"Gently," Shakkai said to me. "The wind is calling you. It is calling us to pray, to listen to her. She asks for peace, for peace of spirit. And she asks that you return to your original joy. I will teach you the way of light, the way of great illumination. All you must do is listen with your heart. In a way, your pain has brought you to me, and it is good. Without your pain, you could not bear the joy that is soon to be yours."
"Forgive me, Shakkai," I interrupted. "But how do you mean, ‘Without my pain?’"
"Your pain has given you depth, a way to open your spirit. Never think that there is not a reason for everything that happens."
I am very much a woman of the 20th and 21st centuries, with all of the foibles of our time: difficult childhood with a father who swung between bouts of manic depression and rage; marriage and the joys of childbirth, and then divorce; wandering from profession to profession looking for something that had substance and meaning as I sought to support myself amid the ever-growing conflicts of our society. Almost as a mirror of the world in which we live, my life has been filled with glorious highs and unbearable lows, often tumultuous, always inspirational once the dust settles and I find I am still standing.
It was during my years as a collector and dealer of art that something happened which was to change my world forever. I was in search of what I thought was a rare and intriguing piece of native art called a "marriage basket." What I found, instead, were Agnes Whistling Elk and Ruby Plenty Chiefs, two native shaman women from the far north of Canada who were willing to take me on as their apprentice, teach me and create for me the chance to learn an ancient feminine spirituality that has been passed down from mother to daughter, shaman to apprentice, in an unbroken chain, for many thousands of years. Theirs is the world of spirit, the ancient knowledge and wisdom that have come from millenniums of studying and observing the way that power and energy move through the universe and choreographing that energy toward a higher purpose in life. Shakkai is one of the guides with whom I have had the great opportunity to work as I have traveled through time and space with Agnes and Ruby during the past 35 years, always with one foot planted firmly in the world of the physical and one foot in the world of spirit.
At the time that I worked with her, Shakkai was living within the compound of her own very exquisite sacred garden. Her name, Shakkai, means "the captured landscape," and she had created her own shakkai, a garden temple of several acres in which to worship her inner mirror of flowers, the sacred Tao.
In the world from which I come, whether it be Beverly Hills, Santa Fe, New York City or any of the other wonderful places throughout Western civilization, it sometimes seems that all we talk about is how much stress there is in our lives, from global calamity and an imperiled environment to the heartache of finances, personal relationships or parenting at this difficult time in human history. Agnes and Ruby often remind me that human beings were never intended to live with the amount of pressure and confusion that we face in our world today. Indeed, it is very much because of this chaos that they, along with countless other shamans across the globe, have chosen to come forward at this time, from their homes in the lands of the ancients, to return to the world the sacred teachings of harmony and spiritual power that inspired and sustained civilizations for tens of thousands of years before the modern world turned away.
As Agnes once said, "One of the great teachings of this particular time in history is to learn how to live one’s life with the stress of three or four lives all at once and still maintain your center and your ease and your joy – a very, very difficult thing to do. But it is like a problem in logic, like a mathematical equation using trade beads. It can be done, but the right symbolism has to be learned."
Even knowing this, I was having a difficult time accepting what Shakkai was trying to tell me about embracing the pain in my life, as we sat in the beautiful stillness and serenity of her garden, sheltered from the chaos of the outside world. I wanted to learn about enlightenment, not retrace my pain, and I decided to talk about it with Ruby.
"Ruby," I said, "I am having trouble."
Here is what Ruby said to me:
"The Great Spirit has been trying to enlighten the beings of this earth for all time. It is a very difficult task, as well you know, my daughter. When you tear away a veil of ignorance from your vision – veils of ignorance that people carry as the result of hundreds of years of conditioning, passed down through the generations – another one replaces it and it seems we never get anywhere. As we move through this existence, problems beset us at every turn. For many years I felt the tragedy of this in my heart, and I was filled with anger, and I fought side-by-side with my people for our lost borders, for the land that is our Great Mother.
"This earth is a great schoolhouse, and she teaches you whatever you need to learn. For each of us, those teachings are different. In this lifetime you have hard lessons – lessons about family, about commitment, about God. Sometimes those lessons are very painful, because they demand that you change, no matter how hard it may be. You have to shift and change to grow. It is very difficult to walk with a foot in each of the two worlds. Remember, enlightenment is contained within the process of movement. Without that movement, there is no life."
Pain is a great teacher, if we will open ourselves to the lesson; sometimes, our pain is the only gateway to certain levels of enlightenment.
Shakkai and I were walking near a pond in her sacred garden where there was a beautiful lotus blossom. She placed her hands lovingly beneath the water and held the lotus blossom up.
"See, my daughter, as you well know, this lotus blossom for a long time germinated in the mud, out of the mud into the light of day, into the magnificent, innocent flower that you see before you."
"I don’t understand," I said.
"The chaos of life – the madness, the pain, the agony, the evil that surrounds the human condition on so many levels – is represented by the mud. It is a miracle, isn’t it, that something so beautiful as this lotus blossom could grow out of the mud? And yet it is so.
"Life is a miracle. The world is as it should be. It is so hard for us to find our way through the mud, to celebrate the innocence and the seeds of knowledge that we plant there. We must foster those seeds. We must find those seeds and give them life."
That is what sacred shamanic study is all about: finding and nurturing the seeds of innocence and wisdom that are planted in all of the experiences of our lives. Part of this study is understanding and accepting that it is the darkness which defines the light, that those who upset us most are our greatest teachers. This is a hard lesson to learn, because who wants to go back through the darkest, most difficult and painful moments of our life to find the seeds of wisdom that were planted there?
Part of what we need to learn in this earthwalk is that if we do not honor the dark side, if we do not honor our pain, then we will be ruled by the dark side, we will be ruled by our pain. To understand the darkness does not mean you become it. You must look at it and understand it, examine it carefully and know what it is made of. And then turn your face away and let the light be your guide. Choosing not to honor our pain is one of the veils of ignorance that we carry, but through all the veils of ignorance, the truth and goodness of life and nature will survive.
So don’t be afraid when you find yourself down in the mud of your life. Delve into it deeply; there are the seeds there of a very beautiful person calling to you to be nurtured and loved, to be brought into the light. Then you will become the beautiful lotus blossom which you truly are at the center of your own power.