becca-rosesdove-gold-heart“The God Ones do not need to carry an umbrella for they are one with the rain, one with the sun, one with ALL THAT IS”

~words I heard on my Ayahuasca journey

I am the sun, I am the moon
I am the dream that ends too soon.
I am the deer, I am the lumbering bear
I am the catch that eludes the snare.
I am the grass, I am the flower
I am a lifetime or one short hour.
I am the tree, I am the leaf
I am a place beyond

I am the light, I am the dark
I am the arrow that hits the mark.
I am the snow, I am the rain
I am the touch that heals the pain.

I am the flame that keeps you warm.
I am the calm before the storm.
I am the hurricane that blows.

I am the thorns that guard the rose.

“One of our universal understandings is that every part of the universe is half of a duality, that for each thing there is its opposite, and that we cannot have one without the other. We cannot have day without night. We cannot have joy without sorrow. We cannot have life without death.”

~Cree Chief, Noel Starblanket

*I haven’t felt much like writing lately. Like many people I’ve felt discouraged and depressed, just trying to survive in a world that’s gone dark. Sort of like being stuck in a plane with mechanical problems, wondering if it will it ever get off the ground and looking out the window, the skies are grey, it’s raining and there’s dirty slush on the runway. Longing to be free, to rise above the clouds where the skies are blue again.

So I haven’t written anything but last week, a friend ordered one of Jody Armijo’s amazing altars and as he began to create it, I decided to document the process and create a slideshow. In the midst of ugliness,  to make something beautiful.

I wrote this blogpost about the creation of the altar and the journey it took me on…


“Nobody would do anything if they knew what they were in for”

~Amarante Cordova/The Milagro Beanfield War

Several years ago-more than several..probably nearly 30 now, I was living in Austin, Texas. I had recently participated in several Life, Death and Transition workshops given by Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross and like many who experienced her workshops, I decided to start my own helping organization. Since AIDS was in the forefront, I decided to start a hospice type organization to provide home care for people with AIDS as well as education for the community. I named the organization AIDS Care and Assistance and a little later changed the name to RITES OF PASSAGE.

RITES OF PASSAGE  was never anything I really wanted to do but rather something I knew I would do. And  I had NO IDEA what I was doing–I was only going by a vision which had come from working as an occupational therapy assistant for a local artThe stress for me was enormous and constant: trying to hire caregivers [a lot of people were afraid of being around people with AIDS then], making schedules and then making sure the caregivers showed up, meeting with grieving family members…File jason aids amband then too, all our patients were dying.

As the director of a non profit, mostly volunteer organization, I was on call day and night–I had a pager that was constantly going off: one of our patients needed something, one of the caregivers didn’t show up, the health department was making a surprise visit….. it was endless…endless and we had no money.

One night for a break, I went down to a restaurant/bar that was close to where my son and I lived. It was called The Pier on Lake Austin and it was possible to either drive there or go by boat. There was often live music and that particular night, a man named Jim Heald was playing. He sang and played guitar but I didn’t pay much attention until he sang a song called, The Thorns that Guard the Rose.jim-heald-performing

There was something about the song-the words and the music. I felt it was expressing so much of what I was feeling about the work of  RITES OF PASSAGE at that time: having to watch first- hand the devastating effects of AIDS and the heartbreaking moments when patients were rejected by their families but also seeing the positive and beautiful things that were happening: the love that was pouring out for these patients and a community that was coming together. We were living then in the very center of Life and Death.

When Jim finished playing, I went up to ask him if we might use the song in one of our documentaries. I think he said we could talk about later..we did and Jim and his wife, Laura became good friends.jim_laura_early They helped in many ways: with fundraisers where Jim performed, Laura with grant-writing and The Thorns that Guard the Rose became a sort of theme song for RITES OF PASSAGE.

Over the years, sometimes we were in touch and then lost touch. Jim and Laura moved out of state, I moved away from Austin. A few years ago, we got back in touch..they were getting ready to retire from their government jobs in DC and I asked Jim’s permission to use ‘The Thorns’ for a slideshow my son was creating for me–we were having a fundraiser and I wanted to show a short compilation of the work of Rites of Passage. [SEE BELOW]


“When the candles are lit, the altar becomes the center; it becomes a sacred place, a strikingly colorful, meaningful locus of power and source of light. It opens doors, it transforms ordinary space. An altar has a numinous, powerful presence. An altar to a dead person brings reconciliation, healing, consolation, comfort, it gives ritual expression to grief as it heals. It brings out the stories, the memories, the history, the continuity of life and the family. It unites”.

-Taos Artist, Anita Rodriguez

Jim and Laura moved to Florida..more time passed and then a week ago, Jody started on the altar I mentioned above…jodybeccas-altar-begin and I decided to document the process and make it into a slideshow [SEE BELOW] because like so many art forms including film, people often see the finished product and assume it just magically appears in its finished form.beccas-altar-finished

When I started working on the slideshow, I looked for the right music but nothing seemed to fit and then I remembered ‘The Thorns’ and I wrote Jim to ask permission to use the song. “Of course” he said and then for the first time, I asked him why he had written the song and he wrote back:

Laura and I were hiking in the mountains near Vail, Colorado in late September. We had got to a point where we could hear a mountain stream down a ways to our right. Two deer bounded down the mountain right past us. arroyo-forestYou could see an open meadow, again to our right through the trees. and we were hoping that we could find a way to get down to and across the stream to the meadow where we would be able to see the mountains. It was getting late and we knew we would have to turn around soon to get down before dark. We kept walking and I was saying in my head “Be here now” over and over. About 50 feet up the trail it split and you could see the right fork sloped gently down and there was a little bridge across the stream. We walked down and across into the open meadow, found a rock and sat down. It was overcast and a little chilly but we were able to see the mountains, maybe half a dozen peaks, I think to the South. Norte_mountainsBack at the hotel that night I scribbled down some notes….. The song attempts to pull together the feelings of being on that mountain at that particular moment”

But I thought, the song is way more than that, at least for me. It’s LIFE and DEATH and the balance, the understanding that everyone [well not everyone] seeks to reach….the balance between the dark [the thorns] and the light[the rose] and the understanding that everything serves a purpose. This is the reason I’ve never forgotten the song and it’s also explains in a way, why I loved working with hospice patients and very old people- because through them, I could be there in that place which I call ‘the Great Mystery’.file-dr-jim

“I am a lifetime or one short hour…….I am a place beyond belief”

And I thought then about a talk I once heard given by the Cree Chief, Noel Starblanket at an international conference on death and dying in Toronto…

noelgerri His wisdom brought through his words, reached the audience of 500 people at a very deep emotional/spiritual level and he couldn’t have been more surprised when he received a standing ovation from a highly educated, mainly Anglo audience.

“One of our universal understandings is that every part of the universe is half of a duality, that for each thing there is its opposite, and that we cannot have one without the other. We cannot have day without night. We cannot have joy without sorrow. We cannot have life without death.”

~Cree Chief, Noel Starblanket

Some years after that conference, I traveled to Brazil to participate in a shamanic workshop which centered around ingesting the herbal plant called ayahuasca. I don’t know why I went..dancers-brazil The ayahuasca, called ‘the brew’ made me and some of the others in the workshop incredibly sick and I would not do it again but on my journey, I heard these words which I’ve never forgotten:

“The God Ones do not need to carry an umbrella for they are one with the rain, one with the sun, one with ALL THAT IS”

jim-healdYou can learn more about Jim Heald and his fabulous music here

Below is the slideshow showing the creation of an altar. It carries its own message as it reinforces the message of ‘The Thorns’. Jody Armijo, the creator of this altar, spent several years in prison and jail earlier in his life. Struggling to find his way out of the darkness, he was able to find the light through his art.   I WANT TO GIVE BACK AND TO THANK THE CREATOR FOR MY ART THAT TAKES ME TO THE SECRET PLACE OF LIFE.” [‘THE GREAT MYSTERY’]


“An altar is like an airport where spirits take off and land”
― Steven Chuks Nwaokeke

*I write these blog posts from my heart..about my work with the First Nations People, about my teachers such as Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, about my time spent with terminally ill patients, about life off the grid in northern New Mexico. Though in some ways, I write for myself, I try always to share information and experiences that may be helpful to others, that are universal.

Last year was one of the most difficult years of my life-actually it was horrible and I’m not going into it but the story-some of it is there on my gofund me page  If you would like to contribute to to the continuation of these posts or me, there are 2 ways: the donate button on the side of this post, my gofund me page

I HATE trying to raise money and until pretty recently I’ve never had to but this process of being humbled and forced to ask, has brought some wonderful people into my life and with their help, I’m climbing out of a very dark hole. However-2 steps forward, 1 step back- this morning, with the electricity going out several times, I discovered that I have to spend about $4000 on batteries for my solar system. I’m thankfully off the grid but after 7 years, the old ones are failing fast.

BUENO AND THANK YOU!  I will prevail!

If you would like information about ordering an altar:

Rites Of Passage – Slideshow from Andy Pickard on Vimeo.

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