Monday, July 09, 2007

Jesus Willies, Yoga Villies

I don't know that I'm going to have time to get very deeply into our new topic this morning. I have an extremely long day both today and tomorrow, and the baby's already stirring. Plus I want to try to exercise before I leave, since I won't have time at the end of the day.

Some readers expressed misgivings about the idea of "Christian yoga," and while I suppose that's understandable, the fact of the matter is that Christianity has never existed in a vacuum, and has always been influenced by (and in turn influenced) its surroundings. For example, the early fathers clearly attempted to integrate (or at least reconcile) their new ideas with the best of Greek thought, especially Plato, as did Aquinas with Aristotle. The Roman Church obviously took on many of the characteristics of hierarchical Roman government, whereas democratic "American Christianity" tends to be much more horizontally organized, sometimes consisting of a single church.

So unless you believe that Christianity must maintain itself in exactly the culture in which it first appeared, it is possible to imagine it arising and developing in a different cultural matrix. In fact, irrespective of your nation or culture, we all still have to reconcile revelation with everything else we know to be true of the world. Plus we have to integrate it into a culture that preceeds us, just as we must talk and write about it in a language we did not invent but which precedes our entry into it. (Speaking of which, one reason why I'm an advocate of English as the national language is that if it was good enough for Jesus, it should be good enough for the rest of us.)

Speaking of the impact of culture on belief, to say that Christianity may be reduced to merely having a personal relationship with Jesus is to say something that no Christian ever believed until quite recently. In short, this is an ultra-modern view, no doubt influenced by our western culture that so values individualism. Likewise, the idea that the Bible speaks for itself and requires no interpretation is a very new idea. The fact of the matter is that living tradition preceded the Bible, not vice versa. It is not as if people read the Bible and became Christians. Rather, there were early communities of Christians, out of which the Bible was written and assembled.

So it is always possible to imagine divine revelation being inflected though a different cultural lens. In fact, it's unavoidable, just as it must be inflected through this or that individual brain. It is thoroughly interactive, the interaction being between eternity and time, or whole and part, or vertical and horizontal.

I myself do not come to yoga via Christianity, but rather, the reverse. I began practicing yoga many years ago. Like most everyone else, I had a spiritual impulse, but I encountered no form of Christianity that satisfied that impulse. It was only much later that I stumbled upon a strand of Christianity that I found entirely compatible with yoga. Which, I should emphasize quite clearly, is not to reduce Christianity to yoga. Rather, it is only to say that I discovered a form of Christianity that spoke to my particular "culture," as it were. And I suppose my culture is a rather small one, consisting essentially of me. But what is so interesting is that the strand of Christianity I found most compatible is the earliest Christianity of the desert fathers, which is in turn most adequately preserved in Orthodoxy, which we didn't hear much about in America until relatively recently.

When most westerners speak of yoga, they are usually referring to hatha yoga, which is only a peripheral part of a complex and sophisticated approach to spirit. Hatha yoga is the yoga of the body and breath. Unlike western exercise, it is never regarded as a thing in itself, but as a means to silence the mind, to dislodge vital energy that becomes "trapped" or blocked in our bodies, to open ourselves to divine energies, and also just to create a fit and supple body for the purposes of living long enough to harvest some of the spiritual seeds we have planted along the way. There is simply nothing about this "psychosomatic technology" that cannot be immediately transferred to a Christian context. I mean, please. If baseball players can make the sign of the cross before every at bat, or football players can engage in group prayers before trying to injure and maim one another, I don't see how anyone can object to yogic exercise in a Christian context.

In the past, I have spoken of the uniqueness of Christianity, with it's emphasis on the human body. It's one thing to say that God dwells in the human body, but exactly what is the human body, and how does it work? Lisa will be the first to tell you that most people don't know how the body works, and as a result, develop all kinds of bad habits that not only affect physical health, but also mood, and by extension, spiritual receptivity. Again, this is not to reduce spirituality to physical fitness, but to always understand fitness as having a telos, or an end, which is in spirit.

For me, I am never more receptive to the influx of divine energies than after a session of hatha yoga. It is a perfect time for prayer and meditation, because to a certain exent, it places you in the relaxed, centered, and open state of mind that you want prayer to accomplish. In other words, it just makes prayer that much more effective (and when I speak of prayer, I am not referring to petitionary prayer, but more simply to sitting before God and opening the heart).

Now, as I said, hatha yoga is just a peripheral aspect of yoga. There is bhakti yoga, the yoga of devotion to God; raja yoga, the yoga of meditation; jnana yoga, the yoga of knowledge; karma yoga, the yoga of selfless action; and subdivisions such as mantra yoga, which involves repetition of a divine word or phrase -- which is not dissimilar to the repetition of the "Jesus prayer."

Again, I probably sound defensive, but I don't see any conflict here with Christianity, and in a way, this breakdown into the different forms of yoga provides one with a way to discuss certain aspects of Christianity that are present but often underemphasized, which in turn causes people to look to the east for spiritual nourishment.

One important point is that people tend to have a personality style that is more fitting for one particular form of yoga -- a Mother Teresa comes to mind, who practiced a very rigorous form of what might be called "Christian karma yoga," involving selfless devotion of one's actions to the Divine -- including the divine who is present in everyone. This kind of selfless action leads to ego transcendence, for the simple reason that you are constantly ignoring the promptings of the ego.

Some people are more pure jnanis (the yoga of knowledge and wisdom). Frithjof Schuon or Unknown Friend come to mind. True, spending one's life thinking and writing about God might seem like a small thing compared to feeding the poor and sheltering the homeless. And yet, without preserving and honoring the kind of wisdom taught by Schuon, the world is hardly fit for human beings. It's no longer a human world, so what's the point of living in it?

Well, I better sign off for now. I encourage you to avoid making any sharp judgments just yet, as I've barely gotten started, and that was a rather disjointed preramble. At least wait until my ideas are fully half-baked. I should have more time to lay out my case by Wednesday. I should also add that I myself don't know where I'm going with this, so we'll just have to wait and see what comes out.

*****

I am again reminded of what happened some 1500 years ago, when the revealed religion of Christianity reached western China and met up with what is probably the greatest natural religion, Taoism. The following is adapted from a wonderful ode to the mystery of the primordial light and logos, written by someone named Jingjing in 8th century China, who spontaneously merged Taoism and Christianity, undoubtedly because, like me, he was a multi-undisciplinarian who didn't know any better:

"In the beginning was the natural constant, the true stillness of the Origin, and the primordial void of the Most High. The Spirit of the void emerged as the Most High Lord, moving in mysterious ways to enlighten the holy ones. He is Ye Su, my True Lord of the Void, who embodies the three subtle and wondrous bodies, and who was condemned to the cross so that the people of the four directions might be saved.

"My Lord Ye Su, the one emanating in three subtle bodies, hid His true power, became a human, and came on behalf of the Lord of Heaven to preach the good teachings. These teachings can restore goodness to sincere believers, deliver those living within the boundaries of the eight territories, refine the dust and transform it into truth, reveal the gate of the three constants, lead us to life, and destroy death.

"The Lord set afloat a raft of salvation and compassion so we might use it to ascend to the palace of light and be united with Spirit. He revealed the workings of the Origin, and he gave us the method of purification by water. Thus we purify our hearts and return to the simple and natural Way of the truth. This truth cannot be named, but its power surpasses all expectations. When forced to give it a name, we call it the Religion of Light. The teachings of the Religion of Light are like the resplendent sun: they have the power to dissolve the dark realm and destroy evil forever."

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Christian Yoga?

Well, one thing I've been doing with my slack is getting back into yoga shape. I let my (hatha) yoga lapse around the time Mrs. G became pregnant three years ago. Before that, I would start and stop, in part because I was just born very flexible and could always come back to it and get in shape within a week or two.

But now, for the first time in my life, I can see that I'm starting to lose some flexibility. I can see that what always came naturally is now something I'll have to work at. Therefore, I am now committed to doing yoga every other day, alternating with weight lifting (which I already do). I also ride the stationary bike for 30 minutes every day in the summer, since it's too hot to go mountain biking. I'd like to work out in the pool, but I'm a little freaked out that my blood sugar might go low while I'm in there, and that would be the end of Bob. It's a real, if remote, possibility, since I keep my blood sugar so low, and swimming brings it down very rapidly.

Why do I bring this up? First of all, because all Raccoons must integrate physical fitness into their spiritual routine. This is something emphasized by Ken Wilber, and in this regard, he's absolutely correct. We are compound beings, so in a truly integral approach, we must deal with body, mind, spirit, and "shadow" (or what I would call "mind parasites"). Wilber throws "nature" into the mix, which was also something Schuon always emphasized. There is something about communing with virgin nature that is critical to our soul's well-being.

This also came up because I was going through the arkive and found these early, very preliminary posts here and here about a possible union of eastern and western approaches to spirituality, in particular, yoga and Christianity. It's something I never explicitly followed up on, even though I suppose it's implicit in a lot of my writing.

Yesterday while doing yoga, I fantasized about what I'd really like to do, which is to open a Christian Yoga studio. I wonder if there would be any market for that? I quickly searched "Christian Yoga" on amazon, but most of the books that came up seem pretty lame. I'm talking about real yoga and real Christianity; or yoga for the purposes of facilitating an experiential understanding of Christianity.

I guess I first started taking yoga classes in about 1983. I was hoping that the exercise would be ancillary to the spirituality, but was disappointed that there was almost no spiritual content at all, or at least it was pretty vapid. The next class that I took in about 1985 was even worse. It was all about high-intensity aerobics, with no spiritual emphasis at all. But I'm guessing that even if you were to find a class with a more spiritual emphasis, it would probably be of the worthless new age, Deepak Chopra variety.

I think about this in part because I certainly never intended to be a psychologist, nor am I really cut out for the job. As I have mentioned before, I only ended up being a psychologist because my curiosity got out of hand. I guarantee you that if you just stay in school long enough, you'll end up with a Ph.D. Anyone can do it. It would be nice if "Ph.D." equated to wisdom, but that is so far from the case that it's a joke. I would guess that the percentage of fools -- I mean the really pernicious kind -- with Ph.D.s is probably much higher than the general population.

So anyway, yesterday I was fantasizing about what it might be like to open a Christian Yoga studio with a genuine emphasis on mature spirituality. Music, incense, a little lecture to set the tone, yoga, meditation/prayer.... That would be the life. But I wonder if anyone would be interested? How would you avoid attracting people you don't want to attract, the fundies on one side, the new agers on the other?

I'm just thinking out loud here....

One thing I think I will do in the coming weeks is delve back into the connection between yoga and Christianity, and show how it would work out both in theory and in practice.... In a way, it's something I've been intending to do since I finished my book, if only to try to reconcile the two halves of my own soul.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Through the Liberal Looking Gloss

Still rummaging throught the archives, trying to sort things out. Didn't get too far, since the baby woke up just after 6:00, followed by the wife at 8:45. Frankly, in dredging through these early posts, I'm more impressed by the attempts at humor than the substance. Or maybe it's just the mood I'm in, which feels very similar to before I started the blog, when I was content to sit on the sidelines and try to come up with zingers and one-liners to post on LGF and other favorite blogs. Anyway, here was an early stab at poking fun at the left's aways troubled relationship to language -- and with it, reality:

For example, when the MSM designate someone an ultra-conservative, this actually means conservative. And when they refer to a moderate conservative, they mean a liberal who is a Republican in name only, such as Chuck Hagel. Of course, the MSM's favorite Republican is John McCain, because he is a maverick, meaning that he holds a lot of positions that are to the left of his party. This is in contrast to Joe Lieberman, who is a pariah for holding positions to the right of his party.

A "moderate judge" is one who will strike a balance between what the Constitution says and what the left would like it to say.

The Democrats are the pro-choice party, meaning the party that wants to choose how to direct your retirement, where to send your children to school, and how best to spend your money. They also want a fairness doctrine to make sure that the free marketplace of ideas doesn't accidentally result in fairness.

When liberals accuse you of suppressing their freedom of speech, it means that you are criticizing them, or perhaps even censoring them. But when you censor conservatives or suppress their freedom of speech, it is called a speech code. Calling President Bush a liar is a courageous act of speaking truth to power, while criticizing the liberal stance on the war is questioning their patriotism. Likewise, dissent is the highest form of patriotism, unless it is directed against global warming hysteria. Global warming is what will destroy the earth if it isn't first destroyed by global cooling.

Evil, of course, does not exist. George Bush, however, is evil. Speaking of things that don't exist, there is no such thing as the liberal media. However, the conservative media are any media that are not liberal. There is no global jihad against Christians and Jews, but Christians and Jews who think so are more dangerous than the jihadis.

A homeless person is what you call a chronically mentally ill person during a Republican administration. Similarly, during a Democratic administration, deficit spending is investing in our children's future. During a Republican administration it is called mortgaging our children's future. Tax cuts involve stealing the government's money in order to give it away to taxpayers. Democrats will not raise taxes. Rather, they will just repeal President Bush's tax cuts.

Racial profiling refers to common sense police work in identifying likely suspects. It is not allowed. Affirmative action refers to government enforced academic or occupational racial profiling. You are a racist if you don't endorse this kind of racial profiling. Likewise, civil rights are special rights for designated victims. A civil rights activist is a lobbyist for special rights for his ethnic victim group.

Blacks are people who are helpless and bumbling victims without the support and assistance of white liberals. Black conservatives are people who are abused and victimized by the left for refusing to be helpless and bumbling victims.

Multiculturalism, of course, involves seeing beauty in all cultures but your own. Diversity is the philosophy that treasures neo-Marxists of all skin colors and sexual deviations. When a liberal uses the word tolerance, this actually means approval and celebration of differences. If you merely accept differences, this means you are intolerant of them. For example, if you only tolerate homosexuality, you are a homophobe.

Everyone in Hollywood believes the same thing. That's why they are such rebellious individualists.

A Vietnam war veteran is a baby killer, but a conservative who avoided being a baby killer is a chicken hawk. A war hero is a baby killer such as John Kerry who opposes the Iraq war. A quagmire, of course, is any war opposed by liberals. Otherwise, you will never hear the word "quagmire" used in human discourse.

Bilingual education involves the difficult achievement of learning nothing in two languages. It is often employed to teach illegal immigrants, who are undocumented Democratic voters. Feminism is the celebration of masculine women who have angrily overcome their femininity, femininity being another category of oppressed victimhood. If you are a man who loves femininity, you are a chauvinist.

Homosexuality is a genetically caused condition that renders one incapable of engaging in sexual relations with the opposite sex. Its opposite, heterosexuality, is an arbitrary gender identification caused by cultural conditioning. Similarly, there is no such thing as the homosexual lifestyle, while queer studies departments engage in the study of the homosexual lifestyle.

Moral relativism is the absolute belief that no beliefs are absolute. Pornography is a type of expression that is protected by the first amendment, while religion, especially Christian religion, is a dangerous type of expression from which we are protected by the first amendment.

Another definition of speech codes is that they are restrictions on language designed to protect liberals from the first amendment. Separation of church and state means state hostility to religious expression. Not to be confused with Bill Clinton's treatment of his intern, which only violated the separation of crotch and state.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Time, Freedom, and Transcendence: Aiming Your Eros For the Heart of the World

So, if time is headed somewhere, how would we know it? Science -- or scientism, anyway -- must be officially mute on the subject, since it begins with the assumption that time is linear and "empty," just a kind of abstract duration, pure quantity with no qualities. But what if time, like space, isn't empty, but conditions the events within it? In fact, modern physics reveals that there is no such thing as a kind of three dimensional empty space that contains various contents. Rather, things aren't in space but of space. And since space and time are inseperable, we would have to say that every manifest thing is "of" spacetime. But how can we say what that is, if we can't get outside of it?

I first encountered the idea that time has qualitative properties via the late Terence McKenna, who has got to be the most mesmerizing speaker I've ever heard. I've mentioned before that back when I used to work the graveyard shift in the supermarket, the local Pacifica radio station ran a sort of new age program from midnight to 5:00 AM called Something's Happening that would play McKenna's lectures. A lot of stuff that doesn't make sense by the light of day makes perfect sense when you are in a fatigue-induced altered state at 3:00 AM. Importantly, it's not just the fatigue, but the night that alters things. Night is the perfect example of time conditioning the events within it. As they pertain to consciousness, nighttime and daytime couldn't be more different. In fact, they're as different as night and day.

When I wrote my book, I wanted it to be sort of the equivalent of one of McKenna'a lectures. I wanted it to be a trip -- to somehow trigger an alteration in consciousness similar to what McKenna did for me at 3:00AM in 1984. As I mentioned, I basically wrote the book in the late 1990s, but did a lot of editing between then and when it finally came out in early '05, always asking myself the questions 1) is this weird enough?, and 2) is this funny enough? Of course, I was still searching for my vision at the time, and hadn't perfected the formula. If I could write it today, it would be much weirder and funnier. In fact, that's another example of what we're talking about here -- the idea that our future self is here, just over the horizon of the now, luring us toward it.

McKenna's first book was entitled The Invisible Landscape: Mind, Hallucinogens, and the I Ching (I guess he published the Magic Mushroom Growers Guide before this, but anonymously). Yes, the book is often completely crazy, but in the best sense of the word. If you are going to speculate, I suppose you might as well pull out all the stops. But in my book, I definitely tried to hug closer to the shoreline of the known, so to speak. Whenever I speculate, you can at least see the dry land of science off in the distance.

I'm reading the forward of the new edition by Jay Stevens, who writes that he had heard about this strange book through word of mouth, and eventually tracked down a copy (this was, of course, in the days before Amazon, when this wasn't so easy):

"The bibliophiles among you will appreciate the keen anticipation I felt as I carried it to a nearby cafe and cracked it open and discovered that, indeed, this was a truly heavy book.

"Dense. Technical. Fascinating. Infuriating. Marvelously weird.

"Mixed in with theories drawn from the study of schizophrenia, molecular biology, and ethnobotany were pungent disquisitions on shamanism and psychedelic philosophy. Plus what seemed to be a story about an encounter with an insectoid intelligence who had curious things to say about the nature of time. The closest thing I could compare it to was an alchemical text published in the classic period -- the seventeenth century -- before the bonds linking science and magic were severed, when it was still possible to have a scientist magician on the order of Isaac Newton."

That's another critical point, because it cannot be overemphasized that our modern scientific and materialistic worldview is largely artificial and superimposed on a human template that is more poetic, holistic, magical, and visionary. To the extent that we lose contact with these latter faculties, we become alienated from the core of our humanness. If you think about it deeply, you can almost feel this philosophy of materialism as a kind of dead weight we all carry around -- sort of like a mute twin that lives inside of us and is always overriding us and interpreting things in its own coldly abstract way.

I am quite sure that the whole phenomenon of the "1960s" (if you know what I mean) was an attempt to throw off this "dead twin" and live more in direct contact with our human ways of knowing and being. As such, it was hardly progressive, but nostalgic and romantic to the core. As I (and Will) have mentioned in the past, there were many positive aspects to this unleashing of spiritual energy, and to a certain extent, I have taken it upon myself to try to rehabilitate this movement and weed out all of the pathological elements that inevitably crept in due to the very nature of our humanness (I should add that I throroughy reject perhaps most of McKenna's ideas, their entertainment and inspiration value notwithstanding).

For the trick is to integrate the scientific and "magical," not choose one over the other. Furthermore, "progressivism" is only progressive to the extent that it converges upon permanent and transcendent values that lay outside space and time. Otherwise it is either random -- i.e., in an arbitrary material direction -- or a direction imposed by elites from on high.

In the introduction to the book, McKenna writes that "The search for liberation, a paradisiacal state of freedom that mythology insists is the ahistorical root of the historical process, has always been the raison d'être of the human species' conscious pilgrimage through time." Through the course of history, various human groups "have all claimed possession of a set of concepts that would in some sense 'free' their practitioners. The entire human experience, individual and collective, can be described as the pursuit of that which frees."

As I attempted to do in my book, McKenna takes the widest possible historical view, noting, for example, how monotheism, as it developed in the West, "freed early humans from the nearly complete domination of consciousness by the pan-vitalistic animism seen everywhere resident in Nature," and how "the coming of Christianity freed its adherents form the fear of a wrathful and paternalistic God." Likewise, modernity offered freedom from what had become "the dogmatic stasis of late medieval Catholicism."

One could add the huge vein of freedom opened up by America's founders, along with the liberty inherent to the free market system. But to what end? Obviously freedom cannot be an end in itself. There is not just freedom from, but freedom to. To what? What is our freedom for?

Paradoxically, freedom is only meaningful if it is limited -- i.e., if it is converging upon something. For example, let us say that we are free to discover the truth. But the truth is fixed. Therefore, in a certain way, only the person who lives in illusion is radically free. In fact, I believe this explains the irrational freedom that is pursued by the left, which is a meaningless, solipsistic freedom. Since the truth constrains us, they imagine that if we only abolish truth, then we will be radically free. It sounds crazy, but this is the explicit strategy of all postmodern philosophies that undermine the existence of objective truth.

For example, if a radical feminist abolishes the idea of archetypal sexual differences, she imagines that this "frees" her -- which it does, in the same sense that you are free if I drop you on the moon.

This is why it needs to be said that the truth will set you free. Oh, really? How can that be? You don't say "2 and 2 are free to be four." Rather, they must be four. How can we reconcile truth and freedom?

At the conclusion of the book, McKenna includes an extended quote from one of my favorite philosophers, Hans Jonas, who outlines a sort of cosmic creation myth that might help to explain the conundrum:

"In the beginning, for unknowable reasons, the ground of being, or the Divine, chose to give itself over to the chance and risk and endless variety of becoming. And wholly so; entering into the adventure of space and time, the deity held back nothing of itself."

But "if the world and God are simply the same, the world at each moment and in each state represents his fullness, and God can neither lose nor gain. Rather, in order that the world might be, and be for itself, God renounced his own being, divesting himself of his deity -- to receive it back from the Odyssey of time weighted with the chance harvest of unforeseeable temporal experience....

"And for aeons his cause is safe in the slow hands of cosmic chance and probability -- while all the time we may surmise a patient memory of the gyrations of matter to accumulate into an ever more expectant accompaniment of eternity to the labors of time -- a hesitant emergence of transcendence from the opaqueness of immanence."

But the advent of man means the advent of the double-edged gift of knowledge and freedom:

"The image of God, haltingly begun by the universe, for so long worked upon -- and left undecided -- in the wide and then narrowing spirals of prehuman time, passes with this last twist, and with a dynamic quickening of movement, into man's precarious trust, to be completed, saved, or spoiled by what he will do to himself and the world. And in this awesome impact of his deeds on God's destiny, on the very complexion of eternal being, lies the immortality of man."

That's a pretty heavy cosmic responsibility. No wonder secularists reject it.

"With the appearance of man, transcendence awakened to itself and henceforth accompanies his doings with the bated breath of suspense, hoping and beckoning, rejoicing and grieving, approving and frowning.... For can it not be that by reflection of its own state as it wavers with the record of man, the transcendent casts light and shadow over the human landscsape?"

Well? What can freedom be for if not for truth, liberty if not for virtue, time if not for timelessness?

Monday, July 02, 2007

Hurtling Toward Our Deustination: Does Time Have a Deep Structure?

Very annoying. This post might be a little chaotic, since I was about halfway though writing it and lost it. So I had to speed up time and try to reconstruct it from memory -- or did I reconstruct it from the future? In a way, this little catastrophe exemplifies the topic of this post, which has to do with change, development, and the structure of time. (No time to proof-read or spell-check, either.)

Anyway, I was mentioning that I seem to have come to the end of another blogging cycle. Long time readers know that this has happened a number of times in the past, but that I've always cycled out of it. This one feels a bit different, in that it's not so much that I've hit a wall, as I feel the "inner call," so to speak. Instead of being in an expressive mode, it feels like I'm moving into a receptive one -- from output to input. I'd really like to shut up and spend more time reading and meditating. To every thing there is a season, and all that.

Of course, I could always force things, but to what purpose? This would not be the Raccoon way, but perhaps even more importantly, it would turn what is an enjoyable hobby into actual work, and we can't have that, now can we? One job is enough for any human. In fact, more than enough for this slack-seeking human.

More importantly, forcing things is the way of the ego. One of the ways you can see through all these new age con artists is on the basis of the outlandish promises they make. Real growth is unpredictable and it certainly isn't always pleasant. To the extent that you know where you're going to end up in advance, it isn't really growth but simply an extension or expansion of the ego. For example, a fraud such as Deepak Chopra promises in his Seven Laws of Spiritual Success "the ability to create wealth with effortless ease, and to experience success in every endeavor," "to fulfill your desires with effortless ease," "fulfilling relationships, creative freedom, emotional and psychological stability," etc."

Please.

It's the same way with psychotherapy. Occasionally a patient will stumble in with a very proscribed problem, but for most people, their entire life has more or less run aground and they need to unleash the deeper mechanisms of growth to get out of their impasse. But you can't tell where the growth will lead, which is one of the reasons why the ego defends against it. The ego is all about control, whereas growth is inherently unpredictable -- but within certain constraints, which we will discuss below.

It reminds me of something my favorite teacher in graduate school once said. Someone had asked him something to the effect of whether he would recommend psychotherapy. His response was, "No, I would never recommend therapy. I only offer it. I don't recommend it."

You could say the same thing about spirituality. Not exactly, because like food and oxygen, people do need to have some sort of spirituality in their life. Nevertheless, if it is real, it should bring uncertainty and surprises. After all, these are the hallmarks of the Real, are they not? Reality is what you are not in control of -- or, to put it another way, what you must take account of. If spiritual growth is predictable and certain, then it's again probably just your ego expanding.

Bion wrote about how real change is catastrophic. No, not as in a "natural catastrophe," but as in catastrophe theory, which, according to Wiki, is "a branch of bifurcation theory in the study of dynamical systems; it is also a particular special case of more general singularity theory in geometry. Bifurcation theory studies and classifies phenomena characterized by sudden shifts in behavior arising from small changes in circumstances, analysing how the qualitative nature of equation solutions depends on the parameters that appear in the equation. This may lead to sudden and dramatic changes, for example the unpredictable timing and magnitude of a landslide." This is also known as "butterfly effect," in which the flapping of a butterfly's wings in Indonesia causes a cascade of ripples that eventually results in a tornado in Kansas.

As such, catastrophe theory is related to chaos and complexity theories, which especially began to emerge in the 1980s. These fields study the dynamics of nonlinear change, and the mind is nothing if not non-linear. In fact, our neurology is so infinitely complex, that -- I read this somewhere -- that there are literally more possible synaptic connections in the brain than there are particles in the universe. And yet, in a way that we cannot comprehend, this infinite complexity resolves itself into the simple experience of a unitary "I," at least in a healthy person.

It reminds me of how the stock market, with its millions and millions of little decisions and transactions, ends up with a simple number at the end of the day: the Dow Jones Index. You would think that this number would be all over the place, but it has remarkable stability for something so infinitely complex. It's so stable that we remember the dates when it deviated markedly, e.g., 1929, 1987.

In a way, a major depression or a panic attack is analogous to a stock market crash. Usually one's mood hovers around a certain attractor in the mind's phase space, but with a depression or anxiety attack, one crashes through the floor, so to speak, into novel terrortory.

But again, real change of any kind is going to involve a departure from one's habitual phase space, or "comfort zone." Indeed, I once wrote a paper in which I speculated that this is why human beings don't just enjoy drugs, but need them. For example, the main reason people drink is that it temporarily vaults them into a slightly different phase space. You might say that it only becomes unhealthy to the extent that the person finds their normal phase space to be intolerably painful, so that they use drugs to escape it and exist in another space -- which obviously never works in the long run. But you can certainly understand why so many great artists throughout history have used "performance enhancing drugs" of various kinds. It's in order to "flip the switch" of catastrophic (if temporary) psychic change.

In the past, I believe I have written about the symbolic "triple death" that occurred to me a couple years ago, at the age of 49. As it so happens, I read this book back in my late 20s, The Astrology of Personality, by Dane Rudhyar. The main thing I remember from it was his idea that our lives run along cycles of seven years, and that each seven year cycle is a fractal of the others. In other words, the cycles are self-similar on a deep level, so that, for example, we will encounter the same basic challenges and conflicts in each seven year cycle, only in a different "key," so to speak.

I remember charting out my life at the time, and sure enough, I could see that major transitions and upheavals had taken place in my 7th, 14th, 21st and 28th years (i.e., when I was 6, 13, 20 and 27). Rudhyar also mentioned that a compete cycle is 7 x 7, so that a 49 year cycle is a complete analogue of the seven year cycle. Thus, just as seven years marks a kind of birth/death, so too does the 49th year.

Now, you needn't take this literally or hold to the structure too concretely in order to understand the wider point. All psychologists employ some kind of developmental model, in which we move from psychological stage to stage. The psychoanalyst Erik Erikson was probably the first to extend these stages all the way to old age. A quickie search yielded the following table:

Stage One: Oral-Sensory: from birth to one, trust vs. mistrust, feeding;
Stage Two: Muscular-Anal: 1-3 years, autonomy vs. shame, toilet training;
Stage Three: Locomotor: 3-6 years, initiative vs. inadequacy, independence;
Stage Four: Latency: 6-12 years, industry vs. inferiority, school;
Stage Five: Adolescence: 12-18 years, identity vs. confusion, peer relationships;
Stage Six: Young Adulthood: 18-40 years, intimacy vs. isolation, love relationships;
Stage Seven: Middle Adulthood: 40-65 years, generativity vs. stagnation, parenting;
Stage Eight: Maturity: 65 years until death, integrity vs. despair, acceptance of one's life.

With a little tweaking, it wouldn't be difficult to change this to 7 (the first three related stages), then 14, 21, 42, and 63. In any event, the successful conquest of each stage is supposed to bring with it the cultivation of a certain "virtue":

1. Hope
2. Will
3. Purpose
4. Competence
5. Fidelity
6. Love
7. Caring
8. Wisdom

But ultimately, everything that comes later is nevertheless fractally related to that very first stage: trust and hope. These will keep coming up at every successive stage, but in a slightly different way.

Now obviously, this is just one man's attempt to understand the "structure" of developmental time. Nevertheless, it is interesting that he intuited that "human time" does indeed have a deep structure -- not all that dissimilar to the earth, which has its own deep time that we call "seasons." "Earth time" is cyclical and self-similar, moving through spring, summer, fall and winter. Each spring or winter is both the same and different, the variation on a theme. In fact, the human impulse to structure time is quite deeply embedded in our soul. It is why we celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, and new years, but also why theology speculates on the cosmic structure of time. (Quick note: in my opinion, much of the weather hysteria is simply misplaced intuition about the deeper structure of earth-time, i.e., a childishly materialistic view of the end of time.)

Consider the Bible: it begins with Genesis and ends in Apocalypse. Some Christian thinkers divide time into three: the ages of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Secular scholars can't help seeing sharp divisions, such as prehistory, history, the middle ages, the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, modernity, and postmodernity. Were the changes marked by these divisions random? Inevitable, given the nature of man? Catastrophic, i.e., sudden nonlinear jumps? Could it be that they mirror something within the deep structure of the human race, in the same way that Erikson's stages somehow structure the life of each individual, like a temporal Platonic archetype?

Does historical time have a direction, a telos? Science reduces time to the flow of past --> future, but is it possible that the future is luring us toward it, like an attractor in historical phase space? In fact, Christianity certainly holds to this belief. It has always intuited an "end" toward which history is hurtling. Will often reminds us of the "quickening" which will occur as we approach this singularity at the end of time. As it comes closer and closer and we are drawn into its orbit, time seems to speed up. And what is time? Time is change, so change will occur more rapidly. But what kind of change? Is it ordered and patterned, or is it random?

Unfortunately, due to my little catastrophe, I ran out of time, so this post did not quite arrive at its destination. Therefore, tomorrow I will again attempt to peer into the future and locate my point.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Down in the Arkive and Your Psychodollars at Work

Well, I'm finally doing it. I'm going to try not to blog on weekends, so that I can start going down deep into the knowa's arkive and figure out what's in there. It is kind of like a virtual basement, isn't it? Who knows what kind of junk has been stuffed in there?

I suppose the purpose would be to assemble some of it into book form, but the volume of material is a little overwhelming, and I'm not even sure I'm able to objectively discern the quality of this or that post.

So far I've gotten from October 5 to October 22, 2005. I'm also taking the time to add tags to each post. This is because the titles are sometimes a bit mystifying, since they are often more to amuse than provide a hint about the content.

And since it takes no extra work, maybe I'll just pluck something I found in the basement and post it on weekends. This one from October 19, 2005 seemed mildly amusing. I don't know. You be the judge.

*****

I was driving home from work yesterday, silently lost in my meditations, absorbed with Booker T. in the changeless but mildly funkified realm that lies just above the afternoon commute, when Petey startled me from my reveries by blurting out, “psychodollars!”

Petey often operates in this abrupt and slightly cryptic manner, as if I could possibly know what he were talking about. The abruptness comes from having no recollection -- or pretending to have no recollection -- of what it’s like to cope with a sympathetic nervous system. I’ve told him that it took me forty years to finally be comfortable about being uncomfortable in my own skin, but he can’t relate.

Anyway, “go on,” I said. “Care to give me a hint?”

“Psychodollars. That’s the tax on fantasy -- the price we pay for not having our calendar synchronized with the Arab Muslim world.”

“Go on. I’m listening.”

“You know my idea -- geographical space is developmental time. Different cultures reflect different levels of psychological development and maturity. If you fail to reach that level, then you are punished by your culture, either directly or indirectly. But if you surpass that level and become too mature, you also get whacked.”

“Are you talking about what liberals do to conservative blacks again?”

“No, I’m talking about the middle east. Imagine a Palestinian who woke up one morning and didn’t have the paranoid delusion that Israel was responsible for all their problems. No, he says, we’ve created our own hideously dysfunctional culture, and only we can change it. He decides to publicize his thoughts, to write an editorial.”

“I know, I know, that would be his last editorial. It’s hard enough to write when you aren’t hanging upside down from a street lamp on the Boulevard of the Martyrs with your testicles missing and a couple of lumps obstructing your breathing. But what does this have to do with psychodollars?”

“I’m getting there. The Arab world is stuck in the wayback machine, mired in the dark ages, right? If every other country were in the same retrograde neuro-developmental time, then their oil would be worthless, because there’d be no advanced nation that would have any use for it. But because there are countries ‘from the psychological future,’ the petrodollars flow in, from the future to the past -- from the cognitive first world to the cognitive third world, from the civilized to the savage.”

“I know about the petrodollars. What about the psychodollars?”

“Normally to get that kind of dough, you have to do something -- achieve something, make something, know something, even even just be something. But these are people who never had to go through the awkward historical phase of actually familiarizing themselves with the properties of matter or coping with the real world, much less mastering their own minds. So they’re rewarded for their backwardness and barbarity, and they even develop a superiority about it, just like the southern slave holders did in the U.S. They felt like they were superior to northerners, because they didn’t have to get their hands dirty or work at the ‘servile arts.’ They could just sit around reading Greek philosophy and pretending they were royalty. Slaves did all the work.”

“I see your point. Kind of similar to all those lie-roasted wackademia nuts who feel superior to people who actually work for a living, no?”

“Remember the garden of Eden? Some people get offended when I say this, but psychologically, one way to look at it is as a fable of infancy. The omnipotent infant-god believes that he’s responsible for creating mommy and daddy -- Adam & Eve. He’s got it all backwards. They created him, but he thinks that he created them. After all, he has a desire to be fed and held, and ‘boom,’ there they are, as if created by magic. Why shouldn’t he believe he created them? He doesn’t know any better. Then, when the parents challenge his omnipotence, he banishes them. Well, the Islamists are like the baby. They don’t realize that we’re much older and more mature, and that we created and sustain them with our petrodollars. So they’re trying to banish us. From earth. They use their petrodollars to act out, when they should really use them for a little anger management therapy.”

“So we end up paying through the nose for Muslim insanity with...”

“Psychodollars! That’s the money we have to pay as a result of having sent all those petrodollars to a bunch of infantile cultures that think they’re superior to us. It’s the billions of dollars it costs to defend ourselves from the cultural pathologies of the Arab middle east, flush with their own malicious psychodollars that they’ve converted from petrodollars. Petrodollars are just a means for turning fantasy into reality -- or reality into fantasy is more like it. I’ll bet if you added up both sides, there would be something like one psychodollar for every petrodollar. Think of it -- what’s the combined cost of homeland security, airline security for every single flight, port security, border security, support for Israel and bribes to any other 'moderate' elements in the middle east, year in, year out, national defense, the war in Iraq, the cost to the economy as a result of 9-11. It’s all psychodollars -- the extra money we have to pay for giving so many petrodollars to psychos who want to spread their pathology and pull the future back into the past.”

“Er, so what’s your solution, Petey?”

“That’s the easy part. Do the same thing with them that we do with our own infantile, anti-American citizens with superiority complexes and too much time on their hands. Just rename the whole area The University of the Middle East, make everyone a tenured professor, and let them work out their feelings by writing irrelevant books and attending dopey conferences. Now that’s a smart use of psychodollars. In fact, you could save even more money by combining the university system with the mental hospitals, and calling it a ‘looniversity bin!’ Ahh, that last part was a little joke. You can laugh.”

Petey vanished, leaving me to ponder his latest brick hurled at the temple of tolerance and multiculturalism.

*****

Obviously, Petey's principle also applies to the left, which perpetually wants to raise taxes for the problems caused by high taxes, or increase the size of the welfare state to cope with the pathologies caused by the welfare state, or appease our enemies to deal with the problems caused by appeasement, or improve the environment by undermining the economic progress that makes the improvement possible, or increase education spending to pay for the problems caused by our dysfunctional educational establishment, or make health care insanely expensive by making it "free," or promote scientism to attack the religious traditions that made genuine science possible, or solve the problems of the black family by making fathers unnecessary, or halt AIDS by encouraging the behavior that causes it, or end racial discrimination by making it against to law to not discriminate on the basis of race. All of these things involve transfers of wealth and services from the mature to the immature, thus ensuring that the latter continue to flourish. So who's stupid? If nothing else, mind parasites know how to survive.

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Saturday, June 30, 2007

Are We In Time or Of Time? And What Can We Do About It?

For some reason I awakened this morning thinking about the past. I used to be a more nostalgic person, but as I get older, it's as if bits of my past are gradually falling off the end of the earth -- as if time were spherical, and as you sail forward, the past slowly dips under the horizon.

But not exactly. Sometimes it's like a faded photo. Or as if there are fewer and fewer "bits" of information to reconstitute the photo, so it starts to lose its edges and its focus. Then again, what really seems to fade is the interior of the memory. I have a very good memory for what actually happened, but it gets increasingly difficult to really and truly remember what it was like. This must be because the more times we draw up an old memory, the more it becomes entangled with the present, and loses the distinct feeling that accompanied it in the past.

As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, the more change you undergo as an adult, the more difficult it is to reconcile your past and present. As I lay there this morning, I was trying to find the connecting thread. There must be some continuous line from there to here, some core identity that has been preserved over time. I suppose neurologists would say that that's all an illusion, and that our brain simply reconstructs our identity day by day, moment by moment.

I guess this is a continuation of yesterday's post about whether the cosmos is evolutionary and progressive, or whether it is actually winding down into chaos and degeneration. Because the answer ultimately depends upon the nature of time. According to Schuon and the traditionalists, perfection exists in the past, so that time must necessarily result in further and further distance from the ideal, like rays of light going away from the sun. He insists that this is true Christian doctrine, and I suppose his point is somewhat unassailable, given that the "arc of salvation" begins in paradise and ends with the reign of the antichrist and the apocalypse. I'm pretty sure he would say that it is pure folly to place any kind if hope in or for the fallen world.

But as Biker Lady pointed out in a comment yesterday, brilliant though Schuon may have been, he nevertheless existed in a certain time and place. From what I understand, the effect of World War I was particularly catastrophic to the European mind, and in many ways explains why they are still the way they are today. I've tried to study European history, but it seems that it was one endless battle until the period of relative peace that lasted for nearly 100 years before war broke out in 1914. It literally was a kind of apocalypse that we can scarcely imagine -- the disintegration of the world order and the end of reality as people had come to know it. Then everyone took a breath before going at it again in World War II. And even now, the Islamist problem can to a certain extent be traced to the breakup of the Ottoman Empire as a result of World War I.

One of the reasons the Great War was so unexpected was that people had placed so much faith in science, reason, and progress -- which is perhaps one of the reasons why Schuon was so suspicious of them. People think that we live in a materialistic age today, but this really isn't so. If anything, we aren't materialistic enough, in the sense of respecting concrete reality. One of the reasons leftism is such a dysfunctional philosophy is that it is on the one hand "materialistic," since it denies spirit, i.e., the entire realm of the vertical. Nevertheless, if you deny spirit, it will return with a vengeance, only in a distorted form. Like nature, you can drive it out with a pitch fork, but she always comes back. Thus, anyone who is not under the influence of leftism -- which operates through the principles of seduction and hypnosis -- can see that it is just a highly abstract secular religion. It is hardly rational, for example, embracing economic and psychological principles that we know to be purely fanciful.

It is interesting that at the peak of materialism in the late 19th century, cracks began to appear in the structure of reality. I'm not sure if this is apocryphal, but it is said that by 1900, graduate students were advised against studying physics, since it was felt that the application of reason had essentially solved all of the problems of physics, with the exception of a couple of minor "clouds on the horizon." But those little clouds turned out to be the huge anomalies that were Einstein's point of departure for overturning the whole world of physics with the publication of his revolutionary papers in what is called the scientific annus mirabilis of 1905. And it wasn't until 1919 -- one year after the conclusion of World War I -- that the theory of relativity was empirically confirmed, and the commonsense Newtonian universe was definitively overturned.

The cracks in materialism did not just appear in science. 1900 was also the year in which Freud published his first and still most revolutionary book, The Interpretation of Dreams, which was certainly analogous to Einstein's revolution, in that it showed that the mind was not a repository of pure reason, but governed by unconscious and irrational drives and impulses just under the "civilized" surface.

It was also in 1909 that Picasso began his experiments in cubism and other forms of abstract art (thus breaking up the continuity of space), and between 1914 and 1921 that Joyce composed what was then a radical departure in literature, Ulysses. In fact, Ulysses seems to simultaneously incorporate ideas of Einstein, Freud, and Picasso, since it largely consists of a non-linear stream of consciousness of the three main characters, who are in turn symbolic of the Father (Bloom), Son (Stephen), and Holy Ghost (Molly). The book takes place on a single day in Dublin on June 16, 1904, and one of Joyce's points was to show how dense, resonant, and "full" time was.

In other words, time is not merely abstract and linear duration, à la Newton, but filled with a kind of infinite archetypal meaning that fractally resonates with all of human history. This is why the book is entitled "Ulysses," since the idea was that just underneath the surface, our lives are resonant with the universal and archetypal myths of antiquity; Bloom's wandering about the streets of Dublin resonates with Homer's Odyssey, as Ulysses tries to find his way back home (a myth also resurrected in the Coen Brothers O Brother, Where Art Thou?)

To cite one obvious example of this fractal resonance, when you take communion, you are tapping into a resonant "timeless time" that connects with Jesus and is "always present." But in reality, this applies to all rituals; when you get married, you are Adam and Eve back in the garden; when you celebrate Christmas, you enter a time that is resonant with all past Christmases, both individually and collectively.

It wasn't until 1975 that Benoit Mandelbrot coined the term "fractal" for the self-similarity that arises at every level of existence. Of course, he was taking about geometric self-similarity, but what if the cosmos is temporally fractal, i.e., self-similar in the manner suggested by Joyce? If this is true -- and I think it is -- then the realm of religion would actually constitute a dimension of archetypal truths that order temporal reality in a self-similar way. And this would explain why you cannot "escape" from religion, any more than you can escape from geometric order.

I discussed this possibility in a couple of scholarly papers I published in 1991 and 1994. Wait a minute... let me go track them down....

But before I do -- let me jump to a more macro idea that sort of encapsulates and illustrates what we are talking about this morning. Back then I was just a regular intellectual -- or thought I was, or wanted to be one -- my thinking was nevertheless quite "off the map" of what is considered to be the accepted reality. I wasn't just "interested" in these things, but I felt like Jake and Elwood -- as if I were on a Mission From God, even though I wasn't consciously aware of being "religious" at the time. It was simply a passionate adventure that really consumed me, and in a way, I suppose you could say that my book -- which was mostly written in the 1990s -- was the culmination of this adventure.

The point I'm trying to make is that in looking back, I can see that I was not so much "driven" as "pulled" -- plunged is more like it -- into a reality that I was compelled to explore. Very few of you will relate to this, but back in the late '60s and early '70s they had this ride at Disneyland, the Monsanto Adventure Thru Inner Space, in which you entered a giant microscope and shrunk down to submolecular size to explore the outer reaches of inner space. (Wow, here it is -- if you scroll down, you can see a little video about it.)

Ha! The internet is amazing. Who needs memory? I found the narration of the ride on wikipedia:

*****

I am the first person to make this fabulous journey. Suspended in the timelesssness of inner space are the thoughtwaves of my first impressions. They will be our only source of contact once you have passed beyond the limits of normal Magnification.

The Atomobile enters the Mighty Microscope and begins to shake back and forth as the riders enter the darkness. As their vision returns, the riders see giant snowflakes all around them, some still spinning as they fall. As they continue to shrink, the narrator says, I am passing beyond the magnification limits of even the most powerful microscopes. These are snowflakes -- and yet they seem to grow larger and larger. Or can I be shrinking -- shrinking beyond the smallness of a tiny snowflake crystal? Indeed, I am becoming smaller and smaller!

The snowflakes take on a crystalline form, eventually becoming large enough to cover the entire field of the riders' vision. Approaching the walls of ice crystals, the voice of the unseen scientist marvels, These tiny bits of snowflake crystal tower above me -- like an enormous wall of ice. Can I penetrate this gigantic prism? And yet, this wall of ice only seems smooth and solid. From this tiny viewpoint, I can see that nothing is solid, no matter how it appears. The ice crystals can be seen to be not solid but a lattice-like structure that the riders pass through.

And still I continue to shrink! What compelling force draws me into this mysterious darkness -- can this be the threshold of inner space?

Next we encounter a matrix of spheres appearing in columns and rows of infinite length. What are these strange spheres? asks the narrator. Have I reached the universe of the molecule? Yes, these are water molecules -- H2O. They vibrate in such an orderly pattern because this is water frozen into the solid state of matter.

As we continue to shrink, the molecules become larger, and take on a peculiar shape. These fuzzy spheres must be the atoms that make up the molecule -- two hydrogen atoms bonded to a single oxygen atom. And I see that it's the orbiting electrons that give the atom its fuzzy appearance. And still I continue to shrink.

The scientist wonders, Is it possible that I can enter the atom itself? As the atomobile enters the atom, a storm of lights flash past on all sides at impossible speeds. Electrons are dashing about me -- like so many fiery comets! Can I possibly survive?

Suddenly the frenzy of the electrons passes, and the rider is in a large, empty space, surrounded in the distance by a sphere of slow-moving lights. I have pierced the wall of the Oxygen atom, says the Narrator. I am so infinitely small now that I can see millions of orbiting electrons. They appear like the Milky Way of our own solar system. This vast realm, THIS is the infinite universe within a tiny speck of snowflake crystal.

A large pulsating red ball can be seen inside the atom. And there is the nucleus of the atom! Do I dare explore the vastness of ITS inner space? No, I dare not go on. I must return to the realm of the molecule, before I go on shrinking...forever!

The riders begin the return journey to full size, but are soon greeted with the sight of water molecules swirling rapidly. At first the scientist is confused: Ah, how strange! The molecures are so active now! They have become fluid -- freed from their frozen state. That can only mean that the snowflake is melting! Around us we see molecules moving faster as their temperature increases. The molecules are depicted in green and yellow, with occasional star-shaped flashes representing evaporation.

Yes, the snowflake has melted, tones a scientist's voice, But there is no cause for alarm. You are back on visual, and returning to your normal size. The riders can see evidence of the monitoring as they pass under a large microscope through which they can see the giant eye of a scientist.

Having returned to normal size, the riders disembark and pass by displays of Monsanto's advances in material science before exiting the attraction building.

*****

So, as I return you to your normal size, what have we learned today about time, nostalgia, and atomobiles?

I think the period of collective materialism persisted through the 1950s, at which point there was a huge ingression of spiritual energy in the 1960s, sort of like when the Wizard of Oz transitions from black & white to color. Just bear in mind that spiritual does not equate to "good." But with that Monsanto ride, we can see how the limits of materialistic science led full circle to an incredibly mysterious universe that is literally beyond our wildest imagination, since we literally cannot imagine it. Materialism circled back around to immateriality in a way that most people still haven't grasped. In fact, the hole in scientism is big enough to drive a religion through.

From this tiny viewpoint, I can see that nothing is solid, no matter how it appears. And still I continue to shrink! What compelling force draws me into this mysterious darkness!

To paraphrase the biologist J.B.S. Haldane, the universe is not only stranger than we suppose, it's stranger than we can suppose. Therefore -- to paraphrase Terence McKenna -- since it's stranger than we can suppose, we might as well suppose that it's as strange as we can suppose. Because even that won't be strange enough.

To be continued.... Probably Monday. I think it would be a good idea for all of us to not touch a computer for one day a week.

Friday, June 29, 2007

One Flew Over the Cosmic Nest

I wanted to finish up my thoughts about Frithjof Schuon in commemoration of his 100th birthday. As I have said, I don't agree with everything he says, and in fact, I might even be in disagreement with one of his most unfunfundamental tenets, which is, to put it bluntly, that the world is in an inexorable slide toward dissolution and catastrophe, and that there's nothing we can do about it, at least collectively. In short, no one knows the day or hour, but we are headed toward apocalypse in a hand basket.

I say I "might be" in disagreement, because I'm no longer sure if the world is evolutionary and progressive, or whether mankind's apparent progress is not only superficial, but a kind of deodorant that covers up the smell of the rot. I am an optimist by nature, an attitude which is further exacerbated by a disposition that is essentially cheerful, sunny, and sort of jovial. But what if the universe is not cheerful, sunny and jovial? Then I'm distorting things every bit as much as the depressed and morbid person who sees life as one hopeless struggle, aren't I?

Obviously, when I wrote my book, I was unabashedly in the evolutionary camp. This was undoubtedly due to the influence first of Ken Wilber and then Sri Aurobindo, both of whom see the cosmos as a field of progressive spiritual evolution. A while back, I wrote that.... Never mind what I wrote. I was about to select a quote, but I couldn't pick just one, so here's the link to the whole thing. It is a reflection of the optimistic side of me, which again comes very naturally. But that doesn't mean it's correct, now does it?

Then again, the traditionalists such as Schuon all appear to me to be on the serious side, to say the least. I've almost read Schuon's entire body of work, and I don't think there's a single gag in the whole existentialada, except maybe the hollow and bitter kind, as Bertie Wooster might put it. In my more grandiose moments, I sometimes think that maybe I was put here to introduce a little levity into the gravity of religion. I mean.... somebody's gotta do it, right? Alan Watts was a pretty funny guy, but he was also alcoholic and had a spanking fetish.... not that there's anything wrong with that, but my point is that whatever seriousness he was able to convey through humor did not extend to himself, since he was a pretty frivolous character, and underneath the frivolity were some pretty dark currents. Thus, he was only superficially frivolous, whereas my goal is to be deeply frivolous.

Come to think of it, I have to say that all of the spiritual models I was initially drawn to were of that nature. Given my basic temperament, I just couldn't take traditional religions seriously. They were just too easy to make fun of. So I was drawn toward people like Watts, Ram Dass, Terence McKenna, and even a sociopath like Timothy Leary, since at least they all had a sense of humor.

Is my sense of humor just a giant defense mechanism? Here's where I think psychology can go too far. Yes, there are certainly people who use humor as a defense to cover up their problems. Just think of all the deeply troubled great comedians. Research has shown that there is a very high incidence of mental illness, including bipolar disorder, among great poets, but the comedians might even be worse. There are the completely self-destructive ones, like Richard Pryor, Lenny Bruce, and John Belushi, and a great many who clearly just use comedy to cover up an essentially bitter and angry personality, such as Bill Maher, David Letterman, or Rosie O'Donnell. Ironically, it is apparently rare to find a comedian who is actually fun to be around and happy in his private life.

At any rate, something in me caused me to reject all of the above "stand-up theologians" for a variety of reasons, even though I suppose I wanted to retain their playful attitude. As I mentioned the other day, if there is one adage I live by, it is to simply follow the depth, wherever it leads. This includes scientific truth, psychological truth, theological truth, and comedic truth. Is there any fundamental reason why ultimate truth can't be deeply funny, a guffah-ha experience, the joke than which there is no jokier?

Yes, I suppose so. First of all, if you aren't funny, you shouldn't try to be. Please, leave it to the professionals. And the professionals know that it is much more difficult to write good comedy than good drama. Even more difficult is to write good comedy that is simultaneously deep. Now that I think of it, my favorite films tend to be those that walk that fine line between comedy and drama, for example, Sunset Boulevard or One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest.

And now that I think of it some more -- and I'm thinking about this for the first time -- I can't even tell you how much I was influenced by the latter film. I was 18 or 19 when it came out, and it was sort of a.... religious experience. In short, I totally identified with the R.P. McMurphy character, who was quite transparently a symbol of the messiah. And when I say "messiah," I don't necessarily mean it in the Christian sense, but in Bion's sense as the person who comes along and injects a little life into the dead and sclerotic establishment. I even had the movie poster on the wall of my shabby little apartment back in the day.

Obviously, this is why I was a default liberal in my younger days, since I identified "the establishment" with conservatives. But as I was mentioning to my uncomprehending brother the other evening, one of the biggest disappointments in my life is how my own generation has become the stultifying establishment -- conformist, narrow-minded, humorless, politically correct, authoritarian, fearful of change. I mean, Hillary Clinton is the very image of Nurse Ratched, is she not? From Wikipedia:

"Nurse Mildred Ratched is the head administrative nurse at the state mental hospital, where she exercises near-absolute power over the patients' access to medications, privileges, and basic necessities such as food and toiletries. She capriciously revokes these privileges whenever a patient displeases her. Her superiors turn blind eyes because she maintains order, keeping the patients from acting out... A cold sadistic, tyrant obsessed with her own power.... She has also become a popular metaphor for the corrupting influence of power and authority in bureaucracies.... When McMurphy arrives at the hospital, however, her dictatorial rule is nearly toppled; he not only flouts her precious rules with impunity, but encourages the other patients to follow his example. Her attempts to cow him into submission -- at first with threats and mild punishments, then with shock therapy -- are unsuccessful. If anything, they only make him more defiant...."

So back to my theological dilemma. In many ways, the question of whether the cosmos is evolutionary or degenerative comes down to whether God is a funny guy or more like the morbid fellow portrayed in Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Yes, it's an extended quote, so skip it if you want, but it's pretty entertaining. Otherwise, this is the end of today's post.

*****

The preacher's voice sank. He paused, joined his palms for an instant, parted them. Then he resumed:

-- Now let us try for a moment to realize, as far as we can, the nature of that abode of the damned which the justice of an offended God has called into existence for the eternal punishment of sinners. Hell is a strait and dark and foul-smelling prison, an abode of demons and lost souls, filled with fire and smoke. The straitness of this prison house is expressly designed by God to punish those who refused to be bound by His laws. In earthly prisons the poor captive has at least some liberty of movement, were it only within the four walls of his cell or in the gloomy yard of his prison. Not so in hell. There, by reason of the great number of the damned, the prisoners are heaped together in their awful prison, the walls of which are said to be four thousand miles thick: and the damned are so utterly bound and helpless that, as a blessed saint, saint Anselm, writes in his book on similitudes, they are not even able to remove from the eye a worm that gnaws it.

-- They lie in exterior darkness. For, remember, the fire of hell gives forth no light. As, at the command of God, the fire of the Babylonian furnace lost its heat but not its light, so, at the command of God, the fire of hell, while retaining the intensity of its heat, burns eternally in darkness. It is a never ending storm of darkness, dark flames and dark smoke of burning brimstone, amid which the bodies are heaped one upon another without even a glimpse of air. Of all the plagues with which the land of the Pharaohs were smitten one plague alone, that of darkness, was called horrible. What name, then, shall we give to the darkness of hell which is to last not for three days alone but for all eternity?

-- The horror of this strait and dark prison is increased by its awful stench. All the filth of the world, all the offal and scum of the world, we are told, shall run there as to a vast reeking sewer when the terrible conflagration of the last day has purged the world. The brimstone, too, which burns there in such prodigious quantity fills all hell with its intolerable stench; and the bodies of the damned themselves exhale such a pestilential odour that, as saint Bonaventure says, one of them alone would suffice to infect the whole world. The very air of this world, that pure element, becomes foul and unbreathable when it has been long enclosed. Consider then what must be the foulness of the air of hell. Imagine some foul and putrid corpse that has lain rotting and decomposing in the grave, a jelly-like mass of liquid corruption. Imagine such a corpse a prey to flames, devoured by the fire of burning brimstone and giving off dense choking fumes of nauseous loathsome decomposition. And then imagine this sickening stench, multiplied a millionfold and a millionfold again from the millions upon millions of fetid carcasses massed together in the reeking darkness, a huge and rotting human fungus. Imagine all this, and you will have some idea of the horror of the stench of hell.

-- But this stench is not, horrible though it is, the greatest physical torment to which the damned are subjected. The torment of fire is the greatest torment to which the tyrant has ever subjected his fellow creatures. Place your finger for a moment in the flame of a candle and you will feel the pain of fire. But our earthly fire was created by God for the benefit of man, to maintain in him the spark of life and to help him in the useful arts, whereas the fire of hell is of another quality and was created by God to torture and punish the unrepentant sinner. Our earthly fire also consumes more or less rapidly according as the object which it attacks is more or less combustible, so that human ingenuity has even succeeded in inventing chemical preparations to check or frustrate its action. But the sulphurous brimstone which burns in hell is a substance which is specially designed to burn for ever and for ever with unspeakable fury. Moreover, our earthly fire destroys at the same time as it burns, so that the more intense it is the shorter is its duration; but the fire of hell has this property, that it preserves that which it burns, and, though it rages with incredible intensity, it rages for ever.

--Our earthly fire again, no matter how fierce or widespread it may be, is always of a limited extent; but the lake of fire in hell is boundless, shoreless and bottomless. It is on record that the devil himself, when asked the question by a certain soldier, was obliged to confess that if a whole mountain were thrown into the burning ocean of hell it would be burned up In an instant like a piece of wax. And this terrible fire will not afflict the bodies of the damned only from without, but each lost soul will be a hell unto itself, the boundless fire raging in its very vitals. O, how terrible is the lot of those wretched beings! The blood seethes and boils in the veins, the brains are boiling in the skull, the heart in the breast glowing and bursting, the bowels a red-hot mass of burning pulp, the tender eyes flaming like molten balls.

--And yet what I have said as to the strength and quality and boundlessness of this fire is as nothing when compared to its intensity, an intensity which it has as being the instrument chosen by divine design for the punishment of soul and body alike. It is a fire which proceeds directly from the ire of God, working not of its own activity but as an instrument of Divine vengeance. As the waters of baptism cleanse the soul with the body, so do the fires of punishment torture the spirit with the flesh. Every sense of the flesh is tortured and every faculty of the soul therewith: the eyes with impenetrable utter darkness, the nose with noisome odours, the ears with yells and howls and execrations, the taste with foul matter, leprous corruption, nameless suffocating filth, the touch with redhot goads and spikes, with cruel tongues of flame. And through the several torments of the senses the immortal soul is tortured eternally in its very essence amid the leagues upon leagues of glowing fires kindled in the abyss by the offended majesty of the Omnipotent God and fanned into everlasting and ever-increasing fury by the breath of the anger of the God-head.

--Consider finally that the torment of this infernal prison is increased by the company of the damned themselves. Evil company on earth is so noxious that the plants, as if by instinct, withdraw from the company of whatsoever is deadly or hurtful to them. In hell all laws are overturned - there is no thought of family or country, of ties, of relationships. The damned howl and scream at one another, their torture and rage intensified by the presence of beings tortured and raging like themselves. All sense of humanity is forgotten. The yells of the suffering sinners fill the remotest corners of the vast abyss. The mouths of the damned are full of blasphemies against God and of hatred for their fellow sufferers and of curses against those souls which were their accomplices in sin. In olden times it was the custom to punish the parricide, the man who had raised his murderous hand against his father, by casting him into the depths of the sea in a sack in which were placed a cock, a monkey, and a serpent. The intention of those law-givers who framed such a law, which seems cruel in our times, was to punish the criminal by the company of hurtful and hateful beasts. But what is the fury of those dumb beasts compared with the fury of execration which bursts from the parched lips and aching throats of the damned in hell when they behold in their companions in misery those who aided and abetted them in sin, those whose words sowed the first seeds of evil thinking and evil living in their minds, those whose immodest suggestions led them on to sin, those whose eyes tempted and allured them from the path of virtue. They turn upon those accomplices and upbraid them and curse them. But they are helpless and hopeless: it is too late now for repentance.

--Last of all consider the frightful torment to those damned souls, tempters and tempted alike, of the company of the devils. These devils will afflict the damned in two ways, by their presence and by their reproaches. We can have no idea of how horrible these devils are. Saint Catherine of Siena once saw a devil and she has written that, rather than look again for one single instant on such a frightful monster, she would prefer to walk until the end of her life along a track of red coals. These devils, who were once beautiful angels, have become as hideous and ugly as they once were beautiful. They mock and jeer at the lost souls whom they dragged down to ruin. It is they, the foul demons, who are made in hell the voices of conscience. Why did you sin? Why did you lend an ear to the temptings of friends? Why did you turn aside from your pious practices and good works? Why did you not shun the occasions of sin? Why did you not leave that evil companion? Why did you not give up that lewd habit, that impure habit? Why did you not listen to the counsels of your confessor? Why did you not, even after you had fallen the first or the second or the third or the fourth or the hundredth time, repent of your evil ways and turn to God who only waited for your repentance to absolve you of your sins? Now the time for repentance has gone by. Time is, time was, but time shall be no more! Time was to sin in secrecy, to indulge in that sloth and pride, to covet the unlawful, to yield to the promptings of your lower nature, to live like the beasts of the field, nay worse than the beasts of the field, for they, at least, are but brutes and have no reason to guide them: time was, but time shall be no more. God spoke to you by so many voices, but you would not hear. You would not crush out that pride and anger in your heart, you would not restore those ill-gotten goods, you would not obey the precepts of your holy church nor attend to your religious duties, you would not abandon those wicked companions, you would not avoid those dangerous temptations. Such is the language of those fiendish tormentors, words of taunting and of reproach, of hatred and of disgust. Of disgust, yes! For even they, the very devils, when they sinned, sinned by such a sin as alone was compatible with such angelical natures, a rebellion of the intellect: and they, even they, the foul devils must turn away, revolted and disgusted, from the contemplation of those unspeakable sins by which degraded man outrages and defiles the temple of the Holy Ghost, defiles and pollutes himself.

--O, my dear little brothers in Christ, may it never be our lot to hear that language! May it never be our lot, I say! In the last day of terrible reckoning I pray fervently to God that not a single soul of those who are in this chapel today may be found among those miserable beings whom the Great Judge shall command to depart for ever from His sight, that not one of us may ever hear ringing in his ears the awful sentence of rejection: Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire which was prepared for the devil and his angels!

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Beyond the Human Margin of Politics

Schuon has a thought-provoking essay entitled The Human Margin, in which he points out that there is necessarily a realm in religion which, "while being orthodox and traditional, is nonetheless human in a certain sense." This is because "the Divine influence is total only for the Scriptures and for the essential consequences of the Revelation," which always leaves a "human margin" where this divine influence shades off to the human and "exerts no more than an indirect action, letting ethnic or cultural factors speak."

For example, many of the differences between Catholicism and Orthodoxy are at the human margin; they are ethnic and cultural, two different ways of interpreting and living the Christian message -- two different views of the Absolute. As Schuon points out, "It is to this sector or margin that many of the speculations of exoterism belong; orthodoxy is on the one hand homogeneous and indivisible, on the other hand it admits of degrees of absoluteness and relativity."

This is why theological disputes are inevitable even within a given revelation, as man with his relative mind attempts to grapple with the absolute and eternal message. If time is the moving image of eternity, then perhaps theology is man's diary of this movement. It is not in eternity, nor is it quite in time, but in that ambiguous twilit realm where eternity pours into each of us at our own human margin: O-->(k).

I would like to abruptly shift if not grind gears for a moment, as I was thinking yesterday of how this principle might apply to the political realm. For Americans, the Constitution is analogous to revelation -- a quasi-divine message from the Absolute with regard to the best way to order relations between the individual and the group. In fact, because we are American, this is more than an analogy. Our innate sense of a spiritual mission is something that people from other nations do not comprehend -- with the exception of the many essential Americans who were only accidentally born in other nations, such as an Arnold Schwarzenegger, or Irving Berlin, or my own father. Or even me, since I was actually born in the People's Republic of Santa Monica.

Because of the constant drumbeat of sick and twisted leftist anti-American propaganda, I don't really know if it is equally true today, but there was a time when immigrants flocked to America not just for the economic benefits but because of the beacon of spiritual liberty. But the left, because it is thoroughly materialized -- which, you must understand, is a spiritual state -- looks at America only through a crude economic lens.

I would say this is "ironic," but it really isn't. The organizing fantasy of the left is that conservative classical liberals are obsessed with money and wealth, but this is pure projection. It is the left that is obsessed with money and wealth, which it must be, since it knows no realm higher than the material. This is why they cannot understand the phenomena of "Reagan Democrats," or "values voters," or just everyday Americans who -- in the eyes of the left -- "vote against their own economic interests" by being in favor of low taxes and limited government. In short, conservatives are much more motivated by eternal values, not by class envy or leftist schemes of income redistribution.

And this is why the left has such undisguised contempt for middle America and certainly for "red state" America. For the leftist, reality is by definition reduced to the material plane. But you cannot reduce reality to the material plane without a disastrous effect on your own psyche and spirit. It goes without saying that in embracing materialism, you do great violence to your soul, since you essentially foreclose it. But not exactly. Rather, you transform it into something hard, inflexible, and concrete; furthermore, you render yourself impenetrable to the divine light, or to the influx of transcendent forces in general. As always, the rain of grace will fall from the sky, but it will land on the stony soil of your own shrunken and desiccated soul. Anyone with awakened coonvision can see this -- can vividly perceive the interior state of someone whose soul has turned to stone.

It would be bad enough to be in the presence of all these creepy stoners if they were only encased in stone, but something else happens to them on their merry way to hell, and again, it is something I think you'll agree is vividly apparent to one's awakened coonvision. No soul can actually live in a closed state. Rather, like the body, it must always receive "nourishment" from outside sources. In fact, take the analogy of something with which I am intimately familiar, diabetes. If I did not give myself insulin on a daily basis in order to metabolize glucose, my body would soon begin to literally consume itself. In so doing, it would give off a toxic, acidic byproduct known as ketones, which would kill me in a matter of days.

Is there something analogous to ketoacidosis that happens to the leftist mind, by which it suffocates in its own acid? Now that I think of it, it is interesting, is it not, that the left is so very acidotic? When I say this, I obviously cannot get through to the leftist whose soul is in a state of advanced ketoacidosis, such as these typical examples. For one thing, this spiritual acidosis -- like its physical analogue -- causes confusion and eventually delirium.

(An interesting point: one reason why there isn't any controversy about leftist "hate speech" is that so much of it is unprintable as compared, say, to Ann Coulter, who may be polemical but not even remotely similar to the haters of the left, such as a Rosie O'Donnell or the rantings of the most popular leftist websites. The MSM takes Coulter to task for merely taunting John Edwards for being a such a feminized man, whereas the anti-Catholic bigotry of the official bloggers Edwards hired is so vile that it can't even be repeated on TV or printed in any mainstream newspaper. I can't think of any mainstream conservative rhetoric that can't be repeated in the MSM except for self-censoring reasons of political correctness. For example, many things I say are unmentionable in the MSM, not because they're hateful, but because they're true. In fact, you might say that political correctness is the left's corrupt technique for converting truth into hate and rendering it unmentionable.)

When you hit the above link -- and I recommend that you do, if only to firmly understand my point -- pay no attention to the intellectual content, which is obviously nil. Rather, try -- but not too hard, since it is not healthy to go there -- try to discern the spiritual state of the person from whom these "headlines" -- bowel-lines is more like it -- arise. Again, such a person is subject to a continuous flow of "grace," as it were, but it is the inexhaustible satanic grace which allows, say, a Noam Chomsky to write book after tedious book of corrosive bile. Yes, it is the same book over and over, which it must be due to the very nature of satanic grace, which contains no true novelty, just infinite permutations of the satanic message. This is why, for example, left wing radio is so incredibly boring, and why the totalitarian left wants to reimpose the "fairness doctrine" to force-feed their unpopular message to Americans.

This kind of pseudo-novelty is apparently "thrilling" to the vital mind of the materialist; it provides their "intellectual food," just as "transgressive" art provides their spiritual nourishment. Again: the materialist mind, cut off from its source above, will attempt to feed itself from below, which, over time, leads to deeper and deeper states of pathology. This is the true source of what we call the "culture war" in America, as the left necessarily becomes sicker and sicker, but imagines that the movement responsible for this divide is coming from "conservatives."

To cite one obvious example, Barack Obama -- who is increasingly beginning to sound sinister and not just stupid -- spoke the other day of how conservatives have "hijacked faith." Yes, you are hijacking faith if you simply adhere to what the faithful have always believed, which is that marriage is the spiritual union of a man and woman, or that children do best with a mother and father, or that abortion cannot possibly please God. Let's at least be honest -- who is trying to hijack faith to ram through their new sociopolitical agenda?

As I was about to say, I cannot possibly speak to the leftist whose own mind has been fully hijacked -- or lowjacked -- from below. Rather, I can only reach the leftist who is still at the human margin (which I know happens, since I have the emails to prove it). No, not in this case the margin between the divine and human, to which my theological bobservations are addressed. Rather, the margin between the human and the infrahuman; or, if that sounds too harsh and insulting, let us just say, between the human and the post-human -- which is what postmodern secular humanism surely is: an experiment in what it means to violently toss aside what it has always meant to be human, and to try to "transcend" the human state.

But this transcendence is not from above, but from below. It is not actually transcendence, but rebellion. This is why, ironically -- but not really -- the left is the real reactionary movement, since it is always reacting to, and rebelling against, the Divine. In so doing, it comes into contact with intoxicating forces that are greater than the individual, but they are from below, not above.

Returning to the question of the "human margin" and how it applies to politics. Again, if we look at the American Constitution, it is analogous to divine revelation. It is absolute, but it nevertheless shades off into the human margin. In turn, the purpose of the Supreme Court is to determine the point at which the human margin shades off into political heresy, so to speak, into the realm of the "unconstitutional."

There is a "natural" left and right which is healthy and to which no true American should be opposed. This represents the realm of alternative points of view within the Constitution, somewhat analogous to different traditions that cohere around the divine revelation of Christianity. The Constitution allows for a certain latitude, for certain "divergencies within orthodoxy," in which different theologians -- or constitutional scholars -- can hammer out their differences at the human margin.

But at some point in our history -- different people will argue whether it was, say, with FDR's usurpation of federal power, or with the rise of the anti-American left in the 1960s -- the honorable left-hand side of American tradition veered well beyond the acceptable human margin and began embracing doctrines that were frankly extra-constitutional, un-American, and completely at odds with our traditions.

Running out of time here, but the examples are too numerous to mention. For example, America was intended to be a Judeo-Christian nation -- not government, but nation, which is something much deeper, and from which the government derives its just powers. If you argue that America was somehow intended to be a secular nation, or a Muslim nation, or an anti-religious nation, then you are simply un-American. You are "out of bounds."

Smoov left a relevant comment yesterday, which was actually the inspiration for today's post. He wrote,

"Yesterday's 30,000 foot reading included the current New Yorker, wherein an essay contains a casual reference to the recent decsion of America to introduce the practice of torture.

"The Left has fully insinuated this vile slander against their own nation into the global zeitgeist. The 'fact' that Americans are now morally equivalent to Robert Mugabe's thugs or the SS is so entrenched that the likes of Jon Stewart routinely use it as fodder for inane jokes.

"The indecent Left's willingness to sabotage their own nation in such a thoroughgoing manner -- all due to an infantile hatred of the current President -- should elicit a stronger response than it does.

"Call me a torturer publicly and I'll see you in court, and liberate you of half your paycheck for the next 20 years. Do it to your own nation and get published in the New Yorker or knock down 5 or 6 mil a year fronting the Daily Show.

"Where's the public outrage over these diabolical affronts to America?"

Why, it's right here at One Cosmos, where we point out how the Left has ventured well beyond the human margin -- where the bright and gory post-human moon god steps ashore from the sea below, surveys the sinister world he has created, and pronounces that it is bad.