The SheepMan’s Instruction

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Book Reviews

After reading the final passage of Haruki Murakami’s Dance Dance Dance, I pinched the book shut in one hand and took a deep, satisfying breath- the kind of breath you might take at dawn on the Seventh Day, a breathing into and through kind of breath.  Part of that satisfaction was the rich fullness of having encountered a work of art that spoke to me on a deep level, a story and its telling that fit so perfectly into my psyche at the time that I couldn’t quite imagine it ever having been complete prior to my reading it.  Before, it was a static compilation of words on a shelf.  Afterwards it was alive within me, painting the inner walls of my skin with figures from its dreams.  I felt as though the story had taken on new life from our encounter, that as a reader I had somehow multiplied its power by giving it a kindred soul in which to roam, a windswept tableau haunted by resonant brethren and complicit yearnings.  The other part of that satisfactory breath was relief in discovering precursors to the themes that Murakami would use fifteen years later in 1Q84, the other Murakami novel I have read, themes that continue to surface in my own life with spiraling persistence, questions about sliding between worlds I have yet to fully answer.

Those themes have vibrated in Murakami’s own bones for at least a decade and a half– probably longer– fermenting, transforming, unfolding.  There is hope for me yet.  These are not themes we digest in an evening.

In the Dialogues of A Course of Love, Jesus says, “You are called to accept and not look back, not to dwell in any of the states through which you arrive at acceptance, nor to focus on acceptance of one thing over another.  You are not to label good or bad.  Just to accept.  Accept all.  You do not have to hesitate here because you think you are still angry, or think you are still depressed.  When you hesitate you have not accepted but dwell with the cause of your hesitation.  When you accept you move on.”  Jesus is speaking here about accepting who we are: successors to his own choice to accept Love and nothing else.

There is something essential about his advice to refrain from looking back.

To cross the threshold into a world experience permeated by the presence of Love, there is a need to transcend thinking and assessing, to wander mapless through fields of discovery, to lose our way and in doing so, find it.  Looking back handcuffs us, contracts our vision into an analytical flatland, and reduces our stunning potential to a hollow question.  Looking back is looking away.

When Murakami’s broken protagonist encounters the novel’s principal otherworldly inhabitant and spokesperson, the SheepMan, he asks, “So what do I have to do?”

The SheepMan, who has “madearrangements” and “thoughtofeverything” so the protagonist “couldreconnect, witheveryone,” replies, “Dance.  Yougottadance.  Aslongasthemusicplays.  Yougotta dance.  Don’teventhinkwhy.  Starttothink, yourfeetstop.  Yourfeetstop, wegetstuck.  Wegetstuck, you’restuck.  Sodon’tpayanymind, nomatterhowdumb.  Yougottakeepthestep.  Yougottalimberup.  Yougottaloosenwhatyoubolteddown.  Yougottauseallyougot.  Weknowyou’retired, tiredandscared.  Happenstoeveryone, okay?  Justdon’tletyourfeetstop.”

The SheepMan inhabits a world held in existence by the protagonist’s inescapable yearning, a space in which what has been lost and disconnected may be recovered and bound together.  In contrast to the recovery we ourselves desire—a return to the state of Unity whose recovery is only a matter of when, not if– there is a missing inevitability to the reconnection the protagonist seeks that propels the entire novel forward.  There is a chance of failure.  He cannot do this on his own.  Characters in the protagonist’s life bleed into the SheepMan’s world, crossing the boundary back and forth, blurring the lines in the protagonist’s waking dream of redemption and recovery, keeping the passageways open, signaling the movement of one world within and through another.

Our own lives are like this.  We encounter those who inspire us with their presence, those who have been there and back again.  Our heart slips out between the bars of falsehood on unthinking forays into holiness.  In other moments we stumble through distrust and doubt, crippling self-assessment, misunderstanding and suspicion.  Yet all the while, our SheepMan is at work, stitching together all that we have lost, desiring to offer us every good thing there is, if only we would keep moving, keep dancing, keep the ball in the air, the game afoot.  Jesus calls this “willingness” in A Course in Miracles and A Course of Love.  We need only be willing, he says.  Love will handle the details.

Murakami paints this picture beautifully.  Daybreak on the final page is glorious.

I don’t know if this view of mine is what Murakami saw or intended to convey.  Who knows.  I like to think I met him halfway, that novels exist not only as they are written, but also as some sort of noumenal creations born of the intersection between a writer and a reader.  We can meet there because his SheepMan and my SheepMan are relatives.  We are keeping one another’s passageways to the next world open.  The same Love stitches connections together through all of us, all the time, so long as we limberupandkeepmoving…  In this regard, the SheepMan’s instructions are clear.


  1. Nice reminders Michael. I like the phrase leave behind our thinking and meander in discovery. And I’m intrigued by this author and just requested a couple of his books from the library. Thanks!
    I’m off to do some wandering and dancing! XD


    • Hope you enjoy them, Brad. I am looking forward to reading another one. My “reviews” are obviously heavily influenced by the way I end up coopting the novel to speak directly to my life experience, but what I am I to do!? Both 1Q84 and Dance Dance Dance would have been great reads, I think, no matter how you slice them.

      Enjoy your wander-dance!



  2. Those that take the time to share and pass on the good juju resources that they come into inspiration with just rock. Thank you for this M.

    I have a PDX run for appointments and chores next week and joyfully to the list I now add a trip to the city of books at Powell’s. I find I often am just flying between there and the word candy also available at The Strand. Can’t get the precious added layer of the sacred book place smell with purchase on Amazon 🙂 . -x.M


    • Is that airport lingo!? I feel like I’ve just arrived! Ha! I’m with you on the joy of browsing from within the atmosphere of the book cathedral. Nothing beats it. I have been to Portland once or twice, but didn’t have the time to make it to Powell’s, though others in the household have. It’s SO hard to not look back some days… 🙂 I hope you have a lovely trip.



  3. a few weeks ago i made the decision to take this summer off the mental and channel it more into the physical. that is, less thinking/analyzing, and more dancing. i’m reading your post as an affirmation of my decision. 🙂 i trust that my mind has processed enough, on sooo many subjects, and it’s time to just relax, accept, and enjoy what IS. thanks! aleya


    • Sounds wonderful, Aleya! I’m glad the post came through to lend some credence to a dreamtime decision. I’m thinking maybe we use the summer as a trial run, and then on that basis consider renewing that service contract for unlimited downloads for the duration. The thoughts we need find US, no? Writing for me is akin to dancing, a way of putting my ear on the steel rails that stretch off into Eternity to hear those pinging messages that come whistling down the line…



  4. I too want to keep the passage ways open … Your thoughts are provoking and inspiring dear Michael and I will dance to the library tomorrow to search for this story …thankyou thankyou , love megxxx

    Liked by 1 person

    • I hope you enjoy it, Meg. Murakami has become one of my favorites. I think you will find some resonance in his stories, and these nudges towards wholeheartedness we share in this writing community. It’s a strange connectedness– more real in some ways than other forms, but also ephemeral. When we write and share what’s inside of us, it’s important, and profound. When we share those glimpses with one another, we’re wandering across the threshold, finding in one another… doorways…

      Much Love, Meg.

      Liked by 1 person

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