"Sheltering the Creative Spirit"

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Taos, New Mexico USA




The Frank Waters Factor in Seeking Spirituality


Bob Callan



            In a recent conversation with Barbara Waters I mentioned in passing that Frank Waters should be primarily remembered for the spiritual consciousness of his writing.  Surprisingly, she asked me to write about this for the Foundation newsletter, two or three pages she said.  Much has already been written by accomplished authors who speak eloquently and beautifully of Frank Waters’ spirituality; but we each perceive things from our own unique perspective.  So from a background totally devoid of any credentials in literature, philosophy, history, or theology, and further limited by a career in the more mundane aspects of human endeavor in the utilization, development, and adaptation of modern technology to national defense, I am contributing my own two cents worth to this very important subject.

            Anyone who presumes to write in the interest of communicating with others should be careful to define his terms if his intent is to communicate correctly.  Furthermore, in this paper we run into a problem immediately with the last word in its title.  Therefore it is incumbent upon this writer to clarify what the word means to him.  Not to intentionally confuse the issue, but to pick a starting point, I quote from my dictionary some definitions of three related words:

Spirit – The vital or animating force traditionally believed to be within living beings.

Religion – Belief in and reverence for a supernatural power accepted as the creator and governor of the universe.

Mysticism – A spiritual discipline aiming at direct union or communication with God or with ultimate reality through trancelike contemplation or deep meditation.

            Immediately, I find myself enmeshed in a maze of words that require further definition to clarify.  Obviously, this has started a geometric progression that can only end in infinity, or more likely insanity, and that detracts from my purpose:  to obtain a deeper understanding of the writings of the man Frank Waters.  The goal here is in the opposite direction of insanity.  However, these definitions do point to something that is intangible to our logical minds, but which is an imperative of the subjective mind.  The best definition of spirit that I have ever seen is a one-page essay by Rachel Naomi Remen, MD, published in a past issue of the IONS* Review and titled “On Defining Spirit.”  Dr. Remen states that she finds it much easier “to say what it isn’t than what it is.”  She goes on to say that it is not the moral, the ethical, the psychic, or the religious, although these are all associated in some way.  She says, “there’s no place to go to be separated from the spiritual . . . Religion is a bridge to the spiritual – but the spiritual lies beyond religion . . . Unfortunately, in seeking the spiritual, we may become attached to the bridge rather than crossing over it.  . .  . The most important thing in defining spirit is the recognition that spirit is an essential need of human nature.”

            Therefore, I must turn from the objective definitions to the subjective, my experiences.  In fact, my spirituality is totally subjective; it is concerned exclusively with my unique experiences, though these do involve innumerable relationships with others.  But my experiences must somehow be balanced between my feelings and my objective views of the universe.  This is what Frank Waters does so superbly in his writings.  He has been reviewed and critiqued from the viewpoints of literature, anthropology, history, Indian culture, nature, geography, philosophy, and the facts of his own life.  Yet it will take a highly “evolved being” to truly and completely evaluate his work.  I think Waters work is too deep, too prophetic, to extensive, and too insightful for most of us to fully comprehend.

            Throughout historical times the preponderance of written material has been about the essential need of human nature, the quest for understanding the meaning and purpose of life and the yearning to touch this truth.  Most of what I have read is beautiful, inspired, and delves into the deepest part of man’s consciousness, reaching for what exists beyond.  Let this serve as my general definition of spirituality.

            My introduction to Frank Waters came some ten years ago as the result of a seeming coincidence when my wife on an impulse bought a kachina doll as a gift for me.  It represented the badger spirit, but we were ignorant of what this might mean in the kachina culture of the Native American.  In the search for a book containing an explanation, she found Masked Gods by Frank Waters.  It did not give a detailed explanation of the badger kachina, but it presented a most intriguing description of Pueblo and Navajo ceremonialism and the spiritual beliefs upon which they are based.  More important, from that writing came the image of a philosopher who was intimately familiar with the major spiritual traditions of the world, expressed through explanations of the religious culture of the Southwest Indian.  It was captivating in its spiritual dimensions placed firmly in the context of a local people and their historical traditions; it left me with a ravenous appetite for more.

            Then came Book of the Hopi and The Man Who Killed the Deer followed by the others down the list.  These had not been subjects of much interest to me during my professional career as an Air Force officer, pilot, development engineer, and an aerospace engineer.  Moreover, my consciousness at the time had been shattered by some personal experiences with which I could neither cope nor understand.  In the desperate search for something I could again believe in, through literature and various mental pursuits, including psychotherapy, I gradually began to find my way out of the darkness and hopelessness.  As I studied new and different philosophies, events in my life rapidly began to occur that contributed to more clarity in my thinking and in newfound freedom to follow these pursuits.  They became almost an obsession.  It was an amazing shift in consciousness, which today continues and still surprises me after more than twenty years.

            It is exactly this evolution of human consciousness, common to each as an individual but universal in scope, that Frank Waters wrote about in different contexts ─ fiction and non-fiction, biography, history, anthropology, geography – putting each in the broader context of Life and ultimate purpose.  From a purely lay point of view, in terms of the evolution of the individual soul I believe we are all equal, none more or less important than another, and each in that place where he or she needs to be in this journey toward higher consciousness.  To me, Waters’ writings are all directed toward this subject, but are solidly grounded in the physical Earth and life here as we experience it.

            There is a difference between fact and truth, perhaps not generally realized.  Fact is a temporal truth, but changes over time.  It is a fact that “I,” my body, is alive at this moment, but it is also well known that at some point this will no longer be a fact (of which I am quite aware at my age).  This is the realm of science, a realm now rapidly extending in all directions.  Each advance brings with it troubling new questions, however, and we are only beginning to accept the vast possibilities of the body-mind connection, much less the mystery of creation and life itself.

            Truth goes beyond fact to a greater level of which we are mostly only vaguely aware.  Stephen Hawking in his book A Brief History of Time believes that we are close to developing a unified theory that will connect the four basic known physical forces of the universe.  But he says that the ultimate question is “Why?”  This is what philosophy, theology, cosmology, and theoretical physics have so far failed to answer adequately.  So we turn to spirituality and mysticism in search of ultimate truth.  This search goes beyond our accepted scientific method, which requires not only demonstration and repetition under controlled conditions but also explanation.  (Quantum physicists have run into problems here because they can only express their findings in terms of probabilities, much like medical research, which bases its finding only on statistics).  But how do the “facts of life” on this earth in linear time relate to the ultimate purpose of life – Truth?  I believe this is what Frank Waters was searching for during his life, and he placed a great deal of importance on experience in finding the answer, regardless of how that experience might be judged.

            Whether he found an answer with which he was satisfied I do not know; but his writings, as far as I am concerned, place him in a category with great explorers and authors of the past:  from the Tao Te Ching and Bagavad Gita; through the Greek philosophers, Gnostics, and prophets to Gibran, the transcendentalists, Joseph Campbell, and Huston Smith, to mention only a few.  They were all expressing the same basic truth in their particular language and culture.  Paramahansa Yogananda, the founder of Self Realization Fellowship, liked to comment that if all the prophets were put in one room there would be nothing but harmony and peace; but if the same were done with their lieutenants, it would be the greatest dog and cat fight ever seen!  For me it is not acceptable that when I die the “I” of my deepest beingness does not live on in Eternity.  Therefore, I am a searcher too through external experience assuring me of spiritual truth.

            I had the privilege of attending the Frank Waters Centennial Celebration in Taos last year and was much impressed with the many tributes presented in honor of Waters by diverse and talented people, as well as with those who came simply to experience our group consciousness.  It was obvious that Frank Waters had touched the lives of many there, and also untold numbers not heard from but having within them the same zeal for truth.  In our judgmental consciousness we have difficulty separating the message from the messenger.  Rulers of old were want to kill the messenger if the message was not what her or she wanted to hear.  Bill Moyers, when asked once what he thought of Ross Perot, after some thought said that there are times when people will accept an important message though the messenger might be flawed.  I do not believe that Frank Waters was flawed, but wholly human; and he has brought insight into my own search for truth.  One of its most fundamental premises is that we learn primarily from the greatest teacher of all:  experience.


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