Tanya Lenz could be described as the Indiana Jones of ancient wisdoms, dreams and literature.
Her new book takes the reader on an absorbing healing adventure. The book, Fire of the Phoenix Initiation: Transform Your Life with the Ancient Spiritual Wisdom of India, Australia, and Peru (Findhorn Press, May 2016) recounts a series of initiatory adventures, journeys, and dreams that span three continents and as many ancient wisdom traditions.
The author, Tanya S. Lenz, is a writer and educator initiated into the shamanic lineages of the Peruvian Andes and her knowledge stretches across many ancient spiritual wisdoms. In particular Lenz will take you to three countries: India, Australia, and Peru. In India, you will traverse the lower world of death and shadow, guided by a cast of Hindu gods and goddesses. In Australia, you’ll travel through the middle world of mother Earth and dreams, guided by Aboriginal elders and Dreamtime beings. In Peru, you are delivered into the upper world of light and spirit guided by Q’ero shamans, descendants of the Inca.
The following is from the book.
Fire of the Phoenix Initiation
June 01, 2016 -Tanya Lenz
In the stillness before dawn, I opened the door of my hotel room and walked the length of a dark hallway, pausing at the top of a steep staircase. Reaching for a railing and finding none, I placed my hand on the rough, cold wall for balance. I slid one heel down the front of the first large stone step, and then the other heel down the second. Slowly in this way I wound my way down the crooked spiral, stopping more than once for lack of light and the uneven steps. After what seemed a long while, I arrived on the ground floor where I inched across the pitch-black lobby to a heavy front door. Opening it, I inhaled warm air laced with the stench of garbage, urine, cow dung, and acrid smoke. Peering into the darkness, a tinge of fear pricked the back of my neck as my eyes made out a figure standing at the bottom of another steep flight of steps. This, I would soon discover, was the boatman who would escort me on a sunrise tour of the sacred Ganges River, Ma (Mother) Ganga as she is affectionately called in India.
When I finally arrived beside him, I found that the boatman stood no taller than my shoulder. He wore a simple white cotton shirt and his broad bare feet peeked out from beneath cuffed pants. I knew at once that I could trust him. As I shook his strong, calloused hand, his face broke into a warm smile that lit the darkness with an almost-full set of crooked teeth. “I am Kumar,” he said, placing his other hand over his chest before starting down the cobblestone alley at a startlingly quick pace. “Come…this way!” he whispered urgently, motioning for me to follow.
I followed as Kumar led me through a web of narrow twisting corridors that must have been difficult to navigate even during daylight. This was my first introduction to Varanasi, having arrived after dark the previous night, so the lay of land and buildings were left to my imaginings. Rounding a tight corner, we just missed colliding with an enormous white cow breakfasting on a pile of garbage that had accumulated in a nook. She didn’t bother looking up from her meal, let alone move, as we pressed our backs against a high wall to pass her. As she stood there in her majestic enormity, munching a garland of red and orange flowers, it seemed that she was conscious, to some degree, of her sacred status in this land of Hindus. As we passed, she turned one of her soft brown eyes toward us. The large brass bell that hung with the soft flesh of her neck clanged softly in the pre-dawn stillness, joining the sound of men chanting in the distance.
Continuing on our way, we passed several small shrines already, or perhaps still, glowing with candlelight. The sound of our footsteps echoed off the close high walls that bordered the walkways on both sides. As we neared the river, a large group of pilgrims fell in behind us chanting “Ram Ram Ram Ram Ram Ram Ram,” a name for the Hindu concept of Brahman, the supreme reality underlying all of creation. The men wore bright, loosely wrapped orange and white clothing that glowed like embers in the night, contrasting beautifully with their dark brown skin. Their earnest devotion was palatable.
“Hindus come to Varanasi from far and wide to wash away the sins of a lifetime — or many lifetimes — in the arms of Mother Ganga,” Kumar explained over his shoulder in heavily-accented, sing-song English. “Some people walk a circle around the whole city. Many times for weeks they walk. They stop at shrines and temples on the way for worshipping. But most people come to this small place by the Ganga. In this short length, there are more than 100 ghats. These are the steps or landings leading to the river. Here in Varanasi,” he continued, looking back and up at me, “many ghats have their own temple or shrine that marks an important event.” His black eyes sparkled as he increased his pace. “Come! You will see!”
When we reached the shore of the holy river, the sun had still not risen. Kumar led me to his small canoe-like boat and offered me his hand as I carefully stepped in. The boat wobbled as I sat on a wooden plank facing the helm. He untied a thick dirty rope, took hold of the oars, and we set out into the water. In the peace before first light, I immediately fell under the spell of the river’s magic. The rhythmic sound of the water lapping at the sides of the boat wooed me into another world, for how long I don’t know, and I barely noticed when another boatman pulled even with Kumar’s canoe. Leaning over the side of his craft, he caught my attention when he held out a plate full of various colorful things. Quizzically I looked to Kumar for some explanation. He told me that it was a gift for the river — a prayer offering.
“It is very good,” he said, smiling mildly, his head bobbing back and forth. “You should accept. He is only asking a few rupees.”
My cynical self protested this touristic appeal. But from another place — that place into which I’d been pulled so effortlessly moments before — I was utterly enchanted that this man had taken such time and care to prepare and present this beautiful gift for me and for the river. “Why not?” I thought, giving him the rupees. He smiled and stretched over the sides of our crafts to carefully place the plate in my open palms. Looking closely now, I saw that it was a simple white paper plate of the sort I’d used countless times at home, at summer barbecues and gatherings with friends. It was piled high with dark pink rose petals and bright orange marigold-like flowers no larger than a quarter in size. One side of the plate held a small container of bright red bindi powder. In the middle a small white candle burned, casting a halo of light over the vibrantly colored flowers and spices surrounding it. Lifting the plate to my nose, I inhaled the intoxicating smells. Part of me wanted to protect or possess all of this fragile, sensuous beauty rather than setting it afloat on the river and yet it was precisely this sacrifice that made the offering sacred. “Put the bindi powder at the third eye here,” Kumar said, pointing to the center of his forehead. As I did so, he continued, “This will focus your thoughts. It will open and protect your third eye — the inner seat of enlightenment.”
Still holding the plate in both hands, I closed my eyes and gathered my thoughts into a silent prayer. Opening my eyes, I then leaned over the side of the boat and carefully set the little bundle on the water. I watched as the waves tossed it this way and that as it drifted toward dozens of other prayer bundles that enveloped us in a swirling mandala of flickering lights.
Kumar rowed steadily as the sun rose above the horizon to one side of the little wooden craft. “There,” he said, nodding in the direction of shore, “that is the ghat of Hanuman, the monkey god. Do you know Hanuman? Hanuman rescued the goddess Sita after the demon Ravana kidnapped her. This is a good story but very very long — too long for now. On your next boat ride I will tell you the story,” he said, flashing a grin.
“Behind you,” he continued, “is Manikarnika. This is where we started the boat ride. Manikarnika is the main burning ghat where the dead bodies are taken.” Kumar’s comment sliced right through my reverie, though I had read about the open cremation fires in Varanasi. Turning and surveying the shore, I clearly saw smoke rising from three separate fires.
“’Manikarnika’ means ‘jewel of the ear’ – what you wear in the ear, yes?”
“Earring,” I replied, nodding.
“Yes — earring,” he repeated. “It is said that Parvati, the wife of Shiva, dropped her earring into a well at this place – a well that is older than the river herself. You can see that this is a very, very old place, full of stories, gods and goddesses, blood and sweat, and the fires that give birth to life. Manikarnika is one of the most sacred ghats for the Hindu person.”
“Why?” I asked, still gazing at the smoke rising on shore.
“Here the cycle of life and death is played out for all to see. It is not like in America, where no one wants to think that they will die one day. Here, we accept death in every moment as a necessary part of life.” Listening intently to Kumar, I decided to explore Manikarnika more fully after the boat tour, though at that moment I could not know how intimate I would become with it in the coming days.