Stepping stones across a stream

Spirituality came easy for me, being “normal” was hard.  As a child I was allowed to wander alone in the woods, old farm buildings, pasture, and along the creek.  We lived in the small house on my grandparent’s farm, while my grandmother and uncle lived in the big house.  I would tell my mother I was going over to Grandma’s house and head off exploring.  Thinking back on it I realize it was probably odd that a four year old would be allowed to wander alone, especially one who tended to be on the adventurous side.

I remember one beautiful sunny day sitting on the sand along the creek entranced by the sound of flowing water and bird song.  I remember being intrigued by the concept of God I’d heard about in church.  I was curious about what this God might be.  The sunlight was reflecting off the water and it seemed to dance as it sparkled.  The longer I watched it the more mesmerizing it was.   At some point I began to see the sunlight as simply energy, and then as I shifted my focus I could see the water itself was the same energy.  As I continued to shift my focus closer and closer, I could see that everything I looked at was all made up of this same energy.  The sand on the beach, my foot, my leg, my body, everything around me, the entire world, was made up of this energy.  I thought, “Oh, this is God”.

Right at that moment it was like my mind just opened up.  I’ve heard it described as “seeing behind the curtain” and it is probably a good analogy.  This chain of simple realizations opened up my mind to a sense of belonging, a full and total acceptance between me and the universe.  I was filled with a feeling that for a long time I described as “God smiling” upon me.  I felt truly and completely loved, “a child of God”.  That realization has never left me.

Over the years I’ve come to describe such moments as “mystical experiences”; things scientists would say are not reproducible.  I think everyone has them whether we accept them or not.  They can be life changing, but not always in ways we find blissful.  Early mystical experiences led to years when I struggled to understand what my life was meant to be, what I should be doing with my life.  I’ve gone in many missed directions, and had to retrace my steps.  I learned to quiet my mind and strengthen my concentration through the practice of meditation and it helped me calm the storms whirling in my life.

Over time, my understanding of “God” matured and changed.

Theism focuses on an entity labeled God/Allah/Brahma etc.  I think we go through a phase of human development, a time when we need to believe in a spiritual “parent” to guide and protect us.  This was when I prayed to Heavenly Father/Divine Mother for guidance and support.  Non-theist religions look inward at personal development, letting go of ego identity.   This was when I worked to understand “who am I?”

I’ve come to believe that at the heart of every religion we are taught to follow moral precepts; how to live a good life, how to treat others decently.   Unfortunately, religious beliefs can also be an excuse for intolerance, prejudice, violence, and atrocities.  I think of the world’s religions as different paths, like the spokes of a wheel all leading to the center.  Life spins around and around at the periphery, where we are searching for meaning and answers.  Now and then we reach for the center, the calm where the storm ends or rather a place from which we can view the storm as opposed to be caught up in it.

I think each of us is on a journey, finding our own personal authentic spiritual truth.  For me the path I followed explored mysticism from many different religious teachings including Christianity, Hinduism, Jainism, Taoism, Sufism, and Buddhism.  For others, one path is sufficient.  Every path taught me in some form to have “Reverence for all life”, to respect life, to love ‘other’ as well as ‘self’.  For me truth is that life is interconnected and sacred, every person every creature is sacred and spiritual.  I think for some it is easier to see the sacred or spiritual in the beauty of the natural world.  It is harder to see the sacred in the messy and sometimes painful human world too often filled with greed, anger, hatred, or violence.  Seeing the sacred requires that our “eyes and heart” are open.

There is that Zen saying “Before enlightenment, we chop wood and carry water.  After enlightenment, we chop wood and carry water”.   When we are fortunate enough to see behind the curtain, we come back and the mundane world looks the same, but now we know there is a curtain.  Look long enough and the curtain itself is revealed as ephemeral, there is no true separation.  It’s all energy, it’s all sacred, it’s all mundane, and it’s all here for us to experience in a myriad of ways, every moment of every day.

Life is a mystery we accept, not explain.  Words like spiritual or God are not the whole truth, for “the Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao”…  Words and ideas, secular or sacred, will never capture the entire truth, no matter how reproducible nor how much we believe them to be true.  They can only ever be stepping stones across a stream.

keep your eyes and heart open, you never know what you’ll see

taking off on the idea of communication without words by using words has a certain charm, just like having a secret channel on the oh so public net.

willingness… first i am honored to be included in a conversation with a couple of no doubt troublemakers ornery enough to challenge the capacities of the previous herd enough to be banned from that digital island.  without knowing any particulars sometimes it is not productive to try to describe colors to the colorblind.  it’s not their fault and time is short. will try and live up to the spirit animasoul implies and speak from the heart as we get to know each other.

the world of the possible… there have been times when i’ve been allowed to “see behind the curtain” (if we were in wizard of oz land), more precisely seen something beyond the levels of education and understanding that i had  been exposed to and absorbed. Raised in a science based family where direct observation and repeatability were the required cornerstones of the world view,  many times some of the more rigid precepts have crumbled in moments, and each time i was left feeling that i had been allowed, priviliged actually, to see the inner workings of an entirely different world.

an example… many years ago 5 of us were fishing about 125 miles offshore  in an antique wooden vessel built in 1927.  she was a classic hull but with that age came the necessity of having seven primed pumps running continuously in order to keep her afloat. Before we sailed i discovered that there was going to be a total eclipse visible from the area we were bound. Normally might have been able to use the dark glass in a welding helmet to look directly at it but this vessel did not have that equipment so put one of the small glass plates in my seabag.

If i remember correctly it was the time of full moon, the tides normally strong there, now ferocious with the moon,  the old girl did not have a lot of horsepower. The trawl gear tangled and snarled repeatedly, culminating in an hours long repair on the morning of the coming afternoon eclipse. I decided to have some fun with the young Portugese shipmate Junior who had been at the wheel when the disaster occurred, humor often helps to break the monotony of long or difficult trips, bad weathers etc.  i told him that because of his lack of attention earlier there was going to bring more bad luck later in the day. He was going to pay for it!

the time came and it began to darken. Junior had the wheel again so out of sight on the stern i checked progress with the glass seeing that initial bite out of the side of the sun, and proceeded to let him know his time was coming. Ever so slowly the early afternoon sky darkened. it seems to take forever, then finally that eerie almost darkness of totality with the purple ring of flames. He looked at the sky but could not see the sun, Finally i let on about the eclipse and gave him the welding glass.  Meanwhile i turned to look around and was imobilized at what was going on. Struck dumb then yelled for him to stop looking at the sun.

For as far as you could see in every direction giant blue tuna were leaping out of the water, dozens of them, twisting and turning. Then they were running at high speed along the surface and launching themselves toward the sky over and over. Shear exuberance.  Tail dancing to the perfect alignment. A celebration of absolute magnificance.  Pure joy !

All too soon it stopped, they disappeared.  all of them. Speechless, the joke was on me.  I was ashamed, making a poor attempt at demonstrating a little knowledge, when the larger truth was that this was the special time of celebrating a holy communion of Joy…

Were they concious? how could they be leaping repeatedly into the sky and not know what they doing? were they self aware?  self concious ? or is that a peculiar affliction of the hominids, putting actions into verbal thoughts, putting thoughts into sounds about actions, the difference between music and singing, and reading printed text about music.

a little lesson about what we think we know

 

 

Finding each other instead of our self

“I never saw a wild thing sorry for itself. A small bird will drop frozen dead from a bough without ever having felt sorry for itself.”   D. H. Lawrence.

Michelle wrote : That kind of acceptance of the world is an amazing thing to contemplate.

Somewhere along the road to finding deeper spiritual meaning in life I was taught to believe the path to self-improvement required looking inside and finding my true “self”.  My inner self was unique, separate from others around me.  Only in finding my true self could I find the way to improve my life.  But over years spent looking inward I’ve come to realize the faulty premise of this idea is the existence of a separate ‘true’ self.  There is no separate self.  There is only awareness of being alive, in relation to others.

Michael Puett and Christine Gross-Loh wrote an article titled “Forget mindfulness, stop trying to find yourself and start faking it.”  Puett teaches Chinese Philosophy at Harvard.  They wrote ‘We are multifaceted, messy selves who develop by looking outward, not inward. Our personalities are formed through everything we do: how we interact with others, our reactions to things, the activities we pursue. Each of us is a complicated being bumping up against other complicated beings all day. Each encounter draws out different aspects. Who we are consists of behavior patterns and emotional ruts we’ve fallen into over time – but that means we also consist of numerous possibilities of what we can become.”  Dr. Puett summarizes these ideas in a TED talk [Why it’s better to stop searching for your true self | Michael Puett | TEDxNashville].

I’ve come to realize the validity of his message, perhaps the same thinking D.H. Lawrence expressed in the quote above.  When we look at the world we  experience as being connected to instead of divided from others, life emerges as a flow of energies ever-changing and dynamic.  We stop feeling that we are separate and divided from others.   Each moment who “I” am is changing…my feelings about what is happening are changing, my thoughts and ideas about what is happening are changing, and my relationship with others is changing.  The belief that there is an eternal “I”, distinct and separate from others is false.  We are not something separate from the world we live in.  Others around us are not something to conquer or overcome, to win against in competition.  We feel most alive through our connections with others.  Our relationships give the richest meaning to living.

The bird does not feel sorry for itself, because it does not see it’s self as separate.  There is no “self” for whom to feel sorry.  There is only the cold, the branch, and the release into death.  That kind of acceptance is an amazing thing to contemplate!

Unexpected Acquaintances

I was walking behind the barn recently and spotted these large shelf mushrooms growing on an old log. I looked them up and found they are probably a type of inedible polypore, a family of wood decomposers.  That makes sense because of where they were growing. What struck me was their distinct funnel shape, which allows them to catch rain water and direct it towards their base.  I suppose seeing a mushroom more than a foot wide also made them quite distinctive.

Ever since this brief encounter I have been thinking about mushrooms and mycelium.  I even had a dream about mushrooms and when I awoke I felt a strong desire to read more about fungi so that I could understand them better.  Years ago I bought a book entitled “Mycelium Running, How Mushrooms Can Help Save the World” by Paul Stamets.  Now I feel impelled to start reading it, a strong desire to know more about the fungi that live in the woods and soil around my home.

This unexpected encounter makes me want to reach out and connect with this form of life, and perhaps the feeling is mutual.  I know that may sound strange, but perhaps strange is how we would describe communication with another species.  And why don’t we believe that life around us might try to connect with us?  Aren’t we as much a part of their world as they are a part of ours?  Isn’t that what anima/soul is all about, connecting with others as we explores the world around us?

Most humans disregard communication with non-humans because we don’t think plants or animals are intelligent.  We often disregard the feelings or consciousness of others.  Feelings are too subjective, improvable, and unscientific!  We only consider communication valid if it comes in the form of speech, sounds that are made in a pattern of words that we can understand.  Animals and birds communicate with sound but not in a language we understand.

Plants, fungi, and microbes communicate chemically in ways that the cells of our body can understand.  Researchers have found that microbes on our skin ‘talk’ to and teach our skin cells, train our immune system to recognize pathogens.  Microbes in our gut ‘talk’ with intestinal cells influencing digestion.  Perhaps the question we need to ponder is “How would life communicate with us if it didn’t use the language or made the sounds we understand?”

As we move through a world made up of climate controlled, human designed spaces, how can we expect to encounter other life forms?  If you were born blind and deaf, can you imagine how difficult it would be to learn to speak and communicate? By staying within the safe, comfortable spaces of home, car and office are we not limiting our ability to develop communication skills with life other than human?

Imagine a world ‘out there’ that is full of life, waiting for you to encounter it. What acquaintances might you discover in a walk through the woods, on a path beyond the edge of grass?  What would other forms of life tell us if we could only be patient enough to listen without expectation? What might we learn if we ‘listened’ with our feelings and empathy, and not just our ears? What might our heart hear that our head missed?

I wonder if other species of life on earth are aware of the extinctions occurring, of the climate that is changing.  Are we aware of how we affect the world with our application of chemicals to lawns, where our sewage goes when we flush the toilet,  the air pollution that spews from our vehicles and buildings?  What might the other species on earth try to communicate to humans if only we could understand?

Welcome to Anima/Soul

It’s a work in progress.
I’m still figuring out how WordPress and this particular web theme works.
But what I’d like is for this to be a place to talk and think together about how we can see ourselves and the world differently. More accurately, better. How we can break down some really out-dated barriers between the human and the not-human, nature and not-nature, the spiritual and the worldly, between you and me. How we can find and nurture commonality (same-ness amid difference) not just among humans, but among human and non-human. How we might assemble the bits and pieces of a way of life with staying power – the shards of pottery, the foot-prints in the dust…
What would you like to see here? What would you like to talk about?

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