The poet e.e. cummings begins one of his poems with the invocation: “O sweet spontaneous earth.” Then he goes on to say that philosophy, science, and religion have “pinched and poked” the earth to make it do what they want. But the earth will not respond convincingly to them. When all the pinching and poking is done, the earth gives a simple answer that they were not expecting. As cummings says:
them only with
And so we are hearing earth’s answer to whatever questions we’ve been asking her over the winter months. Spring!
In the springtime I am most reminded of one of the roles I play in the world of shamanism. It’s the role of one-who-waits. To paraphrase some lines of Mary Oliver, I have been standing around, but not just standing around. Standing around with my arms open. We are ones who walk between the worlds, and so we expect different realities to step into our lives. We expect the spirit world to come into being for us. And we are fortunate to have a way of opening our arms to it: the shamanic journey.
We must remind ourselves though that we are not making the spirit world do what we want when we journey. We must not be like cummings’s philosophers, scientists, and religionists who poke and pinch, for the spirit world will not tolerate poking and pinching. Rather, we must begin our journeys with the poet’s attitude that the poem will come into being as it is written, and that there will come that fine moment between the worlds we call inspiration when the poem will write itself.
At its best, the shamanic journey allows us to position ourselves in a psychic space where the spirit world can come into existence. It is similar to the world of subatomic physics that goes in and out of existence, shapeshifting between waves and particles, containing elements that only become real under certain circumstances. It’s the world of the Tao where everything emerges out of a vast void of silence and emptiness. It’s a world we go into but cannot determine what will happen there, what we will find there, or what we will become there.
When we begin a journey we should make a mental check that we are prepared for this elusiveness. Perhaps this should be an actual “mental check,” that is, we should check our rational, classical thinking at the entry to the Otherworld so that our attention can be open to any possibility that comes into being. When we journey with too much wishful thinking, when our observing mind is planning too many steps ahead on the journey, when we “force” certain things to happen from too much expectation, we don’t allow the spirit world to come into being on its own terms. I think the spirit world should be viewed through cummings’s phrase: O sweet spontaneous earth.
I’ve been writing in recent Rivercurrent articles about how language shapes our sense of reality, and that the English language is rich in nouns which reinforces our classical way of thinking that reality is composed of solid, immutable objects, and that we can exercise control and take possession of these objects. Are we not also susceptible to treating the spirit world in this same way? I hope not. The spirit world is very much like the world of subatomic physics where “things” cannot be pinched, poked, prodded, or pinned down. The physicist Heisenberg suggested what he called the “uncertainty principle” to account for the fact that when you try to measure a quantum particle, its speed changes in unpredictable ways. When you try to measure its speed, the position of the particle is disturbed. It is a delicately balanced, uncertain world that does not allow a lot of poking and prodding. It tries to elude us, tries to hide. So too the spirit world.
The spirit world hides most noticeably from us when we are ensconced in ordinary reality activities. In fact, when we go merrily through our days and nights manipulating physical things and focusing our attention on them, the spirit world can seem unreal or far away. Carl Jung says that it tries to break into our consciousness with synchronicities, those meaningful coincidences that spring from both our interior life and the outer life around us. But often we are too mesmerized by ordinary reality to take notice of them. Dreams can also give us a wake-up call (so to speak) by bringing the spirit world into our dreaming consciousness, but how quickly they fade when we really do wake up to ordinary reality. Dreams and synchronicities cannot be forced. We must wait for them as with open arms.
We can’t force spring even though we can force a sprig of forsythia to bloom inside at the kitchen window. We must wait for spring, wait for it with arms flung wide. I feel most aligned with my shamanic practice at this season because no one has to force me to open my arms. I’ve been waiting for weeks. I know where to look for spring, just as I know where to look for things in the spirit world. Even though my attitude must be open and expectant, I cannot be too specifically expectant. I have to honor and trust the spirit world’s ability to come into being for me on its own terms when I journey, not mine. If I observe what the spirit world is becoming and doing on a journey rather than what I think it should be, I may be as surprised by the journey as I am each year by spring.
In another poem cummings says
Spring is like a perhaps hand
(which comes carefully
out of Nowhere) arranging. . . .
changing everything carefully
So too is the spirit world. It’s like a perhaps hand. Is a perhaps hand too uncertain for you? Well, let’s say the spirit world is also like a place that cummings refers to in yet another poem
Spring and everyone’s
in love and flowers pick themselves.
O that our shamanic journeys were always as sweet and spontaneous and fine as a place where always it’s . . . . Spring!