Saturday, July 14, 2007

Following in the Footsteps of the Tracks I've Buried

To post or not to post.... Probably no time for anything substantive. I did get tagged by Gates of Vienna, so I suppose I can brood on that while waiting for my brain to come on line -- if indeed it does today... I go through these phases when my mind has a mind of its own.

The rules are:

1. Let others know who tagged you.

I already told you. It was Gates of Vienna.

2. Players start with 8 random facts about themselves.


3. Those who are tagged should post these rules and their 8 random facts.

This seems redundant. Why not just combine rules (2) and (3)?

4. Players should tag 8 other people and notify them they have been tagged.

Hmm, let's see... Going down the list in order, Petey, Van, Ben, Cousin Dupree, Robin Starfish, Lisa, Julie, and Mizz E.

Okay, random facts about Bob....

1) In high school I was so in awe of girls, that I don't think I actually spoke to one in any non-official capacity until I took my first sip of beer at 17. That was also the first time I kissed a girl -- just before I spoke to her, in fact -- which is why beer immediately opened up a whole world of possibilities to me. I guess you could say that I've been grateful to it ever since.

2) While on the topic of high school, back then I was so lacking in direction -- or so focussed, depending on your point of view -- that the only professions I could conceive of pursuing were professional baseball player or rock star. Especially after I read the book Ball Four -- the only book I enjoyed (or probably read) in high school -- I could scarcely conceive of doing anything else.

In fact, even if I couldn't be a professional athlete, I vowed to emulate one by avoiding real work, sleeping late, drinking beer with my friends, and maybe even sneaking on to the team hotel roof to try to ogle women (an accomplishment thus far denied me; but one must retain some lofty goals to provide a sense of meaning and purpose).

3) But I went to college anyway, even though I had no earthly idea why I was there except to provide "cover" for the desire to extend my adolescence -- after all, it was just finally getting interesting (see fact #1) -- for as long as possible. I reflexively chose Business Administration as a major, but only because I had no academic interests whatsoever, and thought that I would at least be able to get some kind of a job with a business degree. But I ended up flunking out of college in late 1976. Just prior to that, I had begun working at the supermarket in Malibu, and I found that I much preferred honest physical labor to any kind of intellectual work anyway, in part because I was completely incapable of the latter. I mean that literally. Oddly -- or perhaps not, again, depending on your point of view -- I can see that I was the same person then that I am now.

4) The store in Malibu was located right around the corner from the Sheriff's station. One day, a fellow clerk (PBUH) discovered by chance that the bathroom key also unlocked the front door of the store! The store closed at 9:00 PM, at which time (after the night manager had left) we'd saunter right back into the store and come out with all the fixin's necessary for the Ultimate Party -- beer, giant sandwiches from the deli, beer, etc. This went on for months on end. The sheriffs would just drive by and wave in the distance, as they knew who we were and assumed that our presence relieved them of the need to surveil the store for burglars and the like.

5) I guess I moved out and got my first apartment in 1977. Between then and when I got married in 1987, I moved 13 times. But only because my apartment would inevitably get dirty, no matter how much I ignored the problem.

6) Which reminds me. Eventually store security caught on to the nighttime parking lot revelry, and heads rolled. Fortunately not mine, but my roommate's. At the time, he and I shared a three bedroom condo on the beach in Port Hueneme. Being that he was now unemployed, it was necessary for him to create a new cash stream. Therefore, he converted our unused room into a pot plantation. He purchased one of those 1,000 watt bulbs, and every square inch of the room was covered in 20 gallon containers.

The plants quickly grew to the ceiling, so my roommate's job essentially involved topping the plants every day, toasting them in the oven for a bit, and serving his customers. Now, at the time, I didn't even partake, but I was obviously a very open-minded guy, so I had no fundamental objection to my roommate laying around all day smoking pot, surfing, and converting our condo into a tropical jungle. I wasn't even alarmed when our electricity bill jumped from $20 to $200 a month, not knowing that that is one of the ways The Man busts pot growers.

Normally we kept this giant canvas Holiday Inn flag over the window of the farm, but one night I came home from work and saw that a breeze had blown the flag down. It looked as if the mid-day sun were shining out of our window. I guess only then did I realize the potential peril I was in. So I moved on to my next clean apartment.

7) Some time prior to that, we had taken our first road trip to Vegas -- I and a couple of coworkers. We wanted to get in as much gambling as possible with the least amount of overhead, so we conceived this plan: we would embark from Los Angeles at about 6:00 PM, arriving in Vegas at about 10:00. We'd then gamble for the subsequent 12 hours, and check into our room at 11:00 AM. Then we could sleep all day and gamble again all night. The idea was to get in two full nights of gambling for the price of one!

Look, I'm not saying I'm a genius, or that I'm proud of any of this. I'm just reporting the facts, as they actually occurred.

I was saved from penury the first night by winning a sizable jackpot on a slot machine. But I blew it all the second night on blackjack. By then, it was about 3:00 AM, and my companions had already gone to bed to sleep it off. While shambling down the strip back to our room, I walked toward the Holiday Inn, when I was seized by an unexplainable impulse. Right outside the hotel, there was a little mound with two or possibly three flagpoles, one of which flew a giant Holiday Inn flag. Frankly, from the ground, it didn't look all that big, but for whatever reason, I decided that I wanted it. Now.

So I marched and staggered -- difficult to do at the same time -- up the the rock-covered hillock, unwound the twine, and generally acted like it was my job to draw down the flag. As it got closer, I could see that it was much bigger than I'd imagined -- like 8 by 12 feet.

No one interfered. The flag was secure. So I just walked down the street, looking straight ahead, making no eye contact with any of the sparse passersby.

Made it into the hotel. I was safe with my prize. It was officially mine. Now what? That's the kind of triumph a fellow naturally wants to share with his mates, even if they are technically passed out.

Again, I'm not pretending any of this makes any sense, but at the time, all of my actions were governed by an impulsive logic -- almost an inevitability -- that I fully grasped in an instant. Just prior to that, my friends and I had seen Bruce Springsteen at the Forum. I guess that makes it 1978. Anyway, we were very impressed with his rousing cover version of Buddy Holly's Rave On.

So I draped the Holiday Inn flag around my shoulders like a cape, jumped up on their beds, and began bellowing Rave On, bouncing from one bed to the other.

The little things you say and do,
Make me wanna be with you-a-hoo
Rave on, it's a crazy feeling, and
I know it's got me reeling
When you say, "I love you," well rave on!

8) Hmm, how do you top that.... or sink lower, allowing for the sentiments of my stunned and uncomprehending friends. I'll have to give it some thought. But for some reason, I am reminded of a story about Johnny Cash. On their first major tour of America, U2, who were big fans, wanted to visit him. They had dinner at his mansion in Tennessee, and all held hands together as Johnny led them in a long and elaborate grace. Then he opened his eyes, winked at Bono, and said, "sure do miss the drugs though."

So, fact #8: it's been a long time since I was crazy, but every once in awhile I wish I still was.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Pneumanauts & Vertical Adventurers

(I don't think I have time to spell-check... )

It is interesting that a fair number of my readers are Christians of the "unproblematic" variety -- that is, people who were simply raised Christian or who became Christian at a young age, and that was the end of their spiritual search -- if indeed it was a search at all. This is so far from my experience, that we might as well be living in parallel universes. Please, this is not a criticism. I often wish things could be so simple and straightforward for me. Not only did I feel as if I were on a search, but a frantic one -- shirttails on fire, looking for the water.

As I have mentioned before, it was only after my book was actually written and the manuscript submitted that I had a vivid moment -- think of Alec Gunness in Bridge On the River Kwai -- in which I exclaimed, "My God, what have I done?" Not only had I included some things that would needlessly alienate Christians -- and more traditionally religious people in general -- but at that very time, I had found myself being drawn to Christianity in a deeper way than had ever happened before. Thus, I had to rewrite much of the book in the space of a few short weeks.

I suppose I could reconstruct the timeline if I gave it some thought, but that's probably not important. I can, however, more or less reconstruct the exact sequence of books that opened my eyes to the "yogic depths" -- no offense -- of Christianity, and it was this: Inner Christianity --> A Different Christianity --> Gnosis (three volumes) --> Meditations on the Tarot.

I keep some of these books in the sidebar, in the permanent overmental liberary of foundational raccoomendations. In particular, Meditations strikes me as the last word in Christian hermeticism from a universalist Western perspective. I don't include Gnosis, because although Mouravieff is rooted in Eastern Orthodoxy, he's nevertheless rather unorthodox, as he gets into a lot of occult speculation that is closer to the spirit of Gurdjieff. Not that there's anything completely wrong with that, but at least for my taste, I find that universal precepts can be twisted too far in an idiosyncratic or personal way, so that the universal appeal is lost. I think one of the purposes of dogma is to channel the religious imagination within certain constraints, but it's always somewhat of a fine line between being a visionary and heretic.

Meditations may at times push the envelope, but in the end, I believe Anonymous achieves his goal of "vivifying the body" of tradition -- not by being "superior" to it, i.e., the "head" -- but by providing it with a "beating heart." He exemplifies the spirit that "interiorizes" as opposed to the letter which "exteriorizes." Someone such as a Rudolf Steiner has many deep and useful things to say about Christianity, but they are often couched in such a personal vision that they become problematic. They are too interior.

In fact, once I read Mouravieff -- who was strongly influenced by the early Fathers -- this spurred me to go back to the very beginnings of Christianity. I became fascinated with the question of exactly what transpired between the time of the death of Jesus and the elaboration of Christian theology. Originally, Christians didn't even call themselves Christians. Rather, that was a designation of the Roman authorities.

Early Christianity was markedly experiential, to say the least. It is critical to point out that a uniform doctrine only emerged with the first Council of Nicea in 325. It is rather difficult to imagine, but that means some three hundred years, during which time the followers of Jesus were having these pretty wild experiences with the Holy Spirit before they decided to try to get everyone on the same page. It's easy to forget, but the attempt to come up with a creed was definitely a case of O-->(k), not vice versa. In other words, in hindsight, we might look at dogma as something cold and inflexible, but at the time, it was thoroughly rooted in experience.

But once experience is "stored" in dogma, the trick is how to "unpack" it again. This was the main problem I had with Christianity as a child. You're just presented with this "finished product," which is essentially (k) about O -- that is to say, a kind of rigid formulation about ultimate reality. But what if I want to figure things out for myself? After all, this is what the first Christians did. The desert fathers didn't go to the library to learn about Christianity. Rather, they left civilization altogether, went out to the remote desert, and lived in caves in order to have a direct encounter with O.

Again, we can scarcely imagine. In fact, I'm not sure if we can imagine it at all. First of all, imagine the strength of the "call" to do something so radical. Why? What was the lure? Is there anything analogous in our day and age to such a wholehearted plunge into the mystery of being?

Well, yes, I suppose there is. I eventually found a number of important Christian figures who didn't so much initiate a "Christian-Vedanta dialogue" as become totally committed to exploring and living out the reality of their unity, including Swami Abhishiktananda (Fr. Henri LeSaux) and Fr. Bede Griffiths.

Interestingly, the desert fathers were not fundamentally dissimilar to the Vedantic seers who rejected the world as "maya," who wished to have a direct encounter with O, and who left us the Upanishads. Or look at it this way: don't flatter yourself, little Raccoon. The folks who had that kind of commitment -- to turn their back to the solid but illusory world in favor of an uncertain adventure into the ocean of consciousness -- have much more in common with each other than with you or I.

As I put it in One Cosmos, we owe much to "these inward explorers -- eccentric psychonauts mostly unfit for conventional existence, or simply unwilling to accept the slave wages of normality," who "identified a trap door into a vertical dimension," finding there "a return route to the forgotten country from which humans had set out Before the Beginning. Venturing across the Great Divide separating man from the incorruptible sphere of the gods, our virtual adventurers then found themselves pulled into the orbit of the Great Attractor, the very ground and goal of existence, the unseparate Source of all being, a mostly uninhabited region at the outskirts of consciousness, the Final, Absolute Reality where cosmos flowers into deity and Bang! you're divine."

Sri Krishna Prem, another westerner who left the comfort of the modern world to found an ashram in India in the 1920s, wrote that "the real purpose of all the ancient cosmogonies" is "to invite us to turn our gaze inwards to the source and origin of both the 'outer' universe of phenomena and of the 'inner' universe of consciousness, to find there the ever-present and eternal simultaneity of what is here seen as a flow of separate events in time; and above all, to fathom the ultimate mystery of our selfhood."

Flat out of time. To be continued.....

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Sea Slugs, Crushed Ants, Talking Dogs, and the Big Teamster in the Sky

So, continuing with the mysterious letter, David goes on to paraphrase a rabbi who said that "the reason we don't hear about God anymore is that there is no longer anyone who can bow low enough. This mental 'bowing,' i.e., ego subordination, is an important prerequisite.... Kandell of Columbia established through examining the neurons of sea slugs that learning involves actual physical changes in the brain. I'd like to recommend an exercise that may help carve new passageways necessary for certain relevant parts of your central nervous system to link up."

Okay. If it works for sea slugs....

"Even if you don't believe in the process, pretend a humble attitude toward Nature or whatever you perceive as the source of your spiritual urge to be. Deliberately assume an attitude of respectful, submissive attentiveness toward that part of your mind which emanates your desire for spiritual experience."

Humility? What are you implying?

"Another blockage of your emotional acceptance of the reality of God may be that your concept of It doesn't jibe with your common sense. You realize that a 'cosmic bellhop' doesn't exist but seem to believe that there's nothing too impressive about 'just' an extradimensional, supercomputational force that orders us to survive, reproduce and become aware of existence. This blasé attitude, which feels 'right' to you, is the cloud blocking the light. The fact that such a force exists at all is appropriate cause for strong feelings of awe and wonder. Don't be like the guy who visits the Talking Dog at the circus sideshow and emerges complaining that the dog wasn't that smart because it kept using 'ain't.'"

It's not that I thought the dog wasn't smart. I just thought he was being ironic.

"If you can't conjure up these emotions, again, try to fake 'em for awhile. However, if you can master the 'ego subordination trick,' the true nature of God will become clear enough (startlingly so, in fact) without my labored description. However, I can affirm that the seemingly irrational becomes rational when we truly and humbly accept it as an answer instead of a question -- i.e., that's just the way it is. The multidimensional becomes perceptually repackaged into a unified entity that the conscious mind can handle."

I see. We adapt to it, rather than vice versa. I'm O-->(k), He's O.

"God's a tricky devil sometimes. We ascribe values to some of Its aspects, but It often seems to have Its own agenda, sui generis, and about all we can do is accept that we only see part of the picture and go along for the ride. A truck, on its way to a diner, runs past two ants, crushing one, while the other survives. Can the survivor grasp that the reason his buddy died was because the driver wanted a cup of coffee? To stretch the metaphor a bit, if he can figure out that the truck is driven by Something, he's doing pretty well."

Alright. If I was understanding David correctly -- whom I never heard from again, because time slipped away and I just never wrote back -- I had to be as humble as an ant, be in awe of the Big Truck, and slowly change my brain like a sea slug. Where to begin?

As I said, I was influenced by Wilber's adage that one had to pick a particular path and stick with it. Today I'm not so sure about that, because in a way, it makes one "superior" to God. In other words, although I suppose it's better than a mixed up, new-age style "cafeteria" approach with which you assemble your own religion from the ground up, it's still a little bit like going to the "God store" and purchasing a religion off the rack. Imagine a big store with a Christianity department, a Jewish department, a Buddhist department, a Hindu department....

This is immediately problematic, because this is not the way religion operated in the past. Rather, you didn't really know about the big religious department store. You only had your own little general store that carried one name brand. As soon as one knows about the other brands, how does one avoid postmodern irony and cynicism? To be honest, this is still something I grapple with, and it's obvious to me that Schuon did as well, even though he tried his best to come up with a solution, which he called "the transcendent unity of religion."

Schuon found it inconceivable that God would operate in such a way that he would only care about the salvation of a small group, and abandon the rest to perdition. Therefore, a total revelation was given to each culture. On the surface, these diverse revelations exclude one another, but at their summit, they converge into a supraformal unity. However, one can never achieve the formless in the absence of a form, any more than one could sail the ocean without a vessel or compose transcendent music in the absence of immanent notes. Therefore -- and this is a subtle point -- formlessness is on the one hand "superior" to form, even while it is completely subservient to, and dependent upon, it.

Still... this seems like soph-deception. Human beings have a thirst for the Absolute. As soon as you suggest that there are "many" Absolutes -- just pick one -- it seems to defeat the purpose of the Absolute, doesn't it? It seems that Schuon was trying to find a way to "trick" the postmodern ego into unknowing what it knows all too well, for how can we really return to the innocent premodern dream of the One True Religion when we know about the others? How to put the truthpaste back in the tube?

Unless you just say that the other religions are all wrong, which you are certainly free to do. The Islamists believe this, as do "conservative Christians" -- which is why kooky leftists conflate the two. In reality, there is no danger of conservative Christians behaving like Islamists, but why is that? Because conservative Christians have been shaped by modernity, essentially by the live-and-let-live values of classical liberalism.

But... doesn't this lead to a situation in which people take religion seriously only because they don't take it seriously? This is how the left is. They value religious diversity not because they take religion seriously, but because they think it's a joke. This is why we have the ironic situation of liberals defending Mitt Romney from conservatives who are troubled by his Mormonism. To a liberal, it's all the same -- Mormonism, Wicca, Scientology, whatever. The only dangerous people are the ones who don't have an ironic view of religion -- who take it seriously. That's why it was important for JFK to essentially say, "yeah, I'm a Catholic, but don't worry, I don't take the Pope seriously. It's just an old family tradition, not something that actually guides my life."

So.... how did I go off on this tangent? I know -- somehow the baby is still sleeping, which provided the space for an unanticipated flight of reverie... or irreverie, depending on your point of view. It's 7:27, and usually he stirs by 7:00. He'll be awake any minute, and that will be the end of this post.

Anyway. What is a thoroughly ironicized, postmodern, space age-au-go-go guy to do with a strong religious impulse and no clear way to channel it? All blessed up with nograce to gno?

You know what this reminds me of? A poor fellow who has a traditional notion of gender roles and romance, and the impulse to idealize Woman. How does such a lad make his way through a contemporary landscape that so debases women as a result of feminism? One of the built-in ways for us to get over our narcissism is to fall in love with a kind of unattainable ideal that is idealized because unattainable. Or to put it another way, love is nurtured in the gap between desire and attainment. Eliminate that transitional space of human imagination, and we are reduced to animals.

Oops. He's up. I'll be back in a bit....

Then again, maybe not. Too late to get back in the groove. To be continued.


The brilliant Lee Harris discusses the true meaning of an un-ironicized absolutist untouched by modernity.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Is This All There Is?

Let's see, it's 1994. I'm in my late 30s, but I guess you could say my life was basically over. Got my Ph.D. by 1988, completed 1500 post doc internship hours, licensed in 1991. That's when I was finally able to devote a little time to writing, so I published a few papers. What's left? I guess I could have kept doing that for the rest of my life.

A commenter yesterday mentioned that he couldn't wait to find out when, where, how and why I was denied tenure, but I was a clinical psychologist, not a research psychologist, so a university job was pretty much out of the question. I could have tried to get a job teaching at a professional school, but as I said, I didn't really have much interest in being a psychologist to begin with, let alone giving the same tired lecture year in, year out.

I was always bothered by this sense of "something more." I guess you could call it a sort of restless passion for eternity with ecstatic tendencies. Ever since I was I child, I could easily be taken "outside of myself," which is the literal meaning of ec-stasy. Isn't everyone like this? I don't know. They certainly don't seem to be. Or if they are, they tend to be on the sociopathic end of the continuum, with poor boundaries and a lot of undisciplined acting out. In my case, I suppose it was more like "acting in."

I was obviously already embarked on a kind of intense interior adventure, but it was starting to seem increasingly idiosyncratic, since I couldn't really find anyone else who shared my passions. Maybe it was time to just grow up and get over it.

As I mentioned yesterday, my wife's grandmother died in 1994, and we attended the funeral in New York. Afterwards there was a reception at the house, which is where I ran into the conservative Jewish mystic I mentioned yesterday. David must have been about ten years older than I. I don't even remember what connection he had to my wife's grandmother, but we initially got to talking about politics. Again, at that point in my life, I was still an unconscious moonbat, to such an extent that I was exactly like contemporary moonbats who feel completely free to attack President Bush in a public setting, obliviously confident that everyone feels the same way.

The details aren't important, but David calmly but firmly stood up to all my blather. Usually I prevailed in an argument by simply overpowering the other person, but this guy stood his ground and politely pointed out the fundamental errors in my thinking, even though I wasn't ready to hear them and reflexively held my ground.

But then we got to talking about my dissertation and some of the papers I'd written, and he took a deep interest. Rarely did I meet someone who shared my passion for cosmic wholeness, or who was familiar with the ideas and authors I was drawn to, but he was. He asked me to send him some of my material, so I did. A couple of months later he wrote back that he had read my papers, but

"not enough times to grasp every nuance; they are challenging reads inasmuch as we use different nomenclature to describe the same phenomena.... What struck me most about the articles was the conspicuous absence of the 'G-word,' as if this implicate-explicate phenomenon simply floated in existence without some type of origin, anchor or glue. For this reason, I don't regard Freud's secular 'deeper reality' as adequately deep, especially as it fails to encompass a separate intelligence partially ordering some brain functions. The strange thing is, I agree with many of your basic assumptions; however, it felt to me like reading a description of a large, grey quadruped with a trunk by someone determined not to say, 'elephant.'"

This was a good insight, for I suppose I was attempting to be a "rational" or "naturalistic" mystic. I didn't just have the "Jesus willies," but the "religion willies," and even "God willies." Therefore, he was right. It was as if I were writing about God and religion in the absence of God and religion.

He continued:

".... I am going to break one of my rules and offer unsolicited personal advice. I do so because a subtext emerged from your writing: your own spiritual quest. I know you are eager to experience spiritual enlightenment and I think I might be able to share a handy tip or two."

"Your powerful intelligence has already taken you close to illumination, further than most will ever go. However, these same powers of reason, analysis and skepticism, which feel so appropriate and natural, still seem to me to block your direct experience and integration of the non-rational, or implicate, if you prefer. (I base this presumption not only on your writing, but our conversation in which you expressed agnostic sentiments and used deprecating adjectives such as 'just' and 'only' to refer to the Creator of existence.) You have already made a conscious attempt to balance ego and intuition. Nonetheless, the ego still has further subordination to undergo to get it out of the way and allow the light of illumination to break into awareness."

First of all, I didn't believe the line about "your powerful intelligence has already taken you close to illumination, further than most will ever go." However, I suppose it did cause me to take my own ideas a little more seriously. As I mentioned yesterday, by that point in my life, I was beginning to be left with the distinct sense that "no one else I think is in my tree." I felt as if I were on this passionate adventure, but no one else seemed to share the passion, so I was beginning to think I was just a kind of hopeless eccentric, a Raccoon without portfolio.

There's obviously a lot more, but now I'm really late. To be continued.... unless this is just too self-indulgent....

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Autobobography of a Yogi

How, you might ask, did Bob get mixed up with yoga? Easy. I began reading Ken Wilber from the time of his first book, the Spectrum of Consciousness. I guess I was in graduate school at the time, and I suppose it was the first book that really opened me up to the expansiveness and the possibilities of religion (even though Wilber has greatly revised his thinking since the time of this book). I'm guessing that my book will do the same thing for some people who stumble upon it -- that is, if it just succeeds in inspiring a few people to take religion seriously, then it will have accomplished its purpose.

One thing Wilber always emphasized is that one must follow a tradition and stick with it. You can't just dabble or avoid real commitment, in part because commitment is one of the things that begins to change you. But there's a Zen saying, "chase two rabbits, catch none," which is why it's best to follow one path down the rabbit hole.

At the time, there is just no way I could have chosen Christianity. Actually, I was initially drawn to Zen, since it seemed the most free of dogma, and it also has that counter-cultural vibe that is the mother's milk of adultolescent liberalism. It's cool, and I just wouldn't have had any interest in an uncool religion. Remember, this is the mid-1980s. I'm a liberal with a full-blown case of Reagan Derangement Syndrome. It's embarrassing to admit, but I was no different than today's crazy liberals who are afraid of the "Christian-fascists."

But I really didn't get anywhere with Zen. When you come right down to it, it's pretty austere. Basically you 1) sit and 2) wait for enlightenment -- all the while knowing that very few people actually experience the state, often not even the teachers! So it amounts to "faith in enlightenment," which, now that I think about it, is what I actually had. I knew that I didn't know, but I knew that some people knew. No, I had never actually met one of these people who know, but I knew they must be out there. Knowing that someone was once enlightened served the same functional purpose as knowing that someone was once resurrected.

So let's see. I only finished graduate school in 1988. At the time, I was still working in the supermarket, where I'd been since 1976. My dissertation wasn't exactly spiritual but it was definitely visionary, and capacious enough to allow for a spiritual view of the cosmos. It's full grandiose title was Psychoanalysis, Post-Modern Physics, and the Emerging Paradigm of Evolution: Toward a Rapprochement of Mind and Nature.

The word "rapprochement" was actually a bit of wordplay, since it is a psychoanalytic term for the period of early development when the child is ambivalently working out his independence from the mother. If you look at evolution on a cosmic scale, it's as if consciousness was teased out of the maternal matrix of nature, eventually resulting in the proud two year-olds of the Enlightenment who imagined that they were completely separate and autonomous from mother nature. In other words, the dualistic view causes us to imagine that there is this sharp divide between mind and nature, in the same way that the two year-old begins to think he's completely separate from the parents.

But I wanted to show that, based upon the findings of modern physics, there was no avoiding the conclusion that the universe was conscious, and that this consciousness was thoroughly entangled throughout -- like cream hidden within the milk, as some enlightened guy once said. I ended up publishing two papers out of the dissertation in 1991 and 1994. A Raccoon recently read the one from 1991, and can testify that I am indeed Master of the Universe and that I discovered the Key to the World Enigma almost 20 years ago now, even though only he and I and Josephine Bernstein know it.

What, might you ask, does this have to do with psychoanalysis? Well, first of all it was a theoretical dissertation, which relieved me of the burden of relying upon facts, data, or reality in general. As I said, "visionary" -- perhaps not as visionary as the art of Yoko Ono, but in that realm.

But what I was trying to demonstrate, gosh darn it -- here, let me dig out a copy of the paper from 1991 -- it's called Wilfred Bion and David Bohm: Toward a Quantum Metapsychology -- well, first of all, it starts with a little quotation from one of the great physicists of the 20th century, Werner Heisenberg, who says "The same organizing forces that have created nature in all its forms, are responsible for the structure of our soul, and likewise for our capacity to think."

Sounds like nice rhetoric, doesn't it? But this guy believed it. Like so may of the pre-eminent physicists of the 20th century -- Einstein, Schroedinger, DeBroglie, Jeans, Planck, Pauli, Eddington, the Professor on Gilligan's Island -- their explorations of matter led them to the conclusion -- more or less -- that matter not only had mind-like qualities, but that the discoveries of physics were entirely compatible with a mystical view of the cosmos -- which is probably how the professor was able to make a transistor radio out of a belt buckle, some seaweed, and couple of coconut shells. Wilber put out a helpful book that contains the mystical writings of these men, entitled Quantum Questions.

But where these eggheads were vague, I wanted to be specific. So that's what my dissertation was about -- showing the exact parallels between metaphysics and metapsychology. That paper from 1991 "explores the relationship between the order of the universe and that of the mind," the purpose being "to forge an interdisciplinary dialogue in which modes of thought from these apparently divergent fields might integrate and enrich one another, in contrast to our present state of affairs in which physics and psychology are basically irrelevant (if not antagonistic) to one another."

So where's my Nobel Prize for this fact-filled guessathon of experimental non-fiction? Where's the recognition for this logical and coherent absurdity, fully loaded with all the optional equipment?

There was recognition. It was called the Dr. Josephine Bernstein Memorial Award for Research and Dissertation Excellence. So I definitely had one supporter, one kindred spirit, but she was dead. Now what? In an early post I mentioned that I had to give a little speech at the graduation ceremony. I still have a copy of it tucked away in my dissertation. The speech goes a little like this:

“This dissertation is really a reflection of my own personal obsession, which happens to involve the mind, that is, the subjective internal world, and its relationship to the objective, physical universe.

“In our time, we are in the midst of a dramatic shift in the manner in which reality is to be understood. In the three hundred years since the onset of the scientific revolution, science gradually came to regard everything in the universe -- including ourselves -- as mere machines.

“In this way of looking at things, the mind is completely superfluous, roughly analogous to the smoke emanating from a steam train.

“But there is within science a growing movement which is beginning to mount considerable evidence for the notion that, rather than thinking of material reality as fundamental, it is the evolutionary process which is the foundation of reality.

“What is so interesting is that these patterns of process seem to be woven into the very fabric of the universe, fractally recurring and cutting across all of the various levels we study -- including human mental development.

“In other words, we are gradually seeing the picture emerging on every level of scientific inquiry -- from physics to chemistry to biology to cosmology -- that the mind is not some sort of accidental intruder in the world, but rather, the nonmaterial organizing principle supporting the whole enchilada.

“This general endeavor is called the Evolutionary Paradigm, or synthesis, and my study was simply an attempt to fully integrate psychoanalysis within this new framework.

“The appearance of life itself forces us to reconsider all of the reductionistic schemes and artificial boundaries we have invented to divide various domains such as mind and matter, animate and inanimate, physics and psychology.

“The great physicist Werner Heisenberg wrote that ‘The same organizing forces that have created nature in all its forms, are responsible for the structure of our soul, and likewise for our capacity to think.’

"I believe that the evolutionary synthesis is nothing less than a grand new myth for our age, through which we may understand our place in the universe, our relationship to the totality."

“With our new understanding, we can truly say that the development of the cosmos culminates in an unbroken fashion in the thought of man.

“Anything short of this view, I think, ignores the irrefutable testimony of Life and Mind, and is unworthy of our true stature.”


So that was 1988. Right after that I finally quit the supermarket to try to establish a career as a psychologist, despite the fact that being a retail clerk came much more naturally to me. So I thought, well, I guess I should start to try to publish some papers. That's what people do to get a reputation and not perish, right? So I did that, even though I couldn't help concluding that, in the words of John Lennon, "no one I think is in my tree."

Then, in 1994, at my wife's grandmother's funeral, I met a strange man who was to change the course of my life. Of all things, he was what you might call a "conservative mystic," and yet, he wasn't a nazi. In fact, he was Jewish.

Well, I'm flat out of time. To be continued.

And good night Dr. Josephine Bernstein, wherever you are.

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.