I was walking through the Arizona mountains next to Starry Song, the shaman who had the gift of transmitting the wisdom of his ancestors through the word, chanted or not. He wanted to show me his “Place of Power”, as the Native mythology refers to the place where one feels more comfortable to connect with the cosmic intelligence. “From every place in the planet one can open a channel or a bridge. However, for different reasons, there are places where the connection is more intense. The sea is a sanctuary; the mountain, a cathedral; your home, a temple, whether due to quietness, the sound of the stars or integration with Mother Earth. For any personal reason or because it is a place where for centuries people have been going to pray, like churches they harness the strong vibration of the Universe, everyone should find a place where they feel the intensity of this connection,” the shaman explained. When we reached Starry Song’s Place of Power, a small plateau close to the summit, I could not avoid noticing a tree clinging by the tips of its root at the edge of a cliff, in a very elegant, inconceivable way, bravely resisting the wind, the rain, the snow and gravity. I told him the tree would not stand much longer. The shaman, his face wrinkled by dozens of winters, smiled and said: “It has been like that since I was a kid, when I would come to this mountain with my grandfather. It probably will continue like that much after I take the great journey.” He paused briefly, and went on: “A strong root is essential to face the storms of life. It goes for everyone.” I immediately asked what was necessary for me to have a root so powerful it would be unshakable even in the worst storms.
“The roots of a person, any person, are a set of three things: knowing exactly who you are and not running away from the battle of personal honing.” I said there was one thing missing. He looked at the equilibristic tree before completing: “The third element of the root is mastering the art of the improbable balance. To keep that in my mind was the purpose of this tree throughout my life. That is what makes it sacred for me.”
I told him I had no idea what this improbable balance was. He said no word. Undisturbed, he lay his blanket open on the grass for us to sit on, asked me to pick some dry twigs for a small fire and lighted his unfailing red-bowel pipe. Then he sang a heartfelt, rhythmic song, his two-sided drum providing the rhythm, thanking the Great Mystery for the opportunity of being there, and for all “messages, visions and dreams” that would be granted. When he opened his eyes, he said: “The improbable balance is the ability one develops not to allow the hardships innate to the Path to divert one from the course or steal one’s peace. To that end, one must know how to deal with the subtleties of the road, of the moment, of the landscape, and of other travelers. These are the ingredients of the magic. The cauldron is the Path itself.”
Anxious, I said I had not understood. The shaman patiently explained: “Peace is an intrinsic premise of the good walker, who makes of non-violence their force for transformation. They know that only from the modifications they make to themselves they will be able to change the world. Therefore, they do not waste time or energy trying to convince others of their reasons, as they know that just like they are not ready to understand many things, there are those who cannot see what they already can. This composed attitude reflects the wisdom that dwells within themselves. They know that if an argument is convincing, the example is capable of infecting hearts.”
I argued that his explanation was too vague. The shaman nodded his head and said: “There are subtleties in life whose lines that separate the shadows from the light might be slim, even though they are not. By definition, often what is subtle is not noted by us. Hence the need to tune our perception more and more. However, there are more ordinary situations that are easier to understand.” And he went on to show some instances in which we often lose the best balance.
“The major contention between legal and fair, between legality and legitimacy, is a good example. We know that laws are dividing limits between civilization and barbarism. In our current stage of evolution life in society is impossible without a set of rules that establish rights and duties, and that is good because it promotes social tranquility and security. However, like everything else in the universe, our awareness is constantly changing, and the laws should follow this evolution, but that does not always happen at the desired pace. On the other hand, it is always possible to use something good badly: there are rules based in false morality, or to protect some vested interests, causing harm to some segments or even to the majority of people. We can’t forget that slavery and racial or gender segregation, just to mention a couple of instances, were practices sanctioned by odious laws.”
“Care should be taken for the law not to be unduly used to nourish prejudices, vengeance or to cause delays in evolution. The first step is to realize when the limit that separates the light from the shadows are trespassed; when something good is twisted to be used for evil purposes; when a legal remedy is used to support expression of hate and intolerance; when the strictness of moralism destroys the beauty of morality. To remain fair and peaceful when law goes in the opposite direction of justice is a significant improbable balance.”
“Pay heed not to be contaminated by the huge collective shadows that are formed at times, when one wishes for severe punishments or to find those to blame for the personal displeasures that somehow get dispersed in the social fabric. At such times one must be like a beacon illuminating the dark night, with no intention of having a monopoly on the truth and always abjuring of any type of violence. The improbable balance is necessary to go against the mad crowd which, with the illusion of removing the shadow, ends up by nourishing the darkness, eager to stone any person. The walker realizes the collective movement against the light and knows that, at this time, revenge is disguised with the costume of justice, to punish without the necessary amount of love a really fair decision should have. He, then, refuses to follow the voices of the world, as they go against what his heart tells him, and take steadfast, unclouded attitudes, suitable with fresh ideas that lead to the trails of tolerance, union, compassion, harmony, kindness, remaining on the sunny side of the road. The improbable balance requires kindness; kindness requires courage.”
Starry Song took a puff on the pipe and started to address a different situation: “The moment to decide between the individual and the collective is very subtle. It is obvious that the whole is more important than the part, but when the whole is incomplete, its integrity is compromised.” The shaman went on: “The improbable balance is seen whenever we prioritize the individual over the collective, going against the general principle. It is important to realize there are limits for society to interfere with the individual, in order to safekeep broad personal liberties without forgetting the corresponding responsibilities. A population is entitled to a lot, but not to everything.” He paused, glanced at the balancing tree and continued: “I also see another nuance in this issue. It is the realization that the exercise of best rights excludes any privileges. The winds that drive the advances of mankind have shown that every privilege is contrary to proper rights. Privileges are but traces of ancestral feelings of domination, inequality and separation and still remain. If you support a privilege, it means you do not have justice within you.”
“Another, even more critical, improbable balance is of internal nature, and is related to selfishness. At what moment I should no longer look after me to look after the other? What if I am not able to look after anyone? Up to what point I should help so that the other is not weakened? These are questions that echo in the air.” He looked at me in the eyes for a second, and continued: “The limit for the other to intrude in your life must be very clearly established, to prevent abuse or excess, bearing in mind that it is impossible to be in peace without aiding those who cry for help. This is another instance of improbable balance, the harmony between looking after yourself without forgetting the other. To accept that you can only give what is part of you, and realize that in the mathematics of life we can only multiply what we are able to divide. These are the two sides of the same coin, and the understanding of one of the most valuable teaching of the Path.”
Starry Song smiled kindly at me and completed: “To do for the other what I would like the other to do to me if we had the opposite circumstances is the sacred response, the most powerful lesson, hence the most difficult to perform. The improbable balance between the keen wisdom to understand the situation with all subtleties and the loving disposition of sharing your best, without fear, is your great masterpiece in the wonderful show of life.”
Kindly translated by Carlos André Oighenstein.