Tag Archives: Malidoma Some

Initiation

As a dancer, there were certain things I had naturally and other things I had to work at. I expected there to be a certain amount of pain. While working to develop my flexibility for example, pain became a sort of daily ritual meditation.

At times, I was overwhelmed by the level of sacrifice the art demanded, but I knew I wanted to go all the way, where ever that was, where ever that led. That journey was stressful, terrifying, confusing, ecstatic, spiritual and devastating, not necessarily in that order, and sometimes all those things before lunch.

I think my failures outnumbered my successes, which made the successes more meaningful.

Now I can look back on that journey and see it as a kind of initiation process towards becoming an artist. Certain things in life can’t be gotten at without going through the door of transformation, no matter how gifted you are, and it usually doesn’t feel good when it’s happening. The struggle of the butterfly to emerge from its cocoon is what strengthens its wings and enables it to fly. The struggle is inseparable, and, perhaps, equal to the gift that awaits you.

In our culture, we are taught to lead with ego, to always look cool and to avoid vulnerability because it equates with weakness, but Malidoma teaches that Spirit can only work with us when we are in a vulnerable state. He says, “Sometimes your not-knowing cooperates better with a process than your knowing.” These are hard words for modern people to embrace, we who want to know the outcome of every step before we take it, we who have invented insurance for our insurance, we of the homogenized beauty, of the entitled, we in the “Yes, we can,” demanding change under the guise of security.

Anyway, now that I’ve hung up my pointe shoes, another initiation is on the horizon: parenthood.

So far, so good: the little tea-pot is kicking and appears healthy. I am quite comfy in my maternity jeans and enjoy food in an almost orgasmic way. I’m talkin’ peanut butter and butter and jelly. And I feel a kind of immunity from the cares of the world, like I’ve just won a challenge on Project Runway and cannot be eliminated for the next round. There’s a sort of energy of respite that confused me at first, but that I now wallow in quite contentedly.

Mostly, when people find out that I am pregnant, and at six months it’s hard to miss, they are sincerely congratulatory, but then there are those others, the rainers-on-the paraders, who take the opportunity to unleash their cynicism about parenthood under the pretext of giving me a head’s up. Thanks. They complain about how unhappy they are, stopping just short of out-right blame towards their kids followed by an insincere chuckle and an awkward silence.

I’m not saying that there’s not an appropriate place and time to express one’s heart-ache over parenting. Of course there is. But I suspect our above mentioned cynics also lack a context for expressing grief. Maybe we don’t have to choose between the image of the new-agey, bullshit, eternally cheery positive thinker and the cynic.  Maybe we can let ourselves off the hook by honestly accepting how we feel, without resistance, without labels. By resisting our humanness, we become trapped in a prison of expectation, a maze with no center, no exit and no reward. And I only know about the maze because I’ve been there. I guess getting lost is sometimes part of it. We forget that it’s not who we are.

I often look upon the Spiritual journey, of which parenting may play a big part for those who choose it, not as a process of gaining special psychic powers or existing in some perpetually blissful state, but as a process of becoming fully human. And don’t worry. If you don’t choose parenting, initiation will find you some other way.

And then there are those, many of whom are quite accomplished in other areas of their lives, who say, without doubt or hesitation, that parenting is the best, the greatest thing they’ve ever done.

Ashe.

Here we come to welcome you, Little Big One.

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Down the Rabbit-Hole

I belong to an on-line google group that discusses spirituality. It is an extension of a group that meets up periodically for retreats and serves to maintain communications when we’ve returned from the retreat back into our everyday lives.

Recently, one of our members went on a rant: she was frustrated with the community, with the lack of tangible progress, feeling unsupported and lost on her path. I got it. At times, I’ve felt a similar longing and despair.

It got me to asking the question of why we pursue this thing called spirituality and what we hope to get out of it.

I think what started me on my own spiritual quest was a deep unshakable feeling that something was missing. I’d accomplished a lot externally but felt empty inside and unknown to myself. Nothing in the modern world could fill that void. In a way, it’s fair to say I didn’t know what I was longing for, but something about the spiritual texts I came across at the time gave me hope. Also, I had a paralyzing fear of death that…was like…a…wall…to…living?

When I use the word spiritual, I am not only referring to elevated disembodied beings, but to an essential human part of ourselves. It is the non-physical part of us that is associated with light. So, for example, thought can be spiritual or not, but love is and all its subsidiaries: forgiveness, compassion, kindness, truth, etc.

Being spiritual, opening to spirit, doesn’t necessarily give you an immediate answer to the problems of your life. For most of us, the initial opening is more like a can of worms. The light of the opening can illuminate all of the ways we have not loved and then we have to take a long hard look at our crap. Malidoma Some likens the spiritual path to the fall of Alice down the rabbit-hole. The landings are usually hard.

I’ve been falling for some time now. Gradually, your eyes adjust. The real trick is adjusting your spiritual vision during the fwifs and fwams of ordinary life and to eventually maintain a sort of dual vision, for without the dual vision of the mundane and spiritual, you are only seeing half the picture.

The spiritual aspect allows you to see what happens in physical life from a much broader perspective. In my travels, I’ve met people who have extraordinary gifts. They can actually see beings, guides, kontomble and the like. They can travel to other dimensions. They can converse with the dead. You may or may not possess those kinds of gifts, but even without them, one can cultivate spiritual vision by paying attention to how one feels. When you have a bad feeling, you find a moment to stop. Hold onto the feeling and follow the thread to its source. The thread will most likely take you to something you don’t want to look at about yourself, but the moment you see the jealousy, self-hatred, fear, is the moment the door to compassion and then forgiveness can open.

I think we can all do this sort of detective work with ourselves but a lot of us are a little rusty. It’s like a muscle that’s softened with disuse. Plus, we’re afraid to stop, to put our frickin’ phones down.

One of the ways we can strengthen this muscle is through story-telling. Story-telling helps us to practice the art of perspective which is essential to developing the dance between the mundane vision (what appears to be happening) with the spiritual vision (what’s really happening). To tell a story, one must rise above the story itself. There are no bad stories. Just unpracticed story-tellers.

I did a divination for someone recently. I could see that he’d had some kind of early childhood trauma. He was unable to speak about it or to cry. In being unable to tell the story, he was still beneath it, burdened by it, and the water he was unable to release through tears was causing toxicity. I suggested he begin by writing or speaking his story, to let the flow of words assist the flow of water so that he could begin the cleansing process.

And if healing is a process, grieving is a practice. We in modern culture are all looking for a way to cure (end) the hurt, but some things can’t be cured forever. It just needs to be cleaned out periodically. Over time, the hurt comes up less and less, but will still come up until maybe it doesn’t have to any more, but by that time we will have accumulated another hurt. And the practice is that when it comes up, we clean it out with tears, with our story. Most of us don’t need a drug. We need a practice. Without the practice, we are not really living.

The other day a friend of mine sent me a link to a YouTube video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OIuWY5PInFs. In it a woman is courageously and honestly talking about her ballet career before she is about to give her last performance. I was a mess. I hadn’t grieved my own retirement in a long while. But this time was different. I didn’t get stuck in my head. I didn’t feel regret or the need to question my choices. It was almost like I was grieving for someone else, like watching a movie. I could see a much larger picture. The confusion and fear were replaced by compassion.

And then I ate lunch.


Divination

“The health of the eye depends on a horizon.”–Emerson

For as long as I can remember, I have been drawn to the mystical branches of spirituality. As part of my search, I occasionally sought divinations including I-ching, tarot, palm readings, astrology (both Western and Vedic), channelling, past-life regression, Michael charts, numerology, Ifa readings and most recently, the shell divination of the Dagara tradition of Burkina Faso as taught and practiced by Malidoma Some.

I go to see a diviner when I need help from the other side. The strength of a diviner seems to be based on the extent to which they are able to become a vessel for a disembodied being: an ancestor, a spirit guide or angel, a kontomble (the little people in Dagara cosmology), etc.

I consider divination to be a kind of art. Finding a good diviner is sort of like finding a good massage therapist. Everyone has a different style. You just have to find the one that works for you.

Skeptics argue that diviners are charlatans who are only after money, but such charlatans exist in every field. These skeptics also argue that diviners say such general things that may be true of just about everyone, but so do most doctors. Even as a ballet teacher, I find myself saying the same things over and over again to different students because people tend to make the same mistakes.

I go with the understanding that even the shabbiest diviner can extract a kernel of truth from the cards, bones, shells or what have you, and it is then up to me as to what I do with that message. Of course, one should practice discernment when going to see a diviner. When you hear the truth, you feel a kind of resonance with it and it’s ok to trust that. If you don’t feel resonance, go to someone else.

Getting a divination from a skillful diviner is like being served a large meal. You can’t eat everything on the plate, but you do the best you can. Some of the things you may not initially understand and you find that the message unfolds mysteriously in layers as you become better able to digest it.

For example, one of the things Malidoma told me in a divination was that I had a weakness in nature. A weakness in nature, now what could that possibly mean? It’s true, as I said in the previous post, that I have a thing for trees. Is that what he meant? Or does the weakness have something to do with my own nature? What is my nature?

During the divination, you are free to ask questions, but at the time, I was so busy trying to grasp other things that I let the weakness in nature issue go until several months later another diviner of the same tradition told me the same thing. And yet a third Dagara diviner looked at my numerology and verified this weakness in nature yet again.

But what does that mean? I decided to start spending more time in nature. Perhaps I would find my answers there. My husband and I started taking almost daily hikes in the Blue Hills reserve, not far from where I live in Boston.

No matter how reluctant we are to make the twenty-minute drive, we are always grateful that we made the effort. We notice that every time we walk through the woods, whatever stress we are carrying is magically cleansed and there is always a gift: a tiny bird’s nest, six hawks that swooped close by, a gentle rain, a horizon, a new path. And we notice too, that the rest of the day seems to flow more sweetly after the time spent in nature.

As I started to become nourished by nature, further understanding of my divination began to unfold when my husband and I took a trip to Manhattan to look at museums and galleries. The streets were crowded. It was a nice weekend but the more we walked through the chic lower West side, the more I started to wither inside myself. Feelings of alienation and inferiority began to overwhelm me. Everyone and everything was so fabulous. I felt like a dandelion struggling through a crack in the cement, surrounded by rare and exotic flowers.

I grew up in New York City and the place holds a lot of memories for me. At night, I was assaulted by dreams of experiences in which I was made to feel small. In those moments, when I felt weak in the presence of others, I could see how my lack of strength in my own nature caused me to cower. Sometimes this energy was intentionally inflicted but other times not. I was just too easily intimidated because I was un-rooted, not at home inside myself, and easily blown off-balance, like a shallowly rooted tree in a hurricane.

Aha! So this is how the weakness in nature manifests itself in me. I could see how I built up an armor around this wound without having healed it and how the recent initial healing in nature was allowing me to see this issue more clearly in myself.

I could see how my nature is tied to the big nature of the world. And at last, I could feel some compassion for myself. Finally, I could unclasp the heavy armor encasing my heart, and reveal it without shame, naked and bleeding, because in my embrace of nature, I have begun to take root.

Malidoma says that a weakness in nature is common for modern people. During my recent visit to NY, I could see evidence of that. In a city, we are constantly told how to be, what to think and do. Walk, don’t walk. Buy this. Eat here. Don’t stop. Keep moving. Faster. Upgrade. I think even if you are strong in your nature, everyone is influenced by city persuasion to some extent.

And I’m not saying that those things are inherently bad. I like sushi and a fancy pair of shoes. I’m just saying that it’s easy to lose yourself by being swept up in a tide of fabulousness that has nothing to do with who you really are. To know nature is to know yourself. And to know yourself is fucking fabulous.


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