Saturday, July 15, 2006

Temporal Pathologies and the Current Crisis

Historical consciousness is a relatively new thing. Normally, history is what happens when we’re busy making other plans, isn’t it? In the past, people more or less lived in the present, which was in turn embedded in a timeless mythological structure. Although history was happening, perhaps it happened so slowly that no one noticed. Or, if they did notice, it was generally thought to be a bad thing, since it connoted deviation from the timeless ideal. Unlike in the modern West, there was no notion that time = progress. But for us, we can hardly even think about time anymore without attaching some notion of “progress” to it. If things aren’t getting better, then they’re getting worse.

In fact, when you think about it, that’s the basis of our present historical impasse with the Islamists (and to a certain extent, leftists, who have their own issues with time). Clearly, what we call “progress,” the Islamists call “decadence” or “degeneration.” They would specifically like to put an end to what history has wrought over the past 700 years or so, and revert to the static and timeless mode that humans have always known.

Because of our historical consciousness, everyone seems to sense that we have entered a particularly “thick” slice of time in the last week, with the possibility of all out war in the Middle East. Outwardly it looks like a war, but inwardly it is a flooding over into consciousness of a rising tide of infrahuman subconsciousness and barbarism. I imagine that World War I must have felt similar to people--as if they were living amidst a great upsurge of uncontrollable, but somehow necessary, energies.

The esoteric understanding of time is that it has several different dimensions of its own. In other words, it is not mere duration, but has ontologically real modes and qualities. Clearly, the present moment is causing so much anxiety because it is so rich with potential. We are getting very close to the essence of what is wrong with the world--as if the polarized essences are about to “touch,” so to speak, which would set off a sort of historical explosion. We can all sense the impending thunderclap, as light meets dark in a sort of apocalyptic showdown.

For that is clearly what this represents. When you pare away all of the intellectual sophistry, there is no subtlety about this whatsoever. Hamas is pure evil. Hezbollah is evil. The Iranian mullahs are evil. The chinless wonder who rules Syria is evil. They are every bit as evil as Hitler or Stalin or Mao. It’s just that, because of our historical “progress,” we have become too sophisticated and subtle to recognize and name evil anymore.

The moral gulf that exists between Israel and her enemies is literally infinite, for the simple reason that the distance between life and death is infinite. Does this mean that Israel is absolutely good? Of course not. It just means that the moral abyss between Israel and her enemies tends toward the infinite. Quite literally, people who worship life are doing battle with infrahuman beasts who worship death. Normal people who love their children more than they love life are in a struggle for survival with deranged beings who love death more than they love their own children.

Because this latter existential stance is so demonic, so frankly satanic, many in the West simply cannot see it. If you live in the light, then the darkness is visible. But if you yourself live in horizontal darkness, then it’s a case of a very dark night in which all the cows are black. It's just a "cycle of violence," tit for tat. To quote one of the most morally idiotic statements ever made, "an eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind."

Because we are human, we can know when we are dealing with a being that is subhuman, human, superhuman, or divine. For example, we know that animals are subhuman, whereas animals cannot know that we are “super-animals.” But this innate human capacity obviously can and does become corrupted. People can lose their ability to recognize the subhuman in humans. This tends inevitably to happen to people who cannot recognize the divine or superhuman. I know, for example--as I am sure most of my readers know--that Jesus was divine or that the person who wrote the Gospel of John was superhuman, for the same reason we know that Zarqawi was subhuman. There are degrees of light that are obvious to the noetically attuned soul.

I’ve never given it much thought as to why people are uncomfortable naming the subhumans in our midst, but it must be because of the experience of nazi Germany. For nazi Germany represented the case of a subhuman ideology attempting to extinguish a divine one. It is as if the Left came away with an entirely backward lesson: that it is bad to call anyone evil or subhuman. But you will notice that when this happens, it is not as if evil disappears. It just gets relocated and projected into things that are patently not evil. Thus the deep moral confusion of the Left that sees George Bush or Israel as evil, even subhuman. I could provide hundreds of examples from dailykos or huffingtonpost or other left wing sites that depict George Bush as an animal or a monster, but I’ve never seen them do that with Arafat or Kim Jong Il or Castro.

I might add that if you do not see the evil in yourself--or the potential for such--then you will generally be unable to see it in others. Here again, this is an entirely postmodern liberal ideology that I’ve never taken the trouble to think through where it came from, but I suppose that it comes from my own debased field, psychology, which has replaced the traditional view of human existence being a battleground of good and evil. There is a struggle within our own soul over who and what will rule over it. But if you are steeped in postmodernity, then human beings are really just animals--we are all subhuman, and nobody is any better or worse than anyone else. Therefore, we teach “self esteem,” that there is nothing wrong with you except your belief that there is something wrong with you.

But there is something wrong with you. Especially you--and you know exactly who I'm talking about. Your only hope is to recognize what it is and to do something about it. That’s why we are here, and that is the actual saving grace of history. It is why history has a forward and a reverse. There is a law of vertical gravitation at work in history, exerting its influence on the soul. We can be pulled in one direction, by the divine attractor, or fall further in the other direction, 32 feet per second per second. This is what it means to truly be a progressive: to fight for the political, cultural, and historical circumstances that allow vertical liftoff for the maximum number of souls.

A child naturally lives in an innocent, light-filled world, and it is the job of a parent to preserve that light for as long as possible, until it is inevitably penetrated by the darkness of the fallen world. In so doing, we can re-experience the primordial light that has gradually dimmed in ourselves. Likewise, there is a life-stream and a death-stream that flow through the cosmic arteries of our existence. The former moves from the past to the future, while the latter moves from the future to the past. Children are naturally oriented to the present and future, but as we age, we become increasingly aware of the entropic death stream. Yestalgia for nostoday sets in.

The only way out is in and up, both individually and collectively. For history must be lived in the light of something that is beyond it, something it is aiming for, something that reveals its meaning and purpose. This something is not found within history, but above history. The Islamists would like to impose something on us from below history, while the Left wants to impose something on us that they think is inside history, but can never actually be found there.

Over and against the soporific influence of the world stands the way of awakening.... All movements of a social, political, artistic, intellectual, and religious kind may indeed have different speeds of devolution, but one thing they have in common: if no reinforcing impulse is given after a certain time, they will inevitably exhaust themselves. A thing of motion or of life becomes a corpse unless “reawakening impulses” intervene. Impulses of regeneration, however, do actually intervene--precisely out of the hidden energy center belonging to the “night realm” of history and also to every individual biography. --Valentin Tomberg

Friday, July 14, 2006

Setting Your Compass on the Face of the Deep

Everything is a mystery of the face to face and the within. OM Abba! --Father Henri Lasaux/Swami Abhishiktananda

(What follows is a reworking of something I wrote in the past in light of what we have been discussing about child-rearing and human development. I'm probably going to begin doing this more often, that is, going through old posts, separating the eternal from the ephemeral, and seeing what I have. As you know, I dash these things off first thing in the morning. Being that the key to good writing is good editing, many of my posts really shouldn't have seen the light of day to begin with. But they generally do contain some seeds that are worthy of further attention and nurturing.)

Ever since the scientific revolution, we have tended to divide the world into a public sphere of objective, measurable reality and a private sphere of ephemeral, subjective perceptions. In this view, the external world is considered the fundamental reality, while consciousness is reduced to an epiphenomenon, so that all our perceptions of the world--its colors, sounds, and textures--are meaningless, revealing nothing intrinsic to the cosmos. All subjective qualities are reduced to quantities--for example, our perception of the redness of an apple is reduced to a particular frequency of light, or music is reduced to vibrating air molecules striking against our ear drums.

As I wrote in One Cosmos Under God, "science begins with the one world we experience with our senses (where else could it begin?), but quickly saws off that familiar limb by 'excluding everything that can be imagined or conceived, except in abstract mathematical terms,' consequently relegating everything outside mathematical description--the very world it started with--to 'an ontological limbo.'" Only this second, abstract world is considered to disclose valid information about the universe, whereas all of our initial impressions of color, sound, texture, beauty, and meaning supposedly reveal nothing real about the universe, only about our own nervous systems.

But one of the fundamental teachings of any spiritual view is that the universe has a within that is accessible to humans. In other words, the universe is not simply an exterior, made up of discrete parts that are external to one another. Rather, by looking at the parts in a certain way, we may discover a wholeness in the world that in turn reveals its interior dimension--and therefore its meaning. Parts show us only the exterior of the cosmos, while wholeness shows us the great within (and vice versa).

The human face is the gateway to the primordial within. As infants, our whole world is oriented around the mother's face. Obviously, in looking at a face, we don't first attend to a nose here, an eye there, and a mouth there, and inductively leap to the conclusion that a face exists. Rather, without even knowing it, we attend to the face as a whole, and can instantaneously distinguish one face from another and one expression from another.

In attending to the mother's face, the baby knows that the mother has an interior, and through her changing expressions, only gradually begins to discover his own interior. Autistic children, for example, do not see whole "faces," but only a collection of parts, so that they are never ushered into the intersubjective Withinness of the cosmos. Instead, they are condemned to a bizarre and frightening existence of living death--immersed in a sea of things that move and have independent existence, but which reveal no meaning. Ironically, in the strict scientific view, one would have to say that people with autism are more in touch with reality than anyone else, since they truly live in the world of meaningless objects described by science.

You may have noticed that most trolls have this “autistic” quality. They generally think I delete them because they disagree with me, but more often than not, it is because they just don’t get the point of what I’m writing about. They think they get it--after all, why shouldn’t they? They only know what they know, but cannot know what they don’t know. It requires a level of cognitive and spiritual maturity to appreciate the “wholeness” of what I’m writing about. You certainly can’t look at a single post and try to tear it apart. Rather, it is a whole way of looking at the cosmos that attempts to take everything into its view. It is to look at the cosmos as a face--perhaps a visible face of the invisible God. I say “a” rather then “the” face, for the latter would amount to pantheism and cosmolatry. God has other faces aside from the cosmos, including scripture, the uncorrupted intellect (which is a mirror of God), the conscience, and certain other inexplicable “inclinations” within us. There are many ways to see the divine light.

Just as the face allows us to access the within of the person who animates it, the wholeness of the cosmos allows us to see within it. (One of the central points of my book is that modern physics reveals the cosmos to be an internally related whole, not just a collection of exterior parts.) Paradoxically, we can know the interior only by focusing on the exterior. Just as the face is the meaning of its features, the meaning of existence can be discovered by dwelling in its outward features.

I remember when my father died some 22 years ago. He had suffered an abdominal aneurysm and underwent emergency surgery. He made a somewhat miraculous recovery, but three months later it became infected and burst again. I had left the hospital and returned just after he had died. The nurse asked if I wanted to see him. I instinctively recoiled at the thought, thinking that it would scar me with unpleasant memories for life. But something made me go in anyway. In looking at his face, the immediate and powerful impression was that he was simply not there. It was only an outside. Something deep within me knew in an instant that his “within”--something with real ontological weight--had left and was elsewhere. Instead of scarring me, it comforted me.


Poets have always understood that by indwelling in nature we can intuit what dwells within nature--we are always swimming in a sea of clues that point beyond themselves to a hidden reality to which the clues point. By attending to things and events in a certain way, we allow them to "speak" to us, and this in turn informs us about their nature.

The English poet Gerard Manley Hopkins coined the term "inscape" to refer to this more intense experience of observing things in such a way that their intrinsic qualities emerge. He believed, for example, that by allowing one's attention to be drawn to a bird in flight, a tree, or a landscape, we allow their character to act upon us through a union of the inner and outer worlds. Similarly, Goethe argued that we discover the true nature of things through a contemplative kind of looking he called "seeing with exactitude." By doing this, we can open ourselves to what the cosmos is telling us about itself.

This has obvious theological implications. For example, what is scripture but an exterior narrative that tells us of the within--the inner nature--of God? Likewise, what is the Trinity but a way to think about God’s within, his inner life? Just as it is a mistake to view nature as an object, one makes the same mistake in viewing scripture only as a historical narrative of external events. Rather, those events have a within which is their true teaching. As a matter of fact, this is probably the simplest definition of esotericism: inner religion.

It can also be argued that the figure of Jesus--or the avatar principle, if you want to broaden things out a bit--answers the deepest human longing to "see the face of God," and thereby know his within most intimately. Again, the whole point of the gospels, if you are a Christian, is that their external narrative reveals the interior of God. You cannot dismantle or deconstruct the gospel stories, for this would be like disassembling a human face to try to understand its expression. We see by a sort of interior light when we dwell in faith, for faith is actually a holistic foreknowledge of as yet undiscovered truths--knowledge of approaching discoveries on the interior plane of things. And the discoveries tend to be inexhaustible. There is no end to them, any more than there is an end or "edge" to our consciousness.

As the poet Novalis put it, "The seat of the soul is where the inner world and the outer world meet." If you are feeling boxed in by the materialistic paradigm of modernity, know that you may escape it any time through the many inscapes that surround us.


Of course, it is true that the semitic religions advise against idolatry. However, in my view, idolatry is the exact opposite of what I am talking about. For idolatry involves reducing the Absolute Subject of God to a a mere object in the relative world. An icon of the sort used in Orthodox Christianity is the opposite of an idol: it is a membrane through which the transcendent, unseen energies of the divine penetrate and cast their luster into this world. Truly, the icon is situated at the frontier between the immanent and transcendent God. In meditating upon it, it is another way to know God’s within. (At this moment I am listening to another piece by Arvo Part. It is giving me chills because it is the sound of God’s interior--perhaps even the sound of heaven.)

Those iconoclasts who do not countenance the countenance--Muslims, for example--are missing the point. It was long ago decided that the use of icons is not only appropriate but fundamental to Orthodox Christianity. According to Bishop Kallistos Ware, the seventh ecumenical council in 787 proclaimed that "since Christ became true man, it is legitimate to depict his face upon the holy icons; and, that since Christ is one person and not two, these icons do not just show us his humanity in separation from his divinity, but they show us the one person of the eternal Logos incarnate."

Among my darshan images is a traditional icon of Jesus hanging right above my desk. One of my friendly nonlocal operators, or what I like to call "I-amissaries" from across the father shore.

I wonder if Muslims do not see the face of God because they cannot see the face of God. Perhaps because children are treated so cruelly, they cannot conceive of the loving face of God. Perhaps the ancient Greeks as well. Although Plato could conceive of “the One,” it could never be “stained” or contaminated by any human qualities--perhaps to keep it safe from them.

But one thing we can say with certainty about God is that he is a person because he is at least a person--just as we can know that humans are animals because we are at least animals. But we are animals with something infinite and absolute thrown into the mix, just as God is human and much more. The “much more” is his awesome and mysterious within.

Interestingly, the anti-icon forces were probably influenced by contemporary Islamic and earlier Jewish ideas regarding the depiction of God. But icons are not worshipped. Rather, they are revered in the same way a Jew reveres the Torah, not as an "idol" but as a reflection of God. Easy for Jews to say, because they have always been more literate than the rest of humanity, so they looked for evidence of God’s within through scripture. One of the purposes of icons was to provide "opened books to remind us of God," especially for the toiling masses who lacked the leisure or literacy to crack a real book. This is one great advantage Christianity had over Judaism in spreading the idea of monotheism--the whole story could be presented to the pagan mind in the form of stained glass windows or a pop-up book.

Ever since he was a lad, a reader informs me that he had an affinity--an inexplicable attraction, in the sense we have been using the term--toward the being he understood to be Jesus. This mysterious attraction occurred whenever he consciously thought of Jesus. In my opinion, the attraction was probably mutual without him realizing it, but that's another matter.

The reader pointed out that there have been countless depictions of the "face" of Jesus, probably none actually being an exact or even a close likeness. Nevertheless, "at the risk of becoming an idolator," he imagined the face of Jesus in his mind's eye.

Now why, my dear bobbleheads, why should this little experiment have brought real tears to his eyes, along with a wholly unexpected flood of feeling and emotion? The feelings clearly weren't rehearsed or "affected." Feelings of being an "unworthy sinner," feelings of regret, a desire for reparation, a profound sense of gratitude, thankfulness at having an unseen mentor and invisible but often sadly ignored influence in his life.

As an aside, it is interesting to note that in Judaism, tears--especially this particular type of tears that we don't seem to have a word for--are considered a gift of God. For example, the narrators of the Zohar--the mystical text underlying kabbalah--weep whenever they grasp a profound spiritual truth. Or think of the "wailing wall."

These purifying tears signify many things. For example, they reveal the primordial wound through which vertical energies intrude into our enclosed little world of illusory self-sufficiency. The heart must be "wounded" in order to allow God's energies to flow, while penitential tears are a kind of transpersonal "blood." (What did Leonard Cohen sing? There's a crack in everything, that's how the light gets in.)

Furthermore, it is said that the gift of tears is a form of transpersonal touch, specifically, of contact between image and likeness. Again, we are born in the image of God, but spiritual work involves the never-ending task of becoming the likeness. When image meets likeness--when we are "touched" from above--there is often a spontaneous production of tears. The flow of these vivifying tears is mysteriously associated with "life"--the higher Life, not mere biological life. A saint is always on the verge of tears. And no one is more alive.

For these tears ultimately represent a "crucifixion" of the heart, life emerging out of death, a mingling of sorrow and joy, burial and resurrection, a rose blooming on the cross of the heart. Jesus actually sweats real blood when face to face with God in Gethsemane. And what happened when his heart was pierced by the Roman centurian? Blood and water flow: exterior and interior life co-mingled.

The 'I' of the morning of Easter is of another order... The saving name of Christ is aham asmi, I AM. And the deep confession of faith is no longer the external 'Christ is Lord,' but so ham asmi, I am He. Like him at once born and not born. The Father in relation to the Son--to me--to all. The Son in relation to me--to all. Myself in relation to every conscious being; born in all, ceaselessly, and yet always face to face.” --Swami Abhishiktananda

Thursday, July 13, 2006

The Cosmic Struggle of Darkness and Light: What Else is New?

Went to bed thinking about the bad craziness in the world, but drifted off to sleep thinking about eternity with the help of Arvo Part, the great Russian Orthodox composer of contemporary sacred music. Woke up thinking about the intersection of time and eternity and about mankind’s 40,000 year struggle toward the light.

Part was born in Estonia in 1935. At the time it was free and independent, but became part of the Soviet Union after World War II. Like Jesus, he ran afoul of the imperial authorities, especially when his compositions began to openly express his Christian faith in 1968. This was an incredibly courageous thing to do, because one never knew how the Party might react. Shostakovich before him always kept a bag packed in case of the midnight knock on the door. Probably not as scary as it is for Bruce Springsteen or the Dixie Chicks to live under President Bush, but still...

Brilliant light amidst near total darkness. Here is where any kind of mere rationalism or materialism fails utterly as an adequate philosophy, for this metaphysical light and darkness are real, as real as anything you can touch, see, or taste. Or, to put it another way: if you cannot see the transpersonal light--and I'm speaking figuratively here, because many good but irreligious people experience that light without ever thinking about it--then you are likely either a subhuman or a monster, for you have specifically rejected that which makes you human and elevates you above the beasts. Those were real monsters that ran the Soviet Union, and it is monsters of depravity from the same infrahuman abyss that we are fighting today.

If we as a species ever lose our ability to intuit the divine light, then all hope--all reason for hope--is truly lost. The metaphysical light of which we are speaking can be demonstrated to exist, but only to those who are inclined to see it. As a matter of fact, our higher intellect knows no doubt as it pertains to this noetic light, but the intelligence can be so twisted by modern ideologies superimposed on mind parasites that it is reduced to a mere virtuality--a remnant of itself. Materialism and rationalism bring us a deceptive lucidity that is all artificial light.

As Schuon has said, when worldly intelligence---which is to say, unintelligence--”joins with passion to prostitute logic, it is impossible to escape a mental satanism which destroys the very bases of intelligence and truth.” People in the West who call themselves "atheists" are nevertheless usually capable of knowing the light--which is why they are not monsters (as a number of commenters mentioned yesterday, in the case of an Ayn Rand.)

Yesterday we discussed the miraculous appearance of a sliver of light in the midst of the darkness of antiquity: the Jewish people. Prior to their turning toward the light, they had nothing to recommend themselves. They were as barbarous as the next tribe, perhaps even more so. People routinely misunderstand the phrase “chosen people,” as if it means that G-d chose the ancient Hebrews because there was something special or virtuous about them. Quite the contrary. G-d first approached many other more “worthy” peoples, all of whom rejected Him. The Hebrews were simply the only group to take G-d up on his offer.

So the uncreated light was there, but no one was interested in it until the Hebrews decided to try to become a vehicle for it. If you are Christian, then the later appearance of Jesus cannot be comprehended outside the prior preparation of a people to bear that light. It is inconceivable that Jesus could have appeared as a Greek, a Roman, a native American. Where else was he supposed to appear? It had to be in some place that was at least receptive to the light.

It is absurd that contemporary scholars continue to convey flattering ideas about ancient Greece and Rome. Being that they are mostly secularized minds, they do not understand the real drama of history: the struggle between darkness visible and uncreated light. Yesterday we discussed some of the innovations in Jewish child-rearing practices that began to allow the light in. Actually, the key is simply not to deliberately do things to destroy the primordial light that every human being is born with. I see it in my son. It is so obvious--it just radiates. Other people see it. You can’t miss it.

But most people do, especially down through history. Whether it is because of some primordial envy of the innocent light, or a mere repetition of what happened in their own childhood, people pass on their darkness to their own children, generation after generation. There is a reason that there is so much focus on the baby Jesus and upon his relationship with Mary--all of those nativity scenes at Christmas time are conveying a truth and a light that is way beyond what mere words can communicate. It is a straight line from the altar of Abraham to the nativity--from sacrificing children to a dark god to cherishing and nurturing the light in them.

Seems obvious, doesn’t it? Quite the opposite. You are hopelessly historo-centric and ethnocentric if you fail to realize how rare this attitude toward children is. The monsters among us are attracted to children in an entirely different way. There is a deep psychological reason why child sacrifice was so ubiquitous in the ancient world, and why it is so pervasive, albeit in disguised form, among our enemies today.

The death-worshipping Palestinians--perhaps the most sick and evil culture since the Ancient Aztec--systematically poison the souls of their children with hatred of the light before sending them off to murder innocents on behalf of their sinister god. They use their children as “human” shields, for that is what they are: the little humans that the monsters hide behind, for some part of their twisted mind realizes that we value their children more than they do. And if one of them is accidentally killed, the monsters know how to play on our guilt. Although they cannot empathize with children, they intuit that we have a soft spot for them, and know that they can manipulate our sensibilities with the cooperation of the dupes of the Western media.

As usual, this post is veering into unintended directions. I had wanted to discuss the barbarity of ancient Rome and the miracle of Jesus’ light appearing in such a dark and detestable world. Gladiators mutilating Christians to the roar of the crowd, grotesque animal sacrifices, mass slaughter of prisoners on the battlefield as an offering to their bloodthirsty gods. Rampant child rape and abuse. Starvation of children, boy brothels in every major city in the Empire, slave boys kept for sexual pleasure, children sold into concubinage.

The literature of antiquity abounds with details of how it was necessary to beat children in order to drive the demons out of their minds. One book notes that “When the Emperor Diocletian became ill in 303 AD, the state required a general sacrifice. Anyone who did not sacrifice a child during the Emperor’s illness would be immediately executed.” When he was 22, Nero murdered his own mother out of fear that she would kill him first. Nero and Caligula inaugurated so many grotesque cruelties that I don't think I want to even mention them. It will ruin your day.

Crucifixion was the product of the most lingering and painful death the Romans were capable of imagining in their sadistic minds. Although they didn't invent it, they perfected the process, making it as slow and agonizing as possible. The length of survival on the cross might go on for as long as four days, with insects burrowing into open wounds and birds of prey tearing at the victim. I could go on, but I won’t. You’ve probably seen the Passion of the Christ anyway.

“Thou shall not murder” made no sense whatsoever to the Romans. Nor did “I am the light, the way, the truth.” Has anything really changed? Same evil, new axis. Some people need to see the darkness before they can appreciate the light. If so, be sure and read LGF every day for dispatches from the front, where light does battle with the absolute darkness of our enemies--enemies of humanity, enemies of God, enemies of the light, enemies of progress, and enemies of all that is decent and holy.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Why the Jews? Come to Think of It, Why the Palestinians? (Hint--the answer is the same)

In his book Human Accomplishment, Charles Murray describes how Jews did not even begin to be emancipated in Europe until the late 18th century. While they technically had full rights under federal law in the United States, protection at the state level had to await passage of the Fourteenth Amendment in 1868.

“This history,” he writes, “provides us with a nice example of what social scientists call an interrupted time series. Until 1800 Jews are excluded. Then, over about 70 years, the legal exclusions are lifted and the social exclusion eases. What happens?"

Historian Raphael Patai notes that “the suddenness with which Jews begin to appear is nothing short of astounding.... It seemed as if a huge reservoir of Jewish talent, hitherto damned up behind the wall of Talmudic learning, were suddenly released to spill over into all the fields of Gentile cultural activity.”

In graphic form, Murray demonstrates how, in nearly every important human endeavor--biology, chemistry, physics, mathematics, medicine, visual arts, literature, music and philosophy--Jews are staggeringly over-represented given their small numbers. In mathematics the actual-to-expected ratio is 12:1. In philosophy it is 14:1. In physics 9:1. In medicine and biology, 8:1. Remember, these ratios are not just measuring the raw numbers of doctors, scientists and artists, but the number of truly great and significant ones.

Do we have any idea why? Murray gets into some speculation, and there is no doubt some truth to what he writes--for example, the devotion to learning that has always been central to Jewish culture. Jews also have a much higher proportion of people with high IQs, but that introduces the possibility of environmental factors that I will discuss below, since IQ is influenced both by genetics and the environment. Jewish family units also tend to be quite strong, with fewer children growing up in broken homes. But here again, we’re dealing with a chicken-egg problem, since psychoanalysts believe that the ability to have deep and fulfilling relationships as an adult is rooted in early attachment experiences.

So no one really knows why Jews produce this disproportionate excellence, even in the wake of having been perhaps the most persecuted group in human history. Therefore, we are free to speculate, which I will proceed to do.

You know the story about the tailor who met the pope? Someone asked him what the pope was like, and he responded, “Oh, about a 38 regular.” As a psychologist inquiring into "what Jews were like," I naturally focus on their child-rearing practices--not now, but from the time of antiquity. Referring again to the book we were discussing yesterday, The Slaughter of Innocents: Child Abuse through the Ages and Today, Breiner devotes a chapter to some of the striking differences in child-rearing practices between the ancient Hebrews and some of their contemporaries. This chapter is fairly lengthy, so I will only have time to hit some of the highlights.

It is almost impossible for us to imagine the barbarity of the ancient world--very similar to how contemporary liberals find it impossible to comprehend the evil savagery of the Islamists with whom we are in a mortal struggle. As we mentioned yesterday, in all other ancient lands, the abuse of women and children, including infanticide, was common. Breiner notes, for example, that On, the King of the Swedes, sacrificed nine of his ten sons in the belief that it would prolong his life. Think about it. It was if the entire ancient world consisted of Palestinians who think that murdering children will lead to their own salvation.

Surely it is no coincidence, therefore, that the story of the Jews as a people begins with the motif of child sacrifice, and G-d intervening to stop it. What was that voice in Abraham's head? Whether it was G-d or just his “conscience,” it was something new in human history. And even if you want to say it was his conscience, that just begs the question, for where did that come from?

In any event, the story of Abraham and Isaac allows us to assume that, up to that time, the ancient Hebrews were just as barbaric as any other ancient people. This biblical story preserves one of the truly shocking and unexpected “right turns” in human history--when something caused us to empathize with the sacrificial victim and lay down the knife. Not that it wasn’t a struggle afterwards. The Bible chronicles many instances of backsliding and regression, which gives it even more of a ring of authenticity. The struggle against absuing children was (and is) very real.

But the benefits were obvious. For the first time in history, Jews were also able to intuit the one God. Not only that, but he was a loving God. Other primitive peoples lived in the psychological fragmentation of polytheism. In my opinion, they did not know God because they could not know God. Early childhood trauma leads to what is called “borderline personality structure,” in which the mind is subject to vertical splitting and the inability to maintain psychological unity and coherence. Therefore, primitive polytheism was actually an indirect measure of child abuse. Note as well that the gods of ancient Greece and Rome were arbitrary, selfish, and narcissistic, and even got a kick out of lording it over the “little” humans. They were suspiciously simlar to abusive and uncaring parents.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the Hebrews began viewing themselves as having an intimate relationship with a benevolent God who took a deep and abiding interest in them, instead of having to live in fear of a multitude of arbitrary and self-absorbed gods.

Again, we are not comparing the ancient Hebrews to modern peoples but to their own contemporaries in the ancient world, and by that standard, they were moyels ahead of the pack. Marriage began to be viewed as a sacred institution composed of two individuals who were in the image and likeness of God. “He who marries for money shall have worthless children,” says the Talmud. Here again, this cannot be separated from psychological issues. One will not be capable of a stable and loving marriage so long as one lives with the psychological fragmentation produced by vertical splitting. It is no coincidence that the “one loving God” was discovered at roughly the same time that it became possible to conceive of a monogamous, loving, companionate marriage between two equals.

Breiner speculates that this prevailing attitude--“to take care of and love one’s wife so that she will care for and love one's children”--was “fundamental in determining why ancient child abuse and infanticide were rare among the ancient Hebrews.” The Talmud stated that those who practiced pederasty were subject to stoning. In ancient Greece, pedophiles were subject to being lionized as immortal philosophers.

One of the most striking differences was in the attitude toward female children, which is one of the hinges of psychohistorical evolution. Unlike other ancient peoples, the Jews began cherishing and protecting female children. Many laws that we might now look upon as chauvinistic were, as reader Yesterday pointed out tomorrow--I mean Tamara pointed out yesterday--very advanced and innovative for their day. They were meant to protect women and girls, not to degrade them.

The Talmud has many laws about the proper treatment of infants and children. “A baby should be as well looked after as a king, high priest and learned man.” Fathers were enjoined to educate their children under penalty of fines. Furthermore, the father was admonished not to envy his son or pupil, which is very wise, for envy of childhood innocence is one of the psychological bases of child abuse. While there were still laws “on the books” allowing for a rebellious child to be put to death, there is no record of that actually occurring. (In fact, being that I am hardly a Jewish scholar, it is possible that this was a figure of speech, a way to emphasize the importance of filial piety, of honoring one’s parents.)

Again, it is easy to be historo-centric and view ancient Hebrews as barbaric by our standards, but the punishment meted out in Hebrew courts of law was lenient and humane by the standards of the day. So too their treatment of slaves, of captured enemies, of the poor, the oppressed, the widow, the stranger. They were the first people to achieve nearly 100% literacy, a development which had staggering implications for the way children were raised. In other words, it makes a huge difference if you happen to be raised by a literate mother capable of abstract thought vs. an illiterate mother capable only of concrete thought. Think of the contemporary Muslim Middle East, where female literacy continues to hover around 50%.

Tacitus, the renowned Roman historian who lived in the first century A.D., viewed the Hebrews as contemptible because “they considered it a crime among them to kill any child.” Nothing has changed. To paraphrase Golda Meir, the Arabs will only begin to make psychohistorical progress when they love their own children as much as they hate Jewish children. The two attitudes are simply two sides of the same coin: Palestinians and other Arabs engage in systematic abuse of their own children, who then grow up to externalize their implacable hatred onto Israelis.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Pockets of Sanity in an Insane World

Did I add that I’m not a scholar? I know I’ve mentioned that I don’t consider myself a writer, not a real one, anyway. However, if you want to say “visionary,” I suppose I’m okay with that, so long as you mean it in a neutral sense. That is, for me, being “visionary” simply means seeing everything at once, or at least attempting to. It is trying to encompass as much of reality as you can in a single view. As such, there can be good visionaries and bad visionaries, and we must especially be on guard against the bad kind, for they are at the basis of most really evil movements in history. After all, Hitler was a visionary with an all-encompassing view that explained the whole of reality. So are the Islamists. All cults are headed up by a charismatic visionary of some sort.

On the other hand, our founding fathers were visionaries. St. Paul was obviously one of the most important, if not the most important, visionaries in history.

Newt Gingrich is a visionary, which is the reason why he probably wouldn’t be suited for president. Ronald Reagan was clearly a visionary, but in a different way than Gingrich. In Reagan’s case there was a strong component of very grounded spirituality that I don’t see in Gingrich. Again, this can cut both ways, but I would almost regard Reagan as a “nationalistic mystic,” similar to Hitler, only in a good rather than demonic way (interestng that leftists continue to regard Reagan as demonic). Sri Aurobindo described Hitler as an “infrarational mystic” who embodied the dark spirit of his nation. He clearly possessed unusual vertical powers over others, but in a wholly maniacal and diabolical way. Reagan, like Lincoln before him, came to embody America--almost as if he were the “idea” or logos of America made flesh. I do not believe that the strong emotional reaction that people have to Reagan has to do with Reagan the person. Rather, it has to do with his embodiment of the ideal of America.

How did we get off on this tangent? Oh yes--my troubling visions. For whatever reason, I just cannot see a thing and leave it as it is. Rather, the way my mind works, I instantly see all sorts of hidden connections between things that you might not think are connected. There are inductive thinkers who first see the parts and then attempt to build “upward” toward a model of reality. I am the opposite. It’s as if I first see the whole pattern, and then figure out how all the parts fit into the pattern.

For example, when I first began studying psychoanalysis some 22 or 23 years ago, I immediately saw connections between it and other things--quantum physics, chaos and complexity theories, neurology, history, politics, you name it. I never saw it merely as “a way to treat patients.” Instead, my mind reeled at all of the possibilities and implications.

Much of modern psychoanalysis revolves around attachment theory. In the early days, psychoanalysis was rather doctrinaire and detached from empirical observation of actual mother-infant interactions. Freud tended to regard memories of childhood as consisting primarily of fantasies and wishes, whereas now there is much more appreciation of the real experiences of children, and how those experiences shape character and development.

Instantly I began to wonder about the cultural and historical implications of this. Even when I was a big liberal, I was never really very politically correct. It very much went against the grain of my personality. In fact, I frankly thought most people--and especially most cultures--were more or less crazy. Even before studying psychology, I can distinctly remember thinking that the world was basically insane--that insanity was its default state--but that it was sprinkled with little “pockets of sanity.” The purpose of life was to locate or create one of these little pockets of sanity as a bulwark against the world’s perpetual madness. Your family should be a little pocket of sanity. America has clearly been the deepest pocket of sanity in world history. Perhaps you consider this blog to be one (which is why I pledge to be more vigorous in deleting and banishing insane trolls).

This, by the way, was why history was so boring to me in school, since it largely consisted of irrational people doing insane things. Naturally, I wanted to know why. But no answers were ever forthcoming. I was not impressed by the pyramids. Rather, I wanted to know why ancient Egyptians spent hundreds of years building oversized crypts for their pharaohs, where they would bury their family and slaves alive with them so they would have company in the afterlife. I didn’t care about the “beauty” of indigenous American cultures. Rather, I wanted to know why they thought it was a good idea to conduct human sacrifice and to cut the beating heart out of thousands and thousands of sacrificial victims in order to prevent the sun from going out. Why did Nazi Germany believe insane things? What really motivates Islamists to believe things that are not only untrue, but cannot possibly be true?

Clearly these are important, even fundamental questions. Think about it. Our current war, for example, is not over territory or resources or even ideas, because Islamism, properly understood, is not an idea at all, any more than nazism was an idea. Rather, it is plainly a mental (and spiritual) illness that uses whatever materials are at hand to elaborate itself and metastasize. If it were an idea, you could sit down and have a sensible discussion with them, which is why liberals are so naive. Islamism is a deep pathology that has even deeper roots in cultural and historical pathology. But where does cultural pathology come from? Where could it come from?

Here is where my visionary ideas could well be wrong, for the first place I want to look is in their manner of child-rearing, since that is where the vast majority of psychopathology emanates from. Of course, there are more or less purely genetic conditions such as bipolar illness, schizophrenia, and certain depressions, but those diseases afflict individuals, not whole cultures.

But what does one make of a whole culture, say, the ancient Greeks, whose men did not fall in love with women, but with young boys? Women and wives were basically regarded as subhuman nuisances, whereas the love between man and boy was idealized by poets and philosophers. Perhaps I am the one who is naive, but I just can’t understand how historians can look at such craziness and pass over it as if it were of no consequence, no different than their preference for columned architecture.

What could possibly cause ancient Greeks to be so psychosexually messed up? Perhaps we’re asking the wrong question. For if history is actually a field of insanity sprinkled with little pockets of sanity, we shouldn’t be surprised by this systematic abuse of woman and children. Rather, we should only be surprised when we encounter the opposite--humane and empathic treatment of the weaker members of society.

When we look beyond the beautiful art and timeless philosophy and examine the actual cultural beliefs of Ancient Greece, a disturbing picture emerges. Historians of ideas like to talk about the link between ancient Athenian and modern democracy, but these people were not like us. Well, not like me, anyway. You can speak for yourself.

We are naturally appalled at the barbaric way our captured soldiers are treated by the Islamist savages, but this was pretty much the norm in history. For example, the Mycenaean pirates of ancient Crete subjugated the peoples around them, who paid tribute with pre-pubertal boys and girls to be used as human sacrifices to their bull-god (just as Islamists make such sacrifices to their bullshit god).

According to Breiner, author of a book entitled Slaughter of the Innocents: Child Abuse Through the Ages and Today, the women of ancient Greece were essentially slaves. A wife’s function was to “look after the household and produce children--preferably boys.” While courtesans--who were used for pleasure rather than procreation--could be educated, wives were illiterate.

Similar to Islamic societies today, the ancient Greeks “viewed men as sane and stable while women were considered mad, hysterical, and possibly dangerous and destructive to men.” Furthermore, “a woman’s freedom was severely restricted” and she was without power. “A man could sell his daughter or sister into concubinage if he wished.” Children of concubines were simply “aborted, killed or sold into slavery.”

At the time of Pericles in the late 5th century BC, a girl could marry only through parental arrangement: “no man married for love.” And once the marriage took place and the Athenian bride went to live with her husband, “she was cut off from her family and became a menial worker in her husband’s home.” Even the children she bore were not her own, but belonged to the husband to dispense with as he saw fit. Out of a population of 400,000, only 14,240 people had full civil rights. The rest were women, children and slaves. Unwanted children were simply exposed on a mountainside to die. “In all the Greek cities except Thebes the father had the right to kill his child at birth without question. In all cities except Athens the father could sell his children to slave dealers.” Female infanticide was the norm. Very few families raised more than one daughter. Even then, girls were given inferior food and no education.

Breiner feels that the revulsion towards women was at the basis of Greek male homosexuality. Can you think of a better explanation? The fashionable modern idea is that homosexuality is “genetic” and not subject to environmental influences. If so, how does one account for the prevalence of Ancient Greek homosexuality? “It was considered quite proper for the young men of Athens to engage sexually with older men, and most did.” “Merchants would import handsome boys to be sold to the highest bidder”; these boys would “be first used as concubines and later as slaves.”

Breiner speculates that “homosexual pederasty was so universal in Greek society” because it was “a means of ‘rescuing’ the male child from the perceived dangers of women...” “Boy brothels flourished in every city and a child prostitute could be rented, even at the height of Athenian culture... A freeborn child might see his father having sexual relations with a child his own age who was a slave.”

I don’t even have time to get into the human and animal sacrifice. “Human life was considered so short and cheap that there was little concern about killing. When a town was captured the men were automatically killed or sold into slavery and the women were taken as concubines or slaves.” Traits such as “gentleness, kindness, industry, honesty, and integrity were scorned as effeminate and inferior.”

I could go on, but I think you get the point. Remember Petey’s law: history is basically insane, with pockets of sanity. One of the first tiny pockets of sanity to appear in history was the ancient Jewish people, which we will discuss tomorrow. All of us continue to benefit everyday from that little sliver of light that miraculously opened up in a world of infrahuman darkness.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Worst Post Ever!

Unfortunately, I have very little timelessness to post this morning--only 54 minutes and counting. I have to be in a godforsaken place called Lancaster at 9:30. It’s got to be one of the uglier locales in all of California. They must have a full-time staff of anti-aestheticians working for the city in order to ensure that no natural or manmade beauty interferes with the unified theme.

I still wanted to say something about ancient child-rearing practices, but that will take too long. Therefore I will select what looks like a fairly straightforward question from the cosmic hopper.... Let’s see.... Here’s one from a reader known as The Bunnies:

“I'm curious as to your thoughts on some of our ideological allies in the war on terror who seem also hostile to some of your other beliefs. Objectivists are right on the money when it comes to the war and most economic issues, but they loathe religion and think that it's all horizontal (although I think they think differently than they think they do, but that's another issue). Or, what about Christian fundamentalists who see the need to pursue the war on terror but would damn your religious views as heresy and gladly surrender on every issue if only abortion could be illegal (they exist).”


(Still waiting for coffee to work.)


This is an excellent question, and I suppose it goes to the heart of the genius of our two-party political system. When I was a young idiot, I used to believe the nonsense that we should have many political parties, like Israel or Europe. I thought it was antidemocratic to have just two.

But the whole point of having two parties is like.... it’s sort of like marriage.... no, not really. Well, maybe. I know that in Europe, they also don’t take the two-party marriage seriously, and men are almost expected to have mistresses.

Obviously, having a two-party system works counter to the extreme factionalism we see in Europe. If America were like Germany, we would have dozens of parties--a Randian Objectivist Party, A Pro-Life Party, an Anti-gun Party, and a party of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgendered, Queer, Questioning, Intersexed, and Curious, all having proportionate representation in the government.

So the two-party system makes for some strange bedfellows. But when you think about it, there does seem to be some kind of deep psychological structure that determines one’s surface political attitudes. In other words, it’s probably only half-correct to say that the major parties artificially lump all of these disparate political viewpoints together. Rather, it is clear to me that there is a strong element of personality style, temperament, or “inclination” involved. It’s not a coincidence that the Democratic party is the party of weirdos, because weird people need other weird people around them in order to not feel weird--to convince themselves that they are “normal.” Moral weirdness, economic weirdness, spiritual weirdness, sexual weirdness, artistic weirdness.... All of these people can find a home in the Democratic party.

Likewise, there are many inadequate definitions of what it means to be a “conservative,” some of which are mutually exclusive, such as libertarians and traditionalists or free marketeers and anti-globalists. And yet, these different attitudes may share an underlying personality style or “attitude” toward the world.

For me, for example, the majority of leftists just seem frankly ignorant or emotionally immature. It is very easy for me to see the Democratic party as the party of the children and the Republican Party as the party of the adults. Of course, this is a huge generalization and obviously doesn’t apply to all Democrats. But as a party or ideology, I don’t see how contemporary liberalism can have any appeal to an emotionally, cognitively, or spiritually grown-up person, whatever the obvious and very real drawbacks of "Republicanism."

While there are obviously some grown ups on the left, they seem to be motivated more by their fear or hatred of the right. I know many such people. In fact, I was once one myself. I may not have known what I was, but one thing I wasn’t was a tight-assed, greedy, moralistic, war-mongering conservative.

Of course, I was engaging in pure projection then. But you can see how powerful that mechanism is. What most strikes me about dailykos or huffington post--aside from the adolescent anger and sheer stupidity--is their truly invincible projection. The way they characterize conservatives is a hoot. It’s so over-the-top, so Austin Powers Dr. Evil, that you have to just laugh. I have never seen them accurately characterize what conservatives believe or why they believe it. Normally you would mark this down to intellectual dishonesty, but I don’t think it's that at all. Rather, they truly believe these things about conservatives because they truly feel them. So that is the real source of their faux unity--the infantile projection into conservatives. It's not a real unity at all, merely an emotional reaction--which is why they really can't get organized around any coherent intellectual core, as can conservatives. The fact of the matter is that moderate Democrats are just as creeped out by their own base (in both senses of the word) as you and I are. Just ask Joe Lieberman or the editors of The New Republic.

Well, this post is sort of hopeless.... 12 minutes to go.... I think I’ll just spell check and get out of here.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

On Meditation and Prayer: How to Depart and Bewholed (7.1.08)

Let’s pull another reader’s question out of the cosmic hopper, this one from Twisted Knickers, who asked, “I'm another one of those in the back of the class trying to keep up, and I'd appreciate it if you could recommend some books on learning to meditate. Or, maybe you could offer some meta-advice on how to navigate through the choices.”

“I'd also like to hear your thoughts on the contrast between traditional Christian meditation and the 'Eastern' types of meditation.”

In fact, yesterday I received an email from another reader with a similar question, who asked about a book entitled The Power of Focusing (which I have never heard of). “My question to you is whether you've heard of ‘focusing,’ whether you have any experience with it, and if you would recommend a person in search of the Truth to give it a try?”

In my view, there is nothing magical about meditation per se. I myself practiced it for many years without really getting anywhere, and I am sure this is true of many spiritual seekers, especially those drawn toward Buddhism. Many irreligious or anti-religious Westerners are looking for what they regard as a “rational” alternative to religion, so they turn to things like Zen, which is largely an atheological psycho-spiritual technology. Ultimately I found Zen and similar "bare witnessing" approaches to be rather dry, although there are obviously many wise and lovely aspects to Buddhism--it's just a matter of personal choice, or one's dharma, to quote a buddha-ism. (I also have a lot of problems with what I regard as the immoral non-violence of Buddhism, but that’s another subject.)

According to one of a handful of authorities I turn to in these matters, Frithjof Schuon, “meditation cannot of itself provoke illumination; rather, its object is negative in the sense that it has to remove inner obstacles that stand in the way, not of a new, but of a preexistent and ‘innate’ knowledge of which it has to become aware. Thus meditation may be compared not so much to a light kindled in a dark room, as to an opening made in the wall of that room to allow the light to enter--a light which preexists outside and is in no way produced by the action of piercing the wall.... The role of meditation is thus to open the soul, firstly to the grace which separates it from the world, secondly to that which brings it nearer to God and thirdly to that which, so to speak, reintegrates it into God.”

I find this to be a most adequate description, because it is in accord with my own personal experience and with another one of my nonlocal authorities, Sri Aurobindo. (Yes, I know, Schuon would have a lot of problems with Sri Aurobindo, who was not a strict traditionalist, but that’s between the two of them.) For Aurobindo, the only purpose of meditation is to silence the lower mind or “frontal” personality in order to make an opening in what he calls the “psychic being.” For our purposes, we may think of the psychic being simply as the vertical self that is both “deeper” and “higher” than the ordinary, worldly, conditioned ego.

In short, as I tried to get across on pp. 219-224 of One Cosmos, the dual purpose of meditation is to 1) achieve stillness or mental silence, and 2) to maintain openness, surrender, or self-offering. I specifically define “faith” as a sort of “expectant silence,” as we do our part to make ourselves a receptacle for a power or grace that transcends us. We are literally attempting to make contact with the spiritual world (or person), which always engenders an influx of forces. Again, the important point is not the meditation--which is only a means--but preparing ourselves for the subtle energy of grace.

Depending on various personal factors, the grace appears in different guises. For some it will be more of a higher emotional experience, for others, awareness of the sacred. For some it will simply manifest as an unaccountable change in personality, for others, newfound abilities or a deeper understanding of spiritual matters. It is not at all uncommon to actually feel this energy, often in the heart region or above the head. In fact, tantric yoga attempts to commandeer this energy and “take heaven by storm,” so to speak, which I would not recommend. Occasionally things can get out of hand.

Schuon is again exceptionally clear when he writes that “the contact between man and God [in meditation] becomes contact between the intelligence [he is referring here to the higher mind] and Truth, or relative truths contemplated in view of the Absolute.... Meditation acts on the one hand upon the intelligence, in which it awakens certain consubstantial ‘memories,’ and on the other hand upon the subconscious imagination which ends by incorporating in itself the truths meditated upon, resulting in a fundamental and as it were organic process of persuasion.”

This, I believe, accounts for what Dilys has called the “draining the swamp” aspect of true meditation and prayer--why it not only opens us to the higher, but has the practical effect of “deconditioning” the lower mind as well. This is again why I am not a big fan of “empty” meditation of the Zen variety (and I should reemphasize that I’m only talking about myself here, and what has worked for me. I’m not knocking Buddhism. In fact, I would be happy to hear testimony from any Buddhists out there who can balance out my perspective.)

Another point to consider is that meditation is only an “exercise” or an adjunct to the spiritual life. It cannot be its purpose or end. Just as exercise has the purpose of making the body more healthy in general--not just while one is exercising--meditation is something that should carry over into one’s moment to moment life. In other words, in so far as it is possible, we should make the effort throughout the day to live in that silent and open state, in which we are not so involved with the ceaseless barrage of mechanical chatter and internal propaganda coming from the lower mind. Most of these "thoughts" are probably coming from mind parasites anyway.

This is why I am so drawn to Orthodox Christianity, because it really emphasizes everything we have been discussing above. Another of my authorities, St. Theophan the Recluse, writes of how the lower mind is entangled with the world like an opium addict. It cannot get enough of what it really doesn’t need: ”There is a lot of motion, but no life.” And “the reason there is no life in such a life is that it does not occupy and nourish all the aspects of human life, but only a small portion of it. And this small portion stands in last place, not even touching the center of human life.”

St. Theophan writes that “within each person is a spirit, the highest aspect of human life. It is the force that draws that person from the visible to the invisible, from the temporal to the eternal, from the creation to the Creator.”

Writing of the ego, or frontal personality, St. Theophan notes that we might think that someone is “deep in thought.” But “in reality, he is deep in emptiness.... Observe yourself, and you will see that the greater part of our time is spent on such empty and straying thought. Some days, not a single substantial thought enters the mind.”

Not a single substantial thought. How true. This can actually happen to an entire lifetime--much more often than you might think. But here again, this is why I believe it is so important to have a religious framework for one’s “thinking.” As I have had occasion to mention many times in the past, the very purpose of an authentic, revealed religion is to be able to think about the otherwise unthinkable. Through meditation, concentration and prayer, we may take this thinking deeper and deeper--or higher and higher--into the vertical. Put it his way: religions are vertical languages that go hand in hand with the horizontal language of math and science. Evolution is the evolution of both.

St. Theophan’s specific advice regarding meditation and prayer is to think of it as the state of standing before God with the mind in the heart. Body, soul, and spirit all have their own special ways of knowing, and this is the way to know God, as opposed to “knowing about” God with the mind. Another Orthodox text simply says to “establish peace and recollection within yourself and ask for the inspiration and guidance of the Holy Ghost.” St. Theophan says it is “simple: it is prayer--children talking to their Father, without any subtleties...”

And one more thing: don’t look for immediate “results.” Rather, just do it for its own sake. Just make it a routine part of your life, like exercising or brushing your teeth. In my case, I’ve hardly missed some sort of physical workout a single day in my adult life. One has to adopt the same attitude as it pertains to exercising the Spirit. It’s the least you can do to devote at least 15 or 20 minutes a day to turning your mind to higher things, so that higher things may turn to you.

Meditation / Concentration / Prayer: These three words epitomize the spiritual life, while at the same time indicating its principal modes. Meditation, from our standpoint, is an activity of the intelligence in view of understanding universal truths; concentration, for its part, is an activity of the will in view of assimilating these truths or realities existentially, as it were; and prayer in its turn is an activity of the soul directed towards God. --Fritjhof Schuon


One more thing--as a general text on meditation I can actually recommend Meditation for Dummies. It really covers the waterfront, and isn't for dummies at all. (This is proven by the reviewer who complains that the book contains "too much filosophy.")