Spirit Lines

Spirit Lines — Past, present and future are interwoven in a tapestry of flow and movement, not linear causality. Thus, everything in the world, and everything in the person, is connected.

We’ll be looking at the difference between “political” and “personal” relationships (hint: confusion in this area is the cause of many communication problems — especially at work!) We will explore The Phoenix Centre’s resetting of the traditional Communication Model. And we’ll give you opportunities to ask questions and practice!

rocks with wings

A couple of years ago, Darbella and I watched a movie called “Rocks with Wings.” It’s the story of a Navajo girls’ basketball team.

I want to quote an article about the movie and where I’m going with this. The article is from “The Beacon,” the student newspaper of Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, and is written by Tara Moyna. (see mclabeacon.com

The film portrays the Lady Chieftains fall from and rise to fame in their hometown of Shipwreck, New Mexico. The Lady Chieftains are one of the Navajo’s most famous womens’ high school basketball teams. The film follows the creation, development, destruction, and reunification of the team and their coach.”

This is a feel-good movie that is also an exploration of Navajo culture and world-view. The two themes that re-occur are:

  1. everything is a circle and
  2. the meaning of the spirit line in Navajo weaving.

samsaraThe Wheel is similar to the Buddhist concept of Samsara

The circle part is interesting—the Navajo see life as a circle or wheel, and all things arise out of the centre. Past, present and future are interwoven in a tapestry of flow and movement—not linear causality. Thus, everything in the world, and everything in the person, is connected. There is no sense of causality—no sense that one thing has to lead to another—rather, there is simply a flow of one moment into the next The movement flows out from the hub, centre, or still-point of the circle or wheel.

In Buddhism, there is superficially a “cause and effect” theme at play—karma—which actually just means, “action.” “What goes around, comes around” is closer to the Buddhist world-view, and sounds a bit wheel-like, eh?

Life moves through a cycle of birth, aging, sickness, and death, and then the whole thing happens again. Except for the point—nirvana, waking up, is the result of exiting the wheel of samsara through the door that is “right there”—through bodhi, through wisdom. It is wisdom that has nothing to do with being smart. It is wisdom that sees through the maya, the illusion, that we are trapped, and that we are real. The Navajos have a similar idea, continued in the second thematic element in the movie— Navajo weaving and the Spirit Line..

Quoting the “Beacon” article again,

The ladies have a different understanding of perfection. Like a rug weaver, the young girls understand that perfection should always be pursued but never achieved. If perfection is achieved, then what else is there to strive for? That leaves no room for experience.”

A rug weaver always weaves one line into her rug which stands out from the rest of the pattern. It appears to be a flaw, but is actually very intentional. This is known as the spirit line. This line is woven into the rug so the pattern isn’t perfect. The line leaves room for creativity. If the weaver achieves perfection she can no longer receive creative inspiration because she’s already perfected it. The spirit line is there to let the good spirits into the art and let the evil ones out.”

The spirit line is the path for the weaver’s spirit to leave the rug. A Navajo weaver assumes that their spirit goes into the rug he or she is weaving (a literal belief in “putting one’s heart and soul into it.”) Once the border is in place, a portion of the weaver’s spirit remains trapped in the rug. So the weaver, as the work progresses, weaves in a single strand that, at first glance seems to be either a flaw or a mistake. This spirit line allows the weaver’s spirit a path of escape. The line runs (again…) from the centre of the rug to the outside edge.

spirit line

Darbella and I also watched a movie called “Flight from Death,” based upon the work of Ernest Becker, who wrote a book called “The Denial of Death.”

The film clearly demonstrates that the result of our abject fear of death is mindless defense of the totems of our culture, and a corresponding increase in violence against those perceived to be other. The idea is that rather than deal with our mortality, we fixate on symbols that we believe will be eternal. Flags, religious books, political ideologies, and racial stereotyping come to mind.

I watched this film immediately after “Rocks with Wings.” I saw a connection, which is non-coincidentally a thread that runs through all of what we write and believe.

In the movie, the commentator says something to the effect of,

Maybe rather than fearing death, we should focus on how to live life.”

The scary part is that to really live life requires fully accepting our mortality, not as an abstract concept, but as a present reality— and to live life without the props of external rescue.

One of the scientists notes the meaninglessness of life, and that we are animals who will die, decay, and ‘are no more.’ We use external props, and often religion, to avoid dealing with this stark reality.

Yet, as Marx noted, “religion is the opiate of the people,” he realized that mindless religion” was an avoidance mechanism designed to numb us from the stark reality of the absurdity of our lives. This is not to say that we need not or should not construct values and meaning. It’s just to indicate that to successfully live a fully human life, we have to find and acknowledge and let go of the root of our anxiety.

Simply put, the location, the locus, of both our fear and our salvation is right there in the centre of our being.

Just like a Navajo wheel.

Zen has a way to experiment with all of this. It is this: sit down, and have a breath. In other words, come fully into this moment. This moment, like the centre of a wheel, is connected to all of the other moments (which we call past and future) — yet past and future are not real — they only exist in the present moment, with the present breath.

We create the fiction of past and future to numb ourselves to the reality that we exist only in the here and now.

Zen says, be present in the breath. If you do so, if you remain present, you eliminate the need for someone (some god) to come to the rescue – to tell you what to do – to make your owies all better. The fear and the terror and the ennui all disappear in this moment.

In a sense, then, the escape from the dark fear of death is as the Navajo describe—from the centre outward. Rather than being “meat puppets” (a favourite expression of my brother-in-law) we see that what sets us apart from other animals is our creativity and curiosity, topped by our towering intellects. Focused on the mystery and joy of simply sucking breath, we are set free from the walls of mortality and given the gift of spirit.

I know that many of you hold fervent religious beliefs, and this is not to denigrate them or to suggest that you dump them—although they may fall away of their own accord. It’s to say that religion does not deal with the fear of or denial of death. It provides an escape by misdirection. Ritual becomes solace, and cheap faith leads to unimaginable cruelty, warfare, death and violence. Just have a look around you, and have a breath – don’t be defensive – just have a look at the root behind much of the warfare out there today.

The gift of the spirit is peace and focus. In Chinese medicine, spirit (energy, chi) is created in the dan tiens. Energy enters the body and is refined in these energy furnaces. The path of this energy is up and down – along the spine. Chakra theory states something similar.


One exercise we teach is to breathe into the lower dan tien, which is located 2 inches below the navel, and 2 inches inside the body. If you visualize this area and direct your breath to there, you can actually feel an increase in energy. You can then direct the energy, say, to your hands, and use the increased energy as you do Bodywork on a friend.

Another interesting thing – you can direct the energy up your spine to your heart. The exit point of the heart meridian is in the palms of your hands, so you can then breathe the energy to there. This energy channel is horizontal. (If you are standing.)

Notice – just like with a Navajo rug, there is a warp and woof. One running vertical, one running horizontal.

The goal of our individual existence is to take what is inside and direct it outward for healing and peace-making. One of the best ways to trade heart energy is to send it out through the palms of your hands, with a hug!

Life changes when we bring our attention inward, let the external world off the hook (no blaming, no looking for rescue) and simply focus on the immense energy of being alive. We can accept our humanity and mortality, and use the power of the here and now to change the only universe we have a say about – our internal universe. We can focus our attention, with each breath, to the building and strengthening of our creativity, direction, meaning and purpose.

We may be fleshy, mortal, dying, and without meaning, but with the right focus, even rocks can fly.

This week, notice how you distract yourself from yourself – and from your gifts. Create a heart and a spirit line in your life, and embrace it all. There is no external escape, and death awaits us all. So, in the mean time, put your heart and soul into it – and live!

Make Contact!

So, how does this week’s article sit with you? What questions do you have? Go to the top of this article, click on the title, and leave a comment or question!

About the Author: Wayne C. Allen is the web\‘s Simple Zen Guy. Wayne was a Private Practice Counsellor in Ontario until June of 2013. Wayne is the author of five books, the latest being The. Best. Relationship. Ever. See: –The Phoenix Centre Press

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