WE ARE A BODY DIVIDED. Our recent election was the collective dream of a body divided into red states vs blue states, cities vs rural areas, whites vs people of color, and lower income vs. upper income peoples. With each line we draw, we dis-member ourselves. With each line we draw, we fall deeper into the nightmare.
We are body divided, dreaming. Smashed and shattered, cut off at the roots and paved over, the debasement of all things common—people, land, and spirit—has been realized through a ruthless campaign of divide and conquer waged over the course of millennia. The indigenous worldview, including the ancient earth religions of Europe, has been subjected to persecution and vilification since the earliest days of Empire.
In the name of conquest and religion (now the religion of the economy), sacred groves are cut down, commoners dispossessed of home and land, and large numbers of the world’s population sold into slavery–now to labor in sweatshops, fast food restaurants, and prisons. Long ago, the sacred wells of popular religion were seized, filled with stone, and covered over by churches. Now we are bribed or coerced to empty our aquifers and yield our lands for fracking to pay tribute to the God of the Economy.
We are body divided, dreaming the dream of the colonizers. Our colonization is so complete that we gladly carry on the work of division and conquest among ourselves, fighting for the scraps from the master’s table. In our pretense to specialness, in our disdain for things common, we have come to celebrate our separation from our roots in soil and soul, and so we are easily knocked over.
Integrity is the basis of all life. Unconsciously, collectively, we speak the truth. What we call reality—this nightmare—speaks truth not through our words, which are increasingly divorced from reality, but through the symbolic language of our times.
Cancer cells and prison cells proliferate, artificial light spills into night skies, oil darkens the waterways, children cut, drug, bully, and shoot themselves, the earth warms. Yet still we adapt, still we forget, still we fail to awaken.
Some fifteen years ago, I had a big dream. Long before I heard of shamanism, long before I began donning a headset to ride a drumbeat into the unseen world of spirit, I had a nightmare that deposited me on the banks of a river flowing with blood. I called this bloody river the River of Life. I sat on its banks, arms crossed, resolute. No way in hell was I getting in there.
The sky was dark, with occasional flashes of lightning. Smoke filled the air, as if a war were in progress, and the scene was filled with the unending sounds of screaming. As I took in the view, I realized that there were people, thousands upon thousands of people, on fire, hurtling down towards the River of Life. They were the ones screaming. The river, too, was full of people. They weren’t screaming, but were splashing about in various states of disrepair, floating downstream with the flow of the river.
There was yet another group of people in the dream, and these were flying up and out of the river, drenched with blood, but with wings extended, singing. They looked as if they were angels in a messy sort of way. They were still clearly people, though, scarred, imperfect, and bloodied, but singing and flying nonetheless. In some ways, it was this last group, these people being born anew from the River of Life that disturbed me most. “I don’t like how this is set up,” I muttered to myself, shaking my head, arms crossed in front of my chest.
Nowhere in the scene did I see anyone who was exempt from the suffering of life. You might envy my tidy spot on the banks of the river, the only one seemingly uninvolved in this horrific scene of suffering and redemption. But really, is there such a thing as a safe seat in life? I felt removed, detached from the drama that I witnessed, but the price I paid for this detachment was separation from life and from living. I experienced myself as completely alone, cut off, and separate. Still, it seemed preferable to being immersed in that mess—the messy, painful nightmare we call life.
At the time, this was my actual state of being in the world. I was what you might call a hungry ghost, a shadow of a person, sitting on the banks of life, judging it all from the sidelines. While I was sitting on the riverbank, feeling as though I had escaped from the horrific scene before me, I was, in fact, in Hell.
Being on fire looked terrible to me, the screams of pain rang in my ears, but for those on fire and screaming, it was soon over. For me, it went on and on. When the initiates of life were plunged into the river, the fire of suffering stopped and the screaming ceased. When they hit that bloody river, they found plenty of company there, a rag tag community of people. For all I know, they all had inner tubes and beer in a floating cooler. Together, they were moving forward, evolving as souls with the flow of life.
Me? I was stuck and all alone in my fictitious safety, focused almost entirely on the suffering I witnessed. I wasn’t learning to use my wings or my voice in the world, and I damn sure wasn’t having any fun.
Our minds will do anything, anything, but accept the pain. However, experiencing pain is a necessary step in learning to let the pain and the story of the pain pass by, like water in a river. We have a choice: resist the pain, in a word, suffer—or let it go. Hell is jumping out of the River of Life, holding on to what was, separating from the flow. We each get to make this choice and we get to keep it—for years or for lifetimes, even. Whatever it takes.
We are left free to choose the fixity of Hell, scrambling onto the banks of the River of Life for safety, or to rejoin the boisterous flow of life with forgiveness. To forgive means simply to forgo judgment. You have to be crazy to do it, out of your head, out of your stories, and out of your blame to forgive the pain and rejoin that dangerous, bloody, delicious, liberating flow of reality.
For a decade, I sat it out, arms crossed, shaking my fist at life. Determined to fight the nightmare, sure that I knew better than Reality, I waged a one-woman holy war against the painful vulnerability of living. And I lost. Thank goodness, I lost.