Friday, August 15, 2008

Notes from the road. . .

Patricia and I have just returned from a road trip to visit my aunt Marie - the last surviving sibling of my father - in Madison, WI. We drove to Chicago on friday and spent the night with Cliff and Laura after a great dinner at the Chop House with Patricia's aunt Carol and uncle Tom. Tom has been the accountant for the Chop House - a popular Chicago steak house with nothing but meat on the menu - for over 20 years. He made reservations for us for 6:00 and it was only after we had shown up and were seated at the table that he leaned over to us and whispered, "So - do you eat meat?" We both decided to indulge, in honor of Tom and the rest of the family.

Saturday morning I dragged myself out of bed and went running with Cliff and Laura - Which somehow didn't keep me from gaining 5 pounds somewhere on the trip. It was nice to be clomping along the sidewalks of Chicago, chatting about Sheya and gang warfare - not necessarily related subjects. Then we got an early start and - despite some confusion about what time zone the gps was registering - made it to Madison by noon. Patricia suggested that we stop to pick up some flowers for my aunt - and perhaps some knitting needles for her. We did find a good florist right down the road from my aunt's apartment building and were able to put together a nice bouquet for her. (Patty found some knitting needles later and was able start her next project. She finished the pair of socks for my birthday on the way up from Chicago. Great socks!)

Shortly after we arrived, Patricia and I were sitting at a table drinking tea with Aunt Marie. She was regaling us with stories from her childhood in Kentucky. "This was about my grandmother - the only one I knew - my father's mother. She would take me on walks to collect herbs. She would say 'I smell pennyrile' and then we would find it and put it in the basket. One time she was going to take me walking and I couldn't find her. I went to the back of the house and there she was, leaning back against the house with her eyes closed. She wore dresses that came all the way down to the ground and so I couldn't see what she was doing. I grabbed her by the hand and she said 'don''t pull on me! Can't you see I'm pissing?' I went back into the kitchen and asked mom 'what's pissing?' She said 'where id you hear that?' I told her and she couldn't get too angry with me since it was my grandmother who I had heard it from. She just shook her head and said, 'the back of the house always smells so bad and now I know why.' It was years later that I figured out that it was pennyroyal that we were picking and making into tea."

It was good to hear some stories about my dad too. I found out that he had joined the army in WW II because he had Jewish friends and he felt he had to do something to help them. He had already been declared unfit for duty because of the finger that got cut off that he couldn't bend properly. They were afraid he wouldn't be able to shoot a rifle. In spite of that he qualified as a marksman. 

After a very large and wonderful breakfast at "Lazy Jane's" we went for a walk and I found some good antler tines to use in sweat lodge. You never know when and where something useful is going to show up. 


Tuesday, August 12, 2008

A Normal State of Consciousness

Someone asked me once what I meant by "a normal state of consciousness." At first, I thought this was a simple question with an obvious answer: "the state of consciousness you walk around in every day." But then I started to look at that answer - to pick it apart. Is the state of consciousness I'm in when I wake up and realize that I'm no longer dreaming the same as the one in which I drive to work? Is the state of consciousness that arises from making breakfast the same as that when I am eating lunch? There are so many variations of consciousness - from one moment to the next. I can be driving along in my car, thinking of what I have to do before my first client shows up and then I see the traffic slowing and stopping in front of me and my state of consciousness shifts. I am no longer in my mental fantasy of the future, but immediately aware of the cars stopping front of me. 

If something that happens to bring up old unresolved feelings, I am "triggered" into yet another state of consciousness. Something else happens if I get to see my wife during the day; there is an upsurge of joy and openness which leaves me in a better mood for the next hour or so. There are so many different states of consciousness, impacted by the immediate environment, people, sensations, memory, sound, light . . . perception in all its modes. It rapidly becomes clear that there is no such thing as a normal state of consciousness that most people share for even a moment. 

Instead, what I find is that there are states that we share with others - and ones that we do not. When I am working with a client, I will generally either be mirroring their state, so as to communicate with them more effectively, or I will be modeling a different state for them, to alleviate some discomfort caused by their current state. When we enter into that same state together, I am more able to "hear" them at many levels. I feel more open and receptive to what they are expressing and I find that they are generally more responsive to what I have to offer. 

I imagine that the same phenomenon can be found in any crowd, where a single state of consciousness is picked up, shared and amplified by the many people in the same space - thus resulting in "mob mentality." But is this "normal?" Not so much. It only happens in situations where all the people are experiencing a similar enough stimulus from a similar enough perspective to spark that shared consciousness. 

Perhaps what I was trying to express by the words "normal state of consciousness" was simply a state in which the mind is alert and focused on physical sensations arising from the immediate environment - not stuck in the past or projecting into the future, but relaxing comfortably in the Now. Hmmm - that sounds a lot like what we call "mindfulness." So much for it being normal. 

From now on, I think I'll ask my clients to seek an "abnormal state of mindfulness," when returning from a trance.


Monday, August 11, 2008

consideration of initiation

It's been awhile since my last post. I've started a few, but they've just not come together. And I'm going through one of those spells where everything seems. . . harder - more difficult and demanding than it really should. Never-the-less. . . I've been taking part in some discussions about initiation in a few different places and it's been bringing up some old questions. 

Initiation comes in many ways, but it comes down to a few essentials - necessary elements. 1) The person has to be capable of doing the work. This means having the talent to heal. 2) The spirits have to have noticed the person - and then begun trying to get their attention. This could be anything from an illness or loss to a life threatening accident or being struck by lightning. 3) The person has to be prepared. This preparation consists of whatever it takes to sensitize the initiate to the energies and presence of the spirits. It generally requires painful loss and ego destroying experiences that leave the person reeling and open. 

As I write this, I can feel the blind spots I still have around this whole process. I know there is still a part of me that wants to somehow justify NOT being a shaman; that would like all this crazy stuff to go away and allow me to lead a "normal" life. I also know it's not going to happen. It was only after years of looking back at my childhood that I realized just how deeply I have been impacted and transformed by the death of my family - and other experiences that I'm still not comfortable addressing in such an open forum. And yet, it's still hard for me to look at it - to put all the pieces together - and then see the complete image that the pieces make: The image of myself as a shaman. Parts of me that learned to disassociate at an early age, which allow me to enter into the healing trances in which I do my work, also want to keep me from accepting the truth of this at any deeper level. It's an on-going struggle. 

Another element in my own process of becoming a shaman was the actual realization - the looking into the puzzle/mirror and seeing that image reflected back at me through the limited work I was already doing. The retroactive tour of my early life - most of it still clouded - that made me accept this transformation/awakening came even later. First there was the recognition that what I was doing was shamanism. Then there was the gradual realization that I was a shaman - followed by the understanding that this process had been going on my whole life. (Apparently I'm a slow learner.) 

There is a lot of discussion around the crisis of awakening to the shamanic consciousness - the realization that you are going to be doing the bidding of those "psychological allegories" we call "spirits." In my own case, it was a series of crisis which I survived, one after another, until I belatedly woke up and realized what was happening. After all, I have spent most of my childhood and a good bit of my early adulthood in a fog. I still feel that it is only gradually lifting - that I am beginning to see the world in all it's profound beauty and intricacy only now. I suspect this process is going to continue for quite some time. 

I still have questions about the role I am accepting. I know that it feels to my deeper self that I am answering the call of the spirits and that I am here in service to the community of souls that includes humanity, the earth and much more. I also have my doubts. There are times when I hear about the shamans who can actually shapeshift - or levitate - or in some other way really transcend the apparent rigidity of this physical existence - and I wonder if what I am doing is "real." But Grandfather has long taught me  that there are different kinds of "real" - just as there are different kinds of shamans. The work that I do with my clients fulfills some deep hunger in my soul. When I watch someone awakening deeper layers of herself; breaking out of the box of ego and fear and habit - I KNOW that I am doing what I need to, and that there is something that thanks me. That this is all part of something greater than anything I can imagine, and that I am - to some extent - placing myself into alignment with that greater presence. I don't know that I can ask more than that.