Saturday, February 04, 2006

Religious Cartoons and Cartoonish Religions

"You'd complain if you were on fire." That's what my old gagDad* would good-naturedly say to me as a kid. At the time, I'm not sure I understood exactly what he meant. "Of course I'd complain if I were on fire. Nobody wants to be on fire." But it was his way of saying "better to light a single match than curse the darkness," or "stop whining and do something about it."

At least until the emergence of the modern left, America has never been a complaining country, but an action oriented one. It was considered weak and unmanly to complain, to whine, to blame others. Classical liberalism in no way resembled its modern leftist perversion, in that it emphasized individual liberty, following the rules, making one's way in the emporium of a free market, rising to the level of one's own abilities, and letting the chips fall where they may.

But more than differentiating between ideologies, I find that ideologies and political parties differentiate between "psychoclasses"--that is, different sorts of people reflecting different levels of psychological development. Of course, I am making a huge generalization, but the modern left is the party of complainers, while the modern conservative movement is the party of Doing Something About It. Importantly, the complainers are completely detached from the realm of solutions. No matter how much things improve, the improvement is never acknowledged. It is as if the original complaint is preserved in amber, like a sacred relic.

This applies to almost any issue you care to discuss--the environment (which has never been better), the economy (which is flourishing), the war, voting rights, whatever. Consider the civil rights movement. By all rights, it achieved its purpose 30 or 40 years ago, but it doesn't matter. It is now an institutionalized grievance department run by frauds, hustlers and race-baiters like Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, and other Democrats who are adept at exploiting and nurturing this limitless pool of human grievance and converting it into personal wealth and power. Think of the collective reservoir of bitterness and resentment as analogous to any other human energy. It is "fungible"--that is, able to be converted into valuable cash prizes, no different than positive and pro-social attributes such as personal initiative, creativity, ambition and drive.

Look at the feminist movement. It is based on so many demonstrable myths, lies and distortions, but the myths create a sort of energy through which many people are ironically able to make a nice living--for example, Justice Ginsberg, who parlayed her fierce and uncompromising female envy into a seat on the Supreme Court. Feminists still promulgate the lie that women earn 59 cents to the dollar that men earn in equivalent jobs, but this has been thoroughly debunked. It doesn't matter. If you are going to parasitically exploit the grievances of a class of people, you first must indoctrinate the "host" by peddling victimhood to them. Then the parasite is able to ride the wave of resentment all the way to the bank, the political office, the academic position, or the judicial bench.

In my local paper the other day, there was a remarkable but typical lead story with the headline "County Failing Latinos." It purported to be an objective academic study about all the ways government is supposedly failing Latinos around Los Angeles. For example, Latinos are more overwwight, less healthy, and less likely to graduate high school. But naturally, there wasn't a single statement as to whether any of these problems have to do with self-defeating beliefs and behaviors of Latino culture. It's okay to call people fat, stupid and lazy as long as it's a liberal saying it, because to the liberal, none of these things are your fault. You're a victim of the government, and the liberal is here to help you.

Why not a different headline: "Latino Culture Dysfunctional Compared to Asian Culture," or “Problems of Black Community Solved by Inculcating Mormon Values.” After all, elite California universities are vastly over-represented by Asian Americans, and Provo, Utah is the safest place to live in the country. On the other hand, our prison system is conspicuously underrepresented by Asians and Mormons. Perhaps someone should introduce an an affirmative action program to place more Asians and Mormons in prison in order to achieve diversity. After all, our prisons ought to "look like America."

Come to think of it, we rarely even hear much about Asian culture. They don't seem to complain much, despite a much greater history of real discrimination. In fact, it wasn't too long ago that they weren't even allowed to own property in much of California. Even with the W.W.II internment, by and large they simply took their lumps and moved on. On the other hand, there is a serious movement among African Americans pushing for reparations for slavery, as if that will solve any of their problems.

Isn't this what's going in in the Muslim world? It is a world of perpetual victims who literally don't know any other way to exist. In over half a century it has never even occurred to the so-called Palestinians that instead of foolishly trying to eliminate Israel, they might imitate her. But Job One for the Palestinians has always been and will remain the extermination of Israel. Once that is achieved, then they can think about schools, hospitals, roads, and anything else that creates a decent society. Yeah, right, just like every other Muslim paradise. There is no question that if Israel never existed, its current geographical area would be a squalid and undeveloped piece of generally worthless land, occupied by gang of idle complainers blaming Jordan, Egypt and Lebanon for their plight.

At Gates of Vienna there was a very illuminating discussion around a post by Ali Eteraz, who immigrated to the United States from Pakistan. He describes his experiences as a child in Pakistan, and the traditional fatalism of Islam that was drummed into him. He grew up in a place "where the harshness of life has made the exterior of its citizens tough enough to withstand the heat of the desert. The spirits of its people, on the other hand, are not as taut and unbending as their bodies suggest." Rather, the man living under the weight of Islamic indoctrination "welcomes sorrow, relishes pain, and exalts suffering. For him there is no value in the success of his relationships unless they add to one's misery; there is no value in tears because they would mitigate the sorrows — and that is not wanted. The irony is that even if one comes to realize the unhealthiness of such a way of life, the impracticability of always being life’s martyr, one dares not let go of it, because being happy now, in this life, means being damned tomorrow."

Despite transplanting himself to America, Mr. Eteraz has struggled to slough off these unhealthy attitudes: "I became fatalistic and apathetic... I remained within the folds of Islam because it gave me a framework in which to be submissive; and in being submissive, remain static. It let me believe that my inertness was tolerable, if not altogether ideal.... I always chuckle when I hear the political pundits calling people like me... the 'saving force' of Islam simply because we are not firebrands like Bin Laden.... Many pundits... have rested their hopes upon us muted ones. They expect us to free global Islam from the Tazirs and Bin Ladens of the religion."

"Somehow we cows, chewing on the cud of our paranoia-stricken life have been labeled 'moderate' as if we offer a counterweight to the extremists." But "One of the chronic conditions of Islam, moderate or otherwise, is to blame non-Muslims for the problems afflicting Islam. It’s like the alcoholic who blames his wife’s behavior for his drunken binges. It’s time for Islam to live with the hangover and sober up. And, perhaps, go to an AA meeting and start on the first of the Twelve Steps."

Amen. So now, throughout the world, Muslim jihasbeens-that-never-were are expressing their murderous outrage over some silly cartoons. Truly, they'd complain if they were on fire. Yesterday Egypt refused Israel's offer of assistance to help out with the stricken ferry boat. At least Muslims are a diverse lot. They can also complain while drowning.

*Interestingly, my father served in the British Army in occupied Palestine, back when it really was occupied--by the British Army. He didn't talk much about his experience, but he was impressed--if impressed is the right word--by the barbarism of the local Arabs. He didn't have a bigoted bone in his body, but I remember him casually mentioning that they had the ability to steal your watch while your arm dangled outside the window of a moving train. A prescient comment in light of the uniquely criminal and murderous culture that continues to flourish there. As Mark Steyn has observed, they are "the most comprehensively wrecked people on the face of the planet" through no one's fault but their own, but with big assists from the U.N. and their Arab neighbors. The Palestinians are the all-purpose complaint department of the entire Muslim world. All problems are somehow related to them.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Bobsday, Temporal Resonance, and Building Your Own Portapew

It’s finally happened. I’m almost too busy to post. I don’t know what to do except to imitate Lileks and free associate about my day. But that guy is a real artist. In fact, I think that’s one of the definitions of real art--to take the mundane substance of the day and transubstantiate it into something higher. It’s like alchemy: somehow turning the boring lead of day-to-day life into the gold of eternity.

That’s what Joyce was trying to do in Ulysses. For those of you who don’t know, Ulysses, although it is some six or seven hundred pages long, takes place in a single 24 hour day, mostly in the life of a single person wandering around Dublin on June 16, 1904 (for Joyce lovers, this day is celebrated each year as Bloomsday, in reference to one of the lead characters, Leopold Bloom).

Ironically, the book is an “epic,” but obviously not in the usual way. Instead of a sweeping panorama of history with larger-than-life heroes, we are given minute details of the thoughts and actions of the three main characters as they go through a rather typical day. To make his point, the chapters of the book are structured so that the one day pilgrimage of Bloom resonates with the 19 years of wandering by Ulysses in Homer’s Odyssey. Seemingly random occurrences throughout the day resonate on a deep, archetypal level with the myths of antiquity. Thus, Joyce is also saying something quite novel about the structure of time itself--that it is not mere empty duration, but full of rich archetypal resonance if only we learn how to see it.

Joyce was a loose proponent of the philosopher Giambattista Vico’s cyclical structure of history, which begins with the age of chaos, followed by the age of gods, then the age of kings, and finally, our present age: the age of mere men. But even in the secular, unheroic age of the Last Men, we still have access to everything that preceded us and lies beneath the surface flow of temporal events--again, if we know how to appreciate it. It’s as if time has its own unconscious.

That is, we now understand that our waking ego is surrounded on all sides by a huge reservoir of unconscious energies, both high and low. It is the same with time. If you cut across it vertically, it is hyperdense with multiple meanings. It is like a fractal, in the sense that any point of it contains the whole of it.

Here again, at the risk of belaboring a metaphor, this is what it means to live vertically. One of the purposes of any spiritual practice is to “dilate” time in order to enter its vertical dimension--to leave secular time and to enter sacred time. For Jews, this is what the sabbath is all about: exiting chronological time and entering a different space that is resonating with every previous sabbath, which are somehow all copresent. In reality, there is only the one eternal sabbath to participate in and partake of, where we may get off the endless merribundity-go-round, relux and rejewvenate.

Likewise, what is the Christian mass but an entrance into deep time, where you are sitting by the Lord and participating in the Last Supper? Isn’t this what it means to transform bread and wine into flesh and blood? This is where God is located, where we apprehend more than the cold hand of mechanical reason ever could.

So back to my day. I actually do, in so far as it is possible, try to live my life in this manner. I don’t imagine that there is some other, better life located somewhere else, either in the past, or in the future, or happening to someone else. There is only this life, which, like a machine, drags us along ceaselessly in the horizontal. We don’t have much control over that.

Where we do have control is in the vertical, but only if we work at creating a little space or “slack” from which to operate. We must learn to be the spacious and tranquil I of the hurrycon--the sinister conspiracy to make you hurry up and lose your center--and reverse figure and ground, so that time is seen as a sort of overflow, or “boiling over” from eternity into time, a dancing and ever-changing revelation of the eternal mind in the things of time.

To put it another way, we must build a sort of portable “internal monastery” that we carry with us. Regarding the world from this monastery, we see it not just as mere information to be processed, but as a marvelous gift capable of stimulating a sense of wonder and gratitude.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Leftists, Islamists, and Failure to Launch: It's a Peter Pandemic

Failure to launch is a big problem for humans. Not just on an individual basis--as in the case of the adolescent in an adult body who is still living with his parents, trying to figure out what to do with his life--but with mankind as a whole. Why are human beings--who have such incredible potential--such persistent underachievers?

To a certain extent, people remain stuck in adolescence because they can. It’s amazing what human beings can achieve when they don’t have a choice. Thankfully, when my father emigrated to the United States in 1948 after being discharged from the British Army at the age of 21, he didn’t really have any choice but to be an adult. Failure to launch was not an option. Although he had only an 8th grade education, he eventually became a corporate executive and sent all four sons to college.

Someone--maybe Petey--once said that “misery rises to the level of the means available to alleviate it.” This is one of the reasons why liberal programs don’t work. No matter how much better off people are, if they are unhappy and envious at their core, they will find a way to express it.

A corollary to this would be that “immaturity rises to the level of the means available to nurture it.” In this regard, historians now understand that “adolescence” is culturally constructed to begin with. You don’t have to go too far back in history to see that there was only childhood and adulthood, with nothing in between. Only when societies become relatively affluent can they afford a period of adolescence, during which time young adults toy with different identities and enjoy a life of leisure and extended learning before committing to an adult identity. But only when cultures become extremely prosperous is there no compelling reason for adolescence to end at all. You really can "die before you get old."

Today the transition to adulthood can be delayed indefinitely. In fact, children are not even taught that there is a “destination” or “goal” to life. Imagine, for example, a sex education class that taught children that marriage was the appropriate outlet and goal of sexuality--in other words, that sexuality had a meaning and an objective direction.

Of course, once you have chosen one option in life, all of the others are forever foreclosed. If you choose one career, it means all the other possibilities are ended. If you marry one woman, you are really denying yourself the rest of womankind, and who would want to do that? It seems that many people would prefer to live in the realm of infinite (but unrealized) potential rather than finite, but real, existence.

Could this be part of what drives the pornography obsession? Now, for the first time in history, human beings have access to this infinite storehouse of alluring images that provides a perverse illusion that the ideal is real. It is a pathetic state--an inherently adolescent one. Whenever someone is acting on a dark compulsion of this nature, it provides an exhilarating sense of spurious freedom. But because it is spurious it must be repeated again and again. It is entirely circular and self-enclosed. It goes nowhere.

But I am actually more interested in the more general failure to launch that afflicts mankind at large. What is the cause of this? For example, there is no question that this is the problem we face in the bulk of the Arab Muslim world. Something in their cultural DNA has left them mired in an historical and developmental eddy, sitting on the launch pad below, just where we left them 700 years ago. What happened? Why didn't they launch?

As I have discussed in a variety of contexts, humans inhabit a horizontal and a vertical world. Among other things, the vertical world is the world of psychological and emotional development. We are the only animal that comes into the world with an infinite potential that may or may not be fulfilled in this lifetime (actually, being infinite, it is never completely fulfilled). Other animals--assuming that they aren’t eaten or die prematurely for some other reason--inevitably reach their developmental goal and achieve maturity as defined by their species. But not humans. Yes, barring some kind of unusual disease, all humans grow to physical maturity. But it is fair to say that the vast majority of human beings down through history--right through to the present day--do not make it to psychological maturity: they do not come close to fulfilling their developmental potential.

This is a question that has always intrigued me, because it goes directly against the grain of any facile Darwinian explanation. That is, I believe that human development is guided by a telos or an end state that we are supposed to achieve. But unlike other animals, there is no way this end state can be accounted for by natural selection, because it never existed in the material world--it remains latent unless or until it is realized. In short, while we certainly have our genetic blueprint, we also have some sort of nonlocal “archetypal blueprint” that draws us toward it. But any number of personal, cultural and historical conditions can conspire to prevent us from realizing this blueprint. For example, if you are a woman in Saudi Arabia, what are the chances you will have the opportuntiy to become who you are? Approximately zero. But if women can't become who they are, neither can men--which is why there are so few adult men in the Arab Muslim world.

Another way of saying this is that human beings alone among the animals are somehow built for transcendence. Not only do human beings have the capacity to rise beyond and surpass themselves, but this is our essential nature. No one looks at a pig and says, “Why don’t you grow up and start acting like a proper pig?” But we ask this of humans all the time. In fact, it is the question that answers the question of what a human being is.

Failure to launch is ultimately failure to transcend. As Meister Eckhart wrote, “When the higher incorporates the lower into its service, the nature of the lower is transformed into that of the higher.” But it also works the other way around: when we fail to transcend, the higher is incorporated into the lower, creating a perverse version of itself. Thus, we have the counterfeit transcendence represented by radical Islam, which thoroughly conflates the higher and lower, so that the most bestial acts are celebrated as divinely inspired.

Likewise, here in the United States we have an entire political party that has been hijacked by children suffering from FTL syndrome: Dailykos, huffington post, the Hollywood crowd, Air America, Howard Dean, Michael Moore, Ted Kennedy, Cindy Sheehan, the perpetual adultolescents of leftist academia--all are in one way or another living in the bubble of immaturity that our affluent society provides. They are failures to launch, and they hate the symbolic parents that remind them that it’s time to move out of their childhood room, get a real job, and grow up.


That's a coincidence. Today is Groundhog Day, the illustrious film of that name being one of the great meditations on emotional and spiritual Failure to Launch.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Don't Just Do Something, Sit There

James--a One Cosmos Prayer Partner whose love offering has been received and whose book is on the way--is intrigued by Taoism. Although he does his best to put Taoist principles into practice, he is having difficulty understanding the idea of non-action. He is powerfully drawn to the idea despite the difficulty, and has asked if I or Petey have any thoughts on matter.

I have tremendous affection for Taoism, which is full of profound and universal wisdom that is easily compatible with Judaism, Christianity, or any other spiritual path. As a matter of fact, when I began my off-road spiritual adventure, it was initially as a Taoist, or perhaps a Zen-Taoist hybrid. This is because out of all the religions, these two are perhaps the most free of what most modern people would regard as “superstition” or “magic.” There is nothing in them that offends the rational intellect. The ego, yes--the intellect, no.

However, ultimately I could only get so far with Taoism, because it lacks a potent source of grace. In other words, it’s a “do it yourself” (or Tao it yourself) religion. In my case, my practice took a quantum leap forward once I obtained some nonlocal assistance. However, that by no means negates the wisdom of the Tao Te Ching. Again, its insights can apply to most any spiritual (or even non-spiritual) practice.

First of all, for those of you who are out of the loop, wu wei is one of the central concepts of Taoism. Although literally translated as “non-doing” or “non action,” it is probably more accurately thought of as “not forcing.” The apocryphal writer of the Tao Te Ching, Lau-tzu, gained his insights by simply observing the way nature worked. Nature doesn’t “do” anything, and yet it gets everything done in a most efficient way. Non-action means living in accord with the way things are, for example, in the way that water naturally overcomes whatever is in its way and flows toward its destination. It doesn’t mean that you don’t cut the wood, but that you cut it along the grain--you don’t force things. Think of a blind man who moves in his environment by learning how to avoid obstacles.

Non-doing means not acting in the way you would like things to be, but in terms of the way they are. In other words, it means acting in accord with objective truth, with the natural order of things, not with mere opinion. It means living in alignment with with pre-existent reason--with the logos.

Non-doing is sometimes seen as passivity, but it is not that at all. For example, great athletes are in a state of non-doing, while mediocre athletes attempt to force things--they don’t allow the game to “come to them.” Great athletes don’t consciously deliberate about the many options available to them. There’s a saying in baseball, “don’t think. You hurt the ballclub.”

Similarly, great jazz musicians enter a state of non-doing during collective improvisation. There is no way they could respond as quickly as they must if their minds were thinking about all the possible directions they could take their solo. If the mind gets involved, it’s already too late--the moment is gone. By yielding to the moment, a sort of transcendent beauty, or pre-existing pattern becomes immanent and is revealed in the music. It cannot be imposed, only discovered.

The great jazz pianist Keith Jarrett might be the most articulate practitioner of musical non-doing. He writes that a jazz musician "goes onto the stage hoping to have an encounter with music. He knows that the music is there (it always is), but this meeting depends not only on knowledge but on openness.... It is a discrimination against mechanical pattern, against habit, for surprise, against easy virtuosity, for saying more with less, against facile emotion, for a certain quality of energy, against stasis, for flow..." It is "like an attempt, over and over, to reveal the heart of things."

Interestingly, this was the approach to psychotherapy recommended by one of my mentors, the psychoanalyst W.R. Bion. His advice to the practicing therapist was to “suspend memory, desire and understanding” before each session. In other words, the idea is not to force things, but to allow them to develop of their own accord. Premature understanding of the patient is often a defense against depth, against the fear of not knowing, against the emotional turmoil that must be tolerated and allowed to evolve and coalesce. Each session with the patient is a step into the formless, infinite void that must be approched with faith. Out of that faith, understanding will emerge, but it cannot be forced.

The principles of the Tao are very much at odds with contemporary left-liberalism, which forever tries to impose order and outcomes, as opposed to classical liberalism, which trusts that the chaos of liberty spontaneously leads to a higher and much more robust order. For example, the Tao states, “I let go of economics, and people become prosperous.” “When taxes are too high, people go hungry.” “When the government is too intrusive, people lose their spirit.” “If you don’t trust the people, you make them untrustworthy.” “Try to make people happy, and you lay the groundwork for misery.” “Stop trying to control. Let go of fixed plans and concepts, and the world will govern itself.” Leftists hate the idea that there is infinitely more embodied wisdom in a free market than in the shrewd sophistry of Paul Krugman, and that most societal problems will solve themselves if you allow them to. Indeed, many of our most troubling contemporary problems are a result of some meddling liberal "solution" that was put in place 30, 40, or 50 years ago.

In many respects, President Bush governs in a Taoist way. For example, the Tao is deeply skeptical of intellectuals and abstract concepts: “The more you know, the less you understand.” “He who tries to shine dims his own light.” “The master doesn’t talk, he acts.” “True words aren’t eloquent; eloquent words aren’t true.” What could be more heretical to the silver-tongued devils at the New York Times? This is one of the main reasons they despise him, because his natural simplicity is a rebuke to their unnatural, convoluted, and "nuanced" complexity.

Perhaps the ultimate lesson of Taoism is that language can introduce all sorts of redundancies into existence. We do not “have” an experience. We are experience. Experience is an encounter between a knower and known, but in reality, knower and known are simply two sides of the same coin: there is no knower without a known, and no knowledge without a knower. External and internal reality are bound together by a mysterious process that we do not understand, and to which we add nothing by escaping into some symbolic representation of it. You do not live your life. Rather, life is lived through you. Thoughts arise. You don’t think them. But you can learn to let them go.

Jesus, at least in terms of his practical wisdom, was clearly of a Taoist bent: “Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to your stature?” “Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” When he says “seek ye first the kingdom of God,” he is saying something analogous to living and being rooted in the Tao.

Oh, and what does Petey think? He agrees with Lao-tzu that if you try to be a Taoist, you're wasting your time:

My teachings are easy to understand
and easy to put into practice.
Yet your intellect will never grasp them,
and if you try to practice them, you’ll fail.*

*All exerpts from the Tao Te Ching are taken from the excellent Stephen Mitchell translation.

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

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


(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.