Schrodinger’s Cat

Schrodinger, tired of his colleagues’ jokes, was known to hiss vehemently that he hated cats.

The truth is, he simply had never had one. He had a wife and a mistress under the same roof, though, and for years he thought that was enough.

He was a bit of a stray himself, which is probably why he yielded when Milton came round to his door. The thing was skinny and reeking, so Schrodinger took him in and shared bits of his toast at the breakfast table. His wife and mistress made quick work of cleaning Milton up and no one scratched anybody, and things were as normal as ever.

Of course it made the jokes louder. At least he was in on it now, he told himself.

But he’d never had a cat, and this one, he thought, was a very conscious observer. Whenever Schrodinger’s gaze lifted from his eggs, even for a moment, he’d return to find less on his plate than before, and Milton was always watching him.

He told his mistress one morning that cats could not be suspended in waveforms of possibility. Milton, surely, would know his own fate and thus be the first observer — physicists be damned. His mistress frowned, made him tea, and told him he was thinking too much again.

Maybe he was. But it made him happy, he thought, as Milton purred half-asleep on his lap.

And that was more than enough.

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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.

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.

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.

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.

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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