Hell: Consumption without Carrying

Yesterday I went to my local food co-op in the evening to have a meal and watch some members of our community tell stories of their time at Standing Rock. One of our community elders brought more than stories back. He befriended a young British couple and they came to visit our community.

 

The whole program was beautiful and from the heart. Near the end, the young woman sat down with a zither type instrument and sang…or channeled voice... I’m not quite sure how to describe what happened. All I know is that there was a great wail coming up from my gut that I clamped down upon and was almost unable to contain. There was something really old inside of me, that resonated with the sound she shared, and I was afraid to let it out. It was a wavelength longer than the human lifespan. She was singing harmonics on wavelengths that remember being born as ancient stars. She was holding space for a whole ancestral choir…and not just human ancestors. I could hear the soil, and the sheep, and the cattle, and the bees, and the grass that had fed her people. She was truly willing to carry beauty.

 

Now, I don’t discount that the space had been ceremoniously prepared...the vessel for beauty had been created. Bowls of water had been laid out for the four directions and blessed. The breath had been channeled through a wooden flute. And, we humans showed up, willing to listen and carry as best we knew how. But carrying seems to be an endangered way of proceeding. We took a step towards that ancestral beauty being sung into our hearts and it, in return, took ten steps into us. It felt vulnerable.

The vulnerability of preparing ceremonial space and speaking to the more-than-human world with one’s community is a skill that has not been honed much (in recent times or spaces). There is an awkwardness of professing love for the place that feeds us. My partner commented on how, when praise is removed from the milieu of church, there is an embarrassment about participation. Why is it 'normal' to say "praise Jesus" and strange to say "praise water?"

 

And just to clarify, I use the word carry because I don't believe it is possible to own beauty. It is like trying to hold hot soup in your hands. We have become so focused on the soup or the 'thing' that we rarely have an awareness of the vessel, bowl, home, heart, language, village, womb, or cosmos that holds the 'thing.' The main word that Eashoa' M'sheekha used to describe the source of life referred to the womb. It was that which held and carried. Humans have this ability. We may have forgotten most of our ability...but it is still in our hearts, waiting to be washed off with tears.


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I remember sitting at the bedside of a man that was afforded few opportunities in this life. Hard drugs and street life had eaten his body and relationships. No one was left to sit at his bedside as he was dying. He had been hanging on the edge of dying for days. I decided to go sit with him. I told him: “I cannot imagine the struggle that your life has been and I have no judgment on how you made your way. I just want you to know that I will carry you.” As soon as I finished speaking he let out his last breath. I sat there in wonder. I wondered what I had agreed to do. I had some fear around if I had made a promise I couldn’t fulfill. I realized how little I knew about what I had promised.

It would seem that, because we are so good at consuming, that we would at least have a rudimentary ability to carry. I don’t think this is how it works. I think we have so divorced consuming and carrying that we can eat the communion wafer and turn around and hate our neighbor almost without blinking. We can buy a steak or block of tofu at the store and not think of the life of that animal or plant. We can extract self-help pointers from a book or video without having to think of the struggle that birthed that idea or way of being.


I was thinking about what the opposite of life is. The opposite of life is not death. Life and death are partners. Death feeds life and life creates beauty from death and carries it. The opposite of life is consumption without carrying. It is proceeding, without acknowledging that what is allowing you to continue, comes from somewhere. This is also my definition of hell. Hell is consumption without taking the threads of that which is feeding you and weaving it into your story. That weaving is how we grieve and sing praise.

It is easy to demonize consumption. But consumption alone is not the demon. Consumption is necessary to continue. You must eat. It is also easy to demonize what and how much we eat. But how are we to know how much to eat without an awareness of the vessel...without an awareness of what we can carry? How are we to know, that where our food comes from directly impacts our ability to carry the life it has given us? How are we to know this without having any skill at carrying?

 

The country I live in is in hell.  

We consume without any idea of what we are able to carry.

Maybe we should all stop for a few weeks and reference Dante’s Inferno as a roadmap. We could make bonfires and then lay in the ashes while we read the Inferno. Possibly we would become aware of Dante and Virgil's escape from hell by exiting through the naval.


(Note: Dante does not stay at the navel or try to climb back in the womb or get born again. It is a place to pass through, not a destination. “But the stars that marked our starting fall away. We must go deeper into greater pain, for it is not permitted that we stay.” )

They pass from the Northern Hemisphere of land into the Southern hemisphere of water. They pass into relatedness. They connect to the larger story from the axis mundi. They pass into belonging to a place of origin.

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Maybe heaven is a way of proceeding, that is willing to carry that which is consumed.

It is being willing to walk with the ashes of that consumption on your face in an unabashed manner. It is a way of telling the stories and singing of all that died to make your life possible. And when the tears of gratitude run down your face, they carry all that was given for you down to your heart. And those tears, carrying those ashes, clean your heart space and make room for the next seeds to be planted.

Considerate la vostra semenza:
fatti non foste a viver come bruti,
ma per seguir virtute e conoscenza. 
–Dante Alighieri

May it be so.

May the party of carrying begin.