September 29, 2013

Seeing God at the DMV. ~ Patricia J. Heavren

Lyricist Robert Hunter wrote, “Once in a while you get shown the light in the strangest of places if you look at it right.”

Regardless of what U.S. state you live in, the Department of Motor Vehicles qualifies as a pretty strange place. Nobody wants to go there. It is a place where timelessness is defined by how infinitely long it takes to complete simple acts: returning car plates, registering a vehicle or renewing a license.

Everyone hopes to finish his or her business and leave quickly. Frustration, impatience and boredom are rife. The DMV is a place where they sell you, rather than lend, the black ink pens needed to complete required paperwork.

To add to the absurdity, they sell the pens in a machine just like the one from my childhood that dispensed four colored gum balls for a penny.

The DMV is a strange place indeed, and the perfect setting to put into practice the skills of shamanic seeing. I found myself there on a hot August afternoon, just a couple of weeks after returning from the Omega Institute where I co-taught the Munay Ki, the nine great shamanic initiations, for the Four Winds Society.

I had to register a car and was holding a number that was at least 30 spots away from being called. As I sat in my uncomfortable bucket-seat chair, I found myself thinking about the class, its participants, the initiations and the enormous opportunity they offer us to literally change our world.

I reflected on how important it is to bring back home the soul-widening experiences we have when we are away at places like Omega.

So I decided to use the long wait in front of me as an opportunity to practice seeing.

I set my focus on seeing the spark of divinity that I knew must be present beneath the seeming dismal abyss of the Connecticut DMV. I let my attention rest lightly on my breath and scanned the room.

I saw hands that gripped paperwork and faces that grimaced when they saw the line that stretched out the door was not for the snack bar but for the information window that was the necessary first stop for every visitor.

I watched heads stoop chin-to-chest toward smart phones. I watched a woman who tried to soothe her fussy baby by rocking her stroller back and forth, while her older children ran past her gaze and protest.

I watched young men in cut-off tee shirts keep beat to music that flowed to their ears from devices buried deep into the pockets of their shorts. Five minutes later I heard it.

Behind me was the faint sound of a harmonica softly playing an old spiritual. I watched the people around me notice. I could see the question they carried in their expression: “Whose ringtone is that, and why is it turned up so high?”

I saw indifference, some annoyance and judgment and then I began to see smiles. The harmonica grew louder. I turned to find it was the elderly man seated directly behind me. I smiled at him.

He returned a nod and big grin after his first song was complete. Then he continued, one short tune after another, no longer tempering the volume as he tested the tolerance of the crowd.

Children gathered around close enough to hear but not obvious enough to directly expose their curiosity.

I watched as more heads turned in our direction from the sea of humanity to our left.  Smiles lit stressed and tired faces. I watched the God-spark, the unifying, creative force of life, ignite and shift my perception of the DMV before my eyes.

When the electronic announcer bellowed, “now serving D635,” nearly 45 minutes later, I stepped to the window with my paperwork, precisely filled in with a black-ink pen like one from the gumball machine.

Between trading forms back and forth I asked the attendant behind the counter if she had ever had a customer serenade a crowd like that before. “Not in my 16 years here,” she said.

Before leaving the building I looked back toward the old man, who by then had slipped the harmonica back into his pocket. I saw his companion return from her place in the information line to sit beside him.

They were giggling and sharing a chocolate bar. I remembered how, back at Omega, in the midst of the profound and sacred act of receiving and gifting the shamanic initiations, we had joked that one of the many forms the God-spark takes is 80 percent dark chocolate.

The shamanic initiations open us so we may discover our world differently–or perhaps as it really is beneath the limitation of our ordinary expectation.

This, in my opinion, is the epitome of looking at it “right.”  I agree, Robert Hunter, even in the strangest of places.


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Assistant editor: Bruce Casteel

{photo: chad magiera}

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Patricia J. Heavren