Round and Round

I dreamed that Brad and I were in a large vehicle full of mentorship students. Everyone was full of joy, singing and laughing together the way we do after a long day of spiritual cooking. I don’t know where we were headed, but there was another carload of mentorship students on the road behind us. Brad and I were seated in the backseat. When we arrived at our destination and the vehicle pulled to a stop, I looked up and suddenly saw my late brother, Brett, sitting in the driver’s seat. He appeared as a little child, with blonde hair and big, blue eyes. Brett turned around and looked right at me. Holding my gaze, he said, “We have arrived, but we have not yet been liberated from aggression.” His words caught me by surprise, especially because they were juxtaposed with a carload of people in a state of bliss. My brother was a naturally kind and gentle person who was very slow to anger. For this reason, and because he came to deliver the message as an innocent child, both Brad and I were unusually struck by this vision.

When I reported the vision to Brad, he was reminded of something the Guarani Indian shamans told him many years ago when he was living with them in the Amazon. The elders kept talking about the importance of resisting temptation. Brad assumed they were talking about maintaining the usual precepts of sobriety, fidelity, and so on. But one day he asked what they meant, and one of the shamans, Little Seagull Man (Ava Tape Miri), said that the greatest temptation that a shaman must avoid is the temptation to be angry.

These words were spoken by a man with plenty to be angry about; his people’s lands, culture, and livelihood have been under siege from violent and aggressive governments for centuries. Little Seagull Man was not spouting the kind of platitudinous teaching about anger one typically finds in the shallow waters of the blogosphere or pop spiritual books. Instead he was inviting us to stand at the crossroads between complete faith in and surrender to the divine (something required of all shamans), and the sometimes very strong temptation toward anger and aggression that is part of the human condition. To get the most out of Little Seagull Man’s wisdom, we have to let it take us to the crossroads. Let’s pause and consider that there have been times that we all, to varying degrees, have been consumed by anger (and acted aggressively) in a less than constructive way.

Shamans do God’s work, and this requires placing oneself on sacred ground—the vastest, holiest space for holding all competing truths. When we are consumed by anger, the room shrinks and constricts, and our dualisms about right and wrong, victim and perpetrator, and good and evil become rigid. This process makes it almost impossible to facilitate the kind of transformative healing (making whole, wholing?) that requires surrendering our attachment to our preferred outcomes. As another holy man, Frank Fools Crow, said: “I submit always to Wakan Tanka’s will. This is not easy, and most people find it impossible, but I have seen the power of prayer . . . So I pray always that God will give me wisdom to accept his way of doing things.” In short, as soon as we think we know more than God, we weaken our ability to be a good vessel for sacred work.

We respect anger and even aggression as natural parts of the ecology of our inner and relational lives. As we’ve written before, anger can be a resource for taking a stand when necessary. At the same time, anger can be a real beast. Its appetite is huge, and when fed it can double in size in a matter of seconds. Sometimes counting to ten or taking deep breaths helps, but there is an older, more comprehensive way of relating to all the feelings in the changing temperatures of our ever-shifting emotional climate. It comes from one of the oldest ecstatic traditions, that of the Kalahari Bushmen. Bushman doctor, /Kunta Boo, told us this about anger:

When people are angry, they create a liquid called ju!kag!ua that is able to make another person sick. Anger brings a liquid to the heart that can be sent to others as a means of attacking them. This liquid from an angry person is bad. When we say angry things this liquid can shoot out and enter another’s heart. It makes their heart have a liquid on it. Anger is the dirtiest arrow. It can make us sick. Jealousy is also a bad arrow.

The same power that changes a person’s emotion from love to anger can also change the anger back to love. To keep healthy, healers must help the feelings keep changing. Everyone will feel angry from time to time, but a problem rises when it stays stuck. We get sick when we stay stuck in these dirty feelings. We heat up our nails[1] and shake to help those things move. All the different feelings are in a circle that must keep going round and round.[2]

Brad and I are so grateful and happy to be traveling the spiritual highways with all of you as a caravan of holy fools, children of mystery, n/om hunters, and trackers of God. We celebrate the way people are getting softer, ropes to mystery are getting stronger, and nails and arrows of n/om are being exchanged. Just remember, however, that every ecstatic fire must at some point begin to cool. After dancing all night on sacred ground in the big room, we inevitably return to the smaller rooms of everyday living. There we easily get stuck and caught by various temptations, including the temptation to feed our anger and aggression.

My brother was right: We may have arrived at the height of ecstatic joy, but we have not yet been liberated from aggression. I now answer him by adding: Yes, and we have also not yet been liberated from thinking that arriving is what’s important. There is no linear evolution from ignorance to a supreme spiritual consciousness where we are forevermore free of anger, jealousy, or other kinds of “dirty arrows.” We, and all our feelings, dealings, prayers, and longings are traveling in a circle that must keep going round and round. In and out of the fire we must go. Up the rope to heaven and then back down again. As soon as we arrive, it’s time to leave again. We must enter, exit, and then reenter the changing of creation. There is found the sacred vibration, the n/om, the holy spiritual wind that keeps the circle of life moving, our feelings going round and round, and everything turning again and again back into love.  – HK March 21, 2017

[1] “Nail” is a way of talking about n/om, the sacred, vibratory life force that is the source of healing. N/om is what cooks us, makes us shake, and makes all the feelings move. A nail or thorn of n/om resides within the body and also can be transmitted to another person for healing. “Arrows” also refer to the transmission of n/om, but can also refer to feelings – such as anger – that can be shot or delivered into another person.

[2] from Way of the Bushman by Bradford & Hillary Keeney, p. 54

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