This is the first in a new series called Luminaries, about people I’ve met who are guided by their own inner light. I’ve been inspired by them and here relate some of the wisdom I’ve picked up from each one.
If ever there was a Multipotentialite, it’s Ward. I met him on his regular trips into the bakery where I work to have a Large Vanilla-Soy-Decaf-Latte. We soon enough started chatting on these visits, and I was more and more intrigued by all the activities Ward mentioned:
Not to mention that the background of all this activity was his owning a successful hair salon across the way. Really, I couldn’t believe the variety of things that Ward talked about, which is why I wanted to interview him, and there the germ for this series sprouted: who are these cool people, and how do I get some of their juju?
I sat down with Ward in the midst of the whirlwind that is his life, and asked him a few questions, but the conversation really wandered, imitating his life path and his thinking process.
When I mentioned Multipods above, that really doesn’t cover the whole picture, though, because besides being a try-everything-new-under-the-sun kind of guy, Ward is also a drill-deep kind of individual. This points to one of the core descriptors that characterize Ward: single-minded, whole-body, tenacity.
He told me the tale of how he came to be a Native flute player.
Ward had had recurring dreams of hearing whales singing growing up. It got to him, such that he started searching every music shop he knew, trying out every strange instrument he could find, to see if it would make the sound that haunted him.
Finally, after years of searching, he was at a craft festival in Oregon City when he heard the same sound: the whales singing. He dashed through the stalls of vendors closing up their stands at the end of the day, trying to locate the source of the sound. At the end of his search, he found the stall of a Native Flute artisan, who looked up at him and said, “So you’ve come for your flute.”
He was 30 years old at that time, and dove right in.
Ward has countless tales of this sort, tales that involve an intuition or ‘internal listening,’ a journey or search, and a serendipitous resolution that brings joy and fulfillment. Listening to some of these stories, I felt like he knew the secret to pursuing the impossible dream of Don Quixote, and put it to practice over and over.
Another story he tells describes one of the transition times, in between these full-on pursuits of a dream. He had negotiated a sweet arrangement with a pioneer lady near Sisters, OR which meant he owned a hand-crafted log cabin that was a piece of art and an everyday inspiration. He’d filled it with treasures, and felt at peace whenever he worked and played in that cabin, with its jaw-dropping views of the gorge in his backyard.
But it was far from the nearest city (Portland) where he could perform his music, and he thought that might be the next thing for him. So he was at a crossroads, and not sure which would be the right choice: Stay in the place he cherished in the country, or move to the city to play the music he loved?
He decided to throw the decision to the spirit of the universe (my phrasing) and go on a medicine walk. A medicine walk is a time when you meditate, pray, and go on a solitary walk, being willing to interpret signs on the walk as answers to your prayer from sources we can’t see or know.
Ward says he got only a couple hundred yards out the back door into the desert before he almost stepped on a piece of flotsam: a realtor’s For Sale sign. He started laughing–I bet it was cackling–right there, amazed at how obvious his unseen forces had been, and relieved to know he was leaning towards the right decision. He sold the house at the right time, and moved to Portland to perform all kinds of music.
How can we learn from such a Renaissance man? I think outside of the question of abilities, what Ward has cultivated to his benefit are 1) intense curiosity and 2) thinking of the world as all intertwined. I’ll pick these apart a bit.
Intense curiosity Everyone is born with this innate quality, I believe. But most of us are trained to let it fall by the wayside, i.e. ‘One can’t do everything, so one has to choose.’ (For others who disagree with that, see Barbara Sher (link to Powells) and Emilie Wapnick)
Being intensely curious means you want to know someone else’s perspective, you want to know how things work, you aren’t afraid to show your ignorance, or praise someone’s skill. I think we sometimes lose our ability to explore when we feel we’re too full of emotion ourselves, and can’t go out to acquire more knowledge when we’re still dealing with unresolved issues. Or perhaps we don’t feel secure enough to be able to show that we don’t know what were’ doing. Ringing any bells?
Seeing the world as all-connected Ward mentioned an important phrase in his lexicon: mitakuye oyasin. It is a Lakota word (Ward is of the Yaqui tribe himself) that means “all my relations” as well as “all things are one.” He described this as the ability to see how things interrelate, how things affect and are affected by seemingly very unrelated actions. It’s “like quantum physics for Natives.”
For an example in action, only take a look at the skills Ward has mastered, and that he says are not all that different:
- photography–> graphic design
- hair color–> painting with acrylics
- learning native American musical language–> playing blues
- crafting Native flutes–> sculpting wood (he even says it’s like jazz music!)
I think these two strongly-held beliefs constitute a mindfulness practice, one which is a good bulwark against the ills of modern society, with its information-overload, blasé attitudes, compartmentalized lives, and fierce loathing of vulnerability.
With so many passions to pursue, I asked Ward a final important question. “What grounds you, what balances you out?”
He had two answers:
“Painting in the quiet of morning with music”
“Being at the salon, in the social circle of my community, my chosen family”
Are YOU intensely curious in YOUR life?
Do you feel too full or too busy to be able to feed that curiosity?
What balances YOU?
Images via CMC Art Share, Bolshoi Moscow, Productive Life Concepts