All Our Relations: Pagans and the more-than-human world.
For aware Pagans the Sacred encompasses us all, rivers and mountains, oceans and deserts, grasses and trees, fish and fungi, birds and animals. Understanding the implications of what this means, and how to experience it first hand, involves our growing individually and as a community well beyond the limits of this world-pathic civilization. All Our Relations exists to help fertilize this transition.
Penetrating the world of spirit, II
My previous post on connecting with Pagan Gods and Goddesses involved seeking to establish relationships with them by becoming involved in ritual Pagan practices where such events happen, and sometimes are even expected to happen. Having such experiences means our spiritual reality roots are directly into our own experience of the more-than-human as not only sacred but also willing to enter into explicit relationship with us. Such encounters are both wonderful and deeply transformative. They also upset our life plans in many cases, although in my experience leaving us ultimately better off than had such things not happened.
But are there easier ways to at least get a sense of this greater reality? Ways where we can be more active in our search?
The answer is yes. While serious spiritual practices and ritual work ultimately carry us farther, there is at least one fairly easy way that fairly reliably takes us through the mundane door into the more-than-human, and in addition can open up opportunities to become a healer should you so choose.
This approach can give you first hand experience of subtle connections most people never notice. Referring back to my first post, you will see gorillas within the basketball game. But doing so does not necessarily lead to experiencing other normally unnoticed intelligences. However it does give some suggestion that all separate intelligences are very likely a part of one more inclusive one. And that is no small thing.
I am referring to learning how to see what are often called “energy fields.”
Shamanic and other spiritual traditions across the world claim subtle energies exist that modern science cannot discern, but that have important impacts on our lives. Modern secularists disparage these claims because they have never experienced them. Nor in most cases have they ever tried. Why look through Galileo’s telescope when you already know in advance that there is nothing to see, and that anything appearing through it is an illusion? We know in advance that gorillas do not walk across basketball courts. Why waste time seeing whether they do?
In reality some people have seen them all their lives and others (I am one) have learned how to see them reliably. Once a person learns how to see these fields, if they choose, a whole new world begins to open up.
I will describe three exercises that lead to this outcome, and you can do any of them at home. The first is a prerequisite for the other two, but they can be done in any order.
(I obviously cannot guarantee everyone will see these energies, but when I teach others how, most do. Reading an account is not as good as learning directly from another, but it can work for many. My initial breakthrough into this kind of seeing came from following directions in a book back in the 60s.)
Sit comfortably and hold your hand and fingers in front of you. Open your hand as flat as comfortably possible. Palm up is more comfortable for me, but do what is most comfortable for you. Spread your fingers. Keep them in focus, but do not stare at them. While holding your hand with fingers spread, focus instead on the plane along which your fingers lie. I tell people “imagine your hand is resting on a sheet on plexiglass with another sheet on top of it, gently pressing it flat. Keep the plane lying between those sheets of plexiglass in focus. Your hand should be in focus but you will not be attending to any particular part of it. I call this “permissive viewing.”
Slowly and smoothly move your hand back and forth a little bit along the plane on which it lies. The reason for doing this is to reduce even more any attention you might pay to the background behind your hand. It is your fingers and especially the space between your fingers that you need to keep in focus. But again, do not stare at your fingers. Treat them as no more important to see than the space between them.
It is also helpful to do this exercise with your hand in moderate light with a more subdued background. Strong light creates a glare, and we are not looking for glare. Once you learn how to see this energy you will find these initial conditions are not necessary. But at first they make it easier,
As passively as possible and with minimal expectations as to what is there, allow your gaze to notice the largest triangle of space between your opened fingers. Perhaps it is the space between your forefinger and middle finger that form a “V”. But again, whatever is comfortable for you.
Now, "notice" the space extending out from your fingers about 1/8" to ¼", outlining their edges, like a glove.
Is the texture of this space any different from the space beyond it? In truth there is texture throughout this area, but it is much more apparent in that first enclosing 1/8 to ¼ inch. In appearance it might seem like a mini heat wave. Perhaps it possesses a faint outer boundary. If so, notice whether the boundary is lighter or darker than the space closer to your fingers. Does it have a color? For most of you, especially initially, this effect will be very subtle, but in my experience most people, particularly young people, learn to see this field fairly quickly.
This field is what in some metaphysical writing is commonly called the "etheric film." Once you see it I recommend practicing until it is relatively easy to see. Some people have seen it all their lives, but either ignored it or chosen not to talk about it. Others can learn to see it relatively easily. I was in that group myself. Some, however, seem unable to see it. I imagine like most skills and senses we form a bell shaped curve with adepts at one end, those unable to see it at all at the other, and most of us distributed along the middle. While I hope you are not one of those unable to see it, there are other ways to perceive this field, usually by touch. But in this post I am focusing on sight.
Once you are able to see this field there are many things you can do to explore its significance. Here I explore its implications for our experience of nature.
Go outside and look at some trees. The easiest for my purposes are large trees with prominent trunks and relatively few branches for at least five to six feet. Longer trunks are better than shorter ones. This exercise is particularly easy to do in the winter when there is snow because there are fewer distractions through foliage, which has its own energy fields. (Everything does.) Snow on the ground provides an unbroken background with no distractions of its own. The big snowstorms currently occurring in the Midwest and east are a blessing for this practice because bare deciduous trees with tall trunks and snowy ground are the easiest context to observe this phenomena.
Look at a tree trunk and its immediate vicinity the same way you looked at your hand: passively and in focus. If you are walking slowly on a sidewalk (so you can take your path for granted and not worry about stumbling or keeping your footing) you can repeat the part in Exercise I. above where you moved your hand slowly to help dissociate your attention from the background. Ideally the tree is far enough from you so as not to seem to be moving very much, but nevertheless is moving enough to help separate itself for you visually from its background. That way you can more easily keep only the plane in which the tree lies in focus. As with your fingers in the first exercise, you want to attend as passively as you can to the space to either side of the trunk.
Notice how the field surrounding the trunk is to some degree similar to what you saw around your hand, but also different. In my experience it differs most noticeably in being thicker than what surrounds the hand. If other trunks are farther away, notice how the fields around them are smaller, as we would expect when looking at something farther away. This offers strong evidence that what you are seeing is not simply a trick of your vision.
Once you are able to see these fields around trees, look at other things. Those things with visually well-defined physical boundaries are the easiest. Even a lamp pole has a field, although in my experience one considerably smaller than that surrounding an equivalently thick tree. Here is additional evidence what you are seeing is not simply an aspect of our visual process.
For many people with practice, and for some simply because of the blessings of talent, you will in time be able to see these fields extending far beyond these initial boundaries, but with gradually increasing subtlety until they appear to fade away or enter into the general background network of fields within which we all live.
These fields suggest several important insights. First, we are continually immersed within and interpenetrate these fields as other things interpenetrate ours. We are not radically distinct from one another. Whatever it is that makes us "us," to some degree at least extends beyond our physical bodies, and when it does it enters into similar fields generated by others and extending beyond their physical bodies. It is only at the most physical level in the common sense meaning of the word that we become relatively impenetrable, although of course even our physical body is always constantly taking some of its physical surroundings into it, as when we breathe and as physicists tell us, matter is ultimately not really “stuff,” it is energy.
Explicit focusing is a way not only of seeing something more clearly, it is also a way of not seeing what you are not focused on. It is an intensifying and narrowing of attention. People on the basketball court were focused on watching the ball change hands among members of a team, and so did not see the gorilla. Our normal focus is on our fingers, trees, and other solid objects that interest us. We do not see the subtle energy fields that extend beyond the object of our focus. In these exercises we still focus, but on what we normally ignore. And when we do, the region reveals unsuspected qualities.
As you practice this skill you will discover that the field does not end suddenly, like a glove. It extends further and further, but at more and more subtle and difficult to see levels. This method is also how many learn eventually to see the aura, but doing so is much harder because it is more subtle. But “permissive gaze” is a key to seeing it.
If you experiment with a partner, you will discover you can often feel when parts of your respective fields come into contact with one another.
Brush your visible field against another’s, but do not “physically” touch. Perhaps you can do it with the tips of your fingers and theirs as well, to reduce any sense of bodily heat. Can you feel it when they ‘touch’? What we call our physical senses extend into what is called our subtle body. “I” do not end at the tip of my nose, and “you” do not end at its tip either. I can to some degree perceive with these fields, an observation with very important implications.
Because we can feel these interpenetrations when we closely attend to them, it is no stretch to say we are always being impacted by them, even when we are not paying attention. We are always connected to some degree with those around us, from trees to persons, and to much more. Gary Snyder once said that the spirit of place consists of the collective impact of all the energy fields in an area. I believe this is what he meant. We evolved in these fields, and our DNA carries a probably awareness of them over a billion years of development. I suspect this is why we often feel so much better and more complete when in a relatively undisturbed part of nature. The energy fields are in harmony with one another, not broken up by recent disruptions that have yet to be re-integrated together smoothly.
These fields are very responsive to mental intention and the quality of one’s mind. As conduits from one body to another they can serve as means for sending healing energy to another. If you pursue energy healing or working with a Tai Chi or Xi Gong master, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bSZq78t4WMg you will learn a great deal more. Another excellent source to pursue here is Barbara Brennan’s Hands of Light and Dolores Krieger’s Accepting Your Power to Heal: The Personal Practice of Therapeutic Touch,
In addition, at least some spirits seem to consist of at least a variant of this kind of energy. Once you learn to see it, you will be better able to perceive certain kinds of spirit beings. There is no need to proceed far along this path if you do not want to. Again, being able to see such phenomena is not a sign of being more spiritually advanced than those who do not or cannot. But rather like knowing more about the world in which we live enriches the experience of living, more appreciation for the subtleties of the spirit world enhances many people’s appreciation of their lives.
While this kind of energy plays an important role in health and healing, one can live an exemplary life and not see it and I imagine one can be quite a jerk and still see it. But for us Americans, reared as we have been in a culture that is blind and even autistic in its inability to relate to the more-than-human world, it is useful to at least be able to see and experience for ourselves this kind of energy. It helps us remember we are connected to all things, that our individuality is composed of relations, not impenetrable soul-stuff, and that science is a process of discovering increasingly reliable knowledge rather than a standard for Truth at whatever point along its journey it happens to be. On balance, it helps open our hearts, and that is to my mind the true gift of the Pagan spiritual path.
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