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.

 

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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.

Creating Space for New Possibilities

By changing your perspective, you can make new models of reality emerge. The benefit of doing this is to prevent an unbalance of mental “closure” – a word Kenneth Smith uses in his book “Shamanism for the Age of Science” to describe being stuck or too rigid in one way of thinking. Closure is like fundamentalism in that it closes off your capacity to see potential and transform or awaken yourself to new levels of knowledge. So I have a few exercises to offer that I find useful, which can open you to new experiences, new insights, and expand your awareness in all directions, pushing against any limiting boundaries you’ve perhaps unnecessarily accepted.

These exercises are actually fun – to me, anyway – and they stimulate your imagination and challenge your attachment to particular models of reality. They are meant to tease your perceptions of being, creating room for new possibilities.

  1. Walk as if you are not moving forward, but actually turning the Earth with your feet. When your feet glide over the ground, push a little and imagine that you are bringing the environment directly in front of you closer, rather than walking to it.
  2. Imagine reality is merely what you see, exactly as YOU see it. For instance, the distant trees are really that small and objects are fully solid (not full of mostly-space and atoms). Perhaps the Earth now seems flat; or try to come up with a new experience of perception other than the examples I’ve listed.
  3. Consider: everything you can imagine must be real. What does that imply? If everything you imagine must exist, can you therefore imagine a spirit, decide it must be real, and have a whole conversation with them that must also be real? If you imagine a future self that can communicate with you, are the thoughts you imagine your future self saying therefore real?
  4. Imagine yourself pulling the future against you in order to experience the present moment. You are not helplessly flowing forward along with time – you are pulling time past you.

After these exercises, where you go next is up to you, but I think it creates a prime stage for self-reflection and creative work.

Hour Glass for Breath Work

I often speak of my meditation-prayer, which is just to inhale thinking “Thank you” and exhale thinking “Bless you”. It is a simple thing, but how much energy you can pack into it and expand upon the practice is nearly infinite.

Since I love making spiritual tools, or pretty art pieces that have some function, I came up with the idea of a breath work “hour glass” — a rattle that you can use to help you breathe slowly and deeply for meditation. The motion of turning the rattle with each breath also helps if you need a little more stimulation during meditation and don’t like to keep completely still!

This my first prototype:

 

Energy Body Hygiene

The energy body has been described in countless metaphysical models, and has a few footholds in modern medicine as well, at least insofar as the body clearly utilizes electrical signals in its functioning. Whether you believe in soul or brainwaves, the idea of the body expressing pure energy is not really an esoteric suggestion, as many scientists today happily admit that “everything is energy”.

At this time, however, the idea that we can engage with our own energy body and manipulate aspects of it, both subtly and dramatically, is firmly placed in the realm of metaphysics. To me, addressing both the energetic and the physical body equally only makes sense. After all, describing our thoughts (of which our lives are infinitely dependent upon) purely in terms of particles and matter is impossible. There is electricity dancing through your brain. We are both particle and wave.

How you interact with that energy depends on your metaphysical beliefs and paradigms. But I would advocate that everyone develop some kind of theory for engaging with energy – at least to maintain a little energy-body-hygiene. This could be meditating, yoga, Reiki, shamanism…the list of available options is impressive.

If I were to give a simple exercise that would be reasonable for most people, regardless of their metaphysical bent, I would say this:

Everything about relationships with energy, matter, and the infinite is about give and take. So just stop for a moment. Inhale slowly and say “Thank you”. If you like, you can imagine yourself receiving any sort of energy or (even just oxygen) from the universe around you. Then exhale slowly and say “Bless you.” Be honestly grateful. Give out your breath and if you like, your best ideas of blessings and energetic exchange. Now you’re breathing and exchanging energy with the Infinite. If you do it for five minutes it feels pretty good, too.

Transformation

I believe that our paths represent our current models of reality, and that as we grow, paradigm shifts cause these models to expand and even bubble into whole new operating systems. I don’t tend to hold onto any ontological belief too tightly, as at any moment it could radically alter. Instead I suspend belief as much as possible, as Kenneth Smith explains in his wonderful book Shamanism for the Age of Science:

“One remedy for projection put forth by Zen teacher Shunryu Suzuki is to not believe in anything. This doesn’t mean to believe in emptiness, but suspend belief in arbitrary rules embodied in transient formations of reality. […] He is advocating a stronger relationship with potential, with a creative force, instead of being limited solely to human contrivance.”

This often comes through in my art, in concerns with my spiritual practice. I never hesitate to take apart old tools that no longer speak to me, in the pursuit of making something new. Today I got the crystal of my dreams, a fluorite from Muzquiz, Mexico, which represents a fractal form. It is symbolically important to me right now, so I took apart my old shamanic rattle — which I’ve already taken apart a few times now — and made something that speaks to my new inspirations.

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