Tending The Family Fire

family shamanism story

You can’t work on a gargantuan project like changing how you live all the time. Every once in a while you have to scrape the dirt from beneath your finger nails and take a vacation from your own agenda. If you don’t you’re liable to go crazy or worse: take yourself too seriously.
I’ve had to find ways of bringing sanity to the life of my family while we immerse ourselves in deepening our relationship with the land we live on. When everything is happening at once, its great to have some sign posts to keep you on your path.

There Is Really Just One Project.
The family is always the only project. That makes it simple. No balancing me vs the needs of others. I discovered this when I got married. I decided I wanted my marriage to be the foundation of my life. I wanted all in. This goes double when kids are involved.
Sometimes taking care of my family looks like weeding the garden, other times cooking dinner, other times taking a break at a cafe. Famly is always the container, making the sacred possible, making the sustainable do-able. That bigger container – its well being and development – is really the only work I’m doing.
This gives me permission to do things like buy a pizza that really can’t be considered food, or spend money we don’t have on a new Thomas The Train for my boy. Does this fall within the Sacred Sustainability project? Of course not, but the priority is US. Without US there is no Sacred and Sustainable.

Permable Work Boundaries. 
    Our dog shoved her head through the cat door on my home office door so hard she snapped it off. Now throughout my work day various heads poke themselves through the small window (formerly door). “Hi Poppy…kiss kiss!” The human head disappears and is replaced by a dog head staring at me, longing for a walk up the hill. They take turns doing this – torturing me throughout my day.
    First my home office was in the shed, then the other bedroom. Now its the front entry way (don’t ask.) Before we lived here the bedroom of our small apartment was my office. I fought like a badger to keep that space separate and sacrosanct. After all I’m supporting the family, I DESERVE my own space right?
    Of course the family always has other ideas, and I’ve come to believe its for the best. I still get angry, I still need private time, but people walk through all the time. My work is a part of everyone’s life. This is how it should be. I don’t want a life separate from my family. I want them stitched throughout my day. No separate rooms in my heart.
    This does mean more subtle negotiations. “OK you can stay but only if you’re quiet and stop messing with my mouse! I’m in a meeting, stop chewing on the pens!” I’m still learning to negotiate with the cat – she’s not talkin.

Problems? Make Room For Radical Answers. 
    About ten years ago I was laying in bed wondering what the hell I was going to do. The daughter I was helping parent needed to go to a private school. If I ponied up that money (or rather if a grandparent ponied it up and I paid them back incrementally), I’d have no money to cover my own rent (she lived with her Mother).
For some reason, at that moment I did something strange. I took a deep breath and just trusted that there was a solution out there. I might not be able to see it yet, maybe I just couldn’t understand it. Like the fabled shaman who saw the first ship making its way to shore in America: he knew there was something on the horizon, he just couldn’t wrap his head around it yet.
I decided if I relaxed enough it would come to me. After about twenty minutes of breathing and trusting it arrived in my head. Time to move out and live in my car for a few months. With the money I saved I’d get a new apartment when the time was right. The answer could have been anything, the point was I had to trust that the right answer, no matter how radical it was, would work out fine. It did.
It actually turned out to be a great four or five months. I attacked my days with new gusto. I felt good about the sacrifice I was making. I was very happy. I now look back on that time with great pride and satisfaction.
Sometimes the most radical choice turns out to be the safest one when you put the good of the whole before everything else.

Journey On It, or pray, dance, fast, write, channel, conjure, scry, or cast bones. 
    What ever your spiritual tools, don’t hesitate to bring them to bear when faced with even the smallest challenge. Every time I have used my primary spiritual tools when confronting a family issue it has always changed my response for the better. Thats ALWAYS – no exceptions. Sometimes it has even radically improved the way my family lives.

Be silly. 
    Think about it – how many crisis could be quickly resolved if you just acted like a complete dork? The less serious I can take myself the better. If I am feeling really stuck, nothing changes my world more quickly thank making a fool out of myself.
Crazy dancing works well for me. I know once I get going the little one will be in hysterics and the dog will be ready to wrestle. I’ve even gotten the wife to forgive me for a few fights this way. Got a problem, do the Funky Chicken Dance.

Be Stoked … like Mark Eubank.
We owe our families our happiness. Being a happy parent is more important than being a Good Parent or a Successful Parent. A parent’s happiness is the currency our children use when they’re building their own lives for themselves.
If you live in California long enough you’ll see a bumper sticker with the smiling Dali Lama’s face and the caption “Be Stoked.” I’d swap in the weather man I grew up watching – Mark Eubank for the Dali Lama. He was Mormon, I wasn’t. He was clean cut – I’ve never been. He loved weather forecasting – er yeah right. No really – he LOVED his job. His excitement about the weather was so tangible you felt it soaking into you while you watched the evening news. To this day nothing on TV cheers me up quite like those weather forecasts did.
The Dali Lama is no doubt the hardest working man in religion, but Mark Eubank is a father and husband. Thats a bumper sticker I can relate to. If  I’m not as stoked as Mark I’m doing something wrong. Definitely a work in progress – but an attainable goal. I know – cause Mark is for real.
BTW Mark was a One Project Father too. When interviewed he listed his priorities: “Family, Church, Work – in that order.” This may not sound radical to you – but in Utah at that time all Good Mormon fathers were expected to answer “Church, Family, Church, Work, Church, Church” to that question. Mark Eubank = totally stoked.

I Want To Do What You Want To Do.
One day my wife asked me, “what do you do with him outside in the mornings?” I had to think about it for a minute. “I don’t know, follow him around I guess.”
The shortest path to joyful unstructured play with any child is to say – “what do you want to do?” Yes sometimes that results in request like “go to Disneyland NOW!” You will have to deal with that. Sometimes though it results in bubble soup. Make room for others to be the leader. Especially little ones.
Lately, I’ve found not driving the events of our lives to be a lot more relaxing. I follow up to sand play, into the garden, across the log. Its nice just being along for the ride sometimes.

Your Ritual.
All families are tribes. Some are tribes within tribes. One of the things that indicates our familial tribal status is our anklets. These are small ankle bracelests I braided in a shamanic practice I picked up from Tom Cowan (a teacher who focuses on Celtic Shamanism – see Resources.) I journey to find out what spiritual energy that family member needs. I braid that energy in as I braid the anklet.
When I first put this on our two year old he pointed to his ankle and then to mine and then to his Moms. He immediately understood, this is something that represents the “Us-ness” of US. When his anklet mysteriously broke off he pointed to his leg with great agitation. It also happened that he fell ill that night. We all sat in bed together as I journeyed and wove a new anklet for him. All was well again.

Tell Stories About The People You Love.
One day my wife read a blog post and said “you make our lives sound so romantic.” She really need a boost that day. “It is romantic to me.” I love seeing me through my families eyes. I love seeing my wife’s pride as she tells the story of how our garden is doing this year.
Seeing our lives from another perspective always enriches my own experience of our lives here. It encourages me to go deeper into the next chapter.

Small Kitchens Big Tables.
There is nothing like the intimacy of food. Find a reason to have people sit around your table and eat your food. You’ll never make a better investment. Check out a bit on my brothers table: Small Houses Big Tables.

Adopt Someone.
Grow your family. My Mother understands this best. Having someone new around the dinner table feeds everyone. You never know what new ideas, thoughts, gifts this person might bring. Taking new people into your family revitalizes everyone. Even if they’re only with you for a short time. They make their mark.
Besides – we all have something to give to each other.


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