The Chaco Canyon Tapes - Part 3

Interrogative Imperative Institute

Purpose, identity, meaning, valuation, understanding, justice, freedom, responsibility, potential, commitment and choice are very much at the heart of The Chaco Canyon Tapes


This story of spiritual awakening, together with its concomitant thematic explorations, provide a context for reflecting on matters of fundamental concern to all of us.

The Call of the Owl - Part 3

Beth cleared her throat and continued: "Leonard Peltier was one of the leaders of A.I.M.. The federal government wanted to stop the embarrassments and revelations associated with A.I.M.'s activities. Moreover, the authorities wanted to send a message of intimidation to other A.I.M., or would-be A.I.M., members.

"Leonard had the 'good' fortune of becoming a leading candidate in the government's search for someone through whom to set an example. But, the authorities also tried to set up other members of A.I.M., as well, on trumped up charges.

"Russell Means, Dennis Banks and a number of other members of A.I.M. all got the same treatment. My brother was one of these other people."

I had no doubt Beth was sincere in her belief that her brother Brian was innocent. Nevertheless, I was working in almost a complete vacuum of hard data about her brother's case.

I decided to change the subject. "What kind of a job do you have Beth?"

She was looking out the window again. She answered without turning away from the view.

"I work in the public library. I'm what's called a library technician.

"I operate some of the equipment in the library, like microfiche, microfilm and photocopy machines. I work a little with some of the educational multi-media computer programs the library uses as well."

While writing down her last response, I asked: "What about your educational background?"

She continued to gaze out the window, as if only marginally interested in the questions being asked. However, she answered the question.

"I went to a university out west for a couple of years and studied comparative religions, but I didn't care for the atmosphere all that much. I spent a few more years at a community college getting a library technician's certificate."

I probed further. "What bothered you about the atmosphere at the university?"

Beth stopped staring out the window and looked at me. "I didn't like the way people just seemed to want to talk about religion without, as far as I could determine, actually acting on any of the things about which they were talking."

"Your judgement seems rather harsh," I countered.

"Perhaps," she said, "but I never saw evidence that any of the professors spent much time helping the poor, or volunteering at the hospital, or helping out in some of the youth centers, or fighting for housing for the homeless."

I pursued the issue some more. "Maybe, they like to keep their acts of charity and compassion hidden from the view of others."

"I'm sure you are right in some cases," Beth said. "However, do you think we would have as much hunger, homelessness, poverty, alienation and social problems as we do if most people were busy doing their myriad acts of compassion and charity in secrecy?"

After a brief pause, Beth added a further thought. "Besides," she said, "for the most part, education in many parts of the world doesn't appear to be geared toward helping people learn how to put spiritual principles into action."

Beth seemed to be warming to the subject. "Don't you agree that much of education is only about networking and career and status and jobs and life-style and the seeking of power? If anything, many people seem to learn fairly early that one runs the risk of encountering substantial penalties if one tries to implement spiritual principles rather than to submit to the ways of the world."

I didn't know what to say to her. Her points and questions had a definite legitimacy and could not be easily, if at all, dismissed.

Nevertheless, now was not the time for such a discussion. I felt it would take us too far afield from the task at hand.

I changed directions once again. "Although you have not specified where you were born, some of your responses lead me to believe you are from somewhere out west? What brought you to Boston?"

Beth was quiet for a couple of minutes. From time to time, she would look at me and, then, look away ... sometimes up at the wall above my head; sometimes down at her hands; and sometimes out the window.

Her delay in responding to the question indicated that whatever was coming probably was not straightforward. In other words, this part of her account likely was complicated or dealt with sensitive material or involved issues that, for whatever reason, she did not want to get into at the present time, or, perhaps, some combination of these possibilities.

Beth began by asking me a question. "Do you believe in visions David?"

"What kind of visions are we talking about here?" I inquired.

"Spiritual visions," she responded.

I sought some clarification. "Do the visions you're referring to ... do they come while asleep or during the waking state?"

"While awake," she answered

Under other clinical circumstances I might have proceeded a little more cautiously in the light of the mentioning of "visions". However, I had a strong, positive, intuitive feeling about Beth.

Upon initial examination, she appeared to me to be a very intelligent, and relatively stable, individual. Her responses tended to be insightful, if not thought-provoking.

Beth seemed to be in control of her emotions, although there might be some degree of repression going on. On the other hand, at least on the basis of my on-going cursory examination, she appeared to have adjusted well to a variety of traumatic and difficult life circumstances.

As far as I could see, there was no evidence Beth was out of touch with reality. Moreover, I suspected she probably did not suffer from any debilitating neurosis, although this was, perhaps, a somewhat premature conclusion.

Her reference to visions notwithstanding, I felt relatively comfortable in raising a potentially problematic issue with Beth. So, I said: "This might seem like a dumb question, but how does one know when a vision is a spiritual one?"

While she was considering the question, I elaborated a little further."People can have anomalous or odd visual experiences through all kinds of means."

I went over to my bookcase, and selected a few volumes. I came back to the chair, sat down and began paging through them, talking as I searched the pages.

"Alcoholics sometimes have visions during delirium tremens. Acid-heads report them as well.

"Sensory deprivation tanks can induce visions. Intense fever also has been known to generate them.

"These sorts of visual experience sometimes accompany temporal lobe epileptic seizures. Moreover, visions have been linked with various kinds of brain tumors."

I paused, having found what I was looking for in one of the books retrieved from the shelf. I pointed out to Beth a table on the indicated page. The table listed a large number of different conditions and circumstances known to have some sort of visionary dimension associated with them.

As she looked at the table, I continued on as before. I said: "Holotropic breathing exercises, continuous fasting and nitrous oxide all appear to have the capacity to induce, among other things, odd visionary experiences."

Beth looked up from the book, and I stopped itemizing the list from the table. "I could go on, but I'm sure you get the drift of the meaning of this exercise. Thus, my previous question about how one goes about distinguishing spiritual visions from other kinds of induced visual experiences may, from certain perspectives, be a dumb one, but, from my perspective, the question is not entirely without merit."

She had been listening intently to everything being said but seemed undisturbed by the implications of the evidence being presented to her. "I'm not sure you have answered my original question."

I thought back for a moment and said: "Do you mean the question about whether I believe in visions?"

She nodded.

I exhaled forcibly through my mouth and ran my hand through my hair. I deliberated for a moment and began rocking my chair slowly.

"Beth, I suppose the short answer to your question is: I really don't know. Something in me would really love for the whole realm of spirituality, including visions, to be true. Yet, part of me fears such possibilities, and another part of me is rigorously skeptical about, and cynical toward, the whole idea."

I picked up the books on the desk and returned them to the shelf. As I walked back to the desk and sat down, I said: "A certain amount of my resistance comes from the education and training I've gone through. My way of thinking about these issues is very much influenced by my belief in the need to be able to empirically test them. And, as I'm sure you will agree, spirituality doesn't seem to lend itself too well to being examined in the laboratory."

Beth retorted: "Have you ever considered field studies?"

I laughed. "No, not really."

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