Shamans come in all sizes and shapes, and represent many religious faiths. Yet most shamans I have known share these traits: they experience joy; they are immensely creative; and they cultivate compassion. They also agree the path of the shaman is far from easy. After all, cultivating compassion requires facing suffering.
A couple of Autumns ago we spent time on the coast of New Brunswick, near St. John. The coast is elemental: a few farms, long stretches of salt marsh, and ocean. Each day we would wander for hours along the coast. Occasionally we would stop for lunch, usually at a cafe that was about to close for the season.
I think now about the challenge the first families to farm there faced. Yet they persevered through the isolation, fierce weather, and short growing seasons. I wonder about the native peoples who were displaced by the farmers, and imagine they, too, persevered, as they faced disease and displacement. Perhaps both farmers and natives felt their hearts break under the strain of these challenges.
Here in Vermont, we are watching dairy farms disappear. This year the price of milk pays but a fraction of the cost of production. Farms that have held their place in the landscape for generations are closing. Each silenced farm marks the end of a life cycle. Each empty barn marks broken dreams and hearts. As the farms cease to be worked, the landscape reverts to scrubby field, then forest, and the complexity of the community and the landscape diminishes. Yet, thankfully, somehow, against all odds, some farmers persevere.
We are called to joy. Yet joy alludes us if we are unable or unwilling to also acknowledge sorrow. In farming communities throughout the world these are times of joy and sorrow. Blessings be for those who persevere, and those who cannot.