After listening for years to public radio ads for the area’s annual “psychic festival,” I decided this past November to try one out. The prospect of hundreds of booths and workshops featuring spiritual healing intrigued me. Even if I didn’t buy a thing I would enjoy the extraordinary energy! And the event would some day be fertile territory for offering intergenerational trauma workshops.
I will admit I am not a festival enthusiast. I always find them overstimulating, and secretly long to be walking my dog in the woods. It isn’t all that surprising then that at that suburban convention center thronged with consumers of spiritual experiences, modern-day pilgrims with amazingly deep pockets, I felt like a stranger in a strange land.
What did surprise me were the words that ran through my head as I left after forty-five minutes with nothing to show for it but a small candy wrapper and my paper admission bracelet. “This is not my tribe,” I murmured, as if that settled everything.
Had I thought it would be my tribe? Yes and no. I hang around with alternative healers and I am one myself. Some time in the distant past, I have visited a shaman (an elderly nun in a tower room), consulted with a psychic, been enthralled by singing bowls, and even received a reading from an “angel lady.” And I love energy healing of all sorts.
I imagine if a few of the vendors at the festival had been gathered in a friend’s living room, I would have enjoyed our bond. Was my discomfort simply with all the consumerism, or was there another inner voice I was responding to?
I seldom talk about “tribe,” except in a negative sense. Tribalism is surely at the root of all the troubles in the world, every single one. Surrounded by our own kind, with our own tribe’s myopic moral code, we as a species have managed to justify every heinous evil ever perpetuated.
In this country we are all currently stuck in a tribal system strong enough to determine which news reports we believe and how we interpret a video on Facebook. Shouldn’t truly enlightened human beings transcend tribe?
Was I becoming closed and complacent in my elder years? It wasn’t as if I had been smugly coasting along. And no one has ever accused me of complacency. I had in fact just recently emerged from a tumultuous dark night of the soul where I could not even remember what kind of God I believed in, or why.
After my wrenching crisis that summer and fall, a profound peace ultimately snuck in unbidden. No props. No intermediaries. Simple and sustained. A quiet inner spaciousness as I sat in silence from day to day. A melting away of all opposites. It seeped deliciously into the nooks and crannies of my soul, leaving me remarkably satiated. I was in need of nothing more as I wandered that convention center.
In my elder years, both my spirituality and sense of tribe have grown continually sharper and clearer. My tribe is any group where I find spiritual resonance. It is not determined by gender or race or religion. It is a gathering of people who are intentionally and authentically seeking communion with one another, and perhaps less explicitly, with the divine. Such a community is marked by heightened energy and a sense of intimacy that all those separate booths could not provide. I know spiritual tribe when I find it. It is unmistakable.
For all its simplicity, though, it is decidedly quirky. For instance, I was telling some friends recently that I considered myself Catholic. They both laughed, pointing out that Holy Mother Church was unlikely to claim me. It’s true that I feel almost as uncomfortable in most Catholic parishes as I do suburban shopping malls. But I continue to identify with the core mystical energy of Catholicism.
I have always sought out counter-cultural groups that provide a tribal bond of resistance to our materialistic culture. This has sometimes meant surrounding myself with people who embodied what I could not quite embody. For instance, I benefited by osmosis as a young mother by sending our kids to a Waldorf school, where they could be immersed in spirituality without doctrine, and lose themselves dreamily in painting fairies and deeply rooted trees, rather than being sent door to door selling chocolate bars. I was inspired by the earthiness of Waldorf, but was truthfully a little up-tight around dirt and hard labor!
I have found my tribe most consistently in writing circles and the workshops I call “Transforming Inherited Trauma,” and in my tiny Sunday worship community. Sometimes I find it in choral groups or at potluck dinners. But it cannot be taken for granted. In every community I have ever belonged to, I witness with wonderment and frustration the tribal urge to escape into triviality, away from what matters. It’s as if we human beings can never dare get too close to the flame.
After the festival I headed back through two crowded parking lots. Someone had stuck a little card in my car door. “Spirits can be evil,” it said. “Trust the God who created the angels and demons.”
“Hm”…I mused. No, it wasn’t a matter of evil, but of scattered energy. While I could never have felt at home in this fellow Christian’s contracted tribe, I did resonate with his or her single-heartedness. My mother, who was raised Protestant, used to express impatience with Catholic prayers to the Virgin Mary. Why bother with intermediaries when you can go straight to the Source?
When the Source is palpable within a group, whether it is named or not, it is surely among the greatest joys of being human. It saddens me how few people ever seek out this kind of tribe. I am filled with gratitude for the authentic communities that have nourished me. I recognize the great gift I have been given in my stubborn, restless seeking out of spiritual tribe. Far from insulating me, these communities lead me into ever-expanding circles of connection.