Monthly Archives: November 2010

Infinite Yumminess

My boyfriend broke his neck when he was 19. Before he went under the knife, he was asked to sign a do-not-resuscitate order in case the operation failed. He was not religious. For him, like many, God was a tainted word. In that moment, pen in hand, facing his own death, he recalled some music by the Grateful Dead. He felt peace when he remembered that music and put his faith in that. Then he signed.

The story of my boyfriend’s accident is devastating to me, all except that part. That moment when he was able to accept his death peacefully. To this day, he does not fear death. That is a great gift.

I, on the other hand, worry about my impending death and the death of my loved ones all the time. Over the years, I have managed to work myself into quite the tizzy. Sometimes I wonder how I will make it through the day, assaulted as I am by images of everything from car accidents to spontaneous combustion.

I have read books about death and meditated on death a lot. Indeed, my spiritual searching was often fueled by a fear of death. Death meditations and inspirational literature provided some measure of comfort, but then, three years ago, I had the dream and it’s been down hill ever since.

“Tell them about the drrream…” says Mr. Octopus.

Ok. First, I want to say that my dear teacher and friend, Ken, says that there are three types of dream. The first and most common is a dream that is a normal processing of life’s daily events. For instance, my car is dying, speaking of death, and I dreamt the other night that I was driving upside down and couldn’t get the car to right itself. That’s an example of the first kind of dream.

The second kind of dream is a message from spirit. I have these dreams less frequently and recognize them by their powerful emotional impact. For instance, in one of these dreams I may connect with the spirit of a loved one who has passed.

The third kind of dream is a premonition.

“Have you had one of those?” asks Mr. Octopus.

“Ay, there’s the rub.”

Three years ago, I had a dream that I was being told that I would die at the age of 50 from stomach cancer and that it would be very painful. Ever since then, it’s like my fear of death has mounted me. I can’t really shake it with any amount of meditation. It wakes me up sometimes in the middle of the night. Now, I have always suspected that great emotions, if you are able to allow yourself to have them, to really sit with them, leave a gift behind. At least that has been my experience and my way of working with things like sorrow, jealousy and anger, but this fear of death thing was unshakeable.

Nevertheless, I tried my best not to run away when it came up and yesterday it came up. And what do you know? I had a little break-through.

“Do tell.”

Well, I was taking a shower and the panic came up accompanied by a sense of defeat. I was just so tired of always being afraid. You see, I’d always imagined that death would be agonizing, like every cell in your body exploding, like being burned alive, a great force that moved through your whole being and shattered you in a flash of ultimate and exquisite pain.


Yeah. So there I was in the shower with the usual death-fear blossoming in my chest, imagining every cell exploding, brains on the carpet, eye balls poppin’ out, when I had a thought. A new thought. A small voice spoke.

“What did it say?”

It was so small and clear. I don’t know where it came from and I don’t know why I couldn’t have heard it until now. Couldn’t have accepted it until now. I’d spent so much time considering every possible gruesome way to die, for my loved ones to die. But after I heard this new thing, something changed. I thought that maybe death wasn’t to be consumed by pain. It was to be consumed by, by, how can I say it, infinite yumminess. A light, a love, so wondrous as to be unnameable. I know that’s not a new idea. It was just new for me.

“What did the voice say?”

I was suddenly delighted standing there in the shower. Every thing now seemed possible. Love seemed possible. Pain seemed possible. Even death. Why hadn’t I ever considered that before? Sure, I still didn’t know what death was, but somehow, that new thought, that quiet voice, felt more right than any fear I’d ever had.

“WHAT THE FUCK DID IT SAY?” shouts Mr. Octopus. He rarely ever shouts.

“You rarely ever shout,” I say, somewhat stunned out of my reverie.

“Tell me what it said or I will sit on your head.”

“No. I can’t say it. You won’t understand.”

“Herrre I come.”

“Ok! OK! Get off my fucking head!”

“Tell me what it said first!”

“Stop strangling me!”

“Tell me!”

“OK! Alright!”

It said, so simply,

God loves you.

Imagine my surprise.

Especially considering that the part of me that receives love was broken some time ago. Do-not-resuscitate. Well, I guess not completely broken. This voice, so simple, so quiet. I heard it clear. In my heart. And the accompanying thought of death-as-infinite-yumminess was not like an intellectualization. It was something that I felt, I heard, also in my heart.

“Fine. Just don’t ring my doorbell on Sunday mornings, talking about God.”

“Funny. That’s the thing. I hardly ever use that word.”

“Well. Happy Thanksgiving.”

The Food of Love

“So, ‘Yes,’ I say to the Starbucks lady, ‘I would like two tea bags.'” Duh.

“Yes,” mumbles Mr. Octopus.

“Tea bags are an abomination,” I continue.

“Worrrd, as you people say.”

I pour a cup of my special home-brew of Earl Grey with a touch of vanilla. “Really, once you’ve gotten used to the taste of loose tea, you’ll never bag it again!”

“Yeees,” he agrees. “I’m against tea baggers of every kind.”

Hahaha. Hilarious. Where was I? Oh yes, I wanted to clarify the difference between ritual and ceremony as it is important not to confuse the two. What I say here is based on my own understanding from having participated in ritual and having heard or read about it through such people as Malidoma Some, Martin Prechtel and others.

Ceremony is rote. More-or-less scripted. Choreographed. Not necessarily spiritual in nature. While there are certain planned elements in ritual, it is, for the most part spontaneous. There are basically two kinds of rituals: ordinary, day-to-day stuff and big-transformational-dealing-with-life-changes type stuff. Ordinary rituals are often done alone. They have to do with our daily spiritual maintenance, such as checking in with one’s ancestors and asking them to bless the way in the coming day. Big-transformational-type rituals must involve the community, for the health of the individual determines the health of the community. All are responsible for all, high and low, young and old, male and female, although sometimes it’s also important to divide the sexes in ritual, as women have women’s needs and men have men’s. Great change needs many voices. People join in ritual for that purpose.

It is a challenge to create this kind of community in an individualistic society, such as our own. But, when someone dies in Burkina Faso, let’s say, the whole village, and sometimes the neighboring villages stop what they are doing for several days and join in mourning. The tears are food for the one who has passed away. That food helps them to make the journey to the world of the ancestors. It is the food of love. Without many tears to fuel them, the ancestors will have trouble on their way. In dealing with their own troubles, they are less able to help us here. We will be cut off from their wisdom and vital aid. And they will be somewhat cut off from us and this is bad, bad juju. We all need the steady flow of information and love to and from the spirit world. So the whole village weeps.

A word here about our relationship with our ancestors. Someone might ask, why would I want to connect with dead Uncle Joe, when he was such a selfish son-of-a-bitch and never showed any interest in me when he was alive? Well, Uncle Joe is in a different place now. He has a different perspective. He sees the big picture and has learned from his life. Some people might have to just take that on faith, but after my grandfather died, for example, I felt him apologize to me for not having understood why I wanted to dance professionally. I don’t know how I know  that, but I do.

Along those lines, I think ritual helps us to get out of our heads and to stop questioning the things we know in our bones. In a ritual, unlike in a ceremony, the spirits are invited into a sacred space, usually marked by invocation, music and dance, sacred ash and/or herbs, prayers, etc. After the intention for the ritual has been clearly articulated and after certain spirits are called upon, anything can happen in their hands. The thing to understand is that you’re in good hands. This is why it’s important for a safe space to be created and only positive energies should be called upon. Specificity helps.

At the end, what has been opened must be closed and released. This step is very important. I have been in situations where things were not closed properly and I was hurt by the unprotected energy I carried out into an unaware, heedless world. I won’t get into the gory details here. We can discuss it over a cup of fresh brewed loose tea. Or a cocktail. Preferably by a seashore…

Ritual must be respected and I cannot stress here the importance of having elders present during ritual work. It is partly their job to make sure that no one gets hurt. Now, I understand that in this modern age, there are precious few around that recognize and fulfill their role as elders. We have a real problem on our hands with how we treat old people. This is perhaps a subject to cover in more detail in a later blog, but I want to say here that our elders are as precious as our babes. Beware of entering into ritual without the presence of elders. The community may have good intentions, but that is not enough. This is not a dry ceremony. This is powerful stuff. Sorrow and ecstasy. Or maybe a fit of the giggles. You participate in a way that feels right.

“Is there nudity involved? Sex with goats, and all manner of vilenessss?” asks Mr. O.
“No, but sometimes an octopus or two may be sacrificed and eaten.”
“Very funny.”

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