Rodolfo Gonzalez, and Margarita Nuñez (“Abuela Margarita”), each of whom has gone on to lead groups of their own.
It wasn’t long after that when Esperanza and Roberto made the decision to move their family to the Kalpulli to live, and they began building their home. By 1992 they had moved in.
“It was a drastic change, to leave our world behind and come to live here,” recalled Esperanza. “It was like living on another planet; it was another reality completely.”
Their cosmopolitan lifestyle with all the conveniences was traded for one in the middle of nowhere, where there were only a handful of houses and a couple of trees. City life with its social gatherings was replaced with carrying water and cutting firewood. The excitement, however, was palpable as the little community began to grow.
“It was beautiful to see the consciousness that was awakening,” she recalled. Part of this was in the community itself, and in the people who would come to receive the teachings and participate in the events. Another part was in the change she saw among her own children.
“One of the biggest miracles was to see the transformation of my little ones. It was a paradise for the children, to run free with no worries; to live in the countryside, in contact with nature and with all the other families.” People came to the community from all over the world, to study with the elders and to work the land, and the children felt themselves to be a part of a global community. “Growing up here, the mentality is different,” she observed. “They coexisted with people from the United States, from Peru – German people, French people, English people – they were raised in a multicultural place, as a part of the formation of a new planetary culture.”
That planetary culture took a big leap forward in 1994 with the celebration of the Vision Council – Guardians of the Earth gathering, bringing hundreds of practitioners of that new planetary culture: dreamers and doers, permaculturists and artists, dramatists and musicians, bioconstructionists and activists, creating a utopian ecovillage that shaped the next generation in the tiny community.
Day-to-day life in the village wasn’t easy, however; one of the most difficult challenges for most of the families was finding a way to earn a living, far from the city. Some families developed businesses producing vegetarian foods – yogurt, tofu, breads, soy and gluten products. Others found jobs or started businesses in outlying communities; some worked at the local schools, becoming teachers; and others traveled more than an hour into the city. Others couldn’t find a way and ended up moving back to the city.
Roberto found odd jobs here and there but was never able to consolidate a position as an engineer. The children went off to college as they grew up; only one daughter, Claudia, stayed in the community, becoming a schoolteacher.
“The biggest challenge we faced, and we still face, has been to make a self-sustaining community - to be able to produce a livelihood for all families who live here,” she said.
The community is extremely diverse, with people from all walks of life and different socioeconomic levels and interests, so it’s been hard for people to come together, agree on a joint project and come up with the resources and the follow-through to do it. Also the land was not an easy place to cultivate; eight months out of the year there was no rain, and the soil was depleted. Group plantings were invaded by cows and eaten. So agriculture became an individual project of a few families who were able and interested in cultivating around their own homes; the rest focused on other projects.
One thing that brings them all together, consistently, has been the fire. Every year in the dry season, almost without fail, a wildfire will sweep through the valley to the south and up the canyon that surrounds the Kalpulli. Its residents are instantly mobilized into a firefighting crew; if they wait until the fire truck comes from the city, it will be too late. Whoever happens to be in the village at the time organizes themselves into a bucket brigade and together they fend off the flames until, perhaps an hour or two or three later, the fire trucks finally appear.
“These have been moments of great danger,” said Esperanza, “but also moments of pride, as we see everyone coming together in a spirit of brotherhood to protect the children, and then to protect the patrimony of each and every one of us.”
The community’s relationship with the neighboring village – San Isidro Mazatepec – grew and changed, as well. “The pueblo was very small and rustic when we arrived, with just a few people and shops. They regarded at us with fear – for them we were strange misguided people. With time they began to see that we were bringing them people from other parts of the world, and a great wealth to their people; they benefited from our events, and they began to respect us a great deal.”
One enormous challenge came with the rupture between the community and the Great Fraternal Brotherhood, which came with the increasing tensions between Dias Porta and the leaders of the order. The break from the order and Dias Porta’s eventual departure from the community left the Kalpulli leaderless, and difficult times followed as those left behind struggled to find new ways to carry on.
The central organizing body, and what has helped the community survive through all the hard times, has been the weekly meetings of the assembly. The community is governed by an assembly of all the families, who together meet every Thursday in the Casa de Acuerdos (House of Agreements) to make the decisions about everything from the village well to the planning of events. Most recently, the challenge is to resolve problems with the village well – which was installed in the mid-90s and is now beginning to exceed its limits.
Collective governance among such a diverse group not been easy; Esperanza recalls leaving meetings feeling completely exhausted, hashing out differences for hours. But being obligated to meet once a week and work toward solutions is what has allowed the community to continue.
“We all see ourselves obliged to report to the meeting to work towards the common good, and learning to work together, to have a communal government that includes each member, has been what has kept us alive,” Esperanza said. “There have been great tensions but always we overcome them, and usually we leave the meeting with everyone feeling pleased to have come to an agreement.”
Still, some have been disappointed with the community’s failure to coalesce into a single cohesive unit and to accomplish more collective projects. The dream of becoming self-sufficient and ecologically independent – with an independent energy source, for example, and food production, and a means of livelihood for the inhabitants – has remained elusive. Some have left in frustration and disillusion.
For Esperanza, however, what the community has achieved far outweighs what it has not – both collectively and as individuals.
“I am very proud of what we have created between all of us –that all families have followed their own path and each has done tremendous spiritual work.”
Heriberto Villaseñor went on to become a leader of the group founded by Tigre Perez, which would grow into Raices de la Tierra, a powerful international network of indigenous-based spirituality drawing thousands to its gatherings all over the globe. Jorge Quirarte’s family and Margarita Nuñez developed their own groups utilizing the Lakota-style sweat lodge and vision quest. Nuñez developed fame as “Abuela Margarita” and now travels all over the Americas and Europe to teach and lead ceremonies. Gonzalez took a different path, helping to establish the Promesa al Sol, a group promoting the traditions of the Tarahumara or Rarámuri people of Copper Canyon, which meets every two weeks at the Kalpulli and draws people from all over the world to its biannual four-day Promesa al Sol ceremony.
Meanwhile, the Mariscal family has carried on the traditions of the Wixarika people. The Rios-Cardenas family took a more down-to-earth path, focusing on organic agriculture, permaculture techniques and bioconstruction; two sons became green architects, while another opened a yoga center. And Esperanza, together with Zally Folly, a Brazilian teacher who lived for a time in the community, started a new edition of the School of Love, connecting women and men with the divine feminine and opening branches in 30 cities in Mexico, six cities in the United States and half a dozen in South America.
Esperanza had to step back from organizing for some years as she struggled with her health. But in 2013 she regained her force and started organizing women’s Full Moon Circles, a Council of Grandmothers and then an Elder’s Council. Now she is fully participating in bringing the Kalpulli back to its rightful place as a center for alternative thought. At the time of the writing of this piece, Raices de la Tierra was closing a cycle by returning to the Kalpulli for a 25-year celebration of its origins there with the original Kanto de la Tierra. And now the community’s inhabitants are gearing up for a return of the Vision Council-Guardians of the Earth for a November 2015 gathering that once again will shift reality for hundreds.
Tracy Barnett, http://www.traceybarnett.co.nz