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Religion and Psychoactive Sacraments:
An Entheogen Chrestomathy

Thomas B. Roberts, Ph.D. and Paula Jo Hruby, Ed.D.
Author Index | Title Index


The Straight Path of the Spirit: Ancestral Wisdom and Healing Traditions in Fiji

Katz, Richard (1999).
Rochester, VT: Park Street Press.


ISBN: 0-89281-767-4


Description: Paperback, xiv + 413 pages.

Contents(s): acknowledgments, 32 chapters divided into 3 parts: 1. Healing in the Fijian Culture, 2. The Story, 3. The Straight Path, Going Out: Responsibility and Exchange, Appendix A: Respect and Vulnerability in Research, Appendix B: Research Structure, Names that Make the Story, glossary, bibliography, index.

Note: Originally published by Addison-Wesley in 1993 with the subtitle A Story of Healing and Transformation in Fiji. The drink yaqona is generally known as kava.

Excerpt(s):
CHAPTER 31 A Way of Living

"The meaning of our traditions can come only to those who live them," Ratu Noa says,but to live them we must know those meanings." Experience and reflection are inseparable aspects of human functioning. The story I have related of Fijian healing emphasizes experiences; in the following chapters I reflect on those experiences, offering some interpretations and suggesting some implications.

There is a fundamental continuity between the story and the reflections which follow. The Fijian people I worked with remain my guide; it is their story which will educate us. Indeed, it is out of respect for the experience of Fijian healing that the book, stressing interviews and narrative, tries to describe and document that experience more than to interpret it, and avoids placing the experience in the context of existing psychological or anthropological theories.

The "straight path" permeates this book because it describes the way healers, as well as Fijians in general, are supposed to live. The straight path is a way of healing which is in essence a way of living. While pursued most loyally and respected most intensely by healers, that path represents a dynamic ideal for all. (page 310)

YAQONA

Though yaqona, the primary vehicle for communication with the Vu, is essential to the healing ceremony, its meanings are also many and varied. Yaqona can be presented in several forms - fresh, dried, pounded, ground - and the offering itself can be mixed or not, served or not in the ceremony. How the yaqona is presented, prepared, mixed, and served can become significant, determining the potency of the ceremony.

But yaqona is more than the plant Piper methysticum, as Ratu Noa suggested when he talked about what was needed for a healing ceremony. A little twig of yaqona is enough if that is all one can afford and one really needs help. Or, as he advised me, yaqona doesn't always have to be presented. Ratu Noa and others are never precise when they say yaqona is more than the plant, but the drift ot their understanding is clear. Yaqona represents a way of being, a deep attitude that the healer brings to the work, and that the patient brings to the healer. Both are requesting help, and the necessary attitude is that of one following the straight path.

Yaqona is this way of being, not merely a symbol of it. Ratu Noa often talks about "living the yaqona." Moreover, this way of being is essential not just for performing the ceremony, but for making the healing work itself effective. It is the way of correct daily living. As the "food of the Vu," yaqona reminds humanity of its place in the universe, demanding the honesty and humility that must precede any granting of power. As with any gift, yaqona can be abused. Instead of using yaqona with respect, drinking, as Ratu Noa says, "for the Vu," Fijians often consider it the poor man's alcohol. When yaqona is used properly, however, it supports the journey along the straight path, especially at times intensity and crisis. (pages 320 - 321)

A PATH OF LIFE

The straight path as an ideal way of being is not an unusual phenomenon. The concept of a path in life, or "a path of life," is common to cultures throughout the world, as is the requirement that the path be "straight" or approached with "straightness." In Buddhism, for example, the Eightfold Path leads to nirvana, the state transcending the limitations of earthly experience and self-seeking the Dine (Navajo) path of life stresses harmony and balance with all of nature and in the Christian tradition, the path of asceticism, contemplation, and affirmation followed by the fourth-century Desert Fathers is the source of Western monasticism. Among the Lakota, life is seen as a choice between the Red Road, which offers the challenge of correct living, and the Black Road; and the Seven Fires of Life celebrate successive stages or levels that mark a proper transition through life for Anishinabe (Saulteaux) people.

Sometimes the values and personal characteristics necessary for right living have been distilled and written down to encourage and guide the people. Such is the case with the list of Inupiaq values offered to the Inupiat people of Kotzebue, Maska, by their elders; as well as the set of values based on the meanings of each of the fifteen poles used to construct the tipi, which has been articulated by Cree elders in Saskatchewan. These values are said to describe what it means to be a truly respectful and respected member of the culture; they describe the terrain of the culture's spiritual journey.

These manifestations are not reducible to a single pattern, but they do share important features. The paths evolve from a relationship with a higher power or spiritual force. They are described and presented to the people by elders, those who have learned about the path from experience, and who are committed to passing on their own life experience and, most important, the ancient truths they have themselves been taught.

The English writer Aldous Huxley has called the idea of the path of proper living the "perennial philosophy"; the American Huston Smith calls it the "primordial tradition." An important feature of the path is that it is a spiritual discipline, and following it involves hard work as well as devotion. The straight path requires "discipline" and "work." As Ratu Noa says, the straight path is "long and hard," demanding constant vigilance and effort in the struggle to be honest. For Indigenous peoples, the path is simply the traditional way of life which defines what it means to be truly human; it is a series of simple and very practical truths, not abstract philosophical ideas.

Traveling along the path requires constant struggle and vigilance. It is not a clear and linear process but rather is filled with ambiguity, confusion, and temptation, leading to wrong turns on the way to understanding. Specific behaviors may be necessary in staying on the path, and one may pass through specific stages along it. But since the path presents a way of being, it is not so much an exact prescription or chronology as a guide for the way life should be lived. Critical to this way of being are certain fundamental values and attitudes needed to find and stay on the path, such as respect, humility, love, sharing, and service.

Though the path may be practiced most faithfully only by a certain segment of the society, such as healers, it is a cultural ideal for all. In Fiji, for example, healers represent the ideal others strive for, and they guide others' travel on their own paths. Usually, teaching about the path remains in the oral tradition, the traditional mode of discourse. When the path is described in writing, there is the additional attempt to speak more directly to the young generation which relies more heavily on the written word. The essence of the teaching - and the real learning - remains, however, in the oral tradition, in the lived experience.

Finally, the concept of being "straight" has particular relevance to patterns of decision making and conflict resolution. One who is straight is correct, right, and truthful; such a person learns how to "straighten things out" and to "make things right" -- that is, to resolve conflict according to certain moral principles.

The straight path of the traditional Fijian healer presented in this book is unique, but it is also archetypal, shared with cultures around the world. As such it can offer valuable insights into healing practices and ways of being in the West. (pages 321-323)

HEALING AS TRANSFORMATION

The straight path implies a concept of healing which is a search for meaning, balance, connectedness, and wholeness; in short, a process of transformation. One expression of this transformation is a dramatically enhanced state of consciousness, but the transformational experience can also take place in more subtle shifts in ordinary consciousness. Whether the context is dramatic or ordinary, transformation brings on an experience of reality in which the boundaries of self and social organization become more permeable to contact with a spiritual realm. Accessing the enhanced state of consciousness, and applying its effects within the community, combine to constitute the transformational experience.

The transformational nature of healing has been approached from a variety of perspectives, including those emphasizing the power of the language of transformation or the mental imagery of transformation.Yet a transformation of consciousness remains the essential experience. (pages 331 - 332)

PSYCHO-SPIRITUAL DEVELOPMENT

From this transformational model of healing among Fijians we can extrapolate models of psycho-spiritual development and social change. In fact, there appears to be a single transformational model originally derived from spiritual development. Though in contemporary Western culture healing and spiritual development are each usually considered as separate dimensions, in Fijian tradition both are inseparable from other aspects of life.

Traveling the straight path is fueled by enhanced states of conscious-ness during which healers experience a sense of connectedness that joins them and their communities with spiritual healing power. This enhanced state of consciousness is firmly rooted in the context of ordinary life and is only part of the transformational experience.

The envisioning process, during which the experience of enhanced consciousness is continually reenacted and affirmed in the healer's daily life, requires that the healer's vision offer direction for everyday behavior. Through this envisioning process the healer rediscovers direction, and bonding to the community is renewed. The straight path charts a devel-opmental course, a trajectory toward cultural ideals. It offers both a normative and an actual model, describing both the life toward which people aspire, and the continual reaching and falling back from these ideals which is the actual condition of people's lives.

The transformational model of individual development suggested by the straight path distinguishes itself in several ways: in its focus on a spiritual dimension; in its movement back and forth through transitions; in its flexible, nonlinear sequence of development; in its association of power and vulnerability; and in the inseparability of individual and sociocultural development.

Perhaps an effective way to understand the implications of the straight path for concepts of individual development is to compare the journey along the path with Piaget's model of development. Jean Piaget has articulated one of the most commonly accepted theories of developmental psychology in the West. The contrasts between his model of development and the transformational model implied in the straight path are striking. (pages 334 - 336)

The necessity of sharing, as well as of other features of the transformational model, for the survival of the human community is increasingly evident. The linear, competitive model of functioning, which parallels the idealogy of Western free enterprise, at times threatens the survival of the human community more than it promotes it.

Establishing a synergistic community in Western society would require a paradigm shift, a major shift in the way people experience meaning and interpret data. Accepting a sense of vulnerability would create the possibility for such a shift. Experiencing the self-in-community as desirable along with the sense of the separate and separating self, might be one result. If lasting change is to occur, our sociopolitical structures must initiate new ways of making sense of experience. Roy Rappaport suggests that rituals in which we experience a transpersonal bonding are essential for the survival of humanity. Only through participating in such rituals can we overcome our separateness as individuals and become able to accomplish the tasks essential to communal survival. In industralized societies, individualism fragments communal efforts. The transformational model offers an alternative to this fragmentation, stressing a transpersonal bonding with-in a supportive sociocultural context.

Change initiated by and rationalized according to political and eco-nomic principles alone has not yielded desirable results. The straight path offers the additional ingredient of a set of spiritual principles which help to articulate concrete human needs and to allow envisioning of proper human aims. With that guidance, economic and political goals can be put in perspective. The call for spiritual guidance of human development has been particularly eloquent among Indigenous peoples, who strive for the con-tinuing life of their own traditions in today's world

The introduction of the spiritual dimension into the processs of social change involves a "renewed tradition" or change guided by sacred tradi-tions applied to contemporary issues and problems This is not a new concept. There is a long history of changes initiated by religious, if not spiritual, principles. What the straight path suggests, however, is a kind of spiritual guidance, that, in demanding truth of its practitioners, also demands they love others, thus eliminating intolerance of others, which often escalates to violence in the name of religious purity.

The straight path is a dynamic healing system that can bring about effective social change, building on the foundation of traditional knowledge and practice in a creative rather than reactionary manner. (pages 345 - 346)



This compilation by Thomas B. Roberts & Paula Jo Hruby, © 1995-2003 CSP

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