Friday, October 10, 2008

Improvisations on the Meditations (10.05.11)

I think it's time to delve back into Meditations on the Tarot: A Journey into Christian Hermeticism (heretofore MOTT). It is the most profound work of Christian spirituality I've ever encountered, and is so dense that you can't possibly read it just once and be done with it. Rather, it is one of those books that needs to be reread every year or so. The problem is, it would probably take a year to properly read, and much longer to actually internalize and assimilate.

I guess I've read it cover to cover maybe four or five times. I know this because I have two copies, each with different colored highlighting. And yet, each time I read it, I get something new out of it. I know this because new passages are highlighted on subsequent go-rounds.

Also, as I mentioned in a comment the other day, the first time I tried to tackle it, I got nowhere. It was just too difficult; we were both too dense. But by the time of my second attempt a year or two later, a transformation had taken place within me that allowed me to understand it. Indeed, it was like entering a vast cathedral, only this time with the lights on. In other words, without the Light, an infinite space can appear as a black wall, which is essentially the predicament in which the atheist finds himself. He imagines he's describing an objective wall, when he's really just disclosing his subjective darkness. It's difficult to imagine a worldview more banal.

There is a reason that all spiritual traditions speak of "illumination." The visible light we see with our eyes is an analogue and symbol of the light we see with our mind. In other words, the intelligibility of the world is prior to its materiality. The spiritual world is an intelligible world, but in order to see it, you will require the uncreated light of the awakened intellect, i.e., the nous. Without it, you will again be staring at a blank wall (or you will simply have to take someone else's word for it). Jesus will just be a community organizer, if he existed at all. Miracles will merely be statistically rare events instead of vertical lessons. The Bible will be a collection of "flat" or even silly stories instead of simultaneously urgent and timeless memos of infinite depth from the Self to your self.

A couple of important points before we begin. The book is not about Tarot reading, nor does it have anything to do with the occult. Rather, the author merely uses the twenty two major arcana of the Tarot as a basis to "riff." It's almost as if he free associates and uses the cards as unsaturated archetypes to explore his own incredibly fertile spiritual imagination. But his ideas are for the most part completely orthodox and intelligible to others, unlike, say, occultists, who may or may not speak truth, but clothe it in idiosyncratic and obscure ways that can be extremely difficult to decode.

While earlier in life the author (who was born in 1900 and died in 1973) was a follower of Rudolf Steiner, he broke with that group and converted to Catholicism at the age of 44. In fact, he was booted from Steiner's Anthroposophical Society for being too independent of Steiner (who died in 1925).

Here again this is interesting, because Steiner was an example of a spiritually gifted occultist whose fluid ideas then reified into an orthodoxy. This is a fine example of how the master ruins the disciples and vice versa. Importantly, this is a dynamic that afflicts virtually all groups, as Bion recognized in some of his early papers. Indeed, it is precisely what had happened to Bion's own field of psychoanalysis, as Freud the explorer became Freud the inerrant prophet of a pseudo-religious order. Bion himself was analogous to the "new messiah" or mystic who challenges orthodoxy, but only in order to return it to first principles.

One sees this pattern again and again, as it is truly universal. For example, a Ronald Reagan appears on the historical stage as a revolutionary, but only in order to reawaken the country to its first principles of classical liberalism. Likewise, although Buddha was a heterodox Hindu, he too was merely attempting to return to the original principles of the Vedas, only in their purest and de-ritualized form.

The author worked on MOTT in his 60's, and it was originally published posthumously in 1984 (in English in 1985). Although the identity of the author is known, he wished to remain anonymous, so we will respect his wishes and refer to him as Unknown Friend (UF), which is what he calls himself. As a matter of fact, this is one of the charms of the book, as UF truly is our friend, and a precious one at that. Not only is he our friend, but he will be the invaluable friend and guide of any serious spiritual seeker from now until the end of time. And it is very much a "brotherly" relationship, despite his obvious spiritual eminence. This is very much in contrast to Schuon, who is so forbidding that one cannot imagine being his peer. (I certainly hope that this blog can be someone's unknown friend a hundred years from now -- not just me, but the whole transdimensional community, or Raccoon clench.)

With regard to my post the other day about the person who was asking for spiritual guidance, UF is a fine example of how one may form a living relationship with a guru, saint, sage, or mentor, despite the person not being "technically" alive. The fact is, they are very much alive, but they will only come to life in the dynamic transitional space between you and them. But how is this different from any other deep friendship? For example, I naturally love my wife, but I also love the space we have created for ourselves. This can go unappreciated, but it is the background context of my whole life. It is the space in which I live and breathe.

By the way, I'm basically engaging in this verticalisthenic exercise for my own benefit, so I'm going to try and pretend you folks aren't here. This is because I'm getting sick of us. Therefore, it's time for Bob's Unconscious to take the helm, and Bob's Unconscious lives in its own Private Idaho, although, at the same time, this particular Idaho is a universal Wedaho. In other words, we all share the same deep unconscious, so the further away I get from you morons, the closer we are (and that includes you, Bob).

One thing I like about MOTT is its jazz sensibility, of which I have written in the past. I adopt the identical approach, in that I have tried my best to internalize and assimilate the major chords of spiritual truth, and then attempt to improvise over them in a spontaneous way. In order to accomplish this, you can't really "try," or it will become immediately evident. Surely you have heard a bad blues singer, who substitutes volume for depth of feeling? Compare a great blues singer such as Muddy Waters, who is always relaxed, to a Janis Joplin, who screams with great effort.

Although I undoubtedly play the occasional clam, this jazzy approach is the only way that I can personally make Spirit come alive. Yes, there is danger in this, in that it can lead to an excessive focus on the individual and to idiosyncratic or eccentric interpretations. But this is the value of tradition, in that I always try to stay within the structure while simultaneously playing "beyond" it, in the same way the jazz immortals use the Great American Songbook as a basis for their improvisations.

Louis Armstrong was the first great jazz improviser. Before him was Dixieland jazz, in which no one stood out from the ensemble. But to improvise means to stand up and play "over" the group. Importantly, to produce great jazz, one must simultaneously be a part of the group while transcending it. This balance is the key, and I think it embodies a general lesson, almost a koan. That is, Man is the group animal whose very groupishness is the matrix out of which his individuality emerges. To be an individual is to live on the surface of the group, so to speak, but with roots deep within it. A narcissist fails to appreciate the importance of the group in making the individual possible, as if he could exist without it. And yet, the group cannot be the the "end" of our existence, as leftists believe.

I suppose it's somewhat analogous to the body/mind relationship. You cannot have a mind without a body, but to reduce the mind to the body is to do away with the person and our very reason for existence. Or again, one could say that this reflects the exoteric/esoteric complementarity of religion. Although I am an esoterist, I do not believe for one moment that esoterism can exist in the absence of exoterism, which is what the new agers believe. Here again, this leads to narcissism and the kind of infertile and even satanic spirituality of the Deepaks of the world.

Anyway, we're just going to riff on UF's riffing, and see where it takes us, beginning with the Foreward. Here we are tipped off at the outset to the jazz sensibility of our unknown friend, who writes of his alignment with a venerable tradition that unites "a spirit of free research with one of respect for tradition." In so doing, his purpose is to "incarnate" his word within this tradition, or to make his own words flesh, so to speak. Again, it is this organicity that you must appreciate, as our Unknown Friend comes to life before us. He will not just evoke a link between us and him, or between you and the great community of spirits who have preceded us on this earth. Rather, he is tossing down a vertical lifeline that situates us at the cosmic center:

For the links in the chain of the tradition are not thoughts and efforts alone; they are above all living beings who were thinking these thoughts and willing these efforts. The essence of the tradition is not a doctrine, but rather a community of spirits from age to age.

So jump into the living waters of this great river, and prepare to meet your Ocean.


I guess this would be the book's most famous reader. That's the two-volume German edition at the bottom of the pile, right below the poems of Suzanne Somers:


walt said...

Always a fecund time when UnCon steps up to the plate!

And, meet my Ocean?

Let me flow into the ocean
Let me get back to the sea
Let me be stormy and let me be calm
Let the tide in, rush over me.

I am not the actor
This can't be the scene
But I am in the water,
As far as I can see...

-- from Quadrophenia

julie said...


And I'd just like to note here that if you're at the point where the force doth penetrate your solid substance and you can actually derive newrichment from MOTT, reading it in conjunction with other gnotritious sources actually enhances the value of both. In my case, I'm reading Satprem's The Adventure of Consciousness (at this point, reading them both for the first time, since I'm now covering new ground in MOTT; I don't know if that makes a difference), and the effect is like standing between two fantastic mirrors, each reflecting the Light of lights so that the beams intersect inside your brain, set up residence and start dancing.

And again, thanks Bob for providing directions, as it's a certainty that I would never have come across these luminaries on my own, or if I had I'd be utterly lacking the ability to see anything but a solid, impenetrable wall.

julie said...

(and completely off-topic, I ask once again: at what point does the merely anti-christic become the Anti-Christ?)

Ephrem Antony Gray said...

MOTTs is good applesauce.

Anonymous said...

You’re the grease monkey…grease monkey.

Anonymous said...

Bob’s Unconscious,
This MOTT riff…I likes the new digs.

Rick said...

I remember you mentioned Satprem’s book in relation to MOTT the other day too. I read it quite sometime after MOTT, and likewise for me it was a much easier read. I thought this had to do with…well…MOTT is say.. only one generation away from the actual grace that flowed through UF when it was written and Satprem's yet another generation away…considering Satprem’s book is written about Sri Aurobindo and only excerpts here and there included of Sri’s actual writing. This is not to suggest Satprem was not inspired when writing it. I haven’t read anything else by Sri or Satprem but get the impression that if I read some complete document by Sri it would be very dense, as is MOTT. Of course in a different style.

If you subtract the humor distraction from this, it’s what I’m driving at: Imagine someone very talented doing an impression of Rich Little doing an impression of Richard Nixon.

NoMo said...

Gagdad Mott (he's no hoople), rolling away the stone so we can see inside! Definitely looking forward to it.

Now, in other news...

Frustrated that so few seem to care about Obama's "acquaintances"?

"In other words, Obama's extremist associations matter; they are fully revealing, illustrative of the political-ideological realities that the pro-Obama media will not expose. His voting record bears this out."

Anonymous said...

OT (somewhat): Good editorial by an L.A.-based rabbi about Bill Maher's new cinematic sneer-fest...

NoMo said...

And now...drum roll please...
The Great Obamadini!

Magnus Itland said...

I think the raccoons are onto something about how the light sometimes needs to go through a few prisms. To take a familiar example, in Christian parlance Jesus is said to be the Word of God. When Jesus said something, it was then by definition the Word of the Word of God, although it is still considered the Word of God. Just to be sure, Jesus seems to never have written a book or even a letter that is preserved, but left the task to a number of quite different people who picked a few of the things he said and put them in context. This would then be the Word of the Word of the Word of God, but it is still considered the Word of God by the Christian Church.

Beyond that limit, there are more books written about the Gospels than any sane person would want to collect, much less read. Even if we throw out the heresies, the frauds, the hacks, the well-meant misunderstandings and the infertile purely rational studies, there is still no end to the writing of books. And they all have but one purpose: To help us meet the actual living Christ, and through him the Father.

One cannot randomly choose where to being on this ladder, so to speak, or chain. Rather one must begin at whichever point the light is strong enough to illuminate but not strong enough to blind. No one else can point to where that is, nor does the place where one begins predict how fast one will progress, if at all, or how far.

I believe this is so with all true Light.

Aloysius said...

The scriptures are a riff on themes. In my younger days it (vaguely) bothered me that there was no ordering of doctrines in the Bible but I have come to understand how the Spirit works on us to find deep meaning in these riffs and allows us to order some of it.

Ordering things quickly leads to saturation

Anonymous said...

Jesus simply described and then demonstrated that eternal life is a manifestation of a higher dimensional existence where the spiritual realm takes place at light speed where one is everywhere all the time and can perceive all truth in its entirety but warned that at the lower space/time constrained dimensional level everything is relative and truth can only be perceived.

Can we talk about the economy now? Where the hell is Van?

Ray Ingles said...

So long as we're wandering off-topic, Bob likes to psychoanalyze Obama. For an inverse example of Bulverism, see here.

Magnus Itland said...

Also, I like the idea of a tradition being a community. That's one thing the Mexicans got right: Just because you're dead doesn't mean you should be denied your right to vote - as long as you are voting for the right party, of course.

Ray Ingles said...

Aquila - One line from that editorial struck me. "It is not heroic to believe we are accidents of chemistry."

Of course, if that were true (just, y'know, for the sake of the argument), then might it not be heroic to face up to the implications of that? And perhaps even more heroic to seek to transcend that?

One other item to skim, here.

ge said...

I guess all your readers know or have read this MOtT book; and I too simply cherish it--I have sold them from a shop, given them away, even sent one to a lady in Turkey! It's an esoteric feast, a heartening western alternative to those of us who studied most every 'exotic' overseas tradition before returning to appreciate the profundity flourishing in our own backyard.

...& one more for the Pope's pile:

Magnus Itland said...

in order to transcend we must believe there is a higher realm, one of higher meaning. If the emergence of intelligence is merely a different form of chemistry, then there is nowhere to go.

I have long got the impression that you believe in a higher reality, but object to the forms it has been presented to you. Or am I wrong?

Anonymous said...

Mott the Hoople?!

It comforts me to know that Pope John Paul read the MOTT; and that me, taking forever to read MOTT, is okay.

Anonymous said...

And now for something completely different: O[rgasm]s for Obama Benefit in San Francisco

robinstarfish said...

Hey, UBob gonna throw down a monster 22 bar jam! Bartender, another round!

A suggestion for digging into MOTT the first time: read the Afterword first. It's like a crash course in jazz theory, learning the framework of charts and scales before being able to hear the riffs.

Rule of thumb - always eat dessert first.

Anonymous said...

Hmmm, Taleb's warning contains some thinky-stuff...

"In a few weeks, if the polls are to be believed, we are going to entrust the safety of everything to a new administration which believes the government knows best. Expect more “epistemic arrogance”, not less.

There was a time when people explicitly understood their ignorance. And they defended against uncertainty by relying on simpler, less interdependent systems for survival.

Today really cool people live in big cities, dependent on power grids, power circles and power lunches. They imagine there’s no heaven, no countries, nothing to kill or die for and no religion too. Today the truly cultured person is expected to know nothing of his own culture and smattering of everyone else’s. Because they’re certain in their epistemological arrogance they’ll never need any of the things they’ve safely abandoned."

Ron said...

Bob, your site is a remarkable find. I look forward to re-reading it in its entirety every year or two. ;-)

A self-taught musician, years ago I fronted a band (singing and playing bass) that was mostly highly (classically) trained musicians. This included a three-piece horn section that played some 15+ instruments between them, and a drummer / percussionist who owned and had virtually mastered the full range of percussion instruments. Looking back, I have no idea how they accepted me - except that none of them could sing and bass players were as rare as hens' teeth.

I was perpetually in awe of their improv' abilities. I fantasized then, in an envious and narcissistic way, that all their training had really done was to exoterically formalize their inherent, esoteric talents - abilities which I possessed but never really developed. I struggle to do so to this day.

I felt this same kind of awe when I read (most of) A Course In Miracles. *waits for laughter and finger-pointing to subside* No, none of Williamson's interpretations, but the text itself. What I got out of that reading was almost verbatim the same as something you've written here: " the same time, this particular Idaho is a universal Wedaho. In other words, we all share the same deep unconscious...".

Based on what I'd read in ACIM, I visualized this as "dimples on spirit" - essentially a two-dimensional, planar substrate from which dimples protruded upward through a kind of blanket of fog. The dimples perceive each other, but not their underlying connectedness (at least not consciously). Much like an aspen grove. I wonder sometimes, since having read that stuff, whether it's a thought that somewhat recursively emerged from my own perception of that deep unconscious, or if it was really inspired by the work itself.

I genuinely empathize with the person who asked about guidance. Like my many unsuccessful attempts to pursue classical musical training (unsuccessful in that they rarely last), I go through periods of spiritual introspection, reading and searching for truths implied clearly here in your writing. But they don't last. I feel as though I can't keep the light on, so to speak.

How have you managed it?

Anonymous said...

Sorry, just have to put this in regarding yesterdays post... Found this at the end of Whiteheads "Science and the Modern World":

“Religion is the vision of something that stands beyond, behind, and within, the passing flux of immediate things; something which is real, and yet waiting to be realized; something which is a remote possibility, and yet the greatest of present facts; something that gives meaning to all that passes, and yet eludes apprehension; something whose possession is the final good, and yet is beyond all reach; something that is the ultimate ideal, and the hopeless quest.”


julie said...

Ricky, I think you're right about the impressions. One of the reasons I started reading MOTT again was that the Satprem was going so fast, I thought maybe I was in a better state to tackle something closer to the Source. I wasn't expecting them to illuminate or explicate each other (on the surface, I don't know how they could be more different, really); so it was quite surprising when I started seeing parallels. I don't know if I'm ready for any straight Aurobindo yet, but the book about his teachings, a derivative of a derivative, is still full of much wisdom.

Gagdad Bob said...

Good Whitehead quote. His books are often chaos interspersed with luminous little gems like that.

As a matter of fact, in response to Ron's question about "how have you managed it," I was about to say, I don't. At a certain point, the struggling is the finding. It just becomes a way of life. In turn, this way of life begins to bear fruit, but that's not why you do it. Rather, it's just a beautiful way to live. Always go for the beauty, the depth, the light, and the intelligence, and let the rest take care of itself.

Van Harvey said...

aninnymouse said "Can we talk about the economy now? Where the hell is Van?"


"By the way, I'm basically engaging in this verticalisthenic exercise for my own benefit, so I'm going to try and pretend you folks aren't here. This is because I'm getting sick of us. "

NoMo said...

As Bob has said repeatedly, it is ALL BY GRACE.

No less than the Apostle Paul himself said, "But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them — yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me."

As a great hymn says,

T'was Grace that taught my heart to fear.
And Grace, my fears relieved.
How precious did that Grace appear
the hour I first believed.

Through many dangers, toils and snares we have already come.
T'was Grace that brought us safe thus far and Grace will lead us home.

Anonymous said...

I was calling you to the other post comments, where you predictably non-answered, you nit.

Enjoy the rest of your evening.

Anonymous said...

Accepting Grace

Grace showed me herself
A day ago? I forget when.

Hard remembering
The silken flow, her ghost light,
The whole caress of her breath
On my tired frame.

I was not ready for her.
But I never am.

Anonymous said...


Just jump up now, Jasper.
Time to make it up.
Time to reach the max.

Hit the high note, Harrison.
Hold it steady now.
Don't let off, ever -
Not until your eyes turn red
And Jasper hollers
And the crowd does too.

Then we bring it home
Jasper, Harrison, and me.
Then we bring it home.

Anonymous said...


I lay the cards down
Cruciform and quadriform
And pray my question

Will pass the gate of tempests
And demons commanding, "Halt."

This way is razor's
Edge and calls for purity
And the jazzman's grace.

Van Harvey said...

aninnymouse said "Van, I was calling you to the other post comments, where you predictably non-answered, you nit."

Yeah. Figured that. I gave you the answer prior to your asking your question. If you couldn't understand that much, didn't seem like any point in adding any more to it. I can't teach you to read.

This reply is courtesy of Sam Adams.

"Enjoy the rest of your evening."


Ray Ingles said...

Magnus - I have long got the impression that you believe in a higher reality, but object to the forms it has been presented to you.

It's clear that things have meaning to us. That sort of meaning can't be denied by anybody.

There's also things that "can't not be true", like mathematical truths.

Simpler things can interact to form more complex things. Say, a couple two-dimensional things interacting to form something 3D.

There are certainly fundamental things about being and living as humans that exist on a higher level than chemicals. That doesn't imply something fundamentally different in order or origin, though.

So, mostly yes, but a little no.

mushroom said...

Magnus says: I think the raccoons are onto something about how the light sometimes needs to go through a few prisms. To take a familiar example, in Christian parlance Jesus is said to be the Word of God. When Jesus said something, it was then by definition the Word of the Word of God, although it is still considered the Word of God.

That's a great thought.

julie said...

And now, for something completely different:

Hey Scatter, interested in a job?

Anonymous said...

I've been reading a book by Dr. Wayne Dyer called "Your Sacred Self" Much of it is consistent with Raccoon thought. However, he seems to have a left bent political stripe.

Bob would probably lump him in with Chopra and Tolle as worthless or satanic new age drivel. However, I think Chopra, Tolle, and Dyer all contain spiritual validity. Any careful examination of their work will show this.

However, all are contaminated with questionable politics. Yet, if one picks around the rotten parts, these works can be spiritually nutritious.

So what is my point? I don't really know.

Anonymous said...

"And it is very much a "brotherly" relationship, despite his obvious spiritual eminence."

Deu 17:15 Thou shalt in any wise set him king over thee, whom the LORD thy God shall choose: one from among thy brethren shalt thou set king over thee: thou mayest not set a stranger over thee, which is not thy brother.

Deu 17:19 And it shall be with him, and he shall read therein all the days of his life: that he may learn to fear the LORD his God, to keep all the words of this law and these statutes, to do them:

Deu 17:20 That his heart be not lifted up above his brethren, and that he turn not aside from the commandment, to the right hand, or to the left: to the end that he may prolong his days in his kingdom, he, and his children, in the midst of Israel.

stylecounciler said...

what's a MOTT?

these days, it's all MGMT. all the time.

phil g said...

"But to improvise means to stand up and play "over" the group. Importantly, to produce great jazz, one must simultaneously be a part of the group while transcending it...."

I was blessed to witness the Allman Brothers Band last night at the Chastain Park Amphitheater in Hotlanta, GA and that description precisely captures their performance. My wife, who is not versed in the coon vernacular, turned to me and noted that they don't seem to be playing the music but rather the music seems to just flow out of them...they were definitely channeling some serious O last night.

phil g said...

I'm looking forward to this as I worked my way through MOTT last year - it took the entire year - and I've been itching to get back into it. Reading it with Peety's guidance will greatly enhance this experience.

Gagdad Bob said...


I envy you. Did you know you can purchase a copy of the show you attended here? I've collected at least a dozen, and they are great. Warren Haynes & Derek Trucks are out of this world.

phil g said...

Thanks for the tip. I heard them announce something about recording the concert, but did not catch the whole message. I'll be purchasing that one for sure.