The Movement of Inspiration

The movement of ideas is always interesting – especially good ones, the ones we can treat as inspiration, or a touch of a hand on the shoulder forcing us to see everything differently. Feelings can do that too, but ideas, in the form of re-constitutions and re-orientations, give us a sense of renewed and larger possibilities.

I am always moved when I remember the way that non-violence traveled from Jesus, to Leo Tolstoy and Mahatma Gandhi, to Nelson Mandela – in powerful ways, ways that shaped first the men, and then their environments. Ways that had them twisting in the madness of the politics of their time, the distractions of their thoughts, and the devils and deserts of their souls. All of these men had to be shaped and molded first, before the idea could come through them effectively. All of us have to be shaped and molded by the hands of the Gods before ideas come through us effectively. It’s not a process that can be forced, and neither should it be a process that we regret. Still. Grief sometimes is a huge part of the burden that we carry afterwards. 

I was reminded of this yesterday, when my Mom called me with an updated review of her process of reading the draft of my book, ‘Wild Medicine: A Journey to Zimbabwe.’ She told me that as she reads, she feels the weight of sadness in the book, and, as she put it so clearly (the clarity sharpened also, by the chuckle of the stars and the darkness of the night): “it seems that you don’t really believe anybody likes you that much.” A rough translation, and it wasn’t the only thing she said. Certainly, there are some heavy stories in the book, and I wonder, still, if I managed to express both the story and the feelings. The story is magical; it is no less than magic coming into and out of my life, over and over again. The feelings can be confused, complicated, painful. The two juggle obstinately juggle between each other a clear faith and a deadening and obtuse lack of it. And then there is the story of illness, trial by fire, initiation. We are never guaranteed an outcome to those. To survive does not mean to survive – it means to survive for now. To thrive means the same thing - for now, until (until we are changed and the road twists again.) As Zbigniew Herbert wrote so beautifully in a poem I treasure to this day, “we have little time/we must give testimony.” We must be witness. We must live fully. We must embrace the love and the pain all at once. There is no other way to make of and in ourselves the kinds of instruments that will then channel the beautiful inspirations that build our very selves into works of art. 

It helps to have a phone, and to have a mom on the phone, who will remind you when you need that nudge: “we are happy and sad all at once, all at the same time. It’s part of life. You can put down the sadness for a while.” (Thank you, Mama. What a blessing.)

When I went to the mountain for the first time, nobody told me to go. Still, it was an intuition invited into me more and more urgently by the stories of my teacher, Phil Cash Cash, the books of Martin Shaw and Black Elk and Stephen Harrod Buhner, and my own dreams. In the end, I don’t know what congealed the idea into reality. There was a day when I got up, and I couldn’t not go. That seems to be what happens to all of us – our natures, the directions of our souls, they cannot be stopped forever. Certainly, I was frightened. To this day, my experiences of deep prayer and fasting in Nature stay with me, inspire me, cook a pot of big wonder in my heart, and hold me to the sacred triune of enchantment and humility and honesty. One experience I remember so well, is seeing a mad, delusional spider, trying to build a web between two leaves on a dangling branch in the throes of a tempest. It seemed so obvious to me at the time, that the spider could not be serious (I had always heard that animals have better instincts than us.) These leaves were so clearly fluttering about, and every attempt at a string failed immediately. Still, the spider persisted at its task, until finally, tired and embarrassed and flung off again by the wind, it scuttled under a rock. I remember the realization-inspiration flowering in me: this spider is me. This is what I have been trying to do these past few years. I have been trying to build a good web in precisely, exactly, the wrong place. 

(This is the most reasonable immigration application: “the Spirit told me to come. There is something for me here. A spider on a mountain said it is time to go.”)

When I came down the mountain, I vowed never, ever to do that again. If the story of the spider thoroughly rid me of my delusional insistence that I myself had control over where my life would or would not flow, that delusion did rear its head again and again for a while, I didn’t know how to heed my own advice for some time yet. I suppose that is what it means to stay in the humility of the journey, to stay present to the sacred, to be big by being small. To this day, I marvel at how intuitive is a spider’s knowledge of building webs. All I know, and all I can do, is in my own small ways honor the people and places that show up at my door and as my Mom so rightly said last night, put down the grief, knowing that it will always be there to draw from when I need a reminder of what is real, and what is not. 

The winds of Spirit will throw us out of whatever they find useless. We must love anyway, in a gentle way. Every once in a while, we can take time from the Work and enjoy the weekend – that is as much, if not the biggest part of the Work. Love is no guarantee, and neither is another day of life. And today is so very, very beautiful and my feet feel good in the Earth, as they are.

This I pray and hope for all of us, together.