Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Eating God, Draining the Swamp, & Movin’ On Up in the Inwardly Mobile Cosmos

TECHNICAL NOTE--I'M HAVING A LITTLE TROUBLE WITH MY COMPUTER, SO IF THE COSMOS DISAPPEARS FOR A COUPLE OF DAYS, DON'T PANIC. IT WILL REAPPEAR AGAIN EX NIHILO.

(Also, I may not be able to retrieve my email for a bit.)

*****

Reader Dilys made an excellent point a couple of days ago, noting that, "My working hypothesis is that repeated close encounters with age-ripened liturgies access far-reaching psycho-spiritual genius that drain the subconscious swamp." In other words, by immersing ourselves in certain time-tested vertical modalities, something very real and measurable happens to us. One thing grows. Another thing shrinks, or at least begins to lose its grip on us.

What is spiritual growth? What is it that grows? What does it “feed” on, since a living thing can only maintain itself if it is an open system that takes in energy or information? And what is the medium into which it is expanding? In other words, as a biological object grows, it obviously expands into physical space. Where do we expand spiritually?

Again we must refer back to the concepts of vertical and horizontal. Just as there is a horizontal evolution in the form of increased complexity through time, there is vertical evolution in the form of increased depth, or “degrees of being.” But in both cases, growth only takes place through metabolism. It is a process. Only open systems that are in disequilibrium are susceptible to evolution. For example, as a biological system, you maintain yourself by constant energetic exchanges with the environment in the form of food and oxygen. Being at equilibrium with the environment is also known as being dead. Ordered complexity can only be maintained in a state of dynamic disequilibrium.

It is the same way in the vertical--in the spiritual realm. In order for us to grow vertically, we must first realize that we are in need of nourishment. Then we must identify and eat the proper food. And finally, we must chew, swallow, metabolize, and digest. Not just once, but every day. In so doing, something within us begins to grow and develop, like a seed in the womb of being.

“Give us this day our daily bread.” What does this mean? Outwardly or horizontally it means one thing. But inwardly and vertically it means something else altogether. I should emphasize that this is not a novel idea that I developed on my own. For example, Greek mythology recognized the existence of “ambrosia,” a celestial substance capable of imparting immortality. In the Vedas, it is called “amrita” or “soma.” It is an actual substance, although not in the material sense. It is fluid and energetic, and it is easy to see how it could be symbolized by wine, and by a mystical quest for the cup, chalice, or “holy grail” that might hold the wine.

This is also the symbolism of the Last Supper, of Jesus distributing the bread and wine--his body and blood--to his disciples to eat. What could this curious practice be but theophagy, or the eating of God?

“Blessed are the poor in spirit.” “The meek shall inherit the earth.” “It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter heaven.” What could these mean? In my opinion, they are again referring to the vertical, not the horizontal. There is an exterior man and an interior man. The interior man is the astral fetus lying between our evolved nervous system and the transcendent Other. Spiritual work is oriented on the vertical plane, not the horizontal. To the extent that this fetus or “divine child” is not nourished, it will be spiritually stillborn--a celestial abortion. A tragic waste of a life.

Without a mirror to reflect it, reality disappears, does it not? What would the cosmos be without nervous systems to reflect it back to itself? Hot, cold, large, small, here, there, light, dark--these are all qualities of nervous syetems. Take away the conscious observer and the universe has no qualities at all.

It is the same way with the vertical world. Here again, to say that we are “the image of God” is to say that we are mirrors of the vertical. Without the human mirror, the divine disappears. Clean your mirror and it reappears “out of nowhere.” “I was blind, but now I see.” Or as it says in the little psychotic (or pneumotic) genesis myth at the beginning of my book, "He expectorated a mirrorcle, now you're the spittin' image."

I have no quibble whatsoever with science. It is one of the glories of mankind. But it only maps the horizontal, not the vertical. Spirituality, on the other hand, maps the vertical, the interior of the cosmos. In the horizontal world, things just happen. But in the vertical world they are made or created. And all true creation is a miracle from the standpoint of the horizontal.

In order to have a comprehensive view of the world, one must appreciate the vertical and the horizontal, the interior and the exterior. In fact, reality is a cross ( + ) where the vertical and horizontal energies converge. Each moment--the eternal now--is a sort of “whirlpool” that is created out of these dialectically related streams. Your body is actually the “rosy cross” that blooms around the area of the heart--if given the proper vertamins and heartilizer.

Ours is an inwardly mobile cosmos. Would you like to move on up in it? Then crucify your ego on that invisible cross where the vertical meets the horizontal in the now. Recognize your inner emptiness. Give yourself your daily bread. And don’t forget to chew.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Dreams, Jewish Angels, and Vertical Recollection

This is Part 2 of yesterday's post about the structure of dreams and how it might relate to larger metaphysical questions, such as whether I exist as an independent reality or am merely a figment of Petey's overheated imagination.

*****
Okay, bearing in mind the problems with language we discussed yesterday, let's just suppose that there's a horizontal world and a vertical one.

This vertical/horizontal duality is just one of many ultimate antinomies in the universe, in the sense that you cannot have one without the other. Indeed, they cannot be defined except in reference to one other: subject-object, external relations-internal relations, mechanism-organicism, quantity-quality, time-eternity, part-whole, consciousness-matter, form-substance, life-lifeless, etc.

Let us further suppose that each of these antinomies is indeed ultimate--that each one represents a "horizon of knowabilty" for us. And that furthermore, these antinomies are related in an unsuspected way, as follows:

There is a horizontal world of matter, objects, external relations, mechanism, quantities, time, parts, substance, and lifelessness.

And a vertical world of form, subject, internal relations, organicism, qualities, eternity, whole, life, and consciousness.

Let us also stipulate that the causal influence of the horizontal realm operates on the basis of past, to present, to future. On the other hand, the vertical realm operates outside chronological time and has "top-down" causation. But knowledge in either realm involves a type of memory. Horizontal knowledge involves remembering the past so that we may understand the present and predict the future. Vertical knowledge involves remembering the "above" or "below" so that we may understand the now.

The horizontal discloses all sorts of facts. That is the domain of science. But scientific facts only reveal their significance in the vertical.

What is vertical recollection? What does it mean to "remember" what is above?

For human beings, remembering is to forgetting as waking is to sleeping and birth is to death. "Forgetting" the vertical reduces man to animality, just as sleep reduces us to vegetality and death to minerality. To sleep is to forget, to forget is to die.

To awaken to the vertical is to remember and to actually be alive, or "born again" from above.

The mind is an organ of truth. Just as the heart pumps blood and the lungs exchange oxygen, the mind functions to metabolize truth. In fact, human beings would cognitively and spiritually starve and suffocate--do starve and suffocate--without constant exchanges with the oxidized blood of Truth from above. Because of this exchange, the mind grows and renews itself.

(Of course, there are also false vertical words, such as the world of Islam. It is a "made up" vertical world constructed out of the fantasies and mental energies of its adherents. A real vertical world is a priori and antecedent to our discovering it, although it is more of a formless potential until we flesh it out and give it substance.)

In the outstanding little book on Jewish mysticism by Adin Steinsaltz entitled The Thirteen Petalled Rose, he points out that in higher worlds, time becomes "increasingly abstract and less and less representative of anything that we know as time in the physical world." Instead, it becomes something more like "the purest essence of change" or "the possibility of potential change." As one descends in the worlds, materiality and linear causation become ever greater. (Again, don't be too literal here--Steinsaltz points out that these "are nothing more than ways of representing an abstract formless spiritual reality in the vocabulary of human language.")

Steinsaltz notes that the soul should not be thought of as a "point" in space time. Rather, it is "a continuous line of spiritual being, stretching from the general source of all the souls to beyond the specific body of a particular person.... and because the soul is not a single point in space, it should be viewed not as a single existence having one quality or character, but as many existences, on a variety of spiritual levels..."

In the past, I have used the analogy of a lampshade with many pinprick holes in it. From the outside it will look as if there are many individual lights, but in reality, they are all coming from a single "nonlocal" source.

Now, I don't know if Petey is Jewish--he's never said so anyway--but Steinsaltz goes on to a brief discussion of what are called "angels." He says that an angel is "a messenger" constituting a point of contact "between our world of action and the higher worlds. The angel is the one who effects transfers of the vital plenty between worlds. An angel's missions go in two directions: it may serve as an emissary of God downward..., and it may also serve as the one who carries things upwards from below, from our world to the higher worlds."

I ran it by Petey, but he was, I don't know, noncommittal. But that's not unusual. It's more like he's disinterested, or at least pretends to be so. The roll of the eyes, the impatient, audible exhalation, the way his little wings flutter, as if he's got something better to do....

Sunday, January 29, 2006

The Interpretation of Reality (and Other Dreams)

A while back, reader Penny asked, "So is Petey the voice in your head? The one that comes from the background processing going on in your brain, in your subconscious? The one that some people call intuition?"

I didn't really know how to respond to Penny's query, so I just provided a somewhat flip response off the bottom of my head: "You could say that. Or you could say that he's an angel, bearing in mind Rilke's perceptive crack that Every angel is terrible. Or you could say that he's a vertical courier transferring messages between the celestial and earthly realms. Or you could say that he's an amusing muse. Or you could say that he is the dreamer who dreams the dream. Or you could say that I am a bizarre figment of his imagination."

I couldn't answer Penny's question because it's something I myself have pondered. Let's get something straight at the outset: no, I can't just "ask" Petey. It doesn't work that way, any more than it works like that for anyone else. You try it. Walk over to your wife or kid and ask, "Just who are you? Where did you come from? What's your ontological status? Are you real? And what do you mean by real?" See how far you get. In Petey's case, he might say something sarcastic, like "What do you think, Swami Bobba Rum Raisin? Enlighten us."

As best as I can tell, my "flip" response wasn't too far wide of the mark. To avoid confusion, let's just take the word angel off the table right now. Petey hates the term--he thinks it sounds very "gay," not to mention new age, which he detests. "Rhymes with sew-age," he always says. And he wouldn't like the word courier either. Sounds too servile.

How about Vertical Emissary, Transpersonal Liaison, or Celestial Ambassador? Ah, that's more like it! I don't think he'd object to any of those.

Is it too basic to point out that the physical world in which we live and which we can observe is only a small part of the universe? That most of the universe is spiritual in its essence, and that the material world is simply the "crust" or "epidermis" of the interior cosmos?

Naturally, language can be confusing. We often mistake a deficiency in language for a key to Truth. When we employ spatial metaphors like "inside," "outside," "above" and "below," these are obviously borrowed from the realm of the senses. Forget about spirituality for the moment. What does it mean for something to be "in" the unconscious? For the unconscious to be "below" the conscious mind? To "have" a dream that we are also "in"? To "possess" mental "energy"? To "push" something out of awareness? How can we say that there is no "time" in the unconscious, when we don't know what time is? Perhaps there is only pure time in the unconscious, a sort of non-linear, interpenetrating, co-present "all at once" that is closer to the actual nature of time.

These spatial metaphors are just frames of reference so that we can find our way about the interior, nonmaterial realm. Sometimes words can advance our inquiry, but sometimes they impede things and get in the way of new discoveries. It is no different than in any other field of study. In physics, for example, it was once thought that things were "in" space and time. Now it is understood that material objects are "of" space and time. Light waves do not propagate through a medium, but are the very medium through which they propagate. The "big bang" is not something that only happened "once upon a timeless" 13.7 billion years ago. Obviously, it's happening right now, in that the universe is still banging away and expanding. Etc.

As a result of the limitations of language, the inexhaustible reality of the world can slip through our theoretical fingers, and we can begin to inhabit a self-satisfied, circular world in which we are actually doing nothing more than ceaselessly chasing after our own tail. Facts that don't fit the prevailing paradigm are simply excluded.

Much of what we discover depends upon our frame of reference. In reality, there are no objects in the universe, only events. A "fact" is a relation between two events, but the events are relations as well. This is not to say that everything is relative, for there is an ultimate backdrop on which all of these events play out, a matrix or "container," as it were.

When we dream, we inhabit a multi-dimensional, holographic world with inexhaustible meaning. Somehow--we no not know how--we both dream the dream and are yet a subject within our dream. We create the reality of the dream, from the space in which it takes place right down to the most minute object we encounter in the dream--a red coffee cup, an office building, our childhood home, a beautiful natural setting, another planet altogether--and yet, we are also in the dream. Although we apparently create the dream world, we nevertheless encounter it as a "given" world, absolutely no different than the waking world we confront and with which we must struggle.

Hmm. Perhaps this is an important point. I can't tell you how many times a patient has come to me with a bizarre, elaborate dream that they didn't understand, asking "What do you think, Doc?," only for me to answer, "that wasn't a dream. That was your life." In other words, somehow the internal "dreamer" of the patient totally encapsulated their situation--their essential conflicts, dilemmas, and unconscious problems--in a beautifully scripted and wonderfully acted little play.

What I am suggesting is that the logic of our dream life reveals much more about the nature of reality than reality discloses about the logic of dreams. From an evolutionary standpoint, it has always been difficult to account for dreams--not just the fact that we dream, but the fact that we live within a larger space governed by a "dreamer" who understands us much more thoroughly than we understand ourselves.

Who is this Dreamer?

Ah, now we're getting somewhere.

To be continued tomorrow....

ADDENDUM--What would Joyce say:

In the night of the mummery I have something inside me talking to myself. But I can't recoil it. I'm not meself at all.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

A Million Little Peteys: The Trueish Memoirs of a Young Man's Amazing Peccadillos With His Discarnate Friend Riding Shotgun

Amends. Sounds easy, doesn't it?

Make a list of all the people you've harmed. Make direct amends.

I wake up cold and hungry. Shivering. I'm sitting behind the wheel of my '73 Pinto wagon. I look at my watch. It's five AM.

Where am I? I look around. The street is unfamiliar to me. I glance down at the passenger seat. There's a bag from Jack in the Box. I look inside. Jumbo Jack. Large taco. Onion rings. All uneaten. Untouched. And cold. So cold.

How did I get here? I turn the ignition. Nothing. Out of gas. That would explain part of my predicament. But only part.

It's November of 1978 and I'm a clerk. Retail clerk. Union local 1442. Santa Monica, Malibu, Venice Beach. I work in the Malibu Market Basket. A week ago, a new little gimmick hit the market. It's called "Miller Light." They say you can drink more and not get filled up. Sounds good to me. Me and my buddies pick up a couple cases. I polish off twelve or thirteen between 5:00PM and 2:00AM. Maybe sixteen. I don't remember. Tastes great? Not really. Less filling? Yeah, I suppose so, since 12 didn't fill me up.

But most importantly, just as tanked. And just as hung over.

Somehow I get to work at 9:00AM. I'm working back in the dairy cooler, and that's okay by me. The cold feels good.

But it gets busy up front, and I'm called to the checkstand. That's not what I want to hear. Not today. Not now. Not in my condition.

I stagger up, unhook the chain and give the lady one of my looks. You know, the disgusted kind. What are you doing here? Can't you see I've got work to do?

That was back in the days before scanners and all the high-tech digital stuff. They call us "semi-skilled labor." Yeah, right. You ever try memorizing the names and prices of 150 different kinds of produce? Nothing "semi" about that.

So I start ringing up the lady, and here comes the produce. Things I recognize. Green pippin apples? No problem. Naval oranges? Bueno. Russet potatoes? Swish.

Celery.

I said celery.

I know, I'm thinking.

I'm holding a stalk of celery in my hand, right in front of my face, waiting for the penny to drop. Yeah, it's celery. But I can't think of the freaking name.

Tastes great. Less filling. Sounds like a win-win, doesn't it? Except they don't tell you what sixteen of 'em do to your memory after a night out with the boys and three hours of so-called sleep. No, they don't tell you that. You have to figure that one out on your own.

A lot of times you see stuff you don't know the name of. Kohlrabi cabbage. Belgian endive. Haas vs. Fuerte avocados. There are some things a straight guy's not supposed to know. But that's okay. I just ask Gladys in the checkstand next to me.

But not this time. I don't know the name. But I know that I should know. And that makes all the difference. The part of the brain that recognizes objects is not communicating with the part that knows their names. I'm in some kind of timewarp. I'm so hung over that I can't think of the name of celery.

How do I get out of this? I can't exactly hold up a bunch of celery to Gladys and ask, "Duh, what's this? Never seen this before."

So I fake it. Yeah, I just make up a price. 49 cents. Whatever. I slide it down and move on, hoping the lady doesn't notice.

She doesn't.

It's all forgotten.

Except by me. I remember. I don't want to remember it, but it remembers me.

Yeah, I remember the retail clerks strike of 1979 too. Lasted only nine days. But a lot of things can happen in nine days. A whole lot of things. Things maybe you're not so proud of. Things you'd rather forget.

As the day of the strike approaches--August 17--I get one of my brain waves. Yeah, they happen sometimes, even back then. Was it Petey? Knowing what I do now, it probably was. But that's another story.

When the store manager orders a shipment of groceries for the next week, he slides a little wand over the UPC code on the shelf under the item. You've seen 'em. Everybody has. One swipe = one case from the warehouse. Two swipes, two cases.

A hundred swipes, a hundred cases.

And that's what gives me the idea. Our biggest selling item is Best Foods Mayonnaise. It's what we in the Grocery biz call a "loss leader." Get folks in the door for the 89 cent mayonnaise and stick it to 'em with huge markups on aspirin and tooth paste. Hey, it's capitalism. It's legal.

I've only been in the biz for two years, but there's already one thing I know: we haven't sold a case of beet aspic the whole time. Fact, I don't think we sold a single can of the stuff. Whatever it is.

So I take my box cutter, and ever so carefully, surgically remove the UPC code from the beet aspic and switch it with the Best Foods. Cold-blooded? Sure. Brutal? Maybe. That's the idea. Bring management to its knees and get that cost-of-living raise that I've already spent, oh by the way.

The strike goes down. The manager, Howard--he's a nonunion guy, so he's trying to keep things together in the store--does his usual order from the warehouse.

And what happens?

This is what, 2006?

It's 27 years later, and there are still 78 cases of beet aspic sitting in the back of that store.

But those are just numbers, and right now I'm just thinking of one number: number nine. I've got to make amends. I've got to buy all that beet aspic. All of it.

Not tomorrow.

Today.

Now.

To be continued.... if Oprah shows the slightest bit of interest....

ADDENDUM--what did Joyce say?

Ah, he's very thoughtful when he's not absintheminded, now that I come to drink of it.

Friday, January 27, 2006

The Pathetic Last Children of Nietzsche's Pitiable Last Men

Awhile back, I wrote a post entitled Divorce American Style, discussing how the American political system historically bifurcated into two parties more or less mirroring the archetypal maternal and paternal spheres.

As it evolved, the Republican party came to represent masculine virtues such as competition, maintaining strict rules (“law and order”), standards over compassion (i.e., not changing the rules for members of liberal victim groups), delayed gratification, and respect for the ways of the Father -- that is, conserving what had been handed down by previous generations of fathers, and not just assuming in our adolescent hubris that we know better than they.

(If you've recently read the Divorce American Style post, just skip down to the asterisks below. The Last Men in the title is in reference to this post from last week.)

The Democratic party, on the other hand, came to represent the realm of maternal nurturance -- compassion over standards (e.g., racial quotas), idealization of the impulses (just as a mother is delighted in the instinctual play of her child), mercy over judgment (reduced prison sentences, criminal rights, etc.), cradle-to-grave welfare, a belief that we can seduce our enemies rather than subdue them with strength, and the notion that meaning, truth and values are all arbitrary and subject to change (which is true of the fluid world of emotions in general).

It has become a banality to point out that something seems broken in our political system, in that the two parties not only cannot "work together," but seem to inhabit alternate realities. Pundidiots tell us that the tension and paranoia between the parties has never been this intense. Even if this is an exaggeration, it nevertheless reflects the psychological reality of the situation -- that people feelthis tension and bitterness in ways they didn’t before.

What is really going on here? One way of looking at it is that we are seeing a collapse of the covenant between mother and father as represented in the previous maternal/paternal two-party system. It is as if we are children living in a home where mother and father no longer get along and are bickering constantly.

In fact, that is probably putting it too mildly, because the current situation has gone beyond mere arguing, to the point that the masculine and feminine spheres are no longer communicating at all and are going through a very messy and acrimonious divorce. Both sides are lawyered up and ready to go for the throat.

I believe we may trace this divorce to the 1960’s, when mother government started to become so all powerful that there was almost no role for father. Of course, this began to change in the 1980’s, when father began reasserting himself because of the cultural, political and economic chaos that hit bottom in Jimmy Carter's rudderless gynocracy, but by then, something else had happened. That is, the age old distinctions between mother and father and adult and child had begun to attenuate, leaving many people confused about their primordial identity.

For example, the feminist movement of the 1960s and 70s had very little to do with honoring femininity, but generally degraded and devalued it. It largely became a vehicle for the expression of female envy, giving angry and maladjusted women license to imitate the men they envied. After all, few women are less feminine than the typical NOW activist. Nor are they masculine, however. A woman cannot actually become a man, but can only an infrahuman blending of male and female.

Importantly, this is not to suggest that a woman cannot develop her masculine side or a man his feminine side. What we are talking about is a complete nullification of sexual polarity, a kind of magical, self-imposed blindness, so that these critical differences are blended, not truly recognized, valued, and integrated.

The other main psychological mutation that occurred beginning with the 1960’s was the eradication of the differences between adult and child. Up to that point, there had been a clear difference between the spheres of adult and child, and everyone knew it.

For example, when I was growing up in the 60s, I had my interests and my parents had theirs, and there was relatively little intersection between the two -- for example, baseball with my father. But we dressed differently, listened to different kinds of music, enjoyed different activities, read different literature, liked different movies, etc.

I knew that I wasn't a man but that some day I would have to become one -- someone like my father, who worked hard, supported a family, didn't whine, had honor and a sense of duty, and had feelings but didn't necessarily give them much weight, at least outside the private sphere.

But that has all changed now. Here again it is critical to point out that there is nothing at all wrong with an adult maintaining contact with the child part of himself. In fact, doing so is vital for love, creativity, spontaneity, and play.

However, as in the blending of male and female, problems arise when the differences between adult and child are obliterated, which creates a hybrid monster that is neither adult nor child but both at the same time. This affects both adults and children, for our society has become a plague of adult children and childish adults -- that is, prematurely sexualized children who are burdened with all kinds of inappropriate concerns, and childish adults who psychologically do not grow beyond the age of 21 or so, and never enter the realm of the truly adult.

As a result, what our two-party political system has now come down to is a battle between the “blenders” and the “separators.” Nothing bothers the blenders more than adult males such as Ronald Reagan, George Bush, or John Roberts -- remember Diane Feinstein, who couldn't vote for Roberts for supreme court justice because she wanted to know how he "felt" about the law? In short, she wanted him to be more of a male-female hybrid, like herself and her constituents. Simply applying the rule of law is too masculine. We need some female “wiggle room” in the constitution.

The modern conservative movement is not just trying to preserve the traditional male element, but the traditional separation of the various spheres in general -- civilized / barbaric, animal / human, adult / child -- while the Democratic party is the party of mannish women (e.g., Hillary Clinton, Gloria Allred), feminized men (e.g., Bill Clinton, John Kerry, Al Gore), adult children (Howard Dean, John Edwards, Ted Kennedy, Joe Biden, et al), and even animal humans (PETA members who believe that killing six million chickens is morally indistinguishable from murdering six million Jews, radical environmentalists, etc.).

And it is almost impossible to engage in rational debate with the adult child, who has the cynicism of a world-weary grown up but the wisdom of a child, or with the male-female hybrid, who possesses a weakly anchored reason that is easily hijacked by the passions. This is not so much a disagreement between the content of thought as its very form.

***

This divorce and blending of the male and female produces a new kind of child, one who is neither male nor female, adult nor child, religious nor rational. A recent case in point was brought to our attention in the figure of Joel Stein, an L.A. Times columnist who penned a now infamous piece about his moral contempt for our troops fighting in Iraq.

As Stein put it, it is wrong to blame President Bush for their moral turpitude. Rather, "The truth is that people who pull triggers are ultimately responsible, whether they're following orders or not. An army of people making individual moral choices may be inefficient, but an army of people ignoring their morality is horrifying." In his magnanimity, Stein is "not advocating that we spit on returning veterans like they did after the Vietnam War, but we shouldn't be celebrating people for doing something we don't think was a good idea."

Vanderleun has written an outstanding, insightful piece that absolutely eviscerates the hapless Stein. Entitled The Voice of the Neuter is Heard Throughout the Land, it penetrates beyond the vapid and vile (if it's possible to be both) content of Stein's essay in order to describe a much wider and more troubling cultural phenomenon. He refers the reader to a radio interview of Stein conducted by Hugh Hewitt. I actually heard the interview in real time, and Vanderleun is exactly right that Stein's hollow and lilting voice is the voice of the neuter.

Vanderleun describes perfectly the flat, affectless tone of so many of Stein's generational cohort that "tends to always trend towards a slight rising question at the end of even simple declarative sentences." Neither identifiably male or female, "there is no foundation or soul within the speaker on which the voice can rest and rise."

But "above all, it is a sexless voice. Not, I hasten to add, a 'gay' voice.... No, this is a new old voice of a generation of ostensible men and women who have been educated and acculturated out of, or say rather, to the far side of any gender at all. It is, as I have indicated above, the voice of the neutered.... "

Here, Vanderleun seems to be describing one of the inevitable consequences of the sexual and generational blending alluded to above. This "new voice that we hear throughout the land from so many of the young betokens a weaker and less certain brand of citizen than we have been used to in our history. Neither male nor female, neither gay nor straight, neither.... well, not anything substantive really. A generation finely tuned to irony and nothingness and tone deaf to duty and soul."

Reading this fine analysis by Vanderleun immediately brought to mind an article I read in the Claremont Review of books a few years ago, Wimps and Barbarians, by Terrence O. Moore. Moore addresses the question of whether or not our most important institutions of moral instruction are failing boys in turning them into responsible young men.

Moore observes that "Young men today have both hearts and minds that are in chronic need of cultivation. Specifically, they need to realize what true manhood is, what it is not, and why it has become so difficult in the modern world to achieve the status and stature of the true man."

That is, "Manhood is not simply a matter of being male and reaching a certain age. These are acts of nature; manhood is a sustained act of character. It is no easier to become a man than it is to become virtuous. In fact, the two are the same. The root of our old-fashioned word 'virtue' is the Latin word virtus, a derivative of vir, or man. To be virtuous is to be 'manly'."

Instead of a centered and grounded masculinity, our culture produces two extremes: "One extreme suffers from an excess of manliness, or from misdirected and unrefined manly energies." Conversely, "the other suffers from a lack of manliness, a total want of manly spirit. Call them barbarians and wimps. So prevalent are these two errant types that the prescription for what ails our young males might be reduced to two simple injunctions: Don't be a barbarian. Don't be a wimp. What is left, ceteris paribus, will be a man."

Stein is one of the wimps, or what C.S. Lewis called "men without chests." Moore notes that while "barbarians suffer from a misdirected manliness, wimps suffer from a want of manly spirit altogether. They lack what the ancient Greeks called thumos, the part of the soul that contains the assertive passions: pugnacity, enterprise, ambition, anger. Thumos compels a man to defend proximate goods: himself, his honor, his lady, his country; as well as universal goods: truth, beauty, goodness, justice. Without thumotic men to combat the cruel, the malevolent, and the unjust, goodness and honor hardly have a chance in our precarious world."

Naturally, "Wimps make worthless watchdogs. But their failure as watchdogs or guardians has nothing to do with size or physique.... Many of today's young men seem to have no fight in them at all. Not for them to rescue damsels in distress from the barbarians. Furthermore, wimps vote. As Aristotle pointed out, to the cowardly, bravery will seem more like rashness and foolhardiness than what it really is. Hence political and social issues that require bravery for their solution elicit only hand-wringing and half-measures from the wimps. Wimps are always looking for the easy way out."

Moore ties the phenomenon of wimps and barbarians directly to the culture of divorce and the absence of male role models in boys' lives: "Half of American boys growing up do not live with their natural fathers. The sons of single mothers lack strong men to usher them into the world of responsible, adult manhood. Divorce, whether in reality or in the acrimonious rhetoric of the mother, impresses upon the boy an image of the father, and therefore of all men, as being irresponsible, deceitful, immature, and often hateful or abusive towards women. For sons, the divided loyalties occasioned by divorce actually create profound doubts about their own masculinity. As the boy approaches manhood, he is plagued by subconscious questions which have no immediate resolution: 'Will I be like Dad?' 'Do I want to be like Dad?' 'What is a man supposed to do?'"

It is almost impossible to believe that Joel Stein had a father. Or if he did have a father, he surely wasn't a man. Stein is said to be a graduate of Stanford, so he apparently sailed through the academic ovary tower without making any testosteronic waves.

Likewise, he is a perfect fit in the hysterical precincts of the Los Angeles Times, which has been reduced to doing little more than reporting the temperature of today's unhinged liberal emotionality. According to the radio interview, his piece went through the usual layers of editors without eliciting a single untoward comment. No evidence of masculine energy or input anywhere. Not a single man to rise up and confront the boy, asking, "Do you have any idea how cowardly and dishonorable this piece you've written is? What are you thinking? Do you not know that you are unfit to polish the boots of these men you call murderers?"

How dare you stink up this place of honor, you yellow bastard! *SLAP*

Not surprisingly, Stein's piece is an out-and-out assault on masculinity, on men with honor, on men who fight, on men who make sacrifices for a higher good in order to protect the ungrateful children of a lesser godlessness. Thus, the wimp is not just a wimp. Rather, just as the barbarian always hides the wimp, the wimp always conceals a barbarian.

And with his brave little pen he shall enviously attack the virtues he lacks, and for perhaps a fleeting moment experience a spurious sense of manhood.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Kundalini & Kinda Loony

We start today's session with just your average anonymous kundalini question, Suppose a person came to you for treatment of troubling mental symptoms resulting from the spontaneous awakening of kundalini. Would you consider his case to be a psychotic episode, a spiritual emergency, or a combination of the two?

First of all, for those who are out of the loop, kundalini is the "spiritual energy" that supposedly lies dormant at the base of the spine. Various spiritual practices--in particular, tantric yoga--are designed to "awaken" this dormant energy, sending it upward through various chakras or spiritual centers. The centers are located in the genital area, the belly, the heart, the throat, the area between the eyes, and the top of the head (there are also "sub chakras" in other areas, for example, the hands).

Spiritual energy is real, but it is conceptualized in different ways by different traditions. One might think that the concept would be foreign to Christianity, but perhaps you haven't seen a frenzied Pentecostal all cross-eyed & painless, speaking in in tongues with a twelve inch diameter pool of saliva on the floor below his mouth. Perhaps you haven't seen the Reverend Al Green give himself over to some other-worldly force in his gospel excursions. Can I get a witness?! Perhaps you haven't read descriptions of the saints such as John of the Cross or Teresa, with her ecstatic swooning in the presence of the holy spirit. For that matter, perhaps you haven't seen the Chabad Telethon, with the rabbis ecstatically dancing around on your TV screen.

Having said that, I must confess that I've never treated someone wherein the process went "haywire" and they needed help. In fact, if someone came to me with such symptoms, I would be much more likely to view it as a garden-variety hysterical reaction that falls well within the bounds of psychoanalytic explanation. Over the years, you wouldn't believe range of somatic disorders I've seen.

A somatic disorder occurs when the individual unconsciously converts emotional pain or conflict into somatic pain or dysfunction. I've seen 'em all, and I can well imagine how a spiritual practitioner with a latent psychosis could unleash a somatization process and then call it an awakening of kundalini, featuring all sorts of bizarre symptoms. For example, I remember reading about some of Krishnamurti's experiences after he broke away from the Theosophists, which struck me more as psychotic separation anxiety than enlightenment.

What sort of therapy do you feel would be most helpful in this instance? Do you feel that most licensed mental health professionals are qualified to provide this type of care, or would he need to be referred to someone who specializes in treating such complications of meditative practices as he's experiencing?

As a matter of fact, such individuals are notoriously difficult to treat. They have no insight into the somatization process--technically, it's a psychotic process, except that it takes place in the body rather than the mind per se (actually the infantile bodymind). It cannot be communicated symbolically, because the body is the symbol. Indeed, that's the crux of the problem. The word has been made flesh. Except in a bad way.

Petey is hardly the only one who says that it is always important to work within an established tradition with a real teacher in order to avoid these types of problems. Better yet, avoid it altogether. Let your spiritual growth be the leading edge, and the energies will follow. Don't try to imagine that you can merely unleash some sort of magical energy and that enlightenment will somehow follow. As I mentioned, the descending spiritual approaches are much more organic, allowing the energy to gently come in from above and transform you, rather than you trying to seize the tiller of spirit and storm the gates of heaven.

Michael asked, Can the 10 commandments be put into evolutionary perspective?

You bet! In fact, I did exactly that on pages 231-244 of my book, where I demonstrated that the commandments have both an exterior and an interior meaning, and that each of them can be reconciled with the Upanishads (that's why I call them the Ten "Commanishads" or "Upanishalts"). Importantly, the interior meaning by no means contradicts or cancels out the exterior. It just adds an extra dimension of depth to it.

Much of what you say seems like an exercise in linguistic metaphysics. 'Thou shall not murder' is direct as God can be. Does the understanding change or does God's word stay the same today and always? When Christ says, He and He only is the Way, how can one be reconcilable to your 'one cosmos'? Can you give an example of the evolving Word? Maybe I misunderstood your point?

I specifically take care to avoid what you call "linguistic metaphysics." Metaphysics is a dead letter without the light of spiritual experience or the testimony of the saints. I want to help people have the experience, not simply play around with words and concepts. To the extent concepts are used, they must be analogous to bank notes that are backed by the full faith and credit of spiritual experience, and can be "cashed in" at any time.

You asked how Christ's statement that "He and He only is the Way" can be reconciled with my approach. It depends on how you understand Christ. If you understand Christ the way that he and the enlightened saints down through the ages understood him, then there's no problem. The Christ is eternal, outside space and time. He antedated the historical Jesus--in fact, antedated time and history: "Before Abraham was, I AM." The eternal I AM is perpetually given birth in the ground of being, and we may participate in that birth. It is now standard Catholic doctrine that one may know Christ without literally knowing Christ, so to speak. It's not the ideal, it just means that Christ can be working through someone without that person even being aware of it.

An example of the "evolving word." This is really very simple. Words are containers that accumulate meaning through experience. You could say, for example, that you understand the word "swim," although you have never personally been in the water. Will the meaning of the word not evolve once you take a dip?"

How about a more complex word? A child knows what marriage is. But what is it really? For that matter, plenty of adults are married. But are they really? In what sense?

Yes, God's word stays the same today and always. Except that it's a holographic word hyperdense with meaning, not a linear word with the type of one-to-one correspondence that is adequate to describe lower orders of being, such as brute matter.

Certainly there are multiple layers to Bible verses and education matters. One can be misled with false teachers.

Ah, but you shall know them by their fruit of the looms. They're always washing their dirty laundry in public. If you squint a little with your third eye, you can see it.

We should all be careful to pinhole 'fundamentalist'. Many of them know this already to be true and love the duality of word and verse meanings and many fundamentalist teachers readily use this device of teaching to peel away layers of understanding. But its not some type of gnosis or esoteric understanding that is required.

Beg to differ. What does the Bible mean where it says that Jesus did and said many things to his inner circle that "opened their eyes?" What is the holy spirit, why did he send it, and what does it do? Is spiritual vision really as mundane as scientific knowledge, involving no gnosis at all? Is there a difference between knowing and understanding?

There are very simple laws for a reason such that - 'a child can understand them'.

Of course. But when I was a child, I understood as a child. Scripture also allows for personal growth, so that an adult may understand as an adult. Again, it doesn't contradict the earlier understanding--it transcends and embraces it. It's a more expansive understanding.

I agree in response to secular humanist uprisings, a new Christian fundamentalism is arising as well. But this also is due to new avenues in media savvy by the old guard of Christian fundamentalist. They're learning how to fight fire with fire and are not afraid to do it. This battle is as old the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

Yes, but I'm afraid that fundamentalists are fighting fire with fire--scientific materialism with spiritual materialism. It's just a fight as to whose literalism and materialism will prevail. Fire needs to be fought with water.

Personally, I've never been one to accept all religions/one cosmos theory movement.

I don't either. I'm polymonotheistic. I don't believe in blending but correlating or cross-fertilizing. Mainly, I want to help people get more out of their own tradition. This is a genuine stumbling block for many modern intellectuals who don't see how they can reconcile modernity and traditional religion.

I definitely think that some traditions ar better than others, but I would rather not get into that, because I don't want to alienate people. Also, It's not always cut and dry. For example, a deeper version of one religion might be superior to a shallow version of another, and vice versa.

But let me again re-emphasize that if your approach is working for you, I have no desire to question or change it. The key for me is whether or not someone's approch is working--that is, whether or not it is resulting in real change, real understanding, and real growth.

I cannot talk for others, but in Christian doctrine and Judaism there is only one God and those who worship idols(i.e. wooden, gold and ornamental renderings made by the hand of man) are a clear abomination to God the Father of Torah and His Son, Christ Yeshua of the Gospels. There is no sharing amongst the religions. God is a 'jealous' God. And while some see this as 'fundamentalist' thinking, really its just the pure acceptance of belief in the teachings of Christ. Christ never said go and seek other ways to God.

Christ never said a lot of things, like "go and cure polio," or "the scientific method is the best way to understand the material world," or "always remember that inflation is tied to monetary policy," or "harsh parenting is just going to create a neurotic adult." I find that the greatest error committed by fundamentalists is that Christ is often reduced to an informational teacher as opposed to the transformational teaching.

How do you reconcile such language Or, do you ignore it? Do you teach that such language does not matter? Do you address such concerns at all?

Yes, like the constitution, there are aspects of scripture, such as "You shall not murder" that are analogous to clear statements in the constitution requiring a two-thirds majority. But what does "cruel and unusual punishment" mean?

Again, even seemingly unambiguous scriptural statements contain an exterior and interior meaning. Do you not understand more of the inner meaning of scripture as you develop and grow spiritually? Is there such a thing as spiritual growth? If spirit is alive--indeed, if it is life itself--how can it not grow?

Why did Jesus speak in parables? Is there only one way to understand a parable? If so, why didn't he just skip the parable and say what he meant?

What does it mean, "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth?" Could it mean that in the perpetual beginning that is happening right now, God creates the vertical and the horizontal?

John says "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God." How can the Word simultaneously be God and with God? "In him was the life and the life was the light of men?" What's that all about? Mere biological life? I don't think so. The light waves described by quantum physics? Hmm, I think not. The darkness didn't comprehend it? How can darkness comprehend anything?

That's the point, isn't it? Scripture must be trancelighted in order to be understood. Call it gnosis if you want. I call it seeing the light with the eyes Darwin didn't give you.


***And don't forget to see what Joyce says about the matter, over on the sidebar.

+++Oh, and be thinking of questions for the next round, maybe this Saturday.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Mind Parasites, Intellectual Doctators, and The Life Divine in a Monkey Body

I'm skipping ahead one question, because this one's a bit complex, and I'll have less time tomorrow. Bryan asks a three part question, first,

What do you see as the most common and significant "mind parasites" afflicting people who are on an authentic spiritual path?

First we need to define "mind parasite." It is a term I use in my book to describe internalized, maladaptive patterns that become relatively hardwired into the brain during infancy and childhood. We are born neurologically incomplete, so that our brain is literally assembled during our first two or three years. In truth, I have just employed a more colorful term for what modern psychoanalysis refers to as "internal objects."

To make a long story very short, we come into the world completely dependent upon people who may or may not have the capacity to understand us and meet our needs. Because the relationship with parents must be preserved at all costs, traumatic, abusive, and frustrating aspects of the relationship are split off and sequestered in the unconscious (even just a "bad fit" between infant and caretakers becomes a mind parasite--the baby can't conceptualize what is missing, but instead experiences it as a bad present-absence). There, these internalized patterns are held "in escrow" until they are acted out later in life in relationships and cultural institutions. I call them parasites because, just like any other parasite, they take over the machinery of the host--your mind--and begin reproducing themselves in the form of toxic relationships, self-defeating behavior, compulsions, unpredictable moods, etc.

Back to the question, what are the most common and significant mind parasites afflicting people who are on an authentic spiritual path? I don't know that I can answer that, because I'm not sure there is any set pattern. However, I believe that when various Eastern schools--Buddhism, yoga, Zen--talk about eliminating the ego, they're really talking about getting rid of mind parasites. You can't actually eliminate the ego, any more than you can ditch your body. But you must rid the ego of its pathology, of its "foreign substances," so to speak, just as you must restore the body to health.

Spiritual seekers have always recognized the problems of unconscious mind parasites, but until Freud, they didn't know where they came from or what to do about them. Therefore, they just lumped them all together in this hopeless thing called "ego," and counseled people to abandon the whole enterprise. However, doing so will often backfire, as it can simply leave you more vulnerable to the unconscious, with no defenses at all.

This is why people who have supposedly obliterated the ego generally must live in monasteries or in caves, like Sri Ramana Maharshi. They can't actually function in society. I mean, the first time they saw a Victoria's Secret catalog they'd lose their minds. (This accounts for much of the bad behavior of so-called enlightened beings who actually don't have a strong enough ego to cope with reality, for example, the enticing reality of fawning female disciples. It also explains why Islamists want to eliminate the modern world, so they'll feel more comfotable with their troubling mind parasites--turn the world into a cave or monastery, so to speak.)

Having said that, I believe that the most pervasive mind parasite would fall under the heading of what Freud misleadingly called the "death instinct." In reality there is no death instinct, but the phenomena Freud attributed to it are nonetheless real. We come into the world so alive, so vital, so curious, so playful, so full of a sense of wonder, but something along the way shuts all of this down in most people. In Bion's term, it becomes "contained" or strangled by another part of our mind. In the most general sense, this would be called the "superego," which is where many, many mind parasites are lodged.

For example, there's a very annoying fundamentalist that Larry King often has on his program--can't think of his name--who appears to me to be a walking superego. Yes, he has conquered the ego, but by fully identifying with a tyrannical, constricted, and life-denying superego with an invincible sense of moral superiority. This is sort of the opposite problem of Ramana Maharshi, and may well reflect a pattern as to East/West differences in how they deal with mind parasites.

Bryan's second question is related to the first: Why are contemporary people on an authentic spiritual path almost unanimously leftist? There is, of course, the counterexample of Sri Aurobindo, but he appears a lone voice crying in the wilderness these days. As a Buddhist who also happens to be a Straussian neo-conservative, I've been feeling pretty lonely and in fact have had to suffer denunciations from spiritual teachers and friends, not for expressing my political views, which I generally don't, but merely for not agreeing vocally with theirs.... I've been wondering why the political views of modern spiritual seekers fall out so consistently this way. Ken Wilber, whom I revere, says that the Democratic party represents a sick version of a higher level of consciousness and that the Republican party represents a healthy version of a lower level of consciousness. This was persuasive to me until I saw the political aftermath of Sept. 11, but now it seems to me that some other explanation has to be found.

I've given this a lot of thought myself, but have come up dry. What's that, Petey? Petey says that's an excellent question. He wants to handle this one. Good thing, because I don't really have an answer.

Petey says it's a mistake to think of this as a problem afflicting only "spiritual" people. Rather, a moment's reflection reveals that it is a much more pervasive problem afflicting intellectuals in general. Also artists, psychologists, literary types, etc. So what is common to all these folks? Why it's the tyranny of the abstract. All of these bounders fall in love with their own ideas, and take their ideas to be more real than reality. In fact, for such an individual, reality becomes a defective form of heir sacred ought. Instead of "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth," the overly abstract thinker says, "In the beginning, reality ought to be the way I want it to be." Ultimately this type of thinking is rooted in deep recollections of infancy, the one time in our lives when the cosmos actually does magically do our bidding for us and jumps to our every whim.

Let's face it, if you have the luxury to pursue a spiritual practice, you already have it pretty easy. You must be living a rather sheltered existence, free from hunger, disease, pain, and want. Therefore, it's pretty easy to forget the violence that made such leisure and abundance possible, in the same way that it's easy to enjoy your health while forgetting that you're only healthy because you have a "primitive" but sophisticated immune system ready to do incredible violence to any foreign invaders who threaten your body's health. For these intellectuals and so-called spiritual types to have contempt for the military is as idiotic as having contempt for your body's immune system.

Nor can you tell your immune system to be reasonable, to sit down and talk it out with the viruses that want to invade you. You can't expect your white blood cells to hold conferences trying to understand the root causes of bacterial motivations.

The ideals of abstract thinkers are utopian and unworkable because they forget all about embodied human existence--about reality. It is no coincidence that the great totalitarian movements of the past century--communism, nazism, and now Islmism--were and are the products of intellectuals. On the other hand, Christianity takes seriously the idea that we are unavoidably embodied and imperfectible. As a matter of fact, Judeo-Christian metaphysics solves the otherwise insoluble philosophical stalemate between idealists and materialists, because a logoistic reality means that the Word is made flesh: that the ideal is located in the real, not in some abstract, utopian beyond. The world is neither ethereal nor earthly: it is earthereal.

Psychoanalysis too is the one science that takes seriously the idea that our minds are unavoidably situated in an evolved primate body, with all this implies.

Abstract ideas are designed to understand and describe reality. But intellectuals turn this around and begin using their abstractions to judge reality. And if reality falls short, they don't abandon their ideals but jettison reality. Intellectuals just can't stand the thought that a free market with no one in charge has much more embodied wisdom and rationality than their sacred abstractions and economic prescriptions.

Also, most intellectuals and spiritual types simply imitate one another rather than having a direct encounter with the Real and building up a world view based on personal experience. They are generally not original or creative thinkers, but simply take on predigested ideas that have been passed to them by other intellectuals or spiritual guides. But you are not free to discover what you are motivated or predisposed to believe. This relates to the mind parasite Bob discussed above, the idea that the answer is the disease that kills curiosity and shuts down the minds of so many people. The mind and spirit only evolve in a concrete way if they are open systems in a fluid, dynamic, and dialectical relationship to reality.

Bryan's third question is, in the light of the work of Allan Schore and others on the significance of attachment to human brain development, do you believe that there is any validity to the traditional Buddhist and Hindu yogic emphasis on the desirability of solitude and of severing human attachments in order to find enlightenment. I have in mind such things as the Buddha walking out on his family and encouraging his disciples to leave their wives, Ramakrishna exhorting his disciples to shun women, Sri Ramana Maharshi telling a devotee whose wife had died that he was better off without her, and so on.

Here again, this actually relates to what I said above about the problems of the ego. Buddhists and traditional Hindus tried to get around the problem of mind parasites by eliminating the ego with extreme prejudice, which is completely impractical and unworkable for most people, especially in the modern world. While there is much wisdom in Ramana Maharshi and Ramakrishna, there is much that is frankly primitive, not to mention pre-scientific and mythological.

I'm starting to run short on time here, so I'll make it quick. There are spiritual paths of "ascent" and paths of "descent." The ascending paths try to take you out of the world, into some conflict-free realm above it all. This is in direct contrast to Judaism, to Christianity, and to Sri Aurobindo's yoga, which are all primarily descending paths: they attempt to bring the higher, or divine realm, down into this plane. This is the meaning of "tikkun" in Judaism, or the holy spirit "descending like a dove" in Christianity. And in Aurobindo's yoga, the divine shakti descends down through the chakras, rather than being awakened below and trying to force it upward.

Evolution is actually only possible with the descending approaches. This is why the East stagnated for so long under the weight of the notion that the world is an illusion and the ego unreal.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

The Home Version of Ask Petey

For reasons known only to them, my penurious publisher, Paragon House, said I could receive a slightly higher royalty rate--in other words, a higher percentage of nothing--if I purchased 100 books myself. So I did, and that's why I'm sellin' 'em here. Verrry slowly. Still, when they're gone, they're gone.

If you would like a signed copy of our One Cosmos Under God: The Unification of Matter, Life, Mind and Spirit, send your address & check for $20 (which covers shipping) to:

Robert Godwin
PO BOX 8962
CALABASAS, CA
91372-8962

If you would like something more than a mere signature--a lovingly handcrafted metaphysical wisecrack or insult from my discarnate collaborator, Petey, a paw print from my dog, a small vial of surprisingly intoxicating baby pheromones, whatever, just let me know. Any questions, e-mail me at: earthtobob@dslextreme.com

TESTIMANIACAL BLURBERMOUTHS

"A guerilla metaphysician and ontological jihadi who refuses to accept the slave wages of normality, this infidel has written an impudent book that is guaranteed to vault your ego out of its conceptual sand dune and expand your mind in places you didn't know you had places. A psychic cartography full of black-diamond cognitive trails that will delight extreme seekers of all fringe movements, One Cosmos unleashes a whirlwind of ideas that helps us see the vast spiritual forest for the materialist tree-dwellers. Two thumbs way off! Where is my damn machete?! (Just kidding. Ha!)"

--Mohammed, author of The Koran (or Idiot's Guide to Islam)

"Ever wonder what a new testavus for the rest of us would look like if we started from scratch based on what the devil's own science has revealed about the nature of reality? Full of old ideas that seem new and new ideas that give relevance and depth to the old, Godwin has deeply "mythunderstood" our existential predicament in light of the best of ancient wisdom and modern thought. This is an updated word from our eternal sponsor, delivered in a gravely amusing and mirthfully serious manner. I predict NO HURRICANES in Bob's hometown any time soon."

--Pat Robertson, author God is King, and I am His Jester

"Sounding every bit like he's been channeling a white salamander, Godwin bores through the cosmic mountain from all sides and meets in the most unexpected of places, the mysterious "I" whose center is in all of us and whose boundless circumference encompasses the whole of reality. One Cosmos is adult spiritual entertainment at its best, the most fun I've ever had mutating my neural networks to perceive higher worlds since 1827!"

--Joseph Smith, transcriber The Book of Mormon

"One man's attempt to sing the Song of Creation, a four-part cosmic suite that takes us from the tune up in the orchestra pit before the performance, to the opening chords of the Big Bang, through to the blissful crescendo of mystical consciousness. A euphoric and euphonious ululation across the nation in celebration of all creation, this best of all possible bangs, our one cosmos under God, inexplicable, with liberation and joyousness for all."

--I. F. Naughty-Bitz, Professor of Blurbology and Applied Inside Flap Notes


******

For an actual review, check out the Winter 2006 edition of What is Enlightenment? magazine. They allege that the book is "a remarkable integration of science, psychology, and spirit.... a thrilling contribution to the emerging canon of evolutionary thought--one that leaves us eager to embark on the next journey with this daring cosmic dharmanaut." In fact, the magazine recently conducted a grueling interrogation of this Daring Cosmic Dharmanaut that should appear in their next issue, although I can't be sure.

AUTOHAGIOGRAPHY

Clinical psychologist Robert Godwin is an extreme seeker and off-road spiritual aspirant who has spent no less than one lifetime in search of the damn key to the world enigma. A high school graduate at just seventeen and a-half, Dr. Godwin attended business school until the vagaries of academic probation and expulsion led him to pursue other missed opportunities. Capitalizing on a natural ability to simultaneously enjoy movies and lower his expectations, Godwin eventually earned a film degree in just four terms (Ford/Carter and parts of Nixon/Reagan. Initially denied admission to graduate school because of "inadequate" academic preparation (their words), Holy Happenstance intervened in the nick of time, and Dr. Godwin went on to obtain two advanced degrees in psychology without allowing it to interfere with his education or with ongoing spiritual research conducted in his suburban liberatoreum. Lengthy periods there of higher bewilderment and intense non-doing resulted in important advances in egobliteration and karmannihilation. At the same time, Dr. Godwin spent many years searching and researching for his book, only to conclude that it did not exist, and that if he wanted to read it, he would have to write it. Having now read it a number of times, he is happy to share that burden with a wider audience of fertile eggheads interested in peering behind the annoying veil that separates them from ultimate reality.

More Unswers to Your Questings

Taking some of your additional questions in order, Jodie D. asked, why is the Muslim religion so decadent?

The fact that this is a good question is problematic, isn't it? It's almost a rhetorical question that provides it's own answer, like "why are you such a jerk?"

It's especially problematic that it is possible to ask such a question of a religion. If a religion doesn't even make you a better person, then what good is it? And what evidence do we have that Islam is producing superior and spiritually evolved people, cultures, institutions, and nations?

I didn't know anything about Islam on 9-10-01. However, even on 9-12-01, I retained an open mind. I was fully receptive to the MSM bromide that Islam was an essentially peaceful religion that had simply been hijacked by a few lunatics and radicals.

I am familiar with all the world's most venerated scripture and sacred writings--the Torah, New Testament, Vedas, Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita, Yoga Sutras, Tao Te Ching, etc.--and I have very high regard for each of them. Although each is "relatively absolute" and complete in its way, I nevertheless feel that they all supplement and complement one another and that, for example, a Christian can benefit by trying to reconcile the Upanishads with the Gospel of John.

Once you are on a spiritual path, you start to develop a sort of sixth sense, or "third eye" that helps you understand spiritual matters. I don't want to overly romanticize this notion--I don't think it's really fundamentally different from any other kind of expertise. For example, a trained psychoanalyst is able to "see" or "feel" unconscious communication in a way that the untutored individual cannot. Or even a baseball or hockey fan can watch a game and see all kinds of things that the non-fan misses. The fan and non-fan literally see a different reality on the field or ice.

Anyway, I read the Koran with my spiritual detector switched on, but it was a sobering experience. I really don't want to be accused of bigotry here. Certainly you could say that my response was subjective, and that's fine. But I actually found the Koran to be rather disturbing. Although there are undoubtedly some passages that contain spiritual "light," there are also many passages that convey a deep darkness--again, based only on my subjective experience. I find no such darkness at all in, say, the Upanishads or Tao Te Ching. They are almost pure light.

One thing we must do at the outset is distinguish between the revealed vs. the "natural" religions. Christianity, Judaism and Islam are revealed religions, whereas the Upanishads are unrevealed, "positivistic" scriptures. Rather, they are much more explicitly philosophical and metaphysical. In fact, they are mainly experiential. Both Buddhism and Jnana yoga say to the spiritual aspirant: do this, and you will experience that. In their purest form--such as Vedanta or Zen--these traditions are very much free of dogma.

In a certain way, all of the revealed religions are more inherently problematic, because even if we are dealing with a pure revelation from God, it still has to be revealed to someone, specifically, a flawed human being. Judaism, to my knowledge, has never pretended that the prophets were perfect people. Nor does Christian doctrine maintain that the writers of the gospels were perfect beings who simply took dictation from God. In Judaism the Torah is perfect, but it still must be interpreted. In Christianity the perfect ideal is located in Christ, but in a very complex way that I won't get into here.

But in Islam, both Mohammed and his message are considered perfect, inerrant, and not subject to interpretation. This is problematic, for a great deal is known about the historical Mohammed, and the fact of the matter is, he was not just your average quiet, introspective spiritual seeker. For one thing, unlike Jesus or Buddha or Lao Tsu, he was a warrior, a conqueror. Like it or not, he was also a worldly man. He was married, not just to one woman, but to many women. Christians are told to "imitate Christ." How different would Christianity be if Christ had been a violent warrior with several wives?

Of course, one could say, "look at history. Are you naive? What about the crusades? The inquisition? The endless religious wars?" First of all, the crusades were largely a defensive action against an expansive Islam. But even leaving that aside, I believe that the Christian message is entirely self-correcting, given enough time. That is, there is no possible justification in the gospels for violent conquest, for treating others as less than fully human, for unfair treatment of women, etc.

I would be happy to stand corrected, but I don't see a clear-cut, self-correcting mechanism in Islam. Islam has a long and bloody history, but instead of being a departure from Mohammed's message, there are many, many passages in the Koran that quite clearly and explicitly justify and encourage such behavior. Again, this is not Muslim bashing. I'm simply repeating what I read in the Koran with my own three eyes.

Does this mean that all Muslims are bad people? Of course not. I actually tried to dislike the music of Cat Stevens, but I can't. He seems like a genuinely sweet and well-intentioned person who does a lot of good in the world.

But one thing that really troubles me is the lack of outrage in the Muslim world about the almost irreparable damage the terrorists are doing to something they hold sacred. I think about that poor journalist who has been captured in Iraq. Why aren't Muslims all over the world--millions upon millions of them--standing up, demonstrating, and demanding that she be released? Let's just focus on America, where Muslims enjoy the fruits of Judeo-Christian liberty. Why are our most prominent Muslim groups, such as CAIR, such dubious people? Every time they open their mouths, they just do further damage to Islam, and make one suspicious of their real motives.

Can one even imagine Christians sitting by quietly while such evil were being perpetrated in the name of their religion? The largest demonstration in the history of Israel occurred after that savage, may his memory be cursed, opened fire on Muslims in a Mosque. Why has there never been anything comparable in the Muslim world except recently in Jordan, but only after they were attacked?

By the way, just to show that I am not inherently anti-Islam, I've studied a fair amount of Sufism, and I am quite favorably disposed to it. They seem to have succeeded in eliminating the darkness and retaining the light. However, my understanding is that they are generally regarded by mainstream Muslims as a fringe, if not downright heretical movement.

Again, my mind remains open, and I would love for it to be changed. The main reason I supported the liberation of Iraq was that I felt--whether naively or not--that it would engender a transformation of that part of the world, and show that Muslims could create a decent, tolerant, and democratic society. I pray that I was right. The world-historical implications of being wrong about the capacity of Muslim nations to transform themselves are just too awful to contemplate.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Questionables to Your Unanswerables

Here are answers to some of the questions posed yesterday.

From Mark, I won't ask if there's a God, but what is he like? And have you met him? Also, what is consciousness is a good question, but I'd really like to know what is the subconscious and unconscious, how do they operate, and can they be eliminated? Is it possible to be fully conscious?

All exteriors have an interior, however attenuated. Consciousness is the interior of the cosmos. It has been evolving along with the exterior for the past 13.7 billion years. One Western philosopher who emphasized this is Alfred North Whitehead. Although his magnum opus Process and Reality will be a bit much for most readers, his Science and the Modern World is quite accessible.

No, it is not possible to be "fully conscious," because our self-consciousness lives in the dialectical, generative space between the nonlocal, noumenal ground of consciousness-as-such and our evolved nervous system. Consciousness is refracted through the lens of this nervous system, and is as boundless and inexhaustible as our dream life. It generates constant novelty. In fact, consciousness is the reason why there is so much beautiful and meaningful novelty instead of mere chaos and ugliness. As you may have heard somewhere, all things were made through it, and without it nothing was made that was made. It shines in the dark, but the dorks don't comprehend it.

You cannot eliminate the unconscious, but you can have insight into destructive and self-defeating parts of yourself that have lodged there ("mind parasites"), while hitching a ride on the "higher" aspect of consciousness and using it to your--actually, its--benefit. As a matter of fact, the higher only operates if one approaches it with the utmost humility and sincerity, not to mention respect.

Consciousness extends vertically in both directions, toward a lower zero point of apparent infinite nescience to a higher zero point of empty plenitude. The idea is to orient yourself on the vertical plane toward the higher, and thereby generate what might be called "theologoumena" ("God phenomena," as opposed to surface phenomena or the unKnowable infinite noumenon). This is what it means to "be at play in the fields of the lord," or to experience "the joy of the harvest."

This is how you 1) "meet God" (so to speak) and 2) "find out what he's like." In the West, God operates through the Word. In the East, they say that the world is God's play, or lila. Thus, reality from God's perspective is a lot of extraordinarily clever wordplay. The world is actually made of language, but language is not of this world, if you know what I mean. Nor is our ability to comprehend the language. Both arise from the nonlocal Word--the world is intelligible because we are an image of the process that made it so.

I realized after I wrote this yesterday that it might sound a bit flip, but you must understand both "word" and "play" in the "broadest way imarginable," as Joyce put it. This is an idea with which I am currently playing at very diligently for my next book, and I will provide updates as they become available.

JWM asked, How do you define salvation? In our culture the term is most commonly associated with the Christian religion, but I have seen the term in Buddhist literature as well.
Do you have a definition that cuts across the differences in various religions? Is it up the same tree as enlightenment?


Salvation is spoken of in different ways in different traditions. I am of the belief that religion often involves metaphysics without knowledge. That is, embedded in any religious tradition are all sorts of metaphysical insights that are expressed in an obscure, ambiguous, symbolic, or mythological way. Thus, they have to be unpacked and understood.

What is salvation? From what do we need to be saved? I believe that the deeper meaning of the "fall" involves our entrance into the dimension of time. Time is not actually possible without eternity, but evolution is not possible without time. Therefore, we need to be saved from our apparent separation from the eternal, as we engage in our evolutionary sprint from monkey mind to divine mind.

For example, it is quite easy to fit Jesus into this paradigm. Adam's fall is the fall from timeless communion with God into the separative consciousness of duality and strife. Jesus represents the Universal Principle--the abstract absolute outside time and space--taking on particular form, the "concrete absolute." Thus, Jesus is the Ultimate made Particular, or word made flesh.

However, the Bible clearly teaches that we may share in this process--that it didn't just happen one time to one person. Rather, it perennially occurs in the eternal ground in which we participate at the deepest level. We may be sons of God "through adoption," and thereby be saved from the ravages of time, here and now. We may make the eternal present in us. But it must be "realized," because it is anterior to our surface being.

The Upanishads discuss the problem in a slightly different way, but I think it's the same idea: to disidentify with the local personality and see that atman and brahman are not-two.
That's a quick answer.

Is it up the same tree as enlightenment? Most definitely. The fully realized person has reversed the fall, or turned figure and ground inside out. He has reversed the vector flow that misleadingly draws consciousness downstream to the objects of the senses. In short, he has realized that the cosmos is tree with its roots aloft, its branches down here below. It's a Tree of Life for those whose wood beleaf.

Tamquam Leo Rugiens asked Back in October you had a series on Cosmic Solidarity in which you promised a continuation of the theme touching on Judaism and Christianity. It seems to have gotten as far as Swami Moishe, and there it ended. I would very much appreciate an explication leading into the Christian era.

Yes, I put the kibosh on that little series because it seemed to me that it was a little pedantic and wasn't generating much interest. The main point I would emphasize is that all religions, in my view, must be reconsidered in light of the sort of cosmic evolutionary paradigm outlined in my book or by people like Ken Wilber. With regard to the East, this has been most ably and exhaustively enunciated by Sri Aurobindo, who had the benefit of a Cambridge education and integrated Vedanta with the modern world. In the West, virtually the identical task was achieved by Teilhard de Chardin, whose Phenomenon of Man situated Christianity within a cosmic evolutionary scheme.

Both Aurobindo and Teilhard were pioneers and cosmic omsteaders who necessarily painted their symphonies with a somewhat broad brush. Aurobindo wrote his most important works in the nineteen-teens (before all of the implications of the quantum revolution had even been worked out), while Teilhard had most of his important insights in the 1920's, even though they were not published until after he died in 1959 because of church politics. (By the way, I'm sure someone like Pope John Paul would have been far more receptive to Teilhard's ideas.)

So our task is to fill in the details of the truly grand spectacle of cosmic evolution set forth by these two mighty explorers. So many philosophies are not worthy of man. Even if true in some small, technical sense of the term, they are false in their narrow ignorance of the upper reaches of the human soul and of the awesome adventure of consciousness--the only adventure there has ever been or will be.

KMac says I'm a lapsed atheist (broke away from the "religion" -- don't believe in a supreme being but know that there's more than what we can see, hear, and eat). I've been asked how I can say I don't believe that God created the universe -- I've answered that if God created the universe, what was God doing before then? Even that's absurd (i.e., what was God doing before there was time/existence) -- I routinely receive a curt "you shouldn't ask that question ..."

It is true that you cannot ask what God was doing "before" he created the universe. So much trouble is caused by our reliance upon language, which, in its superficial sense, is geared to the problems of matter, not consciousness, much less the ground of consciousness. We often mistake a deficiency of language for a key to truth. In order to discuss these deeper ontological questions, language must be deployed in a special, nonlinear, non-dualistic and poetic way. I attempted to achieve this in my book, whether successfully or unsuccessfully I cannot say (at least for others--it works for me). The ground of existence is ineffable, but not completely ineffin' so.

To disentangle this conundrum, you must understand the distinction between time and eternity. Eternity is not time everlasting, but timelessness. For reasons that I cannot completely elucidate here, time and eternity are actually aspects of one another--they are dialectically related. In one sense, time may be thought of as the serial deployment of something that lies outside time. Thus, it is not located "in the past," because no matter how far back you go, you are still dealing with chronological time. Rather, the only possible place it could be now. Again, not in a temporal now, but an eternal now. As it so happens the mysterious now, so inexplicable in terms of any model physics has ever come up with, is the intersection of time and eternity, and we are the self-aware locus where this occurs--where the vertical meets the horizontal.

I believe God is the universe -- and where it came from (or going, whether it's finite, infinite ...) - I have no idea; indeed, "God" is the most profound way to express that which a mere human can't know, unable to even form the question let alone answer it.

Of course God is the universe, but he is also radically beyond the universe. In order to understand fully, you must hold the paradoxical idea that God is both radically immanent and radically transcendent. And the immanence and transcendence extend infinitely in both directions.

Finally, a question (sorry for the preamble) - do you think common ground is possible between those who view The Bible as the literal word of God vs. allegorical text of the contemplation of God?

Yes, in the sense that the common ground is the Bible. It's like asking if there is common ground between people who believe a work of Shakespeare can be interpreted one way or another. Scripture is a very special kind of language that is hyperdense with meanings that correspond to whatever level of consciousness the exegete brings to it, from the simplest and most literal to the highest and most subtle. (One can easily relate religious understanding to, say, Piaget's stages of cognitive development. Earlier stages structure their knowing in one way, later stages in a completely different way.)

One must bear in mind that, ironically, the fundamentalist movement is a thoroughly modern development, having only gotten underway in the 20th century. It is actually simply a mirror image of, and reaction to, the metaphysically unsophisticated secular fundamentalism that surrounds us. The fundamentalist way of viewing the Bible would be entirely foreign to people like Denys the Areopagite, Meister Eckhart, John Scottus Eriugena, John Tauler, Nicholas of Cusa, and so many other Christian greats. They all regarded scripture as a sort of "kernel" that had an outer meaning that had to be penetrated, or "broken through." Indeed, the same can be said for the greatest of all Jewish theologians, Moses Maimonides.

This is actually what sets Christianity apart from Islam and makes it thoroughly compatible with an evolutionary paradigm. That is, Christianity evolves with our understanding of it, something that has always been standard doctrine until recent fundamentalist distortions. Islam, on the other hand, is set in stone in the 8th century. It is anti-evolutionary to the core (with the notable exception of Sufism).

Anonymous notes that he did "a lot of 'unpacking' in the sixties, but consider myself a recovering atheist now--happy in my state of suspended disbelief. I guess you could say I'm in denial of denial.

He continues:

Anyway, after reading your blog for the past few days, I can't believe I have the temerity to disagree with you, but my experience led me to conclude that deconstructing (or unpacking) religious belief left me essentially belief-less, unless you count my resulting atheism. My point and my question are the same: don't mystery and ambiguity have a place in religious tradition?

First of all, atheism is not a state of suspended belief, but a definite spiritual state. If spirituality may be understood as registering on a certain frequency of consciousness, atheism always resonates at a very specific frequency or "wave length" of the consciousness spectrum. In the end, it is simply a frank confession not of ignorance, but of "ignosis."

At least for me, "deconstructing or unpacking" religious belief does not result in belieflessness, but actually liberates consciousness from its enslavement to the literal. One is vaulted into a different space, the space from which the primordial mystery perpetually arises. What I have discovered, to my everlasting surprise, is that once in this space, one finds that it actually has its own very real characteristics and attributes. I know this because every day I receive confirmation from other explorers who see and experience the same thing. It's as if they are all setting voyage into an unknown sea but all returning with vaguely similar--sometimes strikingly so--descriptions of the flora and fauna on the other side. I can only reemphasize that this is most mysterious indeed.

The mapmaking continues. In fact, we've hardly begun. Look at it this way. Europe only made its way westward to the New World in 1492. The westward exploration continued until the late nineteenth century, when the frontier was closed. Then the exploration began delving "within" matter and time with Einstein's revolution, outward into space, and back to the origins of the material universe with big bang cosmology. The detailed exploration of the unconscious only got underway with the publication of Freud's Interpretation of Dreams in 1900. 21st century spirituality will involve more detailed mapping of the post-egoic realm, and situating it within the grand evolutionary epic in which we are the central players.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Breaker Breaker, Anyone With a Copy, Come On

Let's see.... I've been doing this blog since 10-4-05. Ten-four is CB code for "message received." A big ten four signifies hearty agreement.

Today, in keeping with the CB theme, I'd like to say, "Anyone with a copy, come on." Do you read me? Message received? Understood? And mainly, do you have any questions?

I've received a surprising number of interesting questions and comments via e-mail, but those are obviously not for public consumption. I was wondering if anyone had any anonymous or public questions for either me or for Petey (who may or may not have any interest), or any topics they would like me to further discuss.

These can be questions about yourself--spiritual impasses, doubts, dark nights of the soul--questions about me, questions about the book, questions about anything I've already posted on, ideas for future topics.... As I said, feel free to post anonymously.

Obviously, this is not an invitation to vertically challenged trolls to pester us with inane, incoherent, vulgar, and predictably annoying questions. In CB terms, I'll have to pull the big switch and give a negatory to any wind-jamming bootleggers and button-pushers, channel hoggers or savages with fake handles and peanut butter in the ears.

Simple questions, stupid questions, metaphysical questions, religious questions, psychological questions, musical questions, political questions, yes/no questions, complex questions....

Actually if it's too complex, it may not be answerable in blog form, put perhaps I'll be able to point you in the proper direction. Feel free to be creative or to ask anything that pops into your head, like, "Where did the cosmos come from?," "What is consciousness?, "How do you know this thing called God exists?," "What is this painful rash on my thigh?" (your thigh, not my thigh -- I have no idea what this thing is), "Will you share your award-winning chili recipe?" (no), "What happens when we die?" (actually, don't ask that just yet -- I don't have a simple, bloggable answer).

Hopefully this will be both innertaining and instructive. With luck, perhaps even frivolous. If I don't know the answer, I promise to say so or to provide a confabulated response that seems so plausible that it even fools me. Especially me.

UPDATE--

Mrs. Gagdad has also agreed to answer any general questions. She's a therapist and career & life transition coach who is currently a barefoot, chained-to-the-kitchen, stay-at-home mom, raising our young 'un and doing her level best to set the feminist movement back. I have a question. What's it like to live with an eccentric neuronaut? Is he always like this?

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Further Reflections on Art, Beauty and the Spirit

Small artists can flourish in an age which is not fit for heroes to live in.... It is only the greatest kind of artist who presents us with experiences that we recognize as fundamental and as in advance of anything we have hitherto known. --J.W.N. Sullivan, Beethoven: His Spiritual Development

For the spiritual aspirant, art and beauty are not merely entertainment or worldly distraction, but an occasion for vertical recollection of the higher world. Beauty is the splendor of Truth, a quaint truism no longer recognized in the mechanistic desert of higher criticism. It is an ingression of the divine plenitude from the nonlocal into the local mind.

Although art emanates from a realm that is suprahuman in nature, it requires an agent to manifest locally. Apparently, the universe is filled with these empty fields of pure logos awaiting a nervous system sophisticated enough to evoke their potential and give them concrete form.

The problem with much contemporary art is that it is merely human--it is wholly man-made, severing the divine-human partnership that is required to produce truly transcendent art. Part of this has to do with the relatively recent emergence of the individual self on a mass scale, which has only been going on for perhaps 400 years now.

That is, human individualism was only gradually wrested from the more primordial group mind, and although it is a necessary stage in human evolution, there is obviously a dark side to the ontologically isolated ego, as it brings with it spiritual inflation, self-aggrandizement, rebellion against the divine order, and the illusion of self-sufficiency. Instead of cooperating with God, artists have by and large attempted to replace or become God. (For the same reason, museums are the temples of our highly cultivated but spiritually bereft Last Men.) As Fritjof Schuon noted, the type of deviant art produced by and for such individuals should properly be called "subrealism" rather than realism or surrealism, for it operates on a level below the realm from which true art arises.

Art is literally divination: it is to discover or locate, as in "divining" water. However, it is also to make divine, to divinize. It is a kind of real magic, a communion between the inner being of the human Self and the inner being of whatever medium the artist is working with: sound, stone, words, color. How can sound convey something that isn't sound? How do words express states that are so far beyond words? How can color be the medium through which a noetic light far beyond color passes through?

Indeed, why is the world so beautiful? Why does it "speak" so endlessly to us? Who is speaking? Why are cloud patterns moving across the sky or the changing conditions of the sea so fascinating? Where is that beauty? Is it in the world? Why? Or is it in us? How?

Could it be that the human mind is a membrane through which the infinite passes through the finite, the meeting place of time and eternity, the interior of the cosmos contemplating its outward aspect? Is divinity so thoroughly entangled in the cosmos that the outside is in and the inside is out?

Yes, art imitates nature. But it is equally true that nature imitates art. And our greatest artists are mirrors--better yet, the windows--through which the logos shines. Through art, an unknown quality of ourselves is given birth and returned to us.

In a way, spiritual work is very mundane. It involves nothing more than cleaning windows, so that what is invisible can become visible. At the same time, a channel is opened through which the immense reality of the human soul is revealed from behind the veil. Who is the dreamer who dreams our dreams? Surely not the ego, which is an object the dreamer employs like a bit actor in a play. Who is the artist who dreams the art? Surely not the little man with the paint brush.

The cosmos is not merely what it is. Nor are we. Everything is perpetually passing beyond itself, revealing more of itself in the fulness of creative time. From the first cave paintings 40,000 years ago to the Sistine Chapel--and everything in between--is but a day's work in the interior life of the divine imagination.

As Petey has often muttered under his breath, "Give us this day our daily crock, that we might dip it into the sacred river and trundle back with some portentous bloviating to post this morning."

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Rock! Pornography! Drugs! Insomnia!

Wow. You just never know what's going to be controversial, do you? Thanks to you people, Petey woke me up at 4:00 AM with a torrent of thoughts about music, art and society. Finally I had to just get up or risk losing all of the thoughts and be left empty-handed after my usual nine hour night-sea journey. Petey generally says something once, and that's it. You can ask "what?," but then he just gets evasive, sometimes even a little passive aggressive. So here I am at 4:30, trying to remember all of his talking points.

Something about art... What was it... Oh yes, what is art, anyway? Among other things, a work of art is timeless, it is universal, and it bears repeated viewing and listening--in other words, it has the quality of being "inexhaustible."

Now none of the originators of rock music--or even jazz, for that matter--thought for a minute that they were producing art, much less "great art." Remember, there was no such thing as rock criticism until the late 1960's. Up to that point, no one thought of it as anything other than ephemera--just disposable teenage music.

Of course, that all changed with the Beatles, who actually had self-conscious artistic pretensions from the beginning, even if the masses didn't notice it until the release of Sgt. Pepper in 1967. But even then, you will note that the Beatles were rarely heavy-handed and didactic in their approach. I don't believe that Paul wrote any overtly political songs, and George wrote maybe one: Taxman, which is actually a conservative rant about the exorbitant tax rates in Britain needed to support their welfare state--at the time, the Beatles were paying a ninety percent marginal rate!

And even Lennon, at least while in the Beatles, wrote only one overtly political song, Revolution. He became much more political in his solo career, which is precisely why most of that music is so lame, such as Imagine or Give Peace a Chance. These songs have the baleful and pretentious influence of the sinister Yoko written all over them.

In Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, James Joyce's alter ego, Stephen Dedalus, discusses the criteria for great art. He believed that it was the task of the true artist to record "epiphanies," that is, sudden spiritual manifestations. Following Aquinas, he says that the three things necessary for beauty are wholeness, harmony, and radiance, or claritas.

It is this third category that has to do with epiphanies, when the soul of the thing, its essential whatness, leaps through its outer appearance and reveals its true nature. This supreme quality of beauty captures light from another world, through which the artistic medium is but the shadow. In the "silent stasis" of aesthetic arrest, we are in a spiritual state in which we apprehend the luminous beyond.

Didactic art is the opposite of this--in fact, it is not art at all. That is, it takes the medium of an art form and tries to cram some merely worldly message into it. In other words, instead of transmitting radiance from another dimension--from the higher--it forces in a message or "lesson" from the lower, from this side of manifestation. This is why nazi or communist art is so tedious. It is also why a lot of contemporary art is so bad. It's not really art, but what Joyce called pornography.

Pornography has nothing to do with sex per se; rather, it occurs whenever we completely despiritualize anything and divest it of its otherworldly radiance. Therefore, there is much that is pornographic that is not sexual at all. By this definition, most contemporary music is indeed pornographic--obviously most rap and hip hop. Most TV is pornographic. Most literature is pornographic. Even most religion, I'm afraid, might well be pornographic! And certainly most politics. Dailykos is a porn site, pure and simple. I defy anyone to find a trace of radiance, of claritas, emanating from that infrahuman swamp.

Speaking of which, this is one of the real meanings of the culture war, the battle over the complete spiritual divestment of our culture. On the one side we have radical secularists who wish to erase any vestige of spirituality from the public square, on the other hand, evangelicals and conservative Christians who are trying to preserve it. Now, as I have said before, I am not a right wing Christian or evangelical. And yet, if I have to choose sides in this battle, I am certainly on the side of those who are trying to stand athwart this degenerative process yelling "stop!"

Where was I? Oh yes, back to music. Goesh, in full flashback mode, wrote of his "old fashioned reefer madness enhanced with Janis Joplin, full volume, ahh, the old molotov cocktail reverie of my youth and long hair--grass in the lungs and Janis in the brain," noting that these intoxicating "memories of narcissism and anarchy linger still and pull at me from time to time."

How very true. To a certain extent, rock music is adolescent music. It is the soundtrack to adolescent rebellion, to the surge of hormones, to the power of sexuality, to idealism, to the perception that the world is fake, phony, and hypocritical, and needs to be torn down. Now. And guess what? They're right. This stance, placed in ts proper context, is spiritual through and through--if you want it to be. Yes, it's a radical viewpoint, but all true spirituality is overtly radical. Institutions always try to tame and contain the spiritual impulse, but it cannot be contained or institutionalized. Jesus was nothing if not radical in his critique of existing society. Buddha dismissed it entirely. Petey says that "in the symbolic pyramid of culture, very few bricks touch the ground."

This is what Elvis was about. Again, he would have been the last person to know that he was engaging in an artistic endeavor, and yet, his music is nothing if not universal. It is as if he discovered one of the keys to the universe just lying around on the floor in a tiny studio in Memphis. Once people heard the message, they got it, both instantaneously and cross-culturally. If you have ears to hear, the message comes through loud and clear in the early material Presley recorded for Sun Records in 1954 and 1955. It is as if he pierced a hole between this world and another, and something refreshing, revolutionary, and liberating came flooding in. But also something that was just joyously fun.

Now Jodie d, whom I do not think should be dismissed as a sanctimonious church lady, expressed some very legitimate concerns about what came flooding in thereafter, writing, "EEGADS, aren't these the folks that led to the decline of western culture and fed the decadent lefty culture you attack so ably?" She noted that many of the musicians I mentioned "led us to surrender in Vietnam and those who haven't dropped dead from drugs are lined up behind Cindy Sheehan and Kos today. Add in the sexual libertinism and sexual ambiguity and you see just the kind of forces that have set the groundwork for the sick mass culture of today... Bruce Springsteen = Howard Dean." She also wrote that 60's musicians "were the role model for the pot smoking, LSD popping, sexually immoral millions, and a coarsening of our society."

From the other side of the cultural divide, Anonymous responded to Jodie, asking "If the left/Hollywood nexus is full of sloppy thought, self hate and low morals, how can one embrace their soundtrack as wonderful art ? Or could it be part of their art is (heaven forbid) breaking down societal barriers and opening up the world to new creative ways of looking at both art and society?"

Here I would simply reemphasize that great art, to the extent that it is great art, is about much more than the conscious intentions of the artist. If it is only about their conscious intentions, then it is likely not art at all, but simply the type of didactic pornography discussed above. The true artist is always a mouthpiece of the beyond, saying much more than he realizes.

I once heard it said that it must have been easy for Shakespeare to write his plays. That is, if it was difficult for him, then it would have been impossible, for it would have simply been too difficult for any human to do! Shakespeare wasn't siting around consciously thinking about all of the multiple meanings of Hamlet. Beethoven wasn't "trying" to carry back musical messages from the noumenal realm. Nor was Bob Dylan trying to convey any unambiguous messages in his songs, much less any worldly political agenda.

Anonymous cites the Dylan song, A Hard Rain's Gonna Fall, asking "how can you divorce the societal views of Dylan, Beatles, the Clash, et al, from their music? It WAS (IS) their music.
And how can you decry artists whose politics and social views you oppose as decadent (Springsteen campaigning for Kerry, Jackson Browne against global warming). Is that the distant whisper of mom telling you to 'turn down that junk music' from 35 years ago the sound I hear in the background as you tell your kid not to go see Brokeback mountain or listen to Kanye West?"

I don't even have to hear it to know that a Jackson Browne song about global warming is pop porn. Bruce Springsteen has been reduced to a sad, didactic hack who has lost all contact with the pure spirit that animates the noble impulse to Rock. It is Springsteen who has bowed to the distant voice of his authoritarian father, as his music has fully embraced the conformist, constricted, humorless, anti-spiritual, anti-evolutionary bromides of the left. Kanye West? Not even infrahuman, for it is unnatural for a human being to be in his natural, animal state.

There is a hilarious moment in the new Dylan DVD, in which he is asked about A Hard Rain. Surely it is about nuclear fallout and about the need to end the arms race? No, said Dylan. What is it about then, asks the clueless interviewer? "It's about a hard rain," deadpans Dylan. Dylan refused to be categorized. For one thing, I truly believe he didn't understand where his songs came form. The words just came tumbling in. Like Shakespeare, if he had tried, he couldn't have done it. And when he did try, it likely wasn't art, such as The Times They are A-Changing or Masters of War.

In point of fact, Dylan wrote only a handful of overtly political songs, and most of those on a single early album. Moreover, he quickly saw through the intellectually and spiritually bankrupt left--who had embraced him as the "spokesman for a generation"--and ran away as fast as he could. The left tried to co-opt Dylan, but by 1964 he had left them far behind. They still haven't realized it, as Joan Baez remarks in the new DVD. Of his brief involvement with the humorless, stilted, narrow-minded leftists who tried to get him to dance to their grim tune, Dylan famously sang, I was so much older then, I'm younger than that now.

Today I can enjoy the Who's Won't Get Fooled Again without hearing any explicit or implicit leftist message. After all, it is a revolutionary song, and in the contemporary world, conservatives are the revolutionaries. I don't know about you, but I won't get fooled again by the Clintons, by Howard Dean, by Ted Kennedy, by Jesse Jackson, by the liberal media, by the New York Times... the list is endless.

And sometimes, dammit, even I can't get no satisfaction. And all last week, while watching the Alito hearings, I was wondering to myself, "what's goin' on?" with these Democratic buffoons. And when I hear the Clash proclaim London calling, to the zombies of death, I conjur up bloodthirsty one-eyed imams with hooks for hands preaching their death-cult theology. And one of my great spiritual heroes, Meister Eckhart, was trying to break on through to the other side during the summer of '67. 1267, that is.

Kahn made some excellent points--almost as if he's been in contact with Petey: "There is much more to a song than its social context, or the opinions and mindset of its composer. By this logic an atheist could dismiss Bach, braying that his music was sponsored by the church, and reinforced a religion that killed and plundered and enslaved and raped children. A true work of art stands on its own merits, independent of its creator; just as a child need not be a reflection of its parent."

He kahntinues: "A great song--like any great art--is open to many interpretations, and can resonate beyond its own time... Personally, I sometimes hear Blowing in the Wind as more a deterministic resignation than a revolutionary anthem. Perhaps we are still too close to the history to strip these songs of their accepted contexts."

Well, this has already gone on a bit long. I'll have to finish tomorrow, Petey willing. There I promise to talk about drugs. And more sex, pornography and rock & roll. I just hope he lets me sleep in.