Shamanic practice is central to my recovery from the psychological wounds of war.
In the past meditation was difficult. My quiet mind was soon filled with memories of combat. They shamanic practice of watching animals without judgment or expectation trained me to observe myself in the same way. That was a key to avoid being re-traumatized by the full context recall used in cognitive behavioral therapy. The Animal Practice I have done over the years opened me up to the source of true healing. My connection to the world of spirit began about eight years ago.
I went out to my garden and saw a Raven sitting in the top of a bear pinion pine. A second Raven landed in a nearby shaggy cedar. The second Raven watched the first. The first watched the sky. Raven number one would make an occasional comment “Grok-croool”. That first Raven kept looking west, just above the red rock bluffs.
I couldn’t see anything but blue sky. I don’t know what that Raven was expecting. After a while it made a final comment, “Gra-a-a-ak”, and flew East, apparently satisfied it saw all there was to see at this particular place and time. The other Raven shrugged its wings and followed. In the air, it looked twice as big. I went back inside knowing Ravens can see things I can’t.
The next morning a Golden Eagle flew low over the hill that separates my back door from Oak Creek. A raven swooped in – not playing. The Eagle evaded and reached for more sky. The raven’s harassing seemed chaotic at first but then I saw the raven was not random. It moved the eagle further and further from the earth and away from the hill where the ravens liked to sit and watch.
The eagle was transported from the realm of the raven. The noble and heroic eagle gracefully obeyed the laws of magic Ravens know so well. The raven made a swooping turn back towards me. Its body glinted silver in the morning sun. I realized ravens aren’t really black.
Another certainty blossomed. All my reaching and wanting, all my noble and heroic deeds, my therapy and thrashing and medication will not relieve the torment born of trauma. For that I must remember – Ravens are Silver and Eagles respect their will.
It was deep in the winter of 1995. Mom was at the end of a long illness. She was dying. We called for the parish priest. He came and administered last rites. When the priest left I was sitting with mom and she said “I must be pretty bad if the priest came. I must be dying.” I couldn’t answer. I just nodded my head. Mom folded her hands in her lap then looked at me. She blinked back tears and said “I don’t want to leave my family.” I don’t know where the words came from but I said “Mom, in heaven there is no time or space. We will all be waiting there for you.” She looked out the living room window for a moment then said “I guess it will be alright then”.
Mom slipped into a coma a few days later. She lay in the bed mom and dad had shared for over five decades. Dad hardly left her side. She died the next day before noon. After the funeral dad and some of us were sitting at the kitchen table. I really can’t remember who else was there because I had withdrawn even deeper than usual. Dad began to speak –
I want to tell you about what happened the night before Florence died. I always held your mother’s hand at night even then, when she was in a coma. It was after midnight when I felt her hand move. The bedside lamp was still on and I sat up and watched her. Her grip tighten then she opened her eyes and smiled up at me. At that moment I felt all the happiness and all the joy of the life we had lived together.
Dad smiled through his tears and looked at each of us as if wondering whether or not we could comprehend what he had just described.
Understanding came to me slowly. It has been two decades since that day. Now, because of my father’s gift to me, I don’t reach for the brass ring of a good relationship. I seek the Holy Grail of a love and devotion that not only goes beyond the grave but is greater than anything I can ever hope to understand.
Bipolar disorder defined my life as much as a wheelchair.
Seven million Americans suffer from bipolar disorder, a.k.a. manic depression. An estimated three million cases are severe. In severe cases bipolar disorder can fragment one’s life and destroy any hope of doing useful work or having a meaningful relationship.
Prescription drugs did help, but left me afflicted with a feeling there was something wrong with me, like my mind had been hijacked. The writing program I completed revealed a unique benefit of being bipolar. It was a practical tool that brought understanding, acceptance and finally a published novel. A partial list of bipolar authors and creative individuals includes: Ted Turner, Virginia Woolf, Ludwig van Beethoven, Winston Churchill, Jimmy Piersall and Ernest Hemingway.
My author’s journey was filled with practical examples of how a disciplined approach to writing can change some of the curses of being bipolar into blessings. Writing and symptoms combined for positive results. Those positives were a less manic means of communication, a much-needed routine, a sense of purpose and creative release.
The writing program I followed included a daily word count, techniques to focus the mind and methods of emotional release. Those components fostered mental discipline and emotional stamina. The simple act of daily writing brought continuity and a sense of purpose to my life. A life troubled by this misunderstood disorder. The beliefs I expressed and emotions experienced captured the elusive core of my bipolar existence revealing a hidden pattern in a manic world.
Mania, when suppressed, is a denial of self. When unleashed it is a powerhouse of creation.