Row, row, row your boat…
For the past three years, I have been very fortunate to be a member of a healing community that regularly comes together for powerful psychospiritual workshops. This community offers ample opportunities for deepening self awareness and healing for ourselves and each other. Earlier this month, at one of these workshops, I participated in a ceremonial healing ritual. This ritual, an underworld drumming trance journey known as a Spirit Boat, was rich with archetypal imagery and symbolism. We undertook the ceremony on behalf of a beloved community member whose sister was dying and whose loving family was understandably having a difficult time letting her go. Our boat ritualistically took us to the Underworld, where we communed with our ancestors and found power to support the family and ease the suffering and passage of the one who was dying. I was one of four guardians who helped hold the container for our sacred work, while others drummed and chanted and sang, giving our little boat its impetus and momentum for the journey.
I experienced it in the following way:
Gently down the stream…
As the drumming begins, and then intensifies, our breathing alters, finding a new communal pattern as we inhale the sweet and transcendental fragrance of burning palo santo. The candles flicker, casting Otherworldly shadows on the walls. We feel like we are indeed rowing a boat of spirit down a swiftly flowing stream, sailing smoothly and almost imperceptibly into an Otherworldly healing Dream that we all share in common. The sights, sounds, and smells combine to transport us out of the mundane spaces of our lives. I feel as if a breeze from a far away place stirs my hair, a sense of numinous Presence arising within my body and pressing gently in on me from all around me.
Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily…
In this moment, such a sense of wonder and joy sweeps over and through me—a peak experience! The bonds of kinship and affection for those who are with me are palpable. Even those whom I have just met for the first time feel now as familiar and comfortable as longtime friends. In nonordinary states of consciousness, relationships and connections are fluidly transformed, and the normal social distances between people somehow do not seem as daunting or important.
The Work we do together allows us all to enjoy an expanded and euphoric sense of communal Self, in which the whole is decidedly greater than the sum of its parts. Unexpected and unplanned for, synchronicities abound. Thought and analysis dims as the heart opens expansively, and love is free to work its healing. Together we encounter and open to soulful Beauty, above us and below, within us and without.
Life is but a dream…
Within this waking Dream we listen together, we sing, we chant, we pray, and we send love and healing where it is needed. It is not at all a question now of skepticism or belief. It no longer feels like something strange or foreign, or even symbolic or psychological. It is compassionate community action that arises organically out of our will and our mutual sense of deep longing for wholeness. It is desire and deep concern—for ourselves, for each other, and for the planet. It is a reaching out from the vacuum, the emptiness, the lack of completeness, the dissociation we all know and live and experience as quite normal in our daily lives.
As a community, at this moment, we encounter and muster our deeper potential and know ourselves as whole. We reach out from our isolation, our fearfulness, our finitude, our embodiedness and share our mutual homesickness—a dimly felt sense of what once was and what could be. With our united will, we pour out love to those for whom we work, and we know that we have accomplished what we came together to do…
In these workshops, we do much healing and transformative work together. It is bittersweet, as all of it makes me painfully aware of how fragmented I am, as well as the extent to which I have become numb and dissociated from my own brokenness in my daily life. It awakens a painful frustration, sadness, disappointment, and yearning to connect with and live as all of me. I realize that my contentment with my lived experience of career success as a professor and a psychologist may not forever be sufficient for my desire to do meaningful work in the world. On the other hand, my work in community has opened hitherto unimagined pathways to wholeness as well as an enhanced sense of competence, confidence, charisma, control, and courage in my life. I find I am more willing to lean into life challenges than procrastinate and avoid them.
I experienced the ritual earlier this month as a waking dream. Certainly, dreams can and do offer the potential for deep self-awareness, as well as for experiencing and (re)claiming dissociated parts of ourselves. Yet, dreaming in the conventional sense may not be enough. As one community member wisely articulated, “In dream we can lose track of our sleeping self. Awake, we can miss the dream surrounding us. It is easy to be equally unaware in both domains.” In this respect, even our dreams can seem to embody our fragmentation.
I cannot help feeling that addiction to Cartesian dualism is at least partially to blame. We have become very accustomed to insisting on a separation between the experience of mind and that of our bodies. Moreover, we have come to associate waking consciousness with embodied experience and the dreams of sleep with the mind. What if we could instead experience our day-to-day lives as another type of dream, fraught with meaning, potential, creativity, and power?
Alternatively, if we could accept the dreams of sleep and nonordinary states of consciousness as real—as additional or alternative means of living our lives and experiencing our worlds—then perhaps we might experience less of a painful disconnect between our waking and sleeping psyches. We might not lose track of our sense of self during sleep or other nonordinary states, remaining able to fully experience more of ourselves and the universe of which we are a part. Not that an experience of or encounter with nonbeing is at all undesirable, but perhaps we could expand our capacity to courageously accommodate and integrate such experiences as useful and meaningful in our lives as a whole. We may also be more fully aware of magic and the miraculous in our daily lifespaces, and we might be less willing to unhelpfully pathologize delusion and psychosis.
What if we could foster and cultivate a nondual way of living and dreaming? We could potentially experience ourselves as less fragmented and disconnected, have a greater reverence and respect for Mystery, and receive unique wisdom from events and encounters with the natural world and with others in our daily lives. We could embrace reasonable risk and eschew excessive attachment to notions of security. We could allow more of ourselves more consciously into our lifespaces for greater periods of time. We could connect more fully and more richly with those we love. Ultimately, we could live lives with deeper satisfaction rather than regret or remorse.
I am reminded here of aboriginal and indigenous ways of dreaming, which have not been utterly lost in those contexts. Perhaps we could return to a similar way honoring of Mystery that was once very familiar to our more animistic ancestors, no matter what ethnicities we embody. Respect for and an embrace of the deeper possibilities of dreams and nonordinary consciousness may do much to offset the dehumanization of modern life and our increasing self-imposed isolation from each other and the natural world.
— Drake Spaeth