My turn to host our fortnightly gathering rolled around. I wanted to make the evening truly memorable, but how? Out of the blue, Melissa—a member of our group who lived in nearby Carroll Gardens—called to invite me to watch a documentary with her. Bored with her job as assistant editor at a fashion magazine in midtown Manhattan, Melissa had begun to explore all forms of spirituality with a vengeance; it was our shared passion for mysticism that had drawn us extra close.
That night we munched on pizza with extra cheese and peppers and goggled at the documentary: an exploration of the life of a powerful shaman in Brazil. Afterward, Melissa showed me an amazing gift she’d received from the guy who’d lent her the documentary—a journalist back from a trip to a sacred spot in South America where shamans still held sway.
“It’s a Talking Stick,” she announced, brandishing it jubilantly before me. My wondering eyes took in a carved wooden stick about a foot and a half long ornamented with semi-precious stones and exotic feathers. Melissa said it had been fashioned by an old shaman at the request of her friend. “I’m so sick of urban folk calling the old tribes “primitive”…let me tell ya, honey, I’m convinced they’re way ahead of most of those rigid specimens I work with…d’you know why they use this stick for instance? So everyone gets a chance to put in their two cents during a council meeting….while you’re holding it, no one’s allowed to interrupt…no matter how rich or powerful or whatever. Now you tell me—how refined is that?
Et voila! It struck me that the Talking Stick would be the means whereby I could make our next meeting both exciting and profound. I begged Melissa to bring it over to my apartment for our next gathering; to my relief—because you never knew with moody Melissa—she agreed.
Women began to arrive at my apartment close to twilight the following Saturday. I’d been up early, doing my weekend shopping on Atlantic Avenue, then returning to prepare a feast: fragrant basmati rice flavoured with ghee and studded with almonds, cashews and raisins, a savory moong dhal, spiced potato, carrot and beetroot cutlets, and a tart-sweet cucumber-scallion raitha. As had become our group custom for these gatherings, the others would bring non-alcoholic beverages and scrumptious (often home-baked) desserts. All I lacked was a topic for our usual communal sharing—but not for long; as I took a last minute shower, it came to me in a flash.
Now don’t yawn or roll your eyes—yes, it was the same old tired concept of “Unconditional Love” with which so many of us on the path of healing seem to be obsessed. And yet it had been lurking on the fringes of my mind for ages, and I suspected most of our group would concur that it was a suitable topic for our sharing. After all, we’d all been severely burned to various degrees in the seemingly random fires of life. Most of us had suffered grievously through separations, divorces, the loss of children, money, reputation and whatnot; most of us had emerged from these devastating experiences richer, wiser and warmer than ever before.
One woman had been sexually abused by her stepfather from the age of three and until she ran away from home at sixteen; another had lost her parents in a car crash when she was seven, and had been thrown into one foster care situation after another—apparently no one could deal with her rages; a third had been born to socialite parents who’d left her in the care of a series of weird nannies; another had recently lost her drug addict son—he’d been shot by a security guard while robbing a pharmacy. We were certainly not mainstream women; each of us had a backstory of suffering that had brought us together for communal healing.
As for me, while I’d certainly been “loved” by my parents, my critical adult eyes could find no trace of anything approaching “unconditional love” in my strict upbringing. My father had demanded that his children shine, no matter what; once I won three out of four prizes on Sports Day and got a lambasting for not getting the fourth! As for my dutiful darling of a mother, she was bent on fulfilling her duty as a traditional Indian parent—which meant preparing us for marriage to “good” mates from our community, regardless of what we really wanted to do with our lives, and despite the fact that the world had drastically changed since she herself had been a reluctant teenage bride of sixteen.