89 Chapters
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Medium 9780253000958

Looking at Women

Scott Russell Sanders Indiana University Press ePub

On that sizzling July afternoon, the girl who crossed at the stoplight in front of our car looked, as my mother would say, as though she had been poured into her pink shorts. The girl’s matching pink halter bared her stomach and clung to her nubbin breasts, leaving little to the imagination, as my mother would also say. Until that moment, it had never made any difference to me how much or little a girl’s clothing revealed, for my imagination had been entirely devoted to other mysteries. I was eleven. The girl was about fourteen, the age of my buddy Norman who lounged in the back seat with me. Staring after her, Norman elbowed me in the ribs and murmured, “Check out that chassis.”

His mother glared around from the driver’s seat. “Hush your mouth.”

“I was talking about that sweet Chevy,” said Norman, pointing out a souped-up jalopy at the curb.

“I know what you were talking about,” his mother snapped.

No doubt she did know, since mothers could read minds, but at first I myself did not have a clue. Chassis? I knew what it meant for a car, an airplane, a radio, or even a cannon to have a chassis. But could a girl have one as well? I glanced after the retreating figure, and suddenly noticed with a sympathetic twitching in my belly the way her long raven ponytail swayed in rhythm to her walk and the way her fanny jostled in those pink shorts. In July’s dazzle of sun, her swinging legs and arms beamed at me a semaphore I could almost read.

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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 6: The Multiple Personality Experience and Demonic Possession

Felicitas D. Goodman Indiana University Press ePub

The multiple personality experience or “disorder” is not usually covered in discussions of demonic possession. That is regrettable, for as we saw in chapter 1, there is a lot that it can teach us about possession, and it also offers some insights into its demonic variant. Perhaps because the multiple personality syndrome is relatively rare, authors of texts on comparative religion are usually not even aware of its existence and would disregard it anyhow, because of the prevailing view that it is exclusively a psychiatric problem.1

Briefly, as will be remembered from chapter 1 and the case of Eve White, patients suffering from this condition experience themselves as having several discrete personalities called alternates that do not share consciousness or memories with their host. That means that the host does not know or is not able to recall what the various alternate personalities do, and extended periods of amnesia, often starting during childhood, are characteristically reported by these patients. Each one of the alternates has its own complex social patterns and behavior. When a given personality is dominant, it will control the individual’s behavior. As should be obvious by now, this description could just as well be cited in any discussion of the experience of possession. There are, however, in the main two differences between this disorder and possession as a religious experience. One of these concerns how the phenomenon is located culturally, that is, what society, especially those charged with treating the patient, thinks is going on. The other is the nature of the beings involved in the possession.

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Staying Put

Scott Russell Sanders Indiana University Press ePub

Two friends arrived at our house for supper one May evening along with the first rumblings of thunder. As my wife, Ruth, and I sat talking with them on our front porch, we had to keep raising our voices a notch to make ourselves heard above the gathering storm. The birds, more discreet, had already hushed. The huge elm beside our door began to sway, limbs creaking, leaves hissing. Black sponges of clouds blotted up the light, fooling the street lamps into coming on early. Above the trees and rooftops, the murky southern sky crackled with lightning. Now and again we heard the pop of a transformer as a bolt struck the power lines in our neighborhood. The pulses of thunder came faster and faster, until they merged into a continuous roar.

We gave up on talking. The four of us, all midwesterners teethed on thunderstorms, sat down there on the porch to our meal of lentil soup, cheddar cheese, bread warm from the oven, sliced apples and strawberries. We were lifting the first spoonfuls to our mouths when a stroke of lightning burst so nearby that it seemed to suck away the air, and the lights flickered out, plunging the whole street into darkness.

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Medium 9780253318992

Chapter 7. The Agriculturalists

Felicitas D. Goodman Indiana University Press ePub

The Agriculturalists as State Societies

The agriculturalist has assured subsistence. All good things come to him, as we read in the Popol Vub, as a blessing from the “House on the Pyramids,” from agencies “on high.” But in order to have them, he has to work hard, earning his daily bread “by the sweat of his brow.” To pay for those good things, all members of the group have to be drafted into a continued and sustained effort. There is no room anymore, as the Popol Vuh tells it, for the venturesome and the proud. What the tillers need to inculcate in their young is conscientiousness, compliance, humility, and obedience.

With permanent settlements, agriculturalists can no longer avoid the problems of conflict by picking up and leaving: Conflict resolution, in other words, cannot be brought about by fissioning. Chiefly, authority comes into being as one avenue of solution. There is more personal property, and the concept also intrudes into the position of women. A man wants exclusive rights to his spouse, and his elevated status leads not only to her eventual disenfranchisement, but also to her ritual inferiority.

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Chapter 3: Healing in Umbanda

Felicitas D. Goodman Indiana University Press ePub

Continuing with our review of positive spirit possession, we want to treat Umbanda next. This Brazilian religion has a complex history, with its roots reaching back into Africa, Europe, and Indian America. The sugar plantations in the northeastern part of Brazil employed African slaves in the sixteenth century. They brought with them their own religious observances from Dahomey, the Congo, and Angola. They also carried along the Yoruba tradition, a syncretic form of which evolved into Haitian vodun, which we touched on in chapter 1. Gradually, beliefs concerning the Catholic saints of the plantation owners and the African gods began to overlap; they became syncretized. When in 1888 the slaves were emancipated in Brazil, they began moving south, into the cities that offered jobs in their developing industries. Once there, the Afro-Brazilians started cult centers for the practice of their various religions. These were already syncretic, some even incorporating American Indian traits. But they varied according to which of the African traditions was predominant.

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Honoring the Ordinary

Scott Russell Sanders Indiana University Press ePub

For years, I could ignore the charges raised against the memoir, just as I could ignore the charges raised against burglary, because I had no intention of committing either offense. But then the circumstances of my life and the sad state of my country prompted me to write a book called A Private History of Awe, which I thought of as an extended essay about my lifelong spiritual search, but which my editor informed me was, indeed, a memoir. When the book was published in 2006, it bore that label on the jacket for all to see. And so, having joined the suspect company of memoirists, I began to take a personal interest in the accusations leveled against this literary form.

The most common accusations often appear in the guise of two blunt questions: How could you write a whole book about yourself? And how much of it did you make up? The questioners assume that a memoir must be an exercise in narcissism, and that it is likely to be dishonest to boot. One can easily find published examples that would justify either suspicion. There has never been a shortage of egotists or frauds, so it’s no wonder that some of them compose and peddle books. Although these two human failings often go together, for the sake of clarity I’m going to separate them, speaking first about the dangers of deceit and then about the dangers of narcissism.

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Voyageurs

Scott Russell Sanders Indiana University Press ePub

In morning mist on a northern river, a slab of stone tumbled from a boulder into the water, where it came to life and floated, turning into a sleek black head that swam in circles dragging a V of ripples behind it. A beaver, I thought, as I watched from shore. But no sooner had I named it than the creature bobbed up and then dove, exposing a long neck and humped back and pointed tail. Not a beaver, I realized, but an otter. I was pleased to find a label for this animate scrap, as though by pinning the right word on the shape-shifter I could hold it still.

Presently a second otter, then a third and fourth broke free of the boulder and slithered down into the mercury sheen of the river. They dove without a splash, their tails flipping up to gleam like wands in the early sunlight, and they surfaced so buoyantly that their forepaws and narrow shoulders lifted well out of the water. Then one after another they clambered back onto the rock and dove again, over and over, like tireless children taking turns on a playground slide.

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Coyote Comes Calling

Felicitas D. Goodman Indiana University Press ePub

As told by the Navajo singers, the religious specialists who are the guardians of Navajo oral literature, Coyote is the child of the sky but was born from the embrace of the sky with the earth. It seems that one day, the people saw the sky swooping down:

It seemed to want to embrace the earth. And they saw the earth likewise looming up as if to meet the sky.

For a moment they came in contact. The sky touched the earth and the earth touched the sky. And just then, at exactly the spot where the sky and the earth had met, Ma’ii the Coyote sprang out of the ground. (Zolbrod 1984:56)

Thus in his parentage, Coyote bridges the earth and the sky, the ordinary and the alternate reality. But something else also entered into his makeup, for his birth happened at the same time the elders were involved in an important ritual. They were giving a penis to a boy who had come of age, and a vagina to a girl who had come of age, which they had not had before. Coyote went to where the people were, and meddler that he was and fascinated by sex obviously from the time he sprang from the ground, he decided to make the young people even more beautiful than having a penis and a vagina made them. And so he blew some of his own facial hair in such a way that it landed between their legs. However, First Woman, in charge of uncontrolled impulses, was worried that now the young people had become too attractive to each other, and so she ordered that they cover themselves.

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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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Medium 9781609949198

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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7 The Path of “WE”

Foundation, Anasazi Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

I would like to tell you more about my people.

Our story may help you to see the world anew
and to discover the majesty that lives in the hills.

My people have been upon the earth
as long as time itself, or at least so it is told.

According to legend, the Creator made Mother Earth
and dressed her with light, wind, water, stone,
plants, and animals. Then he placed my people
among his creation.

It is said that all creation lived in harmony. In all that they
did, light, wind, water, stone, plants, animals, and my
people supported one another. They had become, in the
language of my people, “WE”—that is, “as one.”

This pleased the Creator.

But this harmony did not last. Some say that a dark cloud
enveloped the earth and turned my people from the path
of light. Other say they were bound by a great cord, keeping
their feet from the sure path of stone. However it happened,
the hearts of my people began to walk backward against
creation. Darkness reigned, and the harmony was broken.

Witnessing the strife among the workmanship
of his hands, the Creator shed tears as the rain upon the
mountains. Unless creation could again be made as one,
the children of Mother Earth would be lost.

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Under the Influence

Scott Russell Sanders Indiana University Press ePub

My father drank. He drank as a gut-punched boxer gasps for breath, as a starving dog gobbles food—compulsively, secretly, in pain and trembling. I use the past tense not because he ever quit drinking but because he quit living. That is how the story ends for my father, age sixty-four, heart bursting, body cooling and forsaken on the linoleum of my brother’s trailer. The story continues for my brother, my sister, my mother, and me, and will continue so long as memory holds.

In the perennial present of memory, I slip into the garage or barn to see my father tipping back the flat green bottles of wine, the brown cylinders of whiskey, the cans of beer disguised in paper bags. His Adam’s apple bobs, the liquid gurgles, he wipes the sandy-haired back of a hand over his lips, and then, his bloodshot gaze bumping into me, he stashes the bottle or can inside his jacket, under the workbench, between two bales of hay, and we both pretend the moment has not occurred.

“What’s up, buddy?” he says, thick-tongued and edgy.

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Seven: The Many Faces of Divination

Felicitas D. Goodman Indiana University Press ePub

Divining is as old as humanity. The hunters developed it as a ritual to discover the location of game, a matter of vital importance to them. As other types of societies arose, divination was adapted to the changing circumstances, but it continued to serve important societal goals. It is regrettable that in the Western world divination has been decried as irrational, antirational, or a fraud perpetrated on the ignorant and the superstitious, because divination is not that at all. It is soothsaying, that is, revealing the truth. What the diviner does is uncover to his clients some hidden truth about themselves, or about what is going on around them. There are certainly situations in everyone’s life where such insights could be of overriding importance. This is why within and outside the Western orbit, divining continues to play an important role, exposing that which is hidden, soothing anxiety, and aiding in decision making.

In Western-type societies, ours among them, quasi-mechanical means such as tarot cards are frequently employed for “fortunetelling.” However, the repository of much of divinatory knowledge is the alternate reality, and access to that treasure trove can best be gained in trance, and in the appropriate posture.

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Mind in the Forest

Scott Russell Sanders Indiana University Press ePub

I touch trees, as others might stroke the fenders of automobiles or finger silk I fabrics or fondle cats. Trees do not purr, do not flatter, do not inspire a craving for ownership or power. They stand their ground, immune to merely human urges. Saplings yield under the weight of a hand and then spring back when the hand lifts away, but mature trees accept one’s touch without so much as a shiver. While I am drawn to all ages and kinds, from maple sprouts barely tall enough to hold their leaves off the ground to towering sequoias with their crowns wreathed in fog, I am especially drawn to the ancient, battered ones, the survivors.

Recently I spent a week in the company of ancient trees. The season was October and the site was the H. J. Andrews Experimental Forest, a 15,800-acre research area defined by the drainage basin of Lookout Creek, within Willamette National Forest, on the western slope of the Cascade Mountains in Oregon. It’s a wet place. At higher elevations, annual precipitation averages 140 inches, and even the lower elevations receive 90 inches, twice the amount that falls on my well-watered home region of southern Indiana. Back in Indiana the trees are hardwoods—maples and beeches and oaks, hickories and sycamores—and few are allowed to grow for as long as a century without being felled by ax or saw. Here in Andrews Forest, the ruling trees are Douglas firs, western hemlocks, western red cedars, and Pacific yews, the oldest of them ranging in age from five hundred to eight hundred years, veterans of countless fires, windstorms, landslides, insect infestations, and floods.

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