In his book, Mending the Past and Healing the Future with Soul Retrieval, medical anthropologist Alberto Villoldo describes the shamanic/spiritual practices of the Laika, an indigenous community of the Peruvian Amazon:
The Laika believe that everything is imaginal. Whatever we perceive is a projection of our inner world, and the world perfectly mirrors the condition of our soul.
“The world perfectly mirrors the condition of our soul.” I believe that to be true, individually and collectively.
So what does that mean? Does that mean I can imagine great wealth and it will happen to me? Maybe. The prophets of positive thinking would say so, and Andrew Carnegie and Bill Gates certainly imagined something. I have actually heard people say that the entire universe is constructed, at root, to conspire for our greater good.
But there is something about this glib thinking that is potentially shallow and backwards. This thinking tempts us to focus on changing the reflected image – the world we create or manifest – rather than the underlying reality, the condition of our soul. We act out, we manifest, what we have allowed ourselves to become. And the work for a better world is done not by sitting around and imagining a better world, but by working on the condition of our souls.
If I focus chiefly on the universe conspiring for my greater good, I will get a world that looks like my soul – a manipulative and selfish world with relationships and outcomes to match. When I move my focus to outcomes, I lose track of who I am and I become, perhaps unintentionally, but truly, the picture of my neglected soul.
This is true collectively as well as individually. The United States has begun air strikes in Iraq to counter forcefully the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. Our focus is on outcomes. But the real world, the world that is, reflects the condition of a collective soul that wanted wealth and oil at any cost. The condition of our soul manifested a world that supported oppressors like Saddam Hussein – or the Shah, or Somoza or any number of puppet regimes – in the oppression and pillage of people to yield the comfort we thought was our greater good. And the perpetual wars that result, whether the violence in the Middle East or the violence in Central America beneath the current child refugee crisis, truly mirror and are an accurate manifestation of the condition of our soul. When our soul, anyone’s soul, is sick with greed, we manifest a world of oppression and violence.
I remember bumper stickers that said “Visualize World Peace,” as though sitting still and picturing a peaceful world in our mind would make it happen. But that is magical thinking, no better or more effective than the satirical bumper sticker retort, “Visualize Whirled Peas.”
“The world perfectly mirrors the condition of our soul.” Mirrors can be useful. Any one of us can look in the mirror and learn something about reality. I might learn I am aging and wrinkling. I might learn that I am contorted with anxiety, or that I am satisfied and radiant. Certainly I can paste on a different face if I want to imagine something different than what I see. I have manipulated the outcome of an image. I have not changed the underlying reality.
There were two metaphorical trees planted at the center of the Garden of Eden: the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and, beside it, the Tree of Life. We ate from the first and were given the gift of conscious awareness. We could see the mirror image of all that we had manifested. It was frightening and disconcerting.
Our reaction was to try to manipulate outcomes, to make the picture we saw safe and comforting. Seeing only ourselves, we resorted to fear and greed. We created religions in an attempt to get the gods to conspire for us, to cooperate with us, or at least not to work against us.
But there were – and are – those who grew up, who awoke to a different truth. These prophets, saints and mystics realized that the world was just a reflection of something deeper, of the condition of our true spiritual selves.
Their call in all times has been to turn from the mirror, to embrace and nurture the reality. The reality is the quality of our soul. If we cultivate peace and harmony in our spirit, the mirror reflects it. It’s not that we changed the picture. It is that we changed our being. We made the choice to grow up. We nurtured the condition of our soul. And the picture around us – the manifested world of relationships – reflects our nurture.
The two metaphorical trees in the garden, as I have noted before, are really only one. When we focus on the mirror, we see only the image of the tree. That image is the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, and we bang into the mirror, over and over, trying to get what we want, what we think we need from that picture. And the picture only gets worse, because it reflects our frustration and unhappiness.
When we turn away from the mirror of our manifested world, and cultivate the quality of our soul, we find that we are living in true reality, under the Tree of Life. We manifest peace. We manifest kindness and compassion. We manifest abundance – the power of enough for all – because we have cultivated those things at the root of our being.
Turn inward. Cultivate your soul. Live in reality under the Tree of Life. You won’t need the mirror to know the outcome.
© Two Trees in the Garden. Feel free to quote, as useful, with proper reference.
Jerry Kennell now provides spiritual direction by Skype. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.