Chanupa and the Spinning Mind
Imagine for a moment a length of 2x4 nailed to a log on the ground. It’s nailed with one nail, so it can be spun in any direction. All you have to do is imagine a direction and it can be turned that way. Now imagine that you put another nail in this board. It is now fixed. It points one way, and one way only. The only way to change it’s direction is to remove one of the nails.
My mind is like the board with one nail. I was born naturally interested in everything. Everything fascinated me. If something really got my attention, I would chase it until I knew it inside and out. That has not changed. I'm the same as an adult as I was as a child in that regard. Have you ever watched a big dog chewing on a thick stew bone? The world could turn inside out and that dog wouldn’t care. He’s chewing the bone, dammit, and nothing else matters. I’m like that too, but it’s taken me 50-plus years to realize that I’ve been like a dog on a bone with many things simultaneously. To return to my initial metaphor, my board has been spinning like a fan in August. I’ve seen something like a certain lifestyle with travel and toys and gone all out to get it. Then I see another lifestyle that involves privation and simplicity and done the same thing there. I see a fun new hobby and that is my focus. Until, of course, it conflicts with another focus. This has applied to relationships, too, and has caused serious heartache in myself and others. I understand why the women in my most serious former relationships think I am not entirely sane. A few have even stronger opinions than that, believe me. At any rate, to summarize, the board of my mind has been spinning for a very, very long time.
I can’t do that anymore.
I am coming out of the closet so to speak, right here and now in this semi-public place, by saying I am incapable of spinning too many plates at once any longer. Something has to give, and I am going to describe it here. In order to do so, I have to continue the metaphor. The directions to which the board can point represent everything the world has to offer. All the good, the bad, the seemingly innocuous. As I mentioned, I like most of it in one way or another. It’s all interesting, hence the spinning board. (Which is at times more like a propeller). I need another nail. The funny thing is I’ve had it for several years, but I was using it as a directional interest rather than as it was intended. The nail I am talking about is the sacred pipe, my chanupa. If the pipe is placed in it’s proper context, it provides a fixed direction. Wanna get drunk? The pipe does not point that way, so it is out of consideration. Wanna get a job that makes great money but that makes you unavailable for ceremony or to assist the community? The pipe says no, ceremony first. Wanna date that gorgeous woman than has no interest in a pipe? That’s insanity and will bring suffering, so don't even consider it. Even more subtly, anything that is against the energy that the pipe brings needs to become out of consideration (this is a process). This includes entertainment like certain types of music, movies and even some foods. Certain types of information that the world offers are also unhelpful, superfluous. Sports are a good example of this, as entertaining as they can be. Like these other things, when used too frequently even sports are “over there” somewhere, not straight ahead where the chanupa is pointing.
The shape of the chanupa is instructional here. It is a straight line. When we are filling it, we point the stem away from ourselves, preferably to the West, the direction of power. It is easy to see where it is pointing. There is not much room for interpretation. Similarly, when we smoke the prayers we have placed into the bowl, the chaunpa lines straight up, in line with our chakras, in line with our heart, straight into our mouth, the organ we use to speak our truth, our intent, our loves and our emotions. It’s not pointing here or there. It is one direction and one only.
I have also been blessed to carry a mesa in the Quero tradition. That’s ok, I can have as many nails in my board as I want. In fact, the more the merrier. So while I will continue to use it to heal, to move energy, to help me and others with certain intentions and ceremonies, my mesa will take a second position, a close second, to my pipe. After all, only two nails determine direction. One is my interest. The other is my pipe.
Christianity, the former home of my spiritual quest, has a similar issue. Christianity has become too broad, can point too many directions. One can consider oneself a Christian and concentrate on going to church every Sunday. Or one can concentrate on chastity or abstaining from any number of things. Or if you are LDS you can concentrate on meetings, tithing and home teaching and entirely miss the point. And the point is this: Jesus. Jesus on the cross? Jesus emerging from the tomb? Jesus casting out the moneychangers from the temple, twice? No. Just Jesus, his essence, his archetype, his meaning. Are those other things that I mentioned out of line with Jesus? Only if they are taken out of line. My judgement – yes, it is that, but it is based on decades of personal experience – is that Christianity has lost its way because it concentrates on Miracle Jesus, or Risen Jesus, or Creator Jesus, to the exclusion of God. In the end, most Christians have forgotten who Jesus is, particularly how he lived, the thing that is most informing to us because it is what we share with him. To Christians, we don’t share his divinity or his calling or his mission or his supernatural abilities. But these get all the concentration, all the holidays. The upshot is that most don’t know Him. Most Christians only know about him. Many can quote chapter and verse. They can take communion and teach classes, but they still care more about the interest of the moment, or money, profit, the government, defeating the enemy, making enough for retirement, than they do Jesus; who he was as much as who he is.
If we are not careful, we pipe carriers can fall into the same trap. In fact, from Buddhists who go on ten day silent meditation retreats to Peruvian ayahuasca ceremony participants, the struggle to remain "in that place" is the same. For us, we go to Sun Dance and do the big thing, the big prayer. But if we are not aligned with the pipe, we miss out on the Dance of the next 361 days. The pipe is unable to instruct us because we are pointed elsewhere. We eat food that is essentially poison. We watch porn or incredible violence. We get too worked up into hating our enemies, which is unnecessary and betrays a lack of faith. We can become those people who say, “Yeah, I’m a Sun Dancer” but don’t act much that way the rest of the year. We never walk through the door of day-to-day practice. We merely gaze through the window once or twice a year during heavy ceremony. That is a tragedy because I am certain we are meant to live outside where the ceremony is, not be stuck inside looking out at nature, at our relatives. Spirit is never confined. It is wild, never to be found within the rules or norms of a sick culture.
When I place my pipe first, I consider everything in relation to it. I take it with me wherever I go at least figuratively if not literally. I talk to it. I ask it questions. I wait for answers. I don’t do things that cloud my ability to feel it speak to me. I am honest, because the pipe is always honest. Where I struggle, where I get distracted, I don't hate myself or curse my humanity. I accept these things. I accept my "selfhood", my unique characteristics and programming. But I also take a look at these things with honesty. Then I come back to the pipe, pray for mercy and pity to Creator with it, reset my course and keep walking.
I like to wander. Many of us do. There is so much to see here in this wonderful existence, especially now. But if a pipe has come to you, as it has to me, the time for wandering aimlessly has passed. The pipe will take you places – many places – but if we follow it, it will only take us places that are of worth to our souls and that serve the People, our Glorious Mother and Tungashila above. My prayer for myself and for every pipe carrier, particularly those within the Goes-In-The-Air tiyospaye that I call home, will consider our alignment with the pipe, the Sacred Being that has come to live with us. I am certain that as we do, we will find more peace and more meaning than in any other way.