Expanding Possibilities within the Trance of Life

Until fairly recently a great many male Euro Americans -- and not just Euro Americans -- believed women were inferior in significant ways to men. They associated with women every day, many sincerely loved their mothers, wives, and daughters, and yet they did not see the evidence around them, so obvious to most of us today.

And of course Euro Americans have no monopoly on being socially entranced.

Much more recently scientists are discovering that animals have what, were we to observe the same behavior in people, we would call morality. Capuchin monkeys receiving a less desirable treat than another for having done the same thing, while seeing the other recipient getting the better goodie, have thrown the inferior food at the person who gave it, revealing a sense of justice and fair play. Some monkeys and even some rats, will not press a lever for receiving food if they see another monkey or rat getting shocked when they do. One rhesus monkey refused for twelve days to pull a chain getting it food and thereby shocking another it could see. Marc Bekoff and Jessica Pierce's Wild Justice describing these and many other examples is an eye opener. But why did our eyes need to be opened?

Our social trance clearly can override what is standing right in front of us.

The Monotheistic Trance
For 1600 years the West has been subjected to the politically enforced view that there is only one proper way to understand reality. With the growth of freedom what that way is has shifted over time. For many, science rather than religion is now the proper way. But the commitment to One Truth remains, an unexamined assumption.

Particularly during the Enlightenment an additional presupposition became taken for granted: that we are minds radically distinct from this material world. We are souls or ghosts in the machine, or for a smaller and I believe weirder group, our minds can simply be reduced at some point to chemical reactions. In other words, the world is not alive; it and all within it are things.

Connected to this view is a third presupposition: that the best way to learn about things is through measuring, predicting, or manipulating them. An added advantage to this approach is that we can then control them for our own benefit.

Whether monotheist or atheist, these three assumptions are the filters through which most modern Westerners experience their world: there is One Right Way to understand it, we are ultimately not a part of this world, or if we are, we are reducible to simple chemical reactions, and finally the way of knowledge about a world of things enhances our ability to control them for our own use.

For secular folks, because science has been so successful at enabling some kinds of control, science must be the One Right Way. In this way modernity even in its secular form incorporates monotheistic presuppositions that once seemed so wrong as to require the suppression and even killing of those with alternative views.

What does all this mean?

Apparently we cannot learn to see the unexpected. Either we can or we can't. About 50 percent do and 50 percent don't. We can increase our ability to see the unexpected by becoming experts in a field, but that does not strengthen our capacity in other fields and our expertise creates its own set of hurdles for being able to appreciate the significance of the unexpected we do see.

And this brings me to Pagan spirituality in general (knowing anything I write about us will have some who disagree).

Pagans in general find some kind of presence or awareness in the world as a whole. We are not separate from it in the Christian sense, nor are we reducible to merely physical reactions and relationships as scientific reductionism would have it. Consciousness appears to Pagans to be an element of reality that spills over the narrow boundaries modern society is prepared to recognize. For some of us, such as myself, it is everywhere.

To me this insight means that we are immersed within an incredible network of relationships that can be far more reciprocal than the dominant society is prepared to admit. It also means that these relationships take on an ethical dimension because we are not simply dealing with objects. There is an important subjective element as well. Further, seeing or feeling energy fields around ourselves and others means we are constantly immersed within one another's boundaries. The idea of a discrete self ultimately distinct from all around it -- a profoundly Protestant idea -- is powerfully challenged when we experience this interpenetration.

If we are right about this, and I believe that we are, our view can profoundly transform Western society at a time when it really needs it. As a society we have enormous power to control and destroy, but we have little appreciation of the importance of entering into relations with others. We don't do it very well with people unlike ourselves, and we do it even less well with the world around us. Power plus blindness leads to disaster.

8/12/2011 4:00:00 AM
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    About Gus diZerega
    Gus diZerega is a Gardnerian Elder with over 25 years practice, including six years close study with a Brazilian shaman. He has been active in interfaith work off and on for most of those 25 years as well. He has conducted workshops and given presentations on healing, shamanism, ecology and politics at Pagan gatherings in the United States and Canada. Follow Gus on Facebook. Gus blogs at Pointedly Pagan