Sitting in a circle we established that spirituality is a construct and began discussing different spiritual paths.
Most of the talk seemed anchored to the idea of exploring different practices, taking elements of various traditions and using them to form one’s own patchwork form of spirituality. People brought up names and religions, specific lineage of belief.
“There are benefits and losses in this approach. On the one hand, you can find the things that seem true to you and on the other you may end up simply digging a lot of shallow holes in the sand, never reaching true depth.”
I looked at the absurd faux chandelier lighting as I spoke. “I think that, when I realized that I was reckoning with some sort of spiritual unfolding, I made the conscious decision to not seek understanding from any specific or established body of belief.”
I paused. “I think I’m a spiritual anarchist.”
People laughed. I laughed.
What exactly is a spiritual anarchist or, conversely, an anarchism of spirit?
I’m not entirely sure at this point. I do know that within many systems of belief, there are expectations, rubrics even, that gauge the progress and integrity of spiritual growth, maturity, and realization. Even in the so-called New Age systems of belief there can be some fairly stringent cultural norms that must be abided by.
No God Managers?
In the process of my own reckoning, I found a strong and resonant resistance to the thought of seeking answers, a clear path.
I felt like the forces we call God, the individual and collective subconscious in collision with the liminal workings of the world, wanted me to just listen to my heart and to know that the words that came tumbling into my mind were from a trusted source, the collective voice of me, myself, I and about a million other people whose words and messages have lodged in my mind and heart.
I did have to learn how to pay attention and I had to learn how to weigh my instinct against my ego. I had to learn how to accept what I knew to be true in my heart and to find ways to integrate that knowing into my life.
I am still learning.
Today, I sat in a room and I meditated briefly on blessings. Then, I listened to stories about Yoruba personifications of old godforces – and I thought about how those universal characters might manifest in the world.
On one hand, it could be thought of as wholly separate from oneself that a man came into a classroom bearing tales of gods that make lighting, gods that bring cleverness and coolness, gods that are warriors.
I could have sat and listened to this fellow’s tales of the times that “Orisa had shown up” and ignored the fact that, through his telling, Orisa – the Yoruba god characters, were brought unto the airport hotel today.
When the man’s nephew played the sounds of drums and began to sing out, I felt something sting my eyes and my heart contracted a little. I felt the familiar grief of not belonging and the sense of being isolated from a history that is not my own, but which has always run through the edges of my life…isolated from all histories, a part of all histories.
This afternoon I asked, “So, if we approach the Orisa as actual forces in the world, are they able to act upon the consciousness of people who are not identified members of the African diaspora?”
The man explained that you must know them and you must adhere to the traditional rituals associated with them.
I don’t know if I believe that.
Godforce, in whatever character, is likely more clever than we are.
Sitting outside after the class, I asked another student, “So, if you happen to cross paths with a person and you do not know their name, you do not know their history…well, you still are able to interact with that person, though the nature of your interactions will be affected by the context of not knowing.”
This gets back to the question of, in the case of a real and actual God or God-as-series-of-gods, what happens when these forces act upon you or present themselves to you in your life and you do not know or care to recognize or reckon with them?
I laid on the floor in the dark with my head facing others in the loose formation of a star. The man told us to hold a question in our minds, about our spiritual path, perhaps where we might belong, what knowing we may need to know.
That is not what I did. Instead, as he began to drum and sing, I pictured two young people and I gathered the dark grief from their hearts and it was like thin tar, sugar boiled down to black.
The field was full of green and gold and I wanted the children to laugh, to feel light.
They were born with pain and fear, one by the force of a blade and one pulled and pulled. There was a welt on the young girl’s head and the boy was shocked by the cold white hands that reached in and placed him in the world, too stunned to howl.
The dark clung to them like oil and my hands over my chest moved as if they were spinning and sorting, pull in the net and cast forth the seed to wind.
I wanted the darkness gone.
Where would it go? The drums beat louder and something like fear rose. I thought about the ghosts in the room, the ancestors called forth in the course of a lecture on all the different ways that people carry the universe and the past and the future inside of them. The ghosts had found their way to the room through story and the clapping of hands for the sake of example.
As I worked, my body twitched in the tiniest ways, pinpricks and sutures in the dark.
I wiped the charred smudges off the faces of the children. I smelled their hair. It was like sunlight and the howling rose to the trees to make wind.
Where would that darkness go? Could it be made into light?
I saw a man lift his head, the shoulders of his suit pinstriped, his skin raw from the blade and the air inside. His head might be full of the misery of numbers and his palms are smooth with money.
There is something in his heart.
I thought about the wind.
Where can all the darkness go? In a world so full of darkness?
I pictured a light like a shell.
What if the man felt it? What if it burst through his heart with a sound quite like horses and he felt his chest tremble like a drum?
I pictured him feeling it. I pictured the shift in his eyes.
Then, I pictured him shaking it off with a phone call or a shoe shine or a blow job or a line. I pictured him using it to ease his way into a terrible deal. I pictured him forgetting it, that light that had fractured his heart for one moment.
Light can turn to dark in the hearts of humans and so the reverse must also be true.
What if this man, just for a moment, had to feel – really feel the death and despair that he had helped to cause in the world? What if he had to see the bodies, all of them? What if all those ghosts took hold of his heart and what if they shook it?
It’d probably terrify the man. It would probably feel like hell.
The ways we heal hell is to create love – to bring light unto darkness as all the stories go.
Maybe he’d sleep a dreamless sleep and maybe he’d wake up like new?
Maybe all the ideas that they never wanted to hear and all the truths that they never wanted to hear and all the costs and losses and the death of dreams…wait…
“We must protect the dreamer.”
So, perhaps the man will just sleep and may the ghosts do their work in his heart and leave my children be.
This is an example of what could be called experiential auto ethnographic piece that I wrote about spirituality, healing, and growth at the airport hotel.
It’s been a nice day at the conference. People are very wise and well-reasoned here. They don’t oooh and ahhh so much as they appreciate the seeming/beingness of people and all the fascinating and beautiful ways that all things may work.
(This / is just a fraction.)