"For we are born at all adventure: and we shall be hereafter as though we had never been: for the breath in our nostrils is as smoke, and a little spark in the moving of our heart". Wisdom of Solomon 2:2
Some of my readers may know that aside from this blog I also write regularly for Prediction magazine. Indeed, some of you may be Prediction readers checking out the blog after getting the address from the magazine. In which case: welcome. I hope you enjoy yourself here.
Last week the Prediction editor, Marion, asked me for my “spiritual credentials” so that she could put them by my by-line.
I didn’t quite know what she meant by that. What are spiritual credentials, exactly? I mean: is there a spiritual university out there somewhere, with a spiritual qualification on offer? Sort of BA (Hons) in Divination and Tarot Reading or a Higher National Diploma in Meditation Practice and Standing On One Leg? Is God marking my prayers? Three out of ten for effort. Must Try Harder. Are there letters I can put after my name? CJ Stone, Dip Ast Proj (Diploma in Astral Projection)?
Personally I would be very wary of anyone attempting to make claims about their spirituality; it would almost certainly turn out to be a fraud.
In the end I sent her the following mail.
“I'm a Brother Knight, a Quest Knight and a Shield Knight of the Loyal Arthurian Warband, a Druid order: the only person, as far as I know, to have gone through all three stages.
”I’m an observer and commentator on all things New Age; a dreamer and psychic explorer of many years standing.
”I practice Taoist standing meditation and Chi Kung daily.
”I'm a follower of Dharma, which means, ‘correct behaviour’, ‘the right way of living’, and also ‘the Way’; of the Tao, which also means ‘the Way’; and a student and devotee of early Christianity, one of whose names for themselves was ‘the Way’.
”The early Christians also called themselves ‘the Poor’, which was a spiritual identification with the nationhood of the poor, the largest country in the world.
”I think the most spiritual thing any of us can do is to get born.
”My spiritual gurus are William Blake and Robert Anton Wilson.”
I have yet to find out if she used any of this information, and what, exactly my spiritual credentials will be when they appear next to my by-line on my column.
Actually, I must admit, I’m not even sure what the word “spiritual” means.
My Collins English Dictionary defines it as: Spiritual (adj.) 1. relating to the spirit or soul and not to physical nature or matter; intangible. 2. of, relating to, or characteristic of sacred things, the Church, religion, etc. 3. standing in a relationship based on communication between the souls of the persons involved: i.e. a spiritual father. 4. having a mind or emotions of a high and delicately refined quality. 5. (often plural) the sphere of religious, spiritual, or ecclesiastical matters, or such matters themselves. 6. the realm of spirits.
On that basis, I have to say that I have no spiritual credentials whatsoever. I prefer tangible things to intangible ones. I am not religious. I am nobody’s spiritual relation, whether father or mother or cousin or any other thing. My mind and my emotions are not in the slightest bit refined. I am not interested in ecclesiastical matters, and I have no experience of the realm of the spirits.
The word “spirit” however, is closer to something I can understand and sympathise with.
Here is the definition.
Spirit. n. 1. the force or principle of life that animates the body of living things. 2. temperament or disposition. 3. liveliness, mettle: they set to it with spirit. 4. the fundamental, emotional and activating principle of a person; will: the experience broke his spirit. 5. a sense of loyalty and dedication: team spirit. 6. the prevailing element; feeling: a spirit of joy pervaded the atmosphere. 7. a state of mind or mood; attitude: he did it in the wrong spirit. 8. (pl) an emotional state, esp. with regard to exaltation or dejection: in high spirits. 9. a person characterised by some activity, quality of disposition: a leading spirit of the movement. 10. the deeper more significant meaning as opposed to a pedantic interpretation: the spirit of the law. 11. that which constitutes a person’s intangible being as contrasted with his physical presence: I shall be with you in spirit. 12. a. an incorporeal being, esp. the soul of a dead person. b. (as modifier): spirit world. 13. (usually followed by away or off) to carry off mysteriously or secretly. 14. (often followed by up) to impart animation or determination to. [C13: from old French esperit, from Latin spiritus breath; related to spirare to breathe.]
This is the sense in which I always use the word spiritual (wrongly it seems) not to mean religiousity, but as a form of energy, like Chi, perhaps, in Chinese philosophy; as the animating principle of life, and the essence, as it were, of a human being. When I say “spiritual” I usually mean energetic. I am referring to a sparkle in the eye, a tickle in the belly, a turn of the lips, a sense of humour, a feeling of optimism and purpose: a reason for being. The people I consider most spiritual are usually also the most down-to-earth.
I think the sense of the word I've been using has more in common with "spirited" than "spiritual". It's just a pity spiritual people can't be a little more spirited in their dealings with life, a little less refined and ecclesiastical.
I was particularly interested in reading it’s derivation, from the Latin spiritus meaning breath, since I had a dream recently which has got me thinking very deeply about the meaning of existence.
In the dream there's a down hill slope and snow and a sledge and children playing and as I sweep past them laughing I say, something like, "it's all right, I'm not going to enslave you like they did in Rome." There's a whole heap of stuff in that statement, to do with the future economy and the next image comes up as a sort of explanation of it. In my mind I'm talking about the economic system. “There are slave economies, like Rome, which is essentially our economic system,” (I say) “but in the past there were other kinds of economies too.” Then there's a picture of a market with people exchanging things and a voice says, "in the past when an exchange took place they saw it as an exchange of breath, which was also known as Tao or Dharma." I saw that the exchange was one of equals.
It is this dream which inspired me to take up Taoist standing meditation and Chi Kung.
The downhill slope with the snow had to do with the spirit of playfulness. I was sledging down a slope full of joy and exhilaration. The reference to Rome and to the slave state is a reference to early Christianity, which was the religion of the slaves during the early days of the Roman Empire. The children were in the dream as a reference to Jesus’ statement: “suffer little children to come unto me.” The fact that I have identified three separate spiritual traditions which all use the notion of “the Way” as a form of identification is surely not coincidental. But it is the reference to an exchange of breath as the basis for an economic system which is the most puzzling and interesting.
What can it mean, I wonder?
My first thought had to do with barter. In an exchange of goods you need to negotiate. Maybe this is the exchange of breath: the negotiation between equals, the agreement of value. I also thought of the process of bargaining at an oriental bazaar. There, there is no set price. Instead the buyer and the seller go through a protracted process of bargaining. Again, it represents an exchange of breath: a negotiation. "Barter" and "banter". I wonder if there is a connection?
The reference to Rome and to societies based on slavery (in our case: wage slavery) reminded me of something I read in Robert Anton Wilson’s Illuminatus! Trilogy.
It begins with a discussion of the roots of the word “privilege”. From the Latin, privi, private, and lege, meaning law. Private law.
“Privilege implies exclusion from privilege, just as advantage implies disadvantage.... In the same mathematically reciprocal way, profit implies loss. If you and I exchange equal goods, that is trade: neither of us profits and neither of us loses. But if we exchange unequal goods, one of us profits and the other loses. Mathematically. Certainly. Now such mathematically unequal exchanges will always occur because some traders will be shrewder than others. But in total freedom – in anarchy – such unequal exchanges will be sporadic and irregular. A phenomenon of predictable periodicity, mathematically speaking. Now look about you – raise your nose from your great books and survey the actual world as it is – and you will not observe such unpredictable functions. You will observe, instead, a mathematically smooth function, a steady profit accruing to one group and an equally steady loss accumulating for all others. Why is this? Because the system is not free or random, any mathematician would tell you a priori. Well, then, what is the determining function, the factor that controls the other variables? You have named it yourself, or Mr Adler has: the Great Tradition. Privilege, I prefer to call it. When A meets B in the market place they do not bargain as equals. A bargains from a position of privilege; hence he always profits and B always loses. There is no more free market here than on the other side of the Iron Curtain. The privileges, or private law – the rules of the game as promulgated by the Politburo and the General Congress of the Communist Party on that side and the US government and the Federal Reserve Board on this side – are slightly different; that’s all.....”
The morning after I had the dream I ran excitedly to my computer to look up some definitions.
Here are some of my discoveries:
Dharma (Sanskrit), Dhamma (Pali) refers to the underlying order in nature, and human behaviour considered to be in accord with that order. Ethically, it means “right way of living” or “proper conduct,” especially in a religious sense.
The Chinese character for qi (Chi) is usually translated into English as "vital energy" or "life force," although its literal meaning is "breath."
Chi exists in the human body without form, colour or substance. The ancient Chinese likened it to fire, and early Chinese pictographic characters depicted it as "sun" and "fire." Within Taoist literature Chi was seen as a form of vital heat akin to sunlight, without which life could not exist. Today, the most widely used character for Chi (above) depicts steam rising from cooking rice.
So there you have it again. Breath, right behaviour, and an exchange of vital energy or life-force as the basis for a future economic system.
That was some dream!