Saturday, February 18, 2006

Life as a Creative Process

["Annatta I": Aryen Hart]

The effort to secure our happiness, to maintain ourselves in relation to something else, is the process of ego. But this effort is futile because there are continual gaps in our seemingly solid world, continual cycles of death and rebirth, constant change. The sense of continuity and solidity of self is an illusion. There is really no such thing as ego, soul, or atman. It is a succession of confusions that create ego. The process which is ego actually consists of a flicker of confusion, a flicker of aggression, a flicker of grasping--all of which exist only in the moment. Since we cannot hold on to the present moment, we cannot hold on to me and mine and make them solid things.

The experience of oneself relating to other things is actually a momentary discrimination, a fleeting thought. If we generate these fleeting thoughts fast enough, we can create the illusion of continuity and solidity. It is like watching a movie, the individual film frames are played so quickly that they generate the illusion of continual movement. So we build up an idea, a preconception, that self and other are solid and continuous. And once we have this idea, we manipulate our thoughts to confirm it, and are afraid of any contrary evidence. It is this fear of exposure, this denial of impermanence that imprisons us. It is only by acknowledging impermanence that there is the chance to die and the space to be reborn and the possibility of appreciating life as a creative process.

Chogyam Trungpa: The Myth of Freedom

I find myself able to "get" that ego does not exist as a solid object, that "I" do not exist, that I am in a continual state of flux. And I get that it is my ego clinging to this false sense of solidity that creates suffering.

But I cannot move beyond the part of my consciousness that sees the grasping of ego and sees through the ego's claim to permanence. Trungpa argues that true egolessness is the absence of the concept of egolessness. In order to truly transcend the ego, we must also transcend the Witness that sees through the ego's false claims.

I've got a long way to go, but working with the sense that I die and am reborn with each passing moment opens up new possibilities for living life as a process of creation.


[Image source]


An old stone well
in a forgotten valley.
Blackberry webs and wild roses
mark the space, fragrant sage,
tall grass.

Childhood hours spent
dropping stones into the blackness,
waiting for the splash
that never came,
no sound,

as though the well
were a shaft descending
directly into a void.
Gazing within
this dark, mysterious hole,

I imagined lowering
a rope, descending
into cool earth, but
never dared confront
what I might find:

A blank slate
encased in mossy stone,
dreams projected
onto its murky surface,
a twin face looking back.

Even then, only ten, I sensed
at the bottom
of that fathomless tunnel
a shadowy part of myself,
an other seeking sunlight.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Tarot as Mirror of the Psyche: An Introduction

My first exposure to the Tarot, when I was an angry teenager intrigued by all things "dark," came from a small paperback I found in a department store: Eden Gray's 1971 divination handbook, The Complete Guide to the Tarot. There wasn't a lot of information about the cards, either history or symbolism, but she created an aura of mystery, of the occult, that appealed to me at the time. Over the following years, I witnessed Tarot readings at street fairs, at parties, and at other places where readers might find willing querants. I never sensed that the reader was revealing knowledge unavailable from any other source. It seemed like entertainment and nothing more.

Eventually, while attending graduate school, a friend introduced me to the Tarot as a symbol system, as a collection of images capable of various meanings depending on how one connected with the symbolic aspects of the cards. He didn't tell me what the cards meant--he asked what they meant to me. We talked about the images as symbols connected to archetypes of the unconscious mind. From that brief introduction, my relationship to the Tarot developed, continually changing and deepening.

As I became familiar with the cards, connecting to various images in each of the several decks that I own (and even attempting to construct my own deck through collage), I grew more curious about the process by which the cards can and do act as mirrors to the psyche. While I see the fortune-telling use of Tarot as roughly equivalent to reading one's daily horoscope, I have found over and over again that the Tarot can reveal the unconscious workings of the psyche. I am most interested in how the Tarot works to divine psychological states that have not yet reached consciousness.

The Cards

With that interest guiding the exploration I am now launching, I want to work through the Tarot, card by card, looking at the symbolism, the place of the card within the deck, and what the card might reveal about the psychological process of personal evolution. There are 22 cards in the major arcana, beginning with The Fool, which is unnumbered or given the zero place, and ending with The World, numbered XXI.

The Fool is often seen as the Self that moves through the following 21 cards, gaining experience, wisdom, complexity, and depth--this is why the card is usually not numbered or given the zero place. I believe it is possible to see the process as a kind of enlightenment quest. With that in mind, I hope to reveal an elementary meaning for the cards as they might relate to that theme. I will use cards from several decks, but I will mostly be using the Osho Zen deck and the Crowley Thoth deck. That choice is made mostly on their more universal symbolism. The traditional Rider-Waite deck has been given Christian symbolism that limits its universality.

Some authors divide the 21 major trumps into three groups of seven cards each (trumps I-VII, trumps VIII-XIV, and trumps XV-XXI). These three groupings might be seen as Joseph Campbell's monomyth (separation, initiation, and return) or, as Sallie Nichols (Jung and Tarot: An Archetypal Journey) describes them, the three groups might be seen as the "Realm of the Gods," the "Realm of Earthly Reality and Ego Consciousness," and the "Realm of Heavenly Illumination and Self-Realization."

My take is the these two differing systems are one and the same. The first grouping can be seen as the prepersonal, the time when our parents have the powers of gods in our psyches. This is a time when we are working to become a unique self, separate from our family of origin. The second grouping is the personal, the time when ego emerges and becomes solidified. This is a time in our lives when we are being initiated into the adult world, into life as an autonomous Self. The third grouping is the transpersonal, the quest to move beyond the limits of ego and into higher levels of development.

The Process

I am going to use a Jungian approach to reading the cards. Within this model, the major trumps are considered to be projection holders, meaning that they can act as mirrors that reflect elements in the psyche. In Jungian psychology, projections are shadow elements displaced from the psyche and reflected onto the people and events in our lives. Through reclaiming our projections, we can discover our unconscious tendencies, psychological characteristics, unclaimed strengths, despised weaknesses, and unmet potentials reflected in environment around us.

Each of the major arcana is an archetype of the psyche, which is where the images get their power. As projection holders, the cards become containers for the various symbols attached to the archetype that each card reveals. In this way, each deck reflects an alternative interpretation of the archetypes--and there are now literally hundreds of decks.

Because the cards really are mirrors of the psyche, this exploration will necessarily reveal more about me than it will about the cards themselves. Please keep this in mind as you read my meditations on each card. If you are interested in Tarot, buy your own deck and develop your own relationship to the cards.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Gospel of Judas to Be Published

[Image source]

I always thought Judas was unfairly blamed for doing what Jesus knew he would do and which was required for Jesus to ascend to Christ status. It was Judas' karma to help Jesus fulfill his role as Messiah. Now there is a purported Gospel of Judas dating from the 4th or 5th century that held Judas as an accomplice to Jesus' mission, holder of the secret no one else could carry out.

Apparently there was a Gnostic sect that wanted to promote Judas' status as Jesus' confidant.

According to scholars who have seen photographs of the brittle manuscript, it argues that Judas Iscariot was carrying out God's will when he handed Christ over to his executioners. The manuscript could bring momentum to a broader academic movement that argues Judas has gotten a bum rap among both historians and theologians, as well as in popular culture.


Some of the manuscript's passages echo descriptions in the New Testament of Christ's arrest, recalling how Roman authorities aimed to "seize (Christ) in the act of prayer" and how Judas "took some money and he delivered (Christ) over to them," Hedrick said, quoting from his translation.

Although Judas cooperates in the arrest of Christ, Hedrick said, the codex does not depict him as a villain.

"Judas is not a bad guy in this text," Hedrick said in an interview. "He is the good guy and he is serving God."

The manuscript is due to be published after Easter.

Links to the Judas story:

Matt 26:14-16 - The plot
Matt 26:47-56 - The betrayal
Matt 27:3-10 - The suicide

Quote of the Day

[Inner Self by Roswita Szyszka]

Only one koan matters: You.


Wednesday, February 15, 2006

On Emotions and Water and Loving-Kindness

[Image source]

It seldom rains in the desert--a dryness that leaves me craving water, walking through sprinklers, lingering in the shower. Somehow life here has adapted--plants flourish, an amazing assortment of creatures thrive in the parched heat. These plants and creatures have learned some secret about water I am still struggling to comprehend. It is as though years in a wet climate have reduced my body's, and my soul's, ability to hold water.

I am being overly literal, to a degree, but what I really want to understand is the figurative meaning of water, its symbolic association with emotions, with the unconscious mind, the soul. Our bodies are about 60 percent water, which is striking when you think about it. We feel so solid, so stable, but we are mostly liquid, very fluid. We feel the body as earth, make that symbolic connection, yet the body is of the ocean much more than of the land.

In our dreams and mythologies, bodies of water such as the ocean are associated with the unconscious mind: Jonah, Ahab and Moby Dick, Adrienne Rich's "Diving into the Wreck." What we find in those depths is the source of our wounding and our healing. The unconscious mind is fluid with raw emotion.

I live mostly inside my mind, so the rawness of pure emotion is uncomfortable, sometimes unbearable. Emotions are not easily defined, do not conform to the rules of logic, and are simply quite messy. They cannot be controlled, reasoned with, or eliminated.

I have a pretty clear sense that this aversion to raw emotion began when my father died (I was thirteen). Something in me ruptured. For 30 to 45 minutes I was a flood of raw emotion, violent, angry, excruciatingly pained. Totally undone. Then it stopped, and with that stoppage access to my emotions became limited and difficult. The watery part of myself became untouchable, encased in stone.

Yet even earlier than that I was taught that I could not cry, could not feel vulnerable, could not admit fear. A whole realm of emotion was made off-limits. As I grew older, more and more forms of emotional expression became closed or buried. The dry sand of reason smothered that fluid, emotional part of my psyche.

Which brings me back to the desert. For years I lived in Seattle, where rain was much more common than sun. I never craved water. I never prayed for rain. And I felt no need to break through the walls holding my liquid self beyond my reach. After only a few months in the desert, however, I became thirsty. I was bone dry. I would do whatever it took to experience the psycho-spiritual water within me. It's been four years, and still I crave water--but it's getting better.

After more than 25 years without easy access to that part of myself, it's no more easy to find that place within me than to will rain clouds over the Sonoran Desert. So I write almost every day, I pray, I meditate. I try to listen for the watery music beneath the rhythm of heartbeat. And I love.

Practicing love (as though it can ever be perfected)--unconditional, unqualified, boundless love--is the purest way I know to access the part of myself that is hidden. I would like to say I love the world with that same purity, but that is beyond my abilities at this point. I try to practice loving-kindness, to extend my love to friends, enemies, all sentient beings. Some days I feel that openness, most days I do not.

So I love one woman, with everything I am, and through that love I move closer and closer to the water within me that will quench my thirst.

Here is the irony: she is watery to the core. Her emotions come and go like waves, seldom buried or repressed. She has worked her entire life to experience that fluidity within herself. In every way, emotionally, she is my opposite.

If I stand back in the distance and look at our relationship as a stranger might, I see how wise Psyche is in bringing me to this woman. I need her fluidity to soften the edges of my harsh rationality. She flows through me as a river flows through bedrock, carving a deep groove that can hold water, accept its gift.

In the nearly five years we have been together, we have often clashed as waves against coastal cliffs. Each time we clash, she takes a little of my solidity and I absorb some of her fluidity. Together, we balance each other.

Through this process, I am learning more about that liquid core within me, learning to swim in its depths. This may sound like so much hyperbole, but I feel the truth of this process each day. And each day that I can draw closer to the rain, rivers, and oceans within me, I become more able to extend love and compassion into the world.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006


Once upon a time, I lived in an emerald city where the rains came year around. The me who lived in that land of dream did a little writing. One by one, I am digging out his lines and exposing them to the light of day.

Having gone more than three months without rain here in the desert, this small piece reminds me of that land far, far away.

[Stock image]


In this place rains follow
one after the other, dark
clouds obscure sky, street
gutters flow with dead leaves,

garbage. A kind of purging
this weather, a purification
in the season of decay. A little
girl plays with leaves

floating on a large puddle
in a gravel parking lot, ignores
the rain flattening her hair, places
white pebbles and a pigeon feather

in a maple leaf, pushes it out
into the lake of her imagination.
A tiny boat carrying treasures. A gust
of wind drowns the vessel and all

its cargo. She picks up her backpack,
jumps into the middle of the puddle,
kicks at the water, and walks away,
singing. After she’s gone,

I retrieve the small white stones
and pigeon feather from the water,
place them in another larger leaf,
set them sailing into the magical

lake, watch the leaf spin slowly
in the breeze. Rain lessens,
wood smoke sweet in the air,
and for a minute I believe.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Further Observations on Integral Relationship

["The Lovers," Chaos Tarot]

Susan Piver has an article in the new (March 2006) Shambhala Sun called "I Do?" In it she outlines her issues with commitment and relationship as influenced by her Buddhist practice and beliefs. There is much to what she said that feels integral to me, or at least approaching integral.

Here is a small bit about the beginning of her marriage.
Marriage is a commitment to share love, have sex, and try to stay together with this one person, right? Well maybe, but I couldn't promise to do these things. I knew I couldn't say, "I do" to love--feelings change, and keep changing. I also knew I couldn't say yes to wanting to have sex with him for the rest of my life--desire is unpredictable. And ask him to commit to me? Which me? I couldn't commit to remaining the same me. So if you can't say yes to love, sex, or remaining the one each fell in love with, what are you agreeing to when you commit to a relationship?

It's just now, eight years later, that I'm finding out what, apparently, I said yes to.

I said yes to the unfolding, impenetrable arc of uncertainty. I guess I thought that finding love was an endpoint, that some kind of search was over and I would find home. We would leap over the threshold together into whatever we imagined our ideal cottage to be. But really we stepped through a crazy looking glass. No matter how hard we tried, how madly in love we were, or how skillfully we planned our life together, there was complete uncertainty about what the connection would feel like from day to day. I could give all the love I had (with great joy) and get back a blank stare. I could wake up as my crankiest, most sullen and narcissistic self, roll over, and greet the face of unconditional acceptance. Or not. It's like the weather: you can try to read the signs and guess about atmospheric conditions, but really there's no telling.
And here is one small section on the nature of love.
I didn't really understand that love does not arise, abide, or dissolve in connection with any particular feeling. It has almost nothing to do with feeling. (Nor does it seem to be a gesture, a commitment to stay, becoming best friends, or anything I might have thought.) Love has become a container in which we live. Through time, riding mysterious waves of passion, aggression, and ignorance (and boredom), I think we began to live within love itself. At least I did. Each time I have opened up, extended myself, accepted what was being offered to me, stepped beyond my comfort zone to embrace him, the structure has been reinforced. I no longer have any idea if I love my husband or not. I can't imagine what the feelings I have for him could be called. I've given up trying to love him. Our relationship is what gives us love, not the other way around. This is how it is.
Piver gets closer to what love feels like from the inside than I ever could. I don't know if my experience is as eloquent as hers, but I feel the same sense of the relationship transcending and including myself and my partner.

"Love has become the container in which we live." That feels second tier to me. If it isn't, that's okay. I'm willing to work the rest of my life to hold that feeling in my relationship.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Sunday Poem: David Ignatow

from Shadowing the Ground

The world is so difficult to give up,
tied to it by small things,
my eyes noting movement,
color and form. I am watching,
unable to leave, for something
is happening, and so I stand
in a shower of rain
or under a hot sun, wornout
with looking.

Old men spend their days farting
in private to entertain themselves
in the absence of friends
long since gone.

Old men take long walks by themselves
at a slow pace, in rhythm with their hearts,
watching themselves, death
in their trembling steps,
in meditation with their lives.

White-haired, I walk in on my parents
and they, in their twenties, dark-haired
and with fresh complexions, are stunned.
I have stepped out of my crib
in the room set apart from theirs
to show myself an old man
in their youth.

I cannot spare them:
I tell them grief is pure
in what there is to know
between birth and death.

I take their hands
and lead them in a circle,
locking eyes, hands, bodies
with the past in our future.

We are here to make each other die
with perfect willingness,
like flagellants who
when they are done
lying in blood upon the floor
have reached the climax
they were seeking:
to be destroyed
and delighted
at the same time
and from the same source.

How lonely it is to live.
What am I waiting for by living,
in the morning especially,
as I awaken to the silence
of the trees?

Do I think I can write myself
out of this to form an other
who will keep me company?
That other is nothing else
but the thought of dying
to save myself from further loneliness.

I just know I am growing near to death,
with nothing done to remake the world
a paradise. This is my deep frustration.

Smell the grass.

I must train myself to no longer exist
but as a stone lifted and thrown
to wherever I land, a new place,
a new odor to it and new sound
and action surrounding me, all this
without the thought of loss, despair,
or hope, a preparation for loss.
Such a life would be god's, if one
existed. But it is life I can assume
is god's, and I can live it.

I live with my contradictions
intact, seeking transcendence
but loving bread. I shrug
at both and from behind
the summer screen I look
out upon the dark, knowing
death as one form
of transcendence, but
so is life.

I have read Ignatow a bit, mostly in college, but this poem is new to me--found it in an old anthology I bought at a library book sale. The whole poem is not presented, and I could not find it online, so I will have to buy the book now.

I am captured by the poet's combination of pain and equinimity. This poem is from one of Ignatow's last books (1991), and it has the feel of a "summing up." There is a slight Buddhist subtext to some of the sections, while others are clearly influenced by agnosticism.

Here is some biography from the American Academy of Poets:
David Ignatow was born in Brooklyn on February 7, 1914, and spent most of his life in the New York City area. He was the author of numerous books of poetry, including Living Is What I Wanted: Last Poems (BOA Editions, 1999), At My Ease: Uncollected Poems of the Fifties and Sixties (1998), I Have a Name (1996), Against the Evidence: Selected Poems, 1934-1994 (1994), Shadowing the Ground (1991), New and Collected Poems, 1970-1985 (1986), Leaving the Door Open (1984), and others.

During his literary career, Mr. Ignatow worked as an editor of American Poetry Review, Analytic, Beloit Poetry Journal, and Chelsea Magazine, and as poetry editor of The Nation. He taught at the New School for Social Research, the University of Kentucky, the University of Kansas, Vassar College, York College of the City University of New York, New York University, and Columbia University. He was president of the Poetry Society of America from 1980 to 1984 and poet-in-residence at the Walt Whitman Birthplace Association in 1987.

Mr. Ignatow's many honors include a Bollingen Prize, two Guggenheim fellowships, the John Steinbeck Award, and a National Institute of Arts and Letters award "for a lifetime of creative effort." He received the Shelley Memorial Award (1966), the Frost Medal (1992), and the William Carlos Williams Award (1997) of the Poetry Society of America. He died on November 17, 1997, at his home in East Hampton, New York.

There is a good collection of Ignatow's poems at Web Del Sol.