We hadn’t talked in years and one day I got an email from an old work acquaintance. We emailed back and forth, catching up, writing about our families, our Macs and our pets. I included a short note about a period of intense spiritual growth I had experienced in the late 1990s. Kathy, a very bright and intellectual person, wrote back, asking “what do you mean you’ve been growing spiritually? I really want to know what you mean by that. I canNOT fathom what our culture/society means by spirituality because it means so many different things.”
“It sounds like you are approaching the spiritual from the intellect,” I replied, which is very common in today’s world, and an ineffective way of understanding the spiritual.
Her question reminded me of don Juan Matus, a seer in a line of seers extending back more than 20 generations who knew the power stories of his benefactors’ benefactors stretching back to the time before the Spanish Conquistadores. In teaching his apprentice, anthropologist Carlos Casteneda, he spoke of the change of human consciousness over the past half millenium from right- to left-brain dominance. Thousands of years of ago, humans in their day-to-day lives predominantly operated from the heart, the emotional, gut level, basing decisions on feelings, intuitions, and information from the non-physical plane. Today, most of us have completely lost touch with that side, don’t even realize it exists, and rely almost entirely upon empirical, logical, verbal, left-brain evidence. In the past few hundred years, human consciousness and culture, particularly in the West, have all but discarded the wisdom offered by the right brain. This has led to a serious imbalance in our whole world, what the Anastazi called “Koyaanisqatsi.”
In the Native American worldview, life is a sacred hoop, a circle or bubble on which we travel while suspended in the spiritual world. At birth we come out of the spiritual world, leaving the “good blue road” of spirit, and begin our journey on the “good red road” of the material world. Spiritual leaders, they would say, are those who walk with one foot in both worlds. As we travel the road of our life growing older, we move away from spirit, but then our journey circles back, returning to spirit. This explains why young children and the elderly are more able to see angels or ghosts or spirits, because they are closer to the source. It is also why tribal wisdom says to honor what both the very young and the elderly have to say, for they have a better connection to the Source of all life, creation, wisdom, and gifts. In the Native American tradition of the northern plains, in order to find the way back to the “good blue road,” it is important to walk in a “holy” way. That means to respecting all life, and practicing spiritual traditions that honor the Creator, traditions given to the people by the Great Spirit through his emissary, the White Buffalo Calf Woman.
The Orthodox Christian worldview similarly sees our journey through this world as a temporary journey, which begins before birth in the Kingdom of God. While we do not believe in original sin in the way the western church does–that man is inherently sinful or evil, and that we were banished by an angry God — we do believe and perceive clearly that the world is a fallen world, a place filled with traps and snares set by the only true enemy of man: the devil. The devil’s greatest tool is the ego of man and it is the ego of man that destroys a man’s soul, and prevents him from returning home, back to the Kingdom. In the practice of our faith, which lifts us up into the Kingdom, into communion with God, the saints, the angels, and our loved ones on the other side, we strive as Orthodox Christians to be in the world but not of the world, to do battle with the demon by seeing his snares and traps. To sin means simply to miss the mark, the mark being to be like God, in the heart, in the soul, and to undergo the process of theosis. The biggest ploy of the devil over the last century has been the disconnection of man from his heart, his nous, his soul, which we do by having big egos. When our egos get big, we actually invite the devil in. As Orthodox Christians, we strive to do our best to keep our souls clean, by cultivating an internal life of prayer, fasting, practicing the sacraments.
“I sincerely do not have a clue,” Kathy wrote, “as to what people mean by spiritual if it’s not something related to the concept of God/internal enhancement of that belief system and the affects created by that mechanism. I don’t mean to seem hard or cold, but I really don’t understand what it means.”
Her question, while clearly sourced in the left brain, was nonetheless a good one. In the world, there are things we can see, and many more things we cannot see. The spiritual unseen world is the source of the physical seen world. The spiritual cannot be accessed through the eyes or the intellect. When Bill Gates says he sees no evidence for the existence of God, it is like looking at an automobile and saying there is no evidence for the existence of an assembly line, or a beautiful painting and saying there is no evidence for the existence of a painter. I have another friend who is a fantastic painter and amateur astronomer, who marvels at the rings of Saturn through a telescope and enjoys beautiful sunrises over Lake Michigan. He, too, cannot connect the sense of awe and beauty he feels, the inspiration that drives him to paint beautiful landscapes with exquisite detail, to the existence of God. It is precisely those feelings of awe and beauty that are the evidence of the divine. That sense of awe is the doorway to our connection to the spiritual, to God.
Personally, I have always had a sense of being connected to the non-physical, non-time-space spiritual plane from which we all come and to which we all — God willing and if we do not give our souls over to the devil — return. Where did my own sense come from? Premonitory dreams as a child preparing me for my father’s passing. A strong sense of being watched over and protected. A clear and urgent voice on the highway one time that saved my life. Dreams in which non-physical spirit beings provide answers to questions about death and rebirth. Having a close friend who is a genuinely gifted psychic. That sort of thing. I’ve always been interested in human potential, interspecies communication, parapsychology, mysticism, particularly Native American, Orthodox Christian and other indigenous cultures, healing by laying on of the hands, the concept of oversouls, and discovering–remembering–the real purpose I’m here. As Sting put it so well, we are spirits, in the material world.
An Oasis for the Sahara of the Soul
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