Sacred Peace Walk: A Desert Experience
by T. Thorn Coyle
Freedom is hard to bear. It can be objected that I am speaking of political freedom in spiritual terms, but the political institutions of any nation are always menaced and are ultimately controlled by the spiritual state of that nation… Privately, we cannot stand our lives and dare not examine them; domestically, we take no responsibility for (and no pride in) what goes on in our country; and internationally, for many millions of people, we are an unmitigated disaster. "
- James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time
Thursday night we sang and prayed to Sekhmet to give us the fire of courage to face the wars we carry inside ourselves, to connect with the fire in the Earth and the stars, and the fire in our own blood, in our hearts and minds, that would enable us to face the fires of war that have so ravaged this desert. The mighty black statue of Sekhmet faced the direction of the Nevada Test Site, and the temple itself is situated three miles from Creech Air Force Base and eight miles from two prisons. Prophet James Baldwin is right: as long as there is war inside me, there will be war on Earth. As long as I build prisons in my soul, humanity will imprison itself.
Friday morning we walked the three miles from the Sekhmet’s Temple to the "Home of the Hunters."
Planes glided silently overhead as we walked the Stations of the Cross outside the long fence. Soldiers patrolled in a big truck nearby, following our movements.
The desert sun was hot, but thankfully for this hour or so, the winds were still. As I looked up into the sky, I could not help but notice that the Predator looked remarkably like a wasp, reminding me of my sacred encounter the week before. But this was a wasp for which I did not want to find another home. This was a silent, unmanned, death-dealing wasp who — along with its larger cousin, the Reaper who also made test runs overhead — would not only do surveillance, but carry missiles and bombs over Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq. Although designed to save US military personnel and to more accurately assess targets, 32% of those they kill are still civilians, and of course, sometimes mistakes are made.
Later that afternoon, we held vigil outside the base. Part of the time, I sat on the ground in meditation while anchoring a large banner that fought with the returned wind. As I opened my aura out to hold the desert, I could not help but feel that we all must hold each other, as best we can, whether UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle, or "drone") operators, the county Sheriff, the counter-protestors, or the yucca and cholla that dotted the landscape. As military personnel drove off the base toward home, some ignored us, some few flashed peace signs, and one held up his book on Che Guevara.
UAV operators in Nevada and California are killing people across the world, as we speak. They watch the videos implanted in the gliders and watch, in graphic close-ups yet from great distance, as people are blasted into small components of humanity. This also shatters the enlisted men and women, as we can well imagine.
The Military Times reports:
"The Air National Guardsmen who operate Predator drones over Iraq via remote control, launching deadly missile attacks from the safety of Southern California 7000 miles away, are suffering some of the same psychological stresses as their comrades on the battlefield. Working in air-conditioned trailers, Predator pilots observe the field of battle through a bank of video screens and kill enemy fighters with a few computer keystrokes. Then, after their shifts are over, they get to drive home and sleep in their own beds. But that whiplash transition is taking a toll on some of them mentally, and so is the way the unmanned aircraft’s cameras enable them to see people getting killed in high-resolution detail, some officers say."
What are we doing here, with these wars? We are damaging ourselves, our souls, and the Earth. We no longer even have the satisfaction of grappling with another human, hand to hand. We are dealing out death at a distance, and slowly dying inside. Freedom is hard to bear. But so is war. So is our enslavement and inner blindness. How shall we waken to the light that dawns over the desert so beautifully? If life and death are sacred, what is our role in these wars being fought via real-time video games? We try to distance ourselves from the cycles of the Earth, but in the long run, this simply is not possible.
As General Stanley McChrystal wrote in his report to President Obama regarding the war in Afghanistan:
"Pre-occupied with protection of our own forces, we have operated in a manner that distances us – physically and psychologically – from the people we seek to protect… The insurgents cannot defeat us militarily; but we can defeat ourselves."
And so we keep walking in the desert, beneath the unforgiving sun and scouring wind.
* * *
It is the religious belief of the Western Shoshone that the Earth is most sacred. This includes everything in it, upon it, and above it.
As soon as I stepped across the line onto the Nevada Nuclear Test Site, I began to weep…
Saturday, we walked 15 miles on asphalt, feet and knees screaming. By the final few miles, my muscles were beginning to seize up. I breathed deeply, realigned, and extended my spine to the sky. It helped. During each day of the walk, many flashed peace signs at us, many ignored us, and some gave the one-fingered greeting. Truckers blew their horns and bikers raised arms in salutation. We battled banners in the winds when they came. During still times, I opened my blue parasol that read "Love, Not Fear". We walked the desert highway, next to glimmering rocks and cacti, whether we were 18 years old or 80. The desert gifted me with a black rock bisected by a ascending white stripe that looked like it was heading off into the distance. The road I walked gave me back a little drawing of a road to take in memento vivere.
Western Shoshone Chief Johnnie Bobb and his family greeted us with the Shoshone flag, burning sage, drumming, and singing as we limped on up to the peace camp where dinner cooked by local volunteers would soon be ready. I felt grateful to be there, to give some small witness to the Western Shoshone – whose land, despite the Ruby Valley Treaty, has been used to stoke the fires of war – and to the land itself, to the tiny red and purple flowers, to the yucca, cholla, and nopal.
We live in times of war and preparation for war. This has affected our minds. We live in times of torture and training for torture. This has affected our hearts. We live in times when the assassination of those who feel threatening to us – whether US citizens or "foreigners" – is acceptable to the governing body of a nation, and to the president who promised hope and change. This has affected our souls. We are awash in the needless shedding of blood and the tears of mothers, fathers, lovers, and children. We are complicit with systems that tear us from each other, that distance us from breath and skin and love, that tell us we are not of the Earth, and can degrade the fertile body of this planet, and can degrade even the space between the stars.
We are crying from the wounding of this body, of our body. And it is not going to get better any time soon.
Sunday morning, I rose at 4:30 after another night spent at the Goddess Temple. Others had camped out on Shoshone land, braving the harsh wind and cold. I awoke during the night and sent some energy of calming to the sky, thinking of small tents buffeted with little shelter from the land itself. The outdoor sleepers said the wind stilled itself after noon, giving rest and respite for awhile. We made our way back, to join the others around a small fire, while Johnnie Bobb sang for fire and water and for his father, the Sun. We danced and danced together, circling around those flames, feet stepping to the heartbeat of his drum. Later, mass was said, and reconnection made to the sacred in that way. We are of Earth. We are of community. We are in communion. But we have to remember. We have to keep drawing ourselves back.
Children of the Earth, it is time to heed the calling of your heart. It is time to listen to the roaring in your soul. It is time to take up the task of your desire. As visionary Deena Metzger once wrote: "There is no time not to love." Can we set aside our fear and hatred of each other? Can we dance the dance of heartbreak and the longing for deep peace?
After Easter Mass — the mass of resurrection in which Father Steve spoke of Jesus crawling, bruised and battered, from his tomb — we were led again by the Shoshone to the gates of the bomb beleaguered land. We carried our banners and our prayers. We carried our resolve and our longing. Some began to wail at the white line that marks the boundary between one world and another, between the place where we could stand and the place where we could not. People began wailing and crying. The drumbeat started and I had to cross. I had to stand upon that land and offer what healing I could muster. I had to walk upon the stones and sand of ancient seabed where I had not stood for a decade of years.
As soon as I stepped across that line, I began weeping. The land rose up and met my feet, surrounding me with recognition: I had come. I had come. I had come.
Once I was arrested and inside the holding pen, I hung a string of paper cranes to fly in the harsh wind, and then walked as far as I could and looked out upon the desert, sending wings of energy and light up into sky and down to Earth. Spreading these wings, I let healing roll out from me. The land drank. I could do little, but as we always do, I did my best with what I had. The wind held my body upright, I moved with it, as though riding on the ocean, or dancing with a firm and strong beloved wrapped around my back. I was home… for I was with my Mother, who is everywhere and no place. I was standing on the Earth.
Brothers and sisters, these times, like many others, are times that test the resiliency of our souls. As have some of our ancestors before us, I hope we choose the patterns of joy and reconnection rather than stepping toward hatred and fear. Walking the pathways of joy, we have some chance.
Update and Contacts
Following the detentions and confiscation of property at the Nevada Test Site (NTS) on Easter at the culmination of this year’s Sacred Peace Walk, the banners, flags and religious symbols were returned. As a result of our actions, authorities created clearer guidelines about how the government will deal with people that cross the line at the NTS and their belongings.
For information on actions and organizing around Nevada Test Site, and to learn about Sacred Peace Walk 2011, visit www.nevadadesertexperience.org
T. Thorn Coyle is a respected teacher and author of "Kissing the Limitless" and "Evolutionary Witchcraft" and hosts the popular "Elemental Castings". Founder of Solar Cross Temple and Morningstar Mystery School, she has a spiritual direction practice that reaches people internationally. Visit ThornCoyle.com
This article appeared in Reclaiming Quarterly in 2010.