Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Another stone on the cairn

Travellers will add a stone to a cairn to mark the passing of a threshold. Tibetan hikers, upon reaching a summit, will add their stone and say “the gods are victorious! The demons defeated!” Cairns are ancient markers that speak of the importance of passages.

In “Soulcraft” Bill Plotkin records the power of earth rituals to help us move through the stages of life. In the fall of 2006 i took the last week of September as a study leave and headed out to a deserted Lake Opeongo for a four day fast. I’d spent the summer in simple preparations. Not sure just how much raw material I took up to that lake with me – and how much I found out there – but the experience changed me.

The rituals I practiced, and prayers I offered, opened me up like a nut. My hard shell cracked and the universe got in. It watered the seed in there – the reason I was here – the gift of my birth – and nourished it with moon and song. Voices unheard in conversation told me what I’d always known and gave me a name that was already mine.  

I returned a year later, following Plotkin’s advice, to pay homage to what been done in that place. It was a way of checking in with the new direction taken and progress made.

In like manner I return this winter to Key West. I’m here to mark the passage of a year unlike any yet experienced. 2010 found me homeless and alone, fifty years old, sleeping 2 to 3 hours a night, and desperately swimming to keep my head above water.

In some ways this situation was the natural outcome of the new path I’d struck out on five years earlier. Back then I thought the transformation had happened. I had no idea that it had only just begun.  

Plotkin talks about the threshold. He is quick to point out that it needn’t be a real one. Leaving your family home, your job, your entire identity behind is not necessarily the thing you need to do. In that Vision Fast five years earlier I’d crossed a threshold of a self perception. I’d come home believing that to see myself in a new light was all the change that was required. I could – I convinced myself – with this new inner perspective maintain my work and family life indefinitely. My imagination worked overtime at how to be happy within my chosen prison cell.

Poet priest John O’Donahue talks about the prisons we create for ourselves. They sneak up on us. Made up of a thousand small compromises, promises that – some day – we would answer the call of our souls. O’Donahue lyric poetry makes clear that the call from beyond the threshold is a call from where Spirit dwells.

“The call is much more than an urge for an extended vacation, a challenging project, or a new career or social scene. You may think you are simply going to leave home for a while, learn something new, and return to what you always though was yours, but you will not in fact be in control.”  (Soulcraft pg 17)

A year ago in Key West, I thought I had a handle on what was happening to me. I thought I could get out in front and manage the change. I thought that even though my boat had capsized, I could still just keep smiling and swim my way to shore.

Instead I got swallowed by a whale. It was quite a trip. Both terrifying and exhilarating. I experienced the grace and love and tolerance of church, family, and friends. I also experienced the harsh judgment of those hurt, disappointed and dismayed by the path I’d taken.

“Entry into the life of the soul –a life of passion, enchantment, and service – demands a steep price, a psychological form of dying. We do not easily give up our claim on the good life of extended adolescence.
Nature-based societies, understanding this, provide the sojourner with extensive preparation for the encounter with the soul. These rites facilitate the radical shift in consciousness required to turn our focus from familiar egocentric concerns to those of the soul, from our first adulthood to our second. 
In contemporary society, the underworld journey is neither understood nor encouraged by the majority of parents, teachers, health professionals or cultural leaders to say nothing of mainstream business, science, or politics.” (Soulcraft P19)

I was fortunate to have excellent guides. I was blessed within the year to have presented to me four golden opportunities to visit the Carribean, Atlantic, and Pacific oceans – and now circle back once more to the Carribean. My companions – old and new friends - were true, patient, and without doubt “stretched” themselves by my company.

And now that 2010 is behind me, I place another stone on the cairn. The whale has spit me out on the beach here in Key West after quite a wild ride. I still feel that much of my life – my future - is beyond the control I once clung to. But I’ve come to a place where that is the new normal.     

“Consider the lilies of the field” says the Jesus dude…
“If God gives such attention to the appearance of wildflowers—most of which are never even seen—don’t you think GOD’ll attend to you, take pride in you, do what’s best for you?
What I’m trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God’s giving. People who don’t know the way God works fuss over these things, but you know how God works. Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don’t worry about missing out. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met.
“Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.                   Matthew 6:30

images from Richard Choe

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