Felicitas D Goodman (41)
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A Maya Whistle

Felicitas D. Goodman Indiana University Press ePub

In tomb 23 on the Rio Azul in Guatemala, archeologists came across a figurine representing a young man (pl. 65). He is sitting cross-legged and has his arms folded over his chest. The posture is also seen in a warrior from a classical Maya site at Jaina, on the western coast of the peninsula of Yucatán. Two features, however, distinguish the Rio Azul figurine from the Jaina one. The man from the Rio Azul has his tongue between his lips, and the figurine is a whistle.

When we did the posture for the first time in Cuyamungue in the summer of 1986, one participant was advised to heal a split in her body, another one was to guard something, and Isi was told, rather severely, “If you don’t have any questions now, come back when you do.” Although there were also other kinds of visions, of a hammock, of finely decorated pots, “as if from Mimbres,” of potsherds scattered about, we still decided mainly because of Isi’s report that the posture was intended for divining. However, when we did the posture once more in Columbus in November 1986 with a rather large group, Belinda was informed emphatically that divination was not what the Spirits had in mind: “No—that won’t happen here.”

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Appendix: Some Practical Points

Felicitas D. Goodman Indiana University Press ePub

—If you would like to try any of the postures I have described, you will need rhythmic stimulation. With some practice, you can record a tape for yourself, using either a drum or a rattle. The beat should be even and rather fast. Mine is timed at 200–210 beats per minute, and one session should last about fifteen minutes.

—Familiarize yourself with the posture first, then do a breathing exercise. It consists of fifty light, normal, complete breaths, with inhaling, exhaling, and pause constituting one breath unit. At the conclusion of this exercise, assume the posture once more, close your eyes, and start listening to the beat of the instrument. After a while, you may no longer hear the soundtrack. Do not worry about it. Your nervous system registers it anyway, although out of awareness. If you try to get back to the sound, you may interrupt your vision.

—As soon as the soundtrack stops, and provided you are clinically healthy, you will return to ordinary consciousness. Once in a great while a person does not manage this transition well. For this reason, a beginner should always have a companion. If the companion notices that the trancer does not come to right away, the first thing to do is to call his/her name. Gently releasing the trancer’s posture is also a good strategy, and providing a glass of water will help, too. As the group leader, you will occasionally go into a light trance yourself. One of my participants told that as she was rattling, her Indian spirit friend appeared before her and rattled along with her.

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Chapter 1: Possession’s Many Faces

Felicitas D. Goodman Indiana University Press ePub

In order to understand possession, we need first of all to come to terms with the concept of the soul. The behavioral sciences, such as psychology or anthropology, consider human beings to be biopsychological systems. According to this view, all experience results from the interaction of the various parts within this integrated unit. Obviously, there is no room for the soul in a theory of this sort. As Virchow, a famous German surgeon of the nineteenth century, used to say, “I never found a soul with my scalpel.” We may ask, of course, whether the scalpel is the most useful tool for finding the soul. Ancient sages as well as religious specialists active in societies today the world over, including our own, certainly never used it for that purpose. They simply took the existence of the soul for granted, building their entire belief system on the conviction that indeed humans do have at least one or possibly even several souls.

The two opinions are clearly at loggerheads with each other, and although as Westerners, we are inclined to opt against the soul theory, we should at least be fair and ask the following question: If you disagree with the idea that humans are integrated systems, a heap of cells having unimaginably complex interconnections as well as psychological dimensions, but nothing else, then what are you going to propose as a countertheory? The answer we will get from those cleaving to the “soul hypothesis” is that in their view, humans consist of a shell, something like a box, namely, the body, and an ephemeral substance or essence residing within, usually termed the soul. All the various religious faiths and systems we are going to become acquainted with in these pages take the soul theory for granted, as a given, as their unshakable foundation.

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Chapter 2. Human Evolution and the Origins and Evolution of Religious Behavior

Felicitas D. Goodman Indiana University Press ePub

In 1866, the Société de Linguistique of Paris banned all discussion of the origin and evolution of human language and speech. The argument was that nothing could be known about the topic, and thus its treatment was sheer conjecture and idle speculation. No such interdict was ever issued with respect to religion, although the disquisitions on its origins have equally been plagued with “sheer conjecture and idle speculation.” Take the French author Ch. R. de Brosses. He suggested in 1760 that humans first invented fetishism, that is, the worship of inanimate objects and of animals. Egypt, he thought, showed traces of such practices, which had also been reported by casual visitors to the West African coast. Fetishism gave rise to polytheism, and that in turn to monotheism. Subsequent speculation ran along similar totally unsupported and fanciful lines. Gradually, however, ethnography, archeology, prehistory, primatology, and even neurophysiology have greatly added to our knowledge about the cognitive evolution of humans, emboldening even the linguists to take a second look, more than a hundred years after the above quoted Paris decision.1 As we shall see, some of the suggestions that emerged from their renewed consideration of the topic supported the idea that there might possibly be some parallels in the emergence of language and religion. To understand this train of thought, let us take a brief look at the course of human evolution as reconstructed by modern science.

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Chapter 2: Spiritualism

Felicitas D. Goodman Indiana University Press ePub

To many people, the idea of possession by an alien entity is a frightening one, because the word conjures up stories of malevolent, demonic intrusion. Actually, though, the experience does not always involve evil spirits. Quite often, instead, the beings in question are kindly, helpful, or, at most, dangerous. As to the reasons why there should be such a variety of traditions about this experience, we have to turn briefly to the history of human cultural evolution.1

The whole complex of possession and the rituals concerning it must be quite old, judging from the fact that the tradition is so widely distributed. It is known, for example, to horticulturalists, as we saw with the Ynomamö (see chap. 1), where the medicine men invited the spirits into their chests. The horticulture of the Ynomamö Indians is a very ancient form of cultivation, arising directly from the original style of subsistence of all humankind, that of hunting and gathering. It survives to this day as a sophisticated adaptation to tropical rain forests, for instance in South America. Its name derives from the Latin word hortus, “garden,” because instead of open fields these societies work small, gardenlike plots. The area for the gardens is burned over and yields a harvest only for about three years. That forces horticulturalist societies to be on the move all the time, and their villages are not permanent. Such mobility necessitates a constant close interaction with their surroundings, their natural habitat, which demands flexibility and adaptiveness. Quite logically, their ethical system is also based on appropriateness, for they cannot afford the rigidity of a world view that is based on the cleavage between good and evil. It follows that their spirits are adaptable, too; they are neither good nor evil, they are simply powerful. In Japan, the only large modern state with strong ties to horticulturalist tradition, spirits of this nature tend to predominate in possession, as we shall see in chapter 5.

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Foundation Anasazi (8)
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1 The Path of Light

Foundation, Anasazi Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

A few days into my journey, still kicking against nature,
I swung at what turned out to be poison oak.

I cursed my carelessness and
my anticipated discomfort and pain.

Truly all creation is against me, I murmured.

Later that day, I tripped in a bone-dry creek bed,
smashing my knee against a rock.
I remember grimacing in pain toward an empty sky.

As I lay there, I recalled words my father had spoken to me
while on a hunt: “WE who lose our footing have lost our
way,” he had said. “Our walking is in darkness.”

What did he mean by walking in darkness? I wondered, as
I picked myself up and limped on my way. And what did
darkness have to do with stumbling in daylight?

Despite my anger toward my father, in that moment I had to
accept that I had seen my father, and the great ones among
our people, sure-footed and rooted upon the earth as any
tree or plant, yet as light as a seed upon the wind.

This memory awakened my life to light
and for a moment brightened a son’s hurting heart.

Young friend, each morning offers lessons in light.
For the morning light teaches the most basic of truths:

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2 The Path of Wind

Foundation, Anasazi Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

Weeks into my journey, I came to the edge of a land
known by my people as “the land of winding cliffs.”

Sandstone ridges filled the horizon.
Junipers peeked out from crags in the rocky cliffs,
but otherwise vegetation seemed scarce.

I had never seen this land, but I had heard rumor of it
among my people. It was said to be a place to be avoided—
a confusing land where many entered and few returned.

But here it was, too immense to be avoided, or so I thought.
And so I entered it, despite my people’s warnings.

For most of a day, I carefully picked my way from one
canyon to the next, consulting the sun above for direction.
But as the day grew longer, I became less sure of each choice.

By the time the sun set, I was lost.
Rock walls rose high on either side, obscuring
the night sky and pressing their shadows against me.
After a series of choices I could not retrace, I found myself
stuck in a labyrinth of dead ends and gullies.

It was the last time in my life that I would feel fear.

Yes, the last time.

For as morning dawn broke,
I discovered a truth that casts fear away:

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3 The Path of Water

Foundation, Anasazi Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

I escaped the land of winding cliffs to the south.
And when I did so, I changed course from where
I initially had planned to go.

From that day, I no longer ran from my people
but merely persisted in staying away from them.

Days passed into months and months into years.

I grew into manhood without the companionship of
my father and without the worrying comfort of my mother.

The hills and the valleys raised me.

Then, as well as now, in my daily walking, I have sought
the answer to one question above all others:

Where will I find water?

Think about water for a moment.

Have you ever considered all it does for us?

I have learned to walk near water, for beside it the earth
springs forth to provide shade and refreshment.

I try to rest near water,
for I need it for nourishment and strength.

I bathe in water, for it cleanses and invigorates my skin.

My final destination at the end of each day has been
a pool of pure water.

And when traveling in dry places, each morning
I have set off with as much of that pool as I could carry.

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4 The Path of Stone

Foundation, Anasazi Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

I mentioned that on the night of the great storm I found
safe passage on a formation of stone—one of many times
that stone has supported, taught, or saved me.

Taught? you might wonder. Stone teaches?


Every stone we observe has been on the earth for ages.
Should we be surprised if they possess wisdom
that we do not?

In the months and years I was separated from my people,
wisdom was at my feet all the while.

The stones that met my every step—
those silent patriarchs from years past—
they made wisdom my foundation.
Or at least offered to do so.

To become wise, I had to learn to hear their silence.

Initially, I heard stone only when I turned to it
for help—as when I needed to cross a stream
or when I desired to shape a tool.

But even when I have ignored it, stone has always
offered itself to me and supported my every step.

What has stone offered?

In a word:


Why peace?

Because amid turmoil, such as during the great storm,
stone has offered me safe passage.

When the earth has seemed to be shifting around me,
stone has been my sure foundation.

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5 The Path of Plants

Foundation, Anasazi Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

For all who have a desire to change their walking,
nature displays in abundance the way to do it.

The answer grows all around you.

Pardon me if it seems I speak in riddles.
For I do not mean to. Riddles are obscure,
while the path to forward walking is clear—
as clear as the flowers before you.

For plants, my young friend, know a secret—
the secret to forward walking.

It seems odd to say that plants walk forward, but they do.

And it is a shame that their knowledge of
forward walking remains a secret,
for they have been speaking of it to all
who would listen, from the beginning of time.

Listen to them, my young friend,
and they will show you the way.

You can hear the secret most plainly
when you are listening from a great distance.

For the secret of plants is most obvious in plants’ absence.

This is not another riddle
but simply recognition of what is sadly true:
man sees lack much more readily than abundance.

It is when plants are absent that we learn to see them.

My learning from plants began
as I wandered across a stark desert plain.

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Scott Russell Sanders (30)
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A Private History of Awe

Scott Russell Sanders Indiana University Press ePub

When I rise from meditation each morning, I gaze through an uncurtained window at the waking world, and I bow. The gesture is plain enough—hands drawn to my chest, palms pressed together, a slight bend at the waist—but its meaning is elusive. If you asked me to explain my little ritual, to say whom or what I honor with my bow, I would be hard put to answer.

It’s a question I ask myself with increasing urgency as the years run by. The urgency is not the same as I felt at the age of ten or fifteen, when I prayed fervently each night, having been persuaded by preachers and Sunday School teachers that there was one and only one combination to the door opening from life into immortality. Nor is it the urgency I felt in my twenties, when the Vietnam War pressed me down to the roots of conscience as I struggled to choose between going into battle, exile, or jail. Nor is it the urgency I felt during my thirties and forties, when my children, still young, looked to me for guidance about ultimate things.

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A Road into Chaos and Old Night

Scott Russell Sanders Indiana University Press ePub

When I first read a handful of his essays in college, I didn’t much care for Ralph Waldo Emerson. He seemed too high-flown, too cocksure, too earnest. I couldn’t imagine he had ever sweated or doubted. His sentences rang with a magisterial certainty that I could never muster. In the library, his portrait gazed from the wall with a superior air; his name was carved in stone alongside the names of other literary immortals. More like an angel than a man, he seemed to float above the messy Earth where I labored in confusion. He rarely told stories, rarely framed arguments, rarely focused on any creature or place, but instead he piled one oracular statement atop another like a heap of jewels, each one hard and polished and cold.

While resisting Emerson, I fell under the spell of another citizen of Concord, Henry David Thoreau, who was agreeably cranky and earthy. Here was a man who rode rivers, climbed mountains, ambled through forests, and told of his journeys in wide-awake narratives, as I aspired to do. He built a cabin with his own hands, hoed beans, baked bread, and chopped wood. Thoreau kept his feet on the ground, his eyes and ears alert to the homely world—ants fighting on a stump, mud thawing on a railroad bank, men building a bridge, skunk cabbage perfuming a swamp. He led an outdoor life, keeping his distance from the gossipy town. He stood up against slavery, protested the Mexican war, went to jail for refusing to pay the poll tax, and wrote prose that seemed to me as wild as the loons he chased across Walden Pond.

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After the Flood

Scott Russell Sanders Indiana University Press ePub

A river poured through the landscape I knew as a child. It was the power of the place, gathering rain and snowmelt, surging through the valley under sun, under ice, under the bellies of fish and the curled brown boats of sycamore leaves. You will need a good map of Ohio to find the river I am talking about, the West Branch of the Mahoning. The stretch of it I knew best no longer shows on maps, a stretch that ran between wooded slopes and along the flanks of cornfields and pastures in the township of Charlestown, in Portage County, a rural enclave surrounded by the smokestacks and concrete of Akron, Youngstown, and Cleveland in the northeastern corner of the state.

Along that river bottom I gathered blackberries and hickory nuts, trapped muskrats, rode horses, followed baying hounds on the scent of raccoons. Spring and fall, I walked barefoot over the tilled fields, alert for arrowheads. Along those slopes I helped a family of Swedish farmers collect buckets of maple sap. On the river itself I skated in winter and paddled in summer, I pawed through gravel bars in search of fossils, I watched hawks preen and pounce, I courted and canoed and idled. This remains for me a primal landscape, imprinted on my senses, a place by which I measure every other place.

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At Play in the Paradise of Bombs

Scott Russell Sanders Indiana University Press ePub

Twice a man’s height and topped by strands of barbed wire, a chain-link fence stretched for miles along the highway leading up to the main gate of the Arsenal. Beside the gate were tanks, hulking dinosaurs of steel, one on each side, their long muzzles slanting down to catch trespassers in a cross-fire. A soldier emerged from the gatehouse, gun on hip, silvered sunglasses blanking his eyes.

My father stopped our car. He leaned out the window and handed the guard some papers which my mother had been nervously clutching.

“With that license plate, I had you pegged for visitors,” said the guard. “But I see you’ve come to stay.”

His flat voice ricocheted against the rolled-up windows of the back seat where I huddled beside my sister. I hid my face in the upholstery, to erase the barbed wire and tanks and mirror-eyed soldier, and tried to wind myself into a ball as tight as the fist of fear in my stomach. By and by, our car eased forward into the Arsenal, the paradise of bombs.

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Scott Russell Sanders Indiana University Press ePub

In memory, I wait beside Eva in the vestibule of the church to play my bit part as father of the bride. She is supposed to remain hidden from the congregation until her queenly entrance, but in her eagerness to see what’s going on up front she leans forward to peek around the edge of the half-closed door. The satin roses appliquéd to her gown catch the light as she moves, and the toes of her pale silk shoes peep out from beneath the hem. The flower girls watch her every motion. Twins a few days shy of their third birthday, they flounce their unaccustomed frilly skirts, twirl their bouquets, and stare with wide eyes down the great length of carpet leading through the avenue of murmuring people.

Eva hooks a hand on my elbow while the three bridesmaids fuss over her, fixing the gauzy veil, spreading the long ivory train of her gown, tucking into her bun a loose strand of hair, which glows the color of honey filled with sunlight. Clumsy in my rented finery—patent leather shoes that are a size too small and starched shirt and stiff black tuxedo—I stand among these gorgeous women like a crow among doves. I realize they are gorgeous not because they carry bouquets or wear silk dresses, but because the festival of marriage has slowed time down until any fool can see their glory.

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Showkeir Maren S (10)
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Showkeir, Maren S. Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub
Medium 9781609947972

Eight: The Seventh Limb: Meditation (Dhyana)

Showkeir, Maren S. Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

If we know the divine art of concentration,
if we know the divine art of meditation,
if we know the divine art of contemplation,
easily and consciously we can unite the inner world
and the outer world

Sri Chinmoy


Before meeting with potential donors, Steve spends a few minutes in meditation, concluding with an intention that helps him connect to purpose:

May [this person] be happy and peaceful
May she be free from all inner and outer harm
May her mind and body be healthy
May she be happy with things as they are
May she live with the ease of well-being

Steve, the physician/fundraiser at a major west coast university medical center, is charged with raising money to support the goals of the institution—at least on paper. But he likes to turn that description on its head. He considers himself an advocate for donors and in service to connecting the donors’ passions and motivations to the needs of the institution.

One of the things meditation practice does for him is remind him that the focus of his work is not the transaction, but building relationships. “When I am able to quiet myself and turn my focus toward understanding and advocating for the donor, I know I am not going to take actions that are coercive or manipulative. The meditation has been a way to bring the potential donor to the front of my mind. I can think about their needs instead of ‘How do I get them to do something I want them to do?’ Using manipulative selling techniques may get you something in the moment, but it won’t get you a lasting relationship.”

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Five: The Fourth Limb: Breath Control (Pranayama)

Showkeir, Maren S. Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

Listen, are you breathing just a little
and calling it a life?

Mary Oliver


Steve, a physician who works as a development officer for a large West Coast medical university, has found practicing breath control (pranayama) at work is a way to slow down a conversation, allowing him to be more grounded and thoughtful. When he is asked a question, he takes a slow, deep inhale and exhale before answering, a practice he adopted after a yoga teacher suggested it in class several years ago. “It helps me slow down that gerbil on the treadmill in my mind. I need that time to really think about what I have to say. It helps me not regret what I say.”

He’s noticed that most people at work answer questions without hesitation. It is not uncommon to hear someone respond before the other person even finishes a sentence. “I’ve even noticed in job interviews how quickly people respond,” Steve says. “I ask questions, and a lot of times I get a canned response. It’s like they came prepared with answers and are looking for a way to insert them into the conversation, instead of taking the time to really think about the question, then give a thoughtful response.”

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Four: The Third Limb: Postures (Asana)

Showkeir, Maren S. Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

You must learn to be still in the midst of activity
and to be vibrantly alive in repose

Indira Gandhi


In the last stage of my journalism career, I was lucky enough to work for a newspaper that provided space in the office building for a weekly, hour-long yoga class and paid for a teacher. At 6 P.M. on Tuesday evenings, a dozen or so of us met in a designated conference room, then moved the furniture to create space for our mats.

The class was always in danger of being canceled if our numbers dropped too low. When I would troll my coworkers to look for recruits, I always emphasized the physical and mental benefits of practicing yoga postures. Knowing they were a cynical bunch, I would add, “Mark [Roberts, our teacher] sometimes talks a little woo-woo, but you don’t really have to pay attention to that part. Just let it wash over you.”

In actuality, I had no idea how thoroughly I was being soaked. I loved listening to Mark, most especially when he prepared us for savasana. He used exotic terms that I didn’t fully understand, such as pranayama and pratyahara and samadhi. The strange words fascinated me.

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Nine: The Eighth Limb: Absorption (Samadhi)

Showkeir, Maren S. Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

One is rigorously awakened by
stirring the desire for enlightenment itself

Dogen Zenji


You can hear the smile in Heather’s voice as she talks about the day she took her father to his first yoga class. She is a senior manager at a wellness resort in the southwestern United States. At one time, her father had been an elite runner who placed in the Boston marathon. As a runner, her father had always been attentive to the warm-up, cool-down stretching that athletes do. Aging eventually slowed him down, and some of the activities that once had fueled his passion became unavailable to him. Heather’s sporadic attempts to get him interested in yoga had gone nowhere until he was in his eighties. While he was visiting from the East Coast, she finally persuaded him to come to the resort and take a yoga class with her.

“Our mission here [at the wellness resort] is intended to be holistic. What we do has a spiritual aspect that is centered on mindfulness and living your life in a fully present way. So many times I had tried to explain to my dad what mindfulness is, and why it is important to me, but he just wasn’t interested,” Heather says. “On the way to the yoga class, I was trying again to make him understand the shift that happens when you are truly present. But it didn’t seem to resonate or even interest him. He was looking out the window, saying, ‘Uh huh … Uh huh.’”

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