14 November 2007

Dear Drummers,

Whenever I look at my two boys, I think about dying. After the lights are out and everyone is asleep in the house, I sneak upstairs to my 8 year-olds room and watch him sleep. I’m filled with wonder at the unnamable, ungraspable life force moving in him, shaping him from within, this “Secret One slowly growing a body” as the Hindu poet Jabir once wrote. I can’t help thinking though that someday this boy will have to go to sleep without a father. I often wonder if he’ll take up either of my ceremonial drums or if he’ll hang them on a wall (which I consider a sin) or, like my brother did with our father’s watch and dog tags and turquoise rings build a glass case and display them with his 14 guns, a mausoleum devoted to Yang.

I move downstairs to the three year-olds room and gaze at him sleeping with his mouth open and limbs splayed out in three directions, totally safe and open to the world. I wonder if I will die before the point in his life that that he has memories of me. I wonder if he will take my prayer rug, the rug that all of our ceremonies are conducted on; a rug so full of what the Mayans call Its (remnants of spiritual effluvium) that I think maybe it should not be left in this world when I am gone.

The habit of sneaking in to watch my kids sleep and meditate on my death began when my first son was a week old. I watched him in his darkened crib, a stunned and dizzy new father, repeating to myself again and again, “Don’t touch him...he’ll wake up…you’ll be sorry…up all night like last night…don’t…don’t!” And of course I do. I reach out and take his tiny hand in mine. I hold it and close my eyes and then I feel someone taking my other hand. It is my father, and his other hand is held by his father, and I see a line of men holding hands, generation after generation, passing this bluish glow from hand to hand and into my infant son. And I see that I am not really what matters, the glow matters.

I think constantly about the unfathomable mystery of how we pass through this world, from darkness to darkness (although we really don’t know about that) from sleep to sleep (again, who knows for sure?) carrying the glow through this place we call Earth, how we nurture that glow or how we wound it and twist it. But ultimately, the glow is untouched by us somewhow and yet in some mysterious way it learns through us, or experiences through us, blesses and forgives us and heals us. I think about how if we are lucky and if we are courageous, and can get out of its way, we let it speak through us, and sing and move and love this world through our actions. And I think about John Muir’s lovely words--when we truly look at the world we see that everything is connected by luminous strands—glow connected to glow in every direction, and it all passes, all passes away, and is replaced.

I’m not morbid; it’s just that every night and every morning I think about dying.

So I don’t really need autumn to remind me to meditate on the great mystery of passing in and out of this world. But here we are, surrounded by the riled grey skies and exfoliating air reaching down to pluck the last breath of green from the lavender, that tease of first snow behind every gust. So here we are, in autumn, and we cannot help but meditate on the passing of all things, including ourselves.

The Japanese poet Kiko (d. 1894) says:
That which blossoms
falls, the way of all flesh
In this world of flowers.

And Minamoto-no-Shitago (d. 983) summarizes my life in a few words:

This world-
To what may I liken it?
To autumn fields
Lit dimly in the dusk
By lightning flashes

What the shamanist in me loves about autumn is the knowledge that we need regular exfoliation (losing of the leaves or bark, or more mythically, cleansing of the ever-streaked and pitted surface to allow new life to emerge). One of my favorite shamanist phrases: what happens in nature happens in us.

So as we gather this Friday we will call on our electrical potential to generate a few lightning flashes over our autumn fields using our drums as conductors. We will follow the words of another Japanese poet, Hamon (d. 1804):

In stillness I,
Light-bodied, set out for
the otherworld

See you on Friday,


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