What to Remember During a Dismemberment

Jane BurnsUncategorized


A great deal has been felt and remarked upon due to recent changes on the political stage of this country. Whether this is a time of hope and celebration for you, or a time of impending doom, it should remain clear to everyone that a turbulent and difficult time lies ahead. For everyone.

Almost everyone has an idea about what will happen next. However, we should keep in mind that what is happening now is unprecedented for us, and none of us knows what will happen next, not even those who have taken the reigns. If there is any rule to follow now, it is: expect the unexpected.

A seasoned sailor knows that one must be awake and present when a boat enters shallow, rocky waters. It is the place that calls on all the greatest navigation skills, knowledge and insight into the laws of the sea, and an unwavering faith in the bond shared by sea and navigator.

To the ancient adventurers, the sea was a majestic being who was honored and invoked whenever a voyage was undertaken. Were they in right relationship with the sea, so that she would be willing to guide them safely to their destination—even if that destination was unknown?

In early Christian times, monks and missionaries would sometimes enter an oarless sea craft called a corracle, place their fate entirely in the hands of the sea, trusting her to bring them to the teaching, experience or land their soul required. And, the sea could be a harsh mistress: the journey arduous, the elements chaotic and unyielding, the deprivation fierce and taxing, and the results sometimes perilous.

One enters the sea as one enters life, knowing it will not always be smooth sailing. Smooth sailing does not make seasoned and proficient sailors—turbulent seas do. The rougher the seas, the wiser the sailor.

In shamanism, there is an archetypal journey known as the dismemberment journey. The student or practitioner of shamanism recognizes an illusion or fear that diminishes or impedes the expansion of his soul. The student asks for this flaw to be healed and in doing so, surrenders to the wisdom of the helping spirits and the laws of the Otherworld to remove and sand down the jagged protrusion or impediment, just as a rough stone is tossed and tumbled in the waves of the sea until it is polished and smooth.

In a classic dismemberment journey—or what is also called a death-rebirth or death without dying journey—the shamanic “adventurer” is sometimes torn limb from limb, thrown from a cliff, burned in a fire or drowned in the sea. A symbolic death that gives way to a profound rebirth. The subject is lovingly restored, reassembled, revived and brought back to life, whole and empowered, the fear or illusion vanquished.

What the journey demonstrates is what happens to us in life all the time. We are chewed up and spat out by some experience, a loss of control or betrayal, an illness or disability, the death of a loved one, a reversal of fortune. And we must contend. No matter how much we resist and try to rewrite the script, return again and again to the original plan or dream, our original way of being, everything we thought we had has turned to dust. What once was is no more.

storm-cloudsDismemberments can be personal or global, a sea swell or a tsunami. Perhaps we are able to see the storm clouds gathering on the horizon and can predict what is coming. Perhaps we have fallen asleep or have chosen to ignore the darkening sky. Perhaps we have been caught unawares by an event so cataclysmic and unprecedented, we have no ready means to contend with it and must resign to its nature and succumb to the wake of its destruction.

Regardless of whether the dismemberment (transformation) is invited or not, worldly or Otherworldly, individual or collective, familiar or foreign, the same rules apply. We need to be awake and present or we will miss the point of the sacrifice we are making and the suffering we are enduring. No change is random or mindless, so we cannot afford be mindless in it.

We must practice what we know and draw on all the strength and insight we have already gained. We must have faith that there is inherent and ultimate mercy and goodness in the turbulent seas surrounding us, and respect the greater wisdom that has ordained it. We must tend and deepen our relationship with the divine. We must believe that it is divine power that has engineered this change and divine wisdom that will steer us through it.

Spiritual practice is not practice forever. There are times when we are called upon to apply what we have learned. There are times when what has been unusual or hidden becomes commonplace and real. There are times that will test and try the steadfastness of our practice.

I think of a story Ram Dass told years ago:

A village is invaded by an army. Following the siege, the general calls his aides to him and asks for a status report.

“All resistance from the villagers has been quelled. The people stand ready to accept you as their leader, and await your command.”

“This is good,” says the general. “What about the monks?”

“The monks have fled for the mountains, sir.”

“This is good,” says the general.

“However,” says the aide, “there is one monk who has remained.”

The general is livid. He grabs his sword, marches to the monastery and crashes down the gate. He finds the monk in his garden, praying. The general stalks up to the seated monk, presses the point of his sword against the monk’s belly and shouts: “Don’t you know who I am? I am the one who can run this sword through your belly and never blink an eye!”

The monk opens his eyes and looks at the general. “And don’t you know who I am?” he asks quietly. “I am the one who can have you run this sword through my belly and never blink an eye.”

wallpaper-127424Despite all that is happening, we do still have choices. Perhaps they are just more sharply delineated than before. And more pressing. We can choose the role of the aggressor, of the aide and abetter, of the passive acquiescent. We can choose to flee or disappear. Or we can be present and unwavering, steadfast to what we know to be true. What has always been true. And always will be.

We are divine beings. We are just visiting here, and what we see and experience in this life is temporary, mattering only insofar as how our soul engages in the experience. In one way or another, the world will forever fall short and disappoint. It will fail us. It is meant to do that, and here, perhaps, is another way in which it has.