Ever since returning from a recent trip to my childhood home I’ve been haunted by a memory from my youth. There was a neighbor, a young man I’ll call Douglas who struggled with mental illness. Eventually he, his mother and only sister were all institutionalized. Some said his father had medicated and abused them, I’ll never know. When he was struggling most with the demons that haunted him, he’d ride his bike.
One summers night, it must have been 1 or 2 AM, he was out riding around and around the block. I watched him make his laps on his squeaky old Schwinn ten speed, peddling madly like a lost character from a horror novel fleeing from a part of a story only he knew was there. Finally he collapse onto someone’s front lawn in exhaustion, his pale skin dripping as he gasped the only audible sound in suburbia for miles. Surrounded by thousands, he was completely alone.
For a brief moment he must have escaped the suffering that was slowly eating his mind away. I wonder if he was being chased by the true knowledge of what it was to be human. Was he someone hounded by the sure truth of what it meant to be fully alive?
The third anniversary of my Dad’s death is coming up, I wrote about the first anniversary here. One of the greatest gifts his death has given me is authentic gratitude. I’ve always heard people saying things like “go with gratitude” and “we have gratitude…” for this and that. It made sense, good sense, to have gratitude for all of these awesome things we have in our lives. But that was nothing like the feeling of my souls gratitude breaking free from its prison and pouring out like a fast mountain river of pure joy.
Is it OK to talk about the gifts the death of a loved one brings? I’m not talking about moving on, this is about moving in – closer to the river we’re all a part of. Dad always said the word “closure” was bullshit. Passages like the loss of a parent can gift us the alchemical fuel we need to transform some of the hardest places in our own hearts. They work at such a deep level we may not even realize whats happening until its upon us and we are carried in its waters. No closures, only journeys.
The spirits let me know it was time to enter into new waters while I was drumming a few weeks ago. It took just a moment, I was reflecting on discussions I’d had at my most recent Way of the Shaman workshop, and there they were with their message. Specifics were not given, just that something was up and it needed my attention.
Still, I had to ask questions about what it was or at least what the next steps were. In a journey the answer I was given was simple and to the point: “forgetting”. Hmmm…thats an interesting task, how do I do that? Turns out the next video in my iTunes playlist was “The Water of Forgetting”, part of Stephne Jenkinsons Haiku series.
The video started by touching on alchemy, and the need for some alchemical fire to get transformations happening. Through his work I’ve come to understand death as one of lifes great alchemical moments, not just for the person dying, but for the community at large. Every members death in a community is a gift to the living, a potential deepening of the fabric that brings us all together and carries us as a people forward.
At first my gratitude wasn’t about him at all, it was about everything in my life now. I could finally feel my spirit wrapping around the joy of this place, my wife, our son, the fosterling we care for and everything our tiny homestead holds. It wasn’t until this trip home, when I was greeted by his portrait on the piano as I walked in the door, that I felt my soul’s gratitude for him.
This is just the beginning of the work the spirits are pointing to. It starts by letting go, by understanding that my work is not really all about me or even for me. Though they want me to move quickly, there can be no effort beyond the flow that is offered. Staying with gratitude should help, staying in the river.
According to Stephen its part of human nature to forget about the most important thing – how to be human. The river he referred to in his video to was the water of that original forgetting, the water that might swallow all memory of how to be human. Douglas was looking for those same waters, so he could just be, even for a moment.
My ability to relate to my fathers death, to take it deeper through my shamanic practice, to be touched and healed by his healing dream visits, has made it profoundly meaningful for me. Truly I think this is the first of my life’s rights of passages I’ve been able to show up for while it was happening.
I am so fortunate to be shown these truths in small trickles, to be nourished by good waters while life flourishes around me. I live neither in forgetting or remembrance, and thus I can move forward instead of nowhere or in circles.
May your waters bring you to life in new and glorious ways.