Sunday, April 26, 2015

Sailing to Middlenatch Island in Desolation Sound; finding shamanic lessons from wildflowers

Springtime in Desolation Sound seems to require a day sail to Middlenatch Island, especially in these last days of April with the wildflowers are at the height of their beauty.  Because I consider myself a student of nature, I also look for lessons about shamanic knowing in the way plants grow, and where.

Consider these two Camas plants.  The Death Camas and the Blue Camas.  The Death Camas is like being able to call the wind and lightening, dramatic but dangerous without the deep, often traditional education that knows how to receive them.  The Blue Camas is more modest yet nourishing, like the teaching from rain and cloud.

Some shamanic teachers require us to struggle with hard lessons that are wrapped with thorns of criticism and kept within a harsh and unfriendly manner.  But just as the wild strawberry sends up its flowers from runners that grow over rock. the fruit of this teaching is like a nugget of intense wisdom, bursting into our awareness if we are patient and wait long enough for the sun,

Some shamanic knowing seems lush with ceremony, and we are drawn to be part of its drama.  Yet if this knowing has been removed from its ritual context, we find a wall denying access behind its surface invitation.  We are unable to apply its meaning to a useful purpose in our daily life.

I understand that the most powerful lessons of shamanic knowing are small and easily overlooked, requiring contemplation and quiet, not excess and arrogance.  These few-flowered Shooting Stars are a wonderful symbol of that rare moment when we focus our attention differently, quiet our inner dialog, and let the other-than-human-world show us its face.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

How to leave a spiritual teacher

I work with students of all kinds: art students, drum making workshop participants, folks who want to learn about oyster growing.  Yet the most delicate teacher / student relationship I have is with people who come to learn about creating and maintaining a shamanic relationship with the spirit world in nature. Here I am not the teacher so much as the school secretary; you remember the one who stood guard behind the counter, who knew the rules when you were late or didn't have your permission slip. She may have been difficult to get by, but she wasn't the one who marked the exams or gave out the grades.  That teacher in shamanic work is the spirit world itself.  So when you decide to leave a spiritual teacher, you are in fact leaving a particular form of relationship with spirit, and this takes skill, compassion and clear intention.

The first step is to Meet the Teacher.  By this I mean meet the forces, elements and creatures that have been your guides during this time of your learning. And also meet the human teacher and other students who have been journeying with you. Call all these seen and unseen teachers to be present to witness your decision to leave.

Know the Story of your experience and tell the truth about it. This is a truth without explanations or excuses.  Changing and growing as you learn, so that your present teacher is no longer able to move forward with you, is is the true goal of all learning.  Not being clear with yourself and others about who you have become is an obstacle whose tendrils and thorns reach out into both worlds.

Be Food for the human and other-than-human teachers who have guided you to this moment of parting.  Do this by creating a feast of thanksgiving as well as a feast of edible food.  Sharing memories, joys and sorrows while sharing something nutritious feeds gratitude into any cracks or holes that may be made by your leaving.

At the conclusion of your leaving, Have Courage to be truly gone.  Just as water flows always downhill, and yet is constant at each place of its course, so too may other students be waiting for their turn to flow in the knowledge of  your spiritual teacher.  When you hold on due to some lack of readiness to accept completion, you hold back others who are ready to benefit.

The art in this essay about how to leave a spiritual teacher was created during the time I decided to leave Martin Prechtel's school of spiritual ecology in New Mexico.  The titles of the paintings, in italics, were the names of the lessons that came out on the desert as I struggled to transform indecision and anxiety into clarity and calm.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Repair tears in a frame drum

I have been making frame drums for more than 30 years, and I sometimes repair splits in the dried skin where it passes over the drum rim. Here is a photo essay showing the techniques I use.

This drum has had the larger splits stabilized using small headed furniture tacks, and holes burned into the leading edge of smaller tears to stop their progress.

I assemble a needle nose pliers, a small hammer and nickel plated furniture tacks.

And also a wire cutter and small pair of vice grips.  I shorten the shank of each tack by almost 1/2 so I am not trying to pound its full length into the drum rim.  

The tack is then re-sharpened using a small taper file, again by holding it with the vice grips 
against a firm surface.  

The needle nosed pliers make it possible to grip the tack and keep it steadily positioned on the drum rim to one side of the tear.

Both sides of each larger split are anchored with tacks driven straight down into the center of the drum rim.  Takes a bit of courage to begin!

For smaller splits that have a clear leading edge, I use a large bodkin, or yarn needle, to burn a hole just where the tear ends. I am sure to mark the precise location with a pencil before heating the needle with a propane torch, because when the tip is red hot is not the time to go searching for the target. 

While not every split is capable of being stabilized using these two techniques, hopefully the overall effect will give the drum more years of being a voice for spirit. 

It is interesting to notice that most tears cluster on one side of a drum, as shown here by the position of the tacks.  This hoop is very strong, so when the uneven tension in the skin had to find release, it did so cracking itself, rather than by deforming the hoop.