Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Big Games and Little Plays

Game versus Game

In amusement parks and theme resorts, we sometimes encounter small plays or concerts going on about us while we're walking around. Perhaps a mime is acting out a comical situation, keeping the children entranced as they swarm her. Maybe there's a guitarist, a trumpeter, or a guy operating a full percussion set who performs seemingly impossible feats of full orchestration. We stop and watch them play and perform. Each one of them has stepped out of a real life and into a role for a little while, a college student at a summer job, or a full-time acrobat who desperately needs work.

Then the daily Afternoon Parade comes storming by, or whatever it's called, with bands and floats and huge horses and gigantic puppets. The Parade itself is an act, of course, all of its participants also assuming roles for a moment, following rules for a little while, which will eventually be given up in favor of returning to full life, to "real reality." But at the moment everything is The Parade, sweeping down the street, drowning out all solitary musicians with its tremendous songs played by bands and over loudspeakers. Mimes and acting troupes scatter like birds before a running dog. The Parade, that seemingly irresistible force, pours down the street, a lava stream that simply cannot be halted. A big act has elbowed out the smaller ones.

Terrible natural disasters can happen to us here on earth. Just this year, unstoppable tsunamis from the ocean and floods caused by snow melt, rains, and rivers have caused havoc in countless parts of the world. Whether in gleaming cities of the wealthiest countries or among peasants scarcely scratching out a bit of life from the mud, flooding has been dramatic, interminable, and beyond our capacity to deflect it. Earthquakes from the Washington, America's capital, to the remotest parts of the Pacific Ocean or the Andean or Eurasian mountains, have ended lives and wrecked lifetimes. All our money and all our mighty machines stand helpless to change The Parade.

With the notorious end-of-the-world date from the Mayan calendar, we speculate about even greater disasters. I grew up on the flat lands scraped clear by the last Ice Age in North America, close to the readily visible lines of hills and boulders, the moraines, we called them, where the glaciers stopped their bulldozing effect on the land. With the record snowfalls last year, and the predictions of an even worse winter this year, I seem to hear echoes of The Parade advancing, across North America, Europe, Asia, maybe even South America.. Maybe that's what "2012" is about—the greatest disaster a tropical society like the Mayan people could imagine: Permanent Snow. Like so many other natural disasters, it would destroy great swaths of human civilization, including entire countries that I've visited, cities where I've lived, and the lands that provided for me and for my family and friends. It would sweep aside our little street performances and individual concerts. It would return a lot of animals, plants, and people to their real life of being great spiritual beings.

But even an ice age, or a supernova, or a hypervolcano, is just a Street Parade. Shamans might jump on a float for a quick ride, they might convert their street mime into a walking sideshow beside the great animals and noisy bands. Shamans respect nothing. Shamans have respect for everything. Shamans might add a sassy cymbal to the band; they might briefly distract one of the draft horses. But they know The Parade has its own power. Shamans love the big show, and the little shows, and the real lives and real life that underlie it all: Earth, Stars, Humanity, Animals, History, and Spirit.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Losing North


In the far north of Scandinavia (which themselves are already far-north countries) live several groups of aboriginal peoples who are not Scandinavians, whose world has long been trampled by those very nations of Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Russia, that over the centuries have grown up around them. These peoples are the Sami (say "SAH-mee;" outsiders long called them Lapps or Lapplanders), and they have their own languages, cultures, and religious sentiments. Separated over the eons by mountains, fjords, oceans, and ice from most of the world, they have been the last Europeans to join Europe.

It is said (heaven only knows the linguistic facts here) that the original ancient Sami languages used words like "coastward" and "inland" for directions, but did not have any words for the cardinal compass points. Notions like "EAST, SOUTH," etc., apparently had no meaning.

The Sami, along with the reindeer herders across the Siberian Arctic, live in a world where the sun offers no help at all in finding directions. The sun blanks out the stars half the year—most of that time it pretty much circles not far above the horizon, a full 360° during the weeks near the summer solstice. When it does actually rise and set, the horizon points of rising and setting are changing continuously, shifting visibly from one day to the next.

And when you do see the stars, the North Star is almost directly overhead--makes it really hard to find "north." All the stars simply circle around in the sky overhead. And it's really easy to lose your way. Time to hire some reindeer!

Have you ever lost your way? Lost it totally? Ever tried to end your life? Ever drowned yourself with food, starvation, drink, drugs, work, play, causes? Ever gotten completely lost?

All the signposts that people recommend seem to fail you. The sun rises in a different spot every day. Or it never rises. Or it never sets. Perhaps you think you're looking for Shakespeare's "star to every wandering bark" (Sonnet 116) in solid character, in romantic love, in finance, in health.

When you've lost all direction, when—for cryin' out loud!—you can't even find which way is north, then your only help is to quit looking. North is straight up! The sun never sets anywhere on June 21; and for months on end it never rises.

Do what shamans do. Travel to spirit. As you can read in the first lines of the book of Genesis, or hear in the pre-modern languages of the Sami: Separate the land from the water, the coastline from the mountains. Shamans know that the basic knowledge is that of earth and spirit. The universe holds us on the ground, so we never fly off into space. Spirit gives us breath and life. Such directions are far better than east or west, in the long haul. Such directions work even when I've lost north.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Anything Spiritual Can Go "Wrong," Too


Life on earth means playing without rules. Not a "game" – just play. Like grade-schoolers inventing games at recess, or musicians improvising, or a flash mob of amateur actors. The rules may unfold as play progresses. Or maybe not. One way for the Omniscient to play is that It first forgets. I come here to play. I forget what I really am and what reality truly is—I focus on playing instead! Rules come only later...if they ever emerge at all.

Occasionally I forget beyond all repair. The game of forgetting our Infinite self works too well. I get lost irretrievably. My soul goes to pieces, and piece after piece goes flitting off to find shelter from trouble.

Soul loss can come from deep shock during play. A natural disaster, a terrible accident, incurable or disabling disease, a violent beating, the death of your child, the murder of your sister or brother. War and massacre. Abusive parents. Classmates or colleagues bullying you. Trust and love shattered. And these are sample tragedies I've seen just among my own family and friends. Soul loss begins with that most fearsome question of existence: "Why is this happening to me?"

Like a chess game played to a draw, or tic-tac-toe played by most adults, your soul may fragment and flee when no winning is possible anymore, and your only choice is to abandon the match. Without major repair, soul loss often continues for years. Without major repair, it often ends only by sweeping all the pieces off the board, only by total abandonment of the game—in death.

Even just one shocking harsh word, or one horrifying photograph, can derail you for the rest of your life. The disaster we prettify as "childhood." Disasters due to attempts at "exploration," so highly praised in our day. The disasters of unceasing loss. So much loss that YOU are the one who finally gets lost. Parts of you escape from this reality and go missing—have you ever felt yourself slipping? You shed all sense of belonging—is everyone backing away from you? You lose any connection to the One, when it used to comfort you. Life loses meaning. Where did the laughter go? What's even the point of grieving? You shrink from any involvement in play at all. You turn your back on the world.

I think each of us has seen that dark place, has at least visited it. Whatever has harmed me in the wild game of "life on earth"—amputations, bodily assaults, deaths, loveless families, a hate-filled family, no family, poverty, prison, pain—it makes me want to quit the game entirely. I have been through that yawning meaninglessness. I have seen people in my life have invent individual anesthesias, numbing themselves so they never need to feel it when they touch the world, numbing themselves to the terrible wounds that have gone so deep.

And they have my every sympathy. I, too, have looked long and hard down the empty well.

You achieve insensibility through drink, drugs, medications, food, self-starvation, surgeries, self-cutting, avoidance, overindulgence, too much sleep, insomnia. When your soul goes lost...or even just parts of it...or even only on occasion...you mutely set aside your props and costumes, your instrument and sheet music. You stop the game mid-field and simply walk away from everything you once desired. The world disappears to you. You rot away the rest of your time here. Or you invent your own tiny, boring, new games, in which you permit no one else to play. Or maybe you just jump off the stage.

This is the true disaster. Not the catastrophes and horrors of the past, or other agonizing switcheroos of play. The true disaster is the present loss of your own soul. It occurs inside you: you play no more.

Some people intentionally harm those around them. They bully, they torture, they terrorize. Our age knows too well the terrorists and bullies. Terrorists claim they have some goal, be it politics or religion or vengeance. But their primary intent is to terrorize. They revel in spreading pain. They love to watch agony.

The really "effective" bullies and torturers reach out and try to steal our souls. They are not really after sex or money or drugs. They are after power. They gain power by robbing us of our power. Their thefts reach across oceans, yes, but they also reach into their own families and friends and communities. I've known at least two in my own family! They'd deny it, of course, but the withered, mummified wrecks of humanity they've left in their wake through the years confirm their thievery! An abusive parent steals power from a spouse or from the children; the most "effective" end up killing their own kin. Maybe it's by open murder; maybe it's by injuring children or other relatives emotionally or physically, making them die too young. Other insidious abusers let victims live just enough so they can keep on draining power, like true parasites.

Ours is a monstrously abusive, violent society. We collectively permit amazing levels of soul theft, and we collectively do almost nothing to heal the thefts or to block the thieves. In fact, whistleblowers are most often penalized for reporting their victimizers. Our system repeatedly blames the victims. The victims even revile themselves for the relief they feel when their abusers die. But if they get no help, that's the only way they can feel protected.

Indeed, you and I are personally at risk of being thieves, stealing power, wrecking other people. After all, we are born into a monstrous den of power thieves! We cheer when our team wins, and we mock the losers—ha, ha, ha! Too bad for you! It's completely acceptable to "vote people off the island." Incredibly inhumane! TV offers competitions in fashion, cooking, music, dancing, money-making, beauty, intelligence—they're all about fierce criticism of every competitor. Do you see the theft of spirit? We adulate the winners, yet 95% of the time on-air is about losing. We are entranced by power disasters, and still we adore the "stars" who are in fact professional power thieves.

There is help. I don't have to put up with soul loss. I don't have to suffer the theft of my power. The deathwalkers can go and find those lost fragments of yourself and return them to you. Or you yourself can link arms with your spirit allies and retrieve your soul. There is power out there that wants to help you.

Shamans deal in power. Shamans deal with spirits and souls. Shamans will go searching for lost fragments of souls and bring them back to their proper selves. Or, if you're willing, shamans will guide you in offering your own invitation to your soul fragments. Shamans have done it for me, and I feel much more peaceful, viewing my own flawed self and our big flawed world. With my own allies I've helped retrieve soul parts for others, and the results have been clear, especially in undoing soul thefts, in preventing horrifying dreams, in restoring true personal power.

Retrieving soul parts that have been in hiding—parts that don't even want to be found—can be the highest medicine. Healing and restoring those fragments to players who are still technically in the game is a grand mission. The soul seeker, whether shaman or the actual victim, recovers the power to be well: to leap off the bench and play, to gather up all those abandoned tools and head back building life.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Double-Selves: Doppelgänger, Vardøger, Ka, Etiäinen, And More


Late last year, while rummaging through a Norwegian-English dictionary (yes, I have curious hobbies), I stumbled over the entry, "vardøger." The dictionary didn't define it—it merely *described* the term, quite circumspectly in fact, as though the word were a dangerous object or a rotten egg. It was! Learning about vardøger opened up yet another strange door for me, straight out of reality and into the spirit world.

A vardøger is something like a double of yourself, a spirit twin to your physical self. More often, of course, our English term is "doppelganger" (we're pretty careless about German umlauts), which covers many kinds of appearances of a spirit self in our material world. Used to be that the ancient Egyptian "ka" was considered to be your living spirit-double. The sound of the Norwegian word is as alien as the concept itself: I can't even spell it with English phonetics, but if you know French, a Franco-phonetic spelling might be "vardœuguère," and with first-syllable stress. The Finns have a closely similar concept they call an "etiäinen."

The vardøger is a double who gets to your destination ahead of you, effectively announcing your imminent arrival. There's a summary article on it in Wikipedia, and one in the Journal of Scientific Exploration from 2002, on the Web. Lots of famous folks seem to have had doubles and acknowledged them: Goethe, Shelley, Lincoln, Donne, even military men.

The kicker is this: I have a vardøger myself! After I read the dictionary entry, I mentioned it to my wife. She surprised me by saying she and the dogs have often heard "me" come home: shutting the car door, coming in the front door, and even putting grocery bags on the counter. The dogs confirm they've heard "me," too, all leaving her side and trotting off to the front door to greet me, the way they do every day when I arrive from work or grocery shopping or whatever. Then she looks out at the driveway—and there's no car at all. A few minutes later I actually arrive: the "actual" me (the guy typing right now). Once she actually went downstairs to talk to me (because I was taking too long to come upstairs and say hi), and was quite startled to see me walk through the door coming into the house. I hadn't been home at all. She never mentioned it until now, when I asked about it, out of hesitation as to what my reaction might be.

About 35 years ago, a closely similar incident with my first wife (yeah, things didn't work out), when we were living with my parents for the summer. She'd been home sick, everyone else was at work, and in the evening she told us about somebody coming into the house, walking around the other rooms and making noise. She sorta had us all freaked, talking about an uninvited stranger there!

I used to think I didn't have psychic experiences. Yet psychic encounters have been happening for other people (plus dogs) all around me! And the same might well be true for lots of us. We just never think to ask friends or family. And being good Western skeptics, they may experience the doppelganger appearances but never bother to bring them up with anyone else. Maybe I need to start circulating questionnaires.

We think of ghosts as spirits of the dead...and mostly as fictitious. But if we are here on earth "for fun"—the One and the Infinite focused on playing a game here—what happens if our true selves interfere a little bit with game going on somewhere else? What if you bump your opponent's pawn in chess or hum a happy tune to yourself back in the percussion section while the orchestra performs Beethoven? While you're totally focused on the chess world, so focused that you've become oblivious to the human world, then if someone jostles your pawn or your rook, it would be a major surprise—an other-worldly event! My physical self is at the office, or in traffic headed home, but my true self, my real heart, is at home with the ones I love. Vaguely neglecting the play of life, I slip a gear, so that my real self touches my real loves, and voilà: the vardøger shows up. Not always; just sometimes. Yes, many cultures say it’s a sign of imminent death when you see your double. Could be; I've never seen my own vardøger. Goethe saw his double, but it was a sort of fold in time: he saw his doppelganger the way he was actually dressed and travelling years later.

Is there a reason, a purpose? It's all play, remember? Does there have to be any reason? We are not here to learn lessons, not really. After all, since we are One with the Infinite, there are no lessons to be learned. Instead, we are playing at being finite, at being separate, at not-knowing. Phenomena like vardøger or doppelgangers remind us of the enormously greater reality all about us. They help us to take seriously what is important—relationships, love, connection—and to be amazed and grateful for the wonders and the Love of the Universe.

Shamans bilocate deliberately. While playing the game, sometimes one will reach across the table and look at the cards in your hand. The doppelganger of a shaman will go places and do things and see truths, because the shaman recognizes the game, walks the boundaries, crosses between life and death.

A millennium ago, Norwegian records noted how a Sami "noaidi" in Bergen helped a German trader of the Hanseatic League, telling him how things were back home in Germany. The report says the traveling businessman came home to find things were just as the shaman had said. Bilocation. Doppelganger. Shamanic travel knows no limits.

Sunday, February 20, 2011



If we are here to learn lessons, then why are the animals here? Or the plants? Or neutron stars?

The religious perspective is viciously anthropocentric: "The rest of the universe is here to help people learn lessons." And there the explanations end. They serve us. People are more important than animals. After 50 years of failing ecology, massive extinctions, and irreversible warming, do our teachers still so pitifully misunderstand "why we're here"?

We are here because the Infinite is playing at being finite. The Indivisible Whole is pretending to be divided, into separate people, into plants and animals and creepy-crawlies and black holes and alternate universes. The One, at play. The Great Game. Music without rules, unless we make them. Children arguing at recess about what's fair and what's not. Lovers quarreling, enemies falling in love, multiple wives and extra husbands. Bipeds that can think, quadrupeds that can think, ocean-going monsters that can think. (Check out all those online videos of octopuses and whales that constantly make plans for their futures, or sing, or grieve.)

Animals are just further expressions of the One at play. So are you and I. Our pets reflect the love of the Universe back to us. Or sometimes Its deep unpredictability. The animals we farm or hunt are not our servants: they are more demonstrations of the Universe trying out every possible role in this drama, working out every possible scenario of predator and prey, the eater and the eaten, the dull beast with scarcely a clear thought for the future and human beings terrified all their lives by their own assured mortality.

Anyone with pets knows that they dream, just like people. More evidence of play and games and drama and music. All beings shift constantly from one state of play to another, from one dream state to another. We abandon dream games in a few minutes; we abandon ordinary-reality games after a few years. Our beloved domestic friends love, just like people. They fear and run, they play all the same games. Dogs and wolves and whales sing. Cats and elephants paint, given half a chance. Parrots do arithmetic. We are all One. The One plays at being, at being all beings.

Shamans merge with mountains and clouds, they dance animals and plants, they shape-shift, they eat meat, they sacrifice themselves. They coach the same game that they themselves play; they play medics to injured players, they cross all lines. Human, volcano, Antarctica, spaniel, squid...shamans read for all roles, play all field positions, sing all the notes. Hey, they help write the music and the playbooks!

Monday, January 3, 2011

Play money

Play money.

Well, OF COURSE it's just play money. It's part of the game you're playing. It's for you to play with. Are we playing to participate? To love?

Or are we playing to win? That would be tragic. We cannot "win"—remember? We are mortal; that means we do not play "for keeps." Remember, we play "for fun."

Some shamans are wealthy; some are broke; most don't care. Shamans move between many worlds, only one of which cares for those thingies we call Euros or Dollars or Pesos or Yen. Other worlds, other lives, utterly other. Shamans have other things to think about, better things to do. Of course it's play money.