As we watch the sun rise earlier and earlier, we start to imagine the coming seasons of spring and summer. This time of renewal starts subtly and slowly, but as the days get longer and longer with sudden swiftness, what we imagine really comes into existence. Perhaps our imagining helps bring it into existence.
In the previous Rivercurrent I suggested we consider the implications of speaking a language such as Algonquin, which is more verb-based than English which is a noun-based language. Speaking English we tend to see the world as things, which are separate from ourselves. If we could shift our consciousness so that our thinking and perceiving of the world is more verb-based, we might discover that what the world is doing is similar to what we are doing. And hence the world is not quite as separate from us as we had thought.
When we perceive the world as activities rather than solid, physical things, we are closer to understanding reality as a “happening” or as a “becoming.” You might be thinking of the old riddle about trying to tell the dancer from the dance. In some sense you can’t of course, but you can focus your attention on the dancing rather than the human dancer or the illusive dance. We know the dancer is not us, and the dance itself exists irrefutably in the body of the dancer. But the dancing is something we can feel in our own bodies, the exuberance, the excitement, even the sense of accomplishment which is certainly the dancer’s, not ours, but which, I think, can transfer into us as we participate in the dancing even as spectators. Don’t we feel great when a dancer accomplishes some difficult step?
There’s an old story about Finn MacCool’s followers discussing the question of what is the finest music in the world. Each man has his own candidate: a stag, a hunting dog, a girl’s laughter. When they ask Finn his opinion, he says, “The finest music in the world is the music of what is happening.” Is music not similar to dance? There is the musician and the music itself, but also the musical event that is happening, and happening to us as we listen. The music becomes part of us. Of course, the finest music in the world is not actual music as we narrowly define it. It’s a metaphor for whatever is going on. But whatever is happening happens to us in some way, and if we understand our connection to it, it becomes personal, important, and fine.
Walt Whitman was a master of expressing connections between himself and the world. Here’s an example from section 25 of Song of Myself.
Dazzling and tremendous how quick the sun-rise would kill me,
If I could not now and always send sun-rise out of me.
We also ascend dazzling and tremendous as the sun.
If there is any “thing” that is exceedingly “other” than ourselves, it is the sun—large, powerful, distant, overwhelming, and as Whitman indicates, dangerous. It could kill us. But Whitman finds the sun’s action of ascending to be in us as well, and hence we can become dazzling and tremendous. Not only do we ascend like the sun, but we can send sunrise out of us, as the sun sends its power out of itself toward us. In this way we connect intimately with the world around us. As a poet Whitman felt it was his duty to send out—or channel—the world’s energies that he found around himself so that, as he put it, “every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.” Actually, since this was a bedrock of his beliefs, he could not avoid sharing and identifying his experiences with those of others. As the lines above indicate, it is this power to send the sun’s activity—or any thing’s activity: music, dancing, hunting—through and out of us that saves us. In the Gospel of Thomas Jesus says that what we bring forth from us saves us, while what we do not bring forth kills us.
Lewis Hyde in The Gift contends that the best art is that which gives us images to imagine our lives. Could we not say the same for shamanic journeys? The best journeys give us images with which to imagine our lives. The images that come from shamanic journeys are both nouns and verbs, things and actions. I wonder if we don’t have the same problem, because of our English language, relating to the images of journeys that we have with images in the world of ordinary reality. I mean do we focus on things in non-ordinary reality and view them as separate from ourselves, or do we focus on activities and find them also occurring (or the possibility of them occurring) in ourselves? When returning from a journey, we may leave the things behind but bring the activities and energies with us. What happens on a journey happens to us. We should be able to use shamanic journeys to absorb the activity that occurs there, let it enter and shape us, and encourage us to imagine the possibilities for our lives both while in the journey and after returning. To repeat it again, the best journeys will give us images to imagine our lives.
I’ve always felt that shamanic journeying is a powerful tool for developing mystical and poetic skills. The images in journeys can help us imagine our lives in a more mystical way, a way that perceives union rather than separateness. Then we live more connected with the universe and at home in it. We feel less alienated and separate from the great earth-shaping forces that are changing our world. In these times of great uncertainty and insecurity, when we really cannot see what lies ahead in the world, or know in what ways the world is changing economically or culturally, we need more than ever to find connections and belonging, a sense of home where we can flourish. We need to understand in some way that what is happening is the finest music in the world, partly because it is happening to us, and we participate in it.
We could use our experiences in both ordinary and non-ordinary reality to shift our consciousness to what is happening around us, rather than the things around us. We won’t be neglecting the things because what is happening is happening to them as well. We won’t ignore the dancer; how can we? Like Whitman, we will notice the dazzling sun—or the sun’s dazzling—and discover the same dazzling in ourselves. We will let it pass through us and send it out, and create sunlight in our world.
In these days of the waning winter light, watching the sun rise earlier and earlier, we can imagine our lives warming and brightening and flowering into the next season awaiting us—a season that we help create.