Friday, December 09, 2011

You Can't Grow a Tower and You Can't Build a Tree

So: specialization can result in a kind of hypertrophy, or imbalance, that leads to a spiritual impasse. In most people the imbalance is obvious, in others more subtle. One often sees this in athletes who have devoted their entire lives to one stupid human trick, such as remaining buoyant in water or hitting a golf ball. Often, the more freakish the skill, the worse the case.

The list is endless, but think of, say, Tiger Woods, whose mastery of the links surpassed any previous golfer, but whose personal life -- such as it is -- was reduced to wallowing in the compulsive iderations of preadolescent sexuality.

It is very much as if only the single meaningless skill sits atop the tower, while the rest of the personality remains below, not only undeveloped but free to act out its primitive dramas because of the vast accumulation of false slack.

unKnown Friend mentions the guru or fakir who indulge in stupid human tricks we cannot or will not do, such as laying on a bed of nails or walking on hot coals.

I am reminded of this fellow, who can supposedly make his brain waves stop when he meditates, for what it's worth. Which apparently isn't much, since he can't even recognize the elementary fact that Tony Robbins and Deepak Chopra are grotesque con artists who take advantage of lost, stupid and vulnerable people. As such, one must ask: if this be enlightenment, then truly -- truly -- what is it good for?

"Judge them by their fruits." That is: be skeptical. This should be one's default position vis-a-vis spirituality, otherwise it's too easy to be taken in. The ultimate fruit is sanctity, or saint-making. Therefore, in approaching a religion, sect, or teaching, always ask: where are the saints?

Excuse me?

I said, could you please show me the saints? What, do you think I'm going to commit my life to something without evidence that it actually works?

Importantly, sanctity manifests in a variety of ways, both subjective and objective, but in either case is mediated by "light." Nor are we referring only to the light of virtue, which is how we generally think of the saint.

Rather, there is also sanctity of intellect, which comes down to a "mind of light" (AKA the "good egghead"). Truth is to the mind of light as morality is to the actions of the virtuous. But the mind of light has other characteristics as well, for it is clean, chaste, well-ordered, lighthearted, radiant, generative, magnanimous, and never petty, narrow, self-serving, expedient, or stupidly curious.

This is not to say that there is no darkness in the light. UF writes that the Cross is "mortifying and vivifying at the same time," for it represents the law of evolutionary growth, which is none other than "perpetual dying and becoming." It leads not to "impasses of specialization, but rather 'throughways' of purification -- which lead to illumination and end in union."

The Raccoon chooses the transmutation of perpetual death and rebirth over the folly of mechanical tower-building. The growth that results is a side effect of a life properly lived, not something one attempts to impose upon life from the outside, or with "techniques" or "secret knowledge" or "expensive platitudes."

The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed upon the ground, and should sleep by night and rise by day, and the seed should sprout and grow, he himself does not know how (Mark 5:26, cited in MOTT).

That being the case, anyone who teaches "techniques" for knowing God (with the exception of planting, cultivating, and harvesting) is lying. For how does one teach real sincerity, real aspiration, real surrender? Each of these is both a cause and consequence of interior transformation, but the ultimate cause is from "above."

Even if it should appear to be self-generated, that is already evidence of contact with something higher. As UF puts it, the "lotus centers" awaken naturally "in the light, warmth and life of the true, and beautiful and the good, without any special technical method being applied." There is a naturalness about it, like a key fitting into a lock.

Similarly, there is no place for "ready made answers to all questions," in that a genuine spiritual quest-ion is a crisis and the answer is "a state of consciousness resulting from the crisis" (MOTT).

This is a point worth emphasizing: spiritual growth is consciousness of a reality; it is a new "container," not merely a different content in the same old container, or new wine in the same old skin. But the new container will transform -- either suddenly or gradually -- the old content.

Have you noticed how all of the false stupid, or petty questions instantly evaporate amidst a genuine existential crisis? (Yes, a question can surely be false and even dark -- consider the ones posed by liberal moderators to Republican candidates.)

This is why we know that the "global warming crisis" is anything but. A real crisis has a liberating quality, in the sense that it liberates us from all of the petty concerns that usually rule our lives. It reminds me of when a professional athlete suddenly dies for some reason. Teammates will all comment about how it puts things in perspective and makes them realize that "it's only a game." Which lasts for two or three days before it's back to the Tower.

It makes me wonder if this isn't one of the reasons why there was so much more wisdom in the past, and why our universities have become such flagrant bullshit factories. I suppose that if one is a lifetime tenured ward of the state, it "liberates" one to spend all of one's time fantasizing about the evils of George Bush, or manufacturing crises about "torture," or going on about the urgent need to confer civil rights upon terrorists.

It's almost as if the absence of real existential crises causes the subRaccoon to invent them. Alec Baldwin is incapable of introspection -- the horror! -- so he turns a trivial airplane rule into an epic clash of principles. Flying used to be an elegant experience!, he wails. Yes, until you stepped on the plane.

This was one of the purposes of the symbol system outlined in chapter four of the bʘʘk -- to avoid impasses that can result from religion becoming a kind of mechanical system. The point is not to replace religion, but merely to help prevent it from becoming saturated with a fixed and predigested meaning.

This is something that human beings habitually do, that is, attempt to circumnavelgaze reality within their own little manmade containers, when that is strictly impossible. The moment God becomes contained and saturated, then you're no longer dealing with God, but with your own belly button, or graven image, whether an innie or outie it doesn't matter.

This is why the very last thing John says is a caution to the reader that if one were to attempt to chronicle the whole story of Jesus, "even the world itself could not contain the books that would be written" (John 21:25). Is this not a severe rebuke to the fundamentalist bibliolaters? In other words, the number of potential books exceeds the carrying capacity of the world container itself.

To a large extent, it comes down to the error of seeing the world atomistically instead of holistically (or rather, as a dynamic complementarity of the two). This also leads to the ideas of psychic "surgery" and "divorce," or, in psychoanalytic parlance, splitting and projective identification (i.e., fantasied evacuation of the contents of one's own mind, either "out," "below," or "off to the side").

As UF writes, "it is the marriage of opposites and not their divorce" which constitutes the proper approach to the altar. Importantly, this is not a "compromise," but a true union. UF notes that "the 'lower self' is the cross of the 'true Self' and the 'true Self' is the cross of the 'lower self.'"

This reminds me of Wilde's comment that the only cure for the senses is the soul, and the only cure for the soul is the senses. Each might well say of the other: can't live with her, can't live without him.

It is easy enough to simply project and dissipate the higher Self, or to split off and repress the lower self. But we want to transform and divinize the lower self in a harmonious union of mind and matter, or spirit and biology. In the absence of this fluid and dynamic union, the mind hardens into a static tower.

It is the same with the marriage of science and religion. I have no trouble marrying the two in such a way that each benefits from the union and produces particularly beautiful and high-functioning children.

Just yesterday I read about one of Chesterton's novels, in which a thief disguised as a priest is eventually discovered. When the thief asks how he sniffed him out, Father Brown answers with words to the effect of, "Easy. You attacked reason. It's bad theology."

But one could say the same of the modern atheist. We know they are thieves because they attack sound theology, which is bad logic. Although in their case it's grand larceny, because they steal from our priceless western tradition in order to destroy it.

Yes, those confined to the tower of scientism have "divided the clothing of the Word and they dispute amongst themselves for priority in the application of the universal principle" (MOTT). They attempt to absolutize their little corner of His tunic, still fresh with warm blood.

In contrast, we do not "in any way take part in dividing the clothing of the crucified Word, nor in drawing lots for its tunic." Rather, we strive "to see the crucified Word clothed in appearance by the mechanical world"(ibid.). Which is where the Word is sufficient to our whys. The deepest ones, anyway.


Rick said...

Powerful post.

Was re-minded of the windmill in Orwell's Animal Farm. Which is funny because that windmill has been on one peninsula of my mellon quite a bite lately and the Tower of Babel on another while writing the latest chapters of The War; which center around a destroyed lighthouse. OK, well, the funny part is I'd never re-cognized that Orwell's windmill might be a reference to the Tower of Babel. The mellon bites in mysterious whys.

Rick said...

Meditations on The Towers

mushroom said...

Bob, with regard to that last comment on yesterday's post, my experience has been that the soul appears to remain present even though you see massive damage to the physical brain. My MIL passed away because of liver failure, and the build up of toxins caused rapid deterioration of brain function toward the end. In her case, I got the impression that the soul superseded the physical as her body gradually failed.

She was quite saintly so she might have been a special case.

The tragic case of Rep. Giffords from AZ would be an example, as well as Bob Woodruff the reporter who suffered severe brain injury back in 2006 in Iraq.

Rehab of folks like that can be astounding on the surface, but things are clearly lost when you look closer.

Van said...

"I am reminded of this fellow, who can supposedly make his brain waves stop when he meditates, for what it's worth. "

Somehow... I'm not surprised at his ability to achieve brain deadness.

Nope... not even in such a color coordinated manner.

(Though I am a little surprised that his room is such a mess... I mean... really... doesn't he have people for that?

Van said...

"This is why we know that the "global warming crisis" is anything but. A real crisis has a liberating quality, in the sense that it liberates us from all of the petty concerns that usually rule our lives."

That is an excellent point - in any real crisis all of the trivial concerns of daily life fall away in the face of the... I suppose sublime... nature of the crisis. Real priorities become your only priorities.

Glowbull warming, on the other hand, seems to draw the attention of its priests to new seaside mansions, masseuses, etc.

A new name for wackademia

Leslie said...


mushroom said...

I mythu but I don't mythu much.

mushroom said...

For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ -- Luke 14:28-30

Jesus is sort of talking about the cost of being His disciple. The question is, are you really going to be all in? Pearl of great price, and all that. But, too, there is the idea of humility -- build within your means, so to speak.

Yet another economic truth that illustrates its spiritual parallel (or perpendicular).

Rick said...

And/or He is speaking of how He considered His own creation, the consequences, when He laid the foundation of the world. Consoling them maybe about their future loss of Him (but for a while). Maybe.

julie said...

OT, Surely just a coincidence...

mushroom said...


USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

""Judge them by their fruits." That is: be skeptical. This should be one's default position vis-a-vis spirituality, otherwise it's too easy to be taken in. The ultimate fruit is sanctity, or saint-making. Therefore, in approaching a religion, sect, or teaching, always ask: where are the saints?"

Outstanding post, Bob!

Many seem to think that fruitloops is the same as fruit. And as a result end up with a lot of ain'ts but no saints.