Be grateful for the darkness

I was driving through the mountains of Arizona, on the winding road from Flagstaff to Sedona, when I was hit by another car. After a few days in the hospital, I went to Starry Song’s house, the shaman who had the gift of eternalising the philosophy of his people through word. We were on the porch of his house. It was a beautiful afternoon, without a cloud in the sky. I regretted the accident, as I would not be able to most things I had planned. Horse-riding, diving into the lake, rafting down the rapids, as well as the desired trails to the sacred places in the mountains for the magic ceremonies. None of that would be possible with my leg in a cast. Starry Song just looked at me. He lit his indefectible pipe with red stone stummel, took a few puffs and said, “Everything that happens in our lives is for our good. So be grateful for the accident”. I told him he couldn’t be serious. Although I was aware that the damage could be more serious, and that is always possible, on the other hand, I could get through the holiday without any injury, as it always been on my days in Sedona. The shaman watched the pipe smoke dance in the afternoon breeze and commented, “Your spirituality is like a lake with little water, Yoskhaz. Still very shallow.” I shook my head in response. I commented that he was not in a good mood. All in all, one does not make fun of the misfortune of others. I recalled my many years of study in philosophy and metaphysics, including the several periods I had spent with him learning about shamanism. I spoke of my studies of the Tao, Stoicism and the Christian tradition with Li Tzu, Loureiro and the Elder, respectively. Starry Song questioned, “What good is it to me to have a river running through my backyard if I don’t drink or bathe in its waters?”

I immediately disagreed. I said that it was impossible to be happy about having one’s holiday plans thwarted, especially because of an accident that could have been avoided. I pondered that if I had not gone to Flagstaff for lunch that day, nothing would have happened. The shaman shrugged and said, “Maybe something worse could have happened if you had stayed here.” He puffed his pipe again “The good spirits never leave us alone. There are injuries and situations far more serious than a broken leg. Accept that you have received a beautiful gift; it will be easier for you to learn how to use it.” He looked me in the eyes and advised again: “Be grateful!”

We were interrupted at that moment by a group of friends who were spending the night in the forest to photograph nocturnal animals. They came to ask me to borrow my camera, since I would not be able to accompany them. I told them to take my backpack and looked at Starry Song as if to tell him to understand me and make sense of it. The shaman smiled.

As soon as the people said goodbye, he commented: “The ancestral wisdom of my people teaches that in every bad situation there is a mage hiding among the debris.” A mage? I found that strange. The shaman continued: “The power of a mage is to transform reality. Find the mage or the accident will just be an annoyance.”

Starry Song stood up and walked out. I picked up a book to distract myself, but I couldn’t wrap my mind around the narrative. My mind, recurrently, reminded me of what I had scheduled but could not do. My holiday had been stolen by fate. The days began to get too hot and the nights too cold; the coffee, lukewarm; the food, tasteless. That’s when the weekend came. On Saturdays, since he stopped teaching at the town school many years ago, parents and children would gather atop the leafy oak tree in the backyard of his house to hear the stories told by the shaman, in which he taught the ancient wisdom of his people. It was a pleasant and safe magic ceremony. Magic is transformation; the stories left new ideas as seeds for each person to modify their own reality; life is changed when we change the way we live each day. I was comfortable on the balcony and preferred not to approach. I would listen from there. Two boys, about five years old, came up to me and offered me candies. I refused; I added that candies had too much sugar and caused cavities. One of the boys turned to the other and said: “Uncle is grumpy. Let’s go”. That bothered me; they didn’t educate children like they used to, I thought.

In front of dozens of people who had settled on the grass, Starry Song began the story: “Long ago there was a remarkable warrior named Koda. He rode well, was an excellent tracker, climbed rock walls with rare agility, skilled in the use of the bow and an accomplished fighter. He liked to hunt alone, for no one could keep up with him in strength and skill; he would spend days in the forest and when he returned, he would bring all the meat the tribe would need to get through the winter. He was feared by his enemies and admired by his friends. Once, when his only son was in his teens, he went against his own habits and took the boy to a hunting trip with him. He wanted to pass on to the young man all that he had learned from his father and perfected. On that hunt they managed to locate a huge brown bear, an animal famous for its aggressiveness. However, Koda knew that besides supplying a good part of the tribe’s food, that hunt would be a valuable initiation rite for his son. They spent days watching the animal. As it was impossible to face the bear in a full-frontal fight, they waited for a moment of inattention for a definitive attack. The animal headed for a cliff. Koda knew it was dangerous, as he could end up caught between the bear and the abyss. He didn’t usually get carried away in these situations, but he didn’t want to disappoint his son. He already imagined him wearing a coat made of that skin and a cord made of the bear’s enormous nail, symbols of courage, skill and power before the tribe. At a certain moment, the animal began to descend the cliff. Koda and his son were following him at a safe distance, when suddenly the bear reversed direction to move quickly towards them. The boy was startled and knocked off balance. Koda did everything to hold him up and ended up falling too. The son hit his head on a rock and went straight into the arms of the Great Spirit.” I could see that some of the listeners had tears in their eyes. The shaman continued: “Koda survived, but in the fall, he broke all the fingers on both hands, besides tearing several tendons. He could never again shoot an arrow or handle a bow; he was left unable to hunt for the rest of his existence.”

“Added to the pain of no longer exercising what he believed was his gift, Koda was wracked with immeasurable grief at the sudden departure of his beloved son. In one fell swoop, he had lost all the things that nourished his life. When he was well from the fracture in his hands, although there remained a definite limitation to moving his fingers, which prevented him from doing many things, another fracture was far from healing. Located in his heart, it seemed impossible to heal; this prevented him from the joy of days. For Koda, it was unlikely that he would ever be able to fill the void that had settled inside him.”

“One night in a very harsh winter, when everyone in the tribe was sleeping, Koda went out alone into the forest without warning anyone. He took no food, water or even a cloak to protect himself from the cold. Wrapped in immeasurable depression, he was ready to to meet his beloved son in the unseen world of the Great Mystery. He went to the same cliff from which they had plummeted. He understood that there was the appropriate boarding platform. He leaned back on a rock frozen by the low temperature and let himself fall asleep in the cold so that the night would take him. Next time he opens his eyes, he would no longer be in this world. It so happened that his son appeared to him in a dream. The young man was handsome and smiling. He told his father that he was well and happy. He explained that each person has a time of travel in each existence and it is necessary not only to respect but to enjoy each day. Leaving before the time hinders the continuation of the journey by leading back to the starting point. So, contrary, to Koda’s wishes, it would take even longer for them to be together again. However, he explained that the heart is the place of many springs of pure water; springs of love and forgiveness. His father should forgive himself, for he was not to blame for what had happened; everything has its time. He explained that he should not regret fate either; there is always love, wisdom and justice in the facts of life, although we have some difficulty understanding many things before their due time. The time of expansion of consciousness.”

“He said that every time he wanted to feel the presence of his son, he should sing a song in his memory; but it should be a happy song, because love without joy is not love. He added that his father should go back to the tribe and reinvent himself. Koda replied that he could not, for everything was too dark in his life. The son answered him: be grateful for the darkness.”

Koda woke up startled. In addition to the impact the dream had caused, he was very cold and was beginning to feel an uncomfortable numbness throughout his body; he would die of hypothermia before returning to the tribe according to his son’s advice. That was when he heard a strange noise. It was the huge grizzly bear, the same as on the fateful day. As he could neither fight nor run, Koda just looked into the animal’s eyes. Silently, he begged for mercy. So, instead of suicide, an involuntary death could lead him to meet his son. However, the bear had compassion in its gaze. Contrary to Koda’s wish, the animal lay down beside him and welcomed him close to its warm body, preventing the cold from extinguishing the light of his existence.”

“The ancient warrior awoke with the high morning sun. The bear was no longer at his side. Impressed by the facts of the night, Koda returned to the village and reported the fantastic events he had experienced. The people said it was a good story, but they did not seem to believe it. They told Koda that some dreams seem real, but are only dreams. They claimed that it could be a delirium coming from the extreme cold. However, other people were approaching to listen. Although they also doubted the veracity of the story, they asked if he knew other stories, because they had been charmed by the way he had narrated this one; they swore they felt as if they were living the plot. Koda realised that he liked to tell stories and this was perhaps the reason why he told them so well.”

“Koda remembered the old stories taught by his grandmothers. There was wisdom in them; as a child he had fun trying to find the lessons in each one. He began to catalogue the ancient stories of his people. The next step, he began to narrate his hunts; he introduced elements of mystery and fantasy, not just to make them more interesting, but to highlight the absurdity of the reality that we refuse to accept. The most interesting thing was to realise that by telling the stories he was also learning from them; there were more lessons than he realised at the time. He then understood how the stories could help; they were seeds of transformation through the teachings they transmitted. Including, and mainly, to himself.”

“Time has passed. When everyone realized, the warrior had withdrawn from the scene so that the wise man could take his place on the stage of life. He discovered that, in truth, the warrior only existed to provide the stories that one day the wise man would tell. Teaching was his genuine gift. Koda became a wonderful storyteller, a flower gardener of evolution. The primordial seed was the darkness that one day, because everything was made dark in the extreme, allowed him to see the light of life as he had never perceived it before.”

“He learned to play the drum to accompany the ancestral songs which were also ways of illustrating the stories. Some songs are like comic books,” he joked. “The storyteller lived in unimaginable fullness when compared to the days when he prided himself on being an accomplished hunter. The accident forced him to search for the unknown within himself; then he became amazed forever.”

There was absolute silence.

A teenage girl asked to speak. The shaman gestured with his head for her to continue. The girl commented: “Sometimes, when everything seems clear, we find it difficult to see where the light is; when everything seems fun, we tend to forget the need to advance and evolve. Then, by act of pure love, life leaves us in the darkness so that we can understand how the light manifests, moves and strengthens us.”

Starry Song smiled in approval. He frowned at the audience and reminded them again, “Having fun is fundamental and helps relieve the stresses of existence. But the essence of life is evolution. In some periods, either by distraction or by convenience, we lose the sensitivity to locate the light. Those are the moments when darkness comes to help us. By destroying the reality of today, it makes room for an unimaginable tomorrow by highlighting the light that we cannot see. Of course, as long as we know how to seize the opportunity.”

A little girl raised her arm. Starry Song told her to speak. The little girl wanted to know what song Koda sang when he missed her son, for she had a little dog who had also gone to meet the Great Spirit. The shaman smiled sweetly at her and explained, “Koda would take the drum and rumble a love song to his son. He let his heart tell him what the song would be; Koda’s great secret was that he learned to listen to his own heart; this made him a wise man. So, when he slept, in his dreams he would meet his son; they would talk, play and laugh. Koda would wake up in peace. He began to enjoy the longing for his son, the same feeling that previously lacerated his heart; he understood that it was a beautiful manifestation of love and that longing kept them united. As longing is a manifestation of love, he always sang happy songs to his son”. The girl wanted to know if every time he sang to his son would they meet. The shaman explained: “No. In fact, the son appeared to him only a few times in his dreams. However, love, besides being timeless, is everywhere; we just have to let it in. When singing, Koda felt the presence of his son and this brought him happiness and peace. Moreover, every time Koda told a story, in some way, he also felt his son close by, for he had been the cornerstone of the wonderful transformation that had taken place in his life.” The little girl thanked him and said that she would learn to listen to her heart to know which song she should sing to dream with her little dog. Everyone clapped their hands. Then they ate the snacks they had brought and talked a lot. It was evening when everyone left.

With no room for doubt, I had witnessed a magical ceremony. Different from those experienced in the forest or on top of the mountain, but equally powerful for the possibilities of evolution it offered. When Starry Song passed by the balcony, I asked if that story had been for me, because of the accident. He shrugged and said, “All stories serve us, we just have to let them teach us.” I said that something had touched me in that narrative, but I did not know exactly what. The shaman advised: “Perhaps your heart wants to tell you something. For that, I suggest quietness and solitude.”

Starry Song helped me into the living room and settled me down in a comfortable armchair. Then he asked me what objects caught my attention. There were many things there. I spoke about the photographs, the paintings, the furniture, some holy relics that were on a table in the centre that served as an altar. Then he turned off the electricity switch. As it was night, everything went dark. He asked me again what called my attention. I immediately answered that it was the flame of a small candle that was kept alight on a dresser. The Shaman commented: “The flame of the candle was a light that until a moment ago, in the face of so many things, had escaped your perception. This is the power of darkness. Be grateful when it comes to show you where is the light that you cannot see”.

Not satisfied, he went deeper. He blew out the candle flame and asked again what stood out to my eyes. Back in the darkness, I told him that, because of a lamp that was on, I could see the light coming from behind the door of one of the rooms in the house. Starry Song warned: “There are several doors. Only the darkness allowed you to see which one has light behind it. So it is in life”.

            I spent all night long sitting in the armchair in the living room in reflection. My thoughts went around the world several times. My world. Between comings and goings, ups and downs, I realized that I had always loved writing. I went to work as an advertiser as a way to develop stories through the ads I created. At another moment, many years ago, when I lived a very complicated situation, I wrote every day as a way to keep my sanity and balance. In my own way, I had never abandoned writing. In recent years my quest for self-knowledge had taken me to many corners of the world. From Arizona to the Himalayas; from monastery to desert. In truth, I had been to many places because I needed to understand that the best place in the world is within me. It was necessary to live many stories. Each one tells one step of that way. The Way. I needed to write them down; my soul wanted this.

            I took a notebook I carried in my backpack and began to do it. I wrote by hand; it was a manuscript. I wrote for days and nights, only stopping when I was overcome by sleep. Sometimes I fell asleep on top of the notebook. The difficulty of locomotion made the act of writing even more pleasurable; thanks to the difficulty I understood the piece I was missing; or better saying, the part I had forgotten in me. What life impeded me on the one hand, enriched me on the other. It is always like that when we are attentive. The end of the holidays coincided with the time for me to remove the cast. My leg was healed. And so was my soul. It had been the best holiday of my life. I would return home refreshed and with a notebook full of stories.

            On the day of departure, I said goodbye to Starry Song and thanked him for all his teachings. When I left his house, I saw the inseparable two-sided drum next to a small fire in the garden; the heat from the fire was used to stretch the leather of the instrument. It was then that I realised that there had always been a bear paw stamped on one side of the drum. It is a tradition for shamans to paint their drums with symbols, mandalas, totems or power animals. But a bear paw? Could he be Koda? I looked at Starry Song startled by what could be a revelation. My eyes wanted an answer. The shaman just arched his lips in a slight smile without saying a word. I noticed that in his heart there were wounds healed by love; in his hands the scars were erased by time.

            A year later, the manuscripts of the notebook became Manuscripts*, the book. From Rio de Janeiro I sent a copy of the first edition to Starry Song. In it, a sincere dedication: Thank you for showing me the value of darkness. Only there could I find the light that reflected from my soul, but I could not see. The darkness taught me how to reach the light! Paradoxical? No! Life, out of love and wisdom, closes many roads to us when it wants to show us the right way. The genuine gift and a new dream…

Translated by Cazmilian Zórdic

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