On Becoming 52 – April 2016
Dear Movement Medicine community, writing my monthly missive to you all as I am on my way to Paris to teach a new workshop called ‘Power Stories’.The Great Choreographer, the tongue-in-cheek name we have for the intelligence of life that far outstrips our own limited view, seems to be working overtime. Or, to be a little more accurate, perhaps I’m just noticing much more regularly that the way things happen and the timing of how they happen is apparently rooted in this intelligence.
As those of you who know me will recognise, I’m always harping on about the power of the story we tell. One of my first teachers, Batty Thunder Bear Gold, once told me that there is no universally all-embracing inherent meaning in life whatsoever. He encouraged me to find a meaning and purpose that suited who I most deeply am. I was both delighted and overawed by his suggestion. Delighted because as a child, the one thing I knew for sure was that life is a great mystery that we can never get to the bottom of. We can only learn to rest inside it and live with it. And overawed because I knew then that the power and therefore responsibility to find my purpose and guiding star rested with me.
And so I searched and I worked to find out who I am and to find the story inside me that would dignify my life and give me purpose and meaning. I went on 5-day vision quests on Dartmoor. I sat in a box in our cellar for 4-9 hours a day for 9 months recapitulating my life. I dug my own grave, got inside it and dialogued with death about what matters most to me. I submitted myself to a hardcore old school shamanic initiation in the Amazon that tore me to pieces and gave me the beginnings of insight into what power and humility really are. And more importantly, alongside all this, I got married, became a father and engaged on a day-to-day level with the difficult challenge of integrating all that I was learning into my relationships, my work and my way of doing business. I wanted a sense of congruency in every area of my life (*).
It’s not been an easy journey to get to know the story that this being wants to tell and live by. I’ve jumped off many edges in my time and ran away from many more. I’ve made so many wrong turns along the way. I’ve chased dreams that belonged to other people, believed stories that came from all kinds of weird and wonderful places, agreed to keep myself small for the fear of doing harm and slowly, slowly, over the past 30 years, sculpted the wood dragon of who I am into shape. Harvest is the result of work. I have given everything I have with full heart to discover who I am and find the way of bringing this into the world. And thanks to the mystery of timing, apparently it’s time to tell my story more directly and put this out into the world. I am happy to announce that in April next year, my new book, A Shaman’s Song – The 21st Century Initiation of an Everyday Shaman will be published by Hay House.
I will be 52 in just over two weeks. In many of the traditions I have been lucky enough to study and learn from over the years, 52 is the time one’s community sends you up on the hill to look over your life from on high. The purpose is to pray for guidance for the next chapter of making your offering to the world. This couldn’t feel more timely and I am asking you to be part of my community and ‘send me up on the hill’ for this ceremony. You don’t have to actively do anything. Please, if you feel able, simply make a prayer for me on April 24th.
I have landed in a new place inside myself over these past five years and particularly, this last 12 months. I have come to recognise that it is the relationships with the people who I love and who love me that have done most to support me to be who I am.
(*) It’s no surprise then that our Apprenticeship Programme is an invitation to do exactly this. Incidentally, although the deadline has passed for application for the next apprenticeship beginning this autumn, we have kept open some places so if it’s in your heart to go for it, there is still time to do so if you have already done The Phoenix Retreat, or can manage to find your way onto the one that begins very soon (long waiting list already though.
Relationship then has come to be the most fertile ground for my spiritual practice, and naturally, most especially with my beloved wife and partner in the creation and destruction dance that is marriage over a long period of time.
Over the past thirty years, we have fought and hurt each other. We have missed the most basic steps in care and kindness. We have, from a place of wounding and mistrust, added more reasons to close down, turn away and leave with the bitter taste of blame on our tongues. And yet we have stayed. Deep down, from the very first second we laid eyes on each other and recognised each other, though we know not where from, we have known that this commitment is a forever thing.
We knew from very early on that our being together was about more than the space between us. We knew we had different kinds of children to bring into the world. First and foremost, we are blessed to have a 24 year-old young man for a son who has taught us nearly everything we now know about the art of parenting. We are proud of him beyond reason. Secondly, we knew in our passionate naivety as 22 and 23 year olds, that we had something else to do together. We wrote it down: Our mission is to find or create a body of work that supports earthlings to heal their relationships with themselves, between each other, between cultures and nations and between us as human beings and the earth and the web of life she supports. I love the pure chutzpah of that intention. We had no idea how to do this. We had no idea what it would mean for us or how much it would cost us. We just knew that this was what our lives were for and that we would do whatever it took to make this happen.
And maybe that’s what it takes. The New Age has brought a lot of goodness to the world. So has Feminism. They have both been utterly necessary and both been steps along the way of human evolution. And, in my opinion, they both have caused as much damage as they have good. Perhaps that’s the way of things. There is no creation without destruction. There is no rebirth without death. And dying whilst we are still living is one of the core principles in shamanic healing and many other practices that are called spiritual. The New Age would have us believe that unless it’s easy, you must be on the wrong track. We are told that manifestation is a simple matter. Just focus, visualise and wait whilst our all loving, non-judgemental universe does the rest for us whilst we wait around passively complaining about the delay. It’s a lovely story for the victim in us. We don’t have to do much. We don’t have to change. We don’t have to think about the consequences of our actions on life around us or those yet to be born. The universe may be relatively limitless, but our earth is not. And more than that, ask anyone who has ever created anything (start with your mama) if it was all an effortless breeze of disembodied imagination.
For me, it hasn’t been. And in my research on the subject, I am yet to find someone who creates without effort. Also, I am yet to find someone successful in the art of manifesting their dreams who doesn’t love to give everything they’ve got to make what matters to them happen. I don’t mean at all that it’s all about effort and being willing to take the hardships, challenges, doubts, confusions, hurts and knocks, bruises and breaks along the way. There is a major part of manifesting that is to do with the quality of resting in the centre of our own circle and being that comes from deep self-acceptance and deep self-knowledge. Being like the flower sitting in the knowledge of our own nectar is super attractive to the bees (and how I wished they’d taught me that at school!).
And why mention Feminism? Well, Susannah and I got together in the mid-1980’s and we were both very much affected by the brand of Feminism that was around at the time that liked to blame masculine energy and men in particular for all the troubles in the world. In order to belong, I agreed. I pushed my own masculinity into the shadow lands where it continued to inflict damage through passive aggression and I became an honorary member of the band of brothers who eschewed our manhood and did our best to suppress our natural instincts in public. It’s not pretty, but I know that I never really considered if the story I was being told was true. I wanted to be close to the women I was around (as close as possible to some) and quite frankly, taking on whatever shape and belief that was necessary to reach that goal was perfectly acceptable to me. Consequently, I lost a great deal of my own ground, self-respect and truth. It also meant that the balance in my relationship with my wife was way off for about two decades. We were living in a theory about reality rather that in the truth that was trying to be born between us. I don’t feel bad about this. As I say, this was all a necessary part of my own evolution and probably, of our collective evolution. I intend to write more about this at some future date and I mention it now because it’s an important part of the story of my relationship with Susannah.
Quite frankly, without Susannah’s love, I could not have managed to achieve even a 1/10th of what I have managed in this life so far. I would not have had the courage, the confidence or the necessary checks and balances as I and we grew together. A close relationship, alongside fatherhood, is the best litmus test I have ever found with which to find out just how grounded I am in my ideas and dreams about who I am. If I can’t bring my visions into the home temple, then, without doubt, they will remain as just that: un-risked visions, beautiful, perfect and un-manifest in this world. We have reached a place again where we are ready to offer our work to couples and we are delighted that the response has been so positive. There are just a few spaces left for any couples out there who might want to join The Space Between Us, our two-module intensive for those in committed relationships. Here’s a quote from the flyer:
“The path of relationship is not an easy one. Yet we have come to understand that our marriage is a profound spiritual practice for us. Our commitment is to truth and to develop and grow as much as we possibly can in the time we have together. We have found that the more we are able to communicate what is real and hear what is true, and the more we learn to see and sense each other, the more the space between us opens up and the more love there is.
We have been so nourished and freed by this practice and so supported by it in all areas of our lives that we feel compelled to share our discoveries and offer a deeper journey than we ever have before for couples wanting to go deeper in their relationship with each other.” Susannah and Ya’Acov
So dear community, as the spring springs, or the autumn falls, the dance continues. I wish each and every one of you all strength in your intention and all grace in your being. As the song goes: ‘Bambalela!’ – ‘never give up!’
Ya’Acov DK. April 2016