A NEW HORIZON
It's been nearly 30 years since I had a very special dream that gave me my first encounter with the Queen of the Forest.
Today, that dream remains alive as if it occurred only moments ago despite the passage of time – time that carried me from the cornfields of the State of Illinois to the Illinois Valley of Oregon and a very special spot called Bald Mountain. It was a somewhere-near-nowhere place far from the cities (half way between San Francisco, CA and Portland, OR) but somehow it felt like it was the Center of the Universe. It gave me my first spiritual horizon and a forest preservation mission.
Nowadays, I find myself looking at a new horizon in another somewhere-near-nowhere place in Brazil and somehow I feel again that the wings of fate have carried me to the Center of the Universe. Yes, this place has captured me like nothing else since my time on Bald Mountain.
This New Horizon is called Fortaleza – the Fortress – and it is located in the hinterland of western Brazil two hours by car or bus from the Acré capital of Rio Branco, near the small town of Capixaba, close to the border with Bolivia. This is where the Luiz Mendes family has chosen to build a community of folks learning about living in harmony with Nature and Spirit.
Here is one of our favorite Fortaleza views of the forest and the lake.
My temporary home is a room in a little house
which belongs to the family of the brother-in-law of Luiz Mendes, Senhor Emilio who leads the family center of Beautiful Bujari.
Here is the view from my window.
This is the “office” where this post is being composed.
And this is where I sleep and enjoy siestas.
The main community focus at Fortaleza is now all about preparing for the coming 8th Enounter for the New Horizon which is less than a month away. By the end of the December, people will be arriving from all over Brazil and from many foreign countries.
Here is Luiz Mendes showing the proof page of the design for the new T-shirt and poster.
WORK, WORKING and WORKS
Three years ago, when I was among the newcomers to Fortaleza, I had no idea how much work goes into preparing the details of accommodations, meals, rituals and events for the annual festival. It's truly amazing what kind of effort is involved. Indeed, nowadays being at Fortaleza is all about work – work, working and works – nearly non-stop.
With his great laugh, Padrinho Luiz says, “At Fortaleza everyone works except for Luiz and Lou. We watch.” I think Padrinho Luiz is being characteristically humble about himself. He does plenty of work.
He is usually wearing his favorite pair of work shoes – some very well-worn crocs that had been gifted to him during a trip to the South last February.
He is often found planting in the garden...
or harvesting manioc roots
or cutting sugar cane
and carrying home a sack of good things from nature
Padrinho Luiz is known as the Master Counselor because he is full of stories of the Doctrine and of his years of living with Mestre Irineu. Today he is an ever-present source of wisdom and inspiration. It is as if he is always “feeding us” -- whether gathering food from the garden, or cooking a new batch of Sacrament
or sharing a story or a laugh or just his great smile.
Yes, Padrinho is certainly doing a lot more than “just watching.”
These days Padrinho is often assisted by Bira, a Brazilian who arrived recently to find his New Horizon after traveling the world for 12 years – including some years working with tours of Disney World in Florida and other times learning yoga and meditation in India. He first encountered Santo Daime in Spain and it was what made him want to return to Brazil. He says that he was doing Internet research on where to connect with a Daime path in Brazil and that as soon as he saw the face of Luiz Mendes he knew that he wanted to study the living doctrine in the community of Fortaleza.
Bira's energy reminds me of the archetype of Hanuman, the great monkey-god-servant of Rama from the Indian epic of the Ramayana. He seems to be everyone's helper, moving from one task to another. He is a marvelous new addition to the Fortaleza community.
Many come to Vila Fortaleza, not only to learn and experience the special energy of this particular place and its way, but also to bring the gifts of other paths. About a month ago a group of Yawanawá indigenous people came to perform one of their ayahuasca rituals and make a cultural and religious exchange.
Fortaleza is very much a center of openness to all spiritual and religious ways.
Somehow it manages to be both local and cosmopolitan. Even the local Capixaba newspaper came to document the event.
Recently, our friend Lucio, who was here last Spring, returned from his travels in Bolivia and Peru where he had been studying healing ways with a curandera
and living in a Buddhist community, learning from the teachings of the world-famous Vietnamese peace monk, Thich Nhat Hahn.
Some believe that ayahuasca is the world's greatest teacher – I certainly do! – and that it can be used in combination with any genuine religious or spiritual path to strengthen one's inquiry, healing, insight and wisdom. Many Daime communities show a great interest in and respect for other wisdom traditions.
One of the Nova Era hymns of Padrinho Alfredo says, “The Master is the one from Nazareth and the mystery is from Amazônia.” As they like to say in the Santo Daime, “It's a study for all.”
Even the physical work is a study – a study in how to stay calm and focused despite the intensity of the labor and the tropical climate. At Fortaleza Saturnino is the commander-in-chief. Not as a rank or a privilege like a boss or a manager but because he is usually the one who plunges in first and deepest... and holds a calm center.
Typically, he carries a large load, works long hours and generally inspires everyone else to put forth their strongest effort.
There's a lot of work going on here – many new construction projects – built largely with the gifts from the forest. For example, there's always a need for structural lumber which is generally salvaged from dead trees in burn areas.
Sometimes wood has to be carried long distances from where a tree fell deep in the forest.
This year's construction projects include an expansion of the general dining area.
And a doubling of the size of the general kitchen.
Soon there will be a new office and visitor center.
At Fortaleza all of the work by “daimistas” is done on a volunteer basis. Padrinho Luiz tells an important story in his remembrances of Mestre Irineu that when Mestre asked the Queen of the Forest to put the healing properties of all the plants and remedies into the sacramental tea, She said that She would on the condition that there would be no personal gain from it.
Nowadays in the Luiz Mendes lineage, all personal livelihoods are earned from sources outside of the Daime. So, in addition to all the community work, Saturnino is developing a cottage industry for additional income, making furniture from tree stumps and pieces that were left behind after the fires and deforestation.
For expert assistance, Saturnino has hired Seu Francisco, who is a true caboclo chainsaw wizard, to come from his home in Rio Branco to Fortaleza with his incredible skills.
Watching him work along a big log, just following his line of sight, is a marvel...
He has been cutting all the wood for furniture and all the structural lumber for the construction with no special milling equipment other than his chainsaw.
Seu Francisco is also a master builder and I'm blessed to have his services for the building of my new home which was started last Friday with the first stake being driven into the ground.
By the end of the second day, he had dug all the holes for the piers and cut and set the foundation
and completed the floor joists
Then, for the first time, I was able to stand on it and imagine the location for the future window of my room and check out the view – a panorama of the forest.
They tell me that the plan is to plant a new Rainha garden nearby for growing the ayahuasca leaf used in the preparation of the Santo Daime. Apparently, in the immediate view of my coming horizon, I will be surrounded by the Queen. Whew. What a fine spot it is! It's like winning a spiritual lottery or something. I'm feeling blessed and very grateful.
On this particular day, as Francisco was building, everyone else was over at the feitio house and garden area.
Some were doing the feitio tasks of preparing the Santo Daime.
Others were out in the vegetable garden.
Little Noé is a very serious worker
He is great at pulling out the weeds.
They were getting it planted with a new crop and generally prepared for Dona Maria who is the in-residence overseer of food, plants and flowers. Dona Maria has been away for a medical check-up in Rio Branco and will return this week.
For the last few weeks Zulede has been here, singing and telling stories as she makes certain that everyone is well-fed and taken care of.
Zulede, who is an especially high-energy person, has a lot to be excited about and she seems especially happy these days. Earlier this year a new granddaughter – named Eva Taio Siris – came into her life.
And, additionally, now she has a new daughter in-law Cynthia who is expecting Sofia to arrive next month.
Geri and Cynthia asked me to send out their love to all their friends.
Pictures speak best so I made a little album with more photos here.
Geri, along with Clayton
are the lead musicians right now and they help in all things.
Geri is often the human cement mixer.
And Clayton is the lawn mower which, in the tropics, is a pretty tall order.
Padrinho Luiz is not exaggerating in any way when he says that everyone works at Fortaleza. And it has a style. There seems to be a certain calm rhythm or tranquility that makes it appear as if no one is stressing as an enormous amount is being accomplished. For example, I could hardly believe it when found, at the end of the fourth day, that Francisco, working only with hand tools (and with the assistance of Lucio), had fabricated and constructed all the structural components of my house and installed half of the roofing.
Truthfully, with all this work going on, I have to admit that I have not always felt comfortable in my role as the one who “watches” even though Saturnino keeps stressing that this is not my time (or age) for physical effort and that watching with my camera and telling the story is my mission.
I guess that what is being challenged is the old achievement orientation that still lives somewhere inside me that causes me to make comparisons between myself and others. Of course, the problem with comparisons is that someone is always put 'up' or 'down' as comparisons create ranks and competitions.
Padrinho Luiz likes to point out that at one time during the days of Mestre Irineu they had ranks of spiritual attainment at his Alto Santo center but that Mestre eventually abolished all the ranks and when he died he left everything as equal. Saturnino has a recent hymn “We Are All Equal” that is now starting to be sung in many centers. Here it is on a memorable night last February when the family brought it to the beach near Salvador.
Saturnino stresses that equality means that everyone one has a special gift, a special value even though there are different levels of development. What is really equal is our need for each other and to support and learn from one another. Perhaps, this is one of the reasons that he has asked everyone in this lineage of the family of Luiz Mendes to learn the hinario Nova Era of Padrinho Alfredo of the Sebastião Mota de Melo family line. .
Nova Era has been the focus of our recent spiritual works. Here it is being rehearsed in the community.
The hymn says:
Give me strength and give me love
My Father where I am
To work within You
With firmness and vigor
For myself, the hymn seems to be saying “let us work with love to go beyond all separations.” Or, that's how it feels to me. In any event, I have heard many visitors comment that personality dramas do seem to be rare here. Perhaps, it's a Fortaleza of Friendship?
The spiritual works here are inclusive, emphasizing connection, mutual support and learning from each other. They have multiple meanings – both at the personal and grander levels – and there is the loving space to allow each person to find their own place.
Saturnino has announced that the hinario Nova Era will now have a official place in the program of spiritual works of Vila Fortaleza and that a special forest salon has been cleared at the foot of an Apiu tree that is growing in partnership with a Copiaba tree. It will be consecrated with the singing of Nova Era during the coming festival.
He further explained that the on-going expansions of the hinarios Nova Era of Padrinho Alfredo and Nova Horizonte of Padrinho Luiz Mendes are providing the instructions and guidance for the new age that we have entered. At this time we are all learning and expanding.
And what does this expansion mean? For myself, it's impossible for me to even approach comprehending what living and working at Fortaleza will mean. I laugh when Padrinho Luiz says that I'm the Patriarch of Fortaleza because I'm the oldest one here. I like to say that, after 70 years, I still don't know what I will be when I grow up.
All I know for sure is that Fortaleza is even more challenging than I had feared and more loving and supportive than I had ever dared to hope for. The power of friendship is a major force here. It has given me a new place, a new family, a new house, and... a New Horizon.
I hope that you can join us someday.
In addition to all the work, we also have a lot of fun.
PS: If you would like to support the projects here, you might want to use the new DONATE button in left column of this blog to make a contribution.