"Dr. Buber," I said, "there is one word being used here this evening that I do not understand."
"What is that word?"
"God," I answered.

–-- Joseph Campbell, Myths to Live By

Where the Trouble Is

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.


RSS and email sub­scrip­tion, month­ly Unfold­ing Lead­er­ship newslet­ter, search and oth­er func­tions may be found at the “Fur­ther Infor­ma­tion” tab at the bot­tom of the front page.

Pin­ter­est users, you can pin pic­tures from this weblog via this Board.


  • We’ve been pon­der­ing sim­i­lar spir­i­tu­al threads my friend! Although I was­n’t think­ing of Ari­zona and shamans…more so in regards to Amer­i­ca and our lack of roots (unless you hap­pen to be Indi­an and orig­i­nal­ly from here) 

    I know the focus of your post is spir­i­tu­al and yet part of this ‘root’ prob­lem for me is also ‘where do I real­ly come from’? It reveals a lack of real root­ing and attach­ment for my own home­land that over the years has led to a deep­er dri­ve and desire to under­stand where I came from. (which has also been fun since I have what could be con­sid­ered a heinz 57 blood­line! » Eng­lish, Irish, French, German…AND a wee touch of Indi­an as well!) 

    As for the spiritual…that has been a huge quest most of my life, and hav­ing gone through var­i­ous stages. Cur­rent­ly con­sid­er myself spir­i­tu­al from the moment I decid­ed God was big­ger then the bread­box of ‘fun­da­men­tal­ism’. Not that I have the Pow­er, Cre­ator, Source, Uni­ver­sal divin­i­ty fig­ured out by any stretch of the imagination! 

    How­ev­er, to add a touch of humor to my usu­al­ly seri­ous com­ments, I’ll offer some of my more humor­ous spir­i­tu­al mus­es that actu­al­ly helped me in my own spir­i­tu­al walk. These were 3 piv­otal A‑HA’s that I hope will cre­ate laugh­ter and will not be cause for offense! The imagery makes me laugh so I hope you will too. : )

    Humor­ous Life-chang­ing Idea #1:

    Your exis­tence is not a threat to the Uni­verse. So go ahead. Breathe.

    Humor­ous Life-Chang­ing Idea #2:

    The Uni­verse does not become inse­cure or have an iden­ti­ty cri­sis when you have doubts and fears.

    Humor­ous Life-Chang­ing Idea #3:

    The Uni­verse is not wor­ried that it will be de-throned in the face of ANY ques­tion you might ask.

    : )

  • PS: That was sup­posed to say spir­i­tu­al but not religious…

  • Dear Saman­tha~

    Thank you for this love­ly ampli­fi­ca­tion of the post. Your three “Ah-ha’s” remind me of Carl Sagan’s obser­va­tions about our pale blue dot: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pale_Blue_Dot.

    And as to your point about spir­it vs. reli­gion, I often con­sid­er how impor­tant this dis­tinc­tion is. Too many times reli­gion is a thread­bare alter­na­tive to the true spir­i­tu­al jour­ney. That jour­ney can come to a reli­gion, but if it is the real thing, it will be based on an inti­mate expe­ri­ence of awe and com­mu­nion, borne from a gen­uine per­son­al strug­gle, not escape from that strug­gle into con­ve­nient, social­ly approved “faith.”

    As always, I am grate­ful for your sen­si­tive com­men­tary, Samantha!

    All the best

  • Dan,

    Your deep and rich piece has remind­ed me of the book I am re-read­ing — one of my favorites of the past year — The More Beau­ti­ful World Our Hearts Know is Pos­si­ble by Charles Einsenstein.
    He writes,
    Once upon a time, the tribe of human­i­ty embarked upon a long jour­ney called Sep­a­ra­tion. It was not a blun­der as some, see­ing its rav­ages upon the plan­et, might think; nor was it a fall, nor an expres­sion of some innate evil pecu­liar to the human species. it was a jour­ney with a pur­pose to expe­ri­ence the extremes of Sep­a­ra­tion, to devel­op the gifts that come in response to it and to inte­grate all of that in a new Age of Reunion.”

    For­give my indul­gence of shar­ing this long pas­sage — from anoth­er writer — but I felt it so close­ly spoke to your obser­va­tions and ques­tions — that are so com­pelling and disturbing. 

    Explor­ing the cave paint­ings in the South­west, I’ve won­dered what the artists saw — but more impor­tant — what they felt. Was it fear? Sure­ly it was as so much of the writ­ings act like tal­is­mans against the pow­er­ful forces of nature. But so much was also awe and won­der. I think a sense of Union . The kind of union we dis­miss now as super­sti­tu­ous and primitive. 

    Like Eisen­stein, I choose to believe that we’re tran­si­tion­ing now to what he calls the New Sto­ry — towards Reunion. Hav­ing said that I have no idea what it means. Per­haps it’s a form of intu­itive guid­ance — patched togeth­er by many dif­fer­ent kinds of peo­ple work­ing towards forms of whole­ness. They enter the world with humil­i­ty as you say because they under­stand how bru­tal­ized and frag­ile it has become after its long bat­tle with itself. 

    And to quote a won­der­ful writer I sort of know, “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.”


  • Dear Louise~

    Thank you so much for the ref­er­ence to Charles Eisen­stein’s book. I think there are many of us who are look­ing as far as we can into the human con­di­tion in a quest to under­stand our per­son­al and col­lec­tive emer­gence. I, too, look for­ward to Reunion and appre­ci­ate the neces­si­ty to keep­ing our spir­its open to what­ev­er that means! Your shar­ing here is a trea­sure to me, Louise. I feel a sense of very deep kin­ship and wel­come, so thank you for all of that, and for hold­ing space for the tribe.

    Many good wishes

  • Dan,

    An open door to dis­cov­er what we want to make real and then to live spirit­ed­ly by it. 

    Thanks for anoth­er thought-filled call.


  • Dear Jon~

    Many thanks for your fine words!


Leave a Reply

Your email is never shared.Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.