Shamanism is a dimension of human experience that can be found in every culture in any age. It can be observed in a variety of forms, ranging from a fundamental spontaneous experience, derivative culturally shared practices, or as veiled motifs of spiritual, medical, artistic, scientific, and psychotherapeutic interventions.

Paradoxically, as shamanism becomes more culturally shared, it may become less authentic—less culturally challenging—and degenerative. Provoked by an experience of everyday life as a sort of “half-truth,” shamanism is a method that focuses on the erroneous belief in a separation of human life from nature. Shamanism focuses specifically on remaining alert to the creatural dimensions of human life that can be overridden by cultural, socio-psychological dimensions of everyday life.

Shamanism is an expression of an enduring wild state to remain alert to the changing conditions of existence and integrate into the natural world that continues to design and express human life across the long run.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

The Unspoken Language

Cy Twombly

Yet one more abandoned the heavy city's
ring of greedy stones.  And the water, salt and 
crystal closes over the heads of all who 
truly seek refuge.
Tomas Transtromer, from "Five Stanzas to Thoreau,"
The Great Enigma


We are born from the Earth carrying a unimaginably deep wisdom in our bones—an immeasurable oceanus of eco-literacy. We come out of the Earth itself like a small wave crest of its ongoing creation.  While we are remarkable for our capacity for self-design, the Earth expresses us and designs us.  And while speech-into-languages and language into written literacy seem to separate human life from landscape, Emerson accurately states in his essay Nature that our words come from nature.  And yet, our words become abstractions, and island us in specific cultures.   We tend to see our words and concepts more than the events that they represent.   And we ignore and down-prize a language that is deep and enduring and yet intimately known to us and that actually runs us and saves us.

There is a common unspoken language that is present in each of us and in each event in the universe.  It is neither inactive nor untranslatable. We read it more than we allow ourselves to imagine.  We can see it expressed directly in the forms and forces in the world around us.  It speaks directly in the shape of a tree limb or a grass stem or the billions of orbs of dew in grass.  It is also within us, in the eloquence of our billions-years old tested body design.  And when all is said and done, it is the language that keeps us alive across the long run of things.

Anyone of us can look about and see and taste and touch and even hear this language and easily sense that it is full of power: The light of the sun and the wind and movement of water in streams and in rainfall.  It is more than enough information and it comes directly into awareness from within and without.

And yet, we favor dwelling in a dream of beautiful abstractions.  In this dream, the sun appears to move across the sky when it is really the rotating Earth.   In this dream we find a world of parts—flowers and leaves that appear to be separate objects on a stage set. To live, to become ourselves, we imagine that we must take power from separate events and bring them inside to activate them.

In every era and in every culture, there are at least moments when we sense that we are living in a dream and not really listening to life as it is.   And in some moments we recognize these elements to be more eloquent than culture or society or psychology or biology.  And we “get it,” that our daily actions that carry us into the future are creatural and that our eco-literacy is vary facile.   “Shamanism” emerges as a response in direct practices and as powerful motifs in medicine and art.  It aspires to attune us to the unspoken language that keeps us alert to the changing conditions of existence.  But without strong cautions, shamanism almost immediate degenerates and degrades because it goes through a cultural filter that quickly co-opts it to serve the society.  Degraded, we might seek “power animals” from our dream of parts as well as psychic capacities that would make us special.

Yet, when authentic, when truly humane, we awaken on the inside of nature, buoyed up by it, made by it.  And then, rather than take from the Earth, we aspire to come into harmony with the power contained in the direct Earth, and to live it.

Everything we touch in the built environment required millions of human encounters to product the event in the present moment. And this is very beautiful.  And yet, it is a dream of the Earth rather than the Earth itself. and wears an abstract coat of language and can miss the very heart of language.  It is not the language of the sparrows and grasses and stars and wind and water.

And so, this experience of life as a dream or as a set of half-truths sometimes leads to an effort to step out of the dream.  Shamanism is not a belief system but rather a method of entry.  As a method, it is nothing special.  It is a ritual—as lean as we can possibly make it—that both aspires to desensitize us from the domination of our thinking and beliefs and to deeply relax our physiology, to allow us to become a creature. 

In our dream life, when we look at a tree or the moon, we tend to see what we have learned about a tree or the moon rather than the event before our senses.  We dream “tree” and “moon.”  In shamanic method, we aspire to listen deep enough so that our culturally colored imagination can drop away.  Having fallen away, the imaginary can become the imaginal.  The very real imaginal is often veiled at first, yet often refreshing and restorative.  Rarely instantaneous, but rather by returns, we train in this method of entry.

The imaginal is the unspoken language.  And we try to come into harmony with the unspoken “words” that appear.  We do this, not as an esoteric, spiritual act, but rather as a practical, profane way to optimize our life and our health.   

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