Barry’s Blog # 355: Breathing Together, Part Eight of Eight


…he is constantly being squeezed between the world and his idea of the world. Better to have a broken head – why surrender his corner on the truth? Better just to go crazy. – Stephen Dobyns

All things depend on each other. Everything breathes together. – Plotinus

When we encounter betrayal or disillusionment and refuse the opportunity for soul work, we can easily leap from devotion to disgust, as our love-hate relationship with celebrities reveals. But then we are likely to search for a new devotion. It’s been said that there are no more virulent anti-communists than former leftists (Lyndon LaRouche and David Horowitz come to mind), or more vocal anti-Catholics than former Catholics. And if another ideology doesn’t fill the void, substance abuse can be an overwhelming attraction, as in the story I posted above.

If we pay attention – if we can discriminate – we may see that life always presents the need and the opportunity to reframe our obsessions. How do we do that? By looking past the literal to the symbolic. If we survive the era of Trumpus, we may well discover a new meta-narrative. Perhaps it will have something to do with the return of the Goddess, or the Whole Earth, as I speculate in Chapter 12 of my book. But any new story can quickly become yet another belief system.

As we accelerate the return from monotheistic back to pagan thinking, we may discover something entirely different. Rather than connecting the dots to justify our helplessness in a grand narrative of control, we may well begin to pursue mini-narratives in the form of questions, such as: What have I been called to do? What gift must I manifest, without which the world would be less for? What god or goddess did I come here to serve? What is my responsibility to the other world, and to those who come after me?

The year 2020 began with a virus that attacks our ability to breathe and progressed with a grisly murder in which a policeman prevented a Black man from breathing. In California, Oregon, Washington, Arizona and Colorado, massive forest fires have made it a year in which we all have to struggle to take a healthy breath. We can only breathe together in virtual spaces.

Cultural survival may require us to cook the word “conspire” down to its essence – to breathe together – and then reframe it further, into the Hawaiian ritual of “Ha.” This is a mutual greeting that recognizes and welcomes the Other. Two persons press the bridges of their noses together, inhale and exchange the breath of life. To ancient Hawaiians the breath was the key to good health and possessed mana (spiritual power). On their deathbeds, elders often passed down wisdom to their chosen successors with this ritual. May we all aspire to creating the kind of society that inspires our children rather than condemning them to more of the same.

And we can also reframe the idea of gatekeeper, from one who figuratively stands at the entrance – the threshold – to the world of acceptable discourse, charged with the responsibility of maintaining its borders and deciding who is pure enough to be admitted. In many indigenous societies some people straddle two worlds and mediate between them. Such people, comfortable in liminality, serve the community by guiding people in transition from one state to another. Many Native Americans use the term “two-spirit” to describe persons of unconventional sexual or gender orientation, while in West Africa words describing them actually translate as “gatekeeper.” Sobonfu Somé explains:

Without gatekeepers, there is no access to other worlds…They are mediators between the two genders…There are many gates that link a village to other worlds. The only people who have access to all these gates are the gatekeepers…They have one foot in all the other worlds and other foot here…Without them, the gates to the other world would be shut. On the other side of these gates lies the spirit world…Gatekeepers are in constant communication with beings who live there, who have the ability to teach us how to deal with ritual…Gatekeeping is part of one’s life purpose, announced before birth and developed through rigorous initiatory training to ensure that its power is not misused.

So let’s imagine a culture that invites a return to a ritual relationship with the Earth, with ancestors, with Spirit, with strangers; a culture that perceives the Other not as a threat but as one who arrives bearing gifts; a culture that respects the wisdom of the past but also welcomes the young and those on the margins. Imagine some people being called from birth – from before birth – to heal the divide between worlds so as to welcome the potential of each person, including the potential to re-imagine the world, rather than to exclude those who question inherited Truths. Let’s imagine a world not dominated by the Western, crusading, monotheistic urge to enforce those Truths on others, but one that appreciates these insights from the far East:

Since everything is but an apparition,

Perfect in being what it is, having nothing

to do with good or bad, acceptance or rejection,

One may well burst out in laughter.  – Long Chen Pa

If you love the sacred and despise the ordinary,

You are still bobbing on the ocean of delusion.  – Lin-Chi

Leave your front door and your back door open.

Allow your thoughts to come and go.

Just don’t serve them tea. – Shunryu Suzuki

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