I had gathered the materials Shaman had asked me to gather: three candles, one red, one white, one blue, and a box of wooden matches. He had prepared a private meeting space in which we could practice. He directed me to arrange a place on the floor where I would sit and perform the ritual. I arranged my materials in front of me: candles to one side, matches to another, a plate on which to stand the candles, and a small bread dish for burnt matches. I waited for the lesson to begin.
We sat there for some time in silence. Sometimes he would do this, just randomly. He would stop, do nothing, and wait for me to notice something. It reminded me of the stories of the martial arts masters who would take on a pupil. Unlike our school system, which involved a lot of talking, this form of learning involved a lot of noticing. It was a very difficult mode for me to slip into. I was used to the chatter of a classroom, not the silence of the real world. Changing gears was mind-bending.
“You have already completed the first four steps of the ritual,” he began. “Can you tell me what those steps were?”
“Um….” I looked at him blankly, my mind racing through possibilities of what he might mean. “Well, I just set everything up…” I began.
“Yes… That’s number four,” he hinted, “what else?”
I thought back, but my mind was blanking. Usually I was good at being put on the spot like this. I never minded in class when the teacher caught me off guard because I could usually talk my way out of it. I knew the teachers means me no harm. My banshee of a mother, on the other hand, she would catch me off guard and demand in tones of fire and brimstone for me to justify the smallest of activities. “Why are you sitting there?!” she would yell, as if that was the worst crime in the world, and I had to guess why. Usually it was because she hadn’t done something and was feeling bad about it and projecting it all on me, but lord knows if I was honest, I’d get back-handed across the room. Over the years I became an expert at scrambling for a plausible answer that could soothe her rage. Teachers were easy. They were not about to hit you and they actually delighted when you got the right answer. Instead of feeling disarmed like my mother, they would express joy as if I’d given them a gift. It made classroom participation easy.