We were under the leafy oak tree in the backyard of the Starry Song’s house in Sedona, in the mountains of Arizona, where people gathered to hear the shaman tell the stories that contained the ancient wisdom of his people. Sitting on colourful blankets spread across the lawn, everyone was joyful to be part of that simple but meaningful magical and sacred ceremony. Magic, in essence, is transformation; sacred is everything that makes us better. Those moments provided possibilities for change in everyone there. Starry Song only told stories, nothing more than that. However, they had such content that they led us to profound reflections, allowing a greater clarity of vision, the initial movement towards the improvement of being and living. Provided, of course, that the opportunity was well taken.
As part of the ritual, he would begin by beating his two-sided drum in gentle rhythms to cool down internal agitation. That day he sang a song in a native dialect, the meaning of which I did not know, but the melody led to a pleasant sense of calm. This allowed greater receptivity for understanding between the lines of the stories, that part which the narrator did not tell, but the listeners reached anyway. Then, Starry Song narrated, “There was a very old tribe, which for many winters was ruled by a very nice, intelligent chieftain with a peculiar method of staying in power. He led by dissent”.
Faced with the surprised expression of some people, the shaman explained: “Intelligence and sympathy, typical instruments of light, are also tools of the shadows when they are not involved with love.” He went on: “Without most of the tribe being aware of it, he instigated disagreement among his members. Then he presented himself as a mediator to pacify the relations, leaving the feeling that he was indispensable to the balance of the tribe and the well-being of all. Gradually, the dependency relationship created around him grew stronger, as did his power to rule. However, the resentment between people also grew. The chief promoted games and parties to distract them from the reality that engulfed and limited them. They were moments of mere euphoria, a sensation that many confused as if it were joy or happiness.”
“The admiration for the chieftain had become the only common ground in the whole tribe. Or almost all of it. As in all the villages of that time, in that one there was also a Council of Elders formed by men and women respected for the wisdom they gained and the love sedimented during their lives. They met at the winter and summer equinoxes, or whenever a greater need arose, to deliberate on the tribe’s direction. The decisions were to guide the administration of the village by the chieftain. In recent times, as a reflection of personal emotions, but without people realising it, the atmosphere in the village had become very dense and sombre. Despite the abundant harvest and the abundant game, dissatisfaction was growing. Dissatisfaction about what? Almost nobody could identify the cause of such discomfort, although all the material conditions were in place for the days to be enjoyed in a happy and healthy way. Life in the village was heavy because the relations were tense. Tolerance and patience had disappeared; when this happens life narrows. The inherent and enriching differences between people were pointed out as mistakes or defects; difficulties were interpreted as weakness rather than being seen as possibilities that could be used for overcoming and evolving. People felt an inexplicable need to show themselves as strong. There remained the feeling that no one could reveal any fragility, as they would succumb in the face of others’ judgment and, worse, in relation to their opinion of themselves.” Starry Song paused dramatically and added, “No one wanted to admit that they were unhappy, lost, tired and empty. Virtues were seen as weakness; humbleness was a characteristic of the defeated and submissive. Courage was confused with aggressiveness, sincerity with offence, respect with fear. Love was a thing for fools and naive. As it was a force born out of hatred and fed by sorrow, the feeling prevailed that the one who managed to subjugate the other, whose will prevailed over all others, would win. The most overbearing and arrogant would be the victor; the strongest would be the one who hated the most. Only pride and ignorance grant this disastrous power”.
“On understanding that dense emotions had driven the relations between the members of the tribe to unbearable levels of tension and, as a consequence, the village had become a cruel prison without bars, the Council of Elders met and deliberated that a new chief should be chosen. A leader capable of pacifying the deaf war that existed in the village, helping people to rebuild their relationships, giving each person the power to lead their own lives. To do so, it was necessary to free oneself from the dependencies created by the shadows, to live without sorrows and to discover the personal power provided by the virtues. According to the Council, the true leader is one who is able to bring out in each person what is best in his or her heart.”
“As personal evolution proceeds, each individual must become the perfect leader of himself, with the due responsibility to develop the capacity to harmonize all his relationships, whether with himself or with all people. Only this integrates us with Mother Earth and allows us to see the face of the Great Spirit.”
“On learning of the Council’s decision, the chieftain said that he would not oppose the proposal of the wise Elders of the tribe. Several members of the village applied for the position of chief. In the days preceding the choice, the candidates began to quarrel among themselves and the people took sides with their favourites, intensifying the conflict until there was a huge fight in the village. Once again, the former chieftain was sought to solve the problem and declared that the tribe would not survive without his leadership. Everyone kept quiet and the election was cancelled.”
“The elders, members of the Council, began to be viewed with suspicion and treated with contempt by the people. They claimed that the philosophy of the wise people did not apply to reality, unlike the pragmatism of the chieftain who solved all problems. So the elders preferred to stay away and went to live in the mountains.”
“With the passage of time, despite the good harvest and the game remaining plentiful, the village went into decay. At first, contrary to the prevailing belief, true decadence is never related to economic issues, but spiritual ones, which in turn are fundamentally about love and ethics. Ethics, in short, is dignity. Decadence does not dialogue with matter without first closing the door on the invisible values of the spirit. These values are treasures tangible only to the heart and palpable to the conscience”.
At that moment I realized that Starry Song had defined ethics, albeit briefly, but had forgotten love. I said nothing so as not to disturb the progress of the story.
“One day, the chieftain was stricken by a mysterious illness and passed away. Disoriented, the people no longer knew how to live without his mediation, they had forgotten how it was possible to live without someone to tell them the direction they should follow, what was right or wrong. They had unlearned about the power of choices and of love. They had become prisoners of themselves because of their inability to think and feel differently from what they had been conditioned to do. But they could not understand and translate this idea into clear and simple thinking. Lost by the absence of a leadership, the ancient wise elders were invited back from the mountains to coordinate the choice of a new chief. The wise elders had difficulty in entering the village, not because they were prevented from doing so by anyone, but because of the dense atmosphere created by so much hatred, sorrow, enmity, intolerance and impatience. Energies that were anchored in that place after a tense coexistence of many years. Ceremonies were held to dissipate these adverse and unhealthy vibrations, but it was essential for people to change their own emotional and cognitive patterns so that the predominant energy could be definitively transmuted. Although the atmosphere had improved, the village was not healed, because the majority still carried within themselves the rancour of a behaviour, although harmful, still predominant in the way they thought and acted. Basically, in essence, nothing had changed”.
“No cycle ends while there are remnants of its obsolete way of being and living. The will to change has to be sincere, born in the core of each person, by the clear perspective that we came to possess, of the truth that no longer wants to retreat. Not only driven by circumstantial and momentary interests, since they are insufficient to support an honest transformation. Speech is not enough; it is the choices that embody the transformations”.
Starry Song looked at the people sitting on the lawn and said: “What is my true intention? This is the question that should guide all choices and precede any gesture. Don’t be frightened when you come across your shallow, vile and self-interested motivations. In truth, it is a wonderful thing when this happens. Accepting our own imperfections is the primordial stone for the corrections that are necessary for our evolution. The opposite of this is the greatest of lies, the one we tell ourselves, which imprisons us in backwardness. Suffering will always be the sign of a heart that cries out for changes in itself. The cry of a heart that needs to learn to love more and better.”
“The Council of Elders, once restored, suggested that instead of choosing a new leader with absolute powers, a committee should be created to administer the village; a group of people who, through diverse points of view, would govern the tribe, providing a better balance between the existing differences. They stressed that the differences were fundamental because, when understood and accepted, they bring people together; they integrate and make up the whole. Parts that are left over mean parts that are missing. The parts that apparently do not fit anywhere are those that Perfection awaits to complete itself.”
“Everyone applauded and approved the idea. The group that would form the committee was chosen by everyone in the village. A huge breakthrough seemed to have been achieved. However, at the first disagreement, the differences were not understood and discord returned. Without delay, one of the members of the committee inflamed the tempers of the people involved in the conflict and then came forward to solve it. Other similar situations followed and were solved in the same way. Had an old practice returned? No, in fact, it had never gone away. Before the moon changed, the committee disbanded and this member was chosen as the new chieftain, along the same lines and methods as the previous one. The poison was still in the vein of the tribe”.
“The wise elders warned of the danger, but they were not heard. So they returned to the mountains. Since everything is learning and all learning becomes evolution, the next lessons needed greater rigour for the immature students to learn. A severe drought occurred in the following seasons, causing the village to go through a hitherto unknown period of hunger, weakness and need. Internal conflicts raged and the new chieftain’s power was pushed to the limit of the unbearable, generating much abuse and suffering. Weakened, not only by the material difficulties they were going through, but mainly by emotional disturbances and personal disagreements driven by petty interests and fuelled by the shadows that are aggravated at such times, a nomadic tribe that was passing by saw the opportunity and attacked the village. Weakened in itself and by itself, the village was defeated and dominated by the enemy. Those who did not succumb to the attack were taken away to serve as slaves. Resigned and unable to do anything else, from the top of the mountains, the elders just watched the destiny that the tribe let itself be led to. The village no longer existed. Without being able to understand, its inhabitants had made that choice”.
At the end, there was a great silence. The people sitting around the oak were deep into their ideas, trying to understand everything that had been said and, above all, the wisdom that lay between the lines of the story. How could fiction help reality? Disgruntled, a boy, about twelve years old, raised his arm. Starry Song arched his lips in a slight smile and made a simple movement with his head authorizing the questioning. The boy claimed that the story was wrong, for that ending made no sense. He understood the fact that the survivors of the lost battle had become slaves, as was customary in the past. However, it had only been fate, driven by external circumstances beyond their control, since not even a madman would make such an absurd choice.
From the buzz that had formed, I could see that many adults also thought like the boy. The shaman waited for silence to return and asked everyone: “How much of the destiny of each one of us depends solely on our choices, and how much is up to the Great Mystery to determine?”
People suggested different percentages, whether as a consequence of personal decisions, or the impositions of Chance, influencing the destiny of each individual. However, there was one consensus: it is impossible to have control over all events. Starry Song pondered: “It’s true, but it’s not true either”. He was asked to explain further. He gladly did so, “All the facts for which we have no control, such as some disasters or illnesses, we usually call fate or karma. It was part of my destiny, I had no way of avoiding it, they say. Or even, it happened because it was my karma. Well, destiny or karma are nothing more than the primers of personal learning. Choices that at some moment, even if it is not clear in the memory, were not made and need understanding and correction. We are all travellers towards the light, even those who still do not accept the journey or refuse to correct the route.
Thus, learning that is not completed in one existence is transferred to the following ones. This explains many tragedies, mainly when they befall defenceless children. This explanation does not exempt anyone from fighting evil firmly, but it brings understanding about the existence of some unpleasant and apparently inexplicable facts. The Great Mystery does not work with hypotheses of good and bad luck.”
“Most people have heard about the Cosmic Law of Return. Every thought or gesture brings about an equal reaction in the opposite direction. Some prefer to forget this inexorable rule under the pretext of minor and immediate interests. They are those who like to delude themselves. Many fear it as if it were a law of punishment. They are those who ignore the greater meaning of the stars. The Law of Return is a powerful force of balance, existing to maintain the harmony of the universe. It is the Law of Guardians because it is an educational law that teaches about justice, dignity and love. The world will embrace you the way you open your heart. Do you want love? You don’t have to ask, just offer.”
A woman interrupted to say that many people refused to receive the love she wished to give. Starry Song agreed: “Yes, it happens every day, but it cannot become an impediment for you to continue sowing your most beautiful flowers through the deserts of the world. Many others are eager and in need of your love. To those who deny themselves, you must understand that they are not yet ready to experience the honey of life. I recommend patience. Just set limits so that they do not mistreat you and, if necessary, stay away for as long as needed. Each person has their own rhythm of travelling: the conscience sets the pace and the heart dictates the pace of the walker. But be careful never to refuse to extend a hand when necessary. Always be a light in the darkness, but accept that many still prefer to stay in the dark. Remember the movement of the elders, who went to the mountains, returned to the village and went to the mountains again out of respect for their own principles and values.”
“However, never try to cheat yourself. This is the same as to vainly trying to deceive the Great Mystery. Understand the true intention behind every gesture. How many gestures of apparent mercy actually conceal fumbled ideas of guilt, senseless desires for domination or the urge to stroke one’s own pride of feeling greater than others? To name but a few of countless possibilities.” He paused, looked at the people sitting on the lawn and added, “Don’t answer me, it’s a question each of us must ask ourselves every day. Although all help is welcome, without love mercy is not perfect. Understanding our own intentions is a sure way to reach the core of ourselves, to see ourselves in the perfect mirror and peel away the husks that still prevent you from enjoying a great and different power.”
The same boy interrupted the shaman to ask which power he was referring to. Starry Song smiled at the boy’s boldness, then frowned and explained sweetly: “Just like in that village in the story, we stimulate and exercise in ourselves the power that will make us stronger. Everyone wants to be strong and there is nothing wrong in this. However, we believe that this power is linked to the domination of other people’s will, the supremacy of our own interests, the hegemony of our ideas, the fear that people will feel for us. So, the strongest will be the one who hates the most, the proud who shines the most, the vain who is applauded the most, the overbearing who imposes the greatest subjugation, the stubborn who reacts aggressively with the world when his truth is not accepted. Of course, all this is disguised with speeches suitable for attenuating responsibility, defrauding the conscience and silencing the heart. However, even suffocated or ignored, love never dies. It is meek, serene, clear, light and quiet. It does not make noise; it does not attract attention. It understands difficulties, it understands with depth, it embraces without fuss, it protects without interest, it asks for nothing and demands nothing. When it is used as a path, it allows the wanderer to penetrate hitherto impregnable fortresses and makes him able to turn on the unknown light to show the hidden wonders of the world and the radiant beauty of life. We will remain slaves to the nomadic tribes of darkness as long as we deny the obvious: true strength and power will never belong to the one who feels the greatest hatred, in any of its many variants, but to the one who learns to love more and better”.
Silence reigned on the lawn of Starry Song’s house. Deeply touched, people said goodbye with gratitude for the illuminated morning provided by the shaman. The following Saturday the session would be repeated. In the early evening, I found him sitting in his rocking chair on the veranda. He was preparing his indefectible pipe with a red stone stummel, while looking up at the sky watching the silent arrival of the stars. I sat down in the armchair next to him. Without saying anything, he lit the smoke, puffed a few times and looked at me as if he knew I wanted to talk. I remembered that during the telling of the story he had forgotten to define love. I asked him to do so in the brief duration of time of the flyby of an eagle ready to catch a prey. Starry Song arched his lips as if he had been expecting it, and then he faced the challenge: “Love is communion”. And he finished: “The indispensable common-union with ourselves to be able to realize a union with what we have as the best part of us and in common with the whole world”.
I had the strange sensation that the brightest star of the night, in that instant, smiled at Starry Song.
Translated by Cazmilian Zórdic.