The Shaman

this is a work of fiction

 So I went to a shaman, asking for guidance about liberation and enlightenment. And she told me that she couldn’t help me find enlightenment, but she could possibly help me to see what was not enlightenment. I thought that might be a start.

So she took me to a forest clearing and we sat together on a fallen log, and she gave me a foul-tasting concoction to eat, and asked me to describe what I was experiencing. For a while, nothing happened. And then suddenly I began to see colours and hear strange sounds and then I experienced being in the middle of a scene of utter madness. All around me there were atrocities being committed, and strange creatures told me they had always been happening but I just hadn’t noticed, or perhaps I was just being kept in the dark. These were ghastly, cruel, miserable acts of unspeakable horror and violence, and soon instead of just happening to others they began happening to me. I was forced to eat poison and felt my teeth rotting and falling out. I was yoked with strangers and whipped to dig a hole in the ground and then to fill it up again. When I shouted about the insane things I was witnessing I was told by the obviously deranged mob of people all around me that I was the insane one, and that all that I was seeing was perfectly normal.

I said this to the shaman and she told me to just sit with this, that this was not enlightenment, and that none of this was real, and I would awaken from the nightmare. And then there was an explosion and everything was screaming and blood, and I passed out.

When I awoke I was, somehow, unharmed, and the shaman continued to hold my hand and asked me again to describe what I was experiencing.

In the distance I could see someone walking toward me, dressed in a robe of astonishing colours, with a golden aura around them. Even when this person came close I could not tell if it was a male or female, or its age, or even if it was quite human. But when this person, or creature, smiled and touched me I immediately understood that all was love, and that nothing else in the world was real. I was filled with this enormous feeling of peace and energy and well-being, and knew my purpose was to love this creature, to become one with it. That nothing else mattered.

I smiled at the shaman and thanked her for staying with me through the nightmare, and told her now I understood about liberation — it was all about losing your self in another.

The shaman smiled back at me and asked me, once again, to just sit with this, and told me to my dismay that this was not enlightenment either, and that none of this was real, and I would awaken from this dream, too. I insisted I did not want to awaken from it, if it was in fact a dream. It was the only thing in my life that had ever made sense. And suddenly the creature I loved with every fibre of my being moved even closer and our bodies merged into one, and with a rush of ecstatic bliss I again lost consciousness.

And when I awoke the magnificent creature was gone and once again there was just me and the shaman, still holding my hand. And I sighed and wept for what I had — at last! — found and then just as suddenly lost, and the shaman just sat quietly and asked me to describe what I was now experiencing.

I replied that I seemed to be back in the real world, but I was now full of grief over what I had lost. I kept waiting for a third surreal experience, but nothing seemed to happen. I felt bereft, impatient, dissatisfied. We sat together for what seemed like hours, and I just kept describing my thoughts and feelings, and the mundane things I saw and heard, there at the edge of the forest.

The shaman said to me that none of this was real, either, and that I was still dreaming, not really seeing at all, and that at some point that dream would end and what would be left would be as close as she could imagine to enlightenment.

I listened and sighed and finally, exhausted from all these unreal experiences, I again lost consciousness.

I am not yet awake, not sure I want to be. My instincts tell me that I would not, will not, survive awakening. Every once in a while I remember, back when I was very young, even before there was an ‘I’, what it was like to be awake, to just be, to see everything as it really is, and always has been. When I said that to the shaman, she smiled at me and nodded, but said nothing.

So now I sit here, on this log, living in my sleep, and every once in a while there is a glimpse, a suggestion of something I remember, something beyond understanding. There seems to be a clue in the gaze of wild creatures, the shadows in the moonlight, the water gurgling in the stream, the whisper of the wind. Something waiting. Something beyond me.

top image above from Pixabay CC0, by Cor Gasbeek; bottom image is mine

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4 Responses to The Shaman

  1. Kari says:

    I think people in general will come to understand what is for what it is once they stop striving for enlightenment. And I don’t mean to be glib in saying that, or offer up an essentially meaningless deepity or platitude.

    The concept of enlightenment is self-defeating precisely because it is a concept, and because the search for it entails self-contradictory premises. It’s a construct of the human mind, and one that I think is so rarely wielded with wisdom. I’d venture perhaps as far as to say I think I’ve only ever felt a touch of what I could possibly feel to be “enlightenment” from folks who don’t use that word, don’t relate to the concept, and know better than to encourage any search for it in others.

    As a concept, wielded unwisely, I find it often trips people up in the very ego-battle they’re trying to escape, as “being enlightened” becomes integral to an individual’s self-concept, and so often an egotistical game of one-upmanship becomes the focus of an individual’s journey. No greater irony exists, I feel.

    I actually don’t believe there’s such a thing as “enlightenment”, primarily because it is a concept, a construct, an ever shape-shifting, moving target that looks different from the perspective of every individual who eyeballs it with covetous impatience. I think there is no “it”, no “there” to arrive at, thus no “path to enlightenment” or “way of becoming” enlightened. Striving toward something that isn’t real is a trap, and one that we lay for ourselves by getting bound up in our own desire to identify as non-identified, our ego’s struggle to lose itself a defining point in the pointlessness of it all.

    All I feel I can do in response to the searching and striving I see around me is shrug, and smile. Sometime I get irritated by it, and sometimes my ego feels bruised by the games of one-upmanship so often played by those on the quest. But more often I find myself adapting to my understanding that people are at where they’re at, and they’re searching for what they think will make it all better, because that’s the inevitability of the chaotic unfolding of “what is” that they were born into. They’re at where they’re at because that’s the nature of the trajectory they’re on. They never had much choice in the matter.

    So I find myself mostly feeling a comforting acceptance of other people, a letting go of the desires I used to have that they be different from how they are. And no, this is not all to say I think I’m ironically the enlightened one in all of this. No sir. What I mean to say is that I feel liberated from the Maya because I see the earnest search for an elusive end-point in a journey that has no trajectory and no destination as a laughably pointless exercise in taking oneself far too seriously. Liberation to the extent possible, I mean. I don’t know if there’s such as thing as “total liberation” because of the physical bounds of human perception and the nature of conditioning; I think the best anyone can hope for is an awareness of said parameters and conditioning.

    And then all I can do is laugh, and know that so few will get that – why I’m laughing, as I so often find myself doing when the situations of our human constructs strike me as increasingly absurd (I mean, just look at all we’ve done with the marriage between our imaginations and physical capabilities! It’s insane, productive for the sake of it, and totally pointless!). And somehow my inner trickster finds a perverse enjoyment in the understanding that I will not be understood, and the absurdity of it all, including the yearning to be understood. And maybe there’s nothing to get anyway :-)

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  3. JPL says:

    Hi Kari,

    You seem to suggest that looking for enlightenment is actually the problem. Seeking awakening is not the source of the problem but just one of the manifold expressions of existence and its inherent necessity. The drive for awakening does not fundamentally differ from the drive of a plant towards the sun and light. Both are expressions of the same ambiguity/unity at the core of reality.

    You also suggest that awakening is not real, only a concept. Again, the likes of Jacob Boheme, Spinoza, Albert Low and Nisargadatta would strongly disagree with you.

    You write: “All I feel I can do in response to the searching and striving I see around me is shrug, and smile.” Terrible and unwise answer: hope you one day see where you fail ;)

    ” No sir. What I mean to say is that I feel liberated from the Maya because I see the earnest search for an elusive end-point in a journey that has no trajectory and no destination as a laughably pointless exercise in taking oneself far too seriously. ”

    Unfortunately, you wrapped you mind into some simplistic ideas that became popular among “satsang” teachers or speakers in the late 90s and 2000s not because they were genuine insights but because they offered them a rather good business model: They bring the crowd but at the same time exempts the teacher/speaker of any responsibility. One can only pity the fools …

  4. Andnina says:

    Let’s share as much joy and happiness as possible. Look for good relationships. If it is shared meditation , fine. If it is loving, dancing, playing, walking, working and talking, griefing of cause etc. – o.k. .
    We are incarnated and will experience “enlighment” at last after “death”.

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