Report: Journey to Guate-Maya
by Leah Green
” To evolve skillfully at this vital juncture in our collective story,
we must integrate the teachings of our wisdom keepers.”
~ Declaration of Commitment to Indigenous People
Over the past twenty-three years, I’ve listened deeply to human conflict at the personal and community level, as well as in regions of heart-crushing national and ethnic conflict. At this time of global crisis and opportunity, the quest to integrate the teachings of our wisdom keepers lies at the foundation of our Journey to the Heart of Guate-Maya. Our Journey is a collaboration between TCLP and Centro Taa Pit, an intercultural learning center located in San Pedro La Laguna, an indigenous village of 13,000 Tz’utujil Maya in the Guatemalan Highlands. After 500 years of oppression and recent genocide that took the lives of over 200,000 Guatemalan Maya, many are now working to reclaim their ancestral wisdom and culture – an act of personal courage and political risk.
Centro Taa Pit, founded by Juan Manuel Chavajay, is leading the way in San Pedro, where his visionary after-school program is educating and empowering not only the children, but their families as well. I met the staff along with their advisory board member, Nancy Lynn (formerly of Washington State) in February, 2012, during a private boat tour of Lake Atitlan. That magical meeting sparked the birth of our collaboration, and life-long friendships. It has been an honor to work with each of them and to now call them dear friends. Journey to the Heart of Guate-Maya is truly an intercultural, multilingual project where we practice consensus decision-making and consult the sacred Mayan calendar to plan our meetings.
Juan Manuel and Taa Pit’s two dedicated teachers, Deborah and Juan Martin, began preparing for our 15 international participants months before our arrival. Circles were held with Taa Pit’s board and parent group to introduce our Journey and explain why such an international group would be so eager to come to Lake Atitlan to listen and learn from these Maya families.
Our impending arrival sparked something powerful in the parent community: a resurgence of interest in their own history and culture. Grandparents, parents and teachers took the children to sacred sites to share stories and spiritual traditions.
When we arrived, we found that parents had stepped into leadership for the first time in Taa Pit’s history to plan entire programs and experiences to teach us about their culture. We were invited into the homes of Mayan families who had never hosted an outsider before, to visit with the family and learn how to make tortillas, chocolate, their sacred corn drink, and back-strap weaving. We went up the San Pedro volcano with farmers to learn about coffee, pesticides, sustainability, and the fragile ecosystem of Lake Atitlan.
We participated in two traditional sunrise fire ceremonies with shaman from the village – one to bless our Journey and the other to celebrate the arrival of the 13th Baktun on December 21, 2012, marking the beginning of a new 5,200 year era. We learned about the Tzolkin – the sacred calendar of the Maya who are truly timekeepers from ancient times, and gifts that Mayan spirituality hold for humanity.
And we listened. Members of the community shared with us about their lives: poverty, war, racism, the struggle to learn about their Mayan culture, the courage to persist. We learned about the toll of the recent war on the village, and the unhealed wounds between perpetrators and victims, still living side by side. We learned about internalized oppression and the struggle for self-esteem.
Most of our 15 participants came with extensive training in Compassionate Listening. Twelve of them had taken our advanced training and two were certified CL facilitators. Our tender listening was deeply felt and appreciated. Community members are now excited to participate in Compassionate Listening workshops and classes, and I am exploring avenues for funding to train Mayan community leaders in Compassionate Listening facilitation, to support families and various efforts in the village.
As with any first-time program, we anticipated that we would have much to learn and improve on. But we could not have anticipated the success we experienced – how profoundly the participants would be moved and changed by their experience. Several have stepped forward to create “Friends of Taa Pit”, and have led the way to affiliation with the Seattle International Foundation, now Taa Pit’s official umbrella for tax deductible donations within the U.S.
Another unanticipated outcome of the Journey was the effect the group had on the Taa Pit staff and members of the parent community. Apart from the beautiful benefits of integrating Compassionate Listening practices into their school, board, and parent meetings, we learned of the very personal impact of our presence.
Nancy Lynn McCoy has been a full-time resident of San Pedro for the past five years and is Taa Pit’s beloved international liaison, advisor and translator (photo, right). She and I worked together closely throughout every phase of the Journey. Nancy shared her observations with the group several months after the Journey:
“As I have come to know this community and most especially Juan Manuel, Deborah and Juan Martin, my admiration for their dedication and love for their work has only continued to grow. Truly, what they accomplished in presenting their parts of your experience, astounded me. Each piece was so carefully planned and was nearly flawless. To grasp the effect of colonization and racism is difficult for most of us from more privileged worlds. I witnessed the effect of your presence and deep attention, not only for Centro Taa Pit’s staff members, but also the parents and children who met you and participated in our program. Your presence and your compassionate listening to them and response to their world changed how they saw themselves – how each of them saw anew, their own value and worth – adding to and deepening their feeling of self-respect. It was a privilege beyond measure to be a part of this.” ~ Nancy Lynn
My sincere thanks go out to Juan Manuel, the staff and parents of Taa Pit and Nancy Lynn (we couldn’t have done it without you!), and to the remarkable group of Compassionate Listeners that heard the call and journeyed with us. This is one small effort to help reclaim ancient wisdom. May the fruits of our sincere intentions continue to ripple out in seen and unseen ways, and benefit humanity and the world.
~ Leah Green
Dear Friends: Your visit to Guate-Maya and Taa’Pi’t for us was impressive and powerful. It was a process of education for reclaiming our culture with the families and parents as well. We are full of wonderful memories of each one of you who are always in our hearts and welcome to this land of Guate-Maya and to Taa’ Pi’t. We have begun a new cycle with 60 new students, improving the program content and form of the classes, involving the parents and families and having success in the process. We are happy that together, interculturally, we are writing a new and glorious story we love. ~ Juan Manuel, Founder, Taa Pit
“This journey was transformational for me as I lived deeply and learned much about myself and others through the prism created by Compassionate Listening, Taa Pit and the magic of Lake Atitlan.” ~ Nani Baran, participant (and assistant for our March 2014 Journey)
“Dear Leah, I am so grateful to you, Nancy Lynn, Juan Manuel, Juan Martin, Deborah and the families and the Earth herself for allowing me to participate in experiences so varied, rich, sensually abundant, and filled with pure love.” ~ Laura Widman, participant
“The generosity and trust of our hosts, and the wisdom of their ancestral culture, opened me to a more spacious world and a greater sense of possibility and hope.” ~ Lisa Weinberg, participant