January 31, 2008

Unique Spirituality and Unusual Health

Dr. Campbell mentioned a general commonality of Native American Cultures was that the societies tend to fully incorporate unique people by giving them specialized roles usually linking human abnormalities to a closer spiritual connection as a opposed to Western society’s tendency toward shutting out people who are different in some way as having something wrong with them that must be fixed in order to allow the person to have a chance at functioning in society (Campbell January 24 2008). This relates to a lecture Dr. Adam Frank gave in my Core III class where we were looking at Shamanism specifically the Korean Shamanism is of special interest in tying into this idea. In Korea, an obvious tell-tell sign that a person is meant to be a Shaman is that the person is very prone to illness as though her constitution has been weakened due to the strong spiritual connection she has. This was detailed in a book by Laurel Kendall on Korean shamanistic rituals (Kendall 1990). Adam mentioned that in similar cultures this is often the case. This has me wondering if there is something here ie. a need that is being met, even it is purely a social need as Durkheim would write about, that is and has been ignored in Western Society (Dunman 2003). Has the “take this pill” montra of this society become a chemical solution to a social problem?

I discussed this idea with Adam at one point last fall and he agreed. Following with the anthropological concept of cultural relativism, humans are in general the same everywhere that the major differences are based on cultural perspectives of people brought up in different societies and therefore they have been indoctrinated with different cultural knowledge (Hofstede 1997). So it follows that in all societies there are all kinds of people and all kinds of social needs that different types of people are better suited to filling. In his discourse on the Division of Labor Emile Durkheim wrote "...Social harmony comes essentially from the division of labor. It is characterized by a cooperation which is automatically produced through the pursuit by each individual of his own interests. It suffices that each individual consecrate himself to a special function in order, by the force of events, to make himself solidary with others" (Durkheim, 1933, p.200). There are people who would fit into a special societal niche, such as that of the Korean Shamans, and these people have no place in the modern Western world.

It makes sense in the modern era that has long since replaced God with science that a person who is spiritually sensitive would naturally be out of place. However, there are subculture and counter-culture movements here in the United States as well as in other Western Nations that do reach out to these unique individuals which the modern world has forgotten. While these groups provide an alternative and usually a very open-minded environment, this does that mean that these people cannot be fully be their selves without going against the grain of their society. When a person is forced to face the choice between being “normal”* and trying to become a self-actualized person, it seems like a very unfair choice to be forced to make. More than unfair, it is unhealthy. Could self-denial be the root of the health issues that apprentice shamans have been facing?

*By “normal,” I mean to be everything there society has taught them is good, right, expected, and decent for a person of his or her social indicators.

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Rough Introduction

Oh, where to begin… have you ever been over inspired to write a work? Normally, when I write it is based purely off of research, this is mostly because of my passion for learning and discovering the new or the old and forgotten, but that is not why I sit here today. My inspiration today is not passion, nor is it mere interest, but rather it is pure disgust, contempt, and confusion.

My disgust could be aimed at a million things and it could take a thousand words to attempt to name it but for the sake of time I will be using anthropological technique taken from the “Big Mac” chapter of Cannibals and Glass Box. I will admit my bed and its current contents as exhibit 1 for my case. On my bed currently sit 3 bags and a drawer containing a very large amount of medication that will be quantified at a later date. These pills and the doctors that prescribed them along with the symptoms they represent are the root of my problem. Not to mention the society I live in that demands I follow this protocol; as parts and as a whole the points of my disgust and the origins of this work.

However, my contempt lies within myself. How can I see what is happening to me and knowingly allow it to continue? My personal contempt is derived from my choice to remain a part of this system which is so obviously unhealthy for me. But before my resolve fails let me put to paper the reason why this “system,” Western Society, my world has done me such a grave injustice as to make an established order that has no true place for me. There are a million ways to say it, yet none can adequately convey my true meaning, I am a child of two worlds. I am very much in the here and now, intellectually, emotionally, and physically. For the most part I love life and the joys and pains that come with it. But that is not where the story ends, I am not “normal.” Through my life passion for learning and discovering new stuff, I thankfully learned I am not alone. I am a person who might in the broadest sense by regarded to as spiritually in tune. I am a person who experiences what Maslow referred to as peak experiences frequently and from the youngest ages of remembrance (Maslow 1964). As a young pious Methodist child, I had only the stories of the prophets to compare myself to growing up in a house Science and Reason. But with my church piety long sense, dust in the wind my search continues. I am far from holy enough to be one of God’s prophets, even if I should happen to decide to lump myself in with the believers that still believe in the prophets in modern times.

So while the origins of my confusion about how to lead this double life becomes a bit clearer on, what do my health issues, which for the most part are temporarily resolved, have to do with it? Well that is precisely my question. In many non-mainstream Western cultures spirituality and health are not seen quite as cut and dry as modern science might suggest. It has become my personal quest to examine a variety of healing and spiritual alternatives using research in historical health practices and modern anthropological and medical studies of alternative healing practices as well as conducting field research in the Arkansas Ozarks through interviews, clinical visits, case studies, and personal trails. I believe there is a place in the Post-Modern Western society for the spiritually sensitive to live healthy, happy, productive lives that may not have been as available and acceptable in the modern era. It is my intention to find this place, the niche of spiritually in tune.

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