Last weekend I attended an interesting event. A talk on Friday and a one-to-one session on divination on Sunday, given by a Sangoma (Shaman) John Lockley from South Africa. This is his website: www.african-shaman.com
During the talk, John told us about himself and his path to becoming a sangoma. He had prophetic dreams about it since his early years. But being a white boy unconnected to the Xhosa or Zulu culture in any way, he didn’t know the meaning of them, or what to do about it. Only after several years of search and having suffered a series of illnesses, he came to the Teacher, who was already aware of him. She in turn had a dream, in which she was told to be prepared to train someone from a different culture to become a sangoma. And when John came to see her, she knew it was him.
In Africa they call it thwasa – the illness, which afflicts people who are to become healers, in order to force them on their spiritual path. I can think of at least couple of other examples in other cultures, where individuals reach their enlightened self only having gone through some nearly fatal experiences.
Those kind of stories, along with a few examples of great artists ending up in a mental house, as we figured out on Sunday divination session, created a mental block, which prevents me from committing myself fully to art, to spirituality and to life.
John could see suffering and struggle in my aura, and asked me what that struggle was. I did not know, although I agree, that I am very unsettled last several months. My life is ideal, really, apart from minor comfort issues. Yet, in my head, a continuous mental arguments go on and on. About life, and death, and guilt of not doing enough and not being enough… And the bliss of being dissolved in the Everything, which will come after death.
On the talk, I asked him about death, what his perception of it was. He said, that he was afraid of the death, he is a human. But his feeling is different of that which people of Western cultures would have. As far as I understand, there is a fear, but there is an acceptance. More of an acceptance and less of horror, maybe?.. It is difficult to explain without repeating word for word the whole conversation… However, to my words, that I was looking forward to death in a way, his response was, that it seemed, my challenge was to live. To the full. That it was easier for me to die than to live…
I thought about it afterwords, and yes, it’s been sometime since I am aware, that I am not committing to something. But what is it I am chickening out, I can’t quite put my finger on.
On Sunday, John said that he is going to meditate and make himself available. That’s the part of the session, where he attempts to contact the ancestors. I closed my eyes and waited. Nothing happen. None of my ancestors came to claim me. I imagined they sitting in an ante-room, some bored, some chatting, some just busy doing nothing. A receptionist at the communication device speaks up:
– Hey, there is this request here. Anyone has to say anything?
Murmur… Looking at each other,
– Nothing to say. She’ll figure it out for herself.
– Yeah! Ha-ha. Eventually… Good one…
– Okay. No reply.
In the room where the session takes place, it is very hot. My cheeks are starting to burn.
I can hear some rustling and open my eyes. John looks at me and offers to take a sit on the cushion on the floor.
– I’ll throw the bones now, okay?
We sit down opposite each other. Between us he spreads a goat’s skin. Sprinkles some herbs, saying spells in a clicking language. Takes a sack made of a goat’s skin with the things inside, says something onto it and blows. Then it is my turn to hold my hands out, supporting the sack and blow on it three times. Then he shakes the sack, and letting the neck of it loose, throws the things out of it and on to the skin on the floor…
Somewhere in my mind I trail back to when I am 4 or 5, living with my grandparents and an uncle in the countryside in Central Asia. Fortune-telling, was it? Or divination? Something of that sort was a natural part of life. Grandma and I visiting other houses, where women in 2 or 3 would spread the cards, or throw the bones. It never happened in our house though. Why?.. Oh, that would have been because the grandfather wouldn’t allow any religious or otherwise witchcraft in the house of a devoted communist. Sure.
The Things tumble out of the sack, my eyes try to follow them all at once. Some bright Things one wants to touch, some unexpected Things, like a pair of dominoes tied with an elastic ring, some undefinable Things like…
– What is this? – I ask, taking a piece and turning it around.
– Try not to touch it!
– Oh, sorry…
– It is a goat’s hoof.
He looks at the pattern the Things created on the white-haired skin.
– You are an artist.
– Yes, – I say not knowing weather he knew from Ann, or deducted from the bones.
– You do well in your art. You sell. You work hard.
– Yes. But I feel I don’t work hard enough. It is all relative.
– Oh, yes, it is relative. In what way do you think, you could improve?
– I don’t know which path to take. It feels to me, that there are two options. One is to discipline myself into working hard in one speciality and that way I will eventually reach some recognition. The other is, to let myself to be creative in any form I feel like at any given moment. Because sometimes I don’t feel like painting, but rather tell a story, or do a photo collage or something… But this is an uncertain way. I don’t know what to chose.
– What does your heart tell you? I don’t know how to live your life. Only you know. What do you think you should do?
– I don’t know. I’d like to risk it. To let myself do what I feel like doing.
– It means being more creative, doesn’t it?
– Yes. I want to be more creative.
– It looks like you are too much in your head. You need to trust your intuition more. Live from your heart, not intellectualise too much.
We talk. He asks me questions, looking at the Things on the skin. I keep glancing at the window, searching for the ellusive answers from deep inside.
– So. Everything is good in the family?
– Yes. It is all fine.
– I can see some struggle around you. Is there a struggle in you life? Do you feel that way?
He collects the Things back into the sack and closes his hand around the neck of it, shaking it slightly. With this very English smile of his, asks me:
– Whould you like to ask about anything in particular? Any question?
– I don’t know. All is fine in my life, really. But I feel unsettled. Yes. A struggle. I don’t know what my struggle is. What is my struggle?
He repeats the ritual of saying something to the sack and blowing, places the sack on my hands and I blow three times. He throws the bones again. He looks down for a moment or two. Points to a black magma-like lump on the skin and says:
– This is suffering in the center… It came out again. But you say, everything is fine in the family…
– Yes, it is all great. The girls are great, and…
– Spiritual transformation!
– Spiritual transformation – does it say anything to you?
– Yes… it does, – I start smiling. He starts smiling.
– I couldn’t understand. All this suffering and struggle, but outside everything is fine in your life, so where this struggle comes from, and finally it struck me – spiritual transformation! That’s what you are going through! That’s why the talks about Death, and the tears! Before the butterfly becomes a butterfly it is in the… this thing…
– Yes, cocoon. But the cocoon is the death of the worm, no?
– In order to become the next stage, the worm has to die. And it IS the suffering, isn’t it? But it is a good thing. It is positive. I feel positive. That’s what it is! Does it feel right?
– Oh, yes, it does! I understand it completely…
– You are going through the spiritual transformation, but you are not owning up to it.
– And I know exactly why I am not owning up.
– Because even remembering what you said about your path, you had to go through a lot of suffering and almost die several times for it! I don’t want to go through the same! I don’t want the people around me to suffer because of my spiritual way. My life is just fine at the moment, I don’t want to loose it all.
– No, my case is different. Too extreme. Everyone’s path is different. I have a friend who is also a sangoma. She is in her 50-s, and she looks beautiful, much younger. She has three children, a husband who loves her, and she is fine. Her path was different from mine. Not so extreme. She had her own struggle, of course, but that was a different kind of struggle. We all have to face our demons. But it doesn’t mean that you have to sacrifice your family. Not at all!
– You remember I asked you about Death on Friday? And you said, that my challenge was to live. But I am not committing fully. It is the same with art. I am afraid, that if I commit myself fully to the art, I am going to end up in a mental house. And I dont’ want it! My life is just great, and I don’t want to loose it – my family, my children.
– Why do you think you will end up in a mental house?
– Because all the really good artists did!
– No, they didn’t! If someone did, that’s not because they were good artists, but because they were imbalanced to start with. That doesn’t have to be that way. And this might be your block. You don’t strike me as an imballanced person. On the contrary, you have children, you have a good relationship with your partner – that will keep you balanced and grounded. You don’t have to loose them, they’ll help you!
– So, you tell me, that I am safe?
– Yes. But now you need to find some spiritual structure, which you could practise regularly. It will give you the energy and the strength to go through your transformation. You see what I mean?
– I can see that.
– Not reading – reading won’t help. You need to practice.
– Yes, I understand, but so far I haven’t found anything I could relate to. There are too many things, rituals… I find it difficult to accept, that there should be a middle man between me and the Spirit.
– You are right, there shouldn’t be. You need a structure in order to help you to connect to the Spirit directly.
– I’ll be looking for the structure. Thank you!
I just want to add here an e-mail I got from my friend Brigitte Evill in response to this post. It kind of makes it a conversation about the demons the artists face on a daily basis…