04/20/14 – San Francisco
I met up with my childhood friend Marcus. I haven’t seen him since we were about 6 or 7 years old – nearly 27 years ago. But I recognized him immediately. We caught up over lunch, and it seemed we followed similar tracks, spiritually and philosophically speaking. He too went through a period of intense Christian study, but later branched out into other faith systems. He’s extremely smart, thoughtful, and intuitive. Though my memories of him are scattered, it’s easy to see why I became friends with him.
He took me to Dolores Park. Lots of hippies and other “alternative life-style” folks hanging out there. The whole park smelled of burning cannabis. I dug it.
A white dude with dreads was walking around with coconuts and rum. “Coconuts and rum!” he yelled. “Get your coconuts and rum!” A man’s hand, full of money, shot up from the crowd. The coconut-and-rum guy sliced off the top of a peeled coconut, handed it to the man, and then displayed a bottle of rum, offering to fill up the hollow center of the coconut for him.
Marcus asked me some good, challenging questions about my pilgrimage. I tried to be as honest as I could, though I didn’t mention the Axis Mundi or the psychopomp thing. I don’t know why. It couldn’t have come off any stranger than all the other stuff I told him (spirits, out-of-body experiences, etc.) But there seemed to be something stopping me from coming out and saying all of it.
It’s strange, because it’s easy to write about it here, which sort of points to one of my issues with social media. It’s easy to say certain things to people online, particularly insulting things, because we don’t have to witness their immediate reactions and feel the consequences of what we’ve said. Perhaps it’s the same thing with confessing certain things about ourselves.
Maybe I was afraid of his reaction. Maybe I don’t quite believe it myself. Maybe I’m just not ready to have an in-person discussion about it. Maybe it’s all of those things.
Marcus asked me what state of being I’m hoping to achieve by undertaking this third pilgrimage. I told him I wanted to be acting from a place of conviction, of certainty, of a deep knowing that I am on the right path.
“So what’s stopping you from being in that place now?” he said.
“Fear,” I said.
“Fear of what?”
“Fear of death. Fear of failing. Fear of pain and abandonment. It’s really the fear that is getting to me. It’s almost paralyzing, sometimes. It makes me miserable. It makes me want to give up. I just wish I could act without fear.”
Marcus seemed almost surprised. “So you want to eliminate fear from your life? I don’t think that’s possible. Fear is important. Fear reminds us that our actions have consequences. Without fear, you wouldn’t recognize the gravity of what you’re doing.”
I didn’t say anything for a while. I just sat with those words.
Fear reminds us that our actions have consequences.
Yes. Of course. And I know this. I’m always telling myself that courage is not the elimination of fear, but the willingness to act in spite of it. In fact, it was only by embracing my fear of madness that I was able to become the Mad Griot…though I do not know if I have really become the Mad Griot. Not fully. Not yet.
“You know,” I said, “When I was down in Peru, I was working with huachuma, which is similar to peyote. We had a big ceremony, we drank this stuff, and then at one point, we were all staring at this huge fire that we’d built. Each one of us was suppose to step up to the fire and face it, at which point the shamanic practitioner who was guiding us through the ceremony would step to our side and whisper something to us. When it was my turn, and I was standing before the fire, the shamanic practitioner said to me, ‘Daryl…is fear your friend or your enemy?’
‘My enemy,’ I said.
‘So then,’ he said, ‘If you make peace with your enemy, your enemy will become your friend, and you’ll have no need to fear him any longer.'” And it sounded really trite and cliche when I heard it, but honestly, I think it’s true. Because fear is just energy. And if you can face it, if you’re willing to reach into it, if you can touch the center of it, you’ll find that there’s power there. Power that belongs to you, power that the fear is concealing. And I feel like if you can make your fear your ally, and let it become a teacher, then there’s nothing that can stop you.”
As I’m writing this blog post, something has occurred to me that should have been obvious years ago.
I am afraid of fear.
The things I say that I’m afraid of – death, pain, abandonment – they almost seem like the masks that my fear wears. But it’s really the feeling of being afraid – the way it seems to take over my body, the way it causes my pulse to quicken, my mouth to dry up, my hands to sweat and shake, my body to quiver…the way it feels like a weight that is crushing me to the ground. It is this feeling that is perhaps the real source of my terror.
Marcus and I parted ways, and I walked back to my Shelley’s apartment. I’ll admit, I felt a tinge of jealousy at seeing Marcus. He’s doing well for himself. He’s got a great design job with a powerful tech company, and it’s a job he actually likes, not one where he feels like a mindless drone. He’s independent, got his own place, making some money, stability. From my vantage point, it seems like the world is his oyster.
Part of me wanted what he had.
I began to wonder about the path that I was on. Was I truly being led to do this? Was I doing it out of love or was I too afraid to put in the hard work of building a stable life for myself?
I wrestled with this question for a good while.
And then I saw the murals of the Mission District.
It was as if during this moment of extreme doubt, the artwork that had been there all this time finally managed to get my attention. I started noticing things that I would have never noticed before.
Comandante Ramona of the Zapatistas. Their movement and philosophy – particularly the writings of Subcomandante Marcos concerning the Fourth World War – had a huge impact on my political consciousness.
This one really hit home.
Jesus. The first of my spiritual heroes. Meditating at Mt. Shasta.
I’ve been thinking about traveling up to Mt. Shasta, but I haven’t written about it because I wasn’t sure if I was really going to go.
To be completely honest, I was afraid if I tried I wouldn’t make it.
From the Wikipedia entry:
The lore of some of the Klamath Tribes in the area held that Mount Shasta is inhabited by the Spirit of the Above-World, Skell, who descended from heaven to the mountain’s summit at the request of a Klamath chief. Skell fought with Spirit of the Below-World, Llao, who resided at Mt. Mazama by throwing hot rocks and lava, probably representing the volcanic eruptions at both mountains.
In short, Mt. Shasta is a possible Axis Mundi location.
The whole point of this journey is to find the Axis Mundi, the portal that connects the Upper World, the Middle World, and the Lower World. I’d been working from the idea that the entry way to the Axis was inside of me, via the Central Column of the microcosmic Tree of Life, or the seven chakras of the human body. The physical pilgrimage is a means of purifying myself, getting myself to a place of clarity so that I can begin to access the Central Column.
But there is something to be said for the idea of harmonic resonance. The nature of consciousness is that it reflects the object of its focus, like a mirror. And I believe in the existence of sacred sites. I’ve been to some and felt their power. If Mt. Shasta is one of them, going there might…well, I have a lot of theories about what might happen.
I need to go.
I’ve wanted to go. For years.
But I’ve been too afraid.
The mural felt like a sign. Like a challenge – it was saying, “You aren’t the drifting wanderer that you’re allowing people to think you are. You are after something specific. You are trying to achieve something tangible. Will you reach out in love and faith and courage and try to attain that which your heart desires, or will you continue to meander and twiddle your thumbs, hemming and hawing, finding safety in ambiguity? Know this though: it’s easy not to stand for something, because then you don’t have to worry about being ridiculed or attacked for taking that stand.”
There is more that I could write about each of these paintings, but honestly I want them to just speak for themselves. Maybe I’m just too tired and/or lazy to write any more.
But I’ll say this: I came away from the day knowing (or rather, remembering) that
there is no life without death
there is no reward without risk
there is no faith without doubt
there is no courage without fear
“When there is fear, be afraid! Why create a duality? When moments of fear come be fearful, tremble with fear, allow fear to take possession. Why this constant inquiry: What to do? Can’t you allow life in any way to take possession of you?
When love takes possession, what to do? Be loving! Don’t do anything – allow love to take possession of you. When fear comes tremble like a leaf in a strong wind. And it will be beautiful.” – (Osho)