Thursday, October 24, 2013

Come into Animal Presence

Come into animal presence
No man is so guileless as
the serpent. The lonely white
rabbit on the roof is a star
twitching its ears at the rain.
The llama intricately
folding its hind legs to be seated
not disdains but mildly
disregards human approval.
What joy when the insouciant
armadillo glances at us and doesn't
quicken his trotting
across the track and into the palm brush.
What is this joy? That no animal
falters, but knows what it must do?
That the snake has no blemish,
that the rabbit inspects his strange surroundings
in white star-silence? The llama
rests in dignity, the armadillo
has some intention to pursue in the palm-forest.
Those who were sacred have remained so,
holiness does not dissolve, it is a presence
of bronze, only the sight that saw it
faltered and turned from it.
An old joy returns in holy presence. 

"Come into animal presence" by Denise Levertov, from Poems: 1960-1967.

Monday, October 14, 2013

The Farthest Shore

I think in some works of fiction there are nuggets of priceless wisdom and some of them really strike a cord with my own personal truth.  The Wizard of Earth Sea Series has really impressed me in that light.

Here is one such recent example from the book The Farthest Shore by Ursula K. LeGuin:


You see Aaron, how an act is not as young men think: Like a rock that one picks up and throws, and it hits or misses, and that's the end of it.  

When that rock is lifted, the earth is lighter.  The hand that bears it, heavier.  When it is thrown, the circuits of the stars respond.  And where it strikes or falls, the universe is changed.  On every act the balance depends.  The winds and seas, the powers of water, earth and light.  All that these do, and all that beasts and green things do is well done, and rightly done.  

All these act within the equilibrium.  From the hurricane and the great whales sounding, to the fall of a dry leaf and the gnats flight.  All they do is within the balance of the whole.  

But we, in so far as we have power over the world and over one another, we must learn to do what the leaf and whale and wind do of their own nature.  We must learn to keep the balance.  

Having intelligence, we must not act in ignorance.  Having choice, we must not act without responsibility.  

Who am I, though I have the power to do it?  To punish and reward, playing with men's destinies.

Aaron: But the is the balance kept by doing nothing?  Surely a man must act, even not knowing all the consequences of his acts.  If anything is to be done at all.


Never fear.  It is much easier for men to act, than to refrain from acting.  We will continue to do good and to do evil.  But if their were a king over us all again, and he sought council of a mage, as in the days of old and I were that mage, I would say to him, "My lord, do nothing because it is righteous or praise worthy or noble to do so.  Do nothing because it seems good to do so.  Do that which you must do and which you can not do in any other way."  

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Animal Communication and Egotism

Animals are beautiful, fascinating, charismatic and present in their own bodies and their own lives in ways we can not help but aspire to.  I am of the opinion that they do choose to communicate directly with us sometimes, whether through thought-feelings, imagery, body postures, sounds, eye contact, smells and other forms.

In some spiritually oriented communities, some believe that animals are always trying to communicate to us on matters of deep, spiritual significance.  This might bear some truth, and yet, it is also a potential food for self-importance.

To assume that whenever an animal is getting your attention that is must be bearing some deep, profoundly personal spiritual revelation is a bit narcissistic.   After all, that animal may be trying to tell you to move away from its nest, leave its young or otherwise simply leave it the hell alone! You could say that in itself is a pretty profound spiritual lesson.  Perhaps, not the grandiose one hoped for my some naive spiritual seekers, but none-the-less profound if seen clearly for it is.  We are, after all, not the most important creatures in the landscape.  We are just one, and our work is to learn to move with respect and understanding.  At least that is what I care to believe and how I tend to orient my life.

There is much that can be said about how the universe is communicating to us constantly.  Whether through our senses, emotions, and bodily feelings.  But, to have an inkling of this communication we must first be profoundly self-aware, and profoundly aware of the world around us.  To really glean significance from the world around you, you must know that world.  You must study it closely, and thoroughly so that you know what you are looking at and what is going on.

When it comes to animals, you must know their habits, their natural history, their cycles during the day, the season, the year and beyond.  Otherwise, misunderstanding can easily arise.

Stop for a moment and appreciate the simply profound fact that such cross-species communication is possible.  If you take a walk down that mental path, you can't help but appreciate the profound spiritual implications of unity and harmony found there. Whether you believe or have experienced the more telepathic types of communication or not, you can't deny that just through your 5 sense you can glean a wealth of information from other species.

The mear presence of an animal may help us feel more deeply connected, stirred on a primal level, and sometimes stopped in our tracks (physically and mentally).  The flight of a bird can uplift us and give us perspective. The songs of frogs and birds can help calm and ground us. The howl of a wolf can strike a cord so deep in us that it cuts through thousands of years of "civilization."  For some, that kind of instant bodily realization chills some, while it thrills others.

And then, there is a deeper level of speaking which requires from us, a deeper level of listening...

Monday, May 20, 2013

Experience is Real

Recently, while on a 3 day trip with some friends I got involved in an interesting and somewhat emotionally charged conversation.  These 2 friends had been discussing the nature of reality, and what was true.  One was making the argument that only that which is proven empirically, or at least described in Psychology can be true.  The other rallied against that and shared that he felt there was aspects of reality that are hidden from such research that are just as valid and true.

At first I chose to just listen, but then ended up engaging in it as well.  I did not want to prove a point, and so I think I stood on safer ground conversationally.  What came to me was something that I have learned from studying about, as well as practicing a more shamanic and animistic perspective.

I tried hard not to take sides in the argument, as I knew that would only leave one side feeling sore and undermined.  But, what came to me was the idea of experience being ones reality.  In terms of the perspective of a pragmatic shaman, truth is a relative thing.  One of the major keys to being able to experience a richer, more holistic relationship with the universe is to be open to being wrong.  Seemingly in contradiction, part of that is also to understand that one's experience of life, and one's experience in life is real.  Whether that is while awake, asleep or having a mind altering experience that involves meditation or some hallucinogenic plant or fungi.

The search for ultimate, universal truth is just a dance that the rational mind does, like a dog chasing its own tail.  As far as a practicing shaman might be concerned, it is of limited value.  After all, shamanic practice is about being in relationship with world or worlds, as it may be.

In the conversation I mentioned that possible experience of someone having what in the western, rational perspective we might call a "hallucination."  This simply means that at that time their experience of reality is different from our own.  Does that make it false, or unreal?  This might seem to be a stupidly obvious question.  After all, that "crazy" man walking down the street talking to himself is not having an experience you are sharing.

Sure, however, isn't reality an agreed upon experience? Don't we use language and cultural framing to help us agree upon what we think is significant enough to focus on? 

Consider for a moment the experience of 2 people of very different backgrounds who are describing a common event.  Let's say for a moment that a cup falls off of a table and breaks on the floor.  One person, an American man, looks to the person nearest that cup and might think, "This person broke the cup.  Why would they do that?"

The other person, a woman from Spain, looks at that same event and thinks, "The cup broke.  I wonder why it broke?"

That simple difference is a matter of cultural and linguistic implication of blame and responsibility, although it would of course involve the shading of the individual and their personal past experiences.  You might say that this a subtle difference.  After all, the languages and cultures are relatively similar in many ways.

Now consider those 2 people to have vastly different language and cultural backgrounds, such as a person raised speaking English in America, and a person raised in a small village in central China speaking Mandarin.  You think there experience would be the same?

Let's say that a man from a tribe from a small island in the Southwest Pacific describes the event as the cup leaping from the table at the approach of one of the people.  And he goes on to further describe how certain spirit beings that were in the room at the time found this event very funny.

Would you argue that this can not possibly be true or valid?

So... Let's come back to our man walking down the street talking to himself.  He may at that moment be engaging with a being that is invisible to your senses.  We can say from the western psychological perspective that he has schizophrenia.  In that moment, that man's experience is of that event being reality.  You can argue it is a false reality, a mental fiction.  Perhaps you could say that the being he is engaged with is a mental projection of his own fears...

But, you can not deny that in his experience it is real.

To the individual, experience is reality.

What use is it knowing that?  After all, this man's experience may be so different from other "normal" people around him that he is practically incapable of functioning or interacting effectively with others.  Indeed, the experience he is having may even be negative, even destructive and wildly unstable in nature. It may be one he desperately wants to change or escape.

Well, it is useful to take note because it can allow us to stop chasing the tail of "ultimate reality" and "truth" in the world.  Chasing the one right way for everyone to see the world.

The problem, is that what he is experiencing may be causing him great paranoia, loneliness and disconnection.  He may be incapable of changing his experience without the support and compassion of others.

The endless arguments waged over the superior reality of one religion over another, one god over another, science versus spirituality are really potentially just as destructive.  The only difference is that millions of people might agree on that experience and interpretation as the one truth.

When any perspective becomes dogmatic, it has lost track of this idea that experience is reality.

No 2 peoples experience is ever exactly the same.  Does that mean that one of them has had an experience that is true, and the other false?  Outside of proving the rightness of one perspective and the wrongness of another, what value would that bear?  How would pointing out the rightness of one perspective improve the lives of both people?

I think the more important questions are:

- Does your experience bring you joy, fulfillment and connection with the world?

- Does it allow you to communicate things of value to others, and interact with them with compassion and consideration?

- Did the experience you just had support your sense of positive growth, and a richness of life?

- What can you do to change your experience, if it is not supporting you in growing and connecting to the world in the ways you really desire?

- What stories are you simultaneously telling yourself and living? What other people's stories do you tell yourself, and how do they affect you and your experience of life?

 If I tell you now that sometimes animals look me in the eyes and speak to me, you might think that is a fantasy or projection of sorts.  You may even be tempted to prove to me that such a thing is not possible, and that this is a delusion.  You can argue that they are incapable of such action, and I am incapable of communication or receiving communication in such a manner.  You can lecture me on the scientifically solid theories of modern psychology and neurology, and how they disprove that such things are real.

Yet, I can still know that choosing to support the perspective that this kind of experience is real allows me to be in better relationship with the life around me.   An that, ultimately, is what matters most to me.

After coming close and looking right into my eye, the fox below told me politely to kindly leave the area around its den because me and my companions were too close for its comfort.  This appeared in my mind as a combination of thought-feeling and imagery.  This was supported shortly there after by its physical behavior as it walked a few steps away, urinated and looked back at me again expectantly.

And yes, I did heed the request... But this leads us to the final questions...

What stories do you hold to be true, and how do they improve your life and allow you to improve the lives of others?  How is your experience of life different from others?  Is it useful and life-supporting?  If not, why are you still carrying it?

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Malidoma Patrice Some

Currently reading parts of a book by Malidoma P. Some called THE HEALING WISDOM OF AFRICA. I am admittedly fairly ignorant of the belief systems and spiritual perspectives of most of Africa, and really enjoying learning more about the approach to shamanism by the indigenous peoples of Africa... especially the Dagara people to which Malidoma Some belongs.

I am delighted to see the similarities and intrigued by the differences of approach to healing ways. Been really inspired by some of the what Malidoma has said so far in the book. Here is one quote that struck me as wonderful...

Indigenous people see the physical world as a reflection of a more complex, subtler, and more lasting yet invisible entity called energy. It is as if we are the shadows of a vibrant and endlessly resourceful intelligence dynamically involved in a process of continuous self-creation. Nothing happens here that did not begin in that unseen world. If something in the physical world is experiencing instability, it is because its energetic correspondent has been experiencing instability. The indigenous understanding is that the material and physical problems that a person encounters are important only because they are an energetic message sent to the this visible world. Therefore, people go to that unseen energetic place to try to repair whatever damage or disturbances are being done there, knowing that if things are healed there, things will be healed here. Ritual is the principal tool used to approach that unseen world in a way that will rearrange the structure of the physical world and bring about material transformation.

Thursday, February 25, 2010


Here is some more excellent material from the book SOULCRAFT by Bill Plotkin. Much food for thought...

There are many varieties of addicition, but, sooner or later, we each have to address what is the paramount addiction in the Western world: our psychological dependence on the worldview and lifestyle of Western civilization itself. This is the point brilliantly made by eco-psychologist Chellis Glendinning in her book My Name Is Chellis, and I'm in Recovery from Western Civilization. The Western worldview says, in essence, that technological progress is the highest value and that we were born to consume, to endlessly use and discard natural resources, other species, technological gadgets, toys, and, often, other people, especially if they are poor or from the Third World. The most highly prized freedom is the right to shop. It's a world of commodities, not entities, and economic expansion is the primary measure of progress. Competition, taking, and hoarding are higher values than cooperation, sharing, and gifting. Profits are valued over people, money over meaning, Firest-World entitilement over global peace and justice, "us" or "them." This addiction is the most dangerous one inf the world, not only because of its impact on most of humanity but because it is rapidly undermining the natural systems that sustain the earth's biosphere.

All other addictions in the West can be seen as components of this larger one. If we are born to continue, then it is a dog-eat-dog world, there is no deeper meaning, no human soul, and creation is just a huge, dumb joke. That's a conclusion you wouldn't want to live with every day; better to distract and deaden yourself with addictions.

By the time we reach our first adulthood, our ways of thinking about ourselves and the world have been molded and constrained by the predominant values of Western culture. This limits us in ways difficult to see at first; we are like fish in the sea, unconscious of the cultural waters within which we have come of age.

All children and adolescents fashion personalities that fit within their native culture. In the West, that means a society largely materialistic, synthetic, technological, anthropocentric, ethnocentric, and egocentric. Fitting in with such a culture is difficult to accomplish without losing contact with our souls and with nature, the web of life. Western lifestyles that revolve around a constant barrage of anemic distractions may be, in part, ways of self-numbing so as to minimize the pain of that loss. Many people have succumbed to daily routines of soul-starving entertainment, superficial fashion, and mind-numbing jobs.

This way of life becomes an addiction. The more we live this way, the more alienated we become from something deeper and more meaningful, and the more we need this way of life to keep us from experiencing that alienation.

How do you address an addiction this pervasive? Begin with the soulcraft practices found in these pages. Relinquishing attachment to the adolescent identity is a primary means of overcoming our dependence on the cultural worldview within which that identity was formed.

Saturday, February 20, 2010


The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing that stands in the way. Some see nature all ridicule and deformity...and some scarce see nature at all. But to the eyes of the man of imagination, nature is imagination itself. - William Blake