ENCOUNTERING THE OTHER HALF
I've had an intense and initiatory 12 days. I'd been on a weekend with Leo Rutherford where we had done 2 sweatlodges (and where I gained more confidence that with these ceremonies, what matters is making it your own, rather than doing it the 'right' way.) And as sweats often do, it moved things on for me. Specifically, the spirit of a woman irrupted into my life in a way that I have found overwhelming.
In a sense she is a spirit, but she is also me, and from now on she needs to be always present in my life. I am more whole with her, and it is like a love affair. There is beauty and joy there, and I am at ease in a way that I have never been before. As Jan Morris, one of the first men to have a sex change into a woman observed 40 years after the event, the point is to become both a man and a woman, rather than one or the other.
It is about the inner union with the other sex that can happen in the second 1/2 of life, that Jung talks about in the language of anima and animus. I encounter it as an issue in astrology readings regularly: men finding their Venus, women their Mars. It is a crucial phase in this Shamanic path, whose purpose is to become a balanced human being, as I was told by a Chippewa Cree teacher.
In terms of the Medicine Wheel (the one I use) encountering one's sexual other half is the task of the Adult in the West, who becomes ready to occupy the Elder in the North as this balance is achieved. It is not something that can be consciously brought about, because it is an initiation from the spirit world.
And it also leaves me wondering about how relationships work after this initiation. I don't feel I am looking for someone to complete me anymore. Back in January in a dream, I was walking a cheetah on a leash along Exeter High St. She was straining to chase prey. And I was told that I would not be in a relationship until I felt happy not being in one. Since then I've thought that was a big ask, but now 6 months later it is happening of its own accord. The power of the cheetah is finding her way into my life.
This is all very new, and I have little perspective, and my future has become an unknown quantity. But I want to honour the spirit of the woman by telling you about her.
In ancient Athens, Socrates was charged with corrupting the youth - ie telling them the truth - but the authorities were in no hurry to try him. They gave him plenty of time to get away. And Socrates, as was his custom, went off and consulted his daemon - or Spirit. His daemon would never tell him what to do, but what not to do. And on this occasion his daemon told him not to leave Athens. Now this would mean he would be tried and sentenced to death. Nevertheless, he stayed in Athens and suffered the consequences.
When people reach the end of their lives, it is not the things they have done that they tend to regret, but the things they haven't done. The self they have not been fully true to, the daemon they have not lived. And Socrates had lived his daemon, to such an extent that he felt he could let go and die. And significantly, Spirit had a bigger perspective than Socrates' individual destiny. His death has echoed down the ages. So I think if we are true to ourselves, true to Spirit, we won't feel we haven't lived. And we may be drawn into a larger picture, beyond our ken, that may not always be comfortable, but which has its own purposes.
|Socrates with Cup of Hemlock|
How many people listen to themselves, let alone to others? Listening to oneself means having the courage to take seriously what the spirit is telling us. This is not the same as that clamour of voices, many internalised, that tell us how we 'ought' to live. That is what is called 'normal, it is highly judgemental and seems, by and large, to be the modus operandum of any society which wishes to remain stable - and confer a kind of psychological stability on its members.
Of course, everyone thinks they listen, just as they think they are masters of their own lives. But it's often only when the Spirits intervene, forcefully if necessary - illness being a classic - that we realise that there is a whole other level of ourselves, and of others, that we hadn't been listening to. And that what came before was superficial and programmed.
But I think the voice of Spirit is always there, it is that we get trained to ignore it. Deep down we often know that we are not being true to ourselves, and that can go on for years. Until it all starts to fall apart.
Religion vs Spirituality
Religion involves trying to be a 'good' person. 'Spirituality' (for want of a better word) involves becoming a whole person. 'Good' people make a lot of effort to eat the right sorts of food, they keep up a good relationship with their spirit guides and are definitely to be found at the extinction rebellion protests. There is nothing wrong with any of this. But it is fragile and, usually, well-defended. You just have to dodge and dive around this if you are a free spirit, because if you get too close you will be judged and tidied up. There is, of course, a whopping great shadow around 'good' people, which by definition they can't see, and it is not our job to point it out or judge it. Life, if they are lucky and if they are open, will do that. Usually in the messes that happen close to home. It can be protracted and a bit gruesome. Then the real path, the beautiful path of wholeness opens up. In which there was never anywhere to go. We just relax into our natural state (as the Dzogchen guys put it). Or we allow Spirit, which is what we are and always have been, to guide us. Or we are true to ourselves, we don't edit out and judge the bits that don't fit. But usually, we need to encounter our own dung-heap first 💡
MUSINGS ON SHAMANISM
Shamanism is not about shamanic journeying. It is much broader than that: journeying is a speciality. Shamanism is about becoming a balanced human being, in balance with ourselves and with the natural world. It begins with a simple acknowledgement of our own spirit and a sense of belonging to nature. There are no books, no beliefs, no teachers to revere. It brings us back to the basics of experience. And that is all we need. If we are true to our spirit, then our lives will unfold as they need to. When we are not true to ourselves, and maybe go along with what others expect us to be, then our life gets blocked. But that is often the path too. We can only give parts of ourselves away if they weren't truly ours to start with, and in reclaiming them we become more permanently whole.
An aspect of balance is taking care of all 4 elements within ourselves - earth, fire, air and water. My reservation about using journeying as a starting point - and I guess you have to start somewhere - is that it does not include the earth, the body. Not the way it is usually taught, anyway. It buys into our western prejudice of living in, and over-valuing, the head (air). But I think the body is where it needs to begin, especially for us. The ecstasy of dance, that aligns us with Spirit. And journeying in that context, where Spirit can incarnate, and the power that comes with that. We have old cultural baggage around physicality, and its control by the Church. In medieval times, people used to dance in churches, it gave them their own direct connection to Spirit. In living shamanically, we move away from the rules and the shoulds and the fears that can dominate our lives, and keep us stuck in particular ways of being and living, and towards the freedom of living according to the promptings of Spirit. This can take courage, but it is the only way to live, and there is joy in it. I think the best sort of teaching of shamanism comes from this place. The teacher responds to whatever is going on, rather than the programme of learning in his/her head. Just being around certain people and the way they are and the way they think, I observe and I learn. The teaching of shamanism has in some places become like a franchise, a certain set of methods which any fool can learn and pass on. This is not teaching. Teaching is in many ways not deliberate, it is about who you are as a result of being true to your own spirit, and that rubs off onto other people. And that also means being normal and messy and everyday with people, so they don’t start to worship you and in-so-doing miss you. It is a two-way street, the ‘teacher’ learns from the ‘pupils’ too. Our Shamanism needs to develop organically and always be up for modification. Yes, import from other cultures, but re-shape as necessary in ways that works for us. It is the spirit that matters. With the Pipe Ceremony, for example, what matters most is prayer, in the sense of a conversation with the natural world, rather than all the forms that can be placed around it. In this sense we have a freedom that, perhaps, many traditional cultures do not have; on the other hand, there is depth, egregore, in ceremonies that are old and imbued with symbolism, and we do not have that, by and large. But the overall principle is: if it works, it's real; if it's real, it works. (Jim Tree: The Sacred Way of the Pipe).