This is the pilgrim's question upon crossing the threshold from the Journey of Transformation back into the sacred-ordinary life. Reaching into his medicine bag he pulls out poetry and ritual that, like the alchemist's cauldron, hold the essence, the healing balm that are gifts for the home tribe.
There was no map for the Journey and there is no map for the way home which unfolds before the awakening one who has begun to learn to trust the path and the guiding Presence. Now keenly aware, especially, after an African Pilgrimage, of one's vulnerability and mortality, the journey before us is one of the soul now invited to catastrophe (cata=down, strophe=in). This is a journey of decent rather than assent. It is time be cautious of flights of fancy or lighthearted assents of the spirit. T'hough Spirit has much to offer this is the time of soul.
Every wisdom tradition I know urges us to do this "soul work" to cultivate active awareness of our mortality — because keeping that simple reality before our eyes enhances our appreciation of life, even when things get tough. It also increases the odds that we will come to some new insight and commitment about how we want to live.
This morning, the first of my return, I reached into my medicine bag and found this Mary Oliver poem.
As you read this poem, ask yourself a simple question and take some time to ponder it:
"How, then, shall I live?"
When Death Comes
When death comes
like the hungry bear in autumn;
when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse
to buy me, and snaps the purse shut;
when death comes
like the measle-pox;
when death comes
like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,
I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering:
what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?
And therefore I look upon everything
as a brotherhood and a sisterhood,
and I look upon time as no more than an idea,
and I consider eternity as another possibility,
and I think of each life as a flower, as common
as a field daisy, and as singular,
and each name a comfortable music in the mouth,
tending, as all music does, toward silence,
and each body a lion of courage, and something
precious to the earth.
When it's over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.
When it's over, I don't want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don't want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.
I don't want to end up simply having visited the world.