Saturday, December 31, 2005

Birth of a Poet: Third Meditation

[Please see First Meditation and Second Meditation before reading this, the third installment.]

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.]

Guest Post: Kira Freed: Art as Mindfulness

I confess, I've never been much of a meditator. The idea of sitting still for an hour, a day, or a week appeals to me about as much as having an army of stinging ants crawl all over my body while I'm strapped down.

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

Deepak Chopra: Love as Social Policy

Deepak Chopra's new entry at intent blog is the foundation for the new revolution--if enough people are willing to listen and commit to his prescription for healing. In this case, the doctor does know best.

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.

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.
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.

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

Tu Fu: Two Poems

Wang Jian Qiu

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,
dew glistening,
freezing on the flowers.

[Translations by Sam Hamill, from the book, Midnight Flute; Shambhala, 1994.]

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Compassion Across the Border

At age 50, a woman living a life of affluence gives it all up to become a nun. However, she doesn't spend her life within the relatively isolated walls of a monastery. Her name is Sister Antonia Brenner, an aging American nun who was raised in Beverly Hills but gave up a life of ease to live in a notorious Mexican prison--literally, in a jail cell, close to her "flock."

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

What Does Integral Look Like?

Joe at Rising Up has been doing a series of posts on how we might better understand just what exactly integral might be (here and here). His most recent post is a very useful series of observations on "what does integral look like in practice."

Take a look at his post(s).

Here is my response to today's entry in the discussion.

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?

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."

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Sunday Poet: William Everson's Christmas Conversion

No poem today. In honor of this day and for those who hold it sacred, I am posting William Everson's Christmas Eve conversion experience--in his own, often melodramatic words. Everson never did anything major in his life without a good measure of drama: his conversion experience on Christmas Eve in 1948, and his decision to leave the Dominican order in 1969, achieved through the reading of a love poem and the literal dropping of his religious habit as he left the stage.

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.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Reconsidering the Holidays

I hate the holidays, or at least that is what I have been saying for the past ten years or so. The last time I can remember enjoying the holidays was when I spent Christmas with my then-girlfriend's family. They made me feel included, part of the family.

If asked, I could spend hours listing all the reasons I hated Christmas, most of them legitimate: commercialism, consumerism, hypocrisy, gluttony, and on and on. But the truth is that I was covering my real feelings.

I like the holidays. As a child, this was my favorite time of year, and not just because of the presents. I liked the decorations, the lights, the tree, the food, the attempt everyone seemed (to my young mind) to make to be cheerful, and all the Christmas cartoons on television (especially Charlie Brown). I liked that for a few days each year there seemed to be magic all around me. I even liked the Christmas Eve Mass, especially the one time I saw it done in Latin. I was eight years old before I quit believing in Santa Claus (and only last year discovered the horrible truth about the Great Pumpkin).

When my father died (I was thirteen), Christmas ended for my family. We still put up a tree and went through the motions. I assumed my father's role of making Christmas morning waffles. But it never again felt like Christmas. I never would have admitted it then, or even a year ago, but that loss saddened me.

We are exposed to so much propaganda in the media about how this time of year is when families are close and loving, no matter how tough the rest of the year might be. Part of me buys into that crap, even though I know it isn't true for many of us. Instead of allowing myself to wish I had a healthy, happy family at the holidays, I rejected the holidays, period.

This year, for the first time in my life, I have no family at all for the holidays. Both my mother and my sister died this past year. I have no extended family. Strangely enough, this is the first year that I have allowed myself to have some holiday spirit.

I got a small live tree and some decorations. I sent out the picture at the top of this post to my friends and clients. I bought a scented candle that reminds me of the holidays when I was a child (vanilla-cinnamon). I even wished my co-workers Merry Christmas before I left the gym on Friday. All these are things that I would not have done last year.

No matter how trivialized Christmas becomes in this country, the holiday still carries an enormous amount of archetypal power. This holiday represents the primacy of the child--the hope and redemption that comes with the birth of Spirit in human form. Whether you believe in the Jesus story or not isn't even relevant. One need not be a Christian to appreciate the power of the story.

During the darkest time of the year, a child is born who brings Spirit into the world. The child's birth is accompanied by signs and omens, all of which serve to highlight the auspicious birth. The fact that the child is born to humble parents who have no special status accentuates the child's role as one of the common folk, and the truth that we need not be priests or kings to become a leader, to embody Spirit.

The early Christians decided to celebrate the birth of Jesus at this time of year in an effort to co-opt the pagan traditions that were being celebrated around the winter solstice. It was a perfect fit. Both traditions were about renewal and finding the light--the hope, the promise--always present even in the darkest time of the year.

This message is often lost amid sales, shopping, parties, and for some of us, depression. Many people suffer their worst bouts of depression during the holidays because they do not have the perfect "Waltons" family Christmas. Moreover, they do not or cannot connect with the deeper meaning of the season. I know because I was one of those people.

I think this reflects a deeper issue. We have lost touch with our mythic heritage. I am not advocating that we elevate mythic knowledge to some great transpersonal salvation. What I am advocating is a healthy Spiral.

Mythic awareness starts in the Purple Meme of the Spiral and evolves steadily until Orange begins to reject all that is not rational. Even Orange has its myths (think about the Faust story), but they are more intellectual than emotional. The myths from lower levels of the Spiral have a strong emotional core that anchors us in our body, and by extension, in our history as a species. We lose a lot when we lose that heritage.

Many of us have rejected these aspects of the earlier stages as prerational or prepersonal nonsense. Even those who are still anchored in a Blue Meme worldview tend to only allow the validity of their own myth, generally Christianity in this country. These people lose a lot in rejecting the rest of their mythic heritage.

It's only recently (since I started revising my Birth of a Poet lectures) that I have started to see how much I have lost personally in rejecting mythic consciousness. Allowing the holidays back into my life, even in a limited way, helps me in the process of reclaiming the parts of myself that I have lost or hidden.

Becoming integral is about becoming whole. I cannot be a whole person unless I reclaim the missing parts of my life and my identity--not in an ego way, although that is part of it, but in a soulful way. The life of the soul doesn't much care about developmental levels. It only seeks meaning and connection wherever it finds it.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Joe Perez: Defining "Integral"

Joe will be (re) launching his Rising Up blog on January 1, 2006, and I look forward to seeing what he has in store for us. In the meantime, he has written an interesting post regarding the ways we define "integral." Check it out--it's part of the mission statement for Rising Up.2.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Birth of a Poet: Second Meditation

Meditation II: Time and Identity

It may appear that linear and cyclical time are discrete, but that is not so. Cyclical time (in its trans-egoic form) can include linear time and causality; but linear time always to tries to exclude cyclical time. However, linear causation is ruptured by intrusions from cyclic patterns in every moment. We simply are not aware of this happening most of the time. This is explainable only through paradox: all of linear time is contained within cyclical time, and all of cyclical time is the immediate present (in both prepersonal and transpersonal forms).

Strangely enough, the best way to understand our current place in cyclical time is to look back through linear history. Beginning in the Renaissance, linear time and rational thought became dominant in Western culture. But just when the Age of Reason was at its height during the 18th and 19th centuries, various groups who were dedicated to pursuits directly opposed to reason appeared: the Romantics in England, Germany, and America; the Transcendentalists in America; the Symbolists in France; and more. These movements have had major influences on art and literature, but, until recently, not in the culture as a whole.

The yin-yang symbol can help explain this push and pull of forces: whenever one force is at its most powerful, the equal and opposite force is still present, though weaker (the white circle in the midst of the largest area of black, and the black circle within the largest presence of white). This is why Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus, the redeemer, only a few days after the winter solstice, the darkest time of the year.

Having recently entered the 21st century, rationality has reached its apex and is in decline. Ideally, a more integral consciousness would emerge to replace it, but that is not yet the case. Certainly many people are working toward a more integral awareness, but the culture as a whole actually seems to be regressing.

Rationality is being rejected on all fronts. Those who are interested in moving forward are looking for the integral path: rationality with heart and spirit. Those who are less brave are allowing themselves to be pulled back into mythic thinking--cyclical time.

We have also seen the re-emergence of cyclical time into the consciousness of our culture as a whole, as exemplified in the recent explosion of books in the fields of religion and angels, psychology/self-help, and personal spirituality. We know we have betrayed some part of ourselves in a wholesale reliance on reason, and now we are searching for just what it is that we have lost.

As always, the goal is to avoid regressive pre/trans assumptions. Still, we may need to regress in service of transformation. If we have used reason and linear time to cut ourselves off from our experience of cyclical time and our mythic heritage, we may have to reclaim those lost parts of ourselves if we hope to move forward into a more integral worldview. This is where I am in my life.

In the sixties, when cyclical time--with the aid of hallucinogens and other drugs--enjoyed a massive eruption among the youth of Western culture, a whole new group of psychologists emerged with an interest in exploring the potential of human consciousness. The West also discovered a renewed interest in the religions of the Eastern traditions, religions that seemed to offer a more personal experience than the largely static and sanitized Western traditions.

Both of these trends resulted in an increased awareness of cyclical time. Researchers such as Stan Grof and Charles Tart became deeply interested in the ways in which psychedelics provided access to deeper layers of the psyche. What often emerged from these sessions, and for recreational users as well, were vivid experiences of mythic patterns and motifs. Grof and others assumed the drugs were opening the mind so that the contents of the Jungian collective unconscious could be more directly experienced.

Others, such as Stephen Larson, Joseph Campbell, Michael Harner, and Jean Houston, among others, explored the mythic imagination as a way to heal some of the wounding so common to many of us. Following Jung's lead, many of these psychologists and anthropologists elevated prerational mythic thinking to transrational spirituality. The methods are good and worthy of our attention, as long as we keep in mind that the prepersonal myth is not a transpersonal spiritual experience.

On the other hand, religious scholars like Mircea Eliade, Houston Smith, and Alan Watts brought Eastern religion to Western seekers hungry for a new path. Zen Buddhism was also brought to American culture by the Beat literary movement, including Allen Ginsburg, Jack Kerouac, and Gary Snyder, among others. Around this time, as well, Indians and Tibetans began coming to the West to offer their teachings, a direct result of the sheer number of Western young people who had gone to the East looking for new paths.

What both of the movements have in common is the re-emergence of cyclical time into Western culture. One of the powerful elements in experiencing cyclical time is that it requires the reduction of ego consciousness.

With drugs, ego consciousness is temporarily shattered, offering glimpses of possible higher states of consciousness (sometimes), or of lower level mythic consciousness (more often). Either way, the experience is outside of the ego, so it feels sacred.

With meditation, ego consciousness is eventually transcended, but before that can happen we can glimpse the egoless state, which can serve as fuel for the quest. Without ego, we do not experience linear time, which allows cyclical time to re-emerge. In this case, however, we do not a regress to a mythic experience of cyclical time, but rather a more integral experience of all time as one time. My own experience of this state (temporary in my case) is simply feeling outside of time.

For most of us, our identity is bound to our ego. Ego is bound to linear time. Therefore, our identity is limited to a great degree by our identification with ego and the constraints of linear time. We tend to focus our sense of identity on achievements of the self, accomplishments that set us apart from our peers. We seek recognition. In linear time, singularity of self is the mark of individuation and a healthy psyche.

Linear time seeks to separate the subject from the object. Cyclical time, especially in its pre-rational forms, seeks union and belonging. In the pre-rational variety of cyclical time, self-realization grows through participation with the group (clan, tribe, culture). Even for those of seeking an integral path, this mode of consciousness holds significant value that we should not ignore. Belonging is a basic human need. Even as we enter second-tier consciousness, we can benefit from strengthening our bonds with our fellow human beings, honoring ritual occasions, and recognizing important symbols along the path.

William Everson maintained that the poet must become familiar with cyclical time and learn its patterns. He had no real experience with Eastern disciplines, feeling the most affinity for Catholicism with a shamanic element, so he relied mostly on the mythic imagination as the realm of the poet. To him, the role of the poet was a sacred vocation. It derived sacredness from its ability to tap into cyclical time and bring back forms of truth unavailable to the ego in linear time.

All vocations have their source in cyclical time because all vocations, at their root, have a mythic or archetypal origin. If we want to find more space in our lives to experience the scared, one way to do so is to cultivate the sacred origin of our vocation.

If we want to cultivate the sacred in our identity, we need to cultivate the elements of our identity that reside outside the ego and, therefore, outside of linear time. Vocation is one way to do this.

Importantly, our vocation may not be how we earn a living. We may do any number of jobs, but our vocation is the thing that makes our soul sing. It is the reason we were born. It is who we are at the deepest levels of our psyche. It is our identity when the limitations of ego are stripped away.

As we transcend ego, even this element will also fall away. But few of us have transcended our ego, and many of us are ungrounded in our search for the sacred and the spiritual. Remembering our mythic past, seeking the vocational archetype, and holding as sacred the symbols that speak to us are ways to stay grounded as we seek higher levels of consciousness. A tree must have roots to reach the sky.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Hopelessness and Impotence

As everyone begins to make their end-of-year lists, one of the news stories that keeps turning up is Hurricane Katrina. The hurricane itself was bad enough, but the seemingly intentional neglect of the poorest people displaced by the storm is criminal. Insurance companies are refusing to pay because much of the damage was caused by the flood resulting from the breached levees, not the actual hurricane. The government isn't doing anything to help. The New Orleans city council has given citizens of the poorest area, the Ninth Ward, one year to rebuild or forfeit their property, which will then be sold to developers who want to build condos and retail centers amid what will become public park land when it is cleared of the debris that used to be people's lives.

Then there are the stories about our government--perhaps the most corrupt government in our history. With the Republicans controlling the Congress, Bush is exempt from any responsibility no matter what he does, including spying on his own citizens in violation of federal law. He has systematically destroyed the environment, created the largest deficit in history, ruined our relationship with almost every major country on the planet, widened the gap between the rich and the poor in this country, given tax break after tax break to the richest ten percent of the population, lied us into a war that may never end, removed science from all decision-making in the federal government, and consolidated unprecedented power in the executive branch in violation of Constitutional intentions.

I could go on and on for hours. There is so much horrifying news every day. There are so many injustices perpetrated against the weakest and most defenseless among us. Compassion seems to be a missing quality in the world today.

Sometimes it feels overwhelming. I feel hopeless and impotent to do anything to make a real difference about any of the terrible things I see happening in the world around me. It hurts. The more I pursue the Shambhala path, the more open my heart becomes, and the more painful it becomes to be conscious of all that is happening in the world.

I used to just get angry at all the injustice I see. When I can get angry and rant and avoid what I am really feeling, I feel more in control. But that's the problem--an open heart is not about control. The heart of the warrior is not defended by anger and outrage--it is touched by pain and suffering.

Buddhism teaches that life is dukkha, and Shambhala teaches that our life is our path. Pema Chodron teaches us to walk into the fire--into our pain and suffering--rather than to flee through our defense mechanisms. We must work with our lives as the primary focus of our practice. To do this, we must not reject suffering and pain--we must embrace it and befriend it.

Knowing this and doing this are two different things.

Through meditation I am learning to hold my feelings without being freaked out and needing to escape, but I am also learning how to maintain a little more equanimity at the same time. For most of my life I have been a master of escape--first with drugs and alcohol, later with anger and rage, and of late with intellect and rationality. Walking into the fire is a new path for me.

How do you handle hopelessness and frustration? What allows you to care deeply about things without being overwhelmed by the challenge? I would really like to hear from readers. If any of you want to write a more extensive response, I'd like to put it up as a guest post--drop me a note through the comments.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Guest Post: Suburban Guerrilla

Susie Madrak at Suburban Guerrilla put up this post today. I was impressed by the honesty of it, and she has give me permission to post it here as a guest post. Considering some of the nominations for Inspirational Person of the Year at Beliefnet, I thought this post offered some of the same lessons in forgiveness and compassion.


It was three years ago today that my ex-husband died.

When I found out he was sick, my response was, shall we say, less than charitable. My first thought: “Thank God he’s not my problem.”

Because he was a problem, ever since the divorce. (The phrase I most often used to describe him was “a real dick.”) He fought paying a rational amount of child support (he earnestly explained to me that $35 a week for two kids was enough because, after all, Rogaine was costing him $75 a month “and I need to start a new life.”)

Did I mention he’d been officially diagnosed with Narcissistic Personality Disorder? Back then, I had no idea what it meant; I do now.

Let me put it this way. Getting mad at someone with NPD is like being angry with the shark that chomped off your leg and left you to bleed to death: pointless. Are you mad at the shark for not being a puppy? Of course not. It’s not a shark’s nature, after all; their nature is to feed.

I didn’t want to take him to court; I knew he’d punish the kids for it. So I talked him into going to mediation. After eight one-hour sessions, they told him, no, you’re not paying enough, yes, you can afford more and no, you don’t deserve a rebate because you have the kids half the time – you make twice her salary.

He stood up, said, “I don’t have to listen to this,” and walked out. So I had to take him to court anyway.

At first, I took him at his word that he’d make timely payments. (Hah.) What that really meant was, too late for me to pay my bills on time, but not so late that he’d get arrested. Finally, I went back to court and got his paycheck attached. There was relative peace after that.

Of course, there were still the assorted women, all of whom were a lot nicer than he was. The kids were expected to understand they came second – except when he was in between relationships. Then, he was Dad of the Year. He always seemed to need an appreciative audience.

He got diagnosed with multiple myeloma shortly after the woman he was then involved with gave birth to their daughter.

I still remember the day he called to tell me that, at 52, he was going to be a father again. (The mom was 48.) After I stopped laughing, I needled him. “Guess you slept through that part of biology class,” I said. “I can’t help but wonder what your response would be if one of our sons called you with news like this.” (Two days later, I made an appointment to get my tubes tied. No point in tempting the karma fairy.)

He was so maddening. He never put anybody else first, not even when he was sick. “You need to straighten things out with the kids,” I’d tell him.

“I’m going to beat this thing,” he’d say, more out of denial than optimism.

“And you could get hit by a bus tomorrow,” I’d say. “No one can assume how much time they have left.” (I’d had my own cancer scare a few years before.)

He left a lot of loose ends dangling. But that last week, I felt bad for him. His daughter was now living in upstate New York, our kids didn’t really want to see him. His exes didn’t, either. His brothers had families of their own (it was the week before Christmas) and ironically enough, all he had left was me.

Me? I was unemployed again, somewhat suicidal (Adderall withdrawal) and pretty damned cynical about his worth as a human being. But there was no one else to help. And as the hours turned into days, I began to soften. He was just so damned feeble, so helpless, it seemed like overkill to hate him – or even resent him. So I kept him company; I fought with the nurses and doctors, I even held his hand the night before he died. I swear, there were times he looked at me and I could read the actual thought balloon above his head: “What the fuck is she doing here?” Knowing the way he was, he probably thought I was angling to get into his will.

I knew better than to expect anything. I did it for my kids; I didn’t want their father to die alone.

I always try to do the right thing but sometimes it’s harder than others. It’s a lot easier to be spiritual in the abstract than it is to actually forgive people – especially when they just don’t deserve it. The thing is, if you’re really honest, very few of us deserve it. So you shouldn’t keep score that way. If you want to follow the same path as Christ, Buddha, the Dalai Lama (you know, those guys) you have to find the compassion within.

Although I do usually get there, the trip is never pretty. I curse, I rail at the universe, I say really, really mean things. I tell myself I shouldn’t have to be nice to an asshole. And really, I don’t. (Unless I want to be spiritually and ethically consistent, of course. God, I hate that.)

The day he died, I took my oldest son to say goodbye. I remember being surprised at how warm his father still was, and that I brushed the hair from his eyes. The resuscitation tube was taped to his mouth and his eyes were slightly open, as if he was watching us. So sad, I thought. Such a waste. It could have been so different – that is, if he were a puppy and not a shark. But such are the mysteries of life.

I remembered loving him at one time, in a very specific and personal way. But I couldn’t recall the feeling; all that remained was a sort of weariness at all the harm he’d inflicted and a hope that he was finally at peace.

I still wish that for him.

Time's Persons of the Year: Bono, the Gateses

Time Magazine has named Bono and Bill and Melinda Gates as its persons of the year for 2005. I couldn't agree more. I've already said enough about Bono here and here, but I haven't said anything about the Gates. They have worked to save lives throughout the African continent and India, having donated well over a billion dollars in the last three years.

Last year's winner was George Bush. It looks as if Time decided to atone for naming an emblem of evil last year by this year naming people who are doing good in the world.

From the AP article:
"For being shrewd about doing good, for rewiring politics and re-engineering justice, for making mercy smarter and hope strategic and then daring the rest of us to follow, Bill and Melinda Gates and Bono are Time's Persons of the Year," the magazine said.

Time praised the Gateses for building the world's largest charity — The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which has a $29 billion endowment — and for "giving more money away faster than anyone ever has" in 2005.

The foundation has saved at least 700,000 lives in poor countries by investing in vaccination programs, has donated computers and Internet access to 11,000 libraries and has sponsored the biggest scholarship fund in history, the magazine said.

Time said Bono's campaign to make rich countries address the debt of poorer ones has had an equally impressive impact on the world.

In 2005, "Bono charmed and bullied and morally blackmailed the leaders of the world's richest countries into forgiving $40 billion in debt owed by the poorest," the magazine said.

Bono has earned a remarkable number of political allies around the world and in Washington, where he has courted politicians from both major parties, Time said.

"Bono's great gift is to take what has made him famous — charm, clarity of voice, an ability to touch people in their secret heart — combine those traits with a keen grasp of the political game and obsessive attention to detail, and channel it all toward getting everyone, from world leaders to music lovers, to engage with something overwhelming in its complexity," it said.

Even archconservative former Sen. Jesse Helms had praise for the Irish singer.
"I knew as soon as I met Bono that he was genuine," Helms, who has allied with Bono on
AIDS awareness, told Time.

Bono, who first met the Gateses in 2002 to discuss their mutual interests, told Time that the Gates foundation is the second enterprise for Microsoft founder Bill Gates that has changed the world. "And the second act for Bill Gates may be the one that history regards more," the rock star said.

Sunday Poem: Mary Oliver


Isn't it plain the sheets of moss, except that
they have no tongues, could lecture
all day if they wanted about

spiritual patience? Isn't it clear
that black oaks along the path are standing
as though they were the most fragile of flowers?

Every morning I walk like this around
the pond, thinking: if the doors of my heart
ever close, I am as good as dead.

Every morning, so far, I'm alive. And now
the crows break off from the rest of the darkness
and burst up into the sky--as though

all night they had thought of what they would like
their lives to be, and imagined
their strong, thick wings.

[From Dream Work, 1986]

Mary Oliver was born in 1935 in Maple Heights, Ohio. Oliver briefly attended Ohio State University, but she took her degree from Vassar College. Her 1984 collection, American Primitive, won the Pulitzer Prize, and her 1992 New and Selected Poems won the National Book Award. She currently teaches at Bennington College.

Oliver's work is known for the relative absence of human characters. Quite often the poems find her alone in nature seeking a sense of otherness--or the answers such an experience might offer to distinctly human questions. Just as often, she is the container through which nature passes, opening herself to experience the mystery within her own consciousness.

In many ways, I find Oliver's poetry to be an updated variation of Emily Dickinson, which is not to say that Oliver is derivative. Oliver's voice is uniquely her own. However, the presence of Other in nature that so often captured Dickinson's attention is also a primary focus for Oliver. Both women fall into the great tradition of Romanticist nature poets. And both women have an evolved Christianity at the heart of their quest for Other.

However, in Dickinson, I seldom sense that she finds what she seeks within herself. With Oliver, I find that she feels in her animal flesh the connection to nature that holds for her the mystery of Spirit.

I also find in Oliver a knowledge that it is through her heart (what might be seen as bodhicitta, "wisdom heart," to a Buddhist) that she gains access to the sacred elements of the natural world. For example, in the poem above, she states, "if the doors of my heart ever close, I am as good as dead." This simple statement carries the weight of an entire philosophy of life: to live with an open heart is the most important thing.

It is through our open heart, our emotions, that we have access to the energies of the body. And it is through the body that we are related to the earth. Our minds cannot make that connection. Our thoughts distract us from the truth of our animal nature. But the soul understands, and through it we maintain an open heart, the tender heart of the warrior bodhisattva.

The above poem ends with the image of crows taking flight at dawn. Oliver muses that it seems as though the crows had spent the night dreaming the life they would want to live--a life of flight on thick, black wings.

By extension, the speaker, too, can dream her life and make it true. The entire poem, from the moss to the black oaks to the crows, reveals the lessons we might learn from the landscape around us if only we keep an open heart and allow the mystery to touch us.

This poem reflects the approach Oliver takes throughout the impressive body of her work. She honors the interior and exterior individual as well as any poet ever has. She is devoutly Christian without being preachy. She is a Romanticist without succumbing to Whitmanesque extravagance. She is a nature poet without losing sight of human concerns.

Many of her poems are available online. If interested, check out the following sites.

Mary Oliver: A Solitary Walk: An interview for the Christian Science Monitor, December 9, 1992, by Steven Ratiner.
Some online poems at Modern American Poetry.
Poetry Connection has 87 Oliver poems online.

Stuart Davis Has a Book Deal with Sounds True

Based on his proposed method of getting the book written, it should be an interesting read. Check out his blog for the details.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Birth of a Poet: First Meditation

The poet William Everson achieved his greatest fame while he was a lay brother in the Dominican order. He once appeared on the cover of Time Magazine under the title of The Beat Friar. He was friends with Kenneth Rexroth, Gary Snyder, and Denise Levertov, among others, who are central to the development of poetry in America during the 20th century.

Everson received attention as a Dominican as much for his persona as for the quality of his work. The poetry from that period was deeply religious, yet it contained a pronounced eroticism, nowhere more evident than in River-Root, the book-length poem of sexual union that was not fully published until after he left the Dominicans.

Despite all that, his most important work came in the final stage of his life, when he returned to the world and married. In this final period of his development, Everson adopted the persona of the shaman, and it was deeply authentic in his experience of it. He began the "return" portion of the monomyth (separation, initiation, return) when he took a job teaching at UC Santa Cruz. One of the classes he taught was called "Birth of a Poet."

A book containing the lectures from one year of his "Birth of a Poet" class was published by Black Sparrow Press (defunct) in 1982 (edited by Lee Bartlett). The class was on vocation as much as it was on poetry and becoming a poet. I once taught a small course based on the Everson class and have wanted to teach such a class again.

But here in this blog, I can present some of the ideas, with an added integral twist, and hopefully spark some conversation. This first meditation serves as an introduction to the topic. Future meditations will amplify various themes and concepts.

* * *
Meditation One: Vocation

Everson thought of the poet as a charismatic vocation. Vocation: vocare, the calling; vocari, to be called. We tend to think of the most noble of human professions as callings: priest, nurse, doctor, firefighter. To become aware of one’s vocation is to hear the call as it rises from the depths of the unconscious. Hearing and accepting the call represent the approach to and crossing over of the threshold between linear time and cyclical time.

Linear Time..................Cyclical Time

cause and effect...........synchronicity of myth
ego consciousness........expanded consciousness

Cyclical time is the only kind of time known to pre-egoic cultures. Linear time is a rational concept that is unavailable to all but the most advanced members of primal cultures. However, as we transcend linear time through transcendence of the ego, we again gain access to cyclical time, but it now exists in the form of all time being one time. This is a distinction that Everson and Jung were unable to make.

It's important to avoid the mistake Carl Jung made so often in seeing mythic consciousness as exclusively transpersonal, rather than recognizing that most myths and archetypes are prepersonal. Everson, as a Jungian, made the same mistake. In the list above, which is based on Everson's own dichotomy, some of the elements are personal versus prepersonal, while others are personal versus transpersonal. For Jung and Everson, anything not personal was thought of as transpersonal since they could only distinguish between personal and not personal. This is Ken Wilber's classic pre/trans fallacy.

I will try to be clear as I progress so that I don't fall into pre/trans fallacy myself. Many of the stories and myths involving a hero figure grew out of the transition from tribal, animistic cultures to cultures focused on "power gods," essentially the first emergence of an individual self unique from the tribe. These myths mark the transition, historically, from pre-egoic to egoic consciousness.

Joseph Campbell named the process of answering the call the monomyth, a term he borrowed from James Joyce. The monomyth is an archetypal process that occurs outside of linear time, fully imbued with the power of cyclical time. Jung referred to this process as individuation, the development of Self, the archetypal self. Self: that aspect of each individual psyche which is connected to cyclical time; self: that aspect of each individual psyche which lives in linear time (i.e., the ego).

Perhaps it might help to ground this idea in something we all experience. Our dreams offer the possibility of a hero's journey every night, the possibility of what we may be, the nature of our vocations, and the clues to our callings. Arnold Mindell, who developed a system of psychology called Process Work, focused on the concept of the “dreambody.” He maintained that all dreams occur “over the edge,” in cyclical time, and that dreams are about a new identity trying to happen but that has not fully arrived.

Many of us are still living on that edge. Someplace in our unconscious minds we are converging on what is possible, listening for the call. Some of us already have heard the call and are attempting to reconcile our lives as they are to the knowledge of what they can become. Most of us, though, still await the sign or symbol that will concretize the calling of our vocations. Our culture does not offer much in the way of guidance for this process, and it often ends manifesting as a midlife crisis or "spiritual emergency" (Christina Grof's term), or as some other event that totally shakes up our lives.

Every vocation is controlled by an archetype and its corresponding symbols. This comes not from the individual but from what Jung termed the collective unconscious. It is the human race which creates the vocation; all we, as individuals, can do is answer the call. The vocation can only be actualized if the response is in sync with the call. This is important.

Each of us possesses a unique set of traits and potentials--our inheritance. There is no one else who possesses the same set of skills and traits. There is a certain convergence of energies that can manifest only in one individual, and that unique identity demands recognition. Our callings offer us the opportunity to serve that identity, that potential of being, both consciously, through our outer lives, and through the unconscious, our spiritual lives.

Everson suggests that vocation is like love: until you have been awakened to it you can not know its truth. This is how it is with all forms of expanded consciousness, whether it's drugs, conscious dreaming, or advanced meditative stages. This is also how it is with death.

On the subject of death: Everson felt that

the whole mastery of your vocation is a mastery of the mystery of death. It is an approach to that mystery, because in death all our purposes are subsumed into another dimension; we achieve in death what we opted for in life.

Hearing and answering the call of vocation teaches us how to surrender and, in so doing, teaches us how to die.

"We achieve in death what we opted for in life." What an interesting statement. Everson was devoutly Catholic, but this comment has a very karmic flavor to it. We might interpret this statement as a suggestion that our next incarnation will be based on how we live this life, which is an essential Buddhist tenet. In surrendering to the call and living our vocation, we earn merit that may result in a better incarnation the next time around.

The idea of surrender is also contained within the Tarot card of the Hanged Man, active non-doing. We are taught that surrender is wrong, that it is a sign of weakness. But if we want to have access to cyclical time, we must learn to surrender; we must learn the art of active non-doing. We must learn to surrender self, the ego, to Self, the transcendent convergence of spirit and soul.

* we surrender to God if we are religious
* we surrender to the other if we are in love
* we surrender to the call if each of us is to know a true Self

If we are unable to surrender to these things, we learn nothing--we do not grow as individuals. Everson said: “You have to lose your life in order to gain it.”

Friday, December 16, 2005

Deepak Chopra on the Forgiveness Teaching of Jesus

Huffington Post is running Deepak Chopra's post from his Intent Blog. I often don't agree too much with Chopra's posts, but in this case I think he is right on the mark and has something important to say.

He's riffing on Jesus' admonition to "resist not evil," from the "turn the other cheek" teaching in Matthew 5:38-42. Chopra provides an updated version of the teaching:
You've been taught an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, but I say don't resist evil.
If someone hits you, let him hit you twice.
If someone sues you in court to get your coat, give it to him and your cloak, too.
If someone forces you to go one mile, go two.
If someone asks you for something, give it to him. If he wants to borrow money, don't turn your back.

Here is Chopra's interpretation of the teaching:

"Resist not evil," if carried out in real life, would lead to a society of forgiveness. Horrendous notion! If we went around forgiving everybody, either they'd completely take over and dominate us or they might forgive us in return. This second option, which Jesus perhaps had in mind, is so unthinkable that the first option is the only one society considers viable. To forgive, as we now view it, is to show weakness, and those who show weakness deserve what they get: Evil will overrun them.

The only fly in the ointment is that Jesus gave in to evil and is worshipped for it. This moral dilemma has vexed the world for centuries. Now that morality has reversed itself and punishing all evil-doers to the absolute maximum is the most Christian thing to do, we can all rest easy. Jesus's most radical ideas have been washed clean from our memories and our conscience.
It amazes me sometimes how the teachings of Jesus have been ignored or forgotten (as Chopra is suggesting) by so many "Christians" today. He did not preach an easy path. Having been raised Catholic, I can honestly say that I was not taught the path of Jesus; I was taught the path of the Church. I think this is true for many Christians from the full spectrum of denominations.

However, I know many other Christians who do study the path of Jesus and try to live that path in their lives. These people are kind, generous, forgiving, and open-hearted, and do not discriminate against anyone, no matter what their church might teach.

When I think about Christianity, so often the image that comes to mind is the self-righteous, closed-hearted, bigoted leader of some fundamentalist group determined to make everyone live by his archaic and intolerant values. It saddens me that these people have become so prominent as to give Christianity--and Christians--a bad name.

There are many Christians and non-Christians in this world who try to uphold the teaching of Jesus that Chopra discusses. Maybe by their example, others will follow and this can indeed become a world of forgiveness.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Beliefnet's Most Inspiring Person, 2005

After narrowing the field to the final three candidates by reader votes, the editors have chosen Victoria Ruvolo as Beliefnet's Most Inspiring Person of 2005.

Victoria Ruvolo, the Long Island woman who urged a judge to deal leniently with her assailant, got more votes than Rick Warren, the mega-preacher and best-selling author who is now giving away most of his money to help fight disease, illiteracy, and poverty in Africa. David Rozelle, an American soldier who lost his foot in Iraq and then returned to combat, beat out rock star-activist Bono, despite his work with world leaders to combat global poverty and injustice.

Victoria Ruvolo: Compassionate Victim

If a stranger brutally injured you, would you show mercy to your attacker? Victoria Ruvolo did exactly that in October, 2005, at the sentencing of Ryan Cushing, a 19-year-old whose "prank" had nearly killed her. Ruvolo, 45, of Lake Ronkonkoma, New York, was on her way to hear her niece sing in a recital when her car passed Cushing's. He was riding with five other teens who had just gone on a spending spree with a stolen credit card at a nearby supermarket. One of their purchases? A frozen, 20-pound turkey.

Cushing decided to toss the turkey into oncoming traffic, and when he did, it smashed through Ruvolo's windshield, crushing her face.

It took 10 hours in the operating room at Stony Brook University Hospital, a medically induced coma, and a month in the hospital before, miraculously, Ruvolo was able to go home. She still had a tracheotomy tube. Months of painful rehabilitation followed.

During her ordeal, Ruvolo was in touch with Cushing, who wept and expressed remorse for his action. At his sentencing on October 17, 2005, Ruvolo asked the judge for leniency. Part of her statement read: "Despite all the fear and the pain, I have learned from this horrific experience, and I have much to be thankful for... . Each day when I wake up, I thank God simply because I am alive. I sincerely hope you have also learned from this awful experience, Ryan. There is no room for vengeance in my life, and I do not believe a long, hard prison term would do you, me, or society any good."

Cushing was sentenced to six months in jail. He could have gotten a 25-year prison sentence had Ruvolo not intervened.

She saved that kid's life by showing such amazing compassion. Twenty-five years in prison would have ruined his whole life.

I have to admit that I voted for Rosa Parks and Bono in the early rounds, neither of whom made it to the final three, thinking that their influence was greater and the results more tangible in solving some of the world's problems.

But how do we measure influence and results. Surely Ryan Cushing can think of no greater impact on his young life than Ruvolo's lesson in mercy. How many among us can say we would show the same level of compassion and concern?

It seems to me that readers responded to the intimacy of the actions some of the candidates demonstrated. We can visualize and understand the significancegance and challenge of forgiving someone who has harmed us. It is nearly impossible to conceive of the work Bono is doing to end world hunger. Since many of the voters are undoubtedly white, middle-class Americans, it's equally challenging to understand just how important it was for Rosa Parks to stand her ground.

Still, Ruvulo offers us all a chance to learn about compassion and forgiveness. The world can use a lot more of both of these qualities.

Monday, December 12, 2005

An Article on Memes

Disinformation has posted a link to an article at New Dawn Magazine on the nature of memes. There isn't any new information, but it's a basic primer for those not fully familiar with the term.

The author presents a fair explanation of memetics, though he doesn't reference the concept of meta-memes, or Memes, as used in Spiral Dynamics. In fact, he seems to think that social movements and other widely spread memes have not previously been included in meme theory.

One other objection: he uses the discredited 100th monkey theory to explain meme movement. The original story of the "100th monkey" was a hoax. I wish people would quit using a false story to build their arguments.

Here is a little taste of the article:

The word ‘meme’ was first popularly used by Richard Dawkins in his book, The Selfish Gene. The word ‘meme’ has come to mean a cultural accretion of knowledge, a package of several ideas that can be passed onto others. It’s usually more complex than a single idea, and can represent a fashion/music/lifestyle or a belief. It is the mental equivalent of a gene whereby a package of many attributes is passed on.

The science or study of memes in action has come to be called memetics.

A meme has been regarded too narrowly I believe, and I am interested in broadening the definition of a meme. No matter how narrow a definition you give to a meme, sooner or later you have to consider more nebulous or abstract ideas as having acquired enough cultural accretion to have become memes. It’s easy to conceive of a visual fad such as the hula-hoop as having a chartable spread through society and calling it a meme, but surely socialism, futurism or a new political idea are also memes that spread through society.

Memes like these, just as in any fad or fashion, have a zenith before arcing into decline. There will always be a few adherents of any ‘ism’ who may be the actual carriers of the meme, but eventually they may find themselves beached upon a shore that has no tides.

Someone new to the idea of memes might say: why don’t we just call them ideas? The answer is that memes act as if they have a life of their own. Whether they do or not is not the relevant point, but they do replicate and have a dynamism absent from our common notion of a simple idea.

Read the rest here.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Sunday Poem: Rainer Maria Rilke

Sonnets to Orpheus,
Second Part, Sonnet 29

Silent friend of many distances, feel
how space dilates with each breath of yours.
Among the rafters of dark belfries peal
your own sweet tones. Your predators

will grow strong upon such fare.
Know transformation in its varied sign.
Which experience produces most despair?
If drinking offend, transform yourself to wine.

Be, in this immensity of night,
the magic force at your sense's crossroad;
the purpose of their mysterious plan.

And though you fade from earthly sight,
declare to the silent earth: I flow.
To the rushing water say: I am.

(Translation by Robert Hunter, 1993)

Rainer Maria Rilke was born in 1875, in Prague, to a mother who had recently lost her first child, a daughter, and desperately wanted another little girl. His mother often dressed him as a girl and called him "Miss." At age eleven, his parents decided to divorce and sent their dreamy, sensitive son to military school.

Rilke survived his childhood and teen years, but they clearly left a mark on his psyche. He had completed his first book of poems before going to university, but they were imitative and immature. He published as much as he could, but most of his early work has been justifiably forgotten.

Rilke found his poetic voice through a relationship with an older woman, fourteen years his senior. Lou Andreas-Salome was also a writer, university educated, and a friend of Nietzsche. The affair did not last long, but it was a turning point in the young author's life.

Rilke continued to publish increasingly important work. But nothing in his early output suggested the eruption that would eventually occur. In 1912, Rilke stayed at the home of his primary patroness, Marie von Thurn und Taxis, in Duino Castle. There he wrote the first two Duino Elegies. Following the war, Rilke found his way back to Duino Castle and hoped to complete the series of elegies he had begun.

In a single month, February, 1922, Rilke finished the Duino Elegies and the Sonnets to Orpheus in one of the most amazing literary explosions known. These two collections are considered by many his finest work. This is how Rilke described the period to his patroness:

Everything in only a few days, it was an indescribable storm, a hurricane in my spirit (as before in Duino) everything that is fiber and tissue within me was strained to the breaking point. There could be no thought of eating, God knows who nourished me. (Cited in Hunter)
What distinguishes Rilke from many other poets is the method of his creation. He was not a craftsman working on a few lines each day until he had created the poem. Rather, Rilke was at the mercy of inspiration, possibly even revelation. He claimed he did not author poems--he received them.

His later work moved away from the influence of Christianity, which was always a fixture in his writing, toward a more Gnostic transformative vision. He began to define an "inner space" void of distinctions between life and death, with all time being one time. For Rilke, only his poetry could express this beauty--the mystic's vision.

Rilke died of leukemia in December of 1926. He is best remembered today for his small book, Letters to a Young Poet.

My personal favorite of Rilke's poems is the "Seventh Elegy," which begins:

Wooing no more, no more shall wooing,
voice grown beyond it, be the nature
of your cry--though the cry be pure,
as of a bird when lifted by the
spiraling season--nearly forgetting
that it is a simple fretful creature,
not a solitary heart tossed into
the brightness of intimate skies.
The Elegies are mournful, pensive, and grand, no doubt influenced by the atrocities of the recently ended WWI. Still, they are filled with beauty, a celebration of life and language that erupts full-blown in the Sonnets.

The Sonnets are clearly lesser poems, but they have an energy and joy in the music of language that elevates the spirit. Some of the poems are better than others, but as a whole they contain the soul of Orpheus, the God of music and poetry--the lyre player. Another key figure in the poems is the young dancer, Vera Ouckama, who died at age nineteen and to whom the Sonnets are dedicated.

The central theme in the sequence is Orpheus's ability to move back and forth between the lands of the living and the dead, just as Rilke's Angel does in the Elegies. It was Orpheus who sought to recover his wife, Eurydice, from the underworld (according to Virgil), and fails when he is unable to trust that she is behind him and looks back to check on her, thus violating the rules of her release.

Orpheus is also known as the revealer of magic arts, as well as founding or making available various cults, such as those of Apollo and Dionysus. Rilke uses these elements throughout the Sonnets. It is possible to read in the Sonnets a conflict between the rationality/light of Apollo and the intuition/darkness of Dionysus, a conflict Rilke would likely have read in Nietzsche's The Birth of Tragedy.

The Sonnet posted above is the final poem in the sequence. As such, it sums up, in a sense, the meaning of the collection. He offers advice in leading a good life:

Know transformation in its varied sign.
Which experience produces most despair?
If drinking offend, transform yourself to wine.
He advocates self-knowledge, but he also wants us to embrace our weakness and fear. Through our weakness comes our strength, and that is why we must know transformation in all its variations. If we are offended by drinking and drunkenness, then we should become the wine--the only way to know ourselves fully is to know that which causes us discomfort.

If you have been reading my blog of late, you might see why this poem speaks to me. I am learning how to find the gifts inherent in pain. Rilke offers a path for such a journey for those willing to follow.