Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The path of effort as shamanic initiation

I enjoy reading back issues of Shaman's Drum, reading articles that did not hold my attention initially, but now give me new learning, because I have changed in my spiritual awareness since my first meeting of their authors and ideas. An article called Beautiful Painted Arrow's Sun Moon Dance, by Marsha Scarbrough, in number 79, 2009, contained such a teaching. I came upon this quote:

[Joseph Rael] talked about the importance of the path of effort. To achieve supernatural power,
you must choose to do things the most difficult way. Once you've achieved it, Spirit takes care of you, and things become effortless.
I think I am very good at choosing the path of effort. I do not think this means choosing difficulty with human relationships, or indulging in the drama that makes situations difficult; I think this means choosing to do what one is told by spiritual guidance, no matter how arduous or cumbersome the task. Creating the Journey Oracle was such a path of effort. Painting the cards , writing the stories, and determining how to use the two together for revelation took 16 years. And of course such a statement says very little about the frustration, and elation, and determination involved in such an enterprise.

What I realize now, about this path of effort that leads to effortlessness, is that it mostly requires trust and perserverance. This is just like the fairy tale: The Death of Koschei the Deathless, in the Red Fairy Book, edited by Andrew Lang. Prince Ivan keeps returning to steal away his sweetheart, the Princess Marya Morevna, even though he knows Koschei intends to cut him to pieces, and the Baba Yaga intends to put his head on a spike. It only matters to be with his beloved, now that he has found her. This is the path of effort: to choose the most difficult way. And so to be initiated into beauty.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Becoming a shamanic student

When I first asked to become a student of the spirit world, I was given a sort of a riddle to answer. I was on a high plateau looking out at an immense sweep of land stretching away into blue haze; I called out to everything, saying, "Please teach me. Please be my teacher. " I received this answer in a dream: "You must ask three times." The full story of this experience became the story corresponding to card #39 in my Journey Oracle card deck.

This was very puzzling to me. It felt then just like the experience I had today trying to see through fog as we returned to Gorge Harbour from a sailing trip. I knew the presence of land, of spirit, was all around me, I could feel it but I could not see it.
And so like many of us who are impatient and also not paying close attention--when I awoke I immediately asked again, "Please be my teacher." The next night I woke up remembering someone saying to me, "This time the answer is no."

Of course I did not notice the significance of the phrase 'this time.' I only heard the no. I first felt dismayed and then abandoned. Was I not worthy? Was I not a child of this spirit world also? And then I remembered the first answer. The sensation was just like seeing a form in the fog, and for a moment not understanding it, and then suddenly recognizing where you are.
Then, and today, I felt courage was the ability to keep moving forward on faith. I am remembering a quote in The Very Air, by Douglas Bauer: "Now Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." Hebrews 11:1. And so I asked a third time, "Will you be my teacher?" I brought humility and respect instead of self-centered impatience, and the answer was yes. This entire asking of spirit was a first lesson--pay attention, listen, remember. And just like today, the fog cleared, and I knew where I was.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Making a shamanic drum

This new shamanic drum is called many families. It is a clear deep gold, so transparent that whatever is near the drum becomes part of its face--part of its family. This 14" hoop drum was recently made at a drum workshop here on Cortes Island where two deer hides from a local hunter and several hoops made from local spruce were equally prepared by everyone. It is interesting to me that as all of us worked on both skins without having preferences or prejudices for what hide would eventually belong to which drum maker--the two hides became more and more clear, as if not claiming ownership caused the drum skins to keep releasing what would muffle the voices that were coming.

Throughout the three days it took us to prepare the skins to be stretched across the frames we were each careful to keep taking turns with every task on each skin. When it was time to cut out the drum heads we let the hides choose the drums they would become, because of course each drum pattern fit best in one area of the skin but not in others. In this way we never imposed our desires on the process of making the drum, but let the process reveal each drum's best fit to us. I feel this is why this shamanic drum has such a generosity of clarity. It has only ever had to be itself, and therefore we can each see ourselves in its face.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Why make art?

In all the writings about why artists make art--to create commentary, documentation, revolution, revelation, truth and beauty--it seems to me that a core reason is not often mentioned: to work with our hands.

In our modern world, hand work is both reviled and revered. Those of us who value mass production and expanding growth view hand work as unreasonable and inefficient. Those of us that equate value with what is original and effort-full see hand work as precious. In a strange spiral, at the very core of mass production are copies of what was once unique. Much of our resistance to hand work comes from our dependence on machinery that helps us worship what David Suzuki called the Great God Relief From Inconvenience: relief from the inconvenience of giving our time and effort to what keeps us alive.

Martin Prechtel teaches that the two most significant gifts we can make to the Gods, to the Spirits, are the eloquence made with our words and the work made with our hands. He said that art first belongs to the Holy, and I believe that when we sit within that timeless, wordless right-brain knowing as we create with our hands, we know this to be true. When I help someone make a drum, we both are giving our effort to feed a voice that can carry our prayers. I believe that it is our hands that are able to lift the voice of a drum to true eloquence.