When meditation, shamanic or pagan groups meet online where is their actual meeting? In what dimension is their gathering?
I pose this enquiry because it is relevant to the future and survival of regional and indigenous spiritualities.
Culturally we obviously need to safeguard regional and tribal spiritual traditions. They have value, beauty and uniqueness. Their disappearance is a poignant tragedy.
People are also understandably upset by cultural appropriation – a form of absorption and watering down – when they see, for example, a white person wearing the hairstyle, ornaments or clothing that belong to the priesthood of a tribal culture.
At the same time, there is another inevitable, evolutionary magnetic force. This is towards a global culture in which previously isolated traditions merge. This has been of great benefit, for example, in the field of world music and added huge value to the art. Spiritual and wellbeing practitioners too benefit from the practices of previously parochial spiritual cultures. Yoga and meditation are two obvious examples.
Over the longer term the major world religions, especially Christianity, Islam and Buddhism, have all subsumed animist traditions. This had great benefits as well as causing great harm.
Today online spiritual groups are creating another substantial shift. Geography and locality are becoming irrelevant in a way that is both obvious and also subtle.
The obvious dimension of the online group connection is purely materialistic. It is just a group communicating over the internet, like a telephone or zoom conversation. This is normal physics.
The second dimension is more weird, metaphysical. People report that they are also connecting energetically and telepathically. The digital connection, they say, helps to facilitate and even amplify this subtle experience.
It is relevant that prior to the internet, many groups and individuals practised subtle connections over a distance. Abbeys, convents, monasteries and individual meditators, healers and shamans, have long asserted the efficacy and necessity of subtle energy and prayer work over a distance. I live close to Glastonbury Abbey, which I once heard described as a ‘prayer machine for the world.’
Many people I work with nowadays say that they really enjoy online meditations, groups and courses. This is different from when I first started online teaching and many people complained about it. There was a lot of tut-tutting about technology versus ‘real’ spirituality and the loss of in-person meetings.
A few years on however, opinion has dramatically transformed. To their surprise, many people find that they value and even prefer the experience of online meetings. Covid and the lockdowns accelerated this change in attitude.
One reason for this transformation is that people, for example, doing meditation work online no longer have to deal with the coughing, shuffling and other irritations that happen in an in-person group. It is not easy to be serene and sensitive to subtle dimensions when someone close by is breathing heavily, wheezing and ruffling a cough medicine packet which refuses to open; or a latecomer in Minnie Mouse high heels clip-clops across the wooden floor; not to mention some people’s pungent perfumes, or choking on incense.
Introverts and quiet types also find that they like studying online, because they are free from the exhaustion of social interaction. It is easier to stay open and aware of subtle experiences when there is not the stimulation of other people in your space. In fact, many report to me that their meditations, healing and inner work go deeper when they work online. They assert that it amplifies their experience. That certainly tallies with my own experience.
None of this, of course, is to underestimate the healing, enjoyment and encouragement that can come from real life groups and communities.
There is an interesting mystic and evolutionary perspective here too.
Teilhard de Chardin and then Peter Russell suggest that the network of global communications was evolving to resemble the neural connections of a global brain or global heart. This, they propose, is a huge step forward in human evolution. From geographically isolated and separated tribes and nations, often in conflict, the internet and digital dimension is now fully demonstrating humanity’s holistic connection and interdependence.
I like that interpretation, even if it is just a hopeful metaphor. I use it as a lens through which I look at the sad chaos of social networking — Facebook, Twitter, TikTok, Instagram, etc. Optimistically, I choose to see these current troubles as the birthing pains of a new global culture. Painful now, perhaps even dangerous, but something new is arising.
But here is the question that I posed at the top of this piece. What happens now to the metaphysical, magical and spiritual traditions that are rooted in particular geographies? Will cultural appropriation and the inevitable forces of globalisation mean that they disappear completely?
In my own history, I feel that my roots are deep in the Middle Eastern and European mystical approaches — gnostic Christianity, Qabalah and Sufiism. I have a personal sense too of a relationship with the traditions of Tibetan Bon, Berber and central African shamanism. Many of my close friends feel their roots in other geographies, particularly shamanism in north and south America, and Scandinavia.
To repeat my enquiry: What happens now to these regional jewels?
I found part of the answer in the last months when I interviewed Grandmother Flordemayo of the Mayan tradition and Puma Quispe Singona, an Andean medicine man, for an online Shift Network event.
Both of these teachers were born into and are rooted in their traditions. Both are loving, experienced and wise practitioners. They also teach online. Without my prompting they had the same core message:
We are one humanity, one people.
We must learn to be still, to connect with Source, and spread love and compassion.
These two influential, indigenous teachers, deeply anchored in their cultures, truly enjoy teaching online. They celebrate the opportunity to connect with students and colleagues beyond their local geography and outside of their culture. They celebrate too the unity and the interconnectedness of all beings. First and foremost, they teach connection, love and compassion.
Teaching connection, love and compassion is not anything new in their traditions. That indeed is what they and their ancestors were imparting long before the digital world wide web.
Before the global digital revolution, wise mystics universally taught the universality of all life.
From this perspective, we can reasonably suggest that the universality of the digital web mirrors classical spiritual teaching.
People often forget that all the kit — the hardware, wireless and wiring — all derive from resources in the natural world. They are not magicked out of thin air. They all, in another language, emerge from Gaia. Where else? The digital web is not separate from nature. I might want to criticise Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg, but I cannot deny they belong to our interdependent species.
The isolation of tribal groups and nations always meant that there was a challenging transition as they met other peoples. As I wrote above, the major world religions all subsumed indigenous traditions. Some tribal folk, of course, held on to their old ways and fought for their local traditions and sense of identity. Others embraced the new times.
The history of what we call civilisation and the growth of the world religions, is filled with terrible persecutions and genocides, as well as with inspiring evolutions and development. We are a mixed species!
The digital ecosystem is potentially benevolent because it is inherently democratic, accessible and universal. Anyone can now make news. And that, of course, has its awful shadow elements.
But I take an optimistic stance. The world wide web and online groups enable us to be simultaneously global and local without conflict. Our sense of identity can be located one hundred per cent in the Earth where you stand; and also one hundred per cent in the global village, still on this same Earth. We are not either local or global. We can easily be both.
When we participate in online groups, we are precisely experiencing being in these two dimensions: local and global. And for many of us a third dimension too, one that is metaphysical.
Our demons then are not globalisation or the extremes of identity politics. Our demons are the usual suspects. Greed. Insecurity. Bullying. It is these negative traits that create the real problems.
So as we integrate locality and globalism, we need also to celebrate our ethics. Connection. Love. Compassion.
Remember the call to action:
Think global. Act local.
We might add to that call another ethical mantra:
Local roots. Global compassion.