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Sacred Journey

The night sky is bright with stars and the air is sweet with the smell of the sea. The procession of women, from Maiden to Crone, make their way across the land bridge to the temple. The sun rises to greet the Mexican Yucatan on the left, and Mother Moon says her morning good-byes on the right. We each make our own private dedications as we step through the portal into the actual temple. As I close my eyes I can see the ancient Mayan women getting off their boats at what appears to be the ruins of a dock below. I am drawn to what's left of a lunar observatory or altar. One of the women in our group dances at an outcropping, chanting, her beautiful scarves blowing in the wild sea breeze.

These are just a few of the wonderful images I brought home with me from a recent Women's retreat to Isla Mujeres, an island off of Cancun.

This enchanted island was one destination of a three-stop pilgrimage made by Mayan women, and is dedicated to the Mayan Goddess, Ixchel, a Moon Goddess associated with rites of fertility, weaving, and healing.

The retreat (Portals to the Self: A Women's Circle by the Sea) is a seven-day adventure hosted by Co-Madres Ceci McDonnell , the Statuesque Mother Goddess who brings her children together to light their torches, and Karen Rosenberg, the bi-lingual amazement who organizes details -- a woman who is nourishing in the truest sense of the word!. Both are therapists from the Cleveland area.

The retreat is hosted at a resort called Na Balam -- a beautiful resort with food that can only be referred to as works of art. The Guacamole is the stuff of legend! The staff is warm and friendly, the beaches inviting, the gentle sounds of the surf my lullaby each night. This was the fifth year the retreat was held at this location.

The daily circles, yoga sessions, and just plain craziness are held at a covered palapa, which is a room with a thatched roof open to the exotic birds singing, the palms, and the flowers.

The circles were at times deep, at times playful, but skillfully designed to open our hearts to our inner-beauty and creativity. We each had the opportunity to contribute to a weaving done on a portable loom. The loom was provided by our Goddess of Crafts, Juicy Jan, and the completed weaving was presented to Ceci at the closing "ceremonies," containing a little piece of each of us.

The women were brought together from all over the country, and each contributed their own amazing gifts. Beauty, talent, intellect, and humor were in no short supply with this bunch! A variety of religious backgrounds and an abiding respect for them all. We did everything from calling the four quarters to lighting a candle for Sabbath on the beach. No formal "magical" ritual, as Ceci is much more "Goddess" oriented: we paid homage to the elements.

Mayan women beading collective women, standing in front of their shopOne of the things I liked most about my experience was the opportunity to really get to know the people who live on the Island. There is a local group of women who have formed a bead collective -- they make beaded medicine bags, necklaces, and bracelets, and the proceeds go to support a local children's clinic. We were asked by Karen to bring a donation of beads for the coop. One of the women from our group, our Goddess of Chocolate, Kelly, put the word out at her place of employment, and had a suitcase of beads for these women! The looks of warmth and graciousness on their faces as they accepted the gifts is a memory that I will carry with me for quite a long time.

Painted on the building at the coop was a Spiral Goddess. The antiquity of the Goddess, and the fact that her face is everywhere, as evidenced by the faces of these beautiful women, truly struck me.

We also met an American who lives on the Island six months of the year. Maggie is from Wisconsin and the wife of a retired Fireman. She has cleared land on the island and built a school to teach the locals English. Learning English greatly increases their earning potential, thus increasing their standard of living.

smiling women in a palapa at CozumelA deep sense of gratitude is also something I came away with. There is a wonderful and very skilled seamstress on the island named Hortencia. You pick out one of the brightly colored cloths, she eyeballs it for measurement, and can make you any piece of clothing imaginable. We were all sporting our "Hortencia's" by the end of the week.

She invited us all to her very warm little cubicle -- picture a space at an open-air flea market -- where she had her sewing machine. She gave us all a gift and thanked us, because the money we had spent having her make these treasures for us had paid her daughter's tuition at the local school for a year!

We also visited a local cemetery. It was like something out of a storybook. All the gravestones are above ground with small glass boxes or cement enclosures acting as altars on them. Some are actually wired for electricity so that their light can shine perpetually. We came across a family sitting at a gravesite playing their guitar and singing to their deceased ancestor.

The only possible thing I could mention as a drawback is getting to the Island. You fly into Cancun, which is definitely not the most efficient airport. The tourist population has grown so quickly that the size of the airport is having a difficult time keeping up with it. Then a cab ride to Puerto Juarez or, if you choose the less expensive route, a $12.00 van ride which may take awhile depending on other stops to drop off other passengers. From Puerto Juarez, there's a twenty-minute ferry ride to the island. From there you're within walking distance or a brief cab ride from Na Balam. Worth the trip, but tiring.

Cool comfortable clothing was a must. We sat on comfortable blankets and back-supporting chairs, but we did circles and yoga sessions on the floor of the palapa. For dinner, "resort casual" was the standard.

The capital letter "M" in Medusa scriptassage is available at Na Balam at an outdoor cabana. Though I did not get signed up in time, many of my sister retreaters took advantage of Maria Louisa's shaman-like skills and use of aromatherapeutic oils.

I have so much respect and admiration for each of the women who joined me on this journey. The word that comes to mind, when I think of them, is Namaste!

Ceci and Karen are doing another Isla retreat this coming March. They have also expanded their offerings to include a trip to Tulum in February, where I will be joining them along with four of my friends from the February 2004 Isla trip! Your can learn more about the retreats and bead collective at www.islawomensretreat.com.

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