As I prepare for a return to the musical stage after a long hiatus, I am reminded of a bittersweet encounter from the recesses of my earliest childhood memories. This particular experience of remembering came one day in an Anishnawbe sweat lodge. I had just undergone an arduous traditional indigenous sweat. It was a brutally cold night in the middle of January. As the grandfather stones were left simmering on the daylong fire that had been tended for the evening’s ceremony, temperatures had reached the minuses.
As I trembled outside garbed only in a flannel nighty waiting to crawl into the metaphorical womb of Mother Earth, I vaguely recall the brief shudder of the frozen carp that lay across my brow, my face, my hands and my bare feet. I was left with the taste of privilege on my tongue as I only needed to nurture this suffering cold for a few minutes, while the thought of the bitterness of hell’s cold for those with no heat all winter long did not pass by me unwittingly. As I slowly began to emerge into the Sweat Lodge, I also remembered carrying a helpless defense about the homeless just across the road in the park.
The night was filled with chants, prayers, and a melancholy silence as the darkest of the dark filled the lodge. As the eastern doorway opened after every round for the renewal of the fire, the grandfather stones were slowly guided into the lodge, relaying across with pitchforks and antlers. Medicines sprinkled across the red-hot coals shimmering with sweet essence, arousing the aromas of long-lost years gone by. Ancestors came to mind. Lost living came to mind. And the sorrow of a lost heritage came to mind. And with each round going by, the temperatures inside rising extremely, the taunting thirst for water was prevalent.
At last the sweat came to an end. I lay on my back on the semi-frozen cedar covered ground, my body trembling with heat and cold at the same time. I began to slowly reach for the wooden ribs of the lodge’s wall. I lost track of time, as I slowly began to travel along a corridor of lost memories. For a few brief moments there was no separation between who I was while lying on the ground of the sweat lodge, and who I was in my crib oh-so-many decades ago.
As I reached for the rungs of the lodge, I reached for the rungs of my crib. I was alone in both instances. The shadows slowly bending and blending with the simmering and dimming light of the evening’s celebration cast also a light on the wall of my bedroom. There was the reflection of dancing light coming from some mysterious place in both places. I reached out and touched the light as it moved slowly to and fro. Like a lullaby, like wind in a tree, like a cloud hovering melancholically as the sun goes down at night. It was in this moment that I realized the poignant coup-de-grace I was experiencing.
As I lay alone and lonely in my crib, yet most likely in awe of this beautiful light before me, I was also waiting for the return of the ones who would not return. My imagination took hold. The light had voices. The shadows had movement. The air was angelic. And those angels provided me with the company that I needed to wait out those long, enduring, cold, suffering hours. The music began. A few years later at the age of four when I saw my first piano, the rungs of my crib were transposed immediately onto the piano keys. It was like finding a long-lost teddy bear, or better still…stardust in my pockets. I began to play the piano.
Since then, I have always been mesmerized by the tranquility of light. There are times that I still lose my ground. At times I become the dark clouds of storm rather than a brilliant sun. I endure the passing of the tempest as I grapple with sensitivity and anxiety along my pilgrimage. I have suffered at times with humiliation at my own debauchery and failures. My days alone in the crib have left me needing to reconcile myself with a streak of stubbornness and impatience and a childish need for attention at times. Other times, I crave something beyond the grave – the longing and yearning of something or someone that went missing in action. But through it all there is one call that has always been present: a call to beauty that resounds.
I became an artist – a poet, a singer, a songwriter, a painter – in search of the light. Sometimes I have been deeply moved by the grace that has been bestowed upon me in my darkest places and turbulent times. These gifts are not mine to hold for their impermanence teaches me much about the humility of human living. Beauty is not something to control or grasp, but rather a call to rest my weariness at the foot of Beauty’s stillness.
And it is in these peaks and valleys of musical and artistic interludes that I find myself. I find prayer, and contemplation and I find the direction to what is calling me to the world and in the world. My purpose unfolds as I sing simple songs, and spend a lot of my hours searching up and down the ivories and the colours for some hidden meaning in the sounds, and the interludes of silence that prevails between each note.
If along the way you would accept the invitation to join me for some of those moments, I welcome your company, for I do believe that gifts are for giving, and forgiving. May we travel together these paths of light and may our hearts connect regardless of distance or time or cold or night. For it is my hope that my musical interludes are expressions of some of the things we all experience – at one time or another as we lay cold against the sky, or hot against the sun, or in the stillness of the morn or in the darkest of nights. Perhaps against the recesses of our deepest loneliness and our greatest joy we can celebrate each other.
Thank you for listening,
Blessings and peace for the journey.
photo credit – Lucie Nadejova