[caption id="attachment_61" align="alignnone" width="300" caption="With thanks to the anonymous photographer...."][/caption] I am plunk in the middle of an initiatory process, which reminds me of how ill I was exactly 16 years ago this week when I was days away from my first, and in some ways, most important shamanic journey. Today, like then, fevers come and go wildly, and, as been true of me on-and-off over the course of my soon-to-be 60 years 0f life, my body is as receptive as a spider web to the breezes and winds that blow around me. It is not that I am not in power (being in one’s power is NOT an on or off proposition but is dynamic, and I shift and grow in relation to power that is shared with me by the compassionate spirits), but rather I am holding onto the tiger-tail of power and am having a wild ride.
My spirits are calling me to evolve. Clearly. Loudly. REALLY loudly. Life, as I have lived it, is being broken apart ruthlessly and cheerfully, categorically and systematically. I cling to old habits, and I am shown with, shall we say, robust clarity that they do NOT work anymore. I am slow and stubborn it seems; I need to GET IT sometimes before I get it. At least as far as the spirits are concerned. And, as I acquiesced to shamanic service when it found me, practicing shamanism has been imperative to life, as critical and necessary as air, food and water.
With the word acquiesce, I refer mostly to its Latin root acquiēscere, which means to find rest in.
Like most things shamanic in my life, there is huge padadox here. I never was at rest until shamanism found me, and while there is deep rest in knowing one is on the path, continuing on is anything but restful sometimes. Most times. I mean, there are the waterfalls and wildflowers, but there are also the talus slopes.
For those of you unfamiliar with backpacking or Montana, a talus slope is a hazardous, steep slope covered by small rocks that offer no purchase when stepping on them. Crossing this highly unstable field demanded what I used to call the scramble, which is the act of getting across as fast as possible without killing yourself. If you stop on a talus slope, you can kill yourself, pulled into an endless tumble that you might not get out of. Even though you know you are in danger, you cannot panic or you’ll move so fast you'll miss the best, smartest place to step.
Talus slopes are not mapped, of course. You can be lucky and discover you need to cross one in the morning, perhaps after a good breakfast of huckleberries on a sunny day with a light breeze. But you also have to cross sometimes near sundown with unexpected sleet or snow, and you’re dog tired and if you don’t cross, you'll have no water and no place to camp. And I don’t mean camp as in, "gee, this is a pretty spot…” but camp as in “if I don’t get food into me, and get warm I will die of hypothermia, and probably no one will ever find me.”
To save your life, the crossing must be made.
The solace in all this is if you walk in wilderness long enough, you understand you can survive and begin to understand the mechanics of a talus slope (even though no two are the same), and that, often, they can be successfully navigated without too much injury. I have slipped before (once I fell onto a tree which was growing like a bench out from the slope, and it took a long time to summon the courage to complete the crossing), but have never fallen so far as to do permanent harm.
Right now, our entire global culture is crossing the talus slope. We have no choice but to keep going, with the economy, health, politics and other ordinary reality mores slipping and sliding under our feet.
If ordinary reality itself is a talus slope now, and if we do have to keep going or perish, it is very helpful to remember that we have done this before. Humans have faced avarice, greed and self-interest throughout all of human history. And there have been good people throughout history, many of them shamans, who have been able to both give and receive service through the compassionate helping spirits to ease suffering during such times. There have been billions of talus slopes and billions of people who have successfully crossed. Somehow, being reminded of this makes me very cheerful even if my head is pounding. I am small, I am human and I actually don't have to do anything more than take the next step with an eye toward the part of the slope on the other side that I want to get to. That and listen to the spirits' teachings.
My talus slope looks physical now, but I know this is just appearance. We have a houseguest now who has just divorced, sold her home and lost her job in such rapid succession that it makes my head spin. She is a shamanic practitioner, and at 63, she appears very balanced as she crosses the skiddish ground beneath her.
Stories like hers, or mine, are common now. Things are ramping up, and we all have to keep moving forward. We all feel it and know it. We comment on it and write about it. We have myth to explain it and calendars to interpret it. But, as dire as things seem to be, if we attempt to see this from the compassionate spirits point of view, is this anything more than a necessary initiation, an uncomfortable crossing? I, like many of you, have experienced some difficult initiations, some of which proffered the greatest teachings I have ever received.
As for me, I am damned uncomfortable right now, and I have been in a place like this before and I heave learned, somehow, that while the path looks impossible, if I really pay attention, there are hand holds and foot holds that will sustain me for a minute. As I have to keep moving, a minute is all I need.
And just as I know for certain that there IS something solid under the fields of round rocks on the precipitous slopes, I know the helping spirits are walking with me as I go though this difficult period. I may look weak and ill, but inside there is a certain subtle and irrational glee that is beginning to spark. There, I survived that patch. Wow, that outcrop was not what I expected. Yeow, that boulder looked secure. Woohoo, one single moment to catch my breath.
For me, and I would not presume to speak for you, this is all a part of being in the mystery. Of doing shamanic work. Of the arduous and magical nature of shamanism. Of knowing the talus is not the entire journey or the destination, but a sometimes essential, scary and intense part of the trip. In my best days in the Montana mountains, I cannot remember the staggering beauty of the camp without also remembering the fear that I overcame to get there. A good time to remember that we are in a new place, a wilderness and we are all, without question, having an adventure.