Saturday, February 11, 2012


Shamans, at their most honest moments, will confess that there is no good or evil, not really. The Sami shamans of old seemed to think there are people who live underground who walk upside down, with their feet up against our own feet. Shamans see a whole world, upside down, opposite life as we know it and right beneath our feet. Shamans resonate with Merlin, who lives in reverse, by contrast to all ordinary folk, born old and wise yet growing younger and more foolish every year. Shamans see drunkards who drink and misbehave in order to bless their hapless families. They see the wretched poor as a vast pool of advanced spiritual beings, who suffer and die in spiritual support of the heedless, mindless rich. And they see violence and murder as laying the groundwork for unconditional forgiveness and unlimited trust in the eternal Power of the Almighty.

No good or evil? I see evil at hand everywhere! Abysmal disappointment in so much of humanity. I want to serve human beings—and I want to flee them! Such horrible parts of my own small world. A Sunday-school teacher of mine who was later jailed of for raping children. A blood-relative who has gotten away with monstrous felonies for a lifetime (no victim will stand up and testify). The suicide of a young mother, widowing a coworker. The murder of the sister of a dear friend. A harmless little professor I knew who later beat his wife to death. Horrible, fearsome, havoc-wreaking human beings. What's that old song? "I Want to Run Away!"

The other day, it hit me. My "game theory" of life (We're not here to learn lessons—we're here to play) might hold a spark of comfort in the face of evil people and their evil deeds.

Most of us come here to this life to play casually. We mosey along, play along, collect some joys and some regrets. And we encounter people who play quite differently.

Some spirits come here, and they decide to play TO WIN. They forget their spirit Source so thoroughly they become one hundred percent mesmerized by the game. Here in the game they create amazing goals, to become First Chair Violin, or grow wealthy, or fulfill amazing moral feats, or be outstandingly popular or good-looking. They play this game childishly, desperate to learn the rules and desperate to win. But even so, the reality remains unaltered: even the apparent winners must eventually leave the stage or the playing field and return to the Source. The desperate winners misunderstand the true purpose of this drama, this dance—which is PLAY. Many desperate folk reach age 60 or 80 still trying to win, all as death walks ever closer, with unwavering gaze and immutable purpose. But they are not the worst of humanity.

Some people come into this life as horrible, revolting abominations. It seems they come into this Game of Life with a clear purpose: they're here TO LOSE. They incarnate as addicts and drunks, bullies and killers, sneering dictators and mocking bosses, family annihilators, pedophiles, stalkers, suicides both fast and slow. Pick the label you prefer. These are people you just want to wish away from life itself. You agree with the movie rabbi who prayed, "May the Lord bless and keep the Czar—far away from us!" You wish they'd never been born...or that YOU had never been born.

But spirits that play to lose are participants in the Universal unfolding, and they help enable the rest of us to play casually or even play to win. These revolting persons are also beings sprung from the One, sharing in our lives. These horrible individuals—from the standpoint of the Infinite—are rather like seasoned experts teaching novices how to play piano or fly airplanes or bluff at poker. These spirits, part of the Universe that loves us all, take on human life so they can lose to others, and lose deliberately. They come into this match to drop the ball, and in dropping it they let the rest of us play easily and well. They know what is good to do, and—unlike Plato's moral paragon—they go out and do evil anyway! Through the magic that is the Universe, they shape the game, in losing, so that others can play longer, or better, or with more joy or love or ease.

I can think back on the Universe whenever I see someone who's a lifelong failure at romance, a dirt-poor financial wreck, or a moral brute. I can see the love and opportunities that the Universe has poured out for their benefit. And as they play to lose, unable to trust or love, I can lean on the Universe and play with more trust and love. The losers help show me the way. One gospel in the New Testament quotes Jesus as saying (my own paraphrase): "Love your enemies and pray for those who are out to get you, so you can become children of your Source-in-the-Infinite. That Source makes the sun rise on you whether you're evil or good, and sends the rain on all persons moral and immoral."

And I can even remember that there are parts of my own life where I have lost or still lose miserably: I am playing the loser so that others can learn how to play. Hidden pieces of my past, secrets from the present that I want no one to know, all these are known to the Infinite and knowable by any of my fellow players. Whether I win or lose, I am playing. THAT is what's good. After all, I might be pulled from the game at any time, written out of the script. Then this game will become a topic of mild interest out of infinitely many dramas that have ever been acted, out of the billions and trillions of symphonic movements, all of them the exquisite Creativity-At-Work by the Infinite Oneness.

Shamans and the communities they serve may live or die, may triumph or be destroyed, but shamans know with crystalline clarity that ultimate victory is certain though nothing is at stake, and that defeat is inevitable even as we are deep into the only play there is: this one that is unfolding now. Shamans know no good or evil. They know that everything on this dramatic stage is evil, separated as we seem to be from the Source and forgetful of the Universal Love. They know that everything is good, because we are never separated, and we will never forget irretrievably. And yet the shamans typically play—here, now, in this game—harder and longer than all the rest of us.