Wednesday, August 4, 2010

chimpanzees in space

This isn't the way I tell it in MSR.

I think it started this way: M was putting drops in his eyes, passed the little bottle around for anyone who might also like to indulge. I think he was the only brave one that night. As usual. M was always one step ahead of the curve. Then again, he was skipping the nights 'entertainment.' Been there, done that. Again and again. He was still flying when we came out of our trance.

Harner was giving a workshop that night. Journey to the Lower World. A number of indigenous shamans had come to watch him do his magic (so to speak). They brought their drums. This part, I generally tell. I'll skip the details. Everyone knows how this works, right? But I'll start with my usual disclaimer:

I don't do this. It's not my thing. I've got this denial thing going really well. I'm really convincing, right?

My journey to the so-called Lower World had me flying in a spacecraft with joker chimpanzees in spacesuits, with helmets with decals (of chimpanzees with helmets with decals...). Four of them, like there ought to be, apparently. And they were not strapped down, but floating around having a grand old time, playing with the controls. I'd like to invent zero-grav bananas for them to play with, but no — there was nothing floating around but the four chimpanzees. Goofing off. In space suits. With helmets. With decals. I mean, how embarrassing is that for a shamanic vision?

And after they drummed us back, Harner said, "Well, of course that's not how it works. Because shamanism is about helping someone. Healing. Helping them solve something. So partner up with someone you don't know, and have them ask a question, and go back down and see if you can get an answer for them..."

This was at a conference of the Society for the Anthropology of Consciousness, of course. One of the years that I was organizing the conference. On campus at the Faculty Club, surrounded by redwoods, streams, hills and Maybeck architecture. And I'm the one who had invited Harner (again).

Partner up with someone you don't know.

But I know everyone. Then the door opens, and there's now one person I don't know — so he's my guy, right? So I call him over. He asks his question, I ask mine. bla bla bla. We go back down to the Lower World. Nothing.

He says he doesn't know the answer to my question, of course. But the answer is there. I recognize it in his accent, I know it well. Working-class Manchester, with a touch of Sherwood Forest. But he plays the game and tells me what he sees in the Other World. And there's my answer. And he cuts me to the core. And I know that he's nailed it.

He's put his suitcase down in the corner of the room. Literally, he's right off a trans-Atlantic flight into ... the Lower World. His question:

"When can I settle down?" he asks. "Where can I live?" He glances at his suitcases for emphasis.

I tell him what he doesn't want to hear:

"The chimpanzees are having way too much fun. They're not coming down." I mean, what else can I say?

Silence. Then rage.

"Those damned chimpanzees!" he just about screams.


"You know. Those chimpanzees," he says by way of explanation. But I don't know those chimpanzees.

He tells me that in the early 1960s we (they?) put chimpanzees up in space. And he's been worrying ever since what happened to them. Obsessing about them.

And I got his chimpanzees. Pre-cognitively. Before he asked his question. Before I called him over. Before we started our second Journey. I didn't have my own vision, I had his, just as he had mine.

That's how it's supposed to work, right? He got his answer, and boy did he not like it: Suitcase in hand, he's not settling down till the chimpanzees come down. And that's not bloody likely, is it?

That's somewhat how I tell it, more or less. With a a lot of academic stuff about different Worlds, sensory shifts, drums (did I mention the drums?), journeying rhythms, dismemberment, you know the drill...

But here's what I really remember about that night. What stands out more than anything else. M putting drops in his eyes. And he's the powerful shaman. And that night — long after Harner's sampler Journey to the Lower World — everything changed. M put drops in his eyes, and suddenly there were people making music in the bathtub of my room. Good music too — exotic and soulful. Fully dressed, I might add, including dress shoes, under water. Water music. And there were six people staying in my room playing musical chairs (so to speak). Everyone changed places — and their lives changed. Everyone present shifted gears and by morning our destinies had changed.

So who's the shaman? Or does it matter? Or is it the power of collectivity? Or a contact high off those powerful drops? Or the beautiful long-haired dog, or chimpanzees in space? Or just coincidence.

I don't believe in shamanism, of course. Just like I don't believe in anything else. But we have experiences. And those experiences are powerful. We know they happened. And things change afterwards. And we follow the new trajectory.

Today was one of those days.

One of those days where everything shifts and will be different ever after. No shamanism. No collectivity. Just paperwork. In our culture it's paperwork that brings about radical change and confers new status. And maybe it solves a problem and maybe it heals us, if we're lucky. But we've got a paper to notarize or stick an official stamp on for just about any major transition we collectively acknowledge. For me — with the completion of this one last piece of paper — that transition is called: retirement. And maybe it's healing. Don't know.

But the one after that — well, we know what that one's called. And I'm hoping for drums. A shaman or two. Four chimpanzees in space. Water music. A long-haired northern shepherd by my side. And maybe a couple drops in my eyes to facilitate the Journey.

No comments:

Post a Comment