The most recent trip I took to Roccamassima left me feeling like I had travelled back in time. Believe me, that was not my intention as there was a ton of inner work to sort through that began to emerge as soon as I set foot there. Amidst the self- reflection, I found myself living what seemed to be a medieval life- well aside from my occasional iphone usage, which to be honest, was very rare due to terrible internet receptivity.
Imagine this: a medieval castle, partially renovated, atop a mountain, on the outskirts of the city of Rome, one of the most ancient sites of the world, overcast with a misty cloud formation that seemed to have existed before time itself. Cold and damp home interiors, due to the thick walls that were constructed centuries ago. No electricity, no water, and the closest town is a 30 min drive. Narrow streets, lead into narrower streets that are not accessible by car. A town secluded in the mountain wilderness and the only sound you hear is that of the forest creatures and birds. In certain instances there is wind howling, literally saying things that I wished I understood.
This little town a short drive south of Rome seems small and insignificant, yet so majestic as it towers over the valleys with a rich and yet mysterious history that is not that accessible. One has to dig and ask and hopefully find a few morsels of information here and there. What I was able to find about the castle where my space is located, and about the town itself, with the help of the organ player in the church of the town, (whose name escapes me now), was as follows:
The town of Roccamassima was founded in December of 1202 by decree of Pope Innocent III. The castle was built to defend the Church of Rome. The town palace belonged to Prince Pieter Degli Annibaldi’s, a descendant of Pope Innocent III. It was built in the 13thcentury AD and its sturdy buttresses are still visible. The castle rises on the highest part of the country and over the centuries it was the dwelling of the feudal noble families of the territory: the Malabranca, the Pierleoni, the counts, the Salviati, the Doria Oamphili. Some rooms in the palace were prison cells. In the beginning of the twentieth century, the Palace was passed to the property of the Cherubini Family, who over the years sold different portions to different individuals. During the fascist period the palace was the seat of the Podestà. In the 1950s it became the local Police barracks. The rooms in the ground floor where used as warehouses and horse stables. The horses were used to bring wheat and fruit to the prince. Roccamassima did not have its own water supply until the 1980’s. Water had to be brought from the neighboring towns.
Daily images haunted me of what it would be like living here in the middle ages, keeping watch over the surroundings of Rome day and night, and also what it might have been like for the Prince who lived here. I am sure his family lived a luxurious life by comparison to the rest of the population. But was it really that luxurious by our standards?
Is this my Imagination?
You see, I was trained to try and piece together history from potshards, and other remains. Although I did not go on an archaeological dig in Roccamassima this May, I did receive visuals, and flashbacks into what seemed to be the past as I walked the town. As I lay there on the newly installed terracotta, I had brief and sudden glimpses into the rich past. Perhaps it was only my imagination wildly at play. Perhaps they were open doorways that when silent and still enough, one can hear and see. Regardless, it was a moving experience.
I was waiting to encounter spirits of those who lived here, and instead on one specific night, I found myself communing with the spirits of horses that are said to have inhabited the space I currently renovated. I could sense that they seemed to have been well cared for and extremely content.
As I further explored the streets of Roccamassima, I noticed there used to be a communal oven where everyone in the town came to cook their meals. I began to imagine the women of the town meeting three times a day, perhaps to share stories and gossip as they prepared their meals. I recalled my own grandmother sending loads of food to be cooked at a similar oven in my home town of Tripoli, Lebanon.
Living like this for two weeks, I could really sense what it was like to live back then. Especially because of the harsh weather, and the lack of electricity and water in my place. It brought back the realization that I had had over three decades ago, that we are so privileged to be living in these times. To live in these times means to realize the inequality, the discrimination, the horrors and atrocities that still inflict human kind today. Turning a blind eye and numbing our self will not make things change.
This experience took me many years back, back to living and witnessing some intense times during the Lebanese civil War. A part of my life I usually do not talk about with much detail. During this war, we lived with barely any of the comforts of everyday life. We had no electricity for days, no for months, and years. Showers were taken in small buckets of bottled water that we warmed up over a gas stove. Sometimes just icy water would do. Studying for exams by candle light until the late hours of the night…
Yes, all these things may seem like hardships, but you know what? I have come to see that there is so much beauty in such simplicity. This simplicity is what helps us appreciate nature and her cycles. It helps us tune into the elements and understand them.
My Goddess! I called this in. When I decided to focus my work, my yoga, and psycho-somatically informed creative trauma work on the elements, I called this in. I wanted to focus on working with the five archetypal elements and I summoned them all to me on top of this mountain. It feels like this was merely an introduction, a beginning of the work that will follow. Earth, Fire, Water, Air, and Ether stopped by, each in their own special way to let me know they heard the call. They also made sure I know, it is on their terms, not mine. I quickly surrendered to this truth and am humbled they showed up in this way.
My yoga teachings and flows will be specifically focused and informed by these elements from here and on. In Ayurveda they are referred to as the panchamahabutas. It cannot be any other way. It was on top of this mountain, overcast with misty clouds, wind howling, rain pouring day and night, and the stove burning where I wrote the curriculum for my hopefully soon to be certified yoga school offerings. There is so much depth to this and I have only just barely began to scratch the surface.
Journey to Roccamassima one day? The five elements will be there waiting. Are you in?