Before we even arrived in Edmonton and unpacked our bags, my heartbeat was already attuned to the culture of the Aboriginal people of this country.
I soon began my search for more information about their spirituality, leafing through the tourist brochures that my partner brought home. While the primary purpose for these was for planning trips to places of interest that we could get to by bus, I looked for places where I could experience Aboriginal spirituality. The pressures of finding employment and keeping on top of the bills that newcomers never fully expect finally superseded and, although my interest in learning more about the native people of this country never died, it waned.
You can then understand my gratitude to find that the hospital administration where I later became an Intern Chaplain incorporated Aboriginal culture and spirituality into its Pastoral Care programme. Through this, my experience of Aboriginal spirituality had me dancing away from my head to my heartbeat. It was an Aboriginal elder who used that imagery in workshop first and then I heard it again, that the longest distance is between the head and the heart, from another elder at a sweat lodge.
Over the ensuing months, as we tried to settle into our new home, I would often reflect on this and tuned into my heartbeat. It would eventually come to me that the move to Canada and the ones from our first apartment here to every other place that we have lived in, was part of that journey, actually a continuation of my journey from the head to my heart.
Something else came to me. Our move that I mentioned in a recent post was to a place in the South of the city and that this is where the Mouse (heart) of Aboriginal spirituality lives. In the “South living”, although hard work is very much a need, one becomes a helper, a servant to life and open to being vulnerable. Up to that point, we were living on the North and on a spiritual level; I was a citizen of the North, the land of the Buffalo, for a long time. In the North, it is all about the physical, being headstrong, the boss and in charge.
Another thing that I noted about the Aboriginal culture is that it shares several commonalities with my own African-Jamaican heritage. We are both oppressed people but more importantly, we both have not forgotten how to dance with Spirit and to our own heartbeat. Here are some Scriptural examples:
“Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.” Psalms 51:10
“I am blind and do not see the things of this world; but when the light comes from above, it enlightens my heart and I can see, for the Eye of my heart sees everything; and through this vision I can help my people. The heart is a sanctuary at the center of which there is a little space, wherein the Great Spirit dwells, and this is the Eye . . . If the heart is not pure, the Great Spirit cannot be seen.” Black Elk, Sioux Tradition
“Set me free, I entreat thee from my heart;
If I do not pray to thee with my heart,
Thou hearest me not.
If I pray to thee with my heart,
Thou knowest it and art gracious unto me.” Boran Prayer (Kenya)
With Every Heartbeat
This post was originally written in November 2001 and published elsewhere. This is its second republishing and I deliberately chose today, the last day of the Easter celebrations. It is also the last week of our focus on intimate relationships. There is a song that I used to sing most passionately when I was younger and hopelessly in love. The words go something like this:
“With every beat of my heart,
There’s a beat for you . . .”
How many persons have I sang those words to in my younger years? Many, albeit unknowingly.
It boggles my mind to think now about the number of heartbeats I have given to others. What scared me even more are the answers to the questions, “How many beats did you give to yourself?” “How many beats of others did you dance to?”
Tears flowed down my cheeks as I heard myself answering, “very few,” and “too many,” respectively to these questions.
Like me, there are many people, particularly women, who spend a lifetime giving away their own heartbeats, dulling the drums of their hearts, to dance to the beat of another heart. Like me, many finally and painfully wake up to this reality when the only beat they hear is silence. That is the moment when you awaken to the seemingly harsh reality that there, “Ain’t no drumming going on here, baby!”
The sound of Silence can be quite deafening. Silence was not a favourite tune of mine but it kept playing for me, between lovers, jobs, financial crises and other similar life changes. I could not stand Silence and very quickly, I would start searching for a heartbeat other than mine; I would literally hunt or go on the prowl for someone’s heart beat to dull Silence.
One day though, in the middle of my frenetic dancing to the familiar and comfortable drum of my job and my boss’ vision, the music stopped. In panic, I moved from cursing my co-workers, the economy, the government, my car, anything and everything for causing my beat to die. I did not want to hear the sound of Silence but try as I might It got louder.
With the same quiet gentleness, yet forcefulness of the sun bursting through the clouds on a rainy day, a low, very low thump rose slowly from the well of my soul. It filled me up with a melodic tune – my own heartbeat. It was beautiful!
For the first time in my life, I listened to the tune of my heart with no attempt to give it away, just allowing it to move my feet to its beat. Real life, true living from the essence of me, from my heart commenced and the melody has been smooth to keep in step with.
Admittedly, I made missteps. However, I came to realize that, as I dance to my own heartbeat, dancing partners, whether it is a job, a friendship or an intimate relationship, come to me with greater ease and less striving on my part. What is sweeter, is that like a fine orchestra, the instruments (hearts) compliment each other and naturally and harmoniously create great symphonies. My friends, take it from me, Silence and the music it helps to write is glorious. Therefore, I am rewriting that song to say:
“With every beat of my heart,
There’s a tune for me.”
Words From The Heart
The following ‘poem’ was given to me soon after I started paying attention to Silence and dancing to my own heartbeat. I share it with you as encouragement to do the same.
Imagine a Woman
By Patricia Lynn Reilly
Imagine a woman who believes it is right and good she is a woman. A woman who honors her experience and tells her stories. Who refuses to carry the sins of others within her body and life.
Imagine a woman who believes she is good. A woman who trusts and respects herself. Who listens to her needs and desires and meets them with tenderness and grace.
Imagine a woman who has acknowledged the past’s influence on the present. A woman who has walked through her past. Who has healed into the present.
Imagine a woman who authors her own life. A woman who exerts, initiates, and moves on her own behalf. Who refuses to surrender except to her truest self and to her wisest voice.
Imagine a woman who names her own gods. A woman who imagines the divine in her image and likeness. Who designs her own spirituality and allows it to inform her daily life.
Imagine a woman in love with her own body. A woman who believes her body is enough, just as it is. Who celebrates her body and its rhythms and cycles as an exquisite resource.
Imagine a woman who honors the face of the Goddess in her changing face. A woman who celebrates the accumulation of her years and her wisdom. Who refuses to use precious energy disguising the changes in her body and life.
Imagine a woman who values the women in her life. A woman who sits in circles of women. Who is reminded of the truth about herself when she forgets.
Imagine yourself as this woman.
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