Breath of Fire

Well anyway, I know what I mean when I say 'spiritual' and you probably do too. We think we mean involving spirit in some way. What I mean is a type or level of awareness and a corresponding inner resource. What do you mean?

Spirit is in the dictionary. Let's not take any chances. American Heritage, my personal favorite dictionary because it's got so much history of language included, starts right off with, "The vital principle or animating force within living beings." Definition 1B is, "Incorporeal consciousness." Definition 2A is, "The soul, considered as departing from the body of a person at death." Then we quickly get into trademarks: The Holy Spirit, a Catholic term, and one from Christian Science, Inc., just simply God. This is followed up by metaphysical or supernatural definitions, including angel, demon, fairy, or sprite; or the essence inhabiting a particular space or place. That might be dear departed Uncle Hank, still haunting the attic, or the sense or quality of a particular forest.

We have not gotten into the more mundane concepts of being in high spirits or being kindred spirits with someone, or team spirit. Or booze. Liquor, made of distilled alcohol, would count for the refined essence of something, if you really can think of bourbon as being the purest essence of corn in some way; it's really the essence of fermented corn mash -- corn plus mold, extracted into a tincture containing alcohol. Alcohol surely has a quality of becoming an animating force -- visit any campus on Saturday night. Dr. Carl Jung, the famous Jungian psychiatrist, proposed to Bill W., the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, that people will either have spirit, or they will have spirit. Hence, it takes God to get a person out of being a drunk -- a basic tenet of AA.

Let's check out the religious types of concepts, one paragraph up. How many of us have direct conscious experience interacting with our own animating force? The dancers and musicians in the room will all raise their hands, I presume. Something that might feel a little like alcohol, which is fake spirit, only the real thing? Or how about a little incorporeal consciousness (that would be, not having a body, or let's stretch, being out of body)? Lots of people do this without knwoing it. It is called boredom. Do we know our soul, much less honor its intentions? Have you actually met the Holy Spirit? What did he sound like? Or is it she? Some Jewish mystics would say that the Holy Spirit is the female essence of God. I tend to agree. How would you describe her?

I ask you. And when we do experience these dimensions, how fast does doubt rush in the door and stamp out their meaning, or explain it away rationally?

Without direct experiences, or without honoring them, we are left with a bunch of abstract concepts, and we therefore don't quite know what anybody really means when they use the word spirit. But spirit comes from a very pragmatic beginning, the Latin verb spiritus, to breathe. Words like respiration, inspire, and spire (as in belonging to a church) all involve air, the infusion of air, or ascending to the air. Even conspire means to breathe together. (Let's get conspiritual.) Eastern religion understands this direct connection between breath and spirit a lot better than does Western. You could hold your breath, turn purple and suffocate in a church before anybody noticed, but in a Daoist temple or at a Hindu ceremony of Darsan, breathing, consciousness of breath, or breath involved with meditation are part of the tradition. Yoga, for instance, is a very Hindu thing to do, and it's all about breath.

In the Eastern traditions, breath is understood to be the vital force, which is the sexual force, which is life; in a Daoist book, you might happen across an explanation of the relationship between thought, breath and semen (all examples of vital essence) or breath and kundilini, the animating energetic force, which relates to pleasure and orgasm. These might not be street corner concepts in Delhi, but the territory is at least mapped out, and explained to anyone who wants to find it. You can be sure that Krishna knows how to get naked, and get down.

Yesterday I offered a functional Western-world definition of spiritual, which was life minus sex. Note that none of the Western definitions of spirit remotely approach the question of sex or sexuality, as if it were somehow absent from God or the experience of God; indeed, if we're talking about incorporeal consciousness, it don't got a body and it can't therefore fuck.

Is it possible that... the virgin birth... the most spiritual people ever... they didn't ever do the Nasty? And we can't really be Holy Holy Holy if we do? Why do we believe this nonsense? Maybe because it's explained to us with a two-by-four.

Now, back to reality, what has Sagittarius got to do with spirit? We usually think of Gemini as being about breath. Sagittarius, usually given to the themes and issues of spirit, is not an air sign. But it is a fire sign, so when we talk about Sagittarius, we are talking about the breath of fire.

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Space graphics above: Samples of the Center of Centaurus A, courtesy of APOD. Credit: E.J. Schreier (STScI) et al., NASA. Explanation: A fantastic jumble of young blue star clusters, gigantic glowing gas clouds, and imposing dark dust lanes surrounds the central region of the active galaxy Centaurus A.

This link posted Nov. 28, 2001.