The Medicine of the Bat

I was in Sedona, in the mountains of Arizona, at the home of Starry Song, the shaman who had the gift of transmitting the ancestral philosophy of his people through words and songs. That Saturday morning, as usual, sitting under the leafy oak tree in the backyard, many families spread out on the lawn to listen to the shaman tell stories and sing songs, always with the aim of enriching everyone with ancient native wisdom. That day, he had talked a little more about the Animals of Power, as this type of cosmic ordering energy in the planetary psycho-sphere was known, according to that sacred tradition. Nothing is by chance.

After the simple but significant magical ceremony, when we were alone, the shaman suggested that we go for lunch in Flagstaff, a town near Sedona, about half an hour’s drive away. He would take the opportunity to buy some utensils and tools that he needed for his cabin in the mountains. After lunch and shopping, we went to a café that, as well as coffee, offered craft beers. As soon as we had settled into comfortable armchairs in a quieter corner, a group of motorcyclists parked by the sidewalk. They were all wearing leather jackets and colourful headscarves. From the luggage they were carrying, you could tell they were there only temporally, something common in Flagstaff because the city is part of the legendary Route 66, now deactivated, but still visited by people who want to relive the trendy lifestyle, famous in the bustling period of libertarian ideas in the 1960s. They were cheerful and good-humoured. Although I’d never done it, I found that style of travelling interesting. Attentive, I watched as they entered and, standing at the counter, ordered a beer. My attention was drawn to their accents. As well as being Brazilian, they were from Rio de Janeiro. Without delay, I recognised Rodrigo among them. He was a dear friend from long ago. We hadn’t seen each other for about twenty years. Pure friendships don’t deteriorate with time. It was a party. We exchanged a sincere and tight hug. We were happy to meet. We wanted to talk. Many things have happened in two decades.

As the table where I was sitting with Starry Song was further away from the busy counter, he sat down with us. He told us that he was on holiday with his friends. They were travelling on Route 66 from Chicago. Their destination was the Grand Canyon. I told him that he would love to visit the canyons, one of the places that had impressed me the most, not only because of their natural beauty, but also because of the fantastic energy anchored there. The shaman, who was just listening to the conversation, smiled and nodded without saying a word. After catching up on the changes over the last twenty years of our existence, I couldn’t help commenting that, despite the sincere joy Rodrigo showed, the sadness in his eyes was evident in the background. I asked him if it was something he wanted to talk about, if he felt the need. Like someone who has been waiting a long time for this moment, without hesitation he began to tell me the reasons for his anguish. Around the time we had last met, his mother had travelled to the stars after a period in which she had suffered a painful illness. On the day of her departure, a few hours before, she had taken her son by the hand and asked him to swear that he would never let her daughter, Rodrigo’s sister, lack anything. She had always found it difficult to fit into the labour market. As her absence approached, she feared that her daughter would struggle to survive. At that emotional moment, he swore to his mother that he would not let his sister lack anything. The following year, his sister had a daughter and, just a few months before we met again, became the grandmother of a beautiful baby boy. Although there was no physical or intellectual impediment, like her sister, his niece didn’t work either. Now there were three people supported by him. Rodrigo, who was married and the father of two teenagers, had to increase his workload to cope with so many commitments. Although the situation seemed unfair, as both his sister and his niece had shown no interest in getting a job, Rodrigo felt bound by the oath he swore to his mother on her final bed. He confessed that he had thought several times about ending the obligation, but he couldn’t live with such guilt. In short, that was my friend’s dilemma and agony. It was also the reason for his sad eyes.

We talked about it for a while. A few ideas occurred to me, but nothing that would move us forward. Involved in getting Rodrigo out of the existential mesh that imprisoned him, I had forgotten about Starry Song who, sitting at the table with us, listened to everything attentively and in silence, as was the tradition of his people. “Those who don’t know how to listen have a hard time learning” or “the greatest cause of conflict is a lack of willingness to listen”, he sometimes taught me.

Starry Song was one of the wise men I was allowed to meet on the Way. He was there, forgotten in the corner of the table, while Rodrigo and I were trying to find a solution to my friend’s internal difficulty with an oath that, over time, had become a very heavy burden. That’s why he was suffering. When I realised this, I wanted to know the shaman’s opinion. Firstly, always respectful, he asked Rodrigo if he could explain his ideas on such an intimate subject. As my friend nodded in agreement, he said in his usual serene, slightly hoarse voice: “I think the Bat Medicine could help you”. We asked several questions at once. I wanted to know how; and surprised, Rodrigo, who was a doctor, had never heard anything about it. However, as he was a person with a penchant for new and different knowledge, he commented: “When the problem is physical, we have to take medicine. When it comes to pains of the soul, other therapies are needed.” The shaman smiled in approval. I realised that at that moment a great friendship was born. Starry Song offered to help if Rodrigo wanted. As Rodrigo accepted immediately, the shaman said: “The young man should be on his way. We’ll meet at the Grand Canyon early tomorrow morning.”

The next day, we left Sedona with the sky sprinkled with stars. Three hours later, the day was brightening up and we met Rodrigo at the hotel where he was staying, inside the National Park. In the battered pick-up truck of Starry Song, we drove to a place where the road ended. From there, we walked down a long and tiring trail to the banks of the Colorado River. We arrived exhausted. It was an absolutely deserted spot, surrounded by the huge walls of the canyon. It was a fantastic place with a very strong energy. I could feel the pulse of the Earth. We sat in a circle, with a small fire in the centre. The shaman beat his famous double-sided drum to the beat of the planet’s vibration. Our hearts were beating in sync with the heart of the world. After listening to various native songs, the end of the afternoon was approaching and the cold came. Starry Song advised us to get the blankets and feed the fire. With the arrival of night and the stars, came the bats. Frightened, Rodrigo and I wondered where they had come from. The shaman asked us to watch them. Watch them and no nothing else.

We let ourselves be enchanted by the moment and the good energies that surrounded us. Without realising it, we were in a meaningful magical ceremony.

After a while, the shaman asked us what characteristics of bats caught our attention. Because they emitted a sound that reverberated in an echo and was used to dodge obstacles, I said that these animals seemed to orientate themselves through an internal voice. Rodrigo touched on the fact that they landed upside down; he laughed and commented that bats saw everything upside down. Starry Song was pleased with our observations.

He then asked Rodrigo: “Why did your mum ask you the request that bothers you today?”. My friend replied that it was because his sister needed help, as she had trouble keeping the jobs she got because of her difficult temperament. The dialogue continued: “After a child learns to walk, should we keep holding their hand to stop them from tripping?”. Rodrigo said no. We should let them walk on their own so that they gain confidence and develop, although we are always prepared to pick them up when they stumble. He added that falls were important because they helped her to improve her balance, her steps and to understand the best way to walk. These were inherent aspects of growing up. The shaman continued: “What happens if you always carry a child on your lap, without ever encouraging them to walk?”. Rodrigo didn’t hesitate to say that the child would lose the motor function of its legs. Even though he knew, the shaman wanted to emphasise the valuable question of time: “How many years have you been fulfilling your oath to help your sister?”. Two decades was my friend’s answer.

“Do you understand?” asked Starry Song. Rodrigo admitted that he was beginning to understand, but there were still a few pieces missing to put the puzzle together.

The shaman clarified: “Never let anything go missing, that was your mother’s request. This doesn’t mean having to carry someone around forever. Everyone needs to learn to walk; everyone needs to grow up, even if it’s against their will. Contrary to what you think, although you continue to support your sister, are you giving her the best help? The difficulty of socialising, relating and learning to cope with difficulties are the lessons that fall to her. By preventing her from learning, even though you think you’re helping, you’re hindering her growth. Generosity is a valuable virtue and, as such, it is also an art in its many guises. In all help, there is a so-called turning point, which occurs when we need to change the format of the help. Everyone needs to grow up, remember? Otherwise, there will be cognitive, emotional and spiritual atrophy.”

“What’s more, her behaviour has become a pattern for her daughter and could be passed on to her grandchildren. A house where no one can walk is doomed to the shadows.” The light of the fire allowed Rodrigo’s tears to be seen. He said he understood the shaman’s arguments and thought they were true. However, he didn’t know, or couldn’t, reverse a promise made to his mother in her final moments. Despite the suffering this oath caused.

That’s when Star Song started using Animal Medicine. “Can you stand on your head?” he suggested. As Rodrigo practised yoga, he had no trouble doing a position known as Sirsasana or Inverted Pose. In other words, he was supposed to stand upside down, just like bats perched on branches. Without delay, my friend raised his feet over his head. Then the shaman asked how the landscape was. Rodrigo laughed and said that everything seemed out of place. Starry Song corrected him: “There’s nothing out of place, things are still the same as before”. Rodrigo commented that in that position he could see the stars better. Then he said he could see the cave at the top of the canyon, where the bats lived, which answered our previous question. A little later, with his eyes more accustomed to the darkness, he said he could see a trail, lighter than the one we used to get there. We could use it on the way back. These were things we hadn’t noticed, even though we’d been there for hours. The shaman explained: “You’re allowing yourself to look at reality from a different angle, a new prism. It’s not the world that has changed, but the way you look at it”. He paused to clarify: “This practice can be used to look at everything around you as well as at yourself.”

“For every problem there is a solution. If you haven’t found the solution to your problem yet, it means you need to allow yourself to look at it differently.”

The shaman waited for Rodrigo to sit down again so we could continue the conversation. Then he explained: “Love can’t become the cause of any suffering, at the risk of disappearing to make way for dense emotions, all linked to pain. Nobody suffers for love. We suffer precisely because we don’t understand love.” He then asked: “Do you believe that a mother would agree to the suffering of a beloved child, especially when she knows that the source of the pain came from a request of hers?”. My friend replied that no mother would want to cause the suffering of a beloved child. Rodrigo had no doubt about his mother’s love for him and his sister. The shaman asked again: “Would your mother be happy to know that her son’s suffering has come to an end?”. My friend nodded, but thought that she would be sad that a painful period was beginning for her daughter.

“Do you think your mother is happy to realise that her daughter is going through life like a child who refuses to learn to walk? What is the value of a life in which you can’t walk?” Choking on his words, Rodrigo asked if the shaman was saying that his sister’s development was being harmed by his unlimited help. The shaman used the other part of the medicine: “Bats use their sound to avoid obstacles. To overcome the most complex difficulty, it is essential to learn to listen to one’s own voice, the one that comes from the core of one’s being. Therein lies the liberating truth.”

He then brought together the two attributes of Bat Medicine on the same axis: “Suffering is the manifestation of the soul asking to walk another path. Listen to its voice, allow yourself to observe yourself and the world around you through an unusual, innovative lens. Problems get bigger or disappear depending on how we look at them.”

Rodrigo asked if it would be right to abandon the oath made to his mother. The shaman clarified: “Despite the delicate moment of the promise, in which it was very difficult to assess the real consequences, you honoured the commitment. You carried your sister while she needed help because she couldn’t walk on her own”. He paused and said: “But that was the first part of the promise. The next step will be to encourage your sister to walk on her own two feet. Otherwise, you’ll eternalise both of your lives in weakness. She, by becoming an eternal dependent; you, by not being able to live your own truth. Far from the truth, far from the Light. Suffering will remain.”

He paused again and explained: “Forever is a time that doesn’t exist. All promises are eternal, but everything changes. In order not to be broken, promises need wisdom to be able to keep up with changes. Everything changes. So we need to change the form of the promises so that their essence is maintained.” Rodrigo asked how to know when the turning point is. Starry Song clarified: “Suffering establishes that something is wrong, making new adjustments and changes necessary. By denying the inevitable transformations, we are dragged into darkness.” He paused, and when he spoke his voice had the softness typical of someone dealing with something precious: “Love is the essence of life. To understand love, you have to understand its multiple aspects, constant transitions and infinite transformations. Then the joy of evolution will remain.”

He then concluded: “When we don’t realise the end of a cycle, we lose the ticket to start a new phase of learning. It’s like waiting for a train that has already passed. This makes us suffer because of the inertia and disorientation that is felt but misunderstood.” He looked up at the stars and said: “Up until now you’ve lived like a warrior and fought to protect her. Now it’s time to live like a monk and encourage her to walk.”

“Everything changes. The way we love also evolves.”

Two years passed. I never heard from Rodrigo again. I was at the airport waiting to board when I learnt that the flight had been delayed by more than two hours. I decided to enjoy a cup of coffee when someone tapped me on the shoulder. It was my friend. He was smiling and his features were rejuvenated. There was no more sadness in his eyes. Of course, we had to talk. There was a long-awaited subject on our agenda. Rodrigo told me that when he returned from his trip, he called his sister and niece for a chat. He explained his understanding of the help he provided. If it was prolonged indefinitely, the aid would be detrimental to everyone involved in the situation. They would have six months to decide to set up a business, financed by Rodrigo within his financial means. From then on, they would have another six months to set up the company and financial support for another year. Then they would be on their own two feet. He emphasised that he was open to hearing other ideas and solutions.

I asked what their reaction was. “The worst possible,” he explained. “It’s easier to teach a child than an adult, who is already full of social conditioning, behavioural addictions and existential frames. They claimed I was betraying them and my mum. I explained that victimisation was harmful because it denied the primordial movement of life. I also said that I wouldn’t be trapped by their stagnation. I was willing to move forward. They could do the same or exhaust their days in lamentation. That was the proposal, that was the deadline.”

“At the end of the month, I didn’t take the money to their house as usual. I let them come to me, not to embarrass them, but to realise that reality was beginning to change. It would be a difficult period, with many adjustments, but adaptability is a valuable virtue that leads to a higher point of equilibrium, awakening dormant powers and revealing unknown strengths. Of course, when you’re willing to go beyond the boundaries of yourself”.

He also said that because they had no business experience, after much research they decided to join a franchise. They set up a shop for a prestigious ice-cream brand, well suited to Rio de Janeiro’s almost constant summer. Business was good and they were already planning to open another shop. “Much to their chagrin at first, in the end they have the merit of having walked the walk. Although they never said it, I am convinced that their souls are grateful for the changes that have taken place. That’s enough for me,” he smiled with satisfaction and concluded: “I’ve done them and myself some good. I’m sure my mum will be happy and her worries will be over.”

Rodrigo expressed himself through clear and coherent reasoning. He was nothing like that man corroded by doubts, agonies and eternal guilt. He had rescued his own truth. He confessed that, after many years, for the first time he felt whole: “By allowing myself to look at the world upside down, I found solutions that had always been available, but I had never seen them. An achievement made possible when I faced the problem guided and driven by my own voice,” he thanked the Bat Medicine.

It was time for Rodrigo’s flight. We said a happy goodbye and he left. Alone, I closed my eyes and could see Starry Song sitting on the balcony of his house, puffing away on his fail-proof pipe with its red stone stummel. In the simplicity of true sages, he had illuminated the footsteps of three people who, lost in themselves, were able to rediscover the Way. Two had never heard of him.

Translated by Cazmilian Zórdic.

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