August 16, 2012

Shamanhood, is that you Calling?

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EKGs, IVs and Close Encounters with My Anxious Mind.

Mark Twain once said, “I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened.”

 Yet, at others times, and at the risk of disagreeing with my own inner ol’ man Twain Sacred Masculine, some of them, in fact, have happened.

It starts out as a seemingly innocuous Sunday. I wake up and get dressed on a mid-July morning, stepping into what feels like the Sacredly Early. I zip up a black nylon windbreaker and glance acceptingly at the reflection of my own un-brushed hair. I hear the door shut behind me as I enter the liminal space of a mirrored elevator.

In the background corner of my mind plays the refrain of Baghdad women in Hijab’s who shuffle over scorched dry earth to rebirth themselves: re-bathing in the soil of their wounds, recreating new embodied memory from which they can spring forth.

This chorus interwoven with a stanza or two of Sarah McLachlan’s “Fumbling Towards Ecstacy.”

“The shaman’s initiation—whether in a cave, on a mountain, atop a tree, or on the terrain of the psyche—embraces the experience of death, resurrection, and realization or illumination.”  (Into The Nierika “The Crisis Journey” p. 4 ~ Joan Halifax)

I stand in line at a local coffee shop, animal print flats making contact with manilla-folder colored wooden planked floors, resting underneath the complacency of blue jeans and the same white T-shirt I slept in last night. I look around and appreciate the quietude of what it means to be awake on a sleepy Sunday, before the weekend crowd leisurely descends. Empty red leather bar stools line the windows, most tables exist uninhabited, and a glance through the front windows is met by the urban version of the picturesque: leashed dogs, tree lined streets and sky scrapers looming patiently above quaint red-brick city sidewalks.

The man in front of me drops a dollar into the tip jar with seeming nonchalance, while his partner waits patiently beside him. My own eyes register the eye of providence on the green pyramid side of the dollar bill resting alongside a magic-marker note, taped to the outside of the jar. My brain computes the politely impersonal “Thank You!,” as I marvel at what it might feel like to tip without bleeding one’s own wallet dry.

The girl behind the register is wearing her usual Boston Red Sox hat, above a mouth that always tells me how much “extra” avocado will cost.

And I feel the frustration of my un-acknowledged existence start to creep into my rickety old bones as five baristas stand behind the counter, lined up like stage performers who look at crowds with blank ennui, more interested in their own side conversations than the person staring back at them in an as of yet un-buzzed caffeine fix.

The anger of my inner vagabond homeless woman permeates my blood with the remembrance of the bacon I paid “extra” for the last time I was here, the luxury that was nowhere to be found when I made my way home to unwrapped greasy white paper.

The only comedic servant present: my own unannounced inner harlequin, the court jester with her wry smile and purple patterned pants, delivering a wincing sucker punch of gut-wrenching menstrual cramps.

The unwanted side effect of a body’s birth control detox.

My eyes stare at pre-packaged pink grapefruit juice in plastic cups, as if to distract me from the un–peaceful inner commotion of this scene, sans Dramamine. I look to the door for some semblance of seeming escape from the iron helmet of angst now gripping the crown of my head like a torturous vice. My malcontent clings to whatever it can in a desperate attempt to anchor myself in what is quickly becoming the quicksand of cognitive dissonance, and thus, dizzying space.

“For the shaman, as for the Tibetan anchorite and most seers and visionaries, nature’s wilderness is the locus for the elicitation of the individual’s inner wilderness, ‘the great plain in the spirit,’ and it is only here that the inner voices awaken into song. The inanimate sermon of pristine deserts, mountains, high plains, and forests instructs from a place beyond idea, concept, or construct.” (Into The Nierika “The Wilderness of Solitude” p. 6 ~ Joan Halifax)

Black chalkboards with semi-opaque white script boast of lemon cupcakes while burritos rest unaffected behind fingerprinted glass, and the memory of an 8:39 a.m. morning all of a sudden becomes screamingly familiar.

I feel my vision start to blur, blood vessels draining down into the back of my head as my mind tries desperately to coax my body back into normalcy. Painful nausea and sweaty confusion take hold and somewhere in between placing my order and before making my way prostrate to the floor, instead of ordering avocado, I tell the baseball hat wearing woman behind the register what is about to happen.

“The Shaman is an observer of his or her own dismemberment. In that state of awareness, he or she learns the territory of death.” (Into The Nierika “The Bone Seed” p. 13 ~ Joan Halifax)

It is both a desperate attempt to maintain some semblance of dignity, and to prevent the concussing rippling effects of the unforgettable echoing memory of a head’s two year ago similar trauma.

I wake up to sirens, strangers, EMTS, and an as of yet, unannounced ex-boyfriend. The scene is barely believable—my own somewhat self-created sci-fi thriller that I can’t seem to extract myself from, and yet, it is all so hauntingly familiar: that surrender into the connective tissue of my own nauseous malaise is perhaps the only comforting distraction or seeming escape.

A desperate pleading attempt to the only person here who knows me as more than just a “Jane Doe” is met by an, “I’m sorry. I can’t come with you. I have things to do today.”

The relationship flatlines all over again.

“We all share the wound of fragmentation. And we can all share in the care of unification. Healing is the unification of all our forces—the powers of being, feeling, knowing, seeing.” ~ Gabrielle Roth

Spit back out onto concrete, they roll me over an emergency room’s speckled linoleum, strapped to the tongue of this claustrophobia-inducing straightjacket of cerebral experience. Their questions come at me like cold steel bullets. The pepper spray I would have used to self-protect, is used on me instead. Gruff and unaffected disdain permeates the air around new-patient hospital-mandated questions while my entrails cower inside, both exposed and naked.

No, I don’t use street drugs. Yes I do live alone. No, I don’t have tuburculosis or suicidal thoughts.  And no, this isn’t a seizure.

As if a “yes” to any one would validate their lack of concern.

And in a stoic background corner of my brain, plays the familiar refrain: Where have all the empaths gone?

As I sit there alone, wearing hospitalpants the same denim blue color of the sky I had walked out into that morning, my untied Johnny gives way to the draughty frigidness of a spine in full disclosure, and a mind feeling the only hope may just be further dissociation from the body of this scene. I suppose I can look back now and see that back-door openness existed to prevent anything from binding or caging my undying divine feminine spirit holding the hand of my scared eight-year-old self lying there, attached to an IV bag, with EKG wires snaking their way onto shivering skin.

“The call to shamanhood often sends the neophyte into the wildest of terrains, into a world inhabited only by beasts and spirits. It is in these lonely places that the sacred mysteries, which infuse all yet are visible to none, can find their way to the human mind.”  (Into the Nierika “The Wilderness Solitude” p. 6 ~ Joan Halifax)

Lingering within the myofascial after-effects of aloneness in a sterile room, my pink scrubbed nurse begins to chastise me for the saturated color of my urine, and for bending my IV laden arm, a futile attempt at the fetal position. In between debating answering an incoming call on her cell phone.

“Hey look lady, I didn’t come here to be punished.”

While central command within rises back up to the deference of “I.”

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And so primal mother wolf within stakes her claim on how this event will continue to metabolize.

And self-contained self-sufficiency becomes founded again upon the scaffolded internal structure of knowing all of the characters housed within.

While awareness once again becomes the wisdom of knowing when to engage, and when to release.

In Western medicine, this situation is called a vasovagal reaction, a blood pressure drop, mediated by the vagus nerve that connects brain and enteric nervous system. In this particular instance, with a combination of dysmenorrhea and dehydration on the side.

While the Ebenezer Scrooge in me at times wanted to yell: “You may be an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of underdone potato. There’s more of gravy than of grave about you, whatever you are!”

As a yoga teacher and writer, I am continually evolving into a woman more connected and aware of the energetic pieces of experience that have no clinical diagnoses, the way the body speaks when we don’t take the time to listen.

These parts of self-knowing have become better able to soften into the embrace of Eastern and energetic medicine with its acknowledgement of mind, body and spiritual synergy as a sacred Trinity.

The place where a body’s reaction to experience is in a large part the culmination of blocked energy, unexpressed emotion, the laundry-list effects of acute anxiety around survival needs, and a response to stored visceral memory that still lives and breathes in the air of the coffee shops we return to, like Baghdad women, in order to rebirth ourselves. And create new embodied memory.

As we continue to navigate our way through our ever evolving wholeness.

Giving birth to anything in life is messy, hard, painful and somewhat unscripted. And the afterbirth is sometimes just as difficult to know what to do with.

My personal Prognosis? Anxiety with a potential future of Shamanism.

My RX?

Give Birth Slowly.  

A new moon teaches gradualness

And deliberation and how one gives birth

to oneself slowly. Patience with small details

makes perfect a large work, like the universe.


What nine months of attention does for an embryo

forty early morning will do

for your gradually growing wholeness.

~ Rumi


Editor: Edith Lazenby

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