Angeles Arien, a writer and anthropologist, writes of four questions that indigenous cultures ask when an individual is depressed or out of synch with their life purpose (from her book, The Fourfold Way, HarperCollins, 1992).
When did you stop dancing?
When did you stop singing?
When did you stop becoming enchanted with stories?
When did you stop cherishing the sweet sound of silence?
As healers, we should pay attention to these things. When, in our lives, did we stop dancing? As children we dance and sing naturally, and communities should dance and sing naturally, but in our western culture, very rarely do most of us have chances to dance or sing. In Shamans of the World (edited by Nancy Connor), Bradford Keeney interviews Mabolelo Shikwe, a shaman of the Kalahari Bushman tribe, who explains that it is the communities’ dance that creates the space for the sickness to leave the body of one who is ill. The whole community, including the medicine man/shaman, dances for the sick person. In that dance, the healing comes. In the same way, one hears of indigenous tribes singing a sick person back to wellness. The power of dance and song has been mostly forgotten in the western culture, but it will not disappear, for the life force itself is a rhythm – we are, each of us, a part of the song of life.
So, one must ask: when did we stop dancing and singing? What could inspire us to dance and sing again? Shamans fully expect to hear a power song, and in some traditions, one is not fully a shaman until this unique power song comes to you. Each of us could be so connected. Each of us can be strengthened by a song that comes with unique meaning and inspiration.
As for the stories, have you lost your interest in stories? Have you lost your interest in your own life story? Does it seem your own life story has reached a plateau of repetitive patterns, a plateau where nothing major will come in? Do you not expect new loves, new ambitions, new dreams, new gifts, new communities, new experiences? If so, are you scared of change? Are you living your life in such a way that you keep change at bay? Are you bored with your story?
Everyone’s story is beautiful, unique, exciting, dramatic, peaceful, happy, sad, tragic, inspiring…everyone’s story runs the gamut of human emotions and experience! You create your life story – it is your most precious creation, and no one can do it but you. No one will know the extent of the hardships you have faced, the courage it has taken to get where you are today or where you will be in the future. You will know, however, and you can stay enchanted by your life if you are enchanted by your story. Your story is you!
Finally, when did you stop cherishing the sweet sound of silence? Our society is organized in such a way that we rarely, if ever, need to surround ourselves with silence. We have the TV, the radio, the internet, books, conversation, e-mail…anything to fill our heads with noise. When do you take the time to sit in silence, to see what comes? In the peace of silence you will likely feel closest to the divine and closest to your innermost self. In what can become contentment, if you will give it a chance, you will come to clarity about your life purpose and current direction. It may take courage in this world of distraction and entertainment – this world that often pushes us away from the deepest voices of guidance we possess – but this courage will be well worth it if you befriend the silence, and yourself, once again.
Candide, the famous book by Voltaire, ends with the poignant insight that we each must cultivate our own garden (“Il faut cultiver notre jardin”). It seems the best we can do! What wisdom, I think, for not only does it mean to tend to our own communities, our own families, and our own relationships, it means first and foremost, that we must tend to ourselves! We must learn when we stopped singing, and why. When we stopped dancing. When we stopped being enchanted by stories, and when we stopped cherishing the sweet sound of silence. For in our silence, our stories will come, our songs will come, the dance will move us. Let us each have the courage to be still, to listen, and then from that guidance to move and create such a story that we contribute our greatest verse to this one world that needs each of us, so much, to be aware and fully alive, right now.