Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Life is Like a Highway--and We're the Traffic


Playing the Game and Shamanic Death
December 22, 2010

I've always thought that human bodies were like the cars and trucks rolling down the road. The motorcycles and cars "think" that other trucks and motorcycles are the true beings of their world. If you are flying above the roads, that's what it looks like! They apparently sleep and wake, take in nutrition, expel waste, avoid pain (accidents), require maintenance, form societies following sets of rules, and occasionally make mistakes, injuring or destroying other vehicles or other objects in their environment. And they die.

But you and I are pretty certain that cars and trucks are not thinking beings. They follow rules and perform nearly all their actions because we are temporarily inside them, directing their actions. They undertake no action arising from volition or desire or revulsion. If a police cruiser roars past you at 100 miles per hour, it's because the officer wants to set aside the normal rules and follow different ones. If a dude in a pick-up spins circles in a parking lot for ten minutes, burning up half the lifetime of his tires, you don't remark how the truck was such an idiot. If your car breaks, you can still travel, but you have to find other options. When your trip is done, you leave your wheels behind and go about your real business. You leave behind the constraints of any rules of the road and live normally.

True You, the real You, are not the same as your body. Where your body is going, and why it's going there, is not the same thing at all as where True You are going or why True You are going there. No car ever drove to the bank to pay a bill or withdraw some cash—but people do. No truck ever fell in love; no motorcycle ever grieved—but people do.

In the same fashion we can re-apply the highway picture to our lives here on earth. True You, the real You, do not live here for the purpose of attending attend school and working for a living; your true goals are beyond ordinary comprehension, just as your car or motorcycle does not understand what human goals are. True You do not actually desire money, even though the person you are here on earth does want money. You, who you truly are, want the very best for yourself and others, even though the person you are "driving" on earth may viciously hate someone or even harm someone. You, who you really are, you love Life and are overjoyed at living, even if the person you temporarily inhabit feels like a walking disaster and wishes this life were over. True You are far more and far better and far greater than any of us can imagine, here on the highway of life.

Shamans drive while riding on the bumper. They make the rest of us scream, in terror—or perhaps in true amazement.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Regular Things Can Go "Wrong"--And Do!


Our lives here run on love, or else we would never grieve over losing a fellow-player, oh so young to exit the stage. Our lives here run on love, or else we would never lament old people who die helpless and alone. You and I do not merely eat; we do not merely stay alive. We do not come to this earth to sit in some loveless classroom; after all, school is an artifact of civilization, itself scarcely a few millennia of our immense history on earth.

But we always play. We act, sing, imagine, dream, build, laugh, grieve, and play. We invent rules, which we follow or bend or break. We play with love and with hope. Under normal circumstances we rejoice at life and grieve at death, because we love to play and we love our fellow players. In a few fearsome instances, too, we thrill at somebody's death and mourn another person continuing to live, because we have seen a life of actions utterly bereft of love. The Universe is shocking, amazing, wonderful, horrifying. All the emotions of play, whether sports, theater, music, building, travel, commerce, politics—we thrive on them, we build our lives on them.

The cycles of reincarnation and of life and death are not punishments. Disciples: "Lord, who sinned—this man, or his parents—so that he was born blind?" Jesus: "Neither!" Nor is this life with all its death about destruction or school lessons. It's about something else: focused attention. The Infinite is beyond all far beyond, that It can play at being limited—and that means the One become individuals, being "here" but not "there," starting and ending, birth and death. The One is so all-embracing it can imagine action and song in every possible form. Eternal Love encompasses all, so nothing is ever lost.

Back here on earth, we play ceaselessly, in a world bounded, limited, terminated. In fact we have invented all kinds of ways to magnify the amount and the intensity of play. We call them our communications media: newspapers, television and radio and movies, the Internet. But they are not for better information; they are for our play. Play seriously for a moment—you'll see they are of little use in helping us "learn lessons." When was the last time TV improved your character? How has the Web taught you to forgive everyone, to love without holding back? But look as what marvelous tools they are for play.

What can go wrong as you play? All sorts of things! This concert has no constraints; this game has no rules. We are in the Infinite, and Infinite outcomes can happen. The most common "mistake" is that we play this game so well that we forget the game we're playing, and we become focused on yet another diversion. We believe this life is all there is—we forget we are Infinite. This happens constantly, and our attention jumps from big games to smaller ones, from matches just lost to new competitions. A tiny sample: my computer alerts me to new email with a five-note fanfare that's identical to a melody of Richard Wagner. Suddenly I have an ear-worm, a tune that repeat endlessly in your head, and it interferes with the much "more important" text I was composing. Or I'll drop what I'm doing and look up Wagner on the Web.

Something's gone wrong with my behavior: Forgetting my universal, Infinite self, I've been in a game we call "writing," instead. And then in turn—forgetting my attention on writing—I'm mentally singing the Ride of the Valkyries, or maybe reading about opera. We play at earning money, then we play at spending it. Some folks play at loving, then get all wrapped up in the game of fighting with their lovers. Our life on this plane is a grand maze of games, volleys within matches within sets within tournaments, carburetor science within engine technology within automotive design within highway labyrinths. And we get lost.

The most obvious game-within-a-game is to play, er, to believe, that there's a rule book, and that our purpose here is to win. Or that there's a script to follow, so we can "get to heaven" if we obey it. We search constantly for the sheet music the whole time we're actively singing this life-opera. We try so hard to "win" (whatever that is—money, health, applause, a ripe old age, a page in the history books), even though it's glaringly obvious our game is temporary: everything and everybody's mortal! Indeed, our planet and our galaxy are mortal! The Universe does not jump into the game to follow rules or to win. The Infinite plays to play. Like kids as a summer swimming pool or actors doing improve or an out-of-control rock star, winning is irrelevant. Eventually everyone must exit. The concert ends; the pool closes. The apparent winners leave without their winnings, and the apparent losers exit no poorer than when they arrived.

Deathwalkers. A terrifying word. Hypnotic. Shocking. True. Shamans, the deathwalkers, know who's playing and why. Shamans constantly remember that we're all playing. Roman conquerors are said to have tipped their hats to ancient shamanic wisdom by having a slave whisper to them, MEMENTO MORI, "Remember you're dying," as they roared in triumphant parades to the applause of their fellow citizens. Some scholars remark on what a strange tradition that was! Not strange at all—if you were a general who won by massive slaughter, who knew killing and death deeply, face to face, in person. They played harder at winning than any professional actor or athlete today. Yet they knew: we all end up as deathwalkers. Shamans just volunteer for the job.