Sunday, November 18, 2007

Human and Spirit Ecology: Shamanic Cognition and a Movement Towards a Broader Vision of the Sacred System of Life

Earlier today, in the depths of trance-exploration, my helping spirit helped me to see some of the intricacies of our hidden existence. When I say "our", I am referring to all of us together as human beings who must exist within the context of a greater ecological system than we realize. When a person becomes aware of extra-sensory reality, they are given a glimpse of a greater context for our lives.

Most people believe in the unseen world in some form or fashion, but people- especially, I find, animists- have a heightened sense of awe for the mysterious nature of the unseen. It is always good to cultivate a sense of "unknowing"- there is wisdom in not having an answer for everything, and the wise have always known that the spiritual world (of which this world is a part) is a very mysterious thing, which evades our attempts to map it out or codify it.

The dynamism of the unseen world is not itself a mystery or a thing so hard to understand; it is a neat reflection of the dynamism that is at the heart of the system of life that we call "this world". Things seem to be changing all the time, and in the shifting web of forces that we call our lives, things seldom reliably stay the same for very long. Thus, the "wisdom of uncertainty" is a name given to the honest attitude that doesn't try over-much to explain how the world works, or how things "have to be" at any given moment. If anything, there is a great pleasure and peace in not having to know these things, and being comfortable with uncertainty.

Today, I was given to understand something of the nature of spiritual interactions. I thought I'd share what I discovered, so that others might be inspired to their own quest for insight.

I have long discussed the nature of systems, using the metaphor of a "web" of power- which I call Wyrd when working in the context of Asatru and Seidr- that connects and influences all things and beings in reality. In this world, we are all bound together by the web of life, the web of causality and recursion that shapes our every moment of experience. This web extends into the regions of extra-sensory reality; if anything, those parts of the web that we can intellectualize or see represent a very small part of its timeless and vast interactions.

Since we are indisputably parts of a web of connections, a web through which the sacred process of communication is made possible, then prayer, communion with the dead, conversations with humans and non-human sentient beings, all of these things are possible. It is impossible to see the far-reaching effects of our manipulations of the web, but our every word and deed does have far-reaching effects.

Awareness of this sort of "distantly echoing recursion" that is a part of our lives in the great web of reality is central to living life in a sacred manner, but also to living life in a sorcerous manner, if a person is so inclined and if they have been granted the power to comprehend and perform sorcery by allied spirits.

There is both an intimate connection for all living beings to one another, as well as a constant recursive, two-way power exchange; for humans, as for many beings, this power-exchange can be experienced in terms of communication, such as with human language. All power-exchanges are a form of communication, when you think about it; but not all communication has to be framed as humans do with their idea of language, and the reality of language. Language, as we know it, is one of the most magically powerful gifts that humans possess, and with it, we can call many things into conscious being.

But other orders of being, other forms of animate life, have "language", or a means of communication- what is different, I have learned, is that they don't create with their language in the way that humans can or very powerful spirits can, and they don't call other beings to the same height of conscious awareness that humans can. When humans communicate with the spirit of a tree, for instance, it knows itself immediately in the same way that humans know it- for the time of the communication, it is known and it knows itself, as a human knows him or herself.

This is a secret to the power of human language. In the great web of life, in the system of reality, communication and knowledge are inseparably linked.

Now, let me return to the basics of spiritual ecology as I know it- all are intimately connected and related, and all constantly experience recursive power exchange with the rest of the world, in many far-reaching ways, both conscious and unconscious. Becoming more conscious of our connections, and the ways in which we give and receive communication and power with the other organic and non-organic powers in the web of life is the chief goal of the spiritual quest, or the life of spiritual growth.

When a person is able (either through a rare act of natural will or by the help of an allied spirit) to pull back the animate power that makes up the very "stuff" of their awareness, and which makes up the pylons of their conscious experiences, and by pulling it back, separating it, at least a little, from the portals of sense, they experience something unique- if that animate, living power makes contact with the inner sense portals, shamanic cognition results. The unseen world, the subtle world, can be experienced.

Under the influence of my helping spirit, I have done this many times, and today, I came to understand something that I feel the need to communicate- I saw and understood, for a moment, how spiritual beings see and encounter us. When I say "us", I mean human beings.

The Unseen world may not have a linear or solid "geography" that can be mapped out, but it is a continuum of life. It does not seem to be limited by space in any manner, and how it appears to a person's inner senses seems to depend largely on the observer. It is hoped that the best and wisest observers will be those who have practiced emptying their own minds of expectations, so that they can, through a true act of supernatural skill, remove themselves as far as possible from the blinders of syntax and cultural assumption. Without this effort and skill, our experiences of the unseen can quickly become tainted by what we expect, and we may miss what is truly there.

Of course, what is there will never appear to us in any form other than communication and sense; even the inner senses have to give us inputs that are filtered, once we arrive back into ordinary cognition, by our habitual punctuation of syntax, language, and cultural assumption. The wisest are those who keep this fact in mind, and balance their reports of the unseen with a good deal of humility. Skill in communication is what is required here. One must be ready to admit that while they can't be 100% certain that they can communicate perfectly what they experienced, they will at least try to be a good, open-minded story-teller and try to help others to come to their own conclusions that are in line with the spirit of an experience- no pun intended!

Today, I was given a vision of a forest of human powers. What I mean by that is, I saw what we humans appear as to spiritual beings who are non-organic yet sentient living things, dwelling unseen among us, in a continuum that we may call "otherworldly" but which is still a part of reality undivided, a part of this web that we are all in.

I'd like to use the example of the forest that we've all seen- the trees, leaves, moss, and fungus that we've all experienced. Call to mind the last time you walked through the trees in a patch of woods or a forest. You remember the many trees all around, standing silently there. Of many different types, sizes, and shapes- and around them wandered many animals, birds and beasts. You too, were wandering around them. Some were the homes of animals. Some had fungus growing on them; others had rotted or were rotting. Some were the hiding places of beasts, some were young, some were old.

Whatever we humans are, we are certainly power. There is animate power within and beyond these organic forms that we label as our own. When we withdraw from the portals of sense, and see with the other eyes, we see other human beings as power, too. All over the world, humans are there, going about their daily business, and to a being with only the other sight, humanity would seem to be a great collection of individual powers, staggered all over the planet, surrounded by many other organic and non-organic powers. A forest of light and life might be another way of saying it.

Each human, whether or not they know it, has a spirit that surrounds him or her, and follows them quietly through life. Sometimes, as the Mystery of our existence would have it (call it Fate if you like) more than one spirit surrounds a person, and affects them in many ways. Some have no such spiritual protection, though they are never usually very well off. In that forest of light-forms, these spirits appear as beasts- many kinds of animal, and they inhabit the forest like you'd expect animals to inhabit a forest.

The difference here is that this isn't a worldly landscape; this is an otherworldly landscape, where the rules aren't quite the same; the spirit that looks like a deer can be living its life in the seeming "location" where the human-power of their partner dwells, and next to it, that of a shark or a lion or an otter- there is no strictly defined range of habitat like we see in this world.

But here is where I make the point that I learned- there is a habitat, but it is a human one. If you were to walk through the forest here, you'd come into the territories of certain animals, who keep others out. Some animals are afraid of others, or in competition with others, or preyed on, so they avoid each other. In the part of the forest which is densely populated with owls, for instance, you'd see fewer mice.

Humans occupy their own habitat in the unseen world, a habitat, a human region that is patrolled and peopled by their helping spirits, who mostly remain vigilant for our protection. In the larger ecology of the unseen world, there are many spiritual powers, all very natural, but some dangerous to humanity. These dangerous powers are largely prevented from straying into the human spiritual habitat by the guarding spirits that most of us go through our lives unconscious of. The more conscious we become of our helping spirit(s), the more capable they become of doing their job, and the healthier and happier and more secure we become.

But spirits, whatever they happen to be, just like the mice and owls of this world, have boundaries, relationships with one another, natural ecological relationships of the unseen world- and they avoid certain "places", compete with one another, and attract or repel one another, pursuant to natural ties of spiritual ecology and unseen interaction/recursion.

You recall the forest you walked through- some trees were ill, eaten by rot or fungus; some humans are, too, eaten by illness or disease. This is no different, in our human experience, as it is the forest; sometimes, harmful powers slip into the habitat of other organic powers, and spread their harm. Sometimes, a predator may slip into the habitat of another animal and kill them or hurt them; it is the same with spirits. What I am trying to get you to visualize, to see, is that the unseen world is a massive habitat, not unlike this world, with the same sorts of boundaries, territories, and relationships. It is all a system.

To spirits, we humans don't look like humans. We look like power. What does power look like? I can't tell you, even though I've seen it. The reason why I can't tell you is because all I can tell you is limited by my selection of words and my own assumptions- my experience was colored and is still colored by my own limitations as a human. I can use the term "light"- a great white luminescence, but what does that mean? That is how I punctuate the experience. There's certainly something there, but not being a non-human spirit, I can't say what they see. But I can say this- they don't see us as human men and women. They see us as they see us, and I was told that their way of experiencing us is not unlike how we experience trees when we walk through a forest- to them, we're still, vibrant perhaps, or mysterious.

This should help us to understand how seemingly evil or destructive spirits may not consider themselves to be so, anymore than we may not consider ourselves wicked when we cut down a tree or tear out a plant from the ground to get wood or to eat.

The real vision here, that you should try to cultivate, is this: we see trees standing about, still and living, but what is really there? In the same way that spirits do not see us as we see us, perhaps the spirits of trees do not at all experience themselves as the thing we call a "tree". I can pretty much guarantee you that they do not- when a human beings swings an axe at a tree, here in our "ordinary reality", the spirit of the tree does not experience it as such; but they do sense that something is hurting them, damaging them, in the same way that a human experiences sickness or pain from a tumor or an infection.

We may not "see" a wicked or destructive spirit sucking the life from the power that we are, over in the cognitive state we call "non-ordinary reality", but we experience tiredness and sickness. We don’t often get sick, but then, sickness- causing spirits don’t usually have a chance to intrude far into our spiritual habitat as humans; we have good protectors, and only those whose protectors have failed or been lost are truly vulnerable to constant sickness or accident.

Natural disasters in ecology in this world can cause a place to become depopulated; in the spirit, this is also true- natural and unseen disasters or disturbances can dis-empower human beings and even places. In the same way we must be careful with how we behave around and within ecological systems in this world, we must be as cautious with the spirit. In the same way we can heal damaged ecological systems in this world, we can heal them in the spirit, if we have the ability to experience those extra-ordinary states. The shaman or mystic, that person devoted to developing and utilizing extra-ordinary cognition, is the person that must be employed in this capacity, and this is a sacred vocation of healing and help.

When the ancients discussed all life as a community of relationship, all of this is central to understanding what they were saying- we may think of trees as still lumps of wood, huge plants, and we may consider them living things, but we do not consider the hidden "other" lives of trees, anymore than wicked spirits or other spirits may consider or know about our "other lives" as human beings- all they "see" is the affect or the presence of our living power over in their unseen world. Maybe some spirits don't consider us people at all, or care about us, anymore than many people care about trees. There certainly seem to be some careless or hateful spirits out there. Some spirits may not even know what we are.

Of course, I call spirits wicked or careless based on my own human preferences- how dare they not recognize our humanity and our uniqueness! How dare we not recognize the same among the trees, or animals, or the spirits unseen? These are all good things to consider, when we consider the mysteries of sacred ecology.

What is good to remember is that sickness is not always some evil attack against us, the work of vicious monsters; it is easy for a sick person to think of things that way, because he or she feels their very self to be threatened or to be in misery, but spirits that can cause misery among humans often do not realize what they are doing, or don’t think about it at all- in the same way that a fungus doesn’t sit around and make evil plots to attack and rot an oak tree. They simply live according to their own ecology, and that’s that. In the system, some powers damage others; this is true in this world and in the other world.

When I looked into the unseen, I could see that my own helping spirit would not allow some harmful spirit to invade what seemed to be the "place" where my power "resided". The same went for the "place" of my home, my family, or anyone elses- in communities, human powers are clustered and often very safe- so fear not. But the more unconscious humans become of their helping spirits, and the more unconscious humans are of their intimate connection to things, and to the exchange of power that is part and parcel of our existence, the more we name into reality our own destruction, and allow ourselves to be victimized by spiritual powers that we would not otherwise want "near" us or our loved ones.

Spiritual protection is the issue that I discussed with my helping spirit- he showed me how a place could be made safe, but most places where people live, fortunately, are already kept safe by other powers. But sometimes, spiritual "wards" of safety are required, and the art of creating them is not difficult. It is a matter of being able to empower physical items in such a manner that they take on a new and specific form of reality that even things in the unseen can experience. Such a thing is a useful skill to have.

In the future, please consider the vastness of spiritual ecology; we owe a great debt to awareness, for we have forgotten so much about our true place in things.