Saturday, November 18, 2006

The Birds and the Balls: On Getting to First Base and Flying Back Home

We left off yesterday with the outlandish claim that many adults use language “as a defense against growth or as a means to paper over psychic damage. In extreme cases, they will see no forest, only trees. In other cases, they will superimpose a fake forest over the real one. How to tell the difference? I’ll have to address that tomorrow. Suffice it to say that one of the purposes of religion is to see the real forest for the trees (and tree-dwellers).”

Some folks, like yesterday’s amiable troll, just give up looking for the forest. He expresses the necessarily vacuous cynicism of the untutored materialist or naive atheist in affirming that one may “substitute the word ‘efficiency’ whenever you want to use ‘truth’ and you'll get a more accurate picture of why things are the way they are.” Since there is no truth, there is only force, so that culture is nothing but “a combat over who will control the police and what police will act against.” He concludes by claiming that all people just want the same things and that “Whatever it takes to get there is whatever it takes, truth be damned.”

This proves two axiomatic points, 1), that if you eliminate truth, then foolishness will rush in to fill the void, and 2), that the resultant foolishness will indeed be enforced by raw power, since one can make no appeal to truth. It also shows that anything a troll can say has already been said. Perhaps not as poorly, but since the fall is ongoing, in that respect he has an advantage over his predecessors.

Naturally, the first thing one wants to ask the troll is whether his harebrained statements are true, or merely harebrained, or both. In any event, they do not rise to the level of philosophy, which is to say wisdom, certainly not a philosophy worthy of man or which answers to the needs of his soul, needs which prove the existence of their object no less than eyes are proof of light.

As I have mentioned a number of times in the past (borrowing a metaphor from the philosopher of science Stanley Jaki), philosophy can be compared to baseball, in the sense that one must first get to first base. All bad philosophies -- which is to say nearly all philosophies, certainly secular ones -- start at second or third, and conveniently “assume” first base. But everyone knows you can't steal first base.

The plain fact of the matter is that there is no way around John 1:1, which tells us, “In the beginning was the Word.” If your philosophy does not begin with the Word, then we have nothing to talk about, do we? I suppose we could convey our ideas through interpretive dancing -- which I am not above doing when the mood strikes -- but the broader meaning of “word” is any object that can stand for another and convey meaning between subjects, so no matter how silly the dance, it will still be steeped in the Word and addressed to a subject.

The upside-down, postmodern person begins with the absurd idea that we are real but that the truth is not. In reality, the reverse is true: the truth is real -- meaning eternal -- while the ego is false (or even nonexistent, ontologically speaking) to the extent that it denies truth. Intelligence as such means “conformity with truth,” or else there is no such thing as intelligence. In other words, intelligence cannot be “conformity with error” or "knowledge of falsehood" and retain any right to call itself intelligence.

The cosmos is permeated with intelligence, and therefore, truth. It is the pre-phenomenal or noumenal intelligence spoken of by John -- that by which everything was made and without which nothing was made.

I have a very precise recollection of when I first realized this fact, even if I was unable to draw out its implications at the time. It was the spring of 1985. I was sitting on the balcony of my apartment with a beer -- listening to Fables of the Reconstruction, by REM, now that I think about it -- after having completed my written doctoral exams. Just beyond the ledge, two birds were circling about, one chasing the other in an obvious mating ritual of some kind. Suddenly it was as if the cosmos turned inside out, and in one of those moments of metaphysical transparency, I “saw” the wisdom of nature merely using these delighted birds as “props” for its divine play, or lila. I could see the implicit intelligence underlying the explicit phenomena, the same abstract intelligence that causes a flower to turn toward the sun, or a caterpillar to turn into a butterfly, or a lowly retail clerk to pass his doctoral exams.

I saw the primordial intelligence of which the human mind was able to partake when it became human. I saw the sufficient reason for man’s intelligence, an intelligence which is anterior to his having “entered” it. I saw that all intelligence is ultimately the intelligence of God refracted through a medium of greater or lesser capacity. I saw that this intelligence was clearly present in matter, which is simply frozen math of great transcendental beauty, and in living things, which are exquisitely complex architecture in motion. And I saw that this intelligence was obviously present in the human mind which, in its uncorrupted state, is a mirror of the divine intellect, truth returning to Truth, the Word finally hearing its wisdom after 13.7 billion years of speaking it into the Void. I saw the impossibility of flesh gaining wisdom in the absence of wisdom become flesh.

About a week later the Lakers finally beat the Celtics for the world championship, and I knew that God existed.

Of course, the conditions of relative existence -- which is to say existence -- necessitate that we have an evolved self, an “ego,” and an “uncreated” spark of divinity that lights up our center. This is our “pilot light,” in both senses of the term. First, it provides the “direction” or “orientation” for our human journey. Second, it is like the pilot light of a furnace, a small, permanent light that stands vigilant, waiting for the conditions that will allow it to provide both warmth and light.

This light is the “light of the world,” and although it can be buried under layers of ice or mud, it can never be extinguished. This tiny spark is an echo (if you will pardon the mixed metaphor) of the divine center at the cosmic periphery. It is the reason why existence is a circle whose circumference is nowhere but whose center is everywho. It is that which allows any human subject to truthfully say I AM, even I am that, if he is very lucky -- or very good, or very beautiful (in the interior sense), or very intelligent (in the original sense of the term, not in its trivial contemporary usage).

To say “error” is to say “truth,” irrespective of whether or not one is aware of the truth. However, realizing the existence of error means that you are halfway to first base. You might say that the count is 3 and 0. You could still strike out, but with a disciplined eye, you will probably be awarded first base.

Now, a disciplined I is able to distinguish between reality and illusion, which is what spiritual practice is all about. Reality is constantly throwing itself at us, but, just as in baseball, we must be able to know when something is in the strike zone. The pitcher is a snake who, like all pitchers, will use deception -- curve balls, change ups, sliders that look hittable but dart away at the last moment. The skilled pitcher is able to make bad pitches look enticing and good pitches difficult to hit.

It is for us to distinguish balls from strikes, truth from error. Ultimately, our task is “to distinguish between terrestrial thought, induced by the environment, and celestial thought, induced by what constitutes our eternal substance...” (Schuon). Fortunately there is an umpire, an objective source of metaphysical certainty, who enforces the strike zone. To know this strike zone is to know the cause of human happiness. To align oneself with it, body, mind and spirit -- or heart, intellect and will -- is to achieve it. To paraphrase Schuon, it is a matter of knowing what is and then being what one knows.

The lost and “centerless” horizontal man is a very undisciplined hitter. Not only does he not know the strike zone, he makes up his own. Therefore, he swings wildly at most any pitch that comes his way, not even aware of the pitcher’s deception. He will generally start and end his life at the plate. He will strike out, shrug his shoulders, and shuffle back to the dugout, which is conveniently located a few feet below the earth.

To say error is to say enslavement or hypnosis, while to say truth is to say awakening or liberation. The hypnotized or enslaved person, just like the rest of us, is on fire. However, he doesn’t realize it, so he does nothing to try to put it out. Or, he reaches for shadows instead of water, as if the mere absence of light is enough to extinguish the blaze. Where is the water? It is where it has always been and ever will be. Just a bit north, falling down like rain.

The uncreated Word shatters created speech while at the same time directing it toward concrete and saving truth. --F. Schuon

Friday, November 17, 2006

On Seeing the Forest for the Tree-Dwellers

Yesterday we were discussing Bion’s PS<-->D, which is the symbol he used to describe the mind’s basic activity in the most abstract terms possible. Specifically, mental activity involves bringing together a mass of particulars (PS) into a coherent whole (D), which in turn reveals their meaning. This is a never-ending process, as the back and forth interplay between PS and D operates along a gradient of meaning that reveals ever “higher” and “deeper” unities and syntheses.

Perhaps you will have noticed that one of the most disturbing aspects of anxiety or depression is that they proceed in the direction D-->PS. In the case of depression, it is as if reality loses its third dimension and one is reduced to a flat and depthless existence. Things that once brought joy, passion, pleasure and meaning are indistinguishable from anything else. In the case of anxiety, one is persecuted by unthought fragments that cannot be tamed or brought together. Suddenly -- as in the case of panic -- one’s psyche is violently rendered into persecutory bits.

This necessitates the introduction of another pair of symbols used by Bion, ♀ and ♂, standing for “container” and “contained,” respectively. When you think about it, we come into the world with virtually no psychological boundaries, or “containment” for our “content.” In fact, this is precisely what makes infancy so terrifying. In the absence of a psychotic episode or a bad LSD trip, it is almost impossible for us to imagine a completely unbound consciousness with no means to limit it. It is equivalent to being suddenly dropped into a zero point of infinite dimensions.

Pascal captured this experience when he wrote of the terror of the eternal silence of these infinite spaces. You might think that the body would serve as a sort of “boundary” against the formless infinite void, but that is not true. It eventually serves that purpose, becoming a sort of “membrane” between infinite nothingness and meaning, but not without first enlisting the services of the (m)othering One.

First of all, in early infancy our bodies are not yet our own. We have almost no control over them. Furthermore, most of the body’s systems are in a state of dysregulation -- or perhaps we might say “pre-regulation.” This is why the baby’s first and only task is to seek out maternal containment in order to down-regulate various bodily functions. And clearly, in the absence of speech -- a way to symbolize, store, and and communicate experience -- the baby is subject to what you might call the ultimate PS, nothing but constant impingement of internal and external phenomena that it must somehow make sense of.

How do we know this? First of all, we can know it by what happens to a child or adult who did not have adequate maternal containment and bears the visible scars of such. We can detect it in any number of ways. For example, I am thinking of a particular patient who happened to be an accomplished medical doctor. And yet, her mind had a sort of “lacunae,” a large, primitive area that could not be symbolized and therefore communicated or contained. As such, every day after work she engaged in the ritual of violently rocking back and forth in a rocking chair for an hour or more at a time. The purpose of the ritual was to contain primitive anxiety, or what you might call “cosmic dread,” a completely persecutory emptiness.

Another patient would cut herself. She would make dozens of small cuts in her arms and legs as a way to contain her anxiety. The physical pain of the cutting was preferable to the psychological pain of infinite and unbound nonexistence -- of her mental contents dispersing endlessly into space. Again, the key is that the person is desperately looking for containment of primitive anxiety that cannot be symbolized and therefore ”thought.” As such, therapy for such an individual involves containing and giving voice to the anxiety so that it may become thought instead of action.

People use all kinds of things for primitive containment: food, thrill seeking, sex, television, work, education, religion, drugs and alcohol. This is why Bion always made a distinction between a mental function or object and the use to which it is put. Take an obvious thing like education. It is possible for two people to have roughly the same education -- the same content, as it were -- but to put it to entirely different uses.

I am thinking, for example, of a very bright man I know, whose education -- which is considerable -- is almost entirely in the service of his aggression and his narcissism. Therefore, although he may say something that is technically true, he does not say it because it is true, which makes all the difference. Instead, the purpose of his knowledge is not Truth, but something far more primitive and aggressive, including the exercise of contempt for an internal object that is projected into his interlocutor, and a kind of omnipotence that actually serves the purpose of containment.

As such, this person cannot actually “learn.” Rather, he can only acquire. He can only pick up another factoid to place in his mental armamentarium to use as a weapon of war. This primitive use of education is quite common -- especially among the educated! -- and it is very easy to tell when one is dealing with such an individual. Con-versation -- which is to say flowing together -- is impossible with such a person.

This is what makes politicians and MSM talking heads so tedious. They are not there to teach, much less to learn. Rather, they are there to use speech as a primitive object with which to paper over reality or to vanquish their adversary. In fact, I am always surprised when I see someone in the MSM who is not doing this. However, what is so frustrating is that a person who does speak truthfully is treated identically to the person who doesn’t. There is a kind of utter cynicism, so that the truth is regarded as nothing but another form of “spin.”

For the thoroughly ironicized secular left (which should always be distinguished from any form of liberalism), there is no truth but no truth. The con artist thinks everyone “has an angle,” and cannot imagine someone who is innocently motivated by an agenda-free love of truth, with no strings attached. This is why you will have noticed that the left is inherently suspicious and paranoid, and therefore habitually attributes motives to positions. Since it is often the case that their positions are actually cynical motives in disguise, they think this is true of everyone.

Therefore, you can’t possibly be against judges tinkering with the basic unit of civilization and redefining marriage. Rather, you are simply using this as a cynical ploy to get more redneck homophobes to go to the polls. You can’t possibly think that racial quotas are bad for blacks. You must be a racist. You can’t actually believe that raising the minimum wage causes unemployment. You just hate poor people. You don’t really think that global jihad is a genuine threat. You just want to frighten people so that you can maintain control over them. You can’t possibly believe that Darwinism is logically self-refuting. You just want to teach Genesis as science and impose a theocracy. You can’t simply believe that Roe vs. Wade represents atrocious legal reasoning veering on judicial tyranny. You just want to “control women’s bodies.” You don’t want to harshly interrogate known terrorists. You just enjoy torturing people. You don’t really want to intercept their phone calls either. You’re just spying on Americans. And of course, if you do not accept all of the dubious speculations of the global warming theorists, you hate the earth.

And on and on and on. Again, Truth is reduced to motive, which represents nothing less than an attack on reality. It reminds me of when I used to enjoy watching wrestling on TV when I was a kid. The bad guy would turn his back to the clueless referee, reach somewhere into his tights, and throw a substance of some kind into his superior opponent’s eyes. Now, instead of “may the best man win,” it was merely two beasts struggling in the dark, as it were.

Likewise, if you can sever the sacred covenant between language and truth, then language is reduced to a battle of wills.

Hmmm. I’m not sure how I got to this point. What does this all have to do with the title of this post? Allow me to explain. Language, as we have said, is a container. But it makes all the difference in the world to discern the use to which the container is being put. For language can serve a range of psychological purposes, both high and low. Someone once said that language was given to man to conceal his thoughts, which is without a doubt one of the uses of language. But it has many other uses as well.

For example, for reasons completely unknowable to the secular mind, language can be a container of great transcendental beauty. Words can somehow be arranged in such a way that they radiate a noetic light that far transcends their literal meaning. Great poetry or prose is a kind of containment and non--containment at the same time, as the beauty radiates from, or “shines through” the container.

At the same time, language can be used to convey ugliness and depravity -- i.e., most contemporary literature -- or to kill thought. Instead of radiating or elevating, it "drags down." Alternatively, it may be used to transmit celestial messages to those with ears to hear them, or to arouse satanic collective energies, as it does in so much of the Islamic world. It may be used to memorialize and communicate self-evident truths, or it may cynically use the Truth to advance the Lie.

We go back to the helpless infant who struggles to find the means to symbolize a reality that is otherwise a bewildering impingement on the smooth surface of being. “Infant” actually comes from the old French en-fant, which literally means incapable of speech. Some babies use speech as a means to grow and colonize reality. Many adults use it as a defense against growth or as a means to paper over psychic damage. In extreme cases, they will see no forest, only trees. In other cases, they will superimpose a fake forest over the real one. How to tell the difference? I’ll have to get into that tomorrow. Suffice it to say that one of the purposes of religion is to see the real forest for the trees (and tree-dwellers).

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Thoughts and How to Think Them: Don't Get Stuck on Smart

Good question, Stu! What is death all about, anyway? That’s an example of something that would require a very lengthy post, which I don’t really feel motivated to do at the moment. Another reader, Brian, suggested “top film recommendations for spiritual seekers.” That’s also not as easy as it sounds. Yes, I am a film school graduate, but that was in 1982, and I’ve seen very few films since then, since they almost always disappoint me -- and I have very low expectations. All I ask is that a film hold my attention, which they rarely do. In a truly great film by a great director, every frame is captivating, with or without dialogue. That’s why I can see a film like Double Indemnity over and over, because each shot is so beautifully composed.

Speaking of rhythms, dissolution, and life and death, the psychoanalyst Bion (pronounced bee-on, by the way) had such an elegant model for the mind. He was my inspiration in trying to arrive at an abstract system of “empty symbols” to map the spiritual domain. It is not that my symbols are in any way “superior” to the realm they address, much less to the revelations they seek to comprehend. Rather, like science, they are abstractions that allow for “communication and storage” of ideas and experiences. They are like sound money -- only good to the extent that they can be cashed in for the gold of pure experience.

Bion used just a handful of symbols to map the psychological dimension. One of these was what he called PS<-->D, which is an abstraction from Klein’s delineation of the paranoid-schizoid and depressive positions, discussed in last Friday’s post (11-10-06). You needn’t be familiar with Klein’s concepts to understand that Bion looked at them in the way a physicist might look at outward phenomena -- say, a falling apple, or the trajectory of a cannonball -- and try to discover the underlying general law that explains both: gravity.

And once you have discovered the general law, you have the makings of a “logico-deductive” system that liberates you from the bewildering diversity of outward phenomena. You have a way to properly “think” about reality. Bion’s system is simply a way to think about the interior world, which is otherwise unthinkable and simply is. Just as the exterior world is a concrete “thing in itself” in the absence of science, the mind is equally impenetrable without a generative way to think about it.

I would argue that scripture is ultimately the same way. Spiritual simpletons believe that it “speaks for itself,” but this is rarely the case, otherwise we wouldn’t have the heroic exegetes and inspired commenters who disclose its underlying unity. I believe “revelation” represents an entire world which must be understood in roughly the same way we understand the material or psychological worlds.

Ultimately, PS<-->D has to do with the unending mental process of breakdown and synthesis, or part and whole, or entropy and evolution. Bion begins with the idea -- observation, really -- that our minds are subject to thoughts, which in turn give rise to the need for a mechanism to think them. Casual observation will reveal how much of your own mind is “untamed,” so to speak, subject to the constant intrusion of these unruly thoughts without a thinker.

This is especially true in most any form of mental illness. In fact, looked at from a certain angle, any mental illness involves unwanted thoughts that are not coming from what we identify as our own ego. Rather, they’re coming from elsewhere. You can say “the unconscious,” but that’s just another word that allows us to imagine that we have understood the phenomenon -- somewhat like primitive people who believe that to name something is to have understood it. But this is a form of pseudo-control that mainly serves to alleviate cognitive anxiety through premature closure, not to advance knowledge.

Instead of using the word unconscious, Bion simply used the symbol O to stand for the ultimate, unknowable reality, or noumenon. Likewise, he used the symbol ß (the Greek letter beta) to stand for “beta elements,” which are disconnected “thoughts without a thinker.” In themselves they are meaningless, but must be brought together in a coherent way by what he called alpha function, which is the quintessence of thinking, or O-->k. True thought is inherently creative, because it brings together a mass of particulars to reveal their underlying meaning. The meaning is paradoxically created and discovered.

What to do with thoughts? Few people realize that this forms the essence of the human condition. For one would think that the obvious answer would be, “think them, stupid!,” but that is rarely the case. The most popular alternatives to thinking one’s thoughts include projecting them (i.e., attributing them to others), denying them, acting them out (as opposed to understanding them), imposing a rigid and artificial coherence upon them, or drowning them in alcohol.

For example, it is a truism that our struggle with Islamo-fascism is with huge numbers of people who are incapable of thinking their thoughts. Instead, they are persecuted by thoughts that they cannot tolerate, which they promptly project into Jews and infidels. This is why we are literally their worst nightmare, as anyone who has visited can attest to. Projected thoughts, which are not under conscious control of the ego, undergo a monstrous transformation and return to the sender in an even more frightening form than when they went out.

But no matter how sophisticated your mind, you are still subject to this constant PS<->D dynamic, just as, no matter how healthy your body, you are still subject to metabolism (building up) and catabolism (tearing down). In fact, if we were to look at biology in a Bionian way, what is life itself but the dynamic interaction of M<-->C (metabolism<-->catabolism), so to speak? If we say that metabolism is the essence of life, we would be very wrong, for in order for biological life to exist, there must be a “death” aspect built into it -- a tearing down in order to rebuild, a disorder out of which a more robust order will emerge.

Now, there are many, many people who may outwardly look cognitively sophisticated, but who are simply holding on to a hypertrophied D function in order to avoid the persecution of PS. This would include most university professors, politicians, and theologians -- in fact, probably most intellectuals, who superimpose a grid of (k) over O and essentially “call it a life” insofar as their cognitve development is concerned.

In short, intellectuals -- for the simple reason that they have high IQs and are therefore capable of more intellectual defenses -- arrive at an ideology (which is actually much closer to a myth) and then use it for the rest of their lives to keep persecutory thoughts (i.e., “uncertainty”) at bay. This is how you explain a Noam Chomsky, for example -- someone who hasn’t been troubled by a proper thought in 40 or 50 years. Instead, he has a rigid ideology that represents the death of thought. But he projects this psychic death outward and calls it “America,” something about which he actually knows nothing. Rather, it simply serves the same purpose for him as the Jew does for Borat. Just a place to put unwanted thoughts for safekeeping. But you will notice that Chomsky is no less persecuted for it. In fact, his life revolves around doing battle with his own unwanted thoughts and ironically calling the tedious exercise “progressive.”

Not to belabor the point, but you will see this same process in the most vivid terms on the idiotorial pages of the New York Times or on websites such as dailykos. No thoughtful person could possibly confuse what Maureen Dowd does with “thinking.” Rather, she is simply “managing” persecutory thoughts in the best way she knows how. It helps that this defensive process is culturally sanctioned by her hidebound tribe of primitive and parochial Manhattanites.

Are there conservative ideologues who do this? Of course. Anyone who superimposes a rigid system of thought over reality is a pseudo-thinker. Having said that, it is nevertheless possible -- a commonplace, actually -- for an idiot to be on the side of Truth or a genius to be a proponent of the Lie. Countless wackademics are obviously stuck on smart. (The substance of the individual's virtue often accounts for this, but that is a topic for another post; suffice it to say that many geniuses are nevertheless rotten.)

Now, this is not to day that certain unyielding truths cannot be won from the formless infinite void. Of course you can do that. But these will tend not to become dogma. Rather, they will serve as “stepping stones” for higher and higher syntheses. That is, your thinking will not become static as a result of pulling a couple of big fish out of the psychic ocean. Rather, these fish will literally “mate” and produce a third thing. In this way, a healthy mind is inherently dynamic and trinitarian, constantly giving birth to higher and deeper unities.

There is no end to the process, perhaps with one exception -- the nondual mystic who has identified himself entirely with O, the ultimate reality and ground of being, the timeless tip-toppermost of the poppermost, all-embracing secret center of depth, the meaning of Within, first and last Truth of self, knowing without knowledge all that can be unKnown, existence to the end of the beginning, which tomorrow never knows. You know -- that spaceless and placeless infinite, supremely real and solely real, our common source without center or circumference, no place, no body, no thing, or not two things anyway: blissfully floating before the fleeting flickering universe, stork naked in brahma daynight, worshiping in wonder in a weecosmic womb with a pew, it is finally....

And even they do not linger long in the nothing-everything. They either come back as bodhisattvas, or bang back into existence from nothing to something, or perhap take the shape of a household gnome who will help me write another unnarcissary soph-help book. Please, Petey?

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Wheels Within Wheels and the Rhythm of Bleating

I can’t be sure, but it feels as if another blogging cycle is coming to a close. In the past, this is when I would float the idea of stepping away from the blog, mistaking a transition for an endpoint. I could look it up, but I believe this has happened on about three previous occasions, perhaps three or four months apart. Now that I can see the larger pattern, there is no need to reenact the previous drama -- like breaking up and getting back together... even though there is no blogging like “make-up blogging.”

Naturally, when I started blogging, I had no idea where it would lead. In fact, that is the only way I can do it -- by starting with a blank slate each morning and proceeding from scratch. In so doing, I have to have faith that there will be something “inside” or “beyond” me waiting for me when I get up in the morning. I always want the blog to be an exercise in O --> k. If it ever becomes mere k --> O, it would be tedious for me, and the more sensitive readers -- which is probably to say all regular readers -- would be able to tell the difference in a heartbeat. At risk of handing ammunotions to my detractors, although my book includes the usual scholarly apparatus, whatever I am, I am not a “scholar.”

This spontaneity reflects the wider pattern of how I try to conduct my life. Interestingly, the psychoanalyst W.R. Bion -- one of a handful of thinkers who have most influenced me -- wrote that the therapist should approach each session by “suspending memory, desire and understanding” in order to facilitate the spontaneous emergence of truth (O) between patient and therapist. He called this open and expectant attitude “faith.” This specifically dynamic faith is a “negative capability,” similar to the apophatic theology of a Denys the Areopagite, Shankara, or Meister Eckhart. For this reason, Bion often cited the adage, “the answer is the disease that kills curiosity.”

Perhaps you have noticed that there have been many times in your life when you have reached “the end of the line.” In fact, if you haven’t done so by the age of 40, then there’s something wrong with you. The DSM only covers psychological illnesses, not spiritual, ontological or existential ones, but if by mid-life you haven’t seen through the world and been disillusioned (in the positive sense, which is not to say cynical) then you are probably a.... a loser. Sorry about that characterization, but it’s true.

In many traditional spiritual approaches, there is the idea that one spends the first half of one’s life in the exterior, dealing with worldly accomplishments -- education, career, marriage, family, etc. The second half of life marks the inward turn, as we develop ourselves spiritually. Thus, to the extent that you remain ensnared in, and hypnotized by, the exterior world of mayaplicity, you have fallen victim to spiritual failure to launch, for the inward is where we access the upward.

Please don’t misunderstand. Unless you join a monastery, this inward turn does not involve shunning or rejecting the world. I myself have never been more in the world. Rather, it is simply a matter of one half of the complementarity taking precedence over the other. So long as we exist, we cannot avoid straddling the interior/exterior divide which characterizes human existence.

As part of my continuing education, I recently attended a seminar on aging which turned out to be not bad. It was by a Jungian who had worked with Joseph Campbell toward the end of his life. He mentioned that in preparing for the seminar, he went through all of the most popular books on aging, and was disappointed to discover that almost none of them actually had to do with aging. Rather, almost all of them had to do with denying the aging process and pathetically attempting to hold onto one’s youth.

Naturally, it is entirely appropriate for an adolescent to be completely captivated (literally) by the world, which is one of the reasons why they embrace such dopey ideologies as leftism or atheism. But our pathological culture has come to identify “life” with “youth,” which is simply one phase of life. Life itself is always a developmental process, but especially for human beings.

For all other animals, their developmental process is determined genetically. Basically, there is a short period of development that ends with the capacity to reproduce, and that’s the end of the line. Once you’ve accomplished that, then nature has no further use for you. You have reported for genetic duty and now you are honorably discharged. In other words, you die. For some -- a mayfly, for example -- the entire cosmic process lasts from dawn to dawn. For others it is a year, or seven years, or seventy years, but from the standpoint of the Absolute being to whom we abbasalute -- the Life of life -- a single day is eternity, while eternity is a but single day.

What clearly sets human beings apart from the other animals -- some of us, anyway -- is that our development does not end with biological maturity -- with the capacity to reproduce. Rather, it can continue until the very end, so long as one draws breath. In my book, I try to explain why this is so, applying the insights of modern attachment theory to our evolutionary past, and showing how nature’s invention of the helpless infant was the key to interior evolution. Merely having a big brain was insufficient to allow our humanness to emerge. Rather, either before or at the same time, it required the emergence of developmentally incomplete nervous systems in which trans-genetic learning could take place.

For the majority of human beings, they imprint the culture they happen to have been born into, at which point their nervous system essentially “closes” except for a few later exceptions. For example, when we first fall in love, this is an example of the joy and exhilaration of our minds becoming open systems again. Likewise, for many people, this happens again with children or grandchildren. But aside from these vivid experiences that would “wake the dead,” most people’s minds revolve around a few dominant, core ideas that they have picked up along the way, so their minds are moreorlessibund.

Again, life is growth. Or to put it in the negative, nothing grows but life. Everything else is merely a mechanical process, but an organic process grows and develops toward an end point. Thus, if you are not growing, you are not just dying, you are already dead. And this is why the Oprah-esque books on aging are not really about youth worship but death worship. It is why the stretched and botoxed Nancy Pelosi looks less like the innocently beautiful young woman of her imagination than a surprised corpse.

It is one thing to deny the physical aging process, another matter entirely to deny the psycho-spiritual aging process. For me, the end of the line came when I was exactly 40 years old. In truth, it had come several times in the past, but when we are younger, we have the energy to dig in our heels and refuse the inner call. But after much loitering around the penumbra of spiritual truth, I made the conscious decision to dive heartlong over the interior horizon and into the great wide open.

One of the ways you can tell that spiritual growth is real, is that -- like life itself -- it is a process full of surprises. Only reality can surprise you. In fact, one of the purposes of unconscious psychological defenses is to remove the surprises from life, even if doing so causes pain or drains life of its novelty and unpredictability.

This is why one of the frightening hallmarks of mental illness is that one feels as if one is being swallowed up or pushed around by forces greater than oneself. That’s when you know something is wrong. That is the “lower vertical,” but the same holds true for the “upper vertical.” When one surrenders to a spiritual process, there is a definite sense that one is dealing with powers beyond one’s control. Every day is a surprise.

To get back to the what I touched on at the outset, one of the real aspects of the spiritual process is its cyclicity. While you can tinker around the edges of this rhythm, you can no more deny it than you could hold on to your breath and give up exhaling. For in reality, this rhythm is a reflection of the great cosmogonic cycle of death and rebirth, and unless you have died, you cannot live. And unless you have had many “dead again” experiences, you cannot have the joy of being reborn. Or as Joyce put it, “Horray! Surrection!” Petey says this ambiguous place between birth and death is where the resurraction is, but either way, it's a neveriverending dance along the razoredgeon.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

I Regret in Advance Anyone Who Hurts Their Own Feelings by Misinterpreting My Fractious Attempt at Humor

Even in pain, missing one knee, and wobbly from hydrocodone, Dr. Sanity can still stand on her other leg and somehow simultaneously use it to knee the enemies of liberty where it would count if only they had a pair. In any event, don't try that move at home unless you're a member of Cirque du Soleil.

Dr. Sanity sites a wonderfully ill-luminating (“shining a light on illness”) post at dailykos, extolling the progressive nature of the Iranian demonocracy. Unlike some fascist Christian theocracies,

“Iran has invested its oil wealth in universal education, healthcare, infrastructure bringing clean water and electricity to more than 98 percent of its people, and economic progress. Military spending is a paltry $91 per capita compared to more than $1,500 per capita in the United States and Israel. The social and economic achievements of the revolutionary regime in Iran in the past 25 years look quite progressive in reducing poverty and social inequalities, and as the society liberalizes toward a more secular democratic regime, even better progress can be expected in the future. Compared to rising inequality in the United States and Israel, ranked numbers one and two for social inequality among developed nations, the Iranians look pretty damn good.”

Nevertheless, “the usual crowd can be expected to comment on women, gays and political dissidents as being targets for repression in Iran. Without minimizing the issues, I'm not convinced that the case isn't overstated and that the repression isn't outweighed by wider social advances. Women and children rarely suffer the isolation, poverty and violence in Iran that so many suffer from family breakdown in America. Women in Iran are now universally educated, taking 65 percent of university places, marrying later, having fewer children, and driving social change. Even Iran has a vibrant gay subculture. The United States imprisons a higher proportion of its population than Iran (or any other nation) does, and that proportion continues to rise despite falling crime rates.”

First of all, no, this is not parody. Rather, this is the base of the Democratic party, the exceedingly base base that thinks you voted for them just because you rejected the Republican party. They have no objection to getting kosy with the Iranian regime. After all, they are fellow travelers, in that they both travel backward and call it progress.

As an asnide, everyone thinks the left is just being cynical in undermining the war on terror, but there's a greater principle involved. That is, if they change their normal behavior and stop trying to weaken the nation, it's like the terrorists have won. Making us less safe is their way of really sticking it to the terrorists. So, as Dr. Sanity reminds us,

“The fact that [Iran’s] president is the actual intellectual heir of Adolf Hitler is irrelevant; the fact that Iran actually IS a religious theocracy is of no matter. What is reality, after all, when compared to the fantasy universe of their feelings, where Bush = Hitler and the U.S. is imminently going to have a Christian theocracy imposed upon it! What does it matter that a few gays are strung up and hanged by the neck until dead, when we are dealing with such important ‘progressive’ ideas that are hallmarks of Iranian justice system. It is even possible for such moral degenerates to convince themselves that there is more oppression of women, children and gays right here in the U.S.! The idea that these wonderful, advanced and civilized people, who rape women daring to go out without the proper clothing, are more socially progressive than we neanderthals in the West, is a concept that only the left is stupid enough to embrace.”

But for Horizontal Man, since he has no “spiritual” needs -- being that he can have no soul -- the only measure of the good society is how well it meets the needs of the physical body and the collective -- the latter being its own absolute god, consistent with the dictates of cultural relativism. Thus, just as in the socialist paradise of Cuba or the USSR, everyone is educated. It matters not that their education specifically involves miseducation. Since all truth is relative anyway, what difference does it make? Here in the west we have our own tenurmites who eat away at the foundation of civilization and call it “education.”

These acadhimmis and crockademics know that it is our own arrogant cultural insensitivity -- ignorance, really -- that prevents us from seeing the rich beauty of the Iranian regime. It reminds me of that book I cited a while back -- you know, the Muslim Book of Virtues, by an imam who is sort of the William Bennett of the Islamic world -- except in his case, his only serious gambling involved marrying one of his wives before seeing what her face looked like (which is, after all, why they allow more than one to a customer). Here are a few "wise old Islamic sayings" from the book that I think are particularly relevant to our discussion. These are almost clichés in the Islamic world, but they are probably new to you:

“Sticks and stones will break your bones if your words should ever humiliate me.”

“If at first you don't succeed, try, try, try to blame the Jews.”

“Fool me once, death to you. Fool me twice? Ain’t gonna happen.”

“A penny saved will help finance a martyrdom operation.”

“There's something rotten in Denmark. Free speech.”

“Give a Palestinian a fish, and he'll eat for a day. Give him refugee camps and UN handouts, and he'll steal your fish forever.”

“A little knowledge is a dangerous thing. Period.”

“One picture is worth a thousand riots.”

“Ask me no questions and I will tell you lies just for the hell of it.”

“The race doesn't always go the swift, but to the sneaky and duplicitous.”

“Good fences make it more difficult to kill your neighbors.”

“If it's broke, we have no idea how to fix it.”

“If you can't beat 'em, at least try to kill and maim as many of their children as possible.”

“If you can't say anything nice, Grand Ayatollah Khamemei just might select you to be the President of Iran.”

“It's not whether you win or lose, it's how much meaningless suffering you can inflict.”

“Give us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses, the wretched refuse of your teeming deserts. They will make excellent suicide bombers.”

Now that I’m just free-associating, I am reminded of the excellent children's book Mommy is a Democrat. Here are a few gems pulled out at random:

“Ask not what your country can do for you. Instead, pack the Supreme Court with activist judges and make it an entitlement.”

“It's not how you play the game, so long as no one wins or loses and gets their feelings hurt.”

“A fool and someone else's money can solve any societal problem.”

“If life gives you lemons, file a class action suit against Sunkist.”

“A person is known by the company he boycotts.”

“When the going gets tough, the tough start leaking.”

“Beggars can't be choosers. Rather, they're now called ‘homeless.’”

“Boys will be boys, at least until government provides subsidized ritalin for every last one of them.”

“Regardless of your background, any American who really works hard at it can still be a victim.”

Hey, I know I’m offensive. But you can’t judge me, because you need to be more sensitive to redneck psychologist culture.

By the way, I happen to agree with dailykos about the superiority of the Iranian healthcare system. Did you know that every woman in Iran has complete coverage for forced clitoridectomies?

Muslim girls are also more physically fit than ours. I read a study that says that in some Muslim countries, sixty percent of the girls are forced to undergo clitoridectomies. Impressively, this means that forty percent of the girls can run faster than their brothers.

And the Iranians are still pushing ahead with their Manhattan Project. Of course, they say they're only developing nuclear reactors for peaceful purposes. Personally I'd feel better about it if they had figured out peaceful applications for rocks and belts. For them, it's a wardrobe malfunction when some boob doesn't explode out of his vest. But as they say, "better to light a single stick of dynamite than to curse the darkness."

Of course, if only Jon Carry had been elected, we wouldn’t be having this problem with Iran. Unlike Bush, he would have bent over forwards to get along with the mullahs.

Speaking of Iranian democracy, that's what you call a farce only a mullah could love.

Of course, Our Friends the Saudis couldn’t be more pleased with the results of our recent election. Every time they saw Speaker Pelosi’s face on al Jazeera, they serenaded her with chorus after chorus of Wahhabi Days are Here Again. Then again, they have no way of knowing that Pelosi's face always looks that surprised.

Did you know that none of the maps in Iran show Israel? That's what they mean when they refer to their "roadmap to peace."

And why do they hate us so much, anyway? True, without U.S. interference, the Islamic world wouldn't be stuck in the fourteenth century. Instead, they'd be right where they want to be, mired in the twelfth.

But you know what? At least Iran has a vibrant gay culture. Or at least it did until dailykos let the cat out of the burqa. I'm guessing that when the mullahs find out, they'll do what we did to the b'aath houses in Iraq....

Speaking of cats, did you hear that Cat Stevens is releasing his first album since his conversion to Islam over 25 year ago? Before he became a Muslim, he wrote the music for the film Harold and Maude, the story of a morbid, death-obsessed young man bent on killing himself to get back at others. The more things change....

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