“The wounded healer is an archetype for a shamanic traii(sic) and journey. This process is important to the young shaman. S/he undergoes a type of sickness that pushes her or him to the brink of death.” - Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shaman
I am forty-three years old, 5’8” tall, and 135lbs. I’m a vegetarian with a devotion to caffeine, garlic and weapons-grade peppers. Every four or five years, influenza knocks me down for a day, but beyond that, I don’t get sick. A few months ago, I noticed that I can no longer focus on small objects that are nearer than eight inches from my face, so I can’t claim perfect vision anymore, but since everyone I’m related to by blood or marriage required reading glasses by first grade, I’d say I’m doing pretty well with it. Beestings, mosquito bites and the poisons ivy, oak and sumac, don’t even make a red spot on my skin. I started going grey in my late twenties, like everybody in my maternal line, but my hair is as thick now as ever, which is thick enough to draw commentary from barbers. My ears are sharp, my bottom firm, my knuckles hard, my muscles honed to bowstring tension. Some people believe that exposure to my sperm actually cures STD’s, but this claim has not been tested in a clinical setting. Certainly, the one child I’ve begotten is so radiantly beautiful that Latinos genuflect when she passes and Tibetan monks regularly show up to worship at her lotus feet, and that despite the fact that her mommy is allergic to reflected sunlight, sensitive to all foods containing molecules and becomes light-headed when dust motes. In short, I’m as healthy as a bull-ox yearling on good grass.
Mentally…not so much. I have dysthymia, a.k.a. neurotic depression, which basically means never-ending mild depression. As far as I can tell, I’ve always had it. That doesn’t mean that I was depressed as a four-year-old, though I might’ve been, just that my own perceptions of my own childhood are colored by the years of mild depression that came after. Like many people with dysthymia, I assumed that what I was feeling was normal and didn’t seek treatment until after I’d had almost a dozen major depressive episodes, which to me seemed like the same thing only a little more so. Major depression on top of dysthymia is known as “double depression”. I’m a “double Aries”, too, but that doesn’t really figure into this. Nobody who knows anything about this kind of thing will be at all surprised to learn that I’m also an alcoholic and drug addict, as substance abuse and dysthymia are co-occurring disorders in up to 50% of cases. I ingested my last mind-altering substance 26 February, 1998, at about one in the morning. It was marijuana, lightly dusted with something, probably crystal meth.
My dad once said, “I know that what I experienced there made me the man I am today, but there’s not enough money in the world to make me do it again.” He was talking about his tour of duty in Vietnam, 1970-71. I feel the same way about the thirteen years I spent fucked up.
The depression and addiction are well contained by prayer and medication and I’m doing fine, thanks. Cognitive therapy helped, but what really turned the tide and put me on the sunny side of life was religion and myth. I agree completely with Bongwater’s “Folk Song”, “Joseph Campbell gave me hope and now I have been saved”, but I mean it sincerely and with Bongwater you can never be sure. Campbell’s The Power Of Myth blew my mind and opened me to the entire long history of humans trying to make some semblance of sense of the ineffable. In those first few years of sobriety, my brain was still pretty scrambled, but the stories of gods and goddesses, tricksters and talking animals, windigos and ice giants cut through the confusion and reached some inner recess of my psyche, giving me the wherewithal to continue going and growing. The meanings of the tale of the prodigal son, Zen koans and The Bhagavad Gita rose up to the surface as I became able to understand them. Táin Bó Cúailnge, Beowulf, and von Eschenbach’s Parzival, the Norse Eddas, the Upanishads, Levi-Strauss, Watts, Eliade, North and South American Indians tales, Polynesian myths, Australian outback lore, and everything Campbell, all of it has seeped into my psyche.
Shaman initiations commonly contain an episode in which the neophyte is taken to the underworld, ripped open and his/her organs are replaced with crystals, precious metals, oddly colored stones. No doubt, many Inuit and Cherokees have taken this literally, just as some Christians cling to the notion that God created the world and universe ex nihilo in seven twenty-four hour days, placed into it a naked couple who incurred His wrath after being led astray by a talking snake; but anthropological reports contain plenty of instances of shamans sidling up to the anthropologists and letting on that they know it’s not literally true, that the images they relate to their fellows are metaphors, poetic depictions of experiences that cannot be conveyed accurately in everyday language. I know that my guts are still just guts, but it is as if they have been replaced with diamond sutras, rocks of ages and golden scales, so deeply and thoroughly have the myths permeated me. This is not because I am in any way unique. Years of self-imposed isolation coupled with several tons of natural and man-made psychoactive substances may have helped me to see things somewhat differently from others, but they may just as easily have hindered my progress. The left-handed path got me halfway up the holy mountain, but I passed a few corpses on my journey and I don’t encourage anyone to follow that route.
In some class I took, we learned about depressive realism, the theory that people who have mild to moderate depression lack positive illusions of superiority and optimism bias and therefore have a more accurate view of reality. As theories go, depressive realism is somewhat controversial and has been contradicted by some studies, but I believe it because it makes sense to me. I have never understood how humanity could allow such things as famine and war. Rape and child abuse are beyond me. I took some speed and more than a few hallucinogens, but the vast majority of the pills, powders and potions I ingested were downers. I was trying to shut my brain off, not expand it; to make the voices stop, to end the horror of the world around me. Without meds and myth, I would do nothing but weep, perhaps taking a catatonic break once in a while; with them, I can function well enough, though I am occasionally reminded that there is a chasm betwixt myself and others.
11 September, 2001 was one. People were wandering around, pie-eyed and slack-jawed, as if everything they’d ever known had gone up in smoke, and for me it was just another day. The terrible, senseless violence was a little closer to home, but I’ve never lived in a world without war and cruelty and mass murder so it wasn’t a big shock. I was more upset when U.S. bombs started falling on Iraq, because I was minutely responsible for that. And because I knew “we” would kill far more people than “them”.
But I digress. I was saying that I am in no way unique. It’s true. I have a strong immune system and my feet are extra wide, but that’s about it. Nothing special. Two quotes come to mind:
“Of myself I am nothing; the Father doeth the works.” – common paraphrase of John 5:30
“The myth is not mine, but from my mother.” – Euripides, introduction to “The Separation of Earth and Sky at Creation”
I am just a cynical, working class, middle-aged man from rural Virginia, smarter than some, but not very good at using it to make money, and in possession of a strong immune system. I have no more musical or artistic talent than the average chimp, but I have spent decades messing around with the tools of those trades – pencils, guitars, technical pens, banjos, paintbrushes, sound programs – and I’ve learnt a few things. Religion and myth interest me, so I seek them out and again, I’ve learnt. This is one of the core principals of The Big Drum In The Sky Religion: anybody can do this. Anybody. Any sincere halfwit who exposes him/herself to any or all of the world’s religions for long enough will wake up one day to discover that, to paraphrase that talking snake, their eyes shall be opened and they shall be as gods. Yep, “as gods”. It wasn’t the serpent, symbol of the powers of the Earth, who was fibbing; it was the jealous sky-god, Jehovah. Eve’s work was well-begun, for it got the game going, but only half-done.
Satori, enlightenment, at-one-ment with the Celestial Blue Heaven, all are attainable, right here, right now, on this planet, in this incarnation; equally available to all who will have them. God is not lost; He does not need to be found. All beings have Buddha consciousness. That is what I learned in the other world(s). That is what BDSR is for. That is what I have been, and will be, born again and again and again to cry out in the wilderness. Religion – all of them – are medicine for our sick(ening) world and I’m doing what I can to apply it. I believe that because I am a product of the world-as-it-is and religion – all of them – is what worked for me.
Paradise is here and now. If you want it.
Brown Hat the Espresso Shaman
The pun is always intended.