Tag Archives: Malidoma Some

Back to School

Last night I had a recurring anxiety dream: that I was back in high-school taking a math test.

Upon waking, I wondered why that dream was resurfacing now, and admitted to myself that I was having some anxiety about the start of the Spring semester in a few days. I’m sure this anxiety is common for teachers just as much as students.

Bashar tells us that anxiety occurs when excitement gets obscured by a negative belief. I wondered what belief I held that soured my excitement about returning to the classroom and found that it was this: the fear of not being good enough. We meet again, old friend. I suddenly felt with compassion towards the students who often struggle with that same fear.

When confronted with a fear, I do my best to just sit with it. Invite it in. Say hello. As fear and I looked at each other over our cups of tea, I remembered something Malidoma Some said: that Spirit often works better with the part of us that doesn’t know.

And what is the fear of not being good enough but the fear of the unknown? Realizing that, my grasp on that fear softened. I didn’t have to conquer my fear. I didn’t have to transcend it. I could instead honor it as a necessary element to the inner opening I sought through my teaching.

In a sense, I could place my trust in fear. I could trust in the unknown. We can trust in the unknown.

And if you’re a student reading this, let me clarify that trusting the unknown is not an excuse to not do one’s work. It’s just a different kind of work, wink, wink.

 


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, as Malidoma Some suggests, 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 Some also 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.

Security is an inside joke; you can’t find it on the outside, get it? Hahaha.

Ah, what can I say? My brother is the comedienne of the family. 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. I have boobs for the first time in my life; I have to lift to get up under there and wash. Ladies, y’all know what I’m talkin’ ’bout. 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.

Maybe I caught them at a bad moment but it seems…maybe they’re missing the point? They cannot see the bigger picture and place their experience within the context of initiation. They cannot see the hope of unconditional love.

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.


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.


Ancestor Medicine

“The lessons we avoid in life will only come back with interest and the interest is pain.”–Ken Ludden

“As an artist, you can only ever express who you are.”–Qasim Naqvi

*****

“Is Tilly, my maternal mother the one I am supposed to ancestralize?” I ask.

The shells are tossed and answer an emphatic yes. I am not surprised. She is the one on the other side I carry closest. 

It is believed in most traditional cultures that the relationship between the living and the dead is sacred and symbiotic, because essentially we are them. I’ve heard one woman say that we are simply ancestors in the flesh. Birth and death are two sides of the same coin: when we are born here, we die someplace else and vice versa (Malidoma Some). Just as there are people here, hopefully, waiting to receive us, there are those on the other side, hopefully, who mourn our loss. The tears we shed are like amnion for the dead.

The efforts of the living and the dead are essential to the success of a birth/death. Both side have responsibilities. One of ours is to help them transition to the ancestral realm, as they help us to transition during birth. I think it was in Malidoma’s biography Of Water and the Spirit where I read about how a child is born into the Dagara culture of Burkina Faso. Prior to the birth, a diviner consults the ancestor-waiting-to-be-born in order to determine its purpose in incarnating.

Now, many of us in modern culture are lost, searching for our purpose, melancholic and weighted down with the burden of our undelivered gifts. Can you imagine coming here and already knowing why you came? Can you imagine being named for your purpose so that you can’t forget it? Can you imagine that your community also understands your purpose and helps you fulfill it? To the western mind, this might feel like too much pressure and a lack of personal freedom, but traditional cultures are built on community. Your life is not simply yours alone and your purpose has to do with the well-being of all.

When the mother is ready to deliver, all of the children in the village gather around. As the baby’s head appears, the children start shrieking with delight and praise. Since children’s voices are the closest to the baby’s, this is a signal to the baby that they’ve arrived in the right place. It is hard for most westerners, born into cold, sterile hospitals, to imagine such a warm, beautiful, welcome. Reading this made me weep with a profound sense of loss.

Conversely, If one is not aided by the living in their death transition, well, things don’t go so good. Since modern culture has lost touch with the true essence of ritual and grief, the kind of grief “that,” as Martin Prechtel says, “makes you look bad when you’re done,”  the dead struggle, lost, purposeless on the other side. Outside of their rightful seat among the other ancestors, they are rendered powerless to help those they’ve left behind.

As above, so below. So, as a result of the improper send off of our loved-ones, well, their world and our world, which is one world, is in a creepy place. Maybe you’ve noticed. From an indigenous perspective, we cannot begin to heal the wounds of this world until we heal the connection with our ancestors. As Malidoma says, “anything we do here without the sanction of our ancestors will bear little fruit at an unbearable cost.”

All day and night, forty or so of us perform an elaborate ritual to help our deceased loved-ones cross over into the realm of the ancestors. As part of the ritual, we keep an all night vigil. Some of us gifted with sight can see their ghosts gathering around the fire as far as the eye can see. There are so many needing help. They have waited so long. At around 3am we consult the shells again to see if the ones the shells designated have made it.

“Has Tilly made it?”

“No.”

Is there something else I need to do?

Yes.”

Does she want to see me dance?”

Yes.”

Great. This is the last thing I want to do. I am cold and tired, but I can’t say no to Tilly. We have come this far. I approach the fire and dance around jerkily. My mind is racing the whole time.  I’m sure this is the worst dance I’ve ever done and it’s in front of all these people. I want to give Tilly something beautiful and I’m sure I’ve failed.

The shells are consulted again. Has she made it? Yes. Well, at least my efforts were enough to get her there. Mission accomplished, but I cannot forgive myself for that awful galumphing gorilla dance. Suddenly I hear something inwardly that carries a jolt and I know I am plugged in:

THE PROBLEM IS NOT WITH DANCING. IT NEVER HAS BEEN. THE PROBLEM IS YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH YOURSELF.

Damn. Those ancestors are not wasting any time. I better hold onto my seatbelt: shattering of illusions straight ahead! The words take a minute to settle into my stomach. It’s so obvious now, so clear, I almost want to laugh. It’s one of those things that you can see in someone else, but can’t recognize from the inside.

I think back to the many years I suffered a contentious relationship with my dancing. It’s true that I often used dancing to punish myself. And then I turned around and blamed dancing and everyone in it, but it never hurt me. I hurt myself and tended to attract the energy of victimization.

Now I understand why I’ve been so blocked in renewing my life after retiring from dance: even though a new career or relationship might give me the illusion of moving forward, without this new understanding it would just be the same shit, new package. In order to move forward I would have to bring all parts of myself.

Of course this understanding, though hard, comes with a gift. Now, I can peel away another layer of healing. (I suspect this goes on forever).

“Besides, the whole tortured artist thing is so last century,” says Mr. Octopus.

Yeah. This is the age of enlightenment. You gotta get your shit together.


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