By Hal Walter
Although the towns of Westcliffe and Crestone are separated by only a few miles of rugged mountains, they are culturally and philosophically worlds apart.
My friend Peter May who lives in Crestone has been helping me explore some alternative supports for Harrison’s autism these past few years. He had suggested a soul retrieval ceremony about a year ago, and now one was being offered in Crestone.
After deciding to go, I found myself caught up in a fog of doubt and fear. Despite researching soul retrieval ceremonies on the internet, I really had no idea what to expect. It was an internal struggle to get Harrison packed up and drive away for another lesson in my independent studies at the University of Neurodiversity©.
Finally, we did make the circuitous break for the other side of the range that Sunday afternoon, first stopping in Salida for an early dinner and coffee in preparation for the late night. We arrived in the evening at the Colorado College Conference Center along with about 30 other people gathering for the ceremony.
The soul retrieval began with introductions by Peter of Geshe Denma, a native of Nepal, who would be conducting the ceremony. A woman named Kim was the designated “patient,” representing the entire group. Several students also participated, reading prayers along with the ceremony, and bearing “arrows” representing the five elements of nature. Peter gave a brief introduction about the ceremony, explaining that everyone in the room could be positively affected even if they understood little about the process or any Tibetan language.
Harrison and I were sitting in the back of the room. The ceremony began with prayers, chanting and ringing of bells. Harrison initially seemed okay with it all, but things quickly spun out of control. The next thing I knew, he was up and stomping around blurting out strange statements. He ran toward the stage. He insulted the Geshe. He insulted the ceremony itself. He screamed out that this was not a soul retrieval, but a “soul deletion.”
The ceremony continued like nothing out of the ordinary was going on in the room. Nobody turned around to see what was happening, or even flinched.
Harrison stomped around some more and started violently knocking chairs over. Then he yelled, “I’m out of here!” and ran through the foyer and right out the front door.
I waited a few moments then went to look for him. A young woman stood near the front door nursing a baby. She looked at me concerned and I asked if Harrison had disturbed her or her baby and she said, “Oh, no, not at all.”
I went outside and Harrison was running down a cement walking path. He stopped and looked back, then came running back. He said he didn’t want to go back inside. I said okay, then let’s leave. Instead, he ran back into the foyer and started screaming again.
That’s when a guy came out from the ceremony and nervously pulled me aside and basically said, “Man, I don’t know how you are going to take this, but …” and he proceeded to rip me for bringing Harrison to the event, saying that his parents had taken him to things like this as a boy and that it didn’t serve him well. He said that if we didn’t leave then he was going to have to leave himself.
I told him that Peter had invited us to the soul retrieval and had warned that the experience would be intense. I didn’t know what else to say. I fought back my anger then I walked over and told Harrison that we had to go because we were disturbing this guy. At this he flipped out even more, insisting now to go back to the ceremony. I told Harrison he had to stay quiet if we went back in. He agreed.
Of course Harrison did not stay quiet. However, I was able to get him calmed down. That’s when the guy who had pulled me aside got up from his seat. I thought he was leaving but he came back and sat down near us.
There were three major milestones in this ceremony and the first involved a figurine deer floating in a bowl of milk. The prayers went on until the deer was satisfied, stopped moving around in the bowl and pointed itself toward Kim. She removed it and placed it on the shrine/altar.
Each time one of these steps was met, Kim took the ashes from the incense – representing the group’s bad karmas, evil spirits and such – and threw them out the door.
After some further prayers and chanting, Kim reached into the bowl and fished out a white rock – another favorable sign as opposed to pulling out the black rock also in the bowl. So the rock went on the altar and more ashes out the door. This time Kim asked Harrison to help her with disposing of the ashes.
Next were dice. There was a black die and a white die. Each had its own prayer and cloth upon which to be rolled out. The white had to be a bigger number than the black to be favorable. The first roll was a tie – five and five. So more prayers and chants. The next roll the black was larger than the white so more prayers. Finally on the third try the white won out over the black, and Kim and Harrison disposed of more ashes.
Then there was a dedication prayer, some final words, and suddenly the ceremony was over. Of course there was some mulling around among participants. Harrison was now elated. Then as he saw people leaving he started to melt down again and refused to leave. Kim and Peter came up with an exit strategy for him to help put the ceremony equipment away, which involved a drive over to a retreat center. During this time he had several other fits. They were fairly intense but each shorter-lived than the other.
We loaded up the gear and prepared to leave. While we were walking to the car on the same cement path where Harrison had originally tried to bolt from the ceremony, I heard a meadowlark call out in the darkness clear as day – a bird of the sunshine calling out in a pitch-black moonless night.
We drove over to the retreat center and began putting the equipment away. During all this, Harrison’s behavior at the beginning of the ceremony came up in discussion. Peter and Kim related to me that the early Tibetan chants had to do with expelling demons and ill spirits.
While were discussing this, Harrison yelled out into the night “I feel so different!”
Honestly, I did too.
Hal Walter is the author of Endurance and Selected Essays on Autism, Neurodiversity and Deep Sport, available at the Book Haven in Salida and online at amazon.com