Sunday, September 27, 2009

I Am the Other: The Implications of Oneness in Moral Thinking

The discussion about oneness which I had in a previous post contained a statement which is worthy of further elucidation. It contains a moral paradox, of types- one of the several paradoxes inherent in the idea of "oneness". I have heard it said that a paradox is a truth standing on its head to get our attention- and I think this is a good way of seeing situations like this. Oneness is a beautiful idea, and an expression of reality itself; but it sometimes requires careful thought.

People tend to shy away from what they perceive as difficulties in thinking, preferring ease- but ease may not serve in every situation to give us real guidance. The effort we make to examine what we call "paradoxes" can yield great, life-changing treasures.

How does oneness beg us to act in every life-situation? How can it be realistic, when we must harm someone or something in a situation?

I stated:

"Why oneness? Why hold up "being the Land" as such an important perspective? Because when you are the land, you do not harm it. When you are others, you do not harm them. When others are you, you do not harm yourself; in all cases or circumstances, you help. You protect and preserve. You do not take; you exchange and cooperate. You do not leave the company of life; you move around in it, forever. Each situation in life calls for either measured or spontaneous action in accordance with these principles; each situation and the response to the situation being somewhat different, but the deep call to the principles remains the same."

That statement "breaks down" to the following principles:

Principles or statements about self, world and other

1. I am the Land
2. I am others
3. Others are me.
4. I do not leave the company of life, but shift around within it.

Principles or influences of those statements on life-activities

1. I do not harm the Land
2. I do not harm others
3. I do not harm myself
4. I help, protect, and preserve; I exchange and cooperate.

The original statement goes on to say:

"Each situation in life calls for either measured or spontaneous action in accordance with these principles; each situation and the response to the situation being somewhat different, but the deep call to the principles remains the same."

In any situation that calls for an action, we will either have an opportunity to consider what we should do (a measured action) or we will simply act without thinking (spontaneous action). Each situation is different, no matter how similar they may seem on the surface, and the response that is best for each situation may change, again, no matter how similar they may seem.

You can't know all the facts until you are "in" each situation. But whatever the situation, and whatever the character of your activity (measured or spontaneous), "the deep call to the principles remains the same." In other words, if you can measure your actions, you should measure them by the principles. If your actions are spontaneous, they still call to the principles, or are informed by them, whether or not you realize it.

Example 1: A bear attacks a cave that a woman and her child are living in. She reacts by grabbing a spear and stabbing the bear.

In this case, assume the woman's defense was spontaneous. Her spontaneous and natural act calls to the principle that states "Others are me"- her child is her- and "I am others"- she is her child. She "helped, protected, and preserved" spontaneously, based on her oneness with her child.

But what of her oneness with the bear? Why did her spontaneous action not take that into account, and allow the bear to eat her child? If "she is the bear" and "the bear is she", why stab it with a spear?

I do not deny that the woman has the oneness relationship with the bear. In the situation presented (a spontaneous reaction) the woman's actions were informed by her sense of oneness with her child more than that of the bear, and she didn't choose for her actions to be so informed. She simply reacted in that way. It may not be easy to explain why, or perhaps the answer is very obvious.

If pressed for an explanation for something like this that (I think) defies perfect explanation, I would state that there is a stronger instinctive or unconscious connection between parents and offspring, between kin, or indeed, a stronger instinctive, unconscious connection between beings of the same or similar caliber. "Oneness", in the broad stretch of reality, also contains lesser or greater degrees of closeness or similarity- a human would likely try to save another human who was in danger of becoming dinner to a pack of wolves with much more vigor than he might try to save a rabbit who was in the same danger.

I don't think this "closeness" or "similarity" consideration changes the fact of "oneness" for things at all; it is merely an observation of an obvious fact of behavior and thinking. Closeness or perceived similarity will affect a person's measured or spontaneous decisions in any situation, and this does not affect the deeper reality of oneness.

Now, returning to my example- if the woman in the cave with the child had time to think about her response, I think she would still pick up the spear and kill the bear, for the reasons I just stated. But if she had the time and opportunity, she also might measure it so that she takes her child and escapes the cave, thus sparing her life, the child's, and the bear's. This measured response would "calling to the principles" as well. Instead of just protecting and preserving herself and her child, she also helps the bear by not harming it.

Example 2: A hungry man, after much consideration and preparation, carefully and stealthily stalks a deer and shoots it dead, takes it home, cooks it and eats it.

It's undeniable that, from the perspective of oneness, the man is the deer, and the deer is the man. It is equally as undeniable that from that perspective, one should not harm self or other, since they come together as one the same. Yet, the man intentionally stalks and slays the deer, to satisfy his own hunger. A similar example could have been used for a man who intentionally destroys the life of a carrot by yanking it from the ground and cooking it and eating it, for the same reasons of hunger.

Beforehand, we examined the "closeness" or "similarity" consideration; now I must introduce the sustenance consideration. It is clear that life must consume life, or should I say, it is clear that life's communion includes not just communication and the mingling or cross-fertilization of various forces, but the absorption and transformation of other forces. This is an important aspect of the oneness in which we live, and is not optional.

And this harder fact of oneness (from the perspective of most modern people) does not deny oneness, either. If anything, the absorption and transformation of force is a blatant and elegant demonstration of oneness. When one living being eats another, they become one in a new perceptual manner. When the life of one is saved because it gets the food it needs, the life of all is saved, for this is a reality of oneness.

Because this sustenance consideration is an unavoidable, deep-seated thing, it will shape both measured and spontaneous decisions for any creature, human or non-human. Because it represents such an important and un-chosen aspect of living in the world, one cannot say that the killing of another living being- plant or animal- to satisfy true need of hunger or survival is "harm" in the same way that "harm" exists when we stab another person to satisfy a need for vengeance or to steal their money.

You could make a case that they were both categories of "harm", by virtue of the fact that flesh is rended, and blood is shed- but the true moral quality of any activity is decided by far more than just its outward form.

For the moral quality of an activity to be known, we must look to motivation, among other things. When I am motivated to kill an animal or a plant to spare my life or the lives of others, this is a form of transformative communion by necessity, not merely "harm". When I am motivated to kill an animal or a plant for my own amusement, or for reasons of greed, boredom, curiosity, or the like, then I am entered into a new category of immorality and unwisdom.

When I am motivated to kill an animal or a plant to spare my life or the lives of others, this is a means of helping, protecting, and preserving- both on my part and the part of the creature that died at my hands, for, again, this is taking place within a context of oneness, a "one life" that we all share. The creature does not leave the company of life because of its death; it shifts around within it.

It is clear from these notes that "Evil" in activity- real harm- only ever comes from failing to measure our responses to situations by the principles born of oneness, bearing in mind our special considerations for similarity and sustenance, and our sense of motivation.

People often bring up the controversial issue of euthanasia in conjunction with this conversation, but from the perspective of oneness, the "controversy" is shallow, indeed. If I am the suffering other, and the suffering other is me, then my duty is to help end suffering, however I can- if I find myself in the proper situation wherein I am called upon to help. Clearly, curing or healing the "suffering other" is the first line of effort. If this is truly not possible, then helping to end their suffering in another manner is- even if that manner leads somehow to their death and transformation. This line of thinking, I believe, arises from the depths of the one life.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Being the Land

Human beings are the land. Humans are not alone in being the land; birds and beasts are also the land; trees are; Gods and spirits are, as well. Oneness is a hard concept to grasp for some, especially when oneness is only experienced in terms of many seeming parts. And yet, oneness is what we have. It is what we always had and will always have. When we have that, we have one another, in the most intimate and spiritual way possible.

It's a real pity to imagine a race of beings who have oneness, living as though they didn't have it, and even lacking awareness of it. To see such wealthy beings living out lives of poverty is a sorrow; to see those same beings slowly rediscover their treasure is a sublime pleasure. I know that I am pleased when I feel the wind and know it as my wind, and know myself as belonging to that wind. That's a strange thought, at first: The fire that crackles in the hearth is my own glow and warmth and flame, and, at the same time, that glow and warmth and flame is my mother- I am her human.

It all comes together, you see- it is of me and I am of it, whatever it may be; in this two way reciprocity, oneness is found. Two quickly becomes one, because you can't find where the circle ends or begins. This is because, ultimately, circles don't end or begin, and neither does the web of living relationships.

All of our poor confusion is born in the breaking of the circle. When we depict ourselves in sacred stories and myths as the takers of resources, as masters of a world that was put at our disposal, there is no circle, only a line, the line of mastery and ownership. That's simple enough, though how many have the power in them to defeat that terrible myth? In my experience, not many.

But thrice-blessed by Sovereignty herself are they who have re-established the eternity of the circle of communion and belonging in themselves, and thus, in the world! They have rediscovered their being in the Land, their being in oneness. They have found the cornerstone of life that the builders of our present day society rejected. Without that cornerstone, no lasting spiritual peace is possible; no health of the body or mind is truly possible, and no real experience of authentic humanhood is possible. We only become fully human when we know what powers belong to us and those powers to which we belong. Then, we have our lost families back, the mother-clan, our dignity among the ranks of life.

When we don't have the cornerstone of oneness, we hallucinate many things about "the way things are." Thoughts and dreams and feelings become exiled off to one realm, and "tangible, solid things" become part of another. These two realms never meet, in our experience, when we suffer this sickness. What a terrible pity- for once you know yourself as the land, and the land as your "self", then deep processes that were never ultimately divided by such lunacy begin to assert themselves consciously again.

I shall make an example: seeding. You have been a farmer all your life, whether or not you knew it. You have plowed the ground of the mind with habitual ways of thinking, and planted in those furrows the seeds of will, the seeds of destiny. Most people would see this statement as a matter of me using agricultural metaphors- words for a process that takes place "outside"- for "inner" processes. But I don't mean that at all. I never mean that. And I can't say it enough.

When I seed the ground of my garden outside, by turning up the earth, making a space and dropping in seeds and watering them, and when I wait and watch for those sprouts to break ground, and watch them grow, and harvest them for their fruit or bloom, that's called "gardening". When I plant the seeds of intention and fantasy and ideation in my head, losing them to the dark under-reaches of consciousness, only to see them sprout and to reap their merits (or lack thereof), that's called "experiencing, planning, thinking and behaving." And the conclusion of most is that they belong to two different realms. But they do not- they are, in fact, one process; one and the same. This process is experienced in different ways, but it is one process. I am the land; when I seed the land, I am seeding myself, and when I seed myself, I am seeding the land.

Does it sound so foreign, still? Strange? Naive? Absurd? Mystical? Does it violate the perception-paradigm of our age, ignore the science? The answer to all these things is yes- it sounds foreign, and most would say "yes"- strange, naive, absurd, and ridiculously mystical. It totally ignores "straight up reality that anyone can see"- it's primitive and stupid. Practically anyone will tell you.

A man once asked Empedocles what the most precious thing in life was, and he said "what people neglect the most." As usual, the master was correct- the stone that the builders rejected, the thing lying discarded in the trash heap, may in fact be the most precious thing imaginable. It may be the key to our peace. Where does wisdom hide? In the last place people will look- the dark underside, the underworld, the place of fear and death. To see as I see means to die to another way of seeing- a way that seems so natural, normal, scientific, and sane.

And death is death. I died; we all do, eventually. I'll die again and again if Mighty Sovereignty and the guardians of wisdom demand it. Those powers that guard wisdom- they are my powers, and I am theirs. We are one. The land under "my" feet- it is my land, my stability, my fertility, my lasting landscape, and I am its human, its eyes, its hands, its worshiper, its living being. What happens in the land is happening in me; this is oneness. What happens in me happens in the land. Can any science draw the "line" for me that separates me, ultimately, from any thing else- any land, any being? I say "no", and the contrary voices are silent, for they know they cannot.

Why oneness? Why hold up "being the Land" as such an important perspective? Because when you are the land, you do not harm it. When you are others, you do not harm them. When others are you, you do not harm yourself; in all cases or circumstances, you help. You protect and preserve. You do not take; you exchange and cooperate. You do not leave the company of life; you move around in it, forever. Each situation in life calls for either measured or spontaneous action in accordance with these principles; each situation and the response to the situation being somewhat different, but the deep call to the principles remains the same. This is plain, and this is power- with this perspective, sanity and peace is possible, within these heads.

And when these heads are settled at peace, fires burning, rivers flowing, plants growing, cows lowing- then the land is settled, and at peace. Is peace important? I'd say. Few would disagree. Peace has a use- it isn't just a passive state. In the sort of peace I'm talking about, we speak with the Gods. In that peace, children thrive, and even death settles himself down for a long sleep.

The really clever people who intellectualize the ramifications of oneness can easily point out that opposites fall apart in oneness- gentle Gandhi and vicious Hitler are "one", and thus, the implication goes, their different characters were and are meaningless.

I don't go so far as to say that all opposites merely fall apart or fall away, and stop there; I say that opposites exist relative to one another from one perspective, and fall away into meaninglessness from another. Why does oneness seem to contain so many perspectives? For the same reason it seems to contain so many parts at all- whether many trees, many stars, many stones, or many perspectives, oneness is certainly experienced as "many-ness". This is hard to grasp, but it's joyful to understand.

In no manner do I mean to suggest that the many humans we see everyday are one human, or that the many Gods are one God- but I do suggest that we are all one within the system of life, bound together by it, part of one whole, part of the oneness- and that's what this "oneness" always was and is. There is a way of understanding and experiencing ourselves as individuals, and a way of understanding and experiencing ourselves as something much greater than an individual. The two- which certainly both exist- quickly become one, when you let the circle be.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Living Presence

It is true that the Gods appear to us in dreams, at times. I can recall such blissful memories of dream, when I have rendered due service to the Ancestral Way, pouring out libation and making offerings to the thirsty ground, that my visions in sleep the following night have featured gray-cloaked, dark eyed huntsmen and fair ladies, from below the earth. I think of the eye of dream as one of the last open portals of communion with the Gods, for these days. But there are more ways of encountering the company of the ever-living: the capacity of sacred feeling has not abandoned us yet, and can be cultivated to great and powerful effect, if one can become a channel for the proper poetry.

I believe in my Gods because I feel them- they are living presences, extending down the ages and appearing in our modern times as the great spiritual beings they are; I feel them as alive and potent, dwelling in a misty border-place that I cannot name or grasp easily. But I know when the feeling becomes strong and extends over the hills and forests of my homeland. It is impossible not to believe as I do, if you feel as I do. No being is worth the name "God" if its living presence cannot be felt, over vast distances of space and time.

Anything that lives extends a presence about itself, and into the web of life; the Gods live and live timelessly and their living presences are like suns amid the stars of other living things. That they are unseen by our eyes of water and salt, but captured in the insubstantial eyes of dream and the feeling self means little or nothing- for many beings share the same condition. In death, even mortal creatures enter the same state and extend whatever presence they can manage.

The great dead are like that. The well-memoried dead, alive still with the impact of their great deeds, always extend a presence that the living can feel. But the Gods are not living then dead; they are ever-living. Thus, they are ever-present. Far from the glamour of statue or temple, their sacred places are everywhere. The Gods are shape-shifters; the ancestral tradition does not leave a doubt open about this. What another may experience as a tree or a hill, I experience as a Goddess- sometimes. At other times, there is just a radiant, living tree, or a hill that conceals the treasures of the under-earth. What you may discover as a gurgling stream in a forest, I can experience as the rush of a spirit or a God, flowing out the life-force of divinity.

And again, sometimes, it is a stream. The presence never dies.

When that presence is of the mighty Gods, religion is effortless; the Ancestral Way is the way of simple living. When the presence is of a lesser star in the earth, and we desire a religious communion with them, I have found a soul-trodden path to meeting those same powers.

To their homes I go, a walk or a ride from my home to theirs; and there I sit, fastening my mind on the sense of the non-humanness of this person, this living being I wish to communicate with. Many do not understand the point of this portion of my exercise, but the point is crucial: to know spirits, non-human persons, one must first know that they are not "humans writ invisible". They do not conform to our human notions, and the more we find that we envision them as us, instead of as the flexible, non-human mysteries that they are, the more we know that our heads are confusing our hearts.

When I have created in myself that needful sense of the non-humanness of those powers I wish to commune with, I create a sense of kinship- never a hard exercise for a spiritual ecologist and animist, but one that requires sincere effort for most. The subtle beings know our hearts, to a lesser or greater extent, depending on their power. To make a heart of respect creates a bridge for communication. In the force of that respect, given freely as a cousin-being in the web of life, I let the poetry in my soul and in the land stir, making an enchanter's call for the attentions of that power. Song is often the most powerful way to make this call. The trance arises naturally on the back of such a song.

Finally, a sense of passive openness ends the entire technique of spirit-speech: offering the power that I desire a chance to approach me, as I approached it. For we cannot approach them alone; real communion is two-way. And real communion always includes the possibility that the powers desire not to speak. We must offer them that possibility, as our last sign of respect. The communion, if it will be, will come afterwords, in the many ways it can. You will see- or feel- what you will see or feel.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Life Is...

1. Life is water, not stone: Be flexible with people and situations; be prepared to feel moods change and to see your perspectives change over time. Be prepared for life to suddenly end; be prepared for it to suddenly begin. Be prepared for sickness while healthy, and for health while sick. Be prepared for danger amid safety, for sadness amid joy, and joy amid sadness. In the center of the moving wheel of change, remain true to your awareness of the sacredness of life and the land and the necessity of things that come to pass. The living tree bends in the wind.

2. Life is exchange and communion, not grasping and hording: be generous with material things, as far as you can be. Furthermore, don't dam up your own life-force and vitality; give and exchange, combine and flow. This is the nature of nature. You help others by being a channel of power, and you are helped in the exchange, even if you don't see it at first. Remember, countless other powers- seen and unseen- donate themselves to you and your well-being. The living tree freely gives fruit and seed and receives abundant water and sunlight.

3. Life is principled, not chaotic. Sky arches over earth, earth under sky; water and light and heat play between them and within them. One force moves, and sustains countless others- forces converge to create and destroy, upholding the sovereign harmony of the whole. This is not meaningless chaos; it is a sublime natural order, sacred and perfect; it is the inter-weaving of a divine organism that is simply too complete and powerful for human senses to really grasp fully, except in moments of mystical clarity.

The principles of human life can be seen in the earth and sky, where they were originally sung and written; man and woman produce a child; earth and sky produce all life- countless children. Sky and earth alternate from darkness to light, day to night, winter to summer- men and women alternate from youth to old age, from calm to angry, from foolish to wise, from dead to alive.

We should learn from our human parents; respect them, and protect them, like any kin; just so, we should learn from the land and sky, respect them and protect them, too. Parents teach; so does nature. Parents show us how to be dignified, respectful beings; the earth and sky and the other natural powers do the same, when we take our place among them. Parents protect us; so do the mighty non-human powers, powers that are experienced in the storm, the rush of water from under rock, the blazing sun, and in the world-whispers of wind in trees. The living tree grows by a sacred natural order, with undying dignity in its every branch or leaf.

4. Life is cooperation, not merely competition. We are all parts of the same whole. All beings serve the goodness and well-being of every other being or power, in some way. Some die to be food for others; some keep a predator in check that would destroy others, some prey on others, and some create food or shelter for others in some manner. Some destroy the dead wood, letting new growth come in. Some create warmth, some create fertile grounds for reproduction, and some protect others. Greater powers unseen, along with the powers in the sky and under the ground and seas, also move in ways that make life possible.

Beings of the same kind and kin are intended by design to consciously cooperate for the good of others of like kind, and in a broader sense, for the good of all. Cooperation seen this way is a joy- a sacred duty- not a burden. We rely on many; many rely on us.

Honoring different people for their dignity and achievements, for their blessings and abilities, and giving back as we best can, is part of cooperation. Society is sustained in this way: All people are different but all people have a role. According to people the respect their role merits is virtue; according hospitality and protection to family, friends, and even strangers of good will is an expression of our essential being, and an expression of nature's great will. The living tree makes life possible for others, and stands steady in a forest of many different trees.

5. Life is conscious and sovereign, not lame and accidental. The seeds of life are not cast about by a chaotic wind; they find purchase according to the mysterious urgings of the massive weave of sacred power, and they all grow into living entities whose births, lives, and deaths are conscious acts of being and creativity, not random, meaningless acts. The living beings of any world are needed for the completion of the world. Consciously disrupting life without a reason that spares other life is contrary to the natural order of human activity, or the activity of any rational, conscious creature- and lacking in gentleness, except in situations of true peril, is a violation. This is the law, ancient and inexhaustible. The living tree was meant to live.

6. Life is depth, not just surface. For everything that is seen, nine things are unseen; the hills are hollow, the land is haunted with spiritual powers whose presence can be felt still today, just as they were in ancient times. Life has many dimensions; human beings and other entities have many dimensions; to think we "know" all there is to know about a person or a creature by only observing their appearance or behavior, or studying what we call their "elemental composition", is the height of ignorance. To capture the full vision of life, we must go below the surface, to the sources of things. There, in hidden dimensions, the essence of Truth, the distilled wisdom and reality of the past and present is stored. We must then return, bringing a vision of truth and depth back to the world that we all know, making what is seen and unseen complete. The living tree has roots that run deep.

7. Life is poetry, not monotony. When a person knows how to listen to the world and feel the world, they hear pure poetry and feel the timeless sublimity of it all. When a person can only hear voices or sounds apart from the world, they only experience labels and measures, echoes of echoes and shadows of ideas- all experiences which are ghostly traces and lacking in the essence of living art. The world is not withholding its power from us; we are using broken senses out of habit, and never receiving more than a tenth or a hundredth of what we could be experiencing. Thus, the world can appear quite banal or monotonous. But this is a great disguise, and the poetic art that shatters that disguise is the greatest of arts. The living tree makes natural, pure poetry by its standing, its growing, its leaves shaking, its blossoms opening.

8. Life is boundless, not a finite field of matter. You cannot place boundaries on life or the world without instantly becoming aware of the immensity beyond your stopping point- and how that "beyond" has an intimate relationship to what you hold within boundaries. The living web of sacred powers that is this world has no edge; it has no limits. The vast and infinite spirit of nature is the very reason why we never tire of beauty- one may watch a lifetime of sunsets or full moons riding through the clouds, and never tire of the spectacle. One never grows weary of the majesty of mountains or the depths of forests. The living tree possesses a beauty that is ageless, born of a spirit that is infinite.

9. Life is you. You are the living tree.

* * *
As you can see, these nine poetic statements all discuss virtue in terms of "life"- the Living Way- and they encapsulate a rationale for the traditional ancestral virtues:

Poetic Statement 1: Courage and flexibility or forbearance

Poetic Statement 2: Generosity and fertility

Poetic Statement 3: The doctrine of organic order/Fate and nature as teacher

Poetic Statement 4: Social virtue (common welfare/group reliance) and hospitality

Poetic Statement 5: The sacredness of life

Poetic Statement 6: Wisdom and ancestral piety

Poetic Statement 7: Poetry, song and creativity as a sacred and fundamental aspect of human society and endeavor

Poetic Statement 8: Awe and respect for the natural world

Poetic Statement 9: The final mystery of identity.