Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Balancing Acts

Came across something lovely in this 1976 article about shamanism by Barbara G. Meyerhoff:

"I first became aware of the significance of the shaman's need for exquisite balance in my contact with the Huichol Indians of North Central Mexico several years ago. For some time I had been working with a Huichol mara'akame or shaman priest named Ramon Medina Silva. One afternoon, without explanation, he interrupted our sessions of taping mythology to take a part of Huichols, personal friends, and myself, to an area outside of his home. It was a region of steep barrancas, cut by a rapid waterfall, cascading perhaps a thousand feet over jagged, slippery rocks. At the edge of the fall, Ramon removed his sandals and announced that this was a special place for shamans. He proceeded to leap across the waterfall, from rock to rock, frequently pausing, his body bent forward, his arms outspread, head thrown back, entirely birdlike, poised motionlessly on one foot. He disappeared, re-emerged, leaped about, and finally achieved the other side. I was frightened by the performance, but none of the Huichols there seemed at all worried...

"'The mara'akame must have superb equilibrium,' he said, and demonstrated the point by uising his fingers to march up his violin bow. 'Otherwise, he will not reach his destination and will fall this way or that,' and his fingers plunged into an imaginary abyss. 'One crosses over. it is very narrow and, without balance, one is eaten by those animals waiting below.'"

My conception of the shaman had been somewhat technological, like a human transmitter, a traveller between different spaces in human consciousness. My imagination was making the matter more complicated than anything really is. To think of it as simple equilibrium, a simple balancing act, feels more truthful somehow. Artists are concerned with one aspect of the shaman's calling, and that feels very much like an act of balance and equilibrium.

Yesterday, I reviewed a videotape of one of my theatre classes to receive notes and to reflect on my own competence. I watched myself (sick but still energized) trying to navigate several sides around a chasm, not as agile as the shaman but managing, trying to teach children the essential nature of our myths and notions, that we may use them well.


Ji Hyang said...

To me this feels completely in accord with shamanic and Zen practice: a sense of reciprocity, balance, connection, navigating the chasm of duality through a tacit, felt sense: trusting not knowing.

Open mic here next week, wish you were local...

MarionL said...

Maria Sabina, a native Mexican Shaman, was a fascinating person. She lived from 1888 to 1985. Her chants are like beautiful poetry. I have the book, "Maria Sabina, Her Life and Chants," by Alvaro Estrada, and it's a treasure.

Love the balance picture. Glad you're feeling better.