Sunset yoga and an Andean Despacho Ceremony in Montauk
Article by Marshall Heyman
Photography by Gordon M. Grant
Sept. 7, 2015 4:12 p.m. ET
Montauk, N.Y. - For a lot of people, the summer allows space and time for reflection, and then it’s back to the grind of the city.
This summer, Haley Binn discovered a particularly meditative terrace perch overlooking the water by her friend’s summer rental here on Tuthill Road above Duryea’s Lobster Dock.
“I was watching the sunset there and I thought, I want to share this with so many people,” she recalled.
That led to the idea that it might be a good place to do yoga followed by a quick dip in the water. So Ms. Binn enlisted her longtime friend and yoga teacher Heather Lilleston, who organizes yoga retreats under the moniker “Yoga For Bad People.”
Ms. Lilleston and Ms. Binn’s acupuncturist had already introduced Ms. Binn to Maggie Harrsen who practices the art of shamanic healing and energy medicine. Ms. Binn had done a “soul retrieval experience” with Ms. Harrsen and wanted to share it with her friends.
“As a unit, you’re greater than the individual parts,” Ms. Binn said.
So, on a recent weekday evening, she invited a few of her female friends, including the interior designer Anna Cappelen, Dom Perignon brand director Nicole Ruvo, Montauk-based contractorPaulette Davis and the chef Katie Lee for sunset yoga taught by Ms. Lilleston and an Andean Despacho ceremony led by Ms. Harrsen. (Liev Schrieber and his male surfer friends in Montauk had asked Ms. Lilleston and Ms. Harrsen if they could attend but were told it was “ladies only.”)
Ms. Harrsen, who lives in Noyac, has been leading these kinds of ceremonies for the past two years after participating in one with two indigenous shamans from Peru.
“It changed my life,” she said. “It basically aligned me with the forces of nature inside and outside of my body.”
After an hour of late afternoon yoga, Ms. Lilleston left the Harmonium organ she uses during yoga practice upstairs. “No one’s going to steal the Harmonium,” she said. Ms. Harrsen led the ladies down the steps to the rocky sand where she had arranged an altar. She explained that, together, everyone would create a single offering or “despacho” to give or “dispatch” to the natural world. In a typical ceremony of this ilk, done in the high Andes of Peru, she added, the offering might be burned, buried, or, as in this evening’s case, sent into the water.
“We sit with a despacho or create a despacho to align ourselves with the natural word, to call in our dreams or release that which is no longer serving us,” Ms. Harrsen explained. The ceremonies can happen anytime, she added. “They’ll do one to bless the llamas or to celebrate the sun. Maybe they’ll do one to call for rain or the well being for someone who’s not well.”
Ms. Harrsen brought several natural items to be added to the despacho, including corn, oats, coconut, cacao, brown sugar, coffee grounds, lentils, pink Himalayan salt and mint.
She began by spreading the coffee grounds in the shape of a cross to “honor the four directions,” each of which has specific, archetypal energies. The south represents the great serpent, she explained; the west represents the jaguar; the north for the rainbow hummingbird; and the condor in the east.
“When we align these forces, we harness their power,” she said, asking everyone to contribute brown sugar to the coffee grounds.
After that came millet, then corn, then a few feathers “for father wind” and shells for “the mother of the water.” Based on decisions by the group, other elements were given meaning and then added to the despacho. The cacao represented love, they decided. Lentils meant “being grounded.” The pink Himalayan salt was about purification. The coconut represented freedom; the oats, hope. Ms. Harrsen passed around sage, tulsi (holy basil), a clove of garlic, and a crystal, asking everyone to touch it, “so your energy’s on there.”
Ms. Harrsen then passed out three lemon balm leaves to each participant to create a prayer holder or “qintu” which they were meant to meditate on.
“They’re the carriers for your prayers,” she said. “Be with these leaves.”
After several moments of reflection, the leaves were added to the despacho and covered with flowers “to protect the wishes and the dreams,” Ms. Harrsen said. “Each petal is a kiss from mother and father earth.”
Everything was bundled up together and wrapped in sheep’s wool “to make it look like a present,” Ms. Harrsen said. She rang bells over the package to underscore the masculine and feminine energy, but before giving it to the ocean, she said, “I’m going to run it against your bodies to align your energetic body with everything here.”
Eventually, as dusk became dark, everyone stepped into the water and gave the package a little push. Would it end up on Block Island? In a lobster trap? Washed back ashore? Over to the Crow’s Nest for a bite? No one knew.
“I definitely feel cleansed,” said Ms. Ruvo. “I definitely felt some energy move.”
“Life can get really busy. It’s so nice to watch the sunset with a lot of love and appreciation,” added Ms. Binn, before heading out for dinner. “I feel relaxed and grounded and calm and peaceful.”
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