“In a past life, you were a Midwestern farmer and I was an Indian woman. I had the ability to make seeds sprout and grow in my hand. I taught you ways of growing grain in harsh weather, which you shared with the other settlers in the area.”
A psychic intuitive told me this at a wellness day where I was a speaker. I was not initially inclined to pay her much attention. I'd overheard her running on about the impending transition of humanity from the third to the fifth dimension, and it sounded like a bunch of New Age hooey to me. (Not that I reject this idea – I think the New Agers are simply using their own conceptual vocabulary to describe the same civilizational shift so many of us sense.)
Still, one of the participants in my seminar said Patrice was great, so afterward I asked her to amaze me. Usually I'm not impressed with “intuitive readings,” because they could be true for anyone. Things like, “You are going through a period of transition.” Patrice's readings were not like this: they were clear, specific, and spoke directly and uncannily to my condition. I was impressed, moved, and grateful.
There was once a time when I would have been hungry for proof that her psychic information was “true.” Show me incontrovertible evidence that the paranormal even exists, I would demand, and that this is a real psychic and not a fake, and then maybe I'll believe it. In keeping with the ideology of science, I held belief hostage to evidence, not realizing that in many realms, evidence follows belief. Today I am no longer hungry for certainty. Instead of picking out every logical flaw, I strive to hear whatever truth lurks within. I keep what rings true, what speaks to me, and what gives me a certain feeling of, on the positive side, upliftment or electricity, or on the negative side, that feeling of “uh oh” when I encounter a bitter pill of truth that it is time to swallow. In other words, I rely on feeling and not reason in choosing what to believe.
I even do this when I choose scientific beliefs. I dabble in various controversial areas of science, where proponents of opposing views offer equally compelling explanations for the same dataset, and scornfully explain away their opponents' positions. Really, what logical basis have I to choose between them? Do I imagine myself smarter or more discerning than these scientists who have devoted their careers to that field? Nor do I have my own laboratory or research apparatus to investigate on my own whether crop circle photographs are genuine, whether pre-Clovis archeological sites are authentic, whether the spectroscopic signature of interstellar dust indeed shows evidence of organic polymers.
Last time I wrote about this, a commentator suggested that we not “believe” anything. I find this position disingenuous, akin to certain misunderstood Eastern teachings about non-attachment. We are born into the world of flesh and dust, and are not meant to be aloof from it. We are meant to experience the joys and sorrows of attachment. If you want to build a bridge, or a relationship, you have to believe something and act accordingly. You believe the steel will hold. You believe someone will do as she has said. Life in the world is built of beliefs. The world is built of stories. We enact them and live in the world that they create.
Most of our world-creating stories are unspoken and unconscious. For example, the very question, “Is it true or not?” or “Is it real or not?” smuggles in some very deep cultural and ideological prejudices. What do we mean when we ask, “Was the UFO that Ken saw last night really there?” We mean something like, “At point X, Y, Z (Ken's back yard) from time T1 to T2 (last night), a flying saucer was present.” Words like “actually” and “really” hark to an objective Cartesian coordinate system that is independent of any observer. We reject the idea that “It was there for Ken but not for me.” Surely there must be a fact of the matter independent of anyone's perceptions. Right?
Well, maybe not. In modern physics, the objective Cartesian coordinate system has become obsolete. It is simply not always true that an electron either was, or was not, at point X, Y, Z at time T. In the absence of an observer, it can be both there and not there. This idea is hard to articulate. To do so I used the word “be”, but even our concept of existence draws on the same Cartesian assumptions I am trying to question. The result is paradox.
The paradox is an artifact of an unconscious ideology that assigns an objective, absolute meaning to words like “is”, “be” and “exists”. It is not only through modern physics, postmodern deconstructionism, and political prevarication that the meanings of these words disintegrate. Shamanic cultures also had a more fluid understanding of reality that blurred the boundaries between objective truth, personal truth, mythic truth, and dramatic truth.
The late Joseph Epes Brown, a professor of religious studies who lived with Black Elk and, at his request, chronicled the rites and spiritual knowledge of his people, describes this blending of truth in the book Teaching Spirits. The ritual enactments of various mythic stories are not considered mere representations of these stories, and the actors were not merely playing roles. For the participants and observers, the stories were really happening. They were not depicting some bygone event. The question of their literal truth did not even arise, because the very premises of that question did not exist in their conceptual vocabulary. Furthermore, the ritual enactments were considered to be essential to maintaining the living truth of the story. Hence it was that storytelling and ritual were sacred functions. Actors became the mythic figures they portrayed. (The same might be said for modern actors and modern drama. Perhaps this explains, in part, our culture's fascination with movie stars. It reflects a hunger for the sacred world-creating power of drama.)
The degeneration of truth into fact took many millennia. When Ancient Greek sages recounted the Olympian myths to their audiences, no one thought to question whether, say, a Titan named Prometheus “actually” stole fire from Zeus to give to humanity. We have an image of credulous primitives swallowing fanciful explanations of human and natural phenomena, but perhaps it is we who are credulous and unsophisticated. It is not that the Greeks were incapable of reasoning out the absurdity of their explanations. It is that they understood that truth is much bigger than reason and evidence.
These intuitions still live inside of us today. Consider some of the following propositions, which appear in mythologies around the world:
1. The Earth rests upon the back of a turtle.
2. Somewhere there is a great tree, the World-Tree, and if it dies the world will end.
3. When the gifts were being passed out to the animals, human beings got left out, and received in compensation a gift and curse that makes us unique.
I don't know about you, but these statements ring true to me. They feel true, and they leave an indelible imprint on my mind. The Earth does rest upon the back of a turtle, and that belief both contradicts, and does not contradict, the belief that the Earth is an orb spinning in space. From the perspective of objective truth, which dominates our culture, it contradicts. From the perspective of mythic truth, it does not. Thus I can say, with complete honesty, that I believe all three of the above statements. And not just because I can offer a cogent symbolic exegesis. I really believe them. I can look you in the eye and say, in all truth, that the world rests on the back of a turtle.
When I receive a message like Patrice's, I listen from a perspective of shamanic or dramatic truth. It is not that I gloss over any empirical absurdities; I simply don't even go there. I suppose I could ask for details of farm life in the 19th century midwest and check if Patrice's vision contained anything surprising that neither of us is likely to have known through ordinary means, but in the shamanic mindset, empirical proof is not a priority. Besides, who is this “I” who was once a farmer? Divested of my present biography, am I still I? What remains of I when my name, my relationships, my memories, my languages are stripped from me? Perhaps only an awareness, an attention, but then what makes my attention “I” and yours “you”? In what sense is that farmer me and not someone else? Modern notions of reincarnation smuggle in the modern self, a discrete, separate identity surveying an objective universe, a world of other. Here as elsewhere, the quest for certainly leads to a quagmire of confusion.
Without believing that “I” actually “was” a 19th-century farmer, I believed Patrice's story. It felt true and it illuminated issues I face in my life today. On the metaphoric level, she and I were enacting a modern version of events she described. She lives in a realm of magic and miracles, a world with different rules of cause and effect. She calls it the fifth dimension. She did not sprout seeds in her palm, but she did some other things that are considered impossible or a ridiculously unlikely coincidence in our world. Now it is my job to convey something from her world to ours, to the other farmers. I cannot do the things Patrice can do, but perhaps I can translate what she has shown me into something useful for my fellow denizens of the third dimension.