Heyokah Blues ~ or the Cost of Being the Clown-Guardians of Society

Heyokah blues

“When everyone thinks something is good, it becomes evil”- Lao Tzu, Chinese sage, fourth century BC

Lest anyone think I am being pretentious quoting Lao Tzu, I should explain I found this quote at the start ofa very enjoyable pulp fiction read, Kingdom by Tom Martin.

I’ve been involved in certain aspects of Native American spirituality now for many years, but not as a plastic Indian, rather as someone seeking to make sense of the now through the eyes and the understanding of another culture. One of the aspects that struck me the most forcibly is the role of the heyokah in NA culture. There isn’t an easy or concise way to explain what the heyokah actually is; you can call them sacred clowns or fools for god, or jokers or tricksters and they are all that. Sometimes they are described as people who do everything backwards, upside down, the wrong way round, inside out. I must say here this is NOT by personal choice. A heyokah is CALLED; sometimes they are called by the Thunderbeings. Those who are struck by lightning and survive often become heyokah. My friend Alice, half Cherokee, half Blackfoot and all medicine woman has a cousin who is heyokah. She tells me he’s a pain in the ass; he eats with his back to everyone at table, laughs when everyone cries, cries when everyone laughs, dresses in light clothes when there’s snow on the ground, and complains of being cold when there’s a heat wave. She also tells me he cannot help this; he would like to stop but cannot. It is how he is and mostly this is tolerated and often even revered. They see him a someone touched by a kind of divine madness and his acts and speech are viewed as messages from God. The interpretation of the messages is often difficult, but in their culture the heyokah is valued and important. I shall leave you to try and understand why for yourself.

My trouble is that in certain senses, I was born Heyokah in a culture where this is not welcome. The heyokah is often apart from the society in certain ways; they are sometimes shamans, often some of the most powerful and feared medicine people. Here, in the West, people like me are not welcome. We’re seen as partypoopers, oddballs, weirdos, mavericks, individualists, lone wolves, wild sheep and above all, a threat. I’m the one that says, “Hey, the Emperor is wearing NO clothes and boy, does he have a tiny todger!” I’m the one who gets the giggles during solemn moments, or laughs out loud at funerals. I’m the one who cries when a small bird dies on the road as I walk to work. I’m the one who won’t dance at parties and then embarasses everyone by dancing under the new moon on the way home from work. I’m the one who you dread meeting when you’re with your new boyfriend because you know there’s a risk I will say or do something that’ll make you cringe.

And I can’t help it. Foot-in-mouth disease? Incurable case here, guys. There’s no hope for this one.

The thing is, I’ve begun to realise that the role of people like me, even where the concept of the heyokah is shunned and reviled, is essential for a society to remain whole and healthy. Lao Tzu doesn’t mean that something everyone believes to be good becomes evil instantaneously; becoming is a long process. If you do not have a few arbiters who retain independent thought and are able to stand clear of popular opinion, then there can be no true freedom. If you let yourself think about the Third Reich and how everyone allowed themselves to believe it was good, then the role of the heyokah becomes clear.

We stand as guardians of something none of us truly understand, but we stand nonetheless, and stand firm even when the personal costs of loneliness and isolation and even hatred from the community seem overwhelming. We stand because that is who we are and we can do no other than what we do.

That’s why I’m blue, I guess.

Pearls Before Swine ~or Why You Can Lead A Horse To Water But You Can’t Make It Drink

Pearls
before Swine ~ or why you can lead a horse to water but you can’t
make it drink!

In my daily job of being a teacher of English as a foreign language, I long
for the summer when we get the hordes of invading students from all
over the world and the chance to really get my metaphorical teeth
into teaching. During much of the year I have a class for a maximum
of five mornings (often only three) and almost always those classes
consist of young teens(often only 12 or 13, maybe 14 years old) who
have come as part of their school trip. Their level of English is
often so low that I find I have serious frustrations offering them
lessons that are fun but challenging because they have insufficient
language skills to understand instructions. I recycle the same five
or six lessons more of less ad nauseam ( that is for me, anyway). By
mid May I am quite sick of it all, and of my own materials and
lessons.

The summer time is usually different, and I get a chance to do what I
really love doing and it isn’t teaching English. It’s about finding a
chink in a mind, inserting a suitable tool and levering till that
young mind pops open like an oyster being prised apart. One of the
tools is language.

I had a class last summer who I adored. I went in every day really looking
forward to working with them. Of the 15 in the class, I am still in
contact with 11, and some quite frequently. I’m not saying it wasn’t
hard work, because it was. By the age of 14 or so, most people have
begun shutting their minds so fast you can hear slamming doors every
time they blink at you. It’s something I find deeply disturbing; it’s
too easy to find your answers to life’s questions and then preserve
them in amber, to remain undisturbed for ever, or worse, to mummify
them. Those gruesome parodies of living things are brought out and
paraded around like a Day of the Dead procession whenever that
subject is brought up; some of the debates I have had with kids have
been astonishing. It’s scary when people have no inclination to
review their beliefs and opinions and are incapable of listening to
those of others.

But sometimes I find myself surprised and delighted when a student, or
even a whole class, come to a point where they examine something,
often an abstract concept or theory or belief, and a light comes into
their eyes. Aha Moments in the classroom when someone suddenly “gets”
it are breathtakingly wonderful. It’s even more so when it’s
something more profound than the third conditional. I don’t want them
to find an answer though, something they can tick off and put away; I
want them to begin their own lifelong Grail Quest for personal
truths, living evolving things that change and grow as they do. If I
see from someone’s eyes that they have begun to think anew about
something, I have a very special warm glow that makes even the shitty
days feel worthwhile, and believe me, days like that are very common.
Days when I get asked at 9.15am when is it break, or get told they’re
bored, or when students just stare at me with suspicious shut down
eyes: they make me go home and weep.

Because students (in fact anyone) who allow that subtle insertion and prising
open are relatively rare, and I am not yet an expert at understanding
who is ready and who is not. I look for the little chinks of light,
and I do and say stuff to engage interest. One of my lessons involves
heraldry. Yes, I know that sounds strange, but it’s all about
symbolism and self-hood. After exploring the topic each student has
the chance to create their own coat of arms. I send them off to leaf
through my books, my downloads of the language of symbols and to
think about who they are and how they might express this on a shield.
It’s a deceptively gentle lesson involving drawing and colouring and
thoughts deeper than they at first understand. I may do a similar one
with Medicine Shields( Native American) if I get a class I feel is
likely to enjoy it. I am always pleased with the results. While the
artwork is sometimes rather odd, the sense of engagement is always
exciting.

But there are plenty of students who would then complain they haven’t
done enough grammar. And that makes me sad. Because that means they
have reacted to the exercises by withdrawing and redefining their
expectations. Ho hum.

It’s about being ready. My duty as a teacher(not just as a TEFL teacher,
which actually I suck at, to be frank) is to gauge when someone is
ready to open up and start exploring the mysteries of life on earth,
and sometimes I get it very wrong. Sometimes people are only ready to
go and paddle in that vast ocean and they panic(justifiably) when I
in my excitement, start assembling the deep sea diving gear and start
consulting the areas of the maps that only say Here be Dragons, and
they back away, saying, “I never signed up for this!”

Jesus had a saying that often seems contemptuous to us. Pearls before swine
is a pithy aphorism and yet, harsh but true. If you expect people to
engage in something for which they are not prepared in any sense at
all, they will often turn on you and trample what you offer and on
you. If they don’t “get” it, how on earth can you help them to
“get” it?

Patience is the answer. Like with the horse in the second proverb, you can
lead someone and let them take their own time about drinking. A horse
drinks when it is thirsty, not when you want it to, for your
convenience and comfort. It’s the same with people. People will drink
from the well of wisdom when they are ready to and not before then.
Some may perish before a drop passes their lips but that is their
journey in this life. It’s not for me to force their jaws open and
pour the waters in as they splutter and spit it out.

All I can do is learn to recognise when someone thirsts and hold out a cup
brimming with water and wait for them to take it.

Time to Heal?

 

Time to Heal?

I have been a great fan of Terry Pratchett for many years and have been deeply moved by some of his novels. While they are generally hysterically funny, they also contain some quite profound wisdom.

One of my favourites is Masquerade, one of the series of novels written about the witches of the Ramtops, a coven of extraordinary women, lead by the inimitable Granny Weatherwax. Esme Weatherwax is a force of nature, someone you want on your side, and not someone to cross lightly. In Masquerade, she performs a feat of magic, or so people think, by catching a sharp sword in her bare hand without being cut to the bone by it. The following comes from two passages very close to the end of the book; the first she is discussing events with her oldest (and best) friend Gytha(Nanny) Ogg:

‘Everyone was very impressed, I reckon, when you caught that sword in your hand. . .’

Granny sighed. ‘Hah! Yes, I expect they were. They didn’t think clearly, did they? People’re just lazy. They never think: maybe she had something in her hand, a bit of metal or something. They don’t think for a minute it was just a trick. They don’t think there’s always a perfectly good explanation if you look for it. They probably think it was some kind ofmagic.’

‘Yeah, but. . . you didn’t have anything in your hand, did you?’

‘That’s not the point. I might have done.’ Granny looked up and down the square. ‘Besides, you can’t magic iron.

‘That’s very true. Not iron. Now, someone like ole Black Aliss, they

could make their skin tougher than steel. . . but that’s just an ole

legend, I expect. . .’

‘She could do it all right,’ said Granny. ‘But you can’t go round messin’ with cause and effect. That’s what sent her mad, come the finish. She thought she could put herself outside of things like cause and effect.Well, you can’t. You grab a sharp sword by the blade, you get hurt.World’d be a terrible place if people forgot that.’

‘You weren’t hurt.’

‘Not my fault. I didn’t have time.’”

*

 

 

The trees were bare when Granny Weatherwax got back to her cottage.

Twigs and seeds had blown in under the door. Soot had fallen down the chimney. Her home, always somewhat organic, had grown a little closer to its roots in the clay.

There were things to do, so she did them. There were leaves to be swept, and the woodpile to be built up under the eaves. The windsock behind the beehives, tattered by autumn storms, needed to be darned. Hay had to begot in for the goats. Apples had to be stored in the loft. The walls could do with another coat of whitewash.

But there was something that had to be done first. It’d make the other jobs a bit more difficult, but there was no help for that. You couldn’t magic iron. And you couldn’t grab a sword without being hurt. If that wasn’t true, the world’d be all over the place.

Granny made herself some tea, and then boiled up the kettle again. She took a handful of herbs out of a box on the dresser, and dropped them in a bowl with the steaming water. She took a length of clean bandage out of a drawer and set it carefully on the table beside the bowl. She threaded an extremely sharp needle and laid needle and thread beside the bandage.

She scooped a fingerful of greenish ointment out of a small tin, and smeared it on a square of lint.

That seemed to be it.

She sat down, and rested her arm on the table, palm-up.

‘Well,’ she said, to no one in particular, ‘I reckon I’ve got time now.’”

(Masquerade by Terry Pratchett)

How often have we done the same feat but without swords and magic and put off dealing with wounds?

I have.

I do it all the time and one of the reasons is because I lack the skills to mend myself, the way Granny stitches up her own hand without flinching. So the wounds go untreated and they fester until a greater surgery is needed and I need open-hearted surgery.

At the moment I am thinking(and talking about, especially with J) very deeply about a form of healing that does away with so many of the things we think are essential to the healing process, like the line between patient and therapist and the rigid following of guidelines that had become Holy Writ.

I’ll keep you all posted.

My Kind of Wisdom

My kind of wisdom
 
Just because my kind of wisdom
Doesn't wear buckskin,
Isn't hung with feathers,
Isn't decorated with crystals
And isn't inscribed with runes and sigils,
It doesn't mean it isn't real.
Just because my kind of wisdom
Doesn't require mastering
An arcane language,
Higher mathematics
Or a degree in theology,
It doesn't mean it isn't deep.
Just because my kind of wisdom
Doesn't ask me to stand
On one leg for years,
Beat myself with whips,
And starve myself half to death,
It doesn't mean it hasn't cost.
Homespun, home-grown, homemade:
You know, from somewhere far off,
It might look as exotic as yours.
by Viv