Saturday, July 30, 2005

Living My Life Like It’s Golden, Pt. III: My Inner Baby

The next morning I awoke fresh as the morning dew, sparkly as the sun alit upon the anticipated opening of new bud. I got the urge immediately to prowl, so I suited up and inserted myself into the day. I hadn’t walked more than 100 yards before bumping into a ritualist trio of Water Clan ilk—Steve, the teacher from Virginia; Matt the children’s author and his teen son Gabe—plus one of the Stones and Bones people.

The five us explored the paths that led through the Green Gulch organic farm and gardens, past the horse corral and the gorgeous Pelican Inn, connecting to the fire lane and pristine wilderness, a path leading all the way to Muir Beach. Along the way we found and picked fresh berries and cherries that weren’t quite ripe yet, a creek with several inlets, and more nature than I’ve had the pleasure of being surrounded by in quite some time. The grounds are a natural habitat for quail, the male of which is blue feathered, and I found a black salamander wi th an orange belly. The beach was fantastic, reminding me a page from John Calvin Batchelor ’s The Birth of the People’s Republic of Antarctica. The entire time I felt transported; I wasn’t far from the city but it felt like the other side of the world. The water people kept scouting for locations. They seemed further along than in the process than I was. The night hadn’t brought me anything other than a good sleep.

After dallying a bit we headed back. I was pleased to discover very hot water and impressive water pressure. The gong sounded, a cattle call for food. I loaded up on steel-cut oats, eggs and bacon, then headed to the yurt.

Inside was a free-for-all, people mingling and talking out of clan. Once Somé appeared on the scene, it was time to get down to brass tacks. He began by asking each clan to share their ideas with the group, and of course he started with the Fire people. We really hadn’t gotten that far, and I don’t know about the others, but I hadn’t the foggiest notion of what was going on. That was the funny thing about it. I was absolutely clueless. Someone from our group mentioned the embryo of an idea that had been suggested, something about dancing to represent the kinetic movement of flames. Somé wasn’t too jiggy with the Fire Clan's lack of preparation, and the other clans had better developed plans. For example, the Water Clan wanted to anoint everyone. But generally speaking it was clear that none of us knew what the day would bring. Because we had to adhere to the Zen Center’s meal schedule, we had to work quickly to come to consensus. What we arrived at was that Fire, Water, and Earth seemed like a natural grouping and Nature and Minerals seemed like a separate pairing. We also decided to hold our rituals in a clearing adjacent to the yurt, rather than elsewhere in the Zen acreage. With that, we were set in motion. Therefore, I don’t really know how it happened, but we, the Fire Clan, actually came up with a ritual.

I think the pressure of being least ready kind of propelled us into whipping up something appropriate right on the spot. We decided to set up a small fire at the farthest end of the field, bounded by eucalyptus trees on three sides. Tino had ceremonial tobacco and a portable charcoal burner. We decorated the area with various pieces of red cloth and fabric that people had or that we found in the yurt. A few people had brought candles. When I thought I had nothing to contribute, someone pointed to the memory wire necklace I wear almost every day, comprised mainly of red beads. Another enterprising someone had cayenne pepper and a couple people had brought ceremonial sage.

I shouldn’t and won't reveal the intricacies of our ritual but essentially, we created a space for people to enter individually, a place in which to reach some clarity about what each person would like to release or let go and what they would like to ignite within themselves. Each person was allowed as much time as necessary in front of the flames, a place for meditation, self-confrontation, and for asking for ancestral guidance.

After going through the fire ritual, participants next partook of the water ritual, which involved being led blindly to bank of a stream and doused with shockingly cold water. The Earth people created a ritual that reacquainted one with the feeling of being a child and touching the earth with that first awareness of grass under one’s feet or soil between one’s fingers. The yurt served as a village, replete with drummers—mostly djembe, and a set of djun djun.

Once each of the ritual spaces was ready, we gathered at the yurt to learn a song inviting our female and male ancestors to be with us. One by one, we led one another through each of the rituals. I was able to watch the first several people go through our ritual before I led them to the Water Clan spot, which was my Fire Clan post. People seemed really excited and eager to welcome whatever experiences were about to unfold.

I was surprised that some people took a lot of time before the fire. That was my first inkling that ritual is almost more about you put into it—the mindset with which you enter into it—than about structure. When folks emerged from the Fire ritual, you could sense a change. If they had meant to let go of something, they had. If they had meant to kick start something within themselves, they did. But I still hadn’t experienced it first hand, so I remained open yet puzzled. How did it all work? So you did a fire walk (w/ cayenne as a substitute for fire) and sat in front of a little Weber grill. How or why could that initiate change?

I didn’t really understand it all until it was my turn. After about 10 or 15 had gone through, initiates, I was relieved of my station so I could be a stand-in at “the Village.” Those who had cycled through the three rituals were led back to the yurt, where the song continued to be sung and beaten out on the drums. Meanwhile, those of us who had either already gone through or who were waiting our turn—we, were there to cheer those returning from their journey. I noticed that without fail, the returnees were utterly transformed—jubilant, radiant, exhibiting a lightness of being, glowing. I didn’t get it. For one moment I thought to myself, “eh, a bunch of hippies.” I mean this is the stuff of cults, right?

Then it was my turn. Claudia, walked me down the valley at wedding march pace. She asked me if I was ready, and I felt that I was. I also felt a little odd being walked like an old lady or an infirm person, but it was nice too. It felt … different. Because I was part of the Fire Clan, I knew what to expect. Or so I thought. I was asked if I was ready, if I had clarity of intention. Sure I did. I did the fire walk. I sat on my knees before the fire. I closed my eyes. And I don’t know why, but I was there for what seemed like an extraordinarily long time. In fact, it seemed like all time stopped and it was just me and … not thoughts, not feelings, just simply being. I thought about my mom and the ancestors whom I could name and those who I couldn’t. I thought about things that I have allowed to hold me back in this life. I thought about the things I’d like to accomplish. I say “I thought” but it was more like images parading before me at a less frenetic pace than the aversion therapy scene in A Clockwork Orange, though it was a much more pleasant sensation. When I passed what had been my station and was handed over to the Water Clan, I already felt like “huh” or “hmm.” Questioning but not really questioning what had just happened.

Then I was blindfolded and led down a small path where I could hear water babbling and smell it too. And that was a thing in itself—remembering that water has a water smell. Like the trust fall used in team-building programs, the inability to see did require surrender. In the dark, I was folded into a seated position and asked to think about purity of mind. Just as I began, I was shocked by a shivering cold trickle of water that became a thorough dousing. I felt like I’d plunged into a river, embarking on an under water swim. Then I was led to the Earth clan, where I was invited to dig my hands in a mound of freshly dug soil, to experience it like I had as a child.

All of this sounds innocuous, perhaps childish or silly, certainly not potent. I can’t explain to you how it very much was. It just was. But even I didn’t realize the extent to which it was until I was led back to the village. As I walked up the stairs to the yurt, those at the village clapped and cheered and as soon as I reached them, I felt arms wrap around me as we hugged and clasped one another. If you know me, you know that isn’t my thing, but the feeling was indescribable. I knew I had that same triumphal glow that the others had. I don’t know what others experienced but for me I felt like this is what happens when you die. You crossover from one existence to another and there are people or entities on the other side to welcome you back and they’re so excited to see you and you them because it’s a true homecoming. And I knew that that was what my mom experienced.

Now, ask me what my beliefs about death, dying, and the existence of an afterlife were prior to that moment. I hadn’t any. Certainly nothing succinct like that. Nothing that was a knowing. It didn’t faze me a bit. I basically had a dry run at passing out of this life into another. I’ll say it again, I can’t really explain it. If you were to tell me that I would sit in front of grill, get water poured on me and get some dirt beneath my nails and that afterwards I would feel profoundly different, I would have told you to go smoke some more crack. Even if you’re not entirely skeptical, it’s hard to swallow. All I know is that something changed in me, and that was just part one.

Later, when everyone had gone through the first set of rituals, we gathered together to do the remaining two rituals—Minerals and Nature—as a group. Mainly we banged rocks together. Seriously. We banged rocks and some things were said. The analogy of a butterfly was used. Then we danced. We were all giddy. It was great. It was so good.

* * *

Then we cleaned up, packed up, and went home and for days afterward I was quite spacey and not entirely in my body. Several days after the workshop, I was with Six whenI mentioned how I was still feeling like I wasn’t quite on this plane of existence. A little disturbed she said, “You know, I didn’t want to say anything, but you look weird! You look really different. Something definitely happened to you.” During that period coworkers commented on how unusually calm I seemed, like a “refuge,” one said, in the midst of chaos. I’d go running in the morning, and it felt like nothing. Not effortless, per se, but almost as if I was numb to it. I wasn’t in my body at all. It was a lingering after-effect that for the most part was more than welcome until almost a week had gone by. The lightness started to freak me out a little and to make matters worse I stayed up much too late one night, getting exactly two hours of sleep. The next day I started to feel anxious and the anxiety built all through the weekend. Whatever I’d done at Green Gulch seemed undone or as if it was becoming my undoing.

The ritual weekend made me vulnerable in a certain way. The mundane seemed dangerous and taxing. I couldn’t filter stimuli. But it did contribute to the finding of my inner baby. My senses were quite keen. The day after I got back from Green Gulch, Shez and co. invited me to Russian River. We went in Sharon’s camper, which was great for me. It meant I could lollygag in the back, be the spacy-invader without consequence. In Guerneville, we parked the camper in a supermarket parking lot. Shez and I were talking about race relations among other things when of the sudden I stopped and looked straight down. There, at my feet, was a tiny black infant, I’d say about the size of my thumbnail. She was tiny. It’s not like I was down near the ground tying my shoe. This was a tiny speck of child, dark brown against the black top, and I stopped at her like a buick stopping on a dime.

Finding her was really odd and bizarre and par for the course; I haven't figured out what to with her yet, but she has permanent resident on my shrine. And so back to the question, "how can we do, if we don't know what it is we're supposed to do?" The biggest thing learning I had was the answer to that question. Ritual is like life. The whole of it is about doing, most of the time not knowing what it is that we're doing. Sometimes not even knowing why we're doing it. Like we get up each morning and breathe, just because. Doesn't matter if we like it or don't like it, doesn't matter if we want to or don't want to. It just happens. The years stack up, and we end up with a life to look back upon. We didn't have a road map or an instruction manual or a blueprint. While we're looking back, it so happens that we still in the midst of living. Of figuring out by doing. As a corollary, therefore, a lot of life is ritual. After that weekend, I realized I am involved in numerous rituals, some daily, some monthly, some annually, some irregularly. But ritual is life, living is ritual with intention.

My intention from here on out? Let's just say it's a work in progress.

2 Comments:

Blogger Zenslinger said...

Very moving.

Let me try to be brief for once.

My wife devised a theme and a ritual for our camp at Burning Man two years ago. It was the Lemon camp and the ritual involved making lemonade out of lemons. You received a lemon, and then were to write your petty grievance in a sandpit, perform a random and silly ritual action (you spun a wheel and got: stand on your head, do a karate kick...things like that.) And thereafter your petty grievance was wiped out of the surface of the sand. And you got your lemon back as lemonade. With vodka if you wanted it.

We had this attitude that we'd present people with a flyer for the camp if we heard them complaining about the heat, or not being able to locate a friend in the crowd. But mostly people just came to us. And when they did the ritual, they often became incredibly serious about it.

One man told us he had a few months to live and felt bad about an altercation with a friend. A Chinese guy didn't say anything about his grievance, but wrote a pictograph in the sand. I recognized it as a family name and asked about it -- he gravely revealed to me that he had a lot of anger at his family.

We honestly meant to it be very hip and almost ironic. But this need for ritual just came out of nowhere.

5:08 PM  
Blogger mpho said...

Slinger, I LOVE this story. It's so great! To your last sentence, the ritual itself came out of "nowhere," which is actually (I am coming to believe) some "sacred somewhere," but the need for it comes from the dearth of it that most of us have, and from your wife's highly immaginative response to the underlying psychology of pretty griefs. I think as things get more and more out of whack in these incredibly wacky times, these sorts of "spontaneous ritual erruptions" will probably occur more and more often. Hopefully, so will those that are planned in advance.

9:08 PM  

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