Who am I?
This question is probably the most ancient and most difficult to answer. A life quest. As soon as we get close to a knowing, a deeper unknowing open. And yet in that quest reside I believe the most important question any human beings need to ask himself. A question that could save humanity from self-destruction.
For Native people, that question offers a stronger foundation to start answering through a deep intimacy with the land they have been living on for thousands of years, through a deep intimacy with Nature, through creation stories orally transmitted by their elders, and through powerful rites of initiations. Yet their questioning is more alive and embodied in their way of life than in any western ways.
For us, “non-native” (yet we all have some native roots somewhere), or westerners, the question is often much harder to answer. We very often do not have a nurturing safe “wisdom container” of practices and a deeply connected and supportive community to explore it. We also get easily lost in thinking we will know who we are when we can figure out our “purpose”, our career path, our family situation, and a comfortable financial wealth level. We stay safe in our cultural yet very limited box. A box that in truth is a golden cage.
Yet the question is at the core of all religious practices from East to West. From Buddhism to Sufism. Islam to Zoroastrianism. Christian mysticism to the Jewish faith.
The deeper I dived into my own questioning and the more I opened my mind and heart to shamanic practices, the more my whole world of “knowing” has crumbled. A painful realization for my scientific left brain! The suffering that comes with the dropping of the masks, the exploration of the deepest shadows, and the realization of the separation with our inner child, is not seen as a daunting and secondary task in the shamanic work/world but as a wonderful opportunity of growth. A primary reason for being alive in this body. An opportunity to find Self. We bless the gifts of our purging and our pain!
In the past, I have so often defined myself when introducing myself to others by listing my job, career accomplishments, country of origin, skill set, or belief system. A definite cage that traps the Ego into a safe yet illusional place. As I was/am progressively leaving the traditional western way of thinking, being and living, I started to open myself to real challenges filled with beautiful gems. Plant medicine work, sweat lodges, ceremonies, initiation rites, and a deep willingness to find truth in the unknowingness have brought me the past 10 to 15 years on a deep shedding of skins (and still so much more to shed!).
In any initiation rite, there is first a stage of alienation, a stage of madness. A stage in which we need to lose our identity, our “tribe”, our family & friends. Let go of any attachment to form to become formless. A deep adventure into the loneliness of our inner quest. We need to die to who we are (and some of those rites can literally kill you but there is less joy seen in living a life that is not ours than potentially dying). A quest no one can truly understand unless they have been to the full depth of their Hero’s Journey. Then a second stage of “remembering” and sanity comes out of the initiation.
But it is not the same definition of sanity the western world is preaching. This ancient sanity was and is often still very much seen as insanity from the point of view of the western mind when looking at the “savages who live in the forest”. What can I learn from a tree when Google can answer “all” my questions?
In a world searching for meaning, I have found more sanity, more wisdom, more science, more knowledge, and more answers in the depths of the jungle, the wild rivers, the ancient forest and the highest mountains than anywhere else. I have found more answers in prayers than in any books. My teachers (the human and non-human ones) have no Ph.D. or MBA, did not go to any famous school and often never studied in any traditional school system. They are in fact very aware that this whole system is “insane” as not creating wellness, happiness, balance, joy, and purpose. It does not create abundance but only more and more scarcity. It does not take much intelligence to see how unintelligent and deeply deprived of sense (and future) is our actual western ideal of life.
I vividly remember being 7 or 8 years old and spending hours looking at ants doing their ants things in the ground of my Corsican island. I was, and still, am, fascinated by the intelligence, the wisdom, the perfect equilibrium, an insect the size of a pin, possess. I was somehow already very much aware that they had something to teach us that no books, no school, will ever be able to provide.
Years later as I was studying to become a veterinarian I became fascinated by the science of biology. And yet after spending one whole year of exploring the one single cell of a plant, I realized the best “teacher” in my country knew very little about why this cell was alive in the first place! She had no idea either how over a billion of those cells were communicating with each other within the same organism to create that perfect shape and that perfect balance. The answers were often evasive yet dogmatic.
It is that ant, that piece of grass, and the mystery being their creation, that guided me to where I am today. It is that ant, that piece of grass, that kept alive the curious little boy in me in search of answers. In search of the miraculous as Ouspensky did when he followed Gurdjieff.
I had no idea where this questioning will bring me (and that was probably good!) nor that it was part of answering the big question of “who am I?”.
As I opened my Heart to the question, a mystical force, call it God, the Creator, the Great Mystery, came with more real and tangible answers than the sum of all the knowledge of our modern libraries. My questions became prayers. My pain and fears became opportunities. My knowing becomes an unknowingness in which I am finding more knowledge than ever. Let me repeat this. There is more knowledge (and more wisdom) in unknowingness than in knowing. No wonder why one of the most ancient mystic Christian books is called “the cloud of unknowingness” or why Native elders who are a living wealth of knowledge call God “the Great Mystery”.
Here I am today. In the sacred valley of Peru. Out of one of the most difficult initiations, quest, and week of my life. Drinking a bowl of sacred tobacco daily for 7 days, 7 nights. With very little food. Very little sleep. Very little human contact. And very much purging and inner demons facing that I knew I could withstand. Shaking in a fetal position for hours. Purging karmic ties and self-belief. Having lost over 5 kilos. Sitting for days and nights in the extreme discomfort of my “western sanity”. In this death and rebirthing ancient practice, known to potentially create madness or even death, I have now some more answers. And way more questions. What a gift it is! Spending days and nights with just myself, the medicine, and the Creator, has brought light to all the falseness I carry and all the gifts the Self carries.
Out of the profound ocean of humbleness and gratitude, this ancient practice brought to me, I was gifted a new name. A name more in tune with my soul purpose, my ancestors, the land I live on and take care of, and the service I am here to offer. Angell Deer. Two “L” as Spirit whispered to me that in my birth language (french) “L” sounds exactly like “wing”. And Deer as my family name, my tribe, my clan. For those of you who are very close to me these days, you know why and how this came to be. And for those of you who read me, some might find it strange, some beautiful, some intriguing and some might be very interrogative and maybe judge the words, and the process.
At the end of the day, none of this really matters as one of my teachers wisely shared with me “Our first relationship (and responsibility) is with the Creator, the second one with our soul, and the third one with our relations. Only in that order will we truly understand and embody our purpose which is to Love and to Serve”. I am finding in this name, and the years of hard deep work it took, more answers, clarity, and somehow sanity than in my previous denomination.
While I fully trust the Creator plan for me, the path She is whispering to me (sometimes to my deaf ears), and the Medicines and teachers who guided me to this place, I pray that I keep questioning everything and keep asking the question of “Who Am I?”. Until my last breath. Which I know (or hope and pray for) will be a doorway into the true answer. But for now, I will embrace this new name as a new step on my path. A big YES to another scary yet exciting quest.
I truly believe that is what we are called to do and be as guides, healers, teachers and medicine people. We are not here to provide answers to anyone but to give everyone the courage, through our deep commitment and courageous living example, to fully living all the questions. To not fear the fear. To embrace the not knowing.
To you my dear brothers and sisters, to my friends, students, family, community, and to all my relatives, I wish and pray to the depth of my Heart that this question keeps you up at night. That it keeps you seeking and shedding skins. Bravely purging any knowing. Blessing and courageously exploring any area of discomfort and pain. And embracing the very often uncomfortable yet infinite wisdom space of the not knowing.
You might experience serious symptoms of insanity, but in this often insane world that is probably a good thing. I deeply believe the survival of our planet is intimately linked to this individual and global quest, to the search for the answer to that question “Who am I?”.
With so much love for each and every one of you,