My sister Coleen and I met the call of the Red Earth together through my Painted Body ritualistic photography process here in New Mexico. Enjoy Coleen’s first hand account of this transformative, fierce and joyful experience:
Red Earth Calls
By Coleen Renee
Red Earth calls…
Awakening self I do not recognize.
It’s you! Yes, I…I remember now.
Take my hand, let’s play, walk, sing, dance, scream, laugh, sleep, pray, be…
I’ve missed you.
I love being in nature in my altogetherness. The obvious vulnerability and the strength felt while standing in that vulnerability brings an aliveness and freedom one must experience to understand. It’s perhaps a bit like the first time you say, “I love you” to someone. You’re not quite sure how it will land, but you feel the power of owning and expressing it.
When I was invited to participate in the Painted Body work with Shaman/Artist/Healer, Melissa Weiss Steele, I said yes without hesitation. Being naked in nature is almost always a “yes” for me. Of course the Painted Body work offered something very different. I have seen the growth of Melissa’s work over the years and heard many stories of her adventures. I felt profoundly honored to be asked to participate with Melissa as my guide and witness.
We headed up a canyon in Abiquiu, New Mexico on a warm sunny afternoon in November. Being a very pale woman of Irish descent with “bad” knees, I worried a bit about surviving the harsh sun and making the trek into and out of the canyon. Melissa let me set the pace. Toting a gallon of water I headed in with Melissa’s guidance.
I was not prepared for the intensity of the place: immediately sacred, challenging and very aware of me. Having been here many times, Melissa had become quite accustomed to the energies and gave me several helpful suggestions as I worked to acclimate to the intense energy moving through me. I finally found my center by both grounding into the earth and lifting my heart to the heavens while leaning against a dark red earthen wall.
More in sync with the land and its energies, we continued into the canyon. We had set our intentions as we drove to the canyon entrance. I sought guidance for my work and the courage to walk my path fully. The Land Spirits offered me teachings and gifts in great abundance. I took in all that I could at the time and weeks later am finding new revelations from my experiences.
Deer chose the spot for the actual Painted Body work in the late afternoon. As I disrobed, that familiar sense of strength and vulnerability infused me. To remove the barriers between nature and myself is an act of trust that, for me, is always rewarded with a delightful communion of spirits.
The sensations of being painted – coolness of the paint, texture of the brushes – made me acutely aware of my skin and before I knew it moved me beyond it. While my skin was being covered I slowly became more and more naked to myself. Parts I had never experienced began to surface. These unexperienced parts of me intrigued and even thrilled me. I slipped into my animal self – and sight, sound, smell, touch and even taste became attuned and merged. My Western thinking mind no longer had control of me. I was free of ideas of who I was suppose to be. I walked across the land without a thought to my feet. I brandished a stick for the pure delight of it. I laughed. I prowled. I rolled in the beautiful red, red earth and was embraced by the Mother and reborn. I danced. I played with Sun, Earth, Vegetation, Melissa, shadows – exploring whatever called to me there in the safety of the canyon and with Melissa as sacred witness.
As the sun moved beyond the canyon and shadows fell my new experiences merged within my more familiar self, now changed forever – now changed for better. I vibrate differently. I am more assured of my path and feel the courage to walk it pumping through me. I dressed once more in my clothes but the Painted Body still covers me – it has become part of my new skin even after many weeks of bathing.
The next morning on the way to the airport, Melissa pulls off the road to show me some of the slides from the photos she took in the canyon. Part of me doesn’t want to see them for fear they may rob my experience somehow. But I am pleased to find how wonderful it is to recognize myself in a picture looking just like I felt at the time of the photo. How rarely it happens in our culture to have one’s insides and outsides matching. How delightful to have a visceral experience accurately captured – a true mirror of the naked self in the Painted Body. I feel so grateful for this profoundly beautiful and deeply precious experience. Thank you Melissa!