02 September 2008

Two Wells

(Painting by Esao Andrews )

Welcome to year seven of Drumming the Soul Awake. (I am astonished and humbled by that sentence!)

The drum is my teacher with 1,000 lessons to teach me. One lesson would be enough to fill a life but the drum does not stop at one. Here is one lesson the drum teaches: we live with two wells in our heart.

When we drink from the well of fear we begin wanting to build a walled garden around our life, to plant only acceptable plants, and to paint pictures of our own face on each wall. We sit in our garden, sipping from that well of fear, and we look for imperfections in our work, where this curve went wrong, and where these colors clash. We try to remember the correct scientific names for each plant, nervous that we will forget or get one wrong. We decide who we allow inside the garden, and it is always only a very few and they must agree to live by our rules.

The walls need constant repair and the beds require constant weeding. The height of the grass needs to be measured. We walk through the garden and we slowly stop seeing the flowers or the grass; we see only the enemies threatening --the weeds, and the crack in the walkway, the insects devouring the bark, and how that one self-portrait on the western wall is already fading and cracking after such a short time. Each time we repair one thing another begins to crack or fade or fall down, and we live in a world of encroaching enemies. We become like single celled creatures, instinctively rejecting what touches us, running or attacking.

We are organic creatures- we have bodies and therefore the world does contain predators. Our lives will have fear. Disappointment, sickness, grief, regret –they stalk us. And death is a predator that will one day devour each one of us. The reward offered by the well of fear is a small, controllable cosmos, a cosmos of that is ordered and reasonable, where mystery is present but relatively inconsequential because it lives outside the walls.

The drum, like all incarnations of the Holy Spirit, teaches us that we also have in us the well of wonder. When we drink form the well of wonder, we install four gates in the garden walls-gates that do not shut. We place welcoming signs and baskets of food and wine at each of the four gates so that those passing by can take nourishment. We often arrive to find a stranger sitting on the garden bench, and we ask them where they are from and where they are going and what is their name, and most importantly what their name means. We are visited by mystery constantly and we learn to play music and we learn to see into poems - the ones written by humans and the ones written by the creator. We learn to live on more than one level at a time. We learn to hold paradox between our two hands. We learn that what we fear cannot be solved, but it can be dissolved.

So we drum to drink from the well of wonder and to balance the effects of the waters of fear which few of us live without sipping. And curiously, by entering into the multi-layered sound for awhile we ride the drum to a place of silence, a place beyond knowing and knowledge, beyond memory and learning, beyond words and names and categories and labels, a place where mystery – the unnamable, unnamed, unimaginable and indefinable – warmly greets us.

(Thanks to Ravi Ravindra for sparking some of the ideas in the above. See “The End of Knowledge” Parabola Magazine, Fall 2009.)

I leave you with this poem form Denise Levertov:

The Well

At sixteen I believed the moonlight
could change me if it would.
I moved my head
on the pillow, even moved my bed
as the moon slowly
crossed the open lattice.

I wanted beauty, a dangerous
gleam of steel, my body thinner,
my pale face paler.
I moonbathed
diligently, as others sunbathe.
But the moon's unsmiling stare
kept me awake. Mornings,
I was flushed and cross.

It was on dark nights of deep sleep
that I dreamed the most, sunk in the well,
and woke rested, and if not beautiful,
filled with some other power.

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