I guess I’ve talked a little bit about how I’m writing this novel-thing. I’m normally not brave enough to call it a novel in public because novelists write novels. I know that novelists are human beings, and that I am a human being, and that therefore I am a novelist, because that’s just logic and also because I hit 77,444 words this afternoon, which is equal to one-and-a-half Great Gatsbys or two-thirds of a Great Expectation.
So if you didn’t know it before, now you know I’m writing a Thing, and in this thing one of the characters has a profound spiritual experience. But because I’ve found it challenging to write about a character undergoing something that I have not had a deep or drug-free personal experience with, I have been doing a fair amount of reading on the subject. Some writers are wonderfully articulate about what they’ve been through, and there are some great nonfiction accounts speaking to a wide variety of experiences, because it seems like no two experiences of Melting Into Oneness With The Ancient All are the same, and often it results in a bunch of delirious poetry. Not to mention that some second- and third- and fourth-hand interpretations of other people’s spiritual realizations (I’m thinking Jesus in particular) are flat-out insane.
Well, there I was, a few weeks back, remembering I wanted to reread Of Water and the Spirit by Malidoma Somé. Malidoma is an African shaman who was born into the Dagara tribe in Burkina Faso, and who was essentially stolen by some Jesuits when he was a small child because that’s the way you turn the tide against the heathens, I guess. Eventually he managed to escape and make his way back home to his people, but not until he was 20 years old. A lot had changed since he’d left, and apart from having to relearn his native language, another thing he’d missed was his manhood initiation, which happens when a boy is around 12 or 13. He still needed to go through it if he wanted to be considered a full adult member of the Dagara and not just an overgrown child.
The part of the book where he’s in the bush going through this ceremony, which takes a month, with a bunch of Elders and maybe 60 boys, all younger than him and all far more experienced in roughing it, is like Harry Potter meets Star Trek with a side of Carlos Castaneda. It’s just great reading, and it scares the shit out of me. So I was flipping through the book when I thought, I wonder if Malidoma Somé has a web site? And then I was like, Oh, look, he’s going to be 33.5 miles away from my house in five days. And then I emptied my PayPal account to sign up for a personal appointment with him. There are not enough exclamation points in my body to describe how excited I was.
I have 50 minutes of audio I recorded of Malidoma and I talking, but mostly of him talking, because he is a lovely man with a beautiful smile who likes to laugh and I, too, like to laugh but mostly I prefer to listen. It’s just my way. I’m really bummed I didn’t get a selfie with him, but I was doing too much listening and then he needed to get ready for his next appointment, so I’m going to have to wait until he comes back next year and does another divination for me! And I don’t want to tell you what he divined for me, with his rocks and shells and bones, because that would SPOIL EVERYTHING.
Anyway, that’s what I’ve been up to this month, and now I’m reading the new Barbara Ehrenreich book, Living with a Wild God, where she writes, as a journalist and an atheist, about several unspeakable experiences she had as a teenager.
Here we leave the jurisdiction of language, where nothing is left but the vague gurgles of surrender expressed in words like “ineffable” and “transcendent.” If there are no words for it, then don’t say anything about it. Otherwise you risk slopping into “spirituality,” which is, in addition to being a crime against reason, is of no more interest to other people that your dreams.
But there is one image, handed down over the centuries, that seems to apply, and that is the image of fire, as in the “burning bush.” At some point in my predawn walk–not at the top of a hill or the exact moment of sunrise, but in its own good time–the world flamed into life. How else to describe it? There were no visions, no prophetic voices or visits by totemic animals, just this blazing everywhere. Something poured into me and I poured out into it. This was not the passive beatific merger with “the All,” as promised by the Eastern mystics. It was a furious encounter with a living substance that was coming at me through all things at once, and one reason for the terrible wordlessness of the experience is that you cannot observe fire really closely without becoming part of it. Whether you start as a twig or a gorgeous tapestry, you will be recruited into the flame and made indistinguishable from the rest of the blaze.
The thing that I find really interesting about her account is the way she looks at it through the lens of mental illness, depersonalization disorder, etc., which seems like a more frightening version of the ego-less state we’re supposed to strive for in meditation? Hi, I’m turning into a spirituality nerd.
The other thing that happened this month is that the night before Easter, Jack and Jackson planted jellybeans, and look what sprouted up overnight:
A transmogrification of truly Calvinic proportions!
P.S. Peewee’s doing fine, thank you for asking.