2. A PARADOX: CONSIDER BOTH THE BIG PICTURE AND THE MOMENT-TO-MOMENT DETAILS
In our Western society, we don’t generally pay much attention to the process of perception. We simply perceive. For the most part, we rely on our physical senses and, while we sometimes acknowledge our intuition – ‘I just knew in my gut’ – for the most part, we are unconscious about the energy, or non-physical information, we are perceiving. In the Shamanic tradition, perception is actually broken down into four separate perceptual states that can be consciously accessed. Each has an animal archetype to assist in the conscious accessibility of the specific level of perception. The Shaman lives in the awareness that how we perceive directly affects our experience.
The Shaman’s Perspective: Four Perceptual States:
1. The first level of perception is on the physical plane, which is generally the information we gather with our five senses. The animal archetype is the Serpent. The Serpent sheds her skin, even her eyes, reminding us to release the past and all of our beliefs that we hold about the world around us so that we can receive new information clearly and without bias. Serpent is connected to the Earth and reminds us to stay grounded and connected to Mother Earth and Nature.
2. The next level of perception is the mental and emotional levels which are combined in the Shamanic tradition. The animal archetype is the Jaguar. In our Western culture, our minds and emotions have almost supreme power. We spend most of our focus and attention in the mental and emotional realms. Jaguar helps us to face our fears and encourages us to acknowledge the death that stalks us. Death, in this context, includes the end of our lives and death of our physical bodies and the daily “deaths” that we must be willing to experience in order for life to evolve. We sometimes cling to our beliefs about how things are supposed to be instead of allowing life to simply be as it is. Our clinging creates unnecessary stress and loss of peace of mind.
3. Hummingbird is the animal archetype associated with hearing our soul’s call. The next level of perception invites us to recognize the wisdom of our hearts, which is distinctly different from the workings of our minds. Hummingbird reminds us to search for and find beauty and sweetness and to drink deeply from beauty and sweetness, to take the time to recognize what each of us deems beautiful, sweet and nurturing. It is a very personal and individual awareness that only comes from time and self-inquiry.
4. The final level of perception is that of Spirit, in which we recognize our one-ness with God. The animal archetype is the Eagle who allows herself to be carried by the winds of Spirit. Less a level of active perception, the level of Spirit is a vitally important reminder of who we are in Truth. Eagle reminds us to see the big picture and to find the place of effortless effort, which becomes possible when one is resting in God.
By limiting our perception in acknowledging only the first two levels – the physical and mental/emotional – as is common to our experience in Western cultures - we place severe limits on the depth of our experiences and the potential for greater fulfillment. When we have the added dimension of Eagle, with the ability to see the big picture, we can sometimes recognize the meaning in our activities that have gone unacknowledged in the past. For example, much of the day-to-day activity of parenting and maintaining a household can be tedious and seeking meaning in cooking, laundry and dishes can feel quite elusive. However, by shifting into Eagle consciousness and the level of Spirit, one may see that the day-to-day tedium is actually laying a secure foundation for our individual family members to thrive and become their Truest and most creative selves, which is for the betterment of our individual families and also for society at large. One can sometimes feel insignificant and unimportant. I recently helped to finish a large and complex jigsaw puzzle, only to find that one piece had been lost in the process. It was a tiny piece but left a gaping sense of incompleteness.
Paradoxically, it is important to notice the moment-to-moment details of our activities as well. If our doing is exclusively for some future benefit or the result of an apparent “should”, our level of personal satisfaction will be minimal, if any, and could instead engender growing frustration. The most productive feeling from which to create is one of joy. In the book “Born to Run”, Christopher McDougal spent time with a Mexican Tribe of natural ultra-marathoners. He made many discoveries which he describes wonderfully in his book. One of the observations he made in observing several members of the tribe in a 75 to 100 mile race is that they were entirely relaxed and joyful throughout the run. They were running with smiles on their faces and were willing to stop to help fellow competitors along the way. Joy and compassion, it seems, are powerfully energizing! Ideally we can find a balance between the big picture and ultimate result of what we’re doing and the moment-to-moment sheer enjoyment.