Interviews and Book


"Your book is stunning, Jaime. Thoughful, insightful, practical and poetic at the same time, honest, brave, and, unlike any other book on shamanism, laugh out loud funny! Thank you!"  -Jeanne

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Entries in shamanism (2)


Becomming Preposterous

January 11, 2008

Dear Drummers,

I love the word preposterous. The words absurd and ridiculous always float through my head, especially in reference to myself. Ridiculous means to cause laughter. Absurd means to be out of tune, or to not be with those who are playing the prescribed chord structure or melody. Both imply moving into a place considered by the rule-setters as uncouth or ill mannered. Both words imply entrance into the non-rational.

But preposterous carries the day. Pre / posterior. To have what is behind come first, or to lead with your ass. I’m reminded of a story someone told me that may or may not be true, which does not really matter, I suppose: Sitting Bull, the great leader, sitting in a very important meeting of elders, gets up, leaves the tipi, comes back ass first with his pants down and parades around the circle, then leaves again, then re-enters again, the dignified leader we love to imagine. Imagine how the world would be different if the Pope or Billy Graham did that or even if there was merely a story floating around that they did.

These words absurd, ridiculous, preposterous float in my head every time I begin my prayers and meditations about what I am called to do in our next drumming gathering. I suspect these words float in your head too, as you enter into your own dreaming, drumming prayers. These are powerful words that feed powerful feelings that, as you move along this (or any) spiritual path, become your companions. When you take on a spiritual path, you invite the feelings of being ridiculous, absurd and preposterous to walk with you the whole way, singing bawdy songs and smacking their lips as they eat, making rude gestures to everyone that you pass by. I’m saying this because I assume that you too are accompanied by similar companions. Good God, I hope you are, or it’s only me, and I don’t want to think about that.

These companions get rowdier for me as Drum Friday approaches. Thankfully, over the years the voices of these companions have led me to another word: Sacred, which at its essence, means to be set apart. All sacred activity takes place in a setting that is set apart from the daily world, in other words, the absurd, the place out of tune with the dominant melody. All sacred work draws a circle around the worshipers – with a wand, a rattle, with words or chants, or with stone architecture like a cathedral – to separate the worshipers from the dominant melody for a time, to take them into a different melodic structure and then return them, refreshed, re-made, renewed, again to the world.

Humans need to go to this other world, this absurd place, this place with a different music, and we need to go there regularly, or we become the opposite of Holy, which means Whole. To be whole, to be in balance with the holy, is to enter into the absurd on a regular basis and to discover its alternative melody, and to walk with these uncouth companions on our way. These companions, these words, are your allies, not your enemies.

Well, this brings me around to what I wanted to say at the very beginning, that if there is one reason for our drumming, it is to re-balance. We go to the other world not to escape this world, and not even to find a more beautiful place to be than this world, but to learn more kinds of music that can change the way we play in this world, change how we play, how we compose our personal melody, and who we play with. We drum so that we may live in more wholeness in this world. Balance and Wholeness will be our theme for Friday.

I’m looking forward making absurd music with you. I leave you with one of my favorite poems form the Hindu-Muslim-mystic poets, the 13th Century Kabir:

Between the conscious and the unconscious,
Between waking and dreaming,
Between this world and the other world,
the mind has put up
a swing:all earth creatures, even the supernovas, sway between these two trees,and it never winds down.
Angels, animals, humans, insects by the million, also the wheeling sun and moon;ages go by, and it goes on
Everything is swinging: heaven, earth, water, fire,and the secret one slowly growing a body.If you see that for just fifteen seconds, it makes you a servant
for life.
-- Kaibr, India, 1398-1518.[1]

The two paintings posted are by Mark Rothko.

[1] Tr. Robert Bly, The Kabir Book, (Beacon Press 1993)
I have altered the poem in two ways. First, I added the lines “Between waking and dreaming,
Between this world and the other world.” I wanted to open the ideas from being purely psychological. Since I deliver this poem orally, and usually with a drum playing under, I like to establish a swinging feel and these slightly repetitious lines help to do that. Second, I altered the last line from “Kabir saw that for fifteen seconds, and it made him a servant for life.” I think Kabir would be okay with this, changing it from the descriptive (“I saw this and aren’t I amazing?) to prescriptive (“If you do this, you could be amazed.”)


Dear Drummers,

Whenever I look at my two boys, I think about dying. After the lights are out and everyone is asleep in the house, I sneak upstairs to my 8 year-olds room and watch him sleep. I’m filled with wonder at the unnamable, ungraspable life force moving in him, shaping him from within, this “Secret One slowly growing a body” as the Hindu poet Jabir once wrote. I can’t help thinking though that someday this boy will have to go to sleep without a father. I often wonder if he’ll take up either of my ceremonial drums or if he’ll hang them on a wall (which I consider a sin) or, like my brother did with our father’s watch and dog tags and turquoise rings build a glass case and display them with his 14 guns, a mausoleum devoted to Yang.

I move downstairs to the three year-olds room and gaze at him sleeping with his mouth open and limbs splayed out in three directions, totally safe and open to the world. I wonder if I will die before the point in his life that that he has memories of me. I wonder if he will take my prayer rug, the rug that all of our ceremonies are conducted on; a rug so full of what the Mayans call Its (remnants of spiritual effluvium) that I think maybe it should not be left in this world when I am gone.

The habit of sneaking in to watch my kids sleep and meditate on my death began when my first son was a week old. I watched him in his darkened crib, a stunned and dizzy new father, repeating to myself again and again, “Don’t touch him...he’ll wake up…you’ll be sorry…up all night like last night…don’t…don’t!” And of course I do. I reach out and take his tiny hand in mine. I hold it and close my eyes and then I feel someone taking my other hand. It is my father, and his other hand is held by his father, and I see a line of men holding hands, generation after generation, passing this bluish glow from hand to hand and into my infant son. And I see that I am not really what matters, the glow matters.

I think constantly about the unfathomable mystery of how we pass through this world, from darkness to darkness (although we really don’t know about that) from sleep to sleep (again, who knows for sure?) carrying the glow through this place we call Earth, how we nurture that glow or how we wound it and twist it. But ultimately, the glow is untouched by us somewhow and yet in some mysterious way it learns through us, or experiences through us, blesses and forgives us and heals us. I think about how if we are lucky and if we are courageous, and can get out of its way, we let it speak through us, and sing and move and love this world through our actions. And I think about John Muir’s lovely words--when we truly look at the world we see that everything is connected by luminous strands—glow connected to glow in every direction, and it all passes, all passes away, and is replaced.

I’m not morbid; it’s just that every night and every morning I think about dying.

So I don’t really need autumn to remind me to meditate on the great mystery of passing in and out of this world. But here we are, surrounded by the riled grey skies and exfoliating air reaching down to pluck the last breath of green from the lavender, that tease of first snow behind every gust. So here we are, in autumn, and we cannot help but meditate on the passing of all things, including ourselves.

The Japanese poet Kiko (d. 1894) says:
That which blossoms
falls, the way of all flesh
In this world of flowers.

And Minamoto-no-Shitago (d. 983) summarizes my life in a few words:

This world-
To what may I liken it?
To autumn fields
Lit dimly in the dusk
By lightning flashes

What the shamanist in me loves about autumn is the knowledge that we need regular exfoliation (losing of the leaves or bark, or more mythically, cleansing of the ever-streaked and pitted surface to allow new life to emerge). One of my favorite shamanist phrases: what happens in nature happens in us.

So as we gather this Friday we will call on our electrical potential to generate a few lightning flashes over our autumn fields using our drums as conductors. We will follow the words of another Japanese poet, Hamon (d. 1804):

In stillness I,
Light-bodied, set out for
the otherworld

See you on Friday,