When Shirley entered my life I was in the middle of sorting the sesames from the poppies.  I was also given to ranting until I showed up on her doorstep after work one day and began ranting about something in the news before she even invited me in and she just stared at me and said, "You're scaring me!" That was my last verbal rant. My brain was working overtime.
The curriculum at the high school was failing the students the same way that my school had failed to educate me in 1969, and I found it increasingly frustrating to be a part of that by personifying the out-of-step teacher. Also there were several clocks ticking furiously: my biological clock (I was aware every time I climbed a mountain that my body was getting older.), the Doomsday Clock (the two super powers were constantly flirting with resorting to nuclear war exactly like two playground bullies egging each other on, and the idea of irreversible tipping points in the climate debacle was coming up.), and the Cosmic Clock (monitoring the approach of the great shift to the new millennium, which was all tied in with the Mayan calendar and the end of time as we know it). In sum, I was overdue to be reborn on multiple levels. Mine was, in many respects, a post-mature rebirth. There were plenty of signs that I needed to exit the orb that was confining me, or risk some kind of rupture or breakdown. When I met Shirley I was able to do that.
It is fascinating to me how small our A-frame became after my son went off to college and I met Shirley. But, not to lose the thread, or one particular thread, I underwent four surgeries related to hernias a couple years before I met Shirley (all four within a period of 18 months). The damage from my hernia surgeries (going on 16 years ago) was a very hot issue for me. Laparoscopy was never mentioned as an option by any of three physicians (one primary doctor and two surgeons specializing in hernias). There was a lot of nerve damage (denied by the surgeon, whose name I will withhold, who performed the deep repair that required cutting behind the first surgeon's botched repair of his own first effort) but, ironically, what both these surgeons achieved with all their cutting, suturing and patching was, they opened my second chakra. Ever since that spate of four surgeries, my second chakra has remained wide open. What I mean by that is, I can hold my pointer finger over the area just below my navel (where the dantian is located), and my finger (my whole hand) begins to turn clockwise as if caught in a vortex, which is what a chakra is - a vortex or wheel of energy (and to those who see it, light). So my hernias were both a curse and a blessing. (For the record, on my second vision quest, I was sitting under a tree and I had a vision of a stainless-steel surgical dish and a scalpel, just as real as life, resting right beside me between the roots, a harbinger of my life-altering surgeries.)
How this wounding / opening affected my first formal shamanic training, is something I still wonder about. When Shirley and I participated in a 3- to 4-year intensive training at Spirit Hollow (a non-profit program in Shaftsbury, Vermont, based on Michael Harner's work), shortly after we met, I had a terrible time journeying  into the lower world, and sometimes that inability to journey was devastating for me. It would plunge me into a dark mood; it felt like a double whammy to me, as if my wounding had become my whole world. In my inability to journey I felt damaged, isolated, exposed and perplexed, and I couldn't help but blame what my second chakra, fascia, nerves and muscles, indeed my heart, had been through. (I have since learned  how important it is to communicate with one's heart before entering into surgery to make sure it knows that the invasive procedure is for the good of the body and not a mortal attack. Once on board, the heart wastes no time re-calibrating its incredible resources to prepare the body to, in a sense, roll with the ordeal. Just as basic as signing a consent form, soliciting the consent of one's heart should be incorporated into standard pre-surgical care.)
Scrolling forward now, 13, 14 years to 2014, I started becoming aware of peripheral nerve damage in my feet and lower legs, that is, neuropathy. I do not believe there is any correlation between the numbness around my lower belly (due to surgically severed nerves) and neuropathy. This is my gut feeling, so to speak. Whatever is behind the neuropathy (chronic Lyme or something else entirely) has yet to be determined. Certainly these two health issues involve all the bodies  that I discussed earlier, and in retrospect, I regard them as teachers, tough teachers that are still teaching me important lessons about myself. Without this history, many things would never have happened: 1) I wouldn't have gone so deeply into Rumi's works, leading to my own foray into writing ecstatic poetry that became my way into an unexpectedly inspired Master's thesis. A year of reading Rumi's poetry almost exclusively (translated by Coleman Barks) helped me transition from the kind of poetry I had been writing (which I describe as a one-sided conversation) to a poetic that was not focused on the self (ego) as subject. Once I understood what Rumi and Barks were doing, I began to approach poetry more fluidly, not identifying with any one particular style or voice. 2) I wouldn't have stopped gardening, which meant a loss of summer income, but, on the positive side, cleared downtime for more writing and a more vigorous focus on my life-journey, pushing me to seek different kinds of healing. 3) I wouldn't have gone to Peru to work with ayahuasca, which / who opened me to the reality of spirits whom I now see as guardians who appear when we are at risk, something like indigenous angels. (When ayahuasca works with us it is not just the plant of that name but the vine and its ancient spirit, in fact two plants and spirits, one masculine and one feminine. The concoction we call ayahuasca is a thick, dark, bitter brew that combines the vine banisteriopsis caapi with the leaves of a bush, chacruna. Ayahuasca is also referred to as the vine of death.)
I don't think too many of us realize how many times we choose life over death in the course of a lifetime or suffer a serious setback only to rally and continue more committed to life than ever, albeit with a psychic (or physical) limp. It isn't always dramatic the way it is portrayed in movies and published accounts of near-death experiences. It isn't always conscious. We can be flirting with dying for years before we become aware of any alarming symptoms or any appearance of death. Von Franz: "Many people live involuntarily and have never made up their mind on whether they really want to live or die." So when they think they want to die, life knows better and throws them a bone. When I had the dream of the jackal running at me, twice in the same dream and attacking me the second time, I believe that was a representation of Thanatos.  Its appearance prompted me to journey to the rainforest.
Death, in its many thin disguises, is no stranger to us, thanks to its predictable casting in movies and popular fiction, but it also shows up in life, just as often as it does in dreams, in something as commonplace as roadkill. When my brother's daughter was dealing with a serious health crisis, he entered the shed behind their house to investigate a sound and, as he was about to enter, a buzzard flew out of the darkness, knocking him aside as it maneuvered through the vertical opening. These are the most obvious examples that come to mind, but here is a more subtle one: When I was in the middle of working with a local woman (who was dealing with cancer), I dreamed that I was looking for Shirley in a city street with lots of sales and vendors. Right before I came to the open entrance to a department store that looked like a likely spot to find her, there was another entrance that opened into a space where all these dark fabrics were hanging; some were like curtains. I started to enter, more out of curiosity than anything, when I caught sight of this hunched-over figure, presumably the vendor, lurking in the shadows who actually looked evil and not quite human but slightly decrepit in its gauntness, and insect-like! (At the same time I heard this unsettling clicking sound in the background.) I backed out, relieved that I felt no need to search for Shirley there. I woke with the thought that I had just seen an evil spirit and possibly the spirit of cancer itself. This kind of encounter is not that unusual for those engaged in shamanic work, so part of that work calls for knowing how to behave when one suspects the presence of an unhelpful or evil entity. You have to know how to protect yourself. Death is always close. It's not bad luck to draw attention to that, it's just a fact, and we should learn to be OK with that.
 For Black Elk's definitive description of these sacred rites, refer to Joseph Epes Brown's, Sacred Pipe: The Seven Sacred Rites of the Lakota Sioux.
 One of Psyche's tasks in the Greek myth, Eros and Psyche.
 For a description of shamanic journeying, see my Healing the Land with Tao, pp. 10-11.
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