The Infinite Well
Harvest: Partnering with the Source and Serving Life
The Inner Shaman’s Relationship to Source
’The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars.’
For the Inner Shaman, a good harvest involves experiencing an ever-deepening connection to self, others, the physical world, the imaginal world and the Great Mystery that is behind it all. I call this place of connection to the divine the infinite well, and it is where I go, alone or with others, to nourish myself and find the resilience and courage to return and face the music with a spring in my step, a tear in my eye and a smile that is soul deep.
Every ritual we’ve done has the potential to take you to this place. But the most reliable way I know of getting there is surrendering to the power of the rhythms of the drum. It doesn’t matter whether we think we can dance or not. I believe that anyone in a body, no matter what its shape or fluidity, can dance past their self-conscious self and into the unpredictable brilliance of their embodied soul.
When I first danced, I had no idea this was possible. But I have discovered time and time again that no matter where we begin or who we think we are, if we are willing, it only takes a relatively short time to dance past disbelief. Yes, it can be embarrassingly uncomfortable for a while. But the dance is a mistress of seduction. And rhythm is uncompromising. When I really dance, I stop caring about what I look like. The question of whether my dance is right or wrong, or my body the right shape, become distant nightmares. My emotions run free like a herd of wild horses released from captivity. And for a blessed few minutes, my mind becomes still. And that’s when the door opens. For a time, as my body lets go, I can disappear in the dance and open my heart to the Creator. In that space, there is nowhere to hide and there is nothing to hide. I become transparent.
As I drink my fill at this infinite well, my gratitude often spills over in tears and laughter. There may be a humming silence inside the rhythm of the drums and I may watch my very human drama unfold with love, acceptance and compassion. When I return to the everyday world, my body spent and calm, that world is always a shade brighter than it was before.
This kind of peace is a power in itself and a huge resource. Genuine happiness and fulfilment remain a rare commodity in the modern world. With racism so rife and so much destruction of the natural world going on, with species extinction and climate change speeding up, and with levels of depression, obesity and mental illness rising in all areas of society, it can be hard not to be overwhelmed. I find myself needing to practise more, express my fears and furies and break through to the blessed waters of grief as often as I can. Grief isn’t the same as self-pity. Tears that arise from feeling powerless are fear and anger disguised. Tears that arise from sorrow over what has been done and is being done to the world are rooted in love for life.
I don’t feel weak when I let these waters flow. On the contrary, honest sorrow and the authentic joy of being alive are twins, and the one usually opens the door to the other. And it is through this gateway that I once again experience my connection to the Mystery.
When I was younger, I confess that I was a spiritual bypass junkie — I used my connection to a disembodied idea of the Great Mystery to protect myself from the pain of life and my own emotions. Now I know that genuine embodied connection to the Mystery is not the saccharine sweet blanket of a spiritual bypass, but a fierce power that illuminates everything and renders us wholly transparent and defenceless. When we can see ourselves through the eyes and heart of the Great Mystery, the power of peace is always close by. That kind of peace only comes through the heart. And rather than coming up with some bland spiritual ideal that suggests that everything is perfect as it is, it is the not knowing and the dissolving into that Mystery that gives me the strength to carry on.
Accepting uncertainty is a big part of this. It’s taken me many years to find the optimal balance between the safety of certainty and the adventure of uncertainty. Without safety, we can be overwhelmed. Without risk, we can become static. Each of us needs to find that sweet spot where there is enough solid ground for us to be able to let go and trust that it’s fine for what we know to be far outweighed by what we don’t. And to be at peace with that. The most potent harvest of all my work is the ability to return to this embodied sense of the Great Spirit and to receive the power of peace it brings me. At the end of this chapter, I’ll share with you the five-step practice that has helped me to enter into this relationship with the divine, whatever name you have for it.
But first I have a question for you.
PRACTICE: DESIGN YOUR OWN RITUAL — WHAT IS IT YOU TRULY LONG FOR?
· Stop for a moment. Take a deep breath. As you breathe out, let your weight go.
· Sit down inside yourself. Relax. Remember that the Earth is holding you and everyone and everything you know. In all your joy and all your suffering, the Earth is holding the space for you to remember who you are.
· Take another breath. Draw in the sweetness of the breath of life. Can you feel the soft touch of the air on your skin? Can you hear the wind’s song? Can you feel life saying, ’Go on, live!’?
· Take a moment to feel the waters of life inside you. Feel the ocean in your cells. Let a river run through you. Let rain wash your inner land clean. Relax into the deep blue sea of your heart.
· And feel the warmth of the sun’s touch. Whatever the temperature outside, the sun is shining inside your trillion cells right now. Enjoy its kiss and, if you’re in the mood, blow a kiss back.
· Feel your roots going deep down into the darkness of the ground. Feel the stability that comes from the love affair your physical body is having with gravity right now. It’s a source of genuine strength.
· Reach up to the sky. Open your branches to the wide empty space above you. Take in that light as if it were the sweetest of medicines.
· Let your heart be supported by your roots while it unfurls its wings into the empty space above you. Feel how much space there is above you and how much ground below you. And experience that ground and empty space inside you.
· Okay. Good. Time for that question. Connect to your Inner Shaman and their resources and let them find their own words to ask: ’Universal intelligence, Great Spirit, Mystery of Life, will you please show me who I am and what it is I truly long for?’
· You can just ask the question, but at this stage, why not go ahead and design and set up your own ritual space in which to be with this question? Go on, you can do it. You have enough foundations now in your practice to ask that question from a genuinely empowered place. Be in your backbone, dignified in who you are. One of the deeper pleasures of my life is to ask questions whose answers only land once the mind has let go of everything it already knows.
· However you ask, stay with it for a while. A few minutes would be wonderful. The more relaxed you can be, the better. You may even like to ask the question as you fall asleep at night. That allows your dreaming self to show you more details, nuances and layers in the question, and for the answer to reveal itself step by step inside you.
Each night, as we sleep, we are given direct access to the university of intelligence that is our unconscious. Time and time again on my journey, the imagery of my dreams has revealed things that my waking self hasn’t known.
For the Inner Shaman, dreaming is a whole practice in itself. Many wonderful books have been written on the subject, some of which you’ll find in the Resources section. Dreaming is so useful because, simply put, when we sleep, our left brain sleeps, leaving our right brain free to party. When we become lucid in our dreams, right and left brain work together in a way that helps us to be conscious inside our own unconscious.
Ritual is an embodied pathway to much the same state of awareness. For that reason, I sometimes call it dreaming awake. The shamanic rituals I’ve been introducing you to have involved dancing past your everyday self and into a more embodied, heartful, right-brain kind of consciousness that gives you a much clearer view of the bigger picture of which you are a part.
· So, once you’ve asked your question, let go and listen to what comes. Don’t worry if it takes a while. Just make time to be with the question. Hang out with it. Follow the golden thread of your enquiry into the wide open space of the unknown. Ask it until you know the answer in your bones, in your blood, in all five chambers of your heart, in your entire being, until it is a feeling in your body, a body that is so full of life that you may just have to get up and dance some more.
Well done. The ongoing enquiry into knowing who you are and what you long for is an important aspect of transformation. It is vital to update your inner sense of who you are with each step on the journey you take. Not doing this is the biggest obstacle to progress that I see in my students. If you don’t consciously update your self-talk, your old story can easily reassert its hold on your perception.
As I mentioned in the introduction to Part IV, in all the rituals I do I acknowledge and work with all of the Five Dimensions of Relationship. When I don’t, something vital is left out.
Ongoing awareness of these dimensions enables us to both expand our understanding of ourselves and see our own existence in terms of the interconnectedness we have with all beings:
· In the First Dimension, relationship with self, we expand from a conditioned and unconscious self to become the artist of our own experience through the meaning we give it and the story we tell.
· In the Second Dimension, relationship with others, we expand from being separate and lonely to being with another person in an honest and mutually beneficial way, learning from each other and helping each other ’s soul to grow.
· In the Third Dimension, relationship with community, we expand from sleepwalking through virtual reality to remembering that we have something of value to give to the diverse web of life to which we belong.
· In the Fourth Dimension, relationship with the imaginal world, we expand from unconsciously using the power of our imagination to keep ourselves imprisoned in the known, to understanding the power of what we dream and turning that power towards what we wish to create.
· The first four dimensions act like four table legs, giving us the stability to enter the fifth. What we call the Fifth Dimension is the place to discover and deepen your relationship to the Source.
Shamans are cartographers of the imaginal world. They use their own healing journey to map the territory so that others can safely follow in their footsteps. Though there are universal experiences that appear across belief systems and cultures, as I have already mentioned, each and every individual’s experience of the divine is unique to them. I’m going to invite your Inner Shaman to enter into a five-step enquiry that will help you to recognize and develop your relationship to this sanctuary. The first three steps are based on duality. There is you. And there is the Great Spirit. The fourth is the bridge and the fifth invites you to go beyond duality.
The five steps are:
1. South: Be present and reveal yourself to the Great Mystery
2. East: Connect and dialogue with the Mystery
3. West: Release and surrender to the Mystery
4. North: Open yourself to the shining light of the Mystery
5. Centre: Dissolve into and become the Mystery
Map to the infinite
Before we begin, I want to emphasize one more time that you don’t have to believe in the Great Spirit or anything else to do this practice. All you need is curiosity about the Mystery of life.
PRACTICE: A JOURNEY TO THE INFINITE WELL
How far you wish to take this is up to you. Take as long as you like and take small steps if this is new to you, and build your confidence through practice.
· Set up your space. Find or create an object that represents the Great Mystery and place it at the centre of your circle. It would also be helpful to place an object in each direction to represent the elements. Find the right music. Good music is an excellent ally in going past whatever resistance may arise. You can use a drum or a rattle or create a playlist that goes up and down in tempo.
· Call all that supports and guides you. Complete the Awakening the Dancer practice. Connect with the Inner Shaman and their allies. Move your body! Dance! All with the intention of entering into dialogue with the Great Spirit!
· It may be important for you to find ways to honour your tribal roots and the traditions you grew up with. I am in no way asking you to discount or ignore these. As part of my own journey, I have had to explain to my own ancestors why I have needed to move away from their traditions and find my own ways of being in connection with the source. As time has gone on, I have been able to integrate what I grew up with into what I have learned. Honouring our roots is important, so as you move, take the time to do so.
· Okay, when you are ready, I suggest you very simply move through the first four dimensions:
o Acknowledge where you are in relationship with yourself.
o Bring the people you love into your heart and your breathing, your moving. Offer your dance on behalf of them.
o Expand to offer your dance and make an offering, a prayer on behalf of your community — both your local community and the places and situations in the world to which you feel connected.
o Welcome your spirits, ancestors and descendants and offer your dance on behalf of them. Invite the spirit of the dance to move through your dance.
· And now open your awareness to the Great Spirit. Feel it as a tangible presence through the life moving through your body.
· Continue by stepping into the South of your circle. Dance yourself into the foundations of your relationship with God. Reveal yourself. You are who you are. And you can ask the Great Mystery anything and tell the Great Mystery everything. Simply let your heart say what it wants to say. In my experience, you cannot offend the Great Mystery. Say it in movement. Say it in words. Say it in sound and song. Say it with your whole being.
· Having revealed and expressed yourself, step into the East and the Fire. Imagine the Great Spirit is present. Now, here’s a leap for your imagination: take a little time to see yourself from the point of view of the Great Spirit. What does this human need to know from you? Write them a personal letter that they can read later. Enjoy your time as the Great Spirit looking at your human self before returning to that self. Then take a moment to receive whatever this ’channelling of the source’ gave to you and say whatever you need to complete this dialogue for now.
· Now step into the Waters. This is the place to let old ideas, feelings and stories in your relationship with the Great Spirit be washed away. Surrender yourself to the rhythm. Let a storm blow through you. Like a butterfly about to emerge from a chrysalis, shake from the inside out and let your old skin crack open and be washed away by the waters of life. Release everything that arises in your relationship to this Great Mystery. Nothing’s too small. Imagine the rhythm is the very essence of the Mystery cleansing you, emptying you until there is nothing left.
· Now step into the North. Let yourself dance into that hollow bone state and ask for a new vision of the Great Mystery to blow in on the wings of your imagination. Dance like Zorba. Dance like a dervish. Dance like you’ve never danced before and pray for a vision. Feel the Great Spirit as the breath of life. Receive it. Receive a new vision. It may be just a seed now, but it will grow into the next stage of your relationship with the Mystery.
· Finally, step into the centre. There is nothing to do here but be, breathe, dissolve and let go. Resting may well be enough. Let your Inner Shaman guide you. And take as much time as you can here in the infinite well, dissolving, disappearing and then witnessing how you reconstruct your self and your world as you return.
· Make a few notes about your experience.
· Think of one simple action you can take in the days to come that will help you to know that you are integrating this ritual.
· Dedicate the medicine of your ceremony to whatever you wish to.
· And then thank and release all you have danced with.
· Rest in the silence and the echo of your work.
Return often to this infinite well. The more personal you allow your relationship with the Great Mystery to become, the easier it becomes to notice and connect to the infinite number of forms it takes.
For the Inner Shaman, the Great Spirit is everything. Wherever we look and wherever we don’t, the unexplainable and ever-changing fractals of consciousness that carry the fingerprint of the Great Spirit look right back at us. In some places it’s obvious and in others it’s anything but. But look hard enough and breathe deeply enough and the infinite will welcome you into the shining black light of its embrace and you will remember who you are.