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Illuminating the East Shield

"Coyote! Coyote!” Guitar-string strumming with a borrowed pick, punctuated with foot stomping and an old man with a beard and the biggest grin bongo drumming his palms on the podium, which had been pushed to the side before the evening began. The student sways gently to the beat, watching from behind eyes as others lose themselves in the evening, their bodies pulsing with everything that is present in the room. Something holds the student back, a deeply trained disconnection between body and the pervasive consciousness of situation. The beat goes on, smiles form that will ache the cheek muscles as folks leave that night, infused with something remarkable like that most vividly diverse mushroom display contributed by other students, they are foragers of fungal fruits. Awe and respect for the mushrooms in the back of the room, physically and psychologically behind this strangers-neighbors-friends human connection, behind the music. Everyone calls out, reflecting not only the singer’s words but his light, even the student calls out “Coyote!” Yes, to begin with nature, as in our lives, the student reflects while trying to feel, this leads us back to where we are. Community, and yet—A woman rocks a rattle shaker in the spaces where bodies create dancing concave half-moons and before the student knows it a bird flies out of the lingering sound created by the shaking beads or seeds that reverberate to the ear and the bird, it says Come here, student. It flies into the student’s heart, bursting through shirt and flesh and ribs. Where are you, come here, I’m waiting but not for too long, so come on. The student follows.

Somewhere the sun is rising and birds sing. Let me tell you a story, please. It will just take a moment, the one that is your life. Perched on the student’s head, the bird replies to the birds in the trees and to the living world all around with trilling and seems to say Help me tell this story, it’s important that we tell this story. Disoriented, but feeling the warmth of sun and a crisp air that brings the student into their eyes, the student wonders not how the bird can speak, but why it knows that what the student needs is a story. The story of how to live has not been shared with the student yet. That story is seldom shared, the bird sings as it flies to a redwood branch. I have a story that will help you experience that story as your own subconscious narrator and guide, but I cannot tell you that story. It is a story you tell yourself, you paint the illustrations and the words you choose in writing it are yours alone. Instead, the bird chirped, and the sun was warm, and the student saw that it was the sun that told a story in this moment. Silence made space for light. The sun, it seemed to say, Rise each day, rise. Illuminate that which you can reach, but be patient. Warm that which you can illuminate, but warm slowly. Heat, it can wait, but always begin with the light.

The student saw that within them was a sun and it was only able to illuminate a fraction of the student’s right kidney. Stagnation clogged the exitways of light and paths of energy with barriers, all kinds of barriers. With a gentle shake in the right direction, nothing forced but nothing passive, and in front of the model of the most illuminating of all beings, the student opened up the distance the inner sun could reach. A spreading of light emanated within the student’s body, filling in crevices where before there was a darkness. A physical sigh of relief as collapsing cavities become supported by light. The sun, it has taught you inner happiness, the bird declared. It was hopping southeast, toward the day. Rise each morning like the eastern light. Illuminate within to the brightest degree before bursting forth.

The student followed the bird, trailing a faint light that burned brightest at its core. I still cannot dance with them, the student murmured through thought and sinking heart. Light slipped out the student’s fingertips, dribbling and oozing like something almost cleared out of a bottle. The sun as guide, does it release and lose what it shares? Bandage the wounds you carry so they may heal, but never forget to treat the roots of wounds, the vines that tangle from destruction and choke. Do not let your wounds ooze your light. Illumination unreplenished would darken our skies forever. The student opens eyes wide, and a still-damp-wood fire is on the verge of catching as the story begins to be written. Seven more moments. The student follows the bird toward the day. We follow the sun, follow the sun.

Inspired by an evening of story-telling with Jon Young on November 28, 2012 at Kresge College, UC Santa Cruz. Learn about the 8 Shields Institute here.