(I’m posting this a day or two later than when I wrote it)
…and I have nearly lost my voice.
I’m quite intrigued actually with the fact that I am suffering from laryngitis. It was caused by an unholy scream I issued on day three of our gathering in Belgium, as I came into some quite strong and profound as a response to the invitation to our group of 26 to face the shadow present in our work. This was a deep exercise and it brought me to a level of presence and clarity about my work that has laid the ground work for my own practice to go to a deeper level.
The day began with an exercise designed I think to work our sensing capacities and our awareness of the very great field of generative support that exists in the mystery of the living system of the world. It’s very hard to write objectively about being at the centre of such experiences, but one thing that stuck out for me was a lingering sense of the power of dignity.
The house we were in at Heerlijckyt is 400 years old and it stands on a domain that is more than 700 years old. The family that owned it for that whole time recently sold it to the current owners and there is only a little of their presence left in the place. One thing that is left though is the dignity of the place and it occurred to me that dignity is a very important part of the work of hosting. I think Lieven and Judith, our hosts at Heerlickyt know this well, and they host each other and the place there with very palpable dignity. THey are good teachers of the lesson of the house.
And so it was with the present sense of dignity that I was prepared to face the shadows that the hosting team for day three put in front of us. And it was an incredibly powerful invitation to step into the shadow. We first chose sat with the strongest thing that our collective invoked in us, a powerful resource that we have to move to the next level. To me it was Sayt’ kuulum goot, the Tsimshian and Nisgaa principle of being of one heart. And then, with this resource in hand, and with our senses alive, Anita Paalvast, a very powerful aikidoka, drew her katana and walked the circle, lowering the blade in front of each of us and challenging us to identify our fear and the shadow that is in our midst. For me the invitation lay very much as an invitation from one warrior in training to another: we must know our opponent, honour the worthiness of that opponent and be prepared to engage with clarity to cut that opponent in one stroke or die to it with dignity.
We moved outside and took our places at the rim of a large circle with our resources spread out around us on the rim and the fears and the shadows collectively held, placed in the middle. We studied the offers, acquainted ourselves with who was at our backs and bowed to the oppoenents in the middle. And then with the intensity she showed in drawing her katana, Anita invited us to collectively come to the centre and engage with these shadows letting loose the most power kihop we could, acting from a deep sense of spirit filled committment. That was the moment I damaged my vocal chords.
My surrender to the task was total. I saw in the midst two of my greatest shadow enemies – greed and failure – and I sense the presence of one that wasn’t in the middle, but instead lurking on the edge: dishonesty. I see these three things as especially dangerous to the territory of the open heart, and in committing to engaging with these opponents I did so from the stance of defending the open heart.
I said in the circle that followed that I feel that if we are serious about this work of addressing our collective shadow, and we are prepared to wield a sword in the service of this work, the sword of clarity and total commitment, then we must be accurate in our engagement and insure that no more than one cut is needed. I thought of the places I work, the communities and people I work with, where the emergence of open heartedness is and has been a dangerous proposition for a long time. In Bella Coola, or on Vancouver Island or in the downtown eastside of Vancouver, opening one’s heart can be an invitation to a painful battle. If we are called to work with open hearts, then the shadows of greed, failure and dishonesty (and many others) will be there to stick us and we must be prepared, as warriors, to fight them or to die to them. They are mortal enemies and casting them in these terms is not a game. It requires a vigilance in practice to defend the open heart in ourselves and in the places where we work so that it may drive the change and healing that is needed.
I was incredibly moved and surprised by my reaction to this exercise, and I sat for a long time after the circle ended. I was joined by my mates Carsten Ohm, Tom Hurley, Nicole Baussart, Maria Skordialou, Sarach Whitely and Toke Moeller. Carsten asked me what was in my heart, and I replied that I thought the call to address our enemies was a serious call and if we were to use the sword for this work, we had to know that there would be pain. Whether we hold our opponents with love or hate, if we are cutting them with precision, we are creating pain. I wondered aloud and asked my mates what they thought of the responsibility of love.
That day I felt a fierce commitment to defending the territory of the open heart and a fierce commitment to training in the practice of wielding love, for communities, people, ideals, possibilities and whatever else. For me, the Art of Hosting on Art of Hosting wrapped up after that circle, even though we still had a half day to go, During the open space I invited people to sit with me and teach me a song from their home place. I’ll post the recordings of these songs when I can get some time. They are beautiful gems, these songs, because they are offered out of a spirit of really open vulnerability, sung in the mother tongue of my mates, and watching them sing these songs opened my heart wide to who these friends really are.
I think this is our call. What do you think of the responsibility of love?