Fiona Gardner. Victoria Regional Meeting.
A Chinese village is besieged by drought and unless there is rain quite soon the village will starve to death. They have tried everything they know, so they finally decide to send at great distance for the famous rainmaker. He consents to come and arrives at the village. He asks immediately to please build him a straw hut outside the village, to give him five days of food and water, and not to disturb him. The villagers do as he asks quickly. The rainmaker disappears into the hut and on the fourth day it rains just in time to save the village. The villagers go to the hut and drag the man out blinking into the light, give him his fee and pour all the gifts they can upon him. An enormous outpouring of gratitude for he had indeed saved the village. One man came to him and said how do you do it, what ceremony can you do that makes it rain? And the rainmaker said ‘Oh, you must understand, when I came to your village, I was so out of sorts inside myself that I had to put things right inside and I never got to the rainmaking ceremony.’
I first read this story in a book written by Robert Johnson many years ago and have used it several times at Meeting for Learning. Although I’ve read it many times now, I always find it moving. Last time I used it at Meeting for Learning, I felt led to explore more deeply why and what resonates for me.
The more I thought about the story the more depth and wisdom it seemed to offer both for me as an individual and for us collectively as a community and society. In many ways this is a story about seeking wholeness, understanding what happens when we remain divided from the essential aspects of ourselves. This lack of wholeness from paying attention to what is meaningful contributes to a sense of aridity or dryness, a lack of joy and richness in living, what is often named as boredom or frustration with modern life. The rainmaker in the story recognises that life somehow works better if we pay attention to soul or spirit.
People in workshops have generally also resonated with the story using it to generate their own sense of meaning. Part of what is consistent is seeing how to work with this story on a number of levels: the concrete, actual world of our physical environment and what this means; the understanding of connectedness between our inner and external worlds in relationships and reactions; and a metaphorical sense about our need for an internal ‘rainmaker’ – recognising our need for replenishing at a deeper or ‘soul’ level.
I think part of what resonates for me is simply the concrete level of the experience of drought and its impact upon the villager’s community. My own experience of this has been living through ten years of drought in rural Victoria where the impact is, of course, much less than in many other places. Even so, the metaphor of dryness had an external reality, watching the browning of paddocks until there was no growth left and trying to keep at least some small parts of the garden alive. The heat of the summers combined with the lack of rain drew the moisture out of the land to such an extent that any water poured onto it simply drained away. When the rain came, at a fundamental level, we felt replenished, rejuvenated, regenerated. It was as if we too, like the land, had had a sense of being dried up.
One of the benefits of the drought was that communities and politicians looked differently at their environments. Rural communities are often more conscious of the cycles of the seasons and of changing weather patterns. The story reminds us of the harmony and interconnectedness of all things, the need to pay attention to our environment which is part of who we are, to be more respectful of the earth and what it offers. Drought also confronts us with not being in control which is very helpful in the spiritual journey, reminding us about what really matters in our lives.
At another level, this story reminds us that how we are internally will have an impact externally on those around us as well as the environment we live in. Perhaps one of the most obvious examples of this is when we are individually tired or stressed or simply in a grumpy mood and how this affects others. We express our inner lack of well-being either consciously or unconsciously. Children learn to read the mood in their families from very young age, sensing when it is safe or not to ask for or about something. The signs can be very subtle: the slightest change in body language indicating anger, withdrawal or sadness. One of the ways of connection with what is happening internally, is to explore strong reactions to others, either positive or negative and to ask what’s theirs and what’s mine: am I seeing in the other what I can’t acknowledge in myself?
A third level of resonating with this story for me is thinking about how all of the aspects of the story represent some inner aspect of ourselves: the villagers for example could represent the need for help and support in times of dryness. The villagers are very clear about what they have already tried and what they now need to do, what the potential cost might be and how important it is to pay the price. The rainmaker – who can represent another aspect of self – is also clear about what his needs are; he requests them clearly and without fuss. The implication of the story is that if we can call on our own rainmaker to get things right internally this will have positive implications for what happens for us and in the world around us. Would we as individuals create less conflict if we spent more time in our own internal hut getting ourselves right? We could also think about this at the level of groups and nations who are internally so in conflict that they project this conflict out onto others.
If we think about the rainmaker story in this way, it is clear that we each need to work out who or what our own rainmaker represents: what is it that we need to bring about restoration, what gifts or resources or strength do we have that we can call on that will rejuvenate and restore us? Perhaps a useful question here is where you feel most wholly yourself? Sometimes people find it useful to think about where do I feel I have my greatest sense of integrity? For others it’s useful to think about where do I have that sense of being connected to all things, a sense of universality. Jung talks about the journey of our life being towards wholeness and he sees this as a religious or spiritual quest. Asking questions then about where we feel most whole where we feel more spiritually grounded or centred, helps us keep focused on this journey.