What a gift to be surrounded by such talent and generosity from other writers and the brilliant facilitators – Julie Colvin and Lisa Fugard. The time here has enabled me to move my next book further to its completion. The ambience and support created a “zone” for me to write, edit and share – re-sculpting my work. For a taste – here are the chapter summaries for my soon to be published book: Trailing Sky Six Feathers – One Man’s Journey with His Muse.
PART ONE: THE MUSE
Chapter One: The Raid
“Put down your weapons, my husband,” she said quietly with steely insistence.
Her voice penetrated Eagle Speaker’s mind. Trailing Sky Six Feathers opens in the 18th century with a terse account of a brutal Apache attack upon an Indian summer settlement and the escape of the two main characters, Trailing Sky and her husband Eagle Speaker. In the months prior to the Apache raid, her spirit guides instruct Trailing Sky to prepare a cave for refuge in the high canyons with tools and blankets, along with bows, arrows and spears When the Apaches attack, slaughtering children and the elders, she guides Eagle Speaker through the burning village and down to the river. The canopy of oaks and maples keep them from view as they wade upstream through the red rock canyons. All they can hear is the murmur of the river running over rills of rock and the pounding of their hearts.
The cave in the high canyon becomes their home. They are joined by another survivor of the raid, Long Willow, a medicine woman and sharp shooter. Passing the biting cold winter months together, a unique relationship emerges between the three of them as they share their collective wisdom and plan renewal for their ravaged village. One winter morning, Trailing Sky senses the danger facing Eagle Speaker while hunting. She takes four arrows and her long bow and uses every one of them to save his life from an Apache ambush. The mystical bond between Trailing Sky and Eagle Speaker deepens into a union that, unbeknownst to Eagle Speaker, will travel across the threads of time to the 21st century.
Chapter Two: Renewal
The three friends leave the cave to begin the renewal of the ancestral village. As Trailing Sky steps for the last time across the lip of the cave entrance she has a startling prophetic vision, a portent of the future. She speaks to her husband in a voice scarcely her own – that he will return to the cave in dreamtime, but not in this life. She demands from him a promise not to resist what it teaches. He gives his solemn promise to do as she asks, though does not understand her seeing into the far future. They put into place all that was envisioned in the cave to create solidarity between generations and clans. Combat training and a rich ceremonial cycle tie the knots of cohesion together. The first newborn in the community is Trailing Sky and Eagle Speaker’s daughter – Rising Moon – who is much loved by all.
The Tonto Apache make another raid on the summer settlement. It is vigorously repulsed by a highly trained cadre of male and female warriors. One young woman is seized by the Apache. She stabs her assailant in the neck then thrusts her knife upwards through his belly into his heart – just as she had been trained. Her courage and fierceness lead to her new name – Dancing Mountain Lion. The young women had made a vow that none of them would be taken alive to be sold and enslaved.
The Apache return in force several days later, as the women’s council anticipated, only to find a deserted settlement. The People strategically relocate and outwit their enemies through Eagle Speaker’s steely mastery of tactics.
Chapter Three: Traversing
The People grow stronger under Eagle Speaker’s astute leadership. Rising Moon emerges as a stellar member of the community but her maturing into womanhood became unavailable to Eagle Speaker. He journeys to a distant outpost of soldiers to negotiate for the territories required to sustain his people. The outpost is riddled with cholera and on his return journey Eagle Speaker does not make it home but lies dying under a willow tree by the river. Trailing Sky finds him but is unable to revive him, even with the help of her spirit guides. She knows he is dying and cannot bear to let him go.
The Clan Chiefs and families arrive shortly afterwards and over one thousand of The People witness the incredible power of Trailing Sky. As Eagle Speaker begins to travel on universal waves, Trailing Sky chants their life journey. The Clan Chiefs build a platform on the high bluff next to the medicine wheel and gently lay Eagle Speaker’s body there, open to the elements for his final rest in this life. Strong warriors weep as Trailing Sky mesmerizes the gathering with her chants about the legacy of Eagle Speaker and speaks out strongly to them, sharing her final words to her husband: “I will find you my husband, I will find you.”
PART TWO: THE MAN
Chapter Four: Remembering
“I open my eyes. Several shafts of light penetrate the darkness and I realize I am standing on one strand of a giant spider web stretching across an abyss, from one side of the cavern to the other. This strand is my sole source of support – a gift from Grandmother Spider.”
This intense shamanic journey provides the transition from 18th century Arizona to my life in 21st century Canada. Over a period of thirty years, four extraordinary mentors enhance my process of remembering, while Trailing Sky waited patiently for me to open up to her presence from the distant past. My training with White Eagle Woman, a revered medicine woman, provided a first glimpse of the threads of time, of my life with others woven together in an intricate tapestry. A meticulous understanding of shamanic journeying was conveyed whereby Trailing Sky came through many times to me, joyfully and with humor. Yet I failed to fully recognize her.
Susan Tatoosh, a Shuswap elder, tutored me in eagle medicine. But only after her rebuke, “Shits with Eagles meet Speaks with Eagles!” Her annoyance pushed me to realize that I had been there before and could speak with creatures. She knew that her ancestors were instructing her to guide me to realizations I had long ago buried but she had not anticipated I would be so dense.
Grandfather William Commanda died in 2011. I was fortunate to have the opportunity of learning the significance of the Seventh and Eighth Fire Prophecies before he transitioned, and of making the hard choices to move to an internal fire for human goodness to prevail. He was also a Trickster as he warned me to watch out for a visit from the Thunder Beings. He described it as a mark of honor that would scare the daylights out of me – and it did.
In the red rock canyons of the Arizona desert I worked with Dawson, a wisdom holder of many traditions, who trained me in medicine wheel lore. He enabled me to understand the spiritual fusion at the centre of the wheel. Constructing this architecture in my forest hermitage in Canada, I instinctively ensured a clump of beautiful ferns remained at the centre to welcome Trailing Sky. I did not know why I had done this until much later.
Chapter Five: Healing and Transformation
My shamanic training enabled a unique relationship with a timber wolf to emerge, which rekindled forgotten moments of childhood innocence. Yet something was drastically wrong. Prior to working with my mentors I was stumbling through life – the classic over achiever – outwardly very successful but inwardly a disaster. There was nothing I could see to justify the anger and violence carried inside. White Eagle Woman, however, saw clearly the energy of my being raped as a child, also that I did not have the internal strength to deal with this trauma. She provided me with training and tools for many years – shamanic journeys, vision quests and healing ceremonies to become internally stronger. Over time I was able to make it safe for my wounded inner child and the adult me to merge as one healthy being. It took Trailing Sky’s constant protective presence during shamanic journeys for this merging to arise. Memories of my childhood love of nature were the only salve to the violation of my being.
We are so happy Ian that you have decided to die with us in India. And even more happy if you live.”
Huddled on a bed in an ashram in Mumbai, India I opened my eyes to see a visiting Swami sitting beside me. The ashram was reserved for saints and holy men. I did not qualify for either category. Lying close to death, the lack of fear provided a sense of freedom and strength. I felt truly like me, very peaceful, no longer a maverick standing alone. Trailing Sky Six Feathers was there constantly – I wrote in my India diary about a female entity orchestrating all the energies to keep me alive. It was her – challenging me to acknowledge who it was that saved my life in India. I did survive and completed my guru training six months later at a remote ashram, going into total silence during the last two weeks.
Chapter Six: Rainbow Bridge Calling
The sacred cathedral of the Sedona region in Arizona was well known to me. Oak Creek ran through the Red Rock country like a thread – drawing the sacred canyons together by the feminine vessel of Water. In addition to Boynton Canyon, where I located the clearing where Trailing Sky first met Eagle Speaker, there was also Rainbow Bridge to experience. These were the two vital locales for the sacred journey Carolyn, my wife, and I made to this region in 2007.
Rainbow Bridge is a natural rock arch, stark and beautiful, separated yet joined to the canyon wall. Everything was converging here, readying me for a step into the beyond. I felt sure that Trailing Sky’s insistence on coming through from past dimensions to the present would take place here. We crawled out to the centre of Rainbow Bridge, not looking down. We sat back to back – partly for reassurance of safety – as Carolyn chanted the sacred songs of the Hopi and Seneca. A yellow butterfly alighted on the rock by her feet. I felt dimensions opening wide with an enormous charge of energy. Feminine presence settled all around us. Several hours later there was an uncanny stillness in the trees and canyon beneath us, despite the wind. It was time to get off the archway.
Carolyn felt little or no change in the days to come. But I experienced deep visceral sensations, not well understood. Over breakfast several mornings later Carolyn placed her hand over mine. “Trailing Sky did not come through to me as you may have anticipated or hoped for. Remember her precise words to you from that other time. She said: “I will find you.” And that is what she did on Rainbow Bridge.” Still, I resisted what the sacred canyons and Rainbow Bridge brought to me. I desperately held on to my limitations of logic and intellect until her predicted dream vision of my returning to the cave occurred four months later.
The dream vision Trailing Sky had predicted came through forcibly in a way I could no longer deny on January 26, 2008. It was the peak of my thirty year training in Remembering, the letting go of intellectual resistance to all that Trailing Sky meant to me. A trusted and gifted astrologer had located this rare two hundred and thirty one year cycle, stretching back from this point in time in January, 2008 to 1777 – the time of Eagle Speaker’s death in Trailing Sky’s arms. The internal battles were over, karma reversed. I realized that Trailing Sky had kept her word from 1777: “I will find you my husband, I will find you.” Even now, as I write this down, I cannot prevent the tears running down my cheeks. I am both here, with the dream vision and there, dying in the medicine wheel, as she vows to find me. All my reservations and doubts become as nothing. I could at last totally surrender to the relentless Muse – Trailing Sky Six Feathers – who never gave up.
Chapter Seven: The Compass Changes
All the inner work, suffering, experience and internal work had to lead somewhere – and indeed it did. There is a clear evolution in how I wrote, how I went about my activism and teaching, and how I lived my life. My 21st century activism for planetary care, peace and social justice illustrates how my near death experience, shamanic training, becoming a guru and Zen teacher led to where I am now. This transformation rested on the foundation provided by my Muse – Trailing Sky Six Feathers. This tapestry of different threads radically shifted my work for the planet. Steadiness and clarity replaced ego posturing. I made a personal commitment to develop attributes of understanding, wisdom and compassion to guide responses to the dramatic changes humanity is facing. I spend most mornings in silence, meditating and becoming clear, simply one part of a vast flow of experience that includes the cosmos, all my ancestors and descendants, even to those not yet born. I think of Gaia and feel no sense of boundary, just part of a vast, interconnected web of life that extends from the present into the past and into the future. This is where Trailing Sky Six Feathers constantly guided me in the books I write, the talks I offer; from my experiences in the deserts of Arizona, the forests of Canada, the mountains in Colorado, the ashrams in India to my present work with Friends for Peace. My internal compass had radically changed. There is a magnificent architect working within me.
PART THREE: THE UNITY
Chapter Eight: Consciousness and the Muse
To say that Trailing Sky Six Feathers became my internal discernment misses the point. A source of feminine wisdom was not only lodged in my consciousness, it was integrated with my total being, so that I could live and love better. My dialogues with this personal Muse were very different from Carl Jung’s “Red Book,” as I chose one voice to listen to rather than a multitude of competitors in my deep unconscious. I choose in my journeys, and in life, not to nurture grisly phantoms.
The intense communications with Trailing Sky over time were changing me radically in the direction of transformation. This is not a matter of belief but my experiencing the pragmatic implementation of compassion and wisdom in everyday life. The noise and traffic in my mind receded as the self-correcting navigation provided by Trailing Sky continued to astonish me. What took me back the most was that Trailing Sky had observed my whole life – the good, the bad and the ugly – even the very ugly. I eventually accepted that there was no hiding place from this Muse that never gave up.
As a reality check to grasp the new foundation of my life, Trailing Sky asks me to reflect on two occurrences – the adventure with one of my sons in the drug underworld of Glasgow and providing vision at another son’s mountain wedding.
My experiences with this incredible Muse reconfigured my understanding of consciousness, combining the depth of our communications with my knowledge of the mind from ancient Buddhist Masters, confirmed by modern neuroscientists. The Masters had observed the changes taking place in their consciousness and in the training of their disciples. Examining the mind from a vantage point of an awakened mind is not something Western science is equipped to do. But that is where Trailing Sky Six Feathers took me – though I am still climbing the ladder.
In 2013, at a medicine wheel ceremony in Sedona I was drawn to the centre circle of stones, finding it occupied by the presence of Trailing Sky Six Feathers. I experienced fusion at the centre of mystery. An intuitive friend took photographs of the wheel now empty of everything except a column of light stretching upwards from the centre circle of stones. Right where I had been standing.
Chapter Nine: The Circle Closes
The circle closes through dialogues with Trailing Sky that opened up the past for me to understand the insanity of the sea voyages I made in the Outer Hebrides thirty-five years ago. I had neither the skill nor knowledge to undertake such dangerous sea voyages, especially with my children on board. In sea journeys fraught with danger, I would enter into a cold silence and navigate through the most horrendous seas with only instinct at work – an intuitive awareness of danger in this moment, then danger in the next moment. That was one of the darkest times in my life. My marriage was failing and my professional career in Canada was on hold. I did not do a good job with either. I was in total confusion about where to be. I felt displaced and slowly slipped into a graceless oblivion through alcohol and depression. Fortunately Trailing Sky was there every time my life was at risk.
“I had to keep you alive, your sons and daughter too – for they receive the Torch after your passing. I kept you alive in surgery when you almost lost your right arm in a foolish fight in Vancouver. You would have lost more than your arm without my intervention. I also kept you alive when you were dying in India…. When you die, I will be the last portion of your consciousness to dissolve. Before that moment of dissolution I will guide our integrated mind into the next adventure.”
Looking back at that insanity on the sea some thirty-five years ago I examine some ugly truths about my past when trapped by the graceless oblivion that alcohol and depression permits. I realize that the person stumbling through the first half of my life is not the Ian standing firmly in his own sovereignty in the latter part of my life. In a later dialogue Trailing Sky affirmed that I was to write her story. I was surprised by this and questioned her. “How? No-one will believe it?” There was no answer – just a long silence. Then I slowly stood up, reached for a writing pad and retrieved my ancient fountain pen from my backpack. This story had to be hand written – that much I knew. Putting pen to paper, I started to write the last sentence of the book. It is also the sentence that begins the book.
“Put down your weapons, my husband,” she said quietly with steely insistence.