Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Interview with Malidoma Some

When I read Of Water and Spirit by Malidoma Some more than a decade ago, something in me was awakened -- a familiarity, a kinship -- and i've been on that road ever since. I wanted to reclaim my indigenous self. Thanks to Malidoma for this interview reprint.

Holding Our Power :
(Part I)

An Interview with

Malidoma Patrice Somé

Excerpt from SUN Magazine, August 1994
 D. Patrick Miller

Miller:  In your first book, Ritual:  Power, Healing, and Community, you tell the story of taking one of your elders to the city of Ouagadougou.  When the elder saw a tall building for the first time, he pointed to it and said, "Whoever did that has serious problems."  What did he mean?

Malidoma:  In the tall building, the old man saw power being dangerously displayed.  To him that meant the power on display was going to die; that's why he said that the builder had problems.  Every time you show something mighty in public that way, it means your power is in it's death throes, that you are having problems keeping the power alive within yourself.  Power comes out this way only when you are on the losing side in some kind of struggle.

Miller:  That's a complete reversal of the Western view in which we see our tall buildings as proof of progress.

Malidoma:  The first time I went to Paris -- my God, I was so impressed!  There were tall buildings everywhere.  I didn't understand my own fascination -- and my intimidation -- until I took that elder to Ouagadougou.  Instead of reacting as I had in Paris, he looked and saw, not the building, but the person behind the building; he saw a person who needed help.

     The indigenous world is not interested in the show of power.  It is interested in respecting the source of the power.  This respect is kept alive by camouflage; the power is protected by hiding it.  An elder who has the power to create a light hole -- a gateway you can jump through into another galaxy -- is not interested in using that power to impress people.  He would not use that power to show off.

     This has baffled people to whom I've tried to explain natural power.  They've asked, "If the indigenous world is that powerful, why does it let itself be destroyed by the West?"  They've got a point.  Knowing what I do about the West, if I were at the elders' level of power I would be tempted to use that power to handcuff the West -- put the West in jail for a while so the natural world could heal itself from all this so-called progress.  But now I've begun to understand that when you are in touch with this kind of power, you do not react against things.  You don't try to stop destruction head-on.

Miller:  Is that because using the power to handcuff the West would require showing the power, and therefore dishonoring it?

Malidoma:  Yes, you could not deploy the power without showing some of it, and as soon as it is brought out into the open, the power is unusable.  You cannot do what you expected to with it.

Miller:  In our culture we are always answering force with force.  We can't see our way out of this cycle of violence, in wars around the globe or conflicts within our own country.  How can we learn to hold our power inside ourselves, rather than feel the need to show it at every opportunity?

Malidoma:  That's a very big challenge when, culturally, your first instinct is to take your power outward, where you immediately diminish it by display.  The answer is to become a servant of your power.  Your inner power must be danced with until it yields its own way of being shared with other people.

Miller:  What do you mean by "danced with"?

Malidoma:  I mean entering into a respectful dialogue with power.  Let's say you realize that you can travel out of your body.  You shouldn't immediately go and tell other people about it or start a workshop in soul travel.  That is disrespectful to the unique experience you have having.  Your first reaction shouldn't be to begin a marketing process.

     Instead, maintain a certain secrecy around your new ability and have a learning dialogue with it for a while.  If you discuss your power too soon with people who do not understand it, they may get just some fragment of it that enters them like a bullet; then their whole life may start to come apart.  There will be a kind of hole in them.  They will feel incomplete unless they think they can get this power, and that power, and that new experience over there.

Miller:  In the sixties many people used drugs in an attempt to have a certain kind of experience or to "see God."  But there was an acquisitiveness to it.  There was little sense of coming to comprehend and accept one's unique role in the human community, and understanding that you have identified as the purpose of ritual and transcendental experience.  Now young people take part in "raves" in which they sing and dance all night.  Here, too, there seems to be no particular purpose except acquiring the experience or "having fun."

Malidoma:  When you are brought up in consumerism, even your spiritual experience is seen in those terms.  When Westerners see that someone else has had a spiritual experience, it is like they are seeing a commercial.  They think, "Hey, I've got to get this.  Otherwise I'm incomplete."  Kids have raves because they have heard raves are fun, and they want to have fun too.

     Actually there is some similarity between having fun and genuine spiritual experience.  In ritual the fun isn't physical but psychical.  It's the soul having fun, as opposed to the body.  The two intersect, but that intersection is very hazy for many of us.  I see people as possibly having a spiritual experience at raves, but without their conscious selves' knowing what is going on.  This is why the elders' presence is so important to genuine ritual.  They bring conscious spiritual know-how to such an experience.

     The idea that anything spiritual must be solemn and serious is a big problem in the West.  Your religions are full of genuflection, kneeling, and bowing to hierarchical powers.  It takes the fun out of it!  Western religion seems allergic to fun.  So it's very hard to wake people here up to a liberated spirituality -- a spirituality that allows the soul some relaxation and good feeling.

     In the village people like to stay in ritual space, singing and dancing all night, because it's fun.  The spirit within us is like a child.  When the child has its proper toys, it can play.

Miller:  What are the proper toys for the spirit?

Malidoma:  The proper toys are the natural world, the community, a sense of connectedness, a sense of purpose, and a craving to be with invisible friends.

     You have to play in a natural place, away from the downtown and the freeway.  Your toys have to be the stones and rocks, and the creek running with pure water, and the trees.  You have to be in a space that hasn't been rearranged by civilization.  And you have to stay long enough to get over being homesick for the town.  Then you start seeing beauty in the trees, and the creek starts to lookvery interesting.

     When you narrow your attention down to nature itself, you can break into a totally different world with as many compelling things as there seemed to be in the city.  What starts to happen is what I call "the indigenous person being reborn."  Once you start to see the countless possibilities of nature, you enter the toy store of the spirit.  That's when you can start to have fun.  But the spirit will not have fun in the tall building, where sterility rules and a cold, blunt, steel-like energy surrounds you.

     There is a part of us that always feels incomplete because it wants to reclaim its connection with nature.  When nature is remote from us, we don't remember how we used to be, and we don't remember how to let the spirit have fun.

Miller:  Do your elders believe there is some kind of destiny being fulfilled in the West's path -- that there might be something the whole human race is learning through our unwise show of power?

Malidoma: I haven't heard any elders speak of such a cosmic design.  What they see is the upsetting of a natural relationship.  Modern humanity has broken away from its ancestors, has cut the connection.  In our circular cosmology, you cannot go backward to reconnect; you have to go forward in a great circle before you can reconnect with your ancestors again.

     Imagine two satellites in orbit, traveling together in the same direction.  One of them starts to move faster and breaks away.  The one behind will not speed up, and the one moving ahead cannot back up.  So the one ahead must increase thrust and go completely around before it can rejoin the other one.  Once you have broken with the ancestors, you must circle forward to rejoin them.  And while you are traveling around, you will encounter many disasters because you will be on your own.

     The West is seeking its past by going into the future.  The indigenous cultures don't need to race into the future because they haven't lost contact with their ancestors.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for sharing this insight with me tonight now that I've read this it validates what I've felt all along. Words can't express how I felt while reading this it's a feeling of truth being revealed-a feeling of warmth I look forward to learning more and meeting you all one day.