Being asked to write a Seeker’s Story by Tess, poses an interesting challenge for me. Although, for a long time, people have told me that I should write, for as long, I have found this peculiarly difficult. Even determined attempts to do so would wilt under an enervating sense that it just didn’t feel right to do so. This would grow into a kind of revulsion if I tried to write about myself, particularly if the slant was in some way spiritual.
Recently I read Black Elk Speaks, the dictated autobiography of the Ogala Sioux medicine man.
I found myself nodding in agreement whilst reading his opening words: ‘For what is one man that he should make much of his winters even though they bend him like a heavy snow? So many other men have lived and shall live that story, to be grass upon the hills.’
Despite fighting against the army and cavalry to save his people and homeland, he witnessed their massacre and loss. He travelled abroad with a wild west show and lived on to old age to finally share his story with the poet Reinhardt, but he would still claim that ‘this is not the story of a great hunter, or of a great warrior, or of a great traveller.’
He explained that although the incredible adventures of his life, ‘may come to seem to be the very tale itself,’ in truth, ‘it was the story of a mighty vision given to a man too weak to use it; of a holy tree that should have flourished in a people’s heart with flowers and singing birds, and now is withered, and of a people’s dream that died in bloody snow.’
In his final words, Black Elk called out to the Great Spirit, in the frail voice of his age and dereliction, ‘ With tears running, O Great Spirit, Great Spirit, my Grandfather- with running tears now, I must say the tree has never bloomed. A pitiful man you see me here and I have fallen away and done nothing. Here, at the centre of the world where you took me when I was young and taught me. Here, old I stand and the tree is withered, Grandfather, my Grandfather.’ When I read these words, I want to stop writing my own because what offerings are they in comparison? And who am I to do so?
But it is the words that follow that give me pause for thought, ‘ It may be that some little root of the sacred tree still lives. Nourish it then.’ Aye, Black Elk, my silence is not worthy of you, and if you can raise your frail voice to the Great Spirit, I’ll raise mine for you and for the nourishment you so desired.
And so it comes to be, that after all this time, I am asked to write three times in one day and it seems to me that the universe is telling me to do so as if shouting in my ear to be heard through the cankered wax and deafness of my disbelief. And though I am not on a mountain, nor a medicine man, but sitting in a chair in my living room, still full of misgiving, I ask you Great Spirit to help me.
As I was walking home this evening from work, through the cold and dark of an early winter’s evening, a man crossed the road in front of me and with swift, aggressive purpose smashed the ground floor windows of a house with a hammer. The violence was stunning in the sleepy fishing village where I live and I was the only person on the road. After phoning the police, the man disappeared as quickly as he had come, I wondered that if the hexagram patterns of life are an I Ching of meaning, what would this mean for me? I wondered too about the dream I had last night in which I ran desperately through the streets and markets of an Asian city knowing that I was going to miss my flight. I wondered too about my father dying hopelessly and slowly from cancer bereft, it seems, of even the smallest root of the sacred tree in the wasteland of his despair.
Is it presumptuous of me to conclude that this is the tableau of a warning that I would be foolish to ignore, as I have ignored gentle advice and encouragement for many years, and that the truth will out, if not with shouts, then with the swift aggressive purpose of Job’s devastation?
The night before Halloween, I lay awake, death-suited, thinking of my father, worried that the physical pain that had begun to afflict me was, in some way, my body’s reaction to the contamination of his fear in a sympathy of cancer. Eventually I slept, to be woken at 6.00am by my two young sons of six and three dressed in their halloween costumes, standing by my bed. Torin, the eldest, was dressed as a skeleton, and Lachlan as a wizard with a pointy hat and long white beard.
‘Daddy,’ said Torin, ‘ I have to tell you my dream.’
‘What was that?’ I replied, bemused by their costumes and seriousness.
‘ I dreamt I was walking through a graveyard, Daddy, and I was scattering seeds amongst the gravestones. As I looked down, I could see that trees were growing up beneath the gravestones and pushing them aside, and as I looked around, I could see huge trees growing everywhere where there were gravestones, and I danced for joy, Daddy, because I had done such a good job.’
Aye, Black Elk, a small root flourished in my boy that night, and through him, it nourished me. And I heed your warning Dad, Great Spirit, Grandfather to my boys – the Buddhists always say that the blessing of angels can come in terrible forms – and I honour your devastation, your dark night as holy ground, and it is for you that I offer these pages, these sacred leaves from our branch, so that your pain may prove fertile ground for the nourishment of the tree where birds are singing and flowers grow.