When I got up this morning, I had every intent of writing a post about my new friend "Doubt." It was going to be a rather heavy post with some "deep thoughts" and such.
That's not going to happen here (Not today, at least. I don't make any promises for two weeks from now!)
Today's not a day for "heavy" or "deep." Rather, it's a day for gentle, joy-filled reminders about paths A ladybug's path, to be precise.
Thirty minutes ago, I came back inside from letting Tyra Banks out for her late afternoon poop and pee (the dog, not the supermodel). When I came back, I noticed that there was a black ladybug on my hand. S/he was just sitting there. Happy as could be.
"Oh, you poor thing," I said, "you don't want to be in here. Let me take you back outside."
Ladybug stayed put on my hand as we made our wall up the hallway. My mind filled with compassion for this quite deliberate act of kindness of returning him/her to his/her natural habitat (it's so confusing, this ladybug gender identification!). Then, with absolutely no notice, Ladybug flew off to a spot next to an air vent that was beyond my reach and far from any door or window.
"Suit yourself," I harrumphed out loud, shaking my head at how some of us just don't want to be shown the way. Out of our cages. Into the fresh air. I mean, we all know such people (and bugs), right?
Then, as I stood there looking at Ladybug chilling out by the air vent, I started laughing. At my own arrogance. Who am I to know what that particular Ladybug's path is?
Maybe that Ladybug wasn't looking to go back outside. Not today.
Maybe s/he had something to learn. Inside.
And for that, maybe Ladybug needed only a short lift. Today.
Not from A to Z, but simply A to B. Maybe, just maybe, fothat was enough.
Thus far, my shaman's journey has been filled mostly with subtle moments and baby steps. Little pieces of a puzzle that I know I'll never truly finish.
Well, then there are those moments that are anything but subtle. Moments that blow up the pieces. Leaving not baby steps, but in the case of my first meeting with Death, horse hooves.
It started as a regular evening. In fact, it was so regular, I don't remember much of anything about it. Other than the fact that it was early 2009 and it was snowing. A lot.
My memory kicks in after I had gone to bed. It was about 3 in the morning. The no-color-time of the day, as Peggy Lee once sang. The betwixt and between time, the shamans say. A time that is neither light nor dark. The moment between the exhale of a lived night and the inhale of a new day.
I woke up wide awake. Because my husband is a light sleeper, I got up and went downstairs to the guest bedroom. And stared straight up at the ceiling. The wind was howling. The air was moving. Inside and outside. Betwixt. And between.
Suddenly, I heard a chorus of voices whisper, "Curl up in a ball."
OK, I thought. It's 3 am. I'm wide awake and there isn't much else going on. Why not? (Isn't that what you're supposed to do when you hear voices in the middle of the night?)
Now curled up in a ball in the middle of the guestroom bed, I sensed a presence surrounding me. Actually, a lot of presences. It was a pack of wolves. Beautiful red wolves. I could feel their breath. "Do not move," one of them said. His voice was firm and quite serious. Dead serious you might say.
Serious enough that I did what I have always struggled to do. I became completely still. My mind, my breath, my body. Even time it seemed like, was still.
I have no idea how long I was like this. All I know is that, at some point, the wolves grew anxious and tightened their circle around me.
Again, I heard, in a whisper that was almost as still as the moment, "Do not move." Followed by, "He must not see you move."
I didn't move. Not at all. And then I felt him.
He was on a horse. Wearing a top hat and cape. A tall, imposing figure. For a moment, I remember thinking "Who knew that Death looked like Abe Lincoln?" But it was a brief, fleeting moment.
Mostly I was just terrified. And still. I
felt like I was in a horror movie, hiding under the bed from the serial killer. Except, in my movie, I was on the bed. In plain sight. Of Death. Who was towering over the wolves and me. Leaning over. Staring.
All of us still. Death. The wolves. Me.
And then, he turned and galloped away. There was no sound, but you could feel the movement as the horse parted the air.
The wolves eased out of their circle. "You can move now," one of them whispered. "Easy for you to say," I thought.
I did not move the rest of the night. Not until the sun came up. And the color returned. Signalling the birth of a new day.
I went downstairs, made some coffee, and opened the back door to let the dog out to play...and poop...in the now frozen snow. Standing on our back deck, I looked down at the ground.
There, glistening in the morning sun, were the frozen imprints.
Of horses hooves.
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There are times when Mama Universe likes to play hide-n-seek with the answers you seek. Those “love the questions” moments when she puts the jigsaw pieces of your life out on the table, holds a few critical pieces back, smiles, and says, “that’s enough for now.” And, then. Well, then there are the moments when she gets right to the point and speaks with the simple clarity of truth and light.
This morning was one of those moments.
It began around 7:15. While waiting for coffee at my corner store, this 20-something kid and I started talking about the weekend. He had come to town to see Andrew Bird play. And, so, as happens a lot in New Orleans, we started talking about music, about people, about the city and about how it all comes together here in a hard to describe, but impossible to resist way. Walking out together, he asked what I did. I told him that, like most New Orleanians I know, I did a number of things but, to me, it all came down to being a shaman.
He told me that he’d never heard of shamans until two weeks ago when a friend of his tried to do some shamanic work on him. I say “tried” because, as the kid told it, after about 15 minutes, his heart started racing and his body started sweating. “You’re blocking me,” his friend told him, stopping the session.
Damned jigsaw puzzles.
Ditching my intent to return home with my coffee and write a completely different shaman’s journey post, I told the kid “Well, then. No time like the present. Let’s give it another go.”
Three minutes later, he was in my house, flat on his back, eyes closed.
A few minutes after that—with an ample assist from Tina Turner and her Buddhist recording “Purity of Mind” and a “shhh, not now” to his second chakra—his eyes were closed and there wasn’t a bead of sweat to be found. “Wow, I’m relaxed,” he mumbled.
I told him that I sensed he was holding something back and, since the seeds of most of what we adults hold back are planted between the time we're 5-8, I asked him to talk about his childhood. "I played outside a lot. There was this one tree I used to climb up every morning to watch the sunrise." I chuckled because, as you may or may not recall, I had a horizon tree
in my childhood, too. Perhaps we all did, in one form or the other!
The young man and I travelled to that tree. He climbed up, catching the morning sun mid-rise. And started crying. Wonderful rivers of snot-flowing, face streaking tears. I gave him a hug and held him.
"Do you know why you're crying?"
"No, I just feel so sad and such discontent.” I asked him where and he said “my chest and feet.”
After a minute or two, he told me that he was climbing down from the tree.
"I see a crushed diamond and a snake," he said. "It's staring at me."
"Sit with the snake," I said, putting my hand around his shoulder. "It won't hurt you."
"It's turning away."
"Follow it. It's ok."
"Wait, now there are rabbits. Rabbits everywhere. And they're eating."
"Where's the snake," I asked.
"Huh, I don't know" ("Not ready," the snake whispered to me). "Now I see a girl with her back to me. She's running."
He did. To the edge of a cliff. Where they jumped. Into an ocean that gradually became black as night.
"This feels great. I love the ocean," he said, followed by "But now I'm back on the shore."
"Let the water carry you back out."
"OK, it is, but now I'm sinking."
"OK.” And, then, he opened his eyes. 33 minutes after we had started.
"Do you spend much time outside? Do you go to the ocean? Read poetry?"
"I like all of those things, but do none of them,” the young man said. “I’m an accountant. I live in Atlanta and live in a house with a bunch of guys.”
“Well now,” I said. “You have an invitation. From your inner feminine. To lighten up, loosen up…and get up. To go outside that which you know.”
We then talked about the possibilities of what he had experienced. It didn’t take long because, as I said, Mama Universe was in a very forthright mood this morning. Perhaps she sneaked in a double latte while the kid and I were buying our coffees.
“You came down from the tree, a place of joy and innocence, to see the diamond as shattered truth, pulverized power,” I said. You felt sadness in your heart but you also felt discontent in your feet, a separation from Earth. From nature.”
“Next you encountered snake, looking directly at you. Snake is a symbol of transformation. Of transmuting poison from something that brings death to something that offers life. But you weren’t ready. You surrounded yourself with rabbits, which symbolize…wait for it: fear. But, then. Then, something you are ready for appeared: the girl. She started running and you followed her. Why? Because she’s you. That feminine part of yourself that you’ve locked up and hidden away. Maybe so you could be an accountant. Maybe so you could make your parents proud. Maybe so you could make yourself successful. As the snake said, you’re not ready to find out why, yet. But the invitation is there to follow your inner feminine. Over the cliff of certainty and into the most uncertain waters of mystery, of surrender. Sink into those. And feel the hard edges of your current choices and life start to soften.”
He blinked about three times. Wondering, perhaps, how, in less than an hour, a coffee run had turned into an encounter with his inner feminine. “How do I do that?”
“Go outside. Alone. For three days. Do you know anywhere where you can do that,” I asked.
“I know exactly where I can do that.”
Slapping his hands to his legs, he said, suddenly, “I’ve got to go and get on the road. I have a long drive.”
“Yes,” I said. “I believe you do.”
“Thanks for the lift,” Mama Universe added.Follow me on Twitter @bwtshaman
I remember my second journey with Little Will.
If my first journey
had been to a place long ago forgotten, the second voyage was to a night forever remembered.
It was 1971, I was not yet six. One night, around 9 p.m., my mother awakened me from a little boy’s slumber. “Get up,” she whispered. “You’re going to see Miss Peggy Lee.”
Now. I understand that, to most 5-year-old boys, Peggy Lee was not worth waking up for. She most certainly wasn’t worth putting on itchy, scratchy grey knickers for. But, I wasn’t like most 5-year-old boys.
To me, Peggy Lee was everything.
I identified with her. Both of us were sickly (“puny” my Dad called it). I was born without outer eyes muscles. A hypoglycemic with severe asthma who was allergic to everything from dust to fresh-cut grass. My adrenal glands only functioned when Mom injected me with sheep adrenal fluid (procured quite illegally from the back door of our neighborhood Skillern’s Pharmacy). Peggy Lee was neck-and-neck with Elizabeth Taylor in the competition for most near-death experiences. By 1971, she was unable to complete a concert without leaving the stage—at least twice—to spend a few minutes on the oxygen machine.
Mostly, though, I was mesmerized by her. The whisper of her voice. The seduction of her rhythms. The poetry of her lyrics. At 5, I certainly didn’t understand a world where the “banquet of evening is down to the bone/that moment of truth we each face all alone” but, someway, somehow I knew I was supposed to. To understand that world. To visit that world. To learn from that world.
Someway, somehow, Peggy Lee spoke to me.
And, on that particular night in 1971, she also sang to me. Literally.
No sooner had her late show started in the Venetian Room of Dallas’s Fairmont Hotel than she stopped the music.
“I understand there’s a little boy named ‘Will’ who is with us tonight,” she purred.
The house lights went up. My mother and grandmother applauded and laughed.
I think I raised my hand. The whole room applauded and laughed.
“Come here, little one,” Miss Lee said in all her cream-colored chiffon, white diamonds, blue eye shadow and platinum hair glory. “Sit up here with me.”
And I did.
Somehow, I gathered up my itchy, scratchy grey knickered-self and made my way to the stage.
Where I sat, cross-legged. Stage right. For the entire show.
On the edge of darkness. With Miss Peggy Lee.
She sang “Fever” to me. “One More Ride on the Merry-Go-Round.”
And, then. Then, she wistfully sighed “I remember” and her pianist played the first notes of "Is That All There Is?"
I was no longer in the Roman-themed Venetian Room on Dallas’s North Akard Street. I no longer smelled the air, a potent “Mad Men” mix of VO and water, Benson Hedges cigarettes, Aramis cologne and Charlie perfume.
I was in Miss Peggy Lee’s world. A world that existed past the singular spotlight. Beyond the veil of chiffon that flowed from her outstretched arm. A mystical place of beckoning shadows, seductive whispers and knowing beats.
A world where “beautiful ladies in pink tights flew high above our heads”, guided by her outstretched, gently waving right hand.
A world where you fell in love “with the most wonderful boy in the world.”
A world where “I thought I’d die, but I didn’t.”
I remember that world.
As a child at five, I remember it as a world where I saw a kindred spirit.
As a man at 41, looking back with Little Will, I remember it as the night I came face to face.
With my Shadow.
When last we left Little Will
, he and I had walked through the door of the guest bedroom at my grandparents' 1976 Riverside, California home and into the Dallas, TX backyard of my childhood. We walked out between the switch bush and the crabapple tree and over towards the tree that stood next to the old shed my parents let me turn into a clubhouse.
The tree was neither tall in height nor full in branches. Yet, it was just perfect for a little boy who liked to get away from time to time from a world in which he never fit. A place to sit and look out, over and across the horizon, to see if there was a world out there. In which he did. In which I
On this fall day in 2006, I followed Little Will back up into that tree. We climbed to the same spot I had sat in hundreds of times before, a perfect spot from which three thick branches shot out like an upside down stool. And, as I also had done hundreds of times before, Little Will and I looked out across the horizon. Past so many days and early evenings in that tree. Past years of memories. Decades of moments. Until I saw what Little Will wanted me to see.
It was the backyard of our home on Flamingo Lane, a place we lived very briefly between the apartment of my infancy and the Lake Haven Drive house of my childhood. Until that day in 2006, the only thing I had remembered about Flamingo Lane was the story of my 8 year-old sister running away from home one day after a fight with our mom. On her tricycle. To the corner. Where she stayed. Until dinner.
But this day in 2006, as I looked out across the years back to 1970 or so, another story came forward. This story was about the time my mom found me in the sandbox in our backyard playing with a dead bird. I can still see that bird. Looking at it back then, I remember thinking it had something for me, even in Death. As a 5 year old boy, I thought the whole thing was pretty cool. My mom did not. And, as is often the case in little boys' lives, Mom was right. Playing with that bird made me sick. Very sick. As in, put in a hospital sick. Turns out the dead bird--and even the sandbox--was rife with some kind of virus.
I don't remember much about the whole experience, aside from showing my mom the bird, her wrapping it and me (separately, of course!) and putting us both in the backseat of the car to go to the doctor. Beyond that, the whole experience, from the car until I was back home, is a big dark hole. Except for one part. It occurred while I was in the darkness.
In the background, I could hear the voices of my mom, the doctor and a nurse. But, I was moving in another direction. I was moving down a dark corridor into a massive library. With mile-high shelves of books. Books that you would never find at the Audelia Road Library in our little Lake Highlands neighborhood in Dallas, Texas. Books that were being watched over by rather grave-looking, serious figures dressed in topcoats and tall hats who quietly and slowly moved between the mile-high shelves and grown-up chairs and imposing tables placed very intentionally around the room.
It wasn't until that afternoon in 2006, sitting on a tree looking back into the 1970's, that I connected the dots and realized it was that visit, made from the dark hole of a viral infection, that first ignited a lifelong passion for reading. A passion fueled by a hidden desire to learn the contents of those long-ago forgotten books.
And it wasn't until six years after that, in 2012, that I learned I didn't have to search very far to find the answer. Because, you see, those books were written...
The journey to unlocking your Truth can take time.
Take yesterday. A client who I've been seeing for about a year came to see me. An artist in her 20's, she was stuck in her journey. Big time. She had returned to New Orleans recently after traveling home to the Midwest for a few months to resolve some lingering family issues. And resolve them she did. Big time.
She cleared out a busload of issues that were as nasty, as smelly, and as big as Jabba the Hut. Issues that had demanded her attention, consumed her energy and blocked her path. Ever since her childhood. Now they were gone.
Freed from her past, my client expected new wonders to come in to her life. Upgraded relationships. Gigs that would allow her to get her own studio space. Most important, clarity of her artistic voice.
She got none of that. "I keep trying and trying. To make this happen, to make that happen. Nothing
is happening," she explained.
“It feels like there’s a wall around you,” I observed.
“No, not a wall,” she corrected me. “I just feel empty. There’s nothing there anymore.”
“Yes, empty,” I agreed. Looking out beyond her, I listened to the Universe. I heard…and repeated to my client, “Something is blocking the natural Birth that should be following the Death of those family issues. It has nothing to do with what you’re doing outside. It’s inside. The block is inside. Of you.”
As I did so, my client literally wilted on my couch. Empty. I helped her up and half-carried her into the room where we do our sessions. She lay down and the fun began.
"You're going to die now," I whispered into her ear, channeling whatever spirit her Soul had called to help clear the block in the vessel it was currently occupying.
"Let go of everything. Even your breath. Slow your heart. Die to that emptiness."
Slowly, slowly, my client disappeared. When she was gone and her body still, I stripped off the layer of dead energy that had entombed her like a snake sheds its skin. I placed her hands on her chest and we did the heart meditation
I wrote about last week. She started to come back.
No longer channeling, I told her, "Own this space that is your body. Live in it. Fully."
She sat up. Smiling and swaying.
“Stronger,” she said, “but a little crazy.”
“There are so many sounds. It’s the sounds I usually hear, but now there are so many of them.”
“Let them out,” I said. “Open the gates of your heart and let them out.”
Boy did she.
Sounds I have never before heard began cascading out of her. Primordial sounds. Vibrational sounds. That shook her body. Threw me back. Consumed the room. And they just kept coming.
Finally, my client carried one sound forward across the bridge from primordial times to the present moment. What began as an indescribable audial vibration ended as a glorious coo.
I’m not sure about her, but I know I had tears in my eyes.
With the Universe whispering the words to say in my ear, I told my client, “You’ve just found your Truth. Bring those sounds, those vibrations, forward through your art. Create that which will share their wisdom in today’s world.”
She opened her eyes, which indeed did have tears. “Really? That’s it? I’ve always heard those sounds. But I’ve never shared them. I’ve never done anything with them, except keep them to myself. I’ve been too afraid of what people would think.”
“Yes,” the Universe told me to say. “That’s where Truth can most often be found. Behind the sentry of our Fear.”
But, once found, even for a second, there’s no turning back. The birth has begun.
"What is it that you seek today?"
It's what I ask every client at the beginning of a session. When I asked the question of my final client on Sunday afternoon, he stared back. Blankly.
"That's the problem," he said as he lay down. "I don't know what I seek. About anything. I don't know what I want to do career-wise and it's been so long since I've had a relationship that, when someone asked me the other day the last time I was in love, I had to pause and count the years. I couldn't remember."
As Tom Kenyon's "Manna" came on, I began working with my client to release all that was no longer serving his highest purpose. All that was keeping him from knowing. His Truth. His Soul. Looking down, I saw that from his third chakra down he was as thick and solid as tree stump. There was no flow, no movement, no anything. It was as if his lower chakras were the proverbial bump on a log! They had checked out, shut down, walled up. No wonder he didn't know, couldn't remember.
And then I heard it. The world's loudest heartbeat. Louder than the music coming through the speakers attached to my laptop. So loud that I could hear it from every corner of the room. North. East. South. West. Above. Below. It wasn't just my client's heart beating. It was the universal heart beat. Stretching back to primordial times and out past me into infinity.
It was calling me. Closer and closer.
I put my ear down to my client's chest.
"Come inside," the heartbeat said.
Entering my client's heart chakra, I saw that it was overgrown with dead brush. There was no light. It was like being on the floor of the Amazon rainforest. Nothing penetrated it.
"He's trapped here," the heartbeat said. "Caged."
I made my way through the darkness. Seeking, sensing, until, in the distance, I saw a cage with a single beacon of light shining down. My client was inside it.
"That's not him," the heartbeat whispered. "He's hiding. Look where you wouldn't look."
Surveying the amount of dead brush covering everything, I thought to myself, "Well, this could take awhile. And I have dinner plans in an hour!"
Then I looked where I wouldn't look. And I saw the guard standing sentry to the right of the cage, just behind a thick swath of dead brush. I looked into his eyes and saw the glow of my client's eyes. The cage disappeared. So did the brush. All of it.
I returned to the room where my client lay, took his hands and placed them on his chest.
"Feel your heart beat," I said. "Feel it until your fingers vibrate in synch with each beat. Nod your head when you feel that."
After a minute or two, my client nodded his head.
"Now," I continued, "moving through your fingers, I want you to bring your entire body, your entire being, inside your heart. Let your right toes be the last part you bring in and wiggle them as they move inside."
He wiggled his toes.
"OK," I finished, "now that you are in your heart, I want you to look up. See the light streaming down. Feel it. Smell it. Hear it. Drink it in. That light is you."
He did. For a long time (though I still made my dinner!). And, as he did, the stump that was his lower chakras disappeared. The natural flow returned. A beautiful smile came across his face. My client left that night still not clear on what he sought.
But at least he had found the guide who would get him there. His heart.
"I want to get to know Little Will," I told Jill Leigh one late fall afternoon in 2006.
"That's a lot easier said than done," Jill said. She reminded me that the "little me" each of us carries inside is that part that split off when we were very young due to a trauma, real or imagined. A trauma in which some part(s) of our core truth were labeled inferior, shameful, or just plain wrong.
"Little Will has spent a long time in the wilderness of your psyche," Jill said. "He's lonely. He's hungry. He’s scared. And he’s been that way for years. Getting to know him will require building trust, being patient and offering unconditional love."
I asked Jill where to begin.
"When I want to get to know some part of Little Jill, I see myself sitting in a rocker, gently moving back and forth. It's the way I used to calm my son when he was a baby. Quietly rocking. Back and forth. Until he was settled and felt safe. That's how I invite Little Jill. I offer her a place of love, stillness and peace. And when she's ready, she crawls up and shares whatever she is ready to share."
"Create such a space for Little Will," Jill said.
"But I've never had a rocking chair in my life," I responded, feeling a bit like Charlie Brown.
Jill chuckled (more Peppermint Patty than Lucy). "That's ok, be creative. The Universe likes creativity. Maybe a room…”
That was it. Yes, a room. And I knew precisely which one.
It was the bedroom my grandparents made for me when they left Dallas to return to Riverside, California in 1975. The room that looked out on the orange and lemon trees Granddaddy had planted. The room I first saw when I visited Gran and Granddaddy, all on my own, for their first Christmas in their new house. The room I visited only once before Granddaddy died of a sudden heart attack only three weeks after I returned home to Dallas.
I loved that room. I loved it because, at least for one visit, the grandfather I adored was right down the hall.
I loved it because, unlike my room back home, there were no monsters in the closet.
I loved it because, unlike my room back home, I was never sick in it.
And I loved that room because it had a small ceramic frog that sat on my bedside table. He was a silly frog with a silly grin, put there by my grandmother that first night in their home, my room. “Welcome Willo!” read the note under him.
Small, silly frog. Two words.
Sometimes in life it really is the little things, isn’t it? That bring stillness, love and peace.
It was attention to the little things that guided me in the late fall of 2006 as I set about creating my room from 1975. I put the twin bed against the wall so Little Will would feel secure. I opened the closet doors so he could see there were no monsters. I emptied the dresser drawers in case he wanted to stay for awhile. I turned on the bedside light so he could see. And, finally, I put the frog on the table so Little Will would know he was loved.
I told Gran and Granddaddy what I had done and why. And I waited. Every day, after I said my hellos to the Universe, I’d go down the hall of my grandparents’ 1975 house, turn left at the end and peek into the room.
Empty. Light on. No one home.
Until one day, as I made my way down the hall, I saw Gran standing at her bedroom door and Granddaddy shaving in his bathroom. He winked at me as I passed. Looking into the room, I saw Little Will, feet swinging off the side of the bed. He was holding the frog in both hands.
There was a, I’m not sure what, about Little Will. It wasn’t sadness. But it was something. Something that a little boy shouldn’t carry.
I walked in, closed the door and sat down on the bed. Without saying a word or even looking up, Little Will hopped off. I followed.
He reached to open the bedroom door. As he did, we stared out not at my grandparents’ hallway, but my childhood backyard on Lake Haven Drive. Hand in hand, we walked out between the switch bush and the crabapple tree.
So it began. The adventure of getting to know Little Will. And me.
You know, I can write with ease about flying dragons, rising ravens and cycling spirit guides. But when I sit down to write about meeting Charles Lawrence, words fail me.
Perhaps that’s because I’d rather piss off a dragon than annoy Charles.
Perhaps that’s because you do not meet
Charles Lawrence. You experience
Perhaps that’s because there’s a part of our meeting that, to this day, I still don’t fully comprehend.
But. What the hell! I’m going to try anyway. If I disappear, please see “Perhaps #1” above!
I first experienced Charles at a time when my life was full of questions. My first initiation
had shown how foolish it was to question what was happening to me. Yet, I still wanted to know why it was happening…and what I was supposed to do with it.
When Jill Leigh
suggested I meet her Manhattan friend, Charles Lawrence, to learn more about shamanism, I jumped at the chance.
Ah-ha, I thought. Someone who will give me the answers I seek.
When the day came for our first encounter, I took the train from Back Bay to Penn Station. For 3 ½ hours, I wrote, revised and rewrote a long list of questions.
Walking down 7th Avenue towards Charles’s Chelsea apartment, I practiced the questions in my head.
By the time, I took the elevator up to his 18th floor corner apartment, I was ready. Questions in hand. Script in mind.
Then everything blew away.
Charles’s apartment was dimly lit and completely silent (which is quite the feat when the windows are open and it’s 6:30 in Manhattan). He was dressed all in black, which made his white shock of hair, his big eyes and his rich, baritone of a voice all the more imposing. He was seated, occupying a chair with such regal flair that I could have sworn it was a throne.
“So!” he announced in a tone that signaled the start of our match. “Tell me what you seek here tonight.”
“I have a list of questions for you. I was thinking you might be able to give me some answers.”
Charles’s face was expressionless. “Such as,” he intoned.
“I want to know what type of shaman I am,” I said.
“Well. What type of shaman do you sense you are?” Charles volleyed.
“That’s why I’m here. I thought you might know.”
Charles sat motionless. Silent.
After a few seconds, I asked “Why was I called?”
“Why do you sense you were called?” he questioned of my question.
“I don’t know. I thought you might know.”
This wasn’t going anywhere. Fast. “What do you think my calling might be?”
With the same disdain in which a cat greets a mouse that is too puny to eat, Charles replied, “How am I supposed to know that? Tell me what you
“Well,” I whispered. “I’ve read….”
Charles sat up in the chair in a way that said this little match was over. “I did not ask you what someone else thinks,” he snapped. “I asked what you
think. What do you want to say?”
The truth is, I didn’t know. The truth is, I wasn’t prepared. The truth is, I had shown up looking for someone else to do my work for me. To shine a light down the path of my journey and tell me how it all ends. So that I could walk, knowingly, into the unknown.
Charles just stared. Through me.
After what seemed an eternity, that stare caught the attention of Little Will, who had been watching the whole scene from his favorite tree.
He jumped down off, came up through me, and responded to Charles.
“I want to say that a lot of people didn’t think I’d live past the age of 10,” Little Will said. “I was sick all the time, which meant I didn’t often get to play with other kids. Basically, I was raised around adults. I read adult books, attended adult parties, and went to hear Peggy Lee with my grandmother. I always felt like Patrick Dennis in Mame.”
With that, Little Will left me and went back up his tree.
Looking down, I added, “I was happy as a kid, I think. But I never felt like I belonged.”
Silence. More silence. But now there was a softness around it.
Very deliberately, Charles said that what I had described was consistent. With the way. Some who become shamans. Are raised.
He wasn’t saying I was a shaman. He wasn’t saying I was anything. He never has.
But he was issuing an invitation. To explore. To experience.
And he wasn’t just issuing that invitation to the man who sat on the couch. He was issuing it to Little Will. And it wasn’t just coming from Charles. It was also coming from his own Little Charlie.
Because, here’s the funny thing: Charles Lawrence has been many things to me over the years. A mentor, a teacher, a guide, an ancestral grandfather.
But, at the root of it all, his Little Charlie has been a big brother to my Little Will.
Someone who shares his wisdom, but only in a way that pushes me to discover my own. Someone who believes in me, but cuts me no slack. Even on, especially on, my darkest days.
Stick around and you’ll see what I mean. Even if it does annoy Charles from time to time!
I remember precisely the moment of my first initiation. It came from out of the blue. It lasted only an instant, yet its impact was ever-lasting. And transformative. Isn’t that the way life’s best moments are? The moment you meet your true love. Hold your first-born. Or experience your first initiation.
It happened on November 5, 2006. It was not a day I would have picked for my first initiation. I was grumpy. I was feeling overwhelmed. And I was feeling very disconnected from the “work” of my all-of-six-months-old journey.
My hero, dear friend and political mentor had died suddenly. The garden level of our brownstone had flooded due to a fire. And my largest client was mired in controversy after controversy (and I was in charge of PR).
These were the things occupying my scattered mind and heavy heart on November 5, 2006.
Still, I sat down. To do my work.
Immediately, I travelled to my Shadow Door. There, on the curb, were bins of fear, doubt, and the all-time favorite of many a gay man, self-loathing. “I am so not in the mood for this,” I thought to myself.
Raven soon materialized curbside and indicated that I was to empty the bins into white cloth bundles, close each one with a simple knot, and then carry everything up to my 11th chakra (Yes, folks. There indeed are chakras above your crown. Go on, take a look up right now and say “hello” to them. Don’t be surprised if they say “hello” back!).
I liked this bundling idea. No picking through scraps of this emotion or that one. Nope. I just had to dump the bins into bundles and then haul them up to my 11th chakra where I’d be done with them forever!
It took all of about three seconds to empty the bins and maybe two seconds to get up to my 11th chakra. When I got there, there was a beautiful, lush green meadow. A singular dandelion flower stood sentry at the end of a low, three-stone high-wall. To the right of the wall was a simple stone house.
Of course, I didn’t see any of this. All I saw was the psychic landfill for my emotions. Impatiently, dismissively, angrily, I tossed my fear, my doubt, my self-loathing over the wall with a loud “good riddance” and turned to leave.
Raven was waiting for me. And I knew.
“This isn’t right,” I said to my emotions, to the meadow, to the Universe. To me.
I turned back around. Stood next to the dandelion and stared at the stone house. “These bags no longer belong with me," I said, "but I bring them here with wishes of compassion and healing. For them. For me."
With that, I was back at my Target table. Mama Earth sent up a new grounding cord and I did a final sweep of my chakras to release any lingering Shadow dust that was ready to go. Like the bundles before, the dust rose up to the stone house. Next to the stonewall. In the lush meadow. With the singular flower.
I looked up to watch the dust rise, rise, rise away. And, as I did, I saw the face of God (or what I would now simply call Source).
There wasn’t a face, of course. There wasn’t even a light (there wasn’t even, for those of you old enough to remember, George Burns).
There was just a sensation. A filling up and a spilling out. As wave after wave of safety, happiness and bliss washed over me. Simply. For an instant.
Prior to that morning, I had been running around asking what was happening to me. I never asked again. Not because I knew or understood. Because I knew there was no point, no need. Because, what precisely do you ask after a moment like that?
Now, I will stop here because, as Rumi re-minds us, “these words I’m saying so much begin to lose meaning.”
But, before I do, I leave you with this: maybe this moment—yes, this very one—is a moment to look up and see which waves are ready. To wash over you.