Shamanism has meant for me an entirely new feeling of being alive: really alive in a new way, I could say about fifty times more alive, in about ten times as many dimensions as before: if those numbers mean anything at all! I can remember after my first Darkness Visible retreat with The Sacred Trust (five full days in complete darkness; I've done this three times now), driving home and feeling aware of the aliveness of every tree and plant along the highway. The more I practice the shamanic journey, the more I become able to dream lucidly, the more I allow myself to trust that I am guided if only I can remain open to the spirit world-- the forces that are continually playing themselves out above and below the threshold of our ordinary consciousness-- the more this aliveness becomes something that I could never again be without, something that I will never lose.
Ten years ago I was drawn to live on the southwest coast of Ireland: I went there to visit, and the landscape called me so strongly that I ended up building a house and moving there. It took some time to find out why. I immediately loved the mixture of wildness and safety, of solitude without isolation. The open Atlantic is often tumultuous, often clear, the wind roams around the hills and the houses like a living and willfull creature, the land is rocky and boggy, full of quartz crystals; it is farmed with dairy herds and sheep and a good number of organic gardeners, bee-keepers, seed-savers, tree-planters; it is also inhabited by a mixture of folk who have been there for many generations, with newer arrivals from around the globe: artists, healers, hippies, buddhists, environmentalists, refugees from cities and towns in Ireland and beyond.... Not to mention land spirits, fairies, elementals.
So living in West Cork, growing some of my own food, gradually divesting myself of a career in Early Music, watching no television, learning to listen to what the plants and animals have to tell me... and this after having lived outside of the US since 1981... and then studying shamanism as intensively as I have been able: all this means that returning to the States with the intention of being here for some months, and possibly even longer in the next few years, has been more of a shock than I ever anticipated. It all sounds a bit obvious and cliched, and of course in many ways it is not that different, really, from Western Europe-- but still it's shocking how thick is are the layers of unreality that seem to separate normal Americans from that aliveness, that real reality I've grown to be aware of. The FOOD, for a start: it's next to impossible, here where I am, in the wintertime at least, to eat anything that hasn't traveled thousands of miles and been packaged in plastic and stacked and fluorescently lit etc. etc... let alone hybridised or otherwise genetically modified so that the apples are enormous and all exactly the same size and their skins waxed... and even the 'organic ones' don't seem very different. Help! Is the world one huge factory? of course we have agribusiness in Ireland too, but just the fact that it is a smaller country, that farming is a significant part of its economy, and that all the produce is labeled with its country of origin-- and you CAN find Irish grown veggies, whether organic or not-- feels so much more grounded and real.
Well, food is important! Not just because I'm a foodie and a lifelong food addict as well, it's also an indicator and a metaphor for how we're alive in our bodies on this earth. If shopping is the ultimate reality, and packaging and transport and profit is the 'value added' that keeps the economy on track... and gadgets and celebrities are everywhere, constantly, to keep our minds off what we're really feeling... well, I warned you this was going to be cliched, and I hope will help me just getting it off my chest!
Now let me just finish by acknowledging the things that do feed my soul here: the people I love, my family, my blood. And the trees: those enduring, ever-loving, dignified creatures, with soaring trunks linking and channeling between deep, earthbound roots and soaring, wind-dancing branches and sun-drinking leaves. Pennsylvania is a wonderful place for trees. And my dream life, continually surprising and absorbing. I know I am in the right place.