Some Musings on Spiritual Geography

It is a strange and fascinating experience to be back in a land where the day is a neutral experience that serves as a benign backdrop for your human activities.  For so many years I have lived in a place where the day demands your attention, shapes your awareness, determines your state of mind, and often challenges your very skills at physical and emotional survival.   Now I am in a place where the day sets a gentle and bountiful table before you.

It changes everything.

Hope takes a different shape.  The Self looms larger in both a good and bad sense.  Even your physical posture changes, because your body does not demand accommodation to inescapable and undeniable outside forces.

I realize these are summertime thoughts.  But I remember this experience from the last time I lived in the west, and it holds true throughout the seasons.  Each environment shapes our consciousness and even our physical self in very specific ways.

It was this discovery many years ago that first ignited my fascination with Native cultures.  I realized that the inner quality of their spiritual lives reflected the outer quality of their physical environment just as it was shaping the lives of those of us living in contemporary society.  And, further, that there was some rough and distant correlation between their spiritual adaptation and our spiritual yearnings, and that the Native peoples of any geographical and physical environment had much to teach us spiritually if we could see the deep truth of their adaptations and not try to mimic the rituals and cultural expressions that they had evolved in their own lives.

I wrote a wonderful little book called A Haunting Reverence that tried to address this issue metaphorically.  Perhaps it was before its time; perhaps an extended metaphor was too abstract a premise to attract a readership.  But the book never found a significant home in enough people’s hearts, so it disappeared from view.  I often wonder if I should resurrect it.

For now, it is enough to drink in this new world and wonder how it will affect my sensibilities when I sit down again to write.  From the harsh north where the turning seasons create a sense of benign fatalism and measured distance, to the Pacific west where sunsets over the ocean’s dim infinity turn the eyes from the practical to the limitless capacity to dream.

It will be an adventure.  It already is.




7 thoughts on “Some Musings on Spiritual Geography”

  1. Kent,
    A Haunting Reverence is one of my favorite texts. You may be right–people may be more open to it now than previously. I hope you resurrect it!

    Enjoy your new landscape!

  2. I am told one reason for the tolerance Dutch people demonstrate is they have been so busy fighting the sea, reclaiming enough land to live on, with the dikes & canals & such, that they focused on that instead of on fighting one another. I believer there is truth in that. I live on the Midwestern American prairie – I feel encouraged to see those fields stretching out – a horizon gives one hope. The land does affect us if we allow it.

  3. Hi Neely,

    I remember you well from my visit to the UP. I hope we meet again. I’m very close to republishing AHR on my own. And, even as we speak, a friend of mine who has won many awards and been nominated for a Grammy is reading it to see if there is a way to put his music along with the text. We shall see. . .

  4. you AHR was a beautiful painting of words. visual in its language. if resurrection is possible, please do it. I’ve given a number of copies as gifts and they have had to be used copies(new ones were not available??). of course, I’ve given many of your books as gifts- Make Me An Instrument of Your Peace is such wonderful piece of spiritual food. A long dead friend & Christian Brother once said he thought love was merely repeated small acts of kindness. your experience of the St. Francis prayer articulated my friend’s expression(his name also was Brother Francis)and made it possible for me to ‘know’ I need not do great things, just repeated small ones as you wrote of. thank you

  5. Sandra Polacheck

    Thank you for your stories. I have been learning the women’s teachings from Grandmother Nanatasis (Abenaki). She is the Turtle Clan Mother. She recently gave a talk about how humans are shaped by the lands that they live in. Nanatasis lives in Vermont in the eastern woodlands and she was married to a Lakota man. She described the openness of the land where he came from and the strong winds and storms that define the climate there. She says he speaks loud and robustly with a strong personality that is shaped by the lands and way of life influenced by those liands. His movements were large and his steps swift and firm.

    She also states that people who live in woodlands speak softly and make small movements because they are used to navigating through the trees and climbing over rocks. We don’t see as much of the sky here because of the roof of the forest, so we listen to hear approaching animals and use our sense of smell to discern plants, animals, and water that are not easily seen. She described the difference in fighting styles and hunting between the various tribal people. She also gave the example that people from tribes in Hawaii speak very loudly because they live near the ocean and must speak through the winds to be heard. So I think you are quite correct in your thinking about how the land shapes the people. Thank you for you work.

  6. Your writing has always been shaped and affected by your environment; I really look forward to seeing what you’ll come up with living in Portland. You’ve already said something really touching: “From the harsh north where the turning seasons create a sense of benign fatalism and measured distance, to the Pacific west where sunsets over the ocean’s dim infinity turn the eyes from the practical to the limitless capacity to dream.”
    Dream on, Kent! And keep writing!

  7. Boy is this ever true ! Life is so different for everyone…and when you’re living on the edge — you’re almost a different person from when you’ve nothing to worry about or stress about.
    I was sitting years ago in Kyle at the restaurant at Prairie Ridge Resort I think the name was…and was studying some of the locals as I ate..and I was thinking.. if I was back home–after dinner I may be going to a movie theatre or going to see a play, or going to ‘the mall’….. and I realized the Lakota have ‘no movie theatre’…no mall…. no plays…. life it a totally different experience for them…
    and how would it be different for them if they lived a ‘white man’s’ life ?
    Your environment changes ‘who’ you are….and how you feel and what you think…
    and retirement gives you lots of time to reflect…
    when I just finshed THE GIRL WHO SANG TO THE BUFFALO… I was reminded of the movie THUNDERHEART… to me-the most powerful scene was–
    at the end–when Val Kilmer was leaving the Rez…and he drives up to the highway….
    and you hear the sounds of ‘the other world’ zooming by… cars.. zooming by…
    and he just —
    SITS ………….
    and you just ‘feel’ so powerfully how leaving the Rez…what a complete change it is to be rudely awakend by the sound of ‘modern man’ and he’s coming from a place ‘in the past’….
    and I thought of that scene when I finished your book today..
    I wondered after you left Dan, and Festus, and Zi…. and Grover….and Jumbo… I wondered and marveled at ‘how much’ it changed you…
    and ‘what you took back with you’….as you drove away…
    and how it changed you forever…
    and each new place in life you travel… they come with you…
    and now.. with ‘us’…. the very lucky readers…

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