(meant to share this a few weeks ago—made a few years ago, ish—though perhaps now it’s more appropriate than ever)
in 2011, i went for the second time to the día de los muertos parade in san francisco—a wild beautiful gathering and soulful celebration where the living and dead interweave; a focused, gorgeous spectacle full of giant puppets and lanterns and humans and dancing and drums, unlike anything i’ve ever experienced. i had my old digital camera with me, which had a low-res video setting but no way to record sound. years later, i edited the footage together, then pasted in the track “phoenix” from my ep. somehow it worked. death and rebirth, together.
may we continue learning to dance together, to celebrate together, to honor and respect and love together. we are capable of so much beauty.
(the footage is rather grainy and dark, and the sound’s a bit low—turn your volume and screen brightness up)
Once I heard a story from a large wizened llama just arrived from the windblown woods, all matted fur and a half-grin. The llama gamboled when he was younger, brushing bristles against what in three days would be the ninth fencepost of the Barn of the Arduous Metaphysics—a triumph of muscle and brainpower, unseen since the days of yore when old ladies paraded about wearing nothing but gardening gloves and perhaps a stitch of knitting about their necks, and the dogcatcher’s chiropractor sang after the office closed, sang in the orange-colored fountain in the city square ’til his arm went missing and was assumed to have been taken as a souvenir by a visiting band of harlots called Fluorescent Sex that sauntered through town when time would allow, flaunting fresh bosoms and leather kilts that reeked of dollar store plastic cups and cedar, ravenous for dental care so they took an arm instead, yes, this was when the first hallowed barn was built on ninety-foot stilts and a floating bordello bobbed high above the barn like a balloon from a fist that pulled against long tethers tied to its bottom—but the llama had almost forgotten this, due to the fact that we’d chanced upon an unfortunate sailor who with one fell swoop had removed his own trousers and performed a series of convulsive reenactments of the moon landing, culminating in the consumption of two liters of whisky and a number of over-the-counter antihistamines.
All this the llama told me. I was distracted momentarily by his astounding breath control. He held his held high on a sturdy, noble neck. When I finally regained my composure and the llama unfolded his limbs from where they’d collapsed in the dust and then stood again, wobbly like branches, we took a moment to stare each other down. I peered at llama. Llama peered at me. I looked deep into llama-eyes, into my own wet reflection, and suddenly I was he and we was me and I stood on four spindly legs and the roaring of the llama’s ears was the roaring of mine.
A friend recently asked to read this again, so I’m posting it here.
From November 30, 2010:
The other night I woke up to find a ghost hovering over me. It looked a little like No Face from the film Spirited Away—a white, oval mask with subtle features, soft painted designs fading in and out, a black hood and cloak. It loomed over me and I felt that it was the ghost of everything unmourned in my family, of long-gone relatives and events that still hang around and permeate day-to-day life even though I (and we) might not know it.
Many cultures believe that if one who’s passed away is not properly mourned then their soul won’t have enough oomph to make it out of this world and into the next. Instead, their ghost will begin to devour the life of those still living—which can cause depression, addiction, and a whole range of destructive feelings and behaviors.
In his book Long Life, Honey in the Heart, Martín Prechtel writes
…when a person was buried and not enough tears were shed and when truly felt grief was absent, the soul of the dead person could not make it to the next world and would be forced to turn back. Scared and invisible, it took up residence in the body of the tenderest and most familiar person it could find. To give themselves a feeling of physical substance, in desperation, the ghost would eat the life of that person. For this reason ghosts usually devoured their relatives, especially their grandchildren, jumping into their bodies and eating them from the inside out, consuming the little child’s spirit also.
…Alcoholism, substance addiction, most depression, homicide, suicide, untimely deaths, accidents, and the addiction to argument were caused by the endless hungers of such ghosts. This kind of ghost consumed soul after soul until a whole series of generations had been destroyed.
…The ghost problem, of course, is what makes the uninitiated world of modern times so scary.
I knew this had something to do with this ghost in front of me, and in my half-awake state began sending it a strong wave of love and compassion. Fear would simply have fed the ghost and drawn it closer; sending this love-beam, however, seemed to dissolve it and give it the momentum it needed to make its way to the next world. I don’t know whether this was truly what was going on or simply a symbolic personal experience; all I could do was interact with the situation as best as I could.
There were other, smaller ghosts near it, further back, and the more I sent these waves of firm love at them the more they retreated and went on their way as well. After a while, though, another apparition entered: this time it was an enormous ghost, big as the planet, grey, featureless, cancer-like, bloated with centuries and generations of unmourned death and destruction from across the whole world. The big boss.
I looked around and found myself to be part of a vast conglomeration of people, thousands and thousands of healers and shamans and beings, old and young, of every background and culture, gathered and lined up against this ghost. Each of us were dealing with it in our own ways: dancing, singing, praying, enacting complex or simple rituals or simply sitting, everyone’s method unique and strong. We were tiny in physical mass compared with the ghost, but together we formed an immense chorus of healing comprised of humble, creative, and utterly unique individuals.
And it was working. The impossibly huge and swollen ghost, the entity creating the pain and fear and despondency in our world, began to shrink and dissolve. Slowly, slowly it turned and began to move through the stars of night and towards the center of the galaxy, towards the black hole there where it would be graciously welcomed, devoured, and transformed into new life and light.
I fell back asleep after that, and woke up this morning feeling lighter, freer, and happier than I have in a long, long time.
Prechtel again, in the same book:
…in every nation of the world now, [there are] peoples who had their original relationship with their stories, music, ancestral histories, and customs destroyed or trivialized by the heavy tread of some other traumatized people whose ancestors’ souls are still waiting in the Underworld. All of these people need someone who will bargain with Death in the Underworld for the release of the Goddess, their cultural and individual identities, and their indigenous souls. It would take a lot of grief rituals and some very brave, unarmored, highly initiated poetic shamans to do that.
I would like to think that we are all now these brave, unarmored, initiated poetic shamans. We need not react in fear and aggression against the ghosts that seem to saturate our world; rather, let us feel the strength of our love more than ever, feel it as a wave sending these hungry spirits on their way and down their right roads. See the bloated ghosts of these past centuries dissolving now, turning, and moving toward the cosmic compost zone. It’s happening, and as it does, the indigenous soul of the world and of all of us comes free and alive again.
Here in Portland there’s been a blizzard and it’s quiet outside. Portland’s the perfect city to try an experiment: just for a day, stop all traffic. Cars, buses, trucks. To see what a difference it would make in the city’s sonic environment. I’m a big fan of reducing noise pollution; though our brains tend to block out background noise after a while, the constant clang and roar of traffic echoing through the city still affects us.
When it snows in a place like Portland, though, the city shuts down. The only cars that drive around are the ones with 4-wheel-drive and snow tires.
It’s so much quieter out there right now.
So good job, Portland. Let’s notice if we feel differently today, in the soft white quiet that’s suddenly settled in out there. Let’s breathe it in and walk in it, let the silence seep into our nervous systems, relax a little more. Let’s listen for the sounds that are there when the roar is gone.