Saturday, February 25, 2006

Tarot as Mirror of the Psyche: The Fool

[Please see the Introduction to this series for a brief synopsis of my approach to working with the major trumps of the Tarot. I am hoping to post a new meditation each Saturday. I use meditation here in the philosophical sense of the word, meant to denote an open-ended, free-form exploration of an idea.]

We begin our journey with the Fool, a person often depicted with a small dog--usually nipping at her/his heels or coat tails. [I am choosing here to leave the Fool ungendered as an archetype for many reasons, not least of which is that the Fool represents the soul being reborn into samsara.] Traditional readings suggest that the dog serves as a warning of impending danger, that the Fool’s blind wanderings (s/he is sometimes depicted with a blindfold) might lead to self-destruction. (The Rider-Waite deck shows the Fool at the edge of a cliff, about to step off, with the dog barking at his heels.) To me, this is a misreading of the Fool archetype, as I will explain below.

The Fool is the only unnumbered card in the Tarot (most modern decks mistakenly assign it the zero designation). As such, it stands as the unconscious, newly manifest soul returning for another journey through life. At this point the soul is naïve, pre-egoic, and essentially unconscious, but it comes into the world "trailing clouds of glory":

Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:
The Soul that rises with us, our life's Star,
Hath had elsewhere its setting,

And cometh from afar:
Not in entire forgetfulness,
And not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory do we come
From God, who is our home:
Heaven lies about us in our infancy!

William Wordsworth, Ode 536)

Ken Wilber references this poem in talking about infant spirituality. According to Wilber,

The "trailing clouds of glory" refers in general to all the deeper psychic (or soul) awareness that the individual brings to this life and which is therefore present in some sense from conception forward (however you wish to construe that--as reincarnation, or simply as deeper potentials present from the start).

(Integral Psychology, 141)

The Fool comes into the world with a certain degree of wisdom and awareness that most of us lose as egoic consciousness develops. This is the origin of the "wise fool" idea that appears so often in drama and literature. Yet, lacking self-awareness, the Fool's wisdom often manifests in peculiar ways, which is why it belongs to the tradition of the Trickster.

The energy of the Fool, in its most focused form, is the energy of life--primitive, raw, undefined. Its manifestation within each of the other archetypes of the Tarot deck vitalizes those archetypes and animates them. S/he is the catalyst for the evolutionary process of moving through self-actualization, which is why s/he is unnumbered and stands outside the linear development of the major arcana. S/he is both the beginning of the process and its end.

However, s/he evolves as s/he moves through the archetypes represented by the other cards. If the Fool comes into the world as naïve and pre-egoic, s/he leaves the world wise and post-egoic. Rather than the neo-Jungian conception of the "ground of being" (a view that says "the pre-personal and transpersonal share with each other the experience of the dynamic, collective, spiritual ground of existence")--a concept that denies a hierarchy of consciousness development (see this interview with Michael Washburn)--the Tarot suggests that consciousness does develop through stages roughly equivalent to the Great Chain of Being.

In the Osho Zen version of the Fool, most of the traditonal imagery is stripped away and we are left with a Fool who looks similar to the fool of Shakespearean tradition. The Osho Zen interpretation of the card is somewhat simplistic, but it attempts to get at some of the central magic of the Fool.

What makes the Fool a powerful archetype when it manifests is that s/he lives solely in the present. S/he cannot consider consequences and has no memory of past choices or outcomes. Every instant is new, which allows for a pure form of trust that can be betrayed by more egoic people.

The instinctual/intuitive Fool pushes forward where the rational mind hesitates. This is both a strength and a source of trouble, but it can be no other way. The Fool’s spontaneous approach to life can appear as wisdom, madness, or folly, depending on who is observing. When that spontaneity is in tune with the individual's path, miracles can occur--when it is out of synch with the person's path, chaos is unleashed. For these reasons, working with Fool energy can be risky.

The Fool card is almost always best understood in relation to another card or cards. This is because the Fool encompasses all the energetic polarities and can manifest within any of the archetypes, which makes it difficult to pin him/her down as one thing or another. Just when we think we understand, s/he is something else and is laughing at us.

The opposite problem for those manifesting Fool energy is that they rarely know who they are, and they are unconscious of the processes working through them, which leaves them without a sense of direction or a clear sense of identity. As a result, all forms of negative energies can invade the psyche, leading to "acting out" and other "foolish" behaviors.

As an aside, it's interesting to me that Fool energy in men often takes on a feminine quality, while in women it takes on a masculine quality. This curious manifestation seems, to me, to indicate that the Fool archetype is connected to our contra-sexual archetype and is a shadow aspect for most of us--or as Marie Louise von Franz suggests, the Fool is connected to the inferior function, the place where we feel foolish. A well-integrated psyche is not likely to experience the Fool in any unconscious way.

Realizing one is working with the Fool is equivalent to receiving "the call" to begin the path of individuation. Out of the Fool-Trickster figure develops the figure of the Hero-Savior (the Hero always receives a calling)--but only if the call is obeyed. If so, one experiences the evolutionary movement from pre-personal to personal to trans-personal.

A necessary concomitant to this transformation is that the Fool must endure the suffering sometimes created by his/her unconsciousness. Because of this, the Fool-Trickster provides the strongest resistance to initiation (heeding the call) into the life of soul-consciousness. However, if one fights the process, the resistance can erupt in a variety of self-destructive ways, including drug/alcohol abuse, physical violence against others, physical violence against oneself, or any number of other forms of “acting out.”

This need not be so. If one surrenders to the energy of the Fool when the archetype becomes present in one’s life, it is then possible to begin the process of moving forward on the path of individuation. Along this line of thinking, the Fool most often appears during times of psychological/spiritual crisis. When one is in the abyss, the Fool’s life-energy can guide one out, and into the full experience of life. Thus, the Fool is a call to action (beginning the process of self-growth) and a call to surrender (allowing the life-energy to move us in the direction that will allow us to become whole).

Sam Harris: Take the Religion Out of Buddhism

It seems I have been waging my own private war against Sam Harris and his reductionist version of reality (see here, here, here, and here). I have commented on most of his posts at other blogs, but he has chosen not to address the issues I have raised, even when he does address criticisms of his position.

The latest offering from Harris is an article in the March 2006 Shambhala Sun, "Killing the Buddha." In this piece, Harris argues (much as Ken Wilber did in The Marriage of Sense and Soul) that meditative science must be stripped of its religious clothing for it to become a universal tool available to all. He feels that the "wisdom of the Buddha is currently trapped within the religion of Buddhism."

In many respects, Buddhism is very much like science. One starts with the hypothesis that using attention in the prescribed way (meditation), and engaging in or avoiding certain behaviors (ethics), will bear the promised result (wisdom and psychological well-being). The spirit of empiricism animates Buddhism to a unique degree. For this reason, the methodology of Buddhism, if shorn of its religious encumbrances, could be one of our greatest resources as we struggle to develop our scientific understanding of human subjectivity.
I agree completely. BUT, this will only apply to those who have reached the rational, self-interest stage of development (otherwise known as Orange--see this pdf for a brief introduction to Spiral Dynamics).

Harris is so enraptured with his scientism that he cannot fathom any other possible worldviews. He has in fact gone so far as to argue that his atheistic stance is not a worldview. One of the traits of all first-tier memes is their built-in virus protection against other worldviews--for Orange it is the assumption that only rational, logical thought can have value. For Harris, anything pre-rational or post-rational is simply irrational, and therefore worthless.

This viewpoint ignores the reality that human beings develop from pre-rational to rational to post-rational/integral. Arguing that only a rational approach to Buddhism has any validity will mean nothing to a person still living within a pre-rational worldview (these are the people Harris seems to detest, especially the Christian and Islamic believers); likewise, it will just seem silly to someone who is post-rational/integral.

The Buddha understood this. He developed a variety of teaching techniques (Reginald Ray: "By the time of his death ... the Buddha had developed 84,000 different methods of transmission of the awakened state.") in order to convey his wisdom to his students. Buddha recognized that each person, or type of person, would need to have the teaching presented in a way that was accessible from their life conditions, from their worldview.

This is why Buddhism does not need to be stripped of its religion. To do so would be to abandon all the pre-rational peoples of the world who are Buddhist (most followers fit this category).

Buddhism can speak to all the various worldviews: as people move up the developmental Spiral, either in this lifetime or those to come, they will move from petitionary worship of Buddhist dieties, to strict adherence of the practices and ethics of Buddhism, to a rational appreciation of the benefits of meditation, to an embrace of loving-kindness and tonglen practice, and finally to an integral understanding that gives respect and legitimacy to all of these various manifestations of Buddhist practice.

Buddhism should be an inclusive religion. If Harris were to have his way--and he won't--Buddhism would become another insular practice that does not admit the full-spectrum of humanity or human experience.

[Maitreya: The Future Buddha]

Thursday, February 23, 2006

What the Bleep? Revisited

Beliefnet has an entertainment item on the release of a new, expanded version of What the Bleep? What, the first version wasn't trite and mind-numbing enough? Maybe I'm being too hard on the film. Donna Freitas, writing for Beliefnet's Idol Chatter: Religion & Pop Culture blog seems to think the film was brilliant and that the new expanded director's cut is even better.
Mindboggling, jaw-dropping, thrilling, engrossing. All these adjectives apply--and then some--when describing "What the Bleep!? Down the Rabbit Hole: Extended Director's Cut," playing in select cities now. (It's basically a long version of last year's very popular "What the Bleep Do We Know!?"--already available on DVD.)
Uh, yeah. Okay, Donna, whatever you say.

The movie seems to appeal to those who are very naive about physics and tend toward the New Age end of the spirituality spectrum. I don't know anyone capable of critical thinking that found the movie anything other than silly (or boring). Again, maybe I am being too harsh.

This is the review I wrote in May of 2005 (posted on Raven's View) and reposted at Beliefnet.
Out of curiosity, I saw the original film when it was in the theaters. I found it trite and reductionist, despite its claim to the contrary. I find anything to do with JZ Knight and Ramtha to be laughable, so that was another strike against it. Finally, the physics it presents as an explanation of the Universe is only one viewpoint, the Mind/Matter Connection, which isn't even the dominant theory--but the New Age crowd loves it. The Copenhagen Interpretation still reigns as the dominant explanation of the collapse of the quantum wave packet.

Still, something else bothered me about the movie. It finally hit me, while reading an issue of Tricycle, that what bothered me about the movie and all the people who think it was profound was its confusion of translation with transcendence.

Translation is a horizontal process that offers new ways of seeing the same world. Transcendence is a vertical process that allows one to transform consciousness so that the world is understood in new, vaster ways. The first is like using binoculars to see the world. The second is like climbing a mountain to see the world.

What the (bleep)? offers a new lens for looking at the world (in this case, a lens that is flawed), but it doesn't offer any way to transform one's consciousness. It's kind of like going shopping for new clothes to cure depression. It might work for a little while, but nothing really has changed.

Translation is valuable and serves its purpose, especially in such a close-minded world. But what we really need is transcendence. We need to raise our level of spiritual development. All of the world's great religions offer tools to achieve this goal, from Christian devotional prayer to Sufi dancing to Buddhist meditation. Science cannot transform consciousness for one simple reason--its domain is the physical world, not the domain of consciousness.

There have been a lot of books claiming spiritual interpretations of science, but they are all flawed. The most famous book, The Tao of Physics, never actually claimed that mysticism and science were the same thing--it merely drew many parallels that the New Age crowd misinterpreted.

We need more people who are willing to engage in transcendence. If we hope to save ourselves and our world from ecological, military, and financial disaster, we must raise the center of gravity of humanity's consciousness. If we stay where we are now, obsessed with ethnocentric and egocentric needs, we are doomed.

At no point during this entire farce of a movie did anyone ever advocate sitting down, watching thoughts float by in the mind, and letting the sense of a solid reality melt away. Who needs moronic interpretations of physics to do this simple thing? Who needs a middle-aged white woman pretending to channel an ancient consciousness to count breaths?

Sit. Breathe. Count breaths. Watch your mind. Repeat.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Becoming Responsible for Evolution

[Image source]

One of my favorite exercises from Quaker prayer gatherings is: "Let the next sentence out of your mouth be from your very highest self." Everybody gets quiet at that point! But that's the kind of attitude we want to bring to these dialogues. New structures in consciousness are being laid down right now--they are just faint footprints on the face of the cosmos. So your behavior, to the extent that you live up to your highest, is actually creating structures that future humanity will inhabit. Therefore, choose your acts very, very carefully. Make sure that the next action you take comes from your highest self. Make sure that the next thing that you say comes from your highest self. Then there's hope for the future. Those structures are already being laid down. God is laying them down; Spirit is laying them down--through us. So we have to become appropriate vehicles for Spirit to lay down the very structures that humanity is going to inhabit. And if we don't, that is a guilt we will carry with us for eternity.

-Ken Wilber, speaking to an audience in Denver, CO, last fall--the first public "Guru and Pandit" Q&A with Wilber and Andrew Cohen.

Poem: Chao Yi (1727-1814)

[Image source]

In Search of Solitude

I never tire in my search of solitude;
I wander aimlessly along out-of-the-way trails
Where I have never been before,
The more I change my direction, the wilder the road becomes.
Suddenly I come to the bank of a raging river;
The path breaks off, all trails vanish.
No one is there for me to ask directions:
Only a lone egret beside the tall grass, glistening white.

Note: Symbolically, the egret's white color represents purity; the long neck (masculine) and round body (feminine) represent the union of opposites. Egrets also represent wisdom.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Note to Self: Ignore Your Ego

I've got to get my life more in balance. Too much work and too little play makes Bill a grouchy boy. Money is nice, and feeling good about my job has its rewards. However, too little sleep, too little unstructured time, and too little time to write decent blog entries are taking their toll.

In this one small area of my life, I'm turning into my dad. I'd rather try to walk to Hawaii than become my dad. He died at 54 of heart disease brought on by poor diet, no exercise, and working too much. I've beat the first two, but I don't like to gamble.

I used to think of working too much as a man thing--pressure to succeed and all that crap. Now I think it's more about the ego's need to stay busy so that there is no time to dismantle it. And like a good little drone, I go where my ego tells me to go.

I also think my ego believes that working hard, making money, receiving recognition as a good employee/trainer/person, and whatever else comes with success will make it stronger, happier, more indestructible.

This is a shadow issue for me. I am only recently beginning to have some awareness of it--and an awareness that I am not listening to the other voice in my head that is saying, "Don't take on another client! You don't have enough time in your life already."

Unfortunately, that voice is a bit higher up the developmental ladder, and its perks don't compare well with the toys that ego wants and can get by working more hours. The choice is simple: more balance and more sanity, or more money and a new car/training seminar/vacation, and so on. I'm making a Red/Orange choice here, rather than the healthier Green/Yellow option.

Okay, admitting I have a problem is the first step.

[Image: Broken Ego]

Monday, February 20, 2006

Discovering the Witness

[Image by Alex Grey]

There is a nice discussion going on as to the nature of the Witness in the comments section of Life as a Creative Process, so I thought I might help elucidate the idea of the Witness with some words from Ken Wilber. This is a section from Boomeritis, but he has written similar "pointing out" instructions in other places (One Taste has a variation on what follows).

"Everybody starts out living in a fragmented, broken, dualistic, brutalized state. The world is divided into subject versus object, self versus other, me in here versus the world out there. Once the world is broken in two, the world knows only pain, suffering, torment, terror. In the gap between subject and object lies the entire misery of humankind."

"That's the gap between the Seer and the Seen," Joan softly adds.

"Yes. So you can find the ultimate state of oneness, of cosmic consciousness, or radiant love, by going through the Seer or the Seen, since they both end up coming together as one. Men generally find it easier to pursue the Seer, and women generally find it easier to go through the Seen. But men and women can do both, it's just a matter of personal choice."

"I do not understand a single word you said."

"It's not that hard, young Ken, honest. Let us start with the Seer, and follow me just one more time, because you have heard these words before, haven't you?:

"Let your mind relax. Let your mind relax and expand, mixing with the sky in front of it. Then notice: the clouds float by in the sky, and you are effortlessly aware of them. Feelings float by in the body, and you are effortlessly aware of them, too. Thoughts float by in the mind, and you are effortlessly aware of them as well. Nature floats by, feelings float by, thoughts float by . . . and you are aware of all of them.

"So tell me: Who are you?

"You are not your thoughts, for you are aware of them. You are not your feelings, for you are aware of them. You are not any objects that you can see, for you are aware of them too.

"Something in you is aware of all these things. So tell me: What is it in you that is conscious of everything?

"What in you is always awake? Always fully present? Something in you right now is effortlessly noticing everything that arises. What is that?

"That vast infinite witnessing awareness, don't you recognize it?

"What is that Witness?"

The voice pauses. "You are that Witness, aren't you? You are the pure Seer, pure awareness, the pure Spirit that impartially witnesses everything that arises, moment to moment. Your awareness is spacious, wide-open, empty and clear, and yet it registers everything that arises.

"That very Witness is God within, looking out on a world that it created."

(From Boomeritis, 448-449)

Wilber "borrowed" the basic premise of this exercise from Roberto Assagioli, the founder of psychosynthesis, although I suspect Assagioli lifted it from an Eastern source, most likely tantric. In psychosynthesis, this is called the disidentification exercise. Most therapists working within this "lineage" still use the exercise as a way to get clients separated from ego enough that they can begin to see their various and unique subpersonalities.

I'm curious about Wilber's claim in the section above--do women find it easier to move through the Seen and not the Seer? What does it feel like to approach the Witness through the Seen? This sounds like nonsense to me, but I'd like to learn something new if anyone can explain this to me.

One bit of attempted clarification for those who might be new to these ideas: The Witness is the most non-egoic manifestation of the Self, a point at which evolution of the Self meets the involution of God. Once we move beyond the Witness, the sense of a separate Self increasingly breaks down until we reach nonduality (no distintion between Self and God--pure oneness of Spirit). That's as clearly as I know how to express it. If anyone has a better (or more correct if I am off-base) explanation, please share it in the comments and I'll add it to the post as an update or clarification.

Sunday, February 19, 2006


It's nice to receive the recognition of my peers. I was somewhat amazed to see my blog nominated in two categories (Best Integral Buddhist Blog & Best Philosophical Blog) for the 2005 Blogisattva Awards, posted at Blogmandu--especially since I have only been doing this blog since late June of 2005. I still feel like the new kid on the block.

When I first began this blog, after beginning Raven's View and Integral Fitness Solutions in December of 2004, I debated keeping it private as a journal of my ITP work. I wanted to be able to be emotionally honest with myself, but I am generally uncomfortable in sharing too much of myself with other people--even in as anonymous a format as a blog. As an example, I have only recently started posting a couple of my own poems on the site.

I decided, however, that being more public, including using my real name and linking to my other blogs (for a long time I did not even link between Raven's View and IFS), would be a part of my practice. For me there is some risk that my more, uh, "traditional" clients will see the site and I'll lose some business. I decided, in essence, "So what!?"

This blog has been an important part of my integral practice. The last year has been the most turbulent and amazing year of my life. This blog has been a big part of that.

So, thank you to those who read here--and thanks to whoever nominated me for the Blogisattvas. I sincerely appreciate the inherent support for this project that is reflected in the recognition.

And a giant congratulations to all the other nominees!

Sunday Poet: Jane Hirshfield

Poem Holding Its Heart In One Fist

Each pebble in this world keeps
its own counsel.

Certain words--these, for instance--
may be keeping a pronoun hidden.
Perhaps the lover's you
or the solipsist's I.
Perhaps the philosopher's willowy it.

The concealment plainly delights.

Even a desk will gather
its clutch of secret, half-crumpled papers,
eased slowly, over years,
behind the backs of drawers.

Olives adrift in the altering brine-bath
etch onto their innermost pits
a few furrowed salts that will never be found by the tongue.

Yet even with so much withheld,
so much unspoken,
potatoes are cooked with butter and parsley,
and buttons affixed to their sweater.
Invited guests arrive, then dutifully leave.

And this poem, afterward, washes its breasts
with soap and trembling hands, disguising nothing.
From PoetryMagazine.

Here is some biographical info from the American Academy of Poets:
Jane Hirshfield was born in New York City in 1953. After receiving her B.A. from Princeton University in their first graduating class to include women, she went on to study at the San Francisco Zen Center. Her books of poetry include Given Sugar, Given Salt (HarperCollins, 2001) which was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, The Lives of the Heart (1997), The October Palace (1994), Of Gravity & Angels (1988), and Alaya (1982).

She is the author of Nine Gates: Entering the Mind of Poetry (1997) and has also edited and translated The Ink Dark Moon: Poems by Ono no Komachi and Izumi Shikibu, Women of the Ancient Court of Japan (1990) with Mariko Aratani and Women in Praise of the Sacred: Forty-Three Centuries of Spiritual Poetry by Women (1994).

Hirshfield is a student of Zen Buddhism. Here is a quote from an interview in which she addresses her practice as it relates to her life as a poet:
Zen practice, and particularly monastic practice, was something I needed to do, as a person and as a writer, before I could even think of doing anything else. I was twenty-one when I started to practice, and knew almost nothing of what it was to be a human being, to enter deeply a human life. I needed to learn how to pay attention, how to stay with my own experience, how to become more permeable to the real and also more grounded in it. Before I entered the monastery, all my poems ended in a kind of drifting, in the "dot, dot, dot" of ellipsis. They had a vagueness to them, a desire to escape, that came from a vagueness in my character, my life. One effect of Zen on my poems is that my relationship to elusiveness changed. I became more willing to stand by the image, and so the work became more specific and focused. And though I still write many poems in which certain things are deliberately left unsaid, now I want that unsaid thing to be palpable, comprehensible, and present, like a large boulder six feet behind the reader's shoulder. It may not be in your direct field of vision, but it is solidly, essentially there, as the answer to a koan is there.
Rather than fill this space with a lot of my words, I'll leave you with some more of Jane's.
Three Foxes by the Edge of the Field at Twilight

One ran,
her nose to the ground,
a rusty shadow
neither hunting nor playing.

One stood; sat; lay down; stood again.

One never moved,
except to turn her head a little as we walked.

Finally we drew too close,
and they vanished.
The woods took them back as if they had never been.

I wish I had thought to put my face to the grass.

But we kept walking,
speaking as strangers do when becoming friends.

There is more and more I tell no one,
strangers nor loves.
This slips into the heart

without hurry, as if it had never been.

And yet, among the trees, something has changed.

Something looks back from the trees,
and knows me for who I am.

For further reading:

Ploughshares Profile
Her agent's site