Years ago, an older gentleman using a wheelchair, and accompanied by his wonderful wife, came into my very first booth at the League of NH Craftsmen’s Annual Fair.
He was an artist himself. And when he saw my work, he…exploded (figuratively), in a wonderful, emotional, deeply spiritual way.
He asked questions, he listened carefully to my answers, about the sources of my inspiration, what led me to do this work, where I was heading with it.
He got it. He got every single tiny little thing about it.
As he circled the booth, he kept saying, “You’re a shaman! You’re a shaman!”
His words made me very uncomfortable. Now, I (thought I) knew what a shaman was. If I’ve learned anything in my life, it’s that the minute I think I know everything, life will quickly and surely show me I don’t. (That’s why “eternal student of life” sneaks into almost all my my bios and intros.)
He stopped. He said, “I’m scaring you a little, aren’t I?”
I said yes. I said, “I thought I knew what a shaman was. A wise leader. but I don’t feel that way.”
He shared with me this beautiful, powerful definition of a shaman:
“All shamans are artists. But not all artists are shamans.
All shamans are teachers. But not all teachers are shamans.
All shamans are healers. But not all healers are shamans.”
It spoke so deeply to me, to how I felt about my art: My art healed me, and I believe it sometimes helps others heal. I love to share what I’ve learned, but not in a here’s-how-you-make-a-little-horse-way that so many people expect. More in a “what is the story only YOU can tell?” way.
And yet, even years later, I felt uncomfortable using that word in reference to myself.
Until, just a year or so before we left New Hampshire, I shared that story with a professional shaman. And she said, what I call Definiton of a Shaman Part IV:
“‘Shaman’ isn’t something you call yourself. It’s what others call YOU.”
A day or so ago, I had a teensy emotional breakdown. (In addition to difficult family matters, scary family matters, my most vulnerable pet on the lam, more uncertainty about my studio space, etc., I’ve been demolished by allergies this month. It’s scary, and exhausting, and leaves me fragile and exposed.) I wrote about it, listened to Mary Gauthier (pronounced go-shay. Who knew?? Not me!) singing “Mercy Now”. I had a little cathartic cry, and felt better.
So many people reached out to me, (you know who you are. THANK YOU!!!), including a few old and dear friends.
I get lazy when I’m “out of earshot.” I love catching up with people in person, but I suck at phone conversations, and when I write, I lose track of what I’ve told, and to whom.
But in the last two days, I’ve reached out. And people have reached out, especially a handful of people I call “my wise women”. And each one had just what I needed to hear to start down a healing path again. (Note to self: One quality of a good friend is, they don’t try to tell you your reality. Thank you, Melinda!)
None of these people would call themselves a shaman. (Of course they wouldn’t! See Definition Part IV above.)
None of them believe they have everything figured out. (Of course they wouldn’t! If you meet someone who claims that, run away.)
Some of them, who are going through extremely shitty stuff, would not even consider their blorting to be “wise words.” (But they are. Their words show self-awareness, self-responsibility, anguish with a huge dash of humor thrown in, and incredible strength of character. Not because “they’re doing it right”. Because , even when they think they’re doing it horribly, terribly wrong, because when they are in a hard place and they hate hate hate it, yet they continue to do the incredibly difficult work they have to do. And they are open to the tiny miracles and blessings they find along the way.)*
And so I say to you today, thank you. Thank you, Melinda, Carrie, Amy J., Julie, Deb, Mary-Ellen, anyone I’ve missed because I am a bird-brain this week, and also to those who would have reached out, if they’d known, because that’s what they do…. Even someone I hardly know, who simply validated my experience recently at an Art Trails event that went totally weird. Thank you, Linda! Thank you, Clare, for encouraging me to take some “horse time” today.
You are a shaman.
P.S. Just want to say, most of my issues I’m moping about are third-world issues. Others have it harder. A helluva lot harder. Just sayin’, I’m aware of my privilege here.
P.P.S. If you are struggling today, try this: Everything is Awful, and I’m Not Okay
*I’ve just read the book Everything Happens for a Reason (and other lies I’ve loved…) So I want to clarify this. I don’t believe we are sent shit to deal with for a reason. Shit happens. I do think that what can help us through, through the fear, the anger, the despair, is to look for those tiny synchronicities that help us get through another day.
Like me saying to Jon, during his quick visit to New Hampshire last week, and on his way back to Keene from the White Mountains, “I wish we could talk with Jim and Kate (whom we haven’t seen in years) because they went through this exact same thing, and maybe they have some wisdom on how we can get through this, too.” And ONE HOUR LATER, Jon stopped for a quick dunk at the Discount Beach Club (“Bring your own damn towel”) on Dublin Lake, and he heard someone say, “Jon? Is that you?!” And there were Jim and Kate on the “beach.”)**
**The Discount Beach Club was a turn-off on Route 12, which runs around part of Dublin Lake.*** It’s literally that–a turn-off where you can scoot down to the lake. Not “restricted membership”, like some other lake accesses, or the boat launch, or whatever. The chances of finding someone there, let alone someone we know, let alone the exact people we needed right then? Well. That’s my definition of a miracle! So add Jim and Kate to the list!
***Dublin Lake has worked magic before, as these two blog posts illustrate. Cool place.