“We are truly real. We are not a figment of your mind. Your mind has had to be developed and fine tuned to be able to do this work. Your mind is the instrument. We are the teachers. Please, please stay open, stay present, stay real.” – Mano to Barbara
Years ago, after reading Sandra Ingerman’s books on soul retrieval, I had a shaman do one for me. She brought back the news that my totem animal is the red-tailed hawk, and then she asked me to tune in and be present with the hawk. When I was reporting the result, I questioned how I could know that what I had seen wasn’t just my imagination. “That’s the way to begin,” she reassured me, “with the imagination. Soon enough the hawk will participate in a way you couldn’t possibly make up.”
Eliot Cowan, in Plant Spirit Medicine, says the inevitable question, “Am I making this up?” is “the monster faced by every Westerner who ventures into the world of dreams.” The only way he sees to subdue this monster is to “put the dream to the test and see if it works.”
And even if it works, the proof might not be convincing enough. These stories we’re invested in can be tough old birds. Cowan writes about a medical doctor who worked with plant spirit medicine and began having successful results in unusual ways that surprised him. When he could not reconcile the new techniques with his training and the modern medical model, he decided that all the plant spirit practitioners were “making it up”, and he closed down those possibilities in himself.
My brother Dan (the middle of my three brothers) says that if you insist on the old story, and if you can’t accept feedback to the contrary, you will inevitably doubt or completely reject any new story that tries to inch into your reality. This “old story”, I believe, has different characterizations that change for people as they move along in their work. For Dan at the moment it’s the patriarchy of Old Testament Abraham and the religion and science of Aristotle; for Barbara it’s the burning times and the rejection of nature knowledge and the feminine; for me, as I heal from an ocular melanoma, it’s the suppression of feeling by the martyred, compliant feminine.
The road to trust in a new story is an individual journey, too—or better said, involves variations on a theme. When I catch sight of the new, of my next step, the best route for me is to nurture the feeling of it, grow a yearning that literally pulls me out of bed into the practice. If I insist—set intentions and grit my teeth—some beautifully polished resistance reflex takes hold to remind me that my problem is a lack of discipline. I have to play some sweet tricks to camouflage the pitfalls, taking into account (even blessing) my oldest constitution and experience.
Somewhere down there, in one of those pits, is the fear that it’s not going to happen, that the gnomes are not going to trust me enough to speak. Or that I’m not going to trust myself enough to hear. That’s where the trick of relaxing and giving up the agenda comes in—the “waiting on God”.
In my first version of this blog I had a paragraph about William James’ Varieties of Religious Experience, a book that, long ago, helped me bridge the science-mysticism gap. James uses the science of psychology to try and explain mystical or transcendental religious experiences and yet comes to the conclusion that when one of these experiences happens to you, you simply know that it’s true; it carries the power of a realm beyond doubting. My brother, too, recognizes a “knowing channel” and says that when such an experience occurs, you acknowledge, “Yes, I know these things to be true. Thank you.” You recognize that you were part of the creation, and that it wasn’t just you. Seen from the patriarchal, scientific paradigm, the “knowing” experience is fickle, Dan says, and if you insist on replicating it, or proving it in sequential steps, you can’t use it.
Barbara responded to my draft: “I used to read William James’ book cover to cover looking for confirmation and verification of my own mystical experiences and never got the comfort I was seeking. I finally found release from the mental torment I was putting myself through when I told God: I give up trying to do it right. I give up questioning if I am hearing you or am making it up. I told God: I’m going to trust everything that comes as if it is from you. And it is your responsibility to tell me if I have made a mistake. This s/he has done through my feelings; sometimes things I am thinking I ‘got’ just don’t feel right. So I let them go and then I come back another day, freshly able to see what is really going on.”
I think Barbara’s response to the “Am I making this up?” question is exemplary for me, in my desire to tune in, deeply, to the feeling life. And with the sudden “knowing” also comes the working out of life around it—after the ecstasy comes the laundry.