Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Choosing a difficult path

Following the instructions of spirit often means choosing a difficult path. I remember well the response of my teacher, Martin Prechtel to a student who said, "But, Martin, this homework is too hard." Martin replied, "That's good. It's supposed to be hard." I enjoy reading back issues of Shaman's Drum and recently came across this comment by Scott Frazier in an article by Tony Shiver in Number 52, Summer 1999 . In reference to Tony's question about smoking during a ceremony to help his niece Kate, Scott says "Tomorrow night, we will be fasting, and you can't smoke if you are fasting. Besides, a little suffering is what this is all about. Just keep Kate in mind--that's why you are here. A little suffering never hurts."

When I follow the instructions of my spirit guidance, a little suffering seems to be part of the process. The Journey Oracle cards had many restrictions in their creation that both limited and expanded my creativity, because I was not able to only do what I wanted. Sometimes the seeking of an image on a painted shamanic drum takes many days, and although I know it would be easier to just invent something, I keep looking for what spirit wants me to see. The reward when I finally do have that deliciously Aha! sensation of "There you are; so it was you all along" is a kind of stereoscopic access simultaneously to the world of spirit and of this earth. David Abram writes so eloquently about both the difficult path and the reward when "a medicine person renders himself vulnerable to another, non-human form of experience."

So why do we resist this little suffering that comes from following a difficult path? Maybe because we insist on clinging to the illusion of comfort. I once did a stone divination, after years of learning how to speak to stones based on an introductory experience from a friend who had taken a Michael Harner neo-shamanic workshop. I was trying to understand how to journey to the spirit world and so asked this question: "What do I need to know?" The stone told me:
love your magic life
live up yet perform with sorrow
best become free from much care
have trust in subtlety
love from us cumbersome

That's good. Its supposed to be hard.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Hawaiian holiday

Sometimes I just have to let all the attention to Journey Oracle cards, and painted drums, and shamanic art go...and have a holiday in the sun and surf--swimming with the fishes of Kauai and the Kona coast of the big island of Hawaii.

Hawaiian Holiday

Understanding change

Many years ago I had a friendship with a woman who left Cortes Island and moved to Kauai. Although we thought well of each other, our time together was often strained with complex feelings, at least it seemed so to me. Even though I have traveled to Kauai on previous vacations I have never tried to find her, or made an effort at understanding the difficult feelings.

One morning my partner asked me if I was planning to find my former friend, and just a few hours later at the Princeville shopping center--there she was! I had a wonderful opportunity for understanding change during our reunion--spending time on a beach picnic and at her stand selling native seed jewelry at the craft markets that happen along the north shore. In attempting to understand the change in our relationship, I drew this card from the Journey Oracle. All the parts of the reading: the image of confusion, the question about how to act, and the card story were helpful for understanding change.

A mottled gray green form moved through the pond water. Its surging pausing progress came to rest on a submerged twig protruding from a floating island. A woman sitting on the rim of the pond, with a mental chaos of many tasks to do, watched as the form resolved itself into a frog with the stump of its tadpole tail still visible. “The head could use a rest” she thought, and so she focused on the frog that had now extended its legs out into a resting position, as if it were a child holding onto the rim of a pool. “This is a child” the woman thought, “even though this face has many stories already.”
The frog gathered its angular legs and blunt toed feet beneath its body. It began to crawl slowly up an accidental ladder of twigs and sticks from the underside of the island to its top layer of mossy mud. The frog kept climbing until it clung to a green stem in the thin morning sunshine, blinking calmly into the enormity of its first breath of air.
“Now there is also long life in this face,” the woman thought, “at the end of this particular journey underwater.” The woman thought of the news she had received: a call from far away saying her father had died. As she sat in the strengthening sun, watching the frog feel its radiance for the first time on its slowly drying body, she thought that maybe this is how it is for everyone. “Maybe this life on earth is the time we spend breathing under water, and then we discover the sun.”

Although these passages are about understanding change because of death, the dramatic transformation from one perspective to another certainly applies in this story of rediscovering a friend. At one moment I was uncertain and confused, and in the next we were laughing in the Hawaiian sun. Maybe understanding change is not so much the task, as is just accepting the change that comes, and basking in the sun of its new perspective.

Maintaining spiritual practice

When traveling on holiday for a winter break from our oyster farm on Cortes Island, I want to take my spiritual practice with me. This often is much harder than it sounds. The powerful presence of nature in our northern Canadian forests makes saying prayers to spirits of place very easy. There certainly are powerful spiritual forces here on the island of Kauai, but these energies do not recognize me or the spirit language I speak or the spirit food I offer. Perhaps my gestures are not appropriate and I am putting my practice at risk. I drew a Journey Oracle card before I left on this Hawaiian holiday, and really took heart from the damage and perserverance in the card's story.


A drum maker was giving a demonstration. She showed the fitting of skin, and the weaving of thongs to make a handle. She was joining all the parts together when in came an elderly woman. "I am unfortunately in a hurry," the old woman said. "I brought you a drum to repair. It came from my travels in Russia. Thirty years ago my niece put her foot though the skin, and it has been stored in my shed ever since.” With that the old woman handed over the broken drum and left.
The drum seemed irreparable. Its square nails had rusted heads that broke off at a finger
touch. The skin was rotted away from the hoop edges, whose wood had separated and buckled. The rim of the drum was fitted with brass jingles whose pins were broken or bent. The drum maker thought “there are so many difficulties here, yet there must also be something to learn.” The drum maker slowly took the drum apart. Even though every step was a challenge she refused to let go of the project. Nails were remade, wood was reshaped, and brass was straightened and cleaned.
As the frame neared completion, the drum maker received a call from a friend. “A yearling deer has died. I found its arched body trapped in my shed. Would you like to come and take the skin?” The drum maker had never skinned a deer before. There were many difficulties, but she refused to let go because there was also something to learn.
The hide was very fragile but at last the drum maker reassembled the drum with its new skin. The wood gleamed with coats of fine oil. The brass shone like firelight. The transformation was complete.
Years later the old woman called. The drum maker felt a blood rush at the sound of her voice. “Yes. I have finished it,” she said, “but I am refusing to let go. I know I am making difficulties here, but there is still something to learn.”

I am certain that beneath the adventure tour packages and artificial lava rock waterfalls, there is great damage and perserverance in this place. Most of my efforts to maintain my spiritual practice while traveling were feeling strained and false, until yesterday I tried whistling back to a bird. I could not see it in the dense tropical foliage, but in response to its cascading melody I whistled back the greeting I exchange with my cockatiel. There was a pause, and then a shorter bird call that felt full of curiosity. I whistled a longer series and to my delight and humbling surprise, the bird copied part of it. I in turn tried to copy its call. We whistled back and forth until my unskilled mouth was no longer able to keep the tone clear and strong. As I turned away I was dismayed to hear the bird continuing to speak, wanting to maintain contact. I realized that I did not know the whistle for "goodbye and every blessing to you for being willing to speak with me."

But I am refusing to let go. I will probably make difficulty for the birds who a willing to join into a conversation with me and then are disappointed at my lack of manners, but there is lots for me to learn in this, and so for these two weeks I will maintain my spiritual practice by asking the birds to talk to me, and hopefully learning the songs of Aloha and Mahalo.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Advice for beginning to do shamanic journeys

I have been recently asked if I would give advice about beginning to do shamanic journeys. I have been creating shamanic drums and doing journey work for 26 years and so agreed I do have some experiences to share. But where to start? Conducting shamanic journeys into the more-than-human realms is a complex and many layered process that doesn't follow human assumptions of time, morality and how to be treated politely.

I was pondering this request for shamanic advice while returning from a week of skiing at Whistler and suddenly received inspiration from seeing a new road sign on the Inland Island Highway. The sign read: SLOW DOWN / MOVE OVER. I felt like BC Highways was speaking in my head about doing shamanic journey work: slow down everything--your enthusiasm, your apprehension, your assumptions, your expectations. Human time is not spirit time. There is a vast intimacy to nature, and to our journeys into nature's spirit, that does not respond to human time. If we want to be fully awake in these other than human realms, we have to move with the speed of raindrops, frog song and morning mist, and not at the speed of 4G.

I realized that in doing shamanic journey work we move over--to our animal wisdom from our human intellect. We are asked to be in our body sensations and heart knowing more than our mental images, explanations and calculations. This is a hard move, because our modern culture does not teach how to listen to our heart perceptions as valid knowledge for awareness and action. So sometimes we are shown, when we first begin to journey, that before we can even enter into these alternate realities, we must learn to become quiet and still, like the fiddle is quiet and still--waiting for the song to give voice to its spirit, as both are waiting for the musician to give her body to the song. If I have learned anything in these 26 years, it is that in the shamanic realms, I am--and am not--the fiddle, the song, and the musician.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Connecting with nature

I have recently been learning a way of connecting with nature by using my heart wisdom rather than my brain intelligence. This new insight began when I re-discovered a book by Stephen Harrod Buhner called, The Secret Teachings of Plants. Buhner is one of my favorite authors and I purchased this book years ago before I began this journey of the oracle, but apparently was not ready then to learn about connecting with nature through my heart.

Now when I go for my daily walk, I stop near some part of the forest that calls my attention: a cedar giant, a clump of moss sparkling with rain, a twisty community of salal. I wait in meditative quiet, focusing my awareness in my heart as well as on the place in nature, until I feel a warm sensation of opening, of permission to be present with the life here. I "come to my senses" in my heart awareness and then ask myself "How am I feeling at this moment?" I understand that this feeling tone is flowing from this place in nature, and connecting me to its "ensparkedness" through my heart as an organ of perception. I don't ask for anything, or intend to take anything, I just stand in the dripping January forest and feel the deep down freshness in our shared aliveness.

I offer my breath as thank you to the place for letting me be present with it and often as I walk on I remember one of my favorite quotes from John Muir: "I only went out for a walk, and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in."

Oracle reading for 2011

I asked the question: "What do I most need to pay attention to in 2011?" Here is the Journey Oracle card I drew. This image is one of my favorite paintings in the oracle deck, but I felt dismayed that the elegant creature seemed to be lying on its side. I wanted to turn the card upright but realized the question has an even stronger impact because of my discomfort with the orientation. There seems to be so many messages telling us who we are these days. We are the ones who have ruined everything; we are the ones who need to fix everything; we are the cause of every problem and the hopeful version of every solution. But do we realize who we are?

I then asked, "What do I least need to pay attention to in 2011." I drew this oracle card. For me this image is about the hunger of desiring something more or different beyond the blessings of health, home, service, kindness and community that I already enjoy. May I remember these blessings in every year.

I did turn the first card upright and immediately saw the creature made of the red matter of this earth, surrounded by the cascading blue flow of the spirit realm. I will try and remember this question throughout the year; remembering that these red and blue realms are not separate, but are the mix in all life that makes the power of purple. May we who have so much work free from the hunger of craving more, and in the peace that comes when this inner wanting is quiet, may be realize who we truly are.