“Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more. It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” Shakespeare, “Macbeth”
Not long ago, I was suffering at a deep, annual Lakota ceremony in which I participate. The ceremony itself is a four-day ordeal that gets increasingly intense as it progresses. While I’m uncomfortable saying it’s “designed” to put participants in a state of humility and close to death, that’s one result of it, for most of us. Every year it’s “the hardest thing I’ve ever done” and “I’ll never do it again.” (Usually about two weeks pass before I start looking forward to the next one.)
This year was no different. It took me to my edge and let me linger there while I did the work I came to do, as it always does. But there was a difference this time; a shift in my perception, a significant thought that appeared and to which I gave audience.
The shift happened about Day 3. As I was in prayer but definitely struggling, the thought came to my mind to “get underneath” the discomfort I was feeling in my body. The only way I could conceive of this was to go to my breath, which I did. As I did this, the discomfort almost immediately decreased. More accurately, my attention shifted away from the situation, and more toward a sense of deep, ineffable stillness.
Intrigued that I could feel such deep stillness under such conditions, I did the same with the drum. I love the songs and the spirit with which they’re sung, but I wanted to get underneath them, too. So, I did, and the stillness took on an even more transcendent quality. The sacred tree in front of me was next, and then the other dancers and the supporters. Even the surrounding forest decreased in significance as I concentrated on my breath and the growing sense of stillness within me.
A thought then occurred to me. "None of this is truly necessary."
What occurred to me was that all the the noise, the difficulty, the beautiful ceremony itself – none of it brings us closer to the great Stillness that constantly courses through life; it only puts us in a state to feel that closeness in a particular manner. The same might be said of our choice to engage life as a parent, or within our chosen careers (no matter how inspired), or as a member of a specific religion.
This sentiment does not diminish my gratitude for the ceremony itself. I see it as an opportunity that's unique to my human state and I love what happens to me as it progresses. It’s a part of my life by choice and I can’t imagine my life without it, most of the time. The different aspects of our journeys can be like this, too. Whether we are mother, father, leader, teacher or any other role, these can lend depth and meaning to our lives as human-embodied souls.
Yet, it’s clear to me that no matter what we do, no matter in what state we find ourselves, the Connection is always there. The paw print of Stillness in the muddy bank of the River of Life is what reveals the presence of Connection. And it’s always visible, stuck in any moment of time in which we choose to engage it.
It’s easy to get caught up in the ceremony of culture or calling, to the detriment of the experience of our connection to Life itself. It’s important to remember that, in spite of the pain, the noise and the “sound and the fury” of the great swarm of humanity around us with all that entails, beneath it all there is a great stillness that belies our connection to All That Is. The connection can never be broken. It can never be improved. It can always be felt.
Stillness is always as close as the next breath.
Making the choice to experience it in spite of our surroundings is entirely up to us.
(photo: Erin Laurvick)