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Spirit: maybe the answer we are looking for!

Sarah Cunningham's picture

One word which has been mentioned rather rarely, in our readings, in our discussions, in our postings, is spirit, or spirituality. Once I notice this lack, it becomes glaring, conspicuous in its absence, since in many instances it gives the answer, the resolution to our dilemmas, the center which would hold together our ethics and our analysis. If we start to notice, as native people's do, that everything has a spirit, its right to its exist becomes clear. Our patriarchal, human-dominated, nature-dominating, exploitive civilization is partly based on, or justified by, the notion that only humans have a soul. Even science has carried on this view, assuming that since we have larger brains and a certain kind of self-reflective consciousness, that therefore we are in a different category completely from any other creature. Of course this view is even scientifically breaking down, as we find out about communication and creativity in creatures like dolphins, chimpanzees, elephants--and fruit flies! But there is still an assumption that we count more, because we are able to think in this way that has allowed us to develop our technology. It goes on reinforcing the view that we have rights over everything else.

Once we start to recognize that everything has a spirit, the entire balance can't help but shift. This is difficult, obviously, within an academic context. What is this spirit? How can we prove its existence? What does spirit even mean? How can we analyze it? Doesn't it entrap us in sectarian wrangling between different beliefs, a terrible quagmire of subjectivity, opinion, and intolerance? It's understandable perhaps that the only place we are comfortable even talking about it is in the department of "history of religion", or "comparative religion": studying it from a safe, objective distance where it does not have to mix with other disciplines, or affect how we understand things, how we think, or how we act.

I don't believe this needs to be the excuse for not opening our minds to an experiential reality that in one step can place all our endeavors into a meaningful context and perspective. I'll write more about this in my paper, but I got excited and wanted to post about it now. Not only a human has a spirit, a tree has a spirit, a squirrel has a spirit. A college has a spirit. A city has a spirit, a species has a spirit, a country has a spirit. A lake or a stone has a spirit. Maybe it is useful to split hairs and get really aware of our assumptions, what we are conscious and unconscious of, how we know and do not know things. Maybe we want to stay really practical, with what is, and what is possible. In both cases, if we do it in the awareness of spirit, it becomes possible for some fresh air and light to shine in. I want to stop being frightened by the taboo on considering and talking about the need for spiritual awareness in our lives, in our colleges, in our society. I do not mean religion! Though religions in their origins and in theory are spiritual, based on awareness and guidance from spirit, all too often they intolerant, closed, hierarchical. 

My shamanic teachers say that "Nature is the visible face of spirit": one way of expressing something. I think I'll leave with that thought. Does this make any sense?