In the days of my early youth, the dawn of each day brought joy. I was more than an infant, but the days of indoctrination had not yet begun. All of creation was new to my senses and I was filled with awe constantly. It is a vague memory because it is not a memory of the mind, but rather a heart-felt memory; an emotional memory. In fact, I wonder if I would have any recollection of that time at all if not for the shock of the awakening.
I do not recall any details of this awakening except the simple question, “Why?” The days of sunshine, play, and laughter were suddenly contrasted by the dark element of meanness. The shock was more like surprise, rather than something traumatic. I do not recall who was mean or how they were mean; I simply recall the naïve puzzlement over the purpose of this meanness. As time moved on, I would experience more of this behavior, and far worse than my first experience. I am sure you know what I speak of.
I have been reflecting upon gratitude since Thanksgiving because I was also reading about gratitude at that time. It was this reflection that raised this deep memory that was buried under so much else that it was almost lost. I was reading how gratitude was a tool of the shaman:
Shamans ‘see’ through their hearts. Shamanic tribes like the Maori of New Zealand believe that the physical world we experience is actually a projection coming from each individual heart. The Mayans and the Q’ero tribe in the Peruvian Andes have their own versions of this basic understanding. Their shamans know that self-importance, created by the ego, is dedicated to keeping the powerful heart portal closed off enough to prevent spirit from shining through. (Awakening to the Spirit World p. 21)
Reflecting upon gratitude raised this deep memory, and I realized that this memory was not just a function of the mind or thought. This heart-felt memory aligns well with the shamanic teaching. These days of youth were spent in constant gratitude, or appreciation, for each new day. Consistent with the teaching also is how the memory faded as the heart portal closed.
The first experience with meanness was significant. It raised my awareness of possible threats in life. The well known “instinct for survival” was engaged. This instinct is referred to as the reptilian brain, today.
As we start watching for threats to our selves, our attention becomes more and more centered on the self. In this manner we become self-centered or egoists. The degree of egoism will vary depending on the individual, their environment, and their upbringing. Modern media occasionally brings to my attention malnourished children of poverty or subjects of abuse, who may never have known a childhood memory like mine. Fear is an essential component of survival that causes us to be ever watchful for threats. The fear of hunger, illness, and physical violence could close the heart portal of a child quickly.
Every experience that qualified as a threat (big or small) built upon my initial experience of meanness. I developed my defenses against possible threats with time, but it wasn’t until I reached adulthood that this became a full-time preoccupation. Employment was now necessary in order to obtain and maintain the essentials of food, shelter, and clothing. The analogy of the workplace to a jungle was astoundingly accurate. It remains so to this day.
I stood squarely at the center of my defenses, examining my armor for weakness. The maxim “be prepared” evolved into “expect the unexpected.” I was amazed by what people, who called themselves a friend today, would do to climb the ladder of success tomorrow. Rarely is there any sign of remorse since many believe this is how the game is played. The reality of this “dog-eat-dog world” is well removed from any morality or ethics established in the religions and philosophies of humankind. However, when we stand at the center of our defenses, we only see ourselves and our needs and our desires. Let others fend for themselves!
The world economy has collapsed or is collapsing , depending on your perspective. The question that isn’t being asked is, “Why are we surprised?” This system was and is corrupt. Everyone has been reduced to consumers, and we are consuming this world. It is not coincidental that we are confronted by economic crises and ecological crises simultaneously. The resources of the Earth have been plundered to make shiny trinkets that can be dangled before us, and we want them. The more shiny trinkets are made, the more we want. The importance of our desires, or self-importance (created by the ego), blinded us to the inevitable consequences of our actions.
The question that is being asked is, “What should we do?” Unfortunately, most people are looking for solutions to the symptoms (like peak oil), rather than the cause of our problems. This is because those who have material wealth fear losing what they see as their defense against want, so they fund band-aid solutions designed to preserve the status quo: they have the most to lose if the system collapses completely. The band-aids are not working, though. This is because the root cause of our problems lie in how we “see” the world.
We need a change of heart. To “see” real solutions to the problems we face, we must open that heart portal. This principle of opening the heart portal is not exclusive to shamanism, either. Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3 NASB). Jesus responds to Nicodemus’ astonishment with:
Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be amazed that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit. (John 3:5-8 NASB)
To complete the connection with the shamanic principle, John 4:24 (NASB) states, “God is spirit.” Additionally, 1 John 4:8 (NASB) also states, “The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love.” These scriptures should be sufficient to connect Christian concepts of spirit with the heart and the ability not only to “see” the Kingdom of God, but also the ability to enter it. The usage of the Kingdom of God in the scriptures also implies a much better world.
I have heard it asked, “If there is a God, why does He allow [atrocity of the moment] in the world.” The simple answer is that He doesn’t – we do! Essentially, God gave humankind dominion over the Earth (Gen 1:28 KJV), so we are the ones allowing it. We can petition God for His intervention, but that really brings us back to the matter of spirit and the heart [portal].
In Awakening to the Spirit World, gratitude is a tool the shaman uses to open the heart portal. One definition for gratitude is “appreciation.” Suppose for a moment, we appreciate a child who has only known poverty, hunger, illness, and possibly even abuse; a child who has only known the darkness of fear. In appreciation of the child’s state, we do something to improve the child’s conditions. How long will it take to generate gratitude in the child who has never known anything but fear? What effect will the gratitude/appreciation that the child returns have on you? I imagine that this example is sufficient to invoke an understanding of the power of gratitude, or your heart is so closed that more words will not have any additional effect.
The heart-felt memory of my youth raises my gratitude for my parents, but it also increases my appreciation for those less fortunate than myself. Similarly, I see a lot wrong in this world, but I obviously do not have the resources or ability to fix much through conventional methods. However, I can open my heart portal and project something brighter. I can ask others to join me so it will have greater effect, and that is what this essay is about essentially.
Let’s occupy gratitude! In fact, isn’t this something others are already doing? While writing this, I came to appreciate the people engaged in the Occupy movement as ones who already “see” that the inequities of the current economic/political systems of our world make it unsustainable. Let’s show them gratitude, also.
Yes, there are two paths you can go by,
But in the long run…
There’s still time to change the road you’re on.
(Stairway To Heaven, Led Zeppelin [Page & Plant] 1971)