The beauty of being unique

Starry Song, the shaman who had the gift of perpetuating his people’s philosophy throughout the word, in chant or otherwise, rolled his two-sided drum, extracting a heartfelt melody while the sun was rising. The music was like a communion prayer for the joy we feel in being a core part of the universe; in response, this strong power resonated within ourselves. We put out the fire and went down the hill. When we arrived at the shaman’s home, a man of the village was waiting; he needed the shaman to help him. He was very annoyed because his son was very insecure and fearful, very different from the other boys his age, and from his own father. He regretted the boy had been born a wimp. Starry Song invited him to sit on the porch and served us coffee. Unhurried, he lit his unmistakable reddish rock-bowl pipe while he listened carefully as the father explained that the son was about to turn 13, and soon he would undergo the coming-of-age ritual, the Initiation Ceremony, which included one-on-one combats among the boys as a display of courage and skill. The shaman took a puff from the pipe and said: “No one is born a wimp. To be strong is a choice everyone can make. However, knowing one’s own power is the core of personal magic; realizing the dimension and the power of the universe within you nourishes courage, teaches humility and transforms the self. Bring your son over tomorrow.”

Early the following day the father brought the son. He was a good-looking, healthy young man, but his eyes diverted from other gazes. Lee was his name. The father thanked the shaman and left. Starry Song greeted the boy affectionately and invited us to go for a walk. It was a warm summer day and we went to a big lake close to the village. Some children were playing and swimming at the site. The shaman told him to feel relaxed, and to get into the water, if he so wished. Lee said he would like to, but he had never learned how to swim, as he was afraid of drowning. Starry Song did not insist but made a remark: “It is the fear of learning how to swim that makes drowning more likely.”

On the following day, the shaman took us to ride horseback. Lee said that, even though he had always wanted to learn horseback riding, because it seemed fun, he had never done it. He said he was afraid of falling from the horse and injuring himself. Starry Song made a comment as someone who plants a seed: “Do you realize that your fear of the worst scenario prevents you from enjoying the best life has to offer?” The boy did not answer.

In the afternoon of the third day, we went up the mountains. After a vigorous walk, we stopped at a small plateau with a beautiful view of the valley. As the sun was setting, the shaman asked me to build a fire. Next, he started to sing a beautiful old song that appeased the heart. It was the first time I saw Lee cracking a smile. Starry Song realized it and handed him the two-sided drum, for the boy to play along. The boy had a good sense of rhythm, and the small ritual lasted for hours. At the end, the boy said he loved music and used to hide from the other boys to play and sing by himself while the others practiced wrestling. He felt out of place because he did not share the same tastes of the other boys his age. He took a small harmonica from his pocket and played many tunes, some well-known, some he had made himself.

At the end, Starry Song said: “The most beautiful stories are those where people outdo themselves. The good music, in its essence, shows that light undoes darkness; that love heals all pain.” Lee said he didn’t understand. The shaman explained: “Your beauty remains hidden because you accept the bars of fear. Fear, in itself, is not a problem, because there can only be courage where previously there was fear. All virtues are flowers that germinate from seeds of hardships. The same goes for fear: the way we react to the situation makes all the difference. The problem is a problem only when you let yourself be entrapped by it; or it can be a master if used to leverage one’s personal transformation.” He looked the boy in the eyes and added: “This is what makes choices a cornerstone.”

Lee said that contrary to the other boys, he hated fights. That had set him apart from the group, and somehow prevented him from learning how to swim or horseback ride with the other boys. He missed the boys and playing with them but did not like the stares of awkwardness and the accusations of cowardice. The shaman smiled with kindness and said: “Fear has spread out within you and stolen the salt of life, because you did not realize the beauty of being unique. No one is equal to anyone; to accept the differences is to understand yourself, expand the possibilities and enlarge the universe.” He pointed to the sky and said: “There are no two equal stars in the sky. Similarly, each person has their own manifestation of magic. We are protagonists or our story and have supporting roles in the stories of others. Each one with their unique, essential beauty; their gifts and their way are separate but indispensable parts that, when properly fit together, will make a whole.” The boy said he understood what the shaman was saying, but deep inside he felt there was something lacking that would make him transform those words into action, like a piece in a puzzle. Lee wanted to know what it was. Starry Song was monosyllabic: “Faith.”

In face of the huge question mark formed on the features of the boy, the shaman asked him what he understood by faith. The boy said that faith was jumping off a cliff knowing that a hand would stop the fall. Starry Song corrected him, humorously: “This is suicide.” We all laughed and the mood unwound. The shaman continued: “A son has in himself the genes of the parents. We are the perfect Infinite Mystery in an embryonic stage, therefore we have within ourselves the entire power of the Creator. Suffice that each one allows these powers to emerge in their core. This is faith.” He paused briefly and continued: “However, to believe in these powers is of no good if you don’t understand and feel them within yourself.”

Lee’s eyes sparkled more than the campfire. He asked what these powers were. The shaman was quick to respond: “All virtues are translated into light. Exercising them is transformational, liberating, and pacifies the self. This is magical.” He paused briefly, looked the boy in the eyes and said: “Magic is the manifestation of personal power, of the awakening of the divine force that is dormant in your core. What moves it is faith. Faith alone.”

“However, what drives faith is love. Or nothing will make sense.”

“Faith in itself, when manifested through personal choices aligned with the Light, connects the person to the Infinite, merging both in a single self. The one is an indescribable power, much beyond what one can ordinarily imagine. Everyone has this power. Use it, Lee!”

The boy reasoned that he did not know how to do it. Starry Song was didactic in his explanation: “Every process has a beginning. The starting point is to know who you really are, with no illusions or excuses. Hence, step by step, you will understand the need to transform choices that you will gradually realize are no longer suitable. This is how virtues flourish in the core. Seek for silence and quietness. Mind and heart must be like a lake of placid waters, so that they can reflect the spirit, your divine face. The hubbub of daily life makes the waters of our inner lake too agitated, and the social conditionings make them murky, preventing them from mirroring the vital essence that should drive evolution. The waters must be quiet so that your mind and heart can speak to the spirit, or there will be no advancement or plenitude. Without it there would not exist true freedom or the achievement of peace. You will not be enchanted with yourself, with the world or with life. It is necessary that faith manifests its individual magic.”

Then, the shaman said it was time to sleep. Wrapped in our blankets, we lay close to the fire and slept under a cloak of stars. I woke up many times during the night and saw Lee, staring fixedly at the sky. I realized that there was no fear or uncertainty, but fascination. We went down the mountain the following morning, and I left to Sedona, a city close by, to attend to other business. I accepted the invitation to return in three month for the Initiation Ceremony, the coming–of–age ritual.

When the day came, I found the village decked out. Because I was a bit late, people had already gathered for the ritual. I dropped by Starry Song’s to leave my backpack and I noticed two pictures on the corner of the coffee table. In one, Lee was smiling on the back of a horse next to the shaman; in the other, he was diving from a rock into the lake. I smiled to myself and went to meet everybody. That was a huge feast of ancestral origin, in which the boys displayed the necessary courage to become warriors. The main test was to show one’s skills in grappling. Matched in pairs, with naked trunks painted with war motives, the youths would fight one another, drawing applause from the entire village. It was impossible to not notice traces of distress on the face of Lee’s father. Until the boy was called to the small arena. Contrary to what I could imagine, the boy presented himself with a poised demeanor, a confident look and elegant poise. However, differently from the other boys, on his chest a huge, colorful sun was drawn. With my eyes I searched for Starry Song. The shaman was seated next to the other members of the Council of Elders, with an impassive expression.

Face to face with his opponent, Lee bowed respectfully; then, he turned to the audience and said he would not fight the other boy. He added that the purpose of the fight was to display individual skills, and he would show his. To everyone’s amazement, he drew from his waistband a small bamboo flute and, for minutes that seemed endless, he played a soft, sweet tune, capable of reaching the hardest hearts. When he finished, there was absolute silence. Some people were perplexed; others, disconcerted.

The host of the ceremony, who was in charge of organizing the fights, an honor granted to the bravest warrior of the tribe, determined that Lee was eliminated from the competition and should be kicked out of the celebration. He claimed that in addition to lacking the courage to fight, the boy had stained the ritual and offended the tradition of the tribe, the cultural cornerstone of that people that should be respected and preserved.

Hubbub arouse. From the comments I overheard, I felt people tended to approve of the host’s decision. However, it was also part of the tradition that such harsh decisions should be validated by the Council of Elders, the body in charge of village governance. The elders closed themselves in a circle to deliberate. For a period of time I cannot accurately ascertain, they exchanged ideas in a tone of voice so low the rest of the tribe could not hear, until the oldest member, who had been a mighty warrior in his youth and had become a respectable wise man in old age, stood up to speak on behalf of the Council:

“There is a reason when one states that traditions should be respected, as they relate to our culture, and how important it is to show to all people our spiritual values, the way our people are and live. This is one of the reasons for ceremonies. The other is to unite us, bound together by the threads of the most noble feelings, with love to drive us.” He paused briefly so that no idea was lost. He voice was soft and clear: “However, without demeaning traditions, everything in life must be transformed so that life continues to pulsate, and evolution is completed. The balance of impermanence is an art that is necessary for a harmonious existence. Courage is an essential virtue, like all the others. For centuries, the way to display it was through one-on-one fights, because they were vital in the past. However, everything changes. If the father raises, and the mother cares and keeps, the child arrives to destroy old ways of thinking and acting, serving as an element of change, giving room for the renewal of life. And so we continue.”

“This is a ritual of courage. By refusing to fight his opponent, young Lee chose to fight the entire village and challenge our ancient dogmas.” He paused once again and resumed his reasoning: “There was no disrespect, but rather much courage when he showed that everything can and needs to be different and better. Or else we will rot in stagnation. He had the courage of few when he questioned tradition, running the risk of elimination, being despised and considered a coward. His courage showed us new possibilities of manifestation unthinkable of, or, at the very least, embarrassing until now. He gave his gift as an instrument of enchantment and awareness expansion, as a tool of love, transmutation and overcoming. He gave us the opportunity to realize that courage is displayed in fields other than war. Young Lee has shown us how strong we must be to experience love with the necessary intensity.” He looked to all the people of the village, who were gathered around him and asked: “Who among you would have the courage to face a challenge the way he did?” He waited a few seconds for anyone to speak up. In face of the silence of all, he concluded: “Therefore, the Council of Elders, with the powers given by the tribe, and according to the worthiest ideal of fraternity, states that the participant has honored the tradition of displaying the courage necessary to pass the test and shall be considered a true warrior.”

The village burst into applause. The wise Elder raised his hand, asking for silence, and addressed the people again: “From now on, in the Initiation Ceremony, in addition to the fights for those who wish it, each youngster can present to the tribe another gift and their magic.” He looked at the boy and said: “To end this day, I ask young Lee to give us more of his skill of enchantment”. Then, from Lee’s flute a happy tune was heard, immediately followed by the drums of the tribe. The boy’s father was the personification of happiness. The entire village started to dance, and the Initiation Ceremony changed for good.

I looked for Starry Song. I found the old shaman quiet in a corner, puffing his unmistakable pipe with a red-rock bowl, as if nothing that had happened had to do with his gift and his magic.


Kindly translated by Carlos André Oighenstein.

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