Being Beside Oneself, Sharing, and Shamanic Ecstasy

I have suggested on more than a few occasions that the boundaries of the self, which we take as a given today – boundaries that serve to delimit me as independent of the world I inhabit – were not always so stable or so inflexibly fixed (and perhaps for some, they are still not).  It seems that such boundaries were more fluid, even malleable, for our pre-civilized ancestors. In recognition of this fluidity or openness, I have often used the phrase: “my flesh, the flesh of the world.” By this, I refer to that permeability, which to-us now appears as a rigid and impervious self/world barrier.  My use of that expression was meant to reflect an original participation (“intertwining”) that predates our more recent experience of diremption – a “tearing apart” or severing – of self from world, and our now normal sense of being a solitary ego locked up tightly in a bag of skin, observing the world as a series of external, objective, and independent phenomena in a presumed space-time continuum.

This modern experience of selfhood – as some Transcendental Ego existing psychically and physically as an agent independent of the world – seems to be the result of much philosophical and psychological distancing.  It is a state of mind bequeathed to us from the earliest civilizations, the Israelites, the pre-Socratics, Plato, Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas, Francis Bacon, the Enlightenment, and a host of other theorists down through the centuries.  This entire Curriculum has culminated in the concretization of the highly refined instrument of scientific rationality that defines the West today.  However, the sense of permeability that was once a lived experience (apparently overwhelming at times) for the earliest of our genus, Homo, now lies hidden in forgetfulness (letheia), covered over by generations of inculcation to this Curriculum, layering of template upon template, delimiting for us the dimensions of our selves, our world, and our worldview.

The experience of ecstasy (ek-stasis or the event of ‘standing out’ from oneself and existing in that pre-thematic “chiasm” of lived-body-world) was apparently a given for our primogenitors before the birth of cities, the invention of the written word, and the fixating of a unidirectional linear temporality. In the early Pleistocene, the entire lived-world was animate with power – rock, water, snake and sky – a significance that spoke directly, and in the fullness of the present, to the senses of each person participating the world.  Animism had its roots in this experience, as did totemism.

There was, in this respect an ongoing, albeit often muted, dialogue between our pre-civilized ancestors and a powerful, reciprocating – sharing – universe. There was a felt experience among our primogenitors of sharing with the environment and with non-human animals, as well as a reciprocal sharing among persons within the tribe and even among tribes.  It defined the unique social niche of the Homo genus within the natural world, distinguishing us from other primates (Morton Fried). Yet, what is sharing, phenomenologically speaking, if not a voicing of this original permeability of the lived-body-world that one participates? It may be none other than a clear indication of an ek-static existence.  However, there appears to be a point at which the non-human world, the inhabited world, begins to fall silent for the tribe as a whole, and the figure of the shaman slowly emerges as the one who seems to participate and communicate still with those powers of earth and field, sky and water.

Shamanism was preeminently a phenomenon of Siberia and the Central Asian Steppe.  The word “shaman” actually comes to us through Russia from the Tungus word “saman.” Nevertheless, the traditional role of the shaman (alternatively called medicine man, healer, etc.) can be found throughout the world among indigenous cultures in the Americas, Africa, Asia, etc. A specialist in ecstasy, the shaman naturally assumed the role of technician of the sacred, as the Pleistocene gave way to the Holocene.  In altered states of consciousness (being-beside-oneself), he/she would commune ‘ecstatically’ with the powers hat animated the world in order to perform a healing or to understand why his tribe or village was beset with specific problems. Archeological evidence for shamans appears between 30,000 and 15,000 years ago in Siberia. Certainly well before large-scale agriculture and city-walls were erected; and the techniques of ecstatic trance  (participating the world in order to effect some change) eventually became the sole province of his or her person.

The shaman obviously had many tools and techniques available to enter ecstatic trance – herbal concoctions, vision producing plants, rhythmic drumming, chanting, dancing, etc.  It seems to me that the shaman may have represented a critical turning point in the human project. Perhaps, where the power of the non-human landscape no longer spoke freely to all individuals in the tribe or village directly, the shaman emerged as the voice whereby all could still hear. In any event, the shaman was particularly adept at communing with and applying those forces of life.  By managing the concerns of his comrades, he became a crucial figure, the messenger, par excellence, tapping into the power of a vibrant, living cosmos.  It was most certainly one of the first specialized statuses in the pre-emergence of stratified societies.

I suggested last week that the intuition of time in the preliterate world is one of deep temporality, an experience of the “thickness of the pre-objective present” (Merleau-Ponty), a present in short that has yet to be dissected or torn asunder. We might further characterize this as an experience of the world in which, from its very “over-abundance, everything breaks out at once into what is overwhelming” (Heidegger).  I would wager that the shaman had near-ready access to the doorway of that powerful present, to an overwhelming experience of deep temporality, allowing him to participate the world in a way that others could not or could no longer sense.

Additionally, it is important to recognize that the shaman most often lived as an outsider (the Other) among the group that he served.  Physically located on the edges or outskirts of the community itself, he was the preeminent embodiment of alterity or Otherness.  He lived this social estrangement within what we might label a psychotic or schizophrenic personality.  There was always a mystery and even some fear surrounding his person, his trances, and his abilities.  He was never called upon casually, but always out of more extreme need or dire circumstance, requiring his special type of intervention and services.  It must have seemed to those whom he served that he lived in the gap, somewhere between what was becoming a more muted experience of power in the group’s experience, and his special vocational ability to enter what they may have increasingly sensed as the other world.

As this diremption or violent separation of self and world continued, and a small tear in the fabric eventually became a gaping and irreparable crevice – where the once feral experience of intertwining simply began to unravel – this specialist in ecstasy became an ever more vital player in social stability and effective participation in the hidden powers animating the world.  And, while his project cannot definitively be said to be an attempt at dominating or controlling nature, but rather at participating or sharing its powers, it could be debated whether the role of the shaman represents the formative beginnings of modern projects of manipulation and control. It is important to recognize in this respect that this practitioner, while not yet a religious figure, most certainly appears to be the earliest specialist of the sacred, laying the groundwork perhaps not only for the emergence of magic, but for the scientific project, and institutional religion as well.

So, what do we do with such a figure now?  How does it help us?  Or doesn’t it?  It occurs to me that many individuals today are searching for some personal solution to the obsessive-compulsive behaviors worshipped in this maddening race, behaviors that are leading us unflinchingly over a precipice.  Several of you are looking to find a way out, a trap door – enlightenment, salvation, transcendence, the keys to the kingdom, or just a renewed connection with powers of earth, water, fire, and air.  Some are looking to religion, others to magic, and a few to the ancient shamanic practices of ecstatic trance – with and without the use of hallucinogenics.  Perhaps the question to ask oneself is this: what am I really hoping to achieve with these practices, on this journey of enlightenment or self-realization?  If you are looking to Be Here Now (in the oft repeated and now tired phraseology of Ram Dass, a.k.a. Richard Alpert), then you needn’t do anything at all.  You do not need to become an ascetic hiding in the forest, or a monk hole-up in the monastery, you don’t need drugs (well occasional flights never hurt), and you certainly do not need to pursue some special path.  There is nowhere to go, other than where you already are and always have been.

From an unnamed Zen master:

There is nothing, no target. There is no destiny. It is all beautiful purposelessness. It is all beautiful meaninglessness. It is a song. It has no meaning. It has a rhythm, but no meaning. It has tremendous beauty in it, but no logic. And it is not a syllogism; there is no conclusion. It is an unconcluded existence, and it remains always unconcluded… The arrow has reached, the arrow has always been there, not for a single moment has it been otherwise… Freedom from the goal is utter freedom because the goal keeps you tied together in a direction… When you have a direction to move in, you will have to choose where to go. And the fear will always remain, whether you are going in the right direction or not. (emphasis mine)

76 Responses to Being Beside Oneself, Sharing, and Shamanic Ecstasy

  1. Patric Roberts says:

    Sandy your courageous insights over the past few months are inspiring and I am one person who deeply appreciates the inquiry and new discourse you are inventing. I pray we continue to unify in solidarity as servant leaders ~ healers bringing forth a new beginning where the feral wisdom of presence in timelessness feeds the children of tomorrow.
    Thank you comrade!

  2. Would the practice of Obeah be included in Shamanism? Just wondering. Otherwise, I will have to
    re-read your article here a few more times to comment on it (some things just aren’t sinking in today! Stay well.

    • kulturcritic says:

      Jamaican voodoo? Most likely an adaptation of ancient practices, perhaps related to some shamanic traditions, I would guess. But, I have no real opinion on it.

      • Yes, Jamaican voodoo, and also found on other caribbean islands. We had quite a
        few employees who went to the “Obeah man” for bush medicine, spells,. (good and bad), and the people truly, truly believed those spells would work. Mind-control again. Ever read “The White Witch of Rose Hall”? It would explain a lot of the power this “magic” holds.

  3. B Miller says:

    So, there used to be this hoemless guy, clearly schizophrenic, that used to visit my old radical bookstore. He’d come in every day stand in front of the erotica section and soak up some sort of vibe. After standing for a few minutes he would turn and leave. Everyday the same behavior.

    Often he could be seen around the downtown area with his feet five feet from a building leaning with his head against the building. I asked him one day, “Jeff, why are you trying to hold up the building”. He looked at my like I was a simpleton and replied, “I’m listening to it”.

    So, another day as I strolled downtown I come upon Jeff standing in an empty storefront. As he looked at the empty store he intoned in a surreal voice, “Beware The Angels of Love”. He snaps out of his trance and heads off, probably back to stare at my erotica section. It dawned on me that if you placed Jeff in a village some thousand years back you’d give up a good lamb for that kind of marriage advice. Jeff as Shaman?

    Thanks for the thoughtful post.

  4. Martin says:

    Just so….

  5. I’ve often felt that the priests,ministers, rabbis, preachers, imams of the desert monotheism’s claim to have that shamanic ability, and you must listen to them for only they have the deeper magic, when in reality they are still fearful of even entering through the door into ecstasy, or any other form of expanded reality. Rather than being the guides into that expanded reality, they are the jailers, rigidly controlling the rest of us, and keeping us powerless. Kind of like master time keepers, who keep filling up our time spaces with more and more useless chatter, so that we can neither feel, think or experience. I know several Native American peoples who use the term “they has no relations” in referring to members of Western culture. They see that culture as being cut off, root and branch from the family of being, of life, of existence. A sad and sorrowful state to live in.

    • And that is why I don’t go to church. Thank you Marlena, for your insight. I would dearly
      love to be a free-thinker, but I know my mind has been corrupted since birth. There is
      mind-control in everything, right down to the simple clock. But priests, ministers, rabbis, and everyone else who pontificates upon great, unseen beings or objects are just keeping the tradition of control alive, and always will, as long as people are willing to be
      controlled. Anyway, who has any anwers to all of this? Are there any solutions for the
      human race to survive? Do we not love our children enough to think about it? Yes, a sad and sorrowful state to live in.

    • kulturcritic says:

      Excellent observations, Marlena

  6. John Wolaver says:

    This is another excellent post. Yes, there was a change in consciousness that started some 20,000 years ago. Prior to that time, all human beings were Earth Beings. They were from the Earth and returned to the Earth. Today, most First Peoples are still Earth Beings. It should be noted that the human being is the template for the physical being of our bodies here in the Physical Realm. The human being is back behind the physical being in the Metaphysical Realm where all the templates for what happens here reside.

    Around 20,000 years ago this started to change. The great transition away from the Earth started. At first, the human being was a mixed mode. The Earth Being was on the bottom and placed on top of it was the Soul (or, more correctly, the Light Being). The Soul is emphatically not an Earth Being. It is from heaven, from above the Earth, rather than part of the Earth. Slowly but surely the Earth Being was blocked from view so that all that remained was the Soul. Such a mixed mode human being was now divorced from the Earth. Today, there are few mixed mode human beings left on the planet.

    Once the transition was complete and the Earth Being was blocked, the next stage started, not surprisingly around the time of the early stirrings of agricultural started. Now, pure Souls came in no longer tethered to the Earth via an Earth Being in a mixed mode. Souls now could truly express their disdain for the Earth and its peoples. It is not by chance that Native Americans who are Earth Beings see Westerners as all head floating up above the Earth. This is exactly where they are. Almost all individuals on the planet today are Souls. No wonder we have difficulty relating to or being part of the Earth.

    Humanity is now at the end of this trajectory of “up and out,” of leaving the Earth. With the ending of this trajectory is the end of civilization as we have known it for the last 5,500 years. It is now past tense. The billions of Souls populating the planet will be replaced again by Earth Beings. However, these new Earth Beings will have a different inner organization from that of history’s adversarially, competitively, and exclusionarily organized human beings. The Earth Beings that are now coming in have a cooperative inner organization. Hence, the next stage for humanity will be one of cooperation and learning what this means at a global level. It is not an understatement to say the world we are moving into is profoundly different from the one we have left.

    • Gweb says:

      “Metaphysical Realm”, “Earth Beings”, and “Physical Realm” are the type of terms I associate with the kind of New Age, “Power of Now” type mish-mash spirituality that’s offered in the West as a supposedly more benign replacement for the rigid hierarchy of formalized religion. However, this post is about how “spirituality by proxy” led to a type of thinking that has ultimately enslaved us. I doubt that the “Earth Beings that are now coming in” will achieve a “different inner organization” via what basically amounts to American pseudo-Shamanism.

    • kulturcritic says:

      John – this is quite a fantastic tale you tell. I just don’t see the relevance of your proclamations for my blog. With all due respect, perhaps you could find more receptivity elsewhere. sandy

    • Patric Roberts says:

      The confusion you point to is an observe error and mistaken viewpoint that causes human suffering by separating the psychic feral natural world into a conception of an individualistic soul. It does no exist in reality nor human experience. And that is why the new agers are dangerous in my assessment they attempt to glorify a future in soul while refusing to suffer present consequences arising in natural law in the surrounding universe. Whereas Indians suffer the consequences daily yet conserve the root of feral bliss in watching a sunrise, a child’s smile or walking in the Milky Way during the night. We are beyond explanations of reality now and mother earth’s tears are happening. For some it’s a bright beautiful new day and for others a purification of nonsensical egoic growth with no anchor or root. Lakota have “Skan Skan” the deep hard wood that makes an eternal bow, hard wood grows harder by the day and is elder wisdom that knows the knower inside one’s self; yet the string is completely flexible like the willow bending in the eternal winds and movements and circularities arising in natural law. Everything is occurring in moments standing with one’s feet on the ground and the wind is only feared by fantasies of ghosts who have no ground in which to stand upon.

  7. Dean says:

    Hi Sandy
    Good post! On a related theme check this Guy out! You’ll have a good laugh!

  8. Brutus says:

    Curious new word for me: diremption. I’ve often thought and written about the subject-object distinction and its follow-ons the self-other and mind-body dualities as being barriers to be overcome, or as folks at this blog tends to think, to be discarded on the path to recovery of an alternative, ecstatic relationship with the world. If indeed the rise of shamanic practice represents the gradual disappearance of that relationship many thousands of years ago, I have pretty significant doubts that we can recover very much from where with now stand, with our “concretization of the highly refined instrument of scientific rationality.”

    It’s also not clear how much of your blog post is wildly conjectural and how much is more soberly explanatory. If shamanism was an intuitive attempt to conserve a way-of-being in the world even as it slipped through the grasp of precivilized peoples, one might regard the Reformation as an attempt to reclaim from the “jailers” (as Marlena Petrov calls them) a more personal and idiosyncratic approach to transcendence unmediated by rigid cultural institutions.

    Centuries later, we understand and/or rationalize fumbling attempts at recovering lost synthesis by writing off those who experience the collapse of ego boundaries as schizophrenic or otherwise brain injured. Stroke victim Jill Bolte Taylor wrote a book called My Stroke of Insight describing her experience of bliss in union with the cosmos. Such folks are in fact aberrant, but we all experience almost daily tiny, unheeded insights into the deep interconnectedness of human cognition, such as when we laugh or cry along with a group before even knowing why. The discovery of mirror neurons a couple decades ago indicates that we’re literally wired to form up and synchronize with other people, probably not forming something as elaborate as collective consciousness but at least creating syncretic group behavior (like other social creatures), which these days is described as either the crowd or the mob (both of which are pejoratives).

    • kulturcritic says:

      Quite a but of conjecture in this post, Brutus. However, I assume that many of my posts include at least some speculation.

    • kulturcritic says:

      Brutus, I do like your discussion above, particularly your exploration in the final paragraph. There is much research still to be done on neurobiology, schizophrenia, and other brain/consciousness issues. I recall a work by R.D. Laing, The Politics of Experience. Interesting.

  9. The fellow on YouTube who is singing and strumming and staring into space
    is totally stoned. Thank you.

  10. John Bollig says:

    I knew a number of people who were into native american spiritualism….. They all went to the hospital when they got sick. so much for their magical pot/mind altering drugs. In the end, they all checked into the roach motel after trying to fleece disabled and elderly people out of their checks by selling them the magical cures for whatever sickness you have. These quacks would check themselves into a hospital rather than take the 11 herbs and spices supposed to cure whatever you have.

  11. john patrick says:

    Thanks for the writup, Sandy.

    But, would a Shaman wear a Rolex?

    And, using language which has a beginning, middle, and an end seems woefully inadequate to describe any Shamanic experience that is steeped in a non-conclusive reality.

    • kulturcritic says:

      Which rolex, John? What are you really asking?

      • john patrick says:

        If a Shaman lived for a thousand years, would you expect them to be wearing the birthday suit of the culture they came from?

        My main point has to do with language. If a seer travels to lands unknown, how could a primate language and carbon-based scratches possibly relate the experience? If anything, it would seem to be very dimly…

        • kulturcritic says:

          John = we do our best with the means at hand. language must serve those who use it, however poorly. Am I getting your message?

          • john patrick says:

            I’m thinking… as the temple serves the priest, language serves the man. But neither, can grasp the “why” we are here, or where we are going. It is just a bottle to collect thoughts, but not a compass. Much in the same way software cannot form intuition.

            My point, is that language or pre-civilized guttoral utterances, cannot capture the basic elements of life. I hold a piece of paper in the wind and it bends. And I write of it. But it does not say/know anything of the wind, how it formed, or what it intends to do.

            Maybe this is why the Shamans traveled with a song. It is much lighter.

            Welcome back 😉

          • john patrick says:

            I think this is why images work better than words. An image can convey a thousand meanings, but a word–poor thing, has only two or three. The imagery with your blog, for example, captivates and solicits a response. I’m not saying language has no use, but I think images do a better job. They contain much more information and perhaps stand the test of time better than language. Note, the Chinese language. Or, the ancient cave drawings. Or, the stained glass in ancient churches. Yes–it appealed to the illiterate/uneducated masses, but why did spoken words rise higher than images.


  12. javacat says:

    Perhaps the question is why do we ask these questions in the first place? Is it human nature–are we born to distract ourselves from being? Is it seed planted by civilization that there is always something else?

    But, since you raised the question, Sandy…What is it that I search for and why do I search? Sometimes I’m looking for THE answer: the one way that will take me through the rest of my life and I won’t have to decide again. Sometimes it’s the vain search of the ideal way to live, which someone here wisely noted does not exist. More often, the underlying desire is to reconnect with a larger unity, to feel a deep and sustaining connection that comes from true reunion.

    The quote from the Zen master is tantalizing. There is no target. There is no destiny. There is no path. The path is an illusion, a trap that suddenly delimits and limits us, even if it’s as rocky and rooty as a single-bike trail. Whatever is not-trail disappears from our perception, lies outside our way of being, and so escapes our notice, our experience, our exchange. One can see how this thinking occurs in science: when one is head-down along a path, you don’t notice the interesting things tapping on the window.

    In a most delightful conversation with friends, one sagely remarked that the idea of the path, that we must follow a path, moves together with the notion of uni-linear, unidirectional time. We move forward on the path. We make progress on the path. The journey thus becomes measured against…what? And to what end?

    Can we imagine non-path living, so that instead of an image one-foot-in-front-of-the-other, we lived it 360-degrees, sensory input and exchange occurring from all directions and all senses? Or, perhaps we’re not moving at all. We’ve come to accept the notion that ‘life is a journey’–which implies a beginning and an end, and often point-to-point, rather than the return, a getting-to rather than a being-here.

    • Brutus says:

      Javacat asks:

      Is it human nature–are we born to distract ourselves from being? Is it seed planted by civilization that there is always something else?

      Let me offer some conjecture on this question. It’s not distraction that blocks us but mediation, and the most important mediator of experience is language. Our human nature does in fact predispose us to learn and use language, which is composed of metaphors and symbols of sensual experience but are not themselves the experience. We can look upon and enjoy a sunset, but once we attempt to describe the sensations in words, we find they fail utterly to capture the qualia at once obvious to the senses.

      This is an underlying theme of existentialism as I understand it, that we’re alienated from our ontological selves, our sensual relationships with the natural world around us, and absurdly preoccupied with the metaphors and symbols rather than the experience of being itself and in its simplicity. The information explosion of the past few decades (if not centuries) has overwhelmed us with a tsunami of information (or data), but it’s dead, meaningless stuff (especially the measured stuff, like the size of a bank account) compared to the meaningful experiences of the senses. We’ve intensified this alienation by seeking entertainment in pure mindspace, which creates a sort of virtual reality that fails to deliver gratification because, well, the sensation have no root in the body.

      Take this for what you will. I’m still working things out in my head (at the same time I’m busy finding ways back into my body as the primary mode of experience).

      • javacat says:

        Brutus, this is so well expressed. I’m glad for your comments and the new word, qualia. 😉 I agree with your points very much. We have been overwhelmed with data, and I’d venture to say that efforts to manipulate the data to manipulate people has also increased dramatically. We’re so awash that we don’t even know it. So, thought scribblings here, even though detached, are efforts to reconnect.

    • kulturcritic says:

      JC – I think your reflections, above, provide a beautiful framework for being in a non-linear way, returning to and resting within a deep temporality. No path, no goal; just swinging 😉

    • Bret Simpson says:

      I feel there is no answer to the wrong question.

  13. javacat says:

    Sandy, thank you so much for your thoughts on shamanism, especially because of its roots in the region where you live, and for posting while mid-travel. Your question about whether the shaman represents the start of hierarchy–’the beginning of the end’ of our collective connectedness with no separateness–offers a very different potential of the shaman’s influence.

    In preliterate societies, was there a natural sorting of labor by individual talent and predilection? Was the shaman chosen by the community because of his skill and talent, her ability to enter a state of transformation? From what you describe, Sandy, the shaman’s position was not one of control or manipulation for self-gain–though the use of magic or legerdemain may have aided in assisting cures. The shaman did not charge for his services. It seems that the shaman’s role was to help cure physical, mental and emotional ailments of individuals, and perhaps more importantly, in terms of survival, to maintain harmony and balance within the community through rituals, rites, and incantations.

    From my readings, which discuss South American shamanism, the individuals who were shamans often lived on the edge of the village, perhaps symbolic of the position as mediator between realms. Were they sometimes schizophrenic, allowing them access to realms more difficult for others? Possibly. The art work of schizophrenics posted here by a reader several weeks ago–fabulous creations–support the premise of a different vision. Accounts from writers of post-literate shamans–Jay Griffiths and Wade Davis come to mind–describe individuals who are ‘normal’–not psychologically on the fringe, but who have abilities to concentrate in different ways, to focus energies in different ways, to administer herbal mixtures and act as a guide to help the person in distress to journey to discover and release what is causing them pain.

    Sandy, in our discussion, you raised a fascinating point (I think I’m paraphrasing correctly): Did the existence of the shaman hasten the disconnect of the larger community from the larger world? Did we gradually stop paying attention to our intertwinings, which then withered or atrophied, because we began to rely on the shaman, our specialist, to do it for us?

    • Bruce says:

      “Did the existence of the shaman hasten the disconnect of the larger community from the larger world? Did we gradually stop paying attention to our intertwinings, which then withered or atrophied, because we began to rely on the shaman, our specialist, to do it for us?”

      This is precisely the question that came to my mind when I read Sandy’s post today. I’m wondering if, conversely, the disappearance of those same shaman (at least in terms of how people stopped seeking out their shamanistic services) might be hastening our reconnection to that larger world.

    • kulturcritic says:

      There was a basic division of labor in preliterate societies,laying the foundations for sharing. But, the increasing division and elaboration of specializations seems to have emerged slowly and much later, coincident with cities and literacy.

  14. I am reminded of the idea that it does not really matter where one is going, it matters if one enjoys the journey

  15. Barry Curtis says:

    So funny and sad! All the pseudo intellectual blabber misses the point of the painting. Immerse yourselves in the feelings of the painting, then go find a swing and swing on it. Get “into” it!
    And make it a point to skip along the way, preferably with a few witnesses. If you can’t “feel” what the painting portrays, you are already a zombie, along with the vast majority of the culture.

  16. Bruce says:

    Hi Sandy. I’ve been drawn here many times from your thoughtful responses to Kunstler’s blog, and lately your posts have been getting better and better until finally today I find I need to comment on where they seem to be heading.

    I’m of a split-mind when it comes to what you are talking about. Part of me sees in what you say a genuine reason for optimism (and part of me desperately seeks out any source of optimism nowadays), and yet another part of me feels that what you see coming and perhaps what you seem to want to come is ultimately a capitulation.

    That is, instead of Whitman’s “rage against the dying of the light!” you seem to propose that we come to terms with the fact that the “light” was never alive in the first place, that it was instead an invention we created out of nothing and back to nothing it is now destined to return, however inconvenient or painful its return trip may be in the short term.

    There’s an old adage about the secret to happiness is to pretend that whatever you get, it was exactly what you wanted to get all along, even if you didn’t know that’s what you wanted before you got it.

    Of course, there is something to be said for raging, for desiring ahead of time what you know will not come about, to invest in an outcome that will almost certainly not come to pass.

    • kulturcritic says:

      Bruce – let me reflect on this tonight when I have some more time. I want to address your intuitions. sandy

    • kulturcritic says:

      Bruce – yes, I believe capitulation is a done deal. It is only a matter of when it will fully flesh-out. We have worked diligently creating the perfect storm. Now, all hands are on deck to experience the fruits of their labors. And it has already begun. But optimism is a funny thing; like the barefoot man on the swing. Is he hoping for something? Or is he just swinging? I think the later. The important thing is not to set any goals but to allow yourself the wonderment of return and repetition, back and forth, like on the swing.

      • Sandy, the reference to a barefoot man swinging reminded me of the tarot image of the hanged man. I grabbed my Shadowscapes deck, and fell into the image of the hanged man To me the tarot is visual representation of states of consciousnesses and being, with not a thing to do with seeing the future. I have noticed some of the newer designs facilitate the immersion into the different streams better than the older decks, which are hopelessly mired in Western christian thought. The Shadowscapes deck brings in eastern, Native american African and pre christian European images. The images seem to move, as in a dance,beckoning you to join in, if only for a moment.

        • javacat says:

          Marlena, I looked up the Shadowscapes deck, and your descriptions are quite accurate. I’m not familiar with tarot, and I like your view that they reperesent states of consciousness, aspects of a whole. The story of the hanged man is wonderful–not the harsh negative meaning I’d imagined. What I read suggested a sense of childlike playfulness (a return to a wholeness), a new perspective, and knowledge gained. It felt like a beginning rather than an end. Thanks for mentioning.

        • kulturcritic says:

          Interesting connection, Marlena

      • Bruce says:

        The optimism I was thinking of was the idea, the hope, that I one day could actually *be* like that barefoot man in the swing, and be able to pull off that act of wonderment and pull off the state of mind that lets go of goals and ideas of the future.

        It’s kind of an ironic goal to be free of setting goals…

  17. VyseLegend says:

    I agree with your description of shamanism as being the beginning of the separation of spirituality from our actually lived lives. I also think the Zen quotation is quite apt – even though I follow no particular ‘school’ of spirituality I think it largely rings true for anyone seeking a genuine experience of life.

    I remember in university I took a class on ‘Buddhist Ethics’ from a quite hyper-syllogisitical type white American professor, he had taken years to ‘study’ Buddhism and all it had to offer during some years in Tibet. In all of my essays for the class I would make the argument that in order for Enlightenment to be possible, essentially all Buddhists would need to commit suicide, because the hierarchical structure of the various Buddhist sects was invariably at odds with their generally upfront goal of attaining real happiness/freedom/balance/what have you.

    Looking back, the reason I was always so stunned at the contradictions contained in presumably ‘englightenened’ or ‘spiritually mature’ writings from preeminent religious leaders was because the goal they’re claiming to seek, and to help their students seek, is one that inherently is self-discovered and lived, rather than taught and mastered. In other words, ever since the first shamanistic traditions, the fallacy of other-reliance for spiritual guidance has become more and more demented to the point of pure profit-seeking and manipulation.

    That in mind, I propose that our real enemy here is, once again, the separation of responsibility from the self, rather than anything else. In past posts, you’ve talked about a more ‘anarchic’ sort of social order that most likely must go hand in hand with taking part directly in the world – that is, without any sort of interface that separates reality from fiction. I think that is just right – we need no leaders, no shamans whatever, but horizontal relationships only – none that are vertical. In other words, I don’t think the question you’re asking – whether shamanism is the beginning of separation of spirituality from the self – is important. Rather, what is important is the throwing off of the idea of an intermediary for understanding anything at all, be it an authority on spirituality or to convince you of the importance of paying taxes – because the cause of needing an intermediary is not some historical inevitability or development, but simply the result of manipulation by a predatory class, a class which has evolved over time from the simplest of shamans to the most debauched of ‘democratic’ governments.

    • kulturcritic says:

      Very little disagreement with you here VyseLegend; just drop this word “spirituality” – it is so new age and meaningless.

      • VyseLegend says:

        hi Sandy. I don’t know what word to describe what I’m talking about, but I assure you I’m trying to use the word in the most pure sense….

        • VyseLegend says:

          I supposed to tie my idea into your own analysis, spirituality is the equivalent of the merging of the experience of ‘living’ and ‘ecstasy’, or as you describe, ‘deep temporality.’ I can’t think of a single word to boil all of these things down…maybe just ‘true freedom’.

          • john patrick says:

            I like the word, “essence.” Regardless, it is always in context with the writer. There is no finite “word” to describe the infinite. Sandy likes ecstasy. But that, too, is loaded with the drug experience. Two opposing words probably work better, e.g., dissolving glue. Or, the un-force. This is perhaps why many of the ancients used stories, parables, and the like. Because there is no finite definition of “it” in this realm.

            It’s like water. It nurtures. And dissolves. While we like the empowerment part, the dissolution is often given to the dark side.

        • kulturcritic says:

          Yeah, VL – its that purity that frightens me. LOL

  18. Oh you are so correct about the intermediary, and the manipulation that has resulted. Though I have noticed with amazement, most people want the intermediary thereby giving up their direct connection to a proxy who often then uses their position to acquire power, wealth and influence.
    I have often had people say to me “but i do not have the time (there it is!) to do much of that spiritual stuff”, and often mistaking spiritual for religious, then living their lives as a disconnect form reality, constantly seeking themselves in someone or thing outside the self.

    • kulturcritic says:

      Perhaps one of the key problems is the way people are conceptualizing the issue. If they articulate it as a spiritual problem, it creates several issues. First, it reinforces the imagined bifurcation or dualism that leads to a rift between self and world, flesh and spirit. Second, they then sense that this ‘spiritual’ matter is best handled by the experts. It establishes a false dichotomy that can only be bridged (so they believe) by intermediaries. Let me make a proposal for our continued discussions on the site, both for this post and subsequent ones. Let us try not to use the loaded terms ‘spirit ‘or ‘spiritual’. Let us try not to establish that duality of thought that continues to engender our helplessness and our delusions. Let us try to find another way to talk about the profound sense of wonder that enlivens us and the rest of nature without erecting thought-hierarchies that limit direct participation in this experience of life. Can we agree on that? Sandy

      • javacat says:

        Certainly, when we rely, unthinkingly or unnecessarily, upon intermediaries, we give away our power: our self-knowledge and our responsibility for our self. We diminish our selves when we turn our trust away from ourselves to unconfirmed others.
        Language is a tricky thing, imprecise and fickle. I started down the path of “aren’t we just using words like ‘spirit’ and ‘flesh’ to connote different aspects of the same unity?” then thought I was reinforcing what you suggested, Sandy, that we avoid. I think that you’re speaking about a sense of wonder than transcends all the categories we’ve created…To describe that, I think we need a new language.

  19. Ok. I wont mention spiritual, anymore, Though I do not see any split between the physical,emotional mental and spiritual. to me they are all parts of the being expressing as me?
    To my way of seeing it, the problem is that we are taught that these things are somehow a part from, or outside of, or above us, which keeps us separated and alone, cut off from ourselves and everything else. Though I do agree that some words and the concepts the represent do in fact have the consequence of turning on the split. How about living in ecstacy to mean being in the world? In harmony? Just suggestions…

    • kulturcritic says:

      Actually, ‘ecstasy’ works well, Marlena. From the Greek ek-stasis, standing outside oneself, existing in the chiasm of the lived-body-world and its capacity to be, its pouvoir. We could refer to this condition as one of primal power, a feral core, deep temporality, ecstasy, the intertwining, the chiasm, depending upon the dimension of experience we are trying to suggest. We have some good options, I think. sandy

  20. VyseLegend says:

    Maybe ‘freedom from the self’ as a concept is a good summary of what we’re talking about here, in which case ‘ecstasy’ is a good fit. However difficult it is to separate the term from the licentious connotations in modern America….as many words have also been so corrupted.

    • john patrick says:

      If you think about it, life–has its own life. I do not think “it” is interested in being poured into one of our old wineskins that Webster crafted. Any definition may hold for a small time, but as the observer/receiver changes, so does the definition.

      The Buddhist “Om” might work. It has absolutely no relationship to modern entanglements.

      May the Om be with you! (you, too Sandy!) (thank you VL for the contribution)

      • kulturcritic says:

        VL, JP, Marlena, JC et al – there certainly is a language problem in wrapping your tongue around the experience. I just think the use of the word spirit continues to reinforce the dualism that underlies our commonsense approach to reality that is the problem. Besides which, its new age connotations make it even more reprehensible from an embodied and lived feral perspective.

        • javacat says:

          Let’s unsnag ourselves from the language question for now, and just move into being.

          • Brutus says:

            My feeling exactly. There’s a long history of philosophers coining terms with all this subtlety and specificity, which barely anyone uses. I understand wanting to disuse spiritual to avoid association with the more conventional religious, but the former is still a perfectly good word. We’re tilting a windmills a bit here by fussing over the right language symbol for something we can all feel intuitively.

  21. Ecstatic essence? Ferel self?

    • john patrick says:

      The word “me” works for me. I can’t guarantee it’ll work for anyone else.

      Poor little word. It changes color with every observer. I opt we go ancient… back to grunting and spitting. Sandy should have a special blog section for this.

  22. “me” does work well, dosn’t it? *hums “I am the Walrus”

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