Friday, August 03, 2012


Some people became very upset with my remarks about shamanism because it is their:
1.  Source of valued identity
2.  Community of value
This double “selfing” is not different from being defined politically or religiously or ethnically or by gender, except for one factor:  mysticism, which is access to another world, perhaps beyond death, a source of renewal and even resurrection.  I cannot speak to mysticism because no one can speak to what is indefinable, only felt.  It is inarguable, though it might be described and assigned a place in a schematic of human beings, what Damasio calls “the ravenous map-making addiction” and Siegal calls “the marvelous sea within.”  
In the meantime, I am content to explore the implications of opening the lid of the black brain box to see how it works.  I do not believe doing that will let the mystery escape into thin air nor that the psyche explored is the psyche destroyed.  But it sure does scare a lot of people.
Here’s Siegel’s useful definition:
Mind is the embodied and relational emergent process that regulates the flow of energy and information patterning.
It has to be properly pinned down with sub-definitions.  So here’s the way I understand them.  (It would be a good idea for you to pull up Siegel’s videos and see if I blew it.)   Try
1.  Mind:  The whole of the following qualities.

2.  Brain:  A structure of cells that evolves from the same original one-third of the conceptus that becomes the skin and the gut, therefore organized around the same molecular loops.  Structures have evolved over time via both addition and re-purposing until it looks something like Siegel’s hand model.

3.  Embodied:  The actual “brain” in the skull is connected by two separate nerve systems to everything in the whole body and uses the sensory information of every cell when it works.  It is connected both by filaments that carry electrochemical charges and by chemical solutions that wash through the blood and limbic systems.

4.  Relational:  In addition, the brain is constantly responding to what is outside the body, in particular other people.  The mirror cells and the pre-frontal cortex have evolved to be a kind of radar that makes this a powerful force in self-guidance.

5.  Emergent:  “Emergence” is a technical term that is something like synergistic.  That is, if you put certain forces and elements together, some new thing organizes itself and is more than the sum of its parts.

6.  Process:  A person is a verb rather than a noun.  Death is when the process stops, not when some object is eliminated.  It is a dance, a song, a story -- all of which can persist beyond the person.

7.  Flow of energy:  Body cells crackle with energy from oxygen and from electrochemical transformation.

8.  Information patterning:  thoughts are patterns invented and constantly revised by certain nodes in the brain.  The better the communication among these nodes and parts (the two halves of the brain) and among oneself and others and the general environment, the richer becomes “the sea within.”
But there is more.  Human beings who are healthy and happy still seek the intense experience of a consciousness they may consider “mystical.”  It can be evoked by sensory cues, drugs, sex, danger, stress -- many forces, but the result is something like what Maslow called “a peak experience,” and sometimes leads to personal transformation.  

To some degree this evocation can be guided by art theory.  “Art is the communication of a relationship between a person and the universe.”  (Notice that this fits with the definition of “mind” above.)  But it is more intense and usually -- but not always -- seen as sacred, holy, specially privileged.  Religion (which is institutional and systematic) tries to claim exclusive access but the feeling of the sacred can’t be owned.  In the Biblical metaphor, the wind of the spirit blows where it “listeth.”
LIturgies, rituals, prayers and so on purport to evoke this intense consciousness we call “sacred,” but it only works sometimes.  The art of designing such experiences remains “art.”  In the Western world this may having something to do with the dominance of words, printed and spoken.  They CAN “call” the sacred, but too often they become a screen, a habit, boring and meaningless.  The deeper sensory metaphors are the key.
Eliade’s had the idea that a person can “feel” places that have more spiritual energy than others -- tops of mountains, depths of caves, doorways, transitions of all kinds, places where something intense happened -- seems valid.  The question is how to deepen an art into acquiring this spiritual energy -- the sort of thing that changes lives or even society.
We have the von Gennep/Turner knowledge that to get to a sacred consciousness it is necessary to cross a kind of threshold -- at least that’s how it feels.  We have Becker’s idea that we can only defend ourselves against the knowledge that we will die by feeling we have value in some way and that we belong to a meaningful community.  The modern dilemma has been to find those two factors in the face of the realization that not only will WE die, but also our culture, and eventually the planet.  Nothing will be left but a patterning and repatterning of energy.  Unless we can come to terms with that, we can only despair.
This is what I’ve been working on in “The Bone Chalice,” how we can get our flaming minds to relate to a cosmos where dark holes swallow everything even as bright stars are born.  Science is no less mystical than that.  Those who fear that science will reduce everything to gears and sprockets are simply defining science in a pejorative, opportunistic, destructive way that serves the goals of institutional religion.  They want to be the only ones who “know,” who have access to the Power Ring or the Secret Spell or the Intact Crystal.  But the truth, as Dorothy found out, is in every human being and that’s a marvelous mystery.


Anonymous said...

Speaking of mysteries, you know the Blackfeet traditions about the giant eagles that lived on Chief Mountain? Check out this post at

"I witnessed a very, very large bird (6-7 ft. tall) that looked almost exactly like a Golden Eagle except for its extraordinary size. The avian flew off with a small deer in its grasp. Its wingspan was wider than one lane of US HWY 21. It lifted the deer from the roadway and cleared the treetops with three cycles of its wings.

"The deer's neck was clearly visibly broken, and not just a little bit. It had clearly very recently happened. I have spent much of my life outdoors, hunting, fishing, hiking, camping, etc, and have seen deer in all manner of states and speak from a position of knowledge on the deer itself. I am also quite clear on the size and age of the deer, and stand firmly by my 50 lb estimate. Also not included was what first caught my eye, the movement of spooked (alerted) deer far ahead in the roadway. I saw the flashes of white on their hind ends as they bounded briefly about in the roadway, in an obvious attempt to get the heck out of there, apparently as afraid of this thing as I was. I am sure there are many more small details that may or may not be important.

"Also, one thing that really stuck out to me about the whole thing is when the bird looked up. It didn't look at my vehicle. It looked straight at me. In my face. We made eye contact, which totally freaked me out, and convinced me that the creature was very intelligent. This has always stuck out as being very impressive to me. It looked straight into my eyes.

Mary Strachan Scriver said...

This comment is a little off the general philosophical topic of the post but it's clear the person needed a place to post it. Condors used to live on the northern prairie and they are indeed very big and unafraid birds.

Prairie Mary