Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Dancing with My Sister's Questions

Today I had a great conversation with a friend, and it seems that we have been sitting with some similar questions recently. In her own blog, she posted the following questions:

  • Does the overlap between new theories of quantum science and ancient metaphysical and shamanic principles lead you to a perspective focused on personal desires, intention and goals, and/or to a mystical experience of awe, wonder, relatedness?
  • What point on the spectrum of and/or resonates as a personal place of balance?
  • What is the impact of that point on personal consciousness and action? On others, human and nonhuman? On the planet?
  • How does this experience shape personal choices regarding responsibility and action?

I am not terribly well informed in the world of quantum science. My primary exposure to this was through the film "What the Bleep" when it came out, and I must have watched it about 20 times in all. I also once went to a lecture with quantum scientist Amit Goswami, and it was truly wonderful - though I believe that he is considered "way out there" by much of the school of quantum physics. What little I have read in his books is certainly fascinating, and resonates with a knowing that is deep within me. While my own depth of understanding in the field of quantum theory is certainly limited, I have a cursory understanding, which is probably just enough to understand the question and to begin to play with it.

I think I understand the question to be one of personal focus. As modern theoretical sciences have begun to uncover information that seems to resonate with ancient truths found in metaphysical traditions - shamanic traditions in particular - does the individual to whom these ideas are revealed experience an intensification in wanting to fulfill personal desires, intention and goals, or does the person experience an intensification of the mystical experience of awe, wonder, and relatedness, or some blending of the two? It also seems that my friend is suggesting that a blending is essential, only natural, and that makes sense to me.

Let's say that I have uncovered one of the most mysterious secrets of all: I have the power to affect my reality through my mind, my intentions, and my beliefs. This is certainly the most heavily marketed of the ideas I recall from "What the Bleep." So, if my mind affects my reality, then I damn well better get it in check so that I can magically manifest the life I've always dreamed about... This has been a popular conversation topic among the new age community for years. How can I get the angels, totem spirits, energy particles, thought waves, universal energy (insert your favorite here...) to favor me, to give me what I want, what I need, what I deserve. The cult favorite film, "The Secret," was about exactly this. And true, in my reading about Peruvian shamanism, there are certain rituals that one must do in order to affect the inflow of good fortune into one's life - whether making a despacho offering, or pouring out some of one's beer onto Pachamama in gratitude, or some more complex ritual. And indeed, we all have needs and desires, and it is only natural to want to have those needs and desires fulfilled. One thing that crosses my mind, though, is this - ancient Earth-centered spiritual traditions were making rituals to Spirit in order to pray for these needs to be met, often hoping to fortify the survival of the people in a most rudimentary way. Please bless our family, our baby, our crops, please bring good weather, please help us to buy a new bull so that we can plow the field more easily. And what crosses my mind when I think of the new age tradition of manifesting is that the whole notion of please bless has been dropped. Instead, people tend to hold so tightly to the belief that through their own mind and intentions they can manifest anything, and that there is no need to pray, to seek connection with Spirit. In fact, it often seems that prayer has been dropped altogether as people practice manifestation: I am the master of my destiny. I am abundant, I am driving a new Lexus, and my bank account has six figures in it. As we have moved further and further away from feeling the sharp edge of survival, and deeper and deeper into an existence that is easily explained and controlled by science, the need for prayer has shifted. And too, the attitude of humans has shifted a great deal. When you're praying to God that your family may survive the year, there is an essential quality of humility - you are truly in the hands of God to keep you alive and well. But when you trust science to fix things when they go wrong instead, and when your essential trust is in the human mind, you no longer need to rely upon an imaginary power to keep you safe and alive and well. Science will cure it, science will fix it, science will control it. God is no longer necessary, and prayer is absurd. Hence, as I see it, the huge upsurge in atheism in the world right now. But what is still sitting there beneath the surface is that we're still here on this planet for reasons we can't comprehend, we have no idea how we got here, no idea how long we will stay, and no essential understanding of what the whole thing is about.

Science and modernity have brought a lot of really great things into existence. I am grateful for being able to take a hot bath, for having an ipod filled with amazing music, for the flute that I play, for having been blessed with the opportunity to fly to amazing places across four continents. I am glad that if I break my leg, I can have it taken care of in a hospital and I will probably heal completely. I am grateful that I have access to an abundance of food and water, that my home is warm in the winter, and that I can sit here and write on this computer, or at the very least, on paper with a pen in a lovely color. I am glad that we have ways to manage our waste so that plague and other diseases borne of poor sanitation do not cause great harm in my life. I love that I have fingernail clippers that keep my nails nice and smooth, because it might make me crazy if I had jagged, pointy fingertips. Really, there are so many things that I appreciate in this modern world, and at the same time, I feel the deep need to acknowledge that much of what we have created is wasteful, extravagant, foolish, and extremely harmful to the ecosystem that is this planet. A planet previously revered as Mother, Pachamama.

Once, I was talking to my friend Gray in Peru. He had been living there managing a guesthouse for a couple years, and had walked by the Urubamba River every day, watching and connecting with the people there. Along the riverbank, the men were hanging out, and strewn all around was garbage. He noticed that they had thrown more down, and he approached them to talk. He asked them why they were throwing their garbage on the riverbank - garbage that was plastic. The men, illiterate farmers who probably lived in simple homes with very little in the way of modern amenities, men whose first language was Quechua, and were likely to be struggling to communicate in Spanish as much as Gray was. Their answer? The river will wash it away. Now, it's easy to get angry at such ignorance. After all, the plastic garbage will simply end up on another riverbank somewhere further along. But in a culture that is not yet accustomed to plastics and other materials that simply do not return to nature in the course of even several natural lifetimes, this is difficult to explain. When these farmers throw things onto the riverbank, they were still connected to the thought that whatever the Earth provides, she will take back. And in the world of food scraps, bones, plant matter, and the like, this is essentially true. It's difficult to explain to an old farmer that we humans have created this plastic substance, which is cheap to produce, and is considered absolutely disposable, even though it will persist in the ecosystem for more than two hundred years. Plastic, the brain child of a culture addicted to fast, cheap, and easy - a far cry from a culture that still plows its fields with the power of bulls, while barefoot men guide the wooden plow from behind. A far cry from a culture that refuses to mechanically thresh its wheat because that would cause damage to the individual grains.

I realize at this point that I have gotten a bit off course from the original question, though in a direction I find valuable and absolutely worthy of consideration. One thing I want to revisit is the flip side of the coin I began with: I have the power to affect my reality through my mind, my intentions, and my beliefs. When focused on self interest, this power can cause great harm. If I only consider my own needs, my own desires, my own wishes, and forget that my own life touches every other one in the process, then I will make foolish choices, and my power will invariably cause harm. But when I realize every choice I make to fulfill my needs, desires, and wishes affects the whole, and that with great power comes the need for great responsibility, everything shifts. Power without wisdom is the game of fools.

What would balance look like? If I were to combine the wisdom of ancient traditions - traditions that honor the mystery of life and Spirit, that humbly bow in reverence to the Earth, and live in true interdependence with all of life - with the discoveries of science - that we can create ways of living that offer greater security, heath, and ease in our daily lives? I believe that is the direction in which human civilization is headed, though it seems to be moving slowly.

The advances of post-industrial human civilization are not going anywhere, in spite of my greatest fantasies. So, it is my sincere hope that the human species learns, collectively, that we are by no means the most important species, nor the creator of this world. Indeed, in the last hundred years, we have become its destroyer. We carry the seed of God within us, and indeed, we do have the incredible power of consciousness and the ability to affect our reality through our thoughts and intentions. But we are merely carriers of that seed, and we remain here, alive in this great mystery! When the experience of power and control meets unwise, immature minds, great foolishness is the result - it's like a small child realizing that it has the power to pull the legs off a daddy-long-legs spider (which I definitely did as a child, to my great horror now). When we realize that we are blessed with the seed of Divine power within us, we must become wise carriers of that power, and make choices that are in alignment with the truth that we humans are merely one small part of the great interdependent web of life.


Inside a hostel in Cusco, Peru