A line of contemplation very much inspired by John’s thoughtful critique of my ‘body and soul’ piece a few days ago…
John pointed out that a belief in spirit does not automatically lead to dualistic thinking. So, I considered my own attitudes to spirit, trying to pin down exactly what I think. We’re very much in the realms of what cannot be rationally known here, but belief shapes action, and seeing the mechanics of that can be very useful. Our whole understanding of what the world is and what life is for comes from belief, not evidence.
I believe in ideas of spirit and soul, but what does that mean, what do I think it is? Energy, first and foremost, the energy that is life and ideas. But, a glance out of the window is enough to show that such energy is very much tied up with matter, and it would be hard to say which (if either) is the consequence of the other. Energy moves between physical life forms, through eating, and the release of decay. So spirit flows also (as I see it). This does not preclude a notion of individual spirit, just as our flesh forms, and falls away to other things, so might spirit, but perhaps it is also able to continue in conscious form beyond bodily death. I have no clarity of afterlife belief, or any sense of what might continue, but am conscious that early pagans largely did believe in life after death.
There are also things within the world that are present without being material – wind and sunlight for a start. Darkness feels like a very present thing to me. Inspiration the same. Where we perceive the ‘action’ is where this energy interacts with material things.
This material world around us is the one our bodies have developed to perceive and interact with. It doesn’t mean it is the only truth, and perception is not necessarily objective reality, as any stage magician can show us. We have to work with our own perceptions though. I wonder if reality is more layered, the material things we experience only being one facet of a far more complex whole. I can imagine webs of spirit, layers of thread and flow that interact creating connections and meanings beyond our ordinary awareness. My imagining it does not make it so, but my very physical understanding of the world is rooted in experience, and untrustworthy though it is, it is also the only thing I can trust.
My notions of spirit are based on experiencing what it does – not spirit as some abstract concept, but as immediate, energetic forms impacting on me. Wind and sun, tree and bird – things that I can make some sense of. If I can hear something, smell it, or experience it as a tactile presence (there is an invisible cat in my house, I have felt it walk over me) I can do something with that. I don’t expend much energy on contemplating things I can’t in some way interact with – making very abstract notions of gods unappealing.
Spirit, for me, has a numinous quality, it illuminates. Where something is rich in spirit, I get an impression of ‘glow’, of there being depth behind the material surface. Not everything I encounter is qualitatively the same in this regard. There is a world of difference between a mass produced plastic thing (with little or no soul) and something lovingly hand carved out of wood (and bright with spirit). I can say the same of people, places, all that there is, in fact. It seems to me, to be about flow, and what passes through, a process involving give, and love, that I have only the barest sense of, but can see how it changes things.
I realise I’m scraping the surface of possibilities here, and that I have a lot more thinking to do. Thank you John for the prompt, I’ll be exploring these, and other related issues in a lot more detail, personally, and on this blog.