The hand creates magic- whether with a drum, paintbrush, or ritual tool.
Hands bring the unseen into the realm of the seen.
-Joanna Powell Colbert
I am a writer.
There are stories inside of me- metaphorical and fictional as well as my own true one, waiting to be told. I cannot know who they are meant for outside of myself, but I know they are meant to be told.
My stories are like pregnancies, and show up in my dream life regularly as such, and as infants.
Sometimes I am racing to the hospital to birth them. Sometimes I don't make it, and the baby dies. Sometimes I play the role of rescuer, and the baby is in grave danger.
These dreams are always intense, and I always awaken with a sense of urgency- to write them down, to give a voice to their message, to free them from the confines of my soul.
But then, as I sit down to put pen on paper, or type them into my computer, a fog settles over me, and a monster rises up inside of me, accusing and belittling and harassing me so loudly that I cannot order my thoughts and I become overwhelmed with the task before me. Sometimes I push through, and sometimes I walk away, defeated by the combination of fog and criticism within.
And so it has continued for months- years, even.
When I was a child, I would compose stories with ease, and subject my family to literary performances, complete with musical scores I would compile as background to my written adventures.
Somewhere in the vicinity of 13-15 years old, I fell into a darkness and began to believe that I was no longer smart enough, creative enough, good enough to accomplish this great dream of writing. I shut down, and my writing dried up, leaving my soul so thirsty I have often felt a desperate longing for the bubbling up of words to return to water me.
But always, always, would come the 'voice of the oppressor'- as Anne Lamott puts it- perfectionism, slapping me back and telling me to shut up. I was an obedient daughter, and so that worked for many years.
I didn't begin writing again until I was required to for school, which I returned to in the winter of 2009. So, nearly a 17 year absence from my truest and deepest calling. It astonishes me to realize that now as I am counting back the years...
Trying to create a paradise in the wasteland that was my writing life for so long has been difficult, to put it mildly. I have bursts of inspiration, then nothing for days, weeks, months. It's enough to make one crazy, and I have felt that at times. But in these past few months especially, I have sensed an imminent rising up within me, and that all-too-familiar urgency along with it.
I reached a breaking point recently, and vented all my frustration and fear to a sister friend, who graciously listened without judgment or finger-wagging.
That same night, as I was drifting off to sleep, I saw an image of a man drumming. I could hear the rhythmic thudding, and he stared directly at me as he thumped the cylinder purposefully and loudly. I was in that half-asleep/waking state, and somewhere in my mind I knew my husband, lying beside me, was reading a paperback titled 'The Walking Drum". I absently thought about the drum correlation, and wondered if my brain was creating some weird subconscious connection.
Then, I heard myself say (in my mind), "I am a drummer!"
My husband responded (in my dreaming state), laughingly at my naivete, "Girls aren't drummers, sweetie..." He said it in a kind of you-silly-girl sort of way.
I felt those words cut deeply into me. I recognized them. They were a truth I had believed about myself for many years, surfacing in my body as I fell asleep.
I woke up with a start, fully and completely awake, at 4:15am. I was compelled to leave the bedroom, and snatched my journal, and my copy of Women Who Run With the Wolves as I left my husband sleeping.
I turned to where I had left off in the story analysis of Skeleton Woman... the next section I had yet to read was entitled, "Heart as Drum, and Singing Up". I felt a chill work its way up my spine. Spirit was speaking to me.
Dr. Estes writes in this section,
Giving one's heart for new creation, for new life, for the forces of Life/Death/Life, is a descent into the realm of feeling. It may be difficult for us, especially if we have been wounded by disappointment or by sorrow. But it is meant to be drummed through, to bring to full life the Skeleton Woman, to come close to the one who has come close to us.
and then later...
So the singing of song and using the heart as drum are both mystical acts awakening layers of the psyche not much used or seen...one can be assured that whatever is enacted will be numinous and arresting.
I recalled an image I had seen in the tarot deck I had recently purchased, by hadn't done much more than quickly peruse. I vaguely remembered a young man hitting a drum- that was all. I sought out the deck, along with the book that went with it- the Gaian Tarot by Joanna Powell Colbert.
I quickly found the right card: I~ The Magician.
You have the power to manifest your desires. Charisma and personal energy radiate from you. It is your gift to be able to enter sacred space and bring spiritual energy into the world of matter. When you focus your will, passion, and joy, creative energy flows through you. It is not enough to have focus and intention; you know these must be followed by action...Make things happen.
I was reminded of a bodywork session I'd had just 5 days earlier, receiving some much-needed treatment from a coworker. I had been experiencing pain in my hands for days, between the thumb and forefinger. It was a new pain, not one I was familiar with, and it was making my work rather difficult.
I requested special attention to those areas. While the therapist was treating my hands, I began seeing vivid colors behind my closed eyes. As she worked on my right hand, I saw a bright, almost blinding yellow light. When she moved to my left hand, I experienced sensations of red colors sweeping past my eyes. It was very clear, and demanded I pay attention.
Vicki Noble, in her book MotherPeace, calls The Magician a Toolmaker and Shaman.
As toolmaker, The Magician symbolizes differentiation- that great moment of mental awakening when the human ego recognized itself, felt its power to discriminate, and began to reason.... The bright yellow light radiating from the solar plexus reflects this magical mind power. ...
The Magician stands for solar consciousness (the bright yellow of day) and Mars energy (the red of action). Now is the time for beginning projects, taking a stand, affirming some idea you believe in.
Days later, reading these words by different women on the meaning of The Magician, and the associated colors (note that many tarot decks color The Magician in these two same primary colors), I felt with an absolute certainty that I was receiving a very clear message. It is time to manifest my desires through focus, passion, and intention- mixed with a healthy dose of action.
Interestingly, the shadow side of The Magician is lack of confidence, distraction, low self-worth, lack of nerve. In other words, a fear of failure that shuts one down from even trying to make the dream a reality- an effective method the inner critic uses to shut us down from manifesting spirit into the physical plane. A stillbirth- a miscarriage of creativity. And this is exactly where I had been.
Analyzing these things- these clues and symbols and synchronicities, I was able to see several things very clearly. In the realm of the symbol, everything lends itself to meaning and greater depth- things cease to be of worth by their face value alone. Right and Left become active/receptive, male/female, day/night, light/dark, yin/yang, above/below, and heavens/earth.
My "masculine" energy- right-handed, get-it-done, action self needs to find balance with my receptive "feminine" self, receiving messages from the divine self, drawing in creative energy.
Any creative project we undertake- becoming pregnant with it- cannot, should not, remain in that realm alone. We receive inspiration from spirit for a purpose- it is not to wallow in the message all by ourselves. It is meant to be given, to be shared in what way is right for the individual to share such nourishment for the soul, whichever soul that may be. It is arrogance to think we know better than the creative, divine spark that contains and retrieves such beauty that heals us and others. Who are we to place finite, tangible value on such things the spirit gifts us with, calling them 'flawed', 'imperfect', 'lacking' in any way? What speaks to one may not speak so to another, but that does not diminish them in any way, nor does the gift flinch in the face of criticism by others who do not see it for the treasure it is.
I happened upon a book just a couple days ago. It gave me that same creeping sense up my spine as I read the title, my heart recognizing the fingers of Skeleton Woman laying upon my own, guiding them as I reached for the shelf above me... Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within by Natalie Goldberg.
The drummer reaches his/her shaman hands into realms of the spirit to lay hold of vast wealth of healing for the community. That is what shamans do- they do not crawl into the cave and commune with the ancestors to have their own private party and withdraw from the world indefinitely. They seek out healing words and messages and ritual with their heart-as-drum that will heal their people. Their hands beat the drum, and the drum is their heart.