Return to Xibalba, the Mayan Underworld
The last time I went into what is called Xibalba, the world beneath the surface of the world, was in Belize. Today I travelled once more into this alter universe beneath the surface of the world at a place in Mexico called Aktun Chen. I had been prepared for a place that was more about commercialism than about substance. I was pleasantly surprised as there weren’t any tourist vendors selling Mayan artifacts made in China. For the day we spent at the site, there were less than thirty tourists who showed up to walk through the underworld, to swim in an underground river cave or to wander in the jungle.
I got to walk through a series of three different caves, dry caves for the most part. In the last cave, there was an option to walk a portion of the cave in ankle deep water. My wife and I were the only ones to take advantage of this side detour. A few hidden lights along the way made it easy to track through the cave while on our own. I am familiar with the underworld as it is almost a second home, an inner landscape that often is not much different that the Mayan caves I have been visiting each time I go to Mexico.
Something about caves, the intense darkness, the visceral fear and sometimes the comforting pulse as if within a womb, that has had me descending into the earth in China,Vietnam, Laos, and various locations in Canada and the U.S.A. These caves give a sensate experience with which I can locate the psychic underworld caves I encounter on my inner journeys. I have found thousands of Buddhas in caves, bats in caves, angry and frustrated tourists in caves complaining of the bats, the smells and wanting it all to end so that they can have a beer and some food – and sometimes if I am lucky, there is silence and total darkness in caves – a silence that soon becomes a hymn as though in a cathedral at midnight with no lights or windows. There are no words that can describe both the inner and outer experiences of such a silence and darkness while within the bowels of the earth.
Walking through the water today in the cave with no one near me besides my wife, who walked as silently as I did, stopping more often than not to listen and search out the faint path, was an experience that lifted the heart. It has been a good day.