Posts Tagged what should i do with my life
Sometimes, we have to let all caution go to the wind and experience life to the fullest. We may pay for it later, of course, but it just may be worth the pain. That’s what I decided on Sunday, at least, knowing that I would hurt like crazy today.
My father and I have wanted to climb South Sister for a while. For those of you who don’t know, there are three rather famous mountains close to Bend in Central Oregon: South, Middle and North Sister (we also have Mount Bachelor, and lesser peaks called Little Brother, The Wife and The Husband – cute, don’t you think?). South Sister is by far the most accessible (as evidenced by the many people climbing it Sunday).
Anyway, we tried last summer, but there was far too much snow. This year, we waited longer. It’s been warmer, anyway, and so the trail was clear. It isn’t a long hike in terms of miles – probably about 12 round trip, although the different maps we consulted varied quite a bit. However, it’s almost a five thousand foot climb, and the path is loose talus and cinders for a good part of the way. We knew there would be a lot of people, since it was Labor Day weekend, and there were, but it was a beautiful day with clear blue skies and perfect temperatures.
So far so good. We started a little after nine. We did the first climb up a ravine to a flat area, crossed that and started climbing again. Pretty soon, my father said he’d like a break. There’s a lovely shoulder with trees and a nice view, so we stopped for lunch. We agreed to keep going after that, but Dad was beginning to make noises that he didn’t think he could go much farther. Now, you have to know my father to know that it’s difficult to take him seriously when he starts complaining, even though he’s eighty-two. About fifteen years ago, he and I went on a seven day backpacking trip. The entire first day he complained constantly that he couldn’t take another step, that he would never make it, and we had to turn around (however, we couldn’t, because we had hired a car to drop us off in a remote spot and the driver was long gone), yet he did just fine and we made our entire hike a couple of days faster than we thought we would.
Anyway, this time I suggested we take it one step at a time and turn around when he wanted to. So we kept climbing and climbing. We scrambled up some talus. It was a little scary for him. To be honest, I wasn’t sure I could get back down, but I didn’t tell him that. We took another break and examined the GPS and the map, and decided we had climbed 3000 of the 5000 feet. I felt pretty good at that point, but I was worried about him by now. I thought maybe he had gone far enough. We started out again, anyway, but pretty soon he said he had had enough.
Now, I could have turned around with him, but the thought at the beginning of this post had been teasing at me, pulling at my shirt, all day. We couldn’t have been more than a mile and a half from the summit. I’ve lived in Central Oregon for a number of years, and I have never been to the top of this volcano, but I had always wanted to. None of my friends ever seemed to want to do this hike, and this might be my last chance. What was up there? The words just popped out of my mouth, that, if he didn’t mind waiting, I would go on up.
So I left him, knowing that he would be fine, up there on the side of the mountain, on such a nice day, with fantastic views all around. And I started climbing faster. I climbed and climbed. After a while, I realized that I really wasn’t in shape for this hike. I was going to be really sore. The last thousand feet or so are loose cinders, so it’s like walking on dry sand. It’s extra work. One part of my brain kept saying “turn around. Go keep your father from being alone up here, and save your legs.” Yet, I really wanted to know what I would find.
It’s glorious up there. It’s a huge crater, filled with a glacier, surrounded by a thin volcanic rim that has a trail on it. The 360° views are stunning.
When I came down, I discovered that my father had climbed another 800 feet. He stood by the trail, waiting for me, watching everyone come past. I was so sore, I could barely make it back to the car. He helped me over a few places where tree roots and rock meant I had to lift my feet higher than I could stand to do. The second day soreness has been pretty excruciating. But I will be fine and it was totally worth it. Sometimes, we have to let all caution go to the wind and experience life to the fullest.
I wonder how many of you have done exactly what my title says? Why? What do these other cultures have to teach us that we cannot learn from allopathic or Chinese (or even Ayurvedic) medicine, when it comes to health, or one of the major religions of the world when it comes to spirituality.
Today, I thought I’d share a little bit about some of the books I’ve read on the subject. I know a surprising number of people who have asked the questions in the first paragraph (see, for example, my friend Michael Drake’s Website on Shamanic Drumming). Some of them have left their former lives to follow a teacher, while others have spent most of their money taking courses. There must be something to these traditions to draw so many to them. One reason they are so appealing, I think, is that they do not separate physical and mental health from the spiritual. They incorporate centuries or millennia of wisdom, and a keen knowledge of the varieties of human experience. Another draw seems to be the way they rely upon primary experience, rather than knowledge gained from books and years of study. By that, I mean that they rely upon visions, upon honing the kinesthetic sense to the point that one can feel what is going on in one’s own or another’s body (see The Body has a Mind of its Own), and upon paying attention to the natural world.
But I am an outsider, because I don’t really feel compelled to study indigenous healing. I have only dabbled a little – a handful of sweat lodges, a few workshops, a few Shipibo ceremonies, and two soul retrievals. I’ve enjoyed all of these experiences (well, mostly, but that is another story), and gotten something out of them, but not enough to pursue them further. However, a couple of years ago I found myself reading about them to flesh out the shaman in my novel. And, well, I’ll admit, because I was curious. Here I want to highlight three writers who entertained me with their stories about their journeys into indigenous healing land.
I was seriously entranced by Kay Cordell Whitaker’s The Reluctant Shaman, so much so that I briefly considered trying to train with her. Then I came to my senses and realized that this is not my path. But I certainly followed up with her second book: Sacred Link. I love her story of being called to study with two shamans from Peru, and the lessons she learned about our Song and our Masks, and meeting the spirits of the water, wind, and so on. No matter what you might think about the truth of some of what happened to her, it’s hard to deny that we would all be better off if we learned what our masks are and also what gives us the greatest joy in life (for me, it’s writing). I subscribe to her blog, where she posts the sweetest advice about following our song, love, and caring for the earth.
Satsun, My Appreticeship with a Maya Healer, by Rosita Arvigo with Nadine Epstein, is also about learning from an indigenous healer. It’s knowledge that westerners might more easily relate to than Ms. Whitaker’s; although there are prayers and Spirits here, too, it focuses more on her experience learning about herbal medicine and Mayan Abdominal massage. Her story is almost the opposite of Kay Cordell Whittaker’s: instead of being chosen, and almost forced against her will to learn shamanism, she was eager to learn, but had to convince her teacher. Ms. Arvigo teaches workshops in the United States. Her book also talks a good bit about the Westernization of Belize, and the loss of many healing traditions. Ms. Arvigo convinced Don Elijio Panti to teach her, an outsider, because she wouldn’t give up, no one in his own community wanted to apprentice with him, and he wanted his tradition continued.
Taking a different, but also fascinating, path, Lewis Mehl-Madrona, M.D. details his journey through medical school and the world of residencies and clinical practice, and his growing disillusionment with some aspects of traditional western medicine in Coyote Medicine: Lessons from Native American Healing. While he was becoming an allopathic doctor, and doing residencies in a number of specialties, he was invited to a number of Native ceremonies. These led him to memories of his Cherokee grandmother, who was a healer, and into a different approach to life. Eventually, he began seeking out various indigenous healers to learn their ways and then to merge western and indigenous healing. Like Kay Cordell Whittaker, his tale is full of painful personal growth through mistakes and ego, from which he learned to be a better human being.
There are many more books to choose from, but I will stop with these three which particularly entranced me. As I write this, I realize that it was their mistakes and insights which particularly draw me to their stories. I’ve tried to get through a few how-to books on shamanism and never gotten very far. I don’t want to become an indigenous healer like my friends, just a better and happier human being. How about you?