Saturday, March 04, 2006

Tarot as Mirror of the Psyche: The Magician

[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.]

The first card in the major arcana is The Magician. This card is generally pictured as a man in white wearing a red robe and holding a wand in the right hand, which points to the sky, while the left hand points to the ground. There are various symbols scattered on a table in front of the Magician, including the four elements represented in the minor arcana--wands/fire, cups/water, swords/air, and pentacles or coins/earth). Older versions of the card often have the Magician dressed in colorful outfits, usually featuring purple to denote some connection to royalty.

Most of the common interpretations of this card rely on its supposed representation of magic and/or alchemy--the transmutation of matter into Spirit. The transmutation aspect is on the right track.

I choose to see the Magician as symbolic of the creative impulse inherent in the psyche of all beings.

[T]he Magician can initiate the process of self-realization which Jung called individuation, and he can guide our journey into the underworld of our deepest selves (Nichols, Jung and the Tarot).
This impulse toward individuation is present from the moment we enter the world, so it is fitting that the Magician is the first step into physicality for the Fool as s/he makes the journey to wholeness.

It is equally important to note that the Magician, as an archetype, exists in a realm outside of the divisions of time, space, body, and soul--what Jung called the psychoid. Jung, in his later writings, argued that the archetypes are not merely instinctual, but rather that they are psychoid, that is, "they shape matter (nature) as well as mind (psyche)" (Houston Smith, Forgotten Truth, 40).

The infant also exists in a space that is devoid of the distinctions of time, matter, and space: prepersonal, prerational, pre-egoic, and undifferentiated. The creative impulse that sets into motion the whole grand cycle of development through the human Spiral is still only a potential just beginning to emerge through the manifestation of Spirit as a child.

In its "negative" aspect, the Magician represents the process that creates the "ten thousand things" that distract us from the truth that all things are one. The Magician, through his/her gift of deception, creates maya, the illusion that Buddhism calls samsara. Once we emerge from the "ground of being," we are launched on the journey to find our way to that same ground again, but this time as a whole person who has transcended the ego and attained "enlightenment."

The Osho Zen Tarot calls this card "Existence," which I feel is the most fitting interpretation of the energy of the Magician archetype:
The stars, the rocks, the trees, the flowers, fish and birds - all are our brothers and sisters in this dance of life. We human beings tend to forget this, as we pursue our own private agendas and believe we must fight to get what we need. But ultimately, our sense of separateness is just an illusion, manufactured by the narrow preoccupations of the mind.
Illusion or not, once we become embodied in this world (represented by the four elements in the traditional card), we must work to transcend the limited mind that is tricked by the Magician into seeing all things as separate.

The Magician is best understood as an energetic presence in our lives, an impetus pushing us to transcend limitations, to see through the magic of ego consciousness that blinds us to our true nature.

The card may also be read as symbolic of our incarnate paradox: we are timeless, nondual manifestations of Spirit, yet we are discrete bodies seemingly locked into time and space. [In this sense, the Magician, like the Fool, also functions as a trickster in that s/he blinds us to the nature of reality with his sleight of hand.] The Magician suggests we are both things and neither (since all of it is an illusion).

One final note: many modern decks portray the Magician as either a shaman or a Christ figure. I once felt strongly that the card was shamanic in its energy, but I no longer adhere to that position. If one simply sees the card as representative of the "ceremonial magic" tradition in Western culture, the shamanic reading is appropriate.

I think there is more to the Christ portrayal, considering Jesus as a manifestation of the divine creative impulse, but I still feel the card is more of an energetic archetype than a religious archetype.

However we choose to read the card, the Magician will likely remain the most popular of the Tarot images. We have always been fascinated by magic--and the magic of our human evolution is at the heart of this image.

Beyond Gay and Straight

[I posted this at Raven's View this morning, but I think there is more to say from an integral perspective--see below.]

The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Policy Institute's new report is questioning the ethics and effectiveness of "therapies" being used to brainwash gay and lesbian youth into believing they are straight (or should be straight). The programs--which have been shown to be highly ineffective, as well as very damaging to the psyches of teens--rely on promoting stereotypes and fears about eternal damnation. The report seeks greater state and federal oversight--including the presence of actual therapists and not just clergy--when these programs are aimed at youth.
The report said some Christian-based gay prevention and treatment groups have used the First Amendment protection of religion to avoid sanctions by state health officials seeking to enforce regulations on counselors who offer therapy without a license.

Task Force Executive Director Matt Foreman said officials need to ensure that those offering such therapies are licensed — as opposed to simply being clergy — and that clients and their parents should be informed about the programs' long-term success rates."

Many of these programs are crossing the line as to what is approved under freedom of expression," Foreman said in an interview with reporters. "This deserves attention. It deserves to be regulated."

The report was released in Florida because it is home to Exodus International, the umbrella organization for Christian ministries nationwide that seek to convert gays to heterosexuals.Alan Chambers, President of Exodus International, said he had not seen the report but maintained that the ministries are successful. He said Exodus' 130 affiliated ministries use clinically trained professionals, though he added that only 30 percent have onsite professionals.

Religious leaders lead support groups, as they might in the case of an Alcoholics Anonymous groups, he said.

"The truth is that there are hundreds of thousands of men and women like me who have found that change is possible," said Chambers, who counts himself among the ex-gay.

The report maintains that, increasingly, those attending seminars on homosexuality prevention and treatment are parents who have gay or lesbian children.

Foreman called the programs frightening, saying they play into stereotypes, cautioning parents to worry if their sons are "too feminine" and often blame parents for their children's sexual orientation.
These groups do not need oversight--they need to be stopped. Being gay or lesbian is as natural as having blue eyes or brown. Sexual orientation is inborn, and no amount of guilt or brainwashing can change that fact.

One-third of teen suicides result from fears of being gay. This is tragic.

This is from Gore Vidal:
They asked a whole raft of high school boys across the country a couple years ago, one of those polls about what they would most like to be in life, and what ... they would hate to be, and so forth, and what they would most hate to be was homosexual.

There wasn't anyone, not one, who just skipped the question. They all said "oh no, that's the worst thing you could be."

To get over that training, that's generation after generation. And it has not done the character of our nation much good. And that's why we are a joke to the rest of the world, because we carry on about sexual matters everyone else has forgotten about.
It is criminal that our children--especially our young men--are brainwashed into thinking that homosexuality is the worst thing possible. No wonder our kids would rather kill themselves than face life as a gay man or lesbian.

No one would willingly choose such pain, so how can it not be an innate biological drive? Biology is not destiny, but sexuality is primal and instinctual. You cannot eradicate instincts through instilling guilt and fear without creating serious harm.


Because my relationship with Kira marks me as straight-identified, I never have to deal with our culture's idiocy around the issue of homosexuality at a personal level. Yet I am tired of having to write/argue that homosexuality is as natural as breathing. Sexuality falls along a spectrum from totally gay to totally straight--most of us, like it or not, fall somewhere other than the extremes.

Most studies looking at the expression of sexuality have been exterior-individual in their framework. Sexuality is not merely a biological function, although it is certainly that. We must also look at the interior expression of sexual desire and romantic love.

I believe that sexual expression should grow out of an emotional connection (although I would never deny consenting adults the fun of getting naked and sweaty together in the absence of an emotional connection). An emotional connection can just as easily grow between members of the same gender as it can between members of the opposite gender.

We need to move the dialogue on this issue into new realms. Gay and straight should be forms of expression, not types of people. I firmly believe that if we could strip away all the cultural bullshit about being homosexual, a lot of people might have a "gay" relationship just as often as a "straight" relationship.

Obviously, the majority of people are going to chose opposite-gender partners for the purposes of raising a family, and this is as it should be (or we'd become extinct). But minus the stigma we have attached to homosexuality, a lot more people would try both types of expression as they form their adult identity.

Some might choose to have both types of relationships as adults. Maybe this is where Joe Perez's ideas on polyamory come into relevance. It is possible to love more than one person at a time, of either gender. This is certainly a post-conventional form or sexual expression.

More to my point, however, is the reality that it is possible to love people of both genders at different times in our lives (including simultaneously). I would argue that not only is it possible, it's healthy. Further, not only is it healthy, it represents an integral-level sexual identity to be able to honor those feelings.

However, I do not mean to imply that someone who does not ever experience that same-gender form of emotional/sexual expression is not integral. I am simply stating that the ability to love a same-sex person and express that love through sexuality is a healthy form of integral relationship.

We need to move beyond straight and gay to realize that people are capable of fluid and flexible expressions of sexuality. We need to stop identifying people as one thing or another. As long as we continue to do so, we perpetuate the self/other dichotomy that is the source of all fear and oppression.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Poem: Hsieh Ling-yun (385-433)

[Image source]

Spending the Night on Stone Gate Mountain

At dawn I plucked orchids in the park;
I feared they would wither in the frost.
At night I return to dwell at the clouds' edge,
Enjoying here the moonlight on the rocks.

Birds cry, revealing their nocturnal roost;
Leaves fall and I know the wind has risen.
Separate sounds can be heard perfectly together,
Variant echoes carry with equal clarity.

If no one appreciates these marvelous things,
With whom can I enjoy this fragrant wine.
The Fair One never comes;
I dry my hair in vain on Sunny Bank.

--Translated by Francis Westbrook

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Paying One's Respect to the Mountains

Mountains are a vertical altar and a wide barricade. They push and pull us; they dismantle confusion and reconstruct darkness as light. By thinning oxygen they go against life, and give it back in the form of elbow room. They represent danger; they give us beauty in jolts. We go up into them to experience hardship and find ourselves overcome with what the Chinese call "rustic joy." Mountains provide a different kind of breathing, as human entanglements come unraveled and vision clears.

Mountains are both forbidding and enticing: they invite us in and throw us out. Their vertical intricacy acts as a narcotic on us. Thought to be the center of the earth in indigenous cultures, mountain environments have been celebrated in poems and songs since humans began walking their trails, bathing in their rivers, finding food in their high meadows, and taking refuge in their caves.

. . . Mountains pull at us, soul, psyche, and body.

-Gretel Ehrlich, "What Is the Worth of the Wind River Mountains;" Shambhala Sun, March 2006

When I was an angry, lost, and confused teenager, a mountain saved my life. The tallest mountain close to my home in Southern Oregon, Greyback, was only 7,055 feet in elevation, but few people had climbed to the top of its weathered granite summit.

The first time I was on the mountain (it made up with girth what it lacked in height), I was only eleven years old. The wind was music through the trees, ravens circled overhead, and the strong musk of sage stained the warm summer air. I was home.

Years later, when I was lost in the darkest period of my life, I returned to that mountain several times when I felt myself at a point when the world didn't seem to want my presence. I was a mess, and for reasons that were not clear to me at the time, I was drawn to the mountain.

Most times I climbed, I dropped acid or ate mushrooms while I drove the winding road to the trailhead. By the time I was on the trail, the forest was alive with movement and shadows. My mind emptied of all my troubles--real or perceived.

It took more than two hours at a quick pace to reach the summit. I was drenched in sweat that I experienced as my body melting into the mountain. At the top, with the chill wind dispersing the molecules of my body and mind into the surrounding landscape, I lost myself for a couple of hours.

I fed chipmunks that had no fear of this sweaty, vibrating human animal. I laid on the raw granite boulders and absorbed sunlight, becoming a part of the mountain.

Its energy filled me up and cracked me open. I cried like a newborn, then laughed like a madman, just riding the waves of emotions that needed to be released. I felt primal and beyond time--I was the mountain.

I had witnessed the glaciers carving moraines and then recede. I had seen the first hunters come to the valley and venture up my slopes thousands of years before. I saw the white settlers replace the tribes by force. I saw my young self walk the lower trails years before, and I felt sadness for what his future held for him.

Then I was back in my life and sitting amid scrub pine and wild strawberries. And for the next few hours I felt healed. The mountain's medicine had--for a while, at least--salved my aching soul.

I feel the magic of that mountain in my life to this day. I have taken the only three women I have deeply loved to that place so that, by knowing the mountain, they may know me better.

I have worked to prevent its old growth from being logged and to prevent new roads from being carved into its flesh.

It's been three years since I have climbed its dusty, hot trails. I will return. It is--for me--a power place, a place where I can feel my energy amplified by the earth's energy, allowing me to get outside of myself.

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

New Study Looks at Spirituality on Campus

Integrative Spirituality posted an article about a new study conducted by the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA that looked at spirituality on campus.
Over 40,000 professors from 421 colleges and universities and 112,232 first-year students from 235 colleges and universities were surveyed about how their religious and spiritual beliefs affect their everyday activities.

Seventy-nine percent of freshmen surveyed said they believed in God, and 69 percent said they pray. Eighty-one percent considered themselves spiritual.

The study found a link between students' political views and their religious involvement, stating that "among students who show high levels of religious engagement, conservatives outnumber liberals by better than three to o­ne."

The study found that students who reported higher levels of religious engagement were more likely to oppose the death penalty and to support military spending.

The faculty also believe that spirituality plays an important role in their lives and is an aspect of their jobs:
"We found that faculty indeed claim to be spiritual," Helen Astin said. Faculty were asked how responsible they were for helping students find meaning in their lives and how their personal spiritual views affected their personal and professional traits. "

Faculty do see a place in the spiritual dimension of their lives in their work and workplace," Lindholm said.

Sounds as if there aren't too many Buddhists on campus or in the faculty. In most of the studies I've seen, self-reported Buddhists in America come in at around 1 percent, at best.

The really interesting thing for this study to do would be to interview the same 112,ooo+ students after completing their degrees to see if their views have changed.

Conservatives often rant about the "liberal universities" corrupting our youth (as though sending kids to war isn't going to corrupt them--or emotionally scar them for life). It would be nice to see a study that looks at that possibility. Or conversely, to look at whether or not education can expand a person's viewpoint sufficiently to make him/her more progressive and less conservative.

Integral theory often claims that intellectual expansion is necessary but not sufficient for personal growth--it would be interesting to see how the college years support that idea (or not).

Here is the perfect study: administer Beck's Global Values test to incoming freshmen at a variety of schools around the nation--small community colleges, state universities, religious schools, Ivy League schools, and liberal arts schools--and collect background info such as economic class, religious background, environment (city or rural), family life, and so on. Then look at those students again at graduation, at age thirty-five, and at age fifty to see how or if their Spiral status has changed over time.

Now that would be cool--and it would provide support (or lack thereof) for the Spiral Dynamics model.

Monday, February 27, 2006


solving for unseen variables

And today the sky reflects nothing.
An ocean of aspens, all grown
from a single source, quiver in the breeze

and remember nothing, no meaning
hidden beneath yellow-dampened leaves.
This morning cold, glimpsed as a ghost

gliding from shadow to shadow,
says nothing beneath its breath,
each exhalation raising frail bodies

of fog from forest duff. And footprints
where nobody has walked for years
lead deeper into the maze of trees,

toward a hushed trickle of water,
run-off from last night’s rain
carving a new memory, a new vein

of variables, rock exposed, only
to be forgotten by sunset. Still the sky
reflects nothing, offers only itself

as proof to an equation no one
has written, factors demanding this day
as the only possible solution.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Existential Angst

[All images lifted from this cool site]

Do you ever have one of those moments when you just take a giant step back from yourself and take an objective look at what you believe to be true about the Kosmos?

In the moment when it is happening, I see the entire Kosmos as though I am looking down on it, and the thought that seizes my mind is that I am foolish to think I have any understanding at all of how things work. In fact, it seems like the ultimate hubris to believe that there is any form of creative intelligence or divinity present at all--especially one that values human existence as somehow special within the vastness of created space. To think that we are important in any way to the overall evolution of the Kosmos feels, in that moment, like the wishful thinking of a child.

And then the But . . . .

So what?

In that moment I feel so small, so unimportant, so humble.

I am one small, somewhat fragile biological creature among 6.5 billion similar creatures--most of whom will not live more than 75 years--on one little four-billion-year-old planet in a rather nondescript solar system inhabiting one limb of a trivial galaxy in the midst of an infinite universe that has been expanding for more than 10 billion years.

Why would I ever think I know anything about anything?

And yet, I have faith that at least several hundred people throughout human history have meditated, prayed, or otherwise transcended egoic consciousness to the point that they experienced some sense of oneness with an intelligence as vast as that whole amazing Kosmos.

Maybe it was illusion, delusion, or the real thing. I don't care. I am choosing to believe that there is such an intelligence; that said intelligence is in no way male, female, or anthropoid; that said intelligence is compassionate and loving--the embodiment of a divine Eros--rather than vengeful and motivated by jealousy and power.

In the absence of such a belief, life is absurd. I am willing to take Soren Kierkegaard's leap of faith. I used to ridicule such faith, and perhaps I am growing foolish as I get older. Yet I am willing to risk being wrong on this rather than live with the alternative.

When I was a young nihilist I drank a lot. It's easier to believe in nothing when all that matters is the next bottle, the next woman, or the next opportunity to trash someone else's beliefs--mostly in that order. I embodied the angry punk ethos of an absurdly stupid world.

Now I prefer faith to anger.

Now I prefer hope to despair.

Now I prefer humility to hubris.

I don't know where those moments I mentioned at the top of this post come from, or why. I don't know if they are offering some truth I cannot yet fathom. I don't know if I am seeing through some kind of illusion or simply experiencing some form of existential angst.

At this point in my life, I know so little.

And it has to be enough.

Sunday Poet: Pablo Neruda

The Song of Despair

The memory of you emerges from the night around me.
The river mingles its stubborn lament with the sea.

Deserted like the wharves at dawn.
It is the hour of departure, oh deserted one!

Cold flower heads are raining over my heart.
Oh pit of debris, fierce cave of the shipwrecked.

In you the wars and the flights accumulated.
From you the wings of the song birds rose.

You swallowed everything, like distance.
Like the sea, like time. In you everything sank!

It was the happy hour of assault and the kiss.
The hour of the spell that blazed like a lighthouse.

Pilot’s dread, fury of a blind diver, turbulent
drunkenness of love, in you everything sank!

In the childhood of mist my soul, winged and wounded.
Lost discoverer, in you everything sank!

You girdled sorrow, you clung to desire,
sadness stunned you, in you everything sank!

I made the wall of shadow draw back,
beyond desire and act, I walked on.

Oh flesh, my own flesh, woman whom I loved and lost,
I summon you in the moist hour, I raise my song to you.

Like a jar you housed the infinite tenderness,
and the infinite oblivion shattered you like a jar.

There was the black solitude of the islands,
and there, woman of love, your arms took me in.

There were thirst and hunger, and you were the fruit.
There were grief and the ruins, and you were the miracle.

Ah woman, I do not know how you could contain me
in the earth of your soul, in the cross of your arms!

How terrible and brief was my desire of you!
How difficult and drunken, how tensed and avid.

Cemetery of kisses, there is still fire in your tombs,
still the fruited boughs burn, pecked at by birds.

Oh the bitten mouth, oh the kissed limbs,
oh the hungering teeth, oh the entwined bodies.

Oh the mad coupling of hope and force
in which we merged and despaired.

And the tenderness, light as water and as flour.
And the word scarcely begun on the lips.

This was my destiny and in it was the voyage of my longing,
and in it my longing fell, in you everything sank!

Oh pit of debris, everything fell into you,
what sorrow did you not express, in what sorrow are you not drowned!

From billow to billow you still called and sang.
Standing like a sailor in the prow of a vessel.

You still flowered in songs, you still broke in currents.
Oh pit of debris, open and bitter well.

Pale blind diver, luckless slinger,
lost discoverer, in you everything sank!

It is the hour of departure, the hard cold hour
which the night fastens to all the timetables.

The rustling belt of the sea girdles the shore.
Cold stars heave up, black birds migrate.

Deserted like the wharves at dawn.
Only the tremulous shadow twists in my hands.

Oh farther than everything. Oh farther than everything.

It is the hour of departure. Oh abandoned one.

--Translated by W. S. Merwin
Pablo Neruda is one of the best-loved poets in the world--often regarded as the most important poet of the 20th century in any language. His books never fail to sell when new translations are released. His life was made into a very successful film (Il Postino) several years ago.

Here is some biographical info from the Academy of American Poets:
Born Neftalí Ricardo Reyes Basoalto in southern Chile on July 12, 1904, Pablo Neruda led a life charged with poetic and political activity. In 1923 he sold all of his possessions to finance the publication of his first book, Crepusculario ("Twilight"). He published the volume under the pseudonym "Pablo Neruda" to avoid conflict with his family, who disapproved of his occupation. The following year, he found a publisher for Veinte poemas de amor y una cancion desesperada ("Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair"). The book made a celebrity of Neruda, who gave up his studies at the age of twenty to devote himself to his craft.

In 1927, Neruda began his long career as a diplomat in the Latin American tradition of honoring poets with diplomatic assignments. After serving as honorary consul in Burma, Neruda was named Chilean consul in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in 1933. While there, he began a friendship with the visiting Spanish poet Federico García Lorca.
He continued to serve as a diplomat in various forms for most of his life.
For the next twenty-one years, he continued a career that integrated private and public concerns and became known as the people's poet. During this time, Neruda received numerous prestigious awards, including the International Peace Prize in 1950, the Lenin Peace Prize and the Stalin Peace Prize in 1953, and the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1971.

Diagnosed with cancer while serving a two-year term as ambassador to France, Neruda resigned his position thus ending his diplomatic career. On September 23, 1973, just twelve days after the defeat of Chile's democratic regime, the man widely regarded as the greatest Latin-American poet since Darío, died of leukemia in Santiago, Chile.
Neruda left an impressive body of work. Often surreal, sometimes melancholy, and often sensual, his poetry covers the spectrum from deeply personal to political and social. Many of his poems are available online--see the end of this post for links.

Here are a couple more poems from the Master.
In My Sky At Twilight

In my sky at twilight you are like a cloud

and your form and colour are the way I love them.
You are mine, mine, woman with sweet lips
and in your life my infinite dreams live.

The lamp of my soul dyes your feet,
the sour wine is sweeter on your lips,
oh reaper of my evening song,
how solitary dreams believe you to be mine!

You are mine, mine, I go shouting it to the afternoon's
wind, and the wind hauls on my widowed voice.
Huntress of the depth of my eyes, your plunder
stills your nocturnal regard as though it were water.

You are taken in the net of my music, my love,
and my nets of music are wide as the sky.
My soul is born on the shore of your eyes of mourning.
In your eyes of mourning the land of dreams begin.

The Dictators

An odor has remained among the sugarcane:

a mixture of blood and body, a penetrating
petal that brings nausea.
Between the coconut palms the graves are full
of ruined bones, of speechless death-rattles.
The delicate dictator is talking
with top hats, gold braid, and collars.
The tiny palace gleams like a watch
and the rapid laughs with gloves on
cross the corridors at times
and join the dead voices
and the blue mouths freshly buried.
The weeping cannot be seen, like a plant
whose seeds fall endlessly on the earth,
whose large blind leaves grow even without light.
Hatred has grown scale on scale,
blow on blow, in the ghastly water of the swamp,
with a snout full of ooze and silence.

Lost in the forest...

Lost in the forest, I broke off a dark twig

and lifted its whisper to my thirsty lips:
maybe it was the voice of the rain crying,
a cracked bell, or a torn heart.

Something from far off it seemed
deep and secret to me, hidden by the earth,
a shout muffled by huge autumns,
by the moist half-open darkness of the leaves.

Wakening from the dreaming forest there, the hazel-sprig
sang under my tongue, its drifting fragrance
climbed up through my conscious mind

as if suddenly the roots I had left behind
cried out to me, the land I had lost with my childhood--
and I stopped, wounded by the wandering scent.
Links to Neruda online:
Poem Hunter: Pablo Neruda
American Academy of Poets
Elementary Odes
Red Poppy--a film project
Democracy Now: "The Greatest Poet of the 20th Century In Any Language"
Nobel Includes Nobel speech