The tattoo gun murmurs its Morse code on my Manubrium, the hard bones perched just above soft curves of cleavage. From the first tip of costal cartilage, down to the fourth Line of Union on my sternum, I feel the tattoo engraved upon my chest and the fusion is finally complete.
When I discovered the tattoo design, I knew it would be mine. I knew where it would float above my bones and swim inside my skin. I wondered, only briefly, about the implications of tattooing a corporate logo on my outrageously anti-establishment design. But the Nippon Gaikku logo was born in the 1800s, and was crafted with integrity, a brand of honor that now chokes on the smog of modern-day mechanization.
The tattoo design on my chest is the progenitor of the Yamaha logo, the very first to establish its presence for proud craftsmanship of elegant musical instruments. The tattoo-logo is a Hoo (pronounced haw-oh). It’s a Chinese Phoenix with a tuning fork clamped solidly in her beak. The Hoo and I may have been married through ink and blood only two years ago, but our journey began many years prior to her debut on my chest.
History between this Yamaha Phoenix and I started in elementary school. Crippled by grade-school awkwardness, I recall gimping into a tiny music room. My ungainliness swelled at the site of Mrs. Roan. She was my 3rd grade music teacher and the object of my youthful and bungling adoration. Her dark beauty, her zeal, her penchant for tailored white suits and black paten leather shoes with killer heels and pointy tips – so exotic, and all so uncharacteristic of the school-marm stereotype. I remember the silk of her pant suit elegantly shifting as she walked around the stuffy music room, rounding all her students up in a circle. She passed out a series of musical instruments to each of us, the first of which was a Yamaha French Horn, an instrument Mrs. Roan professed being quite adept at playing.
The horn was passed from one pair of grubby hands to another round the circle. Each child attempted, unsuccessfully, to birth sound from the bowels of the nickel-plated beast.
Lastly, the bright, silvery horn was passed to me. Its metallic skin was bruised from peanut butter and jelly smears left by chubby kid fingers, still unwashed from consuming cafeteria lunches. I cradled the horn lovingly and I remember whispering to it: “I know you’re magic. You’ll play for me.”
My tiny lips pressed against the cold metal mouthpiece. With the corners of my mouth downturned, brows furrowed, mind honed on the bull’s-eye of sound, I willed my lips to putter quickly through marble-like mouthpiece. My efforts were rewarded by a crystalline bellow, a clear herald of the horn’s brilliance, a solid ‘middle c’ note emanated from the horn. Mrs. Roan stood akimbo in response, her cinnamon eyes glowing in approval at my victory; I won her favor, a cold rose plucked in a moment of sun-kissed glory. I coaxed sound from this mass of twisted tubing and unlikely metal. Magic was mine.
Standing in the center of that circle, horn in trembling hands, my peers beamed at me with tooth-missing grins. In that moment I recall feeling gift-wrapped in attunement; a Yamaha French horn trumpeted the surprise arrival of homeostasis, and magic.
Years passed and I continued to cut my embouchure on dented King’s and tinny Conn’s – all rented French horns of dubious quality. But I persistently played these metal beasts – chromatic scales groaning through the walls of school practice rooms and childhood hallways.
The Summer transitioning between junior and senior high school was one of prolonged anxiety; try-outs for high school concert band were held the first of August, and I was struggling to spin melodic gold from a deflated, barren Elkhart horn.
A fluke of nature intervened. A serious eye infection threatened to take my vision that July, which would make my right eye a vacuous hole of non-sight. Laying in the hospital, agony scraping at my optic nerves, my dad fidgeted by my bedside. My awareness flickered between pain and pain-killers, but I remember my dad’s words uttered from the anxiety of his daughter facing a life of half-blindness. “Make it through this,” he said, “and I’ll buy you the best damn French horn you’ll ever lay hands on.”
I made it out of the procedures with eyesight intact, and dad made good on his promise. He bought me a Yamaha 668, the elite of the fleet for its day. A professional horn with seamless nickel streaming like smooth ripples of water in my hands. It resonated in my arms. Within this bright horn, there was music tingling, aching, itching to be released. I was reborn after playing the new horn for the first time. The sound I could produce was tangible lusciousness, like being robed in musical satin. That horn took me to 1st chair all through high school, prestige in college years, and even serving as a free-lance musician for both symphonic bands and chamber orchestras.
Now, decades later, sitting in a battered dentists chair doubling as a recliner for tattoo initiates, I think on these memories mixed with melodic overtones. As my friend and tattoo artist coaxes life from ink, etching the Yamaha Chinese Phoenix on my breastbone, I reflect on the appropriateness of the symbolism. Reborn indeed.
Was it happenstance that my eyesight was saved? I don’t think so. Rather, I believe it was the restorative power of my heartfelt devotion for creating good music, and my love of the French horn rescued me from living a half-blind life (physically and metaphorically).
Thankfully, it’s not the first time artistic expression has lifted me out of a pile of life’s potentially suffocating ashes. Good music, played rightly, is nothing short of pure enlightenment and I’m lucky (despite my uber-awkward youth) I found illumination that day long ago while rendering clear tones from that sticky silver horn in the third grade.
The tattoo gun finally ceases hammering at my breast plate, and I walk to the mirror to behold the new scenery on my skin. Looking in the mirror, I could swear the phoenix winks back at me – a knowing wink, a shared acknowledgement of restored vision, a confirmation how the drive for creative expression can give way to ascension, leading a willing heart out of the dark.
Friend, mentor, teacher, compatriot. I’m talking about Vera, a fellow “walker-in-the-woods” of life’s winding and wonderous paths. I adore her perspective, and her writing. You’ll see why in her guest post below. Please warmly welcome Vera as she takes us on a journey through her garden gates, where wild things romp and wisdom hangs its hat on every blade of grass.
Vera is my chosen name, belonging to my grandmother, who lamented never having someone named for her. To remedy, I call myself after her…. besides we look so much alike! Imagine Hobbit hill woman, hands on hips, elbows out, hen-like, poking and scratching the ground, yep that’s me, with the pointy gnome hat, magical shoes with shiny buckles cobbled by industrious elves.
I’ve been invited to guest blog ….. so here goes……
Morning’s these days are a riot of noise, coming from the bush outside my bedroom window. In gladness, birds sing up the sun and call forth the newly greening of the ground. Spring’s herald in my neck of the woods wears a robin’s red breast, the yellows and purples of April’s harlequin fool…(violets, crocus and daffodils are first to leave the gate) and the starry undeniable presence of the Orion over head in the early evening sky.
I’ve been blessed with my own little patch of earth to steward, and once again, it’s time to take stock of all the merry volunteers making their thrust toward the light. This is also the time to survey what was lost, as sometimes even with best efforts, some thing’s just don’t take. (oh no! Not the new roses….. Good thing the nursery has a one year guarantee!)
Tedious chores like tossing gravel back into the driveway that was shoveled into all manner of nooks and crannies of the yard and lawn from last winter’s snow management, or gently removing the odd chaff collected here and there demand attention. What shall I do with the tree limb that fell during a particularly vigorous wind? Cut, stack and burn in some sacred fire when ready of course!
I’m struck by how many different shades of green there are. Dusty sage, kelley, chartreuse, teal and all manner of the afore mentioned variegation to name a few. I’m blown away by what’s already a foot high, tulip…dock…crown imperial. It’s like welcoming back old friends, and I’m so glad to reacquaint!
Tiny splashes of green do this magical Monet-like spotty appearance as seeds fulfill their promise, that take on familiar patterns and shapes, most are welcome, some not so much (may all your weeds be wildflowers!).
Where I’m from, most trees are still in stasis now, with the exception of the globe willows that now sport the faint blush of leafing out. That welcome green of living color grows stronger every day.
Sunlight feels different now, sweetly stronger, warming like a lover’s kiss as it teases in playful hide and seek behind clouds pushed about by winds that still have a bite.
I have an endearing nickname for pansies. I call them “smiling faces.” They cheer even as they shiver in the breeze. This year I chose a wine-berry mix for the box by my door and yellows and red for the bowl by the street.
Heck, all blooms and blossoms to me have that effect…their beauty is their smile. Can you tell yet that out-of-doors is my element? That my personal hero was Tasha Tudor? That I’m partial to “flowery” language with a hint of tongue in cheek?
My prized possessions are perennial in nature like peaches, strawberries and apples, and the smell of roses or shade from my favorite tree on a hot day. My constant companions are chickens and a couple dogs.
My heart’s desire are for wild things to drop by for a visit, like quail, cock-pheasant, martin and wren. Owls and hawks are welcome too, only if they behave themselves with peaceful intentions.
In closing, I am so pleased to meet you all through words. To those who may have been sent into a diabetic coma, I beg your pardon. I’m new at this. :)
Welcome to my garden, and kindly tread softly, living things grow below.
Nestled in soft pockets of awareness, there are messages waiting to unfold themselves to us, cosmic messages intended for our eyes only, and in James Bond ‘double-oh-seven’ style, with cryptic innuendo and a bit of humorous cheek, we are left to ponder the symbolic implications of oracles glittering on our path.
This human life is all espionage and safari, and I contend the hunt begins at the front door of our own consciousness. We all seek meaning, we all seek value, we all seek to lift the veil of the mundane that tends to cloak the brilliance awaiting us in this life.
To be sure, there is a remarkable quality of life available to each of us, and in my experience that extraordinary quality reveals itself via the endlessly versatile language of symbolism.
We all know this language, and we owe it to ourselves to interpret deeper symbolism in all its delightfully unusual dialects and cosmic contexts.
Symbolism is a language spoken from the Unified field, and its speech is variable, multi-tongued and infinite in manifestation. Interpreting signs, symbols and all manner of natural oracles is akin to tapping into limitless potential as well as establishing an experience with the Mystical.
Our lives are replete with multi-layered meanings, and that means big juju for all of us.
It means there is magic inherent in every moment of our lives. This magic dispels the ennui that sometimes clings to the human experience. Interpreting personal symbolism rekindles the conviction that we are all light-infused, special and valuable.
Regardless if we may be beset with grief, boredom or rage, we have the power to open just a few cracks of unique contemplation and view the moments of our lives as symbolic messages – these messages offer validation about our connection to something grandiose, something utterly unified in its ability to support and encourage our well-being.
I recently had the opportunity to interview Mike Bastine, a Native American Algonquin, who has been speaking about the necessity of re-connecting to Nature as a means to reform consciousness. It was an utter delight to spend time with Mr. Bastine, and equally uplifting to share common views with him. He’s got revolutionary insights anchored in ancient wisdom. Perhaps his words in this interview will contribute to your own conscious-reform for the better. Or, perhaps these views might maintain your own re-connection to the Mother (Nature). Enjoy!
The landscape cracks open like an egg in my view. The bright orange yolk of sun hangs, suspended in the albumen of a clear liquid sky. I’m driving along a curvy route to a quiet rural town to meet with Algonquin visionary and educator, Mike Bastine.
On the drive, the scenery unfolds like a Monet; billions of auburn-amber leaves splatter like dots on the rolling hills of Autumnal glory. It’s a two hour drive, stuffed with Natural beauty. The soft ride offers ample opportunity for me to ponder the upcoming meeting with Mr. Bastine.
Although diligent about suppressing any kind of pre-conclusions about this interview, electric expectation still amplifies my anticipation. I am meeting a Native master of tenets that have ignited my own elevated understanding; tenets essential to the broader soul-growth of so many people over human history.
My time with Mike Bastine, however, produces no glamour. No spiritual huff-n-puff. No fluffy clouds filled with insubstantial vapors about spirituality. Rather, Bastine proves to be a Plymouth rock of foundational wisdom. He radiates reverence for simplicity. He is rooted in the value of rekindling the heart of humanity; encouraging attunement with the energies of Nature, love and respect. No fancy juju; just bare-boned wisdom, exposing a soulful, nurturing marrow.
My car pulls into his driveway. Beyond the weathered, wood-clad exterior of his home, rests acres of maples waving goodbye to their own falling leaves. Rows of cornfields maze the back yard, their husks brown and crinkly, jutting up to the glassy sky.
My ears perk, hearing a yawning creak from the front screen door as I gather up my notebook, camera, and recording device from the car. It’s Mike Bastine walking out to greet me.
Mike’s Native blood etches clear evidence of his Algonquin heritage in his appearance. His skin is naturally tawny, obviously unaided by the sun’s tanning effect, especially as winter begins her progressive swallowing of solar rays. His hair is long, pulled back in a pony tail. It shines in onyx iridescence and reminds me of silky crow feathers.
He welcomes me with a smile; a smile that equals the cheer reflected inside his home. I struggle to pull off my boots before entering. “Oh no, you don’t have to do that.” Mike says, chuckling, as I almost topple over. “Keep those on. Stay warm. Snow and mud aren’t sticking to the bottoms of our feet just yet.” We both break the initial conversational ice by agreeing how mild this year’s autumn has been.
Mike and I sit at his kitchen table. Pens and pencils stand at attention in a clean white cup, anxious to be put to use. Books and papers are neatly stacked on the table too. Mike thoughtfully pulls out a few of the many articles written about him for me to read. He pauses for a moment and pulls out a few books for me to look at too.
Pam, Mike’s wife, offers me a hot cup of green tea and a cinnamon pecan danish. I’ve just met these people, but it feels I’ve been a welcomed visitor in this kitchen for an eternity. Time is irrelevant. Indeed, the energy of their home is timeless, comforting and tremendously safe. I am calm, I am at home in their presence.
The black pot-belly stove churns out its warmth as Mike begins to do what he does best: Weave his spoken words into exquisite tapestries. Native wisdom is his loom, and Mike threads rich value into each sentence spoken. His voice is a smooth, lulling tenor and his words are framed in the rhythmic compassion that steadily beats within his heart.
For decades, Mike Bastine has travelled the US and Canada speaking about the wisdom of his Native ancestors, illustrating how Native ways are a catalyst for healing, renewal and reconnection to a higher way of living life.
“I’ve been bringing up a few terms in my workshops lately.” Mike begins, his soft brown eyes sparkling. “Terms we all learned in early schooling. I ask people how they feel about the phrase ‘Divide and Conquer’ and most people tell me it’s kind of a standard of life today.”
Mike explains that the modern Western civilized mind has been trained to weed out ‘weakness’ and conquer life by working hard at maintaining status quo. “Mainstream thought mostly adheres to popularly accepted, spoon-fed education and doctrine.” He says in his sing-song dialect. As Mike talks, my understanding lulls into compliance with his argument with this commonly accepted phrase.
“Today, most people’s perception of strength and weakness is skewed. There’s more strength in the gentle than there is in the bold. Gentleness accumulating over time – that’s where the power resides.” Mike taps his calloused-covered fingertip on the Xerox copy he gave me of Chief Seattle’s speech. “That’s part of what Seattle is saying in this address.”
Mike closes his eyes, and I wonder what scenes are playing beneath his eyelids. “The idea of ‘conquer’ is equally misleading.” He says, “What is there to conquer? If we each lived aligned to our True Nature, we wouldn’t even be having this conversation!” He pushes back a bit from the kitchen table after finishing this thought, as if sitting objectively – seeing a broad view of the human condition from his wicker-backed chair.
“The idea of ‘divide’ is just an illusion. Nature shows us different. Nature shows us progress only comes with inclusion, acceptance, absorption. Nature shows us surrender. That’s what evolutional progress is about.” Mike lets out a lightly exasperated chuckle, with a slightly discernable shaking of his head.
” I ask these same people in my workshops how they feel about another common phrase we’ve all been taught: ‘In God we Trust.’ I get the same kind of mental agreement. But I have to question this. How can we believe in ‘Divide and Conquer‘ and ‘In God we Trust’ at the same time?” Mike’s passion about these points of contention is clear, but his core demeanor does not waiver. He remains solidly anchored in a place of peaceful contemplation as he speaks to me.
The Algonquin Elder continues his thought-stream about Western culture’s unconscious acceptance of these two statements. “How can we be divided and yet trust in one God? This mentality is where the breakdown of disconnect to Nature stems.” Mike says softly, sad kindness lacing his voice. To him, unity is a far more viable solution to living a life of true freedom.
Mike leans forward on the kitchen table to drive his point home: “Prior generations had Elders to teach us about relationships. Primarily the marriage between humans and this planet. But now those teachings have fallen by the wayside. This causes separation. We have become distanced from the higher wisdom of Nature, love and goodness.” Mike further contends this disconnection has lead to an inflammation of humanity’s highest conflict: The conflict between the heart and the ego.
“We must think independently. We can’t think what we’ve been educated to think, because it’s not what this life is about. We must observe what’s going on today and rejoin the ranks of our Elders who looked to Nature for assistance with answers.”
Mike Bastine gently illustrates how many of today’s youth are no longer educated by their Elders who have been steeped in the nurturing, honorable ways of the Great Spirit and the ways of Nature. Today, our youth are educated by capitalist systems whose primary impetus for functioning is money and conformity. It’s a disturbing observation. Mike points out a fundamentally flawed educational system that produces fact-filled sheep, designed to follow (and not overthrow) the powers that be, namely, the government. More unsettling, is the valid observation of mass-media’s role in raising our youth.
“If we look at the bigger picture of what’s happening around the world, and we see the events – how they connect. How they unfold. How they evolve. We can start to see that disconnection is the source of great upheaval.” Mike’s hands are upturned; his arms slightly raised in a supplicating gesture as he utters these words. He speaks like a man who sees problems and feels frustration because he knows how simple the solutions are.
The furrow in Mike’s brow smoothes back into its customary serenity as he expands his revelations: “This disjointed gap….the inability to connect human thought and behavior with the deeper functions of Nature….this is the sole flaw that prohibits the flow of peace.” This flaw, Mike explains, is aggravated by the lack of unity and acceptance being taught by our modern elders, who are our politicians, educators, doctors, etc.
“I wish there were little manuals written about how to be a good human. How to make choices that honor and respect our world and all that lives in it.” I nod my head and smile, thinking about how Mike’s ‘How to be a Good Human’ manuals might not be the most ideal replacement for wise Elders in our modern-day global tribes. But, I silently agree these manuals would be a good start at defining simple steps for reconnecting to the Golden Truths inherent in every human heart.
“When enlightenment dovetails and becomes manifested into the outward happiness of being, do you think something like the definition of ‘a metaphor’ is essential to sustaining that education? No! It doesn’t take rocket science to gain a higher education. This is about human interaction conducted with respect.” Mike makes this statement with conviction backed by the wisdom of his lineage. His faith in the cathartic, healing practice of unifying with the foundational energy of Nature, humility and honor is unshakable.
As Mike Bastine carefully crafts his words and purposefully narrates his perceptions, I recognize him as a visionary educator. Why? Because he can see into the human heart and there he greets only the heart’s inherent potential for goodness in spite of the presence of malignant understanding. It takes a visionary to see the spiritual gifts hiding behind ugly curtains of the ego.
I get the sense that Mike is not entirely aware of his ability to overlook the presence of fear feeding the human heart. His unsinkable faith in each human’s inherent goodness overrides the presence of fear and pain glaring back at him when he speaks about ‘consciousness-reform.’ In every word and movement, it’s apparent Mike knows the path to higher societal evolution is born from virtue and devotion to the grounding cornerstones of Nature.
Mike continues his mission to reveal the true values indwelling every heart, and how each heart is hard-wired to reconnect with all life in loving ways. His unwavering belief in human potential makes him both a visionary, and an exemplary educator in the realm of thoughtful unification with elements of life that truly matter.
The warm bubble of the Bastine’s hospitality cannot be popped as I drive back to the pointy edges of city life. The yolky sun is pressed behind me now, enhancing a sense of warmth and nourishment. Driving back the way I came, my mind turns with the soft curves of the road as I think about our discussion.
My intent for this piece was to capture the essence of Native American wisdom; writing about how the ways of Native Elders provide healing to the human heart – – healing wisdom that prepares each of us for future global shifts we are all destined to experience in the process of living life on this Earth today.
But really, after listening to Mr. Bastine, my lofty intent dissolved into particles of more substantial import. As the hills of the countryside roll behind me, I think of Mike’s parting thoughts:
“The value of simplicity. The value of independent thought. The value of re-connecting to Nature and its wisdom. These are small, incremental choices of honor we can all choose to make. These are the functional building blocks for re-connecting to life’s vitality.”
Ultimately, Mike Bastine helped me understand that it is not so much the intellectual or spiritual path we choose, but how we utilize our faith and educational choices – that is the true catalyst for global unification and peace. Essentially, every moment is an opportunity to ‘Unify and Conquer’ rather than divide and perish.
Those of you who follow me on Twitter know I attended a drawing class at a local community center last year. Yes, this little teapot (short-and-stout) is my handy-work.
After showing her my first homework assignment, the instructor looked at my work and said “not bad, but you need to build on your values more.”
Each consecutive week, she gets increasingly animated in her encouragement: “Build your values! Build your values!”
From what I understand, the term “value” in the art world defines the depth or intensity of light and dark in your pencil sketch. And, different values are identified with various labels like highlight, shadow core or middle grey.
I find a curious (and symbolic) correlary here, that while I’m building my values in art class, I’m also doing the same thing in my current reality.
I’m not talking about moral values. I’ve already got loads of those, as do most of us. We all know the golden rules, and how to apply them to our lives.
I’m talking about building depth, intruige and character in the portrait of our lives.
The symbolic analogy gets more charming when we learn building value in pencil sketching is accomplished by adding layers. We begin with a light shading with the pencil, and continue to add multiple layers of shading to build the darkeness (or, augment the lightness) of an area.
There are no shortcuts to the layer process either. When I’ve crammed my pencil in an area to beef up a darker value, it looks like crap.
That’s true in life too. Cramming and short-cuts just don’t make the grade as elegantly as progressive/thoughtful building.
Experience, growth, learning, observation – all of these and more are layers we’re applying to our life, and they most likely illicit artful expression when added accumulatively and with sincere/mindful application.
More layers = more diversity.
More diversity = more depth.
More depth = more value.
Naturally, it takes time to build layers. It’s an investment; a devotion to building integrity with a goal to enhance value.
What kind of value are you building in your life?
Take a look at your life as if it were a black and white pencil sketch. Can you identify the highlights? The shadows?
Consider the various experiences, beliefs and perspectives that layer your life. Those elements in your experience that build up to offer value, depth and intensity.
In the “big picture” of your life, are you layering a foundation for higher, beneficial vision?
These are just some of the questions that cropped up for me while my instructor flails her arms and animatedly urges me to “Build your values!” I thought I’d share them with you.