Guest blog by Jenny Cox. This post was written in response to our recent zoom event with Pat McCabe and Bayo Akomolafe, interviewed by Clare Martin. You can view the full interview here.
Right from the start I am confronted with a
challenge. Attracted as I am by
the speakers, Pat McCabe and Bayo Akomolafe, and by the enigmatic title of this
event, I find myself listening half baffled and half stunned. The words I hear seem clear enough, but
what is being presented is an invitation to a different way of being from the
one to which I am accustomed, and I am being asked to change my ways. Something inside me is in revolt: I
don’t want to be upended; it is safer where I am (or so I tell myself) however
much my Western lifestyle is now long past its sell by date. So I am challenged, both in absorbing
the speakers’ words and for many days afterwards by an inner force that is
clearly in agreement with what is being said. In hindsight I realise that both Pat and Bayo consciously
carry the raw, undiluted energy of the Trickster, and are speaking from that
place, and my psyche is simply not used to it.
Pat McCabe (Woman Stands Shining) is an elder of
the Lakota tradition, a teacher and a way-shower, living in Taos, New
Mexico. Bayo Akomolafe, founder of
the Emergence Network (‘death doolas of the familiar’) and a self-described
Trickster-Activist-Artist, is from the Yoruba culture in West Nigeria. A refreshing new voice with an original
turn of phrase, he is a visionary, a teacher and a seer in the dark. Both Pat and Bayo work with destruction
and chaos. Both tell their own
often uncompromising truths in their own unique ways. I experience both speakers as open and warm-hearted, as
fearlessly doing what is theirs to do.
To open the meeting Pat and Bayo offer practices
from their respective traditions, Pat singing a song of invocation to call in
the Grandmother helpers from all the directions for the highest possibility of
light, life and love, and Bayo presenting a libation and a prayer.
Clare then asks, ‘Who, or what, is
Trickster?’ The responses of the
speakers leave me not much the wiser, though this is probably the point. ‘It is neither this nor that’, Bayo
says. ‘It’s like dust; you cannot
get hold of it. It’s the spaces
between the cracks.’ ‘It cannot be
rationalised or explained,’ Pat adds, ‘people will misunderstand.’ Trickster takes on different forms in
different cultures, from Coyote in Native American traditions to Eshu, the wily
god of uncertainty and change in West Africa. For many of us in the West, Trickster, together with Monster
and Other, lie in our shadows, waiting for us to welcome them.
‘Trickster can be an ally, but is also here to
challenge our way of life.’ Pat says.
It is possible, she feels, that Trickster is responsible for the veil
that covers humanity, preventing us from seeing and acting with any
clarity. Pat’s theory is that over
the millennia humanity has been presented with one small deception after
another, to which we have agreed (because we have free will and that’s the
construct here), until we reached this current crisis point. ‘We have even forgotten why we would
want to throw it off, or that it is even there,’ she says. ‘That is an element of Trickster
too.’ Pat’s work, or part of it,
is to try and see through this veil that covers us.
She mentioned Sacred Clown (also known as the
Crazy Wisdom teacher in Tibet and the Fool in the West) as being one aspect of
Trickster energy. Sacred Clown
moves counter to the direction everybody else is going in. It’s a powerful medicine, a deep
initiation to which she has been called, and its mission is to point out where
humanity has gone astray. From
what I know of Pat, this is what she does, and she does it very effectively.
Clare’s next question is, ‘How do we respond to
this force?’ In Bayo’s Yoruba
culture the traditional response during times of upheaval are libation and
prayer. Demonstrating to the
online audience at the start of the event, he pours some water into a bowl to
represent a bottle of wine being poured on the ground in order to earth the
chaos. ‘It isn’t a solution,’ he
explains, ’but a way of becoming different from what we were. When you meet the Monster don’t try and
defeat it, but prostrate before it instead.’ His accompanying prayer includes the following insightful
words: ‘May the roughness be the way of shaking us into new ways of arising,’
he says, and ‘may the Invisible ones….incite new knowledge, new ways of
noticing in the dark.’
In the Native American traditions Pat belongs
to, people normally gather in ceremony to sing, to dance, to give space to
their grief… but at times when, as now, that’s not possible, she stays alone at
home. She sits at her altar day
after day, doing her practices, singing her songs, being available to what Life
has for her. ‘It’s important now
to go in and enquire, and listen and feel for my part in this,’ she says.
What Life has for us, either attending
the meeting or listening to the recording of the first half later on, is an
invitation to reflect on what is happening and to begin to change our
ways. The event is timely; the
words of Pat and Bayo hold valuable instructions on how to be at this time and
going forward from this point, if we have ears to hear.
Clare asks the speakers what lessons might be
learnt from indigenous traditions to help us navigate the times we are in? Over the coming days I also ask myself
what collective changes we need to make?
And what changes I could personally make in my outer lifestyles
and inner attitudes?
‘We need to give up hope,’ Bayo replies, ‘for
hope stands in the way of transformation.’ We hope for something rather than nothing; we hope
that life will return to ‘normal’ and we can carry on as before, or we hope the
screen will magically shift into the greener, more interconnected world we know
is possible. Hope blinkers what
might actually need to be born, and what we might need to experience. As we’ve been told so many times, ‘We
do not know!’ We don’t know
where we’re going, or how it’s going to be. Bayo agrees: ‘To find our way, we must become lost!’
‘The way we respond to the crisis is part of the
crisis,’ Bayo says. ‘In the case
of the virus, we’re asserting control because we’re scared. You can’t meet the
awkward with the energy of the system.
In our attempts to kill the virus, we miss the point. My invitation is… to recognise that
forward movement is now impossible.
Now is the time to go awkward, not forward.’
Before the virus, people seemed to be firing on
six cylinders. ‘The world’s work
now is to slow down’, Bayo tells us, ‘not so much in the physical way but in
the sense of cautiousness and care.’
We need to drop down into our bodies and our
hearts to be in service at this time.
And although we do need to relinquish certain patterns we also need to remain
alert, to pay attention to what is happening. ‘This virus,’ says Pat, ‘is pointing out every sector of our
lives which is not in alignment with thriving life’ – in other words the way
Life naturally is, full of ‘fearless generosity and radical abundance… Our inherent interconnectedness is
being underlined, as is our greed.’
She could have gone on.
‘This is an opportunity to be thrown back to the essence of what we are
as life forms, and to cooperate.’
Recognising some of these outmoded behaviours
still present in myself has been a wake up call. It is time to become indigenous again. If we can learn to respond to the
current situation in the ways that Pat and Bayo, and the indigenous traditions
they belong to suggest, we might land more squarely within ourselves. We might be enabled to grow our roots
more deeply, and more lovingly, into Earth. We might start to let go of our inherited habits of defining
and rationalising and attempting to control what happens in our world. We might begin to come together in
connectedness and unity. And we
might find ourselves entering a more welcoming relationship with what at first
might seem monstrous or beyond our scope, to being turned inside out and upside
In the fermentation process of working on this
blog I wait for words to bubble up.
I wait until Trickster comes alive for me. I start to glimpse a figure in the shadows, at first
fugitive, but gradually more wiling to show his face, peeping round corners,
poking fun at me. I would invite
you to listen to the recording of this meeting, to the words of two indigenous
leaders who work directly with the deception and chaos, and let the words
in. To sit with them as they
ferment inside you and welcome in otherness and uncertainty. To ‘build altars’, as Bayo recommends,
to your fear. To invite Trickster
to come closer – yet not too close, for, as the saying goes in Africa, ‘When
you go to bed with Trickster you wake up with fleas!’
I will end with a few words of gratitude. Thank you Pat, thank you Bayo, for your wisdom, your integrity, your ability to see things differently, and thank you Clare for hosting this illuminating event.
by Jenny Cox.