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Teaching Hut

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The Quester's Gift
by Jim Brinkley

The journeyman shaman smiled as he walked along the path, enjoying both the sound and the feel of the gravel beneath his moccasins. He silently gave thanks to his Guardian Spirit for the abatement of the fear that had so pervaded his being on earlier journeys to this place. Once he had always sought the company of his spirit helper on his journeys into the underworld. Without Dolphin swimming in the channel beside the path, he had been terrified of the fearsome beasts, raging infernos, great gaps in the earth, and other seemingly insurmountable difficulties that would suddenly block his way.

The shaman again thanked his Guardian Spirit, this time for giving him such a wise and powerful spirit helper. Dolphin had always been there for him whenever he needed a teacher, a protector, or a friend. But now that his skills were greater, the shaman was confident of his own ability to overcome each and every obstacle set before him. These days he called upon Dolphin more for companionship than for protection and today he was in a solitary mood. Besides, someone else might truly be in need of Dolphin's spirit wisdom on this day. So the shaman walked alone.

Of the many reasons shamans go on vision quests, only one motivated him to visit the underworld this day. He wished to overcome as many obstacles as possible and to have each one be every bit as daunting as it could. For he knew that every time he overcame an obstacle in the world of spirit, his experience would be reflected in his other world of physical form.

Since the ceremony marking his acceptance as a fully trained and practicing shaman, his life in both worlds had become easier and happier. His abilities to overcome difficulties and to create opportunities had blossomed. Yet he still frequently made journeys to the underworld, seeking more and greater obstacles. For even though his quests were now more like holiday jaunts than fearsome challenges, he was aware that there was something more to be learned in the underworld; something that until now, he had overlooked.

The shaman's smile faded as he rounded a bend in the path. Before him was a log wall, so high that he could not see the top. It also stretched to the right and to the left farther than he could see. There seemed no way to get past it. He chuckled. Then he intensely directed his attention on the center posts of the wall, as he simultaneously focused his thoughts on getting beyond it. All at once the wall burst into flames. Quickly the fire spread upwards, as well as to the left and to the right. In a short while there were only ashes, and when these had cooled, the shaman went on. Already he could see the brick wall that was blocking him from the next segment of his journey. So, this was to be a day of impassable walls. No matter. Walls were easy.

It took only a moment of directed thought for the shaman to soften the mortar between the bricks so that a cluster of them collapsed, creating a hole large enough for him to walk through easily. He did not even have to stoop. He only briefly contemplated the wall of fire that loomed ahead. Without pausing, he turned into an eagle and flew over the fire. While he was aloft, he saw one last obstacle beyond the fire: an iron wall topped with barbed wire. He landed before it and changed back into his human form. He began to laugh, while staring insolently at the iron bars of this final wall. He projected his shamanic power at the wall until, unable to resist, the wall simply toppled over. The shaman climbed over the rubble and continued his journey. He turned to the west, where he knew of a cave that concealed an entrance to a secret path; a path which led from the underworld back into everyday reality. This would be a good day. His early morning visit to the underworld had been very successful. He emerged into the sunlight and once again, gave thanks.

It was one of those beautiful southern California autumn mornings, marked by clear skies, bright sunshine, and for once; clean crisp air. I had, as I usually do on Sunday mornings, breakfasted down by the ocean. I was driving through Laguna, northbound on Pacific Coast Highway (you know, the one they named the jeans after), deep in thought. I was reflecting on the story of the shaman's vision quest. I knew it well, for I am that shaman. Then came one of those flashes of insight. You know the kind; the ones you get from your spiritual council of advisors, your spirit helper, or even your guardian angel.

I suddenly realized what I had failed to see on each and every one of my vision quests into the underworld. I was doing everything right... for a warrior shaman! But I am supposed to be. have decided to be, a harmonizer shaman. Please allow me to share with you what I learned on PCH that Sunday morning.

As I reviewed how I had approached my encounters with the walls, I realized that each wall I encountered I in turn defeated by taking a warrior's action. The log wall I killed (burned it down), the brick wall I injured (made a hole in it), the fire wall I defeated (thwarted it's mission by flying over it), and the iron wall I intimidated (frightened it into submission). Each action was successful but each action was predicated on the basic assumption of all warriors: that every new encounter is an obstacle to be overcome. The harmonizer's basic assumption, however, is different. Harmonizer or peacemaker shamans see each new encounter as an opportunity for cooperation and mutual decision making. By the way, I refer to myself as a harmonizer or peacemaker shaman, rather than as an adventurer shaman, in order to constantly remind myself of the path I have chosen. After all, warriors have adventures, too!

After recalling that the harmonizer's basic assumption is that each new encounter is an opportunity for cooperation and mutual choices, I quickly returned to the underworld, while still driving my car on PCH. (We shamans can easily be in two or more places at once!) Once back in the underworld, I sought out the first fence. This time, recalling that everything is alive, aware, and responsive, I spoke to it. I explained that while I understood its mission; to keep uninitiated and unprotected spirits from the dangers that lay beyond, that I also had my mission. My mission was to learn, to teach, to heal, to be healed, and to spread love and cooperation. I could only do these things by getting beyond the fence.

The fence replied with a most interesting idea - one which told me that it too, would much rather be a harmonizer than a warrior. The fence said that it should have a gate; a gate that could only be seen by harmonizer shamans and that once seen, could only be opened by such a shaman. The fence then asked me to build that gate! I replied that I did not know how to build such a gate but that I would be more than willing to do so if I could learn how. The fence told me to summon the master builder from my own secret spirit garden. So I left the underworld, traveled to my spirit garden, got the master builder, and asked him to come with me and to bring whatever spirit tools and helpers he required for the job.

Now the log fence in the underworld has a gate; a gate so finely crafted that I can find it only by means of a secret marker. Once found it can be opened only by the pressure from my hand print, or the hand print of any other harmonizer shaman who first seeks permission from the fence. After the gate had been completed, I returned again to this time and place; to the southern California sunshine on PCH. This time my vision quest had not only been successful in terms of what I had accomplished. I had also discovered a valuable gift of knowledge that had eluded me on so many previous vision quests.

The lesson is this: what may seem at first like an obstacle is always in fact a hidden opportunity. If one remembers that this opportunity is alive, aware, and responsive, then one can approach it in spirit with love and compassion. Together, you and the opportunity can plan a peaceful, harmonious course of action that will allow each of you the best possible outcome.

What is accomplished in spirit is always reflected in the material world. The more such encounters you have in the world of spirit, the more you will have in your physical reality as well.

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