Blog Action Day: Through the Looking Glass

Posted by on 10.15.07 | 9 Comments
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Several years ago, I attended a fire circle in western Colorado, where I then lived, on Grand Mesa outside of Grand Junction. The fire was in conjunction with a plant spirit medicine class being taught by a shaman in the Huichol and Nahuatl traditions (central Mexico) named Eliot Cowan. Eliot is Tsaurirrikame of the Huichol tradition, Singer of the Song of the Blue Deer. I was new to this path of indigenous connection to the earth and the spirits that inhabit it. My spiritual life had been lived pretty much in the dry lands of religious belief and some mystical experiences that kept me going.

I was invited to this fire circle by my plant spirit medicine practitioner, Deanna Jenne (Deanna has since finished her many years of apprenticeship and is now a shaman as well). I had been to some local circles, but this was a large one, with the visiting shaman, and I went, not knowing what to expect.

The evening started with excellent potluck, followed by a waiting period of drumming, walking about, laughter and anticipation. As Eliot came back to the hearth, we all gathered. The jokes, as usual around these fires, were funny with some groaners thrown in for good measure. As we settled in, with good rich dark chocolate and homemade cigarettes, the plant spirit medicine class began to talk about some issues coming out of their studies, and then the topic shifted to the destruction of indigenous habitat, culture and religion. With the group, I was silently bemoaning the irreversible losses. We were talking about how even the world’s religions were being ‘infiltrated’ by outsiders, i.e. lineages of Buddhism now include westerners; indeed, the Huichol lineage now has as its leader Eliot, who is Jewish by lineage, but has spent time living with Hinduism, studying Buddhism, etc.

I was listening when something hit me, as if upside my head. All of a sudden, I heard what Eliot was really saying, at least to me. What I heard was him saying that it’s our attachment to how the world is supposed to be that keeps us from being engaged in what really is. Our preoccupation and conflict with the external ‘machine’ of the world keeps us from experiencing the wonder of what is, like the Phoenix, being born out of the ashes and destruction. He was not saying that we shouldn’t do anything about what’s around us to do, but that our awareness can be broader, deeper, in touch with rhythms that we can’t experience at casual glance.

As I’m writing this, I’m thinking of other teachers of mine (both human and systems) that have said the same thing. There’s an apocryphal story of the Buddha being asked by his disciples where the cycles of existence started, and he refused to answer them, saying, basically, that it wasn’t any of their business–their business was to liberate themselves from samsara–to get off the hamster wheel. In another thought system, the Course in Miracles, when my teacher, Ken Wapnick, was asked about how, in the tiny tick of time that we experience as the universe, we ‘forgot to laugh’ at the idea that we could be separate from our maker–how did that happen? He responded (and I’m sure still responds!) “the tiny tick of time is not in the past. It is an always-present moment when we get to choose to experience ourselves as separate, or not. It’s every moment. ”

Back to the fire circle: Eliot’s words were like a lightning jolt through me. In that instance I saw that my profound judgment of how the world is (with all the wars, rumors of wars, abuse,destruction and mayhem) was keeping me from being free. My heart pounding, I asked the question that was like a caged wild bird now beating against the walls of its prison: if I see the world with larger eyes, feel with a larger heart, that what is happening to the world is not only an end but in same breath, a beginning, part of cycles of existence rather than of linear time, will I be free, will I be through the knothole of my own making? Eliot puffed on his cigar for awhile, I’m now sure feeling the beating of my heart and said, ‘Yes, but don’t forget to grieve’.

Grief is the cornerstone of my understanding the world and myself in it. It is what I’ve wrapped my professional and personal life around. When Eliot said those few words, they reverberated through my soul. He didn’t know me, had never had a personal conversation with me at that point, but he knew that without us grieving as long as we need to grieve, then trying, striving, stretching to see or feel something other than what we are experiencing is pretty silly. He knew, as those shamans do, what my personal fire is: walking with grief.

Since that night in fall 2001, I’ve leaned even more heavily into my grief about the world, and my inability to do much about it. The grief sometimes is crushing, sometimes light as a Canadian goose feather falling on my head as the goose migrates south for the winter. But I have not forgotten Eliot’s words. I am grieving with all my heart and soul. And will, as long as it takes. Freedom is on the other side of the knothole, the other side of this birth canal. I can sometimes feel the freedom with my senses. But I can’t get attached to that feeling, as the attachment is an addiction that will keep me bound. My job at this moment in time, is to grieve well the losses of it all. And sometimes I laugh with abandonment at the ludicrousness of it all–that’s part of the grief.

I do what I can: I recycle, reuse, try to be aware of my footprint on the earth. But I now know, with the deepest knowing available to me at this stage in my evolution, that it’s not about any of that. The mystery now lies in letting go of each attachment to the world–as it should, or even might be. To open to the greater mystery of a world that, like God, is evolving into something that we cannot yet dream.

My ancestors…physical, spiritual, human, 4-legged, and the earth itself all are my teachers and helpers in this struggle to shed my mind of its linear thinking. If the day ever comes that I no longer need to grieve to keep me grounded, and my new grounding comes from a deeper place still, y’all will be the first ones to know.

Alice and the Cat: Alice in Wonderland
Alice: Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?
The Cat: That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.
Alice: I don’t much care where.
The Cat: Then it doesn’t much matter which way you go.
Alice: …so long as I get somewhere.
The Cat: Oh, you’re sure to do that, if only you walk long enough.

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