Being Physically Present in the Body
Oh my dear, "You're not even in your body," the lady
at the metaphysical fair exclaims as she examines the
kerlian photo of my aura. It's there plain to see -
a distant deep blue glow standing well out from my physical
manifestation. Hovering, barely attached. The jury is
still out as to whether we'll be here today or someplace
else. "Here" is feeling a tad threatening. Too many
other people. Too many divergent energies. Too much
to experience safely, so I'll keep the escape route
open so I can check out at any time.
"Tell me something I don't already know." I say flippantly,
I know that I'm not all there. Haven't been since childhood.
Part of me is always standing off to the side watching,
evaluating, assessing, but not participating. "I'm working
with a Shaman." I tell her, not because it's any of
her business, but as a way of disengaging and retreating
to my reserved place of safety. In spite of all the
metaphysical experiences I have had. In spite of all
the confirmations and validations and serendipitous
coincidences - a part of me still regards all "those
folks" at the metaphysical fairs as being just a little
bit loony, and myself along with them for buying into
this "nutty, fruity, flaky stuff" (as Fred calls it).
"Oh, but that will only make it worse." she gushes,
now in genuine fear for my safety and sanity, and she's
Shaman walks between the worlds, and for someone who
is having trouble committing to be fully present in
this one, undertaking the training to be a Shaman seems
like exactly the opposite direction from the course
I should be taking.
"Not Here" is an addiction like any other. The road
to recovery is a long hard one with pitfalls and setbacks.
But like any other, it is a journey that is all about
taking the first step. The critical day was the day
I woke up and suddenly realized that no one else was
responsible for my happiness. Choosing to be here and
choosing to be happy are really the same decision in
an odd way. As long as I can revel in the sadness and
tragic sweeping irony of my life, as if it is some baroque
novel I am reading, it is acceptable, even desirable
to be distant and aloof - to withdraw into that other
place where life is safe. The minute you roll up your
sleeves and pull on your muck boots and decide to wade
in and start doing battle with the shadow and dredging
out all the muck and slime that has accumulated - being
detached is no longer a benefit.
go on a Shamanic journey and my friend, Lion tells me
there is nothing to learn about Being. Just BE. That's
all there is to it. Why do I have such a hard time?
I think that maybe I'm spending so much energy on worrying
about how to be that I'm not actually taking the time
to be. So here's the plan. Make art, meditate and journey.
Quit worrying about whether I'm doing it right or wrong
or what anyone else thinks. Just do it! Just be the
only it were that simple….
Parts left along the way like luggage lost in various
airports and never retrieved - I was scattered and spread
so thin it's amazing there was anything left of me at
all. When I opened the door and began to welcome back
those disenfranchised fragments of soul, they came clamoring
back… The frightened three year old at the festival
of Odon, in Tokyo, face to face with the dead of a foreign
and angry culture. The nine year old escaping the clutches
of a pedophile and being chided for rudeness and forced
to return to thank the nice man for the candy. The wild
woman living alone on the tropical island, making art
and creating a "Swiss Family Robinson" life that was
so much more pleasant than the dysfunctional marriage
and the insane church group that lurked in this horrid,
murky place called reality. Getting that part to come
back was kind of a hard sell. I had to offer enticements
about the freedom to make art and fun studio toys and
trips to magical places.
to BE… I realize that this is exactly what Eckhart Tolle
was talking about in "The Power of Now", but I don't
want to go sit on a park bench in abject misery and
poverty knowing nothing and doing nothing for two years
until, at the brink of starvation I have a revelation
about being HERE NOW. I have a life, a house, a wonderful
husband, great kids, a job. Tolle's way is such a Zen
way of reaching enlightenment. But I'm sure that's not
my way. I have to find another path. The problem with
Tolle's path is that I would have to less HERE than
I am now for a long time until I learn to be HERE. That
sort of defeats the purpose of trying to learn to be
is what the western Way of the Hearth is about. Finding
joy in simple day to day occurrences that are part of
home and hearth. Closer to the Earth, rather than farther
from it. The problem is that I have let myself be tossed
back and forth between the Zen and the Western way.
They have the same goal, but the paths are really quite
incompatible. I think that's a lot of the problem in
the spiritual world at the moment. We are all trying
so hard to all inclusive that we forget to be discerning
about whose advice we follow. It's not that the advice
of a teacher from another path is bad, it just doesn't
fit with where we are or what we're doing. It would
be like trying to install Windows 2000 software using
instructions written for a Linux system. Both systems
work, but if you mix them up you just have a confused
computer. That's the problem, I have a confused computer.
solution is to choose a single path and focus on it.
It's not being narrow minded, but instructions from
other courses of study can just be a diversion when
followed without careful sifting. In spite of the presupposition
of my Humanities training - not all fields of study
can be successfully melded without major reassessment.
lies in being fully present in whichever world you choose
to be in at any given time. The Apostle Paul said, "To
be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord,"
but this really isn't true. Being absent from the body
does not necessarily mean being present in the Shamanic
realm or anywhere else for that matter. To wield power
you must be fully present in the world you're in, whatever
world that is. It is possible to be distant and detached
in a Shamanic journey, just as one is distant and detached
in physical manifestation. The Shaman walks between
the worlds, but must be fully present in that navigation.
How does ecstasy tie into this equation? One must give
oneself wholly to ecstasy or trance. To hold a portion
in reserve for safety is the same has holding a portion
of your consciousness in reserve in the physical world.
Always the watcher…
used to fall down a lot. One moment I'd be walking along
and the next I'd be lying on the ground in a heap, not
really sure how I made that ungraceful transition. When
I examined all these events in total honesty, I realized
that I had been gone for quite a while before I fell
in almost every case. My body was simply carrying on
motor functions on its own without my direct input.
Sort of like the time my father hit an iguana while
driving through the rain forest. Even though he had
hit it quite solidly, it kept running off into the undergrowth
on the roadside. A friend, who happened to be a biologist
was with him at the time and my Dad hit the brakes and
asked him, "Should I go put it out of its misery. I
hate to leave a creature suffering." The biologist told
him, "Don't worry. It's quite dead. It will just take
a while for its body to realize it."
day I stumbled onto a simple trick of adjusting my posture
and felt myself in very different places depending on
how I stood. I lean forward to confront life and I am
HERE. I lean back and it is easy to check out, drift
away into that safe place where the dirt of life cannot
touch me. I was on to something, but I wasn't quite
attended a workshop on creating content for artist's
books. It was a wonderful weekend of creative exercises
and impromptu performances and meditation and discussion
with a great group of likeminded women. By the end of
the weekend we each had come up with a pivotal issue
in our lives that needed to be explored and turned into
content for an artist's book. My core issue was learning
to be present in my body. I was gung ho and ready to
work, so I embarked on a course of meditation and writing
to develop the content for my little book. Within a
few weeks I realized it wasn't just one book, it would
need to be a set of small books covering different topics.
Within a few months it had grown to something more like
a set of Encyclopedias. The more I contemplated and
studied and worked, the more daunting the topic became
and the more complex the answers seemed.
and I planned a two week long motorcycle trip with friends.
Since I would be riding on the back of the bike for
long hours each day, I thought, "What a wonderful time
to devote lots of meditation and thought to this problem
of being present!" I set my intention for the trip to
be the contemplation of "Being Present in my Body" and
off we rode on motorcycles loaded with camping and camera
gear. I spent the first two days of the ride contemplating
the concept of presence and thinking about being present
and how I would be able to tell if I was and so on.
The second night out; seven hundred and fifty miles
from home camping beside a river in Idaho, I didn't
see a pothole in the road in the dark and I fell, badly
spraining my ankle. By the time the guys had helped
me back to camp, my ankle was so swollen you couldn't
even see my ankle bone. As mentioned earlier, I've done
a lot of falling and ankle spraining, so I know a bad
sprain when I feel one and this one was BAD. Last time
I had sprained my ankle this badly, I spent six weeks
on crutches. I crawled off into the tent, feeling very
miserable and sorry for myself. All I could think of
was that I wouldn't even be able to get back on the
bike in the morning, let alone ride all day. I thought,
"They'll have to throw me over the bike like a saddle
bag and haul me into town and send me home on the bus.
I've just ruined the trip for everyone."
morning, through a combination of Shamanic Journey and
Reiki, I was at least improved enough to be able to
get on the bike. The decision was made to camp for a
few days at a campground beside the Snake River, which
was only about twenty miles away and make short day
trips from there to give me some time to recuperate
and keep my ankle elevated. Through a combination of
Reiki, soaking in the icy water of the Snake River and
a tube of Traumeel that Maggie had in her backpack,
my ankle improved at an amazing rate. We planned our
trip home as a series of short hops from campground
to campground. It turned out that everyone in the group
enjoyed the slower pace more than the long hauls that
had gotten us to northern Idaho from Denver in two days
on the trip up, so that worked out well. By the time
we were halfway through Wyoming, I was hobbling around
camp pretty well.
morning, we were camped in a mountain canyon alongside
a roaring creek. It had rained during the night and
the light was just magical. The wild flowers were in
full bloom and the morning was absolutely glorious.
I grabbed my camera and determined to get out and get
a few pictures. As I walked along the trail, I discovered
that if I placed my feet very carefully with each step,
I could walk without pain and without limping. Since
I knew I wouldn't be able to walk far, this hike wasn't
about "a destination". I would take a few careful steps,
then stop to look around and drink in what I could see….
The raindrops sparkling in the morning sun on the tips
of the leaves, a little cloud of gnats circling in a
sunbeam over the trail, the dappled sunlight striking
a cluster of horsetail ferns at the creek side. Suddenly
I realized that I was totally present in my body. Every
movement was conscious and aware. I was totally focused
on my surroundings and the physicality of my body acting
in those surroundings. If I didn't pay attention, I'd
misstep and my ankle would hurt, so I was walking in
complete concentration, then stopping to take in my
surroundings so I wouldn't miss anything of the glory
of the morning.
I had to stop and laugh. It would take someone totally
trapped in their head to make such a complex intellectual
exercise out of being present. It was all so totally
and completely simple. Lion had been right all along.