After writing the last post, I began to think about how difficult the English language can be to use when one wants to speak about paradox. English is a great technical language because it is very concrete: there is right and wrong, black and white. Ambiguity is present, but generally ignored. But English may not be the best language to use when speaking about our complex, process driven, ambiguous experiences and world.
That said, I use English to write my thoughts in this blog. So here goes:
Shamans everywhere know the world is just fine the way it is, in this moment. I’m fine. You’re fine. Things are blissful. The world is magic.
And it’s not. There is a deep and growing pile of stubborn problems that confront us. The world seems to hover on the very brink of chaos. Sometimes, it tips, and we discover our individual and collective selves clinging to the rim of the manure pit, afraid for our lives.
Shamans, by definition, live in multiple worlds, of embodying the paradoxical. They also teach others to do the same. Fear and relief, sorrow and joy, loss and discover, are all, in that place of balance, just aspects of human experience. Everything is good and all is easy. (There are lots of shamans in New Orleans! Or, at least, there were before Katrina.)
Yet, the brain has a deeply imprinted anathema for “negative” emotions; it will do anything to avoid them. So we find ourselves, as the Buddhists would say, creating suffering by holding on to the pleasant long after its moment has passed. That grasping is also part of the human experience. Indeed, everything that happens is part of our collective experiencing. And it’s all good, even the bad! We just tend to forget this when fear, grief, or angst flood our beings.
In those moments of forgetting, we may need others to help us remember our basic safety and joy, to know we are held dear, loved. Sometimes we seek out the shaman or healer. Other times, family, friends, acquaintances, or even strangers, come to our aid. There are stories in every tradition of individuals embodying love, and pointing towards transcendent goodness in the worst situations (the Nazi concentration camps, the Spanish Inquisition, the Rwandan Genocide, and the genocide of First Nations peoples in the Americas, to name but a few). I like to think that if some people can stand grounded in the Ultimate in those environments, the rest of us can help each other in our day-to-day suffering and confusion. After all, as they say in the Amazon, “We are all shamans!”
And we have work to do.
For more about shamanism and paradox, see Shamans and Scientists.