I may think I am longing for success, or love. I may believe I am longing for acceptance, expansion or fulfillment. None of these longings are useless, vain or false. But these, too, are on the surface of life.
Below the surface lies a primal power that I fear terribly, and yet is the very core of my belonging to life: the power of uncertainty.
The Irish philosopher poet John O'Donohue says, "Real power has nothing to do with force, control, status or money. Real power is the consistent courage to be at ease with the unsolved and the unfinished." (Eternal Echoes, 195). Our truest fear and our truest longing are both centered on the power of uncertainty.
Celtic shamanism teacher, Tom Cowan, says, "Disasters lead us back to that primordial consciousness out of which shamanism emerged, that consciousness of being small before a grand and frightening Universe…" (Read his lovely current piece on despair at Society for Shamanic Practice.)
And here is the hardest thing for me to grasp, yet I truly can glimpse it if I allow myself to: Even my current despair is on the surface of life. Below the despair is what O'Donohue calls "the signature of the divine."
It is common in meditation and ritual to advise me to send an imaginary root out from me, deep into the earth for "grounding." This is a very good practice that can provide a channel for anxiety to flow out of the body and into Mother Earth, who is more than willing to help us. But this grounding, too, as helpful as it is, remains part of the surface of life.
The taproot of the soul goes not into the earth, but through the earth, beyond the surface of life and into the eternal sea of divine uncertainty.
We are culturally trained to strive for bigness and independence. Our "cowboy culture" has embedded an aspirational story into us of independence from, and control over, the powers of nature. My money and machines will keep me safe. Even in my personal world of mysticism, shamanism and New Age woo-wooism, we tell each other that our core identity is as radiant as the sun itself, and that we are as big as Spirit.
But the virus has has brought us into our human smallness and vulnerability. If we allow ourselves to fully enter this smallness, it can – can, if we let it – open in us the immensity of the present moment, which is the divine sea, which is always "unsolved and unfinished" or, rather "always becoming." Our thoughts and actions dedicated to the surface of life are almost entirely about the future and the past. But now, we have been given the terrible gift of the mirror of our smallness, and we are filled with the irritation that comes from the rubbing that polishes the mirror. The signature of the divine is found in our vulnerability.
Practice 1: Classically called "the lament prayer," this is a prayer that expresses powerlessness. (More on lament here.) We want to be good people, so we say "I'm doing okay, and I'm so much luckier than…" (fill in the blank.) Gratitude is nice, but it can also bypass the divine discomfort of the rubbing that polishes the mirror. As Scott Berinato lays out so well in a recent article on grief, one uncomfortable but valuable practice you can do is feel what you feel, honestly. Set a timer for five minutes, remind yourself that all feelings are temporary, let yourself feel whatever rises, and name each one. The fear that you'll be consumed by these feelings is just one of the feelings that is temporary. Then go outside and "ground yourself." Give it all to the Great Mother, who is a happy to digest these energies and compost them into food. Thank her for this gift of healing.
Practice 2: Make prayers for the surface of life: protection, healing, and the restoration (or new creation) of normal, prayers of gratitude. Prayers summon beauty, and beauty is the antidote to despair.
Practice 3: Imagine your soul's taproot plunging down into the earth, and then beyond all surfaces, and into the eternal –however "the eternal" may appear to you. Draw power up that root and into all the layers of your body: the physical, energetic, and luminous layers. Do this for a few minutes after your lament prayer, and I hope it will help in polishing the mirror.
Stay calm. Love One another.
Jaime Meyer is president of the Board of Society for Shamanic Practice and a full-time shamanic practitioner in Minneapolis-St. Paul. Check out his upcoming online class on Shamanic Prayer.