Saturday, December 31, 2005
Meditation III: Creating Roots in Cyclical Time
Much of what we think of as the "search for the sacred" is an attempt to find our grounding in cyclical time. Human beings crave a grounding that allows us to feel part of something bigger than ourselves. For many, the church--in its various forms--fills this need. Through the ritual of communion and fellowship with other churchgoers, we feel part of something meaningful. For a few hours, our unique identity is subsumed into a larger identity--Christ's congregation.
For Buddhists, there is a similar process. When one commits to the Buddhist path, we take refuge in the Buddha, in the Dharma, and in the Sangha. The sangha is the fellowship of other Buddhists, which is most often experienced as the group with whom we study or practice meditation.
However we seek this feeling of grounding, it is a basic need.
In premodern cultures, initiation provided the grounding in sacred space and time that allowed a young person to become a full member of the community. We have long ago abandoned any authentic form of initiation and replaced it with shallow and meaningless imitations. It's no wonder individuals in our culture often experience an overwhelming sense of ennui, not to mention full-blown depression.
I am not advocating a regression into a Purple Meme worldview. What I am suggesting is that a healthy, integral consciousness will have a healthy Purple Meme that allows the individual to feel part of community, both at the interpersonal level of family and in the larger level of tribe, culture, or humanity. In the course of our evolution into the higher Memes of development, we seem to have relegated aspects of the lower Memes into our personal and collective shadows. Initiation is one of the things we have discarded in our rush into a rational understanding of our world and ourselves. We need to reclaim the vital tool from the trash heap of history.
Initiation follows a very simple pattern, no matter where in the world it occurs. As first identified by Arnold van Gennep in 1909, all ritual conforms to a basic underlying structure: separation, margin (or limen, meaning threshold in Latin), and reaggregation (more simply, return). Victor Turner, who has written the definitive statement on this topic, defines the transformation of states through the ritual as movement from one “stable or recurrent condition that is culturally recognized” to another.
The first stage (separation) involves symbolic behaviors representing the severing of ties to the “old” state of being, and with it all the cultural definitions and expectations that accrued to that particular state. In cultures that celebrate puberty rites, this separation may include removal from the family of origin, stripping of clothing, stripping of name, painting the face or body, shaving of hair, and other techniques that symbolically sever ties to the previous identity of the young person. In our modern world, we no longer celebrate puberty rites (the Jewish traditions of bar mitzvah and bas mitzvah are an exception, but only barely), but young boys and girls still find ways to mark the transition, including the move to middle school, the first date, sharing of “skin mags” among boys or makeup among girls, and other attempts to try on “adult” behaviors. The lack of adequate ways of helping young people make the transition from child to young adult has resulted in the proliferation of gangs and in books like Robert Bly’s Iron John, among other things.
The process of separation is common for adults, yet there is little training in how to deal with the situation when it arises. One may leave a relationship, a job, a city, and so on, all of which are often conscious choices and less traumatic than forced transitions. But what about the person who is fired, "dumped" by a partner, loses a parent or child to death, or in some other way is rejected and forced out of an established identity and way of life? There is no structure or training for coping with these events. One is often told to “get back on the horse,” “they’re in a better place,” “time heals all wounds,” “you’ll find something better,” and so on. These attempts to comfort are futile at best, and are often experienced as insulting to the pain one is experiencing.
When a person experiences some form of separation scenario, either consciously or against his/her will, the individual has become marginalized, existing in liminal space (“betwixt and between,” as Turner described it). During the liminal period, the individual is without strict identity, possessing none of the attributes of his/her former life and none of those s/he will have earned upon completion of the transition. In many cultures, entry into liminal space is a symbolic death, and may even involve ritual burial, change of name, or a permanent separation from the family of origin. According to Turner [in Betwixt and Between, edited by Mahdi, Foster, and Little (1987)], "transitional beings,” while in liminal space, have “no status, property, insignia, secular clothing, rank, kinship position, nothing to demarcate them structurally” from the others who are undertaking the initiation. A modern individual experiencing liminality isn’t completely stripped of all vestiges of her/his life in this drastic way, but the reality is still quite challenging for most people.
In the industrialized, and now post-industrial world, human beings have much more highly developed ego structures than the members of premodern cultures studied by van Gennep and Turner, among others. With greater ego development comes a greater sense of personal identity and a greater need to keep the self-sense intact. The ego can create a variety of defenses (Freud made his career, in part, by identifying the ego’s defense mechanisms and finding ways to circumvent them) in order to keep identity intact. Liminality brought on by a major life event, or even by unconscious processes in the psyche, has a tendency to poke holes in the self-concept and to reduce the solidity of one’s self-sense.
I propose that we seek out opportunities to "come undone." Coming undone is the way I describe those times in our lives when events or our own choices work to break up stagnant and solidified elements of self-identity. The fundamental element that makes possible any form of change is a reduction in ego defense mechanisms. Traumatic life events serve this purpose but can also plunge us into depths of liminality that we may not be capable of handling on our own. Ritualized initiation can serve this same purpose in a controlled manner. When we emerge from the initiation experience, if it has been given the weight it deserves, we will feel transformed.
The final stage, the return, marks the re-entry of the individual into the tribe, the group, or the culture as a new person. The individual assumes the new identity and adopts behaviors consistent with the new role. A boy having completed a puberty rite may now be given a new name, signifying his adulthood, a weapon with which to hunt, a hut in which to live, and so on. He is now a man in the eyes of the group, though he may still have years of training and future initiations to undertake before he is permitted to take a wife, hunt on his own, and be given other rights by the group.
When a Western person completes a transitional period, the individual may make certain changes in how s/he is perceived by the world, including clothing, occupation, name, and other “structural” changes, while also adopting less obvious traits such a new perspective, greater depth of identity, more comfort with ambiguity, less rigid thinking, and so on. Because transitions are not socially acknowledged in the West, there are no agreed upon ways to act following a major transition, or ways to regard someone who has completed a transitional period. Even the “ritual” of a hospital stay following an operation or serious illness has been eliminated by the HMO and managed health care systems. The only real tradition still intact for modern human beings having completed an important life transition is the honeymoon, and even that is a waning tradition.
Separation / Initiation / Return. The three stages of ritual and also the structure of the monomyth. Everyone must go through this in one way or another. Until we do--through the death of a parent or a friend, the loss of a significant relationship, being fired from a job, or any other form of change, including those we choose--our identity will not be fully formed. It may take several traumatic events to move us toward our true nature. Some people never take the hint and reject every call for transformation.
We must learn to recognize the rupture, the break in plane, when it occurs and to see it for what it is--spiritual initiation. It is the rupturing of linear time and an entry into cyclical time, sacred time. The threshold is the mystery, the risk, the threat. But we can seek it out, befriend it, and learn its secrets. We can cultivate surrender as an active principle. We can sink roots into cyclical time so that no matter how challenged we are in the linear world, we will have a grounding, a connection. We can activate the Purple in our Meme stack and experience the world as an interconnected mystery, a sacred place.
[Some of the material in this post is from a manuscript in progress, The Structures of Change.]
So what am I to do? Are the self-observation and experience of presence that come from mindfulness practice destined to elude me for life simply because I can't sit still? It doesn't feel fair. In fact, it feels so not-fair that I came up with another kind of practice that works for me. You won't find it in any meditation books, but you may find it in an art therapy book.
I sit at my art table and ask my inner self to reveal to me what wants to come out. Over the past 10 years, art has become a powerful way for me to access my inner symbols, the truth of my life beneath roles and "shoulds," and even more, my inner guidance. I can pretty much trust that if I sit down and do art regularly, I'm going to access an inner clarity that's downright eager to let me know what I need at a deep level.
So I sit, and as I still myself, my hand feels prompted to pick up a deep purple pastel and to create a large, curvy window on the paper--a safe space within which to explore and express this moment in my life.
Then a soft green pastel wants to be picked up. Without premeditation, I draw a huge, fluffy pillow and a bed. Yes--I need rest. Deeply, desperately.
Then blue-green soft waves under the bed, which feel like a foundation of flow and depth, as well as an acknowledgment of the importance of the water element in my life. I am a water creature, drawn to the depths of emotions. I know the power of my emotions and respect their place in my life.
In the next few moments, a large red rose emerges (unprompted by my rational mind), which, I sense, expresses my need for more intimate connection with my partner. Then orange spirals surrounded by bursts of yellow--whimsy and play. I don't have enough of it in my life, and in the lack I feel cut off from a crucial piece of my vitality.
Then a curious process starts to emerge on the paper: a green, amorphous squiggle, which my hand wants to draw lightly, hardly touching the paper. Then an orange squiggle, also random in shape. Then a yellow one, and a blue one. Drawing them is deeply pleasurable, and also like a sacred meditation. I am utterly in the moment--nothing exists aside from the impulse to pick up a color and release a squiggle--and in doing so, I feel a deep honoring of my self.
Before long, I have a trail of squiggles around the page. I smile as I look at them, knowing they have a gift for me. Be here now, they seem to tell me. Remember always this feeling of presence.
I am a predominantly intuitive, right-brained person. It's where my soul lives, yet my daily life gets caught in lists, schedules, ambitions, BEING PRODUCTIVE. I have lost myself, over and over, to the illusion that if I don't stay on track, I won't get everything done that needs doing. From time to time, I've had glimpses about the importance of making space in my life for less agenda-driven activities, but I am fooled, time and again, into believing it's beyond my control. Being driven is an addiction--a fear-driven addiction. I get caught in thinking I won't make enough money, will miss out on work opportunities, whatever. Freelancing at home makes it all the worse. My computer calls to me, Just one more hour of work, and you'll be ahead of the game. But there's always another hour to do, another task to complete.
But my art beckons more frequently these days. And I listen, and respond, more frequently, sitting at my art table with palms down on an 18" X 24" newsprint tablet, asking what wants to emerge. Last week I got an assignment--to do a yin-yang meditation for a week and see what came. I've been doing it each night before bed, and it's turning from a "should" into a welcome 10-minutes-a-day respite from the tyranny of being productive.
The choices I face in my life are in the moments--whether to embrace my productivity or my soul needs, whether to check another thing off my list or ask myself what would nourish me in this moment. My task--my response-ability--is to create time for right-brain energy, and to trust that the rest, like the trail of squiggles, will emerge in its own time.
[Kira Freed is a life coach. You can email Kira or check her out at Zaadz.]
Friday, December 30, 2005
Here is the highlight:
Beyond this, the new vision of social policy can advocate the conditions that promote social accord:
--Offer yourself in service
--Talk to children about their fears (and to adults, too)
--Refuse to contribute to the toxic debate between political enemies
--Join groups that promote social justice and tolerance
--Walk away from situations dominated by discord and antagonism
--Exercise patience and tolerance
--Give time personally to someone who is outcast in society
--Cross barriers of class and race; sympathize with "the other"
--Start grass roots movements to counter militarism, mandatory sentencing, denial of civil rights, and so on. Write and speak on these injustices.
--Get a spiritual life. If you are religious, go back to church and reclaim it from intolerance.
--Read about inspiring leaders, whether Jesus, Nelson Mandela, or Lincoln, and remind yourself of what successful idealism looks like.
One of these strikes me in particular: the injunction to walk away from situations dominated by discord and antagonism. I maintain a political blog where I essentially try to document the insanity of the current administration and of certain social trends. Politics in America is the embodiment of discord.
For the past months I have been thinking about (and occasionally writing about) the possibility of an integral politics, an approach that can transcend party identifications as they currently exist. I have not been able to find anything that "feels" right to me. The existing "third way" systems seem like a compromise, not a solution.
The problem for me is that I am easily angered by Bush's policies and the ways in which he and his cabal trample civil rights and human decency. Gripped by this anger, it's very easy to engage in partisanship, which is what I have been doing. I am not offering a solution in doing so, but simply adding to the cacophony of angry voices.
What might an integral politics built on love look like in practice? We could still oppose inhuman policies and violations of our civil rights. We can still campaign for change. We could seek out and support politicians who share our views.
We could still embrace the best of conservative ideology (change begins with the interior) and the best of liberal ideology (change must start with the exterior). Here is Ken Wilber's version of this model:
In each case, the conservative mostly recommends interior changes, the liberal, exterior changes. Likewise, when it comes to social change, the conservative recommends interior development (character education, family values, industriousness, self-responsibility); the liberal recommends exterior development (material improvement, economic redistribution, universal health care, welfare statism). Of course, there are exceptions. But more often than not, that is a genuinely basic difference in socio-political orientation between conservatives and liberals.This is the foundation of a truly integral politics. The only thing missing is the moral orientation. You can have the most elaborate theory in the world, one that includes interiors and exteriors, individual and collective, vertical depth and horizontal span, but if it lacks a moral core it can just as easily be used for evil as for love.
We do have a bit of a terminology problem, however, in that 'liberal' and 'conservative' have been used in many different ways. So let me point out that there are two different issues here: one is the actual scale of causality for human ills: is it interior or exterior? And two, we are dealing with the names of political orientations (liberal, conservative, socialist, libertarian, etc.), each of which is a mixture of the interior-exterior scale that we are talking about plus several other important scales, such as the average level or levels of development that the political party mostly supports (e.g., blue, orange, green, etc.); the emphasis put on individual versus collective values; the nature of political change advocated (gradual, revolutionary, traditionalist), and so on. An integral or AQAL politics takes all of those scales into account in order to fashion a more comprehensive view of human political possibilities--and a more comprehensive, balanced, effective form of political inquiry and action.
Chopra's prescription provides the moral core to Wilber's theoretical model. The brilliant part of Chopra's addition is that each of the world's great religious traditions has at its core an ethos of love. Christians, Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, Jews, and so many other faiths can all come together in service of making the world--and our politics--a place with love as its core.
Love is the one thing that can unite people and ideas from various places into an integrated whole. A true integral politics will be a politics of love and compassion.
"Sure," says the voice of doubt in my head,"sounds great in theory, but how well do you think that will work in the real world? How do you plan to fight Tom DeLay and Bill Frist and Dick Cheney with love as your weapon?" When he says it like that, it does sound kind of foolish and naive.
Martin Luther King, Jr., taught revolution through love, and he did some amazing things. Just because we seek to make love and compassion the moral center of a new politics doesn't mean we can't get angry. It doesn't mean we can't protest and encourage others to protest. It doesn't mean we can't seek to depose the current regime or indict its leaders. What it does mean is that we do not make anger and hatred the fuel of our drive to change things. Love must be the motivation.
If we seek change through anger and hatred, we will burn out and self destruct as these darker emotions become our moral core. We can feel these feelings, acknowledge them, and allow them to pass through us as they come up, but if we hold onto them and make them our tool, we will evoke a similar response from those we hope to change.
We need to reclaim the moral discussion from the hateful fundamentalists who proclaim love while they seek to condemn anyone who doesn't conform to their narrow view of the world. We must make values the center of a new discussion, and we must offer an alternative to the fundamentalist values that are being held up as an ideal.
I don't know how to do this yet. But if others feel the same way, we can begin to formulate a new model, a new politics, and a new way of governing.
Wednesday, December 28, 2005
Clear After Rain
Long after rainfall, Sorceress Hills grow dark.
But now they brighten, stitched with gold and silver.
Green grass edges the darkening lake
and clouds stream from the east.
All day long, the orioles call,
and cranes brush these tall white clouds.
Once dry, these wild flowers bend, and there
where the wind is sweeping, fall.
Moon, Rain, Riverbank
Rain roared through, now the autumn night is clear.
The water wears a patina of gold
and carries a bright jade star.
Heavenly River runs clear and pure,
as gently as before.
Sunset buries the mountains in shadow.
A mirror floats in the deep green void,
its light reflecting the cold, wet dusk,
freezing on the flowers.
[Translations by Sam Hamill, from the book, Midnight Flute; Shambhala, 1994.]
Tuesday, December 27, 2005
From the AP story in the AZ Daily Star:
Brenner, 79, looks puzzled when asked what motivated her riches-to-rags choice.
"I don't understand why people are so amazed," she says. "To give help is easy. To ask for it is hard."
The inmates trust her, a fact which has allowed her to quell three riots.
"I'm effective in riots because I'm not afraid; I just pray and walk into it," she said. "A woman in a white veil walks in; someone they know loves them. So silence comes, explanation comes and arms go down."We spend a lot of time in the Buddhist and integral communities thinking about theory or holding discussions on the minutiae of a given point. We talk about setting aside the ego to attain higher levels of consciousness, or setting aside the ego to reach a second-tier, integral worldview. Those of us who are Buddhist seek ways to transcend the ego so that we may generate more loving-kindness, more compassion, or more warrior heart. We sit on the cushion so that we may know our mind better and thereby quiet its persistent flow of words. Some of us have taken the bodhisattva vow.
But how many of us practice love as our spiritual path? Sister Antonia's life and work are not about theory and ideas. Her spiritual path is to provide love to people most of us would rather forget. Moreover, her path is to get these hardened men to ask for love--from her, from Jesus, from God.
I enjoy ideas and theories--they're safe and clean. No scary men, no filth, and nothing I can't bear to see or feel. And when I read about people like Sister Antonia, I feel I am doing nothing to make this world a better or less painful place.
My therapist would tell my that my inner critic just kicked in and that my life is exactly where it is supposed to be right now. Maybe. But is this where I want it to be?
I gave up my last "real" job to become a personal trainer because I wanted to earn my income doing something that helps other people. I'm good at my job. I like seeing people reach their goals and feel better about themselves as they get healthy. But I am working with people, mostly, who have a lot of resources. What about the people who don't? They can't afford me. Many can't even afford the $25 a month for a gym membership.
I don't know where I am going with this. I just want to be doing more in the world. It has been said that the measure of a people is in how they care for the weakest among them. That's a lofty goal--for our nation and ourselves.
Monday, December 26, 2005
Take a look at his post(s).
Here is my response to today's entry in the discussion.
If anyone else has a thought on this issue, please drop Joe a note. We are still forming the worldview that will one day be the exemplar for integral. The more people who contribute to it, who think about, who try to implement the ideas in their lives, the sooner we will have something a little more "solid" to refer to as "integral."
One thing that I am beginning to think is important is keeping Spiral Dynamics a bit more separate from Wilber's integral theory. Beck has some serious issues with how Wilber relegates SDi to lower-left quadrant status (values). I think there is also some concern about mixing "second tier" in the SDi sense with "integral" in the Wilber sense--at least I have some concern with it. The two things are not synonymous--second tier is integral, but integral (in Wilber's system) is not necessarily second tier.
A person may have an authentic integral practice and be nowhere near second tier as a center of gravity (intellect is most likely to be second tier for most who "think" they are second tier). Beck says he has met maybe two or three people in his life who are truly second tier. Because the mind can grasp second tier ideas pretty easily if we are bright enough, our ego tends to take over and try to convince us that we must be second tier because we "get it."
I think your three observations are crucial for a lot of people who are seeking "integral" and may be slightly misguided by an ego that has become inflated.
One question I have is in your third observation: "practices to aid in the ascension to transcendent Unity of Being and practices to help in descending deeper to embodied form." This sounds to me like a purely vertical orientation, leaving out the horizontal axis (culture, society). I could be wrong. Can you elaborate a bit on that piece of the puzzle?
Sunday, December 25, 2005
All the text here is from Prodigious Thrust (pages 78-95), the autobiography of Everson's conversion to Catholicism and his entry into the Dominican Order as a lay monk [Black Sparrow Press, 1996].
And it came about that we [referring to his then-wife, Mary Fabilli] decided to attend midnight Mass, that Christmas of 1948, in the Cathedral across the Bay, the first Christmas since the disorders of the war years that this custom was resumed. The nuns had prepared the Crib to one side of the sanctuary, with fir trees banked about a miniature stable. And as I sat in that familiar estrangement of feeling which had never left me in the Catholic churches, there came to me the resinous scent of the fir trees. It cut across everything else my senses had to contend with in that place, there in the heart of the great alien city, far from my early home and the reassuring simplicity of my old life.
I could look with my own eyes to the place from which the scent was coming, the somnolent odor of forests, and I saw in the miniature stable the several statuettes, and I recognized there the figures of the shepherds. As shepherds, as Orientals, they had no relation to anything authentic in my life, save perhaps the Christmases of long ago and the yearning suspenses of childhood. What was all this to me, I reflected, as I often did before these things in my puzzlement, what was all this to me who had never so much as seen a shepherd? But hold. The scent in the air, it was taking me back into a past where something powerful and obscure was being enacted again within me; and searching there I saw the correlation. It was the sheepherders. Who were they? Dark Basques or Mexicans, watching their flocks on the great flats west of Fresno, or taking their way into the foothills and slopes of the sierra, or coming down again in autumn to graze the edges of the vineyard country.
And suddenly, traced back on the long scent of the fir branches, I saw the sheepherder in the shepherd, and the shepherd came alive. And the meaning of the Incarnation, the meaning of the Birth, in terms of the sheepherder, as I remembered him, began to widen within me.
And it was the odor of the fir . . . cutting across the closed interior air of the Cathedral, that transformed the shepherd into the sheepherder, and brought me with him to my knees at the Crib. In choosing, this bringing, this bridging, would be dispelled the old anxiety I spoke of, the fear that the acknowledgement of the Christ, who somehow had remained in my imagination as a kind of sacredotal decoration, a roofed-over church-god, would deprive me of that fullness of religious response relative purely to Earth, the natural kingdom and the great sustaining Cosmos, the only religion I had ever had.
But the vision of those sheepherders, impassive, crouched there on the cold sheep-flats outside Bethlehem struck through me, before the inconsequential question could find its rebuttal. I saw the ridges flecked with with frost, the grit of history, the dust of the Assyrian, and the dust of the Chaldean, blowing the bronze dust of the Ammonite, and the flake of Babylonian bone. And the vision of the sheepherder became the tragic vision of the race, cut off from finality by the unwitnessing layer of darkness that has no edge. And in the hovering night of that vindictive upreaching void an immense terror dropped over me. I remembered all the wildernesses I had known, the measureless night, and sensed their plight out there, those primitives, those sheepherders, watching their beasts through the jackal-haunted blackness, huddling a blaze.
And it rose now, that void, empty and foreboding through the tall lofts of my imagination. It rose over the cathedral, over the city, over the long ribbon of coast, over the continent, breathing and vast on the web of the waters, over the great dream-sunken hemisphere and the planetary earth itself, up into ultimate heights where no life is, ever, and the nameless galaxies grope their way through deserts of space that will never be probed.
And the great burden of human life, of the man-life, the great burden of my own life, end-less, without End, rose like a vision seen in my heart: and my mind was drenched. And I cried out in my heart at the doom of man, the doom beyond the brute denial as the sea deals it, beyond death as the fog delivers it; the more terrible doom of which these elemental dooms are somehow the type; the real doom of cut-off man dissevered from God, adrift on the raft of earth in a universe of night, a universe of fog, of galactic dust, and no port to make.
Mass after Mass sat through in ignorance; all those sermons falling on the deafest ears in Christendom; my false misguided hope; the intensity of search cramped most desperately into my soul, compressed and hardened there in the ferocious pressures of that agony--now all were fused in the instant of my enlightenment. That night, that Christmas Eve in the San Francisco Cathedral, with the sheepherder hunched by his dung-fire outside Bethlehem bitter in the wind of a ruined world, all, all leaped into focus.
And the knowledge of the Christ, the power of a stupendous disclosure poured into my heart. I saw that . . . the emergent Christ had spoken, revealing what the combined intelligence of all philosophers, the total aspiration of all worshippers, could never have conceived. In a single act of love and expiation Christ plunged the human soul into the very actuality of God, was unified in a single look, made face to face. The mystery is open. Man's thwarted end burns in the glance of an unspeakable love--the Beatific Vision.
And I saw in the fact of Creation the end of Creation; and in the end of Creation saw indeed the unspeakable Lover who draws the loved one out of the web of affliction, remakes him as His own. It was then that I could rise from the pew, and, following like a hound the trace on the air, go where the little image lay, in the Crib there, so tiny among the simple beasts, watched over by the cleanly woman and the decent man, and these humble ones, my good friends the sheepherders, who in that instant outleaped the philosophers. That was the night I entered into the family and fellows of Christ--made my assent, such as it was--one more poor wretch, who had nothing to bring but his iniquities.