This is the 13th of bi-weekly installments of Lindorff's memoir, "Finding Myself in Time: Facing the Music", to be continued until the book is released in March.
(Note: There are 6 footnotes in this installment.)
You can ask people who aren't anywhere on the spectrum of knowing themselves, who aren't centered or initiated, who are unstable, hurting, spiritually impoverished, all of which I have been at one time or another ... You can ask them to do anything: to fight or support a war (any war), to frack, to accept someone else's opinion of their worth without an argument, to lay waste to their own land, to enter into life-long debt in support of some vacuous dream, to turn people who are escaping poverty and oppression back from their borders, and they will oblige because their lives are bordering on meaningless, so what's to lose? They are not building their lives around meaning, only subsistence, whereas people whose lives make sense to them and who wake with purpose can weather all kinds of adversity because they are on a path. Their experience is fundamentally positive because it is their experience.
We are living in a time when a good job isn't just a good-paying job with benefits. It is a job that is good for our souls, good for our individuating self, a job that holds up under ethical and moral scrutiny as opposed to a job that only serves the goals of the institution, business or corporation. There aren't too many jobs out there that meet those criteria. McKibben, in a recent article for Sojourner, is saying we are quickly learning how to make cities "work" but only for those with money. In the late '70s and early '80s, when crime was high and cities were struggling and dirty, the homeless were able to cobble together a living because the whole standard of living was lower. Things were cheaper. There was more waste across the board, more food in the dumpster! There were lots of pilot programs for the poor. It wasn't socialism, it was humanism, it was the inception of social-consciousness. Who would have thought that forty years in the future those days would actually look good!
The United States still pretends that it stands for a ground-up work ethic based on the Calvinistic principle that all work is good and keeping busy is good, whether it is cleaning bathrooms or teaching, or selling sh*t. But work, labor, in and of itself, or most kinds of work, have become meaningless to more and more people. It's like food. Some food is good for you and some doesn't deserve to be called food. I have watched a soulful weariness spread over the land during my lifetime, along with a growing sense of betrayal of basic trust in our so-called democracy, with its fake religiosity.
Let me rephrase that: The biggest problem working-class Americans face today is that the government can't be trusted to represent their interests. Increasing numbers of people are feeling the way my brother and I felt in the '60s -- deceived and used. Everyone knows the government serves its own interests first (defense, and the economy, flip sides of the same coin) but it has just been so seductive to let things go on and on at the highest level, feeling righteous if the ones in power that we didn't vote for mess up, and fatalistic and apathetically cynical if the ones we did vote for mess up, but feeling oddly and sheepishly grateful every day the whole thing doesn't blow up in our faces or collapse.
Why does the government get a blank check? Maybe it all boils down to living in an uninitiated society. (By initiated I don't mean initiation into a secret or exclusive society, or club, like Wall Street or Congress or the Catholic Church or The Military, I mean initiation into the stages of life, leading to wisdom and enlightened elderhood.) If only a very small percentage of the population is initiated, then nobody expects much from anyone else: all the moral and ethical and creative standards are set at a very low bar. When someone in a place of authority does something half-assed, people shrug and say, "I could have done that". This attitude of we're all in the same leaky, rotten boat together is very American and it is behind the long-running popularity of The Simpsons. I remember my sister saying (about fifteen years ago) that I should check it out. She told me Homer was a nuclear-plant operator with only a high school education. What was so funny about that was, it was realistic. In the very first episode I watched him fall asleep in the control room with his feet up. His foot hits a switch that signals code-red. The government is still the super-parent to the half-adult or child-citizen. As long as we allow this dysfunction to continue we are all to some degree Homer and Marge Simpsons.
Within that kind of relationship it feels normal to charge the government with keeping the bad people out. The Cold War whipped up the perfect excuse for the government to keep the military strong after WW 2, to build up nuclear and conventional arsenals and research horrific weapons, all in the name of defending the homeland, bastion of our pseudo-democratic values, from creeping Communism. (During the late '50s, early '60s, there was a real fear that there were Russians disembarking from submarines and walking among us. They were always depicted as dressed in black. That paranoia really worked for the maniacs running the government, the ones who gave us Nike missile batteries up and down the east coast.) After 9-11, just when Russia was becoming less of a threat, there was a brand new excuse to ramp up the war-machine, conspiracy theories aside. No more Cold War necessary; now it was the War On Terror. Since then there has been a lot of violence attributed to terror, in the homeland, but it's domestic terror; the enemy is our own armed and loaded dysfunctionals, our own angry, bitter, uninitiated Simpsons who have lost their sense of purpose.
If we were more integrated within ourselves, we would just naturally create communities that are more wholesome and gradually that would be reflected in our public institutions.
Right now the government thinks that its citizens will tolerate anything if they feel protected from foreign attack, and they aren't far from wrong. But the government knows how fragile its hold on power is. It's amazing how much of our money we passively fork over to the government in taxes for defense. (Sixteen percent of our taxes, but over 50% of discretionary spending, goes to the military.) And it knows that sacrifice, that yellowing contract, will only continue as long as we feel safe within our boundaries (the "homeland"). As that illusion of security erodes so does the government's credibility. (In 1945, the Japanese were launching balloon bombs at the US. The government clamped down on reportage about these wind-driven bombs because they feared that the public would panic. On May 5, 1945, one of these balloon bombs killed 6, mostly kids, who were on a picnic in Oregon, the only WW 2 combat casualties in the United States. As a terror tactic, the balloon bombs were extremely effective because nobody can control the wind, but using it to deliver bombs to an enemy was evil genius. If there had been more successful balloon-bomb explosions the government could have had an insurrection on its hands.)
For a period of about 50 years (roughly 1950 to 2000) the government succeeded in convincing the public that it, the public, was helpless and needed protection. (Never mind that schools were grossly underfunded and understaffed across the country, health-care costs were skyrocketing, bridges were failing, and gun laws were 150 years behind the times.) All this time government was consolidating power and protecting its own interests. (Some of those interests were top secret.) People with money were the only ones who could afford to run for office, so the government was essentially a wealthy men's club. People in power, no matter how clueless they were in conducting their personal lives, were smart about some things; they knew that people who aren't in power will agree to live far below their potential in exchange for guaranteed security and that meant physical, nuts-and-bolts security: life and home insurance, ready access to guns, access to emergency rations of food and water, emergency housing just in case of X (nuclear war / violent revolution of extremists (domestic terrorists) /asteroid hit /killer pandemic /alien invasion /collapse of the Internet / collapse of the global economy = X), and, until the anticipated but undefinable and unpredictable apocalypse happens, job security, and some money in the bank. Little by little, the edge of insecurity had been creeping closer to this ideal of a minimally-secure-existence in a primarily white-dominant society (the real American Dream), because it was gradually dawning on the people who thought they were the chosen, or the favored, that their American Dream was morally unsustainable. For the last twenty years the core of people who can articulate what they are so manically defending, against X, has dwindled to a mostly Caucasian, ultra-conservative, delusional wealthy class and a mostly Caucasian, semi-educated working-class minority (strange allies -- rabid capitalist patriots and small-minded white-nationalists). The old generic fallback, the failsafe maxim upon which two generations of elected officials and leaders have staked their careers, was: In exchange for guaranteed protection from X, the average person is willing to surrender control over their fate. (This speaks to our having more in common with our Russian counterparts than we might be willing to admit.) Combine our long-standing contractual surrender of control with a growing lack of trust in the ability of the government to provide protection and the fabric of society unravels. This is what has been happening for the last twenty years. (The George Bush / Cheney administration's decision to make war on Iraq, which, as many of us vividly recall, had nothing to do with the 9/11 attack, was a bizarre admission of helplessness!)
The government is out of touch with the average person (or just about everyone) to an almost absurd degree. It masks its ineptitude with a kind of vacuous consolidation of its uber-intelligence (informed by the NSA, National Security Agency, with a classified estimated annual budget of 10 billion dollars) that drives the state on its own terms and seems to be motivated by an agenda that leaves all outsiders feeling expendable and frustrated and watched over. It is in huge trouble because people are not going to initiate any time soon; they are just going to get angry.
Now for my own dysfunction. If what I am suggesting is true, and the most powerful agent of change is our anger, since we can't expect any meaningful change to come from an initiated revolution of consciousness, the question is, how do we channel our justifiable anger? Or how do we give it meaningful work to do? I feel I have done that through years of Jungian shadow work and shamanic work and developing a poetic voice that incorporates anger effectively. If I hadn't managed to ground and channel my anger, it would have ripped me apart years ago.
When I met Shirley 15 years ago, I was on the verge of quitting my job as Special Ed aide at a local high school, ending a 16-year stint of working in Special Education (two schools, two very different communities). Some shamanic seeds had already been planted by readings and workshops and certain watershed experiences that had begun to rewire me in the second half of the '90s going into the 21st century. When Shirley met me I was in the midst of writing two manuscripts at the same time, both addressing my straddling two Weltanschauungs: Sacred Turtle From Outer Space and Waltzing Ravens. The first was a narrative structured around a dream-cycle and an incident at the Fairbanks Museum in St. Johnsbury, Vermont (located in the Northeast Kingdom), involving the deliberate destruction of a sacred bison-skeleton exhibit, on loan from the Lakota tribe. (Every square centimeter of this skeleton was incised with symbols of the "seven sacred rites" of the Lakota people - the Sioux.) Parallel to this tragic desecration I had a dream of encountering a prehistoric bison in the Vermont woods. This and several other big dreams of this cycle served to energize and sustain a series of dreams that ended with one in which I found myself jogging around my childhood home carrying an ancient bear skull. The other manuscript dealt more directly with 9/11. Folded into this writing is an account of a trip that my father and I made to the 9/11 site (Ground Zero) on December 11. Both of these works were serious attempts to articulate my transit between the Jungian and shamanic Weltanschauungs and to the new century.
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.
 See Stephen Buhner's Secret Teachings of the Plants, second chapter.
 The four bodies are: energetic or subtle, karmic, dream, and emotional bodies.
 In Greek mythology, the personification of Death.
Gary Lindorff is a poet, writer, blogger and author of several books, the latest: 13 Seeds: Health, Karma and Initiation. Over the last few years he has begun calling himself an activist poet, channeling his activism through poetic voice. He also writes with other voices in other poetic styles: ecstatic, experimental and performance.
He is a practicing Transformational Counselor (with a strong, seasoned Jungian background) and a shamanic practitioner. His shamanic work is continually deepening his partnership with the land. This work can assume many forms, solo and communal, among them: prayer, vision questing, ritual sweating, and sharing stories by the fire.