By Nancy Martin
We came from a wide array of backgrounds; teachers and parents, cooks and clerks, farmers and artists, musicians and mechanics, cleaners and middle managers, caregivers and salespeople, scientists and star gazers. It was comforting to know that so many were feeling the same ominous build-up. For months an energy had been growing; a momentum that would either carry humankind straight off a cliff or lead us to an evolutionary leap. There was no way of knowing which it would be.
During a winter holiday gathering, I heard a young woman sing her own a cappella version of Paul McCartney’s “Blackbird.” Her voice was resonate and determined, and the words of that beautiful refrain sent a current through the gathering that nearly stopped my heart.
These words flowed through my dreams and bubbled to my lips in the weeks that followed. They reminded me my purpose in coming to this lifetime at this point in history. I felt a huge wave about to hit, but I never imagined the form it would take.
It came two months later: The Pandemic. While people reacted with disbelief and depression or panic and horror, I was exuberant. I took no delight in the suffering, illness, death and grief, but in the fact that this virus stopped us all in our tracks. There was an open space in the flow of life. It was exhilarating, like the leap from a plane before the chute opens — free fall.
But as the weeks passed and the world became even more insane, my hopes faded and I became afraid that the parachute would not open at all. Once again the amoral, wealthy, powerful and greedy made this crisis about their own personal gain. They were experts in using words and phrases, music and dialect to make us feel more separate from one another than we actually are. They fed our fears and then pointed us at each other as the threat to safety and security. The greater the divide they generated, the more distracted we became. In the disarray, they were free to grab even more of the earth’s resources, financial wealth and manipulative power. By the time we woke up to the game, they had what they wanted. This time they did not even bother to conceal their deeds and soon became targets of outrage. In distain, they simply withdrew to their mansions and hired people to guard their gates.
When the majority of the population was told to stay at home and not work, life’s old routines disappeared. The inequalities of “normal” life began tearing at people’s lives. In the hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, those who had done “everything right,” were having trouble paying their basic household bills. They were falling into a chasm, that had grown deeper and wider through the decades, between the wealthy and the others in Western society.
Individuals termed “non-essential” in the workforce decided that this described how they had felt for years. Many had been boxed into unimaginative productivity-driven jobs that had nothing to do with their talents and skills. It was common to be a wage slave: so far in debt that you worked more hours at meaningless jobs just to keep your head above water. The ugliness of “normal” was losing its shiny mask. This was no time to sit back and see where the ride would end.
We came together to ease the financial and emotional strain. We withdrew to small communities and allowed only a few very carefully trained members to venture out to gather supplies, to protect us from the Virus.
During the day we worked to make this a self-sustaining community. We shared ideas for alternative energy supplies and began to discover the skills of each member. We taught one another what we knew about gardening, cooking, household repair, building and many other useful skills. We shared what we owned and made sure that everyone who came had a place to sleep and healthy food to eat.
In the mild evenings, we sat around an outdoor fire and shared ideas about how we as individuals and humans as a species could make the needed leap into a new future. As the sun set, we would shift to sharing what inspired us. We took turns sharing music, dance, stories, comedy, and enactments that spoke to our heart and soul. Even when it was streamed on the internet from another community, we all joined in, finding that sound and movement allowed thought to sink into the body and gather wisdom there.
One night it was a Maori Haka, and another the Avalokiteshvara chanting of the name of the Bodhisattva of Compassion by Tibetan monks. Groups enacted scenes of the followers of Gandhi at the salt works that freed India from British rule; and of the Rosa Parks’ act of passive resistance. There were Celtic laments for the sorrows of the world and rousing speeches by Martin Luther King, Jr., Cesar Chavez, and Sojourner Truth. Community members learned the dances of ancient peoples from around the world and felt the energy and passion they stirred. There were comedy sketches with humor that ran from racy to slapstick. We laughed and cried, sang and danced, and leapt to our feet with applause as we wove our community together.
One evening, led by a Hopi Shaman into the Unseen World, we were each invited to experience the Canyon Lands healing. Each of us was met by a Listener, who looked deeply into our eyes and remained supportively silent as we poured out all of the sorrows, suffering, frustration, anger, humiliation, and regret of our lifetime. It took only moments in this timeless realm, because we did not have to recite it all. It was the feeling tones of the experiences that gushed like a waterfall from us, drawn by the love and acceptance we saw in the Listener’s eyes.
When this part of the journey was complete, we were gathered into a circle and beings of grace and power came around to each of us, to gather the outpouring of our hearts. As it flowed into small bowls, it became a vivid pigment, which they then used to paint the canyon walls that surrounded us. All of these beings shared deep gratitude for what we had released, telling us that it was now transformed back into its original energy, and would add to the beauty and the healing of the Earth.
Many of us came back from that journey feeling lighter and free of discouragement. We had touched something older, wiser and more powerful than any challenge we faced in this limited time and space. It was easer to let go of the fear and begin looking to the future.
One of the young mechanics came to the gather one night with a message that had taken form as he repaired a fence at the edge of the property.
I stood there looking at that fence and suddenly realized that you can see it as holding you in, or as keeping you out. For months I have been having dreams that I am in a prison cell, clinging to the bars and screaming to get out. This morning a message came from inside of me, “You will stand at the prison bars forever shaking them and struggling with them, and the jailer will never let you out. But if you will turn around and begin walking the other direction, you will find that there are no walls holding you in.”
In some ways the wealthy and powerful had always hidden behind their gates, hoarding riches and power. In our culture, we had been trained to stand outside of the bars, pushing through pay checks, time, talent and life energy, hoping that they would accept our gifts and let us in. Every now and then, the gate would swing open to allow someone in, to keep the rest of us believing that someday it would be our turn. In our society we were not held within the bars, we were standing on the outside. We had been prisoners of an often cruel and heartless economic system. It was time to turn around, walk away and create the world we wanted to live in.
The planning took a few weeks. We selected the mansion of a man whose avarice and greed had led him naturally to acts of profiteering, and diverting essential supplies and equipment. The walk to his estate was a ten day pilgrimage. Our commitment to a new way of life deepened with every step.
The last morning, as we awaited the dawn, songs went up from throughout the camp. We heard a violin play the theme for “Schindler’s List,” full of longing and heartache. It was followed by the exuberance of a horn playing the “Star Wars” theme. We joined in the Maori Haka in honor of those gathered, and then the Cherokee Morning song accompanied by drumming. Finally, into the silence floated a single female voice, bringing those words so full of longing and promise. Throughout our Freedom Day preparations, “BlackBird” had become our theme. Today, we would embody the freedom we had been waiting for all of our lives. I was not the only one who burst into tears.
There was an iron gate across the driveway at a great distance from the mansion. The guards were confused, when they saw us. We were smiling and many carried that glow of calm, confident power. We were clearly not the usual angry mob.
Many of us were pushing small carts and these seemed their biggest worry. When they told us to halt we set our carts to rest. There was a stillness among us, and deep peace for many as we stood waiting for the guards to get instructions from within. The guards stood transfixed, many of them eased by seeing kindness and acceptance where they so often confronted hatred and ridicule.
The owner came striding down the drive, full of authority and bluster. The police would be called and we would be arrested. But we just stood there.
A ten-year-old girl moved forward to offer the flowers she had gathered, and to speak for all of us. “We are here to give back some things you need and want.”
“What could you possibly have that I don’t?” he demanded angrily.
“You have been working very hard to take everything from us for a long time. We simply want to give it all to you, so that you don’t have to work so hard anymore,” came the loving response. She laid down the flowers and a small pile of princess dolls.
We began taking items from the carts and piling them before the gate. For each of us the things were different. Some held monetary value, but most were the impulse buys of this and that which we picked up without thought. Most of it was useless or at least extraneous to a simple way of life. Often the items represented the distractions, toys and conveniences we had been taught to work hard to gain, and which we found only stole time from our lives.
Then a middle-aged farmer approached the gate carrying a small bag. I’m not sure why there was not reaction by the guards. It may have been a pause of curiosity, but I like to think it was the palpable energy of the loving support of all of us behind him being felt beyond the gate.
He emptied the contents of his bag on the ground. Taking hold of the bars of the gate, he looking through to the inside of the compound for a few moments. Then leaning down, he picked up his credit cards and bank account registers and slipped them gently between the bars. These were followed by his car keys with the registration, and the mortgage papers and deed to a house he no longer wanted. Finally, there was a small bundle of folded money. After one last look, he turned to face us. He heaved a huge sigh of relief. He was finally free to walk away from an abusive culture and join us in remaking the world.
When it was my turn, there was a surge of joy that raced up my spine as I held the bars. I said a final thank you and goodbye as I passed the keys to my Subaru through the gate. I felt nothing over the check book, charge cards and account numbers for my savings and pin numbers to by debt cards. My wedding ring and a few necklaces followed. The tears were streaming down my cheeks as I returned to the others.
One young man put his hand on my shoulder and asked, “What are you feeling, grandmother?”
“Gratitude,” I replied. “I have felt this day drawing me forward through my life. You probably have felt the same tug. I was not sure if I would live to see it. I am just so glad to be here on this Freedom Day,” I explained. He smiled and then enfolded me in a bear hug.
All of us went forward, one after another. We were not releasing valuables and possessions. We were being released from what tied us to a crazy and distorted culture. We were free now to redefine who we are in the human family and as creatures of this Earth.
The owner remained motionless throughout the hours of the ritual. He retained his air of superiority and a fixed sneer on his face. He refused to show any sign that our actions had any meaning for him at all.
When the last woman had given her offerings, we raised our voices. The chant that grew echoed with the power and authority of the Earth Herself. The drums gave a driving beat that seemed to shake the bones of the land where we stood. Some voices were strong and deep calling from the indigenous roots of the human family. Others lifted in counterpoint, floating a soprano and tenor dance of the heavens. All of the energies of the timeless human family rang out to fill each of us and to express our new passion for our lives.
As the daylight waned, we turned to begin our long walk home. A middle-aged woman, who had been one of the quiet ones among us, held back and approached the gate. She spoke softly first to the guards and then the to owner.
Later, when she was walking with us, we asked her about that conversation. “I live near here, and will remain here. I told the owner that he thinks it would be harder for him to be free than it is for us, but that I know that is not true. He can open the gate at any time and walk through it to freedom,” she shared. “I told him that I will come every morning and sit next to the gate. Any time he wants to talk I will listen to his suffering and his sorrow. I will return every day until he is free.” I tingled at the thought and was honored to walk next to this woman.
The rest of us returned to our own small communities. We would continue to discover where and how we could best use our gifts and energy to create a new world focused on healing and wholeness for all beings.
I came here to begin my training with the listeners and the storytellers. I weave threads from my shamanic journey work into stories of compassion. We sing, chant, dance, laugh and drum. I am falling more and more deeply in love with the Earth and all of her children. There is one of the Buddhist sisters among us whose smile shines with deep peace, joy and calm. In this renewed Earth we are creating, I dream of feeling the way she looks.
I hope you enjoy your favorite recording of “Blackbird” soon.
(Thanks to my editor, Lara Martin, for helping me bring focus and clarity to my writing )