89 Chapters
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Chapter 9. The City Dwellers

Felicitas D. Goodman Indiana University Press ePub

Humans have lived in cities almost as long as they have in villages. But cities have probably been different from villages from the start. Since this point may not be generally accepted, and since what happens with respect to religious behavior in the city as the last of the human adaptations to emerge is of special interest to us as urbanites, I will include some references to ancient cities here as well. The difficulty is, of course, that no outsider, such as a foreign anthropologist, did any participant observation in the cities of ancient Mesopotamia, and what written records we have are for the most part boastings of the rulers, so I cannot quote any ethnographic material. But historians have made some educated guesses, which might be at least of some value within a comparative framework. We are better off with ancient Rome, where we have a wealth of manuscripts, political speeches, essays, personal letters, and literary creations that give us a pretty good idea about those topics that interest us here.

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The Singular First Person

Scott Russell Sanders Indiana University Press ePub

The first soapbox orator I ever saw was haranguing a crowd beside the Greyhound station in Providence, Rhode Island, about the evils of fluoridated water. What the man stood on was actually an up-turned milk crate, all the genuine soapboxes presumably having been snapped up by antique dealers. He wore an orange plaid sport coat and matching bow tie and held aloft a bottle filled with mossy green liquid. I don’t remember the details of his spiel, except his warning that fluoride was an invention of the Communists designed to weaken our bones and thereby make us pushovers for a Red invasion. What amazed me, as a tongue-tied kid of seventeen newly arrived in the city from the boondocks, was not his message but his courage in delivering it to a mob of strangers. I figured it would have been easier for me to jump straight over the Greyhound station than to stand there on that milk crate and utter my thoughts.

To this day, when I read or when I compose one of those curious monologues we call the personal essay, I often think of that soapbox orator. Nobody had asked him for his two cents’ worth, but there he was declaring it with all the eloquence he could muster. The essay, although enacted in private, is no less arrogant a performance. Unlike novelists and playwrights, who lurk behind the scenes while distracting our attention with the puppet show of imaginary characters; unlike scholars and journalists, who quote the opinions of others and shelter behind the hedges of neutrality, the essayist has nowhere to hide. While the poet can lean back on a several-thousand-year-old legacy of ecstatic speech, the essayist inherits a much briefer and skimpier tradition. The poet is allowed to quit after a few lines, but the essayist must hold our attention for pages and pages. It is a brash and foolhardy form, this one-man or one-woman circus, which relies on the tricks of anecdote, conjecture, memory, and wit to enthrall us.

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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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Nine: Female Powers of Healing

Felicitas D. Goodman Indiana University Press ePub

The forty-one girl knights. Although the Bear Spirit may on occasion appear in the form of a female bear, his power seems to be predominantly male. There is another posture, however, which apparently summons a special kind of female energy.1 The posture first came to my attention early in 1985 in a publication about antiquities from Tennessee.2 The stone sculpture, created about A.D. 700, represented a woman who had her arms placed on her chest in a special way, so that her right hand came to rest above the left (see pl. 31). Subsequently, I saw the posture also in Marija Gimbutas’s book about ancient Europe.3 The terra-cotta figurine, once more a woman (pl. 32), was much older (5th millennium B.C.), but there was no mistaking the position of the hands. I was anxious to explore the posture, but in neither case was there any indication about the position of the legs, and I was at a loss about what to do about that.

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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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The Inheritance of Tools

Scott Russell Sanders Indiana University Press ePub

At just about the hour when my father died, soon after dawn one February morning when ice coated the windows like cataracts, I banged my thumb with a hammer. Naturally I swore at the hammer, the reckless thing, and in the moment of swearing I thought of what my father would say: “If you’d try hitting the nail it would go in a whole lot faster. Don’t you know your thumb’s not as hard as that hammer?” We both were doing carpentry that day, but far apart. He was building cupboards at my brother’s place in Oklahoma; I was at home in Indiana putting up a wall in the basement to make a bedroom for my daughter. By the time my mother called with news of his death—the long-distance wires whittling her voice until it seemed too thin to bear the weight of what she had to say—my thumb was swollen. A week or so later a white scar in the shape of a crescent moon began to show above the cuticle, and month by month it rose across the pink sky of my thumbnail. It took the better part of a year for the scar to disappear, and every time I noticed it I thought of my father.

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6 The Path of Animals

Foundation, Anasazi Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

Animals sense our walking.

I don’t mean merely that they know our presence. I mean
that, in moments, they sense the intentions of our hearts—
whether our hearts are walking forward or backward.

You may wonder at my saying this. There was a time
when I wouldn’t have believed it myself.

But then I met a badger with a stone.

It happened not long after I escaped
the land of winding cliffs.

My moccasins had disintegrated from my feet, and with
them some of my confidence among the hills. Red ants
and stickers bade me turn around at each step. Finally,
I collapsed to rest in the pungent shade of a sagebrush.

After a few minutes, I heard from the other side
of the brush a muffled growl and spitting noise.
I turned my head to look.

Less than five feet away was a freshly dug hole.
From the hole a furry rump emerged—the rump of
a massive badger backing its way up the dirt ramp.
He held loosely in his front claws a fist-sized stone,
dragging and rolling it along up the ramp.

I forgot my troubles as I watched the scene.
As the badger’s body topped the ramp, he pitched
awkwardly down the other side and lost hold of the stone.
He growled and went back after it. Time and time again
he attempted the same, only to lose hold at the top.
When finally he succeeded and was about to go back—
perhaps for another rock or for a rest—he saw me.

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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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Seven: The Sixth Limb: Focus (Dharana)

Showkeir, Maren S. Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

Settle in the here and now.
Reach down into the center
where the world is not spinning
and drink this holy peace.…

Donna Faulds


Mary was in a room filled with more than sixty yogis, though she might as well have been alone. When she is on her mat, Mary says there is nothing else: “It is me, my mat, and my breath. I am so focused on my practice that I don’t even realize who is on either side of me. After class is over, I look around and think, ‘Oh yeah, there is so and so.’”

In this class, her longtime teacher, Rod Stryker, was talking the yogis through the mechanics of Lord of the Dance pose, natarajasana, an advanced posture requiring great strength, flexibility, and most especially, balance. On the mat next to Mary, a friend wobbled, fell out of the pose, then executed a tuck, tumble, and roll right under Mary’s feet.

Her pose never wavered.

Focus, or dharana, is the sixth limb of yoga. This practice is devoted to bringing a laser-like concentration to one thing—a mantra, the flicker of candlelight, a mental image, or a spot on the wall. This state of deep concentration, when mastered, forces the mind into the now. It is fully present in this place, at this time.

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Letter to a Reader

Scott Russell Sanders Indiana University Press ePub

Since you ask for an account of my writing, I will give you one. But I do so warily, because when writers speak about their work they often puff up like blowfish. Writing is work, and it can leave you gray with exhaustion, can devour your days, can break your heart. But the same is true of all the real work that humans do, the planting of crops and nursing of babies, the building of houses and baking of bread. Writing is neither holy nor mysterious, except insofar as everything we do with our gathered powers is holy and mysterious. Without trumpets, therefore, let me tell you how I began and how I have pursued this art. Along the way I must also tell you something of my life, for writing is to living as grass is to soil.

I did not set out to become a writer. I set out to become a scientist, for I wished to understand the universe, this vast and exquisite order that runs from the depths of our bodies to the depths of space. In studying biology, chemistry, and above all physics, I drew unwittingly on the passions of my parents. Although neither of them had graduated from college, my father was a wizard with tools, my mother with plants. My father could gaze at any structure—a barn or a music box—and see how it fit together. He could make from scratch a house or a hat, could mend a stalled watch or a silent radio. He possessed the tinkerer’s genius that has flourished in the stables and cellars and shops of our nation for three hundred years. My mother’s passion was for nature, the whole dazzling creation, from stones to birds, from cockleburs to constellations. Under her care, vegetables bore abundantly and flowers bloomed. The Great Depression forced her to give up the dream of becoming a doctor, but not before she had acquired a lifelong yen for science. When I think of them, I see my father in his workshop sawing a piece of wood, my mother in her garden planting seeds. Their intelligence spoke through their hands. I learned from them to think of writing as manual labor, akin to carpentry and farming.

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Four: A New Path Opens

Felicitas D. Goodman Indiana University Press ePub

The letter from Adolf Holl concerned my paper about the discovery of the trance postures, which had aroused so little interest at the 1977 meeting of the American Anthropological Association, and which had been in the packet I had sent to his journalist friend. Holl asked if I would be willing to repeat those experiments with European participants. He was preparing a miniseries on world religions under contract with the West German educational television system, the so-called Second German Program. My research, he felt, would demonstrate to the viewers the common experiential base that all religions shared.

It had been a source of great regret to me during the intervening time that there seemed to be no way in which to continue working with the body postures and related trance experiences. So I was understandably elated at Holl’s suggestion and consented with alacrity. Soon after, however, I was beset by serious doubts. With only one series of experiments, how could I be sure that the same results would be achieved again? What if we would both be embarrassed by failure? But feeling that, after all, I had some powerful friends in my corner, I consented anyway and flew to Germany in April 1981.

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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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In the Land of Centaurs and Mermaids

Felicitas D. Goodman Indiana University Press ePub

In scanning a book recently about archeological finds in Europe,10 I noticed the picture of a figurine dug up in Thessaly (present-day Greece), about eight thousand years old (pl. 68). It represents a nude, rather full-breasted woman, sitting with both her legs turned toward the right side, her hands resting on her knees. Examining the figure shown a bit more closely, I realized that what at first glance seemed merely an oddly shaped face was really a mask, possibly that of a bird. That was exciting, for wearing a mask among hunter-gardeners or horticulturalists, as we know from their modern counterparts, is always a sign of a religious occasion, involving a trance experience as a matter of course. But what was even more intriguing was that in this case, the mask was combined with a totally unfamiliar posture. Ordinarily, the postures that come to light from such early horizons in Europe are those that are encountered in many other areas of the world as well, of birthing, of the Bear Spirit, of metamorphosis, and so forth. But here was one that was completely unknown in the later record. We had planned a workshop anyway for experienced participants only, to be held in a camp in rural Ohio, so this was an opportunity to try and see what the lady from Neolithic Thessaly had to teach us.

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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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