Saturday, March 25, 2006
Today, I am grateful for March Madness. Even though my team lost a heartbreaker last night in overtime (UW fell to UConn, who was seeded number one in that bracket), I am enjoying the few games I have been able to see. I can't remember a tournament with so many close games going into overtime or being decided on the final shot. The NCAA tournament is the best of why we watch sports -- exciting finishes, amazing physical skills, player enthusiasm, and the reality that any team can win on any given day.
What are you grateful for?
[Image from ESPN]
[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.]
As the Fool moved along the path of existence, the first two cards s/he met were both energetic potentials -- the Magician/animus and High Priestess/anima -- but that changes with The Empress. For the first time, the Fool faces manifestation of its potential in the physicality of flesh.
Early depictions of the Empress showed her as pregnant, but that literal image was muted over the years and replaced with symbols of fertility and new life. Some more modern cards still aim for the very literal view of this card.
Where the High Priestess represents a virginal aspect of the feminine, a spiritual element that seeks a fleshly home, the Empress represents the creative, life-giving aspect of the feminine, a physical presence giving birth to Spirit (often in the form of Jesus).
Nichols goes on to explain that the eagle often symbolized the spiritualization of instinct (used interchangeably with the Phoenix). She suggests that the eagle symbolizes the bridge between heaven and earth that the Madonna represents in the Jesus story. However, where the Church often rejected the body in its attempts to address the soul, the Empress card suggests, as Jesus taught, that the way to Spirit is through the body.
The Empress's connection with the spirit is further indicated by the way she embraces the golden eagle, almost as if he were alive, for this royal bird obviously represents a living force with which she feels emotionally connected. The fact that a similar bird also appears on the shield of the Emperor (Trump four) indicates that this golden eagle is the family coat of arms or talisman. As such, its image would exert a very subtle, powerful influence over this royal couple and their empire. (Sallie Nichols, Jung and Tarot)
In this respect, the archetypal energy of the card expresses some of the same wisdom we find in the Tibetan tradition of Buddhism (Vajrayana), where tantric yoga is employed to bring the energies of the body into the quest for transcendence. An integral path, no matter the religion, is incomplete without the body.
Nichols offers another useful observation on the Empress's role at this point in the Fool's journey:
As Madonna, Great Mother, and Queen of Heaven, the Empress is the connecting link between the Magician's fiery yang energy and the [High Priestess's] watery yin power. One might say that the Magician's wand has touched the [High Priestess's] depths, and out of this union, through the mediation of the Empress, something new has come into being . . . one world which includes both aspects.
Oh, come on Sallie, just say it: the Magician knocked up the High Priestess and the Empress is acting as the surrogate mother (the High Priestess has to maintain her virginal image).
Uh . . . moving on.
Another useful way into this archetype is through its number, three. Working with the riff that Nichols offers, we see the I of the Magician merged with the II of the High Priestess to produce the III, the trinity, a union of opposites in which the third manifests a union of traits from the first two.
By combining the energies of the previous cards, the Empress embraces them both and serves to fuse the yin and yang energies, giving them a physical presence in the material world -- in the form of a child. She is the creative impulse in nature.
And that is exactly how this card is seen on the Zen Osho deck -- as creativity. The Osho deck is unconcerned with the history of the card -- it looks more directly at its archetypal nature. Here is some of the commentary on the card it calls Creativity:
From the alchemy of fire and water below to the divine light entering from above, the figure in this card is literally 'possessed by' the creative force. Really, the experience of creativity is an entry into the mysterious. Technique, expertise and knowledge are just tools; the key is to abandon oneself to the energy that fuels the birth of all things.
This energy has no form or structure, yet all the forms and structures come out of it. It makes no difference what particular form your creativity takes - it can be painting or singing, planting a garden or making a meal. The important thing is to be open to what wants to be expressed through you. Remember that we don't possess our creations; they do not belong to us. True creativity arises from a union with the divine, with the mystical and the unknowable. Then it is both a joy for the creator and a blessing to others.
This reading introduces another important element into the vision of this card. Although the Empress represents creativity and fecundity as the Madonna or Great Mother, she must also release her creation into the world that is beyond her control. Her archetypal energy serves to close the gap between heaven and earth, Spirit and matter, but once she gives birth she can only hope her creation finds its own path.
She must come to grips with attachment at some point. But for now, she is still the Mother in all its forms, and this includes a dark side. Once we manifest in physicality, we cast a shadow, and even the Madonna has a dark side. One of the world's great depictions of the Terrible Mother is Kali, the wife of Shiva. She nearly always wears a necklace of human heads and a belt of human arms.
She is known as Kali the Destroyer in her negative aspect. As a part of the tantric tradition, it is important for all students to face this aspect of the feminine and confront their fear of death.
Just as there are sects within Christianity, especially the gnostic tradition, that see Mary (sometimes known as Sophia -- see Elaine Pagels, The Gnostic Gospels) as the ultimate reality, giving shape to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, in the Nirvāna-tantra, Kali's uncontrolled nature represents the Ultimate Reality. According to Wikipedia, the text claims:
[T]he trimurti of Brahma, Visnu and Siva arise and disappear from her like bubbles from the sea. Although this is an extreme case, the Yogini-tantra, Kamakhya-tantra and the Niruttara-tantra declare her the svarupa (own-being) of the Mahadevi (the great Goddess, who is in this case seen as the combination of all devis).
This adds a more balanced understanding of the feminine role in creativity. But even this is an incomplete picture. As we will see in the Emperor, the Empress is not complete in and of herself -- she needs her opposite.
[Note to feminists: Please do not attack me. Archetypes can seldom hold more than a single energy. I am not saying a woman needs a man to be complete. Any woman can hold within her psyche a galaxy of archetypes, which gives her access to all the energies humans may know.]
So, the Fool, having launched him/herself on the path to transcendence, has gathered the yin and yang of its psyche and found its birth into the world through the Empress, the Great Mother. Next week, the Fool meets the Father, the Emperor.
Friday, March 24, 2006
I was feeling a little prickly, so today was a tough day for feeling grateful. I was tired and just wanted the week to be over. I didn't feel like being grateful much of the day.
But I have two clients (9 am and 5 pm -- they know who they are if they stop by to read) who made today seem much better. So today, I am specifically grateful for those two kind, intelligent women who made a tough day a lot more pleasant.
What are you grateful for?
Trungpa Rinpoche once said, "Renunciation is realizing that-Awakening Loving-Kindness
nostalgia for samsara is full of shit." Renunciation is realizing that our nostalgia for wanting to stay in a protected, limited, petty world is insane. Once you begin to get the feeling of how big the world is and how vast our potential for experiencing life is, then you really begin to understand renunciation. When we sit in meditation, we feel our breath as it goes out, and we have some sense of willingness just to be open to the present moment. Then our minds wander off into all kinds of stories and fabrications and manufactured realities, and we say to ourselves, "It's thinking." We say that with a lot of gentleness and a lot of precision. Every time we are willing to let the story
line go, and every time we are willing to let go at the end of the out-breath, that's fundamentally renunciation: learning how to let go of holding on and holding back.
When I moved to the desert, I saw the choice as an act of renunciation -- giving up the comfortable life I had in Seattle -- comfortable and boring, and keeping me rooted in the stories I was telling myself about who I was. They were small stories. I was not a central character.
I saw renunciation as giving up something -- as a kind of asceticism. It was a deprivation to give up the rain and fog that I cherished, the coffee, the crows who were objective correlative to my inner world. It was an act of submission to move to the heat and permanent sunlight of the desert.
In giving up my need to be in a rut, to be comfortable and unchallenged, I embraced a relationship that continually keeps me unbalanced, a life that has opened in ways I never could have imagined, and a desert that offers lessons in quietude and death.
Allowing renunciation into my life teaches me about death, about allowing the ego to die little by little -- never really dead, of course, but less in control. When I meditate, I try to allow all the mess swirling in my head to go with the exhalation, and in that quiet pause before the inhalation, I feel the freedom that I imagine I might feel in the causal state.
Hopefully, if I continue to practice, year after year, that little pause between breaths might grow to become a state of consciousness rather than a brief taste. True or not, that is what I tell myself.
Thursday, March 23, 2006
The Mysteries Remain
The mysteries remain,
I keep the same
cycle of seed-time
and of sun and rain;
Demeter in the grass,
renew and bless
Bacchus in the vine;
I hold the law,
I keep the mysteries true,
the first of these
to name the
I am the wine and bread.
I keep the law,
I hold the mysteries true,
I am the vine,
the branches, you
Wednesday, March 22, 2006
For many years I have been interested in an area of psychology that deals with subpersonalities, sometimes also known as parts (Internal Family Systems) or aspects. There are many kinds of subpersonalities that can have a lesser or greater impact on the psyche, but most people in the field agree that traumas of all varieties can create a split-off part of the psyche whose job is to manage that trauma and any other event that recalls the emotional context of that trauma.
Most of these subs develop while we are children and lack the adult coping skills necessary to handle tough situations. I would also add -- and this isn't too often mentioned in the literature -- that subs are more common in children whose parents lack the ability to support the child through tough emotions.
As we grow older, these subs lurk in our unconscious, waiting to be triggered by external events or internal stresses that activate their "protection" circuitry. It is really important to remember that subs always arise to help us, even if later in life they are a problem. When a sub is created, it is the psyche's best way -- or only way -- to survive the situation.
I have developed a model that seeks to work with subs using the terminology of Spiral Dynamics, but that is beyond the scope of this discussion. Ken Wilber does mention that we can have subs stuck at the lower level memes:
Subpersonalities can exist at different levels or memes, however, so that one can indeed have a purple subpersonality, a blue subpersonality, and so on. These often are context-triggered, so that one have quite different types of moral responses, affects, needs, etc. in different situations.Ken talks more about subs and their origin in Integral Psychology. He recommends a book by John Rowan (Subpersonalities), and I second that recommendation.
Having established some context, I want to explore a personal example.
The Little Boy
As I have mentioned many times on this site, may father died when I was thirteen years old. This in itself is not terribly unusual in that many kids lose a parent at a young age. What was unusual about my experience is that my mother completely disintegrated -- clinical depression requiring strong pharmaceuticals. She was not only depressed, she was also totally ignorant of how to handle all the details that needed to be handled -- everything from filing insurance forms to dealing with Social Security to identifying the body before it was cremated. No other family members stepped up to help out, so it all fell on me. All the while I was taking care of my little sister and trying to take care of my mother as best I could.
At the time, I felt good that I was able to get through all of the things that had to be done and that various people commented on what a mature young man I was. I felt heroic in the psychological sense and embraced my role as caretaker. What I didn't realize -- I was as much in a state of shock as were my mother and sister -- was the toll this role was taking on my psyche.
I was emotionally stunted. The "manager" that emerged was strong, reliable, and competent. But his presence "exiled" another part of me -- the little boy who just wanted to go to school, play soccer, flirt with girls, and not have to deal with anything tougher than homework.
As the manager maintained an appearance of stability, the exile was buried deeper and deeper, and a "firefighter" emerged to deal with the psychological stress. [These are terms from Internal Family Systems, which recognizes these three basic types of subs.] My firefighter liked to create a numbed feeling as a way to cope with the stress. So I started drinking, smoking pot, and using anything that might dull the pain I was trying to keep buried.
As I grew older, the little boy stayed buried -- or so I thought. As it turns out, any time I have been under a lot of stress or dealing with too much responsibility, the little boy tries to break free and make himself felt. This triggers the firefighter to keep that from happening, but only when the manager is unable to do it himself.
Over the last year or more, I have been working to regain access to that little boy through therapy, meditation, and mindfulness. So my manager is conspiring to free the little boy, which makes my firefighter act up and find ways to distract me from the process. I don't drink or do drugs, so I engage in emotional eating (and I am always aware of it when it is happening because I see it all the time in my training clients), mindless television watching, and anything else that can distract me from the process.
But here is the real issue: when that little boy gets even a little bit free, it becomes almost impossible to get me to do anything more than go to work and do the bare minimum to get by. I put off going to the dentist until I need crowns. I put off my taxes until April 14th. I buy more clothes so I can get by doing laundry every three weeks. I put gas in my car when the needle is on empty. I balance my checkbook about once a month. It goes on and on.
When that little boy gets a foothold in my psyche (and he is a Red meme sub), I don't want any responsibility; I don't want to do anything that isn't about being "in my cave." I become selfish, insensitive, and short-tempered.
When I am at work, he is buried; when I am with my girlfriend, he is mostly buried. But at home, alone, he runs the show some days. This was one of those days.
Working With Subs
One way that I have been trying to access the little boy is through meditation. As I am focusing on my breath and observing my thoughts going by, I am mindful of anything that feels like one of his thoughts. When I identify something, I suss it out and try to isolate it. It becomes the other to my self in such a way that I can get to know it, observe it, talk to it.
If I can separate it from my ego, it no longer is in the driver's seat -- at least for a little while. It gives me a chance to know what it wants, what it needs to be happy.
Anyone can do this with any part of themselves that they want to know better. If you already know your subs or how to access them more directly and with more intent, you can work with any sub you want to know better and find out why it is there, what it needs to become more healthy, and how to unload its burden.
My little boy is less willing to get surfaced. Part of the problem is that he holds a lot of my pain and anger from childhood. My psyche fears that if he is given freedom, he will overwhelm my ego and flood me with pain. Rather than blowing up the dam, I am trying to let out a little of the river at a time.
But I have been blocking the process lately -- working too hard, taking time off from therapy, taking on too many responsibilities. The kid is pissed off.
The task right now is to honor his need for more "being" time and less "doing" time, while also honoring the wisdom of my psyche in recognizing that it isn't ready yet to let the kid back into full awareness.
So there it is. If anyone has actually read this far, it is worth noting that I wasn't clear on any of this until I started typing -- I had clues but no clear path. Now that I am more clear, I know what the next steps are and I know what to look for to keep this from getting worse.
Tuesday, March 21, 2006
Monday, March 20, 2006
Not everyone is on board with coolmel's program, though. Part of the problem might be that he is using "developmental line" and "spiritual practice" interchangably:
I feel like I’ve stepped into the next level--metaphorically speaking of course, because I don’t know of any blogging developmental line. But if there’s such a thing, then yeah, I feel like I’m onto something.Vince posted on a related topic. In the comments section he finds issue with coolmel in that blogging can't be seen as an authentic spiritual spiritual practice because its aims aren't the confrontation and diminishment of suffering and attachment. Others disagree with this Buddhacentric (is that a word?) definition of spiritual practice.
Just this morning something inside (or beyond) made me blog this statement: blogging is my spiritual practice. I had no worries on what others may think about this crazy affirmation.
ebuddha also jumped into the discussion here and here.
Hmm, somehow I doubt that blogging counts as transformational, although it can be very translational.This is a move in the right direction.
But of course, divine creeps in everywhere - so is flow and inspiration from the self, the super-self, or the Divine?
I wouldn't be bringing any of this up if I didn't have an opinion -- of course.
I want to support coolmel's assertion that blogging is a spiritual practice and reject his notion that it can be seen as a developmental line. Blogging simply isn't widespread enough of a human experience to qualify as a developmental line, so that part is easy.
Blogging as a spiritual practice is a little harder to dismiss. I think it can be a spiritual practice, but often isn't -- how's that for noncommital? If one practices blogging, even some of the time, in an effort to attain the flow state that coolmel describes, then maybe it can seen as a spiritual practice.
Flow takes one out of the ego, if only for a little while, and offers an opportunity to be aligned with energies greater than the ego, whatever they may be. This is from Csikszentmihalyi himself:
The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you're using your skills to the utmost.The downside to this notion is that one can be in a flow state while clubbing baby seals if one is so inclined.
Let's look more closely at the criteria of a flow experience:
The important thing to note here is the absence of a values criteria. There is no moral component to flow. Hence, flow can be in service of higher values (coolmel's vision of blogging, meditation, or whatever), or it can be in service of more profane or even evil values (think serial killers who experience deep flow during their crimes).
As Csikszentmihalyi sees it, there are components of an experience of flow that can be specifically enumerated; he presents eight:
- Clear goals (expectations and rules are discernable).
- Concentrating and focusing, a high degree of concentration on a limited field of attention (a person engaged in the activity will have the opportunity to focus and to delve deeply into it).
- A loss of the feeling of self-consciousness, the merging of action and awareness.
- Distorted sense of time - our subjective experience of time is altered.
- Direct and immediate feedback (successes and failures in the course of the activity are apparent, so that behavior can be adjusted as needed).
- Balance between ability level and challenge (the activity is not too easy or too difficult).
- A sense of personal control over the situation or activity.
- The activity is intrinsically rewarding, so there is an effortlessness of action.
Not all of these components are needed for flow to be experienced.
Within this framework, in the absence of a values component, flow must be seen as a state and not a stage or a line. As a state, flow cannot be a developmental line in its own right.
So, getting back to blogging. For blogging to be a spiritual practice, it must offer the individual some way of expanding consciousness for the betterment of self and humanity. If flow is the primary criteria by which blogging can be seen as a spiritual practice, it would fail. However, I think there are other traits in blogging that allow it to be seen as a spiritual practice.
The one that appeals most to me and allows me to consider blogging as a part of my spiritual practice is that it creates community. I do not currently practice with a sangha (the Wiki definition is really lacking), so my fellow Buddhist and integral bloggers serve as my sangha for now.
Another element of blogging that may allow it to be seen as a spiritual practice is that if one chooses, blogging (as a form of journal writing) is a great way to explore psychological and emotional blocks that keeps one trapped in attachment and suffering. I try to do this from time to time on this blog, and I know others do so on their blogs as well (see here, here, and here, for example).
I also think that blogging is a form of study. We read each other's blogs, we write our own stuff that is influenced by what others write, and we exchange ideas in the comments sections. This relates to the sangha idea, but it is also a way to learn and thereby increase our range of options. This may be translation rather than transformation (a nifty distinction for this discussion), but it is important.
Finally, I think that all of these elements in combination (flow, sangha, exploration, and learning) can lift blogging to the status of spiritual practice. If one commits to the practice with focus and dedication, blogging can provide the impetus for transformation. It can be a valuable spiritual practice.
Sunday, March 19, 2006
I reset the date on this post to last night. I was stuck on a plane and could not post my gratitude observation for the day. We were supposed to get into Tucson from D.C. a little after 9 pm. Didn't work out that way.
We left D.C. late in hope that some bad weather in Dallas, where we were supposed to transfer, might move out of the region. When we got to Dallas, the weather was still there, so we circled for a while and then were told to go to Houston. We sat in Houston for about 2 to 3 hours getting refueled and waiting for clearance to head back to Dallas. Got into Dallas well after midnight, facing the chaos of no airline staff trying to sort out thousands of passengers trying to figure out how to get home.
We finally got into Tucson around 2:30 am and I got home at around 3 am, to bed at 4 am. Needless to say, I'm tired. Got a total of about 4 hours sleep.
So here's the thing: a year ago I would have been irate and barely able to contain my rage. I hate when my plans get screwed up. I hate when I have to cancel clients (I had to cancel my whole morning for today). I hate when I have no control over a situation, especially when I feel as if the people in control are miserably incompetent.
Yet I did not get stressed out. I did not yell at anyone. I did not feel like I was going to explode with the anxiety of not being in control.
That's new for me.
I attribute my equanimity in the face of this chaos to the inner work I have done and to my Buddhist practice. I also think the mindfulness day on Thursday helped a bit, too.
So today, or last night anyway, I am grateful for having found a little more calm within myself. It's an amazing thing not to feel as though I am coming unglued in situations where that is normally what I would have felt.
I also know there is SO MUCH more work to do . . . .
I am also grateful for my own bed when I am totally exhausted.
What are you grateful for?
Out of the dry days
through the dusty leaves
far across the valley
those few notes never
heard here before
one fluted phrase
floating over its
all at once wells up
and is gone before it
goes on fallen into
its own echo leaving
a hollow through the air
that is dry as before
where is it from
seems to have noticed it
so far but who now
would have been listening
it is not native here
that may be the one
thing we are sure of
it came from somewhere
else perhaps alone
so keeps on calling for
no one who is here
hoping to be heard
by another of its own
trying once more the same few
notes that began the song
of an oriole last heard
years ago in another
it goes again tell
no one it is here
foreign as we are
who are filling the days
with a sound of our own
W.S. Merwin is one of America's most prolific poets. He has been writing and translating for more than 40 years. He has been a leader in translating the poetry of other nations into English and has done many translation of Eastern poets. He is sometimes deeply political, and often deeply spiritual. His work has varied from a very formal, rhythmic verse to an effortless free verse that plays with line breaks and pacing.
Here is some brief biography (by Jay Pirini):
Merwin was born in New York City and grew up in Union City, New Jersey, and Scranton, Pennsylvania. His father was a Presbyterian minister. "I started writing hymns for my father as soon as I could write at all', Merwin has said. He attended Princeton University, where he studied writing with John Berryman and R. P. Blackmur, to whom his fifth book, The Moving Target (1963), was dedicated. Merwin spent a postgraduate year at Princeton studying Romance languages, an interest that would lead, eventually, to his much-admired work as a translator of Latin, Spanish, and French poetry.
Having left Princeton, Merwin travelled in France, Spain, and England. He settled in Majorca in 1950 as a tutor to Robert Graves's son. Graves, with his interest in mythology, would become a primary influence on young Merwin. Moving to London in 1951, Merwin made his living as a translator for several years. Meanwhile, back in America, his first book of poems won the Yale Series of Younger Poets Award for 1952, selected by W. H. Auden, who remarked in his introduction on the young poet's technical virtuosity. That volume, A Mask for Janus, is immensely formal, neoclassical in style. For the next decade Merwin would regularly publish collections of intensely wrought, brightly imagistic poems that recalled the poetry of Wallace Stevens as well as Robert Graves and other influences.
Merwin's early subjects were frequently tied to mythological or legendary themes, while many of the poems featured animals, which were treated as emblems in the manner of Blake. A volume called The Drunk in the Furnace (1960) marked a change for Merwin, in that he began to write in a much more autobiographical way. The title-poem is about Orpheus, seen as an old drunk. "Where he gets his spirits / it's a mystery," Merwin writes; "But the stuff keeps him musical." Another powerful poem of this period is "Odysseus," which reworks the traditional theme in a way that plays off poems by Stevens and Graves on the same topic.
In the 1960s Merwin began to experiment boldly with metrical irregularity. His poems became much less tidy and controlled. He played with the forms of indirect narration typical of this period, a self-conscious experimentation explained in an essay called "On Open Form" (1969). The Lice (1967) and The Carrier of Ladders (1970) (which won a Pulitzer Prize) remain his most characteristic and influential volumes. These poems often used legendary subjects (as in "The Hydra" or "The Judgment of Paris") to explore highly personal themes.
In Merwin's later volumes, such as The Compass Rower (1977), Opening the Hand (1983), and The Rain in the Trees (1988), one sees him transforming earlier themes in fresh ways, developing an almost Zen-like indirection. His latest poems are densely imagistic, dream-like, and full of praise for the natural world. He has lived in Hawaii in recent years, and one sees the influence of this tropical landscape everywhere in the recent poems, though the landscape remains emblematic and personal.
The Modern American Poetry page has a wealth of links, criticism, and poems. From this page one can explore Merwin's work and following the links in search of more information. There are many poems to be enjoyed at PoemHunter.
That said, here are a couple of other poems.
BEFORE THE FLOOD
Why did he promise me
that we would build ourselves
an ark all by ourselves
out in back of the house
on New York Avenue
in Union City New Jersey
to the singing of the streetcars
after the story
of Noah whom nobody
believed about the waters
that would rise over everything
when I told my father
I wanted us to build
an ark of our own there
in the back yard under
the kitchen could we do that
he told me that we could
I want to I said and will we
he promised me that we would
why did he promise that
I wanted us to start then
nobody will believe us
I said that we are building
an ark because the rains
are coming and that was true
nobody ever believed
we would build an ark there
nobody would believe
that the waters were coming
Whenever I Go There
Whenever I go there everything is changed
The stamps on the bandages the titles
Of the professors of water
The portrait of Glare the reasons for
The white mourning
In new rocks new insects are sitting
With the lights off
And once more I remember that the beginning
No wonder the addresses are torn
To which I make my way eating the silence of animals
Offering snow to the darkness
Today belongs to few and tomorrow to no one