This is the story of my "awakening": my first direct awareness of the mystery, my first experience of the existence of energies or dimensions other than our own, my first sense that there were unseen forces beyond my control that could substantially impact my life. It was - in short - the first step in what I later came to call my "journey of consciousness". Up until this time, I was convinced that everything could be explained by science and that it was only a matter of time - and rather a short time at that - before all the questions of the ages would be answered definitively.
Sidra: It was forty-one years ago. It was in nineteen sixty-eight and I was on a trip to see some Mayan ruins. I had been to Tikal and I had heard that you could get to Copan from there. It was the end of the rainy season and I was told that the road leading from Guatemala City down in through Honduras into Copan would be passable. I was always reading about things to do, so I said, “Let’s go!”
I was traveling with my then husband, who was an MD. I always felt very safe having a doctor with me. We had met another couple; he was a physician, too, and she was a nurse. She had grown up in Argentina and spoke Spanish, so I felt pretty safe, really. After all, we’re just going from here to there and there was a road so I thought we could do it. We'd had a huge dinner the night before, so we sort of skipped breakfast and we bought a few things at the market and set out, the four of us, in a Land Rover we had rented. It all seemed very sensible.
We started driving only to find that it took much, much longer than we thought it was going to. We drove down the Pan Am highway for a little bit. Then we turned off onto a road that was somewhat less well maintained. It was still paved, so we continued, and it was getting a little bit later. Then we came to the border crossing into Honduras and there was nobody there. It was just a shack with some chickens and pigs running around. No one at the border crossing seemed bothered by us, and they just kind of waved us on. So, we kept driving.
It was the beginning of a three-day holiday for them. It was a very special holiday that falls at the beginning of December. We headed on into the mountains and came to a town that looked like it was out of the movies. It was very, very primitive, with just a church. They were getting ready for the holiday and people were coming in from all over. It was a little bit scary, really, and then a priest came out of the church. He looked like something out of one of those movies about priests who go “feral” -- and you really didn’t want to be in that town.
So, we went through and out the other side of the town and now we were on a dirt road and we really needed our Land Rover. We had a few things with us, but we saw we were going down a dirt road that was quickly turning into a gulley. We had also picked up a hitchhiker and when he didn’t answer our questions, we realized people didn’t even speak Spanish here. (We had thought we were fine, because the nurse with us spoke Spanish.) Instead, the people there spoke Quechua. To make matters worse, the hitchhiker we had picked up was sitting there with a big machete across his knees, not speaking a word of English or Spanish. We were getting deeper and deeper into the jungle and it was getting late now, about four or five o’clock in the afternoon and no one’s eaten since the night before.
We came to a river that was supposed to have been fordable and, well, it wasn’t. There was no place safe to cross. The only place to go back to was the really scary little town we’d just left, which we weren’t about to do.
So, we left the Land Rover there and paid some kids to watch it. We took a dugout canoe across the river and the man in the canoe told us we’d be able to get animals to ride just the other side of the river. He called them “bestias” and we thought that meant they were horses. They turned out to be something else … not exactly horses. So, we crossed the river in this canoe, with very little with us. I had on a sweater, we had our money, our passports, and I think some Binaca … a girl’s got to have fresh breath …
Sidra smiles in that Aphrodite way that pricks the feminine in the room and laughter floats up and around. It’s surprising how a little touch of adornment, that little guarantee of readiness to be close, gets on the list of essentials. When I trained horses for a living and filled my days with grooming and cleaning stalls, the concession I made to the Goddess was the careful and colorful manicure of my nails… revealed with some ceremony, I might add, as I took my gloves off to teach. It made me feel utterly feminine in the masculine world I worked in; and I nod in understanding with every other woman in the room, still laughing as she continues.
So, we crossed the river and got off on the other side. Everybody else walked across it. The men took their clothes off, put everything on their heads and walked across the river in water that was about shoulder height. But we went across in our dugout canoe and the man with us was going to show us where to go. When we landed, he took off because he was going to take us to the place where the transportation animals were. He started walking very briskly and we followed him—very briskly. Now, we were still waiting to get to where we were going and we walked for about another hour and a half. Then he said, “Well, down this road… this is where I live. And down that road is where you will find the place where they have the animals. It has a little tin roof.”
So, we went a little bit further. We had flashlights, thank God, and we were wearing boots. We went down the road and just as it was getting really scary again, like in a movie where it’s getting really dark, we came to a widening in the road with a little store on one side and a barn on the other; the place where we were supposed to get the animals. But the people there said, “You can’t take them tonight. You can go tomorrow. You can stay in the barn.” (Sidra pauses to let the groans die down, and continues without so much as a hiccup.)
Okay. So, of course, we were afraid to eat anything there. They had some beer that was at least clean and bottled, and some bananas we thought were safe. So, we had a couple of bananas and some beer, and went over to sleep in the barn.
I take a minute to privately calculate the number of beers it would take for me to abandon my car, cross a river in a dugout canoe, walk in the dark to an unknown location, sleep in a barn overnight to retrieve animals on the morrow I couldn’t identify even in daylight … Add to this the benefit to be found in adding bananas to the beer … a touch I wouldn’t have thought of. I’m thinking I can’t probably drink as many beers as it would take, while Sidra goes on, laughing now.
We went to sleep wrapped in grain sacks that said, “Gift from the People of the USA.”So, there we were. We were wrapped in these burlap sacks and we had a few candles we’d bought. We really didn’t know each other but we talked and joked that it was a good thing there were four of us, because as couples alone, we’d have killed each other for having gotten ourselves in such a predicament.
The next morning, they brought us our “bestias”. There was one donkey, one mule and two horse-like things, wearing these funny saddles that looked to me like equipment the Conquistadors must have used. They sent a young boy with us to bring the animals back and told us again, “It’s just down the road!” Everything was “just down the road!” So, we rode for another hour and a half and arrived in the town of Copan.
By the way, there was no other way to get into Copan in those days: no railroad, no paved road, just this trail to ride on. The ride itself was otherworldly. We were in the Cordillera, so the altitude itself was a factor in creating this feeling of unreality. The colors were so intense! I’d never seen anything quite like it. Poinsettia trees grew as high as this ceiling. Orchid trees, which I’d never seen before, were in bloom and the colors were exquisite. The sky was totally blue and by now, I was feeling like a million dollars.
So we got in and it was the second day of the festivities. I was a little bit high from being hungry. We hadn’t eaten in twenty-four hours. But the whole place was so gorgeous - it still seemed otherworldly. We rode into town, pulling ourselves up like John Wayne, and went down the main road. There were people stretched out, their feet in the road and their heads propped up along the sides, looking quite drunk or in altered states of consciousness from whatever they had been doing in the festival. But we rode in anyway, coming to a little two-story hotel that was near the ruins. We got off our horses, and grabbed our things. I went to sit down and the other woman went into the hotel “office” to arrange for rooms.
When she returned, we walked into a courtyard and there were stone steps going up to the second floor where our rooms were. I started to walk up the stairs and the next thing I knew, or the next thing I felt, was the earth pulling at me; pulling me down, and then … nothing. And the last thing I remembered was that I was getting to the top of the stairs and I could see across the sun-dappled stone floor of the second story.
They later told me I had gone totally stiff there on the stairs and I just fell forward (not crumpling and not trying to break my fall with my hands), hitting my chin on the stone step in front of me, splitting my chin open and breaking my jaw. The next thing I knew was that I was up here, (pointing), in a corner just below the ceiling, and looking down at my body lying on a bed in the opposite corner of a strange room. My three companions were hovering over the bed saying, “There are no vital signs. She’s not here anymore,” and they were getting very upset. Now, these were two MD’s and an emergency room nurse … they should know when to get upset!
So, I was up at the ceiling, experiencing this incredible feeling of literally being a point of consciousness. I felt the entire universe extending outward; I mean, there was just no separation. I was still me, but I had no edges. I was in absolute bliss. Everything was light and I was trying to say to them, “I’m fine. I’m fine. I’ve never felt this free. I’ve never felt this wonderful! This is an exquisite experience!” Many years later, I recognized this as a "near death experience".
Then I had that sense that my husband needed me, and my children needed me, and I literally felt the pull, felt myself come back down through a sort of damp, mucus-like thing and back, it seemed like, through the top of my head into my body. I can still remember the feeling of coming in and having to squish down to fit into it. I felt the constriction, the relinquishing of the joy and the feeling of absolute peace and bliss. As I came to, I was really crying. They didn’t realize that what I was crying about was losing that magnificent expansion and coming back to the constriction of the physical world.
The story, of course, goes on from there. My chin was split open, there was blood running down my clothes and my jaw was broken. I was in Copan with no way to get home. When I realized what had happened, I knew I couldn’t go back the way we had come. There was just no way I could make that trip. But it turned out there was an army plane, a Honduran army plane there, again because of this holiday. The pilot had brought in a bunch of muckety-mucks, special people from the army to see the ruins. He explained that a couple of days earlier his plane had been strafing the trail we came down. Communist insurgents from Cuba were coming in through Guatemala and Honduras using that trail, so it was kind of a narrow escape. We were lucky we weren’t killed from the air while traveling.
My husband talked our way onto the plane and we got to Tegucigalpa, and they flew us back. It would have been the only way out for me. It was a ghastly trip because it was really uncomfortable. Not only was I not feeling well, but they also had us in the seats like the stewardess had. So the two of us were facing these very together, well-dressed people on holiday, and I was just trying not to throw up. I was covered with blood with my chin gaping open and I wasn’t not feeling well at all. Finally we landed, but the airport was closed, so we had to wait a day to leave. But somehow we were able to find a clinic and a wonderful nurse, a nun who spoke English. She called in a Spanish-speaking doctor and he sewed up my chin.
The next day we were at the airport and I had what I’d call a spiritual awakening, only I didn’t see it that way at that time. This was not only a near-death experience, but it was also really the beginning of my sense that there was something more than our adaptability, more than our brains, that was working here. I had the sense that there were other forces at work. As lay across some chairs in the airport in Tegucigalpa and looked at the mountains in the distance, I thought, “You know what? It wasn’t our cleverness that got us out of here. There was something else that’s been protecting us through this one, protecting me; and there was something else that was pulling me to fall down. There was something going on with the earth here.”
It was an amazing experience, and because of it, I really don’t feel afraid of death. It was beautiful. I’m not in a hurry, mind you, but it was such an exquisite experience, such freedom. It was like riding on the mist; like being a drop of moisture and riding on the mist. So basically, the reason I wanted to share the experience was because it demystified death for me. I don’t have fear about it now. I’m comfortable.
The experience fundamentally changed me. I’ve always felt a little awkward about the word spiritual but the result of this change was that I started to read things like The Way of the Hopi and books that had a more mystical feel to them. I wanted exposure to books dealing with the mysteries of life, the unseen dimensions I’m now fascinated by. Up until then, I had been incredibly pragmatic. My husband and I both were, and thought everything could be worked out by the mind. Unseen dimensions only meant something that we scientists hadn’t gotten to yet; dimensions that hadn’t been studied, understood, and demystified. And after this experience, I started being drawn by some of other kinds books - books I hadn't read in years. I was drawn back into some of the authors of my youth, like Herman Hesse and Nikos Kazantzakis. It was as if I could feel my essence and it was joy.
I drift out again, into the past when I discovered Hesse, the novelty and mystery he opened for me. But I didn’t come to the kind of freedom Sidra’s describing for many years and I trace my slower journey as I enter the atmosphere she creates. Although she had to endure a death experience to get this, I quietly envy her, and covet the joy she’s sharing and reliving in the telling.
Sidra: It was an experience of pure joy – just joy and love. And I really knew it. I didn’t have to learn it, or figure it out, or prove it. That experience simply threw over my whole way of being in the world. Actually, I had that happen again later with Hal - as our explorations led to major changes in consciousness for both of us. (Turning to Hal). That took a lot of courage but if I hadn’t had that earlier experience, I never would have been able to follow where you led, into the inner realms; because it really started then in Honduras.
Her shift in focus to include Hal reminds me I’ve always wondered how it was that Sidra even got to know Hal. I know their relationship quickly became momentous, but I didn’t know what precipitated it. I ask how that first meeting came about.
Our story continues in the book, THE FIRESIDE CHATS with Hal & Sidra Stone as we talk about our first meeting and the early years of our relationship.
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