In a recent workshop with Malidoma Patrice Some, he said "The Spirit makes some people unfit to be socially productive so they can be made shamans." That statement had a profound impact on me. For most of my life, I felt different and disconnected from the human race. I struggled with suicidal depression from childhood, and developed asthma around 9 years old. As I labored to breathe at 4am each morning, I remember the thought that crossed my mind most often was, "I don't want to live in a world where there is no magic."
My father subscribed to FATE magazine back in the 50's and 60's, and I would steal his copy and read it under the covers. I was obsessed with mystery - at times my whole being would yearn to understand and be part of all knowledge. This hunger for mystery drove my life, and from a shamanic perspective, I now realize that it was part of the gift I received from my ancestors. Each of us is given a gift when we come to this world. That gift itches and twitches and prods us and pokes us, until it is recognized and allowed to fulfill its purpose. In Malidoma's perspective, it is NOT the job of the person to reveal their gift, it is instead the job of the community to recognize the gift in each child and create a safe environment to express that gift.
So most of us struggle through life searching for our purpose, and often using up the energy of our gift in survival. As we come closer to the collapse of artificial systems and values, the need for our gift to be expressed becomes more critical.
I have a particularly loud and nagging gift. It has saved me from making decisions that would drain my life force, and pushed me into taking actions that had me shaking in terror. When I was 18, and looking for a job, I went to apply at the phone company. As I began to write my name on the paper, I fainted. The woman taking the applications helped me outside and gave me water. After a few minutes, when I felt better, she said, "would you like to come back tomorrow?"
"No, thank you" I said, "I believe my body is telling me this is not the job for me!" My body often used weakness and fainting as a way to show me I was going in a direction that would drain me. I was steered in various directions, ending up at an advertising photography studio in the late 70's, working for exceptional people and learning all about the power of image and story.
In 1981 I quit my job and went freelance, moving from the world of photography to the world of filmmaking. It was like coming home, a world whre creativity, innovation and professionalism were the standards by which we were measured. I stumbled along the way, forgetting what my purpose was and becoming immersed in the flash and dazzle of the industry. Yet at all times, my gift and my ancestors nagged and prodded and kept me up nights demanding that I return to my my path. In the decade of the 90's, I found and studied with anyone who was teaching something that interested me. (For that is one way my gift speaks to me - to grab my attention with something mysterious and interesting. I have learned that is a signal for me to take action. Too bad if I don't have the money or time, do it anyway!) I trained with amazing teachers and shamans, collecting wisdom and experience, and writing it all down. During the late 90's I began teaching workshops and holding retreats. Each event added to my understanding of the mysterious and unknown nature of emotion.
In 1999, after teaching a retreat in Mexico, I came home and sank into a suicidal depression. I was unable to do the simplest chore; but I kept my journal by the bed and wrote and wrote and wrote. As the depression came to a close, I had my ah-hah moment - that I was on a hamster wheel. As long as I had my condo and cabin, I had to stay in the city and work in a field that was no longer fun or had much meaning. If I moved to my cabin, I would be isolated and unable to implement my gift. I was overweight, exhausted, angry, hopeless and frankly, impossible to be around. I could not see how to get out of my hamster wheel until that moment - when my gift whispered in my ear, "why don't you sell everything and go live in Mexico?"
So, I sold my house, paid off my debts and moved to Mexico. For 5 years I lived simply, with only what I could carry in my tiny car, and restored my health and my heart. I took all I had learned from my various teachers for 10 years and developed a system of wholeness, with an emphasis on emotion. I wrote the first draft of my book. Mexico showed me what living in community was like, and welcomed me into its world. I learned that home was whereve I was, and that even a thatched roof hut could be turned into a temple. That five years gave me a breathing space and allowed my heart to shed its armour.
I returned to MN in 2004, determined to launch my gift in a structured and accessible format. That process has been equally bumpy, painful and rewarding as the previous part of my life. Just when I think I have it all together, the boulder comes rolling down the hill and knocks me over. I have had to learn resilience above all else, and to surrender to my gift and my purpose.
I am a translator. I have been given the means to travel into the subconscious, where I encounter the collective emotions of the human race. The top layer of this is fun - light, joyful, ecstatic - a place that seems like it would be lovely to inhabit full time. It doesn't work that way though. Instead, the journey takes me down through many layers of buried emotion. When I get as low as I can go for that trip, it feels like the bottom of a sewer. Here is where the emotions live that nobody wants to feel. The rage, the terror, the hatred, the bitterness, the blame, the fury, the suicidal death wishes- it is overwhelming and often scares the crap out of me. From this place, I give a voice to these emotions, and listen to what they have to tell me about the true state of the world. All those people who seem asleep have emotions living down here, and the terror and anguish these feelings are holding is tremendous. They desperately want to be heard and understood. "I see you," I say to them. By giving them a voice, I can bring their message back to the world and help people understand why things are happening the way they do.
I have had to reach out and build a community of people who hold the ropes for me, and can pull me back when I seem to be getting lost. But down in the sewer, I have discovered something amazing. The very thing that I need to get to the next level of my life is hidden away under the muck. If I am willing to witness the intense pain I find here, and give it a voice - through journaling, through crying it out the skies, to sharing it with my peers - then, on my journey back, I am given a gift. This gift includes youthful vigor - I come out of the darkness, and sometimes within a day my body changes shape and looks ten years younger. The gift includes joy - the sheer ecstasy of life pours into me in direct reflection of the despair through which I was traveling. And finally, the magnetic attraction to exactly what I need is brought back. This is the true gift of the emotions - their ability to transform the worst of feelings to the very thing that takes us to ecstasy.
Some days I am exhausted by my gift - it can be a hard burden to carry. This helps me to understand that without community, I will die under the weight of this gift. Most days though, I am grateful that I have been able to create a life of such intensity and magic. Every day is a gift of something - knowledge, ecstasy, nature, sharing, playing, grieving - it's all there. I give thanks to be alive at this most amazing time in history.
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