I’ve been reading a book on Shamanism, as told from the evolving point of view of white westerners through history, beginning with horrified, racist missionaries, all the way to experimental anthropologists who try their hallucinogens and allow the shamans to speak (somewhat) for themselves.
For the shamans and their societies, spirits were a fact of life–spirits determined the interplay of day to day life, the success of hunts, the rains, even the inter-personal relations with one’s neighbors. Shamans were the link and guide to these spirits, influencing and bargaining with these spirits to change the everyday world.
During the 50s and 60s, westerners came to shamans to find God. But it was never the purpose of shamans to explore pearly gates and golden streets. They explored themselves, the space inside themselves to the point of death. What is God in such a place? You come close to death and there is much more than just one being there. There are many beings in other worlds beyond our own, and they don’t necessarily care about us and our fears. Although to say that they are not connected to us in any way is a lie. Their existence might be dependent, I would venture to say, as much on us as we are on them. Because time in that place isn’t the way we understand it–some of these beings are in fact us, parts of us in the future, in the past, somewhere unrelatable to anything we ever have been or will be yet crucially, painfully interconnected in some fabric of our world that we can barely even glimpse except when we die.
In a fleeting experience in Peru with a modern day shaman and an alternate universe, I gained at least the understanding that in this other, spiritual universe, inhabited by beings beyond my current understanding (even by a version of myself I couldn’t recognize), that these visions were beyond anything my conceptions of God and spirituality had been. God is not something you gain, is not a person who becomes your guardian. God is in fact a somewhat terrifying synthesis of everything that exists that extends ultimately beyond. Meaning that in God there is death, death of self, death of ethnocentrism, death of everything that is safe and contained and pure in your current conceptions. And yet wholly welcoming and beautiful at the same time.
It is really the loss of self that is terrifying. That everything which currently defines you and your world is really somewhat of a petty myth. That’s a pretty hard thing to come to terms with.
I remember back in college, I took a class on comparative religions, and in our discussion section, different representatives of different religions would present and answer questions. We had a tantra lady who came in and discussed the wonderful power we had within, the god within, in flowery new age terms. Yet she did have a quite powerful spiritual presence, and she seemed to have some wisdom. And I asked her, if we really do have this power, what if there are those of us who choose to abuse this power to hurt others? She didn’t know how to answer this question.The fact is that we do have this power, and we often do choose to hurt others. We do it by talking down others. In our minds. To our friends. By not allowing them to exist as the gods they are. By not allowing ourselves to exist as the gods we are. We destroy whole worlds.
On the road to non-being, there are many beings, and we are way out on the surface crust edge of that wheel. We talk of finding aliens on some planet out there somewhere. Aliens exist within our very minds. What is it to be a human being? We consist of parts, of pieces, cells, plasma, blood, organs, interrelationships, factions, groups, parts, all working haphazardly to create every moment this thing we call ourselves. At what point do we stop being ourselves, and at what point does the outer world begin?
At what point are we alone, and at what point are we everything?