Back in February of 2017, the Reconstructionist Jewish Community in Princeton, NJ (String of Pearls) chose the theme of “Cultivating Inner Strength” as the topic of focus for that year’s Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur’s gathering. Many years later in July of 2021 as I reflect on these past four years, I’m beginning to see that same inner strength cultivated within the context of community during that High Holiday period has helped me personally to not only cope with personal grief, but has also helped many of us deal with collective suffering and loss experienced during this past year and a half of pandemic and political upheaval. What began for me as a period of grieving two deaths that occurred within months of each other, has now become a time to build a greater collective vision that includes developing the following qualities:
a) the gift of the Prophet who can see the possibilities where others only see the impossible, b) the sensibility of the Mystic, a more intimate sense of belonging within the context of a vast and evolving Cosmos (fashioned of elements composed both of matter yet mysteriously beyond it),
c) the passion of the Shamanic, a radical re-enchantment with the Sacred,
d) the wisdom of the Sage, by recognizing evolutionary forces that have spanned 13.7 billion years at work within my mind, body and Psyche helping to bring awareness to this ever-present “Now” of Creation.
Immediately after the loss, my dear friend, Lynda Paladin (author of “Ceremonies for Change: Creating Rituals to Heal Life’s Hurts” by Lynda Paladin and “Painting the Dream: The Shamanic Life and Art of David Chethlahe Paladin” also authored by Lynda Paladin) suggested that I create a medicine bundle to help symbolize qualities that might help me navigate the many life changes at that time, and sent me several items to add into a leather pouch I had found at a local farmer’s market. The first item in the bundle is a pearl to help symbolize the quality of the Sage – Lynda explained that a pearl is what oysters make when they experience a source of irritation within their world. In turn, we have the choice to take our many sources of irritation and let them open the door to the wisdom of life (our true Nature). The second item sent is an opal, one of my favorite gemstones filled with a fiery dash of color and energy. The fire of this stone reminds me to cultivate a fiery passion for social justice, diversity and equality, a quality associated with many great Prophets. Into this bundle, I have also added two additional symbols, one representing the Mystical (un-nameable) element, represented by two thin pieces of copper in the shape of footprints stamped with Vedic symbols which I found when travelling in India. These metal footprints represent the greater mystery of the Divine, a non-material aspect that can be glimpsed indirectly, by looking at the footprints left in the sand (the effect of a Divine love which leaves a footprint through the myriad forms of life and Nature in this world, and expresses through our words, our feet, hands and heart) helping to make this world a better place for all. Finally, the last symbol of the medicine bundle is a feather symbolic of flight and the Shamanic ability to take transformational action and find a deeper meaning in ordinary events.
Four years later, I am writing on the eve of a return trip to Albuquerque, NM for a visit with Lynda. How vividly I can still remember the Lincoln Fox sculpture, a large bronze cast of a Medicine Man wearing the mask of feathers leaping into the air with his right hand clasped around the talon of the hawk who has taken flight. The piece stands prominently in the airport waiting to greet all visitors, commissioned as a representation of the spirit of flight.
Fox wrote the following: “The dream of flight is born within the heart of man, the desire to be free from the confines of the earth’s surface. Hopefully the dream includes the possibility of freedom from limiting thought and action. As our imagination is freed to receive greater truths, then fear, closed thinking, and poverty of spirit will be left behind…far below”
What limiting thoughts and actions are still to be set free?
How can imagination be further expanded so that greater truths can be perceived?
How might we leave behind closed thinking and a poverty of Spirit?