This morning, feeling the darkness of the times, I went for a walk. Although Fall is definitely in the air, the sun was bright and warm. Along the path frogs sunned themselves, scattering madly before my every step. (They tend to disappear into the background, and I looked for some time before I found one to photograph.)
Autumn wildflowers were in bloom in the meadows and along the river’s edge.
The path through the woods’ field had become overgrown and unusable, but the river path was fine.
What joy to be outside!
Near the end of my walk I found this tree, partially submerged in the river, it’s branches long since stripped of bark and aged gray. The sun cast deep shadows against the water, which swirled around the branches.
Standing on the bank, watching the water pass in a late summer laze, I began thinking about this moment in my life, and U.S. history. We are all, and each, I realized, like the tree, embedded in the river of time. Our roots sink deep into the Dreaming, from which we come; our branches support our families and communities, and the generations of life to come. Our lives are both imminently real and dreamings, the stuff of stories to be told ages hence.
At this moment in the history of the United States, the forces of greed and hatred are strong. Racism is again on the rise, along with biases against religious groups, especially Muslims and Jews. Politicians actively encourage hatred, fueling the fear and desperation of their constituents, and ignoring the real possibility of a conflagration. It is as though they have learned nothing from Rwanda and Bosnia.
Traditionally, shamans and elders are a conservative lot. They want to preserve social cohesion, good relationships with the spirits and ancestors, and the natural world. They know these to be grave responsibilities, yet feel joy in the acting on those responsibilities.
Shamans and elders also seek compassion, wisdom, and deep insight.They are suspicious of large societal change, wanting to know how innovation will serve the larger community of all beings. Often they speak out for the voiceless and marginalized, repairing and renewing community.
Of course, this is not always, has not always been, true. Shamans and elders are just people like everyone else. We are an imperfect lot. But the urge towards healing is there, the whispered longings of the ancestors, spirits, and those yet to come urging the preservation of the earth and the village.
And, yes, there are spirits who beat the drums of war, hatred, and greed. When I hear those drums I am reminded of the Orks in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. Their drumming and chanting become the unconscious film score of our lives. Sometimes, even those who promise to support the people (the politicians and religious leaders) fall under their spell, or give in to the hopelessness implied by those dark songs. At such times, leaders speak with two tongues, warping truth and beauty into falsehood and hatred.
Let us stand together, regardless of our role in the community, against the rising tide of racism and mean-spiritedness. No one of us can halt it; yet each of us can speak against it. We can encourage the people to remember their roots in the Dreaming, and their total dependence upon the natural and human communities of which we are a part. We can promote diversity and complexity in all spheres of our lives, and know that without them, we are all more vulnerable, and greatly impoverished. We can insist on the right to joy, celebration, and creativity for ourselves, our children, and our neighbors, no matter their color, sexual orientation, or creed.
Most of us will of necessity do this quietly, perhaps just encouraging hope and courage among those we know. Others may have the capacity to speak more widely. We will all, most likely, like the Hobit, Frodo, give up on occasion. The task is daunting. Still, insisting on the humanity of all people, the dignity and importance of all beings, and our birthright of joy will take us far. It is also a demanding task, and we can support one another. Let us have courage, be hopeful, and persist.
4 thoughts on “Courage, Hope, and Persistance in Hard Times”
I’d say you took the ball and ran with it. 🙂
I’d agree shamanism is largely conservative (in the non-political, preservationist sense of that term), but I’d also insist that its survival as a force in the world-that-is depends on shamans engaging with what is and will be, not only with what was. Diversity is a good example of that; the purely traditionalist reaction is to drive the Other out, or at the very least pretend it isn’t there. That’s not a wise or viable way to be any more.
I consider this city to be both my ally and my community; I’m working in, with, and for a huge multicultural stew. That kind of diversity represents a massive social change from how a great many cultures by necessity once were — and in many ways, that change is a still-evolving one. Any growth has its pains, some of them enormous, but in this instance I don’t think we *can* be conservative; the change is overdue and desperately needed.
I guess for me, as I look out my window at a sidewalk rather than a forest path, I see that I must honor and learn from the knowledge carried through hundreds or thousands of years of culture…but I can’t work as if it still is a hundred or a thousand years ago. Where I’ve been called to service simply won’t allow that. I’m still torn between whether the almost complete lack of past experience with this kind of work is more frightening or liberating. Maybe at some point there’s no difference between the two.
I think you misread me – not surprising given we are doing e-mail. One can ONLY work in the moment in which one lives. Even traditional cultures, at least in the Americas, were always trading ideas, insights, and genes. I am a product of all that trading between First Nations and European people, and believe me, we live very cosmopolitan lives.
Of course, most of us live in urban areas, and teach and work on behalf of, people outside our own traditions. And we certainly need all the healers and savvy elders we can muster right now. (It would be helpful if we could be sensitive to issues of cultural appropriation without getting into turf wars about who is a real shaman or healer – that is, after all to be determined by the community and the spirits.)
Of course, it has traditionally been very dangerous to be a shaman/healer during times of change. Illness, attempts to kill carriers of culture, etc.. And it still is in many First Nations tribes in Latin and South America. We have it pretty good here in the USA – at least so far.
Anyway, I don’t know any shaman/healers who work as if it were even ten years ago – we are always invited to deal with the now. Unfortunately, there will always be people who will challenge our rights to do what the spirits and Creator ask of us. (I do wish it were otherwise at times.)
A quick story: One of my teachers (from the Amazon) was hanging out with about twenty-five shamans. He had a very bad backache. Several people offered to help, but he wanted someone who practiced Reiki. Sure enough, a couple of people did. He was ecstatic! And, of course, the Reiki worked, which gave us all a great laugh, and a chance to put down our pretensions…..
Nope, I didn’t misread you — but in my experience, there’s a horde of reconstructionists out there who would disagree (with us both!) that we have to practice in the now. In fact, they seem to think that the only way to be a successful and “real” pagan or shaman or witch or whatever is in question is to pretend to live and be working in the Forest of Arden in about 1470. Most of them don’t believe there’s even such a thing as a city spirit, or that they must automatically be malevolent if they do exist. So they roll their eyes at me, and I just roll. *laugh*
Cultural appropriation is definitely one of my cringe issues; I try to be very, very careful of it, to the point that I may be erring too far toward caution, but I’d rather that than the other extreme.
Yes, I’m definitely grateful that the dangers of shamanism here are mostly the personal ones. Most of my relatives think I’m a stoner or just plain nuts, and that makes me sad, but it beats being burned at a stake. I have a lot of sympathy for those who work with entheogens; being outlawed to death is the biggest threat here for now.
Speaking of things working together, calling on Reiki in the spirit realm is a really remarkable experience, not to mention what it can do in this realm to help keep returned fragments in place until they can heal in.
Thanks for clarifying. Sounds as tho we are on the same page.
I have Reiki One and it seems to always work itself into my practice with clients. My wife is a Master, and shamanism works its way into her practice. I guess healers everywhere have to be pragmatic. Of course, Reiki is a pleasure all in itself…..
Cultural appropriation is different from receiving the gift of healing knowledge from another culture. My teachers, from many cultures, have shared parts of their cultures with me, but put their cultural knowledge into a form I could access. Even though I have been taught some culturally specific knowledge, I am very hesitant to use it, so much so that the elders told me to stop being so scared and teach what I know. I try very hard to teach from the perspective of an urban mixed-heritage person, to say where things come from, and to refuse to pretend I am knowledgeable enough about any one culture, to say I am an insider.
Time to check the sky and see if Mercury is visible over the mountains.
Michael Watson, LCMHC JourneyWorks 11 Kilburn StreetSend Burlington, VT 05401 802-860-6203 http://journeyworksvt.com https://michaelwatsonvt.wordpress.com/