The Infinite Paths to Spirit

There is no single path to spirit and our wildest dreams, but an infinite multitude of trails. It should be obvious, but sometimes we forget that there are no rules for connecting, accessing, and communicating with the non-physical world.

This is why I have felt distanced lately from labels like “shaman”. It has become clear to me that I do not agree with the shamanic worldview as it is generally understood. I cannot, myself, ascribe to any perspective that lays out the non-physical world as if it can be mapped at all. To draw a map is to impose limits and boundaries, while often reducing space to 2 dimensions and condensing data or details to the point where it all
becomes a metaphor, or even just a symbol. The spirit world, meanwhile, has no boundaries. No limits. There’s no containing it, and no laws need apply there. I believe contradiction abides peacefully in the spirit world, untroubled by the human mind which cannot comprehend it. I tend to think that the spirit world cannot be usefully mapped at all.

I’m not even saying that the shamanic description of the spirit world is wrong. For instance, it is said that there are three layers to the spiritual dimension: the Upper, Middle, and Lower worlds. I don’t have a quarrel with the concept; I don’t quibble about the somewhat vague meanings of the three categories. And I understand the compulsion to use physical terms that people are accustomed to, as if spatial directions
are relevant outside of spacetime. But this map is far, far, removed from the entirety of what the spirit world is. It’s just a napkin scribble that might help you get where you want to go — or where a teacher wants you to go. And it’s important to realize this. Who are we to think we know the landscape of infinity??

The less we think we know, the better.

But what I really want to say is that the label “shaman” imposes a distasteful distinction between “regular” folk and “special” people who can commune deeply with spirit. I disagree with this notion completely. While some people may be more confident, or even more skilled, in the ways of connecting with spirit, I maintain that everyone is directly in touch with the spiritual realm, even if they don’t realize it, and most can easily build on this innate ability. It is damaging to the spiritual growth of humanity to think we need to follow any elite group or person in order to get information about the spirit world. In truth, we do not actually need spiritual books or teachers, although learning from others does deliver new insights and perhaps helps push us along our journey. Just as you can see (or otherwise sense) the physical world and learn from it directly, for yourself, we are all given the opportunity to directly sense and learn from the spirit world.

My belief comes directly from how I define spirit. To me, the simplest way to define spirit is: something that exists which is not physically manifest in the world. And I believe that what we call spirit is the same thing we call potential. Potential by definition is non-physical, perhaps even the opposite of physical. Once potential becomes manifest, it is no longer potential, but physical. For me, if spirit can be equated to potential, then we are all hardwired to sense it: even animals dream, which is an exploration of potentiality. Things that aren’t physically happening; things that could happen. As I have said before, our imagination is a direct sense of potential, which is spirit. Imagination allows us to freely explore the landscape of the spirit world.

I have more to say, much more; but I wanted to offer a brief overview of why I will no longer be labeling myself as a shamanic practitioner, or any other label. I am but a human being who explores the spirit world.

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Inner Space

She shut her eyes to see
a universe within, stunned
at her own second coming
home.
Here, she was the artful creator;
here, she reigned
by her own decrees:
she imagined joy, and thus was joyous
as a newborn god, enthralled
by making herself
happen.

Nature in my Backyard

Nature is the most practical metaphysicist. Every morning I sit outside, quietly observing. Today I was awe-struck by a multitude of interesting things happening in my backyard, all speaking to the complexity and yet deep practicality of nature.

I feed the squirrels, chipmunks, and blue jays – they all know me and approach me in different ways. My town is a nice, clean and quiet place, but also known for a high rat population (apparently some junkyard was disturbed and dispersed them). Having had several pet rats in my life, I enjoy watching them dig up worms and eat from the feed pile. We leave out simple deer feed that attracts just about every animal around. Today the baby rats were out as they are just getting big enough to romp beyond the nest. Then I saw a squirrel carrying its fairly small baby back to its tree – it’s odd for October, in Canada, to have such a late litter. I’ve noticed evidence of second or even third litters happening here this year.

Other things caught my interest — we had good winds last night and a huge branch has fallen off our maple tree. Doves were walking along the ground with their wings outstretched. There has been a hatch of little midge-like insects – again, a little odd for October.

But nature is clever. She knows.

 

Yanantin: Dancing with Duality

I have always been happy to suspend my beliefs in order to dance with opposite concepts, such as the Everything and the Nothing, the Infinite and the Instance, Self and Other, good and evil, or spirit and physicality. With some investigation it is apparent that seemingly intractable dualities are intricately, deeply connected – perhaps just different expressions of the same thing.

The Q’ero shamans of Peru have a word for this. I was thrilled to discover their concept of “yanantin”, which is the harmony of complementary dualities, because it speaks to me at my core, and I’m sharing these words in case someone else would be just as enthralled.

I think that situating myself in reality means being aware and present within the whole picture: the yanantin that encompasses both what seems “real” to us and what doesn’t. The truth is everything is real. (Remember the physicists who are happy to say that in an infinite universe, everything you imagine and everything possible must actually manifest in physical reality.) Dancing with opposites situates us in the bigger picture of potential and wholeness.

As Hillary S. Webb writes in her excellent book, “Yanantin and Masintin in the Andean World” (a book she was kind enough to send me at a difficult time in my life when I legitimately couldn’t afford it):

“Similar to Chinese Taoism, Andean philosophy views the opposites of existence (such as male/female, dark/light, inner/outer) as interdependent and essential parts of a harmonious whole. Because existence is believed to be dependent upon the tension and balanced interchange between the polarities, there is a very definitely ideological and practical commitment with indigenous Andean life to bringing the seemingly conflicting opposites into harmony with one another without destroying or altering either one.”

At its best, the concept of yanantin expands our awareness and challenges us to go deeper, to think beyond dichotomy and live in the balance between body and spirit. Yanantin can teach us to be in better relationship with things like giving and receiving, ego and selflessness, and so much more.

Grounding

Grounding yourself, the idea of coming into your body and being aware of your energy connected to the Earth, strikes me as a useful discipline, but I’ve always had trouble with it. I situate my body and energy within the infinite Everything, and so placing my feet on the ground and remembering that I’m on the Earth seems limiting. I want to be consciously aware and present, but within the greater cosmology of all-there-is, not merely this rock I’m living on (despite my love for Earth).

I like to remember that within infinity, you are always at the centre. Centre-points make excellent  places with which to connect one’s energy and they provide as firm a ground upon which to stand as any rock beneath your bare feet. So I extend my energy outward in all directions, present in an infinite space. It brings me to awe, which I find to be a useful state for expanding conscious awareness. I breathe with the universe and my entire body – each infinite point upon the planes of my skin – receives and bestows the pure energy of Being. It is an exchange and a merging of the Being-as-an-Instance and the Being-as-the-Infinite.

Can this be comparable to the typical process of grounding? I don’t know, but I prefer it.