Tracing Lines Between Stars: A Shamanistic Happenstance with Dr. David S. Whitley

Updated: Jun 29

Many of the magical encounters that I've had throughout my life have happened because of music, art, books.

These days are very magical. I’m connecting with a lot of people in strange ways. A few days ago, I woke up and read a poem by Fernando Pessoa's "If, After I die" The poem's words lingered on my tongue, sweetening me for hours until I swallowed them--so the beauty and wisdom of these verses could stay in me. A few minutes later, I found myself reading a book by another writer, and on that page, I read the same lines from the very same poem. Just this week, four former students contacted me with similar epiphanies, related to writers, books, singers, and they all know that these aren't Serendipitous occurrences but manifestations of Kairos. These aren't coincidences, but connections. People making connections.

Destiny, fate, not pre-established, but stories in the making.

I was writing a response to one of the writers in my MFA program at AULA, for a reading conference. Writers are readers, and we always talk about books, even when it might sound that we are talking about memory or imagination and stories. That we find in books. Books that trigger a memory, and the imagination thus, generating this urgent need to tell stories too, which it's like if a fire star dropped inside our stomachs, and we're in trance, and go on the quest to write our magical vision. I wrote to my writer friend, "it's not about if, but about when. Make it happen. Write Now.”

The Greek philosopher Aristotle said that to deliver a persuasive appeal, expression must combine the language of pathos (experience), logos (reason), and ethos (credibility and authority). But it's a keen awareness as to when the ripe moment is so to manifest a desire or a dream. This concept is called Kairos: seizing the instant. The Greeks had two ways to call time, the titan Chronos, and his twin brother, Kairos. While Chronos times everything systematically, Kairos' notion of time is the now, the fleeting moment. I teach this concept paired to the idea of serendipity, that fortunate event that catches us by surprise and fills our hearts with awe. But Kairos is us gaining agency over our lives. Instead of waiting for the stars to align, we align them ourselves. The thing is that I believe that Kairos happens when both, creativity and knowledge meet for us to reimagine our lives the way we'd like them to be. And be ready. Open up to see all those serendipitous moments that may lead to know when to take action, in that ephemeral moment that passes you by in such a haste. 

Awareness opens our eyes to see, to gain access, and once we cross the threshold, we reach agency. And that is too, what brings the awe of experience, and the hope of justice. Love.

Recently, I came across an essay published on the American Scholar, entitled "There Is No Time in the Garden" about The Poetry of W. S. Merwin, written by John Kaag, last March 11, 2019. In it, Merwin says: "The time of wisdom cannot be measured. In ancient Greece, there were two forms of time: Kairos and ChronosKairos is usually regarded as the ‘time of wisdom’—stretching out in an endless staircase with no beginning or end. It is our staircase for the time being, but also the staircase of the unborn. And the dead."

This is almost full circle now.

My correspondence with David S. Whitley started because of a book, and paintings, and poems, and memories, and the imagination. And. Magic. Magic happened like when I dreamt a dream in a cave as though tracing lines between stars over draperies of stalactites and stalagmites. So I read, and I wrote. Again.

And it is almost a full circle. Once again.

3/2/14, 4:09 PM

Cecilia: Thank you very much for reading my book; for connecting with me; especially for giving me a beautiful and remarkable poem. I am grateful, honored and touched. As I mentioned in the preface to that book, I have always greatly valued what I have learned in my life from poets. And more so now. Plus, as a scientist trying to find the nexus between science and art, the connections that artists make with my work are deeply meaningful to me. (Archaeologists haven’t known quite what to make of the questions I raised and the arguments I made in that book. But I knew that when I wrote it.) Your reaction validates the effort I put into it. And that is a big deal.

Three things arise then: (1) You teach at Santa Monica College. My first publication—poems—where in the SMC literary/arts journal. (2) That you found A FIX OF INK in a dream—and that there is a technique for doing so—it is in fact very significant from the scientific perspective of understanding the source of creativity, and its relationship to shamanism. I would be indebted if you could send me any information on that process. (Was Robert Lowell who said he found his poems behind his sofa? That was a poem I read at least 35 years ago, and the details have faded but, somehow, I recall that Uruguay was involved. Or maybe I am confusing Lowell in Argentina with someone else. It happens. And I still haven’t found any poems behind my sofa--only my dogs—though I keep looking.) (3) There is a much abridged/updated account of my book in a recent TEDx talk I gave, which is here, in case you want to see the live version: How mental illness changed human history - for the better: David Whitley at TEDxManhattanBeach

Thank you again, very much, Dave

3/2/14, 6:35 PM

Dear David,

I posted a note on my FB wall, which I now share (at the bottom of this message), after having coaxed me to stop reading (your book), because I needed to prepare my teaching day! I just didn't want to stop reading! As I posted that note, I was extrapolating from what your book was evoking, to that same notion as the one you quote from R. Lowell. The quote is in Spanish, but, as you say in your book, you do speak Spanish by default, so I'd assume you know what this quote means. It really resonates with your example of looking for poems behind your sofa. I think that you have found your poems in your unique perspective observing art from an academic standpoint, and yet, never, not for one second, you forget the spirits lingering on those rocks, on those traces, in your attempt to imagine how these artists were and what inspired them to create such overpowering works of beauty.

“Although I have promised myself to search for my self tomorrow morning, I began to pursue it tonight. And not only within my body but also within the basement where I live”

Journal of the Scoundrel.

Felisberto Hernández, Uruguayan musician and writer. (trans. by me)

3/2/14, 7:03 PM

There is no doubt in my mind, in the corners where intuition dictates my understanding, that you are a poet and a shaman. Moreover, you are a poet and a philosopher (I am now quoting Henry David Thoreau) as you so clearly articulate that beauty is truth and that truth is beauty (now quoting my beloved John Keats). You demonstrate that you grasped that man is only half of himself, because the other half is only manifested and granted through "his" expression (HDT). When I read your response here on a FB messenger, I remained speechless for a while (not a small feat). Now that I have recovered my ability to utter something meaningful (despite the rushed nature of a FB message), I am not concerned about making any sense, because all the words in your book, and all the lattices my mind created after that which you've evoked are coming like in a helix. I am thrilled that you appreciate my words about your book. You make my work worth writing it, filling with sane pride, the shreds of trance or madness that I feel when I must write. There are two or three things that I feel are necessary to mention. I also think that they aren't trivial, even though these might sound “superstitious.”

1- When I began conceiving the collection of poetry titled a fix of ink, I imagined it at first, with the design of a cover that is a picture (a bit Photoshopped by me) of the Panel of the Horses.

3/2/14, 7:33 PM

2- Last November, as I was browsing book titles on Amazon, the site suggested your book, probably because I'd bought Cave of Forgotten Dreams dir. by Herzog (to induce a lucid dream about being in a cave to write a poem). The first thing that allured me into your book was its cover because it was just like the one I have designed and presented as my final work for the workshop o