Spirit Walking Journeys

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Are journeys to the spirit world real? Or are we imagining them? Can we prove them? What will our friends and family think if we claim to have experienced them? These are the questions I asked myself when I first got involved in spirit walking. The scariest was the last one; what will others think? Whether we want to admit it or not, the opinions of our friends and families matter. We want their respect, not their questioning looks or outright ridicule.

Recently I read an article from Journal of Transpersonal Studies, 32, 2013, pp. 117 – 126. The journal focuses on issues dealing with anthropology and the article was submitted by Bonnie Glass-Coffin, Professor of Anthropology at Utah State University and Associate Editor of the journal Anthropology of Consciousness. Her article asks the question “why do we [anthropologists] have such a hard time taking reports of unseen realms seriously …?”

In 2006, after 20 years of studying shamanic practices, Ms. Glass-Coffin had an experience that changed her outlook on such events and eventually prompted her to write the article. At that time she had been observing an all-night shamanic ceremony. Suddenly she became conscious of the plants around her. Everything from the smallest blade of grass to the largest coconut tree acknowledged and honored her presence. Those were her exact words. Amazed, she nodded to the plants and found they returned her acknowledgment.  As she states in her article, page 117, “That experience changed the way that I view anthropology …”

Ms. Glass-Coffin hesitated to write about this or discuss it with her colleagues. It is easy to imagine their responses, especially if they had not had similar experiences. Her willingness to do so now was based on the realization that she had to speak out because she wanted all anthropologists to recognize that shamanic practices are much more than the imaginings of ‘primitive peoples’. Anthropologists observe these people from a viewpoint called cultural relativism. My interpretation of that phrase is, ‘if the local people believe in it, just humor them.’

The problem with this attitude is that it reeks of the personal biases of our own culture. It assumes our version of life and science and our advances in technology are superior to those of other people. We are looking down on them. Ms. Glass-Coffin has coined a new phrase to describe it. You have heard of ethnocentric beliefs? That’s when a culture believes it is superior to others; primarily because it values it’s own beliefs and rationalizes them. The phrase she came up with is cognicentric behavior. It is when we believe our thoughts and knowledge are superior to other cultures. Our beliefs are better because they are ours.

I wonder how many anthropologists have actually tried spirit walking?


Making Ourselves Happy

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Today is my birthday; OK, my 70th birthday. Wow! I just got used to being in my sixties. Oh well, I’m lucky because I am in wonderful health. I’m not medicating for anything and I’m proud of it. So on this auspicious day I decided to help everyone feel happy. I’m passing on a tip about the “7 Things Remarkably Happy People Do Often.” The tips are from Inc.com.

The article says that 50% of our level of happiness is determined by personality traits and heredity. That leaves 50% we can focus on to make ourselves happy. Here are the 7 Things … (drum roll please):

1. Make good friends. Someone came up with a stat that says if you double your number of friends, you increase your personal happiness by 50%. You’ll live longer and be happier.

2. Actively express thankfulness. Thanking your spouse gives a boost to your relationship. It works with friends too. But it also makes you feel better about yourself. They suggest you write down five things you are grateful for and read it before going to bed. Update it regularly.

3. Actively pursue your goals. If you’re not pursuing them they are dreams not goals. Don’t compare where you are to where you want to be. Instead, compare today to where you were a little while ago. We don’t always progress as quickly as we’d like.

4. Do what you excel at as often as you can. Starving artist? They may not be as wealthy but they are usually more happy because they are pursuing some form of art. Maybe you can’t spend as much time as you’d like on your favorite activity. But whatever you do spend on that activity will make you happier.

5. Give. People who give time or support to others actually benefit by feeling more fulfilled than those who don’t. Giving always makes you happier.

6. Don’t chase “stuff”. Money is a tool. After earning about $75,000 per year, more money does not buy you more happiness. In fact, chasing possessions tends to make us less happy.

7. Live the life you want to live. A woman who spent time working with patients who had only a few months to live, found that the most common regret the patients had was living the life others expected of them instead of  living in a way that was true to themselves. What other people think, especially people you don’t know very well, doesn’t matter. Surround yourself with people who support you and your goals, hopes and dreams.

Happy Cinco de Mayo!

Our Ancestors: Your Inner Fish


This blog is based on a program that aired April 9, 2014 on PBS, titled Your Inner Fish. Back in 1999, Fish Paleontologist Neil Shubin and some associates started a search that would last ten years. They wanted to find a fossil of an amphibian that would show there was a link between modern fish and Ichthyostega, a type of salamander with a skeletal structure that was ultimately related to the human skeleton. They expected the link would demonstrate how primates, including humans, were physically evolved from fish.

Since fish existed 400 million years ago, and the missing link would have evolved 40 million years after that, they would have to find rock formations that were around 360 million years old. Surprisingly, they knew of such a rock outcropping here in the U.S. The location was called Red Hill, located along a major highway in Pennsylvania. Although their search produced fossils from that timeframe, they did not find what they were looking for. They also looked in places like Ethiopia, and Nova Scotia but without success.

Finally, in July of 2000, they found what they were searching for. Unfortunately the area was located in northern Canada where there were no roads, no people, and no sources of food; plus there were polar bears. The worst news was that the area lay under a thick covering of snow in frigid temperatures most of the year. The only time they could search the area was July. So that’s what they did for four years before finding a river bed filled with the type of fossils they were looking for in 2004. That was when they uncovered a complete, intact fossil of a flat-headed fish nine feet long.

The fossil was the first fish-like amphibian that had a common bone structure with every reptile, bird, and mammal that has ever existed; including humans. And in every one of the life forms just mentioned the similarity begins at the main body, growing into a single bone, followed by two bones, followed by many bones, and finger-like or toe-like bones. The cause of this similarity is found within a single gene in our DNA. This skeletal structure is common to the feet of mice, the hands of humans and the arm and leg structures of all four-legged animals. So this 360 million year old fossil was the first of its kind to make the transition from fish to amphibian. It set the stage for a transition to a whole new set of physical characteristics that would ultimately result in mankind; you and me.

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