Edge-Dwelling: A Social Ecology For Our Time: Part 5: Shamans, Midwives, And Hospice Workers
Conclusion (for now) of a series about inhabiting and acting in the edge-places of our civilization as crucial for humanity’s passage through these challenging times – and inviting you to share your personal edge-dwelling experiences.
Beyond the edge where what we know and don’t know meets lies the Unknown (with a capital U). It’s a wild place that stretches the capacity of our human consciousness. This edge space is inhabited by a very particular kind of Edge-Dweller – those willing to hold the hugeness of even our ability to know, the horizon of human consciousness.
This is the place inhabited by Shamans, Midwives, Hospice Workers (and perhaps others). Midwives hold the edge place between birth and whatever exists or does not exists before. They hold the process of bringing a human into being, welcoming them to their place on this magnificent planet. Hospice Workers hold the edge place between human life and whatever exists or does not exist after our time as humans on Earth is done. Shamans hold and navigate that huge edge space between the human world and that world that exists just beyond the edge of our consciousness – that some may call the Divine or Holy, Spirit, Mystery or simply our Cosmos.
I’m not religious in any of the ways this word is typically used. Yet I recognize this edge of the Unknown that lies beyond our human consciousness as part of being human, with whatever interpretations each of us brings to it.
Those people who can hold and navigate this edge between known and Unknown (with capital U) may have a particular and critical importance for our times of crossing, for visioning and creating pathways from our time of great crumbling to what future lies on the far side.
Transforming Definitions and Expectations
These times in which we live have been called many things – the Great Turning, Great Crossing, Great Unraveling, Collapse, to name a few. We stand at a juncture, looking back at what can be learned from a few hundred years of industrial growth civilization; about 10,000 years of agriculture (with its concurrent rise of hierarchy, patriarchy and private ownership of land); and approximately 200,000 years in which homo sapiens lived as indigenous people, feeling themselves part of (rather than on top of and in charge of) life on Earth. We stand at a juncture when our consumer culture is consuming our planet; when we have more carbon dioxide in our atmosphere (400 parts per million) than any time for at least 3 million years (long before humans existed); when our Earth has moved from the Holocene, a 11,000 year period of climate stability to what is being called the Anthropocene, a time of climate instability brought about by mankind’s own actions.
The magnitude of these times may call on many or even all of us to become Shamans, Midwives and Hospice workers on behalf of humanity and our Earth in ways that stretch and transform previous definitions and expectations of these words.
Martin Prechtel (who was trained by a renowned Mayan Shaman, became Shaman to a Guatamalan Mayan village and now writes and teaches in the US) speaks of a specific kind of Shaman, Time Shamans as:
“(those who) diagnose the unseen and unaddressed aspects of spiritual conditions of the present in order to find out what was needed to heal as individuals, as families, as entire villages…to heal the tattered holes we left in the Holy Net of Time.”
What might it mean to be a Time Shaman in our epoch of Great Crumbling and Crossing? Might it look something like these words from cosmologist Brian Swimme?
“We are finding ourselves in the midst of a vast transition. How are we to respond? For we sense we are in a dark night–we dwell in unknowing and yet grope forward. The path is still unclear. With what shall we navigate?
The path is uncertain because our sense of larger purpose and destiny is clouded. We are seeking patterns that connect us to a vaster destiny–a vital participation in Earth’s unfolding. There is nothing more mysterious than destiny–of a person, of our species, of our planet, or of the universe itself.”
Beyond The Edge of our Visioning
It has been suggested that this time of great crumbling and crossing is actually a species initiation. This idea is drawn from the practice of initiation shared widely among indigenous people in which adolescents are sent out from the village to spend time in the wildness of nature, to engage in an ordeal or self-testing through which they shed their childhood selves and return as adults, with an understanding of the gifts they bring to their village. Today, this practice is again taking root along the edges of our culture, as contemporary Vision Quests, through which people seek a deeper rooting in their core (or soul) self, and an understanding of the gifts they bring to our Earth, human village, and times.
It may be that these times of crumbling and crossing, of melting polar ice caps, mass extinction and human created climate instability are forcing us to leave behind an adolescence in which our species saw itself as in charge of and consumers of our Earth.
It may be that Cosmos and Mystery are calling on us to become something beyond what we have been, beyond the edge of what we can yet imagine. To be an Edge-dweller in these times, in its deepest sense, may be to stretch ourselves beyond what we can yet vision, to move toward something that is little more than a vague shape in the far distance – to be willing to do so, not simply for ourselves, but for something much vaster than ourselves or even humanity.
Earth Scholar Thomas Berry writes that, “at such a moment a new revelatory experience is needed, an experience wherein human consciousness awakens to the grandeur and sacred quality of the Earth process.
Cosmologist Brian Swimme says, “The human is the space created in the universe process for hearing and celebrating the stories of the universe that fill the universe.
The seeds of this stretching and visioning are already being planted.
We live in a time when the stories and mythologies of this great juncture are yet to be written. It may that Edge-dwellers (those who inhabit and act in the places where two things meet) and especially Shamans, Midwives and Hospice Workers (those who can hold that edge between known and Unknown) have a key part to play in this writing.
It may be that each of us alive today has the capacity to become an Edge-dweller, Shaman, Midwife and Hospice Worker on behalf of humanity and our Earth – to participate in this vast writing and visioning.
Passageways, Tunnels and Bridges
It is said that for every apocalypse there is a resurrection. Yet this may depend on how we define resurrection. Recently the term “Near Term Extinction” has begun to be used, by Guy McPherson, among others, to express the possibility that we humans have already sent into motion forces that will ultimately (and sooner rather than later) make life in any way we have known it impossible for us and many of the magnificent life forms with which we have share this Earth.
I am not yet ready to embrace this possibility as likelihood or certainty. Holding that edge between knowing and not knowing, I can see the general trajectory of our civilization and yet be fairly certain that some things will turn out differently that what is expected.
It may be that we will be Hospice Workers to a humanity that saw itself as in charge of and consumers of our Earth and at the same time Midwives to a humanity that knows itself as “the space created in the universe process for hearing and celebrating the stories of the universe that fill the universe”, (as Brian Swimme so poetically expresses it.)
Or it may be that we will become Hospice Workers for much of the magnificent lush abundance of life on Earth (including human life) as it goes out of being.
It may be that we are creating the stories, mythologies, passageways, tunnels and bridges to a re-birthing of what humanity can become. Or it may be that just as we begin to know ourselves as “the space created in the universe process for hearing and celebrating the stories of the universe that fill the universe”, we will be called on to offer ceremonies of gratitude and grief worthy of this magnificent lush abundance of life (including human life) as it passes out of being.
Earth and Cosmos as Teachers
To be an Edge-dweller is not an easy or comfortable thing. Yet those of us called or drawn or pushed or dragged to inhabit these Edge places may hold something crucial for our times – and for what future may unfold.
It may be that all of us alive today are in one sense Edge-dwellers. It may be that any one and every one can learn to be Edge-dwellers. It may be that this is exactly what Earth and Cosmos are asking us to do.
I have turned to Earth and Cosmos as my teachers, as I have learned to do. Seaweed and Wild Grapes, Milky Way and Low Tide, Birth and Death have all taught me about important qualities to grow, nurture and cultivate within.
Some of these qualities, explored in previous articles, are the ability to:
~ Create something new from the place where two things meet
~ Vision beyond the horizon, beginning the bridge between now and beyond
~ Rewild ourselves at our culture’s edge, while remaining connected and sharing what we learn with those still within
~ See both within and beyond the boundary of some place, thing or social structure
~ Look beneath the surface and beyond the edge
~ Hold the tension between knowing and certain uncertainty
~ Embrace the edge between the known and (capital-U) Unknown
Edges are complex and fertile places, where the new can be woven from unraveling edges of the old, in this way becoming a seam, passageway and bridge.
The future has yet to be written.
Whether our future is one of Midwife to a new humanity or as Hospice Worker to much of life on our planet may depend, in part, on what we Edge-Dwellers, and those Shaman’s, Midwives and Hospice Workers among us, can vision and do and bring to the epoch in which we live. It may be that each of us holds a crucial puzzle piece to the jigsaw of our times.
The not-yet-written future is calling on each of us to join in this time of creation!
Are there ways that you hold both the known and Unknown? Are there ways that you already play the role of Shaman, Midwife or Hospice Worker? How might you step more fully into these roles?
Read the four previous articles of this series here:
About Dianne Monroe
Dianne Monroe embraces edges in Sonoma County, California. She is a Life Mentor and Inner Wilderness Guide. She offers programs and personal mentoring using a blend of creativity, Expressive Arts and deep nature connection to support people in discovering and deepening their understanding of soul purpose and life path.
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