Two Spiritual Paths, two poems
Two paths of spiritual awakening that activate from and come back to the same place.
Imagine that one of the paths goes to the right, the other to the left. The one to the right leads “down” into the earth, to the realm of plant spirits and medicines, the consciousness in stone and water, the souls of the ancestors, the power of Gaia, and beyond into realms of consciousness and spirit. This is the path of shamanism.
Shamanism as I know it begins with a personal relationship with the earth. It is about connecting deeply with water and animals and buds and rotting leaves. It is a joyful, juicy, sensual, physical path, with practices and understandings that bond us with the Earth and her children.
The shamanic path is also about connecting with spirits and energies through ceremony and purposeful meditation. With guidance and practice the seeker learns to expand beyond the mind and body to experience and explore the vast realms beyond the physical. Always, the intention of those journeys is to bring back the gifts received and use them in service of the people.
The left hand path is the path of mysticism. This path seeks to go “up,” to transcend the physical, to leave behind the limitations of emotion, hunger, mental striving, ego, and the desires and limitations of the body. It is a journey of release and detachment, seeking to know the unknowable.
The mystical path progresses toward a realm of detached consciousness where physical reality is known as a tiny aspect of a much larger reality. Beyond that is Oneness, where the observer is an ephemeral spark through which the experience can be perceived by the human self. Then even that is gone, and there is only the All.
Each path has its own magic, its own challenges, its own power. They appear very different. It would be easy to think that the differences are irreconcilable, that the seeker must choose one or the other. It may even seem even that one is true and the other false or at best deficient.
Both paths are true. They explore different aspects of consciousness, and after diverging to do that exploration, when they reach a certain place they converge. At the highest levels the primary quality of both paths is Love. The experience of the path of the mystic is of a vast, impersonal yet deeply felt, Love, the substrate of all existence. In the human realm it includes the qualities of lovingkindness, compassion, appreciative joy, and equanimity. For the shaman, the experience is of being held in the ineffable Love of the Creator, unbounded by the constraints of physical nature, time, or space. These experiences are one and the same.
In that faraway place, detachment from the world is complete, yet that is not the end point; from that place, as the seeker returns to human consciousness, the desire to engage (or to re-engage) with the world follows, and engagement comes about effortlessly, whether in doing or in being.
The poems below express the limitations of descriptions of spiritual paths, and in that sense they are a commentary on what I’ve written above. The suggestion, of course, is that the seeker always use discernment and find his/her/its/their own truth, even when guided by a resonant spiritual path.
Errors in Maps
“The map is not the territory,”
Good wisdom, that,
and equally so the corollary:
“If what you see is not what’s on the map, well then
the map is wrong.”
What of spiritual charts?
My childhood ones,
presented fixed and unquestionable then,
are all marked up these days.
When my knowing does not match those maps,
I draw my own trails and hills and beautiful ponds,
depictions of my lived experience.
There are good maps out there,
of places magical and holy.
If you seek out those maps
and make the journeys shown
Truth is to be found.
The makers of them knew
that past the edges of those maps is Love
and only that
farther than we can see.
They also knew
that beyond that Love
November 8 2022