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 spiritual (2)



Dear Drummers,

I am looking forward to drumming with you this Friday. I feel like I have been “away” for a long time because of recuperating from surgery to repair a detached retina. All seems to be well with my eye although as any of you know who have had to be patient while healing, it takes far longer than you wish.

So with one good eye and one terribly blurry eye, I have watched the presidential campaign sink into the expected malodorousness, and have wondered why we all – left to right, anarchist to wing nut –claim distaste at swimming in the sewer yet we all so happily jump in every election. I wonder how the mobs of wingnuts can love the eliminator of sin while hyukking it up at Limbaugh’s racist quips, and I wonder how the lefties can decry hate mongers while stretching truth as weirdly as possible to paint political opponents as wholly demonic.

Don’t get me wrong—I live firmly on the angry left; I believe the current administration is full of actual criminals and I believe the GOP was taken over 30 years ago by cynical strategists who understood that because so few people vote in America, all you need to do to snatch the presidency is to turn out everybody in a subset of the populace. They targeted radical evangelicals, people with only a passing understanding of Christianity, and it worked. Their tactic was to create division and righteous anger at “the other” and it worked as it has throughout history. In the world of Celtic shamanism, this strategy would be called an incredibly powerful glamoury- a spell that covers the ugly truth with a dazzling sheen. George Bush, compassionate Christian hero, is a triumphant glam.

I saw Bill Maher’s new movie Religulous yesterday – his rant against religion as dumb people believing in dumb fairy tales. I admired the movie but like all political strategists, Hollywood writers and pyromaniacs his goal is merely to set a fire, not explore the nuanced human condition. Nuance is virtually dead in our public sphere and this is the root of such vast soul loss. Nuance is the place of subtlety, of shade, or as the Celts would say, the “between places.” It is in the between places that, in religions’ dumb myths, we meet God. And this is what unites both Maher’s movie and those he ridicules, and what oddly aligns Maher with the Karl Roves of the political world: all stay away from the between places in order to “win.”

The “economic crisis” is yet another subject that begs for nuance and will not receive it. We revel in the failure because it offers us the glee of casting blame on greedy Wall Street gamblers and the corrupt Bushies who gave them the keys to our treasury. Or we snidely blame the democrats for changing laws that forced honest bankers to make risky loans. Or as our beloved Rep. Bachman appears to, we just directly blame the poor for audaciously wanting to own a house, to participate in the “real” America. Or we blame predatory lenders for tricking people into buying a $600,000 house in the suburbs. The most nuanced description of the economic crisis I have come across is in last Sunday’s New York Times. Click here for it.

In the world of nuance, there is not a war between the light and dark, truth and error, a war between reason and fairy tale, a war between religion and atheism. In the world of nuance there is a path between the hard mountain of literalism and the surging ocean of metaphor, between law and experience, between certainty and doubt. I believe if we are to call ourselves religious or spiritual, or conscious, or smart we devote ourselves to walking the whole path back and forth, to learn how to believe in something that beautifies our lives and to learn how to unbelieve when it is time to do so, so that we may learn how to believe the next deeper thing that we are capable of grasping, that brings deeper beauty.

The drum helps me walk this long path from ocean to mountain, back and forth, again and again. All of you help each other walk it when you choose to gather together around the drum rather than do something else. And that is why I miss the drum so much right now and why I miss all of you.

This Friday I look forward to exploring this path between ocean and mountain and back with you.


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,