Saturday, October 13, 2018

Little miracles every day

I rescued a mouse today.  Surprised me that I was able to catch it in a plastic cup from where it was hiding in the bathroom.  Felt more like I talked it into the cup, a good suggestion since the other alternative was likely death-by-cat, one of which was lolling nearby. 

Out the gate into the forest, out of the cup and under a fern pronto. 

Then I read this meditation by Richard Wagamese in Embers, and was struck by the application of its opening sentences to taking the time and effort to catch a mouse in a cup. 

I live for miracles in my life these days.  Not the earth-changing, light-bringing, soul-powering kind.  But the ones that carve out  small space of peace where before there was only the jumble of resentment, fear and doubt.  The ones that happen from choosing to live the right way.  

It is this last sentence that particularly holds my attention.  The right way of living includes helping everything live in a good way.

When I'm not  making frame drums and giving Journey Oracle card readings, I am an oyster farmer here on Cortes Island.   Every day at work there are opportunities for helping something live.

The pinstripe and crescent gunnels spill out of oyster shells where they were hiding, flipping dramatically about the sorting table until scooped up and over the side.

Tiny skeleton shrimp are attached to every rope and plastic surface, waving about in the air reaching for the water that has disappeared;

Nudibranchs as beautiful as butterflies lay in puddles of sea water hoping for a tip back into the ocean.

Sometimes the only good way left is to honour a creature with a good death.  This is why I sometimes build drums with the bullet hole positioned visibly in the deerskin.

Richard Wagamese seems to be echoing this honouring of letting go in the remaining sentences of the meditation. 

Like coming to understand that forgiveness isn't about gaining a release from others--it's about gaining release from me.  If I release my hold on what binds me, I can walk free and unencumbered.
But I have to embrace the resentment, fear and doubt to gain that.  I have to own them, hold them again, so that I can learn to let them go.  In that letting go is the miracle.  

I bet the mouse had no trouble letting go.  
I think I'll go learn from the mouse.  

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Interpret your dreams with 5 questions

I use 5 questions to interpret my dreams.  I am illustrating my way of interpreting dreams with images from the Journey Oracle card deck, which I created in part using dream questions and images.

First, I write my dream as soon as I come into consciousness, trying to move my body as little as possible from its waking position.  Yes. even at 3 am!  The most trivial detail or comment from a dream character is written down, and I'm always surprised in the rationality of day how profound these small utterances from the night can become.

I let the notes "rest" until mid-day at least, and then begin with these 5 questions.

What is this dream describing?  I use short phrases to describe the characters and what they are doing without interpretation.  I do not say why they are doing or being as they are, or what this might mean.  In this oracle card example I might write:  a stone tunnel or passageway, narrowing to an opening'; only two colors.

I next ask What is this dream not about?  Do I know of such a tunnel?  In ordinary reality have I recently had the experience, or watched or heard of someone else having an experience of moving through a passage to a small opening? 

Maybe I have recently made a shamanic frame drum and am concerned for how its voice is turning out. If so then this dream image would seem to connect to that experience in my waking life.  If there is a connection I begin to look for dream meaning within the ordinary experience.

I next ask, What is the principal action of the dream?  In this oracle card example, while there are faces of humans and creatures behind the feathers, the principal action would appear to be floating.

Then I ask, What have I recently been doing in ordinary reality?  I might make a list of what happened yesterday to see if this activity prompts a connection.  Perhaps I remember seeing a fawn on someone's lawn and thinking, "It's awfully late in the season for such a little one." 

This may prompt a strong connection between that recent event and an image of a fawn that in the dream was accompanied by a sense of alarm. 

Lastly, I ask, What metaphors,signs or symbols do I associate with this dream image?  It is only with this last question that I begin to look for ways to interpret and assign meaning to the dream. Usually by this time I already have a sense of what the dream is showing me though identifying what the dream is not about, what its principal action is, and what I have recently been experiencing.

This oracle card example of a dream image has at first glance a complicated and peculiar set of characters.  Yet when I apply these 5 questions I realize I am seeing an old woman with white hair (me) with a cat like creature on her shoulder (I just watched the movie: A Street Cat Named Bob and felt great love and gratitude for our three rescue kitties). The principal action seems to be blowing up.  This creates a spark of revelation when I remember that I had a conversation yesterday with a friend who asked about "reading the wind."  Suddenly the action and the woman's expression make sense and feel like a warning to not say too much.  Which is true.  Its best not to talk about the wind.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Make a driftwood drum beater with a secret ingredient

The first skill when making a driftwood drum beater is finding the right piece of driftwood.

I look for pieces that are strong and without cracks,
but also interesting. 
Perhaps what catches my attention is the way the wood grew,

Or seeing that a beaver chewed it,

or noticing that nature and the waves of the ocean sculpted something very smooth and even.

But before I begin felting the wool to make the drum beater,
I do something else, the secret ingredient.
I make a bead from a tiny chip of shale
 using a piece of pointed flint.

The flint is twirled into the centre of the shale
until a small hole appears,
and the irregular edges are smoothed away with a flat stone.
I save the bead dust as this is the real treasure of the process.
Because what makes a bead is the hole in the middle,
and not the material around it.

I make beads to honour the cedar trees that give me rings
for the back my frame drums,
and this thank you honors the pieces of driftwood also. 

So no matter how the drum beater is finished--
with a laced design of leather,

or with a simple embellishment of smoke-tanned deerskin,

always my thank you comes first. 

Here is a story I wrote for my Journey Oracle wisdom cards
that tells a deeper meaning about making a bead.

A Journey Oracle fairy tale
There was a child who so loved butterflies that she wanted to make them a gift. She felt communication without words when she was near one, like a coming into power. Her mother suggested she make a bead to give and that in doing so she would discover the secret of something, a knowledge that cannot be out there, and this knowing would be the gift that the butterflies would most like to have from her.
“But what material shall I use? I don’t want to be a death bringer to wood or bone” the girl said. “I’ll use an empty shell”” she thought. “This will be no harsh look at reality because the creature will have already left.” And so the girl found a shell and chipped and sanded it with a rock until a circular shape appeared. “But now the fairy tale’s over” she realized, “now I must be doing the work to make the hole.”
         The girl looked for shards amid a scattered focus of rock rubble, like seeing horns of stone that would be able to pierce without breaking the shell. She began twirling a sharp piece into the center of the shell circle, and felt her inner tension clearing, like she was going to a new place in how she used her hands. This twirling took a long time; the layers of shell were like hard news that does not want to be forgotten. Yet finally the girl felt a little tickle against her finger, the way butterfly feet tickle when one was walking on her hand. A hole appeared!

          “This is the secret my Mother told me about” she exclaimed. “A bead is not something that surrounds a hole; a bead is the hole with something surrounding it so it can still be seen. I am giving the butterflies something invisible.” Then the girl looked at her sore fingers, dented from all the twirling. “Maybe this is the knowledge from making a bead that cannot be out there—that the butterflies want the gift of my effort, more than the thing my effort makes.”

Saturday, September 15, 2018

frame drum repair

This deerskin and red cedar frame drum came to me for repair because the drum hide and frame was much stronger than the back of the drum.

The lacing in the back of the drum seemed to be buckskin and was quite loose.  When the owner of the drum brought the drum to me, she pinched the thongs together, saying she sometimes did this to tighten the pattern.  Suddenly, we had the solution for repair.

I understand that the way the back of a frame drum is tied is the drum maker's signature, so this method of tightening without removing the original lacing felt correct.

I use various kinds of sailor's knots when I finish the backs of my frame drums, and so using a variation of a Portuguese sinnet became the way to reinforce the lacing.

The drum back took on a look of sturdy elegance as the knotwork moved up each of the four directions, split at the Y and then continued across the centre bar to meet again in the middle.

Just when I thought all was resolved and easy, I came to the centre of the design--now what?  I tied the eight ends of leather into a crown sennit from Des Pawson's Knot Craft, a wee little book that has been a bible of knot designs for me. 

After several hours of frustrating non-success with wall knots and star knots, I just repeated the over and under weave of the crown sennit. and there was the solution!

The ends were tucked under and a drops of glue were added to reinforce the design so nothing could shift loose.  I have always maintained that good art can sometimes benefit from a bit of glue. 

Friday, September 7, 2018

Naming the spirit of a drum

I consider that a drum is a living being.  
A spirit with a body and a voice.  
Fed by the vibration of drumming its voice awake into song. 

I understand from my years of shamanic practice that everything wants a home and needs food.  Everything also has a name.  The sound of its name is the vibration that helps it stay found.

When I first receive a blacktail deer hide from hunters here on Cortes Island, I spread out the skin, close my eyes, and let my energy sink to my first chakra.  I slowly move with my breath up through each subsequent chakra, feeling any sensations of intensity that show me where the energetic “charge” of the animal lives in my body. 

I then open my eyes.  I gaze at the patterns of veins and colours in the membrane without trying to see anything—I am just looking.  Something appears.  A figure, a creature, a face, a scene.  Like reading clouds on a summer’s day.  A phrase accompanies the image.  If the image is stable and the name has a frisson of connection, this is the some day new drum telling me its name. 

This name stays a deep memory as the drum is being made.  Most times the drum shows me a different image when I gaze into its dried surface, looking for a painting to appear. And that painting becomes another name, the one by which the drum becomes known.

But a drum that is not painted keeps its deep name.  
This is not the name of a picture. 
It is the name of a spirit that revealed itself 
in those first moments of transformation.  

This is the drum’s true face. 

Who is this drum?  Whose old wise skin flows smooth over the 
sliprock coloured spruce wood,
 singing with the stars.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Painting dream animals on drums

Dream Animals, by James Hillman, is really shifting my perspective about animals that appear in my dreams. Instead of treating them like figments of my inner state whose purpose is translation and self-applied meaning, he suggests I recognize that dream animals are always displaying themselves in a scene and bringing a mood.  He states that "anything that comes at you in a dream wants you."

My frame drum paintings are like dream images.  I paint the shadows behind the creatures more than the forms of the birds and animals.  I let appear what is appearing and do not shift a pose or edit a mood.  So what do the dream animals in my painted shamanic drums want from the drummer?

Bears often come to my drum paintings.  
There is such warmth in their presence.

A mood of loving kindness whose wisdom seems 
touched with such sadness.  
As if we humans have forgotten our place,
 and the bear is waiting, still, for us to return.

Birds come to my drum paintings with intensity.

They seem to demand a focus that requires being really present.


The great cats do not often appear in the drum painting, 
but when they do it is with an air of watchful stillness.  
As if their presence on the drum is but a fleeting moment.

The canines have a different energy.  
Outgoing; boisterously engaged in joyful praise.

Even when the creature comes with a sense of menace,
 there is a playful quality to the bite. 

The fox and the snake go together in my impression of the mood they bring to a drum painting. 
 Both are accused of being deceitful because we attach
 a moral judgement to their slink and slither.  
Yet both are truly masterful in their unwillingness
 to be corrupted by the meanings we assign.  

I consider it the greatest gift to have 
one of these animals appear on a drum.  
Perhaps they want the drummer to learn
 to disappear into the vibration,
 like a snake or a fox down a hole into the moist dark earth.  

Sometimes a presence is so real, so "itself," 
that there is nothing it wants, 
and nothing for the drummer to give.   
Just be together.