knowledge

Spirits on Individual Journeys

February, 2019

Indigenous people don’t learn by looking outside themselves; instead, they learn how to remember the knowledge they already possess.”

Malidoma Somé (Dagara elder and shaman)

I’ve been practicing and studying earth-based spiritual systems since 2000. In the process of trying to heal from deep depression and addiction, I’ve worked with many different teachers from many of the world’s traditions. In my darkest moments, I needed older, wiser, and mostly healed guides who could help me learn to listen to my inner wise one (A.K.A. Dreamer, High Self). When I was struggling the most on my life journey, I leaned heavily on their knowledge to get through those times and I am so grateful to this day for each and every one of them. Their ability to be patient, resourceful, and benevolent is the reason I am still here, healthy and free.

Although my spiritual teachers varied in the knowledge they shared with me and their methods, they’ve all been consistent in insisting on one principle: the real guide on any individual’s journey is their Dreamer. Whenever I had questions that needed answering, they always pointed me to my inner wisdom first. Sometimes, they would add to my original statement with information from their own lived experiences. However, more often, they would simply say: “See: You know already so go and do what your Dreamer told you to do.” It wasn’t unusual for them to send me out on ceremony to find the answers I was looking for when my inner guidance wasn’t feeling so clear.

One of my first tasks when I started studying shamanism was to identify the sound of my Dreamer’s voice. This may sound like a simple task to some readers, and perhaps it is for some people. I had so many different and competing voices in my head that this seemed to be an insurmountable mission. When I sat in silence, I heard voices of teachers, family members, mentors, friends and others throughout my life who thought they knew better than I did what I needed. By the time I was in my twenties, I had convinced myself that they were right. So much so, in fact, that I was lost; my inner compass felt broken. The most vicious voice was that of my own ego. In Gregg Henriques’ article “The Elements of Ego Functioning,” he describes the ego in this way:

Freud conceived of the ego as the psychological apparatus that regulated sexual and aggressive impulses and navigated the tension between those impulses and the demands and values of society. A more modern conception that is certainly related to Freud’s is to consider the ego as the self-consciousness system. The self-consciousness system is the narrating portion of human consciousness that reflects on one’s thoughts, feelings and actions and inhibits or legitimizes them to one’s self and to others. In this sense, ego is very similar to what is meant by the term identity, and ego functioning refers to the components of the self-consciousness system that relate directly to mental health.”

I realized that my ego had succeeded in convincing me that any decision I made that went against the confines of the identity it had created for me was a threat to my very life. On my blog, I wrote an entry entitled “Going Mental” in 2012. It describes the practice I began of having conversations with my ego like I would with one of my younger students to discover what it needed and how I can make it feel safe while still doing the bidding of my Dreamer. I saw that my ego was just trying to survive and keep “us” alive and this helped me to find compassion for it.

On the other hand, my Dreamer’s voice is always calm, benevolent, wise and sometimes firm but never cruel. She talks to me the way a loving parent would talk to a child. When I am making choices that are causing me to stray from my Sacred Dream (my life’s purpose), she gently pokes me. If I am not listening because I am preoccupied with mundane life tasks or if I heard her but choose to ignore her counsel, the messages come in a more insistent and often chaotic way until I correct my course. Thankfully, I usually don’t have to wait until my health declines, my relationships descend into a three-ring circus or I am in financial distress to learn these lessons any more. My daily spiritual practices keep me tuned in to my Dreamer’s voice so I can make mostly wise choices day by day.

I often remind worried parents about this fact in my work with families: They are not in control of their children’s journeys. This is tricky because parents are also responsible for the health and well-being of their children until they are eighteen in our society. As parents and guardians, it is easy to think we know better. And I often note that despite having parents who do lots right, some children still go down unfathomable paths.  I have seen this a lot in my twenty-year career as a teacher. What I have faith in is that our souls* are ancient and wise; many of us have lived many lifetimes and Great Spirit is patient in letting us come back again and again to this Earth plane to refine our characters. I don’t know if this resonates for you but this feels true to me: Elders have told me that ultimately on a spiritual level, each of us has a life purpose that only our Dreamers know.

When we validate a child’s interests, wonderings, and learning inclinations, we are following the direction of their Dreamer. I think one place where a lot of us adults get stuck is when we expect that children will have the same inclinations that we do or we rescue them from making mistakes. Mistakes are part of the learning process. Our Dreamers are also leading us in very unique ways according to our own life purposes, which may be really different than those of our children. Our children might need to make certain mistakes in order to learn what they came here to learn in this lifetime. While it’s hard to watch people we love make choices that cause suffering for them, it can also be a powerful life lesson in learning how to honour another’s path while staying firmly on our own as individuals. If we keep leaning into our healing in every lifetime, eventually we might not even need to reincarnate. Until then, I am glad my Dreamer is with me every step of the way.

*Please note that when I speak of the “soul” here, I mean the original essence of who we are that is made of light and can never be harmed. This aspect of us is always with Spirit, even as we reincarnate. Our Dreamers represent the essence of our soul; they travel the spirit world and guide us in our incarnations. I like to think of my soul as being the part of me that stays anchored to the Divine always.

Work Cited:

Engracio, Jennifer. “Going Mental” December 2012

Henriques, Gregg. “The Elements of Ego Functioning.” Psychology Today. June 2013.

Above art: “Ancestor Spirits” by Willow Arlenea

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About the Author:

Jennifer Engrácio has been a student of shamanism since 2005. Jennifer is a certified teacher who has worked with children in many different education settings since 2001. She is a certified shamanic coach, reiki master, and lomilomi practitioner; in addition, she runs Spiral Dance Shamanics. Originally from Vancouver, Canada, she now lives in Calgary, Canada with her life partner.

Engrácio participated in self-publishing three books that are now available:

The Magic Circle: Shamanic Ceremonies for the Child and the Child Within”

Women’s Power Stories: Honouring the Feminine Principle of Life”

Dreaming of Cupcakes: A Food Addict’s Shamanic Journey into Healing

For more information go to: www.spiraldanceshamanics.com

Dreaming of Cupcakes: A Food Addict’S Shamanic Journey into Healing on Amazon

Dreaming of Cupcakes: A Food Addict’S Shamanic Journey into Healing on Amazon

Book Review: The Witch’s Altar The Craft, Lore and Magick of Sacred Space By Laura Tempest Zackroff and Jason Mankey

December, 2018

Book Review:

The Witch’s Altar

The Craft, Lore and Magick of Sacred Space

By Laura Tempest Zackroff and Jason Mankey

As someone with many altars strewn about my home, I was happy to have the opportunity to read this book.

Whether for a beginner or someone with many year’s experience with Wicca/Witchcraft/Paganism, this book will help you in setting up, designing and maintaining your altars.

Just perusing the Table of Contents makes you aware that the two authors know exactly what they are talking about, as they have many years of wisdom and knowledge both individually and collectively.

It is a very reader-friendly book, conversational and easy-to-read with much information packed between its covers.

The book starts by relating different kinds of altars, i.e. shrines, temples, sanctuaries, etc., with descriptions for each.

The history of altars is here beginning with those first caves and stones, what they contain(ed) and how altars became one of the magical tools most relied upon.

All of the details are present from what an altar is, what it is for and how to build one. Since there are various reasons to build one, the authors discuss the specifics, such as what activity you will be using it for, such as devotion, ritual, spell-work. This includes tips on deciding where to build it, keeping in mind what you are looking to do.

Specific altars are always reviewed, such as, daily and seasonal altars, as well as outdoor altars and devotional altar dedicated to specific diety(ies).

One of the things I liked most about this book was how each author readily shared personal experiences with the reader.

Of specific interest was the section regarding altars for the dead and ancestral altars, something I have not read much about in other books. The information was fascinating and propelled me to make my own ancestral altar.

For those of you who travel, locally and abroad, there is a section on travel altars, whether to set up at a hotel, or to have with you on a daily basis in your own personal vehicle. This includes digital altars, a concept I would never have even considered.

Some of the topics had me thinking “oh, yes, I had not thought of that”, such as dealing with our animal companions climbing all over our altars, other people who feel the need to touch, and how to dispose of altar items that are no longer needed/wanted.

This highly informative book is also interspersed with recipes both magickal and mundane, include spellwork, prayers, chants, blessings.

At the end of each chapter is a section called “Altar-natives”, which features witchy friends of the authors adding their wisdom; in fact, giving us ideas from numerous people. A nice touch.

Allowing for the disclaimer that I personally know Tempest, I would like to say that I highly recommend this book – friendly, informative, enjoyable.

The Witch’s Altar: The Craft, Lore & Magick of Sacred Space (The Witch’s Tools Series) on Amazon

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About the Author:

Susan Morgaine is a Daughter of the Goddess, Witch, Writer, Teacher, Healer, and Yogini. She is a monthly columnist with PaganPages.org Her writings can be found in The Girl God Anthologies, “Whatever Works: Feminists of Faith Speak” and “Jesus, Mohammed and the Goddess”, as well as Mago Publications “She Rises, Volume 2, and “Celebrating Seasons of the Goddess”. She has also been published in Jareeda and SageWoman magazines. She is a Certified Women’s Empowerment Coach/Facilitator through She is the author of “My Name is Isis”, one in the series of the “My Name Is………” children’s books published by The Girl God Publications. A Woman International, founded by Patricia Lynn Reilly. She has long been involved in Goddess Spirituality and Feminism, teaching classes and workshops, including Priestessing Red Tents within MA and RI. She is entering her 20th year teaching Kundalini Yoga and Meditation, being a Certified instructor through the Kundalini Research Institute, as well as being a Reiki Master. She is a member of the Sisterhood of Avalon. She can be found at https://mysticalshores.wordpress.com/ and her email is MysticalShores@gmail.com

My Name is Isis (Volume 4) on Amazon

Going Shamanic Radio

June, 2018

 

Going Shamanic” is hosted by Jennifer Engracio on P.A.G.E.  Media Project’s blogtalk radio each month. The show focuses on how to integrate shamanism into every day life. Instead of relegating the spiritual aspect of ourselves to Sundays at church or weekend workshops, this show will support listeners in weaving ritual, prayer, magic, alignment with the Spiritworld and the Earth into their lives to enrich their experience of living.

This Month: Body Wisdom with Michaela Otto

Michaela Thunder Owl, certified shamanic coach and practitioner, guides and empowers seekers who are stuck, in transition or simply wanting more through the powerful knowledge and techniques of contemporary shamanism.

Today Jen welcomes Michaela Thunder Owl for the theme “Body Wisdom“.

 

 

Going Shamanic is hosted by Jennifer Engracio, about how to integrate shamanism into everyday life.

 

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About the Author:

Jennifer Engrácio has been a student of shamanism since 2005. Jennifer is a certified teacher who has worked with children in many different education settings since 2001. She is a certified shamanic practitioner, Reiki Master, and lomilomi practitioner; in addition, she runs Spiral Dance Shamanics. Originally from Vancouver, Canada, she now lives in Calgary, Canada with her life partner.

Engrácio participated in self-publishing three books that are now available:

The Magic Circle: Shamanic Ceremonies for the Child and the Child Within”

Women’s Power Stories: Honouring the Feminine Principle of Life”

Dreaming of Cupcakes: A Food Addict’S Shamanic Journey into Healing

For more information go to: www.spiraldanceshamanics.com

What is Shamanism?

March, 2018

**An excerpt from the book: Dreaming of Cupcakes: A Food Addict’s Shamanic Journey into Healing

 

What is Shamanism?

Shamanism is not a faith, but a wisdom tradition in which we learn purely from our own individual, collective and personal experience. It is not a religion and is dogma-free; indeed it supports any existing spiritual practice one already has. Many of us deeply desire a connection to our own ‘soulfulness’ and that of all other living beings in a free and natural way. This is the essence of Shamanism.”

– John Cantwell

“Shamanism is a path of knowledge, not of faith, and that knowledge cannot come from me or anyone else in this reality. To acquire that knowledge, including the knowledge of the reality of the spirits, it is necessary to step through the shaman’s doorway and acquire empirical evidence.”

– Michael Harner, Ph.D.

 

The etymology of the word “shaman” itself comes from the Siberian language and it was originally used to refer to a spiritual healer in the community. In each area of the world, including Europe, earth-based spiritual practices can be traced back to specific groups of people who knew how to enter into communion with nature spirits through non-ordinary reality in order to obtain information that could aid in the healing of a person or a community.

Today, shamanic practitioners do not focus on what is “broken” in a person or even necessarily how the imbalance happened in the first place. Shamanism is concerned primarily with reminding an individual of their inherent wholeness. Shamanic practitioners see that when a person experiences trauma or illness, they are not in need of fixing; rather, parts of their being splinter or shatter away from the whole causing inner and outer dissonance. Because imbalances manifest in the spiritual energetic level of being first, this is also where practitioners travel to bring back these pieces to the afflicted person.

Today, many of us have lost contact with these old ways. In the modern world, we’ve had to adapt ancient traditions to fit our hurried, busy lifestyles. Urban shamanic practitioners train in ancient shamanic technologies in order to heal themselves and to support healing in others in the community. Ancient tools are used by everyday people again with great success: drum journeys into the spiritworld, vision quests for extended time out in nature, and other spiritual ceremonies. All of these strategies help us to quiet our inner world so we can hear the voice of Spirit and our inner wise one who knows what medicine we need to heal.

This may seem strange to people who were not brought up in shamanic cultures. However, ancient peoples knew that the consensual reality we live in is not the only reality we can sense and participate within. It is not uncommon for shamanic practitioners to work with spirit guides, totem animals, and their ancestors in order to affect positive change in their own lives and in the world around them. In shamanic cultures, dreaming is not an idle activity with no useful function: it is the way people dream a new reality into being. This does not involve attempting to control anything outside the practitioner. And so just like a journeyer can enter the spiritworld for answers to problems, she can also enter the spiritworld to lend energy to a different dream than the one she is currently living. In fact, both are needed in order for healing to be effective.

As individuals on a growth and evolutionary edge, if we choose, we continue to heal until we die. Healing requires us to keep sensing the splintered parts of ourselves, working with the spiritworld to bring them into wholeness again. This is a tremendous act of power that we are capable of as human beings. Unlike other living creatures, humans can consciously learn to direct their will to literally change the pathways available to them in the future. Shamanic practitioners learn to responsibly travel the spiritual realms to affect change. This takes years of practice and mentors who know how to teach these methods with skill and care. Although there are some modern-day shamanic practitioners that are charlatans, there are many more who are earnestly passing their teachings onto sincere and responsible individuals willing to learn these ancient ways of dreaming, healing, and creating.

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About the Author:

Jennifer Engrácio has been a student of shamanism since 2005. Jennifer is a certified teacher who has worked with children in many different education settings since 2001. She is a certified shamanic coach, Reiki Master, and lomilomi practitioner; in addition, she runs Spiral Dance Shamanics. Originally from Vancouver, Canada, she now lives in Calgary, Canada with her life partner.

Engrácio participated in self-publishing three books that are now available:

The Magic Circle: Shamanic Ceremonies for the Child and the Child Within

Women’s Power Stories: Honouring the Feminine Principle of Life

Dreaming of Cupcakes: A Food Addict’s Shamanic Journey into Healing

For Amazon information, click image below

For more information go to: www.spiraldanceshamanics.com

Crystal Connections

March, 2018

Book Review – Crystal Skulls: Ancient Tools for Peace, Knowledge and Enlightenment

 

 

Published by Weiser , and written by Judy Hall, this 194 page book explores the origin, lore and metaphysical properties of crystal skulls in two parts. In the first part of the book the author covers the controversy pertaining to the authenticity (or lack there of) of when these crystalline structures were created, carved or machined. She says it best when she states, “But, as has been said, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.” Then she continues by saying, “In talking about crystal skulls, departures from “truth” inevitably occur. But what is truth? Just because the origins of a skull are dubious does not invalidate people’s subsequent experiences.” Judy Hall goes on to talk about her own experiences with crystal skulls, as well as details of famous or rather infamous skulls, the mythology and the people who collect them, also known as Skull keepers, and the people who carve them.

Part II is all about how to work with your crystal skulls. Hall begins with a chapter on how to choose your crystal skull and even contains a “buyer beware” section. As a newbie to crystal skulls I appreciate the author including this little part in her book. The second half of the book continues on with chapters on how to cleanse, activate, communicate, heal with and care for your crystal skulls. The author rounds off the book by including a crystal directory and an invaluable resource of reputable crystal skull suppliers.

I honestly wasn’t sure how I would feel about this book, as I’ve always viewed crystal skulls as kind of macabre. Not that I thought any different of people who had them, they just weren’t for me. But I can now say my interest has been peaked. I’ve consciously put it out to the Universe that I’m interested in working with crystal skulls, so now I will wait patiently until the right one finds me. That aside, I felt this book was well written and I loved that the author included her own personal experiences. Though it’s a short 194 pages, this book packs a wealth of information in it, enough to get a newbie started and maybe some unknown lore for the experienced skull keeper to find interesting as well.

 

About Judy Hall:

 

 

An internationally known author, astrologer, psychic, healer, broadcaster and workshop leader, Judy Hall has been a karmic counselor for over thirty years.

Her books have been translated into fifteen languages. Her specialties are past life readings and regression; reincarnation, astrology, psychology and natural forms of healing.

She has clients from all walks of life: the House of Lords, the European Parliament, pop singers, university professors, scientists and mystics, and people on social security.

She has conducted workshops around the world. A trained healer and counselor, she has been psychic all her life and has a wide experience of many systems of divination and natural healing methods.

Judy has a B.Ed. in Religious Studies and an extensive knowledge of world religions and mythology. Her mentor was Christine Hartley (Dion Fortune’s metaphysical colleague and literary agent). She completed her Masters Degree in Cultural Astronomy and Astrology at Bath Spa University. 

 

For Amazon Information Click Image

 

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About the Author:

Shiron (Shi) Eddy hails from the Pacific Northwest and shares a home with her husband, a Great Dane and a cat. Her love for crystals and minerals came from her dad who was an avid rock hound in his younger years. Shi happily shares her knowledge of crystals with anyone who is drawn to them, but especially loves to help people connect with minerals that involves their metaphysical properties. When she’s not networking with other crystal and mineral lovers, Shi can be found making jewelry, painting, crocheting Goddess dolls, selling her wares at shows or spending time with family and friends. You can find her jewelry in her shop ShiJewels or follow her on Instagram.

Exploring the Penumbra: First Steps in Sorcery Part 1

June, 2017

Foreword

This is a story about a chance experiment in consciousness I suddenly tried at the age of twenty-two which turned my life in a different direction. Over thirty-two years later, the experiment is still going on.

Or was it chance? Accounts of similar experiments were certainly in the air:

in 1968, a graduate anthropology student named Carlos Castaneda published The Teachings of don Juan: a Yaqui Way of Knowledge, describing his experiences learning

native American sorcery from an alleged Yaqui brujo named don Juan Matus. I picked it up at the Aztec bookstore at San Diego State University. Wisdom from this hemisphere was a novelty to me back then.

This book affected people in different ways. D.D. went out to the desert regularly and took peyote and magic mushrooms and tried to fly. At the student union one evening three chicanos informed me that it was a sociological fable inaccessible to gringos.

I found don Juan fascinating but didn’t draw a connection between the book and my own experiments starting about this time. I only noticed similarities beginning with his next two books, A Separate Reality and Journey to Ixtlan: we were both engaged in a practice he called ‘not-doing’ to build up a special kind of energy normally inaccessible to us; and we both tried to conserve this energy instead of squandering it.

This, then, is an account of my own explorations. I have worked mostly alone, although at times I have had partners, who are listed in the dedication. Where an exploration comes from them, I append the explorer’s initials in brackets.

It still seems funny to me that a barking dog changed the course of my life.

A Barking Dog

In 1968 I was living in a small studio apartment on Winona Avenue in east San Diego, and feeling frustrated. I had been trying for several minutes now to meditate in the Hindu manner, by withdrawing my mind from my senses. The trouble was this dog next door who insisted on barking every three minutes. I’d start withdrawing my attention from my senses when, bark, bark, in they rushed again.

Suddenly for no reason I turned my attention to the barking, letting it in instead of trying to keep it out. In a few moments I felt very light and relaxed. My ears were taking in all available sounds together, including the dog, traffic on University Avenue nearby, the refrigerator motor kicking in, an occasional plane passing overhead, somewhere a radio. It wasn’t a clamor; there were spaces between and around the sounds.

I started noticing things that were invisible before: the shadows of the bushes by the window, quivering a little from wind; overhead, squiggly lights playing across the fishnetted ceiling; Navajo white paint in the upper left corner of the wall starting to chip and peel away. Suddenly I was aware of a cramp I’d been ignoring in my left side, and shifted positions.

I went for a walk up Winona towards El Cajon Boulevard: birds, car engines, horns, barking here and there; telephone poles, power lines, cracks in the sidewalk, an alpine forest of TV antennas. Everything was in view, not just the stuff in front of my eyes.

I felt very light and peppy. Feelings out of old memories flowed through my mind, the nameless flavors of forgotten moments. Very loose feeling. This energy, I saw, had always been available, but was always tied up in filtering out supposedly irrelevant sensations. Apparently, filtering them out took a lot more energy than including them in awareness, because now I had a surplus.

Looking and Gazing

As I listened to background sounds, I became aware of things seen to the side, out of the corners of my eyes. I had the power to shift part of my attention to the side of wherever my eyes were pointing.

I experimented by placing two objects side by side, a clock and a framed photograph, and standing four or five feet back from them. First I looked at the clock; then, without moving my eyes, I shifted more of my attention to the photograph, then brought it back to the clock again, and so on back and forth several times, pausing now and then to feel the effects. When I shifted part of my attention to the photograph, something seemed to open up in the back of my head and there was a gentle flow of energy there.

While talking to C. one day, I tried extending my attention from her face to a potted plant on her right. Almost immediately, the tension in the room went down. I could look at her without falling into her face, mentally speaking, so I could really look at her now, in a relaxed sort of way. Of course I wasn’t really looking at C., I was looking at C.-sitting-in-the-chair-next-to-the-potted-plant; but she seemed unaware of that and liked the change.

If I paid attention to things where my eyes were pointing, I called that ‘looking’. If I kept my eyes on something and directed part of my attention to the side of it (or above or below it), I called that ‘gazing to the side’. Pointing the eyes to the side of an object and spreading the attention to the object itself I called ‘gazing from the side’. The first sort of gazing was easier to do with things nearby, the second with things farther away.

Like Castaneda I gazed at foliage and shadows. Shadows seem to acquire a depth or sheen when you gaze at them. They are all colors and blown by the wind. At noon cars glide by on their shadow carpets. Passing along store windows, I gazed at the reflections in the windows of cars driving by. When G. and I went for a walk down the beach, I gazed obliquely at the ocean while listening to the surf. Suddenly I started running, my ears full of falling waves. I was not a runner, I was generally out of shape; yet I ran without weight and felt no fatigue, just stopping when I stopped. G. was a block and a half back, trudging along amiably.

Not-Doing

“ ‘Do you know anything about the world around you?’ he asked.

‘I know all kinds of things,’ I said.

‘I mean do you ever feel the world around you?’

‘I feel as much of the world around me as I can.’

‘That’s not enough. You must feel everything, otherwise the world loses

its sense…I am talking about the fact that you’re not complete. You have no peace…You think about yourself too much…and that gives you a strange fatigue that makes you shut off the world around you and cling to your arguments. Therefore, all you have is problems.’ ” 1

Passages like these in A Separate Reality, which appeared in 1971, convinced me that I was practicing a subset of what Castaneda called ‘sorcery’. I identified ‘feeling the world around you’ with sensing everything I was aware of at once, with equal attention. Engulfed in my senses, I thought about myself rarely, and felt very peaceful and energetic as a result. It felt like I was living on the outside of my body; every day was a day at the beach. Apparently, mental talk produces a feeling of being divided from sensations, but over the years I had ceased to notice this because it was nearly constant. I only became aware of it when my mind grew quieter and the division blurred.

In Journey to Ixtlan, don Juan calls this ‘not-doing’. ‘Not-doing’ means not doing what you usually do, or doing what you usually do not do, performing everyday acts in an unusual way. By including ignored sensations in my awareness, I was doing what I don’t usually do; and because this switched off talking to myself mentally, I was simultaneously not doing what I usually do. Thus, every act of not-doing has two sides: something unusual is done, and something usual is not done. The effects of the former are felt almost immediately, while the effects of the latter are felt only over time.

While healing in inner silence from years of mental chatter, I began to see that the thoughts I habitually indulge in poison my life.

Lumina and Penumbra

While I could do these things in any situation, I was most aware of their immediate effects in quiet moments, and their cumulative effects during relatively peaceful periods of my life. Though far-reaching, these effects were subtle and I had become insensitive from years of mental talk and frontal focus.

I liked to sit quietly for a while after each exploration, feeling its effects. Similarly, each exploration began while my mind was still engaged in following some train of thought from the previous moment. Letting in background sensations, I watched each mental conversation fade away, the way one watches a sail disappear at sea. Thus, each exploration began and ended in savoring the moment just past. Sitting quietly afterwards became as important as the exploration itself.

As I grew more sensitive I could detect more rapid fluctuations in my attention. I discovered that I didn’t really look and think at the same time, but the two alternated rapidly. They seemed to be happening together when my attention to energy flows in my body was duller. In motion photography, images succeeding each other too swiftly for attention produce an illusion of continuity; so in this case, thinking and frontal vision seemed to coexist in the same moment. The old silent films had fewer frames per second, so that the images seemed to flicker. I was catching the flicker as attention oscillated between frontal vision and thought.

Thinking and looking, I reasoned, must use the same mental space or frequency. Because this space was like the narrow beam of a flashlight, I called it the ‘lumina’.

When I spread more of my attention to peripheral vision, hearing, and the other senses, I talked to myself less. Background sensation is more continuous because there is less interruption by thought. Withdrawing the extra attention from the periphery and confining it to frontal vision once more got me back into thinking again. Peripheral sensation, then, must use a different mental space. Things seen from the corners of the eyes were half-hidden, like objects in half-shadow, so I called this mental space the ‘penumbra’.

Periphery and Umbra

In 1969 I was living alone on Estrella Avenue in east San Diego. For days at a time I saw no one except when I had breakfast at a corner coffee shop at Winona and El Cajon Boulevard, for, as I recall, $1.25! Outside of giving my order, I would go for days without talking to anyone. When this happens, it becomes difficult to talk at all; you feel a certain hesitation due to lack of practice.

I was exploring the penumbra a good deal, taking advantage of my unusual isolation. My attention was evenly distributed throughout my visual and auditory fields. My thoughts quieted down to whispers, ultimately becoming flickerings on the edge of vision, like distant lightnings. If I kept my attention on the edge of the visual field, these flickerings or pre-thoughts died out there; if my attention wavered, they entered the lumina and stimulated auditory memory, the basis of mental talking. At that time, on walks to and from breakfast, that didn’t happen very often. My mind was unusually quiet that spring. Where do these impulses to thought come from?

This limit of the visual field, which I called ‘the periphery’, was peculiar in that it had only an inside edge. Picture frames have inner and outer edges because we can see beyond them; but by definition one cannot see beyond the visual field. It extends just so far, and then it somehow plays out. When I kept my attention on the periphery, I saw the visual field as one thing, one visual object with only an inner edge. There was something uncanny about this that my mind couldn’t comprehend. In a way the visual field was like my life, and the periphery like my first and last moments, at birth and just before death. Since I can’t see beyond my life, it also has a limit with only an inner edge.2

Keeping my eyeglass frames in view helped to maintain my attention at the periphery, since they were close to the edge of vision, and this kept my attention focused in the penumbra. This was useful done by itself; done with other explorations, such as peripheral listening, it took my mind down to deeper levels of quiet.

Watching the edge of vision distributes the attention evenly throughout the visual field, and stops the eyes from tracking. A test was devised for this. Sweep your head slowly from side to side; if individual objects become prominent, you are still tracking, or it’s started up again. Try doing this in front of a mirror; if your face comes into focus, you are tracking. [C.E.] The test itself is an effective way of beginning the exploration.

The visual periphery is not just to the sides; it includes what little I can see of my face without using a reflecting surface: a fuzzy blob for my nose, overhanging eyebrows, eyelashes seen through bright sunlight. Small children do not yet associate their reflections with themselves, and so go through a period of liking to look at ‘the baby in the mirror’. According to one writer, at this stage they see themselves as headless. Once I realized I am the baby in the mirror, I began ignoring the little fuzzy sensations I once thought were all the head I had, back in the days when I lived on the outside of my body.

According to the book On Having No Head 3, learning to attend to those sensations again can lead to an experience similar to what Zen Buddhists call satori, or enlightenment. The viewpoint that one is headless focuses attention on these ignored sensations, keeping it there longer.

Although I couldn’t see beyond the periphery, I knew what was there, for I only had to turn my head to see what was hidden. When I wasn’t turning my head, I was dimly aware of things in back of me. This sense that there was something more to be seen seemed to reside in its own mental space. I called this space the ‘umbra’, or shadow. There was also some sort of shadow, or opening, behind my attention; it moved with my head and therefore remained hidden. I could feel it there, just behind my eyes, where energy was flowing.

1 A Separate Reality, pp. 12-13.

2 I owe this comparison to the philosopher R.G.Collingwood, who owed it in turn to the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein. See bibliography.

3 Harding, D.E See bibliography.

(graphic from https://abstract.desktopnexus.com/wallpaper/754369/)