Posts Tagged ‘Medicine Walk’

Insights from Richard Wagamese’s Meditations

May 26, 2020

I’ve been reading Embers: One Ojibway’s Meditations by Richard Wagamese. I discovered an excerpt from it on a blog I follow. I had not heard of him and previewed his book online. Inspired by what I saw, I included three profound perspectives on silence, the soul, and his creative process in a blog post I created: Coincidences happened that introduced me to the great Ojibway storyteller Richard Wagamese.

A collection of early morning writings he had posted on his Facebook page, they were later put into an award-winning book by his publisher. I ordered a copy and found similar entries about the silences he experienced outside in nature, and those within—the gaps between thoughts, words, and moments.

To write, he would separate himself from the noises and distractions of everyday life and retreat into “the sound of silence,” then bring it out with him into the world, “the sound of self emerging.” For him, “silence is the stuff of life.” He wrote, “I want to dive into those small bits of silence. They contain the ocean of my being and our togetherness.”

This impressive insight concludes Chapter I: STILLNESS.

I DON’T KNOW the word for it, that space between seconds, but I’ve come to understand for myself that it’s the punctuation of my life. Between each word, each thought, each moment is where the truth of things lies. The more intent I am on hearing it, seeing it, feeling it, incorporating it, the more precise the degree to which I’m focused on my life and the act of living. I want to dive into those bits of silence. They contain the ocean of my being and our togetherness. So if I don’t respond quickly, excuse me. I’m busy allowing the surf of consciousness to break over me so that I can stand on the coast of our unity and be more.

This reminds me of Maharishi’s Vedic Science. He described this silent space or gap as the transcendent, our own inner transcendental consciousness that we tap into during Transcendental Meditation. He said it was also an unbounded reservoir of pure knowledge, the Sounds and Gaps in Veda and Vedic Literature that structure creation in a sequential, self-referral flow. I mention this process in a previous post. He also spoke of ritam bhara pragya, a refined state of consciousness, ‘that intelligence which knows only the truth.’

Those Embers entries indicate an experiential understanding of a deeper inner reality. In a Q&A session that followed a talk Richard Wagemese gave at MacEwan University, he answered a question about how his recent practice of yoga and meditation had impacted his writing. His answer and the video are both included in that blog post referenced in the opening paragraph above.

Here is another significant insight from the book, in Chapter III: TRUST.

MY MOTHER’S PHYSICAL death taught me that I didn’t come here to master devastating situations, circumstances, changes, losses or even my own feelings. I came here to experience them. I came here for soul lessons and spirit teachings so that I could carry on in this wonderful spiritual journey we are all on, this teaching way, this blessing way. So that, in the end, I can, like my mother has done, return to the beauty that I was when I first arrived here.

A similar theme is expressed in Chapter IV: Reverence.

I CAME HERE to inhabit a body that would allow my soul to experience. So I am not my body. I came here to experience the grandest thought. So I am not my mind. I came here to experience the deepest feeling. So I am not my feelings. I am all of it: thought, feeling and experience. That translates to awe, joy and reverence. For all life, for all beings, for all Creation. Knowing this, understanding this, make living the hardest thing of all—but the joy is in the challenge, the gradual day-by-day becoming.

In Chapter V: Persistence, he learns the miraculous power of forgiveness.

I LIVE FOR miracles in my life these days. Not the earth-changing, light-bringing, soul-powering kind. But the ones that carve out a small space of peace where before there was only the jumble of resentment, fear and doubt. The ones that happen from choosing to live the right way. Like coming to understand that forgiveness isn’t about gaining a release from others—it’s about gaining release from me. If I release my hold on what binds me, I can walk free and unencumbered. But I have to embrace the resentment, fear and doubt to gain that. I have to own them, hold them again, so that I can learn to let them go. In that letting go is the miracle.

There are more entries worth sharing, including short dialogues with a wise elder, Old Woman. His questions elicit unexpected pithy replies as she offers wise advice about life. Here’s an example from Chapter V.

ME: You always repeat things three times.

OLD WOMAN: Just the important things.

ME: Why? I hear you the first time.

OLD WOMAN: No. You listen the first time. You hear the second time. And you feel the third time.

ME: I don’t get it.

OLD WOMAN: When you listen, you become aware. That’s for your head. When you hear, you awaken. That’s for your heart. When you feel, it becomes a part of you. That’s for your spirit. Three times. It’s so you learn to listen with your whole being. That’s how you learn.

Advice on Writing

My earlier post shared Richard Wagamese’s reflections on the writing life. In Embers, Chapter III: TRUST, he describes the process of timed free writing and what it can do for us both personally and professionally.

WRITE SPONTANEOUSLY EVERY day for fifteen minutes.

First, get settled. Breathe. Big, deep, full breaths, taken slowly. Clear your mind of words. Be wordless. Then, open your eyes and write whatever comes out of you, and keep writing without taking your hands from the paper or the keyboard for fifteen minutes. Don’t worry about punctuation or spelling. Just write. Every day. Fifteen minutes. Regardless. Watch what happens to your level of craft when you work on a project. Why? Because stories live in our bodies and we need to feel our fingers moving in the process of creation every day. Your hands are your interpretive tools. They bring your spirit out in words and language.

In Chapter IV: Reverence, he shares his personal approach to writing.

YOU STOKE THE FIRES of creativity with humility, gratitude and awareness. You need to ask for the gift to be directed. Writing is a spiritual process. To be a creator you need to connect with Creator.

In Chapter VII: JOY, he tells us that writing is a process of self-discovery.

DON’T JUST WRITE what you know. Write what you wish to know. What you reveal to yourself, you reveal to the reader. Storytelling is about discovery.

It was how he wrote Medicine Walk. I included his quote and video link in that earlier blog post about him. He had described this process in that same talk he gave at MacEwan University for their Book of the Year selection—Indian Horse. That book was turned into a film by the same title, which I had recently seen on Netflix but didn’t know it was written by him until I made the coincidental connection.

With reference to spontaneous writing and storytelling, I know what he means. When I first discovered writing and what writers said about it, one of my first poems came out as a result of free-writing practice: Writing—a poem on the writing process.

Around that time I had made up a bedtime story for my kids. It was so magical we did it again the next night and recorded it. After it was done I spontaneously spoke out what that process was like, then wrote those two sentences down as Storytelling—a poem on the storytelling process.

Wagemese concludes by encouraging us to share in the transporting and transforming power of storytelling, advising us to not be didactic, but to inspire others instead to discover the questions for themselves.

TO TELL. TO use the act of breathing to shape air into sounds that take on the context of language that lifts and transports those who hear it, takes them beyond what they think and know and feel and empowers them to think and feel and know even more. We’re all storytellers, really. That’s what we do. That is our power as human beings. Not to tell people how to think and feel and therefore know—but through our stories allow them to discover questions within themselves. Turn off your TV and your devices and talk to each other. Share stories. Be joined, transported and transformed.

It reminds me of what Raner Maria Rilke said in Letters to a Young Poet.

Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.

Embers: One Ojibway’s Meditations became a 2017 BC Book Prize Winner. I can see why, now that I own a copy. In addition to Richard Wagamese’s words of wisdom, humility and gratitude, the book cover and content are colorfully laid out with creative photographs, all printed on quality paper. Douglas & McIntyre produced a beautiful work of art.


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