Monday, December 19, 2011

The Shaman's Paradox and an Excellent Fedora

I would like to think of myself as non-materialistic. It fits with my philosophy and ethics and general worldview, so when I find myself coveting something that is – to my view – outrageously expensive and unnecessary, I have to take a moment to be mindful of what is happening.

Now, I will admit to having a fondness for fedoras and that I try not to leave the house without one. I like a warm head and shaded eyes...and I suppose there's a bit of my sense of identity wrapped up in it as well. My dad wore fedoras, and this is one way for me to express my loyalty to him. However, I generally find my fedoras on Ebay and pay no more than $50 for one, which should last me for many years. So I was surprised to find that, when I came across some truly amazing hats – the kind "they don't make anymore – being produced by a little company in Tennessee, I was so taken with them that I am seriously considering ordering one, even though they start at $800.

At first, I tried to laugh it off and let it go, only to find that the idea of wearing such an excellent hat kept re-emerging. So I took a look at it. What was is engaging about this? What deep hunger is it tapping into? Why can't I just shake it off and be done with it? It took awhile sitting with this quandary before I realized what it was about.

One of the aspects of life as a working shaman is that, on the one hand I need to keep myself very grounded in the everyday world, in order to be able to do my work and relate to my clients. On the other hand, I need to stay in touch with Spirit/Soul, in order to do my work and relate to my client's souls. I spend as much as six hours a day in soul awareness, working with clients, in addition to my own personal practice. So keeping myself grounded in the relative world of the ego is sometimes difficult. (It helps to have a lovely wife and daughter, who keep me engaged with their loving presence.) I call this the Shaman's Paradox – that I need to live and function in two apparently contradictory realities at once. Buddhists – who have an excellent vocabulary for this sort of thing – refer to it the relative and absolute. It's not that it's so difficult, but it does help to have "things" to anchor me into the the relative world. Since my ego is already aware the permanence is an illusion, it really likes to have something that is at least long-lasting. These hats remind me of the fedora I wore in art school – a gift from my friend Troy Gerth. It was a buttery soft, fur felt stetson, probably made sometime in the mid-40's. It disappeared at a senior party in the foundry, right before graduation, and it was a great loss.

When I think of wearing one of these fedoras, I feel myself suspended between the relative and absolute – enjoying the beauty, quality and comfort of the relative world, while appreciating its fleeting nature with equanimity. This brings me to a place of peace about my apparent obsession with ordering a very expensive, custom made fedora, but it doesn't get me any closer to doing so. However, it does keep me very aware of what I yearn for in this relative existence. When I hold such a well-made object, constructed from the best materials, I experience the beauty of it's design, the care with which it has been made, the sensual quality of its material and the sense of all these elements coming together in a meaningful way – assuring me that there is value in this experience of being human and being Here. I realize that I look for these same qualities everywhere in the world – in myself and in friends, in my home and – apparently – in my hats. Not such a bad thing, I think.

Note: I visited with my dear friend and mentor, Eli, yesterday. When I told her about the hats, she said, "You should do like they do in Italy. Put it on your wish list and ask your friends to contribute. Then you could have a present from all of them that you would really love."

I'm considering this.