Now that a new Soul Cartography class is under way, I’m thinking about the specific features of this place I live in as an occasion for mapping of meanings.
As part of a lengthy process of getting regrounded in my home after our trip to Japan in May and June, I’m reading a wonderful book, Native Seattle by Coll Thrush. The book has many merits, not least of which is an important underlying argument that native peoples don’t simply disappear when settlers arrive and create urban spaces – many of them continue to live in and have complex relationships with those spaces. Interesting stuff, and very relevant for city dwellers that are exploring shamanism as I am. Beyond that there is remarkable and poignant storytelling about the ongoing symboisis between native peoples and white settlers in the city.
One of the things I love most about the book is an excellent atlas of indigenous places in Seattle: where the longhouses, sacred grounds, mythical resonances, and places of danger were. While I would love to let my imagination wander in the romance of these lost places, reading the book makes me more awake to the continuing presence of native people throughout Seattle’s history and into the present despite a myth of erasure.
I am one of countless millions of the descendants of dispossessors, and yet Seattle is still my home; it is my birthplace and has been my residence for 38 of my 57 years. I offer gratitude and honor to the histories and sacred landscape woven by those who were first here, 10,000 years ago, and the many changes they participated in and new meanings they created through the generations; I am happy to be learning more about that. But I also have my own meaning to create. And this book is reminding me that – along with the rest of my personal sacred world, composed of scriptures and poems, relationships and emotions, other landscapes I have visited like Japan and Ireland and Palestine – there is this Seattle landscape that blesses my psyche every day with structures that are (for me) uniquely potent, and onto which I can map my meanings, past and present with particular benefit.
Some of these places are, no doubt, the same places imbued with significance by tales of creation or theft or transformation from long ago, and shared in longhouses and on long canoe journeys for generations. But it is a particular feature of the individualistic culture I live in (in some ways a benefit, in some ways a liability) that I need to dig into my own experience to find that significance for myself.
I’m thinking now of places of water, since that is such a dominant feature of the Seattle landscape. One such place is Haller Lake, straight east of me in the central swath of North Seattle. In the local Salish dialect, Whulshootseed, it was called seesáhLtub, or “Calmed Down a Little”. It was a place of hunting and refuge, connected by trails to Licton Springs and the headwaters of Thornton Creek. These waters are sacred to me for my own reasons: the church I attended in high school, North Seattle Alliance, is on this lake, and its property includes a lovely picnic area and dock. It was on this lakeshore that an adolescent sensuousness awoke in me, all innocent, on warm summer afternoons of swimming. At the same time in this place I felt the warmth of my childhood community’s nurturing ways with hot dog barbecues and bible studies- but also the pang of the loss of those ways as I began my lengthy process of separating from the church during those years. So Haller Lake, I say to you, thank you for bearing witness to my emerging adulthood, for recognizing me as I came into an individuated state. Your warm waters continue to lap at my soul, reminding me of where I came from.
Lake Union or XáXu7cHoo (a transliteration that is very cool and somewhat cryptic, but which sounds something like “khakhu’choo”), meaning “Small Lake” is another personally significant place, since between 1990 (when the technical writing consultancy I was working for moved to a site along the Ship Canal in Fremont) and 2011 (when, four jobs later, I said goodbye to an amazing office tower suite with a view of Small Lake from many stories up) my day-job career took place in buildings that were within a quarter mile of the lake. That is to say, 21 years of anxiety, ambition, heartbreak and (slow to come, not quite here yet) growing wisdom in learning how to be my full self, even in workplaces with all their insanity and their pressures. All those days, mirrored in the lake, refreshed by lake breezes, stimulated by the kayaks and sailboats and (sometimes) surfboards and (once) pirate ships on the lake. When my current place of employment moved away from the lake to the International District in 2011, it was shocking and kind of difficult. But I have made my peace with the opportunities of wandering among the diverse Asian community there at lunchtime, the Danny Woo community garden, Waterfall Park. In fact I realize as I write this that getting away from the lake corresponds with my liberation as a technologist, the completion of my apprenticeship; things have been mostly smooth sailing since then. So Lake Union I say to you, thank you for bearing witness to my unfolding as a worker in the world, for giving me room to breathe and an awareness of wider spaces that I have needed, at times desperately, so that I could find and maintain balance as my passionate intensity has gradually mellowed into clarity, patience, intention, effectiveness.
And a final Seattle body of water (though I could hymn more) is Puget Sound, XWulcH, “Salt Water”. I can’t even imagine all the mythic activity that this sublime misty island-clad fjord must have engendered over the millennia. For me, there are layers of experience associated with it going back to my younger days, but the most significant is the crossing of those waters en route to some of the deepest and most satisfying work I have done , beginning in 2003 and continuing right up into the present.
The first movement in this aquatic symphony consisted in two dozen journeys over a dozen years from Fauntleroy to Southworth on our way to St Andrews’ house in Union on Hood Canal (so aware now of the indigenous names getting lost in this cloud of Norman and Anglo-Saxon sounds!). Our car would be loaded with altar materials and chant books for the weekend Gregorian chant retreats Victoria and I led. The ferry rides, every January and July, always felt like an important part of our rituals of preparation and decompression. The salt air, the brilliant mountains or gloomy mists, the seagulls, all fed me, grounded me, and helped me work with the terrible ambivalence I always felt – the feeling you have when you are doing a good, really good, thing that is just not quite the right thing. We brought scores of people into profound experiences of blessing and healing, of that I am sure. But for us, as we eventually came to realize, not the right thing.
The second movement began with a ferry ride across that same Salt Water to Bainbridge Island to my first shamanism workshop in 2013. And continued soon thereafter, a bit further north, on monthly ferry rides to Whidbey Island for the two years of shamanic mentoring that I just completed. By now I was more tuned in to the power of the mountains, wind, and sky, and I would sing their praises as we crossed. And yet despite the evolution I have undergone, the waters hold it together within an integrated sphere of experience.
Reflecting now on those two sets of journeys across the Salt Water, I can see that there is a flow and a connectedness between my Gregorian-chant-teaching phase and my shamanic-training phase. It was important for me to make those decisions and move past the boundaries that led me from one phase to another – that change has been deeply meaningful and important. But it’s good to remember that all the while I was crossing the same water, breathing the same air, with the same gulls flying around me. So thank you, beloved Puget Sound of my dreams: you keep teaching me that I really am on one journey and one path, however divergent the stages may feel while I am on them.