Orgiva 30th January 2018
A Night with a Shaman
You know those apocalyptic films where alien abductees live in camps in the middle of nowhere and speak in riddles? Ladies and gentlemen, I have been there. Not only that but I can also report that people who live in these edge-lands seem to have shed layers of etiquette that most of us wouldn’t dream of removing, not even for the neighbour’s dog. This makes them both highly receptive and very vulnerable.
I found myself bumping along the mountain roads of the Sierra Nevada in Harald’s red van, a few days after he had kindly given me a lift. I say ‘I found myself,” as if I had no say in the matter, but I had arrived here due to a confusion of language. Harald had invited me to the mountains to join a group of people, only there was no group. He had got his ‘I”s and ‘we’s’ confused and so I found myself travelling alone with him. The lucky fact that Harald was not a murderous psychopath was all to the good.
The Rolling Stones sang out agelessly on the CD player, the collection of dead biros, stones, feathers, sticks and accumulated bric a brac, slid two and fro on the dashboard and Harald had asked me a difficult question about meditation and silence which I was struggling to answer. Just as I began to speak, a stone hit the windscreen with a loud crack and Harald turned his piercing blue eyes to me. With his heavily accented English he said, “Ah! Linda! Are you silent or are you being silenced? You see you are safe from answering question by big bottle of emptiness. What is the universe telling you?” After a short, stunned silence we both burst out laughing.
The conversation continued in this way until we came to a mountain village where we stopped to fill his water containers at the spring. This water comes straight off the snowy mountains and many local people drink and cook with it, using the tap water only for washing. We continued into the mountains and Harald talked about his dog, Moondance who had died last year. He clearly missed her and was telling me how he had called a fat Iranian to come and look at her. I puzzled about this for a few moments, not knowing if I had misheard or if he was speaking in riddles again, but I asked him,
“A fat Iranian?”
“Yes, yes,” he insisted, “a fat Iranian.”
What did I know about the conduct of Austrians and their sick dogs? When Harald mentioned that the Iranian had come to put Moondance to sleep, I suddenly understood, and at this inappropriate moment began to laugh.
“Oh, a Vet-enarian!” I said.
Harald rolled his eyes at me as if I was the most stupid English woman he had ever met, and we came to a halt.
“We are walking a bit for here.” He said.
Walk isn’t what I would describe the vertiginous descent we had to make carrying several bags and canisters of water. We slithered and slid down the hillside for fifteen or twenty minutes until we came to a gate made out of pallets and a bed frame. This unpromising entrance opened to a stunningly beautiful flat plain of about an acre with mountains arching around one end and a gentle slope down into the valley, and towards the distant sea at the other. It was an exquisite location and the total isolation was both alarming and breath taking.
Unfortunately for Harald, the previous owner had left him with a mountain of junk that was almost impossible to shift because of the difficult access. It was a mess, and I think he had become resigned to it. His “chalet”, was a large summer house, not the farmhouse that I had expected, and the toilet was a grey plastic barrel situated centre stage, with a panoramic view of this beautiful mountain valley. I looked at that barrel with a deep sense of panic knowing that no matter how long I sat atop it, my bowels would be gripped with constipating modesty. Looking at the junk, the chalet and the barrel, I was filled with the desire to run for the hills but being already there, I took some deep meditative breaths and remembered something I had written in my diary by Henry David Thoreau: “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” I was exactly where I wanted and needed to be, living simply and having a direct experience of nature. I was out of my depths but I chose to swim, at least for the next twelve hours as having been under the impression that there would be several people here, I had agreed to stay the night.
I find that red wine always puts a positive perspective on things and soon I began to feel quite cheery. We cut lots of wood for the stove because it was the only form of heating, and our efforts at this end of the night would be very welcome in the cold hours of the morning. I was unaccountably happy sawing wood with a very blunt bow saw, and snapping the smaller branches for kindling. I didn’t care in the least that my hands were bleeding and scratched, and while we worked, Harald and I chatted about our lives. It grew cold and the sky turned into that luminous, stained glass blue, but our eyes adjusted and the work kept us warm.
It astonishes me how you can tell things to a stranger that you would have trouble telling to your friends. This must be because our friends have an image of us that we have spent a good deal of time nurturing and maintaining. Harald demonstrated his excellent listening skills by asking direct and insightful questions. He often challenged me and occasionally made some painful observations. At the same time he kept up a very high level of ridiculousness so I felt like I was in some kind of self-help comedy therapy. Later as I described these events to my Spiritual Guide, she asked, “So, who was Christ to you on this retreat?” And I was so surprised to hear myself say, “Harald.” Once again I learn, and relearn the lesson that a King can be born in a stable, can be homeless and apparently criminal, and that compassion and kindness can come to us in ways and in people that we least expect.
Some time in the small hours, as I sat on the barrel with my bare legs glowing like parallel strip lights beneath a blazing white moon, and with the stars arching above me in an infinite arc of brightness, I was supremely and childishly happy.