I look across the empty spaces here in Arizona and realize they are anything but empty. The San Francisco peaks, home of the spirits, collect light and hold onto it as the sun sets across the vast scrub deserts and canyons below. As I watch, the light on the mountains climbs back above the peaks into the sky, which to the east seems to hide itself under a shawl of deepening blue and glowing pink. There the moon rises, full and bright.
One has to respect those spirits that according to legend have emerged from the underworld through clefts in the stone to find their ultimate destination in the high mountains. One needs a ritual or two, a shaman or two, to help those spirits remember where they are heading and to stay out of their way. Although we are “smarter” now in a manner of speaking, with all our “ologies” and “iences,” it’s good to remember that an older life is still within us and needs our attention — perhaps now more than ever. If the human world of beliefs eroded in the same way that the land does here in the Southwest, we would see how shallow our history actually is and how many layers of prehistory go deeper down, showing us who we have been in the canyons and dry bones of our past collective existence.
There, beneath our feet in the revealed strata, the spirits are still alive. It is our unconsciousness of them that makes so much trouble. Brutal individuals, brutal societies are evidence of how inadequate our logical mind is to solve our problems. The very notion that we live with various forms of creative “terrorism” proves that we, the civilized, do not yet fully understand ourselves as individuals or a species, nor respect the universe of which we are a very small part. The fact that we cannot seem to solve our ills — the social and economic inequities, the need for violence and domination, the destruction of our own habitat — signals a most fundamental, “logical” (illogical) narcissism on our part, a lack of humanity that seems ever more strongly built into what we choose to call our humanity.
What’s true is that we don’t begin from an incipient respect for the notion there is anything greater than we are. Perhaps our ancestors were not so crazy after all to believe in a spirit world stronger and older than human consciousness, a spirit world that shows us the symptoms of a spiritual disease through the physical problems of the body and psychic problems of the mind. A whole village might be possessed, might get ill. Believing that much, as shamans do, at least puts us all on notice of the presence of other, greater powers — things we don’t yet understand.
I am not suggesting that we go backwards in time toward some preachy, fundamentalist or conservative cult doctrines, rituals and sacrifices in the name of bad, maybe dangerous values, externalized and imposed on others. Such beliefs are themselves part of the distortion I’m talking about — signs of the spirits acting up — wanting their primal due in a world that’s decided to ignore them, that’s decided that a desert is just another empty place.
I am writing in metaphor to suggest we pay attention to the spirit world of our own hearts and that we enter that world humbly to find out where the trouble is that is showing up in the daily news as terrorism and narcissism, violence, ignorance and inequality — and all the rest.
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