By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
The secret of dreaming was sent into the world with the spirit of Barramundi," said physicist Fred Alan Wolf, relating an Aboriginal tale to a crowd at "Science and Spirituality: The Transformative Connection," a three-day conference in Manhattan last month.
The fish Barramundi, swimming in the ocean's depths, dreamed of wavesand sand, a place it struggled to comprehend. So it passed this dream along to the turtle Currikee, who happily carried it to shore. Then Currikee, suddenly dreaming of sunbaked rocks, gave these strange, discomforting images to the lizard Bogai. And so this relay continued, with each creature reaching the edge of its cozy habitat, yielding a vision to the creature next in line. Bogai yielded to eagle Bunjil, Bunjil to possum Coonerang, Coonerang to Kangaroo, who, dreaming of music, song, and laughter, offered this treasure to humans. Here we are, at the apparent end of the line, on sacred ground, charged with the care of all creation.
As Bush prepared his Iraq invasion, hundreds of mental health and medical professionals, scientists, and laypersons gathered at Fordham University (Lincoln Center) to ask if we have discarded the dream entrusted to us, or if its challengethat we move past our comfort zonehas frightened us into paralysis. The conference, co-sponsored by the Association for Spirituality and Psychotherapy, aimed to mend an estrangement dating back to Descartes. Maverick scientists such as Wolf, fellow physicist F. David Peat, biophysicist Candace Pert, and numerous healers such as Martha Crampton, John Bolling, Shulamit, and psychic psychotherapist Ruth Rosenbaum contemplated how spiritual unity pervades all matter, informs human affairs, and affects health and well-being.
The conference underscored how science has caught up to (and neatly relabeled) our ancestors' beliefs and practices. Wolf, whose lengthy classroom presentation on quantum physics was marred by his irritating glut of audiovisual bells and whistles, introduced his theory that the future shapes our present. Just like shamans of old, therapists and other modern healers need practical tools. Wolf's thesis of a compelling call or imprint from the future may turn out to be "only a story," a kind of scientific folklorebut what if this fiction helps liberate therapy clients stuck in past trauma and feelings of powerlessness? Native American elders have long used a version of this same medicine, counseling the community that no decision should be made or action taken without considering how it will affect the coming seven generations. Contemporary physics appears to support the venerable teaching that all beings are one, a condition that implies our responsibility for one another.
Peat's pre-conference intensive located healing within the context of space and community, asserting that true healing cannot exist in isolation. He detailed how 13th-century innovations, such as more accurate maps and the invention of the compass, altered the way we view our universe, making it appear increasingly mechanistic, quantifiable, predictable, and controllable. He contrasted Indo-European languages, where subjects (e.g., the healer) act upon starkly discrete objects (e.g., the healed), with more holistic Native American languages in which verbs and processes are paramount. Rather than classifying a particular tree, an Algonquin or Blackfoot might refer to that tree by a word for the sound the wind makes as it rushes through its leaves.
We've traded away what the !Kung of the Kalahari know, Peat said: that a community must care for its healers, cleansing them of excess energy to prevent what Americans call burnout. We've forgotten what early Kabbalists and alchemists knew: that darkness and chaos are necessary precursors to the deep, complex process of restoring balanced wholeness. In our hubris and greed, we externalize and commodify change, "buying dreamcatchers and going on vision quests." We allow no room for mystery, no acknowledgment of what Haitian-born physician Reginald Crosleyusing physics to explain the healing nature of voudon's communal ritualsknows as the 86 percent of all matter called "dark." The unknown and our state of unknowing fill us with dread. Just ask any New Yorker what it felt like after 9-11, before the Sunday Times started running ads for little evening bags with Old Glory encrusted in red, white, and blue rhinestones.
The title of John Bolling's insightful workshop "Voices from Amenta" references the ancient Egyptian word for the unconscious, and his clinical work is largely informed by African and Afro-Atlantic symbols, concepts, and traditions. "We're living in the millennium of the return of the Shadow and the Dark Mother," said the Harlem-based child psychologist. He sees the eruption of this repressed, unintegrated psychic energy in the crises striking the Catholic church, the corporate world, and the stock market. Like Wolf, he believes that the future, not only our ancestral past, calls us to renewal and evolution. "There is a beloved community," Bolling asserts, "an energy feeding back from the future, as opposed to the demonic fascism of the New World Order."
John Horgan, science journalist and author of the new Rational Mysticism: Dispatches from the Border Between Science and Spirit (Houghton Mifflin) and Robert Thurman, professor of Indo-Tibetan Buddhist Studies at Columbia University, discussed mysticism and its relationship to mainstream science and religion on April 14. See johnhorgan.org and http://literati.net/Thurman.