Interviews and Book


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Entries in Spirit (3)


Dear Drummers,

We don’t have a drum until January 11, but I thought I’d send you a new year’s wish. I hope my email finds you in good health and good spirits. As the sun begins its slow climb back into re-activating the land, this is a good time to contemplate our path, our directions, and our actions in the world.

I read recently that Rumi, the magnificent 13th century Sufi saint, once said that you should make a list of the three things you most want in your life. If any of the three conflict with one another, you’ll have a lot of trouble. This is a wonderful meditation for the New Year. For me it seems so much friendlier than “resolutions” which carry the fragrance of sin, and the heaviness of lawmaking.

So you may ask yourself what are the three things – or perhaps three “energies” – you most want to become active in your daily life as the year makes it way out of this round of darkness. Or you may want to pray for help or strength to bring these three things into your life without conflicting with one another.

For me, I’d like to pray more. I’d like to invite the energy of prayer into my life. I’d like to pray in a classic way, on the knees, in the dark, with words, no drum and no joiking; pray for help and strength for that which is most tender and vulnerable for me in particular.

Last night I prayed for the three things I want most in my life:

  • For my wife and kids to be healthy and curious;
  • For me to not become restless within the small container of my life but to have the courage to uncover the depth and beauty inside this container;
  • For me to wisely expand my skills and abilities as some kind of conduit for Spirit for our drumming community.

William Stafford (1914-1993), wrote a wonderful meditative poem called Ask Me. I pass it on to you, along with my best wishes for a wonder-filled new year.

Some time when the river is ice ask me
mistakes I have made. Ask me whether
what I have done is my life. Others
have come in their slow way into
my thought, and some have tried to help
or to hurt: ask me what difference
their strongest love or hate has made.

I will listen to what you say.
You and I can turn and look
at the silent river and wait. We
knowthe current is there, hidden; and there
are comings and goings from miles away
that hold the stillness exactly before us.
What the river says, that is what I say.

See you all soon,



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,



Dear Drummers,

I’ve mentioned before in my email missives that our drum groups provide me an incredible opportunity to put my theology into practice, because each time a drum approaches, the pressure builds on me to try come up with something brilliant to say and some kind of awesome ceremony to conduct. Of course, whenever I try to be brilliant, nothing happens. And the pressure builds, and I try harder to think of something profound and soon this dull hum begins to rumble just behind my mind’s eye, and before long, I am making those puffing, squeaking rodent sounds of a man who has lifted the veil of pretence and seen himself as he truly is: witless, ugly and worthless to the world. And so, in panic, I go to my library or the internet to find a poem or story, or I go to my behemoth of a book that I’ve been writing for two years, and I try to find something – anything that will look like a spark of spiritual radiance to offer you. And nothing happens. Because I am empty Tupperware, with that slight odor of old food.

So I am faced with three choices. 1) Stay home and sulk on Friday. 2) Do nothing and trust the Spirit—which all of you carry with you from various corners of the Twin Cities as you make your way to the drum—trust that the spirit will bring what it wants to happen, through all of you. 3) Go to nature, become open and ask for guidance.

Today I chose #3. I write this from upstate New York, and today was blessed to go on a long hike through Watkins Glen Gorge, a truly amazing staircase of waterfalls and foaming water cutting its way for 10,000 years down through 400 feet of shale and sandstone to create a primeval, wet, mossy gorge two miles long. I entered the gorge distracted and depressed but after only a few steps I began to feel that crushing presence of failure begin to crack and splinter, and after awhile those clay shards flaked off and fell into the water, where they dissolved and were carried away.

Here is what the earth taught me to see today. We are like this land: layer after layer of time pressed together – each day, each month and year overlaying one another, each love and anger and envy pressing down on one another, shaping our inner landscape. And we often feel trapped inside the crush of layers, and we spend our energy trying to scratch our way out, and we are immobilized. But is there not in us somewhere this very water of spirit cutting its way through all of the old wounds and all of the old pretences and failures, and prides and sins, and past loves and dashed hopes and shattered illusions? From down here, near the rushing waters of Spirit, those many-layered canyon walls gleam wet with dappled sunshine and new life sprouts from the fissures. It is here where that “now-moment” lives in us, that moment that mystics and sages have told us about for eons, the place of the Presence, the Shaper and Transformer, the Watery One who says you are new and new again each day, who says give me your old clay and I will carry it away.

The drum—the spirit in the drum—comes to extract us from between these layers, and take us to that place where the waters of spirit are continually at work on us, making us Gorgeous.

This Friday we will thank this Spirit. If you’d like to bring an offering to this Spirit—something biodegradable—please feel free. Compost, dirt, water, flowers, herbs, tobacco, flour, cornmeal, whiskey, milk, poetry, song, whatever. If you want to make this offering carry a prayer of something you’d like the Water of Sprit to carry away, please feel free.

See you soon.