I'm a fairly logic and word-driven person. Yeah, I love poetry. Yeah, I enjoy working with paint and music and getting plants to grow in the garden. But all in all, I tend to be a pretty intellectually conservative soul. I like knowing. I like words. I like studying and research and putting things together, finding intricate patterns from scattered seeds.
In 2010, after my first bout with pneumonia and a breast biopsy, pretty small stuff compared to what would come three years later, I had an experience of being "met" by a spirit animal. This spirit has shown up in dreams and what not since I was very small, and was usually a great comfort. This time, though, she clawed me savagely, opening up terrible and gaping sternum-to-belly-button wounds. Then she encased me in clay, hauled me into a cave in a shallow depression and covered me with a blanket. I lay there, fetal, until some time later, I could creep to the side of the cave and look out over a warm, red desert landscape.
At the time, the imagery was incredibly real and it all shook me very much. I spent time with the Orca Circle, a shamanic group on Bainbridge Island and was deeply moved by the journey time they created as a group. But as it usually does, "life" began again and those experiences slipped away. I went back to writing science fiction and comparative religion titles, and practicing Hatha Yoga and Buddhism.
Then, in 2013, a couple years of physical hell began. Two gastric vovulous interventions with NG tubes, a paraesphageal hernia operation, three ventral hernia operations, a vaginal hysterectomy, two bouts with sepsis and a kidney infection and three kidney stones requiring intervention buffeted me and my family like tsunami waves. Then came the divorce, and through it all a terrible depression as my body seemed ripped from my own will. I was just so much garbage, floating in foam and wreckage.
I still hadn't remembered the guardian spirit's strange response in 2010.
With each major illness, there came a time when the pain meds stripped away any attempt at thought. Time became strange, reality tipped and ran like watercolor over white hospital blankets. Any spiritual "techniques" were just beyond my grasp. It was at these times that a creature showed up--some warm soul that simply sat with me, that I could smell, wrap my fingers in or feel the breathing presence of them. The very first poem in this blog was about how standing with a horse in my heart kept me grounded and calm through being wide open in surgery and beyond--an experience that was far more "real" than all the many spiritual exercise, prayers and formal practices I know very well. It was like beneath this layer of man-made spirituality, something moves in my own self that is more primal and accessible in times of incredible physical, mental and emotional stress.
In 2016, my new husband and I bought land in northern Michigan. 50 acres of swamp and cedar, of ancient apple trees and a line of rocks that may have once been a fence, of three birch trees with girths the size of large oaks. Limestone is littered everywhere, huge boulders thrust up from the forest floor and moss grows rampant in places, jeweled with tiny umbrella-like lichen. The first thing I did that summer was play with rock--I thought I would make a Minoan labyrinth in my back yard.
But to my surprise, I found myself laying out a medicine wheel.
It just sort of happened. It felt right. I went and got my cell phone and laid out the compass directions, inscribing the circle with the help of my horse lunge line. Just a couple days after it was built, 15 turkeys paraded to it and spent half an hour scrounging around inside it's boundaries before forming up and marching back into the deep woods. The circle "holds" the backyard, its northern line pointing to where our property unfurls slowly into its "back 40" acres.
And then life happened. I wandered away, again into places of logic and "reasonable" behavior. I wrote and worried about money and raised a litter of puppies and started two worship services that focus on spiritual experience rather than the typical sermon. And that seems to be part of a multi-layered trigger for what is unfurling right now.
I have a man coming to lead a drumming circle and chant experience at the end of April. And suddenly, this yearning came up to drum. Not with the djembe, which was my usual percussion instrument--I had given my beloved drum to people who had cared for me in Washington because I had nothing else, no money, to hand to them for their kindness in a time of terrible illness and transition. I wanted a frame drum, with a strong but ligamented voice. It was like an ache for a lover. I needed to feel that drum in my sternum, under the pads of my fingers and palm of my hand. The more I thought about playing, the more I felt the urge to explore something I hadn't in since graduate school--modern shamanism.
I suppose I am luckier than some. I have always felt free and right following these nudges of spirit, very content and secure in the sense of the One moving through all of life and all forms of religion. There is no guilt here, EXCEPT ironically at the intellectual level! Truly! And you'd think that writing science fiction and moving as I always have into other "imaginary" realms at will, like most fiction writers do, would make this all a shoulder-shrug non-issue. But shamanism has always embarrassed me a little, like I had been caught playing with toys as a grown up.
Yet, looking back over the last few years, the energy in shamanism is anything but child's play and it is anything but a "toy". It has sustained and carried me when I have been in the deepest physical, mental and emotional places a human can imagine.
So, a little flushed in the cheek, I began to journey with more intent. I allowed the spirits of each of the cardinal directions appear to me, greeted the elemental spirits of each direction of my great stone medicine wheel. I identified what musical instrument each would like--flute, rattle, rain stick and drum. And standing there in the middle of my circle in my journey, my guardian spirit came again.
And I finally remembered being slashed open--a harbringer to all the necessary surgeries that would come. Had she had been warning me, preparing me all those years ago? I hadn't understood. I remembered almost dying and being laid to earth, fetal, and I remembered being able to sit in my cave and look out on warm colors and blue sky. That's what my life is like now--rebirth, parts of me no longer necessary given to the earth, parts of me very young and very weak--a child still needing the cave but looking out at a wide and incredibly beautiful vista.
I wept as my guardian leaned against me, comforting and good-natured again.
So now, in the sunshine of spring this morning, I find myself asking, "how can I truly listen to these forces within and around me?" They speak in poet-voices and I have to let go of what I think I know about how my mind works, how "reality" is. I am still so tempted to give into the urge to categorize those times, apply Jungian labels or "fit" it all into a known religion system. That's what I do with my intellect.
Not knowing is such a vast place, an unexplored and rich land. It's the closest geography to my unedited soul.
And I am finally allowing the courage to rise to explore it.